Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just When I Thought I Was Creative...

Oh great, now I find out I'm not original. Watching Futurama I noticed that the hospital was named the "Taco Bellevue Hospital". Such is life.

I call him Lollipop

Friday, February 24, 2006

Multiplication of Labor

For quite some time now, women (and men) have been fighting for equality. The feminist movement, spurred by the noble goals of equal treatment and equal opportunity, has made tremendous progress. But there's still a long way to go in the fight against patriarchy. Then again, maybe the reason there's still a long way to go is because the opponent - "patriarchy" - doesn't really exist in the first place.

I realize that statement can be a bit of a shocker, but before you pass me off as some nutcase, hear me out: Patriarchy is the idea that there is absolute control, over all aspects of life, by men. The implications of the word "patriarchy" are basically that men benefit from the arrangement, and women suffer from it. What I object to is a fight against "patriarchy" in this sense - I object to people holding the idea that men have "kept women down" as a way of keeping themselves up. The reason I object is because I think that men have suffered from this social arrangement, this "patriarchy" too. And if men have suffered too, then it's not really a patriarchy after all.

Now, none of this is meant to in any way diminish the suffering that women have endured. By saying men have suffered too, I don't in any way mean to compare it to the suffering of women, which I think was far worse than what men face/faced. The fact that women were kept out of the political and economic spheres of life is nothing short of historical tragedy. The fact that they still make less money for the same tasks is equally abhorrent. I am completely and unequivocally for equality between the sexes. And that's why I have a problem with a fight against patriarchy. Because I don't think patriarchy is the right term, I don't think it really exists, and I don't think a fight against patriarchy does justice to equality.

Now I confess, historically Western society has sure looked an awful lot like a patriarchy - at least at first glance. But when you look deeper, you can see that maybe it wasn't really patriarchy after all. Consider for a minute the formation of society, when people first delegated "political" and "economic" duties (i.e. protection and food-procurement) to men, and "domestic" and "formative" duties (i.e. home maintainence, health, and childrearing) to women (formative is kind of a grey area, because as male children got older they were presumably taught more and more by the men). Why did this division of labor happen? A basic economic analysis is enough to make sense out of the arrangement. Economics teaches us that specialization - the idea that those who are best at a task should perform that task - is the most efficient distribution of duties, and allows society to maximize it's constructive output.

So why this particular arrangement? Given the general natural differences between men and women, it made sense for men to protect the group and secure food because they were better at it. And it made sense for women to raise children and maintain the home because they were better at that. So this particular division of labor made sense because it allowed the groups to secure the best possible combination of political, economic, domestic, and formative goods. In short, because it let the groups prosper.

Over time, these arrangements became embedded in society. The breakdown of these arrangements, largely beginning with the industrial revolution, is well documented, and I won't go into it here. Suffice it to say, that by this point in history, instead of being strictly a division of labor based on specialization, the arrangements took on a social form all their own; women, regardless of ability, were kept out of economic and political ventures, and men were kept out of the domestic and formative ventures.

Ok, with that history behind us, I can get to the main thesis of this post: that patriarchy is not an accurate description of this society. Why do I say this? Because both men and women benefited and suffered from this arrangement. What do I mean when I say "benefited and suffered"? I mean that in some ways this arrangement was good for men and bad for women (this is the most obvious part of the calculus - clearly men had economic and social power (men benefiting), and women did not (women suffering)). But in other ways this arrangement was good for women and bad for men.

For example, spending consistent and quality time with your children is a wonderful thing. Therefore, those who fulfill the formative role are the recipients of a benefit, and those who are excluded from the formative role suffer because of their exclusion (just think "Cats in the Cradle"). The same can be said of the domestic duties. I can say that because I enjoy cooking, and baking cakes (even heart-shaped cupcakes). I know first hand the benefits of domestic duties. Plain and simple, from these parts of the arrangement, women benefited and men suffered.

Now to complicate it a little more: there are those (especially today) who would reject the idea that childrearing and domestic duties are wonderful things. Usually they're reacting against the "traditional" role of the housewife, and would argue that the benefits of the childrearing and domestic duties pale in comparison to the benefits of economic and political influence. They'd also point out that maybe domestic and childrearing duties aren't such a benefit after all - maybe they're a burden. It is hard work to raise children, to keep a house orderly, to do the dishes. These are things that, with great repetition, can really kill a person's spirit. These folks would say that by giving the childrearing and domestic duties to women we've actually put another burden on women, not conferred a benefit.

Some people would straight up disagree with these folks, and would say that the benefits of childrearing and domestic duties outweigh the harms. But I wouldn't disagree at all. I think they've got a point. And it's an important point: ultimately, too much of any one thing is bad. Too much childrearing turns the children into burdens, and at times outweighs the benefits of being an attentive parent. Too many meals to cook and dishes to do takes the joy out of preparing a fine meal. And, too many days at the office or plowing the field makes economic influence a "rat race". And the joy of political power can easily get lost when that means you're dying in a war.

Ok, back to that original point. Remember, the concept of patriarchy very strongly implies that men benefit and women suffer from the social structure. So if the societal division of labor both confers benefits and causes suffering in each division of labor, then it can't really be a patriarchy, can it? If both women and men suffer and benefit, (even if at unequal levels (i.e. considering that women have historically suffered more)), then patriarchy isn't the right word. The problem isn't that society is arranged as a patriarchy, and therefore we don't have equality, but rather that society is arranged into a division of labor at all.

The fact of the matter is that each of the aspects both confers benefits and causes harms. In this way, specialization has failed. The ideal isn't total specialization, but rather the opposite - completely shared labor. If men and women could share time in domestic, economic, childrearing, and political duties, then the benefits would be felt by all, and the suffering would be mitigated. Sure, someone would still have to do the dishes, but they'd only have to do them half as much. And that means doing the dishes wouldn't be quite as awful. Sure, someone would still have to go face the pressures of the working world, but they wouldn't be the sole bread-winner for the family, and those pressures would be a lot smaller. Ideally everyone could have both a happy career and a happy family life.

In ancient society, when survival was an open question, specialization made sense. In modern society, when survival is all but assured, specialization makes no sense. In our society we've more or less eliminated the reasons for specialization. Men can do an excellent job caring for children. Women can participate in the workplace equally well. We can all share in each others' tasks. A flexible society, in which both parents can work and be home, in which duties are shared, is the ideal. But even more important, with a proper focus, a flexible society is achievable.

If the goal is equality, a fight against patriarchy cannot work, because patriarchy isn't really there at all. Instead, we've got to fight against specialization, because that's the problem that got us started down this ugly road in the first place.

That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
For whatever that means

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Testing Abortion

For those of you who haven't heard, South Dakota is basically just a governor's signature away from outlawing abortion. The proposed law declares that "life begins at conception, a conclusion confirmed by scientific advances since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade..." Such a legislative finding strikes at the heart of Roe v. Wade because in that case the Court said (or seemed to say) two things: first, that they were not determining when life began, and second, that if it could be conclusively proved that life began at conception, then the State's interest in protecting life would be stronger than the woman's claim to abortion. I confess that whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of Roe is a disputable point.

But such a reading seems consistent with Roe. And it also seems consistent with Casey, the Court's main follow-up to Roe. In Casey the court stressed the point of viability as the point at which the state's interest in protecting life was compelling enough to trump the woman's right to an abortion. It really seems the relevant question, whether the Court is directly addressing it or not, is when does life begin?

Regardless of this interpretation's accuracy, it seems this is the interpretation motivating South Dakota lawmakers. With this bill, South Dakota is attempting to set up a court battle in which, unlike in Roe, the Court actually gets to the question of when life begins.

[Just a final note: I think this may be a bit premature. Until there's another liberal/moderate Justice replaced on the Court, there are still 5 Justices who would likely uphold abortion rights, whether under principles of stare decisis or because they think it's the right thing to do. Remember, Kennedy went w/ the majority in Casey, affirming abortion rights.]

No more mystery meat.
No more gym. No more gym. No more gym. No more gym!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Prairie Summer Companion

This past summer I lived on the prairie. (Seeing as how Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in Walnut Grove, a town about a half-hour drive from where I lived this summer, I'm fairly confident "prairie" is an accurate label). For some reason or other, this fact is something I've been reflecting on lately. Maybe it's the time that's passed since the summer, or maybe it's the new desktop image I've got set up on my laptop (that'd be the picture), but for some reason or other, I've been thinking about the prairie.

The experience of living on the prairie is a stark contrast to the type of living I'd done before. Even when I was at college (on what is easily one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation - (Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota for those of you unfamiliar with my undergraduate history)) in a rural area, it wasn't the same as life on the prairie.

On the prairie, life is slow. It isn't just slower than city or suburban living - is is simply slow. But somehow, the pace just fits. Maybe that's because on the prairie people are tuned into the natural pace of life. Life itself has a pace - birth, growth, death - and that pace is intimate to the "industry of the prairie"; Farming, with it's planting, growing, and harvesting, is inextricably tied to the pace of Life.

But farming doesn't just happen on the prairie, and farming alone doens't capture exactly what it is that is unique about life on the prairie. One of the other hallmarks of prairie life is that you can see for miles in every direction. There's a special visibility, with few trees or hills or buildings to get in the way. Horizon in every direction. You can see the sun come up all the way, and go down all the way. You can watch a storm move in from miles away - you can watch lightning strike ground 3 fields over, and see the rain sweep across the swaying crops. My wife and I even witnessed a tornado forming and touching down. Such visibility is a powerful experience. It's more than metaphorical - it's a real sense of seeing the long term, the wide scope. Too frequently in our lives we focus on the immediate; we can only see what is right in front of our eyes, and we have no view of what is right around the corner. But on the prairie, everything is in front of your eyes, and you're forced to shift focus; from the immediate to that which stretches across the horizons. Living with that, day by day, helps forge a powerful new way of reflecting on the world.

But for me, there was something even more meaningful about living on the prairie. My friend's father, a Lutheran Minister, hit it on the head with his dissertation, which I was fortunate enough to read back in my days at SJU. If I can recall correctly, he was reflecting on St. John the Baptist's life in the "wilderness", and the Minister analogized life on the prairie (in his case the Great Plains of North Dakota) to life in Biblical wilderness. There are some striking parallels. They're both distant from urban centers. They're unspectacular. The two are largely devoid of "high culture". If you're going to live there, you're going to work to eek out an existence on the land. On first blush, they both appear almost barren, but upon closer reflection actually have a deep and delicate ecosystem, teeming with life. And, possibly most relevant, they both provide ample opportunity for meditation.

Living on the prairie, life was quiet. You have the time and space and silence one needs to be alone with their thoughts. Those are resources which are scarce in city living; Although you can "think" just fine in the city, it's tough to "meditate". Life on the prairie though, makes meditation a whole lot easier. You can avoid it if you want to - there's always some way to occupy your time, some distraction to get lost in. But on the prairie, when the silence strikes you, you're more comfortable with it, and you welcome it in.

This summer my wife and I had to drive 40 minutes to and from work every day. It was quite a long drive, over what isn't widely regarded as the most scenic of terrain (Though I maintain that the prairie often provides a wonderful experience of minimalist beauty). Frequently, when I had to drive, with Laura sleeping in the passenger seat, I would leave the radio off - a behavior you wouldn't find me duplicating too often if I had been in the city. The reason was that I was somehow more accepting of the silence - I treasured it. The opportunity for reflection, for meditation, was so much purer. Through silence I came to know myself better, and I was more prepared for what faced me when I got to work, when I got home, when I got back to the city.

As I'm sure the Minister's dissertation observed, like John the Baptist, Jesus also knew the value of meditation. It strikes me as appropriate to highlight this now, with Lent fast approaching. Before He took up His cross, Jesus entered the wilderness for 40 days. In that time He sacrificed, He prayed, and He meditated. And only when He was ready did he return to the City, and complete His task.

For some - like my friend's father and John the Baptist, the wilderness is home. For me, a summer on the prairie was a glorious retreat before my return to law school. For Jesus, the wilderness provided the silence He needed to prepare for His death on the cross. And I think in that, there's a lesson for us all to learn. Meditation has real value. Too often we get caught up in our daily lives - especially those of us living on the East Coast, embedded deep in city life. So I'd encourage everyone to take some time - to take some silence - to meditate. We do it so rarely. But if you can, take the opportunity - especially this lent - to be alone with your thoughts, and alone with your God.

Hello, darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Reason, Law, and Morality #1

Much of the past few days has been spent ruminating on some of the questions and challenges raised in response to my post regarding morality in legislation. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that we cannot talk about whether moral legislation is an appropriate exercise of governmental authority until we have first answered several other questions.

In an attempt to explore these other questions, I am hereby announcing a series of posts asking and discussing these questions. I'm afraid there's no way to tackle all of these issues in one big post, and in fact I think that was much of the problem with my earlier post - I was working off of a different philosophical background and set of assumptions than most people, and so they raised responses which required going back to a deeper question, taking us off track of the main issue in that post. Anyways, this series of posts will try to narrow the focus of each. Moreover, there's just way too much to cover. There are entire courses devoted to exploring these questions, so even breaking it down into a series of posts might be biting off more than I can chew. Still, I'd like to give it a try.

Though I'm not completely sure how each question will be framed when I address it, I see these four questions as of primary importance. First, what is law? Second, what is the relationship between law and reason? Third, what is morality, and what is it's relationship to morality? And finally, what is the relationship between morality and law?

I'm strongly encouraging everyone to throw their thoughts into the discussion. Even if it's just a "hmm, that's interesting." And since we're trying to build a coherent philosophy here, people should point out any errors they perceive in my thinking. After all, one little mistake at the beginning can lead to a whole lot of problems at the end. So please, join in the conversation. From this first post, to the last one.


Tonight I'll start with the first question: what is law?

On Wednesday, in my Canon Law class, my professor asked us whether or not "bad law is law at all?" The class then voted. A few of us (myself included) said bad law was not law. The majority of the class said bad law was still law. After tallying up the votes, the professor informed us that we had all fallen into his trap. "How can you answer this question when you don't know what is meant by 'law'?"

He pointed out that the word law has had all sorts of different meanings. Law can be a reference to the regulations enforced by a state. It can a reference to all the regulations that a state has. Law can be rules of conduct established through custom, agreement, or authority. Law can be written or unwritten. It can guide public policy or personal conduct.

Before we can discuss what the proper role of law is, (as I attempted in the morality conversation), we need to come to some sort of understanding, if not consensus, on what we mean when we speak of law.

And this conversation isn't simply picking one definition and arguing that concept is what law "is". After all, each of those different concepts are certainly their own thing which does exist. The problem is in language - that we've only got one word to cover all those different concepts. As my professor pointed out, modern discourse often falls into this problem. Instead of exploring the various concepts reflected in a single word, people take sides and fight over which concept is the right meaning of that word.

So I want to take this opportunity to do a couple of things. First, I want to make it clear that I recognize and understand those other definitions of law. Second, I want to suggest that a common theme binds the definitions of law: the idea of control. In my mind an essential characteristic of law is that it must have the power to control people's actions.

Now this too can take many shapes and forms - law can control people through fear, through inducement, through coercion, through reward, through education, etc. And law can be selective in the actions it controls. It can control public action and the action of individuals in public. It can control private action, and the action of individuals in private. It can control moral actions, and non-moral actions. There's all sorts of actions that law can control. This gives rise to the question of what actions law should control. But I think there is little dispute that law - of one type or another - can control all sorts of actions.

So now I think we have some concept of what law is. And though it might begin to get us into the next question (what is the relationship between law and reason?), I want to re-ask the question that my professor asked:

Is bad law law at all?

In class I simply said, "No."

Now, I have to answer, "At least in some sense it is. Bad law can be promulgated by a community. Some people will follow it, even if they disagree with it (see for example judges in Nazi Germany). It has the power to control, at least in some sense. "

"But in another sense, it might not be law. Because it is promulgated on the basis of false ideas, and will therefore run into conflict with laws promulgated on superior ideas, at which point the bad law will falter (for example, the American revolution, rejecting the bad law of England's unjust rule). There will always be people who reject bad law, who will not accept it's authority. People will always work to change bad law. In this sense, it does not have the power to control, and therefore is not law."

Now just to get people thinking, I'll let you know that I would, based on ideas that will be discussed in the following posts of this series, argue that people should reject the authority of bad law. But that's a topic for next time. At least for now we have some idea - if not clarity - as regards the meaning of law. Law is many things. In following posts, I hope to convince people to embrace a wider concept of law. For now though, let's just ponder the vagueness of the concept itself.

I fought the law and the law won

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Good Stuff is at the End of This Post

First off, I really really really hope the Vice President gets up and says "Hey, America? You know what? I really screwed up. I'm an experienced hunter, but I made a bone-headed mistake, and now I've got to live with the fact that I shot a man in the face. I feel so awful I can't even begin to express it. I'm sorry. I broke the first rule of gun safety, and I feel horrible. I've apologized to Mr. Whittington, and I'll do everything in my power to make it up to him. And I'm apologizing to the country now, because I did not act responsibly. And I want the nation to learn from my example. This is exactly why gun safety is so important. Even experienced hunters can make mistakes if they aren't smart about gun safety, and that's what happened. Please, learn from my mistake. I'm sorry."

Something tells me he won't be quite so open with the country. And if he's not, then he deserves even more scorn then we're already heaping on him.

Also, I'm sad to admit it... I "did" Valentine's Day this year. Yes, I got a gift for Laura. And I made those scrumptious looking baked goods you see pictured here.

But don't fear - I still think it's a stupid holiday. I still hate it.

So I guess if I'm going to explain the picture, I'm going to have to admit that what I don't hate is being domestic. I kind of enjoy cooking and baking and trying to do fun stuff with food. So you have to see this "Valentine's Day activity" in its proper context; I've just been in a cooking mode lately. I made a loaf of banana bread last week, and I've been making omelets and pastas and crunchy garlic chicken stuff. And I decided that I wanted to bake a cake. And it just so happened that we had heart-shaped cupcake tins. So since there probably aren't a ton of times when we'll use those, I decided to take advantage of the season. Then I threw in a little food coloring (that was just a new toy for myself), and viola! Really, not a big deal.

And Laura and I didn't even exchange our gifts on Valentine's day, so they didn't really count anyways.

And finally, I know this is kind of a stupid thing, but I want to call attention to two brilliant commercials.

The first is that series of commercials for Careerbuilder.com, featuring the guy who works with a bunch of monkeys. Hilarious. We can all feel for him. I love when the monkeys turn the graph upside down or point lasers at his crotch. Man, we've all been there before! Oh, and if you go to their website, they've got this nifty thing where you can send video-mails from the monkeys, with your voice coming out of their mouths. It's spectacular.

The other commercial is the Snickers commercial with the guy wearing the Snickers wig. You can see it here (click on "Bald"). I laugh every time I see it. I'm laughing now just thinking about it. You know it's a great commercial because you feel so bad for the guy. Think about that - it takes them about 2 seconds to make you care about this character. And because you care, it's just so dang funny. That's good commercial making.

It's nice to see someone perfecting one of the only true American art forms.

Even if nobody else sings along

Here's What I Don't Get:

How in the world does toothpaste work?

The typical tube of toothpaste weighs in at roughly 6.4 ounces. That's 181 grams (If you've got the larger 8 ounce tube, you're sitting pretty at 226 grams, but for the sake of this exercise we'll stick with the standard size tube).

The active ingredient is sodium fluoride. In a standard tube that active ingredient composes about .243% of the total mixture.

That means for every 100 grams of toothpaste there is .243 grams of sodium fluoride. So to figure out how many grams of active ingredient are in a tube of toothpaste we need to complete the ratio. Generously rounding .243 to .25, and 181 grams to 200, we can see that in a tube of toothpaste there is approximately half a gram of active ingredient.

Now I don't know about you, but I'd guestimate that my wife and I get about a good 100 uses out of a tube. (These guys figured out that a 6 ounce tube would get you about 113 uses, so I'm pretty sure that's a decent estimate). Assuming for a minute that the active ingredient is distributed throughout the tube in a perfectly even fashion, that means that in each of 100 brushes you should get .005 grams of sodium fluoride on your teeth.

Maybe it's just me, but that sure as heck doesn't seem like it'd be enough to accomplish anything. Even if you brush in a ridiculously thorough manner, I can't imagine you'd touch that tiny bit of sodium fluoride to all of your teeth. And considering that the active ingredient probably isn't distributed perfectly throughout the tube, from time to time you're probably brushing your teeth with completely non-active ("inert") ingredients.

So seriously, how does toothpaste work? I don't get it.

Something better than nothing

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Babies and Bono

A couple of thoughts. First off, congratulations to Chris and Amanda Dykhoff! And a big welcome to the world to Joshua Christopher Dykhoff! Hurrah!

Second of all, I want to thank all the folks who have been commenting on the post below. I think that's a new Philosofickle high in comments, and the conversation doesn't have to be over just because I'm putting up this post. I'm encouraging people to continue posting their thoughts on the subject.

And finally, I want to take this opportunity to call attention to some the remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. The guest speaker was, of all people, Bono. You can find the full text here. He said some brilliant things, and really put the challenge to President Bush and the nation, particularly as involves the amount of aid we contribute to the poor of the world, specifically in Africa. Just a couple of awesome quotes I'd like to highlight:

"It's not about charity, it's about justice. And that's too bad. Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it. But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment."

"Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market... that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents... That's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents... that's a justice issue. And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject."

"That's why I say there's the law of the land... and then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living? As the laws of man are written, that's what they say. God will not accept that"

"[S]top asking God to bless what you're doing. Get involved in what God is doing... because it's already blessed. Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing. And that is what He's calling us to do."

(I have to wonder what those opposed to moral legislation would respond to Bono? I embrace his comments. After all, there aren't many non-moral reasons to support poverty relief - especially relief in foriegn nations).

And finally, Bono gives a specific policy recommendation. It's bold. And it's beautiful. And I say we embrace it:

"I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor. "

I love it. I think we should certainly give at least that one percent. Bravo Bono.

And bravo to the Dykhoff's again!

Someone you could lend a hand
In return for grace

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

S'morality

What is the role of the government?

I would answer that it is the government's duty to promote the health, safety, morals and general welfare of its citizens.

Yes, that's right. Morals. I believe firmly that it is the government's duty - and I mean duty, not just privilege - to regulate based on morals. This means that if something is deemed to be immoral, then the government should enact laws and regulations to criminalize, penalize, dis-incentive, or otherwise limit that behavior. So if we think excessive cruelty to animals is immoral, then things like cock fighting should be illegal, or at least discouraged. And if we think sodomy is immoral, then sodomy should be illegal, or at least discouraged.

The view that the government has the responsibility to implement moral legislation is historically the norm. It can be seen in the 10 commandments. It found philosophical support in Aristotle. It has continued - and continues still - to the current day.

And yet, for some reason, this view seems to be under attack. Many of my peers argue that the only legitimate reason for government action is to prevent harm. And by harm, they mean to exclude moral harm. Instead they seem to mean that government can only act to protect the life, health, and safety of the public and public goods (i.e. the environment).

This idea has also found expression in Supreme Court cases, most notably Lawrence v. Texas, where the court struck down a Texas law prohibiting sodomy. They said "The fact that the governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice."

I, for one, find this view to be simply absurd. First, as I've said, it directly contravenes millennia of historical, political, and philosophical wisdom. I mean, what is the role of the state? I believe that it is to promote a good citizenry. And a prerequisite of a good citizenry is, as Aristotle taught, a moral citizenry. In addition to helping citizens be alive and healthy and economically prosperous the government is charged with the task of helping them be good people.

Secondly, the view that the government shouldn't legislate on a moral basis is absurd because the government can't help but legislate on a moral basis. This is true in 2 ways. First, when the government says "don't kill people" they are making at least 2 statements. They're saying both "killing hurts people's physical well being" and "killing is immoral". The moral judgment is inherent in any law that tries to prevent harm. The government is, in an objective sense, engaged in moral legislation whenever they say something is illegal.

But secondly, every governmental choice to make something legal or illegal is a moral choice. When the government says "we're not going to say cock fighting is illegal" they're basically taking a stand against those who say cruelty to animals is immoral.

And when the Supreme Court says "Texas, you can't outlaw sodomy", then the Court is saying "sodomy is permissible". And when you say something is permissible, you are, by definition, saying "it's not impermissible". Of course, saying "Sodomy is not impermissible" is a direct rebuke of those who would say "Sodomy is impermissible".

There are those who would say that the State should leave the moral decision to the individuals. And the only way to do this is for the State to take a neutral stand, which is what it's trying to do by making things permissible.

The problem with this view is that the whole concept of a neutral position is flawed. There is no neutral - something is either morally permissible or morally impermissible. So even an attempt at neutrality is a moral stand in favor of permissibility. Quite simply, regardless of what they're trying to do, the government is taking a moral stance one way or another. I, for one, say that governments should acknowledge and embrace this role, and feel free to make moral decisions.

After all, that's their job.

Don't act like it's not happening
As if its impolite

Monday, February 06, 2006

Strange but [completely un]True!

In addition to Prince, there has only been one other artist who has ever given up his name to be known by only a symbol. That artist was Chester D. Pettiman, a sculptor. What is particularly strange is that the two men, each completely unaware of the other's existence, chose exactly the same "name". As you might imagine, this caused a good amount of confusion for anyone who wanted to use the phone book to find either Chester or Prince's phone number. Yet it was only after he accidentally opened Chester's mis-delivered mail that Prince decided once-and-for-all to change his name again. And though he is still commonly referred to as "Prince", his real name is now Thomas Johnson; a name which he selected because, believe it or not, it was completely unique. In fact, to this day, if you were to look up their names in the phone book there would be no confusion. You would find only one "Tom Johnson" and one "The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Chester."

This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Town By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

What's in a name? Apparently for a city, the answer is: a lot.

Two cities recently have caught my attention with discussion of changing their names. The first is Washington, Pennsylvania. With Superbowl XL featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks - a team from Washington state - they've gone ahead and temporarily changed their town name to Steeler, Pennsylvania. Just to make sure no one thought they were rooting for the wrong team.

The other city discussing a name change is the town where I grew up: Coon Rapids, Minnesota. For a lot of people the name "Coon Rapids" conjures up two negative images. The first is of some tiny hick western town, devoid of any modern civilization. This certainly isn't the case, as it's one of the largest cities in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. But for those who didn't grow up in or near Coon Rapids, the first impression is usually a weak one. The second negative association is with racism, since the word "coon" has been used as a racial slur. Again, that association isn't an accurate description of the city; they actually got the name from the place where Coon Creek, which was so-named because of a high raccoon population, ran into the Mississippi, creating some light rapids.

The idea of changing the name of Coon Rapids has received a cool reception from most local residents. And back in the 60's when they actually voted on a name-change it was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin. But I for one think they should go ahead and change the name. After all, people outside the town don't have a great impression of Coon Rapids, and a name change could really help. So long as they pick the right name.

And that's where I come in. I've given some real in-depth thought to the perfect name for my old city. And I guarantee you, all of my suggestions are better than the current front runner of "River City." Seriously, who suggested that? That is the most boring name you could come up with. No, if you're going to make a name change, it's got to be exciting. And so here are my suggestions.

First, they could go the Greenland-way. Every school child learns that Iceland is nice, but Greenland is ice. Still, by naming it Greenland the Vikings, (or whoever it was that settled Greenland), were able to con people into thinking it was a wonderful green place to live. Coon Rapids could be equally conniving. As for specific names? Well, "Greenland" is already taken, but I don't think there's an "Awesomeville" or "Cool City" yet. And since the band Lipps, Inc. was actually from Minnesota, I'm sure they wouldn't mind if a Minnesota city took "Funkytown."

Of course, not everyone would be convinced by those great names. So maybe instead the city should follow the advice of The Simpsons. When it was discovered that Springfield was unable to bring in tourists and business, Patty and Selma suggested that the town leach off the popularity of others, by changing their name from Springfield to Seinfeld. Coon Rapids could do same kind of thing, and just keep changing their name to reflect current popular culture. I mean, "Lost, Minnesota" has a certain ring to it. On second thought though, I shudder to think at some of the celebrities out there who might end up with their name on our water towers. "Paris Hilton Heights" would be the absolute worst place a person could ever live.

Then again, maybe it isn't the name itself that counts at all - maybe it's what the city can get out of it. Maybe Coon Rapids should simply sell their name to the highest bidder, and use the funds to improve schools or draw business or lower property taxes. Sure, I probably wouldn't want to live in Taco Bellview or Wal-marton. Unless, of course, the taxes had been rolled back by an energetic smiley-face.

And the city slogans just write themselves:

Wal-marton
Always low crime rates.Always.
or how about this one:
TACO BELLVIEW
MAKE A RUN FOR OUR BORDERS
Can't you just see it? The Taco Bellview fighting Chihuahuas. Yo quiero Taco Bellview!
Of course, these slogans just highlight the biggest problem with this strategy: the fact that companies change their ad campaigns. Taco Bellview would now have to have some derivation of "think outside the bun", and I just don't know if that would work.

But with the right company, and a commitment to pay a whole crapload of money to the town, I really think this could be the perfect endorsement deal. Coon Rapids, you should really look into it: I can hardly wait to come back for the homecoming game and root on my Keeblerville Elves.
Thought of changin' my name
What's in a name?