"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Monday, May 23, 2005

What Is Patriotism?

I was going through some of my folders looking for resume stuff, and I found something I was afraid I had lost. Last summer my local paper asked for responses on the question, "what is patriotism?" This is what I wrote:
A patriot commits himself through love at cost to the ideas and people that are his country.

Patriotism is an act of will rather than a mere attitude. As such, it begins with commitment, ranging from the small gestures like the hand over the heart to the grand sacrifices like Lincoln's "last full measure of devotion." For this reason a patriot honors most highly those military men and women willing to offer their lives for their country.

A patriot acts through love; that is, the vocabulary and habits of love shape how patriotism is expressed. Thus honor, respect, devotion, and desire infuse both wedding vow and patriotic pledge, and as love without sacrifice is cheap, patriotism without cost is phony. Lip service is not enough in the quest for either lover or country.

A patriot is not tied solely to accidents of population and geography but rather to the ideas and people that give a country its identity. America is unique in the world in that its people are its ideas and its ideas its people. An American patriot is called to assert certain beliefs about the political equality of man and woman, the role of liberty in human affairs, and the sovereignty of the people. Thereby does America arise from the striving and bubbling of its great melting pot.

Above all else, an American patriot builds the America of his dreams even while he is being shaped by the America of his victorious forebears.

Ain't It The Truth

I recently turned 30, and I love The Incredibles. So once again I'm on board with what James Lileks says (emphasis mine):
Then, “The Incredibles.” Which was. Died, went to heaven, etc. Tron me up, let me live in that world; you’ll hear no complaints. More about that tomorrow; I bring it up just to compare it with the other bits of juvenile pop culture I sampled this weekend. “Team America” was made by 17 year old boys who cut class to smoke cigarettes. “Star Wars” was made by a sophomore who was bumped ahead to the senior class because of his smarts, but never fit in and spent lunch hour drawing rocketships in his notebook. “The Incredibles” was made by 30 year olds who remembered what it was like to be 16, but didn’t particularly care to revisit those days, because it’s so much better to be 30, with a spouse and a kid and a house and a sense that you’re tied to something. Not an attitude; not some animist mumbo jumbo, but something large enough to behold and small enough to do. “Duty” is a punchline in “Team America”; it’s a rote trope in Star Wars that has no more meaning than love or honor any other word that passes Lucas’ cardboard lips. But it meant something in “The Incredibles,” and all the more so because no one ever stopped to deliver a lecture on the subject. Best Pixar Movie Evar.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

What I've Missed

It's kind of odd, really. I haven't paid much attention to the Internet for about ten days now; I got laid off from my job and spent the time focusing on my next job search and home improvement projects. I'd really been spending way too much time on the 'Net anyway, but it wasn't any trouble at all to go several days without even turning on a computer.

I finally went online a little this weekend, and I found it interesting what I considered must-reads. Thus, the stuff I returned to after being blog-free for ten days:
Don't know if it has any significance that what I suspected to be the usual suspects didn't show up on my list (Say Anything, Powerline, Instapundit, Wizbang, Protein Wisdom, IMAO). Perhaps it's that those high-powered sites tend to be more of a time hog than others and thus lose out (due to my slow home connection, in part.) I wonder if there will be a trend in which audiences start fragmenting more as each individual site gets more prestiguous (and busy!) and consequently more expensive to peruse. Maybe that's worth more thinking and another post...but I've got other things to do now, so maybe there'll be time for that later. Maybe.

Friday, May 06, 2005

License To Parent In A Hostile World

Not only do I plan to be a repressive, uncool parent who never lets my kid do everything he wants...I now have a license from Orson Scott Card to do so.
I am, here and now, offering you absolution from all your guilt over being an attentive, responsible, careful, loving, and strict parent.

First: It is actually a terrific thing if your child's desires are repressed. In fact, one of the main skills that civilization depends on is the ability of its citizens to delay gratification of their desires until an appropriate time.

Like, not acquiring property that doesn't belong to you until you can pay for it.

Or not engaging in potentially child-producing activities until you're actually old enough and committed enough to guarantee such a child a two-parent family for its entire life.

The other word for repression is self-control. And here's how it's learned. First, your terrible mean awful horrible parents keep you from doing what you want.

Then, as you get older, you begin to realize that your friends whose parents didn't stop them from doing those things are now having horribly messy lives. You're glad your parents kept you from doing it. Now you keep those same rules yourself. You have learned to control your desires because you now understand the consequences.

But during those many, many years when children are too ignorant, inexperienced, self-willed, stubborn, or angry to grasp the idea that really bad things can actually happen to them, parents have to have the strength to say no, to mean it, and to make it stick.

That's what happens when parents actually love their children.

So when you find yourself worrying about whether to put your foot down because you don't want to cause your children to be "repressed," I give you permission to say, "Live with your repressions, child! Live long enough to go to a shrink every week for years, working through all your 'issues' with your horrible parents. But you will be alive because I am going to make sure these insane, self-destructive desires of yours get good and repressed for the next ten years of your life."
Actually, though I appreciate the offer, I don't really need a guilt waiver because I already planned to be this way with my son. I decided before he was born that I would rather him grow up to be good than happy; happy comes and goes, but good stays. That's important because it's a dangerous, hostile world out there, and it's my job to prepare my son to live in it. In my continuing little series, here's what I thought before he was born.

We Didn't Start The Fire

Writing these pieces is sometimes a little odd because of the approximate ten year disparity in age in the audience. I don't mean to exclude some of the newest [academic camp] alums by doing this, but it's a natural consequence of making certain references and talking about the events in my life that are capturing my attention right now.

My title, for example, makes reference to a Billy Joel song from the early nineties. Now, I wrote that without thinking, and it was only after I came back to it that I realized that it betrayed my frame of reference. For those of you who aren't very familiar with the song, it's a litany of significant historical events from about 1950 through 1990. The chorus essentially states that the place was a mess when we got here and we're doing what we can. I associate it very much with my high school years, personally.

That little hook ties into a couple of things I've been thinking about lately, both as an American and a soon-to-be parent. First, it absolutely boggles my mind sometimes how this little guy coming into our lives is going to have such an extraordinarily different frame of reference than my wife and I do. For example: even if President Bush is re-elected, my son will probably always remember him as an ex-president. The attacks of two years ago (today) will be like the Kennedy assassination is to me or the Challenger explosion is to some of my readers here. He won't understand the Y2K fuss. The Lord of the Rings movies will be old pictures his folks just won't stop watching. (With luck, though, Madonna will be a has-been nobody's heard from for years.)

These kind of realizations are making me start to appreciate that I'm part of a generation that's moving up and moving on. I've always resisted the lumping of people my age into a designer label "Gen X" or "Gen Y". I consider that to be remnants of a truly self-centered generation, the Baby Boomers, who must classify everything in terms of themselves including the kids they raised without ever seeming to figure out who the kids are. (Exceptions abound, of course, but I'm speaking generally here.) People who spend forty or fifty years "discovering" themselves or finding out who they are aren't much help to young folks who really are figuring out how they're going to be what they're going to be...but I digress (a habit of mine.) The point is that I'm starting to feel the generational distinction without having Madison Avenue shove it down my throat.

This leads to a couple of observations. First, that the wide world is full of dangers, and I must protect my child and teach him how to protect himself against such things. Whether it be pop culture or world events, that sphere of experience will have an impact on my son, and my powers against that influence are limited. These influences range from things I do not prefer that my son like (which, of course, he will; I already know it's coming) to the things that are truly dangerous, though they may appear alluring. Then there are the things that do more than inform my cultural awareness; they are the things that can assault our lives: bombings, murders, devastation.

It is perhaps significant that we first found out that my wife was pregnant on the day the Columbia space shuttle crashed. I've been listening to the tributes and memorials today, and I wonder about all the kids who lost parents or other family in the attacks. I wonder about the kids conceived as a sort of life affirmation immediately afterwards--how will that knowledge shape who they are? I wonder and worry about the big events that will cause the rapids in my son's life--a kind of warm-up for the anxiety I'll have when he arrives and that first moment of total responsibility hits me.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying this: I am wondering how my son will fit into history, and I worry about what history will do to my son.

The second observation that stems from this generational mantle is what we will teach him about living in this society. I'm going to be actively involved in cultural transmission, as the academics put it, and that includes what being an American means, both the burden and the joy. What shall I say? Perhaps something like this, at least when he's old enough to understand. Until then, I leave it for you on this Thursday, September 11, 2003.

I'll tell my son that we Americans are a free and vigorous people with the natural arrogance that comes from youth and vitality. We Americans have been governed but never ruled, attacked but never conquered, bloodied but never beaten. We are a people who put our lives and treasure on the line for our fellow citizens and for peoples across the world in a way no other civilization has. We still believe in the wisdom of the moral instinct, the supremacy of courage, and the importance of fair play. We are a city on a hill, a beacon of freedom, and a good and great nation.

Some people hate us for that and want to destroy us. Others sneer at us and mock with hollow words our virtues while clinging to their own emptiness. I'll tell my son that he must learn to deal with both, to guard the body against the one and the heart against the other. He will be born an American, and Americans battle against the odds and rise up from the ashes. We are a fierce, passionate, and self-critical people who still savor the fiery joy of battle, be it physical or rhetorical. Yet we also love peace, and comfort, and simple homely things. We are a people gifted beyond measure with freedom and riches and leisure and opportunity...but my son will also learn that such things are ultimately fragile without the strength of heart to win them and the sacrifice it takes to defend them. He will be called upon to make sacrifice in some fashion, and he will learn the duty and joy it is to be free. May we all do so.

Monday, May 02, 2005

"Occasional Blogger" and Such

Marty at You Know I'm Right (a prince of a guy--really) came up with a great term that describes how I look at myself as a blogger these days. He describes himself as an Occasional Blogger. What a great formulation that is. It puts blogging in the proper context for one's life: something to be enjoyed from time to time, an interesting exercise and opportunity for expression and conversation. How preferable that is to the notion of blogging as some sort of obligation in which absences must always be explained away and schedules must be as regular as the school day is instead of moving with the ebb and flow of life.

So, here's another bit from this occasional blogger on looking forward to fatherhood (originally written in Sep. 2003).

Back To Basics

I had a good long conversation with a good friend of mine last night. We usually talk for two or three hours at a time, and last night was no exception. We ranged from new jobs to law to religion to politics. We differ mightily on some things, but that makes for interesting conversation. Talking with him is always very stimulating, and I enjoy it very much.

I enjoy it because I am an intellectual (of the Ozark variety), at least in the sense Bill Cosby meant it when he put together some of his early comedy routines. My wife and I both graduated from college and were very successful there. I'm a computer programmer and work with abstractions all the day long, and I often think about and discuss deep sociological and philosophical issues with anyone I can. My wife and I are intelligent, sophisticated, educated people who can go head to head with just about anyone on any number of issues.

But our focus is about to change. This new person will come into our lives, and our conversations will not be primarily about educational theory or the proper restraint of federal judges. We will talk about rolling over and raising a head from a chest. We will be absorbed by the mechanics of crawling and pulling oneself upright and making funny little basic noises. The topics that will capture our attention day and night(!) will be eating and sleeping and heat and cleanliness and, er, bathroom functions. Grass and flowers will become important in a way they haven't been in years. Books, for a while, will be something to chew (or prevent from being chewed) instead of something to read.

He'll have so much to learn! More to the point of this missive, we'll have so much to teach! And it won't be the things we're concerned with now. It will be those things we've known for so long that we've practically forgotten how we know them: balance, language, manners, humor. It's been a while since I've dialed down that deeply, and I'll have to learn again how to listen to sounds I've heard for years but have screened out, like crickets and birds and the wind in the trees. Clouds will once again be fascinating to me; to a little child, everything is UP, and clouds are the epitome of UP and thereby get a lot of focus. A demanding little boy will insist I see what he sees while I'm trying to get him to see what I see. The hard stuff can come later; first, we'll have to work out whether that's a bunny or a duckie in the big puffy clouds. (Yes, son, they really _are_ made of water.)

I am excited by this and daunted at the same time. It's certainly a test: how much do I _really_ know about the world? I suspect I am going to be severely humbled in the coming years, which is probably one of the fringe benefits of being a parent. Humility is good for the soul, after all (oh my, I've got to explain what a soul is to this child. Great theologians differ on the exact definition, and I've got to get a future four-year-old to grasp it? This will be tougher than I thought.) I will once again experience the truth that simplicity is the heart of profundity--which I explain to my son as: that frog is really, really neat, huh?

Soon, and very soon, it's back to the ol' drawing board.