Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Saturday, December 25, 2004
Again, all of you are in my prayers. I've been blessed to know an abundance of good and interesting people, most of whom I don't spend nearly enough time with.
Christmas morning was just fine (Katie: "Wow Pat, they got you all that new luggage– they must be ready for you to leave now!"). Now we're preparing to leave for Jill and Larry's, where at least three pies and many cousins await us.
Finally reorganized that blasted Personal Statement, though I may reevaluate it before using it on Princeton. However, this marks a milestone: the first time Patrick has finished an application by himself on a day previous to the deadline!
Merry Christmas. May we know this day what makes for peace.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
This Gospel is about a failure.
I can't let my nice, clean Nativity set fool me. Joseph and Mary were nobodies, lost in a backwater town that the one had left as a child and the other had never seen. The animals in the stable stunk like farm animals do today, if not worse. The shepherds were filthy after wandering with their flocks for weeks. The Magi were out of the picture: still sitting comfortably at home in Persia, just beginning to see that new star. The scene at Bethlehem resembled a group of refugees far more than it did a Christmas special.
The first two readings speak of light, freedom, glory, and joy. But the most striking thing about the Gospel is colossal, embarrassing failure. This is about a failure, one like the failures in my own life.
This is failure. This is my great plan that never actually happened. This is the test I honestly studied for, and still screwed up completely. This is the football that slipped through my hands with everyone watching. This is the prayer that was never answered. This is the argument I won, only to lose a friend. This is the rejection letter from the school of my dreams. This is the birthday when nobody came to my party. This is the breakup of the relationship I poured my heart into. This is the fear I feel when someone brings up religion, the fear that someone will mock me for taking God seriously. This is the advice I gave my best friend, only to watch them ignore me and see them get hurt. This is the idea I had but could never explain to anyone else without confusing them. This is watching the person who has everything, and seeing them get still more than me. This is the day I let down someone I care for, as much as I tried to deserve their trust. This is the laughter around me when I've just made a mistake. This is the realization that I probably won't ever be as successful as I've always dreamed. This is my attempt to be a better person, when I end up acting stupid and selfish again- just the way I always do.
This is Joseph, who finds out he's too poor and too late to stay at the inn, so he has to lead the woman he loves to a disgusting stable. She's giving birth and Joseph can't afford a midwife, can't wrap the newborn child in a proper robe. Joseph wanted all the best things for this baby, the child whom an angel told him to protect; but he has nothing to offer for the Son of God at His most vulnerable moment. Joseph is ashamed.
This is Mary, who heard the gossip for nine months: that she was crazy, or a liar, or worse. Mary knows that it is the Messiah who has to lie in this feeding trough. She has prayed to be ready for this day, and yet her hour comes at the worst time- far from home, with only Joseph to be near her, in this putrid stable. God seems to be mocking her.
This is the one whom Isaiah calls "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace," born into humiliating poverty. This is the man whom, in today's Psalm, all nations and all creation shall one day praise, now seen only by a few unwashed and bewildered shepherds. This is "our great God and savior Jesus Christ" as described by Paul, unnoticed in a dirty shed in a small town in a conquered nation of no account. And this is how Christ Himself chose to enter our world- through failure.
God freely revealed himself in the ultimate failure, and it is because of this that He is with me in my failures. If I only ask Him, He takes me beyond my fears. When I stop asking Him that I not fail, and start asking what He wants of me- failures or not- then He can do miracles in my life. I don't have the strength to try when I think it's futile, but He does. He moves me to apologize to my dad when I don't think it will do any good. He moves me to write that next paper, when I did so badly on the last one. He moves me to talk to someone new, when I'm sure they all think I'm a loser. He moves me to go to Confession, when I'm embarrassed I have all the same sins I confessed the last time. He moves me to do what is right, when I don't want to do it any more. And with Him, suddenly my failures are not the end- they are not as terrible as they seemed in my mind. My nearness to Him is stronger than my fear, and I am free of the power of failure.
And this is the great mystery of Christmas- that there is joy in that failure 2000 years ago, and that there is even joy in our failures. For in our failures we can most discern that God is near to us in our suffering. And the only failure more colossal than the squalid and unheralded birth of Christ was the monstrous folly that was to happen, thirty years later, on Calvary.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Still rewriting that personal statement. It's tough to convey my "sincerity, motivation and expectations" about pursuing graduate mathematics. Okay, I know it's tough for everyone. I'm over it.
Christmas Eve, I'll post the reflection I wrote on the Midnight Mass readings. I was assigned to write it for teenagers as well as adults, so it's not an intellectual piece. I do like it, though, and I think that what I wrote is true (otherwise, why would I have written it?).
Friday, December 17, 2004
I almost never have (or, rather, I almost never remember having) the standard sorts of dreams: falling from a great height, being unprepared for the big test, flying, etc. However, this morning I awoke from a very realistic dream of finding myself naked on the University of Chicago campus, running through Eckhart (the math building) trying to find my clothes, and realizing that my dorm was a good mile away.
Actually, it wasn't the standard naked dream. After all, I wasn't totally nude; I was carrying a large pair of scissors.
These allowed me some modesty; I held them in front of myself as I desperately searched for clothing. More importantly, the scissors enabled me to break the tension with all the people staring at me.
"Don't look; I'm running with scissors!"
In my dreams, people laugh at my jokes.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Causes Galileo's math book to get thrown/
At Delilah, who's sitting worthlessly alone/
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter...
We have a Christmas wreath on our front door. Recently, a pair of birds (sparrows or wrens, perhaps) have taken up residence there. Only problem: the door opens inward, so a door opened too quickly results in a very confused small brown bird swooping wildly through the corridors of the house. This happened yesterday evening, as I was sitting in the family room with Alice.
As the strong, unflappable man I am, I decided immediately that the best course of action was to run around madly, ducking and confidently shrieking "BIRD! BIRD!! BIRRRDDD!!!"*
The bird eventually found its way out at about the speed of an unladen swallow, and Alice had yet another laugh with the rest of my family.
In other news, it was wonderful to have Alice here for my birthday. My family, Alice and Cory came with me to dinner at a Mediterranean restaraunt/winery, where I sampled with my dinner three short glasses of different white wines. Quite a nice experience, though I'm sure I'll forget which one was the Sauvignon. Everyone got along fabulously, as I knew they would.
Alice did me the great favor of reading to me some of G. K. Chesterton's Club of Queer Trades stories. I'm glad to say I finally appreciated his sense of humor (neither The Napoleon of Notting Hill nor his biography of Thomas Aquinas had impressed me much) and am eager to get into the Father Brown mysteries.
I think I may not have made the A in Graduate Analysis. This is bad, and not just a whine, for two reasons:
(1) The grading policy has been stated as such: "If you know something, you will get an A. If you do not know something, you will get a B."
(2) If I get a B, PS2 won't allow me to take the second quarter.
Oh well. As consolation, I found out today that my Math GRE in November went well enough not to disqualify me.
Yeeargh. Why is it that I can't get motivated to write an application essay before the day I must send it in? The West Coast schools were due today, and the parts that had to be mailed were sent out with only 15 minutes to spare before the Post Office was to close. I'm going to spend tomorrow working on MIT, which is due around New Year's Day. Maybe then I won't wait till the deadline.
*The passage was altered slightly after original posting. Others' memories are better than mine, and I was duly corrected on the facts of my heroic response.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
For the prophetic voice of the daemon, which opposed me in the most trifling affairs, if I was about to act in any thing improperly, prior to this, I was continually accustomed to hear...
So last night, I was writing my paper for History of Philosophy on the Stoic doctrine of lekta or "things said", which are the fourth kind of incorporeal (all things are either bodies, or time, or place, or void, or lekta). I had a thesis– that the lekta were invariant under rewording, and actually expressed certain relations rather than simply describing them. It was a good thesis. It would have made a nice paper.
But then I got stuck. For hours. On the first page.
I was just incapable of writing the paper. Then, at about 11 PM yesterday (the paper was due at noon today), I had the realization that my thesis was wrong. It was Socrates' daimon preventing me from writing anything false. Nice. Except that meant I couldn't bring myself to BS a paper with an incorrect thesis.
So I changed my thesis and wrote a poor but correct paper. I'm worried that I would have done better writing a paper that was wrong but at least carefully written out. Aargh.
Yes, I know that this grade doesn't really matter, but I wanted to write a good paper because I liked the class. Maybe over break I'll write a better one. But I'm lazy.
And I'm tired now. Five hours of sleep is worse than four. Don't ask me why, because I have a theory and it will bore you.
Oral final in Graduate Analysis coming up in 23 hours.
But hey, I'll be home at the end of the week, Alice is coming to Saint Charles again, and it will be my birthday on Monday. So it's all OK.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
I thought the NSF was due December 7 and DOD January 2. Alas, it was December 2 and January 7. I've written four essays today- two personal statements, a description of research and a plan of future research- all for that application. I like the one I wrote about mathematical intuition as a sixth sense. I think I like it. I'm tired.
P.S. Thanksgiving was great. I should blog about it sometime. I brought Alice home with me. Alice, you should at least mention the Art Museum on your blog. If not the cookie fiasco.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
I try to behave but it eats me alive/
So I declare a holiday/
Fall asleep and drift away...
It is a miserable-weather day in a miserable-work week. Blustery and cold, with an 80% chance of failure.
Deo gratias propter "Gratias Agere" ago!
And Thank God for Alice too. And hey, it's really snowing now.
Oh, the weather outside is frightful...
P.S. I suppose all good things must come to an end. They had begun to jump the shark, but the Strong Bad Emails still took the right way out. I think.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
You try the best you can/
You try the best you can/
The best you can is good enough...
Not fun, anyway. I think I probably did well enough, but I'm not sure how many stupid mistakes I made. As Dean told me, "Don't worry, Patrick... this can only hurt you."
I've sent everything necessary to two of my recommenders, and begun each application online. So I should have them all finished in time. If I'm not a complete fool.
P.S. In a moment both encouraging to me as a mathematician and discouraging as a sane human being, the maximal function in Rn (or at least something based on the essential supremum) played a central role in the dream I had last night.
P.P.S. Scheisse. Won't say why.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Demanding refunds for the things they've seen/
I wish they could believe/
In all the things that never made the screen...
1. When I visited Princeton in the summer, I met with Dr. Jordan Ellenberg, a Director of Graduate Studies in Mathematics. Recently I stumbled across this novel. Same guy. Weird.
2. Speaking of graduate schools, aagh. Why do they all have to have different formats for letters of recommendation? It makes the professors' lives tougher and mine more stressful. And my Math GRE is coming up on the 13th.
My (almost completely set) list of applications:
3. My thoughts are on the election are pretty much irrelevant, except for this: I have much praying to do now for our nation and the world. If Kerry had won, I would have much praying to do as well.
Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
4. Reynolds Club Scheduling has problems. They shifted the Pro-Life Association to Cobb 101 for last night's meeting. Then they double-booked Cobb 101 with a Latin drill section. The drill section for my Latin class. Disorientation and confusion ensued.
5. I love my new job as a Harper tutor. All of the "helping people with math" and none of the "grading 30 problem sets" of being a Course Assistant for Calculus. It pays less, but I'm fine with that.
6. Analysis midterm was yesterday. It was that bad; as promised, Ryzhik introduced Hausdorff dimension and other things we hadn't covered, just to mess with us. I did one problem out of six, missing even the two "quickies"; an hour just wasn't long enough. Then, to top it off, five minutes after leaving (without, mind you, looking in my books), I realized how to solve each of these "quickies":
Quickie 1: Prove that a monotone function on R has at most countably many discontinuities.
Quickie 2: Prove that any collection of non-intersecting regular figure eights (one can be contained within one loop of another) in R2 is countable.
Ah well. I talked to Ryzhik and he told me not to worry about my grade, no matter how badly I did. So that should be okay. But still, dratn!
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Life goes on, end of tunnel, TV set/
Spot in the middle/
Static fade, statistical bit/
And soon I'll fade away, I'll fade away...
My grad-school applications process is stagnating. I'm not prepared for next month's GRE (curse you, stupid Multivariable Calculus! You should have ceased to matter years ago!) and I'm worrying about my recommendations.
My roommate, I hear, is trying to break down the dividing wall of enmity in his Halloween costume. I, for one, support ninja-pirate dialogue, though I feel that the prospects for reunification are dim.
Mass with Fr. Andrew Greeley was as bad as I feared, from reading his essays and reading about him. Think Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, mangling the liturgy. Greeley started his homily before reading the Gospel, rather self-righteously mocking those he considers to be self-righteous. His actual homily was of little relevance to U of C students and consisted, basically, of caricaturing and ridiculing middle-class suburban Catholics. And to top it all off, the highest praise he could give our Gregorian Chant choir is that it "belongs in the Church right there with Marty Haugen." Grrr.
Does anyone else miss the Hamster Dance website? Admit it now.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
There's no need for argument/
There's no argument at all/
And if you never hear from me/
That just means I didn't call...
Took the General GRE today (just like the SAT all over again) and made an 800 on the Quantitative, the only part that actually matters for me. I rock.
Oh, and I have some advice for all of you on customer service:
Citibank is terrible. Trust me on this; if there's ever a problem, it becomes a case of passing the buck. I've done all they asked, and I still can't access my account online. I urge you to find another bank, if there are any other ATMs around. I only stay with Citibank because I don't want to cough up $2 to them each time I get $60, as they have a monopoly on ATMs in Hyde Park.
Dell is awful. One of the guys in the REU this summer had billing problems and laptops that were shipped broken, and he said that the Customer Service line was really as bad as its parody in "Get Fuzzy". Avoid them like the plague.
In the "good" file, we have Frontier Airlines, a budget carrier. I bought my tickets to California through them, because they beat the other prices by about 30%. Then I was informed that my connecting flight to LA (through American) had a schedule change, so that I wouldn't make my Frontier flight home. Well, since Frontier had no later flights from LA to STL, they paid the difference to put me on another airline's flight home. Keep in mind that they did this to fix a problem that wasn't even their fault. I'll be taking them in the future.
Oh, and my roommate Brian is cooler than I thought. He sings a cappella and rock climbs. My roommate Ian is still weird, in case you were wondering. Fortunately, it's the entertaining kind of weird, not the creepy sort.
This has been the weekend of chocolate cake. The vegan cake given to our room was surprisingly very good, but Alice's feast-day super-rich double-layer definitely, er, takes the cake.
I have many ideas to blog on, but not today.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Well, you know/
We'd all love to see the plan/
Ask me for a contribution/
Well, you know/
We'll be doing what we can...
Hard at work in Chicago. Sleeping well, eating quite well, brain restarting.
My roommate has already set his pants on fire while wearing them (the latter of which he does less often than most people might prefer).
Bad news: PS2 isn't this irked with everybody in the math department. Just me.
Eh, I'll write a real post when I feel like it.
Friday, September 17, 2004
Did you know that the new release Criminal (John C. Reilly, Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a remake of the Argentine film Nine Queens? The original was so good that I found myself entranced by it despite (a) not being able to hear the sound, as Alice was watching it on her iBook with headphones, and (b) ostensibly being very busy cleaning my room in preparation for ScavHunt. The plot and dialogue are brilliant all the way through, and the payoff is stupendous. I hear that Criminal was done well as a remake, so if you haven't seen Nine Queens, go and see Criminal or rent the original. And while you're at it, get The Spanish Prisoner, which is up the same alley.
I've finished a slew of books this summer, most of them nonfiction. Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas was a collection of essays he wrote for Scientific American, some interesting, some great, some forgettable. It falls short of his masterwork Gödel, Escher, Bach, one of my favorite nonfiction books, but I'd recommend you read the chapters of Metamagical Themas on the Prisoner's Dilemma. Roger Penrose's book The Emperor's New Mind failed to really refute the strong A.I. hypothesis, but offered the most cogent explanations of Turing machines, computability and entropy that I've read. As a bonus, he presents an intriguingly plausible conjecture for quantum gravity, which might reconcile quantum mechanics with the large-scale phenomena we actually observe. I almost recommend the book.
I also read two very different novels over the summer; one might say that Doctor Zhivago and Brideshead Revisited represented the universal and the particular. I can't say how deeply Zhivago moved me without sounding like a fool. The characters and plot are flung about with reckless abandon, in an overarching effort to encapsulate all the grand ideas of the time and to express the themes of love and duty, art and change, suffering and joy- and it works superbly. The characters are more types than persons, the coincidences trump anything out of Dickens, the prose is dry and the imagery shallow, the climax requires Yuri to do something I don't believe he would actually do, and yet the novel floors me with the grand inarticulate cry of its meaning.
Brideshead is the opposite in this respect: the book has the sense of real life to it. Evelyn Waugh humbly and perfectly captures the mystery of each character, rather than allowing the reader to "fit" any of them inside their mind. The book avoids contrivance in plot almost entirely. The characters speak as we all do; discussions of grand topics end with them speaking at cross-purposes and confusing themselves, rather than with the pronouncements which can only be invented by the hand of an author. Brideshead uses foreboding only in the way that life does: in retrospect it all makes sense, but at the time you have no idea what might be portended. The humble idea of the author comes through naturally in the climax, as a surprise of sorts and without a heavy-handed explanation.
My hierarchy of novels might now need reordering. Or perhaps scrapping. Maybe it's juvenile to rank my top five books of all time (perhaps I did so last year only because I'd just seen High Fidelity). But in any case, it's been a worthwhile summer in literary respects as well.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
I'll give it right back one of these days...
What do you mean, nobody got angry at my meta-political rant? I guess I'll have to try harder next time around. I never did get to that systematic exploration of voting ethics, mostly because I'm too lazy to look up relevant documents in Catholic social thought. That ought to alarm me more than it does.
I watched two movies this past week. The Manchurian Candidate was pretty poor, in my estimation; it suffers from the extreme predictability of at least two major plot twists, as well as an ending that betrays all the rules of the previous 100 minutes and is a few deleted scenes (I assume) short of really making sense. And the movie has nothing in the way of great acting, visual imagery or deeper meaning to make the plot problems forgivable.
Hero was much, much better, although it too suffered from predictable stretches and didn't live up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's standard for supernatural swordplay. The film showed great visual imagination in parts, and it beautifully illustrated the power of word or idea. Of course, the central concept of the movie was a reflection of communist China- the pure dream of utopia that accompanies any violent revolution. Still, I'd recommend this movie for a pensive evening.
Ten days till I head back to Chicago. But then, who's counting?
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
(Warning: contains 100% of RDA for Rambling, and is manufactured in a factory that handles Rants)
Recently, I've started to feel as if political parties are rather too much like the sports teams we cheer for. Speaking in general probably isn't the best way to approach this. So here's my own story of early political formation, and why I no longer belong to a political party.
My parents didn't discuss politics in front of Katie and I, so it never occurred to me to bring up the subject myself. My politics at first came from reading TIME Magazine every week in middle school. This made me a Democrat.
(Nota bene: yes, I'm saying that TIME in general has a bias toward the left. That doesn't mean they're consciously unfair; they do a good job of presenting different opinions. But by the nature of forming a community of writers, reporters and editors, they come to see the world in certain shared ways, and that always comes through in writing. So the liberal viewpoint was, in the world as reported by TIME, the one in accordance with reality- to such a degree that it determined my first opinions.)
So as a naive 14-year-old, I trusted Clinton's honesty more than any sane person ought to trust their leader. Thus the Lewinsky scandal left me feeling betrayed, and I switched sides my freshman year with the rapidity of innocence. I never questioned or even articulated my foolish assumption that one of the major parties had to be right about it all.
And it was for an exceedingly superficial reason that I chose political parties then. Don't kid yourself that you were thinking straight in your first allegiances, either. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they weren't chosen by pure reason. A person's original political beliefs are chosen the same way I begin cheering for a non-Saint Louis sports team: because I know someone in the city, or because they look heroic in the first game I see them, or because they are rivals to a team I root against.
Of course, my political swap happened around the same time as I began to take my Catholic faith seriously, and to examine how the Church's morality applied both to my life and to my participation in society. Respect for life meshed with my recent trade to the Republican team; preferential option for the poor did not. But a funny thing happens in such situations, and mine was no exception. I'd previously had the image in my head of Republicans as Social Darwinists and Scrooges, an image which was shattered quickly. I mean, here were nice people I talked to, people who worried about poverty in America, people who donated and volunteered for private charities. So I must have been wrong about the prudent ways to help the poor! And in all my talking with the other Republicans, I got to hear about how wasteful government was, how liberals were really out to expand it for other reasons when they talked about the poor: "class warfare", et cetera. It all seemed so reasonable when you talked to the "good guys" and knew you couldn't trust the "bad guys" on the other side. I let my affiliation change my opinions, so naturally and quietly that I would have denied there had been any shift.
Before you use this as evidence of scheming Republican ways, ye of other parties, consider very carefully whether the same applies to you. How often has one of the following seemed true?
"They just talk about issue X to win votes, but we really mean what we say!"
"Our side has to use shady tactics sometimes to keep up in elections. Look at what they've done- isn't that worse?"
"Getting votes is the most important thing, so we don't want to make dissenting or extreme views public right now..."
More importantly, do you agree with 90% or more of what your political party stands for? The Republicans and Democrats certainly don't present coherent, complete, compelling visions of political philosophy: they bring in different planks to capture constituents, anything which doesn't outright contradict a more important plank. There's no a priori reason correlating one's views on lawsuit awards, the United Nations, stem cell research and the FCC. One begins to follow a particular team, and most often all of his or her opinions fall in line!
The problem is that it's always much simpler to believe that some people and some groups are good, and some evil. When we support a political party, we do so because we believe the actions they would take in power are preferable to the alternatives (or to the likely alternatives, depending on how one votes). No problem there; however, we often aren't content to stop there. There is an unspoken, irrational chain of logic that goes like this:
1. The actions of party A would be better than the actions of party B, SO
2. A is the good party and B is the evil party, SO
3. A must be right wherever A and B disagree, since it is the good party, SO
4. The people belonging to A have their hearts in the right place and are doing what they need to, while the people belonging to B are either malicious or duped, and their actions are noxious and calculated.
It sounds ridiculous when written out, and of course it is ridiculous. But it happened to me, and I see it in other people as well. Maybe it's our basic social instincts, belonging to a tribe, removing empathy for the enemy. Whatever it is, it seems to me that many acolytes of each political party get slowly suborned over time to agree with the full platform. Resistance is futile, and all that.
The rest of my story took place over the course of college: talking with insightful and ethical liberals and conservatives, witnessing and acknowledging dishonest behavior from the Bush Administration, coming to know the Church and her ethics of government, reading political philosophy from the ground up (Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Mill and the rest), and recognizing the fallen nature of humanity and politics in general.
I've been amazed at how deep party loyalty runs, especially when compared to religion. In the Catholic blogosphere, I'm amazed how much more often I find writers defending their political party where it conflicts with the Church. Some Catholic Republicans will say that the Pope can be disregarded on capital punishment, foreign policy and poverty (you'd be surprised how far "prudential judgment" get stretched). Some Catholic Democrats will pretend that the Church didn't really say that it is unethical to support legal abortion, and claim that the Democrats are in line with the "spirit" of the Church. Neither is ever willing to blog much about insisting that their party become more in line with Catholic morality; after all, it's too important to win this election first.
What's more, conservative evangelicals by and large tolerate agnostic Republicans just fine; it's the Democratic Christians they have all the vitriol for. Similarly, liberal atheists get along fine with those Democratic Christians and despise the agnostic Republicans. I find a lot of condescending behavior over religion, but the hatred is generally saved for politics. I suppose politics is more fractious because a political adversary appears to be working for evil, while a religious opposite simply misses the reality. In any case, politics is by all accounts thicker than blood.
That's why I feel that cheering for sports is analogous to participating in politics. We take a fair, inconsequential pastime and manufacture heroes and villains, good and evil. I want the Cardinals to win a World Series, though it wouldn't significantly change the lives of anyone I know; I cheer for Ohio State football despite having no family in Columbus, simply since I once knew the coach's daughter and started rooting for them. I pull for the Lakers to lose, and portray a silly win-at-any-price egomaniac (George Steinbrenner) as a sinister fiend.
I don't think there's any harm in all that drama (modulo the crazies who throw batteries/stab Seahawks fans/beat up first-base coaches), but in politics there are consequences to the victories and losses, so we let the fantasy of good and evil become the reality. We don't snap back so easily into the knowledge that they usually are trying to do what's best as much as we are. I can laugh through the "Ode to the Yankees", all the time really knowing that it's only hyperbole to say "Even though they win / it's a cardinal sin / to root for the Devil's team." It's not so funny in politics, where each side calls its opposite a party of murderers- and all too often people really do imagine the other side in terms that stark.
The frustrating part is that after several years of alliance with the Republicans, I've developed the habit of cheering for them. When I read a news article mentioning Bush, I still have the desire for him to succeed (much as I want Kurt Warner to do well with the NY Giants even after he left the Rams), though I as often as not realize that I disagree with Bush on the issue at stake. My mind is used to the catch phrases of conservatives and suspicious of the tropes of liberals. That disturbs me, and it makes me wonder at those on all sides who are convinced that their minds work solely rationally, and that thus the rational party is theirs. At least I know now that the human mind is more than rational-particularly in politics.
I still don't know whom I would vote for in the Presidential election. Quite possibly I'll leave that part of the ballot blank (angering, no doubt, everyone who knows me; Missouri is a swing state). Or maybe I won't. For now, I do believe that I'm better off outside of any political party; certainly I'm better off outside of any American political party I've seen thus far.
(Okay, I'm well aware I've exaggerated here, and I've offended most everyone in some way. Let me have it in the comments section.)
Katie's doing well at NYU now, found a theatre-wholesome crowd to run with, walking to Chinatown and Central Park with her friends.
I had a filling in a back molar today. I have three more fillings on the other side. Blast you, soda!
Yeah, I basically have nothing much to report on the personal side. I just spent all day writing a blog post, for Pete's sake!
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
An afternoon’s chance to blog from New Haven, Connecticut. It’s been a good trip thus far, from Saint Charles to Greenwich Village to Yale. Katie and Dad didn’t get into any spats on the car trip, so I guess I owe her a cookie. The NYU campus is a little awe-inspiring, although the awe wore off around the time we carried Katie’s stuff up to the fourth floor of her Fifth Avenue dorm. She seems to be doing better now than at first; the preponderance of East Coast pretty party people was a culture shock to the Midwestern theatre girl.
Sunday Mass was a relief to this overprotective Catholic Nerd brother. The local parish has incense every week, a soup kitchen in the basement, Dominican priests and in particular a pastor who once taught theology and philosophy. He knows and trusts the Church, and it shows; any fears of wackiness were dispelled early in his very good, erudite homily. He preaches the way I imagine I would were I called to the priesthood, except more humbly and eloquently by far.
Then we left Katie to her orientation, set Mom on her plane home, and Dad and I started on my graduate school tour. Today he’s working, giving a training session for U.S. Surgical in Norwalk, and I’ve been traversing the campus of Yale.
After talking with some graduate students and the head of the Yale math department, I’ve pretty much decided that the school isn’t for me. They have some serious problems with department size and the breadth of research, and the funding system has been precarious since the VIGRE grant was lost. Furthermore, the grad students chose the school for a specific area of math or by default; I got the impression that as friendly as the department is, many of the grad students wish they were elsewhere.
Pity that there’s such a gorgeous church across the street from the math department. Again run by the Dominicans, Saint Mary’s has stained glass, ornate old confession booths, an altar rail, and the back of the church has prominent booklets for Eucharistic Adoration, daily rosaries and an invitation to a novena supporting life.
I heard "King of Pain" on the radio yesterday and laughed. I hope they have it for karaoke in the Shoreland; the only way to top The Police in Latin would be to cover the Beatles in Klingon.
Next up is Harvard tomorrow.
I miss Alice.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
I don’t think I’ve made anyone cry by not posting for a while, but anyway...
I’ve had the chance to see Alice twice more this summer; most recently she stayed with my family here in Saint Charles for a few days after visiting her grandparents in Ottumwa, Iowa. She and I saw some of St. Louis’ many (not many) attractions together (this wouldn’t work in text, but ask either of us about the turtles at the City Museum). We strolled around on the cobblestones in Old Saint Charles and had ice cream floats. I made her breakfast with the one recipe I can handle. We sat and read/cross-stitched/talked through quiet Midwestern evenings.
Alice was her wonderful self, and reminded me yet again why I do love her so. She learned to take nonverbal cues from my sister (though I can’t recall whether I really deserved to be elbowed at the moment). My parents liked her just fine, trusting her with the bad jokes they reserve only for the closest victims.
It’s going to feel like a long few weeks until Chicago starts again.
At least I’ll be busy for a while now. Our family is in the hectic process of preparing Katie for her first year at NYU; we’ll be driving out toward New York tomorrow, taking a van full of probably more stuff than I brought at the time. After she’s set up in her nice haunted Fifth Avenue dorm, Mom will fly back while Dad and I hit the East Coast schools I’ve been considering for graduate school. Once again, I find myself presumably less worried about the application process than I ought to be by any measure.
Oh yeah: the rest of my summer happened, too. My REU came to a successful conclusion; Matt, Joey and I presented more than an hour of work and conclusions, produced a rather spiffy paper on Graded Betti Numbers and Simplicial Complexes (the PDF of which I hope to be able to post if I can figure it out), and may perhaps be invited to talk about the REU in Atlanta next year (nota bene: that would rock).
For the curious (and so that Ian can prepare to challenge my mastery of the young game), the rules of Clubs are as follows:
Players: 3 or 4
To Win: Have the greatest score when someone hits -100.
Overview: Like hearts or spades, this is a game of tricks; the winner of a hand takes the cards and leads off the next. Cards are worth certain numbers of points.
Twist #1-Throwing Clubs: The notion of following suit is altered, but not eliminated. You must play either the suit that was led, or a club, unless you are out of both. A player who leads in clubs may declare another suit (meaning that others must play either that suit or a club unless out of both), or may declare clubs alone.
Taking Tricks: Clubs are, in fact, a semi-trump suit. Only clubs and the suit which was led are eligible to win a trick. Each club is ranked slightly higher than the corresponding card of another suit. For example, if diamonds are led, the seven of clubs beats the seven of diamonds but not the eight of diamonds.
Start: Deal out the deck. If there are 3 players, leave the last card face down on the table. The two of clubs leads off (unless nobody has it since it’s in the middle, in which case the 3 of clubs leads). If there were three players, then the player who takes the final trick takes the extra card.
Scoring: At the end of the hand, tally the cards in the tricks you’ve taken as follows: First, give yourself -1 for each card you have. Give yourself back +3 for every club you have except for the Jack of clubs; instead, tally an additional -10 for the Jack of clubs. This final tally is your score for the round, unless...
Twist #2-Scrambling: If one player’s tally is -26 or worse, then everyone recounts their score for the hand by a new formula. There is now no per-card penalty; each club is worth -3 except for the Jack of clubs, which is worth +10. This rule exists to further complicate the strategy, and to make it possible not to get screwed too badly by a terrible hand.
So try it out in your homes, and tell me how the rest of America likes it! Or, if it causes riots in the street, don’t tell me!
In either case, I better go help pack. Au revoir!
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Friday, July 30, 2004
Monday, July 26, 2004
In No Particular Order
Math research went off track for a while, followed by two days of brilliant progress, followed by all our hunches being wrong. Darn you, contractible lex simplicial complexes! However, we did get remote computer access on a faster machine at the University of Illinois. We're using it to do all the dirty work for us, check the 5-simplices, etc.
The game of "clubs" invented by some of the other REU participants (the "dual game" to hearts) has become pretty competitive in version 4.0. It involves a not-quite-trump suit of clubs, devious scoring, and a deadly jack of clubs. I think I may start it in Chicago next year. I bet Erik and Juan will be beating me at it within a week.
The current ads at the top of the page are for lobster-order companies. Lobsters? Where did I mention lobsters?
Oh, and I think that "social capital" is a meme whose time has come. James originally coined the term in reference to his roommate's loud music, saying that he didn't have the social capital to ask Bobby to turn it down. It seems that this social capital is a person's potential energy within a group, gained by impressing others and telling jokes, and exchanged for making suggestions to the group. This leads to the possibility of a social socialist revolution, or world social2ism...
And the real news today? Alice came to visit this past Friday and left this afternoon. We pretty well exhausted the best parts of downtown SLO, had a picnic, had an unexpectedly bilingual Mass at the mission church, decided Milagros is the town's best Mexican restaurant, and spent a lot of good time together.
(Nota bene: the following is a paraphrase. Alice remembers the precise wording and will soon correct me.)
(Alice has doubled over in pain after a bad joke of Patrick's)
Alice: Your jokes are awful, but you have a great delivery.
Me: If the delivery is so good, why does it hurt so much?
Alice: Maybe it's like natural childbirth!
The weekend was filled with all sorts of bad jokes, moments of doting, and Catholic Nerd moments. Alice is wonderful and quite irrepressible, and I will be very happy to see her again in three weeks.
Friday, July 09, 2004
I know that, so far, I haven’t mentioned a whole lot about Alice on this blog. But disclaimers be darned, she’s too great a part of my life to stay silent about. We’ve been together for nearly five months now, including Lent, when we weren’t exactly dating. That’s an interesting story. So too the story of how we came to be a couple in the first place. You can personally ask about either, but they’re not blog material. It’s enough to say that I’m in love with a sweet, witty, lovely, unselfish, spontaneous, smart, pious, understanding, compassionate, graceful, wonderful young woman.
So, oh yes, my weekend. Since our professor had given us extra days off, I was able to take the bus and the train early Friday morning and stay until Monday. I stayed at her home, with her parents and her cats (I became rather well acquainted with these cats, incidentally; Fluffy and Genevieve are OK, but Gwyn reminded me all too much of Bucky).
Alice certainly made good on her promise to show me the city. In no particular order, we had a dim sum lunch, rode the cable car, had gelato in the North Beach neighborhood of her birth, walked along the marina, took the ferry across San Francisco Bay, saw the Conservatory of Flowers, went to a Latin Mass at a Silesian parish, tried some great West Coast chowder, and took her grandmother out for lattes. San Francisco is a gorgeous city, seen spread out in infinite variety before you. It's even better with a savvy and charming guide.
The best cuisine in San Francisco was prepared by Alice herself, as she baked a masterful cherry pie, surprised me with French toast, and socked me into pie heaven with a lemon meringue. I wrote last year, in a different context, that food = love, and Alice illustrated the theorem fantastically.
And the real highlight of the weekend was spending time with the woman I love. Alice is a treasure I appreciate more all the time, and I’m very, very lucky that we’ve found each other. She's coming here to San Luis Obispo in a few weeks, and I can't wait.
Monday, June 28, 2004
Well, actually, the progress on the Smallest Graded Betti Numbers project has been quite immediate: we’ve proved a way to read the Hilbert function right off the associated simplicial complex. This is a very good thing, as it gives us something we can write a paper on already. And we haven’t even cracked open our main problem of identifying minimal graded Betti numbers for a squarefree monomial ideal.
This weekend was OK. Saw Fahrenheit 911 and was impressed by the quality of the movie; it was the first Michael Moore film I’d seen, and it was more entertaining and more moving than I’d expected. As far as the actual content thereof, of course it’s biased and unfair. But what the movie does do is paint a coherent picture of what’s wrong with the foreign policy of George W. Bush, and what the reasons for that might be.
(Nota Bene: When I write "coherent", I don't necessarily mean "accurate". I don't know whether it's accurate. But I do mean "coherent".)
I like my routine here at the Cal Poly REU. I meet with my group (Matthew and Joey) and Dr. Richert at 9 each day, then work/eat/check my e-mail/blog, then meet with Matthew and Joey again from about 3-5 and compare ideas. Then there's dinner with the rest of the REU participants, and typically we get together for a game of spades, or touch football, or DDR, or wandering around downtown SLO. I'll have fun this summer.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Here I am in San Luis Obispo, California.
Saturday I awoke at 5 AM to catch the flight to Los Angeles. I had a great conversation with carpenter Darnell, who was on vacation with his wife; they had missed their flight to Vegas the day before, and were trying to rent a car in LA to drive there and enjoy the rest of their reservations. He told me he was applying to become a firefighter, but would only be hired if the local tax increase would pass, and asked what I was going to research this summer. I explained quotients of polynomial rings, which doesn't scratch the surface of what I will be studying (more on that later), but I was impressed at how quickly I explained and how quickly Darnell grasped the concept. Especially on four hours of sleep.
Then I took the LA public transit system (carrying over 90 lbs. of luggage) to Union Station, having a short talk with a family visiting from New Zealand (asking, unfortunately, if they were from the UK) and with a mother visiting her sister and children in Compton. I had lunch (no restaurants in Union Station; I've never been so happy to see a Denny's sign across the road) and boarded the Amtrak train.
There I sat next to a carpenter (again!), this one a man who had surfed each day of his life till he was 35, quit for 5 years, and now was trying to break into professional surfing after impressing some famous surfboard maker. This, in addition to playing the guitar and starting to market inventions (bike trailers, floors that raise and lower). He seemed to have quite an interesting life.
The sun was going down over the ocean as the train went north; the scenery was beautiful, with horse ranches and mountains everywhere I looked. I arrived in SLO, met my roommates, got cheap burritos, and played Phase 10 till 2 in the morning California time (making a 23-hour day for me).
Sunday and Monday were medleys of barbecues, campus tours, and Ultimate Frisbee. The weather is unbelievable, the campus is great to walk through (although eerily empty this summer), and the student apartments they gave us are incredible. As one of the other REU participants remarked, "It's like The Real World for math nerds!"
But ah, yes, the math. This morning I and two others met with Dr. Richert to discuss our project in Smallest Graded Betti Numbers, and I can say that I finally comprehend the title of our investigation. (No, I don't think I'm able to explain it.) The next few weeks should tell whether we're going to discover something new or just stay stuck; the professor hasn't looked into our question before, so there's little but instinct to go on as of yet.
So all is well, and this is shaping up to be an excellent summer.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Introduction and Disclaimers
Last week, when I said I wanted to write about the heavier issues here, this is precisely what I meant. I’ve been thinking a great deal the last several weeks about the morality involved in one’s voting decision, what role the Church has to play, and what the Church does and doesn’t say about participating in a democratic republic.
This really came to the forefront of my mind with the recent uproar over pro-abortion Catholic politicians and withholding Communion, which is sort of a tangential issue. The most recent impetus, though, is a survey I read in TIME this morning. When self-identified Catholics were polled on the question “Do you think the Catholic Church should be trying to influence the way Catholics vote?”, 70 percent answered “No”. Now, granted, that question may have been interpreted by many as a more extreme one, namely “Should the Catholic Church tell Catholics to vote for a particular candidate or a particular party?” But as posed by TIME Magazine, the question is one I can’t imagine answering “No” to.
Just about every organization that cares about the state of affairs (the NEA, Greenpeace, NRLC, NAACP, etc.) wants to influence the way its members vote. Your beliefs about what events are good or evil, your beliefs about what actions are right and wrong, will influence your voting. A person’s opinion that the war in Iraq was unjust, for example, is based on his or her understanding of justice and the nature of humanity; if the principles that led to his or her opinion were self-evident, then all reasonable people would agree with him or her. This is not the case (despite what Ann Coulter and Michael Moore will tell you, I have met intelligent men and women of good will in both the Democratic and Republican parties), so political beliefs do in fact rest on presuppositions of the most fundamental questions. A Catholic should reflect his or her beliefs in voting as surely as an Objectivist or Marxist would.
The fact that 70% of Catholics could hold what I see as cognitive dissonance tells me that others have been very successful in rhetoric. Those who say that “religious beliefs have no place in politics” know that their own opinions on ethics and the good of humanity affect their votes. “Separation of church and state” does not,not, not mean trying to compartmentalize the way one sees the world. But many pundits have been covering religious issues lately as if Christians have a duty to do just that.
OK, so just what role should religious beliefs play in politics? This, of course, is not entirely an abstract question for me; I have my ideas of the way government and society ought to be run. If I were simply writing what I think about voting, I don’t think it would matter to most people. But instead, I want to explore carefully and thoroughly on this blog what my Church teaches on the ethics of voting. My goal is really to catechize myself in preparation for November (I still don’t know who, if anyone, I will vote for in the Presidential race), and thus your comments and objections are priceless to me. I’m doing this on the blog because I think it’s interesting, because it will motivate me to actually do the research to back up what I think I remember the Church teaches, and because perhaps others are asking these same questions at the same time.
So I begin with a few disclaimers:
1. I am fallible, and my explanation of a Church teaching is not the same as the teaching itself. I may well misinterpret parts of what I read, I may not find what I need to read and understand, I may poorly state what I do comprehend. If I seem to be saying something ridiculous, remember I do not have an imprimatur on this blog.
2. I am taking Catholic theology and tradition as a source of authority. I will try and expound everything in a way that shows it is consistent with reason, and I believe the points are compelling even without the authority of the Church, but I will not in general attempt to prove my conclusions to a non-Catholic.
That said, I intend to make the next few posts a series of preliminaries in ethics: explaining the vital distinction between the good/evil and right/wrong pairs, defining proportionalism and explaining why the Church rejects it, discussing “double effect” and delineating carefully what cases is does and does not apply in.
I won’t make this series the sole content of my blog, but I intend to continue it sporadically through November, or until I don’t have anything more to say (yeah, right).
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Well, here I am back home in Saint Charles, Missouri. My Friday final went all right, as far as I can tell (well, there was one part of #5 I had to “leave as an exercise to the grader”, if you know what I mean). So I’m here for a week, leaving Saturday for San Luis Obispo and the study of Graded Betti Numbers. But lest you think I’m taking a break from education, I’ve learned the following over the past few days:
I’ve been wearing my shoes three sizes too large.
The Rocket is vincible (this is a very good thing).
My sister is no longer obsessed with cows.
Applause can spoil a good homily.
Timing is everything when trying to move things to Storage.
You can gauge the quality of a Chinese restaurant by their vegetables.
The Detroit Pistons rock.
Actually, when you put it all together, it doesn’t look like that much. Maybe my brain needs me to get back into action.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Monday, June 07, 2004
I told you before that I had more to write on the topic of why blogging on serious issues is not morally neutral. First, I want to make clear that the choices are not simply "blog about it" and "don't think about it at all". I will consider the issues of my age and the issues of any age, whther I use this medium to share my thought process or not. However, I would do well to be cautious of supplementing my discussions and reading with blogging on heavy matters, for several reasons.
A blog is too asymmetrical to be a dialogue. I get the "prime time" and the appearance of authority at Orthonormal Basis, as I was saying last time. Thus, I ought to be more responsible for the interpretations and objections that will arise from my posts. It's the same thing that gives rise to my griping about homilies. A bad homily doesn't usually give me the evidence to charge the priest with formal heresy, but that's not the point. The responsibility for reconciling his homily with the teachings of the Church should belong to the priest, not the congregation. At the very least, such a priest has done wrong by being unclear; at worst, he is preaching a different Gospel.
In private conversation, it's not as important to weigh every word and examine all my logic, as the people with whom I'm discussing the ideas can easily call me to task. When I have a public forum such as a blog, though, the responsibility incumbent on me is greater, as a comments-box critic does not appear to be on equal ground of credibility. Moreover, the concepts I advance will be judged on the merits of my exposition. One sloppy argument will undermine my point, whether it be correct or not; thus it is even more important that I not be careless as in my debates with friends. If I cannot express myself well in this blog, it would be better for me to wait on idea-blogging until I am ready to be articulate.
Secondly, there's an effect not only on those who read, but an effect on myself in the fact of my writing. Public expression always tempts one to conceit, as one can see in stereotypes of the narcissistic performer or the temperamental architect or the condescending novelist. The particular temptation in idea-blogging, or in publishing opinions publicly, is to grant oneself the authority of one's sources. This is particularly insidious when dealing with the Church.
I've seen too many Catholic bloggers grant the infallibility of the Church to their own interpretation of what the Church teaches. I'm guilty of this too. It's so difficult to have the mental discipline of Saint Paul, who prefaced his opinion on the situation of a Christian married to a non-Christian by writing "I, and not the Lord, say this" (1 Cor 7:12). The way I see this passage (particularly in light of the command in 1 Cor 7:10 from "not I, but the Lord" that a Christian marriage should not divorce) is as follows: Paul did not mean his thought was contrary to divine revelation; clearly he believed what he had to say was the truth. However, he had the humility to state that the conclusion was not contained in the knowledge they had on the authority of God; rather, his statement was based on his reasoning, contemplation, and experience, and was not infallible. To admit this in one's argument takes some courage.
What happens all too often in St. Blog's is that a person will start from authoritative truths, and then use their personal wisdom and reasoning to reach a conclusion about another topic. This is well and good, and in fact this sort of thinking constitutes much of the moral life. But, unfortunately, the person will then go on to say that the Church teaches the conclusion, or that a good Catholic must accept it. A serious and common example, committed by both sides: "It is morally unacceptable for a Catholic to vote X for President" is not taught by the Church. It may in fact be true about X, as it has been true about many politicians before. And as such, it is right to argue from Catholic doctrine on social and political issues that a vote for X is an immoral act. But that chain of reasoning is not doctrine, and I ought not treat it as such. I should also be wary of quoting my interpretations of others as if I could speak for them directly.
Thirdly, idea-blogging can so easily lead to personal fights. I remember a recent series of disagreements on The Passion between two bloggers, which took over both blogs for a time. The debate segued into a sequence of insults, as one accused the other of being party to anti-Semitism and the second questioned what kind of a Catholic the first was. It was ugly to see, and a scandal to St. Blog's. Certain blogs have developed a symbiotic system, by which each links to the other only to contradict them.
Sarcasm is deadly in print, as it becomes indistinguishable from contempt and condescension. Often, the bloggers I read bait their regular commenters with sarcastic remarks about what sort of replies they expect. Or, instead of posting their own content, they devote themselves to the task of attacking other blogs. I particularly abhor the practice of "fisking", where A copies a post written by B and interrupts it every few sentences to ridicule B, posting the finished product on A's own blog. This changes nobody's mind and only serves to incense anyone who agrees with B and massage the ego of anyone who agrees with A. On this front, I hope that I have been respectful in disagreement, but I know how arrogant I can be.
Finally, having this forum distracts me at times from life. It makes me think in terms of "what will I write about this?" when I'm out doing something, or in contemplation, or in a debate, instead of focusing on what I am presently doing. Never mind that my posts seldom come out quite like I intend them. I can pretend that I'm being productive by the very act of thinking about blogging, a practice remarkably akin to daydreaming. It was said of St. Thomas Aquinas that once, at a banquet, he abruptly slammed his fist on the table and exclaimed, "That ought to settle the Manichees!" Only in my more grandiose moments do I think it's best for me to spend my life preparing to write, like Aquinas; I have some of the talent, but I need to devote myself to other things as well.
So, these are reasons I ought to be careful about blogging on the heavy things, and they are not negligible. However, there is good in this as well, as I've written before. If I know what I am doing, and if I set out with humility and respect, I can grow in knowledge and truth, and help others to do the same.
Finals Week, Spring 2004
Woche den Final, Fruh 2004… a moose once bit my sister…
I, however, am pretty much free; only my Friday final for Algebraic Number Theory remains. Last week I prepared a final presentation for Genetic Engineering on how to create bacteria that would decompose Styrofoam (pulling an all-nighter in the process), and took the final for Algebraic Geometry. I already know, I think, how I did in that class: Ryan and I went to talk to Mr. Baily before the weekend about the class. He opened the door, put up his hands in the "don't hurt me!" position, and exclaimed, "You both got A's!" Then I talked to him and asked if he'd be willing to write a recommendation letter next year, to which he replied "Certainly... who are you again?" (Note: Mr. Baily is at least 80.) So maybe I didn't get that grade...
Anyway, I'll be returning to St. Louis at the end of the week and leaving for California on the 19th. It's an exciting few weeks.
* Of course this wasn't taken today. But it's really cool nonetheless.
Sunday, June 06, 2004
Or, more specifically, I want to deal with the question of why my blog deals with matters of faith, ethics, policy, philosophy, and the like. I blog about everyday events because it keeps me in touch with friends who read this, and because I'll want to remember details later on. But "idea-blogging" is a different animal entirely.
I've been thinking about these things for a couple of days, ever since Athanasius at Summa Contra Mundum wrote a post about a Catholic blogger my age who had fallen on some tough times. He wrote that it might be a bad idea for the young to blog about so many heavy issues, particularly those that affect your own spiritual and moral life.
Now, after reflection, there's something to what he meant by that. Blogging about one's opinions, or writing them for publication in any form, is not a neutral act, even if nobody should read it. Of course it's not inherently bad, or to be looked down upon; the very fact we have so many great works in the Catholic tradition belies that thesis. But not every man is a Saint Augustine, and having a soapbox like this can give you the impression your formulations are worth reading.
In this blog, I am more public than the commenters, and I always have the last word. The format makes my reflections seem more creditable than they do when I'm merely speaking to my friends. It links to my temptation to feel superior, to believe that I'm educating my friends, to think that it really will matter to other people when I finally put up that post about the ethics of voting and the Catholic conscience. It can be a real ego trip sometimes, knowing that other people read my posts on a regular basis. There's also the fact that I like to argue, perhaps to excess.
But there's still a lot of good in blogging these ideas, I think. As long as I keep in mind that I'm still forming a great deal of my thought, that those pesky commenters have things to teach me, and that winning or losing an argument does not necessarily correspond to being correct or incorrect, writing my reflections publicly can be a great help to me.
I'll probably add to or edit this post, by the way. I don't think I really express well the realization that giving oneself a forum is a moral act which is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
Friday, June 04, 2004
8. If an associate begins to transform into something large and threatening, I will immediately act to neutralize the threat, and not wait until the transformation is complete. Likewise, if an enemy begins to metamorphosize into something else, I will immediately start whacking away at it, instead of watching in fascination.
25. I will never travel back into the past in order to prevent the current situation. It never works.
28. Anything that appears to have been too easy--escaping the Evil Overlord's fortress, defeating the Eldritch Horror, etc.--probably was too easy.
39. I will never say "This one is mine!" and engage in a one-on-one struggle with the Evil Overlord or any of his henchmen; however, I might say "This one is mine!" and stand back while, by prior arrangement with my comrades, all available firepower is pumped into the now-distracted target.
46. After killing a few dozen faceless, anonymous grunts in the Legion of Doom without a second thought, I will not suddenly take a merciful attitude with the Evil Overlord, his family, his lieutenants, or anyone else with a speaking part.
53. If I lose a hand and have it replaced with a prosthesis, the prosthesis will have a functional weapon built in to it. I can use it to surprise Bad Guys and open canned goods.
68. I will not trust a being with an inordinate number of tentacles.
77. I will wear a utility belt. Not everything I need will be kept there, but I will pretend that I am helpless without it in order to fool the Evil Overlord.
97. Any artifact named as if it were a part of somebody, especially if it really was once a part of somebody, is a Talisman of Purest Evil, will only be dealt with in a manner pursuant to its destruction.
102. If an opponent does not die when his/her/its head is cut off, but instead starts groping for it, I will give the head a good kick to delay reattachment.
Also, check out The Normal Innocent Bystander's Survival Guide:
2. If the Evil Overlord announces to the world that he has reformed and wants only to help people, throw a party, and give away money; don't go. Not even if he's playing Prince's music. Especially if he's playing Prince's music. If he's lying, you'll be a hostage or a statistic. If he's telling the truth, catch the next one.
Sunday, May 30, 2004
Greetings from Frankenmuth, Michigan! I'm spending this three-day weekend at a family gathering of sorts. Most of Dad's brothers and sisters brought their families (about 40 people in all) to a big, raucous German dinner on Saturday night. By now I know most of them (no repeat of last July's fiasco), and I had the opportunity to hear all the old stories, find out how my cousins are faring in work and school, etc. Of course, I also brought with me my graduate math textbooks- time and finals wait for no man.
This afternoon I spent with the younger cousins, Rita and Steve's kids and Peter and Ellie's kids. I'd forgotten how much more energy the really young have at hand. After a game of freeze tag on a large playground (with a 10-second penalty for touching the ground), which Sam won by freezing us all after half an hour of chaos, it was time for basketball.
You'd think that, being the only 6-footer in the game, I ought to have dominated. Well, that would have required some shooting and passing ability, which nobody in the game seemed to have. The half-court game to 21 points (2 and 3 point field goals) lasted about 2 hours, I think, with a conservative estimate of 319 out-of-bounds, and 47 airballs. The smaller kids compensated for their lack of physical ability by fouling early and often; Calvin seemed to have Luke hanging on his shooting arm for dear life half the time. But hey, I think we all had fun, and at just the point when everyone over 12 collapsed, it was time to get root beer floats.
So today we also visited my grandparents' grave, and walked about the tombstones, looking for hints of sad and beautiful stories. I don't think I could put together exactly what I was thinking at that time, so I won't.
Or, Liturgy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Pentecost Mass was, well, interesting. As Father Keyes was back in Bond Chapel for his last Gregorian Chant Mass with us, I was sitting in St. Luke's of Flint verifying that it defied the GIRM to skip the Creed and to forgo kneeling at any part of the consecration. The priest, who looked like Sean Connery, began his homily by talking about Memorial Day; he noted that while in World War II those at home sacrificed many things for those in combat, the current war leaves all the sacrifice with a few men and women, and their families. He urged us to sacrifice substantial time every day to pray for the soldiers, pray for peace, and to consider our democratic role in the context of a poorly planned and in many ways unjust war. So far, not a bad homily.
But then he spoke on the account of Pentecost (actually, also on the Ascension) by saying, "All the stories in the New Testament are true, but not all of them happened." He spoke in terms of narratives of God's love, that don't matter whether they actually took place. At this point, I started to pray for the man and for the small congregation (in a church built for ten times their number); it's honestly ugly to see a priest who has lost faith, but has found an intellectual (usually postmodern) hermeneutic for continuing in his job without feeling like a hypocrite. He reconciled his disbelief of the Gospels, it appeared to me, with the duty to preach by telling himself that believing in the kerygma was irrelevant to one's relationship with God. I kept recalling Paul's line, "If Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are the most pitiable people of all." It does matter.
After Mass, I was preparing to tell Mr. Connery just what I thought when Katie (who knew to kneel as well, regardless of the rest of the congregation) stopped me and asked what I thought it would achieve, and reminded me that our aunt and uncle are well-known here and would be exposed to criticism. And she was right; what I wanted to say, as much as I would have prefaced it with "I can't judge your heart", would have been a boast and not a remedy. It's honestly difficult to surrender to God's will when, you know, I could show off how clever and virtuous I was. Or rather, how clever and virtuous I was. It's not my task to redeem the world; that job has already been filled. In this case, it was my place as a stranger to pray for them.
And now I have a better appreciation for reverent liturgy, even if the taste differs from mine. The 5 and 9 at Calvert are good Masses, properly done, with music as prayer and not as show; I shouldn't look down on them just for a Marty Haugen song I find insipid. If I should get to choose in music ministry, the silly stuff would go. But today reminded me that some things are more important than matters of taste, and those at Calvert House usually get those things right.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Or, Excellence and What Is Valor?
It doesn't make a lot of logical sense prima facie, the way I've always spent good time and effort doing things that don't matter, or that don't matter in themselves. I mean, did the math competitions make me a better mathematician? Did Quiz Bowl teach me anything in depth, as opposed to acquiring a lot of surface information? Why do I go outside on Fridays and chase around a Frisbee?
Recently, I immersed myself in Scav Hunt, as the picture below made sufficiently clear. I also played a concurrent game of Assassins, which I sort of won. Now, I didn't survive to the end, but I made twice as many kills as the next closest player before I was taken out, and in the delightfully convoluted system of rules and points, that made me a second winner.
So, why did I put in all the effort, in the midst of all my studies, to man a free hot dog stand on the quads, or to wait in a sniper position on a balcony for my target? Well, I'm starting to realize that I need a competitive outlet every now and then. Some arbitrary but consuming diversion, so I don't end up slide-tackling a lounge wall, or deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off... oops, don't call me Ishmael. But you know what I mean. It's healthy for me, as long as it doesn't overwhelm the bonds of camaraderie (which is why I fear playing Super Smash Bros. anymore...)
So this probably goes some way towards justifying my participation in Dance Dance Revolution last night. I'm still sort of puzzling over that one.
Selected Googlisms. Check out #8, #13, #18, #28, #33, #38. Hey, those all ended up as 3 mod 5. There's something odd afoot...
1. patrick is a good person
2. patrick is a god
3. patrick is my hero
4. patrick is associated with brotherhoods
5. patrick is polish
6. patrick is responsible for converting the people of ireland
7. patrick is the hottest thing out today
8. patrick is still waking up
9. patrick is 2
10. patrick is available
11. patrick is focus of reconciliation
12. patrick is eating and drinking
13. patrick is learning his alphabet and numbers before he goes to kindergarten
14. patrick is written by a certain secundicus
15. patrick is the best writer in the media
16. patrick is distant
17. patrick is currently the state chairman of the natural law party of colorado
18. patrick is like most boys
19. patrick is buried
20. patrick is an experienced and highly acclaimed web/print designer and art director
21. patrick is well placed in life
22. patrick is a very funny kid
23. patrick is associated with rachel carson as a biologist responsible for raising serious ecological concern in our society
24. patrick is the constant butt of jokes because of his irish ancestry
25. patrick is having a pretty rough week
26. patrick is his own worst enemy
27. patrick is the recipient of a corneal transplant
28. patrick is exactly how god wanted him to be
29. patrick is the person who will accompany you to the philippines
30. patrick is left alone with his uncontrollable bottom burps
31. patrick is a man who study geology but a politician he became
32. patrick is his usual happy self
33. patrick is delighted to announce that he will now be represented by cloud moss of cumulus presents
34. patrick is an expert at communicating to a wide variety of audiences
35. patrick is going to become a 'household' name in the future
36. patrick is an australian shepherd mix
37. patrick is trying
38. patrick is a true poet who shares more than mere songs; he shares experiences
39. patrick is one of those extraordinary talents who combines raw talent
40. patrick is experiencing the break
Monday, May 24, 2004
It’s been a week of fascinating storms here in Chicago. It began with a thunderstorm over the lake on Thursday, and in our room Nick the meteorologist was looking excitedly out the window.
“You can see the storm center when the lightning flashes! Right there, you see, is where the funnel clouds might be forming over the lake…”
He then proceeded to say something about ghosts on Doppler radar, speculate about waterspouts, and mention a few terms I couldn't pretend I caught.
But the storms were back, off and on, throughout the weekend. Last night was the most abrupt and spectacular of them all. I was in the Calvert House lounge, discussing the recent threats to excommunicate certain Catholic politicians. (I'll blog about that sometime later, I think.) The drizzle outside turned into a torrent just as students began to arrive for 9:00 Mass; as I left Calvert, the run across University Avenue had me soaked. I stood under a balcony in front of the Reynolds Club, watching the storm, when in a matter of seconds it stopped completely. I looked up to see the cloud moving on to the east, and a clear, starry sky above in shades of sunset blue and violet. I thought it was pretty spectacular.
But then, I love real storms. I don't like getting caught in the rain, unless it's really raining; but on days like yesterday, I try to just enjoy the awe-inspiring display of power.
Josh, who lived on this floor last year, just came to visit from the University of Texas and has been staying in our room. We wound up having another great talk about faith and Scripture and autonomy. Couple that with the aforementioned discussion on politics and the Eucharist, and a dialogue with Nick and Ian about the Immaculate Conception, and it's been a good week for ecumenical and ecclesial talk. I still have to be less arrogant in these discussions.
And this Ben Folds song has been stuck in my head for a while.
And I just want to walk away
Won't you let me walk away sometimes?
Won't you let me walk away?
Every one of you is fired!
It's about frustration with responsibilities, something I identify with too much. I'm disorganized and I procrastinate. I wish all the little details would go away, or that somebody else would handle them and let me focus on what I enjoy. I'm not lazy, I think; I'm fine with doing hard work in academics or for a job. But I don't want to have to worry about it all. I want my duty to be clear. That's why I almost went insane during Scav Hunt the past two years: too many problems to keep track of at once. I don't multitask, and I don't want to manage my time. I wanted to participate, not to direct others and get stressed out.
Nietzsche claimed, in On the Genealogy of Morals, that the Christian hope for peace in our lives is a sort of pathetic longing for inactivity. I think he has it all wrong; I'm hardly ever as peaceful as when I'm mowing the lawn or working on math or writing or doing something active. It's when I'm waiting for something to happen, worrying about how it might go wrong, that I fall apart.
OK, that's truly enough for now.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
A recent debate on the Thomistic blog Disputations has made me think again about the morality behind voting: whether and when it's a licit moral act to choose the "lesser of two evils", and under what circumstances it might be wrong to cast a vote for any viable candidate. It's too complicated for me to summarize, but the rejection of Proportionalism in voting is discussed in parts I, II, III, IV, and V. If you don't have time for all, read the odd-numbered parts. The comment boxes have probably dried up by now, but you know you'd rather be enlightened than current.
P.S. Minute Particulars takes a slightly different tack and argues that we are obligated to vote, and to vote for a viable candidate, in all but the most extreme circumstances.
P.P.S. In other news, Sursum Corda is done. I urge you to raid the archives, though. This was a good blog.
Friday, May 14, 2004
|"God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience
of his prosperity he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity he would be senseless."
|You are Augustine!|
You love to study tough issues and don't mind it if you lose sleep over them.
Everyone loves you and wants to talk to you and hear your views, you even get things like "nice debating
with you." Yep, you are super smart, even if you are still trying to figure it all out. You're also
very honest, something people admire, even when you do stupid things.
What theologian are you?
A creation of Henderson
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Or, Where Was Patrick?
This weekend was the 18th annual University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. The list was released Wednesday at midnight, and today was Judgment Day, so each of nine teams had that much time to find, create or do 282 items, including many that had to be taken care of by a "Road Trip" to UPenn and Princeton. Examples:
#3. Mandelbrotwurst. [17 points]
#24. Eat the World's Worst Apple Pie in the biggest rocking chair… ever! [30 points]
#54. A stretcher made entirely from dental care products capable of carrying a Judge across the Midway. [84 points]
#99. A stratigraphic column of Chicago made out of Jello. [45 points]
#128. Eudaemonia. [300 points]
#142. Now that she's 18, it's our democratic duty to register Scav Inger Hunt to vote. Don't screw up the party affiliation. [18 points]
#155. Document your College Tour squadron's sing-along montage of "Movin' Right Along." [9 points]
#193. Prove that Dean Boyer is actually a robot, using the criteria set forth by Isaac Asimov, Futurama, Spongebob Squarepants, and Rugrats. [16 points. 1 bonus point if you use the wrench test for the latter]
#237. How many beads would it take to buy back Manhattan? [7 points]
#249. Make a device such that, when a Judge throws a raw egg at it at full speed, the egg remains intact. [98 points]
#266. Demonstrate conclusively that there really is a wrong way to eat a Reese's. [8 points]
#272. Build a Wankel-Rotary Engine. [111 points]
#282. A thoughtful yet brief critique of the worst item on this year's list. Remember this is constructive. [13 points]
Also, ScavOlympics took place yesterday, outside on the main quads and then in the University's new swimming pool. Examples:
1(b). Burtonian Dodgeball. At The Conclave of the Captains, we will tell you which Tim Burton characters you will represent. Style > Substance. [50 points for first. 40 points for second. 30 points for third]
That guy in the Edward Scissorhands getup... it looks like... naw, couldn't possibly be Patrick...
1(h). The Reverse Engineering challenge. Four teammembers must build a Lincoln Log cabin, homey, rustic, yet safe and trendy. Sounds easy enough, right? They'll be cuffed, blindfolded, ear-muffed, and gagged. [40 points for first. 30 points for second. 20 points for third]
1(l). A Calvin-Ball Tournament. Rules and points TBD. Bring your own equipment.
2(a). Your team's synchronized swimmers have creative free reign with only two stipulations: the performance must be no longer than three minutes, the music must be from Earth, Wind and Fire, and you must out-synch Anchor Splash. [50 points for first. 40 points for second. 30 points for third. No points if any swimmer is not smiling for the entirety of the show]
2(b) Marco! [40 points for first. 30 points for second. 20 points for third]
So, anyway, I've been involved in this all three years, but more so this year than before for two reasons: (1) I was appointed "Volunteer Coordinator", or unofficially, "Pastor Hominum" for the Shoreland dormitory team, and (2) the aforesaid Shoreland team was headquartered in my room. I had a lot of fun, and managed to go without either committing or encouraging a mortal sin (not a nontrivial task; there were quite a few items not fit to be posted here). The Shoreland team placed fourth this year, a disappointing followup to a surprise second-place finish last year. However, the unanimously hated twice-defending champion Max Palevsky team (corporately funded, soulless) finally fell as Snell-Hitchcock won the Hunt. I have a few really funny stories, but I think I'll wait and see if there are pictures first.
Also, I participated in a concurrent game of Assassins, but we'll leave details of that till the moment the game ends.
Current Task: Cleaning up my room from its abhorrent state
Current Mood: Sleep-deprived but happy
Current Music: Just finished listening to Castaways and Cutouts by The Decembrists. Not my album. Good, though.
P.S. Did I mention I'm moving to the seventh floor next year, and that Ian's one of my roommates?
P.P.S. Pirate! Dematerialize!
Saturday, May 01, 2004
First off, I was impressed with the level of comments-box discourse; I've seen other such debates get personal very quickly. I appreciate all the points, statistics and comments, and I have just a few things to say myself.
First off, I don't believe I'm here making the strongest case I possibly can on any of these points. If my idea were to convert today those who disagree with me, I'd instead be stealing the famous arguments of other people. Instead, what I'm doing on this blog, on a number of issues, is further honing my thought, trying to find a consistent and compelling way to understand all the complexity of political life, among other things. For example, I haven't dropped my thoughts on same-sex marriage; that topic's on the back burner as I ponder what it means that many marriages today (marriages later in life, or second or third marriages) aren't geared towards raising kids.
So I appreciate all you continue to say about this topic.
Let me remark, first, that the last post garnered some remarks on the issue of immediately criminalizing abortion. I thought I was trying to make clear that even if you don't favor that at all, or if you have doubts (as I do) that it would be prudent in the near future (because of comparably high rates of illicit abortions), you ought still to consider that it's not a healthy society that has 4,000 abortions per day. I want to know what you think would be good and reasonable methods for changing that.
That being said, I have some individual responses...
As regards the "taking care of the homeless" thought experiment, it sounds a lot like Judith Jarvis Thompson's The Violinist analogy justifying abortion. Have you read it?
Anyway, where I think it falls apart is this: refusing to take care of a person against your will is one thing, killing them directly is quite another. You may be justified in forcing a homeless person to leave your home and try to find shelter elsewhere, but you are not justified in shooting him or her in the head to "solve" that problem.
True, I'd just heard the figure "one in four" bandied about. However, the quotes I found (from pro-abortion* sources) claim that it's even higher:
"The chances are high that a woman will have more than one unplanned pregnancy in the course of her lifetime. Nearly half of all U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old."
Source: Planned Parenthood Website
"On the basis of current abortion rates, one in three American women will have had an abortion by age 45."
Source: Alan Guttmacher Institute, quoted here.
We agree that there are problems with the adoption system in the United States (one of the institutions I think ought to be fixed immediately). But some of your points are off, I think.
The median age of children entering foster case is 9 years. While I can't find the exact statistics, foster care is primarily the domain of children taken from abusive or otherwise incapable families, and does not have a great number of children originally given up for adoption. That's a side issue to adoption at birth.
Source: Health and Human Services
"Since the end of World War II, interest in adoption primarily has focused on healthy, young infants. By the mid-1950's, the demand for healthy infants grew so significantly that it exceeded the number of children available for adoption, a trend that has accelerated with each passing decade.
"According to the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth, there are an estimated 3.3 adoption seekers for every actual adoption."
Source: Health and Human Services
You'll find no disagreement from me that Christians ought to promote, through their daily lives, a society welcoming of life. However, I know that you also believe social ills can be ameliorated by proper political action as well as individual witness. Calling abortion a problem which can solely be addressed on the individual level appears to be a way of washing one's hands of it.
"If the options were better, I'd be willing to wager that 1.3 million would be a number of the past."
Exactly what I meant. How do we make the options better as a society?
My post could have been boiled down to one statement. "If you're pro-choice*, if you think that abortion is an ugly thing that has to be allowed as a last resort for certain societal problems, I want you to put your money where your mouth is. I want you to also work to directly confront those problems. Yes, pro-lifers should work as well to alleviate social ills. But so should you."
Below are some stats which don't surprise me. The question "what can we do?" has some answers here, I think. Teenage pregnancy rates often indicate statutory rape or other things we ought to combat... adoption can be made a truly feasible option for those who cannot afford a child... pregnancy ought not end a woman's education or career. What do you think?
Reasons Women Choose Abortion (U.S.)
Wants to postpone childbearing: 25.5%
Wants no (more) children: 7.9%
Cannot afford a baby: 21.3%
Having a child will disrupt education or job: 10.8%
Has relationship problem or partner does not want pregnancy: 14.1%
Too young; parent(s) or other(s) object to pregnancy: 12.2%
Risk to maternal health: 2.8%
Risk to fetal health: 3.3%
Source: Bankole, Akinrinola; Singh, Susheela; Haas, Taylor. Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries. International Family Planning Perspectives, 1998, 24(3):117–127 & 152 As reported by: The Alan Guttmacher Institute Online:
*From what you say, I trust that you are not pro-abortion but think it's a necessary evil. So I'll call you "pro-choice" as you would prefer to be called. However, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, etc, have been so senseless in their lobbying, in my opinion, that I'd almost believe they would be disgusted with a society that didn't choose abortion. Hence the "pro-abortion" epithet for them.