May 23, 2009

Observing Memorial Day...

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer and perhaps makes Americans observe a day of remembrance. But, what is it we're supposed to observe, specifically? Everyone has a sense of patriotism, though, there are many expressions of such. Sensible patriotism means to make sure that we don't waste our blood, sweat and tears. To make sure that we don't commit our troops to an ill-conceived war of choice. To make sure that the citizens are informed about the important issues and that they participate in the civic affairs of their country! We have to look beyond the smoke screen employed by leaders who want to lead a flock of sheep, and the bumper-sticker mentality must be rejected.

When our country must sacrifice, our leaders should do their best to see that this burden is widely shared not based on the shoulders of the least privileged, nor should war be one of choice and an opportunity for a transfer of wealth. Patriotism shouldn't be defined by long & hyperbolic speeches but rather by doing what's best for the commonwealth.

Patriotism is standing up for the truth, and questioning our government. Patriotism is to defend those conditions and civil liberties that have made our country great--not by becoming more like our enemies! Patriotism is to go to war on a necessity (not on a choice based on deception & lies) and when doing so to give our soldiers what they need to accomplish their mission!

Please visit the following links for a better perspective on the war

Iraq Memorial on line ( Family testimonies on the human costs of the war.

The architects of the War--Where are they now? Good question..

Faces of the Fallen. See our dead soldiers' faces, names and brief bios.

We have to face the realities even if they're unpleasant. Even if some of our leaders want this, we shouldn't be "baptized" in Lethe--one of the rivers in Hades that induced complete forgetfulness. This wouldn't be appropriate to the memories of those who were sent to war on false pretences. It wouldn't be appropriate for the rest of us who want to make sure that the US does not become an international bully, conducting unjust wars.

One of the richest counties in the history but our middle class has fallen behind. About 1/3 (if not more) of us have no health insurance or are dangerously under-insured. Obtaining a higher education is becoming more difficult. Regretfully, the US is a militaristic society; military expenditures are the biggest item on the federal budget by far. We're spending more that all the countries in the world combined! This must change.

And, speaking of memorials and memories... Part of life is creating memories; they are part of our unique individual and collective identities. A progressive culture of life means creating the conditions whereas people can better achieve their own potential. It's about having a happy, long and healthy life. Enjoy this life in the here and now, and don't ever buy into the view that reward or punishment may come after death.

Remember, fewer memorials might be a good thing; more pleasant memories are definitely a great thing to have. Let's work on this...

May 20, 2009

Education Means More than Getting a Paper Good for Framing

"Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?- President Bush, Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

It's been a long month with lots of work and countless events to attend. Now it's come to a screeching hold. But, that's the life in the academia. I like it though. A few days ago, I attended the commencement ceremonies and it was the culmination of a long journey for the graduating students. Actually I felt proud for some of them that I got to know more closely over the past 4 years. Even though I will never see them again, I felt I had played a positive role in their young lives. I wish all of them well.

In some sense, it was my moment too, because I started working at that university about four years ago, so I have a few things in common with the graduating class. Our paths will now separate, and I'll go back to the same classrooms next autumn. This is not just a job and I hope I maintain this spirit, which is lost among several of my colleagues.

I often ponder the question of education. It can't possibly be the training of an individual to perform specific tasks. Yes, we do need the scientists, the professionals, the experts, but we need critical thinkers. People who can connect the dots, make sense of the information, explore new paths, are very much needed as well. A learned person is one who has the intellectual curiosity to inquire and the confidence to amend.

Otherwise, we produce automatons, who are highly skilled and specialized--and even though they help our collective progress, they don't get to fully realize their intellectual potential. Education may be the key to many good things, but we should remember that the ultimate goal of education is not a piece of paper good-for-framing; it's to become a learned person--a quest that lasts a lifetime.

The Absurdity of Not Understanding What Science Is

Education should be an equalizing force--that is, give the individual the means to upward mobility--in a society, especially in the US where the gap between the classes is growing especially fast under the Bush administration. Actually, the
mobility myth is just that. The rules of the game are being fixed in favor of the established elites, and it's getting harder for Americans to move up the socio-economic ladder.

There is another phenomenon today that's creating another gap: between those who have access to information and those who don't. Education and information are empowering, therefore, access to them is imperative especially for those who don't have a panoply of means.

It's nice to see adults in the White House who speak to us in complete sentences and appeal to our intellect--not to our worst primitive emotions. It's nice to see the President placing an emphasis on education and science. It would be even nicer if our society produced more educated persons; and this means education should be more accessible. If the individual is willing to put the time, energy and effort into this long journey, the price of admission shouldn't be so high as to be a barricade to progress.

We have a problem doing things pro-actively, planning ahead, saving money in the long term. Instead of prevention and reducing ill effects, we try to solve our problems when the symptoms are dire. People in school, for example, are less likely to become a public charge. Access to health care (prevention and early detection included) makes for a healthier population--and the savings are clear.

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." President G.W. Bush —Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000

May 5, 2009

A Reminder on Mother's Day: Raising Humanity one Child at a Time

Happy Mother's Day!

If we want to make our mothers happy, we should celebrate them more than one day, and, generally speaking, we should strive to elevate the position of women everywhere in the world.

Linguist George Lakoff in his book, Moral Politics, talks about the strict disciplinarian father and the nurturing mother as two different models of government. Lakoff suggests that we need more of the mother model--which is preferred by the progressives. The conservatives appeal to people's belief in a strict father; and it seems, that many people need the rigid structure in their lives as they prefer to follow than lead.

Mothers have played a greater role than fathers in raising the generations of humans. They're the keepers of the culture--even if this often means discriminating and prejudicial practices against themselves! But, without their long investment in our well-being, humanity would not have survived.

We do need a progressive culture of life, whereas family values have a true meaning...

Not when the government or religion try to control a woman's reproductive choices... Or, when the emphasis is on the cellular level (before and at conception) but afterward mother and child are left with no social support for survival...

Not when women are treated as chattel and as vessels for procreation. On the contrary, a true culture of life means pre-natal care, full health care coverage for mother & child; it means good educational opportunities for the children too.

Since societies became militaristic, wo
men were relegated to the bottom of the social ladder and their duty & self-fulfillment was to be found by serving their husbands. This has to change fast. For goodness' sake, we've come a long way to the 21st century; at least we should bring all humanity to the present and not leave them in the past!

We hear about family values but we see little in the way of policy that actually promotes those conditions that enhance family life when it matters! Family values should mean a much lower infant mortality. In the world today, every minute, a mother dies due to childbirth complications. Her children die of malaria and other preventable diseases by the millions. But, even before a woman becomes a mother, she can greatly benefit from formal education. An educated mother is less likely to totally depend on her husband, less likely to get AIDS (and more likely to be healthy), and less likely to have too many children.

Some of the conditions in the developing world are appalling. Yet, poverty, hunger, and preventable diseases are not strange to American mothers either. The US is a much better place than the Third Wold, but we do have the weakest social safety net among the advanced democratic countries! The indicators of the health of the nation tell a sad story: we're number 37 on the World Health Organization's list.

The bottom line is this: we honor motherhood by treating our mothers well. It makes sense, doesn't it? Better mothers & better conditions for motherhood and we all benefit. After all, we exist because we were the recipients of our mothers' nurturing and love. That's a smart culture of life, and good family values!

Domestic violence kills and injures more people in the developing world than war, cancer or traffic accidents

By looking at the condition of women in a given country, you can tell a great deal about that country--its economy, politics, and culture.

Mother's Day is this Sunday but I'd like the celebration to be more than one day. I have a problem when people become romantic just because it's Valentine's Day, or remember their mother because it's Mother's Day. I believe it has to be a way of life, an attitude to behave nicely, to be an enlightened person, to treat other human beings with respect and afford them dignity. Unfortunately, not every country is a liberal democracy [the only truly free society we know today], and many haven't arrived at the 21st century yet...

Motherhood cannot be separated from the condition of women in the world today.
UK's The Independent has a great article about that condition. The British government in cooperation with human rights groups have found some very disturbing facts:
  • Two-thirds of the world's 800 million illiterate adults are women as girls are not seen as worth the investment, or are busy collecting water or firewood or doing other domestic chores.

  • Two million girls aged from five to 15 join the commercial sex market every year.

  • Domestic violence kills and injures more people in the developing world than war, cancer or traffic accidents.

  • Seventy per cent of the world's poorest people are women.

  • Violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war.

  • Women produce half the world's food, but own less than two per cent of the land.

  • Of the more than one billion people living in extreme poverty, 70 per cent are women.

  • Almost a third of the world's women are homeless or live in inadequate housing.

  • Half of all murdered women are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.

  • Every minute a woman dies as a result of pregnancy complications.

  • Women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, yet earn only a tenth of its income.

  • One woman in three will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

  • 43 million girls are not able to go to school.

  • In 2007, one million HIV-positive women died of AIDS-related illnesses because they could not get the drugs they needed.

  • Human Rights Watch, in reports on 15 countries including Afghanistan, Brazil, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Togo and South Africa, has identified violence against schoolgirls, child domestic workers and those in conflict with the law as on the rise.

  • Women across the developing world are the victims of systematic abuse.
I know that, in my lifetime, I propably won't see a world where true humanism and enlightenment are universally practiced, but for every life we change today, we can affect thousands in the future. Yes, every person can make a positive difference, big or small. Oscar Schindler saved about 1,200 human beings, who went on to have families, children, grandchildren, and so forth, for generations. I think it's rather basic, it's respect for human life, in the here & now, when it actually matters!

Women are our mothers. They deserve everything, and more, than we--the children, the men--enjoy today. It makes sense, it's good for the world, it's humane!

Added, 5/10:
This song is about a man bidding farewell to his mother..