Thursday, December 22, 2005
I've thought a lot lately about discussion, disagreement and debate. I've never seen myself as an ideologue, but I've wondered recently if others sometimes see me as one. I like to think of myself as a person who is willing to consider all sides of an issue. I’ll be the first to admit that I have strong opinions on some issues, but I’ve never thought of myself as overly political or obtuse in the way I approach them. Several recent exchanges, however, have me questioning whether I am too combative in my discourse. I’m left wondering just what the proper bounds of debate are. Are some divisive issues better to avoid entirely? When should I let comments slide? How can I disagree with someone, even forcefully, without being seen as antagonistic? When should I?
I honestly strive to keep my discourse civil. In fact, I usually go to great lengths to temper my responses. It's a conscious effort. Yet I still seem unable to avoid contention. It’s important to note that I would characterize most of my interactions as incredibly civil, but it's the small portion that is not that gnaws on me. In seeking a more impartial perspective on the matter, I’ve raised this issue with several friends who know me well. One insightfully suggested that the problem may stem from different motives. I may be seeking something entirely different out of an exchange than someone else. For example, I might be looking for a more substantial discussion about an issue, while someone else could be in it solely for the entertainment (apparently pushing my buttons is considered entertainment in some circles).
Motivations, however, aren’t always self-evident. Humor, for one, can be especially complex and difficult to discern because it often involves a considerable amount of substance. To be fair, I’m frequently guilty of resorting to sarcasm and hyperbole in exchanges for entertainment’s sake myself. Where problems arise is when one side is more invested in the exchange than another or the sarcasm has begun to cut a little too deep. I’m often confronted with sarcastic remarks in discussions that, while meant to be funny, are also intended to rebut or counter an argument I’ve made about an issue I care about. Responding to these can be a catch-22. You let them stand and it may appear that you don’t have an adequate response or are ceding ground on that particular point. On the other hand, if you respond to the substance of the argument, people might attack you as overly serious or, possibly, combative.
While I could definitely be better about ignoring the more egregious comments that are sometimes thrown my way, I can’t accept silence as the preferable response in most situations. A difference of opinion is no reason not to speak up, in fact, it’s often all the more reason to speak up. Moreover, I think a robust discussion is essential to the thought process. It’s how we should work out and reason through difficult issues. But what if you’re not trying to work or reason through anything? Even if exchanges are just for entertainment, the whole reason we’re engaging in these discussions is to interact. Silence would seem to defeat the purpose. The real question, it seems to me, is how to respond.
Humor seems like the best out in most situations. If you can come up with a witty retort, it can take the edge off a response, even if it is one addressing the merits of an issue. Humor has its problems though. First off, most of us aren’t that witty, even if we like to believe we are. Second, someone may not want to use humor because they may feel it trivializes an issue they feel strongly about. And third, humor can sometimes fail, especially if it isn’t as funny as you thought it might be. Even if it is funny, some sensitive topics like religion can be difficult to navigate with humor because people may feel judged as individuals if their views differ from yours in a particular area.
The fact that many of these exchanges at issue take place online doesn’t help matters any. As a friend recently pointed out, these online debates may invite contention because of how high the risk of misinterpretation is. Linguists claim that most of our face-to-face communication in nonverbal, which means that writing immediately has some pretty large interpretive hurdles it must overcome in order to be effectively understood. Recognizing this, we would all do well to take Stephen Covey’s advice to seek first to understand before we seek to be understood. Unfortunately, being slow to take offense is some pretty difficult advice to actually put into practice.
In the final analysis, I’m still figuring out how I can come off as less confrontational while not feeling as though I’m compromising what is most important to me in the process; perhaps it will be a life-long struggle, I don't know. I do know there are others who manage to do it, so it can be done, but just how they do it is far from self-evident (at least to me). My best guess is that it’s a combination of being slower to offend, being more tolerant of differing views, and having more of a sense of humor (I should probably squeeze ‘being better at spotting blatant provocation’ onto that list as well). I readily admit that I fail often as I try to incorporate this tempered approach into my exchanges. All-in-all it's a tough juggling act… especially when it seems like others aren’t equally as interested in juggling with you. My only hope is that I'm at least on the right track in the things I'm seeking to juggle.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Albus Dumbledore is a sourpuss. Or at least this new imposter is. I saw the Goblet of Fire a few weeks ago and found myself thoroughly absorbed. I lost myself in the movie... except for when the crotchety old Headmaster (played by Michael Gambon) ambled onto the screen. The new Dumbledore is an angry old Scrooge, not the old wizard with a twinkle in his eye that anchors the Harry Potter series.
Professor Dumbledore is supposed to be the moral center of the story and had always come off as the calm voice of reason in the midst of whatever chaos was afoot. In the book, after Harry's name is picked out of the Goblet, Dumbledore, though unhappy, calls for Harry to come “please,” and “calmly” asks him if he broke the rules by submitting his name. In the movie, however, Dumbledore almost has an aneurism shrieking for Harry. And later, in a scene in the Headmaster's office, Dumbledore comes off as confused and uncertain, appearing to lean on Snape for support. Gambon gives no reassurance that Dumbledore is there to help steer things back on course with his quiet, but firm, direction. He almost seems disconnected. I miss Richard Harris.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Sweet title to a recent Third Circuit Decision:
People Who Want to Restrict Our First Amendment Rights, Primarily to Intimidate Rather Than Religious Purposes Maintenance on Courthouse Grounds of Illuminated Granite Monolith On Which "Ten Commandments" Were Inscribed Together With Other Symbols, et al.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Friday, December 02, 2005
Occasionally a set of circumstances arises that makes you wary of admitting where you're from. I think it's probably happened to everyone at some time or another. Normally proud of your home turf, an unexpected (...or expected) turn of events makes you hestitate just a bit to lay claim for awhile. Take, for example, Chris Cannon's defeat of Bill Orton in 1996. Well, today was that kind of day. A good friend passed along a news story this morning that I found so beyond the pale it made my jaw drop... truly unbelievable. Just when you start to think that perhaps we've begun to turn a corner as a country (or a state), you get hit with something like this. So, for now, my humble response will be: Utah County... Where's that again?
As a new dog owner I have been forced to confront many issues that I’d rarely given second thought to before, including (but not limited to) the responsibility that dog poop begats, the best approach to teaching the difference between shag carpet and lawn, how one might confuse a bone with a Clorox bottle, and, my focus of the day, the theft of a young pup's manhood.
Many a dog owner has wondered whether the prominent practice of snipping dogs' virility is cruel and unusual punishment. Some worry about androgyny. Others cringe at the thought of sharp objects in that general vicinity. And most question what psychological effects the chop job might have... will a dog lose his masculinity? Will he be traumatized for life? The whole process can take its toll on a dog owner, not to mention a dog... but it no longer has to .
As I pondered this, one of life's difficult questions, I came across the genuis of last year's Ig Nobel Award for Medicine. Neuticles, my friends, are here to ease your worries, calm your fears, and keep your dog thinking he's virile until kingdom come. Testicular implantation for pets is the name of this game.
Unethical you ask? Couldn’t this be said of removing a God given part in the first place?
NeuticleOriginals (made with polypropylene for rigid firmness)
NeuticleNatural (Solid silicone for a more natural firmness)
Neuticles UltraPLUS (Also solid silicone… but feels squishier)
They're firm, yet soft and natural when implanted. These babies are guaranteed to keep everyone guessing "Yeah... but are they REAL?" And you can bet Ubu is never going to know the difference.
Isn't this just a waste of money? He's not going to know they're gone anyway. To answer that, Neuticles poses a question to YOU, "Would he know if his foot was cut off?" Common-sense, they hold, suggests that he would. Are they SAFE though?
Are they SAFE though?Over 100,000 pets worldwide have been 'Neuticled' without a single reported rejection or serious complication.* *When implanted as directed and minimal post operative care is employed.
These things are apparently a hit across the board. Triumph the Dog thinks they're a tasty snack, Maxim touts them as one of the 10 best things of 2004, and Rush Limbaugh thinks they're "Just plain neat." They're even getting super high-tech with these crown jewels—You can now get 'em encoded with an ID chip.
Truth be told, they almost sold me on it. A pair of yuletide implants for my boy. Jäger frolicking and cavorting under light blue skies in wide open fields with everything seemingly intact. But alas, I'm still a student and these jugs are steep. The silicone ones run from $199-$379 for a 65 lb. dog... and that's without Vet fees.
But can you really put a price on manhood? Yup... and right now $500 for a pair of synthetic gonads just seems too swank my blood. I mean these are basically pebble sized plastic Jelly Bellys we're talking about here.
Sorry Jäger, maybe next year. A rawhide candy cane to take your mind off things?
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Study 2: Justifying a cost-of-living increase when you make $165,200 a year while denying one to those making $5.15 an hour.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Be forewarned. Adoption is long and somewhat cumbersome process. There are numerous hoops to be jumped through, the authorization forms are a pain, and the contracts come with a heavy helping of legalese. Worse still is narrowing the decision on who you should try to adopt. A good fit, after all, is extremely important.
We searched for weeks before Melissa fell in love. She found a beautiful 14-week-old boy that she just had to have. Though we decided quickly that he was the one for us, nothing comes that easy. As with most things worth having, adoptions are hard to come by. In fact, they can be among the most difficult things to secure. Our problem was that someone had one-upped us on the wait-list. We did everything possible to strengthen our application, but the final decision was not in our hands.
Last Saturday was the day the contract was to be finalized and the adoptive parents were to meet their little one. The only option we really had was to arrive early and hope the other application would fall through. Melissa took the first shift at the adoption center and was actually able to spend some quality time with the little boy we hoped might be ours. She stuck around for several hours, talking with workers and growing more attached, before she sadly pulled herself away and headed off to work. Hope was flickering as she left though because the other applicants still had yet to show. I took the afternoon shift and persistently lobbied those in charge on our behalf, but the response never seemed to change; there was someone ahead of us on the list.
Then, late that afternoon, it happened. Whether I wore the adoption staff down or they themselves simply wrote the applicants ahead of us off as no-shows, I’m not certain… but the decision was made and he was ours. There was paper work to fill out and future home check-ups to schedule, but I could leave with him that night. When Melissa called from work for an update, I led her to believe that nothing had been finalized and we wouldn’t know anything until Monday. All this so I could surprise her at work with the newest addition to our family. And surprised she was. She's actually been beaming ever since.
So that’s that. We’re now the proud parents of one damn fine 3 ½-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback-Lab. We renamed him Jäger (he was ‘Junior’ before). It’s German for “Hunter”… not really that descriptive of him, but we like it. We haven’t slept much since getting him (he likes to howl from his crate at night – though I should note that he’s been improving), and our days seem to revolve around food and excrement (I swear, he's worse than a hamster). But we’re loving every minute of it (and cherishing the quiet ones).
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Its topics range on everything from prom to mallrats to unorthodox military jobs in Iraq (a segment that included an interview with an aircraft carrier vending machine stocker). Each show captures a snapshot from some angle of everyday American life that always seems to resonate with you. It's really Seinfeld-esque in its ability to delve into the ordinary and strike a chord. I still laugh about episodes I heard years ago (the fact that I can even remember them is a testament in and of itself).
The reason I ask is because my wife and I went and saw This American Life's host and producer Ira Glass speak at GWU last Saturday. Long-time fans of the show, we were excited about going and did our darndest to invite friends and family to come with us. Problem was we couldn't sell it. No one wanted to go. Never having heard a program before, everyone from my father-in-law (who was in town for the weekend), to law school classmates, to old friends, they all shot us down cold. I tried to explain the show's concept (something along the lines of an NPR show spotlighting unique aspects of American life), but apparently my description lacked bite; a little too much like a bad re-telling of good joke. I guess no one was willing to take my word on it that the joke was funny. (In hindsight, I could have referred those I was inviting to Fox’s über-teen drama The O.C., on a recent episode Summer Roberts referred to This American Life as “that show where all those hipster know-it-alls talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.” Probably wouldn’t have made a difference though).
The disappointing part in this all is that the show really was spectacular (see the Post review). It one of the most enjoyable events I've attended in recent memory. So enjoyable, in fact, that I was actually bothered during the show because of how entertaining it was. As I sat taking it all in, I kept thinking how this person or that person that I had invited would have loved this or that about the show and I found myself getting annoyed. A little neurotic, I know... but it got me thinking.
We're all a little that way I guess. We laugh a little harder at jokes we've told a million times when we get to tell them to someone new. We like to see others appreciate things we've grown to love and, honestly, these things would seem a little blander if we couldn't share them. So that's my point really... good things, whether they be Waiting for Guffman or This American Life, are simply better shared... that and I'm neurotic.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I don't subscribe to the Team
First, Schwarzenegger was never vetted by a primary process, and pundits on both sides of the political aisle have publicly questioned whether he really could have won one. This only serves to give hope to other actors who haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a primary.
Second, Schwarzenegger ran against patsy competition. The field included such luminaries as former child star Gary Coleman, independent columnist Ariana Huffington and porn star Mary Carey. Schwarzenegger's stiffest challenge in the election was actually the vote deciding whether to even recall the incredibly unpopular Gov. Gray Davis in the first place. In reality, the recall was simply a perfect storm—an extraordinary series of events that very likely will never to happen again. But starry-eyed actors itching to bolt off the political starting line may fail to read the tea leaves of this storm and delude themselves into thinking that they'll contend at the finish line.
Third, because of the unique recall circumstances, there was no build-up to Schwarzenegger’s run for office. This created a VERY weird situation—a campaigning gubernatorial candidate who was simultaneously promoting a film called Terminator 3. The reason this is so bad is that it utterly distorts campaign reality for the political wannabes in question and makes the idea of cannon-balling into major election like a governor’s race seem plausible.
Lastly, Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor has been plagued with some most unfortunate rhetoric, which has only served to dumb down his elected office. From labeling critics of President Bush’s economic agenda “economic girlie men” to claiming his unpopularity with the California Nurses Association was “because [he was] always kicking their butt,” Schwarzenegger’s bravado has made politics seem tangibly within the grasp of every other narcissistic, over-paid and over-confident thespian who might be able to deliver a line. Win or lose in his bid for re-election next year, I fear the words "I'll be back" are destined to somehow be incorporated into a Schwarzenegger political slogan.
Since his victory just over two years ago, the esteemed California governor has single-handedly inspired a generation of aspiring Hollywood politicos. You think I’m joking… but Alec Baldwin was recently quoted as saying "I wanted to be president of the United States [when I was younger]. I really did. The older I get, the less preposterous the idea seems." Things have gotten so bad that one of these dreamers last week crashed a Schwarzenegger campaign rally to try and capitalize on the man's dwindling popularity. While some may find these sort of publicity stunts morbidly entertaining, I think they lean more toward the "scary as hell" end of the spectrum. Maybe it's their increasing regularity that's putting me on edge. Honestly though, can you really fathom a Beatty v. Schwarzenegger contest in 2006? I reassure myself by thinking that
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Monday, October 31, 2005
More than a generation removed from Jim Crow laws, Martin Luther King Jr., and much of the Civil Rights movement, I sometimes forget how deeply entrenched discrimination still was less than fifty years ago. When I read cases like Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe, the United States they describe seems like another universe.
I'm grateful for experiences that lull me out of my complacent and, at times, narrow world-view. As we stood in line with scores of people who had struggled through the bitter storm of desegregation and saw the reverence that they had for Ms. Parks, I realized the long shadow that this era still casts. I think many of those in line would have stood there for days for the chance to honor Rosa and the movement she sparked.
There was healing to be had though. Inching forward at our snail's pace every hour, we clapped and sang songs, everything from We Shall Overcome to Movin' On Up. White, black, young old, we sang together... and I think somewhere a weary, middle-aged secretary sitting on a crowded old bus smiled.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
All the tickets to the event had supposedly been claimed long ago, but I figured there was no harm in trying to finagle my way into the auditorium where the panel was being held. Surprisingly enough, no finagling was required. There wasn’t even security at the door (a seemingly shocking oversight). The organizers had opted to allow standing room attendance and so the crowds were packing in at the rear of the auditorium. To avoid the inevitable purge of the tightly packed back end of the lecture hall, I pushed through the swarming masses and settled in near the front of the hall by the far right corner of the stage. In doing so, I not only managed to elude the subsequent effort to thin the crowd, but I was able to see Justice Ginsburg speak up close, from no more than twenty feet away.
Justice Ginsburg is very petite and struck me as rather soft-spoken, but she is nonetheless a commanding presence. In reminiscing about the Chief Justice, it was clear that she had a genuine affection for him. She called him the “best boss she’s ever had” and lauded his evenhanded approach in overseeing the administration of the Court. She said he was always imminently fair in assigning out the responsibility to write opinions, and in the bi-monthly conferences he chaired, she could never remember him ever disparaging another Justice for his or her position on an issue. She also made note of the sensitivity and kindness he showed her when she battled colon cancer in 1999.
In reflecting on Rehnquist’s legacy, Justice Ginsburg acknowledged some of her differences with his interpretative approach to the Constitution, but she noted two cases in particular where his votes had pleasantly surprised her. The first was in Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, a case she actually argued before the Court in 1975 that involved a gender-based distinction mandated by the Social Security Act. Rehnquist concurred in the Court’s decision to strike down the distinction on the grounds that it failed a rational basis review. And the second was in United States v. Virginia, a 1996 case involving an equal protection claim against the Virginia Military Institute. Ginsburg, then an Associate Justice on the Court, authored the majority opinion, and Rehnquist again concurred in the result, finding no substantially related “important governmental objectives” to justify the exclusion of women at VMI.
In ending, Ginsburg remarked that a Chief Justice brings only him or her-self into the position. Chief Justices are given tools which allow them to be first among equals, but their influence and greatness depend entirely on how they handle those tools. Justice Rehnquist, she said, handled them masterfully. Not having had much exposure to Justice Ginsburg outside an opinion here or there in a law school textbook, I left thoroughly impressed. What struck me most was the collegiality that clearly exists between the Justices in spite of philosophical differences that sometimes run deep. A memorable experience to be sure on what would otherwise have been another ordinary day.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
What I like most about Stewart, outside of being an equal opportunity offender, is his bullsh-t radar—He has this uncanny ability to hone right in on the ironies of practically any situation. It also helps that he doesn’t strike me as particularly ideological
Instead of directing his ire at a cable news show this time around, Stewart simply directed it at just about everyone else. Here are a few highlights (with the disclaimer that these quotes might be paraphrased a little):
Democrats Regaining Power: “Rapture will soon be upon us and only then will the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate... Nah, we'll f--- that up too. Somehow, Nader will get it.”
President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina: “The president had a day of prayer. He should have had a truck of food.”
Where Bob Novak is these days: “He only comes out at night now. When you feast on the blackness of souls, sunlight can eat away at your fleshy exterior.”
“Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance: “If you want to make a phrase meaningless, make second-graders repeat it every day.”
Posting the 10 Commandments in schools: “The 10 Commandments keeps kids from shooting other kids just as well as the ‘Employees must wash hands’ sign keeps piss out of my Happy Meal.”
Intelligent Design: “Maybe God said ‘Oh Sh-t! It’s due tomorrow!!!’”
Easter: “Jesus Christ comes to offer salvation, dies for the sins of man, is resurrected in glory… and we say ‘I’m thinking painted eggs.’ Maybe there’s something to it though: 12 apostles, 12 eggs in carton... and one always comes cracked (Judas).”
The Pope: “The Pope is the most loved man that no one agrees with.”
Boy Scouts banning gays: “The definition of gay is thousands of young men wearing neckerchiefs going to a jamboree.”
Jewish Response to Oppression: “Blacks created Jazz [in response to oppression]. Jews complain too, we just never thought of putting it to music.”
Minorities: “Minorities also have an obligation to the majority. If you are a minority, you shouldn’t make everyone have to honor you and how “special” you are. If you’re Jewish and live in a town that is all Christian, you’re going to need put up with a damned Christmas tree.”
Having Children: “I've never gotten the chance to ruin someone from scratch before.”
Friday, October 21, 2005
Monday, May 30, 2005
What's odd is that in the wake of being bowled over by the Mack truck that is the first year of law school, I do feel that I have some direction for the first time in awhile. While I am certainly no closer to knowing just what I'll do with a law degree or into which basket I should be stowing my eggs, I have gotten a sense of what I need in life, and what I don't want any part of. I still, however, feel less confident of myself now than I did a year ago... but I think that might be a normal part of the law school experience. As things stand, I know my strengths and am (keenly) aware of my weaknesses, and that's not a particularly bad position to be in. My problem is that I still sometimes get bogged down in the immediate challenges I am faced with and this can create tunnel vision.
To return to my original point, these are among the reasons that I decided to blog. While getting this first post out has been like pulling teeth, I hope it may serve to prime my creative pump. Interestingly, I feel a little shy in posting this - I feel naked to the world. It's not that I've said anything profound or poetic or anything risky or incriminating... but that I haven't. I've simply thrown out a few thoughts that I'm not sure are worth the blog they're posted on. Maybe after trying for awhile I'll manage get a few thoughts down that are.