Saturday, June 27, 2015

A couple random thoughts

Maybe disrespectful, I don't know:

What's going to happen if a same-sex couple goes to a baker and wants a wedding cake with the Confederate battle flag on it?

And all the Hollywood (and other) hetero couples who said, "We're not getting married until EVERYONE can get married" - time to step up to the plate, no more excuses. (And I suspect in some cases it WAS an excuse).

Also, is there still an IRS "marriage penalty" on the taxes? Yeah, people are not gonna love that. (If it still exists).

I dunno. I personally am unaffected, at least directly, as I am neither gay nor married. I just hope this doesn't lead to a raft of unintended consequences (or maybe, in some circles, intended) for people practicing more conservative forms of faith. (I've hard a few people farther to the right of me opine that this is going to be a way to start trying to eliminate church tax exemptions, which would lead to a lot of churches - mine included - having to close, because most churches don't have that kind of money on hand these days. On the other hand: maybe in 30 years we go back to more and more "house churches" like back in the first days of Christianity, and there's less insistence on big facilities and the money taken in is more directly spent on missions and outreach. I know if we didn't have to keep up our big old building we'd be in better shape financially.)

I will also say that all the people on social media who are making it more about "THE PEOPLE WHO OPPOSED THIS ON WHATEVER GROUNDS LOST, NANNY NANNY BOO BOO" rather than "same sex couples can now marry and I support that" .... well, that's the ugly place our culture has gone to, for some it's more about crushing the other guy's face in the dust, apparently.

I am generally in favor of things that enhance stability in a culture (which marriage tends to do - though I will also say I can see some divorce lawyers getting ready for their practices to expand now) and I think many understand homosexuality differently than it was understood in Biblical times or even a hundred years ago (Then again, you read of pairs of women or of men who "shared accommodations" and from other things you read about them, you figured they were a couple in all but name, and it seemed in some cases people either pretended not to see what was there, or maybe they were more tolerant than we think of them as being)

I don't know. People smarter than I am on both sides of the issue probably have clearer ideas of the implications. My gut feeling is to get government out of "officiating" marriage and instead let people legally choose a "next of kin" who would fill the legal role a spouse would in re: inheritance and medical proxies and the like. And then leave it to individual religious leaders to follow their consciences, and tell couples they are not permitted to compel someone to marry them. (And there's probably no shortage of folks willing to)

I do have friends who are gay, some of whom lived in states that recognized same-sex marriage and so they got married, so that's one side of it. But the other side, as I said, I hope this doesn't lead to persecution of people who genuinely, as a part of their faith, have an opposition to same-sex marriage.

I think the reason I find this kind of stuff - with the spiking of footballs and all that - frustrating is that I can genuinely see both sides of the issue.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


I get that this is all very First World Problems (and oh, how I hate that, because what I hear is "you should feel very bad about complaining, shut up, because you're not really struggling), but I'm having a hard time:

- as much as I enjoy teaching summer, that's ALL I do. I go home and just collapse because I'm too tired for anything else.

- It's very warm in several of the classrooms, and humid to boot. That's partly why I collapse when I get home.

- My classes are mostly good but I have one person in each class who is constantly asking for "consideration" because they have crap going on in their lives that makes it impossible for them to hand stuff in on time or be in class. I give it, I let them do make ups and stuff, and then they just do badly on them. I'm sure it's the crap going on diverting their attention from class. But really, if you're trying to negotiate a job chance or family issues or moving or whatever, DON'T take summer classes at the same time. Summer classes move damn fast.

- Something I delegated to a couple other people didn't get done and I'm in trouble because they didn't do it. I took a couple hours today and did it but I am not happy I had to do it. And I'm especially super extra not happy that the person in charge thanked "all" of us even though she knew DAMN WELL it was only me that did it, when I wasn't supposed to HAVE to do it in the first place. The problem is butthurt. One of the slacker people gets butthurt when they're not thanked. So instead I get to be butthurt, privately and personally, because I don't express that hurt to other people because I know it's childish to.

- Other people who are supposed to take care of junk are AWOL. This is another sucky thing about teaching summers: people go on vacation without realizing that you're NOT and their not being here means you have to do extra stuff you don't normally do and don't know how to do

- I'm FINALLY getting to the research I've been trying to work on for DAYS. But now I'm tired and borderline upset and am having a hard time focusing on it.

- There's a bunch of other long-term stuff not getting done because (a) I'm having to mop up for people not doing their jobs and (b) I'm so fecking tired when I get home at the end of the day that doing more work is beyond my capabilities.

- Just what's going on in the world, the fact that people are trying to drum up hate when other people just want healing and to get on with their lives. And just EVERYTHING. I don't see it getting better corporately (in the sense of the bigger picture, not in the sense of corporations). Individual people may act lovingly and may do good, but it seems like there's this weird messy mob in our culture who wants to work against that and pit us all against each other. STOP IT. Most people are just struggling to get through their days, if my own life is any measure.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

People are stupid

Especially this jerk who shot up a black church, and killed nine people. Nine people who were pillars of their community, nine people who were parts of loving families, nine people who - I dare say - were working to make their community a better place.

I'm just....there's not so much useful I can add to the debate other than that I'm sad and I'm angry. I feel especially angry that this guy targeted a church.

And yeah, maybe he's a psychopath. Maybe he grew up steeped somehow in race hatred. But still, on some level, he chose to do this thing. We could suspend the First and Second amendments, we could shut down the internet, we could lock up all the "loners" and there would still be people choosing to do wrong, to hurt other people.

I also hate that so much political hay is being made of this. Because it boils down to this: this guy chose, on some level, to do this. It was his choice and his responsibility. Just as it is the rest of our responsibility not to do hateful things if we don't want to face the consequences of them.

I don't feel equipped to comment on the whole Confederate flag issue, which has cropped up again. I'm a born and raised Northerner, with no history with the whole flag and thing. My gut feeling is that if it's so deeply offensive to some, people of goodwill would choose not to display it, but I get that there's deeper stuff going on than a race thing. (Edited to add: I'm in favor of states taking it down as a semi-official flag, especially since I've read that apparently it became popular as an anti-civil-rights measure. But this current, "Let's paint everything gray and pretend that lots of the past didn't happen" is a bit alarming. There's a monument to the Confederate Dead a couple towns over from me, and a guy is now agitating to remove the statue and monument. Well, couldn't Japanese immigrants make a similar complaint about World War II memorials?)

I don't know. I think all the blame lies on this guy, and talking about guns or the internet or anything else is kind of pointless - there are thousands upon thousands who have guns and who only use them for target practice or hunting (or, in extreme circumstances, defense of their family in a life-or-death situation). Millions of people use the Internet and while I will say there are parts of the Internet (the comments section of just about any news site) that make me cringe and want to avoid them - I don't think the internet has changed me for the worse.

I WILL say, hearing the statements of the families of the people he shot - wow. Just, wow. That's being a Christian right there - some of them are talking about forgiveness. They are celebrating their loved one's lives rather than screaming at this guy. I think that's what we should focus on in this - the families that are showing the absolute depth of love they can have, the love that is informed by their faith.

It also frankly blows my mind that after the people welcomed into their Bible study - apparently even prayed with him - he could still do what he did. And that after that, some of them can still say "I forgive you and God will forgive you." I hope that ultimately becomes the take-home lesson from this event, not what the guy did....

(I don't think, if I were the family member of someone killed in that way, I could so quickly forgive their killer.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Right to die

Okay. I'm going to be up-front about this: I am pretty much against doctors killing patients because the patients ask to die. I don't have a problem with the "withhold heroic measures in cases where there would be no future quality of life" (which I think is also a wise advance directive to have, if you feel that way).

At the same time, I do understand some people not wanting to continue to suffer. If I were developing Alzheimer's, for example - would I WANT to stick around for the eventual end? I don't know.

Right now I'm in good health (thank God) and good frame-of-mind, and the idea of ending my own life is abhorrent to me.

My problem with the whole doctor-assisted suicide is, I admit, a slippery-slope argument: if we allow doctors to follow patient's stated wishes about "I want to die," will there then be those who either feel it's their duty to "persuade" people who seem to have low quality-of-life to take that path? Or will there be doctors who are maybe, I don't know, pushed by higher-ups or insurers to "cut costs" - which means trying to encourage the "expensive" (e.g., sick and unlikely to get much better) patients to end it all?

And do we eventually get to the point where the patient's wishes are considered less: "Oh, this person is autistic, they won't understand, so let's just do it." "This person has had a massive stroke and we're really not sure they have much cognition left, better to just end them."

But also, there's the question of family members. My parents, in recent years, have gone through a few minor health crises - thank God, in each case it was something that modern medicine could more or less fix, but it also brought home for me that there might come a day when something is NOT "fixable." And what if they're in constant pain, and want an out? How do I deal with that? I mean, part of it is, you have to say, "It's their decision," but what about in cases where a family member is not consulted? Or where there is estrangement that could be fixed?

(In both my extended family, and in my sister-in-law's family, there are some cases of estrangement. To me, it is strange and sad: yes, I have got my feelings hurt by relatives in the past. But that's life, people do hurt your feelings. I can't cut them out of my life because of some stupid thing they said or because they happened to push my buttons a few times.)

Anyway, I was reading this article, which discusses the legalization of euthanasia in Belgium. It mainly centers around the case of one woman, Godelieva, who suffered from depression most of her life. She divorced her husband (who later killed himself), wound up estranged from her children (though it sounds like her son tried to stay in touch somewhat). Apparently the practice in Belgium is to "read in" the family on the patient's wishes, but she never did....her son found out after her death.

I think I struggle with this because on the one hand, I understand not wanting to see someone go through endless suffering.....and yet, on the other, I wonder if there was more that could be done to treat the woman's depression.

Also, I think I struggle with the issue after knowing a couple people - one of them a cousin, I've written about him before - who committed suicide.

After Godelieva killed herself, her son went looking for answers. He arranged a meeting with the doctor who helped her and a proponent of assisted suicide. Eventually, though, Tom kind of broke down, he couldn't keep trying to have a reasonable discussion:

The gut-punch line of the article was this - Tom said: "You’ve just taken away the suffering of one person and transposed it to another!’ "

Oh man. Oh yes, that. I had to stop reading for a bit there. I wasn't super-close with the cousin who killed himself (he was almost a generation older than I was and was a married man with kids before I knew him)., but still - yes. The pain doesn't go away, it just moves to other people. And while maybe each person experiences less individual pain, it's still there. (His mother, oh, his mother, my was awful for her and for the rest of her life she questioned if there was something she could have done. I remember a sad and uncomfortable conversation with her on a family visit about whether or not we thought suicides were allowed into Heaven, because apparently some idiot who was well-meaning in their own mind had told her they were not.....)

I don't know. I don't have any answers. But I worry about culture and society getting to the point where there are people who are "throwaway" people because they are so sick or disabled or don't have something to "offer" to the betterment of society. And I also worry about people taking what is a very large and serious and severe step without letting family and friends know - family and friends who could maybe help them bear the pain and make it through.

A couple of the other suicides I knew were young people, and in one case it was more a situation of impulsivity, someone did something (over a break-up, mainly) that was a pain many people have had and, if they had just given it more time, they probably would have gotten over - that's another of my fear about legalized suicide: that there will be pushes to make it "easier" and "less burdensome" and that people who just might need some time and some talk-therapy and maybe a course of antidepressants instead decide, and are allowed to, take the irrevocable step.....

Also, how strange and eerie it seems to me: writing out letters to send to people, giving your key to a trusted friend, all those things, knowing in a few days you will be dead. As I said: I enjoy good health, both mental and physical, so my mind rebels - revulses - at the thought. (And yet, at the same time, I think: maybe I should have all that stuff already lined up, God only knows when there's gonna come a bus hit me or something equally awful. I have SOME arrangements made but not as many as someone older than I am probably would....)

Apparently one of the suicide doctors has a pattern of being sloppy about notifying family ahead of time, and is some legal trouble for that (good). Family should have some input, especially in the case of someone who is not terminal, or not in such great pain, but maybe "tired of life" (apparently a justification some want for suicide). Or at the very least, should know before the fact so they can say goodbye! If assisted suicide were legal here, and someone I cared about did it without letting me know so I could AT LEAST have a final goodbye.....well, I'd be incredibly angry. I might have no right to be, but I would be.

(I will also observe that two of the doctors described in that article seem uncommonly callous. I wonder, does doing assisted suicides make one so, or must one have a callous predisposition in order to go into that business?)

Of course, the fact that few of the people involved apparently have anything like a religious faith - and in fact, a couple may be anti-religious, could possibly play some role. Not all non-religious people are callous towards human life, and in fact, I've heard some atheists who are anti-abortion on the grounds that ending a life is wrong and that we are all just given this one go-round, and so should all get it - but at the same time, I think MY faith is part of what gives me a horror of throwing away what I see as a gift.

Friday, June 12, 2015

so much outrage lately

So many things that have gone on, that have fizzed up in the news (kind of like when you mix baking soda and vinegar), so many things people have gotten really shouty about.

I have just a couple of thoughts:

1. It's really a shame we can't generate electricity (or something similarly useful) from outrage. If so, we'd have 100% energy independence and probably be EXPORTING electricity to Canada or somewhere.

2. In nearly every case I've seen, the narrative is more complex than people have wanted to make it. Very, very few situations on this earth are a case of "Person 1 is 100% in the wrong and Person 2 is 100% in the right." Like what happened in McKinney this week: kids show up at a pool party in a neighborhood. Apparently the kids are not from the neighborhood and it's a pool the neighborhood's HOA dues pay for. Kids get rowdy. Cops get called. Cops are kind of rough with the kids who are "sassing back" to the cops. Cop pulls his gun (allegedly) on a young woman.

Some want to make this another "bad white cop, poor harassed black kids" thing. (And I find myself thinking: "Stop trying to make McKinney happen. It isn't going to happen.")

Yeah, the cop was overstepping his role to pull his gun on an unarmed kid (she was wearing a bikini, so there's nowhere she could have been keeping a weapon, as far as I can tell). But the kids were also being rude and unruly and they were doing something *against the rules* - having a pool party in a pool that was the property of a neighborhood where they did not live; a pool they didn't pay for. And, from what I've heard, some of the kids behaved very badly.

I've also heard that families in the neighborhood - both black AND white - were unhappy with the kids taking over the pool and were very unhappy with their behavior.

EVERYONE was a little wrong there. So it's not a "This little angel got roughed up by a demon cop," it's more like "This kid was behaving badly and violating community rules, but the cop did get overly rough with her."

3. I just fear stuff is going to get worse, that people are looking for stuff to be upset about. Looking for ways to further divide people.

4. I have no energy to deal with any of these things. I have no energy for people excusing people behaving badly. I have no energy for cops overstepping bounds and damaging their relationship with the community by jumping to the most extreme response.

Mainly, what I want, is by and large just to be left alone. And I want to leave other people alone as long as what they do is not endangering me or infringing with how I live my life. For example, if a neighbor decides to have a loud backyard barbecue at 2 pm on a Sunday, I might sigh heavily and roll my eyes and stomp off to the local library for quiet, but that's their prerogative. If the same neighbor has a loud party at 2 am, I'm calling the cops - because I, and my other neighbors, need our sleep.

Similarly: If I don't get to weeding my flower beds right away, having a neighbor call the city on me and have the city write me a nasty letter about abatement, that's kind of excessive and needless and is a jerk move on the neighbor's part. If I let my lawn grow up into a jungle and rats and snakes move in, that's a health issue that affects the neighbors and they are right to call the city on me.

But it seems like people have lost ANY balance and there are some people going, "But I should be able to have rats and snakes in my yard" but there are other people going "She has ONE dandelion in her flower bed and that is unacceptable." It's like we don't know how to live in community, how to live and let live, how to go, "You know? Her yard is kind of a mess but she works long hours so let's leave her alone for now" or maybe even: "Her yard is a mess but I know she's not been well this spring, maybe we should see if she'd be willing to accept a little help from us in cleaning things up."

Some of the stuff that goes on, I think, boils down to a failure to love ones' neighbors (on both sides). And that kind of thing, well, this is how I think the Major Proponent of trying to show a little love and tolerance to your neighbors would react:

'Cos people just aren't getting it.

Friday, June 05, 2015

the end of "microaggressions"?

There does seem to be a bit of a sea-change in some of the reporting about colleges and the idea of students wanting to avoid the "challenge" of uncomfortable ideas, or being exposed to something with which they disagree. At first, the reporting seemed to be "Oh, OF COURSE we need to ban these things, you don't want people being unhappy all the time" but now it does seem to be slowly shifting to, "These students are going to have to work in jobs some day where they may be confronted with uncomfortable ideas. Certainly they are mature enough by college age to handle them!"

And I admit, this is one of those nuanced things that some people don't necessarily do well. There's a difference between being an out-and-out jerk to people and quietly expressing who you are in a way some people might not want to see for whatever reasons. An extreme example would be this:

Quietly expressing: as a Christian, I wear a cross pendant to class some days. This becomes a "microaggression" when a student who is not a Christian says they feel excluded or hurt or whatever because I am showing off what I believe

Being a jerk: I tell students in class they all need to be Christians or they are going to Hell and I openly proselytize in class  (something I would never, ever do. If I have a student come to me and genuinely ask me - because they have genuine questions - about my faith, I will tell them. I will not say, "You need to believe like me or you will go to Hell," because that's no way to bring people to the faith and is no way to treat people.)

The thing is, though, more and more, people want to shut down the first type of expression, where a person is being themselves in an unobtrusive fashion - if I had a Muslim woman student who wore a headscarf, I would not feel uncomfortable or threatened; if I had a Jewish student who wore a star of David I would have zero problems with that.  And this is sometimes because people tend to behave in the second fashion: if, for example, a student came to my department and complained to one of the men that he couldn't take my class because his religion forbade him from being taught by a woman, and we needed to work out some kind of situation where all his classes were taught by men, that would be kind of jerky behavior - because there's no way that that demand could be met in my department, and what's more, when you go to a public state school you can't demand that level of accommodation. (I suppose, if there exists a brand of religion like that, it has its own sex-segregated universities, and that's fine, I guess).

So: don't be a jerk to other people. But likewise, don't let other people tell you that things like wearing a cross to class, or talking about evolution in a biology class, or talking about opposing political ideas in a history class, or whatever, "hurts your feelings." Well, okay: you can have hurt feelings but the way you should act on them is to realize that you're gonna hear stuff you don't like as an adult and you just deal with it, not telling other people to change who they are or what they teach in order to keep you from being hurt.

I think this actually brings up partly why I find the whole "don't do that, it's a microaggression" thing so annoying, personally: All my life I had people tell me to suck it up and deal. So there's a kid in my fifth grade class who says mean things to me? Suck it up and deal, he's jealous of you because you're smarter than he is. (I never quite bought the "the person is being nasty to you because they're jealous" argument, even though all the adults made it). Or: "You're being excluded from a playground game? Suck it up and deal, find something else to do." Or: a couple girls jump the line and get the "good" jump ropes every time? "Suck it up and deal."

I also "sucked up and dealt" during the years the idiotic "Big Johnson" double-entendre t-shirts were the fashion. I didn't like them, I thought they were gross and stupid, but I wasn't going to say anything to a student wearing one because, you know, he has the right to express himself like that. Oh, if he were applying for a job and he showed up in that shirt, I'd be less likely to hire him, but that's another thing we taught students: there was a time and a place for stuff.

So for me to be told, "You have to walk on eggshells and bubble wrap every word that comes out of your mouth, just so someone won't take offense" gets a giant rolling-of-the-eyes from me. You know what? I sucked it up and dealt so much during my previous years of life that I could be an Electrolux.

And what's more, in some cases hearing, "Well, you're the member of the 'majority' here, so you have to be sensitive" in the sense of downplaying my participation in my faith, or doing certain things (the whole idea of some schools doing away with honor rolls so the lower-achieving students "don't feel bad") is frankly kind of annoying: if you extended it out, you could see something like, "Don't show your face around there, you're a MAN and that might offend someone" or similar.

And yeah, again: not being a jerk to people is the best way to be. Not making "stupid woman" jokes, for example, if you're a man. And yeah, I've heard my share of those down through the years, my usual response is to roll my eyes and tell myself that that guy's humor isn't to my taste, or to plan to avoid him in the future if I can. But likewise, being offended because I'm on a committee that is majority men - that seems kind of useless.

And anyway, it comes down to individuals. There are some men I work with that I would like to be on a committee with, some I would loathe being on a committee with. Their gender or sex or sexual orientation or whatever has nothing to do with it; their personality or how they work - both very individual things - has everything to do with it. Same with women - there are some I'd rather extract my own teeth than serve on a committee with, there are others that are perfectly cool.

Actually, I think some of the problems of the whole mindset that contributes to the "microaggression" ideas has the problem of seeing the group only, and not the individual. And one thing I've learned in my life is that there's HUGE variation in individuals, and you can't look at someone and make a lot of assumptions about them based on group membership - their skin color, or their heritage, or their religion, or which gender they're sexually attracted to. (To a limited extent, I can make some assumptions based on dress and behavior - the guy who shows up to class in all high-dollar sports gear, some of it with the tags still hanging off of it - well, I can generally count on him having different expectations from the guy who shows up in khakis and a polo shirt, or the guys in jeans and a college t-shirt. Or the person who is chronically loud and addresses people with a lot of four-letter words tends to be less respectful of my authority in the classroom than the person who speaks respectfully to his fellow students) I have had students in all ethnic groups who were very different from each other - some were hardworking and diligent and sober and kind to the other people in class, some were not so skillful but were decent people, some were gifted students but right jerks, and some were just slackers. And I can't assign any ethnic group, necessarily, to any cluster of behaviors, because I've seen 'em all.

And what this tells me is that trying to assume, "This student is of African heritage so he or she will be made uncomfortable reading books like The Great Gastby that are about exclusively white characters" is kind of dumb. Yes, maybe some students will complain about "the canon" but they're free to read extra-canon books on their own time if they want to. Or they're free to make arguments in favor of someone new being added, or being substituted in the canon - their argument doesn't HAVE to be taken, and we don't have to go "Oh no! We might OFFEND them if we don't do what they want!" and blindly do it - or, as some schools have done, make the changes they THINK students might agitate for, before it ever comes up.

The other, larger issue here is: life is gonna offend you. There's gonna be stuff that happens that ticks you off. Sometimes it's dumb little stuff, like the guy pulling in front of me in a 40 mph zone and then slowing down to 15 because he's on his cell phone. Maybe it's big stuff, like some administrator who has some goofy beliefs about women and therefore tends to be rude to them when they have to work with them. But that's life. If the goofy administrator undercuts you, you do have processes you can follow to try to get some justice (and yes, they don't always work, but that's a lesson to). The thing is: life isn't fair and people do sucky things. You should try not to do sucky things to other people, but at the same time, calling for someone's head - or calling for only letting people speak if they agree with you - is silly, dumb, and also potentially dangerous. We need different ideas out there. (What if, for example, when fire was discovered, a critical mass of cavepeople decided it scared and threatened them and it needed to be stamped out?) Yes, dumb ideas wind up getting pushed to the side and that's how it should work (e.g., blanket anti-vaccination ideas, where people say crap like "it's not 'natural' to prevent a kid from getting these diseases"). But the ideas should be heard. (My dad is fond of saying one of the beauties of free speech is that the assholes self-identify. How much more toxic would it be if people were restrained from putting their silly ideas out into the marketplace of ideas, but they managed to work behind the scenes to get them into practice? Better to hear the silly idea and be able to argue that it's silly).

I don't know. When college becomes a "safe zone" where people are never challenged in their thinking, never presented with ideas that contradict their previously-held ones, or never challenged by being made to work hard (that's one I've sometimes heard), we might as well shut them down.