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Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

In 2002 my wife and I decided having children might not be the worst possible decision we could make in life (turns out we got two amazing, intelligent, engaged daughters).   I pushed pretty hard for us to at least try, especially because we were relatively young and I had at least an inkling that parenting (not sleeping) couldn’t get easier as you aged. (I was almost 26 so I didn’t know that much mind you.)
What I really didn’t know, and probably didn’t really understand at all until this year with my mom’s own life hanging in the balance, is that I was pushing for an impossible sacrifice.   Asking a woman to have a child seems almost natural until you actually think about it.  Beyond the basic What To Expect When Your Expecting fluff the sacrifice is a total self-exchange of the woman for the child.  She will not only dramatically give her body over to the child for 10 months, she does so forever.  She gives over her career, spiritual life, social status, friends and pretty much everything else.   And we ask her to do in some sort of manifest destiny “of course this is what you always wanted” way.
In the end, it turns out ok. For the most part.  If she’s fortunate enough that the pregnancy and birth don’t kill her or diminish her.  And if her economic situation can afford it.  And if she has tremendous support around her, in her family in her community and her work.   And if her hormones and nervous system keep up to the task.  And if her body can withstand the adjustment to post-birth life.  And if the media and pop culture don’t twist her into self-loathing for failing to be good at everything AND have a kid.   I might turn out ok.
I have a tattoo on my left arm.  It’s a phrase in cuneiform, “Redeeming Sacrifice.”   I got it a couple of years ago with the idea that in life I could only possibly ever hope to scrape the surface of such a sacrifice by trying my best to do whatever it took to not only provide for my family and my community but actually help them thrive.  I fail most days, in my opinion. The sacrifice made by my mom and my wife and countless other women around me to give me life, give my children life, support me, somehow get themselves to an ok place is of a magnitude greater than anything I’ve ever done.   The tattoo isn’t meant as a signal of a one time event but instead as a life long, infinite commitment to try to even approach the impossible sacrifice that is being a mom and being a woman.
My wife is an amazing mother.   Whatever the criteria you have for that distinction I’m pretty sure you’ll rank pretty highly.   She has given everything to these children and to me.   And as far as I know her mom did the same for her kids and I know my mom did for her kids.
What have we given them, really, in return?  A life long wondering whether they’ve done enough.  Whether they are doing enough.  Whether there’s someone else they have left behind. Whether they deserve the vacation or money they get.  Whether they’ve earned out respect and love.  I’m as guilty as anyone on that front too.  I want to blame our culture, which is pretty blame-worthy, but I cannot. Maybe blame or responsibility isn’t the right phrasing, but again I do feel all of us, especially males, need to think really hard about our own existence and decide to sacrifice more to make the pressures of being a female go away. Pushed to my most honest position we need to relinquish our patriarchy totally because we have not even come close to this impossible sacrifice.  We’ll never make up for the past but we certainly can leave the future with a slightly better chance that if you’re a female you can be just as much of Homer Simpson as I am or a leading Dr. or cheating football player or a president or whatever you damn well please.   As long as you’re taking on the burden of existence of ALL OF HUMANKIND you can and should do whatever you damn well please.
Happy mother’s day.  And really happy women’s everyday.  I don’t deserve it but I hope all of you will keep letting me try to redeem the existence you give me through my own self-sacrifice.
much love.

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I love Robin Williams.

Robin Williams is a hero of mine. But that’s not really a deep enough concept to express his role in my life. I have absolutely shaped my approach to life around what I perceived of him as a hero. I never met him. I never received fan mail back from him or did a stand up routine next to him. I don’t have any remarkable story about him – except that I stayed up late, rented, borrowed my way into every piece of work he put out. From Mork and Mindy to the Comic Relief stuff to all of his movies to every late night appearance… I took in all of it as some source-book of how to interact, how to think, how to absorb the world so fully you can be in all of those situations and BE REMARKABLE.

As a high school senior I thought deeply about the idea of Julliard because of him. I imagined a future in which I could go out to the world and say things he said… not because I rehearsed it but because I was speaking honestly in my synthesis of everything I was taking in. I wanted to be that good only better… even faster on my feet. Even quicker with my wit. Even deeper with my knowledge. Anywhere, in any circle, at any moment.

And make no mistake, I’m not delusional about Performance vs. Real Life. I read anything I could of his non-performance experiences – from his activism and social engagement to his personal struggles to his ideas about comedy to his appreciation of J. Winters. Robins Williams life, in all its facets, speaks profoundly to me.

For most of my life the person I’ve been mostly compared to in my approach to everything, even from my own mouth, is Robin Williams. (and I not only don’t hate it, I love it. I want to be that.) I’m drawn to this engagement with the world:

KNOW EVERYTHING YOU POSSIBLE CAN

LISTEN TO EVERYTHING (EVERYTHING!) and EVERYONE (EVERYONE!) AROUND YOU

SYNTHESIZE VERY QUICKLY

TRY ANY IDEA

10000000 jokes (ideas) is bound to deliver 1 GOOD ONE, SO KEEP GOING

ENGAGE EVERYONE SINCERELY and SERIOUSLY

WALK A BILLION MILES IN EVERYONE ELSES SHOES

SWEAT

Yes, Dead Poets Society is one of my top 5 movies. Good Morning Vietnam is also in the top 5. Good Will Hunting is such an important movie to me….. …. …. All these things are quite obvious. Robin Williams dealt with and engaged and seriously considered the entirety of the human experience. For me he is the ultimate synthesis of this absurd and beautiful world.

The vortex that is postmortem analysis will never change the strange loop that lives on through me and others. Posit what we want about mental illness and depression and comedy and hollywood or whatever else we will try to make it all tidy, it doesn’t matter. Robins Williams is a buddha. He’s one of those rare convergences of vitality that infuses many other souls with purpose. I love you, Robin. Thanks for helping make me, me.

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#BostonMarathon

Been thinking about this since I got off a plane from vacation today.   Tonight I came home after dinner to NBC News doing a special on what this recent bombing at the marathon means for public events in America.  How trite.

Are we all still asking these trivial questions like this in the global community?  We are the last country/culture to deal with all of this reality.

A couple of thoughts:

  • American communities have FAR TOO MANY anniversaries and “never forget” events.  We celebrate our victimhood and wonder why other people (in and out of this country) hate us to the point of wanting to kill us.
  • Executing mass violence in America is a trivial exercise.  Not because we lack security infrastructure but because our culture celebrates violence and thinks we should always exact justice always.  It’s so 1850s Cowboy bullshit. And hasn’t it always been this way in this country?
  • We focus on “event protection” as opposed to a THOUGHTFUL, REFLECTIVE CULTURE.   Our culture is about immediate reaction instead of reflection and consilience.  We glorify the act.  We spectate and consume the adrenalized moments.
  • We consume far more than we give.  This has consequences.  We haven’t learned this yet, not nearly enough.
  • We spend far more money on checking my shoes for bombs at the airport than on making sure everyone has access to the Internet and life changing literature.
  • Praying does nothing.  It’s self serving.  Try reducing violence through education, arms reduction and/or other real ways.  God doesn’t exist so lets stop pretending he/she/it does and wasting precious time and energy on God.
  • I have no idea who did this, why they did it. I almost don’t care.  This will keep happening until it doesn’t.  And I really don’t know how gun violence and bombing and wars are going to stop.  It’s probably more likely to happen once we stop trying to own every thing, every person, every idea and we stop lying to each other about how it all works.   Religion is crap and false.  Most things we push unto children and our cultures isn’t about truth or love but instead is about making sure certain people stay in power and amass riches.    Try really investigating and learning about animal / human behavior and the other bodies of knowledge that help us get closer to getting it and maybe we can all have a real dialog.  For now this is getting really fuckin old, all this killing people for ridiculous reasons and in cowardly ways here and abroad

I’m saying to myself tonight. Get involved.  Make this world better in non-violent ways.

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“I’m saving a dollar a day to throw a party on the day he fries.”

This was whispered to me on my walk  between the witness room and the courtroom during the trial by someone hurting for a loved one of the 1993 Chuck E Cheese murders.

Gulp.

Was she wrong?   was she justified?  was she just saying that?  What did I believe?  Should we kill another person to make things “right?”  What is justice?  will this bring peace to anyone?

Over the last 19 years this is just one of many contradictions I hold in my head.   It’s like some sort of gnarly moral entanglement that is so often the source of the anger, guilt, distress I feel at times like this.

After an event like this your world is very quick to attempt to soothe away the gnarliness.  It’s God’s plan.  It was fate.  Everything happens for a reason.  Memorial services.  Vigils.  TV specials.  Therapists.  Help lines.  “Get back up on that horse.”, Why Bad Things Happen To Good People readings, commemorative T-Shirts.

Some of these sentiments and activities are temporarily helpful. However, what was in my head and still hangs about there sometimes in the darkest ways…

nothing matters.  it’s all random.  why bother.

After I stew on that for awhile I usually flip over to…

everything matters.  make it matter.  live like you are dying.  get after every moment.

Obviously after 19 years the more positive outlook that making it matter has won out more times than it’s lost.  By no means though do I have resolution.   You almost feel forced into the positive.   If one goes all in on nothing matters, why bothers, you get your answer clearly.   Unfortunately, it feels, if you go all in on everything matters, make it matter you may not get a clear “yup, this is right.  it all does matter!”

I think the easy resolutions of these big questions is what leads to the profound loneliness I feel occasionally.   Hanging on to one of these resolutions like “it was all part of the plan” despite everything in your experience suggesting otherwise makes you afraid to be upset, to disagree, to wail against this comfort.   To this day I’m very upset at the idea that 4 of my coworkers should have been killed because that was part of some grand design for my life or the greater good.   That always sounds so good in abstract when it’s not you having to live with this unknown plan or your not related to one of those that died.   Want pressure?   that’s pressure.  having people tell you and make you believe that your life is somehow worth more than someone else’s and then you go on living without some obvious sign that it is.

I didn’t go to the memorial service, didn’t go to any vigils, could barely speak to Bobby.  Maybe I didn’t want to feel the implied pressure or the pressure I was putting on myself.

Everyone’s life is worth the same.  Whether that’s everything or nothing, I don’t know.

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I rather like this tight piece on the history behind labor day.

With that in mind, it is worth recalling President Abraham Lincoln’s words during the dark early days of the real Civil War. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed,” he told Congress in December 1861. “Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration,”

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We invite them here and then kick them out… Migrant workers suffer and have no rights…

– Stephen Colbert

Ya may not agree with him but at least you understand his point.  And that is the start of real policy making… good communication.

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What do we really mean by human rights? where do these rights come from? what is their source of power?

Russell’s (Son) position:

Though we have produced powerful rhetoric and documents through human history human rights are simply a concept.  They values we create and we choose to live by.  There is no such thing has some absolute, outside of us thing called a human right.  The universe doesn’t have a conscience.  Humankinds evolution from earlier species didn’t somehow magically produce some special rights for us that the rest of the universe can’t enjoy.

Agreeing to some basic rights seems to be a beneficial idea for humankind.  Freedom in all its forms seems to be a pretty darn useful value to live by.  That doesn’t make it some universal truth.

All men aren’t created equal – not in body, not in cognitive ability, not in environment.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat everyone on equal ground.  Not Equal doesn’t mean better or worse.  I think that’s the confusion that makes people fall back to claiming some fundamental human rights.

Does the fact that human rights spring forth only from man and not the universe, not a god, or some other outside source devalue them? make them less powerful?  No.  In fact, in some sense I think it makes it more powerful.  The fact that billions of people can agree on some basic principles is quite powerful and very empowering.   It actually increases the burden of enforcing it because there’s no faceless being we can blame when these agreed upon rights are violated.

Donna’s (Mother) Position:

Hmmm. Human rights. We’ve assigned a lot of value to the words and far less to those issues we find critical enough to include under the label.

I’ve never operated under the illusion that God defined human rights. Some big thinkers have done that, and others have shunned the notion that there are any universal needs that might rise to the level of being rights we grant and protect.

It seems more important to me to try to answer if our basic needs have advanced as our knowledge as human beings has advanced. Do we add to the list of things we value and protect as rights or are we locked into what we could reasonably provide in the past? Food, clean water, education, shelter, healthcare, equal protection under the law … are these all just things we need and desire or are they rights we identify and extend to one another?

And that pesky little topic of equality becomes so muddy all on its own as we deny various individuals their abilities to become waht they could otherwise be by limiting their access to some basic human needs. We create inequality and then shrug our shoulders and call it inevitable. And we most definitely make decisions about less than equal meaning less than good — and less worthy.

So, if we do not define some of our basic human needs and desires as rights, we will doom millions of our fellow men and women to poverty, to pain, to illness, to cold and so on. If we have the ability to lift one another by sharing human values as human rights, I say we do so.

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The first of the newly created Mother-Son Debates focuses on Health Care Reform.

Russell’s (Son) Position:

The US will have universal health care (some form of it) within 15 years.  As the only industrialized nation without it there’s not much precedent against it.  The United States does not yet feel the necessity for covering everyone and was very much lagging behind other countries in the discussion of health care reform.  Most industrialized nations started the debate early in 20th century and were well on their way/done with the basics by the end of WWII – many countries out of necessity due to the high costs of WWII.  The continued superpower status and relatively rich population keep reform at bay.  A prolonged high unemployment rate and lengthy war deployments may push things along further faster.  Major reforms do not come about because of consideration of specific/individual trials and tribulations – a country needs a statistically significant number of citizens experiencing general difficulties.  Health care reform doesn’t differ drastically from education, transportation nor the military.  These are things we all want/need but don’t see the immediate value in.  We simply had several more centuries to figure out that a more educated, mobile and protected society is going to be more productive (no other justification is required for reform).  Furthermore, health care didn’t need to be figured out before early1900s because most people didn’t live long enough (lifespans in industrialized countries were still around 50 years or lower) for end of life medicine to be such a burden on society.  With the end of major world wars, improvement in nutrition, widespread clean water and germ theory people lived longer to be exposed to more complicated illnesses.  Medical technology progressed enough in the 1900s to give people hope they could cheat death long enough to make death something we didn’t handle culturally very well.  So here we are today:  still wealthy enough to think we can pay for all this health care out of pocket, still avoiding conversations about death and still about two decades behind the rest of the industrial world on social issues.   We’ll have universal health care, but it won’t be activism that brings it about.  Activism might move it along a year or two sooner and help us integrate the inevitable reform.

Donna’s (Mother) Position:

Healthcare is a basic human right, and as such, to be protected as a public good. All of a civilized society benefits from providing a progressively financed, single standard of high-quality healthcare to all of its citizens.

In the United States, a healthcare system centered on employer-based health insurance benefits developed and expanded in the mid-to-late 20th century.  But this system leaves large segments of the U.S. population with either no coverage for even basic healthcare needs or inadequate coverage.

Costs are exploding for individuals, companies and public entities, and though more than 16 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product is now consumed by healthcare, more than 45,000 Americans die every year simply due to lack of access to care.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation not to provide universalized access to healthcare to its citizens, and the World Health Organization reports that in several of the major measures of health outcomes, the U.S. lags well behind (life expectancy, infant mortality — to name just two).  We spend more than twice as much per capita on healthcare and yet our outcomes do not reflect it.
I’ve heard it said that if we had this level of spending on our Olympic team and our results were as poor, we’d have a society up in arms about making fundamental change.  It’s like paying for the Yankees and getting a minor league team or less.

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This question, and its variants, might be the most common question asked in literature, storytelling, laws, history and philosophy (less so in daily conversations!).  This question defies an answer not because it is too complicated or out of our reach.  There is no such thing as Man (with a capital “M”), so the question is non-sense.

There is man – in the Linnaean taxonomy sense – you know, man is the creature with two hands, two feet, a biggish brain, two eyes and so on.  Though if we push hard enough on that – trace the evolutionary line back a couple of million years or push it forward a bit – we’ll find that pin pointing the precise animal known as “man” gets increasing hard to pin point.

This is definitely not a new idea or clever statement on my part.  I call attention to this in attempting to synthesize the impact of improving technology to augment our biological weaknesses, confusion over shifts in religious beliefs, global warming concerns, health care reform and other big things going on in our world that call into question some universal sense of Man.   My thesis is that clinging to a belief in Human Nature gets in the way of knowledge and impedes the progress of society on many fronts.  It is also can have grave consequences for each individual.

Cultures, societies, governments and various other collections of humans struggle to integrate big shifts within their lifetimes because learning is a long term exercise (some patterns of behavior take a lifetime to integrate).  The schedules we grow into throughout a lifetime are incredibly hard to change and sometimes require dramatic changes to the environment and/or our relation to it (body changes, for example).   It’s made every more difficult for most humans because our “blank slate” is so quickly filled with bad data, false assumptions, false positive patterns (aka superstition, religious dogma, good vs. evil, old wives tales, urban legends, irrational fears).   All of these things get associated with more and more behavior patterns very early and throughout life so much so that we all spend a life time UNLEARNING and DISASSOCIATING the falsehoods, inefficient behavior, and counter productive patterns.

The biggest false positive belief humans have is that there is Human Nature and definitive ideal of Man.  Our cultural narratives and norms claim that there is some Platonic form, some universal concept of Man and if we look hard enough, think deep enough, and/or believe enough we will understand Man and figure out how to really live.  This false positive concept of Man isn’t confined to religion or fading cultures – it pervades every modern institution too!   Top universities teach it (“liberal arts”).  Science chases it (google for scientific papers’ references to human nature).  Art celebrates it (the thinker!).  Churches preach it (man was made in the image of God).  Governments and courts enforce it (e.g. all men are created equal).  This belief is maintained over generations because it mostly “works” to keep people alive and procreating (at least, I think it does). A useful fiction, perhaps.  Truth, no.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

If we give up on Man what changes?  what contingencies go away?  what schedules are no longer maintained?

Does stem cell research pick up?  Do we march ever more quickly towards machine enhanced bodies and brains?  Do robots really start to pervade our workplaces? Would we really continue to worry so much about global warming destroying the sensitive environment we require?

How much does this false belief really change our behavior or is it just “exhaust” we spew out when trying to synthesize all the behavior around us?  That is, does a well defined and earnest belief in Man actually contribute to what we do or don’t do?

It’s an important discussion.

  • Health care reform tend to fall into two camps:  health care is a human right (Man is real and necessary) or health care is essentially an economic issue (Man is not relevant)
  • The penal system are built on a concept of perhaps not Universal Morality, but certainly a very strong concept of Character.
  • The debate on global warming rides on whether people believe the we should keep the earth at a stable temp for our current species biology (if we’re machines or just digitized versions or in space, global warming isn’t as concerning???)
  • Abortion rights are obviously about whether you think a bundle of cells in a woman’s body constitutes Man
  • End of Life decisions – is the life supported body still a Man when the lights have gone out?

Beyond these big issues consider many of the plots of recent pop culture smashes (all are about What is Man?):

  • Avatar
  • Terminator
  • Twilight
  • Heroes
  • Harry Potter
  • The Secret
  • Eckhart Tolle

If we lose the belief in Man (the soul, autonomous man, in God’s image, human nature) is there a negative impact personally and in society?  Do we all just become nihilists? Do we stop passionately pursuing things? do we devalue our relationships?

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Oy, this crazy-making discussion is not going to be over for a long time.

Why is there anything about marriage in any constitution?

Yes, I know… property, children’s issues. etc. etc.  Those can be resolved without marriage language.

Just get rid of it so we can all move on.

Or tell me why we need declarations about recognizing marriage between one man and one woman…????

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