September 27, 2006

Poetry blogging

It was 1995, and I was spending most of my time in Germany, far away from my Love. It would be late in the morning when I returned from my night shift at the accelerator. I'ld bake up a french bread, spread on butter, slap on a slice of cheese. Then I'ld sit back in our Ikea poang chair, and listen to the glorious sounds of the Carmina Burana. I can honestly say that if it weren't for anything else, I'ld still be happy to understand Latin just because of Orff's genius.

This is one of my favourites:


Aestuans interius
ira vehementi
in amaritudine
loquor meae menti;
factus de materia,
cinis elementi,
similis sum folio,
de quo ludunt venti.

Cum sit enim proprium
viro sapienti
supra petram ponere
sedem fundamenti,
stultus ego comparor
fluvio labenti
sub eodem tramite
numquam permanenti.

Feror ego veluti
sine nauta navis,
ut per vias aeris
vaga fertur avis;
non me tenent vincula,
non me tenet clavis;
quaero mihi similes,
et adiungor pravis.

Mihi cordis gravitas
res videtur gravis;
iocus est amabilis
dulciorque favis;
quicquid Venus imperat,
labor est suavis,
quae numquam in cordibus
habitat ignavis.

Via lata gradior
more iuventutis,
implicor et vitiis
immemor virtutis,
voluptatis avidus
magis quam salutis,
mortuus in anima
curam gero cutis.

=================== translation (from

Burning inwardly with strong anger,
in my bitterness I speak to my soul;
created out of matter, ashes of the earth,
I am like a leaf with which the winds play.

Whereas it is proper for a wise man
to place his foundations on rock,
I, in my folly, am like a flowing river,
never staying on the same course.

I am borne along like a ship without a sailor,
just as a wandering bird is carried along paths of air;
chains do not keep me nor does a key;
I seek men like myself, and I surround myself with rogues.

For me a serious heart is too serious a matter;
a joke is pleasant and sweeter than honeycombs;
whatever Venus orders is pleasant toil;
she never dwells in faint hearts.

I go on the broad way after the manner of youth;
and I entangle myself in vice, forgetful of virtue;
greedy for pleasure more than for salvation,
I, dead in my soul, attend to the needs of my flesh.

September 19, 2006

Storm in a teacup

Both sides of the debate over Ratzinger's recent speech seem to completely skip the introductory part, where the subject matter is introduced and his approach to it in this speech is elaborated. The subject matter is the place of reason in faith, and his approach is to use, as a starting point, an obscure tract on theology from the 14th century. By his own admission, the subject of reason in faith only enters at the margin in this tract. But Ratzinger is a theologian, after all, and aims to teach, especially when addressing his Alma Mater. There's no surprise that he would quote from an ancient and little-known theological text, the way American politicos love to quote words from the (slave-owning, misogynistic, genocidal) Founding Fathers. And he probably just read Khoury's book, and wanted to show that he keeps current ;).

While the subject of violent conversion seems to be the centerpoint of Paleologus' (probably largely imaginary) discussion, it isn't a part of the pope's speech. The point he is making is that even in those dark ages, violent conversion was ruled out because it isn't reasonable. From this starting point, his discussion moves far away from the issue of conversion, and goes into the nature of god and reason. He also elaborates on the christian theologians that proposed a concept of god that surpasses reason, which Paleologus would probably condemn as similar to the islamic faith of the 14th century.

The core of Ratzinger's thesis is that Christianity is essentially a Greek cultural concept, much more than a Middle-Eastern one. Personally, I would agree that Catholicism is a western construct, but only because of its continued evolution through the work of western theologians. If you just take the bible, you end up with a largely Middle-Eastern concept of god, especially if you take any part of the old testament seriously, as many protestants do. But in any case, his speech wasn't about violent conversion, nor was it about Protestantism or even about Islam. He didn't defend Paleologus, and only used his words to ground his own discussion on reason and faith. The entire storm about this speech is baseless.

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September 11, 2006

Reflecting on terror

Interesting editorial in the Washington Post:
Losing the War on Terror. Hard to argue with that. But I prefer the front page article of De Standaard. It too is a review of the war on terror. It starts with a bunch of eye-catching, big-lettered statistics. "75,238 is the number of people that died in the past 5 years in terrorist attacks (of whome 2,973 in the US, 202 in Balid, 191 in Madrid and 52 in London)" The obvious discrepancy in the numbers is immediately turned into the next two statistics "59,600 civilians died in Iraq since may 2003, 2.641 American soldiers died there" and "5,308 civilians died in Afghanistan since October 2001, 477 foreign soldiers died there". The statistics continue, "464 suspected terrorists in jail in the American base at Guantanamo" and "50 billion dollars, the annual rise of the American defense budget since 9/11". Interestingly, the last statistic is "17,000 is the number of children that dies of hunger every day", which I think is a great way of relativating the previous numbers.

Now, these statistics flank a box containing 4 big names, and their fate:

"Osama bin Laden. Still no trace"
"George Bush. Reelected in 2004, still popular with 42 percent of Americans"
"Saddam Hussein. Captured and brought to court."
"Taliban. Driven from power, but not defeated."

I don't know, but I like the presentation. Barely 3500 western civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks, over the last 5 years. About as many western soldiers have died over the same time. But 10 times as many dead Iraqi and Afghani civilians ...

I think that the most important number - with respect to the safety of the US - is the increase in the defense budget. No, not because it secures the US in a military sense. It secures the US because it fulfills the desire of Al-Qaeda. As long as the US spends more than it can afford on its military, there is no need for Al-Qaeda to attack it. Especially if it can continue to kill Americans in other countries.

Americans can rest easy. As long as they keep increasing the defense budget by 50 billion per year, they will be safe. I figure that Al-Qaeda doesn't need to attack the US mainland more than once in a decade in order to keep the US on its self-destructive path. Waddayathink?


September 05, 2006


Ok, yes, I read "Dear Prudie" sometimes too. Especially when the title is this provocative.


Dear Prudie,
My partner and I are having our condominium remodeled. We have worked well with one company and asked them to bid a second phase of the job. The person who showed up to bid the job wore a cap with an angry bald eagle on the front with multiple American flags sewn onto the rest of the cap. When I was obviously startled at the hat, he acknowledged, "Guess I should have worn my company hat." I replied, "I would be more comfortable if you had because I can't support much of what the country is doing right now." This led to his reply, "Just so we all support America." My partner and I are gay and feel assaulted by the right wing. We are also horrified by the war in Iraq and so many other issues that our patriotism is very low. That hat was a sickening reminder of my childhood in rural America. I feel that perhaps my money should be spent in a more socially conscious fashion, but I don't relish starting my own campaign of reverse discrimination. Am I making too much of this incident? The company has done a good job for us so far.

—Uneasy Remodeler

Dear Uneasy,
When did an American flag come to mean, "I want to assault gay people"? You know nothing about this man's views except that he feels patriotic. Since you are the one who provoked the discussion, do you really want to require that the person building your breakfast nook pass your political litmus test? (And yes, if I were to get a letter saying, "I went to a potential construction job this morning and the owners of the condo were obviously gay. I think homosexuality is abnormal and I hate the idea of gay marriage. I don't know whether I should go ahead and submit a bid," I would find that letter just as objectionable.) We are lucky to live in a society in which one doesn't have to belong to a government-sanctioned party or avow a list of beliefs in order to make a living. I know too many people who say they could never be friends with people who have different political views from theirs, and that's unfortunate. But the economy will crash if every service person is required to agree with their client's worldview. Do you know how lucky you are to find a remodeling company that does a good job? Let the guy with the American flag cap get to work.


The monetarization of human interactions can be a good thing. It allows people of completely incompatible ideologies to work together - to some degree. It's at the root of a tolerant society - blindness to the ideological foundations, religious beliefs and sexual behaviour of the "other".

But I also believe that people need to put their money where their mouth is. Apologies to some of my friends, but if you believe Walmart is evil, you can not shop there, at least not with any regularity. If you believe that capital markets tend to reward callous exploitation and myopic greed, you should invest in socially responsible funds, at least partially.

I resent the idea that I can't express my ideals in my acquisitions. I do it all the time, searching out biological food, fair trade products and such.

The issue is, in the end, bloody simple. Contractors have no business advertising any kind of belief beyond their business, if you pardon the pun. If someone decides to embellish their uniform with their beliefs, they must accept that they will lose business because of it. Would Prudie say the same thing if the contractor walked in with a T-Shirt saying "Gays must die"? She gives no reason to think she wouldn't. She is WRONG. The couple should have contacted the company, pointed out the unprofessional behaviour of the contractor and asked for someone else.