Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Bad History that got Andrew Jackson Removed from the Twenty Dollar Bill

There has been an alarming trend in recent years of judging historical figures by our modern-day standards, at least it's alarming if you are a historian. Context is massively important when trying to study history and judging historical people by standards that didn't exist during their lifetimes damages our ability to truly understand them. Let me demonstrate.

There are five men, two of them own and sell other human beings. Another is an obnoxious and disliked lawyer who hates immigrants. The fourth man is a fugitive from justice who constantly lies about his identity and the fifth man is today's equivalent of a wealthy crime lord. All five of these men overreacted to very small and very fair taxes and started a war that would last 7 years and claim thousands of lives. Scumbags, right? Wrong. These men are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock.

So what does this have to do with Andrew Jackson? Well, Jackson has just been through what I so unfairly put our five most prominent founding fathers through. If you haven't heard, Andrew Jackson is being replaced on the twenty dollar bill by Harriet Tubman, and according to the media, it is because Jackson was a terrible person. Now, I'm not arguing the Harriet Tubman doesn't deserve this honor, because if there is anyone outside of the current people that grace our currency that deserves such recognition it is her. But to say that Jackson should be removed because he is undeserving of the honor is bad history.

Let's take a look at the charges leveled against Andrew Jackson. The first is that he was a slaveholder, which is certainly true, but it is also true Washington and Jefferson. Both men are deemed worthy of appearing on our currency not once, but twice (Jefferson on the nickel and two dollar bill). So it can't be slavery. The other charge is that he is responsible for the poor treatment of the Native Americans, with some even calling him a war criminal for his part. However, Jackson was simply following the lead of many other presidents, including that of Thomas Jefferson. The land that the Native Americans lived on had always been considered the territory of the United States, every president prior to Jackson had treated it this way, and the land acquired by Jefferson in the Louisiana purchase was also declared US territory, despite the presence of a large number of Native Americans. If we judge Jackson by the standards of his day he is hardly at fault. It was an act passed by congress and Jackson was re-elected, so obviously the majority of Americans at the time saw no problem with this. Today, we of course wouldn't stand for the forced removal of a people for the use of a group we deem more important *cough*Israel*cough*. But anyways, when looked at with the right historical context, the wrongs of Andrew Jackson don't seem so terrible.

So now let's look at why Jackson deserves to be on the twenty dollar bill. First off, though he wasn't yet in office, pressure from him and his party led to expanding the vote to all white men, regardless of property ownership, in 1828. This, the most ignored of the voting changes, was pivotal to protecting the interests of the common man in that day and age. Additionally, it is doubtful that the vote would have ever been able to expand further had this change not been made. Beyond this, he was a war hero, fighting in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 and during his presidency he took a hard stance against corruption and inefficiency in the government, removing officials who lacked the qualifications or who were caught embezzling. During his campaign he refused to take part in mud-slinging tactics, even though they were used against him quite excessively. He was the people's man, the Bernie Sanders if you will, of his day.

So, we can't just judge Jackson, or any other historical figures, by our own standards. If we do that we will have very few people left to look up to.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Lack of Discussion: How the Planned Parenthood Controversy Perfectly Captures the Biggest Problem in American Politics

With the upcoming Presidential Election, Planned Parenthood has been talked about a lot recently. Many have attacked the organization for providing abortion services and its other questionable practices, while others have risen to its defense, pointing out all the necessary services Planned Parenthood provides. This will likely continue to be a major issue as we approach the election, and despite this, I have seen very little actual discussion about the issue.

Sure, there have been many speeches, posts, and articles about the topic, but I haven't seen anything that relates to a discussion of the issue. Most of what I have seen either calls for Planned Parenthood to be completely defunded and shut down, or says that Planned Parenthood should remain exactly as it is. This constant back and forth is getting us nowhere on the issue, as it is clear that neither side is going to give in to the other, yet our politicians, political writers, and other everyday people continue to add fuel to the fire rather than focusing their energy on finding a solution. This isn't even a very complicated issue which requires time to figure out and put together a solution. It seems pretty clear to me that we can keep Planned Parenthood around while still eliminating its practice of abortion. After all, abortion accounts for only a small part of Planned Parenthood's services, and it isn't very strongly connected to the other, less controversial services it provides.

So why hasn't such a clear and obvious compromise been proposed by any major political figure? It seems like it would have ready made support in the more moderate parts of both parties and would be an agreeable compromise for both sides, but especially for the Democrats. Should a Republican candidate win the upcoming election, there would be nothing to stop the fully Republican government from bringing down Planned Parenthood, so working out a compromise now could save Planned Parenthood from being completely dismantled in a few years.

There is a lack of discussion that is prevalent in our politics. Nobody wants to voice an opinion that might be contrary to their party, so nobody says anything independent of their party at all. This problem isn't just isolated to controversial issues, it is just as prevalent, or maybe even more so, within parties. Take Obamacare, for example. It was a 2,700 page document that was passed each house of congress and signed into law in a matter of months. That's barely enough time to read and understand such a document, let alone discuss and debate its merits, pitfalls, and problems. As a result, Obamacare has encountered several hiccups along the way, hiccups that could have been avoided had there been any actual discussion and debate while the bill was in congress.

This problem is also very apparent when the congress and the president are in a deadlock along party lines. During these times, very little gets done, we even had a government shut down because nobody could agree on a budget. When the congress and the president are controlled by one party, things get done, yet the bills that are passed during those times go through less debate and are also fairly one sided so they are poorly constructed and poorly implemented.

If this continues, we will be trapped in a loop of one party passing one sided laws, deadlock, another party tearing down what the other did and passing its own one sided laws, deadlock, and so forth. We need more discussion in our politics. We need to encourage compromise so that our country can progress. If we continue as we are, our country will only continue to divide itself until it breaks.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh Crap, Orwell Was Right

After I read 1984 by George Orwell I put it down with a hatred that I have never felt for a book. I hated how Orwell drew me into the story and then crushed it so suddenly. I felt the message within the book was valuable but I hated the book itself. I hated it to the point that when it came time for me to read it again in AP English, I decided to just try and pull from my prior knowledge of the book from a few years back and take the hit in my grade, rather than go through the ordeal of reading that book again. I was, however, consoled by my belief that Orwell was wrong. But that was back when I was 14 and had no life experience. Now I am 19, and have a very small amount of life experience, and I am beginning to realize that I was the one that was wrong.

From a technological standpoint we have certainly fulfilled Orwell's predictions. The obvious example is the NSA's monitoring, but we are also surrounded by cameras. With security cameras, traffic cams, computers, smartphones, and tablets, we are potentially on video all the time. Cameras are so prevalent that people are being trained for their jobs to act as if they are being recorded. But the presence of this technology in-and-of itself isn't really scary. At least we aren't using this technology like the government in 1984, right?

Well, sort of. Unfortunately we seem to be fast approaching the mindset that will lead to such close surveillance. You don't need to go far to find the beginnings of this either. All you need to do is log on to your Facebook account and look at how people attack each other over their differing opinions. There is a rising culture that makes it okay to attack another person over their opinions, especially if they are "intolerant." We are slowly creating our own version of the Thought Police. So far, this Thought Police is we have created isn't yet united by a single mindset, but with more and more government intervention in matters of conscience, we may be approaching that point. 

We are even seeing modern examples of the restriction of people who have unpopular opinions. Russia's anti-gay propaganda law is a prime example of this. However, such laws are not really unexpected out of Russia, a country with good deal of corruption and President who was once in the KGB. Again, however, we don't have to go far to find an example of this violation of freedom. Yes, we only have to cross the border, to a country as reasonable and forward-thinking as Canada. That's right, Canada has a law on the books called the Hate Speech law, and yes it is enforced. The actually wording of the law defines Hate Propaganda as "any writing, sign, or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence." The law also allows a books or other written material to be confiscated that fit this rather open-ended description. To be fair, as far as I have researched, this law has not been used very frequently, however when it has been used it is often highly controversial. But nonetheless, this law has the potential to be used in a very Orwellian way, and as people become more and more overly sensitive that possibility becomes increasing more likely. Again, this law is on the books in Canada. 

While each of these things when viewed separately are concerning, when you view them together it is down right scary. Or it should be, yet nobody seems to be talking about it. Maybe people, just like 14 year old me, don't want to accept that Orwell was more right than we originally thought. We like to discuss 1984 and then say, "Well, it's a good thing that he was wrong," when in reality, it may be us who are wrong.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Dress Code Conundrum

There has been a lot of talk recently about high school dress codes, particularly when they are applied to girls. Many girls have protested being asked to change clothes when wearing clothes that expose the shoulder, midriff, or too much leg. They say that schools have no right to tell them how to dress, and even that dress codes contribute to demeaning and sexualizing young women. Many have claimed that these dress codes are enforced unequally, and thus they should be allowed to get away with the same things that they have seen others get away with.

First let's take a look at the line of reasoning that claims: "because I saw someone else dress like this, I should be able to as well without getting in trouble." To really be able to analyze this argument we need to remove the specifics of the situation and replace them with generalities, so here is the basic structure of this argument: Person A says that doing action B is wrong. Person C did action B and Person A didn't punish them for it. Therefore, I (Person D) can do action B and not be punished by Person A. Now let's substitute a few scenarios in this argument. The School says that wearing a sleeveless shirt is wrong. Susan wore a sleeveless shirt and the School didn't punish her. Therefore, I can wear a sleeveless shirt and not be punished by the School. Now let's contrast this with a different scenario. The police say that speeding is wrong. Joe was speeding and the police did not punish him. Therefore, I should be able to speed without being punished by the police. Do you see how that argument doesn't really make sense? Just because someone else got away with something doesn't mean you get a free pass as well. If you still don't buy it, how would you like a more extreme example? The government says that murder is wrong. O.J. Simpson murdered someone and the government didn't punish him. Therefore, I should be able to murder someone and not be punished by the government.

Next let us look at the argument that dress codes demean and sexualize young women. This argument at first seems to hold some water. However, if you review several dress codes you will find that the same restrictions apply to both genders. Generally, both young men and women are required to wear sleeves, not expose their midriff, and wear shorts that are at least mid thigh length. There is no inequality, so if there is sexualizing going on it is being done equally. Many, however, point to the reason that administrators give when asking a girl to change into something more appropriate as an indication that there is something wrong. This reason is often that the girl's attire is distracting, to which they respond that if young men are so distracted by their dress that they are failing classes, then the young men are the ones with the problem. However, both sides have a point in this issue. Young men have raging hormones that naturally make them attracted to, and often distracted by, a pretty girl. However, young men need to be able to control these hormones. However, inappropriate dress doesn't only distract the men in the class room.

Inappropriate attire can distract from the environment that school and it's administrators are trying to create. These people have gone through the trouble of providing you with some of the best resources available, at little or no cost to you, so that you can have the best education possible. All they ask in return is that you help maintain the atmosphere of learning they have created by showing a little respect, and dressing in the barest minimum standards of professionalism. School is not there for your personal fashion show, nor is it a day at the beach, and so you are expected to not dress like it is. Again, all they ask is the barest minimum standards of professional dress. At their core, dress codes are not about sexuality, they are about professionalism.

Finally to those who say that schools have no right to tell you how to dress, well, actually they do. Remember when you were registering to begin school and some counselor or teacher handed you a stack of papers you needed to sign? I guarantee you that on one of these pieces of paperwork it said something like this: "I have read and agree to the school's dress code." Who knows? You may have even signed such a paper at the beginning of each year, but I guarantee you that you signed it. So you may not ever remember such an action, chances are that you never even read the dress code, but because you signed that paper they can hold you to it. If you wanted to protest something you felt was unfair in the dress code, you should have done it before you signed, not after. But for know all the school has to do is produce that piece of paper with your signature on it, and they can hold you to every little thing in that dress code.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Courage and Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner has made headlines for a recent sex change and appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair. For this, ESPN has announced that Jenner will be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the next ESPY's, but is what Jenner did worthy of this award? Could it even be called courageous? Let's take a look at Arthur Ashe and the recipients of his award, as well as others that define what courage is.
Arthur Ashe broke the color barrier in professional tennis. Not only did he break it, he smashed it. He won 3 Grand Slam titles, making him one of the greatest tennis players to come from the United States. In addition to this, he also struggled with various health problems. He had serious heart trouble, suffering a heart attack despite his incredible physical condition. These heart problems were hereditary, coming from both his father (who had had several heart attacks) and his mother (who had cardiovascular disease and died at 27). After some tests it was discovered that he would need quadruple bi-pass surgery. The surgery went well and Ashe began to rehab in the hopes of re-entering professional tennis. Shortly before he was to make his return he suffered another heart attack and he decided to retire. Several years later he encountered more health problems, and it was discovered that he had contracted HIV, likely from contaminated blood given to him during his second surgery. He at first tried to keep the news quiet, for the sake of his family, but after a few years decided to go public with his disease. He would then spend the rest of his life raising awareness for the disease. Arthur Ashe was a man who excelled in the face of adversity in his sporting career, and fought against an insurmountable disease in his retirement. Truly he is worthy to have an award for courage dedicated in his honor.
The inaugural winner of the Arthur Ashe Award was Jimmy Valvano, a national championship winning basketball coach who had been diagnosed with cancer. After a year of fighting cancer he was awarded the Arthur Ashe award, and subsequently gave one of the most famous and inspirational speeches in sports history. He died eight weeks after receiving the award at the age of 47.
Other notable winners are: Pat Tillman, a former NFL safety who walked away from a long and successful career to fight, and eventually die, for the freedom of others in the Iraq-Afghanistan war. Nelson Mandela, whose contributions to this world need no explanation. Dewey Bozella, a boxer who spent 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Pat Summitt, the winning-est women's basketball coach in history (never had a losing season) who is currently fighting Alzheimer's disease. Robin Roberts, a sportscaster and news anchor who has survived breast cancer. These people all showed great courage in the face of trials and challenges.
Courage is many things. Courage is our Founding Fathers signing their names on a document that would surely get them killed if a rag-tag, untrained, and poorly equipped army could not overcome the largest, best trained, and best equipped military in the world. Courage is bearing the life of a slave yet still hoping for a better tomorrow.  Courage is the Light Brigade, who carried out their orders despite the knowledge that it would get them killed. Courage is my ancestors who crossed the plains only to get trapped at Martin's Cove. Courage is my grandfather, who enlisted in the Navy to serve his country during WWII. Courage is my father, who despite a successful career as an executive in several start up companies decided to start his own financial advising business during uncertain economic times. Courage is my mother, who raised 5 children while often working full time as a nurse to help support my family. Courage is my sister, who is raising three kids with a husband in a medical residency. Courage is my brother-in-law, who decided to take on the challenges and stress of medical school in addition to the challenges that come with supporting a family. Courage is my brother and sister-in-law, who moved to an unfamiliar place and took on a challenging new job with a family of three kids. Courage is countless others who have looked major illnesses, desperate financial situations, and near impossible living conditions in the eye and pushed on the best they could. Courage is never giving up. Courage is daring to stand alone. Courage is daring to do what is right.
Courage is not seeking the praise of others. Courage is not taking the easy way out. Courage is not doing what is expected of you simply because it is expected of you.
So then, did Jenner display courage? No. He gave in. He did what was expected of someone in his situation. He made the decision that would undoubtedly be met with the praise of the media, and the praise of the world. He made the decision to take the easier way out, to give in to trying circumstances and to simply go with the flow. No, Jenner is not deserving of this award.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mormon Culture: Pressure on When to Serve an LDS Mission

Back in October 2012 I was going about a fairly normal Saturday morning routine for the fall Marching Band season. My band had a competition that day and I was gathering my equipment and instrument. That particular Saturday also happened to be the first day of LDS General Conference, which I had gotten in the habit of missing due to competitions and football games, so missing another morning session didn't seem like a big deal. However; before I left that morning, I decided to sit down and watch the opening address from the Prophet: President Thomas S. Monson. It was that fateful morning that President Monson announced that missionaries would be allowed to serve beginning at age 18 rather than 19 for young men, and 19 rather than 21 for young women. As I pulled into my school parking lot to meet up with the rest of my band, everyone was abuzz with excitement. Many of my friends had already decided that they would leave at the new, earlier age. One of the former drum majors helping with the competition that day had already called her Bishop and asked for an interview to begin her papers. I, however, was less certain of my future plans.

Over the next year and a half I went back and forth between serving at 18 or a year or so of college before my mission. After a lot of personal thought and prayer I came to the conclusion that I would attend at least a year of college before I served a mission. Thankfully, my family and leaders accepted this as a decision that only I could make, and they didn't put any pressure on me to reconsider or to serve earlier. However, as more and more of my friends' calls came in, I was asked with increasing frequency what my plans were, and many people were surprised by my decision. After asking me my plans and receiving my response many people replied that they thought that my decision was smart, and that it would be good to develop more maturity before I serve. However, there were a few people who I felt like they were trying to figure out if something was wrong with my testimony or worthiness. I felt as if I was being judged because I had decided that I wasn't ready to serve a mission right out of high school.

I know that I am not alone in this feeling. I have talked to many other young men who felt the same way. This brings me to the topic of my post today. 18 is not the mandatory age for mission service for young men, nor is 19 the mandatory age for young women. When the mission age was changed it was phrased as "will have the option to serve" rather than "should serve" at 18. I believe that the brethren made this change to not only increase the number of missionaries out in the field, but to also make the time frame for mission service more flexible, both in policy and in practice. To achieve this last goal, however, the LDS culture around mission service must change. Many people are still in the mindset of "everyone should serve at the specific age set aside by the church" rather than the mindset of "serve a mission when you are ready and worthy." Another important thing to understand is that ready and worthy are two separate ideas. 

This is picture of a few of the guys from my freshman ward at BYU. All of us had decided to attend college before we served a mission. However, despite what some may view as a bit of a misfit group who aren't as spiritually strong as those who leave right after high school, we were part of an awesome elders quorum in an awesome ward. I grew more in this ward than I have in any other, and I am now more prepared to serve a mission because of this ward and these guys. Many of these young men were worthy, however, they felt that they were not yet ready to serve a mission. 

I would like to remind everyone that the timing of mission service is a personal decision that should be made with lots of thought and prayer. When you serve a mission should not be dependent on LDS social norms, but rather on personal readiness and personal worthiness

To any pre-mission young men who are reading this, I urge you to make your decision on when to serve your mission based on personal revelation, not what you feel is expected of you. College can be a great place to grow and mature, as well as gain a greater appreciation of the gospel and the priesthood. However, don't delay service unnecessarily.

To any young women who are trying to decide whether or not to serve, the same goes for you. This decision is a personal decision between you and the Lord, and do not take into account what everyone else seems to be doing.

To any parents of prospective missionaries who are reading this, do not put pressure on your children to serve on any specific timeline. It will only add stress to your child's life as they approach the missionary age range, and they may even feel like they have to serve at that time or not at all. There is no magic age for missionary service, and for many it may be better to serve at an older age rather than a younger one.

Remember, just like the Lord does not care about your age when you come unto him, he does not care about your age when you serve a mission. He only cares that you do serve a mission.