Sunday, December 25, 2005

In Defense of "Happy Holidays"

Christian conservatives are backlashing against polite people. In a move out of the political correctness handbook, Christian conservatives have made it un-PC to say "Happy Holidays." Such a phrase is offensive, it seems, because it hides the fact that the fabeled birth of Christ occurred today.

To this, all I can say is: When did it become rude to be polite, respectful, and aware? I choose "Happy Holidays" over "Merry Christmas" because I know that there are a number of holy days during this month for not only Christians, but Jews, Sikhs, pagans, and others. I cannot tell the faith or persuasion of the many people I encounter this time of year at the bank, at the grocery, at school, at the dry cleaners to whom I wish glad tidings.

To say "Merry Christmas" is to assume everyone is Christian. To say "Happy Holidays" is not intended to minimize Christmas but to respect and acknowledge that not everyone around me is Christian. I simply wish to be polite and respectful. (And, isn't that good Christian values?)

So, to my readers: Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2005


Disappointment. It’s something I now experience regularly as I wait each month for signs of absence to learn if new life is occurring in me. In my adult years, until now, I had few disappointments. I experienced many as a kid.

There were a few disappointing Christmases, when presents were donated from the couple next door; months of daily disappointments during the worst days of my young adulthood, when I’d come home from school and see Mom already holding in hand a low ball of whiskey and a splash of water, the sign of a long night ahead; when Mom would let Keith back into our house after an especially violent episode between them, when she vowed he'd never be allowed to return; when I did poorly on my ACTs; when I remained in the second row of the flute section; when that check that would help ease our poverty did not come yet again.

Disappointment is very cruel. It generates feelings of sadness, melancholy, self-pity, and frustration. There is a feeling of helplessness, that there is nothing to be done to satisfy the desire, the longing for the object or the state that is to be denied once again.

Perhaps, that’s what’s so cruel about disappointment. The opposite of disappointment is hope. Hope brings promise, excitement, and possibility. Hope tricks the mind into pondering better days, visualizing that object and the subsequent joy it’s supposed to bring. Disappointment is the result of hope denied.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Soul Cleansing

It's hard to be the leader of the "free world" when your own citizens don't like you so much. President Bush's approval ratings aren't so great, and so he's been trying to do what he can to improve his image among his people. Along with four major addresses the past few weeks, a soft interview on NBC news, and a live broadcast speech to air tomorrow (Sunday) at 9EST, he's been doing a little confessin', doing a little soul cleansing.

The first confession was that he took responsibility for taking us to war on faulty intelligence. A little part of me says "good, I'm glad he finally owned up." It's not much of an "oops, I screwed up" since he still argues that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do to bring democracy to the Middle East even if we had to kill, by his estimates, as many as 30,000 Iraqis in the process.

His second wash and rinse of the soul occurred when he stopped threatening to veto the McCain Amendment to the Pentagon spending bill. I doubt his motive was actually to do the right thing, but I'll take this particular cleansing, since the end product is that we still finally have a moral position on torture.

[As an aside, some of the faulty information connecting al Qaida to Iraq, which the president now recognizes as faulty, came from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who was an al Qaeda leader renditioned to Egypt, where he was tortured. During his torture he confessed that al Qaeda had contact with Saddam Hussein. He has since retracted this confession, and there is no credible evidence of any link between the former Hussein government and al Qaeda. See how useful torture is for getting reliable information?]

Maybe confession was feeling good, and he was feeling the joy of clean, and so revealed a little surprise. He authorized the "No Such Agency" to spy on Americans and others living in the United States without going through the usual legal channels, thereby violating basic civil liberties. Bush claimed that he gave such authorization to track and intercept communications occuring between people who have a link to al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations.

It turns out that not only is the NSA spying on American citizens. So is the Defense Department. Two SUNY Albany students have appeared on a watch list by the DoD as being threats to the military. The students are part of Campus Action, the same group I mentioned in my post about the Solomon Amendment a month back. The group is a non-partisan student group that has protested the Iraq War and military recruiters on campus. And, that's how they got on the DOD watch list. When military recruiters have come to the SUNY Albany campus, Campus Action protesteed their presence. That seems to have been enought to land them on the watch list entailing that their telephone calls and email messages have been monitored by the government.

As a communicative action, the confession is intended to redeem the confesser. The President aims to feel better, and as a by product, those who listen to the confession get to learn juicy secrets. But, for it to be a succesful redemption he needs to be forgiven. On this, I'm agnostic.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My Temperment

Lois Scheidt has on her blog a link to a little survey about temperment. I cannot resist such Cosmo-style quizzes. So, here you go:

You Have a Sanguine Temperament

You are an optimistic person who is easily content.
You enjoy casual, light tasks - never wanting to delve too deep into anything.
A bit fickle, it's easy for you to change plans or paths when presented with something better.

You enjoy all of the great things life has to offer - food, friends, and fun.
A great talker, you can keep the conversation going for hours.
You are optimistic and sure of your success. If you fail, you don't worry about it too much.

At your worst, you are vain. You are obsessed with your own attractiveness.
A horrible flirt, you tend to jump into love affairs and relationship drama easily.
You're very jealous - which just magnifies the craziness around you.

Yeah, I'm not so sure about the last part. I am a flirt, I will confess, but I'm not *that* obsessed with my mirror image. And, I'm not jealous. Usually. And, actually, I do worry about success. I'm not comfortable with failure.

Stupid quizzes. Why do I take these things? They're never right.

But, now you're curious, aren't you? What's your temperment? It's irrisistable.

Torture? No. Not Us!

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has found herself having to explain and defend the United State's policy on torture. Today, while speaking in the Ukraine, Secretary Rice stated that the United States does not condone torture in its interrogation practices of prisoners.

Well. How about that?

She stated that the United States strictly adheres to the United Nation's Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, which was a statement ratified by the United States in 1994. The statement prohibits the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.

This is, by far, the most clear statement by an administration official that suggests that this administration does wish to be part of the civilized world.

Of course, the words of Rice do not clarify what the U.S. policy really is. Scott McClellan, the White House Spokeman, said that Secretary Rice's statement represents no change in U.S. policy.

If that were true, then Senator McCain wouldn't be trying to negotiate with the Republicans in Congress and with the White House on legislation that would ban inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.

If that were true, we would not have seen the Justice Department in 2002 issue a legal opinion that interrogation methods were allowable that stopped short of causing pain that might compare with organ failure, the impairment of body function, or death.

If that were true, then we would not have seen an opinion from the Justice Department a year ago that defined torture more broadly yet did not reject prior condoned torture practices, including water boarding (making a person believe they are going to drown), exposure to prolonged and intense cold, or shackling to floors or walls in painfully uncomfortable positions for hours at a time.

Although I wish her speech was an articulation of a new commitment on the part of the Bush administration to ban torture practices, I suspect her true goals are to calm the critics in Europe by telling them what they want to hear (without it actually being the truth), and to short circuit the McCain ban by making it seem unnecessary now that the Bush administration seems to have found its soul.

Unfortunately, her speech falls into the "empty words" column. But, she cannot utter words that tell people what they want to hear without there being repercutions when it turns out there is no reality that matches those words. She may find herself in the same position as Secretary Powell--telling the world lies to serve administration goals. To what end, and at what cost?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Private Public of Blogs and Classrooms

I just completed a lecture to my undergraduates about blogging. Only three of them know much of blogs, so we spent time getting ourselves acquinted with the whole phenomenon.

We talked, well, I talked, to some degree about the strange private public of the blog, and about my reticence in posting truly private things about myself on the blog. I revealed to them a personal matter that I can't bring myself to talk about on the blog (as tempted as I have been several times to do so). In telling them this private matter, I was trying to illustrate the vulerability I feel in writing personal things for an unknown, unseen public.

Yet, I found it intriguing that I could reveal this personal matter to my students. They are a seen public, although they are still unknown to me. They know far more about me than I know about them. (Indeed, that's one of the many reasons I've found teaching difficult--the one-way nature of teaching is challenging for those of us anxious about our presentation of self.) Yet, somehow, it still feels safer to tell them this private thing than to tell it here. Perhaps because if I were to spill all here, it would be in far more detail, therefore revealing even more than the few sentences I expressed to my undergraduates. In the classroom the revelation served a purpose; The purpose of this whole blogging thing still escapes me.

And still, here I am blogging away.