Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clichés Don’t Tell the Whole Story

My wife told me about an email she got at lunch today, and I asked her to forward it to me. I wanted to respond. The email had pictures posted here on Snopes with the following verbiage:

Hey everyone out there!

We, in Arizona , know you're boycotting us -- but you really should come out here and see our Beautiful Sonoran Desert .

It's just gorgeous right now! We know you'd love it and maybe you can share what you saw with the rest of the country so they can love it too!

This is on an 'illegal super - highway' from Mexico to the USA ( Tucson ) used by human smugglers.

This area is located in a wash, approximately 1.5 miles long, just south of Tucson , Arizona . If a flood came, all this would be washed to the river and then onto the sea!

It is estimated over 5,000 discarded backpacks are in this wash. Countless water containers, food wrappers, clothing, feces, including thousands of soiled baby diapers. And as you can see in this picture, fresh footprints leading right into it.

As we kept walking down the wash, we thought for sure it was going to end, but around every corner was more and more trash!

And of course the trail leading out of the wash in our city, heads directly NORTH to Tucson , then leads to your town tomorrow.

They've already come through here. Isn't Arizona just beautiful, America ?

Why would you boycott us???

Our desert has basically been turned into a landfill.

The trash left behind by people illegally crossing our border is another Environmental Disaster to hit the USA .

If these actions had been done in one of our Northwest Forests or Seashore National Parks areas, there would be an uprising of the American people.....but this is the Arizona-Mexican border.

You won't see these pictures on CNN, ABC, NBC or the Arizona Republic newspaper. Nor will they mention the disease that comes from the uncovered human waste left in our desert.

However, with respect to CNN, ABC & NBC, they do offer us "Special Reports" on cheating celebrity spouses....

This information needs to be seen by the rest of the country.


This is what I said:

It is heart-wrenching. Not so much as a result of a little littering ---  a church congregation or a similar organization or two could clean up the detritus and make what's reusable available to Goodwill or Deseret Industries in an afternoon or two --- but because of all
of the lives behind it.


  • The undocumented immigrants, whose lives were so desperate that they risked them (read The Devil's Highway, for example)
    to escape circumstances intolerable wherever they were coming from to cross a barren, harsh desert to come here to live like new-age slaves because living here as new-age slaves was better than what they had before.  
  • The elected officials of the U.S. government, who through willful and ongoing neglect of responsibility essentially facilitated the building of this highway through the desert and all the other immigration woes and concerns (read We Are Americans) by failing to enact, fund, and enforce meaningful and comprehensive immigration reform years and years ago, when it could have done some good in avoiding this minor part --- some littering of a desert --- of the whole big problem.
  • We citizens, who through toleration of a worsening situation and inaction by duly elected officials, augmented by our greed, allowed the situation to continue on and on through all the years, especially through the years of plenty when it was more advantageous to communally own these new-age slaves to do our drudgery before our economy went sour and it wasn't so easy to tolerate these folks any more, worsening the situation to its present proportions and making it more and more difficult to solve, heightening hatred and fear.
  • The multitude of U.S. businesses, small and large, and the individuals who have hired and exploited such new-age slaves --- new-age slaves who, without documentation, are in little condition to stand up for basic human rights themselves, (read, for example by analogy, Slavery by Another Name) --- which businesses and individuals thereby benefited from their hard work and sacrifices as new-age slaves, using their massive financial and societal resources to influence lawmakers and avoid responsibility.


The problem for me with the email is its facile nature. Like everything political these days, it's a cliché (see, for example, "How to Skin a Moose"), lacking deep analysis and heartrending empathy for tender lives. (Think of the story of the good Samaritan.) There seems to be little frustration out there with easy clichés like this one. Some garbage, strewn through a desert, and people in dire need of relieving themselves on their way leaving it to soil the earth. Oy vey. I wonder what the pioneers did.

We're lacking in emotional and spiritual wisdom when we make this kind of argument. It suggests we're not up to date in humanity, contemporarily or historically.  It's a treacherously naive concept of existence. Sound bites and clichés thrive in societies of simpletons. Clichés can serve as tools in expressing our world, but not to move beyond them, to say that they are the end-all or that newer tools aren't required, suggests a stagnant world without insistence on growth of understanding. No doubt ease is an asset in communicating. But it's a liability when you sacrifice precision or respect for real complexity. That's what bothers me with this email.

Are we taking part in deep discussions or just enamored with pace and simplicity so that exploration means only synthesizing sound bites? Do we send such drivel as these pictures and cursory narrative as a dull tool to make a point because it's the limit of our articulation? Is fresh, creative, complex writing rhetorically ineffective because readers, like us getting this, can't or won't spend time for that which is deep or difficult? I hope not.

I have deleted the pictures below. They don't tell the whole story. Furthermore, they are, it appears, taken from the Snopes site which says the materials (e.g. pictures) can't be used without permission. I also note the originator's CYA at the end of his message. I don't wonder why he/she needs to put it there.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Be Kind

A woman once cleaned out her attic. Once? A woman? What way is that to start writing and thinking, anyway?

While it's true that a woman once did clean out her attic, it's more likely that many women have cleaned out attics, although I don't myself recall ever having cleaned out an attic while I have been married. Oh, and incidentally, I'm not a woman, but a man. And I suppose just as many men have cleaned out attics as women, although I'm not sure anyone has gather statistics on the notion.

We --- my family and I --- cleaned out an attic once when I was a kid. When I was twelve, my parents bought this older house that was next door to my grandparents' house. The house had been owned by a couple, the Dunns, who had a couple of boys. Don't ask me the boys' names. The Dunns were both alcoholics and as a consequence of their debauchery had been threatened I guess by the bank with losing their house. Therefore they had had to sell it at a bargain. My parents had found out about it and purchased it.

Consequently, there was a lot of work to be done to make this house suitable for our family of five to live in.

At the time we moved to the house next to my grandparents' I was twelve years old.

I can remember that it had an attic in it that we never really ended up using. However, the former owners had stored a bunch of stuff in the attic --- for all I know my parents had also stored stuff up there, but if they did I was unaware of it --- and we had hauled it out and burned it.

So, I guess I have been involved in cleaning an attic.

Anyway, the person who wrote the introduction to Natalie Goldberg's book, Writing Down the Bones, talks about cleaning out her grandmother's attic and finding a motto encased in a picture frame that said to do your work as well as you could and to be kind, or something to that effect. She laughed over the motto, thinking the two messages incongruous, but then later the motto made perfect sense to her.

So much of writing is self-discovery and the exploration of what a person wants to know more intricately. However, the exercise can be daunting and can cause you not to want to write anything at all. Let's face it, it's easier to be fed thoughts by others, to be spoonfed and entertained. We grow fatter because we are lazy and we have grown accustomed to not have to think or exercise our brain as well as our body.

According to the introduction of said book, to be valuable writing needs to be sane, clear-hearted, solid, practical, vital, and honest so that it makes you want to cry. According to it, that is what writing has when it is good.

I'm not sure I agree. Sane? I'm not sure good writing has to be sane. Maybe over all it has to be sane, but can't it have snippets of insanity? It seems to me it can. And then some of the other descriptors just seem a little vague. Clear-hearted. What does that even mean. It's too cardiac for me to really understand. Isn't a clear heart something we want to avoid? You know, it's just better to have your heart pumping blood than to be clear, and blood is anything but clear. Solid. Well, sometimes solid writing is good. But I've also seen loose writing that's good. A nice haiku. I don't know, I guess I'm just too picky.

Well, be kind. I agree with that sentiment. I aspire to that sentiment. Some might say it is even a flaw for me. I'm too kind, they say, but they have only instances in mind. You see, many think I'm an enabler. Truth be known, somebody probably thinks you are an enabler also.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More Rambling Than Needed

Seems like I'm an old man stuck in a rut, who doesn't have a cell phone or any of the typical diversions of retirement. I don't play golf, have season tickets for a sports team, or volunteer my services because I have too much time on my hands. In fact, I'm probably more intellectually engaged at this point in my life than ever before. At the same time, I'm not physically fit; I don't go to the gym, take walks, lift weights, and I don't go to the pond or walk up and down the river to fish. I don't have a boat, a four-wheeler, or a snowmobile. Not only that, I don't want them either.

What I do have that I enjoy is a nice computer and a larger-sized Amazon Kindle. I have a guillotine paper cutter that allows me to cut the backs off of books and I have a nice high-speed scanner that allows me to feed the sheets of the books through it and convert the text in them to electronic form. There's something empowering about being able to carry a library with you or to know that the books that you have acquired over your lifetime can be held on a computer or on a couple of DVDs.

I don't have other vices common to people: I don't drink alcohol, smoke, do drugs, engage in illicit sex, or feel the need to tan myself in tanning salons or to tattoo or pierce myself to improve my look, but I'm not saying I am good looking, not at all. Maybe I should get some tattoos and a few piercings and it would improve things. Just kidding.

As I've said, I'm probably more engaged --- at least within my mind --- in philosophy, in reading, and writing, and other venues such as politics and religion than ever before. I am more questioning and less settled that I was in my youth. While I feel self-assured, I do not feel certain about most things. For me, faith is more meaningful than certainty. Part of all that results from having experienced marriage all this time with my one faithful and true wife, and raising four wonderful, challenging, beautiful, exasperating children.

My Rant For Today

You've got to remember such things as Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials and what he said there. The people don't want war but can be easily lead there. He said that leaders determine the policy and drag the people along no matter what type of government it is. In essence, he said people are stupid and blindly follow the leaders they follow without checking things out or thinking things through. And, according to him, that's true in a democracy where people have a vote or in a dictatorship where they don't. He said all you have to do is threaten them with being attacked and then you can denounce pacifists for not being patriots and thereby exposing the country to danger.

If you do that, remember the words of Hermann Goering, evil man though he was, it shouldn't be too difficult to recognize the danger in all of the hysteria of the Tea Party Movement. Not all of it, but a lot of it, a lot of those people are, as has been often described, wingnuts. It's as if they are taking the advice of Goering and trying to lead the people down the proverbial rat hole. Their hysteria would have our nation on the brink of calamity and unutterable disaster if they don't get to conceal their forty-five and carry a weapon --- I'm sure some would say they should be able to carry a nuclear bomb as a weapon to defend themselves and the imperiled nation --- to shoot somebody with when they have to pay tax on their cigarettes or whatever else they don't agree with.