double-digit 08

Our Mother the Mountain

First off, thanks to the random internet stranger who sent me a random gift card. I got a nice orange necklace. Note to all other random internet strangers: postcards are fine, anything else is overkill and vaguely unsettling. This is not intended to be a “mixed signal”, this is intended to be a very clear one.

This year has started slowly. I went to NH this weekend because I have a friend in Manchester and a friend in the media and we traipsed around looking at things. I still find the whole political machine strange and fascinating. I do prefer it this time as a more disinterested observer than I was in 04. So, I came down and listened to my pal Robert talk about all the wacky candidate hijinks going on that he was covering for NPR. I even made him a Wikipedia page while I was down there. We checked out the Google/YouTube party (briefly met Obamagirl) and messed around in the science center where the party was, stopped in at the Ron Paul bar and took a sign home which I used to amusing effect later. I don’t mean to be an annoying liberal arts major postmodernist about this, but it sort of amuses me that my neighbors probably have no idea if I’m really voting for Ron Paul or not.

That brings me to my next topic: going back to work. I love my jobs but there is something pleasant to me about having no real schedule and a surplus of cash, books and friends. However, that time seems to come in January when all I feel like doing is playing online Scrabble and drinking more coffee. So, going back to work after the holidays is usually great. I got in the pool, my boss took me out to lunch, I’m hammering out a few classes to teach in a few months, and my drop-in time was going swimmingly. I was apalled, then, when in the normal course of chitchatting about computers one of my students (adult, older woman) mentioned rather offhandedly that she thought that all illegal immigrants should be lined up and shot, apropos of nothing. I had been helping her learn to take photos of stuff so she could put them on Ebay and I just sat and stared at her. Another student offered at that moment that he was a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. I believe the segue was “while we’re talking about crazy ideas…” and showed her some website he’d been looking at (and I taught him how to type a URL into the box, I did). She looked at me with an almost smug expression and said “You’ve gotten pretty quiet.” and I replied that I wasn’t going to talk to her about that At All and we could move on or it would just stay quiet. I’m not sure if it was the right choice.

My last student and I just sat at her desk while all the noisemaking was going on. We’ve been helping her get the photos of her trip to China on to her ancient laptop running Windows ME. She’s Chinese, I believe. I don’t know if she was particularly annoyed or outraged at this outburst but I know that the whole situation made me wince and then wonder what the right thing to do was, or is?

What do you think?


  1. I’ll just share one thing in this regard, that will at first sound off topic.

    I used to own a bike helmet called the Skid Lid. After using it for a few years some biker enthusiast friends of mine spotted me wearing it, and told me that it was an old design, and that I could potentially get worse injuries wearing it than with no helmet (a new helmet was the best choice, of course).

    Several years later, I noticed folks wearing Skid Lids on the local bike trail, and I used to stop, and very politely say, excuse me, but did you know your helmet could be dangerous? I used to own one. Never met with anything but hostility. Not sure why. I’m generally not met with hostility. I stopped bothering trying to save people’s lives in this particular manner.

    I bring this up because people who are determined to say or do crazy things (by our lights) are also often extremely resistant to sense.

    There are these French books about how the Pentagon was bombed; that a plane didn’t strike it. Despite extensive refutation using photographic evidence collected by all manner of folks (not just official sources), a lot of people believe that the Pentagon was bombed (and the trade towers, too) in order to start a war.

    We had a lot of ways to start a war, none of them good, and none involved blowing our own stuff up.

  2. I was in Iowa during caucus time, and it was extremely weird to be there and not be caucusing. I babysat on caucus night itself, but the whole week was filled with stuff like going to breakfast with my friend and her grandmother and having my friend say, “Oh wow, there’s Chris Dodd. And Ted Danson.” It’s sort of cool, but mostly it’s like, “Why are all these people invading my greasy spoon?” And then I remembered that actually it’s not really mine anymore, since I don’t live there.

  3. I think it’s entirely appropriate to stare and be appalled at someone making such a remark. Casually suggesting the violent murder of millions of human beings – said executions to be carried out without due process, discussion or mercy, no less – is never really appropriate. As Glenn noted above, people with crazy ideas seldom change their minds, so shocked quiet (to display a suitably negative reception to the comment) and a polite (or stern) refusal to discuss the matter further were probably your best bet. Too bad you were in a professional setting instead of a personal one – I wish you had been free to give her the verbal smack-down she richly deserves!

  4. What she said IS horrifying. Working in a public library I’m sometimes (more than sometimes) confronted with people who make political comments I don’t agree with, of course. I usually look into their eyes, thinking (this has to be a joke) but realizing it’s not, I am silent. Most don’t pursue talking about it when faced with silence, but I liked your comment because she obviously was trying to get you to agree, or argue or…whatever.

  5. dude, i work for the Massachusetts State Police, so i know *exactly* what you mean, as i get to hear lovely comments like that all the time. i am the liberal sleeper cell in an otherwise “kill all the immigrants/minorities/gays/women/etc” environment.

  6. i don’t know if it was the *right* thing to do but the last time someone busted out with an “i think all those illegals should blahblahblah” remark, i replied with “yeah, you & every other David Duke wannabe”

    shut them up right quick – even made them blush, which was very satisfying

    (luckily they apparently knew who David Duke was/is)


    yeah, i know it didn’t solve anything but the term “illegal” makes me go for the throat – & by that i mean i feel provoked to humiliate & shame – i want the person using such a term to feel bad – to feel bad about themselves, to feel wrong – the inherently fascist meaning of the term “illegal,” the hate & xenophobia it encapsulates – i want it pulled out & exposed, in all its steaming horror – i want the person to know what kind of person they are choosing to be by using such a term – i want them to know that they are choosing hate & ignorance & brutality – and by doing so i want them to know that they can choose differently


    not saying you could do this at your job

    just sayin’

  7. My sister, faced with partner’s parents who had similar views, mentioned that Hitler had shared these ideas. A bit of a cliche, I know. In a personal situation one can do these sorts of things, but I feel that in a fairly informal work situation like the drop-in, to make it clear that you disagree and will not discuss it may well be the best policy – though it is particularly odd in the case of the 11th Sept theorist that your teaching had in a way led him to find information on the conspiracy theories. Unsettling – and possibly nothing one can do except be aware.