Archive for March 2011
Hello, everyone. Settle down, please. Today we’re going to talk about pluralism.
Pluralism means wanting or accepting our differences, even if those differences are very big. Timmy, sit down, and leave Marcia alone. Leaving Marcia alone means you accept her being different from you, even though she never takes a bath. We call that part of pluralism “tolerance.”
When we are tolerant, we do not make other people feel bad for being different from us. Gregory here is the only black person in this class, but to call him “son-of-a-whore” because of it would not be tolerant, even if he probably doesn’t know who his father is. Kim and Anna’s parents came from some godforsaken country in Asia, but we do not call them “gook” or “slanty-eyed.” We want to be pluralistic.
Now, the principal wants us to talk about pluralism because some children in the older grades beat up another student because he goes to a Mormon church, not a real church. We all know that beating people up for being different is wrong; we’re only supposed to give them dirty looks and say they will go to Hell when they die. But Principal Martin thinks we need to try even harder than that. So we’re going to talk about pluralism and tolerance.
You might think that we don’t try to be tolerant when someone is clearly wrong, but actually, that’s exactly when it happens. Even though Jews are Hellspawn who killed our Lord, we are not going to spit on Jacob or Beth. We are going to treat them as we treat everyone else. Yes, Timothy, that means they stay in the room when we have our class Christmas party.
Pluralism is one of the reasons our founding fathers made sure there would be freedom of religion, and that’s the way the courts still see it, even though our founding fathers did not face the danger of Muslims trying to impose Shariah law on us and make us their servants. Yes, Jessica, that’s exactly what they believe; just ask your pastor. But if we had a Muslim in our class, there would be no singling him or her out for beaning during dodge ball just for that reason. He would also have to be a nerd. Yes, Timothy, he could also come to the Christmas party.
What’s that, Grace? Well, that is a good question, but not really about pluralism, so I’ll answer it very briefly. Our founding fathers decided we need what’s called a “separation of church and state,” which means that the government will not favor one religious group over another. But of course everyone knows they meant this to be a Christian nation, so having a Christmas party in a public school is no big deal.
But back to pluralism. In addition to talking about pluralism, we’re going to spend some time practicing it. I have here a dress – a very ugly dress. Jacob, you’ll get to wear this dress and stand at the front of the class. The rest of us will practice trying not to laugh or throw things at Jacob.
We’ll do this every morning, right after the pledge of allegiance. Jacob, Beth, Kim, Anna and Gregory will take turns wearing the dress.
Now, if you’ll open your English books to page forty…
Much fuss has been made about making classics more accessible to today’s audience. Well, to hell with that. Literally, that is, if have a particular view of certain revered texts. To wit:
It started back In the Beginning
Before everyone started sinning.
But I think He’d retract
If He knew for a fact
Its result would be Charlie Sheen’s “winning.”
God spoke, and thus light was created.
“It’s good,” He said, but vacillated:
“Is it particle? Wave?
Let’s just watch it behave
And in eons, its nature debated.”
Though He wouldn’t deign to explain why,
The Lord then created the sky.
But at that point, the song
Was historically wrong:
No Lucy, and no diamonds, on high.
When the dry land emerged from the sea
Earth could then grow such things as the tree
Though one can’t help but wonder
Whether ’twas all a blunder:
Sans hammocks, what use could there be?
Though it wasn’t quite made on day four
Taco Bell is just the kind of store
To fit in with the pattern
With Jupiter, Saturn
And the rest in the “gas giant” corps.
Day five brought forth fishes and birds
(And, if you’re a creationist, herds
Of some dinosaurs, natch,
Caught outside Noah’s hatch –
Though I must say, that’s not in the words).
Day six: made orangutan
And the billions of others He planned.
But one creature would rule
Over canine and mule:
I mean cats. Wait, you thought I meant man?
Dear Mr. Picasso:
We appreciate your interest in our gallery. Thank you for submitting your work for our consideration. It is with regret that we inform you that we have decided against showing the works you have presented to us.
Please understand that we hold you in high regard: your brushstroke technique and sense of color are second to none, and your subject matter speaks to the very core of human emotion. However, we feel compelled to outline why, in the end, we have declined to display your paintings.
Primarily, our considerations stem from a keen awareness of emerging trends in art. In the opinion of our team of experts, the distorted figures your paintings depict will have narrow appeal, and fleeting popularity, if any. As the lifeblood of any gallery is the art-appreciating public, we must act in accordance with what we deem the most likely public reaction to any given work. From a purely economic standpoint, we must refrain from devoting space in our gallery to works upon which the public will spit.
Please do not take this to mean that we have not considered the artistic merits of your paintings. On the contrary: we spent much time examining and discussing your work. The outcome of these discussions pointed invariably to our sense that you have no idea what you are doing. You must have talent – as we mentioned, your technique and subject matter are beyond reproach – but why you would choose to depict such distorted, manifestly crude figures when a world of aesthetic richness awaits in the realistic, the mythical, the naturally beautiful?
Any preschooler can tell you, after all, that eyes do not belong on the same side of the nose. Ignoring this basic anatomical feature bespeaks apathy, laziness or utter disdain. We should not need to inform you that neither we nor our clientele find such attitudes attractive.
Moreover, your attempt to depict the female form as an object of little more than sensuality, devoid of lofty potential, casts doubt on the suitability of your work for today’s audience. This is not Salzburg or Paris in the 1870’s, Mr. Picasso; we see decadence as a short-lived phenomenon, not one to be enshrined in our period’s art.
We will gladly reconsider our position if you return with a reformed portfolio, one that better reflects the spirit of the times and upstanding moral character. Perhaps then we can discuss your emerging career. Until then, we shall adhere to our assessment that your work, though mildly interesting, will fail to generate sufficient excitement as to warrant our endorsement of it.
The Rectocephallic Inversion Gallery
In today’s sensitive political environment, a writer must take care not to alienate large numbers of readers. For one thing, that means keeping use of the word “nigger” to a minimum. Overuse of the word “nigger” is liable to drive away people of African ancestry, as well as people who sympathize with their historic plight. So the sensitive writer will avoid using words such as “nigger” more than absolutely necessary, and will certainly not say “nigger” repeatedly in the space of a few sentences, no matter how noble or instructive the purpose.
Public opinion, after all, can determine the fortunes of a career, especially one so dependent on the public as writing. So a writer had best toe the line of prevailing political winds, and steer well clear of offending the public – by which one must never mean Jews who control public opinion through the media. Saying such things would be imprudent – nay, suicidal – in our social context. One dares not refer to the supposed Jewish control of media or of banking, nor to any supposed characteristics they may have as a group: hooked noses, usurious tendencies, distaste for buying retail, whatever. Additionally, you would be best advised not to employ terms such as “Hymie” and “Kike.” Yids will jump all over you for that. The reaction will become especially vehement if you precede any of these terms with, “goddamn.”
Conversely, if you happen to be Jewish, you should avoid referring to gentiles as “goyim,” as they might not like the sound of it. Calling non-Jewish women “shiksas” sounds about as offensive as it really is, so don’t do it, and never, ever speak aloud the idea that shiksas are for practice, or that all non-Jews, especially the shvartzes, are violent thugs out to rape and pillage, however true you might find it. Yes, “shvartze” is just Yiddish for “black,” but considering the national uproar over the innocuous word “niggardly” a few years back, you don’t want to go there.
(True exchange witnessed by my mother:
Elderly Yiddish-speaking lady: “…I mean the man over there – the shvartze.”
Daughter: “Mom, you shouldn’t use that word.”
Elderly lady: “What should I call him – blue?”).
The same goes for homosexuals, although here the pitfalls are less of the stereotyping variety than of plain old intolerance. One may say “gay” or “lesbian,” but “fagot” is out of the question – one should even stay away from the shortened form “fag” used in the innocuous British sense, i.e. a cigarette, however unfortunate the conflation. See “niggardly,” above. Do not say anyone packs fudge, unless you are referring, literally, to a person whose activities involve placing that chocolate confection into shipping or sales containers. Fags and people who support their rights – and we should all be so supportive, I need not remind you – can get very upset when the word “fag” occurs unnecessarily. It also goes without saying that “goddamn fag” is a no-no.
If you happen to follow the Muslim faith, calling non-Muslims “infidels” or “dhimmi” can get you into trouble, no matter how sincerely you believe the worthless pig-dogs will serve you in paradise. “Jihad” is a term best left out of casual political discourse. You put your career in jeopardy if you offend the infidels, the very infidels whose positive attention you need in order to raise the capital to fund your jihad against infidels. Tread carefully.
Be careful when referring to Catholics, as well. Avoid the term “papist” if at all possible; papists are a powerful demographic, and suggesting that their true loyalty is with Rome, not Main Street or Washington, can get you in trouble. There is no reason to keep using the term “papist” multiple times when the audience knows you mean Catholics. Avoid implying that Catholic doctrine somehow contributes to a default papist state of unhealthy sexual repression, or that something inherent in Catholicism produces goddamn pedophile priests. As a subset of this warning, remain vigilant regarding those of Irish ancestry, many of whom maintain papist sensibilities, and who, for some reason, bear a reputation for drunkenness.
By the same token, do not assume that Scots are skinflints – do not confuse unjustly attributed Scottish cheapness with unjustly attributed Jewish cheapness – that Germans are all Nazis, that Russians are unrepentant Communists, that Democrats are radical leftists, that Poles are backward, unsanitary anti-Semites, that French are adulterous surrender-monkeys who never shower and whose women never shave, or that anyone speaking Spanish in the US arrived there illegally. Implying any of these – nay, even mentioning such ideas out loud – can cause a writer undue trouble.
Avoid referring to Arabs and other natives of the Near and Middle East as “sand niggers.” Although most people don’t understand the term anymore, “wogs” carries the same taboo. Similarly, “towel-heads” triggers a negative reaction among enlightened souls – and among plenty of unenlightened ones, so just leave well enough alone. Not that one should perpetuate such a stereotype, but if it were true, you wouldn’t want any of the unenlightened ones blowing up your house in response.
I hope you have taken these rhetorical points to heart. You should have no problem if you’re Asian, because Asians are very good about this kind of thing. The rest of us will have to try harder. Goddammit.
I used to frequent an online forum that billed itself as a place to meet and engage in spirited discussions with critical thinkers and less critical thinkers of various stripes. I’ll grant the discussion were spirited, and that in fact the population of the forum lived up to the variety its supporters touted. But I haven’t visited in at least a year, and that brief foray was also the first in about two years.
I used to crave the challenge of defending or disproving positions on all subjects. Nothing was off limits: religion, politics, racism, economics, history, science, the paranormal, you name it. Owing to the type of discourse, the majority of forum regulars had – at least it appeared to me – above average intelligence, and I enjoy interacting with smart people (as far back as high school I simply couldn’t understand why various popular kids were popular; I couldn’t stand being around those idiots). Ever since I first began to frequent the forum in late 2005, I learned to reexamine dearly held assumptions, to refine myriad arguments and conceptions about the world.
Of course the place had a lighter side, with puzzles, games, and discussion threads that went on and on with creative silliness. My favorite thread had a user post an “answer” to an unasked question, and the next person to post had to come up with the best possible question for that answer, then provide another answer so the game could continue. For example: Answer: “That’s ‘discreet’, not ‘discrete’.” Question: “So, Mr. President, you want a separate chapter about each intern?”
But eventually, the games and humor portions of the site remained the only ones that held any appeal for me. Returning to the site after a prolonged absence, I found the same issues continually rehashed, sometimes by the same people, sometimes by others, with nary a novel thought or approach. I realized that people tended to talk at each other, not to each other, with each side in a debate seeking more to score rhetorical points than to genuinely pursue understanding or persuasion.
It was about that time that I began to sour on the comments that many news and opinion sites display. Does anyone genuinely think that a reader will be swayed by the opinion of some anonymous post in some corner of the web? Have any of these people stopped to think of the astronomical odds of any opinion forming and solidifying based solely on the input they receive at a given site? There’s no need to answer that question; it’s clear that too many people view themselves as far more important and influential than reality cares to let them be. Getting involved or obsessed with the last word in an online political or religious debate constitutes nothing more than a colossal waste of time.
Not that such a rational argument would sway many of the, uh, personalities we encounter online (and in meatspace, but at least there we can see and avoid them). I’m no Einstein (I’m more a Homer Simpson with hair), but I caught on pretty quickly that people do not tend to be swayed by multiple exclamation points!!!! in their arguments. Nor do BRIGHT COLORS and BOLD TEXT compensate for feeble debating skills. These points seem to be lost on certain evangelical Christians; believers in the paranormal, homeopathy et al; and foaming-at-the-mouth liberal and/or far-right partisans on any political issue (Lesbian Zionist Islamists were the ones behind 9/11, and the government made it happen! Discuss).
I’m just tired of it now. You could try to convince me to change my attitude, but anyone who does that is a fundamentalist moron.
See what I did there? That’s called “poisoning the well.” Another pitfall in debating involves the straw man, arguing against a position that one’s opponent does not actually represent. You, for example, might wish to convince me to read more irredeemably stupid comments, and you would argue that I should change my position because it’s better not to avoid reading news altogether. I could in turn respond with a slippery slope fallacy, arguing that if I begin to read comments, I’ll inexorably find myself caught up in a deadly protest involving abortion clinics. These are just some of the delightful bits of information I absorbed. They’re useful in “winning” debates at the dinner table, but one seldom makes friends by pointing out other people’s logical fallacies.
It’s much easier to bad-mouth them anonymously in some comment, after all.
But you probably don’t have the guts. Go ahead. Make my day. Submit a comment disproving my contentions.
*Sound of crickets*
I knew you’d see it my way.
*Sigh.* I’m getting tired of this, Leonard. I shouldn’t have to keep telling you that the laundry room is a lousy place to store spent nuclear fuel.
I know you work hard, dear. You come home every evening exhausted, and most of the time I suppress the urge to remind you of all the little tasks still waiting to get done. Well, we have some dinner, relax in front of the TV, and before we know it, it’s time for bed. It’s no wonder things sit around for months at a time. Still, this whole nuclear waste thing really shouldn’t wait any longer.
I also work hard, you know. It’s no picnic cleaning up after the kids, getting them ready for school, cooking every meal, washing dishes, doing laundry, keeping the place tidy and making sure everyone does chores and homework. Most days I feel like collapsing even before you get home, but I push myself, because those moments with just you are among the warmest ones I have, especially sitting so close to the radioactive waste.
Oh, I know there are a million things to do: we’ve got that fussy roof tile, the hedge needs trimming again, that tree in the back yard looks like it’s about to fall, and a dozen little hinges and joints around the house need to be adjusted and oiled. I get it. It makes so much more sense to deal with the active chores with a visible, tangible result, as compared with just finding a better place for the uranium-234 and americium-241.
Oh, don’t we have a better place to keep it? We barely use that second shed out back, and there should be plenty of room in there, between the old anthrax spores and the smallpox cultures. And I’ll admit I’m ashamed we have to do this with all the dead animals, but you could just discreetly dump it in the Assads’ pond. They’re not suspicious yet, unlike those Blix folks next door.
Remember when we had that garage sale last April, and we considered selling all the leftover uranium? For some reason we never got around to hauling it out of the laundry room and into the front yard. I think we could have gotten rid of the stuff, or at least a good bit of it. Susan Ellwood would have bought some at the drop of a hat – she’s always been a collector of odd junk. Since the radioactive waste is just taking up space here, it certainly would get better use over at Susan’s place. Remember all those glow-in-the-dark trinkets she sent with last year’s Christmas cards? I’m telling you, all that radium and thorium-232 would have made her life so much easier.
You know what? Maybe she still wants it. She’d appreciate the convenience, now that she’s getting married again and has less time for personal projects. Her fiancé is such a pleasant man. Mahmoud is his name, I think. Mahmoud Ahmadi-something. Yes, he’d appreciate the gesture, as well. I’ll give them a call right now.
Dear Mr. Gorman:
This kind of letter would normally begin with an expression of thanks for the applicant’s interest in our fine institution, followed by an expression of regret that we were unable to accommodate all applicants, and we respectfully inform the applicant, in as gentle terms as possible, that we have rejected the application. Then we would wish the applicant success in pursuing educational goals elsewhere.
However, in your case, following this procedure in good conscience proved well nigh impossible, as not a single member of our admissions committee in any way thought your application deserved even the small measure of gratitude that we normally associate with the receipt of applications from high school seniors. Nor did any committee members feel it necessary to couch our rejection of your application – dare we say our rejection of you as a human being – in gentle terms. Nor, for that matter, do any of us wish you success in pursuing educational goals anywhere, as we would not wish to inflict you on even our fiercest academic rivals.
For the sake of honesty, the committee elected to respond specifically to your application instead of issuing the perfunctory, pro forma rejection that the majority of the unsuccessful applicants will receive. Indeed, the committee found it galling that you would submit your application in the first place. Our institution prides itself on attracting some of the finest promising minds in the country. Your application, transcript and accompanying references leave us astounded that anyone, let alone an ambitious if imbecilic applicant, would agree to endorse your candidacy for a coveted spot in our class of 2016.
Although we had no doubts regarding your manifest incompetence as soon as we beheld your application and the accompanying essays, procedure forced us to give attention to the letters of recommendation from teachers, and we regret the experience. For we were horrified to discover that the atrocious grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure that characterized your essays were echoed most jarringly in the recommendations that arrived separately from your mentors. We did briefly entertain the suspicion that you had composed the letters of recommendation yourself, but dismissed that notion almost immediately upon recalling the application itself, a document so riddled with incoherent, puerile expression as to rule out the applicant’s possession of the mental capacity required for such subterfuge.
We did discuss whether the entire application, references and all, might be part of an elaborate practical joke, and we have not completely eliminated that prospect from our minds, but the evidence points to genuine stupidity, cluelessness and entitlement on your part.
In fact the recommendations, if they even deserve that name, made clear in no uncertain terms that this institution would suffer mightily if it admitted you. Seldom, if ever, do we receive letters recommending we stay as far from a student as possible, so these made us take notice. All three letters, as brimming with errors as they were, nevertheless made clear that the writers considered you unworthy of the life you had been granted, a waste of space and resources, and, in one case, a candidate for retroactive abortion.
As you could imagine if such a thing were within your mental capabilities, which we doubt, such a description is not a frequently occurring one in this context. We therefore had no choice but to reject your application, and are still considering legal means by which to exact compensation for the horror to which you and your misguided guidance counselor, if any, have subjected us. We can only pray that you have confined your application to this institution, and have not forced other admissions committees to confront your atrocity of an application.
We wish you minimal contact with, and impact upon, other humans.
The Admission Committee