Monday, May 27, 2002

HAVE I NOT YET LINKED to Kairos? I should have. Start here with a Memorial Day thought, and scroll down. Lots and lots and lots of good stuff. (Yet Another Catholic Blogger.)
BERRY VS. AFRICA: Here are two links that may make my stance in the post below clearer.

U.S. Exports Misery to Africa With Farm Bill (Link via Peter Maass.) This is a fantastic article with a good, quick summary of the subsidies --> overproduction problem.

Seeking Trade, Africans Find Western Barriers

Both links require (free) registration; sorry.

Anyway, so, if Wendell Berry has addressed this stuff, let me know. Because I read these articles and get sad, furious, and in no mood to hear about how we should subsidize local farmers and stop importing goods. If you want more info on this sort of story, trawl through Brink Lindsey's site for a while.
HAYSEEDS AND STRAW MEN: I just finished reading two articles by Wendell Berry. Someone I respect a lot finds Berry wise and compelling. I have only read one slim book of his essays, and was not convinced; but realized that I didn't have much to go on. These two essays, though, really got to me, and made me wonder, What is up with this guy? So I will take you on a tour of the essays. They are about globalization, food, 9/11, and localism. I welcome emails about these I finished the essays with much less respect for Berry; I'll try to explain why. (You can find two earlier posts about Berry here and here.) I apologize for what will surely be a long and scattershot post.

The first essay is a response to the attacks on our country. I found it via Matt Welch. Here it is. As is traditional, my quotations from Berry are in bold and my replies are in plain text.

"I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day."
I wonder why this is the first sentence of Berry's essay.

I'm serious. There was nothing more important to say than this?

I don't know when Berry wrote this essay. Perhaps he had written about 9/11 in other contexts. But you know, I don't see why Berry starts off by focusing on a perceived defeat of American optimism. ("Unquestioning" optimism.) That just seems so... inadequate. I trust his intentions and his Christian convictions enough to feel sure that he is not gloating; but there's such a strong air here of "September 11 proves my politics were right!!!"--which is a tune that's played countless times in the past months, but it always sounds tinny and detached from the reality of what happened.

Berry's analysis is also not true. Neither half of it. Economic and technological optimism had been questioned every minute of every day before 9/11, sometimes rightly; sometimes wrongly. And I also don't notice a lessening of such optimism. Maybe that will come later. Maybe it's too soon to tell. But for the moment, I think most people have the mindset of a terrific T-shirt I saw: "I LOVE NEW YORK MORE THAN EVER." So no, I can't agree with this.

"IV. The 'developed' nations had given to the 'free market' the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business."
I'll leave most of this to Jonathan Adler. But a couple questions: Is the air better in the USA or the former USSR? Would you rather drink the tap water in DC or Haiti? Is pollution in Los Angeles better or worse than it was in 1982? (And let's not even start on Victorian London.) Which methods have preserved the environment better--free-market ones or state-controlled ones? Oh, and don't get me started on whether or not American farmers operate in a "free market." If only.

"VI. The paramount doctrine of the economic and technological euphoria of recent decades has been that everything depends on innovation. ...This of course implied at every point a hatred of the past, of all things inherited and free."
"Of course"? A standard rhetorical move in these essays: Assert that something is obvious, but actually give no reason for us to believe you. Why should a desire for economic innovation imply a hatred of the past? Does the invention of eyeglasses, or moo shoo pork, or ballpoint pens, imply a hatred of the past? How? Was it OK when people invented eyeglasses, but somewhere in the rush to invent bifocals and contact lenses and thinner lenses (so I no longer deal with coke-bottle glasses) and soft contacts and cat's-eye frames (why can't you just be content with poindexter glasses? Why do you have to look different?) and purple frames and purple-blue marbled frames and Lasik surgery our innovations became immoral? When Chinese immigrants invented moo shoo pork, did that mean that they hated traditional dumplings or soups or pot-stickers?

"IX. We had accepted uncritically the belief that technology is only good; that it cannot serve evil as well as good; that it cannot serve our enemies as well as ourselves; that it cannot be used to destroy what is good, including our homelands and our lives."
So we were attacked because somehow nobody ever thought that hey, wait, sometimes people use technology to do bad things? How dumb does Berry think we are? I mean seriously, even for a straw man this is pretty shabby.

"XI. ...We can continue to promote a global economic system of unlimited 'free trade' among corporations, held together by long and highly vulnerable lines of communication and supply, but now recognizing that such a system will have to be protected by a hugely expensive police force that will be worldwide, whether maintained by one nation or several or all, and that such a police force will be effective precisely to the extent that it oversways the freedom and privacy of the citizens of every nation.

"XII. Or we can promote a decentralized world economy which would have the aim of assuring to every nation and region a local self-sufficiency in life-supporting goods. This would not eliminate international trade, but it would tend toward a trade in surpluses after local needs had been met."

More on this later, but for the moment: Don't build a World Trade Center! Somebody might smash planes into it! Don't build cities--somebody might blow them up! Don't produce anything that somebody might want--and then you'll be safe.


"XV. National self-righteousness, like personal self-righteousness, is a mistake. ...Any war that we may make now against terrorism will come as a new installment in a history of war in which we have fully participated. We are not innocent of making war against civilian populations. The modern doctrine of such warfare was set forth and enacted by General William Tecumseh Sherman, who held that a civilian population could be declared guilty and rightly subjected to military punishment. We have never repudiated that doctrine."
I'm sure it will come as a shock to every American that the US government has done Bad Things. Again, why on earth is Berry talking down to us like this?

Also, I have to admit that I assumed that the Army would blaze into Afghanistan and wantonly destroy with little regard for civilian life. I don't trust the government and expected the worst. It didn't happen. I was wrong. The Army has been extraordinarily careful to avoid civilians wherever possible. Afghanistan could not be further from the March to the Sea.

"XVI. It is a mistake also -- as events since September 11 have shown -- to suppose that a government can promote and participate in a global economy and at the same time act exclusively in its own interest by abrogating its international treaties and standing apart from international cooperation on moral issues."
I wonder what this cryptic item means. We should sign Kyoto? We should stop fighting against the UN crusade to make abortions available to every woman on earth? No, probably not. So what then?

"XXI. What leads to peace is not violence but peaceableness, which is not passivity, but an alert, informed, practiced, and active state of being. We should recognize that while we have extravagantly subsidized the means of war, we have almost totally neglected the ways of peaceableness. We have, for example, several national military academies, but not one peace academy. We have ignored the teachings and the examples of Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and other peaceable leaders. And here we have an inescapable duty to notice also that war is profitable, whereas the means of peaceableness, being cheap or free, make no money."
I am intrigued, and would learn more about this. What response would Gandhi, King, or a peace academy graduate propose? What response would they propose for England in World War II? For us, in the same war? Why does Berry reject the comparison of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor (as he does in an item above)? Why do I suspect that Berry's answers to these questions would be, "Do nothing"? Suicide is painless....

"XXIII. We must not again allow public emotion or the public media to caricature our enemies. If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam, then we should undertake to know those enemies. Our schools should begin to teach the histories, cultures, arts, and language of the Islamic nations. And our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us."
I'm all for teaching about Islam. But I have a handle, I think, on why they hate us. Part of it has to do with the fact that I walked to work today in pants and a blouse, with my long hair and my dark devilish eyes exposed for all to see--no? Part of it has to do with the fact that the Middle East is a disaster area (partly our fault for supporting some of its florid tyrannies) and it's easier to attack us than to actually set up a working government. So?

The rest of the essay deals with matters that are dealt with in more depth here: "On the Idea of a Local Economy." So let's look there.

"Our methodologies of land use have strayed from our old sympathetic attempts to imitate natural processes, and have come more and more to resemble the methodology of mining, even as mining itself has become more technologically powerful and more brutal."
This is over-broad at best. Slash-and-burn agriculture mimics natural processes far more than orderly tilling of the soil does; would Berry praise it? Or are some natural processes not, actually, so great? And is mining today actually more brutal than in the days when half-naked women spent their days dragging wheelbarrows of coal through tunnels in which they could not stand up?

"What has happened is that most people in our country, and apparently most people in the 'developed' world, have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food, clothing, and shelter. Moreover, they are rapidly giving proxies to corporations or governments to provide entertainment, education, child care, care of the sick and the elderly, and many other kinds of 'service' that once were carried on informally and inexpensively by individuals or households or communities."
Two different types of question leap to mind: First, why is it wrong that I live in an apartment (within five minutes' walk from several of my friends, by the way), wear polyester clothes I bought at a thrift store and occasionally splurge on Italian boots, and grow no food? Second, if I do all those things, why may I not continue to sing, play an instrument badly, home-school my (hypothetical) children (and would it be wrong of me to send them to public school/local private school/boarding school? If I homeschool, should I eschew online curriculum providers like K12--and why? Can I buy textbooks?), and care for my folks? What's the connection here? Berry constantly assumes that if you think some things should be determined by the market most of the time (like whether Sally should go into candymaking or cabinetmaking, say), you must think all things should be determined by the market all of the time. What? Why? How many free-market advocates has he actually met who believe that? (This is actually one of my biggest problems with Berry: He almost never uses proper nouns. It's a lot easier to construct free-marketeering straw men when you don't have to quote anyone or cite their works by name.)

"Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the 'free market' and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to 'the many' -- in, of course, the future."
Proper nouns please. Who thinks this??? And I don't mean, Who has explicitly stated these goals and beliefs? I just mean, Who is Berry talking about? Who is he psychoanalyzing? If he is right, what should we look at to see that he is right?

Small: The Burger King owned by someone who would not have been able to open a successful business without the assistance and support given by a corporation.
Local: The Tastee Diner. Ben's Chili Bowl. The tiny deli across the street from the Burger King.
Private: All of the above.
Personal: All of the above.
Beautiful: The smile on the BK owner's face. The cleanliness that shows that the BK is important to the owner. The prints that he chose for the walls. His daughter, who's going to private school on the BK profits and works at the BK after school. Not beautiful, by the way: The ideology that a BK is a "dead-end job" worthy of scorn, that the owner is an oppressor and his daughter is a dupe.

"But one knows, in the first place, that 'efficiency' in manufacture always means reducing labor costs by replacing workers with cheaper workers or with machines."
Which then makes it possible for the manufacturer to make more stuff, then open more factories, then hire more workers (who often are doing less mechanical tasks, since the more mechanical ones are--hey, what a coincidence--mechanized). Henry Hazlitt has a great example in Economics in One Lesson--I think it's the English silk industry, but I don't have the book with me. Basically, weaving machines displaced workers. That sucks. But the weaving machines also allowed such a great expansion of the silk (?) manufacturing that within a short time (maybe two decades, maybe less) there were far more workers employed in the industry than there had been before.

"The law of competition is a simple paradox: Competition destroys competition. The law of competition implies that many competitors, competing on the 'free market' will ultimately and inevitably reduce the number of competitors to one. The law of competition, in short, is the law of war."
Huh? Where's he getting this? Burger King does not cause McDonalds to close. BK does not cause Tastee to close. Thai Chef does not cause Thai Phoon to close. (In fact, the first Thai restaurant often piques the local appetite, making it easier for later Thai places to open up.) Berry is competing with other authors to sell his books, yet when his sales go up theirs do not go down. In fact, theirs usually go up, since he draws readers' attention to other authors. Similarly, Ann Taylor (shudder) does not cause the Discount Dress Shack to go out of business; CVS does not destroy Target; Barnes and Noble does not cause Book Haven or Atticus or BookTraders to close. (Obviously that does happen sometimes, but it is not the rule.)

I'm not going to deal with Berry's list of the "principles" of free-marketeers, since it doesn't even bother to come close to any free-market claims that might challenge Berry's position. It's basically a list meant to show how everyone who disagrees with Berry about economics is greedy.

"AWARE OF INDUSTRIALISM'S potential for destruction, as well as the considerable political danger of great concentrations of wealth and power in industrial corporations, American leaders developed, and for a while used, the means of limiting and restraining such concentrations, and of somewhat equitably distributing wealth and property. The means were: laws against trusts and monopolies, the principle of collective bargaining, the concept of one-hundred-percent parity between the land-using and the manufacturing economies, and the progressive income tax. And to protect domestic producers and production capacities it is possible for governments to impose tariffs on cheap imported goods. These means are justified by the government's obligation to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its citizens."
AKA the right of the government to pick winners and losers, to aid some businesses and some workers at the expense of others, and to protect existing jobs in its country while destroying livelihoods in other countries and barring the creation of new jobs in its own country. No thanks. For so much more on this, click here.

"I assume that the first thought may be a recognition of one's ignorance and vulnerability as a consumer in the total economy. As such a consumer, one does not know the history of the products that one uses. Where, exactly, did they come from? Who produced them? What toxins were used in their production? What were the human and ecological costs of producing them and then of disposing of them? One sees that such questions cannot be answered easily, and perhaps not at all. Though one is shopping amid an astonishing variety of products, one is denied certain significant choices."
First of all, there are organizations that certify that goods were made under "worker-friendly" (as defined by the organization) conditions. Similarly, it should surprise no one that I support journalism that seeks to expose abuses of workers. Second, why note only that we do not know the costs? We rarely know the benefits of our consumer choices, but those benefits are equally real--and probably harder to discover, actually. And finally, what about when people in other countries want me to buy their products? Why should I assume that my trade hurts them?

"Perhaps one also begins to see the difference between a small local business that must share the fate of the local community and a large absentee corporation that is set up to escape the fate of the local community by ruining the local community."
I also see the difference between a small local business or farm that is unable to withstand weather, temporary economic crises, big losses at the beginning of an enterprise that promises to show profit later, etc., and a corporation that can make up for temporary downturns and fluctuations. Are farming economies actually stable? Are "self-sufficient" economies stable? Well, not if there's a blight. Not if there's a famine--try early modern England for a few examples. There are reasons people want to trade, to tie their fortunes to an outside corporation, and these reasons cannot be gotten around simply by labeling them "greed."

"A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met."
...Why not? Why is it acceptable (if it is acceptable) to import arithromycin and ibuprofen and hypodermic needles, books and records and record players, computers? electric appliances? toasters?--but not food? Why is it wrong to get food from other people? Because you might starve if someone cuts off your food supply? It's very hard to stop people from trading--as we've learned with Cuba and Iraq--and it's not like self-sufficiency will prevent natural disasters or other forms of devastation of the food supply. Moreover, if that's the justification, it's a polemic against all risk--What if someone attacks you? If the justification is that food is symbolic, and we need some kind of symbolic independence... well, I need more than that before I'm willing to accept the reduction in our ability to feed people, the rise in the cost of food, and the attendant suffering that a switch to a "self-sufficient" local economy would produce. It's harder to feed the world's population now than it was four centuries ago. Methods of production that were appropriate to an earlier time may be inadequate now, and we'd need a good argument to convince us to go back. I don't think Berry has come close to providing that argument in anything I've read by him so far--I've found him dismissive, unwilling to address the claims made against his position.
THIS ROCKS. I'm a big, big fan of the relevant Borges quote. (Link via Pigs and Fishes.)
THE NAME OF THE ROSAMOND: Interesting mailbag in response to my post about trends in girls' names vs. boys' names. Here are some samples:

"There's a marketing-packaging aspect to many of the non-traditional names -- the image of the sun-tanned popular pretty sexily dressed teenage girl needs a name like Alexis or Britney or Samantha to go with it. Girls in soft drink commercials aren't named Mary.

"My wife and I compromised our Jewish and Catholic traditions by going strictly OT -- Aaron, Leah, Sam, Hannah. I bet that other people compromise by going with madeup names -- then you don't have to workout with your spouse which relatives will be remembered in your children's names."

"Maybe boys are given more conservative names because they will keep the family last name. That is, people often call boys by their family names. This seems to be especially true when boys have common first Michael. So it's less of an issue to give a boy a common name.

"Girls, on the other hand, give up their last names and are generally known by their first names, so its important to have the first name be distinctive."

And: "My daughters are named Mary Katherine and Sarah Elizabeth. They reflected friends' and relatives' names; they would not look ridiculous on letterheads or on the fantails of warships; and they included the names of the Tudor queens, in roughly the right order.

"Unfortunately, true to form, the elder got into a fight with the younger, and excommunicated her."
Why are there so many blogs about rainbows
And what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions--but only illusions--
And rainbows have nothing to hide.
I've watched it too many times to ignore it--
It's something that I'm s'posed to blog...

(I seriously hate that song--and I don't care for the relativist, hippie movie it's stuck in either--but it's in my head and won't come out, so I'm inflicting it on all of you. Grrr!!! --If you want a Muppet movie, rent the fantastic "Great Muppet Caper." "Pig. Climbing up the outside of the house.")

Tim Blair: A must-read post on euthanasia. (Link via Amy Welborn.)

Mark Byron: By far the most sensible post about teen sex.

Cacciaguida: New blog on the block. "Catholicism. Conservatism. Law. The Middle Ages. Opera." Current posts talk sense about Philip Jenkins and judicial confirmations (uh, those are different posts, thank goodness).

Dappled Things: If I haven't mentioned this site before, I apologize. Very very cool stuff from a priest. Here, have an excellent quotation from Richard Rodriguez's autobiography; there's another one right above it. And his homily-summaries are just awesome.

Don't Be A Shamed: Why Denzel doesn't kiss white chicks; When Property Valuation Administrators Attack!!! (this is a must-read if you want to see politics at its worst--what a freakshow...).

The Edge of England's Sword: There is no future in England's dreaming--not if they keep on like this, at any rate. Anything that can drive Iain Murray to caps-lock and ?!?! is probably no good.

The Marriage Movement has a blog! This really rocks. Stats, news, and views on one of the most important domestic issues facing us today: the meaning of marriage.

Steve Mattson: There's so much really good stuff at this blog (the junior seminarian of St. Blog's Parish) that I'm not going to bother linking individual posts. Basically, if you want an inside-the-seminary view of the Crisis, click here.

Josh Mercer, of Register fame, has a blog!

Emmanuelle Richard: The porn business is not as big as they tell you--gullible journalists get snookered by lying porn kings. Very good article.

Sursum Corda: Lady priests mailbag; and an excellent post on marriage. Re lady priests, let me post a chunk of an email I sent Nixon in response to a very thoughtful one he sent me: "I think I prob. came across as more 'hard-charging orthodoxy police' than I intended in that post--I really did mean, Here are some questions, and I wonder what you think about them. With several of them (like the boundary-setting q.) I posed the question b/c I wasn't sure how I would answer, and figured, who better to push me than you? I see now that I sounded like I had a ready-made answer in mind, which actually wasn't true at all. Pretty much everything in your email I agreed with. I do think that you will likely eventually find the Church's stance on lady priests more of a fruitful challenge than a stark weird refusal; but that's b/c I do think I've learned about gender and metaphor because the Church made me learn. (And believe you me, I don't think the Church's position leaves me inferior or disempowered!)" Orthodoxy is sweet and necessary--but I do think my tone was off, and made my questions to Nixon sound self-righteous rather than sincere. That wasn't my intention.

Matthew Yglesias: Yet more on "American Jihad." Just click here and scroll down.

Zorak (of E-Pression) tells us a little about our favorite embittered mantis. Nifty. I may be adding some of those books to the reading list.
"I told you I was no good. I didn't kid you, did I? Well, now you know. I've been kicked around all my life, and from now on I'm going to start kicking back!"
--Peggy Cummins to John Dall, "Gun Crazy"

Friday, May 24, 2002

ARGH! I wanted to post on why horror movies so often include eerie clips of children singing, and what that has to do with the Enlightenment (no, really, I promise!), but I don't have time. Will post on Monday. For now, I'll just draw your attention to NRO's summer books symposium--bookly bigwigs tell you what's on their reading lists.
WHAT'S MY NAME???: Virginia Postrel has been posting a bit about fashions in naming. Girls' names tend to fluctuate in popularity much more than boys' names--there's much more variety in girls' names, and so names like Madison and Ashley come out of more-or-less nowhere and skyrocket to the top of the charts. Then suddenly there's six Ashleys per classroom, and the name gets overexposed, so parents back off and seek fresher names. A nifty little baby-naming book called Beyond Jennifer and Jason went through a bunch of naming trends and discussed which characteristics people associate with certain names and sounds. (For an easy example, longer names with lots of sibilance or lulling consonants sound more feminine--Clarissa is more feminine than Claire; Laurel is more feminine than Laura. You ask me, a little femminess in a name goes a long way.) There's also a recurring phenomenon in which parents begin giving girls traditionally male names (Elliot, Ryan); the name eventually becomes ambiguous (Madison); and finally parents just stop giving the name to boys at all (Ashley, Evelyn).

Father Neuhaus of First Things fame always pounces on the new most-popular-baby-names lists when they're released, and never fails to note that boys get Biblical names or saints' names (all of the top 10 this year except Tyler), while girls get a widely varying menu of names, rarely Biblical or saintly. (This year the top 10 are half Biblical to half neither-Biblical-nor-saintly.) Father Neuhaus takes this disparity as a sign that boys are taken more seriously--they're given more serious names, with a heavy weight of tradition behind them.

I'm not so sure. There are a number of possible explanations for the difference in boys' and girls' naming trends, and since I really like a lot of "made up" names (especially black American names--I know Latrease/Latrice/Latrysse and Shaniqua/Shineequea/Chanika are six kinds of pain in the neck to spell, they're really pretty), I'll throw out a number of explanations for the "made up" girls' names. (This list is not exhaustive...)

1) Parents (probably subconsciously) want to encourage girls to express their individuality and creativity, whereas boys are thought to need more stability in their lives. An old-faithful name suggests the importance of the past and of long-lasting societal mores. Since women's roles--for example, mothering and teaching--do often demand a high and often unrecognized degree of creativity and flexibility, and since women tend to avoid risks and value stability more than men (hence women's lousy record of voting for Big Government!), reinforcing girls' individuality and boys' connection to a community seems like a good idea.

2) Gender roles for boys/men simply have less flexibility. Less deviation from the norm is tolerated. Women wear pants; men don't wear skirts. I will leave others to speculate on why this is, but it almost certainly influences the tendency to give boys more boring names.

3) Total speculation: Feminists have dissed the roles assigned to women in the past so much that people don't want to associate their daughters with past role models. (This probably doesn't explain the waning popularity of "Eve"--but then, feminists can't really decide if Eve was a renegade hero or if Eve was a doormat and Lilith was the "real hero.") Giving your daughter a new-minted name suggests a lack of ties to the past, especially the religious past. The qualities valued in many Biblical men (strength, courage, leadership, wisdom and so on) are still valued, but Mary's meekness (and her courage!!!--but don't get me started on that) has been downgraded to passivity.

4) Boys are more likely to get a "family name"--a name passed down through the generations. Not sure if that's actually true, so chalk that up as another wild speculation.

I welcome any more thoughts on this subject--as you can tell, I find it as fascinating as Postrel does. Also, if you've got any info about similar or opposite naming trends in other cultures, fire 'em at me., folks.

And what about my own favorite names? Well, this nifty item lets you track the American popularity of different names over the decades. My favorite girls' name, Rosamond ("rose of the world"--a Marian name), hasn't even charted in more than a half-century. Which means it's due for a revival! (My tastes in boys' names, like everyone else's, are more standard: Michael, Richard, etc.)
Jessie is a friend, yeah, I know he's been a good friend of mine
But lately something's changed that ain't hard to define
Jessie's got himself a blog and I want to make it mine...

You know, I wish that I watched Jessie's blog
I wish that I watched Jessie's blog...

Brink Lindsey: Not only does he resume his ever-popular North Korean Dear Psycho Leader Watch--this time, there are cucumbers involved. What a sick joke of a tyrant.

Unqualified Offerings: The US can't stop a nuclear war between India and Pakistan; murdered women are news, not fluff (though this Old Oligarch post makes some good points too, especially after his clarifications); and Dubya can't practice trickle-down transparency.

Yglesias is still posting frequent updates on the "American Jihad" situation.

This blog from yet another priest of St. Blog's looks really cool.

I don't agree with everything on, but it looks like a basically solid, intriguing, necessary resource. (Link via Relapsed Catholic.)
"All through, Ed?"
"You'd hardly believe how through I am."

--Joseph Calleia and Alan Ladd, "The Glass Key"

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Blog-blog-watch-a-me bambino,
Bo-bo-boca piccolino...

Find the non-Catholic blog! (That's just what happened today, folks. More non-mackerel-snapping links another day.)

The Cranky Professor: Good post on things to think about w/r/t married priests.

Disputations: A huge amount of good stuff, esp. these reflections on forgiveness. I am not a forgiving person by nature, and really had a hard time even getting my mind around the concept--I've been known to ask people, "What do you do when you forgive somebody? I mean, what does that even mean?" Leaving aside the question of God's forgiveness, I think a basic way to forgive those who trespass against us is to return good for evil--to actually go out of our way to be charitable to those who have harmed us in some way. (Charity doesn't mean "giving people what they want," by the way. If you find that your willingness to help some jerk is actually supporting him in his jerkiness, or keeping him comfortable with that jerkiness, or blinding him to his jerkiness, etc.--then stop "helping.") But basically, forgiveness, like all acts of love, is not comfortable. It means going beyond neutrality. It's not at all about erasing the wrongdoing; it's about our attitude toward the wrongdoers. It's prison visitation, not "get out of jail free." I certainly don't want to lay this down as the only aspect of forgiveness or the only way to forgive, but it did help cut through a lot of my own confusion about how to forgive people.

How Appealing!: A fun-looking blog all about... wait for it... appellate law. Whoa. (Link via Those Crazy Volokhs.)

Onealism: Farewell. Drat! We'll miss you, Father. Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Sursum Corda: A good, thoughtful post on "thinking like a Catholic" and formation of conscience (spurred by earlier posts wondering why the Church bars us gals from the priesthood). I'll just say three things: First, that there's a difference between not understanding why the Church teaches something and thinking that Her teaching is wrong. (I know Nixon gets this, I just wanted to emphasize it because that difference is so easy to talk about but very difficult to live. It's the difference between seeking to form one's conscience and committing the sin of pride--making oneself the standard of all value. It's incredibly easy to think that if I don't understand why the Church teaches something, I should "follow my conscience" and disobey.) Second: How elastic is Nixon's understanding of Catholicism here? Say someone came to him and said, "I'm a faithful Catholic, but, after thoroughly examining the issue and trying to form my conscience as the Church instructs, I think that the Church is just plain wrong about [X]." For which X's would Nixon conclude that this person was just not self-aware or accurate in his belief that he had properly formed his conscience? Can you be a faithful Catholic and think that it's OK to commit adultery; skip Mass on Sunday; receive Communion while in a state of mortal sin; shtup someone of your own sex; etc.? (I'm not comparing women's ordination to any of these acts--I'm trying to figure out what Nixon thinks are the boundaries of the Catholic community, and how he goes about discerning those boundaries.) Third: If the Pope says that the teaching on the all-male priesthood is infallible, and you think it sucks, what should you do? (My background: I have really never cared that I can never be a priest; if I were going to pick a fight with Church doctrine, it wouldn't be that one, as should be apparent here.) But anyway, I think Nixon writes with admirable humility.

Amy Welborn: The usual brimming bag of Papist news, all worth your time--especially this verrrrrry interesting book review with some troubling info on Philip Jenkins, the guy who's been in the news a lot lately talking about how Catholic priests aren't any more likely to be pedophiles than the next guy. The Garry Wills byline means you get a bit of ax-grinding, but the Jenkins stuff looks solid. Argh. Grrr.

The Widening Gyre: Winners of the Aquinas Slogan Contest.

Today's new Catholic blogs (what, does Humanae Vitae apply to blog-breedin' as well??): Tim Drake; Lethargic IITian, comin' at us from India; and Ad Orientem, which is mostly about liturgy and architecture (I get lost in the Tridentine liturgy--and not in a good way--but I'm generally sympathetic to this guy).

...That's-a nice...
"AMERICAN JIHAD" UPDATES: Several posts by Yglesias about the Harvard Commencement speaker who plans to discuss "American Jihad."
AWFUL. A column on a truly evil, abusive "drug rehab" program. I'd read about these places before, but not recently. Click here for emails the article's author received in response. The column is difficult to read, stomach-churning, so be forewarned. (Links via Brink Lindsey.)
"The world, my friends, as it is now constituted, stinks!"
--Jack Carson, "Blues in the Night"

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

HOME IS THE PLACE WHERE, WHEN YOU HAVE TO GO THERE...: A reader writes, "After reading the Old Oligarch's post about the jackasses in Washington's 911 office, I have to wonder why anyone would live in the city itself unless they had no other options--and the only folks I can think of in that category are people assigned to the Marine Barracks, Bolling AFB, and places like that. After thinking long and hard about the subject of life in the old stomping grounds (pardon the expression) I've come to the conclusion that the only sensible place to live is Virginia, where guns are legal and taxes are low [and UVA will take your kids--ed]. Anything I really want in the District, I can visit and support with my voluntary donations or my custom. ..."

Well, I see the force of this, in a kind of raw-logic way, but man, this is home! Even now, when I schlep daily from a moderately-ugly block (beige apartment barracks, but also lovely cherry blossoms and statues) to a truly hideola block (hello, Lobbyist Row!), I like living in the District. I like knowing my anchor is stuck somewhere, first of all. I love many of the neighborhoods--there are several areas of DC where I'd love to raise a family (and they're priced within the realm of reason--I'm not talking Gold Coast here). I love walking around town (despite my high heels). I feel responsible for this place, and I don't feel anything like the same kind of responsibility for or understanding of Northern Virginia or Maryland. So I have no beef with people who ship out (like DC's noir chronicler George Pelecanos), but I also can't imagine it. I can picture just up and moving somewhere totally different--but living on the sidelines of my hometown? No way.

However, as a sequel to my post singing the praises of this little city, here're four more of my DC experiences.

Reasons the police have been called to my parents' house (since 1981; in a beautiful neighborhood that, for DC, is very safe): House broken into, house broken into, car stolen, mugging on front steps, disturbance in alley.

What I wore to bed two nights ago because my apartment building will not turn off the $#@!!! air conditioning: The usual nighttime gear, plus my warmest pair of pants; two sweaters; socks... and gloves. Yes, gloves. That's just wrong. ("It is on until October," the front desk tells me.)

When I slid down the tail of the triceratops: Before it moved from the Mall to the Zoo.

Thing I still remember from elementary school: Most of the Seven Kwanzaa Principles. My (excellent) school was named after a segregationist; yet it was also about 90% black, and Afrocentric before it was cool. Let's see how many of the principles I can still remember: Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; Umoja, unity; Imani, faith; Ujamaa, something vaguely socialist--maybe "collective economics"??; something that sounded like Kechugichagulia, but I forget what it means; and one missing one--maybe Kazi, work?? Let's check--not too shabby. I've forgotten how to sing "Frere Jacques" in Swahili though...

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. ("Thank God," the rest of America mutters...)
POETRY WEDNESDAY: From E.E. Cummings, a poem that is partly silly but mostly really good:

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
–electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born—pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if—listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go
MARRIED SAINTS (AND MORE!): The products of a quick Google search, out of curiosity.

Married Saints of Northern Italy
A book about married saints
Patron saints for children born out of wedlock
"What kind of saints do people want?" (An interesting article addressing the question, "Has the Church been canonizing too few married saints?" The author doesn't really answer, but she does provide a different perspective on the ways in which saints are role models for the faithful. I'd love to see more canonizations of husbands, wives, widows, and widowers--and this article does point out that there have been more of those canonizations recently--but the basic point this article makes is well taken: canonizations generally follow popular devotion.)
List of many patron saints for various family situations (if you look up various of these saints, like Richard Gwyn or Philip Howard, you'll find that they too were married saints)
Military and Warrior Saints
I'm goin' down to Blogspot, the blog's a friend to me,
Lives beneath the ocean, that's where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves, and that's where I will be
I'm gonna watch the blogs beneath the sea...

Blogwatch regulars Ted Barlow and Charles Murtaugh are on the same wavelength with these posts on what Dubya didn't say about human rights.

Don't Be A Shamed: History lesson.

Peter Maass has a blog! Lots of really interesting international news. I'm a jerk and can't remember where I got the link though.

There's a lot of good stuff at Unqualified Offerings today (and I don't just say that because of the bizarrely nice things he said about this site!).

Amy Welborn: Vast round-up of emails about LifeTeen Masses--the good, the bad, and the fluffy.

Matthew Yglesias: Harvard's Commencement speaker calls students to "American Jihad." I am not making that up. Read this now. Any Cantab alumni who read this site may want to think about writing the old "Henceforth I shall donate no longer" letters... (As for Yglesias's take on abortion, I think Frederica Mathewes-Greene has written better responses than I could--here, here, and here.)

St. Blog's Parish has not one but two seminarians. Good stuff.
"Me? I didn't do nothin'. I didn't kill anyone. I just drove away with the body."
--Zero Mostel to Humphrey Bogart, "Murder Inc."

Tuesday, May 21, 2002


And from Zorak, his wife, a link to this interesting little item. I'd heard about this class before, but I managed to miss the hilarious requirement that "Students must assume 'that people—both the people we study and the members of the class—always do the best they can.'" I dunno, maybe this course is being misrepresented, but I doubt it. Would that mean that every student absolutely must get an A?

Real posting will resume tomorrow. I hope to bring you Sex Pistols exegesis, among other things.

Very very interesting (uh, if you're very very interested in this sort of thing) reviews of Catholic churches. A guy hoofs it from church to church throughout his diocese and reports back to you, the viewer. I was again reminded to be grateful for the excellent preaching, architecture, and liturgy I've found. Start at the bottom of his links and move up; apparently the later pages are missing. (Link via Amy Welborn, who is blogspotty today.)

And in other news, here are some uber-creepy taxidermied (?) squirrels. Click and feel the chill. (Link via Shamed.)
"I don't like crooks. And if I did like them, I wouldn't like crooks who are stool pigeons. And if I did like crooks who are stool pigeons, I still wouldn't like you!"
--Bar Girl, "The Thin Man"

NOTE: If you use Blogspot, check your site. If you get a "Page not found" message, you may need to publish a new post or re-publish an old one. Click here for more info.

UPDATE! You may need to do that more than once. Ask me how I know!

Monday, May 20, 2002

Brink Lindsey sends a helpful and sensible reply to my item in the blogwatch below.
"Two quick comments. First, I said that the 'life begins at conception' position is justified in part by slippery-slope arguments – I certainly recognize that there are other reasons as well. Also, note that the pro-choicers have their own slippery-slope problem – which drives them to defend atrocities like partial-birth abortion. Which produces a convoluted and tragic dynamic: pro-choice slippery-slope misconceptions drive pro-life slippery-slope misconceptions, and vice versa, the end result of which is to make both sides' slippery-slope prophecies have some self-fulfilling validity and thus to inhibit the achievement of a sensible if arbitrary resolution of the matter."
It's good to watch your blog, you know it's been so long
If I don't watch your blog then everything goes wrong...

The Edge of England's Sword: Worrying round-up of bad news from Italy.

Amy Langfield: Why do people think they're entitled to have sex on my stoop? Via Matt Welch.

Brink Lindsey: Interesting posts on slippery-slope arguments; a tragic and terrible euthanasia case; and more on the slippery slope. In general I agree with Lindsey's position on the use and abuse of slippery-slope arguments (summary: the slope only works if there are good "analytical and empirical," i.e. what I'd call philosophical and historical, reasons to think we'll slide). I think he's misconstruing the pro-life position, though. The claim is not "it's OK to destroy a very young embryo, but if you let people destroy that embryo they'll eventually be sucking babies' brains out." As it turns out, that prediction would have been vindicated (and so it seems like an example of a good slippery-slope argument by Lindsey's own criteria, no?--at least as far as "empirical" evidence goes...), but it's not, in fact, the sole source of the pro-life position. The claim is that there's no valid distinction between destroying an embryo and performing a partial-birth abortion. ("It doesn't look like a baby" or "I don't feel bad about it" aren't good enough, for reasons that I hope are obvious--one being that so many of our moral advances as a civilization have involved extending our empathy to humans we once despised or neglected.) I also wonder whether Lindsey considers the slippery-slope claims made in Humanae Vitae to have been vindicated. ...As for euthanasia, I wrote a Register article on a related case, but it doesn't seem to be online; sorry.

Sursum Corda: Recent martyrs; lady priests (and responses); and being sent out into the world. My only comment on the lady priest thing is that if you reject Church teachings you don't fully understand (and I know "reject" is much too strong a word for what Nixon's doing; sorry; not sure what the right word would be), how can you ask others to adhere to teachings they don't fully understand? If someone just doesn't buy the arguments for the Church's position on, say, the death penalty, or papal infallibility, or the Real Presence, or extramarital sex--can Nixon ask that person to accept the Church's teaching because Church authority backs it?

Volokh-Mania: Interesting debate about an environmentalist campaign against ExxonMobil. Here's the pro-Green (sorta) side; here's the anti-Green (sorta) side. And eminent domain, the boring face of socialism; and an Israeli peace proposal that is getting no press attention.

Amy Welborn: A nifty list of pro-life orgs; and "Six Feet Under"'s post-abortion storyline.

And the obligatory (almost typed "oblogatory") new Catholic blogs: Heart, Mind and Strength, a group blog featuring scads of Papist worthies; and In Formation, a blog by a seminarian. The latter looks esp. cool.

And much of the awesome Eutopia issue on contraception is online now. Yay! This magazine, combined with Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility, helped convince me that the Church's position was rational. Despite some patches of philosophy-major prose, the articles are richly rewarding.
"When I have nothing to do at night and can't think, I always iron my money."
"What do you press when you're broke?"
"When I'm broke, I press my pants."

--Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, "His Kind of Woman"

Friday, May 17, 2002

NEW CONTEST!!! Actually, it's two, two, two contests in one. Send me entries for either of the contests; best ones will be published in approximately two weeks. (Note how cagey I've become about making promises....) Send all entries to .

1) When capitalism gives you lemons... This was inspired by this post over at The Volokh Conspiracy. You know those lists of different political systems and what they'd do with two cows? I want similar ideas--but fresh, funny, tart 'n' tangy, like a splash of lemon juice in the face...--that take off on the old adage, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." When Communism gives you lemons, what happens? When anarcho-syndicalism gives you lemons? When George W. Bush gives you lemons? Etc.

2) I joked about making the next contest, "Write a post about the farm bill as if you were Ivan Karamazov." Then I thought, It's so crazy, it just might work! So yeah. Write a post about the farm bill as if you were any major literary character--Winnie the Pooh, Raskolnikov, Madame Bovary, Molly Bloom, Romeo, Napoleon and/or Snowball, Scarlett O'Hara... the possibilities are endless. Go to town. No spoilers!

I am afroth with anticipation. Send me entries!!!
With a clockwork jerk
pluck cogs from blogwatches
for dinner on Friday
then recoiling say excuse me...

This post from The American Prospect's blog, about the "what did Bush know?" questions, gets most things right. I have a few nits to pick but I won't bother. Link via Barlow. The Professor has also been keeping an eagle eye on this stuff, of course.

Michael Dubruiel: Lousy scandal-news about Archbishop Elden Curtiss; and how to meet God.

Mickey Kaus, Enemy of the Good (=Permalinks): Segregation forever--in Chicago construction. This is really gross; scroll down to the first post from Wednesday.

Brink Lindsey (a fellow Kirk-and-crew fan!!): Good summary of trade policy/why we won't enter a major trade war.

Charles Murtaugh: The Incredible Expanding Lifespan (important post); "In Pakistan, Rape Victims Are the Criminals" (oh, shock, surprise); and a typically excellent post on sci-fi and bioethics (although Brave New World does not deserve the dissin' it's getting).

The Old Oligarch: I'm wrong about "Braveheart." All I can say is, I never disputed (most of) the movie's message, just its artistic quality; and I still think Edward II was a nasty frat-party caricature. But the O.O. makes a good case.

Amy Welborn: Depressing scandal-news about Cardinal Mahony--but then, how is this day different from other days? She's also got a very few good-bishop nominations (and scroll down from here).

Speaking of feminism, go check out Frederica Mathewes-Green's excellent site. Her pro-life essays are fantastic; the essays on Disney's women and her trip to a used-book barn are hilarious; and "My Cab Ride with Gloria" tells the story of how she left feminism.

And the dude who does "A Catholic Page for Lovers" now has a blog, too. Making the word "heart" appear in red is a bit cutesy for my taste, but the Page for Lovers is a great clearinghouse for Catholic/saint-related stuff, and the blog's already got some good prayers from John XXIII on it. I look forward to more from this guy.
CAN THERE BE A DECENT FEMINISM?: (Inspired, of course, by Michael Walzer's "Can There Be a Decent Left?") This was initially going to be installment #2 of The Politics of Dancing--my ramblings about rock lyrics--but it outgrew its limitations.

Over the weekend, a friend of mine mentioned the idea that feminism is primarily "an unsuccessful attempt to tame male lust." That rings really true to me, and I'm going to blog a bit about what feminism has accomplished and why it ultimately fails.

First, the accomplishments. There are some obvious good works of feminism, mostly to do with rape and battering: Rape crisis centers, marital rape laws, police rape training, battered women's shelters, and so on.

Feminism has also taught many women to a) reject some of the truly poisonous self-hate they grew up with, and b) forgive. It's especially helped many women forgive their mothers. Our ties to our mothers are so close, so intimate--for women the mother is often like another self--and so betrayal, abuse, abandonment by one's mother causes some of the greatest damage to the psyche. Forgiving a mother who has betrayed you takes immense strength and mortification of the desires for revenge, separation, or hate. Feminists are often allergic to the word forgiveness, because so often women have been told to forgive their abusers while the abusers were not challenged to stop the abuse--for example, women were told that God loves the abuser but not that He hates the abuse. (This doesn't just happen to women, of course--I don't suppose I really need to cite the priesthood scandals as an example.) This allergy to the word "forgiveness" has some good consequences and some awful ones. The good part is that "forgiveness" has become something of a cheap-grace word anyway; the image has been rubbed off the coin, the edges have been sanded down. "Forgiveness" has been used too often as an easy out. Avoiding the word "forgiveness" can actually prepare the way for the act of forgiveness. The problem is that we must forgive; to obscure or deny that is misleading. And avoiding the word simply surrenders it to the Hallmark-writers of the world. We should demand a more challenging, rough-edged, compassionate ("suffering with" the one who forgives), hardcore forgiveness. (This does not mean that it's always best to continue attempting a relationship with a deeply abusive mother. Sometimes--very rarely, but sometimes--the shock of separation is best for mother and child alike. Sorry for digression but I didn't want to give the impression that abusers who refuse to change should be rewarded.)

So yeah, feminism (by which I mean 1970s-and-later feminism, not Susan B. Anthony) has done some important good in the world. I don't want to reel off the list of awfulnesses it's promoted or made easier--abortion, the divorce rate, add your own suggestions--but I do want to point out a few reasons feminism has not succeeded at taming men or truly empowering women.

Probably the most important, underlying problem is the fact that the main disjunction in feminism is between those who value sexual equality most and those who value sexual liberty most. The problem is not solely that one of these schools of thought is wrong--the problem is that neither can really address the causes of the harm done to women.

By "equality feminists" I mean women who believe that the power relationships between men and women should be as equal as possible, and that this is best done by focusing on "equality of outcome" rather than formal equity. I know this may be confusing, since there's a group of people (think Wendy McElroy) who refer to themselves as "equity feminists"--but what they actually mean is formal equity, equality before the law, not actual equal outcomes. The equality feminists I'll be talking about, in general, recognize that both biology and culture mean that formal equity will not lead to equal outcomes for men and women. Andrea Dworkin would be a good example of an equality feminist. Sexual-liberation feminism is, frankly, easier to dismiss--it's the sunny Susie Bright stuff, the "erotica" brigade.

Here are some reasons that neither faction effectively tames male lust. First, both kinds of feminism deal with some of the most personal relationships there are. And people don't want freedom or equality in their personal relationships. Someone in love is subordinate; someone in love is not free. (For defenses of that position, click here and here.)

And biology keeps getting in the way. Only women get pregnant; only women can be absolutely certain that their children are their own; only women miscarry; only women need to recuperate from pregnancy; only women suffer postpartum depression. Those facts shape all heterosexual relationships. They cannot be gotten around. (Even women who learn that they are infertile have grown up without that knowledge. Their stories are different, for sure, but the more commonplace stories of womanhood still affected them.) No matter how much latex you use, no matter how many hormones you jerk your body around with, still these facts remain. Anatomy isn't destiny, but it ain't chopped liver either. Even Dworkin, who is often eloquent in her furious recognition of women's difference from men, has found it virtually impossible to articulate what a truly equal sexuality would look like. She has resorted to metaphors of fluidity, for example; but in the end neither Swedish social-welfare programs nor consciousness-raising can actually make heterosexual relationships equal. Women just risk more. Sex-lib feminists deny this fact, and thereby encourage naivete and terribly wrong choices in young women; equality feminists resort to utopian scenarios of the World Without Patriarchy, or else they become solely negative in their approach, knowing only what they're fighting against and not what they're fighting for.

And an emphasis on liberation and equality often leads us to devalue, or simply ignore, those who are dependent and unequal. Awe, which is an experience of submission, can barely be discussed in this framework. Love, as I said earlier, becomes equally hard to talk about; or else it is redefined as a negotiation between competing egos. And childhood--the time when all of us are dependent and unequal--becomes especially hard to value. (Both Martha Nussbaum and Alisdair MacIntyre have apparently done interesting philosophical work about humans as "dependent rational animals"--I'd tell you more about that, but I've just told you all I know....) This is not a rational consequence of feminism, but it is, I think, a temptation due to both feminist factions' inability to value dependence or submission.

Finally, feminism--especially, but not only, equality feminism--has major problems with men. ("Well, duh...") There's a strong and theoretically-justified (that is, justified by theory) overlay of "us vs. them." Within feminism, women's narratives are privileged and men's discounted. (And if anything is judged too "male," like logic, science, or analysis, it too is discarded.) Feminism aims at "patriarchy" but it hits men. And often the men it hits are its closest allies--precisely because they're closest, expectations are higher for them, and they actually care what feminists think. (The "learned weakness" I mentioned in the DC punk post comes into play here, too, sometimes.)

Feminists might reply, "Why should we care what men think? They caused the problem!" But the solution can't be found without them. You can't just ask men to "shut up for a few centuries" to make up for all the women who were silenced in the past--you can't practice affirmative action in whom you believe, whom you listen to, and whom you love--without hurting your friends and family (either men or those who love them) and warping your own analytical and empathetic abilities.

The concept of "patriarchy" causes a score of problems. First, it encourages the retreat into utopianism and rage: Since there's never been a society that equality feminists would consider non-patriarchal, there's not a lot of hope there, except in those pockets of Dianic moon-crap where people claim that the "matriarchy" was displaced in some far-off prehistoric time. (As far as I know, all of these theories are utter bull.)

And finally, patriarchy theory tempts feminists to deny women's responsibility for our actions. Feminism can often help women take responsibility for their lives; it can free them from the fatalistic sense that their abuse is inevitable and deserved. It can shatter conformity and force profound self-examination. But it also gives the Patriarchy total power. If a woman screws up, Blame Patriarchy. If a woman disagrees with you, Blame Patriarchy. Your abusive mother: Victim of Patriarchy. Your alcoholic best friend: VOP. There's often a shard of truth here (people's problems don't often spring out of nowhere...), but much more falsehood and danger--the danger of emphasizing conditioning to the point that both free will and grace disappear.

So that's my take. I doubt that many feminists read my site, but I imagine I have some readers who at least sympathize with some aspects of feminism (as do I, it should be clear). And if this is helpful in discussions with feminist friends, I'll consider my time well spent.

So can there be a decent feminism? Not really, in my opinion--the word "feminism" has been taken by the two factions described above. A feminist friend (who accepted elements of both equality and sex-lib feminism) read my copy of Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros, and returned it with the comment, "Wow--she's a true feminist." I think enough feminists would choke at that statement that it's not worth trying to reclaim the word; but if there were a decent feminism, yeah, Maggie would be it.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

WE'LL NAME HER MINNIE PEARL, JUST YOU AND ME...: I finally sat down last night and pulled together some random thoughts about the DC punk scene when I was in it--about 1993-1996. This particular part of the scene was bounded on one side by Positive Force/Fugazi (whose music I never liked), on the other by Riot Grrrl/Bikini Kill/Bratmobile/etc. I haven't tried to organize these thoughts because, well, I didn't have time; but I thought someone out there might want to know what it was like. So here's what I noticed. I still like this a lot.

The good stuff about that slice of the DC punk scene: DIY. There is no better preparation for life than the knowledge that you can Do It Yourself. Zines, records, t-shirts, clothes, music, instruments (anybody got a length of plastic tubing?), news, food, charities (not that that word was ever used), festivals, posters--you could make 'most anything. The DIY attitude fosters a sense of responsibility--instead of carping about the people who make things in the world, you become the people who make things. You have to take the criticism for what you make; you do the work; your reward is that there's something out there that looks the way you made it look. Robert Bork's phrase (which you'd never hear in this scene!) for this was, "Wreak yourself upon the world."

Riot Grrrl did an incredible service by helping young women talk about and heal after sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I learned a lot about the horrible things people do to one another. RG helped a lot of people take back their lives. "Break the silence" is not a cliche--it's what happened. On a related note, I met some incredibly strong people through the punk scene--people who had come through terrible experiences with toughness and grace. (I later met some similar people in the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy... things change.)

There was a lot of openness to non-punk kids, music, etc. There wasn't (much of) the cliqueishness and self-righteous superior attitude a lot of people associate with punk. Not that it was never there, just that it was really not a big part of my experience.

Now, the other stuff...: Asceticism. The whole "straight edge" thing (no sex no drugs no alcohol; usually no meat) gave me an allergy to the word "purity" that it took me a while to shake. sXe (=straight edge) was good insofar as it helped kids (mostly but by no means exclusively boys) reject the sex-and-consumption mentality fed to them by TV and mainstream society--especially the hothouse society of high school. The downsides included: an inaccurate understanding of why sexual purity was despised and selfishness exalted in our society--everything was blamed on Capitalism, the personification of evil; and a lack of any sense of moderation--you were impure if you drank a beer for crying out loud. Pleasures weren't really given up for anything; sXe was primarily against things rather than in favor of things. (You could see this super-clearly in the anarchowhateverist politics of sXe.)

Riot Grrrl: sex-abuse survivors + sexual tension + sexual "liberation" = sometimes a really bad scene.

"Look at me, don't look at me--look at me, how dare you look at me?!--look at me..." Punks would dress in really out-there ways (and chicks, especially outside the sXe scene, would dress in really provocative ways--I had this tiger-print skirt that was more safety-pins and hope than fabric...) but would get indignant if anyone reacted to their clothes. I mean, what? If you wear a cheerleading skirt and a baby-doll tee, I don't care what it says on it--"MAN-HATER" or "STOP LOOKING AT MY CHEST" are exactly as provocative as "BABY" or "PRINCESS." There was a lot of naivete, especially among the women, about how people would react to us. Women played up our vulnerability in order to make a feminist point; we assumed other people correctly interpreted our deliberately ambiguous gestures--and then flipped out if people misread our signals. This happened in more areas than just clothing.

An attempt to acknowledge the harm done to people because of their race, ethnicity, class, etc. became an exercise in learned weakness. Instead of taking the attitude that, look, there's racism/sexism/whatever out there and it sucks, so you'd better be ready to deal with it, punk-types instead obsessively cultivated their oppressions. Every insensitive remark was an indication of the huge crushing heteropatriarchy, and so, I think, small annoyances became much more hurtful than they needed to be. Cultivating one's sensitivity to being dissed (as opposed to cultivating a sensitivity about when you might be dissing others) makes it almost impossible to function in the workaday world. You can't get much done if you thin your own skin.

Oh, and the political and religious views were the essence of conformity.

So you can see how all this was great preparation for college--much better than my guidance counselor....
ST. BLOG'S PARISH: Apparently I'm the "parish philosopher to defend us from the Randians when they come a-callin'." Heh! I'm reminded of that scene from "History of the World Part I," with the philosophers in the unemployment line... "Did you bull$#@! last week?" "...No." "Did you try to bull$#@!?"

So anyway, just wanted to get that off my chest. Here, have some random links. I've got a lot more stuff for you in a bit.

It's Zorak's birthday!

If life gives you lemons... make capitalism. (More on this soon!)

There's a multi-blog discussion of salvation and reprobation (are some born to endless night?) going on. Good stuff, very meaty. I recommend starting here and working back and forward as desired.

Here's a "Catholic Page for Lovers" that's just bursting at the seams with good stuff.

On a different note, here are some good, reader-friendly thoughts about the wishful-thinking proposal to make DC a federal tax-free zone. (Link via Tepper.)
CONTEST WINNERS!!!: So you all rock. The fake blogs were fantastic. I can only hope that the next contest (which is really weird) will fire you up half as much. Creators' names/blogs are in parentheses. I should note, too, that I was surprised that pretty much everyone actually set up new blogs on Blogspot--I only got two submissions (see below) in email form.

Now the winners. THIRD PLACE: William Hague. (Peter Briffa)

SECOND PLACE: P. Parker. (Jim Treacher)

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: PoohPundit. (A. Beam) I'm sorry, this was the coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

HON. MENTIONS (in more-or-less alphabetical order--"less" because it made copying and pasting easier...):
Yasser Arafat. (Michael Levy)

William F. Buckley, Jr. (D. Connaughton, one of only two contestants not to set up a Blogspot site!): From William F. Buckley's blog:

Professor Galbraith upbraided me yesterday for my suggestion that our sojourns to Geneva be shortened to six weeks. He chided thusly: 'Oh it's to be Denmark on Tuesday, Belgium on Wednesday, eh?'"
Posted by WFB 2:35pm May 6, 2002

Survived 'Frontier House' on PBS, the premise of which was to see how three modern families might fare in the Montana wilds, circa 1880. A thought: Mrs. Glenn could travel the summer Shakespeare circuit as the Bard's 'Katherina' and be eminently believeable...
Posted by WFB 10:48pm May 5, 2002

Rich and the kids seem to be doing well at NRO. Rich informs me that he Mr. Dreher have to shave now and no longer get carded regularly when purchasing alcohol. Jonah, like the Beatles, appears to be in his 'dark phase', probably due to his recent marriage to Yoko. I've been told that even 'serious' adults are compulsively reading 'The Corner'. Would it be uncharitable to suggest that they could find a better use for their time?
Posted by WFB 6:28pm May 5, 2002

Many of the weblogs that have come to my attention display a disdain for civil discourse and, to the extent they say anything at all, say it rather coarsely. This ensilage of words in great quantities suggests a 'quantity over quality' milieu which lends itself to imprecisions such as the use of the word 'blue' when 'cerulean' is obviously meant. I intend to ensile my thoughts here as the spirit moves...
Posted by WFB 10:32am May 4, 2002

John Kerry. (A friend who wishes to remain anonymous)

Margaret Thatcher. (Emily Jones)

Bill O'Reilly:
Oh, wait, his whole TV show is a blog. Nevermind.

Sandra Day O'Connor:
To retire or not to retire, that is the question. Being the swing vote on the Court is not all it's cracked up to be. I could be riding horses and playing golf and shopping in Scottsdale. But there is that power thing. Anyone who thinks Karen Hughes was the most powerful woman in America needs to have their blog examined. Or Condi Rice for that matter. I determine what is lawful or not, and a girl can change her mind. It's a woman's prerogative.

(Both from Ralph Johnson.)
"Joe couldn't find a prayer in the Bible."
--Kirk Douglas, "Out of the Past"

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

WHOA. Ted Barlow links to this Scottish news story that details Pim Fortuyn's advocacy of pedophilia. What???
TOTAL DEPRAVITY: WOOHOO! More reader emails, very informative, from Lauren Coats. Email #1: "The doctrine of total depravity was badly named - it doesn't state that we are as bad as we could possibly be.

"The so-called "5 points of Calvinism" were formulated as answers to Jacobus Arminius, Dutch theologian. To my mind, they suffer accordingly. Designed to answer specific things, they are rather fragmentary in nature. Arminius argued that not all of our faculties were affected by the Fall. Specifically, he exempted Reason and Will. Total Depravity stated that all parts of our being were influenced by the Fall and consequently, none were completely trustworthy.

"Indeed, the Dutch Calvinists regarded themselves as defending Augustinianism from Pelagianism. Rightly or wrongly, they considered Arminius to be the spiritual descendant of Pelagius. Broadly speaking, that disagreement, in one form or another, has continued in both Catholic and Protestant churches right up to the present day. At best, there has been an uneasy truce.

"My own feelings are mixed. Both sides have Scriptural arguments in their favor."

Later Coats added, "The Calvinist positions were further revised and extended of course, most famously by the Dutch theologian Ursinus(No, I don't know how he got the nickname 'Bear,' but he's rarely called anything else.) in the Heidelburg Catechism, and by the Scots Presbyterians in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. If you got your data from U.S. Presbyterians, they were probably thinking of the Westminster Standards, which are much more detailed(and harsher), as they attempt a systematic exposition where the Five Points did not."
SMACKDOWN BY THE LORD MAGE OF GOOD: Christopher Badeaux gets on my case (he's in bold, I'm in plain text): You're sorta wrong. I mean that with all due respect.

Specifically, you're wrong about Star Wars, although I have to admit, the "prequels" are killing me. You've had a university education, so I don't need to throw all of the Joseph Campbell stuff at you, and anyway, I've always found that the weakest reason to enjoy the
Star Wars films.

First, they're some of the most Christian/conservative pop culture out there - there is an absolute Good, there is an absolute Evil, they're in conflict, Evil isn't misunderstood, it just bombs at midnight, and, most importantly, there's always the potential for
redemption. Redemption only comes with a massive sacrifice; it doesn't appear just because Vader feels like it. Obi-Wan's obfuscation ("everything is true, from a certain point of view") brings the hero to the edge of disaster. The moral certitudes are worth
fighting for. And so on, without dangling prepositions.

Second, the acting may bite sometimes, the script could use the odd chainsaw, and so on, but even so, people watched those movies, and still watch them. There's a primal attraction (I know, Campbell territory here, bear with me) in identifying with the
Everyman who becomes the Superman - and those films catalyze it, and make you feel for the characters, to the point where you feel like you know them personally. A more visceral reason than the first, I grant you, but still worth thinking about.

Next: You're really, really wrong about Braveheart.

If the point of art is to inspire - and Auden's depression and postmodernism notwithstanding, I say it is - Braveheart is art, and powerful art at that. It has the power to make Marines cry (yes, I've seen it happen) in the scene where Wallace's wife is murdered at the stake. It has the sheer force to grab an audience and make them want revenge, and to revel in justice done.

Yes, the film's Wallace was hardly perfect, and it kinda irked me that he played around with Sophie Marceau (mostly because it wasn't I who was playing with Ms. Marceau). But, first, for pathos, full-throated adrenaline, antique honor, truth, bravery, and all around throat-choking passion (of every sort), that movie can't be beat (and if it can, it's only by Excalibur or maybe Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Second, the "silly, nasty screaming-queen caricature of the prince" has, in fact, some basis in history. Eddie II and his
absolutely flaming displays were tolerated by the nobles until they, and his policies, became an excess. It's not that he wasn't, in fact, a member of the Mustache Parade; that's not historically really up for grabs. Let's be honest: It was pretty well understood,
especially in light of how much of a dropoff from his father he was (the scene where Longshanks berates his son for letting things fall apart while he, Ed I, is off securing French holdings, has a lot of historical foreshadowing going for it), that he was the drum major for the Parade, and he was letting it affect his rule. And his wife made no bones about why she ran off to France with their (and the paternity is up for debate here) son, Eddie Trois. So the film played it up a bit; the historical nuggets at work are more historical boulders, really. (Most of the foregoing remains open to a mea culpa if my English history isn't as good as I think it is.) If your problem is the Eddie II was portrayed as a stereotype, I'd argue, at least from what I remember, that his reign was the realization of that stereotype.

My reply: Thanks--here's my take. First, I'll partly concede the Edward II stuff (I need to re-watch Derek Jarman's weird take on the Marlowe play about him--I recall DJ's movie as being startlingly good), but it was presented in such a frat-boy manner that it just
seemed like an opportunity to laugh at the silly faggot. But you're right, it is based on history. And I also defer to your judgment on the moral character of Star Wars--I've got no beef with its "message," just w/presentation.

In general, I think our disagreements may boil down to one word: sentiment. I find both Star Wars and Braveheart sentimental to the point of nausea--emotionally manipulative, brutal (Braveheart, not SW--there's an excellent George Orwell essay, maybe "England Your England," that links sentimentality and brutality in a way that I think is 100% appropriate for modern-day America), and cheap.

It's totally possible, of course, that millions of Americans are right and I'm wrong, for the reasons you state. For the moment though, all I can say is that 20 years is not long enough for me to take the "its popularity shows that it appeals to something vital in our natures!" line.

His reply: Two small points:
First, in all honesty (and some humility) Edward II's presentation never struck me as "laugh at the silly faggot," because, well, geek that I am, I never liked him in the first place (as a king, he was a heck of a letdown from ol' Da'; more importantly, the girl I'd been seeing for a little while, a while before the movie came out, once said something nice about him - nuff said). As a rule of thumb, if he's an English King named Edward, I didn't like him. Same goes for half of the Henrys. (Interesting side note: Is it ok to laugh at Nathan Lane's presentation in The Bird Cage, but not this?) I, um, didn't laugh at him, until the very end, and that was because he was having
comeuppance. Now that you mention it, though, I'm a little ashamed, for not seeing it at the very least (and for laughing, a little).

Second, I never bought into Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, for a whole host of, well, reasons, so take this with a grain of salt: I don't see what's so terribly wrong with sentiment. Should art - high or low - only inspire the animus, not the anima? Should you never have your feelings brutally attacked by film or literature, but instead live in a comfortable insulation of pure reason? If I'm going overboard -
and I may very well be - let me tone it back a bit and ask: How much is too much sentiment? How much is enough? Does it depend on the situation? Does art lose its value once it invokes too much sentiment?

(To that, all I can say is that I was using a more rough-and-ready definition of sentiment--less Kant, more Hallmark--which may clear things up. Or not....)
ROCKET TO PLANET SHANK. THE INFLIGHT MOVIE IS...: There's a (strong) possibility that I won't post all the stuff I promised. Stuff over here is crazy. So instead here's my 10 Favorite Movies list, as promised; plus I'll post some reader email on "Braveheart," "Star Wars," and Calvinism (separate emails, sorry). Click here for Ben Domenech's list. Note that this is a "favorites" list, not a "best movies ever" list. I excluded guilty pleasures ("Lair of the White Worm" and "Labyrinth"...), but basically this is a list of the movies I like best. Because 10 is too few, I did give some movies points for diversity--there would be too many screwball comedies otherwise, so I tried to pick films that were in some way representative of my tastes. I know ties are cheating; I cheated. Twice.

10. "Grosse Pointe Blank." I love this movie. So many great lines ("I sell couch insurance"); man's search for meaning; '80s music. Poignant, fresh, and very funny. I especially appreciate the way this movie respects its audience: It doesn't explain every nuance, every aspect of Martin Blank's crisis, every joke. "You're a handsome devil--what's your name?"

9. Tie: "Sabrina," original Audrey Hepburn version/"Night of the Hunter." "Sabrina" is a sweet, funny, big-hearted movie that manages to work in both a stirring defense of capitalism and a reactionary with a slew of great lines. ("The 20th century? I could pick a better century out of a hat!") There's a recurring theme of maturity and the need to take responsibility, but it's all presented in a light souffle. Oh, and Bogart plays a Yale man; that had to affect my reaction!

"Night of the Hunter" is a dark fable of a murderous preacher (played by the inevitable, terrific Robert Mitchum). It gets on my list for the stunning sequence showing two children's trip down a river (fleeing the preacher), for the beautiful use of the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," for the sheer horror of Mitchum's character, and for the tough woman who takes the children in.

8. Tie: "Farewell My Concubine"/"Memento" The first is an epic take on the Cultural Revolution, following two Chinese opera performers and their love/hate interest, Gong Li. A very, very difficult movie to watch, with many scenes of brutality both physical and psychological, but the acting is great and the twists of political and romantic betrayal are ferocious.

"Memento" you've probably read about already. Suffice it to say that if Richard Rorty stopped being such a sunshine boy and started writing jagged, experimental film noir, this is what would happen. The woman's character is not at all well developed, but leave that aside; "Memento" is an extraordinary movie.

7. "Sweet Smell of Success." A rancid noir. The script is overripe, but give it time--I disliked this movie right after I turned off the TV, but since then I haven't been able to get it out of my mind. Tony Curtis is fantastic.

6. "The Philadelphia Story." The dream cast: Cary Grant, K. Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. Great script. A paean to drinking, vulnerability, promises, and honor. And it is beyond funny. Oh, and it's got tabloid reporters. And did I mention that Jimmy Stewart is really funny when he's sloshed?

5. "Gone With the Wind." I know. I know. It's racist (and strongly influenced white American attitudes about race and slavery). It's not as good as the book (some of Scarlett's edges have been sanded down). But it's still a hell of a show--a true epic. Scarlett's character also changes more (and more believably) than almost any other character in movies.

4. "The Lion in Winter." Another dream cast: K. Hepburn, Timothy Dalton, Anthony Hopkins, Peter O'Toole (playing Henry II for the second time). Brilliant script, soundtrack, photography. Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine spend Christmas feasting on one another's vitals as they scheme for the throne of England. A family that has long ago lost the ability to drag itself away from disaster--yet still keeps rolling on. Only sour note: The anti-war speech, which is cliched and too easy (and perhaps influenced by Vietnam). Anyway, this movie is so good it hurts.

3. "The Godfather, Part I": I don't really think I need to justify this choice....

2. "The Last Unicorn": This has been my favorite movie since as far back as I can remember. It's based on a fantastic novel by Peter S. Beagle. The animation is much more fluid and more distinctive than Disney's; the drawings express and provoke fear and empathy really well. The story is very dark, and even the ending is not unmitigated happiness--it's about love, and it's honest about what that requires. This is a movie for children, but it doesn't pull any punches or talk down to its audience. Any movie that includes the lines, "Men don't always know when they're happy," and, "Of all unicorns, she is the only one who knows what regret is--and love," is not a children's movie to be taken lightly. It's also got a lot of very funny lines ("I am Schmendrick, the Last of the Red-Hot Swamis!"). Go rent it.

1. "Vertigo." This is the best movie ever made. It's too painful to watch repeatedly, so it's a little strange to call it a "favorite"; but click here for an excellent summary of why this movie is #1.

Let the carping begin! (I guess it would be even more controversial if I explained why certain movies aren't on this list--like "Casablanca" or "Star Wars." Of which more presently....)