Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I remember quite some time ago, probably around my sophomore year of high school, when the topic in debate was something to the effect of: what is more important, society's goal of eliminating discrimination or the right of people to engage in exclusive, voluntary organizations.

Basically, what matters more: accepting everyone or being able to associate with like-minded people?

Last week, MPR was asking whether or not evangelicals should be able to distribute religious literature preaching against homosexuality at a GLBT Pride festival. Then, on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. There were some funny legal stipulations going on in that case that really dictated the result, but it got me thinking a lot about the question. Basically, the Christian Legal Society (CLS) was told they couldn't get official school recognition (and thereby money and access to campus resources) because they required people to sign a statement of faith and because they didn't want their members to be openly engaged in immoral behavior, including specifically, same-sex relationships. The school apparently has a policy of non-discrimination for their groups. Basically, CLS had to accept "all-comers", that is, anyone who wanted to be a part of the group.

[I do on some level question whether CLS really violates that all-comers requirement with their position. I mean, they'll take all-comers, so long as those individuals are willing to sign up for the requirements... and since the requirements are issues of free will (people can choose whether or not to openly engage in same sex relationships) and not issues of unchangeable status (if the group said "we'll accept all-comers, so long as they're white, that would obviously be beyond the individual's control), maybe they aren't really violating an all-comers policy?] The Supreme Court narrowly said they were violating the policy, and therefore the school could choose not to support CLS.

Which really leads me back to that ultimate question: what's more important? Eliminating discrimination or our right to freely associate? Does the right of free association mean the school should support CLS, even if they're discriminating? How far does that go? Should the large group of people interested in gathering at a GLBT pride festival be able to exclude dissenting viewpoints from their event? Does it matter if it's on public or private grounds? These are big issues. And kind of fun to think about... So, how do you come out on the issue?

Well they come and pull me from my house
And they drag my body through the streets

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On A Prairie Home Death

Some time ago I wrote a review of A Prairie Home Companion, (the movie, not the radio show). You can find it here.

I watched it again a couple of days ago and it's been on my mind ever since. It's an honest and profound movie that deals with the ever-important issue of death. Ultimately, that's what the movie is about. The plot centers loosely around the final show before cancellation. A character dies. Another character is already dead and is coming to bring peace to the dying. There's plenty of philosophical musing on death and how we react to it. And it's the last film Robert Altman did before he died. There's just no way to watch this move and not think about death.

What's truly remarkable though is that A Prairie Home Companion isn't like most "deep" movies, that sort of reference or represent an issue and then pass by it. APHC doesn't just make you aware of death as an issue, but it actually helps viewers to think broadly and deeply about dying. And, as any good discussion of death should do, it also leads you to think broadly and deeply about living.

Garrison Keillor's humor - dark, droll, succinct, almost unexpected - is perhaps the ideal medium for examining death. Take this little exchange for example:

Lola: What if you die some day?
GK: I will die.
Lola: Don't you want people to remember you?
GK: I don't want them to be told to remember me.

It might not read funny, but to hear Garrison Keillor say it evokes one of those "it's funny because it's true" responses. You smirk first. And then you start to think. There's an awful lot packed into those lines:

The power of death's inevitability,
The acceptance of the same,
Wonder about how our deaths will be viewed by others,
That we care deeply about how they'll think about us,
And, in that ultimate stoic response: the fact that we care deeply that they do think about us.

All of those are topics that a person could ruminate on for quite a while, but they're all wrapped up quickly in a couple of lines before Keillor heads out to sing another jingle about powder milk biscuits or rhubarb pie. And in that "the show goes on" element we find the greatest response to death: living. It evokes St. Francis' great answer to the question "if Christ were coming today, what would you do?" Francis, who was working in his garden at the time, answered "I'd keep hoeing." Keillor's answer has that same beauty.

I don't know that I have too much to add to the depth of the movie itself. It's really a pretty comprehensive take on the subject. I'd love to sit down with a class sometime and just listen to what everyone takes from it; there's just so much there.

What I have gotten out of the film is an almost graceful acceptance of death and an urging to love life while it's here. Really, a pretty fantastic message. And a philosophy that I embrace wholeheartedly.

I figure it's fitting to go out, like the movie, on one of Keillor's greatest quotes:

"They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad that I'm going to miss mine by just a few days."

In the sweet by and by
Will shall meet on the beautiful shore

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Phickle Thoughts

Well, it's finally happened: some random employee in a store said "hello" to me and I just naturally said "hello" back, without wondering what the heck was going on. It's good to be back in Minnesota. It only took me 6 months to get back into Minnesota nice.
I've now seen a fair number of the movies that were nominated for Best Picture. So far, I liked A Serious Man the most. It was executed so tightly, nothing extra, nothing unnecessary. Very quality film making. District 9 and Inglorious Basterds were also pretty awesome.

Of course, I still haven't seen the winner, Hurt Locker. But if my cousin-in-law is to be believed, it's just so-so on the accuracy.
Summer in Minnesota is awesome. I'm so glad to be back. It makes the awful winter totally worth it.
My brother-in-law just graduated from high school. He's the youngest of 6 siblings, so it's a pretty big happening. We're just starting off with our family, so the idea of being an empty-nester is... well, it's strange. It's also kind of strange because my family still has a long way to go, what with my younger brother just wrapping up his first year in kindergarten. Yup, I said first year... nah, I'm kidding. He could probably jump to like, 5th grade already.
I just finished reading a pretty boring book, The Myth of the Rational Market. I was expecting more of an economic treatise addressing the ways in which the fact that humans aren't purely rational affects economic realities, and instead I got a history of finance and approaches to the stock market. The former interests me. The later... not so much. I did get a bit of the history of economic ideas and the way economist embraced the concept of rationality and how they are in the midst of a paradigm shift towards a system that recognizes people don't operate as rational consumers/investors.

It's a pretty important topic, especially given the strong libertarian movement in our country that rejects the idea that the government should be involved in directing our market activities and embraces the idea that the market "gets it right." Because even though that idea might be prevalent in our social discourse as things currently stand, it's falling out of favor pretty quickly in academia, and understanding where it came from in the first place helps reveal some of the fatal flaws behind that approach. Behavioral economics is probably the next wave in econ, and, more importantly, can help us understand where government can be useful in tweaking the market, in order to make sure that we really do "get it right."
Finally, I'm very much looking forward to the new Futurama episodes. Can I get a "Puny Earthlings!"?

I'm walking on sunshine