31 August 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Twitter

I’m a talker. People who know me in person know that I can talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. I have a million reasons I blame, but it still remains that I. Talk. I started this blog to specifically talk about things that are Deeply Important™ to me. Because I sincerely want to speak out and a blog is just one way I can write down and refine my thoughts, and be challenged and challenge right back. It also helps out my boyfriend, as I mentioned in the first post, because he has enough to deal with on top of my personal crusades.

But even so, this blog only gets out a little bit of the dialogue running through my head. I’ve recently joined Facebook, too. It’s neat, that Facebook community thing. I can keep in touch with my family all over the country. I can see pictures and video from them. I get to hear from my brother in Atlanta more than twice a year. I can witness my Marine cousin’s decline into complete assholery while he’s stationed in Iraq. On Facebook, I can even get out a few more of the thoughts in my head. I can moan about the Redwings signing Todd Bertuzzi, or make fun of myself when I screw up something simple (like, you know, trying to print a document and continually hitting the “Save” button instead). With all its features, though, Facebook is still limiting. It’s not a place where I feel comfortable posting a running dialogue. Instead, I have to save up those issues and spew them all over my poor boyfriend when I get home from work. “And then, oh then she had the nerve to say she was in line first, when clearly, I was.” Mind you, my boyfriend is a champ at putting up with my incredibly long-winded tales. I know it’s not easy.

As a result, I considered Twitter. 140 characters seemingly built exactly for the commentary running through my head daily. I looked into it and was discouraged for a long while. There seemed to be two Twitter camps – those who simply posted the tweets about their thoughts, day, etc., and though Twitter does have direct messaging capabilities, people still use regular tweets a sort of community instant messenger, re-tweeting and commenting on every other tweet they follow. If you’ve ever “followed” a person on Twitter, you’ll find that the twitter streams from those in Camp 2 can get awfully annoying. You can have a twitterer post a dozen “tweets” on their feed responding to other people they follow and thus their twitter stream becomes a bunch of one-sided comments to comments about which you have no clue. For example, from twittergeek’s twitter stream (all, completely fictitious names, by the way):
@twittergal: Right on, sister!
@twitternut: I know! I can’t believe that happened either!
@twitterbum: Have you tried honey and toilet paper?

An on an on. And if you’re like me, you’re like, dude, what on earth was happening that they suggested honey and toilet paper? So you click over to see @twitterbum’s feed, but it’s been a few hours so twitterbum’s feed is exactly the same!

@twitternerd: Purple and itchy!
@twitterpal: I think that’s tomorrow.
@twitteruser: That’s what @twitterdoctor said!

Gah!! It’s an endless click-through maze and you’ll never get to know for what condition you would use honey and toilet paper. What’s worse is that twitterers can also automatically update their Facebook pages with their twitter steam. One of my FB friends did this and my Facebook homepage ended up being 50 daily tweets from them and I couldn’t get to the *actual* Facebook updates from my other friends and family. Sadly, I had to block that person’s posts just to restore sanity to my Facebook page. Based on this phenomenon, I pretty much left Twitter alone for a while.

Recently, though, I found a few twitter feeds that seemed more like Camp #1, just a running commentary on thoughts and interests of the day. The longer I followed those twitter feeds, the more I liked it. The more I thought I finally found an outlet for my daily commentary. It’s a place where I can post the updates of my saga with Home Depot’s online service program. I can spew about the ridiculousness of how I walked the short distance to the cafeteria for only two things and forgot one of them by the time I got there. A place where I can bore everyone or no one at all with the fact that today there were three dead birds outside my office window and what the heck is up with that?

Oh, Twitter, will you help me move my vocal verbosity to the interwebs instead of to the ears of my patient, loving boyfriend? I promise I won’t use it as an IM feed and stick to the really boring 140-character updates of which no one but me cares. And when I see articles like the one about Kentucky, I’ll save it for my blog and not Twitter.

24 August 2009

A Letter to the Current RNC Chairperson

Dear Mr. Steele:

I read your article today in the Washington Post about the RNC’s “Health Care Bill of Rights” for seniors. A large portion of the argument you present is that in reforming healthcare (to at least provide a public option for people who otherwise can’t afford healthcare) is that Medicare shouldn’t be touched. Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Please, re-read that last sentence. Or, here, I’ll re-type it: Medicare is a socialized medical care program for senior citizens who otherwise can’t afford private insurance.

Let’s rewind the clock, to say, oh, 1995. The GOP stance during the last Democrat president was the exact same thing being proposed now. Go read this archived article from the NY Times. Note, also, that because of a new “redesign,” the RNC website no longer holds archived material for more specific fact checking. Interesting timing, no? Because the 1995 article quotes Clinton as saying that the Republican’s proposed plan would “…increase premiums and other costs for senior citizens,’ he said. ‘It would reduce doctor choice. It would force many doctors to stop serving seniors altogether. It threatens to put rural hospitals and urban hospitals out of business. Brick by brick, it would dismantle Medicare as we know it.’”

In trying to find details of this 1995 Republican plan, I have come up short. However, did find this nice timeline provided by PBS of the whole issue (though still no links or specifics to the 1995 plan). Highlights of which are:
  • February 1995: “[Republicans] propose reducing more than $250 billion from Medicare and more than $175 billion from Medicaid.”
  • September 21, 1995: “He and other Democrats complain that Republicans intend to force a vote on their plan -- still not fully disclosed--after just a Single day of hearings the following week.”
Surely the RNC isn’t flip-flopping. Because looking at today, you say: “These types of ‘reforms’ don't make sense for the future of an already troubled federal program or for the services it provides that millions of Americans count on.” You’re right, because according to the Medicare website, as of 2008, 45 million Americans counted on Medicare.

At first I figured you didn’t actually see the irony, and then I remembered, in 1995, you were 14 years farther away from retirement. You haven’t served more than 5 years in federal government either, so you and many of your private-citizen cronies at the RNC don’t qualify for the government’s pension plan like the Senators and Representatives. Unlike back then, now you’re staring retirement in the face, aren’t you? Gosh, what would you do if your insurance costs got too high? What if your retirement funds get sucked away by a bout of prostate cancer or a particularly virulent mutation of the swine flu? What if your wife is stricken by osteoporosis or even breast cancer? How on earth would you pay your medical bills?

I could almost justify the switch if the financial issues surrounding Medicare had actually changed over the last 15 years, but alas, it has not, as you yourself point out in calling Medicare “an already troubled federal program.” Could I please request an update of the RNC views on subjects? The U-turns are giving me whiplash.

Oh, and one other minor quibble, might I also suggest a further edit on your new website? On the “Republican Principles” page, the first two principles are stated:
  • “I BELIEVE the strength of our nation lies with the individual and that each person’s dignity, freedom, ability and responsibility must be honored.
  • I BELIEVE in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or disability.”

You should really amend those to “unless you are not like us, in which case our viewpoints and perspectives trump said dignity, freedom, ability, and responsibility. Most especially with regard to religion, sexuality, marriage, health care, and reproductive issues.”

Completely-Heterosexual-Platonic-Love and Kisses,

10 August 2009

Speaking of Things Sometimes Better Left Unsaid

There are many rules for general society, mostly about manners, politeness, and respect. Usually, these are drummed into us from childhood. We are taught to respect others through our actions and words. Shake hands, speak politely, modulate our voices, eat neatly, dress appropriately all as to not make others uncomfortable. Don’t be rude. When we are confronted with rudeness or poor manners from others, we are told to rise above it, not to stoop to it. We must take the high road as to appear more civilized. We certainly “know better.” You cannot force someone else to see your reasoning. Better to let them alone lest you yourself be seen as arrogant.

But there is also the old slang definition for doormat.

I write this post conflicted. Manners have been so ingrained in me that pointing out rudeness in someone else is just not done. Miss Manners would agree emphatically. I know, logically, that you cannot change the beliefs or actions of others. That you only can control yourself. But lately, I’ve come to realize that sticking up for yourself doesn’t have to be seen as arrogant or rude. That virtual slaps from other people to your character or beliefs do not have to be taken without a response. And when those slaps occur in front of other people, you should be able to defend yourself without worrying about being rude or impolite.

Last week, I had an email exchange with my boyfriend’s mother regarding the new healthcare plan. It sounds all cordial writing it that way, but in reality, it wasn’t. Her initial points were in all caps and full of anger and lies. My response was not much better, though I did at least use factual sources and provide citations. At the crux of it all, it was politics, simply politics. She shouted her opinions and I shouted the opposite. I thought it was over when she sent me a very brief, but respectful, email stating that she did not want to discuss politics as she wasn’t interested in my opinions and for me to not email her any more, thanks. I was more than happy to let it go at that. I’d said my piece.

Imagine my surprise when 3 minutes later I received another email from her, this one decidedly not cordial. In addition to reiterating that I not email her again, she said she “knew sooner or later [I]'d find a way to separate [Boyfriend] from his family and [I] have succeeded in doing so.” This one sent me reeling. None of my previous messages contained any personal attacks on her or even referenced my relationship with her son at all. And as I was pondering where that accusation could have possibly come from, she sent a third email—a single line: “Please don't email me again. I won't read them. I'll just delete them.” Three emails, each less cordial then the prior, all within 14 minutes.

It was clear that she had read more into my email than intended, if she was making judgments about my intentions with her son. And as her son and I have been together for almost 9 years, this belief of hers was news to both me and him. With this escalation, I was even more certain that I would not reply and simply let it go. She had escalated it well beyond what I thought was reasonable and logical and it was best to not engage any further. Until.

You knew there was an “until” didn’t you? Less than an hour later, I received another email from her. She had forwarded my original email to five other people with an added message saying (among other things):
She obviously feels the need "to straighten me out on the facts", which we all know are untrue. I think this says alot [sic] about her character. I have no idea why she feels the need to attack me. We all knew she'd find a way to separate [Boyfriend] from his family.
Of the names visible in the “To:” line, most were my boyfriend’s siblings, and the others were names neither my boyfriend nor I recognized. Strangers. This is where she crossed the line. I had no qualms about "shouting" responses to her directly, but when she involved other people it changed the game. I could not simply reply to everyone. They likely had no care whatsoever about what was happening and did not deserve to be placed in the middle of an argument clearly between the two of us. She might have attacked my character in public in a way the manners would dictate I not respond, but that didn't mean I had to let it go. Until now, my blog had remained fairly anonymous. I’d not advertised it and rarely included a link to it when I’ve commented elsewhere on the web. But now, it’s public. I’ve announced on my Facebook page that I have a blog and that this post is the reason for it. I cannot politely refute her to the people she emailed, but I most certainly can defend myself on my own public space. I will not be a doormat.

Through this whole exchange, I couldn’t help but compare it to the current political atmosphere. Since the election, critics have been yelling from the rooftops about how the current government is unfit. They have criticized every voice in government that is in opposition to their own. They’ve screamed lies and tried to instill fear in anyone who thinks differently than they. They’ve attacked and insulted people’s characters in forums where politeness dictates that the attacked should not stoop to their level. When the attacked do have a legitimate chance to respond, they counter rationally, using facts and providing sources. They keep their tone modulated and polite. They allow that they cannot force the opposition to believe the truth; they can only provide them with facts. They even provide the facts again and again, even as the voices of the opposition get louder, less truthful, and more disruptive.

It’s time someone stood up to them. It’s time we stopped tolerating the rudeness of the opposition and begin treating them like the lying, bratty children that they are. It’s time to override their boorishness and remind them of respect. If we continue to let them shout from rooftops, that’s the only message that will be heard. It’s time to confront them and silence their tantrums with honesty and facts. Louder does not mean truer. And I, for one, am no longer taking it, not from spoiled angry conservatives, and especially not from my boyfriend’s mother.

03 August 2009

The Foundation: Empiricism

I do not believe in deities. I don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God, the Hindu Vishnu, the Muslim Allah, the Greek Zeus, or the Roman Jupiter. I have beliefs of the world and how it exists, but my beliefs don’t fit into any recognized—or even heretical, for that matter—religious pot. When it comes to day-to-day living, I base things on observed knowledge as much as possible. Though empiricism has been debated for a long as debate has existed, I’m still pretty comfortable that there are shared observations among people and that as long as we understand those shared observations, we can make decisions. Religion, by its very foundation in personal belief therefore cannot be “shared” observations. At least, not for everyone.

For example, most people around the planet can recognize the animal known to Americans as a cow. We all use different words to name it, and we all have different views on what to do with it, but we all recognize a sentient being separate from ourselves that walks on all fours and eats grass. These are empirical facts. Whether or not the cow is tasty to eat or a divine animal meant to be worshipped are non-empirical facts. There is nothing inherent in the cow itself that says “eat me” or “worship me.” Those ideas are placed upon the cow from external sources – people. Any subjective ideas placed upon other things by people are going to vary by as many people that you have. But even if a large number of people agree with an idea does not make it fact. Just because a large portion of Americans like the taste of beef does not automatically make a cow “tasty.” Conversely, just because hundreds of millions of people hold a cow to be sacred and refuse to eat a cow does not make beef “not tasty.”

It is the empirical ideas by which we must do our best to make laws when governing a large group of people. Not everyone feels this way. Many people believe in the “majority rules” way of government, in that whatever the most people in a given group decide, that is how they will act. Don’t get me wrong, this idea works fine when deciding what restaurant to go to or what movie to see. Because if a group picks a restaurant or a movie that one particular person is definitively against, that person is not obliged to go. When a governing body is trying to make laws that suffice to cover all people equally, opinion then has to be discarded and something more tangible must be put into place. And the best way to appease all people is to base laws on empirical truths. Let’s look at some examples.

Murder. Empirically, murder ends someone else’s life without their permission. Whether or not the murderer believes the killing was justified, they are placing their beliefs on another person, ergo, it should not be allowed. The same holds true for rape, robbery, arson, destruction, assault and any crimes against persons or objects. Any time the alleged assailant imposes their will on another person or thing that is not their own, they are at fault. This can be summed in the phrase, “Your rights end where mine begin.” Fraud also fits here. Lying to someone is the same as imposing your will on their actions or property. If you takes someone’s money under false pretenses, you are imposing your will on someone without their knowledge and permission—robbery.

Some other laws on the books are justifiable because they are essentially lease laws. The government builds roads or buildings and thus the people then are free to use these under rules set up by the owners (government). These rules tend to be less empirical and rely more on majority or ¾ rules, but try to maintain some relations to protecting civil rights. All people will be driving on roads, therefore rules are imposed to help increase the safety of all people. Does driving 70 mph impose your will on someone else? Singly, no. But if other people are sharing that road, the increased speed could put the other motorists in danger. And for the privilege of driving on the government-owned road, you agree to abide by government-set rules. If you own 100 acres of land criss-crossed with a variety of roads, you get to set your own speed limit, or obey none at all. If a corporation owns a building and hires employees, the corporation gets to set the rules. If the employees don’t want to comply, they can choose to leave the company.

Then there are some even trickier laws, like gun laws. People are free to own guns. But when a gun’s purpose (for sake of this specific argument) is to kill other people, imposing the shooter’s will on another person, things get sticky. The same goes for labor laws and religious laws. If a company gives employees paid time off for Christmas, why should someone who does not celebrate Christmas not get to take off Chanukah or Kwanzaa instead? (Of course, it’s not so sticky for me. My answer to those quandaries is that no laws should be made. We already have laws against murder, proven empirically; therefore, if a gun owner kills someone, they face the consequences. Period. Companies are also free to establish their own time-off schedules, and the employees can comply or not.)

I understand that this logic is also not without its flaws, but there are very few. It all boils down to simplicity. Let’s keep the laws simple, base them on something empirical, and then they are much easier to obey and to enforce. Keep government strictly for maintaining order for the group at large and protecting the whole from outsiders. This way, it also makes taxes a lot easier to sort out because the only “government programs” would be defense, civil order (e.g., roads and healthcare), and law enforcement for the empirical laws.

I maintain that this is what the Founders were thinking when they set up the Constitution. Freedom from persecution, no matter what your beliefs, was paramount. Personal property rights and personal freedoms were at the heart of the Revolution (especially against tyrannical rule and nonsense taxation from abroad). The Federalists papers and notes from Constitutional Congresses bear this out. The Constitution itself is bare bones, dictating the minimum rules by which to govern, keeping it simple. And the diversity of the colonists was just as varied then as it is today. With a smaller populace and land area, I think it was easier to maintain that ideal. But as the population grew and opinions became more varied and groups of like-minded people decided to band together, it got more difficult to remember that main empirical principle. If an entire state of people agreed to outlaw something, it was easier to enforce because there was no (or very little) opposition. Laws were passed without reaching back to the empirical basis. As the country grew, so did government. And here we are today.

I wonder how any political issues would disappear today if we could revert to the empirical-based governing upon which we were founded.