Saturday, August 3, 2013

My problem with the boy scouts

I am not a scout, never was one, never cared for it. However, I have had friends growing up who were and I can say that while I didn't care to be one, it was fun for them and I'd support that. Today, after a long break from writing, I am back with this issue: My problem with the scouts.

In the recent months they have come under fire for their stance on homosexuals and now that they're more accepting, they have slid back out of the limelight. I honestly believe they should have accepted homosexuals in the first place and just left it at that. However, there are others that believe their very presence is a sin and these people are called scout parents. If you were to ask a child if they care whether their friend is gay of not, more often than not you would receive a non committal grunt indicating they really couldn't care less. Ask a parent, and that's when the phobia and the hate starts.
I find it bothersome that homosexual people are boiled down to single issue people. Yes, their desire to be treated equal have made plenty of homosexuals very visual in the news, but there are two problems here. First, straight people support them at rallies as well. Second, even after the rights rally is over, they have other things they want too, whether it be immigration reform, pro-choice/life issues, taxes (yes, them "queerosexuals" pay your national defense too), or just getting to the store to get things for dinner. Like any of us, they are more than our biggest political issue.

Why am I so bothered about this right now? Well, I went and stuck my nose somewhere I knew would rile me up. I was doing research on varying types of political interest groups and came across this gem on the Family Research Council website, courtesy of one Rob Schwarzwalder:

"We also have to face the fact that homosexual predation within Scouts has been a significant problem. Is every homosexual a pedophile or predator? Of course not; no one suggests, or should suggest, that. Yet the abuse that has taken place in the Scouts has been initiated by homosexuals."
I would like to immediately point out that this person is saying that all of the sexual abuse has been done by homosexuals. There hasn't been a single straight or bisexual person that was abused and is taking it out on the kids, at least, according to him.

And then we have this:

"Many of us have homosexual friends, neighbors and family members. It's my hope that all believers treat them with love and respect. Yet as a Christian, I affirm Scripture's teaching that the only appropriate sexually intimate conduct exists between a man and a woman within marriage. This means I don't want, as role models or life-influencers for my sons, heterosexual adulterers or fornicators-or homosexuals. This is grounded in the teachings of the Word of God, not hatred or bigotry."
Alright, I'll be controversial and say it is his right how to raise his family and whether or not he accepts homosexual behavior. However, he makes the massive assumption that because a scout master is gay, that means the scoutmaster is incapable of teaching right from wrong. How can one "treat them with love and respect" when one isn't willing to trust that they aren't some kind of evil, anti-Christian, homo converters? It makes me wonder whether this person has ever taken a class administered by a homosexual teacher. I have, many classes in fact, and I can say that in all of my experiences, they don't teach any different than the heterosexual teachers.

This author has boiled morals down to a single issue: who's company someone prefers in the bedroom. Morals are a complex set of issues that span many subjects, to boil a person down to one issue and deny them the same respects you give anyone else is, in my opinion, one of the most amoral things possible. If we were to turn the tables on this man and choose another issue, let's say loving thy neighbor, then he would fail miserably.
The biblical proof that "god hates fags" (to quote the Westboro Baptist Church) is a quote from Corinthians and a quote from Leviticus. In researching the Corinthian quote I found a number of different translations carrying different meanings. Then we come to Leviticus and yes, I will trot out the old argument. Why? Because it is true. If you're willing to go back to Leviticus for unbreakable, rules, then you better be prepared to live by all of its rules, this includes bans against: eating fat, eating blood, touching an unclean animal, letting your hair become unkempt, going to church up to 33 days after giving birth to a boy (66 for a girl), spreading slander (Baptist churches are predispositioned to fail at this), practicing divination or seeking omens (no more reading your horoscope), trimming your beard, cutting your hair at the sides, getting tattoos, mistreating foreigners (that's 95% of the south there), Blashpemy (punishable by death), and eye for an eye. Christians are more than happy to forgo many, if not all of these and more under the guise of "well, it's only meant to be a guide, not unbreakable rules." Some of these rules are great, such as the ones stating you are not allowed to bear a grudge, mistreat foreigners, or use dishonest weights and scales.
The counter to my argument is that some of these laws are either immoral or illegal and we need to be better. However, I'm going to pull the same counter they would use against allowing homosexuality: it is a slippery slope. It clearly states in the bible that any blasphemy means the blasphemer should be put to death, how far do we go until laws such as that become seriously considered?

We live in a time where the close-minded tribe mentality from over two millennia ago can not guide us. Such materials, when taken literally, can be used to oppress and harm people who have done nothing but simply exist. Homosexuals are one such group and they deserve better. When we reduce them to only one aspect we have trouble seeing a whole person, only an issue. A gay scout master is still a scout master, he will still teach right versus wrong, survival skills, and all the other skills the organization teaches, the only difference is when he goes home it will not be to a woman.

Reference articles:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why Are Teachers Paid Less?

"Teaching is a Noble Profession."
-The person who doesn't pay the teacher

It is true, teaching is a noble profession, but if they were truly compensated for the work they do and the expertise they need then teaching would be a lucrative career. However, the average salary for a teacher is in the 40-50k range.


I wanted to take a practical look at why teachers are paid so little for what they do.


To become a teacher, you need a few things. Requirements vary from district to district based on need. A district with high turnover and an extreme shortage of teachers is more likely to lower their standards than an area with low turnover and an excess of teachers. A few things you need that are pretty universal are: a degree, subject area certification, and a passing grade on the PPR.

What are those?

A degree is just that, some districts will take an associate's degree, some will take a minor, some require a Bachelor's. They want to make sure you've obtained some form of education beyond high school for fear of the blind leading the blind.

Subject area certification: Not only do they want to make sure you've obtained post grade school education, they want to make sure you know a little something about what you want to teach. That system is not perfect, though. The people who write the certification tests have to set the bar at a level that will allow anyone with a degree in that subject a fair chance to pass. In my personal opinion, someone who's science degree included creationism as a serious subject shouldn't be allowed within 50 nautical miles of classroom but c'est la vie.

The PPR: A nasty little test that is a pre-qualifier for taking the subject area certification. The PPR tests your ability to run a class (not TEACH class). Issues such as discipline methods, how to establish grading practices/procedures, test creation evaluation, test result evaluation, student safety, the list goes on. As much as I disliked this test, I believe teachers should be required to retake this test every 3-5 years to maintain their certification.

What are their functions? Together, these three requirements create the teacher, the degree for wisdom, the subject area for knowledge, and the PPR for administration.

The degree is costly, most teachers will get a Bachelor's degree in their subject so calculate the average cost of a degree at a 4-year university. The PPR and subject area tests add an extra couple hundred dollars on it as well, but one of the nastier lesser known requirements is the student teaching.

Student teaching: A wonderful concept, where the teacher to be is guided from observing a class to leading a class. This process puts a beginner under the care of a master, but this costs money, usually around a thousand dollars or so. Many teachers sign up to be a master teacher for these apprentices, but some of them do it so they don't have to do other "continuing education" requirements themselves.

So far, our young teacher has put a LOT of money into just being allowed to step into a classroom as it's leader. There's also a fair chance that he or she has some student loans to pay off as well. With such a commitment of resources, it seems wrong NOT to compensate them better.

The Meat of the Problem:

As a teacher, I would love it if I made $55k starting and could graduate up to $85-90k (pending performance). But the reality is that it's not likely to happen. Why? Money. In the public school system, most money is generated through school taxes placed on every piece of property in the district. The second highest source of money is from the state and the third is the federal level.

A school district is primarily in the business of educating, but supporting that work is costly. Here is a list of things the district has to pay for, it is no where near complete, but it will give you an idea (keep in mind I said district, not school): Building construction, security (including vehicles), administrative facilities operations, food services, maintenance department (under that dept: payroll, overhead, parts, vehicles, tools, insurance, pensions), inspections, substitutes, departments (math, language, fine arts, sports, etc), district library, IT (and all the costs of installing a network across the district), buses (including purchases, maintenance, bus barns, land for the bus barns, fuel, and driver pay), remodeling (to repair or upgrade facilities that don't meet code), textbooks, and school budgets.

Now what does a school have to pay for? They have to pay for their own staff, this includes teachers, administrators, counselors, assistant principals, specialty teachers (special ed), department heads, on site IT, custodians, the principal. Also included: department budgets, utilities, maintenance, library purchases, overhead, and food service.

There are a LOT of people working together to make a class happen and according to law they have to compensated for their work. Schools are held to a high standard not only in terms of education, but also the quality of environment. Everyone is a critic when a school is not up to par.

Now if there's so many people and so much money flying about, how is it that teachers still aren't paid very well? There's a few things that drain money, the first and foremost are students. Each student is given a set of text books every year, the total cost of those books per student can range from $500-$1250 depending on the number of books they have. For every certain number of students there needs to be a teacher and here is where the math gets tricky. Parents want as few students per teacher as possible because there is more face time with their kid, but to make that happen there have to be more teachers. More teachers requires two things: more classrooms and more employees. So, are parents willing to spend a few million dollars building new additions to all the schools across the campus and sustain an extra million or so on all the teachers needed to teach the kids?


More classrooms and more teachers cost the taxpayers more money. So schools have to make up for the increase in population by hiring only a few teachers and increasing the class sizes.

Over the last 20 years there's been a huge push to make the education system more efficient. But what saves money in one place may become more costly in other areas. The issue of the teacher:student ratio is one. While schools save money by putting more students in a class, they lower the efficiency and quality of the material taught. To clarify: in comparing a class of 10 to a class of 25, the class of 10 allows for more individualized work and lessons. This environment gives the teacher time to work with individuals often and identify problems or weaknesses to be addressed. In a class of 25, there isn't enough time to each a lesson and evaluate every person in the class effectively. It isn't a matter of effort, it's a matter of time. 45 min of class, 25 minutes of teaching the lesson and 20 minutes of checking for understanding, that's less than 1 minute PER PERSON. It is not enough time to evaluate an individual's progress, not enough time to ensure a confident understanding, it is quick glance over the paper, minor corrections and move on. In a class of 10, a teacher can talk to a student who is struggling due to problems outside the class and help them overcome, but in a class of 25 there isn't enough time when there's 5 other students who have questions pertaining to what's actually happening IN the class. In the class of 10 a student who learns differently can be accounted for, that student can be given the adjustments they need, in a class of 25 they fall behind because the teacher can't make 24 other students who already understand the material wait. There is further cost when the number of these students grow to the point where special education teachers have to be hired.

Some critics of public education say that all we do is throw money at it and never get anything out of it. In a way it is true, but at the same time it is also false. Should we look to trim out waste? Certainly! But even the superior school districts are still receiving barely adequate funding. If I were a superintendent, I'd take any money I could get because there's always something to do with it.


I wanted to touch on this subject because it's always being discussed. All of us who received public education can recall a time when they were using hilariously outdated technology in a classroom. The cost of upgrading technology is phenomenal and sometimes those who choose what technology to upgrade to aren't the best informed of what is best. Many school districts have been in operation since before 1970. This is significant because they were never designed to support networking. Installing a network into a building that was never designed to have one is a costly procedure if done right (disastrous if done cheaply), then factor in the cost of networking all of those old buildings together and the cost is staggering. Next, take Moore's law into account. in the 1980's phone wires were the fastest means of internet communications available to the public, in the late 1990's it became cat5 cable, now we have the cat6 and fiber optic. How many man hours does it cost to strip the old system out and install a new one every time the tech world has an upgrade? What about the cost of supplying students with laptops or tablets? There is a pie in the sky dream that one day schools will catch up with technology, but until the funding matches the cost, it will remain pie in the sky.

Why pay less?

Because we have to. If we don't, the schools won't be built, students/parents will be buying their own textbooks EVERY year, there will be no education support services like special education or "English as a Second Language", lights will burn out and remain out because there are no more bulbs, buildings will go in a state of disrepair, school buses will be double stacked with 4-5 kids per seat. We pay teachers less because we have no other choice.

Maybe in the future we'll have a true education president, a president who takes a page from John F. Kennedy and says "By the end of this decade, we will achieve 100% literacy, by the end of this decade we will be seen as a role model for public education." Public education isn't bad, nor is it dead, it just needs work.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What is our final recourse?

What is our final recourse?
by Dane Manuel

            Recently, the Texas House State Affairs Committee bypassed the will of its constituents and voted on an abortion bill without allowing all who wished to testify to speak. This bill would force all but five abortion clinics in Texas to shut down. The bill, name House Bill 60, would require any clinic providing abortion services to meet several costly requirements. Requirements such as active admission privileges to a hospital that provides ob/gyn services, forcing compliance with standards for ambulatory surgical clinics, and requiring medications to be administered in person.

            The controversial nature of the bill aside, the committee played an underhanded move to get what they wanted. Byron Cook (R), the chairman of the committee, was deluged by a small army of individuals who opposed the bill and instead of allowing each to testify as is their right, he ended the session. Normally this wouldn't raise any eyebrows, especially since they stopped in the early hours of the morning, however the committee quietly reconvened on Friday, without letting anyone know, and passed the bill. I want to say it again, they cleared the room by ending the session, then reconvened later without letting anyone know so they could vote. They bypassed the filibuster, they denied citizens and right to testify before their government.

           If the bill was one that was supported by the people, then there would have been no filibuster and the day would have proceeded normally. However, these committee members knew that at least the vocal minority would stop them so they resorted to trickery to get their way. A trickery that goes far beyond the chicanery of day to day politics. If this were a bill for gun control being proposed by an all democratic committee, there would be no place for those members to hide because the NRA would hunt them down, but because this bill is nowhere near touching the second amendment, they are allowed to do as they please. There is hope that the bill can be defeated on the floor of the house because the laws were not followed, but I am more skeptical. Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has the power to suspend rules as he sees fit in a special session and I do not doubt that he will use that power to quash any attempts at stopping this bill.

           So here is the rub, if the government, whom we have placed our trust in, is deliberately passing laws to oppress a group and nothing can stop them, then what is the final recourse of the people? If I were as adamant about gun rights as I was about other subjects, then I would simply do as many of the far right leaning would do and call for an armed overthrow of the government. But I am not, nor do I support the idea of an armed revolution. I, unlike too many, choose to use my words. I write, I speak, and I debate. How can I call myself civilized if I have to rely upon the tip of the sword to do what the pen should do in its place? How can we be an intelligent and informed electorate if those in power do not research the facts and disregard the hyperbole? How does one respond to deception in a civilized way?

            We vote. We run for office ourselves. We get involved in the political process. The companies may pay for the campaigns, but in the end, the voters are the ones who decide. When the voters are informed and not idly sitting and believing all the politician says, the true nature of  those who seek the power to represent you are revealed.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Christianity from the Atheist's Point of View

I thought that in today's world of being P.C. I should do what few feel comfortable doing and grab the social "third rail". For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it was derived from subways/electric trains. The third rail is the rail that is electrified and is deadly. The social third rail is referring to subjects that tend to kill your social life, the two biggest being politics and religion. So today, I grab the third rail and talk about religion. I want to stress that this article is not in any way a scientific report, nor is it designed to bash any specific group. I went at this with the desire to just talk about things I have observed and the kind of questions, moral, philosophical, etc. that it raised for me. I hope you enjoy reading and as always, like, share, +1, comment and discuss!

There are a number of Christians who have made their opinions about atheists known, and I think it would be a good way to foster some understanding between the two groups if Christians were able to get an "insider's" point of view on atheism.

Atheism, at its heart, isn't that complex of an idea. Atheism at its most fundamental level is simply the belief that there is no deity (ie: God, Zeus, Ra, etc.). I want to stress that this is all it is. The concept is a very open format, how DO you go about "practicing" this idea? Well, this is where the disagreement begins.

Three types of atheist

In my my experience I've met several different types of atheists and I'll describe a bit about each and how/why they behave they way they do. This list is in no way complete, it's only meant to illustrate a few types that have stood out to me. I've chosen the names based on what I feel best describes them.

The high school militant atheist
Where to find them: High School
I call them militant atheists because they are the most aggressive looking, but in practice are pretty easy to ignore. These are mostly teenagers that are desperately trying to find a path in life and have read too many Richard Dawkins quotes. The main appeal of atheism to these kids is that their parents don't like it. They'll also be huge believers in anarchy (specifically the type that glorifies destruction and chaos). This combination of beliefs is one of the old cornerstones of teenage angst screw everyone, there's not a god and no law, I'll make my own world my way! In many cases this way of life is only temporary and they'll grow out of it. They're generally poorly educated on what the people they've quoted actually said and, like poorly biblically educated Christians, will cherry pick only what they need to make as many viscous statements as possible supporting their ideals. How do you deal with them? Just politely ignore them, don't fight them, just ignore them.

The combative athiest
Where to find them: debates
These folks are typified by being highly educated and very focused on proving they are absolutely right. I have some sympathy for them because they are honestly not doing it to be mean, they just do what they think is right (like most people). A prime example is Richard Dawkins, he will argue someone into the ground, doing everything he can to try and get you to understand his point. I enjoy reading his books, but I also take it with a grain of salt. He has good things to say, but you have to make sure you don't get caught up in the rhetoric. Don't confuse the combative atheist with a scientist, scientists only follow the evidence to their conclusions. I want to stress that there is a huge difference between someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins. Mr. Tyson is not bothered with religion unless it is used to try and attack science, Mr. Dawkins deliberately goes after religion for his own moral reasons.

The quiet atheist
Where to find them: anywhere
These are the folks who don't say anything about being atheist, they just go about their lives and don't bother with making their beliefs known. There's two reasons for this: first, they may believe their personal feelings are theirs and theirs alone and they shouldn't inflict their ideologies on others who may not want to hear it. Second, persecution. Persecution against atheists is very real, whether its done through pity or hate it is there. Such persecutions range from attempted conversions, to verbal attacks, or even as small and simpe as a look of disdain. The quiet atheist has learned that to avoid the discomfort of the next door neighbor offering a prayer for your finding the light of Jesus, just don't say anything.

Atheism is not organized

It isn't. We're not the catholic church. With a simple, one sentence idea "There is no God" comes immense flexibility in its execution. Many of them have the similar feelings to Christians about wanting to know the world they live in, but since God  is not the answer, they turn elsewhere for info. The vast majority turn to science. Why? Because if science says something, they have to prove it, they have to document it, others will tear it apart to try and find deception and when they can find none, only then will it be accepted. What stronger way is there to be proven right than your detractors admitting that they can not a flaw in your claim? The person who is trying their hardest to prove you wrong, must admit that in their honest efforts, reviewing the facts, they can not prove you wrong. That aside, there are atheists who just plain don't bother with it, they just carry on with their lives. There is no central organizing system that tells atheists how to behave or what to do, it's all up to the individual. The same can be said about any religious body, catholics, baptists, evangelicals, each group uses the same bible yet interprets and acts on it in different ways. There are organizations for atheists out there, but they tend to be filled with combative atheists.

The actions of one atheist is not indicative of all, just as the same can be said about Christians. To cite extreme examples on both sides, one of the arguments I hear against atheists is that of Stalin. On the other side there's the crusades, Spanish inquisition, Salem witch trials. Both sides of the argument have plenty of examples but that's not the focus of this article.

There is a large spectrum of atheists and they are trying to figure out what to do. I remember hearing someone say "Atheists pick and choose their morals" (Pope Benedict XVI), well, there's some truth to that, but the same can be said for anyone alive. Morals are partially taught and partially inherited (I will write an article on that some other day) and it is up to each of us to choose which ones to follow. Atheists are honest with this idea where I have found some dishonesty among the Christians.

How do I see Christianity?

Now that I've said all of that, I can finally get to what the title of the article SAYS I'm going to talk about.

Before I start, I want to give a few simple details about where my opinions are coming from. I grew up in the bible belt where the number of churches could compete with the number of gas stations. I've never been a believer in any religion, but up until a few years ago I would have put myself at 75% atheist 25% theist (now I am 100/0). As a child, I would be honest with my beliefs whenever asked, so I have experienced some persecution across different age groups. I bear very little ill will to anyone who has done that to me because it's all in the past and people change.

The religion
I will freely admit that I have not read the whole bible. Now that isn't for lack of trying, I've sat down with one several times and made a serious attempt at it. However, after one page I find myself desperate to stop. The material is dry and I imagine its because I'm spoiled by the wealth of fascinating literature I've read over the years. However, I CAN claim to have read the gospel of Judas, I found it to be interesting and left me wondering if it affects that context of the crucifixion story. As a whole, I find a disconnect between the religion and the practice of the religion. The bible says many things that I find morally questionable, things concerning the treatment of others, violence, gender disparity just to name a few. I also find it rather intriguing that there are so many translations available, yet they all seem to be very different. How strange is it that the bible is said to be the word of god when we humans keep re-translating it and changing the words and thereby changing the meaning. I would think that to best understand what was written, one would study the culture that the particular chapter came from, study the language, and then read it. It is fairly well established that each chapter was written in a different time in a different language and so a different mindset must be applied to each chapter. I also find it intriguing that while the bible was considered to be written by god, then why are the gospels named after the people who wrote them? If Mark wasn't written by mark, rather by god, why not call it "God[ch:verse]"? Now, while you may think that I am trying to bash the bible, I want to emphasize that I'm only pointing out things I find inconsistent with the idea of the religion. A thorough read of the bible will yield many good morals. Loving your parents and neighbor, kindness and charity, working together, all admirable traits, all worth teaching. My favorite is a line by Jesus of Nazareth in which he tells a group of people that they must sell all of their belongings and give everything they own to charity. If more people would do that, the world would be a better place, but that's a lesson that has fallen by the wayside.

As a whole, the religion is much more strict than is practiced today, parts of scripture are ignored because it would conflict with laws or because our sense of morals has evolved past that, which leads me to my second subject:

The people
The people who practice the religion are a wide and varied bunch, some are genuinely good, some are morally grey people, some are truly bad folks who hide behind their beliefs as a way to either justify their actions or to use as a tool for their own ends. Of all the people who do this, I find the pastor/preacher/priest to be one of the strangest from a moral perspective. What does it say about a congregation when the person who is charged with spreading the word of God is taking home a yearly salary that would pay the salary of 2 or 3 teachers? I once met a man who was a single father, he was the pastor for a small church and yet he was able to pay in cash a brand new $70,000 Mercedes Convertible. I fully understand and embrace the idea that someone should be compensated for their full time work, but isn't it a bit morally ambiguous to preach that one should be humble and charitable when the person in question is probably earning more than anyone else in their congregation?
I have met a lot of people who do good things, but for the wrong reason. Doing something good is nice, but when it is done with ulterior motives then it is no longer good. Case in point: a child gives her food to a hungry boy at lunch, a teacher notices and give her a piece of candy as a reward for such a kind gesture as the young boy she gave the food to is in a poor family who can't afford meals. The next day, the young girl gives her lunch to the boy again and this time looks at the teacher expecting her candy. This same concept can be applied to members of a congregation that do constant charitable acts (giving, volunteering, etc.). Are they doing it to be nice or are they doing it to be rewarded in their afterlife? The prospect of eternal paradise after death is a very tempting thing and with the christian culture's MASSIVE obsession with death, such behaviours can be expected. I wish to be clear, this is not an all inclusive statement, but more of a self reflective tale of caution. I only wish to give you, the reader, an idea to evaluate yourself with as I have done in years past.
Now on the topic of ulterior motives, I want to touch upon something that I've heard many people say about their churches: Church Cliques. Like public school, I have learned that churches have cliques too and I would claim that these cliques can be more damaging than what one might find in a high school. From the stories I have heard, the ones who are usually the most corrupt are the ones in charge of various organizations within the church. Their power within the organization usually means that if anyone wants anything done, they have to buddy up with a particular board member that can make it happen. Politics at its finest. Again, this isn't all board members/leaders, but this is what I have heard from most that I have talked to on this subject.
The second strangest part of people who are religious is: leaving. As I live in an area where there are 3 churches in 1/2 a mile's distance from my home and another 6 in 2 mile's distance, I've had a great deal of time to observe people leaving after services. What I've noticed is interesting, a great majority drive like they're trying to get the hell out of dodge. They will cut each other off in the parking lot, sit absolutely bumper to bumper, and the moment the tires hit the street, they're flooring it, usually going 15-20 over the speed limit. It raises the question, if they wanted to leave so badly, why did they go in the first place? The running for it really does indicate a desire to not want to be there, so I have to ask. It also raises the question, if they are there because "they have to be there" (ie: paying lip service), isn't that more dishonest than just saying "no, I don't want to go because I'm not a big believer?" Years ago, I had a girlfriend who wanted me to attend church with her even though I wasn't religious, I told her I couldn't. She complained, she was angry, but I told her the truth, I could not go because it would be a lie. I was not a believer and I will not lie about who I am. What does that say about me versus those who DO pay lip service? Does it make them superior because at least they were there or am I for my honest and resolution to not lie?
The number one strangest thing I've noticed about Christians is their ability to be mean or rude and justify it to themselves by saying God will forgive them. I see this daily, be it on the road, in the classroom, in the supermarket. How do I know they're Christian? Could I be wrong? Possible, but I can honestly say I don't know a single person who wears crosses just because they like the look, nor do I know anyone who decorates their car with religious memorabilia as a vehicular fashion statement. I've seen and read situations where some one is in the hospital and the whole family gathers there to pray. I know this is offensive, but I find that whole process rather absurd. If the family really believed in the power of god to heal someone, then why are they in the hospital? The doctors are the ones doing the actual work, the scientists are the ones creating new medicines, equipment, and techniques to save lives sometimes with the religious groups protesting outside the gates. On the road, I have found an inverse correlation between the amount of christian paraphernalia on the vehicle and how polite the driver is (using blinkers, proximity awareness/consideration, adherence to speed limit, obeying traffic lights/signs). These kinds of behaviours relate to my last major section:

There's little things, instances where the religion or the people do things that just cause me to do a double take and whether its bemusement, fear, or revulsion, it draws my attention. First there's the issue of holidays. Its very well established that the Christian religion has taken their major worship celebrations from other religions. They celebrate Christmas, but we all know Jesus wasn't born on December 25, Easter wasn't really the day Jesus was resurrected, but that day is celebrated anyway. Why? Simplicity. As the religion grew, they had to make their celebrations easy to remember, so they matched them up with existing celebrations (winter solstice and vernal equinox). Its not a bad thing, it just means that we need to be real with our holidays, Christmas isn't really a Christian exclusive holiday, many religions have a winter solstice celebration, same with the vernal equinox. Next is the relationship Christians have within its sects. There is a general agreement that they are all Christians, but I have seen a my Christ is better than yours kind of attitude which always perplexed my, if all Christian sects worship the same things then why not unite into one organized group? I understand that people wish to practice their religion in different ways, but even in the catholic church, different priests will run their services according to what they feel is important. Finally  large churches. I understand that some churches grow huge because the church goers enjoy the services put on by the leader (pastor/priest/reverend/etc), but in the bible Jesus of Nazareth tells people that their prayers should be done in private and not in large congregations. Isn't the idea of a mega church directly against how the founder of the religion instructed its believers to practice it?

Final Thoughts

All in all I've made many observations through my life trying to understand a wide array of traditions and quirks that make up the Christian faith. From the, at times, dangerous actions of the fundamentalists, to the indifference of those who simply pay lip service, Christianity is made up of a dense and complex spectrum of people. I don't believe that the religion is inherently good nor bad, it has many examples of great leadership and true good peppered in with acts of evil committed by the same God to the same degree. I have come to see that people will take from it what they desire reaffirming the idea that the hardest lessons are the ones we must learn ourselves. And while I have, by my own means, gone through my own self improvement, it is far from me to dictate what will work for everyone. If I were to make any kind of request to the Christian faith as a whole, I would request that they take time to step into the shoes of those who do not believe as they do to try and understand why others believe what they believe.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Low Blow From the State to Schools

We're all used to politicians using the law as a pinata to get what they want, but I'm very disgusted at what I've recently read and I want to share this with you. I will TRY not to be overly bias, I will TRY to give you all the facts I can, but there is a limit to what I can take when it comes to dehumanizing others.

My story starts here:

As I read it, I shook my head in shame that Texas is still so hell bent on treating Homosexuals like second class citizens, but that is an argument for another day. What caught my eye was the second to the last paragraph. To give you, the reader, context of what is going on, several state owned facilities, namely a Ft. Worth area school district, decided to give same sex domestic partnerships benefits to the significant other by extending health benefits to any and all domestic partnerships so long as they pay the extra fee. The state government heard about this and decided to stick its nose into the situation. State house and senate members were scrambling to try and pressure the district into stopping it. Sen. Dan Patrick, whom unfortunately represents me, went so far as to question whether the school district's new policy of granting benefits to domestic partnerships, for couples that pay the extra fee, was violating Texas law.

While this was going on, the Texas house introduced HB1568.

The summary of the bill is as such: IF a district is allowing anyone but married couples or their dependents receive benefits, then the state can reduce their funding by 7.5%. ON TOP OF THAT, there is a small bit of legislation that allows small, underfunded districts, to get financial help form other districts. To get help, they have to cover a certain percentage of their operating cost, then the out of district help will cover the rest (this is a severe paraphrasing). The second part of HB1568 states that the state can also raise that operating cost percentage by 7.5%

The result? A district's funding will be cut by 7.5% and the amount to be covered increased 7.5% essentially locking that district out of receiving funding from anyone but the district's tax payers.

Why is this a problem? Moral and financial reasons.

Financial: if a district has to cover at least 60% of their own costs to get help, then this bill will reduce their ability to cover it down to 56.5% while raising the bar to get it up to 67.5%, a difference of 11%. Using small numbers for the ease of understanding, if a district takes in $1,000,000/year form all sources (local, state, other districts), then this is what has to happen to get the money from other districts: of the $1,000,000 operating cost, the school district has to cover $600,000. $400,000 from the taxpayers and 200,000 from the state. Now, the decrease in funding has lowered the state income to $185,000 totaling $585,000. The bar for covering their own costs was also increased by 7.5% so now THAT level is $675,000. That district is just $90,000 short of  qualifying for the other district help money. So now, what was only a decrease in funding of $15,000 has become a decrease in $215,000.

So, they have just punished a school district for being poor just because now, a domestic partner can now have health insurance.

Just so it's clear, multiply those dollar amounts by 100 and you'll get a fairly accurate cost for running a school district. Yeah, that $215,000 is now $215,000,000. That's the cost of operating 1-2 schools. The end result is the only way those districts could get that funding back is to close whole schools. The already over crowded classes will get 1-3* more schools worth of kids added to the rooms.

*1-3 was chosen because different schools have different operating costs depending on the levels they teach.

Moral: All of that said, the state is punishing the teachers, students, and parents because a HANDFULL of people are paying extra money into a health plan so their partners can be taken care of. Entire schools will shut down, education will be severely affected, all because the state doesn't like homosexuals. The frosting on this little cake is that not all domestic partnerships are homosexual ones, there's plenty of people who have domestic partnerships who are straight. Atheists would be among those numbers, so would Wiccans, and a host of other religious/spiritual groups that don't do marriages in the christian "traditional" sense. So the Wiccan couple that have been together for 15 years would no longer have health benefits because they live in a partnership and not a christian marriage. How's that for equality?

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...except the gays...and the wiccans and the atheists...and women. Just Christians, they're equal...except Jehova's Whitnesses and Mormons, they're crazy."
--The Declaration of Independence

Final thoughts:
I can understand if someone's faith or life experiences make them uncomfortable around things they're not used to seeing, like homosexuals, but for the majority to create laws that oppress the minority by using the people and their children as a weapon is strictly against the founding fathers' wishes and appalling at that. I wrote a letter to the school district and started this whole chain of events, encouraging them to fight the state on this matter. I encourage you to do the same.

Pflugerville ISD
Charles Dupre, Superintendent:  


Until next time!

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Today's America and the Millennial Generation

I'm back again! Hopefully, this will be a growing trend and I'd like to see more of you drop by and leave comments.

There is this idea, a prevailing promise made by those of us who are older to those who are younger that "you will do better than us, we will give you a life that we were only able to dream of when we were your age." The idea that each generation will be richer, healthier, longer lived, and better off than the previous one was. Yet here in 2013, we find ourselves confronted with some VERY nasty truths: We will NOT be richer, we are NOT healthier, we will NOT live longer, and we will not be better off than our elders. This is a rough time to be young, specifically, a millennial. There's a lot of people asking what happened, why this is happening, and who we we blame? As the saying goes, the a hard thing to swallow.

Millenials in the age of outsourcing

For anyone born through from 1980-2000, the concept of outsourcing isn't a foreign concept: Labor is too expensive here in the states, so we contract it out to other countries that will charge significantly less to do the same work at a similar level of quality (hopefully).This migration of low paying jobs put a lot of the older generation out of work and they did what anyone else would do in that situation; look for a new place to work or retrain to work in a different field. A lot of unskilled entry level labor jobs are now either outsourced or automated, the IT field is a great example. These entry level jobs used to be a way for the unskilled to enter a field, you do your time as a peon, build your knowledge and skills and you can move up to a better position. However, with the majority of those jobs gone, only the highly educated jobs remain. Everyone wants them, but there are two problems: 1) companies not only want education, but also experience 2) there's only so many positions available. So how is some with a master's degree in computer science and no practical job experience supposed to compete against someone with 15 years of experience in the field and an associate's degree? No idea.

Health and longevity

There has been a fundamental shift in the way the world works of the last 50 years. After The depression era ended and WW2 was finished, there was HUGE boom in business. Many intelligent people began to create companies that would change the landscape of food forever. With the popularization of fast food in the 60's and 70's, cooking at home slowly became a thing of the past. Why spend an hour making a meatloaf when you can pick up a Burger and fries from McDonalds in 3-5 min? So we have a generation of people raised on fast food, but the fist food from the 60's was healthier than today's fast food because in the late 60's early 70's sugar was expensive, so it was used sparingly. But in the late 70's the sugar prices rose sharply and an alternative was found and implemented: High Fructose Corn Syrup. For reasons slightly beyond my understanding, this sweetener is bad for us and when consumed in high quantities increases health risks by huge percentages. Those who grew up in the 60's and 70's remained healthy mostly because they still cooked at home from time to time and they had healthy food growing up. However, Millennials were raised on fast food. Through the 80's and 90's as various diet fads took hold, the HFCS content was upped to make up for the poor taste of fat free foods and the like. This created in us a huge addiction to sweets, we were raised on the stuff. So, we ate and ate because mom and dad both work and don't have time to fix dinner. The damage is done. We are addicted to the stuff and our health is affected too. The best we can do is try and reduce the damage to our health this material has done. How? Learn to cook. Learn to make foods that don't come in a box marked "instant". Learn to make your own pasta, your own pizzas (not healthy, but still better than the alternative), your own fruit juices. This addiction to sweets has shortened our lives and we can not change that, what we can do is teach OUR children that fast food is a treat, something to be consumed in moderation.

Where my generation went wrong

We made a mistake. We don't want to admit it, but we did. We are probably one of the larger (if not largest) generation of "liberal arts" majors. Why? We do what we love, we are exploring and pushing culture to its limits and we enjoy every moment of it. Problem is, culture doesn't earn you anything unless you're ultra gifted. We all want to be the next Yo-Yo Ma, the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, the next Andy Warhol, but those people are unique and so few of us have that quality and no matter how hard we wish it, it won't appear there. I, myself, am a musician, I thought oh, I'll be a music teacher and move my way up to getting bigger money on the professional level. Well, more and more I find myself wondering if I made the right choice, will I ever get a job that will pay me more than $50,000/yr? Chances are, no, I will not, but the can-do attitude instilled in my by parents, teachers, and mentors make me believe that if I work myself to the bone, then I can can earn as much or more than an entry level petroleum engineer (about 75-80K/yr). Too many of us are convinced that even though we're unemployable, we can still find a way to get our money's worth from our diploma. Some will (Doug Walker from is a great example), and some won't. I think its time we collectively said "it was good while it lasted, but now we need to fix this."

The blame game

Everyone wants to find who's to blame, but the problem is there's not just one source. I've read many arguments that go all sorts of directions and what I've been able to piece together is this. The Millennials are to blame for their lack of work ethic concerning finding a new path. If you've got a degree in English and haven't gotten yourself into an actual career 5 years after you've graduated, then its time to go to community college and get an associates degree in something more practical. Baby boomers and Gen-X, you each get a slice of the blame for different reasons. Baby boomers, you preached and preached that it was all about education, get education, get a PhD, they'll hire you then! That isn't the case. Education is helpful, but what we really needed to be told is "don't go into liberal arts, get a degree in something that will allow you to be productive and stick with it." far the most self centered generation ever, the message of your generation was "screw everybody else I'm gonna get what I want". I see it in your children, the self serving attitude, the greed, the lack of empathy for others. It has served you well because those of you who weren't above trying to stick it to "the man" got an education and used that ruthlessness to obtain a fair amount of wealth. However, you never learned that if you hog all the toys, then the other kids are gonna get mad. My generation has had to learn "to make do with what we have" but we're still trying to understand "why you need so much when all you do is hold onto it?" To both the boomers and the X's, you've set up a world filled with distractions; shiny objects and electronics that we grew up with. It was the environment YOU gave us that made us what we are, we didn't invent the cell phone, smart phone, the MP3 player, or the laptop, we were given these things to keep us occupied because mommy and daddy didn't want to put up with raising us. We are products of our upbringing. Now, I've bagged a LOT on the older people, I want to point out that we, Millennials, still have a share of the blame. I mentioned we need to change our work ethic and I mean it. I have seen too many of us content to live at home with our parents while skating by on part time jobs and it has to change. We may not have been given the best work ethic around, but with some effort we can work together to get ourselves out of our situation. Again, Doug Walker is a great reference, he turned his "Nostalgia Critic" review into a business and has over a dozen contract employees. We don't have the money to buy nice things, we don't have the skill to get the high paying jobs, but we DO have creativity and that's a good quality to have when you try and open your own business.

Where do we go from here?

Well, its already established that the current generation will never have the income or earning power that our predecessors had, but we will do what we've always done. We make do with what we have. There no use in bemoaning our place or regretting the past, its done and its time to move on. I want this generation to be the one that is faced with an insurmountable challenge, and fights it, and overcomes it. We're entering an age where new markets are emerging alongside new frontiers and we are there to capitalize on it, not just financially, but culturally as well. Don't be afraid to step outside your shell and learn new skills and take a new job, you never know when it might just pay off.

As a closing note, I wanted to write this because I have read some articles about what is going on in my generation and it made me think and reconsider my own situation. I've linked two of these articles below:

Join me next week for a new article, but in the meantime, please comment on it, like it, share it on FB, +1 it, and all that jazz.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Extremism of all flavors

If you are reading this, you can use a mouse!

In the last year I've become increasingly aware of something I find IMMENSELY bothersome. There is a great deal of extremism everywhere I look, not just religious, but political, social, economic... the sky is the limit! So I want to take some time today and talk about some of these extremist mentalities and the problems they create.

How do I define extremism?
Just so I have everyone on the same page with me, I define it as a single minded fixation on one idea with little regard (or respect) for opposing points of view. So there is a difference between someone making a claim and using well balanced evidence to back it up and a person who makes a claim and uses only evidence that supports their claim to insist they were right.

Extremists come in all shapes and sized so don't think I'm just referring to Muslims hellbent on jihad, that's only one type and a relatively small one at that.

Extremists among you!!
We all know them, they occupy little parts of our lives, be they the person on facebook who only posts political updates to the bible thumper down the street that thinks it's his/her duty to save the gays from their sinful lifestyle. Those examples are easy to spot, but what about not-so-easy to spot extremists? Well, it all depends on your locale and disposition, but there's ways to find them, look for folks who have an unhealthy fixations on something and will defend it at all costs (Living in Texas  that usually comes in the form of 2nd amendment supporters). Take some time and look around and in short order you'll come up with a list of at least 5 people who fit that description.

What do I do now?
Well, here's the kick: try and see it from there point of view. These people feel the way they do because of a certain reason, some thing happened. Put their shoes on and look at the situation through their eyes, sometimes you'll be surprised to find you agree with them, but just take issue with how its worded or presented. A friend of mine is on the far end of the political spectrum and at first I loathed talking politics with him because I was scared I'd get an inbox full of hate mail, but after many conversations and debates I found that he and I are not very different, we simply view the same solution to a problem from different perspectives. He and I have our disagreements, but we never talk bad about each other to anyone because we have a mutual understanding that we're simply coming from different backgrounds. Strangely enough, even though our methods differ, we still desire similar, if not the same outcome to a situation. It is ALWAYS useful to have a differing opinion than that of your own because it help you understand that not everyone is as crazy as we normally think.

The major theme I'm trying to get across is that we as a people are looking for more and more reasons/ways to segregate ourselves and it's time we do the opposite. There is much more to be gained by cooperating and finding our common threads than pushing everyone away. This can be applied to the political arena, matters of belief/non-belief, society, and just about anything else you can think of.

That's all I feel like talking about for now, I'll be back when I've got my thoughts gathered for my next post: "Today's America and the Millennial Generation"

Note: As a favor to me, could you please make sure you use your turn signals and stop at stop lights? I'm becoming paranoid about that. (spread the word!)

Like it, share it, +1 it, facebook it, reddit it, and link it! I want to share my thoughts with more of you and your friends...and their friends...and their friends...and so on.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

GOP, Welfare, and Political Segregation

Hello again! I hope you all have had fun since we last talked!

Today I feel like grabbing the third rail of social interaction, I'm going to talk about politics. I count myself as an independent centrist with some democratic/left-wing leanings, but like many who call themselves a republican I too would like the government a bit further out of my day to day life. In fact, there's MANY things about the republican party I agree with.

So, why am I not a republican? Simple: The republican party I want hasn't existed since the 1800's. I am a big believer in self reliance, I believe each person is responsible for their own actions and that 99% of their successes and failures are on their shoulders. So when I watch the news and I see republicans talking about laws that limit the freedoms of 52% of the population I am a little more than bothered. When I see republicans talking about trying to make laws that say the united states' official religion is Christianity they're trampling on the rights of 76 million people (according to 2008 statistics).

I want everyone to know that through my eyes they have the right to practice religion (or not) as they see fit, yet when see people say "this is a christian country, the founding fathers said so." I have to trot out the first 10 words of the first amendment to the bill of rights.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

Everyone like to say the next words "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But, they forget the first amendment says fairly clearly that the government CAN NOT support a religion. So the idea the country is a christian country is not a true one. The accurate statement is: "This country is predominantly christian." So if you're a practicing satanist, you have the right to say a prayer to him in school right next to the person saying the christian prayer and the person saying a prayer to Zeus.

The republican party has been branded the "rich white man's party" and for good reason, the party's ideals have been hijacked by extremists. We rail and shout at muslim extremists but when pastors that advocate the murder of non believers are allowed audiences with the leaders of the country and have the power to get people elected, it is time to step back and check your priorities.

I will say it out loud, right here and now: the republican party has lost its way. No longer is it the party about restricting government power and spending, it is the party of christian extremist trying to turn these United States into a christian version of Saudi Arabia.

Moving on

Welfare is a tough issue to discuss in government, should we have it, how much should it cost, how much should it yield? I support welfare, but not in the traditional sense. There are people out there who genuinely need help and this country has made a mission of making sure everyone gets a fair shot at success. I support those in dire need receiving some government assistance, but for a limited time and it is only usable once every several years. There's many problems that can be solved through social programs with the goal of providing information rather than products. A common issue for those at the bottom of the class ladder is access to information regarding sex and disease. A program to encourage safe sex or abstinence can help a great deal simply by communicating that sex has a high probability of leading to children and that there are consequences. STD's too can be mentioned, show people what could happen if they aren't safe of don/t see a doctor from time to time. A program like this, aimed at teens can reduce the number of women dependent on welfare because they can't find a better job due to having to take care of kids. This isn't condoning sex, it's admitting that sex is out there and people should be careful. Preventing 1000 pregnancies could result in up to 1000 fewer people needing welfare services and further reducing the strain on the system.

The nastier side of welfare is the dependency, too many have grown up on it and are used to it and see it as a way of life. Welfare is easy to abuse, especially since there's so many asking for it. It is easy to loose someone in the system and let them collect money they should not be collecting. Its easy to cheat the system too, I once watched someone use a food stamp card at Sams to buy a 56" plasma screen TV. She got around it by including some food in her purchase.

The moral of the story I'm going for here is: yes, we need some welfare, but we need to update and overhaul the system if we're going to make it sustainable. So, don't downright dismiss it if you don't like and don't don't champion it if it isn't going to work correctly or is easy to abuse.

One last bit concerning the "Affordable Healthcare Act". I can see how it is intended to work. Millions of people don't have insurance, when they go to the hospital, they can't pay the bill wich is then hoisted upon the government to pay. This costs MILLIONS AND MILLIONS every year. I looked into insurance for myself, I found some for under $100 a month and it covers all of my needs. If you're spending money on internet and cell phones and cable TV (Data phones coming around $100/mo avg., Cable/internet for about $150/mo avg). Then your priorities are backwards. You need to entertain yourself AFTER you've taken care of yourself. There is no reason you should sacrifice your health insurance for cable TV. GO THE F*** OUTSIDE AND VISIT THE PARK! PLAY A SPORT, RIDE A BIKE, GET OFF YOUR A**!
I am proud to say that even though I make less than $1,000/mo I still have the ability to pay for health insurance because I don't spend it on frivolous things like cable TV. Get insurance and stop leeching off the government, if we can do that, then we can reduce the cost of medicaid to the taxpayer.


I want to talk about political segregation for a minute. I have seen in the last few years so many people sling derogatory terms at others for no reason or crime other than simply not belonging to their preferred political party.

Libitards, Repugnacans, and a few I won't mention just for the strength of words. I can not tell you how frustrating it is when I see a good idea being drowned out by partisan bitching. It could be an idea that fixes the entire social/class system of the country, but just because a democrat came up with it, it HAS to be evil (according to the republicans). A new way of saving money in the government and reducing spending AND taxes has been devised but it's an evil plan by the republicans to defund everything and return us to the days of the old west where we shot everyone for everything! (according to the democrats). I find it deplorable that people are looking for a reason to segregate each other. Don't think I mean by race, this applies to any and all skin colors.

All in all, I just wanted to advocate some social responsibility. Don't treat others like trash just because they don't agree with you on how to run the country. Be responsible for your self and your health before you burn your money on sitting and watching TV. And PLEASE be responsible when deciding on your political affiliations, what one politician does does not mean others will follow suit. Voting straight ticket only serves to give crazy people the opportunity to do real damage*.

*Such as electing a home school mother who has no degree in education or core studies (math/science/history/language, yet worked in accounts receivable for a small oil company) to the state board of education because she campaigned on getting rid of "obamacare" when Texas school funding (derived from sales tax) and curriculum has nothing to do with federal level healthcare. It's true, I swear it!