Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in deserving them.
A friend of mine recently introduced me to the notion of torturing one's students to death slowly as an educational exercise. So, here we go!
zengeneral posted a slightly tongue-in-cheek platform statement that I thought about and responded to here and here. Then it occurred to me: it might cause him great, endless misery to know it had been turned into a meme! Plus, my other students would reply to it (right, y'all?)
OK, here goes.
Please summarize your position on the following in a sound bite or one-liner and post this in your LiveJournal:
War & Peace
Energy & Oil
Budget & Economy
Welfare & Poverty
Technology & Infrastructure
Edit, 09:35 CST - Whoops! That'll teach me to post at 04:13.
Education: Incentives for Public, Private, Both, or Neither?
Health Care: Nationalized or Privatized?
Families & Children
Principles & Values
GLBTPπ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Pansexual, and Piesexual) Rights
The Middle East and U.S. Relations with Islamic Countries
Right to Die
Here are my answers (work in progress):
Foreign Policy: In my opinion, America derives strength from diversity and openness, but it has been becoming increasingly isolationist. The irony is that this isolationism, in the name of a perceived hegemony, makes America more vulnerable to the deterioration of its reputation, the depredations of its enemies, and the ill effects of its government's errors. Stefan Sokolowski, a colleague of mine, once said that 21st century America reminds him of 18th century Poland under the Nobles' Commonwealth, before the Three Partitions, in that its intelligentsia went abroad and famously fell under foreign influence. The lesson I draw from this, however, is that internal divisiveness is the beginning of the end - not foreign influence itself. "We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately," said Benjamin Franklin.
War & Peace: While it is true that humanity has never been entirely free of war even for a short period of its history, we should - we must - keep trying. Si vis pacem, para bellum (if you wish peace, prepare for war) is a sound defense strategy, but we could equally say: Si vis bellum, para bellum; si vis pacem, para pacem. Give peace a chance. I swear, it's not too late.
Free Trade is desirable if and only if there is mutual benefit. It can be a way to open up profit potential with trading partners, especially developing nations that are new partners. I do not believe that all free trade agreements hold mutual benefit, but I generally oppose protectionist stances, especially unilateral protectionism.
Immigration: America has thrived by opening its doors to immigrants with a high level of talent, intelligence, education, and technical skill. Meritorious standards for immigration are good. So is a moderated degree of compassion: America has also thrived by accepting immigrants fleeing certain historical disasters. As a child of American immigrants, I put a lot of stock in Emma Lazarus's "The New Colossus". Do we still grok this sonnet? Do we still live it as a people?
Energy & Oil: Big Energy exemplifies the worst in American plutocracy. The temptation to give in to greed and the worst of selfish human nature runs rampant in its high profit-to-conscience potential. I support research in long-term energy solutions such as fusion as well as increased reliance on alternative fuels (bioenergy) and renewable (solar, wind, geothermal) energy.
Also, human dynamos are good; not human lipid combustion as zengeneral modestly proposes, but sproglet power. It's good for their health! Get your kids on treadmills today.
Gun Control: Some regulation of firearms is necessary. I disagree with the NRA position that education in the responsible use and keeping of firearms is alone sufficient. If this were true, there would be fewer incidents of guns being turned against their owners; and if the education currently mandated by law were sufficient, the United States would not have as high an incidence of injury and death due to firearm accidents. People kill people, and sometimes they kill people with guns. I do not yet own a firearm, and if I did, I would not keep it in my home or on my person for self-defense. I support the rights of qualified individuals to own and carry firearms, but I believe that the first clause of the Second Amendment, referring to the necessity of a well-regulated militia, is often (disingenuously) ignored to the detriment of constitutional law. Context is important.
Crime: "To make someone stop doing something," wrote Orson Scott Card, "you have to make him stop wanting to do it." Education, social reform, and genuine deterrence are more important in that sense than enacting draconian punishments, which can lead to tremendous injustice. Crimes should be punished fairly, with consistent standards for imprisonment (e.g., set reasonable, even lenient, minimum sentences, but do not let the guilty walk free and do not release wealthy or otherwise privileged criminals early). Prisons should be there for the purpose of rehabilitation as well as incarceration; our pop culture references to inhumane living conditions, including prisoner rape, give the lie to this.
Drugs: Prescription drugs should be regulated to control abuse. Certain drugs such as cocaine, opiates (e.g., opium/morphine/heroin/fentanyl), and amphetamines are both harmful and addictive; therefore, their production and distribution should be prevented by law enforcement. Chemical behavioral modifiers in general are potentially very harmful, and education in responsible use - especially abstinence - should be mandated and funded by government. Treatment for addiction should be cheap or free. We need to do better than just asking our private citizens for anti-drug ideas and cracking down primarily on the user. The excessive crackdown on the casual marijuana user is an example of this double standard in priorities. "Just say no"? Make it possible. Make it desirable. Make it worth while.
Civil Rights are the responsibility of society and its government. Preservation of individual civil liberties, such as the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press is not just a constitutional guarantee; making sure they are honored is part of America's contract, its covenant, with its people.
Jobs: Maintenance of a healthy and competitive job market is of paramount importance to the economy and the future. Whether you favor a more or less capitalistic business law, a more or less socialized system of social welfare, you should recognize that America's future has and continues to live in its people; its economy, in their livelihood; its prosperity and leadership, in their personal well-being.
Environment: Our environment must be protected as we have at present only one planet, and not enough to go around as it is. Malthusian economic theory reminds us that we need to stay aware of and responsible about our consumption of resources. Whether you believe we owe it to our descendants, the earth, our Creator(s), or the future - we owe it. Alternative energy sources should be researched, and practical findings should be disseminated, not quelled. Pollution should be curtailed; remediation should be accelerated. As the leading consumers of the world, we have been lax and lazy about this.
Budget & Economy: A balanced budget is important; a trade surplus or reduction in trade deficit is even more important. Create jobs and you create the future. Knee-jerk protectionism is not the answer. Education, productivity, innovation, and technological superiority should take precedence over futile hand-wringing over free trade and outsourcing. Becoming and staying better than the competition is the American way.
Government Reform: Special interest groups have made too many inroads into American politics. This goes for both conservatives and liberals. I support privately-funded advertisements, but campaign contributions should be regulated and reasonably limited. We need to return to the age of intelligent discourse; the 11, 9, and 7-second sound bites of the 1980s and 1990s were bad enough; the 5-second one is inane. We should be raising a nation of thinkers, not idiots.
Tax Reform should favor equity in pay across demographics: income level first and foremost, but also place of residence, gender, and ethnic origin. "Everything should be made as simple as possible - but no simpler," as Albert Einstein said.
Social Security is very likely nearing obsolescence. Many bailout plans exist, and some that involve its reform are actually good ones. We should not deny that the problem exists, and our leaders need to be sincere about how funds that could be used to salvage and repair Social Security are being allocated.
Welfare & Poverty: Social welfare is important. Letting extreme poverty persist is tantamount to "eating the seed corn". America's strength is in its people. Our people fill a role like that of the "good earth" in Pearl Buck's novel: when we let them down, there will be little left worth preserving in American society. Public funds for social welfare are therefore important, especially for enabling people to become self-sufficient.
Technology & Infrastructure are very important, in my professional opinion. Clearly, I have a vested interest, but I do believe that our information and telecommunications infrastructure is a critical aspect of America's leadership and presence as a world superpower, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, as long as we remain a leader. Our transportation and manufacturing infrastructures are also important.
Education: Ignorance is a fire, and poverty its tinder. Free (or inexpensive), high quality public education is a right that I believe is part of the American social contract. Having attended both public and private institutions through primary, secondary, and higher education, I feel qualified to state that private education can be good, but should not become America's last, best hope.
Health Care: Accessible, affordable health care is another part of the American social contract that we have not made good upon. I support a more socialized degree of health care if only to reduce the level of bureaucracy and decrease the number of incompetent and unreasonable decisions that are made in our country under the influence of HMOs.
Abortion is a matter of a pregnant woman's choice, and between her and her physician. It is also an unfortunate practice for which contraception provides one way to reduce the necessity. Economic reasons for abortion abound, and should be minimized; pro-life persons in our government should put its money where their mouths are. Partial-birth abortion is a cruel way to end a third-trimester pregnancy and should be replaced with more humane means to terminate a technically viable fetus if and when necessary. ETA - some afterthoughts: Yes, abortion is killing, and we should not seek to sugar-coat that. I personally believe the severity of the killing is continuously proportional to the viability of the fetus (a soft step function, not a jump discontinuity at conception or at birth), but that's just my opinion. Some killings ought to be a matter of normative ethics and not of law. In other words, one cannot legislate morality in the general case. That is not to say that ethics are a matter of personal taste, nor that social consensus, which is, after all, a basis of law, has no place in policy-making. On the specific issue of reproductive freedom, IMO, it is between the individual and what higher powers exist, not between her and those who would impose moralistic law. I happen to personally agree with both the statement that curtailment of reproductive freedom is a form of oppression (witnessed by the continued backlash against the sexual revolution) and Mother Teresa's assertion that "It is a poverty to decide that an unborn child must die so that you may live as you wish". As do most other freedoms, this one comes with responsibilties and consequences for abuse.
Families & Children: Support for family units, traditional and otherwise, is important, especially keeping children fed, clothed, housed, and transported. Safety, mental and physical health, and education are also reasons the integrity of a family is important. America is, however, supposed to be a free society, which means that the sovereign rights of the individual should not be trampled for the sake of this integrity. It is all too easy to fall into an oppressive mindset, or at least become complacent in the face of curtailed individual freedoms.
Corporations: Corporate greed is perennial, and leads to poverty and the dissipation of American skills and work ethics. When The Apprentice is the best we can do, we are in trouble. I advocate responsible business, big or small: considerate of private citizens and public health, practiced with a (real) conscience. "Big" tobacco gets no love from me, nor do big fossil fuels (oil and coal) where they fail to consider the environment and public welfare.
Principles & Values: "You have to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything," goes the Aaron Tippin song. Conversely, as Rodney Crowell wrote, "it's not for me to judge". Respect for other's beliefs is key. Tolerance is not a bad word, in my opinion; intolerance generally is. One can have moral principles without necessarily subscribing to your precise value system, or your faith.
Affirmative Action: Necessary at present, but the purpose of its existence is phased obsolesence as inequities due to racial and gender bias are reduced - which has not sufficiently happened yet.
Death Penalty: Elective euthanasia for capital crimes. Suspension on all other executions except under military law in case of tactical need.
Drug War: Drug control, especially reduction of traffic and consumption of dangerous drugs, is a good thing. The current "War on Drugs" in America is largely a failure, due in part to lapses in education and more targeting of users and petty dealers than distribution channels and cartels. Legalization and careful regulation of marijuana, a harmful drug, would do less damage than current practice.
Flat Tax: A flat tax promulgates income inequities. A continuous, nonlinear tax function with some caps is appropriate; none of these stupid "brackets". Continuity and smoothness are good. Learn linear algebra and calculus, you stupid politicians.
GLBTPπ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, Pansexual, and Piesexual) Rights: Yes, including the right to marriage. Especially woodchucks, ducks, and apple pies. (See me flout the MLA comma rule!)
"My gift to you," as zengeneral wrote.
As for pie: If you really like McDonald's this much, you need more help than I can give you.
Illegal Immigrants: Excessive deportation is likely to be inequitable as certain groups of illegal immigrants are targeted. In brief: keep the laws, make them fair and reasonable, enforce them consistently.
The Middle East and U.S. Relations with Islamic Countries: Islam is a significant religion to which many of our citizens adhere. It is not going away. Normalize relations with Middle Eastern countries and show them we are a civilized nation.
Right to Die: Support for explicit, written living wills by adults and minors ruled competent to decide (this ruling is a fine line). No one else should be able to decide for you. Legal physician-assisted suicide in cases of extreme incurable illness. Anything else, you're on your own. ETA: By physician-assisted suicide, I mean "no heroic measures" in the case of terminal conditions, and administration of drugs to ease pain rather than preserve life. If unable to survive without technology, one should have the right to choose one's time and manner of death by "pulling the plug". Lethal injections cf. Kevorkian's machine are a grey area. Death with dignity is good, but clearly not all suicides are euthanasia.