Wednesday, January 31, 2007

9/11, in perspective

So why has there been such an overreaction [to 9/11]? Unfortunately, the commentators who detect one have generally explained it in a tired, predictably ideological way: calling the United States a uniquely paranoid aggressor that always overreacts to provocation.

And maybe the reason for that is that the US has not in contemporary times (with contemporary weapons) had a war fought on its shores, and so its citizens are probably insulated from just how terrible war is.

Anyway, read the rest of the article. It's quite insightful.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Helping my students find their voice.

I altered my teaching style a little this semester. In the past, I would go through a series of straight lectures on the topic at hand, with only a few short interruptions to Socratically discuss the more complex parts of the text, and then I would just wait until the end of the lectures on each text to engage in a more free-flowing discussion of the students' reactions to the text we were reading.

This semester, however, I decided to incorporate the free-flowing discussions in every session. Every class I introduce at least one provocative question related to the topic that I get my students to discuss, and allow the discussion to go where it may. The only exception to my discussion-in-every-class rule is when we're running late in our itinerary and have to finish our topic quickly; but even during those times, I give my students a story or an insight which is provocative enough to get them thinking.

I'm not sure if it's a mere coincidence, but it seems that this pedagogical method has been helpful for my students. They recently accomplished their first essay for the semester, and most of the essays reveal that my students have developed a sense of confidence in their own voices, a willingness to go beyond the texts to explain their own thoughts. In comparison, my students in the past semesters were much more timid, much more liable to stick to the text or to what I said in class (sometimes almost verbatim).

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ethics of Consumption

This weekend, I started trying to eliminate my backlog of unread books. Last night I began reading Ethics of Consumption a compilation of scholarly article on, well, the ethics of consumption by ethicists, philosophers, economists, and social scientists.

Two possible projects:


(1) I'm not sure if any research has been done in the Philippines regarding ethical views towards buying among consumers. If there is no such research, I would like to undertake it, although of course I'd need to learn how to undertake an empirical study. (I did a course on Experimental Psychology in college, so I do have a teeny bit of background, but of course it isn't enough.)


(2) Another interesting point in the book is the reflection on what can be considered "sufficient" for a person. In my undergraduate Theology of Liberation class, we were introduced to the notion that a person is "poor" when he is a "non-person," implying not only an economic state but also a sociological state where a person lives without dignity.

On both the economic and sociological counts, this is a muddled definition. What we in the contemporary age would consider to be "necessary for survival" is different form what people would consider to be such 500 years ago.

Even more complex is the question of what is it to live "with dignity." Other scholarly articles also allude to sociological measures such as "happiness" or self-perceptions of poverty. One of the articles I was reading in the book suggested, however, that, as one might expect, one's perception of how poor one is has more to do with one's relative standing in society, or how one is treated in society, than one's absolute income or economic state.

If that is the case, then it would seem that at least one aspect of "poverty" is not so much a question of income but a question of how people ought to be treating one another.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Dawn of the New Age of the American Empire, for real?

I used to regard the phrase "American Imperialism" as an anachronistic historical concept, as a hyperbolic description of the dominance of U.S. popular culture around the world, or as Philippine leftist rhetoric.

But just today, I have read allusions to a new American empire twice, both from North Americans.

This morning I read a few chapters of Why Nations Go To War, a book my mom got from her college and which she left here in the Philippines for me to read, the last time she was here. The author is John G. Stoessinger, Ph.D. (Harvard), "Distinguished Professor of Global Diplomacy" at the University of San Diego.

... the United States, for the first time in its history, fought a war of choice, not of necessity. By going to war in March 2003, it put into action a doctirine of preempting in order to remove a dictator and to attempt to turn his county into a democracy. By doing so, the American republic took a first step toward becoming an imperial power.

Top officials in the Bush administration actually convened a seminar on June 16, 2003, on the subject of "Rules and Tools for Running an Empire." [323-328]

Then, while doing my daily skimming of articles indexed on Arts and Letters Daily, I read Colby Cosh's column, "Does America Need a Foreign Legion?" The column begins its argument for an American foreign legion with the observation that "today little energy remains behind U.S. resistance to the imperial temptation. President Bush's 2000 electoral promise to pursue a 'humble' foreign policy has become a joke. Sept. 11 proved it is no longer in his power, or anyone else's."


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Christus Apollo

Some of my students laughed when I mentioned once in class that Christology has to contend with the question of life on other planets. Today I found this, by Ray Bradbury. Bless his soul. What a wonderful image of Christ.

Happy New Year. And in advance, happy Feast of the Epiphany!


christus apollo
by Ray Bradbury

cantata celebrating the eighth day

of creation and the promise

of the ninth

A Voice spoke in the dark,
And there was Light.
And summoned up by Light upon the Earth
The creatures swam
And moved unto the land
And lived in garden wilderness;
All this, we know.
The Seven Days are written in our blood
With hand of Fire.
And now we children of the seven eternal days
Inheritors of this, the Eighth Day of God,
The long Eighth Day of Man,
Stand upright in a weather of Time
In downfell snow
And hear the birds of morning
And much want wings
And look upon the beckonings of stars,
And need their fire.
In this time of Christmas,
We celebrate the Eighth Day of Man,
The Eighth Day of God,
Two billion years unending
From the first sunrise on Earth
To the last sunrise at our Going Away.
And the Ninth Day of the History of God
And the flesh of God which names itself Man
Will be spent on wings of fire
Claimed from sun and far burnings of sun starlight.
And the Ninth Day’s sunrise
Will show us forth in light and wild surmise
Upon an even further shore.
We seek new Gardens there to know ourselves.
We seek new Wilderness,
And send us forth in wandering search.
Apollo’s missions move, and Christus seek,
And wonder as we look among the stars
Did He know these?
In some far universal Deep
Did He tread Space
And visit worlds beyond our blood-warm dreaming?
Did He come down on lonely shore by sea
Not unlike Galilee
And are there Mangers on far worlds that knew His light?
And Virgins?
Sweet Pronouncements?
Annunciations? Visitations from angelic hosts?
And, shivering vast light among ten billion lights,
Was there some Star much like the star at Bethlehem
That struck the sight with awe and revelation
Upon a cold and most strange morn?
On worlds gone wandering and lost from this
Did Wise Men gather in the dawn
In cloudy steams of Beast
Within a place of straw now quickened to a Shrine
To look upon a stranger Child than ours?
How many stars of Bethlehem burnt bright
Beyond Orion or Centauri’s blinding arc?
How many miracles of birth all innocent
Have blessed those worlds?
Does Herod tremble there
In dread facsimile of our dark and murderous King?
Does that mad keeper of an unimaginable realm
Send stranger soldiers forth
To slaughter down the Innocents
Of lands beyond the Horsehead Nebula?
It must be so.
For in this time of Christmas
In the long Day totalling up to Eight,
We see the light, we know the dark;
And creatures lifted, born, thrust free of so much night
No matter what the world or time or circumstance
Must love the light,
So, children of all lost unnumbered suns
Must fear the dark
Which mingles in a shadowing-forth on air.
And swarms the blood.
No matter what the color, shape, or size
Of beings who keep souls like breathing coals
In long midnights,
They must need saving of themselves.
So on far worlds in snowfalls deep and clear
Imagine how the rounding out of some dark year
Might celebrate with birthing one miraculous child!
A child?
Born in Andromeda’s out-swept mysteries?
Then count its hands, its fingers,
Eyes, and most incredible holy limbs!
The sum of each?
No matter. Cease.
Let Child be fire as blue as water under Moon.
Let Child sport free in tides with human-seeming fish.
Let ink of octopi inhabit blood
Let skin take acid rains of chemistry
All falling down in nightmare storms of cleansing burn.
Christ wanders in the Universe
A flesh of stars,
He takes on creature shapes
To suit the mildest elements,
He dresses him in flesh beyond our ken.
There He walks, glides, flies, shambling of strangeness.
Here He walks Men.
Among the ten trillion beams
A billion Bible scrolls are scored
In hieroglyphs among God’s amplitudes of worlds;
In alphabet multitudinous
Tongues which are not quite tongues
Sigh, sibilate, wonder, cry:
As Christ comes manifest from a thunder-crimsoned sky.
He walks upon the molecules of seas
All boiling stews of beast
All maddened broth and brew and rising up of yeast.
There Christ by many names is known.
We call him thus.
They call him otherwise.
His name on any mouth would be a sweet surprise.
He comes with gifts for all,
Here: wine and bread.
There: nameless foods
At breakfasts where the morsels fall from stars
And Last Suppers are doled forth with stuff of dreams.
So sit they there in times before the Man is crucified.
Here He has long been dead.
There He has not yet died.
Yet, still unsure, and all being doubt,
Much frightened man on Earth does cast about
And clothe himself in steel
And borrow fire
And himself in the great glass of the careless Void admire.
Man builds him rockets
And on thunder strides
In humble goings-forth
And most understandable prides.
Fearing that all else slumbers,
That ten billion worlds lie still,
We, grateful for the Prize and benefit of life,
Go to offer bread and harvest wine;
The blood and flesh of Him we Will
To other stars and worlds about those stars.
We cargo holy flesh
On stranger visitations,
Send forth angelic hosts,
To farflung worlds
To tell our walking on the waters of deep Space,
Arrivals, swift departures
Of most miraculous man
Who, God fuse-locked in every cell
Beats holy blood
And treads the tidal flood
And ocean shore of Universe,
A miracle of fish
We father, gather, build and strew
In metals to the winds
That circle Earth and wander Night beyond all Nights.
We soar, all arch-angelic, fire-sustained
In vast cathedral, aery apse, in domeless vault
Of constellations all blind dazzlement.
Christ is not dead
Nor does God sleep
While waking Man
Goes striding on the Deep
To birth ourselves anew
And love rebirth
From fear of straying long
On outworn Earth.
One harvest in, we broadcast seed for further reaping.
Thus ending Death
And Night,
And Time’s demise,
And senseless weeping.
We seek for mangers in the Pleides
Where man the god-fleshed wandering babe
May lay him down with such as these
Who once drew round and worshipped innocence.
New Mangers lie waiting!
New Wise men Descry
Our hosts of machineries
Which write immortal life
And sign it God!
Down, down Alien skies.
And flown and gone, arrived and bedded safe to sleep
Upon some winters morning deep
Ten billion years of light
From where we stand us now and sing,
There will be time to cry eternal gratitudes
Time to know and see and love the Gift of Life itself,
Always diminished,
Always restored,
Out of one hand and into the other
Of the Lord.
Then wake we in that far lost
Nightmare keep of Beast
And see our star recelebrated in an East
Beyond all Easts.
Beyond a snowdrift sifting down of stars.
In this time of Christmas
Think on that Morn ahead!
For this let all your fears, your cries,
Your tears, your blood and prayers be shed!
All numb and wild one day
You shall be reborn
And hear the Trump break forth from rocket-trembled air
All humbled, all shorn
Of pride, but free of despair.
Now listen! Now hear!
It is the Ninth Day’s morn!
Christ is risen!
God survives!
Gather, Universe!
Look, ye stars!
In the exultant countries of Space
In a sudden simple pasture
Far beyond Andromeda!
O Glory, Glory, a New Christmas
From the very pitch and rim of Death,
Snatched from his universal grip,
His teeth, his most cold breath!
Under a most strange sun
O Christ, O God,
O man breathed out of most incredible stuffs,
You are the Savior’s Savior,
God’s pulse and heart-companion,
You! The Host He lifts
On high to consecrate;
His dear need to know and touch and cry wonders
At Himself.
In this time of Christmas
In this holy time
Know yourself most rare!
Beyond the vast Abyss
See those men grown Wise
Who gather with their gifts
Which are but Life!
And Life that knows no end.
Behold the rockets, more than chaff, on air,
All seed that save a holy seed
And cast it everywhere in mindless Dark.
In this time of Christmas
This holy time of Christmas,
Like Him, you are God’s son!
One Son? Many?
All are gathered now to One
And will wake cradled in Beast-summer breath
That warms the sleeping child to life eternal.
You must go there.
In the long winter of Space
And lie you down in grateful innocence
At last to sleep.
O New Christmas,
O God, far-motioning.
O Christ-of-many-fleshed made one,
Leave Earth!
God Himself cries out.
He Goes to Prepare the Way
For your rebirth
In a new time of Christmas,
A holy time of Christmas,
This New Time of Christmas,
From all this stay?
No, Man. You must not linger, wonder.
No, Christ. You must not pause.
It is the Time of Going Away.
Arise, and go.
Be born. Be born.
Welcome the morning of the Ninth Day.
It is the Time of Going away.
Praise God for this Annunciation!
Give praise,
For the time of Christmas
And the Ninth Day,
Which is Forever’s Celebration!