26 July 2006

The Fifth Commandment Strikes Back

Interesting story in the Wall Street Journal today about immigration and caretakers of the elderly:
Immigrants, whether legal or undocumented, make up a disproportionate share of those who care for the elderly -- and the need for such workers is set to explode in the coming years.
If you know me, you know I hate to pretend the existence of some prior Golden Age of something or other. I prefer to critically identify each era's strengths and weaknesses, so I'm not going to pretend that this is a purely modern problem.

Nonetheless, I wish modern America was better at honoring our parents. All too often, we move out of the house at 18, accept expensive weddings,gifts, and whatever else we can get out of Mom and Dad, and then shuttle them off to the nursing home (and conveniently forget to visit) when it becomes something of a challenge to care for them.

Certainly, there are people who are better off in assisted lilving situations, and most of us do have economic opportunities that would be severely limited if we became our own parents' caretakers. But I wonder if we'd be better off sacrficing a little bit of financial gain for ensuring our parents comfortable, enjoyable final years in our own care.

Maybe, if the flow of immigrants is stemmed, we will be forced to consider more options besides nursing homes? And perhaps we will see we should have been doing so all the time?

25 July 2006

On Taking the Moral High Ground

Columnist John Podhoretz asks an interesting question in a New York Post op-ed:
What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?
He goes on to imply that Israel should wage all-out war against Lebanese civilians in an effort to stamp out Hezbollah. In other words, he argues that Israel's best strategy is to ruthlessly victimize a largely innocent populace in order to eliminate a terrorist organization.

Podhoretz obviously believes he's being edgy and thinking outside the box here. He goes so far as to compare Israel's invasion of Lebanon with the firebombing of Dresden and the United States' nuking of Japan. But his argument is deeply flawed for at least three reasons:

1.) Hezbollah is not a universally supported, state-sponsored regime. It is, rather, a subgroup of the nation, and to punish every person in Lebanon for Hezbollah's actions is morally repugnant because it implies that every Lebanese citizen is complicit in the terrorist actions of a few.

2.) The U.S. and Britain were not necessarily in the right in their massive attacks on civilian populations. At the very least, there is a school of thought that says our second nuclear bombing of Japan -- specifically, Nagasaki -- was for the benefit of gaining face with Russia rather than for bringing a quick and less painful end to the war.

3.) The West -- and nations that we support -- must refrain from using massive strikes on innocent people as a strategy in any fight against terrorist organizations. For one thing, it is counterproductive, since it is more likely to increase resistance than to eliminate it. But for another, slaughtering civilian populations in order to get rid of opposition is a terrorist tactic. If we surrender our moral high ground by stooping to our enemies' level, we are in effect reinforcing their view of the world rather than proposing an alternative.

21 July 2006

Today's Wrong-Headed Opinion Pieces

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

First up, a New York Post editorial on the middle eastern conflict:
Israel must be allowed to do the work envisioned by U.N. Resolution 1559 - which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

This will not only eliminate a threat to Israel (and punish a group that has slaughtered Americans, too); it will also help rein in Syria, and its patron, Iran.

And that is in America's interest.

Israel will likely take significant casualties. And that's a tragedy. But the Israeli Defense Force is serving a vital cause. If it's successful, peace in the Middle East will be that much closer.
This is just one example of the institutionalized pro-Israel stance that permeates the American media and political environment. We get the idea that, because Israel has more international clout and had its statehood established by the U.N., it is somehow more valid or acceptable than other nations (that are not also sanctioned nation-states).

The net result of this institutionalized bias is a binarized rhetoric that villifies all anti-Israeli groups and casts Israel as a stalwart hero. It also allows us to overlook things like this:
The United Nations' emergency relief co-ordinator, Jan Egeland said that neither Hizbullah or Israeli seemed to care about civilian suffering. He said that one third of those killed or wounded have been children, and that it has been difficult to reach the wounded in Lebanon because road and bridges had been cut by Israeli air strikes.
The U.N. has indicated that both countries could face war crimes charges. Where's your moral high ground now, Moses?

The second opinion piece I'd like to look at is an op-ed by Sol Stern, who laments the "problem" of social justice education. He writes,
The root of the problem is "social justice" education. It starts in teacher preparation programs, where rigorous training in math, science and literacy takes a backseat to theories about victimization and inequality. Teachers-to-be are told that conventional instruction is an outgrowth of capitalist oppression; "true" education helps students see the unfairness all around them and challenge society to change.
He goes on to assault Freirian pedagogy and schools' attempts to change society by focusing on social problems. He saves a special vial of wrath for the Bronx's Leadership Institute, where:
When I visited recently, it was already clear that the idea of democratic empowerment for the students was subverting any hope for a rigorous education. Kids wore ghetto garb, chewed gum, and drank soda in class.
 It is interesting that these three things (none of which have a lot to do with pedagogical devices or the value of skills or knowledge acquired) are taken as a sure sign of corruption in the academic environment.

The problem here is that Stern is so wedded to a phallic academic hegemony that he is incapable of even considering alternatives to his monolithic ideal. Why, for instance, shouldn't kids drink soda or chew gum in class? It happens in the university classroom, and no one bats an eye. More troubling is his assumption that "ghetto garb" creates an environment that is inherently problematic for learning. He racializes the pursuit of knowledge and, in doing so, betrays the fact that his assumed academic environment is one that conveniently ignores the existence of a world outside the classroom.

Stern concludes,
Social justice teaching is a frivolous waste of precious school hours, especially for poor children, who start out with a disadvantage. School is the only place where they are likely to obtain the academic knowledge that could make up for the educational deprivation they suffer in their homes. The last thing they need is a wild-eyed experiment in education through social action.
Embedded in this paragraph is a rat's nest of problematic assumptions, many of which are contradictory. I don't especially want to deconstruct the whole thing, so let me just highlight the most glaring assumptions here:

  • Poor children are "disadvantaged," "deprived" of education and therefore should be taught "the fundamentals" -- this is a generalization that again privileges the white, middle-class existence
  • Poor children are the only ones who teachers are trying to help through these programs of social education -- This helps to create a dichotomy of the unmarked us vs. Them (those poor, benighted, disadvantaged masses), as well as a dichotomy between the unmarked teachers (those who buy into bourgeois conceptions of education) and Them, the hapless and incapable group that uses Marxist theory in a vain attempt to better people's lives
  • We need to help the Disadvantaged by teaching them how to try to compete in a system in which they are inherently disadvantaged
  • Attempting to make systemic changes in order to level the social playing field is frivolous
  • Radicals who act on their convictions are "wild-eyed" ideologues who make oppression worse despite their best efforts to the contrary


20 July 2006

Why Aren't People Upset About This?

I don't know about everyone else, but I'm extremely frustrated by bureaucracy -- particularly when that bureaucracy is part of a "reform." Case in point: Medicare. According to Government Executive, Medicare contributed to this monstrosity:
The national paperwork workload increased by 5.5 percent in fiscal 2005 over the previous year to reach about 8.4 billion hours, according to a new Office of Management and Budget report.
Come on, people. This is the 21st century! Use some dadgum computers. This is yet another symptom of a hugely bloated system that continues to get bigger and bigger. The source of the bloating is pretty simple -- each new federal office implements a huge number of new forms and paperwork (ostensibly necessary in order for it to do its job), and then it can never be eliminated, because then who would issue and process that paperwork?


19 July 2006

Once More, Scary News That Surprises No One

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Not much of the mainstream media has gotten around to this yet, but it's in progressive rags and homeland security publications, so I bet it'll be in the MSM within a couple of days. Apparently the Homeland Security Department has been collecting information about student anti-war protests in California. What's even worse: they've also been sharing that information with the Pentagon. So not only are you a terrorist if you don't like America's phallic foreign policy, but you're also a potential threat to America's military complex. Wonderful.

In other awful news, there's an ongoing debate in the House about human rights. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who I normally can mostly agree with, had this to say in an article from Newsday:
"I prefer we adopt legislation ratifying the president's commissions now. I don't see how you can apply the Geneva Convention to illegal combatants," said King, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. "This is a new type of war. They shouldn't get the same type of rights American soldiers get. As far as the guys at Guantanamo , I say treat them humanely, but wouldn't give them the same rights as Americans."
There's a very disturbing trend in what Rep. King says here. Rather than rethink the president's resolution (which the Supreme Court found to be in conflict with both U.S. and international law), he seems to want to get on board with the problematic plan, even though it shows a troubling disregard for international standards of prisoner treatment.

More troubling still is the underlying assumption here that American troops are somehow superior to enemy combatants simply because they are supported by an "official" government rather than by underground organizations. Essentially, this is saying that "unlawful" troops are less worthy of receiving human rights than U.S. soldiers are.

So much for no more politics. Grr.

18 July 2006

Wikipedia on Shelley the Republican

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Hehehe. This is the best wiki EVAR:
[Some] readers believe that the name 'Shelley' might be a nom de plume, or that her purported opinions do not reflect the actual views of the author. When asked if her site is satirical, Shelley insists it is not, as she remarks in "Sign the petition for US citizenship for Christ."
Yes. Clearly not satire. :-)

I'll Take 'Swords' for $500, Trebek

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

The New York Post reports that America's Upright and God-Fearing Commander-in-Chief has a potty mouth:
President Bush yesterday vented his frustration with the surging violence in the Mideast during a private chat with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that was picked up by an open microphone - insisting Syria should get Hezbollah to "stop doing this shit."
One wonders to what extent this verbal slip will alienate Bush's "Thank God for Dubya" fan base -- if at all.

Mr. Bush, didn't you know that your scripture commands you to "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth"?

I say we impeach this vile-mouthed reprobate; the blessing of God is no longer with him.

12 July 2006

I, U.S., Take You, Afghanistan...

Funny headline and serious story in the New York Times today:
[Afghan Prime Minister] Karzai betrayed little nervousness in public, but when asked whether he was asking for additional American troops and assistance to help quell the surge in attacks in the south, he replied: “Yes, much more, and we’ll keep asking for more and we will never stop asking.”
This guy doesn't play it too close to the vest, does he? In all sincerity, isn't this exactly what every legitimate antiwar activist has been saying since before the first day of the United States' ground war in Afghanistan? There is literally no end in sight, people.

We will (and, indeed, are more or less morally obligated to) keep pouring money into this "war on terror." This highlights once more the most significant problem with the Bush administration's foreign policy: there is no exit strategy when you're fighting a vaguely defined ideological concept. It's worse than 'Nam, and I don't make that comaprison lightly.

Meanwhile, a story in the Christian Science Monitor underscores the challenges facing America's increasingly overtaxed armed forces:
Several months ago, before Haditha was a household name synonymous with allegations of murder and misbehavior against US troops, Rep. John Murtha made a provocative statement.

"The tremendous pressure and the redeployment over and over again is a big part of this," the Pennsylvania Democrat said of the incident in a May 17 briefing. "And this strain has caused them to crack in situations like this."
I think Murtha's association of rape and murder allegations with multiple tours of duty is a very keen and accurate one. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Heck, I'm not sure it's even a tunnel. It might simply be a pit with no bottom. And America is going deeper and deeper into something we can't really see...

Happy Wednesday anyway, I guess.

06 July 2006

Advice to Students

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

Thanks for letting me know about your concerns. I'm very sorry to hear about your aunt/grandmother/parakeet/wisdom teeth. Unfortunately, the course policies that you've known about since the beginning of the semester still apply.

Yes, I'm aware that you squandered your free absences earlier this term even though you didn't know that a DISASTER would occur, and I would wager that I am every bit as sad about that as you are. If you had been in class, you might have had some clue about how to write the papers instead of being a lovely millstone pendant that gets disgruntled when its papers don't get A's.

I'm sorry you feel that way about me. If it's any consolation, the feeling is mutual, and I don't get to write nasty, spiteful comments about you at the end of the semester in an effort to reduce your already pitiful merit-based pay raise.

Look on the bright side; at least if you can manage to scrape through college and get that business degree, your starting salary will probably be more than I make in three years at this awful job where I'm supposed to mold you into a competent writer. And I bet it's more rewarding than wrestling with people who are convinced that what you're trying to accomplish is useless, too.

I'm glad we've had this little talk. Please don't hesitate to let me know the next time you totally freak out over something that should never have come as a surprise to you. I'm in this cancer-causing office quite a bit.

03 July 2006

On Running

On Running

To begin with, you need to know that I am more or less fat. Make no mistake; I am not the spectacular, Howard Taft sort of fat that requires plumbers to pry my obese body from White House bathtubs. Nor am I the wheezing, Rascal Scooter-riding sort of fat that cannot walk more than a block without experiencing a myocardial infarction. Rather, I am the sort of fat that perspires profusely on steep hills. I am the sort of fat that feels more at home in front of a computer keyboard than on a playing field. In short, I am the sort of fat that does not like to move around very much.

That is why it surprised me so much when my friend and colleague, Jerry, came up to me in the cafeteria of our small mission school near Four Corners one day and asked if I would help him coach the cross-country team. I was initially tempted to ask if he had taken leave of his senses. After all, I never used to run in Kansas, where the hills are few and the climate is normally bearable (if not exactly hospitable). Why, then, would I ever want to chase my students across miles of Reservation scrub brush, down dusty washes and up stone-studded mesas, beneath the relentless Arizona sun?

It only took me about two seconds to decide I was going to refuse, but I stared down at the ugly brown and green institutional tile beneath my feet for several more moments before responding.

“Wow, Jerry, thanks for thinking of me,” I began in what I hoped was a tactful tone. “But, you know, I’ve never been too athletic. Or even interested in athletics. Sprinting drills always made me vomit in junior high.” I pushed my Navajo taco-laden aluminum lunch tray down the cafeteria counter toward the desserts and chuckled as if I were joking. I was not, of course.

Jerry smiled his gentlest smile and helped himself to a heaping pile of spinach leaves and tomatoes. “Boy, this is great stuff,” he said. “You ever eat spinach salad?”

I knew from his smile that he was nowhere close to dropping the cross country question.

He loaded his plate high with fruit and walked with me to an empty table near half a dozen mischievous kindergarteners. “You know, Micah, all during my bus run this morning, I was praying about you.”

My stomach sank. So that’s how it was going to be. “Really, Jerry? Well, thanks! I can use it; my kids have run me ragged today.” Perfect segueway. All I had to do was tell the story about how Shaun had handed in a mostly blank paper for the math quiz this morning, and Jerry would begin his standard lecture about the importance of discipline for junior high boys who have no fathers at home. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to say anything, he raced on with his thought.

“Yeah, I told the Lord all about the situation from the time I finished my bowl of oatmeal until the time I picked up the first set of kids.” He speared an enormous stack of spinach leaves with his fork and stuck them in his mouth. “Do you ever get up early? I love getting up at four o’clock every morning so I can watch the sun come up. It reminds me of how Christ’s light pushes our darkness away as we seek Him.” I decided not to tell him that I hadn’t seen a sunrise in three months.

“Well, it sure does sound nice, Jerry.” The piece of frybread that served as my taco shell had gotten cold and lost some of its crispness, but the meat was good. I wanted seconds. Before I could get up, Jerry had finished chewing his forkful of spinach.

“You might pray about it for a while, Micah. The Lord wants us to take good care of our bodies, and I think maybe running would help you to do that. It’s done wonders for me.”

I decided I could do without another taco. Anyway, my junior high kids were in line for seconds, and they would probably devour whatever had not already been served. Instead, I started on my brownie.

“You’ve heard me talk about my schizophrenic episodes, right?” Jerry asked. I nodded. “Well, they used to be so bad that I couldn’t get to sleep at night. When I found Christ, He began to help me overcome them. For a while, I tried things like prayer and meditation, but they never completely stopped the episodes.” He ate a colossal bite of fruit cocktail. While he chewed, I looked around the cafeteria – we could really use some new paint on the walls. Maybe if I brought that to Jerry’s attention, he’d start talking about being encouraged by the church youth groups that came out to the mission to do work projects every summer. I took a breath to speak, but he had finished his fruit cocktail and gone on.

“After a long time,” Jerry continued, “I decided to start living a more disciplined life. I made lists of what to do and when. That helped.” He looked at me, suddenly more intense than I had ever seen him before – veins were bulging all over his weathered forehead. “But running was what really made the difference. The Lord used it to help me rely on him to overcome those monsters in my head. I was always sanest after a long, exhausting run that sapped my body of strength and made me realize I couldn’t solve my problems under my own power.

“Now,” he concluded, his veins beginning to retreat, “would you at least prayerfully consider it? These kids need something to do after school, and I think you’d benefit from it, too. You could stand to lose a few pounds, and you’d be amazed how much better you’ll feel.” He smiled his gentle smile again and took a swig of apple juice.

I carefully chewed the last bite of brownie while I sorted frantically through excuses. I wasn’t busy after school, I really could use the exercise, and running hadn’t made me vomit in nearly a decade.
Then, in a very soft voice, Jerry drove the final coffin nail: “Micah, if you don’t do it, I’m not sure who else I can ask.”

That afternoon, as I struggled up an impossible trail through a stand of dead mesquite to the top of a sandy wash, I cursed my helpfulness. No amount of good will or virtue should be able to justify such pain. My calves were aflame. An invisible rapier was plunging deep into my side with every step, and I would have been drenched in sweat if I hadn’t already run out of moisture. I wanted nothing more than to stop, turn around, and limp home.

I tried to tell myself it was for the children, but that was hard to do when Shaun was literally running circles around me and taunting me: “What’s the matter, Mr. Micah? Can’t you go any faster than that? I could’ve made it to the mesa and back by now!”

I wanted to reply, “You rotten little monster! I’m only doing this so you won’t hang out with your no-good cousins and piss your life away with drugs and alcohol!” What I did instead was grin and gasp out Navajo puns about my name. (Early in the school year, one of the kindergarteners helpfully informed me that the Navajo word for “fat” was k’ah, which explained why my junior high students laughed every time the class clown, Clint, called me “Mr. My-K’ah.”)

Just as I reached the top of the wash and began to slow down, Jerry came running by. “Keep going, Micah. I know it hurts, but you’ve got to set a good example for the kids. I need you to do this.” Then, before I could protest, he was off to stop Clint from pushing his little brother off the edge of a cliff a hundred yards away.

I kept going, but my body, that hated prison, was beginning to fail me, as it always had done in such ventures. I knew I would not be able to complete the run unless we turned around soon. The loose red dust at my feet felt like hands clutching at me to slow me down, and every once in a while, an errant mesquite bush reached out to imprint itself on my bare legs. The very landscape seemed to be conspiring against me. Then, without warning, another wash loomed ahead of me. Before I had time to think about toiling up the other side, I had plunged down into the dry stream bed. Toward the bottom, I tripped on the root of a tough little pine tree and fell on my face in the sand. Brilliant.

Shaun, my faithful satellite, wouldn’t let me rest even a moment in my ignoble position. “Clint, come here! Mr. Micah fell on his face!” He circled me giddily.

I scrambled to my feet and began a half-hearted lope toward the other side of the wash. “Hey, Shaun,” I managed to gasp out, “Are you going to stand around shouting for Clint all day, or are you going to run?” With that, I attacked the far bank of the wash, which seemed to be steeper than was geometrically possible. Even Shaun seemed to be having trouble with it. Then Clint poked his face over the edge, and the bank got even steeper.

“Hey, Mr. My-K’ah, you’re all red. You look like you’re going to explode. And why do you have so much sand on your face?” Clint was delighted to have such a rich source of comedic material to work with. I was slightly less so.

I slowed down for a moment so I could get enough breath to talk. Then, I said, “Clint, your brother called you a little girl and ran off toward the mesa. I bet you could catch up with him if you wanted.” I breathed a silent apology to God and Clint’s brother and continued up the side of the wash unhampered by mockery from the top.

We finally made it out to the mesa and back. It had only been about ten minutes of running, but as I stretched out in the cool darkness of the school gym afterwards, I decided it had felt more like ten hours. I simply had to find some way out of this nightmare before the next day’s practice. I would corner Jerry in the hallway and tell him simply and firmly that running was not something I could do. I would tell him how painful it was, how it seemed like the least natural activity known to man. I would quote St. Paul’s words to Timothy: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (I Tim. 4:8, KJV). Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew none of this would work, so I also resolved to become violently ill if nothing else availed.

Jerry has a way of convincing you that you really want to do something even if you know in the profoundest depths of your viscera that you truly, inarguably do not want to. That, to make a long story somewhat shorter, is why I was running the same dusty trail under the same blazing sun the next day. Even Shaun was the same, except that his orbit had become somewhat more elliptical. One thing was different: today, every muscle in my body was screaming at me in unutterable anguish. Every jolt of foot against ground sent an exquisite wave of agony through my body. My thighs were tight, my back was tense, my knees ached, and my abdomen felt like a nest of writhing adders. Our pre-run stretches, sit-ups, pushups, and bench presses hadn’t helped; if anything, they made my muscles even less yielding.

The first three minutes of the run held more pain than the entire previous day. I didn’t know how my muscles could function under such duress, and I kept expecting myself to shatter or fold up into an origami crane or something. And, of course, my stomach began to feel queasy as I struggled up the side of the second wash.

Then, about three and a half eternal minutes into the run, my muscles began to relax and move more easily. My body loosened up and started functioning more closely to the way I wanted it to. I found myself able to jump over narrow ditches without wincing in pain upon landing. I discovered I could run down the sides of washes and back up without wanting to scream from the pain. It was miraculous; I wondered if the patron saint of fat men had finally awakened from his long nap and begun interceding for me in Heaven. Of course, I am a Protestant, so that hardly seemed likely. Nevertheless, I was running without pain, and it felt too good to question.

Two minutes later, something even more amazing happened: I found myself wanting to run. Some inexplicable force flooded me, filled me with longing to keep run and never stop. My feet’s impact against the ground suddenly felt good. My muscles were no longer pained. Instead, they felt strong and powerful; they grew mightier with every glorious step.

My mother tells me I ran before I could walk. Apparently, my balance was so bad that I could not keep it long enough to stand in one spot. “You were like a little whirlwind,” she always says with a half-sigh, half-chuckle. Then she gives my shoulder a nostalgic little squeeze and offers me food.

That was what I imagined as I felt that sudden, vital boost surge through my being: My 18-month-old self taking those first hesitant steps, then finding himself unable to stay standing and beginning to fall and moving his legs to keep his balance and going faster and faster until it feels like he is flying. He runs and runs, overjoyed to be doing something besides crawling with his hands and knees on the ground. He is going on his legs like the Big People, and he keeps moving and moving until finally he gets tired or loses his balance or reaches Mommy, and she is proud, and he knows he will do that again – often.

My legs pumped rhythmically, my hands grasped the air in front of me, my feet pounded the red, soft-packed sand of the Arizona high desert, and my body forgot it had ever done anything else. This was what it was made for, this rush of motion and purpose and triumph. Then, less than a minute later, it was gone. I suddenly lost the rush, lost my glory, lost my ability to expand beyond my bounds. But I had tasted it for a short time, and that was how the addiction began.

That winter, I ran four days every week. I ran with my students, with other teachers at the mission, and alone. I ran up rough hills, over rocky mesas, down roads of red sandstone, past windmills and water tanks, and around innumerable goat-pens. I avoided sheepdogs and snakes, raced my own best time, stained every pair of socks I owned with fine, red desert dust, and probably amused a great many Navajo grandparents who wondered why the fat bilagáána from Immanuel Mission was in such a hurry – and what was wrong with the old chítii he normally drove.

My body, which I so often had despised for its weakness, was beginning to change. It was becoming harder, stronger, faster, better. My k’ah melted slowly off of my frame, and as my muscle waxed and my fat waned, I gained new physical abilities. I could leap over ditches and climb up remote canyon trails. I could choose where to move and how fast. Granted, my endurance was limited at first, and I was often forced to reduce my speed to a slow trot, but I could push myself to go farther and faster every day. I did not have to stop until I chose.

I began with short runs: five minutes into the desert and five minutes back. At my beginning speed, that normally meant about three-fourths of a mile. I tried to increase my time by a minute each way every day. I slowly began to range farther and farther from the mission. I ran beyond the mesa, up the bus road toward the Carrizo Mountains, where I encountered ATVs and horseback riders on remote paths. I ran in the other direction, down to Waterfall Canyon, where I met a lonely Vietnam vet named Scuddy Benally and his one-eyed dog, Ashkii. One day, my day of greatest triumph, I ran five miles in 50 minutes. I felt immortal and omnipotent that afternoon as I chased my shadow away from the setting sun, back toward the mission’s front gate.

The runner’s high that I had experienced on my second day of running came and went and eventually became less frequent as my body grew more accustomed to exerting itself. But I no longer needed it to appreciate running; I found myself enjoying the fact that my body was in the best shape it had ever known. I could run two miles without being especially tired afterwards, and I could run five miles without collapsing. I felt stronger and more capable, and sometimes, I even caught occasional glimpses of what Jerry had said about spiritual growth through bodily exercise.

The running didn’t last through the winter. Cross country season had ended, and I had a new Herculean labor to perform for Jerry: Teaching the fundamentals of basketball to sixth-grade girls. It was, I admit, better than coaching Shaun and Clint, but just barely. My free time vanished, so I cut back to two runs per week, then one, then one every once in a while. My lack of time, coupled with the bone-chilling winds of the harsh high desert winter and the physical demands of basketball practice, made my desert runs impractical and seemingly redundant.

My last run of the winter was on a gray November morning when the cruel wind was blowing across the desert, kicking up clouds of red dust. I decided to head once more toward the mesa, but not the close outcropping we had touched on my first desert run; instead, I was going to touch the part of the mesa that I had determined to be about a mile and a half away from the mission’s gate. I started out at a 10-minute-mile pace: relaxed, but still a bit of a challenge.

I followed the bumpy, potholed sandstone road toward the mesa, jumping from one side of the ditch to the other as I encountered obstacles. About five minutes out, I broke off from the roadside trail across the trackless desert floor. My legs were feeling good that morning, so I took a couple of detours that required jumping over holes. I ran down the side of a wash and up the other side faster than I would have thought possible three months before. Then, as I approached the mesa, I saw a longhorn bull roaming near my goal.

The bull gave me pause. On one hand, I wanted very badly to finish the run. On the other hand, the bull did not look happy, and several of his cows were also nearby. I pondered what I would do if the bull charged, and I decided I would not be able to escape it if it did. So, without reaching my objective, I turned around, went home, and showered before school, and that was how I stopped running in the desert.

I stayed in shape through the rest of basketball season, but by softball time, I was content to limit my physical activity to sliding into second. My paunch began to regroup, and I almost welcomed the old familiar feeling of too much flesh around the waist, hips, and thighs. It seemed like returning home after a long, arduous journey. But the tricky thing about running is that it doesn’t let you go completely back. When you’ve run five Arizona desert miles on a hot August afternoon, something in you changes. In the melting away of flesh, the molding of muscle, you undergo a transformation regardless of whether you want to, and that’s something no amount of Navajo frybread can chase away. Even when it has been months since the last time, you still get cravings.

The morning I was going to return for good to Kansas, I awoke three hours before my alarm was set to go off. I squinted in the darkness at the clock’s dial, double-checked the alarm’s setting, and scratched my head in confusion. I hadn’t awakened before my alarm clock’s raucous buzzing in months. I tried to roll over and get into a sleepy position; no luck.

I resignedly got up and walked into the front room of the tiny trailer I had inhabited for the past year. All my possessions were packed away except my clothes for the day and an extra T-shirt and pair of shorts that I had put out just in case something drastic happened. I changed into them, pulled my socks and shoes on, and left for one last desert run.

I decided to head for the mesa, using the same path I’d taken months before on my last run. This morning stood out in sharp contrast to that one; it was still dark, but I could tell it would be one of those gorgeous, cloudless Arizona days when the sky is bluer than turquoise, the sun brighter than anything you can imagine. The desert air was still, and the wind had decided to stay in the Carrizo Mountains for the day. My feet pounded the trail, and at first, my muscles were stiff from disuse, but they loosened up after a few hundred yards of ten-minute-mile running. The fresh morning air felt magical on my face.

I ran hard that morning, harder than I ever had before. I got to the mesa in record time, and then I kept going for another ten minutes beyond my mark. Something in me ached to continue, to keep running until I was completely exhausted, but I turned back because of the long road I had to drive that day. Nevertheless, I ran hard, fast, and far that morning, and as I hopped over the cattleguard beneath the mission gateway, I felt victorious. I had run not because I had to, not because I thought I needed it, but for the sheer joy of running, for the feel of the solid land beneath my feet, for the feel of my muscles striving together, united in purpose. I had run for the feel of the morning light slowly pushing the darkness West across the enormous, unblemished sky.

Essay Project

I'm tired of politics, so I'm going to make a transition to blogging creative writing for a while. Consequently, updates will probably be less frequent, but they might end up being more pretty and/or thoughtful.

As creative writing goes, I'm not much of a poet, so that's out for the moment. I don't really write plays -- all my attempts seem to degenerate into satire -- and my fiction tends to be unreadable. That leaves me with one literary genre: literary non-fiction. Sorry if that seems pretentious or somehow arrogant, but it's the only thing I really feel confident about generating at this point. I pretty much promise it won't be rambling rants and self-important Observations About Significant Things (though I make no guarantees). It might, however, be a little more introverted than anyone wants to read, and I'm not offended if you choose to ignore it. So there you go.

I'll probably post some old stuff before getting into new writings; I welcome comments on anything I post here.

fidius.org: What's My Pirate Name?

fidius.org: What's My Pirate Name? (3/3)

My pirate name is:

Dirty Jack Rackham

You're the pirate everyone else wants to throw in the ocean -- not to get rid of you, you understand; just to get rid of the smell. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from fidius.org.

On 'Political Correctness,' Religion, and Politics

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

There's an interesting New York Post editorial today that deals with Harvard and its loss of a big donation from Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison:
Someone finally put a price on political correctness:

$115 million.

That's the tidy sum that Harvard won't be getting because its PC-obsessed faculty drove the school's president, Larry Summers, out of office.
What kind of "political correctness" does the Post's editorial board villify? The answer, of course, is anti-essentialist, egalitarian theory:
The final straw was Summers' observation at an academic conference about the preponderance of men in the hard science and math fields. He urged the attendees to think outside the box and consider the possibility that men were different than women.

Cue a wave of PC outrage: Academic freedom, it seems, no longer stretches so far as to permit the questioning of feminist dogma. Summers was obliged to backtrack and grovel for forgiveness.
And there's a very good reason he was "obliged" to do so: that statement goes against every legitimate theoretical framework of the past 30 years. Moreover, the Post's board misstates the case. Of course women are different from men. That's the starting point for feminist thought. The difference between feminism and essentialist modes of thought, however, is that most of the differences between men and women are socially and culturally constructed. That is, they are more or less artificial and can therefore be remade.

The fact that the vast majority of academics believe in some form or another of feminsm should probably make the president of a university think twice before saying things that go completely against what most of his underlings hold to be valid. At the very least, his statement demonstrates his abrasive, to-hell-with-you management style (which seems to be the real reason for his sacking, if you look at the opinions of people who actually know what they're talking about).

I love how "political correctness" has become shorthand for "philosophy that some people value but I don't because I don't want to take the time to understand it." That's fantastic.

In a development that probably shocks someone but shouldn't, male NY prison guards may have sexually assaulted female prisoners. What? Men in a position of power tend to victimize women for their own gratification? When did this start happening?

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on them; I know that boys will be boys (according to ex-president Summers, anyway).

Stanley Crouch writes about Barack Obama and his efforts to return the Democratic party to the good graces of that ol'-time religion. He astutely discusses Obama's recent recognition of multiple Christianities in the nation's past:
The compassion at the center of Christianity drove both the abolition movement and the civil rights movement. This was an alternative Christianity to the one that upheld slavery and remained silent while its symbol, the cross, became a beacon of bigotry when burned as a signature of the Ku Klux Klan.

Obama's recognition of that difference could reinvigorate partisan discourse and make the next presidential election much more unpredictable.
Here's to hoping.

In related news, the Christian Science Monitor has noticed what my friend Evil Bender has observed in a recent post: There's been a lot of talk about religion and politics in recent days, especially as we approach the Fourth of July holiday.

The article raises some interesting points:
230 years after the first Independence Day, Americans of varied political and religious stripes are determined to prove that the Founders' beliefs are similar to their own. Helped by a spate of new books this year, skeptics and believers alike have fresh intellectual gunpowder this July 4 for claiming the framers as members of their respective camps.

For a nation torn over what role religion should have in the public square, the stakes are high. Both religionists and secularists say they're under attack in the public domain and want America's first patriots on their side to maintain legitimacy.

Each side has its favorites. Patrick Henry's frequent references to Jesus Christ help make him a darling of Christian conservatives, some of whom opened a Virginia college named after him in 2000. Secularists prefer to invoke Thomas Paine, whose "Age of Reason" treatise mocking Christianity earned him a badge of scorn in his day.
Side note: the aforementioned Virginia College accepts only the retarded or certifiably insane. No, I'm joking. But it was founded by and for homeschooling families, and that's no joke. I know people who went there. It's like the perfect way to ensure that you will never actually have to meet anyone with ideological views different from your own. It's splendid.

It's fascinating to me that Americans feel like they need some kind of "original" authority in order to validate their views of religion and government. This trend was started by historical revisionists like the late Puritan Cotton Mather, and it was then picked up by all manner of "thinkers" who felt an overpowering helplessness to come up with their own rationale for their belief systems.

I am an Evangelical Christian. Nevertheless, I believe firmly in separation of church and state. I also believe that America's independence was not a gift from God; I think the Revolution was a rebellious, treasonous, reactionary, and biblically unjustifiable event.

So there ya go.