Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Princess Bride on American Politics: "The End of History" or the Rise of the Paranoid Right?

There's an interesting juxtaposition on the op-ed page of today's (technically, tomorrow's) NYTimes. Ross Douthat, in "Life After the End of History", argues that we should examine the fall of the Berlin Wall through the context of what neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama called "The End of History", in the sense that we no longer had a real existential threat to democracy and free market economics, in that both Fascism and Soviet Totalitarianism had failed to eradicate our political paradigm. Then Douthat goes on to speculate that we might be hesitant to celebrate the 9th of November as a kind of super, global Independence Day because we cling to the notion that empires do fail, specifically as a consequence of their own decadence, and that we need, on some level, a threat from the outside to... well, here he's less clear. To stave off perpetual decadence? To prevent permanent decline? Anyway, without something bad to motivate us, we're stuck in our current position, and that position is unassailable, and that's bad somehow.

But the other column on the page articulates a danger. Perhaps this is just what Douthat is describing, a function of the impulse to find an existential bogeyman. But I find Paul Krugman's bogeyman to be quite scary. In "Paranoia Strikes Deep", he describes the movement of the Republican party from the center-right to the far-right as a generational replacement in which the lunatic fringe, previously used but ignored by the party, have now become the ones in power. He warns of the danger of America becoming Californiafied (not to be confused with The Red Hot Chili Peppers' notion of Californication) which he describes this way: "In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster."

Could this be the existential bogeyman we need to keep ourselves on the right track after the end of history? Doubtful. Instead, this idea will have to battle, head to head, with the worldview of the far-right, which holds that government is fundamentally evil, our president unfit for office, and the will of the majority on both policy and social issues is a product of a liberal conspiracy determined to strip America of its values. Hence, as a liberal I might find the irrationality of the far-right to be a danger, precisely because of the fervent zeal with which they see me as a danger. They are certain that liberals like me are destroying the country. I am frightened that people with that much certainty (about just about anything) are destroying the country.

As Vizzini said in The Princess Bride, "...then we are at an impasse."

To which The Man In Black proposed an elegant solution. Iocaine powder, anyone?

And now, one can deduce, Fukayama's "End of History" will produce the "Reboot of History" once we figure out where the poison truly lies.

"The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Grave of Mark Wright

Each year, on Halloween, I take a break from my curriculum to turn out the lights in my creative writing class, shine a flashlight on my face, and read Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven". Cheezy, I know, but I enjoy it (a bit more than the students, but too stinkin' bad). Well, this year I'll be reading two poems, to prepare them for a unit in which they will have to re-write a poem of their choice. The first will be Poe's "Raven", because, thanks to my friend Tim Hornor, I can now read them this gem afterward. Please, if you dare, turn off all the lights, perhaps light a candle or two, and read yourself The Grave of Mark Wright by John Faga.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Conversation with Noah

Here's a conversation I had with my son, Noah (age 5), today while we grabbed a bite to eat and Momma shopped for clothes. I submit to you, compelling evidence that xenophobia is ingrained, but love of humanity is too:

N: "I think you and Momma are the best mom and dad in the whole world."

B: "You're probably right. I don't know, though. I think my mom and dad, your grandma and grandpa, are the best. They're pretty great, huh?"

N: "Yeah. I think everyone in the world is the best."

B: "You like everyone in the whole world?"

N: "Yeah. But the people from other planets aren't so good."

B: "I agree. Can't be trusted."

N: "Yeah."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monster Mash

Paige made this of our family, complete with the cats.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Knock Knock

This isn't new, but I know a lot of kids who could identify. For my students who won't relate from personal experience, it will at least help them to recognize the power of poetry.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

No Ideas vs. No Guts

The Washington Post has two thought provoking pieces on the state of the conservative movement. Steven F. Hayward's "Is Conservatism Brain Dead?" asks if the movement has lost the equilibrium between populist rabble-rousers and intellectuals. Stephen Stromberg, in his PostPartisan Blog post "Palin 'Catastrophic' for GOP?", (besides making a compelling case that Palin is exactly that) references a Micheal Gerson piece which conceded that many Republicans are hostile "to the very idea of ideas". These are conservatives saying these things, mind you (well, I don't know about Stromberg, but he doesn't seem excited about a Republican self-immolation). One the other hand, I'm watching the Democrats cow-tow to this notion that this is a center-right nation. Um, didn't we elect a liberal to the White House? Isn't that a pretty reliable poll of political opinion? Obama certainly isn't as liberal as the far right would like to make him out to be (or as liberals like me would like him to be), but he's center-left. Why can't the Dems, when confronted by an opposition party that acknowledges its own intellectual bankruptcy, behave like they have a mandate to enact the changes the majority of Americans want? I have to think it's due to a lack of courage. So that's where we're at: No Ideas vs. No Guts.

Hayward recounts G.K. Chesterton's line about how "it is the business of progressives to go on making mistakes, while it is the business of conservatives to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." As a liberal, I'm perfectly willing to admit that the risk of progressivism is that a willingness to embrace change includes a willingness to make mistakes. The more dramatic the change, the more frightening the possibility that the change is a dangerous error. But we believe that the alternative, an aversion to change and a kind of conscious mythologizing of the past, leads to an even more dangerous regressivism. This is a genuine debate, with people of intelligence and goodwill on both sides, and liberals and conservatives have to continually weigh not only specific policies, but how much change they are willing to fight for, and how much they are willing to fight against.

But it seems both this country's political parties are actively avoiding this debate. It makes me wonder, how does fomenting outrage help the cause of conservatism, in the long run? In the short run, it gets ratings for your show on Fox News or AM radio, and it may even get you on the cover of Time Magazine, but people who've been whipped into a frothing rage about the state of the country generally won't appreciate the central drive of conservatism: To conserve the status quo. I think one of the reasons President Carter's latest remarks about the recism directed at President Obama struck such a cord was not because the prominent voices in conservatism are racists, but because those very leaders have good cause to be worried about their strategy: If you tell people the lie that we need to go backwards to the halcyon days of "family values", beyond the sound bite there's not a lot of substance. Go back to the days when a man could get away with beating his wife and children? Go back to the days when a woman couldn't vote? Go back to the days when taxes were higher (like they were under Reagan)? Go back to the days when politicians observed more civility than Joe Wilson? What past are they directing us to? I think those leaders, regardless of their own mixed feelings about the mechanisms we've put in place to achieve full civil rights for ethnic minorities, have reason to be concerned that too many conservatives might fill in the blanks by saying we should go back to the days when white men had first crack at jobs, more authority in their own households, more faces on TV, etc. Conservatives don't want to hold on to this present, when they are out of power and people are disenchanted. But how can they be conservatives without clearly articulating what to conserve?

On the flip side, liberals in the Democratic party are loathe to encourage real change because, let's face it, they're doing pretty well sitting right where they are. Why risk the presidency and two houses of Congress by enacting real change? What if you get it wrong? What if you create a situation where conservatives can say "let's go back to the moment before that blunder". The status quo, that of the majority desiring to change the status quo, serves the party identified with changing the status quo. As long as they don't actually do it. Of course, it's even easier to be a status-quo-maintaining faux-progressive when the conservatives are intellectually bankrupt.

Political pundits like to talk about the benefits of "gridlock". I think the term is misleading. There are benefits to "gridiron", as in the situation when conservatives and liberals put on their helmets, line up, and play some smash-mouth political football. Progressives move the ball while their ideas are good, but they are slowed down, made more calculating and deliberate. And if they err too greatly they turn the ball over and we move back down the field a bit. The political arc of this supposedly "center-right" nation has been liberal in the long-term. The progressives keep scoring (abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights). But "gridiron" politics has made the game exciting, and almost always kept the teams on the field. What we have now really is "gridlock", in the sense of traffic: Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have clogged the freeway and slowed each other to a near standstill, but they are headed in the same direction. I fear this freeway does not head to the best of our past or the promise of our future, but to something worse. I don't want to be an alarmist or some prophet of doom, but whether the American experiment ends tomorrow or in a hundred years, and whether it ends in fire or ice, the current concoction of gridlock is a recipe for disaster.

Of course, as a liberal, first and foremost I want the Democrats to gird their loins, grit their teeth, and make some change. But I also want the Republicans to identify the values they want to preserve and pick coherent and productive strategies to defend the best of our past. I've never been so concerned with the health of the opposition before, but I'm realizing just how essential real conservatism is for the health of the country. And to progress.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Next President of The United States!

I have this student (let's call her "Marla") who always demands that I give every direction ten times. You can almost count to thirty after any instruction and... ding ...she asks what she's supposed to be doing.

So, today, as a preemptive strike, I start saying, "Okay, everybody open your books to page thirteen. Open the book first. Find page thirteen. That's thirteen. It's made with a one followed by a three. It's not after one or three, though. You'll find it directly opposite page twelve, and should you find yourself on page fourteen, just flip back one and there it will be. By the way, that was thirteen. Oh, and in case you missed it, I asked you to turn to page thirteen." (I was thoroughly enjoying myself, I admit.)

And Marla, of all people, says, "Gosh, why do you have to say it so many times?"

"Because I'll bet there are some people who still haven't turned to page thirteen," I say.

And thirty seconds later, two other guys still haven't grabbed their books, let alone opened them to page thirteen. "You see, Marla?" I say.

And Marla says, "Wait, what are we supposed to be doing?"

My wife Paige is convinced that one of these kids, probably one who earns a C in my class, will someday be our President.

Now, when "Marla" is elected President, you and I will know why the reporters in the press corps keep repeating the same questions over and over, and need to frequently remind the President about what position she holds, what the responsibilities of the job consist of, and that the nation she's leading is spiraling down the toilet.

Unless, that is, you first read in the newspaper about a high school teacher who, in a fit of rage, staples some written instructions directly to a student's forehead.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Health Care: I'm ready to declare a Republican victory.

I don't write these words often: The Republicans are correct. Today I listened to Meet the Press and was very disheartened. As a firm believer in the superiority of single-payer and, dare I say it, socialized medicine, I have to agree with the Republicans on the show who asked that Obama "hit the reset button" and start over. Because I've read all about the Baucus Bill and the bills going through the house, and even though we don't know exactly what shape the final bill will take, the Republicans are right to say it won't live up to Obama's core principles.

Now, to be clear, I don't think Republicans believe in or desire to reach Obama's core principles. When he says he wants everyone covered, I think they agree only in so much as they want everyone to buy over-priced, deeply flawed health insurance plans. When he says he wants it to be deficit neutral, I think they love the idea, as long as it involves no tax increases or cuts to any of their programs. Mostly, I think they love the fact that he's voice standards he can't meet, so they can say he's a failure because he's produced growth in the size of government and higher national debt, two things they had absolutely no qualms about when they had the presidency and both houses of Congress. "Please, Mr. President," I hear them whisper, "keep articulating the virtues of fiscal discipline as a nod to Republicans, so we can rake you over the coals if you do the very things we did when we had the chance."

Yes, I think there is some cynicism on the part of the Republicans in Congress, but I also think there's some genuine ideological motivation. They may not have cared about their ideals before, but they do now. Fine. The sad fact is, they're right even when they're wrong. I think they're wrong that government is this perpetually evil entity that wants to swallow us alive. They're wrong that health care is somehow fundamentally different than clean drinking water or police protection or fire fighters or national security. They're wrong when they claim the free market produces the best results in all spheres of life, including health care. They're even wrong when they say the American people don't want the government to be involved in health care, or to have a public option. But they're absolutely right when they point out that there's a disconnect between what Obama wants, and what these bills would provide.

Which brings me back to my biggest frustration with the Democratic Party. Republicans may not hold views I agree with, but they hold them more strongly than the Democrats. In fact, I believe Republicans hold views that less than half of the country shares, to the extent that they wouldn't be able to win elections based purely on abstract policy debates. But elections aren't abstract policy debates, and whenever Americans are feeling even the slightest bit squeemish, they look to the party that projects confidence, consistency, and strength. John Kerry, I believe, didn't lose the presidential election of '04 because he couldn't win over enough people who were really engaged in the issues. He lost because there are a lot of people in the middle who picked up on the flip-flopper meme and didn't understand, or care, about the ins and outs of procedural votes in the Senate. They wanted consistency, they saw the terror alerts bobbing up and down, they heard rumors of hints of terrorist chatter, and they stuck with the guy who never wavered, even when they didn't agree with him or even particularly respect his intelligence or character, because they admired his single-mindedness.

President Obama is not stupid. I'm sure he knows this. Playing cool and collected helped him in the campaign, when McCain was acting erratically, making a desperate choice for VP, botching questions, and wavering when faced with over-the-top hecklers. But Obama didn't want to make the Clinton mistake of ramming something through Congress, so he tried to split Solomon's baby and stick to explicit principles while turning the details over to the Dems in Congress.

But instead of tacking to his left, giving him something he can sign in a heartbeat, they've tried to find the middle. Which is a problem when the other side knows that if you just stick to your position, the middle keeps moving your way. The Republicans don;t bother trying to find middle ground. Why should they? If they stay firmly on the far-right, the middle, between Blue Dogs and other folks who are concerned about being from genuinely competitive districts, moves in their direction. The Dems need every Democrat from some gerry-mandered district or safe senate seat to hold just as fast to the left as the Repubs do to the right. Then let the Blue Dogs and the senators from Maine craft something decent, and the other Dems can vote for it, looking as reluctant as they want, and some Repubs will do the same, and Obama gets his victory. Instead, the Dems have crafted something no one likes, and the Republicans don't have to budge because they know there aren't going to be enough Dems to pass it. I genuinely believe it's an issue of party discipline. The Dems have crafted crap in an effort to find middle ground, rather than crafting something ballzy and forcing the Republicans to take a stand on it one way or the other. Great strategy, Democrats. "What, do you dare stand in opposition to crap?" they shout across the aisle. "Yes, we're opposed to crap," Republicans say with confidence.

So we will get the status quo, which is worse than crap. Without genuine health care reform, the dangerous cost of the various bills in Congress now will look paltry compared to the effects on the over-all costs of not doing anything. Think a 1% tax on people making over $250,000 sounds bad for the economy? Wait until, as the Business Roundtable (not a liberal group by any stretch) predicts, health insurance costs $28,000 per employee. Think your business will offer you that? Think manufacturers will still want to employ anyone here?

If the Democrats had some cajones, they would have proposed a dramatic change to the national health care system, taking it out of the hands of employers and creating a generous safety net, with choice left in for people who wanted health insurance that covered things beyond the scope of government-provided care. What would have happened? Business would have likes it. Doctors and nurses would have likes it. Hospitals would have liked it. Insurance companies would have hated it. Libertarians would have raged. Fringe groups would have freaked out, marching on Washington with angry signs, many of which would contain over-the-top statements about other issues entirely and some of which would even have had ugly racial slurs. Fox News and their ilk would have railed against it. Republicans in Congress would have flatly refused to play ball. But a couple of them would break ranks because they wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of history, or wouldn't want to face the consequences if it were a success, and that would have been enough to pass it.

Instead, here's what I see happening: The Dems try to produce a by-partisan bill which makes as little change as possible to the current system. Businesses are luke-warm. Doctors and nurses like it. Insurance companies hate it. Libertarians are enraged. Fringe groups have freaked out and marched on Washington with angry signs, many of which contained over-the-top statements about other issues entirely and some of which even had ugly racial slurs. Fox News and their ilk have railed against it. Republicans in Congress have flatly refused to play ball. And now, after all that, some liberals will peal off because the plan isn't far enough to the left, and they don't want to face the consequences if it's a dismal failure to do the things the vast majority of Americans agree it should do. So it won't pass.

This is Democracy at its best and worst. As I've said before a million times: Democracy is the best system of government ever devised for giving people exactly the governance they deserve.

So, here's my prediction. Democrats will put some very bad legislation on President Obama's desk, if they can get it there, and he'll hold his nose and sign it, and the Republicans will declare victory. Or the Democrats won't even be able to shovel their bill onto Obama's desk, and the Republicans will declare victory. Because they're right about the bill. They are correct. They win.

And America loses.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Joe Wilson and Presidential Decorum

The kerfuffle surrounding South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's health care speech seems to be devolving away from the core issue. Instead of really asking ourselves whether his behavior was appropriate, the incident has bifurcated into two separate debates; was it tactically wise in terms of money he can raise vs. money raised for his opponent, and is it justifiable because of the vitriol of the attacks launched at President Bush during his time in office.

The first seems to be a wholly separate question to me. He could have done something far more egregious (courted a white separatist group for donations a la Tony Perkins, then senatorial candidate, now head of the Family Research Council), and we could have that same discussion about tactics and their consequences. (Perkins, though not a Senator, is now arguable far more influential as a consequence of his appeals to the far-right. The same may come about for Wilson, whether this stunt costs him his job or not.)

The second question has been hijacked by the debate about whether the attacks on Bush were equally personal. In this case, the logic seems to be that if the left misbehaved, it excuses misbehavior on the right. At that point we're hardly elevating the tone of the national dialogue on an important issue. But even this poor logic overlooks an element of the discussion; is it worse to call someone a liar than to call them stupid or evil? And, more importantly, do these charges take on different moral weight if they are accurate?

During the Bush Presidency I admit I said many angry things about the man in the privacy of my own home. I am not a sitting representative, and certainly would have behaved differently in the public eye, let alone in the well of Congress. But, as a thought experiment, let's imagine that Wilson said something arguably derogatory about the President which was also demonstrably accurate. This is not the case here. A provision of the health care reform legislation which will certainly be included in any final bill will state that illegal immigrants will not be covered. I can't imagine that piece, which exist in at least one of the bills, not making it through to the final one. The contention on the right is that there is no enforcement mechanism, no demand that proof of citizenship be presented to get care. At that point, one could make a rational case that the law might need strengthening to prevent illegal immigrants from being covered, but since it explicitly states that they will not be covered, you can't reasonably call Obama a liar for stating exactly that. But what if Obama had said, "This legislation will magically turn the sky purple with pink polka-dots."? If, at that point, Wilson had shouted, "You lie!", would it be different, or does the setting prevent that from ever happening? And if it's only the setting that prevents it, would Joe Wilson have been allowed to leave the well of Congress and call the President of the United States a liar at a press conference, or chant it in a rally. I think most people would agree that, in that case, he would be getting off scott-free.

Which makes me think that the defense of the right, that people on the left made personal remarks about George Bush during his presidency, a particularly weak argument. No Democrat ever shouted anything untoward at Bush from the well of Congress during his two terms. So, already, we're dealing with something analogous to Joe Wilson making his accusation outside the building. In that case, we would want to know if liberals, like Joe Wilson in our thought experiment, might actually have been making claims which were demonstrably correct.

Now, I'm not sure if it could be proved that George Bush was either stupid or evil. I know that some attacks against him were hyperbolic (comparisons to Hitler or other Fascists when his administration only emulated some of their behaviors, but certainly not all). But when it comes to the question of his intelligence or moral character, I would argue that some of us on the left, at least, wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt out of deference to the office. Consequently, I honestly, publicly wrestled with the question of whether Bush was evil or stupid. You can find this very question in previous blog posts. In the context of Wilson's outburst, I am reminded of those posts, and of the various other liberal writers and bloggers who asked the same questions. Now I wonder if the terms are simply so broad that they can never be evaluated rationally. Somehow, I doubt that. We do believe that intelligence exists. We also believe that it's not evenly distributed. Thus, if stupidity exists, it's not necessarily inaccurate to describe someone as such. Similarly, most people, especially those on the right, believe in good and evil. If these moral qualities exist, someone could be described as evil not as an insult, but simply as an accurate description, right?

When I wrestled with these terms, I wasn't shouting at George Bush, or trying to hurt his feelings. I believed, and still believe, that he didn't have a great deal of concern for my personal opinion of him, and even if he had, I wouldn't have set out to make the man cry himself to sleep at night. Instead, I really did want to understand the motivation behind some of his decisions. I also wanted, out of deference to the office, to believe that he represented the less egregious of the two. I simply couldn't figure out which was worse.

To me, if Joe Wilson had come out of the chambers, and had told a reporter he couldn't figure out if President Obama were actively deceiving the American people or was misunderstanding the consequence of the lack of an enforcement provision in the legislation, and wanted, out of deference to the office, to presume that Obama is simply misinformed, we wouldn't have much to talk about. The setting clearly separates him from a what's-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander defense. But. in this case, I think he's also separated by the fact that his charge of lying is obviously a personal attack, while it is possible that a question about Bush's intelligence or moral motivation could possibly be a legitimate attempt to describe and understand observable phenomenon.

I'm not trying to defend all the personal attacks made against George W. Bush. Some were just that (and some made by me, yelling at my TV). These would have no place as heckling from the well of the rotunda. But if the defenders of Joe Wilson's outburst want us to accept a tit-for-tat defense, they demand that we explore the variable that the veracity of the claims adds to the equation.

What Obama said simply can't be described as a lie. He said illegal immigrants wouldn't be covered. The bill will say illegal immigrants aren't covered. Nuance that however you want. Claim some illegal immigrants might cheat the system. Obama's statement still isn't a lie.

On the other hand, maybe George W. Bush was smart, and maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was evil, and maybe he wasn't.

Is this really a debate the defenders of Joe Wilson want us to have?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hijacking Facebook

One of my former students, and our son Noah's former babysitters, posted the following as her Facebook Status update:

K: ever read a philosophy book? don't.

My wife, Paige, and I, both former philosophy majors, couldn't let that stand. So, from separate computers in the same room, we launched into this mess:

Ben: No, do! Just read the right ones! Primary sources, not lame textbooks.
Paige: they're not all bad! you just need the right combination of good text, and a teacher who can make it really fun! don't give up on philosophy! (can you tell what my major was!) LOL
Ben: LOL? Seriously, Paige? You're a grown-ass woman! And you aren't laughing out loud. I'm in the same room. You didin't even SOL (snicker out loud). WTF?
Paige: Ok... let's come up with some for philosophy... WTP (will to power) ITTIA (I think therefore I am) i am trying to think of more, but it is past my bedtime. (i am like Descartes)
Ben: TSZ (Thus Spake Zarathustra)[Kelsey, that's Nietzsche. Read him], HotM (Habits of the mind) [That's Hume. Read him, too], TiS (Truth is Subjectivity) [That's Kierkegaard. Awesome.]...
Paige: And maybe i should change that to LOTI Laughs on the inside... would that be better??????? note the multiple question marks! silly English teacher.
and i hope you are having a blast at school K-----... Noah asks about you :)
Ben: CADGAW (Casts a disapproving glance at wife).
Ben: Ah, now you LOL!
Paige: now i am laughing out loud. OK. sorry for hijacking your post K----. hope you are well ;)

So, despite my best efforts, Paige got the last word. And it was an emoticon.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Conservative Response to Obama's Education Speech

I've just read the speech our president plans to give to grade school children on Tueasday. Much hay has been made of this, despite the fact that Ronald Reagan and George Bush I did the same thing, because, as we all know, Obama is a socialist with an insidious agenda. Conservatives, the sole possessors of moral values, are protecting our children from their president just as they protect them from health insurance: It's a gateway drug to socialism too, after all. As a teacher and concerned citizen, I think it's very important that we have a robust two-party system, so that the other side can offer well-reasoned responses on any issue, so that we tack a wise course as a nation. And I expect that we'll hear thoughtful, rational responses from the far-right over the next few days as they respond to Obama's outrageous misuse of his bully pulpit. Just as an exercise, let's see if we can predict what some of those might be, shall we?

Obama will tell kids, " the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."

Certainly this is socialist propaganda, somehow. The fault of all our public schools (which, conservatives will tell us, are universally failing) lies with teachers unions alone. All kids show up thirsty for knowledge, but evil teachers sit on their fat, tenured backsides and enjoy their HUGE, union negotiated paychecks while these eager students languish in our care. Obama must just be trying to shift the blame away from the unions, which are essentially socialist enterprises.

Obama will also tell kids, "You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy."

How could these things all go together? After all, curing AIDS would just be undermining God's righteous judgment on the immoral. And protecting the environment? We all know global warming is a myth, so what is the problem to solve there? And why should students with homes care about helping the homeless? Poor people aren't victims. They're just lazy people who couldn't figure out how to be welfare queens and live in mansions with Cadillacs. Let's focus our kids on the problem of making those welfare queens poorer, rather than helping homeless people, who are getting just what they deserve. And how can Obama talk about boosting the economy when he just mentioned helping the environment? The two are mutually exclusive. Instead, let's teach the kids to more effectively rape... er, harvest the planet's natural resources. In fact, let's tell the kids to run out of school on the first day and get jobs down in the mines. Child labor laws, after all, were part of Roosevelt's socialist agenda.

Obama will continue: "But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying."

This is crazy talk. Circumstances justify bad attitudes. If you are white, male, and well off, then you are a victim of classism, feminism, and reverse racism, and you have every right to go on Fox News or am radio and rail against the injustice in the system which has kept you down. Forget homework! That's like fact-checking. Just make stuff up as you go, and people will be so entertained your bad attitude that the namby-pamby liberals won't even have a chance to keep up with your lies... er, inaccuracies and misstatements. And what's this about trying hard? Do you think Bill O'Reilly tries hard to be a journalist? He spends more time on his hair, and he's doing just fine.

Obama: "Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community."

Translation: March with hippies, or join the communist party.

Obama: "No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work."

This is just more liberal, pro-choice fetus bashing. See, he's calling the unborn incompetent.

Obama will conclude, "So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it."

I'm not quite sure how, but I think this is a subtle encouragement for kids to form death-panels and try to kill their grandmothers. It must be, because Obama is the one saying it.

So please, rescue your kids. Save them, and this country, from its president's evil socialist agenda. Keep them home for the day (maybe even a week just to make sure). Their over-paid, under-worked, union protected teachers would love an extra day to plan the communist take-over of America... or at least a few extra lessons on critical thinking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Great response to my whiny-ness

So, I posted this as a status update; "Just went and saw District 9. It's great! And depressing. I asked Paige if it made her lose faith in human beings as a species. She said no, it just reinforced her already low opinion. I love my wife."

One of the responses from a former student was; "I saw it and thought it was a really good movie! =] and i did loose some faith in humans, but i was very surprised to see that we didnt just kill them all, so from that i got a smidge back.."

So then I launched into this depressing tirade: "Yeah, I guess there's something to the qualifier "We're not all bad, just the most powerful/wealthy of us" that makes me feel a bond with my fellow (poor/powerless) man while not inspiring much hope for us as a species. After all, if we've set up a system that rewards the greediest and most ruthless among us with more money and power, we're really all to blame for what they do, right? I don't know, I've just been in a very anti-institution mood lately, and I feel like our need for safety, order, and stability drives us all into the clutches of the people who can take the maximum advantage of the worst aspects of the status quo. Whether it's weapons manufacturers trying to take advantage of aliens in a movie, or insurance companies and rich people trying to scare middle class people out of better health care in real life, it's the same impulse that pushes us to allow ourselves to be abused, right?"

And how great was her response? And I quote, in its entirety: "sure! =]"

Is there a better way to respond to a cranky old man? Perfect!

On that note, let me share this post from the blog "News From Hell" on the T-Shirt Hell website. Rather than a link, I'll just post it all here, because I don't want anyone to feel tempted to click on the comments section on the page and see the horrid, hateful, racist, painfully idiotic responses this got. Just enjoy the pick-me-up it provides:

"Please Tase Them Bro

In the past few weeks there has been a rash of protesters disrupting town-hall meetings with angry outbursts critical of proposed health care reform. Many claim these outbursts stifle intelligent debate while others say they are merely giving voice to a neglected segment of the population. But more important than either of these points is that these outbursts are highly entertaining. Below are some of the "greatest hits" of these outbursts.

West Virginia - Tuesday, August 4

President Obama: The thing we must consider is the cost of inac-

Crazy Lady #1: What da gub'ment gon' do 'bout my kids! [pause for response] I wanna know what da gub'ment gon' do 'bout my kids! I got all these damn kids... I don't believe in no birth control and my husband likes ta get drunk and fuck. That's why I got all these kids! What you gon' do 'bout that! I can't be watchin' 'em all da got-damn time. Gub'ment need ta help my kids! I pay my taxes!

Idaho - Friday, July 31

Nancy Pelosi: We understand times are hard, but to turn things around some sacrifi-


NP: Uh... I don't know to what exactly you're referring, but obviously tax dollars are used for funding. That just goes hand-in-hand with living in a democra-

CL2: DON'T FUCKING LIE TO ME! This guy on the TV was like "They want to take your money!" He wasn't too clear about who "they" were, or how they would take my money or how much they were taking or what they were taking it for, but he was, like, really mad - all red-faced and struggling to breath. It scared me to the point where I'd do any crazy fucking thing he told me to. That's why I'm here yelling at you about whatever it is you're talking about. I pay my taxes!

Utah - Thursday, August 6

Rahm Emanuel: If we don't act now it may we may very well lose this opportunity forev-


South Carolina - Monday, August 10

Hillary Clinton: This isn't going to be fixed overnight. This is going to require years of dedica-

Crazy Lady #3: I deliver unto you a message from your Lord and Savior, Werewolf-Jesus! He sayeth unto me, by way of the tape recorder I found under my dead daughter, that you shouldeth leave health care to big business. And all females are to cut their uteruses out and sew them together to form one super-gina that will produce all of America's babies. You should also crossbreed your poop with falcons, so your poop can fly and you won't need a toilet. I pay my taxes!

Alabama - Friday, August 14

Joe Biden: [Approaches podium]

Crazy Guy #2: [Reaches down back of pants and flings stool at Biden. Throws female journalist to ground and humps her left boob. Throws himself to ground and does that thing Curly did where he walks sideways in a circle on the ground while going "Woo woo woo." Pulls out a hatchet, cuts off his own foot and starts eating it. Suddenly stops and takes a seat] I actually forget to file last year."

Okay, now admit it. How far into that did you get before you realized none of those were real? Isn't that telling? See, human beings aren't terribly evil. They're just hilariously stupid. Does that make me feel better somehow?

"sure! =]"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Channeling my Cynicism

I am losing hope in this attempt at health care reform.

No, that's an understatement. As a consequence of this health care reform effort, I am losing faith in the ability of an informed electorate to make educated and wise decisions.

Nope, that's an overstatement. I'm losing faith in a craven and selfish electorate's ability to make decisions that are in their self-interest.

No, maybe that's too generous. I'm starting to believe the majority of Americans prefer lies to facts and actively participate in maintaining their own ignorance.

Anyway, this pretty much sums up where I think we're at right now in this debate:

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Justifying and Updating My List

Yesterday I posted my official list of lies that would end a conversation. I almost immediately received a reply, via Facebook, from one of the people who'd repeated some of the lies that so infuriate me (not, as she suspected, the wacko I'd referred to in the post, but that's neither here nor there.) She essentially said we all have our own beliefs and she believes me to be ignorant for not recognizing her truths, and took me to task for "bashing" people who hold the kinds of beliefs included in yesterday's list.

Unfortunately, in this case, "let's agree to disagree" is not an acceptable option, and I told her so. As I tried to explain to her, we can't just say "you have your truth and I have mine" and call it good. If a person says the Sun revolves around the Earth, or the sky is not blue but pink with purple polka-dots, we don't agree to disagree. And those things aren't even offensive. When someone says things about another person which are patently, demonstrably untrue and refuses to accept any evidence to the contrary, that's wrong. I told her, "What if I accused you of something horrible and then, when you gave me every bit of proof in the world that this was untrue, I said, 'Well, you can think what you like, but I trust what I read in my Bible, so you are a X, Y, or Z.' You would have every right to say I was ignorant, and if you had any power over me you would be right to call my ignorance dangerous. When people who can vote hold opinions which are simply not factual (i.e. Hillary Clinton wants to make peace with Iran, or President Obama is anti-white) these beliefs are not only inaccurate, but dangerously so, and if it's offensive to say so, then we find ourselves in a situation where people with dangerous, erroneous beliefs have the power to hurt all of us, and we can't call them on it. Perhaps this makes me guilty of "bashing", but people who are willing to believe demonstrably untrue things, and who provide no evidence for their claims or even feel the need to support those claims with facts, are capable of doing far worse than 'bashing'. Your feelings about Obama are fine; they're feelings. But don't make false statements about him; that's bearing false witness, which is breaking one of the Ten Commandments. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. Please understand that when you write things that are demonstrably untrue, you hurt my feelings, and, by perpetuating lies, you do something a lot worse."

Along those lines, here are the new additions to the list I've received (thanks, Marla!), remembered, or encountered today:

23. All Muslims are radical extremists/ terrorists who wish only for death to America.

24. The Quran says "death to the infidels" which means Americans in code language.

25. People can be "turned" gay or straight.

26. Illegal immigrants come to the U.S. to collect welfare.

27. The American health care system is the best in the world.

28. The Confederate States were the victims of Northern aggression and had a right to have an economy based on slavery.

29. The Founding Fathers were Christians and the U.S. is officially a Christian country.

30. The official language of the United States is English.

I'm still on the look out for more additions to this list of insidious and unsupportable lies, so keep 'em coming!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

My List

After another frustrating online conversation wherein I allowed myself to roped into a debate with a person who turned out to be a complete wacko, I've come up with an invention that I think might save me a lot of time and trouble in the future. This is just my first crack at it, but I'd like to post a list of specific lies which, if believed by the person with whom I'm conversing, officially shut down the conversation. Now I can simply say, "Wha? Nope, sorry, that one's on my list." Then I'll add a link to this post and be done with them. Nut-jobs can then find their misinformation on the list, and read the rules about how they should respond below.

So, here's the list as it currently stands, in no particular order:

1. The moon landing was a hoax.

2. Global warming is not a man-made phenomenon.

3. President Obama is not a natural born citizen.

4. President Obama is a socialist/ ultra-leftist.

5. President Obama is a terrorist/ terrorist sympathizer.

6. Saddam Hussein was involved with the attacks of September 11th.

7. The Earth is six thousand years old.

8. The Bible is entirely consistent and inerrant, requiring no interpretation whatsoever.

9. God favors America over other countries and Americans over foreigners.

10. Fox News is a legitimate source of objective journalism.

11. The holocaust didn't happen.

12. Human beings are not the product of any evolutionary process.

13. The Republican Party is consistently the party of fiscal responsibility.

14. The Republican Party is consistently the party of moral/ family values.

15. People from rural areas are inherently more moral than people from cities.

16. Cities are inherently dangerous/ more crime ridden than small towns/ rural areas.

17. People who are pro-choice want abortions to be more common/ numerous.

18. Gay marriage would diminish the value of heterosexual marriage.

19. Homosexuality is a choice of a perverse/ hedonistic lifestyle.

20. There is no more racism in America.

21. White people suffer regularly from reverse-racism.

22. Feminists all believe women are superior to men and should be in power over them.

23. All Muslims are radical extremists/ terrorists who wish only for death to America. (added 8/02/09)

24. The Quran says "death to the infidels" which means Americans in code language. (added 8/02/09)

25. People can be "turned" gay or straight. (added 8/02/09)

26. Illegal immigrants come to the U.S. to collect welfare. (added 8/02/09)

27. The American health care system is the best in the world. (added 8/02/09)

28. The Confederate States were the victims of Northern aggression and had a right to have an economy based on slavery. (added 8/02/09)

29. The Founding Fathers were Christians and the U.S. is officially a Christian country. (added 8/02/09)

30. The official language of the United States is English. (added 8/02/09)

I expect that I will have to add to this list, perhaps frequently, as I come across more of these lies and expressions of ignorance. As I do so, I'll date them. I'm also accepting recommendations for more items to add to the list.

Now, there are certainly beliefs which I disagree with, which bother me, and which may even offend me deeply, but which would not be included. I'm limiting this list to the kinds of beliefs which are simply not grounded in any evidence, which are demonstrably untrue, and/or which shut down any possibility of further civil debate.

Because the fact is, even when someone voices one of these beliefs, I try to be civil and explain why I disagree. I find evidence to disprove these ridiculous claims. And people who hold these beliefs, in every case, simply deny the evidence or refuse to acknowledge the sources I provide.

Now, so that we're clear, here's what I want from someone who violates the prohibition against stating claims on the above list to me or around me:

1. The First Amendment grants you the right to free speech. I don't. Stop talking to me, writing to me, irritating me, and generally wasting my time.

2. If you cannot abide by rule #1, the onus is on you to support your claim with, if not proof, at least enough evidence that the item on the list is called into legitimate question, at which point I will remove it and a genuine, rational debate can begin.

3. If you are incapable of providing the evidence mentioned in rule #2, but continue to espouse these beliefs, or even hold them privately, you will forgive me for thinking you are, at best, a naive, overly-credulous, ignorant person, and at worst a dangerous idiot. Furthermore, you heretofore acknowledge that rational people, who believe that truth claims should be supported by evidence, are intellectually consistent and correct to think of you as such.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Great Cleveland Promo Video

I saw this and promised to send it to my brother, a resident of Cleveland. Then a former student announced on Facebook that she's going to Cleveland (I guess she's looking at a college there) and reminded me. This makes me laugh every time I watch it. Paige was almost crying she was laughing so hard. Make sure you wait for the end.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who's to blame for the Drop Out Rate?

Debra Franciosi, my friend, former mentor teacher, and current associate director of Project CRISS, an education think tank in Kalispel, Montana, turned me on to an education blog called McRel, which disseminates educational research along with analysis. I read some posts and immediately took issue with one of them.

In "Addressing High School Dropout: Taking a Look Inward", David Rease Jr. analyzes some survey data regarding drops outs. The AT&T Foundation's report "On The Front Lines of Schools" examined why various stake-holders in education believed so many kids are dropping out of school. It found that district level personnel blamed principals, principals blamed teachers, and teachers blamed parents, and only the drop-outs blamed themselves.

Rease's conclusion was that we should all take responsibility. "Our dropout crisis will persist until each of us takes a look at those fingers pointing back at us, and identify our own culpability in our nation’s dropout crisis."

Here's where I take issue. I agree with Rease that kicking the blame down the ladder is wrong. I also agree that personal responsibility is a virtue, and self-analysis makes all of us better at our jobs. But, by that same rationale, perhaps the answer to the question of the drop out rate is actually presented in the report itself, and staring at the four fingers pointing back at us is a means to avoid aiming our index fingers in the right direction. In short, maybe the drop outs are right. They are taking personal responsibility, and are, belatedly, performing some self-analysis of their own role in their education. Why should we second guess that?

I know I'm going to sound like a curmudgeon when I start any sentence with "When I was a kid...", but let's face it: If I'd come home and tried to use any of the excuses Rease encourages us to consider when I got a bad grade, my parents would have been aghast, or maybe they would have laughed in my face because they would have been so incredulous. The district level employees were not being properly overseen by their administrators, so I was failing? Ha! My teachers' "lessons were boring and disengaging"? Too stinkin' bad. Admittedly, I have great parents who were willing to "create space, time, and the expectation [I] complete [my] homework", but part of that expectation was that no one was ultimately to blame for my academic achievement or failure except me. The drop-outs in this study have obviously internalized that lesson, and aren't blaming their parents for failing to teach it to them, so let's take them at their word.

Every year, in my Creative Writing class, almost half the kids fail. Is this because my lessons are "boring and disengaging"? Not according to the students. They chose to take the class because they felt it would be the most entertaining of their options for Senior English (composed of various elective courses at our high school). They are there because they expect to be entertained and engaged. But that half of the class fails because they, amazingly, do no writing outside of class. Zip. Zero. Every year I pester them about this. Why, in the name of all that's good and holy, would you choose to take a creative writing class if you have no interest in or intention of writing except when I'm leaning over your shoulder, making you? I've never received a satisfactory explanation from a student beyond "I don't need this credit to graduate." I try to explain, until I'm red in the face, that they are doing themselves a disservice, that they are missing out on the learning by not doing the work, that they are wasting their own time and an opportunity to better themselves. To this, I occasionally receive a downcast glance of something passing for shame, but generally I get shrugs. Have these parents failed to "create space, time, and the expectation [they] complete [their] homework"? In some cases these parents are atrocious, even criminal, but in other cases the parents are wonderful, so this doesn't seem to be the operative variable. Have I not made the class challenging enough? They are failing. I can't make it any harder on them. Have I not been entertaining enough? They picked the class for the entertainment value. Should my principal have mentored me in some way, or given me a stern lecture? If anything, she's been supportive even though, when students do need the credits and I fail them, I make her job harder by creating a scheduling nightmare for her the following year. Have the folks over at the district office failed "to adequately coach, monitor, and evaluate" my principal? What would they have said to her which could have trickled down, through me, and transformed into inspiration for my students? If someone has these answers, that's great, but I have a feeling that if we stare at the fingers point back at us all day long we won't answer these questions.

On the other hand, we could trust the drop-outs themselves. Or my students, who write self evaluations as well as evaluations of the class and of my performance as their teacher at the end of each semester. At the end of each class the ones who fail say they wish they'd worked harder. Instead of navel-gazing, perhaps it behooves us to ask how we, not just as teachers or parents or principals or superintendents, but as a culture, can better communicate this need for more motivation to students before it can only take the form of regret.

Here's the good news and the bad news on that front: I used to get so frustrated by parents who would actively undermine my attempts to motivate their kids when they would tell them "I didn't graduate, and I'm doing fine," or "I didn't go to college and look at me now". I would try to explain, without criticizing the parent, that the labor market is shifting, and that the same opportunities that existed for them will not exist for their child. Well, thanks to a combination of globalization and the current recession, I'm having to make that argument less and less. As much as there will be a lot of losers in this economic climate, and a lot of folks who are punished undeservedly, the upside will be a renewed focus on competitiveness. As much as I worry, as a teacher of the Humanities, that we'll place all the emphasis on math and science, that's a problem I'm willing to exchange for no emphasis on education at all. As we fully engage a global economy, we'll need to re-evaluate the way we carry on our debate about education. Teachers in India don't worry too much about entertaining their students, and parents in South Korea don't worry to much about being nurturing (they beat the crap out of their kids, in fact, which does not lead to improved educational outcomes), but those students will be taking jobs from our students because they came into their classrooms with a different attitude. Our kids will figure this out eventually, just like the drop-outs in the study did. Our job, as I see it, is to help them catch on before it's too late.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dear Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak, the ruthless dictator of Egypt, has thrown a civil servant into jail for three years for writing a satirical poem. As Mubarak's crimes go, this is pretty low on the list. He's stayed in power since a state of emergency was declared at the death of the last dictator. That was in 1981. Mubarak has not only made the government so corrupt that people believe "A policeman is more dangerous than a criminal", but he's turned those police on his political rivals, resulting in the murders of unarmed protesters. So then this guy, Moneer Said Hanna, wrote a poem accusing Mubarak of making "people feel confused and lost". Um, I think he's made a lot of people feel injured or dead. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, but when Andy Zaltzman read a bit of the poem on The Bugle, I couldn't figure out what was insulting about it. Maybe in Arabic it was a real slam. Anyway, Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver asked for their listeners (us loyal Buglers) to write better poems insulting Hosni Mubarak, so I tried. (Warning to those with overly-sensitive sensibilities: Strings of insults, even in the form of sonnets, may contain foul language.)

Dear Hosni Mubarak

Dear Hosni Mubarak, you stupid twat,
Poets worldwide you’ve rous’d to the defense
Of Moneer Said Hanna, who, for naught
You threw in jail, so let insults commence.
The Brits might refer to you as a "git",
Or a "wanker" or a "tosser" at least.
Though their use of “cunt” shocks us Yanks a bit
For you, one with an infection of yeast.
The Brits would say “prick”, while we would say “dick”,
And add “sucker” and “gobbler” and others.
Since this three year sentence is clearly sick,
We’d accuse you of mating with mothers.
Now I won’t get to see the Sphinx or Nile.
It’s worth it to say, of shit, you’re a pile.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man on the Moon

This is fun: a mash-up from Slate-V exploring how modern news would cover the moon landing. They're more optimistic than I am. I would expect it to devolve into either a partisan cat fight or a series of mind-numbing interviews with completely unrelated and unqualified pop stars.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dog Poo in Motion: A Political Fable

My sister- and brother-in-law are down visiting, and, much to our cats' dismay, they've brought the dog. Tonight, when I stepped out onto the back porch to smoke my pipe, I found a medium sized, curled up dog turd off to one side. I made a point not to step on it, but otherwise ignored it while I smoked, until I realized it was moving. It turns out that a dark brown slug had decided to change course, and had curled around himself, obscuring his antennae and inadvertently masquerading as something else entirely. As I watched the slug straighten out and choose a new path, I realized there's a political moral to this story.

Large groups of people, like political parties or entire nations, are like slugs in some ways. They move slowly. They are bloated. Politically speaking, they are basically shaped like slugs, with a few people on the far right and far left but most people spread relatively evenly on a spectrum in the middle. They choose their directions slowly, ignorantly, and greedily. Once they get moving, they are basically propelled by a combination of momentum, some undetectable undulations, and slime of one kind or another. And, most importantly, when they can't decide which way to go, they begin to look like something of a mess.

I think both our country and both its major political parties are at such a point right now. I have my preference about our direction (universal health care, gay marriage, a genuine response to global warming, a more moral distribution of power and wealth), which incline me to want the Democratic party to figure out a unified direction and start heading there. Frankly, I think the Dems, especially in Congress, are so indebted to moneyed interests, so focused on being nice and bipartisan, and so fearful of hazy, vague taunts of "socialist" and "liberal", that they can't inspire. However, I also know that real debate is essential for a healthy democracy, so I'd like to see the Republican party choose a new direction, even if it's one a don't agree with, rather than circling around leadership like Governors Sanford and Palin and contributing about as much to the national debate as Jon and Kate Plus Eight. Both parties are spiraling around themselves, and, as a nation, we've curved into this fetid, unsanitary shape. We should acknowledge what the slug is teaching us: From a distance, one could be forgiven for mistaking us for a dog turd, so we'd better get moving somewhere fast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

3:30 am Review of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

I've just returned from a midnight showing of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, and want to jot down some quick thoughts before I tap out for the night.

First off, as I mentioned today on Facebook, I understand that since the movie Independence Day Hollywood has been pushing movies earlier and earlier into the week in order to skew their reported "opening weekend" gross. I understand the pressure to bloat the figures, but I think we've officially reached the point at which this is ridiculous. A Tuesday midnight showing? Really? I may be a teacher on summer break, and therefore have little reason to complain, but even I know that Tuesday night is not the weekend. We've now reached the point at which, if Hollywood wants to extend the "weekend" any more, they will have to begin at midnight on Sunday night of the previous week, which, to me, makes it the previous weekend, therefore nullifying the benefit. So let's just stop the silliness before all movies open at midnight on Sunday nights.

Okay, with that aside, the film itself will be a huge hit. I live in a small town (around 18,000 between the two twin cities of Independence and Monmouth, Oregon) and our multi-plex had a line that wrapped around to the back of the building. They showed it on five screens, and my theater, at least, was packed to the gills. I doubt these numbers will taper off when folks can see it on a genuine weekend.

Now, I wasn't a fan of he first films in the series. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. Sure, the early special effects were a bit blue-screeny, but that wasn't the big issue. Then a friend (Joel) pointed it out. They were too bright. One of the reasons readers, both kids and adults, enjoy spending time at Hogwarts is because it is a dark and forbidding place. The first films were overly targeted at the youngest readers, with too many goofy one-lines and far too much quidditch, but mostly it was the cheery coloring that set them off on the wrong foot.

Well, better too bright than too dark, because this has allowed the films to improve as the children age and the series progresses. Until tonight I thought Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix was the only film that finally caught the tone of the books, eschewing all the cheeriness of the first films. Watching the previews for Half Blood Prince, I was very concerned that they'd lost their taste for the darkness and were making a movie focusing entirely on the kids' developing romances. One could easily be excused for believing this would be a happy movie, judging by the previews alone.

I'm pleased to report that they got it right. Not to spoil anything too much, but the ending is not a happy one, and it matches the abruptness of the novel, which caught me off guard in the reading as well. Because everything has to be condensed so much, there were scenes that had to be shortened and others cut. This will not please the die hard fins, who seem to be more than willing to sit through a seven hour film to see all their favorite scenes included intact, but I thought they made good choices, over-all. There was a bit too much of the relationship stuff, but there was a bit too much of it in the book, too. There it served to draw out the space between the more pressing matters and illustrate just how much these main characters are still kids, unwilling and unable to sink into the despair their situation should inspire. It served the same function in the film, but, despite the lead characters' continued immaturity in some respects, they also caught that Harry is out of the accurately portrayed annoying whiny phase he went through in much of The Order of the Phoenix, and starting to grow up into a genuinely likable adult.

Before the abrupt and (frankly) anticlimactic ending, there's a fabulous and genuinely scary scene which will keep me from showing this movie to my four year old for many years. The jock sitting two seats from me, holding his girlfriend either protectively or lasciviously throughout the movie, screamed like a little girl, and I might have laughed at him (as his girlfriend did) had I not started violently (but, luckily, silently) in my seat at the same time.

Because the ending is cut so short, it cannot possibly inspire the same feelings as the novel, and shouldn't be expected to. I'm grateful that the medium can;t quite capture the novels, because that's more reason to encourage people to read the books. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, there's no disputing that these books are better than their movies. (I love the Tolkien novels, but I can make a pretty good argument that the movies are better.) Perhaps the creators of The Half Blood Prince movie could have focused more on this last portion of the film, rather than leaving us with what is essentially a "to be continued", but by the end I felt some of their better moments had earned them a little mercy.

So, when it comes to a grade, I suppose the question is, if a movie doesn't hit every note quite right but succeeds at what it's attempting to do, is it a success? This movie was designed to whet the appetite for the next pair, and though I think it's probably a B or B+, it left me expecting the last two to be straight A's.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An email to Attorney-General Holder

At the request of, I just sent an email to Attorney General Eric Holder. If I receive a response, I'll include it here also. I encourage everyone concerned about this issue to email him as well, at My email read as follows:

Attorney-General Holder,
I understand that you are under considerable pressure to avoid airing the dirty laundry of the last eight years of abuses by appointing a special prosecutor. There are those who would have us simply say the past is past, and let bygones be bygones. Clearly, you could not allow that argument to hold sway for murderers or drug dealers or bank robbers, who would also like their past misdeeds forgotten. Those concerned that this would be political need to trust in the separation of a special prosecutor, but, more than that, the world needs to trust that we honor law more than we honor the reputations of criminals, regardless of their past positions. Please appoint a special prosecutor, and do not hamstring their investigation in regards to whom should be punished. That is a judgment to be made by that prosecutor and a grand jury. The architects of torture are not above the law, and should not be shown special treatment by the next administration. Treat members of the past administration as citizens, with all the rights pertaining there-to, but do not give them any special leeway by limiting the scope of a special prosecutor's investigation. Thank you for your commitment to the rule of law and to Justice.

-Benjamin Gorman

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Selfishness and Sacrifice: An Honest Health Care Reform Debate

Congress is now up its neck in a debate about the nature of health care reform. From out here in the sticks, it looks to me like about a third of the representatives and senators are worried they'll pay a heavy price if they don't produce real health care for everybody, another third are worried they'll get clobbered if they produce anything resembling a tax increase or a cut in health care for the super-covered, and the middle third are worried about both. The most likely outcome, as I see it, is that they will all come to a consensus that the easiest position to defend is to do nothing of consequence and figure out how to blame the other side come election time. And they are probably right. And people will die early or unnecessarily as a consequence. And that is preemptively pissing me off.

Now, I've made it clear that I'm an Obama supporter, but that doesn't mean I'm some liberal version of a Rush Ditto-head. One of my beefs with Obama is that, too often, his attempt to usher in a new era of more polite politics devolves into a situation in which people get to pull the same kind of crap they always have, but they aren't called on it because they are so busy trying to be nice. And I'm not just talking about the Republicans in congress. The stimulus bill was a bunch of pork-laden crap, and there were really good reasons to oppose it, but these weren't the reasons I heard Republicans voicing. I think they were trying to figure out a way to be nice and enter into this new era of politics, so they criticized it for increasing the national debt. Now, the national debt is a real long-term problem, but no one should take a single Republican who was in office during the Bush presidency seriously on that front, since they all approved a couple wars and massive tax cuts at the same time. If the national debt is a serious concern, you whine about it during a debate about an unnecessary war, or you mention that when you're considering tax cuts for the rich. During an economic crisis, you either point to your consistent track record on the issue, or you shut the f--- up. No, the Republicans should have been shouting because the stimulus plan was misdirected. If that amount of money had been turned over directly to tax payers in the form of a progressively devised direct payment, the Republicans could have called it a tax cut. This would have been better for them, since a tax cut for the neediest Americans might open the door to a group who (let's face it) is wising up to the fact that the Republicans have not been working on their behalf for the last thirty years. Big win for them when they are looking to broaden their demographic appeal. Meanwhile, the Democrats could have touted the progressive structure of the stimulus as a sign that they took their mandate to heart, doing what the Bush gang did in spinning the bad polling about moral issues into a right wing mandate, only in reverse. They could have satisfied the far left, who they will certainly disappoint on other issues, and shown the lower-income red-staters just what a progressive tax structure might look like for them: a check. Instead, the Republicans essentially voted against Pelosi, making them look like "The Party of No", and the Democrats pushed through a stimulus plan that heavily favored the "too big to fail" CEOs, making them look like "The Party of Guys with Matching Priuses and Ferraris". Now, imagine a stimulus bill that, a year ago, had taken the form of significant checks, skewed significantly toward the lower and middle class. What do us poor folks do with that? The less responsible go out and buy TVs, tickets to Nascar, whatever. Good: that's some needed economic stimulus. The more responsible buy things like first homes or cars. That makes a significant dent in the housing crisis and helps bail out the auto manufacturers. The most responsible pay off their credit cards and put their checks in the banks, which helps to rescue the balance sheets of the banks themselves. Would it have created as many jobs as giving money to state governments to build roads? Possibly. Would that stimulus have hit the economy more quickly? Certainly. Consequently, it might have created more jobs, and better, more permanent ones, and it also would have prevented those super-massive bailouts for corporations. Now, as congress considers a second round of stimulus, the argument will not be about whether we should do this, because now folks are concerned about their jobs so they will put that money in the bank, and the banks are one of the sectors we've already rescued. Instead, the debate will be about the debt, which both sides have no real moral authority to gripe about. And that brings us back to health care.

When it comes to the health care debate, like Stimulus I, the debate will be about the wrong thing. It will be about whether or not we should have a public option, and the alternative of the status quo will be presented as revenue neutral and economically viable. And that pisses me off.

Now, I know the danger of over-simplifying an issue. We see it every time the issue of abortion comes up. One side tries to paint the other as a bunch of sluts who kill babies as birth control willy-nilly or, alternately, as a bunch of stupid religious zealots keeping women in some kind of chauvinistic sexual bondage when they aren't busy killing doctors. Both these positions might exist on the margins, but they are in such infinitesimal numbers that any popular vote to enact either side's agenda would be a loser. Imagine a ballot measure to charge any woman who had an abortion with homicide and lock her up for thirty years, even if the baby would not have survived and possibly threatened the health of the mother. Beyond the immorality, talk about a budget nightmare. No way that would pass. Or imagine the inverse; some kind of schema of mandatory abortions for some women. Would either initiative even come close to passing without people being deceived by some campaign to mask the true nature of the legislation in ridiculous rhetoric? Of course not. So any debate about abortion needs to be about the two things we're most uncomfortable confronting: the fact that we will have abortions (which we're all uncomfortable with) and we will have unwanted children (which we're also all uncomfortable with). That's a much more complex debate, but it's the one we need to engage in.

The health care debate, on the other hand, needs to be simplified to some degree, to get us away from the wrong argument, so that we can get to the real debate, which will be complex, but far less deceptive and heartless. We live in a country that, despite its economic woes, can afford to provide health coverage to every single citizen. We simply can. We have a system that is increasing in cost at an almost exponential rate, and it will eventually get to a point where we can't afford it. Health care is already one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcies, greatly harms many businesses' competitiveness if not their outright success, and will eventually bankrupt the government as well. And yet, the debate is about whether we can afford universal coverage. That's simply infuriating. We can't afford not to have universal coverage... or we have to change the law so that people without coverage do not have to be served by hospital emergency rooms, and can be allowed to die.

This may sound like a kind of modest proposal, but it's not an exaggeration: as long as our system requires that people with no coverage be provided with care, we have to figure out a way to provide them with coverage and get them to pay in while they are healthy. We already have universal health services. They're just really unequally and inefficiently delivered. People without health insurance don't pay, but they cost a lot. People with the most resources pay for their own care, but do not pay enough to cover the uninsured. That's clearly not sustainable. So we need to decide, will we let the uninsured simultaneously bankrupt the system and die unnecessarily in the process? Or, will we figure out a means by which the people with more resources pay more but receive two pretty significant bangs for their buck; they get to live in a country where their businesses and government can continue to be successful, and they don't have to live in a country where people are dieing unnecessarily all around them?

Now, here's something you will not hear coming out of the mouth of any congressional representative or senator who opposes universal health care, or its little brother, the "public option", or its bastard child, the public co-op: "It is more important that the wealthiest among us maintain both their incomes and the quality of care they've become accustomed to than that the government remain financially viable and poor people live."

They may say part of it out loud. They'll say we must maintain the quality of care. Fine, but if we expand that to everybody it costs money, and if we don't people die and the government goes bankrupt.

Or they'll say we can't afford to insure everyone. Fine, then we need to stop serving everyone at more expense in emergency rooms than we would if they had individual doctors and preventative care, and simply let them die.

They may say we're classists, or socialists, or Marxists, or some new slur for people who recognize that some people make more money than others, if we try to make wealthier people pay more of the cost. Fine, then we can have a flat tax on everyone, which poor people will not be able to pay, and it won;t be financially viable and we're back where we started, or we're back to letting the poor people die. I suppose there's another option there: We could let the poor go to debtor's prisons for not paying their health care taxes, then provide them with care there, driving up the costs for everyone, and create universal health care at a much higher price that way.

Universal health care is not only the one option which prevents a lot of unnecessary death, but, if done correctly, it's also the more financially sustainable choice. Anyone who says anything else is really saying their current coverage, at their current price, is worth more than both the lives of poor people and the quality of their country as a whole. I know the hard-core, Adam Smith capitalists truly believe in the virtue of selfishness, and I commend them for their strength of their conviction, even if I don't agree. I just want someone to marry the courage of their dogmatic adherence to capitalist virtue to the courage to say so publicly and clearly, especially on an issue where the intrinsic winning-and-losing nature of capitalism, the vaunted "creative destruction", results directly in people dieing. These quiet, seemingly compassionate capitalists are a bunch of hypocrites and cowards, and that's the nicest way I can put it.

Now, this kind of bald truth might not fit well in Obama's new, more polite politics, but it has to be said if we'll move to the real debate, which will still be incredibly complicated and will require politeness and decency. See, once we get beyond the acknowledgment that we have to move to some form of universal coverage, we still need to figure out exactly who is going to sacrifice, and how much. Health insurance companies, unless we leave in a bunch of unnecessary redundancy, will have to shrink down to efficient distributors or cease to exist entirely, and that's a significant sacrifice, though it's only from a small group of people. I expect those folks to fight to the bitter end, though they have to be able to see that they're doomed eventually. Doctors will want to make sure they get to maintain their salaries, though many will be grateful they get to spend more attention on treating patients than on haggling with insurance companies. Individuals outside the health care field will want to make sure they still have the options they currently enjoy. That's reasonable, as long as they realize that some fifteen million people have zero options, so they may have to make some sacrifices, too. (Over all, I think this gripe is greatly inflated. Does anyone really think that if only one government run insurance plan existed, their personal physician would not accept it, and would only serve patients who chose to pay out of pocket? Show me that doctor, and I'll show you a cosmetic surgeon.) Individuals will also have to acknowledge that there will be forms of rationing, probably in the form of delays of non-life-threatening elective procedures, though even here I expect some compromise situation can be developed where people can choose to pay extra to have procedures expedited so that everyone receives a baseline of care and the wealthy can get better care at their own expense. Developing the system, and addressing these concerns, will be difficult and will require courage. In fact, the more courageous we are at the outset (closing down insurance companies, for example, rather than leaving them in to add a profit margin to the cost of health care) the better the entire system will be in the long run.

But the one thing that we simply cannot accept is the kind of cowardice that allows Congress to push this off into the future, toward an immoral and unsustainable end. And that, I fear, is exactly what we're going to see over the course of the next month as this false debate is used to push the issue down the agenda. And it begs the question: Why are the people in Congress working so hard to avoid pissing off some of their constituents and losing their jobs, if they really want to make someone else deal with these issues anyway?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Writing My Way Through a Short Summer

So I recently returned from a trip to London, Paris, and Madrid. I took a group of forty high school students, parents, and fellow teachers. Great fun was had by all, and much exhaustion was produced. If you'd like to read about the trip, I blogged the whole thing here at:

Central High Europe Trip

Now, after some days of decompressing, I am finally getting started with a real summer break. My plan was to put in flooring, dry-wall, and a drop ceiling in an unfinished room in our new house, but according to the guy at H&R Block it takes two to three months to get the eight grand stimulus-for-buying-a-new-house-money from the gov'ment. Without that job, I thought I'd work on school stuff, paint myself a copy of Picasso's Don Quixote for my classroom, maybe paint the walls in the living room (if Paige and I can agree on colors), and generally sit on my butt until early August, when we head out to Cincinnati to see my family. It's my mom's sixtieth birthday (man, that sounds weird. Mom can't be sixty!) and she wants to go to Dollywood. As much as I'm looking forward to the time with the family, those of you who know me can probably imagine just how well I'll fit in at the Country and Western version of Disneyland. Imagine a half-naked, foam-cheese-hat-wearing, body-paint-covered Green Bay Packers fan screaming his head off at Wimbledon, or a golf tournament at Pebble Beach, or a televised chess match. That will be me. I haven't worn an earring in five years, but I'm thinking of finding my old skull and crossbones earring and putting it back in just to heighten the effect.

Anyway, that leaves a month in the middle for my summer. So I started the painting of Don Quixote, then realized that, as much as I love the painting and the story, I really should read the book. So I started it (spoiler: it's really good) and I got an idea for another novel. Now, I know I haven't finished the trilogy (quadrilogy?) I'm two books deep in right now, but since no one is nibbling at those, and this will probably be more marketable (what the hell do I know about marketability?) I've started writing this new one, and I'm going to see how much I can crank out over the next month. It's fun because I'm writing in the voice of a woman looking back on her high school years and a) I'm not a woman, and b) she's funny, so it's really challenging to get her voice just right. I considered teasing out the first few chapters here, but I know I'll want to do lots of editing before I take that leap, and, at the very least, I should let Paige read it before I completely humiliate myself. Still, I think the project has promise. Wish me luck!

Does one wish writer's luck? Actors are encouraged to break their legs (it's a dangerous profession). Should you wish me carpal tunnel syndrome?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Europe Trip

I haven't posted in a bit, save for the clip of the great Hardee's add, because I just got back from taking 40 parents and students to London, Paris, and Barcelona for an educational tour. I blogged the whole thing, so if you're interested, the whole site is here (now with pictures!):

Central High Europe Trip

or check it out by city:

London (here and here)

Coventry, Warwick, and Stratford (here)

Bath (here)

Paris (here and here)

Barcelona (here, here, and here)

plus some funny accumulated quotes (here and here)

and one very embarrassing typo (here).


Friday, July 03, 2009

My New Favorite Ad

Okay, maybe this just reveals my juvenile sense of humor (no "maybe" about it), and maybe I'm particularly biased because the spokesman in the ad is an old friend from college (and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Tim Hornor, really not an a-hole at all), but I think this ad is positively brilliant and painfully funny. Enjoy:

Can I just be the first to claim this line: I think this ad campaign is going to grip the popular imagination and tighten with more force than the "Where's the beef?" ads. See what I did there? Childish AND gross!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Commemorating The Pig War

After hearing about this story on The Bugle podcast, I had to share it with the history department from the high school where I teach. Then I realized more people should hear about it. It's just too good.

History Department,

Do you history folks know about The Pig War? This was a real conflict between the US and Britain almost 150 years ago to the day (June 15th, 1859) which started with a dispute over a pig. An American shot an Irishman's pig in the San Juan Islands, both called the authorities, and next thing you know some four hundred US soldiers were facing off with some 2000 British sailors on five warships. Instead of shooting at one another, they just hurled insults at each other for days before they reached a peace agreement. Casualties of the war: 1 pig.

Best line from the war: when the American (who shot the pig) told the Irishman he should have kept the pig off his land so as to not eat his potatoes, the Irishman shot back, "It is up to you to keep your potatoes out of my pig." Lady and gentlemen, that's just about as good as history gets, in my opinion.

Have a great summer, and don't start any international conflicts over bacon or pork chops.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Renewed Confidence...?

I have had two events in the last couple of days which have inspired me to start sending out query letters for the series of novels I'm writing:

First, I read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. The book is very enjoyable and well written. Also, it touches on some of the same themes as my series. It rekindles my belief that my book could be published and enjoyed just as much as I enjoyed hers, though expecting her sales is beyond my wildest dreams. Still, it made me feel better.

Second, I hung out with a colleague who has just received the advance copy of his forthcoming book (available for pre-order). I read it, and though we are writing completely different things (his is non-fiction for a different audience and purpose) I managed to stifle my jealousy and take some heart in his success.

So I shot off another four query letters to promising literary agencies. Last time I sent it to three I received one request for the first ten chapters and a request for the manuscript. Not a bad record, but the lack of success just crushed me. Well, now I'm seeking more abuse. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On God and Ants

It's been an incredibly stressful weekend, at the end of a stressful week. Quite suddenly, I realized I haven't had anything to eat since lunch yesterday. I've simply forgotten. Outside of Mountain Dew and a handful of chips while I graded a stack of papers and tried to listen to the Celtics-Magic game, I've accidentally pulled off a nearly forty-hour fast. So, maybe that's what's got me thinking about theological questions, and my own religious insecurities. Maybe it's just hunger, or maybe it's the long human tradition of fasting to center one's self, which I've twisted into the post-modern accidental corn-syrup and caffeine variety. Who knows?

Regardless, I've been contemplating my... well, my loss of faith, frankly. Over the last year, perhaps the last couple, I've been going through a slow process of disillusionment, doubt, and emotional disconnect from God and all things Christian. After the years of the Bush administration, where I watched my faith used as a motivation or a pretext for a few hundred thousand acts I find abominable, and bending myself into contortions of all kinds to separate my own faith from that of every other Christian who disagreed with me on any particular day for any particular reason, I found myself drained of any emotional response to religious questions. They still served as interesting thought experiments: as dry, logical puzzles wherein the goal was to reason from interesting but unprovable tenets toward the political positions I wanted to reach in the first place. God became about as important as Sudoku, and, just as my interest in Sudoku waned, I could feel that the fad of the curious-about-God-game was running out of steam.

Kierkegaard, if I remember correctly, held that if a person could lose their faith, they never had a real faith to begin with, i.e. if someone had truly known God they would lose the ability to deny His existence. Calvin, on the other hand, would probably have felt that if a person lost their faith they had always been predestined to do so by God, which seems particularly cruel to me. Why would God make a person believe in Him, then make him do otherwise? Calvin held that all kinds of actions were outward expressions of our predestination, from our ethical behavior to our ability to make lots of money, so I would assume he would include verbal expressions of faith in those outward signs. But we know that some people claim to believe at one point in their lives, then claim not to later on. So, is God making an outward expression of a person's damnation by turning them away in this life through expressions of doubt? Is God so cruel? I'm no Calvinist, but I thought I was very much in line with Kierkegaard's view of the faith experience. I used to be damned sure I knew God, and that I'd felt real moments of connection with Him at points in my life, reaffirming all kinds of theological, cultural, political, and even aesthetic beliefs which really had nothing to do with those specific experiences. I used to be certain God connected with me, and, in retrospect, those moments calcified so many other assumptions which were unrelated. God reached down and said, "I'm here," and all I chose to hear was, "Everything you believe can stay the same." Now I realize that the God who reaffirms my beliefs isn't real. That doesn't mean I don't believe in God, but I don't believe in the one I wanted to believe in back then. So, does that mean Kierkegaard is right? Did I never have real faith to begin with, because I chose to believe in a god of veiled convenience, or did I have a real connection to a real God, and I simply dressed Him up to make Him more bearable?

As you can see, what little faith I had was undirected and tenuous. You might say, as it hung by a thread I wondered if the thread was there, which didn't really bode well for the faith hanging on the other end. I wanted to hold onto Jesus, just Jesus... or really, just abstract and distant truth derived from Jesus' teachings or about His place in the geography of Christian theology, but I wasn't sure I believed in believing anymore. At least not in any complete way. I made assertions about religious things, and continuously re-evaluated those claims. That was my faith. As such, I didn't know if I believed in maintaining it, because the claims themselves did not dictate that it required maintenance.

Then, yesterday, (perhaps 10 hours into my fast, so take any conclusions with that grain of salt) I had a truly religious moment. Now, I want to be clear. I hate the term "religion". I think it's too all-encompassing and not nearly descriptive enough. It's better than "Spirituality" when spoken by some dead-behind-the-eyes celebrity, but only by inches. What is a religious experience, after all? The rites of a given faith are certainly religious experiences. But then, so is the reading of scripture, or time spent in prayer. Solitary moments of communion with God are religious experiences, as are corporate ones. If someone tells us we have God on our side and we all head off to kill people in some distant land full of heathens, isn't that a religious experience? Everything a believer does could be described as a religious experience, and yet, so much of what they do is identical to the behavior of a non-believer that the term isn't helpful without a lot of clarification. And yet, I choose the term carefully here. I had a religious experience. That's all. Not necessarily a spiritual one. I'm still not even sure about my questions of the spirit yet. The experience certainly wasn't formalized in any way; nothing about this would be found in any Presbyterian Book of Order. But it was religious in a way that embraces my dislike of the term, that even subverts that and shows the word's usefulness. I didn't like the word because two guys could be sitting on the bus, reading the same newspaper, both not only doing the same thing but even thinking about the same things, and then the religious man allows thoughts about the divine to color his perspective on the article he's reading. In that moment, he feels something, something which cannot be proven to be God in any scientific way, but which he recognizes as distinct from his thoughts about God. Who can say what the atheist sitting next to him would make of this feeling? Who can even take some measurement and know if the atheist feels it at all? And yet, the experience for the man of faith has shifted from a intellectual exercise to one that is... different. And maybe that's as specific and articulate as I can be, but my experience was a religious one in just that way.

My bathroom has been overrun by ants. They are tiny, and from a distance they elicit a revulsion I can only assume to be genetic. However, when I looked at one very closely, I realized they are kind of endearing. They go about their work much as I do, filled with a sense of purpose which satisfies them. I don't understand it completely. They're getting food and water to stay alive. I understand that much. They follow chemical paths left by little scouts. They greet one another and pass chemical messages. I understand these things on one level, and yet I don't really relate. But then, I go through my little life getting food and water to stay alive; I call that work. My particular work as a teacher fills me with a sense of fulfillment beyond the paycheck (ha ha, teacher's paycheck), but then, perhaps walking down that chemical path convinces the ant that he is doing something good and noble as well. I interact with my friends, my students, my colleagues, my family in ways that both bring me great joy and make my life functional. Do the ants pass their chemical versions of clever jokes, bank card pin numbers, "I love you"s, and exasperated sighs? Why should I have such clear beliefs about the nature and character of God, and why should I demand of myself such strong conviction about His every characteristic, when I have such a superficial understanding of the thousands of little buggers eating the cat food in my bathroom and drinking from the bit of water I left in the glass after brushing my teeth?

These are thoughts about God. Someone who does not believe in God could ask these same questions, either about themselves or about me, and come up with the same unsatisfying lack of conclusions. But then the experience changed to one an atheist couldn't share. And here's the thing: I don't know that God was involved. It could be a manifestation of a mania. I can't deny that. If there is no God, I experienced a momentary delusion in which I felt an emotional reaction to something I could not sense with any of my five sense. In other words, if there is no God then I am not only crazy, but the least creative crazy person in the world, who experiences an imaginary friend but is too lazy to attribute any characteristics to that delusion beyond an accompanying sense of peace and joy.

But afterward, I felt, and have continued to feel, a huge sense of relief. And I know why. I had come to believe that my faith experience would, for the rest of my life, exist only in the intellect, with no emotional component, and I'd even begun to resign myself to that. I am pleased to report that I am still capable of feeling something related to God, and maybe even feeling a connection to God Himself. Somehow that feels like I've hit bottom, and am now on the up-and-up.

None of this probably makes a lick of sense to anyone in the world, and publishing something so convoluted should make me feel ashamed. And yet, this seems proper, like a birth announcement without real information about gender and height and weight and the number of fingers and toes. Hey, everybody! I've finally had a feeling! Pass the cigars.

Now let's just hope it doesn't go away when I go grab a bite to eat.