RSSCategory: American Culture

The gods swat back the corporations who think they own the Fourth of July

July 7, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
The gods swat back the corporations who think they own the Fourth of July

Last year I expressed great frustration with corporations who have no compunctions hoisting their own profit-tool logos on the same flag poles as American Flags. And they choose to do this on America’s most holy of civic holidays. I first noticed this crass display last year at the biggest Fourth of July celebration in Fair St. Louis.

What’s the problem with allowing corporate logos to flap in the wind right next to Old Glory? I can’t think of a bigger insult to the People of the United States at a time when big money, mostly corporate money, has essentially purchased Congress, divesting ordinary people of the ability to run their own country. If there is anything that the Fourth of July is supposed to represent it is the notion that the governed should be self-governed (but do also check out this excellent recent article by Mark Tiedemann, who considers what it really means to be patriotic).

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What Being An American Means To Me

July 3, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
What Being An American Means To Me

I am not given to setting out pronouncements like this very often, but in light of the last several years I thought it might be worthwhile to do so on the occasion of the 236th anniversary of our declared independence.

I don’t think in terms of demonstrating my love of country. My affection for my home is simply a given, a background hum, a constant, foundational reality that is reflexively true. This is the house in which I grew up. I know its walls, its ceiling, its floors, the steps to the attic, the verge, and every shadow that moves with the sun through all the windows. I live here; its existence contours my thinking, is the starting place of my feelings.

The house itself is an old friend, a reliable companion, a welcoming space, both mental and physical, that I can no more dislike or reject than I can stop breathing.

But some of the furniture…that’s different.

I am an American.

I don’t have to prove that to anyone. I carry it with me, inside, my cells are suffused with it. I do not have to wear a flag on my lapel, hang one in front of my house, or publicly pledge an oath to it for the convenience of those who question my political sentiments. Anyone who says I should or ought or have to does not understand the nature of what they request or the substance of my refusal to accommodate them. They do not understand that public affirmations like that become a fetish and serve only to divide, to make people pass a test they should—because we are free—never have to take.

[More . . . ]

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Why is Jerry Sandusky News?

June 19, 2012 | By | 6 Replies More
Why is Jerry Sandusky News?

I was sitting in the barber chair this morning, where they had on some national news show that spent the entire time I was there discussing the ongoing trial of (alleged) pedophile Jerry Sandusky. I’ve been hearing about this on news stations for months. They are spending as long on the nightly news discussing this trial as they do on the collapse of the European economies or the coups in various major oil-producing nations.

I am truly puzzled about the coverage. There are likely several pedophiles on trial any given day. Why are they not newsworthy? Is it because he is a coach? Many of them are. Was it because he was a winning coach?

I just don’t understand why this one (alleged) pedophile is as newsworthy as wars deposing dictators to replace them with democratically elected Islamist regimes. Are both events shaping the course of civilization?

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Cost of raising a child

June 14, 2012 | By | Reply More
Cost of raising a child

How much does it cost to raise a child? According to the Associated Press:

For $235,000, you could indulge in a shiny new Ferrari — or raise a child for 17 years. A government report released Thursday found that a middle-income family with a child born last year will spend about that much in child-related expenses from birth through age 17. That’s a 3.5 percent increase from 2010.

This immense amount of money required to raise a child has serious ramifications.

At this time, though, I would merely like to note that there are (assuming a child sleeps 8 hours a day) a child is awake almost 100,000 hours over 17 years (17 years x 365 days x 16 hours waking time per day). That means that it costs parents about $2.35 for each of their children’s waking hours.

But parents don’t necessarily get to enjoy the company of their children during every one of their child’s waking hours. I’m going to make a great leap and guess that parents only spend about 4 hours per day in the company of each of their children each day over a period of 17 years. Therefore, parents spend about 24,820 hours in the company of their children over 17 years. Therefore, it costs parents ($235,000/24,820) $9.47 for each hour that they actually get to spend with each of their children during the first 17 years.

Quite often, this can be a great bargain, at least in my experience.

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Facts, figures and hypocrisy regarding marijuana

May 27, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
Facts, figures and hypocrisy regarding marijuana

I’ve never used marijuana. I’m not promoting the use of marijuana, or alcohol intoxication, or the use of prescription drugs to get high. On the other hand, I know that many people do these things. In my opinion, it is not for me to tell other folks how to run their lives, as long as A) they are not minors and B) these activities don’t seriously interfere with their duties to their family or work. How is it that getting high on alcohol or prescription drugs (or runner’s high and other natural ways to get high) are OK, yet smoking a joint will cause you to end up in jail and give you a noteworthy criminal record? Yes, if you are arrested on your own property for the crime of trying to escape stress or pain, you can be marched through the same criminal justice system as those who steal cars, those who rape, and those who commit arson.

With that in mind consider the following statistics regarding marijuana usage from Huffpo:

While Obama’s term began with great promise for drug policy reformers, in the past two years it has been difficult to distin­guish Obama’s drug policies from those of his White House predecessors. Although President Obama has acknowledged that legalization is “an entirely legitimate topic for debate” — the first time a sitting president has made such a statement — his administra­tion has made a string of increasingly disappointing moves over the last year. Half of all U.S. drug arrests are for marijuana — more than 850,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana in 2010 alone, 88 percent for mere possession.

Please note carefully that 850,000 is more people than the entire state of South Dakota. America has massively dysfunctional priorities, and it’s time to think of a better way to handle urges people to get high. I would propose that we handle marijuana like we handle alcohol. Regulate it and tax it. When people whine that others are getting high illegally, I’m inclined to tell them to shut the hell up, because they are probably getting high on something (most likely alcohol or prescription drugs). And perhaps they are getting high on their feelings of moral superiority and the the excitement they get when they support laws that invade the private lives of their neighbors.

The above Huffpo article makes the legitimate point that Barack Obama would not be President if the harsh marijuana crackdown he is supporting had been applied to the young Barry Obama smoking a joint. How many otherwise law-abiding people are thrown into the criminal justice system because of the sin of wanting to feel some pleasure or some escape from the stress of the crazy world, or some relief from serious chronic pain?

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George Lucas moves to Plan B

May 21, 2012 | By | Reply More
George Lucas moves to Plan B

I’d bet that a lot of those obstructionists in Marin County are wishing they could rewind the clock.

But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major [studio] expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place “that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.”

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring “low income housing” here.

I’d bet about 10% of people go utterly ballistic about their property. I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood, where a contingent of people stepped forward about 15 years ago to prevent a low-key art fair on my street. You couldn’t believe all of the hyperbole and all the venom. The opponents were worried that people would be walking on the sidewalks in front of their houses during the fair, if you can believe that one. Well, the fair went on, and it continues to this day on an annual basis. I’ve thought a lot about the “sacred” since reading Jonathan Haidt’s thoughts on it (I’ll post on it soon). The basic idea is that once some declares something (e.g., their home) to be sacred, there is no negotiation allowed, and anyone who tries to cross them is evil. The bottom line is that otherwise reasonable people become crazy.

George Lucas apparently had enough of it and decided to let some ordinary folks move into Marin. Talk about inhumane punishment: forcing rich folks to live nearby modest-income Americans . . .

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Zach Wahls honors his two moms.

May 3, 2012 | By | Reply More
Zach Wahls honors his two moms.

Today, an attorney with whom I work told me I absolutely needed to drop what I was doing in order to listen to a 19-year old man giving a statement to the Iowa legislature. Under consideration was a constitutional amendment that would reverse the landmark case of Varnum v Brien. I looked up Zach Wahls on Youtube and watched his incredible speech.

My friend then told me that Zach also happened to be in town, at Left Bank Books, 5 blocks away from my law office. I walked over, arriving in time to hear Zach ending his prepared remarks, and opening the floor to questions. One of the main points he made is that people react badly to households of two gay parents because they have a “fear of the unknown.”

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“Saying Gay” is not about SEX

April 28, 2012 | By | 1 Reply More
“Saying Gay” is not about SEX

I’ve been thinking about the Missouri “Don’t Say Gay” legislation (HB2051) since it hit public awareness. I’ve lived in Missouri most of my life, I am used to seeing legislative discussions that make my head hurt, but this one hit me harder than most.

I realize that this bill, like much legislation around the country, is a fearful reaction to the many advances that gay folk are making. It is more accepted to be gay now than 20 years ago. Gay people are often portrayed on TV shows, in books and movies and the storyline is no longer about being gay. The dramatic value of homosexuality has dipped in popularity. Being gay is less taboo, and for some people that is the last straw. This legislation feels like a last ditch effort from the folks petrified and disgusted by homosexuals to protect themselves through the guise of protecting the children. But from what?

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Life by the numbers

April 15, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
Life by the numbers

In years past, I used to rest assured that I was in good shape, physically, economically and socially. That was before computers gave me the ability to know exactly how I’m doing.

It used to be easier to pretend that one was in good health. Nowadays, hundreds of websites let you know about all of the diseases that threaten you, complete with many symptoms that undoubtedly match some of your symptoms. Of course there have always been books and magazines with medical information, but never before could you so easily pinpoint so many symptoms with a free Google search or a quick visit to the symptom-checker at Wrongdiagnosis.com.

Economically, we used to put our money into some sort of mutual fund or other investment, and we considered that we were “married” to the account. Computers now give us the ability to track our financial health second by second. Computer-programmed trading also creates crazy jumps and plunges in the market. Ignorance was bliss, and many advisers argue that you should go back to finding a reasonable place to put your money, then ignoring it for long periods of time.

Then there is one’s social health. It used to be that I could assume that I had an indefinite (large) number of people with whom I had a friendship. That was before Outlook came along to tell me exactly who I did (and did not) know well enough to have a phone number or an email address. In Outlook, you’ll get the exact number. Ooops. My social circle is not nearly as big as I’d like to believe.

Perhaps you are thinking that Outlook is not the right place to look, and that one ought to look, instead, to Facebook. Thanks to the precision statistics offered by Facebook, we can see that the typical Facebook user has 190 friends. That’s it? But what if I get in a bind or I get sick, and I need the help of a “friend.” It seems like you could run through 190 “friends” all too quickly. It ultimately presents the same problem as Outlook. It gives you a finite number, and many of them are not really good friends, anyway, as much as I enjoy sharing information with them.

A new article in The Atlantic, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely,” by Stephen Marche, should make us even more suspicious of the Facebook phenomenon (the article is in the May 2012 edition, not yet online). We learn (p. 66) that neurotics and lonely individuals spend greater amounts of time on Facebook per day than non-lonely people. He also writes that Facebook has become a place to pretend that one’s life is better than it is, and that “believing that others have strong social networks can lead to feelings of depression.” He also cites to research showing that “surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing . . . actual people in the flesh.” He concludes that the idea that a website “could deliver a more friendly, inter-connected world is bogus.” Further research shows that “the greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are . . . [and] The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” He adds that Facebook is not always a bad thing. Like many things, it is a tool that can be used or misused. “It’s like a car. you can drive it to pick up your friends. Or you can drive alone.”

Then again, Facebook puts us into the business of competing with our “friends.” “Facebook imprisons us in the business of self-presenting, and this, [according to author Jaron Lanier], is the site’s crucial and fatally unacceptable downside.” Facebook gratifies “the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self-promoting behavior.”

So think about this next time you smugly react to your “friend” count. Marche’s article is far more nuanced than the above summary, and he would admit that there are many ways to use Facebook. I, for instance, use it to share article, including many articles from this website. I can’t help but notice, though, that many people post on Facebook 8 times per day, and they would seem to fall into his description of those having a “narcissistic personality disorder.” When you add up your Facebook “friends,” then, to see how rich you are with “friends,” you might want to set those narcissistic friends aside before counting.

So this is life by the numbers, at least if you include this final number, which I take as a challenge, rather than a depressing fact (or use this alternate method of calculating your approximate number of remaining days). In sum, it appears that you will be happier (or at least you will think you are happier) if you get away from the computer and, instead, spend time with a good friend, face-to-face, talking about something other than your health, your investments, and you cyber social circle.

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