Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A thought about political behavior, in which I do not endorse any particular policy, ideology or agenda.

Maybe I am just becoming a cranky old woman, but I do not find it particularly funny, or patriotic, or Christian, to pray for the death of a president, even if it is in supposed jest.

Most of you know that I’m moderately liberal. That’s no surprise. You know that I was opposed to the war in Iraq, and supported the war in Afghanistan. I don’t think health care reform is “teh evil”, or is going to kill grandma, or a form of Nazism. In fact, I don’t think health care reform went far enough.

I was opposed to the war in Iraq. I knew we were going in under false pretenses, and even with a little brother being sent into combat, twice, I never once prayed for President Bush to die.

I think the Glenn Beck/Rush Limbaugh/Keith Olbermann version of political discourse is more detrimental to the project of American freedom than health care reform ever will be, because they spew hatred, intolerance, and self-righteous justification through vilifying those with whom they disagree. And yet I have never prayed for Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olbermann to die.

I have turned off my television. I may hope that they move to a foreign country. But never once have I prayed for any of them to die. Even as a joke.

You know what happens when I read the Bible? I find these words in Luke:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.
Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.

That’s the call I hear in the Bible, from Jesus Christ, to those who would be his disciples. Love those with whom you disagree. Bless those who hurt you, and hate you, and use you to evil ends. Give to those in need, regardless of whether or not they are deserving. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Why? Because even sinners can love those that love them in return. But we, as believers, are called to live a higher law. We are called to love those who hate us. If we only love those who love us back, we are a sinner. If we only serve those who are capable of serving us back, we are a sinner. If we only give to those who can pay us back, we are a sinner.

It’s nice to think that the world is so clear cut that poor people are poor because they made bad choices or are lazy or are evil. That’s nice to think about, because that means that I am rich(er) because I am a good person, or made good choices, or worked hard. Rarely will anyone admit that they are rich(er) because they won a genetic lottery that rewarded them with a beneficial socio-economic portfolio that pays dividends that seem, to the recipient, to be rewards for their supposed labors rather than systemic privileges to which they have no moral desert. Self-congratulatory narratives may make it easier to sleep at night, but they are detrimental to our ability to treat other people with the respect and dignity to which we claim they have an inalienable right.

We need to stop hating in this country. We need to stop hating people because they disagree with us. Even if we are adamantly opposed to the policies they propose, the people they have sex with, the color of their skin, the taxes they pass, or the wars they get involved in, there is no room for hate in this country. We are too great for that. We have in this country a legacy that should shine forth like a city on a hill, but instead of burnishing the flame of freedom that we have inherited, purchased by generations of effort at so great a cost and immense an effort, we are tarnishing it through our actions with a thousand little jealousies, and a million petty acts. We have used that flame to light the torches of an angry mob, rather than candles of example that should illuminate the good within ourselves and in each other. We should be ashamed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

First Day

And the promise of perfection is gone.

How old I do I have to be for students to realize that I really do know what I'm talking about?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Last Day

Today is the last day before the start of the new semester. I love this day. Stacks of syllabi are in neat rows on my desk, calmly waiting, with the promise of a perfect semester wafting off of them like the fumes from old mimeographed copies.

They hold the possibility of a perfect semester, of the perfectly designed assignment, of the perfect learning environment.

Tomorrow, or the day after that, the syllabi will be stuffed in backpacks, creased and forgotten. At the end of the semester students will bewail their lack of knowledge of deadlines and guidelines, having long forgotten these few pages and their hope for a new leaf being turned in the pursuit of academic excellence. Students will become more than a name on a sheet, a photo on a printout, a head to count. There will be irritations and frustrations; dropped classes, dropped books, dropped balls; reluctance, refusal, and remonstration.

But today, there is still the possibility of perfection.

Today, it's just me and my syllabi.

Tomorrow, the real world begins again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My revising process

1. Day one: Rip apart everything I have written using feedback from advisor as guidelines. Develop a plan of attack. Outline points to be addressed in each section.
2. Stare at what I've written. Think it all sucks. Stare some more. Write three sentences. Think they suck too. Ponder what non-sucky writing would look like.
3. Dive in. Make breakthrough. Write concise, intelligent work.

I always forget that my revising process always involves a day of suckitude. When I'm in it, I feel kind of despondent, but that time of sitting and staring at my work really helps me focus on the weaknesses that need to be addressed, and gives my subconscious time to work on the problems I've identified.

So, note to self, plan for days of suckitude in the future, and know that it will be alright.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Weird things that happened today

I got in to my office to find that someone (I am assuming a colleague) left ten five year old phone books, two comparative politics texts, and two old issues of National Geographic in a stack on my desk.

I had a student tell me in an email that my intellect isn't the only reason he loves me.

I fell in love with a house in a snooty new subdivision.

I bought dark blue eyeliner, and it looks really good on me. (This is only weird if you know that I've been basically wearing the same neutral eye makeup for the last decade.)

I broke a stapler and an ink pen within 60 seconds of each other.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Almost done

It's been a long week of grading and exams and presentations, but now, except for three papers that I'm still waiting to get turned in, I am done with this semester. I have a week before the next semester starts, and I'm going to write write write the whole time.

My goal:

Finish substantial revisions to chapter four.
Outline chapter five.
Finish data collection.

I can do all that in a week, right?

Monday, April 5, 2010

One of those moments

I had one of those moments today that make all the grading, and whining emails, and entitled students worth it.

I had students design and complete an experiment in their research class this semester. They ran a classical experimental design with a control group and two different experimental groups. They are analyzing the data now, and I'm so impressed with the work that they have done. They are presenting their research in class on Thursday, and I want to talk to them about presenting it at a conference. Their findings are really interesting and relevant, and I think it would be great for them to get some additional exposure. Watching undergraduates turn in to researchers has been exhilarating.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top Ten Books

There is a book meme making its way around the internet, which I saw most recently at Dean Dad's place, and I thought it sounded like too much fun to pass up. So here, in roughly chronological order of when I read them, is my list of the top ten books that influenced me the most. I've left out holy writ.

  1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss – “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” This book introduced me to the idea of speaking for something else that did not have a voice, and the importance of nature and appropriate use of resources.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – “Equal is not same.” I didn’t realize how much this book had influenced by thinking until I went back and reread it as an adult, and realized my dissertation that I am writing is about the issues raised by Meg Murray.
  3. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold – I still remember sitting in my dorm room on a California coast, reading about an oak tree getting cut down on the prairies, and knowing I would never look at the world the same way again. This book set me off on my own journey to find my place.
  4. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis – I think this is one of the greatest philosophical expositions of the potential power embodied in the Christian tradition ever written. His gift with analogy is rarely equaled.
  5. Policy Paradox by Deborah Stone – This book explains the way people use narrative in their own lives, and the way narrative is used as a policy tool. It completely changed the way I view the news and the political process.
  6. The Imperial Presidency by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – probably the source of most of my disdain for modern politics. It is a biting critique (exhaustively documented) of the expansion of executive power, and diminution of Constitutional structures. I have multiple editions of this on my shelf.
  7. Orientalism by Edward Said – I hated this book when I started it, and thought it was completely wrong. By the end, I was convinced Edward Said was a genius, and now am highly conscious of the way we as a society construct the Other.
  8. The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry – This book is kind of like a sequel to Sand County for me. Berry’s critique of modern society’s disconnect from each other and from the land is penetrating, thought provoking, and beautifully written.
  9. Democracy’s Discontent by Michael Sandel – the first sustained critique of the liberal project that I read in graduate school. This book made me change my area of emphasis to political theory.
  10. Basic Rights by Henry Shue – the book that sparked my dissertation. If Shue is right about the idea of basic rights, and I would argue that he is, how do we implement it?
What books have influenced you?
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