Monthly Archives: January 2008

Shagging in North Carolina

I’ve gotten used to a lot of things here in North Carolina, but I still can’t help giggling when I hear people say they know how to “shag.”  To the British and all who are familiar with them, the term “shag” means to have sex… a meaning that people here somehow manage to ignore.

Of course, the American Southeastern use of “shag” to refer to a type of swing dancing, which was made the official dance of South Carolina in 1984, predates the Austin Powers movies, so they can’t be expected to modify their traditions simply because of the appearance of a goofy movie or two.

Danced to beach music and said to have originated in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the 1930’s, the shag is a dance that young people in the Southeast still enjoy doing.  I have even heard an entire radio show dedicated to the music meant to accompany shagging (see? even there I cracked a smile) so that one can hear the DJ say things like, “You’re listening to Shagging at the Beach” or “And now, let’s hear some more music to shag to.”

It makes me feel like a five year old cackling over a fart.  Or an eight year old going into hysterics because someone said, “Do it.”

Despite my highly unsophisticated reaction, I do have respect for Carolinians and their art form.  But no teenage boy had better come to my house and announce that he and my daughter are going to go out to dinner and then shag.  Other than that, I will try in the future to keep my giggling to a dull roar.

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RapLeaf based in California… of course

RapLeaf, the site dedicated to helping people to trust one another, is based in California.  Of course.

Being from the Golden State myself, it makes perfect sense to me that this is where they would come up with such an idea, to “help” people trust each other.  Here in North Carolina, where I am currently in residence, if you told someone that before they do business, they should get advice from an online reputation rating site, they would most likely chuckle and look puzzled.  What a crazy idea.  Citizens of this area, why, they’ve done business with the same people their whole lives.  If they needed a new service, they’d talk to their friends and get a recommendation.

It’s only in a place like California, in the Wild West, where the cowboys roam and the gold diggers are ready to stab you in the back, that they would suffer such a crisis of untrustworthiness.

And what is the solution?  Not get to know your neighbor better, not develop a face-to-face network of trustworthy humans, not conduct the bulk of your commerce with people in the real world, not guard against losing yourself in the online capitalist free-for-all.  No, just log on to a self-appointed reputation judging site and let them decide for you!  After all, the members of the team have stellar ratings themselves!  So of course they are trustworthy!.

I’m up to a rating of 12, not sure how.  That’s 12 out of a million, don’t forget.  So, honestly, trust me, you shouldn’t believe a thing I say. 

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Your Reputation on RapLeaf

Have you heard of “Rapleaf”? It is an online site dedicated to rating people’s reputations so that others will know if they should do business with them or not. If you have had any activity on the internet, like a Facebook or Myspace account, or perhaps you have bought something on Amazon, you will probably find your reputation rated on Rapleaf.

They claim that they exist to promote a society “where it is more profitable to be ethical.”  Presumably we have given up on the idea that we could just get to know people before we trust them. The naive, outdated plan of being recommended by a real person in realtime, or dealing with a network of friends, is just too impractical in this day and age. Luckily, we can just look people up on Rapleaf and we’ll know the good guys from the bad guys!

They have a listing of three of the sites I am on, Myspace, Facebook, and Amazon, but they do not have me as signed up with LinkedIn, Bebo, or, can you believe it, WordPress!!! All this writing and no credit for it! How sad.

So when I first realized they were rating me, I was ranked as a five. Goof around a little, add another email address, now I’m a 10 (as of three minutes ago.) But out of what? I mean, on the beach, a ten is the hottest of the hotties, a rating I could never hope to achieve. So, rock on.

Well, unable to find info to answer the question “10 out of what,” I decide to click on the names of the “Team” over on the right hand side of the screen. Find a guy who’s a 95. Hmmm. Keep clicking, end up on someone whose reputation rates a 4194. Okay, please. So I’m a 10 out of a million? That is so awesome.

What is your reputation in cyberspace? Who is going to search for you on Rapleaf and see that you are a 4 and think you suck? Just thought you’d like to keep tabs on who might be dragging your name through the mud here in cyberspace.

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118 Million Strong

CNN reports that there were 118 million prescriptions written last year for drugs to fight depression. It occurred to me, a few hours after hearing about this, that this only gives us an idea of the people WITH health insurance who actually seek help for their depression, but leaves out those without insurance or those who do not seek help, so the number of people who would actually be diagnosed with a depression that must be treated by drugs would be much larger if we took everyone into account.

What the hell?

As I understand it, drugs should only be taken for mental illness if there is something wrong in the brain chemistry of the patient, and in other circumstances other therapies should be used, like counseling or psychoanalysis. How did the brain chemistry of so many people get so messed up? What are they putting in the water? In the food? Shouldn’t we be panicking that so many people cannot function without righting the make-up of their brains?

Or are there people coming in to see the doctor who would heal with some kind of non-drug therapy, but drugs are easier? Require less time, less delving into the past, less emotional interaction? Is this yet another aspect of our lives, like weight, flu, attention span, recreation, etc., where a pill is considered the best solution? The most modern? The most advanced? The quick fix?

Are we just being prescribed drugs to cover up for the fact that a large percentage of us hate our lives, that our society makes us depressed, that we set ourselves up to fail?

Shouldn’t we, with all our technological advances, be happy now? If we live better than many people in the world, shouldn’t we be basking in some kind of contentment that would make depression extremely rare?

Do these people in other countries who envy us know that a lot of us hate ourselves and want to die?

But Dr. Gupta throws the statistic out there and Kiran shakes her head in wonder and they go on to the next story about Clinton-bashing or another actor found dead under mysterious circumstances (God rest his soul) and we forget. We don’t have time to investigate what is going on in our own community, maybe our own family or our own head. We’ve got more important things to do than worry about mental health.

Is this the root of the problem?

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Semanturgy and Religion

Beginning at age 13, I have searched for meaning in many religions. Raised Catholic, I have explored New Age ideas, a couple of Native American spiritual paths, I have experienced a couple of other kinds of Christianity, I’ve read Taoist and Buddhist texts, even attended a couple of Unitarian Universalist services. I’ve read many Wiccan texts and participated in several rituals.

In short, it has been a long and widely wandering journey so far, with no destination in sight. Though every system has bits of wisdom that shine for me, no one structure rings true enough for me to feel right about adopting it as my own personal religion. Sometimes this lack of structure feels freeing, but at other times I wish I had a label to insert into the blanks on forms, I wish I had a name to provide to those who want to know, in a word, what I believe.

Cruising news sites yesterday, I came across a link to Tom Cruise’s latest discussion of Scientology, which led me to their official website to investigate. It made me feel sick to think of how someone can take an idea or system of ideas, as one might do with Semanturgy, and make a dogma out of it. I do not believe that Semanturgy can be a dogma, because the root “-urgy” or “work” indicates that the meanings being dealt with are not stagnant, not immobile, not at a distance being admired or worshipped. The meanings are being worked, whether created, debated, interpreted, or rearranged, it is not about standing passively and being dictated to. It is not about consuming thoughtlessly like a drone in a cult.

If a semanturgist found themselves doing something ritualistic, like say, trimming a Christmas tree, it would be an individual experience full of personal significance. It might be rooted in memories of previous Christmases, it might signify a personal goal of finding and cutting down a wild tree, it might show the consideration the person has for their children who will learn a new tradition or enjoy the sight of the lights, it might be the same plastic tree one’s grandfather had in his house and so be infused with Grandpa’s history. The act of trimming and the presence of the tree would show an active, thoughtful participation and an assumption of responsibility that would feed the rest of the person’s life, and possibly the lives of those around them.

I guess this demonstrates my problem with organized religion, and why I find it so difficult to “pick” one. There is a point where I am not allowed to decide for myself, but must just accept certain tenets as given. This was my original path away from Catholicism, when I was informed that, however logical or reasonable the possibility of reincarnation is, “We don’t believe in it.”

One thing I do firmly believe, I am now and will in the future be held responsible for the things I say, do and believe. For this reason, I cannot blindly follow what someone else decides is true or right, but I must think it through for myself. I must decide what the world means to me and then make sure that my words and actions reflect my personal truths.

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The Best Fortune

Yesterday, in addition to having the best Chinese buffet lunch I’ve ever had, I got the best fortune in my cookie that I’ve ever gotten.

(This is more impressive if you bear in mind that I waited tables at a Chinese restaurant, which for the record had no buffet, for seven years and we were allowed to eat as many broken cookies as we wanted, so I thought I’d read all the fortunes anyone had ever come up with.)

Considering how many blessings I’ve been fortunate enough to receive in my lifetime, four of which were sitting at the table with me, I almost cried when I read the little piece of paper:

“The best times of your life have yet to be lived.”

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Semanturgy and language education

Let’s face it, there are two kinds of people studying foreign languages today in our elementary and secondary educational institutions as well as in our colleges and universities: people who want to and people who are required to. 

The people who want to learn another language, who drool at the sight of a new vocabulary list and spend hours cross-referencing words in various  dictionaries, these wonderful souls do not need much in the way of curriculum.  You could use the oldest, lamest textbook in the world and they would eat it up.  Being one of these languages nerds myself, I know that when I am gathering resources for a class and I want to serve this population, I am looking for any and all types of fun stuff.  The materials do not have to be perfectly organized or tantalizingly arranged, because we are going to joyfully dive into it no matter what.

The other group of language students is another story when it comes to curriculum development. An instructor must always have an eye towards inspiring the reluctant student to realize, if not the joy, at least the utility of the language being acquired.

To this end, I propose that an approach based in sematurgy would be beneficial, both more engaging for students as well as resulting in a greater long term retention of the material.

A language education based on working with meaning would mean that everything would be relevant to actual usage. Students would work with dialogues, music and film for oral production and comprehension, and for reading and writing there would be texts and assignments that related to the students’ personal lives and connect them to the lives of their counterparts speaking the acquired language.

Many of the latest textbooks I have seen do include this type of material, but there is still a large focus on grammar, conjugation and similar types of technical aspects of language. While I would never suggest that these are not vital to a complete understanding of a language, I would state that I do not believe they are necessary for the kinds of introductory language studies we find required for high school diplomas and Bachelor of Arts degrees. I believe they can be left out of these basic language courses and addressed in the intermediate and advanced language studies for those who actually want to pursue a deeper mastery of the language.

Let me briefly present my reasoning behind this: I believe that time spent concentrating on memorizing nitpicky grammar like verb conjugations, for these folks who don’t really want to be studying language, is completely wasted. Even if they manage to memorize it for an exam, they will immediately put it out of their brain and it will never be recalled again. Better for them to spend that time working with meaningful dialogues, lyrics, or texts in which popular verbs will be repeated enough times that they will become stuck in their minds and they will be able to be remembered and used at a future time. Better that the student can walk away with the ability to have basic conversations with people who may one day be encountered than to be able to recite verbs in the subjunctive.

Better still that they spend this time learning about the culture and history of the people who speak the particular language being studied, because isn’t that the major reason given for requiring foreign language study? To be exposed to another way of life?.

Of course, there will certainly be occasions when a discussion of verbs or grammar will become relevant, but it will be brief and presented merely as a tool to accomplish the task at hand. The grammar in a sematurgy-based introductory language education will be acquired mostly unconsciously, similar to the way we acquire the rules of our native language in the natural way before we study them formally later on. We will follow the same non-method as little children learning their first words; a toddler learns the significance of “cookie” and “park” and “no” because they are intensely meaningful.

If we work with what is meaningful to the students and present the acquired language in these terms, whether it is music, society, current events, relationships or any other subject, they will learn important things about the other language-speakers that will deepen their world perspective and they will also retain relevant parts of the language, like basic conversational skills, that will actually be useful in their future lives.

These reluctant students may still never experience the joy of becoming fluent in another language, but they will at least integrate basic, useful parts of that language into the knowledge base they develop by interacting with the world in a personal, meaningful way, and so the language will be for them what language should be: a vital tool of authentic communication.

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