Sunday, April 22, 2007

Emphasis Added

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
"Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free."
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
"The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
'Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue."
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, 'tis true, 'tis true.

(Yes, yes, I'm still flying. This just seemed very convenient.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
(-John 15:13)

I waited a while before posting this, due to my natural hesitance to speak out during times of mourning. Even when people close to me die, I feel uncomfortable talking about it, or reflecting on it--at least out loud. In the face of the shooting at Virginia Tech, I sort of shut down for a few days and chewed it over in my mind. Not that it makes any sense to me now; I doubt it ever will make any sense to anyone.

What happened at Virginia Tech made pretty much every college student in America sit up and think, "That could have been my campus." Every college has its share of angry people, rebellious people, people that are the subject of jokes about "going postal" or "cracking under the strain" and doing exactly what Cho Seung-hui did. Except now the unthinkable has become real and the jokes have become cruel mockeries of what we thought were humor.

When you're young, you're invincible (or at least you think you are, which is almost as good). You bounce back from emotional and physical trauma and you quickly forget the pain and agony of loss and sorrow. We think, "This kind of thing couldn't happen to us." But it did. The mere fact that it happened is reason enough to believe it could happen again. What haunts every mind that thinks--or knows--it could happen again is, What would I do if such a thing happened to me? Or, in the words of Theoden, "What can men do against such reckless hate?"

I have written before about "holding back the demons," or "keeping the monsters at bay." One man did just that--literally. Professor Liviu Librescu of the Engineering Department of Virginia Tech held the door of his classroom shut while his students escaped through the windows. In the process of doing so, he was shot five times and killed. In the mere three days since the massacre, numerous Facebook groups have sprung up mourning his death and praising the incredible courage it took for him to lay down his life for those he was teaching.

It is hard, and sometimes seems pointless, to look for the hidden gems of decency and bravery hidden in the midst of such senseless tragedy--but they're there, and they can give us some measure of comfort in our grief. We can only hope, and pray, for people like Professor Librescu when the monsters come to our doors.

Professor Librescu, Zichrono Livracha.

(I'm still flying.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Money For Nothing

This post is going to convey a large amount of bafflement, so I hope you will excuse the somewhat confused tone. I am still not sure whether to laugh, cry, or just shake my head cynically and say "The hell with it." Someone I know wheedled me into coming along with her for this SDS thing she and her friends are doing. Apparently, they're having some East Coast SDS conference love-fest type thing down here in Virginia, and as part of the lead-up to the conference they were going to panhandle in Colonial Williamsburg as some sort protest. On the way over to CW, I asked her exactly what they were protesting. Apparently, the City--via the Police Department--gives bus tickets the homeless people that beg for money from the tourists that are constantly milling through the Historic Area--tickets to another town that is as far away as possible. This infuriated my friend. "That's just WRONG," she said vehemently. "The city should be appropriating funds to give them food and shelter, not paying them to go away."

"I don't know," I said. "If I were a retiree that came here to enjoy the tourist traps, I wouldn't want to be accosted by homeless people."

She assumed that air of appalled amazement that left-leaning people are so good at. "WHAT??! How can you say that?!"

I didn't understand. Regardless of whether you think using public funds to pay the homeless to leave town is wrong, or unjust, or unfair, or whatever--no one wants to be buttonholed by a gentleman smelling of Wild Irish Rose and bugged to give up their spare change. I mean, maybe that's mean and callous of me, but if I were coming to a town to spend some hard-earned vacation time, confronting the homeless population is not how I would want to spend my time.

I said as much, and my friend said "Well, as someone more fortunate than they are, maybe you're in a position to help." As adequate an example of "Because you can, you should" as I've ever heard. It's the justification that gave us welfare, affirmative action, and those damn low-flow toilets.

But that's not the end of the story. Naive idealist that I am, I assumed that the panhandled money she would be receiving would go towards some sort of program or activity to help the homeless, or at least towards a conference during the SDS convention focused specifically on homelessness. Not so. They were going to use the money to feed and house the SDS kids coming to Virginia from other states for the convention here in town.

I was puzzled. "So let me get this straight. You're panhandling money to 'raise awareness about homelessness' but your convention doesn't actually deal with homelessness?"

"Oh, no," she responded. "We're going to help. Our convention is going to get people more active in the community."

"That's a lot of vague boilerplate. 'Get them active in the community.' Get them active doing what?"

By now, she was clearly exasperated with my lack of comprehension of the grand things SDS stands for. "Teach them how to communicate with local government, that sort of thing. We'll be helping the homeless in the big scheme of things."

At that point I went a bit ballistic, I will admit. I may or may not have used the words "disingenuous" and "hypocritical." I do remember saying that she and her friends were taking from society without giving anything of meaning back--just holding more meetings to discuss "communicating with local government" when any idiot knows just by picking up a newspaper that you communicate with any sort of government--from Gene Nichol to George Bush--by raising as much of an unholy stink as you can. The Wren Cross didn't get put back in the Wren Chapel because the College Republicans and Knights of Columbus held meetings about how to communicate with Gene Nichol. The Wren Cross got put back in the Chapel because a bunch of angry and upset people made their voices heard and forced that Chris Farley look-alike to retreat as fast as he could.

If SDS--or rather, the people associated with SDS who are doing this--were being honest and true to their stated principles, they would hold some sort of fundraiser that promoted SDS and was straightforward about what they were trying to do (i.e., feed and house their cohorts). If they were honestly concerned about the homeless situation in anything more than just a vague neoliberal "Let's help the poor unfortunates and stick it to The Man" way, they would do some sort of food or clothing drive to directly benefit those who need it. Instead, they choose to make a jejune and cliched statement by panhandling money from retirees in Colonial Williamsburg and use the pittance they will no doubt make to buy vegan sandwiches and soy lattes for the other ungrateful, middle-class, suburbanite pseudo-rebels who make the trek down here. Not only that, but they're being intentionally misleading--she told me that they're claiming the money is going to some fund called "Food, Not Bombs," but apparently SDS reserves the right to use money for FNB to feed a bunch of college kids who could easily raise the money themselves via legal means.

In a way, this eerily reflects the larger, governmental approach to handling public funds. Bullyrag the American people for their money and, through Federal alchemy, translate that money into bureaucracy, meetings, commissions, and reports detailing how to better use the money that has been spent on bureaucracy, commissions, meetings, and reports. Or perhaps people like my friend just learned from the pros--the political hacks and timeservers who have turned robbing the public into a legal form of governmental activity. Either way, it's just another example of the "What can society do for ME today?" mindset that has come to pervade the American psyche.

(I'm still flying.)

UPDATE (4/23/07): The eminent Baron Bodissey reports, with assistance from The Adventurer, on SDS's amusing display of contempt for bourgeois mentality and capitalist exploitation during Earth Day Weekend.

Monday, April 09, 2007

If April Showers Bring May Flowers...What Do April Snow Flurries Bring?

Answer: bitterness. College students greet sudden winter snowstorms with the eagerness and joy of, as Dr. Cox put it, "an un-pottytrained Labradoodle." Some of you may remember my posts from January 2004, when it snowed hard enough that classes were actually cancelled for at least two days if memory serves me correctly. Every winter since then, though, has been a fairly dry one. Sure, we get a few flurries now and then, but it usually doesn't stick and is mainly just a wistful reminder of what could have been if the air were a bit colder and dryer.

Then, more than two weeks after Spring officially begins--AFTER Daylight Savings Time kicks in--when the flowers are in full bloom and the trees around the sunken gardens are bursting with fresh green leaves, this happens:

Spring, as I have noted before, often comes early to Williamsburg. Winter, however, doesn't always get the internal memo. Looking at it as a theodicy of sorts, my guess is that this whole debacle is due to Ullr's reliance on outdated Norse Calendars that put cold weather smack-dab in the middle of sunbathing and beachgoing season. Or perhaps we haven't been paying homage to the right pantheon:

Calvin: Can we burn these leaves?
Dad: No, that pollutes.
Calvin: But how can we appease the mighty snow demons if we don't sacrifice any leaves?! We'll have a warm winter!
Dad: I don't know whether your grasp of theology or meteorology is the more appalling.
Calvin: I guess I'll go light some candles around the toboggan and beg for mercy.

Either way: Divine Beings, we consider ourselves firmly rebuked. Can we now get back to the whole flowering-of-the-Earth deal?

(I'm still flying--with ice on my wings.)