Friday, April 30, 2010

Registering for classes in the computer age...

For this summer semester I mixed up dates and missed early registration - the best time to ensure you get the classes you want. So I scrambled about, harassing instructors of classes I want and generally panicking about getting any classes that would be useful.

This morning was the opening of late registration. I was ready to go at 6:30, checking to make sure my list of CRNs was right and everything was ready. Mostly I was making sure that I was in the system and actively ensuring I didn't get timed out. I got into the add/drop page for this summer the moment it opened, pasted my CRNs and got into everything I was shooting for (one of which may get dropped if I get permission to enter a class I really want).

Just curious, I tried the login page at 7:04. The queue was at 654, up to 973 in the little less than a minute I watched. They set up the queue system because apparently the opening of early registration saw the system crash about twenty minutes after it opened. Interesting trivia - a little more than 80% of classes had been filled by the time it crashed.

I got the impression that the school is trying desperately to add summer classes, after communicating with several instructors. Five of the nine instructors I emailed shot back a form mentioning that they have received a lot of emails requesting entrance, two never responded and the other two responded only because they appreciated the concise and eloquent/formal wording of my emails. I was also talking to a couple of my instructors and have heard much the same thing - they are getting pounded with email requests for entrance.

I am really glad that I have the opportunity to manage all the issues of going to school with the technology available to streamline it all. When my dad (76) talks about what he had to do to register for classes in the very early fifties, I just cringe. I definitely don't feel all that compelled to whine about the trouble of fucking around online, lying in my bed, waiting for the moment I can swoop in and get my classes...

International Studies and Complications with classes...

It looks like I will be spending much of the rest of the day at school. Apparently there is something I need to deal with in regards to financial aid, though I am very confused as to what it is.

Then I am meeting with some folks about tacking international studies onto my program. It's really kind of cool, because I have taken some classes that count for it and will be taking many more. It is likely to help a lot when I actually get to transfer and will look particularly sexy on grad school apps.

Meanwhile, I still need to study for my communications final so I can take that before Sunday...Good times, good times...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Morality Across Cultures Part 4

The Language of Morality:
A Cross Culture & Social Structure Comparison

Morality is pretty simple really. It is the framework we use to distinguish right from wrong and thus govern our behavior as we interact with other people and the world around us. It seems fairly straightforward really, but like many commonsensical concepts it is far more complicated than common sense would imply. Morality has been at the heart of innumerable debates, raging arguments, violent confrontations, wars and even genocides since our earliest ancestors first developed language. This paper will explore the language and conception of morality in certain cultural and social contexts and attempt to begin the journey towards a less contentious moral paradigm.

All people are, to some degree or another, ethnocentric. This is not always a bad thing, but it all too often leads to rather significant logical fallacies. There are few contexts where this is more frequent and more contentious than in the context of morality. Good and evil, right and wrong are core components of every person's identity. Morality is a core component of every person's identity.

Ultimately the development of individual moral frames is quite complicated. The general perception of many people is that morality comes from one's culture and/or one's god. Whether it is theistic in nature or is just culturally developed, generally people use the term "morality" assuming that whoever they are talking to knows exactly what they mean. Quite often people assume that whoever they are talking to or dealing with has a moral frame that is very similar or exactly the same as their own.

Religion is very likely the prime progenitor of this idea of universal morality. When early humans turned to a conception of gods and extranatural phenomena to explain how the world works and why, divine/spiritual retribution was a natural part of conception. If some thing or person created and controlled the world, then it logically follows that when bad things happen to a person, it must be because they angered the gods. Early on it is quite likely that morality as we know it was really just a matter of doing things that contribute to the survival of the group. It is unlikely it was very complicated and in all probability was quite organic. It is also likely that gods and/or extranatural phenomena were some combination of ancestor worship and the anthropomorphizing of elements of the natural world.

As the means for sustenance changed over time, the need for increasingly complicated rules for interaction grew. As specializations emerged and with them a necessary division of labor was created things became still more complicated. It was quite natural for certain members of a society to come up with the needed rules to govern that complexity and it was equally natural for them to invoke the extranatural and even gods. It is very likely that many such people actually believed that their rules came from gods. In some cultures it was even assumed that the human makers of rules were in fact actually the gods.

The biggest problem with discussing morality in universal terms is that different people define morality differently. Moreover, people generally assume that other people define morality the same way that they do. This is often the problem with commonsensical ideas, different people mean different things while everyone assumes they are talking about the same thing. That morality means different things to different people is not in itself a bad thing. The only problem comes when two or more people are trying to communicate about morality.

For this paper, morality is defined as a governor of an individual's personal behavior when external enforcement mechanisms do not apply. In some contexts the lack of external enforcement mechanisms may be due to a lack of specific rules or laws prohibiting certain behaviors. In other contexts the lack of such a mechanism may be due to the full knowledge that an individual could commit an act that is against the governing rules or laws without detection and therefore punishment. Morality then becomes the mechanism that prevents the individual from committing acts that they believe are wrong, when they know they could get away with it.

While that definition for morality may be questioned by many, there are few definitions for morality that lack that basic concept. Differences are generally due to what a person or culture might add to that definition. Very few definitions for morality do not consider morality a governor of behavior when external enforcement mechanisms do not apply. Given this definition, no matter what might be added to it, by it's very nature it prohibits universal moral truth. Unless a person believes that no one who does not adhere to their perception of morality can possibly follow rules that are not explicit and impossible to break, then logic would dictate that they have a moral frame.

While it seems apparent that everyone, possibly excepting pathological sociopaths, has a moral frame, how morality is considered varies a great deal. The language surrounding morality varies a great deal in the contexts of time, space (geographic) and cultures. To a lesser degree the language varies by individuals as well, but ultimately it seems that culture has a rather profound influence on an individual's understanding of morality. When it comes down to the actual development of a moral frame however, the individual becomes the critical influence.

Time, space and culture in general ultimately refer to culture. Even in situations where multiple cultures exist in the same general space what results is another cultural context in which the individual cultures become changing co-cultures. Culture changes with time and space. It is not necessary to travel very far in space to find notably different cultures. The difference between an urban center and the rural areas that surround it can be significant. The difference between, for example, the United States and China is even more significant. Likewise the difference between the culture that existed in what is now Virginia two hundred years ago, was considerably different than the culture that exists there now. With these cultural differences come different ways of thinking about and talking about morality.

One of the more interesting cultural contexts to explore is that of hunter/gatherer societies. While there are bound to be significant differences between such cultures and the earliest cultures of modern humans, there are also likely important similarities. The Efe Pygmies of the Ituri forest in the People's Republic of Congo and the iKung! people of the Northern Kalahari in Batswana have very similar moral systems. It is important to note that the very concept of morality would seem very foreign to these aboriginal societies. The governor of their behavior is inexorably bound to their way of life.

While there are some minor differences in the substance of their moral frames, the frames themselves are simply the way people are expected to live. In these egalitarian social structures there is little room for dissembling. You either behave in a way that fosters the survival of the group and group harmony, or you either shamed into it, taken to the side by elders or failing those are banished. The latter being exceedingly rare because shame is a powerful tool in such small and profoundly collectivist cultures. Morality is such a foreign concept to hunter/gatherer societies simply because without a hierarchy to determine rules and/or enforce rules, individuals just generally do what they need to do to enhance the welfare of the group.

This is not to say that there aren't conflicts or behavior problems. Humans are human and all humans make mistakes or otherwise end up in conflict with others. The difference really, is that lacking a formal system of laws moral framing takes up the slack and in the facets of life where it really counts, hunter/gatherers can generally be counted on to do what is expected of them. This is a stark contrast to hierarchical societies with a complex division of labor. The more complex the hierarchy and division of labor, the less the survival of a group depends on any one member. Thus there grows room for individual members to behave in a manner that is not supportive of and even works against the survival of the group and group harmony.

Both Korean and Japanese cultures, are good examples of a developed non-western cultures that tend to have very idealized concepts of morality. The specific rules of each society are different, but they are almost entirely uniform and strictly adhered to. Globalization seems to have impacted this strict adherence to some degree, but there is a profound cultural impetus behind these moral frames so such change comes very slowly. Both collectivist cultures still have very strict rules for governing personal behavior.

In Korean culture the moral framework is focused on the family unit, ascribing fixed roles not only to husband and wife, but to the children as well. Their moral framework is very much a guide to social expectations. The consequences of deviating from this frame to any significant degree are actually very similar to the consequences found in the hunter gatherer cultures. The first level is gossip and shaming. Then comes a talk from an elder, in this case usually an older family member. Failing these, social ostracism is not uncommon and there is also a risk of being disowned by one's family.

As one explores the language and the fundamentals of morality across cultures, it becomes apparent that collectivist cultures tend to idealize morality. Morality is not seen as an individualized code of behavior. It is universally understood and the more collectivist the culture, the more it seems there is little room for personal interpretation or surreptitious deviation. This seems to hold true in the context of certain subcultures, most notably monotheistic subcultures.

Adherents to theism, especially monotheism tend to be very collectivist by nature. There are certainly exceptions, but those exceptions tend to be sub sects of various religious systems. Christianity in particular has a great deal of variation, both in time and cultural traditions. Fundamentalist sects tend to share a similar language of morality, though in this context morality is usually thought to be the literal word of God. Fundamentalist sect in this context does not describe anything about the nature of what a given sect believes. In this context it only describes the nature of the belief itself, which tends to be absolute. Fundamentalists believe that their god revealed their faith and that their moral frames are the commandments of their god.

Monotheistic moral frames carry the same rigidity of those of other collectivist cultures. They also carry similar consequences for deviation. Gossip and shame are at the top of the list. Church elders, possibly the pastor of the church will talk with someone who is or seems to be deviating. In the face of overt and unwavering defiance, many sects will banish members. There are notable differences as well, as monotheists tend to add the language of their god and divine retribution to the consequences of deviation.

The roles morality plays in collectivist cultures seems to vary by the needs of each culture and environmental impact on each culture. The language used to describe moral framing varies from virtually nonexistent to, in some cases, very strictly defined. In non-collectivist cultures it is very different. In the United States, possibly the least overtly collectivist culture on the planet, morality is far from idealized. While various individuals may idealize their own moral frame, they do not idealize a common moral frame. The lack of idealized, uniform moral framing in the U.S. and other non-collectivist cultures puts a great deal of pressure on the collectivist subcultures. This often lends itself to members of those cultures breaking away to some degree or even completely.

So where does this leave individuals who no longer identify or who never really identified with a collectivist culture group? Ultimately it leaves them where a lot of people who do identify with a collectivist culture group with a relatively strong moral frame are. It leaves them with the same choices that have to be made when external enforcement mechanisms are not relevant. While some collectivist cultures simply don't have very much room in which such mechanisms don't apply, many of them do. If morality has any more value than laws and social customs, this is where morality truly matters; as a governor for behavior in those circumstances. Everyone has to make some choices at those times and with few possible exceptions, everyone has a frame that guides their behavior.

There is a lot of discussion among skeptics, atheists and even some scientists about a perceived problem of morality. Some even argue that science could be used to find objective moral truth. Others argue that science would be better suited for exploring what inputs go into the development of individual moral frames. The social sciences seem to be the best suited for exploring morality, exploring the evolution of language, culture and cognition and their confluence into how people determine right from wrong. Ultimately the debate about just what the best avenues for exploring morality, about the nature of morality will continue for a good long time to come, continually enriching the art of being human.

What the Fuck Arizona?

Seriously, what the fuck?

I have been trying to shy away from politics as much as possible for a while now. It hurts my head and makes the ulcers act up - often exacerbating my already egregious insomnia. But now AZ has passed a bill drafted by eugenicist white supremacists and spearheaded by a fucking neo-Nazi loving white supremacist loon.

Greg posted a Rachel Maddow segment that delved into the background of this lunatic fucking bill, asking the very reasonable question; What does an illegal immigrant look like? For the record, the first illegal immigrant I ever met was paler than I am - a New Zealander. Somehow I doubt cops in AZ would even think to fuck with her.

There is more than a little bit of a shit storm about this bill. This bill means that anyone who is suspected of being illegal, who does not have their ;proof of citizenship they will spend six months in jail, even if they are not here illegally. I am not sure exactly how this is supposed to work, because a drivers license is not proof. I don't generally carry my fucking birth certificate with me when I am out and about.

But the fucking moron in chief of AZ seems to be clear that racial profiling is illegal and will not be allowed. She does not however, know exactly what an illegal immigrant looks like.

I am guessing they look brown.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Oh, but Sheriff Joe says not to worry...

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And finally...

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The end is in sight....

I have finished my papers and am down to two finals - unfortunately both are going to be kind of rough. But it is almost over and then I have two weeks before the summer semester. I am both still melting down and decompressing at the same time.

I will be getting on the new website as quickly as possible...

Monday, April 26, 2010

LuShae, Excellent Jewelry at an Excellent Price...

Like a bad blogger and busy student, I was asked to review something and then forgot to write the review. A couple of months ago I was asked if I would be willing to write a review, whatever I actually thought about the product. So I went to LuShae Jewelry and picked out something that turned out to be absolutely fabulous.

If you are familiar with my lovely partner Juniper, you might understand why I picked that lovely pendent. The piece was well constructed and beautiful. I thought it was lovely and my darling Juniper was very well pleased with it as well. I am extremely grateful to LuShae for the opportunity to give my love something beautiful that reasonably priced as it is, is just a shade beyond the surviving on student loans.

They have a lot of great stuff over there, with rings and earrings as well as their selection of pendants. I rather wish I had a little extra cash, because I rather think that these would have gone quite nicely with the necklace. Though I could be quite mistaken as I have run across homeless people with better fashion sense than I have. Still, I know what is pretty and I definitely know when something is well made. However, if you happen to see some earrings that would work better with that pendant, let me know.

The necklace I got from LuShae was both.

Morality Across Cultures Part 3

I have noticed something rather interesting in my exploration of morality across cultures. Namely that in more collectivist cultures (and subcultures) morality seems more strongly idealized, moral frames are more uniform and outwardly seems held to more stringently than in more individualistic cultures. This makes a lot of sense, given the nature of collectivist societies and I imagine is probably even documented.

Unfortunately it is exceedingly difficult to wade through the literature on moral decision making processes, because the vast majority of research in this area is in the context of business and law. This means that researchers are generally looking at very narrow ethical issues that may or may not translate to life outside the context of workplace. Or they are looking at narrow ethical issues in the context of how members of another culture treat outsiders - again, issues that may or may not - likely do not translate into how members of that culture treat each other.

I have found a few nuggets of research that would imply my observation is correct, but they do not leave room for generalization. This is definitely something that I think is worth exploring, because I think the answer is probably a very important piece of the puzzle that is the formation of our moral frames. The reason I think this could be very important is due to some observations of the largely hunter/gatherer aboriginal cultures I have learned something about. I will admit that this is pure speculation and that based on the accounts of westerners who have visited these cultures.

Egalitarian social structures are pretty much collectivist by nature. While there are certainly individuals with their individual traits, at a certain level of interdependence collectivism is the default. What I think it very interesting about this, is the expression of what westerners call morality in these egalitarian cultures. There isn't a list of rules to follow. Rather, there are the things that one must do to ensure the survival of the group. There are ways that one should treat others. But these are not issues that really need speaking of - rather they are integral to the culture to the extent that they become defined through observation and in some cases (probably most or all) they are part of the language.

In these aboriginal cultures divergence from the "moral" framework of the society is exceedingly rare. When it does pop up, the resulting gossiping and shaming usually cuts it off quickly. Failing that, there is discussion with elders to bring one in line making the final option, banishment, virtually nonexistent. There is not so much as idealization of this framework, as there is the understanding that life exists within this framework. There is not so much rigid adherence to this frame as there is a lack of anything else with which the group can function. In essence, daily life embodies the "moral" frame of hunter/gatherer societies. And within a group of (usually) thirty or less people, adherence isn't just an outward appearance.

With hierarchy and division of labors, comes room for that adherence to become affectation. The more complex the hierarchy, the more complex the division of labors, the more room is created for deviation - even if that deviance must be secret.

What I think is so very interesting about this, is that if I am correct, it potentially has a lot to tell us about the nature of our moral frames and how they are developed. It may also teach us a great deal about what morality really is at it's core and what can be generalized about morality. I also suspect that if it is true, this will have a lot to teach us about cognitive processes. At the very least it is rather interesting...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I am building a new addiction site

Having found a very good deal on hosting services, I have taken the step of getting a new domain (a couple actually) and am in the process of building an addiction web site with forums. The domain is and I have rather ambitious plans for the site. I would like to utilize the main page as a clearing house for information and have (ideally original) articles by addiction professionals, doctors and researchers posted a couple times a week.

I will also be creating a forum for people whose lives are affected by substance use disorders and people who suspect their lives are affected by substance use disorders - their own or someone else's. This is where I could possibly use a little help. I am committed to making this a space that is completely safe for people who are afraid of others finding out they are spending time at an addiction forum. This means that rather than just making it possible for users to post anon to the outside world, I want to provide assurance that administrators and moderator don't even have access to information that could identify forum members. This means not only providing means for creating accounts that hide all personal identifiers from everyone, but also hides their ip address and such.

I am honestly not to sure about how to make that happen, though I will be talking to the tech people who work for the host about it. I am using Drupal content manager, running on an apache server. I will also need to be able to keep track of the amount of traffic, even if I cannot keep track of any identifying information about the traffic.

The other thing that I am hoping to accomplish is the development of a forum for addiction professionals, researchers who study substances of abuse and MDs. Possibly even creating a whole different front page - or at least a feed (possibly keyword filtered for user preference) that identifies recent items. I know that this is less likely to come together - at the very least I expect it to be rather difficult to get people who are as busy as everyone who fits the requirements to actually take the time to make it happen. But I have long felt that communication between people doing relevant research and the people who actually deal with people with substance use disorders could be exceedingly valuable. And I think that MDs - especially those who work ERs, could also get a lot out of communication with addiction professionals. For that matter, it might be appropriate to invite emergency service providers into the discussion.

The other thing I am hoping someone might be able to help me with - or even possibly just create, is a news feeder for picking up addiction related news. Something that can be set to filter content from sites that turn out to provide inaccurate information.

Finally, I am also looking for people who have a bit of spare time, who could help as moderators. I have the tentative commitment of one person and would like to shore things up rather solidly. As the site isn't even up yet, I don't expect to need much help initially. But I am hoping to build things up rather quickly and would like to make sure that everything is covered. It really shouldn't be all that complicated. There are few enough restrictions that there really shouldn't be too much trouble. I am trying to set things up so that users can kill file other forum members if they run into conflict and also will be asking users to self flag posts that contain profanity, so that users who wish to avoid that can do so easily. Basically moderators would mainly deal with posts that should have been self flagged and weren't and personal threats. The only other issue that may be very complicated is users who set up multiple accounts so as to continue harassing users who have killfiled them - or who have been banned for refusing to respect the very few rules that will be in place.

Other than that, I expect to open the site within the next ten days. It will probably need some tweaking here and there - I have never set up a site before and have little help. But we will be ready to start talking by May 2nd at the latest. And unlike my last, rather blundered attempt at creating an addiction community (for smokers), I think this will work out much better. I think the biggest problem with that was the attempt to create what should have been a forum in a blog format.

I will also note that there will be no advertising on the site - I am rather up in the air about a donation button. I would like to recoup my costs if possible, but I am not terribly comfortable with creating any pressure for anyone who wants to use the site. I am going to keep the site as politically neutral as possible, not offering any "official" Talking Addiction position on anything except for the advocacy for more humane treatment of people dealing with addiction or addictive behaviors and people with other mental problems. I want this site to be a very comfortable and safe place for people to come and talk - including people who have yet to admit or who aren't really sure if they really have a problem.

Finally - a couple more important points; Sobriety is not a requirement for membership - or even for posting. And membership is not restricted to substance based addictions. There are all manner of behaviors that qualify as addictions and Talking Addiction will not discriminate. This is to be a site for people who are suffering from addictions and/or substance use disorders and anyone who either has (or thinks they might) those sorts of problems or knows someone who does will be welcome.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Morality Across Cultures Part 2

While working on my paper about morality across cultures, I have found it extremely useful to engage in discussions about morality. I am pretty certain that certain friends of mine will be terribly pleased to see my paper finished and me shutting the hell up about it. But the most valuable discussions have been taking place online - useful in the main, because the people involved are actually interested in the discussion.

One of the more recent and more interesting discussions has been taking place on a science blog I first wandered to last week, The Primate Diaries. I never cease to be surprised by the fierce need so many people seem to have, of some kind of universal moral frame. I really wonder about this and what drives it. Is it a need to have one's own moral frame validated by some external agency? Or is it a fear that without a universal dogmatic structure, we will see some kind of breakdown of society? Or could it simply be the feeling that we must respond to theist claims that atheism equals a complete lack of morality, with a palpable dogmatic frame?

In the interest of a rather simple method for gathering responses, I have made a poll. Please feel free to explain more in comments.

I may or may not use the result to this poll in the paper I am working on for school, but it is unlikely. I will however write about the results if I get very many. If you happen to have an urge to link directly to the poll on your blog here is the URL.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The New Asylums: Complete System Failure

I have been meaning to write about this issue for a very long while, but have left it on the burner for so long I forgot about it. Then today in psych class I had it thrust into the forefront rather brutally. Before I go on, I want to share this episode of Frontline from 2005, one that I hadn't actually seen before. I should expect that it won't take long to get the gist of a truly magnificent breakdown of how we manage mental illness in the U.S.

It didn't take very long to provide you with a pretty good idea as to just how truly screwed up this is. Keep in mind Frontline filmed that episode in a prison that is still considered a model for psychiatric care in the prison setting. This is no way to treat people with mental illness, even people who really do need to be locked away from society.

What really makes me angry about our new model for dealing with serious mental illness, is that all the excuses made for closing state institutions are exacerbated by this method of dealing with the seriously mentally disturbed. It is far more expensive to deal with the mentally ill either in prison, or on the streets coasting in and out of jail. The biggest reasoning was expense - but the expense has dramatically increased. It is a huge expense for local communities and ultimately still costs the state more.

On top of this, it is extremely hard for the seriously mentally ill to actually get the help they need and even qualify for. There are "homeless" mentally ill persons who aren't actually homeless. They have a place in a group home and access to care. But then they wander off from home and end up living on the streets - off their meds, hungry and exposed. And there are truly homeless mentally ill persons who aren't getting any help - not because they don't qualify, but because they are not together enough to go out seeking it. And even if they try, the system is not set up to be managed by a paranoid schizophrenic who believes there are people trying to kill her, or someone with bipolar who walked nearly a hundred miles from people who knew him while in a manic phase. That is not the "freedom" that wellmeaning, but ultimately ignorant lobbyists/policy makers were trying to provide with the idea of mainstreaming.

And the local communities - the communities in which people who know and love a particular mentally ill individual lives, are not set up to deal with them. We have had forty plus years to get it together and help these folks and still we are flailing about, failing too many. Even here in MI, where the quality of care provided by county Community Mental Health (CMH) services is generally quite exceptional, we are allowing too many to slip through the cracks. In many places, there is virtually no organization to provide services to the mentally ill. In others, southern California in particular, the services provided are truly abysmal.

And again, the states are still fitting a huge portion of the bill - in many cases a much larger bill than the state hospital system cost.

Michigan is particularly hard hit right now, as we have closed some of our mental health facil...Excuse me, prisons at the same time we have also eviscerated the budgets of the county CMHs. We are dumping these folks onto their local communities and pulling the funding that might have provided services for them. The clinics that manage paroles and people on probation are getting overwhelmed - in many cases with clients who should not be outside of a lockdown facility. Meanwhile, people with less serious mental problems, but who do not have insurance and do not qualify for medicaid are screwed.

Myself for example. I finished with my last therapist about a year ago. I was told that I would see another intern therapist last summer - then that was bumped to the fall...I haven't bothered trying to call again - I know what is happening and know that I am not going to get help. At least I am on meds and not left completely screwed. For more people are worse off than I am. No therapy, no psychiatric services - they won't get help until their mental illness becomes acute and they either commit a crime and end up in prison, or at least get picked up by the cops and pushed through the medicaid requirements.

Please don't think that things are much better elsewhere. For the past several years MI has managed to provide mental health services on a shoestring, that far outstrip the quality of care offered in many other states that have substantially larger budgets per public mental health consumer. It is not like those services have improved as budgets get hit across the U.S. Indeed the quality of care here has not actually suffered that much, we just can't provide that care to the people who desperately need it.

I have some hope that the new healthcare plan is going to help with some of this. The APA has managed to push for some provisions that should improve access to mental health services and they went through. But it is only going to help with people in temporary crisis. People who are dealing with situational mental problems or who exhibit mild symptoms. It is not going to do a damned thing to change our prison and "homeless we can ignore" based system of care for the seriously mentally ill.

Just so we are perfectly clear about this, those scenes where they showed these yellow cages in a half circle - their "group therapy" session - that is not a reasonable way to provide group therapy. Not an effective means for any sort of functional therapy. Punishing inmates for breaking rules they don't understand is not effective therapy. Pretending that there is anything valid about an admission of guilt for rules violation, coming from a guy who is incapable of understanding what he is pleading guilty to is a fucking atrocity.

And remember, the system we got a glimpse of in that video - that is a model system for prison based mental health care. That is worlds apart from what one gets in county lockup or most prisons in the U.S. It gets far, far worse than what we see in that episode of Frontline.

Morality Across Cultures Part 1

My semester project in my language and culture class is on the meaning of morality across cultural groups. This projects includes a presentation in class with a handout and a five to seven page paper. I am also writing another paper that will explore the impact of language on culture change. But the one I am rather geeked on is the morality paper. The following is the handout for my presentation.

U.S. American Society

Morality in U.S. society tends to be very relativistic. There is no set standard moral frame for U.S. Americans. Even on the individual level, moral frames tend to be ever changing, ever evolving with the experience of the individual. And public figures in the U.S. are often hypocritical about their morality, so much of the language surrounding morality is very cynical.


While there is a great deal of variety across the many sects of Christianity, with very few exceptions those sects tend to have a dogmatic approach to morality. Morality is generally pretty clearly defined and is nothing short of divine law. While there is a little room for relativist interpretations, that is minimal. The congregation and often to a stronger degree, the leadership of the church has a role in policing moral behavior. The language of most Christian and indeed most religious moral framing is couched in absolutes.


With the single unifying factor being a lack of belief in gods and the supernatural, atheists do not have a unified view of morality. Indeed some atheists believe that morality is nothing more than a religious construct. Others might believe that their are objective moral truths - some of whom also believing science can lead us to those truths. And there are atheists, myself included, who believe that morality is entirely relative to time, space, culture and the individual. It should be noted that within these three overarching viewpoints, there is a great deal of variety.

Korean Society

Korean society tends towards a very strict, dogmatic moral idealism. The language that Koreans use to discuss moral issues carries a firm reverence for tradition. Instead of being religiously driven, it carries the weight of history - of "the way it has always been done." While it doesn't carry the force of law, deviation from the moral dogma carries very serious social consequences. And Korean moral dogma also tends to speak to the rules of all the aspects of Korean social interactions.

When it comes to most any aboriginal peoples, the language of morality deviates rather drastically from that of developed, state based cultures. To whit, unlike state based cultures aboriginal cultures rarely even have a word to describe morality or even a system of rules or laws. There is no need for such defined sets of rules, because ultimately there are few rules and what rules there are are often times contextually dependent.

Efe pygmies (Ituri Forest, Congo)

The Efe people are quite reminiscent of the early Russians who lived in Mirs. They do not own property, implements used for day to day life being communally owned and used. The idea of "right" and "wrong" is entirely bound in what needs to be done to ensure the survival of the group. When the group perceives an individual acting outside the best interest of the group, the first line of "enforcement" is shame and gossip. Failing that, an elder or several elders may take the person aside. Ultimately, if the problems persist, the person will be banished. But problems rarely make it past shaming.

iKung! people (Northern Kalahari)

Really, the only difference between the Efe people and the iKung! people (or Bushmen), is that the iKung! people are not quite as communal. People in the hunter/gatherer bands of the iKung! people actually own their tools and adornments. This does not mean that tools aren't loaned to others on occasion, it just means that they are only used by others at the sufferance of the owner.

I would just like to leave you with an important understanding of moral relativism. Understanding that different people have different moral frames, doesn't mean that we must accept the moral frames of others as valid. Each of us have our own beliefs about what is right and wrong and respond to moral dilemmas in our own ways. The very nature of a belief in right and wrong, in what is moral versus what is immoral, is what we believe. When others act in a way that I believe is immoral, it doesn't matter what they believe about the morality of their actions - I believe that they are committing an immoral act.

I would like to thank Greg Laden PhD for his willingness to be interviewed about the Efe Pygmies. And I would like to thank Michael Murphy PhD for his willingness to be interviewed about the iKung! people. I will post the full bibliography when I post the actual paper. I would also note that my interviews with Greg and Mike will also be used as references for my other paper.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Round abouts a year in love...

It was around about a year ago now, that I was having an extremely shitty weekend and received a text message of support from a very sexy nerd princess that made me realize that I was in love with said nerd princess. Like all relationships, it has had it's ups and downs since. Sometimes very frustrating downs and sometimes it feels like there aren't enough ups for either or both of us. Sometimes it is just plain fucking ridiculous, maintaining a relationship with a person on the other side of the fucking country. Except for one thing.

I love her quite desperately and she loves me the same.

And the downs are so much easier to manage, when we do the most important thing that one can do in a relationship. We communicate. It isn't always perfect. We both suffer from occasional bouts of insecurity. We both suffer from occasional bouts of frustration and even outright anger at the other. Sometimes we even fail to address these bouts with the immediacy that they should warrant. But we do address them. And while it isn't always as satisfactory as we might wish it to be, it is always honest.

It is this honesty that I think has managed to sustain us through a year in love and only five days of that in each others company. It is this honesty that has made a relationship that stretches about two thousand miles across the U.S., the most incredible relationship I have ever been in. As much as I all too often ache for my lover's arms around me, I am contented by the fact that even from so far away, she is the reason that I am not truly alone.

I am not very good at always being clear about the passion I have for her. While I am free with my admissions of love for her, I am not nearly free enough with the depth and passion of that love. Simple "I love you"s aren't enough and I should be more aware of that - but awareness is rather hard when one is juggling school, kids five hundred miles away and a lover close to two thousand miles away - and at least a pretense of social/leisure time.

But that is no excuse for neglecting something so important.

Darling Juniper, I am not perfect and don't expect to move into our second year in love expressing myself, my feelings as adequately as I should. But I can and will do better. What we have is exceedingly difficult sometimes, but it is so far superior to anything I have experienced in the past, that I can honestly say that I never imagined I could feel this way about another person. That was how I felt a year ago and that has only deepened over the last year.

I am not sure how this will work out. I am rather locked into a future that leaves very little room for me to accommodate for your career needs. I am extremely grateful for your willingness to even try to accommodate for my needs. I am extremely grateful for your willingness to accept years of separation that will allow for minimal time together. It is hard to be so far from you and I know it is hard for you too. But I think our love is worth the difficulties and I am extremely grateful to you for feeling the same.

It would be magical thinking to claim absolutely that we will make it and actually live in the same location in five years or so. But it is hard not to believe, given what we have, that we will make this work. I have spent the last year in something akin to the worst hell I could imagine, not being with my children every day or nearly so. It has been harder still, adjusting to being a student and scholar. It has been so much easier to take, knowing you are there - that you love me so - that you are on my side.

My deepest gratitude to you though, is for your willingness to put up with me - who I was - who I am and who I am trying to me. I love you ever so much and ever so deeply. Knowing that you are there - that you love me, is a wonder without measure.

Thank you ever so much Darling.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Allergies, Colds and Michigan (Updated)

I love Michigan, even if I rather love the Pacific Northwest more. I even love the weather sometimes. Just last week I was actually able to leave my windows open at night and it got up to eighty a couple of times. Then yesterday and last night it snowed.

So we had snow on Thursday/Thursday night, then it hit seventy six degrees yesterday - Saturday. Gotta love Michigan - unless of course you have allergies. Especially when they kick the crap out of you and you get a cold at the same time.

Something I do not love about MI, or really much worse, PacNW, is allergy related. I have always had allergies, but they have always been quite mild - until I moved to Portland. There I discovered what allergies are really about. Worse, there are two damned allergy seasons, because it is mold related - so both spring and autumn bring the allergies to bear.

We are having mold issues here is MI this year. Early. And my allergies are kicking my ass. But it couldn't possibly be that simple - that would be plain wrong. No, I need to also have a cold right now. Right at the end of the semester when I am trying to cram too much work into too little time. I just bloody well slept from about eleven last night, until about seven - then I couldn't keep my eyes open and fell asleep in my chair for an hour. About eight thirty, after I had a cup of coffee, I still was having issues keeping my eyes open, so I set my alarm for nine thirty - don't recall waking up to turn it off - but I slept until nearly fucking noon.

On the upside, I think I am over the hump. My nose isn't quite solidly blocked off now. But I still feel like shit and really look forward to just dealing with the allergies - something that I can manage much easier. The kicker is that it isn't even much of a cold. It is totally wimpy stuff, but it might as well be the plague when combined with these allergies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Morality: What is it and why should I care?

For those few folks who read this blog and happen to live in relatively close proximity to Kalamazoo, MI, I am hosting a Cafe Inquiry, for the Center For Inquiry on Friday evening (the ninth) from 6:00, until we are done or you are ready to go. We usually cut out between eight and nine. We will meet at Panera Bread, 5970 S. Westnedge Ave, Portage, MI.

As host, I get to lay out the beginning of the discussion - which will hopefully be rather lively. I will note that I have a rather minority view of morality and do not intend to dominate conversation. I expect there will be more than two positions asserted and hope there will be as many positions espoused as there are people to express them. If you are interested in what to expect from my end, just click the morality tag at the bottom of this post. I have written a little bit on the topic.

While I am on CFI, there is also an event tomorrow evening at MSU. Dr. Megan Donahue will be presenting a lecture titled; The Accelerating Universe in the Lake Ontario room, third floor of the MSU student union. I would really like to go, but I am not sure that I can reasonably spare the time. That said, if you are close and want to go, let me know.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

DuWayne, the Hippie and the Republican: Adventures in Hitchhiking

Having spent a great deal of time thumbing my way around the U.S., I have a tendency to pick up hitchhikers unless I spot signs they may not be particularly safe. Like it is a pretty good bet that if said hitchhiker has some serious road grime going on and is carrying a pack, he's a legit traveler. That is not to suggest that picking up hitchhikers is a grand idea for everyone. I would not, for example, even consider picking up a hitchhiker if my kids are in the car. But as a general rule, I prefer to pick them up when I see them.

On my way home from seeing the boys over the weekend, I had the most bizarre hitchhiking experience I have ever had, in which I wasn't the hitchhiker. I stopped for gas in the middle of Kentucky - not so much because I needed gas, as because I really needed to pee. Pulling off the highway, I noticed a couple of guys hanging out at the top of the onramp, so I cleared my backseat when I stopped for gas and decided to pick them up if they were still there. Given the type of area we were in, I assumed they would be as it was the sort of place I used to dread when trying to pick up a ride.

One of the gentlemen had to be pretty close to sixty. He mentioned that he had been hitching since he got out of high school and talked about how much better the hitching was in the sixties and seventies. He was your quintessential hippie who never got past it or figured out how to make a living in spite of it. He had that perpetually stoned expression on his face that months of abstinence from toking wouldn't even begin to touch. And he had the air of surprise at virtually everything that happens to or around him that years of cannabis, LSD, shrooms and "whatever else might be available" use produces. The expression and manner that I would probably have managed in another decade or so, if I hadn't reproduced.

The other guy looked to be about my age - turned out that he actually is my age. He did not have the road grime of his traveling companion. Indeed, given that I had just dropped my boys with their mother after a go at the playground and had been driving for several hours, he actually looked a little cleaner cut than I was.

They were heading towards Columbus and my turn off from I75 was nearly a hundred miles past the best turnoff for Columbus, so they got in for about a hundred miles. They were apparently heading to Columbus to meet with some of Old Hippies friends and then were going to a rainbow festival* in about a month. Cleancut recently went through a very ugly divorce and needed to do something - so decided that when it was offered, a chance to do a bunch of mushrooms and ecstasy - while smoking copious amounts of pot, was a great idea. Then things took a turn for the fucking bizarre, if not somewhat amusing from my perspective - though not from Cleancut's.

As he got into explaining his story, the how he got here from there, he explained that he had been in the coal business. After a while this led to his explaining that he is a republican and Bushie. This was quickly followed up by an expression of distaste for Obama that of course included a racial invective. And being my very favorite sort of expression of bigotry, it was thrown out there with the caveat that he isn't actually racist. Of course not - folks like that don't have a bigoted bone in their bodies, they just act and sound like bigots. Just don't let that fool you, they are standup folk.

My very polite and measured response, delivered without sarcasm, was that my half black girlfriend, for example, would never be offended by a invective that denotes racial identity, rather than what a given person has actually done wrong. That of course he isn't racist, where ever would someone get that?

He turned rather red, but did manage to pretend that I really was being polite and didn't say anything. I then went on at great length about inbred fucking racist shitheads and made sure to occasionally mention that it was a good thing that he wasn't one of those sorts. Old Hippie chimed in his agreement a few times, noting that he really couldn't stand traveling with a racist asshole. I am honestly not sure whether he was really that clueless, or if he planned on ditching Cleancut somewhere between Dayton and Columbus.

Honestly, I did feel sorry for Cleancut, in spite of his racist fucking asshattery. Ignorance such as his comes from somewhere and it is very possible for him to change - indeed he is at a rather significant turning point in his life right now. He is also a rather hard working guy who seems to have done good by his family and who lost everything - his only solace in the security of his kids. And he was trying not to fall off the wagon completely, after five years without drinking, until one night last week. Given my general stance on addiction, I don't actually think it likely that the drugs he might use at a rainbow gathering will be a problem and if Old Hippie didn't/doesn't ditch him, the setting and the people will probably be a net positive.

That said, casual racism like that pisses me off. Bad enough that there are people who think it is ok to say shit like that - I really get cranky when they just blithely assume that I won't care - that I am like them. I am not perfect, not even when it comes to bigotry and biases. Indeed the more I explore myself in various contexts, the more I note that I have some rather horrid biases. But I am not like Cleancut and other purveyors of casual and overt racism.

All in all, it was a very strange hitchhiker experience.

* Think lots of drugs, mostly vegan food, naked people and most everyone being very kind to each other. And unlike many gatherings of drug addled hippies and hippie wannabes, they actually leave the site as clean/cleaner than they found it. At least that is what they did when I was hanging out with those sorts of folks - and managed to avoid ever going to a single gathering.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Marriage, the Census and You...

It really doesn't get much better. I mean I adore Orac, I love Star Trek, I love queers and I really love people who love each other. And oddly enough, while I do not actually love the census I really do appreciate it's importance. Though it is also probably true that a tin foil hat is going to be important at some point...Some point soon. I mean if you fill out the census, they will know where you are. So really, this is a sort of multifaceted PSA.

Coming soon...DuWayne, the hippie and the republican - Or why I love picking up hitchhikers...

Friday, April 2, 2010

I am the Momma of a Two Year OId Curmudgeon

Youngest has apparently decided that both of his parents are momma. Youngest also has a rather intense independent streak that is completely at odds with eldest at that age. He is also rather fond of not listening and gives a rather impressive "fuck you," face, when what he has been instructed to do is at odds with what he wants to do. Not a "brewing tantrum" face (though he is capable of this as well) and not a "malicious joy" face. No - he has perfected the "motherfucking kids today" face, that will easily shift to the face I imagine Comrade Physio Prof gets when he is about to unleash a torrent of expletives on an ignorant fucking moron. He actually looks condescending, like even an idiot should be able to tell that what he wants to do is so fucking superior to anything mere parents might think necessary at the moment.

Fortunately he then loses it when faced with steadfast defiance and his face contorts with rage - occasionally actually throwing himself to the floor. This is not something he does to me very often, because I just laugh at him - further pissing him off, but stopping the tantrum cold as his face and entire demeanor become that of the "I am NEVER going to comment here or even read this blog EVER AGAIN!!!" troll. He refuses to look at you, while surreptitiously glancing over to make sure that he is still following close, in spite of having refused your hand. He also will try to refuse your hand when you go through the parking lot, but only enough to make sure you know he is still very angry.

If tired enough, picking him up to put him in the car seat will lead to more screaming. But usually he is bent on maintaining his perceived moral superiority and will merely turn his head n any direction that ensures he won't look at you. Once strapped in, it is really fun to take advantage of his confinement to make him actually put his eyes on you. This generally will break through the last vestiges of his anger. He is very good at expressing his scorn, but his absolute adoration for his papa ensures that this can only be maintained for relatively short periods. Apparently he can hold out for close to half an hour (ten minutes or so longer than with me) with his mom and most anyone else can be held in disdain for an hour or more.

He started getting rather irritated with me today, when at the American Museum of Science and Energy, I refused to let him climb onto a un-armed B-83 nuclear bomb. It got worse when I was unwilling to continue staring at the model of the newer nuclear power plants that purport to essentially run on nuclear waste. Then he was totally enamored by the scale model of a offshore oil platform - which I admit is pretty fucking cool, but for only so long. He didn't get outright persnickety until I flat refused to let him climb onto the stools in the transient exhibit hall (money and commerce at the mo), which were the sort that are very easy for someone at his level of balance/climbing abilities. Total meltdown waited until we actually made it all the way down stairs and passed right by the large dino puzzle that we had already pieced together twice and which eldest was reasonably not interested in stopping for, as he was ready to go and had patiently waited until I was ready to drag youngest away.

On the upside, his very awesome big brother has managed to teach him to count to ten. Though he gets totally thrown off if he has to count actual items numbering more than four. Eldest made him a counting book to ten and has plans for one that goes to fifty.

Now if only I can get him back to calling me papa. I think this is a direct result of him only getting to see me once a month. I am pretty sure this is his passive aggressive way of punishing me for not reading him picture books every night. He is not nearly as keen on the Oz books over the phone as eldest is. Either that or he is pissed that his brother flees when he starts jabbering while I am trying to read to them...

In any case, I expect that any time now I am going to come see them and he'll have a cane in hand to shake at and sometimes whack people with, when they annoy him or get on his fucking lawn. Though I may have to disown him if he starts in about fucking Irish swill - it is small batch bourbon or the highway.