Category Archives: culture

The Division of Islam

A few years ago, I communicated with an Islamic blogger about the division between our cultures. I timidly asked if there can be any coming together, middle ground where we can live in peace. He said, I’m sorry, no.

About 15 years ago, an Iranian woman said that the West should get all the Christians out of Iran and kill the rest. My husband and I couldn’t believe what we were hearing.

But they are your people. You don’t understand, kill them.

How can you say that? You don’t understand their mentality.

Everyone? You don’t understand, there is no other way.

So, anyone, is there another way? Is the most we can hope for is the word Sorry before the  bullet hits the head?

All I know is that worrying about backlash against the Islamic community is moving down my list of concerns.

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Word Crimes

Rosencrantz: What are you playing at?
Guildenstern: Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.
           Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

She chastised me because I used a word. She told me a person cannot be Oriental, since it is degrading. I was out of the loop, I did not know. The preferred word is Asian, a person can be an Asian.

What’s in a word? It helps us communicate and limits our communication at the same time. It can be artificial, complex and ever-changing. There is heaven and hell in those words. Take pleasure in its playfulness and beauty. Find frustration when communication fails.

In Latin, orient simply means east. That was the origin of the word and the end of it became insulting. Evidently people from Asia don’t call themselves Oriental, and it’s best to call people the name that they prefer. I learned that calling a person Oriental is an antiquated term that calls to mind a time when Western peoples viewed Asians in a subordinate way.

So Asian or Asian-American is preferred. And so is African-American. Say Native-American instead of American Indian. An Indian is actually an Asian. We end up chasing our tails.

This whole idea of hyphenating Americans is a bit odd to me since hyphenation carries its own inherent flaws.

The word America is named after Amerigo Vespucci. An Italian explorer, Amerigo stumbled upon what is now part of Brazil. An early mapmaker decided to name this part of the world America after this Amerigo guy and plunked that label onto his map. Soon other mapmakers started to label the lands north of Brazil as America also. So by chance, the continents were called North and South America.

So where does this leave hyphenated Americans? You give up the words like Oriental and Black in exchange for the name of a dead-white man that poked his nose into an indigenous population beyond his own borders. I don’t see a vast improvement. Other words such as black, white, red, and yellow also fail to accurately describe human beings.

The West creates more word crimes than anyone else. Through a modern political lens, Western civilization has a name, and that name is evil. The word and the land America may find itself in jeopardy.

Native-Americans crossed into the the Americas about 25,000 years ago; relative newcomers to this land since humans first appeared on the planet about 160,000 years ago in East Africa.

In more realistic terms, we are all East Africans that have wandered far across the globe. A politically correct analysis: We torment the rest of the animal and plant kingdoms, and tamper with the climate and the earth’s crust. All of humanity is the real evil in this world view. Paradise was lost when humans entered the scene.

The world and the words in it are not perfect and never will be. Can’t we just relax and enjoy our discourse and disagreements without a call to self-flagellation? Do the best we can, do no purposeful harm, and move on. That’s all we have to go on. Go peacefully.

I Blame My Mother for How I Feel About the Jews

The 78 record was spinning Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” on the record player. My friend and I just discovered this stash of 78’s in my basement and they were hilarious to us. We made fun of this old music not realizing the connection swing music had to our favorite music, rock and roll.

So “In the Mood” was playing and my mother came in and for some unknown reason started listing great historical and modern problems. She went thought a long list and finally she said, “Do you know who is behind all these problems?” Slight dramatic pause and then she said, “The Jews.”

Glenn Miller just started his loud horn work after a long period of hushed music as she said this. My friend and I laughed our heads off. The music was too funny, and my mother’s comment was so beyond absurd.

How could one group of people be the cause of all the bad stuff that ever happened on earth? Historically, the Jewish people were chased out of every country in the world, and if they were allowed to stay, they were treated like crap. The crap is never ending.

I learned young not to trust my mother’s ideas. She had some crazy ones. So my knee-jerk reaction was to swing (thanks Glenn) to the opposite viewpoint. I’ve been doing this all my life.

I am amazed and horrified by the anti-semetic protests happening in the world right now. Ethnic cleansing is abhorrent to most people, but exceptions are always made in the case of the Jews.

Being Christian is a rough road to travel in large parts of the world too. Killing Christians is also a justifiable act. All you secularists out there, don’t think that you are immune, you just might be on that list too. Where is this thing called civilized society? The dark ages are still with us.

My mother is dead, but the list is alive and well.

On Fire or the Dinosaurs Died So That We Can Drive SUVs

Prometheus stole the sacred fire for mankind and we can’t live without it.

The Industrial Revolution replaced the ancient external fires with the internal fires of machines. The dirty desire for energy increased. The world’s insatiable demand for fire pollutes, which is good for making machines chug along, but bad for living things.

Some essential fires we have become addicted to:

  • Wood → Early mankind kindled open fires for warmth, protection, and food. All this, depending on who you consult, was a primary cause of global warming. The emissions from burning wood contain carbon monoxide and soot. The EPA says wood burning stoves are responsible for 5% of the smallest, deadliest particles emitted into the air in the U.S.
  • Coal → One of fossil fuels that powered the Industrial Revolution, it is the leading cause of pollutants such as smog, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, mercury, arsenic, and lead. Coal mining disrupts the ecology and endangers the lives of miners daily.
  • Oil → Another fossil fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution is a non-renewable, energy rich hydrocarbon. Burning oil pollutes with carbon dioxide, sulfates, and nitrates. Oil drilling and extraction disturbs the water and land. Accidental spills at the drill site or during land and water transport disrupts ecology. The disposal of products made from oil, such as plastics, creates more waste problems.
  • Water → Fire from water, one of the oldest ways to produce energy. Water wheels, mills, and dams alter the habitats of fish and restricts water passage. Water power pollutes less, but to be effective,  great quantities of water and land are necessary and that comes at a great financial cost.
  • Geothermal → While drilling for geothermal energy, harmful gas can escape from deep within the earth. Also after the expense that comes with building a geothermal plant, the heat within the earth can stop providing heated water for years at a time, making this an undependable form of energy.
  • Natural Gas → Natural gas is odorless and colorless and mostly consists of methane. It burns cleaner than coal and oil. It releases 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. It burns with no soot or sulfur dioxide and is widely available. It is lighter than air so when leaks occur it can dissipate with a lower chance of explosion. Still it is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Other drawbacks are transportation problems whether through pipelines, tankers, or barges. If used in cars and trucks, the mileage is lower than gasoline.
  • Nuclear → The newest and possibly most controversial of all energy sources. Will it provide safe, abundant energy for years to come or kill us all? Patrick Moor, an early member of Greenpeace, protested against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. After 15 years with Greenpeace he left and became an advocate for some of his prior environmental targets. He now believes that nuclear energy is the only technology besides fossil fuels that is a reliable energy source. Nuclear energy proponents tout the safety record of the industry. They say Chernobyl was an anomaly and the rest of the would uses safer methods. Natural disasters care nothing for risk management methods as Japan came to understand. Besides, some nuclear waste lives practically forever. We can barely handle landfill toxins, how will nuclear waste play out?
  • Solar → Gathering solar energy with solar panels creates little pollution in itself aside from the manufacture and shipping of the panels. It is a quiet source of energy and can be used easier and cheaper in remote locations. The installation of solar panels can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a house.  The energy savings payback can take years. Cloudy weather and pollution can hinder solar cell efficiency. In the deserts of the American west, people oppose solar energy farms since they spoil the desert scenery.
  • Wind → At last, windmills must be our salvation. Yet people complain that they too spoil the scenery of the land and sea where they take root. People living near windmills claim that the turbines are a visual and auditory threat. Some people insist that the noisy whirling blades cause them great stress. A wind farm on the horizon reduces tourism and lowers home values in the areas they go up.  Wind turbines must exist in areas with the strongest winds which are often the same places that birds migrate and nest. The eagle that tore into the liver of Prometheus each day, now gets torn apart by the blades of our modern-day windmills.

The fires we need for basic survival and to feed the machinery that we love come with destructive forces. Perhaps Prometheus and not Pandora unleashed the real evils in this world.

Without fire and the technology it unleashed, humankind may have failed to thrive and died with a very different history. Certainly the planet would be cleaner today.

I know a 24-year-old nurse that gives her time to Doctors Without Borders and cares about the health of the planet. One time she surprised me with an offhand comment. She mentioned that she is tired of her human legs and arms which are so weak. She wants the strength of a machine, a bionic women of sorts I guess.

Science fiction and reality fuse people with machines. What human/machine ratio would cease to view energy-driven pollution as a crisis? Today the ubiquitous phone/computer may as well be embedded within the bodies of my friends and relatives. At some point, no one may care to look out a window to enjoy a Goldfinch perched on a tree branch. The windows to the soul are owned by Microsoft.

DIA on the Brink: Does Man Live by Bread Alone?

Detroit is living a real life ethical dilemma these days. If a city is burning, do we pull out the old woman or do we rescue that portrait of Van Gogh?

Detroit went into bankruptcy last week. The emergency manager in Detroit, appointed by the State of Michigan, has been eyeing the vast and valuable art collection held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The city owns this museum and its assets are potentially up for grabs as creditors and city pensioners alike look for some good money coming out of a bad situation.

Union contracts can be rewritten. Creditors may get pennies on the dollar for their investments. The retirees may find their pensions slashed. Money is needed for turning the streetlights back on that have been dark too long; money is needed for the razing of thousands of blighted buildings; money is needed for police, fire, and EMS services that seldom serve city residents in a timely manner. The city population keeps dropping and the tax base can’t support the over $17 billion debt.

The DIA has one of the best art collections in America, and both tourists and residents would feel the pain if it was dismantled.

But real people may get hurt while the art still hangs on the wall.

A letter writer to the editor of a Detroit newspaper said that if he had to make a choice between gutting retiree benefits or selling city assets, he would be saying,  “What is the opening bid for this beautiful Van Gogh?”

This is hard for me since I find the DIA to be vital and relevant. I need art and bread, and I believe (perhaps naively) that art can uplift everyone in society. Detroit without its great museums, would be even sadder.

So what’s it gonna be? Should the Degas and Matisse survive? Or does the old woman have any need for a stinking painting?

My Dead Mother-in-Law Got Me Hooked on Craigslist

If American business relied on Americans buying things that they truly needed, American business would be out of business.

When my mother-in-law died, she left a house full of fabric. It was in the attic, it was in the basement, it was in each bedroom. My unscientific guess (by weighing a few containers) was that she left about 6,000 pounds of sewing fabric. She didn’t sew that much or create crafts. She bought the pretty, bright colored fabric when it went on sale only because it was on sale and the colored patterns caught her eye.

I’m sure fabric stores rely on people like my mother-in-law to keep them afloat. If people only bought what they needed, that would mean 5,995 pounds less fabric for this one woman alone.

Just a small sample of the fabric

Just a small sample of the fabric

And she was not alone. Two weeks after she died, the wife of my manager’s neighbor died. She left a houseful of fabric . . . and 15 sewing machines.

An ad on Craigslist helped us get rid of our fabric. One woman came by after most of it had been snatched up for free by many people. She complained that the fabric smelled musty. Well, it was stored in plastic containers for, in some cases, decades. What did she want for free? Right after coming to our place, she was heading off to another house filled with fabric left by another deceased elderly lady.

Before she left, she still grabbed a good amount of our musty fabric and told us she had buckets and buckets full at home. Note: big fabric giveaway going on at her house after her death. What goes around, comes around.

Virtually every house hunter reality show on television has that woman that complains about the small closets in a house. She says, “That closet will only fit my clothes, my husband is on his own.” Or, “That closet will only fit my shoes.” The older houses have minuscule storage space and that same women is shocked to think about how few things people must have owned back then. Huge shoe collection? Not a thing in the past.

Maybe buying stuff gives people a high. Maybe they keep so much stuff because it might be useful someday. Unfortunately, by the time they need that item, it is lost in the other old junk they saved or new stuff they bought.

I blame ubiquitous advertisements. Can anyone get through the day without an ad overload? Everything we look at or listen to sends us an ad for some product or service. One reason I don’t own an e-reader is because of the ads that pop up on them. Sure you can pay more and not get ads, but I’m sure that someday the ads will still come, outright or in a subliminal manner. My computer is probably sending subliminal ads to me at this moment. Paranoia is a land I’m well acquainted with.

Government, along with business, encourages us to keep mindlessly buying. Buying stuff is good for the economy (and not saving is bad for the economy – go figure).

Both rich and poor overbuy. The less wealthy buy cheaper stuff (i.e., 6,000 pounds of fabric) and the wealthy can buy enough expensive clothes to fill a 1,000 square foot home or more. If we lived a dozen lifetimes, we couldn’t wear out so many clothes or sew with so much fabric.

I’m ready to cross my cultural references and throw my shoe at the TV next time someone complains about a “small” 2,000 square foot house with kitchen countertops that are “not granite.”  Then I’ll be in the market for a new TV. I’m part of the problem.

World Peace and Stable Furniture

When I first saw a photo of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I thought to myself, what the heck is Fritz doing in the newspapers?

My mother knew a Ukrainian handyman that did odd jobs around the house. Sometimes he would come over and just bullshit with her and have a beer or a shot of liquor. I’m sure he’s dead by now, but he sure did resemble the Iranian president.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
nydailynews.com Sept. 23, 2009

Fritz was always unshaven and his handyman jobs never required him to wear a tie. He was slender, with an olive skin tone, and had the same kind of wrinkles when he smiled as Ahmadinejad.

Fritz scavenged the sidewalks on garbage days and his worksites for any usable junk to add to his collection at home. A spare bedroom in his house had, among other stuff, a couple of used toilets stored there just in case he needed parts.

One time when Fritz was over my house, our cat jumped through his open Impala door window, fell asleep in the backseat, and took a ride with him back home to Hamtramck. Fifty years ago Hamtramck, was filled with a huge Slavic, mostly Polish population. All my grandparents came from Poland, settled in Hamtramck, and never learned to speak English since they didn’t have to. Everywhere you went, Polish was spoken. Help wanted ads for a bank teller preferred applicants that spoke Polish, and that was just within the last five years. Over the last 30 years, many people from the Middle East and Southern Asia began settling in Hamtramck. Today Hamtramck is the most diverse city in Michigan with 41% of its population coming from foreign lands.

One time Fritz took my mother and I to a closing down paint store in Hamtramck. He went to scavenge more junk for his collection, I think my mother and I went along for the ride. I saw an old wooden shelving unit that I wanted for my books. It was pretty ugly with its splotches of different colored paint, assorted stains, and wobbly legs.

I wanted to cut this shelf down since it was too high and uneven. Fritz liked to think that he was indispensable as a handyman. He said cutting down the legs was a complicated job and I couldn’t just jump in there and start sawing with any success. After all, I was female and not in the handyman line of work. But I measured and measured the shelf and cut it to the height I wanted. Then I painted it my favorite color, green. The shelf sat evenly, sturdily, and freshly painted on the floor and stunned the Ukrainian.

The southeastern corner of the Ukraine and the northwestern corner of Iran is only a day’s car ride from each other. Maybe that explains the physical resemblance between the president and Fritz. Given a few weeks, his ancestors could have walked the distance either way. After World War II, Fritz himself walked from Russia across Poland and Germany to France where he somehow shipped himself to the United States.

So when I see the president of Iran, I can’t just echo hatred over a professed enemy of my country. I have to smile and think back to this Ukrainian character I knew from my childhood. Mahmoud, are you handy around the house? Maybe we can all find unusual, non-destructive connections with our adversaries. The world is not that large, somehow we are all related. Wow I didn’t know I could do bleeding-heart liberal. But it would be nice to give peace a chance.