Thursday, August 24, 2006

They Giveth, and They Taketh Away

Today, we mourn the loss of Pluto as a planet. Or do we? Pluto and I never have been friends, really. But, during the past week, I found myself oddly interested in the debate as to the nature of its cosmic existence. Who knew there was such a controversy? Even those who could care less would likely be amused by this op-ed piece titled "I ♥ Pluto."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Things That Never Were

PBS is again showing the RFK episode of American Experience. I've seen it several times, and it gets to me every time. I'm certainly not the first to say so, but that it's been said often doesn't make it any less worth saying: this would be such a different country had RFK not been assassinated.

Some of my favorite RFK recitations:

Some people see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I dream of things that never were and ask, "Why not?"
-- George Bernard Shaw

The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who,
in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.
-- Dante

He who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep,
pain, which cannot forget,
falls drop by drop
upon the heart
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of god.
-- Aeschylus

A favorite RFK anecdote:

During his 1968 presidential campaign, one of his aides asked something along the lines of: "Bobby, I don't understand. You were in favor of the death penalty when you were Attorney General. Now, you're against it. What's changed?"

RFK's response: "I read Camus."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Killing an Arab

Now, before you get all worked up about the title for this entry, keep in mind that it's also the title of a Cure song -- a Cure song, incidentally, inspired by the book that's the subject of this entry.

I read an amusing Maureen Dowd column yesterday titled "Camus Comes to Crawford." (The link won't take you to the column unless you subscribe to TimesSelect.) My interest couldn't help but be piqued when I saw that title, because Camus is my favorite philosopher. (I really think of him more as a writer, though.) I was curious to see what role Camus would play in Dowd's skewering of GW.

For whatever reason, Bush actually read The Stranger (my favorite book, once affectionately referred to as my Bible) while on vacation at his ranch in Crawford. (Yeah, I know it's redundant to say that he was on vacation.) And he claims to have liked it. (He must've heard that Cheney liked it.)

Dowd does a pretty good job of mocking the absurdity of GW reading Camus. But she concludes that perhaps it's not such a crazy thing.

"The Stranger" is about the emotionally detached Meursault, who makes a lot of bad decisions and pre-emptively kills an Arab in the sand. Get it? Camus's protagonist moves through an opaque, obscure and violent world that is indifferent to his beliefs and desires. Get it?

No Violating My Rights, Damn It

I saw a "No Trespassing" sign while walking to work today. I've always thought of that as a rather odd sign. I mean, is there ever a situation where trespassing is allowed? It makes about as much sense as a "No Stealing" sign at a convenience store.

Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Blue Star

I'm currently making my way, ever-so-slowly, as is customary, through Kenji Yoshino's Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Yoshino is a gay, Japanese-American professor at Yale Law School. I know of him because my firm invited him to deliver a lecture based upon his book. I attended the lecture, and the experience became one of the most inspiring I've had in many years. I hadn't felt so intellectually invigorated since my undergrad days, sitting back and absorbing Professor Solomon's musings on existentialism.

I'll leave the heavy-duty, socio-legal stuff for another day. But here's an excerpt that illustrates Yoshino's ability to awe. It recounts a memory that fluttered through his mind when he attended the wedding of his college girlfriend. After Yoshino came out, he spent some time catching up with her as they re-immersed themselves in their shared love of poetry. At the time, she was about to transition from teaching English to entering medical school. Before making the transition, she decided that she wanted a tattoo of a blue star on her left shoulder blade. "The Blue Star" was the title of one of her favorite poems.

Janet and I fought over the tattoo. I told her that she had misconstrued the nature of time. In thirty years, I said, she would be an entirely different person, but the tattoo would still be there to embarrass her. Who was she, at twenty-four, to bind that future self? Janet responded that I was the one who had misconstrued time. She agreed that over the next years, she would change, that she would have to change. Yet she said if her future self was embarrassed by the star, she wanted it to be embarrassed. She was entering a time in her life when her commitment to poetry would become more endangered than ever, and she wanted to protect that commitment by writing it on her body. If she became a doctor who stopped reading and writing poetry, she wanted to hear the reproach of this younger self. My mistake, she said, was that I assumed people got wiser as they got older.

Reminds me of the days during my second year in college when my Philosophy of Law professor would implore: "Don't become a person ten years from now whom you'd hate right now." (Of course, he was a burnt-out assistant district attorney taking time off to teach.)