Monday, February 27, 2006


I may give up blogging and reading blogs for Lent. It sure doesn't show in my meager postings here, but I spend an inordinate amount of time reading and lurking.

I do note, in advance, that such penances are optional on the Sundays of Lent.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My Thoughts Are Misguided And A Little Naive

It's been a wild and sleepless weekend. Erik's Thursday night art talk was fascinating; you can even find the podcast on his blog. Then there was the field trip on Saturday morning to the Oakland Museum of California. Erik guided us to each of four paintings he'd picked out, then left us to think and observe for a while before giving us his own suggestions. It was an excellent atmosphere for appreciating something like a Richard Diebenkorn:

Previously, I hadn't been able to shut up my mind long enough to really experience and see into an Abstract Expressionist painting, but I found it beautiful this time. I shan't bore you with my rambling intellectualizations on the matter, though. (They did involve shades of Plato on art; the Republic discussion the previous night bled through a bit.)

That wasn't the only event of the day, though. My officemate Dan interrupted my mathematical work last evening to tell me about the contentious graduate union meeting downstairs. Essentially, this meeting of union members from all UC campuses was required to ratify the bargaining position we're trying to hold in negotiations with the UC system. It should have been a formality, but for an unexpectedly large contingent from UC Santa Cruz who expressed (paranoid) outrage that we weren't asking for more.

I'd never seen direct democracy in action, nor personally dealt with parliamentary procedure, so it was fascinating to me. After the bargaining proposals finally passed (4 hours behind schedule), Dan and I invited the union leadership for a beer, which they took us up on. Fascinating conversations (it seems likely that there will be a strike in the fall, alas), and it turns out I unwittingly joined in a toast to Salvador Allende.

Which reminds me: I've just of late started to distinguish capitalism from simple private property, and I find the latter more consonant with human dignity than the former. Capitalism, as it is today, seems to be the practice of an entire society living on margin for the sake of productivity; individuals, corporations and governments spend money they don't have, in the hope of making up the deficit later. The economy burns bright, but the rich become absurdly rich, and it's easier than ever to lose what you have, and we're just one misstep away from the next Great Depression. It's obvious to me that socialism isn't the answer: to subcreate and hold something as our own is still a profoundly human act, even if it can be abused in excess. So I don't know what the answer is.

Could someone explain to me better what the principle of subsudiarity means in Catholic social thought? I get confused.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Flew In From Miami Beach BOAC, Didn't Get To Bed Last Night

All the way the paperback was on my knee; man, I had a dreadful flight.

Tolstoy's given me Slavophilia, I think it might be terminal. I want to join the hussars, talk philosophy with the retired kammerherrs, take a sleigh ride on the country estate. I'm even growing the beard for it!

Also, I've been bonding with Barbara by watching dancing and figure skating with her, and I'm really getting into it. (Yes, I know, I ought to turn in my Y chromosome for this heinous crime.) She used to be a great dancer when her knees were young, and so she can point out to me all sorts of interesting things to notice in Dancing With the Stars. (The voting audience for that show has an annoying habit of preferring the photogenic stars to the ones who dance well, alas.)

And that brings me to tonight's reason that Georgia's always on my mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mind:
Elene skating
Elene Gedevanishvili.

It's hard to explain, but the Georgian skater evinced that quality of fascination or captivation that Tolstoy gives to Natasha Rostov, the genuine je ne sais quoi of the feminine variety. Ms. Gedevanishvili wasn't the prettiest skater tonight, nor the most proficient, but I was caught breathless on the edge of my seat for her entire performance. She conveyed a certain passionate self-abandon, as if the triple lutz (I think) were just her spontaneous expression of joy. It's wondrous to behold.

Oh, and during NBC's many commercials (and through the bobsledding events) we saw two great episodes of NOVA. Yayu came and joined us for the episode on the gamma-ray bursts, which touched on his own area of research (star nurseries); he walked by and exclaimed, "Oh, that's Dr. Paczynski!". It's simply incredible to remember my wonder at reading A Brief History of Time, and to realize that some of the confident conclusions at which I marvelled have been completely superseded by new and surprising discoveries: the neutrino no longer massless, the gamma-ray bursts not the result of a neutron star collision but rather the death of a supermassive star ten billion years ago. I'm just awed, as always, by the beauty and complexity of the universe into which the Increate deigned to incarnate Himself as a simple child.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Woke Up in a Soho Doorway, The Policeman Knew My Name

Here I am in the Big Apple with Katie and her friends. It’s really amazing to see her all grown up (being home doesn’t count, nobody acts mature in their childhood home).

High winds in New York made all but one runway at LaGuardia unsafe, so I had a 3-hour delay on my connection from Chicago Midway. On the plus side, I ran into a Uchicago student in the terminal (Donna, thanks for explaining some Japanese linguistics to me, it was really interesting).

Saw the Museum of Natural History yesterday, especially the fourth floor with all the dinosaurs. The collection contained full skeletons of my two all-time favorites, Ornitholestes and Deinonychus. They looked smaller in person. Also, the Death Star, er, Hayden Sphere was pretty neat.

Digression: Does anyone know a good way to explain the physics of why planetary systems get “locked into” rational multiples, like Neptune orbiting exactly twice for every 3 Pluto orbits, or the Moon rotating exactly once per revolution?

Later, I saw The Unseen, an adaptation of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, performed in Katie’s studio (the Experimental Theatre Wing). At first, the constant dancing of the characters was disconcerting, but as it went on I liked the production better (this was also because the material improved greatly once Ruth and Elvira started interacting, IMHO).

Today, I went with Katie to Mass (at St. Joseph’s in Greenwich Village, which quite impressed me), and now we’re pondering other activities which don’t involve staying out for too long in the freezing wind. Definitely not on the agenda: watching Eraserhead again. Gave me the jibblies.

Well, who are you?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial.

I should be packed! And asleep! But instead I'm finishing my GSI duties, because I'm a rock star.

You may have noticed, I've redecorated the place. Amici should be self-explanatory. As for the categories of bloggers I don't know personally, I'm too tired to explain them very well, but I mean them all as high compliments.

Oh, and if you're sending me strange text messages from a L.A. number my phone doesn't recognize, it behooves you to sign your name.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ég gaf ykkur von sem var∂ a∂ vonbrig∂um.*

Neat little album. The rest isn't quite Starálfur, but that's a one in a million song.

It was good music to grade midterms by, certainly. 250 copies of Problem 1, all properly scored. If only everybody remembered that you can't split up a denominator.

Finished The Book of the New Sun, started a long-overdue Brighton Rock.

I'm one step closer to comprehending differential forms.

Please keep in mind that I don't understand people, I just do the best I can.

This is an alright start.

*No, not "A moose önce bit my sister." Nice try.

Friday, February 10, 2006

From the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago:

Survey Links Agape and Eros *

Quite a timely study, even gives a nod to Deus Caritas Est. Excerpt:

Those who score high on altruistic love questions are more likely to rate their lives in general and marriages in particular as “very happy.” People were asked to rate their agreement with descriptions of altruistic love, such as “I’d rather suffer myself than let the one I love suffer,” and “I’m willing to sacrifice my own wishes to let the one I love achieve his or hers.”

Among those least likely to endorse expressions of altruistic love, 50 percent rated their marriage as “very happy,” but among those most expressing altruistic love towards their partner, 67 percent say their marriage in “very happy.” Also, the married are more likely to rank high on altruistic love than the unmarried. Forty percent of the married scored in the top category on altruistic love, but only 20 percent of the never married and 26-28 percent of the divorced and separated had top scores on altruistic love.

The connection between romantic love and altruistic behavior probably comes from an appreciation of love developed in a healthy marriage and reflects the connection between marriage and love in general which is part of the teachings of many religions, including Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Smith said.

While I still think that sociology resembles nothing so much as a Pokémon battle ("Foucault! I CHOOSE YOU!" "Oh yeah? Michel won't be able to stop my Derrida and his DECONSTRUCTION ATTACK!"), I've generally been impressed by the useful and careful research done by NORC. Thus it's doubly rewarding to see them discovering empirical support for the idea of agape and eros as two aspects of love which nourish one another, rather than two competing loves. But then, you know, truth is one and all that.

* Title slightly redacted.
This Just In:

The Rolling Stones are dead.

Oh, and by "This Just In", I mean I realized this during the Super Bowl halftime show. The only way left to have done that show with honor would be for Keith Richards to have died onstage. They've sold out, they can't play their instruments anymore, Mick Jagger's voice is a flat shout devoid of inflection. Everything the Stones have done in the last 20 years has been for all intents and purposes the same song.

Why couldn't Yoko Ono have had a thing for Jagger instead?

Oh, and I guess the cat's out of the bag about my beard. Finally I have no reason not to try. As one of my fellow grad students told me today, "You look more dangerous already". I'm not one for Revolutionary Justice, so out of opposition to V=L I'm calling it "The Non-Measurable Beard". This has the nice side effect that according to the Banach-Tarski Paradox, I can twist my head in such a way as to divide it into two beards, each identical to the original!

Don't get sentimental, it always ends up drivel.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Things I Have No Excuse For Not Yet Doing
Exercising regularly
Learning about differential forms
Visiting the Lawrence Hall of Science
Buying an acceptable dress coat
Meeting a Dominican in person
Reading Lord of the Rings

Oh yeah, look at that strikethrough there. Went to a bioethics talk at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology tonight. Doot, as Geoff would put it, doot.

I should have tracked down the Dominicans much sooner, what with Tom, Lauren and Fr. Philip rocking my corner of the blogosphere so hard. I've admired the philosophical chops and solid devotion of good Dominicans for a long time now, not to mention their real rock star. I'd like to see the whiny emo band that can manufacture half the sincerity of Adoro Te Devote.

OK, toning down the giddiness.

Tonight's event at DSPT was a fascinating discussion on the ethics of Altered Nuclear Transfer*, a method of generating pluripotent stem cells without growing and killing human beings. In ANT, scientists inhibit certain genes before fusing a nucleus with an egg cell, so as to create a cluster of non-differentiating stem cells rather than an embryo. Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford, who originally proposed the technique in 2002, and Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, PhD, talked about the ethical status of ANT, then opened it up for questions. I still have some reservations about the process, though Fr. Austriaco was good enough to spend some time talking to me about it when I found him at the reception afterwards.

I also had a good chat with Br. Matthew (who mentioned knowing a certain Casey K. at the University of Chicago), and I was invited several times to attend Vespers and Mass at the Dominican House. Ha! Little do they know, I'll go there and capture myself the spiritual director I've been lacking! My fiendish plans for future sainthood are unfurling perfectly...

P.S. Going to New York the weekend after next and visiting Little Sister in her NYU element. Hurrah!

*For the curious, a set of links on the ethical debate surrounding ANT (including critiques and Fr. Austriaco's reply), can be found here.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I know I've exceeded my blog quota for one day, but I've meant to link to this post of Camassia's on social justice, power and moral freedom. It's hard to excerpt it in context, but trust me on this: it's true and a rare point.
Oh, and I was greatly surprised today when David dropped in unannounced. He's in the Bay Area to pitch an idea with Yahoo!, and took a moment to find me at Berkeley. That made my day.

I still fell asleep in Differential Manifolds, though. At least by now I've dropped it. (That makes me 1 for 3 on this subject, if you're keeping score.) Doot doot.

My students are doing great on their quizzes. I'm really proud.

I really need to remember that in California, they put crosswalks on busy streets where there's no stop sign or stoplight, and the pedestrians know they have total right of way. So I have to be more ready for people brazenly stepping out in front of my car. Almost sent a few to the Pearly Gates.

The sad thing about growing up is that nobody gives you gold stars anymore.
Happy Feast of the Purification of Our Lady!

If your parish wasn't blessing candles, that's just a shame.

Deus Caritas Est is the real deal. I'm only halfway through it (yes, I know, I should appropriate more time for reading), but it's incredible.

Benedict tackles, among many other things, a question that I've come to again and again (with varying degrees of understanding): the relation between eros and agape*. My journals tackle it again and again: is the one to be abandoned for the other? Are they distinct, and can they add to each other? How do they, how should they, intertwine in our human loves? In our love for God?

Of course, Benedict goes and writes exactly what I've been trying to grasp this whole time.

In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

The whole encyclical is worth reading, whether you're Catholic or not. Even Barbara was so impressed by the introduction that she asked to bring a copy of it to her Quaker Meeting.

What a Pope we are blessed to have!

*C.S. Lewis writes on agape and eros in The Four Loves, but I find myself rather unsatisfied with the conclusion of that book. I'm not sure I can entirely articulate why, but it strikes me as a little too wary of earthy passion in our love for God. As much as Lewis writes positively about what he calls Need-Love, it seems that he still finds it a bit aesthetically distasteful (see especially the ending, in which he says that the highest must be a purely Appreciative love for God). The abandon and passion of St. Therese's love for God weighs more heavily on me.