16 December 2008

I Knew I Was Smarter Than The Average Person

Do you think you're smarter than the average US citizen? Have you had too many mind numbingly stupid conversations with idiots on message boards? Have you read too many unintelligible comments at other blogs? Would you like proof that you are, indeed, better informed about US government and history than most other people? Would you like to be decidedly disappointed by intelligence level of your elected officials? Well, then just visit this fun quiz when I stumbled across this nifty blog.

According to the results of this quiz, I am smarter than you. I scored 29 correct out of 33, giving me 87.88%. I don't think that's too bad at all. Especially considering I was fine with all the historical questions, but was very unsure of all the economic policy questions.

10 December 2008

Did You Really Think This Through?

So, back to the subject of Christmas, and the celebratory symbols surrounding it. Don't worry, I'm not ranting today. When I left work tonite, I decided to drive home through the city rather than take the highway, because it rained all day and then the temps dropped below freezing and I was worried I would slide off the highway. Driving the route through the city takes a little bit longer, but it meant I got to pass the Rutland Town Town Hall, on the front lawn of which is displayed a giant Christmas tree brightly lit with coloured lights. It was very pretty. I always have enjoyed Christmas trees and simple outdoor lighted displays. Net lights look particularly gorgeous draped over full hedges and then lightly dusted with snow.

Seeing the Rutland Town tree got me to thinking, though. Tonite I was driving home after 10pm and there was that tree fully lit. Obviously, it would be lit all night. I couldn't help but think of all the electricity being wasted to light a tree that probably won't even be seen by very many people. I found myself wondering if it was really necessary. Sure, the tree is pretty, and yes it lifted my mood when I saw it, but is that worth wasting limited resources? Especially in a time when towns (and the state) are having to re-evaluate their tax bases, cut their budgets, and find any way possible to save money. And at a time when Efficiency Vermont is constantly reminding people to find ways to conserve energy. Is lighting a superfluous symbol all night really the thing to do? Maybe we should find a different way to decorate it.

I got to thinking about how I decorated the first tree I had in my own apartment. I couldn't have it inside, because the apartment was too small, and I was very worried how Colyn would react to it. Instead, I put it outside on the tiny porch, and then I begged my mother to make me a ton of little, red, velvet bows. I wired those onto the tree as the only decorations. It promptly snowed, giving my tree a nice coating of white to mix with the green and red. It was the prettiest tree. If I ever manage to move into my own apartment again, that's probably what I'll do for a tree.

It occurred to me that maybe we could do that for a town tree, instead of using lights. Then again, making all those bows would be pretty expensive. Besides, a bow covered tree is only pretty in the daylight, and this time of year there isn't much daylight. So, my mind got to working, and spinning, and even smoking a little, trying to come up with a cheaper way to have a pretty night time Christmas Tree. And I lit upon the idea of reflectors. What if someone could design a kind of reflector that could be put on a tree, maybe like the traditional ornaments, or like the old fashioned tinsel. Then, as a car passed, the headlights would light up the Christmas tree and the driver would get to enjoy the tree without costing the town money. I imagine it glittering and glowing and looking wonderful. I also imagine myself becoming fabulously rich as the inventor of the Christmas Tree Reflector Lights. Too bad I don't know anything about inventing. I should probably just stick to my book idea and hope I get rich that way.

04 December 2008

When History Becomes History

Rude Cavewoman managed to find some chocolate and is now feeling much more Peaceful. Thus, today's post will be calmer and friendlier, albeit much sadder.

Yesterday, on my way home from RCHS, I heard a distressing bit of news on NPR. The Vermont Historical Society has announced that it has cancelled, suspended, put on hold, or however you want to say it, the Annual History Expo. Nine years ago The Vermont Historical Society sponsored the first History Expo. Since then the Expo has occurred each year in mid to late June and it has become hugely popular and informative. The Expo is as it sounds: a exposition featuring any and all local historical societies throughout Vermont, and any other historically related groups. It is held at the Tunbridge World's Fair Grounds, a site rich with it's own history. There is usually a turn out of half or more of all the local Historical Societies in the state, as well numerous museums and related non-profit organizations.

Aside from the booths for all these organizations, often each having it's own mini-presentation, there are author presentations, military presentations, an auction, old-time children's games, skilled workmanship presentations, an archealogical dig and lots of other fun stuff. Last year the History Expo was the kick off for the first ever Vermont Barn Census, the goal of which is to document all the barns throughout the state. This event has been embraced by Vermonters and out of staters alike greatly beyond anyone's original expectations. School children attend with their families for a fun and educational event. History buffs volunteer with their local historical societies to share a new story each year. Re-enactors arrive in period dress

I have attended all but one Expo. The last three years I have volunteered at the Expo, helping out in whatever capacity they need. I revel in this event. It is the highlight of my summer. Last year I went so far as to use paid vacation time so I could attend the event. The stories are wonderful, the presentations are wonderful, the people are wonderful, the entire event is just plain wonderful. I am devastated that there will be no History Expo in 2009. I think it is extremely sad that after all the work done year after year to draw people to this event that we won't be able to have it next year.

03 December 2008

Yes, I hate Santa Claus, too.

It's Christmastime in the U.S., which means that all the wingnuts are out in force. Oops. I'm sorry, wingnuts is not PC. I'm going to be open and honest right from the beginning of this post, so that you don't think I have some ulterior motive or hidden agenda or anything. I hate Christmas. And when I use the word hate, I really, truly mean hate. This is, by far, my least favorite time of year. I hate the stress, the commercialism, the materialism, and, yes, the blatant, in your face religiousity that I am forced to live with for 6-8 weeks. All the same, I still find myself celebrating it, if only for one more year.

My family, just about as unreligious as they come, has always celebrated a traditional, secular Christmas holiday, complete with tree, lights, garland, and presents. The extended family joins us and we give each other meaningless gifts that we all pretend to like and then immediately discard or hide in the back of the closet. We all rush around in a grumpy haze trying to bake and shop and decorate and remain cheerful all the time. And when it's all over, we breathe a huge sigh of relief and remind ourselves to start sooner and be more organized next year so that it isn't as stressful and we can actually enjoy the season. So, there you have it, that's the reason this particular atheist celebrates Christmas.

And every year some where in this grand U.S. of A. there is a heated debate between the Christians and the atheists about the Christmas parapharnalia. Should there be a Christmas Tree at school? A nativity scene at the town hall? The singing of Christmas Carols at the Selectboard Meeting? Ok, so I've never heard of any controversy surrounding that last one, but I'm sure it has happened somewhere. If not, someone write it down and use it next year. Considering how much I love the holiday, I'm sure you're not surprised to read that I would just as soon have all these decorations disappear from all the public spaces. Similarly, I'd love to have all the retail stores stop playing those disgusting, sappy, overly reworked Christmas songs. I don't care if you're Elvis or The Chipmunks, I don't want to hear one more word about what Santa and Mommy were getting up to under the mistletoe last night.

Except, as an atheist, I'm in the minority in this country (as I'm constantly reminded) and I don't get to have an opinion about the matter. I'm not allowed to be bothered by the fact that my local, state, or federal government is celebrating one religious holiday, complete with all the corresponding religious whatnot, to the near exclusion of all other religions. I'm simply not allowed to think that, or believe that, or say that. Because if I do, then I'm just being petty and I'm shoving my beliefs in your face. Which makes me a hypocrite, because that's the very thing about which I'm complaining (having your beliefs shoved in my face.)

Truly, I think there are a lot of arguments that can be made. Many, if not most, aspects of Christmas have become completely secular. The tree, the songs, Santa Claus; all those things are basically without religious meaning. So, it's difficult to argue for their removal from public space based on the whole separation of church and state bit. And, I can admit that the forced inclusion of atheist beliefs in the Christmas holiday celebrations is a bit of an....oddity. Really, atheists are marked by their non-belief in all the hoo-ha. The (forced) inclusion of a negative belief is something of an insult to those who believe.

But, here's my question to those who celebrate Christmas for it's religious meaning and think that it is imperative that religious symbols be present in all public spaces, including government space, during this holiday season: what are you celebrating, and why does that celebration require the display of your religious symbols in my public space? Please, with honesty and sincerity, explain what it is you are celebrating during this Christmas season. Is it the birth of Christ, whom you consider your savior? Is it goodwill toward man(kind)? Is it just a warm and fuzzy feeling? Or are you just following along with tradition and reveling in the rampant materialism that happens?

Now that you know what you're celebrating, please explain to me why it is necessary to have the trappings of your celebration displayed in my public space? If you're truly celebrating the religious aspect of Christmas, then I think I can safely assume you have all the religious symbols displayed in your home, where you can see them daily. I would imagine all those same religious symbols are displayed at your chosen house of worship, where you can see them weekly, daily, or as often as you like. If this is all true, why then is it necessary to have all these same symbols displayed in my public space? Is it detrimental to your celebration to be out of sight of these symbols for even a few moments? If it is not, then what is the purpose of demanding they be displayed on public property? Would it not be kinder, more tolerant, more understanding, more accepting and non-judgemental to simply leave the public space as it is for the rest of the year? We certainly have enough government supported nods to religion throughout the rest of the year, do we really need the added religiousity during Christmas? I'd like to think no.

And, yes, I hate Santa Claus, too. I hope the dog bites that sneaky little, chimney sliding, animal enslaving, height discriminating bastard this year.

25 November 2008

I Prefer Whole Wheat

Recently, while I was supporting my Dancing With The Stars habit, I endured a particularly obnoxious television commercial. I'd never seen it before then, and I haven't seen it since. I can't find a video link to show you, which is probably better for you. I can't even provide very good details about it. What I can tell you is that it was for some religious insert more polite word than "nonsense" here from Our Daily Bread. Which is some sort of daily dose of bible quotes and religious analysis to help those who have lost their rose coloured glasses to find them again.

The commercial involved a woman, who identified herself as the wife of some famous Nascar driver, explaining why the Our Daily Bread publication was so meaningful and important to her. As it turns out, Nascar drivers daily risk their lives driving very fast cars in circles with packs of other very fast cars all in the effort of going around faster than everybody else. The wives, and I would assume fathers, mothers, and children, must deal with the fact that any day her beloved Nascar driver goes to work, to put food on the table, he could be gravely injured or even killed. And, while it is difficult to face that knowledge on a daily basis, this woman has come to terms with it. Because she is so at peace with her husbands choice to put himself in danger for no better reason than fulfill his testoterone driven need to drive faster and be more macho than the other boys, she would like to share with all of us, the viewing audience, what tool helped her reach this peace.

And this is where we discover that Our Daily Bread is an indispensible part of her life. And we should all consider subscribing to this wonderful publication so that we, too, may be at peace with the dangers and difficulties in our lives. Blah blah blah.

Now, aside from the general annoyance generated by all things religious, I am down right offended by the idea that a woman who chose to marry a man who chooses to perform a dangerous but wholly frivolous job, deserves my sympathy for her troubles or my awe because she has overcome those troubles. Our Daily Bread could easily have chosen someone who truly does have difficulties in her life. Our Daily Bread could have shown a woman dealing with the loss of a child or a spouse, or a woman watching her child die, or a mother of 3 evicted from her home and forced to live at the homeless shelter, or the single father working 2 jobs and stopping at the food shelf on the way home so that his children can eat, or, even, the relative of a military person currently serving overseas. Any one of those people have real, and true troubles and need real and true help getting through the day in a positive, hopeful, and forward looking manner. But, the wife of a man who willingly chooses to put his life in danger for a testosterone game, is not someone who has real and true troubles or who needs real and true help getting through those troubles. She's a woman who needs either a psychiatrist or a divorce lawyer.

If that commercial was aimed at making your religion look even more foolish, unnecessary, or focused on the wrong things, then you've succeeded.

14 November 2008

Talk About A Sore Loser

This is the headline buried in the local section of my local newspaper today: "Defeated County Treasurer Blames College Students." I expected to read a story about a group of college students who actively canvassed for the winner. I did not expect to read about a 66-year-old dis-elected county treasurer referring to the supporters of her opponent as brainwashed. Even worse, this loser thinks that her supporters were the only "real" people. So you lost your re-election bid, Ms. Carol Elliott. That's sad. So you lost to a college student. That's slightly embarrassing. So you completely lost your cool and insulted not only your opponent, but also another elected official, who you referred to as a buffoon. That's just unacceptable. Please, Ms. Elliott, instead of throwing a temper tantrum and screaming that the other girl didn't play fair, maybe you should analyze what she did and what you did and figure out why you lost.

Furthermore, this idea that college students can be brainwashed is foolish. And especially those students at such a well-regarded institution as Dartmouth. You're seriously suggesting that a group of people who spend most of their time thinking, analyzing information, forming conclusions, supporting arguments, and communicating with each other are easily brainwashed? Which is to suggest that the rest of the voters were not easily brainwashed? This whole idea is as absurd as the idea that a 20 year old is not capable of fulfilling the duties of the office. Or is it that she'll be too busy going to Britney Spears concerts with her teeny-bopper friends to bother fulfilling the duties of the office to which she was just elected?

And all your local Republican County Chairman has to say about the situation is that he's concerned about the effect college students are having on local politics, because college students are only in the area for a short length of time. Does that short length of time not have any effect on their lives? Does what happens in the community, which effects Dartmouth College, not have any effect on the students at the college? Does what those students do for the community have no effect on the community? Perhaps they should stop volunteering in the community, considering how detrimental their effect on the community is. Obviously, some one who is only going to be living in the community for the better part of four years shouldn't have any interaction with the community. That person shouldn't have any voice in local politics. Only those who can be proven to have a stake in the community should be able to effect the community.

Now, how to prove a person has a stake in the community? Well, obviously, s/he needs to have lived in the community for more than 4 years. S/he probably needs to own land as well, considering that somebody who doesn't own land doesn't really have a stake in issues like property tax rates and budgets and what not. S/he also needs to have a child in the school system, otherwise s/he doesn't really have a stake in the educational system. Yes, in order to have a voice in local politics you need to own land in the community, have a child in the local school system, and have lived in the community for more than 4 years. Even then, if Ms. Carol Elliott or her chairman, Mr. Ludlow Flower, think you do not have enough of a stake in the local community, then you don't get a voice in the local community.

Ms. Elliott, your behavior has made it very clear which candidate was the more mature choice. Fortunately, the voters were able to see, and choose, the mature candidate.

28 October 2008

Like A Death

“I would equate it (McCain losing the presidential election) with a death.” That’s how Victoria S. Gelais feels according to an AP story in today’s Rutland Herald. Rationally, it is difficult to believe that someone would be so devastated as to equate the loss of her favored presidential candidate to the death of a loved one. Are we really so split as a country that we truly believe the other presidential candidate is that dangerous? I’ll be honest, when I hear people say they are afraid of Obama as president, when I hear people say they think he is dangerous, I cannot rationally understand it.

Dangerous is the drunk driver flying down the highway in his Suburban. Dangerous is the slightly unhinged individual walking around carrying a loaded weapon. Dangerous is the loose dog running free in the neighborhood terrorizing young children. Dangerous is not the other presidential candidate.

I have to be honest again, though, and admit that I’ve said about myself, “I’ll be devastated if Obama loses.” And I will. It’s not because I’m afraid of a McCain presidency, nor because I think McCain is dangerous. It is more that I am worried about a continued reliance on bully tactics and military force to solve problems around the world.I’m worried about the rhetoric making this an us vs them society. I’m extremely worried about McCain’s pandering to right wing evangelicals. If we were just talking about differences in tax policy and the role of the federal government, I don’t think I would be as worried.

But, my devastation would be about more than my personal dislike of the other presidential candidate. It would also stem from the sad realization that a majority of the citizens in this country truly do believe that the other candidate, with his stated policies and senate record, is the better choice. It would mean that people who support the anger, hate, and bully tactics that have been and currently are part of the process, are the majority. That scenario deeply saddens me and, yes, it is devastating.

A political race doesn’t have to be this potentially devastating, though. Here in Vermont we have a very similar race for governor. We have an incumbent republican governor, who is running for reelection, up against two strong candidates, one democrat and the other independent. I plan to vote for the independent. But, if the republican incumbent wins again, which is likely to happen, I won’t be devastated. I’ll be unhappy, but not devastated. Is this because I expect the incumbent to win and I’m not as invested in the thought of my candidate winning? Is this because I am not as invested in my gubernatorial (pronounced goober-natorial) candidate as I am in my presidential candidate? Or is it simply because my gubernatorial candidates differ mostly on tax policy and the role of the government?

26 October 2008

Keeping Things Local

Because I sometimes think I actually deserve some time off work to relax, and because I very much enjoy the creativity fostered by craft shows, I requested the past Friday off from work and headed up the Burlington with my mother for the Essex Craft Show. We go almost every year and it is always a wonderful experience.

I always come home from craft shows with so many new ideas. This visit was no different. There are hundreds of crafters at this show, but I want to share a few highlights. First, there are these super nifty art glass plates and lamps. There were two vendors with this sort of thing, but I was only able to get a business card with website from one. They were from New Jersey. Dinstinguished Art Glass

In a similar vein, these melted glass bottles were amazing. At first I couldn’t figure out what they were, but then I realized they are cheeseboards. They seem like such a perfect gift for the winelover who also entertains. Again, there were two vendors with this sort of thing, but I only noted the website for the first vendor I found. Treasures of the Vine

I have to admit, my title this time is somewhat misleading. The size of this particular craft show is such that vendors travel quite a distance to participate. Which means that many of them aren’t truly local. This is true of the first two vendors I listed, but now I’ll move closer to home.

Petra’s Creations traveled from Connecticutt. When my mother and I saw this booth, we knew it was something unique. Sadly, the website doesn’t do it justice. These are trivets, or hotplates. What you can’t see from the picture is that each trivet is made by sandwiching dried flowers, seeds, or fruit between two pieces of glass. They are visually pleasing, and hold up to use with dishes straight out of the oven. The colors and textures were amazing. Petra’s Creations

At any craft show the only group of vendors that can possibly equal the jewelers in sheer numbers are the photographers. The work is almost universally wonderful. One particular photographer caught our eye in Essex. Maine Focus Photography You’ll particularly want to peruse the Outhouse Humor gallery. The hubcaps on the side of the outhouse are a nice accessory. Mom enjoyed these so much, that we came home with a small print she is going to frame and hang in the bathroom.

Of course, two of my favorite vendors, two who also happen to be local to Vermont, don’t seem to have websites. One of them was Vermont Birch Bark Arts. The vendor painted on birch bark, with a very nice effect. The second was Sandy’s Sanity. The wonderful name notwithstanding, Sandy is the vendor who truly set off my creativity. She had painted snowmen on these glass blocks and then put white christmas lights inside the block. She used a gorgeous wide ribbon to make a bow on top. The entire affect was perfect. Even more perfect, I know exactly where to buy the glass blocks and the ribbon so that I can try my hand at making my own. Sorry, Sandy, but I can’t justify spending the money when I can get the supplies for half the price. I’m confident I can manage to paint a snowman.

Finally, I will direct you to my absolute favorite vendor. I’m thrilled to be able to say she’s local. Wonderfully local, right up in Montpelier. I can’t say that she had the most items for sale, because she really only had a few. Maybe 50 pieces. Nor did she have the most creative or unique display. On the contrary, the display was very basic. That was good, though, because it left all the glory to her product. And glorious it was. I’ve never seen anything quite like the marbles she has. The one she has listed on her website is nice, but the pictures fail to do it justice. The 3rd picture gives the best idea. I was able to take a few pictures of the prettiest marble. I think my pictures give a better idea of the marble. Somehow she has managed to create swirls of color inside this marble with such a perspective that you truly feel as though you are falling into the marble. To stand and stare at it for more than a couple minutes will leave you feeling calm and peaceful. I would love to be able to afford one to put on my desk. It would be the perfect way to clear my head while writing.

So, I leave you with the crowning glory of the entire show.






10 September 2008

That Pit Bull With Lipstick

When I heard Sarah Palin describe herself as a pit bull with lipstick, I cringed a little. I’m sensitive to the untrue stereotypes lodged against pit bulls. I’m also sensitive when such stereotypes are used in national media. Pit Bull owners and supporters are fighting long and hard against stereotypes and unfounded fears that lead to BSL. At the same time, I try to be reasonable about my response. Palin’s quote did not seem, to me, to be a blatant stereotyping of these dogs. I also don’t think it was a purposefully anti-pit bull statement. Of course, with that in mind, I was left to digest exactly what she meant by her statement. Was she tapping into stereotypes of Pit Bulls, or does she understand the real qualities of these dogs and she was invoking that image, or did she simply not know what she was saying?

First, lets take a look at the stereotypes of Pit Bulls. They’re vicious; it doesn’t matter their breeding or training they’re simply vicious. They have locking jaws; once they bite onto something they physically cannot let go. They turn on you; though they might have been a perfect family pet for years someday they will suddenly, without warning or provocation attack you or a family member. They’re just plain bad dogs and are not to be trusted.

Sarah Palin as a Pit Bull. She’s vicious, and it doesn’t matter how we treat her, she’s simply going to be vicious. It’s not a very good thing to say about yourself, but she might consider it an important quality in a vice president. She has “locking jaws.” Which might lead me to believe that once she makes a decision, or chooses a side in a debate, she will not be convinced to change her mind no matter what. It might also cause me to believe of her that she will not be good at, or even willing to, compromise. That doesn’t sound particularly bi-partisan to me. It doesn’t sound intelligent. It certainly isn’t a quality I would want in any of my representatives. She will turn on us. I wonder how well her handlers will be able to control her. Can I assume that at first she will seem well-behaved, a compliant party member, a vice president more than happy to take her lead from her president. Can I also assume that at some point, without warning or provocation she will turn on them all in a vicious attack. More importantly, if she does turn, will she turn in such a way that she suddenly supports my ideas, or will it simply be an inexplicable attack. Are these the ideas Sarah Palin really meant to suggest with her comment?

Now, lets look at the truths about Pit Bulls. They’re very loyal to their owners and families. They’re persistent and do not give up easily. They’re loving and affectionate and perfectly happy to be lap dogs. They’re also goofy and playful. As far as viciousness goes, they’re no better or worse than any other dog.

Sarah Palin as a Pit Bull. She’s very loyal. This is a good quality, definitely. My only question is to whom will she be loyal? To her state (as she seemed to suggest at one point) to her party, to her president, to her country? In a campaign running with a slogan of Country First, I’d like to think her highest loyalty would be to her country. She’s persistent. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad quality. However, it requires tempering because at some point it is necessary to compromise or back off. She’s loving and affectionate. I certainly hope she shows these qualities to her family and friends, I don’t however need a hug from her. I’d be happy to settle with genuine concern, sympathy, and caring. She’s goofy and playful. While I don’t think goofy and playful is what we need in a vice president, as a mother I hope she knows how to be both. She’s no better or worse than any other vice presidential candidate. I can’t say as I believe that. If I disagree with her policy choices, then she’s worse than other candidates and vice versa. But, that’s not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It we were all the same, politics would be boring. Are these the ideas Sarah Palin intended to suggest by her comment?

Or, did she simply not know what she was saying? Is she unfamiliar with the stereotypes of Pit Bulls in today’s world? If so, then I am very worried about how well informed she is. Was she not thinking about what such a simile means? If so, then I wonder how strong her thinking skills are.

All in all, Sarah Palin’s reference to herself as a Pit Bull did nothing to endear her to me. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is one more thing that causes me to question her ability to be the vice president.

And just to put to bed one more myth about Pit Bulls. They don’t like lipstick, they prefer chapstick.

Lipstick is preferred

check out the 2nd picture

03 September 2008

Just One Question

Since the story came out that Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-year old daughter is pregnant, I’ve been wondering how the girl ended up pregnant. Did her birth control method fail? Or did she fail to use birth control? To me, that is the important question. I’m not entirely sure what Palin’s views on birth control are. Supposedly, as a member of Feminists for Life she supports birth control while being anti-abortion.

There are lots of blogs being written stating that Palin is actually against birth control, that she only supports use of birth control by adults, that she only supports birth control for married adults, that she only supports abstinence-only education, that she doesn’t support sex ed in schools, that she doesn’t support the distribution of condoms to teens and etc. Many of these blogs refer to comments Palin made during her run for Governor of Alaska, most of the blogs don’t refer to any supporting information. Unfortunately, I can’t find first hand evidence of any of those comments. Palin’s website for her Governor race now directs me to McCain’s website.

I’m worried that these are Palin’s beliefs. I’m worried about what it means to have a VP candidate who is so much against education that can protect teens. I’m worried about what policies will receive her support.

Ironically, though, I found some valuable quotes regarding some of Palin’s other views of important educational topics. Supposedly originally quoted by the Anchorage Daily News, Palin had the following to say:

"Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."

"I don't think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn't have to be part of the curriculum," she said.

"It's OK to let kids know that there are theories out there. They gain information just by being in a discussion."

Were these quotes regarding the teaching of abstinence and birth control use in sex ed classes, I would be perfectly happy with her ideas. Unfortunately, these quotes aren’t regarding sex ed; they’re regarding the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in science classes. *sigh*

Apparently, Palin’s views on education include teaching information that is incorrect and unsupported, failing to teach information that could generate important debates and help students make important life decisions, and pretty much basing a child’s education on the tenets of a faith that not everyone shares. I’m worried if this woman becomes the VP.

26 August 2008

Are You Jealous Yet?

After this weekend's crab apple jelly success, I decided to take advantage of a surplus of blackberries and make blackberry jelly. I've never made blackberry jelly before. Nor has my mother. Nor even the folks from whom I got the berries. Still, I like blackberries and this year's crop is particularly good (all the rain, I'm sure) so it seemed like a good idea. My sister and I went up to our cousin's farm and she borrowed one of their four wheelers to get to the berry patch. Which is less of a patch and more of everywhere along the four wheeler trails. We set to work picking berries and came out with 3 quarts, which is about what I figured we needed. Of course, our cousin gave us another bucketful because she'd been picking mostly for the sake of picking and had way more berries than she needed. It was difficult to walk away from all the berries. Everywhere I looked were big, fat, juicy, ripe blackberries.



I brought the berries home and washed them. Then I tossed them in a pot with some water and simmered them to mush. Despite how they look in the pot, they were BLACKberries when I started.




I mashed the mush, and strained it through a wire mesh sieve. It worked better than expected, and much easier than cheesecloth.




Look at all those seeds. Why on earth would anybody make jam out of these things? It wouldn't be a peanut butter and jam sandwich, it would be peanut butter and seeds. Jelly is a much better idea.




I added sugar. Lots of sugar. It's scary how much sugar is put into jams and jellies.




It's kind of cool the way the sugar absorbs some of the juice and then sort of creates a protective barrier around the rest of the sugar. It takes a lot of stirring to make it all dissolve.




Then the boiling and adding of pectin, as you'll recall from the crab apple adventure. We also have the "scary boiling up and almost over the edge of the pot." You're forced to turn the heat down, but you can't turn it down so much that it stops boiling. Very touch and go.



You'll have to remember the jelly pouring and wax pouring from the crab apple adventure, as it is most difficult to pour the jelly and take pictures at the same time. You'll also have to cross your fingers that the jelly sets up over the next couple days. Because if it doesn't, nobody will be getting any blackberry jelly good friend or not. If it does set up, it's some good jelly, I can tell you that much. I tasted it and it's superb. Sweet, sweet, sweet. Almost too sweet, but not quite. I may be forced to try another batch and boil it longer in the hopes it will set up better.

By the by, does anybody have any recipes for making juice out of this jelly juice? The juice I get for making into jelly is really more of a syrup. I think it would make a great juice for drinking, though. Same with the crap apple. Might be fun to make and can or freeze juice.

Again, I have calculated my approximate cost of making this jelly. Drum roll please: $1.50. But, that's only because I had to go out and buy more jars. If not for that, it would have been $0.50 a jar. Even at $1.50, though, it beats the grocery store prices. Now, if I can just find somebody with free raspberries, I'll be all set.

Localvore

You've heard of the Localvore movement, I'm sure. It's becoming all the rage around here. We've had several articles in the local newspaper this summer regarding different people attempting different variations of the Localvore idea. I'm neither the cook nor the grocery shopper for my household, so I don't really worry about it. But, I'm feeling very Localvore lately. This past weekend, I made crab apple jelly. I love crab apple jelly. I hadn't had any for years and then a couple years ago I found an orchard with one crab apple tree. So, I made jelly. This year, we ran out of jelly and decided we had to make more. Except, those crab apples are expensive. Then we realized that the tree we walk by several times a week is a crab apple tree. And it was loaded with crab apples. Big, beautiful, red, crab apples. Free crap apples as it turns out, because the folks who own the property gave us permission to pick as many apples as we wanted. And that's exactly what we did.

We picked apples. (No, that's not me in the picture.)

Then we brought the apples home and washed them.


We removed the stems and quartered them, but we did not core them. We added some water, put them in a big pot, and boiled them to mush.


We mashed up the mush, strained it through cheesecloth, and measured out the juice.


We added sugar to the juice, poured it into a different pot and boiled it again. Once it reached a rolling boil, we added the liquid pectin, and let it boil for a couple more minutes.


We removed it from the stove, and scooped off the foam.


I let my mother pour it into the jars, because she is an expert jelly pourer and I totally suck at it.


We scooped off some more foam from each jar. We may not be taking it to the fair, but we want pretty jelly.


Because not all our jars are honest to goodness jelly jars (we're cheap and like to reuse store bought jelly jars. and pickle jars. and olive jars. and just about any kind of glass jar with a screw top lid), we have to seal some of them with wax. I let mom pour the wax, too, because she's so good at pouring. (Don't you just love my homemade loop loom potholders?)




And we now have lots of jars of beautiful, yummy crap apple jelly. If you're a good friend of mine, you're likely to get a jar at some point in the near future. If you're not a good friend, it sucks to be you. Perhaps your local grocery store will sell you some crap apple jelly, unfortunately, it won't be as good as mine.




And it's a good thing we didn't plan to take any to the fair, because one of the lids fell on the floor and was used even though it wasn't sterile any more. There may also have been a dog hair in one jar, but I think I managed to scoop it out. Everything tastes better with dog hair, though, so no worries.

If you're not a good friend of mine, but you do receive a jar of crap apple jelly, you might want to inspect it carefully. We've gotta do something with those imperfect jars.

For those interested, we calculated the cost of our jelly to be about $0.66 per jar. That's sixty-six cents people. There's still a whole tree full of crab apples. I should be selling this stuff; I could make tons of money. Home made jelly always sells for a premium. I might be able to charge a little more, or at least get more traffic by pointing out the oh-so-local aspect of this jelly. Of course, my costs might go up if I was selling it. I'd have to buy all pretty jars that could be properly sealed instead of pickle jars with wax. Still, though, I could make a definite profit on this stuff.

24 August 2008

Wasn't I Just Talking About This?

I certainly was. Sort of. Mostly I was talking about the distraction aspect of cell phones in classrooms. Then this article appeared in today’s Rutland Herald. (I’m going to warn you ahead of time of dripping sarcasm. You might want to don a hat if you want to avoid getting splattered.) So, Mr. Dad here used to be all concerned about cell phones in the classroom. He doesn’t say why he was concerned, but we can probably assume it had to do with distractions and the child not paying attention to the teacher. And when children don’t pay attention to the teacher it can quickly have a negative effect on the child’s grades. However, Mr. Dad isn’t at all worried about cell phones in the classroom any more. Not since he saw what his genius child uses the cell phone for: to take a picture of the home work assignment because he ran out of time to copy it down.

I’ll admit, it’s been a little while since I was in high school, and perhaps my high school wasn’t the most average of them, but as I recall teachers were usually pretty good about making sure there was enough time to copy down homework assignments. One might speculate as to why this genius child didn’t have time to copy down the homework assignment. Was he goofing off? Chatting with friends? Passing notes? Perhaps even using that cell phone to send messages? Maybe he didn’t have time to copy down the homework because he was busy wasting time.

But, I’ll be nice and give this child the benefit of the doubt. I’ll assume the lesson simply took longer than expected and everyone was hurried to copy down the assignment. In an effort to be a good student and both accurately copy the homework assignment and not be late for his next class, this child snapped a photo with his cell phone. Pure genius, I’m sure. And I can’t deny that this was a good way to accomplish both goals, and both goals were worthy. However, as I recall, the primary purpose of a cell phone is to make a phone call, perhaps to a friend, maybe even a class mate. As I also recall, if one fails to get a homework assignment, there are several options for getting the assignment. The standard procedure is to call one’s classmate and ask for the details. But, perhaps this is a particularly large school, or the student is in a class where he simply doesn’t know any of his classmates very well. Maybe there isn’t a classmate he would feel comfortable calling to request the homework. I’m fairly confident if the student were to walk into the teacher’s classroom during a break or right after school and make the request, the teacher would be more than happy to give him the assignment. I fail to see why keeping a cell phone turned on in a classroom, for the remote chance that one might need to snap a photo of a homework assignment, is suddenly a good idea.

23 August 2008

Because We Need One More Distraction In The Classroom

Yesterday was a rare occasion indeed. I found myself sitting down in front of the television, while it was on. I rarely do that. Even more rare, I actually watched the television. I mean, the Olympics are a pretty big thing. I suppose I might as well watch at least some of the events. (Had I known how good looking those male divers are, and had I known what skimpy swimsuits they wear, I can assure you I would have tuned in much sooner.) In between the Olympic Event coverage, I was forced to endure that bane of television: commercials. One in particular caught my eye, and not in a good way. I tried to find a link to it online, but was unsuccessful, so I will have to simply describe it to you.

It was a Unicel (no, not Unicef, which YouTube seems to think are the same) commercial in the current "back to school" campaign. The ad is a cartoonish drawing of several students in a classroom, with the teacher at his desk in the front, and one of those little speakers in the upper corner of the room. From the speaker you hear the morning announcements, which include a personal message for one little boy that his mother has called because he seems to have forgotten his "ointment" and the little boy can pick it up at the office at any time. As soon as the announcements are over, all the other students point and laugh at the little boy, who is shown with his head buried in his arms. The message of the ad being that as a parent, and to avoid any embarrassing situations for your beloved child, you should get said beloved child a cell phone. That way said beloved child can have it turned on all day, through all his classes, receiving and sending countless disruptive messages.

Here's my beef: cell phones are distracting. The last thing kids in a classroom need is another distraction. And we all know that kids are not going to be good and leave the cell phones turned off during class time. My second beef: any parent that needs to drop off a forgotten item to a student at the school will still be required to check in to the office and the student will then be called out of class to meet the parent, creating one more disruption. Or, the office will hold the item and call the student when it is more convenient and does not create a disruption to the class. My third beef: anything of a medical nature must be dispensed by the school nurse. Mommy can't just show up and hand beloved child some forgotten medicine. Mommy would have to give the medicine, and dosing information, to the school nurse, who would then administer said medicine to said beloved child.

That Unicel commercial is stupid. Unicel is encouraging classroom disruptions. Is Unicel also encouraging parents and students to break school security rules (and in light of all these recent violent school related incidences?) by delivering forgotten items without notifying the office? Is Unicel also encouraging parents and students to break school rules regarding the dispensation of medicine by having parents provide directly to students (forgotten or otherwise) medicine that should be dispensed by the school nurse? Do parents already think these behaviors are acceptable (which is a problem in light of school violence and teen drug issues), and is that why Unicel is able to air this commercial? Or are parents, and the rest of the general viewing audience, too stupid to realize the problem(s) with Unicel's commercial? Now, if parents are following school rules, then there is simply no need to call the student to let them know about the impending visit. But, then there wouldn't be any need for Unicel's cell phones.

And while I'm airing complaints about commercials, I'd like to mention the carpet commercial I also saw last night. Unfortunately, I did not catch the name of the carpeting company responsible for this advertisement. Again, I will describe it for you. A woman is shown posing with an elderly (and rather fat) looking yellow lab (such a ubiquitous breed). She is talking about how poor Doggy used to have to live outside because he caused such a mess. Cue to scene of lab knocking over a live potted tree in the living room and spreading dirt all over a light coloured carpet. Now, though, because this woman discovered (insert carpet company name here), said company having such great carpeting and such a great warranty, Doggy is now able to reside indoors.

Now here's my beef (Doggy is thinking, Mmmmmm Beef). Most dogs, the vast majority of pet dogs, should not live outside. There are some working dogs that must live outside to perform their jobs, such as those guarding livestock. There are also some sporting dogs who do better living outside, such as sled dogs. There are even those rare dogs who simply prefer to be outside. But, I find it very safe to say pet dogs should not live outside. Especially not shorthaired breeds like Labrador Retrievers. To suggest that messes created by the dog are a good reason to force the animal to live outside is offensive. By airing such an idea in a commercial, the idea is further cemented in society that it is, in fact, perfectly acceptable to throw the messy dog outside and leave it there. Gah, this commercial is so obnoxious.

15 August 2008

Dear Editor

Dear Editor:

I attended Senator Sanders’ meeting Thursday evening in Rutland to address the Comcast situation. I learned a lot, mainly about just how unfair Comcast is treating Vermonters and just how poor their customer service is. I also learned a lot about how much Vermonters value their cable access. I learned that some communities in Vermont have several choices for cable providers, some communities only have a couple choices, and some communities have just the one choice. I would like to remind people, though, that cable television is not our only source of news and entertainment (which is what cable television provides.) We have quite a few other sources, and they are much more affordable than Comcast Cable.

First, we have radio. It may seem old fashioned, but we actually do have a really great radio station in Vermont that provides a wide variety of programming. That station is Vermont Public Radio (VPR). VPR has programming that covers state news (Vermont Edition), national news (Morning Edition and All Things Considered) and international news (BBC Newshour and BBC World Service). VPR also provides news coverage for some niche subjects such as Sports (Only a Game), the environment (Living on Earth), and the economy (Marketplace and Marketplace Money). But, VPR is not limited to news coverage; VPR programming is entertaining. Whether it be an old fashioned variety-type show (Prairie Home Companion) or a short story (Selected Shorts) or a live performance (the Capitol Steps). Let’s not forget the ever popular Car Talk or Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me! VPR even attempts a family game night style party game with Says You! VPR even addresses religious faith with the program Speaking of Faith. And this is only a smattering of VPR’s offerings. Really, VPR provides something for everyone.

Second, we have our local newspapers (yes, the very one you are reading right now). Here in Vermont we have several daily newspapers as well as countless weekly newspapers. And of course you can find national newspapers. Between all of them, you can easily keep yourself informed.

Third, we have our often overlooked local libraries. Practically every town has one, just look at the summer Things To Do section for all the library book sales if you need evidence of how many libraries we have. Libraries are about more than books these days. They keep copies of local and sometimes even the national newspapers. Many are starting to keep collections of videos and DVDs that patrons may borrow. You might even be able to get free internet access. Whether you want news or entertainment, you should be able to find it at the library.

You’ll recall that at the beginning of my letter I mentioned the affordability of these options. They’re all affordable. Probably more affordable than Comcast Cable. Radio is free, though VPR always graciously accepts donations of any amount. If you’ve ever listened during a pledge drive you’ve heard them say it: whatever donation amount is right for you, is right for them. Even if you only set aside half of what you currently pay for Comcast Cable and donated that amount once a year, VPR would be thrilled to receive your contribution. They might even send you a thank you gift, which is something I’ll bet Comcast hasn’t ever done.

Some of the newspapers, namely the weekly publications, are also free. And there are a couple that do a very nice job of covering the local political meetings and school board meetings. The daily newspapers, though not free, are affordable. And if the cost of a newspaper truly is a problem, you have the third option: your local library. If it is your local library, there is no cost for a library card. For the larger libraries, there is a yearly fee, but I’m sure the yearly fee is still less than the cost of Comcast Cable for a year.

If none of this has convinced you that these are relevant options, let me just say this: these are all local options. You can talk to the people making the decisions and tell them if you don’t like something. They’ll probably listen to you. Plus, you don’t have to wait for Senator Sanders to get all fired up to be able to talk to these people face to face. You can do it when you run into them at the grocery store.

If Comcast insists on treating Vermonters with little respect or fairness, then we need to remember where we can get respect and fairness: with our local radio stations, newspapers, and libraries.

10 August 2008

I'll Be Ready For You Next Time

Some months ago a pair of young women accosted me twice in as many days to discuss my religious beliefs (or lack thereof). They identified themselves as members of the Mormon Church. I generally dislike being accosted by Mormons. I find it annoying that they show up uninvited and unannounced to attack my personal beliefs for no other reason than to make themselves feel better. They waste my time, annoy my dog, and show me a great deal of disrespect. I try to remain polite, or as polite as one can be while quickly walking away without a word or carefully shutting the door in their faces. One of my main problems is that I don’t have a script prepared, and without one I cannot make it clear to them that I am uninterested. I know that I am not clear with my feelings, because they never quietly shut up and leave; they always persist in re-explaining things for the gazillionth time and then leaving some nice literature for me to study. I guess I’m just too nice.

I dare them to show up on my doorstep now, though. Now that I have a script prepared. Now that I know what I want to say to them. I can only await with bated breath their next knock on my front door. I imagine the conversation going something like this:

“Hi, I’m so-and-so with the such-and-such blah blah blah Mormon Church. I’d just like to give you the August edition of our this-is-such-a-great-publication.”

“No thanks. I’m really not interested in your literature. Actually, I’m rather busy cleaning the toilet right now and I really must get back to it.”

“Oh. Well, how about if I just leave it for you to peruse at a more convenient time?”

“No, really, you can keep it. I don’t want to read it, and I won’t read it even if you do leave it here.”

“You’re not a Mormon?”

“No, I’m not.”

“And where do you attend church? To what denomination do you belong?”

“Well, actually, I don’t. Attend church or belong to a domination (oops, Freudian slip there, I meant denomination.)”

“You don’t? But, you do believe in God, and accept Jesus Christ as your savior, right?”

“Well, once again, no, I don’t.”

“You don’t? Haven’t you read the Bible and understood that God is your creator and Jesus Christ your savior?”

“I think, before we go too much further with this fruitless discussion, I should say this to you:

“Your religious beliefs are ignorant and dangerous. It is imperative that you let them go immediately, and in their place adopt my religious non-beliefs because they are so much better. Let me just go upstairs and grab some of my own literature, complete with links to informative (and interactive) websites that will help you understand the errors of your ways.”

stuttering, “Well, that is just more than a little rude. I think it quite unnecessary for you to attack my religious beliefs.”

“But, when you decided to show up, uninvited and unannounced, at my front door, professing your splendid beliefs and questioning my own non-beliefs, you were not in any way suggesting that my beliefs are ignorant or dangerous and you definitely were not trying to convince me to abandon my non-beliefs in lieu of your beliefs?”

stunned silence

“Yes, that’s what I thought. Please, go bother someone else now.” sound of slamming door.


Ok, ok, I know that is all pure fantasy. Any Mormon worth her/his salt wouldn’t go away so quickly or easily.

31 July 2008

This is what happens when chance is forced upon innocent people

We ask all Catholics of Minnesota and of the entire nation to join in a day of prayer and fasting that such offenses never happen again.

All Catholics are being asked to fast and pray as an act of reparation because of PZ’s threat/act of desecrating the Holy Eucharist. So, the catholic church is trying to guarantee this doesn’t happen again by requiring all Catholics to have to act in order to offset one non-Catholics actions? It sounds like the Catholic Church is just asking for it’s members to take more action than turning the other cheek should something similar happen in the future.

How about if police said that the next time there is a fatal car accident everyone in the nation will have to observe a day of mourning during which they will not be allowed to eat and they will be required to communicate with an imaginary being? Would anyone like to imagine what the response might be? I can imagine a lot of gung ho wannabe cops out there trying to make sure drivers use turn signals, maintain legal speeds, follow traffic signals, and generally obey all traffic laws. I can also imagine some of those gung ho wannabe cops using force or even violence to ensure drivers follow all the rules. I can even imagine a few gung ho wannabe cops causing problems while trying to prevent problems. In other words, requiring innocent people to pay the price for a strangers actions is like opening a door to violence.

Seriously, folks, if such a simple act is such a huge crime, perhaps the Catholic Church should be doing a better job of protecting the Holy Eucharist. And I don’t mean by attacking, physically or verbally, any person who dares to utter what might be considered as the slightest threat against the Holy Eucharist. I mean by taking care to ensure that those who receive the Holy Eucharist are in the proper frame of mind.

Has anybody else seen the new Batman movie and found Joker a most interesting character?

14 July 2008

But, Isn't that Depressing?

While I was trying to digest the Catholic outrage against Webster Cook, I asked a Catholic acquaintance and coworker her opinion on the matter. She was unaware of the Cook Controversy. Her initial response was that it was extremely rude of Cook to take the Eucharist from Mass. She also thought the death threats and such were unacceptable. I tried to press her on the “turning into the body of Christ” bit and she pressed me on the “don’t believe in anything” bit.

As many people do, she asked me if I really am an atheist. A whole-hearted atheist, not just an agnostic. Yup, I’m an atheist. Through and through. “You really don’t believe in some sort of ‘energy’ in the universe?” Nope, I don’t believe in some controlling, over arching, created everything energy. “Really? Nothing at all?” Nope. Nothing at all. “You don’t believe in some sort of soul? Or a place that the soul goes when you die?” Nope. No soul. We’re dust. We live. We’re dust again. We don’t have a soul that goes somewhere for eternity. We are and then we’re not. That’s all there is. “So, you truly believe that you don’t have any sort of soul, or energy or anything that survives into eternity?” Nope. No soul. Truly, that’s what I believe. “Then what do you think happens when you die?” I die. My physical body rots and disintegrates and that’s all there is. Memories of me are all that survive, and eventually even those will disappear. “But, isn’t that depressing?”

“Isn’t that depressing?” It is a question atheists often receive from non-atheists. For those who live their lives with the belief that their souls will go somewhere fabulous (or otherwise) for eternity, the idea of not going somewhere, not having a soul, is anathema. It’s depressing, and horrible, and enough to make you question your existence. But, really, it isn’t so depressing at all. In some ways it is extremely freeing. I am, in the end, judged only by myself. I don’t have to worry about meeting the standards of some being who supposedly already knows everything about me. I actually find my belief much less depressing. I only have myself to answer to, I don’t have to worry that all my thoughts and actions are recorded by posterity so that I may be finally judged by a supreme being who is all powerful. (It’s nice to know that no one will remember all those times when I embarrassed myself.) The idea that I might be damned to hell for the simplest infraction is hardly heartwarming.

“Then what meaning does your existence have?” is the question that usually follows the “isn’t it depressing?” discussion. Apparently, for those who believe in God, they exist because God created them. Everyone created by God has a reason to exist. They may not know what this reason is, they may not be fulfilling this reason. But, they may remain confident that everything that happens in their lives happens for a reason, probably tied to their reason for existing. For those such believers, the lack of a creator means your existence lacks a reason. There’s one answer to this question: my life has whatever meaning I give it. I exist simply to exist. If I like to eat chocolate and sit on the couch all day watching reruns of M*A*S*H then that is what I exist to do. If I want to spend my day off scooping poop and scrubbing kiddy pools at the humane society, then that is what I exist to do. The meaning of my existence changes daily. I exist simply to exist. There’s no big question, nor is there a big answer. There just is. I enjoy the freedom to form my life however I want. I may not succeed in meeting my goals, but I am free to reevaluate them whenever I want. I am dependent on myself alone to create meaning in my life.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not depressed nor unhappy nor stuck in a meaningless existence. I am, instead, free. And in my freedom, I am happy.

12 July 2008

You're all going to Hell. Here, let me get the door for you

As usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short. I’m sure everybody has heard about this by now, it’s all over the blogosphere. Just google Webster Cook. Then again, maybe you haven’t heard about it, considering I haven’t seen it in the newspaper yet and I didn’t see any major newspapers listed when I googled a couple minutes ago. Surely there is nothing new I can add to this, but I simply must try.

According to the only real article about it I could find, Link, and Cook’s responses, it seems that Cook did not initially intend to “kidnap” or “hold hostage” the Eucharist. He simply intended to delay ingestion long enough to show the Eucharist to his non-Catholic friend. His mission intensified when he was physically accosted by members of the church. When he continued to receive verbal attacks and even death threats, he finally relented and returned the Eucharist.

I find the whole thing sadly amusing. He just tried to show a cracker to his friend. He wasn’t even planning to take the cracker out of the church, he said his friend came to mass with him. As a non-Catholic, a non-Christian to be fully honest, I have only a theoretical understanding of the Eucharist. It’s a holy object to those who believe it is holy. To the rest of us, it’s a cracker. While I can sort of understand how Catholics might become enraged about Cook’s behavior, I fail to see why it is their right to pass anything other than church judgement against him. He “stole” the Eucharist. Or he “kidnapped” it. or whatever other term you want to use. So, he’s going to hell. So he’s excommunicated. So he’s wholely disrespected throughout the Catholic world. That is your prerogative as the leader of the church. It is not, however, your right to negatively impact his education or threaten his life. Asking Catholics worldwide to write letters to the University of Central Florida suggesting that he be brought up on disciplinary charges because of a “crime” he committed against God, is not your prerogative.

If you’re worried about a Catholic mistreating the Eucharist, perhaps the Catholic church should do a better job of vetting it’s members. Perhaps you should do a little more work to make sure those who receive the Eucharist have no criminal thoughts. Then again, if you did that you would surely discover that many (even most) Catholics don’t actually adhere to all the rules of the Catholic Church. I know at least one Catholic who engages in sex outside of marriage and I thought that was very much against Catholic church rules. Really, I’m not sure I understand why other Catholics have any say in the matter in the first place. If mistreating the Eucharist is a sin that will get you sent to hell, then let the guy go to hell. How is it any of your business?

On a tangent, there are so many responses to which I would like to respond, but I think a comment from here gives me my best option. “I think he has every 'right' to protest, but i (sic) think he crossed the line. It's one thing to protest in a peaceful manner and quite another to take an element of a large number of society's belief system and basically spit on it.” Funny thing about our right to Freedom of Speech in our democracy, we actually do get to do this. The same way Catholics and other Christians get to walk around touting their religious beliefs as The Truth, The One And Only Truth, even though that means taking the whole of a belief system and basically spitting on it.

What might be the most annoying part of this whole thing, is the fire PZ Myers has received for his comments essentially supporting Cook. In response to all this outrage against Cook’s actions, Myers promised to “show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare.” Yes, it was outside the bounds of politeness. Yes, it was inflammatory. Yes, it was probably down right rude. But, two wrongs don’t make a right. Calling for his employer to fire him and encouraging others who were offended to contact his employer calling for him to be fired, isn’t right either. That, too, is inflammatory and down right rude.

Lets just get to the heart of this matter, though. At the very center of this whole showdown is the Catholic belief that this little cracker actually becomes Jesus after it has been blessed versus the opposing belief that it is just a bit of flour and water and animal fat mixed together and baked. Catholics are offended by Myers’ comments because he is completely discounting their beliefs. He’s pretty much saying they’re wrong about the whole Eucharist thing. For this offense, he should lose his job. There isn’t, however, anything wrong with Catholics completely discounting his belief that it is nothing but a cracker, which translates to a lack of belief in Jesus, I think. In one case, Person X made a comment completely dismissing the religious beliefs of Person Y. In the other case, Person A made a comment completely dismissing the religious beliefs of Person B. In case one, Person X needs to be severely punished, so as to protect Person Y. In the second case, Person B needs to be severely punished so as to protect person A. *scratches head* Yeah, I’m having a little trouble with that one, too.

26 June 2008

Democracy is Under Attack

Capitalism is under attack

June 25, 2008

Rutland Herald

In response to Mr. Zivitz's letter about offshore oil belonging to us, yes, it is socialism, and last time I checked that is a failed system.

Our capitalist system has proved itself far superior. The thought of our government running an oil company — just imagine how screwed up that would be. I could see it now, higher prices at the pump and an unreliable supply.

This country's capitalist system is under attack everywhere you look. What's scary is the attack is from within. Every big company is demonized, and profit is looked at as taking advantage of the people. At this rate, we'll be the People's Republic of the U.S. soon.

DON JACKSON


Dear Mr. Jackson, you suggest that U.S. citizens are more and more often “attacking” capitalism, which you also suggest is the Great Building Block in the foundation of our country. You show proof of these attacks by pointing out how “big” companies are demonized and “profit is looked at as taking advantage of the people.” I believe your ideas stem from confusion regarding whether we are a democratic nation or a capitalist one. Let me help you. We are a democratic nation first and foremost. We have grown into a capitalist nation, but we remain a democracy. And that should always come first.

In a democracy we are encouraged to explore, investigate, question, judge, and voice our opinions about our leaders, representatives and legislatures. When our leaders take and spend our money in ways we consider foolish, we protest. We expect transparency from our democratically elected government. We also expect to be able to change what we perceive as problems.

Capitalism, however, works very differently. Most of these “big” companies work hard to be non-transparent, to hide their inner workings from us. It takes much research to find out what is done with our money, after we give it to a capitalist company. So, when we discover that the CEO of that company is receiving a phenomenally large salary and benefits package, of course we will be annoyed. And of course we will work to change it. That’s what we’re expected to do.

If we’re now realizing we aren’t quite as enamoured of strict capitalism as we thought, then perhaps capitalism needs to change. As I said before, Democracy comes before capitalism, which means capitalism will need to change to fit our Democracy because the Democracy is not going to change to serve capitalism.

06 June 2008

A more rational rebuttal

It is not a question of what that person's life is worth that I don't know, it is a question of whether their life is worth more than mine or my husband's to me? Because that is what it comes down to, do we have to work ourselves into an early death to fund every single need everyone in the country has?

The main problem with this belief is what happens when you extrapolate it out to every single person. What if every person believed this? What if only a simple majority of people believed this? Very simply, it means that you are worth less. As is your husband, and any children you may have. Your parents, your friends, your loved ones. You're all worth less. Worth less than who? Than me and my loved ones, of course. Because if I believed the same as you, the only ones worth my resources are those I love. And I can't possibly love everyone.

Furthermore, if you extrapolate this belief to the other "welfare" programs our taxes cover it means I'm not going to pay for the education of you or your children, nor can you drive on my roads, use my public library, or benefit from my personal police force, fire department or ambulance service. Because I'm working much too hard to have to share my earnings with anybody other than my loved ones. Damn the poor and their ignorant inability to pull themselves up by their boot straps. And I would just like to point out that there are those who "abuse" each of these systems. There are children who are truant more often than not, and yet draw tax payer dollars for that school. There are those who leave smoldering cigarrettes in a trash can or couch and end up burning down the house. Should we let that house burn down simply because the person made a bad decision? Should we ignore all the nearby houses that might also burn down? Do we just chalk it all up to bad decisions and walk away feeling snug in our belief that the same could never happen to us because we're smart enough to have made the good decision to not smoke?

Poor health care drags down more than just the person actually suffering from ill health. It drags down the spouse who shares fiscal responsibilities. It drags down the parents trying to help out. It drags down the children who are then without the many benefits money can bring. Really, it is not that unlike a burning building.

I think we are also failing to consider a "cost" in this whole analysis. What about the "cost" of losing an able bodied person from society? If he/she had been healthy, what contribution might he/she have made? Perhaps tutored a child? Been a big brother/big sister? Donated money to help fund the arts? Might that child whose parents were unable to afford the summer camps for science have found a break through in cancer research? What are we giving up when we give up on that person? There is no way to quantify it except to look around you at all those people who have contributed in meaningful ways to our society and just imagine if one of those people had been stuck with a major health problem and no insurance in our society. What might we have lost?

To me, your statement sort of sounds like these 3rd world countries we hear so much about. You know, those ones we lament about. The places we arrogantly believe would be saved by democracy and a free market. In those countries, the only kids who get an education are those with parents rich enough to afford the private schools. The only places with good infrastructure are where the rich want to be able to go, or need to be able to move their goods. The only folks immune from violence and thievery are those who can afford personal body guards or even a small army.

Let's be honest, it's not as if I'm (or we're) asking you to provide a Wii game for every household, or a new car for every 16 year old. I don't think anybody is begging the gov't for a big screen HD tv, or a brand new laptop. We just want to ensure that every citizen has access to and can afford treatment of health problems. And we'd like to prevent as many of these problems as possible. I truly believe we would have a healthier, more productive and happier society if each person was able to receive treatment for illness in an effective and timely manner.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face

Because that is what it comes down to, do we have to work ourselves into an early death to fund every single need everyone in the country has? The answer to that is no, that person is not worth that much to me and no we will not continue to work at the pace we are to earn what we are in order to pay more taxes to support more welfare programs.

But, it’s ok for me to work myself into an early grave so that I can afford health care for myself? It’s ok for one of my friends to put herself tens of thousands of dollars in debt doing the drug research that is providing you with good health care? (Do you know how much work grad students do in the research field? Practically for free.) See, this is what bugs me about this discussion. The assumption that I’m not working hard and I’m just living off your taxes and your hardwork. Guess what, I work my ass off everyday. And I always have. I don’t want your hand outs. I don’t want your charity. I just want to be able to go to the Dr when I’m sick, and get regular health check ups to make sure I don’t end up with the diabetes that every single person on my father’s side of the family has. (I can promise you that letting me get preventative care now will be a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for my care when I’m a diabetic and on a gov’t funded health care system because I’m so sick I can’t work.) I just want to be able to live healthy and happy. And that includes not having to work 10-12 hours a day 6-7 days a week. I have a full time job. I have a BA. I even have a fancy-schmancy title: department Manager. I make well below the living wage. The living wage around here (calculated by me before the hike in fuel prices) is about $12.50 per hour. And when I say living wage, that’s what I mean. That’s the average amount of money a single person needs to earn to be able to live. That’s rent (on an average 1 bedroom apt), heating fuel, electricity, phone, gas, food, car insurance, college loans. You’ll notice I didn’t figure in a car loan (because I’m smart enough to not get a car I can’t afford), nor internet access, nor cable tv, nor going out to eat once a month, or renting a movie, or buying a new pair of shoes, or any of the myriad of things that make a life. Oh, but I did include a pet because the stress relief is key. Guess what I make. $10.60 per hour. In order for me to afford to live, I would need to work my full time job (38 hours per week, with a set, but constantly changing schedule that already eats up 1 weeknight and every other weekend nights) plus another part time job. I’ve done this, and it is not a healthy way to live. I still barely made enough to pay my bills, I was constantly tired, over stressed and permanently sick. And I still couldn’t afford to go to the dr even though I had insurance. How can you possibly consider this a system that works? It doesn’t. It’s a simple fact. This system does not work.

The thing is, nobody has to stay at a low income job. You don't even have to go to school to move up from low income, you just have to keep a job for long enough to move up in your position there. Which brings up why I hate it that they keep raising the minimum wage. The only people this really benefits is the people who skip from menial job to menial job and have no desire to ever do anything better. It hurts small business. But that's another arguement (sic).

I’m sorry, but I find this deeply offensive. You think I’m choosing to stay at a low paying job? Do you think I really have that many other options? Seriously? And to suggest that education is not necessary is the most absurd thing I’ve heard. I guess I shouldn’t have wasted my time going to college. I could have started out as a school janitor and worked my way up to superintendent in no time, right? Because the higher paid positions rarely require further training, education, or skills. As a further example, I did exactly what you’re talking about. I started out as a part-time menial laborer. I helped put together the store I’m currently working in. I helped put in the shelving, set all the displays, put out product. I was lucky enough to be kept on as a peon cashier. Quickly moved up to a part time “titled” position. Then earned a full time “titled” position. Within 10 months of starting with this company I earned the position I currently have. Perhaps you’ll recall what my current wages are. And I’ve had my 1 year anniversary with raise. It was about 3%. That’s right, we’re talking a whopping 43 cents (give or take a penny). But, I’m sure if I just stay with this company long enough I’ll be just fine. Nevermind that they screwed me out of my health insurance.

Or, I could use the example of my previous job. Where I worked for 3 years, starting as a part time phone rep, and working my way up (rather quickly) to a full time full customer service rep. And even though I received glowing reviews, always learned all my tasks quickly and fully, worked hard, had near perfect attendance, and continually sought more responsibilities, management cut me off. Wouldn’t let me move up any further. Never saw my application for a higher position. When I quit that job I was earning a little less than what I’m currently earning. So, yes, the idea that you just have to stay with a company long enough and you’ll work your way up is perfectly valid.

Yes, I have qualms about putting the gov’t in charge of a health care system. Yes, I worry about those who will abuse the system. No, I don’t think we’re going to have a quick fix, or a miraculous cure. But, the status quo isn’t working. It hasn’t been working. It’s not going to start working. Staying with the current system just because you’re scared of the alternative doesn’t make sense.

03 June 2008

The age old question: Who am I?

I’ve been contemplating my online presence lately. The absolute first thing known about me online is my name. Before a reader can discover I’m a dog loving, people hating, sarcastic cynic, they see my name. Which gives them an immediate clue about me, might even cause them to greet me with some suspicion. That’s what it was intended to do. My online name has stood me well over the years. That’s who I’ve been online almost as long as I’ve been online. Lately, though, I’ve been embracing a new and different name. One with a completely different message. It’s a sad thing. I have a major attachment to my name, a sort of nostalgia about it. I’m not sure I’m ready to give it up.

Aside from my online name, who am I? What is my online presence, and how do people perceive me? More importantly, how easy or difficult is it for someone to put me together, despite my disparate presence. In some ways it is easy to track me down online. I just told you that I’ve used the same name for years. Practically everything I’ve posted online has been under this name. Go ahead, google me, see what comes up. Just by following my comments and postings you can get a pretty good idea of what my interests are. You can’t, however, find out many truly personal details about me. Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned. I work hard to keep it that way. As you can guess, I frequently contemplate all this. Because my online presence is so separate from my real life presence, those who know me online more than likely would never know how to find any information if I ever disappeared. I’ve seriously considered, and fully intend to, create a list of websites and appropriate posts for someone to take care of, should anything ever happen to me. By which I don’t mean I die in a car crash this afternoon; I simply mean if I ended up extremely sick, or injured, or yes, in the hospital, there are online communities who should be informed.

What I less often contemplate is what conclusions could be drawn about myself based solely on my online presence. This idea was brought to my attention by a blog I recently read that proposed a very interesting history writing assignment. http://beyond-school.org/2008/05/24/doing-history-with-web-legacies/ As someone who has studied history, and done research with primary documents, I have often lamented the fact that today we so rarely write letters or correspond in ways that can be easily saved for posterity. I have often thought that with our new online world, so much of who we are will be lost because it is ephemeral. I’ve never thought of it from the angle provided in that assignment. It’s quite fascinating.

So, now that you know my entire online history is available at the touch of a button (or click of a mouse), and I’ve gone ahead and told you to google me, perhaps you’d like to fulfill that assignment and help me figure out who I am.

02 June 2008

The right candidate

Can you imagine a candidate who was asked, “and Mr. X, what about Gay Marriage?” and responded, jokingly, “Well, I actually haven’t reached that chapter in my Democratic Party Candidate hand book, so I’ll have to get back to you. No, seriously, I personally support Gay Marriage. I see no logical reason that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry. However, I’m struggling with this issue as a candidate. Is it right for me to enforce this belief upon the entire country? Is it wrong to with hold such a basic right from so many people. I understand that this is extremely personal for many people. I would remind you, though, that it is infinitely more personal for those homosexuals who are currently in a committed relationship that cannot be legally defined, than it is for those who are not in that position. I would ask everybody to keep that in mind as we discuss this issue. As I said, I am still formulating my thoughts on this subject.” Wouldn’t that be an amazing discussion. I’d like to think that conversation is possible.

Even better would be a candidate who was willing to candidly discuss the logic and arguments behind a contentious issue, such as flag burning. Perhaps such a candidate would actually explore the underlying assumptions behind the belief. Calmly, politely, open mindedly ask those who are against flag burning to explain why. Keep digging until you had a full, logical, thought out answer. Just stopping at the answer that it is anti-american to burn the flag, or unpatriotic, fails to explore the full belief. Once you have a fully thought out argument, apply the principals to other areas of life. Challenge the person to truly believe what they believe. This is something that we as a society consistently fail to do. We do not fully explore what we believe and we end up holding conflicting beliefs. If a person cannot fully explain why they think something, then perhaps that means they need to explore their belief more thoroughly to make sure that’s what they really believe. And if you don’t even know that you hold conflicting beliefs, you can never explore them.

http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/check.htm

Deceive the people, manipulate the people, ignore the people

Despite the “of the people, by the people, for the people” upon which our country is supposedly founded, we’ve given it up. We gave it up as soon as we started depending on political parties to make our decisions. Just look at the primary system. We get to go out and voice our opinion on who we want as the candidate. Then the “Father Figure” DNC takes our opinions under consideration, but makes sure there is wiggle room by granting these “super delegates” It is all based on the, unfortunately all too true, assumption that U.S. citizens aren’t smart enough to make the right choice. The accusations of elitism have been flung repeatedly at Obama, but nobody seems to mention the inherent elitism of a system that doesn’t even trust our ability as a society to make a decision. However, despite my agreement that the general populace of our country is uninformed and possibly unable to make an intelligent decision, I am very much against any system that over rides their opinions because of that. Instead of disenfranchising them, we should be actively working to inform the uninformed so that they can make an intelligent decision. And if that decision is different than mine, then so be it.

And what is the right decision? And for who? For the party? For the country? Which is more important? I’d like to think that we as a society could choose a candidate who is right for the country, even if that candidate isn’t right for one of the parties. When we look at the political process as strictly an Us vs Them competition, we do a great injustice to our country as a whole. I find it very likely that the best candidate for any given office is not the best candidate for the party. Not all Democrats are right and not all Republicans are wrong. But, until we admit that and work within a construct based upon that idea we’re never really going to be able to “reach across the aisle” and do what is best for the country. There will always be deep seated, strong, fundamental differences of opinion on what is the best path forward for our country and what is the best way to follow that path. We won’t all agree. We’re not supposed to. But, we can’t even begin to think about what is best for the country, when we are so busy worrying about what is best for a particular party. When you’re permanently focused on the party, and the power of the party, then you are, by definition, not focused on the country. They’re not the same thing. The US is not the Republican Party and it’s not the Democratic Party. It’s the US.

Furthermore, what kind of BS is this stupidity where you have to be a registered member of the party to vote. Is the Democratic Party that unwilling to accept support from anyone outside the party? Is my support of and belief in a Democratic candidate lessened simply because I’m not registered as a Democrat? Does the Democratic Party truly believe that they are better off without my vote? Or does the Democratic Party truly believe that it is essential that all Democratic voters willingly adhere to all tenets of the Democratic Party platform? Must I be so enamoured of the Democratic Party, and all it’s ideas and programs and efforts, that I be registered as a Democrat? And what if I’m not? What if I agree with some aspects of the Party but not others? What if I support candidate A in race X, but not candidate B in race Y? Am I thus unimportant and my vote not necessary? That’s what the Democratic Party is saying when it bans non registered Democrats from voting in the primary. There also seems to be an underlying assumption that you should vote a straight ticket, no? Otherwise why would I need to be a registered Democrat? Is it such a scary idea to think that I might vote for a Democrat in one race, a Progressive in the second, and *gasp* a Republican in the third? How else would my state end up with a solidly Democratic Legislature and a Republican Governor for a third time? I’m greatful that I live in a state where I do not have to register for a particular party to participate in that party’s presidential primary.

While we’re discussing this registered Democrat phenomenon, I find it extremely ironic that the Democratic party is touting the fact that so many Republicans are supposedly switching parties to vote for Obama. At the same time, in many states you must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary. I guess that crossed party lines vote isn’t as important as they make it out to be, considering they are so insistent on getting registered Democrats. I just find it totally mind boggling that we are so caught up in this party nonsense. A candidate is a candidate is a candidate. Some are good, some are bad. Some are better and one is the best. Vote for the best one. Make a logical choice based on the things you hold to be most important and the candidate who will best address those issues. Don’t just depend on the party label the candidate happens to be wearing. I can tell you from experience, there are times when a flaming socialist is the best candidate and gets the most done. And there are times when the Democratic party needs to be smart enough to not run a candidate if they really want the best candidate to win.