I Rant! I Does!

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Me gal thinks I'm grumpy. I really don't know why.

My gal thinks I’m grumpy. I really don’t know why.

Context? We don’t need no freaking context! Let’s just get this started…

1) Reform happens. What needs reforming; who will take charge of the reform and what direction the reforms will take remains to be determined. In any case these are not important questions. Reform will happen! It is a singularity.

2) Resistance is futile. The most effective opposition to any given reform consists of failure to act on it. Many great plans have withered and died as people went about their business, just as they did before, but nothing nourishes a reform quite like vocal and open opposition. Write a few memos against a reform agenda, and you just may get added to whatever committee has been formed to enact it. Write a few more and you just may find yourself chair of that committee. (…true story!) You may ignore a reform, unless of course you can’t, but active resistance will shine a rainbow of regret all over your already miserable work-day.

3) Change is a Many-Splintered Thing. Support for any given reform means that people have found a way to read their own agendas into that reform. Every ‘yea’, ‘amen’, or ‘right on’ is invariably a sign that someone sees in a given proposal the chance to do something they’ve really been meaning to do for a long time. Listen carefully to the planning of a new policy and you will hear as many different reforms as there are active and energetic participants. When a reform policy is finally put in place, it may look nothing like it did in its initial conception. In fact, its originator is doing very well if the final policy isn’t completely inimical to her own goals.

4) Fresh and Refresh. Listen carefully to a given proposal and you just may hear the echoes of an old policy. Listen very carefully, and you may just realize how much reform is really about repackaging, but don’t try telling that to those peddling old drugs in new prescription bottles. Just learn to present your standard way of doing things as a new and original approach to business. Say it with enthusiasm and hope that you then get to play tug-of-war with a host of enthusiastic supporters, each of whom really wants to turn your new/old thing into their new/old thing and then make sure everyone else does it.

5) ‘Studies say’ and ‘research suggests’. You would be surprised at just how often a room full of highly educated people needs no more than to hear one of these phrases to be convinced that whatever claim follows them must be true.

6) Correlation is not causation. …unless of course you are one of the millions of people making policy on the basis of nothing more than a correlation loosely established using shady procedures most of which never make it into the summary that you only skimmed anyway. …just like everyone else at the committee table! The most important thing about objectivity is that it takes the norm of numbers. It isn’t that the numbers provide more accurate information than qualitative data, personal reflection, or even interpretive dance, but committees know what to do with numbers. They can act on numbers, and that makes all the difference in the world. Once a committee gets wind of a compelling set of digits, they aren’t going to be too fussy about where those numbers came from. …or too patient with anyone who does want to get fussy about that.

7) Yes, in fact you are a number. For all the talk of ‘learning objectives’, ‘learning outcomes’, and other nice fluffy ‘learning’ talk about intellectual development, never forget that a student is also a statistic, and a very significant one at that. Her presence on forms describing participation in your institution and/or your own classroom can be used to facilitate transfer of funding back and forth between various agencies, both private and public. She may or may not learn a damned thing from any part of the curriculum, but her significance as a statistic is vital to all concerned.

Even you!

And yes, her too!

At least some of the money triggered by the presence of students on forms typically makes its way to faculty. Whether it be now or later, the presence of any given student on forms may also provide her with sufficient forms to open up new possibilities of money transfers into her own future bank accounts. No sane person would say that it was more important than all that ‘learning’ mumbo jumbo, but few sane people would allow the learning mumbo jumbo to interfere with the digital life of a catalyst for funding transfers.

This might seem a particularly cynical view of education, but don’t despair. With any luck your student will learn whatever she really needs to know from social media. …probably when she’s supposed to be listening to you.

8) Autonomy is a double-clawed hammer. Staff and administration will either want to change something in your classroom or they will want you and your students to spend more time outside of it. Every new policy will exacerbate one or both of these tendencies.

Time and again, you will encounter policies which make claims on your contact time. In the worse case scenario, you may face command and control over what you teach and how you teach it. In the best case scenario, you will be dealing with opportunity costs that can leave you kissing your own plans for this or that lesson goodbye. It will only take 15 minutes to complete this survey, explain that policy, or just step back and let someone from student services talk to your students for a bit.

…and cross something you meant to teach off your to-do list. Don’t worry though, because you can always save the essential basic lessons by eliminating the most interesting themes from your lesson plans (you know the ones that made you want to become a teacher in the first place). There is always time for reform!

If the faculty at your institution have successfully minimized these incursions into your contact hours, then congratulations, but now you have a new problem. Your classroom has become dark matter to staff and administration, which means everything that takes place inside it is irrelevant to their view of the educational process. It has to be irrelevant to them, because they can’t affect it. So, when everyone else sits down to plan out how they want to improve the learning process at your school, they will envision these improvements taking place anywhere else but your classroom. This means the institutional world outside your classroom is going to get a lot busier. You will be attending more meetings and writing more reports, but don’t be too depressed about the time lost to course preparations, because your students will also be too busy taking advantage of support activities to attend to their studies.

And cosmic balance is thus preserved!

9) New people bring new policies. This often has the fringe benefit of meaning that old policies die with each new administrator, but rest assured these new administrators will replace them with something new. The near certainty that new policies will be allowed to die on the vine with the next administration does not seem to dampen enthusiasm for creating new ones. It’s the cycle of life.

10) Don’t Kid yourself. You are not quitting this job to go and join the circus.

***

Kumbaya! The committee chair sleeps tonight!

Ask Not What the Alibi Buddy Says About You!

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possible sighting?

possible sighting?

We’ve all heard about the alibi buddy. He’s that gay guy whose best friends with the man telling you he’s against gay rights. He’s also the black guy who hangs out with the fellow bashing African-Americans. He’s the Muslim who totally agrees with all of someone’s generalizations about Muslims, Arabs, and even Sikhs, cause that’s close enough, right? And of course he’s the Mexican drinking buddy to the guy telling you all about those damned immigrants, …er illegal immigrants, just the illegal ones, I mean. Cause we all know that people who bash immigrants are very precise about their concerns, and they never-ever cap on legal immigrants in any way! (Alibi buddy would probably tell us that if he were here.)

Does anybody else have any questions about this buddy, the one we never seem to meet? For that, matter, does anyone have questions about him? Who is he? Where does he live? Or does he really exist when the conversation is over? He might just be a kind of Berkleyian presence, only there when you’re in the room. I can’t be the only person to question if his reality outlives the moment. You gotta wonder if his friend even remembers him when the conversation is over and he doesn’t need an alibi anymore.

But it’s worse than that, I reckon, cause the alibi buddy ain’t there when you’re in the room either. So, this alibi guy is really weird, you know. He is and he ain’t, but he’s both of these (and neither) only when you’re in the room talking to the guy who has something bad to say about some group which totally includes the alibi buddy.

Which is confusing, I know.

Is or ain’t though, I’m convinced the alibi buddy is a singularity. I know, I know, the empirical evidence doesn’t say one way or another. It could be that all these people are talking about a whole bunch of different guys. It could even be that each community has its own ur-alibi, so to speak, a kind of minority spirit-keeper. There could be just that one guy who is friends with all the people capping on African-Americans, another one for Asians, and of course one sinister bastard for all the left-handed people. I mean it could well be that each disenfranchised group has its own alibi spirit who exists for the sole purpose of licensing friends to talk bad about them. On the face of it, this is at least possible.

…as is the existence of vast hoards of minorities living somewhere else, all of whom sent their trusted friends to say bad things about them.

…in good faith.

Still, the alibi buddy is just too perfect isn’t he? Always friends with someone who needs him, but never really there to answer any serious questions. Can that kind of perfection really be divisible. I think not. So, I really do think there is just one alibi-buddy for all the trash-talking not-really-bigots out there. You know it makes sense. There is just one alibi-buddy, one gay-Jewish-Afro-Asiatic Mexi-black man with a lisp. The alibi-buddy is is no Doubt a number of other things besides that, but really, he can only not be in the room for just so many reasons. So, we can probably rule out a few things. Alibi buddy isn’t white; I think we can all agree on that. He also isn’t straight. I would say that he isn’t a guy, but I can’t help thinking a woman would have the good sense to show up to set us straight.

The alibi buddy never does that, does he? No.

There is just one alibi buddy for all the people talking about him, and he is never really here to tell us how he feels about the issues. Evidently, he has a number of friends and they are all strikingly adversarial to the poor alibi buddy and his kin, but apparently he loves them anyway. Alibi buddy must be a very patient guy.

I say that, but I don’t really know for certain, which is frustrating, because I really would like to ask him something.  I’d like to ask him if he knows how his friends are talking about him? Does he know that his friend wants to make sure he can’t get married? Does he know his other friend wants him to go home (and I don’t mean Ohio)? That his drinking buddy thinks he’s unqualified and terrible at his job? I mean seriously, if his friends are any measure of alibi-buddy’s life, that poor guy doesn’t need anymore enemies!

Now I ask you; is this anyway to treat a singular entity capable of such miraculous patience? His friends always seem to want us to care about what alibi buddy thinks, …of them anyway. Just once, I wish someone would think of him and his feelings. As much as I’d like to know what he really has to say about all this, the question has always really been just what do his friends say about him.

…and the answer to that question is never all that pretty.

Behold! The Utility Boxes of Maryland Parkway

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20150606_191932

Art by Arg

I’m not sure who first decided utility boxes would make a good canvas for local artists, or what city first tested this theory, but I like it. Happily, Las Vegas Has seen at least one such project, Zap 7, resulting in a number of wonderful paintings along Maryland Parkway and the general vicinity of UNLV.

My friend Moni and I first discovered a few of these murals while puttering about Vegas earlier this summer. One day with a little more time on my hands, I headed down Maryland Parkway with a camera. In time, a few specific artists seemed to jump out at me, but I really enjoyed the lot of the work here.

I always hesitate a little before doing these posts, both because art ain’t really my area, and because I always miss stuff. …and then of course I can’t include everything anyway. I have to leave out some of the stuff I did find. So, I’m just posting as a fan, and feeling like a guilty fan for not fanatizing enough about this stuff.

Yeah, that’s right. I said ‘Fanatizing’. Deal with it!

So, let’s just start this one off with a few random pieces.

(Click to embiggen! …you know you want to.)

Tatiana Hantig choose to focus on local varieties of endangered plants and animals. These are just a few of the pieces she put up.

Nanda Sharifpour’s personal website painted this whimsical set of murals. I’m kicking myself for not coming back when the shadows have moved on, but hopefully her work can overcome my laziness. I seriously loved this set.

Su Limbert produced a number of small creatures, many of which seem to be a little on the odd side.

…metaphysically speaking, I mean.

Adolfo R. Gonzalez did a number of colorful paintings, one of which is located at UNLV, just outside of the Humanities building,

…which is an old haunt of mine.

…a long time ago.

A copy of these artists (Tatiana Handig, Holly Rae Vaughn, and Holly Rae Vaughn again. ) even did videos of their work. Here is one video showing a project for Desert Breeze Park. I seem to have missed some of this stuff.

…dag-nabbit!

This Can’t be the First Donald Trump Drinking Game, But…

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800px-Donald_Trump_March_2015It’s already old news. Narcissa Trump has entered the race for the Republican nomination for President. He has of course made an ass of himself every step of the way, and Republicans seem to love him for it. So too do comedians, but in either event the dumb dial on politics just got turned up to 11, and there is only one thing left to do.

We have to gamify this!

Okay, I don’t have a lot of time right now, so we’re going for the simple and obvious. You read the title, and you know where we are going with this, right? Just watch Trump basking in the reflection of his own media presence and follow these instructions.

If Trump says something completely thoughtless. …okay don’t drink yet. This would have you on the floor in no time.

If someone in the media humors trump by referring to his verbal diarrhea as ‘straight talk,’ take a shot of something really stiff and write down the idiots name. When you wake up tomorrow with a hangover, you’re going to want to remember just who is and who isn’t a journalist.

If Trump doubles down after having been called out for saying something truly idiotic completely asinine, or both. …take a sip. Just take it easy here. You don’t want to be bent over the porcelain throne before the end of the interview.

If Trump says something bad about Mexicans. …just another sip, a small one. You know why.

If Trump says something nice about Mexicans in the hopes we’ll forget the bad stuff he already said about them. …Yeah, it’s time to take a drink. Don’t whine about it though, you knew this was coming.

If Trump tries to pretend his critics are objecting to actual policy recommendations instead of his childish hate-mongering, drink again.

If Trump calls another leader ‘weak’, drink-up and do like three push-ups. That oughtta be enough for the Donald.

If Trump declares himself a winner, do some coke and say a prayer for Charlie Sheen.

If Trump says he’s the best at something, don’t bother drinking cause you know damned well he’s a better drinker than you, so you might as well just give it up right now.

It Trump’s hair does something odd, don’t drink and don’t laugh. Seriously, this whole hair-theme was old a decade or two back. Can we please stop pretending the man’s hair is half the train wreck that we get with every fricking word out of his mouth?

If Trump retweets one of his adoring fans proclaiming him the only possible savior for America and all of western civilization, don’t drink. This too will end the game too quickly. Maybe just fart a little, because it’s kinda fitting, and you know you wanna.

If Trump brags about the number of fans who showed up at an event, ask him to pay you to drink. It’s only fair.

If Trump dismisses the views of someone who understands politics far better than he or any of his advisers ever well, call John Stewart and tell him he has to help us drink our way through the next year and a half.

If Trump threatens to sue someone, don’t drink. Just fill your glass and wait.

If Trump mentions how much money he has, drink something really cheap served in a gaudy container and burn up a ten dollar bill. You’re getting as good a deal as any customer ever got from the Trump label.

If someone else mentions bankruptcy, drink some water. You know you need the break.

If Trump tries to lecture us about how bankruptcy is really just good business, buy a drink for one of the many mere commoners trying to live in the wake of bankruptcy. They need it more than you.

If Trump plays a rock tune completely out of place with his campaign, don’t bother drinking. Politicians always do this. It’s nothing special.

If Trump says anything about Isis, drink or don’t drink, but keep it to yourself. You’re the only one that needs to know.

If Trump complains about violations of his free speech, don’t drink. This is a totally serious thing, and no-one should make light of it, not ever.***

If Trump ever makes a substantive point about anything in the course of this election, then give up drinking entirely. (Don’t worry. This will never happen.)

__________________________________________________________

***Just kidding! It’s time to drink that double you poured earlier. Maybe two or tree of them right.

The Erotic Heritage Museum Revisited

IMG_4558A couple years back, I wrote this review of the Erotic Heritage Museum here in Las Vegas. I’ve since learned that they have undertaken some renovation at the center and so I decided to go back and have another look. I was curious to see what might be different. It has always seemed to me that the people behind the museum haven’t made up their minds what they are trying to accomplish. Is this a museum or is it promotional device for commercial pornography, and more specifically for those involved with Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine? As I indicated previously, I don’t think they’ve done a good job of settling their priorities at this place. It could be a lot sexier. It could also be a lot more informative.

What bothered me most in my last review of the museum was the lack of context in regards to ethnographic materials. Surrounded by images of mainstream porn, for example, a deflowering device from Africa looks a lot like a simple dildo, and I can’t help thinking the message it sends here is something like ‘Africans are kinky’. Now multiply this by countless similar artifacts deserving of real explanation, at least in any place that pretends to be a museum. The Erotic Heritage Museum really does possess quite a collection of erotic artifacts. It could provide the basis for a Hell of a museum, if only its managers would take their own mission seriously.

The most striking thing about its current incarnation is the increased presence of scandal themes in its current material. The Museum still has its ‘Wall of Shame’ devoted to political scandals, and it still has some references to Hustler Magazine’s work in exposing a number of those scandals and Defending the First Amendment.

I can certainly understand Hustler magazine’s interest in exposing the hypocrisy of their enemies. This does raise questions about the role of such depictions in the museum itself. Is this really erotica? Does it really have a significant role to play in the history of erotic representation? And if so, does this museum help us to understand that role?

Yep

Yep

If anything, the museum has increased the space it devotes to scandals. The opening lobby, for example, now features an article discussing its owner’s decision to offer Monica Lewinsky a job. Harry Money (an associate of Larry Flynt) offered Lewinsky a job at the museum along a substantial salary back in 2014. Apparently, he did not hear back from her. As I remember it, this sort of thing wouldn’t be unusual in the pages of Hustler Magazine, but it’s worth asking what role it plays in the history of erotic representations? Is this actually erotic? Does it further our understanding of sex? …or of sexual representation?

I can’t help thinking that there might be a way to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, but the path to that affirmative answer probably gives new meaning to the concept of voyeurism. Don’t get me wrong. I’m un-phased at the thought of watching someone perform sexually explicit acts.  It’s the thought that someone may be getting off on simply knowing the activities of political parties that squicks me here, just a little. Lewinsky’s affair is either un-erotic, a political side-show unworthy of a museum devoted to sex and sexual representations, or she represents an odd kink we might just as well call ‘politics’. Added to this, I can’t help thinking such material incorporates a certain delight in the discomfort of its subjects. If there is a pleasure here it is to had at her expense.

…all of which brings me back to the purpose of the museum itself. I can’t help thinking there is a world of difference between the historical vibrators or the old nudie magazines, Erotic paintings, sculptures, etc. to be found in the museum collections and a celebration of political scandal at the expense of the scandalized. If such scandals play a role in the history of erotic arts, it would occupy a chapter with problems of its own. Most importantly, it’s a chapter this museum does NOT help us to understand. I doubt its curators have much of a handle on its role in their own lives and approaches to the subject. The museum is too interested in such scandals to provide any sense of perspective on why they might be of interest to anyone, much less what role they play in shaping our thoughts about sex and sexuality.

The museum has further expanded its interest in such things with a whole new section devoted to the sex scandals of teachers on the upper floor. A hallway circling around of of the museum’s small movie theaters has been filled with portraits of women caught having sex with their own students, each receiving an informative plaque to explain just what the woman did and how the courts dealt with her. (Significantly, I found no reference whatsoever to the scandals of men engaged in such behavior._ To one side of the wall, one can watch a streaming video detailing the stories of many of these women. Each of them ends with a rhetoric question delivered in a snarky voice; “nasty or nice?”

If this is sexy, is it the kind of sexy that belongs in a middle school locker room, or rather in the mouth of a confused young boy trying to impress his buddies in a middle school locker room.

If this is informative… nevermind. It simply isn’t.

Additional scandal materials would include another display devoted to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal on the second floor, and extensive panels detailing the scandals of numerous public officials. Some of this material is worked into themes propounding the virtues of the first Amendment and sexual freedom, but of course the museum’s interest in scandal spills out beyond the boundaries of its more substantial narratives.

I’m not entirely sure that this material has no place in the museum whatsoever. I am convinced the quantity of space devoted to scandals tells us something unfortunate about the priories of the administration at the museum. Their staff are pleasant and helpful. Their collections impressive. Again, they have a lot to work with. But it says something that the curators of this establishment would rather tell us about the sexual scandals of attractive teachers and sundry politicians than provide context for the many ethnographic pieces in their collections. Ultimately, they provide us with no more information to help understand these scandals or their significance to the public, however, inviting us instead to simply revel in the fact that such things happen.

This is the politics and the sexuality of commercial pornography. It is morbid, childlike, and Unfulfilling both as erotica, and as a source of information.

Guest Post – On the Anniversary of the Murrieta Protests

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unnamedNote: My friend Monica Romero-Curiel had some experience with the children bused in at Murrieta California. I asked her to write something about the events as she remembered them, and thankfully she sent the following. I’ve edited it a bit, but for the most part I’ve tried to preserve the tone of her own writing. I think she has a very interesting story to tell.

I hope you agree.

* * * * *

It’s been a year since America, and the rest of the world, got to know Murrieta, CA. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

In the months prior, the United States had been overwhelmed with a  tide of Central American children and minors entering illegally. Parents desperate enough were sending their children alone to the US in the hopes they would be granted asylum. Encouraged by false promises from smugglers who painted these amazing stories on how in North America they keep the kids and help them build a better life.

There is a glitch on the America’s immigration system that makes the staying in USA rather easy.  smugglers knew about it. When the United States gets Mexican immigrants trying to cross the border illegally, they get deported almost immediately. The same can not be done with Central American immigrants who get detained, processed and eventually released in the US, sometimes with family members, friends, etc. After that, they get a month notice to appear at an immigration office. This almost never actually happens and immigrants simply start a living without documents in the US.  This is the source of the chaos we all saw last year.

Most of these little immigrants were detained in Texas, but their facilities were just overloaded. Texas needed help from other states in processing the rising number of minors. One of the States that were willing to help was California and the kids were sent in buses to different counties to be processed.

Enter Murrieta.

Word got out that kids were being transported there and a group of people started organizing to make sure “illegal aliens” were turned away. Sadly, the whole world got to know Murrieta through the protests. When the buses arrived, the protesters blocked the way screaming at the buses full of kids who didn’t quite understand what was going on.  People held nasty signs and kept screaming at the kids.  I got to watch all of this on TV, I could see the kids’ faces full of terror, and crying and it broke my heart.  I can’t understand how people can be that vile to children.  When some of the protesters were interviewed, it was clear to me that they didn’t really understand why the kids were there, they wanted them out of town.

I went to bed that night and all I could think of was the kids’ faces looking through the window at the people shouting; “DEPORT, DEPORT !” Some of the protesters kept screaming that they wanted an America without people coming over and take away their rights. I wasn’t clear to me which rights they were referring to, or how children were taking them. These kids just needed to be processed and, sadly, send back to their crime ridden country.

The next morning I woke up and I started searching for more news about this. The buses had been turned around and redirected to different places.  I went to work and while I was driving, I kept thinking how the kids must feel. They were alone, their parents had left them by themselves and I was sure they were scared. When I got to work, the news kept showing the confrontation between angry protesters and pro-immigration activists. Ironically, by blocking the entrance to the town, the protesters effectively delayed the deportation process and obstructed law enforcement (a crime in itself).

I found out some of these kids had been abused by drug criminals/thugs in their own country. Most of these crimes never get reported for the fear of retaliation. I found out the majority of these kids were from Honduras, a country that has the world’s highest murder rate, others were from some of the poorer rural areas of Guatemala and El Salvador.

Their story touched me.

I have been living in the USA for 27 yrs but I haven’t lost my accent, so I have encountered racism quite a few times.  I imagined how the kids must have felt after seeing people shout and spit at them (people were spitting at the buses).

Local municipalities and churches sent word requesting the public’s help. Families that could host some of these kids for a few days while they were being processed, mostly seeking bilingual people so that it could help the kids feel at ease. I called the place where they had a group of these kids in Fontana, CA. and offered my house to a couple of children. They took my number down and they called me the next day. They had 3 siblings from Honduras who they didn’t want to separate and wanted to see if we were willing to take them. I said yes immediately.  Even though I wasn’t sure if I was able to afford it, I thought since my family is big as it is 3 little kids wouldn’t make much of a difference.

The next day, my son and I went to pick up the children. When I saw the kids I broke down crying. They look exhausted, hungry, and scared. At first they were hesitant when I started talking to them, so we stayed around the place a little longer until they seemed a bit more comfortable with us. We have a spare room, so they were going to be able to sleep together. The kids’ ages were 4, 6 and 7. The little girl was the oldest.

That day we got home, we fed them and showered them. The next day we took them to the park where they, being kids, enjoyed running up and down a little hill. The 4 yr old kept asking me when he was going to see his mom. You could see his little face getting sad every time he talked about her. I told him; “soon.” Then he hugged me with a very tight embrace that it was so hard for me to hold back my tears, I didn’t want him to see me cry. I watched them in awe holding hands, the little girl acting protective with their younger siblings.  When we got home, she began to feel more comfortable with us, so she started sharing stories of her town. She talked about how at night, they are supposed to lock all the windows with a big pole, so no one is able to open them from the outside. She also talked about food. She kept telling us how she felt so full now and that sometimes the 4 year old is the only one who eats a second meal a day because he needs it, so he can grow tall and strong. You could see the 4 year old’s face blushing as if feeling ashamed he has to eat a bit more than his siblings.

The 6 year old wasn’t talking as much as his sister. Out of the 3, he looked more frail. I knew he needed more time to feel comfortable at my house.  I spared them from any type of images on the TV about the nasty confrontations that kept still going on between activists and protesters.

That night, I asked the kids if they wanted to do something in particular, since I had to take a week off from work I was able to spend more time with them. The 7 year old looked at me and with the reddest face possible she asked if we could drive by Disneyland, they wanted to find out how it looked. That comment touched me so deeply, as I knew even though she was so young, she was aware that it would cost money they didn’t have, so she was settling with just the option to look at Disneyland from the outside. I told them we could, as long as they were able to go to bed earlier. The 6 year old jumped and went straight to my son and hugged him so hard and said; “thank you.” It was hard to keep our eyes dry in front of them.

The next morning the subtle noises from their bedroom woke me up, it was only 7am and the 7 y/o had already made their bed and was trying to comb his little brother’s hair. I just didn’t know how to react, I’m not used to kids being that independent at such a young age, so I told her I would finish it. The 6 year old was particularly chatty this time, and he was telling us he is used to get up at 5am every day to go with his dad to get fresh made bread so his mom can prepare some sort of sandwiches that she sells in the corner. And by the time they get back, it’s time for them to go school.

I just didn’t know what to say. I finished combing his brother’s hair and I asked them if I could hug the 3 of them and they answered me with a big hug. I was able to score tickets for them for Disneyland and they were laughing of excitement.  I would never forget the look in their little faces as they were handed their entry ticket.  Needless to say it was a long day for me, but the perfect day for them.  We exited the park around 10 pm, and we had to make a short walk to the car. My son took us through a short cut across the parking lot, and I noticed the 7 year old stopped cold. I asked what was wrong and she pointed at some tourist buses parked in the front. She asked me if I was going to leave them there. I assured her we were not and they looked at me and smile and held my hand tighter.

On our way back, the 3 of them were trying to sing different Disney songs and kept talking about every single thing they got to see.  I only kept thinking how difficult it would be for them the day they had to leave. That thought almost made me regret having signed up for this.

The next day the children woke up later than usual and went down to have breakfast. I just kept admiring that little 7 year old acting like a little mother to his 4 year old brother. It’s difficult to imagine all the things they have seen in their short life. As breakfast progressed, they kept getting more and more comfortable, so much that the 6 year old started talking about the day they were in the bus. He told us people kept hitting the bus and throwing things at it. One of the officers inside told them to sing songs, but his little brother at some point got too scared that he peed on his pants. The 4 year old got really offended and started to cry out of embarrassment. I told him it was normal to be scared once in a while and hugged him. The 7 year old kept quiet but got up to hug his little brother. I asked her if she had been scared too and she said that they were sitting down resting their heads on their laps, but the shouting and the hitting on the bus made most of them cry. The 6 year old told us that when they got down from the bus, they had to cover their heads with a little blanket so the mean people would not see them. The 4 year old kept hugging me but started asking for his mom. I promised him they would see her soon. In the meantime, I was trying my best not to cry with them.

I tried to change the subject because I wanted them to just be happy at the moment and forget about the atrocities going on, but the 6 year old kept talking. He was telling me that a friend of the family had this magazine with him one day, and there is where they saw pictures of Disneyland. He said that when the friend left the magazine unattended, he ripped the page that featured the Castle and placed it under one of the beds in their little house. The 7 year old interrupted him saying that it was that day when they went outside to play ball in front of the house, when a car pulled over across he street. Their parents had taught  them to come inside the house or to hide under a parked car when they thought something bad was happening. So when they saw the car coming to a screeching halt, they instinctively dropped to the ground and moved to the nearest parked car for cover. She said she was holding the 4 year old’s hand but she decided to cover his eyes instead. A guy jumped from the car holding some sort of a rifle and went inside the little house, it didn’t take long when he came out dragging a young man, who according to the 7 year old, was about 17/18 years old. Outside they kept shouting at each other while the siblings were moving underneath the car, when all of a sudden the teen tried to run away and the guy with the rifle just shot him. the shooter went to say something to him and started to kick him. Then, he just got into his car and drove away leaving the young  man there dying. Neighbors started gathering and called an ambulance, but she says they sometimes don’t even come and people have to ask around for help.  Their mother had already run outside looking for them and when she saw them, she took them inside the house.  She told me that while they were hiding, all that she could think about was the magazine with the pictures of the Castle and people smiling. That is why when their parents told them they were gonna send them to America, they thought about Disneyland.

My son asked if the children knew if any of their friends had been sent to America as well, and the 6 year old said that he didn’t think so, because in order to come you have to work really hard to save money. The 7 year old said she used to help cleaning a house for some lady who owns a store next to the school. I asked her  about her house-cleaning duties because I couldn’t think of a 7 year old working as a maid. It was just too much. She said that she had to sweep the whole house, make the beds and gather all the dirty clothes and put them inside a tub with soapy water. But that was only after school, because before school she helps her mom making the sandwiches she sells in the corner.

I just had to ask them how was the trip coming to America. They said they took a bus for days, and that a lady had been with them all the way until they arrived to Mexico. Once they got to Mexico, the smugglers moved them to a van with another group of people and left them on a warehouse for a few days. The 4 year old was quick to point out he didn’t like that, the warehouse had roaches that would crawled on top of them at night and also, they forgot to bring them food one whole day so they decided to sleep most of the day instead.  The 7 year old said she felt like crying most of the time, but she didn’t want to make her siblings cry more, because they were scared.

All I could think of was the people from Murrieta, how deplorable that adults would willingly scare these little kids that have been through enough, they’ve suffered enough trauma.

The smuggler came back the next morning and took one group to a van and they had to wait a little bit for him to come back for them, when he came back he had sandwiches and juices, he gave them to them and told them to be ready because they were the next group to leave. They devoured the sandwiches and grabbed the bag with clothes, then walked with the smuggler to the van.

In the van, the smuggler kept giving them instructions. He told them that once they crossed to America, a border patrol would find them and they would help them.  The 6 year old kept complaining with his sister about being warm, they had to wear two layers of clothing because they weren’t allowed to carry much inside their bags.

The smuggler took them to the edge of a river (which I’m assuming is the Rio Grande) and told them he had a raft hidden there that would take them across. So they got into the raft and in no time were across the river where another guy helped them get out and told them which path to follow. He said they shouldn’t worried because the border patrol would look for them and help them.  The children told me they walked quite a bit until a border patrol saw them and the kids ran towards it. They said it was much better after the patrol took them to the building because they weren’t cold or hungry. They were able to take a shower and change clothes.  The next day the officials explained they would load the children into a bus because they were going to California (Murrieta).

I asked the kids if they had any family here because I found it more troublesome that their parents would just send them without any adults waiting for them. They said they had an uncle here, but they don’t remember his address. They only had his phone number, which the border patrol took away. The patrol assured the kids them they were contacting him.

After this, I decided to take the children to a park, that whole conversation had left me flabbergasted.  I got to keep them for 2 more days before I had to report back with them, it was extremely difficult saying goodbye to them. They all cried while we were hugging.

I wasn’t allowed to keep any personal information from them, so after I left them there, I had no way of ever contact them again.  I’d like to think that they made it to his uncle and that they are receiving all the help they desperately need.

All this situation is disgraceful, these are tiny people who depend on us, adults, to take care of them. It’s unbelievable to think that people would turn their backs on the children and also intimidate them so much. Kids don’t understand about borders laws; deportation. All they know is that they are going to a safer place where they don’t have to worry about being hurt. Apathy is going to hurt us more than we think.

About a month after they left, I read about a group of kids being murdered after they had been sent back to Honduras.  My heart sunk.  I just wish we’d lived in a world where kids didn’t have to suffer like this.

When Making Do Trumps Making it from Scratch

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RAGU-OLDW-MARINANARA-VEGGIES-SAUCE_largeI still remember with horror the time a young teenager announced that he couldn’t eat spaghetti with my mom’s homemade pasta sauce. Oh I could allow for differences in taste, but his stated reason threw me. It wasn’t Ragù (and by ragu, I do not mean simply a ragù, but rather Ragù, as in the label).  It seems that Ragù is what his mom always served, and he just couldn’t enjoy eating anything else. So, this kid was rejecting a home-made  meal for a can of pre-made pasta sauce, and at the time that was something I just couldn’t wrap my mind around.

There but for a crock-pot go I, or at least that’s what I told myself, feeling a bit sorry for this poor gyu who had grown so used to pasta made on the fly that he couldn’t even enjoy the real thing, or at least the Wall family variation thereof. Mom didn’t make everything from scratch (or near-scratch, as the case may be), but when it came to pasta, she put in the effort. On that day I was REALLY thankful, because I really didn’t want to go through life with Ragù as my idea of pasta sauce. Even still, I had to admit to myself, I wasn’t entire without similar quirks.

fudge-browniesBetty Crocker brownies would be exhibit A here. To this day I do not think I have ever enjoyed a brownie that was not a Betty Crocker brownie. Oh I’ve eaten them, dammit anyhow. I have forced other brownies down my throat and sometimes even managed not to cringe or gag while doing so. I can hardly imagine why these other things share the same name as the brownie you can make with Betty Crocker and a couple of eggs. If I had the chance to choose between any other brownie in the known universe, but without Betty Crocker as an option, well I would rather go without dessert entirely. The only brownies I have ever loved are Betty Crocker brownies.

I have no delusions about this. Betty Crocker brownies aren’t culinary genius. They aren’t God’s gift to tongues everywhere. But to me they are most certainly the paradigm case of what a brownie should be. Show me a better brownie and I will only taste one that’s worse.

Which makes me kinda hopeless, I know.

It’s an odd thing when some manufactured food stuff becomes the standard by which home-made meals are judged complete failures, but it happens. And when it happens, it’s kind of hard to explain to people. It’s one thing to insist on high standards, but when your standard is a package label, you can feel awfully silly telling someone who worked damned hard to cook something from scratch that the result just isn’t good enough for your finicky self. Sill, taste in food is certainly one of the habits we acquire from the world around us. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see capitalism leave its mark on our taste buds. And yet, I think the weirdness remains. We aren’t really supposed to prefer some of these things by common reckoning. We’re supposed to eat them, because we can, because it’s easier. Most times, folks assume you’d go for the real thing if it was available.

Sometimes that just ain’t so.

grands-flaky-layers-originalAlso my idea of a strawberry shortcake begins with Pillsbury biscuits squashed flat. It’s otherwise normal, but don’t even try to put the strawberries and whipped cream on a spongy cake, homemade or otherwise, because I’d rather just eat the strawberries. When it comes to strawberry shortcake, Mom used biscuits. So, that’s what I want.

Damned silly of me!

I am curious though? Is this just me and that kid? Or does anyone else out there have similarly ironic preferences?

A Visit to the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas

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A rather Unpretentious Sign

A rather unpretentious sign

I was 14 when my family moved to the Las Vegas area. We’d been traveling through on a regular basis for many years, almost always stopping for a day or two. This was long before the place had grown it’s Disneyesque side. So, a night on this town always meant I was essentially along for the ride.

(Scroll down for photo gallery)

Sooner or later, I knew Mom & Dad would head out onto the casino floor. What this meant for me was time in the arcade. Just about every casino had them, and back in the day, that was just about all they had for the under-age crowd. Sometimes I enjoyed this and sometimes I didn’t, but for many years I experienced Vegas largely through the the video games of the day. So, you can imagine my pleasure at discovering the Pin Ball Hall of Fame!

It’s a funny thing how nostalgia seems to carry it’s own kind of contagion. A visit to the past never quite sticks to the themes one starts with. Walking through the aisles of this place makes me think of music heard in decades; people I haven’t seen in ages, and buildings long since torn down or remodeled till they can no longer be recognized. It’s a funny thing to count Vegas as your home, even if it’s one you’ve been away from most of your adult life. But this place takes me back to the early years in Vegas. I couldn’t possibly feel more like I belong in Vegas than I do as I hit the play button on a game of Asteroids. I hadn’t seen that game in I don’t know how long. Yet here it sits, along with countless memories!

But that’s just me. The Pinball Hall of Fame (PBHoF) could probably stir some memories up for most of us old enough to remember these old games.

If you want to see a labor of love just come to 1610 E. Tropicana Avenue. The building houses countless pinball machines and arcade games stretching back for decades. yes, you can play the games. In most cases you can play them for a quarter, and by ‘a quarter’, I actually mean ‘a quarter.’ I most certainly do NOT mean tokens. Some of the more modern games take 50 to 75 cents, but for the most part, a game that would have cost you 25 cents in 1980 will cost you that now at this establishment.

The PBHoF is a non-profit run by Tim Arnold, and that helps the experience a great deal. He always appears hard at work, doing his best to keep the machines up and running, and he seems to do so for the sake of the games themselves. I can only imagine the many ways a business could milk this experience for more cash, and probably ruin the experience in the process. As it is today, you’ll find yourself walking around with a few quarters in your pocket looking for the right game to play the, just as you might have when some of these machines were shiny and new.

Oh yes!

Oh yes!

My favorite game is still Asteroids, though a few dollars were enough to prove I no longer possess the ability to roll the score over. As I recall, a good player back in the 80s could fill hours of time on a single quarter. My best was a little over one hour. Today, it’s a few minutes.

I also enjoyed trying a number of the old pin ball games, taking in the art-work and the narrative themes used to sell them. Several of these old gems included a information telling us a little about who designed and manufactured it and what made the game distinctive as it came out.

I particularly enjoyed some of the oldest games in the place, the ones that didn’t fit into a common paradigm. Game designers tried many different things over the years, and quite a few of them can be found here. This old baseball game is a great example. It seems simple enough, but it was quite hard to play. What fascinates me about it is the way it sets up the challenge. It’s a unique approach, one that hasn’t found its way into any of the popular game themes of the last few decades.

Of course the site also includes vintage bubble-gum and candy dispensers and an odd leg massage machine that I wouldn’t quite describe as relaxing. (It wasn’t exactly unpleasant, but well, I really can’t describe it.) You can even watch an old flip card movie of a Joe Lewis fight. You could test your romantic side for a quarter or prove your strength for the same. One of the more amusing features of the old games would have to be the extra instructions needed to explain some of the old coin intakes. I suppose they are necessary now, and that too makes me smile.

I couldn’t pretend that I found all the treasures of this place in my two visits. That’s okay though, because I plan to go back.

(click to embiggen!)

There are More Persons in this Conversation than are Dreamed of in Your Philosophy!

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I don't believe in gods, but Tom Yum Ghai might just be a holy sacrament!

No gods, but perhaps a holy sacrament! (Tom Yum Ghai)

“I don’t believe in atheists.” That’s a phrase I’ve been seeing a lot lately. It passes for clever in apologetics blogs and it helps many a drive-by tweeter to troll the atheist hashtags. I somehow doubt the majority of these people are making references to the Chris Hedges book from 2008, but who knows how the meme rolls? The bottom line is that lots of folks have found it fun a fun phrase to say.

I wish I could give them all a cookie.

In one respect, at least, the argument does seem fitting. For so long the topic of ‘atheism’ has had a larger presence in Sunday school sermons than it has in the words of actual non-believers. To meet folks who actually claim the title must seem rather surreal to many believers, a bit like having the villains from a story come to life and begin talking back. How much this has to do with the emergence of the so-called new atheism, and how much of this may have been a problem even for the nay-sayers of previous generations, I don’t know, but I do think a lot of Christians must be rather surprised to find other voices have begun to shape a topic over which they expect full control. It really must seem like the height of rudeness for the characters in ones’ own stories to begin asserting ownership of their own narrative. Telling us that atheists aren’t real is a bit like banishing us back to the story lines of Christianity. We are supposed to be vanquished at the end of the sermon; we aren’t supposed to talk back.

…which is what this phrase is really all about.

If pressed on the matter, and sometimes without needing to be pressed at all, those repeating this almost-edgy mantra can usually produce an argument on the matter. Essentially the idea is that atheists are misrepresenting our own selves. Often the argument is that deep down we really know that there is a God. Sometimes, the argument is that we are just rebelling against a god we actually know to exist, or that we simply want to enjoy a life of sin regardless of this god that we really know about. …deep down in our hearts.

I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen this claim that atheists really know there is a god linked to the whole atheists-are-really-just-agnostics-who-need-a-dictionary theme, but that wouldn’t surprise me. Ultimately, both strategies effectively deny the reality of atheism, and of course variations of both arguments are legion.

There is of course little reason to respond to these arguments, but hang on because I’ve got a couple reasons for that at least.

…the not responding part.

I think it pays to recognize interpersonal aggression when you see it, and to separate that as much as possible from efforts at thoughtful discussion. Disbelief in atheism is a paradigm case of poisoning the well, and people don’t do it because they want to talk to you about what you believe, what they believe, or what people might believe in Eastern Mongolia. They are doing it because they want to establish control over you at the outset of the conversation. Why they want that is another question, but make no mistake the issue is control, not some theoretical point they might want to make about anything.

You can have a real conversation about whether or not God exists. You can have a real conversation about what She might be like. You can have a real conversation about what people might or might not know about Her. None of these conversations should be confused with questions about what is or isn’t an accurate representation of your beliefs on that topic.

How do we know what people believe? In most cases, the answer is simply because it is what they have told us what they believe. Support for the truth or falsehood of an assertion about something in this world would ideally take the form of objective evidence, but claims about what one does or doesn’t believe are normally declared by fiat, so to speak, and in most cases, the conversation proceeds from there.

I’m not suggesting there are never any grounds on which to doubt people’s self-representation, but I am suggesting that it’s more than a little unusual to do so. The basis for such doubts ought normally to come from the actions and statements of the party accused of misrepresenting themselves. When (as is almost always the case with dismissal of atheism) the grounds for doubt are little other than theoretical assumptions as to what other people MUST really believe despite their own protestations that is a question good and begged.

It’s also the end of the conversation.

There is of course a secular variant of this argument. We could as easily maintain that believers don’t actually believe what they say that they believe and that all of them are really just pretending to believe in gods. We can go that route if we really want to. But what would be the point of talking about it?

Or even thinking about it, really?

It’s a damned easy world in which those who don’t agree with you become liars or deluded wrecks right from the first nuh-uh, and taking seriously the possibility of real disagreement over an issue is part of taking the issue (whatever it may be) seriously to begin with.

Contempt is always contagious.

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