Thursday, December 1, 2011
Next year, in 2012, I am asking you to vote "no" on Minnesota's proposed amendment to ban gay marriage. Marriage should accessible to everyone; the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage should not be exclusive to opposite sex partners.
One might ask me: Why? Why do you care? I am a married heterosexual man. I got mine. What difference does it make to me? Why do I feel so passionately about it? Why do I need marriage equality?
I could say, I have family members who would be hurt by this ban. I could say, I have friends who would be hurt by this ban. These are both powerful and true reasons, and it is likely that if you explored your family tree and your list of friends and acquaintances, those reasons would almost certainly apply to you as well. But for me, the answer is deeper and more primal than that.
Does my happiness and well-being hinge upon my exclusive access to it? Is my joy enriched by another's hardship and misery? Of course not. In fact, quite the opposite: it is tarnished by the suffering of others. Let us be honest: the world can be a hard and lonely place. Our happiness and well-being are intimately connected to the people around us. My redemption as a person cries out for everyone to share equally in the mere possibility of human fulfillment. And marriage is an important avenue to achieving true happiness on this earth, because a deep and abiding human connection can bring such fulfillment. How could I deny someone this precious thing? How can anyone?
You can dislike gays and vote against this amendment. Disliking someone has never been a reason to promote iniquity. You can adhere to your faith's notions about human coupling and sexuality and vote against this amendment. Though the state recognizes your faith-based marriage, no marriage performed by the state is necessarily sanctioned by your church. That would not change, whether this amendment passes or not. In short, you can oppose gay marriage and still vote to legalize it.
You can do these things because to legalize gay marriage is an act of civic faith and of basic humanity that would not impugn your personal views or religious practices. Rather, to vote against this amendment is to say, "I may not agree with gay marriage, but I trust that a civil marriage between same-sex partners will not affect me negatively, and it may well improve the well-being of society."
But what you absolutely cannot do is say, "I believe in personal freedom" and vote to ban gay marriage. You cannot say, "the government should not tell people who they may love or what that love must be" and support this amendment. You simply cannot say, "I am a tolerant person with a 'live and let live' attitude" and oppose gay marriage.
Please, vote against this amendment. Find the humanity in your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Believe in their right to seek lasting companionship and fulfillment. Legalize gay marriage. Live. And let live.
Update: I probably should not have titled this post the way I did, because after all, defeating the marriage amendment will not legalize gay marriage - it will still be illegal. But I'm not simply advocating the defeat of the amendment, I'm advocating full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. And defeating the amendment is a step in the right direction, and one that Minnesota should take.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
God said it - I believe it - that settles it.So begins the book. Carse sets out to disentangle "religion" from "belief", which are not the synonyms I (and most people) take them to be. For him, this is no mere academic exercise: it can be argued that conflicting religious beliefs are responsible for much of what is shocking and violent in our world today, and he wants to draw a sharp distinction between the two.
- bumper sticker
Carse argues that belief marks a boundary beyond which thinking and questioning and exploration cease. For a believer, there is nothing beyond his own beliefs. Religion, on the other hand, is surprisingly difficult to define; he writes that it is an ethereal and mysterious and enduring phenomenon, in which its practitioners strive for knowledge without ever reaching it.
The author posits that the great religions of the world have thrived not because of their legions of believers, but because of vital conversations within themselves about their own meaning. Using his expansive knowledge of history, he illustrates that the result of these religious dialectics is what he labels the "poetry of religion." In striving for the infinite, there can be no boundaries, no ultimate truth; only horizons and contexts.
Carse spends a great deal of energy developing his definition of belief in order to distinguish it from religion. He starts by enumerating three types of ignorance: ordinary, willful, and "higher". Ordinary and willful ignorance are self-explanatory, but this last form was unfamiliar to me. He states that "higher" ignorance is a form of mental discipline in which a person has come to practice intellectual humility and honesty in the presence of a vast and unchartable universe. The money quote: "knowledge is corrigible, belief is not."
He goes on to say that willful ignorance is the cornerstone of belief systems. For Carse, belief has a limit imposed by some authority (a text, a person, an idea), and its effectiveness as a system is in securing its intellectual borders and defining its limits:
Once believers have selected their authority, genuine dialogue is abandoned. Discourse does not take its own spontaneous path but is aimed always at correcting and strengthening the existing thinking of those who already believe. Indeed, an attempt at genuine dialogue within a belief system can be taken itself as an act of unbelief.Belief needs and thrives on opposition, because only walls that are being attacked need defending. He further states that because of this rigidity, belief systems actually contain the seeds of their own demise.
Believers and warriors tend to merge into one another: the military sees itself in religious terms, while believers take on the images of warfare.In striving to distinguish these two related yet (for him) oppositional words, he actually lights upon a compact and almost elegant definition of evil: "evil find its perfect home in our own belief system and the moral certainty that goes with it."
[Belief systems] have an absolute commitment to their own orthodoxy, something missing in all the great religions... For all of their apparent worldly power, they are surprisingly fragile.
As his distinction between belief and religion become clear, the book develops the idea of the human institutions that make a body of believers vs religious adherents. He uses the terms civitas and communitas to speak about these groups. He begins to examine just how difficult it is to define "religion" and what it encompasses. He uses some iconic historical figures: Galileo, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, and even Jesus to help illustrate his message about the gulf between religion and belief.
My greatest critique of Carse's work is that while his distinction between religion and belief may be meaningful and fairly well-established among scholars of religion, my experience with these phenomena in the wider world is that the two are almost hopelessly entangled. And while his definition of belief is compelling, he goes a bit too far when he tries to categorize scientific pursuits with it.
All that said, Carse's work is a good reminder that religious tradition and experience has a richness and depth and eloquence that resonates with people.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
"All of this playing at politics is completely unnecessary. Democracy is for those capable of self-governance. Americans are not interested in governing themselves, but in watching television, and the political spectacle does not make for particularly compelling television viewing."From ClubOrlov, a blog I've been checking on now and again.
I can't decide if I'm a cynic or a cynic.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Dear Governor Dayton:
I admired your tenacity in facing the Republican legislature during the Minnesota state government shutdown. Although I was disappointed that you had to make so many concessions to end the stalemate, I respected your reasons for doing so: to protect and serve the greater good for Minnesota.
There is another fight in Minnesota looming in which the greater good is at stake: stadium financing. I urge you to change your stance on public financing of a Vikings stadium. You must oppose it, I beg.
Study after study after study (c.f., Robert Baade, Phil Porter, Frank Rashid, etc.) have consistently demonstrated that investing in professional sports does nothing to promote jobs or economic growth in the at-large community. In these difficult times, we here in Minnesota simply cannot afford to waste public money on such dubious investments. We need to make sound investments in jobs, education, infrastructure, and affordable, accessible healthcare.
There is a moral issue here, bigger than state pride in a professional sports team, and far more important than anyone's re-election prospects. The stadium must not be financed by public money. We must end the cycle of corporate blackmail, and spend limited resources in ways that reflect our values as Minnesotans.
Take a stand against publicly-funded stadiums, for the good of Minnesota.
Please consider my request.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Thursday, June 2, 2011
It would have been far better to leave the article and invite another scientist to dispute Ms. Turner's claims. Closing down the discussion before it had even begun is a triumph of orthodoxy over knowledge.
update: luckily, the article can now be found elsewhere.
update 2: I just got a response from the Wedge. It was a kindly note, but it sounds like their vegan customers are quite outraged by the article. Ahh, the intractability of beliefs. That will actually be my next blog topic, by way of a book review.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
What's to be done about such a thing?
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
- 100 burpees in 8 minutes.
- 5k in 21 minutes.
- 20 pull-ups in a row.
- Dunk a basketball.
- 10 double-unders in a row.
Monday, May 2, 2011
It remains to be seen whether this so-called 'significant achievement' in the war on terror will alter U.S. foreign policy or military operations. I have my doubts.
In the meantime, let us recall that Osama bin Laden did not consider himself a wicked or evil man. He was utterly convinced of his own righteousness. In that light, one can see that unquestioned beliefs and absolutism are poisonous to humanity. Eschew belief and shun certainty; rather, seek knowledge and embrace uncertainty.
May the victims of this terror war rest in peace, and may their survivors find the strength and hope and healing to carry on.
Update: this essay captures much of my ambivalence about the occasion of OBL's death.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Result: 12 minutes and 37 seconds. Not as much improvement as I had hoped, but still a personal best. I'll take it! Perhaps I need to incorporate some other mode of training, however, if I want to achieve my ultimate goal of 100 burpees in eight minutes.
By the way, I am not alone in admiring the raw power of the burpee! Coincidentally, shortly after I began my 10,000 burpee quest, the New York Times published an article in which several physiologists and exercise scientists were hard pressed to top the burpee as the king of exercises. Awesome.
death is our lifelong companionIn loving memory of Margaret Carr, 1949-2011.
who greets us at our birth
treat him as your dearest friend
while you walk the earth
do not fear his icy touch
despair will help you not
trust that life will end one day
ere then do as you ought
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Inside Deep Throat follows the stories of the principle actors and filmmakers during the film's notorious heyday. Though it is difficult to imagine now, forty years ago, sex was not only counter-culture but almost subversive. Blue movies were financed by seedy gray-market forces, often with ties to organized crime. Actors were attracted to the industry not for the money, but more often because they were self-described rebels experimenting with new freedoms and definitions of morality. Late in the movie, the documentary even visits with the agents and prosecutors who sought to ban the film. Deep Throat benefited from the enormous drive to censor it, and it rode this wave of censorship. It is probably not much of an exaggeration to assert (as the documentary does) that Deep Throat almost single-handedly ushered in the adult movie industry as we know it today.
I don't know if I can say much more about this film - it is better discussed among people who have seen it, rather than written about unilaterally. It is definitely worth a look. Watch it as a double feature with This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a movie about the appallingly secretive MPAA and the fawning self-censorship of Hollywood.
Friday, April 1, 2011
Today I set a new goal: 100 burpees per day for 100 days. This is a far more ambitious goal, because I struggle to stay focused and disciplined over long stretches. Admittedly, 100 days is not a great deal of time. But my hope is that striving for this goal will help me to hone a more expansive, process-oriented relationship to fitness. After all, in fitness, as in life, the destination is not as important as the journey. One can't have too many reminders of that. So here's to the journey!
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
My main problem with the series is the same one I've had all along - the majority of the characters are simply plot devices. They would take an extreme position in one episode (or set of episodes), then take the exact opposite position, sometimes in literally the very next show, solely for the sake of creating dramatic/storyline tension. This is the single worst feature of the series, and it happened again and again. In my opinion, a good story evolves from the conflict between well-defined characters holding on to cherished beliefs. It drives me crazy when a character appears to change a deeply-held conviction for no other reason than that the writer needs to amp up the discord.
The absurd result is that one week, we see Adama inciting a mutiny and a coup d'etat by forcing Cylon technology on to the unwilling fleet, only to abjectly refuse it for his own ship in the next. Starbuck drives her own crew to mutiny over her single-minded quest, but then coldly rejects Adama's desire to rescue Roslin. And so on and so on. The characters most victimized by this phenomenon: Starbuck, Adama, Apollo, Ellen, Baltar. Even Tyrol, Caprica-Six, and Zarek fall prey to this trope. In short, almost all of the main characters of the series are tainted by this problem at one time or another. In fact, out of the entire ensemble, only Tigh and Agathon seem consistent throughout the course of the series.
The writers made religion a major theme of the show, but it became a muddled and ultimately meaningless cacophony. This is the next major problem. Take the One True God. On one hand, OTG seems to embody the most appealing elements of mystical monotheism: a loving, compassionate, and merciful being that calls all living things to embrace these values. But OTG also apparently plays everyone like pawns, using visions and fates to drive humans and Cylons alike to their destiny in spite of themselves. Moreover, Six-Angel and Baltar-Angel, OTG's most prominent evangelists, are shallow, vain, manipulative, seductive, and crave violence, sex, and destruction.
Meanwhile, the 'false' (???) colonial gods are... what, exactly? All I have here are questions, because there doesn't seem to be any clear definition. Are they truly false? Are they as capricious and wicked as Baltar claims? The teachings of the colonial religion seem to be generic new-age feel-good stuff. So Baltar can't be completely right. So are they a pale shadow of OTG?
I have more questions about religion in the show: why isn't the Cylon civil war cast into more explicitly religious terms (a "OTG for Cylons" faction vs a "OTG for All" faction)? And why doesn't the backlash against human monotheists develop into an all-out religious war for humanity? In the latter case, there are some hints at this, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere, mainly because, apart from the "Sons of Aries," the old faith actually seems to be pretty tolerant, and the new faith seems to be based more on the cult of Baltar instead of any true conversion.
Still more - why aren't human monotheists striving harder for human-Cylon unity? Where does the colonial religion's prophecy of Earth fit in with OTG's 'plan'? Why don't the clerics of the colonial religion continue to appropriate/interpret the mystical events of the show as evidence of their own gods' divine workings? There seem to be lots of proposed answers to all of these questions, but they are incomplete and contradictory, none of them actually adding up to anything. There is less here than meets the eye.
Another issue I had with the show is its overweening sense of melodrama - how many times did Bill Adama smash up his office, take off his admiral pins, contravene the democratic wishes of the Quorum? How many times did Lee Adama quit the service? How many fights did Starbuck instigate? How many times did sex begin with a violent confrontation between characters? Even the opening titles of the show - 'And they have a plan' - so ominous and creepy and entertaining at the beginning of the series, became such a farce that it had to be abandoned. There was never any plan. Just another melodramatic tease.
Random complaint - what happened to D'Anna? Seriously, where the fuck was she in the last 3-4 episodes? To let such a pivotal character fade into the background with no explanation is pretty unforgivable.
I know I've already complained about Starbuck as a plot device, but she deserves a little more attention. She is a superwoman: the best pilot in the fleet, the best marksman, best military strategist, best martial artist, best poker player, best musician, etc, etc. WTF?
Another issue I have with Starbuck is that no explanation is offered for her "resurrection" other than that she's an angel, even though very obvious ones occur to any casual viewer of science fiction: time travel, time paradox, and/or parallel universes. Why didn't they address these possible explanations? I thought Baltar was a scientist, and that this was a science fiction show.
The Final Five were so painfully shoe-horned into the story that they barely merit comment. Accepting them as Cylons was a major hurdle for my continued following of the show, and one of the reasons it took so long for me to finish. They are written as the parents of the Cylon race, and basically they all seem to want to return to their own kind (with the exception of Saul Tigh). But they all stay on Galactica. How come? Ellen Tigh is the worst of the bunch. Imagine the creative meeting that brought her character back as a Cylon - Q: "should she continue to be a drunken trollop, or evolve into the sage mother of all Cylons?" A: "I've got it, let's have her be both!"
The cult/harem of Baltar never made sense. Enough said.
Ok, I'd better wrap it up. The series finale is a whiplash-inducing snoozefest. We learn pointless details about the backstory of a few of the major characters, and in the present, the fleet, ready to riot over Galactica's resources, suddenly agrees to give up all technology and start over as farmers. Huh? (And actually, given the time frame of their contact with our Earth, shouldn't they be hunter-gatherers? Aw, fuck it.)
Anyway, this plot point ties back to the first problem I mentioned - characters just do things for the sake of the story, not because they are actually credible actions. If the plot requires a complete reversal on an issue, you can be sure that the character will make that reversal. The only difference in the finale is that instead of it being a single character, it is the entire human race changing its collective mind all at the same time, for the sake of a tidy little ending.
So there you have it. I could go on, but you get the idea. Very disappointing. It's sad because I think the core of the show had some great ideas and plot lines, and some really compelling drama, which in the end only served to make its failure all the more maddening and profound.
Monday, February 28, 2011
A Teabagger, Union Member and a CEO are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The CEO immediately takes 11 cookies for himself. The CEO then turns to the Teabagger and says, "Watch out for that union guy - he wants part of your cookie."Amusing and poignant. One of his commentators was not amused, however, and complained that the left felt entitled to everyone else's cookies and dismissed the joke and its underlying point as "complete and total class envy."
The charge of 'class envy' seems to come up these days more often than at any time in my memory, so I want to dispense with it. Absurd! Rapacious, grasping theft is evil; calling it so and trying to something about it doesn't make one envious of the thief. There should be a natural alliance between the union man and the tea-partier, but as the joke illustrates, it is pitifully easy to exploit their differences.
The unfortunate truth is that the tea-partier is the one with 'class envy': he is the player coveting the CEO's wealth, convinced of the CEO's inherent superiority and enamored of the fairy tale that another 11 cookies will magically appear for him to take, if only he would follow the CEO's advice and screw the other guy out of a meager one-half of a cookie.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
An undercurrent of violence loomed, however. A drunken fool of a woman, looking to all the world like a surgically-enhanced cougar, who had been spilling her drinks on a couple of my friends and generally making a nuisance of herself, started waving her hand in my face. Perhaps all this jostling with the crowd had made me a little irritable, and I said, "please take your hand out of my face."
Suddenly her husband/boyfriend/lover/hookup appeared, pressing his chest against mine, admonishing me for having spoken to this woman. He was shorter than me, but stocky, formidable, and roaring drunk. Two of his friends also started shoving on me and calling me out. I was pretty much dumbstruck, and repeated my instruction that she keep her hands to herself. To be honest, I had a big smile on my face; I couldn't really believe this was happening.
He, his friends and I exchanged a few words; they were developing an un-sober treatise on a "kicking-my-ass" theme, while my words were mostly a collection of half-stammered questions whose sentiment could be boiled down to "...really?" My smile belied my true state, however: my heart was pounding and my adrenal gland had flooded my system with its potent hormone. Fight or flight? I took a few breaths and backed down. Did I really want to fight three dudes (and probably take a beating) over some hussy's behavior?
The tension seemed to lift for a moment, though I got a few more dirty looks from the woman and the man, and his two friends continued making an effort to provoke me. Whatever. I looked away. Then the woman actually made physical contact, slapping at me and flicking her fingers on my nose. What the hell? I made a gesture with my middle finger; a weak-minded response, I suppose, but I just couldn't completely drop it. I'm not that composed. My wife was upset; she had told me to let it be.
A kaleidoscope of activity: lines were drawn, threats were repeated, the bouncer appeared, our friends surrounded me, and my wife's most ferocious friend, all five-foot-two-inches of her, managed to get between me and the main aggressor. She had been the one who was getting the drink spilled on her, and she had been pushed to her limit by these fools as well.
Now, I hadn't had anything to drink, and to me it seemed obvious who had instigated this melee and why. I leaned in and offered the bouncer a brief summary. He did not seem interested in my account of our antagonists' drunken aggression, but I did learn that the bouncer had already paid at least two other visits to this group. He stood between us unmoved.
Our party was done - everyone wanted to leave. When our intentions were clear, the bouncer offered our group free shots as an apology. Great! A bar employee suggesting more alcohol in order to diffuse what was essentially a booze-fueled confrontation.
So here are my questions: how did I get into this? Where was my mistake? And what is a modern man to do?
I feel like I might have won some real admiration from my wife and our friends had I been able to talk my way out of this confrontation. I also feel like I would have found some self-respect and personal resolution had I simply driven my elbow into the man's throat. Heck, if all three of the men had jumped me and tried to beat me down, then there would have been little shame in turning tail and running like hell. But what happened was... nothing. I simply walked out with my group.
It felt like the weakest, most effete result. Here was my wife's diminutive friend, standing between me and my quarry, more effectively resolving the situation than the club's staff or anyone else. Here was the bar, watching idly while good and true patrons leave the establishment, rather than doing the difficult work of forcing out the people causing the disruption and who were likely to continue their campaign of abusive behavior. Here was the other party, openly and obnoxiously gloating that they had 'won' the altercation. Here were all my primal instincts, rebelling against my walk of shame: fight for your mate, your clan, your territory! Or if defeated, run! I felt awful.
Our primitive/physical selves are remarkably well-equipped to handle such situations: fight, kill, flee. But my intellectual/emotional self is woefully undeveloped. I was completely beholden to my instincts, unable to summon the faculties to talk my way into a more satisfying resolution, and yet hidebound by civilized convention to avoid violence. It was a very personal defeat.