April 30, 2004

Student cleared of all charges.

The senior being charged at my school (see last night’s post) has been cleared of all charges. This is a step in the right direction for free speech at SIU, though we should still be ashamed that we don’t already have it. And I should be ashamed that I was drinking coffee this morning at home and not at the SIU Arena for the hearing.

Space Pens are hardcore gear now?

It seems that REI sells Fisher Space Pens now. I have a life-time membership to the REI co-op (spent a ton of money there at Christmas time). I think it's funny that they are selling Space Pens. I always say that they are great for writing on leaves and rocks, and it seems that I am not alone in thinking so.

April 29, 2004

Free speech at SIU?

It seems that a graduating senior at my university is being charged for handing out leaflets on the eve of anniversary of Mr. Bush’s war outside of the Student Center. Apparently, there is some foolish policy whereby one cannot “demonstrate” outside of a certain area on our beautiful campus.

Rather than doing something sensible — like dropping all the charges, changing the policy and then acting like we never had such an archaic policy in the year 2004 — the university is really going after this senior. He may even be expelled, thereby not graduating with honors from the history department. In the year that SIU Carbondale had a good football season and another great basketball season, when the nation mourned the loss of our beloved Paul Simon in the fall (and Bill Clinton himself came to the SIU Arena to give a eulogy) and when one of our professors was nominated to be poet laureate of the state of Illinois, this is the last kind of publicity that we need.

We will see what SIU has to say about free speech tomorrow morning, at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. The hearing has been moved to the huge SIU Arena, where Elvis Presley played once, I am told.

April 27, 2004

The semester is dying.

The forest floor at Giant City State Park. The purple blossoms looked like a bright fog, but it doesn't show up very well in this smaller version. If you click on the small one, you can view a somewhat larger version. One paper finished -- out of three -- and it was the one I didn't want to write. Try as I might, I just don't like George Herbert Mead. Too much talk of "society" and not enough of the self. I like William James better. Much better. I have left to write two papers on Max Scheler, that sexy German guy who used to steal Husserl's students. I am also fortunate enough to be able to work on a guided reading course over the summer on some of Scheler's lesser-known works -- with my favorite professor. I get to study Scheler with someone who helped work on the critical edition of his work. Just another stroke of luck in my beginning career in academia. I always seen to be very lucky in my educational adventures. I went to a mostly-female college as an undergrad, so they gave me a bunch of money to go there. I was lucky enough to get into two MA programs in Boston when I had to live there for two years while my wife finished at her terrible school. I was lucky enough to get a bunch of money to work on my PhD at the best place in the world to study American Pragmatism, and my wife got money to go there, too, to work on her MA in history (she was recently admitted early to the PhD program!). Sometimes I think I'm too lucky, and I'm almost waiting for something to go terribly wrong.

April 23, 2004

Long-distance relationships.

The wife and I in April 2000, the site of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, when I was up in Massachusetts for a visit during my third year at Goucher. Bought a nice new disc today: Ben Jelen. It's apparently three months late coming out -- or something like that. I saw him on Craig Kilborn a few weeks ago and wrote down in my Moleskine that his record was coming out on April 13th. But I wrote it in the journal, not the planner, so I forgot all about it until yesterday. This is a very fine record, despite its emo-boy cover art. I think I should drop out of my PhD program and go be Ben's bass player. I always wanted to be a rockstar. A lot of the songs on this disc seem to be about a long distance relationship. I went through one of those dreadful things a few years ago, during my last three years of college. I actually used to work too much to forget that my lover was not there with me, and waking up from dreams about David Hume and Immanuel Kant was not at all uncommon. Such a viscid nadir of existence was worse then my melancholic teenage years of reading far too much Edgar A. Poe. Doubt, despair, solitude and introversion reigned then. No, I was not always the sunny person that I am now (wink). Luckily for me, she came back a year early. That was a long time ago, and I'm a [slightly] totally different person now, four years later. Different and married. We stuck it out, through the worst times and that sweet time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we would only be apart for two weeks, instead of seven or eight. It all paid off, and we both know first hand that there is more to love than convenience, habit, sex, compatibility or even being in the same state. I like to think that our union is actually empirical evidence of something transcendental behind it all, proof that the answer to the question "Is that all there is?" is an emphatic NO. If this is all there is, what can love be? Is love confined to here and now and to physicality? If love can exist between Baltimore and Boston, isn�t it indicative of something more than bodies and stones and grass? I know, from my own experience, that it is. This is, indeed, not all there is.

April 20, 2004

Spring cleaning.

Southern Illinois was so windy today that there are pieces of tree branches, sticks, twigs, leaves, blossoms, petals and feathers everywhere. Campus looks like it has never seen a broom in its one hundred and thirty-five years in Carbonale. It seems like the world is sweeping itself, though -- getting rid of the old to make room for the new. What a remarkable system! April is almost over, and I haven't even put away my sweaters. Yet the trees are ready for a new season already.

Wear red today.

Today is Equal Pay Day. Be sure to read about it, and wear your red.

April 18, 2004

Family visit.

Back after several days of not blogging. My parents drove all of the way from Maryland to Southern Illinois this weekend. We had some Heartland adventures at the university, Giant City State Park, and Paducah, Kentucky. There are also three new gnomish family members here at the Carbondale homestead, all gifts from my parents: Green Meany, The Professor, and Welcome Willy (more on them in the future). The weather was insanely beautiful this weekend, which was an improvement over the soupy fog and rain that we had in November, when we last had weekend guests out here. The sun was blinding, the leaves were green, the dogwoods were white, and the temperatures made it into the upper 80s. After a walking tour of the campus, we took a short hike in Giant City State Park. It was formed when the glaciers that flattened most of Illinois melted and carved bluffs out of the native sandstone. The park is named after the bluffs on the Nature Trail, which resemble the walls of a giant city. The whole park always makes me feel smaller than I usually feel out here in this part of the country. There are carvings from the Civil War there (both the North and the South are said to have hidden in those cliffs) on the walls, as well as some more recent graffiti. This inscription is a from a soldier in 1862, and it is about 8-10 feet off of the ground. I'm used to the East Coast, where things which date back to the Civil War are fairly commonplace. My parents' house dates back about that far, and it was built on three lots, when that part of Baltimore City was still part of the country. It had an outhouse a long long time agol. It's weird to see something so old, yet human-made, out here, such as those Civil War carvings. Still, the bluffs are older than any carvings on them, or any landmarks in Boston or Baltimore. Strange perspective, that is.

April 14, 2004

Is that all there is?

I was reading the spring issue of Tricycle today, and I was thinking about Buddhism and suffering in general and why I stopped meditating a few months ago. At that time, I realized that I was meditating to achieve some kind of peace or happiness, and that was not what I wanted. Whatever meaning I will be able to find in my life will come from its ups and downs as much as any small piece of peace I might manage to find. I stopped meditating because the very struggle to get through the large and small pains of existence has always been, for me, a source of meaning, and it is also what makes the times of not struggling peaceful. Is suffering always bad? Might not there be something to gain from suffering? Cannot suffering give meaning to one�s life? According to the German phenomenologist Max Scheler, the East and the West have two very different approaches to suffering. In the West, we attempt to eliminate all of the external causes of suffering. We have technologies that keep us in relative comfort. We have high-speed means of transportation and communication to ease the suffering of being far away from those whom we love. There are so many drugs on the market in the US that the idea that someone has a pain or ache for which there is nothing he or she can get a prescription has become unsettling. We can make bombs that can annihilate our enemies in minutes. In the East, (and Scheler is really talking about Buddhism in general, and through bad translations at that) the attempts to eliminate suffering are aimed at internal causes of suffering. Rather than getting rid of distance through technological means, the East aims at getting rid of the attachment to being near one�s loved ones that causes the suffering at their absence. Rather than taking twelve pills a day, the Eastern ethos might advise one to be less attached to one�s bodily comfort. And why bomb your enemies if they can�t hurt you? What these approaches have in common is that they both seek to eliminate the sources of suffering. During my year and a half as a Buddhist, I always thought that the Four Noble Truths were missing a premise, namely, the premise which states that suffering is bad and should always be avoided. I have read that the undesirable nature of suffering is self-evident. But I don�t think it is self-evident to reflective people who can find meaning in their suffering. Scheler is writing from a Catholic perspective, and what is crucial to his view on suffering is that there are objective values of which we are intuitively aware. These values are hierachical, i.e., some values are higher than other values, such as life being a higher value that usefulness and spirit (Geist) being a higher value than life. Taken separately from any Christian perspective, or even a necessarily theistic approach, one can understand Scheler�s notion of sacrifice, of disvaluing something for the sake of a higher value. From a Schelerian perspective, there are values for which one might be willing to sacrifice even one�s very life, and you don�t have to believe in Jesus to understand that. Coming back to suffering, of what use can suffering be? Sticking to our previous examples, being far away from a lover can help one to experience higher values than those which would otherwise be likely to be experienced. One cannot have sex or even have fun taking a walk with a lover from afar, but one may experience the more �spiritual� aspects of real love thereby. Perhaps one who is suffering physically can experience a more profound spirituality as a result of the out-pouring of love and warmth from one�s family. Having enemies can make us better people, sometimes, than having dead enemies or enemies who don�t really bother us all that much. Suffering can open up our experience to higher values and can, as such, certainly give meaning to our lives. Before we seek to eliminate suffering, perhaps we should ask what meaning can be had from such suffering and whether or not there are higher values to be experienced by finding this meaning in our suffering. Of course, this is all dependent on there being something else, something beyond the physical, the visible, that which is readily experienced. No one can convince us that there is something else. William James says that we can feel it; there is too much order and harmony to really suspect that it�s all an accident, according to him. This is not the place to get into religious convictions regarding the metaphysics of the universe. For someone who thinks that this is all there is, perhaps there is no meaning in suffering, since such suffering is all there is. But wouldn�t such a total life of suffering be meaningful also, if that were all there is? If there is nothing else but the physical/visible; and one suffers; and there is no meaning to suffering; one�s life would then be meaningless. And, well, I can�t give any �reasons� why, but I just can�t accept that.

April 10, 2004

A gnomish wedding.

Bling the gnome was married today, to the beautiful Blingaling. The two met in the back hatch of the Focus, and the love was immediately felt by all in the small car. There was some small thumping around the hatch, and the two clay flower pots I picked up today were cracked. Bling's beard was going this way and that, and Ms. Blingaling wouldn't look me in the eye. It didn't take a wizard to figure out what these woodland deities were doing in the trunk of my car while I drove home from Target. I insisted that Bling step up to marry Ms. Blingaling, and the ceremony was held in the backseat. Industrious David was at the ceremony, but we are having trouble finding him presently. He was last seen getting hammered on Sam Adams Spring Ale with a satyr, and the two were getting a little too pushy in pursuing two faeries to accompany the duo for some more sylvan frolicking. I told them to take a hike (literally, in the woods) and to come back sobered up and ready to congratulate the new couple. Unfortunately, the two have yet to return, and the loving couple has already left for their honeymoon at the Fern Rocks Nature Preserve down in Giant City State Park in the National Forest. Some members of the party think that David has a problem and that the satyr only gets him into trouble. The women-folk think he's jealous that Bling has gotten hitched and left him behind. I know that he just misses his friend. That's all.

April 09, 2004


The spiders are back! The big, hairy spiders that line the walk-way outside of my apartment are back now at night. If you walk out and look up, you can see seven to ten webs that range in size from 10-20 inches in diameter, each with their own spider that measures from 1-2 inches across. On the bright side, they are harmless. They never try to come inside or leave their webs. (I even had trouble photographing them. They all kept drawing their legs up into their abdomens when I would approach. I snuck up on one, and this was the only really viable photo I was able to get.) I even see plenty of mosquitoes in their webs, a few less bugs that will bite my sandal-clad feet during the 20 second walk from the Focus to the apartment door. If the blossoms, greens, birdsongs and fragrances weren't enough to convince me that spring has finally arrived and that the warm weather is here to stay, my arachnid friends who guard my door will do the trick.

April 07, 2004

Pink Blossoms.

I have been carrying my camera back and forth to graduate seminars and errands constantly of late. I shot some pink blossoms on a tree near the quad at the university Monday. I don't know what kind of flowers they are, but it doesn't matter. They still stir feelings of vitality that will help to propel me through my upcoming finals, which I never really freak out over anyway.

April 04, 2004

Palm Sunday.

I used to be Catholic. In the mind of the Roman Catholic Church, I still am, since I was baptized and confirmed, and I have no letter from the Church with my official excommunication (though I know of someone who has one). Nonetheless, I maintain that I am no longer a member of the Church, since we do not believe the same things -- a position that I think is both fair to me and to the Church. I'm not going to rant too much about religion in general, since I have already clogged up the internet with that. I only want to talk about religion and me. I no longer harbor any sort of grudge against the Church, and I feel like being raised Catholic did some good things for me. Twelve years of Catholic school, two years of graduate school at a Catholic university and nine years as a altar boy did give me the idea of a sense of "spirituality" -- enough of an idea to know that I both didn't have any "real" "spiritual" experiences and that I desperately wanted to have a few. I read about the saints and sinners and sinners-turned-saints, and I wished that I could feel the hand or gaze of God on me. I almost became a priest in the idea that I might find some of these experiences (well, that was also, in part, because I was tricked into going to a seminarian cook-out with the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore by a very kind and well-meaning pastor). I never found them. And, like so many philosophy majors, I read Nietzsche, realized that my religion wasn't doing it for me, and I stopped going to church. The early anger at my Catholic guilt-complexes and other by-products of being raised Catholic, including my ardently cynical atheism, are long gone now. They are replaced by a sober suspicion of zealously religious people and of complacently religious people and downright contempt for the Right's attempts to legislate their grandparents' religion. I have nothing against organized religion anymore, and I can acknowledge lessons to be learned from Francis of Assisi, the Jesuits, and Jesus. But, for me, religion is an exclusively personal and private experience. I have lived to have those long sought after "spiritual" or "religious" experiences by now. It's never happened in a church, since it can never happen for me if I try to make it happen, or even if I try to let it happen. My mother had a wise point a few weeks ago. She said that she walked out of the hospital in Baltimore from a diabetes check-up, and the sun was shining over a warm afternoon in the middle of winter. She said that if you can't feel "God then, when can you?" I think that any connections I have managed to experience with the divine are personal in this way, and they have come from things are simple of the love of another person or sunshine. If neither the sun on your face or birds singing outside of your window can connect you with something bigger than yourself, then what will? I think there are some people who either can't get this feeling on their own, or they experience it best within some sort of group. That, I think, is the role of organized religion: to connect people with the divine who either can't do it alone and prefer not to. I have talked to a lot of Catholics who say that singing or praying in a group connects them with God. I have also talked to other Catholics who feel a stronger connection praying alone in their gardens or bedrooms. I suppose I would like to be able to go to a church and feel something greater with other people than I can feel on my own. But I just can't. What's better? Neither, I think. William James says that one's preference of a philosophy is as much determined by one's own temperament as it is by anything else, and I think that religion is much the same. People who work out their problems alone might like to meet God on their own. People who like to talk to someone after a break-up or a deep joy might seek consolation in other people and might prefer to pray and sing in a church with other such people. To each and all their own. As for me, I feel like I am -- at times -- able to tap into the divine on my own. I suppose I would be a member of the Church of John, then. I'll heartily declare, with Walt Whitman: "A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books," even the Good Book. And, since that's how I manage to find some God, that's all right for me.

April 02, 2004

Get sprung.

Don't read this! Go outside! I was playing in the sun on the balcony/deck after working on a term paper, and I took some weird photos. This is the setting sun viewed between my short legs. I'm going back outside now.

April 01, 2004

April fools.

Bush is nowhere to be found. Dickie C. thinks he is at Camp David -- in my native Maryland -- playing Halo on his X-Box. Georgie B. says he is not coming back to the White House -- ever. He saw a clown outside of the Oval Office, and this clown's name was Doint Chokona Pretzel. He told Little Georgie that he would stuff pretzels down his throat if he didn't drop out of the presidential race and concede to Johnny K. Now, Georgie B. is terrified of clowns, so he did as he was told to do. He's hiding in Camp David, and he's calling for troops to take out the clown. We think that Georgie B. is playing Halo to practice for a war with the clown. In other news, little Denny K. is missing as well. He was last seen on the Amtrak Acela from Philly to Washington wearing a scary clown costume and toting with him a huge sack of Utz pretzels. No one who is so little can each that much. Once again, President Bush has left the presidency, and we are one step closer to peace on Earth.