Monday, March 22, 2010

Accidental Encounter (Buddhism: A Series)

When Heather and I arrived in Utah after finishing our M.A.s in summer 2008 we wanted nothing more than to relax, read, and eat at some of our favorite restaurants. Heather's family has always been warm and inviting and it was nice to have a place to land while we planned our next step. We had been back a few days when Heather's sister, Kayla, approached me with a book she had started reading that she thought I would find interesting. It was a beginner's guide to Buddhism and it gave the historical background on Buddhism as well as an overview of its teachings. Kayla had been curious about Buddhism, as well as other religions, and was in the middle of trying to attend services of all of the different religious denominations in Cache Valley. I hadn't had much experience with Buddhism. I had a few friends who called themselves Buddhist, though only because it made their parents angry.

I had rejected Buddhism along with every other religion under the sun back in high school. Moving to Utah forced me to figure out what I believed in (and didn't believe in) very quickly upon arrival. Having grown up in a city in Montana that had one of every church and parents who didn't push us to be religious left me with a default agnosticism. Upon arriving in Utah, my friends wanted to know what religion I was and would I consider becoming Mormon. I came to realize I was an atheist, and a pretty devout one (which cost me a few friendships early on).

I went through a dogmatic phase where my biggest concerns were getting "In God We Trust" off of U.S. money and "Under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. As I became more interested in social and political issues and began going to college, the rabid atheism took a backseat to a less confrontational atheism and a general interest in religion as a sociological phenomena.

Kayla proposed that we both read the book and compare notes and thoughts. She mentioned that she had begun meditating and was finding it quite interesting, if a little boring. I mentioned that I wasn't one for meditation (my bias against anything "spiritual" still firmly entrenched), but that I would be interested in reading the book and talking about it.

The book gave just enough about Buddhism to make me realize just how little I had known about it. I had been vaguely aware of the story of the Buddha and was aware of the Dalai Lama and his struggle for the freedom of Tibetans. Being a sociologist interested in religion gave me an idea of the social significance it plays in many countries around the world, but its canon and doctrines were not something I had ever examined.

I plan for this to be the first of many posts on Buddhism, a topic I have been interested in recently. In the next post I plan to highlight some of the points I found interesting from that first book and where it led me to turn next.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Next Up: Immigration Reform

With health reform all but passed, many are now advocating that Obama and Congress turn to immigration reform. Immigration reform was something discussed under the previous administration mostly as a way to drum up fears among their xenophobic base. Little to no substantive action was taken, other than the ill-conceived border fence. As I have discussed previously on this blog, immigration reform is necessary and long past due. Until we have a more coherent and humane immigration policy, we will continue to have undocumented workers toil in the shadows, exploited and neglected. These estimated 11 million people do many jobs we could not live without. While none of the proposed solutions are perfect, weighing the pros and cons of each of them and carrying out the best available one should be our focus now. Some sort of amnesty program that sets a cut-off date in the past and provides documentation seems to be one of the most reasonable approaches. Critics argue that a problem with this approach is that it neglects those who tried to immigrate legally. However, this can be rectified by granting visas to these people as well.

In order to properly address immigration reform, trade reform also has to be discussed. Many of the forces driving undocumented workers to the U.S. are a result of trade practices that allow subsidized American industries to dump products on countries at prices that unsubsidized local industries cannot compete with. This hurts the importing country in the long run by making it impossible to keep up the infrastructure that is required to run these industries. Grievances filed by these countries with the WTO, even if won, are often ignored by the United States. Also, the series of bilateral trade agreements negotiated in the past two decades have put most of our smaller trading partners at a significant disadvantage. U.S. negotiators were able to impose their influence on smaller countries that lacked the ability to push for more fair provisions. Often specific industries were given special benefits, while the overall agreement hurt far more producers in that country.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Random: For Those Who Watch House

Apparently a recent episode of House (I haven't watched the show much myself) featured the case of a blogger whose fictional web address was:


I have received a couple comments from fans of the show informing me this. I find it quite funny that (I assume by coincidence) they used the same name as this blog (particularly as this is the blog I use to update friends and family of the relatively mundane things going on in my life.)

So House fans, you are welcome to view and read through.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My First Report

My first GAO report was recently released to a surprising amount of media coverage. The report can be downloaded here:

The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press both had original stories about the report. Both authors contacted the Director on the report with questions.

Associate Press story

Wall Street Journal story

The AP story was also picked up by various other news outlets including:

The New York Times

The Washington Post

Business Week

The Daily Caller

In addition, some smaller regional and local papers have also picked it up.

Finally, the report has also sparked interest among some industry blogs and websites: