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ResQgeek

September 2017

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We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this doy forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.


-Inaugural Address, President Donald Trump


I must confess that I did not watch the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States of America. I did not watch, in part, because I did not expect any surprises from the man who will now lead our country. But, really, I didn't watch for the same reasons I have never watched a Presidential inauguration. I find the pomp and ceremony of these political occasions boring. While I do appreciate the significance of the way we hand over the reigns of power in a peaceful fashion and acknowledge how truly rare that peaceful transition has been in history, I simply do not find ceremony of it compelling.

But normally I have enough interest in the proceedings to follow them through the news and social media. Not this time. I have grave reservations about the qualifications, character, and abilities of the newly inaugurated President. I find his personality, attitude, and manner abrasive, and I was more than a little afraid of what he might say, or what might be done by his supporters, or his opponents.

Thus it was Sunday morning before I actually read the text of his inaugural address. There are many things that can be said about the speech, and many points that I find troubling. But the one that sends shivers down my spine is the language about "America first." I don't know if the President was intentionally invoking the isolationist movement of the late 1930s, but my immediate reaction when reading these words was to link them to the pro-appeasement isolationist who were sympathetic to the fascist regimes of Europe. I thought about the strong images drawn by a young Dr. Seuss early in his career, including this one:



I think that history has, properly, judged this isolationist movement harshly for ignoring the brutality and inhumanity of the axis alliance and the evil that was being committed in the territories they controlled. And I think that if we do, in fact, undertake a true policy that always and only puts American interests first, regardless of what that means to the rest of the world, then history will judge us just as harshly.

And while I wonder if the new President is sufficiently well-versed in history to appreciate the full historical context of his words, I see evidence that they may be rooted in a similar worldview. There is already a bill pending in the House of Representatives to withdraw the US from the United Nations. A year ago, I would have thought that such a bill would have had exactly zero chance of actually passing, a product of the extreme political fringes. But in light of the words of the President, I can't help but wonder if we aren't about to try and follow a path we have already walked.
I have been reluctant to 'unfriend' people on Facebook because of political content they post.  Even when I strongly disagree with the positions they support, I worry that unfriending people will leave me in an echo chamber where I only see posts that reinforce my own biases.  However, last week I finally unfriended a couple of people because I found the memes they shared to be irresponsible and offensive (and because the individuals in question were people I was only distantly acquainted with...I have several closer connections that have posted similar items that I have not (yet) unfriended).

The meme that finally pushed me over the edge was this one:

There are several reasons this particular meme bothers me.  First is that implication that the individuals shown in the image are on welfare.  I see nothing in that image to indicate that these women are on any form of public assistance.  I can only surmise why the creator of this meme assumed this to be the case, and the only conclusions I can come to involve racism and/or sexism.

And then there's the proposal espoused by the language of the meme itself.  The first amendment protects the right of people to disrespect the flag as a form of protected free speech.  This was clearly established when the Supreme Court ruled that burning the flag is a form of free speech that is protected by the first amendment.  I know that there are many people who don't like this ruling, but the protection of free speech is only meaningful if it protects the rights of those who express ideas that you don't like or agree with.  What I find especially troublesome in this meme is that it is essentially arguing that those on welfare should have their first amendment rights restricted.  In other words, the benefits of the Bill of Rights do not apply to the poor.  This is yet another example of the disturbing current trend to marginalize and disenfranchize the poor in this country.

It seems that the war on poverty has somehow morphed into a war against the poor.  Rather than finding ways to help the poor escape poverty, we, as a society, increasingly seem to be trying to find ways to punish the poor for being poor.  The efforts in Kansas to limit the ability of welfare recipients to collect their benefits are just an example of how far we seem to be willing to go to make life more difficult for those who are most in need of our help.

Buried deep in our national psyche is the idea that hard work leads to success.  A consequence of this belief is the idea that the lack of success must be the result of laziness or an unwillingness to work.  These ideas are rooted in a Calviinist/Puritan Protestant work ethic which provides a noble motivation for people to put forth their best efforts in all that they do, but which fails to consider all of the other factors that can trap people in poverty.  The myth of the lazy welfare recipient who is milking the system is strongly held by many people, but in reality, poverty is a systemic trap that can be virtually impossible to escape from.  Instead of assuming the worst of the poor and punishing them for being trapped, we should recognize how limited their options are and find ways to help them escape from the systems that prevent them from getting ahead.
It is nearly impossible to avoid images from fourteen years ago today, and so I find myself pondering the events of that terrible day and the impact it has had over the intervening years.  The initial response to the attacks was overwhelmingly positive, with people showing tremendous courage and compassion as they worked together, initially to try and save lives, and then to bring comfort and closure to the families of those who could not be rescued.  The incredible unity of spirit that arose, both across the country, and around the world, struck me as a hopeful sign that our common humanity could overcome our differences and unite us all.  In the midst of the tragedy and sorrow, there was a glimmer of hope.

Unfortunately, that spark did not kindle a lasting light of peace.  Instead, we have allowed our anger and fear to conquer our compassion and hope.  We have used the attacks to justify incredible infringements on our liberties, and our misguided efforts to protect our security have made the world a more dangerous place.  We have squandered the good will of people around the world by our incredible arrogance and our selfish efforts to reshape the world to serve our interests.  And for what?  There is little to suggest that we are any safer than we were before the attacks, and the world is, if anything, less stable and more dangerous than it was before.  We have sacrificed our liberties and economy in pursuit of security, with very little to show for it.

And at home, the fear and anger generated by those attacks have festered, growing and transforming like a cancer inside our politics, driving us apart.  It has made it impossible to have a meaningful and productive debate, and our politics have degraded into name-calling and blind rhetoric shouted across the chasm that separates us.  Instead of trying to understand the point of view of the other side, we now dismiss them and their views as stupid (at best) or evil (at worse).  And there doesn't seem to be any indication that any of this will be changing anytime soon.

Today, I think about those who died on that sunny day fourteen years ago.  I wish I could say that we have honored their memories by our collective actions.  But, in truth, I don't think we have.  We have wrapped ourselves in their memory, using them to justify our fear and anger.  This is a grave injustice to those whose lives were cut short.  I can't help but think that it would be a far better memorial to them if we were looking to bring peace to the world, reaching out to help people in need, regardless of their nationality, religion, or politics.  We should be honoring them by looking for solutions to make the world a better place to live, both for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren, a world that is environmentally sustainable, where we all recognize our common humanity and respect each other.  Instead of focusing on the anger and fear, we need to remember that feeling of unity.  That is the fitting memorial for the victims.
For those who have been paying attention to the Catholic Church and Pope Francis, you may be familiar with Cardinal Raymond Burke.  Formerly the bishop of LaCrosse, WI and archbishop of St. Louis, MO, Cardinal Burke was recently transfered by the Pope from his post on the Vatican's highest court to the ceremonial role as the sponsor of the charitable Order of Malta.  This transfer has been widely understood as a demotion, an exceedingly rare occurence at this level of the Church.  The problem with this demotion is that it actually gives the Cardinal more freedom to express his criticisms of the Pope.

In a recent interview, Burke expressed his views that the decline in priestly vocations and the sexual abuse scandals were caused by a radical feminzation of the church.  I'm not sure what reality the Cardinal resides in, but it must look a whole lot different from the one I live in.  I think the most clear explanation for the sexual abuse was spelled out by Fr. Andrew Greeley, the late Catholic priest, sociologist, and novelist.  In his view the sexual abuse was an expression of of the unchecked power in the structure of the church hierarchy.  He, very credibly, pointed out that similar abuses occur in any social structure where individuals are place in positions of authority and then not held accountable for their actions.  This has nothing to do with feminism or the (all too slowly) growing role of women in the church.  If anything, the increasing number of women in positions of some authority in the church has helped to both reduce the amount of abuse and expose its existence.  Perhaps that is what Burke is referring to...without the women, the abuse scandal wouldn't have happened because the abuse could continue undetected.  I hope that isn't what he meant, but I'm not sure what else he could have meant.

As for the decline of priestly vocations, I want to quote him directly before I comment:


The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time. I want to emphasize that the practice of having exclusively boys as altar servers has nothing to do with inequality of women in the Church.

I think that this has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.

The problem with this argument is in the timing.  The numbers of men entering seminary and preparing to become priests had been in steep decline well before girls were allowed to serve at the altar in 1983.  I was an altar boy in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I remember the priests then complaining about the declining enrollement.  There weren't any altar girls yet, so I don't see how the decline in priestly vocations can be linked to the introduction of girls to the altar.  In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons girls were allowed to serve was because they couldn't convince enough boys to do so.  I can't speak to why the numbers of men entering the priesthood has declined, but I'm reasonably sure that Burke's connection to the introduction of girl altar servers is utterly bogus.

To me, Cardinal Burke represents a style of Church leadership that should have vanished decades (or even centuries) ago.  His vision of the Church is narrow and exclusive, and it smacks of the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus condemned quite clearly in the Pharisees of his time.  For me, the humble, open and inclusive style of Pope Francis shows the kind of leadership that I believe the Church sorely needs more of.
There has been considerable debate this week about the report about the use of torture by the CIA to obtain information from terrorist suspects.  After my initial attempts to dig into this story, I had to walk away from it in disgust.  Much of the debate focuses on whether the use of torture was an effective means of obtaining useful intelligence, and the rest seems obsessed with the question of the legality of using torture in the first place.  Personally, I think both arguements are completely beside the point.

As far as I'm concerned to more important question is whether the use of torture is ethically or morally permissible.  I have serious reservations about whether torture is at all useful in producing valid intelligence, but in the end, that question is irrelevant in the larger context of the whether we should even be considering the use of torture.  Likewise the question of legality.  While the use of torture *might* be legal, that still doesn't address the fundamental question of whether we *should* use it.

The use of torture by the United States is, as far as I am concerned, is a grievous violations of the principles of human rights upon which our country was built.  It undermines the very foundations of our nation, and errodes the moral fabric of our society.  Not only does it cause incredible damage to our international reputation, but it drags us into the very gutter with those that we have identified as our enemies, lowering us to their level.  We had ceded any moral high ground we might have once had, making it increasingly difficult to convince others that we stand for higher ideals.  I also believe that the same mindset that justifies the use of torture in the name of national security has also caused enormous damage to our civil rights protections here at home as well.

Torture is wrong.  Period.  It is a fundamental violation of the inherent human rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, rights that belong to "all men", not just to our citizens or our friends.  To justify the use of torture in the name of national security is to violate the very principles upon which we declared ourselves to be a free nation.  No ends can possibly justify such a violation of basic human rights.  The debate we *should* be having is not about the effectiveness or legality of torture, but about how to make sure that we *never* resort to such tactics again.  We need to be clear that such practices are fundamentally wrong, hold those responsible for their use accountable, and put in place measures to ensure that we never give in to the temptation to use them again.
The price of gasoline has dropped dramatically over the last couple of months, and the nationwide average prices is about $0.50/gallon less than it was at this time last year.  I hear a lot of people out there celebrating the lower fuel prices, but I must admit to feeling no small amount of ambivalence about this trend.

I know that it is a wildly unpopular position, and I generally don't talk about it for that reason, but I have long felt that our fuel prices in the United States are too *LOW*.  I believe that our relatively inexpensive gasoline has fostered our dependence upon fossil fuels in ways that are bad for the environment, and which lead to the terrible traffic congestion that prevails in so many of our cities.  Personally, I would support a significant increase in the taxes on gasoline, coupled with a corresponding increase in investment in public transportation infrastructure.  We need to create negative incentives to help break our dependence on our individual vehicles, while providing viable alternative transportation that is reliable and convenient.

I can already hear the screams that such a proposal will prompt.  I can anticipate the arguments that would be thrown at me, from across the political spectrum.  Some would argue that such a tax would create a drag on the economy, as it would reduce the cash people have available for other spending.  Some would argue that it would create bigger, more wasteful government.  Others would point out that such a tax would be hugely regressive, impacting low income families much harder than those who earn more.  There is a very long list of arguments about why such a proposal would be bad.  I've listened to them before, on those rare moments when I've dared to express my opinion.

But none of that changes the fact that I think that we have become dangerously dependent upon individual cars as our default mode of transportation.  This dependence contributes to our carbon footprint, makes us dependent upon foreign sources of fossil fuels, and drives a wide range of poor urban/suburban planning decisions that try to accommodate and resolve our traffic issues.  At least in our most densly populated areas, we need to get serious about providing affordable, comfortable, convenient, and reliable public transportation systems that provide a realistic alternative to driving.  But the political willpower to build and maintain such infrastructure simply does not exist as long as we perceive driving to be a relatively inexpensive alternative.

NOTE: Because I know that my position on this is unpopular, all comments will be screened.  I will unscreen comments that are relevant (even if I disagree), but only if they are respectful and polite.
As I read the news these days, it seems to me that our society is being divided by deeper fault lines all the time.  The lack of dialogue between the two political parties is one fault line, perhaps the easiest to see, with our blue and red colored election results maps.  But I think we have any number of additional fault lines growing between different groups in our society.  Some of these parallel the political divide, while others run along weird angles.  I think that the racial fault lines are among the more dangerous, especially because so many people either can see them or deny that they exist.  These fault lines, like so many of them, create barriers, with people on each side finding it difficult (if not impossible) to recognize that the world look different on the other side.  The reactions to the shooting in Furgeson, MO (like that of Trayvon Martin in Florida earlier), is an example of what I mean.  I see those who support the police officer, who see him as defending himself against a suspicious and potentially violent person.  I also see those who argue that young black men are unfairly targetted by law enforcement simply by virtue of their skin color.  The thing is, both sides have valid points, buth neither side seems willing to acknowledge those from the other side.  There is no dialogue, only argument.

As these and other fault lines continue to deepen and further divide our society, I can't help wonder what will happen.  In geology, fault lines are associated with plate tectonics, with the movement of land masses.  When pressure accumulates along one of these fault lines, the danger of major earthquakes grows.  I can only hope that our social fault lines don't follow a similar model.  I hope that we can find ways to engage in dialogue, to close the fault lines and reduce the stress between different groups in our society.   Because if we don't, I'm afraid that the accumulated stresses will result in a 'social earthquake' that may reshape our society in a horribly violent way.

When will the shouting stop? It has been more than a month since my last post, and the volume of the arguments about gun control continues unabated. It have taken to hiding some posts on my Facebook news feed, and I have come really close to unfriending a few people because they continue to proclaim their support for the second amendment in obnoxious ways that are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

One thing that has struck me about the arguments being advanced by those who most strongly oppose gun control measures is that they seem to be grounded in contradictory expectations regarding the abilities of the government. On the one hand, as I pointed out in my last post, they seem terrified that the “government” is going to impose some type of tyranny upon the populous, robbing us of our liberties. While I think that this is unlikely in the extreme, this fear is used to justify massive private arsenals which would, supposedly, be used to defend our freedom and liberty from such a powerful, overreaching government authority.

At the same time, the gun control opponents also argue that private gun ownership is necessary so people can protect themselves from criminals. This implies a significant failure of the government, in that it is clearly unable to protect its citizens from such crimes, so that the citizens must take up arms to defend themselves. And this is the same government that is apparently on the verge of imposing some massive tyrannical police state upon us all, stealing our freedom? Really? While I don’t find either argument particularly persuasive, to argue both at the same time is simply laughable.

The first argument is a red herring. There is no massive government conspiracy to rob us of our rights. And even if there was, the weapons that are available to the general public, even the most extreme models, are not going to serve much purpose against the full military power of such a government. No rifle is going to stop a jet fighter armed with missiles or a heavily armored artillery piece. The resistance that they envision is as outdated as the technology that was prevalent when the second amendment was written.

And while it certainly can be argued that the government has failed to sufficiently protect people from crime (especially in certain places), more weapons are likely to make things worse, not better. To those that argue that having armed viewers in the theater in Aurora, CO last summer would have save lives, I want to know how you reach that conclusion. In the darkness and chaos of that theater, those extra weapons may well have been fired, but I am not convinced that those additional shooters would have any clue who they should be shooting at, or that they would be able to discharge their weapons without significant collateral victims. Unless those in that theater were carefully and specifically trained to respond to a situation like that, they are not likely to properly assess the situation and respond appropriately. It isn’t about how well you shoot at the target range…it is about how well you can grasp the situation in the midst of chaos and temper your emotions so that your response is controlled and measured. This does NOT come naturally, and while we can sit in the comfort of our homes and say that we can do it, the reality is that most of us can’t.

Do we need sensible gun control measures? Absolutely. Too many people are dying, needlessly, because we have created an environment where access to guns is far too easy. Are such measures a magic cure? Not at all. People will still find ways to kill each other. But guns make it FAR too easy, and if we can start to restrict access, to make guns more difficult to obtain, that would at least be a beginning.

The gun control debate[1] rages on (and on...).  As I see the seemingly endless stream of posts on my Facebook feed from both sides, I find myself alternating between anger and despair.  While both sides of this issue have become entrenched and are stubbornly repeating the same points over and over again, I find much of what is being presented by the “gun rights” advocates to be especially disturbing.  There is an ugliness to these postings that make me worry about the extremes to which some of these people might be willing to go to defend their positions.  Additionally, these same postings seem to reflect an almost willful ignorance that I find simply inexcusable.

Why is it that so much of the rhetoric from those opposed to gun control appears to be motivated by fear and paranoia?  One of the frequent arguments is that gun ownership is important so that the people can oppose a tyrannical government.  They make it sound like there is an imminent threat of the government stripping us of all our rights.  Where does this paranoia come from?  One recent posting suggested that the protections of the first amendment are in imminent danger of being revoked, and that we will need our guns so as to defend our first amendment rights.  I simply don’t get it…I simply don’t see any evidence that the government is trying to roll back the first amendment.  In fact, the Supreme Court has strongly upheld the first amendment in recent decisions, even for those who use them in the most despicable ways (I’m think of the Westboro Baptist Church, for example).

It strikes me that the fear and paranoia of the opponents of sensible gun control is the same fear and paranoia that drives those who believe in various conspiracy theories.  I don’t understand this mindset, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be rational.  And because it isn’t rational, it becomes impossible to convince those with this mindset that they might be mistaken.  They view the world from within a bubble that distorts their impressions, and so they interpret the actions of others in ways that reinforce their worldview.  Thus any effort to impose any limitations on the right to bear arms is understood as just the first step down the road to a total ban on all guns and the revocation of the second amendment.

So, while the content of many of these postings does anger me, that anger is often followed by a sense of despair.  I long for a meaningful debate, where both sides come to the table willing to at least listen to the other side and acknowledge their honest motives.  Unfortunately, the paranoia evident on at least one side seems to suggest that such a discussion is fundamentally impossible.  And without such a discussion, any effort to impose meaningful and sensible limitations on firearms will just be fuel on the fire of the oppositions fear.



[1] I use the term “debate” a bit loosely, since a true debate implies that the opposing sides are actually trying to bridge the gap between them, and I’m far from convinced that the current dynamics include any such effort.

"It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” - Rep. Todd Akin


If you haven’t read or heard that quote, I’m guessing that you haven’t been following the news this week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a politician flush his career down the toilet in such a glaringly obvious fashion as this. This statement, explaining why Akin doesn’t believe that abortion is necessary in cases of rape, is so blatantly wrong-headed and misogynist that I cannot conceive of any way for him to resuscitate his career.

There has been plenty of analysis about this statement, which includes a disturbing parsing of rape into “legitimate” and (presumably) illegitimate categories (are we ever going to stop blaming the victim?), and a bizarre pseudo-medical “wish it were so” scenario about the risks of pregnancy during rape that can’t possibly be grounded in any true science. It also manages to address the existence of the rapist and the child while entirely dismissing the presence of the woman involved, as if her life and concerns were of no consequence.

But the thing about all this that truly terrifies me is that, as pointed out by Eugene Robinson in today’s Washington Post, Aiken is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Really? How scary is it that a man who believes that a woman’s body can “shut the whole thing down” if she is raped gets to decide Federal policy and spending priorities for Science? No wonder our policies in these areas seem so completely screwed up.

This statement, made in support of an anti-abortion policy position, is the most clear illustration of how the anti-abortion movement has sold it soul, willingly accepting the most misogynist, illogical arguments, as long as they support the ultimate goal of making abortions illegal. In the process, the movement has lost sight of the big picture: there are real people involved, people who have to face real life consequences to their choices, and whose circumstances very often don’t lend themselves to the overly simplistic arithmetic that supports the anti-abortion position. Reality is far too messy for such a simplistic approach.

To those who truly would like to see a reduction in the number of abortions, I would suggest a different approach. Instead of lobbying for a legal ban on abortions and preaching about the evils of abortion, why don’t we try to address the social circumstances that force women to consider abortion in the first place. If we were to approach this issue with an attitude of compassion, instead of one of anger, we might be able to put ourselves into the shoes of the women, to empathize with their situations, and thus find ways to help them. I find it infuriating that so many of those who oppose abortion also oppose almost every reasonable measure that might address the need for abortion, including meaningful sex education for children and social programs that would provide safety nets for at risk populations. And, as illustrated by Aiken, many of those opposed to abortion also seem to be operating from a misogynist world view where any meaningful understanding of the needs of women is simply impossible.
It seems to me that it is long past time to find a solution to the problem of Congressional Representation for the people who live in the District of Columbia. The House of Representatives is currently considering legislation that would impose limitations on abortions in the District of Columbia. Not only do the residents of DC not have any representatives that can vote on this issue, but during a subcommittee hearing for this bill, their non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, was not even allowed to speak. If that isn’t the antithesis of representative democracy, I don’t know what is. Regardless of your position on the issue of abortion, we should all be outraged that Congress is willing to impose legislation without so much as even considering the views of those upon whom the law will be enforced.

An analysis about why we can't seem to give DC true representation )

All-Stars

Jun. 21st, 2011 10:41 am
resqgeek: (Default)
For the first time since my daughter started playing soccer, back in 2006, my daughter was selected to represent her recreation league at the regional all-star tournament.  We have known other girls who were selected for the all-star team in earlier seasons, but the timing of our daughter's selection was ideal, as this will be her last season playing youth soccer (she is planning to switch to field hockey in the fall).  The tournament was organized in a non-elimination, points format, where each team played each of the other teams in their group, and the team with the best record winning the championship.  My daughter's team was in a group with four other teams from around the region and would play four games in two days.

I wasn't prepared for the results.  My daughter's team and one of the others were badly out-matched, each scoring NO goals as they struggled to an 0-3-1 record.  My daughter's team was placed last on the goal differential tie-breaker, as they had allowed more goals than the other team.  The team that won the group posted a perfect 4-0-0 record.

Along the way, I learned that the winning team selected their all-stars back in September, at the beginning of the fall season, and that they had been having weekly practices since then.  Contrast that with our league's selection at the end of the spring season, with only two weeks to prepare for the tournament, and the results become anything but surprising.

Under the tournament rules, players are eligible if they play for a recreational league team during the season and do NOT play for a travel/select team during that same time period.  There does not appear to be any rules governing the selection of the all-stars or the timing of that selection, so that these details are up to the individual leagues.  This means that the undefeated team does not appear to have violated any rules.

The problem is, that it strikes me as a violation of the spirit of the tournament.  I would think that an all-star tournament for recreational leagues should be a way to reward those recreational players who showed outstanding performance during the season.  The very nature of a recreational league is that participation should be about having fun and learning the game, rather than a focus on winning.  Selection of the all-stars at the beginning of the season is unfair to players who might otherwise show surprising development during the season, and shift the focus away from the ideals of fun and learning and places it firmly on winning the tournament.  In the end, it makes the tournament less fun (except maybe for the winners), and makes the all-star status less meaningful for those that were selected for their performance through the season.  What started out as recognition for a job well-done becomes a frustrating struggle to preserve some dignity on the field.  It was painful to watch.

The behavior of the coaches and parents for the better teams in the group was awful as well.  In one of our games, we trailed 5-0, and the coaches for the other team were still screaming at their girls, demanding that they continue to press their attack, even after it became all too clear that we were never going to be able to make an effective effort to come back.  The parents were even worse, yelling at their daughters when they made mistakes and encouraging them to be aggressive in their play against our weaker team.  What lessons are these girls learning from their coaches and parents?

I suppose I should be glad that our daughter's recreational league fosters an environment that does not promote such attitudes.  We rarely have issues with coaches or parents who promote winning at all costs or are mean-spirited towards other teams.  While we celebrate victories, the emphasis was always on effort and fun, rather than the final results, and the girls generally enjoyed themselves, even when they didn't win.  All of which left me feeling disgusted and frustrated by the attitudes of many of the other teams I saw play at the tournament.
The current atmosphere of suspicion and anger directed towards America's Islamic minority has me reflecting on our history, and in particularly our history of Anti-Catholicism. While the issues aren't exact parallels, there are many striking similarities. Much of the current debate centers around claims that the growing numbers of Muslims in this country will overwhelm our system of law and impose a Sharia legal system in its place. There are questions about the loyalty of American Muslims, about the alleged incompatibility of being a Muslim and and American.

Much of this sounds strikingly similar to the rhetoric of the American Party (i.e., the "know nothings") in the middle of the 19th Century. Spurred on my the large numbers of Catholic immigrants from Europe, the "Know nothings" argued that these Catholic immigrants would obey their priest and bishops rather than the secular authority of this country. There was a belief that the Pope was plotting to use the Catholic vote to subvert the legal system and legislate a Catholic system in its place. Questions about whether it was possible to be both a good Catholic and a loyal American lingered well in to the 20th Century, when such questions were raised during the Presidential campaign of John Kennedy.

While the majority of this country seems to have accepted that Catholic Americans are loyal and present no threat to the nation, the current rhetoric shows that perhaps we need to revisit the lessons of this history. The current opposition to the building of Islamic Centers in NYC is the most visible case, but there is also vocal opposition to the building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, TN. In all likelihood, the opponents in these cases are either unaware of this history, or would dismiss it as not relevant. After all, I don't know that there was any allegations that the Catholic Church was actively engaged in violent terrorism in the 19th Century. However, in both cases, bigotry has allowed the opponents to use a religious label as a smear against an entire segment of the population. It was wrong then, and it is just as wrong today.
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I'm concerned about the environment and what our actions are doing to it. I'm not convinced that the doom-and-gloom predictions are well-founded, but there is sufficient evidence to convince me that some changes in our collective behavior are certainly necessary. I try to be conscious of the impact of my actions, and try to make choices that (I hope) reduce any negative impact on the environment. However, a couple of things that I've read in the last couple of weeks have struck a nerve.

I recently read that while the demand for hybrid vehicles is up, it isn't up equally for all models. At least in this area, the demand for the Toyota Prius out paces the demand for the Honda Civic Hybrid. These cars are comparably priced and equipped, but the Honda is virtually the same as its regular gasoline powered sibling (other than the "Hybrid" nameplate, they are cosmetically identical), while the Prius has a unique look (not an attractive on, IMO). Apparently, the Prius is selling better because it can be identified as a hybrid powered vehicle. This means that one of the selling points for the vehicle is the need to be seen as being environmentally conscious.

Another recent news item described a vandalism attack on a Hummer H2 in a affluent DC neighborhood. All the tires on the truck were slashed, all the windows smashed, and "FOR THE ENVIRON" scratched into the paint. Granted, the H2 is anything but an environmentally friendly vehicle, but is the answer to go out and vandalize someone's property because we don't agree with their choices?

In both cases, I have to wonder about the motives. Are these people really concerned about the environment, or are the more interested in appearing to care about the environment. To me, it doesn't matter whether others know what I'm doing, as long as I'm doing it. I don't need the recognition or attention. (I feel the same way about charity...this should be a quiet personal thing, and I get suspicious of people who insist on performing "charity" in highly public ways...) I've started referring to this phenomenon as Conspicuous or Self-righteous Environmentalism (both probably terms I've lifted from articles I've read), but I have to wonder if I'm really being fair...
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(no subject)

Jun. 18th, 2007 01:22 pm
resqgeek: (Default)
At lunch time today, I popped out of the office for a quick trip into the heart of Old Town Alexandria. I needed to visit the Post Office to mail a book to another BookCrosser, and Old Town is a delightful place to release books. I caught the free lunch time shuttle bus, because summer has arrived, bringing with it hot, humid weather. My errand to the Post Office was completed quickly (almost no line, which is surprising for that time of day at that branch), and I headed off down King Street to release some books. About halfway to the waterfront, I spied a vehicle that left me perplexed and annoyed.

The vehicle in question was, apparently, a mobile billboard. The chassis was your basic six-wheeled delivery truck, but instead of a cargo box on the back, it simply carried a big, two-sided sign advertising an insurance company (at least on my side...I have no idea what was on the other side). As near as I can tell, the sole purpose for this truck is to drive around and put the signs in peoples view.

My response to this is anything but positive. Why does this annoy me? We could start with the traffic issues. We have miserably congested traffic in this area already, and having extra vehicles on the road with no other purpose than to be seen doesn't strike me as part of the solution.

Then there's the issue of air quality. Hot, humid weather, like we have today, combine with our air pollution to create dangerous levels of ozone and smog. The local governments have issued a Code Orange air quality advisory for today (the second highest level, below Code Red, for dangerous). Again, a truck driving around, burning diesel fuel, spewing exhaust into the air really doesn't fit with my idea of an appropriate response.

All of which leaves me perplexed. Do the advertisers really think they will generate significant new business this way? I'm not inclined to support such advertisers. It seems to me that advertising this way might actually create a negative impact. Or do the advertisers really think people aren't going to realize what a bad idea this is? On the other hand, given the number of people who blithely waste fuel around here, I guess that's not an unreasonable expectation...
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An article in the Metro section of today's Washington Post includes a list of 22 pedestrians that have been killed by vehicles in the Washington, DC area since January 1. Some of these are the pedestrians own fault (six of the incidents are listed as including jaywalking or pedestrians crossing against the signals), but what about the others? It appears to me that motorist here are not looking for pedestrians, or respecting pedestrians right-of-way. In an incident on Feb. 16, a woman was struck and killed by a car, and then run over by a second car! At what point did we decide that pedestrians are invisible?

This is an issue that I take quite personally. Except for long trips, I drive very little any more...just the odd errand on the weekends, mostly. I haven't driven to work regularly in almost ten years. Instead, I walk to the nearest bus stop and catch a public bus to the office. Along the way, I have to cross one residential street at a stop sign, an exit ramp from the Capital Beltway (I-495) at a traffic signal and an entrance ramp to the Beltway (at a crosswalk with no traffic control devices). On the way home, I also have to cross Eisenhower Ave., a four lane commercial street, at an intersection with a traffic signal. I have had close encounters with vehicles at every single one of these crossings. People regularly fail to stop at the stop sign in my neighborhood, and turning traffic (which doesn't have a stop sign) rarely slows down as it whips around the corner. Seldom do I get through a week without watching a number of cars run red lights at the two traffic signals. And the entrance ramp to the beltway can be a nightmare to cross during evening rush hour as the commuters stream past me, intent only on getting home, and most unwilling to pause long enough to allow me to cross.

It doesn't make any difference to these drivers, but it has caused me to become very aware of my behavior as a pedestrian. I wait for signals to change, even when there isn't traffic. I generally avoid jaywalking. Part of this is me trying to feel superior, but I also want to believe that if pedestrians were better at obeying the rules, perhaps the drivers would be more willing to yield to us when we have the right-of-way. I'm just tired of drivers giving me a hard time when they are the ones breaking the rules (that means you, the guy running the red light after I get my "walk" signal...).

So, next time you're in your car, please try and be aware of the pedestrians and remember, we have rights too.
"Are you busy?"

I'm sitting at my desk, with various papers spread across the top of it and half a dozen applications running on my computer, and these are the first words many people say after they knock on my office door. Of course I'm busy! The pressure to move the cases, to reduce our huge backlog it tremendous, so I'm always busy. These people are my co-workers. They should understand this. After all, they're busy too. But somehow its irritating to be asked that every time someone comes in with a question. I guess its an attempt to gauge my willingness to help. But I only rarely ask them to come back. They have a question or a problem, and unless someone helps them, they're not going to be productively working. So I stop what I'm doing and help them. And then, I try to pick up my work where I left off.

"I have a quick/easy question."

Why don't I believe that? Okay, some of the questions are easy and quick to answer. But everyone prefaces the question this way, regardless of the complexity of the issue they're about to ask me to help them with. I don't recall anyone ever knocking on my door and saying "I have a highly complex, extremely difficult question to ask you." Just doesn't happen. Maybe they're afraid I'll tell them I can't help them. I know that I'll make every effort to answer the question (or identify someone who can, if I can't), but maybe they don't realize this. Or maybe its just a figure of speech, and I'm the only one who finds it strange and annoying.

I have days when it is very difficult for me to get much of my own work done because of all the people coming to ask me questions. Sometimes on days like these I remember a sign I saw in a car repair shop a long time ago. I'm tempted to make my own sign and post it. It would read:

Answers -- $5.00
Answers that require some thought -- $10.00
Correct answers -- $20.00
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Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va) recently sent a letter to constituents in which he wrote "if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office" and
"We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped."


All of this was in response to the announcement by Keith Ellison (D-Minn) that he will use the Koran during his swearing-in ceremony.

Is this guy for real? When did the freedom of religion come to mean "only for Christians"? This is perhaps the single most offensive thing I've heard from an elected official, and they tend to be a pretty offensive lot to begin with. In all likelihood, this probably won't be a big issue in his district (Virginia's 5th Congressional District, which covers the West-Central and Southern portions of the state). And people wonder why I still refuse to think of myself as a Virginian, even after living here for almost 17 years.

Read the entire letter in the C-Ville Weekly.

[via The Washington Post]
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The nation's top rated classical music radio station, WGMS-FM, appears to be on the verge of being silenced. The profitable commercial station, currently owned by Utah based Bonneville International, was recently moved from its longtime location on the dial at 103.5 FM to the weaker signal at 104.1 FM to make way for an all-news station. Now it appears that Dan Snyder, the billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins, has reached a tentative agreement to purchase the station to add to his collection of sports-talk stations.

WGMS-FM is currently the only classical music station remaining in the Washington, DC market, since WETA-FM, a local public radio outlet, dropped classical music from its format to adopt a news-talk format. The sale of WGMS to Snyder would leave Washington without any classical music stations. Why would Bonneville sell a profitable station? Possibly because Snyder has offered about 50% more than the value of the station.

I listen to this station regularly, and it's my daughters' favorite station(!!), so I'm less than pleased with this news. Luckily, I have a nice collection of classical CD's and there are lots of online listening options, but it still doesn't seem right that a guy with more money than he needs can dictate my radio choices.

[via Marc Fisher's column in today's Washington Post]
Marina Alvarez moved to the United States from El Salvador at age 16 to escape sexual abuse. Since then she's learned English, worked hard, payed her taxes, had two children and been an active participant in their education. Last spring, she was pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, and now she's facing deportation. Her only crime...not entering the country legally.

Ms. Alvarez's children, ages 8 and 11, were born here in the US, speak very little Spanish, and know no one in El Salvador. Their mother wants them to stay in the US, even if she can't.

This is what our current immigration policy has become. A woman who has successfully started a new life, who is contributing to our society, can't get a break because she's an illegal immigrant. Her family may well be torn apart. If ever an immigration case begged for amnesty, this is it.

Read more in Marc Fisher's column from today's Washington Post.