Sunday, January 29, 2006

In the Gaps

My wife is a huge fan of the comic strip Mutts, so for Christmas this year I signed her up for the Mutts fan club. Along with the t-shirt and bookmark and other assorted crap that came with the membership kit was a Guide to Vegetarian Eating produced by the Humane Society (the creator of Mutts is vegan and very active in animal rights).

Now, I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans, very few of whom try to actively evangelize. And, they seem to have a wide variety of reasons, from health to social conscience. Most I respect, some not so much. The girlfriend of a friend in college explained that she was a vegetarian that ate fish because, and I quote, “fish aren’t cute and furry and go moo” (guess which group she fell into). My favorite reason for vegetarianism ever was simple – an old co-worker told me he just didn’t like meat, and couldn’t really understand why so many other vegetarians ate fake-meat products if they claimed not to like meat.

I don’t eat much meat, and rarely cook it at home, but will probably never be a vegetarian and certainly never a vegan (because I’ll be fucked if I’m giving up cheese). I like a good steak, tend to avoid chicken, and would eat a lot more fish if chronic overfishing didn’t scare me so much. Generally, I agree with what a friend once said, that we probably ought to avoid eating meat when we can, but that there isn’t an essential problem with it.

This Human Society booklet has ticked me off, though, because it falls into the trap that so many people earnestly pushing agendas do. It ignores it’s own logical gaps, which makes for a weak and easy to dissemble argument.

As the booklet moves from beef to chicken to pork, it describes the unsanitary and often cruel conditions that animals are forced to live in. It points out, correctly, that the conditions breed disease, which demands prophylactic antibiotic treatments for the animals, and that meat producers, in the quest for better yield, pump animals full of hormones, meaning consumers of the meat are getting dosed with these chemicals to our general detriment. I agree totally up to those points – factory farms are cruel, the conditions unsanitary, the effects on individuals and society dire. But, then they make the jump – the only way to combat the situation is to lead a vegan lifestyle.

Ho, ho, ho, wait, hold up. No, I say, you have not provided sufficient warrant for the claim that the vegan lifestyles is the answer, and any time you claim more than you have warranted, you not only undercut your argument but the arguments of all those that use similar grounds. That pisses me off, or maybe just angrily disappoints me, because it is sloppy.

See, the booklet actually constructs an argument against factory farms (an argument with which I whole-heartedly agree). The mass-production of meat has indeed led to practices that are cruel to the animals and unsafe to consumers and environment alike. But, how does it follow that one should be vegan? Would not a low-animal-product diet, with organic dairy, free-range vegetarian-fed poultry and locally-produced grass-fed beef address all the issues that the booklet raises? They have given me reason to choose meat and eggs and dairy more carefully, but somehow believe that the move from there to veganism is self-evident.

It seems in our nature to gloss over such logical gaps. Vegan evangelists can feel good because they have provided reasons that support their decisions – I’m a vegan and here is why that is good. But, they fail to try and look at it from the other direction – are these reasons sufficient explanation for why all other courses of action should NOT be followed. Bruno and the Professor posted a link this week about research into this phenomenon in the political world, which noted that conservatives and progressives alike are adept at, and perhaps even wired for, ignoring evidence that does not support their claims.

People like to feel satisfied with themselves, which is fine. They have internal rationale for their actions. But, when they try and craft those internal rationale into an external argument, especially one with a specific agenda, and fail to consider the whole world of possible rationale for all possible agendas, its just sloppy and lazy. They create poorly crafted messages.

We all do it, all the time, and I think that fact is the best argument for better critical analysis and composition curricula in schools.

Sure, maybe it doesn’t seem that harmful when talking about vegetarianism, and maybe it is hard to believe that such curricula would really improve political discourse. But, the potential harm became clear for me reading student papers in college, where one student, and again I quote, noted “Looking around me here at Western Washington University, it is obvious that minorities don’t care about college.”

Right. And, were you a student at Grambling, I asked, would you also say that white folks don’t care about college?

The devil ain’t so much in the details as in the gaps, and leaving the gaps open is like building condos for evil.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Simple Truths

never go duck hunting
in corduroys

it is a simple truth
try it and you’ll understand why

ketchup is for hamburgers
mustard is for hotdogs

don’t fight it based on taste
accept that it is true

it is easier this way
save energy for the larger battles

never loan money
to anyone who smokes menthols

try not to play poker with them
trust this is true because it is simple

you must love or hate the Yankees
midgets are funny

praying for snow days is fruitless
because God hates schoolchildren

end the struggle and accept it
voiceovers ruin movies

you can’t trust anyone
that drinks Genesee Cream Ale

trust in the simple
believe in the truth

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ya Gotta Have Faith

We moved across the street from what is now the new Ballard Commons and Skate Park just as it was starting up in-earnest construction back in late August. It has been noisy, and a muddy eyesore, but incredibly cool as well. Liv started referring to it as "our park" months ago.

The pulled off the fences just before the end of the year, and though it has been wet and the grass will be fenced off for quite a while yet, it is already a great addition to the neighborhood. It has been adopted quickly, and there are always people strolling through. I dig it, having the type of common space I love cities for directly across from our apartment.

And I like the skate bowl, I really do. I liked the fact that the powers that be didn't hassle the few kids that snuck in for early tastes after the bowl was first poured a couple months back. I'm proud that civic dollars have created something that is needed and moves to include this subset of kids.

But, I gotta tell ya, I've been worried as late. Old as this makes me feel, as much as I can see liver spots bursting upon the back of my hands as I type, it was the music. The fact that taggers started hitting the bowl early bothered me, but it was inevitable. I just hadn't, for some reason, seen this coming.

I'm all for that music the kids play, with its thrashing and punking and whatnot, but it has been so loud, and of the particularly aurally assaulting variety, that I began to dread the coming of summer, and always-open windows, and larger groups of skaters. The old man in me wanted to believe they would be good neighbors, and play what they want but not so loud I have to turn up my own radio to hear Softy bitching about the Huskies. I let the doubt creep in that I would become set against the music that was to come from the bowl.

And then I get home this evening, and as I get closer to the park, can't quite place what I am hearing. I turn the corner and it's... The Motherfuckin' Man in Black. And not this new shit where he sings grunge tunes, but teh old stuff, the good stuff, what I think of when I hear the name Johnny Cash. Ring of Fire, Understand Your Man, Jackson.

Little punks won me over tonight. At least the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps that is something I should be giving more freely than I do.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Death Lesson from Jador

A few days ago, my little girl’s Betta fish, Jador (zha-door), died.

It wasn’t sudden. He had been listless and unresponsive most of the time for a few days, and by Thursday night he was gone.

Liv had been at her grandparents’ all day, and I had a meeting Thursday night, but I wanted to be the one to tell her. So, my wife did the prep work, talking to her about what life was, and what the spirit was, and what happened when our bodies stopped working.

It brought up some things Tricia and I have talked a little about already, but you begin to see the complexity once you really have to enact your theories. Tricia told Olivia that the spirit goes to heaven and can play there after the body dies, which I know raises eyebrows among the folks I know. As though any mention of heaven means I swallow all Christian cosmology hook-line-and-sicker, and that I’ll also teach Liv about hell. But, I won’t, because I don’t buy it, and we’re not teaching of a heaven ruled by a patriarch and filled with angels, either. I know all this, and have been planning for it, but putting that teaching into action is going to be tricky.

Still, Liv took it all in well. Tricia said that as they were cuddling and talking, Livvie would ask questions, try out this idea of being alive on the living things she knew. “Spikey is alive, right? He breathes. And then, someday, his body won’t work. And his spirit will go into the air and he’ll play in heaven.”

So, Liv wakes up on Friday morning, and we cuddle for a little bit ad talk about what we are going to have for breakfast. Then, I say “Olivia, Daddy has to talk to you about something. Jador died.”

She looked at me for a minute with an inscrutable expression. I was sure that both of us would end up crying (yes, it is just a fish, but I’m a sensitive man, especially when it comes to animals, and she is two). I asked her if she wanted to see him and she said yes.

She looked a Jador and then looked up at me.

“Jador’s body stopped working?”

“Yeah, BabyGirl.”

“And his spirit is playing in heaven?”

“Yeah, BabyGirl.”

“And, we’re going to get a new fish at the store.”

She looked at me funny when I laughed. It isn’t the first time I’ve been surprised by the incredible flexibility of my child’s mind. I guess in a way I was almost a little disappointed that she wasn’t as upset as I would have been at her age, that I couldn’t comfort her because she doesn’t really need it.

But, what I find most encouraging is the adaptability, the ability to take on new concepts so quickly. It makes me hopeful that when we come to the more complex discussions of heaven and God that she will be able to negotiate her way through, and not have to swallow other people’s narratives whole. That she’ll be able to grok, if not necessarily accept, the notions of heaven without hell, of God without Chrsitinaity, of truth without the need to be right.

I know, I know, it is just a fish and a little girl able to accept a little bit of loss, but these are the moments that make the hard days worthwhile, the belief, however fleeting, that your child will weather the world, and that you may be able to play a part in it.