Monthly Archives: February 2009

Vulgar America

At my university, I am a part of a club whose mission is to properly and warmly welcome international students to America. Often, I regret that it is a bunch of college students who welcome and entertain them.

Our intentions are great, and we do the best we can, but what we can show them is such a limited view of America. Contrary to the popular stereotypes, most of us do not live on Ramen noodles and aren’t starving. We are short on high-hospitality usually, though.

I know that America isn’t know for its hospitality, other countries are, and why should we try to claim something that isn’t our strong area? I don’t think that we ought to seek to be something we aren’t, but if we realize that something, like hospitality, is very important to some other groups of people, why not try to meet these guests in a way they understand and appreciate?

It’s a sore spot in my life that I have been unable to do this to my satisfaction. I dislike to blame my failures on circumstance, but sometimes that is  the truth. It’s a rare occassion, when I can manage to find the place, the atmosphere, the means to prepare the cuisine, and the right party to attend whatever the potential event may be.

“It’s good enough” is generally the mantra of my co-international host friends, and often me also. “It’s good enough” galls me to no end. I don’t want it to be that way.

Take this example as a sample of what frustrates me. In the fall, my friends and I met some new Saudi Arabians. It was the end of November, and we decided to throw a little Thanksgiving party for them. To our credit, we did the best we could. It was so far removed from how I wanted it, though.

– We scared up a handful of Americans who were interested in engaging the few guests.
– I worked all day and didn’t have the time to find a tablecloth or to make decorations for the table.
– As inexperienced cooks we (I) couldn’t manage to make decent, unlumpy gravy.
– We had no presentation. My co-hosts didn’t see the necessity of it. Much to my dissatisfaction we decided to dice up the turkey prior to serving it.
– We had no method or tradition to the meal. We just ate. To me, the food is actually just a small part of the act of Thanksgiving, and it irritated me to no end that we couldn’t manage to communicate that to our guests.

I couldn’t help but think, “Besides the friendliness and the thought, what else are they getting from this? Here’s a great American tradition and holiday, one of our better, and they will leave here without ever getting any taste of it.” Part of this may be cultural for me as well. Apparently, compared to a cross-section of Americans, I was raised in a family that was more seeped in tradition and that placed more of an emphasis on high-entertaining than most.

I realize we can only do our best, but I hate the inability. To my international friends: American culture is not so vulgar and thrown-together as it may seem.

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Filed under Explaining things, Opinions

On “Shooting an Elephant”

Currently, I am reading Shooting an Elephant, by George Orwell (author of the famed Animal Farm and 1984). I love it so much! It’s a collection of short essays and such compiled into a book.

I’ve read about half of the articles so far, and I am in love with Orwell’s writing style and his processes thought and his powers of articulation.

Here’s a little excerpt of “How the Poor Die”:

“As I gazed at the tiny, screwed-up face it sturck me that this disgusting piece of refuse, waiting to be carted away and dumped on a slab in teh dissection rom, was an example of “natural” death, one of the things you pray for in the Litany. There you are, then, I though, that’s what is waiting for you, twenty, thrity, fourty years hence: that is how the lucky ones die, the one who lives to be old. One wnats to live, of course, indeed one only stay alive by virture of the fear of death, but I think now, as I though then, that it’s better to die violently and not too old. People talk of the horrors of war but what weapon has man invented that even apporaches in cruelty some of the commoner diseases? “Natural” death, almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful. Even at that, it makes a difference if you can ahcieve it in your own home and not in a public institution.”

I have certainly heard references to this sentiment before, though I’m not sure if Orwell is the origin:

“And it is a great thing to die in your own bed, though it is better still to die in your boots.”

– Orwell, George. Shooting an Elephant. 1945. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

I have more than a few thoughts from all this reading, and I wish that someone else was reading it alongside me so we could discuss and philosophize. As it is, I will defer my opinions until I have read more and dissected some of the articles more so I may present my thoughts in the most coherent manner.

However, the moral of this post remains, go read this book.

R.

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Filed under Lit, Opinions, Words

“The Wealth of Nations”

.rachel’s grasp on the more complex things of life II.

I am not so bright nor so very dumb. That being said, I cannot decide the best opinion to adopt concerning the present economic situation in our country.

From all accounts, it sounds bad. For the first time in my life, I can see first-hand a few of the effects of a really bad economy. I know that there are a lot of other adverse consequences that I am not experiencing.

I have concerns about the past decisions which led us to this point, and I have great concerns about the decisions that are being made to get us out of this position (to put my general opinion succinctly, FDR’s economic policies are some of my least favorite made by a president). It it’s true that most of the current problem is because the government forced banks to lend to people, that’s just more fodder to my argument that the government should stay out of the free market. Yes, I like John Stossel.

But then again, economies always go up and down.

So how bad is it? Practically, what, if anything, is this crushing amount of debt going to do to our country in a few years? If we’ve carried all right with this much debt so far, won’t we be able to manage however we have up ’til now? Some of the most bleary predictors talk about an economic collapse. Even if that happens, I don’t know what will actually happen to normal people. A few months ago, I heard that Iceland’s economy was completely wrecked, but I haven’t heard any terrible news of people fleeing the country to be able to buy bread.

That much debt can’t be good, though. Can someone explain to me how the country can function even now with such a huge amount of debt? And if it can function, how can more debt hamper progress?

None of my friends are sitting around talking about this. I’m probably the most vocal of my peers. When I was enumerating to a friend the travesty of all the pork-barrel spending hidden in President Obama’s stimulus bill, to placate me, he replied blasély. “What an outrage.”

So maybe, even if it gets bad, it won’t be very bad experientially. In any case, I know it’s not my my prerogative to worry, and the world certainly is not going to end until Jesus makes his second appearance.

I’ve decided this much:

–   Be daily grateful for my two jobs

–   Keep immediately siphoning off ten percent of my paychecks to save

–   Learn more about investing and start to do it

–   Keep honing my budget, disciplining myself to stay within it, and finding ways to save more

–   Read something like Freakonomics, Investing for Dummies, or  An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, and reread Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?

Finally, my favorite plan: If things get really bad, move to a developing country and start a small business.

My money will go further and people there are used to a lower standard of living, so adjustments will be easier, rather than American who lives it up and will have farther to fall.

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Filed under complex things, Opinions, Philosophical, politics

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!

 

A young President Lincoln
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Today is our Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday!
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If you’re American, you should alreayd know a good bit about President Lincoln, particularly about his leadership through the American Civil War. You can always brush up on the details on one of my favorite general information go-to’s, Wikipedia.
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He’s considered by many to be one of our best presdients, and he definitely was, no-contest, top of my 100 historical person list.
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If you’re like me, and will take any reason to celebrate, do something to remember our great leader of old. These are some ways I’d endorse:
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– Thank God for such a great leader
– Build a lincoln-log house
– Have a philosophical debate about the causes of the Civil War
– Watch the movie “Gettysburg” or “Gone with the Wind”
– Read a great short read, The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln
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(As appeared today in Mythopoetic)

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“Animal Farm” and the rest

These are the newest books on my to-read list:

Animal Farm

Heart of Darkness

As I Lay Dying

Atlas Shrugged

Ulysses

Probably stuff I should have read already, but hey, it’s a busy world.

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Filed under Everyday, Lit, Opinions, Words

I still love etsy.com

I have  an admission to make: I think homemade is overrated. Rather, I dislike its deification.

I really like when people are creative and the clever things creative. But I don’t like the un-due exultation of such things. It seems that the default position is that homemade = superb, superior quality, etc. This makes sense. Today, things come out of plastic boxes and have stickers and labels and prices. Homemade is cool now because it’s not the norm.

Of course, it used to be the reverse. Pollyanna didn’t want a homemade doll, if you remember. She wanted one of those nice, store-bought dolls.

I acknowledge that part of the reason that I feel this way is that I am not saturated in that world. I don’t have a plethora of artisans around me (I did use to have a roommate though who could decorate, paint, and create anything out of nothing), and I don’t often sweat over “creating” things. Except for blog spots. So I acknowledge from a certain perspective I am coming from the outside.

Now, in general, I like homemade things. Homemade cookies (though I for one can’t seem to make chocolate chip cookies better than those break-and-bakes), personalized books, homemade bookmarkers, and good hand-made jewelry. Painters, seamstresses, designers can all do incredible work. So I acknowlege that there are some great hand-made crafts, and I’m for them, as long as they are of high-quality.

So that’s my disclaimer. I love art, especially good flat art, music, people who play and write songs, people who draw and create. That’s not what I’m focusing on. I’m focusing on the obsession with “homemade”.

My beef comes in when whatever product is “homemade” is assumed to be great, even superior to other products, simply because it was made by hand. I also dislike homemade when it seems like someone is using it as  a ploy to save money by avoiding buying a gift.

If a product is good, then it doesn’t really matter to me whether it was made in a factory or a one-of-a-kind thing. In fact, homemade often can be more expensive for a comparable product. Homemade has its place and I don’t think that it’s a throne.

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Filed under Everyday, Opinions

interpersonal interactions

My working definition of hell is utter and complete loneliness and aloneness. It’s separation from everyone and everything beyond anything we can imagine from our experience on earth.

The antithesis of that would be unbroken, wonderful connection and relationships. Even here on earth, I think that person-to-person interactions, at their best,  have a “heavenly quality” to them.

So I’m a big champion of what I call “good interpersonal interactions”. In fact, I even keep a log of my best interpersonal interactions, not open to the public.

Looking over my list, I found some ones that still made me happy. As I have mentioned before, I tutor student-athletes at my university. Below is a conversation that I have recorded from several months ago.

Me: What are you working?
Football fellow: Absolutely nothing.
Me: Aww, man (sentiment: no will let me help them today)
Football fellow: But! (magnanimously) if I had something to work on, I would let you help me. *pause. Because you’re the smartest tutor ever!

I can’t mind a player like that. Especially if he lets me edit a paper or help him study for a test.

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Filed under Interpersonal Interactions, Words