Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Independence, authority, and the Catholic and Protestant spirits

One of the themes I like to return to is the anthropology of division. Why, and in what sense, to people really disagree, and what is the form of disgreement that more truly subsists beneath the claims made by opposing parties? With the current round of political jockeying, this question comes back to me, only now with a silghtly different angle.

A common theme in politics is the purported dispute between those who favor a strong central authority for as wide a sphere of influence as possible, versus those who favor either more localized authorities or else weak authority, emphasizing the individual.

In American politics, I believe that the parties are mischaricatured as the authoritarian - Republican and the anti-authoritarian - Democrat. In truth, both parties make strong claims to restricting the authority of the federal government in different spheres.

Economic Social Foreign Policy
Republican Party Little-no authority State authority Interventionist
Democratic Party Federal authority Little-no authority Relative non-interventionist

I know the above is baby-dribble to a political scientist. It also doesn't tell the whole story. Republicans have pushed for federal control over social issues--however, abortion isn't one of them (overturning Roe v Wade would not make abortion illegal; it would only make it a states-rights issue).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Technology post! Linux joys.

Lately I have returned to the project of installing Ubuntu on my little "Eee" laptop.

There are more than one post in this blog criticizing Linux, and for the most part my criticisms stand. There are only two kinds of people who will be happy with Linux: those who do not know much about computers and never will, and those who are willing to pool hours upon hours reaching a "Nirvana" of expertise empowering them to make Linux do anything they want. There is no middle ground. Linux is either rigidly inflexible, or else mind-bogglingly-Byzantine (a description not wholly unsuited to seminarians, self included).

So even while I hold that criticism, I still fall within the second camp of those people. And let me say that Linux has never failed to reward me for every lesson I've learned. Let me briefly list the steps I had to go through in order to get Ubuntu working on my Eee:

  1. Burned it, booted it, and installed it. Technically three steps.
  2. Had to fix wired ethernet drivers by shutting off and removing the battery (thank goodness somebody else online had the same problem!)
  3. Added repositories (Internet URLs with collections of programs and parts of Linux to download--like Windows Update, but with everything) and downloaded, installed all updates (this took a while).
  4. Ran a fan-made script (a list of computer instructions--just like an actor's "script") that tweaked various parts of Ubuntu for use on the Eee.
  5. Editted a few system text files to keep Ubuntu from using the built-in storage too much (It's not a hard drive; it's a "solid state disk" which can be damaged by too much use).
  6. Downloaded the stuff needed to get Wireless working. Not just a driver, but the actual source code for the driver. My Eee had to compile the code itself. Hey, if you don't like the cakes they sell in the bakery, sometimes you have to just make your own.
  7. Installed a fan-made application that controls the built-in Webcam; installed a program that could use the camera and record (choppy, ugly) video. The sound recording was almost silent--I later discovered a hidden option in the sound options to make it louder.
  8. Installed Firefox plugins.
  9. Moved stuff around in the graphical interface (called "Gnome") so that it looked very Windows-ish; put favorite programs in the "Quick Launch" part. Changed the colors and background pic, etc. Opened up OpenOffice Word Processor and configured the icons, default zoom, etc.
  10. Turned on a couple of special-effects programs ("Compiz" and "Emerald") to make my windows bounce and spin and wiggle.
  11. Replaced a text-based system file called "xorg.conf" with one specific to my machine--allowed me to easily connect and use external monitors.
  12. Unsuccessfully tried to get a Windows program working in "Wine" (a program that can run Windows programs in Linux). Shucks... it worked before, why not now?

After all of that, I could do nothing more but bask in the sweet glow of Linux nirvana. Or is that Nerdvana?

My more recent project has been to configure the Gnome user interface to look and act just like Windows Vista. Actually I tried to do this once with Windows XP, but it was a huge drag on resources. Gnome was meant to be butchered, and a Vista-wannabe setup doesn't necessary take any more computing power than the default. Screenshots to come!

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Addictiveness of Systemic Thought, Part Deux

I never arrived at the conclusion of the previous post, which was the reason I felt inspired to write in the first place. That happens a lot here.

A video game appeals to the "metaphysics of presence." What this means is that a video game presupposes that "presences" are better, always and everywhere, than "absences" - time exists only to be filled with doing, with making, with achieving, with sights, sounds, objects, light (not darkness), music (not silence), and so on. And we are willing to participate in this myth because it elevates our passions and tickles the appetite for energy, vibration, stimulation, "hyper-reality." Indeed, video games are not unique in this; the same could be said of any activity involving an electronic screen. But games are especially filled with "presences": not only the presences of audio-visual stimulation available through televsion, nor only the "presences" of the self-determined, self-customized reality of the Internet, but a finely structured drama and play of both kinds of presences against each other. It is a dialectic between My presence and the Other presence; presence squared.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Politics politics politics!

I have a confession to make. I haven't been this interested in an election since 2000.

I'm going to assume that, barring extraordinary events, we will have a race between John McCain and Barack Obama. That could shape up to be a very interesting race.

Eight years ago, I was captivated and inspired by John McCain. I loved (and ate up) the message of the "Straight Talk Express" and I saw his defeat in the primaries as, essentially, a defeat of the two-party system and of democracy. Yes, I really was that gung-ho.

The last eight years have shown me another side of McCain that has left a very bad taste in my mouth. McCain, the lapdog of George W. Bush; McCain, the first talking-head on every news station declaring war; McCain, whose commitment to an anti-abortion platform always seemed merely obligatory. And more recently, I was introduced to McCain, the two-faced politician, the absolute antithesis of everything I liked about him in 2000.

Four years ago I, like many Americans, had a political crisis of conscience on the issue of abortion. The Vatican has since released a series of helpful moral teaching on the matter, but whereas this teaching has simplified the issue in the minds of many Catholics, for me, the teachings make things even more complex.

The hub of the complexity is the definition of "proportionate reasons," the phrase used by then-Cardinal Ratzinger to describe instances where a civil servant could be legitimately voted for, even if he or she supported positions that contradicted the "non-negotiables" of Catholic social teaching. Something that I brought up four years ago in my arguments, and that I return to now, is that part of the "proportionate reasons" for voting for a Democrat in the US might be as a vote-of-no-confidence in the Republican candidate to *be* an effective force for issues involving human dignity and the upholding of the family.

Yet even what that means runs into difficulties. As much as I now dislike and distrust McCain, there can be no denying that a Democrat president and congress together would systematically dismantle the last remaining vestiges of the defense of the unborn, and limitations on abortion that Republicans, whatever their flaws, have barely managed to salvage. Could a Catholic tolerate such great setbacks; could there be a "proportionate reason" for doing so? Is even the desire not to elect a scoundrel enough reason to vote for a man who may more honest, but who honestly opposes every authentically Christian anthropology?

nota bene - what I fear most is a president and a congress who are both left-wing.

What the last administration has shown us is that, even under the most favorable circumstances, the Republican party is either unable or unwilling to fight abortion as much as they say they are. A big reason for this is that the party itself is divided on the issue. Republican control has been quite pleased to maintain a watery status-quo while its attention was focused on more "important" issues (i.e., issues the Repubs can agree about and thus expose less of their inner weakness).

Democratic control, however, has been more vocallyand unanimously opposed to the status quo, only in the opposite direction. Even if congress was technically controlled by republicans, that is no gaurantee that it would not send up the most vile anti-life legislation to be signed by Barack Obama.

Thus, what I am left with this year is not a choice between a pro-life and a pro-abortion candidate; but rather a choice for a weak and tepid status quo governed by a dishonest man, or the risk of tragic and nigh-unrecoverable losses under the watch of an earnest and idealistic one.

"Proportion" is a concept I need to return to.

Monday, February 18, 2008


A friend noticed that there was a post here about a video game. *sigh*. That was a mistake.

I keep another blog that I use to store the work I've done writing FAQs for video games. It was meant to be anonymous, but I'm kind of proud of my latest work, so I'll link you to it. There.

"Skoobouy" is an ancient pseudonym; it goes back to at least my freshman year of high school (when I really was a "school boy"). The name stopped being cute when I was training for a profession that had all-too-much press involving "school boys", so I retired the name and now use that e-mail address exclusively for online ordering (so it gets all the "spam").

However, it remains my pseudonym for writing videogame documents, because I didn't care to create a new account for the web sites that host them.

Now that that's settled, what happened to my little picture-and-summary in the upper right-hand corner? Guess I'll have to make a new one.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The addictiveness of systemic thought

A little 10 minute post here.

I've had my share of small addictions; happily, no chemicals or criminal behavior, but things which nevertheless have taken an embarrassing toll on my waking hours. Video games are not alone on that list, but they are chief among them. The game addiction is a corruption of a passion which has been the same source as my best and most redeeming work.

In a game, the impulse to succeed, to excel, to explore, to complete, is detached from the threatening body of real life and placed on a hamster wheel, where it becomes a perpetual motion machine of exponential acceleration. Where failures have no sting, and the potential for improvement is near infinite, the achieving impulse builds on itself without checks or controls until it threatens to consume everything else. One is reminded of a couple of scenes from "Spiderman 2".

The video game is a system. It is, as my friend Brother Thomas would say, the epitome of the metaphysics of presence. Absence--silence, nothingness, inactivity, darkness--has no inherent value, and time itself has no value, except as a container for presences. The metaphysics of presence is inherently addictive--like the slot machine,

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Do we need a "Letter to Men"?

In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote the much acclaimed (though not so much by 3rd wave feminists) "Leter to Women". In my first year of seminary, my theology professor made passing mention of the absence of a corresponding "Letter to Men".

I suppose there is a certain logic in that fact; a letter dedicated to the female sex may be interpreted as a kind of papal affirmative action. Yet papal letters are not prizes or tokens, and it was exactly an expected critique of the "Letter to Women" that it is mere tokenism and not, by secular feminism's standards, a sign of real progress towards their goals.

The "Letter to Women" was not mere "verbal candy," and neither, I think, would be a "Letter to Men." Now, men are as much in need of assistance in understanding the uniqueness of our Christian vocation, and in the interpretation of our history, as women have ever been. How does a Christian male live the counter-culture of Jesus Christ in this society? Our society is criticized both by feminists for its male-dominance, and by the Church for its lack of respect for gender difference and complimentarity. How do men authentically affirm our sex and honor our God-given "masculine genius" while challenging prejudices and malformed structures that continue to place unfair burdens on women? What is the "masculine genius?"

As regards the last question, there is a corresponding question whose answer might be a prudential reason not to release a "Letter to Men" at this time: the question of authority. Is there anything in tradition, in nature, in science, in philosophy, in revelation to suggest that men (as men) have a unique call to authority?

The reason why I suggest that this may be a stumbling block to writing such a letter is not because I know what the answer is and I know that a lot of people will not like the answer. Rather, it is because I do not think that the uniquely Christian understanding of "authority" (which appears quite upside-down from a secular standpoint) has made any headway in popular western culture. Thus, the Church and her controversialist readers would be talking about "authority," but they would be meaning quite different things.

more later