Monday, September 24, 2007

The Dävine Book Club

So, Tim and I have started a book club we're calling The Dävine Book Club. Anyone who wishes to read along with us and post comments to our posts and reviews is more than welcome to do so. The purpose of this club is for both of us to read books that we would've otherwise never read, to broaden our horizons, and to find some good books.

The first book is Will Self's The Book of Dave. I have already posted my review. Our next book is Separate Flights by Andre Dubus. The book after that is American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Feel free to participate. Books are dävine.

Liberal Bias in Higher Education?

Websites and articles like these, make this post necessary:

I grew up without religion. When I turned 17, I had a spiritual awakening and began to modify my behavior accordingly. I quit drinking alcohol completely. I gave up iced tea and coffee, which in the Southeastern United States is akin to giving up water. I decided to be chaste (not that I had any experience otherwise). I also began to see the world in very black and white ways. Suddenly, I felt that anyone that didn’t want to live the same standards as myself was wrong. I judged people. When I was 19, I decided to become a Mormon missionary, and I was called to serve in Costa Rica for two years (1993-1995). During this time, as a lay volunteer, all I did, all day every day, was go around and talk to people about my beliefs. This experience had the effect of allowing me to see the world in something besides black and white, or shades of gray. I saw the world in color, and realized that there was more than one way of doing something--that many people, most people in fact, were able to be moral and ethical without identifying with a certain religion, or any religion for that matter--what Kant might have called an autonomous morality.

This awakened me to the realization, that in trying to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, I was doing the exact opposite, and essentially ignoring his warning in John, Chapter 8, that the first stone be cast by one who was spotless. I was judging unrighteously, blissfully ignoring my own sins. And also, while a missionary, I realized that I might be wrong, that my spiritual awakening might be a farce, that this is all there is to our existence. I do not believe that it is, but I have no way of proving that it isn’t. I believe in God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and modern-day revelation by prophets. I cannot prove that they are right, but it is what I believe; it is my hope and faith. All I could do, as a missionary, was share what I believed, bare and bear my testimony of what I believed, and then invite others to do the same. If they felt the same as I did, great. If not, then they have every right to not live according to the same precepts that I hold dear.

I am in a small minority however. I’m not claiming to be enlightened, but I do realize that tolerance of others culture, practices, and habits come from peeling back the layers of ignorance that we allow to crust over our eyes when we cling to a belief that we have not fully examined. I still believe in my religion; I most likely always will, and I also believe that each and every person has the right to live their life according to the dictates of his/her conscience. I feel that most people who claim to follow Christ, do not feel this way, especially in the United States. This causes problems.

And, I get the feeling (to overuse that word), with the increase in Protestant private secondary schools, homeschooling, and the like, many people are trying to shield their children from the world. I find this most disturbing. Children need to be taught correct principles, and then be allowed to govern themselves, provided there are consequences for poor behavior. Part of this is allowing them to experience the diversity of the world. And a huge part of this is the experience of a rigorous liberal arts education.

How boring would it be to grow up and never have any of your beliefs and ideals questioned? You would be woefully unprepared for the 21st Century. So, when I hear politicians and pundits rail against the liberal, nay leftist, and by association in the United States, “godless pinko Communists,” in higher education, I think to myself, “How scared do you have to be in your own influence over your child, that some professor might make them abandon all they’ve ever known.” I’d hope that conservative parents would want their children to have their beliefs questioned, that much like the Amish allowing their children to go out into the “lone and dreary world” that they would see the value in questioning their own values to make them stronger and more refined. How do you know if you really believe in something until after the trial of your faith?

There is no liberal bias in higher education. What does bias even mean in that context anyway? Higher education is a process by which we turn children into adults, capable of thinking for themselves, and not just parroting back what their parents have told them. To use conservative religious terminology, Adam and Eve had to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil so that they might know the bad from the good (with “bad” and “good” left up to interpretation).
The most important thing to remember in all of this, is that as much as another’s beliefs might annoy us, maturity and civility demand that we respect them and recognize their right to hold them as dearly as we hold our own. I hate politics in the US right now. It’s all “if you’re not with us, you’re against” rhetoric engendered by egg-headed politicians stumping for votes, and pundits desperate for ratings.

I mean someone actually published a book called Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder. Seriously, how does that help? The right needs to just calm their asses down. To all right-wing Christians, what Jesus said in Mark 12:31-33 wasn’t a suggestion; it was a commandment.

I am not a conservative. I am not a liberal. I am rational moderate that wishes we could all just get along.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hanging in there

Can't say much today, other than Jimi Hendrix was full of crap on track #2 of his debut album.

Monday, September 17, 2007

South Beach Diet Update

So, things are going well so far. I beat the final throes of the carb urges last night. I had this all-consuming desire to gorge myself on carbohydrates. Yesterday, no matter what I ate, I could not satiate my hunger. It was like that episode of The Twilight Zone (1985) called "The Misfortune Cookie" where Elliott Gould is a glutton, and when he dies, his personal hell is no matter how much he eats, he's always ravenous. But, I withstood the hunger pangs and am now happy to report the following:

Weight on 9-4-07 = 417 lbs.
Weight on 9-17-07 = 398.3 lbs.

That's 18.7 lbs in 13 days. That's not a sustainable rate, but I am very happy to be back where I was during the first half of this year. I could tell that my suit fit better yesterday when I was at church, and the safety belt in the car wasn't as tight. Mickelle too is losing weight, but I'll let her report that if she wants to, down in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Playa del Sur

So, Mickelle and I have started the South Beach Diet again. I tried to start it earlier this year, but as a stress eater, I didn't really understand just how stressful finding a job in academia can be, let alone the stresses of trying to finish and defend a dissertation. Couple that with the aggravation and stress of buying a house, moving to a small town, and starting a new job....well let's just say that I fell, hard, off the wagon.

When I started the South Beach Diet in January 2005, I weighed 440 lbs. Right before Katrina hit, I got down to 372 lbs. After Katrina, I found it impossible to not stress eat, so in January 06, I got back on it, and maintained my weight at around 390 lbs. until April of this year. That's when the stress hit, and I responded by overeating. So, the day after Labor Day, with Jack almost weaned and Mickelle able to diet with me (I do much better when we're both on the same page), we started again. I'm not going to keep tabs on Mickelle's weight, but I'll happily reveal my progress. No bets this time (I lost $20 to Paul).

My weight on Tuesday September 4, 2007 = 417 lbs.
My weight on Wednesday September 12, 2007 = 401.3 lbs.

Weight loss in someone of my size is always dramatic at the beginning because of the water weight associated with glucose storage in the liver. Once those supplies are exhausted, then the body starts burning fat. I'm not in ketosis, nor do I really want to be. The South Beach Diet really works if you stick with it. Two things I've found that I don't like doing, and that most fat people don't do, but that South Beach requires:

#1 You have to eat breakfast. I hardly ever want to eat breakfast. I'm not usually hungry until lunch.

#2 You have to eat all day long. Snacks are required. Even if you are not hungry, you're supposed to eat. This keeps your metabolism humming, keeps your blood sugar even, and avoids insulin spikes which tell your body to store excess carbs as fat.

Believe it or not, I don't eat constantly when I gain weight. I just eat huge portions, and the big bowl of cereal before bed. I'm usually starving at bedtime. Have been my whole life. I don't get it. I can eat a full meal, that if it were lunch would last for eight hours. If I eat the same thing for dinner, I am ravenous by bedtime. I have a weird body. Water gives me gastritis; I get acid reflux if I drink water, but not if I drink Coke.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fantasy and the Male Perspective

I recently overheard a conversation between a colleague and a student, both female, analyzing the cultural subtext of women's fashion advertising. They were discussing how lingerie and swimsuit ads usually feature models in sexy and tantalizing poses. One comment was that they usually place these ads out-of-doors, on a dock, on the beach, standing by the shore of a Norwegian fjord, in the woods next to a tent. The other commented that they do that to make it not seem so pornographic, to take away from the lasciviousness of the image (text).

I think that might be one reason. However, as a man, someone who is visually drawn to these images when my eye catches them (think Skyy Vodka ads in every magazine), I have to say that these locations satisfy the commonality of the male sexual fantasy realm. Every man, I'd imagine, has fantasies about having sex out-of-doors, on a dock, on the beach, standing by the shore of a Norwegian fjord, in the woods next to a tent, in the actual tent, on the hood of a car, in the back seat of the car, in the front seat of the car, halfway between the front and back seats; if it's an old Cadillac, perhaps even in the trunk. My point being that these images, that use eroticism to sell products, are always pornographic, and usually seek both to downplay the overt sexuality of the image and to fill the fantasy space common to as many people as possible.

I don't see how putting a vamping twentysomething in a bikini, outside, with the goods titillatingly close to being on full display is ever not pornographic. On a bed, in a bathroom stall, or sitting in a church pew, the image of a woman in lingerie, especially a tan, thin, chesty one, will always get attention, nay command it, and will forevermore be the object of the gaze, the longing one at that, of the Other.

New Look

So, after two and half years of the same thing, I decided to rejigger my blog. I hope you like the new layout. Give it two weeks before giving me your feedback. It takes that long to get used to something new that replaces something old and comfortable. If after two weeks, people still don't like it, I'll rejigger it again.

I also plan to start posting on a daily basis again, else I'll have to change my blog's name.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Going as Green as One Can (Comfortably)

This article:

about Coca-Cola setting a goal to recycle 100% of their plastic bottles made me think about my own green habits.

Things I've done in the last year to lower my energy use.

1. I've installed compact fluorescent bulbs in every capable light fixture in my house. I've been told that this will reduce energy consumption drastically. Since we never got a power bill in this house before we put in the bulbs, I can't know for sure, but I believe the box's promises.

2. I bought this composter and I bought a lawn mower with a bag on it. We put all of our household food scrap waste, and some paper, into this thing along with a good bit of our yard waste. It compresses it down, heats it up, kills all the weed seeds, and gives us beautiful compost, a natural fertilizer. It keeps the food scraps out of the landfill, keeps us from having to put the yard waste in plastic bags or out to the curb for the city to pick up, and come Spring, it will keep us from buying any kind of potting soil or fertilizer for the garden that we want to plant. The composter is sold by Green Culture, and is called the Cascadia. It is made from 100% recycled plastic, and took me about 3 minutes to assemble. If you live in the country or the suburbs, you can use one of these. If you do it right, it doesn't smell. They have ones you can have in the city, and even counter-top ones for apartment dwellers. Composting is something I see as making sense. My grandparents always had one by their garden. We cut a hole out of a milk jug and just put all the food scraps in there as we clean and wash dishes. It's amazing just how much food we throw away when you start to see it collected. It's also amazing how wasteful it is to bag your yard clippings up and throw them away. The garbage has to transport them to the landfill, where they won't decay quickly because of anaerobic decomposition. This is one little thing that we've done.
3. Bought a house closer to work. Granted, this option isn't available to many people due to crazy prices for houses. But, in my case, I paid a little more money to have a home less than a mile from where I work. My friend Tim Boisvert decided to live in an apartment downtown for more money rather than living in the suburbs for less. The decrease in fuel costs, coupled with more free time and an increased quality of life from not having to commute, more than balance the extra $200-$300 he pays for living in downtown Raleigh. This option is not open to everyone. But if you can make it work, do it.
4. Carpooling. If I'm going somewhere now, I see if I can take someone with me. If I head into Florence, I ask friends and colleagues if there's anything we can pick up for them at the places we're going. Anything to save someone some time, and save them some gas. Florence is 23 miles each way. That's 3 gallons of gas round-trip in my car.
5. Buy local. Instead of driving the 46 miles into Florence, I see how much it costs to buy something here at our local stores. The sales tax stays in the county, the dollars go to Hartsville's economy, and it saves us a trip. We paid an extra $15 for a box springs here vs. Sam's Club in Florence. And then we only had to drive 3/4 mile to get it home vs. 23 miles on top of the car.
6. Get all the junk out of your trunk. No sense paying to haul around all that crap in your car that you'll never use. I probably removed 30 lbs of junk from my car when I moved from New Orleans.
7. Order things online and use the USPS. The Postal Service is already headed to your house everyday, in a highly efficient distribution network. UPS for residential delivery is a waste of gas.
8. No more bottled water! Bottled water is awesome, don't get me wrong. But the idea of paying for bottled water is just ridiculous. If it costs $6 for a gallon of it, that's twice gasoline. Your tap water costs about $4 for a 1,000 gallons of water. You could fill up a 20 oz. bottle a day every day for seventeen and a half years for $2 less. To ship a bottle of Perrier or Evian from France to Chicago uses 2 ozs. of oil (Petroleum).
That's what I'm doing. Here's what I'd like to do, if I had the money.
1. Geothermal Heat Pumps.
2. Solar and Wind Hyrbid Electric Systems.
3. Air Sealing my house.
4. Demand Water Heaters

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Katrina Two Years Later


The Saturday before Katrina hit, I went yardsale-ing. When I got home at about 10AM and saw that Katrina was headed our way (at the time, a predicted landfall at Mobile, AL), I called the branch president of my church to ask him if he was evacuating and he asked me, "why?"

I evacuated for five hurricanes in five years in New Orleans. The four previous times (Lilly, Isidore, Ivan, and Dennis) had been false alarms, but I felt good in having left, because I knew from personal observation of my surroundings (holy crap, there's water on every side of me) and articles I read in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and National Geographic, that a hurricane in New Orleans could mean disaster.

Most people that I knew in New Orleans shrugged off hurricanes as no big deal. I was made fun of for evacuating twice in 10 days for Lilly and Isidore (in my defense, the city got 9 inches of rain in 9 hours from that storm). I happened to be out of town when Tropical Storm Cindy hit. It did more damage than any hurricane (up to that point). The general attitude was, we spend all the energy and effort evacuating and then nothing happens. People got complacent. Complacency kills.

But, the people that died from Katrina weren't all complacent victims. Surely hundreds upon hundreds of people that died, did so, because they were poor, without vehicles or transportation, credit cards, and the means to escape to somewhere safe. We can try and blame the victims, but that isn't right. If you're elderly, disabled, poor, and without a car; all your family lives right around you, and they too are poor, have no car, and no credit, what do you do? You stick it out because you have no other choice. The government was not prepared to help those that couldn't help themselves. The resources were overtaxed, ill-prepared, and insufficient. Hundreds died because the system failed them, and then tried to turn public opinion against them and, ultimately, to blame them for their own demise.

Last year, at the first anniversary, I didn't have any problem with my emotions. I was too busy with the dissertation, teaching, helping people recover, and trying to find a job after graduation to really stop and think about how hard it was. This year, as I had more time to think about it, I had a really hard time. I broke down in tears at one point, thinking about how my friends were now scattered across the land, in a Big Easy diaspora that will likely never reverse itself. I have felt the pains of having to leave New Orleans, and I don't like them. It's a love/hate relationship. I love the place, the culture, the food, the weather (save for August), Tulane, the pace of life; but, the crime, political corruption, exorbitant living expenses coupled with bad customer service make life there aggravatingly difficult sometimes. Don't get me wrong, I love my new home, but now I know what it means, to miss New Orleans.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I’m not wrong... this feelings gettin stronger
The longer, I stay away

Miss them moss covered vines...
the tall sugar pines
Where mockin birds used to sing
And Id like to see that lazy Mississippi...hurryin into spring

The moonlight on the bayou.......a Creole tune.... that fills the air
I dream... about magnolias in bloom......and I’m wishin I was there
--Louis Armstrong

But Satchmo's song is about the place, and I find myself missing the people too. Katrina robbed us of our friends. It drove our neighbors away. Colleagues didn't return after the storm. I miss the place, but I miss the people even more.

PART TWO My disdain of Politicians
My government's handling of Hurricane Katrina, at the federal, state, and local levels, was un fracaso total.

After reading John Barry's book, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, it becomes apparent that the cycles of death and destruction, at the expense of Mississippi Valley African-Americans, may never end. If I had any hope after Katrina, it was that the flood might have washed away some of the most notorious business-as-usual corrupt local politicians in New Orleans; I was wrong to hope.

Nagin does nothing. The President didn't even mention the Gulf Coast in his State of the Union address. The permits process to rebuild is byzantine, and not geared towards helping people of meager means re-establish themselves in their homes. The poor will lose their homes. Many of the elderly in Gertown and Pigeontown will most likely live out their days in their formaldehyde-tainted FEMA trailers.

I worry that right now, politicians and their cronies are divvying up the 9th Ward and planning to use the 2005 Supreme Court decision on imminent domain to seize properties along the Industrial Canal in the name of industry and commerce.

It just amazes me how politics, personal vainglory, and incompetence have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to do the wrong thing time after time when it comes to flood control in the Mississippi Valley. John Barry's book should be required reading for politicians.

Rumor has it that Chertoff might replace Gonzalez as Attorney General. I hold him just as responsible as "Brownie" for allowing the Superdome and Convention Center tragedies to transpire. I voted for Bush and for Nagin. After seeing the fruits of having put my trust in these men, I have no faith in the political system anymore.

PART THREE My Spiritual Growth

In conclusion, I’d like to conclude with the most powerful example of meaningful worship that I have ever seen. Of the 700+ members of the church living in the New Orleans First Ward, Chalmette Ward, and Uptown Branch boundaries, my little family was one of only two that did not flood. We lived only six blocks from our branch president. His house was raised 4 feet off the ground, and he had water up to my navel in his home. After overseeing the refugees assembled and living in the stake center 3 hours away in Alexandria, Louisiana for 3 weeks after the storm, he, at the New Orleans stake president’s request, moved into the only church building in New Orleans that did not flood. He had lost his home, had to be there to tend to his business, and the stake president had to order him to stay at the church, finally persuading him that he needed to live there so that the church wouldn’t be looted. During the day, with his family still living in Alexandria, he worked on his business, and by night, he helped coordinate the relief effort that the Church was establishing. He is a small and physically weak man. He has epilepsy and daily seizures, but his desire to worship meaningfully makes him a spiritual powerhouse. Let me explain why.

In late October, some two months after the storm hit, the Church finally put the branch president’s house on the schedule for home-gutting. Two crews showed up on a Saturday morning, and began tossing all of his worldly possessions onto his tiny front yard. A pile of putrid filth of what had been his life was, in front of his eyes, bulldozed into a dumptruck. Ruined photographs, ruined food storage for his family of 7, a true years’ supply for seven people, was thrown into his yard and then hauled away. He endured this. He worked as hard as he could despite his frailties. The smell was so bad that some people (myself included) vomited repeatedly when the wind blew a certain way. About noon, the leader of the group of workers came to me and said that they had other work orders and that they had to leave and go work on them. These were orders to remove fallen trees off of people’s yards; people that electricity in their homes already; people that hadn’t flooded. I saw his face go ashen. He pulled me aside and said, “please go and talk to these bretheren, I cannot do this work myself, and I’ve been waiting for two months for their help. Find out if there’s anything that can be done.” I went and talked to the crew leader, and he made a phone call, and they were told to stay and finish the job. Elated, I went looking for the branch president. I couldn’t locate him. I went outside, around back of the ruin that was now his home, and when I rounded the back corner, I saw him, on his knees in his shed. I heard him utter the following:

“Heavenly Father, if it be thy will that these bretheren go and help someone else, I understand and accept that, but if it be they will, please, let them stay. Nevertheless, thy will be done. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

That is the kind of meaningful worship that we should seek. When we are able, in a time of abject need, to surrender our own needs and desires to the will of the Lord, and allow aid that we want to go to others who might need it, THEN do we catch a glimpse of a miniscule portion of what the Savior did in his sacrifice and agony that night in Gethsemane. His lesson is what I had to learn from Katrina. My branch president was trying to be like Jesus; we should allow follow his example.