31 March 2007

Radical Thoughts from Emily

From perhaps the greatest American poet of the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson:
Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you're straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —
I won't say anything about the Iraq war or the gay marriage debate; never fear. :-)

On Tennyson's "Ulysses"

As I prepare for my exam, I'm reading a lot of literature, which makes me extremely happy. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to lose myself in compelling stories and beautiful words. This is so much better than writing a thesis. :-)

Here are the final lines of Tennyson's "Ulysses," in which the aging hero allows his mind to drift again on a voyage with his brave mariners -- this time in a deeper, darker sea. I'd always thought of The Odyssey as having a happy ending, but this poem belies the myth of rest after striving. At the same time, it promises a greater striving and a fuller adventure.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The topic of these lines, of course, is the voyage of mortals into the realm of immortality, but I think it is also a fitting metaphor for life changes like the ones I will soon be experiencing.

I'm excited to see what my voyage will bring.

30 March 2007

Silence

I'm still alive, though silent for the moment. I'll maybe get around to posting some more after my exam on Wednesday. Prayers and kind wishes are appreciated. :-)

22 March 2007

On Christianity and Radicalism

I saw my dear friend Gye Nyame yesterday (and today, for that matter -- :-) ), and he posed this question: Is Christianity -- that is, the teachings of Christ and of the Bible -- fundamentally radical, or is it fundamentally conservative?

Upon reflection, I must say that this question is something of a red herring. I believe that Christianity, like many things, is a both/and, not a neither/nor. Here are some of my reasons for concluding this (please forgive the format; I'm still getting my thoughts together on this subject):

Conservative:
* Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament Law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:17-19)
* Christ did not seek to change the political establishment -- indeed, he fled when his followers were going to make him an earthly ruler (John 6:14-15)
* Christ frequently quoted from the Law and the Prophets, the traditional texts of his culture; he appealed to tradition as an authority, even when going up against the Devil (Luke 4:4)
* Paul advocates the practice of women covering their heads in church because it is an established tradition (I Cor. 11:16)
* Paul commands that slaves should obey their masters, not that they should rise up against oppression (Eph. 6:5)

Radical:
* John the Baptist calls the religious leaders a "brood of vipers," and Jesus later does the same (Matt. 3:7-12:34)
* Christ calls out the religious powers that be in the temple during Passover week, condemning them with seven woes (Matt. 23:1)
* Christ makes himself a whip and drives the money changers out of the temple for making the house of God into a den of thieves (Jn. 2:12-23, Lk. 19:45-46)
* Paul proclaims the equality of all believers regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, or disability :-) (Gal. 3:28)

Christianity must question the status quo within itself, but it isn't supposed to condemn non-Christians. It is a religion whose founders cast out hypocrisy and sought justice. Although it draws on tradition, it does not deify them -- Christ, for instance, said the Sabbath was made for man, not vice versa.

When practiced in the spirit that Christ and the early fathers taught, Christianity can have the best of both worlds.

What do you think, dear reader?

16 March 2007

Some Interesting Rhetoric

As you've probably heard, the Christian Seniors Association recently had some inflammatory things to say about Congressman Pete Stark, whom they attack for admitting that he is "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being." You can read more at the blog of Evil Bender, whom I don't always agree with, but whose views on basing governments on religious ideologies are pretty close to mine.

While I have little to add about the rights of atheists in the public sphere, I do have some opinions about this quote from CSA Executive Director James Lafferty:
"We have long recognized that all of this hot air about 'separation of church and state' has been a veiled effort to intimidate and silence religious voices in public policy matters."
Let's take a look at some of Lafferty's rhetorical moves.

1.) He begins by establishing his own legitimacy by representing himself as but a single member of a large movement. He lends himself historical credibility by emphasizing that his group has "long recognized" the obvious trickery that his ideological oponents engage in.

2.) He trivializes his opponents' viewpoints by characterizing them as "hot air," thus shutting off all avenues of productive discussion and setting up a binary-based ad hominem environment for the discourse.

3.) He uses "scare quotes" to further trivialize his opponents' concerns and imply that they are ill-founded at best. Interestingly, he does not mention that this particular phrase comes from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, a Deist who was the third president of the United States and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as one of the foremost proponents of religious freedom in the early days of the nation.

4.) He criticizes his anonymous adversaries for their underhanded, "veiled" tactics, and in a neat reversal of actual circumstances, he further accuses them of attempting to silence and intimidate any and all who wish to espouse religious ideals while making public policy. It is significant that he implicitly claims to support religious freedom while simultaneously complaining that a member of Congress has revealed himself to be of a particular religious persuasion. The message here, apparently, is that it's all right to have religious freedom unless you are using it in a way that is unacceptable to James Lafferty.

This series of rhetorical moves is astounding in its unquestioning self-validation and its othering of anyone whose ideology differs from the speaker's. Quite frankly, I don't much like it.

12 March 2007

On Race and Politics

The first time Aaron walked into my sophomore English classroom, I smelled trouble. He was wearing a durag and baggy pants, and an intricate network of tattoos snaked around his left forearm. I needed to know very little about him before making my judgment that he would be a problem student. He was black, he was wearing urban attire; that was enough.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably shocked. Luaphacim, you say, how could you be so utterly racist? How could you judge this young man on the color of his skin rather than the quality of his character?

Rest assured, gentle reader, that my judgment was not intentional. In fact, as soon as I noticed it in my head, I strove to banish it. But my point is that it was there, even if only for a very short time. Regardless of my ideological stance, regardless of my good intentions, and regardless of my several good friends who are black, I unfairly categorized Aaron without giving it a second thought -- or even a first one.

This is why I am suspicious of anyone who claims that we can ever, ever, ever have a "color-blind" political atmosphere in this country. Case in point: Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike van Winkle recently wrote a column entitled "Time to transcend skin-deep politics." A noble call, certainly. But how attainable is it? He writes:
All participants in our national discussion have a stake in the outcome. So it is imperative that we resist the temptation to categorize the candidates running for office and see them as representative of particular groups and limited interests.

It is also imperative that the candidates reach beyond the narrow definitions the press wants to assign them and appeal instead to the broader public interest.

Obama and Clinton's appearance in Selma was a wonderful tribute to the progress our society has made. But a greater test will be whether we can transcend skin-deep politics over the next 20 months.
I agree that candidates should not allow themselves to be pigeonholed, but I also question van Winkle's assumption that there is somehow something wrong with politicians who take actions to serve the part of their constituency that looks most like them. After all, that's what rich white politicians have been doing for years; why shouldn't women and black politicians behave in the same manner? To me, this smells like a classic case of being scared to death that a black politician might actually *gasp* do something that is good for his black constituents if he is elected.

On a somewhat related note, Hillary Clinton wants desperately to be black, but is a miserable failure. Ouch, it makes me cringe. Interestingly, as Chicago Trib columnist Eric Zorn points out, Obama can pull off the kind of Black English / Standard English code-switching that Hillary is trying here:
Sen. Barack Obama seems to calibrate his accent depending on whether he's speaking to a largely white audience--when he rates about a 2 on the Eminem Scale--or a largely black audience--when he hits about a 6.
Hey, if you've got communicative prowess, flaunt it, I say.

In other Obama news, he is being smart about the extremely offensive implications by FOX's Roger Ailes that Obama is a terrorist. Obama, in the kind of classy move his supporters have come to expect, has chosen to let the comment slide, even though I think many in his camp are taking up the offense for him. I'm not with him on every political issue, but he makes me respect him more every day.

In case you were wondering, I was completely wrong about Aaron. He was far from being a problem student -- and equally far from fulfilling all my expectations about his interests and concerns. He was one of three people in the class who would admit to owning more than one d20, he has a pretty decent dwarfish paladin on WoW, and he works 40 hours per week to put himself through school, where he makes straight A's. He also did a top-notch paper on King Arthur's weaponry in Le Morte d'Artur. He spoke often in class, was unfailingly kind and considerate towards me and his classmates, and from what I could tell, did everything he could to live out his Christian convictions in a quiet, non-hypocritical fashion.

And yet there are still times when I shy away from young black men for no other reason than their urban attire. Oh, to be free from unfounded assumptions. :-(

07 March 2007

Rectum? Dang Near Killed 'im!

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.

OK, so this story is mostly just an excuse to use that punchline as a headline. But the story is fascinating, in a weird sort of way. An Iraqi national apparently was stopped at LAX because of some, er, non-standard things discovered in a body cavity search:
Airport security agents initially considered the odd assortment of objects in al-Maliki's rectum alarming enough to order an extra search of the flight he was planning to take...

Al-Maliki told investigators the objects he had in his body were there for therapeutic purposes, and that he had forgotten to remove them before reaching the security checkpoint. They were described as a half-inch magnet wrapped with a piece of gum in a napkin and then coiled with wire, and some kind of round, polished stone.

"I believe we're about as confused as you until we finish the investigation," said Ethel McGuire, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office.
Al-Maliki had paid for his one-way flight in cash, and he refused to discuss his purpose for travel with anyone. If nothing else in this situation had set off alarm bells, one thinks that probably would.

It's hard to know what to conclude about this story. On the one hand, it seems pretty clear at this point that carrying an odd assortment of objects in one's body is not necessarily a terrorist act. On the other hand, I guess it's a good thing that the TSA noticed?

03 March 2007

The Sociolinguistics of Seven Words You Can't Say on TV

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.

A post by Evil Bender sparked my curiosity yesterday. Apparently, Patrick Ishmael did a fairly unscientific study on the profanity quotients of conservative and liberal bloggers and found that the libs used George Carlin's "infamous '7 Dirty Words'" about 18 times as frequently as the cons did. Big surprise, huh.

This made me start to wonder about the origins of said dirty words. I have often heard that most of our taboo words are Germanic in origin, so I decided to test this claim by doing some etymological checks on the Dirty Seven. My goal in doing this is not to titillate, scandalize, or flout norms; it is, rather, to examine this discussion in terms of its historical and sociolinguistic implications. If you are offended by the presence of dirty words, please scroll down past the chunk of bold text.

All of my information comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which is considered by most experts to be the final word in etymological concerns.

Shit -- From the Old English (OE) verb "scítan." OE is a form of old German, brought over by Angles and Saxons during the eighth and ninth centuries. It was the dominant language of England until the invasion of William of Normandy in 1066.

Piss -- Onomatopoeic word that developed along parallel lines in the Germanic and Romance languages.

Fuck -- Hard to trace; has been a taboo word for so long that written records of it were quite scarce until the sixteenth century. Thus, its exact origins are difficult to trace. There is a synonymous German verb, "ficken," which could be the source. Regardless, this word is almost certainly not from the French.

Cunt -- Corresponds to the Old Norse (ON: a sister language to OE) "kunta" and the Germanic "kunte." Is used with great regularity in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Normally glossed as "pudendum").

Cocksucker -- Not surprisingly, there is no OED entry for this word. However, here are the etymologies for its constituents: Cock -- ON "kokkr" and French "coq"; Suck -- OE "súcan," corresponding to Latin "sugere."

Motherfucker -- A compound of the sort that is extremely common in OE. "Fuck" is probably of Germanic origin, and "mother" is a fairly common word in Indo-European languages, which suggests that it has changed relatively little since the beginning of this particular branch of language had its origins. This means that it can be traced to either Germanic or Latin/French.

Tits -- From the OE "tit."




END OF PROFANE WORD LIST

Thus, we see that all of Carlin's infamous seven do, indeed, have either unquestionably Germanic origins or at least a possibility of Germanic origins. So what?

This is a textbook case of linguistic dominance. When a new dominant language comes into a nation (as French did in 1066 when William invaded), the old language gets pushed to the margins and reworked as substandard. A significant part of this substandardization is relegating many of the old language's words to profanity. Meanwhile, the conquering language and culture forcibly take the positions of honor and respect.

Here is a list of some acceptable replacements for the seven words you can't say on TV:

Bowel movement -- French
Urinate -- Latin
Excrement -- French
Intercourse -- Latin
Vagina -- Latin
Penis -- Latin
Scoundrel -- French
Villain -- French
Rogue -- French
Breasts -- Germanic

Note that only one of these "replacement" words comes from Germanic.

What we have, then, is a conquering language asserting itself as the norm while forcibly pushing the language of the colonized "other" into the realm of transgressive speech.

For various reasons, French eventually became less and less important in England until, by the fifteenth century, it was displaced by English as the official language of the court and the Parliament. Nevertheless, the marks of Norman French dominance remain firmly rooted in the langauge, to the extent that hyperconservative bloggers continue to obsess over them.

What implications does this have for us today?

First, we should bear in mind that profanity is what it is primarily because the dominant cultural forces dictate that it should be so. Words are tools, and we must decide how to use them. Conversely, we must also realize that no amount of gratuitous profanity can eliminate a word's stigmatized history. Yes, some profane expressions can be subverted and normalized, but not all, I think.

Second, we should realize the consequences of pushing things out of the mainstream and into the corners of our culture. The Normans, for example, succeeded in making Germanic Old English a vulgar, less prestigious form of communication, but they could not eliminate the language's role in English society and culture. Germanic words shifted functions, but they couldn't be eliminated altogether. Similarly, if we strive to marginalize Muslims in American culture, we may wind up getting something that we haven't bargained for -- like, for instance, a militantly anti-American group that is willing to take drastic actions to assert its social validity.

Thirdly, if Patrick Ishmael were to include this blog in his search, he would get at least eight "positives," regardless of the fact that I have avoided using any of the "dirty seven" gratuitously. Doing a Google site search on particular domain names ignores matters like communicative appropriateness, which is another reason that his methodology is flawed.

Essentially, what Ishmael has done with this "study" is what most conservative bloggers seem to delight in: polarizing and binarizing everyone who reads it. I really wish people would think more about these things instead of responding so quickly with a "heck yes, your right Pat ok lol" or a "wtf your so wrong >:("

Edit -- A late realization: this makes the phrase "pardon my French" sadly inaccurate. :-(

01 March 2007

On Today's Headlines

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.

A couple of interesting stories I ran across today:

Board members take over Minuteman border group:
The Rev. Marvin L. Stewart, a Veterans Affairs accounts receivable technician and minister who heads the My Lord's Salvation Ministries Inc., told The Washington Times this week that he had taken over the Minuteman Project because of 'gross mismanagement' by James Gilchrist, the group's chairman, and others.
He said Minuteman Project leaders have not been able to account for $400,000 of the $750,000 that a direct-mail company helped raised last year for the organization.
I'm not a bit surprised. These guys have always felt really shady to me, and not just because their ideology is based on a completely mythical conception of U.S. history, either.

Gilchrist and his buddy, Chris Simcox, started what amounts to vigilante border-patrolling (albeit within the confines of the law) and fence-building in order to stem the dangerous Brown Tide from the wretched nation to our south.

They have never exactly shown a very great regard for things like traditional procedure, and as soon as xenophobic patriotic-minded Americans began sending in money to patrol the border and build their much-vaunted fence, alarm bells started going off in my head. These people are mavericks, and while mavericks might make great poker-players and Louis L'Amour characters, one does not normally associate "good accounting practices" with that particular persona.

So now we have: 1.) a group that will almost certainly fall apart over this matter, 2.) a missing $400,000, and 3.) a lot of upset national isolationists.

Trying so hard not to laugh...


The other story: IBM Heiress' Ex-Partner Sues For Stake In Family Fortune
A gay woman who claims she was both the daughter and "wife" of multimillionaire IBM heiress Olive Watson is suing for a stake in the Watson family fortune.

Patricia Spado was Watson's domestic partner for more than 10 years until 1992, when the couple split up, according to court records. Before the breakup, Watson -- the daughter of IBM founder Thomas Watson Jr. -- legally adopted Spado in Maine in order to circumvent state laws that forbid them to marry.

At the time, Spado was 44 years old and Olive Watson was 43. Spado contends that the unusual arrangements were intentionally designed to allow her to become Watson's legal heir. Since Spado was legally adopted by Watson, she is technically Thomas Watson Jr.'s granddaughter.


Of course, that also means she is entitled to a grandchild's chunk of the family wealth. The Watson grandchildren do not take kindly to this fact and are suing.

A simple domestic partnership statute could help to avert messes like this. Just sayin'.