Monday, June 19, 2006

Urushiol (you-ROO-shee-ol)

On Saturday past, I decided to finally get off my ass and clean out some overgrown bushes and brush in my backyard. I dread this job every year because I know the ultimate result will probably be the attack on my person of a mean red red rash all over my hands, legs, torso, and if I am lucky, nowhere else. Now this area of our yard is a partially landscaped no-mans-land, between our yard and the one behind ours. I should just spray the whole area with ROUNDUP and be done with it. But that would kill everything back there and I am not about to let a yearly bout with a dumb plant make me into a mass murderer just yet.

By the way, did you know that poison ivy is part of the cashew family. Now, cashews I love. I often get the big tub of them from Costco. Supposedly nuts have have good fatty acids in them so I eat fistfuls of them. Anyway... I digress.

Poison Ivy and I go way back. I remember getting it so bad when I was in 8th grade that the rash on my face forced one eye shut and forced the other one to stay open. If you can not imagine what that looks like check out this guy; except I had it much worse. Just imagine a brown skinned kid with a red rash, a puffy face, and pink chalky calamine lotion spread all over. And to think, my parents still made me go to school that way.

Since then cutting lawns, trekking through the woods, or walking within 10 feet of the stuff always proves to be an adventure.

God, I can't tell you how much I want to scratch my arms right now....

Urushiol (you-ROO-shee-ol) - that's the oil from this whole family of plants that causes all of this misery. If you have been around this stuff, says that you are supposed to clean the exposed area with rubbing alcohol first to kill whatever makes this stuff so lethal and then take a soapy shower. Doing the suds without first enduring the alcohol will only spread the misery. But if your like me, you really only have ten or so minutes before the evil oil gets under your skin.

I could not see my usual doctor today so I had to see one of the other ones. He asked me if my arms and legs had been covered while I was working out there. I lied and said yes. I did not want to waste my breath explaining that this was more about destiny than it was about defenses. You see, every year I dig, rip, and dare the glossy leaves out to a fairly one sided duel. Mother nature wins two out three years and I run off to the doctor for my usual dose of methylprednisolone. But I refuse to wear long sleeve shirts and pants in 95 F degree weather out of mere fear. A hazmat suit may have protected my hide but in my soul, I would felt like a loser.

Yes, I do realize how stupid this all sounds. But remember, your odds of getting out unscathed from a bungee jump are better than an honest fight with poison ivy. Guess which is the cheaper thrill?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Dixie Chicks and Finding Your Voice

So the Dixie Chicks seem to be selling more concert tickets north of the Mason Dixon line then they are in the Old Confederacy, their traditional constituency. Not too surprising, considering the negative comments their lead singer, Natalie Maines made in 2003 about President Bush while on tour in London. What is surprising is that she is sticking by her opinions and that the band has even incorporated their politics into their new album - Taking the Long Way. Finding their political voice, the Dixie Chicks seem to have figured out who and what they want to be. Take a listen - their sound may still be familiar but the words are all about leaving what was for something new, something more - maybe their traditional audience for a new one.

Although many red state country radio stations had been boycotting the band since 2003, it was assumed that all would be forgiven eventually, especially with the release of a new album. Hearing the new album, many stations have refused to play it saying it does not represent the views or mores of their audiences, even going so far as to refuse paid advertisements for their tour. Like so many who control different forms of media today, those programming these stations are more interested in making their listeners choices for them instead of just presenting the content and letting the listeners decide. So "who cares", you ask? Unless you're an old or new fan of the Dixie Chicks or of President Bush, you probably do not care.

Why do I care. I am neither an avid Dixie Chicks fan nor an avid fan of President Bush. I care because I see this situation as symptomatic of the political climate in the country today playing out on a smaller scale. "You're either with me, or against me." One instance of disagreement and we are blind or deaf to anything else that someone might say on any other issue. If you are willing to accept gay marriage than you can not possibly be a "values voter". If you support the war effort in Iraq, you could not possibly have a valid opinion on the budget deficit or stem cell research or funding for higher education.

And yet there is no real movement in this country to seek any sort of middle way. Not since the Civil Rights Movement and maybe even the Civil War has the nation been so intellectually and geographically divided. Are mainstream Republicans really happy to be members of a party who believes in kicking ass and asking questions later; are they really more interested in repeated debates on gay marriage over debating how to make our high schools more competitive internationally. Will mainstream Democrats not understand that faith plays a large role in the fabric of this country and was the reason many of our ancestors emigrated here in the first place? Although I believe in the causes of feminism and environmentalism, etc., Democrats must stop being pulled in thirty different directions and decide what is good for America and not for Latinos, or gays, or environmentalists separately. More importantly, these groups better realize that they need to find some common ground amongst each other to make any sort of credible opposition to the current ruling classes.

I know that there are those who would argue that steadfast principles are more important than reaching a consensus. I would argue that principles are for individuals to guide their personal lives and aiming for consensus is a principle because achieving consensus leads to action which leads to problem solving.

What I find puzzling and unsettling is that too many are willing to let others opinions form the basis of their beliefs instead of individually examining the facts. The news is hardly news anymore; it is constant analysis and opinion. And although that is also some of what I offer here in this blog, I would at least implore you to think for yourself. I intend what I write to be a starting point for a discussion and debate and have no desire to do your thinking for you. This is by no means a talking points blog.

The final point I would make is that a willingness to honestly examine facts would actually better enable us to achieve political and social consensus where opinions only provide cover to those more interested in intellectual dishonesty, dogma, and ultimately, the status quo.

Anyway, I thank the Dixie Chicks for allowing me to use them to make my points... and do take a listen, for both the music and the words.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Marital Contract

''We're not going to stop until marriage between a man and a woman is protected,'' ... Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

So earlier this week our Senators debated and voted on the subject of marriage. The vote was 49 for a ban on "gay marriage" and 48 against - or was it vice versa - actually, I do not think it really matters. Everyone who cared knew this was a bogus vote because everyone who cared knew that there was no possibility of getting a two thirds vote (needed for a Constitutional Amendment). I will not waste too many words on the idiocy of having this vote when nothing was to be gained or lost by it, especially when there are so many other pressing matters facing the nation.

Of course there are many who believe that marriage as an institution is under assault and for years have been on the lookout, ever vigilant for bogeymen out to destroy it for good. What with high divorce rates, common law marriages, prenuptial agreements, no fault divorces, domestic partnerships, etc., why so called marriage advocates want to keep anyone from getting married is beyond me.

Honestly though, I must admit some ambivalence to the concept of "gay marriage". I do not understand why a segment of the population that is admittedly different from the majority needs validation from one of it's institutions. Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I got the impression that gays at that time looked down upon being bound by the concept traditional marriage. I think it is only recently that the issue has come to the forefront for a variety of reasons. Possibly, it is because of greater acceptance in the general community that gays feel more able to fight for greater official legitimacy. However, I think there are more immediate concerns, such as the availability of health insurance to a partner or the ability to stand in for a loved one in time of crisis and make decisions and determinations that a traditional spouse could, which provide greater urgency.

When asked recently on my take on gay marriage I responded by saying that I really did not have strong feelings on the matter but was inclined to accept the notion that marriage was an institution that, throughout known human history and amongst most cultures primitive or advanced, was reserved for a union between a man and a women. To me, civil unions accomplished the same thing as lawful gay marriage.

I think before tackling the question of whether gays should be able to "marry" or not, we should define what marriage is. Marriage traditions amongst all of the major religions throughout recorded history showed marriage to be a contract between two individuals and, more importantly, between two families that formed bonds of kinship where no bonds of kinship existed. These bonds of kinship placed obligations on and provided benefits to both individuals united by the covenant of a marriage. This contract was traditionally arranged between families and not individuals. As Joseph Campbell explains to Bill Moyer in the Power of Myth, the notion of individual or romantic love was not introduced into the western tradition until the troubadours (aristocratic poets/musicians from Provence in France) introduced it in the 12th century. Until recently, even in Europe, marriages were arranged affairs in which social standing and economics were much more important considerations than affection or attraction. Arranged marriages are still the norm in many Asian traditions.

Throughout history, the benefits of the marriage contract have most often accrued to the male partner and the obligations to the female one. This can be easily determined by studying Roman and Christian traditions as well as Muslim or Hindu ones. Women have always had inferior rights and few or no claims to property. Adultery by a woman meant certain death whereas for a man it was hardly a major crime. It is not until recent times that any sense of equality has been achieved in laws governing marriage. This has been achieved by legislating the concepts of equal rights and equal protections under the law into the marriage contract. As Professor Hendrik Hartog explains in this article for the History News Network in 2004, it was only late in the 19th century that as a result of "republican institutions pursuing the public good" that "legislators passed a variety of rules that formally moderated the inequalities of marriage -- particularly marital property reforms, earnings acts, and child custody reforms." As he further explains, it was only because of "women entering the paid labor market in much larger numbers, easily available contraception and the separation of sexuality from marriage" after World War II that real changes in law came into effect to put women on an equal footing in the marital contract and also giving them equal rights to freely enter into or out of such a contract.

Those who argue against gay marriage do so on the basis that marriage is a sacred institution reserved to be shared between only a man and a woman. Biologically, that makes sense of course. One of the main results of heterosexual marriage is procreation. However, I would argue that marriage is basically a contract that governs the commitment made by two individuals to each other. What is sacred is the commitment, not the contract. My point here is that rights were gained by government legislating rights into the marital contract where no equality or rights existed for centuries. Governments place is to ensure that all represented by it are treated equitably, not legislate who can make a commitment to whom. We do not need protection from people trying to become part of a tradition that they are certainly not trying to destroy.