Monday, December 31, 2007

Always the Bridesmaid?

By any standard, 2007 has been eventful. Barry Bonds broke one of sports' most cherished records and followed it up by being indicted for perjury (mainly because there's no specific law against being a big cheating jagoff) The New England Patriots cheated their way to a perfect season and somehow managed to find someone disrespecting them among the throngs of people in sports media lining up to tongue-bathe them on a week-to-week basis. The Miami Dolphins managed to win their only game against the team that had come closest to beating the aforementioned Pats. The Colorado Rockies came from 4 1/2 games out of the playoffs with a week to go in the season and somehow made it to the World Series. Most importantly, Jim Tressel took a rebuilding team that lost a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and two first-round draft pick wide receivers and converted it to a national championship contender, much to the chagrin of Mark May and the humble folks at The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

It's been a strange year for fans of the Fightin' Buckeyes of the Olentangy, representing The Ohio State University (est. 1870 in accordance with the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862.) By any objective standard, it's been an embarrassment of riches. Finishing second out of 119 Division I football teams is pretty good. Doing that AND finishing second out of the countless Division I basketball teams is ridiculous. And let's not forget the men's soccer team finishing second in the country as well, just in case anyone actually cares. Yet it's been a season of disappointment in many ways.

Hopefully with the new year we'll get some perspective and, perhaps, some first-place finishes. Scarlet and Grey bridesmaids' dresses are SO last year.

Also, Michigan sucks, Ann Arbor is a whore, and Chad Henne is a bitch.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Humble Pie

It’s the biggest and most prevalent lie told on the internet (or anywhere else). I’m not talking about slobs in their mothers’ basements telling MySpace that they’re really teenage beauty queens that drive Ferraris. The letters “IMHO” at the end of a blog post, email or chatroom entry is what I speak of. And it constitutes more than a ubiquitous untruth; those four letters tell the story of a deeper, underlying truth about our society and especially the culture of the web.

There’s nothing humble about expressing an opinion. Any opinion truly-held and honestly-expressed bears at its core a kernel of conceit: that *you* think it’s valid. If you didn’t you wouldn’t have bothered writing it down or speaking it aloud, which makes 'humble opinion' an oxymoron of the first order. Because stating any opinion, putting it out where people can read it and respond to it, is an honest expression of your belief in our own critical faculties, in your own intellect. That verbalization is a display of your confidence in the underlying structure of that belief and a ‘bring it on’ to any who would stand in opposition to it. And more power to you.

In law, an opinion is the considered judgment of a judge or panel of judges and has the force of law. The legal model for the term is hardly the most widely-held for by those outside of the legal profession, but even Webster defines an opinion as “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter” though it notes that it is a belief “(that is) less strong than positive knowledge”. Whatever definition you’re using, having an opinion – or worse *expressing* one – in our current culture is also apparently tantamount to heresy. This is manifest in the tendency to append the phrase “In my humble opinion” (or “IMHO” for short) to the end of every blog entry or chatroom post, especially those which are provocative.

On the internet, this rhetorical fig leaf is used with curious abandon to hide our tender egos from critique and ridicule. Google logs 2.1 million incidences of the phrase in their database alone. A further 30.5 million (30,500,000) hits are accrued by the abbreviation “IMHO”. No sooner is an opinion expressed than the author has immediately disavowed the validity of their argument by appending “IMHO” at the end. And the purity of public discourse suffers because no one owns up to their actual beliefs; that wasn’t their opinion, just a trial balloon held aloft by false humility.

The underlying implication here isn’t that there’s something wrong with being humble, I adore humility, applaud it even (or would if it wouldn't embarrass the truly humble souls out there). The implication is that there’s something wrong with having an opinion in the first place. The ubiquity of the phrase in popular discourse seems to imply that there is something immoral to be found in belief, belief that you are right, belief that you know something someone else doesn’t or that others could learn from you.

Perhaps this is the price we pay for removing the teaching of rhetoric from education; people simply are no longer taught to take a position and hold it. The public political debates we are exposed to generally underline this risk-aversion as candidates struggle to avoid taking sides or standing behind an opinion in the interest of appearing to remain open to opposing viewpoints.

That your opinions are of value to the ongoing debate and worthy of being heard is a conceit of the highest order, not a humble supposition. It’s a fallacy to say that this conceit is an arrogance; that would imply that the originator of the opinion is unwilling or unable to accept a counter-argument so we hide our conceits in a veil of false-humility and pray that no one notices. Equivocation is now encoded in our culture... to our loss.

But that’s just my (allegedly) humble opinion.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Finding Hemingway

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

I never much cared for Hemingway. It's hard to put my finger on why. Oh, I'd like to give you a high-minded reason: drinking, machismo, misogyny, a pointless suicide… there's so much to choose from. But I'd be lying if I told you any of those. It wasn't the way lit was taught in my schooldays either, though it certainly didn't help. Forcing something like Hemingway or Steinbeck down a 20th century teenager's throat without context or criticism is the first rule of What Not To Do if you want them to understand Why This Is Good. But that wasn't it either; I was largely immune to teaching by the time I hit The Sun Also Rises.

It was rebellion, pure and simple.

I know that sounds odd. Most people rebel by listening to loud music, growing long hair, getting piercings, donning eye makeup, wearing black clothing, majoring in art, etcetera,ad nauseum… and I did all those things too, but my parents took those things in stride (mostly). Honestly, the greatest rebellion I managed to pull off was disliking Hemingway. Vocally disliking Hemingway.

You'd have to meet my dad to understand.

My dad is incredibly well-read. I grew up surrounded by shelves of books, boxes of books, piles of books, bags of books, lockers full of books, books under the bed, on the table, on the counter. History books, cook books, novels, classics, plays, philosophies, biographies… you name it, dad has a book on it.

There was no question of whether I'd grow up to read and write. It was fait accompli. So the only way I could really rebel was to define myself in different literary terms than dad defined himself. So I hated Hemingway. Also Steinbeck and a host of others, but mostly Hemingway and mostly because dad loves the Nick Adams stories and I refused to for no better reason than differentiating myself on a generational footing.

I've spent a good deal of time talking to my dad about these things lately, so in some ways my thinking is clearer than it ever has been, and in some ways murkier than ever.

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned."

Mark Twain

Now I love Twain, and the quote is funny, but it's here that we part company.

While I'll never claim that I somehow transcended the ignorance and arrogance inherent in being a teenager, I never thought either of my parents were stupid. Quite the opposite, actually. My dad's intellect has always intimidated the hell out of me… in a good way. My dad made it abundantly clear that it was a Good Thing to be well-read, literate, and well-spoken… not to mention soft-spoken.

To be well-read, you have to read. A lot. Constantly. Even stuff you don't like… like Hemingway and Steinbeck. If there's no book handy, read a newspaper… or the back of a cereal box. I read all the time, several books at a time, mixing fiction and nonfiction with furious abandon. My personal collection is in the thousands and my mom tells me that in that respect at least I have exceeded my forebears. I always have a book with me. Always.

Because dad made it right. He made it look cool.

But this isn't really about reading, and it's not even really about Hemingway or any of the others any more than the Mark Twain quote was about parental stupidity. It's about the scales falling from our eyes so that we may see our parents as they are. And ultimately seeing our parents in ourselves and vice-versa. Attaining the perspective to begin to grasp the strange and subtle nuance of how we interact with our parents.

Our parents give us gifts on a daily basis, or at least mine did. I'm not talking about cars or computers, or even three squares and a roof over our heads… I'm talking about the careful crafting that goes into raising children not to be better kids, but to be better adults. Not everyone receives that from their parents. I did and I am eternally grateful.

I wrote this in part to get it out of my head so I could go on to write other things, and in part because I wanted my younger friends to spend a little bit of time in honest reflection on why they react to their parents the way that they do. There is so much time wasted in our lives striving against our parents. Some of that is necessary, some of it is even constructive, and some of it blinds us to what's really going on.

I recently found out my dad has a cancer of the intractable sort. We have no idea what this means or how long he has. It could be a year, it could be ten years or more, dad comes from tough stock. But either way you look at it, it casts the past present and future into a new and sharper relief. Binds us that much closer together and at the same time makes the separationthat much harder.

It's something I cannot fully wrap my mind around and I assure you I am not posting this to garner sympathy, or condolences (though prayers are always welcome). So to everyone out there who still has their parents… I invite you to look at them… really LOOK at them. And try to figure out where your Hemingway is.

Recently, I spent almost an entire month at home for the first time since I left for college. Almost every day of it dad and I spent hours with our heads together, talking. We trolled through bookstores and took car trips and sat in waiting rooms together. Whole hours of it were spent reading as we sat next to one another, saying nothing. Just being there, reflecting one another as fathers and sons should.

And without speaking, without even bringing it up, he convinced me that it was time to give Ernest another shot. So I am… and while so much of what I disliked about the man is still there... I'm almost ashamed to admit how much I'm finally enjoying the man's sparse, evocative prose.

And next time I see my dad, we're going to have that much more to talk about.

-Scott Perkins


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

20071205 Where Are All the Heroes?

Action News 3, Omaha Nebraska Fox News

A terrible tragedy occurred on 5 December 2007 as a man entered the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska with a rifle and started shooting, killing at least eight people and wounding at least five others before taking his own life. My prayers and my heart go out to the victims of this tragedy that seems to be becoming a hallmark of our modern society.

My question for the rest of us after this event and the far too many like it over the recent years is where were the heroes today? I’m not talking about the people who barricaded themselves inside closets or helped people run for safety. I’m talking about the heroes who decided that allowing someone to maraud through a shopping mall with a rifle killing people was not right and that they were going to do something about it.

Where were the heroes who realized that there is a Dick’s Sporting Goods in that mall--which store traditionally carries firearms--or who went to the nearest kitchen store to find some sharp knives with the mission to prevent this attacker from doing anymore harm? I’m starting to wonder if any such heroes still exist.

From my view, this terrible tragedy underlines something that becomes more apparent to me with each passing day: we have grown into a nation without a backbone or a conscience. We run and save our own lives when we know others are dying, whether that flight is in a shopping mall or a nation we helped liberate from tyranny. We, as a nation, no longer seem to be capable of doing the right thing.

For my part, I am going to take a very big risk here and make a promise to anyone who reads this post. If I am in the mall with you and someone starts shooting, I will do whatever I can to stop them, even if that attempt means dying. I do not consider myself a hero, instead I consider myself a person who believes sometimes its better to give oneself to save others than to live knowing others died because I did nothing. I firmly believe that, if we fight back, people will think twice about trying to do us and others harm.

Dennis L Hitzeman


This post was also posted on Dennis L Hitzeman’s Worldview Weblog

Monday, December 3, 2007

Welcome to A Host of Contributing Factors

Welcome to our weblog. The purpose of this weblog is to act as an ongoing conversation between the authors and our readers on a variety of subjects.

The authors represent an eclectic mix of people who have diverse interests and focuses, promising to create dynamic ongoing conversations.