one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all

Kidling came in today and said, “I don’t want to say the pledge of allegiance anymore.”
I asked, “Why not?”
He said, “Because they say, ‘under god,’ and I don’t believe in god, so I don’t think it’s fair that I have to say that.”
I smiled slightly and said, “Well, what do you do now when they say the pledge?”
He replied, “I sit at my desk and do this (sticks his fingers in his ears).”
His expression made me want to laugh, but the behavior is rude, so I said, “No, don’t do that. That’s unnecessary and rude. You have a few options — you can just sit quietly at your desk, no sticking your fingers in ears or goofing around or anything, and if a teacher or someone asks why you aren’t reciting the pledge, you can tell her you’re a conscientious objector to bringing god into public schools, or you can stand with your hand over your heart and facing the flag, but not reciting the pledge, or you can stand and recite the original pledge instead of the revised version.”
He asked what the original pledge was and why it had changed, so I went on to explain that the pledge was originally written in 1892, which was 119 years ago. Back then, it just said, “We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I explained that the “under god,” part was added in 1954, as a result of a movement started by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. This movement was continued by the Sons of the American Revolution and, later, the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal organization). Eventually, a Michigan congressional representative made a motion to officially include the phrase, and by 1954 the phrase was solidified in our national pledge, despite the clearly un-constitutional nature of it. 
Then I told him that whatever path he chose — reciting the original pledge, standing silent with hand over heart, or sitting it out as a conscientious objector — his dad and I would support him 100%, and we would stand up for him if he got in trouble with the teachers or principal so long as he was respectful and polite about his objection.
So, long story short, I think I gave him some tools and solutions on how to handle the situation, and I’m interested in seeing what he chooses to do next.

seriously?

Okay, peoples, I have a novel idea: Let’s respect that we’re all adults here and can make decisions for our own lives (this is, of course, assuming that you have moved out of your parents home and are taking care of yourself). So — again, with the assumption that you are fiscally responsible for yourself, pay for your own lodging, and manage your own bills — lets just all agree not to make the following sort of judgments regarding people’s hobbies/ habits/ addictions, okay?
  • Don’t you know riding a motorcycle will kill you? I’d ride one, but I care too much about my family/ my life/ my health, etc.
  • Don’t you know smoking will kill you? It’s disgusting and I care far too much about my family/ my life/ my health/ etc. to ever do it.
  • Real grown ups don’t play video games. Get outside and experience the world.
Let me break it down for you, okay?
  • Life will kill you. Don’t abstain from life because of a fear of death. Live life to the fullest — your fullest, not someone else’s definition. If your fullest is staying inside, eating cheetoes and playing WoW, then fucking have at it. If your fullest is balls-to-the-wall daring death to fuck your skull, have at it. WHATEVER. We’re all adults, we all know the risks (be it heart attack or brain splatterage) of our activities. Let’s just respect that and move. the fuck. on.
I am really tired of people being all judgmental and bitchy about hobbies they disagree with/ are scared of. It’s ridiculous.

Avatar

The animated tv series, not (either) of the movies. Yes, I was just introduced to and just finished watching this series. Coupla thoughts upon finishing the last episode (SPOILER ALERT, just in case you’re like me and were introduced to this years after everyone else):
  • I love the score during the fight scene between Zuku and Azula. It made the ending a foregone conclusion, but I admit I stumbled a little when Azula blasted Zuku with lightening and he fell — I suddenly found myself second-guessing the throbbing sorrow in the attendant music, wondering if somehow, someway, Zuku really had died.
  • Look, it was obvious from the get-go that Katara would end up with Aang, but I have to admit to a small personal disappointment — I was totally shipping Katara and Zuku. Plus, from a logistical point of view, Firelord Zuku should marry a bender from a different tribe, just to show continuing good faith and rebuilding efforts. Obviously not going to happen, but still.
  • Totally did not see that Aang would find a way to stay true to his values. I honestly thought he had no choice but to kill the Firelord/ Phoenix King/ what-the-fuck-ever that guy is. I had predicted the rest of the story arc early on, but I had no idea that was going to happen.
As for the entire series, well, I loved it. Great character growth, great pacing, beautiful art, and just overall fantastic. I will admit to some disappointment that my biggest question with water-bending was never adequately addressed, and in fact more questions were raised with the introduction of blood bending.
See, the human body is something like, what, 75% water? So a water bender could, conceivably, just draw all the water directly out of an opponent, thereby not only instantly mummifying/ desiccating the opponent, but also supplying themselves with an ample supply of water for other bending needs. They kind of addressed this in the puppet-master episode with the introduction of blood bending, but even that seems unnecessarily circuitous. I mean, even supposing somehow waterbenders can’t draw the water completely out of a human body, but only manipulate it within, we’re still stuck with the question as to why one would choose to manipulate and control a deadly enemy when they could just halt the blood flow to major organs, like the heart or brain? Doing the whole blood-bending/ puppetmaster routine seems not only unnecessarily cruel, but also complete ineffective and counter-intuitive. It’s the equivalent of catching a mosquito and pulling the wings off, then letting it go — why not just kill the damn thing? It achieves your end (mosquito doesn’t bite you) without being unnecessarily petty and cruel.
The last season was definitely the best, in my opinion. Once Zuko joined the team, it was actually laugh-out-loud funny for me — I will admit to a nervous moment in season two, when Zuko turned all smiley-nice-good-natured around his uncle. I knew from the first season that Zuko’s character arc necessitated him turning into a good guy; he’s the classic anti-hero — but I didn’t for a moment think they would actually change his essential personality. So I was a little freaked out in season 2, when Zuko turned (briefly) into an easy-going, amenable guy. I was actually relieved when he betrayed his uncle and turned into an asshat, because holy fucking fuck, Zuko was annoying/ boring as a good-natured guy.
Luckily, when Zuko joined the side of good again in season 3, he stayed an asshat, personality-wise. This was particularly awesome when juxtaposed with Aang’s cheery, always-look-on-the-bright-side pacifism, Sokka’s bumbling, good-natured ferocity, and Katara’s maternal squabble-soothing. And oh my god, I loved how Zuko and Toph played off each other — I was actually laughing out loud during those last few episodes. I love Zuko forever so. much.
Oh, and the play episode in season 3? Holy crap, that was hilarious. Spot-on. Perfect — I love the stage characterizations and the actual character’s reactions to it all. Had me giggling so much.

oh, these modern times

I frikkin’ love living in this day and age. It’s so trippy, sometimes, to step back and realize that we live in a futuristic society. Maybe it doesn’t look like “the future” pop culture sold to us, but make no mistake — if you went back 15 years in time and hung out with some high schoolers from 1996, they would be blown away by stuff we take for granted — tablet computers? Smartphones? Streaming music and video? Websites like WebMD?

Obviously, I’m talking about tech here. On a socio-political level, it sometimes feels like we’re regressing to the dark ages. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation, but it’s also a visceral reminder that we sometimes picture the future as this whole package — a package of improved tech and a utopian (or at least proto-utopian) society, where racism and sexism and classism and poverty have been addressed and eradicated, and that’s why we often don’t recognize the advances we have made.

Anyway, the reason I was thinking about all this was because I had an opportunity to visit some friends in a less-connected area, and their internet hookup took freaking forever. The funny thing is, it didn’t actually take that long. I mean, compared to our hookup speeds with a cable modem down in the city, yeah. It took awhile for their webpages to load. But when you compare how long their internet connection takes to load a page with how long my dad’s dial-up modem in 1998 took to load a page, holy shit. Mind blowing difference. And my dad was (and is) a complete luddite — he’s always had the established tech, not the cutting-edge exciting stuff. So I knew nothing other than dial up and floppy disks until I married my husband in 2001.

And isn’t this exciting? I mean, for me I went from a CRT tv and computer moniter to an LCD screen in my husband’s home. I went from a predominantly VHS collection to DVD-only, and within a few years my husband and I were buying Blu-Ray DVD’s and streaming HD movies. I went from listening to cassette tapes and the occasional CD to buying streaming music online. I went from a land line phone to a cell phone-only system, and in cell phones I’ve gone (in a decade’s time) from a basic flip phone to a phone that texts and plays music to a smartphone, where I can watch videos and play games and text and check my e-mail and set my calender and alarms and make phone calls and even video calls. What is this magical world I live in?!? Cars and motorcycles are powered by batteries, buses are running hybrid fuels, and all this technology has made us more conscious of a global economy.

I love tech. I love that my new phone has a 12 hour battery life, and it’s endlessly amusing to me that after owning it only a week, I find myself thinking, “Already?” when I see the orange bar indicating that I need to charge it. My old smartphone (which I had less than a year!) had a 4-6 hour charge. My phone before that wasn’t a smartphone, and it’s charge was 3-4 hours on a good day. I love how quickly we adapt to tech, how in just a few short years I’m using to my web pages loading in the blink of an eye or my smartphone battery lasting forever. The speed of the internet has improved by hundreds of thousands of kilobits in just a few short years — my husband just did a speed test and we’re downloading over 9,000 kilobits per second, almost 300 times fast than what our connection speeds used to be.

This is basically just a gushing post of wonder-joy about our modern world. 🙂

home “ownership”

For the benefit of others, I’ve written two short lists of the pros and cons of home ownership.Cons of Home Ownership

  • You are still a renter. You’ve just signed a longer contract, and your landlord (the mortgage company) is a faceless dick who thinks of you as another number on a page.
  • Owning is more expensive than renting. When you look at buying a home and think, Wow, that mortgage is less then/ the same/ only $100 more than my rent payment! remember: In addition to rent/ mortgage payment, you also pay the following (this can increase your monthly payment by several hundred dollars, raising a $700/ month mortgage payment to a $1,200/month mortgage payment):
    • Property taxes
    • Home-owners insurance
    • Natural disaster insurance (depending on where you live, this is either flood, fire, earthquake, or tornado — homeowners doesn’t cover this stuff).
    • Escrow payments
    • Additional fees determined by the mortgage company — interest, taxes, fees, etc.
    • All this means that even if your interest rate never increases and even if your basic mortgage payment stays the same, your monthly payment will still fluctuate in price over time, and as the owner you have no real recourse.
  • You are now financially responsible for any and all repairs, ranging from mundane (baby crapped on the carpet) to major (the roof needs to be replaced, the plumping in the bathroom burst, and your dishwasher broke).
  • The long-term value is a myth. These days, American’s “own” their homes for an average of 6 years before selling or leaving the property and moving onward. Generally, the most effective and reliable means of advancing in your field is to transfer, whether it be to a different facility or a different company altogether. This usually requires moving. Now consider these factors in selling a house, many of which are out of your control or ability to predict 6 years down the line:
    • In the time I’ve lived in this home, have I been able to maintain/ improve the property to get my money’s worth?
    • How is the housing market? Will I be able to sell it in time?
    • Is it worth it to rent the property until I can sell it? (think of the property damage renters often cause — can you handle those costs?)
    • Can I afford rent/ mortgage at the new location and the mortgage on my old house until it sells?
    • Do my neighbor’s properties raise or lower the cost of my own? (are they well kept or overgrown and shabby? Are they lived in or abandoned?)
    • Has the city built anything nearby that will drive down my property values?
    • What will you get out of your house? Well, that all depends unexpected opportunity to advance in your position?
    • If I choose to commute, will the cost of gas mitigate any “savings” from not selling the house?
    • What about the school district/ crime level/ employment in the area?
  • No choice in who your mortgage servicer is.

That last one is possibly the one single area where American’s have no choice in where they spend their money. Think about it — do you disagree with Wal-mart’s company ethics? Target’s? Amazon’s? Do you not like the way Applebee’s servers act too friendly? Or the way Outback cooks their steaks? Well, you put your money where your mouth is. You find alternatives. The more a cause, value, or ideal means to you, the more you opt to shop at places that promote your cause, while avoiding places that don’t. We do this with everything: Our financial institutions, what restaurants we eat at, where we shop — as Americans, we’ve been taught the lesson of the almighty dollar. We have learned the power of blackballing businesses, of what a toilet-paper panic or a Black Friday sale can do.

We know that money is power, and choosing where (or if) to shop is a form of power. And that power is stripped in one area from home owners — they do not have any say in who they make their mortgage payments to. Even today, even in 2011 and after all the news coverage and hype about inflated interests rate and bad loans being sold and transferred sans deeds in massive warehouse basements, even now it still happens. In the 6 years I owned a home, my loan servicer changed 4 times. Neither myself nor my husband were ever consulted — we were informed, “On thus and such a date, you will commence making your mortgage payments to Company B. Any payments made to Company A after said date will not apply to your mortgage. Thank you, and contact Company B for further information.” The further information was always just, “Yeah, we bought your loan now. So make payments to us or else you’ll accrue late fees, go into default, and eventually be foreclosed on.” It didn’t matter if we didn’t like their policies; their late fee structure; the fees they tacked on for talking to tellers, making online payments, making over-the-phone payments; their company ethics; or, hell, if a phone representative was rude to us. You know why? Because we had no choice.

They are taking a gamble. They are gambling that American’s are more concerned with holding onto their property or maintaining their credit rating than worrying about the technical legalities of whether or not their servicer actually holds the deed (and therefore the ability to foreclose). In any other industry, at any other place, if consumers were treated the way they were by mortgage companies, they would take their money and walk the fuck away. Hell, you can do it with your bank account — but you have absolutely no say in who services your loan. And they still try to claim we “own” these properties. Ha.

Pro’s of Home Ownership

  • There’s got to be some, but I haven’t seen, heard of, or experienced any benefits that outweigh the drawbacks.

So, hows about renting? Well, sure, that’s got pro’s and con’s, too.

Cons of Renting
  • Your landlord/ neighbors might be dicks. Of course, you only signed a 6-12 month lease. If they’re that much of a dick, you can find a new place.
  • You don’t have a yard. Solution: rent a house or duplex instead of an apartment.
  • No garage. Solution: rent a house or duplex; spend the fee for a covered garage at your apartment complex; or rent a garage in town.
  • It’s harder to find places if you have pets. Harder, not impossible. I have a black lab and three cats, and I found a rental within 1 month of deciding to move.
  • You can’t paint the walls whatever color you want/ renovate/ etc. You know what? Boo fuckity hoo. Seriously. Most homeowners can’t, either, because it’s fucking expensive.

Pro’s of Renting

  • If you don’t like it, move. Don’t like your landlord? Neighbors? School district? Have things changed since you moved in? Has the neighborhood gone downhill? Who cares, you’re on a 6-12 month lease. Start packing your bags and looking for options; you’re moving.
  • Cost sharing. Depending on what type of residence you rent (apartment/ condo vs. duplex vs. house), some things like sewer, garbage pick-up, and certain utilities will be discounted due to the fact that the cost is being shared amongst all the residents.
  • Environmentally friendly(ier). Shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but for you environmental types, renting (essentially recycling) a property is more environmentally friendly.
  • You break it, landlord fixes it. As a general rule of thumb, fixing things is the landlords domain and responsibility. Get rental insurance for your stuff, your t.v. and couch and oh-so-precious signed first edition Firefly DVD’s with the limited-edition bonus artwork or what-the-fuck-ever, but everything else is the landlords deal. There are even laws and non-profit organizations you can turn to if the landlord isn’t holding up their end of the bargain, and unlike HUD, their hands aren’t tied.
Honestly, I think so many people still want to own homes because they really haven’t thought about it; they haven’t examined the pros and cons and how it fits their lifestyle — not this faux American dream based on an idealized shared cultural history, but how it fits their actual, real lifestyle. But really? If anyone can give me a decent argument for home ownership, one that outweighs all the cons (and keep in mind, I covered the issues that bothered me the most. My husband could do a whole ‘nother post on the financial aspect and sunk cost fallacies) of modern home ownership, I would love to hear it. Then I’ll sell you my house.