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I grew up long before gender issues surfaced in public discourse. I was always a "tomboy", and self-identified with that label. It gave me permission to reject the subordinate/female role, something my feminist mother applauded.

But I always felt that my SELF, my soul, perhaps, was simply housed in a female body. Some people are born male, some female. Some people are born into a body that belongs to one race, others another. Some people are tall, some short. Some have big noses or crooked teeth or birth defects. We are born into a particular body, and there isn't much we can do about it. These characteristics are part of us, but don't define us.

When I was asleep, when I dreamed, I was simply me. Male or female wasn’t relevant unless the storyline of my dream demanded it, and I could be either. Actually, I was probably male more often than female, just because action roles are more often written as male. But gender expression really wasn’t essential for "me" to be “me”.

I thought everyone felt like that. Although some people bought into the girly-girl or macho-boy roles wholeheartedly, others rejected it in whole or part. The result felt like a continuum of compliance, not essential variation in gender identity. At its core, I thought the "men are from Mars, women from Venus" dichotomy was garbage.

Imagine if someone told you that tall people are INHERENTLY different from short people; that tall and short people really can't understand each other, and everything you do or say in society is dictated by your height category. I think - I hope - you'd laugh at the absurdity of the idea. Oh, yes, height certainly has SOME psychological effect on you, and in some cases a major effect, but it doesn't pervade every aspect of your being or define who you are. That was my attitude.

Then a friend of mine came out as transgender. It was not an easy process. It involved a lot of self-examination, angst and personal sacrifice, along with family problems, and workplace issues. For my friend, this wasn’t a matter of accepting or rejecting a societal role; it was much more inherent to her being than that. It made me realize that A) she had a really strong gender identity, and B) it did not match her body.

The more I thought about it, the more I had to accept that other people, perhaps most people, had just as strong a gender identity, but they didn't have such a struggle because they happened to be in a body that matched their gender identity. For them, gender isn't just a societal role, to be accepted or rejected. Gender IS an essential part of their being. My insistence, over the years, that there really is no essential difference between men and women, is wrong. Or at least, may only apply to a small number of people.

You may think that this is only a minor revelation, that my earlier perception of gender was quaint or quixotic. But this revelation shook me profoundly. We all create a mental model of how the universe works. When a new idea or phenomenon occurs, we fit it into that model, and if necessary, adjust the model. The more our model can absorb without adjustment, the more we effectively understand the world, and the more accurate and reliable our judgements become. To change my understanding of gender from an incidental characteristic to a basic component of human nature means that there is a ton of stuff I have to reevaluate.

Note that this is entirely different from gender-based sexual attraction. THAT I still think I understand. I like men, and I’ve never felt sexually attracted to a woman. In terms of societal norms, this is lucky, as I'm in a female body, and being attracted to men (being cis-gendered) is what society expects of me. However -- and this might be seen as a contradiction -- my sexual attraction to men is much stronger than my gender identity. I have no doubt that if I inhabited a male body I would be gay. I say that with the same certainty as I say I am not inherently female or male. I am just me.

My world-model needs work.

Postscript: I wrote this after reading the comments on a post about being agendered (not identifying male or female). I found myself wanting to relate my own experience with the concept of gender identity, even though it's not recent. I have no answers; I'm still working on that model.
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People are casting the Apple/FBI controversy as one of Privacy vs. National Security. And acting as if Apple HAS a key, and is just refusing to use it. NO.

The Feds are ordering a private company to make something that doesn't currently exist. They are not offering to pay for it, and they are not giving the company a choice whether to accept the job.

There is no master key. The software is specifically designed so that there is no master key. There are good legal and business reasons for this. One reason arose from the fact that Apple has, in the past, unlocked phones. In some cases, they were compelled, and in other cases they were tricked by scammers. Apple found it to be a liability nightmare, one complicated by the existence of things like European privacy laws, on the one hand, and totalitarian regimes wanting access, on the other. It seemed the best course of action was to NOT have a master key.

Whether that was the right decision, whether there should be a master key or not is a different question. Right now there isn't. Yes, as designers of the security, Apple may be able to design a way to bypass it, but that way does not currently exist, and to make one would be a major research project.

Note that Congress has, several times, failed to pass a law requiring a "back door" for governmental surveillance use. Any back door will almost certainly be found and used by hackers. So now, with this case, the FBI is trying to make an end run around Congress, by trying to apply an overly-broad law from the 1700s that says a court can compel cooperation with authorities (as long as what they ask is not illegal). But even that law has always been interpreted as including the phrase "within reason".

Imagine if the Feds ordered Ford to develop an engine that could withstand having sugar put in the gas tax, because terrorists might be able to disable vehicles by doing that. Oh yes, and Ford has no choice; the have to do it by court order, and for free, or else they're helping terrorists. Wouldn't the Conservative Republicans be the first to shout about "governmental overreach"?

[I wrote this as a Facebook post yesterday, and thought it needed a better forum.]
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A few days ago, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) was shot in the head at point-blank range by Jared Loughner. After shooting her, Loughner continued shooting, eventually killing half a dozen and wounding a dozen or so. When he stopped to reload, bystanders tackled him and he was arrested.

Notebooks and scribblings belonging to Loughner show first, that he is a disturbed young man, and second, that he was targeting Giffords. He referred to her by name and wrote of his assassination plans.

Did the violence-laden rhetoric of current political speech play a role in Loughner's actions? Many think so. In particular, Sara Palin's map of Democratic "targets" has been criticized; this map showed several Democrat-controlled districts in crosshairs, and Gabrielle Giffords was mentioned by name as a target. "Don't retreat, reload!", tweeted Palin. Other republicans spoke of "second-amendment remedies", and said "if ballots don't work, bullets will". Right-wing radio and TV pundits used equally explicit language as they exhorted their listeners to "take out" opposing political figures.

But then, in the tradition of a cover-up being worse than the original problem, Palin denied that the imagery was violent at all. The map symbols were not crosshairs, they were "surveyor's marks". Reloading was simply a metaphor for trying again. Palin went on the attack, claiming that accusations of any contributory blame in her direction were ludicrous and reprehensible, and constituted "blood libel" (sic). The only person to blame was the deranged individual who pulled the trigger. Anyone who suggested otherwise was trying to curb Palin's God-given (not to mention First Amendment-given) right to free speech, and probably hated America.

I joined several discussions of these events in various forums. Few seemed to actually get to what I feel is the core of the matter, so I decided to address it here.

I see the problem as one of judicious use of speech. Politicians and TV/radio pundits have a bully pulpit; people listen to them. They have influence. Those who have widespread influence have the right of free speech, but also have the responsibility to anticipate possible repercussions from that speech. The more prominent the public figure, the more responsibility.

Palin did not pull the trigger. A nutjob did. He is the guilty party. But could Palin and other media figures have reasonably anticipated that the use of violent imagery in their free speech might influence the unbalanced? That is the core of the accusations against Palin. Many feel that she should have known, and so shares part of the blame.

I'm no fan of Palin (to put it mildly), but I'm not quite willing to assign her blame for these killings. But I AM willing to say that her ill-advised words and metaphors have contributed to the atmosphere of violence currently surrounding political discourse. She should take responsibility for THAT, and tone down her rhetoric.

Perhaps Palin didn't realize that some people can't distinguish metaphor from exhortation. Perhaps she didn't realize that her words were influential (ha!). But now that the concept has been raised, she can no longer claim ignorance. She, and all public figures, have a responsibility to use their influence judiciously.

Henry II, in a drunken rage, yelled "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" and the result was the murder of Thomas Becket. Henry later wept for his friend, and claimed he had not intended his knights to commit murder. History nonetheless judges him as the guilty party.

Because, as a monarch, he should have known some toadies might act on his words. Because, as a monarch, he had a responsibility to speak judiciously, even when drunk.

It's been 840 years since then, and today it is not Kings and Barons who have influence and power, but rather media figures and politicians. But the principle remains. Noblesse oblige.
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This is a letter that I just sent to Congresswoman Olympia Snowe of Maine.

She is a Republican, but has a long history of not blindly following the Republican leadership. For this, she is facing accusations of being a "RINO" (Republican in name only) and the Tea Party has her in its sights. The Democrats also campaign against her, because even though she is usually a voice of sanity and willing to compormise, she is nevertheless a Republican.

I disagree with many of her opinions, but I respect her integrity.

Job creation and support of small business is, as you say in the Snowe Report, of utmost importance.

According to the news, the Obama administration wants to extend the tax cuts, except for the over-250K income category. Republicans have refused to go forward without including that tax cut category, and gridlock has resulted.

I conducted a survey that concluded that extending the over-250K tax cut will not help small businesses, but will instead actively hurt them and prevent job creation.

I contacted the owners of several local small businesses and said, "Suppose last year you made 250K in business profits. This year you are going to make 300K, an extra 50K. If the tax rate doesn't change, what will you do with the extra 50K?" Nearly all my respondents said they would either buy stocks or buy something like a fancy multimedia center. The effect of either of these on the local economy is minimal.

Then I said, "What if the extra 50K were taxed at a higher rate. What would you do then?" Three quarters of my respondents said that they would avoid the extra tax by putting it back into the business -- e.g,. either buying equipment or HIRING WORKERS.

This is in direct contradiction to the arguments I hear from the Republican side of the aisle. I have run the results by a tax accountant, and he agreed that the scenarios were reasonable and the results were what he would expect.

Do not take my word for it. The survey is very simple. I urge you to send your staffers to make a similar survey, and I trust that if their results match mine, you will vote accordingly.

I have the highest respect for you, simply because you do not let yourself be blinded by political dogma, but instead vote your conscience. You stay true to the needs of the people of Maine. Thank you for that.

This is obviously not a full-blown argument about how she should vote with the Democrats and not stand with the Republicans on insisting on extending the over-250K tax cut. I figure she's heard all that before. My point was simply that the Republican argument that the extension was necessary to support small business and create jobs was based on faulty reasoning.

Oh yes -- and, as any small business owner can tell you, income tax is assessed not on gross receipts, but on receipts minus expenses -- on profit. So you can always lower your tax by simply putting more into the business. Some politicians seem to be ignorant of this basic fact.
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We should create in the federal business tax code something equivalent to the personal tax exemption for dependents. For each employee who is a) an American citizen, b) paid over 20K a year and c) receives health insurance benefits, the business gets one exemption.

Businesses often claim that employees are "assets", but that's not how they are treated in bookkeepimg. Jobs are the most important thing a company can provide for a community, but all too often jobs are sacrificed in the legal obligation to maximize shareholder profits. This change could help reverse job hemorrhage and make the requirement for businesses to provide health insurance less onerous.

If you think this is a good idea, please pass the idea on to your congressman. I've written mine, but it needs more than a lone voice. Thanks.
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"No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this in all your social networking accounts."

I am being billed for a visit to the clinic to get antibiotics for an infected eustacian tube. I went in knowing exactly what I needed (I have fluid behind the eardrum; it started after equalizing my ears after an airplane trip, it had already lingered for weeks). The bill was $165.00 for the clinic visit, $64 for additional lab tests, and $24 for the amoxycillin (the doctor didn't prescribe the correct dosage to qualify for the discounted prescriptions).  To the clinic's credit, they agreed not to require money up front when I said I couldn't pay. However, the antibiotics didn't completely clear it up in 10d, and the doctor did not give me a refillable prescription, even when I told her it wasn't completely gone. Now the condition has become chronic.
Luckily, I've been able to keep my ear reasonably clear using (real) sudafed and guaifenesin.But the pharmacy won't sell me more than a couple of days worth of sudafed at a time, for fear I'll start a meth lab or whatever it is they worry that people will do with sudafed.
This is not a health care system.

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This is in response to a guest editorial in today's Bangor News.

Republican spokesperson Josh Tardy makes up an exaggerated and completely fictional combined version of the various Democratic proposed health care bills, then tries to claim the sky is falling because of it.

Guess what, folks. The sky is already falling, because the employer-based healthcare insurance model just doesn't work. Maybe it used to work, when most people stayed at one company for most of their career, and companies could be relied on to paternalistically look after their employees. News flash - that scenario went the way of the dodo quite a while ago. And even then, it only worked for people employed at those companies.

Right now, few of us have any choice in healthcare. We are forced to go with the insurance company chosen by our employer. We are forced to go to a doctor on their list, and undergo only the treatments that company approves (with or without medical consultation on their part). We must use only the drugs they approve, in the dosages they designate. It's no better from the doctor's end - I know doctors who now refuse to work with any insurance companies, because the insurance companies restrict their treatment options and require so much paperwork that it it simply not worth it.

We cannot shop around to compare prices - the one thing that is the foundation of the free-market system.

Imagine if restaurants first got your credit card, then fed you. You would have no idea what the individual items on the menu cost, or if the cost was reasonable. You would have no idea if "steak" meant a $5 Bonanza special or a $150 Kobe filet mignon. You might have meal insurance which would cover certain ingredients, but not others. Neither you nor the restaurant would have a clear idea of what was covered; they could only submit their bill and wait to see what was covered. But the restaurant would get paid eventually, and the rest would be billed to you. Could you imagine anyone in their right mind using a system like that?

The current health insurance system is badly broken. Patients don't like it, doctors don't like it, hospitals don't like it. Only the insurance companies, which get to pick and choose who to cover for what, and make immense profits, like it. But they have successfully brainwashed the Republicans into believing that private insurance equals free enterprise, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. Our current private insurance system eliminates the informed choice necessary for a free market.

Fascism occurs when a government, instead of regulating business, is controlled by business. (Check it out - that really is the definition). If the government is reluctant to perform its regulatory duty, then only the free market - the economic voice of the people - is left to rein in business.

The Republicans fear governmental regulation, preferring to use the free market. I will not say they are wrong in this. But in this case, they do not see that the free market has been hamstrung. Either the government must step up to the plate or the free market must be restored or both.

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When talking about Universal Health Care on facebook, I said:

"I think we should have a two-tiered system, with free or low-cost clinics providing routine care, checkups, vaccinations, etc. - the sorts of things we set up in other countries, but don't have here! Private insurance plans would then cover advanced procedures or more personal care. We'd still have a problem with underinsured people needing advanced care, but at least everyone would have access to a minimum level of care."

To elaborate:
There is a principle in customer support (and in project management and business in general) sometimes called the 80/20 rule. Basically, 20% of your customers/problems require 80% of your resources. This is the justification for the now-ubiquitous telephone menu self-help guides; the idea is that if you can help the customers with minor problems - a majority, supposedly about 80% - easily and with little effort, you will be able to allocate more resources to the tough problems.

This principle applies to health care. Most people are reasonably healthy, and need only minor support. They need checkups; someone to see whether that itchy mole is is anything to worry about. Vaccinations, an annual flu shot, the occasional tetanus shot. A source of birth control and basic medical information. A medical authority who can determine when antibiotics or cortisone creams are appropriate, and most of all, to decide if a condition warrants further investigation.

This is the sort of care provided by most university clinics. If anything is seriously wrong you are referred to a hospital or a private doctor. But for most people, most of the time, it is sufficient. It is also the sort of care provided by inner city or mission clinics in third world countries and is found to a limited extent in commercial "doc-in-a-box" clinics found at the big box stores.

I think the federal government can and should establish a network of clinics across America.

Patient records per se would not be kept. Instead, each participant would be asked to buy a medical smartcard which would record basic information about each visit. This purchase - it should be less than $20 - would constitute enrollment in the program.

Keeping medical records like this would be a huge boon. The government wants to encourage computerized medical recordkeeping; this would provide an initial minimal format on which to build a standardized data interchange format. This card would hold data in something as universal as comma-delimited text file, so it can be imported into any spreadsheet or database. Hospitals and advanced medical practices would be able to read and import the basic data into their system, without the government needing to impose specific data requirements. An added benefit is that patients would have a record of their doctor visits that travels with them, and would remind both patients and medical caregivers that medical care requires coordination. The card would, of course, be encrypted, and certain data - such as psychiatric visits or treatment for certain ailments - could be read only with the patient's permission.

All personnel would be on salary, including doctors. There would be therefore no reason to bill on a per-patient basis, nor any reason for either patients or medical personnel to falsify treatment. Doctors and other caregivers could spend most of their time with patients rather than billing insurance companies. The "access to service" rather than "metering service" model is used by internet providers, and  technical support providers, and it is rapidly replacing metered phone service. The model is viable and has a proven track record.

I have polled doctors to find out what they would think of this system. Several have said it would be wonderful to spend time actually treating patients, and some have said that they thought being relieved of insurance hassles would be worth a lower salary. However, doctors are in a catch-22 where they have to make lots of money; first to pay back their student loans, then to set up their practice.

Connecticut has a program in which the State loans money for teacher training. If a graduate chooses not to teach, or takes a job out-of-state, then the loan is like any other, and the state makes money on the loan.  But if that teacher takes a job within the state, the loan payments are forgiven and considered paid for as long as they are actively teaching. The government could easily do the same with doctors, and young doctors could repay their student loans by working in these clinics. That and some sort of umbrella coverage against malpractice would go a long way towards giving doctors an incentive to work at wages lower than they could get in private practice. I believe the government already has such a program aimed at getting doctors into the military; this would be a civilian equivalent.

Best of all from a political standpoint is that this in no way interferes with the current medical insurance situation. Clinics would provide only very basic care; there is still a need for insurance or other programs to cover advanced procedures. The clinic scheme primarily focuses on the uninsured (though since elimination of paperwork is a major source of savings, there would be no means test to prevent those with insurance elsewhere from using the clinics).

This is a "Public Option" that might well be welcomed by the insurance industry. While it does not add to the insurance company coffers, as mandated insurance coverage might, it is not a direct threat. It primarily deals with those the insurance companies have declined to cover, and if anything provides a marketing opportunity, since young healthy adults would presumably initially seek medical care at clinics, where they can be convinced of the need for advanced coverage.

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A friend posted this on facebook. I like it.

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The Bangor Daily News just reported that enough signatures have been collected to put Maine's new Gay Marriage law up to a People's referendum.

Reading the discussion, I am frustrated by those who keep declaring that marriage has always been a religious institution between one man and one woman. This assertion shows an appalling lack of knowledge about history. Aside the fact that nearly all the marriages mentioned in the Bible are polygamous, the idea of marriage as a religious institution is pretty darn recent.

Marriage was first a secular non-religious legal arrangement. In the early middle ages, it was often performed in the public square, so a large number of (often illiterate) people could be legal witnesses to the marriage. Then, after the marriage, those who were rich enough went into the nearby church for a blessing. The Pope got the idea that if the Church took over the marriage ceremony itself, it could consolidate its control of the people. So they made marriage a sacrament.

The early Protestants rejected this. Martin Luther declared marriage to be "a worldly thing . . . that belongs to the realm of government". Calvin said something similar. The Pope, at the Council of Trent in 1563, responded by demanding that all marriages take place before a priest and two witnesses. Fighting this takeover of marriage by the Catholic Church, the English Puritans passed an Act of Parliament, asserting "marriage to be no sacrament" and made marriage purely secular.

America was founded against this background, which is why we have civil marriages performed by a JP.  But meanwhile, non-Catholic churches saw the power to be gained by taking over control of marriage, and encouraged confusion of civil versus religious marriage in the minds of their parishioners. Ignorant of history, many people have embraced this confusion and now hold marriage to be only a religious institution.

This has been done before, in other countries and other times. One logical result is that people who did not adhere to the state religion could not get married. Atheists could be denied the right to marry; President Bush II actually expressed that opinion once. And others whose religion does not fit the recognized Christian pattern (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) could likewise be denied the right to marry.

Before you say that non-Christians losing the right to marry is ludicrous -

Having marriages not recognized is part of Quaker history. The Anglican church did not recognize Quaker marriages, and so on several occasions women were convicted of the crime of living with their husbands - that is to say, of loose morals (since their marriage was not recognized). This back-door approach to religious discrimination is the reason that the NH Constitution, in discussing marriage, says that marriages may be conducted by a secular JP, by a Christian minister or priest, by a Rabbi, or by Quakers according to the process customary amongst them. It's interesting that so many religions are left out of that list; currently, the law is being rewritten to allow minister figures of any religion to officiate. But as it stands, the state does not officially recognize an Islamic or Hindu religious marriage.

I was in an argument recently with someone who saw a danger in recognizing gay marriage; namely, that churches would then be compelled to perform marriages which conflicted with their morals, or run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.  He seemed to have a real fear of this. His main argument was that he had heard that goal expressed by some outspoken gay friends. While he admitted the viewpoint was extremist, he said extremists have taken control of platforms before.

The idea that churches would be compelled to marry gays (or indeed anyone) is far more ludicrous than the possibility that atheist woulds be denied the right to marry. 

Right now, if a Lutheran couple demanded to be married by a Catholic priest, they would be laughed at. Nor could they turn to the local Rabbi, nor (probably) to the local Baptist minister. A Unitarian minister, on the other hand, would probably acquiesce. The point is that it is entirely determined by the principles of the religious institution; the government has no say in the matter. That's part of freedom of religion. Discrimination on the basis of religion (or gender, or race) IS constitutional if done within a religious context.

But an organization is not covered by that religious immunity just because it is run by a church. This is where 'faith-based initiatives' have run into trouble. A church can run a soup kitchen, but if they accept public funding and are found to discriminate against certain groups, they may lose the public funding. A church may be affiliated with a political action committee, but only a certain percentage of their budget can go to that political action, or the IRS may deem the organization to be not a church at all. To prevent that, the church need only separate the PAC financially from the church itself.

Note that churches are not required to register as 501c3 organizations; they are "automatically exempt". The only reason for pursuing such status is to gain certain privileges, such as bulk mailing permits, eligibility for grants, or employer tax exemptions. So, in a worst-case scenario, if a church were to be found guilty of discrimination, the church could not be "shut down"; at worst, it would lose the extra privileges that it gains not from being a church but from being a 501c3 organization.

No, when presented with the choice of making marriage adhere to a particular set of religious requirements, or extending the secular definition in a way some churches find abhorrent, I come down firmly on the side of extending the secular definition. Churches need not accept it; they need only accept that others do not agree with them. They cannot impose their morality on everyone else.

If churches want everyone to adhere to their morality, they are free to try to convert everyone. Then the law would be irrelevant. But using the law to impose their religious views is unconstitutional - and in my view, immoral.
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Dr. George Tiller was one of the few doctors in the country who did late-term abortions. Last Sunday, he was murdered, while at church with his family, by an anti-abortion activist.

This re-ignited strident arguments on various lists about the morality of abortion. I am struck by how often the arguments go off on tangents, and how often the stance of each side is demonized by the other. There are no easy answers.

Anti-abortionists ("pro-lifers") believe that fetuses are babies, and for many (not all) this belief justifies even murder to protect them. They equate the situation to a terrorist holding a schoolroom of children hostage. This is a compelling image: the evil doctor bent on mass murder of unborn children. Who wouldn't applaud the sharpshooter who takes out the terrorist and saves the hostages (even while regretting the need for such dire action)?

But let's try another analogy. Someone kidnaps you to take your kidney (you are the only person with the right histocompatability). A police sharpshooter can shoot the hostage-taker, but will not do so unless you ask him to. What do you do? Do you give up your kidney? Does it make a difference if you will lose your job because of this (for instance, if you are active military)? What if this person only needs some blood? Are you more likely to agree? What if they need your heart, and you will certainly die? And if you don't want to make that sacrifice, is the sharpshooter morally culpable if he shoots the hostage taker?

A fetus can be considered to be holding its mother hostage. In certain circumstances, continuing a pregnancy can damage, maim, or kill the mother. Does the fetus have the right to demand that sacrifice of the mother? Does our government have the right to demand it, in the name of the fetus?

Our government cannot demand that a person donate blood or a kidney to another person, even when the recipient will die without it. Our laws give us the choice to make such a sacrifice voluntarily, but imposes no obligation. It does not matter whether the sacrifice asked is minor (blood) or major (say a lung), the government cannot compel you to make it. 

Our law extends that choice to whether or not a woman has to endanger herself by undergoing pregnancy.

It clarifies the discussion to consider it in these terms. What does the law demand? How does the law balance conflicting rights? That is, after all, the main purpose of law.  The other arguments are moot - which doesn't mean unimportant; it means you can discuss (moot) them endlessly without changing anyone's mind - because they are based in religion or a belief system that the other party simply refuses to accept.

I personally believe it is immoral to refuse to give blood or even bone marrow, without a darn good reason. I believe donating a kidney is something everyone should be willing to do. On the other hand, I believe it is totally unreasonable to demand a heart donation, but if someone were to commit suicide to provide a heart for a loved one, I would not condemn the action. But those are simply my beliefs, and I would not (and cannot legally) impose them on anyone else, even if I think society would be a better place if I did.

The law places some limits on the choice to sacrifice yourself. Even if you are willing to make such a sacrifice, it is not legal for you to donate an organ such as a heart if it will kill you. I would not condemn it, but that is the law. It does not matter if the person demanding the organ is innocent or the next Nobel prize winner, or if the person whose organ is demanded is a criminal already sitting on death row. The law does not allow that sacrifice. And it does not compel any sort of lesser sacrifice, such as donation of a minor organ or of blood, regardless of the relative merits of donor and donee.

So the question of whether a fetus is a baby is not definitive. Saying it isn't makes it easier to refuse to make the sacrifice. But saying it is does not mean there is no sacrifice demanded. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion; it means having the same right of choice in this difficult decision as you would have when asked to donate an organ that could save someone's life.

That is the legal core of the abortion argument. What follows is 'relevant to the discussion', as one would say in court.

The consequences of sex are asymmetrical. Women can get pregnant, men don't. This is biological fact.  A fetus has DNA different from the mother. That too is fact. But whether a fetus is therefore the same as a baby is a matter of semantics. What is a baby? What is an individual? Before you answer separate DNA makes it an individual, consider that twins have the same DNA, but are different individuals. And certain types of tumors have modified DNA, but are not even a potential human. We have crossed from facts into opinion. Even the facts are not absolute.  With modern science, a fetus could be implanted in a male, for instance. Perhaps cloning could grow a unique human from a tumor.

The notion of when a fetus becomes a child has changed over time. The bible speaks of a fetus "quickening" - literally, becoming alive. This is a real-world event that typically happens at about 24 weeks, and signals when, in many societies, a pregnancy is legally recognized.  In about 1592, Pope Gregory XIV declared that a soul entered the fetus when it was 80 days old, and this was the date when killing a fetus became murder in church law. These two dates are arguably the origin of the trimester classification system. In the first trimester, the fetus has no soul, and aborting is no problem. After the second trimester, it is human and abortion becomes murder. In 1869, Pope Pius IX, in order to strengthen the arguments against contraception, declared that a fetus had a soul from conception. This is what many Christian fundamentalist groups believe. (If so, then the mortality rate in the first trimester is through the roof. I have heard that 60-80% of fertilized eggs never make it past 8 weeks; the pregnancy ends before the woman even knows she is pregnant). The idea that "life begins at conception" is a belief, based more in religious teachings than in science.

Certain religious groups believe that sex itself is sinful. Those same religious groups tend to put a premium on the idea of innocence, so if there is a conflict between the life of the mother (who is seen as sinful) or of the child (who is seen as innocent), the child "wins". The man involved in the engendering never faces this possibility, even though he participated in the so-called sin. This is especially repugnant to feminists. Those steeped in that belief system see no merit in the feminist objections, however, and beliefs are again unlikely to be changed.

The rhetoric itself holds pitfalls. How can you be "pro-life" if you believe in killing? Logically, you should be a pacifist, against both the military and the death penalty. But this is rarely the case, and is seen as simple hypocrisy by those in the pro-choice camp. Similarly, a "woman's right to choose" sounds like mere self-indulgence to those who believe that the "choice" involves murder. While this charge is steeped in a set of religion-based beliefs, it is nonetheless the crux of the argument, and deserves honest reflection and a reasoned rebuttal.

Belief systems certainly play a role in the arguments. But since our society is made up many religions and many belief systems, it is the law that we must ultimately go by.

The law arbitrates behavior, and for good or ill, it stands apart from both religious beliefs and from science.  A law may be based on scientific fact, or not. It may be based on moral principles that are not shared by the entire population. It may be utterly arbitrary. But the law comprises the set of rules that society has agreed upon.

Disagreeing with the law does not exempt you from following it, nor does it give you the right to be a vigilante and impose your notions of what the law should be on someone else.

At this time, in this country, abortion is legal if done following the rules set out by the government. Killing a born human is illegal unless the government sanctions the killing, and even then certain legal procedures must be followed. By legal definition, if a killing is legal, it is not murder; conversely, murder is a type of illegal killing.

What the doctor did is legal and was therefore not murder, no matter how much it violates a belief system. His killer probably committed murder. I say probably because under the law, designating it murder requires a trial and conviction.

It is perfectly appropriate for people to attempt to change the law to match their moral principles. But it is important to realize that in a country based on law, not on religion, the law will reflect an amalgamation of moral and religious beliefs. Our laws do not allow one group to impose its moral precepts on the rest, not without going through an elaborate process to change the law. The best an individual can do is constrain their own behavior, and hope to convince others to do likewise. You have the right to proselytize, but you do not have the right to threaten or intimidate.

If you don't believe in abortion, don't have one. If you don't want others to have abortions, then work to make them unnecessary. Promote birth control. Provide a support network and social acceptance for unwed mothers. Even if you feel sex is sinful, surely having sex is a lesser sin than killing a fetus! Choose your moral priorities.

Work to streamline the adoption process. Adopt a child yourself, or at least offer to be a foster parent. Put as much effort into defending life after birth as you do to life before birth.
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The "living wage" is a calculation of the money needed to maintain a minimal standard of living. It is based on actual budget costs. This is unlike the official "poverty level" calculation, which ignores such necessities as housing, insurance, and transportation (among other things). (Mimimum wage is a political construct which may or may not be based on actual cost data.)

2006 data from the Maine Center for Economic Policy :
A family of four with one wage earner needs $34,248/year. ($16.47/hr).
A household with 2 children and 2 wage earners  requires $51,844/year. (@$12.46/hr). 
A single parent with 2 children requires $40,250 ($19.35/hr).
A single parent with 1 child needs $33,639 ($16.17/hr)
A single person requires $21,211 ($10.20/hr) to meet basic living needs. 

(hourly wage is calculated on 52 weeks of 40-hour work. No vacations.)

This is interesting.

First of all, it allows us to assign a value to being a housewife. A family of two kids and two parents can live on $34,248 a year if one parent works, but needs $51,844 to achieve the same standard of living if both parents work.  Therefore, the presence of a "non-working" parent is worth $17,596 a year ($8.46 an hour).

A single person, according to this study, can get along on $21211 dollars a year.  Two people living separately would need double that, or $42,422.  How much would a couple need?

MCEP didn't have that category, but if you take the cost for two working adults with two kids, and subtract the amount needed for the kids, you should get a reasonable figure.

What is the amount needed for two kids? A single parent with two children needs 40,250 to live; subtract 21,211 for the parent alone, equals a cost of $19,039 for the kids. Subtract this from the amount needed for two working parents/2 kids and you get $32,805.  This should be the minimum amount a couple needs to live in Maine (a minimum livable wage of  $7.88/hour for each wage earner).

Let's play with that. Since a single person can live on $21,211, the cost of adding the second person is $11,594.  The second person saves $9617 by moving in with someone. Or, if expenses are split evenly, each pays $16,402, which is $4809 less than living alone.

Therefore, $4809 to $9617 could be considered the cost one pays to live alone.

It's interesting to have a figure to start from, since so often our society makes an unspoken assumption that if you are single, you somehow have it easy, you are cheating in some way, you are evading the burdens of adulthood, and living without a partner is somehow 'selfish' or 'self-indulgent'. Never mind that you lack the components of a normal support network, that emotionally and physically you have to do everything yourself. The calculations demonstrate a very real financial burden on those who are single.

I almost said 'those who choose to be single', but why do we assume that being single is a deliberate choice? Becoming a couple IS a choice; when the opportunity arises, you can agree to pair up or not. If the opportunity doesn't present itself, if you do not find someone who chooses you as much as you choose them, you remain single by default, no matter how much you might wish otherwise.

A few years ago, there was quite a bit of talk about the IRS's "marriage penalty". Pretty ludicrous, when you realize that they were comparing the taxes of a married couple to those of an unmarried couple. They did not compare the taxes of a couple (married or not) to that of bona fide independent singles. They focused on whether a couple had a piece of paper, rather than whether there were two wage earners in the household. In addressing their own administrative shortcoming, they increased the burden on bona fide singles.

Looking at the tax data, the 2a/2c family with one wage earner pays $1200 in tax, on a $34,248 income. The same family with two wage earners pays $6542 in tax.  A single with a child is taxed $4551, in this case. Two adults, each with a child, would therefore pay $9102; $2560 more than if they combined their households, and $7902 less than if they combined households and one stayed home.

Before you protest tat the taxes are based on different incomes, let me point out that the point of the "livable wage" calculations is that these are the incomes needed to the same base standard of living. Money is only meaninful for what it buys. So although raw wages vary, all these scenarios represent the same standard of living, so it's fair to compare the tax figures.

Iit seems to me that the tax code provides a pretty big incentive for people to pair up, and even for one to become a stay-at-home parent.

A single, meanwhile, pays $3655 in tax for the same standard of living (and doesn't have a built-in social support network).

You can also look at these figures with reference to a divorce. A divorce takes a 2-wage earner/2 child household (needing $51,844) and converts it into a 1-w.e./2-child unit (40,250) plus a 1-w.e. unit ( $21,211). The two units together now require $61,461. The cost of the divorce (apart form legal, emotional, etc.) is therefore $9617 per year. That's a pretty good incentive to immediately jump into another relationship, even if - as is so often true with rebound relationships - it is not a good one.

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Sometimes I feel really behind the 8-ball. Last week I  discovered MacHeist, which apparently has been operating for awhile now. They offer a bundle of really nice Mac apps for a ridiculously low price. These are full editions, not demos or anything like that. And a quarter of the purchase price goes to charity (they list the organizations, and they are all bona fide charities).

To be fair, half are for games and things I really don't care about. But I was planning to get WireTap Studio anyway; I use a demo of it and I was just waiting for a time I felt I could afford the 69 dollar license. The bundle is only 39 dollars. For me that one app pays all.

But WARNING WILL ROBINSON! The site itself can be addictive. The "Heists" are puzzles.  (Odd thing -- you have to go to the bottom of the bage and click on the footnav link to get to the Main page to find them. I did while trying to see if the offer was for real. And by the way, I did this last week - not today, when the date would have made me very suspicious). OK the heists --

From the main page, you go to "Briefings". The current puzzle is "Mission 3".
Iif you want to go in totally cold, stop reading here. But I'm not giving real spoilers, and if you want to know why I'm so intrigued, read on....

Read more... )

TADA! You unlock the safe and get a couple of free apps. A game, an art program, and a stock tracking program that looks pretty good. You also get a $2 discount on the bundle of apps. A nice reward.

As you can see, this is not your average puzzle. Some of the previous missions had you bopping around to various sites, usually the developers of small apps like these. And of course, that's why the developers participate. I went to a number of sites and bookmarked them, saying "hmm that looks interesting, I'll have to come back here..."

Definitely check them out. Even if you don't want any of the programs, the puzzles are fun. And if you do want any of the programs, do me a favor and use the link I provided -- referrals get me more free programs. One gets me a game (eh, so-so) but two gets a useful-looking utility program. But don't feel compelled to buy anything - that's just a lagniappe. I recommend the site even to PC users who wouldn't be interested in the programs, just for the puzzles.

Enjoy the site. Just don't waste too much time.

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OK I've seen the cutesy internet-speak posters featuring semi-literate cats. And I was vaguely aware that the expression LOLcat referred to them. But I hadn't realized the meme had gotten quite so ..serious? ..elaborate? Maybe just so big.

Someone has been translating the bible into LOLcat language. Seriously. Or I should say, srsly.
The thing is, I don't think it's a parody. Purposefully funny, yes, but it somehow still seems reverent.
Ceiling Cat Creed
We blieves in one big kitteh, Ceiling Cat,
who maded teh urfs an teh skiez
an all teh cheezburgers an teh invizibul bicycles an stuff.

We blieves in one happycat, Jeebus,
onliest son ov Ceiling Cat,
bornded beefor all teh cheezburgers an stuffs,
He gots some Ceiling Cat in him, srsly, k?
He helpded Ceiling Cat makes all teh cheezburgers an stuffs.

Fer all teh kittehs he comez down frum teh ceiling
an beez a kitteh thru da Force an teh virjn Hello Kitty! wit no hankie pankies,
an was reely a kitteh, srsly.
He got teh crucify fer us kittehs by Pilate;
An gots todally pwned and faceplanted.
An caem bak to lief on teh thrd dai liek it wuz fortolded in teh Bible
An went bak up to teh Ceiling, an tuk a nappy in teh sunbeam nex to Ceiling Cat.
He will come bak daon frum teh Ceiling, to be teh judge ov teh live kittehs an teh dead kittehs.
An hiz kitteh kingdum bees furevr.

We blieves in Hovercat, teh giber ov life,
who comes frum Ceiling Cat an Happycat,
who we lurves jus like Ceiling Cat an Happycat,
an who tellz teh profits whut to sai.
We blieves in teh itteh bitteh kitteh committeh.
We DO NOT WANT baffs, but will hav wun fur furgivness.
We spektin to caem bak to life after we faceplant,
an lives furever in teh Ceiling.

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Mercury contamination has been found in nearly 50% of commercial high-fructose corn syrup, and in about a third of brand-name (Quaker, Hershey's, Kraft, Smucker’s, etc.) products that were tested (all had hfcs as the first or second ingredient).
Apparently the caustic soda used to separate corn starch from the kernel is often a by-product of other industrial processes that use mercury.
The corn refiners association says this is old news; they have only used mercury-free reagents for the last two years. The reporter seems somewhat skeptical on this point.
Could be a lot of corn syrup sensitivities are really mercury sensitivities.

Meanwhile, in the same online journal, they report that spruce waste from softwood mills is being explored as a stabilizer for emulsions -- look for it coming to a beverage near you. I just hope it's pre-paper pulp waste. Ever smell a paper mill?

There is also an article on how the Peanut Corporation of America knew that quality samples were coming back with salmonella contamination, but they chose to continue manufacture and merely send out samples for retesting. They've been doing that for two years.
Apparently the FDA itself hadn't inspected the plant in the last two years; it subcontracted to Georgia state officials.
Tally: 502 cases, 108 hospitalizations, and 8 deaths. A lawyer's wet-dream.

Meanwhile, the government insists that the food supply is just fine and "organic" is just a silly fringe movement with no science to back it up.
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Yesterday was day from Hell. Very cold. Like 10 or 15 below zero. But that was just the start.

My car - a VW diesel - was frozen. I've had it since 1999 and this is the first time it needed a block heater, so I guess the dealer wasn't completely wrong when he said I didn't need one. I noticed this at about noon when I was intending to go over to Jamie's house to work.

Phoned a friend, who suggested I set up a heater under the car. He said the ceramic heat cubes work well. I have one, but couldn't find it anywhere. I finally thought to use a heat gun. I called my mechanic to make sure that was OK, and asked him what else I could do. He said get some anti-gel, and it would be be good to have a battery charger handy. But of course, the car was frozen so I wasn't going anywhere. The heat gun wasn't doing a whole lot. I'd periodically go out and try starting the car; no go.

Meanwhile.... the pellet stove was going at a roar. I noticed that the flames were issuing not only from the burn pan, as was normal, but also from behind the burn pan and out the sides. It was still in the stove and contained, but it was not normal. I especially worried that the flame could somehow moveup the feeder into the fuel bin. So I brought the fire extinguisher in to where it was handy, and removed most of the pellets with a shovel. I also removed the large bank of ash from in front of the flame.

I tried to get some information as to whether this was normal. The manual was not helpful. The manufacturer's website was also not helpful, but it gave a customer support number, which I called. I ended up being on hold for maybe an hour. The really annoying part was the inane and seeming random recitations of the number of minutes it would be until I could talk to a real person. Finally gave up. Wrote an urgent email on the website. No answer.

The stove shuts itself off when it runs out of pellets. I let it do so (took a long time!) and watched. Looked to me that the flame was going back instead of forward because the air orifaces might be clogged. I built a fire in the wood stove (ha! to anyone who thought it odd that I left the wood stove in place when I installed the pellet stove!) and waited for the pellet stove to cool enough to clean it.

Back to the car. Tried again to start it; still frozen. About 5, I called my friend Barb and asked if I could borrow her car. Unfortunately, she'd have to drive over to get me. She said it would work if I could drive her right home, since she and Howard were leaving for a gig at 6. I'd have to be ready to go. So I fed the woodstove, put on my coat, hat, and gloves, and started to dismantle the heat gun arrangement (since I couldn't leave that going if I left the house). And tried one final time to start the car. It caught!

I called Barb immediately to let her know, but Howard said she had already left. So she drove over and back, needlessly, as it happens, but that she was willing to do so speaks volumes for her generosity and kind heart. Thank you, Barb.

I drove to AutoZone, taking the long route so the car could warm up and recharge the poor cold battery, and got some diesel anti-gel. I also bought a battery charger with money I don't have. I hate putting anything else on the credit card; I'm trying to get it paid off, and a charger is one of those things you can do without.. mostly. Many times over the years I've needed one and I've always managed to borrow one. It's about time I get one of my own, so I can be on the lending side of that equation. Besides, we have more cold weather ahead...

The pellet stove was still way too hot to clean. There were a lot of active hot coals in the ash bin. I fed the wood stove and went to Jamie's to work on the sound files for his movie.

When I got home, the cats were complaining that their water bowl was empty, so I went to fill it -- no water. Pipes were frozen. I went to the basement to check on the basement heater; it was functioning fine. While not exactly toasty, the basement was above freezing - which is why I have the heater there. So...? Turns out there is a vent about three feet over the main water inlet. It was blocked off for the winter, but there was a distinct freezing draft right on the main water pipe inlet. I stuffed a bunch of old fiberglass insulation between the pipes and the vent, braced it with some sticks, and placed an inspection light right next to the pipes. This was both for the heat of the incandescent bulb and for the outlet on the inspection light, into which I plugged heat tape. Haven't used the heat tape since before the basement heater was installed, but it was still there. Upstairs, I opened a couple of spigots a tiny bit so if the water started to thaw, it could move.

Firmly into the wee hours at this point, I went to bed.

I awoke to the blessed sound of dripping water, but the house down to 51 degrees. The wood stove didn't quite get through the night. The ashes in the pellet stove still contained live coals. I checked the basement -- no water leaks, thank goodness. But I left the tape and light on, since this was scheduled to be another frigid, though somewhat warmer, day. Brought in more wood, stoked the fire.

I still hoped to get down to NYC to my cousin's birthday party and for a visit with ndozo, but the car was frozen again and the woodstove not up to a long absence. At about 10:30, I realized there was no reasonable chance of getting to NY, so I dedicated myself to getting the pellet stove working again. The ash bin finally cooled enough that I moved the ashes (and some coals) into an enclosed ash bin. I found directions online that were much better than the manufacturer's directions, and discovered a number of ports and orifaces that needed cleaning. The process was very dirty. Afterwards, I showered, and did some computer work for awhile. Finally, about 4 pm, I filled the hopper and fired the stove up again. Eureka! Seems to be happy. So far so good. Somehow I feel like I've accomplished something.

There were other components to my day in hell -- I discovered my payment to a new Best Buy card had not been credited, leaving me with a 39 dollar late fee and worse, a supposedly no-interest purchase being charged nearly 21%interest. Nan tells me this is a not-uncommon pattern with them. But I'll save that for my next diatribe.

Right now, the house is warm, the cats are happy, and I'm getting to bed early for a change.

25 things

Jan. 1st, 2009 01:42 am
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This came from facebook, where you can "tag" people. Since I don't think you can "tag" people here, I guess I'm just presenting this as a meme game. It's an interesting New Year's exercise, though. Let me know if you do it-- I'd like to see what you've written.

"Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you."

1. My high school was very small --30 students-- and on an organic farm. Ecology was a required course.  This was long before it was "in" to be green. I'm constantly amazed at how much is being rediscovered that we knew back then; it's just that nobody wanted to listen then.

2. I took a year off between High School and College, and went on a mountain-climbing expedition. When I got home, I worked for a youth museum and as a teacher's aide.

3. I used to lead bicycle trips for American Youth Hostels - I did one from Seattle to San Francisco, and another in a big circle around England, France, and the Netherlands.

4. I taught for a semester at Thule Air Base in Northern Greenland. I was fascinated by the resiliance of the native culture, who had gone from first European contact to self-government in living memory.

5. In Greenland, I cross-country skiied out over the sea ice to a frozen-in iceburg and explored the caves. I would have gone farther but saw polar bear tracks and turned back.

6. I lived in Western Australia for a few months, and was appalled at the still-common attitude towards native peoples. I took a course in the Western Desert Language and many of my fellow students were members of the "Stolen Generation". If I had stayed, I would have taught ecology at the Kalgoorlie College of Mines.

7. I play a bunch of instruments; none particularly well. I have nonetheless managed to be onstage now and then, mostly just singing but sometimes playing backup. I used to be a regular session player in Portsmouth.

8. My kindergarten report card said, "Claire is very enthusiastic about everything, but must learn to play with others."  Some things never change.

9. In grade school, I used to hate doing homework, so I would stay after school with the detention kids and finish my homework, so I didn't have to bring anything home. I was a walker, so catching the bus was not an issue. Sometimes detention kids would get annoyed when I would just stand up and leave.

10. My mother was a writer, which taught me many things. I'd come home from school, bursting with news, and she'd hold up a hand and say "wait til I finish this paragraph". I think this was a good thing. I learned that she had a life other than being my Mom. And my first job was proofreading for her, when she was editor of a magazine. On the other hand, I was absolutely embarrassed as only a teenager can be when, in the course of writing an article about a rock concert, my Mom asked my best friend to get her some marijuana so she could understand what all the fuss was about.

11. I was an EMT for several years, as well as a State EMT examiner.

12. Once, in college, I was interested in two different boys. One day both asked me out for the same night, and I realized I had to choose. I asked myself what I really wanted, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was to hang out with another friend of mine. He was much older, and our relationship was distinctly platonic, but he was my best friend. I still don't know if that was a mistake; it certainly seems to have set the pattern for my relationships. I continue to value real friendship more than romance. Surely both are possible...?

13. I used to put myself to sleep by trying to follow my thoughts back to the place where there are no words. In that place there is no 'up' or 'down' and you lose the sense of where your body is.

14. I'm a lucid dreamer but I don't have a strong sense of my body in my dreams. Sometimes I'm an adult, sometimes a kid; sometimes male and sometimes female. Often I'm not even human. It's fun. I never used to understand why other kids didn't want to go to bed; to me, dreaming was better than watching a movie.

15. I once made a reed flute and left it for a grizzly bear. This happened during a time when I went alone into the wilderness, fasting, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

16. I'm most strongly motivated by wanting to do things for people I like.  This means that I put doing things for my friends first, then doing stuff for myself. Last comes doing things for people I don't like. The worst thing someone can do to motivate me is to criticise or badger me. It makes me dig in my heels. I suspect this is indicative of some deep complex or other.

17. I have twice thought that I had found the man I would marry and spend the rest of my life with. The first time was in college, with my first real boyfriend. The second time was much more recent. In both cases, I think a major factor in the breakup was an adolescent assumption that the other person knew more about what I was feeling than I expressed. Expectations and miscommunication. A bad combination.

18. After breaking up with my first fiancee/boyfriend, I moved to NH. I found that rents were high but you could get land cheaply. So I bought some land and a 17' travel trailer, and over the next six years built a small house. I was saving to put in a septic system when I was made an offer which I accepted.

19, Virtually all my adult life I have lived in a house I was either building or renovating. Building is easier.

20. I used to run Zephyr Productions, a concert series in Portsmouth. I tended to book great but obscure performers. My concert would lost money but gain the performers a following, and the next time around they would pack the hall. Unfortunatly, by that time I was out of business.

21. My biggest disappointment in life is my failure to have kids. I tried, both the natural and assisted routes.

22. I was the doula for the birth of my goddaughter. (A doula is sort of an assistant to the mother and midwife). It was one of the most awesome experiences of my life, and I was astonished when I burst into tears when she first emerged. The midwife told me that was not an uncommon reaction.

23. I was present at my mother's deathbed. It was a profoundly religious experience. One moment, she was there, in however damaged a body. The next moment she was not there, even though the cells of her body had not yet died. I cannot express the difference, but it was the most convincing argument for the existence of a soul I can imagine.

24. When I was a child, I read voraciously and immersed myself in the world of what I was reading to such an extent that I couldn't always tell the difference between something I had actually experienced and something I had merely read. But the imagined experience was real to the extent that I learned from it. Years later, my hanggliding instructor told us to visualize the launch sequence over and over until we could do it right in reality; I realized this was using the same technique.

25. I am blessed with my friends.
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Which creature of the night are you?
Your Result: Werewolf

You are a vicious fighter and a vicious lover, absolutely dedicated to your pack. You are pushed to anger by disloyalty and injustice and have a tendency toward sudden, periodic bursts of wild behavior.

Cthulu Spawn
Which creature of the night are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
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(The Socrates Cafe on NPR has this as a question this month. Because of the format of that discussion, I am trying to be somewhat provocative; this is meant to be part of a conversation, not my final considered word.)

In short, no. Not as we wage war today.

The theory of the Just War requires that first, there be a just cause. It cannot be just to recapture property or punish wrongdoers; it must be to prevent imminent danger to innocent life.

Second, all other means of solving the problem must be exhausted or shown to be ineffective.

Third, there must be serious prospects of success; the cause must not be futile.

Forth, the damage (including disorder afterward) caused by the war must not be greater than the damage caused by the original threat.

There are some situations that meet the first criterion; genocide in Darfur comes to mind. There is an immediate danger to innocent life. But those are not the situations we as a nation choose to involve ourselves in, or if we do, it is with measures that fall short of war.

We have a lousy record of meeting the second criterion. Political posturing is not the same as seriously attempting to negotiate or avoid war. Serious attempts to "exhaust all alternatives" would include actions that might cause us to lose face. But a Just War is waged to save lives, not face.

The third criterion requires that we have a clearly defined goal, and that we will know objectively when we have reached that goal. That goal should be just so much, and no more, than is needed to correct the original danger to innocent life. Again, our history is not good in this regard. Our so-called "war on terror" does not and cannot meet this criterion.

Lastly - and the real reason I answered "no" at the beginning -- when the theory of Just War was formulated, war was waged with swords. It was possible to restrict damage to combatants and prevent innocent deaths. This is no longer possible. Today, "collateral damage" in the form of innocent deaths is an accepted part of war. As long as that is true, war cannot be waged according to the criteria of a Just War.

Check the Wikipedia entry for "Just War" for more on the theory.

Note that, in true Socratic fashion, this question really hinges on "What is War?" Under "exhausting alternatives", would a well-planned police action count as war? How about an assassination? They are violent measures, but might more easily meet the third and fourth criteria.
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I think I just got some validation of my common-sense (as opposed to book-learned) economic ideas.

I've mentioned to various economists over the years that credit cards increase the money supply. This is usually part of a conversation about how raising interest rates is actually inflationary, despite the orthodox economic stance that you control inflation by raising interest rates. The economists I've talked to have usually looked a bit uncomfortable, but declined to explain why I'm wrong.

But I recently heard on the radio an economist talking about the recent crisis. He was asked "but where did all the money go?" His answer was money was not actually disappearing, but that since loans were not being made, the money no longer existed in essentially two places and this had the effect of shrinking the money supply. Aha! The flip side of that remark is that loans, including credit card usage, increase the money supply, as I've been saying for years.

Suppose I buy something for $100 and charge it. Now I have the goods worth $100, but the credit card company also has an asset (my loan) worth $100 on their books. That extra $100 has been created, just as surely as if the bank had a printing press in the basement. The money supply has been increased.

So the Fed doesn't really control the money supply; banks and credit card companies do. Increased money supply is both inflationary and results in a higher standard of living; the second is desirable but the first isn't.

Now if I don't pay my bill, the bank adds interest. I might spend as much as $125 for goods worth only $100. This doesn't represent any additional goods. That extra $25 doesn't need to be backed with bills; it's just made up. Once again, that increases the money supply and is therefore inflationary, but it doesn't contribute to a higher standard of living (it doesn't represent either goods or labor). The bad without the good.

Therefore, to control inflation, the interest rate should be lowered, not raised. The traditional theory of raising interest rates to lower inflation is based on the idea that debt is always discretionary. The reality today is that it isn't. Students graduate from college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. The average credit-card holder has $6000 in debt. Here in New England, an average worker with an average salary has to borrow money to pay the winter heating costs. Debt has become a normal and unavoidable part of the consumer economy.

One way to control the money supply would be to stop lending and wait for all the loan balances to be paid off. To really stop creating money, we would also have to stop charging interest. Ultimately, everything would be on a cash basis, and the Fed would have complete control of the money supply.

Without meaning to, this is what we have fallen into (except the stop charging interest part). But the sudden change has caused economic chaos, so the government is frantically trying to jump-start the lending process again.

An alternative, albeit still cataclysmic solution might be to assess the actual size of the money supply, adjust salaries and prices so that consumers would not find it necessary to borrow money, and then severely limit access to credit. That solution would put us back into the monetary state of the fifties or sixties, when consumers did not routinely use or need credit. This might not be a bad thing, but it would be incredibly hard to transition to from today's state (witness today's economy).

But the real question is, what does the government want the economy to do? Is it really necessary to control the money supply? If not, why not; if so, why? The "free market" favors unrestricted access to credit (ie an unregulated money supply) but it also doesn't "care" about either workers or consumers except as variables in an equation. I would posit that the first responsibility of government is to care for the populace.

I don't mean 'care for' in the sense of 'meet all their needs'. One also cares for the populace by creating a situation in which they can thrive. Politicians can debate the merits of encouraging people to make and keep as much money as possible versus an obligation to provide health care, jobs, or retirement.

But it is people who must thrive, not the abstract concept we call the "economy". We should never lose sight of that.


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August 2016

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