Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Taking offense

Is it just me or is there something deeply offensive about the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) baptizing the dead by proxy?
Of course, it isn't a new practice. But, taking someone who was a committed member of another religion, or someone who died for his religious/ethnic heritage (such as Holocaust victims who are
baptized in this way by the Mormons), or someone who just never cared much about religion or a committed atheist and attempting to make him a member of your religion and then claiming him as yours, denies the individuality, the personality and the identity of that person. I was looking online tonight and discovered that my grandfather, in spite of the funeral mass, the rosary he was buried with or his entire life of Catholicism, has been baptized a Mormon. That's an insult to him and to his family. And, in general, the whole practice is insulting and offensive.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Whatever my doubts about Iraq, I think we did the right thing in removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But if we were truly successful there, and if we finished our job, and if freedom is on the march, to quote one of our leaders, why does a 41 year-old Afghani man face execution for converting to Christianity 16 years ago?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On knowledge

In commemorating (celebrating? mourning?) the third anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, the President today commented that he knew at the time of the invasion that Iraq was also involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
From a philosophical point of view, knowledge is extremely hard to define, but almost everyone agrees that you cannot know something that isn't true. We've thought that since about the time of Plato. And almost every philosopher believes that in addition to a belief being true, one must have good reason for believing it, in order for him to know it. Again, Plato thought this a couple of hundred years before Christ.
When you think that you know something but it turns out that it wasn't true, you didn't know it, you simply believed it strongly and were wrong about it.
Now, we still have no evidence that Iraq or Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks. In fact, it seems unlikely that a Baathist could have had much truck with al Qaeda--secular pan-Arabism and ultra-puritan interpretations of Islam are not very similar. So, what Bush claims to know is false and he had no good reason to believe it.
Apparently they either weren't teaching philosophy anymore at Yale--this would explain why Bush claimed his favorite philosopher as Christ (why the Son of God would pursue wisdom is unclear)--or he was sleeping through that lecture.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My God, you got my order right

My recent experiences travelling through the reams of paperwork involved in buying a new house have explained something to me. I now know why it is that I am able to get the correct order when I go to McDonald's. All the people who used to be unable to figure out the difference between a Filet O'Fish and a Big Mac have been lured by the housing boom/bubble/expansion into loan processing and other parts of the real estate industry where they are able to do much more damage.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ambien or Am I not?

If, right after I were prescribed Ambien, I suddenly found that the raw bacon was disappearing from my refrigerator, I think that I might suspect that either someone had been breaking into my house and stealing bacon or that I had myself been doing something strange while I was sleeping. If, in addition, my breath were more porcine than normal in the morning, I would probably think that I had eaten the bacon. Since I don't normally eat raw bacon, I might just think that the drug I had been prescribed was somewhat problematic. It might just be me, but before I gained 100 pounds, I'd probably go back to the doctor.
I guess I'm not like the majority of Americans.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Just one day's supply

Could someone please provide me with whatever medication Paula Abdul is taking intravenously prior to the taping of American Idol? I promise that I want it purely for scientific purposes.

He never had a hitch in his giddyup

Seven years ago today my maternal grandfather died. I doubt that anyone who reads this knew him, but today he deserves a eulogy.
Because my father wasn't around, he took it as his job--one shared with my uncles and the men in my neighborhood--to be a father figure to me. He taught me how to be a man. He taught me the value of dignity. He taught me how to hammer and how to fix a toilet. He taught me what was important. He taught me about dignity and the value of work, any kind of work. "It all pays the same," he always said. Of course, it doesn't all pay the same, but that wasn't quite what he meant. He made his living as a furnace installer and repairman and finally as furnace salesman. He was
just a laborer, I guess, but I don't think I've ever known a man who, through his work, impacted and earned the respect of so many people. I was always proud to be known as his grandson. And, in a town like the one I grew up in, people were always identified by their familial connections.
He helped to teach me the value of curiosity. He was a voracious and promiscuous reader. He watched television next to his encyclopedia so that he could look up anything he didn't know about.
He never got to go to college--his greatest unfulfilled desire was to be a meteorologist--and he was amazingly proud of me, since I was the first of his grandchildren to go to college. He used to come to Notre Dame to pick me up for holidays and he would get there four or more hours before I was done with classes just so he could sit on the campus and imbibe the atmosphere.
He taught me about the value of love and family and honor. After he returned to the farm from World War II, he married a woman that his mother didn't approve of. Grandma's family was Protestant, her mother was dead and they didn't have a lot of money; plus, they were not only not German, they were Appalachians.
His response to her disapproval: "I just spent four years fighting for freedom and I'll be damned if you'll deny me mine." Still, he was by his mother's side through all of her final illness, sitting by her bedside every lunch hour, even if she was sleeping.
I don't think he could have known what effect his choosing love over approval could have so many years later on his gay grandson. I never told him--although he met my partner and treated him in ways that made me think he must have known that we were more than just roommates--but I don't think it would have mattered. (After his death, I had a dream that I cherish more than any other I've ever had. He was with me again and he said, "I know. It's okay." Just thinking about it makes me cry, today.)
He loved Grandma, all of his children and grandchildren, but he wasn't very showy. You always knew that he loved you. And, I think I had a special place in his heart, almost as a third son.
I've inherited some of his less desirable traits, too. He was a worrier, he got depressed a lot, he had a hard time expressing emotion. That's all in me, too. I'm happy, though, that I got that part of him.
I think about him every day. I always have his pocket knife in my pocket and I think about it everytime I touch it. I wear the college ring that he was so proud that I earned and that he kept in his safety deposit box for me when I was studying in London; and looking at it--even if it is a little gauche--makes me think of him. And I often ask myself what he would think about something I'm doing.
I don't know if he lives on somewhere "out there" but I know that he is alive in my mind and heart. And I only hope that I can have something like that sort of effect on someone in my life.
I love you Grandpa and I miss you everyday. And, tonight, I'll have a Johnnie Walker Red for you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

How stupid...

are some of the lawyers working for our Justice Department? So, the judge in the sentencing segment of Zacarias Moussaoui, the admitted al Qaeda conspirator, and pretty much the only one that the United States has been able successfully to bring to trial and convict in a real, recognized court of the sort our Founders envisioned, tells you not to release transcripts of testimony to witnesses who have yet to be called. You are the prosecutor in charge of what may be the most important case in your career and certainly is one of the most important criminal cases of recent years--at least as important as, say, the Robert Blake murder trial, even if it doesn't get Nancy Grace as worked up--and you probably learned in law school that going against a judge's instructions risks mistrial.
But, hey, you are fighting the good fight, so you ignore the judge's order and do exactly what he told you not to. So, now, your big victory, to be achieved through Moussaoui's execution is in the toilet. At best, he will get life in prison.
Of course, I'm not a huge fan of the death penalty myself, since the other countries that practice it are the ones we always think of as barbaric. But, come on, really, who is running our federal prosecutions these days, a bunch of Presidential frat brothers?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Looking good!

Yesterday, as happens fairly often, someone told me that I look really good for my age (yeah, I'm super hot, what can I say?). This comment always leads me to an emotional conflict.
In the first place, I am both vain and have relatively low self-esteem (partially explaining my temper) so I am happy and validated to be told that I look good. At least part of the reason that I hit the gym is so that I will look good--it's not all of it, but it's not absent from the cause either.
At the same time, the qualifier "for your age" hits me smack in the face. It's a reminder that I'm getting older in a society (American) and a sub-community (gay) that puts a premium on youth. (I've resigned myself to the fact that I have crossed into the
daddy segment of the gay community.) And, it takes back with the left hand the compliment that has been given with the right.
I think it hit me hardest because I had a birthday this week and birthdays are always a little depressing for me. They are an opportunity to reflect on where you are in your life. I'm not that old and I have a very good life, but I'm never quite where I thought I would be at my age. And, I have this tendency to think of how old I already was when my father was my age (i.e., nearly 11). And, that, combined with facing a bunch of 18 year olds--some of who tell me I look really good for someone in his
late 30s in my evaluations--in my classes each day is bound to make me feel old.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Weather in Paradise

It is currently hailing in San Diego. This is not the weather that I was promised when I moved to America's Most Beautiful City.

Friday, March 10, 2006

On a lighter note

I've just come off a long discussion with a colleague about the appropriate way to understand Nietzsche's notion of eternal recurrence, so it's time for a more important thought.
Is it just me or is Ace on this year's American Idol almost attractive. I guess from the way he is presented and his presence on the cover of American Idol: The Magazine--really I just saw the cover in the grocery store--that I am supposed to swoon over his exemplification of masculine pulchritude. Okay, maybe I'm not who they are aiming that at. But when I look closely at his face, I see lots of parts that might make someone attractive not quite put together correctly. The parts are fine, the gestalt is abortive. And, for my money, the guy can't sing. What he did to George Michael's "Father Figure" last week was purely criminal. He took a dirty and sensual song and turned it into something the Backstreet Boys would have thought was too bland.
On the other hand: Mandisa. I love her and can't wait until I see her singing at some gay club or circuit party. I don't see her being hugely successful, partly because big women just haven't done that well in pop music since the time of Aretha Franklin, but I definitely see her being embraced by the gay community, especially if she gets a little angrier.
Oh, for what it's worth, Nietzsche doesn't intend eternal recurrence to be a theory about the way in which the world actually operates, in case you were worried.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guest workers

The Senate Judiciary Committee has today begun debating the sort of guest worker program that Bush has proposed as a solution to the tensions involved in illegal immigration: on the one hand the need for more workers in certain industries including agriculture but also including high-tech industries; on the other, the need to control the number of people coming into the United States and the demands they might make on our economy--I'll leave it as an open question whether immigrants create or take more value in our economy, though I have my opinion.
The proposal suggested would allow people to come to the US for three years and, perhaps allow them to renew this once, but then they would be required to return to their home countries. It seems that this is supposed to avoid the sort of difficulties that have arisen with, for instance, Germany's guest worker program, which has created a permanent Turkish underclass within--and separated from--German society. But it is wholly unclear how a temporary underclass of people who both are not citizens and
cannot become or apply to become citizens--since this is a part of the proposal as well--is a better solution. We are essentially saying to the poor or specially skilled citizens of other nations that we need them, but that we don't really want them, and that we especially don't want them to stay around long enough to gain higher incomes or become the sorts of people that we might have to pay attention to. This is to devalue these people as people, and look at them simply as economic necessities. It is a halfway house between allowing immigration and reforming our own economic and labor policies that has the vices of every possible solution and no real virtues in human terms. Moreover, it is simply ridiculous to think that at the end of a person's term in the US, s/he will cooperatively return to the place s/he was so eager to leave. Not only is it humanistically problematic, the whole proposal seems predicated on a lie.

Living where you want: a ramble about ghettoization

Last Sunday, after an excruciating trip to Tijuana, my partner, another couple and I were having pizza for dinner. Since we were having pizza, the topic of Tom Monaghan, founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza came up. One of my friends suggested that we shouldn't buy Domino's any more because of Monaghan's latest venture. For those who might remember, he caused a stir in the 90s when Monaghan donated large sums to pro-life (or anti-abortion, depending on your stance) causes leading to a boycott call from the National Organization for Women.
Recently, though, he has been in the news again for a related, but decidedly different project. A few years ago, he gave a sizeable chunk of his fortune to found a new college in Michigan (closing in 2007) and university in Florida, both called Ave Maria. Since Monaghan rediscovered his Catholicism in the late 80s, he has been an advocate of the most conservative Catholic causes. Ave Maria is designed to be an ueber-Catholic educational enterprise. In other words, the schools are supposed to be a counterbalance to what some Catholics think is the overly liberal atmosphere at presumably Catholic universities such as Georgetown or my alma mater, Notre Dame. In my opinion, what they really object to is the very idea of a university in which different viewpoints are shared and discussed and debated, but that may be the subject for another post. If they read a little more history, they might see that even Aquinas' thirteenth-century University of Paris was a hotbed of "heresy", some of it Aquinas'. Such is the nature of a university.
But what Monaghan is up to now--and what concerned my friend--is the founding of a town surrounding the Florida campus of Ave Maria University. You see, he wants to create a town in which Catholic values--as he sees them--are the rule of the land, with central churches, an emphasis on the family and "family values", etc. Non-Catholics would be welcome in the town, but would be expected to live according to the standards of the community. In short, he is designing something like a large gated community in which the covenant to which the residents agree is to live according to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church. It is this part of the project that troubled my friend the most.
Personally, I am often troubled by gated communities. But, if push comes to shove, it is difficult to say just what I find problematic about them. Is it just that people want to live apart from others? Well, that is no different from taking my home to be inviolate. It is just the same principle writ large. Is it the idea that wealthier people are separating themselves off from the problems of society, from those that they find undesireable, from the poor? Well, that might just be it. But, if that is it, then all I really have to say about people living in gated communities is that they are...what?...selfish, not fully connected to their fellows, ...? But of course, I don't invite the homeless into my house, either.
So, what is so wrong with founding a town in which the agreed-to law of the land is a religious one? Of course, it would be bad if the civil power were made to enforce religious law, but that isn't quite what is going on here. Am I just made to feel uncomfortable by such a community because I wouldn't be welcome there? That might be it, but I wouldn't be welcomed in an Amish community or in a cloistered convent either. And, the residents of this community probably wouldn't be made to feel very comfortable in some of the places and communities that I frequent.
What Monaghan is proposing and planning is a sort of Catholic ghetto. Now, we tend to think of ghettoes as bad things. But they needn't always be so--when they aren't we tend to call them enclaves, ethnic or otherwise. Of course, we tend to think that people ought to interact with others who are different from them. And, we tend to think that it is good public policy to encourage such interaction. (This is the realm of interaction that Richard Rorty calls the bazaar.) But it is unrealistic to think that people will or must do so in their private lives.
I simply don't interact much with heterosexual couples or singles in my private life, though I do in my public life. I live, in essence, in a gay ghetto.
Does this make me immoral? Probably not. Does it mean that my life is impoverished in certain ways. Probably so. But, since I am an adult, no one has the right to bring real force to bear to force me to change my private interactions. At the same time, it means that there are people around me whose lives and interests are sufficiently similar to mine so that we can understand one another, we can build some sort of community, etc.
This is partly why I don't think there is anything all that wrong with the project of forming a religious city or for that matter a commune in the hills somewhere. As long as the interactions between the separated community and the rest of society are peaceful, as long as the members of the community are there willingly (I realize that children are not exercising their will to be there, but they aren't deciding to be in the families they are part of either), I simply cannot think of good reasons to oppose the formation of such cities.