Random Observation about the Far Side

So on my desk I keep a pad made from an old Far Side calendar. As I take notes of what I should be doing during the day (e.g., "Apply for job!", "Finish dissertation!", "Counsel student!", "Don't lose your mind!", etc.), I peel off the cartoons and get a little laugh from times past.

One thing I've noticed, though, by contrast with today's cartoons and themes, is the near total absence of any humor related to homosexuality, gay men, lesbian women, etc. While you can argue that most of Gary Larson's characters are pretty asexual, it still is fascinating that you don't see any recognizable gay men, or gay jokes, in the cartoons. Syndicated from 1980 to 1995, the Far Side had the sense not to use gay jokes for cheap laughs back when that was acceptable, but looking at it 11 years or more later, it's also striking that the series ended before using gay themes as a form of "laughing with" humor, rather than "laughing at" humor, became accetable in American culture.

It's a fascinating koan to ponder: if Gary Larson had written the Far Side after the advent of Will and Grace, would some of the cows have been gay?

Cardinal Sean, Blogger

As the Globe reports today, Cardinal Sean is now blogging from his trip to Rome this week to take possession of the church of Our Lady of Victories (should be a good week for Muslim-Christian dialogue to bring up Lepanto again...).

I just hope that they get some better webdesigners on board in the next few days, it could use a little polishing...


Other Peoples' Blogs

So, rather than writing anything myself, I'm commenting on other people's blogs lately.

Check out Beauty Tips on the papal saturno, and wait with me with baited breath for her verdict on the relative merits thereof in relation to the camauro.

Then, after you've smiled at pictures of an interreligious-brouhaha-causing pontiff wearing funny hats, look at Philocrites's discussion of Brother Roger of Taize, to which I've added my two cents about the connection of the papacy with R.C. creedal belief.


Of Benedict, Islam, and Regrets

So as Pope Benedict's quotations from Manuel II Palaeologus are circulating around the world and causing deep unrest in many Muslim countries, it's time to talk about what Benedict's up to. That's right. Not "accidentally did," but is up to.

It is conceivable, as John Allen and even Rocco seem to suggest, that this is a reminder of how non-PC and/or slightly naive with regard to public relations Benedict might be; in the mainstream media, this is being presented as the "goofy ivory-tower professor quoted something interesting he read in his study and was foolish enough to say it out loud" trope. And it is possible that Benedict expected everyone to read his text in full and not draw the conclusions that they are currently drawing in the Muslim world. (One might point out that he is apologizing that his remarks were misunderstood and/or taken out of context, not that he made them.)

But this is a pope who is nothing if not careful and deliberate in what he chooses to say and when he chooses to say it. And the fact that this is one of his earliest forays into the world of international politics after the end of the summer vacations and just a few days before his new Secretary of State took on the job seems a little too well-timed to be simply coincidental. Tarcisio Bertone and Ratzinger were close colleagues for many years at the CDF, and, by all accounts, are substantially of one mind on many theological and political issues. So while I may be wrong, I have to think that this is the beginning of a larger shift within the Vatican, rather than a simple media gaffe. (They say that studying the Vatican's tea leaves is a good preparation for a career in Sinology...)

What I'm far less sure about is what the nature of such a shift, or what Benedict's plan in doing all of this. Was this a test balloon to see how blunt he could be in dialogue with the Muslim world? An attempt to push towards confrontation, at some intellectual level at least, between Christianity and Islam? An intentional provocation designed to confirm the pope's own notions (prejudices?) vis-a-vis Islam? Another aspect that we Americans often forget is the European angle; with Benedict's longtime concerns over the deChristianization of Europe, is this directed primarily at the European community, an attempt to induce Europeans to "choose sides" in some way with regard to their large Muslim populations?

I honestly can't see the rationale clearly yet, and there are more possibilites I no doubt haven't thought of. But having been a student of Ratzinger's theology and practice for a while before he became pope, the one thing I'd be willing to bet on is that this is the start of a program, not a flash in the pan.


Gubernatorial Primary

So I haven't decided whom I'm going to vote for in Tuesday's primary (for the Democratic nomination for governor here in Massachusetts). I'm leaning towards Deval Patrick, but the fact that all of my hippie friends are actively campaigning for him makes me a bit nervous... Two of the biggest things that make me lean towards him, though, are, first, the fact that he's not pandering on the tax cut issue (i.e., he's not going to roll back taxes so that you save $5 a year and we have to close another school or fifty...); and second, the fact that he's not funding his own campaign, but actually has a donor base.

Speaking of which, the Boston Globe, using Google Maps, has released a map of campaign contributors and whom they supported. Time to check up on your neighbors! This could make future referendum and presidential elections far more interesting...

Also informative and amusing throughout the campaign has been Dan Payne and his analysis; he's kind of like Mac Daniel, but for pols instead of potholes. Some fun excerpts from today's contribution:

FUNG WAH BUS comes to mind when thinking about Tom Reilly's gubernatorial campaign. Bus line offers big savings. But buses tend to crash and catch fire. After showing signs of life as Regular Guy, Reilly morphed into Bitter Man at the Kennedy School debate. Why did he conjure up low point in his campaign, L'Affair St. Fleur?

Patrick and Bush. Patrick volunteers are many and pumped. His field operation is said to rival Mike Dukakis's, only juiced with Internet. Patrick base is liberals, gays, black voters, Latino voters, environmentalists, atheists, healthcare reformers, professors, peaceniks, pro-choice marchers, antigun protesters, health store shoppers, progressive unions, teachers, social workers, and those who hear justice in his voice. In short, anybody who can't stand President Bush.

Who wins? If Galvin's right about turnout, Patrick wins. If it's up, Gabrieli has shot. Reilly wins by pulling someone out of burning bus.



So it's been a busy few weeks here, and it's going to get worse until Columbus Day. But rather than bore you all with my job search anxieties, my attempts to finish the dissertation, the drama of new students in my house, etc., I thought I'd just tell you what I've been reading and/or doing outside of all that lately. Also, still owe you a post on my experience at Mass a few weeks back...

So here's what's in the news/real world that's been on my radar lately:

- Great announcement today from Harvard that they'll be getting rid of early admission. In addition to the prep you need to know that such a thing exists, which already favors students from better economic backgrounds and schools, it also favors kids who can afford to go no matter what financial aid they receive, over those who have to wait and decide not based on the size of the gym or the prestige of the name but how deep the second mortgage is going to cut into their parents' finances.
- Il Papa is in Bavaria, Gruss Gott-ing it up. Full text of his sermon yesterday as a PDF, thanks to Whispers in the Loggia. Now that we're back from the summer vacations, the pope-watch goes into full swing, as he's back in Rome with a year under his belt. Keep your eyes on the press releases, and on his new appointment at State.
- Off the web, I'm finally getting around to reading Walter Wink's series on the "powers," beginning with volume one, Naming the Powers. Good stuff.
- The Paulist Center is ramping up for the fall; watch here for a link to our new outreach program and a promotional dvd which might feature someone who looks familiar to some of y'all...
- Russell is so far a little skittish about the 30 new people living in his immediate area, but he's getting enough pets and attention that I think he's beginning to like it. He also loved being at the beach last weekend...after he figured out that the waves weren't trying to kill him, he jumped right in, to the amusement of all. You haven't lived until you've seen a dachshund frolicking on the beach.

That's a quick update - this time of the year is always the real new year's time on this side of the river...time for the resolutions, the housecleaning, all carried out amid the new crush of returning students who seemed to spend their summer getting much fitter and tanner than their instructors...so happy new year, everyone.


Back from the Beaches

With oh-so-many stories to tell...of rainy days, heretical sermons by Catholic priests, a couple of pugs named Myles and Mushroom...then again, maybe not all my stories should be blogged...they're too silken...

More in the next few days, as I try to finish more dissertation in order to get a real job...

Fabulous essay in yesterday's Times Op-Ed about the academic life, by Tom Lutz. Get it soon, before it goes archived. Here are the opening excerpts:

IN late May, for those of us who teach, the summer stretches out like the great expanse of freedom it was in grammar school. Ah, the days on the beach! The books we will read! The adventures we will have!

But before hunkering down to months of leisurely lolling around a pool slathered in S.P.F. 80, we need to take care of a few things: see what got buried in the e-mail pile over the course of the year, write a few letters of recommendation, and finally get to those book reviews we agreed to do. A few leftover dissertation chapters. The syllabuses and book orders for next year’s classes. Then those scholarly articles we were snookered into writing when the deadlines were far, far in the future — deadlines that now, magically, are receding into the past. My God, did I really tell someone I would write an article called “Teaching Claude McKay”? Before we know it, the summer is eaten up, we’re still behind on our e-mail, and the fall semester looms.

On paper, the academic life looks great. As many as 15 weeks off in the summer, four in the winter, one in the spring, and then, usually, only three days a week on campus the rest of the time. Anybody who tells you this wasn’t part of the lure of a job in higher education is lying. But one finds out right away in graduate school that in fact the typical professor logs an average of 60 hours a week, and the more successful professors work even more — including not just 14-hour days during the school year, but 10-hour days in the summer as well.

Why, then, does there continue to be a glut of fresh Ph.D.’s? It isn’t the pay scale, which, with a few lucky exceptions, offers the lowest years-of-education-to-income ratio possible. It isn’t really the work itself, either. Yes, teaching and research are rewarding, but we face as much drudgery as in any professional job. Once you’ve read 10,000 freshman essays, you’ve read them all.

But we academics do have something few others possess in this postindustrial world: control over our own time. All the surveys point to this as the most common factor in job satisfaction. The jobs in which decisions are made and the pace set by machines provide the least satisfaction, while those, like mine, that foster at least the illusion of control provide the most.

That 60-hour-a-week figure isn't always true, but it is close, I think, especially when you factor in all the other odd jobs that we end up doing to pay for that edition of the complete works of St. Somebody of the Really Big Toe (or the equivalent in other fields). It's also a helpful retort to our friends from home who aren't in grad school, and so assume that grad school is simply an extension of the college experience they had...nothing sends chills down a hardworking grad student's spine like "oh, so you're still in school?" -- as if the continuities were greater than the discontinuities, and we somehow finagled our way into seven more years of frat life...