Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shaped by an Era

(Since the original articles came out and I began writing my response to them, I have read much more about things that Deen said/did in recent times that crossed the line of acceptable behavior. She cannot use the excuse that it was “ok when I did it.” It extended into current times and to actions that are far beyond the use of language we now consider unacceptable. While she is now a less than perfect example for illustrating the point, the point that we need to use caution when judging historical behavior based on today’s standards stands.)

The recent scandal involving Paula Deen and her use of racist language has been challenging for me. The reports that she had used the “N” word came as a major “duh!” for me. She is a generation ahead of me from the south - of course she used the “N” word in her lifetime. It was a regular part of southern culture through the eighties (at least). It did not stop with the Civil Rights Act in the sixties: racist language did not cease because the laws changed. Unfortunately, it was a normal part of southern culture.

That it was a normal part of southern culture does not make racism ok; it simply recognizes that it was a real, regular part of life in that region at that time – and it was acceptable to the bulk of people living in that region at that time. We look back upon it with disdain, but history records its prevalence in that region at that time.

I do not excuse anything Deen said or did, but as a proponent of social justice, I believe we must be cautious about casting judgment, not just when someone is accused of racism, but of violating any contemporary social standard. I am a product of my generation and can guarantee that something I have said or done will be considered offensive by future generations. While I believe, somewhat, in psychic phenomenon, I do not profess to possess the ability to predict how society will change by the end of my lifetime or how things considered acceptable in my earlier life will be the object of scorn by the end of it. I do not expect past generations to possess any greater power. As a result, I feel an obligation to give due consideration to the generations that preceded me. Just as I do not want to be judged by the standards of future generations for living according to acceptable standards in my time, I must be cautious about judging previous generations for living according to the standard of their time by the standards of today.

The dynamic nature of society comes from our ever increasing understanding based on new knowledge. I have a hard time condemning any past group of people for operating based on their knowledge at the time. I have a problem, though, if we do not learn from their mistakes based on the knowledge we have now. Failure to recognize how changes have taken place over time stem directly from a lack of historical perspective (just ask a social studies teacher!). We live so much in the now, it is easy to jump on the bandwagon of outrage anytime we become aware of something that does not match contemporary sensibilities. We rarely contextualize the situation and nuance is often lost without the experience of proximity to the event.

In the age of Twitter, CNN, TMZ, and other round-the-clock media, would even Jesus have appeared perfect? By contemporary standards his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28 & Mark 7:24-30), for example, would have required a good PR specialist. Even though he did what she requested, the racist and misogynistic language he used in the passage would have been the headline despite it being used as an opportunity to educate. The whole story is never as memorable as the sound-bite. Even when the complete story, miracle and all, has been told, the sound-bite has stuck.

The current political climate has all sides responding in increasingly hostile ways to situations that historically would have merited little to no notice. The raw emotion created by the rapid change within society has put even people who should know better on edge and changed the norms under which most of our leadership learned to function. The rules and core beliefs of generations are being rejected. We know those rules and core beliefs were based on incorrect information, but that does not make the change any easier for the people involved. If anything, it makes it even harder for them to accept because the “facts” that shaped their world were not really facts. What then can they believe? When their entire mindset has to be altered, it is simply easier to reject the change outright.

We are all products of our generation. As much as we would like to believe we have worked it out and operate under enlightened rules, history tends to judge differently. As easy as it is to judge others for their shortcomings, let it be said about us that we extended some of the grace we hope to be shown when the foolishness of our ways is exposed.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer Gardening

Summer has arrived in full force in central Texas. Yesterday when I got in my car after work, the temperature outside showed as 111O. In all honesty, it was only 97O, but sitting outside, in the sun, with no shade other than that of the lamp-posts, the car surface was probably 111O or higher.

That same heat taking a toll on my car’s thermometer is taking a toll on all my garden plants - especially those in pots. I watered most of the plants three days ago, but when I came home today, most of them appeared as if they had been in a years-long drought.

I planted them all from seed this spring, there is no way they know we have been in a years-long drought.

I even bought Miracle Grow Moisture Control potting soil.

Texas Heat 1 - Miracle Grow 0.

Some of my plants are growing like crazy and are leaving me wondering just how much eggplant and bell pepper I can eat in a year. lists some 240 recipes for eggplant, so I should be good.

Last year I made more gazpacho than I could eat. This year I cannot get my cucumbers to put on a single cuc. They tease me with thousands of blonde deceptions, but no fruit appears.

At least the squash have started to produce.

Maybe I should have planted okra this year. It does well in the heat.

Each summer having a garden is taking a chance that the weather will not be at its worst. The last few years; however, the weather has been at its worst. Despite the weather with its heat and drought that dash the best laid plans and the critters that nibble at my plants (and sometimes my feet), gardening is the second most hopeful thing that I do (my job as an educator is the most hopeful thing that I do). Every seed I drop into the ground contains the promise of bounty. A little help from mother nature and my faithful stewardship and that seed will produce foods far better than can be purchased at the store.

I do not know if the food is “really” better or if the sweat and effort make it seem that much better. Whatever the reason, I know I enjoy everything that comes from my garden.

And thanks to my new food vacuum-sealer, I do not have to enjoy it all right now.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Truck Guy in a Car World

Recently I took a new job that requires a fifty mile commute each direction. I have considered making the move, but financial considerations make it better for me to remain in my house and make a move in a few years; my current property is gaining value too rapidly to sell right now.

I have almost always had a truck of some kind. Most recently a full-sized Honda Ridgeline. I am a truck guy.

That truck lasted two days on the commute. Eighteen miles per gallon just would not cut it. I am a truck guy who hates filling up every two days.

So, I switched to a car. I have averaged 38.3 MPG in the trips since then. For the road trips I like to take, that put a huge smile on my face - especially since I was assured by the salesman that the real MPG was about 34. I pointed out to him that I know how to drive a standard and that I usually get above the rated mileage on vehicles. So far I am right! That is exciting too. I am a truck guy in a car world!

In all honesty, I used the truck as a truck one or two times a year.

Unless you count road-rage.

Having a full-sized truck while dealing with people in sub-compacts doing truly stupid things it traffic did give some intimidation factor.

Today, an idiot in a truck sped past a long line of us going the speed limit, slammed on her brakes, and swerved across two lanes of traffic going 70 mph. I sooooo wanted to be in a truck with a grill-guard and push her into the ditch. Now I am the one in the compact car: there will be no pushing trucks into the ditch.

The reality is that I do not need a truck, and living my ethic of social justice and conservation demands that I drive a suitable vehicle. The car is the right vehicle for me at this time and I am excited about being ok with it. The country boy in me will always want a truck (as will the Napoleon complex), but the intellectual liberal will like myself better for driving the vehicle that actually meets my needs. I am a truck guy in a car world and I am ok with that.