Posted by: Mike | June 24, 2008

Obama and Public Financing

Recently, presidential candidate Barack Obama opted out of his promise to adopt public financing for the fall campaign. Obama explained on his website that he will need the extra money to fend off attacks from conservative groups. What he didn’t say was that by opting out of public financing, he will be able to outraise McCain by about 100 million dollars. So, was Obama just doing what a typical politician would do- sacrificing his principles for the sake of expediency and convenience? Probably. But he would have to be a fool not to.

Consider the following: Republicans have consistently been better at fundraising than Democrats for years. For this reason, many Republicans have been hesitant about campaign finance reform, while Democrats have embraced it. Now the tables are turned, and its the Republicans who are crying foul. I think it’s about time, however, and so do many other Democrats. As it stands, the RNC has 50 million more dollars in the bank than does the DNC, which is struggling to fund the upcoming convention. So called “572 groups” that advocate for conservatives are poised to outspend comparable groups on the liberal front. If Obama had not opted out of public financing, he would have put himself in the same position many of his predecessors experienced – that of being outraised and outspent.

Furthermore, if Obama had taken the “principled” position – had he kept his word and embraced public financing- he would have vindicated all of the Clinton backers (such as myself) who argued that Obama was too soft to win the presidency. But Obama has proven that he is not soft. Not only has he rejected public financing, he has also demonstrated the ability to respond rapidly and thoroughly to vicious rumors and attacks launched by Republicans. When McCain suggested that Hamas had endorsed Obama, the Obama campaign was able to quickly rebut him. When McCain’s top advisor asserted that another terrorist attack would give his campaign a boost, Obama fired back with gusto. Obama has even launched a website dedicated to fighting vicious rumors about him (ex. that he is a Muslim).

Even so, will Obama’s rejection of public financing hurt his image as the change candidate? That depends on how much the media punishes him. But it is doubtful in this age of high gas prices, the war in Iraq, and an eroding healthcare system, that voters will choose to elect McCain because Obama refused to take 84.1 million taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign. Furthermore, Obama can point out that McCain used (or abused) the public financing system during the primaries to secure a line of credit worth 4 million dollars. McCain then tried to withdraw from the public financing system- a system which he had helped to set up.

Politics is and always has been a contact sport. It would be grossly unrealistic to expect Barack Obama to disadvantage himself to satisfy something he wrote on a questionnaire some months ago. If Obama were to accept public financing, he would be putting himself at a tremendous disadvantage to his Republican foe. Besides, when we consider the fact that Obama’s campaign is fueled by small donors, we must ask ourselves if this is not public financing, in a way. Whereas the McCain campaign still relies on large donors during this primary season (which is still going on, by the way), Obama has truly been able to inspire members of all socioeconomic classes to back his campaign. Would Obama’s detractors really be happier if the candidate took taxpayer dollars to fund his campaign? Probably, but the general public shouldn’t be. And besides, if this year’s presidential election is truly to be fair, the candidates must be on even financial ground. Obama accepting public funds certainly wouldn’t accomplish that.

Advertisements
Posted by: Mike | April 26, 2008

Al Gore- Can He Save His Party?

Now that Pennsylvania’s primary is over, the fight for the Democratic nomination is sure to last well into May. As John McCain consolidates his base and raises money, Clinton and Obama are busy spending their cash attacking each other. All the while, negatives for both of them are spiking as McCain becomes more competitive in national polls. How can Democrats get out of this mess? With Al Gore, of course.

Al Gore has become universally popular with the American people. His determined commitment to the environment has endeared him to a horde of conservationists whose dedication rivals that of Obama’s core fan base. Many Americans think that Gore was cheated out of the presidency in 2000, so he will not be burdened with the stigma of being a loser (as John Kerry would be). Gore is more likable than Clinton, and he comes without many of Obama’s negatives- namely his pastor.

Gore also has better demographic appeal than either Clinton or Obama. His stance on the environment is sure to be attractive to young voters. At the same time, (and I hate very dearly to have to say this) his race ensures that elderly voters will not be alienated. If Gore is chosen at the Democratic Convention, we will be able to avoid the wave of resentment that would come when Clinton or Obama supporters learn that their detested rival candidate has won the nomination. Gore is an excellent compromise. His anti-war credentials are at least as strong as Obama’s (he spoke out strongly against unilateral action back in 2002). He won’t be plagued by criticisms about his lack of experience, and he isn’t nearly as divisive as Clinton.

Gore is both a unifier and a fighter. His speeches are not as inspiring as Obama, but anyone who has watched An Inconvenient Truth knows that Gore is an excellent orator. Gore was hurt in 2000 because of his association with President Clinton, who was fresh from the Lewinsky scandal. That won’t happen in 2008. Gore barely lost when the Republican party was strong. He will surely win when the Republicans are as weak as they are now.

MR

Political correctness is a relatively new phenomenon. Though no one knows exactly when it emerged, most sources believe that political correctness was born in the mid to late 20th century. Political correctness refers to the use of language or behavior in a way that would be least offensive to certain groups of people. Beneath this seemingly benign definition of political correctness lies something far more sinister: a desire to kill. Yes, politcal correctness is out to kill you. Don’t believe me? Too bad – I’m not going to be politically correct about this topic.

There is nothing wrong with trying to establish a tolerant, open and accepting society. Up to a certain point, being politically correct does not harm anyone. For example, I have no objection to the use of the term “African American” over the cruder classification “black people”. But there are times when this drive to not offend goes too far.

In the early 1980s, the modern plague now known as the AIDS virus burst onto the world stage. The virus struck hard and fast in the United States, infecting thousands before our medical institutions fully mobilized. Doctors and researchers intent on not offending the gay community (which was hit first and hardest by AIDS) developed a dialect that was referred to as “AIDSpeak” by journalist Randy Shilts. Using a slew of politically correct terms, doctors and leaders of the gay community used AIDSpeak in an attempt to prevent alarm and to pre-empt homophobes who would use AIDS to further their agendas. As a result, few members of the gay community changed their behavior, and the virus killed thousands more than it should have.

Another infamous example of political correctness gone wrong can be found in women firefighters. Now, I have absolutely nothing against women becoming firefighters. In fact, one could argue that we need women firefighters because there aren’t enough men volunteers. But women must be held to the same standards as men. In a video dubbed “female folly”, women training to become firefighters were taped as they stumbled sloppily and failed to complete basic training maneuvers. Although this video is not necessarily indicative of women firefighters, it does raise an interesting (but politically incorrect) point. Why do some insist on ignoring the physical differences between men and women? The two genders are not the same; women are better at some things, and men are better at others. Denying this truth can be downright dangerous.

Even when political correctness does not endanger our lives, it can still have a negative impact on our quality of life. Think about it. The enforcement of politically correct language seeks to limit what we can say to inoffensive euphemisms. A grocery store sacker becomes a “courtesy clerk”. Garbage collectors become “sanitation workers”. Sure, this doesn’t seem like a big deal; and mabye it isn’t. But heaven forbid that you should use impolitically correct terminology. Someone might get offended- and that wouldn’t be good. That wouldn’t be good at all…..

MR

Posted by: Mike | April 22, 2008

Is Rap Crap? The Social Consequences of Rap

The music style known today as “rap” can trace its origins back to the late 1960’s. Since then, it has grown enormously popular among people of all races. Bred largely from the hardships and injustices faced by African Americans, the themes of rap songs are often rooted in the experience of living in an environment of poverty and violence. Tupac be ma homie bros. Due to its graphic content, rap has been accused by some as being a source of fuel for much of the inner city violence and drug abuse that occurs today. But is this fair? What consequences, if any, are associated with rap?

I must admit before going any further that I am not a diehard foe of rap. I actually love it fo shizzle. I even have a few hip-hop songs on my iPod; they come in handy for long-distance running. I also believe firmly that rap is the product, not the cause, of urban violence. But there is a strong case to be made that rap is harmful, particularly to the African American community.

A study released by Project Implicit, a group associated with Harvard, found that an overwhelming majority of white Americans have some kind of implicit bias against African Americans. The study also found that those free of implicit racism were also those who regularly came into contact with African Americans who they perceived as being positive role models. If these conclusions are valid (and I believe that they are), then it is reasonable for us to speculate on the effects that come from seeing rappers on television and hearing their music on a regular basis. Most rappers are not positive role models; exposure to these rappers by the media is sure to have a negative effect on how African Americans are perceived by themselves and other racial groups. Implicit racism is given new fuel every time characters like Snoop Dogg appear on television news, having just been arrested for charges related to guns or drugs. The stories of rappers like Tupac only exacerbate negative stereotypes of young black men as violent criminals.

There are other communities that suffer as a result of rap. The objectification of women is commonplace in rap. When prominent rappers who are admired and even idolized by their fans refer to women as “bitches”, “hoes”, and many other profane titles, it causes women to be seen as prizes or tools rather than as people. Homophobia is rampant among rappers, as Kayne West has passionately testified. Rap fuels prejudice against these groups, just as it fuels prejudice against young black men. Some might say that I am exaggerating the impact of rap on these groups; this may be true. But we are largely the product of our environment, and when we fill our environment with rap songs that degrade certain groups of people, we are bound to be influenced.

In addition to breeding prejudice, rap music also promotes a very negative lifestyle. Some have argued that rap is merely an expression of the reality of urban poverty, much as the songs sung by slaves in the 1800s were expressions of the suffering of slavery. But this is not quite accurate. Slaves did not glorify their lifestyle; they did not promote the lifestyle of slavery in their songs. But rappers often do glorify how they live, as in the song “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster”. I don’t think that any slave would have ever sung, “Damn it Feels Good to be a Slave.”

If most rap is crap, then how do we make it better? Certainly, government regulation would be a gross violation of freedom of speech. The demand for change must come from consumers- and it is unlikely to come anytime soon. After all, hip-hop music is awfully good for long distance running….

MR

Posted by: Mike | April 20, 2008

Should Marijuana Be Legal?

Marijuana has been around longer than history itself. For countless centuries, humans have enjoyed its enticing narcotic qualities. In more recent times, marijuana has been banned in many countries, sparking a debate as to whether or not this ancient drug has a place in modern society. Should marijuana be allowed in the US? Does it make sense to legalize marijuana for general consumption? What about for patients suffering from terrible diseases? The answer is no, and I’ll tell you why in the rest of this post.

It’s true that marijuana is less addictive than cigarettes. Marijuana does not have nicotine, or any other addictive substance to hook its users on. An addiction to marijuana is purely psychological- much like an addiction to alcohol or fatty foods. But marijuana is more potent than its addictive qualities suggest. In law enforcement circles, marijuana has become known as the “gateway drug”. This is because people who regularly use marijuana tend to become bored with the drug after awhile and move on to other heavier drugs. This trend, needless to say, has not been observed in cigarette addicts.

It may also be true that marijuana has therapeutic qualities that could help those with chronic diseases. But it is also true that the medical system that distributes medical marijuana can be easily abused. Take California, for instance. Medical marijuana is legal in California. But doctors in the state have observed that those apparently free of chronic malady have been able to obtain prescriptions for medical marijuana. In fact, distributors of the drug have sometimes seen young rich kids with prescriptions for medical marijuana. Cannabis “clubs” have formed in the state to sell medical marijuana illegally on the black market. And California is not alone; similar abuses have occurred in European countries. The Dutch government is even considering repealing its laws that make marijuana legal.

Some readers may be indignantly thinking to themselves, “It’s my body; I should be able to put whatever I want into my body.” But that’s not quite true. If you could do whatever you wanted with yourself, then the government would have no grounds to restrict you from taking heroin, crack, or any other hard-core drugs. Such an argument disregards the harm done to society by poor personal decisions. I am no moralist; I support the legalization of prostitution because I believe that it serves the common good. But legalizing marijuana would only harm society. It is a basic tenant of government that the people must give up certain rights in order to prevent chaos. This tenant applies to the marijuana controversy perfectly.

Some have also argued that legalizing marijuana, and perhaps other hard-core drugs, would benefit society for economic and criminal reasons. They contend that if the government sold the drugs that are currently illegal at discount prices, it would effectively end the violence associated with the drug trade. This may be true, but consider what the government would have to do to implement that plan. They would have to sell drugs at prices cheaper than that of the drug dealers. This would ensure a safe, reliable, and affordable stream of drugs to every junkie in the nation. No longer would drug addicts have to worry about police stings. No longer would they have to fret about whether or not their dealer will exploit them by raising the price of their favorite drug once they’ve been hooked. The result of such a policy would be disastrous.

The issue of marijuana’s legal status is not the most pressing of our time. The sky will certainly not fall in if marijuana is legalized. But there would be negative social consequences, and the stage would be set for thousands of people to try marijuana, only to get hooked later on in life on harder drugs.

 MR

Posted by: Mike | April 18, 2008

Who’s More Electable – Clinton or Obama?

Who stands a better chance at beating John McCain in November – Clinton or Obama? This is a question that has been debated since the beginning of the primary elections. Both Clinton and Obama bring different goodies to the table of the general election. Both appeal to different demographics, and both have different strengths and weaknesses. However, one of them is more electable than the other. If you want to know which one, you’ll just have to read on… to the next line.

Clinton is more electable than Obama. There, I said it. Are you happy now? You probably aren’t – after all, the Internet is full of Obama supporters, and you’re probably one of them. To be sure, Clinton has her negatives. Many Americans consider her to be dishonest. She can’t turn out the youth vote like Obama, and her fundraising abilities – though unprecedented compared to fundraising in previous elections- still come up short compared to Obama.

Despite her problems, Clinton is still the candidate with more reliable voters. The youth vote is terribly volatile; you never know whether young people will show up on election day, or whether they’ll stay at home. Clinton’s demographic of older people (particularly women) is far more reliable. Despite Clinton’s shortcomings when it comes to fundraising, consider the fact that Obama stated in a questionnaire that he would be willing to accept a publicly financed campaign if McCain would do the same. This means that each candidate would get $80 million taxpayer dollars to spend on their campaign. It would also mean that neither candidate would be able to accept private donations, essentially crippling Obama’s fundraising advantage. If Obama walks away from his pledge in the questionnaire, he will be branded as a dishonest flip-flopper by Republicans. We all know how that worked out in 2004…

Clinton is also better equipped to win major swing states. She trounced Obama in Ohio, despite being outspent 3 to 1. She beat him in Florida by a huge margin, though no campaigning was allowed in that state. She does well among working class “Reagan Democrats” who might go for McCain if the “elitist Obama” were nominated. Lastly, we don’t have to worry about Clinton’s pastor being integrated into Republican attack ads come November. Like it or not, Reverend Wright (Obama’s notorious pastor) is a huge stumbling block. Many swing voters anxious about electing the first African American president will find an excuse to vote for McCain when they hear Reverend Wright’s, “GOD DAMN AMERICA!!!” blasting from their televisions and radios every few hours. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair – but it is politics. And the Clintons are masters of politics.

MR

Posted by: Mike | April 16, 2008

Ron Paul’s Ideology: Brilliant or Hideous?

In the 2008 Republican primaries, Ron Paul was one of the most interesting, dynamic candidates in the race. Full of passion and unique ideas, he was able to raise millions from the Internet while enticing a small horde of young voters to his campaign. Anyone who watched the Republican debates knows that Ron Paul added flavor and entertainment to an otherwise bland occasion. As amusing as Ron Paul often was, however, his ideology presents an inescapable danger to the US.

It has been said by Howard Dean that Republicans want to take the US back to the 1950’s. Ron Paul, however, has no interest in taking America back to those “good old days”. Instead, Ron Paul is the ultimate reactionary; he wants to take America’s foreign and fiscal policy back to the 1930’s. In addition to the withdrawal of troops from Iraq (a good thing), Ron Paul would yank US troops out of every corner of the world. This not only means withdrawing from places where we are no longer needed (e.g. Eastern Europe), but also places where US troops are crucial to maintaining regional security (e.g. Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and possibly South Korea). Ron Paul would withdraw the US from NATO, severing our long-standing alliance with western Europe. In effect, Ron Paul advocates a return to the foreign policy of the isolationists and the America First crowd that got us into so much trouble before WWII (many historians speculate that WWII could have been prevented if the US hadn’t been so isolationist).

If Ron Paul’s foreign policy is unsettling, his fiscal policy is downright frightening. Not content to take our fiscal policy back to the 1930’s, Paul would instead take it back to pre-WWI days. He has advocated for the implementation of the gold standard and the abolition of the Federal Reserve. He would like to abolish the income tax – the tax by which the US government raises most of its revenue (this is an example of one of the attractive but unrealistic views held by Paul). Ron Paul would effectively end FICA by allowing young people to opt out of the program. He would withdraw from NAFTA and implement a trade policy similar to that of the laissez faire era. Ron Paul’s fiscal policies would exacerbate income disparity and leave the US economy wide open for devastating recessions.

If there is one issue that I agree with libertarians on, it is that of personal liberty. But Ron Paul is no advocate of personal liberty. Ron Paul describes himself as an “unshakable foe” of abortion rights. Ron Paul spoke out strongly against the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence vs Texas (2003), in which it was ruled that anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional. Paul justified his criticism of the court by saying that the individual states should have the right to decide whether or not to have such laws. In essence, Paul puts the rights of the states to pass discriminatory laws above individual liberty. Ron Paul refused to take a stand against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in a Republican debate, when asked about it. He has even said that he would not vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it were reintroduced today, arguing that the courts can’t read people’s minds to tell if they are discriminating against minorities in employment or access to services. Lastly, Ron Paul has stated that he does not believe in evolution, though he claims that such a belief is irrelevant (in my view, it most definitely is not).

Ron Paul derives his views on everything from economics to foreign and social policy from a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He is notorious for citing the “original intent” of the Constitution in justifying his views (e.g. the Founder’s sought to avoid entangling alliances; therefore, we must withdraw from NATO). While there is absolutely nothing wrong with idolizing our nation’s Founders, it is wholeheartedly foolish to allow the dead hand of generations long past to dictate our nation’s policies. The world has changed so much since the Constitution’s birth; only a flexible interpretation of the founding document will allow it to stand the test of time.

To answer the question posed by this article’s title, Ron Paul’s ideology is thoroughly hideous. Because Paul is so earnest and because his ideas are so unique, there is a deep temptation for those wanting change to support him. But the only change that Ron Paul plans to deliver would be grossly reactionary. His ideas would stifle progress by decentralizing political power and by taking this country back to the pre-WWII era. That, needless to say, would be most hideous.

MR

Posted by: Brad | April 16, 2008

Consciousness a Problem

The inner universe of our minds is ironically one of the hardest of phenomena to study. We all should know the basics. Senses, emotions, memories, ideas – all are the raw materials of consciousness. But where does the brain come in? How are your subjective experiences explainable by neurons and synapses? (Or are they explainable?) Generally, in neuroscience and psychology, these questions are phrased as two different problems of consciousness.

The first part is the “easy problem.” It is basically a question of cognition, or how we process information. Our attention span, language skills, learning abilities, memory capacity, perception qualities, and problem solving abilities have been well-documented and explain a great deal of mental activity. After that there is the second part, or the “hard problem,” and it is in a totally different league. Why is there any experience at all if we are only physical machines and bodies of cells? More generally, what kind of automaton (e.g. the brain, a computer, a cell, and so forth) could generate consciousness? This is a harder scientific question than the easy problem for one simple reason: it could even be metaphysical.

Language skills

_

Problem Solving

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts the questions of consciousness into three categories: descriptive, explanatory, and functional. Essentially this asks What? How? and Why? Describing consciousness is the easy problem, explaining it is the hard problem, and the question of its function is something not normally addressed with the first two. The question of its function comes down to how it is an adaptation in our evolutionary past. There are some ideas that say it is for free will, motivation, better flexibility (like learning), social coordination, and better cognition (like accessing cumulative information we gather). I’ll say a little more about the first two in the rest of this article.

There are some simple features of consciousness that everyone is familiar with. I would mark qualia, phenomenology, subjectivity, and flow as the major ones that are most self-evident. Qualia are the raw feelings of sensory perception that you have. How the world sounds, looks, feels, tastes, and smells to us. Isaac Newton wrote “to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.” Behind the experience of qualia is phenomenology. Phenomenology refers to the organization that is intrinsic in consciousness. The “phenomena” are our thoughts and ideas we use to model the world. (SEP says “… the phenomenal structure of experience is richly intentional and involves not only sensory ideas and qualities but complex representations of time, space, cause, body, self, world and the organized structure of lived reality …”) Subjectivity is something of a casual term that we all know of. Subjective experience is dependent on point of view, and perhaps to some degree, it is uncommunicable to other people. For example, what is it like to be a cat? How would you know for sure? Finally, the dynamic flow of mental life is the storyline played out in your head. William James called it the “stream of consciousness.”

What is it like to be a cat?

What is it like to be a cat?

There is an explanatory gap present in trying to account for how consciousness exists. In a physical, material universe, it is hard to make sense of how consciousness arises and emerges from it. In spite of this there are numerous attempts to respond to this problem. Some are pretty common such as dualism (from Rene Descartes), where the soul is independent of the physical universe, or a closely related concept, idealism (from George Berkeley), where some contents of consciousness are uninvolved with matter. Other explanations seem odd or just plain absurd, like direct realism (from Thomas Reid), which says that the contents of consciousness are the world itself, or panpsychism (from Gottfried Leibniz), the notion that all matter is conscious. Emergence theory and epiphenomenalism posit that consciousness is the result of the brain’s immense complexity, and is therefore a physical construct. (For example, Hofstadter wrote a book I am a Strange Loop, saying consciousness is analogous to a sort of feed-back loop due to its self-reference, the “I.”) A strange combo of this idea that and quantum physics is supported by Roger Penrose and some other scientists, called OOR. Their theory says a special quantum computation goes on in the mind allowing it to supersede some of the capabilities of rigid programming that regular computers have. (He argues his case in his book Emperor’s New Mind.)

The Cartesian Theater, representing Descartes’
view of the soul in relation to the world

Another very impressive question is whether or not consciousness is actually something that makes choices. It is conceivable that our consciousness is merely a byproduct of our deterministic brain so that consciousness is only an endpoint and does not have any control over the brain’s processing. Perhaps you’re just along for the ride!

Some people (like Colin McGinn) say the hard problem is insoluble. Others (like Daniel Dennett) say it is an illusion; there is no hard problem. Still more (like David Chalmers) disagree with that, saying purely physical explanations are lacking. Take a look at the philosophical zombie, the Chinese room, the color expert Mary, and the Turing test for an idea of controversial issues with physicalism. A philosophical zombie is a theoretical human being that functions just as we do, exhibiting all of the ordinary behavior, but is not conscious. This begs the question, “What distinguishes conscious from non-conscious beings?” The Turing test is a situation played out between computers and humans where both a program and a real subject communicate with real interviewers, and if the interviewers cannot agree if the program is human, it is declared sentient. This raises the issue of whether or not it is even feasible to discern between conscious and non-conscious beings. (In AI research, this Turing test has been carried out in real life and is a part of an annual competition to see who can code the “most” human program.) The Chinese room is where a man sitting in a closed room, using instruction books, “translates” Chinese to English (or back), but does not truly “understand” Chinese. What makes up true comprehension? Lastly, the color expert Mary is a hypothetical scientist who learns all of the academic information about the color red possible, but then experiences seeing it for the first time afterwards. (Many people debate what her experience would be like.) What is the difference between qualia and information about qualia? These thought experiments flesh out some of the ambiguities we have in understanding consciousness, which prove problematic in reliably answering the hard problem.

An xkcd-twisted version of the Turing test

And so the debate on the hard problem still persists, and one still wonders how and even if the problem can be solved. Can it even be properly understood? Is it in the realm of metaphysics or science? How can we tell? Is there anything obvious being overlooked? Surely, the hard problem of consciousness ranks right up there with solving the millennium problems and interpreting/understanding quantum theory. It is easily one of the hardest problems of the universe, yet it is what you live every day.

BH

Posted by: Mike | April 14, 2008

Gay Marriage

Gay marriage is a unique issue in that it is immensely contentious and in that it directly affects very few Americans. Yet, election after election, politicians are grilled on the question of whether or not two people of the same gender should be allowed to marry. In country after country, conservative religious institutions pour millions of dollars of their precious resources into organizing rallies to protest gay marriage and civil unions. What would happen if gay marriage became legal in the US? Could there really be immense social consequences to broadening the definition of marriage to include gays and lesbians? To find out, we will examine evidence from some of the 5 countries that have already legalized same sex marriage (the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and South Africa).

Social conservatives use a buffet of scrumptious arguments to try to discredit the idea of gay marriage. The first of these, favored by many Catholic institutions, is that gay marriage would lead to higher divorce rates. This argument is blatantly false; in fact, Massachusetts (the only state in the US where gays are allowed to marry) has the lowest divorce rate of any state in the union. Contrast that to the divorce rates in states like Texas and Mississippi, where gay marriage is banned, and you will find that states with the highest divorce rates are almost unanimously the reddest states in the US of A. Furthermore, there has been no spike in divorce rates in European countries after the legalization of gay marriage. Indeed, evidence strongly suggests that the advent of no-fault divorces in the 1900s has been the main cause for higher divorce rates in the western world. So much for Argument #1.

The Pandora’s Box argument goes as follows: “If you expand the definition of marriage to include homosexuals, how can you deny marriage to polygamists, incestuous relationships, and bestiality?” This argument is becoming slightly less popular, although commentators like Bill O’Reilly still use it. The simple fact is that none of the countries that have legalized gay marriage have gone on to expand marriage to include the groups above. There is no evidence whatsoever that giving gays the right to marry will lead to a larger expansion of marriage eligibility. Furthermore, the state has a vested interest in keeping many of the groups above from marrying; just look at the terrible abuse of women that goes on in many polygamist communities. It is also worth pointing out that animals cannot sign a marriage license (except perhaps apes…..dear God, not the apes…..).

The third and final argument against gay marriage that I will present (there are several other arguments that are even more foolish) is that legalizing gay marriage will harm children, as married gay couples would be able to adopt more easily. Though the idea of gay adoption makes many heterosexuals queasy, it is worth pointing out that the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other reputable organizations all hold that gays are just as good at parenting as heterosexuals. Indeed, the single most important factor in deciding which households are fit to adopt is whether or not the household is a loving one.

So… if there are no valid arguments for banning same-sex marriage, what are the arguments for legalizing it? Simply put, marriage is a fundamental right. It is not a privilege- privileges are earned, and I defy anyone to tell me how heterosexuals like Britney Spears earned the privilege to marry people they barely know. Though it is true that there are limitations on the right to marry, there is no reason why these limitations should be applied to gays and lesbians (ie. the state has no interest in banning gay marriage). The Constitution guarantees that all citizens shall be treated equally under the law- this includes marriage law.

Although only 25% of Americans voice support for gay marriage in most polls, a plurality of the nation’s youth support giving gays the right to wed over civil unions or no recognition. Gay marriage is probably inevitable in the US; the only way for social conservatives to stop it is with a Constitutional Amendent (very unlikely). Heterosexuals continue to use gays and lesbians as scapegoats for social ills like high divorce rates and dropping marriage rates. This is pure foolishness- the decriminalization of adultery, the end of restrictions on contraceptives, no-fault divorces, and the legalization of cohabitation are the real culprits of the decline of marriage. Heterosexuals, not homosexuals, passed these laws. Marriage will not be harmed by including new, eager participants- it will only be strengthened.

MR

PS: For fun check out http://www.gayvote.com/.

Posted by: Mike | April 13, 2008

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is undoubtedly one of the touchiest subjects in modern American politics. Inextricably linked to the issue of race, discussions of affirmative action are often tense and are sometimes heated. Proponents of affirmative action claim that it is a necessary step toward achieving racial (and, in some other countries, gender) equality. But should the government be promoting affirmative action? Is affirmative action the same thing as reverse discrimination? Read on, and be enlightened.

Affirmative action refers to the practice of giving a non- dominant or minority group preferential treatment in employment or access to educational institutions. In addition to this preferential treatment, governments using an affirmative action program will reach out to minority groups through advertising campaigns or propaganda to entice them into to bettering their situations. Affirmative action in the United States began in 1961, when President Kennedy issued an executive order requiring that federal works projects “take affirmative action” to ensure non-discrimination in employment. Since then, affirmative action has evolved into the practise of giving preferential treatment to minority groups, particularly African Americans.

Those who support affirmative action in the US point to large wealth disparities between white and black Americans. They point to the long history of racial prejudice, beginning with slavery. Many advocates will point to studies which show that implicit racism is rampant in America (a Harvard study estimated that 80% of whites and 50% of blacks held implicit prejudices against African Americans). Therefore, they conclude, affirmative action is necessary in leveling the playing field.

There are a few problems with these arguments, however. Though it is true that large wealth disparities exist in America and that blacks have been subjected to horrible oppression in the past, we must ask ourselves this question: Who will decide when African Americans have truly achieved equality under affirmative action? If the purpose of affirmative action is to achieve racial equality, who will be the one to decide when affirmative action has accomplished its goals? Before you answer this question, keep in mind that the most stalwart advocates of affirmative action are not poor black people, but rather middle and upper class African Americans. If racial parity were magically achieved in this country tomorrow, odds are that these advocates would not disappear, but would only lobby all the harder to maintain affirmative action policies.

There is a second, far more profound reason to oppose affirmative action. This reason stems from the fact that affirmative action programs in the US inevitably discriminate against other minority groups. The most striking example of this is the “Asian Fail”, a term which refers to Asians who score higher on standardized tests and get better grades in school, but who are denied admission to colleges over less qualified candidates due to affirmative action policies. A 2005 study by the Center for Equal Opportunity found that Asian Americans were admitted to the University of Michigan at a rate of 54%, compared to admission rates for Hispanics and African Americans that exceeded 70%. Yet, the study also revealed that the Asian applicants had scored a median of 140 points higher on the SAT than Hispanics, and 240 points higher than African Americans. Far from promoting equality, affirmative action programs in our nation’s colleges clearly proliferate discrimination and unfairness.

Another reason to be skeptical of affirmative action is that it harms race relations. Neo- Nazi groups routinely use affirmative action to demonize African Americans and appeal to poor white youth (ex. by suggesting that all of the good jobs available to poor youth will be given to African Americans via affirmative action). Less extreme examples can be found among non- black students and job-seekers who feel they are the subjects of reverse discrimination in college and job applications. Affirmative action is even used by some conservatives to suggest that prominent African Americans owe their career successes to preferential treatment. (See the second paragraph of Conservapedia’s entry on Barack Obama, for an example: “He has no clear personal achievement that cannot be explained as the likely result of affirmative action.”) In terms of race relations, affirmative action harms everyone involved.

A final reason to oppose affirmative action comes in the form of a question: Who should be included in affirmative action programs? Simple, right? Wrong! Virtually every minority group in the US can claim a history of discrimination. This includes not only African Americans and Hispanics, but also Asians, the Irish, Jewish Americans, gays and lesbians, and even short people (discrimination of the short trumps discrimination against blacks in the business world). It would be impossible to fit every group that has been discriminated against due to immutable characteristics into an affirmative action program, even if we limited the program to those groups with significant income disparities. In fact, it is inevitable that some of these minority groups will end up being the objects of further discrimination due to affirmative action (ex. the Asian Fail, as mentioned above). There is simply too much discrimination against too many minority groups in US history to make an equitable affirmative action program feasible.

I sincerely hope that I have not offended anyone by making this article. I would like to point out that though I am a white male, I would stand to benefit if affirmative action were implemented in some of the colleges I will be applying to (white undergraduates make up only 31% of the population at UC Berkeley, my top college choice). Yet, there are too many flaws bound to affirmative action programs for me to be able to support them. Perhaps affirmative action programs could be revised by making socioeconomic status the factor that determines who benefits from them. Or perhaps affirmative action should simply be abolished, to be remembered only as a sordid program in America’s long history of racial blunders. Either way, the status quo is unfair and untenable, and must be changed.

MR

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories