Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Forgotten Religion Which Has Shaped Our Religious Thought: Zoroastrianism

It is interesting how so few people today know about Zoroastrianism. People often inquire where Jesus obtained much of his teachings which are remarkably similar to that of which are found in Buddhism and Hinduism but largely absent in Judaism. Some have theorized that during his teenage years, Jesus left the Roman province of Judea and traveled to India where he was subsequently influenced by those religions. Yet the people who theorize this are ignorant of Zoroastrianism and its influence on all religions in South Asia and the Near East.

Zoroastrianism is said to have been founded by the prophet Zarathustra, or Zoroaster to the Greeks, a man whom we know about only through the sacred Zoroastrian text the Avesta. We know little about where he lived or when he lived, but it's estimated through linguistic evidence and the context that the stories of the Avesta are in that he lived around 2600 - 3200 years ago somewhere in or near Bactria, which is located in the northern part of modern day Afghanistan. The teachings of Zarathustra would eventually become adopted as the state religion of Achaemenid Persia, the first great Persian empire, where Cyrus the Great himself, the founder of Achaemenid Persia, espoused the teachings of Zarathustra through his codification of human rights into his empire, specifically the toleration of all religions. Zoroastrianism itself, however, wouldn't be codified until much later into the Avesta, around about 6th or 7th century AD in Sassinid Persia, who were more zealous than their Achaemenid predecessors. With the rise of Islam over the next centuries, the few remaining Zoroastrians fled to India, where about 300,000 followers still exist today.

As seemingly insignificant as this religion may sound simply by looking at its brief history, its influences were significant. It was a pervasive and widely followed religion in the ancient and early medieval world. Under the Persian Empire, it came to influence Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Judaism during the Babylonian Captivity, and most significantly and visibly, Christianity. Zoroastrianism is the connection between all these religions and their similarities are thus understood through this religion. A text I found analyzes the connection between Zoroastrian and Judeo-Christian thought rather well, so I'm going to quote it.

Zoroastrianism: The Forgotten Source
Stephen Van Eck

The composition _Also_Sprach_Sarathustra_ by Richard
Strauss featured in _2001_ is a piece of powerful drama,
rich in majesty, awe-inspiring, and devastatingly portentous.
It is an appropriate memorial to the Persian prophet Zarathustra,
whom the Greeks called Zoroaster.

Zarathustra's influence on Judeo-Christianity and all of western
civilization is little known but should not be underestimated.
His life and words changed the nature of civilization in the west,
setting it on a course that departed from the static cultures
of the ancient Middle East. Without his impact, Judaism would
be unrecognizable, and Christianity would probably have never

Western civilization owes mainly to Zarathustra its fundamental
concept of linear time, as opposed to the cyclical and essentially
static concept of ancient times. This concept, which was implicit
in Zarathustra's doctrines, makes the notion of progress, reform,
and improvement possible. Until that time, ancient civilizations,
particularly Egyptian, were profoundly conservative, believing
that the ideal order had been handed down to them by the gods
in some mythical Golden Age. Their task was to adhere to the established
traditions as closely as possible. To reform or modify them in
any way would have been a deviation from and diminution of the
ideal. Zarathustra gave Persian (and through it, Greek) thought
a teleological dimension, with a purpose and goal to history.
All people, he declared, were participants in a supernatural battle
between Good and Evil, the battleground for which was the Earth,
and the very body of individual Man as well. This essential dualism
was adopted by the Jews, who only after exposure to Zoroastrianism
incorporated a demonology and angelology into their religion.
Retroactively, what was only a snake in the Genesis tale came
to be irrevocably associated with the Devil, and belief in demonic
possession came to be a cultural obsession, as amply reflected
in the Gospels.

Zarathustra claimed special divine revelation and had attempted
to establish the worship of one supreme God (Ahura Mazda) in the
7th century B. C., but after his death, the earlier Aryan polytheism
reemerged. Many other features of his theology, however, have
endured to the present time, through the religions that eventually
superseded it.

The Babylonian captivity of the 6th century B. C. transformed
Judaism in a profound way, exposing the Jews to Zoroastrianism,
which was virtually the state religion of Babylon at the time.
Until then, the Jewish conception of the afterlife was vague.
A shadowy existence in Sheol, the underworld, land of the dead
(not to be confused with Hell) was all they had to look forward
to. Zarathustra, however, had preached the bodily resurrection
of the dead, who would face a last judgment (both individual and
general) to determine their ultimate fate in the next life: either
Paradise or torment. Daniel was the first Jewish prophet to refer
to resurrection, judgment, and reward or punishment ([ref001]12:2
), and insofar as he was an advisor to King Darius (erroneously
referred to as a Mede), he was in a position to know the religion

The new doctrine of resurrection was not universally accepted
by the Jews and remained a point of contention for centuries until
its ultimate acceptance. The Gospels ([ref002]Matthew 22:23
) record that the dispute was still going on during the time
of Christ, with the Sadducees denying and the Pharisees affirming
it. It may be a mere coincidence, but note the similarity between
the names _Pharisee_ and _Farsi_ or _Parsee_, the
Persians from whom the doctrine of resurrection was borrowed.
In addition to incorporating the doctrines of resurrection and
judgment, exposure to Zoroastrianism substantially altered Jewish
Messianism as well. Zarathustra predicted the imminent arrival
of a World Savior (Saoshyant), who would be born of a virgin and
who would lead humanity in the final battle against Evil. Jewish
Messianism grafted these conceptions onto their preexisting expectations
of a Davidic king who would redeem the Jewish nation from foreign

It was at this time, as a response to their captivity, that the
era of apocalyptic literature commenced in Judaism, based on Babylonian
models and patterned after their symbology. This was to have a
strong influence on later Christian thinking. With the key elements
of resurrection, judgment, reward or punishment, a Savior, apocalyptism,
and ultimate destruction of the forces of Evil, it can be concluded
that Jewish and Christian eschatology is Zoroastrian from start
to finish.

The similarities don't end with eschatology either. A lot of
the tradition and sacramental ritual of Christianity, particularly
Catholicism, traces back to Zoroastrian precursors. The Zoroastrian
faithful would mark their foreheads with ash before approaching
the sacred fire, a gesture that resembles Ash Wednesday tradition.
Part of their purification before participating in ritual was
the confession of sins, categorized (as Catholics do) as consisting
of thought, word, or deed. Zoroastrians also had a Eucharistic
ritual, the Haoma ritual, in which the god Haoma, or rather his
presence, was sacrificed in a plant. The worshipers would drink
the juice in expectation of eventual immortality. Finally, Zoroastrians
celebrated All Souls' Day, reflecting, like the Catholics, a belief
in intercession by and for the dead. We should also note that
the story of the Magi, who were said to have visited the newborn
Jesus, resembles an earlier story of Magi who looked for a star
foretelling the birth of a Savior, in this case Mithras. Magi
were not kings but Zoroastrian astrologers, and the birthday of
Mithras on December 25th was deliberately appropriated by the
church to be that of their Christ, whose actual date of birth
is unknown and undocumented.

Christianity may also have borrowed the story of the temptation
in the desert, since an earlier legend placed Zarathustra himself
in that situation. The principal demon (Ahriman) promised Zarathustra
earthly power if he would forsake the worship of the supreme God.
Ahriman, like Satan when tempting Jesus, failed.

A final interesting parallel is the three days that Jesus spent
in the grave. This concept may have been derived from a Zoroastrian
belief that the soul remains in the body for three days before
departing. Three days would have established death yet left his
soul in a position to reanimate his body. As a Messiah, Jesus
functioned purely along Zoroastrian lines. While purportedly of
the Davidic line, he offered only redemption from sin, rather
than national salvation for the Jews. He was a world savior rather
than a Jewish Messiah. Jews did not recognize him as their Messiah,
and in a real sense he wasn't. Their Messianic expectations, which
preceded any foreign influence, went unfulfilled; in fact, their
nation was ultimately destroyed. Neither did Jesus effect a final
triumph over Evil. This has been reserved for a second coming
in conjunction with the last judgment and the rewards and punishments
of either Heaven or Hell.

Although Zoroastrianism is almost extinct today, it lives on
in its spiritual descendants. Zarathustra, a prophet beyond any
in the Old Testament, still speaks today, unrecognized by his

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Impact of Longevity on Future Society

If you ever watch a sci-fi movie, such as Star Wars, you'll notice they portray many elements of what one individual imagines future society to be like. They usually consist of using lasers as weapons, interstellar (and sometimes intergalactic) travel, sentient extraterrestrial life coexisting with humans, much more sophisticated artificial intelligence almost to, and sometimes reaching, sentience (usually robots), and among many other things. These, for all we know, may or may not be correct, however, one thing most science fiction generally ignores is longevity - the point at which humans defeat aging and all illnesses, and thus have an indefinite life expectancy (death being caused only through serious accidents, murder, or suicide). In just about every sci-fi film I've seen, life expectancies remained more or less the same as they are now.

As much of an oversight as it may seem, this ignoring of longevity makes sense. After all, can you imagine just how much society would change, and how every individual lives his or her life? Most sci-fi movies, novels, etc. usually don't portray the future so much as they portray our current attitudes and society in a future setting. This is also true of historical dramas, where they take our current attitudes and society and put it in a historical setting. Certain technologies such as laser weapons, interstellar travel (at least as is portrayed, seemingly instant), and very sophisticated artificial intelligence wouldn't change too many things regarding peoples' lifestyles and society in general, you can most certainly bet longevity would and in every way imaginable. Trying to incorporate longevity accurately into the sci-fi genre would require placing oneself in an absolutely foreign setting - so foreign that many of our concepts and perceptions of life, love, and so many other things would become "obsolete."

Personally, I find this prospect fascinating. Many people do not give longevity the emphasis it deserves and often take the idea for granted. Hell, many don't even believe that it's possible, but as far as I can tell about aging, it is not something which is necessary. Evolutionarily speaking it is and so is the death of all organisms, but to an individual level, it can be stopped, and indeed, health technology will eventually reach a point at which it will be. Obviously not all at once and I'd imagine it would take a bit of time for such an advance to reach the entire human population, but once it does, its effects will be profound. And to be honest, this change may very well appear as bleak as it is fascinating. The future is always a mixed baggage - it's never all good or all bad.

Certainly you can imagine death would become much less common and far more alien to future generations than they are now. However, this is a trend that's been occurring over the last few centuries, and not just because we live longer now than we once did in the past, but because the people we associate with today are usually closer to our age where in the past (largely an effect of urbanization), whereas an individual of the past generally associated with an entire community of the area in which they lived (thus giving them more intimate contact with all age groups, the old included). However, just as we disassociate ourselves from death now (as I mentioned in my last post), future generations will do it to such an extent that death will be something which is almost never considered and seem "real" to them. After all, how many people do we personally know who have died? Most of us have had at least a grandparent die. Death to us is all too real, whereas with an indefinite lifespan, losing one's parents, grandparents, etc. would be an extremely rare thing.

Of course, given enough time everybody will probably die of an accident or something else eventually, however, that would likely take a lot of time in most cases. Long enough for the consideration of death to appear irrelevant at least. When this happens, you can be sure that the idea of death will disappear from the future society and a culture focused on death (as ours in many ways is) will cease to exist. It may still exist in the form of a final judgment against a villain, but in most other cases, it will cease to exist for they will fail to apply to the society at large. People largely will not be able to relate to death.

Life is said to be more beautiful because we live only so long. You would think that there are only so many things you can do before you eventually get bored of life. After all, we aren't just talking about a few hundred years here, but rather, thousands of years, if not tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of years - in a few cases, maybe even much more. An indefinite lifespan can potentially last forever. Can somebody really live that long? It's hard to imagine it, but I think people can, and quite a few will. People often think life would become so boring after awhile, but I disagree. There's so much to life which we fail to notice that unless we stubbornly refuse to explore what surrounds us, we'll be able to keep ourselves occupied potentially forever. Moreover, as we move through time, things will inevitably change, keeping what's going on seemingly fresh.

Of course, we look at our older generations today and we often notice them unable to relate to the way we are today. I think this is the result of ageism, the phenomenon where we assign so much importance to how old somebody is. If our lifespans become indefinite, ageism will disappear, and with that, so will the idea that we are a certain age. Mainstream society will truly be mainstream - there won't be a culture that pertains only to the younger generations or older generations, but to everyone. Certainly how long one has been alive would give them some experience to base their knowledge and wisdom on, but I think that's about as far as it will go.

But lastly, and most importantly, is love and how families will work. Can a marriage truly last indefinitely? I think theoretically it could, but I doubt very many will. And what will happen to the concept of love if people routinely enter marriages with the understanding that they'll probably split up at some unspecified date after growing weary of each other and wishing to move on to new experiences? Will it seem as deep as it is now? Will it be as monogamous as it is now? One thing is for sure - the whole fantasy of "happily ever after" will cease to exist. A culture accepting these changes will have to evolve and we may be seeing one more open to divorce, remarriage, open relationships, and the like. Love may become more based on how you enjoy someone's company more than any deep commitment. I'd imagine this could make some today feel a little uneasy, myself included. Certainly age old myths of "love conquers all" and the like will go and love will likely be much more pragmatic.

And then consider it, if you can potentially have an infinite number of children (no menopause for women), how many generations of children could you produce? Children with a 10 year age difference will seem like nothing when we think of children with a 100 or more year age difference. As I said, age differences probably won't seem so relevant in the future, so siblings with such an age difference could still likely relate to each other, but what would you do with so many children? Especially if you have them with multiple spouses over hundreds and hundreds of years? How would you keep in contact with them all? I think we may see a culture less focused on the family unit, with parent-children relationships becoming less important. To compensate, we may see a society will a much more collective mindset where friendship circles and other social groups are emphasized more than family units. I'd imagine that this could also make some today feel uneasy as our culture today is largely structured around the family unit.

Please bear in mind that these are just my predictions for what the impacts of longevity will have on the future. I think they're likely, but they more than likely won't be spot on. But the fact remains that longevity will most certainly change how we think of and associate with death, life, ageism, love, and families. And these changes won't necessarily be for the better; they'll simply just be a neutral change, many of which won't entirely make sense to us living today, just as how some of our concepts wouldn't entirely make sense to those living hundreds of years ago.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Goes Through the Heads of the Dying?

Besides a bullet in a few cases, that is.

The question of what the dying are thinking of as they die has been on my mind for as long as I can remember - ever since I was about three years old. When I was about three, I remember just coming to the realization of the concept of death and that the time each and every one of us is alive for is limited; some more than others for varying reasons. It's a very dark and unnerving notion for an individual of any age to face, especially as during this time I had no concept of heaven and hell to fall back on. Thus I believed that naturally what would come after death would be like what it was like before my first memory - in other words, absolutely nothing. As one would expect, this terrified me and I remember being afraid of anything even mildly related to death, whether that would be an injury, the dark, or what have you.

As with all things, I eventually came to terms with the idea of death and eventually not existing by the time I was about four or so, if I remember correctly, but of course, this did not quell my fear of it and my avoidance of anything that could hurt me. Rather, the way I, and generally most people, came to terms with it was through disassociating myself from the concept. Deep down I knew I'd die someday at some unspecified time, but for now, it would remain out of my mind and all the deaths I see in movies, video games, on the news, in books, etc. would not be related to my own mortality. This method works, but it does have its drawbacks when one is suddenly confronted with their own coming death, such as if an individual finds out they are HIV positive, is in an airplane that is falling toward the ground with no hope for a safe landing, when they have a gun pointed to their head, and thousands of other possibilities. In such cases, panic and terror strikes the victim, and in emergency situations, that can sometimes be catastrophic. This is why games like Return to Zork freaked me out when I was young, for you play it in a first-person view and when you die, it'll give you the perspective of the individual dying (as if you're the one dying), complete with freaky music.

Even when I was young, I recognized that to an individual faced with his or her death must be a terror beyond anything I could comprehend and this fascinated me, as much as it gave me a sick and cold scare, in an odd way. At first I would think about it every time I smashed a goomba in Super Mario Bros. 3, while later I'd see it in all places besides video games - in movies, in books, in the media, and so many others. Our culture is indeed one fixated on death, where death simultaneously represents the final judgment (the killing of a villain), the worst sin (murder), the work of terror (school shootings, terrorism), a tragedy (a fatal accident, a fatal illness), the inevitable (the death of an old person), the ultimate sacrifice (war deaths, saving another at the cost of one's own life), a selfish act (suicide), a fool's humorous result (Darwin awards), etc. Of course, depending on context and interpretation, what death represents often overlaps and aren't as clear cut as I described, as is the case of most things. What would be going through an individual's mind would most definitely depend on the circumstances of the death and how that death is seen.

The most striking example to me is the falling man of 9/11. He was all over the media, becoming iconic of the terror of 9/11. There were many like him and ever since I first saw the pictures and videos, I could not help but to wonder what he was thinking as he was falling. Was he thinking about the family he's leaving behind? The things he had yet to accomplish? How scared and unfortunate he is to die? Did his life flash before his eyes so quickly that he was not cognisant of anything else? How hard was his stomach churned as he fell? Or perhaps in a more positive tone, was his mind at peace during the fall? Did he reminisce on his happy experiences? Did he reflect on his faith and pray? There is no way we will ever know and for each person who jumped from the World Trade Center that day, the answer is most certainly varied, but I think it can be said with some degree of certainty that the consideration of their life, their past, and what would have been their futures came about in some manner, whether before and/or during the fall. Moreover, we also have to understand that as they jumped, they had to have accepted their death before it occurred (even if desperately), for you don't jump off a skyscraper like that thinking that you might have a way to survive. As such, I'd figure that what went through their heads during their falls would seem much more peaceful compared to other deaths, though the rushed panic that may ensue during the fall may have grappled some others.

But what about those whose coming deaths are more prolonged? Those tested HIV positive, diagnosed with a cancer that they're very unlikely to recover from, etc. all fall under this, and indeed, we can hear what they have to say. The acceptance of their deaths, unlike the case of the falling man of 9/11, are done much more slowly over time rather than out of desperation, but it is forced nonetheless. Their deaths still occur at an unspecified date, but the date now appears much closer and more real to them than ever before, giving them the sense that they're living under a "time limit," where in reality, we all are. They are usually hit with a wave of terror when they first learn about their diagnosis, as is the case of a non-profit organization I read about in Vancouver, BC. They are an organization that gives those tested with HIV positive, usually homosexuals who have been rejected by their families and friends, a buddy to talk to and spend time with for support and general friendship (basically a buddy-buddy system). Apparently this organization had many people call them up or come in that had just learned about their being diagnosed HIV positive, and they'd almost always be distressed and in tears, telling them that they have no idea what to do. Clearly they're in a panicked daze about what's going on, and that's not surprising given that I'm sure most non-HIV positive individuals would tell you that they'd have no idea what to do either.

Accepting one's death is a long and painstaking process, and indeed, helping HIV positive individuals coming to terms with that is one of the goals of that non-profit organization in Vancouver, BC. The thing is that while hard, just about all people are able to do it. I don't think I have ever heard of a case where somebody with a prolonged disease like that has ever came out and said "I'm not ready to die!" just before their deaths. Of course, this may perhaps be out of pressure to comfort their family and friends and conform to the idea that there's an expectation for people who are dying of a prolonged disease to be ready to die, but after reading some of the diaries of those with these diseases, those types would appear to be among the minority. This doesn't make their deaths any less tragic, mind you, but it's simply underlying the point that the acceptance of their deaths has brought them peace of mind as they die.

An acceptance of death certainly does that, and I think that there's a possibility that it even accelerates it. Elderly individuals are all faced with it at some point, and generally that is accelerated when their significant other dies. It could be said that by accepting your death, you are telling your body that it's time to die. And this would indeed make sense if evolutionarily speaking, man had adapted to disassociating him or herself with death until they are aware that their time is drawing near to an end. But that's just speculation.

You do have to wonder, though, about those whom never saw their deaths coming. Do they think they're still alive? When my mom was lying on her death bed in the hospital as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, I doubt she was ever aware of her coming death. After all, she was sedated, and thus unconscious, nearly the entire time - only her first few days in the hospital were the exception, and I'd imagine she figured that she was going to eventually recover and get out, just like her bee sting two months prior to that. You really have to wonder what that would be like to go to sleep and wind up never waking back up. People say that this is the best way to go, but is that really so? Your answer to that is indicative of whether you think ignorance is bliss.

This naturally leads to the question of what is the worst way to die.

Personally, I think to be aware and not to be ready for your death is by far the worst way to go. This is often the case during wars, where an individual has hopes of surviving but then suddenly had his (and increasingly her) other half of their body blown off by a shell, mine, or what have you. In those cases, they'd be knocked unconscious and be entirely unaware of their death - during many wars, that is said to be the desirable way to go. But occasionally they aren't knocked unconscious and are still cognisant of their surroundings, often moaning and crying out in agony. Perhaps that could be said to be the worst way to go?

Perhaps there's a different take on death itself. After all, death is said to be nought but a relief. We fear it instinctively for we are programmed to as a means of avoiding it, and for a general fear of the unknown (also instinctive). The adaptive significance of that is very obvious. However, you have to ask - is death itself truly bad or is it simply the process of dying that is bad? After all, if we know about our coming death, accept it, and willingly wither away, is that not the best way to go? If everyone could accept and welcome their deaths, would death necessarily be such a bad thing? I'd say that indeed, this is the best way to go and that through accepting and welcoming one's death, it is not so much of a tragedy as it is a fact of life that, while unfortunate for those left behind who miss them. Death is indeed feared by only the living. I'd go as far as to extend this to all other deaths and that, while the circumstances of the dying may be tragic, the death itself is not. This is how I view my mom's death - no more than a simple fact of life, which is neither good or bad, that we all must come to terms with one way or another, for both those we love and ourselves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Deficiencies in the Criminal Justice System

I was getting my haircut today and the barber, who's a rather talkative guy despite my usually reserved nature in these sorts of interactions, told me something that shocked even me. His 19 year old son, William Somtoa, whom he talks about time and time again whenever I get my haircut, apparently died as a result of a drinking and driving accident, where he was sober and the other person was drunk and hit him.

I was very nonchalant in my reaction for I don't typically have much to say regarding these sorts of things. I mean, what do you say other than a short "oh, I'm sorry to hear that. :/"? However, despite what one might think of my reaction, it did hit me fairly deeply despite my not knowing him. As a result, I felt compelled to do a search on the accident that led to his death and Google his name based on the information my barber gave me. When I read things like his Facebook (of which I found that we have five friends in common - one of which is my cousin Carina, which makes sense as he also went to Mt. Rainier High School) and saw all the goodbye comments left for him on his wall, he somehow "came to life" to me, as if now all of the sudden I realized that he was indeed a real person instead of just another name. Thus I felt prompted to center this blog around his death and the injustice that I believe is currently taking place. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, below is an article that gets at it:

While this is more on the man who killed him, James Jabari, it does give vague details about what occurred. However, I don't think that this does justice to what happened to William, so I feel compelled to write about it in my own words. From the information I've obtained from this article, other articles, my barber, and comments that I've read, I'll give a description of what occurred with some details of what was going on which most news articles fail to give.

The Friday night of January 2nd, 2009 was like any other. William Somtoa wished to go out with his friends. For a 19 year old, this is a typical enough thing and William's father was fine with it. Also as is typical for a group of young males looking for some fun, they all headed to Rick's Strip Club in Lake City, a neighborhood in Seattle, around midnight. They left there at about 2 am.

As William got into his friend's silver Subaru Impreza WRX (his other friends having a yellow Subaru Impreza WRX - William and his friends were big on Subaru Imprezas, and William was planning on buying one of his own as soon as he had enough money), his friend called shotgun (which, for those of you who do not know, is a game many young males play where the first person who shouts "shotgun!" gets to ride in the front passenger seat). As such, William settled to sitting in the backseat.

At about 2:09 am, the yellow Subaru came to a red light at the intersection at NE 95th St. and Lake City Way, with the silver Subaru that William was in behind them, and stopped. James Jabari, who was driving a BMW with a blood alcohol content of 0.23, was driving down Lake City Way at an estimated 70 miles per hour. Before any of them could figure out what was coming, the BMW swerved right to miss the car it was originally headed towards only to smash straight into the rear end of silver Subaru that William was in, which pushed its way into the yellow Subaru as a result.

Witnesses said that unlike in most crash scenes where you typically hear a screech of the brakes and then a crash, there were no screeches in this one. It was all crash. Jabari clearly not did not brake before hitting the back of the silver Subaru, which is typical of DUI accidents. Jabari's passenger flew out the front windshield while Jabari himself crawled out of the BMW after the wreck. Those in the silver Subaru, however, were in a much worse state than Jabari. All were knocked out cold with William, having been in the passenger seat, having the gravest injuries of them all. The pictures below show the accident scene that night:

The passenger of the BMW, the driver of the silver Subaru, and William himself were declared to be in critical condition and were rushed to Harborview. The only one who had life threatening conditions, however, were William and that next day he was declared dead. The other two recovered swiftly enough. The passenger in the front seat of the car William was in was declared to only have minor injuries.

Jabari had neither a license (it was revoked) nor auto insurance. The car he was driving wasn't even his. Jabari was arrested at the scene and bailed out for $200 the next day. Later when Jabari would appear in court for a hearing, he would plead not guilty to the charge of vehicular homicide. The outcome of the trial has yet to be decided, though it is expected that Jabari will be receiving a few years in jail. The bail set at this hearing was $75,000, of which Jabari will have collected and be coming out this Thursday.

So you see what wound up happening. It truly is sad for all involved. The saddest thing I heard was that for a little while after William's death, my barber would continue to go to William's room each morning to wake him up, as his routine is, but only half way through would realize that his son would not be there. As one can imagine, my barber's feelings were something in between sad, angry, and helpless. He told me about how his wife said to him that the punishment Jabari will receive will most certainly not be enough and that he should go "get him" himself. However, given that that's not exactly the sort of thing my barber would do, as much as he might wish to, he declined and said that all he can do is let the law handle this. However, how has the law handled this thus far?

James Jabari is about my age - 21 years old. Yet since 2005, he has received a total of 16 convictions. Five of which are related to driving with a suspended license, more than one of which dealing with drinking and driving (which got his license revoked), one for a hit and run, and one currently under investigation for burglary. His other convictions deal with having failed to appear in court (which surprises me that Jabari would receive a bail at all). Moreover, Jabari had also received numerous reckless driving citations.

With these prior convictions, you can be sure that Jabari will likely receive a sentence longer than a one-time offender, but I cannot imagine it'll be long enough. Five years maybe? Personally, I think the convictions given to those charged with DUIs, especially if those DUIs result in an accident, or worse, death, should be much more harsh, or at least harsh enough so that they're given a long enough sentence to create a rift between those convicted and their friends so that upon release and thereafter, they generally will not be in a situation to party and get drunk (irresponsibly at least - usually after awhile, those they'd party with either wouldn't party so much and/or irresponsibly), and if they do in the future, they'll be more prone to avoid driving. Looking at the number of those convicted of vehicular assault where they wound up killing somebody when they were drinking and driving where they got off with jailtime of only a few years, I think it's absolutely ridiculous. Now, don't get me wrong as I'm not usually the one to advocate for a more harsh sentence for most crimes, and tend to advocate the focusing more on rehabilitation rather than punishment or as a deterrent. However, those who repeatedly drink and drive and show that the revoking of their license doesn't stop them from doing so are a danger to all of society, especially when they kill somebody as was the case of William's.

Of course, Jabari is as much of a person as William was, and thus we must keep in mind that he does have family and friends who care about him. And let us not forget that killing another individual may have awakened Jabari to his actions he has done time and time again in the past. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system cannot take an individual in question's word for their expressed remorse, for anyone can feign a sign of sincere remorse for their actions. Jabari had to have known the potential consequences for his actions, even if they did not immediately register with him, and thus he must be given the "benefit" of the doubt now. Personally, given his record and my general experience with those who have the same sort of record that Jahari has, I am very skeptical of his remorse. Remorse is about far more than just saying I'm sorry and if he's going to convince anyone of it, it is up to him to prove it.

But at the same time, we must understand that the criminal justice system operates on the good of society, not the good of the individual and his or her family and friends, and moreover it has a very hard time taking the person in question's word for their remorse for anyone can feign the sign of sincere remorse given the practice. One life taken is already too many and personally, given the dangers drinking and driving poses, I think the jail sentences for drinking and driving should be given a marked increase. Perhaps not necessarily on the first offense, but repeated offenses most certainly should be. While I'm generally against the whole three strikes idea towards criminal justice, I think it's far more appropriate to apply it here and anywhere where the actions by those convicted individuals poses a danger to others.

Unfortunately, Washington state law isn't very harsh on those convicted of DUI offenses. It seems as if the criminal justice system is more focused on punishing those who have drugs, have failed to pay their child support payments (which ironically makes it so that they cannot pay further ones, much to the detriment of the child in question anyway), and others which are not directly related to our society's safety, justice, and betterment. But those who have shown themselves to be a threat to society, however, can in some cases get off easy, and such benefits of the doubt have wound up in many others' deaths which could have been avoided, William's included. Thanks to all this, I'm sure that in a couple more years, we'll be seeing James Jabari back on the road in the streets of Seattle late at night, whether his license is still revoked or not. Such are the deficiencies of our criminal justice system. One can only hope that Jabari is truly sincere in his remorse and does not kill another person in the future.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"You're Majoring in Geography? So You Know Where Everything Is, Right?"

Geography has to be one of the most misunderstood of all subjects. I knew I'd get this reaction when I decided to major in geography, but it seems whenever I tell people of my major, they feign the "oh, I know what you're taking about" look and ask me if I know where some random bullshit on a map is.

Of course, the reality is that geography is much more than just knowing where everything is. Hell, it's hardly even that. Knowing where everything is in geography is very comparable to knowing all the dates of events in history. There was once a time and place where that kind of geography prevailed in post-secondary education and still does in many high schools. However, geography is very different now. As I try to simply tell people, it's more of a method than anything else.

The method, simply put, is spatial analysis. Immanuel Kant put it very well - all subjects taught at a university have a general rule in that they have a very specific subject matter of which they focus on. For examples, chemistry focuses on chemistry, sociology focuses on society, economics focuses on the economy, etc. However, two subjects defy that general rule - geography and history. Other than trivial information (except cartography in geography's case), geography and history do not have a great deal of subject matter. Instead, the two focus on all things, but in a different, as well as a more holistic, way. Geography is the study of all things (culture, society, economics, politics, etc.) over, and as they relate to, space and history is the study of all things over, and as they relate to, time. With this in mind, being that I am a major in geography and a minor in history, I like to think of myself as a very four dimensional person.

You might wonder what the significance of geography is. Given geography's focus on all things, you can be certain that there is a great deal of overlap between geography and all subjects. Many geography classes will feel more like a sociology class, a political science class, an economics class, an environmental science class, or whatever with more of a focus on spatial analysis. Given that, you might wonder what the justification is for making geography a completely separate subject.

The answer is simply that geography isn't so much about studying subject material as it is about synthesizing them. That is the goal of spatial analysis. This synthesis is what we know as the "geography" of our universities. A sociologist could use spatial analysis to further their understanding of society, but a sociologist would not be able to synthesize that into a new perspective of society. A sociologist would be more focused on the subject they're studying of society (using spatial analysis as a tool, not a subject in its own right), whereas a geographer would be more interested in the spatial interactions of society in its own right and fuse that with the spatial analysis of economics, geology, etc. and the way humans interact with all these things. The result of this is a new, and more holistic, synthesis.

With my strength in synthesizing material and the fact that geography studies all things, I think it is a part of the appeal of the major to me. It is also a big reason why I like history, as history does the same thing but through time instead of space - so for example, instead of studying a specific culture over space, they'll study a specific culture over time and come up with a new synthesis of that. Unfortunately for history majors, much of their syntheses are not so relevant to the contemporary world as geography is, hence their limited value to employers.

But if such is true of history majors, the opposite is true of geography majors. The claim that geography is dead thanks to technology and modern communications making space an irrelevent factor is completely and utterly untrue for space does play a significant role in our interactions (after all, how things are spaced, such as roads, hospitals, fire stations, etc., can effect everything that interacts with it far more effectively if placed with careful deliberation than if it were randomly placed without consideration - an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts), both on the micro and macro scales. And even if it were true, the study and synthesis of all things, and its relevance to today's world, gives geography majors a great deal of versatility regardless, and hence why of all liberal arts majors, geography is one of the most marketable. It amuses me when people pass off my major of geography as worthless and won't make me any money, where little do they know, I can use that degree to land me jobs as far afield as jobs related to urban planning, marketing, resource management, archaeology, politics, etc., some of which may deal with spatial analyis, some of which may not, many of which are relatively well paying. The perfect degree in an age where degrees only need to be marginally relevant to a job and where the average person makes one or more significant career shifts during the course of their life.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wilson's Enduring Hypocrisy

(Yes, this is another post on World War I. This is a short essay [4 pages] I wrote for my World War I class which I thought I'd share on here. While I'm sure this could be improved as I wrote it in a hurry, I think it's pretty decent.)

When the First World War broke out, American president Woodrow Wilson asked the American people to be neutral in both thought and deed. Of course, simple geography would render such a statement impossible to uphold for economic ties between the United States and Britain came much more naturally than with Germany. As a result, this began the process by which the United States was propelled into the war against Germany. Wilson, however, did not wish to justify intervention in the war based on economic reasons alone, as much of a factor as they may have been in aligning the United States with the British and French. Rather, Wilson saw the United States as the beacon of democracy destined to save the Old World from its own dying autocratic institutions, which he believed led directly to the outbreak of the war, and replace them with the New World’s democratic institutions which would bring peace and prosperity. Originally he called for a peace without victory in his speech to Congress on 22 January 1917, where both sides would lay down their arms and come to a peace where neither side gains nor loses more than the other despite the immense and unprecedented bloodshed both sides have suffered up to that point. Through this there would be no resent on either side, thus making long term peace attainable. However, in reaction to Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare shortly after his 22 January 1917 speech, Wilson took a sudden change of heart. On his 2 April 1917 speech, Wilson declared Germany to be the more despotic of the warring powers and thus advisable that the United States would intervene in the war against Germany. He suddenly changed the war from a war of the dying institutions of the Old World into a war in the name of democracy from the American point of view. Despite that, he still indicated that the United States had a role in bringing democracy into the Old World and bringing it a long term peace; only this time, Germany’s defeat would be necessary for peace. Thus between the two speeches American president Woodrow Wilson made on 22 January 1917 and 2 April 1917, Wilson’s idea of a postwar world where peace and democratic institutions prevail does not change, however, his stance on the belligerents of the war takes a decided shift against Germany where before he believed Germany was a nation neither better or worse than Britain or France, but now is the enemy of democracy and needs to be defeated for a long term peace to be established.

Wilson sincerely believed that any long term peace would require the people to have a say in their government.

"No peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their powers from the consent of the governed, and no right anywhere exists to hand peoples about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property" (22 January 1917 speech).

Wilson believed that the people of any nation were naturally peaceful and would not wish to bring on war if they could avoid it. As such, he believed that the outbreak of the war was the result of the Old World’s autocratic institutions that had thrust the war upon the people of the belligerent nations. Therefore, he concluded that any meaningful and long term peace would require democracy to prevail, which would do away with these Old World institutions.

Wilson also believed that a peace without victory was essential for any lasting peace.

"Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand" (22 January 1917 speech).

Wilson knew that there could not be any resentment or exploitation of whichever belligerents lost the war by the victorious powers. If this were to be the case, he feared that the gains of the war would not serve the people, despite it directly harming the people of the vanquished nations, but rather, serve only the interests of the governments of the victorious nations. As a result, he saw a peace without victory to be required in order for democratic institutions to prevail.

However, on his speech to Congress on 2 April 1917, Wilson had taken a sudden change of heart against Germany as a result of Germany resuming its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. Instead of a peace without victory, Wilson now saw victory against Germany as essential for democratic institutions to prevail. “The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind” (2 April 1917 speech). The Old World institutions that Wilson originally believed to be present in all belligerents of the war are now seemingly concentrated in Germany more than any other nation, for Wilson believed that no people of a civilized nation would authorize a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. “I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations” (2 April 1917 speech). As a result, Wilson saw Germany as the most despotic of all the belligerents and thus that their defeat would be necessary for democracy to prevail in the Old World.

Despite Wilson’s change of heart against Germany, the goals of the United States in the war would be the same as before. To promote democracy, which he described as a human right, thereby bringing Wilson’s vision of a postwar peace to life, would still be on the forefront of the agenda of the United States. “Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion” (2 April 1917 speech). The only difference now than before is that since Germany has been declared as the anathema of democracy and must be defeated in order for democracy to prevail, the United States will take a more active role in the war, actively fighting on the side of the British and French against the Germans.

The two speeches Wilson made on 22 January 1917 and 2 April 1917 were at odds with each other only on the position of the United States in regards to the belligerents of the First World War. Both speeches championed the United States as the promoter of democracy in the Old World, destined to do away with the dying Old World institutions which had started the war. Yet for democracy to prevail, Wilson believed on 2 April 1917 that Germany had to be defeated whereas on 22 January 1917, he believed that a peace without victory was necessary. This shift against Germany would prove to eventually create the very peace Wilson had denounced on 22 January 1917. This new peace would create neither long term peace nor democracy in the postwar world, but serve to only lay the groundwork by which the Second World War would be based upon a mere twenty years later. Wilson had seen this coming in his 22 January 1917 speech but would not apply it to the United States and its determination against Germany. As a result, Wilson created an enduring legacy of hypocrisy by which the United States shares the blame in the outcome of the First World War.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Pro-British Bias of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare.

It always amazes me how many Americans today are still predisposed to seeing the Germans of World War I as aggressors more than not, and thus take a pro-British stance as a result. I suppose this may be partially out of memory of the more popular World War II, yet they’ll still try to justify their presumptions using the traditional Allied propaganda Britain flooded the United States between 1914 and 1917. All of this culminates into one general concept – unrestricted submarine warfare.

Literally, unrestricted submarine warfare refers to submarines attacking any and all shipping, whether they be enemy or not, without warning. This was usually done in an attempt to enforce a blockade where regular ships could not be used. In the days before sonar, such as during World War I, this proved to be devastating and shook the entire foundations upon which the naval tradition of the day stood upon as large and powerful ships no longer reigned supreme on the open sea.

However, unrestricted submarine warfare seems to allude to more than just that. Unrestricted submarine warfare, from the American point of view, represents the militarism that Germany was alleged to have. During the first days of the war, countless British newspapers discussed the causes of the war (almost all of which declaring Germany as the aggressor), one of which stood out most – the idea that Germany’s militarism defied not only all guards the world had set to keep a world war from occurring, but also that Germany’s militarism was pervasive throughout German society and made the Germans accept bringing war onto the “civilized” British and French for their own benefit (as opposed to negotiate) more readily.

It was never truly clear as to what exactly this “militarism” entailed, but whatever it was, it was the all-encompassing reason as to what was uncivilized about German society and why Germany brought the war onto the British and French (or so the British and French believed, and indeed, the British made sure the Americans believed this, too, using Germany’s invasion of Belgium just to get the foundations of the idea set in place).

Through this, it was believed that the Germans would do whatever it would take to win the war, no matter how atrocious it may be. Unrestricted submarine warfare, to the United States, became an example of this militarism which largely includes all the other examples of German militarism. Thus instances such as the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German submarine became symbolic of the German militarism which will stop at nothing, even if it means killing women and children, to win.

But was this really so? Were the Germans so callous? After all, in many history classes throughout the United States, unrestricted submarine warfare is usually harped on as an unbearable evil the US could not tolerate. What reasons do the Germans have? It seems very few history classes in the US touch upon why the Germans might have wished to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare despite the almost certain fact that it would bring the Americans to war with them. Thus using the literal example of unrestricted submarine warfare, I shall answer these questions and dispel much of the commonly accepted pro-British history regarding the issue.

First of all, we must look at the situation from the perspective of the Germans and not the British. While the British may have had a fleet larger and more powerful than anything Germany had, the Germans had an advantage in one key area – submarines. As I mentioned, submarines were a novel ship whose uses in naval warfare were largely unrealized until the opening days of World War I. Being stealthy, submarines could strike and sink a ship, and then slip away without notice. However, the submarines had two major weaknesses – not only were they slow, but they were also extremely fragile. These weaknesses would become a killer for the Germans when the convoy system was developed (though that would be countered later by the “wolf pack” of the Germans of World War II), but for now, the strength alone was enough to undermine the advantages of having an open seas fleet. As a result, the big British warships stayed out of the North Sea. They stuck around in two locations just out of reach from the German submarines – in the English Channel as the Dover Patrol, and at Scapa Flow (just northeast of Scotland) as the British Grand Fleet. At these two points, the British used their big warships to blockade Germany.

With the British blockade blocking vital imports into Germany, including food (necessitating rationing throughout Germany), Germany needed a way to counter and submarines were that. As Britain imported over 50% of its food supplies, starving Britain through a submarine blockade (where every ship in their sight would be sunk) seemed very feasible. As a result, an uncanny situation developed – both enemies were blockading each other at the same time. However, one key difference played out – as quiet as the suffering brought by the British blockade was to British and American ears, the opposite was true of the sinking of many merchant ships with no warning no matter what their nationality may be. Moreover, as many American vessels were sunk and interrupted the US’s economic relationship with Britain (which was considerably larger than the US’s with Germany given simple geography), this put the United States on a collision course with Germany.

As quiet as the British blockade was to the British and Americans, though, it was a fact of everyday life for the Germans. Prior to the war, the average German citizen consumed about 3400 calories per day. During the height of the blockade during the winter of 1916-17, the average number of calories consumed by a German citizen was about 1200 calories per day (just borderline starving). Thus one can sense the desperation of the Germans to do something effective to either bring about either the end of the war or the blockade (both were generally believed to come hand-in-hand) and do it quickly.

Unrestricted submarine warfare was the answer, and it had some successes during the beginning of the war. However, when the Germans sank the Lusitania in May 1915, a large passenger liner that could transport up to 2200 people across the Atlantic in a week, the outcry of the Americans was enormous. Eventually it was enough to convince the Germans to quit engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare and abide by the rules of cruiser warfare, which was considered the accepted international law of dealing with these “prize ships” in blockades.

The rules of cruiser warfare were rather simple, if albeit ill-suited for submarines. Before sinking a ship, the enemy would need to make its presence and intention known. They would be required to escort to the offending ship away, or allow its crew aboard yours before sinking their ship. For the Germans, this meant surfacing their submarines, thus exposing them and giving away their single greatest advantage of stealth, all the while making their two major disadvantages of being slow and fragile that much worse.

The British, of course, would take advantage of this. To do so, they built warships but disguised them as merchant ships and then sailed them under foreign flags, the American flag included. When the submarine would surface to escort the ship away, the guns of the fake merchant ship would be exposed and blast the submarine away. Given their slow maneuverability and fragility, German submarines were easily sunk this way. This, by any measure, was against the commonly accepted international law of the day, but it was downplayed and still is even to this day.

This is compounded on the fact that the British blockade of Germany, denying it vital imports such as food, was also against international law. The Germans complained about this bitterly to the Americans when the Americans expressed their disapproval of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the British justified themselves by equating food to shells, ammunition, and other war materials in importance to a nation’s war effort. Yet the Americans would hear none of it and in general, were slammed with pro-British propaganda to the extent that the reasoning of the Germans was unheard of.

As a result of the poor harvest of the winter of 1916-17, the success of the British blockade was at its peak and it is no exaggeration to say that Germans were dying of starvation (as well as freeze through a lack of coal as well) by the thousands. In January 1917, the need to do something was urgent and the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare was believed to be it.

With the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, the United States cut off diplomatic relations with Germany and as a result, war with the US appeared to be imminent. Thus this motivated Arthur Zimmermann to author the infamous Zimmermann Telegram proposing a treaty of alliance with Mexico in the event of the US declaring war on Germany and was the final straw in turning American public opinion decidedly against Germany.

Given the US’s economic relations with Britain, it is no surprise in the end that they sided with Britain during World War I and perceived Britain as the “good guys” of World War I. The propaganda Britain made sure the US was filled with during the war only solidified this notion further. I suppose that it also shouldn’t be any surprise to know that many Americans today are more inclined to side with the British of World War I rather than remain as neutral as I might wish and do my best to do; however, one should not ignore the German perspective during World War I. Ignoring the perspectives of our enemies, whether they be in the past or present, whether they be German, communist, or Iranian, leads to the same sort of nationalist drivel that fueled World War I. Through understanding, we can criticize and improve ourselves, work with our enemy’s concerns, and in the end, work towards peace and thus build a better world.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Forgotten Argument of the Gay Marriage Debate.

It is interesting how gay marriage has been turned into a civil rights issue. Unless you have reservations against gay marriage, it seems irrational that anyone would wish to deny it. Many proponents of gay marriage argue that there is no rational and secular basis to oppose gay marriage, for according to them, opposition to it is rooted out of either religion or irrational prejudice against homosexuals.

However, looking at gay marriage solely in the context of a civil rights issue leaves one with a very narrow view. Many gay marriage proponents ignore the single most important reason why the gay marriage debate even exists today - the reason why the government began recognizing heterosexual marriages in the first place!

The answer is pretty simple. The government began to recognize heterosexual marriages in an effort to encourage procreation. The rate of marriage has been correlated with the number of births, and indeed, this is the key factor in what caused the Baby Boomer generation. In 1930, the rate of marriage among women 20 - 24 was about 50%. In 1960, the height of the Baby Boom, the rate of marriage among women 20 - 24 was about 70%. In 1990, the rate of marriage among women 20 - 24 was about 30%. Cross culturally, this correlation has been shown to exist. While correlation does not necessarily equal causation, it is believed, and has been shown, that the rate of marriage has a positive impact on the number of births.

The government believes procreation to be a legitimate government interest, as is quoted in the 2007 Deane & Polyak v. Conaway decision in the Maryland Supreme Court:

"We agree that the State's asserted interest in fostering procreation is a legitimate governmental interest."

Indeed, a growing population means a growing economy and more individuals, and thus more money, to tax. In countries with a declining population, it means the stability of the nation's economy and that tax base. It's no surprise that the government sees encouraging procreation as an important government interest. Whether or not you believe the government should have a hand in encouraging procreation, however, is up to you. But that is beside the point.

The way to encourage marriage is to give marriages official government recognition and provide tax breaks for married couples. Theoretically, this will motivate couples who are not already married to get married. And of course, this is where homosexual marriages get sidelined for one obvious fact - homosexuals cannot procreate.

So what sense is it for the government to give tax breaks to marriages where procreation is all but impossible? This is where the gay marriage debate turns into a civil rights issue and goes astray of the true debate - that of which the courts have certainly not forgotten, as the Maryland Supreme Court decision has shown, as well as the Washington State Supreme Court.

Andersen v. King County (2006):
"Thus, the State is required to demonstrate only a rational basis to justify the legislation. ..... The legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers the State’s legitimate interests in procreation..."

Ah, but what of infertile heterosexual couples? They certainly cannot procreate. However, one must bear in mind the differences between the rule and the exception. As clearly most (young) heterosexual couples are fertile, any infertile couple would be an exception to that general rule, and weeding out those infertile couples so that they do not get a tax break on their marriage would more than likely cost more than it would save. As a result, the government gives tax breaks to infertile couples.

But let's also not forget about lesbian couples. A trip to the sperm bank could solve the problem of procreation via artificial insemination. However, one must also bear in mind that a single woman could do the same thing. Unlike in a heterosexual marriage where you might accidentally have a child, it's a bit difficult to accidentally become pregnant in a lesbian marriage. You could argue that a lesbian marriage creates a financial situation more suitable for a child, and indeed it may just fly. I'm unsure of the rate of lesbian couples having children through artificial insemination rather than adopting, but I would imagine it's relatively low; low enough for the courts to rule against it.

Until the proponents of gay marriage address the issue of procreation, they will get nowhere. Demanding the equal right of having the government recognize your marriage will go only so far, especially if the government recognizes heterosexual marriages for a legitimate, rational, and secular reason. I have brought up the issue of procreation and gay marriage to many gay marriage proponents, but I have yet to hear one convincing counter argument. The only true argument I can see being made is getting the government's hand out of the encouragement of procreation entirely and thus recognize no marriage, thereby granting equality to both heterosexual and homosexual marriages again, and this is what I advocate. But until the forgotten argument is recognized and countered, the courts will still be able to oppose gay marriage and the dilemma will not end.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Background Information.

Anyway, I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Curt Pugh, I am 21 and live in a suburb just south of Seattle called Kent. I am a junior (senior after this quarter) at the University of Washington as a major in geography (with a focus in urban and social patterns) and minor in history, and I commute there while living with my dad and step-mom to save on costs. So far, it has been working out swimmingly and I have a surplus of money each month. Also, the picture to the right is me, taken a few years ago.

I hold a part time job at Pizza Hut delivering pizzas and have been since June 2007. The hours vary, but lately it's been a weekend only thing where I work about 20 hours per week. I am also a type 1 diabetic and didn't find out until I was 16 1/2, when I was on the verge of collapse and losing consciousness from starving (as my cells couldn't absorb any glucose, or "sugar," and I was out of my own fat and muscle to cannibalize) before I decided to tell my dad and go to the hospital.

I wish to get involved in urban planning after college and make a career out of that. Originally I was going to do journalism, but after I took a quick look at the state and prospect of careers in journalism right now, I said fuck that and chose what I thought to be a more practical and promising career. So far, all goes well.

I could go on for days about what I value and what I believe in, so I'll spare you of that and let it unfold as I go. However, one thing that I shouldn't neglect to mention is my general political stance, as I have a good feeling I'll mention politics most frequently in here.

My political stance has changed considerably over time. About three or four years ago, I could have been described as the typical liberal. Over the last few years, however, my stance has shifted considerably to right. Below is my favorite political spectrum for American politics on the Internet and the red dot is where I rank:

The horizontal, or x-axis represents social issues (the further to the left, the more government you'd like to have involved in your social life) and the vertical, or y-axis represents economic issues (the further to the bottom, the more government involvement you'd like to have in the redistribution of wealth).

As with all political spectrums, this has its limitations. Many would contend that the republicans are far more socially liberal than that. However, given that most of these political spectrums never reflect what you believe the government's role should be, they generally only reflect what you believe should be the case. So for example, if you think religion in public school is desireable, but that you wouldn't wish to enforce that any further than the local level, it will only reflect that you want religion in public schools (giving the implication that you would wish that to be federally mandated). It's an important thing to consider which I think many liberals, who almost always wish for government mandates at the federal level rather than the local or state levels, don't exactly understand. Despite that limitation, though, it gives a pretty good idea of where each position and party lies and what they tend to advocate, whether on the local, state, or federal levels - better than the basic four quadrant political compass (which my coordinates on that are (4,-4), in the bottom right quadrant).

Anyway, as you can see, I'm about smack dab in the middle of the libertarian section. While I avoid associating myself with labels of any kind, if I had to, libertarian would best describe my political position. In general, my social views haven't changed a great deal, but my economic views have. I am also much more pro-states rights than I ever was in the past, now believing in having a weak federal government and stronger state governments. As far as foreign policy goes, I'm vehemently anti-interventionist in any fashion. I do not believe in giving foreign aid to countries (particularly Israel) and I do not believe that our actions in the Middle East during the last 60 years have been appropriate. I do not support most international organizations and advocate withdrawing from them, or at least reforming them (as is the case of the United Nations - unlike some like Ron Paul, I don't think withdrawing from the UN is necessarily a grand idea).

As far as religion goes, the best way to label myself would be a non-secular agnostic. I really do not give much thought to religion at all - I simply leave the question "Does God exist?" alone and am content with that. I probably will not mention it much at all as it's very rarely on my mind unless I'm talking about secularism, which, while I like the principle of it, I denounce as I find it naturally leads to enforced atheism.

This should give you a fair idea of who I am, what my views are, and what my biases may be. Take care.

~ Curt


Hello all,

It seems whenever I attempt to record the day-to-day activities in my life, I always wind up abandoning it half way through. It's the story of a lot of blogs, journals, diaries, etc. it seems. I used to have an online journal going pretty strongly for a period of four or five years which detailed my daily activities, my thoughts, feelings, and all that, with occasional gaps here and there. Being the perfectionist that I am, those gaps just simply don't do as I feel the need to describe every little thing that occurred with the next update, and the more I have to write, the more I put it off. So I'm taking a new approach.

Instead of talking about the daily mundane things that go on in my life, I'll simply write about whatever thought happens to be on my mind. No pressure to update on a regular basis; only whenever I feel like it. It's curious - feeling obligated to do something somehow saps all the desire to do it, even if it happens to be something you like or want to do. Going by that, I hope I'll feel freer and most willing to keep this blog up. The topics that I usually think about tend to range from politics, history, general life topics (ie. love, attaining happiness, etc.), common sense, things which amuse me, etc.

I strive to be impartial, but as with all things, such perfection is unattainable and thus I certainly have my own biases. Personally, I do not believe perfection to even be desireable for I believe that it is through our faults which we are made to be who we are. It is akin to a sculpture - you have the perfect square block, but the sculpture is only made unique and beautiful through carving each little piece (or "fault"). As a result, while impartiality is to be sought after, it can never be attained nor would it be desireable for me to attain it for I would lose all semblance of me. My own biases are important to who I am and my own perspective.

But do not get me wrong - while I am often opinionated, I do try to be open-minded. It's a difficult balance to hold, but I do what I can.