Friday, August 31, 2007

I Like Mary Pipher

I’m enjoying a great book about writing: “Writing to Change the World” by Mary Pipher. She also wrote “Reviving Ophelia”, a book my wife read a few years ago about the maze of conflicting messages that poison adolescent girls against themselves in our modern society. I need to read that soon, now that my oldest daughter has just entered the jungle of junior high.

“Writing to Change the World” reminds me of things I should already know, but only spottily do. Like treat those who disagree with you with respect. Write what you alone can say. Write bad first drafts. Move the world just a little bit.

Here’s her take on success:

“Success means we have done our best. We have not squandered our gifts or ignored our responsibilities. We have given our time and talents to help others. We have used our freedom to free someone else. Success is not fame or awards; it is having our ideas discussed by other people.”

This sounded good, until I realized it is probably much harder to be responsible and use privilege for good than it is to get published somewhere. Defining success by quantity and fame would allow me to play guilt-free golf all day if I could just get someone to give me some kind of award.

I didn’t know much about Mary Pipher before picking up this book, but recently noticed a news item that she had returned an American Psychological Association Presidential Citation. The AMA shamefully continues to allow professional psychologists to take part in interrogation techniques that include torture, and she returned her award as a symbolic protest.

I must say I am duly impressed. She is an engaging writer, a social activist and someone to emulate. I hope she plays golf too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Money for Love

I heard this NPR report yesterday on efforts to win hearts and minds in Iraq:

The idea is to pay Iraqis a huge amount of money to cleanup garbage in their village - $10/bag, which is an entire day’s wage for a government worker. It is a quintessentially American way to solve a problem - shower someone with money and expect love and devotion in return. Or, perhaps more charitably, we offer them the thing we most value to get the thing we most want.

And yet, even then, we go about it all wrong. American soldiers arrive in town “perched warily behind 50 caliber machine guns” while they negotiate with the locals. When a villager balks because he doesn’t feel he has the authority to make a deal (after he is mistranslated), the soldier in charge get impatient and says “I want to show him the money before we leave. I want to show him what a dumbass he is.”

They finally get arrangements made, but the soldiers are offended when the Iraqis then make their kids collect the trash, while the Iraqi men complain to the soldiers about their lack of health care, fuel and clean drinking water. When it is time to be paid, the soldiers tell them to line up. When they don’t, they tell them to move back unless they want to be shot.

What I found most ironic was the soldiers’ offense at making the kids pick up the trash. And yet, isn't this a perfect metaphor for the plight of the American soldier in Iraq? They are stuck grunting it out and picking up the trash for the neocons and oil interests that started this whole mess, and continue to profit from it.

Corey Flintoff’s commentary is quite apt:

“Soldiers do what soldiers do. They are trained to be forceful to get results. Villagers do what villagers do. They try to get maximum advantage from an unpredictable source of bounty and they try to do it within the structures they understand – the family, the tribe. In terms of numbers, hundreds of bags of trash, dozens of villagers paid, the patrol’s mission seems to have been accomplished. The village is slightly cleaner but it seems unlikely that civic pride will keep it that way. The residents have some very easy money and while that may promote cooperation, it’s unclear whether hearts or minds have been won on either side.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sweet Land Review

I've decided to post some occasional movie reviews at the EbertFest blog site, for those rare instances that I actually see a newly-released movie (or newly enough released on DVD and it didn't play in Champaign-Urbana). I'll link them from here when I feel inspired enough to do a review. I've enjoyed doing reviews during EbertFest, but want to get better at it, so will be practicing occasionally to get into better movie-review shape, so to speak. Call it trying to get rid of my movie-review pondus, or adding to it, depending on which meaning of pondus one likes.

As a counter-example, I was recently dragged to Transformers mostly against my will by some 8 year old boys who shall remain nameless. They enjoyed it immensely, which is not a surprise, since it seemed targeted directly at 8 year old boys. The characters talked the way 8 year old boys talk when fighting each other's action figures. The character names were ones that 8 year old boys would come up with if they didn't have very much imagination or had ingested a lot of lead paint and asbestos as toddlers. I won't be doing a review of Transformers.

However, I did do a review of Sweet Land, which is newish on DVD, and I don't remember it playing here. The short review is: Good movie, go rent it. The full review is here.

The slightly longer mini-review is: Good movie about a post-WWI German mail order bride coming into a Lutheran Minnesota farming community and which deals with issues of immigration and community. Of interest to this blog is that the community in this movie could have easily been Mennonite as Lutheran, especially during that time period, when Mennonites were very isolated and suspicious of outsiders. For hard-core Mennonites, imagine a movie about a Mennonite General Conference (GC) bride entering a Mennonite Church (MC) community, or vice versa, circa 1925 and the suspicion and wariness that would naturally ensue. It may sound absurd, but no more so that Lutherans who are afraid of Germans. Anyway, it’s a nice, wholesome, sweet movie.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Second Hand Pants

Just the right touch of that goofy, good-natured Mennonite humor that I enjoy so much, and for a good cause to boot. I especially enjoyed the unflinching portrayal of the scandalous nature of pleated pants.

As good as it is, it's not quite the best video of all time, which still must be Leonard Nimoy's rendition of The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins:

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Increasing Pondus

I learned a great new word from Johan, our Swedish ex-foreign-exchange student. He’s not ex-foreign so much as ex-exchange student, as he’s been back in Sweden for 7 years now. He’s more like a younger brother now, and we talk every now and then, usually about his love life, or US hegemony, or the socialist paradise of Sweden. I can’t confirm the socialist paradise part, but he likes it there. I guess all that free health care, education and other socialist ideals of basic access for everyone has really warped his sense of freedom.

Anyway, I was complaining that my middle-aged gut doesn’t seem to go away so easily nowadays, even after a few hard-earned days of reasonable eating. Johan taught me a word Swedes use for that – “Pondus”, pronounced, I think, “pewn-duss”. If I understood him correctly, it means something like “life-experience”, “weight”, or “gravitas”, but is often used when pointing at one’s enormous stomach as an example of why they are right or have authority or are intimidating in some way.

What a great concept. My ever expanding belly is not the result of eating entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s or spending too much time in the Chinese food buffet line. It is a result of my life experience, and just comes naturally to someone with as much gravitas as I have. It is the final word on why I should be listened to and respected.

So instead of continually fighting against it, I am just going to accept the burden of wisdom and righteousness that is my Pondus.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Interesting Ways People Find This Blog

I use MVtracker to gather stats for this blog. I’m about to pass the 5,000 unique visitors mark, which is not grandly impressive, but not embarrassingly pathetic either.

I often wonder whether I should continue it all, but then someone I don’t know puts me on their blogroll, or someone I do know comments on a piece they liked, and I trod on again for awhile. I know, I know – it shouldn’t all be about other people’s reactions. Still, I started the blog to be some kind of a voice, and a voice shouting to an empty void is really just a crazy person talking to himself, something which I promised my friends and doctors to stop doing.

Most people reach this blog via internet searches, and MVTracker records the search so I can see what it was that brought them here. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them are searching for something Mennonite related, and are therefore fooled into coming here, not realizing how minor I really am. Still, it’s nice to know that 5,000 have been here, even if they were tricked into coming.

I’ve been saving the search strings when I remember to look at the blog stats, and then I keep the ones that are funny or interesting. Here are ones that have caught my eye over the last year:

can champaign get you drunk
what if a body is taller than the casket
mennonite hussein hanging
football without touching the floor record
fort wayne roller dome terrorist
the president sent the flag in bubble
mennonite porn
hitler purify world of jews
consumerism and eisenhower administration
mennonite fanatics
oppression of technologically advanced societies
mennonites and terrorists
why i hate Mennonites
dwarf doors
jesus loves osama
sexual predator democrats
chicken bus guatemala attack
what do the mennonites hate
harvest time corn what do you do with it
why dont mennonites like slavery
mennonite murder
pacifism misguided
rich and powerful people dont pay taxes
amish homosexual
can mennonites drink beer
mennonite homosexual
mennonites america problem
unable to grow facial hair properly
children and cabin fever
do you place your hand on heart to sing the national anthem
the word gob
tuk-tuks in Guatemala
inappropriate workplace behavior stories
congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale
mennonite intolerance
chief illini jewelry
undeveloped sexually
fbi surveillance of Mennonites
mennonites on the ground in iraq
primitive physical torture photos
government spying Mennonite
dan schreiber comedian
do mennonite have facial hair
mennonite women photos
what happens when we are angry

I'm troubled that so many disturbing queries have led here, but hey, whatever it takes.

And yes, there are real people on the other side of these queries, so at one point someone did want to know how to get a large body in a casket, how to grow facial hair and why those incomprehensible Mennonites are against slavery.

Since I’m such a people pleaser, I can only say that I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help them, but that I now have a whole bunch of new ideas for blog posts.

But I can answer one question: Yes, as far as I'm concerned, Mennonites are allowed to drink beer. But only good beer. Mennonites should never drink Budweiser or Miller Lite.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Weenie Democrats...Again

Instead of impeaching Bush for his lawless wiretapping of Americans, Democrats have instead decided to just make it legal, apparently because they are afraid of being called bad names . I am truly appalled.

I can’t decide whether they are acting like Minister Fudge in ignoring obvious danger, or whether Cheney is actually a recovered Horcrux and is using the imperius curse from his dark dungeon to take control of the Democratic Party.

Either way, political theatre this absurd could only be topped with the introduction of a meaningless, non-binding censure resolution of Bush, Cheney, and Gonzales, a move which is bound to fail anyway.

Come on, Democrats. What works for Republicans doesn't work for us. For example:

Republican Base: “Reducing constitutional rights? Expanding federal power and spending?”
Republican Politicians: “… Um…. Hey, Look! Someone is burning a flag over there! I think it’s Osama Bin Laden! And fanatical Muslims are going to be teaching your children to poop on baby Jesus if you don’t do everything we say!”
Republican Base: “Aiiggghhh! We’re all going to die! Please take our money and liberty!”

Democratic Base: “Caving unnecessarily on constitutional freedoms? Not standing up to torture, illegal imprisonment, and arch-conservative judges”
Democratic Politicians: “ Hey, look, a censure resolution!”
Democratic Base: “Yea, right. Are you only willing to stand up for our precious ideals when it doesn’t matter? You sicken me so much I’m going to vote for Ralph Nader again and give power to those who always disagree me with instead.”

OK, OK, it seems neither base is all that bright.

Despite my obvious frustration with the Democrats, I still believe there is a difference between the parties. For example, Democrats are weenies, as I’ve already mentioned. But they only usually vote for the moneyed interests in this country. Republicans do that all the time. And, Democrats occasionally have enough spine to slip in minor policy measures that help reduce suffering in the world.

Rooting for the lesser of two evils has never been so distasteful, but that’s just how the world works. If you want even a marginally better world, unfortunately you have to get your hands dirty. I think the best way to handle this particular situation is to take names and work to defeat specific, cowardly Democrats in their primaries.