Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

Okay, am I getting this right? Resolving the problems in the Health Coverage Bill debate.

I’ve been trying to understand what’s being proposed in the upcoming health-care reform bill, and, let me tell you, it’s not been easy. There is so much emotion invested into the idea of this bill, both pro and con, that it’s hard to put all the claims and counterclaims together and get an idea of what it is and isn’t supposed to be — I’m not even talking about what it actually will and won’t be. Since the bills aren’t even finalized yet, nobody knows that yet. Unfortunately, there is little chance that the bills will finalize in time that people can really have a wide-spread public debate about the actual plans on their merits.

But I’ve been trying to understand how we’re supposed to provide health coverage for millions of currently un-covered people and, simultaneously, spend less money. On its face, this seems problematic — providing coverage for lots more people at less cost than we’re currently spending. Continue reading Okay, am I getting this right? Resolving the problems in the Health Coverage Bill debate.

Some ideas on avoiding divorce.

I’ve been perking up to some near-conclusions about avoiding divorce.

One is that there is really no ground to be gained by perpetuating the myth of divorces in the Church caused by silly people who decide that divorce is no big deal, or that they should quit when marriage is hard. Those people represent a very small portion of Mormons who experience divorce, and they’re dumb enough not to recognize themselves in that description. This straw-man needs to be left alone. Continue reading Some ideas on avoiding divorce.

Blain’s Dating Rules

These aren’t really rules in the sense that I enforce them, or that there’s some artificial penalty to breaking them. They are really more suggestions, or guidelines. Rather than fight over what they say, I’d prefer people think about the principles and reasons behind them.

The New Divorce Rule

No dating nor flirting of any kind for at least a year after a divorce is final. You need that year to heal and explore your own contribution to the divorce. You didn’t end up with a failed marriage because you were too perfect, and you’re not going to get better without time, effort and help. Take as much time as you need to get your head straight. Get used to standing on your own two feet, without depending on someone else. Wait until your fear of dating is greater than your fear of not dating, at the very least. Single life isn’t terrible, so find and enjoy the good parts of single life. This protects you from the rebound marriage and the consequent next divorce. Continue reading Blain’s Dating Rules

Channukah for Goyim: Why you’re a goy, and why you should celebrate Channukah anyway.

As Adam Sandler so eloquently taught us:

Channukah is a festival of lights.
Instead of one day of presents, we get eight.  Pretty nice!

As wonderful as the song is (all three versions), it doesn’t teach much about Channukah other than that you don’t pronounce the “ch” like in “cha-cha-cha” (the “ch” represents a harder “h” sound that sounds a bit like you’re getting ready to spit something).  So here’s a little bit about what Channukah is about and why it’s important to all Christians and, arguably, everyone else in Western Tradition.

Now, I don’t know that everybody reading this is a goy, but I’m quite certain that anybody who doesn’t know that they are is.  “Goy” is a Hebrew word that denotatively means “nation” or “people” and is applied to people who aren’t Jewish.  It’s darn near impossible to be a Jew without knowing it, so, if you don’t know you’re not a goy, you are one.  Embrace it.  And Hebrew makes plurals by adding “im” to the end, rather than “s” like English does, so more than one cherub are cherubim, and more than one goy are goyim.

Channukah very strictly is a celebration of the purification of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus IV, and the lights of Channukah are a reference to the ability to keep the lamps in the temple burning for the eight days of the purification ceremony, even though there was only enough oil on hand to keep it burning for one day.  That was a great miracle, which proved that G-d accepted this effort.

But what was the effort?  How was it possible to purify the temple after its desecration?  And who was Antiochus IV and why did he desecrate the temple in the first place?  And why should you care?  That’s the fun part.

It all starts with Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered the Persian Empire and most of the world that the Greeks have heard of.  After his death, his generals squabbled among themselves to take control of his empire.  The most stable of which was the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt, which ended when Cleopatra and Marc Antony lost the Battle of Actium to Octavian (Augustus) Caesar, but the next most stable was the Seleucid Empire across what is now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  The Ptolemies tended to stick with the name Ptolemy for all of their male leaders, who tended to marry their sisters, who tended to be named Cleopatra, so the Cleopatra I just referred to is referred to as Cleopatra VII Philopator, and her husbands were her brothers were Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV.  The Seleucids were named for Seleucis I, Alexander’s general, and his son Antiochus I who succeeded him.  Seleucis II was the son of Antiochus I, and Antiochus II was the son of Seleucis II, and the pattern continued down the line to our wacky friend Antiochus IV.  These numberings are a modern invention — in the day, they were given surnames.  Ptolemy II, son of Alexander’s general, was surnamed Philadelphos, which literally means “brother lover,” because he was the first to marry his sister.  Antiochus IV was surnamed Epiphanes, (or Theoy Epiphanoy in the Greek) which means “Manifest God.”  Yep, the boy had a big of an ego.  Some of his contemporaries called him Epimanes, which means “The Crazy One.”

Now, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies shared a border between Egypt and Palestine that they loved to fight over, and Jerusalem and the Jewish lands were right in the middle of that fight, exchanging hands several times over the years.  In the 2nd Century BCE, Antiochus IV faced some resistance and rebellion among the Jews (who, unlike their pagan neighbors, wouldn’t adopt the new gods of their conquerors and worship them, starting a trend of pissing people off that has been characteristic of Jews for millenia), and decided that it was time to stomp out all of this silly Jewishness and turn them into Hellenized subjects that would be better subjects.  He outlawed all Jewish religious practice, converted the Temple in Jerusalem to a temple to Zeus and had pigs sacrificed on the altar, among many other violations of the rules of multiculturalism and respect for diversity.

Now, not all Jews minded this Hellenization.  Many Jews in Alexandria had taken on aspects of this Hellenized lifestyle, and were known for being quite liberal as Jews went, and some Jews in Jerusalem were ready to go along as well.  But, among the more conservative and reactionary Jews was the Maccabee family, particularly Judas “the Hammer” Maccabeus, a Kohen.  He and his brothers led a revolt against Antiochus IV, a guerilla action of raids and continued Jewish practice that was able to drive Seleucid forces out of Jerusalem such that the temple was purified in December 164 BCE, and resumed operation according to traditional practice.  Ultimately, the Maccabean Revolt resulted in Jewish independence in Judea that lasted until Roman dominance shortly before the birth of Yeshua ben Yuseph, also known as Jesus Christ.

The importance of the Maccabean Revolt for Christians is quite simple to explain — without it, there wouldn’t have been any Jewish religious practice for Jesus to be raised in and to build upon.  As someone once put it, without Channukah, there would never have been a Christmas.  Beyond that, this was the first time in Western Culture that the concept of religious freedom prevailed.  It didn’t produce a Jewish nation with deep respect for the beliefs of goyim, but it did produce a space and time where a subjugated people were able to continue worshipping according to their own tradition, rather than having it stamped out by their conquerors.

So, consider lighting a menorah.  Look into what a dreidel is and whether it’s okay to admit playing with one (most Jewish children have).  Consider giving Channukah presents (eight days — pretty nice).  And consider “Happy Channukah” as a reasonable response to “Merry Christmas,” and accept it as one as well.  Channukah — it’s not just for Jews anymore.

Liberating Intolerance

Remember Political Correctness?  It was so 90s, so silly, and based in developing “sensitive” terms that didn’t accept culturally-based “norms” as moral points of reference.  Everyone made fun of such silly terms as “vertically challenged,” and “differently abled,” and the whole thing faded away, right?

Wrong.  Just like disco didn’t go away in the 70s, but evolved into “House” or “Dance” music, Political Correctness never went away.  All of the underlying assumptions of PC have been alive and well the whole time.  They were based in the concept of “Liberating Intolerance” by Herbert Marcuse.  Marcuse held the Orwellian position that the only way to achieve the goal of Tolerance was to display intolerance of the existing ideas and institutions that stood in the way of that goal.  It begins with assuming a point of view to be correct, and then in showing intolerance toward all those who disagree.  This is the “correct” part of PC. 

Today, it can be found in the backlash of the passage of Prop. 8 in California.  Identifiable subgroups of those who worked to pass the proposition have been targetted for hostility, vandalism, misrepresentation, and poorly focused economic repercussions.  Strangely, this includes members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who have seen church buildings and temples vandalized, but also Blacks who overwhelmingly supported the proposition.  At maximum, Mormons constituted 2.4% of the vote about Prop. 8, and not a dime coming from the Church itself spent on the campaign.  And not all Mormons, Catholics, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Muslims supported Prop. 8, and not all gay people opposed it — these are not monolithic groups that all agree about much of anything — but the backlash against them hasn’t taken this into account.  There has been no allegation that anything done in support of Prop. 8 was illegal or done improperly — the anger is because these people dared to make use of the legal process to advocate for their position in opposition to the “correct” point of view.  And now they are being punished for their “incorrect” activities, even when that punishment itself is illegal. 

Now, I am well aware that the self-appointed punishers of this “incorrect” behavior are an overly vocal minority of the people who disapprove of Prop. 8.  However, they still add up to a significant number of people, and they’re ramping up steam by exploiting the general ignorance and prejudice against these religious and racial minorities in a fashion that I find disturbing.  It is quite possible to disagree on these issues civiling yet strongly, and these people are instead choosing divisive and punitive tactics to intimidate those who might dare to stand in their way. 

Has the time come yet when we’ve been outraged enough that people have the gall to disagree with us?  Have we called enough names yet?  Have we vandalized enough property yet?  Is it yet time to take a few deep breaths and make peace with the idea that reasonable people can disagree with us, and that there’s an odd chance that we might be wrong about something that’s worthy of consideration?  That it’s as important to treat people we disagree with well as it is to be right about what we believe in? 

The problem with PC isn’t the silly word games — it’s the arrogant assumption that there is only one side of a debate that has merit, and that the other side of the debate is to be shouted down and never, ever listened to or treated with respect.  This is not the way to a civil society — it’s the way to anger and violence.  I choose civility.  How about you?

Civil Politics Pledge

So I was looking further into Jonathan Haidt and found my way to one of the website he’s affiliated with called Civil Politics.  It had a pledge that you could sign electronically.  I have signed it, and would encourage you to pass it along to everybody you know so they can consider signing it as well.  Here’s what it says:

I hereby pledge:

1) To take into account a candidate’s civility when voting. I understand that electoral politics requires offense, defense, and sharp elbows, but I will consider personal attacks made by candidates and their surrogates to be marks of dishonor and warning signs of a divisive leader to come.

2) To model civil politics in my own life. I will argue for what I believe in and against those with whom I disagree, but I will show respect for my opponents by assuming that they are as sincere in their beliefs as I am in mine. Knowing how moralistic and self-righteous we all are, I will refrain from assuming the worst about the motives and character of those I disagree with. I will criticize their ideas instead.

TED Rocks

Technology.  Entertainment.  Design.

For those who didn’t already know.  I didn’t until two weeks ago (although I think I’d stumbled onto some of it a time or two prior to that).  TED is a series of conferences held every year where very interesting people gather to make 18 minute presentations about what they know.  I’ve watched a few of these presentations, and have found them interesting and thought provoking.

One of them is a presentation by Jonathan Haidt on the topic of the Moral Mind, someone I’ve linked to here before on this same topic.  It’s good stuff.  I particularly like his notion of stepping outside our paradigms (he uses the term “matrix,” invoking the movie of the same name) to try to understand the experiences of those of other tribes (he uses the word “teams”) and how those can better inform our own understanding of the truth. 

Since I’ve moved to Minefield, one of the extensions that doesn’t work is Sage, my RSS aggregator.  So I’ve been trying out the built in LiveBookmarks that Firefox has had for some time.  Thus far, I’m less than impressed — I have to add feeds multiple times to get them to work, and the default location for them seems to be the Bookmarks Toolbar Folder — not some place I want a bunch of feeds accumulating.  But it’s what works until the folks at SageToo (Sage, apparently, is orphaned) update the version numbers to allow me to install it into Minefield.

TED has a number of RSS feeds of their videos and the audio.  For now, I’m sticking with the video, which is unusual for me.  But these are visual presentations and there is value in the video that’s not there in the audio-only.  I’m annoyed thus far that it seems to be sending me five or six of these in the past hour or so I’ve been subscribed, and I might dump the feed if this continues.  We’ll see.

But I recommend this site and this talk.  With the rhetoric of inclusion and unity floating around of late, it needs to be understood that inclusion doesn’t mean that any side gives up what it believes to join the other side in their unchallenged sense of superiority.  Unity comes when all sides value and respect all opinions, even when they aren’t shared.  This is one of the fundamental challenges of the statements of the President-elect, and it can’t be faced too quickly.  It is very hard.

The end of the effort.

A bride is standing at the door to step into the chapel to be married, and she says to her mother “Oh, Mom!  This is so wonderful!  I’m at the end of all my troubles!” Her mother says “Yes, dear, but not at the end you think.”

Something I have been concerned about in the massive upswell of support for the candidacy of President-elect Obama, it has been that the expectations for what he will do have been set quite high.  His repeated slogans have been about change, and about “Yes, we can,” and it has been less than clear to me that his supporters have understood how much of the work of making that change falls to them to accomplish.  I have seen a number of people saying “Yes, we did,” which sounds a lot like they think the election of Sen. Obama  is the accomplishment.  Sen. Obama disagrees with this notion in his victory speech.  Quoting from it:

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

This is the beginning of the Obama change.  His claims and promises have been very ambitious, and will require an immense amount of work over a long period of time from a very large number of people to even make them likely, to say nothing of actually making them happen.  The work of electing a presidential candidate is a small fraction of what the new challenge demands. 

So if you think your work to support Pres. Obama’s change is at its end, I can assure you that it is. 

But not the end you think.  The real work hasn’t even begun yet.

Vacuum Pockets

This made me laugh a lot. 

Reminds me of my experience getting my Enhanced Drivers License a few weeks ago.  The standards for the EDL are (I believe) based on the standards for a passport, since it has to satisfy Federal requirements for border crossing.  So you have to not only prove citizenship, you have to prove residence.  Proof of citizenship was easy — my folded-up certified birth certificate did the job just fine.  But proof of residence was tough. 

A drivers license will not do.  A utility bill will, but it has to be within the last 60 days.  I went to email billing for my power bill and phone bill.  A listing in the phone book will do, but I have a VoIP phone and they don’t get listed.  Cell phone bills won’t do.  An insurance policy will work, but not an insurance bill.  A voter registration card can be one of two proofs (utility bills will do on their own), but an unopened ballot won’t.  Also confusing the issue is the mail v physical address problem that results from living two blocks from a “rural” post office.

So I went to the power company to see if they could print me a bill.  They could and did, and I took it back.  They couldn’t just accept it because (wait for it) it wasn’t mailed to me.  So they had to call the power company, have me verify that I was me to the power people, and then they could confirm the address information on my account. 

Bureaucracy — making the reasonable impossible for 7000 years.

Let the healing begin, right here, right now.

This was inspired by a post from about the prevalence with which people like to go to the victim place politically when things don’t work out their way.  A useful sample from that post:

Reality check: Obama is NOT our “Savior”- nor is McCain. Whoever wins will inherit a shit-heap that will make the Aegean Stables look like a skate-job. Whoever wins is going to piss off the losers, and they’ll make life for the ‘winner’ very difficult. In fact, in all honesty- whoever ‘wins’ this election truly will lose- simply because of the magnitude of what lies ahead. Joe Biden had it right- whoever gets into that office will be tested- but not by outsiders, but insiders. The losers will scream about being victimized once again, and the winners will scream about sore losers.

In the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, I’m going to invite people to join me in a very simple pledge:

I promise, whatever the outcome of the upcoming election, that I will neither whine nor gloat about that outcome.  I will respect the voice of the people as expressed through that election and will wish nothing but good for those chosen to lead this country, whether I agree with their policy positions or not, and whether I voted for or against them.  I do this not because I am giving up my political principles, but because I believe that unity under imperfect leaders chosen by an imperfect system is better than schism and division on idealogically pure lines.

If you believe in this, maybe pass the word along and see if others are willing to try it.  It’s a bit time sensitive.