Penguins

First off, Amanda at Pandagon has an interesting response to my post yesterday inspired by "Sixteen Candles."

Sunday night, my fiancee and I stood in a long line at the Laemmle theatre here in town to see what surely is, in my mind, the best film of the year so far:  March of the Penguins.  We are rather mad animal lovers in our house; we are also devoted subscribers to National Geographic.  But we had never seen a film like this: every single scene left me gasping in awe at the filmmakers (who spent a year in the brutal conditions of the Antarctic) and at the beauty of the Emperor Penguins.   The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman, but I would have been happy to watch the whole thing without human voices, just listening to the sounds of wind and the water and the animals themselves.  (To be fair, the sounds of the penguins were apparently enhanced by foley artists, but that doesn’t detract from the picture at all.)

Please go see this film if you live in Los Angeles or New York or Europe (where it is already playing); it will expand nationwide soon.  Though it’s rated G, there are scenes that could disturb the very young ones, and move older sensitive folk to tears.  But it’s a profoundly serious film for all ages, and though I don’t usually turn a blog post into an advertisement for a movie, I’m doing so here today.  Honestly, I haven’t cried so much in a film since the last ten minutes of Lost in Translation.

For those folks interested in conservation efforts with penguins, check out the work of Falklands Conservation, which sponsors an adopt-a-penguin program on East Falkland.*  For 25 quid, you too can adopt a King Penguin, the closest relative to the Emperor Penguins of the film.  (There are no charities currently working on wildlife conservation in Antarctica, for understandable reasons.  Let’s hope that they are never necessary on our coldest continent.)  We’ve adopted a couple of penguins in our household at Matilde’s request.  Please see the film, and if you are able, consider a contribution to the work of Falklands Conservation.

*My father, brother, sisters and I are all British citizens.  But we also have Argentine cousins who would rather we call these islands the Malvinas.  I recall that back at our Easter gathering in 1982, there were some rather tense words amongst the family at the time of the war.  And as a fan of English football, there’s no team in the world I’d rather see beaten regularly than Argentina.

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Three embarrassments

I’m not usually one for starting lighthearted memes, but here goes:

1. What’s the one book you are most embarrassed to admit you’ve read and enjoyed (as an adult)? No question: Bridges of Madison County. I picked it up in the spring of 1993 (when everyone was reading it). I read it in the North Campus student center at UCLA, while I was supposed to be finishing my prep for my qualifying exams. I read it in one sitting, and burst into tears halfway through. One of my students (I was a TA) came over to ask if I was all right; I nodded and pointed wordlessly to the book. I re-read it a few years later, expecting to laugh at myself, and found myself in tears all over again. There’s a point at which sentimentality trumps good taste, and my affection for this book is surely proof I’ve crossed that line.

2. What album are you most embarrassed to admit you bought as a teenager? Well, I’ve never admitted this on the blog, but I spent most of the 1980s as a devoted fan of the Scorpions. That’s embarrassing enough, but rock bottom was hit in the early to mid-1980s when I developed a real devotion to Dokken (often credited with starting the ’80s glam-metal revival that culminated years later with the likes of Poison.) My high school girlfriend was in love with Don Dokken, and, I believe, tried to be one of his groupies. The Dokken debut album, Breaking the Chains is still, I must confess, one of my favorite albums of the era.  You can listen to samples on the Amazon site, and shake your head ruefully.

3.  Celebrity you’re most embarrassed to admit you had a crush on in your youth:  As a kid, I was a devoted fan of Little House on the Prairie.  Did I get a crush on Melissa Gilbert or Melissa Sue Anderson?  Oh no.  At age ten, I had a thing for Mrs. Ingalls, Karen Grassle.  “More coffee, Charles?” was about all she ever got to say, but cripes, she said it well — and I loved that hair.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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Five things meme

From both Camassia and Candied Ginger, a fun meme:  name five things that are overrated by the people you hang out with.  (Or, things that most of your friends enjoy that mystify you.) Here’s mine:

1. Jazz.  I grew up listening to folk and classical music (from my mother and father, respectively.)  Sophomore year, college, I had a roommate who loved John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Dave Brubeck.  Perhaps thanks to him, I developed a deep and abiding dislike for jazz.  I don’t understand it.  I can’t hum it.  I don’t like music I can’t hum.

2.  Cats.  I know that many folks to whom I link — and many of my friends — are cat lovers.  I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them.  I have watched too many a cat torture too many an adorable rodent.  As a devoted fan of mice, rats, chinchillas, degus, rabbits and birds, I have a hard time loving those who prey upon them.

3.  Harry Potter.  Read one book.  It was nice, but no Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings.

4.  Arguing politics.  When I was a kid, I loved to debate.  Now, I hate it.  I’m the one at the family dinner table who, when things get heated over abortion or whatnot, interrupts the conversation to ask how cousin so-and-so’s marriage is working out.  (I find that family gossip tends to be the best way of derailing an argument.)

5.  Avocados and artichokes.   I know, I’m a native Californian.  I can’t stand either of them, so help me.

Self-indulgent meme

I generally don’t like memes, but this one (from Eve via Camassia) is really a fun idea: list ten things you’ve done that your readers probably haven’t.  Nine of these are things I’ve done in the past 12 months.  So here goes:

1.  Appeared on the Glenn Sacks show.

2.  Had an IV after finishing a 50K.

3.  Get pulled out of a car at gunpoint by adolescent soldiers in the middle of nowhere, Cesar province, Colombia.

4.  Begin writing children’s stories about chinchillas.  (One special one in particular).

5. Donate money to both Planned Parenthood and Feminists for Life in the same calendar year.

6.  Get Kate Winslet confused with Cate Blanchett while watching the Oscars.  (Really.)

7.  Get on a transatlantic flight under my own power, and leave slumped in a wheelchair.

8.  Serve as faculty adviser for Campus Crusade for Christ while attending a liberal Episcopal Church and teaching gender studies.

9. Serve as foreperson of a jury,and rather than convict, do everything possible to hang the jury (hey, I had reasonable doubt.)

10. Publicly declare a commitment to vegetarianism, and fall off the wagon with a carne asade burrito three days later.

The Gilligan update

Back in May, I posted about getting a phone call from a casting agent about trying out for a spot on the new Gilligan’s Island reality TV series.  They were looking for a "real professor", and the agent was eager to get me to try out.  Though flattered, I declined to go in and audition.  I have dreams of being famous, of course… but not via reality TV.   I confess I was tempted, but not for long.

The show debuted last night, apparently, though I didn’t watch it.  I did a little hunting on the internet, and found the show’s website.  Here are the two professors who are on the show, competing against each other: Eric Anderson, a sociology prof at SUNY Stony Brook (who describes himself as very handsome), and Pat Abbot, a 64 year-old geology teacher at San Diego State who describes himself as being a historian of the earth and humanity.  (Is that all?  What does he do in his afternoons?)

Has anyone watched the show?  Should I regret not trying out?  Should I bite the bullet and find out when it airs again?

Schwyzer, Schwitzer, Schwizer, Switzer

My father recently used Google to discover a whole set of relations in Australia and New Zealand.  He and I had a happy time on the phone and the internet last night, doing some geneaological digging about.

Despite the current spelling of my name, I have no Swiss ancestry.  The original spelling, "Schwitzer", was an exclusively Jewish name.  Why my ancestors — whom we have traced back to a town called Breclav (formerly Lundenburg) in the Czech Republic –  were named for the German verb "to sweat" is beyond me, though given my proclivity for exercising, I suppose it is appropriate.  In any case, honoring the power of search engines, I am sticking the four major spellings of the family name in one post.    Any descendants of sweaty ones from the Habsburg empire should drop me a line…

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An enchanting bear, and some quick thoughts on Reagan

Before I comment on our 40th president, let me note that yesterday morning, while running on the White Saddle trail above Monrovia, two of my companions and I came face to face with a bear. We were within forty feet of the creature, and it blocked our path as we careened downhill. We all came to a sudden stop. The bear (full-sized, but of indeterminate sex) didn’t move. My friend Sharon shrieked and started back up the hill. I was transfixed, having always wanted to see a bear on a trail run, and so I began to slowly walk towards it (I wasn’t really thinking very clearly). My buddy Mark was the calmest (he was the only one to have had past bear/running experiences.) Mark held his ground and began to shout loudly at the bear, and eventually I joined in, yelling “go home” (I couldn’t think of anything else, though given where we were, it was a wildly inappropriate thing to say!) After watching us with mild interest for a moment, the splendid creature walked off the trail and rumbled down into the canyon. It made my day, though next time, I will need to be more cautious. It wasn’t that I was brave — I’m not — it was that I was so enchanted by seeing something so damn cute that I wanted to get as close as I could. Sigh. I’m such a sucker for adorable, furry mammals of any size.

It occurs to me that my youngest students at the college (most of whom were born in the mid-1980s) have little or no memory of Ronald Reagan. Yesterday, watching coverage of his death on various cable news channels (while also enduring the heartbreak of the Belmont Stakes), I was struck by how many memories hearing that marvelous voice of his brought back for me! I hadn’t heard his speeches in years, and last night, there they all were. I was thirteen when he was inaugurated, twenty-one when he left office. He was the president of my youth and of the years of my political awakening, and as a result, had a huge impact upon my politics.

I walked precincts for Carter-Mondale in 1976, as a nine year-old boy. In 1980, I wore an “Anderson of Illinois” button; my mother was unwilling to vote for Jimmy Carter but was desperately opposed to Ronald Reagan. In 1984, I wore a Jesse Jackson button in the primaries (for which I endured considerable ridicule at my conservative, upper-middle class high school), and was grieved by decent Walter Mondale’s trouncing that November. The secular liberalism of my childhood was rooted in a belief that we, the fortunate, had a moral responsiblity to help those less fortunate than ourselves — and that responsibility could not be carried by individuals alone, but was the appropriate task of the state. To a great extent, I still believe that.

So, I loathed Ronald Reagan’s politics. The tax cuts, the firing of the PATCO workers, the invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya, the Iran-Contra scandal; I denounced them all with the fiery certainty of adolescence. But even as I hated his actions, I loved to listen to him speak. I found him impossible to dislike. And unlike many liberals, I never thought he wasn’t bright. The recent publication of many of his handwritten notes and letters make clear that he wasn’t the “amiable dunce” that many of us on the Left insisted that he was. (Jonathan Dresner briefly disagrees here). From what I’ve read, he was a surprisingly subtle thinker with a fine layman’s knowledge of history and superb political instincts. I see no reason why we on the Left cannot simultaneously abhor a man’s politics while declaring him to be a bright, well-intentioned and fundamentally decent person. Reagan always seemed to be gracious to his adversaries; I only wish all of his adversaries had been equally gracious in return.

He often made me cry. That’s not hard, mind you, I’m a very sentimental guy. National Review put up his 1989 farewell address today, and re-reading it, this thorough-going socialist puddled up. In some small way, I loved Reagan because I felt I had a kindred spirit in this sentimental man who preferred moving personal stories to dry and impersonal facts. I too longed for a shining city on a hill, though my current fixation on Anabaptism renders me suspicious of any possibilty of transforming the state into such a place. Anyhow, read the speech — and amidst the half-truths and the folksiness, perhaps you too will see something beautiful and compelling.

UPDATE: Conservative gay Trojan blogger Boi from Troy has a roundup of various bloggings on the passing of the Gipper. Some are touching, some are profane, some are self-righteous, all are genuine. And I really liked the way John Kerry phrased his tribute; read it here. Jonathan Dresner has also expanded on his comments about Reagan’s intelligence, the clarification is here.

More on the name thing

In today’s National Review Online, my favorite social conservative columnist, Frederica Mathewes-Green, has a splendid argument against hyphenating names when one marries. Since she obviously has a hyphenated name, her case is all the more interesting and compelling — and very, very funny.

She concludes thus:

The hyphenated name wasn’t a noble experiment, it was just a sign of the times, good for a few laughs, a few scrapbook pages of mangled address labels. It wasn’t the important thing. So if you’re planning a wedding right now my advice is: Don’t plan a wedding. Plan a marriage instead. Make it wonderful, and when it isn’t wonderful, make it last.

And no matter how romantic it sounds, a hyphenated name will only give you headaches. Oh, what a tangled web we create, when first we practice to hyphenate.

I’ve been married several times. None of my spouses took my name. I always assured them that it didn’t bother me in the least that they kept their maiden names. I was lying through my teeth.

Reasons to Rejoice

What are you grateful for tonight? I’m grateful that our chinchilla is well, that I have a new car coming, and that I am finally online with my cable modem from home. Oh yes, and I am running again, healed from that loathsome and tenacious respiratory infection.

There are other reasons to rejoice: XRLQ and wife are to have a baby boy; send your congrats to the erascible and erudite unpronounceable one.

The Cal Golden Bears softball team is in the semifinals of the College World Series; I caught a bit of the game today.

In my post on confirmands at All Saints, I mentioned that Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles was planning to perform his first same-sex blessing since becoming bishop on May 16. It happened as planned; here is the account.

Bishop Bruno invited Malcolm and Mark to stand in full view of family and friends to declare their covenant to one another : promises to live together in love, to be faithful to one another, to support one another so that they might grow into maturity of faith in Jesus Christ and to do all in their power to make their life together a witness to the love of God in the world.

The bishop then instructed the couple to clasp each other’s hand so that he could wrap them with a beige silk scarf presented by Mark’s brother, John, and painted by Malcolm’s mother, Beatrice, half a century ago. The bishop pointed out the painted image on the scarf – a flock of cranes – and noted it symbolized good health, prosperity and the uniting of two families. After tying the scarf in a knot around their hands, Malcolm and Mark took turns pledging their love for one another.

The invited guests prayed for the couple and gave their promises to celebrate with them and stand by them in times of trouble and distress. Then, all, many with tears of joy in their eyes, raised their hands and joined the bishop in the blessing the union of these two loving and gracious men. How could they not?

Not all are rejoicing. Kendall Harmon is concerned as to definitions:

Sure sounds like a wedding to me. But it isn’t one we are told. No legal implications either. So we are clear on what it is not (or are we really?) What is it then? Can you do something this significant without even an agreed upon term for what it actually is? Without any meaningful development of a basically coherent theology for it?

Well, liberals are very clear on what we think it should be: a wedding. A wedding legally, spiritually, and theologically indistinguishable from a heterosexual wedding. The problem for me, as a liberal with deeply evangelical impulses, is that most of the best theology is on the other side. Liberal theologians end up using Enlightenment rhetoric about liberty and rights as often as they cite Scripture. The left has completely captured my heart. Unfortunately, the right has my head. Yet as a complete and utter ENFJ, I’m going to put my heart first. As my second-favorite poet, Auden said:

and always, though truth and love
can never really differ, when they seem to,
the subaltern should be truth.

Saying goodbye to the truck

First off, everyone needs to go and read Father Jake on the subject of “Pacifism for Violent SOBs.” Best post of the week.

Sometime in the next couple of days, I expect to turn in the Toyota Tundra 4×4 that I’ve been leasing for some four years now. The Tundra, for those unfamiliar, is a full-sized 8-cylinder pickup truck that gets (on a good day) fourteen miles to the gallon. I’ll bet that most of my readers who don’t know me are surprised I have a thing for pickup trucks. (An activist I know from Men Can Stop Rape, Jonathan Stillerman, has a good piece on men and trucks; read it here.)

I’ve had the truck since November, 1999. At that time, I confess I was dating (briefly) a young woman who seemed, for lack of a better phrase, “somewhat nonplussed” by what she regarded as my insufficiently masculine demeanor. In other words, she wanted a more macho guy. (Running marathons didn’t count; she wanted, I realized too late, a lumberjack). Thus, when I leased the truck, I was — in part — trying to impress her. But I was also fulfilling a fantasy that I’d had since my childhood: driving a pickup. Most of the holidays and summers of my childhood were spent on a ranch in the hills northeast of San Jose, California. I spent my days up there following around (and idolizing) ranch hands and caretakers, men who drove old Fords and Chevys, smoked Marlboro Reds and drank Olympia beer. I loved the way the trucks smelled of cigarette smoke, hay, motor oil and, yes, horse manure. Climbing into the cab of a truck driven by Ed, or George, or Brad (the man’s men of my youth), I felt big. I felt good. And I wanted a truck.

In retrospect, it’s surprising that I waited until I was 32 to get my first pickup. My first car was a used ’83 Honda Accord; the second, a leased Toyota Corolla. Getting hooked on leasing has kept me within the Toyota family for over a decade, simply because the incentives to keep leasing are so great. But when I turned in my previous car that November day almost five years ago, I asked to take a test drive in a brand-new, shiny red Tundra pickup. I started it up, and before I had pulled out of the dealership, I knew I was hooked. I felt big again. The girl was only briefly impressed; we broke up six weeks later. The truck, replete with wood trim, leather seats, and on-demand four-wheel drive has been mine ever since. So too have the lease payments. And in all that time, I’ve used the four-wheel drive exactly once.

It’s been difficult to show up to Pasadena Mennonite Church in a four-wheel drive pickup with leather seats and walnut paneling. It’s difficult to rhapsodize about the virtues of simple living and conservation when you’re getting 14 miles to the gallon with a ridiculously over-powered V8 engine. It’s turned into a bit of a “white (or fire-engine red) elephant” in my life, and a source of bemusement to my family and friends.

I’m likely to lease a Toyota Solara this time around. Still a fun car, but far more economical and far less bulky. Yes, I suppose like a good progressive, I should be eager to lease a hybrid (like the Toyota Prius), but I confess I am unwilling as of yet to downsize to quite so small a car. But at least I’ve gotten the pickup — and the attendant fantasies of my childhood — out of my system.

UPDATE: Through some very nice connections that my girlfriend has, I found a 2004 red Solara SLE; it’s being dropped off tonight. The truck will be gone within the hour.