Thursday, January 27, 2005

Life at the Looniversity

Last night I discovered, to my horror, that I had missed what was apparently an important deadline in order to graduate. An obscure section buried in The Vermilion brought it to my attention...a week too late. Basically, the things I needed broke down into this:

1) Degree application--Huh? Didn't I fill this out when I applied for school here? Or has my identity completely changed?

2) List of classes--I presume this is so the university knows which classes I've taken. I couldn't remember them all, so I went downstairs in the same building to get my transcript. Yes, this was every bit as absurd as it sounds.

3) $45 "Diploma Fee"--Just when you think colleges couldn't wring any more fees out of your long-dehydrated carcass, they come up with a "diploma fee." Too stupid to explain. Even the girl at the payment window said it was a dumb thing to have to pay.

I've often wondered why some people, such as celebrities, dropped out of school right at the finish line. Now I think I see why!

File under "No Shit!"

You all know I'm not one to post things like this, but I found this too amusing not to post. I guess I really do act my age:

You Are 24 Years Old

What Age Do You Act?

I once took the more far-more-scientific age test at RealAge. I was at 16 until the family-illness and stress section, which added six years to my age all by itself. Hey, at least I was still only 22 there!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Jury duty!

I had jury duty yesterday. Do you wanna hear about it? Of course you do!

Prior to this morning, I was a jury-duty virgin. So imagine my extreme delight when I walked into the jury-pool room in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse to see...hundreds of people, all there for the same reason. Usually when I want $25, I just write another column for The Vermilion; but on this day, I knew I was actually going to have to earn it.

Once I found a seat in the very airport-like waiting room, I picked up a form which I was required to complete. Remember that scene in Men in Black where Will Smith is in that egg-shaped chair and the MIB brass is looking to see who's going to move the table over to complete the test? Well, this room was very similar. I had to forsake my seat to crouch over at a table. Like an Escalade left running in Compton, my seat was gone in a hurry.

Now to the form...hmmm....Age: 24...never been children...never been convicted of a crime...never been a victim of a crime...been injured twice, head and back (huh?)...never served on a jury...not a felon...I'm perfect for this! Crud...

I began rummaging for a good magazine to read. As often happens, I gravitated to the Newsweek on the table. While waiting to be sworn in en masse by the Justice, I got to bone up on the latest issues of the week, like the second presidential debate. I'll say this; if John Kerry wants to win the election, he's going to have to relax his personality and continue to hammer Bush on the issues.

When I got bored with that, I did what I always do in a room full of people: scoped out the babes! Now, keep one thing in mind: this is jury duty. Somehow, the jury pool skews decidedly towards those of the "average old Joe/Jane" persuasion. I managed to find three or four really good-looking young women, though, and they seemed hopelessly out of reach. What are you going to say to them? "Come here often?" "Gee! I'm also not a felon?"

One thing that got conversations going all over was mutual complaining about jury duty. Now I understand that jury duty is a lot of trouble for practically everybody. I don't really need several people around me complaining about it to know that. And what is the deal with that, anyway? Judging by their conversation, the people at the table next to me must have signed up as a clique. What is their deal? Or are am I just bitter that the ones complaining are in a position to where they can complain about making "only" $25 a day?

One woman even brought her kid. HER KID! And he warbled the whole time. Poor bastard probably thought he was waiting to get a shot. That, combined with his attractive mom, is probably going to cause that kid serious psychological damage for years to come.

After the orientation and the swear-in, we were allowed to leave for lunch beginning at about 11 a.m. We had to report back by 1:15 p.m. "Not enough time to do anything and too much time to do nothing," I thought to myself. Of course, this was no mass dismissal; we were asked to line up as the letters of our last names were called so that we could receive juror badges on our way out.

"Z-Y-X-W-V..." "U-T-S-R-Q-P..." After 30 very slow minutes of that, I geared up to grab my badge. "A-B-C-D-E..." Shit!!

"F-G-H..." "I-J-K-L"...that one took a real long time... "All right, last but not least, M-N-O!" Of course we're not least! But "M"s are by far the most screwed alphabetical section. ABCs are usually at the front, except when ZYXs are cut a break and allowed to go first. But no one, and I mean no one, ever starts with M. But they sometimes get picked last.

With bestowment of my badge, I officially became Juror 285. Kind of like a gang, but with only me as a member. Can you imagine the turf battles? That elevator ride down was a particular bitch.

After I got back from the considerably narrowed lunch break (which I spent at the nearby public library), I walked through the metal detector at the courthouse entrance. I stood behind the guy in front of me for several seconds before the security woman told me step back behind the detector: "I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't paying attention." No shit. She actually said that!

After more waiting in the jury-pool room, the justice announced that 35 Chosen Ones would potentially decide justice for one of two cases on the docket this week. Yes, friends, I beat the odds. Lottery time!

The next four hours were a presumably top-secret affair. Suffice to say, seeing that many people in suits in one place reminded me of a Young Republicans meeting. Yikes. I was sat in the very front, right in the direct parallel spot to the attorneys. They always stared straight at me. Double yikes. I kid, actually. They were quite nice people.

Highlight questions: "Does anyone here drive a car on business?" "Does anyone have a problem with the law as currently in effect?" "What do you do all day?" "Have you ever suffered a concussion or a hurt back?" "What is your biggest gripe about lawyers?"

Ultimately, 10 out of the 35 made the cut. Not me. I did myself in by knowing three of the witnesses, admitting that I am always more sympathetic to an individual than a corporation, and basically reversing that position when grilled about it by every authority figure in the room.

Perhaps the spookiest thing about all of this? At no point in the day, even with a dozen people pronouncing it at different times, did anyone say my name wrong. Scary thought.

I think a fellow reject said it best in the elevator on the way down: "That's what you get for having an opinion." A fun experience overall, and one I hope to repeat in two years when I am eligible for it again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Teach your children hell

Whether it's God, Santa or the tooth fairy, the method is the same

Check out this lovely article from MSN: "How to Raise a Spiritual Child!"

Usually, MSN articles (even the ones with which I disagree) are pretty upbeat and positive in doling out tips for life. This one barely differs from that mold, except that most of the tips outlined below could just as easily be used for robot programming as for teaching children about the outside world:

Though preschoolers are too young to grasp many of the abstract concepts that go hand-in-hand with spiritual life, they have other skills that will serve them well on the road to spirituality: They have no problem believing in things they can't see, and they live almost entirely in the moment.

So start them young, while they're stupid and have no grasp of reality!

This is the perfect age to begin nurturing your child's spiritual side -- as sustenance for her soul, as a way of answering her cosmic questions, and as a means of strengthening her interpersonal skills. Every religion has some kind of belief embedded in it about loving your neighbor.

So why not just teach your kid to love their neighbor?

And giving your child a foundation in faith will also give her something to fall back on in trying times later in life. "As recent events have shown us," says Neifert, "in times of crisis, people turn to their faith. It's a way to ground ourselves, and a way to interpret events that we don't understand."

So we're really admitting here that religion is a comforting mythology? Why would we want to teach that to our children? Aren't there better coping mechanisms?

Clarify your own beliefs. Whether or not you practice an organized religion, you'll need to decide what you believe in order to foster spirituality in your child.

In other words, bone up on your own indoctrination so that you know what to indoctrinate into your children.

If you and your partner have different religions it's wise to decide how you'll approach spirituality with your child now, before she's old enough to get confused by your differing opinions.

In other words, fix that rift now before your child notices that rifts exist and makes a decision on their own!

Introduce spirituality early on.

It's like crack; you gotta get them young.

"Young children don't understand who God is, but they don't really understand who a grandparent is either," says Neifert. "Still, you want them to know Grandma, so you start talking about her from day one. It's the same thing with the idea of God." Just as your child takes your word for it that Grandma is an important person in her life (even if she rarely sees her), so she'll take your word for it that God is, too.

And play down the fact that the child will actually see and interact with Grandma once in a while.

And by introducing spiritual practices early on -- such as lighting candles or singing hymns together -- your child will view them as a natural part of life, and you'll have a spiritual influence on her before other people do.

Which thus shows how unnatural all of this really is.

Even if you don't believe in God or see God as a single all-powerful being, it's worth talking to your child about it. "Kids are going to hear about God all over," says Neifert. "If you don't put your own spin on it, with your own values, they'll absorb someone else's."

This seems to be the thrust of the whole article: ensnare your kids now, before someone else does. It's capitalism, really.

Don't pretend to have all the answers.

This is a good one. More parents should cop to this.

Use daily events to teach spirituality....Instill an appreciation of nature. Nature is a great place to find a tangible manifestation of the divine. "Kids learn with all their senses -- they love to pick up a rock or jump in a puddle or chase a butterfly," says Neifert. Help your child see nature as something sacred by demonstrating your own love and respect for it... Introduce her to the idea that the Earth is a gift, and that our survival depends upon the survival of the planet.

Well, sure. Nature itself is the best religion.

Tell stories. The world's spiritual traditions are full of stories designed to explain everything from how the world was created to why people sometimes do bad things. Introduce your child to the notion that different people have different ideas about God by drawing on this wealth of literature... Reading such stories will give your child the opportunity to ask questions.

Just make sure that they are clear that every other religion is a cute manifestation of mythology while only yours is the light and the way.

Build on family traditions.

Family love and activities are wonderful things. But combined with religion, they are great ways to instill guilt in those who choose later in life to make dissenting decisions.

Make it fun. Religion and spirituality should be more joyful than somber and serious.

I'll bet the Lutherans are already pissed at this one.

Encourage your preschooler to paint a picture of God, make up her own story about how the world came to be, or simply imagine what heaven looks like. Together, act out plays or put on a puppet show based on creation stories or your own spiritual themes.

I honestly cannot believe that this made it into this feature. What a fantastic idea! It's a fun, intellectual activity that can take a child (or an adult) anywhere they want to go. It also shows how easy such a thing is, and just might cause a young and impressionable child to realize how many creation myths exist all over the world. I highly recommend this.

Above all, do what spiritual people have done for centuries -- sing and dance! If you don't know any traditional tunes, a wealth of CDs and cassettes of religious music is available. Don't forget to explore songs and chants from other cultures or traditions as well.

Unless you're Baptist, of course!

Practice silence. Once a day or once a week, take a minute to sit quietly with your child, encouraging her to be silent and listen to her inner voice. Your moment of silence needn't be introduced as some lofty practice of meditation, but simply as a calming break in a noisy day. Whether your child uses this time to commune with the divine or simply to rest and recharge, it'll help put her in touch with the "big" picture.

More people need to do this. I think it would help all of us to have some kind of mental break every so often. And anything that shuts up holy rollers for a while is beautiful.

Introduce a simple form of prayer. Let your child know that prayer isn't something that's saved up just for Sunday morning, or for times when she needs help with something. It's a tool for communicating with a higher power anytime... A simple prayer of thanks before or after meals can be an easy and effective way to instill appreciation for the basics of life. If your child is too young to make up her own prayers, help her along with what Neifert calls "ping-pong" prayers: You suggest a simple phrase such as, "Thank you, God, for..." and she fills in the blanks. The idea is to let your child know that God, or the divine spirit, is always available. "If the being who created the whole universe can listen to you, that's pretty good," says Neifert.

Well, if it helps you, it helps you. I no longer pray myself, but I have no problem with people who do. I've never been a fan of forced prayer, though, like some people really really want.

Stress the spiritual side of holidays. Try to balance the commercialism of the holiday season with activities that underscore its deeper meaning. Volunteer at a local charity. Donate food, clothing, or toys to a shelter, and have your child do the same by choosing a few items she no longer plays with... On the fun side, share some holiday crafts with your child...

Good things all. Again, though, do we really need religion to stress these values?

Consider joining a faith community. By regularly attending services and social events at a place of worship, your child will come to see that spirituality plays a central role in the life of the community. She'll also grow up more comfortable with the liturgy and rituals of your faith and come to see a house of worship as a place where she can feel comfortable and secure. "Kids thrive on predictability," says Neifert. "Whether it's a Catholic child seeing the communion bread and wine, a Jewish child hearing the Hebrew prayers, or a Hindu child smelling the incense in the temple, by experiencing rituals kids come to appreciate the predictability of a religious service, if not the deeper meaning."

Whatever happened to the personal relationship with God? I am of two minds on the community issue: on one hand, I think it's awesome to be with people who make you comfortable. On the other hand, do we really need more groups of people who are united under a questionable idea?

Follow your child's lead. Let your child ask the questions, and give her plenty of opportunities to discuss her own notions of issues such as who God is, what heaven looks like, or what happens to people after they die. Try not to dictate the answers to big questions. If she asks you where God lives, begin your answer by asking her what she thinks. Or ask her to draw a picture and tell you about it. Spirituality is a two-way street: If you listen carefully to your preschooler, you might discover something you never thought of before.

This is a smart idea, because if your preschooler can cause you to challenge your faith, then it's best to get out, now!

Overall, this article seems to have been pieced together by two very different people, being that some of the points are pretty cool while the others resemble cult tricks. Many of the principles outlined here seem to concern themselves more with how to get your kid to conform than actually getting a kid to believe in or otherwise see the merits of their parents' chosen beliefs. In my mind, the latter should be the real goal.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Overdosing on heroism

This is my latest column for The University of Louisiana Vermilion, and the first for the Spring 2005 semester. I've been writing the column since June 2002, and my entire archive can be seen at More Than Words. I'm enjoying it while it lasts, because this is my final semester in school. If any of you readers happen to own a nationally respected publication (cough), then by all means contact me! I can't boycott Wal-Mart if I don't have any money to withhold.

You know who would make a great hero? The first person to eradicate all traces of what currently defines the word “hero.”

Heroism is a nasty disease at the moment, one that is the excuse for all kinds of bad behavior. This is especially apparent in the current wars around the world. The Times of Acadiana recently awarded its prize for 2004’s Person of the Year to the Acadiana Soldier, proving two things: 1) soldiers are great and 2) we really need to stop worshiping them.

This isn’t to say anything bad about our soldiers; far from it, in fact. They are brave and take deadly risks for the rest of us, which deserves incredible admiration. I just have issues with the current concept of heroism. Though society has always needed heroes, these bleak times have elevated that need to an addiction on the level of, um, heroin.

Nowadays it seems that everyone on the planet has, or is looking for, someone to emulate. We long ago applied hero-level status to professional athletes, actors and everyone in between. The apparent mentality behind this was that people who get their picture taken a lot are not only perfect human beings, but must be charged with babysitting our children.

After 9/11, firefighters, police officers and paramedics also became godlike—not that it translated into pay raises or anything, but it did make us feel caring for a while. Remember the aftermath of Hurricane Lili in 2002, when electricians and the battery of public-works contractors were being praised as heroes? As admirable as these people were, equating them with heroism was kind of a stretch. Even the typically backbone-free local newspapers said so, which should tell us something.

Now we are molding soldiers into heroes, walking concepts of invincible warriors rather than thinking, feeling human beings. It’s hard to tell whether we are doing this out of genuine love and affection for the soldiers or if this is a coping mechanism to ease the pain of loss and the futility of the war. Maybe it’s both.

The need for heroes, however well-intentioned, has caused us to tolerate much more tragedy and political nonsense than we should. Some people call George W. Bush a hero, a ridiculous idea if ever I heard one. Heroism requires a certain degree, however minimal, of risk and sacrifice. Between the Secret Service, faraway First-Amendment Zones and his own skittishness, Bush is the safest man on Earth. And with his self-admitted shielding from much of the significant news reports of the day, he’s also the least likely to see the consequences of his decisions. No wonder we’re always at war.

Equally sickening is the tendency—both here and across the country—to celebrate each individual death as an example of why we must continue this pointless war. Several Lafayette-area soldiers have already died in Iraq, and each one has been accompanied by pleas to realize “what we’re fighting for” or similarly related nonsense. In a way that’s true; those deaths make it clear, at least to me, what we’re fighting for in Iraq: more dead soldiers. Holding up each person as a hero hurts more than it helps; the more we glorify such tragedies, the more willing we become to accept them.

Real heroes do not need to be glorified by the media or by anyone else. Those who personally know and love our soldiers have already made that decision for themselves. Find your own hero, whether it’s a soldier, a teacher, a parent, or someone else you know and admire. Better yet, be your own hero. If you’re not who you want to be, then what’s the point?