Friday, March 31, 2006

Disappointed searchers (paca)

Well, my blog must be the bane of certain searchers out there. I have recently gotten two searches, one for "sex blogs" and "topless pictures", who both ended up at my post on chastity. They were looking for something titillating and ended up at a discussion of a moralist going on about being a virgin until marriage. How sad for them. On the other hand, I seem to have become a pseudo-linking place for people looking for that old Scandanavian disco video I linked too. Someone looking for the lyrics to that song even ended up here thanks to Sammy's work. I wonder how much more I could mess people up. Let's see....

Naked... Truth

Coed blondes doing calculus

Hot and juicy... hamburgers

Let's blow this job and go to Vegas.

Now we just sit back and wait.

Character Study (paca)

I was reading through an old notebook of stuff I have written over several years. It's not really a diary. It''s just periodic ideas that I noted down. Most of them are a few years old; probably written some time in the eight years I was in Tennessee. One thing that I have worked on periodically since at least 1994 or 1995 was the story of Vanessa who was super-tight best friends all her life with Hannah. However, something happened their senior year in high school, where Hannah disappeared. If she committed suicide or ran away is not clear. The story is about Vanessa as an adult still dealing with this shock.

Vanessa's current friends in her late 20s, early 30s are Holly, new best best friend, and Ming. I wanted to write their story up, but apparently I realized that I didn't know much about Vanessa as a character and so I did a sort of character study of her. The idea was to interview her. It was rather interesting to me to read this several years later. I particularly like the bizarre self-referential stuff, because, of course, I am interviewing myself. Here are some parts:

Me: So, V, I need to know a lot more about you. You are supposed to be the main character.

V: I didn't ask for you to write about me at all.

Me: Neither did I. I only know a couple things about you. I know what you look like.

V: No, you don't know at all. Your image is of me at 22. I am almost 30 now.

Me: Well, how have you changed since then?

V: Not sure I'm in the mood to do this.

Me: It's important.

V: Only to you.

Me: No, if you don't become more real, everyone will think little of you. Everyone's gonna like Ming and Holly and will wonder why I didn't focus on them instead.

V: I agree with Everyone. I like Holly and Ming much more too.

Me: Now that- you seem to have self-esteem issues.

V: Self-respect really. I don't have much respect for myself.

Me: Why? You are intelligent, educated, witty, well-employed, beautiful.

V: But what kind of a person am I? I don't do anything important. I don't help anybody. I could disappear right now and no one would particularly care.

Me: Holly and Ming would be devastated.

V: I know, but they are just friends.

Me: Friendship isn't worth anything?

V: Of course, but I am second fiddle. They are both married now. Holly has kids.

Me: Do you resent them for that?

V: A little. See, that's the kind of person I am. Self-centered. I only think about others as they relate to me.

Me: I think you are selling yourself short. I know a lot about you as a teen, but you are fuzzy in college and virtually vanish between 22 and 29.

V: That's your fault.

Me: Yes, it is. But see that's interesting. When you were a kid, you were a sweetheart. Where did this cynical attacking nature come from?

V: You know that story.

Me: I don't think it's that simple. Seems weird that you would completely change from this one event.

V: Well, I did.

Me: Huh. So you still – to this day – center your life around Hannah. She's been gone for 12 years.

V: I don't center myself around her.

Me: Yes, you do. It's still the fundamental relationship in your life by which you measure everything.

V: What do you want me to say about it?

Me: I'm not sure. I don't want to counsel you because I want you as you are now. Your growth away from this is the point of the story.

V: Well, you've got me, it seems.

--snip--

Me: You seem to fight it when I make a valid point that someone likes you for you.

V: OK, first, one big reason they like me is because I am a blast from the past. I bring a piece of Hannah back to them. ... And, two, what was two?

Me: No, I would forget #2. I get lost where I was. You might not, because you are smarter than me. And you probably wouldn't try to number your points. Don't take on too many of my traits.

V: Look who's attacking now. But at this point I really have forgotten #2.

Me: Sure?

V: Oh, it's that, yeah, I do fight back against praise. I'll state it bluntly. No one can be depended upon. So I might as well shove them back before they can.

Me: OK, V. But you are smarter than me. You've done the counseling. Only Ming is more self-reflective, so you know you are letting one event in your life shape everything else. It's like seeing a purple car and deciding all cars are purple even though you see red and blue cars all day long.

V: You can't reason through this stuff, apply logic, and QED me out of it.

Me: Would you know QED?

V: Sure, I took some philosophy. I'm a brain when in the mood.

Me: Yes, you are. So what were you saying before the rude interruption?

V: That it's not like seeing a purple car. You name every single person that I was close to at that time – Hannah, my dad, and, lesser, my teachers, Hannah's parents – they all abandoned me. And the person I thought was my soulmate disappeared without a word. That's not a freaking purple car.

--snip--

Me: Topic over. What happened to your mom?

V: You like to cut to the chase, don't you?

Me: You're a big girl.

V: That a comment about my chest?

Me: No, so don't change the subject.

V: You are the one changing. It's because you don't know yoursef yet.

Me: I'm waiting.

V: She can't have disappeared. That would mess up the source of my abandonment issues, screwing up your little story, so she must have died.

Me: What if she's not really dead?

V: Ooh, melodramatic soap!! But, no, she's gone. It happens. I think when I was 4.

Me: So you are 29 in the early 2000s...

V: I was born in 74.

Me: So your mom died in 78.

V: She can't have been in the army.... So that leaves car wreck or disease. My dad says it was a disease. Probably cancer.

Me: He would know, I presume. So you were raised by your father.

V: Yes, just the two of us.

--snip--

Me: Not sure you've moved on at all since you were 17.

V: Can the evaluations of me. I'm not interested.

Me: Probably not true or fair either.

V: Why do you always write about women?

Me: I think because I am attracted to them.

V: If that's it, why isn't this a story about some man being with a woman, instead of a tale of female friendship?

Me: This is more direct, perhaps. It's me and not another character spending time with them, with you.

V: The problem is that you don't know women. You aren't one and so can never understand. You are setting yourself up for failure.

Me: I don't have to know much. That's the reader's job. I just have to supply enough true things for the reader to create you. I could spend 100 pages describing your hair, and I'd still be in the same boat. The reader has to take my suggestions and finish you in their mind.

V: You know, that's pretty clever.

Me: Thanks, I just realized it. I was gonna go on about common humanity and a general ignorance, blah, blah, blah. Got to skip that. Do you get along better with men or women?

--snip--

V: Self-improvement is sort of my meaning of life right now.

Me: And yet you aren't doing much that you really feel great about. It's like you are adopting someone else's potential, not your own.

V: We don't all have fates to follow. We make ourselves. We are who we want to be.

Me: Interesting. What if there is a Tao flowing southest and you are choosing to go northwest?

V: What if?

Me: You have a very acute mind.

V: If you do say so yourself.

Me: I'm well aware of the quizzical reality of fiction. So you studied philosophy?

V: I took a few courses, but my degree is business. Banking.

--snip--

And on it goes. I did eventually write a story which turned into play about my three heroines, but it, well, it sucks right now, despite some funny bits. That was 3 or 4 years ago. One day I will try revising it. My favorite parts of the above character study is when I turn Vanessa's attacks on my own foibles.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ode to Paca (Llama)

So, of course, I've been absent from Blogging for a while... nothing new there. A definately post in spurts. I think the key to getting content from me is when I view writing selfishly... so that I'm writing things to preserve my own thoughts and experiences, not for others to read. Whatever, that's just an aside. The point is I've been absent for a while, but while I was gone Paca wrote several items. I just now read some of them and was once again struck, as I often am, by his intelligence and compassion.

I think Paca and I are about as similar in our moral code as any two people can be... and, I believe, have a similar natural intelligence. However the way we live our lives are very different. Paca has always been much more cautious than I. I remember, when we were kids, trying to talk him into playing basketball outside at a time when he, for whatever reason, was concerned about getting his knees skinned. Seems silly now, yes? It's just basketball. Then about 10 years ago we went skiing together; neither of us had done so before. We didn't take lessons but just rented some skiis and hit the bunny slope. I remember Paca very carefully and slowly going down the slope, while I raced at top speed. Then we progressed to the more advanced slopes, and Paca's control served him well while I promptly tripped, totally knocking my breath out. I was gasping, clutching my stomache, and lucky not to have broken anything, while he was still competently breezing down the slope. That cautiousness has served him well as an adult. My bravado seems a little silly now, no?

Likewise, Paca continues to stimulate his mind through frequently reading about philosophy, politics, music, history... whatever interests him. My prefered past time activities, by contrast, have focused more on computer games, movies, and other consumer-based recreation. And after 32+ years of this intellectual curiosity, my friend Paca is now showing the fruits of that by talking knowledgably, reasonably, and independently about a great many subjects. I admire him so much for that. He is the most well-read person I know, and also so humble. He is whip-smart, but has absolutely no sense of superiority about it. If anything I think his insecurities... which mimic mine, I believe, keep him realizing his true potential.

Anyway, after reading some of his recent posts I just wanted to state my admiration. His friendship is, without question, one of my greatest blessings.

Politics and the personal (paca)

In the comments to my long, long Chastity post regarding C.S. Lewis, one of the commenters, mikej, asked how I could regard Lewis as a "moral reference" with the other things I believe. I am assuming he is referring here to my agnosticism. Aren't, mikej asks, Lewis' arguments a linear progression where it breaks down if you don't buy an earlier premise? I had never met mikej, but I learned that he found the blog through a search on either Lewis or the book "Mere Christianity." (mikej, this is logged in the blog's statcounter; I am not doing strange tracking on anyone.) I decided to do the same thing and did a blog search as well. From that, I discovered a blog entry(scroll down) discussing a letter written to the blog author's University condemning homosexuality, which cited Lewis as a source of the condemnation. That blog's commenters went on to discuss how Lewis represented the worst of Christianity. I joined that discussion a bit and in a sense got the same question. If Lewis supported patriarchical views and condemned homosexuality, how can I be a reader of his? It is easy to say that I am then getting the same question from both ends of the political spectrum, but that is probably not fair to either mikej or the other blog author as I have no idea their opinion on most things.

So, what's the answer to their question?

One way I have always disagreed with people on the Left (and Right, but it is usually a conscious thought on the Left) is that I do not see the world as fundamentally political. We are not summed up by our views on whatever the great political and social views of the day are. Yes, I have a few strong opinions, and many weak opinions, and I think that they are moral opinions. Issues of pre-emptive war, torture, racial equality, gay rights, etc. are profoundly moral issues. But those are not the only issues that are important to who we are as people. Just as important as those are issues of charity, grace, humility, wisdom, and courage. In fact, it is those values which are expressed in political views. If you read my post on life at Boarding School, I mentioned a great mentor who it happens is gay. My support of gay rights is one expression of my personal respect for the man. It is not the other way around, where somehow political beliefs drive personal ones. And it is in these personal virtues where I think Lewis had a lot to say.

For instance, in Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil advises the junior devil to corrupt his human prey by making the human believe that he can figure everything out on his own. Let the human believe that he has no need of any moral tradition because he can find all the answers himself. I keep this in the back of my head as a warning on over-reliance on my own wisdom. The truth is that us humans are not that smart.

In the last Narnia book, a soldier of the enemy empire has faithfully worshipped his god Tash in the best possible ways, trying to remain as true to that tradition as he could. Aslan welcomes him into the Narnia heaven when the world ends.

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis gives a warning about using outcomes as the sole measure of legal punishment with no concept of justice or desert. After all, if re-education is the sole purpose of legal punishment, then there is nothing to prevent excess in this re-education. If we can get the right sort of person to come out by beating him senselessly, what is there to stop that from happening without some notion that he does not deserve such punishment?

Till We Have Faces is a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth from the point of view of one of Psyche's step-sisters. The step sister has a great number of virtues and is lauded as one of the wisest and greatst rulers her kingdom had ever seen at her death, but she also has a great character flaw, which is a clinging, suffocating sense of "love" in which she demands complete devotion from others and does not allow them to be their own person. The whole novel is a meditation on love and jealousy.

In Mere Chistianity, Lewis says that Pride or self-conceit is the Great Sin, the one from which all else comes. Pride is the sin of seld-devotion and self-worship, in which you put yourself above others. Pride is competitive. "We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others."

Or here is something about forgiveness, and I think it describes most of our current political discourse on talk radio and blogs in a nutshell: "Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if allowed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black." How many people on all sides of the political spectrum want horrible things to happen to others, so that their political enemies are even more wrong? How many people think the other side just doesn't disagree with you on some matter, but is in fact evil and trying to destroy your way of life?

Lewis often presents these virtues with a great clarity so that you can see them in yourselves. I took a class last semester in which I got a note at the end with my grade saying "2nd highest in class! Congrats!" What was my pride-filled immediate response? "What do you mean '2nd'?!" The good news is that I was conscious enough to slap myself for having such a stupid thought and giggle at my own ego gone astray, because there I was, just as Lewis said, wanting not just to be clever but to be cleverer than my own friends.

Those are some examples that come off the top of my head of positive things that I find in Lewis' writings. To get back to my point about political views being the expression of personal ones, I think you can use some of Lewis' own personal revelations to argue against some of his social ones. For instance, he argued, in the previous post, for chastity until marriage, and his reasoning was that essentially sex within a life-long dedicated relationship is the best. This is likely true, but it isn't obviously true. No two people are perfectly compatible. Some are messy and some are clean; some are punctual and some late; some religious and some not, etc. N, my wife, doesn't particularly like most of my music, especially the funk stuff. I am probably more musically compatible with some other man or woman in the world, but what we do share is more important than opinions on p-funk. Is it obvious that this should never ever be the case for sexual matters between a couple? But let's forget that bit and just accept that sexual relations between committed lifetime partners is the best. What follows from it?

In the discussion of marriage, Lewis makes the point that many people see things as good or bad, black or white, but in fact things can be ranked. There can be good, better, and best. So someone asks, in his example, "is patriotism good?" Well, yes, it is better than self-centeredness, argues Lewis, because of the pride issues from above, but universal charity is even better, and patriotism should give way to it when the two conflict. He says this because he then wants to argue that being "in love," that fiery emotion, is good, but the type of love that goes with life-long devotion is even better. But what if you apply this to the chastity thing from the earlier chapter? OK, sex within marriage is Best, but does that mean that any other sex is bad? Perhaps it would be just fine to have sex before marriage, as it might still be a good thing, as long as it isn't holding you back from the Best that is to come?

Some interesting ideas come up when you think in this way. In a world without birth control, there could be at least two reasons for the social, and often legal, rule that people, especially women, should not have sex until marriage. One is the negative side of it where people with greater power put a rule in place for various purposes, but the rule has nothing to do with the good of the person on whom the rule is placed, i.e., the woman. But there might have been a positive reason as well. Namely, it can be extremely hard to get into a great life-long relationship with someone if you are 21 and already have 6 kids running around. So, if the woman could wait, then her odds of getting the Best remained higher. But with birth control, especially if you use two forms (thinking pills and condoms), many of these issues vanish. You can have the good/mediocre sex and still get the Best later, because most of the drawbacks to the earlier sex are removed.

This last bit is of course highly over-simplified. The point is that I don't read Lewis and write down what he says as my moral guide. Page 12 says X is bad; won't do X now. That sort of reverence shold be reserved for something like The Ten Commandments. Instead, I read him and try to apply him to my life in fruitful ways, not ignoring the stuff I agree with, it's not cherry-picking the things I already agree with and ignoring the rest, but reading critically, allowing him to criticize me, and me him. It's the fact that he has a lot of useful criticisms of me which make it worth the time.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Returning to Bangkok Tomorrow

I've been in Dhaka, Bangladesh the last two weeks. My original date of departure was March 21, but that was pushed back. I could easily stay another week, but Mike wants me back in Thailand. Why, exactly, is a bit of a mystery. Mike tends to oversimplify everything... partly, I'm sure, because everything is so easy for him. But, after months of pressure to get the Bangladesh surveillance up and running, now that I'm in a position to do so, I'm pulled back to Bangkok just to be available to consult as my colleage goes through some data analysis. Anyway, I'll come back here in probably another three weeks time (just a WAG - Wild Ass Guess) to complete what I've started.

When I came here I came with the exclusive purpose of getting their data entry software up and running. Two weeks later I will leave and the software still isn't running. why has it taken so long, you ask?

Things work on differently here. Remember, Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries. The people here make about $500 per capita per year. The energy demand far outstrips the supply. So you get use to things just not always working. For example, yesterday, upon TASC's insistence, CIPRB (the local NGO that we ae working with) installed a $150/month internet service. I downloaded one much needed file and then started to get another when the service just stopped... I couldn't connect anywhere, not to the FTP site, not to Google, no where. This lack of connectivity remained until the end of the day.

And this was the $150 upgrade... previously they were using a residential provider that basically was a shared cable connection between all the members of the neighborhood. That connection was freqently up, but would drop out for 30 seconds at a time every few minutes or so. This drop out is invisible if you are browsing the web... most browsers will keep trying to reach a site until it connects. But downloading a file was something else. I'd get 10%, 50%, even 90% done with a file and then the connection would break, and I'd have to start over. I spent an entire day once just trying to download a 3MB file. I eventually solved that problem by finding a FTP client that supports resume, but too much time was wasted just trying to download files.
More critically than the internet, power will go out. Typically twice every day at random times all power to the office just dropped. It may be down for 5 mins, it may be down for an hour or more. Since all of my work is computer based, that meant I just had to stop and wait. Back at the hotel, as you are watching a movie on HBO, typically power and/or the cable will go out for 5 minutes or so. This is not at all unusual. You just sit there in the dark waiting for it to come back on. HBO here, by the way, has commercials.

The other unusual thing about working in Dhaka (at least to the Western perspective) is that, since 80% of the population is Muslim, once or twice a day everyone in the office will engage in prayers. Muslims must pray three times every day, and there's a very strict way of doing it. When they touch their heads to the floor they are engaging in a proscribed ritual. They must touch their heads down something like 3 times at mid-day and 5 times in the evening. Now the managerial level staff tend to find some private office to pray in, but the data entry personnel just whip out their prayer rugs right there and get to it. So while some members of the office are working on one issue another group of folks may be facing Mecca and prostrating themselves. You get used to it rather quickly, though.

Remember how I wrote that Mike tends to over simplify things? He made up his mind that the data entry environment should be completely isolated from the rest of the office, that the data entry terminals should all be thin-client, and that the whole thing should be Linux based instead of Windows based. I, of course, was given responsibility to make this happen, despite the fact that I have no Linux experience nor any Thin Client experience. So, when I had completed the first version of the data entry software I estimated that it would take me to 3 weeks to install it. That estimate was based on learning and installing Linux Thin Clients and migrating my Windows-based application to Linux platform. I heard through Ross that Mike "didn't understand why it would take so long." Grrr....

I spent the first week getting the network running (complete with Thin Clients) and then spent the next tackling all the issues that kept popping up as I attempted to install the software. It still isn't complete, but I am on the last step now. Hopefully I'll finish that job Monday morning before I leave.

Other unusual things about working in Dhaka...

Outside my hotel is a shanty down. Probably a hundred Bangladeshies at least gather in this empty lot outside my hotel every night, put up their cardboard shelters, and settle in to sleep. Then they disperse during the day...

I have been advised not to leave my hotel because I would make an easy kidnapping target for a local group of terrorists that have been causing trouble (don't worry Mom and Dad, so long as I stay inside I'm fine)...

I woke up this morning to the sounds of cannon fire. It was not being fired in combat, thank goodness. Today is Bangladesh's Independence Day, and that was the early morning way of starting the celebration...

The hotel staff drives me crazy. They are so polite and attentive. Have you ever been to a restaurant where your waiter keeps coming to your table to ask if you want anything? Well imagine living in that kind of environment. Every morning as I leave my room to go to breakfast I'm approached by a member of the staff to ask if I have any laundry. I've told him at least twice that I will have no more laundry (I leave tomorrow). Finally today I lost it. "Do you have any laundry, sir?" "NO! I AM DONE WITH LAUNDRY! DO NOT ASK ME AGAIN! IF I HAVE LAUNDRY, I WILL BRING IT TO YOU!" The restaurant staff are much the same... taking away my depleted bowl of cereal (and room-temperature milk) as soon as I set it aside. Pouring me a cup of coffee with the same care you might pour a glass of champagne. It's absolutely maddening. A couple of days ago, as I was grumpily scarfing down my rice crispies, a waiter kept chatting with me. Where are you from, what do you do... blah blah blah. I eventually sent him to get me more coffee just to get a moment of silence.
So I return to the normalcy of Bangkok (how odd to call Bangkok normal) tomorrow... and in another three or four weeks I'll return to this country that Ross sarcastically calls "Bangladouche". Remind me again why I choose to get a master's in International Development?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Guide to recent posts (paca)

I have published a good bit in the last few days, so here is my list of recent posts going back in time:

1) Views on chastity, sexual moraliy, Christianity, and government.
2) An article about not teaching evolution in biology class.
3) A review of my boarding school at reader request.
4) Boarding school and life habits
5) Mutual kissing
6) Pre-emptive war
7) My 3 year old who knows guitar riffs
8) Proof-reading English papers by non-native speakers

It's too much to read at once if you are behind, but you can check by every day or so and read one. I really do hope the first once on sexual morality is given a chance by many of you, even though it is long. When I was reading it, I had the feeling I was discussing things that are genuinely important to me, not just giving a little anecdote. But who knows. I wil say that I certainly do not agree with all of the views presented in that post, and some I agree with but do not live up to.

Have a good weekend everyone. Monday is Prince Kuhio day here, so I have off. Yippee.

Chastity and Choice (paca)

A couple days back I was following links from blogs that I read, and I came across a post from AlleyRat about the new state laws limiting abortion. Her post was that the fight over abortion was not just about abortion itself, but about sexuality, and trying to write a certain view of sexuality into law.

I had been planning to review some thoughts from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (1943) for a few weeks, where he talks about sexual morality, and this gave me new impetus.

So, first, Lewis has a section on Sexual Morality in which he advocates the traditional view. Sex should be between a married couple, period. Why? Because this is what his Christian tradition teaches. This is how Lewis tackled everything. He tried to find the reasoning behind his Anglican teachings, which is why he is more commonly called an Apologist than a Philosopher. In the Eurppean tradition, philosophers are taught to question everything. Lewis tried to find the best in what he already believed.

Now, he is clear that there is nothing wrong with sex. He says flatly that there are some "muddle-headed" Christians who seem to say that pleasure and sex and pleasure in sex is immoral, but, says Lewis, that's plain wrong. Sex is supposed to be great. In his tradition, the earthly body is resurrected in heaven as well as the spirit, because the pleasures of the flesh are a real positive. He goes on to say that despite this, the natural desire for sex has taken a wrong turn. He gives the amusing analogy of the mutton chop strip tease. In his Britain, and today, you could get a woman to dance on a stage taking her clothes off and fill the house with hooting people. He presents the scenario of going to another land and discovering a theater where someone comes on stage and walks around slowly with a plate of delicious food, and everyone in the audience stares and drools. Would you not think somthing had gone terribly awry with the normal, natural desire for food in such a scenario? It's not that the audience is starving. They are well-fed. It is that they cannot get enough of food and will spend time leering at pictures of a ham hock. This, he argues, is where 1943 Britain was, where the natural desire for pleasurable sex has gone astray.

So, Lewis was very conservative on sex. It's only proper context is within marriage. But he didn't stop there, which is why I read the guy. Almost anyone could come up with the above stuff, but Lewis has a brain and keeps going. First, he distinguishes between "propriety" and "chastity". Chastity is the important Christian behavior. Propriety is a fluctuation of society and deals with mannerisms and how people dress and the like. A topless Pacific Islander might be equally chaste or unchaste as the head-to-toe covered Victorian lady. Rules of propriety change all the time, and older people should not assume anything about the morality of a younger person because of the way they dress or language they use.

Moreover, and this is more interesting, chastity is a real Christian virtue, but breaking it is "the least bad of all sins". Chastity is important, but it is not the fundamental principle of Christianity. "All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are Animal Self, and the Diabolical Self. The Diabolical Self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

After these few pages on Sexual Morality, he moves on to Christian Marriage. He argues that in a Christian Marriage the two people become one organism, one flesh, one entity. The problem with sex outside of marriage is that it tries to isolate the sexual union from the larger spiritual union of marriage. He likens it to eating to get the taste, but refusing to swallow. (Bolemia and anorexia keep coming to mind as modern problems with food as I re-read him.) Because a marriage is a spiritual union, it is for life, and it is based around a vow that you should keep. He discusses the fact that a lot of people get married with no real intention to keep this vow. He asks, what are you getting married for? To get a certain respectability that goes with marriage? (I was in the check-out lane at Safeway last week, and the guy behind me knew the guy bagging groceries from high school. "Hey, what you been up to?" says Customer Guy. "Well, I got married," says Bagger. "Oh, really? Who to?" "My girlfriend." "That's a good person to marry," I say out loud and Bagger just ignores me. "You know my girlfriend from school," says Bagger to Customer. "Oh yeah," says Customer though he clearly doesn't have a clue. Bagger continues, "She got pregnant and we had a baby, so...." He shrugs his shoulders. "Most romantic explanation ever," I think to myself.) But, continues Lewis, "If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury."

Lewis goes on to discuss the relationship between marriage and love. He argues that "being in love" is one of the greatest human feelings, if not the greatest. It takes us out of ourselves; it enhances all our feelings; it gives us courage and strength; and it reveals the Beauty all around us. Marriage is bet undertaken when people are in love in this sense. But, after all that, being in love is just a feeling, and feelings change. The marriage vow is not a vow to have a feeling until you die. That is impossible. "You might as well promise never to have a headache." Even if you could keep it, who would want to be in a continuous state of delirium for every moment of their lives until they die? Instead we have to let that sense of love go in time. In its place a different and stronger type of love can grow. This love has a sense of deep union, maintained by will and habit and God. This love endures when people don't even like each other for a time. It can even endure if one of the partners allows themselves to fall "in love" with another.

He finally ends this discussion with a single page on the idea that, according to Christian tradition (in his view), wives are to obey the husbands. He justifies this with a brief anecdote intended to show that men often have a greater focus on the Public than women who can be overly devoted to their families. Lewis will be bashed here and has been forever. In a page, he just tried to justify the entire patriarchical system. One can dig up entire books on this topic about Lewis. I agree that this "argument" is silly and will only add one thing to the discussion. I think it is noteworthy that he only takes a page on this out of 190 pages. He obviously didn't think about it much. It's a defining issue of our time, but it just wasn't for him.

Finally, we get back to the way I opened this post. Alleyrat's issue was that a certain type of sexual morality was trying to be enforced on others through the government. Lewis has a very conservative view, though probably a rather common one in 1943. He thinks sex should only be between husband and wife. Divorce should not happen. (When he did get married later, he married a Jewish American who had been divorced, soo....) Men should be the head of the family. But, Lewis cannot fall completely to Alleyrat's charge because he holds these views.

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question - how far Christians, if they are voters or members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

I have not disputed Lewis' arguments because they are his interpretation of his own religious tradition of which I am largely ignorant (though I am baptised Episcopalean). And that is the key. This is a religious tradition, one that he likely thinks all people should participate in, but each person must choose to participate in for themselves. There is a difference between the laws that should apply to all citizens and the Church rules that apply to its own members. Scripture is not the absolute basis for government, because people must come to God of their own will. Chastity is not a virtue because sex is bad. It is a virtue because of the effect practicing chasitity has on your soul. Life-long marriage is a virtue because it build your character and brings you closer to God. If you are being forced into life-long marriage through lack of choice, you are not building your character at all. You are just living in a prison that some pseudo-Christians made for you. And this defeats the entire spiritual purpose of the behavior. Worth repeating. Forcing someone into Christian behavior can sometimes save them from a bad choice, but it simultaneously defeats the entire reason for the behavior.

So, to modern Americans who want to write their interpretation of Christian belief into law.... Well, if you are more conservative now in 2006, than C.S. Lewis, the foremost Christian apologist of the 20th century, was in 1943, you're out there.

UPDATE: From the comments on this post, I have realized that I got lazy at the very end with my "you're out there" comment. It would be more accurate to say that legislating that all marriage should be religious marriage or that all people should conform to one religious denomination's version of sexual morality is not the only way to understand the relationship between religion and the law. It is fully possible to be a good Christian and not legally force others to do what you believe is right. Indeed, if the behavior is totally forced, it could very well prevent the very spiritual growth that the behavior is supposed to develop, keeping people further from God than if you had let them alone.

Friday, March 24, 2006

No science for you (paca)

This is a rather scary article. It's hugely long but worth reading. You can skim at parts and get the point, but the case does build through-out. So skip and read, skip and read. Basically, it is a long article about the lack of education in Arkansas about evolution. Essentially, many schools are pressuring their teachers just not to teach evolution so that they don't offend any parents and get sued. It's rather frightening that you can leave out the basic explanatory principle of biology in a biology class, but schools are doing so, so that they don't lose public support and get shut down, preventing them from doing everything else they do that is worthwhile. It actually reminds me that in 5th grade at least in the Boro at the public school, we said the Lord's Prayer every morning, lead over the intercom. I am sure every administrator knew it was illegal, but they were just going to keep doing it until they got caught. I don't know if they ever were. As far as I know, they are still leading children in prayer every day.

My boarding school (paca)

So Sammy asked in a comment about my boarding school and offers some perspective on his, which was LSMSA. He mentions that he thought of LSMSA as more like a residential high school than a boarding school, a term he reserves for something like a military school, or a school for the highly affluent. I was using the term for any school where the majority of students live there. That said, Lawrenceville in Lawrenceville, NJ, would be considered one of those schools for the affluent. It's a private prep school about 5 miles down the street from Princeton. In the prep school rankings, it traditionally came in 3rd in the nation behind Andover and Exeter. Some of our more famous alumni include Malcolm Forbes (the dad), Michael Eisner (of Disney), and... Huey Lewis. The last did not graduate, however. Thornton Wilder, who wrote "Our Town" and "The Matchmaker" which Hello Dolly is based on and some other famous stuf,f was a teacher there. We are one of those prep schools where all the buildings are named after donors like at a college. So the Bunn Library can hold 100,000 volumes. The A.P. Kirby Arts Center where I built sets had a 900-seat proscenium theatre that was good enough that the New Jersey State Opera installed itself there over the summer. The original campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who laid out Central Park in NYC and is on the National Historic Register. The school was started in 1810 and has been periodically used for movie and commercial shoots. You can study Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and German. The endowment is over $200 million. So, yeah, it's one of those boarding schools.

Now, is it simply a school for the affluent? Certainly more than your average high school. When I was there the tuition the first year (1985) was $10,000 and it was $15,000 when I left 5 years later. (I broke a lot of stuff.) I believe the annual tuition is now over $20,000. But just like today's private colleges, it isn't only the affluent who go there. Over half the students are on some sort of financial support, and the admissions policy is supposed to be blind to financial need. I will confess, however, that I was not on financial aid myself. Somehow, my mom as a librarian and grad student and my dad running the family building materials store was enough to handle the tuition.

How did I end up there? I don't really know the whole story. I had an older brother who also went to boarding school - Groton in Massachusetts, whose most famous alumnus is FDR. Yeah, that FDR. So all the debates they went through were already done when I came along. I was just the next in line. I wanted to go to boarding school myself because my brother was the coolest thing ever, so I must need to go too. I do know the purpose was to get a better education than could be had in my home town in rural Louisiana. I was at L'ville because only Groton and L'ville, at the time, took kids starting in 8th grade. Groton didn't let me in (my brother broke a lot of stuff too; ok, they said I was too young at 12), so L'ville it was.

What's it like there? L'ville wasn't exactly like Dead Poets Society. I had to go to church 4 times a term, unlike my brother who went several times a week. We always had our own rooms, with or without a roommate. Most of the teachers live on campus and so there is very close contact with them. Of course, it is isolated from much of the world with a gate and security. There were fairly strict rules that loosened up as you moved up in years. So in 8th and 9th grade, there are mandatory study hours for two hours a night, where you were required to be in your room alone. There was a lights out at 10:00 or so, where the teachers who were strict went around enforcing that your lights were actually out. You had to sign out whenever you went somewhere else on campus at night. By the time you were a senior, I vaguely remember signing out, but there were no study hours and no lights out. L'ville was all male from 1810 - 1987, which included my first two years. When it went coed, you had bizarre rules about visitation between boys and girls houses, called parietals. I so rarely went to see a girl outside of the theater that I barely remember these. They involved things like mandatory doors being open and three feet on the floor. Honestly, I don't remember most of the rules, because by 9th grade I spent almost every night in the arts center, hanging out, so who knows what went on in my house. When it was coed, I spend 2-3 hours a night hanging out with girls in the arts center, so the rules to see them in their rooms were largely unnecessary. I do remember that the process of going to a girls dorm and asking to see Girl X was one of the most nerve-wracking events in your life.

I remember classes and my friends. By your senior year, you get to take some pretty cool electives like, for me, Chinese, Women Writing about Women, Southern Lit, AP European history, Russian history, Intro to Directing. There were even classes after BC Calc, but I didn't make it past Calculus myself. Working at the soup kitchen in Trenton in the basement of a Catholic church was a pretty important experience for me. My friend Steve, and a faculty member, organized a Spring Break trip to go to a soup kitchen in DC for a week, but my parents didn't allow me to go for safety reasons. I did two marches on Washington, as those were my radical days. One was to encourage free emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. I went to that one because Jesse told me to. I don't remember much except for this cute girl on the subway. I also did a march in DC about Homelessness. I knew a wee bit more about this issue, but I mostly went because Steve told me to. I remember all the people, hanging out with my friend Phia, lots of bands, and the inane things that celebritites came out to say.

We had some cool speakers come through. There was Betty Williams who had won the Nobel Peace Prize for work in Northern Ireland. I remember that Jesse's mom, who was genuinely affluent, somehow got a special Torah dedication organized and Elie Weisel was involved. Why don't I remember any of that? I would remember Elie Weisel. I certainly remember "Night". I guess one of the reasons I am always going off about gay marriage rights is because of L'ville. My closest faculty mentor was the Big O, who was one of the two teachers in the theater. He did most of the technical work, and some directing, and I probably spent 10 hours a week or more with the man working with my friends. He had a partner who I don't think I ever met, and he was rarely mentioned. They lived off-campus. I met most other faculty spouses, why not his? I guess, since my first experience, that I knew of, with a man with a male partner was the guy who spent most of his day helping me and my friends grow up and that after all that he kept his private life almost completely private..., well it affects the way you think.

Of course, most of my life at L'Ville was about homework and girls and hanging out with friends, but that is the part we all share.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Is boarding school to blame? (paca)

So the readership of this blog is about 2/3rds people that llama knows and about 1/3 people I know. Unfortunately for them, I am much more long-winded than llama. Another interesting fact is that, I gather, large numbers, if not all, of these llama-based readers are old classmates from an interesting public school in Louisiana. They attended a state sponsored public school, but one that is a boarding school for gifted and talented juniors and seniors in high school. All, please correct any of this which is wrong. One of llama's friends, and a regular reader, recently posted an interesting bit on her blog, which if I may quote is this:

"one of the things that came up in my most recent therapy session is life skills.  my therapist is familiar with LSMSA and people who have gone there.  she observed that one of the problems with going away to school earlier than most kids is that you loose out on some life skill instruction... this doesn't mean we didn't learn how to get ourselves self up, do laundry, maintain some sense of order, and the million other things that go into being responsible for yourself... but that you miss out on the actuall instruction part that you get from your parents.  so you figure that you can go 2 weeks without doing laundry but don't learn how to keep up with laundry on a daily basis... or that ramen noodles make an excellent snack but you miss out on meal planning and cooking dinner at home." (e, if you don't want this quoted here, please yell, and it is gone)

Now, I'm thinking that if these folk lack life skills by going to school away from home as a junior (maybe at the age of 16?), then I, who went to boarding school in New Jersey, from Louisiana, starting at the age of 12 and graduating at 16, must barely be able to tie my shoes on a regular basis. Now , everything the therapist says is true in that I much prefer to put off laundry as long as possible until there is nothing left that's clean. I prefer not to do dishes until the sink is full unless there are just gross ones. Whenever I am alone for a day, which is rare, I often don't eat or just scrounge up snacks until I don't fill so dizzy.

But I am not sure this has anything to do with not gaining certain life skills from my parents. This is the way I do everything. I have been gathering all of the manuscripts for my journal and will edit all of them in one huge marathon session over the next few days. When I pay bills, I take each one out of the envelope and tear off the return portion and stack them all up, then pay them. I just can't pay one bill and go to the next one. I have to organize them with return stub piles, to be filed piles, and garbage piles, and then write the checks. One reason I have such a hard time with regular exercise is that there is no obvious goal. When I decided to run a marathon, I ran literally through snow, because I knew I was going to accomplish something in a few months. I think these are just my weird habits. I put off anything that doesn't have a goal that I can see on the horizon, and I am not sure it has anything to do with being a kid who went to boarding school.

Now, boarding school did have an impact on my life in many ways. One is that I never really grew up with my parents, going through rituals of dating and curfews and such. My curfews and when I could see girls and rules on drinking and smoking were all set by the school. Boarding school also perhaps made me more distant than I ought to be. I sometimes have a hard time shaking the belief that education or the good job or public duty is more important than family and friends. I guess I am just saying that my procrastinating on long-term maintenance sort of things is my general personality, and I am not sure it is particularly due to attending boarding school. But maybe so.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Who kissed who? (paca)

In my confessing your feelings blog entry, I had a couple comments from a husband / wife pair that most of you know. Well, unless this Sammy character is a role they play, where the husband pretends to be a handsome stranger, and not her husband. But I don't know them well enough yet to ask about that. Anyway, Kristy had one version of how they met:

"Alan had a different technique. Take a friend, convince her to lie down for a moment in your bed because there are no seats in your dorm room, and kiss her while she's unsuspecting and sleeping. Sneaky, but effective. Not recommended, though."

Sammy then has a slightly different version:
" That is NOT what went down!

Kristy's technique was to take a friend, confide about your fears of starting your first year of college, get emotionally worked up so that he invites you to stay until you feel better, stay so long that you both end up half asleep on the twin bed in the room, and kiss him while he's unsuspecting and sleeping."

This Roshomon story of theirs touched a nerve because it is similar to N and I. We were friends on the same floor first year of college, and, since we spent all our time together anyway, our friends hooked us up for the Screw Your Roommate dance. It was called Screw Your Roommate because your roommate was in charge of finding your date. Anyway, N and I went out to the dance together and, after the dance, we were walking back across the bridge to our dorm. We stopped for some sort of moment of doe-eyed staring and... a kiss happened. She swears I kissed her first. I swear she kissed me first. Anyway, the rest is history.

Incidentally, I set my roommate up with the woman he had been already seeing. Those two are married now as well. I can't tell you who kissed who first in that couple.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Incompetence or just the wrong decision (paca)

I spend the large majority of my political blog reading nowadays at self-professed moderate blogs. Charging RINO, The Moderate Voice, Donklephant, The Debate Link, etc. I just sort of fell that way, and the discussions are often more enlightening than on a partisan blog where someone says, "Bush bad," and all the commentors echo "Bush so bad," "Bush really bad," and the like. One recurring pattern lately that I have noticed on these blogs is the theme that such and such a policy would have been good except that the current administration bungled it. The Iraq war might have worked if there had been less incompetence on Bush' part.

This idea has become quite popular, and there is good reason for it since there is plenty of evidence of incompetence. However, it can also be a very shallow analysis as well and one that lets the writer off the hook by dumping all the problems on someone else, namely Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, instead of really deciding if the initial idea was in fact a good one at all. Maybe the problem with the Iraq war wasn't only that poor decisions were made, or that no decisions were made when they needed to be, in the handling of post-war Iraq. Let's say that with the current bungling that we now have a 20% chance of success, whatever success may be. But if we hadn't bungled, what were the chances? 40%? 60%? 80%? It's not clear. And I think this is the problem with the idea of pre-emptive war. We humans, no matter how competent, are really not that good at making these decisions.

Of course, one can't always sit back waiting to know the answers. You have to act in the face of human frailty and silliness. There is some risk in letting a known enemy stay. Do we know what will happen when the enemy is taken out? Moreover, is the death of thousands of that enemy's civilians worth it, when you don't know, and cannot know, the outcome?

I do not know the answers to my own questions. I will say that the only time I think the "spreading democracy with armies" idea in Iraq was a good one was when an Iraqi tells me it was. However, I think it is important to keep this larger picture in mind whenever we reflect upon the Iraq war and its progress. It isn't enough to just get disgusted at arrogance and error and let it stop there. You also have to think about what things would have been like without the bungling, and, moreover, what the right thing to do is regardless.

Monday, March 20, 2006

That's ma boy! (paca)

Ahh, the joys of fatherhood where I get to manipulate an innocent creature into being whatever I want.

So a few days back little B and I were dancing to the strains of Jungle Boogie from the Kool & the Gang House of Blues concert DVD. B has known Jungle Boogie for some time, so I am not bragging about that. No, it was after the 4th or 5th repetition that I went searching for some other song he might like, so I went to the third to last track. The little funk guitar riff starts and after just a couple measures B says, "ooh, Lady's Night." That's ma boy.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What's hard about English? (paca)

I have been doing a lot of editing for my fellow students lately. I have always been doing it as one of the rare native speakers of English in the department, but now that people have learned I am a part-time copy-editor by trade, the requests have really taken off. Anyway, since these are normally doctoral students, they have been studying English for more years than I can imagine. What is interesting is where exactly, after all these years of study, English remains difficult. The answer: determiners and prepositions. Someone will write an extraordinarily long and complex, perfect English sentence, containing multiple subordinate clauses, with only one flaw. They leave "the" out. The other main area is which prepositions go with which verbs. The reason for these two problems are very different. For determiners, the problem is just that Korean, Japanese, and Chinese don't have them, and the rules on when to use them are extraordinarily complex. I don't know what they are myself. I just know, as most of you do, when it's wrong. The problem with prepositions is that there are no real patterns. Every verb has its own set that it prefers. For example, one is "concerned with" but "cares about". You can also say "concerned about" but you can't say "cares with". English is full of this sort of minutiae, which native speakers have all memorized as if it is the easiest thing in the world, when it is not.

It's just interesting that of all the complexities of a language, when to stick in "the" is the hardest.

I have a Chinese friend here who always makes one funny mistake in spoken English. Chinese only has one word for he, she, it, which is "ta (1st tone)". This is extraordinarily useful in its own way, but it causes troubles for my friend when said person is speaking. Person X is endlessly calling men "she" and women "he" and the different words switch back and forth in just a few sentences about the same person. Unfortunately, this is not something most English speakers will let slide. If someone forgets to make the verb agree perfectly with the subject, you may notice it, but no one really cares. But men don't like being called "she" and "her" in our culture (and vice versa I assume).

I say all this with the utmost admiration for my friends' language abilities. I cannot even imagine doing a doctorate in a different language. I for instance can't tell you what parts of Chinese remain difficult for the advanced second language speaker of it, because I myself never got above "low intermediate".

Where was the paca? (paca)

I am sure everyone has been wondering why the paca hasn't been writing. What could be going on in his life?

The answer: nothing

Or, basically, I have just been lazy on this blog for a few days. I have been up to things. Somehow I got in debates about the NSA wiretapping thing and abortion on a couple web sites. (The Moderate Voice and Donklephant, to be exact). So I guess all my blog passion has been poured that way.

I've also been working pretty hard on my paper that I want to get published. This is the one about using intonation to group and interpret sentences. I've spent an amazing amount of time concerned with the issue of trees versus grids versus brackets. It's just a notation to express what my research found, but the notation gives many different ways of understanding the topic, and they really aren't the same.

In other news, I think it was Monday night, we rented and watched Sky High. I chose it because I was trying to find a movie for a 3 year old and a 32 year old. I liked it far more than I had a right to. I can't exactly recommend it to others, as it was more like a guilty pleasure. Good would be a strong word. It was clearly written and directed by someone reliving their high school days in the mid 80s, not a current high school, and came complete with Spandau Ballet's True, playing every time one of the love interests came on the screen. It contained every single high school movie cliche of the time - from the ignored female best friend who was in love with the protagonist to the beautiful popular girl who seems to like the hero but is evil to the wild party thrown at the hero's house that he didn't plan. All set to music from 1985. It played rather like a John Hughes flick (Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club), or even more the movie "Can't Buy Me Love".

Does anyone else remember that last movie? I thought it was awesome when I was about 12. It's the story of this averge boy who mows the lawn of the rich, beautiful cheerleader captain. In a party with her horrible popular friends, she spills something on her mother's suede vest. We've all had that problem, right? She needs to get a new one before her mom comes home, but it will cost $1000 dollars. Somehow, she is at the mall crying about it, and our hero offers her the money if she will spend a day with him at school. He will become popular if he is seen with her, he's sure. I have forgotten why our mower hero has a thousand dollars and rich cheerleader doesn't, but whatever. So they of course go out and she falls for him, and he does indeed become popular. Of course, in these movies, that means you become a jerk, and the two have a falling out. Finally, he realizes his horrible mistakes and they make up. I went raving about this movie to the llama, when we were 12 remember, as the best movie ever made. He thought it was so-so. I think I only liked the movie because 1) it was a fantasy of a geek becoming adored, and 2) I thought the girl was the greatest thing ever. I probably shouldn't confess to this, but I remember freeze-framing through shots of her in the movie, staring. Can I say that I was 12 again to make it better?

Anyway, Sky High is like those old movies redone, written for 10 year olds, and oh yeah, they have super powers.

By the way, if anyone is wondering where the llama is, I have no idea. I can tell you from the statcounter that no one is reading this blog from Thailand, so my guess is he's off in Bangladesh or something again.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Confessing your feelings (paca)

For some strange reason, I have gotten lots of requests in the last couple years for advice on relationships. Usually, it is people who want to start them, but not with me, with some other person they know or want to know. Perhaps since I am attached, I am a safe person to quiz on these things. I should also say that whoever is reading this, I am almost certainly not talking about you. I say that because I have dispensed such advice to a couple readers of this blog, and I really truly am thinking of other people in this next paragraph and not breaking any sort of confidence.

Almost always when the topic comes up, the person likes someone and they want to know how to say that. My advice has become pretty routine at this point. Tell them. Just do it. Instead, everyone wants to use divination rods to find out what someone else thinks.

Forget about it.

To get yourself in a relationship with someone, you have two basic choices. You can either gussy yourself up, however you like to gussy, make yourself look available, and then wait and hope; or you can do all of that and then act. I recommend the latter.

But one form this acting often seems to take is the great confession of feelings. The person builds up their confidence for days or weeks or months and then finally one fateful day they tell the other person how they feel about them. I admire people who can do that enormously. That's some serious courage. Really. But it seems to hardly ever actually work. Or what it gets them is finally over that hump, and they can move on to something else.

So, if confessing your feelings for someone isn't the right move, usually, then what is?

I think it depends on each relationship.

Love Scenario 1) Let's say you see someone a lot in some public setting, but you never speak to him or her. In that case, don't go confess what you think about them. Just do what you want to do, which is to speak to them. That's it.

Love Scenario 2) You hang out with someone a lot, doing whatever you do. At work, in class, at the gym, whatever. So you both already know each other, and you spend time with them, but always with a bunch of other people. What do you do here? Well, what is it that you want? You probably want to spend some time with that other person alone. If that is the case, then go for that. Just ask them out. When you do so, you don't need to tell them of your undying love, just go.

Love Scenario 2') Let's say you asked the person out, and they declined. You brought them flowers, and they seemed touched, but then never called you back or did anything in return. Is it now time for the big confession? Absolutely not. It seems that all you are doing here is pressing the issue. The person is either not interested or too lazy to do anything with you. If they don't want to even go to dinner, why should you telling them how perfect they are and how much you like them make them want to go? It is time to move on. Now, there is the case of someone being too shy to say yes, which is a special case. I was that way when I was 12 and the girl wanted to dance with me and I ran away as fast as I could, even though I wanted nothing other than to dance with her. Does that still happen when you are 25, 35, or 45? Maybe every once in a while. Most shy people will say yes to an invitation if they like you. The point is that you can't persuade someone to love you. I think there's a song about that.

Love Scenario 3) You are friends with someone. You spend all sorts of time together. Periodically, you stare dreamily into their eyes. But it never seems to go to that next stage. How do you get to the next stage, you ask Dr. Love? Well, what is this next stage that you are after? Once you figure that out, then you will figure out what to do. Is it to have more physical contact with them, so that you aren't just friends? If so, then you don't need to make a confession to them again. Instead, just touch them. Yes, I said it. Depending on the kind of person you are, that can be anything from holding their hand to trying to stick your tongue down their throat. If the two of you are spending every waking moment together, and you grab his hand, almost anyone is going to figure out how you feel. If you are a person who walks arm in arm with your buddies all the time, then you will have to so something else. If they are a friend, they will realize that this is something you don't do with friends.

The response from the wouldbe lover is clear here: But what if he/she doesn't want me to touch them, and then I do, and it destroys the friendship? This is a real issue. But I bet telling them that you are in love with them is going to be just as scary to them. If a female friend of mine took my hand, I think it would be easier for me to decline that and remain friends, than if she spends 15 minutes telling me how perfect I am for her. There's also the question of, can you handle being just friends with this person forever? If the pressure to change the relationship to something other than friendship is truly eating you up inside, then I am not sure you can just turn it off.

Love Scenario 4) What if we already spend time together, we are as physically together as I want to be, but I still am not sure how he feels about me? OK, then, go confess your feelings. Now it is time.

This whole bit is not based on some sort of stages, where you don't do one thing until you have done something else. It is based entirely on what you want in the relationship and taking baby steps to get it. If what you want is her attention, go for that. If what you want is alone time, go for that. If what you want is to wrap your form around his naked body, then go for that. And if what you want is open free emotional commitment, where he mouths "I love you" to you across a crowded room, then it is time to go for that by talking. You don't need to make a case for The Next Step to the other person. They either want to do that too or they don't. You offer and they accept or refuse.

And there you go.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Christmas trees



Back when I was in grad school the first time, this is the M.A. in philosophy from 94-96, N and I started a tradition of having home-made Christmas trees, as a way to save a bit of money compared to a real tree. We've had all sorts of trees. Tree made of wire coat hangers; tree made of long branches stuck into a bucket; a white sheet tree with ornaments; and at least three paper trees. I have put the pictures from the last two trees here. The palm tree one is 2005 and the other one is 2004, so these are the Hawai'i trees. I like the tradition quite a bit, but I admit it is easy for me. N is the creative one with her hands and eye, and she makes all of them. I did the lights this year.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Get around, round, round (paca)

Here is a map of the States I have been to in some form or another. Not many left! (You should note that I used to travel for work and N and I drove from Minneota to Seattle and back once. Those two things explain half the marks.)



create your own visited states map
or check out these Google Hacks.

Also, you can do the whole world. I love how a one day stop in St. Petersburg nets me like 1/8 of the world or something. Here's that map:



create your own visited countries map

Some Pork Headed My Way (paca)

One of the political blogs I read regularly is Charging RINO, which is a moderate Republican blog. One of his leading fights is about government waste and pork, especially in the current fight to reduce or eliminate funds in the Senate that are earmarked by Senators to go to some place, usually their home state; i.e., pork. I saw a little blurb in one of the Honolulu newspapers that our Senator Inouye has gotten $21 million of fed money to head this way for repairs to the UH library, which is about two buildings over from where I sit. He specifically puts in the phrase "requested by me" so that we all know who brought home the bacon.

Now, the library needs repairs. Last year there was a flood in the Manoa Valley, where the Manoa stream jumped its banks and ran for a few hours right through the biochem building, under the office I sit in, and right into the library. The library is built with pretty much a moat around it. There are these dips where you can walk down into the basement on either side. The stream ran right into the moat, swamping the bottom floor and the one above it. It destroyed a whole server farm, most of the gov. docs, classrooms, and closed the library for the rest of the semester. The cost of repairs is in the tens of millions of dollars. The biochem building is still closed.

All that said, here are some reasons I still don't like the federal money going here.

1) The library is still designed with a moat around it. Nothing has been done to prevent this exact same thing from happening again in 20 years.
2) The State of Hawaii has the money to do all the repairs itself. The great political fight right now in the State legislature is over what to do with a state surplus that exceeds $200 million. We've got the money to fix the library ourselves. Our Republican governor wants to give the whole thing back to Hawaii tax payers. I understand this, but it seems like if we do that, then we are essentially giving money back to Hawaii residents and taking money from the other 49 states to repair a Hawaii state university.
3) This money comes from a Homeland Security bill. What does the UH library have to do with Homeland Security? Nothing, of course.

I respect Sen. Inouye. He has a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in WWII. And the story of the Japanese-American battalians fighting in WWII, while all their families were living in internment camps, is one of the great heroic stories of the war. But this is still the wrong decision. At best, the Federal govt has a legit interest in getting the government docs section up and going, but the rest can and should be paid for by Hawaii itself.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

no carb paca

A couple days ago, N and I were eating dinner. We've been talking for, well, for years about diet and exercise, but perhaps we were in a little slump recently.

So I suddenly said, "hey, wanna do the South Beach diet together?"

I should emphasize that this is the only thought I put into it. I've also never gone on any diet with a name in my life.

"Sure," says N. "We should get the book and plan out what groceries we will buy. Maybe we will start next week?"

"Sounds good."

The next morning I happened to have some yogurt for breakfast and went into school. I was approaching the soda machine for my early morning fix (and I wonder why my diet isn't great?) and look at it and think, "Well, there's no reason I can't start early. I will still do the no carb thing with N when we get the book together."

So I choose the Diet Soda with no carbs.

Then I had to come up with a no carb lunch at the cafeteria. Chili and a banana. Now I need a snack. An apple. Now, it's dinner. A little piece of beef with sauteed onions, a whole head of brocolli, and this vegie soup N happened to make over the weekend.

It's been interesting. More than anything it makes me think about my food really for the first time in detail. I keep reaching for things and having to stop and think, "No, that's a carb, too." I've managed to keep it up through today. The main impact seems to be that I am slightly hungry all the time. Just ate today's apple and still hunfry. I am also eating more fruit as it's all I can think of to snack on. I know fruit has sugar in it, but I'm going with, "if it's natural sugar, like an apple or sweet onion, it's OK."

I still have no plan or purpose. We still haven't bought the book. I will probably quit whenever it gets boring. I figure that for the 2-3 weeks I have in mind, I am not going to harm myself. I am NOT planning on going Atkins-style high fat for a year, which obviously has other consequences.

pacapaca

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Why do you read? (paca)

First, I should say that I have been a prolific blogger over the last few days, so scroll down to see what's new.

Now, the topic of this blog entry. What do you read for? On Sunday, I wanted to get out of my office some, but it was raining, so I couldn't work outside. I ended up carrying my work with me, reading, while I walked in circles inside the library. This worked fairly well for some time, as I quite regularly read while walking around campus. But then trouble struck. I passed the M section in English lit. I have been meaning to read some of A.A. Milne's adult fiction and plays for some time. (There is a very nice bio of Milne that I skimmed once. Essentially, Milne was a very successful playwright and mystery author before Winnie the Pooh. Many of his works were filled with whimsy and light fun with significant overtones. Then he wrote Winnie the Pooh for children. From that point on, anything Milne wrote for adults was reviewed by the critics as childish and superficial. Milne hadn't changed. The reviewers just couldn't see past Pooh.)

Anyway, I selected a couple books to read later, then I made the mistake. "Well, the M section is close to the L section..." Pivot. Ahhh, 5 shelves of C.S. Lewis. Goodbye work. I ended up reading a chapter from Kath Filmer's The Fiction of C.S. Lewis, 1993. The chapter was "Masking the Misogynist in Narnia and Glome." I chose that chapter because Glome is the land of Lewis' best and last book Till We Have Faces. I won't go through the whole chapter. The point of the chapter is that Lewis was and remained a misogynist through-out his life, as revealed by his fiction. The reason that Filmer spends so much time on Till We Have Faces is because it is the book that most, including myself, hold up as more nuanced on the nature of being female than most of his earlier books, including the Narnia books. Till We Have Faces revolves around a wise and good, though flawed, warrior queen, while most earlier roles for women were nurses, mothers, wives, etc. with not too much more to be said about them.

My problem with the chapter was not so much her interpretations of the characters of the stories. Sure, I disagreed at times, but that's just something to debate. What bugged me was that Filmer kept going back to what this was supposed to reveal about Lewis, the man. The story wasn't of much interest to her, it seemed, but only divining Lewis' attitudes and how they were hidden and revealed in this writing. Later, in the concluding chapter, she approvingly quotes Rosalind Miles' The Rites of Man (haven't read it), which apparently includes the insight that "the male sense of self is located in his penis. And the self is gratified through masturbation long before the young male is introduced to sexual intercourse with a female." I will not jump on this topic. The key is that Filmer tries to construct portrait of Lewis' fiction that revolves around his life - his mother dying from cancer when he was young, his relationship with his wife who also passed away from cancer after a short marriage, etc. His fiction is supposed to be revealed and understood by going through a psychoanalysis of the author. The whole time I am thinking "who cares?" You are missing what the book is about and what the female character of Orual is about.

Till We Have Faces is about a human being who has great virtues - wisdom, intelligence, courage, strength - and also great flaws, the most prominent of which is jealous, possessive attachment. She lives a full life with these strengths and weaknesses and then at the end is confronted with God, in the form of the divine Cupid in this novel. What happens then? What happens when flawed, sinning humans, even one with all the worldly wisdom of Orual, meet the Divine? This is what the book is about. It isn't about Lewis, the man. And I don't read Till We Have Faces in order to meet this old English professor named C.S. Lewis. I read the book for the book, and I am not sure Filmer is adding much to my like or dislike of the book by trying to find the hidden author behind it all and determine his moral worth.