Monday, December 12, 2011

this season of love

The local Methodist Church has a tradition of putting up tableaus during the Christmas season. The twist they never fail to provide is that the visuals are always themed to vexing and contemporary issues. Methodist or otherwise, the effect is usually troubling, affirming, destabilizing, and heart-warming—all in one breath.

Keeping in line with the partisan divides in California around the issue of homosexual rights, the tableau this time has three slides each showing variations of cohabitation: (l-r) a man and woman, two men, and two women.

The California Marriage Protection Act, or what is now in common parlance Proposition/Prop 8, bars homosexual couples from rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples. For instance, because marriage is legally defined as a heterosexual union, heterosexual couples can claim each other as dependents when filing their income taxes. Prop 8 bars homosexual couples from doing so. Prop 8 has done the rounds at the annual ballots. Repealing the Act still lingers in a hazy future.

The tableau is apparently an affirmation of solidarity with homosexuals and the efforts to repeal the Act. I am yet to articulate my own investments on the issue. May be it’s because I still haven’t weaned from my own hetero-normative socialization. May be it’s because of personal issues whose scars have taken too long to heal. But I do veer towards affirming the co-equality of all human beings irrespective of gender, race, class, or sexual orientation. Which is why I found myself drawn to the tableau in quite a profound manner. Even as our thoughts merge during this season around the Jesus of Nazareth and his endearing message, I am reminded, as the caption in the tableau-front suggests, “to love those who are different” and toward whom my least reaction would be respect and acknowledgement.

On a more personal note,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

for what it's worth

This Thanksgiving was back to the traditional fare. After having tried out alternatives to the usual turkey-centric meals over the last two years, my wife and I were with neighbors last Thursday over servings of turkey, mashed potatoes, string beans, pumpkin pie, and so on. While the spread was salivating, the combinations were rather confusing to the tribal palate of mine. Bland turkey with dashes of sweet raspberry slices set-off by savory broccoli au gratin tripped me at quite a few levels. But then again, this is repeated every year and we were mere encroachers in what has been observed for decades as something worthwhile.

Over table, one attendee was busy swirling his glass of wine. I had already downed mine while he went on with the swirling. Curious, I asked him what all that was about. He went on to give me his spiel about texture, viscosity, color, and yadi yada! Slightly irked by what I thought was a tad snooty talk, I retorted that I just drank mine without any pretensions. Why is wine worth all the conjurations of finesse? It is still controlled-rotting grape juice. Hnahlan wine tastes quite like any generic Moscato but the difference seems to be the damage to one’s wallet either does. 

Value has many moderators. Use value, aesthetics, rarity, durability, and other similar parameters determine what is worthwhile. But they are all ideas of what has value; things don’t have value in themselves but we impute their value according to various preferences. Hence value is a social idea.

Value can be rather twisted in the current market economy. In a recent essay, Zones of Seduction, Martin Lindstrom dices what makes people pick up or ignore products on a market aisle. Rather than slaughter his acute perception with a summary, let me just post his final analysis: “The next time you go grocery shopping, take a look at the signs, the type of floor, and even the carts. Everything has been designed with an eye towards getting you to grab those three cans of something that was not on your list. The more attention you pay to the details, the more aware you’ll become of how you’re being manipulated. One thing is for certain; whoever made those three cans will be watching you just as closely.”

Easy to manipulate, value is hard to pin down. Reams of paper have been expended to try and capture what about it fascinates and enslaves us. What I find worthwhile however is to learn why people hold something valuable because by doing so, I am invited into a deeper matrix of social orientations, insecurities, and aspirations. So while I will half-heartedly indulge someone’s spiel on the finer aspects of wine-tasting, I will also uphold the relishing discovery of hnahlan wine in a dry corner of Mizoram, “A va tui e!”

Monday, November 14, 2011

trolls, pacquiao, and a tragedy

I came back to my blog after a long hiatus and found a whole lot of nonsensical comments attached to my posts. Given the sparse traffic i get on my posts, i thought I would just do away with all the security procedures. Insáne! I now have links to innovative engineering designs, and blonde and oral porn. Darn cyber-squatters!

On to boxing. Last week's third edition of the Pacquiao-Marquez saga was rather disappointing. We had gone to Hooter's hoping to get a seat but it turned out we were not the only ones looking for a spot to watch the fight. Turned away from the joint SRO, our friends decided to chip in and buy the pay-per-view option. So, we got to watch the fight night in the comfort of a private living room. The main event, the Pacquiao-Marquez punchup, was more tentative than I expected. Both boxers seemed to wait for the other to commit first paling the fight in contrast with the previous two meetings where both came out hammer and tongs from the get-go. My first thought at the closing bell was that Pacquiao's lost it. The eventual decision to give it to Pacquiao didn't go well with many, and topped a controversial series with even more doubt than resolution. Come to think of it, the pre-fight between Breidis Prescott and Mike Alvarado was more engaging and intensely contested (and bloodier) than the main event. Here's hoping for a Mayweather-Pacquiao match-up.

On a sombre note, I just learnt about the tragic life of Rebecca Zahau, a Chin-Mizo-American, partly because her family took the story to primetime tv...on the Dr. Phil Show. I had heard about it when it happened but never followed it through. It took a reportage on the Dr. Phil episode to get me concerned. For late entrants to the story as I, Rebecca was found hanging in the nude with her hands and legs tied. This was just following the tragic death of her live-in partner's son. The partner has been exonerated by investigations that ruled the death as a case of suicide. Rebecca's family, including her ex-husband, cry foul. There is a wiki entrywith more details and links related to the case. Condolences to Rebecca's family.
ps: If Rebecca's story extracts more than an "aww" from you, her family has put up a website for you to participate.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

putting it out there

I had responded to a forum posting on the sensitive issue of religion. Someone read my response and asked me to explain my position further. In responding, i found myself struggling to articulate my investments without being tentative and hopelessly avoiding the strings of alliterations I so easily get into. So here goes...

My apologies for leaving your query buried for so long. I use this email add to fill up the mandatory "email" online sign ups and it understandably gets choked with spam, alongside legit ones that come through--such as yours. My more active email is the gmail one with the same name, just in case.

My response to Anish was that religion is a problematic category/subject/phenomenon. I made this judgement not as a practitioner of a religious faith but as a student of religion. As a practitioner, I have set lenses through which to see what I term as religion--creed, theology, sacraments--all very integral elements to what I practice. But as a student of religion, i see it more a broader human phenomena and activity...we humans make religion happen! When we cloak that which we do with a sense of "heavenly" (or transcendent) certitude, i think i see religion happening. Im sure you've come across someone totally convinced that his/her action was because "The lord told me!" A fellow student in seminary suddenly dropped out in his third semester and did so by giving the dean the same reason. The dean replied rather tongue-in-cheek that if the lord had told him to do so, then that he was in no position to stop him. In a slanted manner, i found this incident also bringing some measure of levity to what we were brought up as a very serious matter.

Multiply that from an individual case to a macro scale and you have very well-minded people doing very good and praiseworthy deeds--and also some kooky stuff. As a student of religion, I look at these through lenses that are informed by history, politics, cultural dynamics and other critical tools. So when I took on Anish's instance of Jews and the land, I hinted at the political rhetoric concerning land/territory, origins, and how Zionism (a covenant with YHWH no doubt) has a troubled history with the inhabitants of the land. Indeed, the good Lord had told Abraham, we read in our sacred text; but there were the Hittites, Amorites, and so on already there. It wasn't an empty land. Which is why I find Zionism problematic. A key clincher for such claims is "scripture"--I have a broader view on this than it as merely text, but may be for another email.

I am a practitioner but also a student of religion; two dimensions that are at many points incompatible but have inevitably informed each other over the years. I do not junk religion but i don't find it personally compelling as it used to earlier. I find religion problematic in the sense that it is not self-evident, natural or fell-from-above but creative. When I hold what I have believed at this tension, I find it pushes me to think in new ways, to see the world differently and hope we don't annihilate ourselves with our religious fervour.

Having said that, I hope i was able to address some of your concerns in a more accessible manner. If not...let me try a second time to do so. Hope you have a wonderful time of Christmas and much peace in the new year.