Friday, July 23, 2004

No mixed feelings in politics

No mixed feelings in politics

According to Professor H. D. Miller, John Kerry is a waffler. Not too surprising, since that's the official right-wing line. Bush, on the other hand, is decisive. And that's better. Not. Face it, folks, both have their places in life -- and certainly in the kind of people who run countries. What Miller sees as waffling (in this particular case, the pro-choice question), I see as an honest approach to a difficult question. People and their opinions change over time. Even values change over time -- not the big ones, we hope, but for example, I know lots of people who, as they have grown older and begun to raise families, have compromised on the "greenness" of their automobiles for safety and comfort. (The queen of the comma strikes again)

In Kerry's case, I think we're seeing someone who really doesn't think abortion is a good thing -- maybe even a wrong thing -- but perhaps understands that the question that lies at the root is not all that clear-cut. What exactly is human life? If it's a fertilized egg, then it's biological life, plain and simple.
But is that the standard? If it is, then how is it that we as a species seem to treat so many other living things with little or no respect -- including, ultimately, ourselves? If we care about biological life so much, should we pollute the way we do? Hell, even overeating should carry a much greater stigma, since we are killing something (unless you're on the all-dairy plan) every time we eat. And let's not even go to the "some (e.g., human) life is more important than dumb animals and plants" argument. I think it's pretty damned clear that, as a species, we have no problems taking the lives of other humans if it suits us.

In terms of plain biological life and its importance, I also have to ask if we then have an obligation to make sure every fertilized egg implants and grows to term. Will we monitor women to make sure that they keep themselves in the best health, just in case they get pregnant? Should we devise some monthly test that tells us whether an egg has been fertilized, and then mourn if it gets flushed away with the endometrium? Should we intrude on the life of every woman who has a perfectly normal miscarriage and is mourning the loss, just to make sure she was doing everything she could to bring that to term. 'Cause she wouldn't be going over that in her head, over and over, would she?

Oh -- but that's not enough to give people mixed opinions on the question of life, you say? Let's speak of the soul, then. Is that what makes humans human? (Although I did hear something about animals having souls ...) But say that's it. The soul. Has anyone been able to demonstrate the point at which the soul enters the body? Does the soul even exist? Aren't these questions best answered by religion? I think they are. I don't know about Kerry -- he hasn't mentioned this particular question. But if different religions teach different views on the soul, its existence, and when it enters the body (if ever), can we let any one religious viewpoint decide for the rest? In countries with a state religion, I suppose that makes sense (although if that state religion were Islam, I'm sure that people here would complain). However, the last time I looked, the U.S. didn't have a state religion. In fact, many Americans pride themselves on the idea that we've been pretty good at separating church and state over the past 220-odd years.

So maybe as a religious man, Kerry thinks one thing, but as someone who has devoted much of his adult life to the service of his country, he is not willing to place his private beliefs above the laws of the land or to impose them on the people he represents. What a novel idea. How American in the best sense of the word.

Summer in the Burbs

Summer in the Burbs

Okay -- it's the end of July and I still haven't finished the things I was supposed to have finished. Some I haven't started. My neighbor's death is another distractions, but one I can at least feel good (in the sense that I am doing good works) about. Today, I picked up kids, took them for ice cream, hung out with family, coordinated with some of the really nice police officers who were there to help, and generally made myself available. More of the same tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have to help a student finish her incomplete, train on a new online teaching software system (although Angel looks even easier than Blackboard), finish a review -- ok, start and finish a review, finish my online course in Blackboard, and do a HUGE amount of yard work.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it. It also helps to explain why some of us blog anonymously. I thought about this a bit more, and realized that I also am unsure of how some of my colleagues would react if they knew I liked video games. I've played a bit this summer, although not as much as I might if I didn't have other things to be doing and if it weren't so damned hot (95 degrees Fahrenheit at 2:30 this afternoon, thanks very much. Or as they say on The Fast Show (known as Brilliant! here in the US of A), "Scorchio."

I got stuck on Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb so I somehow ended up with a couple of new adventure games instead. Much easier to play (no hand-eye coordination) much easier to put down.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Death Strikes the Neighborhood

Nice Guy Finishes First -- or Life Sucks in ADM Land

My neighbor died this morning. He was a really nice guy. I didn't know him well, because he was always doing something. Mostly, I talked to his wife and kids, and we tried to come up with times to get together for dinner or something. The few times we did get together, it was usually to go to see a big opening of a fantasy-adventure film; we all shared a love for many of the same books, including the Harry Potter series.
Today, I learned some things I didn't know. Ken was controversial. He got under people's skin and the caustic sense of humor I found funny upset a lot of people. Or at least that's what was in the news. Me, I just knew him as a nice guy, pretty quiet, interesting to talk to, and devoted to his family. They're a great family, too. It's weird to think of him not around, because he and his wife were such a team. Their kids are great, the kind of kids anyone would be proud to have. Me, I just wish I could do more to help, but then, what does one do? I'm third on the dinner roster, after the Chief of Police's wife and the neighbor who's been friends for years. That's about it.
Part of that's because of who Ken was. Fellow officers are on hand to help with anything the family needs, and they're showing both sensitivity and a really touching concern. I think Ken would have been happy to see how it's all being handled. I just wish he could -- but then, when nice guys finish first, it's never in the way they should.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

The Joys of Canvassing, pt. 1

The Joys of Canvassing, pt. 1

I was a little fearful of canvassing, because I'm not the world's greatest Kerry fan, although I felt a lot more confident about going out and talking to strangers once Edwards was chosen. Unfortunately, the canvassing I remembered from my childhood is long gone, at least as far as the Democrats in this lovely western state are concerned. None of this silly door-to-door, talk about the qualities of your candidate stuff -- we weren't to concern ourselves with issues, just with converting likely Democrats to absentee ballot voters. Yup. Go to the people almost most likely to vote Democrat (people who have voted at the polls in 2 of the last 4 elections) and "convert" them to absentee ballots, so that they'll be sure to vote.

We were given lists of addresses to visit, and some pretty inadequate street maps (i.e., mapquest maps without all the streets labeled, hand-highlighted to show us where to go -- except that much of the highlighting was incorrect, since our town has tons of numbered streets that stop and start up again a couple blocks later, or in an apartment complex ...). Each area covered about a square mile, with about 20 addresses. Since our lovely burg gives separate street addresses to each building in an apartment complex, we often had several addresses in one complex, but since the addresses were listed by street, it was impossible to tell which were together! With instructions to mark down people as not home, moved/deceased, or confirmed and/or converted, we set off. I paired up with someone who knew the ropes, and we drove around looking for addresses. Of the lists we were given, we were only able to confirm 2 correct addresses, and got quite a few "not homes" -- not too surprising on a suburban Saturday morning.

After frustration and the 80-plus degree weather started to set in, we began to ignore our instructions a bit. We'd been told not to approach people likely to be swing voters or Republicans, because the point was to ensure Democratic votes, not to make it easier for undecideds and Republicans. We diverged a bit from the script -- when the "wrong" person answered a door, we told them who we were, and if they didn't say that they were voting Republican (one did, in very unpleasant terms), we said we were out registering people to vote. We ended up registering 10 people (the entire day's work for the group was 24), of whom two were the conversions we were supposed to be getting, and a few were people who had just moved and wanted to get registered before the elections. Our district boss was not all that enthusiastic about the numbers, and tried to explain again that "we were targeting these addresses for a specific reason, and we don't want to give the other side any help -- we're trying to get the disaffected voters back."

Yeah, right. Well, if this kind of marketing strategy is the best we can do, I worry about losing. It's so incredibly short-sighted. If Average Joe tends to think of Liberals and Democrats as elitist, how will this help capture the real swing voters? I do understand that the party thinks it's just the first step in a greater marketing strategy, but in the long term (and face it, the elections are not that far away -- if Kerry and Edwards don't win, the Bush people will have another 4 years to try to convince the moderates that they're really Republicans), you have to build relationships. How do you do that? By actually contacting real, live, people, I think. In the six hours we spent looking for addresses last Saturday, my partner and I could have knocked on a lot more doors and probably done more good for the campaign. Here are the party's objections to doing that, and my rebuttals:

Party: If you go door-to-door, you'll end up talking to Republicans and we don't want to make voting easier for them

ADM: 1) if they know we're from the K-E campaign, they probably won't want to talk to us
2) if they want to talk to us, we don't have to mention we're registering voters
3) if they notice we're registering voters, we don't have to mention that the same form is used to register for absentee ballots as for regular registration -- if they care, they'll already be registered -- why re-register?
4) even if they know all of this and want to register for absentee ballots, we don't have to help them or tell them the deadlines to mail the forms -- the worst thing that will happen is that someone who cares might send in the form but remember the Democrats who thought the political process was more important than partisan politics.

Party: We don't want to make it easy for swing voters

ADM: If they're swing voters, we should leave them remembering the Democrats as being helpful, pleasant people just like them, who aren't elitist and who really believe in American democratic (sorry Bob) values. If people are going to vote Republican because they feel that Republicans are more in touch with the little guy, why not show them that's bunk? It IS about salesmanship -- people buy from people they like.

I got the distinct feeling that the party person thought I was a troublemaker. Me, I'd like to knock some party heads together, so maybe they're right.

Any bets on how badly they can screw this one up?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Coming Attractions

Coming Soon ...

Stuff on our trip to Whistler, BC, summer jobs, and how much I hate insurance companies -- WAY more than lawyers. Not to mention canvassing for Kerry and whether I'm going to submit something to the Chronicle to do one of their job market columns next year. Stay tuned!