Thursday, July 28, 2005

I have heard (and you probably have too) that the Greeks had four different words for love, and it is mostly true though not nearly as true as pastors and theologians would have us believe. Natalie has three different words for happiness:

Delight is sharp, piercing. It is ephemeral, but intense and hot and bright. Delight is a rush, the kind of happiness that stops up your throat and feels like it's about to come spilling out of your eyes. It can make the world fade away - or perhaps I will say it better if I say that the world folds itself up into a single object or feeling or sensation. I associate it with polkas that take your breath away and with redowa chases and especially passionate waltzes that crush the whole world into a circle of arms, with certain times when Esther Selene (I hope she won't mind my saying this) was in my arms or in my eyes.

Happiness is soaring, uplifting. It is broader and mellower than a mere moment, but higher and grander. Happiness can be wild and sylvan or tender and velvet, and it is not as intense as delight but higher and longer. Happiness if full of hope and of laughter and merriment. I associate it with being at Jammix after a long absence, with friends long gone and recently returned, with Christmas, and with the beginnings and end of adventures (adventure, you must remember, is a love word in Natalie).

Joy is deep and throbbing. It is broader still than happiness - so broad that time does not really apply to it. It is in your bones and deeper, low and humming across length and breadth. It is not hot and bright but it is full of power, so full that it is sometimes giddy and sometimes terrible. It can be like longing, but I think it is more like recognition of a profound hunger. Longing looks to the future and I think there is very little of hope in joy. It is what it is, crushing and terrible but soft and full of grace. I associate it with certain moments of worship, with remembrance of God, with obedience, with the family, with Blue Rose.

As long as we're on the subject I should make a few caveats as well. I do not associate any of these things with an opposite in the way that some people mean when they hypothesize that happiness and sadness are really two sides of the same coin. I can see that that might be comforting for some people when they are sad but for myself I think it is rubbish. I see that sadness can sometimes make us appreciate happiness (I mean it in the general and not the specific sense) more than we used to, but as I perceive it happiness is its own thing, and on the whole it is diminished by sadness rather than enhanced. If we required knowledge of sadness to have happiness by the nature of the thing, then I do not think happiness would be happiness at all.

Nor do I associate any of these kinds of happiness with enlightenment or wisdom, although I hope that I have made them sound as transcendent as they seem to me. For that matter I do not associate wisdom or enlightenment with suffering, either. I have met a fair number of people who have suffered more or less horribly, and none of them seem to have been made wise thereby although I consider a few of them wise nonetheless. I strongly suspect that several have been made more foolish.

Finally, I do not associate any of these things with satisfaction or fulfillment. I think I have had more than my share of both happiness and fulfillment, and I am now convinced that fulfillment is not to be found in happiness.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I have heard the Chronicles of Narnia described as "brilliant" or a "masterpiece" before, but until I began rereading them again just this month I had no idea why people talked about them so. You must remember it has been ten years or more since I read them last, so although I knew in theory that they were allegorical I mostly took my mother's word for it. "Allegorical" does not actually begin to cut it.

When I was in high school (which was the last time I made any formal study of English, with the exception of one class as a freshman at Stanford) we talked a lot about Christ figures. I feel like people talk a lot about Christ figures in literature, and I do believe that after finishing the Chronicles as an adult (am I an adult?) I will find such talk even sillier than I found it in high school. The reason is this: generally, when people put a Christ figure into their stories, they put in a figure that stands for some idea that Christ in turn stands for. Perhaps it is the idea of the Dying God, or the idea of Sacrifice, or the idea of New Life. But when Lewis put a Christ figure into the Chronicles, that figure stood for the person of Christ, in many aspects. Usually, a Christ figure communicates only an idea. Aslan communicates a character. And he does it quite well. Lewis once said that he hoped children, reading the Chronicles, would recognize Jesus the more easily when they were older thereby. I am having the opposite experience. I am reading about Aslan and saying, "I know that person! That is exactly what he's like!"

But what makes the Chronicles a brilliant masterpiece, I think, is that the allegory goes far deeper than just Aslan. I feel as if almost every page is packed with allegory. These are, I suppose, books about what it is like to be Christian. And the truth is that it doesn't come across as heavy-handed to me at all. Obvious ... obvious, perhaps, but I am not at all sure how obvious it all is to someone who isn't already Christian. But more important than their obviousness or obscurity, now that I am reading, is their accuracy. More perfectly than any story I have ever imagined (and certainly more than any I have ever read or heard), the Chronicles capture what it is like. The world of Narnia is really not like our own world at all, and yet if you know what to look for you hardly notice that - that's the genius of the allegory, what makes them an allegory among allegories. And what a good time for these to come back into my life, too. I feel as if the air of Narnia were working on me these past months, and soon enough I shall be ready for adventures once more.

I'm reading The Silver Chair right now, and the following passage struck me as so sweet that I just had to repost it. How I would love to storytime these some time! I hope you find this as sweet as I just did:

"Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water with her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realised that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I don't usually do this, but allow me to squeal for a moment.

SHE'S BACK!! Thea is back in L.A. - living in Woodland Hills, no less! Oh my, that's so exciting. I can't wait to see her. It's been years, and I thought I'd never see her again ... but she's back! She's back, she's back, she's back!

Now that that's done, we return to our regularly scheduled introspection. Why is it important that she's back? Other than the fact that she's my friend ... my old friend, my dear friend, Thea. I think it has to do with something Michelle Manley said at The River once: we value gifts because they remind us of the giver. And there's something of that going on here.

In many ways I think my generation, and the generation immediately preceding, will be remembered as the Rise of the Nerds. Every six months or so you can find an article rehashing the old saw (it's an old saw now) that nerds make better boyfriends\\husbands\\lovers. And nerdy activities phase into the mainstream, and nerds do something like found Google and become cool. I feel like society is progressively recognizing our general worth (or maybe I'm just getting older, and this happens to every generation). Which is fine, because we do have a lot to offer.

But one of the problems many of us have had (and I know I've talked about this before, but bear with me) is self-esteem. Particularly as pertains to girls. Did you guys watch Beauty and the Geek? One of the things the girls generally seemed to consider a goal was to teach the guys that they do have what it takes to take on the world of girls. Getting that into your skull (and into your heart and your bones) is one of the most life-changing experiences a nerd can experience. And, for Christian nerds, one of the biggest spiritual growth spurts. And I am firmly convinced that nothing conveys that experience like a pretty girl believing in you. It is a gift, a precious gift, that I believe God earnestly desires to give to all those who don't have it.

In my life that gift came through five pretty girls. Thea was the first. My old friend.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I had to post the following from today's Penny Arcade. If you don't understand why people like Penny Arcade, it's because they have a feel for what it means to be a gamer and they can express it eloquently. Witness:

Proponents of our medium, your host included of course, use the term "art" to describe games because that software has been the catalyst for transcendent experiences. That said, we approach it with a suite of highly specialized, hyper-refined skills that allow us access to it. Most people don't don personas with an easy motion of the wrist. And it's not hard to see why they might fixate on superficial elements like "violence" when the fact of the matter is that they lack the skillset to fully discern electronic space, to take the mantle upon them and manifest another life.

Simultaneously, I think it's rare that we as players truly think about what it would mean for a game to be "art," straight up, with no qualifications. I'm not even sure the two terms can abide without rancor in the same sentence. Games are products, we buy them, and like other things we buy we have a reasonable expectation that it will produce a certain quantity of "amusement" before we have exhausted its supply. This definition is not sufficient to describe art. Art can be illegible. It can be exhausting. It can be maddening, offensive, and
revelatory. Sometimes, it is literally Our Savior in a jar of pee. There is certainly no guarantee that you may be amused consistently; we take it for granted when we play a game that such was their intention, even if they have failed in it. Art can and will elude you. I'm fairly certain these themes are incompatible with the entire anatomy of consumerism.

As a side note, the current series is pretty funny. I try not to link to things on my blog, but because this present series of comics represents the hopes and dreams of many of my kind, I link to it in this sentence. I shall return to this theme below, after the following rant.

It's funny that Tycho (for the uninitiated, that's not a blogname, that's his pen name) should post the italicized text above only a day after Dad and I were once more lamenting the diminishing of the serious wargame market. I have reasonable hopes for Starsiege: 2845 to be fun, and I have reasonable hopes that it will be a good depiction of the universe. But let me tell you, if I were making that game, things would be different, and I would happily send anybody who couldn't handle it crying to their mothers.

The thing of it is, though, that the skills required to "handle it" are just that - a specialized skillset that very few gamers have. I'm willing to bet that if you asked your average gamer, who can soak in most aesthetics without even trying, how armor works, they'd give you a blank stare. Most of them think that "tank" means "something whose job is to get shot." And they haven't got a clue what "sniping" actually means. Sigh. All I can do is try to educate people, I suppose.

And speaking of educating people, that is why you need to read the comics I linked to above (there are four as of this posting). There was a time when I couldn't imagine being romantic with someone who didn't have the skillsets necessary to process games as art. That time is past. And now, can you imagine me dating someone who doesn't dance? But that is silly too.

It is silly for two reasons. First, because having the skillset isn't anywhere near as important as having the willingness to try and acquire it - and that isn't anywhere near as important as loving the fact that I have it. Second, because the only real reason why I want to date a dancer (and the only real reason why that comic has resonance) is because it's a point of shared adventure - an activity that lets the two of you share a deeply cherished experienced. But the point of romance is learning to find more of those, and who is to say that the ones you truly share are supposed to be the ones that came ready-made?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A few quick thoughts while I'm trying to clear my head of all the preferences law that I'm trying to force through it. I shall post these in reverse order of happiness so the post does not end on a downer.

First off, I'm glad my sister and her students are safe. Once again, may the counter-terrorism forces of the United Kingdom have good clean targets and shoot straight. But of course that isn't a real solution. The only real solution to this kind of Muslim extremist neoterrorism has got to be social, political, and economic. Why so few people seem to recognize that the Iraq war is a multigenerational regional engineering project, to create a Middle East which no longer fosters this kind of I'm-a-disgruntled-anachronism-with-a-bomb brand of Islam, I don't know. And, following my sister's example, that's all I'm going to say about that, lest I get ... emotional.

Second, although I have become much more tolerant of alcohol and am expanding the repertoire of wines that I like (another item on the list of gentlemanly skills: How to Drink Wine), I still have essentially zero tolerance for intoxication. I try to be polite about it, but the fact of the matter is that people (and especially friends) getting drunk, tipsy, or even noticeably buzzed in my presence feels like a major betrayal (I have decided, actually, it is probably number 2 or 3 on the list of major betrayals). I understand that I have friends who get drunk, tipsy, and/or buzzed on a regular basis, and while I think it's a stupid activity which I have no real problem condemning in the strongest terms, generally speaking they're polite enough not to do it in my presence. Coworkers, sadly, do not always know me as well. That or they're just not as polite. Probably the former.

Third, the Fourth of July was wonderful. There was good food, the weather was nice, there was a fire started by fireworks very close to my house that the fire department put out before it could burn anyone's house down (stupid stupid people ... the west San Fernando Valley in summer is not a place to be screwing around with incendiaries). And I had a great time in the pool with Twilight, Ayudaren, Kathelia, and Lionell, four squeegees, two mops, and two balls (not to mention the tactopi and tictofish). They just showed up with these cleaning implements and balls and said, "Let's make up a game." So Calvinball-ish. The game ended up being kind of like human foosball and kind of like pool volleyball and kind of like soccer and a little like squash: the pool was divided in half and each team was not allowed to cross over the center line. The goal was for the people in front to get the ball into the goal on the other side of the pool, and each team's goal had a goalie who was allowed to touch the ball with a mop but not with any part of his body. The game was made even more complicated by the fact that the two sides of the pool, while equal in terms of difficulty, were unequal in terms of topography. The deep end had a small goal but was, you know, the deep end, and the shallow end had a wider goal but let people stand up. Quite possibly the best pool game ever. And afterwards we had those glow-tube things, and when Kath started decorating her bathing suit with them Lionell and I decided that clearly we needed to make armor out of them, so we did. Here's to not growing up!

Fourth, yesterday I and three of my aforesaid coworkers (of whom, mind you, I am generally fond) spent our day with Public Counsel. This meant we (and two other summer associates, plus two full-time Public Counsel people) walked around the lobby of a county Department of Public Social Services office talking to the people waiting there and offering our help to clear up any problems that might have arisen with their applications for General Relief (welfare) or food stamps (which are actually on a credit card nowadays, but are still called food stamps). I'm sure you didn't know that sometimes the county is less than helpful to these people, but now you do.

It makes me happy to know that this kind of free public interest work has been the tradition of all lawyers (not just public interest lawyers, though they do it full time) for the past 450 years. I'm not a lawyer yet, of course, but it's amazing what a difference it can make just to have somebody show up who knows a little bit about the law and is willing to take the applicants' side. I spent my whole day with a mostly-blind guy whose benefits had been cut off, and it was amazing what a difference that made for him. We ultimately didn't get his back benefits reinstated (it was technically his fault that they had been cut off, and the rule wasn't even really a stupid one in general, although it was in this specific case), but he was actually okay with that and it really meant a lot to him that we were there to even try. And even having me there in the office with him while he reapplied for benefits made a huge difference, apparently - both in the way he felt about the experience and, apparently, in how helpful the county was. Now, I don't really feel like judging the county's level of service (wow, look at that - I'm not judging somebody who is operating at a mediocre level), since I'm sure that working that kind of job you learn real quick to be cynical about the whole process. Don't really approve of that, but I can't find it in me to condemn them real strongly. But regardless, my presence there made the whole process a dignifying experience for this guy. Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, July 04, 2005

As I've gotten older I've become more philosophical about Independence Day. I used to be pretty cynical about it - particularly around tenth grade, when I found out that the American colonies had the highest per capita standard of living in the world at the time of the revolution. Nowadays I understand a little better the constitutional violations the revolutionaries were concerned about, but mostly I figure that I know of no nation which has an admirable birth and ours is not bad, as national foundings go. It's a sign of the world's brokenness that a place like America (or any nation present or former; take your pick) can be considered great, but it is my nation and my homeland and I pray even so that God bless us and raise us up in all the ways that count.

I am even, I confess, proud of it on occasion. One of the nice things about being more philosophical about Independence Day is that I can be proud of my homeland in spite of our many faults. In my opinion, every person should have the luxury of being proud of his or her homeland.

I doubt any soldiers read this, but I am connected at various removes to soldiers in active service, and for some reason that is important to me. Once upon a time a soldier was considered great because he was brave, or valorous, or fierce. Not so long ago the greatest among nations was the most warlike, and citizen bodies prided themselves on the valor of their warriors and the energy of their warmaking. Greece and Rome were both, in their time, the most civilized and the most warlike nations in their part of the world.

On Independence Day, it seems fitting to me to pray a blessing on our soldiers. We claim to be a different sort of nation than those that have come before - in this one small area of society, may it be so by God's grace. I am not aware of any army which has spent any amount of time on foreign soil without incurring the wrath of the inhabitants. I am not so much concerned for how our soldiers are viewed today (although I am aware that many hold them in high esteem even today) but with how they will be viewed by the grandchildren of the world. May they have good targets, so the innocent are neither under their fire nor victims of collateral damage. May they aim true and hit only what they shoot at. Nevertheless, may our soldiers be remembered not for their ferocity but for their meekness. May their grandchildren, and the grandchildren of those who know them, remember tales not of their bravery but of their compassion. May those who serve with them hold them in awe not because of their terrible skill but because they raise up those around them and teach them how to fight with honor for their children and their homeland. May their enterprise be considered great not for the energy of its warmaking, but for the energy of its building. However the world judges America or the success of its efforts, I pray that the world's grandchildren remember today's soldiers as the best of our people. Even if the name of America becomes a slur in the mouth of history, may our soldiers so conduct themselves that our grandchildren will be ashamed to speak ill of them. And even if we are remembered as one of the great civilizations, may we be remembered because of our soldiers not as the most warlike people of our time but as the most compassionate.

Happy Independence Day.

Friday, July 01, 2005

One of the things that law school has done to me is made me more able to see the other side of things. That's good, inasmuch as that is the avowed goal of the faculty of Stanford Law School. And I have to say that while I might have viewed the ability of lawyers to argue either side of a case sophistic or weasely before, now that I am beginning to acquire this ability for myself it doesn't strike me that way. It strikes me as grown up (don't worry, Esther, I don't mean "grown up" in the Peter Pan sense. May I never grow up in the "stop delighting in things" sense - but in the "stop being immature" sense? Sure, sign me up for adulthood).

One of the unanticipated side effects of this is that I can no longer opine about the law or politics with a lot of people. Not all people; I recently had a fairly long and refreshing discussion (not even a debate, but a real discussion) with some folks about the recent Supreme Court takings case (you can find the discussion here and the case here if you're interested; I'm Nabterayl). There are two basic problems.

First, I have a more faith in the political process now than I did a year ago. A lot more. Second, I have stopped believing in judges blindly following their own personal codes, which makes me suspicious that politicians ever blindly follow their own personal codes. Having read after one year of law school more cases than most Americans would read under threat of death, I am convinced that basically all judges do the best they can of following the law and upholding the constitution. The thing is that this is not always very different from what many people decry as following their own personal codes - but that strikes me as silly. What's really going on is that the judge has a personal code which embodies a certain commitment to follow the law and uphold the constitution and a certain understanding of what that means. Which is a good thing. A judiciary that didn't do precisely that would be an amoral monstrosity, and the fact that one might disagree with a judge's understanding of how to best follow the law and uphold the constitution is really immaterial.

Part of this is that I've read a lot of cases that I thought were rightly decided. I think it would do people's faith in the judicial system a lot of good if they read a decent sample of cases; they might be surprised by how often the supposedly evil judge got it right. I've read a lot of cases by "liberal" judges that I felt did justice, and I've read a lot of cases by "conservative" judges that I felt did the same. I am beginning to suspect, in fact, that "liberal" and "conservative" don't describe judges very well at all.

All of which makes me suspicious of people who prophesy doom and the destruction of liberty, Americanism, justice, constitutionality, and/or the forces of good now that Justice O'Connor has announced her retirement. When asked how she wanted people to remember her, she said she hoped her tombstone reads, "Here lies a good judge." I have a really hard time believing that she is unique in that sentiment among her peers. That's what all judges want, and I defy politicians of all flavors to find a Supreme Court nominee who would rather be remembered as a good liberal or a good conservative than a good judge. The fact that sometimes a person's personal understanding of what it means to be a good judge conflicts with yours does not mean that the sky is falling.

In general I feel like the past twelve months have been very good for my ability to empathize (which is nice, since they've also had their share of horrible). I don't think that has really affected my ability to judge things, though, which I suppose is probably what people really fear about lawyers. I think that's an important combination. Being able to see the other side of things is fairly crucial for being gentle, meek, and humble. But so is being able to say, "I understand where that's coming from, but I'm still not afraid to say that it's bad."