Thursday, October 16, 2008

I'd like to be less selfish, except that I can't really see any immediate benefits to it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

I find myself referencing Wikipedia in my day-to-day conversations more often than I care to admit.

Whenever I share what I've learned from reading Wikipedia I'm usually careful to preface it with a qualifying statement along the lines of, "According to Wikipedia..." or, "I read on Wikipedia that...". I figure that's a sufficient means of safeguarding my reputation as someone who is wise and knowledgeable.

You know- it keeps me from looking like a complete fool if I were to say something like, "Did you know that Kevin Bacon, the famous actor, was a former principal of Weber High School in Pleasant View, Utah?", because, when someone points out that such a statement is demonstrably false, I can just pass the buck by replying that it was only something I read on Wikipedia. Thus, my reputation as a sage of wisdom and knowledge remains intact.

(Someday some do-gooder will fix that link and it won't be funny anymore. So, in the spirit of preserving important pieces of history for our posterity, I've included a screenshot of the article right here.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Annoying Lyrics

I realized something the other day. I had always known it, I just never knew I knew it.

I don't like ambiguous song lyrics. They annoy me.

I remember reading, or hearing, or coming to know through some other medium, that U2's Bono said that he intentionally makes his lyrics ambiguous so that more people can relate to them- attach their own meanings to them. What a crock. Making the lyrics ambiguous doesn't help me relate to them. It just leaves me wondering what the song is about.

Good song lyrics are enlightening. Or at least informative. They tell you something you didn't already know. Or they help you better understand something you did already know. Or they reafirm something you already believe. Or, if you disagree with the underlying message, they at least present that message in an understandable manner. Mr. Bono certainly never followed that philosophy.

I came to this realization the other day while listening to Doug Fabrizio's talk radio show Radio West. He was interviewing Paul Muldoon, poetry editor of The New Yorker Magazine. I tuned in just in time to hear Mr. Muldoon recite a piece written by the much lauded Bob Dylan titled, simply, 17. Here it is:

after crashin the sportscar
into the chandelier
i ran out t the phone booth
made a call t my wife. she wasnt home.
i panicked. i called up my best friend
but the line was busy
then i went t a party but couldnt find a chair
somebody wiped their feet on me
so i decided t leave
i felt awful. my mouth was puckered.
arms were stickin thru my neck
my stomach was stuffed an bloated
dogs licked my face
people stared at me an said
“what’s wrong with you?”
passin two successful friends of mine
i stopped t talk.
they knew i was feelin bad
an gave me some pills
i went home an began writin
a suicide note
it was then that i saw
that crowd comin down
the street
i really have nothing
marlon brando

© September 22, 2008 The New Yorker Magazine

There is nothing elightening about that. Nothing informative. No increased understanding was achieved. What it does accomplish is to leave me wondering how anyone can manage to convince themselves that there is something important here- either conveyed by the words themselves or acheived by the poem as a whole. What these words, combined in this order do achieve is the antithesis of important. They are nonsense.

There is enough nonsense seemingly going on spontaneously in the world. Let's not encourage it by heaping praises onto this type of stuff.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Brush With Bigotry

A few weeks back I had a mild taste of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of racial discrimination.

My car had a flat tire, so I took it in to get fixed. The first shop I took it to couldn't help me. They told me that although the tire was flat because of a nail, its tread was too worn for them to repair it; and they couldn't replace it because they didn't have a replacement in stock. They suggested I check a used tire store.

So I went to the nearest place that I expected would sell used tires- El Dorado Tires on 450 N and Main in Clearfield. El Dorado is run by, and caters to, Latinos. It looks like a shop you would see in latin america, with the name of the store, and the products it sells, hand-painted in bright colors onto the exterior of the building rather than displayed with a conventional sign.

I pulled into the parking lot and carried my tire up to the garage. There were about five or six guys in there. Some were working, some were watching, all were Latino. But I couldn't tell for sure which ones were employees because none of them were wearing uniforms. So I stood there and waited for someone to come talk to me- ask me what I needed. No one did.

I may have waited five minutes, or it might have only been two. The uncomfortableness of standing there with five guys repeatedly glancing at me, but none of them approaching me, made it feel like hours. And a niggling little feeling started creeping up in the back of my mind- were these guys deliberately ignoring me because I was white?

Eventually I convinced myself that, rather than ignoring me because they didn't like me, they must have had some sort of policy against talking to customers in the garage area. So I set my tire down and went into the office. One of the guys from the garage entered the office the same time I did. He started explaining to the girl behind the counter about some parts he needed her to order. When he was done he went back into the garage and the girl asked if she could help me. I told her that I needed a new tire. When I finished telling her what I needed she said something- in Spanish- to another man who had come in from the garage. (My Spanish is ok, but I couldn't tell what she said to him.)

My past experiences at auto shops suggested that at this point the man that the girl behind the counter had spoken to would ask me for a little more information about what I needed. He didn't. Instead, he went back into the garage- not out front to where I had left my tire, just straight back to the garage. Nevertheless, I assumed that the exchange he had had with the girl meant that he was going to take care of my tire, so I sat down on the couch.

He came back into the office several more times. Each time he spoke to customers- in Spanish- who had come in after me. Each time this happened I couldn't help but wonder whether he was attending to the requests of these new customers before taking care of my tire. After all, why was he, the mechanic, attending to them, rather than the girl behind the counter? Was he just blowing me off? Were they putting the newly arrived customers ahead of me because these customers were fellow Latinos and the business of fellow Latinos was valued more than mine? Was I going to have to wait to have my tire worked on until there was no work to do for the Latino customers?

This was frustrating, and the frustration was beginning to make me feel angry. Then I realized something. I could leave the store and take my tire elsewhere. To any number of other shops, where all the employees would likely be Caucasian and certainly would be fluent in English. In any case, I'd be able to get a clear idea of whether the shop would be able to provide the service I needed, just like at the first shop. There would be no wondering, no speculating as to whether I was being ignored or mistreated because of my race or my ethnic appearance or the language I spoke. I didn't need to stick around at this tire shop and accept the way they were treating me.

But what if the roles were reversed? What if, instead of being a member of the ethnic and linguistic majority who was patronizing a business run by an ethnic and linguistic minority, I were in the minority and were attempting to get my tire fixed at a shop run by an ethnic majority who didn't speak my language and didn't share my same cultural background? How would it feel if I knew that the disrespect I was perceiving in the way they were treating me would be repeated at every other shop I could find? How would I feel if I knew that any time I went to a place of business, not just to get a flat tire replaced, but for any kind of service, or to buy anything else, this is how I could expect to be treated?

That line of reasoning replaced the smoldering heat of anger in my heart with something else- sorrow. The sorrow washed over me and left me feeling like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. After all, this would likely be a one-time experience for me. But for much of our country's history this kind of experience was a constant part of life for many people. For them, there were no "other shops". They didn't have the assurance of knowing that they could simply walk out and go somewhere else if a business decided to treat them with disrespect because of their race.

Wait a minute- it's dumb for me to be talking about this like it doesn't happen anymore. Even though it's true that someone being discriminated against like I thought I was most likely would be able to walk out and find a similar business that didn't treat them disrespectfully, that doesn't change the fact that there are people who have no qualms about openly displaying exactly the kind of bigotry I’ve described. And I suspect that it doesn't make it any less hurtful or maddening for those on the receiving end.

You might be wondering what I ended up doing about not being helped.

I got fed up. I left the office and went outside to get my tire. But it wasn't where I had left it. I asked some of the guys milling around outside if they knew what had happened to it. No one seemed to know. So I went back inside the office, feeling frustrated and angry again. But it wasn't long before the guy from the garage came back into the office and told me, in broken English, and with a smile on his face, that he had repaired my tire- he was happy to show me where it had been punctured by a nail. I thanked him and paid for the repair. Then I left.

I felt foolish for having assumed that I had been ignored. I also felt grateful for having had an experience that gave me a brief glimpse of what it feels like to be discriminated against based on my race.

Yes, it’s true that what had happened wasn’t discrimination at all- just a matter of miscommunication- but it doesn’t change what I perceived to be happening. Our emotions don’t always come from what’s real; they’re fueled by what we believe to be real, which are often two different things.

I hope I’ll remember the way I felt when I thought I was being discriminated against- the anger, the sense of injustice. I hope that it will make me more aware of the biases that I harbor, however unintentionally, and the consequences that letting them dictate my actions can have. And I hope that it will spur me to be more conscientious in treating others with dignity and respect.

Oh, and if you need to get a flat tire repaired, don’t hesitate to take it to El Dorado Tires. They’ll fix it for cheap, and you can brush up on your Spanish while you’re there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Even Bus Drivers Can Make A Difference

Most of what I do at work is pretty boring.

But every now and then my mundane tasks are punctuated with entertaining bits of fun and excitement.

Earlier this week I was assigned to search the minutes of the meetings of the board of directors of the Weber School District to find information pertinent to the district's financial statements.
Buried in the depths of the minutes of the February 6, 2008 meeting is a description of Bus Driver Steve, bus driver extraordinaire.

My apologies for making you navigate to the school district's website. Even though this is public information, posted on the www for anyone in the world to see, I worry just a bit about potential repercussions at work for having posted something here that I discovered while performing an audit. So take the extra effort to click on this link. When you get there, scroll down to Agendum Item #2- Recognitions and read about the Extra Mile Award given to an over-achieving bus driver from Weber County.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not Strange, Cool!

Now and then my wife tells me she thinks I'm strange because I think things like this indo-european language tree and this english language tree I found today are cool.

How Many Books of Mormons?

Suppose you're looking at a table with two copies of the Latter Day Saint book of scripture known as The Book of Mormon sitting on it. Do you refer to the two books as Books of Mormon or Book of Mormons? Or is there some other way of succinctly referring to the plurality of the items resting on the table?

According to my boss the grammatically correct reference is Book of Mormons because, as she puts it, the book is only one book, no matter how many copies of it there are, and it's the title that's being pluralized, not the Mormons.

I generally try to say Books of Mormon because the other term makes it sound like a book that the Mormons use. That, or that it was compiled by more than one person named Mormon. But, is my way the proper way? If so, then the plural of terms like power of attorney becomes powers of attorney which would imply more than one power, thus rendering the phrase technically inaccurate. I think.

What a conundrum. Maybe the answer lies in the very first sentence of this post. It just might be best to refer to them as copies of the Book of Mormon. Except that doesn't solve the powers of attorney problem. Then again, maybe I've incorrectly identified it as a problem.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Children's Cultural Awareness

Awareness of the principal elements that combine to form's one's native culture is an important element in a child's social development. So when I was left home to take care of the kids while my wife spent the evening watching her kid brother play football I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and treat my two oldest kids to an in-home viewing of one of the cinematic classics of contemporary American culture-- Star Wars.

They were playing on the swing set in the backyard when I broke the news.

"Oh Dad, you're the sweetest dad!" was my five-year-old daughter's response, her voice the very essence of exuberance and excitement.

"Star Wars! Star Wars! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" was all my three-year-old son could manage to verbalize as he dismounted the swing and ran, nearly falling over himself, toward the back door.

Yes, Star Wars, that classic of American science-fiction cinema.

Although I do so somewhat sheepishly, I have to admit that there's a soft spot in my heart for that movie and its sequels. There are plenty of films that do everything Star Wars did better than Star Wars did it, but none of them tug at my heart-strings the way Star Wars does.

I think that's because I never watched any of them on network television over Thanksgiving break when I was 7, 8, 9, and 10 years old. Sitting there in front of the TV [most likely] with a plate of left-over pumpkin pie and a glass of egg-nog, I was absolutely captivated by the Star Wars universe. The absurdities of things like the development of relationships between the characters and their inane dialogue went completely unnoticed by my young self, while the wonders and possibilities of an unknown universe filled my mind with awe and excitement. Sitting in the family room watching Star Wars on a small TV screen, with the constant threat of a commercial break looming just around the corner, was pure fun. And that's truly the forte of the Star War's franchise- the films are fun.

So, for the same reason that I take my kids camping and play games with them and read them stories and teach them to ride a bike, I watched Star Wars with them in my living room on Friday night- because it's a fun thing for a dad to do with his kids.