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Friday, November 20, 2015

Sociology with an Attitude

So I'm taking a Sociology course this semester, and, needless to say, I've decided that my role in the class (online class, that is) is to be a gadfly and try to make my co-students think. I'm not sure I'm succeeding; however, here's a selection of my recent posts.

Ch18: How is religion defined according to your text? What are the benefits of such beliefs and the limitations? What role does this play in your life at this time?
Our text defines religion using Durkheim’s work and theory. As such, there are three elements that differentiate a religion from any other form of group gathering:
  1. Beliefs that some things are sacred (forbidden, set apart from the profane)
  2. Practices (rituals) centering on the things considered sacred; and
  3. A moral community (a church) which results from a group’s beliefs and practices
(Source: Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach; 12th edition; Henslin, J.M.; Pearson; Boston et al, 2014. P.514)
These elements – especially the difference between the sacred and the profane – provide the separation of a religion from any other group such as those derived from a common culture or location. While a religion can incorporate elements of the local culture, it is much more common for a culture to incorporate elements of the dominant religion. One example of the former is the current practice of celebrating Christmas; evidence suggests that the early Catholic Church incorporated elements of both the Roman Saturnalia (a winter celebration that involved, among other things, geniality, generosity and the giving of presents) and the Natalis Invicti (Nativitiy of the Unconquered Sun), a Mithraic holiday that fell on December 25th in ancient times. (Source; Babylon Mystery Religion; Woodrow, R.E.; Ralph Wilson Evangelistic Association; Riverside, CA, 1966; p.143) And an example of the latter is the current legal system in the United States, which has at one time or another pronounced as ‘criminal’ witchcraft, sodomy, and alcohol based on the teachings of the most politically influential religion at the time.
Belief in a particular religion can have benefits, as the text explains using the functionalist perspective. It does attempt to answer otherwise-unanswerable questions of ‘why’; there is an emotional comfort in this. A sense of social solidarity is created, potentially much tighter than an ethnic or racially based bond since the participants have all chosen to enroll. For those who are unsure it provides guidelines for living and allows newcomers to a culture to adapt to the new society by allowing for some measure of familiarity. From an external, pragmatic perspective it also allows for a measure of social control and support for the government (if the government is of the same religion); one need only look to the UK (Anglicanism is the official state religion) and Israel (Judaism) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni Islam). However, for every benefit there is a potential limitation:
Benefit                                                                 Limitation
Answering ‘why’                                              Squashing intellectual curiosity to the point of repression (see                                                                                   the Inquisition)
Social Solidarity                                                 Creating easily identified minorities that can be persecuted (see                                                                                               the Inquisition, again, and the Holocaust)
Providing Guidelines                                      Disallowing change as society evolves (see the Catholic Church’s                                                                                               position on contraception and homosexuality)
Familiarity in New Society                            Maintaining cultural disctinctiveness can be isolating (see the                                                                                     Amish)
Social Control                                                     If the religious group is the majority, you can end up with a                                                                                         ‘tyranny of the majority’ where minority groups are persecuted
Government Support                                    If the government changes to one that is indifferent or hostile                                                                                  toward the religion, the group can end up at a disadvantage.
As for the final question, how this affects me in a personal way, I reply first that to a large degree it does not. I do not subscribe to any particular religious faith, so I am bound only by my own moral compass. I am of course affected as the society around me reacts to religiosity from one angle or another, but unless and until such time as a particular faith is forbidden or demanded it is a question of abstract interest rather than personal importance.
In closing, I will leave you with a few quotes from Robert Heinlein that might enrage, might amuse, but hopefully make you think:
One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.
There is no conclusive evidence of life after death But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?
Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.
And finally: God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent – it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills.
Ch19: Describe at least 4 areas that are negatively impacting the healthcare system?  What can be done to overcome and improve these obstacles?  In what areas do you think it is working well? 
Four areas that negatively impact health care in this particular country are medical monopoly; medical malpractice lawsuits; medical incompetence; and medicine for profit. All four of these are tied together, and by curing one we may be able to cure them all. We must begin by defining what we mean by each term, however.
  1. Medical monopoly is the control the American Medical Association has over determining who can practice medicine, what the practice of medicine consists of, and how medicine should be studied.
  2. Medical Malpractice Lawsuits are those civil actions brought against members of the medical profession by patients and families of patients for perceived faults in the execution of care.
  3. Medical Incompetence is the failure of medical professionals to adhere to minimum acceptable standards of patient care through ignorance.
  4. Medicine for Profit is the concept that the purpose of medical care and the pursuit of a medical career is to generate wealth for corporations and people.
Okay, so we have our culprits. How do we solve them?
First, we eliminate the monopoly. Yes, there need to be standards for care and training, but the essence of the free market system is competition, so why not have competing standards? Establish minimum standards of performance and an independent organization – one which is not involved in any other way in the medical field - to create the needed examinations. This will ensure that any such competition is judged in a fair manner. This will also allow for the revitalization of alternative forms of medicine, as long as their efficacy can be proven and not simply believed. This will be the longest part of the process, re-establishing competition, and will likely take decades.
The second step, to eliminate medical incompetence, begins in the first step with the establishment of independent medical examinations for the practitioners. Rigorous and repeated testing of the care-givers, with low tolerance for errors, will soon weed out those who cannot tell a scalpel from a retractor. Those that fail an exam will need to return to school for education in the area of weakness, followed by a re-examination and a probationary period. Anyone caught practicing with a suspended license, or without any license, will be severely punished, since under the first step any style of medicine can be licensed as long as it can be proven to work.
The third key will come after the second. Once all medical professionals are operating at an accepted standard, the legal requirements to file a medical malpractice suit will be altered. Rather than allowing suits to proceed simply due to accidental negative results, active, malevolent intent will need to be proven for such a suit to be victorious. The doctor who did everything she could to save a child but failed because the disease was too advanced will be safe; the doctor who cuts off the wrong limb will not. Basically, shit happens and it happens all the time despite anyone’s best efforts. Sometimes, oft-times, there is nobody to blame.
Finally, we will remove the concept of medicine for profit. The reduction in malpractice suits will reduce the cost of insurance, which currently runs $6,000 to $20,000 annually; there are currently approximately 700,000 physicians and surgeons in the United States, meaning they spend between 4.2 and 14 billion dollars each year on insurance! (Source: You can see, then, how this would immediately lower the costs of medical care. In addition, put a cap on profits for hospitals at some percentage. This will discourage giant corporations from becoming involved in the operation of medical facilities. Staying with the ‘active and aggressive’ oversight theme, establish commissions to examine and compare costs of medical supplies as charged to hospitals compared to that paid by a private citizen. The day of the fourteen-dollar aspirin is over! Now, you might be asking ‘Why not go after Big Pharma?’ The answer, of course, is competition. Allow, hell, encourage more competition and less consolidation in the industry. Yes, R&D costs megabucks, and of course those companies are entitled to make a profit to cover their expenses. But if company A is charging $10 per dose, and company B is charging $110, which do you think will survive? Freedom of choice! And that is the answer to the health insurance question. Not have a government takeover of the industry, but rather to allow more and more competition. Again, you have to create a set ‘floor’ for standard medical care to prevent the ‘pay-nothing, get-nothing’ policies of yesteryear, but that can be done. As for people who cannot afford medical premiums, well, Medicaid should absorb Medicare into a single program; the age limits should be abolished and a simple ‘ability to pay’ means test established (can you imagine Hillary Clinton, who is eligible for Medicare right now, needing it because she can’t afford it?). This way the people who need medical coverage but cannot afford it will get it, while those that can afford it will buy it. And for those who don’t want to buy it? Fine, let them pay for the services they need as they occur; but their costs should still be lessened since the overall cost of care will be reduced.
The final part of the question, what is the system doing well? When you can get into it, the system works amazingly well for most people. My partner has lived in the UK and in Canada, two places with government-run health systems, and she states categorically that the level of care she has received here has been immeasurably better. The issue she faced was getting into the system; once she was able to breach the barriers, the care has been good.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Another Patriots Scandal?

Today Boomer Esiason reported that the NFL scanned the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium for listening devices before the game between the Patriots and the Jets. Later in the day, the NFL responded that this was part of a 'regular and random' program, with the implication that this has been occurring for an extended period of time, and that there was no specific request from the Jets. These two nuggets are summarized in an ESPN story (you can click on the name to get the link).  In a further report, Mike Florio expanded on this.

Let me be clear: There is absolutely no evidence that anything was found. If bugs had been found, there would have been reports on Sunday, not the Friday after. We all know that the NFL is about as leak-proof as the Titanic after the iceberg; it is impossible to believe that they would have sat on this juicy little nugget that would paint the Patriots in a negative light. There is no evidence that the Patriots did anything wrong. Nothing at all. There is no proof, there is no proof, there is no proof. If there was, then the NFL would be speaking up about it. And the Jets would be screaming about it. Neither has happened, therefore nothing did.

So now what? There are three possibilities, as I sit here:

1) The NFL is telling the truth about having a regular program but there was a request from the Jets.
2) The NFL is telling the truth, there was no request, and it is part of their regular program.
3) The NFL is telling the truth about the request but lying about it being regular and random.

Let's look at each scenario as it applies to the Patriots, since that's the lens here in New England.

1) The NFL is lying. The Jets requested a specific sweep of their locker room because they were so paranoid about their locker room being bugged. The NFL listened to the Jets because they either believed there was a creditable chance that the locker room was bugged or because they respond to requests like this all the time.
         If the former, then the NFL is still looking to pin something, anything, on the Patriots because, well, jealousy on the part of 31 other teams? Revenge for Brady beating them in court? Because Mike Kensil was part of the Jets before joining the NFL's office and can't stand the Patriots?
         If the latter, then good for the NFL in this one particular case. However, there might be a bit of an issue here, since I have heard (but was unable to find confirmation) that the Patriots have requested the NFL sweep and were denied the request. Again, I cannot find confirmation of this, so take that as you will.
         Back to the main issue, though. The NFL is lying. That's an issue, in and of itself; however, I would see the Jets' request as a positive. That means the Patriots and Belichik are soooooooo deep into the heads of the Jets' coaching and front office staff that they're seeing bugs on the walls and not concentrating on game planning. This is beautiful.

2) The NFL is telling the truth. Given the behaviour of the NFL in the past several months, this is unlikely in the extreme, but if it's true? The argument has been made that, if this was true we should have heard about this program long before now and that the NFL should have mentioned it earlier this year when Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy talked about bug worries. Addressing these two items in turn:
         Why would we have heard about this before now? Given that there are likely dozens of programs that the NFL conducts we never hear of unless something goes awry, then we might never hear of most of them. This little program probably came to light because the Jets are actually relevant this year (for the first time in a while) and there is an increased focus on the Patriots.
          As to the second point, when the report came out from Dungy, Deflategate was still looming large over the season. Judge Berman had not yet ruled and, according to the NFL, would have been confirming their suspension in just a matter of days. It made perfect sense for the NFL to say nothing about any routine sweeping program they might conduct, as they wanted the Patriots to be portrayed as negatively as possible. Bugging? Eavesdropping? Whispers in the hall? Why would they want to counter THAT? No, they wanted to smear them as much as possible, and here was an outside source doing their dirty work for them!

3) The NFL is both telling the truth about the request and lying about the regularity. If you're a Patriots fan, this is the most worrying of all. This means that the NFL is still looking for a hook to hang the Patriots out to dry, that the sweep of the locker room was about setting the Patriots up for the future. Let's dive more deeply into this scenario.
         In this scenario, the NFL is sweeping the visitor's locker room at Gillette to establish that they do sweep the locker rooms. Then, down the line, the NFL plants bugs themselves in the locker room before an 'inspection' and then, amazingly, 'discovers' evidence that the Patriots have bugged the locker room. They then persecute (yes, persecute, not prosecute) the Patriots and kick Belichik out of the League because he's on Double Secret Probation and has been since 2007. They are creating the conditions for a sting operation to destroy the Evil Empire once and for all.
         THIS is the scenario the scares me most of all.

I'm going to close this, though, with a positive thought on the NFL and all their efforts:
The NFL makes Laurel & Hardy look competent. Now that their little plan has been exposed, then what the Patriots need to do is hire their own firm to sweep the locker rooms before home games, in full view of media personnel, to show that there is no bug anywhere in the locker room before the NFL gets a chance to get in. Then, when the NFL tries to pin a trumped up charge on them they'll have ammunition to fight back.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sociology 101 Continues

Let’s do this thing.
 Ch9: What 3 theories explain global stratification?  Which theory do you feel provides the most accurate explanation & why?

Three theories attempt to explain global stratification – that is to say, how social stratification is a global phenomenon, occurring in all cultures. These theories are the Functionalist View, the Conflict Perspective, and then you have Lenski’s Synthesis. There are three OTHER theories to explain how global stratification ORIGINATED, but we will deal with those at another time. They are the Colonialism, World System, and Culture of Poverty theories.

In the Functionalist view, proposed by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore in 1945/1953, there are four factors that will lead to the inevitable stratification of society. To wit:

1.        For society to function, its positions must be filled;

2.        Some positions are more important than others;

3.        The more important positions must be filled by more qualified people; and

4.        To motivate the more qualified people to fill these positions, they must offer greater rewards (from the text).

To put it another way: Let’s talk about GE and Panera Bread, and let’s make the assumption that for values of ‘important’ GE ranks higher. GE needs to have a CEO. So does Panera. In order to fill the position at GE, the Functionalists would have you believe that GE needs to find a more qualified person to be CEO and therefore must offer more money and perqs to get the right person into the position. In 2014, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE, received $37.2 million in total compensation; Ronald Shaich, Panera’s CEO, received $3.4 million (; This would seem to bear out the theory.

However, as Melvin Tumin pointed out in 1953, there are some major issues with this. First, how do you define ‘important’? To the average person, Panera is probably more visible in their lives than GE, for all that GE is a major manufacturer of just about everything and Panera bakes bread. Second, if this stratification worked perfectly then we would all eventually live in a meritocracy, where all positions are awarded on merit. Does this sound like the real world? Patently not; I’m certain every one of us has at least one example of being passed over for someone less-qualified but better-networked. Third, if stratification is functional, then it ought to benefit everyone. This, too, is patently not so. In fact, it is the opposite, as many people never get the chance to participate even if they might have been more capable.

In the Conflict Perspective, there are several complementary tenets. First, Gaetano Mosca proposed in 1896 that society will be stratified by power. His reasoning was that no society can exist unless organized; this requires leadership for coordination. By its nature leadership requires inequities in power as some people step into leadership roles while others follow. Finally, since we are all, at the core, selfish jerks, the people in power will tend to enrich themselves. Karl Marx predicted further that, as the workers (the powerless proletariat) grow frustrated with the abuses of the powerful (bourgeoisie) they will revolt and rise up to take the reins of power and control the means of production. Current Conflict Theorists apply this principle of battle between groups down to internal conflicts as well, for example between rival unions, or racial, gender, and ethnic groups competing for social advancement. George Carlin, in his show Jammin’ In New York, said:

Now, to balance the scale, I'd like to talk about some things that bring us together, things that point out our similarities instead of our differences. 'Cause that's all you ever hear about in this country. It's our differences. That's all the media and the politicians are ever talking about—the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That's the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the fucking money! Fairly simple thing. Happens to work. You know? Anything different—that's what they're gonna talk about—race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank! You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class. Keep 'em showing up at those jobs.

The issue that I can see with this Conflict Perspective is, while it does seem to reflect the current socio-economic condition in the United States today, with a tiny minority owning or controlling an overwhelming majority of the country’s wealth, it doesn’t quite apply to less-developed nations.

That’s where Lenski’s Synthesis comes in, and this is the one I agree with most. In 1966, Gerhard Lenski proposed that the Functionalist Theory would prevail in societies where there was not a surplus of goods and services, while the Conflict Perspective would rule where there was a surplus. In simpler terms, in the less industrialized nations, where mere survival is the name of the game, it is more important to simply get by on a daily basis. Certain jobs, certain positions, are clearly more important (the best hunters eat better, the strongest warriors are honored) and others less so. Once the society has progressed to the point where a surplus is possible, where the potential of starvation is not around every day’s dawn, then a struggle arises over control of the surplus. The group that eventually prevails becomes the elite, and the other groups struggle for their place in the pyramid.


Ch10: What are the major consequences of social class?  What do you feel are the most significant issues of these and what are others not addressed? 

According to Weber, social class is determined by grouping people closely by property, power, and prestige – or, in another perspective, wealth, the ability to get your way, and respect. These three components are intertwined; power can bring property, prestige can bring power, property can bring prestige, and so forth. Naturally, your social class has effects upon your life and how you live it. Some of these consequences, identified in the text, are:

·         Physical Health – more money, better health care (generally) and better choices

·         Mental Health – same equation

·         Family Life – stresses from a more difficult life place stresses on families

·         Education – more money, more opportunities

·         Religion – although not immediately apparent, there is certainly a bit of a caste system in Protestant churches, with some being for those with money and those who are piling up riches in heaven because they can’t accumulate them on Earth

·         Politics – yes, the right to vote is pretty universal in this country, but who you vote for is a function of your class. If you have money you tend to feel you should keep it and thus vote Republican; if you are struggling and need help you vote Democrat

·         Crime and Criminal Justice – think of it this way: if OJ was a poor black man instead of a rich black man, do you think he would have been acquitted?

If I had to pick just ONE of these as ‘most significant’, I would propose Physical Health. A poor person needs to be healthy; in this country, with no mandatory sick leave, a workday lost to illness is a significant financial blow. Living from paycheck to paycheck, scrimping and saving to make ends meet, your working class person simply cannot afford to miss money or their world might crumble. In addition, a good medical plan will allow them to head off many mental health issues through regular interaction with trained medical professionals. If you’re healthy and working, your stress is reduced (compared to unhealthy or unable to work) which will lead to better family life. If you’re healthy, you may be able to physically afford to take classes to advance your learning and get ahead.

And one that is not addressed specifically is personal freedom. Yes, in theory every person in this country is equal to every other and has all the rights of anyone else. But if you’re making minimum wage, and your supervisor tells you to do something inappropriate, how many people would be comfortable refusing and possibly losing that job? Your rights are being infringed; you cannot speak up!

Ch11:  Where is gender inequality experienced?  What are specific examples of how you have experienced this or are aware of this/  What can be done to change this and improve these conditions? 

In the simplest possible terms, gender inequality is experienced everywhere, in everything. It is endemic, crosses all cultural borders, and permeates every aspect of all societies.

Specifically, from the text, it is experienced in:

·         Everyday Life – specifically, devaluation of things feminine (‘you throw like a girl’)

·         Health Care – it’s all in your head; ‘feminine vapours’

·         Education – being seen as weaker and encouraged to study less strenuously; still being steered to ‘feminine’ courses of study

·         Workplace – the pay gap; the glass ceiling

·         Sexual Harassment – unwanted sexual advances and behaviour

·         Violence Against Women – there is still a culture of ‘she deserved in’ in many crimes, including rape and domestic abuse

Being male, I have not experienced any of these. However, I can state that as the culture has become more aware of these inequalities, behaviour has changed. What was acceptable twenty years ago is frowned upon now; what was taboo then is accepted. Overall, this is progress, although one might argue that in a race to become entirely gender-neutral and totally inoffensive to all we are losing some of the challenging aspects of our culture which have provided an edge. (I provide this link to an excellent article for further reading:

I will end with two quotes, one to make you think and one to amuse. You can decide which is which.

Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do makes them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, "equality" is a disaster.- Robert Heinlein

Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren't they? They're all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you're born, you're on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't want to know about you. They don't want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you're preborn, you're fine; if you're preschool, you're fucked. Conservatives don't give a shit about you until you reach military age. Then they think you're just fine. Just what they've been looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers. Pro-life... pro-life... These people aren't pro-life, they're killing doctors! What kind of pro-life is that? What, they'll do anything they can to save a fetus but if it grows up to be a doctor they just might have to kill it? They're not pro-life. You know what they are? They're anti-woman. Simple as it gets, anti-woman. They don't like them. They don't like women. They believe a woman's primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state. – George Carlin

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sociological Ramblings

Currently taking a sociology class. Thought I would post my latest attempts at assignments.

Ch7:  What is meant by Bureaucracy? What is seen as the strengths and limitations of a bureaucracy?
A bureaucracy is, simply put, management by desks. You could look at the book for the five defining characteristics of a bureaucracy – separate levels with assignments flowing down and accountability flowing up; a division of labor; written rules; written communications and records; impersonality and replaceability – and you would have a dry sense of the word. Or, you could look all around you and see what is meant – a loss of personalization, a culture that celebrates stagnation, and reduced efficiency.
Some strengths:
The office is more important than the office-holder. Every four years, we elect a president. Sometimes it’s the same person, sometimes it’s not. But no matter who wins the office, the fundamental natures of our government and our lives do not change. That is because the office defines the abilities and responsibilities of the person who holds it. If the person holding it is unable to fulfill these duties, they are removed and another selected. This enables our government to continue on a relatively steady course, unlike other countries where replacing the leader of the government also entails replacing the entire structure beneath them.
Additionally, the requirements of the office are clearly defined. Theoretically, anyone who fulfills those requirements is eligible for the office, no matter their social origin. This allows for social mobility, as exemplified by the saying ‘In this country, anyone can grow up to be President.’
The participants in a bureaucracy, in theory, know what their duties are and to whom they are accountable. This reduces confusion, as there is a clearly delineated chain of command. A classic example would be in time of war: the President says, ‘Invade Iraq.’ The Secretary of the Army decides, ‘We need three divisions.’ The Chief of Staff says, ‘We’ll use the 1st, 4th, and 5th Divisions.’ The commanding generals of the divisions announce, ‘We’re mobilizing.’ And so forth. By the time you get down to the corporal telling the privates to load their ammo, everything is in place. The private doesn’t have to worry about how they’re getting to Iraq; that’s above his pay grade. Similarly, the President doesn’t think Did Private Jones remember his duffel bag? Because it’s not his problem.
Some weaknesses:
Sometimes the person holding the office begins to believe that they are important on their own and can operate outside the purview of their office. An example from today’s news is Kim Davis, the clerk in Kentucky. For her own reasons she has decided that she will not execute all the tasks of her office. This has led to lawsuits, jail time, and publicity all around.
Sometimes the rules fall behind the times. Did you know that it is a law in Maine for every male to bring their shotguns to church in case of attack by Native Americans? True story! Old law – on the books since we were a colony of Massachusetts. At the time, it made sense. Now, however, nobody in law enforcement would dream of enforcing it. Why is it still there? Because nobody has bothered to repeal it; it has simply gone dormant. In any organization you care to name, you will find examples similar to this, policies that no longer apply to anything in the current world but haven’t been removed. Thus the potential exists for particularly officious office-holder to truly monkey-wrench someone’s day.
Causes come and go, but organizations are forever. The text cites the March of Dimes, an organization founded to fight polio that now justifies its existence by fighting for ‘stronger, healthier babies’, a term vague enough to keep the MoD around for centuries to come.
‘Ford Motor Company would not waste money today by building outdated Model T's alongside their current Mustangs and Explorers. Yet in 2003, the federal government still refuses to close down old agencies such as the Rural Utilities Service (designed to bring phones to rural America)’
(Heritage Foundation, February 12, 2003)
I could go on, but I think for an overview this is enough.
Ch8:  What do you think should be done about the U.S. crime problem? What sociological theory or theories supports your view?
A rational anarchist believes that concepts, such as "state" and "society" and "government" have no existence save as physically exemplified in the acts of self-responsible individuals. He believes that it is impossible to shift blame, share blame, distribute blame ... as blame, guilt, responsibility are matters taking place inside human beings singly and nowhere else. But being rational, he knows that not all individuals hold his evaluations, so he tries to live perfectly in an imperfect world ... aware that his efforts will be less than perfect yet undismayed by self-knowledge of self-failure…I will accept the rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.
This quote is from Robert Heinlein’s book The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and neatly summarizes how I view the issue of crime in the United States. It’s not that I am ignoring the issue; not at all, the issue is real, and is certainly a problem. However, I am responsible for my actions and my actions alone. You are responsible for yours. If your actions violate a code, a compact that you have agreed to live by, and your society demands your punishment, then so be it.
Now, as to actually dealing with the problem – another Heinlein quote, this time from a story called ‘Coventry’: Examined semantically “justice” has no referent—there is no observable phenomenon in the space-time-matter continuum to which one can point, and say, “This is justice.” Science can deal only with that which can be observed and measured. Justice is not such a matter; therefore it can never have the same meaning to one as to another; any “noises” said about it will only add to confusion. But damage, physical or economic, can be pointed to and measured. Citizens were forbidden by the Covenant to damage another. Any act not leading to damage, physical or economic, to some particular person, they declared to be lawful.
It’s a way to reconcile many theories of deviance – first, it shifts the goal posts. Instead of deviance being defined as behaviour contradictory to the social norms, it redefines it as behaviour which causes damage to another person. This eliminates the strain theory entirely, as far as I can tell – as long as the paths taken cause no damage, then there is no effect on society as a whole. Individual freedoms are increased because, well, ‘Your circus is not my circus; your monkeys are not my monkeys’.
So what happens when you damage someone? You pay the equivalent penalty. In the story, set centuries in the future, behavioural psychology has advanced enough so that mental ‘retraining’ is possible. Or, if someone doesn’t want their brain tampered with, they are removed from the society (literally, sent to Coventry). This wouldn’t work, here, now. Punishment must be retaliatory in nature at our current level of development. If damage X is caused, a penalty of Y is exacted. If the damager is unable to pay the penalty, then a work-based correctional system could be used (on the theory that the state pays the damages to the victim and then is compensated by the labor of the damager). Once the damage is compensated, the matter is finished.
I see this as a more humane and equitable system of justice, one where there is a common ground, a common currency, which all can measure, rather than a vague sense of ‘justice’. And in the meantime, I’ll be over here, listening to my own internal moral compass and living my life by my own rules and considerations.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I need your help!

Hello again out there!
I am doing a research project for my Interpersonal Communications class, and I would like YOUR help!
Please follow the link below and pick five or six adjectives you think describe me. That's all there is to it! It takes maybe a minute, and it will go a LONG way towards helping me with my research.
Thanks a million!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Food Insecurity: An Insider's View

It's coming to that time of year again. Food banks will start making impassioned pleas for donations as the holiday season approaches, and they will frequently point to the USDA 'food insecurity' statistics as a way to bolster their case. An article recently appeared attacking the use of these statistics, and I read it with some interest. As part of my job I collect this data every year, and the article makes many valid points. One point that needs some expansion, however, is his point that many of the 'food insecure' are also obese. In my opinion, the most likely connection for this is due to the types of food which are available cheaply.
Think about this: How much does a loaf of white bread cost? Or a box of generic brand cereal? Or pasta? Not much for the quantity, right? So it APPEARS to be a way to stretch food dollars, fill bellies more with fewer resources. But these foods are not nutrient-dense and carry LOTS of extra calories in the form of sugars into the diet. Whereas a cut of lean meat starts about $4 per pound (if you're lucky and catch it on sale and don't mind it having been imported from Mexico); whole chickens are inexpensive but how many people know how to break one down; and pork can be inexpensive but there's still a lingering fear of disease from pork.
So you're in the market with your $50 and have to shop for the week. Oh, look, there's a chicken, it's a nice, plump chicken and will cost you $9. Now you think, that would make a nice dinner. Of course, you need something with it, maybe potatoes, veggies, and pretty soon you're up to $15-$18 for a single meal and your budget is shot. So then you go back to the pasta aisle and grab five boxes of pasta and a couple jars of sauce and call that five dinners for the same $9 and you feel pretty smart about things. Or maybe you just say, I don't have time to do that, it'll be an hour in the oven and little Johnny has football and Sally has soccer and Jamie has dance, so you grab the $3 frozen pizzas. And then they're going to be hungry in between meals, since they're running all over the place doing activity after activity, so you buy them the energy bars and maybe a pack of Monster for yourself, and don't forget that daily coffee from the drivethru for $4, and pretty soon all the money is gone, you don't know where it went and you don't know how you'll make it stretch for the weekend and you're FOOD INSECURE.
And a final issue which is peripheral to this is AMERICANS DON'T KNOW HOW TO COOK. Mostly. By and large. And by that I mean we can't take the basic ingredients and make a meal then use the leftovers to make another meal. We either don't know how or don't have the time or don't have the inclination, so instead of making a gravy from drippings and broth and a little flour we buy a jar with all the chemical crap to keep it stable on the shelf and throw away the drippings. We can't take the time to make a chicken broth from the bones so we buy salty soup in a can and feel good about being convenient and managing our time. We want fried chicken so we go to KFC instead of doing it in a pan at home for half the cost. We want hamburgers so we buy the frozen pre-formed patties (maybe all-beef if we're lucky, but often stretched with soy protein crumbles to lower the cost) instead of grabbing the fresh bulk package.
FOOD IS IMPORTANT. That is such a basic concept it's not surprising that we've lost track of it.
EVERYONE in the country could eat, and eat well, on less money than we spend, if only we would get away from the easy and convenient and get back to investing some time. On a Saturday afternoon, after all the activities are done, teach your kids to cook with you so you spend time; trust me, knowing how to make their own meals will be much more useful when they're 20something than the dance lessons that drag you away for two hours three times a week! Rein in the convenience foods, the easy foods, the quick grabs. Did you know YOU can make trail mix? It's easy, it's quick, and, if you price it out, it costs LESS than the pre-mixed stuff in the stores - and you know what's in it! Make big batches of stuff and freeze it! Yes, it will cost more up front to buy ten pounds of ground beef and all the other stuff, but if you make ten meatloaves out of it and freeze them, you have the best of BOTH worlds - convenient AND fresh & wholesome!
Invest in yourself by taking the time, effort and money to do your food the right way. In the long run, you will be happier, healthier, have more time with your family, and have passed on valuable skills in planning, budgeting and cooking to your kids.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

DragonCon Part One - HOTELS

Do you Con?
No, not The Sting type con - I mean, do you attend conventions? Fan conventions, not just 'we're all selling home freezers here!' conventions.
Then you know ALL ABOUT Con Hotels. You can skip the next bit. Just look for the line of asterisks for when you come back.
Did we get rid of the experienced people? Okay, good!
A Con Hotel is a hotel that hosts a convention by providing meeting rooms to the Con and selling hotel rooms to the guests. They usually have a 'Con Rate' which is set slightly below giving up your firstborn, but just above losing a major limb. They're great to stay in if you need to be Right On Top Of The Action and don't need to sleep.
Hello, welcome back!

Look, if you're wanting to do a Con, there are basically three ways to do it. Stay in a Con Hotel (a Host Hotel, somewhere that the Con is actually IN); stay in an Overflow Hotel (the short list of 'approved' hotels near the Con but not actually in it; it's a way for the Con to say 'Yes we need more space but we're not going to admit it, neener-neener, and by the way they cost just as much if not more!'); or stay outside the Con footprint. Oh, there are some variations (crash on a friend's couch, rent a mobile home and park nearby) but these are minor.

The problem with Con Hotels & Overflow Hotels is the NOISE and the COST. Noise because, let's face it, the parties roll All Night Long, despite the hotel attempting to keep the level down (and failing). And then you have the cost - hundreds per night, times five nights, leaves Nothing For Rent Next Month. (And often-times with the charges collected in full ahead of time with onerous cancellation or transfer policies.) Now, if partying is your thing, and you have six Close Personal Friends who are ALSO going and willing to split the bill, then you can just stop reading here.

No, really. Stop. Don't bother, you won't care about this. Doesn't bother me at all; whatever makes you happy, man.

Still here? Good. Sensible.
Look, you don't HAVE to say in a Con Hotel - you don't even need to stay in an Overflow Hotel. If the city has public transportation that gets you close to the Con Footprint, then I'll tell you the secret to restful nights and full wallets:


And that's where this hotel is. Minutes from the airport (which has a MARTA station, that's Atlanta's subway/bus service), with a FREE SHUTTLE that runs every half hour from 5 am until - well, not really sure how late.

You fly in, get your luggage (if the airline didn't lose it), hop on a shuttle, and get driven to the hotel. Check in and - collapse! You're done for now.

Next morning, eat a full, hearty breakfast (make your own waffles; bagel; toast; Danish; yogurt; cereal; fruit; oatmeal; grits; biscuits & gravy; cheese omelet; sausage patty; milk/juice/coffee/tea/hot chocolate; all as much as you want) that is INCLUDED IN THE ROOM COST. Maybe check your email on the FREE WIFI. Then hop on the shuttle over to the airport, onto the MARTA, and you can be in line for your first panel while most the Con Hotel-stayers are still recovering from their hangovers!

Rooms are clean and spacious - ours had a separate sitting/work area, LOTS of outlets, lots of lights and seats - and if there's anything wrong, just pop by the front desk. They'll be happy to help you out.

I'm telling you, staying here makes the difference between enjoying the Con and being totally wiped out at the end.

Do it. Keep more of your money IN YOUR WALLET and less at the hotel!