Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sorry Sir, but Take Your Charity and Shove It

One of the perks that go with having a forum such as this is that when something ticks me off I have an outlet to share my feelings of contempt with the general public. I could always unload on a family member, and I have no reservations about doing so. But sometimes it helps simply to write it down and share it with the masses. Hopefully, somebody will share my annoyance and we can then be ticked off together.

I’ve written a few times about pet peeves. I won’t share any more of them with you today. Well, ok, just one. I can’t stand motorcycles. Most of them are about 100 times noisier than a Mack truck and they’re annoying to maneuver around on the highway. Come on cyclists; don’t they make mufflers for those things?

There, now that that’s off my chest, let me get back to the main reason I got ticked off today, after those heathen contraptions from hell got my feathers wrinkled a little to start with.

My daughter and I were walking downtown in Indianapolis, enjoying the good weather and deciding whether to eat our lunch alfresco or to go inside out of the breeze. We could barely hear each other’s opinions on the matter because of the bikers, but we finally decided to eat inside and avoid the noise at an Irish pub. The shepherd’s pie was excellent.

When we were finished, I paid the check and we walked out. I was immediately accosted by some guy with a brochure and a tin can who walked up to me and shook my hand. Then he started in about some charity he was proud to donate his time to and wondered if I would mind donating a little of my money.

Before he got his second sentence out, I stopped him and politely explained to him that I would decide which charity would get my money and when they would get it. I told him I didn’t donate on the spur of the moment to strangers.

My daughter told me a few minutes later that she had given him an apologetic look because she had been a little bit embarrassed by the way I had turned him down. So that got us thinking out loud about how best to turn down those ubiquitous panhandlers in the city.

We kind of made a mental list of things that would have been better to say than what I had told the guy. I told her at least I didn’t use the regular excuse that I didn’t have any money in my pockets, as if he hadn’t heard that one a million times already.

No, we decided it would be much better to be honest with the beggars, even if they are strangers. So we took turns deciding a few “something betters.”

I volunteered, “I’m sorry, sir, but your charity really stinks.” And then added another one: “I apologize, sir, but you’re wasting my time." The inflection is the key. Say it so that the words “You’re wasting my time,” are all accented equally, and draw them out a little.

My daughter then added to that one. She said to expand on it a bit: “I’m sorry, but you’re wasting my time and yours. My time would be better spent continuing on my way and your time would be better spent hitting up anyone else on the street but me.”

We spouted off a couple more, like, “I’m sorry, sir, but my mommy told me never to talk to strangers,” and "I'm sorry sir but your time would be better used asking someone who gives a crap." I even got a chance or two to use one of them but chickened out.

But by the time we got home, I was feeling better and was no longer ticked, either about the panhandlers on every corner or by those irritating motorcycles.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Taking God Out of Politics

It is said that history is written by the victors. If the victors are oppressive, that is probably a valid conclusion. Even if the victors are benevolent and open the history books more often than not teach history with a pro-conqueror slant.

But sometimes it’s not only the victors who get the greatest say in what the history books teach us. Sometimes the groups that speak the loudest can inject the unofficial historical record with biases in their favor.

Take a look at any piece of currency in your pocket and you’ll read the motto of the United States, “In God we trust.” Recite the pledge of allegiance and listen to the words this time. We are described as “one nation under God.” Or watch the next time an official is sworn in. They place their hands on the bible and promise to do their duties, so help them God.

These phrases were prescribed by politicians for the purposes of political rhetoric. They are not mandated by the Constitution.

The Magna Carta, written in 1215, is widely recognized as the touchstone of modern political liberty. It influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The Magna Carta was a charter that limited the power of kings, who were widely recognized as deriving their power from God. Thus, it was one of the first documents written that transferred some power from God to the people.

God is mentioned five times in the Magna Carta. It followed the tradition of all legal documents of its day by referring to God multiple times.

When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they wrote a governing charter called the Mayflower Compact. It’s a very short document, barely three paragraphs long. Yet it mentions God four times.

But when the United States was taking shape as a separate country and pulling away from England, the references to God in official documents decreased substantially. God is mentioned only once in the Declaration of Independence. It also mentions an unnamed Creator which we can take as being God, but that language was not included in the original draft; it was added later by the Continental Congress.

The Declaration of Independence was the people’s contention that the vicarious will of God through the King of England did not apply to them. Instead, the new country they were establishing would be governed through the consent of the people.

After the Revolutionary War finally won us our independence, a new constitution was penned. In it, God is not mentioned a single time, not once. There is no reference to the Creator or any supernatural being, except in the date at the end, which was standard form for the day.

It isn’t that the Founders forgot to include God in their work. They left him out on purpose. This new nation was supposed to be free from the oppressive nature of religion that had been prevalent in England. It was founded on religious freedom, not on any particular religion. Many of those signing the Constitution were not Christians. Some were not religious at all.

Yet if you ask most people who don’t know their history, they will probably tell you that this country was founded on Christianity, by Christian men of faith.

And that is why it is so important for school children to learn real history in school and not rely on propaganda espoused by some pastors and politicians. We gave the power to govern to the people a long time ago. Politicians like Pres. Bush declare publicly that their power comes from God.

Bush sent troops into Iraq and is keeping them there, because of his own personal manifest destiny. He believes that God put him in office to free Iraq, and he intends to stay the course until it’s over. And so, each month, more young Americans are killed needlessly because Bush has a God complex.

When I was in school, I didn’t see the value in learning history. Now I do.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Love-Hate Relationship with My GPS

You know that TV commercial where the driver is so engrossed in following the directions of his GPS navigation device that he drives his car through a storefront window? Trust me; I’ve never actually done that. But in the few months that I’ve owned a Global Positioning System navigator, I’ve sort of developed a love-hate relationship with it.

My first one actually came with my cell phone. But there was a monthly fee associated with it and the screen was small. Also, if you wanted to use the mapping feature, it also would cost air time.

So I bought one of the dedicated models that sticks to the windshield of my car. Being totally enamored with anything technological, I was enthralled by its capabilities. But my daughter asked me if I really needed one of those gadgets since I don’t do a lot of traveling.

I told her no, I didn’t need it. But then most people who own one don’t need it, anymore than they need a high-definition television, a cell phone with a built-in mp3 player or a little robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans the floor and then automatically returns to its charger when it’s finished. Hey, it beats a broom, hands down.

It’s not about need. It’s about convenience, desire, and the coolness factor.

But getting back to my GPS device, it didn’t take me long to notice that it didn’t come with very many points of interest, a.k.a. places of business, built in. I couldn’t even find any movie theaters. So I returned it and traded up to one that claimed the industry standard for points of interest, about six million.

Granted, it does seem to list most places of business I’ve entered, but certainly not all. Its database seems to be about two years out of date.

In fact, on a recent trip down to Columbus from my home in Indianapolis where the family was gathering to celebrate all the birthdays this month, I wanted to enter my destination, not because I didn’t know where it was, but because I wanted to find out my ETA. I wondered if I had enough time to stop off and buy some birthday cards.

Unfortunately, the Golden Corral in Columbus was not listed. It promptly showed me the way to the one in Greensburg and Bloomington, but not to the Columbus destination. So I decided to trick it by entering a nearby business. I entered Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, and the movie theaters. None were listed. It was as though Columbus didn’t even exist.

Then, on my way back, I was just playing with it to see if it could find my brother’s house in Edinburgh because I wanted to stop by. It did find it and proceeded to give me directions. But it was taking me way off the beaten path. I decided to ignore its advice and go the way I knew was best.

That’s the thing with GPS navigators; they will get you to where you want to go almost every time. But sometimes they take you through the back streets to get there. It’s great if you really don’t know the way, but if you do, it’s annoying.

You might ask, if I know the way, why bother with the GPS. And you would be correct in asking that question. The two answers I can come up with are that sometimes I just want to see how well it works. The second is that it does give you an estimated time of arrival, if you’re concerned about the possibility of being late.

Anyway, I was glad I had one last summer during my vacation trip. And I’m looking forward to putting it through the paces this summer to another, as-yet-to-be-determined destination.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Urban Fashions: I Thought They Were Fads

I taught high school and middle school for 11 years up through 1990 and I saw a lot of fads come and go among teenagers. When I went to work at Job Corps in 1992 as a residence hall advisor, I started seeing and hearing what I thought were knew, and very weird fads. They were different, to put it mildly.

First of all, most of the young people who attend Job Corps are from the inner city. What I was seeing among the young men was a fashion statement I didn’t understand. They were wearing their jeans so that they would sag to the point where the waist of the pants was down below their butts.

Girls didn’t buy into it. But most of the guys did. They wore loose-fitting, sagging jeans and overly large shirts. It was the epitome of slouchy.

The other fad, or what I thought was a fad, was rap music. It was loud, vulgar, and had no tune. It was more like vulgar chants set to an overpowering bass beat.

Alas, what I expected were just fads of the 1990s, much like disco was during the late ‘70s, turned out to have some longevity. After a 14-year hiatus, I’ve been teaching again for the past three years and both the fashion and the music trends that began since I left teaching the first time are still going strong.

In fact, they have spread. What started as urban, primarily black-culture fads have spread to male teens in general. And, although the girls don’t participate in the saggy look, they obviously don’t mind it; otherwise the boys would have given up on it long ago.

Of course, teenagers have been driving their parents crazy for decades. The 1920s had the Charleston, a relatively vulgar dance for its day. The 1950s saw the birth of rock and roll, or as some conservatives call it, the devil’s music.

In the 1960s, the Beatles had a huge influence on the youth scene. They were called mop tops because of their shaggy hair style, which by later standards was conservatively short.

Then came the punk look of the 1980s, and the metal heads of the 1990s, and the body piercings. All the latest teen fashions and music styles were more outrageous than those of the previous generation.

I understand that these are statements by teens who are trying to become individuals, separate from their folks at home. In searching for their individuality, of course, most of them fall on the bandwagon of the latest fashion fad – hardly individual.

But rap, or hip-hop, or whatever you want to call it is totally perplexing to me. Most teen music, however outrageous, was at least, well, music. It had a beat, a melody, and sometimes even some harmonies. It might have been loud and repulsive to older generations, but few people would claim that it wasn’t music at all.

I will make that claim about rap. Like I said earlier, it is more like an annoying chant form. It has no melody, no harmony, and I dare anyone to create a lead sheet for one of the rap numbers. It has, in my view, no socially-redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Obviously, others will disagree. But I believe my floccinaucinihilipilification of rap music is entirely justified. (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) The same can be said about the ridiculous fashion of wearing your pant waist around your knees.

If you want to be identified as a ghetto-cruising gang banger, just cruise around town blaring rap music, wearing a tee shirt that’s three sizes too big with your jeans below the crotch. It’s a pitiful sight that I see way too often.