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Finals Week, fall semester 2008

It is Friday of Finals Week; the campus is basically empty, it is grey outside and already hinting at getting dark. The next couple of weeks will be very quiet. While I generally like the winters here (as long as I’m not snapping the bones of my various extremities) I have found, particularly the last couple of winters, that I struggle somewhat with it being nearly dark out by the time I get home after work this time of year. It’s never bothered me before, so I’m not altogether sure what that’s about, but there we are.

My one final this time around was Modern Greek. Confidence, I suppose, is when you know you would have to bomb the exam completely to impact your grade at all, and I didn’t bomb it in the least. Next semester I will be bumping up to the 4th semester of the sequence, which means I have some fill-in work to do between now and then, but I am reasonably unconcerned about my ability to deal with it.

One of the problems I’ve been trying to solve this week has been that, upon realizing that my iTunes library was taking up 33 gigabytes of my 80 gigabyte hard drive, I decided to get a 1 terabyte external hard drive and hook it up to the wireless router that governs the connectivity in our house. Simple, right? Well, no. The router, one of AT&T’s custom jobs that you have to use if you have their DSL service, only has a Type B USB port on the back, and the output port on the MyBook drive is a Micro B. A USB hub didn’t solve the problem, because the only upstream port on the hub was, yep, a Micro B. A USB-to-Ethernet adapter didn’t solve the problem, either. Finally I pulled out the AirPort Extreme router I still have from my cable days, which has a Type A port on the back of it specifically for hard drives, and connected that to AT&T’s router via an Ethernet cable. It works now, more or less, but I don’t understand why this wasn’t easier. Now I’m migrating my iTunes library over, which will take another few days to sort out, I’m sure. A friend of mine in high school used to call such needlessly complicated arrangements “goat-ropes.” I’m still not sure what a “goat-rope” is, exactly, but I think this qualifies.

And, of course, Leopard’s Time Machine functionality still doesn’t work with an external hard drive connected via a wireless router, and I wasn’t about to spend $500 on a 1 TB Time Capsule when an AirPort Extreme router plus a 1 TB external hard drive cost less than $300 combined. So, whatever.

Under the category of miscellaneous observations — you know, Rick Warren certainly wouldn’t have been my choice if anybody had asked me to set up the invocation for the Presidential inauguration. (That probably would have been Metropolitan Jonah.) Still, I am bewildered by claims that his views are not “consistent [with] mainstream American values.” Now, his views are most certainly not consistent with what Ms. Kolbert’s values are, nor with what Ms. Kolbert perhaps hopes “mainstream American values” might someday be, but that does not make them inconsistent with what “mainstream American values” presently are.

We have a real problem in this country, on both sides of the aisle, with acknowledging principled, conscientious disagreement; particularly where certain social issues are involved, the same assertion is made on both sides — “We’re talking about people’s lives. You either agree with me or you’re objectively hating an entire subset of humanity” (whatever group might be impacted by the social issue in question). Somehow we have to get past this and not be constantly assuming the worst about the people with whom we disagree and their motives.

That bears repeating, I think.

I believe wholeheartedly that the level of public discourse in this country will not improve until we can stop assuming the worst about those who disagree with us and what might be motivating them.

“Baby-killer” and “bigot,” to use but two common examples, are labels that do nothing but shut down the conversation. They get used, not to further understanding, but to vilify. They identify as enemies and dehumanize those with whom there is ideological disagreement. They do nothing to identify common ground and attempt to find a way to co-exist.

If nothing else, President-elect Obama’s choice of Pastor Warren seems to acknowledge this problem and seek to find a way to navigate through it. That his choice of Warren has angered some on the Left, and Warren’s acceptance has angered some on the Right, indicates to me that it might in fact be an effective move on the part of both men.

Yesterday I was present for a discussion with somebody who very clearly believed himself to be better-informed than most and in possession of a privileged point of view, a puppet who was able to see the strings, and he made a lot of very sweeping generalizations about a great many things, clearly finding it incomprehensible that any educated, thinking person might disagree with him, thus making anybody who might disagree with him categorically uneducated and unthinking. This person might be broadly described as a Northeastern academic liberal; what was fascinating is that his manner and intellectual approach was virtually identical to that of an Alaskan neo-conservative who espoused almost perfectly antithetical views to me a few months ago. Both opiners dripped utter contempt for any who might see things differently; both were absolutely convinced that they understood reality. You know, real reality.

The truth may very well be that, eventually, the center cannot hold and the United States must splinter. Perhaps that will happen in my lifetime, or my grandchildren’s lifetime. It seems to me, however, that we have to resist such an eventuality. Sitting at the same table as those with whom we disagree is the reality of being the secular, pluralistic, supposedly egalitarian society that we like to pat ourselves on the back for being; we have to co-exist, and we have to get along, even if every settlement has not yet been negotiated and ratified. The result may be messy, the result may be something with which we’re not always happy, but that’s the nature of our system. Agreeing to disagree is the only way civil discourse can happen in the long run.

Now I get to spend the next couple of days researching how to brine a goose. Watch this space for details.

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1 Response to “Finals Week, fall semester 2008”


  1. 1 Jonathan 20 December 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Nice post, Richard.

    Merry Christmas!


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