27 Sep 2005

Commander in chief

The new ABC series Commander-in-Chief looks quite promising, I'd have to say. Geena Davis plays the first female US vice president, suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into the position of being also the first female president. The premise seems at first to be somewhat derivative of The West Wing, but there are enough differences to make it far from a clone. Among other things, the President is an independent, but she had been the running mate of a Republican; the entire cabinet is thus somewhat to her right. (We'll see exactly where she sits on all the issues, but it certainly seems that they're placing her right in the middle, maybe a shade left.) The Speaker (played by Donald Sutherland!) is a shady, nasty Republican, and very hostile to her, since he wanted the presidency for himself.

And her first real act as president---I hate to spoil anything if you've taped it, but this is basically laid out in the first few minutes---has to do with projecting power and saving a woman in Nigeria sentenced to death for adultery. To be honest, some of the sequences here were a bit ham-handed, but I'm inclined to forgive them that; the rest of it was well put together.

The show as a whole has a good ensemble, with a few known stars but mostly unknowns. They have laid out some intriguing character dynamics both within her family and among her political associates. And, in my opinion, the pilot alone was more West-Wingy than West Wing itself has been for years.

"The biggest threat is terror? Yes, I agree. But we have terror of many things. We have terror of being ill---especially if you have no medical insurance...." --Yevgeniy Yevtushenko

Posted by blahedo at 11:22pm | Comments (0)

25 Sep 2005

De sacerdotibus homosexualis

Of course I had to write about this story; the people who wrote me requesting my take needn't have worried.

My very first reaction was, "Hey, um, good luck with that."

I put off responding further, partly because I wasn't much looking forward to it, but partly because I needed a block of time to sit down and really hash it out. This is an essay in the original sense: I am trying out ideas, and though I have some idea of how it will end, nuances will not come clear to me until I write them out.

When Cardinal Ratzinger was first elected, I officially reserved judgement. He had authored the letter On the pastoral care of homosexual persons, a nasty little piece of work and some cause for concern. But, as I said in an email at the time: "God will forgive, and we have yet to see the tenor of his papacy."

I think we've now seen quite enough of the tenor of his papacy to begin to judge it. He has already made a number of pronouncements that, while disappointing, were essentially continuing existing church policy. This pronouncement, however, is a significant departure from existing policy. It has no support from Scripture (as opposed to the "thin" or "arguable" support of some other policies), and not really any support from tradition, either---homosexuality was reviled in general, but there was never a specific policy regarding priests, and never a dual standard.

It is a pronouncement of immense hubris. The previous line---that homosexuality is not sinful, but homosexual acts are---is open to disagreement, but its import was to forbid certain actions. The new pronouncement is much more direct. It announces that when God created certain people, he screwed up. Oops! And the "defectives" are now not fit to do a job they've been doing just fine for the last couple of millennia.

For it's obvious that gay priests have existed for a long, long time. Why wouldn't they? We wouldn't even be able to tell, because of the discipline of celibacy the RCC has imposed for the last thousand years or so---if they're refraining from taking a partner and marrying them, it doesn't matter who that partner would have been. The identity of their forbidden fruit is irrelevant to the task of ministry and leadership that the church sets out for them.

The RCC has for some time referred to homosexuality as "objectively disordered", but even if we stipulate on that point, its use as a justification for the new policy falls apart on the briefest inspection. There are a lot of "objectively disordered" states listed in the DSM-IV and various medical journals---homosexuality not being one of them, incidentally---and with a bit of careful management, most do not prevent people from living normal lives. I expect there are a lot of priests out there who are epileptic, or clinically obsessive-compulsive, or diabetic, or alcoholic, or any number of other disorders which range from totally minor to major-but-manageable. So "objective disorder", even if true, would not be a sufficient justification for the new policy.

An even flimsier justification is given in some of the other articles covering the story. An unnamed church official is quoted as saying that "the difference is in the special atmosphere of the seminary; in the seminary, you are surrounded by males, not females." Of course, after seminary, unless you are in some sort of monastic order, you are surrounded by both males and females; heterosexuals are not exactly off the hook here. So, are homosexuals just judged to be worse at fending off temptation? That's very interesting, considering that the church's message to lay homosexuals is that they're all called to celibacy---whether that's what they're hearing from God or not---and that Paul's command to the unmarried that "if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire" (I Cor 7:9) doesn't apply to them. So if you're gay, the message is that God made you that way and you're meant to be celibate and He doesn't ever give you a task unless He knows you can handle it; but if you're gay and called to the priesthood, the message is that God messed up when He made you, messed up when He called you to the priesthood, and we don't think your kind can manage celibacy anyway. Hmmm.

This pronouncement is unusual for the Vatican. Most of the church's policies---whether one agrees with them or not---are very well-thought-out, grounded in long tradition as well as Scripture. The RCC is also normally very self-consistent; all the various aspects of their "culture of life" (a phrase co-opted to horrible effect by our Republican Party, echhh) knit together very tightly into a cohesive whole. It is not, I think the only self-consistent philosophy on these issues, but it is very difficult to use the church's own arguments in one culture-of-life issue against them in another. The edict regarding gay priests, on the other hand, bears at most a surface consistency with other church policies, and all the explanation that we've seen so far has the unmistakable air of---how you say, "making shit up"---to defend a policy rooted in thinly-veiled homophobia. Not the first bigoted word to come down from a guy wearing a funny white hat, but it's been a while, and such words are (despite what outsiders may think) relatively uncommon.

A Roman Catholic Pope is a monarch of sorts; he isn't God, and he isn't the church catholic. There have been a lot of men, Popes and Antipopes both, to sit on the throne of St Peter and say incorrect things, bad things, even evil things. Ratzinger wouldn't even be the first Antipope to take the name Benedict ("blessed", ironically). There's a reason not all past Popes have been canonised as saints....

Meanwhile, we have the actual Catholic Church. Here in America, and in many other countries around the world, the church is making progress on understanding homosexuality as it is, rather than being stuck on how it used to be viewed. Gay men will continue to go to the seminary; the same routine that worked when it was bad to be gay will again work now that it's just bad to be gay and called to the priesthood. The gay men who are already priests will sigh, roll their eyes, and continue ministering just like they always have. Catholics will continue to form their own consciences, not just according to what they are fed by the Church, but also according to their own thoughts and prayer. And eventually, that guy over in Rome will die, and we'll try it all again.

"Hold this fragile world in your hands. Don't drop it." --Yevgeniy Yevtushenko

Posted by blahedo at 4:36pm | Comments (3)

23 Sep 2005

You heard it here first

Knox Commencement speaker 2006: Stephen Colbert. Ohhhh, yeah.

"We produce way way more pollution and CO2 per capita than any other country in the world. A global treaty which did not treat the US as the largest polluter would be a complete waste of time." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 3:54pm | Comments (0)

22 Sep 2005

On the passage and observation of time

This morning, my alarm went off and I snoozed it a couple times, as usual. And at one of the snoozes, I leapt out of bed: "holy crap it's twenty after already!"

I flew around my usual morning routine, feeding the dog, taking a shower, etc, glancing frequently at my watch and noticing the time bleed away: 25 after, half past, .... Finally, about the time I was looking for my shoes, I realised I was already officially late for an appointment at my office. Dammit, I need to get better about not snoozing the alarm.

When I hit the road with my bike, it was already a quarter till, and I think I made a physical grimace. Cruised into my office at about ten of, and was mildly surprised not to see the student I expected to be waiting there. Ok, whatever, check my email.

I send and receive a few, still no student, and I'm thinking about whether I can duck out for breakfast, and I look at my watch again. My first class isn't until noon and, wait, why do I have more than two hours? I should have less than that.

And it is only then, almost an hour after I got up and about twenty clock consultations later, that I noticed the hour---which was one less than I thought it was.

So, if ever you needed evidence that people reading clocks really only look at the minutes most of the time, and fill in the rest, there you go. In any case, now I have time to duck out and get breakfast. :)

"Verbs don't work! Verbs don't work!" --Andrew McClain

Posted by blahedo at 10:03am | Comments (1)

21 Sep 2005

More recordings...

Thumbs-down has definitely changed the sorts of things Tivo recorded for me during day 2. Today we have:

  • All in the family
  • The Andy Griffith show
  • King of the Hill
  • Grace under fire
  • Living single
  • MAD TV
  • The nanny
  • Happy days
  • ATHF

This is so fun.

"Republicans are as capable of great ideas and moving the country forward as anybody else. They just don't do it." --Alan Alda

Posted by blahedo at 10:33pm | Comments (2)

20 Sep 2005

Tivo says...

One full day after hooking up my Tivo and telling it what I wanted it to record (The Daily Show, several Adult Swim series, and anything with the keyword "ballroom"), it has helpfully recorded all of the following as well:

  • The O'Reilly Factor
  • Caillou
  • King of the Hill
  • House of Mouse
  • Jimmy Neutrino
  • Kim Possible
  • Reno 911!
  • Foster's home for imaginary friends
  • Aqua Teen Hungerforce (not on my original list)

I guess it runs its algorithm by picking up on the "animated" part, not so much on the "other people who like this also like that" thing. Ah well.

"Fraternal twins develop from separate eggs and are no more closely related than ordinary siblings, except that they spend nine months sharing an extremely small bedroom." --Cecil Adams

Posted by blahedo at 11:31pm | Comments (3)

19 Sep 2005


"So what does unitCostsMoreThan do?"




"*sigh* good..."

"this scurvy GroceryItem..."

"yes, yes..."

"costs more per unit than a given othARRRRRRRRR GroceryItem."




It's my own fault, of course. I told them what day it was, and should not have been surprised at the result. :)

"Being a retired professor is a lot like being an ordinary professor, except that you don't have to write research proposals, administer grants, or sit in committee meetings. Also, you don't get paid." --Don Knuth

Posted by blahedo at 11:00pm | Comments (1)

15 Sep 2005

Holy crap!

Apparently, Proof got made into a movie, and Gwyneth Paltrow is playing the Jackie Dehne part. Out. Standing. Must go see it.

"I think that's how Chicago got started. A bunch of people in New York said, 'Gee, I'm enjoying the crime and the poverty, but it just isn't cold enough. Let's go west.'" --Richard Jeni

Posted by blahedo at 10:21pm | Comments (4)

Week 1

The term is now in full swing, and the theme of the term is: high enrollment!

I'm one of twenty or so professors teaching a section of FP, our freshman seminar, to one of the largest freshman classes in recent memory. There are 17 kids in my section, which alone would make it one of the largest classes I've taught (in addition to being a style of class that is totally new to me...).

But it's not even my largest class this term. My CS 141 class is so large, with an enrollment of 24, that I needed to open a second lab section just to handle everyone. A lot of sharp kids in there, too, so I have high hopes that we'll get a lot of majors this year (woo!).

And then tonight, the first ballroom class to include freshman, I had... wait for it... FORTY kids. Of whom a few were returning students from last year, but at least thirty of them were new. I was so psyched. And they really enjoyed it; it felt like a first class in the Brown club, except that I'm not nearly as good as Christina always was. But I was totally cribbing all her best lines. ;)

On Katrina's aftermath: "It feels like we're living in a Dickens novel: brutal, overblown, superficial, poorly written, and surrounded by misery." --Sam Walker

Posted by blahedo at 10:00pm | Comments (0)

4 Sep 2005

Knob-and-tube wiring

The neat think about living in a house with old K&T wiring is that you can play with it. The bar to entry is very low; and there is a sense of being transported back to the wild and woolly early days of electricity, when anyone could play. All I put in was an overhead light fixture, replacing one that seems to have been there long ago, but whose hanging wire at some point got cut. The one I installed was its direct descendant: plastic instead of ceramic, and with the socket mounted instead of hanging, but it was a simple white piece that screwed into the floor support and had two exposed screws to connect to the wiring. This particular one also doubled as an open junction box, providing power to one of my living room outlets. Yet as simple as it was, it was immensely satisfying to see it in place and working after I turned the power back on.

Replacing the bathroom faucets turned out to be a bigger job than expected, because the 50s-era plumbing that was there used rigid copper tubing to connect the knobs to the faucet, and these were hard to manoeuvre around. Also, I took the opportunity to remove the whole shebang from its position and see how the fixture and the plumbing fit together, which will come in handy when I get around to tiling that room. (Side note: ceramic sink-and-pedestal fixtures weigh a ton.) I got everything back together a little while ago, and nothing seems to be leaking, so, all good there.

I also managed to hang most of my plants, as well as my key rack, so progress is definitely being made. I needed to mow the lawn today, but forgot until it was getting dark, so hopefully I'll be able to find time tomorrow. (God I hate lawn care.) And, oh, I suppose I should be doing some more unpacking at some point....

"Infinity+1 must be prime. Multiply all the positive integers together, and you get positive infinity. So infinity must be congruent to 0 modulo every positive integer. Therefore, infinity+1 must be congruent to 1 modulo every positive integer larger than 1. So, it has no natural divisors other than 1; therefore, infinity+1 is necessarily prime." --Brent Spillner

Posted by blahedo at 11:49pm | Comments (0)