Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Listen to this episode of This American Life!

In Episode 430: Very Tough Love Ira Glass takes a close look at a Drug Court judge that seems to operate way beyond the guidelines usually employed by Drug Courts.

Hell, she seems to go past guidelines set forth by the US Constitution, basic morality, and the Geneva Conventions.

This is the cost of our "War on Drugs".

This is the cost of removing regulators and checks & balances.

This is the cost of giving too much power to the people sworn to protect us.

Listening to the podcast, I honestly believe Judge Williams has good intentions. She wants to help fix these drug addicts, to divert them from a life of crime, and to prevent future drug use. I also believe she was traumatized by her personal contact with addiction, and cannot respond to these cases in a fair, unbiased manner.

But there is a problem with giving too much power, especially unrestrained, to one person, no matter how pure their intentions. We see that time and time again.

Please listen to this story, and share it with a friend. This is a judge that either needs to be removed from her position, or made to understand the effect of her actions clearly enough to change her ways.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Exodus Rhapsody

Our second night seder was painfully dull, and occasionally just painful. On the plus side, I was able to use the time to write this:

Exodus Rhapsody
To the tune of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Me: Is this the real life
Is this just fantasy
Caught at the Seder
But no food is in front of me
Out of Mitzra'im, but I'm just tryin' to eat...
Read my Hagadah, cheered when they crossed the sea
Because I was a slave, now I know,
Moses said we must go
So we cooked the matzah, doesn't even have time to rise,
To rise.

Slaves: Yaweh, just killed a lamb,
Put its blood upon my door
(This is worse than Yom Kippur)
Moses, once he had to run
But we knew that he'd come back again some day.

God: Moses, oo oo oo, go and see that Pharaoh guy,
This burning bush thing can’t go on forever
Hurry up, hurry up, but first you must cut off your foreskin.

Me: Empty plate, no food has come
And I’ve drunk two cups of wine, head is spinning but I’m fine.
Goodbye, ev’rybody, I’ve got to go,
Gotta find some eggs or maybe chicken soup.
Matzah, oo oo oo, the afikomen we did hide
I really wish we could have eaten it…

Moses: I see a little burning bush around my lamb

Slaves: "Moses go, Moses go, will you go talk to pharaoh?"

Moses: Hello mister pharaoh will you set my people free?

Slaves: Mr. Pharaoh, Mr. Pharaoh, Mr. Pharaoh, Mr. Pharaoh
Mr. Pharaoh let us go!

Pharaoh: You shall not go!

God: I’ll send some frogs, blood, hail, lice, and wild beasts
Darkness and boils, locusts and anarchy
But harden your heart so you won’t set them free!

Moses: Plagues have come, God’s strength show, will you let us go?

God: (Harden heart!)

Pharaoh: No, I will not let you go!

Slaves: Let us go!

God: (Harden heart!)

Pharaoh: No, we will not let you go!

Slaves: Let us go!

God: (Harden heart!)

Pharaoh: No, we will not let you go!

Slaves: Let us go!

Pharaoh: Will not let you go!

Slaves: Let us go!

Pharaoh: Will not let you go!

Slaves: Let us go!

Pharaoh: Um.. No, no, no, no, no, no, no!

Moses: Oh mighty pharaoh, mighty pharaoh, mighty pharaoh let us go.
‘Cause Adonai has a worse plague set aside, you’ll see!
You’ll see!
You’ll see!!!!!

[Instrumental break by frogs]

Moses: So you thought you could break us but now you’ll see your first born die!

Pharaoh: Now I know why I shouldn’t upset Adonai!

Moses: Oh, Pharaoh; set my people free Pharaoh!

Pharaoh: Go on and get out, go on and get right out of here…

Me: Pescah really matters
It’s how we were freed...
Pesach really matters,
But I still am waiting
To eat…

Slaves: Have a Happy Pesach!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Can the nation protect Roe v. Wade from the states?

A common theme of debate between me and my wife is laws that we agree with in spirit and based on outcomes, but may be a step farther than the government is justified in taking. For example, public smoking; I enjoy smoke-free environments, and therefore support anti-smoking laws, but I'm not sure how the government can justify passing them; it starts a slippery slope where other public activities, some of which I may enjoy, get banned because others find it offensive or harmful.

Which is why I was very conflicted when I read this article on Jezebel.

In summary, many states (about 50, at last count) are considering legislature that erodes Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court case mainly impacts federal behavior, so there is no protection against these new measures until one is taken to the Supreme Court and overturned (which seems unlikely on several levels).

Putting aside my personal opinion on abortion, though, isn't that how the system is supposed to work? The States may not make a more permissive law than the Federal (which is why California and Colorado are having so much trouble legalizing medical marijuana), but they may be more restrictive. It can suck if you're stuck in one of those more restrictive states, but that's one of the reasons people move. At fencing practice a couple of the guys were discussing friends that would never move to California because they would have to give up some of their guns; agree with their position or not, that's the way it works.

I know there's an exception for civil rights, but I don't understand how it works. A state cannot overrule the permissive Federal definition of who qualifies as a citizen by ruling that, for instance, Jews can't vote. Is there some way that abortion fits into this category, or do we just accept that, like public smoking and gun control, laws will vary from state to state, and move accordingly?

Monday, April 18, 2011

If Moses Had The Internet

Happy Passover!

My favorite part is the background music. If they had only posted that, it would have been enough.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Religious map of America

Saw this about 2 weeks ago, loved it, and wanted to write a whole post about it:

Now, been sitting on it too long, don't remember what I originally wanted to say.

It's probably important to note that this seems to measure plurality, not majority, so even in the heart of Georgia it's possible that most people are not Southern Baptist, they're just too divided among other groups to swing the needle.

It also doesn't indicate how many people are religious in an area; there's no measure of intensity. That means you could have areas where every religious person in that county belongs to X, and yet they are still only 1% of the population. In other words, we're not a predominantly Catolic nation, as this map appears; they just have the most consistent geographic distribution. Compare to this map, showing density of religious adherants, across all religions:

The color scheme probably helps, but I was also reminded of the electoral maps from recent presidential elections. Compare to this one showing shift in voting patterns from 2004 to 2008:

Raises some questions: are Catholics more liberal than we thought? Are they attracted to liberal areas? Does a concentration of Baptists increase conservative tendencies? Combining this with the earlier observation, is the reason some Catholics feel persecuted that they are the largest religious group in ares of the country where not many people are religious?

I also find it interesting that all the non-Christian religions get grouped under "Other". That suggests none of them had more than the LDS's 81 counties (not surprising), and I'm sure some of those "Others" are also Christian varietals, but still.

Talk about being made the outsider; they literally labeled all Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and every other Asian religion as The Other, a term usually applied to groups to explain why they are hated and/or feared. Heck, looking at this map you'd think there are no non-Christians in the country! That disturbs me more than a little.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of Petroleum Bondage

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of BP treating the ocean like an unconscious drunken Freshman girl at a frat house ruining the Gulf ecology for decades to come. This year is also the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, an event with no small thematic relation to tonight's seder. As I was listening to the Backstory podcast on "Why They Fought", the three events started coming together in my mind.

One of the must surprising points the American History Guys made in the podcast was that many, if not most, of the Southern solders were not slaveholders. So why did they fight to protect the institution? For some it was aspirational; they hoped to one day be wealthy slaveholders. For others it was because their livelihood, and the entire Southern economy for that matter, was dependent on cotton. And cotton depended on slaves. Ending slavery, therefore, was seen as enough of a threat to their financial well-being that they were willing to fight and die to maintain it.

When put that way, it started to make sense to me. I still could not condone it, but, I imagined, what if a law was passed tomorrow banning the use of all petrochemicals starting immediately? Heck, go smaller; just outlaw it as a fuel source. Don't even worry about all the manufactured products that contain petrol. How much chaos would it cause? How much would people fight; would it be enough to get them up in arms?

I think it might.

On a recent episode of Extreme Makeover Home Edition, the team built a net-zero house. All the energy would come from wind and sun; a small up-front investment would result in long-term savings for the family and the environment. It made me really upset - not that they built the house but that this type of construction is encountering so much resistance to adoption! It seems like it should be a no-brainer. Annual home energy cost in LA is about $1,500; given a 20 year life on a home, as long as the net-zero additions add less than $30,000 it's a net savings! And even if the end cost is slightly higher, the environmental benefit makes it worthwhile.

So why all the resistance? Because too much of our economy depends on oil. That has made the oil companies rich enough to buy into other sectors of the economy - and government - meaning change is unlikely to come from those directions either. The institution of slavery was economically "successful" enough that it, ironically, made the beneficiaries of the system prisoners to it, as did the Egyptians in biblical times; they had to give their lives to prevent its destruction. Likewise, we have become prisoners to oil.

As with the Southern soldiers, I understand but do not condone. Massive societal level change is frightening and difficult; incremental change is either too minor to notice, or small enough to be quashed. Finding the balance between "actually getting stuff done" and "societal disruption" is difficult. But it needs to happen.

Passover reminds us that we are, each and every one of us, slaves and descendants of slaves. That teaches us to look past any temporal "economic benefit" to see the human suffering behind it and demand release. Our endless need and quest for oil holds the Earth hostage; our economic gain comes at the cost of tremendous suffering by our planet and the living things upon it. We must see past that and demand freedom!

I make this bold statement, and then I will go downstairs, get in my car, and burn two gallons of oil to get to my seder. Because I too am a prisoner.

Happy Pesach