Saturday, May 30, 2009


Yesterday was Dawn's 47th birthday. Pretty good day, I think, all around. She said she wanted mostly help clawing our way out from under the piles of accumulated undone chores, financial arrangements, and household bidness obligations. We got out from under quite a bit of it in the past 10 days, so all is (more) well.

I should write about her, but I'll only do so indirectly, in my own reflecting on living with and trying to be a decent husband / brother-in-Christ / partner in life to her...

On the superficial level, I love the look she has these days, and am so proud to be seen with her in public.

My fifth grade Sunday School teacher, Mr. Redding, said that as we moved into junior high we needed to watch how we viewed and evaluated women. He said, more or less in these terms, that you would see a woman as she looks now, and not as she might look down the road, or as she is today, but not as she once looked. And of course you would only *see* how she *looks.* So you might say, especially of an older woman--he / we meant one past her early thirties (this was before "Desperate Housewives," 'cougars,' and "Stacy's Mom")--that she's not very beautiful. But her husband would reply, So you think, but you don't know her as I do.

Overall still in a fairly superficial, stereotyped vein, but not misogynistic, like many comments I grew up with were.

I think that while one definitely has natural "love language(s)," over time any and all expressions of love might be required, appropriate, might connect and convey effectively, in changing circumstances. So works of service and quality time were much more important this year than, say, gifts or listening as such.

So: some movie set in Italy, maybe "Il Postino" I don't know, I saw only once. The last scene shows an older (60ish) man walking down a hill with a group of variously-aged younger men from a hilltop wedding. I think I've mentioned this before. And he's just saying, So, when you know your wife, you will know what she deals with and what she does in her days. So if you know she will need a fire that day for washing, be sure the wood is cut to the right length and in place before she ever gets to the laundry. And if you know she will want...

Still in the mode of traditional roles, but deeply caring.

We are basically like the bald kid in the first "Matrix" movie. We don't really believe that there is a spoon. So I don't think we *try* to do things "outside the box," because I don't think we really (as opposed to psychologically or sociologically) believe that there is a box. We relate as seems best to us over time, in the context of our vows and of our overall commitment to Jesus first and to missional living.

And so where's that portrayed? Where's the good model of nontraditional, nonsuperficial, nonstereotyped relationships?



"Mr. & Mrs. Smith"? With handguns drawn over green beans? (We love the movie, but I am no Brad Pitt to Dawn's Angelina Jolie.)

Janis and Gareth in "Chef"? (Some of the very best contemporary marital dialogue anywhere, but they eventually get divorced in the end in the British tv series.)

So. Ahem. Role models?



And so we grope our way forward, with Wendell Berry's "The Country of Marriage" in one hand, numerous object lessons as to how not to do it all around, lovely examples of great relationships in cultural contexts other than our own all around, and prayer and (idiosyncratic?) biblical readings to undergird it all. She has entrusted over half her life to me, what a privilege and responsibility.

Happy Birthday, her.

Mortalia, the Muse of Gardening

So we got a plumbago and planted it.

I was wondering the whole time if it was named that because its blossom was just the color of a purple Winnebago.

I decided not to share my uncertainty with Dawn.

Amusing Evening Anecdote

The other night Letterman introduced a new comic, a Chinese immigrant with a very modest command of an American accent, named Joe Wong. He was hysterical. Talk about having your one chance in the big leagues and hitting a homer on your first at-bat.

Talking about getting married and having a kid: my car now has a Baby on Board sign. This is not so much of a warning as it is a threat. I have a screaming baby and a nagging wife, and I am no longer afraid to die.

Talking about buying a used car when he got here, with impossible-to-remove bumper stickers, one of which said "If you can't speak English, leave"--but he couldn't read it for the first year and a half he was here...

Must be on YouTube or hula by now.

A Fragment on the "Fragments"

This morning I biked over to It's a Grind and finished Kierkegaard's "Philosophical Fragments," 140 pages of defending Christianity against secular worldviews. In very sophisticated, witty writing.

In a way he is agreeing (with the German philosopher Hegel) that human life is determined by the fact that we live in time. But whereas Hegel thought that the reality of time means that human beings are first of all historical creatures--beings with a history and who are part of a larger history (and more or less invents the idea of evolution along the way...)--
Kierkegaard says that being temporal means first of all that we are temporary: that we live ever and only in the present--a constantly moving, transient present, to be sure, but a present that is present to us every time we decide or choose or think or act. So that The Moment--the "now"--is as, if not more, important to human life as the great drama of past and future is.

So our future, and our reading of the past, is "new every morning," as the psalm says, because we believe, decide, doubt, commit ourselves to some version of them each moment of each day. Like in marriage, I made one commitment on our wedding day, but it was a one-time commitment to make thousands and thousands of subsequent commitments every following day for unknown years. It was saying Yes, I will say yes every time the decision comes up, in small or large ways.

Furthermore, every generation is as contemporaneous with Jesus as those who lived with him in the flesh on earth, in that our decision for or against Him is no less immediate than theirs. A decision now is a decision now, regardless of when that "now" is. And if the original disciples had him to see for themselves whom we do not have, we have the whole historical unfolding of Christianity which they did not have.

And so the day for decision is always, as the Bible says, "Today."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reading about the World

Finished Immanuel Kant's short (45 pages) book "To Perpetual Peace," which was where the idea for the United Nations, the Geneva Conventions, and lots of other stuff originally came from. Amazing that he packs so much into such a short space, and that he foresees and imagines so much that has or could come to pass--and does so in 1795!

Basically he says that if there's an argument for people having a country, then there's an argument for countries having a super-country. If we need a government among ourselves, then governments need a government between themselves, and for some of the same reasons.


Opponents are better things to have than enemies, all other things being equal. Lawsuits are better ways to fight than fighting, all other things being equal. Competition to push everyone to achieve their best is better than competition to eliminate the existence of the losers, all other things being equal.
Cooperation is not only better than competition, all other things being equal, but it is necessary for there to be healthy, life-giving competition at all. (Can't play football til everyone agrees where the sidelines and goallines are.)

Of course there's a "government is the problem" school in the US right now. Government is certainly A problem--as is big business, and any other large social institution: the church, the public schools, the Catholic schools, the hospitals, the prisons, etc. But it is not THE problem. (Human evil is, ultimately.) The idea that government is just a bad thing is actually a Marxist conclusion, which makes it funny that it is associated with Reagan. (But then Lewis said extremists of right and left are hardly distinguishable in the end.)

The bottom line is that people who gripe about the government do so under the umbrella and standing on the shoulders of the government. Like it or not, if you are suspicious of vaccines, it's only because the government has implemented vaccines so successfully that we and our children live in a place generally healthy enough to think we can get by without vaccines. If we didn't have them, we'd be screaming for them, and not allowing that other parent's kid to come to school til they got their vaccine--which is where that law came from in the first place.

If you hate the public schools, it is only because we had the social benefits that come from four or so generations of on-balance successful universal public schooling that we're in an economic position to talk about alternatives. If schooling were all home, there'd be a movement among homeschooled kids who were now adults to insist that our kids get the best, most professional teachers rather than caring amateurs. If it were all private, we'd be far more money in the hole as a society than if we just properly funded public education, and the underclass would be even worse educated, because it wouldn't be educated at all, since they couldn't afford it.

If you think private charity would fix all this, think again. The US defense department spends in six weeks what all the charities of all kinds--religious, community, educational, health, everything--spend in a year in this country. The budget to provide basic health, education, and social work care to people in need is probably ten times, taking state and local moneys into account as well as federal, as whatever is given charitably in this country. When we start tithing, we can start griping about charitable institutions not running benevolences in this country.

The car I drive to the restaurant I eat at, and the food I eat at the restaurant, while I gripe about taxes or government decisions or whatever, are both safe because the government requires businesses to make them be. Otherwise, plenty of businesses would cut corners at your and my cost in life and health, and we'd be back in Sinclair Lewis days. Regulation was popularly and morally demanded a hundred years ago, and now we're going to have to rejustify and reinvent it all. But the antigovernment crusade almost got us back there, robber barons (Halliburton, big pharma, hedge funds), unregulated products (peanut butter!), no safety net (1/4 of the country with no health insurance!) and all.

Am I an enthusiast for government? No. Rather, I'm annoyed by historical ignorance and astounding political naivete. Almost everything which other people around the world and down through history have striven for works for us, pretty smoothly. Any idea how, exactly, public sanitation happens? routine police work? tax collection? Delivery of gasoline to gas stations? We're oblivious, but only can be because these things work generally well. If they didn't, we'd all know it, and be up in arms about it, like a Dickens or a Jane Addams.

Government is good and bad, necessary and at the same time no substitute for my own freedom or my own responsibility. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty, at any scale, from your local congregation to the European Union. A United Nations with teeth--with a judicial and police system that worked--would be all the more susceptible to the temptations of absolute power. That's why the American system of open transparency (no government secrets in the interests of "national security"--i.e., so I won't get caught and can do whatever I want), checks and balances (no holding without trial, no unilateral decision-making or implementation of laws), and federalism is such a genius thing. It accommodates both our worth as people created in God's image (and so deserving of freedom and dignity) and our status as people fallen into evil (and so not deserving ever of getting everything our own way).

So Kant has turned out to be a pretty smart guy in political affairs after all. So much to apply to the news today from it. Good book.

Meetings with Deluxe Intransitive Vampires and Other Denizens of the Dictionary

We have a road cd that, among many other things, has several covers of the old, burlesque-y song "Fever."

Two things.

First of all, who in the world wrote this song? How do you come up with lines like "Now you've listened to my story / Here's the lesson I have made / Chicks were born to give you fever / Be it Fahrenheit or Centigrade"? Amazing.

Second: in I think the verse about Romeo and Juliet (not making this up), the final line of the verse is "thou giveth fever." Okay; amusingly faux-Shakespeare. More amusing: in the Michael Buble cover, he corrects the grammar. The -eth ending is third-person singular, and "thou," which is the subject of the verb and should govern its person and number, is the old *second*-person pronoun. So he sings the syntactically correct "thou givest fever." I was the only one laughing, but then that happens a lot.

The grammatically-aware must take our enjoyments where we can find them. See the great book "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" for further on this point (as well as the book whose title is the inspiration for the title of this post). Oh, and also my all-time fave New York Times crossword puzzle clue: three letters, "Art today." The answer: "are."

Self-Sufficient, Whim-Driven Androids

Just finished Alisdair MacIntyre's "Dependent Rational Animals," a fabulous book, relatively brief (165 pp.), and I think readable by non-philosophers. He's a little too correct in his grammar (there are some things up with which he will not put), but he mostly avoids jargon and footnotes and insider references.

The book is about how we have to take not only our rights and responsibilities and opportunities as members of society into account, but we also have to have an approach to rights and responsibilities and opportunities that covers all the facts about our social life. For instance, babies can't vote, nor should they be able to. Neither can felons, the insane, those declared incompetent, and so on.

But where do they fit? We don't want anyone speaking for us when we can speak for ourselves, but what about those who can't? Well, they can't; why say any more about it? Well, because DNR orders and living wills and powers of attorney are indications that there are times when any of us--in many (most?) cases all of us--will be so incompetent to exercise our rights, fulfill our responsibilities, or take advantage of our opportunities, that we depend on other (reliable!) people to look after our best interests.

If you spend your life looking out for number one, what happens when you cannnot do that, and you depend on someone else *not* looking after *their* number one, but after you---who are their number two, or twentysixth, or fourth surgery of the day, or whatever?

So we have to have and exercise with each other not only the "adult supervision" the president has justly called for in our responsible-citizen lives, we also have to have literal adult supervision whenever there is real dependence--illness, childhood, disability, senility, in cases of compromised competencies of all kinds.

To me this ties in to the African notion of community. One criticism African thinkers make of the West is that, having let capitalism run amok and not only run our economy but our minds and hearts as well, we only value people for their productivity, and thus only value them for their productive potential or track-record. But of course infants are not productive people, the senile are not, the mentally ill are not, and so on. The guy telling me this said, So of course you guys warehouse your old people and have bigtime trouble with unwanted pregnancies.

Aristotle defined the human being as a rational animal. MacIntyre here is modifying that to say that we are (inter-)dependent rational animals. Good book.

Shampoo Planet--with apologies to Douglas Coupland

Yeah, so my current use-any-bottle-of-whatever-someone-else-left-here shampoo is called Waves of Envy. I'm pretty sure it's called that because anyone using this it is instantly envious of other people who get to use *good* shampoos on their hair.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Still can't figure out the link thingies.

here's the link:


DeMarkAtion: Let's get happy

Let's get happy

If you have not been to this site brought to you by the government of Bhutan, it's a must. The Gross National Happiness is intended as a replacement for gross national product, which the king of the country a few years ago found an awfully thin and materialistic measure of a country's health. Love it.

Of the 72 (!) factors quantified to calculate one's GNH , my faves include "number of persons per room" living in your house, "walking distance to healthcare centre," "you wish you were not part of your family," and "frequency of playing traditional games." Of course LGBC vets would be among the higher-scoring Americans on "number of days spent annually attending community festivals"...

Survival Musings

So a big building housing the Dallas offices of the huge multinational accounting firm had three of its five-foot-high letters fall off the building. Whatever injuries ensued were worth the outcome: the building now proudly says "Ernst and Yo"--which is either the result of a merger with an Asian accounting firm, or it's post-Madoff, post-meltdown accounting firms trying to change their image and get more "chill."