Archive for October, 2008

Things To Do Before You Die

Friday, October 31st, 2008

This is really a tragic story of course but it sort of asks the question “what do you do after reaching a lifelong goal?” Clearly for someone who has bowled as long as this guy (45 years on the same team?) bowling a perfect game had to be a life long goal. But to reach it and then have a heart attack and die? Wow. That’s too much.

I Voted

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Yep, it is too late to get me to change my mind. I will be out of town on election day so yesterday I went to town hall, picked up an absentee ballot and I voted. And I’ve never been so worried about my vote in my life. And mind you this was the 10th time I have voted in a presidential election.

It doesn’t matter who I voted for either. I’d be just as worried about it no matter which candidate I voted for. in fact I seriously considered not voting at all. And at the last minute I thought about voting for a third party candidate just so I could say “I didn’t vote for him” no matter who won. Neither candidate really gets me excited. Both candidates scare me in different ways. So I held my nose and picked one that I hope will be better than the other. Not a good way to feel.

And this went down the ballot. For Senate, for House. Well Governor was ok. Really local stuff like State Senate was ok – though I could still wish for better. State Rep was fine but I didn’t vote for as many as I could. I voted for the people I know something about.

Well we’ll see. During the next President’s watch the economy will get better or not. If it gets better they will likely get reelected. If it doesn’t get better they will likely serve only one term.  Even though it is not likely to be them that makes the difference. We’ll be out of Iraq or we will not. Again, despite the best of intentions I’m not all that sure that who is President will make that much of a difference.

The President’s job is largely about perceptions. And persuasion. When Teddy Roosevelt called the Presidency a “bully pulpit” he did not mean a place where one could “bully” people or force them. Rather he meant that is was a great platform to use to try to persuade people. “Bully” was a way he say “good”. A lot of people get the idiom wrong these days and miss interpret what he meant. But he was right. The power of persuasion is key in a president. We’ll see how the next president does with that. The last three we’ve had were not so good at it in my opinion.

In any case, my vote is cast and now it is wait and see what happens next. Don’t forget to vote.

Word Musings

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Do the words liberal and conservative really mean anything in politics these days? Or like words to the Mad Hatter do they mean what ever the speaker wants them to mean in a particular context? I really think so.

It used to me that a liberal wanted to change things while a conservative wanted to maintain the status quo. Or in some cases a conservative was someone who wanted to move things back to the way they were after they had been changed. In other words liberals had their eyes on the future and conservatives in the past. Over time in politics a liberal was someone who wanted to spend more money on social services and a conservative was someone who wanted to avoid that. Conservative in the vernacular thought social services were best left up to charity and religion. Note that all major religions have this notion of charity and taking care of the poor and unfortunate. So in a sense liberal meant changing how we take care of people while conservative meant keeping it the same.

Some of that is still true today but increasingly liberal seems to mean in favor of more government and conservative means less government. But by my reasoning that means that both major parties at liberal. Both want more control by government – they disagree on what things to control though. Both want to spend my money on their pet projects. Both want to stick the government’s nose into things it may not belong in. Can you say "Iraq?"

The old joke is that the Republicans want to steal from the middle class and give to the rich and the Democrats want to steal from the middle class (and occasionally the rich) and give to the poor. So who you vote for depends on if you aspire to be rich or poor. Feels true a lot of the time but neither play directly on how I view the words liberal and conservative. They have no meaning in that joke.

For what it is worth I have concluded that the two parties are the party in power and the party out of power. Both the Democrats and Republicans seem to do largely the same things – disagree with a policy of the party in power and then try to implement that same policy if they make it into power themselves. Democrats started us in Viet Nam in a big way and Republicans started us in a big way in Iraq. Perhaps a Democrat will get us out of Iraq as a Republican got us out of Viet Nam? Over simplified? Perhaps but then most political discussion these days is so I’m in good company. (Or bad )

I can’t deal with either conservative or liberal as labels for myself. I am anti-abortion and pro-gun which causes some to label me conservative. I am very unhappy with the notion of homosexual sex but want to see people in happy loving relationships have the same rights as heterosexual couples regardless of gender. Perhaps that makes me a liberal. But I have a notion of marriage and relationships that delegates sex to a very small role. (Please no jokes about that being because I have been married for over 31 years. Rather I think that placing sex in proper context is what makes a marriage or other relationship last.)

I believe in charity and taking care of people. I would prefer a faith-based way to do that because I think it involves more emotional support and less overhead. But at the same time I realize that that is no longer practical in our secular society. So I want to see government taking more of a role in health care and unemployment and some similar issues. I’m pro-choice on education. That’s a very conservative notion these days involving things like vouchers, charter schools and other ways of providing government funds but less government control. But at the same time I support public education not only through taxes but though donations to public schools and making sure my son can continue to live a good life and afford to teach in public schools on a teacher’s pay.  Liberal or conservative? Does it matter? Is the label helpful or distracting from the issue? I vote for distracting.

I want all men to be treated equally. I see that as a religious idea. Visit a Catholic church in an ethnically diverse area and the mix of people will amaze you. They do it better than most Protestant churches much to my sadness. Like wise the Moslem community seems to be able to ignore racial and ethnic divides at least among Moslems of the same sub faith. We need more of that between faiths of course. I see that as a conservative notion because it harkens back the the early church while some see that as a liberal notion because it is a change from the church of the last few hundreds of years. Does it matter which label one applies? Is it even healthy to the goal to apply a label? I think not.

Conservative/liberal & Republican/Democrat are tribal labels. We join (or are born into) a tribe and that is our name. The other tribe is wrong so using the other label on people in an attack. The worst of this is that it removes granularity. It blocks the possibility of ad hock groupings of people united for something that benefits everyone. If the tribe leadership decides something is good or bad the members have to put aside their own beliefs and go along with the leadership. That may have been appropriate at one time but clearly is not today. And yet it is the reality. 

But in a discussion those labels serve as a block to clarity and adds an ambiguity that is unhelpful. Ideas should not be seen as liberal or conservative (nor should people) but as what they are. Sure there is a context in society and I am not saying that ideas live in isolation. What I am saying is that those labels only detract from understanding and, dare I use the word, truth. I would prefer to avoid them when possible.

I heard from a former student today

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Periodically I get Facebook friend requests from people who were students of mine at BG. Today was one such day. I have to say that hearing from students really makes my day. As a teacher we see kids leave all the time and wonder what happens to them. It’s that old “I shot an arrow into the air” thing.

In times past I suspect teachers heard from far fewer students especially more than a few years after graduation. The Internet changes that at least for teachers (or former teachers) who are available on the Internet.

A Boy Named Linux

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Read this story and try to tell me some people don’t take their feelings about software too far. Yes, some couple in Sweden named their baby Linux. The obvious question is indeed “Will Richard Stallman insist that the baby be called GNU/Linux?” I honestly hope no one names their kids “Windows Vista” though.

Did you ever …

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Sit in an airport listening them call the boarding of flights and think that they sounded more interesting then where you were going?

Get in your car to run an errand and think about just driving on and seeing where you wound up?

Wonder what it would be like to live in a completely different part of the country or the world?

Realize that you don’t have any travel scheduled for months and think “I have to fix that.”

Wanderlust – ever have it? I get it all the time. But no where without my wife is worth going to for any length of time. Still …


Sunday, October 12th, 2008

I love to read books. Always have. Fiction, non-fiction, history, thrillers, mysteries and most especially science fiction. But there are problems. Once I start reading a good book I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to work, to eat to sleep, or do anything else. I just want to read. At times my body rebels and I do eat or sleep because I have to. And sometimes self-discipline kicks in and I work or do other responsible things. But a good book, far more than a good movie or TV show, consumes my attention. And I love it.

Eventually the book is over and a feeling of let down ensues. The only answer is distraction or finding another book. Often when I finish it is night time and I am overdue for sleep. That is pretty much the ideal situation. I get to shut down and overnight my subconscious brain processes. It’s a good thing.

On the other hand sometimes I finish a book and there is more time in the day. If I have finished a book in a series and have the next book handy I can start reading right away. It’s harder though if the next available book in not in the same series or worse if it is a different genre. Somehow the context switch is, or at least can be, very difficult.

If I read a book that is the beginning of an existing series and I like it I try to buy the rest of the series right away. That works well. On the other hand today I read a book that is the first of a promised series but the next book is not out yet. I will probably have to wait a year for it.

I have two more books on my reading table and they are from series that I really enjoy. But both are very different in character, in venue, in time, and so switching is proving complex. The book I just finished "Dragons Wild" by Robert Asprin“ is more of less a fantasy. It is about dragons in human form. I have another dragon related book but those dragons are very much in dragon form. While one book takes place in modern times on earth the other one takes place in the distant future on a world very much unlike earth today.

So I picked the other book on my list which while it is in the future and on other worlds doesn’t really have a dragon in it. Well a flying lizard that spits acid but its not really a dragon. I’m still having trouble getting into it but I think I will be able to do so. And then I’ll have trouble putting it down when I should be sleeping tonight. sigh

When I am not reading a book, as for example when I went out with friends last night or shopping earlier today, my mind wants to process a good story. This is especially true with SF or fantasy where a different, imaginary culture or situation has been created for the story. I think about would the consequences of things would be in that culture. This ties in very well with my interest in sociology and anthropology so I have some training to fall back on. But still a good book, a well-written story is a mental workout. And that is probably why I like them so much.