Monday, November 29, 2010

Name That Protest

I don't speak Urdu (national language of Pakistan) but judging from the lady in yellow's grill, I'm fairly confident this protest has something to do with improved dental healthcare? Wow.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I’m Definitely Going to Heaven or Maybe Not: A Debate with Myself on Religion

The other day at the airport I made a small donation to some lady sitting on the sidewalk holding out a coffee can. As I walked away she exclaimed “God loves you.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say this but it got me thinking on the flight home. If God really loves me why did He make me 5’9” instead of 6’2”? And if He really loves me why did He make me just athletic enough to fall completely in love with sports but not nearly athletic enough to excel in them? And why did He make me intelligent enough to question every aspect of my being and His very existence but not intelligent enough to figure any of it out? And why did He put so much damn beauty in the world but not grant me the time nor the resources to enjoy more than a just a fraction of it? If God really loves me then why do I have so many questions and so few answers?

I do not consider myself a religious person. I do believe in a higher power. I don’t believe we are here by some cosmic accident. At the same time I’m not so sure that the higher power (God) intended us to use organized religion as a means to structure our lives. You hear the term “faith” used often in a religious context. To me the notion of “faith” is just a convenient way to pass off questions we don’t have answers to. I can’t see God so how do I know He/She really exists? I didn’t witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ so how do I know it actually occurred? I never met any of the apostles personally so how can I trust that their stories are true? Just because organized religion has existed for over 2000 years how do we know it’s what we’re supposed to be doing? I know, I know – I don’t have any “faith” – literally or figuratively. So I figured it would be a good idea to have a debate with myself on this issue.

Argument against organized religion:

Some sociologists believe that religion is a man made convention created to provide human beings with the necessary belief that our lives have purpose. Others say it was created as a defense mechanism to ease our fears about death and the afterlife. Some even go so far as to suggest that religion is a lie told to placate the masses. Karl Marx once stated: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Marx, Freud, and Feuerbach have provided some of the more famous social commentary on religion. While they didn’t agree on all points they concurred in the belief that organized religion is nothing more than a tool used to keep the public in line and on target with the greater goals of the aristocracy. Regardless of the source the point is the same. Religion has no basis in reality and is instead the creation of faith out of myth for the purpose of population control.

Furthermore the dangers of blind religious faith at the expense of logic and reason have been well documented throughout history: the Crusades, the European Conquest of North America, the Inquisition, the 17th Century “Wars of Religion,” and the numerous attacks on scientific advancement (Galileo’s persecution along with countless other barriers to scientific inquiry during the Enlightenment) are just a few examples. More recently look no further than the violent fundamentalist actions of Muslim extremists and the rampant intolerance and human rights violations which stem from Islamic Sharia Law, for proof that organized religion has no place in modern society. The cause of every major war throughout history can also be traced back to a religious conflict or conflicts. God may have had a plan for us but it certainly didn’t entail killing each other in the name of organized religion.

Conclusion: For all these reasons and many more organized religion is bad for humanity. As James Madison once stated: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.”

Argument in favor of organized religion:

Numerous religious organizations throughout the world make positive contributions to society on a daily basis. Throughout most of recorded history for example, the main protector of much of the rich cultural heritage of the West has been the Christian Church. The Church can also be credited with preserving the artwork of Michelangelo, bringing together the writings of The Bible (arguably the greatest single literary achievement ever), and the storage and preservation of almost two thousand years of history. The Church financed the exploration and discovery of the New World, supported the abolition of slavery, and has consistently stood up for human rights throughout the world. Not only does religious belief have a legitimate place in life, but organized religious belief has a legitimate place in organized society.

Beyond organized religion’s positive contributions throughout history, religious advocates argue that religion is paramount to any just and moral society. George Washington once stated: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” What he meant is that human beings are born sinners and without organized religion to help keep us on the righteous path we could easily revert to a life devoid of purpose and value. It makes perfect sense if you really think about it. If we were not accountable to some higher power (God) why would we not choose to live a life full of simple pleasures and self-indulgence without regard to our fellow man? In this regard religion is a necessity to maintain morality.

Faith is also an important source of strength and inspiration in the lives of most believers. "God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble."- Pslams 46:1 That being the case even if religion is a lie, if it makes people feel better about themselves and what lies ahead, how can it possibly be considered a bad thing? Furthermore without religion how are we supposed to process the concept of death? It’s far too depressing to think that when we die we simply flicker out like a candle then spend the rest of eternity rotting in the ground. I have absolutely no idea if death is truly the end of our journey or simply the beginning of a new, better one. But I personally choose to believe in the latter, otherwise what’s the point of life at all? So apparently I do have faith in something.

Conclusion: For all these reasons and many more organized religion is good for humanity. As Thomas Merton once stated: “By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.”

And the winner is?

Anyone who has found peace in what they do or don’t believe in so long as what they do or don’t believe affords tolerance and understanding to all those with differing beliefs. As Frederick the Great once stated: “All religions must be tolerated... for... every man must get to heaven his own way.”

The Dalai Lama might have put it best when he said: “Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.” So on this Thanksgiving Day, 2010, love thyself and love thy neighbor. Love is the only way.


The Quinsey Blog

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deep Thoughts From The Jersey Shore

Okay, so I finally watched Jersey Shore for the first time. I know – where have I been for the past 2 years, right? I’m not a big fan of reality television but it was on at the gym while I pedaled on my stationary bike so I decided why not give it a watch and see what all the buzz is about. Plus ESPN was running a story on the WNBA so what the hell else was I gonna do? In a word, WOW. I was a little distracted checking e-mail and playing scrabble on my phone but as best I could tell Jersey Shore is a documentary (I use the term loosely) about a group of over-tanned, sex-crazed narcissists who live together in a house in Miami even though they’re all from New Jersey. Judging from their lifestyles I’m guessing they’re all twenty-somethings but a couple of the guys might be north of thirty. They all have bad Jersey accents and work in a t-shirt shop except for the dude with magic shell hair (DJ Pauly D) who is obviously a DJ (good detective work on my part). While they’re not working at the t-shirt shop or being a DJ the guys appear to spend their time lifting weights and whitening their teeth while the ladies spend the majority of their time getting ready to go out clubbing. Oh yeah and they’re all alcoholics and I suspect one of them (Snooki) might also be slightly retarded. Have I nailed down the general plot line? The cast includes an annoying bitch who never shuts up (Angelina), a lovable slut whose boobs somehow defy every law of gravity (J-WOWW), a muscle head who apparently doesn’t own a shirt (Ronnie), a miserable tease who passes herself off as a sweetheart (Sammi), a douche bag who loves to refer to himself in the third person (The Situation), a mama’s boy who has visibly gay tendencies (Vinny), and the aforementioned DJ Pauly D and Snooki. To call this show a train wreck would be an insult to train wrecks everywhere. What immediately struck me was the (for lack of a better term) rampant incest amongst the cast members. J-WOWW claims to have a steady boyfriend yet hooked up with DJ Pauly D in the episode I watched. The Situation seems to have a thing for Sammi but I watched Sammi hook up with Ronnie while Vinny watched. Meanwhile at the club they all ended up groping on themselves, each other, and multiple other random participants. Then back at the house the party continued as everyone hooked up with someone (hard to say exactly who was grinding on who as the cast members all creepily resemble one another) except for poor Snooki who tried to hook up with some dude but instead got thrown up on (I would sincerely hate to be around on laundry day in that festering cesspool they call a house). Did I mention everyone on the show is an alcoholic?

As I watched in disbelief I wondered to myself how this pathetic show could have possibly remained on the air for over two years (with a third season in the works), and how these vacuous lowlifes could possibly be considered celebrities? Then I remembered Joseph Conrad’s character Marlow from Heart of Darkness and what he referred to as “fascination of the abomination,” and it all made perfect sense. Human beings are fundamentally flawed creatures. As such we are drawn toward destruction, debauchery, and generally abhorrent things. Don’t agree with this statement? Think about it a little more. When driving by a car accident why is it nearly impossible to look away from the carnage? And when walking by a crime scene closed off by yellow police tape why are we so damn curious to find out what happened? And after a natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane, tsunami, etc.) why are we compelled to tune in and watch media coverage of the tragic event? And what about when we find out about a friend’s infidelity or adultery, why are we so anxious to hear all the juicy details? As I see it the fascination with Jersey Shore is really no different than any of these things. By watching people who are so utterly shallow, loathsome, and completely devoid of moral values we can’t help but feel better about ourselves and our own lives flawed as they may be. Snooki, The Situation, and the rest of their bronzed cronies might as well be victims of a car accident, a crime scene, or a natural disaster because they’d literally serve the same purpose as they do now. And there you have it – life imitating art imitating life through those douches on The Jersey Shore. I bet you never knew the producers on MTV were so deep (and I’m sure they didn’t either).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Did Politics Get So F*cked Up?

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a high profile politician at an intimate gathering in a neighbor’s home. Out of respect for the organizer I will not refer to the politician by name. The purpose of the get together was to have an intelligent political conversation over wine and appetizers. The crowd was largely (okay entirely with the exception of one person - my wife) Republican so the political conversation I expected turned out to be more of a gratuitous ass-kissing session than anything else. It quickly became apparent that said politician is a very intelligent person. It also became apparent that they’re completely in love with the sound of their own voice. A wise person once told me “never assume you’re the smartest person in the room” - advice this politician has clearly never heard or chooses to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, they said all the right things. They acknowledged that America is in serious trouble and that it will take sacrifices from everyone to get us back on track. They stressed the importance of job creation, of education, and of building a new generation of independent citizens who don’t rely so heavily upon the government. I couldn’t agree more on all fronts. They also spoke of their public feud with Nancy Pelosi, which I appreciated considering how much I detest Nancy Pelosi and everything she stands for. When I finally got the chance to speak with this politician one on one and ask them a real political question however (as opposed to the grapefruits the rest of the crowd was lobbing over the plate), I was very disappointed in their response. They literally looked right through me, gave a generic and equally ambiguous answer, then abruptly walked away to talk with someone else. My question was about the Tea Party and the negative shadow it’s casting on the Republican Party as a whole, but that’s not even the important part. Their terse, uninspired response wasn’t the important part either. What really struck me more than anything else was how easily they passed me off. I’m not sure if it was my age (I was one of just a handful of Gen X'ers in the crowd) or because they weren’t interested in having a serious political conversation with a political nobody, but it was evident they couldn’t get away from me fast enough. The gathering ended with a calculated dissertation on how they planned to make America great again insinuating a presidential run in 2012, assuming they could garner enough support from the very crowd they pandered to, which of course prompted another round of shameless ass-kissing. But back to my point – when I interacted with this politician it was like I wasn’t even there. Which is a great illustration of why I’ve grown so damn apathetic towards politicians and politics as a whole.

I’m only picking on this particular politician because they are after all the inspiration for this post, but they’re really no different than any other politician out there. Bottom line people will say whatever it takes to get elected and once elected will rarely deliver on the promises they made to the voting public during their campaigns. The promises they made to the special interest groups who funded their campaigns are a different story however. The latter promises are the ones made behind closed doors that you and I never hear about, and the ones that will always take precedent over the former. Therefore under the current system we have absolutely no way of knowing when a politician is being sincere and when a politician is completely full of shit. As proven by my experience at my neighbor’s gathering politicians don’t really want to get to know the people they “serve”, so how are we ever supposed to get to know them?

Smart guys and gals in expensive suits speaking in metaphors and ideologies extrapolated from the empirical data gathered by their entourage of political researchers and staffers. What’s the one thing they all have in common? Is it their love for America and its fine citizens, for the beliefs and traditions that this great nation were built upon? Yeah, right. Try an unflappable love for themselves, their careers, and above all else a paramount need to be the center of attention. I’m sure there are one or two honest politicians left in Washington who are there to serve the people, but the rest of those philandering narcissists are in it for one reason and one reason only, to serve themselves. Everyone’s heard the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and this statement couldn’t be more true than in politics. Take Rod Blagojevich for example. As the Governor of Illinois he tried to “sell” Obama’s vacated senate seat to the highest bidder and got caught red-handed doing it. We only found out about this incident because one of his aides was a snitch. Just think about all the shady political deals taking place every day that the public never hears about. If Nancy Pelosi was able to fund a private jet using public money who knows what other shenanigans she’s been up to over the last thirty years of her political career? Our nation continues to fall further into debt (13 trillion at the moment and growing) yet politicians continue to abuse the system for their own personal gain. And the experts wonder why voter turnout continues to shrink every year.

How about the political debates set up by the “unbiased” media to help voters figure out where the candidates stand on the issues? Please, what the hell are we supposed to learn from canned questions from high profile mediators that the candidates have already memorized responses to? The content in those debates is about as genuine as the shit eating grin on any politicians face when shaking hands with a potential voter.

And don’t even get me started on negative campaigning. With all the mud throwing and finger pointing taking place these days it’s hard to know where a candidate even stands on the simplest of issues. I liken it to a fat guy pointing out how ugly his opponent is to detract from the fact that he’s a disgusting lard ball. So then all we’ve learned at the end of the campaign is that one of the candidates is ugly while the other is fat. How’s that going to help us figure out who to vote for?
I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer consider myself a Republican or a Democrat. I simply consider myself a person who’s fed up with all the bullshit. Clearly the system is broken and until it’s fixed I for one will continue to practice political abstinence (or at least I’ll be sure to wear a condom when I vote).

To summarize my rant I see the following problems with politics today (among other things):

1) Current campaign financing laws allow special interest groups to buy a candidate’s allegiance.

2) Voters have no way to ascertain a candidate’s true character because under the current system candidates and their respective parties are able to manipulate public perception by picking and choosing what gets filtered through the media and how it’s delivered.

3) Too much media exposure has resulted in high profile politicians behaving like over-indulged celebrities.

4) A lack of checks and balances has allowed elected officials to abuse their office for personal gain.

5) Negative campaigning confuses voters (at least those who lack the intelligence to see through it which is, let’s face it, most of America) and blurs where candidates stand on the issues.

The solution? I certainly don’t have all the answers and the ideas I’m about to propose probably aren’t even feasible for a number of reasons. That being said the best beginning to any solution is acknowledging there’s a problem in the first place, so here’s a first pass at some pragmatic solutions to cut through the crap:

1) Eliminate campaigning altogether. No campaign financing = no allegiance to the special interest groups. Go old school – have candidates write a college admissions style paper describing themselves, their beliefs, their philosophies, their hopes and dreams, and why they got into politics in the first place. Publish them on the web for all to see. Then have various town hall meetings across the country where actual voters ask unscripted questions and the candidates must respond on their feet. Outside of these activities outlaw any form of campaigning through the media across the board (no commercials, no radio spots, no social networking, etc.). If a candidate wants to go door to door to shake hands and spread their message more power to em. In order to eliminate an unfair advantage for wealthy candidates (a la Meg Whitman) make it illegal to spend any personal funds on campaigning as well (no paid staffers to go door to door for you, no billboard messages, no bumper stickers, no printed lawn signs, etc.). I know I’m over simplifying here but it seems like an easy solution to cut out tons of bullshit (negative campaigning) and wasteful spending. And perhaps the hundreds of millions of dollars saved in campaign financing could be used to help stimulate our feeble economy (two birds, one stone).

2) Cut down on media exposure for all elected officials. Granted, the president will still have to make TV appearances but eliminate media coverage for every other elected office on a national, state, and local level. If they’re not on TV they won’t feel like movies stars and then perhaps they’ll stop behaving that way. Plus when you take fame off the table you’ll probably start to weed out a majority of the candidates who get into politics for all the wrong reasons in the first place. And a side benefit - without public exposure for politicians guys like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and James Carville will have no reason to pollute the airwaves.

3) Establish a better system of checks and balances to prevent politicians from abusing their office for personal gain. Create ultimate transparency by publishing every decision an elected official makes on the web for all to see. If they can’t defend or stand behind each of their actions they clearly won’t be comfortable having them published on the web, and they will have no choice but to do the right thing and act in the best interests of the public. Otherwise they’ll be exposed on the spot and forced to resign (without the time and expense involved in an investigation or trial).

Politicians would have us believe that the issues and problems they face on a daily basis are complex and unwieldy. Perhaps if we address the fundamental problems that exist within the current political process with extremely simple solutions then the so-called complexity would go away. Something to think about on Election Day.