Saturday, August 7, 2010

Don't be scared...

Reading is an empowering thing. It allows the individual to speak almost directly with a person from another time and place. Words on paper or rather words that are read, offer a way to set down an idea and allows others to take from it what they will at their leisure. It can however be a scary thing.

It was not too long ago when people were banned from reading the Bible and in some places in the world some are still banned from reading the Qur'an. The reasons for this are that if you read someone's ideas then you have the opportunity to interpret them for yourself and make a decision regarding your agreement or not. In the past, religious leaders did not want their congregations to be making those decisions. As an aside, this is also why much of the Catholic mass was spoken in Latin until the Vatican II. For religion however this has largely changed and we are free to read as we like and interpret without fear of being strung up or burned at the stake for our viewpoints. This is mostly true.

Thankfully, Government bills and laws are different in that they are in the public domain for viewing, yet similar to the Catholic mass being done in Latin. Government documents are heavy on legal procedure and rhetorical flourish, might as well be Latin. This has forced many people to seek commentators to give a brief rundown of what is in bills. We turn to news channels or newspapers for the gist of the bill and base our opinions on that information. This is a good way of doing it actually. It allows us to be in the law making process without having to speak in a legal dialect, gives commentators something to do, and lets the Government be as precise as possible in the laws they write.

The downside to this is that you get a different viewpoint and interpretation based on who explains the bill to you. See the beginning of the entry for why. Many times it is helpful just to be able to see what was written and reference that against what is being explained. In my high school we had a decent civic's class, an endangered species. We discussed the role of Government, how it works, and what we as citizens are expected to do. The internet was just coming up at this time and I was lucky to have an instructor that utilized the fledgling technology. I was directed to what has become my goto URL for all things related to United States law, Thomas. It is named after Thomas Jefferson for his pivotal role in the legal foundation of our country. This site allows the user to search sessions of Congress as well as look at actual bills being currently debated and look at the precise wording, layout, implications, and all that resides in bill XYZ.

It may take some time to understand bill layout and parse verbiage, don't be scared, but when you hear somewhere that bill XYZ says that "The Government will kill your dog." Now you can go check, if they really will.