Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tempted Email "Forwarders" Be Warned!

Ok, that's it. I'm not putting up with it anymore. To anyone out there listening, if you send me a racist, homophobic, or intolerant forwarded email, I will respond to your entire list. Consider yourselves warned. Here are two of my victims so far:

This beaut was sent to me by a past student who I have repeatedly asked to take off his forward list:

[image of a traditional Christmas tree here]

This is a Christmas tree.
It is not a Hanukkah bush,
it is not an Allah plant,
it is not a Holidayhedge
nor a Holiday Tree!

It is a Christmas tree.

Say it...CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas, CHRISTmas

Yes. CHRISTmas - celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ!!!

Take a stand and pass this on !!

Here's my response:

Nothing like dampening the spirit of Christmas with racism and prejudice towards other religions. For some, it seems it's not enough to have our calendar structured around Christianity (it's the longest holiday break by over a week). Do we really want to be like some of those fundamentalist Islamic states with a state religion? How do we expect to create a unified nation when we expect everyone in this country to be Christian? Not to mention the historical innacuracies: a "Christmas" tree isn't even a Christian symbol. In fact evergreen decorations were actually prohibited by the 3rd century Christian church.

The next one was sent to me by a good friend, a friend I respect but have no idea how he buys into this kind of rhetoric:


Let's say I break into your House

A lady wrote the best letter in the Editorials in ages!! It explains things better than all the baloney you hear on TV.

Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the U.S. might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely. Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.Let's say I break into your house. Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, "I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I've done all the things you don't like to do. I'm hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family's insurance plan, educate my kids, and provide other benefits to me and to my family. My husband will do your yard work because he too is hard-working and honest (except for that breaking in part).

If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there. It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm hard-working and honest, except for, well, you know, the breaking in part.And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudice, and being an anti-housebreaker.Oh yeah, and I want you to learn my language so you can communicate with me.”
Why can't people see how ridiculous this is?! Only in America ....if you agree, pass it on (in English). Share it if you see the value of it as a good simile. If not blow it off along with your future Social Security funds.


And my response:

That's one of the stupidest analogies concerning immigration I've heard in ahwile; worse yet than the "tidal wave of immigrants." It's racist and un-Christian. Lastly, it doesn't even work to prove its racist ideology: who wouldn't want someone to break into their home and do work? I'm all for it--my back door is open to anyone who wants to break in and do the less desirable jobs. I'm not saying illegal immigration isn't a problem; it certainly is but our concern about the issue should be much broader than our own pocketboooks (especially since it's highly doubtful that we lose any money when considering all the factors). What about the people who are exploited and even die trying to cross the border? These kinds of concerns should compel us instead of a few dollars. And then if we really want a solution we will have to look at the root cause: lack of good jobs and economic mobility in Mexico.


Any forwarded email horror stories you'd like to share?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Representing" those we love the most

Thanksgiving weekend turned into a bit of a bust. We were originally going to visit my wife’s parents in Rexburg, Idaho but our oldest son got sick and we didn’t want to pass on any germs to the in-laws, in-laws who are already paranoid about germs and mother-in-law who just had knee surgery. We had hoped to help them out—paint a hallway or two and provide, hopefully, some pleasant company. Next, we decided, though we’d already had a pre-Thanksgiving meal with them, to take ham and turkey to my parents. Again, we thought we could provide some company and help out a bit as my dad is basically immobile as he awaits an epidural for his back pain and sciatica. This also almost happened but then my mother got sick, quite sick I assume since she never calls off family engagements.

Instead we had what we believe was our first, after 13 of them, Thanksgiving meals at home. It was nice: a beautiful display of our rarely used china lighted by candles centered around a small bird (oldest son won it in a 2-mile race in Brigham City), a delicious spiral cut ham, funeral potatoes, yams AND some Jersey sweet potatoes that I picked out last minute (light brown skin, less sweet than yams and delicious); fennel apricot carrots; wife’s homemade rolls; cranberries and cranberry jello salad; and Marie Calendar coconut pie, our only non-homemade indulgence.

With all the unexpected extra time I read Life as we know it by Michael Berube (thanks MB for the recommendation). Berube explores issues of identity, representation, and reciprocal ethics through a discussion of his son, Jamie, who has Down Syndrome. It’s an engaging read, on one level very personal narrative and on another theoretical and political. He trounces the right’s rhetoric of limited goods and anti-theory/liberal/university stance but also aptly, and more interesting to me, demonstrates the limits of the left and its theory by critiquing Foucalt’s denunciation of institutional power:

We’ve learned that whatever we may believe about the history of madness, sexuality, incarceration, or mental retardation, we find it emotionally and intellectually impossible to be Foucauldians about the present. We have to act, for both theoretical and practical reasons, in the belief that these agencies can benefit our child, even as the sorry history of institutionalization weights on our brains like a nightmare (113).

Courageously, I think, he constructs a position between the left and right in order to maintain a sense of hope concerning his son’s future. To paraphrase, he points out it’s one thing to theorize about the inability of individuals to act as they are “discoursed” into existence and another to actually try negotiate the institutions where your real child, a child who doesn’t fit into our definition of normal, tries to survive. As Michelle Tepper of observes, utilizing Berube’s concluding metaphor, “Bérubé wants no part of any theory that he can't be sure will provide a place at the table for both of his sons.” Of course we have all known this, will know it, and will forget it: a theory is a theory and real life is quite another. Hence, what good is a theory if it doesn’t further our hope about those we love the most? Should we care about a theory at all which does not ultimately create possibilities for change and for discovering a better, even if infinitesimally better, path?

Clearly theory in the air, as it were, can still be useful by helping us imagine new ways of thinking and considering even if these new ways do not lead to hope or do not match up with our real-life experience. But simultaneously these theories are potentially dangerous if we do not allow them to bend, even break apart, when they do not serve to create options, paths, ways of proceeding towards something better.

All and all a good Thanksgiving read, both theoretical and immediatly pragmatic. A read which made me think more carefully about my own children, their limitations, and my ability to impact how schools should provide “free appropriate public education…[in the] least restrictive environment.” This is a federal law written for children with disabilities but it seems applicable to all children. As Berube argues our clear cut distinctions between retarded, delayed, and normal are problematic at best; therefore, kids on either end of the spectrum, labeled as “retarded” or “normal” should be given the best chance of succeeding. Berube’s unique contribution to this law and parental concern and right is to emphasize that Jamie’s well being relies on how well he and his wife can “represent” Jamie as a human being with talents. I hope too that I can best represent my children to the institutions they are asked to participate in. I owe this to my kids however tricky it may be to do my best to represent while not misrepresenting nor subverting their on need and desire to represent themselves.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Facing East with our gay brothers and sisters

An amazing week (angel of doubt—see last post and an engaging yet light book club discussion of Robert Kirby’s Angel of death) topped off with Carol Lynn Pearson’s Facing East at the Black Box at the Rose Theatre. Pearson's play begins with Alex and Ruth at their gay son’s (Andrew) funeral who had committed suicide:

ALEX. Ruth? I need to ask you. Ever since this happened, I’ve had the feeling—

(RUTH goes to the flower arrangement at the head of the grave and lifts out a rose)

RUTH. I should have taken one for Aunt Edna. A red one.

ALEX. -–that you’re relieved—

RUTH. They dry so nice if you hang them upside down. And spray them.

ALEX. ---Glad almost

RUTH. Ahh!

ALEX. Ruth? Are you relieved that our son is dead?

RUTH. Can I have your handkerchief, Alex? Used up all my Kleenex


ALEX. Ruth! Are you relieved?

RUTH. Every day of my life I will wake up wondering how I can live in a world that does not have Andrew in it.


ALEX. But are you relieved?

RUTH. He’s with his Heavenly Father now. Free from sin. Wouldn’t you rather?

Alex. No! No!

From this exchange on I vacillated between choking up, sniffling, and fighting back streams of tears. I’ve never cried so much in a public performance in my life, never been aware of so many people around my crying at a public performance. Luckily there were several humorous releases. Right after Alex’s refusal to buy into Ruth’s sick "relief," she says, “[Andrew] looked so peaceful. A look I had not seen for many years” to which Alex replies, “He looked dead, Ruth.” A bit morbid but it allowed us a brief respite from the anguish and tears.

And, for me I think, the play elicited the best kind of emotion: not mere pity, not only horror but overwhelming sadness and empathy for this family and for Andrew’s lover. Yes, Ruth seemed like a "messianic" bitch from hell at times but at other times, like when she recounts how she asked Andrew to help her break a prescription drug habit and when she describes her daily routines: “I make breakfast and then I pray for Andrew…I think through what we will have for dinner and then I pray,” Pearson brings out her humanity.

The experience was also a bit odd. I mean how many times have I been, especially with my wife, in a situation where being a heterosexual couple sticks out? There were lots of gay people there. A good experience for us, to get out of our comfort zone, to experience for the briefest of moments what it might be like to feel different, to be in community with all our brothers and sisters. Of course it’s also sad: these folks already have empathy for Andrew, already question the hypocritical LDS stand on homosexuality, preaching to the choir as it were. The woman next to me, probably in her late 50s or 60s, accompanied by her husband, sniffled during the entire play; she also cried out, generally when Ruth was particularly cruel, “God no.” It was clearly a painful experience for this woman but it only confirmed her own beliefs and passions.

I kept thinking about a comment Pearson made on RadioWest: “I’d like to get a special viewing of the play for LDS General Authorities.” I just can’t imagine how this woman has retained full activity in the LDS church; maybe it’s because she lives only miles away from San Francisco. I read once, in Sunstone, of a Mormon bishop who formed a weekly meeting with the gay members within his boundaries. What a Saint! Maintaining activity as a Mormon yet knowing and understanding the foibles and tragedy of certain policies might be the most valiant and courageous acts of all.

One of the most poignant moments came when Marcus, Andrew’s lover, is revealing the real Andrew to his parents. He tells how the night of Andrew’s excommunication the first counselor in the ward visits their home. He and his wife give the gay couple a talk on relationships, doing nice things for each other, etc. They end by the husband kneeling in prayer to bless each man and their home. There is a couple is takes their temple covenants seriously.

The play is full of trees: they speak to the trees (everyone else has gone off to the post-funeral lunch) as they re-do Andrew’s funeral; the backdrop is green filled with shadowy treelike branches; we, the audience, are the trees overhearing the truth; it's all brought together when Marcus uses a tree analogy in trying to help Ruth understand why Andrew acted on his sexual feelings:

RUTH. Having those feelings isn’t the problem. Only if you—

MARCUS. Act on them.


MARCUS. Ah! Hey, tree! I love you, tree! Just hate that blossoming thing you do every spring. Hate that blossoming. But you I love!

RUTH. Celibacy is an honorable option.

MARCUS. It is. Though most trees find springtime hard to resist.

Emotionally I wanted to laugh, but they were teary laughs of insight. Beautiful; it was raw honesty and true beauty.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Red Streaked Doubting Angel

I can't believe how busy I've felt over the last couple of months; it's really hurting my blogger-status if I ever had any and must come to some sort of conclusion: a set day or two a week to blog or a blogger-vacation. In other blogger news, we've (well really MB) set up a blog space for our Engl 1010 curriculum which I "unveiled" last night during our adjunct forum and my younger sister finally started a blog where she has a few photos of her wedding and honeymoon.

Wednesday was a great day. Jennifer Michael Hecht gave the Tanner Lecture at our main campus: it was, in my estimation, a perfect mixture of history, philosophy, analogy, and lightness. Several of my students attended and responded positively, though one said if she thought as much about those kinds of things (i.e. difficult, complex things) she wouldn't be able to enjoy the simple things in life. I want to say more about the details of what she said but want to quote her exactly from my notes, notes I left in my office.

I will however quickly recount a gem from a small group meeting with students after her presentation which, for me, epitomizes her style. Near the end of the session she tried to see if she could get some students to disagree with her, to share what they really thought. This led to a few students questioning Hecht about her complete denial of a God: a very young student (turns out he is part of the Kingston polygamous clan) asks, "What about all the miracles?" She replies, "Hon, there aren't any." It was a great moment, the word quickly and sweetly expressed "hon" diffusing any threat or tension. It seems representative of her balance between knowledge (she talked of Plato's Cave, nitty gritty philosophical movements, The New Testament etc. without looking at any notes that I could see) and gracious humility.

Very rarely do I have complete confidence while experiencing something that it will be forever important in my life-history--this was one of those times. Hecht is my doubting angel, red streaked and bespeckled.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fall is in full swing

I have just a few minutes to post something as my laptop battery is just about to die.

First, I hate new shows which hook you (Studio 60) and then a month in disappear on their scheduled time. Luckily, there's a new Office tonight. I am embarrassingly excited about watching it. I was so desparate I tried to watch Lost last night but couldn't do it.

I have many blog ideas--one concerning deep philosophical ideas I'm reading about in Doubt: A History by Michelle Hecht. Clearly doubt has gotten a bad rap which I've personally witnessed several times while carrying around this book, "Why are you reading about doubt? Isn't it depressing?"

We have a sh*tload of candy in our house which is a major temptation for me: one I want to eat it and two I want to control my kids' intake of said candy. But, you know what, I'm ok with it. I'm cool with my kids fawning over their stashes. I've decided (in light of some parents buying their candy off their kids) that amassing candy empowers children. That's right, you heard it first here on Counterintuitive. Counting, sorting, and relishing the halloween take, builds self-esteem and confidence, negating any deleterious sugar highs and rotting teeth.