1 December 2004

Why I study germs

In case you don’t know, my research for my dissertation focuses on
disease.  I want to understand why governments and international
organizations
react to epidemics, like HIV/AIDS, as they do.  I do
this for the following reasons:

  • I am fascinated by science, especially the biological ones.
  • The topic has all sorts of fascinating twists, and it keeps me interested in it. It scratched an intellectual itch.
  • Diseases
    affect all of us on the planet, in our societies and politics, whether
    we wish to acknowledge that or not.  The pathogens don’t care
    about anything but their own survival.
  • I have friends who are HIV-positive.  And, except for the
    accident of being born when I was, given who I am, it’s quite likely I
    could have been HIV-positive.  And if I didn’t live in the West,
    or lived a few years earlier, there’s a chance the drugs wouldn’t have
    been around to save me.  It’s very easy to imagine myself as one of the victims of this epidemic or other epidemics.
  • Because
    HIV is and will be the defining international event of our time. 
    For a variety of reasons, we have not even begun to see the deaths that
    the virus will cause.  The great dying-offs are five to ten years
    down the road.
  • Because God asks of our talents to help
    others.  We are supposed to love our neighbors. I can write and I
    can read.  This is what I can do.  This is one form of
    “ministry” — understanding so we can help.

We will face the judgment of our gods and our children for what we
all do or don’t do here.  And who wouldn’t want to be part of
taking on the greatest social, political, economic, and spiritual
challenge of the day? How much more exciting, frustrating, and full
could endeavor be?

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 1 December 2004 at 11:23 pm by Nate
27 November 2004

Turkey with curry

I’ve never been too fond of the various models of American diversity
that float aorund out there.  The “melting pot” metaphor reduces
too much, homogenizing all things, in some sense.  The “tossed
salad” metaphor doesn’t really work either, as it means that the
separate elements retain their separate natures, not being changed in
the process of encountering one another.

This article from Thursday’s paper exemplifies my new idea for an American national blending metaphor — turkey with curry.

Thanksgiving, which began as a party for immigrants, remains the most
accessible American holiday for many newcomers. It requires no specific
religious or political allegiance. Even if an immigrant is from a
culture where whole roast turkey is never on the menu – and that is
nearly everywhere except North America – most are willing to give it a
try.

Everybody’s got a common element: the turkey.  And everyone does
is somewhat differently, putting their own spin on the common part:
Mexican-descent Americans simmering the bird in garlic and onions
before baking, Indians using curry, and Arabs “bathing it in lemon and
olive oil and stuffing it with rice, beef and pine nuts.”

“Turkey has become so iconic to our mythic heritage that by cooking
that turkey, even if you don’t like it, you are part of something
bigger,” said Lucy Long, a professor of popular culture at Bowling
Green State University and the author of “Culinary Tourism” (University
Press of Kentucky, 2003). “You are symbolically showing unity.”

Of
course that translates into a nation of cross-cultural Thanksgivings,
where sticky rice stuffing edges out corn bread, and curry fights with
gravy for dominance on overloaded plates.

Fernando Rojas, an
immigration lawyer in Miami, came to the United States from Colombia
with his family when he was a boy. His wife, Jeanette Martinez, is
Puerto Rican. They will share their Thanksgiving meal with his Cuban
and Colombian godparents. The critical mass of Latin cultures means a
spread that could put Manhattan’s best fusion chefs to shame: roast
turkey rubbed with garlicky adobo sauce, served alongside plantains,
roast pork and platters of black beans and rice.

That’s more American than melting pots or tossed salads.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 27 November 2004 at 12:12 pm by Nate
15 November 2004

U2 soon

Only seven more days of waiting.

Tensions between intellect and passion, and between pragmatism and
faith, drive the songs on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”; so do
burly guitar riffs, galvanizing crescendos and fearlessly emotional
vocals. The album easily stands alongside the best work of U2’s career
– “Boy,” “War,” “The Joshua Tree” and “Achtung Baby” – and, song for
song, it’s more consistent than any of them….

U2 is almost alone now among rock bands in its determination to merge
lofty ambition and pop impact. With songs that determinedly blur divine
and earthly love, seeking grace as often as romance, the band doesn’t
pander to vulgar impulses….

As usual, the songs don’t bother with petty topics: Bono sings about
mortality, the meaning of life, social justice, fame, science and the
heroic intimacy of love….

Bono: “To have faith in a time of religious fervor is a worry. And, you know,
I do have faith, and I’m worried about even the subject because of the
sort of fanaticism that is the next-door neighbor of faith. The trick
in the next few years will be not to decry the religious instinct, but
to accept that this is a hugely important part of people’s lives. And
at the same time to be very wary of people who believe that theirs is
the only way. Unilateralism before God is dangerous.”

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 15 November 2004 at 8:43 pm by Nate
31 October 2004

Give thanks to the Sox, for they are great…

In the Fourth
Tone

Antiphon:  Give thanks unto
the Sox, for they are great*
their right hands and mighty arms have given us the victory.

Sorely have they afflicted me from my youth, let Boston now
say*
sorely have they afflicted me from my
youth.

Too long have we borne the jeers
of Gotham*
too long the Yankees have humbled us to the dust.

Antiphon

And when I looked toSt. Louis, my heart cleaved to my
mouth*
but in the morning, they were not to be
seen
by midnight the Cardinals had been clean swept away.

Form a procession from the gates of Fenway into the midst
of the city*
let all the faithful of Beantown clap their
hands in joy

Antiphon

How beautiful are the feet of them*
that hit homers with players on
base.
There goes David mighty batter before the crowd*
there go Johnny and Trent in the midst of
them.

Antiphon

The right hand of Curt has triumphed! *

The right hand
of Pedro has been victorious!

As for me and my house, we shall sleep in
rest and quietness*
for the Pennant Race and World Series are over
at last.

Antiphon: Give thanks unto
the Sox, for they are great *
Their right hands and mighty arms have given us the victory.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 31 October 2004 at 10:51 am by Nate
17 August 2004

Save California!

We’re gonna burn up!


Seriously, the US needs us.  For basic economic reasons, at the least.  Besides, who will 8 out of 9 Americans laugh at if we burn to a crisp?  New Englanders? North Dakotans?  Come on….

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 17 August 2004 at 3:19 pm by Nate
15 August 2004

Olympic whining

BF and I have been watching the Olympics for the last couple of
days.  If you’ve been watching during this Olympics or any in the
past, you have seen at least some of these “athlete profiles” that they
do each time.  The trope is pretty much the same: lots of talent,
good but not great in the past, some sort of crystallizing event
(usually a tragedy of a personal nature), a renewed resolve to be
better and greater, and then some sort of preliminary result that
indicates that greatness could be around the corner for the
athlete.  But the personal tragedy often comes across as something
that mere mortals cannot understand, the sacrifices extreme, the penury
of their lives almost Russian in its tragic pathos.

And it’s just disgusting.

Case in point: gymnist Mohini Bhardwaj had a profile on Sunday
night, and the piece talked about the obstacles she has had to
overcome.  Made a comeback two years ago at 23, dislocated elbow
injury just recently, and the whole litany of the normal we hear. 
But then we get a decent amount of the piece, listening to Bhardwaj and
the people around her complain about the low-status, badly paying jobs
she has to work.  She has to deliver pizza to make money, she had
to live on PowerBars for a week because she couldn’t buy food, she just
never seems to have enough money to live on.  He coach thinks that
it’s wrong that a Olympic athlete has to live like this to pursue their
dream.  Bhardwaj comes across rather haughtily, saying that she’s
sure she could get a “real job,” but she guesses she’ll just have to
keep delivering pizzas if she wants to be an Olympic athlete.

What about the people who have to work these jobs because it’s all
they can do?  What about people who don’t have health insurance
but who also have kids to take care of?  What about people who
don’t have the option to go get a “real job”?  Besides, if money
seems that important to you, then give up the Olympics and get one of
those “real jobs.”  You’ve made choices to pursue your dreams and
the glory of the Olympics, and that may or may not include money or
ease. But don’t go to the Olympics and speak in such a way as make it
seem like you’re dealing with real adversity (when it seems that all
the adversity you face is aging and a low-paying pizza delivery job).

You have your health and a working, able body.  You have to
ability to take care of yourself.  You have a support structure of
some sort around you (coaches and trainers, at the least).  You
have the potential after the Olympics to use your status as an Olympian
to provide for yourself.

Let me be clear.  Bhardwaj certainly is not the only Olympian
who comes across in such a way in these pieces, but she seemed an
especially egregious version of the type.

After the piece, we learned that Bhardwaj got $20,000 from Pamela Anderson. 

Hmm.  A serving of adversity, anyone?  Sounds lucrative to me….

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 15 August 2004 at 10:53 pm by Nate
5 August 2004

One more thing

So I’m gonna work on my dissertation work and some longer, essay postings in the next little while.  So I will refrain a bit from the shorter posts that I have been at since the DNC.  Which doesn’t mean that I won’t be updating here.  Just not several times a day.


But be sure to come back regularly!

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 5 August 2004 at 12:25 am by Nate
19 June 2004

Weddings

   

    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
us. 

    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
3 June 2004

Marryin’ thoughts

So some of the furor over allowing gays to marry civilly has died down, and, predictably, I have some thoughts about it.

God, it’s a good thing.  Just from the legal standpoint alone, it
simplifies a number of matters.  BF and I are going through the
process of designating each other as our health-care proxies. 
What this means is that in the event that either of us is unable to
make our own decisions regarding the care that we wish to receive, the
other will be the person empowered to act.  We’re doing this for
two reasons.  First, for both of us, the other partner is the
person we believe best knows our wishes and desires for how we want our
health care to proceed.  Secondly, since we have no real legal
status toward one another, our next-of-kin would be the person
empowered to make health care decisions; in my case, at least, some
members of my family don’t approve of my relationship with BF and I
want to make sure both that he is the ultimate arbiter of my care and
that he is not excluded from taking care of me if something were to
happen.

We’re also going to go about registering as domestic partners in a
couple of months when our travels are over, primarily for the benefits,
as Harvard grad students are much better taken care of than students at
his university.

But all of this reminds me of how incredibly complicated the creation
of legal pathways to respect one’s wishes can be.  And with the
marriage option finally open, there are plenty of people who keep
asking when we’re gonna tie the knot (which has even sparked an article in The Onion). 
But our situation is more complicated than the simple act of getting
married.  BF’s future employers, which will likely be Catholic
theology departments, may not look kindly upon his having a civil
marriage to another man, and they may even deny him a “mandatum” (a
sort of teachng license for Roman Catholic laity) because his marriage
would violate church law and teaching.  So part of the decision
comes down to job versus marriage benefits.  It’s not solely that,
but that’s at least a moderate consideration.  And I’m not sure
how we’ll navigate that one.  We love our jobs and we love each
other, and I don’t think either of us wants to have to choose.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 3 June 2004 at 6:51 pm by Nate
23 May 2004

RDA of history

I’ve become addicted over the last week to Colonial House,
PBS’ “reality series”, where 21st century people get plopped into a
situation as close to 1628 as can be made, and we get to watch them try
to live 400 years ago.  It’s reality TV for nerds.

It’s quite amusing to watch people try to live in 1628 without the
realization that they would be entirely different people had they lived
in that time.  One of the women on the show, Michele
Rossi-Voorhees, would not attend the mandatory Sabbath services,
because she found the religious expression there antithetical to her
own beliefs: she doesn’t believe in God but she does believe in the sun, moon, animals, nature, and what she finds
there that challenges her to think about her place in the order of it
all.  She asks at one point how a person like her (a religious
non-believer) would have lived in 1628, noting that she probably would
have had to just keep quiet about her beliefs.  But she fails to
understand that she wouldn’t have had her beliefs in 1628!  Even
is she wasn’t so enthused about church, she would have been outwardly
observant for the sake of social propriety, and I highly doubt she
would have dared to express any such thoughts to others.  And she
almost certainly would not have doubted the Judeo-Christian God’s
existence.  Such a set of ideas would have been outside the
purview of existence.

Other examples of mental anachronism abound in the show.  And I’m not
meaning to rag on these people who lived like early American colonists
for four months.  But it really does demonstrate to me that we as
social beings are extremely formed by the times and places in which we
live.  We can do our best to live in the 17th century, and the
people of Colonial House did
an extraordinary job of adapting the mentality and physicality of life
in 1628 New England.  But even so, the entry into that world
requires a massive surrender of what we know and hold dear and a
remarkable sense of humility toward the social order of their
world.  The people of 1628 were not stupid — at least no more
than we are — and their “strange, offensive” rules had a purpose and a
logic.  The purpose and logic for most of those rules
no longer obtains or exists, and we have rightly come to understand
that many of their social arrangements regarding women, servitude,
sexual matters, and religion were unfair, rooted in particular not
universal understandings, and in need of change.  (Perhaps the
greatest irony that the CH participants found was that the colonists
who came for religious freedom were as quick to impose strict religious
requirements and homogeniety of belief as had the hated religious
officials of the old country.)

Anyway, the final half of the series is on tonight and tomorrow night from 8 to 10 PM.  Check it out.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 23 May 2004 at 6:12 pm by Nate