It vexes me. I'm terribly vexed.

Several weeks ago, after making arrangements for an improved change of address, I called up the Internet provider that covers our new residence and signed up for service. I find out today, the day I had set up to have Internet access up and running, that the order was never processed. We'll be moving this weekend, but the earliest we'll have Internet access at home will be in a few weeks.

Do they realize what this does to the psychology of a blogger?!?!? I'm mentally disordered enough as it is!

Anyhow, for the next few weeks, I'll still be able to post with about the same sporadic frequency, but I will not be able to manage or respond to comments nearly as often. On the slight chance that a troll might journey here, I am going to turn on comment moderation during this time. Once I have service again, I'll return to my standard commenting format.

If you are feeling bad for me, and you should be, because I'm very miffed at this inconvenience, you might consider following this blog or encouraging others to follow as a way to cheer me up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

New Mythologies

My wife and I took a break this weekend from packing and cleaning to watch Up and Star Trek, two films we would have liked to have seen in the theater. Both were quite good.

I wasn’t sure how the whole time travel motif, common in the Star Trek universe, would play. I expected that Leonard Nimoy’s presence in the movie might annoy me, but it worked, and it actually proved a cunning way for the filmmakers to rewrite the Star Trek mythology, and even change its history, while remaining true, and even historically true, to the old mythology. Star Trek fans have reason to interpret the mythology with both a hermeneutic of continuity and a hermeneutic of discontinuity. Not being a convention-frequenting Trekkie, I wouldn’t have taken to the streets in geeky protest if Abrams and company had just started from scratch and written a whole new origin story for Kirk and company, but I was pretty much pleased with their choices.

Mythologies deserve rethinking and re-mythologizing. Doing so can enrich them and enrich us. I toast to the fact that Homer and Shakespeare didn’t frown upon composing their unique versions of twice told tales. I don’t share the disdain for sequels and prequels and creating new versions of old stories. Bring on the Batmans and the James Bonds and the Hamlets. Let the heroes and villains be given new life and new voice. Heck, let’s turn them topsy-turvy and see what happens. Would it take much to turn the soulless killer James Bond into a villain?

Personally, I’d like to see The Lord of the Rings get treatment by a filmmaker who actually understands holiness and magnanimity. Let’s have another round of Star Wars films while we’re at it, perhaps even new takes on Lucas’ imaginative but at times poorly crafted stories. I’d like to see the six episodes reduced three films depicting the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson or Joss Whedon.

What can I say about Up that hasn’t been said already? And is asking that question inconsistent with what I said above? I will say that Pixar has yet to make a bad movie, and if more companies had Pixar’s dedication to quality, our economy would be in much better shape. Up is first-rate movie magic, a comedy gravely serious about its emotional drama. Squirrel!

(MC)

From Comforting to Creepy

Facebook suggests that I reconnect with people I haven’t conversed with much online but whom I see almost every day. I suppose I should find this comforting, because it would be exceedingly creepy if Facebook had knowledge of my actual family activities, work relationships, and social life.

Vagrant Thought

I’m pretty sure Keanu Reeves has ties to the mob. I mean, how else does he get cast in a Shakespeare movie?

What I Learned about My Son Today

My son made an “I am thankful for…” diagram today. He listed “Mom, Dad, mulch, lollipop, plants, friends, grass.” My son appears to be Samwise Gamgee.

A Greater Triumph

Those certain that there’s no hope for committed jihadists to renounce their murderous ideology and no hope for the West but to destroy the jihadists would do well to read this fascinating piece by Johann Hari in which he interviews three ex-jihadists and one jihadist who remains unrepentant but is clearly burned by the “fire of certainty.” There’s much to digest in Hari’s writing, from the circumstances that led these people to embrace jihad to the affects of our foreign policy on their propaganda, but I was most intrigued and given hope by the small, seemingly insignificant moments that moved them to ultimately renounce Islamism.
Just as their journeys into the jihad were strikingly similar, so were their journeys out. All of them said doubt began to seep in because they couldn't shake certain basic realities from their minds. The first and plainest was that ordinary Westerners were not the evil, Muslim-hating cardboard kaffir presented by the Wahabis. Usman, for one, finally stopped wanting to be a suicide bomber because of the kindness of an old white man.

Usman's mother had moved in next door to an elderly man called Tony, who was known in the neighbourhood as a spiteful, nasty grump. One day, Usman was teaching his little brother to box in the garden when he noticed the old man watching him from across the fence. "I used to box when I was in the Navy," he said. He started to give them tips and before long, he was building a boxing ring in their shed.

Tony died not long before 9/11, and Usman was sent to help clear out his belongings. In Tony's closet, he found a present wrapped and ready for his little brother's birthday: a pair of boxing gloves. "And I thought – that is humanity right there. That's an aspect of the divine that's in every human being. How can I want to kill people like him? How can I call him kaffir?"
We may well find that this jihad is not ultimately defeated by concentrated technological power and the killing of jihadists, which are failures more than victories, but because doubt is impressed by numerous caresses of grace and human kindness. (VN)

Terrorism and the Framework of War

Matthew Yglesias' argument against responding to international terrorism in the manners and metaphors of war makes sense to me. He writes that in approaching terrorism within the framework of war, "you partake of way too much of the terrorists’ narrative about themselves." He continues:
It’s their conceit, after all, that blowing up a bomb in a train station and killing a few hundred random commuters is an act of war. And war is a socially sanctioned form of activity, generally held to be a legally and morally acceptable framework in which to kill people. What we want to say, however, is that this sporadic commuter-killing isn’t a kind of war, it’s an act of murder. To be sure, not an ordinary murder—a mass murder—but nonetheless murder. It’s true that if al-Qaeda were something like the "blowing up train stations" arm of a major country with which we were otherwise at war, it might make the most sense to think of al-Qaeda as fitting in with spies and saboteurs; criminal adjuncts to a warrior enterprise.
I suppose if we don't think of ourselves as at war with terrorists, then we might be less likely to go to war against countries under the banner of that war. That would be a good thing. I suppose as well that this debate about language would be less of an issue if we didn't generally hold war to be a legally and morally acceptable framework in which to kill people. That would be a good thing too. (VN)

Sameness and Difference in the Blogosphere

The world of weblogs can be the propagandist’s dream world, a place where his talking points, simplistic narratives, and manufactured emotions find seemingly infinite repetition and affirmation. People repeat ideas and display emotions they find attractive but do not understand; their unique voices become lost as they speak only as a conduit for the propagandist. Blogs written by very different people nonetheless appear very much the same, full of the same phrases, buzzwords, and feelings.

I’m still a fan of the medium, though. For while the blogosphere can be home to the ugly sameness of hateful emotions and unthinking repetition, it also affords people the opportunity to speak as many, to share their uniqueness, their differences. Blogging can be a very personal activity. The best bloggers, in my opinion, have not only something to say and say it well, they also speak as no one else does. They communicate who they are in what they say. They may repeat, but they do so with understanding and with personal uniqueness. (MC)

Worthy of Derision

Considering the continually growing voices of atheists in our society, who make arguments against religion on grounds that religion is unreasonable and even immoral, I was taken aback upon opening The Texas Catholic and seeing an editorial about how it’s foolish to argue with atheists. The Catholic News Service editorialist asserts, without any evidence, that atheists have a hidden agenda and have set their will against believing. Therefore, they won’t let you convince them.

I could point to a number of blogs by former atheists who became convinced of God’s existence, and I doubt not that I could find blogs by former theists turned atheists. Believers and unbelievers change their minds. Struggles happen, evidence is considered, arguments are made, and minds change. There’s no universal hidden agenda here.

In his editorial, Fr. Father John Catoir continues to assert that theists shouldn’t argue with atheists because atheists laugh at theists at their mentioning of angels. Atheists are in denial, he says, and “would rather enjoy their delusion than admit they are subject to God and his supreme law.” It couldn’t be that atheists are atheists because they have come to the conclusion that their position is true, could it?

The editorial concludes:
The next time an atheist asks you to prove that God exists, just say, “I don’t have to. God will do that for you one second after your death.”

Or say, “Albert Einstein is arguably the most brilliant scientist in the history of the world. He was convinced that there has to be a supreme intelligence behind the universe. Are you smarter than Einstein?”
With all due respect, if I were to say such things to my atheist friends, they would deride me, and they would be right to do so. I understand that the arguments of Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, and others may not have the sway the once had, but these snarky gibes just aren’t the way to spread the Good News in our postmodern society. (EC)

Layout

Routine travelers to this land will undoubtedly notice a change in scenery. I am still experimenting with the landscape, and I welcome comments about the layout, color arrangement, font, and so forth. Black, white, gray, and blue seem to be popular colors for blogs, perhaps because they’re easier on the eyes than others. Figured I’d give them a look-see.

My main objective is to expand the width of the blog without stretching the text to the full width of the screen. This template has done that, but if anyone knows how to expand the width without changing the template, please let me know. Thanks!

Discovery and Trial

So I think I may have found a use for my Twitter account. The whole idea of keeping up with thousands of tweets and having my tweets lost among thousands of others just didn't appeal to me. However, I see that some blogs now have a feature that allows readers to tweet blog posts they liked, so I am forthwith using twitter to promote posts, articles, videos and other things on the web that appealed to me. Now for a disclaimer: tweeting something doesn't mean I agree, mostly or even a little, with what is said on the page to which I linked. This blog being about alterity, I will be directing your attention to points of view and interpretations otherwise than those you will get here from me. Don't take the tweeted links as indicating that I've lost my faith or abandoned my postmodernism or have suddenly taken an intense interest in sports. You'll know of any of those events from my posts. Anyhow, I've added a gadget about half way down the right column that shows my four most recent tweets. I've labeled the section "Recommended Detours," though maybe I should have referenced Ricoeur and called it "Hermeneutic Detours." Whatever. Enjoy.

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Dangerous Heidegger

There’s no learning the landscape of contemporary continental philosophy, no knowing the paths of phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, and deconstruction, no interpreting the stories told by the postmodern pilgrims who tread such ways, without understanding the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. If serious philosophical study of Heidegger were to cease, not a few philosophers would say, “Good riddance,” and shed not a tear as the ways were shut to those dark, dry caverns where bandits, marauders, and tricksters dwell. Having gained some of my education in a climate largely hostile to any hints of subjective thought, I am quite familiar with the distain Defenders of Truth feel for names such as Derrida.

Knowing how invidiously postmodern philosophers are despised, I find plausible Freddie’s theory concerning the desire to relegate the works of Heidegger to the pile marked “Dangerous” on account of his Nazism. Freddie is certainly right that the philosophies Heidegger influenced undermine the very groundwork of Nazism and other such ideologies.

Here’s Freddie:

Let’s get real: this has everything to do with what philosophies Heidegger has contributed to. It has everything to do with the assault on “postmodernism,” that capacious and vilified term that encompasses just about every straw man to be stacked up as a straw man against lefties and their various relativisms. If Heidegger’s philosophy had contributed to some new entrenchment of objective values, some neo-classicists return to “good sense and order,” I submit, his terrible personal failings would be relegated to the same margins that we relegate, say, the despicable support for slavery of many of the philosophers responsible for Western civilization. Existentialism, post-structuralism, constructivism, subjectivism– whatever you call them and to whatever degree they are actually consonant systems, they have been despised for decades, and the recipients of a massive and sustained assault that accuse them of all manner of sins. They are corrosive! They are subversive! They are incapable of defending us from fascism and totalitarianism and Marxism and Islamism and various other frightening things! Ah, but now we see the real story– they’re all secretly corroded by Nazism, I can hear the argument now. There we have it, the magic bullet to kill the beast.

Never mind that the actual content of all of these -isms is as far from the certainty and Manicheanism of Nazi ideology as is possible. Never mind that all of the greatest villains in the history of the world, every one, thought that they were in possession of just the kind of righteous certitude that this postmodern tradition tells us we can never really have. Never mind that the great advantage of the philosophy of people like Richard Rorty is precisely because it engenders caution, care and delicacy in the pursuit of actualizing ones values.

For You English Majors

And for anyone else who likes a little linguistic humor:



H/T: E.D. Kain

Not Panicking

We are free so that we may love and do what is good. Because of this, I find assertions and arguments that healthcare reform measures will diminish our freedom and should therefore be opposed to be less than convincing. We uphold the value of a free society not because freedom is an end in itself – it isn’t – but because a free society affords us the best opportunity to achieve the common good. And even in a society with the greatest possible freedom, restrictions on freedom would still exist and be necessary for the common good.

The idea that our public servants would require us to participate in a health insurance plan seems especially outrageous to some people, but even this idea, while I’m uncertain as to its prudence, doesn’t cause me much concern. We, through the institution of our government and other social structures, require each other and ourselves to do certain things in order for society to function effectively and justly. Generally speaking, we have to pay taxes, find and maintain employment, converse on telephones, use some means of transportation, get an education, shop at grocery stores, and fill out paperwork. Society demands a lot from us, and these demands place limits on our freedom, but, if our power to do the good is not diminished, we are not really less free because of these limits.

History has shown us that free societies can become enslaved to dictators, tyrannical systems, and more subtle evils such perverse appetites. I don’t dismiss the possibility that our country could cease to be a free society: recent grave offenses against our freedom and the common good are not hard to spot, but I don’t buy the argument or share the fear that giving our government a greater role in our healthcare system necessarily takes us a step away from a free society. (VN)

Vagrant Thought

When the Grandpa in The Princess Bride tells the young Fred Savage that Princess Buttercup doesn’t get eaten by the shrieking eels, he qualifies his assurance with the phrase “at this time.” Curious. Does he mean that the princess gets eaten by the eels at a later time?

Advice from a Philosopher, Grinning

"No one should ever presume to know what Derrida means...about anything."

- Richard Kearney