Monday, August 23, 2010

Bitches and scorpion bitches

Deathstalker scorpion (Wiki commons)
Some years ago, I ran into a woman, a manager, whom everyone working for her loathed. Not disliked. Loathed. I ended up doing some work there, too, as a consultant. I saw, after a while, that she was so thoroughly despised that she had not a friend in the place. I thought that was cruel, and I really didn’t like participating in so much meanness. So, when I went to the coffee shop for good stuff (as opposed to the garbage from the machines), I brought her some, too.

Before long, she actually began to thaw toward me. Not, mind you, that she didn’t occasionally mess me over not for any business reason but just because she could. I generally just told her it was unacceptable, and that if she wanted me to leave, that’s fine. Otherwise, stop interfering with my getting the job done. Generally, she realized my efforts were valuable and somehow forced herself to leave me alone.

Life went on. Eventually, she encountered some serious business problems that resulted in her getting fired. She actually cried when she realized she was about to be reamed out and let go. I felt bad for her, so I called her after it happened to invite her out for a meal. She was very touched. Then I invited her to a family gathering. My brother tried to cheer her up, make her laugh, which he is very good at. “Holy cow,” he said later, “I never worked so hard for so little.” He couldn’t believe anyone could be so humourless and stiff-necked.

Life went on. Eventually, that woman and I ended up working together again, she as staff, I as consultant, as before. It was a small industry we worked in, so that’s not surprising.  When I had to leave town, leaving a project for an important client in limbo for a few days, I asked that she not touch it; it was so sensitive that any interference would undo what I had done. Not an unreasonable request.

Life did not go on. She messed with it. She virtually ruined it. Her second-in-command could see my anger when I returned and had to pick up the pieces, at enormous expense to me. He told me he would do whatever it took to help me do whatever I wanted to do: leave, stay and fight, whatever. I left. Why? Because I suddenly recalled the old parable about the frog and the scorpion.

A frog and a scorpion were sitting on a riverbank. The scorpion wanted to get to the other side, so he asked the frog for a ride on his back. First, the frog said no. He knew what scorpions were. Eventually, the scorpion―by dint of smiling and generally being a jolly fellow and only just a tiny bit of lying―convinced the good-natured frog to carry him across the river.

Halfway to the other side, the scorpion stung the frog.  “Why’d you do that?” the frog screamed as his little body began to stiffen up and sink. “Now we’re both going to drown.”

“Well,” said the scorpion with a self-satisfied grin, “You knew what I was when you agreed to carry me across.”

Moral of this story: No matter where you are or what you are doing, in every aspect of your life, know the difference between a harmless insect and a scorpion―or between a plain bitch and a scorpion bitch if you will.

What are the signs of a scorpion bitch?
Check back again in a day or two, and I’ll post the list.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Morality and the overturning of Proposition 8

God, as portrayed by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel (Wiki Commons)
The image reflects the communal belief of the time, 1512, in an avenging god. This is not the face of the loving god spoken of by Jesus of Nazareth. Michelangelo painted his own sexual conflict and guilt, just as as Saul of Tarsus wrote his.

In deciding in favor of gay marriage in California, and in overturning the scurrilously Christian Proposition 8, a California judge opined that, “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights.”

The shameful condition of education in the United States probably prevents even some otherwise thoughtful people from understanding the full import of the judge’s ruling; certainly, those mired in the insupportable belief that their religious beliefs equate with universal morality will never understand the perfection of the judge’s ruling.

Taking the single sentence above one piece at a time might, however, sway those with sufficient education and open-mindedness to stop equating their personal or community morality from the constitutional demands of the United States.

The concept of moral disapproval is, of course, the key ingredient. Morality is not written by god. It is not really written by anyone or any entity. Morality is, rather, a set of beliefs to which a community of people adhere. If one reads the whole bible, one will see that, in fact, ideas of morality have changed radically from the earliest of those books to those of the new testament. Indeed, even within the new testament, one has espousals of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, which would demand equality and compassion for all humans.

And then one has the gospels of Saul of Tarsus, renamed St. Paul by Christians. Saul of Tarsus was a man so torn by his own sexuality, as some scholars maintain, that his epistles are the insupportable basis on which, to this day, the Roman Catholic Church attempts to impose a male superiority morality not only on its own adherents but―via its interference in the sovereign decisions of independent states (I refer to its rejection of Kathleen Kennedy as U. S. Ambassador to the Vatican)―on the rest of the world. On a world that does not share its concept of morality.

Just so, the right wing in the U.S. tries to enforce its communal morality on communities that have a different communal morality. And, thank goodness, one judge has put an end to it, at least for now. Perhaps the reversal will last only until the US Supreme Court weeds out its own narrow moralism, which at best reflects less than 50 percent of the communal morality of the nation, and begins to reflect the demands of the Constitution, a “morality” if you will that virtually all Americans agree with. That morality includes equality for all people under the law. All people. When it was written, the Constitution did not include women or non-white humans. Over the years, as the communal morality expanded to acknowledge those individuals, so did the interpretation of the Constitution. And, to ensure it, additional laws were written as well.

The term “improper basis” is somewhat problematical. Improper by whose reckoning, some might ask. Improper, in this case, means according to the demands of the Constitution as written, and as interpreted over the years. It does not mean improper by some arbitrary set of community beliefs. In its setting as part of a legal proceeding, the term improper can only be taken in its legal sense.

Finally, there is the concept of denying rights, which this decision seeks to end. I will freely admit that, for quite a while, I was unduly influenced by early religious training, as well as a certain sloppy philology on my part, and decided a “marriage” could be only between a man and a woman, although a “domestic partnership” could be between two women, two men, or a man and a woman for that matter.

During the run-up to Mr. Obama’s inauguration, in comments to a column I wrote then for, I was persuaded that I was in error. I am still persuaded of that, and I would posit that if it is my right to marry a man as I desired, then it is my friend’s right to marry a man, also, as he desired. It is somewhat uncomfortable for those of us not living in the gay community to deal with (to us) amorphous concepts of husband and wife. But no matter; the right of the gay community to marry is absolutely not superseded by other communities’ rights to be comfortable in the nomenclature at all times. In short, non-gay “morality” does not supersede gay “morality.”

Indeed, no particular community’s morality, extrapolating from this ruling, exceeds another community’s morality. If all are equal under the law, then so be it. And in the U.S., that is what the Constitution suggests that the entire community of Americans believes.

If all are equal under God―and I am somewhat convinced that all religions would at least pay lip service to that (except perhaps Westboro Baptist Church)―then this ruling has done nothing but conform California law to the religious teachings and community morality of all the citizens. Amen.

As for myself, being a non-Christian, somewhat pantheistic existentialist, the entire issue has allowed me to examine my core beliefs, define to which sub-community I belong, and expand my spiritual awareness. (Yes, Virginia, existentialists do believe in a spiritual world. Indeed, it is central, although expressed in humanistic terms.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NCLB and teacher stress. Huh?

Empty classroom...with or without students
when the teachers are out to lunch (Wiki Commons)

In the middle of writing a proposal for a book of humorous travel stories, I remembered a comment on my Facebook page this morning. It was by a friend of a friend. The friend had mentioned how stressed out he was, and he had hoped that the cooler weather of October might bring relief.

I replied that it would bring relief only if there was a sudden reversal of the misfortune the two deadly presidencies of George W. Bush had brought upon the United States, and, for that matter, the world.

A friend of his noted that she thought I was probably stressed because I was paying attention to matters over which I have no control, i.e., the political situation in the US or anywhere, I suppose. She was avoiding stress by keeping her circle of concern, as she put it, much closer to her circle of influence.

I replied that since I am a journalist, my circle of concern had better be a bit wider than the local grocer and the Curves franchise. And I would hope my circle of influence would be wider than that, as well.

Then I checked her Facebook profile; apparently, she teaches at a college. It would seem to me that her circle of concern, unless she is teaching how to teach kindergarten (and even then), should be extremely wide. Any teacher's circle of influence is wide, and, for good ones, the wider, the better.

That being the case, how can a teacher justify ducking her head in the sand to avoid stress? How can one teach anything unless one is intimately involved in the world around one, the whole world around one? Or were some teachers relieved by the imposition in US public schools of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), because they wouldn’t have to teach any longer but simply help the two-armed parrots memorize a very few facts? College teachers get the dumbed-down kids after they’ve spent their entire school career, at this point, under NCLB. I can’t imagine that today’s products of Bush’s schools are in any way challenging, so teachers wouldn’t get much stress there. They wouldn’t be waving their hands in the air, having caught Dr. Smith (or whoever) in a mistake.

Or is it stressful trying to teach products of NCLB anything? Are they even barely literate? And I don’t mean in terms of abecedarianism; I mean even about their culture as a whole.

I'm willing to posit that, and give that teacher the benefit of the doubt; after all, I've no more walked a mile in her shoes than she has in mine.

Any intelligent person cannot avoid stress in the current universe. The cynic in me says that George W. Bush probably owned stock in pharmaceutical companies and thought that if he created sufficient opportunities for stress across the board (two useless wars, gutting virtually all “green” legislation on the books, revoking habeas corpus, raising lying beyond high art to religion), people would clamor for Xanax and he’d get rich.

Still, except for a brief respite to recharge now and again, I should think a teacher would understand that engaging with the world is possibly the first duty of a teacher. Especially now. Without that, any information transmitted, whether about quantum physics or knitting, is done in a vacuum.

I can hear the huge sucking noise of a billion vacuums being opened, and eager students spilling out, hungry to learn about their world.

Yes, it's only a dream.