Thursday, September 23, 2010

Texan Textbooks at it Again

It's no secret that Texas is one of the largest and most populous states in the US, so naturally their stake in the textbook market is fairly important. And based on their history of decisions, you can see how this would be a problem. The most recent issue for them is whether or not the textbooks contain "pro-Islamic, anti-Christian half-truths and selective disinformation." While this theory has a small amount of truth to it, the overall idea is completely absurd.
Now, it was my belief that the Constitution called for a separation of church and state, and clearly this is a breach of that doctrine. I have no problem with teaching about religion, but trying to push for stronger Christian ideals and demonize Islam is blatantly in favor of one religion over another. I will admit, to some extent Islam is shown in a better light than Christianity in these books, and perhaps that is something to be looked into, but it is my belief that what the people backing this proposition want is much more.
But what I cannot, and probably never will, understand is why so many people hate Islam as a whole. Without a doubt the attacks by extremists on our country was a terrible tragedy, but a seemingly majority of Americans don't realize that the attackers were not typical Muslims. In fact, Islam is not the only religion with extremists, and in many cases, arguably more Islams are moderate than any other religion. People are making these and many other decisions about the treatment of Muslims based off of their own beliefs, not the facts. Most do not even realize that one of the basic teachings is peace, not just in Islam but in most (if not all) religions worldwide.
So, is this debate truly about protecting our children from pro-Islamic ideals, or is it just based on an unknown ignorance of something you are told to fear?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

President Obama promised in his campaign, as well as in his January State of the Union address, to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays, lesbians, and transgenders from openly serving in the military by the end of this year. Until recently, little had been done to move this promise forward, but now it seems this is going to be the "hot topic" until at least mid-term elections. A Senate vote is scheduled for 2:15 this afternoon (September 21), but without enough support, Republicans may be able to filibuster and prevent any actual progress on the issue.
And I must ask, what harm could come from this passage? It is archaic thinking that any person whose sexual preferences differ from yours is in any way less capable, less patriotic, or more disruptive to society. Now, we can't magically change everyone's feelings on this subject, so due to people who already have these prejudices and serve in the military, this may prove to be a problem because LGBT individuals looking to serve may be singled out and acted out against. But, over time, and with the proper training, this increase in available members for the armed forces should prove to be a positive affect for the gay community, and America overall.

Monday, September 20, 2010

State of the Classroom

Well, that was a nice weekend break, but now I suppose I must get back to the ol' grind.
Education is something that has bothered me for a while, especially the state of it in the USA. Now, we've all heard the stories of all the countries that outrank America in education based on standardized tests, and to me, that is completely unsatisfactory. I was lucky enough to have a good education in one of the better districts in the country, but many cannot afford this luxury. I hear all the time on the news about teachers complaining or striking for better pay, more benefits, etc., but the condition of our students says they deserve otherwise. When it comes down to it, is it not mostly on the teachers that we rank so poorly? To some extent it is the system, curriculum is decided by the state, hours decided by the district, but the teachers are the ones in the classrooms, teaching our children, and they are ultimately responsible for attending to all of them, and making sure they succeed.
In many other countries, the children are pushed harder in their education, such as more hours in the school day, more days in the school week, and after-school classes to teach them further. In America, this is nowhere near the case. School is about slacking off, doing the minimum to get by, and getting away with it. If we ever want to fix this country for good, the most logical place would be to start at education, because it is the most basic thing necessary for people to improve themselves, and the world they live in.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Death and taxes

As we all know, the Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year, at which point they will revert back to the Clinton-era level of tax rates. A few number crunches shows approximate increases for a few brackets: an individual making $40,000 per year would see an increase of about $400, that same individual making $80,000 should expect to pay $1,600 more. But the most dramatic changes will be at the top-most level, with a family of 4 making $5 million likely paying upwards of $325,000 more. Now, only very few people (4%) make more than $200,000, so for the vast majority the increases would not be significant, but in our current economy, can the average tax payer really afford less money in their pocket than they already make? The lower and middle classes are already experiencing enough money troubles as it is, and making even less might crumble what they have. The upper class, on the other hand, seems to be fairly well-off, and personally, I believe they can take one for the team, so to speak. With a skyrocketing national debt and plummeting economy, we need to tread carefully on the issue of money and what we do with it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"We protect expression that we hate"

Before I start, I'd like to apologize because I am both sick and hungover this morning, so please don't expect too much out of me.
In this CNN report, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer says of burning the Qur'an: "We protect expression that we hate. When you have a country of 300 million different people who think different things, it is helpful. It is helpful to tell everyone, 'You can think what you want.'" And I couldn't agree more. An unpopular opinion is an opinion nonetheless and deserves equal protection under the law, no matter how unpopular it may be. Arguably, flag and/or Qur'an burning are actions, which technically are not protected per se by the constitution, but it is my belief that actions have a message, and therefore are speech, a fundamental protection of the government.
Please don't misinterpret that, not all actions necessarily have a message, but so long as it harms no one in the process, or in no way impedes any individual from the God given rights of man, why should our government punish such actions?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

France outlaws burkas

The French legislature recently passed a bill outlawing the wearing of burkas in public places, and all that remains is president Sarkozy's signature to pass this into law. I'm no expert on French law, but I am willing to bet that the French constitution contains similar freedoms to the American constitution, including freedom of religion. Of course the wearing of a burka is not necessarily part of the religious practices of Islam, but is seen by some, according to the Qur'an, to be a necessary part outside for it's practitioners, and I believe that constitutes as enough of a reason to protect it under the veil, so to speak, of religious freedoms.
A clear counter-argument would be that burkas are incredibly sexist, and, while that may be based in truth, this is part of the foundation of the religion. However, the biggest issue here is the message it sends to Islamic extremists. It only shows them the opposition they have in the western world and it strengthens their beliefs that the west is intolerant of their religion.
While France is the first country to outlaw full-face burkas, many other European countries are considering a ban as well, and with that, "Islamophobia" will seem, especially to practitioners and even more to extremists, to be in full swing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mosque at ground zero

Now, I may be a few days behind the curve here, but all this talk is bordering on the ridiculous. I can understand some opposition to this mosque being built, as it was Islamic extremists that hijacked the planes on that fateful day. But you have to realize, they were extremists, where as most (and I can't emphasize the word most enough) Muslims are moderate, peace-loving, God-fearing people, not unlike moderate Christians, or members of any religion for that matter. Of course, there is also the argument that ground zero is already not the most sacred space in the world. For one, there is a strip club within the area that is considered to be ground zero, yet no one complains of it. Perhaps because it was already there, and it would be unfair to shut it down, but the fact that it is there to start should be enough deterrent to say that a mosque would be no worse.
And I ask: what would be the harm of building an Islam center at ground zero? In my opinion, this would only show our strength and willingness to overcome what has occurred and hope that some day, we can convince the extremist Muslims that we do not want to hurt them, we do not want to fight them, but all we want is to co-exist with them.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cuba becoming more capitalist?

In a recent announcement, Cuban officials said that the government will lay off at least 500,000 state employees and allow more "private" sector jobs to be created to replace this loss. Without a doubt this is a step away from their historical communism of the last 50 years and towards a capitalistic market system. This is bound to be an improvement for Cubans and their lives. Currently, the average wage for state employees is approximately $20 a month. Yes, month. Now, understandably the cost of living is lower, but with private jobs, Cubans can enjoy the ability to make significantly more amounts of money, and hopefully (for them at least) better their country's economy.
With the amount of refugees fleeing to America, and with the current "war on immigration" this should be fortuitous for America, too. The government and coast guard may need to spend significantly less on fortifying the border between Cuba and Florida due to a hopeful lessening of refugees. We could also very well open up trading to Cuba, ultimately increasing the effectiveness of the new switch, and potentially inviting them to break the chains of communism altogether.

Since posting this I have come across a source stating even Fidel Castro is opposed to the current state of his country. It is my hope that very soon, Cuba will reform to be a profitable, well-off, and decent country.