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?