Since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer and entered an aggressive chemo treatment in early June, there have been clues given to me about how this initial part of our journey through Cancerland – this new mystery in our lives – might turn out. But as is the case in many detectives engaging those mysteries, connecting the dots is much easier to accomplish in hindsight.
One of those clues is that when patients at the Four Winds Cancer Clinic in Chandler, AZ reach the end of their treatments they are entitled to “The Happy Dance.” Each dance involves members of the oncology team and San and I have witnessed a few of them. But we have also observed that each dance is a little different, tailored to the patient. What is in store for me? For us? No matter how hard we tried to get details prior to the dance, the team members only gave us back big smiles, laughter, and obvious deflections. So that is how it was to be. It was, for this detective, “A Case of Strategic Dance Ambiguity.”
The first law of handgun safety is that the gun is always loaded. Always. Following that law prevents shooting someone else or yourself by accident.
The second law of handgun safety is you should never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy. Never. Handguns are weapons. Loaded handguns are loaded weapons.
The third law of handgun safety is to never hand a loaded gun to anyone. Always remove the clip and/or the bullets before placing the gun down on a level surface with the business end of the weapon pointing away from anyone else.
These are three laws you do not want to forget. Here’s why: When fired, handguns destroy some or all of whatever they are pointed at. You may point the business end of the gun at nothing more threatening than a paper target or a tin can, but make no mistake: the gun doesn’t know a paper target or a tin can from a human heart.
There are reasons why gun enthusiasts call the above three statements about gun safety “laws.” But even if you have never fired a weapon or if you are an expert, you already get my point: Guns are serious business.
Which is to say, also, that a handgun – or any gun - should never be given to anyone who is not fully trained in gun safety.
This weekend our great nation celebrates its 235th birthday. Hurrah! I am proud to be an American, proud of my country, and proud to defend my country against all its enemies, foreign and domestic. I am a writer. My weapon of choice is, therefore, not one of one of mass destruction, but one of mass persuasion. I promote the use of narratives—stories—to counter the destructive influence of extremism at home and abroad.
This year I have contributed two books to that noble cause, one a co-authored text with Jeffry Halverson and Steven R. Corman, Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011) based on an interdisciplinary grant project designed to identify and counter extremist narratives in Indonesia, the Middle East, and North Africa. The other is a solo authored effort, Counter-Narrative: How Progressives Can Challenge Extremists and Promote Social Justice (Left Coast Press, 2010).
Chances are good that these two books will be my last books. Earlier this summer I learned that I have stage four pancreatic cancer. For those of you familiar with this disease, you know that even with aggressive chemo treatment, I am probably celebrating my last 4th of July weekend. I’d like to think I will beat the odds and live longer, and I am certainly working toward that goal, but I am a realist and those are the facts. (To read about my journey into Cancerland, please see my blog).
So it is that I have come to that part of life where it seems entirely appropriate to sum up things. As we celebrate our independence – together with our freedom, justice, and democratic way of life – I want to take stock of those ideas. I want to think about them in relation to the way we live now. Which is to say I want to tell a story about America that is both personal and political, one that questions how well we have lived up to those founding ideals and that is immodest enough to suggest that we still have a lot of hard work to do if we are to truly realize them.
Those of us who have not ourselves served in the military but who were reared in homes where our fathers and/or mothers, brothers, and sisters have served, often treat Memorial Day much as those of us who have left the church while our parents remained true to the faith treat Easter and Christmas. Yes, we pay public homage to their service and sacrifice as well as to their beliefs, but often we do so with a private sense of what I call “intimate detachment.” We do not share the core experiences, the life-defining curriculum, of war or God.
Allow me to explain.
We love and honor those family members who did and do what we were never called to, or called to do. We revere them. On Memorial Day we imagine their experiences, listen to their stories, maybe watch the old movies, maybe attend a parade or ceremony, share a meal and a prayer, and immerse ourselves in times and places that help define them for us, and yet—and yet—we never quite get it. We can’t. We weren’t there.
Legend has it that the famous sociologist Erving Goffman’s last words were “we should have studied the rich.” Whether or not he actually voiced that sentiment, the fact is that since his death in 1982 there have been a number of anthropologists and sociologists who have committed themselves to “studying up.” One of them is Karen Ho and her amazing ethnography of Wall Street, Liquidated, is one excellent reason why learning more about those who literally control the world that you and I live in is important.
“Writing about them, to me, often felt like that children’s game where you try to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time: trying simultaneously to be like them and yet fiercely to defend whatever scrap of no-man’s land remains between them and you—between the real world and the world of science.”
Be honest: When was the last time you truly enjoyed reading a book, any book, written by an academic? When was the last time you found yourself completely absorbed in a remarkable story?
What if I told you that the academic book in question is a full-out adventure story cleverly disguised as an organizational ethnography, and that it’s subject is a high performance athletic team made up of Cambridge University graduate students, volunteers who train at the outer limits of human endurance for 200 days to qualify for an 8-person Boat Race against their arch rival, Oxford? A Boat Race that, if they are lucky and their highly coordinated talents are literally perfect, will last just under 17 minutes but will bring with their victory a kind of immortality? Would you want to read such book?
“On April 17, 2011, CBS News' 60 Minutes and correspondent Steve Kroft alleged inaccuracies in Mortenson's books Three Cups of Tea and its sequel, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan and improprieties in the operation of the Central Asia Institute. In particular, CBS News disputes whether Mortenson actually got lost near K2 and ended up in Korphe, whether Mortenson's capture by the Taliban in 1996 is accurate, whether the number of schools built and supported is accurate, and the use of funds for Mortenson's book tours. 60 Minutes asked Mortenson for an interview in light of the allegations; he did not respond to their request.” (from Mortenson’s Wikipedia entry
Greg Mortenson’s writing inspired a lot of people to donate to his charity (Central Asia Institute) that in turn built schools that educated thousands of young women who would otherwise probably not have had access to an education at all. For this reason alone, Mr. Mortenson is to be commended as a humanitarian.
That does not mean he gets a “get of telling the truth” card for misrepresenting various accounts of his life or from accusations that his charity only spend 41% of its donations building those schools, or that he may, in fact, be guilty of major tax evasion. His friend, Nicolas Kristof, says that Mr. Mortenson is “disorganized.” If that is true it does not entitle him to anything more than readers following this story should try to maintain a willing suspension of disbelief until facts can be sorted out by the courts, his publisher, and (alas) the testimony of the Taliban.
Dear Governor Brewer:
As an educator with over 30 years of experience I cannot remain silent about SB 1467, a bill already approved by the legislature that awaits your signature. I sincerely hope you won’t sign it.
Having read the bill in its entirety, there is one particular section that I find objectionable. It reads:
THE GOVERNING BOARD OF AN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION SHALL NOT ADOPT OR ENFORCE ANY POLICY OR RULE THAT PROHIBITS THE POSSESSION OF A CONCEALED WEAPON BY A PERSON WHO POSSESSES A VALID PERMIT RECOGNIZED OR ISSUED PURSUANT TO SECTION 13-3112 OR THE TRANSPORTATION OR STORAGE OF A FIREARM PURSUANT TO SECTION 12-781.
Arizona’s own Senator Jon Kyl’s recent remarks about Planned Parenthood have become the political equivalent of a well-dressed and properly coiffed fellow who slips on a banana peel, slides across a slippery surface, and falls headfirst into a steaming pile of horse hockey. If the current round of laughter (see this article) at his failed attempt to claim innocence about an out-and-out lie is the worst that happens to him, well, then so be it. I suspect his remark will appear in his obituary as the singularly most important thing he accomplished while in the U. S. Senate.
Actually, I did not intend that last statement to be a factual statement. Pardon me.
"The point is to strip down, get protestant, then even more naked. Walk over scorched bricks to find your own soul. Your heart a searching dog in the rubble." –Barry Hannah
Later on this afternoon I will enter my graduate seminar in “Narrative Theories and Knowing” and read aloud from the collected works of Barry Hannah. Those of you who have read his work—from the brilliant early novel Geronimo Rex through the remarkable novella Ray and ending up with the magnificent posthumous collection out just last year Long, Last, Happy—chances are good that my selection of his short story “Water Liars” for a reading will come as no surprise. For those of you who do not recognize his name, believe me, opening up one of his texts will change forever how you read and think about the power of literature. For those of you who write, opening up one of Barry’s texts will likely cause you to have the same reaction Richard Ford had when he first read him:
“His very conception of what a story could be was one I’d never thought of. His sentences had, among their teeming effects and emotions, a perilous feel; words running almost sedately at precipice-edge between sense and hysteria; verbal connectives that didn’t respect regular bounds and might in fact say anything.
“If voice is the music of a writer’s intelligence, Barry’s voice was the one many of us hear when we speak candidly to ourselves—subversive, inventive, unpredictable, funnier than we can be in public and certainly on the page. This was and is a true voice, though also truly literary—which is to say, heightened, felicitous, privileged speech you converse with intimately in your mind.”
When the news broke last week of the request for Professor William Cronon’s email after his NY Times op-ed piece suggested that Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker’s behavior was contrary to the state’s history of “neighborliness, decency and mutual respect,” I was reminded of the old line from WWII survivors that begins with the words “first they came for….” It is a phrase, an analogy, which has been perhaps too often used to decry unjust political conduct by raising the specter of fear of imminent harm, but this time, in Professor Cronon’s case, I think it is appropriate. Here’s why:
I am these days frequently shocked and saddened by the lack of support for teachers, for public schools, and for colleges and college professors shown by the right wing of the Republican party, the Tea Party, and its coterie of governors bent on killing public education as we have known it. Readers of my blog posts know that about me.
But today I am unusually distressed and here’s why: This week saw the withdrawalof Dr. Timothy Chandler from a Provost’s job he had just won at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. The cause? A reference to Karl Marx in a published paper he wrote back in 1998. It seems that a local newspaper discharged investigative reporters to the library to dig up what they could find about Dr. Chandler and published a red-hot, red-baiting, no-holes-barred and mostly ridiculous account that claimed that anyone who quoted Marx was a Commie, and did we want that kind of person heading a local university?
I add only that Dr. Chandler is a well-regarded scholar in the field of Sport Science. You know, that field full of leftists bent on indoctrinating youth?