Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Writing laws to govern human beings is not easy. Bright line rules never seem to work, but there are certainly moments when consistency across potentially divergent realities is necessary. Our laws simply cannot be designed to take into account every exception or contextual reality. Laws will never make everyone happy. It's just not possible. Laws canot match human complexity and still be effective.
The motivation for legal exceptions must be consdiered, along with many many other contextual variables. Often the motivation for seeking exceptions is not to make a law more likely to succeed, but instead to render it as ineffective as possible. A key distinction needs to be understood. It is essential to consider as many contextual variables as possible in making laws, but decisions always have to be made as to which distinctions will be taken into account and to what extent. Law making is a balancing act. General goals (prevention, punishment, etc.), issue specific goals, values, and means must all be weighed against one another. This is a complex process, as the variables are interconnected and the actors seldom impartial.
Across the pond, the Catholic Church would like to be excepted from The Equality Act, which would forbid them from refusing to place children with gay couples. The basic argument appears to be that where conflicting rights exist, exceptions should be built into the laws. In this case the conflict is between the rights of gays to adopt and the rights of Catholic,s and the Catholic Church itself, to believe that homosexuality is evil and act upon that belief in their approach to adoption and their management of adoption services. If only for practical reasons, the views of the Catholic Church, and other churches, should be considered. In the end, however, the request of the Catholic Church for an exception to the Equality Act should be rejected. A phased implementation could be considered, but seems a little silly given the numbers of homosexual couples seeking adoptions facilitated by the Catholic Church. The attempt by the Church to blackmail lawmakers by threatening to end their services should be ignored. In this situation the importance of granting equal rights to homosexual couples, and teh importance of finding families for children, outwieghs the need to respect the belief on the part of Catholics that they don't deserve equal rights, and actually are destined to go to hell. Christian churches held similar beliefs about slaves, non-whites, and non-Christians at earlier moments in history. The only reasons for accomodating such 'rights', are practical. And practical considerations, such as the impact of a Catholic boycott of all adoptions, must be weighed against: competing practical considerations (would the Catholic church follow through on its threat, what kind of public backlash would be visited upon them, etc.); the precedent being set and it's future impact; the rights being compromised; the proper place of religion in British society, etc. A whole separate set of considerations faces Catholics and Christians in their consideration of this issue.
What is most important in this, and any political issue, is the balancing of contextual factors. A good decision will only result from a complete and critical weighing of the factors involved, and the ability to make hard decisions between competing concerns. I believe that the proper decision in this case would be to reject the inclusion of any exceptions for Catholics, but to allow for a phased implementation. I believe that this decision is proper because it is the outcome of the proper decision making process.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I realized today while I was singing Five Little Monkeys, that any remote chance I had of ever being a bad ass has vanished in a cloud of cheerio dust. Bad ass men don't go to baby bop. Nerdy men don't go to baby bop. Men over the age of two don't go to baby bop, and I don't think those 'men' really qualify as men. I don't know what makes for a bad ass, but I am pretty sure it doesn't involve wiping shit off an infants back, dishing out zerberts, sharing tiny spoonfuls of peas, dancing like a buffoon at the faintest crying noise, or reading Benny the Grouchy Bear. For the record, Benny never looks very grouchy. He wears a silly smile through the whole book. Benny isn't a bad ass either. I have a kid and my wife is the breadwinner, what's his excuse?
I don't think I ever really wanted to be a bad ass. I wanted the trappings of bad assdom (women, excitement, and a leather jacket), but I loved being a goof. I wanted to be a bad ass goof. My plan was to change the world. Then I could be goofy, silly, and walk off into the sunset ... er drive off into the sunset (in a sports car) ... I mean drive off into the sunset with a beautiful yet complicated and super intelligent women who could pout with the best of them. I could be a bad ass without being an ass. Now I wonder whether I will end up an ass without being bad (in the good sense).
Who knows, maybe my plan is still in the works. All I need is the sports car (but it will need to have a trunk big enough for a stroller) and some way of changing the world. I have the woman thing taken care of.
Of course, in a few years, for a few years, my daughter will think I am the baddest ass of all. There will also be moments, maybe even whole years, when she thinks I am just an ass. Neither designation will depend at all on my changing the world. That occurred to me today too.
Some day I will realize that I my chances of being a perfect dad have vanished too. My daughter will have failed to win a Nobel Prize or break into the NBA. She will be singing silly songs to her kid, and she will be wondering how she came to be doing that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cloudy apple juice may be healthier than clear apple juice. Apparently it has twice as many antioxidants which protect against heart disease and cancer. Cloudy apple juice, however, still doesn't measure up to simply eating an apple. I read about this on the BBC's website. I was in search of a news story to comment on in this blog. I originally started this blog so that I would have my own little forum to ramble on about context and nuance, using contemporary politics (international and domestic) as my illustrations. I have certainly rambled, I have rambled right past politics and to football, bumper stickers, and death. I did write about Ford's death, but I was a few days late ans more than a dollar short. I sat down tonight with one of my favorite sources for news (the BBC website), with the goal of finding some issue I could opine on.
For the record, all of my favorite sources for news, with the exception of the John Stewart Show, are non-American. They aren't un-American, but that wouldn't be a horrible quality.
Anyway, I set out on a quest for a news story that interested me enough to apply my addled stay at home dad mind to exploring and interpreting. I was captivated by the executions in Iraq, but mostly by the fact that one of the guys lost his head. I could have written a piece defending executions in general, but that really didn't seem appropriate, and anyway it was really the beheading that interested me the most. Beheading through the ages probably isn't a topic that lends itself to much enlightened commentary. There were a number of articles on Israel/Palestine. I have to admit, while the situation there can be captivating, normally reading about it makes my eyes glaze over. Another choice involved Bush's plans for dealing with Iran. I have to admit that tonight I have not been in the mood for dark comedy. I did think about going to watch the Golden Globes when I learned they were on, but not in order to gather material to write about them. I have to admit that even the prospect that passing out chewing gum in Wisconsin might help save the state from obesity wasn't enough to keep my eyes off of the one story that had been beckoning me from the first moment the BBC's website graced my screen.
"Is cloudy apple sauce better for you than the clear stuff?" This is my kind of story. This is what I really want to read about. It is simple, happy, and leaves me with an action I can take to improve my life. Plus, it seems to support my basic life theory. Cloudy is better than clear. Indeed.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

With last year’s decidedly mediocre results in the forefront of my mind, I have great expectations for this year’s nearly identical New Years Resolutions. Until last year, resolutions have been an unmitigated disaster for me. In the last few days of every year I would begin thinking about what I would like to change about myself and my life in the as yet unspoiled year ahead. I always put great mental effort into conceiving, writing down, ordering, and selectively announcing my new resolutions. And for some number of days, usually in the single digits, that effort was sustained. My problem was that I believed one slip up, however small, meant I had to start over again next year. I think I felt this way, and, to be honest, still feel this way, for two reasons. First of all, I suffer from a virulent and debilitating form of perfectionism. I abandon many projects, tasks, and aspirations long before they reach completion because I become aware of my inability to carry out said projects, perform said tasks, or fulfill said aspirations in a manner that meets my expectations for how these projects, tasks, and aspirations should be carried out, performed, or fulfilled. I have high expectations for myself and others; and big and beautiful visions of what is possible. Secondly, I am wedded to cycles. Every part of human life is cyclical, and thus has a prescribed time for beginning and ending. Tasks/experiences can be daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly in nature. Dental hygiene can be a week to week thing. It can also be seen as bi-yearly (attuned to dental visits) or even yearly (more on that in a second). The bottom line with this second point is that I see many tasks as only able to be commenced at particular times. If you slip up, or miss the start all together, you have to wait some amount of time to have another crack at it. So, if I drank and smoked and was overweight, and I pledged to eat less, exercise, and quit smoking and drinking as a part of my celebration of the New Year, I would be great until my will power lapsed and I had that first truffle, Winston, or hit of Jack. And then I would be sinning away until the next January. Last year, something different happened. My two big resolutions involved sugar and dental hygiene. I pledged to be more dedicated to one and less dedicated to the other. I rang in the new year at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic last year. Dessert was an ‘included’ feature, and I felt that my own selfish goals couldn’t possibly trump the maximization of the money spent on the trip by my in-laws. That resolution never survived my selflessness. The dental hygiene regimen never survived my failure to pack my toothbrush. I might easily have been done for the year, but I went to the dentist in February and was told that I had a cavity. This was the very first cavity I have ever had. This was a traumatic event for me. It was, in some ways, a more shocking sign of aging than turning 30 had been. I was so shocked, that I decided to revive my Resolution. I managed to stick to a very strict regimen of flossing and brushing (each one more than twice a day) for about six months. The move to the East Coast threw me for a loop, and I lapsed, but I had never before had that much success with a resolution. For the first time I started to believe that I could change, and that, despite the fact that this change was small, future change might be larger. Last year was, for me, a time to realize the startling wonder of mediocrity. I still have much to learn about small successes and making the most of mediocrity, and I am looking forward to the role 2007 can play in that process. This year I hope, again, to improve my dental hygiene regimen. I also am again planning to limit sweets. I am happy to report that I have already lapsed on both accounts, but still have great hopes, and not just for 2008.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Humans live to exclude. We all want to be a part of something that most others are not. As a part of our tireless pursuit of distinctiveness, we accept, contribute to, and live in artificial constructs. These constructs can be simple, elaborate, inventive, offensive, inward looking, or outwardly oppressive. Some are based on supposedly ‘genetic’ characteristics; some center on markers only achievable through great effort; others are connected to stages of natural process; and still others are learned, painstakingly passed down from generation to generation. Despite their differences, all are constructs and all are, at the same time, very real and often nearly permanent. All are also, to the extreme displeasure of their architects and believers, eminently graspable.
I am now a father, so I am a member of a not so exclusive, but still far from universal, group. Since I am a member of the educated elite, I am also eligible for membership in a much more exclusive club of socially approved parents who appreciate the importance of Baby Einstein and Haba, and can afford plenty of both. The socially constructed nature of the latter, and more exclusive group seems eminently clear, but simply being a parent is subject to just as much construction. To be a parent, in our society, is to be a self sacrificing saint who can smugly and incessantly say to non-child owning humans some variant of the following: “oh, you don’t have kids, so you can’t really understand.” A parent may have no life, but at least they have a way of putting down other people. Of course, others can understand. They can’t know, but an intelligent person can guess. Having a kid is pretty much like I expected it to be. I love her more than I might have thought, but changing a diaper is pretty much like I thought wiping shit off the ass of another would be. Not sleeping sucks, but it isn’t mysterious. As I could have guessed, and did, sports is not quite as important, but still more important than it probably should be. I will admit that I play the parent card. Why shouldn’t I? I do it, however, completely aware and comfortable with the fact that my grandmother was right that, as the color of my eyes testifies, I am full of shit right up to …
The one other problem I have not yet laid out on the table is the non-uniformity of these constructions. I am a father, but what it means to me to be a father is not the same as what it means to be a father to every other man who fucked a woman and eneded up with progeny. To start with, for me it means that I have a captive audience for poetry recitation. It also means that I have to sing in a falsetto more often in a day than anyone named Gibb ever did. It means that I have to be down on my knees more often than any heterosexual man usually is. It means that I have to be even goofier than normal, and those that know me know that that is really really really goofy. So, while everyone can understand what it means to be a father, they can’t know what it means for me to be a father. They can understand it, if they take the time to think about me as a person and about the circumstances within which I perform my fatherly duties.
I can understand what it means for someone to be gay, Black, or Muslim. All are situational constructs. In a very real way, no one can ever fully understand what it means to be Black in America, because it doesn’t mean any one thing. It would be easier to understand if it did. This is kind of ironic. If being Black was a real inherited thing, and not a societal construct that has varied tremendously over time and which right now in our society means a great deal very little if any of which is at all genetic, then it would actually be extremely easy to grasp. White people would have no trouble understanding exactly what it means to be Black. To be Black, is, however, to be a part of an exclusive group which distinguishes itself from others by the use of a construct that has been passed down from generation to generation, and edited in many different ways by each successive generation. The same can be said of homosexuality. I hope no one really thinks that certain women inherit buzz cuts, a need to ride motorcycles, and a compulsion to dress like a sloppy frat boy. When some women accuse others of not being real lesbians, they are simply policing and/or editing their construction.
These constructions are not transparent or flimsy, but they are discoverable and changeable. These, in fact, are their only common and enduring characteristics. Humans live to exclude, but they can’t help but be affected by each other and their environment. Humans live to exclude, but they have never done it with un-alterability or superb effectiveness.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"History will long remember the courage and common sense that helped restore trust in the workings of democracy." Since his death on December 26th, 2006 Gerald Ford has been lauded as if he was one of our great presidents, and a man of strength who kept the country together at a time of national crisis. I always thought he was the one who played football without a helmet. I guess nothing is better for a President's reputation, or anyone else's for that matter, than death. Nothing except having a truly incompetent idiot currently in office. Maybe Ford killed himself. I mean he couldn't have chosen a better time to die. It might be 70 more years before we have another president that reaches these levels of incompetence, arrogance, and general oopsiness. No wonder when I read the paper it seems as if FDR had died again.
The depiction of Ford as a modern day Madison or Lincoln boils down to context (humans want to say nice things about the newly dead, our current President is busy screwing us in a million different ways, and historians have been able to better assess the context within which Ford became President and pardoned Richard Nixon). I suppose it is not Ford's record as President that has changed, but our ability to interpret the circumstances in which he served as president.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Boise State should be the national champions. I can type it with a straight face, and I almost believe it. Well, O.K., not really, but I do believe that they've been jobbed. First the criticism was that even though they hadn't lost, they hadn't beaten anyone of consequence. Then they beat Oklahoma. Before Boise State beat them Oklahoma was one of the teams that was deserving of a chance at a national championship. Despite injuries and suspensions at key positions (running back and quarter back) they had managed to run their record to 11-2, and if not for two horrible instant replay decisions in the game against Oregon, would have most likely been playing Ohio State on Monday night rather than Florida. Once Boise State beat Oklahoma, however, they went from being deserving but forgotten to an also ran in a conference having a down year. This is the same kind of logic that had Michigan at #2 one week and #3 the next, with them not having taken the field in the interim. This logic is also now being employed to anoint Florida the team of the decade after it beat up on an Ohio State team with a defense that had already been exposed by Michigan, that had been out of action for almost two months, and lost its playmaker on offense after he scored one of their only two touchdowns at the beginning of the game. The best anti-Boise state crap I have heard is to belittle their victory as the consequence of trick plays and long weeks of preparation. First of all, wouldn't that preparation argument work for Florida too. Second, didn't Oklahoma have the same amount of prep time? Third, wasn't it an interception by Boise State that necessitated the comeback to ties and then win the game which is where the trick plays were used? Fourth, weren't the 'trick' plays ones that were practiced, well executed, and used in order to take advantage of identified weaknesses in Oklahoma's defense? Maybe they wouldn't have a shot at Florida, but Florida State almost beat them ...

This may seem like another pointless sports debate, and it is, but it is also an illustration of the dangers of eschewing bright line rules in favor of contextually based interpretations. A bright line rule, such as the undefeated team wins the championship, might well be wrong. The indiscriminate application of bright line rules, without cognizance of contextual variation, is a recipe for disaster. Contextual cognizance, however, must be studied, deliberate, and analytical. Context can be sloppily and inaccurately assessed. Alterations in context can be pointed to in order to justify self-serving positions. Any pre-existing position can be justified with reference to the context. This is why any positions, whether in sports or politics, that takes contextual variation into account (and they all should) must be presented along with an explanation of the way in which the context was assessed. This assessment should be consistent from situation to situation and across time.

The bottom line here? Boise State may not be equal to Florida. Michigan might not have deserved to play Ohio State. Wisconsin, despite defeating a top SEC team, might not deserve to be in the National Championship discussion. That all may be true, but from week to week the way in which the context is assessed in order to asses a team's strength vis-a-vis others shouldn't change.