Saturday, October 31, 2009


Dawn and I got to check out a b & b called the Old Rock House in Hico, Texas, southwest of Ft. Worth, this week. It's at B & b's can definitely be too sweet, too cutesy, too country kitsch. This wasn't. It was great: stone walls, amazing woodwork, old plank wood floors, acreage and trees, privacy--plus the Super S Foodstore only a few minutes' walk away (an advantage pointed out by locals).

Getaways to me are, among other things, one way to keep from getting to the point where you just want to tell the other people in your life to get away from you. I don't know why change of venue leads to change of heart, of attitude, of atmosphere, but it often does. Not that it's a panacea, of course: moving to a new city still involves bringing yourself with you, the same self that struggled with XYZ in the previous city. If you can't do it here, you usually will have trouble doing it there, too. But sometimes just the facticity of geography, the bare brute fact of a move, can be life-changing. And so while getaways don't typically solve problems underlying relationships (and what relationship, marital or otherwise, doesn't acquire problems over time?), they really can be a fresh start, a breather anyway.

We had fun.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I often use marriage as an example of a widespread (philosophical) truth, namely, that just because two people use the same word doesn't mean that they mean the same thing by it. ("Hey, baby, yes, I'm totally committed to, tonight...")

(Parenthetically: Ceylon tea in the, back to my post:)

Standing at the bus stop this morning, I had a itsy bitsy witsy realization along the marriage lines.

If extramarital sex is for you, or your cultural niche, no big deal, just fine, etc., then surely premarital sex is not going to be a big deal.

But if you're already having sex with someone, and living together, what kind of commitment are you asking of each other when you ask to get married? Although this may not be your intention, it might be that, in terms of your own and / or the other person's frame of reference, you're actually to be understood as asking for a commitment to a wedding. No wonder people, resistant to this, often think of it as "only a ceremony."

Of course there are many reasons people engage in (extramarital) sex, and many attitudes to it. And more reasons yet for why people who are married do not engage in (marital, anyway) sex. So I'm not suggesting this covers all or even most cases, only many cases at least in the US (maybe Europe and the British dominions too).

Still, I do think that this one particular dynamic might be even more the case if
1. you're not opposed to, but just have never seen a long-term, til-death-do-us-part relationship, or at least never seen one you thought as relevant to you at all, and / or if
2. having a baby is not associated by you with being married, and / or if
3. you view decisions as choices, and choices as (arbitrary) choices among options, and thus view "continuing to have options" as necessary to "continuing to be a person who is a decision-maker," i.e., a(n arbitrarily) free adult--i.e., if you think of yourself basically as a consumer.

Again, there are a thousand thousand nuances here in particular cases, and far more than one cultural development going on in America simultaneously. One of the problems with talking seriously about issues like this is that with 300+ million people, just about any generalization you might want to make is going to be true, at least among some subset of Americans, and way false of large groups of others. I certainly don't mean to reduce the existential depth of anybody's particular working through issues like this; quite the contrary, my bus stop light bulb came from reflecting on students' attitudes and questions.

Of course I've thought for a long time that the deep misunderstanding of symbols in American culture makes all of this unnecessarily hard for people to get. On the one hand, from the side of 'Does my behavior make me thoughtful about anything?', if sex isn't a meaningful act, because "we all just know" that actions aren't meaningful, then of course you're not going to think there is a connection between it and anything meaningful in one's life. If you do ask about meaning, one common worldly answer might be some fuzzy thing about emotions or a hard one about evolutionary priorities.

On the other hand, from the 'does sex have any meaning and if it does, what?', if vaginal intercourse isn't the symbol of complete commitment, what is? Manual? Oral? Anal? Group? It's a pretty universal view of cultures and religions that whatever else one thinks about sex, whatever else it is and however else one views other sexual behaviors, vaginal intercourse in marriage is somehow the sign or seal of that marriage--not, normally, that intercourse makes you married, but that marriage appropriately calls for intercourse to express its reality in physical form: that it is marriage enacted in a symbol, encapsulating it the way that sharing the dishes and the bills and the vacuuming and so forth are marriage in routine action.

A symbol is a meaning "thrown together--sym-bol" with a word, object, or action. Since we humans are ourselves symbols--meaning-filled bodies--symbolism is at the core of who we are and what we do. I think that's among the best ways to think about sex, and sex ethics.


So it's coming up on three years that we've had Mom.

And among many other realizations I realized: only once in all that time have I given Mom's meds to the dog. And I'm not sure but I don't think I've given Dixie's meds (in peanut butter!) to Diane even once.


You just know that there are memory-enhanced dogs and cats all over America from people, especially memory-impaired people medicating themselves, switching the meds.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I am pretty concerned about the latest report of a 10% decline in newspaper subscriptions. I do not believe bloggers, let alone twitterers, can effectively substitute for professional journalists, although they can add a mass of testimony and (usually nonexpert) commentary.

I have long thought that freedom of the press must ultimately entail no ownership of media by nonmedia companies--GE should not own NBC, for instance. Not because I think media companies somehow inherently good--Fox is owned by NewsCorp, an odious entity owned by an odious person, but a media-only and newspaper-focuses guy nonetheless. It's more on the principle that the army shouldn't own companies, because the army isn't that sort of thing, or that companies shouldn't run or own armies--armies aren't the sorts of things companies should own or run. (The fact that we use mercenaries widely I find to be one of the many, many candidates for most disheartening facts-cum-legacies of the Bush era.)

The problem is, I can't think of a business model that will really work. Of course, individual rich people or rich families can do it. The Binghams in Louisville had a media-only empire like Rupert Murdoch's, but they couldn't figure out how to keep it intact across generations, sold it (for a billion, give or take), and now all those media outlets have deteriorated. Both advertising and subscriptions have problems as funding mechanisms as well, and in any case, on the internet, no one will pay to subscribe, and advertisers are greed-motivated to violate privacy and much else.

If you go, like the Guardian Weekly and Economist, to subscriptions only, that's a high standard, but because it is, there will be few such outlets and many people won't pay for or thus see them. But there should be mass media--penny papers--and I suspect that the internet, ironically, is not a very reliable place for that.

So: how to save the journalists while a new business model is found?

Monday, October 26, 2009


These things just seize you. Exercising the right to freely associate, so to speak.

So I saw a headline this morning about how they (?) are going to start allowing internet urls in "non-Latin" script, by which they mean not using the Latin alphabet or roman typefaces.

And for some reason my mind flitted not to magic realist plays with tango dancing, which the phrase "non-Latin script" could have sent me to, but instead back to high school.

I was a bit of a nerd in high school.

I know this is news.


But I was in the Latin club.


So anyway, it was among its many other functions the refuge for freethinkers, and generally irreverent wits, in the school. So the club t-shirt, safe because unreadable by the great unwashed, one year read,

Edite plus Christianos / Decem milia ex leonibus non possunt errare.

i.e., "eat more Christians; ten thousand lions can't be wrong"

As we say at our house, free association isn't free.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Currently reading:

New York Times online
CBS news online
Louisville Courier-Journal online
Johannesburg Mail & Guardian online
Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reason--an important text I guess I am only now ready for.
Keith Thomas, ed., The Founders of Thought. Lovely English survey of Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine.

Bogged down in the last third of Alexander Dumas's The Three Musketeers.
Can't get going on Elizabeth Kostova's update of Dracula called The Historian, though I want to.
Pacing myself gently through Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Now in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Dabble a bit each night in the Loeb Classical Library Reader to keep Latin and Greek up.

Should be reading something current, but can't really motivate myself to do so. Did read Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, which had bright spots, and re-read John Keegan's fabulous The Face of Battle.

Am using Bob and Michael Benson's Disciplines for the Inner Life for my first systematic (early!) morning quiet time in a while. Very good.

I'm supposed to be on a book lover's site that my Thames cousins put me onto, but by the time I log in to my thirty-third site of the day, I'm just tired of remembering passwords.

But I do read nutrition labels for sodium, potassium, and for saturated vs. mono- or poly-unsaturated fat. Naturally, with all this, I feel like I never get enough time to read...

And you?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Charles Taylor the Canadian Philosopher, not Charles Taylor the Liberian War Criminal

It's encouraging to me as I teach and think about writing to see someone reputable fishing around in similar waters. I have taught at El Centro, coming out of the reading Dawn and I did in the 90s on postmodernism, that modernism is characterized by a certain frame of mind, that has, more or less for any person, group, or time, a certain range of components. So you can construct a field guide to modernity: if it has X many of these Ys, in greater and lesser degrees, then to that degree, she or that idea or this institution is modern.

Anyway, some of those characteristics include 1. explaining things without reference to God or anything spiritual (secularization), 2. trusting procedures more than you do people (impersonal processes), thinking that what you know best and rely on the most is yourself, not your family or church or the priest or the group or whatever (priority on the self), and 4. the belief that newer is better (evolution, progress).

And this morning I pick up a book given me as a (generous!) Christmas present this past year, the Canadian, Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age." And I realized that his earlier book I read during doctoral student days was "Sources of the Self." So maybe Taylor would agree with at least #s 1 and 3 above. J. B. Bury already has "The Idea of Progress." So I don't think my analysis is totally off-base.

Which is reassuring. It is entirely compatible with having a problem with intellectual pride to also worry about your views and second-guess yourself. It's also the case that you can be absolutely right about something, and people may not listen to you at all unless you can enlist some heavyweight in your corner. Plus,I teach, and while it's not in the Church as such, right now, I think James still applies: those who teach are held to a stricter judgment, being responsible for those they influence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

blogging? blogging.

Hi, again.

There are a lot of blogworthy things.

But there are too many delivery mechanisms--facebook, twitter, email, websites, RSS feeds, on and on and on--and too many passwords and, in the end, too many electronic threats--the latest being a card that's been devised that an identity thief can stick in a gas pump card reader--or any other card reader, presumably--and read off the log in numbers and PINs of everyone who's used the reader within the last whatever. And so where to spend precious minutes "updating my status" (um: "grumpy, but committed to my current mission in life, just like yesterday"), and where to feel safe doing so, is a problem for me.

It's easy for dis-"ee-nchantment" to get the better of me--to be disenchanted with all things "e-."

But there are jokes unjoked that deserve a good joking, and occasionally there are ideas that take more than 150 characters to enunciate, and I'm pretty sure that "what's going on right now?" or "what's on your mind?" or "what are you doing right now?" are not--probably ever--the most important or interesting questions, about anyone.

(Not that I'm unappreciative to Gov. Palin for her tweets, which have given William Shatner a renewed and well-deserved, if amusing, popularity among college and high school students.)

So: having slogged through the "forgot my password" business for the 400th time (if your browser remembers your passwords for you, then anyone who hacks into your browser could...uh, do something bad...), I'm back to blogging a bit.

Many thanks to the Rudds, Joneses, and Rodolicos of the world who hold alive the hope that the whole electronic world is not so hopelessly commercialized and compromised securitywise that it'll all be shut down in 10 years and be replaced with mentats. (Spice is probably what NASA is really looking for on the moon and Mars.)

For a while, I'm back.