Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I. Teaching.
Can I just say I love it? My students for Calculus 1B are just great so far. I'm that goofy, eccentric GSI I always knew I'd be.

Today was their first quiz, and (by the few that I've looked at) they've done pretty well. Before it began, I told them to raise their right hands and take an oath:

"I, (state your name),
do solemnly swear,
not to try anything stupid like cheating.
I further acknowledge
that Patrick is not as dumb as he looks,
and that if I try anything stupid,
I'm just digging my own grave."

Laughs all around, but I had to make that point.

My quiz instructions began with "Don't panic."

II. There is no spoon.
For my two readers who might get this:

Have you heard of the logicians' proposed new axiom that the constructible universe is the entire universe (abbreviated V=L), e.g. that there is no such thing as a nonconstructible real number? What bothers me about this axiom is its incredible epistemological hubris, in dismissing the vast majority of everything from existence simply because our finite minds can't do very much.

I was arguing this with a logician today when I had a flash of synthetic intelligence. "V=L is taking the red pill!"

Monday, January 23, 2006

Because It's January 22nd Again

Well, more accurately, it was. Bear with me.

I. Walk for Life.
Yesterday, I went to the Walk for Life in San Francisco. I marched with 10,000-15,000 pro-life demonstrators, and passed by a few hundred hecklers from the other side. (On the numbers: I'm serious. The difference was more than an order of magnitude.)


I was really impressed at the spirit of peaceful and silent witness that the organizers communicated to all of us. The pro-life marchers were discouraged from bringing graphic or offensive signs, and more importantly told to stay silent in the face of the counter-protesters. It was amazing to see the contrast: on one side, a mile-long mass of silent and hopeful people, carrying signs such as "Thanks, Mom!" and "Reject Violence, Embrace Mercy", and on the other, a string of people holding signs such as "F**k the Unborn" (yes, really) and screaming 60s-era chants ("What do we want?" "FREE ABORTIONS! "When do we want it?" "NOW!"). I appreciated the irony as a gang of pierced and tattooed counter-protesters, all dressed alike in black, shouted in unison, "LEARN TO THINK FOR YOURSELVES!"

The police did a great job, enforcing a space of 15 feet between the sides at all times. (Well, as far as I could see, the marchers had no problem respecting that boundary. The other side was a bit more contumacious at times.) The officers even found and confiscated a bunch of balloons filled with tomato paste that some were going to throw from the buildings (into a march full of little children, mind you).

It really amused me how little the counter-protesters understood us. The most common theme of their chants and signs concerned not abortion but George Bush. ("You just want to save them so they can go fight your imperialistic wars!!") I think most of them would be genuinely surprised to know that a great number of us don't support the war in Iraq, didn't vote for Bush, aren't for the death penalty, etc. It shows how tempting it can be to break politics down into Us and Them, so that the counter-protesters assume all pro-life people are simply Bushies.

As far as the actual demographics go, I ran repeatedly into marchers from every ethnicity, and the significant majority were women. We had a lot of children with us, and many college students. I couldn't help but notice that the other side skewed a bit more "aging hippie" than that. The one most common denominator on the pro-life side was an overwhelming Catholic majority. I'm proud of the courage of my Church.

OK, enough exulting.

II. Friendly Fire.
In all honesty, on such issues I spend less time and effort on castigating or mocking the other side, and more time and energy being incensed or embarrassed by pro-life people who make poor or ambiguous arguments, or drive others farther from the truth by their offensive tactics, or who fail to recognize that there are intelligent, sane and virtuous people who find themselves pro-choice. (Which isn't to say that such people aren't wrong about it, but I'm almost humble enough now to see that we're all wrong now and then, it's a tough world and the truth is difficult to find in places.)

It's just the way that I'm chagrined by a lot of evangelical Christians, who can set the project of evangelization back years in a single thoughtless conversation. I'm all for bringing people closer to Christ, so I do rejoice when someone becomes Christian even when it's a Protestant. But the attitude that says "if I offend 99 non-Christians and make them even less likely to find the Church, but I convert 1 sinner, than yay! I've saved a soul!" is just awful. Evangelization has to be grounded in honesty and in respect for the person you address.

Similarly in political situations. The graphic-aborted-baby-pictures people do have testimonies from people whose beliefs were changed by the shock of seeing the horror of abortion so viscerally. But they don't include the testimonies of people who were wavering on the issue until they were offended by how crudely the pro-life folks behaved, and were thereafter opposed to them. And calling the terribly high rates of abortion in the black community "genocide" just seems to piss off a lot more people than it reaches.

And so too, most of all, with pro-life people who hate the women who are having abortions. Yes, I know they're making an awful choice. But for a lot of them (based on what the women who know, at places like After Abortion, have to say), it presents itself as the only way out. It takes a great act of virtue, persevering over some long months, to reject that easy way out, that (empty) promise that you can make it as if it never happened. And the fact that abortion so often appears the only escape from shame/poverty/rejection, that's a shame that's all our fault. So I get angry with people who take a "high horse" approach to post-abortive women.

III. Floating Down the Muddy River.
You might note that as the years pass, my answers to "Why are you pro-life?" and "What do you think should be done?" have changed, as my understanding of political realities (and political philosophy) has deepened. I had an opportunity to answer the first question again, as a journalism intern interviewed me (just a project on covering the Walk for Life, something she's going to submit to a competition) after the march.

Basically, I know that our society inherits a lot of difficult problems, unwed (or otherwise problematic) pregnancies among them. I realize (some amount of) how difficult it must be in such a situation, how much I'd want an easy way out. There's a lot that society can do to help women in this sort of trouble (prenatal care and more, ubiquitous adoptive resources, the real option of sustaining and raising a child), and I laud and support the efforts of Feminists for Life, Democrats for Life and others to provide these. Becoming pregnant in tough circumstances shouldn't end your hope of a good and stable life, ever. But there are some things we just can't do, some "solutions" that just aren't. That the alternatives we see are difficult doesn't make something horrible okay. Killing the unborn is just not something we can countenance, not something on which we can build our society.

I'm rather certain it's not what Radiohead had in mind, but the song Like Spinning Plates seems all too appropriate for expressing the horror I feel about this. Our social balance is predicated on the death of nascent human lives, and it will be even more so once we start extending our lives by their deaths. God help us.

While you make pretty speeches,
I'm being cut to shreds...
You feed me to the lions,
A delicate balance...

Saturday, January 14, 2006

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
created with

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Best. Rose. Bowl. Game. Ever.

If you’re wondering why I’m posting so late, I taped The Game so that Katie and I could get a late dinner out with our friend Ida and her visiting roommate Rachel. Sadly, we found that Blueberry Hill is now closed to minors after 8 PM. So we went to Rigazzi’s on the Hill, with TVs spread out across the building, all playing The Game. I managed to position myself with my back to one and the rest obscured by pillars, threatened the girls with instant doom should they tell me anything, and let the conversation block out the sounds of The Game.

Thus I enjoyed my dinner and a bunch of really fascinating stories.

I came back late and started watching it on the VCR. You all remember my stake in this? Not only am I sick of USC dominance, not only is Cal a rival of theirs, but I had bet my dignity that they’d lose at least once this season. That, and I’d been anticipating this matchup all season. In either case, I was full of caffeine and nervous energy. The Game couldn’t wait till the morning.

And what a game! Sixty minutes of pure, gorgeous, immaculate football plays. Did you notice the offensive lines in this game: what didn’t you see that you normally see? False starts and holding calls, the fouls that bog down games. Only a boatload of hard tackling and tight coverage held the explosive offenses in check; against lesser defenses, the scores would have been in three digits.

Beyond the beautiful plays, there was the drama. The Game was back and forth, especially in that magical second half. 7-0 USC, 16-7 Texas, 17-16 USC, 23-17 Texas, 24-23 USC. USC was impeccable on four long touchdown drives in the half, pushing that last lead to 38-26 with 6:42 left. I paced frantically back and forth in the family room.

But if Reggie Bush has turned superhuman in the last few games for USC, Vince Young turned mythical (Herculean, Achillean) in those last few minutes. He would not be stopped that first time, pulling them to 38-33 with a run that froze all defenders. Texas made that life-or-death stop on fourth-and-2, and with two minutes left, it was glory time. On fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard-line, with 19 seconds left, Young made it look easy. One last nerve-defying gasp from Leinart and Bush, and it was all over. I exhaled in spasms of relief.

OK, OK, it’s just a football game. But this is vicarious competition at its best, at its highest. And I stand in some measure of awe.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Quick Observations

I’ve been essentially hibernating over this break.

You know how in college football, a team’s marching band will play some intimidating music when the other team faces a big third down? I’m watching the Sugar Bowl, and West Virginia’s band keeps sampling the Dies Irae in that situation. It’s kind of disorienting.

Katie got the Sufjan Stevens Illinois CD for Christmas. It’s really incredible to listen to the unbalanced arrangements he does, and the lyrics are just unbelievable. It’s as if Sufjan has David Foster Wallace chained in his basement with a typewriter.

If you have one afternoon to spend in St. Louis, and your knees are still young, forget the Arch. It’s overrated. Spend the day in the City Museum instead. It’s sort of a museum, but really a collection of giant 3-D mazes and caves. You can explore every nook and cranny that you can fit through. I was there with some friends on the 30th, and it was a blast.

I watched Napoleon Dynamite for the first time yesterday. I didn’t laugh out loud, but I liked it a lot as a movie. As Katie put it, “You would like a movie about awkwardness.”

Biggest achievement of the break: sportsmanship. Yeah, I was once again the first player to lose at RISK, but this time it wasn’t because everyone allied against me. I even did well at poker without being the jerk.

Oh, and if you have two days to spend in St. Louis, might I suggest you rent a car and drive to Chicago for some of that time? Okay, just kidding.

I can’t articulate it right now, but I have some strange thoughts on image and reality, theology and the Letter to the Ephesians. Talk to me about it.

I think you’re crazy, maybe.