Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bumperstickers, Part Two

Dear Readers,

When I wrote my last blog post, I thought it might ruffle people’s feathers, push people’s buttons, and splash splotches of spaghetti sauce on people’s clothes when people really didn’t want to have their clothes splashed with splotches of spaghetti sauce. And ruffle feathers my last post did. A little.

I’d like to make it clear that there’s no way I would really put any of those bumperstickers on my car. Most of them are contemptibly ridiculous, gigantically preposterous and outrageously outlandish! But I think they’re funny. I laughed when I wrote them.

Some of my other posts may have been upsetting, too. To soothe some of you out there with tender feelings, let me say that I never actually stabbed a pig and ate all of its bacon. That would have been incredibly cruel! And my story about Muslims stealing people’s pet rabbits and sacrificing them to Allah was supposed to be in the same comedic vein that the bumperstickers are in- outrageous, shocking, maybe funny, maybe not, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel bad about some of the stuff on here that I think is cool and funny but others find neither cool nor funny... Yeah… “Muslims do Animal Sacrifice!” is the blog entry I feel worst about.

But if I don’t take risks and push the envelope a little bit, then that can be ala-swiffern, you know? Ala-swiffern plus yooon! That’s how I really feel with my true feelings in my heart, and my feelings feel their own feelings with feelings of love, you know?

I thought I would comment on a few of my bumpersticker ideas to let you all know that I'm really not a terrible guy. Not that I need to redeem myself or explain myself, but I'm bored, and I don't want to do homework, and I have a little bit more time to kill before my wife gets home from work.

You can’t spell Obama without BAM!

I’m not sure what that one means at all, but it resonates with my spirit! It could mean that Obama will do something violent to you that will result in a cliché comic-book onomatopoeia. Or it could just be trying associate Obama with Bam!- a word that has a negative connotation. I would say bam has a negative connotation because when stuff goes bam, it either blows up or gets punched or something like that.

I play football instead of hackey-sack… and I Don’t Eat Granola!

I actually have played much more hackey-sack in my life than football, and I do eat granola. I was just thinking about how funny it would be if somebody had a bumpersticker like that on his car or truck. (It would go better on a big pickup truck, with dual wheels in the back, diesel-powered, an extra loud muffler, and a lift kit put on the obnoxious hulking thing.) That bumpersticker would display macho-macho manliness for sure ha ha ha. The bumpersticker is also making fun of the hippie stereotype- you know, Birkenstock-wearing, dirty-dreadlock- having, granola-eating, communal-living, and private-part disease-transmitting hippies! But it's also secretly making fun of the people making fun of hippies. Like, the people who make fun of hippies are so... stereotypical-izing that they base hippies's lives on trivial things like eating granola and playing hackey-sack and listening to Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead.

I make the sound of a grizzly bear

This one was trying to be tough and manly too. Bears are confrontational, you know, and tough, and they growl really loud.

I look for rainbows… then shoot them

This one is silly. Who would actually shoot rainbows? That’s insane. Simply insane! How silly that bumpersticker is. Shame on me, for being so silly. There’s no way you could actually hit a rainbow, either. Trust me- I’ve tried it. Unfortunately, a precious pot of gold was lost that day. Also, rainbows represent peace and diversity and beauty. And I like all that stuff, sort of, you know, sometimes, really I do.

I work for a living, unlike the homeless

Oh I’m so mean! And so cruel! How could I be so cruel?! This might be the meanest bumpersticker out off all of them. Ha ha ha. Oooo… it’s so mean! Yikes! Like, wow! I can’t believe how mean it is.


This bumpersticker idea is mostly an inside joke. There was this West Virginian I used to know who would always tell stories that ended the same way- with the word WOOSH! And when he said WOOSH, his eyes would get big and his arms would flail about wildly. He was a good guy.

The first time I met him, I was standing in a hallway at church, and the first thing he says to me is, after chuckling to himself a bit, is, “Do you like blow-ups?” Ha ha ha. He was a funny guy.

He would tell me really funny stories like this:

“One time, I smeared an egg with nitro-glycerin mixed with gun powder, and then I wrapped it all up in aluminum foil, except I left a little hole in the aluminum foil so I could put a fuse on it, and the fuse was just string dipped in kerosene, and then I went to the edge of a cliff, and I lit the fuse and I threw it, and then WOOSH!”

“One time, I found a propane tank, like for barbeque grill, and I took it to my house, and I poured gasoline over the top of it, and I put the tank that was all the way full with propane in a hole filed with three sticks of TNT in it, and then I got back about 30 feet, and I shot it with a BB gun, and that didn’t do anything, so then I shot it over and over again with a 22 rifle, like pop pop pop pop, and then, WOOSH!

“One time, I got a light bulb, and I got a syringe, and I injected the light bulb with lighter fluid, and then I put the light bulb back in the socket, and then like five minutes later, my cousin came into the room, and I was watching him from outside with binoculars, and he was like, “why is it so dark in here?” and he flipped on the light switch, and then all of a sudden- WOOSH!

Back in my day…

That would go well on a golf cart in the retirement community/ small town of Green Valley, Arizona. There are lots of golf courses, golf carts, and even golf lanes there. I can imagine an old guy who starts out half of his sentences with, “Back in my day…”

I disapprove of the current president

This bumpersticker is always relevant! Ha ha ha. If you got this bumpersticker, you wouldn’t have to keep changing your bumperstickers every 4 or 8 years. Unless Mitt Romney gets elected as President in 2012 or 2016, and then you would probably need to change the bumpersticker to a bumpersticker that says something good about Mitt Romney.

Only Communists go to the library!

It sounds shocking at first, I know, but public libraries are fundamentally communist. Think about it… they’re run by the government… no individual owns those books… we all share them… that’s communism!

Ha ha ha. Really, I love libraries, I go to libraries, I support libraries, and I hope more people take advantage of the libraries in their home town. Libraries keep kids off the streets, you know.
Now that I've explained my bumpersticker ideas, I hope that you find them a lot more enjoyable. Have a nice day.


Friday, February 27, 2009


Dear Readers,

I like reading bumperstickers on other people’s cars. Sometimes when I’m driving I get dangerously close to the car in front of me, just so I can make out what their bumpersticker says.

One of my favorite bumpersickers is: “Do not Wash: Vehicle undergoing scientific dirt test” Ha ha ha. That one cracks me up every time.

I wish I had the guts to put a bumpersticker on my car, because I appreciate it when other people put bumperstickers on their cars, but I’m afraid I’d get tired of my bumpersticker really soon. One, or two, or five bumpersticker can’t sum up all my values/opinions/political leanings. But I’ve thought up some really cool ones. I think they’re original. Here they are:

Eating Meat and Shooting Guns is so totally awesome

My Truck Has a Big Engine, and I’d Like to Tell You More About It

My Nuclear Family is Normal-looking.

You can’t spell Obama without BAM!

I play football instead of hackey-sack… and I Don’t Eat Granola!

I make the sound of a grizzly bear

I look for rainbows… then shoot them

I work for a living, unlike the homeless


Back in my day…

The best politicians wear cowboy hats

I support the local sports team

I disapprove of the current president

I disapprove of the current president, governor, mayor, sheriff, and mine inspector

Only Communists go to the library!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Christopher Columbus

Dear Readers,

I got an interesting book recently. It’s Select Letter of Christopher Columbus, with Other Original Documents, Relating to His Four Voyages to the New World, translated and edited by R.H. Major, Esq. of the British Museum. I’ve read part of it, and I used it for a paper I recently wrote for my Colonial and Postcolonial Literature class. Here’s the paper:

The Difference Between Imperialism and Colonialism, Exemplified by Robinson Crusoe and the Writings of Christopher Columbus

The difference between imperialism and colonialism is a small one. Many times those terms are used interchangeably. Some argue that capitalism marks the difference between imperialism and colonialism; that is, imperialism operates via capitalism and colonialism does not (Loomba 11). And some argue that imperialism is a global economic force whereas colonialism is a more specific and localized conquest (11).

Perhaps a more useful way to see the difference between those terms is to use Loomba’s remarks that imperialism is “the phenomenon that originates in the metropolis, the process which leads to domination and control. Its result, or what happens in the colonies as a consequence of imperial domination, is colonialism” (12). In other words, colonialism involves people moving permanently from the metropolis to the colony, and setting up shop, so to speak. Imperialism generates similar effects, but the rule is based in the metropolis.

In this paper I will discuss how the writings of Christopher Columbus are representative of imperialism (the definition of imperialism about rule being based in the metropolis) and how Robinson Crusoe is representative of colonialism (the definition of colonialism about rule being based in the colony). I will then briefly examine the interdependency between Columbus and the “native peoples” of the Americas, and the interdependency between Robinson Crusoe and Friday, and suggest how these interdependent relationships are representative of colonialism or imperialism.

In Four Voyages to the New World, by Christopher Columbus, translated and edited by R.H. Major, it is made very clear that rule of the New World is still maintained in the metropolis, in Spain. The letters that Columbus has written are addressed to the aristocracy in Spain, including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The letter of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World begins, “A letter addressed to the noble Lord Raphael Sanchez, Treasurer to their most invincible Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella, King and Queen of Spain, by Christopher Columbus, to whom our age is greatly indebted” (Columbus 1). This quote makes it clear that Columbus owes allegiance to Spain. In fact, Columbus wrote these letters mostly to show the Spanish aristocracy that he was a successful voyager, to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella that they had made a good investment on a risky enterprise, and that they ought to keep investing. Columbus wrote the letters to persuade the Spanish custodians of capitol to keep giving Columbus money for future voyages. These letters were written to advertise the “unspeakable increase of wealth” (Columbus 108) that would soon belong to Spain.

Much of Columbus’ letters heap praise and flattery upon the King and Queen, the aristocracy, and anybody else responsible for the funding of Columbus’s voyages. In various places he calls the Spanish King and Queen “invincible” (1) “most serene and most exalted and powerful” (104) and “the most exalted monarchs in Christendom” (104). Throughout the letters, Columbus praises the King and Queen’s piety, and even names islands after them (2). All this is to show that Christopher Columbus is under the control of the fifteenth-century Spanish monarchy. Columbus is not his own emperor in his own new land, but rather subject to the jurisdiction of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Here is another way in which Columbus’ story is indicative of imperialism: Columbus does not spend very much time settling the lands that he discovers. He probably spends more time looking at lands from ships than he spends on the lands themselves. Although he does appoint a few men to stay on an island and cultivate it, (12) he shows no inclination, neither in his writings nor in his life, so far as I have seen, to move to the New World and settle there permanently.

Thus, according to our definitions of imperialism and colonialism, we can call Columbus an imperialist, but not a colonizer.

Robinson Crusoe’s story, on the other hand, exemplifies colonialism. Crusoe owes no allegiance to England or to any other metropolis. Probably the most prominent difference between Columbus’s situation and Crusoe’ situation was that Crusoe was not in debt to anyone. Whereas Columbus had to send back gold and spices and other commodities to Spain, Crusoe did not have to pay taxes or deliver any goods back to a mother country; he only had to make an accounting to himself. A greater difference between Columbus and Crusoe, greater than the lack of economic obligation to a mother country, is the lack of communication between Crusoe’s island and England. Crusoe’s situation was unique in that, for most of the time, there was absolutely no communication between Crusoe and any other country.

Also, in lieu of an aristocracy ruling colonies from a remote location, Crusoe lives on the island he rules; he is the sole emperor of his own island. Thus Robinson Crusoe’s story is one of a free traveler, almost a rebel against his mother country, the metropolis that raised him. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Robinson Crusoe appealed to early Americans, who rebelled against Great Britain.

The difference between imperialism and colonialism is made more apparent when we look at the concept of interdependency. Interdependency is the idea that there is no such thing as one person having absolute power over another. Even in a master-slave relationship, where it would appear that a slave master has absolute control over the soul and body of another man, the slave master is actually dependent, in some ways, on the slave. The slave master needs the slave to keep being a slave, in order for the slave master to maintain his own power. If the slave were to, say, violently rebel, quit working efficiently, break the plantation tools, or simply run away, the master would lose some of his economic and psychological power. If the slave were to rebel, the master would quickly see how dependent he was on the slave. And obviously, the slave depends on the master for mere survival. Thus slaves and slave masters are in an interdependent relationship.

So it is with the relationships between Columbus and the natives. Even though Columbus has the power to take away the natives’ lands and goods and lives, he never has absolute one-hundred-percent power over the natives. And of course, the natives never have absolute power over Columbus.

Columbus needs the natives’ goods. He is dependent on the natives to deliver goods and services. He brags to the Spanish aristocracy about all the profit that will come from the taxation and enslavement of the natives: “I also succeeded in circumnavigating the island of Espanola, which is larger in circumference than all Spain, the inhabitants of which are countless, and all of whom may be laid under tribute” (107). If Columbus cannot procure profit from the people he calls “Indians”, the people who today we call Native Americas, then Columbus’ quest for profit is lost.

The interdependency between Columbus and the indigenous people is a fleeting one, though. Columbus does not stay on the island, and he, nor anybody in Columbus’ crew, cannot speak the same language as the natives. It is because of the relatively fleeting interaction between Columbus and the natives that this interdependency is more indicative of imperialism than colonialism. The interdependencies that develop within imperialism are different than the interdependencies that develop within colonialism.

There is also an interdependent relationship between Crusoe and Friday, which is not much different than the relationship between Crusoe and the island. Crusoe would not have experienced “success” if there had been no goods, no natural commodities, on the island to exploit. That is, if Crusoe would have been shipwrecked near an island of nothing but rocks and sand, Crusoe would have died. Luckily for Crusoe, the island was rife with corn, goats, parrots, trees, and other elements that Crusoe manipulated to make himself more comfortable.

Once Friday came along, Columbus had even more raw material to work with. Crusoe taught Friday English, converted him to Christianity, and got the former cannibal to work for his small, personal empire on the island. Crusoe was partially dependent on Friday because Crusoe needed somebody to rule and colonize. Crusoe wanted to build up his pride, and pride can only exist when other people are around. Crusoe also came to depend on Friday’s labor. He relied on Friday obediently making fires, cooking food, and doing other odd jobs.

In my paper so far, I have been talking mostly about the economic gains that the imperialists and colonizers had in mind, but there were also emotional and psychological benefits from imperialism and colonialism. Interdependency is not only manifested in the act of a physical commodity exchange, but it is also manifested in an emotional exchange. Crusoe briefly expressed that, after he taught Friday how to talk, it was nice to have somebody to talk to. Crusoe’s loneliness was assuaged. Crusoe and Friday did sort of become friends. They did not become friends on equal social standing, but when two men live together on the same island for years, their bound to eventually rely on each other emotionally, and even grow sentimental of each other. (Crusoe and Friday were not bosom buddies for sure, but still, the emotional connection between Crusoe and Friday should not be ignored outright when talking about interdependency.)

Columbus, on the other hand, shows no sort of emotional connection to the native people he interacts with. It is impossible to know whether Columbus really did develop an emotional relationship with some of the natives, but I find no clue of it in his writings that I’ve read. Columbus was essentially a passerby; he did not stay on the islands long enough to get to know the people intimately.

The interdependency between Crusoe and Friday is representative of the type of relationships that occur under colonialism, where two people from vastly different cultures, the European and the “other,” live together for an extended period of time on the same piece of land. The interdependency between Columbus and the natives is representative of the type of relationships that occur under imperialism.

Works Cited

Columbus, Christoper. Four Voyages to the New World: Letters and Selected
Documents. Trans. and ed. R. H. Major. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Pub. Group, 1992.

Defoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of
York, Mariner. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998.

Loomba, Ania. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2005.

While I was writing that paper, I felt uncomfortable bashing Christopher Columbus. But I did it partly because that’s what you do in college, you know, you bash Christopher Columbus. All college students know that. They teach you that at college orientation. I quote from the NAU Gateway Student Success Center website: “Set aside a regular time everyday for homework, be sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise, bash Christopher Columbus as much as possible, attend group study sessions…” j/k lol :)

I had a roommate my first year at NAU who frequently railed against “the three corrupt Cs”, as he called them: Capitalism, Christianity, and Caucasians. My former roommate had a book lying around our dorm, The People’s History of the United States, 1492 to the Present by (radical?) historian Howard Zinn, and I read a little bit of it. It was interesting. The first chapter (I think) was about Columbus, and about how he stole treasure from the people he called “Indians,” enslaved them, worked them to death, and possibly raped a lot of them.


Columbus, Thanksgiving, Columbus Day… those have become touchy subjects for a lot of people. Not really the people I’m around often, though. For me, Columbus Day is a day off of work and Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and eat too much.


About the paper I just wrote, though… I like to think that I wasn’t totally bashing him as much as I was acknowledging that Columbus had a profit motive for exploring the New World. (And Columbus definitely did have a profit motive for sailing west across the Atlantic Ocean. He was looking for a better trade route to India, quicker than going all the way around the southern tip of Africa. But also, Columbus was under the gun to make money, I think. The voyage of the nina, the pinta, and the santa maria were funded by the Spanish King and Queen. Columbus effectively took out a big loan from the government and needed to pay back the loan, plus interest.) Is a profit motive wrong? Of course not.

I doubt that many people would go to work if making a profit didn’t motivate them. Making a profit isn’t inherently bad. And there’s enough money for everybody! It’s not like when I make money I’m taking money away from other people. (Well, wait, I guess literally I am- the other people pay me for my goods and services. So I take their money. But you know what I mean. When I clock in and go to work, I’m not subjecting other people to poverty or slavery so that I can become rich.)

But I think there really is enough money for all 6 billion of us! The Lord said, talking about money stuff, “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” (D + C 104:17)

(I’m not sure if the earth could sustain every family on the planet living like I will be living, hopefully, in a few months. My wife and I are planning to move out of our one-bedroom apartment and buy a house in the suburbs in Arizona somewhere. It’d be nice if we could get 4 bedrooms, 2 or more bathrooms, a garage, a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, heating, cooling, a small front yard, a small back yard and all the other trappings of a middle class suburban modern American life. Could the Earth sustain all 6 billion of us living like that? Maybe. I think if we develop good alternative energy, and work in harmony with the Earth, and are wise stewards, yeah, I think we all could live that way. I see a lot of empty space as I drive along the freeway.)

So, Columbus’s profit motive wasn’t wrong, but when it comes to taking somebody else’s property without adequately compensating them for it, yeah, that is wrong. To “discover” indigenous people of the Americas and start taking their stuff and making them work for you, without even speaking their language, and to kill them when they didn’t pose a threat to you- how is that Christian?

I wish there were books I could read written about Columbus’ encounter with the Americas from an indigenous point of view. I’d like to read a first hand, primary-source document, a diary or a letter or a history, written by a Native American in 1492. (Any recommendations, readers? Or do such documents exist?) Maybe the Native Americans did not read or write back then.

Oh, and then there was Hernando Cortez, who ransacked the Aztec Empire. Horrible! Horrible! I heard that during the invasion/war/conquest Cortez destroyed a bunch of Aztec records. Losing those records could have been equal to losing the library of Alexandria. Who knows? We’ll never know what was lost when those Aztec records were destroyed. That stuff would have been invaluable to historians, researchers, scholars interested in indigenous studies, and to anybody else interested in knowing more about America pre-1492. And those records that were destroyed might have also virtually proved the Book of Mormon true. But Cortez had to go and burn all that stuff.

(I tried to finding a good source about Cortez burning Aztec books. I think I remember something about that from an old LDS pamphlet about the Book of Mormon. Maybe I’m thinking of something else. Some other destruction of indigenous records. Have I told you lately that the information found on Telemoonfa Time is subject to error and ignorance?) (This post has too many (parenthesis.))

Besides the profit motive, Columbus also claims to have had a spiritual motive. All throughout his letters, he is constantly asserting that God endorses Columbus’ journeys. Columbus viewed his voyages to the New World as a holy calling from God- a missionary effort. He actually complied a book of Bible verses that, in part, he felt like he was fulfilling. I think he wrote some original stuff in it too… I think I’ll see if the library has it. That book is called Libro De Las Profecias, which translates into English as The Book of Prophecies.

Here’s some exceprts from a long letter that Columbus wrote about his third voyage to the New World that show his faith.

“I gave to the subject six or seven years of great anxiety, explaining, to the best of my ability, how great service might be done to our Lord, by this undertaking, in promulgating His sacred name and our holy faith among so many nations” (105)

“I, myself, in spite of fatiguing opposition, felt sure that the enterprise would nevertheless prosper, and continue equally confident of it to this day, because it is a truth, that though everything will pass away, the Word of God will not; and I believe, that every prospect which I hold out will be accomplished; for it was clearly predicted concerning these lands, by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, in many places in Scripture, that from Spain the holy name of God was to be spread abroad.” (106)

I’m not sure what scriptures Columbus is referring to. I wonder which of Isaiah’s inspired verses talk about the word of God spreading forth from Spain. But it’s clear from his writings that Columbus thought that he was inspired by God to discover the New World and Christianize the natives of the Americas.

By the way, Christopher Columbus wasn’t just a Christian- he was a Catholic. But he was a Catholic before the Protestant Reformation got into swing. (Columbus lived after Gutenberg, but before Martin Luther, roughly speaking.) So I doubt that Columbus had the luxury of shopping around for a denomination.

Anyway, he was Catholic, and- this is something interesting I just found out about recently- he was almost made Saint Christopher Columbus by Pope Pius IX in the 1800s. Isn’t that crazy? Catholics were very close to praying to Saint Columbus, or praying to him and asking him to make intercession… I don’t get Catholic prayer completely. If Pope Pius IX had got his way, Columbus would have his face on one of those Mexican-looking candles in a tall skinny glass jar, you know what I’m talking about?

Then there’s also the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic men’s group, who revere Columbus. Suffice it to say, Columbus is a figure that is honored by Catholics.

So, we know that good Catholics are supposed to like Columbus, but how are good Mormons supposed to feel about him?

I refer you to 1st Nephi chapter 13, in the Book of Mormon. That chapter is the recording of a lengthy vision given to the ancient prophet Nephi, and it talks about the discovery and colonization of the Americas in a way that not many modern US college professors I know would feel comfortable with.

Look at verse 12 particularly: “And I [Nephi] looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites, a.k.a. Native Americans] who were in the promised land.”

Many Mormons believe that that man in 1st Nephi 13:12 is none other than Christopher Columbus. In fact, I’m nearly positive that in older editions of the Book of Mormon, maybe from the 1970s or something, there’s an insert thing…uh… front matter or end matter... I think it was on the inside front cover... that talks about interesting things in the Book of Mormon. And one of those interesting things is that Columbus fulfilled the prophecy in 1 Nephi 13:12.

So it would appear that Mormons are supposed to have a pretty good attitude about Columbus.

But wait, there’s more!

There’s even more evidence that Mormons should have a very positive view of Columbus’s character. And this is the part of my blog post where, if you’re not very familiar with the LDS Church and its doctrines, you might want to skip over. I don’t want to scare any of you away from learning more about the Church by telling you something really awesome and crazy-secret about Columbus and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you away from the Church already. Ha ha ha. I believe in milk before meat, you know. (Hebrews 5:12) People should learn about the first principles and ordinances of the gospel- faith, repentance, baptism, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost- before they go delving into weird stuff about Christopher Columbus.

A lot of the Church stuff I talk about on my blog is not essential to salvation or anything like that, but it’s interesting, and I think it’s also spiritually and intellectually healthy to think and write about some of this fringe-stuff. (I’m not saying that Mormons ought to delve into really really really fringe stuff in the name of intellectual achievement or some type of spiritual understanding that isn’t OK with the core teachings of the LDS church. Like I think that sometimes looking for the connections between Freemasonry and Mormonism can get weird, and I think getting involved with wizards that peep and mutter (2 Nephi 18:19) to try to get a so-called wider view of eternity is messed-up too. There’s got to be a line drawn somewhere between healthy intellectual investigation into non-essential Church topics and unhealthy investigation into non-essential Church topics.)

I like to think that a lot of what I do on Telemoonfa Time is to follow the admonition of 1 Peter 3:15 “… be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” We need to look for reasons that appeal to the mind as well as hymns and stuff that appeal to the heart.

But sometimes you can’t come up with a “reasonable” answer at all. You talk and talk and talk, and you think and think and think, but you still can’t come up with an answer that satisfies skeptics. I do believe that sometimes we just cannot know God’s mind, that he is mysterious, that his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

On the other hand, it gets really boring in Sunday school when the teacher asks, “Why is it important to keep the law of chastity?” and the students answer, “Because we have been commanded.” And then the teacher asks, “Why is it important that we pay our tithing?” and then the class answers, “Because we have been commanded.” And then the teachers asks, “Why should we listen to the Prophet?” and then the class answers, “Because we have been commanded.” And then the teacher says, “Good job everyone. You’re all so smart!” And then that’s the end of Sunday School.

OK, so, now here’s really the part you should skip if you’re not too familiar with LDS stuff.

Besides 1 Nephi 13, there’s also another story as to why Mormons should think well of Columbus.

At the fall general conference of 1877, Wilford Woodruff, who became the President of the LDS church a decade later, said:

“Two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. … These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. … I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others.”

Here’s the link I copied and pasted that from:

Wow! So Christopher Columbus was righteous enough to come to the St. George temple in spirit form and asked to get his temple work done! Amazing! I wonder how many latter-day saints know about this. Doesn’t that mean that Columbus is a Mormon now? I would say, yes, Columbus is a Mormon now! I’m sure he repented of all the unrighteous plundering and pillaging he did of the native peoples of the Americas, and I guess he really was inspired by God all along. Sorry, Pope Pius IX, the Mormons already “saint-ified” Columbus!

That’s why I feel bad about bashing Columbus in my college paper. I guess he really was a great, righteous guy. Maybe I’m going to meet him one day, in the next world, and he’ll say to me, “Why’d you write that paper about me in college?”

And I’ll say, “I’m so sorry, Christopher Columbus. All the other cool college students were doing it. That’s what the professor wanted. And sorry, but sometimes in your writings, you do sound self-righteous. And maybe you sound racist and imperialist and greedy sometimes, too.”

And then Columbus will say, “David’s psalms sound self-righteous, racist, imperialist, and greedy sometimes, too, but so what? David was right. He had the Lord on his side. Cut David and me some slack.”

And then I’ll say, “I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean it sir. You are very right, sir. Good day sir.” And then I’ll move along, floating off to another cloud.

Although, maybe that conversation won’t literally happen. We most likely won't speak that conversation in English anyway. Maybe in the spirit world, or maybe in the Celestial Kingdom (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I'll actually make it there) Columbus and I will be communicating not via talking, but with awesome glow-in-the-dark soul/mind waves, kind of like how Professor X and Jean Grey communicate in X-Men.

Anyway, thanks for reading, comment if you want to, and take care.


P.S. I also want to say that Columbus was a complex man, he lived long time ago, and was subject to the ideology, messed-up though it may have been, of the culture in which he was raised. There's not a ton of historical evidence that shows just exactly how mean he was to the Native Americans. No mortal, except for Jesus when he was a mortal, was completely good or completely evil throughout his or her whole lives. So the question, “Was Columbus good or bad?” is simplistic, and is an either/or fallacy. This blog post, like most of my blog posts, has been more exploratory than conclusive.

By years’ end, or shortly after, Iran might have an atom bomb.

Dear Readers,

The title of today’s post is a sentence from this article I just read:

It talks about how the Obama administration is trying to be too nice in its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. Of course the article is very biased. It’s an editorial/opinion piece. But the author of the article, Barry Rubin, has written lots and lots of books about politics, Jewish/Muslim relations, etc, and he seems like a credible source. Rubin even has his own wikipedia page. (That’s when you know you’ve hit it big time- when you get your own page on wikipedia.)

In case you haven’t heard, Russia and Iran are working together right now to build a nuclear power plant.

And that’s sort of a good thing. I am a proponent of nuclear power. From what I’ve heard, nuclear power is clean, efficient, safe, and way more cost-effective than coal, wind, solar and other types of energy.

But I worry that one of these days Iran, (or, more accurately, bad people that just happen to live in Iran) will want to lob a nuclear bomb over to Israel and blow up all the Jews. Or maybe bad people in the Middle East will want to use their nuclear weapons on the US. And then after the dust has settled, extreme Muslims will want to set up a caliphate.

I don’t know. It could happen. I worry about it. It could happen. Couldn’t it happen?

People could blow us up right now, with nuclear bombs, right? Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it. But I do worry about it. Here I am, worrying about it.

Nuclear winter. Really. Nuclear winter. Nuclear winter is a very real possibility. Mushroom clouds. You’ve heard of mushroom clouds? Seen pictures? Fall-out. Duck and cover doesn’t work.

Deadly radiation, seeping all over the world. I mean, think about it. While we are minding our own business, “while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich” we could all just automatically explode! (That quote comes from an excellent poem that drifts into my head now and then: The Dead by Billy Collins)

I remember learning in high school history class about the creepiness of the Cold War. The Cold War was the first time in the history of the world that humans had the power to destroy all life on the planet. The US had lots of nukes, and the USSR had lots of nukes, and the US and the USSR almost launched their nukes. I think I remember something crazy like the US and the USSR had the power to blow up the planet 50 times over. Just think, if the US or the USSR got really mad, or even annoyed and drunk, they could have launched their nukes and that would have ruined a lot of people’s day.

Everybody would be dead.

Except for maybe cockroaches. I think cockroaches could survive a global nuclear WOOSH, and then they would mutate and become gigantic and super-intelligent cockroaches! The cockroaches might eventually erect churches and laboratories, and invent themselves souls- souls that really work.

Can you imagine having the power to wipe out millions of lives with the turning of a key or the push of a button? That’s heavy-duty stuff.

I’ve never come anywhere close to that kind of power. But I do remember the feeling I got when I went out shooting one time with some guys back at Eastern Arizona College. I had never been raised with guns. I never got my rifle or shotgun merit badge in Boy Scouts or anything. But we drove out there at night, to the outskirts of Thatcher, on the side of a dirt road, and in the car with us there was a handgun and earmuffs and glass bottles and lots of bullets.

I remember feeling nervous. I remember thinking, “how much do I trust these guys? They could have tricked me into coming out here to the boonies with them and setting up soda cans, saying it was going to be a dandy old time, when really, they wanted to shoot me and kill me because they didn’t really like me and they weren’t really my friends!

Really, those guys could have shot and killed me. They had the power. And I could have killed them, too. There was a gun in the car. Maybe you think I was deranged because I thought about shooting my friends as a preemptive measure. And maybe I was deranged, but it was more like, the realization that I had the power to kill people set in, and it did weird, nervous things to my brain.

I have to go now.

But I hope I didn’t make you feel nervous with my talk about weapons of mass destruction. I’m sure we’ll all be fine for a while, and I hope you have a nice day, and I’m sure everything will be OK.

Just think happy thoughts.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Anonymous Blogger Claims Spam ‘Sounds Silly,’ Calls for ‘Spam Purists’

Dear Readers,

I really do like Spam. Really!

(I’m talking about the food, not the junk email.)

I like to chop up Spam and boil it with ramen noodles, and then eat the ramen noodles and the Spam mixed together as a soup. Or Spam and ramen noodles without the water is good too.

I also like to mix Spam with macaroni and cheese. Mmmmm… that’s good.

Probably my favorite Spam-ified meal so far is a hot sandwich composed of toasted bread, sizzled Spam, fried eggs, and melted cheese. Yummm… I’m thinking about it right now.

But those three Spam-ified recipe ideas are only the tip of the iceberg! Spam is so versatile; your creative use of Spam is only limited by your imagination!

Here’s a list of 6 great things about Spam:

1. It’s pre-cooked! You can eat it right out of the can, if you want to. I prefer Spam hot, but it’s nice to know that I could eat it cold, if I wanted to.

2. It’s cheap! Compare Spam to other types of meat. You’ll find that buying and consuming Spam is very cost-effective. I buy Spam at Sam’s Club, where I get a six-pack of 12-ounce cans of Spam for a little over $13, I think. As with most things, it’s cheaper to buy Spam in bulk.

3. It’s long-lasting! I just looked on the bottom of one my cans of Spam, which I bought maybe about a month ago, and the expiration date is December 2011. Woo-hoo! Oh but wait! It’s not even an expiration date; the bottom of the can says, “Best By Dec 2011” which means that it will still be good for a long time after 2011. I’d bet that by 2013 it would be classified as “pretty good” and by 2015 it might be classified as “it won’t hurt you if you eat it.” Hooray!

4. Hawaiians dig it! And we all know how cool Hawaiians are. There are surfers and hula dancers and coconuts there! I have a friend who spent a lot of time in Hawaii, and he said that tons of the “beach bums” are happy if they have their Spam.

5. It’s canned! Spam come in nice-sized, attractive-looking cans. It’s like it’s already rationed out for you. If you buy a big ham and put it in the fridge, it’s likely to go bad before you eat it all. But with the cans, you just open a new can whenever you’re ready. And I must say that the cans stack nicely, so they fit into nicely into nooks. (They’re too big for crannies, though. :)

6. It’s solid! Spam comes in a nice solid chunk, (I just measured my can of Spam and it’s 2 inches wide, 4 inches long, and 3 inches tall.) So you can slice it or dice it or cube it or whatever. Spam also has a smooth consistency, unlike real meat, which has more uh… natural muscle variations, I guess.

There’s a lot of other cool things about Spam, but I do have small problem with the stuff. Well, it’s not the stuff itself that I have a problem with, exactly. To be more precise, I have a problem with the culture surrounding Spam.

For starters, the food name sounds silly. I can’t mention the word “Spam” to people without coming off sounding like a nerdy Monty Python fan or a pop-culture geekazoid, you know what I mean? For some reason, Spam’s gotten to be nerdy-hip, like Weezer. And people trying to be cool wear Spam T-shirts or otherwise display Spam-related merchandise. Just go the official Spam website, and you’ll see what I mean about the campy cheesy pop-culture mythology hip-to-be-square stuff surrounding Spam.

When I see people with wearing Spam T-shirts, it reminds me of how I felt back in high school when the cool crowd started wearing superhero T-shirts. It was frustrating. The cool kids who really didn’t read the Punisher or the Fantastic Four or Captain America bought the comic-book inspired T-shirts from Hot Topic or some other trendy mall store. I remember feeling like “I should be the one to wear those T-shirts! I’m really the one who reads those comic books. I’m the true fan!”

And now, I feel like I am a true Spam fan. I actually buy and eat the stuff. But the people wearing the T-shirts and singing the Monty-Python Spam song are usually not true Spam proponents.

I know there are other people out there like me, who truly enjoy Spam for what it is, and not for what it has been mythologized and marketed to be. And I know there are other people out there like me, who respect Spam for its original purposes, for its noble yet down-to earth aims.

Where are you, Spam purists? What are your names? Put them down here, in my book.

I am calling for the mobilization of a powerful body of Spam purists.

Who will join me?

Oh, and another problem with Spam- the actual product and not the mythology and pop-culture surrounding the product- is that some people are genuinely grossed out by it. I know my wife is. My wife and others think it’s not a natural meat or something. Yes, Spam is very processed and chock-full of preservatives, and yes, it was originally invented for the military, when the military needed canned meat that would last a long time on the battlefield or something like that. And yes, Spam is neither ham nor pork, but rather a weird hybrid of the two. I guess information like that can gross people out.

But I imagine that what they do to make Spam in factories is no worse than what they do to make TV dinners in factories. Both Spam and TV dinners have tons of fake chemical stuff in them.

Oh yeah, and hot dogs. Do you eat hot dogs? If you eat hot dogs, why won’t you eat Spam? That’s a very good question. Answer it.

I just looked at my second-to-last, unopened can of Spam, and I found these reassuring words: “U.S. inspected and passed by the Department of Agriculture.” And you know what my Daddy always said, “If it’s good enough for the Department of Agriculture, it’s good enough for me!”

Open up, I say. Open wide, and let the Spam-train choo-choo it’s way into Mouthy-Town!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Secret of Psalm 46

Dear Readers,

Speaking of the Bible, did you know that part of the Bible was written by Shakespeare? It’s true!

That’s right, the Good Book had the master of all English literature himself, the immortal and the magnificent Mr. William Shakespeare, as one of it’s contributing authors.

Don’t believe me? Well just take a looky here: it’s well documented that the Bard had a hand in writing the Bible in my poem An Informed Gentleman’s Conversation… available here:

Not enough proof? OK, well, let me draw your attention to the forty-sixth Psalm. (copied and pasted from

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

Let me ask you, did you notice anything particularly Shakespearian about psalm 46?

What about those giant bold words in there, “Shake” and “Spear.” Does that suggest any connection to the Bard, even a minor, distant connection, wrought with subtleties?

OK, maybe that’s still not enough to convince you that Shakespeare had anything to do with writing the Bible, but just wait until you do this little activity: count the number of words from the beginning of the psalm to the word “shake” (not counting the TO THE CHIEF... thing.) There’s 46. Now count the number of words from the word “spear” to the end of the psalm. There’s also 46.

Hmmm… interesting… 46 words, yep, 46 words… and this is in the 46th psalm! Curiouser and curiouser. This means something. It’s too big to be a coincidence.

Math time!

Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. That means that he would have been 46 years old in the year 1610. King James ruled England from 1603 to 1625. Shakespeare not only lived in England when King James was ruling, but Shakespeare was also very personally acquainted with King James. In fact, Shakespeare’s’ theatre group was the official state-sponsored theatre group, called “The King’s Men.”

And when was the King James Version of the Holy Bible originally published? 1611! But the translation process, from the original Hebrew and Greek and etc. to modern day English, (thank you Wikipedia, for this info.) began in 1604.

So, around 1610, the KJV Bible translation process was almost complete. King James read some of the proofs, and thought that overall the book would be great, but that it was a little dry. He went over to his best bud Shakespeare and said, “Hey Will, you’re a good writer, how about you translate the Bible a little bit, and make it really good-sounding, like your plays?”

And Shakespeare said, “Sure!” (It is, after all, dangerous to say no to a king.)

And then when Shakespeare was working his way through translating the psalms, and making them a little more exciting and poetic, he got to the 46th psalm on his 46th birthday, and thought, “I’d like to put my name in the Bible in a secret and cool way.” And voila! Here today we have Shakespeare’s name cleverly inserted into the Bible!

Or maybe what really happened is that King James wanted to get Shakespeare something really cool for his 46th birthday. James was planning on getting Shakespeare what he had gotten Shakespeare for several of his previous birthdays and Christmases- a new stiff frilly white collar that sticks out funny. But then the Queen said, at tea time, as they were walking over the London Bridge, and listening to the Beatles, “Oh, James, my quite husband, don’t get Shakespeare another quite dreadful quite collar, that’s quite boring. You should secretly encode his name in the Bible.”

And James said “Hey that’s a great idea!”


P.S. I can't take credit for coming up with all the ideas in this blog post. I don't know who originally counted the words in psalm 46 and came up with that weird story about Shakespeare being mentioned in the KJV Bible. I think I heard it on my mission from somebody. You know how stuff like this gets passed around. But seriously, isn't that crazy? Yes it's crazy.

The Seven Books They Took Out of the Bible

Dear Readers,

One time I met this one crazy guy and oh man he was so crazy!

He said, “there was seven books… seven books that they took out of the Bible, and nobody ever knew what was in ‘em. They was like, kept secret. And you know who did it? You know who took them books from the Bible, the holy Bible? It was a government official. A government official. He just yanked them seven books out of the Bible, and nobody ever knew what was in ‘em. Nobody. And you know what the government official said? He said, the government official said, ‘We had to take them books out of the Bible, because if anybody ever read it, you would just go INSANE!!!’”

And this guy was chubby and chain-smoking and he had a beard and he talked in a whispery voice, and he had darting, squinty eyes.

The craziest thing about it what that this guy didn’t say, “Whenever a person read the seven forbidden Bible books, he or she went insane.” No, he said that if anybody ever read it, then you would just go insane! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!!!


Monkeys are Dumb

Dear Readers,

The other day I saw a monkey and he was so dumb! He was doing all these dumb things like hopping around and like… doing nothing, just dumb stuff. He didn’t even say anything or anything. I threw a banana out there for him to sniff, like I put it in front of him, like I threw it on the ground, and he was just so dumb! He didn’t even eat it or anything. Not even touch it. Man, I can’t believe how dumb monkeys are! People are way smarter than monkeys. Even dumb people are smarter than the dumby-dumb dumb monkeys! All monkeys are dumb, that’s for sure.

And pigs are dumb too! Oh my gosh! They’re just so dumb. They just lay around all day and… and… sometimes they walk a little, but they’re just so dumb! I saw a pig in real life the other day, he was like, a pig, and, he was pink with the curly tail and he was just like, so dumb! And then I stabbed the pig and ate all of its bacon.


Monday, February 16, 2009

More Essays from School from Spring 2006

Dear Readers!

I have lots and lots of essays and response papers saved on my computer! Here are some of them that I don’t think have found their way to Telemoonfa Time yet! I like them! Sometimes!!! Sometimes I don't like them! Here they are! Don't feel like you have to read them! They're boring! Each essay will be seperated by !!!


I Can’t Get No Grammar-Faction


Why Can’t Johnny Point To the Dangling Modifier?

Some teachers claim that public schools should discontinue the teaching of prescriptive grammar. These teachers cite studies, which have shown that there is no connection between a grasp of grammar and quality writing, to defend their claim. Maybe they are correct. Maybe schools should stop teaching prescriptive grammar. However, because of the demands of standardized testing and in light of revelation we have received from the Grammar Gods, public school English teachers will continue to frequently say the following words: “noun”, “preposition”, “adverb”, “adjective”, “conjunction”, “subject”, “object”, and “that sentence is wrong”. So, since we have to teach prescriptive grammar, we should figure out the best way to teach it.

But before I address effective grammar-teaching strategies, I want to quote Williams response to the grammar instruction issue. He says, “Many teachers, administrators, and parents have discounted the research and proceeded as though the findings don’t exist, putting students through exercises and drills year after year. Others have seen them as a rationale for ignoring grammar instruction. Neither response is appropriate.” Right now, I agree with him. (Maybe I’ll change my mind later.) I think that grammar should be taught because it lets students examine language in a way that they couldn’t before. It lets students know more about the language they speak. Language is a major difference between us and the animal kingdom, so, when we learn about language, we learn about humanity. Also, teaching grammar provides students with a vocabulary to use when talking about literature. They can also use this grammar vocabulary to discuss other students writing in writing workshops. For these reasons, I believe that the teaching of grammar should go on. I think teachers just need to figure out how to make it more interesting than my grandmothers’ slideshow, complete with her lengthy commentary.

With the rationale behind teaching grammar being addressed, now it’s time to re-ask: what are the best approaches to teaching grammar? I believe that a good approach to teaching grammar involves some of the things I discussed in my previous paragraph. Students should be taught that grammar examines language, which is a main ingredient in our humanity. Williams says that, “Effective teaching, therefore, must differentiate between grammar and usage.” (Williams, 180) In other words, it’s important to teach students between prescriptive grammar and descriptive grammar. We should tell our young pupils that the words “correct” and “incorrect” when applied to language use are only kosher in the English department hallways of Yale or Cambridge or some other snooty university. Elsewhere, “correct” and “incorrect” when applied to language use will get you a bloody nose, a fat lip, or at least a degrading nick name.

Williams chapter on grammar was interesting and enlightening. It helped me gain a new respect for grammar and helped me understand why teaching grammar is still important, even though it may be a chore sometimes.

In conclusion, I can’t get no grammar-faction. I’m torn between teaching the stuff putting the stuff in the trash can. But I have a few more years before I start teaching, so hopefully I’ll figure it out before then.


Two Questions and Two Corresponding Answers

1) In your opinion or experience, what are some of the most important concepts about writing that secondary students need to learn?

I am amazed when I hear that Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, in one straight shot, without any revision. How can anybody do that? How can a person develop such strong characters, memorable scenes, and sublime prose practically extemporaneously? I do not know. But I will simply say that Kerouac was an accomplished writer, a skilled craftsman, perhaps a genius, and well past high school when he wrote that novel. For the rest of us, we need to revise, revise, and revise.

Therefore, I feel that an important concept that secondary students must absorb is the concept of revision. Students need to learn what revision is and how it produces better writing. Barry Lane shares my opinion. (Or should I say that I share Barry Lane’s opinion?) Lane says in the preface of his book, After The End, “From my work as a writer I know that revision is more than a stage in a four- five- or seven- step process; it is the source of the entire process.” (Lane, Barry, After The End, [New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1993], p.5). Good writers know that a story, a poem, an essay, or some other type of writing must go through several steps of revision before it is complete.

Another important concept about writing that students should learn is how to make their subject interesting. I love the “Growing Leads” activity on page 13 and 14, where the teacher tells an un-detailed story about the scary dog, thus generating curiosity in the students. The students ask for more information; they ask for details. The students know what they want to hear and what is interesting to them. They want to know what makes a particular story interesting or important. In the “Growing Leads” activity, Barry Lane magnificently reenacts childlike curiosity, illustrating why it is important to make your subject, what you are writing about, interesting.

2) What kind of writing teacher do you want to be?

I want to help students become better writers by emphasizing creative writing. I believe that writing short stories, poems, and creative non-fiction helps students become better writers more than studying grammar or filling out worksheets does. I also want to assign a large amount of writing to my future students. My favorite high school English teacher, Mr. Encianas, gave us piles and piles of writing homework. We had to write original poems, fake TV scripts, and those types of assignments. The students frequently read their original writing to each other. We all could naturally tell what worked and what did not work; what was interesting and what was boring. In other words, we understood what good writing was and we all worked as a team to become better writers. In that class we also read many novels and short stories and discussed what made those novels good pieces of literature. As we became more comfortable and familiar with good books, we were more likely to imitate the style and language of those good books.

I enjoyed Lane’s comments on page 15. Lane says that too often students are given writing assignments that require them to answer questions. Such assignments would read something like, “What was the name of the dog in the story?” Or, “What did the copper token symbolize?” In Lane’s words, students are “taught to write answers, to be experts, to lie.” (Lane, 15) Lane says that in contrast to this popular approach to teaching writing, “good writing is fueled by unanswerable questions.” (Lane, 15) I want to be a writing teacher who encourages students to explore their thoughts through their writing. I want them to address big unanswerable questions in their writing. They do not need to provide explanations for the mysteries of the universe; no, they only need to discuss the mysteries of the universe.


Bad Things and Good Things About Writing Workshops In the Secondary English Classroom

A common practice in secondary English classrooms today is work-shopping, where students read each others papers and give them constructive criticism. Is this a good practice or a bad practice? Well, in my estimation, there are good things about it and there are bad things about it. First, I’ll address the bad things. Second, I’ll address the good things. As I address the good and the bad things, I’ll appeal to the writings of James D. Williams and Jim Blasingame and John H. Bushman.

The Bad Things

Writing workshops in secondary English classrooms can be fraught with ill-will, loathing, backbiting, scorn, and fear. It is a sad observation that teenagers can be poison-tounged when it comes to evaluating their peers writing. Suppose this scenario: A sensitive, artistic young man brings in a poem to be workshopped. His hypothetical lines may read: “Moroseness engulfs and envelopes my tormentuos [sic] soul/ As, as a kitten, when kittens are/ Strewn from their scratching-posts of individuality,/ I am like the kitten.” The other boys say, “Wait a minute, you’re like a kitten? That’s gay you gay-wad homosexual!” And, “You shouldn’t use “as” twice in a row.” How does the sensitive poet feel now? My guess is that he won’t be scratching on his scratching-post of individuality in front of his peers anymore. But this scenario is no fictional case-study. This story is all too real. This story… is me.

Another potentially bad thing about a writing workshop is, “If students have not learned how to analyze a paper and how to give usable feedback, teachers find that students most often make only superficial suggestions to the writer about conventions, such as spelling and punctuation. Analytical comments about the quality of the writing are often restricted to whether or not the reader liked the paper.” (Blasingame, Jim, Teaching Writing in Middle and Secondary Schools, [Ohio: Pearson Education, Inc., 2005] p. 55) Sometimes time spent in writing workshops is time wasted. If enlightened feedback is not given, then the student might as well work on the paper alone.

The Good Things

First, a secondary English teacher, with 150 students, may not have time to spend 15 minutes on one students’ writing. Writing workshops enable students to receive individualized attention.

Second, workshops also allow a student to get feedback from several different sources: students with different opinions. If 3 or 4 people all say that a specific aspect of the paper should change, then the student can be sure that that aspect should change. But if the students all have different opinions about what should change, then the writer can choose which suggestion suits him or her best. In contrast, if a teacher is the only other person who reads the writing and gives feedback, the feedback is limited.

Third, “In the workplace, reports and proposals commonly are written by teams. Before academics send their papers out for publication, they ask friends to read the manuscript and offer suggestions for improvement.” (Williams, James D., Preparing to Teach Writing, [New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2003] p. 131) When you teach students to work in teams for the purpose of producing a polished paper, you make them more prepared to enter the work force. (And isn’t that the ultimate grandiose purpose of education and enlightenment? To have a boss give you a paycheck?)

Conclusively, there are good things and bad things about writing workshops. How about we accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative?


Thoughts On Why Studying the History of Rhetoric Is Important For English Teachers, Based On a Few Personal Thoughtful Moments, the Book, and On Classroom Discussion.

My thoughts on why studying the history of rhetoric is important for English teachers, based on a few personal thoughtful moments.

I didn’t build the car I drive, but I enjoy the way it gets me quickly from place to place. I have no skill as a shoemaker, yet sturdy boots protect my feet. I did not invent the English language, but I love using it. And so, if I drive, if I walk on hot rocks, or if I talk, I am able to do so only because of the deeds of humans who have gone before me. Should I not pay homage to the people I have never met who have made my life more comfortable and fulfilling? Should I not learn about their lives, their sacrifices, their ideas, and their staunch labor?

To be caught up only in the current news is dangerous. To applaud every new thing that comes along without a historical context is unwise. Schools maintain history departments because Americans generally agree that history is important for all of us to learn.

Therefore, when one enters into a field of study, math, science, English, art, etc., it is important to know something of the history of that field of study.

My thoughts on why studying the history of rhetoric is important for English Teachers, based on the book.

James D. Williams, in his book, Preparing to Teach Writing, gives three reasons to not only justify, but to encourage the study of rhetoric’s history. First, he says that since not all current pedagogies are based on sound principles, knowledge of rhetoric’s history can help teachers spot those unsound principles. Second, he says that since classrooms and students are so diverse, no one single method works universally. An understanding of the history of rhetoric helps teachers evaluate methods and choose which one would work best for each situation. Third, he says that since social, political, and ethical dimensions affect language teaching, teachers should have knowledge of rhetoric’s history to understand why these inequities exist. (Williams, James D., Preparing to Teach Writing, [New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2003] p. 3)

My thoughts on why studying the history of rhetoric is important for English Teachers, based on classroom discussion.

In our classroom discussion, I learned more about the Platonic view of the world and the Sophist view of the world. The Platonists believe in an absolute reality, a one-truth that everybody should seek for. They emphasize morals, messages, and themes. In contrast, the Sophists believe in relative truth. They emphasize arguments, methods, and skills.
Knowledge of these two world views is important to teachers because these world-views are projected onto pedagogies, they affect teaching styles. A Platonic teacher would want every pupil to agree on the correct answer to a problem. A Sophist teacher, however, would want the students to be able to defend their positions, whatever those positions might be.


The previous 4 papers were for a class I took about how to teach writing, in the spring of 2006. The next 4 papers are papers I wrote for an African American Literature class, also in the spring of 2006.


Equiano and Wheatley Converted

Some have questioned the testimonies of early Christian African Americans. Some have suggested that the accounts of their conversions are dishonest, or that the authors of these spiritual accounts were bribed or tricked or brainwashed. Or perhaps, some say, these early African American Christians were being sarcastic when they preached of and rejoiced in Jesus Christ. However, as I read The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley’s poems, I sense no sarcasm. In these texts, I cannot ascertain any evidence of bribery, trickery, or brain-washings. Rather, in these texts, I see Christian writings reflecting true conversion.

First, let us hear Equiano declare his Christian faith. In chapter five of his narrative, Equiano, after finding himself in peril and after complaining against the Lord, he says, “… with contrition of heart, [I] acknowledged my transgression to God, and poured out my soul before him with unfeigned repentance, and with earnest supplications I besought him not to abandon me in my distress, nor cast me from his mercy forever (Equiano, 83 – 84). To provide another example of Equiano’s faith, in Chapter ten, which is almost entirely devoted to matters of Christian faith, Olaudah Equiano says, “I was continually oppressed and much concerned about the salvation of my soul, and was determined (in my own strength) to be a first-rate Christian.” (Equiano, 183) In these quotes and in the rest of the autobiography, I hear whole-hearted faith and devotion.

Now, let us hear Wheatley testify. In her poem “To the University of Cambridge, in New-England.” Wheatly exhorts students to feel the love of Jesus Christ with these lines: “See him with hands out-stretcht upon the cross;/ Immense compassion in his bosom glows;/ He hears revilers, nor resents their scorn:/ What matchless mercy in the Son of God!” From these lines and from the other Wheatley poems that I’ve read, I suspect no sarcasm. I take her poems as true manifestations of a devout Christian.

Still, some claim that Equiano, Wheatley and early African American Christian converts are not true converts. Skeptics claim that these people were only agreeing with those in power, white Christian males, to get more power. It is true that there were perks to converting to Christianity in the British colonies, in what is now American soil. For example, for blacks, converting meant attaining a higher social status. Black converts were respected by those in power. They could converse with white Christians using their religious language. They could discuss the Bible and Jesus with them, subjects that can transcend socioeconomic and racial boundaries. Also, black converts were more likely to get published.

So, admittedly, there were social perks offered to African Americans who converted to Christianity in the slave trade era. But does that social situation give us twenty-first century readers the right to dismiss their faith? No.

Not only did Equiano and Wheatley testify in writing of their new-found spirituality, but they viewed their sufferings and slavery as endurable because they found the gospel. In a letter to the Parliament of Great Britain, Equiano explains, “By the horrors of that trade [the slave trade] was I first torn away from all the tender connexions that were naturally dear to my heart; but these, through the mysterious ways of Providence, I ought to regard as infinitely more than compensated by the introductions I have thence obtained to the knowledge of the Christian religion” (Equiano, xxx) From this letter, we learn that Equiano feels that God guided him, although through horrible means, to Christianity. Wheatley expresses a similar sentiment. She writes in her poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America” “’Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,/ Taught my benighted soul to understand/ That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too.” Here, Wheatley says she views the terrors of her passage to America as merciful, because it eventually brought her to enlightenment.

Modern day readers may be tempted to explain away such expressions of faith. Surely, some think, surely, these writers could not really have meant what they said about a slave ship being merciful, or about so much suffering being bearable because a little bit of church resulted. Unbelievers ask, “How could these writers have believed that God had a hand in something as abominable as human bondage, with the atrocities attending to it?” And so, some account for such statements by saying that perhaps these early African Americans were not truly converted, or that they were brainwashed by the whites in power, or that they only accepted Christianity for social benefits.

But why can we not take their word for it? Why are we reluctant to trust black converts when they say that they believe in Jesus Christ and that they believe in the Bible?
To understand these statements, these professions, that may seem unbelievable, it is helpful to understand something of Christianity and of faith in general. Christians believe that since the gospel of Christ is so precious, they would go through almost any pains in order to keep worshipping their God. For Biblical examples, Paul endured imprisonment, stoning, ridicule, and torture to preach the gospel. Job lost his children, his property, his friends and his health suddenly, but retained his faith. These and other people, according to Christian theology, provide examples of faith to follow. Also, these people, Paul, Job, and others, may view their trials as justified because they increased their spirituality. So, to a Christian, sufferings are bearable and even worthwhile, if those sufferings result in a closer walk with God.
I feel that both Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley were true Christians. Though they did not condone slavery and hoped for the death of that institution, they faithfully endured the hardships of their lives and still praised their God.


Masculinity According To Equiano and Douglass

Masculinity can be defined in different ways. To come to a good understanding of this word, it is helpful to consider its denotation and connotation. As for the denotation, according to the dictionary, masculinity is “something traditionally considered to be characteristic of a male” ( As for the connotation, I associate masculinity with muscles, trucks, outdoor peeing , physical strength, fist fights, the color blue, deep voices, hairy chests, toughness, baseball, football, guns, hunting, and tear-free eyes. But let us depart from today's stereotypical television-screen idea of masculinity and hear the voices of two black males from centuries ago: Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass. How do Equiano and Douglass define masculinity? With what do they associate manhood? To answer these questions, first, they both define and project their masculinity in their autobiographies through their accounts of their physical strength. Later, Equiano and Douglass transcend this basic notion of masculinity; they both believe that masculinity involves intellectual and spiritual empowerment; it involves being recognized as a human.

First, these men brag of their physical abilities. Douglass provides us with two accounts of physical confrontations of which he was a part. First, he tells us about his fight with Mr. Covey, a cruel slaveholder. When Mr. Covey was about to tie up Douglass, Douglass jumped up and grabbed Covey tightly by the throat. "My resistance was so entirely unexpected, that Covey seemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run wherever I touched him with the ends of my fingers." (Douglass, 42) Here Douglass delights that for once after six months of being abused and disempowered, he has power over his master. His account seems to say, “He was scared. I was in charge. With just the tips of my fingers, I made him bleed.” Douglass brags of his own strength; he spends a considerable amount of time focusing on this struggle, and declaring himself as the victor.

Another physical confrontation Douglass recounts is his struggle with the carpenters in the shipyard. He asserts: "I could whip the whole of them, taking them separately. They, however, at length combined, and came upon me, armed with sticks, stones, and heavy handspikes. One came in front with a half brick." (Douglass, 57) Here Douglass explains that the only way any man could take him in hand to hand combat is if it turned out to be not hand-to-hand combat. That is, a man would have to get some weapons and some buddies to whip on Douglass. Otherwise, Douglass could knock out any one of those carpenters. Both these examples of Douglass's fighting abilities demonstrate his basic idea of masculinity: the ability to whoop on another guy.

Olaudah Equiano also shows us some moments when he was involved in fighting. First, Equiano explains that he was acquainted with fist fights at a young age. As an adolescent, aboard a ship, he was made to fight for the amusement of the sailors. He says, “This was the first time I had ever fought with a white boy; and I never knew what it was to have a bloody nose before. This made me fight most desperately; and I suppose considerably more than an hour;” (Equiano, 53) But his physical fights did not stop there. His fighting continued as he served for many years in different navies. He gives several accounts of battles on oceans and seas, and declares his integral role in the success at some of these engagements. These accounts of physical fighting, whether they were fistfights or exchanges of bullets and cannonballs, help Equiano defend his position as a tough man. It shows that his basic definition of masculinity includes having gone through such entanglements and staying alive, well and tough.

However, both these men possess a higher concept of masculinity. To transcend this basic physical definition, they maintain their manhood by representing themselves as intelligent, moral, and free-thinking men, more than the brute beasts that their masters would have them be.

Douglass, to expand his definition of masculinity, addresses the little amount of free time that slaves had: Sundays and the week between Christmas and New Years Day. He says that some slaves spent their free time with their families, if they were close by. Some did crafts. “But by far the larger part engaged in such sports and merriments as playing ball, wrestling, running foot-races, fiddling, dancing, and drinking whiskey; and this latter mode of spending the time was by far the most agreeable to the feelings of our masters” (Douglass, 44). Why would masters want their slaves to waste time this way? And why did the masters especially want their slaves to drink whiskey throughout their time off? Douglass answers these questions brilliantly when identifying the slaveholders’ motives. “Their object seems to be, to disgust their slaves with freedom, by plunging them into the lowest depths of dissipation.” (Douglass, 45) Again, Douglass explains that the slaveholders object was “to disgust the slave with freedom, by allowing him to see only the abuse of it” These quotes show that the slave masters wanted their slaves filling their lives with work or drunkenness. The masters couldn’t have their slaves reading books or thinking about their deplorable situation as slaves. Douglass, however, was not satisfied with this brute existence. He wanted to progress. He wanted power. When Douglass tells us of his desire to learn to read and write, to study the word of God, and to be free, he manifests his desire to rise above the animal kingdom.

Douglass proclaims that he is not only concerned with surviving from day to day on a scanty maintenance, nor is he satisfied solely with a little better food, sturdier walls and roofs, and less whippings, nor is he merely content with being able to beat people up now and then. Rather, he wants respect. He wants us to acknowledge him as a man. Douglass is like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, when the latter says, "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?" (The Merchant of Venice III. i. 58-64) In the preceding lines, Shylock, a Jewish minority, poetically asserts his manhood and humanity in the midst of Christians who are mistreating him. Similarly, Fredrick Douglass, a black slave writing to a mostly white audience, proclaims his manhood.

Olaudah Equiano also portrays himself as a mature, deep thinking, literate gentleman. When he writes of his study of and conversion to Christianity, he writes, “In the evening of the day, as I was reading and meditating on the fourth chapter of the Acts, twelth verse, under the solemn apprehensions of eternity, and reflecting on my past actions, I began to think that I had lived a moral life.” (197) These words expose a thoughtful, spiritual, and individual soul. Equiano shows that he is capable of much, much more than picking cotton and being driven about by a whip-toting taskmaster. He desires more than to work and get drunk and live for a while. He is a man! He thinks with his mind, reads with his eyes, and feels with his soul.

Equiano and Douglass view their masculinity as more than the ability to beat another guy up. They hold masculinty as being inseperably connected with humanity, dignity, respect, power, humanity, and freedom.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or,
Gustavus Vassa, the African. New York: Modern Library, 2004.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover
Publications, Inc., 1995.

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,

“” Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 2006. 5 March 2006


Holy Writ as Slavery Protest

The African-American abolitionists used many means to protest slavery and seek freedom. Many slaves fled to the North or to Canada to escape human bondage. Some slaves broke cotton gins or other tools to reduce the productivity and profitability of slave work. Nat Turner used weapons and violence in an attempt to overthrow slave- holders. Other African Americans used intellectual, secular, humanistic means to fight against the slavery institution; they cited the Constitution, and asserted their humanity in songs, speeches and literature. But still other blacks held a religious anti-slavery stance; they used Christianity to protest slavery. Specifically, three men, Richard Allen, David Walker, and Frederick Douglass, in opposition to slavery, all cited Christian principles and used Biblical passages. Also, negro spirituals, such as "Go Down, Moses" captured the angry, freedom-wanting feelings of the slaves.

The Right Reverend Richard Allen was the first bishop and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (As a testament to Allen's wide-spread influence, The A M E church still runs today. In fact there is an active chapel of this denomination right here in Flagstaff.) As such a reverend, Allen was necessarily very well versed in the Bible and familiar with Christian teachings. But this great spiritual figure was also born a slave, and therefore was intensely familiar with the cruel practices of the slave trade. As he grew, Allen desired to see the death of slavery. So, A M E church meetings were not only worship services, but forums for anti-slavery discussions. Even some of the sermons that Allen delivered from the pulpit contained abolitionist sentiments. For example, in “An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves and Approve of the Practice,” Allen says, “God himself was the first pleader of the cause of slaves” (Allen, 207). He further explains, "If you love the God of love, clear your hands from slaves; brethen not your children or your country with them” (Allen, 208). With these quotes, Allen claims that it is impossible to be, simultaneously, a God-fearing Christian and a slave-holder. But making these references to God makes his argument more high-brow, more peaceful, more reverent. Instead using secular humanism arguments by saying something like, “You better let us go because you are violating inherent human values,” he summons divine powers by saying, “You better let us go because the God of Heaven demands it.” Such claims certainly enflamed many Christian slaveholders; but, notwithstanding the backlash, Allen continued to protest slavery through spiritual means.

Frederick Douglass also uses religion to protest slavery. In his appendix to Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, he associates white Christian slaveholders with the ancient scribes and Pharisees who attempted to kill Jesus in the New Testament. Douglass, to describe his enemies, quotes the following Bible verses: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness” (Douglass, 73). To place Christian slaveholders and the scribes and Pharisees in the same category of sinners certainly would have ruffled the feathers of the antebellum owners of slaves and incited mutinous emotions among slaves.
David Walker uses the biblical story of Pharaoh and Joseph in Article I of his Appeal. According to this story, Pharaoh treated Joseph, a foreigner, and his family nicely and even gave to Joseph the most fertile part of Egypt. Walker uses this story to “…show how much lower we [the African American slaves] are held, and how much more cruel we are treated by the Americans, than were the children of Jacob, by the Egyptians” (Walker, 184). Walker here establishes how badly the African American slaves were treated by comparing their treatment to ancient Israel’s treatment, when they were slaves in Egypt. After this Biblical reference, Walker again alludes to the Bible, this time using Moses as a role model for his suffering black brothers and sisters to emulate. Walker pleads, “O! that the coloured people were long since of Moses’ excellent disposition” (Walker, 185). The story of Moses is one beloved by the African American slaves, since Moses was a prophetic hero who rescued his people from slavery and brought them to the promised land. Further, according to Rupe Simms, who had an article concerning slave Christianity published in the Spring 1998 edition of the Western Journal of Black Studies, Walker declares in his appeal that, “Relative to slavery being God-ordained, Walker declares that not only was servitude offensive to God, but that the Lord will empower Blacks to liberate themselves through violent revolution” (Simms, 49). By making numerous references to the Bible, and to the Lord, Walker elevates the rationale for black liberation.

Finally, slaves used Negro spirituals to protest slavery. Several of the spirituals were sung to praise God, to cheer each other up, to express emotions, to pass the time, yet some were used to protest slavery. One of the most direct and forceful spirituals was “Go Down Moses,” a song recounting the story of God and Moses freeing the house of Israel. Richard Newman, author of Go Down, Moses, says, “African-American slaves identified themselves with Israel in bondage; they saw the master class as Pharaoh, the South as Egypt, and their own leaders, like the insurrectionist Nat Turner, as Moses” (Newman, 68).

Richard Allen, Frederick Douglass, David Walker, and the slaves who sung “Go Down, Moses,” all used Christianity as ammunition to shoot down slavery. With sermons, songs, and treatises, they fought against the slave trade in a way that could not have without such spiritual rhetoric.

Works Cited

Allen, Richard. An address to those who keep slaves and approve the practice. Patricia
Liggins Hill (Ed.) Call and response: The Riverside anthology of the African
American literary tradition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover
Publications, Inc., 1995.

Newman, Richard. Go Down, Moses: A Celebration of the African-American Spiritual.

New York: Reed Business Information, Inc., 1995.

Simms, Rupe. Slave Christianity: A Critical Feature of Black Studies History. The
Western Journal of Black Studies Spring. 1998 v22 i1 p49.

Walker, David. (1997). Appeal. Norton Anthology of African American Literature, (180-
190) New York, Norton.


Malindy and the Caged Bird: Kindred Spirits

A poet has several responsibilities. A poet amuses, enlightens, informs, educates, and stimulates their readers with their artful use of language. Perhaps more importantly, poets also give voice to those thoughts and feelings that the audience has but cannot eloquently articulate. One such poet who gives voice to a large group of people is Paul Laurance Dunbar, who writes for his black brothers and sisters during the Reconstruction era. Dunbar himself did not receive too much mistreatment from racist whites, (Revell, 40) but he still could identify with those of his race who were not privy to such tolerance. Specifically, Dunbar writes two poems, “Sympathy” and “When Malindy Sings”, that highlight two mistreated, yet singing, characters. These characters, the caged bird and Malindy, come from the same background, sing with the same soul, and have the same desire for freedom.

First, although obviously the caged bird is an animal and Malindy is a human, they come from the same background. The caged bird sees the beauty of the outdoors through the bars of his cage, “When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;/ When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,/ And the river flows like a stream of glass;” The bird is not delighted to see such pretty scenery, but rather the grandeur of the outdoors mocks his imprisonment inside the cage. Likewise, it may unhesitantly be inferred that Malindy is a black woman, probably during the Reconstruction era. As a black woman in those times, Malindy would have been subject to prejudice and discrimination. She would have seen the prosperity of the whites, knowing that, because of her skin color and social status, she could not be as socially successful as the whites. Even though legally she would not have been a slave, she would have been barely a step above slavery.

Next, both the caged bird and Malindy sing with the same soul. The bird’s song is not a mating call or the natural chirpings of birds at dawn. Rather, Dunbar writes that the song of the bird is a “prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,” Hence, the bird croons with gusto. The result of such a performance is the production of a song worth hearing and contemplating. Likewise, Malindy does not perform her music like “an edicated band” would. Nor does she read music like a classical violinist or an opera singer. Malindy is more like Miles Davis when he’s improvising on the saxophone. Despite this unschooled manner or singing, Malindy uses her instinctual rhythm to move her listeners to tears and repentance. Her performance is so moving that the speaker beckons everybody to stop what they are doing to hear Malindy sing.

Lastly, the caged bird and Malindy have the same desire for freedom. The bird, as either a getaway attempt or as a frustrated reflex, beats his wings against his cage bars until the bars are stained with blood. The bird also flings his heartfelt song to Heaven, hoping that God will hear the prayer and open the cage door. Likewise, Malindy appeals to her Maker for freedom. She is not as concerned with spatial freedom as is the caged bird, for she can freely move around, yet she is concerned with spiritual freedom. She voices her desire for spiritual freedom by hollering such hymns as “Rock of Ages” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

In sum, the caged bird from “Sympathy” and Malindy from “When Malindy Sings” both come from the same background, sing with the same soul, and have the same desire for freedom. By writing poems about two characters who are unsatisfied with their current situation, Paul Laurance Dunbar gives voice to the generation of blacks during the Reconstruction era.

Works Cited

Revell, Peter. Paul Laurence Dunbar. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. New York:
Dodd, Mead, 1967, c1913.


These next two essays are from a Shakespeare class I took, also from the spring of 2006.


Who Is Portia?

In the The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare creates a controversial character named Portia. It is difficult to know how we, the audience, are supposed to view her. Are we supposed to view her as a total babe, a treasure to be won, worthy of the efforts of dozens of suitors? Are we to see her as a power-hungry manipulater? A bigot? A feminist? An anti-Semite? A victim in a patriarchal male-centric society? It is impossible to know exactly what Shakespeare thought about Portia when he wrote her character in The Merchant of Venice so many centuries ago, but now I, a college student in the twenty-first century, am attempting to find out what makes Portia tick. In this essay, I will discuss some of the possibilities. As I discuss, I will not pick one interpretation and defend it, rather, I will try to defend many interpretations. (I don’t know which one is right. Perhaps there is no “right.” Perhaps Shakespeare wanted Portia to be ambiguous, so she could be interpreted many ways.)

First, some could view Portia as a beautiful treasure, an astounding catch, a millionaire supermodel. Several men in the play describe her this way. When Bassanio first tells Antonio of the plan to pursue Portia, he says, "For the four winds blow in from every coast/ Renowned suitors, and her sunny locks/ Hang on her temples like a golden fleece,/ Which makes her seat of Belmont Colchis' strond,/ And many Jasons come in quest of her." (The Merchant of Venice, I. i. 168-172) Here, Bassanio compares the winning of Portia to winning the mythological Golden Fleece. Not only does Bassanio and other men view Portia as a wonderful prize, but, just after Bassanio opens the lead casket, Portia, speaking of herself in the third person, says: "Happiest of all, is that her gentle spirit/ Commits itself to yours to be directed,/ As from her lord, her governer, her king./ Myself, and what is mine, to you and yours/ Is now converted." (III.ii.163-167) If we are to believe Portia in these lines, she sounds like the perfect wife for the patriarchal society of Elizabethan England. So, by highlighting certain lines and down-playing others, some may believe that Portia is being honest to Bassanio in her promises, that she really will submit herself to her husband and be a living female treasure chest.

Second, we could see Portia as a manipulative, two-faced liar. Why would some make this claim? Let us return to Act three, scene two, right after Bassanio opens the lead casket and Portia declares what kind of wife she will be. After several lines about how she's "an unlesson'd girl, unschool'd, unpractic'd" (III. ii. 159) and about how she'll submit to Bassanio, Portia gives Bassanio a ring. With this ring, she gives a command, telling Bassanio that he must never lose it, sell it, or give it away. At first, we might view this ring as a sentimental sign of her affection. But later, Portia, disguised as Balthazar, manipulates Bassanio into giving her the ring. Bassanio, like a dutiful husband, resists giving Balthazar the ring, but Portia says, "I will have nothing else but only this,/ And now methinks I have a mind to it" (IV. i. 432-433) So, why would Portia tell him not to squander the ring and then try so hard to get it from him herself? Because, some would say, she is a conniving, manipulating, lying, two-faced broad.

More evidence exposing Portia as a conniving, two-faced manipulator is that she disguises herself as Balthazar, a lawyer. (I'm not sure about Elizabethan England, but presently in America, it's illegal to impersonate a lawyer.) Under this guise, Portia directs her servant, Nerrisa, to deceive the courtroom by fabricating identities and falsifying documents. Portia also delivers a brilliant speech to Shylock about the nature of mercy. In all this, Portia reveals that she is actually lessoned, schooled, and practiced.

Still another sign that Portia lies and cheats is her behavior just before Bassanio opens the lead casket. Portia sings a song, (Or other people sing the song; it is unclear.) hinting at which casket is correct. If she did indeed cheat at the lottery her father designed, that would make her an oath-breaker. For these reasons, the ring scheme, the Balthazar disguise, and the song hinting at the lead casket, Portia can be viewed as an immoral manipulator.

For another interpretation, we could view Portia as a racist. This claim can be defended with two scenes. First, when we are first introduced to Portia, she is talking with her servant, Nerrisa, about possible suitors. Nerrisa brings up several men of different ethnicities. One by one, Portia insults each hypothetical candidate. Portia says, for example, that she would not want a German, because she would like him, "Very vildly in the morning, when he is sober, and most very vildly in the afternoon, when he is drunk." (I. ii. 86-87) So, Portia stereotypes Germans as alcoholics. Afterwards, she continues to unfairly label men from different ethnic backgrounds. The second scene that reveals Portia's racist sentiments is when, disguised as Balthazar, she rips Shylock apart. Portia is not satisfied with Shylock going home with three thousand ducats rather than slicing up Antonio. No, Portia proceeds to strip Shylock of his wealth and his religion. Would Portia have destroyed him so viciously had Shylock been of Christian Venetian stock? Some think not.

Portia can also be seen as a victim, trapped in an extremely patriarchal society. She is unable to live her own life, to make her own descions, and to be powerful as a woman and as a wealthy heir. In expressing her oppression, Portia says, "O me, the word choose! I may niether choose who I would, nor refuse who I dislike; so is the will of a living daughter curb'd by the will of a dead father." (I. ii. 22-25) Even though Portia is an adult, she is bound by the wish of her father. She is not permitted the freedom to choose with whom she would like to spend her life. She is like a fairy-tale maiden locked in a tower, who must twirl her hair, sighing away the years until a valiant prince rescues her.

Another reason that Portia could be seen as a victim is that, because of her gender, Portia is unable to help Antonio properly. But, when Portia disguises herself as a man, she wields great power, insomuch that she frees Antonio and destroys Shylock. Could this be Shakespeare’s subtle way of exposing the ills of gender inequality, showing that Portia is socially inhibited because of her sex? There are many ways that audiences could view the character of Portia. They could see her as a beautiful blond heiress, a manipulative dishonorable rat, a racist bigot, or a victim of a male-centric society. It is up to each reader to make their own interpretation.


Love, According to As You Like It

Shakespeare’s play As You Like It ends with the creation of four newlywed couples: Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver, Silvius and Phebe, and, Touchstone and Audrey. With all these couples getting married, we may think the play has much to advice to offer on the subject of love. After all, most of the play consists of the action, flirtation, romance, and dreamy complications leading up to this wedding for the octet. And indeed, the play does teach about love; As You Like It teaches several lessons on that mysterious, heart-warming subject. First, it teaches us to believe in love at first sight. Second, it encourages us to believe that love is irrational and exhilarating, and that it makes the person in love do impulsive, crazy things. Third, it informs us of the baser side of love, lust. But behind the surface these teachings, Shakespeare does not have such a sunny opinion about the nature of love. He has merely crafted a fun, entertaining play that makes love more fantastic.

First, the play persuades us to believe in love at first sight. The first time Rosalind sees Orlando, Orlando defeats Charles the wrestler, and Rosalind says to Orlando, “Sir, you have wrastled well, and overthrown/ More than your enemies” (As You Like It, I. ii. 253-254). Apparently, all it takes for Rosalind to fall in love with Orlando is Orlando's successful wrestling match and the exchange of a few lines of dialogue. Likewise, all it takes for Orlando to fall in love with Rosalind is a sentimental chain and a few minutes with her in a public place. After this brief meeting, these lovebirds are convinced that they are soul mates.

Next, As You Like It teaches us that love makes one do impulsive, crazy, and mega-super-romantic things. For example, Orlando writes love poems dedicated to Rosalind and hangs them on trees in the Forest of Arden. One poem is partly like a blazon, where Rosalind’s physical features and her characteristics are listed. The poem ends with, “Heaven would that she these gifts should have,/ And I to live and die her slave.” (III. ii. 153-154) What? Does Orlando really mean that, because Rosalind is so desirable, he is willing to spend his life in unpaid servitude, just to be around his crush? Surely the behavior and poetry of Orlando is not rational. For another example of how, according to this play, love makes one do impulsive, crazy, and mega-super-romantic things, I quote some lines of Silvius, who is love-sick for Phebe. “If thou rememb'rest not the slightest folly/ That ever love did make thee run into,/ Thou hast not lov'd;... Or if thou hast not broke from company/ Abruptly, as my passion now makes me,/ Thou hast not lov'd./ O Phebe, Phebe, Phebe!” (II. iv. 34-36, 40-43) So, according to Silvius, love, to be true love, must get one into a folly, make one leave company suddenly, and yell out the would-be lovers’ name at least three times. Surely the behavior and professions of Silvius is not rational.

Third, besides the impulsive, crazy love that As You Like it advocates through Rosalind, Orlando, Silvius, and others, the play also showcases a less fairy-tale romantic type of love: the relationship between Touchstone and Audrey. Touchstone, when defending his actions to Jaques, compares his desire to marry Audrey with the technology put on animals to domesticate them, or at least to make them useful in their labor. Touchstone says, “As the ox hath his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath his desires;” (III. iii. 79-81). In this quote, Touchstone says that he is like an animal that would be useless and wild, unless, an outside mechanism (marriage) was placed upon him. Then Touchstone, to Audrey, says, “Come, sweet Audrey,/ We must be married, or we must live in bawdry” (III. iii. 96-97). Here, “in bawdry” means “in sin”. When Touchstone says he must be married or else live in sin, he means that marriage is a socially constructed institution designed to provide an appropriate place for a man and woman to copulate. So, Touchstone’s idea of love differs greatly from that of Silvius’. Silvius is a young idealistic lovesick shepherd, whereas Touchstone is a dirty lustful old man.

Considering these teachings on love, are we to take them as truth? Should we apply these principles into our lives? Are we to wait for some woman to put a sentimental chain around our necks? Ought we hem and haw away the years in singledom until the advent of some supernatural sign, confirming to us which stranger we should marry? Should we write poetry to a person we've seen or talked to in passing, and hang the poems all around town? Just how seriously are we to take Rosalind’s statement: “Love is merely a madness, and I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish'd and cur'd is, that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too” (II. ii. 399-404)?

Perhaps we are to believe in such fairy tale stuff; but, probably not. Probably, Shakespeare does not view love in this fanciful way. He would be mad to. Shakespeare is just writing a fun, entertaining play that allows us to escape from reality and ordinary societal rules. It is fun to think about love as a whimsical happily-ending comedic affair. We need to see an amusing version of love in plays or stories or movies. However, after the curtain is drawn, we go home to abusive relationships; arranged marriages; familiar, comfortable, boring spouses; or unattractive partners we stay with merely for the sex.

As You Like It does not portray love in a realistic manner. The play shows no long time married couple whose relationship has been tempered and renewed with time and compassion. Shakespeare, in this play, only writes about and grossly exaggerates about the exciting part of a lifelong commitment, that is, the courtship. If the Bard wrote a sequel to As You Like It, maybe he would have shown Rosalind yelling to Orlando, “Why don’t you write me anymore poems, you washed-up former wrestling champion lazy lying two-faced good-for-nothing louse?!” Or maybe we would see Silvius and Phebe arguing over who let one of the sheep wander away. Or perhaps Touchstone and Audrey would have a mentally retarded child and a hurricane would destroy their home and Touchstone and Audrey would separate, cursing the day they ever exchanged vows. We could call this hypothetical play As It Really Happens.


This next one is a creative non-fiction essay I wrote, inspired by true events from my LDS mission, which I served from 2002-2004 in the West Virginia Charleston Mission. Putting this one on my blog makes me feel more vulnerable than all the other ones above.


Missionaries in Martinsville, Virginia

Elder E. and Elder B. stared at the Martinsville map.

“It’s hard today.” Elder E. said. “Some days the streets come easy. Some days the streets come hard.” E. waited, squinted, nodded, and wrote another street name on his index card. Elder B. already had five street names picked, so he quietly waited for his companion to finish.

The map of Martinsville, Virginia, tacked on to the white apartment wall, was covered with wide strips of scotch tape. Pushpins, dotting the map, had small white labels glued to their heads. On the labels were written names like, “The Martins,” “The Halls,” or “Jeff Gehart.” A red X crossed out Jezzrow street. Next to the X were written the words, “115 Jezzrow Don’t go here! He’s Beezulbub!” Over the makeshift lamination job, some of the streets were traced with red and green dry erase markers, while some of the black lines were left unmarked. The red and green was Elder B.’s idea. It was Christmas time.

Elder E. still stared at the map, his nose inches away from it. In this silence, Elder B. looked up at the ceiling. “What is that stuff,” he wondered, looking at the small white chunks covering the ceiling. “I think I heard somebody call it popcorn, but that’s gotta be slang. I guess carpenters or roofers or whatever those kind of apartment-makers are called would know what that stuff is. Is it insulation of some sort?” Elder B. put his head down and his hands in his coat pockets, and let out a long breath. “God didn’t pick my streets, did He? I picked them, didn’t I? And does Elder E. really know what he’s doing? Does he? I know I shouldn’t question that. It’s really bad for me to question that, isn’t it? Of course he’s in tune with the other side; he’s a zone leader; he’s been out here for almost two years. Oh, God, what do You think of me?” Such were Elder B.’s thoughts on that cold morning in Martinsville, Virginia, in December, 2002.

“OK.” Elder E. said, after writing down the last street name. “Let’s see if there’s any same ones today. You go first.”

“Beaumont, Franklin, Round Street, Fourteenth Avenue, Oak.”

“OK. We got two of the same today. Franklin and Fourteenth. Humph.” Elder E. paused. “You didn’t look off me, did you?”

Elder B. shook his head.

“You can be honest with me.”

B. looked down.

“I don’t want you to lie to me. But if you say you didn’t look off me, then I’ll believe you, Elder B.” Elder E. put his pen and index card in his pocket. “OK. Well, let’s go do Franklin and Fourteenth Avenue.”

Elder E. and Elder B. knelt on the carpet, putting their elbows on the loveseat, the only furniture in the room. Elder E. interlocked his fingers. Elder B. put his forehead on his fists. They knelt at opposing ends of the loveseat, with several feet between them.

Elder B. was still new. He had only been in the mission field four months, compared to the almost two years that Elder E. had been evangelizing. He clearly remembers receiving his mission call, about six months earlier. It was a warm Saturday morning in Thatcher, Arizona, where Elder B., then called Telemoonfa, was attending Eastern Arizona College, majoring in theatre. Without expecting to get his call that day, only two and a half weeks after submitting the necessary papers, he walked to the post office. Telemoonfa turned the dial on his combination lock post office box, opened it, and got the letter: a large white envelope from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A smile spread across his face as his heart raced faster. He went home, opened the letter, and read, “Telemoonfa, you are hereby called to serve as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the West Virginia Charleston mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 24 months.” After excitedly reading and rereading the letter, he knelt and offered a prayer of gratitude.

“Whose turn is it?”

“I don’t remember.”

“You never remember. Humph. I’ll say it. Dear Father in Heaven, we approach Thee now, Father, and we pray. We thank Thee that we are Thy missionaries, that we have time set apart to teach the gospel to our spirit brothers and sisters. We want to bring more people into Thy Kingdom. We have a righteous desire to have many families in our teaching pool and many… many sheaves laden upon our backs, dear Father. We ask for Thy help today, Father, as we do Thy work. Please bless us that we can be instruments in Thy hands to share the love that we hold in our hearts. We know we need Thy Spirit to guide us to those who are seeking the truth and we ask for that Spirit now. We love thee, Father, and we love our brothers and sisters. We love them with all of our hearts, and we go to serve Thee today. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

The missionaries stood up and went towards the door. E. exited first, and B. followed. In the cold, Elder B. locked their apartment door. As Elder E. stepped down the icy staircase, Elder B. considered shoving him.