If Nebraska banned affirmative action

One of the issues on Nebraska ballots will be a constitutional amendment to ban affirmative action.

Before I found out more about it, I would’ve been tempted to vote yes on the amendment. After all, affirmative action is all about quotas, and quotas are all about discrimination. Reverse discrimination, after all, is still discrimination.

But after an informational meeting at church recently, I’m set against the amendment. Here are three things whose state funding could be cut off, or at least could be subjected to long, expensive court battles, if the amendment passed:

  • Breast-cancer screenings. Why? Because they’re offered primarily to women, since women get breast cancer 100 times more often than men. And since screenings are offered to women and not to men, that would be considered sex discrimination under the amendment.
  • Domestic violence programs. More women than men are targeted by domestic violence, which is why things like women’s shelters exist. But again, the amendment would consider that discrimination, and the state could no longer provide funding.
  • Outreach programs to encourage minorities to attend college. I’m not even talking about discriminatory scholarships — just outreach programs to get minorities to even think about college as an option.

In each of those, there’s a case to be made that they’re “discriminatory”. And you know what? I don’t care. Any theoretical “bad karma” resulting from their “discrimination” is far outweighed by the real-world good in these programs.

Vote No on Initiative 424.

More information, including the text of the proposed amendment (PDF) and a list of groups opposing Initiative 424, is available at the Nebraskans United Web site.

Of politics and rock stars

We watched Obama’s acceptance speech last week, and we watched McCain’s acceptance speech tonight.

Obama has been accused of being a “rock star”. So it was interesting to notice that McCain was the one who couldn’t ever get a word in edgewise, because the damn crowd wouldn’t ever stop cheering and applauding and hollering and whistling and chanting “USA! USA! USA!”

For God’s sake, people, shut up and let the man talk.

A politician who’s not a cardboard cutout

I had been ready to give up on having a decent Democratic candidate this election. I had just about decided that, by the time either Obama or Hillary had beat the other into submission, they wouldn’t be someone I’d want to vote for.

But now I don’t know.

What happened? I read the text of Obama’s speech this Tuesday, “A More Perfect Union”. (I tried to watch it, but YouTube kept crapping out, so I had to settle for the written word.)

I won’t give a play-by-play (for that, read the speech, which is well worth the time). But there were several things about the speech that made a deep impression on me.

First was Obama’s reaction to Rev. Wright, his former minister who’s apparently been in the media lately, stirring up controversy with some incendiary racial and political comments. Obama didn’t agree with Rev. Wright’s comments, but neither did he distance himself from him, because “the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man”. He refused to dissociate himself from a man he’d respected for 20 years, a man he’d watched care for the sick and lift up the poor.

A typical politician would have issued a press release condemning the inflammatory remarks and distancing himself from the Reverend, and then stuck his head in the sand and hoped it would all go away. Obama didn’t do that. He faced the issue and took it on. And what’s more, he took it on with compassion and humanity.

I have to respect a politician who, first, shows that he’s able and willing to handle challenges, even controversial ones, even during election year; and second, who won’t abandon his longtime friends for mere political expediency.

Then there was the fact that he saw both sides of the issue. He talked about the things that contributed to Rev. Wright’s bitterness — poverty, oppression, erosion of families. He didn’t excuse the bitterness, but he asked us to see the reality underlying that bitterness — not to whitewash it or rose-tint it or hope it would go away, but to see what’s really there.

And he also talked about the white side of the issue. Whites who have never felt privileged by their race, who have worked their way up from nothing only to see opportunities given to blacks instead, whites who are told that their fear of urban crime is somehow racist.

Then he said we have a choice: we can sweep the issue of race back under the rug, and ignore it once again; or we can say, “Not this time,” and we can come together to fix the problems that are hurting everyone, blacks included, everyone else included.

“Not this time.” I really like that. As much as we might want to be super-crusaders, working tirelessly for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, in reality very few of us have the energy to toil endlessly for what’s right. We have families, jobs, fears, lives. We can’t honestly say “Never again” and know in our hearts that we mean it, that we’re willing to fight tirelessly for, most likely, the rest of our lives. (There’s that humanity thing again.)

But, even imperfect as we are, we can say, “Not this time.”

It was quite a speech. Of course, at the end of the day, speeches only mean so much:

I remember her comment: “He talks purty, don’t he?”

Her comment was only result.

— “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, Robert A. Heinlein

And it’s true: the speech was emotional, but at the end of the day, what does it mean about Obama’s qualifications for President? A President does need to be able to make purty speeches and influence people, but by itself, that’s not enough.

Well, I’d say, there’s one thing it tells us for sure: he’s willing to step up and deal with the tough issues, and he’ll treat the people involved with respect and humanity.

In fact, at this point, I’d say he’s the most human of all the candidates. He’s not just a slick politician, not just a pretty cardboard cutout. He’s not just parroting the party line. He’s a man, with both humility and dreams.

Voting for an actual human for a change, and not a politician? What an idea.

Walter Reed Hospital: the other side of the story

I know this isn’t relevant to what I normally blog about, but it’s compelling.

You’ve probably already heard all the news coverage about the conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. But most of the coverage so far has been from the media looking for sensationalism, and from brass hats and politicians covering their asses.

Here, on the other hand, is an account from a senior chaplain at Walter Reed.

The news media and politicians are making it sound like Walter Reed is a terrible place and the staff here has been abusing our brave wounded soldiers; what a bunch of bull!

I was in shock when the news broke. We in the chaplains office in Walter Reed, as well as the majority of people at Walter Reed, did not know anyone was in building 18. […] Building 18 is not on the installation of Walter Reed and was believed to be closed years ago by our department. The fact that some leaders in the medical brigade that is in charge of the outpatients put soldiers in there is terrible.

What I am furious about is that the media is making it sound like all of Walter Reed is like building 18. Nothing could be further from the truth. No system is perfect but the medical staff provides great care in this hospital. What needs to be addressed, and finally will, is the bureaucratic garbage that all soldiers are put through…

I appreciate this guy’s agenda — improving hospital conditions for wounded soldiers — a whole lot more than I appreciate the CYA agenda of the politicos. Go read what he’s got to say.

Lite Brites shut down Boston

Apparently, Boston police can’t tell the difference between a billboard and a bomb.

I’m not kidding. Cartoon Network put blinking signs around several cities, advertising one of their shows. Most cities, having seen signs before, didn’t bat an eye. Boston? Mass hysteria. Highways, bridges, and river traffic shut down while police sent in bomb squads. I kid you not.

I read the news article first, and then I went to get Schneier’s take on the Boston billboard panic.

From Schneier’s post:

To advertise the Cartoon Network show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” the network put up 38 blinking signs (kind of like Lite Brites) around the Boston area. The Boston police decided — with absolutely no supporting evidence — that these were bombs and shut down parts of the city.

“It had a very sinister appearance,” [Massachusetts Attorney General Martha] Coakley told reporters. “It had a battery behind it, and wires.”

For heavens sake, don’t let her inside a Radio Shack.

9/11: Five years

There’s a place in my brain labeled “Things about 9/11 I will Never Forget”. I’m embarrassed to say that I’m pretty sure there were once three things in there, and now I can remember only two. But those two are: Yasser Arafat donating blood; and the British palace guard, for the first time in history, standing at attention during the “Star Spangled Banner”.

9/11 brought the world together. I hope that that, and not fear, will be its lasting legacy.

Trial

This just in: the Pentagon has finally acknowledged what the Founding Fathers already knew, viz., that prisoners have a right to a court hearing. And that includes political prisoners.

It’s not clear how far-reaching the implications will be; the White House is already trying to downplay the news. But allow me to dream for a moment. Imagine a world where, when the secret police come and arrest you in the middle of the night, they can no longer hold you indefinitely, without evidence, on mere “suspicion” of “terrorism”. A world where mistaken arrests can’t be simply swept under the rug. (Have they been? Would we know if they had?) A world where the Inquisitors can’t even torture a confession out of you, but actually have to prove your guilt in court.

Gee. Thinking about it that way, you’d almost think we lived in the Land of the Free.

fallwell.com: Biblical response to Jerry Falwell’s anti-gay preaching

While reading today’s headlines, I ran across a Web site, fallwell.com, that challenges Rev. Jerry Falwell’s attitudes about gays and lesbians, and does so from a Christian and a Biblical perspective.

Many otherwise well-meaning people have believed that gay people are commiting a sin. Jerry Falwell has been one of America’s leading promoters of this mistaken idea. This notion has created profound suffering and torment, not only for gay people, but for their friends and families as well. It has also dealt a devastating blow to Christianity itself, as fair-minded people have turned away in response.

I know this because I have received hundreds of emails from heterosexuals who have left Christianity directly due of its embrace of homophobia and anti-gay prejudice. Peace, acceptance, love, charity and humility have been replaced by a gospel of intolerance, ignorance and political ambition.

There can be no goal that is less holy than that which seeks to maintain a level of societal prejudice against a particular group of fellow human beings.

In contrast, Jesus reached out to those on the margins of society. The only people that Jesus ever condemned were religious fundamentalists. (See Matthew 23). Jesus also said that the two greatest commandments were those that commanded us to love (Mark 12:28-34). Fundamentalists have failed most miserably in fulfilling that task. It has been my privilege to counter their untruths, and it is an endeavor that I will continue.

These quotes are all from the About the Lawsuit page (Falwell sued the site for trademark infringement, and lost — that’s the headline that led me to the site), which provides a very good one-page overview of what the site is all about. Much more content is available through the front page of the site.

If there are any fundamentalists reading my blog, I’d be curious to hear what you think of this site.

This in the United States of America

I don’t watch Boston Legal, but maybe I should.

Here’s a video clip (Windows Media) from the March 14 episode, titled “Stick It“. A transcript is also available. The clip is of the episode’s closing arguments: the defense attorney is making the case for democracy. Sounds a bit odd for a courtroom drama, I know, but it’s very well done.

The clip is just over six minutes in length. Go watch it. It’ll give you things to think about.

The ostrich and the OWL

Busy busy busy. I’m leaving this afternoon to go to OWL facilitator training. That’s right, kids, yours truly will be spending twenty-seven weeks this year teaching a gaggle of ninth-grade Unitarians about sex. I just live for adventure, I guess.

It’s kind of funny. One of my co-workers is from Russia (well, one of the smaller Soviet republics, but she refers to it as Russia so I’m not too worried about the language police jumping on me about it), and I mentioned to her that I was going to be helping to lead this class. She commented that back in Russia, sex was never talked about — and told the story of one memorable incident, on a satellite-link TV program in the 80’s that put a group of U.S. citizens (virtually) face-to-face with a group of Russians, where one of the Americans asked something to do with sexuality (one Web page I found suggests it was a question about contraception in Russia) and a Russian woman defiantly answered, “Here in Russia, we don’t have sex.” That response has since become a long-standing running joke in Russia.

She also told me that her high-school graduating class was the first time that nobody in the graduating class wound up pregnant. The first time ever in the history of that school. That’s scary.

It’s kind of an interesting connection, really, with the financial crap Jennie and I are struggling with right now. Some people, when faced with something that stresses them out or scares them, deal with it by sticking their heads in the sand. I know; I’ve started to realize that I’m one of them. I’ve spent way too long ignoring our debt and hoping it’ll go away. When conservatives rail against sex education in schools and the like, they’re doing the same thing.

I don’t understand when or how or why humans developed willful ignorance as a coping skill. But it’s a coping skill that just doesn’t work. Some things — like too much debt and teenage sex — don’t go away if you ignore them.