Sunday, September 30, 2007

Making Good Use of an Afternoon

Musings on a Sunday afternoon...

My parents are 157 years old between the two of them, and live an hour's drive away. Dawn's mom lives with us. That's kind of amazing. What a privilege that Dawn and I are near our parents--both geographically and emotionally--at this stage of things.

What else? I am looking forward to reading a lot in the next two weeks, while Dawn and Diane are away. Maybe I will get to write as well.

I've discovered, which looks like a very nice resource, with primary sources, reference works, etc., all reliable without being too academic.

I'm just finishing Purgatorio in my second-in-my-life reading of the Divine Comedy. I'm trying to appreciate Dante for what he is, which I have not heretofore done.

I want to pick a skill or two to develop over the next ten years. Any suggestions? (Remember, I'm 47, so not bungee-jumping and the like, please.)

Peace to all those who love late afternoons, from a morning lover.

Friday, September 28, 2007

flowers, with feathers

Woody Allen famously misquoted Emily Dickinson by saying that hope wasn't the thing with feathers, as she had said; it was his brother, and he needed to get him to a specialist.

Well, feathery things that are hopeful and sort of nuts have been getting to me lately. The guy who helpfully pulls his girlfriend's shirt down in back when she in her lowrise jeans leans over. Women running with big dogs. An Asian man of dubious English skills working very hard to understand and be kind to a young woman who is vigorously speaking to him about something. A bus driver radiating calm as someone on the edge of freakdom jabbers away at him in the front of the bus. A kindergarten girl, unaware of feminism or sexism, sitting confidently in a princess dress playing a video game defeating bad guys.

I don't know. I've often said here that part of my job in this world is seeing signs of revival in hell. So this is all easily dismissed as sentimentality, a la the blowing plastic grocery sack in "American Beauty." I suppose it is at least partly that, and is maybe entirely that...unless something in me is right to respond to signs of uncrushed goodness. It's not like my "Life Is Beautiful"; I and almost all I know are by world and historical standards fantastically favored. But the clarity of sight for icky things that comes when you do not fog your vision with some emotional / mental anaesthetic or another, does not require you to be a Rwanda survivor in order to immerse you in cynicism and sadness. And while there is more help than this, and needs to be more, nevertheless I think it's important for me not to lose the ability to see even just the widespread presence of partial efforts at goodness by all kinds of people, sometimes right in the midst of all the gack.

It is very true at this stage of America's history that If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. But I need to remind myself pretty regularly that it's also true that there are flowers that can grow in deserts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The Hebrew word for "man" is *ish.* So I'll call the study of the male self's self-concept as male "Self-Ish-Ology."

If we rule out what can't be essentially male, we're left with an interesting question.

It can't be essentially male to prefer pants to skirts--kilts.

It can't be essentially male to avoid cosmetics and facial decoration--Maoris, Aztec rulers.

It can't be essentially male to dislike Judy Garland--Frank Sinatra.

Contra Fight Club, it's perfectly permissible for a male to know the meaning of the word "duvet"--see Louis XIV, XV, and Versailles Palace.

It doesn't belong to maleness to be macho, since on the whole I think pride / honor / reputation / insult fixations are adolescent, and it is not required of adult males that they be essentially adolescent.

It doesn't belong to maleness to be sex-driven, since the most guy guys around are driven not by sex or even money but, as Galadriel says, by power. (Napoleon, for all I know, really loved Josephine, but...Henry VIII was a comprehensive womanizer so far as I can tell, but that wasn't what made him a powerful Tudor king. And so on.

Fighting isn't essential to maleness; see under macho--it's an adolescent and unimaginative response to frustration, finitude, etc. I'm not speaking of actual individual or group self-defense here, but then that is a rare need in a civilized country, even if half-romantically we (think we!) wish it weren't.

Competitiveness? Women seem to be trainable to it enough, and maybe that's because there's not a difference in the aptitude for or inclination to it, but just in the mode of its expression (Devil Wears Prada, Dangerous Liaisons). Men seen as leaders, from quarterbacks to conquerors to religious holy men, enlist enormous cooperation, even if they put *that* cooperation in the service of competition with something or someone else.

Male preference for the friendship company of other men is pretty anthropologically universal, but then this kind of "same-sex preference" (unconnected, except rarely, with anything sexual) is a trait shared with women, who prefer the friendship company of other women. But on the other hand, companionate marriage and egalitarian civil society are maybe showing that it does not eviscerate the maleness of men to enjoy or even prefer the friendship company of women, and vice-versa.

And so...what? Masculinity and femininity are distinguishable from maleness and femaleness, maybe. That's to be pursued. However that turns out, though, what is common humanity? to be commonly human, but male? to be Self/Ish?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

taking exception to exceptionalism

When we make exceptions, we ought mostly to make them for other people, not for ourselves.

Trivial example: you expect other people to be nice and not rude in small, everyday ways around house and office. And you demand this of yourself; the fact that you have your period or had a crappy day at the office is no justification for wailing on the innocent, unsuspecting party at home: the kid, the friend, the spouse. You should put your own stuff in perspective and rise above that. And we expect this of others, generally. But we do, and I think should, make exceptions sometimes: oh, she didn't mean anything by that, she's worried about her dad; I know he was rude, but he's under this huge deadline. So while of course I'm not arguing to only be nice to other people and beat up on yourself, I am saying, given our tendency to make excuses for ourselves, blame others, avoid accountability, whine, and so on, the general presumption ought to be to make an exception (not a rule, of course) for the behavior and attitude of others, but not for your own.

We know this. By the end of high school or one's first job, one hopes.

But the current administration, the only one even remotely likely to be one I could even sort of support on a whole host of ethical issues, has treated 9-11 and our superpower status and our heritage as the Good Guy on the Right Side and the "fact that we're at war" (which we're not: Iraq is not a war, it's a diversion, a party favor for a rich country that can send some guys to fight small countries with one hand, while basically we're just watching tv) as carte blanche to create an exception for us (really, for our government) for *everything*.
Everyone else has to play by the rules, but not us. Everyone else has to have transparent, public trials of those they find threatening to their regime, but we don't. It's wrong for other people to detain people without trial or contact; but not us. It's a sign of their evilness for them to not tell their people the truth, but it's a sign of our special responsibility as protectors of our people that we do not do so. They shouldn't engage in assassinations, but we can. It's bad of them to beat people and not observe the Geneva Conventions, but we're not bound by them.

And what is happening? The creeps of the world have caught on. They may be evil, but they aren't all stupid. First Putin and then every other lowlife in the world now uses Bush-Rove-Rumsfeld-Cheney (BRRC) logic to justify their disregard for the international order, their contempt for due process, their snubbing of world opinion, their rudeness to one another, and their sweeping away of democratic rights and liberties. This is of course because they recognize that exceptionalism, when made the rule for one country, is a general denial of law and rights, which are based on the idea that no one is exception except very exceptionally, i.e., very rarely, briefly, and limitedly.

But the BRRC group were fundamentally anarchists: they denied that they were accountable to anyone or that any law applied to them except the ones they made to justify what they were going to do anyway. It is not only lawless, it is deeply contemptuous of the rule of law, and utterly dismissive of the basic mindset of constitutionalism. More than a little ironic from people who use the rhetoric of strict constructionism. They mean it in another sense: I will construct the laws I want, and they will constitute justice for everyone else. But this is the argument of Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic, and Machiavelli, and every dictator literate enough to bother justifying his actions in history. This is not just a reversal of Clinton; or the revenge of 60s conservatives who resented being outshouted on Vietnam, although it is those things. It is a reversal of Franklin Roosevelt, and indeed of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt, of the whole 20th century *except* insofar as US military and economic power compared to other nations gave us, they thought, a belated chance to have a 19th-century-like global empire. But it's more; it's monarchism, and of a Stuart or even Plantagenet sort. Check out the Brit's site on the Magna Carta. There's stuff Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas want to do, in keeping with Gonzalez and Cheney, that the barons at Runnymede wouldn't have put up with.

As an evangelical Christian deeply disturbed by, even if not always sure what to do about, abortion on demand, gayism and sexual / relational chaos generally, the warehousing of the elderly, online porn, the exclusion of religion from public life and schooling, the intellectual hegemony of naturalistic secularism, and many other developments which have, more and less, as much appeal to me as to anyone in this generation of vapors, I've got to say, these BRRC radicals, who used Bush as an all too willing front, and now as fall guy, really deeply scare me. It feels like Rome in the first century BC, as guys like Cicero and Cato feel the republic slipping away from beneath them.

We need leaders who unequivocally accept Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, stare decisis (starting with the rulings of Marshall and Jay), the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter--and, oh, say, the Ten Commandments while we're at it. Why do we even have to say this sort of thing at this late date? And evangelicals were duped into helping engineer this coup de regime.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Heard some disturbing things this morning.

One was President Bush's speech before the UN. The rhetorical strategy of tying everything he said to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was perfectly appropriate, even if his administration-long ignoring of and opposition to both civil and human rights makes it all ring a bit hollow. But the constant "the UN musts" are bound to fall on deaf ears when his administration has been contemptuously dismissive of not just the UN (hello, John Bolton), but any and every multilateral effort throughout his terms. Even as he is saying this, he is refusing to participate in the world discussion on global warming, and having his own, pretend-international, pretend-conference, on pretend-global-warming. That the UN must intervene here or there rings hollow coming from someone who has been supremely arrogantly unconcerned about international opinion, international cooperation (except in the form of "agreeing with me"), and multilateral operations. How can a statement that we need to do it "for the kids," as he argued at several points, be heard as anything but patently hypocritical coming in the very week in which he vetoes universal children's health care in his own country? And the "we're all in this together against terrorists" is just sad coming from someone who *had* everyone together against terrorists in the fall of 2001 and the invasion of Afghanistan (against which we did well, except that we should have declared proper war), and squandered and squashed that good will in a political and economic rich-guys-club lark-cum-obsession in Iraq. He is a divider at home; "we" is not a word in his vocabulary that has extensional content.

Which leads to point two.

Why is the only guy who's likely to even appreciate, let alone do anything about, anything even remotely close to my own quirky views on reasonable censorship (like .xxx for porn sites), abortion (parental notification (not, probably, consent) for minors, first trimester only, mandatory abortion / pregnancy support counseling, strengthened paternity laws), assisted suicide (that would be a no), and strengthening marriage laws (like Louisiana's experiment with covenant marriage), also the guy who has
1. taken a country with a surplus and a roaring economy and created a monster deficit; created huge new bureaucracies; and priming the economy for recession and relative global decline;
2. taken a country with huge bureaucracies at least in theory concerned with helping people or defending their rights, and slashed those bureaucracies (student loans and grants, children's health insurance, legal aid for the poor, indigent health care), and created instead monster bureaucracies (homeland security) concerned with managing (not eliminating) fear, invading privacy, and denying basic civil rights;
3. taken a united country fighting over the right to claim the middle ground and, following up on Newt and company, who started this social disease, turned it into a country which is psychologically sharply divided, doesn't believe in the persuasive power of reason, sees compromise as pointless and treacherous, is contemptuous of other views, denies any kind of accountability, and is essentially lawless in its faux "law and order" stance;
4. taken the world's best military, wasted it totally in Iraq, and employed mercenaries for the first time in any significant numbers since, oh, the British employed the Hessians--oh, yeah; the British weren't on our side then; so, since ever;
5. appointed justices who might well hem in roe vs. wade, but who also, and for Cheney and Rove et al, much more importantly, support invasion of privacy, denial of basic human, never mind guaranteed civil, rights, the imperial presidency, and big business uber alles;
6. taken a country everyone wanted to come to and so acted as to give credence and plausibility to people offering other options, some of them having to do with 'we also can deny people's rights in our own way'--Putin and China and Chavez--and others on out towards nutcake (hamas's victory, al-qaeda, ayatollic Iran);
5. taken his vaunted I'm the decider role seriously enough that he has been no thinker, no listener, no persuader, no consensus-builder, no converser, no learner, but just a decider, and thus a divider par excellance.

Which, alas, brings up point three, the Ahmadinejad talk at Columbia. That leftists or intellectual conservatives or academics sought to maintain their cred (as...what? tough guys? "patriots"?) by insulting Ahmadinejad just shows how thoroughly Rove / de Lay have won. As Jon Stewart pointed out recently in a piece called The Scorn Supremacy, to learn nothing from the Bush debacle but how to be as contemptuous of him and his as he and his are of absolutely everyone else is not to have learned very much, or much very helpful. The only way out is through respect for one another, however undeserved, not contempt, which is so easy.

So...pray for *all* those--very much including Bush--in any kind of authority.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

an ounce of more is worth a pound of fooling

Hello. Thought I was gone? Not so lucky. Back again. and doubtless to be linked to my Facebook page. Nonsense all, on one level, but communicative nonsense, so worthwhile, then.

I'm teaching 5 sections of 4 courses for 6 sections' credit. Everyone clear?

I'm at El Centro College in downtown Dallas (a block from the Kennedy assassination site) full-time for the second year in a row now. This fall I have a double section of world religions, one of ethics, and two of introduction to philosophy. Most funly, I am doing a social and political philosophy course for the first time, and for the first time at this college in perhaps 15 years. I'm also supervising two (soon to be 3 or 4) adjuncts, teaching more philosophy and religion. Plus a philosophy club and college, and soon (hopefully) one at Beth's high school. I'm trying out in intro the anthology I put together this summer, called "Sophie's Reader," so it's fun to see how people react to that.

The arc of this narrative is that I get evaluated for permanent hire, the community college (not-quite-) equivalent of tenure, this upcoming spring. And I'm trying to work as much as humanly possible to get Dawn some relief and to start paying down on our debts.

Otherwise, I hang out at the med school still, though less than I want to. I love Angela and Curran living behind us. I'll officiate at Vince and Sarah's wedding in a few weeks. And I taught at LGBC just this past Saturday. I miss many people, starting with Jonathan, but look forward to FallFest (the 14th annual) and Christmas.

So much for updating.