Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cultural Walls

On April 17th, The Arizona Republic published an article featuring Rep Russell Pearce's (R-Mesa) brain child, Senate Bill 1108. I didn't see the article until the 22nd, but it had a profound impact on me. In an effort to avoid partisan pollution, I disclose that I am a democrat; however, I believe Pearce's bill goes beyond simple party lines, contradiction the core values of American politics.

The amendment to the bill aims to stop state schools from teaching "anti-western" ideas, saying they "use taxpayer dollars to indoctrinate students in what he characterized as anti-American or seditious thinking."

The bill already passed in the House Appropriations Committee ona 9-3 vote. Fountain Hills Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said "If you want a different culture, then fine, go back to that culture."

Ok, what?

Now, this isn't the first time Russell Pearce has acted on extremely conservative legislation. He has a history of zealously campaigning against illegal immigration, supporting pro-life measures, and fighting excess spending of any kind. Those, however, are all viable concerns. I don't agree with any of them, but I believe he has the right to fight for his beliefs.

However, Pearce also has a history of going too far. The Mesa representative always pushes an extreme version of the conservative agenda. Many publications have attacked him (see the New Times).

Here's what I have a problem with: people elected this man! This man, who has the gal to talk about the founding fathers and Constitution on his website, wants to restrict the education of culture--a blatant contradiction of intent. How can you possibly think that will help anything in the world today? American needs more understanding of foreign culture. Too many times in history America has suffered blowback from cultural misunderstandings and oversights. Too many times in history legislation resembling Senate Bill 1108 has passed--in North Korea, China, Germany, Britain, etc.--with disastrous results.

I simply can not believe people still think this way in 2008. Our country can not afford to support leaders such as Pearce and Kavanagh. They stand in the way of freedom at its most basic levels. Their supporters may disagree with me; however, this particular piece of legislation ironically contradicts our broad America ideals.

If ever there was an answer to our problems, this is not it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Arizona, how big is big enough?"

Just because you can speak, doesn't mean people will listen.

Edward Abbey has to be my favorite environmental terrorist/writer, influencing many of my environmental beliefs and social convictions. I'm currently reading One Life at a Time, Please by Abbey. I've also read Desert Solitude and The Monkey Wrench Gang--an educational staple for many schools--of my own accord. He understands what it is to live, not off nature, but in the middle of it; to observe its majestic beauty and understand its horribly unforgiving ways.

One Life at a Time, Please is a collection of Abbey's essays, many submitted to well-known publications, many not, all lamenting the direction the American Southwest has taken. The inspiration for this post comes from the work "Arizona, how big is big enough?" In it, Abbey addresses the rapid growth of Phoenix and Tucson, asking: why grow?

As a resident of Arizona, this issue hits my most core beliefs. Community leaders advocate growth as an economic necessity, but this can not continue. Arizona's limited water resources can't support much more, not to mention the endless urban sprawl that clogs freeways, pollutes the air, and creates "heat islands" depriving the city of rain.

What's more, growth destroys what I value most about the Southwest: nature. While I am far from a rugged mountain man, hiking provides great spiritual release for me. However, the commute to nature constantly grows as Phoenix expands, increasing my frustration and destroying the solitude that makes my experiences so rich.

Perhaps the most terrifying part of Abbey's comments is their antiquity. He wrote the essay almost thirty years ago and all the apocalyptic preaching has come to pass, and more. The U.S. Census estimated 1,388,416 people resided in Phoenix in 2003, 5,580,811 in Arizona overall. The city covered 475 square miles. Houston, Texas, contained 2,009,690 people spread over 579 square miles. (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/)

The facts should speak for themselves, but in case they're shy I'll spell it out: Phoenix is huge. Not only are we outrageously spread out, the city has grown--continues to grow--at a rate that can not be preserved. It doesn't take an expert to determine collapse is inevitable.

Think of what's been lost. People flocked to Phoenix for its fresh air, dry climate, and gorgeous sunsets. Now, while the air is still dry and the sunsets more gorgeous than ever--due to increased particles in the air--the air quality has dropped to dangerous levels and the heat has increased due to the "urban heating effect." The urban heat island causes monsoon storms to literally split apart, sliding around the city as water parts around a rock. This causes droughts, further exasperating water scarcity in a cyclical vortex of environmental collapse.

So what can we do? Companies like Salt River Project and The Arizona Project are in a race against time to conserve water and unravel the current trends before resources dry up. However, nothing seems to be done to curb urban sprawl. Projects to build light rail lines could combat the effects, but as a resident, I doubt their effectiveness. Phoenicians love their cars too much, and if the amount of gas guzzling SUV's we drive is any indication, locals just aren't concerned. As with most environmental issues, action will only happen after people's lives are affected--a situation that's already a reality for me.

"Phoenix is big enough, Arizona is big enough," said Abbey. "What we need is not more growth but more democracy--and democracy, some other old-timers may recall, means government by the people. By the people."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fly Conchords!

Ever since I was first introduced to the HBO show "Flight of the Conchords," I've been an avid fan. It was at my friends house--I don't get HBO--that I first saw a full length episode, but I already felt indoctrinated into the fan base just from listening to my friend's favorite quotes. Endless repetitions of the word sex pronounced "six" in a mock-New Zealand accent never decayed from its original hilarity. Now I've seen the entire first season, also thanks to that same friend. The quirky, subtle humor that permeates every story only grows from the actual songs.

The new Flight of the Conchords album just came out. Most of the songs are great, fan favorites. However, I feel like they missed a few that would have added to the fan experience. At least they hit some of the most catchy, purely ridiculous ones. Someday, I'll get "Foux de Fafa" out of my head, but I'm in no rush.

Free Will

George Herbert Mead--Social Scientist

What makes us act the way we do? A recently completed social sciences class drilled that question into my mind. "The Human Event," they called it. Both euphorically uplifting and deeply depressing, HON 272 opened my eyes to the myriad of controls society exerts on individuals. Society enables great things: communication, cooperation, solidarity, emotion--it has been theorized that the majority of emotions are socially constructed. However, it also limits individual potential, cramming them into pre-made molds that fulfill greater needs.

Just how much can we blame individuals for their actions. At every turn, society exerts influence. A self-sustaining system of operant conditioning, socialization, and social resources trains children to act in "civilized" ways, restricting their true potential and limiting individual will.

How can there be free will when there is no individual will?

Also, why do all these guys have great facial hair? The answer: society influenced them to grow beards and mustaches of great power. I can't think of a more compelling argument than that.