31 Oct 2008


:{Happy Halloween!

"Sarah Palin is not a well-informed or particularly engaged or curious person. She has neither a creative nor nimble mind and her ideological views are based only on snappy sound bites and factoids that she's managed to memorize." --Eric Zorn

Posted by blahedo at 11:54pm | Comments (0)

29 Oct 2008

Electioneering in church

I just submitted the following for publication in the Galesburg Register-Mail:

Last week, in my parish bulletin, there was an insert entitled "Where do the candidates stand on key issues?" It's misleading and inaccurate in several places; for instance, it claims Obama opposed a bill "that would have provided protection for babies who survive abortions", but in fact such infants were already covered by existing law, and his votes against the relevant bill were for other reasons. Quotes on immigration and Iraq make it sound as if there were no differences between the two on these issues. And the clear slant of the flyer is pro-McCain: of the twelve "various issues" presented, six are about abortion, and the next page of the bulletin contains a full column that asserts that one's top priority "must" be "opposition to abortion" (as we also heard in the sermons of the day).

Is it illegal? Perhaps not, but it skates very close to the edge. If endorsing candidate X is electioneering, and illegal for churches and nonprofits, then surely mandating a singular focus on issue Y, while simultaneously handing out a piece of paper that says "only candidate X believes Y" is just as bad.

One priest in town reportedly went so far as to say that anyone voting for a pro-choice politician---for any reason---should not receive Communion. Threatening Obama voters with excommunication is both desperate and absurd, and mostly serves to make the church look like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party. I'd be sure I'd misunderstood, except that similar reports are coming in from across the country. This is spiritual abuse, and it's worse than illegal: it's terribly unethical. It also undermines their position as spiritual leaders.

The worst part is, single-issue voting is dumb even if one issue is your top priority. So-called "pro-life" politicians have long understood that abortion is job security: all they have to do is say they are pro-life, and they get votes from single-issue voters. Why would they want to actually stop abortion? These politicians can claim to be pro-life, while failing to actually address abortion (much less any other life issue) in any way, and on other issues they are free to do anything at all since their voting base doesn't appear to care about anything else.

It is for this reason that the wise voter---liberal or conservative, Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise---will look at the entire candidate in making their decision. Single-issue voting is irresponsible, simplistic, and counterproductive, and no church should be in the business of encouraging it.

UPDATE: Printed in full today (30 Oct) under the title "Church and politics colliding in Galesburg". I've already gotten two voicemails at my work phone from Galesburg residents who specifically tracked down my number just to thank me for writing it; it seems to have struck a nerve. Some interesting online comments on the Register-Mail posting, too.

"What justifies the [Boumediene] decision is the practical necessity and importance of reassuring the citizens of the United States and the world at large that the United States had not given up the role it assumed after World War II as the chief proponent of the rule of law worldwide." --Noah Feldman, "When judges make foreign policy", NYT

Posted by blahedo at 2:42am | Comments (3)

26 Oct 2008


I really wanted to like The Saloonkeeper's Daughter, which PPCT put on this weekend. It was at a nifty new venue—the old mall cinema, with a stage built out over the front section. It was a musical written in part by friend of the family Dave Reiser (though I wasn't sure about that part until I came back and googled it). It starred quite a few actors I've seen and loved in other PPCT shows. But alas, alas, alas—it was terrible.

The biggest problem was that the cast they had was just not up to the singing they needed to do. Several of the actors were singing way at the edge of their ranges, and as a result couldn't get underneath their notes. Others would be fine choral singers but had to sustain an entire harmony line on their own, and couldn't. And several just didn't have a very strong voice and were too breathy. While there were three or four solid, strong voices in the cast of twelve, there really need to be more like nine or ten.

Not that it was without its moments. Jamie Kistler, playing Grimy Geezer, had few lines but silently stole more than one scene with his pitch-perfect hillbilly stereotype. Brian Towne, playing bad guy Mannly Rasch, had the very best villainous cackle I've ever heard. The over-the-top melodrama, right down to musical cues for the audience to cheer, boo, or "awwww", was great fun. The venue itself, a former movie theatre, was surprisingly good, although it requires a bit more lighting infrastructure than they managed for this show (two booms with lights mounted vertically—making the contrasts a little too stark).

Ah well. Everyone has a stinker every now and then. Better next time!

"Vista sucks like one of those fancy vacuum sweepers that can pick up a bowling ball." --Andrea Johnston

Posted by blahedo at 2:55am | Comments (0)

19 Oct 2008

Round 2: Other things I've been up to

Looking back on the term so far, I'm not sure why it seems like I've been so busy. It's not that different from other years, although my CS 141 class is as big as any I've taught (they were growing consistently through my previous run, up to 20 or so when I last taught it in fall '05; they continued to grow for a few terms after that, to 25, and then came back down to 21 this term).

Ballroom gets ever bigger, with a consistent crowd at the beginner class every week that squeaks in just under the room size limit of 50 people (which means that more than 4% of Knox students are current active members of the ballroom dance club). In that arena, we've expanded the offerings to three classes a week (beginner club, intermediate club, and team), although my teaching load has actually decreased, as when I split the club class, I switched to only teaching the beginners a few times a term, the rest being taught by advanced team members. It's also nice because I can now spend more time in team classes doing technique, since I can teach moves in intermediate club.

House work has slowed to a crawl during the term. I just today put a second coat of paint on some exterior windows, some of which I started way back in May. The bathroom proceeds very slowly; the tin ceiling is now basically done, nailed up and caulked and painted, awaiting only its final coat of paint, but nothing else has happened. The next step is the blue wall paint, and if work proceeds at the current pace I should get the fixtures installed... sometime next year.

I continue to sing, of course. I'm in the community chorus again, which is doing an earth/green/nature-themed concert next month—should be fun. I still sing at St. Pat's every Sunday, where we haven't had a regular organist for about a year and a half now, so it's certainly been good practice at picking starting notes and leading a capella! There's also a group over at Corpus that has been learning Latin chant, and I've gone a few times... not sure how long I'll be able to keep that up, but the leader is out of town a lot, so it's not really a regular commitment.

I don't write nearly enough anymore, though. That's not just a blog thing; I feel like I'm not writing much of anything. Part of that, I've decided, is that I've been walking more: the sort of thinking-out-loud that I used to do in essays and blogging, now I work through more quietly during my fifteen-minute commute. Unlike biking or driving, where I have to pay attention to the road, and the trip is short in any case, I can walk on autopilot, and so I tend to spend time hashing out arguments in my head. Still, I've long felt that nothing improves my writing like writing, and so I really should make the effort to do more of it.

"I see horizons wide as a man's must I be nothing till I'm some man's wife?" --Boublil & Schönberg, "The Pirate Queen" (Grania)

Posted by blahedo at 12:43am | Comments (1)

18 Oct 2008

Round 1: Never swim alone

Tonight was the first play of the school year that I've managed to go to. (Last week's improv was apparently "sold out" more than a half hour before showtime, so I missed it.) Never swim alone is a three-person one-act about rivalry and life choices, with a few interesting dramatic conceits to carry it along.

The only real set-piece is a big lifeguard tower (very tall—maybe twelve feet) on which sits a "referee" judging a series of short contests between the two lead actors on things like mode of dress, death-scene acting ability, and others. The actors spend most of this time speaking in unison or handing off lines to each other, so effectively that I found myself losing track of who was actually saying lines at different points. The characters were very much alike. These scenes were interspersed—in a way that reminded me of noh-kyogen although the parallel isn't really very strong—with monologues by the "winner" of each round, usually one-upping the other but always exposing a bit more of the character. The characters turned out to be totally different.

What was truly remarkable about the performance was how well the leads (Jay Robillard, who I've seen before, and Jack Dryden, who appears to be a promising freshman, already declared as a theatre major) managed to sync up their unison stuff. Right down to a matching "heh heh heh" when laughing at their own/each other's jokes. In one scene they aren't in unison monologue, they're each giving a rapid-fire speech to their side of the audience—each describing failings of the other's father, alleging a like-father-like-son similarity, though the similarity seemed to run closer to their own lives—and these speeches lined up one phrase in every other sentence or so. Late in the show, when the referee comes down from the tower and becomes a girl from their past, all three have a scene where the word rhythms are so planned that I suspect that the script had the parts written out in a musical staff (and if it didn't, it should have). All of this made the piece technically difficult in a rather unusual way; I can't imagine how much time they had to spend practicing.

The play was a good choice for the studio, both because it had the interesting technical stuff going on and because it leaves the audience at the end of the show thinking, "holy crap what just happened?", something that doesn't work as well with more general audiences. I was glad to be able to debrief the play with a few students I knew in the audience, to get the gist of what "the other guy" was saying in the rapid-fire "and his father" speech and then generally to work out what had happened and who was lying about what. (Oh, did I mention? Unreliable narrators, too.)

So yeah, a good start to the year.

Blessed are the ones who make peace
Blessed are the ones who scrape by
Blessed are the ones living holy lives;
here's to the rest of us who try.... --The Roches, "Jesus shaves"

Posted by blahedo at 11:55pm | Comments (0)