Listen, My Children...

Every Little Helps

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Austin


Travelling in stages up 290 over the course of the next four days (no, not hitchhiking -- my grandparents have a ranch), ending up in Austin, where I won't (yet) have any time to spend meeting anyone -- I sign my lease form, move my television and sleeping bag and stool (only the essentials) in, and drive home to gather parents from the airport.

On Culturalism



Patrick Belton quotes from a Saudi Q&A session on rights:
Q: "....But Saudi Arabia's courts lack the basic minimum standards of justice."

A: "Britain is only familiar with the Western system of justice and cannot envisage any other. [...]"

Thing is, I must have been lost in the modern academic varieties of the fields of sociology and comparative religion for too long -- this sounded entirely normal to me, and only by bashing my head on the desk a few times was I able to comprehend that most normal people would find the whole Q&A ridiculous. I fully expect people to say, "your concept of 'rights' and 'justice' is entirely bound up with western philosophy; expecting us to adhere to your ideas is just cultural imperialism [or the new 'in' word, 'culturalism']." The best gem I've found is the argument that historical and archaeological discussion is impossible cross-culturally, as westerners have notions of "science" and "fact" and things like "well, the great wall of China is sitting right there, so I doubt it used to be two hundred miles to the east and made from rainbow fragments until the day it walked across the land and changed form before sitting down," notions that are too constrictive for the deeper-thinking Orient. I have no idea how to argue with people who say things like that (or with erstwhile esteemed Boston College professor Mary Daly, who's convinced that any woman who does not feel herself oppressed has been brainwashed and is nothing more than a fembot -- and who is also convinced that gynecology is a conspiracy designed to control and physically damage women). Anyone got any idea how to discuss things with people who say that "logic" is patriarchal and unacceptable?

(And one by one the penguins stole my sanity.)

Friday, June 27, 2003

On Blogger, II


Ooh, maybe it's just that IE's better than Netscape, but now the Blogger page is looking like a snazzed-up version of the old one. Excellent. I like this quite muchly.

On Competitiveness


This from UT is interesting:
“We are very pleased here at The University of Texas at Austin that the Supreme Court’s rulings today place the state of Texas and higher education institutions in the state on the same competitive basis as education institutions throughout the United States,” Faulkner said in a news conference.

Now, it may just be me, but I thought adding in race-preferences (yes, Mr. Yglesias, and legacy preferences as well) reduced the competitive basis of higher education institutions by giving certain people legs up purely by accident of birth. It can be debated whether or not specific reductions in competitiveness are acceptable or not, but it does seem rather ludicrous to say special benefits based on who your parents are increases competitiveness. (Then again, with the ten-percent rule, perhaps it does make the remaining non-taken slots more competitive. But legacy and affirmative action don't guarantee an auto-admit like being in the top ten percent of a crap school does.)

On Other Congressmen


And, of course, RIP Sen. Thurmond. Whatever your take on his many flavors of politics, from anti-black and liberal economics to more pro-black than many of his fellow lawmakers and conservative economics, you have to agree he was quite a character.

My favorite story about him was that, whenever anyone in South Carolina died, he'd call their family and express condolences -- and the families say it came across as sincere, not as part of a campaign. That was one of his daily duties that he set up for himself. In some ways, he was a good man.

UPDATE: Patrick over at OxBlog has a characteristic eulogy for the Senator.

On Uncontrolled Congressmen


This is a hoot:
THIS JUST IN...
• As sometimes happens with Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), he let his mouth race ahead of his brain Wednesday night at a gathering of Young Democrats at the Washington nightspot Acropolis. After presidential candidate Howard Dean spoke, Kennedy delivered an impassioned peroration against President Bush's tax cut. We hear that Kennedy told the crowd: "I don't need Bush's tax cut. I have never worked a [bleeping] day in my life." With that he got the audience's attention -- the dropping-jaws kind. "He droned on and on, frequently mentioning how much better the candidates would sound the more we drank," a witness told us. "Finally, he had to be stopped by a DNC volunteer." Kennedy's spokesman, Ernesto Anguilla, told us yesterday: "He was talking to the crowd; it was a rally-the-troops kind of speech about the tax cut. He was energizing the crowd and got caught up in it and used an unfortunate word, which he regrets using. . . . And no one pulled him off the stage."

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Blogger


Aargh. Anyone but me not liking the new blogger format? The only good point is that it makes you preview what you're posting, so you can see if you've forgotten to close a tag. But I can't save my post without publishing it -- and I usually save my longer posts several times along the way to protect against blogger's frequent outages. [update: realized I can, by clicking on "preview" and then not choosing one of the button options. Still, it's on a different page.] Can't just scroll down to see what I just posted and reference a post six or seven down. And much too much wasted grey space on this screen.

I give up; I'll go make a fabulous and healthy dinner for grandparents instead.

[bragging] Anyone who's planning on spending time with me, I'm rather a good cook -- and a healthy one too, but I promise it won't taste like health food -- and I like cooking for people. Just ask! [/bragging]

On Sodomy and Pedophilia


The Supreme Court, as all have by now heard, has ruled against the Texas anti-sodomy law. According to Josh, "The Court held that the Constitution protects the liberty of adults to engage in consensual sex in their own homes."

Now, Josh's statement seems to imply that the Court held that the Constitution protects the liberty of any adults to engage in consensual sex in their own homes. One would assume that liberty would also be extended to "in any position," or else the news reports wouldn't keep pointing out that this ruling applies to rear-entry behavior in heterosexual couples as well (previously prohibited in the Lone Star State, still prohibited in, what, twelve others or so). As I've said before, I'm fine with that liberty.

Of course, Santorum got in all that trouble for saying that, if you expand the definition of what is acceptable beyond one-man-one-woman otherwise unattached and not closely related, then you have to allow any adults to engage in consensual sexual relationships. As I've also said before, each segment of those any consenting adults didn't like being lumped in with the other segments of any consenting adults, so everyone yelled at him and so forth. (And, to repeat myself again, where I differ from Santorum is that I don't necessarily think allowing consenting adults to do just about whatever they want in private, involving no non-consenting people, is bad. We agree on the equivalence of the groups. And on the moral wrongness of a few of them; we disagree on others.)

Of course, you go beyond all that and get a new can of worms... I'm a kibbutzer (in the bridge sense, not the commune sense) on a few psych and sexuality forums (they came as options with my American Academy of Religion membership), and there are regular articles and posts about the concept of "consent." Apparently there are many studies (God help the people who carried them out!) with the results, I hear, proving that in the majority of cases "inter-generational" or "adult-child" sex (formerly known as pedophilia, but this year's May APA meeting discussed saying that pedophilia should no longer be considered a disorder in need of treatment*) is beneficial to both parties. "Of course," they say, "abuse does occur, but it occurs in same-generation hetero- and homosexual relationships as well. That is just a reprehensible minority for which the majority need not be punished." Since they are not harmful, when carried out in a loving manner, sexual relations with children are fine and good and even to be encouraged. But what of consent? They're not old enough, you say? Ah, but children can be forced by their parents to go to church every week -- and we all know how harmful that is to their psychological development. Parents and other guardians are given legal permission to cause their children to do many things without the child's consent, so it's just discrimination to require consent in sexual matters.

Anyhow. I'm still up there with the consenting adults; take away one or the other of those modifiers, I'll drop my support.

*UPDATE: I've been asked by email to clarify: the APA is not changing anything yet. It was not a topic officially on the agenda for discussion. But, it was brought up by a member and subjected to a small amount of discussion before being kicked out until next year. While it's reassuring that the Association hasn't lost its mind on this issue, it's distressing that at least one member thinks it a good idea and at least a few others think it worthy of debate. Considering the number of APA members who also write for the Journal of Homosexuality, a publication gleefully advocating "Male Intergenerational Intimacy," I'm sure there's still cause to worry.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

On Love and Homophobia


For those of you not up on the latest in the Anglican Communion, there's rather a bit of brouhaha because, in New Hampshire, an actively homosexual man, Gene Robinson, has been elected bishop and lied through his teeth while taking the oath to maintain the traditional doctrines and practices of the church. He left his wife, to whom he had sworn to be true his whole life, for a man; had he left his wife for another woman, also breaking his word given before God and country, the condemnation would have been seen as fuddy-duddy and prudish, but now it's seen as repressive and evil and fearful. Fearful? what? Apparently, saying that a bishop, a leader of the church, ought to live his life setting a good example of the morals tradition (and, according to that tradition, God) dictates should be the rule of the church, and ought to be a man of his word, equals fear.

On a slightly different topic, Archbishop David Hope, Bishop of York, pretty much second-in-command of the Anglican Communion, is under attack. He most likely feels himself more attracted to men than to women (although he has never said it in so many words), but he acknowledges that that is not in accord with the teachings of the religion he has pledged himself to and sworn to uphold in its entirety, and therefore says that he seeks to live in celibacy. Those who work close to him trumpet quite exuberantly that he has not been entirely successful in that attempt. Nobody leads a sinless life, however, and, like all others who do things they believe to be sinful and are not hypocrites, he does not argue that what his holy book frequently and explicitly says is wrong must be right. (I'm not making an argument about homosexuality here -- your holy book says it's fine, or you don't have a holy book, fine by me. I'm taking this post from the perspective of traditional Anglican Christianity.)

Rev. Hope, I hear, has come under attack from British group OutRage! because his actions are apparently hypocritical and homophobic. Come now, be sensible. Doctrinally, the Church treats homosexuality as it treats alcoholism. One may or may not have a genetic predisposition towards it, but one is not dragged kicking and screaming and forced to act upon said predisposition. It is something that is a perversion or an excess of a behavior deemed by God to be acceptable (heterosexual sex within marriage, or measured consumption of alcohol (no matter what the Baptists say -- Jesus' first miracle was to change water into wine; it's obvious which one he preferred!)), it carries with it an increased likelihood of physical damage (heterosexual anal sex does too, by the way), it damages and destroys nuclear family life, and so forth.

You find an alcoholic who does his best never to drink anymore, who believes alcoholism to be wrong, whether or not he proclaim the fact of his alcoholic behavior or tendencies, and who argues that open and unrepentant alcoholics ought not to be raised up as moral and spiritual leaders of the people, are you going to say that he is oppressing and persecuting alcoholics, is a hypocrite, and truly just fears alcoholics? (Perhaps he does fear alcoholism, as he believes it to be wrong and believes it could destroy him, physically and spiritually.) On the contrary! You find someone who says open and unrepentant drunks, who say drinking to excess is a grand and God-given thing, should be promoted and celebrated, and you'll quite rightly call him an enabler.

The argument is not substantively different for homosexual behavior, with a Church and, as far as I can tell (although I do not know the Bishop well enough to tell for sure), a man who both believe alcoholism and homosexuality equally to be undesirable tendencies (genetic or not) that are best not acted upon and never to be celebrated. It is not hypocrisy to say that what you believe is wrong ought not to be considered right, whether or not you want to do it or occasionally do do it. It is loving, not persecutory, to refuse to enable people you believe to be caught in destructive and unacceptable behavior. Loving someone does not mean agreeing with everything they say and praising everything they do, no matter what the "modern" anti-discipline parenting books say.

As someone once said, "If a man sins and falls down again and again and comes to me again and again in repentance, I will forgive him each time, but the one thing I will never let him do is say that it is not a sin."

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Prague


I was in Prague first back when my family was living in England, so probably in 1995 or 1996. They'd just split from Slovakia a few years before, and were just beginning to rid themselves of the remnants of that association -- that is, try to look less Slavik, more European, more cosmopolitan. It was incredibly cheap, with free and nearly-free music concerts everywhere every night; when we drove over the border to Slovakia, my father, driving, next to his wife, with three children in the back seat, was accosted by dozens of Slovakian prostitutes standing right near the border of the country where it used to be legal for them to work -- I heard later that, with prostitution being outlawed in the Czech side, they lost most of their more lucrative business.

Now, ten years on, the Czech Republic is doing quite well for itself; fabric stores (I ducked into one) still carry extremely low-quality material and department stores hold Iron Curtain fashions, but prices for them are the same as for their higher-quality equivalents in western Europe. Perhaps selling cheap things as quality ones isn't new there, though: many of the majestic stone buildings are becoming decrepit and showing themselves to be nothing but plastered-over brick.

The concerts -- which are still excellent and everywhere -- cost $15 a pop, the same as in Vienna. The quality is the same as well, though, and the buildings in which they are held are so much more old-country. Vienna is huge, imperial, with massive marble and granite constructions lining every street. Prague is a jumble of variegated narrow buildings, many painted gaudily or with intricate moulding and openwork. Vienna's colourful Stefansdom is in a square to itself and seems built for photo shoots. Prague's blackened church of Our Lady of Tyn is practically inaccessible, the buildings around it are so close, and at night its delicate turrets light up like Dracula's castle. Yes, Prague does still have many things to offer that aren't available in western Europe. Kafka paraphernalia galore, as well.

And Croatia, I hear, is the "new Prague," the new version of the Prague I first saw, cheap and finding itself and eager for tourism. Will have to go there some day.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Back!


Trip was excellent, weddings were perfect, but now I absolutely must sleep and shower and all that good stuff. Will post again once I've recovered!

Friday, June 06, 2003

Vacation


This is it, kids; packing up shop, returning perhaps occasionally during Europe but definitely by June 24. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

The Friday Five


1. How many times have you truly been in love?
While it's always possible I might come across something incredibly mind-blowing, something that dwarfs everything I've experienced... going on the assumption that that's not likely, and just going from my experience, I'll say 2, maybe 3.

2. What was/is so great about the person you love(d) the most?
He's a great guy; his faith is strong and he's never ashamed to show and tell other people his faith and the source of his never-ending life and joy, always in the hopes that it can solve their problems and help them as it has for him. When you walk into a room, there's this smile he'll give you that makes you feel like you're the only person who exists -- even if you know he's giving the same smile to everyone else, you don't care, because you got one. (He's the only guy I've met who I'd be willing to share with someone else -- there's so much to him, it would be selfish to keep him to yourself. Hence my understanding of why a woman might possibly not mind polygamy.) He's exuberant and driven, he has a heart of gold and a talent for turning everything he touches into gold -- then giving it all away. He thinks deeply and always wants to get at the truth of everything, even if that means questioning or changing what he believes. He's never treated a woman poorly in his life, and very few men -- when he does, he apologizes to the man affected as soon as he realizes his fault. He's the greatest guy I know.

3. What qualities should a significant other have?
Honest, open; knows what you need to hear and says it if that doesn't compromise the previous qualities; at your same intellectual level; with enough shared beliefs that you have a basis from which to discuss things about which you disagree; willing to sacrifice anything for your happiness; sturdy, stable, dependable; on good terms with and eager to remain on good terms with both families; and being rich and good-looking doesn't hurt.

4. Have you ever broken someone's heart?
I've been able to, a few times -- it's an awesome power to have (in the old sense of "awesome") -- but no, I don't think I have. I had someone who was convinced I broke his heart, but he seems to have gotten over it.

5. If there was one thing you could teach people about love, what would it be?
That there's more to it than butterflies in the stomach and a romp in the sheets.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Equality?


The below-mentioned women have a little logo they've put on posters and buttons: a man and a woman figure in academic regalia (the man's robe goes straight down, the woman's A-line) with an equals sign in between. All well and good, except that they put the tassels on opposite sides to make the picture look prettier. So, what they end up with is: a matriculated woman is equal to an undergraduate man. I don't think that's quite what they intended!

Mitt Romney


...was at graduation. I shook his hand. I nearly melted.

I'm a terrible one for famous-people-worship. I tend to get rather silly about it. Even of people hardly anyone else thinks of as famous. Sathianand Clarke read my thesis and I was honored and terrified -- in my eyes, he's incredibly famous, because he's indisputably at the top of the field of Dalit Christianity. Nobody else understood my sentiments. Next year, I'll be studying with Patrick Olivelle, perhaps the world's foremost (living) Sanskritist, and I'm just in awe, which few others understand.

Even of people who are generally held (within the area) to be something approaching famous or important, such as Larry Summers (he's on the money!) or Mitt Romney, I am so thrilled to have any interaction with them at all. I shook the governor's hand and it made my week (far overshadowing graduation); I've talked to Larry (briefly) two times now and shaken his hand three times, and I just can't get over the thrill. I'm like Marilla, for you Anne of Green Gables movie fans (yes -- I don't always think like a guy), when she, a sixty-year-old woman, gets giggly and girly because she got to shake the hand of the Prime Minister.

Of course, there are some benefits to my obsessions -- I saw U2 in concert (a wonderful present from Bob) a year and a half ago, and I'm still riding the high from that one. Imagine if I'd been the girl lucky enough to be picked out of the audience and brought on stage to dance with him... I don't think I'd ever recover.

Anyhow, I know I've probably dropped a notch in some of your estimation, but do allow me my silliness. You'd probably be the same way about someone or other.

On Educated Women


Well, I've graduated. They were handing out many publications, among them a booklet on women's equality at Harvard. It's rather confusing and shows that at least some women will never be satisfied. Radcliffe, vilified as a sign of sex segregation, is now bemoaned as a loss for feminists. Even within one article we learn both that it is sexist to assume more men than women are drawn to science because they think differently (because it is sexist to assert any general mental differences), and also that the reason fewer women are in science is because they don't like the cut-throat nature of scientific interactions (because general mental differences between men and women exist). What do you want? Radcliffe, that bastion of support for women, or Radcliffe, that shameful place to which those lower beings called women were sent? Science, where all minds are the same, or science, where minds are different and that's a good thing, or science, where minds are different and that's a bad thing? You can't have them all!

As for me, I'm well aware that there are practically no women in Sanskrit. I think that's for the same reason that there are so few women in pure math -- it's very dry and crusty, very orderly and structured with few outlets for imagination or creativity. Which is why I like it. But I do think that, in general, men and women think differently -- but I don't think that should be cause for banning each sex from the other's typical interests, because I believe it's a general rule, not a hard-and-fast one. I know the dynamics for a woman are different within the field of Sanskrit; both to my advantage (men so delighted to have a woman of any variety in their midst that they'll make it easier for me) and to my disadvantage (people -- including students like myself -- initially suspicious of a female Sanskritist, because of experience with people like Diana Eck who taught it without really knowing it, being given the opportunity in the name of diversity). The former I don't mind, although someone with a bit more pride and integrity might; the latter can be overcome if you produce something of indisputable academic value.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Goodbyes


I just gave the Scary One his wedding present (a tablecloth I crocheted for him), and then said my farewells, bravely managing to hold back the flood until after he left. He's been my joy and my comfort for four years; he held me on September 11 when I thought it was the end of the world and couldn't move from the television I'd bought on the tenth, he moved my things into and out of storage and took a box to the post office when I mis-timed my flight home one year and had to leave directly from my math final, he comforted and encouraged me when Bob was being depressed, he complimented me always when I needed it and it always sounded genuine. Had things gone differently, we could have made each other very happy (very fat, but very happy). As it is, I'll go to his wedding in two weeks, and then we'll send Christmas cards.

I thought it would be the same as the parting after high school graduation, not remembering that said parting involved pretty regular trips home at the same time and a rather slow drifting-apart, rather than a sudden and pretty final farewell. This is much harder.

Graduation


I graduate tomorrow and also pack away my computer. So, with the possible exception of a post this evening, and barring a possible post or two from Europe, I'm on hiatus until the 23rd.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

On writing without bias


I do enjoy this book review:
There may be a need for an intelligent guide through the sex/race/ethnicity/disability/etc. minefields of current English usage. Unfortunately, it's not Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing (Indiana University Press, $15.00 cloth,
$5.95 paper), by Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language of the
Association of American University Presses.

Monday, June 02, 2003

On Collegiate Food


I think now I finally understand what it must be like for students at colleges without automatic full meal plans. Since they cut us off last week, I've been scavenging for free food everywhere. Grad students that have been asking me out? I appraise them of Bob, and then emphasize that I'd still just love to go out to lunch with them, as friends. Parents in town? even other people's? Sure, they can take me out! This went on much longer, I'd go Baptist or join a cult for the free food.

Tagline


After a private email strongly urging me to do so, I have changed my tagline (not yet showing up as changed, but it may) to be the grammatically-entertaining slogan (which I hear is being phased out) of Tesco, a lovely supermarket in England. Their vegetables are awful, their hose are wonderful, and their slogan is delightful. I may not be helping the world at all (although every little helps), but every little does help me. So, final. And I'm still working on changing the template -- I make changes, but they don't show up when saved and republished. We'll see.

Senior Week


Tonight was the "moonlight cruise," a trip around Boston's harbor on a frigidly windy boat, surrounded by selected members of the senior class.

In a string of observations which never ceases to amaze me, much of Harvard Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (our InterVarsity affiliate) was on the "booze cruise," adamantly not drinking, while no other members of Christian Impact (our Campus Crusade affiliate) were there -- they were all at church. I was amused to ask one of them a few days back if he were going; cigar in mouth and beer in hand, girl on lap, he said, "no, can't go, I've gotta go to church!" CF people are noted prudes, not drinking, not smoking, often being opposed to kissing too much before marriage (which is all fine, if that makes them happy); the Campus Crusade people, on the other hand, all drink heavily, several smoke, and are certainly not opposed to getting it on in very very slightly restricted ways. Their only check is their almost universal attendance at a local church that meets at 7pm on Sundays; the preacher is dating a recent CI grad, which explains the draw. So, the only night of the week one can see CF people "partying" (but not even dancing too much, for that might be suggestive) and a notable absence of CI people will be Sunday.

My only other thought: certain members of our class are exquisite. (She's cool, too; she wrote a letter to the Crimson defending Israeli policy. No ditz or popularity-seeker there.)