Monday, November 20, 2006

happy ramahanukwansmas


three cheers for wal-mart! in these bleak days of november, there is cause for celebration indeed. wal-mart is wisely choosing to avoid the “holiday” season and embrace the “christmas” season. not exactly putting the christ back in christmas, and charlie brown still might lament the marketing savvy driving the shift, but nonetheless - a step in the right direction. at the very least, the message of christ might be conveyed via the christmas carols being played via muzak in their stores all across the land.

Monday, November 06, 2006

just do it

why i'm sick of he who shall not be named


there are multiple reasons that would make for a good blog, but if i wrote about them, i would become part of those who have been sucked in by the deadly siren that is he who is over rated and full of himself. so - i will just briefly say that jerry jones is a fool for bringing this circus to town; the cowboys could have had a special year without the likes of an average receiver whose sound and fury signify little or nothing. sadly, i think we will lose the big tuna after this year because of i haven't caught a ball in a clutch situation since donning the silver star's presence.

Friday, November 03, 2006

GIMME SOME CANDY!!!


one of the things that undermines the american spirit is the entitlement mentality. every halloween, i am amazed at how this way of thinking creeps more and more into the mainstream. isn’t it in the very fabric of trick or treating to dress up? costumes don’t have to be elaborate or store bought, but come on . . . make an effort. on halloween night more than half of the nocturnal candy seekers who darkened my door made no effort at all to dress up. and often, the parents sans costume as well stood mute, bag in hand, often even glaring. no “trick or treat” no “happy halloween” no “thank you.” one goateed young man wheeled his bike to the curb, hitched his sagging pants, flicked his cigaret into my yard and pulled a wal-mart bag from between his jacket and wife-beater. again, no words, just kinda held the bag out like i should know what comes next. i could not contain myself. “what? are you thirty-eight? you’ve got to be kidding me?” he sorta shrugged and replied, “I’m eighteen, and I’m gettin’ candy for my four month old daughter.” i was is such shock that my brain hiccupped and could not quite remember that four month olds do not even eat hard candy or chocolate. i think next year i’m going to bring back the “trick” spirit of the holiday and hand out brussel sprouts to those who don’t dress appropriately.

Monday, October 02, 2006

things i like and am grateful for in no particular order


the comforting smells
of a clean, freshly painted room
falling leaves
& a newly cut lawn
cheap oily torpedo cigars
& dogs;

the gentle sway of the hammock
& the taste of ice cold beer;

the soft squealing sounds of joy
& the slapping of smooth, tiny hands on my face
waking me from a nap

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

gridiron giddiness



one of the things i love most in life is sport. pretty much in any variety. but chief among them is football. and usually, at this time of year, i’m pretty jazzed about the season on both the college and the pro level. but for some reason, this year i find that i am almost beside myself with giddy anticipation and excitement. i rarely watch preseason stuff, but this year i savored every game i could watch. when the tigers are rated early in the top ten, my hopes are usually quickly dashed as history has shown they typically can’t handle the hype. when the ‘boys do something embarrassing and bone-headed (like hire t. o. in the off season), i sometimes find it difficult to proudly wear the silver and blue star. when the institution i teach for continually exalts the young men who wear the maroon and gold on thursday nights while showing a blatant disregard for their academic welfare, i typically find it taxing to hope they do well. but this year feels different. the tigers have cultivated an environment of success (both on and off the field), the ‘boys still have a coaching genius at the helm who has yet to cave into the prima donna showboat, and the young men in the maroon and gold are still showing up to class in the third week of the semester. so - it is well with my football soul. as i sipped on an unbelievably cold adult beverage while watching the steelers/dolphins game last evening, i contemplated why the overwhelming good vibes pervade this new season. and i think it is because last season was such a blur due to that little storm you may have heard of named katrina. in all the hustle and bustle to assess, clean up, and help out, some of life’s smaller pleasures - like watching football and having a cold one - sorta faded into the background. but it’s a new season and not even a blip thus far in the tropical storm department. so - whoever you are out there and whatever team you pull for or against, i hope you have as good a time this season as i’ve had the past several weeks.

Friday, September 01, 2006

i seen it on the road in alabama


in 1903, one of my favorite writers, w. e. b. dubois wrote of america, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem with the color line.” And yet, during the twentieth century our country saw incredible strides in race relations in all facets of life. to name just a few: the end of jim crow, 1954's brown vs board of education decision (made segregation in public schools illegal), 1964's civil rights act (made discrimination in employment illegal), 1965's voting rights act (insured voting rights to minority citizens), immigration and national services act of 1965 (drastically altered immigration policy), 1968's civil rights act (made illegal discrimination in sale and rental of housing), and 1972's gale vs collier (ended racial segregation in mississippi’s state prison, parchman). all of these historical strides in race relations, and more, happened in the twentieth century. some even before dubois’ death in 1962. history records the success stories of minorities throughout the american landscape during the twentieth century. twenty four black women, seven hispanic women, and three asian women have served in the united states congress. it is not difficult to create a list of the colin powell’s, the walter williams’, the oprah winfrey’s, the tiger woods’, the spike lee’s, the denzel washington’s, the bioncye’s, the jackie robinsons, the shelby steele’s, the osceola mccarty’s. it IS difficult to exhaust the list. and yet, six years into the twenty-first century, concerted efforts to make the color line an issue in the new millennium persist. the latest attempt is via cbs’ survivor:cook island reality television series which pits asians, blacks, hispanics, and whites against each other. even as a metaphor, this portrayal of “reality” reflects neil postman’s claim that we truly are trying to “amus(e) ourselves to death.” be that as it may, i would like to recount an experience i had this summer that runs counter to the notion that america can not break free from the history of racism. as i was driving on I59 in alabama between the rural communities of hixon and epes, i saw two cars jockeying for position. one vehicle was a moderately priced, newer suv; the other a twenty year old beater. both vehicles were being driven by white drivers - one in their late twenties, the other in their mid thirties; one a man; one a woman; one license plate was from alabama, one plate was from mississippi. who was how old and driving what i’ll leave for you to decide. on one vehicle the bumper sticker read, “Al Sharpton - 2008.” on the other vehicle the bumper sticker read, “Condi Rice - 2008.” now i’m not sure what dubois’ ultimate take on the state of race relations in 2006 america would be, but i’d have to think he would get a charge out of that vision i witnessed on what too many folks see as the road to perdition.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

am i my brother's keeper?


whenever i teach world literature, i tend to structure the class not around genre or chronology; rather, i try to make the classics relevant to students that, for the most part, would rather be eating their chicken nuggets, downloading the latest itune, or waiting in breathless anticipation for clerks ii to hit local theaters. one strategy i employ is to ask a central question that will focus the class for the semester. recently, i have been obsessed with the question, “what does it mean to be human?” and how literature from the ancient world, the middle ages, and the renaissance work to provide answers for this question.

part of what it means to be human, i think, is that we constantly strive (when not occupied by fast food and pop culture) to achieve our maximum potential, to be the very best that we can be. but often, it seems, that we forget to measure our potential. what happens when we over-extend? to what lengths will we go and what costs will we endure to achieve our goals?

man’s desire to assert his potential on nature is truly a fascinating struggle. whether white water rafting, harnessing aerodynamics to fly like the birds, or bending the landscape to our ordered imaginations, man’s arrogance in the face of nature’s full force is striking, but often proves illustrative in providing insights that plumb the very depths man’s nature. one such story, or set or stories, involves man’s quest to scale the highest reaches of our world. and the recent account of lincoln hall serves as a modern day good samaritan parable. on may 27-28, 2006, after summiting everest, lincoln began having difficulties during his descent from the dead zone. his own team had to abandon him to save their own lives and left lincoln for dead. some nineteen hours later, dan mazure, a professional guide, and his climbing team of two clients who had paid upwards of $20,000 each were ascending everest and were within sight of the summit when they stumbled upon lincoln hall . . . alive. without hesitation, dan mazure and his two clients abandoned their own goals and worked to organize a rescue for lincoln, a total stranger. others, that very day, faced with the choice to aid lincoln or continue toward the summit weighed the consequences of their actions and opted not to help lincoln hall, but instead, pursue a fleeting moment of glory. although mazur and his clients did not summit the peak, mazur has no regrets. “‘Oh yeah, it was worth it,’ he said shortly after the rescue. ‘You can always go back to the summit but you only have one life to live. If we had left the man to die, that would have always been on my mind . . . How could you live with yourself?’” (MSNBC.com)

charles dubois once said, “the important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” such moments happen daily. on the mountainside. on the sidewalk. in the classroom. in route. how we struggle to react to such moments bear witness to the internal paradoxes of our humanity.

Monday, May 15, 2006

mother's day ruminations


it’s funny how subtle the shift is between generations. this mother’s day weekend, i got to visit with both of my wife’s grandmothers - grandma and maw maw. grandma lives in a catholic nursing home. although she has had congestive heart failure for years and is down to 104 pounds, she was having a good day when we saw her. she knew who we were; on some visits she thinks my wife is her sister, doris. grandma and doris have not been on speaking terms for years. maw maw’s 85th birthday bash was on saturday. all the kin folk from all over were present to pay tribute to the matriarch of the maholovitch clan. the teens were now talking of college and career paths. the twenty and thirty-somethings were showing off their new offspring or patting their bellies in anticipation of proving their reproductive viability. the fifty and sixty year olds were talking up retirement plans and maw maw presided over the brood while mixing sprite, fruit juice, and southern comfort with a frozen strawberry jello mold. maw maw is no longer just maw maw. she is great maw maw. the parents have become the grandparents and the kids have become parents. nothing new - the cycle of life as most of us know it. for me, the day was poignant because all of my grandparents are now departed. my folks are not even on the on deck circle of aging - they're at bat. anyway - i began thinking about snookie, my grandmother on my mom’s side. she hasn’t been with us for several years now, but every now and then i catch glimpses of her. usually, i see her in some sort of agrarian manifestation - she was a farmer at heart. sharecropped as a kid. maintained three acres of a garden until the end - always took the harvest to those “little old ladies” in need on a fixed income. never mind that the little old ladies were in their fifties and snook was in her seventies. another place i sometimes find her is in language - specifically, in the country language of the south. this sort of language is becoming more scarce as time passes on. but when the crisp images and memories of snookie start to become blurred or i can’t quite remember how she talked, i read the following two poems and they remind me of who she was.

Snapping Beans
Lisa Parker

I snapped beans into the silver bowl
that sat on the splintering slats
of the porchswing between my grandma and me.
I was home for the weekend,
from school, from the North.
Grandma hummed “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”
as the sun rose, pushing its pink spikes
through the slant of cornstalks,
through the fly-eyed mesh of the screen.
We didn’t speak until the sun overcame
the feathered tips of the cornfield
and Grandma stopped humming. I could feel
the soft gray of her stare
against the side of my face
when she asked, How’s school a-goin’?
I wanted to tell her about my classes,
the revelations by book and lecture,
as real as any shout of faith
and potent as a swig of strychnine.
She reached the leather of her hand
over the bowl and cupped
my quivering chin; the slick smooth of her palm
held my face the way she held tomatoes
under the spigot, careful not to drop them,
and I wanted to tell her
about the nights I cried into the familiar
heartsick panels of the quilt she made me,
wishing myself home on the evening star.
I wanted to tell her
the evening star was a planet,
that my friends wore noserings and wrote poetry
about sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha.
I wanted to tell her how my stomach burned
acidic holes at the thought of speaking in class,
speaking in an accent, speaking out of turn,
how I was tearing, splitting myself apart
with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy
despite it all.
I said, School’s fine.
We snapped beans into the silver bowl between us
and when a hickory leaf, still summer green,
skidded onto the porchfront,
Grandma said,
It’s funny how things blow loose like that.

Directly
R. T. Smith

“I’ll get it directly,” she’d say, meaning
soon, meaning when I can, meaning, not
yet, be patient, the world don’t turn upon
your every need and whim.
Or, “the dogs
will be back home directly, I reckon,”
“the preacher will be finished,” “your daddy
will see to you,” “supper will be laid out” --
all “directly,” which never meant the straight
line between two surveyor’s points
or
an arrow’s flight, but rather, by the curve,
the indirect, the arc of life and breath
,
and she was right, and when she passed
or was passing, I could not say which,
in a patchwork quilt, the makeshift room,
the sweet hymn notes sung neighborly
across the hall, she whispered, “Learn to tell
what needs doing quick as a bluesnake
and what will take the slow way, full
of care and mulling, be fair in every
dealing with beasts and people and all
else alive, and surely, my dear, He will
come for you in His good time, the way
He comes for all of us, directly.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

no, i can't hear you! i've got an agenda in my ear!


the janus project really came about from late hour chats between my brother-in-law and me over pretty much the gamut of what brother-in-laws might cover - careers. politics. movies. religion. cigars. theology. doctrine. beer. our kids. sports. our wives. the future. the past. whatever comes to mind. often thoughts linger, like the hazy cigar smoke that fills the dos flamingoes on a humidly still mississippi night. other times, ideas flit away as quickly as the third beer reflexes that can still miraculously catch a knocked over bottle before a single drop of nectar is spilled. often - our ideas make about as much sense as a paying $10.00 for a stoggie or $5.00 for an imported beer. we each have strong opinions. sometimes we disagree. often we agree but have a different way of arriving at the same end. more than i admit out loud, his ability to perform mental gymnastics far exceeds my abilities to follow along. without fail, i leave our conversations with food for thought - and not just a junk food, but steak and potatoes stuff. usually, i have to take a doggie-bag home with me.

several times by the light of day, my brother-in-law mentioned that some of these thoughts might be worth sharing with folks on a broader scale, and blogging provided a forum from which one could perch from one’s very own soap box or wander around the virtual wide, wide world and hear others’ mental ruminations. so - i jumped in. and i must admit, i’m hooked. i enjoy the idea of a free exchange of ideas and have been, for the most part, having a ball with the give and take in the blogosphere.

however - i am a bit disappointed in some encounters. most recently, i have been putting together a post on the illegal immigration issue, when i ran across another site that was engaging the same sort of stuff i was interested in discussing. however, in less than two post cycles, the tone of the dialogue became shrill and the exchange basically ground to a halt, at least as far as i was concerned. i felt as if there was much fertile ground to plow given the information in the comments, but in response to my comments, rarely were intellectual arguments proffered. so - instead of focusing on the issue of immigration in today’s blog, i thought it might be more instructive, at least for me, to think about the concept of statesmanship - an idea that is certainly rare in politics, but apparently is becoming an endangered species in civil discourse as well.

paraphrased from the old standbys - webster’s and the oed - statesmanship is exhibited by those who exercise political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship and promotes the public good from the position of disinterest in oneself. lincoln said, “honest statesmanship is the wise employment of individual manners for the public good.” hubert humphrey said, “the essence of statesmanship is not a rigid adherence to the past, but a prudent and probing concern for the future.”

more often than not, i’m convinced that most folks who are not career politicians, regardless of their political ilk, genuinely are interested in the well being of others and our future. what saddens me is that the narrowness of the professional politicians and the shrillness of party politics has spilled over into our public discourse. we the people, CAN and SHOULD have dialogue and disagreements. but after we pull the lever at the ballot box, we should also be able to carry on our conversations via civilized discourse despite how the professionals conduct themselves in the public arena.

Friday, April 21, 2006

GAS AT $75 A BARREL! WHAT THE @#$*!



sadly, one of the major failings of the american education system is that we no longer teach economics. gas companies are not sticking it to the public through severance packages such as exxon’s lee raymond got - $400 million. i mean let’s enter the land of make-believe and the liberal mind and give the $400 million to joe six pack to buy gas. folks must realize that the US uses 360 million gallons a day in gas. at $3.00 plus a gallon, you do the math. why is gas so high? government regulations via our green friends, taxes, and lack of using our own natural resources in the US (ie supply and demand and our lack of self-sufficiency). we’ve got the technology to do it clean. and it’s there for the taking. let’s do it. and if we run out (which ain’t gonna happen), the market will provide a suitable alternative. the last time i looked, the downfall of the horse and buggy and railroad industries did not impede advancements in travel. oh yeah - and if you point the finger at W, be sure you check the stock portfolios of your favorite dems who also hold oil stocks. god bless wall street, capitalism, and the free market system. and while we're at it . . . if anyone needs to be giving folks back their money, it's the federal government that needs get their hands out of our pockets!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

it's getting hot in here. ice cream anyone?


i’m no scientist. i’m a humanities guy. so, for me, science is situated in history, not a lab. i read about science, but usually in straightforward layman’s terms type articles - nothing much heavier than national geographic. so maybe i’m wrong here. but - i’m convinced that the presentation of scientific “facts” are often sorta like looking at the debate surrounding the kennedy assassination. on the one hand, you can find qualified experts who swear lee harvey oswald acted alone; while, on the other hand, you can find equally bonafide scholars who claim that the russians were behind it. or the cia. or lbj. whatever. the point is, we may never know the truth.

but - we’ve got al gore at it again with his disney meets the sierra club movie, an inconvenient truth. and that’s fine. there are a whole slue of other folks, some even real scientist, that refute gore’s slickly packaged lecture. basically, there are two things that bug me about an inconvenient truth.

one is the basic knowledge of history that tells us that there have been at least four major ice ages. which means, if my reasoning via history is correct, there have been at least three interglacial, or non-glacial, periods of time that are, by default, NOT ice ages. during these warmer times what happened? i don’t know, but i’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with those theories that insist upon modern man’s ability to cause our current ice age to melt into an impending interglacial period. the industrial and technological ages are but a blip on the screen of the earth’s history. it seems folly at best and arrogance at worst to believe that we, mere mortals, can cause something so incredibly awesome as the end of an ice age.

the other thing chaps my hide until it begs for salve is how folks pervert a seemingly honest concern for our home into political propaganda. take richard cohen of the washington post. in his article, gore movie puts heat on bush, cohen claims that “‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is a cinematic version of the lecture that Gore has given for years warning of the dangers of global warming. The case Gore makes is worthy of sleepless nights: Our Earth is in extremis. It's not just that polar bears are drowning because they cannot reach receding ice floes or that ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ will exist someday only as a Hemingway short story. It's rather that Hurricane Katrina is not past, but prologue. Katrina produced several hundred thousand evacuees. The flooding of Calcutta would produce many millions. You cannot see this film and not think of George W. Bush, the man who beat Gore in 2000. Bush has been studiously anti-science, a man of applied ignorance who has undernourished his mind with the empty calories of comfy dogma. For instance, his insistence on abstinence as the preferred method of birth control would be laughable were it not so reckless. It is similar to Bush's initial approach to global warming. It may be that Gore will do more good for his country and the world with this movie than Bush ever did by winning in 2000.”

now really - scientific data or not - doesn’t abstinence work 100% of the time? and was there a bush to blame in the first four ice ages?

i’m willing to cut gore a break on his green theories. clearly, he believes in protecting the environment. so do i. so does ben and jerry. gore lectures and makes movies. i bemoan those folks who toss their cigarette butts out the window or flick them onto the ground. ben and jerry, the faces of big ice cream - they support the green movement by encouraging the release of countless chloro-fluorocarbons into our air.

Monday, April 03, 2006

rolling stones theology




i went down to the chelsea drugstore
to get your prescription filled
i was standing in line with mr. jimmy
and man, did he look pretty ill
we decided that we would have a soda
my favorite flavor, cherry red
i sung my song to mr. jimmy
yeah, and he said one word to me, and that was ‘dead’
you can’t always get what you want
you can’t always get what you want, no
you can’t always get what you want
but if you try sometime you just might find
you get what you need


in this month’s christianity today, chuck colson, already one of my heroes of social commentary, hits a grand slam in my book. in soothing ourselves to death: should we give people what they want or what they need? colson rails against endless repetition in church of meaningless ditties that have zero theological content and could just as easily have been sung in any nightclub. he opines that churches are becoming more “theater-like” and christian radio stations are dropping “serious programming in favor of all-music formats.” The reason? because, as one station manager pointed out, “(w)e don’t want to do anything that will upset our listeners.” we are “so busy . . . taking care of the kids, family activities, Bible study, cooking etc., that (we don’t) even read the newspaper or care what is happening in the world around (us). Church for (us) is getting (our) spirits lifted.”

so, why the shift from active participant to passive receiver? colson notes, correctly, that cognitive thinking, which is necessary when engaging such heady stuff as discipleship and discussions of how christianity works within moral and ethical constructs, is becoming increasingly difficult in america. “According to a recent study,” colson notes, “the average college graduate’s proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent today. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences. Think about it: one out of three college graduates cannot read a book or absorb a serious sermon.” sadly, as a professor, i witness this daily in the classroom. and, sadly, as a life-long church goer, i have seen it in the pew. life being what it is and humans being who we are, most of us find it more comfortable to be passive receivers than active participants in life. these facts beg the question, “why?”

in the article’s title and body, colson nudges us toward another of my heros who was on to the answer decades ago. neil postman knew that television would eventually impair our capacity to think. indeed, the center of most american homes is no longer the kitchen table, but the home theater - bigger screens, louder sound systems, and more comfortable chairs. postman prophetically predicted how television’s influence would effect the home. however, the effects of television have spilled out of the home and into the church. unfortunately, our churches are no longer setting the standards for the home; instead, churches are following the trends of the american family. more and more sanctuaries echoe the informality of the american living room, complete with comfortably squishy theater seats instead of hardwood pews, and projection screens that remove the worshiper from the text of things like hymn books and, well, THE TEXT. as an academic whose primary tools are texts, this is alarming. as a worshiper who sees american churches becoming a blend of the home theater and the country club, this is frightening. many american churches, in my estimation, tend to focus on filling, not a spiritual void, but a social void via egocentric entertainment as opposed to the individual focusing on god.

the projection screen is doing for american churches what larry mcmurtry says the 24hour gas station did for travel. in the latter case, a traveler can literally drive across the continent and never actually not have a roof over his head. he can leave his house and enter his car in a garage, obtain fuel under covered pumps, and purchase pretty much any amenity he needs in the gas station itself, most of which offer more choices than walmart did in the early days of sam walton. in other words - travel has become comfortable and, therefore, easy. similarly, in the former case, the projection screen has made the american sanctuary a mirror of the home. in other words - worship has become comfortable and, therefore, easy. come in on sunday morning in casual dress, flop down in a cushy seat, pat our feet to the band, watch the screen. this is fun stuff. but having faith in the real world is not always fun. in fact, more often than not, it’s hard work. and if we are not used to the mental and physical heavy lifting required of church worship, what will happen when the real world becomes uncomfortable? maybe this is why i am drawn to “high church.” preparation is a pain. i have to iron my shirt on saturday night. i don’t really enjoy wearing a coat and tie on sunday mornings. i get hot. my neck itches. and if i’ve strained or pulled a muscle in a weekend activity, the wooden pews acutely remind me of my physical limitations. sometimes, while juggling a hymn book, a book of common prayer, and the bible i drop things, and i am reminded of my clumsiness. at other times the predictability of the liturgy makes it difficult to keep focused on the task at hand, reminding me of my mental weaknesses as well. and yet, each of these inconveniences work in concert to keep me focused on the act of worship itself. each discomfort is a reminder that worship is not about me - it’s about god.

maybe mr. jimmy read chris van allsburg’s children’s book, the wretched stone. maybe not. but in the end, church ought not to be about what we want - our favorite flavors. church ought to be about what we need.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

end of the month brain candy



and just to wrap up the month . . . a few nuggets of wisdom to chaw on in your spare time. no real order here, just sorta random life-isms from some of my favorite folks.

live above the culture. - dick allison

god doesn’t make chicken pullers, people make chicken pullers, and if you don’t want to be one, then, by god don’t. - jill conner browne

live with your head in the lion’s mouth. - ralph ellison

character is like a tree and reputation is like its shadow. the shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. - abraham lincoln

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

america is soft


before getting started on this rant, let me make a disclaimer. there is a picture taped to my wall of an american g. i. in fallujah. he could be nineteen; he can’t be more than twenty-five. he’s got the thousand yard stare, his face is a blend of stubble and dried blood. and he’s smoking a marlboro. the cigarette dangles from one side of his lips, causing his mouth to ever so slightly hint at a snarl. above this picture i have taped a quote from george orwell - "we sleep safe in our own beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." clearly, there are americans who are not soft. and sometimes soft is good. i mean it doesn’t get much better than soft-serve ice cream. these facts aside, as a college professor, i never cease to be amazed at how soft the majority of my student population seems to be. A few examples:

* often, when the weather leans toward blustery, my students call my home and ask if class has been canceled. quite often, they are shocked - even angry at me - that a touch of wind and rain is not enough to call off a whole day’s worth of work. whether they truly are afraid of the elements or just lazy and want to avoid the heavy mental lifting of undergraduate composition and literature, the spirit of men like frederick douglass and joseph muir is woefully lacking in my student population.

* sadly, i have seen the same softness within the teaching profession itself. at a department meeting held to discuss new textbook adoptions, one faculty member gave a dissenting opinion of a potential textbook because, "it is too heavy." as it is not the 1960's, i assume the term "heavy" referred to the physical weight of the book, not the academic rigor of its contents. whichever was the case, as i was attempting to process this asinine logic, another colleague chimed in with, "yeah, and i would have to read the new selections and prepare new lectures." no wonder our students seem to want to do as little as possible to get by.

* the drive to succeed in athletics is so great that many of my students, both athletes and non-athletes, sympathize with and can relate to juiced-up sports figures whose bloated stats could never compare to the true natural athleticism of say - lou gerhig, barry sanders, or larry bird. as long as the lakers win, the memory of kobe bryant’s indiscretions are not only often overlooked, but are excused and even defended by some of my students. and, as a cowboys fan, while i cringe at the signing of a malcontent like t. o., many of my students think that dallas is smart to do whatever it takes to win as quickly as possible, regardless of character. sure the cowboys have been burned statistically by randy moss. but i gotta tell you, the day dallas passed on moss was one of the moments i was most proud to be a cowboy fan. doing the right thing, regardless of how the world perceives you, is hard. and soft folks are not comfortable making the difficult choices.

for those who look around and see too much that is soft in our fast food, instant gratification, linguine spined day to day existence, i recommend two books to serve as a bit of a salve. harvey c. mansfield, a professor at harvard, has written a book called, manliness. in the book, mansfield maintains that manliness is "confidence in the face of risk." he goes on to say that manliness "does exist, but it is underemployed." mansfield’s ideas reminded me of another book, the last american man, by elizabeth gilbert. gilbert presents a picture of eustace conway who was anything but soft. between surviving on fresh road kill (how does one tell if its fresh? by noting whether or not the fleas are still hopping of course!) and sewing up his own accidental chainsaw wounds, eustace seems an almost iconic throwback to an earlier time when self-reliance and tenaciousness were part of the very fabric of america. a time when anyone who wasn’t soft could choose to confidently face the risk of jumping on a trampoline without the comfort of a safety cage; a time when those just bold enough could roll the back windows of vehicles all the way down and dare to actually feel the stink of a bug splatter into his inner biceps as he hand surfed through the rushing air; a time when no one would have ever considered that there was a market for men’s skin care products like clinique’s happy for men - "a hint of citrus, a wealth of flowers. a mix of emotions. cool. crisp. wear it and be happy."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

brokeback oscars


last summer i decided to plug a few the holes on my reading list and spent the better part of july reading annie proulx’s fiction. at the tail end of a collection of her short fiction i read the now infamous brokeback mountain. even as predictable as the story was on the written page, it is even easier to divine what will happen tomorrow night during hollywood’s annual self-pleasuring celebration. as much as i like the movies, this years nominees, especially in the best picture category, leave much to be desired. i thoroughly expect a brokeback mountain sweep as a bird finger to the right wing from the hollywood left. but even if brokeback does not perform as well america’s hottest two young cowpokes in the west, lets look at what else is offered. crash, good night and good luck, capote, and munich. a film about the perceived innate racism that is THE backdrop of american life; a bit of propaganda presented by hollywood’s resident golden boy wonder and revisionist historian george clooney, the story of a homosexual author, and a movie about terrorism that bends over backward to humanize the terrorists by attempting to draw parallels between those who killed innocent israeli olympians to those who sought retribution. anyway you slice it - the academy is poised and ready to tell conservatives, "we’re number one." in short - it was a poor year for hollywood and low box-office returns point to how out of touch hollywood remains with the red states (see http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/03/09/060309211938.c3imi3s8.html). indeed, without the chronicles of narnia and harry potter and the goblet of fire, the purses would be even emptier. how soon has tinsel town forgotten the overwhelming success of movies like passion of the christ, the incredibles, and finding nemo. for my nickle here are a few movies i saw this year that i thoroughly enjoyed. i must confess that few are actually available to be seen at the box office and may have been released prior to this year and do not qualify for academy recognition.
my left eye sees ghosts - a very adorably touching asian film that sort of crosses shawn of the dead with amelie and the sixth sense.
old boys - another asian offering dealing with mystery, intrigue such that hollywood is afraid to broach these days. certainly more thought provoking about the nature of humanity that any of the current best picture nominees.
dirty filthy love - how does one maintain a relationship with ocd and tourette’s syndrome? a very graphic but novel approach to amazing grace.
off the map - so I’m a sucker for sam elliot. i also like field of dreams and the postman.
chrystal - another brutal billy bob thornton film that carries the theme of grace to the extreme.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

isn't janus a mutual fund?


a financial institution wisely chose janus to symbolize their company. after all, janus is the roman god of gates and doors whose double-faced head is able to look in opposite directions at both the beginning and the end. he is a representation of cycles - planting season, harvest, marriage, birth, beginnings, endings. janus is a transitional figure in roman culture, representing the shift between primitive life and civilization; between the rural and the urban, the agrarian and the industrial; between peace and war; between youth and age, innocence and wisdom. he can see both the reality of what was and the hope of things to come. janus, for me, represents the very present moment where the dichotomies of humanity occupy the highest tension. this moment, while standing, albeit often uncomfortably, in the doorway, allows us to live fully, experiencing a imminent sort of sublime precariously perched between vertigo and chi, change and tradition, order and chaos, hope and despair, justice and grace, the temporal and the eternal. in some way, our entire lives are about transition, and we are always standing at the threshold occupying the exact moment from which we can look both backward and forward, certain of the past and expectant of the future.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

technology is great until it doesn't work

technology is great until it doesn't work. how many gadgets and gizmos do you have that seem like a good idea at the time but don't actually work when you need them? atm's, butane lighters, computer software, itune radio recievers, battery operated baby swings. i remember standing in line with my parents on pay day and getting the cash we would need for the month minus the fees and headaches associated with the convienence of today's atm's. the three or four butane "wind proof" lighters i have never seem to work when i want to fire up a cigar indoors, much less in the wind. computers - forget about it. i've been trying to figure out how to start this blog for over a week now. and i may be wasting even more valuable time writing this entry that may or may not ever be "posted". my buddy has an ipod that he touted as the musical equivilant of sliced bread. but on a road trip this weekend there was more than just a bit of static produced on the car speakers. i'd rather listen to road noise and contemplate road kill in silence than listen to cd technology filled with more static than a bad 45 lp while crystal clear cds sit at home in deference to this modern marvel. and i seem to remember baby swings having cranks on them that never really wore out. as it is now - i need to buy stock in a battery company, and i certainly don't hear any of my green friends with children bemoaning how many batteries we are all contributing to landfills while our future sleeps soundly via mechanized bliss. all this is to say - i sure hope this post makes it - or i might just abstain from blogging.