Tuesday, May 31, 2005

School

I am frequently questioned on my stance on choice in schools, especially as I am working towards teaching certification presently. The facts of the matter, though, firmly prove that the present centralized system of schooling only creates government waste and inefficiency in schools. Cato's David Salisbury writes on the gains realized by other countries by opening up school choice here.

Even a conceptual understanding of the situation is enough to see where the problem lies; without any competition, schools have no real reason to perform any better. Parents, when able to choose a school for their child, base their decision off of a variety of factors, including the school's graduation record and reputation, the distance away from their home, the other students attending the school, and the content taught in the classes, among other things. If given choice, schools will be able to specialize and stop trying to please everyone at once; instead, parents will send their child to a school that will teach them what they, the parents, want their children to learn. Furthermore, the schools will have to compete to run the best school possible at the lowest expense.

An interesting fact about President Bush's No Child Left Behind act (NCLB): A New Hampshire study showed that while it would take approximately $515 per student to make the changes required by NCLB, the federal government would only be funding them $77 per student for making said changes.

Where is the problem here? Is there some significant issue that is facing law makers that I don't see that causes them to support our current inefficient system? Is there perhaps some other force that I've not accounted for? Is there any reason to maintain a system of education as we have now?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Lucky

Maybe Will Wilkinson needs to re-read his Thomas Nagel? Will discusses luck (not so much of a moral kind as of a metaphysical kind) here, in an interesting, albeit misleading, post about being Will.

Wilkinson, despite his best efforts, does get "thornily metaphysical" in his argument, and it is true that we can hardly disagree with him in his initial point. It is true that if something were different about a person, then they would not be that same person. For instance, if Will were a diabetic, he would not be Will, at least not in the same way he is Will now. A point not addressed in the post, but one that should be mentioned, is that time is an additional factor. Will is not a diabetic now, but he could develop diabetes (knock on wood) and still be Will; he would be Will at a different time.

It is true that his parents' actions were performed with the express purpose of creating in Will a certain work ethic or type of personality, and this is not luck. What IS luck, though, is the fact that Will's parents were cosmically matched up with Will. Here he reaches that thorny metaphysic; Will does not exist a priori, he only follows from his parents. If they were not his parents, he would not be Will. Will must be, of course, Will, and he could not be Will had he been born to different parents.

I'm not expressly disagreeing with Wilkinson, as the structure of definitions he's create has made it impossible to do so. What I can say, though, is that there is no real reason why I exist as a male, middle-class, while American while others exist as poor, oppressed, Indonesian women. Wilkinson's reason is that I could not exist as anything else, which is true, and yet I'm still disinclined to leave it at that, as anyone could be something else, had circumstances been different.

Thornily metaphysical, I know. Sorry.

Star Wars on H&R

To follow up my questions and philosophical objections to Star Wars III, Hit and Run has developed an interesting string of comments regarding the politics surrounding the movie.

The only real objection I can see to the separatist movement is the fact that the Sith is traditionally duplicitous in their motives and could be selling the beauty of freedom and capitalism and peace simply in order to grab more power. Then, of course, the dictatorship that they also proffer as times certainly doesn't seem like a viable option, either.

More than anything, this is just a film, and one with poorly written dialogue at that. If Lucas couldn't handle dialogue, what is to say that he had any real political insight outside of his backhanded jabs to the Republican party?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Star Wars

Movie reviews aren't really how I'd like to use this space. That being said, an essay needs to be written about Star Wars III.

As far as the movie went, it wasn't spectacular. The acting, like in the 2nd episode, was atrocious. The dialogue was simply abhorrent. Anytime someone opened their mouth I simply had to brace for impact.

What I'd like to speak about is a little larger than stilted dialogue and poorly placed brooding looks by the not-very-talented Hayden Christensen. Revenge of the Sith provides a surprising amount of philosophical material to mull over.

*WARNING* FOLLOWING ARE SPOILERS ABOUT ALL 6 EPISODES OF STAR WARS. DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILMS FOR YOURSELF.

The Star Wars universe has always been predicated on the idea that good is good and evil is evil and we can see the difference by the color of someone's weapon. Sith rearranges some of our conceptions, obviously. A republic turns into an empire, the bad guys take over what was once the territory of the good guys, and even bad guys have some "good in them," as almost every character close to Vader hits on again and again.

But the finality of good and bad are questioned heavily during the course of the movie. Obi-Wan, in a fit of bad dialogue (but otherwise decent acting from the always charming Ewan McGregor), tells Vader, referring to Palpatine, "he's EVIL!" Anakin calmly replies that this is his perception, and that from Anakin's point of view things are different. In a somewhat contradictory statement, Obi-Wan says that the "Sith only deals in absolutes."

Moral relativism plagued the whole film. Every character in the movie was simply concerned (at least in appearance) with the wellbeing of the galaxy. Palpatine assures Anakin over and over again that an empire is the only way to create a secure universe, that he seeks to bring peace to the galaxy. Perhaps Palpatine was being duplicitous in his desire (in fact, we can be pretty sure he was), but it demonstrates a point about politics that most people overlook: we're all working towards the same goal.

Obviously, an Empire is not a very good way to achieve said goal. Apparently, a corrupt republic isn't either. The parallels that can be drawn between Sith and the US government are so numerous and blatant that one wonders if this film was made as a critique of George Bush. While our nation is falling apart, falling prey to power hungry imperialists, our money stripped of us at gunpoint, our rights abolished in the name of security, senators and congress-people simply pat each other on the back for getting their piece of legislation passed. Perhaps the only insightful, interesting or well-written line in the entire movie summed up our US congress very well: "So this is how liberty dies; to thunderous applause."

Regarding the Jedi ethos, I was continually offended at the idea that the Jedi were supposed to be totally selfless, self-sacrificing warriors of righteousness. The Sith is not bad because they are selfish and seek their own gain; they are bad because they kill "younglings" (can we just call them kids? Please?). The Jedi are not good because they sacrifice themselves for others; they are good because they work with others for their mutual benefit. Here again we face the issue of moral relativism: are the Jedi really that good for promoting the status quo over what could be a perfectly feasible second option? What is it that the Jedi are really fighting, and what is so awful about it that it needs to be destroyed?

What lessons can we take from Sith? For one, it should be clear that good and evil are not so different. In episodes I-III, the Jedi work for the republic, which becomes the empire. In IV-VI, they work against it. The Empire sought to create the same effects that the Republic did, so was it the Jedi who changed? Furthermore, is a corrupt republic really any better than a well working empire?

The biggest question of all, of course; who was really the Chosen One? Was Anakin, who actually destroyed the Sith in the end and killed the emperor, or was Luke, who triggered the good in Anakin and started the Jedi anew?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Pork

Uncle Ted "Pork Barrel" Stevens has done it again, another huge service to the state of Alaska. First an over-the-top train depot replete with Corinthian tile and flying glass waves, and now a $1.5 million bus stop. No wonder we named an airport after him.

During the summer, I drive by the bus stop in question most every day. Trust me, it is a pretty decent bus stop, as far as bus stops go, already. In fact, it is a lot nicer as is that most bus stops anywhere else in the US. Stevens' proposed improvements coincide with the Museum expansion project, and his spokeswoman has said that "it is supposed to be a lot more than a bus stop... It needs to have a way to smoothly transition all these people" between the center of downtown and the new museum. Trust me again, this is the biggest crock of bull the Senator has spun since, well, probably just since the last appropriations bill.

See, the way downtown is constructed, tourists and locals funnel into the few blocks between C and I streets and 3rd and 6th streets. There is a large successful mall on 5th, a variety of tourist shops down 4th, and not much else outside of that. The Museum is on 5th and A, a little ways out of the center, and most people don't stray that far, and, if they did, why would anyone just say "hey, let's spend a few hours in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art!" People aren't that cultured.

Furthermore, Alaska's public transportation system is essentially useless. The Municipality of Anchorage spans so much area (more than most major cities, even), there is no good way to run a bus system. Even when there is a route that is convenient enough to take with only a few transfers, the busses run so infrequently that you have to wait longer than it would take to walk or hitch a ride. In Anchorage, especially in the winter, you simply need a car.

On one hand, I'm glad that Uncle Ted can be so good to the ol' AK. I mean, we pay enough in federal taxes (but not state taxes, mind you), and I like getting back as much of my money as possible. I don't, though, like that it is taken from my by force, and then piddled away on bus stops and new terminals for the airport. I'm not saying much new here, no one really likes taxes, but Stevens is simply out of control, abusing his chairmanship to get valuable funds.

It's a good thing he's not in the chair position anymore, but how many other lawmakers are there like him, just leaching as much cash as they can while the country falls further and further into debt?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Publication V

I've got a letter to the editor in the Anchorage Daily News.

Check it out here. Scroll down a ways, it is titled "case for existence of God based on questionable suppositions."

Miscellanea IV

Courtesy of Wonkette:
"Reign of MADNESS continues in Massachusetts"

My favorite parts:

Parents can no longer opt their children out of pro-homosexual lessons and activities in school.
Now that's a shame. If I had kids, I would want to opt out of the pro-female lessons. It is those damn women who are really terrifying!
Parents have even been arrested by police for resisting having their kids exposed to homosexuality, the pro-family advocate claims. "Society is going through this enforced homosexualization in Massachusetts," he says. "It's truly frightening." For example, he points to Lexington parent David Parker, who was arrested and charged with "trespassing" at his son's elementary school during a scheduled meeting with the principal and the town's Director of Education over his objections to homosexual curriculum materials.

Now, I don't know a whole lot about the schools in Mass., but do they really have a gay curriculum? That just seems silly
The Article 8 Alliance and the Parents Rights Coalition have worked together to get four important bills filed in the Massachusetts legislature -- three aimed at constitutionally removing the "rogue judges" on the MSJC who voted to legalize same-sex marriage and to reverse that ruling. The fourth piece of legislation is an updated Parents' Rights Law, which would stop the accompanying homosexual programs in the state's public schools.

Parent's rights? How about privatized schools, so that parents can choose what they want their kids exposed to? Or how about we cut the government in half, and stop it from telling us how to live our lives? Nah, that would be too simple.


Also, a nice daily commentary at Cato about the crimialization of everything, and the governmental power trip that has enslaved our country. Read it here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Troops

What does it mean to say that we support our armed forces? What does it mean to display a yellow ribbon on your car or on a tree? Furthermore, what does it mean to support the armed services given a dislike for the current military situation and a disagreement with US foreign policy?

Two letter writers to the Anchorage Daily News seem to believe differing things about supporting the troops. One finds a support such as this to be apolitical in nature; "supporting the troops" doesn't mean that you support the government's decision to invade Iraq, for instance. Another finds the stickers to be and exhortation against complaints directed at the President [second to last letter on the page]. Is it even possible to support the people that make up an organization but not support the organization itself?

I like the say that I support the armed services; I at least support their existence. I don't support their existence as a huge mega-power, and I don't support our presence in foreign lands, but I do support a limited defense department. I cannot, though, support an operation in a foreign land where we have no business, fighting a fight that was started under false pretenses that continues to needlessly kill people daily. Should I therefore condemn my cousin, who actually targeted bombs at Iraqi buildings?

I realize that I've now ended three paragraphs with questions, and should probably start coming up with some answers. I don't know, though, if there are any easy ones to be had. I cannot condone the fact that my cousin contributed to the destruction, tyranny, and imperialism that happens in Iraq, yet I cannot chastise him for being a part of the group that protects my freedom and liberty. Iraq, of course, has no bearing whatsoever on my freedom here in the States, which is one reason that I might attack my cousin's chosen profession, yet his involvement there is simply based on orders he received from higher up the chain of command, orders which he had to follow regardless of his feelings about them.

I can neither support our military action in foreign countries nor the people that take those actions. I don't support our troops, at least not our troops in Iraq. I realize that they are there in order to protect me, but I realize that their intervention in Iraq is not protecting my freedom in any way. I must condemn those brave men and women in Iraq, and only support the military action that I believe to be in the best interest of my personal liberties.

Evil Empire

Luke, I am your... President?

Interesting parallels, but nothing too shocking in terms of news. Fewer and fewer people, it seems, try to justify US action in Iraq these days, but for some reason we still have a blind devotion to our president. More than anything else, it is horribly frustrating.

Thanks to the VegBlog for the link.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Paranoia

I have a few irrational fears; first of all, I can't stand birds of any type. They freak me out.

This post isn't about birds, though. Rather, it is about another passing paranoia I have; that the federal government will be able to track me down somehow when I've done something wrong. You know what I mean; using cash instead of credit or debit cards, not leaving fingerprints in government buildings, avoiding police interaction, and avoiding registration with government agencies. This is perhaps what makes me such an ardent libertarian.

It isn't over the top, of course. The feeling is fleeting and I realize that it is irrational, so I dismiss it as quickly as it comes. For instance, I have a library card, I've registered with selective service, I have a driver's license, I pay taxes, and I even use my bank card occasionally. Still, when I needed to get fingerprinted in order to observe in public schools this semester I thought twice before letting the government know what the ridges on my digits looked like.

This passing paranoia is certainly not helped by the (somewhat inconspicuous) breaking of this news. For some reason, the government assumes that by slapping more "identification" on us, it will save us from terrorists (terrorists who don't even need to do anything to get us to run screaming). Instead of actually taking steps to avoid terrorism, like ceasing to occupy nations on the other side of the world, the government has simply decided that it makes much more sense to put the US population even more strongly under its thumb.

Besides the egregious violation of state's rights in terms of the federal government now dictating what type of ID a state must distribute, how are we supposed to fight a violation of personal liberty and privacy like this? Furthermore, how are we supposed to simply sit back and watch as our every movement slowly becomes followed by big brother, watching from an RFID reading satellite in the sky?

People don't seem to realize the value of anonymity. When no one knows you, you are free to do and be whatever you want. When the government has you pinned down, leashed like a dog, and watched like a criminal, you soon realize how much freedom anonymity really provides.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Ethical Testing

An interesting exercise on ethics here; a series of questions which test your adherence to social mores. I'm still trying to figure out what it all means, though.

By the way, I scored thus:

Your Moralising Quotient is: 0.07.

Your Interference Factor is: 0.00.

Your Universalising Factor is: 0.00.

apparently, I'm without morals. Or at least I don't much care for social constructs.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution for pointing it out.

Friday, May 06, 2005

FDA

The United States has been notorious at condoning discrimination, from slavery to this, FDA discrimination against non-heterosexual people. Deplorable is the only word I can think to say when reading this. Simple deplorable.

Perhaps the FDA thinks that by reducing the number of gay sperm donors that it will cut down on the existance of the "gay gene" (forgetting, of course, that most homosexuals come from heterosexual parents). Perhaps the FDA thinks, as some people I know do, that the gay population is solely responsible for the spread of AIDS and that if everyone were to express their sexuality with their oppisite sex spouse, missionary style, in the dark, simply for the sake of reproduction that there would be no AIDS. Or perhaps the FDA simply is seeing how far it can push its weight around.

The FDA is no more than corporate America's henchman. A radical claim, I know, and one that I can hardly justify. As one simple case example, I present stevia. Stevia is a plant that is naturally sweet like sugar, but without the death-causing side effects. In fact, Stevia has been used extensivly as a homeopathic remedy to common ailments like joint pain, illness, and menstrual cramps. The FDA banned stevia without reason in the 1980's, just as it was picking up popularity and beginning to take a portion of sugar's market. Since then, the FDA has punished all use of stevia in conjunction with labeling that indicates it is a sweetening agent, and it can only be sold as an herbal suppliment.

Assuming that a "public health" exists (which, of course, it does not, the public is simply a collection of individuals with individual health), could the FDA even pretend to be acting in its best interest? If it were, refined sugar would be illegal, and stevia legal. If it were, marijuana (which the CDC reports has caused zero deaths) would be legal and alcohol (which has caused countless deaths) would be banned. In the case of the FDA's newest power trip, they would be asking that ALL potential donors, regardless of sexual orientation, undergo testing for AIDS and other viruses instead of assuming that someone doesn't have AIDS simply because they are straight.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that homosexuals are statistically more likely to carry the virus. Likewise, blacks are far more likely to commit violent crimes than any other race. Of course, these numbers don't compel us to lock up all black people, and likewise shouldn't cause us to vilify the homosexual population.

The FDA is not protecting anything and instead is only stripping us all of our precious freedom, and needs to be abolished.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

VegNews

I was recently given some back issues of VegNews magazine. The publication itself is exactly what you would expect from a vegetarian focused read, but some of the politically oriented articles are laughable. Take this letter to the editor, which is both well written and strikingly true:

I'm not surprised that vegetarians are as clueless as flesh-eaters regarding the government's proper role in out society, but it still upsets me to read articles by Michele Simon such as "Is Junk Food the Next Tobacco?" and "Uncle Sam's Obesity Rx" (VN #37 and 38) in a vegetarian magazine. The government has no authority- constitutional, moral, or otherwise- to do 99 percent of what it is presently doing. The includes taxing the hell out of cigarettes while subsidizing tobacco farmers, or attacking the obesity problem while subsidizing the meat and dairy industries. There is no such thing as the "Public Health" because there is no such thing as the "Public." There are only individuals who, together, created our government several years ago to protect us from force and fraud, the only two crimes. This was to make us free to make our own choices in out lives regardless of the consequences, as long as we do not initiate force or perpetrate fraud. We did not create government to protect us from ourselves. Government has no authority to do anything not specifically listed in the constitution. The deviation from Constitutional government should concern everyone, but especially vegetarians, since without Federal subsidies to the meat and dairy industries, their products would be so expensive that most people would be vegetarian from economic necessity. -Nick Kyriazi, Pittsburgh, PA


Bravo! But then the VegNews editor shoots back with this drivel:

I completely agree that federal subsidies to the mean and dairy industries should be eliminated and have written so elsewhere. However, arguing that government should not act to protect individuals lays right into the hands of the mighty corporations who enjoy the hypocrisy of government supporting industry while claiming to foster a free market. Whether we like it or not, the government is very involved in the public's health, and thus bears the responsibility to act in the public's best interest, instead of protecting industry's bottom line. -Michele Simon

Sigh. Did she even read the letter? Does she know anything about economics? I don't plan on subscribing to VegNews anytime soon.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Secrets

I was recently pointed by a friend to this incredible site, called PostSecret. The premise: People anonymously send postcards to the keeper of this blog describing the deep, dark secrets that people have never told anyone. These cards are displayed for all the internet to see, but cannot be traced back to their original author.

I guess the idea of anonymous shout-outs has been around awhile, since newspaper classifieds at least. The idea, though, is pretty stellar, especially in combining it with artwork. I mean, these post cards are truly works of art in their own right, and they have to be creative for the blogger, "Frank," to even choose them to be posted.

Some are shockingly depressing. Others, though, seem like they need attention from the authorities. These postcards aren't really traceable, but just like priests who hear confessions from people who might harm others and have to break the seal of the confessional, wouldn't there be some sort of stipulation for intervention here? I suppose that's the beauty of anonymity.

I haven't decided what I think of this project outside of its artistic value. It is kind of like group therapy in many ways, but it is also pretty depressing.

As art, I think the authenticity really cuts, and that's what makes these incredible to view. There is supposedly a traveling exhibit, which I would love to see some day.