Monday, September 28, 2015

Evil Lord Trump and the Flaming Moat

Donald Trump.


Build a wall to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out.

What did each of those phrases or single words do to you? Did you have an emotional reaction? What was it? Is that reaction valid? Is it a good basis for an argument?

I find Donald Trump to be a relatively repulsive human being. His face angers me. His lips are an affront to the Universe. His hair is ridiculous. His arrogance is deafening.

If I am a real thinker, however, I will be able to put that all aside when debating an issue.

The other day, Trump was interviewed by Stephen Colbert. Colbert asked him about immigration and Trump outlined his idea: Build a wall; make Mexico pay for it, because they owe us money anyway; have a door ("a beautiful, big, fat door") in the wall through which immigrants may pass, legally.

If we look for things in that idea that might set off emotion, as the words that opened this piece may have, the word "wall" seems the likely culprit. It's what they did in the Middle Ages: put up walls to keep out invaders. We have evolved past that, right? We begin to associate it with all sorts of barbaric things. Colbert certainly did.

Colbert offered a (satirical) idea: Let's build two walls, with a moat of fire in-between them and with fireproof crocodiles in the flaming moat. Of course, Colbert's aim is to point out the medieval nature of Trump's idea and to underscore, through hyperbole, how awful he thinks the idea is; to use satire to get his audience to see that Trump thinks like a feudal lord.

I cracked up laughing when Colbert did this. Is Colbert's tactic logical, though? Did he truly deal with Trump's idea? Maybe not, but such an approach can achieve its aim.

I loathe Trump. I am a descendant of immigrants. But is the idea of building a wall really so medieval? -- so barbaric?

I don't know if it is true that Mexico could be made to pay for it, but let's allow that that might be true, just for thrills. What, though, is more barbaric: building a wall that forces immigrants to move toward the door in order to enter the country legally, or for border patrol agents to have to engage in dangerous hunts and conflicts with illegal immigrants? Which way would be more efficient, a wall or the current system?

The last two questions are logically valid, once we move past our emotional reaction to the idea of a "wall." Colbert's satirical emotional appeal is a good tactic; he pulls his audience out of allowing a discussion of those two questions and draws them into a dismissal of a (now) seemingly barbaric man who is easy to hate in the first place.

Very interesting. Colbert's tactic achieves its purpose, but is it healthy for political debate? It is almost a form of red herring -- not quite, though. Very interesting.

(End note: most of my discussion on blog posts goes on on Facebook and every time I write one of these argument analyses, I cringe when I push the post button, because people tend to forget the fact that I am arguing about argumentation and not about the issue being argued. It might help to say: it is not my concern, here (though, it iis a big concern of mine), whether we should or should not build a wall but that we discuss it carefully before we make a decision. If I get yelled at for supporting Trump's idea, someone missed the point or I failed to make it clear. My intention is also to point out what argumentative tactics [whether from the base of pathos or logos] people use when they do argue.)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Philly to Soon Be Popeful

Pope Francis is beloved by most Catholics, so there are a lot of people around our area looking forward to this weekend. They are, if you will (even if you won't -- it's my blog, after all), quite "popeful," in every way, about his soon-to-be presence in Philadelphia.

That said, I have heard a ton of moaning over road closures, security perimeters and general disruptions. From the general buzz, you would think people are being asked to give up their left arms.

We do like to be in our little zones, don't we? We like our routines to remain undisrupted. Maybe it is a forest-for-the-trees thing. Probably the most important pope of all time (too early to say, I know, but I have a feeling; oh, and not-counting Peter) is coming to our area and people are bugged that they have to stay home or deal with traffic inconvenience.

I also heard a report on the radio with members of the Philadelphia public school system complaining that the kids are missing too many days of school. Please. (The academics vice principal in me wants to suggest assignments the teachers can have the kids do at home: comparison contrast to popes in history; a speculative math project dealing with the number of people in town; a science project about waste, environmental impact and resources in the city for the weekend; a paper on media coverage and "spin"; a social studies project asking why this pope is liked by atheists, agnostics and the faithful; a recorded on-the-spot "news report" by students who are going... Shall I go on?)

Whatever the case, it is one weekend.

I don't know. It just seems to underscore today's rampant egocentrism. Shouldn't everyone -- Catholics and non-Catholics, alike -- be happy that the leader of the biggest Christian church in the world is coming to their town to spread a message of love, inclusion, tolerance and environmental concern and economic equality?

Nah. Ain't worth it. As one Catholic put it in a radio interview, yeah, he's glad the Pope is coming, but all this security stuff just kills it. Just isn't worth the frustration.

I mean, it is not like we didn't have notice enough to make alternate plans or to fly to Tahiti; or, to just do what we poor Catholic school teachers do: stay home and watch Francis on TV.

I, for one, am glad the Big Guy is stopping by. He's what our world needed and Philly could use a dose of Pope-hope.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

British vs. American TV Casting

I have been watching a bunch of British-produced TV shows, lately. In fact, since cutting cable TV, my wife and I have actually watched more TV than before, because we are actively picking shows that seem interesting; there is less "flipping around" and stumbling onto things. We have definitely gravitated toward the British shows. Because of this, I have seen a contrast so sharp between British and American TV that American TV now seems ridiculous, for one major reason: casting.

Our Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Instant wanderings started with American made LOST, which we liked quite a bit and then we moved onto Deadwood, which was brilliant, if filthy. Then, we embarked on a series of British mystery-oriented shows, from Ripper Street to the brilliant Foyle's War to the light, quirky and entertaining Midsomer Murders, to our current binge-watched show: Whitechapel.

They are all very good shows (I really like Whitechapel) but that's not the point of this. What I have noticed is an apparent difference in casting philosophies. I have long been aware that American casting is superficial, especially on TV. Everyone is exceedingly handsome or beautiful. Every adult seems to be a former prom king or queen. Doctors, garbage collectors, teachers, presidents, CEOs, security guards, students, letter carriers -- they are all models from the Sears catalogue. Unreality just hangs in the air. In advertisements, the shows look ridiculous to me, especially when those ads come on during the British shows.

It is indescribably refreshing to see shows in which the casting was clearly done for personality, but also with regard to the character and not just the aesthetics of the actor's "look."

American TV was once like this, I think. But I guess the Internet supported image-distribution, coupled with the availability of cosmetic surgery have made the crop of good-looking actors inexhaustible. The Brits have access to the same pool of humanity and to just as many images -- it just seems they are maintaining some level of integrity.

Here is the main cast of Whitechapel. Sure, we have the dashing Rupert Penry-Jones as our leading man, but his sidekicks look like real people. And, in fact, Penry-Jones's out-of-placeness is accentuated in the stories by his handsomeness. It works for the story:

Contrast this with the cast of Madmen. Try to catch seven guys and girls in one (real) room who are so handsome/lovely. I dare you:

Or CSI -- to me these people look factory-generated; like they were genetically engineered to be TV stars:

And it just isn't the lead characters; the extras on the British shows are all more real, as well. Notice that I said, "real" -- not less and not even less-attractive. They just look like actual people, not actors playing real people on TV. The only time American shows seem to cave-in and hire non-perfect actors is if they need a villain (ugly outside, ugly inside, right?) or a street person (poor = homely, right?).

And the women. I am sure the girls in England deal with a lot of the same unrealistic image-pressures that our young American girls deal with, but it is nice to see, for example, these two women, on Whitechapel -- both of whom do not fit the "Barbi Doll" mold, but both of whom I (and I am sure, many) find beautiful because of a combination of their character and their individual (and unique) appearances.

Here is Claire Rushbrook as Dr. Llewellyn. She is not cookie-cutter beautiful; she is real and more beautiful for her individuality and for the character she has created in Dr. Llewellyn, who is intelligent, passionate about her work and infectiously vibrant. (Please excuse the burnt corpse on the table):

Or, also from Whitechapel, Hannah Walters as Megan Riley. Not 115 pounds of six-foot runway model -- a real person whom you believe on screen. Here is a woman given a chance at a role she might not have gotten on American TV; or if she had gotten the chance, she might have had to play a skinny, leading girl's chubby girlfriend. On Whitechapel, she stands on her own as a strong, sweet and adept woman. Is she beautiful? I absolutely think so; in fact, I find her pretty sexy. But the best part is that is doesn't matter; her role is not about her appearance; it's about her character -- a character that could have been thin or overweight; glamorous or not. And unlike what one sees on many American-made shows, her appearence is never even referred to; the writers never feel the need to justify her presence in the cast by having her character constantly trying to lose weight, etc.:

British leading men and women are allowed to be old and they are allowed to be imperfect. British actors seem to be chosen for many reasons outside of their appearance and a for marginal ability to act. (I find the British actors -- and I am certainly not the first one to say this -- far superior, in general.)

Even the women on the British shows who need to be pretty because of their character seem to me more naturally pretty; pretty in more of a quirky way; not with a perefectly symetrical face and perfect teeth and silken hair, but, they are the girl you once fell deeply in love with in your math class; not the one you had on a poster in your room. More real, yet again.

I'm sure all directors and casting directors want a "look" for their characters, but that look should be chosen in service of the character. I never realized the contrast until I started watching these British made shows. Good art reflects reality. In reality, people are composed of different measurements, weights, sizes and facial types. Remove that and it might as well be a poor puppet show we're watching.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Love's not Time's fool..."

Sometimes, I want to save the world. Sometimes, I want to tell it to go to hell.

I suppose this is pretty common.

Just when I most want to tell it to go to hell, I wind up reading a great book or I hear a piece of music that reveals someone's beautiful soul, and I gain some hope again. The world becomes a little more worth saving.

Put modern clohes on them and this
is a someone's profile pic. Real. 
I realize, though, that the hope I gain from art, literature and music comes from something that is above the treeline of the daily events on the mountain of life; above the politics, the wars, the race conflicts...the mess. The beacon of the arts pulls me away from the mundane world, not toward it.

I guess it is a natural thing for humans to look toward the place either above life or after life. Every culture has had its "Underworld" or its "Heaven" or its places of transcendence, like "Tao" and "Zen." Is this an incurable need for escape or is this a compass lock on that which is our highest and best state?

Sandburg said that "someday, they will give a war and nobody will come." Is this similar -- this walking away from the archetypes that the common thinker (and I mean "common" both literally and a critically) accepts as simply part of human interaction? For Sandburg to be right, it would be necessary for everyone to say, "Wait -- kill other people for an idea or a religion of a political goal? That's ridiculous."

It is ridiculous, but,still, we don't stop.

The other day, a guy cut across traffic while I was making a left  through a line of cars who were stopped at a light and who were letting me through. He nearly rammed me. We were going into the same store. When we got to the door, he backed away from me, as if I were going to punch him for what he did. I had been angry, but there was a complete disconnect from any desire to hurt or even chastise the guy. Palms toward me in supplication, he stood stock still, waiting for me to let slip the dogs of war. "We're both okay, right?" I said. And I held the door for him.

The world; the movies; the stories; the precedents all say men are supposed to punch those who wrong them -- I mean, they always say punching is bad, but they encourage it as a sign of strength and manliness, anyway, don't they?  But I choose not to be part of that world. I choose to transcend violence.

To keep us anchored down and in line, the common thinker calls politics, work and "the daily grind" the "real" world. But what's more real than love and music? No one built them with stone or conjured them out of a think-tank or ratified them at a board meeting. They are at the heart of human nature and have been since the beginning of humanity.

The chains of guilt still have a hold on me. I admit it. Should they, though? Is it up to me to stop people from being racist or to stop them from spitting on the values that I hold? Why should my life be a sword fight against breaking waves? If I walk away from "the war," and you follow me, and someone follows you, etc., what then?

What's real and what's fake? What's more real, "Congress" or the first time your lips were pressed against another's in a passionate kiss? What's more real, a good, firm handshake or four-thousand "likes" on Facebook? What's more real, election debates or the sincere pretending games of children? What's more real, the legacy of a great statesman, or this:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

                                         (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Blow-Off Fallacy: From Gay Marriage to Home-Made Clocks

As a teacher of argumentation, I often refer to the "logical fallacies" in order to keep my students Spock-like in their approach to supporting a claim or idea. These fallacies include things with Latin names like ad hominem, which is an argumentative attack on the person, instead of on the issue at hand (think: Donald Trump saying that no one will vote for Carly Fiorina because of her face); ad hoc (think Ernie implying to Bert that having put a banana in his ear is the reason there are no alligators on Sesame Street) and "straw man," which is a misrepresentation of someone else's argument (building a straw approximation of it) in order to make it easier to "burn" (think of a writer attacking a senator's vote against a spending package and saying that, because that package contained an allotment of money for military helmets, that: "He voted against it because he wants our American soldiers to die!").

There are a lot more fallacies, but that is not why I am writing this. What I want to address is what I see as a cousin of the "straw man." I'll call it the "blow-off fallacy." It is becoming more and more prevalent and it really seems to have gained a foothold as a result of the gay rights movement.

(Here is where I stop and point out that I am addressing is not the issue of gay rights but the means of arguing about the issue. People can and will hold whatever stance you want to on gay rights or gay marriage; I just want them to argue about it logically.)

Probably the most common argument in favor of gay marriage is: "What do you care? It doesn't affect you!" This is the "blow-off fallacy."

I would have liked to have watch Lincoln and Douglas
Of course, gay marriage affects everyone in a society. It is a major shift in a paradigm that has existed for just about all of human time, in about all human cultures. Sure, one could argue that homosexuality has seen varied levels of acceptance in various cultures and times (think ancient Greece), but gay marriage is pretty brand new. It affects the world in a profound way.

Does the acceptance of gay marriage cause heterosexuals to fall over and die? -- does it poison the water supplies? -- does it cause hurricanes, as some religious nuts have implied? -- does it cause straight people to turn gay? No, of course not. But it, culturally, affects all of us. Using the blow-off fallacy to defend it is just bad form and, on top of that, it may just be counter-productive to supporters: it belittles the very idea and it makes that very thing being supported seem like "no big deal." Ask a gay couple, who can now get married, if it is a big deal to them. Ask parents of children (Louis CK attempts to ridicule this idea with a scathing blow-off argument) how much more difficult it is to explain sexuality, in general, to their kids, now.

Just today, the news is buzzing with a story about a high school freshman who brought a home-made clock into school. The kid got arrested. He claims the clock was something he made to impress his teachers. Ultimately, the kid got arrested for fear it was a bomb. I heard a commenter say the kid got punished for being named Ahmed Mohamed and for being creative. Well, that is a blow-off fallacy, to me (along with a few others). (I suppose it is a blow-off fallacy that dances with straw man, as well...but it has a blow-off element.)

I'm not implying the kid is a terrorist. My instinct as a teacher and as an administrator is that he is what my grandmother would have called a "nudge" (the "u" should be pronounced like the double-Os in "took") who is really smart and who probably knew he would cause a row by bringing in something that people might mistake as a bomb -- but this is all just a gut feeling.

I'll tell you one thing this incident is not; it is not "no big deal." I'm not aguing that the kid needed to be arrested, because I don't think he needed to be; a call to the parents and maybe even a police visit to look around in the kid's room, to be sure, would have been sufficient. (Not because he is a Muslim. That would be going after me with "straw man.")

I do take the safety of my kids, in my school, very seriously. This incident can't be blown off. Therefore, we can't use the blow-off fallacy to defend the kid; we need to defend him in another way, or we risk making the act of bringing in things that look like bombs seem like harmless fun -- which is it certainly not.

It is a shame that this young man is a Muslim, because that fuels the prejudice of the masses and if (note the "if") he did this (as my instincts suggest) to be a "nudge," he needs a severe talking-to by his mom, dad, or grandparents for having fed into stereotype.

Butthe fact remains that it is a big deal, as is the shift into legal gay marriage. Both are a very big deal and, for their respective reasons, need to be seen that way in order to do the issues justice.

A little ad hoc fun (ad hoc at :39, but it is all funny):

Monday, September 14, 2015

Please Understand "Special Ed."

I suppose this one is kind of a public service announcement.

Last night, I had to go to a meeting for my sons' CCD program (Catholic catechism classes for public school kids) and the speaker, at one point, told everyone that her son had been "special ed." when he was in school. Sympathetic nods ensued among the crowd and then she went on to list her son's numerous issues, which included severe autism and (I quote) "mental retardation." The boy had a habit in school of violently attacking other children at the slightest provocation -- or with none at all.

This is, of course, something to be sympathetic about. It is a great burden for a parent to have to carry. But I think the sympathy comes a little too quickly when someone simply says his or her kid is "special ed." What people need to understand is that, at least in the educational system in the US, "special ed." is a very broad and it is generally misunderstood by those outside of education.

Yes, a child with severe problems is "special ed," but so is a student with slightly different learning processing tendencies than those of other kids. Had there been "special ed." when I was a kid, I am sure I would have been "classified" for math. I am very poor at processing mathematical procedures; I even "zone out" very palpably when reading certain instructional texts, to this day.

In our high school, we are fortunate to have an exceptional and extremely dedicated special education director, Mrs. Mary Ann Scott. "Scotty's" job is not only to help the kids in her program with their work during certain periods, but to instruct the teachers as to which modifications are necessary to apply to those students while in their classes; these modifications can be as simple as seating location preferences or they can include extra time on tests or orally-presented questions (etc.).

What these modifications do is not to -- if you will -- hit the ball for the student, but to get him or her out of the dugout and into the batters' box. Scotty helps with the stance: back elbow level; weight on the back foot; eyes on the ball...or...wait...maybe you need to squint your left eye to see better... She helps kids with special needs to navigate around their differences in approaching learning.

Thank goodness this wasn't my kid...
So, special ed. is neither, necessarily, a classification of severely impaired or challenged kids, nor is it a feel-good game of musical chairs with plenty of chairs for everyone. What it is is a guiding light through the forest for those whose minds work differently than those of others.

I have had special ed. "classified" students in the most advanced English class we offer (AP Literature and Composition) -- a college-level class. I can bet good money that Einstein and Shakespeare would have been "special ed." had they gone to school in the United Stated in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries...

...but we also cannot forget the severely challenged kids that fall under the special ed. umbrella.

What I hate to see is the immediate reaction people have because of their preconceptions about special ed. I have seen parents actually curl their lips in disgust and snort when asked if their child has any special needs -- as if they have been insulted. That doesn't work out to fair, no matter how you look at it. It's a reaction that comes from ignorance about the program and what it means.

What it comes down to is that "special ed." is education as it should be: a look at the individual student; an assessment of his or her learning style (whether the limitations are severe or minor) and a response to his or her get that student onto the "field" with the other kids so that kid can show his or her stuff.

Special ed. prejudice is no different that of any other kind. Generalizing about these students is unfair and it could be very bad for them. They need what they need as individuals and it is the responsibility of schools and teachers to provide that.

When I was in school, many of my friends thought I was "dumb" because I got low grades in certain classes. I sometimes thought I was "dumb" as well. (The best my teachers could do was to tell my parents I was "not working to potential." They were right; they just didn't really know how to help except to tell me to try harder.) My graduate school professors would disagree with both my friends and with the younger me about my intelligence. I'd like as few kids as possible to be wrong about themselves the way I was. Maybe I would have done better if I had known the truth (whatever "done better" means...)

I also want to see the kids who need lots and lots of help get it when they need it. Everyone needs to understand, however, that there are as many kinds of "special needs" students as there are fingerprint patterns on them.

So, next time someone says her kid is "special ed." don't jump to the sympathetic head-shake; but, do listen. Sympathy might be needed and it should be given. Sympathy, but not pity. Sympathy gets things done for those who need it. Pity feels like a sense of superiority. Yes, it could easily have been your son or daughter in that story.

Special ed. is about one thing: helping each student reach his or her own personal potential despite differences in learning stylesYou can take that most literally.

(I certainly welcome the views of other educators and parents on this...or stories.)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Two Boys, "Tom Sawyer" and a Hobbit: Dad Dreams Realized

Rush, in all their clownishness. 
When my youngest son was born, I was joking about anticipating the day he would become the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and simultaneously hold a position in the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania. My wife laughted, but then she said, leveling a serious glance, "So, what if he doesn't want to teach Shakespeare? What if he becomes a construction worker?"

My response: "As long as he becomes a construction worker who reads Shakespeare."

As I age and accrue (I hope) wisdom, it becomes increasingly apparent to me how rare real happiness is and that one's greatest wish for one's kids should simply be that: true happiness. That's a tall enough order without imposing our dreams on our children. If we do what we love, we should let our kids do what they love; if we don't do what we love, we shouldn't see our kids as that last effort to get a piece of what we never "went for"ourselves.

Still, I am often tormented by the desire to see my kids pursue those things that brought me so much joy, like music and literature. I need to be careful, of course, not to cross the line above. But when they do find their way into the  things I loved as a kid, there is -- I admit -- much inner rejoicing...

The Professor
My younger son loves Tolkien. He and I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings together and we are (backward, I know) reading The Hobbit, now. Tolkien set me on the path to a life of letters. The other night, my other son, who goes up to my little music studio every night to sing along with his favorite music, was singing along to "Tom Sawyer," by Rush. Rush, and especially the drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart, had a musical and literary impact on my life that is second only to the influence of my dad. (Though, if you know Rush's music, you might share my apprehension about my son trying to sing along with Geddy Lee...)

I'll admit that I always thought they would find their way to a similar path as mine. And, sure, they may branch out into their own paths -- in fact I am sure they will. The fact remains, though, that, in a world in which people are singing along to Nikki Minaj/Beyonce...

(Feelin' myself, I'm feelin' myself
I'm feelin' my, feelin' myself
I'm feelin' myself, I'm feelin' my, feelin' my, feelin' myself
I'm feelin' myself, I'm feelin' my, feelin' myself)'s good to hear my son upstairs singing Rush's "Tom Sawyer":

"Though his mind is not for rent
Don't put him down as arrogant
His reserve, a quiet defense
Riding out the day's events
The river..."

And in a world in which kids tend to sit in front of screens watching over-sexualized shows and stereotype-reinforcing things, it's good to read about a homebody of a hobbit with just enough "Tookishness" in him to drive him out to an adventure...

I admit it. It feels good to see my boys treading on the fertile ground that helped me realize that life is more than meals and paychecks. I just have to be careful not to force things...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why We All Should Support What Kim Davis Did

Notice I didn't say "what Kim Davis believes"? That part is up to you. What she did is a different matter. 

Come on -- you know me better than that. Going on a rant about things people need to decide for themselves is not my style. I'm always more interested in evaluating actions than in evaluating beliefs. But something worries me about the Kim Davis backlash; it is the same thing that worries me any time the Internet mobs get a hold of someone they have decided to shun...

...and it really is not unlike a religious shunning, what the Internet mobs do. Whenever someone falls out of favor with the most loudly popularly-sanctioned viewpoints, they get the torches and pitchforks treatment. They are ridiculed. They are labeled as horrible human beings. 

"I was telling him to leave town. He certainly isn't someone who I want to live in my community." And, "I'd like to see him lose his business. I really would." 

One supporter of the dentist claimed that some of the protesters were calling for Palmer to be put to death. 

I love animals and I think killing that lion was not cool. But...I don't know. You decide. If it was an illegal act, the guy should suffer the consequences of the law; but, to want him to lose his livelihood? To run him out of his Minnesota town because he killed a lion in Africa? I mean, if the guy had a history of shooting people's dogs, I could see it... 

Well, anyway, now we are on to Kim Davis. Many conservative Christians are holding her up as a hero and those who disagree with what she did are starting the campaign against her with viscious Tweets and hyper-critical memes. 

To me, the problem manifests itself not in the surface issue: gay marriage. The problem is the tone that those who object take when they do object; the "run her out of town on a rail" philosophy. 

See, anyone has the right to think Kim Davis is a redneck, backward nut if they want; or, even to think she is a proper Christian crusader. But what she actually did is called "civil disobedience." A lot of  people have used civil disobedience as a form of protest and it serves as a last-ditch effort, in a civilized society, when people feel the government or the lawmakers have gone too far. It is dangerous when we either outright say or gently imply that someone "got what they deserved" when they get thrown in prison for doing this. (I am not trying to make comparisons to any other civil disobeyers, for the record. I can just see the stream of people thinking I am trying to call Davis the new Dr. King...) Again, it is not the gay marriage position of anyone, but the negative reaction to Davis's civil disobedience that is the problem. 

Teach your kids what you believe about gay marriage. But to send the next generation forward with the idea that the way Kim Davis handled her protest is wrong is to take the next step into what I see as the coming of a voluntary-membership Big Brother society. (Orwell had it slightly wrong. We're not going to be forced into submission. We're signing up. We are our own Thought Police...)

Davis will probably go back to work and do this again. Good. Let her have at it. If the Internet mobs stop people with strong opinions from feeling that civil disobedience is a valid and even an admirable course, there is no telling who might back down from an issue the mobs might agree with in times to come. We're never going to have balance without extremes -- someone needs to be at either end of the see-saw -- so we need to let it happen. 

Is Davis a hero, to you? Is she a villain? Either way, what she did has been driving an important apsect of protest for centuries. Rail as you will against (or for) her beliefs, but her actions are another thing. 

Friday, September 4, 2015


There are those who would argue that a certain four-letter profanity is the most versatile word in the English language. I disagree.

I think the language's most versatile word is "indeed." One can answer any question with it; one can use it as a question. It is as malleable under the speaker's inflection as clay is under the potter's hand.

It just fits or can be fitted into any conversation. Gather, and surmise:

SPEAKER 1: You're an idiot.
SPEAKER 2: Indeed?

The responding speaker could put emphasis on the "--deed" to sound indignant. He could respond with sincere sadness, asking, in effect: "You think so?"

SPEAKER 1: I have a headache.
SPEAKER 2: Indeed?

"Speaker 2" could be sincerely interested or exasperated with his hypochondriac friend, depending on inflection.

You get the picture. Try it yourself. It's like I just handed you verbal Play Doh.

SPEAKER 1: Thanks, Chris.
CHRIS: Indeed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reverence Falling

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I've written before about how boring "irreverence" is becoming. It's no longer shocking; it's as empty as the eye-rolling of a teenaged girl in a parent-teacher conference. It's easy, now, because it carries no literal or figurative consequence for the irreverent person in question. I think, however, that it's bad for the world, in general. It turns our "dialogues" into little more than ad hominem matches. It makes us rude in groups.

I saw a meme the other day. The group that distributed it had a hashtag (or it was their name...I don't really care about being accurate, here) that called for President Obama to "kill himself". The meme, itself, called him an "asshole." 

In the world from which I come, you don't speak that way about the President of the United States (or even of your neighbor). Sure, you can hate his policies; sure, you have every right to point out when he is incompetent; sure you can rally against him in print or on screen. When we fall, however, to a complete lack of verbal restraint, we become inflamers of conflict and we lose all practical potential to change things.

Also, if there is one thing we have all but completely lost, it is a sense of ritual; of the special nature of a gathering of people for a purpose. I'm not ready to completely blame the defection from religion for this, but I do think it contributes. Many kids never walk into a church or temple or synagogue in which they are expected to show silent reverence...

I am really deeply sickened by the behavior of people at audience functions. The parents at my sons' band concerts talk straight through the performances and even as the band teacher is speaking. I recently played at a group classical guitar recital and as I joined the audience to watch those who played after me, I watched people texting and allowing their children to play video games and climb on the seats.

You'd think there would have been some sense at either of these performances of "reverence" for the people trying to make music. Alas, no. I like to give absolute silence to children pursuing music and to adults, on a stage all by themselves, who are trying to coax music out of wood and nylon.

I know it is dreadfully conservative of me, but I think the death of reverence and respect are making us treat everything and everyone around us poorly. We've gone beyond being simply informal into a disregard for everyone outside our own personal bubbles. Then, we demand respect and get offended when it is not given.

Some places should send us into a cathedral silence. Some people deserve respect and complete attention. I still believe that.