Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fiction: The Raw Materials of a Man

“Are you going to finish that?” asked Kenny, pointing to my uneaten French toast with his fork.

“No, you go ahead and finish it,” I responded, pushing the plate across the table.

Kenny wordlessly took the plate, placed it in front of himself, and set upon the French toast.  After finishing it off, which did not take very long, he shifted his bulk in his chair and looked at me for a bit.  Then he said, “You’ve been acting strangely lately.”

“How so?” I asked.

“You seem so … I don’t know … distant.  Like we hardly even know each other anymore.  Like we’ve grown apart.”

“What are you talking about?”  I asked.  “It’s not at all as though we don’t know each other.  I take you everywhere with me.  The things that I used to do by myself, we do together now.  Now finish that up so we can get out of here.”

As I thought about what he had said, however, I realized that he had a point.  We hardly seemed like the happy couple that we had been before.  When we first met, Kenny, only 20 and still in college, seemed less like a man than like the raw materials from which men are made.  I almost immediately fell in love with him for his potential, and I knew that I would be able to guide him to achieve that potential.  Lately, however, he seemed ever less reachable.

Once Kenny finished and cleared the dishes, we got onto the road to the bookstore.  “So what is this again?” Kenny asked while we were on the road.

“It’s a book signing.”

“Yes, I remember that, but what book?”

The Crossroads of the Spirit by Raven Silverberg.  We talked about that; remember?”

“Oh, yeah, that new-age crap that you’re into now.”

“Yes, that ‘new-age crap’ that I’m into now.  Instead of sneeringly dismissing it, you really ought to keep an open mind; you might learn something.”

Kenny just sighed.

“You might want to show me a little gratitude,” I said, “for trying to open you up to new experiences.  I know that if you had an open mind, you’d find them enriching.”

“Oh, and just how do you know that?”

“Don’t ask such ridiculous questions.  I just do.  Now would you mind not ruining this for me?”

“Oh, all right, I promise not to ruin it for you.”

At the bookstore, I told the author my name so that she could autograph the book.  After autographing it, she turned to Kenny and asked, “And you are?”

“Ken Parks,” said Kenny, extending his hand.

“Well, Ken,” said Raven, “I get the sense that you have a very old soul.  Are you a seeker after knowledge like your friend Ron?”

“Well, I guess I’m a seeker after knowledge, but not like Ron.”

“I see.  What do you believe about the world beyond the physical?”

“I’m very open-minded about it; I’ll believe whatever you can prove to me with evidence and logic.”

“That’s, um, a very interesting perspective, young man.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, a few other people require my attention.”

On the way home, I asked, “What did you mean by that?”

“What did I mean by what?”

“That you’re a seeker after knowledge, but not like me.  And that comment about whatever she can prove with evidence and logic was just plain rude, especially after you’d promised not to ruin it for me.”

“What I meant was just what it sounds like,” Kenny answered in a testy tone.  “We’re different people, and sometimes I get tired of having you tell me what my interests should be and what I should think.”

“Well, excuse me for trying to expose you to new things.”

“Expose me to all the new things you like.  I don’t have to agree with all of it.”

“I expose you to new things like that because they’re what you need to enrich your life.”

“And you just know, better than I do, what I need to enrich my life, right?  Stop trying to control what I think.”

“I don’t get you.  This morning, you complained that we were growing apart, and now you complain that I’m trying to control what you think.  I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

“That’s just it.  It’s like I’m not me; I’m just something to turn into another you.”

We spent the rest of the ride home in silence.

That evening, Kenny seemed distant from me.  I finally said, “You used to be more open to new things.”

“When was that?” he asked, barely looking up from the magazine that he had been reading.

“When we first started going out.”

“Back then, I was trying to get to know you.  It didn’t mean that I wanted to be a clone of you or believe everything you believe.”

“And here I thought you were doing it to grow as a person.”

Kenny threw the magazine onto the coffee table.  “So I’m supposed to grow as what person?  You?  Believe whatever trendy bullshit comes down the pike if you want.  Shove a crystal up your ass and chant your mantra.  But don’t assume that just because you’ve gotten into it, I have to be, too.”  He got up and started heading to the bathroom.

“At times like this,” I said, “I think that the Kenny I first loved has gone away.”

After a long pause, he came back into the living room.  “At times like this,” he said, “I don’t think the person you first loved ever existed at all.”  He went into the bathroom.

“I suppose you’re right,” I muttered, and then hoped that he hadn’t heard me saying so.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Free speech and hate speech, or: The obligatory Michelle Shocked post

Michelle Shocked has the right to be Princess Clara on the subject of same-sex marriage and then to backpedal furiously when called on it. Concert-goers have the right not to support her, as do performance venues in the absence of a contractual obligation to do so.
People have responded to Shocked in ways like this:
Freedom of speech and artistic expression are critically important, but this isn't free speech. This is hate speech.
In fairness, the petition calls for voluntary measures rather than government censorship. Yet in making the distinction between free speech and hate speech as though they were mutually exclusive categories, which, at least in the US, they are not, the author of the petition plays a dangerous game. For one thing, our opponents have become adept at playing the hate-speech card whenever anyone dares to examine their beliefs critically.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today's vocabulary term: free market

free market, n. phr. whatever I don't like


From the PRI report (which names Microsoft as a major supporter of the increase in the H-1B quota):
So, why does the US need to import labor for this lower-skilled work? Matloff says it has to do with wages and immobility. He argues that since employers sponsor H-1Bs visas, foreigners have a limited ability to negotiate higher salaries or switch jobs. If they do manage to change employers, it means they must restart any green card applications. Matloff says these realities "handcuff" H-1B visa holders to their employers.
Ahh, the grim realities of our beloved free market system!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In other papal news, water is wet.

My liberal friends are shocked by Pope Francis's history of pronouncements on women and gays. What did they expect? What sort of person did they think that the cardinal electors, all appointed by either John Paul II or Benedict XVI, would choose? The fact that anyone expected differently just shows the triumph of hope over experience.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The latest in the war on soda, and why it matters to LGBT people

The latest:
A judge struck down New York’s limits on large sugary drinks on Monday, one day before they were to take effect, in a significant blow to one of the most ambitious and divisive initiatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure.
While the opinion relied heavily on administrative law, such laws present the larger issue that they restrict people's right to make choices over their own bodies. One justification for such laws that tends to show up often in the comments sections is the effect of obesity on public health — the same argument that I heard when I was involved in the struggle against sodomy laws.