Thank you for visiting. Some of the subheadings above link to content on the corresponding topics. You may be most interested in my writings, the Extensible Expression Evaluator, or a brief auto-bio. My popular math expositions may be found on the Platonic Realms web site. Below are whatever projects, observations, or ruminations have seemed worth sharing recently, most recent first. If you feel like a conversation on these or any topic, you are welcome to initiate one using the contact form.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

JotsnDoodles: Love and the Cemetery

cemetery pic

One of my wife Wendy’s favorite songs as a young woman was “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult. She and I didn’t get together until a couple decades later, but at about the same period in my own life I was riding the wings of romantic love for the first time—perhaps the only time I was utterly swept away—and this other young woman and I spent long hours at a fine old cemetery.

This may strike some as macabre, but there were to begin with practical reasons. Young lovers take note: a large old cemetery filled with monuments is both peaceful and private, with plenty of shade and well-groomed, cushiony sod. You could be challenged to find a spot better-suited on warm spring afternoons after class for learning how to neck.

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

JotsnDoodles: The Truth is Made Up

It was G.K. Chesterton who introduced me to the idea that truth is a matter of invention, in one of those epigrams that you feel ought to be wrong even as you sense that it isn’t. It has taken me many years to get my head around it.

But he was quite right: “truth” is always a matter of invention. This is not to deny that there is an objective reality. There is and we should have the humility of the good scientist, both always to explore the frontiers of our knowledge and to grant the testimony of our perceptions. But we must never forget that it is on the loom of language that we weave our perceptions into the tapestry of comprehension. Our way of understanding—indeed our way of being—is to make up stories about what we see. To the extent the word has any meaning, “truth” resides in the stories, not in the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Essay: Voting Green in a Swing State

This article isn’t really meant for everyone, so I might be able to save you some time. If you think climate change isn’t a serious electoral issue, this probably wasn’t written for you. If you think American presidents should conduct wars on their own authority and that it’s okay if they secretly assassinate whomever they (secretly) decide are bad people who might hurt us then you needn’t concern yourself with what follows. If you think the Bill of Rights of the Constitution doesn’t necessarily apply when terrorism is involved, or that letting gays have civil rights should be decided on a state-by-state basis like slavery before the civil war, or that the health of the environment isn’t more important than economic growth, or that whistle-blowers who expose governmental and corporate crimes should go to prison but that privileged lawbreakers shouldn’t, or that whether a candidate is electable should depend on how much she pleases wealthy donors—if any of these approximates your own take on the issues, please read no further. You’ll be bored. Honestly.

I live in a purple part of the country (Virginia) and move in academic circles, so of course I know many, many people who will be voting for Obama. If that doesn’t strike you as funny, then you are the person I have written this for.

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

JotsnDoodles: The Sentence of Death

I was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but in recent years I have had a change of mind on the issue. I now support the death penalty, but only for the privileged. This is not meant to be funny.

There are generally two arguments made in favor of the death penalty: deterrence and proportionality. The deterrence argument is really about defending the public welfare, the idea being that if a would-be perpetrator of capital crimes knows it might mean their death if they are caught, they are less likely to commit such crimes. The proportionality argument has to do with retributive justice; some crimes are so horrific, it is argued, that justice can only be served by the ultimate punishment.

Neither of these arguments is supportable in the present system, which is partly why I previously opposed the death penalty. The overwhelming majority of death sentences are handed down for crimes committed by persons who did so at least in part out of some sort of mental defect. I don't mean insanity, exactly; in most cases it is a mix of ignorance, sociopathy, post-traumatic stress, psychopathy, or schizophrenia—any of which are likely brought on by conditions beyond the control of the perpetrator. Also in many cases the capital crime was occasioned by some form of extreme emotional or physical duress, despair, or desperation. This is as true of the private aggravated murder as it is of the mass murder, such as the recent ones in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Norway. In no such case is the death penalty's deterrence potential likely to be a factor in the perpetrator's cogitations, and to the exent that it might be it is surely countered by the implicit endorsement of societal violence that state-sanctioned killing represents.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Essay: On Homosexual Marriage

gay marriage logo

The state-by-state political battle over same-sex marriage is at its climax, with impassioned leadership on both sides. As of this writing such marriages may be performed in 10 countries, and in 6 states within the United States. These numbers appear certain to grow.

I have struggled with this issue for a long time, and my own thinking has changed quite a bit even in just the last several years. As a Catholic I assent to many propositions on faith, including the proposition that what we mean by Christian marriage is a sacrament between the sexes. I have also harbored doubts about gay couples being parents. I am inclined to find movies like The Kids Are All Right preachy and off-putting, even disturbing. With all these stipulations, I think nonetheless I have a different take on this now.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Essay: My Philosophy of Teaching

Some memorable comments from student course questionnaires:

He is more interested in how much we learn than the letter grade we get. He teaches discipline which can be applied to all courses.

He encourages the students to grasp concepts on their own, rather than babying their way through lessons. He challenges the student to learn.

Graded work unfairly, based on what he thought was right.

In our day the operative paradigm among many of our institutional decision makers is the business model.*PBS Frontline (2002). The ‘Business Model.’ /wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/schools/standards/business.html This view sees our students (and society at large) as consumers of a product called education, and it evaluates success in terms of externally quantifiable outcomes, balancing measurable benefits against monetary cost. On this view, the faculty member in his or her role as an educator is simply the talent, a specialist contracted to deliver the product.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Correspondence: A Catholic? Really?

I received a comment through this website that read in part,

My query concerns something in your bio. You wrote, ‘At that time I also converted to Catholicism, and this too has lasted.’ I would like to know what parts of Christianity you believe and why you believe. I'm intrigued because you obviously are quite intelligent and thoughtful, and this seems to me incongruous with religious belief. I'm not seeking an argument or debate; but I'm genuinely interested to know your rationale for believing the Christian doctrines.

I’m not much of a Christian apologist (as literary defenders of the faith are called) but I was moved on this occasion to attempt some sort of answer.

Dear ___________,

Thanks for writing, and for your kind comments.

When I converted to Catholicism I was at the end, or so I deem it, of my magical-thinking phase of enquiry. Starting in my early teen years I took an interest in “the occult,” then in various other new-agey topics, then in traditional and non-traditional forms of mysticism, and finally yoga. For all of this there were perhaps many impetuses, but I’m sure a standard psychological analysis would emphasize my generally absent father and a concomitant need to feel some sense of personal empowerment.

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