Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The truth is that there is no truth. The truth isn't in the details. The truth is in the changing nature of the details. Context is everything. That is what this blog is all about. It isn't a particularly sexy topic for a blog, at least for people other than me. It may seem stupid and overly commonsensical. I wish it was. The fact that John Kerry could be discredited for 'flip-flopping' proves that it's not. Maybe it is as it always was, but it seems to me that more than ever the nuance has been drained out of politics. More than ever before, the issues seem to be painted in black and white. Certainly American politics has become particularly polarized. What really is shocking to me is how readily people accept the importance of context in many facets of their lives, but how steadfastly they deny it in others. Abortion is a clear issue for many. Killing is wrong. The truth is, of course, that no issue is that simple. And the issues importance doesn't change that. An ample illustration of an important issue where most of us readily recognize contextual distinctions is death (I know murder leads to death, but when I talk of death here I am thinking about the concept in the grand sense, inclusive of many causes).
On Saturday a close friend of my family died after a lung transplant surgery failed. His death was not totally unanticipated given his various health problems (bypass surgery, diabetes, and now a lung transplant), but it is shocking and upsetting all the same. Any death is, but this one is especially troubling. My great great aunt died a few months ago. She was in the 90 neighborhood, and had been on a long slow slope into her end. Her death was sad, but the context was different than the one surrounding my family friend's death. She didn't have two 20-something sons who had yet to find their careers, start families, etc. She didn't leave behind a grieving widow. She wasn't still a working and vital member of her community. She had reached the stage of her life when we expect death. More than anything, the impact of context comes through in the fact that now the death of a 62 year old is considered shocking and premature. That certainly has not always been the case.
So my question is, if the death of a person from 'natural' causes can vary in its impact, importance, and meaning over time (and place), why isn't the same true of the unfortunate situation where a life is deliberately taken. What about the situation where America has troops in combat, or the supposed constitutional right to have firearms, or the acceptability of particular romantic and sexual relationships? No one would object to an assertion that the death of a parent when one is 68 is a different situation than the death of a parent when one is 5. Why isn't abortion different from shooting someone in the head because you don't like the color of his hat, and why isn't one killing of a pre-birth life different from another that occurs at a different stage? I admit that these differences might be real, and still not impact one's point of view, but the multifacteed complexity encompassed in these differences must be taken into account.

Monday, December 04, 2006

At first blush, it appears that the University of Florida jumped over the University of Michigan in the BCS standings because a number of voters took changed circumstances into account. The Gators won the SEC Championship, and thus deserved to play the Big Ten Champion in the National Championship Game. This argument has certainly been made by some sports reporters and talking heads. Mark May, Lou Holtz, and the bozo that sits at the desk with them are three examples. Now, they wouldn't use words like context, but that is there argument. The argument is as silly as they are; and Lou Holtz is pretty silly.

There are two main problems with asserting that Florida should be in the National Championship Game because of changed context. First of all, this only works if you focus only on certain factors and ignore others. Second, Florida proponents don't give a flying @#$% about context, they are either trying to correct past injustices done to the SEC (unfortunately this is about as fair and sensical as it is when it is employed by the Oscar or other awards show folks -- essentially Florida is Jack Palance or Susan Lucci), or they are simply trying to avoid a rematch (that horror of horrors that never happens in any other sport -- what is that, you say it happens in EVERY other sport, oh well).

Let's tackle the context approach, which would be the right one if the actual context was being considered. Florida has a tougher schedule. This is true. It was true last week too. And Michigan isn't exactly West Virginia, so I am not sure why this is such a strong argument. The SEC was the best conference. If this is true, and I haven't been overly impressed by any of the SEC teams this year (I don't give a shit about how tough the conference was last year -- that was last year), then it was still true last week. Florida is a conference champion. Yes, that is true, but so what. So is Oklahoma, and it might be a better football team. Where does it say that the National Championship Game must involve two conference champions? Isn't supposed to be between the two best teams. No one seems to be seriously asserting that Florida is better than Michigan, except maybe in Florida. Vanderbilt played both Florida and Michigan, and they think Michigan is the better team, like everyone else. If this change is about taking a different context into account, than I'm not sure what context it is.
No, this is not an example of good decision making. This is actually an example of typical American decision making. First we locate the right and the wrong. Here it is easy, Michigan played Ohio State already so it would be wrong to let them have another shot. And now our decision is done. That was super easy. Yeah. And super wrong, but clear and easy trumps accurate and complicated any day. It doesn't matter that the game is supposedly between the two best teams. It doesn't matter that there is absolutely no evidence that rematches are automatically unfair or uninteresting. The only other factor here is that the average American has the attention span of the average infant. I am sure half the voters don't remember much about the Wolverines at all. How can you expect anyone to remember anything for two whole weeks.
This whole thing would be amusing, if this lack of analytical thinking was limited to sports.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

This is the truth in my life.
"The devil is pro-abortion - read John 8:44." What a statement, huh? What a bumper sticker. I saw it on the bumper of an SUV I happened to park next to at a nature center. As if I needed any more confirmation that ignorant people are on the roads ... and apparently in the parks too. I really shouldn't label this person I don't even know as ignorant. One of my motivations for this blog is to try to stimulate real open and informed dialogue with everyone, and I don't think that calling someone on the other side of an issue ignorant is a good first step, even of they are.
The problem with a message like this one that my non-acquaintance soccer mom was broadcasting is that it is presumptuous on a number of levels. If this person is simply letting others now how they feel on this sensitive and hotly debated issue, then fine. I have no problem with people informing others of their moral and ethical viewpoints, and even with their trying to convince others of the merit of their positions, even when their only 'proof' is in a religious text. What I have an issue with is using a slogan like this one as a part of a campaign to change the law. I don't think there is any need to embark on a detailed dissection of the division of church and state in order to conclude that religious arguments should not be used to argue for or against American laws. All Americans don't read or revere the bible. We are a multi-faith country, and that was the idea from the beginning.
Besides, no issue as important as abortion should be argued based only on one argument, and certainly not on a limited moral ground. The legality of abortion implicates a number of concerns, including: poverty, crime, education, individual freedoms, women's rights and their control over their own bodies, moral and ethical concerns, etc. No issue that involves people is ever going to be black and white, and, for me, anyone who takes such a simplistic approach is wrong, and ignorant. I am not won over by the abortion is murder argument. I actually agree that abortion ends life, but so does masturbation. And we allow the ending of life in other occasions (animal experimentation, the death penalty, war ...), so I have to be convinced why this is different. I don't think I can be so convinced, but I am willing to open myself to being wrong. If abortion is to be outlawed, either completely or after some stage or under some circumstances, that has to be justified by more than just a manufactured distinction between life and whatever comes before it.
Finally, if you are anti-abortion and you are actively trying to change the law, then you had damn well better be out in the community helping to lessen the impact of the ending of legalized abortion. It is not enough to force these births to take place, and then wash your hands of what happens once the baby is a baby. In my opinion, if right to life people devoted their efforts to eliminating the circumstances that lead people to seek abortions, the number of abortions would fall dramatically. That, however, is not as easy. Finding out why there is a problem never is easy. The American reaction is often to ignore the why. The war on drugs, the attempts to stop immigration, and our fiasco in Iraq are all examples. It really should be a simple lesson: you can't fix anything that you don't understand.
For the record here is John 8:44 - "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." Someone will have to explain to me why this is particularly relevant here. Maybe I have a faulty translation.
If you want to order this, or other similarly styled advertisements for your car, go to http://www.childrenoftherosary.org/bumpmain.htm. There you can buy: "smile: your mom chose life," "abortion causes breast cancer," "abortion...the ultimate child abuse," "be a hero save a whale, save a baby go to jail," and my favorite "the ten commandments not the ten suggestions." I wonder how closely any of these zealots really stick to the commandments. Even the obvious not killing one seems unlikely to be followed (death penalty, war, self defense, etc.). Anyway, that is a topic for another time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"I will entertain my child by singing Dylan, U2, and Leonard Cohen. I will read Bukowski and Dylan Thomas. Phrases you will never hear coming out of my mouth include: itsy bitsy, gently down the stream, was his name-o, and see Jane run. Infants and toddlers only want to hear drivel if that's what you give to them. If I start my kid on great poets and songwriters from day one, he or she will be one step ahead of most kids and I will be way ahead of most parents. How many girlfriends do you think my future son will win over with his knowledge of Old MacDonald Had a Farm? Why should I have to listen to shit that sounds like a cross between Mister Rogers and Enya. If I play Kraftwerk at bed time, my kid will go to sleep to Kraftwerk." These exact words never came out of my mouth, but I have rather foolishly made quite a few assertions of this type in the past. The statements were true, given a particular context. It turns out they aren't true in the world where I actually have children. My daughter screams, and there I am on hands and knees begging her to follow my spider up the water spout. I can't even count the number of animal sounds I have mastered. I am actually quite proud of myself. I can't tell you how happy I was when my wife told me that I had impressed my in-laws with my sing-song-ability. I do play Dylan once in a while for Seren, but about the coolest I have been able to be on a consistent basis is Counting Crows, and that was a while ago. I have read a poem or two written by someone who doesn't normally appear in a costume and I have managed to read a non-chewable book or two, but very little of that kind of thing has happened while the child is awake. When I can throw in Frost or Eliot, I always have to chase it with Brown Bear or Pat the Bunny. Even six months ago, I would have told you I would never be singing those kinds of childish songs to my child. I was right, in a different world from the one I now live in.
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

--Emily Dickinson