Previous month:
January 2010
Next month:
March 2010

February 2010

The Paradox of Trying to Fall Asleep

An interesting NYTimes article on why insomnia is a feature of human consciousness:

Wegner and colleagues suggest that this paradoxical thought process can explain a large amount of chronic insomnia, which occurs after we get anxious about not achieving our goal. The end result is a downward spiral, in which our worry makes it harder to pass out, which only leads to more worry, and more ironic frustration. I wake myself up because I’m trying too hard to fall asleep.

One of the paradoxical implications of this research is that reading this article probably made your insomnia worse. So did that Ambien advertisement on television, or the brief conversation you had with a friend about lying awake in bed, or that newspaper article about the mental benefits of R.E.M. sleep. Because insomnia is triggered, at least in part, by anxiety about insomnia, the worst thing we can do is think about not being able to sleep; the diagnosis exacerbates the disease. And that’s why this frustrating condition will never have a perfect medical cure. Insomnia is ultimately a side-effect of our consciousness, the price we pay for being so incessantly self-aware. It is, perhaps, the quintessential human frailty, a reminder that the Promethean talent of the human mind — this strange ability to think about itself — is both a blessing and a burden.

My first academic publication!

I arrived home from a wonderful day at the University of Oklahoma where I presented the annual aluni lecture in the philosophy department, only to discover the latest issue (Fall 2009) of PRISM: A Theological Forum of the United Church of Christ had arrived.  I've been looking forward to it, because it contains my first academic publication, and theological publication at that.

The essay is entitled, "On Being an Openly Gay Minister in a Red State" and is about how pastoral care leads to public advocacy and activism in a context of oppression.  It narrates and reflects upon the 2008 Rep. Sally Kern episode.

I have been running around the house making giddy noises.  What an exciting day!  Either this bodes well for the new year beginning with my birthday tomorrow, or it is the icing on the cake of the great year that just ended (and included my wedding).

Will Coburn go unopposed?

Kurt Hochenauer analyzes the non-race.  My thoughts have been very similar.  I wish that an actual liberal progressive would run -- not to win, but just to present a compelling alternative.  I have joked that if no one else did it, I should.  But I really have no interest in what is involved in a campaign -- though if you were doing it to make a point and not concerned with raising $15 million or something, then maybe it would be more fun?

A new problem with The Euthyphro

Today I had a two-hour discussion about Plato's Euthyphro and the ethics of Socrates.

Kathy had called the meeting in response to a question raised by Betsy in their Mary Daly discussion group.  Betsy had objected to the Euthyphro because of the framing story in which Euthyphro's father leaves a laborer (or maybe he's a slave, that's not quite clear from the varying translations) bound in a ditch to die of exposure and neglect.  The dialogue is about Euthyphro's own claim to knowledge regarding matters of piety and the dialogue has had its lasting impact on the relationship between divinity and morality.

But Betsy could not get past the framing story.  Even if Euthyphro cannot give an account of motivation to prosecute his father for murder, she believes that Euthyphro is still right and that Socrates appears to not be concerned at all with the horrible death of the slave.

Kathy was concerned because she had never seen this problem.  Socrates and Plato are great heroes of hers, the dialogue is almost sacred.  But how had she missed this problem in the framing story.

I had never thought about it either, and have not uncovered any discussion of it in the secondary literature I possess.  Anyone know of any?

I also believe there is some important literary irony in the framing story, something we often overlook rushing to the philosophical argument.  Irony around the father wanting input from a seer, but Euthyphro knowing what he's supposed to do.  Irony that Socrates himself has heard from an oracle and it is leading him to court as well.

What do you think?

Arrested for drinking in a bar?

Yep, in the State of Texas.  Thanks to Mike Piazza for the link to this Mother Jones article.  An excerpt:

Arrested for drinking in a bar? Sounds like the ultimate catch-22. Since 2006, when Texas overtook California as the state with the most drunk-driving fatalities, cops and a beefed-up task force from the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission have used a 1993 law as a pretext to enter any bar and arrest its patrons on the spot. The public intoxication standard, backed by the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is so broad that you can be arrested on just a police officer's hunch, without being given a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test. State courts have not only upheld the practice but expanded the definition of public intoxication to cover pretty much any situation, says Robert Guest, a criminal defense attorney in Dallas. "Having no standard allows the police to arrest whoever pisses them off and call it PI," he says, adding, "If you have a violent, homophobic, or just an asshole of a cop and you give him the arbitrary power to arrest anyone for PI, you can expect violent, homophobic, and asshole-ic behavior."

Religious Pluralism & Identity

Eboo Patel, someone I have quickly come to admire since hearing him speak at General Synod last year, writes about pluralism and identity. An excerpt:

In my book Acts of Faith, I wrote that young people seek two things: a clear identity and an opportunity for impact. Omar chose the Al Qaeda path. Peace in the 21st century is partially going to be about making the alternative paths to identity and impact more prominent and more powerful.

At a time of a religious revival, a youth bulge and an increase in interaction between people from different backgrounds, religion can be a bomb, a bubble, a barrier or a bridge.

Religion can be a bomb -- this is the al Qaeda path.

Religion can be a bubble, where communities are -- or pretend to be -- sealed off from the diversity of the modern world.

Religion can be a barrier, where communities highlight the differences between their group and others in a way that says, "We can't have anything positive to do with you."

But amidst the noise of the bubble, the barrier and the bomb in the 21st century there is another option.

Religion can be a bridge. The raw materials of this approach are simple: this is how my religion inspires me to build understanding and cooperation with people who are different.