Wednesday, April 30, 2008

<soapbox rant_value= "rightIndign" content= "political">

In this exciting election-year atmosphere, I've been thinking lately about what issues matter to me as a voter. Here they are, in order of importance:

  • Civil Liberties - This trumps everything else for me, although you won't hear much about it in the campaigns. I think our unbelievable civil liberties are the very best thing about US citizenship, and are at the heart of what it means to be an American. I'm obviously horrified at the way Mr. Bush has flippantly disregarded them, and candidates' dedication to their preservation will be the most important deciding factor for me in the election.
  • Foreign Policy - I'm heartbroken about the way our current leadership has squandered our international reputation for the sake of myopic ideology. I want a leader who understands what it means to be a citizen of the world.
  • Health Care - We need a better system. Heck, we need a system, period. I know it contradicts my otherwise laissez-faire economic sensibilities. I know it will be expensive. I know detractors say it will erode our current level of care. They're wrong. We've already fallen behind the rest of the developed world. We have no place to go but up.
  • Immigration - It's what makes and has made the US great. The current status of policies is abysmal, however. We need a guest worker program yesterday, we need better (and more compassionate) enforcement of our immigration laws. And we need a thorough housecleaning and reorganization at our customs/border security/immigration agencies.
  • Free Trade/Economy - I don't feel as strongly about these issues, other than thinking that our leaders need to be realistic about their importance and our ability to influence them. I think that you're an idiot if you're against free trade; not so much because I support it, but because I realize it's inevitable. Similarly, I think our government's ability to influence our economy is grossly overstated, particularly during this election year. The government should intervene minimally as the conscience of our otherwise amoral capitalist economy, but that's it. Let the markets and our own creativity do the rest.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Oasis in the TV Desert

I'm happy to report that I've (belatedly) discovered a sanctuary in the vast, blighted wasteland that is contemporary television. It's taken me a while to come around, but I am now totally hooked on The Wire. It's set in Baltimore, and to say it's a TV crime drama is like saying Hamlet is a story about a sad Danish kid. This show is more than's literature. Seriously, high school kids are going to be studying this in their English classes in about 100 years. The characters are fantastically complex, nuanced and deep. The bad guys are often quite likable, or are only bad because their circumstances demand it. Likewise, the good guys don't wear shining armor or white hats...they're good, but they're only so good. To the extent that there's a unifying theme, the show is about the way individuals interact with institutions (e.g., a detective vs. the police bureaucracy, or a poor city kid vs. "the game" of urban drug-dealing), and it's at once engaging and philosophical. In short, it's the best thing that's been on TV in decades, if not ever. Do yourself a favor: find a way to see this show.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Q: What do you do after fasting from meat, dairy & alcohol for 40 days?

A: You party!

The Easter ritual at my church goes like this: just before midnight everyone gathers at church for the resurrection service, which lasts until about 1:45 AM. Then, we all go home for a few hours' sleep before getting back together on Sunday afternoon for a HUGE potluck picnic, featuring roasted lamb, lots of homemade goodies, and BYO beer and wine to share/trade. This year we cooked a total of 13 lambs, and about 450 people showed up. Believe me: after nearly 6 weeks of not eating meat, nothing tastes as good as a bite of roasted lamb picked hot off the still-turning spit (see? even the lamb knows he's tasty)!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ah, Pennsylvania...

...I was really hoping it wouldn't have to come to this. I've patiently and quietly endured six weeks of cheesecake-fueled, nit-picky politiking, and for what? You really let me down, Keystone State. Now it's up to the good people of Indiana and North Carolina to finally put Hillary away. <sigh...>

Monday, April 21, 2008

Holy Week

Since the Orthodox Church uses the venerable old Julian calendar to calculate the date of Pascha (Easter), this week is Holy Week for us. We have several special services throughout the week, and here are some of the most memorable:

Holy Monday Bridegroom Service - This service features readings and hymns related to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, 5 of whom were prepared with adequate oil and were permitted to join the bridegroom at the wedding feast, while the others were unprepared and cast into the darkness.

Holy Tuesday, featuring the Hymn of Kassiani - The hymns and readings of this service focus on the actions of 2 characters during Christ's final days: the sinful woman who anointed his feet and Judas, who would eventually betray him. The high point of this service is the stirring Hymn of Kassiani, which highlights the woman's humble repentance, contrasting it with Judas' betrayal.

Holy Unction - The primary theme of Holy Wednesday is our human need for the healing and forgiveness that comes into our lives when we establish a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are reminded that the way to this relationship is to be found, above all else, through the life of prayer. In the Mystery of Holy Unction, the faithful are anointed and thus, healed both physically and spiritually. We are reconciled to God and one another so that we might receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist instituted by Christ at the Last Supper.

Apokathelosis (Αποκαθελωσις; Descent from the Cross) - As the priest proclaims the Gospel, "And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb..." he removes the Body of Christ from the Cross, wraps it in a new white cloth and takes it to the altar. The priest then chants the hymn: " When Joseph of Arimathea took You, the Life of all, now dead, down from the Cross, he buried You in fine linen, after anointing You with myrrh. He yearned with desire, humbly contained by awe, rejoicing, he cried out to You: Glory to Your condescension, O merciful God!" The children of the church then carry the Epitaphios (the cloth on which the Body of Christ is painted or embroidered) around the church before the priest places it inside the Sepulcher, a carved bier which symbolizes the Tomb of Christ.

The Lamentations - On the evening of Holy Friday we sing hymns of lamentation, mourning Christ's death as we carry the bier with the icon of Christ's body around the outside of the church building in a funeral procession. At the end of the service, the bier is raised overhead and the faithful re-enter the church by passing underneath it, a symbol of our identification with Christ's sacrificial death for our sins.

The Resurrection Service - The Pascha service begins just before midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning. We gather inside the church, which is pitch black, reminding us of the darkness of the tomb. At the stroke of midnight, the priest emerges from the sanctuary carrying the Pascha flame, which we pass from person to person until the church is full of the light of Christ's resurrection. We once again process outside, this time chanting the triumphal Paschal Hymn, "O Christ is risen from the dead, and through death he did trample upon death, and thus bestowed upon those in the tombs the gift of eternal life."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

So...Spain has a Preggo Defense Minister...

I actually think this is sort of neat. I mean, who cares if she's a) a she and b) "with child" if she's the right guy [sic] for the job? Apparently some of the Spanish military top brass and veterans groups are not amused. They're concerned that the image of a pregnant woman leading the troops sends the wrong message. Spanish feminists disagree...and I'm inclined to take their side. It's ludicrous to consider "a woman in full womanhood" to be an image of anything but strength, power and responsibility. Besides, would you want to cross a pissed-off pregnant chick with a whole army behind her? Any Spaniards in the audience...what do you think/hear about this?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Si puedes leer esto...

...estás mejor que la mayoría de los estadiounidenses (or, Wenn du dies lesen können, du bist besser als meistens Amerikaner, or, Si vous lisez ceci, vous êtes mieux que la plupart des Américains, or, Si pot llegir això, està millor que la majoria dels americans).

Don't get me wrong...I'm extremely happy to be a citizen of the United States, and I'm genuinely proud of and optimistic about what our country has to offer to the world. I also have no desire whatsoever to wade into a debate about our current immigration policies, or to challenge the fact that the English language is a necessary component of existence here in the US.

<soapbox> However, I think that too many of us are woefully naïve/apathetic about the necessity of understanding other languages. So far, I've studied 7 languages (granted...2-3 of them are essentially dead), and while I'm really only fluent in my native tongue, I'm working hard on adding fluency in at least one other language (Spanish). I think we Americans need to study language better, if for no other reason than to acknowledge that there's a whole world out there of unbelievable richness and culture that is only accessible via the local tongue. </soapbox>

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I shop at Crabtree & Evelyn...

...and I don't see this as an threat to my masculinity. That's because I shave with one of these bad boys:

That's right; on a regular basis I drag an insanely sharp piece of steel across my face and throat, and live to tell the tale. I decided I'd had it with the razor burn and outrageously expensive cost of replaceable-blade "shaving systems" (i.e., razor company cash cows). So, I decided to invest in an instrument that a) gives me a much closer, much more comfortable shave, b) will never need replacing and c) connects me with a long line of manly men stretching way back into history who've opted for skill and technique over machinery and "convenience." Face it: if you're still using a disposable razor or (God forbid) an electric...I'm better than you.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I believe in the power of ideas.

I'm optimistic about the ability of big ideas to make the world a better place. Hence my plan to pay my dues, get a Ph.D and teach, becoming one of those professors that make you re-think your whole world during college. I was willing to endure the pain of graduate school, the uncertainty of adjunct professorship, the stress of tenure-track assistant professorship...because at the end of the day, I would be up there in the ivory tower, wallowing in knowledge, changing the world with big ideas.

Then my wife came home one day early in her internship as a social work grad student. She was excited, and she proceeded to tell me about how she'd spent the afternoon collecting a newborn from the hospital and taking him to meet his adoptive parents for the first time. It occurred to me right then that she'd just brought about more good in the world in one afternoon than I was likely to accomplish during a lifetime in academia. Don't get me wrong; I have nothing but the deepest respect for those select individuals who dedicate their lives to pursuing knowledge and teaching others. For me, though, my spot in the ivory tower seemed a lot less important than just being gainfully employed in order to support my wife in the good work that she does on a daily basis (social work, it may astonish you to know, is not the most lucrative career choice). Maybe my vocation should be less about my accomplishments as an individual, and more about my role as a supportive spouse. If nothing else, that's a big idea I can believe in.