Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Don't Understand

I don't understand people wanting to get married in a church cause it "looks" nice.* 

I know I have said that myself a number of times: “I don’t understand”, or “I can’t understand”. I’ve said it numerous times in the context of truly not understanding: “I don’t understand quantum physics.” “I don’t understand Hungarian.” I’ve also meant it in the same way that the poster quoted above did. I’ve meant it as, “I disapprove.”

My reaction to other’s people’s use of that phrase is mixed. If I hear or read a position with which I agree, like “I don’t understand why people are opposed to marriage equality”, it slides right by me. If I hear or read a position with which I disagree, I react by thinking something like, “I don’t understand why the world should be limited by your lack of understanding.”

Yes, I do understand that the phrase and its sister, “I can’t understand” function as figures of speech. I also understand that their function is to soften the real message: “I disapprove. I disagree.” If I say I can’t understand, I can slide right out from ownership of my disapproval and disagreement. I’m not trying to start a fight here, I just can’t understand. I know my disapproval means nothing to some anonymous poster on the internet, I just don’t understand. Why are you picking on me for not understanding? Did I try to tell you what to do?

I do allow for content and context. For example, I hear someone saying, “I don’t understand how someone can abuse a child” not as an attempt to evade the consequences of outright disapproval, but as a way of framing that behavior as completely monstrous, impervious to human understanding. I’m not going to quibble with anyone who says that. I’m also glad that there are those who struggle to understand how, so that they can prevent the behavior from occurring.

I have undertaken to be more strict with myself. If I catch myself saying or thinking, “I don’t understand”, I remind myself that maybe I should learn to understand. Understanding does not mean approval or agreement. Understanding does give me more information to draw on in choosing my battles. It gives me a way to affirm whatever I have in common with another person before laying out my reasons for disapproving or disagreeing. It reminds me that sometimes my opinion is unwanted and irrelevant, but that when it is wanted and needed, I shouldn’t be coy about stating it.

And I don’t understand why other people just don’t get this.

*In the example above, the poster was responding to a man who was unhappy that the church was making him and his fiancée spend “a whole Saturday” in a pre-marriage class. He added, “I think my resistance to it is (without turning this into a religious thread) are my problems with the church and I’m dreading having to listen to them.” He said “my problems with the church”, not “our”. It is entirely possible that the church choice is his fiancée’s, and that he respects her reasons for the choice. It is also possible that they are going along with parents, out of a desire to pick their battles. Nowhere was it said that the reason for getting married in a church was because it “looks nice”.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Alternate Ending

Not that I didn’t enjoy the movie Much Ado About Nothing, but I had a few alternate lines of dialog running through my head.

Hero: Wait a minute, you want me to marry this loser after all? The one who stood up in front of the whole town and told everyone I was a slut? Just because he saw some woman in my bedroom window from so far away that it could have been you in a wig for all he knew? Why would I want to do that, Dad?

Don’t go running off, we’re not done talking yet. You wanted me dead, Dad. I heard you. You didn’t even wait to hear my side of it, you told me to go ahead and die. And now you want to have this big wedding feast and pretend like everything is all right? Who are you, anyway ? No wonder mom ran off. Yeah, yeah, I’ve known about it for years, how did you think you could keep something like that a secret in a house with a bunch of servants? 

Speaking of servants, I have one. About my age, about my size, busy in my room a lot. So how come it never occurred to one of you geniuses that it could have been her at the window? Because, yeah, if I was going to do the nasty with someone the night before my wedding, it would be right in front of my bedroom window with the light on. I’m smart that way. Anyway, she's apparently allowed to have sex without anyone getting mad at her. So why is that again, anyway? Because she's the one of us who can't afford to take care of a baby.

How could you even believe this, dad? The padre here knew better than to believe it of me. My cousin knew better than to believe it of me. Her on again/off again, now he has a beard, now he doesn’t loser can’t even propose without help from half a dozen people boyfriend knew better than to believe of of me. Yeah, you, who did you guys think you were fooling, any middle school kid could tell how you felt about her. Throw her a wedding, dad, why don’t you? Oh, you were? A twofer? Matching veils. Dad, Martha Stewart you are not.

Okay, okay, I’ll marry the jerk. But don’t think he’s ever going to hear the end of this.

You either.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This Is What Privilege Looks Like

I came across this photo this morning in a thread on TD, called “Second grader in wheelchair set apart from his classmates in school photo”. It linked to a news story from Canada with the same name.

Opinions seem to be mixed as to whether the child’s parents are right to be unhappy about the picture. Some typical comments are as follows:

the chair is as close to the bleachers as it can be.
did the mom want them to sit the wheelchair on the bleachers?
Hard to say if there was any malice here. The class photos are on a bench, which the kid in the wheelchair can't sit on.
I doubt there was any malice intended. They just didn't think about it enough. They should have placed him front and center.

Before the third and fourth posts were made, other commenters pointed out that the wheelchair could have been placed in front of the bleachers with the children on the bleachers placed to one side or the other so they wouldn’t be blocked. Someone also suggested another solution:

And there's room on both sides of the bleachers. Just move the kids to the edge and he would be with the rest of the students. Not that hard to figure out.

But that would create a worse problem!

and that would've made the picture off center and look stupid.

Well, we certainly can’t have any of that.

I agree with the fourth post above though. I doubt there was any malice intended. I mean look at that child. Look how cute he is. I bet he’s everyone’s mascot, moppet, pet. How can you feel malice toward him?

I doubt there was any malice intended when the school contracted with the photographer without telling the company that they have students with special needs, and asking what experience the photographer had with posing children in wheelchairs.

I don’t believe there was any malice intended when the teacher got the memo saying what time to have the children in the gym for the photograph and didn’t think, “Maybe I should go look at the bleachers and get an idea how we are going to work Miles into the picture."

I don’t believe the photographer felt any malice when he centered the rest of the class on the bleachers the way he always poses children and tucked Miles in afterwards.

That’s what privilege does. 

So if you have children who can walk on their own two feet or at least sit in the bleachers unaided and pay attention and smile on command and not get frightened at a stranger pointing an unfamiliar device at them and want to run away, take a good look at this picture.

Because this is what privilege looks like. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Like a Light Has Gone Out of the World

Last week my husband called my attention to a local news item. “An old friend of yours has died. Not a friend, someone you used to work with.” 

“Who?” I asked of course, then looked where he was pointing. It wasn’t really a friend or coworker, exactly, it was the former medical director of the children’s medical facility where I had worked for 36 years, the person after whom the place is now named. He was 91 years old, so his death wasn’t a surprise, but I was sad nonetheless.

Until his retirement 26 years ago, Dr. M had devoted half a day a week to what was then called “brace clinic” at our facility, monitoring the progress of children with cerebral palsy, fitting them with the long leg braces that were then the standard of care, recommending surgery if needed and often doing the surgery for free if the parents couldn’t afford to pay. As the then president of our board pointed out at the ceremony marking the renaming of the center in his honor, that half day a week, that could have been used to serve paying patients, represented a tithe of the doctor’s income. Before he retired, Dr. M lined up replacement orthopedists to volunteer their time, but it took two of them, each working one afternoon a month, to take his place. By then, the Center had applied to become a Medicaid provider and long leg braces were being phased out and replaced with more modern orthotics.

Despite the tithe of his working hours and the other donated services, Dr. M apparently did well for himself financially. His family has its own charitable foundation, which donated a good bit of the financing needed for expanding the center several years after Dr. M retired.

My husband accompanied me to the funeral home for the visitation. There was, as I expected, a long line of people waiting to sign the visitor’s book and speak to the family. While waiting, I whiled away the time chatting with E, one of my first clients there. “You need to start working with this child right away,” my boss told me after observing E at clinic, “He doesn’t talk at all, and he’s six.” E’s problem, it turned out, was that he was overwhelmed by Dr. M. As I learned once he started speech, the problem was not getting E to talk, it was getting him to shut up. We reminisced about Dr. M, E repeating an often made observation, “You never needed to ask if he was in the building. If he was there, you heard him.” 

“How old is your daughter now?” I asked. “Five” Almost as old as E when I first met him. “Are you still working as a DJ?”

“No, I’m building custom computers now.” Then he shared with me his desire to get on the board of directors of the center. I wish him well. I think it would be an excellent idea. 

I finally work my way up to where the family is and introduce myself. Dr. M had several sons and each one introduces himself to the guests and shakes hands. The oldest one, when he hears where he used to work, tells me that the Center is what his father had been proudest of. “He should be,” I replied, still not able to get used to using the past tense. 

All of us have an impact on the people around us. Most of us affect the world for the good, in some small way. Some people go above and beyond that. Their influence goes farther and wider, and when they pass, it’s like a light has gone out of the world.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Advise and Consent

I have been spending entirely too much time on Tiger Droppings lately, but the OT (off-topic) board just sucks me in. All morning I have been bravely trying not to post unsolicited advice to one poster who has a thorny problem, or from my point of view, non-problem:

Girlfriend's parents are getting her a "new" car for graduation. She wants a high mileage Infiniti which I think is stupid. Anybody have any suggestions on a 4 door car that gets good gas mileage that I can talk her into?

He is soliciting advice, but not the advice I want to give, which is, “Stay out of it.” Notice the salient points. It is the girlfriend’s parents who are buying the car. It will be the girlfriend’s car. There is no indication that anyone has asked the young man’s advice, let alone suggested that he should solicit further advice from a random group of people with too much time on their hands and unknown expertise in the realm of cars.  

We have further indications of the boyfriend’s motives later in the thread:

your girlfriend is stupid
 Obviously, so I need to be the voice of reason here as usual.


I really, really, really want to post a MYOB post to this person, but discretion is the better part of valor. Besides, that’s why I have a blog.

As of this writing there are 65 replies to the post, none of which have raised the question of how the  car became the boyfriend’s problem. A side argument has emerged between those who think the young lady is being pretentious and those who don’t, which led to another side argument over whether any white collar worker needs to drive a pick-up truck, but no arguments over how far people should go to involve themselves in their non-spouse SO’s decisions.

Oh, let’s not be so prim and proper about it. It’s really a question of how far men should go to involve themselves in their girlfriend’s decisions, because if she had been trying to talk him out of buying the car he wanted, the thread title would have been, My girlfriend is trying to tell me what kind of car to buy. What’s the best way to break up with her? It isn’t even true to say, “It’s really a question of how far men should go to involve themselves in their girlfriend’s decisions", because apparently in 60 some odd people’s minds, that isn’t even a question.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the young man. Maybe his plan is to wait until GF says something like, “You don’t look excited about my new car” to say, “I just keep thinking that if you got a low mileage Honda Accord and saved up what you would be paying on a car lease every month, in a few years you could trade in the Accord and use the cash for a big down payment on a newer Infiniti with lower mileage. That’s what I’d do, anyway.” If he’s considering a long term future with the young woman, it makes sense to be concerned with how she handles money and if status symbols are important to her.

But then I get back to “I need to be the voice of reason here as usual”, and honestly, I doubt he’s going to be that tactful.

I need to take my own advice and butt out. At least he knows his girlfriend, while I don’t know any of these people. That’s why I am writing here instead of telling him, “If I were you, I’d stay out of this and leave it to your girlfriend and her parents. Otherwise, high mileage or not, I don’t think you’re going to outlast the car.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Elephant Walked

The Baton Rouge Zoo began with an elephant, actually, two elephants. Planning for the zoo began in the 1960’s. A local television personality, Buckskin Bill Black, helped campaign for the zoo, ending his morning children’s program each day with the words, “Baton Rouge needs a zoo.” After taxpayers passed a millage election that provided more than three-quarters of a million dollars to build the facility, Buckskin Bill urged his little viewers to donate their pennies to help purchase an elephant. Two elephants were found for the zoo, and given the names Penny One and Penny Two.

I don’t know what hapened to Penny One and Penny Two, and but the most recent elephants owned by the zoo were Judy and Bozie, both female Asian elephants. After the zoo remodeled its big cats display to give the tigers more room to roam in a more naturalistic setting, the next step was going to be remodeling of the elephant’s habitat, to include more shade, a pavillion where visitors could stop and rest, and a fountain. A sign was placed opposite the elephants’ habitat, with a thermometer graphic to show how much money had been raised toward the project. The sign stayed exactly the same for years.

Meantime Judy, the older elephant, struggled more and more with her arthritis. Part of the time she wore a specially constructed boot to take pressure off her foot. A few months ago, the sad decision was made to put Judy down.

Elephants are sociable animals that do not thrive in solitude. With Judy gone, Bozie needed a companion, more than one companion it seems.

The Baton Rouge Zoo's elephant exhibit built in the late 60's is no longer considered state-of-the-art for a variety of reasons.   While our current exhibit exceeds the requirements to house two elephants, it cannot accommodate more than two.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums* (AZA) now requires accredited zoos holding elephants to have a minimum of three elephants.    We now know elephants need to be kept in larger, more social groups and as a result, most new elephant exhibits have the capacity to house at least 5 and some as many as 12 elephants. (
So Bozie is being sent away to live in a newer elephant facility at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She will live in Elephant Trails, an exhibit capable of housing 10-12 elephants.
The Baton Rouge Zoo still has plans for elephants, but it will be a while before there is a space for them again. The current habitat does not have room for three elephants. The big concrete moats that surround the old elephant exhibit to keep the elephants away from the fence where visitors congregate are no longer considered a good idea. Modifications also need to be made to provide greater occupational safety for the zoo workers who handle the elephants. The BREC Foundation and Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo boards have developed a steering committee to initiate a capital campaign to develop a new modern elephant facility.  
It was strange to be at the zoo Sunday and not see the elephants, but easy to see a new facility is needed. The zoo originally took almost ten years from the first plans to the opening day, and five years from the tax election to opening day. It could be ten more years before Penny One and Penny Two’s successors roam the savannah of Baton Rouge.
But Bozie has companions again, and a larger, nicer home. Farewell, Bozie, and fare well.

*BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo was the 19th zoo in the nation to be accredited and the first in Louisiana.  The Baton Rouge Zoo remains in the top 10% of zoos in the nation. (also from the article)

Monday, June 10, 2013

That's Not Really So Dumb, When You Think About It

Recently I encountered a thread called The dumbest thing you've ever heard someone say/ask? on the O/T [off topic] board on tigerdroppings. The thread is, as you can predict from the title, about the dumbest things posters can recall that they have heard people say or ask. It makes for humorous reading. Some of my favorite examples:

I was flying to Hawaii from Los Angeles and, when they were explaining to us the life jackets and everything, I heard a lady look over to her husband and ask "We have to fly over water?" 

Earlier today I was sitting on this . . . beach near my apartment(in Boston). These two girls were walking by me and one looks at the other and says "what ocean is this?"

A student asked an ELL student named Juanita how to say her name in Spanish.

Some questions I've been asked by students 

-"Is Alaska really pink?" when we were looking at a map of the states. 

-"Is that the same place we go for Spring Break" when discussing Manuel Noriega.

"Namaste. That's Japanese for 'goodbye.'" - Talkative Midwestern idiot behind my wife, son, and me on Small World at Disney.

It occurs to me, though, in reading through the thread, that some of the examples may have been meant as jokes. Not particularly funny jokes, but jokes. Some examples:

Some girl at a college football game asked where the yellow first down line was at on the field.

On another note a guy from BR that tailgates with us whilst eating Pastalaya [a pasta version of jambalaya, a rice dish] says "I'll bet this would be good if it had rice in it" 

We were talking about.birthdays and this this girl says her birthsay was June 10th (or whatever day its been a while). I asked "really what year? " she says,"well, its every year"

My husband would definitely have said the first two. Then I would have sighed that sigh I use on such occasions and given him the look, while reminding myself he is often genuinely funny. 

I would have said the third.

Others strike me as responses being given out of habit even though the situation is wrong:

Several years back in the drive-thru: "is that for here or to go?"

I can't remember if this was at JFK or Atlanta, but a few years ago, the officer at Customs asked me for my Green Card. After i handed her my US passport. 

This was also in a line for US citizens and permanent residents. [emphasis added]

The worker at the drive through says, “Is that for here or to go” to customers inside dozens of times a day, just like the customs official asks for green cards from permanent residents. Those were probably slips of the tongue, not ignorance.

Then there are the responses that leave you wondering just who has the cognitive issues:

Last week I heard a lady in the elevator tell another lady that one of their coworkers had a baby. The other lady asked how much did the baby weigh and the women replied "6 lbs and 14 oz". 

That one was questioned by several posters who didn’t see anything wrong with it, but the first person to do so quoted it as “6”, 14 ounces”. That led to other posters assuming the error was the woman saying, “6 inches, 14 ounces”, which would have been odd. I think the problem was likely that the original poster somehow thought 14 ounces was more than a pound, although it’s also possible that the 14 was a typo and the woman had said something like, “6 pounds, 18 ounces”.

The thread is actually one of the pleasanter examples of what I call the “Isn’t It Awful?” threads, after one of the games that Eric Berne, father of Transactional Analysis, described in the book Games People Play. Such threads cover subjects like parents who allow their children to behave in ways the posters can’t ever remember having behaved as children, despite the fact that most of them are one-third to one half my age; people daring to appear publicly and do normal things while fat; and what I call the “I’m mad because there are women who do not care about my penis and what makes it happy” threads. As Tigerdroppings started off as a college sports oriented forum, there are a lot of those.

I can’t say I am immune to the charm of Isn’t It Awful threads. After all, I make a lot of Isn’t It Awful blogposts myself. When we most suspect ourselves of being unattractive, stupid, and amazingly ridiculous  or totally invisible to the rest of the world, it’s comforting to think the same about them. Comforting, but distancing. It’s when we suspect ourselves of being unattractive, stupid, and amazingly ridiculous  or totally invisible to the rest of the world that we need to get closer, not farther away.