Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fake it Until You Make it

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Red, Pink, and White

No, not Valentine's colors.  These are the colors of political insults.  Communism, socialism, capitalism- we humans are *very* tied up in naming how we do business with each other.  Not that naming is a bad thing; names let us all talk in a similar way about defined terms.  Of course, those definitions may not be agreed upon, or may be open to interpretation, or may be misunderstood.  Since we often don't actively define our terms before engaging in discourse with others, this leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings and, quite frankly, hurt feelings or harsh arguments.  In the political world, this is even more true than most places.

So let's talk about a few terms that we see thrown around so often: socialized medicine, entitlements, communism, and welfare.  First, the easy one, communism.  The planet has yet to see real, Marxist Communism in any large scale.  Please stop throwing around the term, it doesn't mean what you think it does.  If you don't believe me, take some time and read the Communist Manifesto.  It's short, and not a hard read.  You might be surprised.

Entitlements.  This is guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation.  It's not pejorative.  Note also that it's a guarantee of access to benefits, not a guarantee of benefits or the level of benefits.  In most cases (especially Social Security, MediCare, and MedicAid, the most often cited examples of entitlements), the benefits and their level is dependent on something- how much you paid in, working for a certain number of years, being a certain age, etc.  This isn't a "handout," this is access to benefits which a person has earned- just like your paycheck. 

Socialized medicine.  This is a medical system run by the government and examples include Great Britain's Universal Health System, and arguably the US' MedicAid, MediCare, and TriCare.  The Healthcare Affordability Act is not socialized medicine.  "Obamacare" is not a governmental take-over of medicine, the insurance companies are still privately owned, for-profit (usually) entities.  If you use one of the governmental systems, you still might not be using socialized medicine, as some definitions require that the health care system be run by the government.  This means that the doctors, nurses, and staff are government employees, and the hospitals are owned and run by the government. 

And finally, welfare.  On this one, I want to talk less about the definition and more about the concept.  Welfare provides a safety net for individuals and families through programs like the supplemental nutrition program (foodstamps and others), Temporary Aid for Needy Families, and heating/energy assistance programs.  These benefits are called "welfare" programs because we as a nation decided that it was in the best interest of the country to provide a certain subsistence level of living, or to look after our citizens' welfare when they are in need.  We do this out of the conviction- inspired by Judeo-Christian teachings- that humans, as social animals, should look out for one another and help the needy. 

The US has been heavily influenced by the Protestant work ethics, but we can't forget the even older tradition of community.  Can individuals come to rely too heavily on these benefits provided by the government?  Of course, but not every person will, and we can't predict which ones will.  The Protestant work ethic has also led to horrible things- think of the debtors' prisons, workhouses, poorhouses, social Darwinism, and forced sterilization programs.  Neither extreme- individualism or community- is perfect, it's our job to find the balance between the two that best fits the needs of our society.  And to try to remain civil and informed in the process.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Changes in Latitude

No, not in the geographic sense, for the foreseeable future, we're staying right where we've been.  Changes in latitude as in "freedom from narrow restrictions."  As in new-found latitude.  And lots of it.  It's amazing.

OK, so it's not the typical forms of latitude.  The latitude I've been giving myself lately is that of imagining.  Dreaming.  Thinking up new courses.  New assignments.  Field trips.  Lesson plans.  Exam question banks.  Quizzes.  Yes, I'm a complete and utter dork.  I'm fine with that. 

See, for some reason, I'm starting to feel a bit more comfortable in my own skin.  I feel like I can do this.  Like I can teach.  Be a professor.  Join academia.  And deserve it- because I have something to contribute.  What caused this change?  I don't know.  Really, I have no idea.  Maybe it was officially entering my thirties.  Maybe it was buying my academic robes.  Maybe it was the student offering to write a letter of recommendation for me, if it would help me get the job.  If one of my students is willing to advocate for me, shouldn't I be willing to advocate for myself?  I figured I probably should be.

And oddly, I feel ready.  I've spent so much of my time being an advocate for others, I should be great at it, right?  That's the plan, anyway.  I'm not religious.  I'm not spiritual.  I don't believe in predestination.  But I do believe in making the most of what you've been given.  The things that seemed like burdensome responsibilities I can now more fully appreciate as the training that they were.  What had been favors for friends, I can see as the horizon-broadening experiences they were.  There's nothing that lead me down the path that I chose; on the other hand, the path I took has made me an excellent candidate.

Now to show that to the world, and myself.