Sunday, April 29, 2007

AzN is the new black

So this was pretty predictable:
"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech," said the teen's father, Albert Lee, referring to last week's massacre of 32 students by gunman Seung-Hui Cho. "I understand the situation."

But he added: "I don't see how somebody can get charged by writing in their homework. The teacher asked them to express themselves, and he followed instructions."

Allen Lee, an 18-year-old straight-A student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested Tuesday near his home and charged with disorderly conduct for an essay police described as violently disturbing but not directed toward any specific person or location.
So, it seems clear that Lee was pretty dumb to have written this so soon after Virginia Tech, but, even so:
Unless somebody is holding back some important fact, this young man is getting a raw deal. He doesn't belong in the criminal justice system. And the main reason he was treated this way is that people are on edge because another young Asian-American student killed 32 people two weeks earlier in Virginia.
(I sure am glad my high school days are far behind me. If being a socially inept Asian student inclined towards dark and disturbing imagery had been the profile of a rampage-killer-in-the-making back then, I'd have been screwed. Actually, now that I think about it, I still fit that profile. Ooh, look out!)
I don' blame his teacher for alerting her supervisor at the school. I can see where she might have been worried.

By all means, pull him out of class the next day and try to figure out what's going on. Haul in his parents to find out what they know. Huddle with the rest of his teachers. Get him to a shrink for a psychiatric evaluation. Interview his friends, if it seems necessary.

Hell, call in the police if they honestly believe the young man poses some kind of a real danger and ask them to look into it.

But to have him arrested and criminally charged as the starting point of their response, based solely on what he wrote for a class assignment that instructed him not to censor himself, that's just outrageous.

Judging by the e-mails to the newspaper, I'd guess that at least half of you disagree with me. Lucky for me, you can't have me arrested.

Many of you are from the better safe than sorry school of thought.
Similarly, whenever I see a black man walking in my direction on the sidewalk, I always cross to the other side of the street. Better safe than sorry, I always say. (Crap, when I started writing this, I told myself I wouldn't turn it into some race thing. Oh, well.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

End of a scholarly era

Well, for Anglophone students of Kierkegaard, at least. Earlier today I was looking up pictures of Kierkegaard scholars Howard and Edna Hong in order to show Dawn how they aren't even a little Asian, and we ran across news of Edna Hong's fairly recent death.

The Hongs are best known for going approximately 30 years without sleep in order to produce probably the best available English translations of Kierkegaard's works, comprising just about every word he ever uttered. The results of their efforts currently make up a substantial and pleasantly coordinated section of my own little library.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Enough said

The Christian Century interviews Bill Moyers and asks:
Some people on the left think the Democratic Party needs to be more explicitly religious. What do you think about that counterstrategy?

If you have to talk about God to win elections, that doesn't speak well of God or elections. We are desperate today for cool thinking and clear analysis. What kind of country is it that wants its politicians to play tricks with faith?
(h/t JP)

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Finding Eternal Hope in Present Sorrow"

Are you bored of the garden variety empty platitudes and mindless punditry that quite naturally followed the Virginia Tech shootings? I have the cure for you: Doug's Blog: On the Horror at Virginia Tech. The writers at the Onion couldn't do a better job of coming up with a parody of a Christian Right analysis of the shooting spree.

The post starts out by addressing the "why" question. Now, talking about the "why" question doesn't make Doug's post stand out from the crowd (nor does his answer to the question), but I would like to say something about that general phenomenon. (Perhaps similar to this Slacktivist post.) When news-worthy tragedies like this happen, and people start talking about topics in the vicinity of the problem of evil, I get a little confused. Because I'm pretty sure that just about everyone knows that, say, the Holocaust happened. (I briefly considered picking a less trite example, but what the heck, let's not pussyfoot around.) And it seems to me that if you can believe in God despite the fact that the Holocaust happened, you ought to be able to believe in God in the face of any other tragedy or atrocity that current events can throw at you, without much breaking a spiritual sweat. (To be sure, if one had a special personal connection to one of the victims, I could see how that could create an especially deep emotional sting that could make an understandable difference here, but this is not the case in general.)

OK, so much for that.

What really makes Doug's post shine are such points as: Christians need to go out and convert people in this time of need:
We must be emboldened in our sense of urgency to communicate to others the only source of hope from death.
And we can probably lay some of the blame for the shootings on the secular humanist hegemony that permeates the American public sphere:
We have forsaken the law of God and have worshipped before false idols. We have sacrificed our children, not only spiritually and intellectually to the high priests of a new secular religion in our government schools...
And probably legalized abortion contributed to the shooting:
...but have quite literally sacrificed baby boys and girls to the gods of convenience in the abortuaries of America. One out of four Americans is not here because they were aborted by their mothers.
And let's not forget the theory of evolution:
Our children are being taught the Gospel of evolution and man. It is a religious faith that ultimately teaches that transcendent truth does not exist; life is meaningless, being the product of chance. Why are we surprised when the present generation acts upon the logical implications of this false gospel? If we do not see the connection between this false faith and the culture of death, we are blind bats, or willingly ignorant.
Plus this just goes to show how being armed all the time is a Christian duty:
A strong case can be made that in a violent society like our own, it is the duty of every Christian man to be armed such that he is ready, willing, and able to come to the immediate aid of his neighbor in the face of the ruthless behavior of lawless men.
And just to finish it off, an additional curiosity regarding how Doug makes that last point:
We have one of two futures — a police state full of regulation and controls, where only the state and criminals have access to guns, thus leaving most women and children defenseless to evildoers, or an informed, well-armed citizen population, which is, to my mind, the surest safeguard against lawless men.
What I find curious is that he picks out "women and children" in particular. Are unarmed men not, in general, defenseless when confronted by an armed "evildoer"? Plenty of dudes died at Virginia Tech. Testicles do not in fact provide any protection against bullets. Or maybe it's taken for granted that manly men only ever concern themselves with the protection of their offspring and womenfolk, never paying any regard to their own safety in the face of danger. I just dunno.

Now, is this the single stupidest thing to be written in response to the Virginia Tech shootings? I have enough faith in humanity to be confident that it's not. But it's still a remarkable piece of work.

(h/t Jesus Politics)

Monday, April 16, 2007


To whomever it was who arrived at this blog after googling for "Heidegger thanksgiving": if you should happen to search for that again, and run across this post, please leave a comment explaining what it was you were hoping to find. It is bugging the hell out of me.

Friday, April 13, 2007


RIP Kurt Vonnegut, humanist extraordinaire.

From A Man Without a Country (see here):
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes be posted anywhere.

"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
As a result of passages like this (from earlier works), I credit Vonnegut with getting me to start reading the Bible with a bit of charity. At the time, that meant seeing Jesus as a socialist, which I wouldn't see as a particularly good characterization nowadays, but a heathen's gotta start somewhere.

Here's hoping he didn't have too much trouble getting through that death thing, whatever it is.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


O! my poor neglected blog!

Lessee, what's been happening?

1. One of my sisters is going to college down in Daytona Beach. So, naturally, when Spring Break hit, she wanted to come up to visit me in frigid unbeachy Chicago. All things considered, I very much approved. (My teenaged sister? In Daytona Beach for Spring Break? Like hell.)

2. The new crop of prospective grad students came down for the annual "prospective week" to check us out. I hosted a guy from Finland who said he'd already decided to accept our offer of admission, barring anything short of a "catastrophe". I guess they knew what they were doing when they sent him to stay with me.

As per tradition, the week's festivities included a night of Live Band Karaoke. I horribly abused "Living on a Prayer" (accursed rock anthems!), but then redeemed myself by doing a decent rendition of "Hunger Strike" with a fellow rockstar (I was Vedder, he was Cornell, and we totally nailed the harmonies).

3. Dawn and I went thrift shopping uptown. Chicago has some awesome thrift stores. One of them was in the heart of the gay neighbourhood, which is cool, because gay guys are more likely to wear pants that fit me. (Chicago is, by some estimates, the fattest city in the country, and I have a skinny ass.) I found a pair of shiny black Armani pants in my size for $20. A good deal on Armani, I'd imagine, but that's about 4 times the price of any other pair of thrift store pants. Still, I was sorely tempted to buy them, and then go around saying "Who are you wearing? (etc.)"

4. My preliminary essay (mini-dissertation, due right after the next New Year) is going to be on Socratic irony. I've totally decided.