Archive for November, 2010

Teachable Moments

November 17, 2010

Be aware of what’s going on in your child’s classrooms.  If you think that the debates that generate so much publicity in the media and at the ballot box are isolated to those areas, you are gravely mistaken.  If you think that people are not working extremely hard to ensure that regardless of how you vote and what you think is right, your children will be more inclined towards a different opinion, you are gravely mistaken.

Case in point – a teacher who suspended two students for a day because they voiced an opinion that he didn’t like.  After previously making a student remove a Confederate flag belt-buckle.  
“The classroom discussion was heading in a direction I didn’t want it to head,” McDowell said.
Fair enough.  As a lifelong learner as well as an educator for nearly 15 years, I understand that sometimes conversations and discussions take rather unexpected turns that teachers have to deal with.  I still wonder why he had the other student remove the Confederate flag belt-buckle.  I wonder what the school’s dress code is.  I wonder what the school’s formal policy on classroom speech is – but the article never bothers to address that.
“I thought it was a really great, teachable moment,” McDowell said of his decision to remove the student from class.
Fair enough.  If what you’re trying to teach is that disagreement is not permissible or tolerated, despite our massive focus on tolerance these days.  If what you’re trying to teach (in an anti-gay bullying t-shirt) is that some forms of bullying are acceptable.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Legal Project, credits McDowell for trying to create a “welcoming environment for all students.” But Kaplan said the “teachable moment” would have come if the students stayed in the classroom.
Funny.  I’m sure the two students who were kicked out of class for the day probably didn’t feel very welcome.  Clearly, McDowell was not trying to create a welcoming environment for all students.  More accurately, McDowell was trying to create an environment welcome to some students, and explicitly unwelcome to others.  That’s definitely an instructive process, but not in the valiant way that this article wants to portray it.
McDowell has filed a complaint against the district over the discipline he received, but said Monday he primarily wants to “force the school to look at itself.”

“I want to force adults to look at what situation we’ve created,” he said. “I would really like us to be more aggressive in our policing of harassing and bullying.”

Ah, there’s that new buzzword again – bullying.  So bullying consists of not allowing people to say what they want – unless they’re saying what you want them to say.  And that’s what we’re wanting to avoid.  And yet that’s exactly what McDowell did.  A stunning example of hypocrisy in the classroom.  That’s always a teachable moment.  
The question is, what is being learned, and who is learning it?
Now, soas not to be a negative nelly here, let us go a step further.  If I disagree with McDowell’s approach, what would the alternative be?
I suppose I’d want to begin by suggesting that economics class isn’t the place to be making fashion statements – unless there is a clear dress code violation going on.  That would tend to ensure right from the get-go that conversation stayed on the topic of,oh, say, economics, since that’s what the class was supposed to be teaching.
But once the can of worms is opened, how does the discussion proceed?  I would suggest going with it.  The student asked a reasonable question – why do you object to one flag that represents a rebellion as opposed to another flag that represents an even larger scale rebellion?  Why is one flag improper and the other one proper?  The teacher has dug themselves a bit of a hole now.  They’d better be prepared to philosophically or theologically defend why they judge one flag to be offensive and the other not.
The student’s response is – despite media badgering to the contrary – quite representative of what a large percentage (I would say majority, but that’s hardly necessary) of the US population believe on one basis or another.  Rather than delegitimize that viewpoint entirely by kicking the student out of class, we could still nip the conversation in the bud.  Simply redirecting the students back to the actual subject material of the class would work just fine.  Or how about acknowledging that this is an issue that people feel very deeply about on both sides of the issue?  How about acknowledging that this sort of discussion is valuable and important but not necessarily appropriate for the high school classroom?  How about asking whether or not the students have forums to discuss this sort of thing at school (I’m betting not)?  How about offering to organize something outside of school jurisdiction to discuss the issue responsibly and intelligently?  How about encouraging students themselves to do this, to take ownership and accountability for what they believe, even if it can’t be under the auspices of the institution that allegedly exists to teach them these skills?
Any of these approaches would have defused the situation, if that indeed was the goal.  But that obviously wasn’t the goal.  The goal was to send a message that disagreement is not valid, tolerated, or even legal (within the world of a public high school classroom).  I appreciate McDowell’s honesty about his larger aspirations in the issue.  It makes it a lot easier to see it for what it is, rather than confusing it with a teacher who just overreacted or accidentally used excessive force in dealing with the situation.

You Must Be Poking

November 16, 2010

I love waking up in the morning and having to think.

Thanks to Doni for this wonderful link to a long but enjoyable article/critique.  The author, Zadie Smith, interweaves a movie – The Social Network – with a book – You Are Not A Gadget .  While I don’t have much interest in seeing the movie, it’s a book I’m definitely going to be reading before too long.
The main thing that struck me in this article is somewhat of a side note of focus.  Smith (as well as the movie and the book) wrestle with what drives Generation Y to do the things that it does.  The traditional goals of great wealth or great power seem uninteresting to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.  This must make it really difficult to write scripts or books or articles about him.  Yet it’s totally in keeping with the nature of Generation Y, philosophically and otherwise.  This is the result of philosophical and religious choices that are now close to overwhelming our culture.  Smith writes towards the end of this essay:
For our self-conscious generation (and in this, I and Zuckerberg, and everyone raised on TV in the Eighties and Nineties, share a single soul), not being liked is as bad as it gets. Intolerable to be thought of badly for a minute, even for a moment. 
A few paragraphs later she relates her students’ reactions to a scene in a book she is having them read:
In the most famous scene, the unnamed protagonist, in one of the few moments of “action,” throws a dart into his girlfriend’s forehead. Later, in the hospital they reunite with a kiss and no explanation. “It’s just between them,” said one student, and looked happy. To a reader of my generation, Toussaint’s characters seemed, at first glance, to have no interiority—in fact theirs is not an absence but a refusal, and an ethical one. What’s inside of me is none of your business. To my students,The Bathroom is a true romance.
And finally, a few paragraphs later:
The last defense of every Facebook addict is: but it helps me keep in contact with people who are far away! Well, e-mail and Skype do that, too, and they have the added advantage of not forcing you to interface with the mind of Mark Zuckerberg—but, well, you know. We all know. If we really wanted to write to these faraway people, or see them, we would. What we actually want to do is the bare minimum, just like any nineteen-year-old college boy who’d rather be doing something else, or nothing.
What is the meaning of life?  Philosophically and theologically, Generation Y has been informed that there is none.  There is no unchanging Truth, and even if there were, we couldn’t possibly know it reliably or communicate it effectively.  Power and money are means to an end, a means to accessing or controlling Truth, with all of the commensurate benefits that can come from such control.  But those tools aren’t effective if Truth is nonexistent or unknowable.  Those are tools from another age.  The aren’t for another age, because there are still plenty of people who recognize today that even if there is no truth, having money and power is a better way to spend your life than not having power and money.  And some of those people have scores to settle, addictions to feed, a twisted desire just to see what they can get away with, and any number of other minor and major neuroses that the rest of us need to pay attention to for our own protection.
If not power and money, then what?  What remains?  Smith argues relationships.  I think that’s a bit too generous.  I think ultimately what matters now are feelings.  Feeling liked.  Feeling popular.  Feeling connected.  Feeling in the know.  Feeling reassured that your life has some meaning because you are connected to x number of people.  Never mind that those feelings are all too often superficial and poorly supported, even in the midst of unprecedented opportunities and options for connectivity.  Relationships take a lot of work, but feelings are relatively easy.  
Click a button.  Send an invitation or a request.  Accept or deny (or now, make your decision later).  When connected, the other person exists not so much as a unique person (relationship) with dreams and hopes and abilities and shared history, they become a source of feelings.  Perusing their photos, evaluating and judging their status updates.  We have the illusion of relationship because our connected status allows us to ‘hear’ from them daily or weekly or whenever.  Never mind that those updates aren’t generally directed towards us, and are shouted into a bleak ether made only slightly more friendly by the illusion of tens or hundreds or thousands of people that might hear and care, if only briefly.
If relationship was really the point, we’d prioritize that.  We’d write letters (snail or e-mail).  We’d take trips to visit people.  We’d invest ourselves in the relationship in tangible, active ways.  This would make a few things immediately apparent.  That most of our digital connections are not people we’d be willing to go to that effort or expense for.  We may have a lot of connections, but as social researchers continue to stoically chant, we have very few real, true friends.  People we would take a bullet for.  Or a plane.  Or an hour out of our day.  Very few of our connections matter in a real and deep and abiding sense in that they matter to us,  rather than for us.  Most of them provide just feelings.  It’s all we want from them.  It’s all we expect to be able to give them, if we bother to think of giving them anything at all. 
As an obstinate Facebook user (I don’t update very often, have never changed my profile picture, etc.), I understand the lure of feeling.  And I do very much see Facebook as an adolescent-driven source for feeling.  Smith comments:
Shouldn’t we struggle against Facebook? Everything in it is reduced to the size of its founder. Blue, because it turns out Zuckerberg is red-green color-blind. “Blue is the richest color for me—I can see all of b
lue.” Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to. Preoccupied with personal trivia, because Mark Zuckerberg thinks the exchange of personal trivia is what “friendship” is.
I think that Smith is too quick to paint users of Facebook passively.  I see it’s limitations and awkwardness, but I do value the fact that it has enabled reconnection with people.  The people that I really revalue reconnecting with I tend to now relate with in ways other than Facebook – emails or letters or visits.  But Facebook was valuable in that initial step of reconnecting.  Perhaps that is what it will ultimately be remembered for when it goes the way of Facebook and any other sort of software interface.  It remains to be see whether, once those connections are there – or more accurately once the subset relationships are there – people will move on with their lives (and relationships) without a continued desire to be told how many pigs their friends have found on Farmville, and without the constant advertising opportunities that will only increase with time.  If we are more than the sum of our ability to coerce or purchase or connect, we’ll need to demonstrate that in meaningful ways.  I tend to think those ways are going to look a lot like how they’ve always looked, as opposed to having a new medium and methodology to them.  
Or we may just continue to take the easy way out, reinforcing ultimately the philosophy that nothing really matters, only what we think or feel, and other people will continue to be reduced to tools for generating feelings and thoughts within us.  

Who Are You Again?

November 16, 2010

I haven’t been to this wing of the hospital before.  I’m not sure if there is any real difference between the wings, so the observation isn’t necessarily indicative of much.  The woman who validates my parking and verifies who I’m here to see and prints my visitor badge is very helpful.  Perhaps overly so.  She announces the room number – which I already know but is a very helpful touch that many of the other security personnel don’t add.  I’m already walking away towards the elevators and she’s starting to give me directions.  I thank her and keep walking.  Sometimes helpfulness isn’t very helpful.

The e-mail from the secretary at the office wasn’t overly helpful, though.  _______ is in the hospital and would like you to visit her.  She has attended Bible Studies at the church.  She’s at Cottage Hospital, Room ___.  I’ve never heard the name before.  Granted, I’m new at the church and still nailing down the last of the 80-odd names and faces that I see or speak with on a weekly basis.  But this woman’s name isn’t in my member spreadsheet, and isn’t in any of the older directories I’ve stashed away as I’ve continued cleaning out my predecessor’s paperwork from my office.  If she’s been to Bible studies here, it hasn’t been for quite a while.  
I find the room fairly easily.  A shared room with another patient.  There’s a nurse tending to one of them and I mention who I’m here to see, and she nods me towards the woman she’s finishing up with.  She looks to be in her early 50’s.  But it’s the sort of aging indicators that mean she might really only be 35.  She’s lying down when I come over, working to turn herself onto her back and sit up.  Her straight dirty-blonde hair hangs to probably her shoulder blades.  
I introduce myself and indicate that I had come at her request.  It’s immediately clear by the look in her eyes that she doesn’t know who I am or what church I’m with.  I’m struck immediately with the realization that at some point earlier today, this woman was probably leaving messages on voice mails at churches all around the Santa Barbara area.  I’m ____________________.  I used to come to Bible studies at the church.  I’d like the pastor to visit me.  I’m in Cottage Hospital, Room ____.   Whether she believes that she really has attended Bible studies isn’t an avenue I’m willing to go down at this point.
She’s difficult to understand.  The television in her room mate’s corner is blaring loudly, and the thin sheet that circles around the other bed to divide the room is terrible sound insulation.  It would be helpful if the sound were turned down a notch, and I hope briefly for this as visitors arrive for the other woman.  But the television continues to blare unhelpfully.  
She lives in town in her travel trailer.  She was attacked.  She was harassed.  Repeatedly.  There was a beating.  She’s suffering post-traumatic stress symptoms.  I’m tempted to ask whether or not she was in the service, but it’s clear very quickly that the stress is attributed to the beatings and harassment she’s received here, not in some foreign battlefield.  At some point in her childhood she was going to Catholic church with her grandmother.  But then her grandmother was gone.  Perhaps she said she died.  I can’t be sure.  I know it’s not a detail to stress over.  With her mother or some other woman she didn’t go to church anymore.
She’s co-founded a new church here in town.  I’ve heard of it, and whether or not she really co-founded it or not is irrelevant at this point.  Who are you again? she asks, and I repeat my name and the congregation.  Again there’s the confusion in the eyes, but she speaks quickly to mask it.  She has trouble walking.  She can’t keep her balance.  Her meds were stolen at one point and now she’s all out of whack inside.  The doctors aren’t sure what to do yet.  She’s been here almost a week now.  
She mentions other churches, other times in her life.  The narrative flow would impress Tarantino.  It’s hard to piece together what has happened when.  Were the beatings recent?  She doesn’t have scars or bruises or scratches that would indicate it.  I imagine that perhaps my confusion is only a flickering shadow of her own internal confusion.  She mentions needing a pair of sweat pants.  The confusion has settled on a desired pair of sweatpants for some reason.  A pair of eyeglasses.  Perhaps asking for these things is a way of getting a handle on reality, on linking on to something tangible, controllable.  Perhaps it’s a reflex.  It would be easy to believe that she has spent a lot of time asking for things.  I chastise myself for wondering and doubting.  How helpful is doubt here?  What does it accomplish?
What church are you with again?  I repeat the name of the church.  She talks about another church somewhere else in town, but I’m not sure where she’s referring to since I’m new in town myself.  She smiles as she starts talking about some of these places.  Places of happier times, perhaps.  Distant moments of clarity or beauty.  It’s clear that the confusion is likely to be with her for some time.  I suspect it’s not an unfamiliar companion in her life, and I wonder what the meds that were stolen were for.  
I offer to close us in prayer and to visit her again.  I have a meeting to go to.  I’m already rationalizing how I’m really not being much help to her.  She probably won’t remember me when I stop by tomorrow.  Or what church I’m with.  Not that either matters to her, really.  She needs a pair of eyeglasses.  Maybe some sweat pants.  She needs a handle on the world that swims around her and leaves her without the ability to stand or balance and instead pins her to a hospital bed.  What does it matter where those things come from or how?  Isn’t it the same creator behind the gift?  Isn’t it the same Giver regardless of whose hands actually convey the gift?
Her own hands are rough and thick.  Hard hands.  Hands well accustomed to work, to effort, to struggle.  
I pray, chastising myself for criticizing my own prayer, or worse yet, for praying while considering how formal and stiff my prayer for her must sound.  What sort of prayers is she used to?  What sort of prayers do they use in the church she co-founded?  I draw the prayer almost to a conclusive Amen, leaving time and space for her to say something if she wishes.  She rocks back and forth very slightly, eyes closed, lips moving.  I wait another few seconds and pronounce Amen.  She continues to sway, lips parted and moving, eyes firmly shut.  I squeeze her hands.  
I don’t know what help I can be to her, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not helpful.  I wonder how many other pastors came by today, or will stop by tomorrow.  Curious.  Uncertain.  I wonder how many will feel guilty for not wanting to come back, for not wanting to spend time with a woman who is lost enough to know that it doesn’t really matter who helps, as long as help comes.  Part of me wonders if I will come back tomorrow.  The cold calculating part of me is busy whirring away the calculations of time and effort and ROI.  As though my time is my own, or as if I exclusively determine it’s value.  The calculations continue, but I already know that I’ll be back.  That maybe
just by coming back I’ll be helpful.  Even without sweat pants or eyeglasses.  Just a stranger that came back.  Maybe the coming back is the helpful part.  But I won’t likely know that until long, long after she and I are both gone.
I find my way back to the elevators.  A doctor of some sort is heading down with me.  I ask for the first floor.  Do you know where you’re going? he asks.  I resist the sudden urge to shoot back Do any of us really know where we’re going?  and tell him that I think I do, but that I’m still learning my way around.  Actually, this evening, I’m pretty confident of where I want to go.  Helpfulness comes at odd times.   A woman races to jump into the elevator with us before the door closes.  You just barely made it in time! the doctor observes.  
This way I’ll make my bus! she responds.
We descend to the second floor where the woman exits.  The doctor is indicating that if I get out here, It will take me to the main lobby.  I need the Castillo street entrance, I assure him.  He’s clearly unconvinced.  I have become a charge of his, and he seems determined to see me where I need to go.
We reach the first floor and he seems uncertain whether he should let me out here.  I assure him he should.  He steps partially out with me, giving me directions around the corner and down the hall.  I’m already walking as he concludes the directions.  I thank him and keep walking.  Sometimes helpfulness isn’t very helpful.  But it sure can be reassuring.

Unmotivated, but Educated

November 12, 2010

Motivation is at a pretty low spot this week, so I leave you with this infographic on some home schooling statistics.  Seeing as how we home school our three kids, (or more accurately, my wife does), I thought some of this was kinda interesting.  

Whooda Thunkit?

November 8, 2010

Since I first blogged on this blog a few days ago, the thing has gone somewhat viral.  Not my commentary on it, but the original blog post itself – the mom of the boy who dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and how ticked off she was (the mom, not the boy pretending to be Daphne) that anyone might find it odd.  I’ve seen this popping up in all sorts of places.  Not surprising – it pushes all the right buttons.  Moral outrage and indignation.  Allegations of bullying.  Gender/sexuality issues (perceived or otherwise).  And of course, someone willing to stand up and tell the world to go to hell because nobody could possibly have anything to say or contribute to her or her son beyond what she has decided to provide him.

So I’ve been thinking more about it, and wondering what else ought to be said.  
If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought about it twice.  No one.  
This sounds like a pretty compelling argument at surface level.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman or Spiderman or Superman, what would I say?  Would I have as big an issue about it as if my son wanted to dress up as Daphne?  No.  Why?  Because they’re not the same issue.
First off, there are female equivalents for pretty much every male superhero.  There’s a Batgirl.  And a Supergirl.  There’s probably a Spidergirl but I’m afraid to Google that.  So if my daughter was interested in dressing as a superhero (which she isn’t), there are plenty of female options to choose from.  But let’s say she really wanted to go as Batman instead of Batgirl, since the costumes are decidedly different.  Would that cause me concern?  No.  Is this inconsistent with disagreeing with encouraging the blogger’s son to dress up as a girl for Halloween?  No.  
Yes Batman is a man, but his masculinity isn’t the core issue that Batman has going on.  It’s not so much about being a man, as it is about being a masked person with all sorts of cool abilities and tools at your disposal with which to whack bad guys.  That’s appealing, and the appeal isn’t necessarily gender specific.  Hence there can be a Batgirl who has many of the same characteristics as Batman, only with better hair.  Daphne is a young woman.  Her character is totally feminine.  She isn’t pretending to be anything else.  There could not be a male version of Daphne.  A male version of Daphne would be a regular guy with nice hair.  
A boy wishing to dress up as a girl, simply because she’s a girl, is not the same thing as a girl who might want to dress up as a masked superhero because the mask and the costume and the gadgets and everything else are cool.  In doing so, she wouldn’t really be dressing up as a man per se, but as a character with all these amazing gadgets and the ability to fight crime.  What she would want to be emulating, in other words, is not being a man, but being a superhero with cool skills.  If my daughter wanted to dress as Batman, I’d encourage her to consider the female alternatives.  If she were insistent, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.
If she wanted to dress up as Bruce Wayne, I’d have a problem.  
If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept.

I tend to agree with this.  I don’t think isolated cross dressing in young children is a sign of sexual confusion necessarily.  But let’s be clear here – it’s obvious from this mother’s blog that she isn’t really concerned about this issue at all.  Because even if it is linked to gender confusion or problems with sexual identity, she sees no need for alarm.  Whatever happens, happens.  She loves her child regardless.  I commend her love.  I don’t commend her laissez faire approach to the issue or her rejection of anyone who might possibly disagree.  

It seems clear from her description of her son’s behavior that there is some confusion on his part – and that’s only natural and normal.  His best friends and most regular companions are all female.  Of course he would be inclined to want to emulate them at some level.  Of course if his best friend suggests he might want to wear the same costume as her, he would find that a reasonable idea.  And yet, despite of all this reinforcement for his decision, he begins to have second thoughts.  The author doesn’t describe why this might be.  But it seems clear that either all on his own, or through the comments of others, he began to realize that perhaps his initial logic was flawed.  Maybe it wasn’t an appropriate costume for him.  He’s trying to sort out the gender confusion.  It would have been an ideal moment to offer some male costume options (Shaggy?  Fred?  Even Scooby?).  

My job as his mother is not to stifle that man that he will be, but to help him along his way. Mine is not to dictate what is ‘normal’ and what is not, but to help him become a good person.

You can’t “help someone along the way” without providing assistance that may, in one form or another, stifle one aspect of a person or accentuate and help another aspect to flourish.  Yes, you do help your son learn what is normal, because you have lived in the world a lot longer than he has and know what is normal.  

You know, for instance, that you don’t allow your child to play with feral rats.  Or to gnaw on roadkill.  You know that you don’t allow your child to jump up and down on the table at the restaurant you’re eating at.  You know that you don’t allow your child to roam the streets naked because he’s so inclined to do that regularly.  Why?  Because these things are not normal – and while your child may be too young to know that, you are not, and you are responsible for helping him learn.  A “good person” after all is someone that acts in ways that are generally conceded to be good based on some definition.  That requires that you help teach your son (or daughter) what those ways are.  Your son or daughter is not free to arbitrarily decide for themselves what constitutes good or bad.  

Earlier in the essay the mother mentions other cross-dressing situations that are not considered taboo or inappropriate (well, fraternity brothers and football players).  Why aren’t they taboo?  Because they’re older, somewhat more mature people who clearly understand what the difference is between the genders.  They are not cross-dressing out of confusion, but specifically because such cross-dressing is widely considered to be inappropriate outside of an attempt (however poor is not the question here) at humor.  They are demonstrating the humor that the vast majority of people find in a situation where someone is pretending to be something they are not.
This is not the same as a small child attempting to learn what are appropriate dress-up options.  This is not the same as encouraging the child to continue in a path of behavior even though the child recognizes that they may have been in error on the matter.  This is not the same as utilizing your child as the lightning rod for you to wield your righteous indignation.  
I have no doubt this woman loves her child.  It’s unfortunate that she rejects so completely the idea that anyone willing to sit her down and express concerns with her might be attempting to love her – and her child – as well.  If the measure of love is the willingness of everyone else around us to patently agree to whatever we decide to do or say, it’s not worth much, as love goes.  I hope this mother has the chance to think further about this situation.  Beyond her defensiveness and protectiveness (both understandable, to an extent).  But based on a lot of the reactions people seem to be having to her post (affirming it), that’s probably not going to happen.  
Ultimately, that’s a shame for all of us – not just this woman and her son.  

Pirate Banking?

November 6, 2010

Where do pirates store their booty?

This was my first thought when I read this article  about a record payout to Somali pirates who captured two boats.  
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 200 years since the US went to war  with a collective of North African nations to stamp out piracy in the Mediterranean.  Can you imagine if we were to do that today?  It was effective, though.  I can only imagine the horrors we’d be accused of if we resorted to similar actions now.  And there would certainly be a contingent of our people who would refuse to allow us to sing  about it.  
I’m assuming that today’s pirates aren’t burying their money in a treasure chest in the ground someplace.  I’m assuming that it takes a little time to blow through $12 million in cash, so my assumption is that some sort of bank is involved in this process, somewhere.  I should think that a deposit of that magnitude, in that area of the world, would be noticeable and trackable.  Yet no mention is ever made of this.  I should think that if suddenly pirates couldn’t find a safe place for their ransom money, the incentives to piracy would decrease somewhat as well.  
At least, that’s my theory.  Piracy seems like something far removed from our ordinary lives here in the US.  However the costs of piracy are passed along in increased costs and fees for the products we buy.  You’d think there would be a way for us to make it less of a lucrative business for the pirates and their bankers.

Tell Me Something I Know Isn’t True

November 4, 2010

I love my kids.  Hopefully not a major shock to everyone.  I tend to think that the vast majority of parents love their kids.  The question becomes not one of whether you love your kids or not, but what does love mean to you?  What does it mean to love your child?

Not exactly a light task, this love thing.  Part and parcel with it comes the necessity to guide and instruct.  To model as well as to teach those things that aren’t easily or tangibly modeled.  I want to teach my daughter the best I can about what it means to be a woman (at least from a Christian man’s perspective), knowing that my wife will contribute far more heavily in that arena.  And likewise, my wife has to trust that I can help to teach our sons about what it means to be a Christian man.  
I don’t think that we start with a completely blank template – at least in terms of basic moral law.  Some of these things are inscribed in our hearts and minds in surprising ways that we often aren’t even aware of.
Which is why I found this blog post interesting.  
I found it interesting that the boy himself – despite heavy feminine influence around him most of the time – recognizes (although perhaps belatedly) that there is a problem with his choice of costume.  What I find problematic is the mother’s unwillingness to both honor this and to use it as a teaching time.  I find it problematic that anyone who has some thoughts that differ from hers is suddenly a bully.  
(<Author’s Rant>:Mark my words – this whole bullying issue is going to be massively influential for a long time.  Anyone who disagrees with you automatically is a bully.  The only people who won’t be bullies are those who agree completely with you and support you wholeheartedly in whatever it is that you decide to do.  Eventually, even believing something contrary to someone else and not acting or saying anything about it will be considered tacit bullying.  The new tolerance movement does not tolerate disagreement.  Except theirs. </End Rant&gt

In reality, it is the mother who has become a bully in this situation.  She is pushing her son to do something that he has begun to have second thoughts about.  She has determined her righteousness in this situation and is willing to battle anyone who disagrees with her or her “sweet” son.  Except it’s not the son’s fight anymore, it’s now hers.  In this she ends up bullying her son as well as those around her, all the while claiming the moral high ground for defending her child.  
It’s a shame that children tease and bully.  Granted.  As I’ve said already, I don’t condone this.  Disagreeing with someone else and verbalizing it is not necessarily bullying, however.   It’s a shame that the mothers who so offended this woman couldn’t offer anything more intelligible as a legitimization of their concern than that this boy might be teased.  It’s a shame that this mother who clearly loves her son seems to think that love means not contradicting his initial request or seeking to guide him in his thought processes (as well as ignoring his eventual uncertainty).  It’s a shame that this mother who loves her son would ignore his misgivings and encourage him down a path that he already has recognized as problematic in some respect.  Doing something out of the norm does not necessarily make one valiant or brave or wise or virtuous.  Pointing out how something is out of the norm does not automatically make one a bully.  
Our kids – mainly our daughter and youngest son – are rather fond right now of laughing about and joking about who they will marry when they grow up.  They have no real idea what this means, only that it elicits responses from people (mainly their older brother who gets freaked out!).  We’ve already had to explain that they can’t marry each other, or their other brother, or my wife or I, or their grandparents.  And we’ve been very consistent in explaining that girls marry boys and boys marry girls.  We’re not concerned that our children are gay or bisexual.  We understand that they’re seeking to figure out how all of this may work, and we provide guidance to help them in figuring that out.   It’s how we love them.
I’m sure this mom loves her boy very much.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of ways that she guides and shapes her boy into the sort of man she hopes he will be one day.  It’s just strange that in the arena of gender and sexuality, she’s going to deny that she has a role to play there, and that anyone suggesting that she does is a bully.  Of course she loves her son. Of course she’ll love him regardless of who he becomes.  That is part of being a parent.  We love our children.  
We may not love what they become, however, and for that reason we are charged with guiding them.  I wouldn’t love if one of my children turned out to be gay – though I would continue to love them as my child.  I wouldn’t love if one  of my children committed murder, though I would still continue to love them as my child.  We guide because we love.  It’s part of being a parent, and it’s part of being in a larger community – whether it’s a preschool, a church, or a city or state or nation.

The Long Arm of the Voter

November 3, 2010

I don’t feel like there’s much need to say anything about the elections yesterday.  But the one thing I did think was interesting was a story out of Iowa that I’m guessing won’t get a lot of press coverage.  Votes to retain or dismiss appointed judges rarely merit a lot of press.  I can’t think of many times that I’ve even known who the judges are when their names appear on the ballots.

Iowans think differently though.  Because last year, the Iowa Supreme Court stunned all sorts of folks when it ruled that barring same-sex marriages violated the state’s constitution, opening the door to same-sex marriages in the traditionally conservative mid-west.  It seemed a stunning decision literally out of left field to rewrite history, society, and culture – all based on the decisions of seven people.
Yesterday, three of those people lost their jobs.  All three of the Iowa Supreme Court judges up for retention votes failed to receive the simple majority required to retain their seats.  The other four justices will be up for retention votes in 2012 and 2016, respectively.  The judges serve staggered eight-year terms.  
It’s funny to read the terminology in this article of money being “poured” in to lobby against these justices’ retention.  $650,000 is a paltry sum of money in the world of politics, even if it is more than three times the amount spent to lobby for their retention.  I also think it’s interesting how the article plays up the role of out-of-state support, without specifying if this support was in moral support (pun intended) or actual dollars.  In a single sentence the article seems to remove the importance of the fact that Iowans voted, and places the importance on the money spent and it’s sources.
In California, one contender for the governorship spent over $150 million dollars of her own money on her campaign.  She still lost.  Money is indeed a critical element in politics, unfortunately.  But it isn’t equivalent to the will of the voters, nor is it a guarantee of success.  I like to think that Iowans rejected the justices not just because of outside support, but because they themselves recognized that the actions of the justices were patently out of step with reality.  It’s a good reminder to judges that there is accountability for their actions.  And it’s a good reminder to voters that we do not have to simply sit meekly by and accept the audacious and radical changes being shoved down our throats by a screaming media juggernaut.