One of the things that has always bothered me about economics is that the people who advance their agendas through economics always tend to be advancing either a free-market/de-regulation agenda, a neo-liberal agenda, or a privatization agenda.
I try not to write much about my occupation. I prefer to have that separation between work and non-work life. Nevertheless, as a bus driver (mass transit bus, not a school bus) who was working on Northern Illinois University's campus at the time of Thursday's shootings, I feel compelled to tell my story.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you crap, make crapade.
Well, lately, I've been getting a lot of crap and I'm bloody-well tired of it.
First off, during December, my job as a bus driver was forcing all drivers to take a minimum two-week unpaid vacation. When school is not in session, we go down to limited service (break service) and hours are very sparse. Instead of running 14 to 15 buses with anywhere from 3 to 5 shifts available every day, we go down to two shifts per day, with 3 buses on the road. Break service lasts for two-weeks, so if you are really unlucky, you get a four-week unpaid vacation.
What does this all mean? Save up! And so I took as much overtime as I could physically stand to work. Fifty-hours in a week driving a bus is incredibly taxing on one's body and mind. You must be alert the entire time because the safety of your passengers, of pedestrians, and of fellow motorists is at stake when you are barreling along in a 13-ton vehicle.
Bus driving is not my dream job. But when I have to work forty-hours in a week before I start getting a living-wage (overtime), saving money for vacation is hard.
I did get a few shifts during our couple weeks of break service, but not nearly enough to pay bills. Thankfully, familial contributions have greatly helped. But I am very tired of asking for money. I hate it. I don't want to do it. I never want to do it. But I must.
Working all the time, especially during the day, makes it incredibly hard to find a better job. That's how a person gets caught in dead-end jobs. After driving 12-hours in city traffic, the first thing I want to do when I get home is sleep, and then the next day, the cycle repeats. There is no time during the day to go job hunting. And, in the off chance that time does open up, you have been actively driving for so long that you become zombified once you are done. Even something as simple as e-mailing a résumé to a potential suitor employer becomes a monumental task.
Continuing with the series of crap, my wife gets a really bad sore throat, checks in the mirror and sees that there are sores. Since we don't have health insurance (Is there such a thing as corporate or government responsibility to workers or citizens?) we had to pay out of pocket to find out whether or not she had strep. Thankfully, the tests were negative, while our bank account remained just barely positive. Still cost us $200 or so.
Next in my series of crap, as part of operating a mass transit vehicle, one must have a physical performed periodically to ensure safe operation of the vehicle can be performed. Part of this physical involves a vision test. Each eye must have at least 20/40 vision in order to pass. My left eye failed. It had been 6 years since I last got a new pair of glasses. After a full month with very little work and savings being depleted, I did not have the money to get a new pair of glasses or have an eye exam. Not only that, but if I don't get my Department of Transportation medical card renewed by January 27th, I'm out of a job. Let me just say that a job that doesn't pay enough is better than no job when you have bills that must be paid by a certain date.
So, there goes $400 for new glasses.
Then last Thursday, our car fails to start and tapping on the starter doesn't work. All symptoms point to the starter being shot. We ended up needing our car to be towed to a mechanics and having the starter replaced. During the operation, it was discovered that the car (2002 Buick Century) still had its original battery and the minimal charge it was able to retain was probably what put such a strain on the starter to cause it to fail. We needed a new battery too.
There goes another $400 for a tow-truck's service, car starter, battery, and labor.
Next, Northern Illinois is receiving single-digit temperatures (Fahrenheit degrees), so prior to work every day, I go out and start the car to warm it up and to make scraping off the ice easier. The routine goes: start the car, turn on front defroster, turn on rear defroster, lock doors (we have two keys), then go back inside to finish preparing for work.
Today, however, when walking back out to the running car in the morning, we (my wife and I) heard a loud popping noise. Having no idea what it was, nor caring, we continued on our way and since the windows had failed to defrost any meaningful degree, I took about to take an ice scraper to the windows. When I started to scrap off the rear window, my hand and the ice-scraper, went through the glass. Apparently I was doing a really good job of clearing off the ice, because I could see straight in to my wife looking back with her mouth wide-open. I don't use profanity, and today was no exception, but if I did cuss, this morning it would have put a sailor to shame.
To replace the back glass in the car is going to cost another $600. I am not made out of money! At our current savings rate, it is going to take us a couple years to pay this crap off. Insurance isn't going to help much with the car since we have a $500-deductible.
This is all getting kind of ridiculous and if it wasn't all happening to me, I would be taking pity on the poor sap it was happening to. $1500 when you haven't had a paycheck over $100 in a month? Downright cruel.
I know that since I'm from Illinois, I'm supposed to naturally go for Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. For a long time I resisted, but last night Barack Obama's candidacy for the nomination won my support. Barring any unforeseen events, on February 5th I will cast my ballot in the Illinois Democratic general primary for Barack Obama to be the nominee of the Democratic party for the office of President.
Every Friday evening in DeKalb, Illinois two groups gather at the corner of First Street and Lincoln Highway. One group proclaims its allegiance to peace and justice. The other proclaims support for the nation and to patriotism.
It's not that the two goals of peace and patriotism are opposing. We as a nation have been brought to believe that to be patriotic one must be aggressive in defending the country -- that we must show military strength in order to defend ourselves.
I disagree with this notion of strength. I believe we can have strength through peace.
Strength through peace means bringing out the best of human nature. Peace encourages love and hope, whereas force panders to hate and fear. We all hope for a better future, we should start living that future. The biggest obstacle towards a better future is ourselves, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can make this world a better place for not only ourselves, but for our children, and generations to come.
Strength through peace means knowing that we no longer promote the kind of international animosity that causes us to spend more on our military than all other nations in the world combined. With strength through peace, we allow our government to perform the duties of promoting the general welfare of our nation, of providing for domestic tranquility, and of ensuring that the United States is a land of opportunity based upon the notion that all shall have an equal chance at a better future.
Strength through peace means that the United States shall once again be seen as a shining example of what people, when given a chance to determine their own future, can accomplish. We hold that people are not inherently evil, that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is a noble and accomplishable goal. People are at their best when their best is asked of them. People are at their worst when the worst is expected of them.
We hold that there are no just wars, only necessary defenses. All wars are acts of aggression where the initiating party is acting unjustly. War is despicable. It is worth noting that during war, everyone looks forward to the end. When a country does not use peace as a guiding principle, war becomes inevitable, and necessary for self-defense from an aggressor. Going beyond defense during wartime increases the likelyhood of prolonged war and makes lasting peace harder to attain.
Patriotism is love and devotion to one's country. I hold that regardless of the side of the street on which we stand, we are both patriots. Deep down, we both want lasting peace. We just disagree on how to achieve it.
Thoughout one's life, one is faced with the oppressing reality that there are those with greater power and influence than oneself.
Those with power seek to increase their power. To maintain and appease this thirst, others are used as if they were nothing more than a means.
It is no coincidence that power gets driven into the hands of the few at the expense of the many. But eventually the great masses realize that they have a strength that cannot be diminished but only increased by their oppression.
Sympathy becomes empathy. Apathy turns into drive. The people desire to be heard. They wish to restore justice.
I have no doubt that people are generally good. To achieve oppression, the Unjust coach their language in terms of right and wrong; moral and immoral. They must, for if they did not, the conscience of the individual and the collective would not allow the injustice.
Achieving independence from the British crown started the United States down the long path towards a government which acts as the instrument of the governed.
The tables were turned. The people became the sovereigns. Checks were put into place to ensure that the corrupting power of one government institution was balanced by the power of others. Above all, through the democratic process, the people became the ultimate check against their tool.
The Bill of Rights acknowledged that certain behavior shall not morph the peoples' government into a weapon of their oppression. Even during the enactment of the Bill of Rights, concern was given to the possibility that listing certain rights would threaten those rights left unmentioned. The response was the 9th Amendment which states:
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The Constitution acts as a protector of the people against the "tyranny of the majority." But the people are generally good, I said! Yes, but even those who mean well can go astray.
Even as far back as ancient Athens it has been known that in a democracy, the people may be led to conclusions contrary to their own self-interests. Thucydides recognized this when he questioned whether Athens, under the rule of Pericles, was really a democracy at all. Such a good leader was Pericles that he was repeatedly elected, but the people through his leadership had effectively lost their popular sovereignty.
The Anti-administration party which would later become the Democratic-Republicans recognized this threat. A strong central government was a means by which control could be rested from the people.
The Democratic Party that emerged from the Democratic-Republicans is an expression of the peoples' will.
The anti-abolitionist and later pro-segregationist Democrats of the South were wrong, but this was not concluded until all of the peoples' voices were heard, including the blacks.
The Democratic Party has become the means by which power is restored to the people. We hold as our chief responsibility to ensure that the people, from whom government derives its power, remain free.
This has meant opposing a central bank to protect from the moneyed interests of 19th-century New England, to enacting civil rights legislation providing for equal opportunity regardless of race, religion, sex or age.
We oppose the reach of a tyrannical executive and the corrupting influences of a corporate-run media. We believe in the great power of an educated public to make the right choice.
We are a party of activists each trying in our own way, and with our own vote to make the world a better place; for us, for our brethren, and for our children.
We are all leaders, guiding this great nation to perform its duty for its citizens.
We believe in the power of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The people have as their device the government by which to achieve a greater society, and we, the Democratic Party, believe in our leaders: the people.
I was recently chosen to give a speech on behalf of students with learning disabilities at my college. So, here is that speech:
One thing that has been bothering me lately is defining terms used for philosophical discussion. (Those who know me, know that I am working on an essay dealing with freedom and its relation to rights.)
I come largely from a math background where it seems that we define terms, and then use the definitions to create proofs. But, it doesn't seem like it would be appropriate to just define a term according to what I think it should be and then use those definitions to analyze the terms. Especially if those terms already have a common meaning throughout society.
Another approach is the dialectic. But, it seems to me that the dialectic relies heavily upon one's native language. So, when defining terms used for discussion, what is the most helpful approach at arriving at what is the truth?
I often hear people say that they believe there is deeper meaning behind events in life. One might also believe it is either fate, or some guiding hand which leads us to what we are supposed to do or to what is ultimately supposed to happen.
It should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I disagree. What people see as deeper meaning could be no more than that which is later revealed to have been prevented from or allowed to occur. This is no more deeper meaning than the principle of cause and effect.
When we say that there is deeper meaning behind events by using after-the-fact justifications, we are showing our willingness and inclination to find order in the world. We want to believe that the world is not chaotic; that ultimately someone, if not us, has control. We want to be positive about the outcome of our lives and of our actions. If what we do or how we lived was meant to be that way, then we are allowed to feel solice in our position in the world.
Deeper meaning could be no more than the meaning we allow events to have.
"A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." -- Joseph Stalin
In times of peace, people are valuable because they are people. They are humans and human life is important. When in the course of events many people start dying, a sort of dehumanizing takes place. We begin not to look at people as being people anymore. We no longer feel the same compassion for one death.
When people are dying left and right, like in Iraq, what is left is a void. This is a void of humanity. To cope with so many deaths, eventually these things laying on the side of the road after an IED attack are no longer dead people. They are not even bodies, but are objects. And the concern is no longer on the families affected by the tragic loss, but how to move these things out of the way so that what remains of life can continue.
It is not that these deaths are any less important. We avoid mourning for so many people because we must: to stay sane, to maintain normality in our own lives, to reduce our living to the narrow sphere around which our lives are based so that the outside world does not impede our happiness.
To bring us out of this downward spiral, we need to start feeling again. We need to become outraged at every single death. We must allow this outrage to build, and to motivate to action. We must view every death that happens, whether at the hands of a crazed gunman in America, or at the hands of the American military in Iraq, as a tragedy, as a call to action, and as a reason for change for the better.
These people shall not have died in vain. Their lives were not worthless. If anything, their lives are the cost of progress, of motivating a numb, complacent society to the point of action.