Sunday, May 30, 2004

Memorial Day Extravaganza

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.
Pentecost
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

Pointless Competitions, The General Version
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.
Ego-Tickling
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

Ramble Alert, Volume I

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

Voting and Morality

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

Even Less Surprising than Nick as Erasmus



"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

Pointless Competitions
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

Notes on the Last Post

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...

Anna:

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.

Anonymous:

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.

Jared:

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

Nick:

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.

Vanessa:

"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?

Last Thoughts

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%
Other: 2.1%

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.