taking stock, connecting dots

I awoke this morning at about quarter past six with a headful of angst. I’ve been feeling vaguely uncertain about some aspects of my life lately and I don’t know if I should take that seriously or not. One of the saving graces of reaching the age of 36 is that I begin to see the meta-patterns of my life. I find that my mood shifts every few weeks. It is nothing major, just a small change in how I perceive my life from “brighter, livelier” to “dimmer, duller.” I feel that I due for a shift from from brighter to dimmer.

Chief among my concerns is the issue of relocation. Mrs. Geek and I agree that we probably cannot buy real estate in the immediate area where we live in the next two years. We are talking about trying for children in that same time frame and would like to have the property issue settled first. That forces the conclusion that we must relocate to where housing costs are lower. If that is true, then the questions that remain are: when and how far do we move?

My level of job satisfaction is also a concern. I’m not entirely happy with where I work. The last six months have been full of re-organizations, layoffs, and voluntary departures from my division at Company O. The work seems to alternate between grindingly boring and intensely busy — something I see as a consequence of the frequent management shifts above me. I feel ready for a change. Do I try to find another job now or do I wait until we know whether or not we are moving?

Some aspects of my social life also seem somewhat stagnant at the moment. I feel like I don’t have much of a social life outside of Mrs. Geek’s circle of friends and family. That is not to say that I have no friends… I have a few and we’ve seen them in the last few weeks. No, it’s just that I haven’t met anyone new in a long time. Mrs. Geek has activities of her own that have allowed her to make some new friends. I’ve been sticking pretty close to home for a while now. I’m thinking I should get out more… by say, joining the choir at our church. Again I find myself asking, should I do this now when things may be changing soon?

Finally, money worries linger. I define financial success in terms of the ability to save money and/or accumulate wealth. I feel that I am doing little of either at this point. Certainly, Mrs. Geek and I both have good jobs… and this is nothing to dismiss out of hand. I just used to think that I’d be further along in the process by 36. It’s been more difficult than I thought it would be to get ahead.

They say that life is what happens while you are waiting for your plans to come true. That maxim seems very true to me right now… as I take stock of where I am and connect the dots in my life.


Hail Eris! and all that

Liberals see Ann Coulter as a Republican she-devil with skirts so short you can see her brains. Others view her as the blonde babe savior promised to the American right in the pages of fundamentalist scripture. Ann Coulter is defiantly the last woman in this country still carrying the torch for the long-dead Red baiter Joseph McCarthy.
-David Bowman,

Man, the things you learn on television. I was watching My Coolest Years: The Dirty Hippies on VH-1 over the weekend, when who do I see but Ann Coulter? She’s a self-professed Deadhead who saw The Dead live some 62 times. Who knew??? I somehow think that Jerry wouldn’t be horribly pleased with books like Slander and Treason.Oh please, oh please Ann… just ask “what would Jerry do?”

All that aside, I recently decided to start re-reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy. I think it has to do with finally reading Foucault’s Pendulum and all this buzz about The Da Vinci Code. I wanted to go back to the old master and see what he could tell me ten years on since I last read the book.

Certainly everything I’ve read, seen, and heard these days about one of these occult/conspiracy detective stories convinces me that they can’t be that hard to write. At least, once you master all of the requisite story elements, generally beginning with the Poor Knights of the Temple (i.e. the Templars.) From there, it seems possible to branch out in any number of directions: the Ark of the Covenant, the Merovingian descendents of Jesus and Mary Magdelene, the Shroud of Turin, the Illuminati, the Ishmaelite Assassins of Hassan I Sabbah, or the Kabbalist rabbi’s and the Golem of Prague.

I have to think that if I was going to write such a book, I would have to lend it a rather eugenic spin. Taking the premise that all history is indeed actually conflict between secret societies, I would look at it from the point of view of abetting or blocking the next major step in human evolution. I could start with a premise that the ruling classes of ancient Atlantis in the Meditteranean represent the confluence of a number of genetic factors that produce a superior human form (in terms of beauty, strength, intelligence, and longevity.) Before being able to increase their number sufficiently to rule the earth however, Atlantis was destroyed by the fatal eruption of a massive caldera volcano. The resulting diaspora of Atlantean survivors would have spread north to Greece and Anatolia, east to the Fertile Cresent, and south to Egypt. Here the Atlanteans would be forced to mingle with the native populations and the true qualities of Atlantean genetics would only re-emerge haphazardly in their descendants.

As all such works are supposed to offer alternative visions of well known myths, this scenario offers some interesting possibilities. Certainly the story of Adam and Eve and the expulsion from The Garden represents the true fall of Atlantis. The story of Noah represents the flight of their descendant Noah from the flooding of the Black Sea. The Kabbalic tradition of the transmission of esoteric knowledge between Abraham and his immediate descendants could be explained as the transmission of inherited traits.

From there, the grand sweep of history could take over. Joseph could descend into Egypt, looking to infuse his descendants with further Atlantean characteristics from the Egyptian gene pool. The Exodus represents the eventual conclusion of that effort, and the establishment of Mosaic Law to enshrine the concept of a Chosen People (or rather an Atlantean gene pool) that do not intermarry with the surrounding populations. Unfortunately, history takes a hand before the experiment can be completed and the Jews are spread across Mesapotamia.

The Christian movement could represent a branched revival of the effort. Jesus could be one of the first Jews possessing nearly full Atlantean blood born in a hundred years. That this happens is due to the fact that his father is Atlantean Greek, not Jewish (Luke is the only Gospel writer who significantly describes his birth, and the similarities between the Nativity and the birth of Athena cannot be ignored.) Then, I could finish it up with the whole Passion analogy; “this is my body” and “this is my blood” represent the symbols of a community seeking to enrich its gene pool… and in order to inevitably recreate the superior human form.

After this, historical pageantry could take over. The writings of Hermes Trismagestimus, the secrets of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the blood on the Shroud of Turin could all play a role. Secret groups and societies could crowd in by the score, each wanting to either create the superior human or prevent it from every appearing. This could naturally culminate in the misguided racial theories of the Nazis and the Thule Society, explaining the Holocaust in terms of the Germans wishing to create the superior human while stamping out the Atlantean parts of the Jewish genome.

Or maybe I just need to sit back, smoke some Alamout Black, and forget about the whole thing…

our first holiday dinner

I’m back at work after a four day vacation. I wish it was actually afull ten days, but I can’t afford to take the additional time right now. Oh well… at least Mrs. Geek is off this week and the alarm isn’t goingoff at 5:30am. Thank heavens for small blessings.

The big news of the weekend was that Mrs. Geek and I had our first majorfamily holiday meal at our apartment for Easter. Mrs. Geek’s Dad andStep-mom and her Step-sister and her husband attended. All in all, itwent quite well. Here’s the low down:

The food was divided into three courses. For an appetizer we had threekinds of cheese with a 2004 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc and Lavashcrackers: a Gouda made in Ireland, a strong but creamy blue cheese alsofrom Ireland, and a mellow French soft cows milk cheese. Dinner was”city” ham done AltonBrown style, spinach with hot bacon dressing, and a warm Germanpotato salad. We had two wines with dinner, a German varietal calledSheurebe (a cross of the Riesling and Sylvaner grapes) and a friendlyRiesling. For dessert, Mrs. Geek’s stepsister and her husband broughtthese chocolate tulips filled with chocolate mousse topped with freshberries. I opened a half bottle of Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis togo with that.

The ham was delicious (though for the price I paid for it at Whole Paychecks, it had better be.)I don’t know what they call the part of the pig that it came from… butyou could that the bone ended in the hinge joint that fit into one ofthe pig’s knees. Alton’s recipe calls for a slow warm up in a 250degree oven for about 3 hours then adding a coating of mustard, brownsugar, bourbon (I used some Balvenie Doublewood Scotch), and ground upginger snaps. The ham had a lovely honey-smoky flavor before I addedthe coating… and the coating added a great mix of sweet, spice, andtang. I de-glazed the roasting pan with a little of Riesling and thatmade a great pan sauce for the serving platter.

The wines were interesting, by and large. The Sauvignon Blanc had avery pleasant pear taste… which impressed some of our guests. TheScheurebe starts rather sweet and fruity like a Riesling, but then endswith just a hint of tart. Since sweet and sour combinations were atheme with the meal, it definitely made an interesting complement thatwas not overpowered by the food.

My one regret about the occasion was that neither Mrs. Geek or I had thepresence of mind to take any pictures of the event… the food, thetable, nothing. It would be nice to put a picture or two here to sharewith you, my faithful readers, as well as have a page for the familyscrapbook.

ps. For all you choristers out there, I want to say at least something about the music at the Easter Mass that we attended on Sunday. Nothing overtly spectacular, but enough to certainly warm the heart. Here’s a list of the more interesting pieces:

  • Prelude – Now Thank We All Our God– J. S. Bach
  • Introit Motet – This Joyful Eastertide– Charles Wood
  • Kyrie – Missa Aeterna Christi Munera– Palestrina
  • Gloria – Gloria de Lourdes– Lecot
  • Pre-Gospel Sequence – Victimae Paschali Laudes– Victoria
  • Offetory Motet – Hallelujah (from The Messiah)– Handel
  • Angus Dei – Missa Aetera Christi Munera– Palestrina
  • Communion Motet – Alleluia– Randall Thompson
  • Postlude – Toccata (Symphony No. V)– Widor

what a wonderful world

Mrs. Geek and I were watching The West Wing the other night. I have to say that I think the show has really re-bounded this season. For a while after creator Aaron Sorkin departed, I found the show to be rather lethargic. The show under Sorkin always was as much a civics lesson as it was a dramatic presentation. For a while after his departure, the new writers seemed to forget that. Now with the injection of some new characters (Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda) and some patter in the dialogue, it’s got some of that old snap again.

After watching this week’s episode, Mrs. Geek looked at me and said “I want to live in that world.” Why? Well, one need look no further than the characters on the show and the civil way they interact with each other. The Republican candidate for President (Alda) is a pro-choice moderate. When he approaches his chief opponent in the primaries, a minister played by Don S. Davis, the minister rejects a bid to become Vice President in a very classy, principled way over the issue of abortion. Alda then sits down with Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett over ice cream and they talk about religion and the Presidency. In the end, Alda’s character makes a deal to give Sheen slightly more than he wants, and then goes on to make a statement rejecting the possibility of religious litmus test for the upcoming Presidential election. Are we in fantasy land yet, or what?

Mrs. Geek and I both think this is the way politics should be. It should be about honest men who are smart, honest, and above all willing to compromise. Views may differ, but the greater vision is shared. Looking at the political landscape of this country it is almost as if the Cold War did not end. Rather, an external political conflict with another nation has been internalized into an political conflict between the Red and the Blue. In this week of all weeks when partisan drum beating is at an all time high, it was such a relief and such a fantasy to see two men reach across the aisle and talk reasonably. I like to hope that government used to work this way… but those days are gone.

a rogues gallery

The latest issue of the alumni magazine for the school where I did my graduate work arrived in the mail the other day. In it, they carried the inevitable set of profiles of destinguished alumni. It is a fairly distinguished group: a nationally known TV actress here, an editor a very reputable newspaper there, an astronomer who discovered planets outside our solar system, an Oscar winner for one of the post-production disciplines, a sausage-maker whose product is now sold nationally, an astronaut, and the major of one of the larger cities in the United States.

Of particular interest was the one person in that group who I personally knew during my time in grad school. A student with a rather mathematical bent, she’s been doing very good work in a field related to protien recognition. She and I used to hover in the same computer lab for a year or two around the time I was finishing my Master’s degree. A divorced woman with children, I came to admire her passion for her chosen field of interest… because I had difficulty doing dissertation work without rugrats to worry about. It was obvious when she considered changing schools to get her Ph.D. and other, bigger schools were interested in her. She stayed where she was though; her advisor was becoming a very big “Grand Poobah” in her field and she figured out that staying put meant working with the best.

Seeing her in the magazine made me feel a little sad, or perhaps a little sober about the quality of my graduate research. I’m a bright guy… I know this. I’m also far enough from my days as a graduate student to know that my graduate research was pretty mediocre. I’ve met people who have a lot of “wow” factor with the quality of their ideas. I don’t fit into that category, and I’m not going to be listed as “one of our best and brightest alumni” within 10 years of my graduation. Whatever gifts I possess and whatever my interests are, they are not destined to make me a star in academic circles.

Mrs. Geek got on my case immediately when I told her this. She felt that I was not valuing myself and my contributions. That wasn’t really correct. I think academic work in my field is silly in some ways. It is somtimes more about the ability to solve problems abstractly by writing scary, hairy Calculus on white boards than delivering anything useful to anyone. I like building things and proving a theorem doesn’t quite do it for me.

I think what I actually felt was a sense that if I possess virtues, they are more like the moon that the sun. If I glow, it is reflected rather than emitted light. I’m much better as the able lieutenant, the person working perhaps behind the scenes. I am the analyzer, the devil’s advocate. If I possess any genius, it is more collaborative than wholly original.

This makes me a solid engineer. It does not get me into any alumni magazines. I just accept that.

rites of spring

Spring has arrived, at least according to the calendar. I must admit, the weather does show occasional signs of being warmer, brighter, and sunnier. After three months of cooler, darker weather it is good to emerge into the Sun. Yet it is also interesting to see what winter has left behind.

A case in point: I was walking from the parking lot to the gym the other morning along a short stretch of sidewalk. An object at the curb caught my eye amid the other flotsam and jetsam carried to a storm drain by water runoff. It turned out to be a light blue pair of thong underwear.

death be not proud

The last few days feel like madness. I am thoroughly disgusted at the Passion Play that unfolded before my eyes at a time so close to Easter. It is highly ironic and utterly dispiriting that this Play inverts so many of the key motifs of the other, older play. The dynamic Son of Man who must die becomes the vegetative woman who must live on in near death to save us from our sins. Judas becomes a mother and father who seem deeply in denial, both about their daughter’s true state and the teachings of the Church that they belong to. The Sanhedrin becomes the chief governing body of the land… again meeting late into the night in order to decide the fate of an innocent. I wonder where our Pilate will be found… is he Dubya or some actor yet waiting in the wings?

The only solace that I’ve been able to find in the coverage of this debacle comes courtesy of Salon.com in an interview with Rev. John Paris, S. J., the Walsh Professor of bioethics at Boston College. In particular, I was very taken with this passage:

As a priest, how do you resolve questions in which the “sanctity of life” is involved?

The sanctity of life? This has nothing to do with the sanctity of life. The Roman Catholic Church has a consistent 400-year-old tradition that I’m sure you are familiar with. It says nobody is obliged to undergo extraordinary means to preserve life.

This is Holy Week, this is when the Catholic community is saying, “We understand that life is not an absolute good and death is not an absolute defeat.” The whole story of Easter is about the triumph of eternal life over death. Catholics have never believed that biological life is an end in and of itself. We’ve been created as a gift from God and are ultimately destined to go back to God. And we’ve been destined in this life to be involved in relationships. And when the capacity for that life is exhausted, there is no obligation to make officious efforts to sustain it.

This is not new doctrine. Back in 1950, Gerald Kelly, the leading Catholic moral theologian at the time, wrote a marvelous article on the obligation to use artificial means to sustain life. He published it in Theological Studies, the leading Catholic journal. He wrote, “I’m often asked whether you have to use IV feeding to sustain somebody who is in a terminal coma.” And he said, “Not only do I believe there is no obligation to do it, I believe that imposing those treatments on that class of patients is wrong. There is no benefit to the patient, there is great expense to the community, and there is enormous tension on the family.”

How do you square that with the Pope’s comments last year, which seemed to indicate that people in Schiavo’s situation should be kept alive?

The bishops of Florida did it very nicely when they said, “There is a presumption to use nutritional fluid, unless the continued use of it would be burdensome to the patient.” So it’s not an absolute. That statement is a recognition that the Vatican is inhabited by the same cross section of people that inhabit the United States

What do you mean?

I mean there are some radical right-to-lifers there, and they got that statement out. But it has to be seen in the context of the pope’s 1980 declaration on euthanasia, and the pope’s encyclical on death and dying, in which he repeats the long-standing tradition that I just gave you. His comment last year wasn’t doctrinal statement, it wasn’t encyclical, it wasn’t a papal pronouncement. It was a speech at a meeting of right-to-lifers.

Again, this issue is not new. Every court, every jurisdiction that has heard it, agrees. So you’d think this issue would have ended. I thought it ended when we took it to the Supreme Court in 1990. But I hadn’t anticipated the power of the Christian right. They elected him [George Bush]. And now he dances.

Of course, the man is a Jesuit and therefore already three quarters heretic in the eyes of some even in the Church. Still, Mrs. Geek asked me this morning “does wanting to have a living will make me a bad Catholic?” It is very calming and re-assuring to have an answer that says “no” with some authority.