Tuesday, January 04, 2011

This Blog Is Not Dead, It's Just Resting.

The Gridbook Blog has been silent over a year now. I apologize to anyone who is here looking for new essays. Other projects including an unfinished book and another blog I author anonymously have occupied the time I previously spent on The Gridbook Blog.

I haven't abandoned this project, but I expect posts will remain rare for the time being.

I consider the 100 posts of The Gridbook Blog to be some of the best work I have ever done. The first rule of blogging is "keep posting," however, I value this blog and its readers too much to produce hurried ill-prepared essays just to maintain a posting schedule.
There will be more essays in the future, but don't hold your breath. You can subscribe to the feed and have gridbook posts sent to you when they are posted. You can also browse the archives and go TheGridbook.com to see what I've been up too...

...or you can watch this Monty Python video:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Self-Control: Gates and Crowley

Sgt. James Crowley and Henry Louis Gates Jr. have become the source of ceaseless public discussion in the last few days. Both men were in a stressful situation. Both men got angry. Both men probably misjudged the other. Both felt so certain of the prejudices of the other that they became too offended to admit any misjudgment on their own part. Either could have ended the situation by simply calming down. Instead it escalated and now their argument is at the center of a media circus.

While race is still an issue in America, I think the real issue that needs to be discussed now is self-control. Two adults, who both should have known better, let their hurt feelings take over and lost control of themselves. The officer had all the real power in the incident. He had the authority and the weapon and he was up against an irritable small man who walked with a cane. He represented the people of the state, and he should have been more professional. Once he realized the error and that Gates wanted him out of the house he should have bit his tongue, apologized, and left. Since the incident Gates has had the power, since he is a famous man who knows the president and has the ear of the media. He is supposed to represent thoughtful academia. Since the incident he has used his influence to insult officer Crowley's character and motives. Crowley has responded in kind. Both men still refuse to back down. The issue at stake now is pride and ego. Both are willing to damage the reputation of whites and blacks, academics and police in order to win this battle of wills without apologizing.

I am trying to teach my toddler self-control. As a one-year old he responds to not getting his way by screaming and throwing things. It is childish behavior because he is a child. I hope to raise him to become young man with self-discipline so that even when he is misjudged or insulted he will not loose control and let himself mistreat others. This is what we should expect of any mature adult.

Race and misuse of power in America are being debated non-stop in this case. While these are issues worth discussion, the more important issue is that our nation is full of adults who are unwilling or unable to practice self-control. A police officer and an honored professor should both be acting like men not boys.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Killing in the name of...

As a blog that often espouses Pro-life ideas I think it is important along with all the pro-life community to soundly condemn the murder of George Tiller. Tiller was a well-known abortionist who did late pregnancy abortions. He was shot yesterday in the foyer of his church.

Being pro-life means trusting that killing is not the right way to fix problems. Tiller had most certainly killed thousands of children, but stepping outside of justice and killing him is evil and inexcusable. Murder and mayhem for a good cause is still murder and mayhem. It is sad that many in our society believe violence is the path to goodness and peace (apparently even a few isolated pro-lifers).

It is encouraging to see the pro-life community as a whole condemn this violence. I hope that the understanding that even the killing of so bad a person as Tiller is wrong will lead the movement to oppose other such behavior such as capital punishment and unjust wars. I am still hopeful that someday our culture will find common ground on a Consistent Life Ethic that defends and respects all human life.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

To Prepare A Face

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions

From "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Profrock" by T. S. Eliot

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ecuador Photo Essay

I have been wondering for several months how to write a post about the time I spent in Ecuador. I am still at a loss for good words to describe the experience of Ecuador and the people of the Andes. Considering how my own nation and culture are in many ways still a mystery to me, I doubt I could do justice to the world of Ecuador. Instead I'm posting my first photo essay of images from Ecuador.

Click on the photos for larger images.

Friday, January 23, 2009

He's Not White Or Black

All the recent media coverage celebrating our “first black president” makes me recall an interesting article in the Washington Post entitled He's Not Black.

Being in a interracial marriage and raising an interracial son, debates on ethnic identity sparked by Obama's election have a sense of urgency to me. How do I raise my son to be himself when society cannot decide what he is?

Barack Obama calls himself “Black” although his mother was a white woman from Kansas. He has brown skin and coarse hair. He identifies himself as what he looks like rather than what he is. Obama was raised during a time of racial tension in America when those with mixed heritage were often stuck in a cultural no-man's-land. In a sense he was forced to pick a side. In his book “Dreams From My Father” he says that he felt as a young man that people that identified themselves as interracial were betraying their fellow blacks as just “ordinary niggers.” (His words)

That young man eventually got his bearings and achieved greatness. The America that elected him president is very different than the one into which he was born. The political tensions surrounding race have dissipated, something America seems to have only fully realized once a brown-skinned man became president. Cultural assumptions based on ethnicity, however, are as prevalent as ever. Jamie Foxx commented at an inaugural ball that Obama's dance moves were proof “we definitely have a black president.” We are right to assume that culture and upbringing have an effect on a person, but it is absurd when we assign cultural identities to a people just because of their skin. Obama was raised by a white Kansan mother in Indonesia, but that doesn't matter. He is just “black.” You are what you appear to be.

It is this racial destiny assigned by looks that gave me anxiety when my wife was pregnant. I wondered how I a white man would raise a son that was identified by everyone as a black man. An unusual genetic shuffle, however, produced the opposite of what I anticipated. If Barack Obama is black, then my son is certainly white. His skin is lighter than mine and his hair is very straight. Even thought he looks just her, people seem to assume his beautiful, black mother is his babysitter. Throughout his life people will think he is white and make assumptions about him based on assigning him to this racial group.

My son may be light-skinned but he is not white nor do I want him to be. Obama may be dark-skinned but he is not black even though he calls himself that. Even the American categories of “white” and “black” are imprecise groupings of people of many ethnicities that where artificially created to justify slavery and segregation. It is true that culture and family affect an individual, but assigning culture based on skin tone is backward. Perhaps eons ago when humans rarely moved one could make accurate judgments about lineage and culture just by looking at a person's features, but in our interconnected world assumptions based on skin are more likely to mislead than inform.

Obama described his first innocent encounters with the world when “I was too young to realize I needed a race.” He doesn't need a race, nor does my son. Nor does anyone. A person's physical description doesn't necessitate a cultural classification. My son will probably always be fair-skinned, but that doesn't make him white and it definitely doesn't make him less his mother's child. He is who he is, and he can be proud of all of his heritage without having to pick or have one assigned to him.

The Washington Post wrote “We are racially sophisticated enough to elect a non-white president, and we are so racially backward that we insist on calling him black. Progress has outpaced vocabulary.” Racism may be nearly eradicated but Race with all its presumptions and misjudgments is alive and well. We can discuss our cultures and bodies without needing to draw these artificial lines between us. I hope my son is proud of all of his family and his heritage. He doesn't need to claim a color in order to have identity. He is himself and that should be enough.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas and its Discontents

I had been irritable recently because I worked so much around Christmas. Time with my family and friends have been in such short supply recently, and I had so little during the holidays.

My dissatisfaction made me more sensitive to the general unhappiness of this season. The quiet discontentedness of people I see in my office in December is overwhelming. One patient put it bluntly: “Christmas is depressing.

This unhappiness is not due to the materialism that ads try to sell each holiday. Not one of my miserable patients was obsessed with presents or possessions. It is the wholesome things about Christmas that create the misery: the peace, joy, and family happiness. None of these things happen much in real people's lives.

Against this shinny myth of merriness real holidays seem so ugly. Modern Christmas is a microcosm of our American Dream: an expectation that harmony and happiness will always be our natural state. As a result we are miserable when we discover that our own lives and families fall short of our expectations. Materialism never destroyed the wholesome holidays. Ravenous buying is the degrading way we seek consolation once we realize the “perfect Christmas” we hoped for was a lie.

If we expected Christmas to be merry it is because we misunderstood the celebration. Christ was born because we are always so far away from hope and wholeness. Even the most jolly of families hides flaws, cruelty, and contradiction. These blemishes are most obvious when we try to manufacture a joyful occasion. Christ was born on Christmas day to save us from ourselves. We should rejoice because he came. We rejoice because He died for us, not because we imagine our lives or families to be anything worth celebrating in themselves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dancing on a Midsummer Night 1935

I was looking through a gridbook and found this review of the 1935 film of "Midsummer Night's Dream" written by myself as a sentimental 21 year old college student. I find it even more interesting as a man with a job and family who will turn 31 tomorrow:

Old Film can be dangerous. It undermines the illusion that the present is eternal. We will not always overflow with vitality, strength, and beauty. Tonight we watched the 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream. It was breathtaking. What affected me most were the long dance scenes of the fairies and goblins. The dance was beautiful and stunning. It embodied life and death, magic and love, passion and sadness, sexuality and strength. It made me want to rise and dance around campus.

But that dance was not tonight, it was 65 years ago. All the dancers (even the children) are either broken with age or long dead and decaying. Film gives us something entirely different from a live performance. A live dance lets us become lost in the furious passions of this moment. In this moment I feel bold and strong, and the women in my life are as beautiful and graceful as the dancers.

Seeing a dance from 1935 doesn't allow such thoughtless joys. We must celebrate with those long dead. We cannot help but see this spellbinding pathos of the dance within the context of time. This forces us the acknowledge that even our own nights of dancing out the youthful life that pulses in our veins will end. We too grow old and die. We are aging even as we dance.

Film lets us partake in these mad revelries with past generations, but it caries with it a sad taste of mortality. As T.S. Eliot declared, “The dancers are all gone under the hill.” The dance may be eternal but the dancers are not.

Unfortunately the first video I posted was deleted. This is another section of the film.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hope and Politics

It is with mixed emotions that I congratulate Barack Obama on becoming the president of the United States. It is an historic landmark for America to choose a man with brown skin to be our leader. After listening to my wife's grandfather, the grandson of a slave, tell stories of all the discrimination he received as a soldier fighting for his country, I understand why America needed this—and why my African American wife was excited to vote for Obama. Obama really is a great man, and having a president capable of articulating a vision for America will be a welcome change after 8 years of a president who seemed incapable of explaining his ideas or decisions.

As proud as I am to have a president with a similar interracial makeup to my son, I am also dismayed that this president would have wholeheartedly supported us in killing our son 6 months ago if we had decided he was inconvenient—even offering government funds to help terminate him.

My wife says that I am foolish to hope for leaders that always guide us toward what is better. America will never choose a president like Joe Schriner. Politicians (at least the ones capable of being elected) won't or can't save America from itself. Perhaps trying to stop evils committed by our nation through voting is misguided. After all politicians only enable us to do the injustices to our fellow man that we have already decided as a society that we wish to allow.

This election cycle has me discouraged about the willingness of American to vote for any real improvement in this nation. Several state ballot measures to limit abortion lost badly. It seems that the much touted “values voters” are only really energized to ban gays from getting marriage licenses, but aren't willing to stop the murder of unwanted infants (just as most “pro-life” politicians haven't done a thing to limit abortions). The unpopularity of the war in the campaign was only rivaled by Obama, who opposed the war, falling all over himself to assure us that he is very willing to strike other countries. It seems voters don't have the stomach to accept the sacrifices required either for war or sustained peace. American voters seem to expect war to be convenient, easy, and bloodless—things war will never be. Obama had to repeatedly reassure voters that he will not “spread around wealth,” because Americans would not tolerate being required to share their means with the needy. In the end this election was about the economy. The results imply that Americans vote for their money and convenience; right and wrong doesn't factor into most voters decisions at all.

After spending a great deal of time on politics here at the Gridbook Blog I wonder if I have fallen into the pitfall of imagining that real change can be effected through government. This election has been touted as a reemergence of “hope” in the political process. As much as I admire Obama personally and what he symbolizes as an interracial president, I have very low hopes for him. Just as our nation gets beyond the horrors of racism, we only more deeply ingrain our policy of infanticide. Having seen first-hand the devastation of abortion, the fragility of human life, and knowing that Obama supports this atrocity makes me skeptical of all the other good intentions he has.

But perhaps this is the problem of hope in politics—we hope for too much. I had high hopes for Bush 8 years ago too, and he has been a sore disappointment. The problem isn't politicians. It is ourselves. Humans are naturally a violent and selfish species, and no law or government will undo this tendency. It can only be changed from the inside, supernaturally.

So I have learned to vote my conscience, but without as much hopefulness that the political process can cure the ills of our society. Rather than hoping for the law to enforce social justice, non-violence, equality, and treatment of all with dignity, perhaps I must work harder to live out these values in my daily interactions. I may not change the world, but if I change the lives of a few people it will likely be worth more than every vote I ever cast.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Presidential Endorsement: A Wasted Vote?

The Gridbook Blog proudly endorses Joe Schriner for President of the United States. Most of you are probably asking "Who?"

Out of all the people running for president this election (there are options other than the two you always hear about) Mr. Schriner is the only candidate who espouses Consistent Life positions. His political stances are consistently compassionate. His unyielding focus on human dignity and social justice is to be applauded. Although both major party candidates are honest and likable people, they both have serious defects in their positions on basic human rights. Schriner is usually right where the Obama and McCain are wrong.

The next question everyone asks is, "Why waste your vote writing in a candidate no one has even heard of?" I admit that Schriner will not win the election this year. I suppose if I choose the lesser of two evils and pick the Democrat or Republican ticket I would perhaps get to vote for the one who will become president. I would also ensure that every 4 years we would continue to get nothing but liberals and conservatives from which to select our leaders.

When I was 2 years old my parents got to vote for either Carter or Regan. Every election since with all the different names on the ballot the basic stances haven't changed. Americans are weary of both parties and their morally bankrupt conservative and liberal ideologies, but if we keep voting for Democrats and Republicans that have a chance to win no other party or ideology will ever have gain enough traction to be noticed. I don't want my infant son to grow up and have to pick the lesser of two evils from two candidates with different names but the same ideas as McCain and Obama.

Are you bold enough to waste your vote so our children don't have to waste theirs? Read up on Joe Schriner. You might find yourself excited about writing in a name Republicans and Democrats have never heard of.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Genocide Reflects Poorly On Us

I'm watching the debate:

Barack Obama just said, “When genocide is happening... and we stand idly by, that reflects poorly on us.”

He was talking about genocide in foreign countries, but his words demonstrate how poorly his own indifference toward the systemic killing of unborn children in his own country reflects on him. Obama's commitment to justice is only matched by his callous blindness towards his own hand in horrible injustice.

It really is a shame. He could have been so much better than this.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Human Rights and Gut Reactions

I recently read a fascinating post by Frank Schaeffer on Huffington Post on political compromise in abortion. His approach is interesting and compelling enough that it deserves some response:

First of all I don't want to minimize the significance of the biggest liberal site on the net arguing that late abortions are brutal murders and that Democrats should overturn Roe v. Wade. I hope this this realization will be an important step in the gradual political progress that will hopefully lead us away from the violence of abortion.

The ethics of the post, however, are so problematic that they must be pointed out:

"To most Americans--including me--it is gut-check self-evident that a fertilized egg is not a person, because personhood is a lot more than a collection of chromosomes in a Petri dish or in the womb. To most Americans--including me--it is also gut-check self-evident that an unborn baby is mighty like one of us, and that a lot of fast talking about reproductive rights and choice or a woman's mental well being, doesn't answer the horror of a three-pound child with her head deliberately caved in lying in a medical waste receptacle. Perception is reality in politics, maybe in ethics too."

Human Rights should not be based on emotional gut reactions! Emotional reaction doesn't always lead to right ethics. A European 200 years ago would have said it was gut-check self-evident that people of color couldn't live without white supervision. It sometimes seems obvious that people who cut me off in traffic deserve to die. It seems gut-check obvious that torturing one terrorist would be alright if it might prevent attacks. Gut feelings sometimes lead to good deeds and sometimes lead to enslavement and genocide. We debate human rights because gut reactions aren't enough.

Schaeffer calls “absolutists” who would either permit or ban all abortions “stupid” and claims that they are ruining our hope for political progress in America. I disagree, absolutists are the only ones actually thinking about abortion. Schaffer believes most people could agree on First Trimester as a place to draw the legal line for terminating a pregnancy. But any line in the middle of a pregnancy would be arbitrary. What would make an 11-week 6-day fetus a piece of tissue that can be removed, and a 12-week fetus a person deserving of protection? Almost nothing. The development from one-cell to infant is gradual.

There are only two monumental changes that could be logical candidates for conferring human rights: conception and birth. If you deserve rights from conception then all abortion is murder—and we should not compromise on murder. If before birth no one deserving of rights exists in the uterus then shackling a woman for 9 months to a fetus she doesn't want is unjust imprisonment—and we should not compromise on imprisonment of the innocent. While these are extremes, they strike me as the only thoughtful approaches to abortion. We may compromise on all sorts of politics (economics, healthcare, taxes, immigration) but we shouldn't compromise on human rights.

Schaffer's idea might offer a workable political compromise. Drawing an arbitrary line at the end of the first trimester could let some voters rid themselves of the nagging gut reactions that unsettle them now. Such a compromise would work like the “moderate” policy of whites in America between the Civil War and Civil Rights. Whites wanted to acknowledge the humanity of blacks while denying them legal equality or political power. Human rights compromises may work politically for a time but they are inherent contradictions that struggle under the weight of their own absurdity. Only one side can be right. Only one idea will win in the end. I can only hope that eventually a great human rights movement like the one lead by Martin Luther King will bring our divided culture to agree on the moral bankruptcy of killing unborn humans at any stage.

Schaffer is both insightful and correct on one assertion: If Obama loses this election it will be because of the voters like me who would have happily voted for him except for his unwavering support for abortion.