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June 05, 2005 - Image 5

Resource type:
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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2005-06-05

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b

F

VIEWPOINT
Not independent e
BY BRIAN STEPHENS

Congratulations, America! We
celebrated our 229th year of
independence from Great Brit-
ain yesterday. When you popped those
firecrackers, waved sparklers and sent
rockets into the sky last night, what
core American values were you extol-
ling? In a speech, John Adams said that
Independence Day should be celebrat-
ed "by solemn acts of devotion to God
Almighty." If our second president still
walked the earth, he would be pleased
to know that we Americans, 229 years
later, still devote everything to God and
His word. While other countries rapidly
break down discriminatory laws against
homosexuals, we remain steadfast in
our pursuit of morality and holiness.
While China and South Korea make
strides in stem-cell research, we stand
emboldened in our resolve that a fertil-
ized egg is a human life, so precious
that leftover blastocysts from in-vitro
fertilizations deserve to be discarded as
medical waste instead of being used to
progress scientific inquiry. It often feels
like we're being thrown back into the
theocratic Middle Ages, where every
nuance of life is scrutinized under the
narrow microscope of Biblical interpre-
tation.
America is a smorgasbord of varying
political, cultural and religious beliefs.
It is this diversity that makes it increas-
ingly important to respect the First
Amendment and keep religion a private
affair and government a public one.
The mixture of religion and govern-
ment creates an atmosphere in which
non-Christians and secular individuals
are tacitly marginalized for their lack of
faith in the "true" religion. When Presi-
dent Bush and other political figures
use their religion as a springboard to
coax social change, it becomes inher-
ently proselytizing in nature and serves
nothing but a naked interest in reaf-
firming that America is a "Christian"
nation. The problem, however, is that
we aren't any more a Christian nation
than a beef stir-fry is just composed of
green peppers and a dash of salt. We are
black and white, rich and poor, Jain-
ist and Jew; the current America, in a
sense, is the quintessential definition of
diversity.
Certainly, the line that separates
church and state has been blurred. The
blurring is so culturally ingrained that
it took the Supreme Court three months
to decide whether having the Ten Com-
mandments outside the Texas State

nough
Capitol is constitutionally permissible.
After months of nail-biting suspense,
the court announced that such a display
was constitutionally OK. The 5-4 ruling
in the Van Orden v. Perry case hinged
on the assertion that a monument of the
Ten Commandments "represent[s] ...
several strands of the State's political
and legal history." Come again? Where
can we find a link between Texan his-

K
K

tory and Moses bringing down the tab-
lets from Mt. Sinai? Moreover, how can
the Court possibly reconcile the First
Amendment's declaration that "Con-
gress shall make no law respecting the
establishment of religion" and a six-foot
monument outside the Texan Court-
house that that declares in bold lettering
"I am the LORD thy God"?
The close margin of Van Orden, just
like many other similar Supreme Court
decisions, showcases just how divided
our government is in its interpreta-
tion of the First Amendment. These
close 5-4 decisions usually hinge on
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's notori-
ous swing vote. The recent resignation
of O'Connor is far more troublesome
than Chief Justice William Rehnquist's
expected retirement; it foreshadows a
not-too-distant future in which all three
American branches of government are
saturated with a kind of Bible-thump-
ing conservatism that wants to bring
the world back to the moral and fiercely
patriotic zeitgeist of the 1950s.
Perhaps I am being an unreasonable
in my analysis thus far. I hope so. Last
night as I watched the fireworks, in the
back of my mind I wondered whether
pieces of the Civil Rights or Women's
Suffrage movements will be rolled
back in the next few years. And whether
our kids will be taught about mutations
and evolution or learn about Intelligent
Design, which supports the theory of
an "intelligent" or divine creator. Dan
Schuster, a columnist for The Michigan
Daily, recently wrote that the University
should seek "qualified and experienced
conservative professors in a broad out-
reach program." I'd like to modify this
idea a bit: Instead of an outreach pro-
gram, what about a legislator-profes-
sor exchange program? By swapping a
few hardcore liberals from their Lec-
turer II positions in the political science
department with some conservatives in
the legislative branch, we can balance
out the lack of free-thinking liberals in
Congress and the shortage of conserva-
tives in academia.
Stephens is a Residential College senior.

've always
assumed senior
citizens were
more inclined to get
unduly upset than
the rest of us. My
assumption was
based on a number
of stories about dis-
tant relatives and
family friends, including two couples who
came to America on the boat together,
even lived in the same neighborhood
for 30 years, but stopped talking to each
other after one failed to saya proper hello
at a dinner party. When one of the hus-
bands died, the other couple was refused
entrance at the door of his funeral.
More recently, my grandmother - the
most compassionate and understanding
person in the world until around the time
those Social Security checks started arriv-
ing in the mail - demonstrated a typical
event in the life of a senior citizen:
"La Grange Village Hall, how can I
help you?"
"They haven't picked up my tree
branches yet," my grandmother said in
her thick German accent. She didn't wait
for a response. "Why haven't they picked
up my branches? My grandson wants to
cut my lawn but he can't because they still
haven't picked up my branches."
"Let me transfer you," the recep-
tionist said.
"Department of Forestry," a man
answered.
"There's no Department of Forestry in
La Grange," she said. "Areyou people try-
ing to trick me?"

"Ma'am, there actually ... "
"There aren't even any forests in La
Grange," she said and hung up.
So what, you're saying, your grand-
mother's crazy. Whose isn't?But wait, the
plot thickens.
Like most Americans, I get most of
mynews fromthe University's portal site,
www.umich.edu. Just yesterday, I was
perusing the stories (University President
Mary Sue Coleman's in China, robots
can walk and balance like humans) when
I came across an item that piqued my
interest: Older people are better at pick-
ing their battles.
It's not very often that you read a head-
line that completely reverses your precon-
ceived notions about something. You read
something like that and "SaddamHussein
friendly, enjoys raisin bran" in the same
day, and you realize that it's time to re-
evaluate the way you look at the world.
The study, conducted by the Universi-
ty's Institute of Social Research, claims
that younger people react more aggres-
sively to conflict than older people.
Exactly the opposite of what
I'd thought.
I assumed my meandering experience
was simply incorrect. The researchers
must be right. The ISR has a head start
on me when it comes to this sort of thing.
So for exactly three hours I believed its
survey wasn't skewed - until my father
came home and told me a story about his
day as a mail carrier.
The story was about a 97-year-old man
on his route who he had known for years.
The man and my father had formed a
unique friendship. For example, my father

The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, July 5, 2005 - 5
AS. Huh?
.ARL STAMPFL ONE-SIDED CONVER SATIONS

sacrificed days off to take himto the track.
Inreturn,everytime"TheGodfather"was
on television, the man called our house to
alert us, even after the DVDs came out.
The man lives in an apartment build-
ing for older people. A couple of months
ago, he left his water running in the
bathroom all night. The man in the unit
below him, a Vietnam vet, called to tell
him. The man said, "No, it's not, and
don't ever call here again." Two minutes
later, the water shut off.
Another conflict between the two men
ensued. My father, the building's unof-
ficial mediator, advised the first man to
apologize. The first man said he did, but
the Vietnam vet said he hadn't. When my
father approached the first man to tell him
this, he accused my dad of calling him a
liar.
All right, my father said, Ill just let it
blow over.
Two days later, he found a note from
the first man in the mailbox. It read some-
thing like this:
Please don't talk to me anymore.
You called me a liar, and you don't
respect me.
P.S. My family hates you too.
I'm not saying the survey is totally
flawed - I have great respect for the ISR
- butI am wondering where they found
all these perfectly amicable elderly peo-
ple. Maybe they can pass their names on
to me. After all, someone needs to teach
my grandmother some manners.
Stampflis a Dailyfall/winter administra-
tion beat reporter. He can be reached at
kstampfl@uimich.edu.

Home for the summer holiday
ALEXANDRA JONES NCEC \EST P1 SUNE Pt E PRE AM

For those Uni-
versity stu-
dents who
don't live within an
hour's drive of Ann
Arbor, you're miss-
ing out on a sum-
mertime ritual that
collegestudents have
practiced for centu-
ries: coming home for vacation. Happily,
the semi-annual practice of returning to
the bosom of whatever burg you fled in
favor of the glittering metropolis on the
Huron we all love so well coincides with
two of the best holidays for partying and
drinking - Christmas and Independence
Day - thereby easing the transition from
being an independent, consenting adult
to being a member of a family that will
inevitably be crazier than you remember.
Even those of us who have scored a
bitchin' internship or planned a trip to an
exotic, non-Anglophonic locale for fun/
study abroad/volunteer work usually have
to spend a week or two, if not longer, in the
presence of our parents and siblings. These
family members typically still inhabit the
homes and towns in which we "grew up"
- that is, endured the four-year-longrmicro-
cosmic hell that is high school, learned how
to bullshit those saps at the Admissions
Office and began experimenting with the
various illicit practices and substances
we've become very well acquainted with
now that there's no one to use the "not while
you're under my roof' line.

I'm pleased to inform you that I'm typ-
ing these words from my old bedroom
- which my parents, typical empty-
nesters that they are, have converted into
an office - in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I'm the sort of person who ran like hell
from her hometown after graduating high
school, keeping in touch with two or three
close friends and telling everyone else to
fuck off - let's just say I don't make it
back here too often, so it always takes a
little getting used to when I do. I'd rather
not spend the last week of my break from
Ann Arbor reading hate e-mail, so here's
a relatively innocuous list of ways to max-
imize freedom and minimize trauma on
your visits back home.
Spend some quality time with your
family. Yeah, I know - I just said "mini-
mize trauma." Trust me, I spent most of
my formative years avoiding QT with the
fam, mostly because my mom's idea of
fun includes playing board games from
the '80s or going to church. But if you're
only around them for a few days, your
family can actually seem sort of ... pleas-
ant. The best way to show them you care?
Make them a really nice dinner. Chances
are they're too busy to cook extravagant
meals for themselves very often, and as
an added bonus, it'll make you look like
a responsible individual. In my case, it's
the only way I can get my family to eat
vegetarian dishes.
Stopby your old haunts. I'm sure that
a lot of you will be carousing with your
old group of friends when you visit home,

so, uh, have fun with that. My friends were
all smart enough to get out of the South,
so there's seldom a time we're all within
driving distance of each other. Even if you
can't get your old crew together to drink
Boone's Farm and swipe neighborhood
lawn ornaments in the dead of night (or
whatever you used to do), you can revisit
some of the places you'd always hang out
to get that warm, fuzzy, tenth-grade feel-
ing. For instance, I went to the thrift store,
the library (where I spent many a Friday
night), the thrift store, the art museum, the
flea market and, uh, that other thrift store.
Good times, great oldies.
Do something you were never able
to do back in high school. For most of us,
this pretty much means buying booze. Uh,
legally.
Relax. It's a vacation, after all.
The way I see it, if you're gonna be
home, you might as well take advantage
of all the perks that living at home, even
temporarily, can offer. Think back to a
time before the thought of grad school
- or college, for that matter - loomed in
the not-too-distant future, to a time when
school was easy (worksheets!) and week-
ends were reserved for doing whatever the
hell you wanted. I'd roll out of bed long
after the rest of my time zone had eaten
lunch. That's one aspect of being home
that I can more than tolerate.
Jones is a Dailyfall/winter associate
arts editor. She can be reached at
almajo@umich.edu.

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