Philosophy Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 16, 2010

For in truth it is life that gives unto life..

As we are already in the midst of the holiday season and Christmas is swiftly approaching, I would like to share some words from one of my favorite authors and poets, Khalil Gibran, on the virtue of giving.  I hope you enjoy this piece and that it speaks to you as much as it has always spoken to me.


Then said a rich man, "Speak to us of Giving."
And he answered:
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, thirst that is unquenchable? 

There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. 

And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Though the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors'.

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life - while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers - and you are all receivers - assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father. 

 I am, as always, most sincerely yours,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mandatory Consumption?

As many of you probably already know, this past Tuesday a federal judge in Virginia struck down certain provisions in the recently passed healthcare legislation.  The decision largely centered around the requirement in the bill that would require every American to have health insurance coverage through a provider of their choice or by selecting a provider from a "national marketplace" both of which supporters of the bill say would provide ample selection for the public and would still allow for the competition the importance of which advocates of free market capitalism always preach to us. 

However, as several other federal judges have ruled in favor of the government on this very issue, it seems all but certain that the Supreme Court will eventually hear a case along these lines to settle the issue.  Indeed, it almost seems as if both the administration who so fervently supported and the vehement conservative opposition would prefer the issue to be settled by the high court.  Yet, the recent discussion around this decision has given me an opportunity to ponder some of the implications on both sides of the debate.

Some of you know that I was very much in support of healthcare reform, even to the extent that I was a big supporter of a public option (or even perhaps the creation of a totally public system to provide healthcare to every taxpayer) but the framing of this issue by some as government mandated consumption has given me reason to pause.  While I have been accused by some of my peers (as if it were some very profane word) of being a socialist because of my belief that certain industries (primarily such things as energy and healthcare) would serve the people better if they were nationalized, the idea of forced consumption still goes against something fundamental inside of me.  The idea that the auto industries spent billions advertising SUV's to hook us on something that many studies at the time showed that Americans distinctly did not want appalls me.

However, I can't help but see this is a possible exception to that rule.  In fact, if I had to guess, I would imagine that this same thing was true when several key Republicans first introduced the idea and have supported over the last few decades.  While I often view the medical insurance industry as crooked and exploitative in nature, it operates on the principle that a lot of people paying into the system allows for any given individual to pay a much lower premium and have more expensive health coverage covered under the assumption that most people will never need the most expensive of procedures.  Thus, if the government is trying to create any sort of national program based on an insurance model, it only makes sense that everyone participates.  While stances from both parties on this issue have been divided mostly on partisan lines (unless certain campaigns were otherwise funded by special interests who would either benefit or be damaged by the legislation), it is clear that (at least on principle) the mandate makes sense. 

This mandate doesn't mean that someone shouldn't be able to choose some sort of baseline coverage that is extremely inexpensive and may not cover much at all but requiring insurance makes sense if the government is to be involved at all.  It seems like it would make the system more efficient and would provide the best value for the money the taxpayers would be spending (either through a public option or through paying private providers).  Just like we require all drivers to have insurance coverage for their car (although for different reasons) it isn't unreasonable for the government to make such a requirement. 

While I admit that I might be persuaded by some arguments that show that such a requirement might violate certain principles of the Constitution, I cannot help but believe that the "mandatory consumption" argument simply does not hold water.  I welcome any comments or other thoughts on the issue.

Until next time, I am, as always, most sincerely yours,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No One of Consequence

When one is feeling contemplative, it is never a bad idea to turn to the immortal words of the teacher, Lao Tzu, and the Tao Te Ching.  The following is a translation of verse 67 which really spoke to me today.

All the world says,
"I am important;
I am separate from all the world.
I am important because I am separate,
Were I the same, I could never be important.

"Yet here are three treasures
That I cherish and commend to you:
The first is compassion,
By which one finds courage.
The second is restraint,
By which one finds strength.
And the third is unimportance,
By which one finds influence.

Those who are fearless, but without compassion,
Powerful, but without restraint,
Or influential, yet important,
Cannot endure.

Yours most sincerely,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Are You? Who, who, who, who?

I wanted to take a minute today and do something a little unusual for my blog.  I just recently discovered that Blogger provides reader statistics for both my blog and individual posts.  After controlling for my own views (which is another very nice feature), I have discovered some statistics about you.  That's right.  I'm on to you.  I would like to take this opportunity to share some of these statistics about yourselves and then make some observations about those statistics so that maybe we can learn a little more about who exactly reads this blog (those that comment on posts would be a much narrower group.  ;) )

I begin with the country from which you are accessing this blog.  Although, it might seem pretty obvious that the majority of my readers undoubtedly come from America, I was definitely surprised to see that apparently, I also have a rather significant audience in Slovenia and Germany.  The complete list of nations from which you read this blog is as follows:

  • United States
  • Germany
  • Slovenia
  • China
  • Canada 
  • Denmark
  • UK
  • Latvia
  • Pakistan.

While automated bots are always a possibility in such an analysis as this, I must point out that I specifically only listed the countries that showed as having more than 10 pageviews. 

Blogger also provides me with statistics about which web browser and operating system that you are using to read my posts.  Those statistics are as follows:

I apologize for the cut out words in these images, that is beyond my control.  However the list of the first category includes Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, OneRiot, Safari, Opera, Mobile, Jakarta Commons and Java.  The second category includes Windows, Macintosh, Other Unix, iPhone, iPod and Blackberry.

So what does all this mean?  Who knows. But sometimes gathering data can be just as important as making inferences.  So until next time, remember that just as you read me, I am also reading you.

And as always, I remain most sincerely yours,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Hughston Hurrah (Edition 2010)

As a few of you may remember, in October 2008, just a few weeks before the advent of this blog, I shocked many of my friends and colleagues by endorsing Barack Obama for President.  (On a side note, I find it odd that Mozilla still hasn't updated the Firefox spell check to include both his first and last name).  It's been no secret since then that I have been becoming progressively more... well... progressive.  Furthermore, since it was obviously my support that pushed Obama through to the end of the race for a victory, I feel the need to again relay my thoughts and endorsements for the 2010 midterm election (specifically here in Alabama, although there will be a few exceptions).

For those of you unfamiliar with the daily cable news-ish show, The Colbert Report, I will explain to you the concept of the "Colbert Bump." The site, Wikiality, defines the "Colbert Bump" as follows:

  • The Colbert Bump is the curious phenomenon whereby anyone who appears on The Colbert Report gets a huge boost in popularity, causing them to win elections, receive massive increases in money in (making Colbert the greatest fundraiser ever), receive major awards and even get laid (The Colbert Bumpin' Uglies).
  • The Colbert Bump is the surge of enthusiasm The American Public has for a politician, candidate for office, author or other personality after they appear on The Colbert Report. Dr. Stephen Colbert, the host of the show, has suggested that the bump is "good for at least a couple of points." Findings, however, show that the bump raises the poll numbers for political candidate by no fewer than 10 points. This was first evidenced in the 2006 midterm elections. 
  • The Colbert Bump gives more cash to Bump-recipients (44% more) than non-Bump-recipients, which is more than Mitt Romney gave to himself.
My new creation, the "Hughston Hurrah", is meant to do that exact same thing.  So, with the 2010 midterm elections less than two weeks away, it's time to release the Hughston Hurrah by sharing my endorsements for this year.

Let's begin with the "other category"

Now let's move on to some Alabama stuff.  We'll start with how I feel about the proposed amendements.

  • Amendment 1: (HB 242 “10 Mill Ad Valorem School Tax – Fees for Assessment”)  No, because I question the motives of those who wish to assess fees and commissions for the collection of already approved taxes.
  • Amendment 2:  ( HB253 “Special County Educational Taxes”) Yes.  While I so rarely agree on anything with my former state representative, Richard Lindsey, I know the trouble that Cherokee County has had just simply renewing the millage rate for the property tax for education. Because of the influx of people (specifically those from across the state line in Georgia) due to the increasing popularity of the Weiss Lake Community, the last vote barely met the requirement.  Elderly voters with no stake in the community don't want to support the local schools with tax revenues and if this helps, then I'm for it.  I must also clarify that I do agree with a supermajority being needed to raise taxes on most issues, but perhaps education funding is different (especially in a climate where the State funding levels are constantly dwindling).
  • Amendment 3:  ( SB121 “Highways and other roads”)  Maybe.  I must admit that I'm torn on this Amendment.  On the one hand, I seriously hesitate to take any money out of the Alabama Trust Fund.  Our state (like many others) is still in financial crisis and as part of the interest from that trust fund fuels our general budget, I worry about the implications of such a large removal of funds, $1 billion total over ten years.  However, I also know that our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair.  Our roads and bridges are literally falling apart beneath us and need to be fixed or replaced.  Honestly, I may not make up my mind on this one until I have the ballot pen in my hand.
  • Amendment 4:  (SB339 “Don’t mess with Blount County”)  Not voting.  While I'm fairly sure that I support this piece of legislation, I'll opt out of voting because of my beliefs about home rule.  The intent of this bill is to stop municipalities in Blount County from imposing taxes on those outside their city limits.  While the tax was meant to make those withing the police jurisdiction of a city help fund their police protection, "taxation without representation" just always has a bad ring to it.  However, as I also am a firm believer in local autonomy, I believe that the people of Blount County should be the only ones deciding laws for Blount County and as such would encourage anyone that doesn't reside there to join me by not voting.
And now for the moment you've all been waiting for, the Alabama elections.  I'll not endorse a candidate in nearly every race by any means but here's my pick of the litter, starting from the bottom of the ballot and working up.

  • For Commissioner of Agriculture, Democrat Glen Zorn for not being endorsed by Dale Peterson.
  • For State Treasurer, Democrat Charles Grimsley for not being names "Young Boozer"
  • For Secretary of State, Democrat Scott Gilland
  • For Supreme Court Place 3, Democrat Mac Parsons because maybe he will actually do something
  • For State Representative District 39, Republican Tim Sprayberry because his opponent and I have a long history of mutual dislike.
  • For Attorney General, Democrat James Anderson.  I'm not too thrilled about him by any means but I really don't like Luther Strange
  • For US Rep in the Alabama 3rd, Democrat Steve Segrest.  I campaigned several times for Mike Rogers but he has very much let me down lately on several issues.  For example, on DADT
  • For US Rep in the Alabama 7th, Democrat Terri Sewell.  I'm new to the 7th and am not too familiar with it's politics yet, but she has a great first name :)
  • For US Senator from Alabama, Democrat William Barnes.  He doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning but I once heard Senator Shelby say that he would never for any reason vote to end the war in Iraq.  Despite the fact I disagree with him on other things, he lost me 100% that day.
  • For Lieutenant Governor, Democrat Jim Folsom, Jr.  Kay Ivey is about the sweetest lady in the whole world if you talk to her over lunch but after the PACT disaster and her switching election races when she saw she wasn't going to win governor, I just can't vote for her.  Not to mention, I think Folsom has been doing a good job running the State Senate and I like his track record of supporting higher education.
And now for the "big one" this year.  After meeting both candidates personally, attending one debate, watching several others on tv, spending lots of time on their campaign websites and reviewing their policy standards, I'll endorse for Governor of Alabama....  Drumroll please...


That's right folks, write in.  While I'd pick Ron Sparks between the two of them, I honestly can't support either one of them enough to give a honest endorsement.  I believe Dr. Bentley would be a horrible choice for governor based on his racist stances on immigration, his biased disapproval of healthcare, his idiotic claims not to get paid until "Alabama reaches full employment," and many other reasons that I could go into further detail on.  However, I'm not really sold on Ron Sparks either.  I like his stances on healthcare and immigration and although I disagree about the need for a lottery (perhaps the subject of a later blog post) it is not enough to make me not vote for him.  Yet, he ties every single issue back to it.  I'm told that he has done some amazing things as Ag. Commissioner but he doesn't talk much about them.  Everything relates back to the need for a lottery and if you want to be a single issue candidate, I'm going to treat you as one.  (Even though in all reality, I may still vote for the guy in hopes he grows the mustache back).  But, like I said, I just can't support either one of them enough to openly endorse them.  So write in whoever you want and maybe we'll get lucky.

Well, folks, that has been this year's edition of the Hughston Hurrah.  I hope you'll join us again in 2012 as we vote for anyone but Sarah Palin.

Thanks for reading and as always I am most sincerely yours,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Proving Churchill Wrong - Or Maybe Not

Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying, "Show me a young conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains."  While the Churchill Centre says this quote is falsely attributed to the late statesman, many hold the saying to be true and it has become part of our popular culture.  Yet, if the quote is valid, I may not possess either a heart or a brain.

I'd be tender, I'd be gentle, and awful sentimental...

With the thoughts I'd be thinking, I could be another Lincoln

For anyone that has known me during high school and kept up with me through the years, you know that I have been undergoing somewhat of a political switch.  Perhaps this is just true of most students of politics (especially those who attend liberal arts universities); however, I think this change has been somewhat marked in my philosophical evolution.  Even before I could vote, I was ├╝ber conservative.  To continue with the German you might could say I was a potential wunderkind of the Republican Party.  I would debate politics with my high school teachers and was even there for the chartering of the Cherokee County Republican Party and attended the first several annual fundraiser banquets.  When I began to drive, I had four (no more, no less) "Bush/Cheney '06" bumper stickers on my car along with my three magnetic "Support our Troops" ribbons.  I even tried to found a chapter of the Teenage Republicans at my high school but could not find a faculty sponsor.  However, it would not stay this way for long...

It all began with my reading of On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (which continues to be one of my favorite reads, both fiction and non-fiction).  Notions like "One person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests" and "If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one - if he had the power - would be justified in silencing mankind" and "When there are persons to be found, who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something by their silence" changed my life forever.  I read this for the first time in high school and have read it dozens of times since then.  That combined with many other readings, classes and discussions since then have broadened my horizons, opened my mind and made me a more logically empowered skeptic.  However, others have said that it made me a liberal.  ;)  

While I hesitated to except any political labels for the longest time (both because of my philosophical objections to labels and the diversity of my various political beliefs), I have started to accept this.  Perhaps this is true seeing as I made my support of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency as well as his job since then and just this week referred to myself for the first time as Democrat.  ;)

Yet, all this (while important I suppose) was all just a preface to the real subject of this blog.  Earlier today, I read the new "Pledge to America" authored by contemporary Republicans and reminiscent of Newt Gingrich.  And in the vein of my new political ideology (and perhaps fledgling party identification) I would like to share my thoughts with you.

Rather than ordering my thoughts, I'm just going to begin at the beginning of the document and provide you with some quotes on which I would like to comment.  To clarify, I'm not going to comment on everything as that would last forever, so I know that I am being selective with my comments but I am also trying my best not to take them out of context.  Then I will provide some summary thoughts at the end.  If you've read this far, perhaps you will stick with me through the end.  And away we go:

They start off with some flowery language about liberty and invoking the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  It's all nice and pretty, but clearly not uniquely Republican.

An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down long-standing laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.

Ok, I'd like to stop again here.  While I would disagree with the assertion that Obama is "an unchecked executive," I think it is important to point out that the power of the executive in this country has been expanding well beyond what I believe the founders intended for over a century now if not longer.  Furthermore, this legislature has been anything but "compliant."  When Bush II was still president with a Republican majority in Congress, he could get anything pushed through without thinking twice about it (i.e. The Patriot Act).  However, the Democrats had a super-majority and it still took them over a year to pass healthcare legislation that had been stripped to the bones by the time it met the president's pen.  Lastly, I'm not exactly sure what will they've been thwarting or what values they've been overturned.  In fact, I feel very confident that very few people either in support or opposition of the legislation ever read it and just took some pundits word about it's content and have no idea whether or not it is in line with their personal beliefs and values.

An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.

I have serious problems with anyone asserting that our politicians should be overly responsive to public opinion polls.  While certainly they should not ignore public opinion, I know that you can structure certain questions to get pretty much any kind of results you want and firmly believe that our "infotainment" news media (not to mention some of our politicians) would stoop that low.  

We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored

I wonder if this includes the part of the 2nd Amendment that talks about a militia.

We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values.

For people who are so expressive about the need for being responsive to public opinion, they seem to ignore the recent polls (the results of which aren't all that new) that show that most Americans are in favor of allowing the LGBT community the same rights that every other American has without question.

In addition, the marriage penalty will return, the child tax credit will be cut in half, and the Alternative Minimum Tax will ensnare more than 25 million taxpayers.

That number sounds high, but they don't tell you if those 25 million tax payers are the richest in the nation or how much of the share of general revenue is generated by taxing this group of people.  It's very simple to be fast and easy with numbers without giving them any context.

We will help the economy by permanently stopping all tax increases, currently scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011.

This is part of their solution to the economic problems we are facing but again they make no mention of who these taxes are on.  While I'm certainly no expert, whose to say that they aren't stopping all taxes on those who are making millions and then get more millions in bonuses and benefits at the expense of the poor.

We will set strict budget caps to limit federal spending on an annual basis. Budget caps were used in the 1990s, when a Republican Congress was able to bring the budget into balance and eventual surplus.

They don't mention that they did this in cooperation with a Democratic president, something that they have been reluctant to do since Obama took office.

Earlier this year, House Republicans launched the YouCut initiative to combat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress. Over the course of nine weeks, YouCut produced proposals to save taxpayers more than $120 billion. We will continue to hold weekly votes on spending cuts.

YouCut...  While some herald this as the pinnacle of democratic involvement, I say it is American Idol goes to Congress.  And if you've seen some of the people who get tons of votes on American Idol, you will know that this may not be the best idea.  In addition, they don't tell you what asinine things that the people suggested and voted on that comprise those cuts, but I'd bet there wasn't any reduction of military spending proposed.  I'm not necessarily opposed to trimming the fat on our federal spending but this is the most ridiculous way to do it that could ever be conceived.  Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they had any idea what the internet was...

We will impose a net hiring freeze on non-security federal employees and ensure that the public sector no longer grows at the expense of the private sector.

So there solution to creating more jobs, is not allowing the federal government to create new jobs?  They say the private sector will pick up the slack, but if that doesn't happen when the government is dumping billions of dollars into the economy, I don't see it happening all of a sudden when we stop that funding.

Because the new health care law kills jobs, raises taxes, and increases the cost of health care, we will immediately take action to repeal this law.

I disagree with this out of hand.  There are many provisions of the healthcare bill that go into effect this week that will immediately begin to help Americans throughout the nation and from all income brackets.

We will repeal President Obama’s government takeover of health care and replace it with common-sense reforms focused on strengthening the doctor-patient relationship.

I didn't realize the healthcare bill made me and my doctor adversaries...

We will make it illegal for an insurance company to deny coverage to someone with prior coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, eliminate annual and lifetime spending caps, and prevent insurers from dropping your coverage just because you get sick.

I'm confused...  Isn't that what the bill that they are vilifying does?

Despite having the largest Democratic majority since 1993, the current Congress marked the first time in the history that not a single spending bill was considered under an “open” amendment process.

If they are asserting that they would not have added pointless amendments to uselessly bog down legislation, I'm gonna go ahead and throw the BS flag.

We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

I've always been able to read legislation online...

Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.

With the media pushing skewed versions of everything these days, nothing would ever get passed if it must "be understood by all interested parties" before it comes up for a vote.

We will require each bill moving through Congress to include a clause citing the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified.

This is an interesting idea, but I have some hesitations.  Firstly, they are already complaining about legislation being too long but are suggesting adding more clauses.  Secondly, I foresee this adding pointless debates as I doubt there will be agreement on what constitutional precedent should be cited or whether the bill is a legitimate expression of that precedent.  Lastly, this seems to be overstepping the Legislative branch's authority.  It is given to the Courts to interpret and apply the Constitution, but this seems to give the Congress the power to specify which parts of the Constitution should be applied.  That in and of itself sounds un-Constitutional and I would like them to cite "the specific constitutional authority upon which the bill is justified"  ;)

The number of House legislative days devoted to action on noncontroversial and often insignificant “suspension” bills is up significantly in this Congress by comparison with the past several Congresses, wasting time and taxpayer resources.

I submit that this has been the case since the first Congress was in session.

And we will never apologize for advancing the cause of freedom and democracy around the world, nor will we abandon our historic role in lifting up those who struggle to receive the blessings of liberty.

You mean like we helped the people in Rwanda or Darfur... Oh wait...

We will hold President Obama and his administration responsible for any Guantanamo Bay detainees they release who return to fight against our troops or who have become involved in any terrorist plots or activities.

Instead, we should apparently keep holding them illegally...

Foreign terrorists do not have the same rights as American citizens

I remember reading something somewhere about all people are endowed with certain rights by their creator and that those sorts of things should be self-evident...

While that is certainly  not everything in this pledge on which I have an opinion, but I think it is a fair summation and also think that I have picked out some of the true highlights of the piece.  While I agree with some of what they say and like the appeal to the Constitution and things of that nature, it is blatantly obvious that all of this is politically motivated and has nothing to do with any legitimate attempt to restore us to the Constitution.  If they truly cared about Constitutional principles or ensuring liberty and freedom, they would abandon such items on their agenda like extending certain provisions of The Patriot Act or opposing overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  While I'm not necessarily an apologetic for the Democratic Party (in fact, I have plenty of problems with the left that I will save for another day), this blog is a direct call out of the Republican Party.  The party that once stood for equality, balanced spending and protecting the rights of individuals has become bogged down in the same political games of which they accuse their opponents.  

But it's time for both parties and every elected official to realize that they aren't playing a game.  They have been called to be responsible and reasonable representatives of the American people and those same American people are suffering while Congress plays around with their lives.  It is nothing new, but if we really want to restore the true essence of our republic, I suggest that the Republican and Democratic Parties alike take some advice from Michael

 So, while my own personal political journey may be confounding to the esteemed and Right Honourable Mr. Churchill, I would like to think that I am now better empowered to be an open-minded, logical skeptic and that there is some validity to my criticisms.  Until next time, I am -- as always --

Very truly and sincerely yours,

The Apprentice Philosopher

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Aplogies Again

So, it seems that Steinbeck was correct about planning.  I always have such ambitious plans for blogging, that never come to fruition.  I promised a variety of topics on which I would share my thoughts over the summer and I only covered one of them.  While I may go back and address some of the others later, I wouldn't advise holding one's breath.  However, I have recently discovered that a popular thing to do among academics in my discipline is to blog.  And as someone who is now (at least according to my professors) a member of the discipline, I will endeavor once again to be true to this new calling and post at least once a week (as has been my intent all along).  Although I have no intentions of posting long lists of upcoming topics ever again, I do know that I will be posting my thoughts on the Sept. 19 Alabama Gubernatorial debate which I was able to attend.  I know that not many people even visit this page, but if you are reading this, I share with you my deepest appreciation and look forward to your comments.

As always, I am most humbly and sincerely yours.

The Apprentice Philosopher

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Memorial Day Musings*

The tradition that we have come to know as Memorial Day grew (as many people already know) from the Civil War Era.  It became common practice to set aside a day to decorate the graves of all of those who had fallen in battle.  While many assert that this tradition began exclusively as a Confederate observance, there is evidence to support that similar occurrences began in the Northern states about the same time (circa 1865).  Since then, the United States The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after WWII, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

However, my purpose in this post is not to provide you with a history lesson (despite how valuable and informative as one might be).  Rather, my Memorial Day Musings began with a topic that is quickly becoming one of my favorite research topics, nationalism.  While I plan on saving most of my thoughts on nationalism for subsequent posts, the main interplay of nationalism in this post will be in relation to national symbolism, with the military being as much of a symbol in America as a flag or hearing the national anthem.  My thoughts on this subject began on the Sunday before Memorial Day with a video that was shown in my regular church service.  The link for that video may be found here.  It is a very moving video entitled "I Fought For You."  Many in the service were moved to tears by the video and I must admit I was stirred as well.  Especially after my recent experiences reading the wonderful work, With the Old Breed, by E.B. Sledge (a WWII memoir of his days in the Marine Corp during the battles at Peleliu and Okinawa) I deeply appreciate those that (to quote Lincoln) "laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."  I profoundly believe that we owe a great deal to those who have fought against tyranny and oppression in the name of our American democratic ideals.

Yet, the plot thickens.  The next afternoon a favorite song of mine came across my iPod as I was listening to music in my car.  The song was written by the lyrical genius Bob Dylan and is titled, "With God on Our Side."  In this song, Dylan is alluding to the seeming futility of war and the notion that God is always on our side even though often both sides of an armed conflict are appealing to the same deities for assistance (this phenomenon is even documented by Homer in The Iliad).  After hearing this song, I was left to wonder whether the pride I take in supporting our military and in celebrating a day like Memorial Day is really just a regurgitation of my nationalist conditioning or is there something more substantive under the surface.

We so often support and pray for the brave men and women who are fighting for our country.  Yet, I wonder what the reason is for this.  Are we truly saluting the men and women or the idea of militarism?  Even more pressing is the question of whether these same men and women are really fighting for our ideals.  As a youth, I often dreamed of being in the army and fighting for my country and defending our democracy, but I thought back to the book by Sledge and can't help but think that those men were thinking a lot more about mere survival against an enemy than and idealistic purpose for their being thousands of miles from home.

While I do not often say so openly for fear of persecution, I often get perturbed on our national holidays at those who literally wear their patriotism on their shoulders.  I am sickened by those who the extent of their patriotism is wearing a shirt with an American flag on the front or flying a flag from their SUV as they drive down the street.  Such blind adherence to an abstract nationalism that has no substance for its followers is essentially anti-American in my humble point of view.

Yet, the conundrum with which I was left was whether I was engaging in the same sort of activity for which I so often criticize others.  I've already said that I believe that we owe a great debt to those who have served in our military, especially during wartime, but is this statement merely more nationalist propaganda or is my statement truly representative of something deeper.  Lincoln apparently believed so as do many others, but I am still left wondering if there is an important distinction to be made between my appreciation for our veterans and the shallow surface patriotism that I so deeply despise.

While a surface patriot and myself both hold the Constitution on a pedestal, I like to think that I do so because of the ideals and rights that it represents and not as a mere symbol.  We might both be moved to tears at the sight of the Vietnam Memorial and still honor the lives lost, I can't help but also associate a degree of needless death with that same sight.  Although we might both get the same sense of pride from singing our national anthem, in my mind, my criticism of our government is as patriotic (if not more) than his blind disobedience.  I think of the works on fascism by Mussolini that I have read and console myself that my support of our "state" is much different from that but I am starting to see many parallels the more I research the topic or ponder its implications.

It is for this same reason that Woody Guthrie wrote "This Land is Your Land" as a disgusted response to "God Bless America."  Yet, this and many of his subsequent actions got him blacklisted by Joe McCarthy.

Perhaps the worst part of all of these musings is that I have yet to find any resolution or consolation.  I still wonder if there is any way to maintain my love for my country and support of our veterans yet in a way that can still oppose a war in which those same veterans fought or criticize the government of my same country.  Many would claim that they do this very thing every day, but my concern runs more deeply.  I desperately want my feelings to be something genuine and substantive but wonder if it is all "fruit of the poisoned tree" because it might be initially based on pure nationalism.  In any event, I'm not sure that I will ever find the peace of mind on this subject for which I am hoping.

But until such a day might come, God bless you for reading and God Bless the United States of America.

Yours as always,

- The Apprentice Philosopher

*I'd like to clarify the title of this piece to avoid any confusion.  One might make a valid observation that today is not Memorial Day.  In fact, Memorial Day was several days ago.  However, this is meant to be musings about Memorial Day and things that crossed my mind on that day rather than something that I wrote on that day.  This may be a minor distinction, but it is one that I thought worthy of making.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What is Education?

Because several people have requested it, here is the text of my graduation speech.

We have gathered here on this most auspicious occasion in celebration: to celebrate our accomplishments and the Montevallo experience that has given so much to us. However, more importantly, we have gathered in recognition of the education that those accomplishments and that experience have bestowed upon us. Yet, how can we define education or explain the uniqueness of our Montevallo education. To that question, I submit the following answers. I believe that education exists more in the questions asked than the answers given. Education is less about memorizing facts than analyzing facts. Education exists more in new ideas considered than old beliefs reaffirmed. Education is more about knowledge found and truth searched for than grades earned or assignments completed. Indeed, I hope for each of us graduating today that our education will continue long after we cross this stage and receive our diploma, the very symbol of our education, whether through working on a new degree or simply living as a critical thinker and logically-empowered skeptic.

I would also be amiss if I did not once again pay tribute to those who assisted in our education, both inside the classroom and out. We owe a debt of gratitude that we cannot repay to these individuals. To our professors who did more than require that assignments be turned in and material memorized, but challenged us to search for deeper meaning and find connections between academic disciplines. To our family and friends who were our support system and gave us the encouragement we needed. To the alumni of UM for making so much of our experience possible whether by creating the firm foundation on which we stand or whose contributions funded the scholarships that allowed us to learn. To the staff and administration that were ever vigilant in not only serving our needs but making sure we were equipped so that we may serve the needs of others. And certainly to our President, Dr. Philip C. Williams, whose vision and dream for Montevallo wove all of our aspirations into a bright future for our beloved university. The leadership and guidance of all of these individuals have served not only to instruct us in our chosen disciplines but also to help us discover the wellspring of wisdom and understanding within ourselves.

One of my favorite writers and thinkers, Khalil Gibran, once wrote, “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge. The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” We have been led to the thresholds of our own minds and now our task is not only to dwell there but to assist others in that same journey. Lastly, I would not be true to myself if I did not invoke the Beatles by reminding us all that “All you need is love” and we can always make it “with a little help from [our] friends.” It has been my pleasure to serve you this past year and I wish you all many more years rich and fruitful. Thank you.

- The Apprentice Philosopher

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Things to expect this summer

Hello everyone (and by everyone I of course mean no one since no one ever reads this),

Even though I am graduating in just over a week now, I wanted to inform you of some things to expect from my blog this summer. I intend to keep writing and questioning so that my mind does not dull over the summer and that I will be prepared for the beginning of graduate school in the fall. I will endeavor to write at least every week so as to maintain some regularity. So here are a list of topics that I know I will be addressing with more to come.

- What is Education?
- Hypertext and Linearity in a Text
- The Nature of Nationalism
- Words as the Basic Unit of Meaning
- Created Identities
- Interactions Between Technology and Culture

For those of you more interested in my short bursts of random wisdom you may be more inclined to follow me on Twitter than to read this but this is just a brief overview of what to expect this summer. This is what I had originally intended this blog to be and hope that I will be able to actualize that goal.

As always, I am sincerely yours

- The Apprentice Philosopher