Saturday, October 31, 2009

George W. Bush: Friend of the HIV Afflicted

Andrew Sullivan celebrates the lifting of the HIV travel ban:

"The ban has been in existence for 22 years, pioneered by Jesse Helms, resisted by the first Bush, signed into law by Bill Clinton, legislatively repealed by George W. Bush and now administratively ended by Barack Obama."

Notice that it was Bill Clinton that signed this regressive piece of legislation into law, and notice that it was George Bush the elder that resisted it, and George W. Bush who actually began the repeal process. It's not surprising that President Obama is on board with doing the right thing in this matter, but in reality, it was President George W. Bush that did all of the heavy lifting.

Just making sure credit is parcelled out appropriately.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swiss crackdown on 'suicide tourism' ...

Whatever things Switzerland may be doing right, this--in my opinion--is not one of them. I find it exceedingly creepy that this could even be a headline.

money quote:

"At the root of the Swiss Government’s initiative is a fear that the cheerful Heidi-and-cowbells image is being tarnished by suicide tourists."


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

1. Read the poem 'Fireman' over at Thieves Jargon. It's by a guy named Stephen Williams, and it's one of the better poems that I've accepted in my role as TJ's poetry editor.

2. Terry Gross's most recent interview with Nick Hornby was thoroughly enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the part where Hornby talked about explaining religion to his children.

3. "Little People- A Tiny Street Art Project" is pretty cool, and worth checking out. My dad used to be into model trains, and I was always captivated by the tiny citizens of his train table. I fantasized about having my own train table, not because I cared too much about trains, but because I thought it would be really cool to create strange and surreal worlds for those tiny people to inhabit. This 'little people' project really excites the part of me that is still in touch with the little boy I used to be, but in a fun way that the man I have become can identify with too.

4.Away We Go. My wife and I just watched this movie the other night. It's sweet and thoughtful, with some really poignant and funny moments.

5. Is Epicurus Right About Sex?. I found this link over at Russell Blackford's blog. I spent some time a couple of months ago reading through the literature of Laveyan Satanism, and, in the end, it was really only the thread of epicurean thought that runs through the religion that appealed to me. Objectivism leaves me cold, and I get bored with Nietzsche fairly quickly. Epicurus resonates, and questions about sex are always fun.

6. Logicomix is a graphic novel about Bertrand Russell that I've been enjoying lately. It's perfect bathroom reading. I keep my copy on the bookshelf next to our bathroom, so keep that in mind if I ever offer to loan it to you. Really, the bathroom is my favorite place to read. In the tub or on the pot, you want to have quick access to a lot of good books. Logicomix made the cut for the bathroom bookshelf. That is the highest honor I can bestow upon a book.

7. I discovered The Killer Tortoise via Jerry Coyne's blog, and have't been the same since. You just get a certain sad picture of the predicament of turtles. Eagles drop them on rocks. Cars run them over. They End up in soup. Eagles use their cars to run them over so they can put them in their's a dire situation. It's good to see a tortoise taking such an agitative & empowered track. Good for the tortoise, and good for America.

8. Get down with the Dicty. What is a dicty? Check it out.

9. And in the spirit of number 8 on the recommends list, here's a song that my kids and I both like:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Climbing The Google Charts

While doing some research on a project for work, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a google search of 'FDR Bill of Rights' puts my blog post on the subject in the number 3 spot. Here's the link, if you want to move me up higher on the list.

What's also gratifying (in a small way) is that I'm higher on the list than's entry on the subject.

Oh, and I'm right behind you.


"It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed. Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens."

-From his State of the Union Address, 1944.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who I Am

I am taking a Women's Studies course with my sister this Autumn at the University of Cincinnati. Our first assignment was to write a self-identity paper, explaining who we are through the lens of our ethnic/sexual/gender/class identity. My identity paper is below. The last line exists because my professor had made several sexist comments about men--she called us 'simple'--before triumphantly quoting Sojourner Truth's famous 'Ain't I A Woman' speech. The potential for hypocrisy among the self-proclaimed enlightened is never to be underestimated.

I am a white, lower middle class (or upper lower class) male who is married with two children. I am primarily an institutional liberal when it comes to politics, am mostly heterosexual in my sexual orientation, and don’t derive my self-definition too strongly from any tribal membership.

I understand that the above statement regarding self definition may be more easily available to me as a function of my white/male/primarily hetero privilege.

I have never fit in too much with any group. I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf and individualist. I’ve never had a group of friends, but have had friendships with individual friends who typically do not know each other and usually belong to separate groups of friends. I’m the guy they hang out with when they’re not hanging out with their clique. This used to bother me, because the order to conform and to belong/collectivise (my word) seems to be strong in our culture, but I’ve become used to my iconoclastic status. I’m even a little proud of it.

I am not proud to be an American, but I’m happy to live in America. Not because it’s ‘America’ so much as because I’m happy to be alive. I’m not proud of my ethnic heritage, because it’s as accidental as my nationality. I’m a member of the democratic party, but I’m not a sexy liberal, meaning that I think Che Guevarra was an asshole, and tend to spend most of my time in political argument defending our welfare state and neo-liberal foreign policy agenda, rather than arguing for radical change of one sort or the other.

I’m not religious either. My wife and kids and I have been going to a local Episcopal church because we like the preacher (he preaches love and service rather than fire & brimstone), and because neither my wife nor myself benefitted from being members of any tight-knit communities while we were growing up. My wife and I are both black sheep, and we would like our kids to be able to navigate society more successfully than we have.

I may have all of this white/male/hetero privilege in a theoretical fashion, or may be expected to benefit from it statistically, but I think I may have equalized many of those white/male/hetero perks by being myself.

I’m interested in people as individuals, and cringe when people don’t seem to be interested in me for the same reasons. I don’t like stereotypes, groupthink, or strong group associations in people. I believe that I have succeeded in life because of who I am and because of the work I have done, not because of some kind of hidden identity-advantage. I believe that my failures are my own too.

Most of the encounters I have had with people with strong group identifications have been somewhat uncomfortable. My personal bias is to believe that the more evolved minds among us will always rely less on group affiliation, generalizations, and stereotyping, simply as a function of an increased capacity for complex processing. As a function of this bias, I tend to get cranky with folks who view themselves and others as microcosms of a larger unit rather than as individual beings who aren’t guaranteed to validate our personal prejudices.

I’m proud of my role as a father and as a husband. I identify myself as person who is capable of thinking, rather than as a person who is a member of this or that group because he thinks one thing or the other. Mainly, I identify myself as a growing individual, capable of feeling, loving, learning, and creating.

And ain’t I a woman?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Koala bears are so cute, why do they have to be so far away from me?-Mitch Hedberg
Mitch Hedberg's koala routine popped into my head this morning while I was working on a project for school. Being the type of person who prefers to be doing anything but what I should be doing, I decided to head over to wikipedia and do some research on Koala bears, because I didn't feel that I knew as much about them as I should. How much exactly should a person know about koala bears? I'm not sure I can answer that, but I'm definitely closer to the mark now than I was before.
Turns out Koalas are one of only a small number of mammals that have fingerprints, so they are not above the reach of the law. They also have incredibly small brains and bifurcated genitalia. The parts of their brains float around inside of their skulls in some kind of fluid, not attached to anything in particular. They are especially susceptible to chlamydia and pink eye (the pink eye is a result of being pooped on by birds while they are engaged in their up to seventy-two hour sleep sessions). So, when they're not passing STDs back and forth like a poorly rolled joint at a Dave Matthews Band concert, they are sleeping cozily in a torrential downpour of bird doo-doo. Koalas: easily the most unchristian animals on planet earth.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Finding A Place For Religion

Browsing through the archives over at Richard Dawkins's website, I found this comment about how hard it is to talk Hindus out of their beliefs. Funny:

"I don't know anything about Buddhism but I was brought as a Hindu and the major way in which it is different from the big 3 monotheistic faiths is UTTER INCOHERENCE. You could make practically any statement about Hinduism and it would be true. Hinduism teaches reincarnation, but not really. Hinduism has a million gods and goddesses, but they are all contained in a holy trinity - no, wait, it's all just one God - no, wait, there is just one god and there is ONLY god and everything from that pebble to the tapeworm in your belly is just various manifestations of the One Holy One.

The best I can say is that it's truly a free-for-all... you can believe whatever you wish and call yourself a Hindu. I have openly been an atheist since I was 10, and I've always been told that's Hinduism, too - at the "highest level" of Hinduism, there's no god belief at all. When Christian missionaries try to convert Hindus, they're often baffled to see Hindus listen interestedly to stories of Jesus and then cheerfully add a picture of Jesus to their list of Gods to worship.

I once challenged my father - who is very into Hindu philosophy - to make a single moral statement that would contradict Hinduism without a doubt. But a very popular interpretation of Hinduism is to believe that everybody, even murderers, thieves, rapists and lawyers, are here to do follow their Dharma (occupational principle) and do their Karma (ordained task), so they're never held *personally* responsible for their misdeeds. Hey, I'm a thief, this is what I do for a living! There are judges and gaolers and policemen whose job it is to throw thieves in jail, sure, but it's all as impersonal as can be, and ideally, nobody is supposed to harbour ill feelings towards anybody else.

It's very frustrating. It's also the reason why it's impossible to debate a Hindu."
- comment left by Wendelin, in the debate points section of Richard Dawkins's web site.

That same element of hinduism that frustrates Wendelin is very attractive to me. From what I understand, one of the core principles of hinduism is that all people create a mythology to explain things that cannot be explained to themselves, and this explanation often takes the form of a religion. Now that I have whittled away all of the fluff and pretension of my former religious self, I find that what is left is small, but significant. No one knows if there's a God. The people I have met, and the writers that I have read (and indeed, the selves that I have been) who admit this have all been much more open minded to new ideas, much more comfortable with themselves and others, and far more prone to take this life as seriously as it deserves to be taken.

The end result of religion's attempt to explain the unexplainable is failure, but I think there is something heroic and beautiful in the attempt. Religion predates science. The seeds of philosophy lie in religion. Religion has been the main way in which we have explained morality and art to ourselves up until this point in time.

And now religion wavers. It has built itself an unsteady tower. The architecture of this final product is surreal, and painted in bold colors. The artists holding the brushes are too many to count. They are people of all sexes and races. Some have painted as a way of seeking, some have painted to project themselves, to find themselves, to honor tradition, to unify, to divide, to destroy. Our fingerprints are all over religion. It's mankind's atavistic tail.

In the end, religion hasn't told us anything about any possible gods, but it has told us quite a bit about ourselves. We want answers and comfort, and will often make them up if we have to. We are creative, we are stubborn, we are flexible, and we acknowledge that there is a morality, and a bigger view to take. Mankind has a lot of work to do, and instead of throwing away all of our old tools, maybe we should keep them. If not to be sharpened and used again, then maybe at least as reminders of who we are and where we come from, and, possibly, to use as blueprints for future designs.