19 June 2004

Tortoise sitting

So for the last couple of weeks, while a Berkeley friend has been out
of town, I’ve been housesitting and taking care of her tortoises. 
I now know all sorts of stuff about feeding and caring for tortoises
that I didn’t a while back.

This is Erasmus.

These are Erasmus and Beatrice, having a drink.

When I tell people that I am pet-sitting a pack of tortoises (because
there are also three babies, Scipio, Phoebe, and Cromwell), they are
infinitely amused.  I’m not sure quite why.  It seems to be
related to the idea of having reptiles as pets, I think.  Maybe
there’s something there with herpetophobia.

Posted in Day2Day on 19 June 2004 at 3:01 pm by Nate



    I know that I’m supposed to be happy for my
friends who are getting married, and on some level, I am.  But I
don’t think the straight people in whose weddings I have been
participating understand how my happiness for them is inextricably tied
up in in anger about the whole process.  I don’t think they
understand how weddings and marriage, until they are fully inclusive of
queer people who want them, discriminate against us and perhaps oppress

    The whole language and set-up of weddings
implies that people must be coupled to be complete, that without
someone else we are all incomplete.  It’s very much like the line
from the movie, “You complete me.”  As much as I love BF, if
either of us “completed each other”, I don’t think that I could
actually be in the relationship.  I was and am a complete person
without him, just as he was and is without me.  If the point of
all this
marriage stuff is to find wholeness in another person (as much of the
ritual and language often implies), then, frankly, it’s
unhealthy.  Some of the weddings I have been at in recent years
seem to be about the wedding; it’s as if people have determined that
this is somehow the endpoint to which they have been working, not
realizing that it’s really just a blip in their lives and happiness,
that it will all continue on pretty much as before even after ALL the
Visa bills have been paid.

    Also, as the only publicly out person at the
wedding, I’m alone in bearing this (which is why I keep ducking out to
call BF and gay friends about every hour and a half).  There is
another gay guy there, a close relative of the couple and good friends
with them, and he’s out in a limited fashion, i.e., he’s told the
couple but not his parents.  He lives in a gay ghetto, but when he
comes to the Bay Area, he’s “not gay”, except in the privacy of the
car, when it’s just the couple, him, and me.  And let’s be honest,
he’s not fooling anyone: I had him pegged as “family” pretty quickly
after seeing him.  But since he’s playing someone he’s not, he
doesn’t have to bear a burden of understanding that as much as he’s a
major player in this whole process, he’s consigned to be “always a
bridesmaid, never a bride.”

    Part of me feels pity for him.  As bad as
things can get once you’re out of the closet, it’s still infinitely
better than the hell of the closet.  I know.  My own
relationship with my parents has some pretty serious issues, as a
result of my coming out.  (I have not seen them in a year and a
half, because they want me sans BF,
and I’m not about to do that.)  But I would still rather have this
state of affairs than to still be hiding from them — and myself.

    Part of me feels annoyance.  He’s getting by,
not having to make constant explanations, not having to be the token
fag in the proceedings.  But I’m trying to temper my anger at his
not standing up and being counted and really understanding what it is
to be gay.  It’s not just about fucking and good decorating and so
forth.  Being gay is about understanding how almost never do you
transcend for others the label of being gay.  It’s about
understanding what it means to be on the outs with the
mainstream.  It’s about better understanding the kingdom of
heaven, where there is no family except the brotherhood and sisterhood
of fellow humanity.

    So to my straight friends who may be reading: 
I may or may not attend your weddings in the future.  (Let’s face
it: paying for getting to weddings also provides some large
obstacles.)  I may or may not be able to be in them if you ask
me.  I just don’t know how much more I can put up with
participating in to that which I am fundamentally uninvited, not by
you, but by the world at large.  I want your happiness and love
and life to be full, but if you’re getting married, that’s already
happened, and I can celebrate that somehow without actually being part
of weddings.  I’m still working out whether I can go to more
weddings, but please understand that your day of happiness makes me
happy, pained, angry, and bitter, all at once.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 19 June 2004 at 4:00 am by Nate
17 June 2004

One more CSS thing

Can anyone help me with setting up my CSS so that all my paragraphs of text are indented, as proper style demands?

Posted in OnTheWeb on 17 June 2004 at 2:52 pm by Nate

More on Mozilla and Harvard Weblogs

I got a response back from the Harvard Weblogs support people on my previous problem with using the latest generation Mozilla browsers with my HLS blog.

Hi Nathan,

Sorry for the delay, but we’re currently in a bit of flux about support
for the blogs.law site, since Dave Winer is due to end his fellowship at
the Berkman Center at the end of the year.  The Berkman tech staff
(basically me and one other person) has the resources to keep the back
end server running, but not to support front stuff like the site templates.
So, we’re not likely to have the resources to fix this issue soon.  If
you know html, you could of course fix the offending html yourself and
I’ll figure out how to get the fix plugged in.  Or you could wheedle
some techie you know to fix it for you.


I do indeed know some HTML, and I’ve looked into this a bit in the past, thinking it was a CSS
issue.  But the CSS’s appear to be the same.  Do any of the
techies out there have any ideas, or can you offer me a bit of help?

Posted in OnTheWeb on 17 June 2004 at 2:25 pm by Nate
15 June 2004


Can someone invite me to Gmail?  Please?

Posted in OnTheWeb on 15 June 2004 at 4:41 pm by Nate

Ron Reagan on the Second Bush

Ron Reagan had a piece in Salon a couple of months back in which he harshly criticized the Bush administration, especially in its efforts to appropriate his father for their purposes.

It’s worth checking out.  If you think he had quite a zinger at
the California interment, when he criticized politicians who wore thier
religion on their sleeves for political gain, you should read this.

Posted in Politicks on 15 June 2004 at 4:37 pm by Nate

Religious ghettoes

    David, over at Oxblog, ruminates on the movie Saved!, and he muses about religious communities that live in some sort ot isolation from the larger world.

    I grew up in the community that Saved!
satirizes, and the first 30 minutes of the film were frighteningly
hilarious to me in ways that I think passed over the heads of the
Berkeley audience, as I sometimes was the only person laughing out loud
in the theatre.  I remember the whole culture of creating
alternative, parallel institutions to replicate and concurrently
counter the broader “secular” culture.  We had “Christian” rock,
rap, and heavy metal; “Christian” school systems; “Christian” yellow
pages and business directories; “Christian” media sources (not all of
the TBN or Pat Robertson variety); “Christian” sports leagues; and so
on.  Many of my friends went from kindergarten through college
entirely in a “Christian” educational system.  We were encouraged
to be “in the world, but not of the
world.”  We were concerned about too active an engagement with the
broader American culture, for fear that it would captivate us and bend
us away from the right and true way of living, transforming us for the
negative rather than allowing us to transform it for the “positive.”

    Several aspects of this parallelism have struck me
more and more the further that I get from this culture.  One
reason I put “Christian” in quotes above was that our understanding of
Christianity stayed remarkably restricted.  Other people may have
been Christians, like Catholics or perhaps some mainline Protestants or
Episcopalians (but those latter two were pretty suspicious in terms of
their Christianity), but they weren’t part of our “Christian”
community.  It’s not that we didn’t think they were not
Christians, just that we were sure that our Christianity was better,
more authentic, more trustworthy.  When I became an Episcopalian,
that was viewed with more than a little bit of suspicion — not because
of the possible Romishness of the ECUSA, but because of the perception
that Episcopalians were too liberal to really be Christians.

    But another aspect of this parallel society, which
tried to define itself apart from the larger culture, was that the
definition was both oppositional and entirely on the terms of the
larger culture.  If you think you’re in the world but not really
part of it, than much of your self-understanding comes from looking at
what you’re not part of and consciously going in another
direction.  So when you see that the culture’s sexual ethic has
changed from one which formerly matched yours — monogamy only in the
context of male-female marriage — you look at what the larger culture
is doing and declare it off-limits.  So sex, for example, in the
evangelical ghetto cannot include homo sex, no “casual” sex, no sex
within a committed relationship that has not been transformed into
marriage, no divorce except for infidelity, and so on.  And the
reasoning should be pretty obvious.  The theological view
determines the socio-political view here: God (and even more
importantly) our understanding of God do not change, so all the
structures that are tied into that God in some way are also worthy of
protection and resistance to change.  What do we do, however, if
our understanding of God is not immutable?  What if we begin to
understand human history as a narrative of nearly constant
change?  What happens to faith and life then?  I think this
dilemma has just begun to become acute for many American evangelicals,
but the full implications of what it means for their culture to undergo
revolution in paradigm (which is what might be happening) aren’t clear
to many of them.

    Even more interesting than the above definition by
defiance, many people in this culture do not seem to realize that the
process of defining as “in the world but not of the world” requires a
grounding in the very world that one seeks to deny.  Many
evangelicals seek to keep a wall between their community and the
surrounding culture, but at the same time, they understand themselves
to have an imperative to transform that world.  The necessity to
change requires engagement.  If one wants to attract people to
one’s project of transformation, one has to make it attractive. 
So you show that your culture is not significantly different from the
larger culture, that it has all the same stuff — school systems,
popular culture (of a sorts), cultural institutions, economics, and so
on.  But when you make “Christian” music, it sounds just like
“secular” music, especially given the fact that your group does not
have sufficient cultural power to set the terms of cultural
change.  So Christian music can never actually influence much of
the course of popular music; it can only react to how popular music
develops, changing one step behind the mainstream culture, after
consideration of how one can do that following and still “remain true
to your convictions.”  But it’s still this faint shadow of the
larger culture.  And you become tied into and integrally part of
that which you also deny.

    I mean none of this aspersively.  I don’t think
that evangelicals engage in doublethink about their social roles any
more than the rest of us who belong to groups that aren’t very
self-reflective do.  And I think the movie, in its somewhat
ham-handed way (as David pointed out in his post) recognizes that this
contradiction exists; but just like evangelicals, it doesn’t know quite
what to make of it, and it’s at those points that the humor and satire
fall flat and the ending becomes a bit too pat.

Posted in Rayleejun on 15 June 2004 at 3:57 pm by Nate

American Partisanship

The Times ran an interesting piece this weekend on the nature of American partisanship.  This is pretty typical of the gist of the piece:

Do Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow
citizens? Have Americans really changed so much since the day when a
candidate with Ronald Reagan’s soothing message could carry 49 of 50

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic
differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and
that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside
the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at
each other.

These academics say it’s not the voters but the political elite of
both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma
Desmond might put it: We’re still big. It’s the parties that got

Just because a state votes red or blue in a presidential election
doesn’t mean that its voters are fixed permanently on one side of a
political divide or culture gap. The six bluest states in 2000, the
ones where George
W. Bush fared worst – Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii,
Connecticut and Maryland – all have Republican governors. Even
California went red last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate
Republican, became governor.

Most voters are still centrists willing to consider a candidate from
either party, but they rarely get the chance: It’s become difficult for
a centrist to be nominated for president or to Congress or the state
legislature, said Morris P. Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford
and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Now the article sums up the conventional explanation for the increasing partisanship of the electorate as follows:

Why, if the public is tolerant, would the political elites be so angry?
One reason given by Professor Fiorina is the decline of party bosses,
who promoted centrist candidates because their patronage systems
depended on winning elections, and the corresponding rise of
special-interest groups, who are more concerned with candidates’

I spoke with political scientist friends at Berkeley who actually study this
stuff (like Mo Fiorina), but they disagree with his conclusions,
partially out of a technical methodological question (which has huge
implications, actually), and partially out of a very different
understanding of the chain of cause and effect.

First, the method problem.  The focus of this article is on the
state and national levels, but people elect Congress from their
particular districts.  So we’re dealing with two different levels
of aggregation, as it were.  On the larger level, people are more
moderate, but on the smaller level — the Congressional district —
voters are actually quite intensely partisan.  Think of it this
way.  Pretend the political landscape actually is a
landscape.  So it looks like a topographical map, where you can
see the elevation of any particular point, but from which you can also
calculate an average (mean) elevation above sea level.  So imagine
you’ve got a landscape, and it has peaks and valleys. 

there are peaks or valleys, their depth or height indicates the
degree of partisanship.  But the average level for a picture like
the one above show a fairly middle of the road elevation.  But if
you lay a grid horizontally over the picture, the squares will likely
contain more peak or valley than the opposite, and overall you get a
sector that is primarily peak or valley.

This somewhat gives you an idea of the methodological problem. 
When we talk about the country as a whole or even a state or region as
a whole, we smooth out the partisan bumps that exist.  If you laid
a partisan map over the country, similar in approach to the graph
above, you’d find wide and radical differences between parts of the
country.  Mississippi would be a fairly high peak, while the San
Francisco Bay Area or Boston would be a very low valley.*  So the
map of the U.S. would be pretty bumpy.  But if you look at the
country as a whole and apply the statistics and measurements that
describe the country or even a region on average and apply that
backwards to the very small level of congressional districts, you get a
much smoother, more moderate topography.

*I choose the peak and valley for the party based on how we normally
treat party idenitfication numerically, with Republicans as +1 and
Democrats as a -1.  No implication about relative worth exists,
because my own biases would probably reverse putting Republicans on the
sunny peaks.

Second, in the U.S., most congressional districts
are highly peaked or “valleyed”, indicating a high degree of
partisanship in any particular district.  Most districts are
comfortably Republican or Democrat, and so are a high peak or low
valley.  This, according to my political scientist friends, occurs
for two reasons.  First, legislatures and parties in them have
drawn comfortably uncompetitive districts, where one party dominates by
eight or ten percentage points over the other.  Second, within the
parties, voters just do tend to be fairly partisan.  For some
reason (my friends are working on the answers to this, as we don’t
quite know yet), voters act in intensely partisan ways, especially when
they live in comfortably partisan districts.  It’s only when a
district has a competitive balance between the parties that we see
“moderate” candidates emerge, and we have an extraordinarily low number
of competitive congressional districts in the country today.

Interestingly, I learned that primary voters, who are often reputed to
more partisan than their party-fellows at large don’t differ
significantly from those party-fellows.  In other words, it is
something of a myth that we get more partisan party candidates because
people who vote in primaries are more extreme than those who vote in
general elections.  Republicans and Democrats who vote in
primaries are not significantly more ideological than Reps or Dems at

So the NY Times article provides a very interesting viewpoint on the
partisan wars of the country, but perhaps a little too
Pollyanna-ish.  The data that matters, from individual
congressional districts, indicates that we are an intensely divided
people.  We may even out as a country, but we don’t vote for our
politicians (excepting the President) by country, and so it’s not a
reasonable way to look at our current political atmosphere.

ADDENDUM: David Brooks’ column today
posits another reason for the partisan divide in today’s politics —
it’s based upon a conflict between professional and managerial
classes.  As often, it’s an interesting read….

Posted in Politicks on 15 June 2004 at 2:29 pm by Nate
11 June 2004

Reagan’s legacy

I have to admit that Reagan’s speechifying has almost always made me
tear up.  When at his finest rhetorical moments (the 1984
convention, the speech before the Berlin Wall, the eulogy at the
Challenger disaster, just to note a few), he had a near-unparalled
ability to pull us along to the heights that he achieved in his
words.  I think his only contemporary equals have probably been
Mario Cuomo and Bill Clinton.

My evaluation of Reagan is mixed, as the legacy of Reagan’s
administration toward gay people reverberates even today.  From
Tyler’s site

Can you believe that the unholy pact President Reagan and the
Republican Party entered with the forces of religious intolerance have
not weakened, but grown exponentially stronger? Can you believe that
the U.S. government is still bowing to right wing extremists and
fighting condom distribution and explicit HIV education, even while
AIDS is killing millions across the world? Or that ‘devout’ Christians
have forced the scrapping of AIDS prevention programs targeted at
HIV-negative gay and bisexual men in favor of bullshit ‘abstinence only
until marriage’ initiatives? Or the shameless duplicity of these same
forces seeking to forever outlaw even the hope of marriage for gay
people? Or that Reagan stalwarts like Buchanan, Bennett and Bauer are
still grinding their homophobic axes?

Much angrier than I would put it, but full of truth.  I would add,
however, that the administration did nothing that didn’t have at least
the tacit approval of the public at large.  AIDS was a scourge
because it did not — theoretically — affect “regular” people. 
AIDS advanced the push for gay rights further and faster than it
probably would have without the plague.  But at what cost?

Could Reagan have stopped the course of the pestilence?  Certainly
no more than he “ended” the Cold War?  But he could have had an
influence, he could have set a tone, he could have done something.  But for doing nothing, he, like any of us, will have to answer.

The Rev. Sen. Danforth reminds us at this moment that we celebrate, in
a funeral, the light that darkness cannot overcome.  And there has
been much reminding those assembled that this is a religious service in
a house of faith.  One of the tenets of the Christian faith lies
in confession, as a key to holiness.  The confession of sin in the
Prayer Book confesses to God “what we have done and what we have left

Did Reagan commit a moral wrong in the way he treated those afflicted
with the scourge of the virus?  I think so.  But so did the
country.  And those actions are something we must all atone for,
and we must, in an effort to rectify the injustice that Ronald Reagan
and the country comitted, we have to continue to look for the justice
of mercy.

On a completely separate note, Bill Clinton appears to be the only
person at the funeral who gets into the music.  He always seems to
be happy singing or listening to music, and he even sways a bit in time.

Posted in Politicks on 11 June 2004 at 1:31 pm by Nate
9 June 2004

Amidst the hagiography…

…a good article regarding the reality of Reagan’s legacy.

I’m watching the service from National Cathedral right now —
ceremonialist that I am — and I hadn’t realized that Senator John
Danforth was ordained to the priesthood.

There’s been much about Reagan’s greatness in the last few days, and I
wonder if most of the public and news leaders have not mistaken
popularity for greatness.  Reagan was extremely popular (although
I am glad to say, for all their faults, not in my nuclear family), but
I wonder if we won’t need another three or four decades to understand
whether or not the events that occurred on his watch were to his credit
or not.  I’m still willing to reserve judgment.  I think that
we’re only now able to assess these things from a great distance —
it’s only now that we can look at Eisenhower and see that he was much
greater than we knew at the time.

More later….

Posted in Politicks on 9 June 2004 at 2:32 pm by Nate