Monday, June 30, 2003

PICTURE BOOKS: After the kids' books post, I started thinking about picture books as well. I remember picture books much less vividly, since I generally didn't reread them in later life, but there are some that stand out--Tomie de Paola's Prince of the Dolomites, what I think might have been Patricia Tracy Lowe's version of Alexander Dumas's Tale of Czar Saltan, William Pene du Bois's Lion (truly a magical book, perfectly combining the ethereal and the sensual--it's the story of an angel who designs the lion).

Here's a list from the New York Public Library that has a lot of good stuff--I can vouch for Blueberries for Sal, Bread and Jam for Frances (and all the Frances books), Caps for Sale, Corduroy, George and Martha, Harry and the Purple Crayon, Harry the Dirty Dog, Miss Nelson Is Missing, Babar, Strega Nona, There's a Nightmare in My Closet, Tikki Tikki Tembo (hey, do I still remember the kid's whole name? Tikki Tikki Tembo No-Sa Rembo Cherry Berry Ruchi Puchi Pip Perry Pembo--I think that was it!), The Very Hungry Caterpillar; and, of course, everything by Maurice Sendak ever. Oh, and Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling C. Holling (what a great name!)--a great book about a carved Indian in a carved canoe who makes his way through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Wow. Those were fun. Surely you know a kid who could use one...!
FOUND MAGAZINE. That's what it is: stuff people found. Like notes reading, "With a smile like that you must not be from around here." Or, from a high school hallway, "You really are 'gifted.' I wish I could 'talk French' like you. I just thought it was funny coming from Mme. Sorry for laughing." There are photos. I could spend hours at a site like this.... Via Sed Contra, who is back.
ALSO, YOUR BIO PROFESSOR WILL HAVE A CREEPY OBSESSION WITH THE BONOBO A.K.A. SEXMONKEYS. BE FOREWARNED. From Ginger Stampley comes the question, What advice would you give if you could go back in time and talk with your former self? I've wondered this quite a bit, given the weird turns my life has taken. I'll take two moments--one at the end of ninth grade, one at the beginning of my freshman year of college....

Dear Ninth Grade Self,
You'll get bored with being radical.

Read more Shakespeare, less Sistah Souljah. The House on Mango Street isn't even a book for pete's sake.

You can't escape shame by turning it into pride.

Senior year is going to be really, really awful, so be prepared, and try to be a good friend to the people who will need you.

You know more than you think you do about God, but less than you think you do about life.

Don't put anything in your zine you don't want your mother to read. Even if she never sees it, you can bet that you will regret it later. In general, be a lot less of an exhibitionist/agent provocateur.

You're surrounded by amazingly patient, forbearing people, especially your parents. You should return the favor, but I bet you won't....

Dear Freshman Self,

Don't take "gut" science classes (i.e. Rocks for Jocks). You will be so bored you'll come within an inch of FAILING, like with an F. Panic and hideola grades will ensue. Take History of Science instead--it's a cop-out, but it's an interesting cop-out.

Don't be so quick to judge people. Some of the "cool" people will leave you in the lurch or betray your friends; at least one of the people you can't stand will prove to be a loyal, courageous, and inspiring friend. (Roo-fiance, this means you!)

PLEASE don't be so histrionic! Get a grip!!!

Don't believe everything you hear, especially if it makes a friend look bad. Remember that people really do have enemies who spread false rumors about them, or, mistakenly but not viciously, perceive events inaccurately and draw bad conclusions.

Speaking of, be slower to draw conclusions yourself.

Talk more, and don't be afraid to look stupid. Give more speeches in the debating society you're about to join--you'll really regret this if you don't do it, because you'll realize it took you until junior year to give a good speech.

Keep your temper in check even with people who hurt your friends. Other people's viciousness, gossip, and vengefulness are no excuse for you to respond in kind. If you do act all evil to your enemies, you'll just end up having to apologize; skipping directly to forgiveness will save you a step. It's possible to stick up for your friends without returning evil for evil.

Don't worry--you will not regret spending so much more time with your friends than with your studies.

As soon as Taste of India opens, eat there every chance you get--a car's gonna ram into it pretty soon and force it to close down. Oh, and start eating meat again ASAP, you wouldn't believe the hamburgers they've got here!

There's more, but hey, ya gotta figure some stuff out for yourself...!
OLD CRIMES: The proceedings of the Old Bailey from 1714 to 1759 are online. Link via BuzzMachine.

Friday, June 27, 2003

QUICKLY (will probably post more substantive stuff tomorrow...): AfricaPundit on Charles Taylor/Liberia/total idiocy from the Associated Press. What possesses these people?

Zainab, an Iraqi woman blogger. Via BuzzMachine; I basically agree with his take, i.e. great to have another blogger on the scene but why the cliched, "running dog of the imperialists"-style high-school-anarchist rant? So, be forewarned, Zainab's first post won't tell you anything. But that's life.

Hoder calls for brave reporters to unmask Iranian governmental corruption. Please read.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

WOW. Barbara Nicolosi of ActOne: Christians Writing for Hollywood reviews "The Passion," a.k.a. the Mel Gibson movie about the life and death of Christ. She's awestruck.
ENDEARING ARTICLE about Denis Thatcher (RIP), via Oxblog.
MMMMMM, homemade liqueurs. Eeeeeek, no matter how much I love Jello with fruit in it I do not think pretzels (yes, pretzels) would be a good addition.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

HMMM.... Decided I couldn't phrase things coherently without saying just a little bit more than I want to about my own personal situation. So, voila! the post is gone. Sorry. There's lots of cool stuff in the rest of the blog though.
HEH-HEH-HEH. Reason's blog is hosting a comments-box discussion of whether Brave New World is really a dystopia. All I can say is, Thank you for confirming my prejudices.
NO WAY TO FIGHT. This is wrong. Seriously. More on this later if I can think of anything especially useful to say.
CENTENARY OF ORWELL'S BIRTH TODAY--read some of his essays. Via The Rat.
YES!!! Excellent piece on writing by Peter David--excerpts: Where do writers get ideas?

They don't get ideas. Ideas come to them.

They come from the newspapers, or books, or TV shows. They come from movies, or friends. They come from happenstances that they witness or hear about second hand.

If I'm making it sound like ideas are a dime a dozen, well...they are. Probably less. It is so darned easy to get ideas if you just set your mind properly.

The key to writing fiction is remembering just how closely linked fiction and reality are. Fiction is just like reality, except it's more elegant. ...

Execution. That's where it all is. You see, how you tell a story is more important than the idea. A hundred writers can have the same idea, and produce stories involving that idea that are wildly dissimilar. Look at the half-dozen movies that came out a couple years back involving a kid in the body of a man. The only one worth a damn was "Big." Same concept. Better execution....

There's also good stuff about the difference between "inspired by" and "plagiarized from," and in general the piece is just fun to read. Go! Have fun!
POETRY WEDNESDAY: I've been reading Tim Powers's Declare, on the advice of a blog-reader, and so far it's terrific. Sort of a dark fantasy Cold War spy novel. Perfect summertime reading. However, it doesn't excerpt well, which is why I haven't been posting the usual quotes from my reading.

Anyway, I wanted to get something fun up here after all. that. law. (Below the law post, you will find kids' book recommendations, so there is a point in scrolling!) So here is a poem for this hot, hot, almost hot enough June day. I'm not sure why it seems appropriate, but it does. From Lord Byron.

So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

MORE LAWBLOGGING! Once again, I will rush in where angels fear to blog, as I take issue with people who know more than I do about the law. For prior instances of my hubris, click here (me vs. Prof. Jack Balkin) and here (me vs. Prof. Lawrence Solum).

This time I'm arguing with Solum again, addressing what strike me as significant flaws in Solum's defense of "really really strong stare decisis," the belief that the Supreme Court should in all cases put precent above fidelity to text and history. Hereafter that view will be called RRSD.

I think that Professor Solum won't take too much offense at my presumption here, because his general cast of mind seems to be pretty populist; I get the impression that he believes the inner workings of the law (or at least the theory of it) should be roughly intelligible to the laity. After all, we have to obey it--might be good if we can understand it!

So. I have three disagreements, a question, and a brief set of suggestions. We'll run through these in reverse order. Sorry if this gets confusing--there will be a couple of points where I have to say, "More on this in a moment!", but I think at the end you'll see why I structured it this way.

And please do check out Solum's post--it's a good hardcore argument.
HOW MODERATE STARE DECISIS COULD WORK. Professor Solum gives a few examples of how judges could respect precedent without giving it preeminence over text and/or history. He offers "precedent last," "precedent as one factor to be weighed," and "precedent as binding in the absence of clear error." He rejects all of these options as unsatisfactory, often because they allow for too much discretion on the part of the justices. I actually like the absence-of-clear-error one, more on that in a moment; here are four possibilities I think are, at least, better than RRSD, though none of them makes judicial flimflammery impossible.

Ways judges might discern when to follow precedent in the teeth of the text and when to reverse course:
a) The Graybeard Rule: The older the better. Recent precedents are up for grabs, but precendents that have had a long time to get really dug into our law and ordinary lives can be left alone in the interests of avoiding disruption and preserving order. (More on Solum's passion for order later!)

b) The Sleeping Dogs Lie Rule: The Supreme Court shouldn't seek to "settle" political issues for us little people. But sometimes it does; and sometimes it even succeeds. The SDL Rule would allow justices to reverse precedents that remain controversial, either reasserting the text or simply returning the issue to the legislative arena. Justices would continue to rely on or at least leave alone those precedents that are rarely disputed.

c) The Egregiousness Rule, which is Solum's "absence of clear error" rule. Rulings that are textually sketch but not wilfully destructive of textual meaning are left alone, while blatant text-manipulation gets the smackdown.

d) RRSD for non-Constitutional issues (whether common-law, where you need SD a lot more, or legislation, e.g. the 1964 Civil Rights Act but not the 14th Amendment), but text-over-precedent for the Constitution.

None of these are perfect. I'm not even sure which one would be best, or if there are still better possibilities out there. To make that judgment would be to soar outside my quite limited competence even more than I'm already doing. My tentative preference would be d, c, b, a, in case you care, but I'll be glad to get any critiques of that stance.
All of these possibilities require more prudential judgment on the part of the currently-sitting judge than Solum's model. In fact, this is why Solum rejects the "egregiousness" standard. Part of the point of RRSD, for him, is that it removes much of the opportunity for judicial discretion, much of the need for prudence.

Solum thinks this will make judges more predictable and less powerful. I think the second claim (RRSD will diminish judicial power/oligarchy) is just false--I make my case here.

I do see how RRSD limits a Solumite judge's personal decisionmaking. But I guess I don't weight that as heavily as Solum does. We know we can't get judging-by-computer: Some degree of discretion and prudence will always be required. Given that, for reasons both practical (I think RRSD provides huge incentives to judicial power-grabbing) and principled (more on this in a moment), I'm pretty comfortable with a less rigid schema that sometimes or often sets text above precedent. Solum seems to me to be collapsing "prudential" into "random," but in fact we can teach prudence and we can discuss whether particular jurisprudential judgment calls were imprudent, even if those judgment calls involved weighing various factors and applying relatively complex rules. (There aren't no rules, just slightly more complicated ones--and in fact, the text itself is quite constraining, so you're in no way getting "judging without walls"...)

As a side note, Solum seems to get into exactly the kind of epistemological skepticism that is so wildly useless in philosophy: We want to overturn bad precedents because we know judges get stuff wrong.

But wait! I could be the one getting stuff wrong! Aaack! How can I impose my will, by overturning bad precedents, when my overturning could itself be a bad precedent??? Paralysis ensues. (I'm getting this from the section on the perspective-shift, the one that ends, "Totally bogus, man!")

RRSD functions here as an escape from judgment, an escape from knowledge and the search for knowledge, and an escape from individuality and fallibility--just like how skepticism functions in philosophy. And just like in philosophy, this corrosive doubt is self-undermining. If people want me to, I can do the math on this, but really if you start thinking about it as an epistemological theory (which is what it really is) rather than a jurisprudential theory I think you'll see the problem.
A QUESTION. Solum says it will be possible to work around offensive precedents. Over years of Solumite judging, a body of Solumite precedents will build up that will, slowly but surely, overpower the bad precedents of the past:

"As neorealist precedents accumulate, the force of realist decisions is gradually eroded—their gravitational force growing ever less powerful with time. Strong stare decisis does not require the view that errors can never be corrected. Quite the contrary. As time passes, realist decisions control a shrinking domain, then are confined to their facts, and finally are overruled. How can that be? If precedents are binding, how can they ever be overruled? You already know the answer. Formalist judges overrule precedents when, but only when, they have become so inconsistent with the surrounding legal landscape that respect for precedent requires that they be overruled. This move is so familiar to common lawyers that we don’t think twice when we see it happen."

But this description is way too metaphor-laden for me. What does this change look like? How do you simultaneously embed a precedent and work around it? Won't this strategy lead to major discrepancies in the law--rulings that conflict, rulings that confuse, rulings that are too narrow to offer clear guidance for people trying to follow the law--and thus destroy the order that Solum seeks so strenuously to preserve?

I don't get it. How does this work?
LAW AND/OR ORDER. Now we come to the heart of the matter: the issue of order vs. chaos. Here we get to my three most basic objections to RRSD.

a) Justices have life tenure, yo. It's potentially great power with limited accountability. Why remove one of the few checks on the Court? This is the point I was making with my whole scrumptious-eclair imagery here.
b) Solum proposes RRSD in large part because he views the Court's role as preserving order in a society and staving off confusion. "The rule of law" for him is equated with stability and certainty, thus with adherence to precedent. It's certainly true that order is necessary for people to plan their lives, to attain a degree of control over their futures. (Much of the fatalism in poor or corrupt countries derives from this sense that life is absurd, unintelligible, arbitrary, so who can plan his own future?)

But I think Solum is defining confusion down. If it's chaotic to overturn a precedent, isn't judicial review in itself inherently chaotic? Why is overturning a ruling worse than striking down a law? Solum's positions seems to require that if Congress passes a law saying British troops will be quartered in U.S. homes, the Supreme Court can smack 'em, but if the Court itself rules that British troops etc. etc., no future court could reverse them. Color me... confused.

I think that Solum is pushed into defending RRSD because he wants to allow for change of bad precedents (see "A Question" above), but he wants that change to come slowly. He wants evolution not revolution, and all that Burkey goodness. Fair 'nough as far as it goes.

But the structure of the Court already slows the pace of precedent-change. (For example, Eugene Volokh has pointed out--can't find the link, sigh--that contrary to NARAL propaganda, Roe, sadly, does not hang by a thread.) Supreme Court appointments are staggered; and any would-be revolutionaries must face the hurdle of Senate confirmation. Adding RRSD would turn a slow process positively glacial.
But that isn't my most important point. This is:

c) There is a higher order--represented not by the whim of the Court, but by the Constitution. This is the final point: RRSD replaces the Constitution with the Court. The Constitution becomes the thing you rely on only when no previous court has left its fingerprints all over the issue before the judges.

Presidents--and Court justices--take oaths to uphold not the Supreme Court's precedents, but the Constitution. The order they're called to preserve is the constitutional order, not the order of whatever happens to be the precedential status quo.

I do understand the danger of disorder and the preference for reconciling ourselves to precedents rather than crafting each ruling as if it were 1790. Hence the various possible concessions to stare decisis above. But the relentless ardor for precedent above Constitutional ardor strikes me as more likely to produce confusion, and less likely to preserve justice and "ordered liberty," than a more complex and more Constitution-focused understanding.

You've got the email link over there if ya wanna prove me wrong....
KIDS' BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS: I love recommending kids' books. So I was thrilled when an acquaintance asked for some thoughts on favorite books. First off, here's my Crisis magazine piece about Christianity and children's fantasy; you'll find many of my favorites there. Here are a passel more, chosen more or less at random, that I hope will bring someone many, many happy hours. My tastes skew dark, so be forewarned, but some of these are very sunny:

Diana Wynne Jones, esp. Dogsbody, Power of Three, Witch's Business (published in UK as Own Back Ltd. I think), The Ogre Downstairs, Cart and Cwidder, Howl's Moving Castle--heck, they're all good. Jones has a stellar sense of intrafamilial dynamics (especially between siblings). Her characters always have distinct, realistic personalities. And she remembers the characteristic awfulnesses of childhood--the despairs, fears, and miseries of people who have very little past, and therefore no realistic sense of the future.

Arabel and Mortimer series by Joan Aiken. Mortimer is Arabel's pet raven. The two of them make a hilarious pair--sort of Paddington-esque, but slyer. Aiken's Is Underground and Cold Shoulder Road are dark and terrific, and her short story collection The Faithless Lollybird is very good.

Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Deserves its classic status. Beautifully written. A great book about fatherhood, sonhood, aging, evil, and wonder.

Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpes series. SO MUCH FUN! Hilarious adventures of backbiting family of geniuses and their one ordinary son.

Michael de Larrabeiti, The Borribles and The Borribles Go for Broke (there's a third one, Borribles Across the Dark Metropolis, but it's not as good). Very dark, but I really loved these--feral, kind of elfin children leading secret life in '70s-'80s-ish London, and battling giant intelligent rats.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The Egypt Game is her most famous book, and it's great; The Headless Cupid, Blair's Nightmare (I think that's what it's called), The Witches of Worm (very dark), and The Changeling are also good. Oh and her "Below the Root" series--Until the Celebration, Below the Root, And All Between. Maybe not in that order.

E.L. Konigsburg--another classic writer. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver (about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II!); Father's Arcane Daughter; more.

Stanley Kiesel, The War Between the Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids and Skinny Malinky Leads the War for Kidness. Awesome.

Gordon Korman is generally a VERY funny writer, although not all of his stuff is up to snuff. I loved the Bruno and Boots series (This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall!, Beware the Fish, Go Jump in the Pool, The War with Mr. Wizzle) and Son of Interflux.

The Henry Reed books by Keith Robertson, esp. Henry Reed's Journey and Henry Reed's Babysitting Service.

All the Ramona books (Beverly Cleary) except the most recent one completely rock.

Roald Dahl of course.

The famous trilogy by Madeleine L'Engle--A Wrinkle in Time, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Wind in the Door. Excellent, very smart stuff. (Special treat for readers of this site: AWIT includes a way to explain the difference between our perspective, in time, and God's perspective in infinity, using a skirt! Very helpful for free will vs. foreknowledge-type discussions....) Other classics that deserve their status include Edward Eager's books (Half Magic etc., I loved them all), E. Nesbit, Lewis Carroll, and--more than the others--the amazing Wind in the Willows. If you haven't read TWITW already, you're in for a real treat.

I loved The Count of Monte Cristo despite its vast length.

The Rescue of Ranor by Wilanne Schneider Belden--sense of humor and also sense of duty--very fun quest book with some dark currents.

Willo Davis Roberts's The Girl with the Silver Eyes is great; everyone else seems to love her View from the Cherry Tree, which I can't remember if I've read. TGw/TSE is a vibrant, sophisticated example of the "child with bizarre, alienating abilities learns that she is actually part of a secret group of children who must discover their destiny w/the help of some cool adults and the opposition of many lame adults" genre. Thus, tons of fun for bookworm kids.

Jean Merrill's Pushcart War and The Toothpaste Millionaire are fun, sweet paeans to the little guys. I wrote a bit about TTM here.

Ellen Conford is good--Me and the Terrible Two for younger kids, The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations for preteens.

I read an amazing amount of drek as a kid (my parents very wisely let me read whatever I wanted, figuring there was enough wheat mixed in with the chaff...) but these are some of the books that I still love.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

MARK SHEA on why the Pope isn't doing what you want him to do (the first point is especially interesting to me--I've blogged about my problems with the third point in the series that begins here) and starting a lay Catholic reading group. The latter link is hugely, wildly, pom-poms-waving recommended. Shea also has the usual slash-and-burn theology (I mean that in a good way) and sundry intriguing posts.
STUDY SUGGESTS DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE SEXUALITY. In other news, water wet. But if this study has any merit (and I can't even guess whether that's a big if), it is mildly interesting/confirming-of-what-I-already-think:

"Three decades of research on men's sexual arousal show patterns that clearly track sexual orientation -- gay men overwhelmingly become sexually aroused by images of men and heterosexual men by images of women. In other words, men's sexual arousal patterns seem obvious.

"But a new Northwestern University study boosts the relatively limited research on women's sexuality with a surprisingly different finding regarding women's sexual arousal.

"In contrast to men, both heterosexual and lesbian women tend to become sexually aroused by both male and female erotica, and, thus, have a bisexual arousal pattern...."
YOU LIKE THE BIBLE, BUT NOT THE REAL PRESENCE IN THE EUCHARIST? I think you've irritated a lion! (Nice post from Lynn Gazis-Sax, in other words. I don't actually know if her site's title means "Don't bug the lions." That's because I dropped out of Latin after "Canis est in via. Grumio Melissam delectat." or whatever.)
WISDOM TEETH: The day I moved back to D.C., in August 2001, my wisdom teeth were killing me. I could barely chew. I tried valiantly to eat a Roy Rogers hamburger at a NJ rest stop, because I love them (it tastes like they butter the bun, mmm) and the chain is no longer operating in D.C., but it just hurt sooooo much.

So I went to see the dentist. My dentist recommended that the teeth be removed, which I'd expected. Then he showed me a little cartoon movie.

I still remember this movie vividly. I still remember the little cartoon tooth being dug out from its little cartoon jaw. And I very, very clearly remember the little cartoon nerve being snagged, and damaged, by the tooth on its way out. I vaguely remember the movie's antiseptic warnings that there was this percentage chance of partial nerve damage and that percentage of total loss of feeling in this, that, or the other sensitive mouth-place. But I do know that the movie was scary. I hadn't even thought about the possibility that my nerves might be damaged in the course of wisdom-tooth removal.

After seeing this charming movie, I pretty desperately didn't want to get my wisdom teeth out--but they hurt so much! Fortunately (sort of...), I have a minor blood disorder, which I had to get checked out before I could have the surgery. This process dragged on, due to a few fairly odd bureaucratic mistakes, and probably due to my own unwillingness to get it over with. Eventually, of their own accord, my teeth stopped howling at me, and I could eat solid food once more. I never did get my wisdom teeth out, even though my dentist kept recommending it long after they'd stopped hurting.

I think about this experience when I think about "woman's right to know" laws that mandate various types of medical counseling about the physical risks of abortion. After Abortion is your best place to go for this stuff, but let me throw in my two cents.

First, it's just responsible medicine to make sure your patient knows about the physical risks of surgery. Especially elective surgery. That's true even if you think knowing the risks will make the patient less likely to go through with the procedure. That's true even if the risks are fairly minor. (I mean, people get their wisdom teeth out all the time, and I've never met anyone who got nerve damage from the surgery; yet my dentist, responsibly, thought I should know the risks so I could make an informed decision.)

Second, opponents of "right to know" laws often argue that women already know all that stuff. After all, abortion is a wrenching decision that women don't make on a whim. Surely they've pondered the risks and decided it's worth it.

But that's something of a non sequitur. Yes, abortion is a wrenching decision, not made on a whim. But before you can even ponder the risks, you have to know where to look. You have to know what you don't know. And I've found, in my work at the pregnancy center, that a lot of our clients are surprised to hear things that as far as I know (and I've read a lot about this stuff) are undisputed medical facts.

For example, we often show clients photos of fetal development. (I'm pretty sure they're the Lennart Nilssen pictures. If not, they certainly correspond to everything I've seen on the Web--these aren't eight-month fetuses being passed off as zygotes or whatever.) And we get reactions like, "Oh, I never knew!" "Is that really what they look like?" Women are shocked to find out how early the kid begins to look like a baby.

This information sometimes affects their decision to abort or keep the child. Does that mean providing the info is manipulative? To my mind, it's exactly the opposite--because the information may affect their decision, they need to know it. Information is only relevant if it might affect either your decision as a patient, or how you view that decision. I mean, my dentist didn't tell me a lot of random facts about how he was going to do the surgery. He showed me the things he thought would be most likely to affect my decision (whether the pain was bad enough that I wanted my teeth out) or my view of the decision (if something went wrong, I'd at least feel like he'd given me fair warning).

Similarly, I do a pretty basic description of abortion procedures. I do not go into graphic detail, I do not make faces, I do not talk about killing the baby. I would say my description of abortion, to clients, is almost as clinical as the wisdom-teeth cartoon. But I know the reality of it--having to assess the up-front and personal description of the uterus, the suction, the curette--makes some women reconsider. Is that a reason to keep them from hearing the descriptions? Absolutely not.

So although I pretty obviously don't think "right to know" is in any way a sufficient response to abortion (though hey, I don't think a Human Life Amendment is a sufficient response to abortion either--I'm hard to please that way), I do think it should not be controversial. (I would like these laws not to assume anything about the abortion/breast cancer connection, since they inevitably lack nuance and get stuff wrong--go here for a pretty good round-up from an abortion-rights perspective.) Even if abortion isn't wrong, it is surgery, and it should be treated as such.
BENEATH THE VAST POST THERE, you'll find reviews of "Spider-Man" and Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth." Just so you know.
HELLO PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE! (WAVE HELLO TO THE NICE FUTURE PEOPLE, SWEETIE): What will people centuries hence want to know from your blog? What will frustrate them--"Why couldn't she have written more about 'Metrobuses'?" What will delight them--"Oh, so that's what a Fudgsicle is!"

What was the flu like?

Fiction lives in the details. So too does history. Thus I'm super-intrigued by the "Pepys Now Project" (link via Tepper), which gives suggestions for bloggers wondering what future-folk might want to know.

I'm going to do a kind of quickie version of their suggestions, since this sort of thing seriously fascinates me.

First, what are some of the things I do or know that might be lost in years to come? The pregnancy center immediately comes to mind. It's an intensely feminine atmosphere--cozy, full of brightly-colored toys and playsets, lots of American Baby-type magazines, with bright displays showing photos from our parenting class. Christian mags with names I forget. A basket of stuff we're trying to give away, which we got through an evangelical warehouse (for real): pens, lipstick that looks silver but goes on pink, nail polish, rattles, Christian romance novels, I don't know what all. One girl polished each nail a different color while waiting for her appointment. We also do a brisk trade in PowerPuff Girls coloring books, and a weird "hip" version of the New Testament, a "study Bible," which I suspect I'd dislike if I ever had time to read it. We have a good "Bible selections for women in crisis" purse-sized book, though, which I like a lot. The general atmosphere of the center is somewhere between grandma's house and, well, chaos.

I own three kinds of musical recordings: tapes, CDs, and records. My strong impression is that records have a more summery or autumnal sound, full-bodied, rich, chocolatey, whereas CDs are wintry, precise, both crisper and a little colder. (This is especially true of older CDs.) Tapes are the worst of every world--cracklier than vinyl, short-lived and very easily destroyed (the brown tape ravels and tears at every opportunity), neither crisp nor full. But they're cheap as all get out, especially before the MP3 Age.

I live on 16th Street, downtown. It's never dark in my apartment, and it's never quiet. The orange street light spills in through the venetian blinds in a very film-noir way. There are cars at all hours. Occasionally prostitutes. Very, very often, there are sirens; but during the day, that may mean a motorcade, not an emergency. It's very safe precisely because 16th Street is so well-lit and well-traveled.

I have some wacky birth defects; maybe future-people won't know as much about those. I have a large scar on my throat from a tracheotomy when I was an infant. It's sort of star-shaped (if stars have shapes!) and puckered and not especially pleasant to look at. I used to be really self-conscious about that. Now I basically don't care. I was a bit miffed when it was airbrushed out of a picture I needed for journalism-publicity reasons. Yes, this did influence my view of abortion a little bit, but only once I'd already become pro-life. When I supported legal abortion I just didn't think about the whole "Oh, I could never bring a child with life-threatening birth defects into the world, it would be better if those children were never born" thing.

I can't wear contacts. I've tried. But I just. can't. deal. with putting my fingers in my eyes. Even applying mascara has a hint of "Un Chien Andalou" for me--I do it, but it took me a while to get used to it, and I still can't use eyeliner. Eyes are no-fly zones as far as I'm concerned. So I wear small glasses and have no peripheral vision and took a self-defense class in which I would generally end up fighting a big menacing blur.

Now for some of the New Pepys Project's questions.

Place: What do I see when I look straight ahead? Computer, obviously, with a St. Joseph holy card taped to the side, a bunch of business cards I need to deal with stuck into the keyboard so I won't lose them, and a bottle of CVS brand ibuprofen. A mess of papers and a ballpoint. (I totally agree with David Gelernter's idea that we naturally think in piles, not in file folders.) A blue squeezy ball, the kind executives use to relieve stress, which I'm hoping will build my hand strength in preparation for more pistol shooting with the Oligarch. A day-by-day "365 Stupidest Things Ever Said" calendar. Several cardboard cups of elderly coffee--ugh. Spiral notebooks. A book I'm reviewing. A silver-colored folding chair.

When I look behind me, I see a book of photos of New York, underneath a dictionary of saints; two boxes of unused checks; two matching cat figurines; a kind of mini-tambourine The Rat got me in, I think, Mexico. Next to it is my small shrine-y corner: several prayers; the palm from the most recent Palm Sunday; my baptismal candle in its long cardboard box; a somewhat saccharine devotional picture of St. Therese looking a lot like my actual patron saint, St. Elizabeth of Hungary; two St. Edith Stein holy cards; a crucifix; a missal; another candle from I-forget-where, probably last Easter; and holy cards with a reparation prayer to Jesus and a prayer to the Holy Spirit.

What am I wearing? Polyester, of course! A brightly-colored polyester shirt, with huge, very '70s lapels and wide cuffs--mostly tan, with big blue and red flowers and random white geometric designs. I love this shirt. Gray pants that are supposed to look like wool, but don't really. Most of my clothes are polyester. So easy to wash!

What makes a joke funny? I will try to be both illuminating to future-folk, and not soporific to present-folk. Let me tell you my favorite joke and then briefly sketch the stuff it's playing on.

An Englishman, a Frenchman, and an American are sojourning in some remote part of the world, when they're captured by cannibals. The cannibal scouts drag the captives to their cannibal chief, who looks them over and pronounces them tasty morsels indeed--and their skins will make excellent canoes! But the cannibal chief is a man of honor, and he says he will allow them to choose the method of their demise and speak a few last words before they're skinned and popped into the stew.

The Englishman chooses a pistol. He shoots himself, proclaiming, "God save the Queen!" They eat him and make his skin into a canoe.

The Frenchman chooses a dagger. He stabs himself, crying, "Vive la France!" They eat him and make his skin into a canoe.

The American chooses a fork. The cannibals are consternated, but they give in; he gets the fork. He proceeds to stab himself all over his body, shouting, "So much for your $#@!ing canoe!"

....So, why do I love this joke? It gets at the essential pigheadedness of the American character--the violent, inventive, rebellious, individualist, crass, young streak. It may not have the forbidding eloquence of "Don't tread on me," but "So much for your $#@!ing canoe!" wouldn't've made a bad Revolutionary War slogan, no?

What surprised me most recently? Tough question. I was surprised today when a woman in counseling used the word "sin" to describe something she'd done. We don't hear that a lot.

I was very surprised at how quiet my parents' house seemed after the noise of my apartment--I remembered their house as fairly noisy, due to the combination of shrieking insects, barking dogs, old-house creaking, and muffled traffic on 16th Street. Surprised, and I must say frightened, at how dark the streets were, after the constant ghostly orange night-light of my neighborhood.

I was surprised when an Iraqi man tried to pick me up by telling me about his acting career, showing me his SAG card, describing the various Iraqi-themed movies in which he'd had bit parts (including "Three Kings"), and writing me a slightly histrionic snatch of dialogue in Arabic on a page of my City Paper.

I was surprised, I can tell you!, when I was locked into my own apartment by the humidity.

I was surprised to find that Benning Road is really easy to get to if you, like, know where you're going. It totally wasn't where I expected. This shows how little I really know of D.C. outside the few neighborhoods I frequent: Silver Spring, Shepherd Park, bits of Takoma, Adams Morgan, bits of the U St. area, pretty much anything along 16th St., Friendship Heights, CUA, really most of the Red Line, and Capitol Hill/Eastern Market. On a similar note, I was surprised to learn that there are lots of empty storefronts in Georgetown nowadays, according to a recent visitor.

Friday, June 20, 2003

"SPIDER-MAN": Saw it last night. Okayish. Not my thing. Tobey Maguire was much fun, though, very Boy Scout/nerd. I really liked how his first few Spidey-stunts look awkward, even clumsy--they're breathtaking, but still very gawky and adolescent. And there were several funny moments, several sweet ones, some fun (the NYC man-on-the-street reactions), some chills (Norman Osborn vs. his mirror): the usual Chinese-menu approach to moviemaking. But I think it's a problem that I identified most strongly with the becoming-evil (evilescing?) son of the evil villain. Sum less than parts.

Here's a comments thread about which are the best superhero movies. I will vouch for "Unbreakable" and, as you already know, "X2."
SATAN SUM, ET NIHIL HUMANUM A ME ALIENUM PUTO. Finished Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth," on the recommendation of a (practicing) Jewish friend. It's basically Twain's complaint against God, framed as letters written by Satan to the other angels based on Satan's observations of humankind.

Mostly, it got up my snout. If I had to summarize it in one word it would be "shrill." Some of the passages on disease and Old Testament God-driven killings were powerful, but overall, the piece is mired in a worldview that smells so very, very late 19th-century: Biblical literalism and its mirror-image atheism, sexual obsession (OK, that's us too, but Twain gets just creepily prurient here--plus his description of men vs. women on sex completely ignores the minor detail of pregnancy, which would be funny if it weren't quite so telling), sweet naivete about the depths of human evil (how could anyone be bad enough for Hell?), and utter confusion about determinism and free will (Twain/Satan cutely blames all humans' rottenness on our Creator, but our good deeds are our own, of course).

I wondered if I should be separating Twain more cleanly from his narrator, but some of Satan's observations are more lurid versions of things Twain has said elsewhere in his own voice (e.g. Life on the Mississippi), and I couldn't find reason to think that Twain was secretly satirizing the style of atheism the work promotes.

I was also interested to see how glancingly Twain touches on the Incarnation; the Crucifixion appears not at all. C'mon, man, at least Nietzsche took the bull by the horns!

LFTE does illustrate the common, swift progression from hatred of God, to hatred of religion, to corrosive contempt for one's fellow man. So hey, that's useful, I suppose.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

MY IMPULSIVE AND CHAOTIC LIFE was more impulsive and chaotic than strictly necessary yesterday and today. Hence the dearth of posts. Tomorrow things should be settled down, and I'll do some lawblogging, post mail about vouchers, and explain what my wisdom teeth have to do with abortion restrictions.

For now, why don't you read this (for fun) and this (not for fun)?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


EDITED TO ADD: With a rebel yell, she cried, more, more, more!
ANNUNCIATIONS on the laity and the bishops. Good read. Plus a wild anecdote about what some supposed "messages from Mary" really mean. Via Amy Welborn.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

MORE SUBCONTRACTING CHILD ABUSE: Inside the Tranquility Bay, Jamaica "tough love" camp for kids. Expect more on this subject from me later this week.
SO THE NYC SMOKING BAN means that two barbers step outside their barbershop to satisfy the nicotine cravings. Then they get ticketed for loitering. Outside their barbershop, where they work.

"'Blame it on Bloomberg,' they said the cop told them before driving away."

This is true.

Via Gene Healy.
THE FINAL COMEDOWN: God of the Machine has a bunch of interesting drug-related tidbits stored in one sadly permalinkless post (scroll down to "Smack, Crack, Pot"). Excerpts: (Q: Mr. Haspel, how many times have you experimented with marijuana? A: Several thousand times, sir. Science requires replicable results.)

...Theodore Dalrymple [non-legalizer and congential pessimist, by the way--ed.] points out, by way of prologue, that heroin withdrawal isn't all it's, er, cracked up to be:

"I can’t tell you how many people I’ve withdrawn from heroin. You never get any problems with it. It’s not like withdrawal from serious drinking which can be, and often is, a medical emergency. From a medical point of view, I’m much more worried in the prison when someone tells me he’s an alcoholic. I’m much more worried about the physical consequences of his withdrawal because they are really serious, and he can die from them. But nobody ever dies from heroin withdrawal. ..."

...Human beings are goal-directed to such a degree that they will substitute a destructive goal if nothing constructive presents itself. Drugs fit the bill admirably.

...This pseudo-meaning is enhanced by ceremony and ritual, a vastly underrated aspect of drug culture. [Yup. More here--ed.]

...All-consuming drug use travesties purposeful behavior, the way the Mafia travesties legitimate business. And drug users testify, strangely, to the Misesian proposition that man is a being who acts toward ends.
HILARIOUS slap at The American Conservative, via Los Volokh. Seriously, if you have ever leafed through this misbegotten mag, read John Holbo's take.

I annoyed The Rat no end by reading their recent "The Smiths Are Conservative!" piece over lunch and alternately laughing hysterically and quoting lyrics at her to convince her that this piece was truly weird. I mean, I love the Smiths. And you can, I guess, point to "Sweet and Tender Hooligan" as a slam on the whole "criminals are kindly and misunderstood" mentality ("He swears that he'll never, never do it again, and of course he won't/Not until the next time").

If memory serves, the AmConMag article did not mention S&TH even though it may be the only Smiths song that actually fits the case. Well, maybe I exaggerate--frustrated desire is conservative, I think--anyway it's certainly not liberal! But, uh, where to begin with the refutations of the AmConMag piece... here, here, here, here, here, here.

Holbo asks for the "highlights" (using the term loosely, I guess...) from the Smiths piece. Sadly, it is hiding from Nexis, and all I can remember is that the author argues that the characters in "Hand in Glove" are hidden by rags because... Britain is too socialist. Is it just me or is there a subtext being missed here? Oh well, the world won't listen, and all that....
AXIS OF EMAIL: Hoder Derakhshan offers his services to Iraqis, especially those who want to blog in Arabic. This guy is already there, apparently, though I can't make his blog show up as anything but a series of boxes and random weird (non-Arabic) characters.

Looking for Iraqis online? Go here. Some people on the list also have personal webpages. Almost all of these people live outside Iraq, as far as I can tell--unsurprisingly.

Meanwhile, among non-Arabic blogs, G. in Baghdad has a lot of interesting stuff up; Oxblog on Iranian machinations in Europe (and elsewhere); BBC "talk back" site where lots of Iranians are writing their firsthand impressions of the protests--this is a completely fascinating read; my less-fascinating but still-relevant article about blogging in the Middle East.

(Yeah, sorry about the title, had to get it out of my system.)
ANCIENT JEWISH BLOGS! Two blogs by professors of Jewish Studies: PaleoJudaica, which focuses on "ancient Judaism and its context," and Mystical-Politics, offering "discussions of Jewish mysticism, especially from the ancient world (biblical, Qumran, Hekhalot, rabbinic, etc.) and of contemporary politics -- and of the occasional interactions between them." Both via Kesher Talk.
TIMELY BLEG: OK, so who really said that the streets of Hell are paved with the skulls of bishops (or some even more colorful variant)? Google is conflicted on this question.

Ask me why it's on my mind.
CHARLES TAYLOR AGREES TO STEP DOWN! Whoa. Let's see if this really happens before we break out the champagne.... Link via Oxblog I think.

Monday, June 16, 2003

COULD GOD MAKE 1 + 1 = 72? Find out here and then here!
ANNUNCIATION PIX: Matthew McGuire writes: So all the way back to last Wednesday... you wrote an interesting bit about icons in the context of talking about the new book by FMG. You mentioned an annunciation. The no-brainer recoiling Mary annunciation, the classic rendering, is indeed early renaissance - Simone Maritini's in 1333. The provenance is Sienese - he never painted in Florence**. You can see it at the Uffizi, or you can see a washed-out photo here.

Martini was grand, a nice balance to the guys in Florence. But.. check out this terrific little-known annunciation from 200 years later. It was painted by Domenico Beccafumi, the self-conscious heir to (among other things) the Sienese spooked-Madonna tradition.

Beccafumi is fantastic, but like Gluck in Vienna, had unfortunate timing - painting along with Michelangleo, Raphael, et al, and in the relative (by that time) backwater of Siena. If you look at his Birth of the Virgin, you'll see some of Michelangelo's pallette, but with less monumental figures. And odd Mannerist touches, like the dog and the kid - haha.

Okay, sorry, you're a busy woman, and I have studying to do. Just didn't know how many art history graduate students you might have reading, and thought this might be what you'd seen.

God bless,
Matthew McGuire

** ended up, actually, it the Papal court in Avignon, where he became a boon friend of Petrarch.

Eve again: Sadly, neither of these are the picture I referred to in the icon post; but they're neat nonetheless, and the first one is especially awesome. Thanks!
OK, MONDAY JUST BEAT ME UP and stole my lunch money. More tomorrow, when, I hope, things will be less crazed.
Bad, bad, Blogwatch Brown
Baddest blog in the whole dam' town,
Badder than old King Kong,
Meaner than a junkyard dog....

Body and Soul: Big post on various corporations colluding with human rights abuses. Haven't had time to follow the links yet but expect it will be very much worth my time.

Ginger Stampley: Scroll around for lots of immigration stuff, inc. war-on-terror-related. You probably know that already, but if you don't, check it out.

Todd Reitmeyer: Our blogging seminarian is a priest!!!! Congratulations! Via the Cranky Professor.

Am about to fix the template to add BuzzMachine, G. in Baghdad, Hoder, and Winds of Change, and do some reshuffling to reflect current preoccupations. Oh, and fix a few bad links. UPDATE: My blogroll was getting really, really out of control, so I've had to remove a few links. Blah, I hate doing that.

And last: The Unh! Project--"A collection of guttural moans from comics." You know you want to click! Via Neilalien.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

SCHOOL VOUCHERS AND THE MYTH OF NEUTRALITY. My Jewish World Review column for this week--response to what I took to be the main point of Thomas Nephew's posts about vouchers....
OK--I LIED--I'm running late and gotta split so I can catch my train. Next time I hit a computer, will post on stare decisis, the Annunciation, and the futile quest for a "genuine" experience. And whatever else I run across.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

TOMORROW: I'm going to New York, and then New Haven. Back Monday. But before I leave, I'll post some questions/comments about Lawrence Solum's conclusion to his argument for really really strong stare decisis (= adherence to precedent, even at the expense of fidelity to text, protection of rights, all that fun stuff). I'll also post links to some cool pictures of the Annunciation.
DEPARTMENT OF NOT QUITE: InstaPundit posts a vast treatise on WMDs in Iraq without even acknowledging the biggest, most obvious question--Where are they now?
MORE CHEAPO WEDDING STUFF: Ginger Stampley adds more observations.

Dappled Things adds an important point: "Having seen more than my fair share of annulment cases, I would add another reason to Eve's list: the long, costly, high-profile preparations for a Princess-Di wedding significantly reduce the couple's ability to postpone or call off the wedding, even if they see substantive reasons for doing so. 'Calling off the wedding really wasn't an option, Father, since my parents had spent so much money on everything, the dresses were all done, the reception hall was paid up, and dozens of guests had already bought their airline tickets.'"

And an anonyreader makes the apt comparison to hyper-extravagant bar and bat mitzvah parties, an annoyance that besets certain richer circles of American Jews. I've been to three bat mitzvah parties (only went to the actual ceremony for one of them) and maybe two bar mitzvah parties (again only one ceremony). The contrast was pretty striking, between the small-scale, devout ceremony followed by homemade desserts for a gang of friends and the full-on "rent out the Hard Rock Cafe and slather money all over everything" fiestas. You just shouldn't spend that much money on giving your thirteen-year-old a party. It builds a bad association between religious practice and luxury; it feeds all the problems attendant on raising non-spoiled kids in wealthy families. (OTOH, I did win two hula hoops at hula-hooping contests at the more lavish bat mitzvah parties, so it worked out from my perspective!)

Anyway, here's the anonyreader--I agree with all of this except the dissing on fried mozz at the beginning: Fried mozzarella sticks? Doesn't seem fair to one's friends to invite them from all over and give them industrial food to eat... Yeah weddings are overdone, but some kind of fuss is necessary.

Fifteeen or so years after the wedding, the worry (if Jewish or mixed) is bar/bat mitzvah on a budget. Our children are not quite old enough yet, but we've been to a lot of bar mitzvahs and they are looming as a terror ahead. These mini-weddings are truly scary -- the service; the luncheon; the evening party at a hotel or entertainment facility for 50-100 kids, parents and family friends with disc jockey and games; the Friday evening and Sunday brunch gatherings for the out-of-towners... I'm the RC part of our mixed marriage, so maybe it's my sensibility that finds these mini-wedding celebrations disproportionate to the event. My wife is more or less appalled as well, but it seems to be "what is done." (After the last one, my 9 yr old daughter started making an alarmingly long list of all the friends she wanted to come.) And it's a weird lesson to welcome an adolescent into the great tradition of Jewish learning by putting on a childish commercial sort of party. Maybe these things are done differently in other parts of the country or in different circles. Reform Jews didn't use to do them at all, and clearly (to my mind) don't know how to today. Some kind of fuss is necessary, I would
agree, but what?

Please, if you print this don't include my name -- I don't want to embarrass or insult any of my very nice friends or family whose bar
mtizvahs I've been to, and who might be reading. (One never knows.) Thanks.
ZIMBABWE--STUFF YOU CAN DO: Newsrack is the go-to place for this stuff. Thomas Nephew has compiled email addresses so you can protest the arrest of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. He has lots more stuff too--a student protester's diary, a grim little quip from Robert Mugabe, and more--here.
Now I'll have to break the news
That I have no mind to lose
All the girls are in love with me
I'm a blogwatch lobotomy....

Lileks: Review of the restored "Metropolis." I must see this movie. Link via Tepper I think.

Iraq, furriners, and capitalism--interesting piece from the LA Times. I got it from Body and Soul, though I don't think it's as grim as she paints it.

Chief Wiggles is (or says he is, insert usual disclaimer about how on the Internet nobody can tell that you're a dog) in military intelligence in Iraq. Super-interesting despite usual disclaimer. Via Kesher Talk. And another Baghdad blogger--a friend of Salam Pax I think.
THE COMEDIANS is really good. Greene hammers things home just a little too hard, a little too obviously, and it lacks the stellar passages at the beginning and end of Brighton Rock (though it also lacks Brighton Rock's slack middle section); but there's a lot about this book I like. I stuck it on the reading list just because it's Graham Greene + Haiti, thus = very interesting to me. It's hard to explain why--especially without going into detail about the plot--but in the end it was much more than just standard Greenery in Port-au-Prince.
TYPICAL ME. I got trapped in my apartment on Sunday. Yup. Stuck in there futilely pulling on the doorknob, completely in the dark as to what had gone wrong. Shamed said that if he knew anyone this would happen to, it would be me; I had a hard time seeing the humor in it all, because I was, you know, stuck in my apartment with no estimate on how soon I'd get out. But eventually the very helpful maintenance people came along, and explained that the humidity had not only swollen the wood of the door but also warped the lock. It's fine now--just needed a really, really strong shove and some futzing around. The only thing that could possibly have made this more typical of me: if it had been, somehow, my fault.

Friday, June 06, 2003

I'M AN INDIVIDUAL, JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE. Wiggy site with photos of people (mostly in Rotterdam) who've carved out identities for themselves by adhering to a subcultural dress code. Via AgendaBender.
WEDDING ON A BUDGET: Yay!!! Ignore the silly slam on Miss Manners--this is a good and necessary piece, via Dappled Things. The "wedding industry" sucks, sucks, sucks. Ginger Stampley agrees. The belief in the wedding as an immense pricey party a) keeps couples away from the altar (either because they really are saving up for the Big Day, or because he or she wants to use that as an excuse to keep from getting engaged for reals--I see a lot of this at the pregnancy center), b) coaxes couples into spending much, much more moolah than they can afford, c) therefore provokes an obsession with making sure that each pricey item is exactly right and that nobody gets in the way of the Perfect Wedding, d) therefore fills the pre-wedding atmosphere with tension, and e) makes the wedding all about the Bride's Special Day!!! and not, you know, the marriage.
FRANCE DIDN'T GIVE PASSPORTS TO IRAQI OFFICIALS: This has the ring of truth to me (you can probably guess that I am not generally a Nation fan), and if true it's a very big deal.
PRO-LIFE READING LIST: A little while ago, The Rat asked if I had any ideas about what people should read if they want to understand the pro-life position and see the best possible case(s) for it. She had three suggestions, which reflect the way she became pro-life:
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. This book hammers home the reality of tragedy. I agree with Ratty that the abortion-rights position is often motivated by a reluctance to accept the existence of tragic conflicts--it just can't be true that the world is so awful that a mother's interests or intense desires could ever conflict with her baby's interests. And so in order to avoid recognizing the conflict, we convince ourselves that one party does not exist. The child can't even speak, so our work of denying his or her humanity is made easier. ...Not to mention, TBK is amazing and you should read it for its own reasons.

Maggie Gallagher, Enemies of Eros, especially "Abortion and the Children of Choice." People are probably sick of hearing me recommend this book. You should read it. The second and third sections are the best. If I could give just one piece of writing to supporters of legal abortion, it would be "Abortion and the Children of Choice."

Frederica Mathewes-Green, Real Choices: Listening to Women, Looking for Alternatives to Abortion. Basically Mathewes-Green's interviews with women suffering post-abortive grief: What led them to abort? What would have prevented their abortions? This is a heartfelt and very practical book, which includes chapters with advice for pregnancy center counselors. You can read two chapters from the book here and here. ...I'll add that several of Mathewes-Green's essays on abortion are much worth your time--for example, "The Heart of the Matter" and "Her Flesh and Blood" (be forewarned, I can't read this without crying and I am not very tear-y).

It's probably no accident that both Gallagher and Mathewes-Green--like the Rat, and like me--are women who used to support legal abortion.

Here are some places where I've blogged about abortion: the moral status of the fetus, parts one and two. Response to the claim that abortion makes women equal. (For those who remember the long "babies: they're what's for dinner!" debate between me and Julian Sanchez, I'm not linking it here b/c it's fairly esoteric and High-Philosophical, not really necessary for most people trying to figure this stuff out.)

Find a pro-life pregnancy center in your area.

The absolute best online resource I know of for post-abortive women is the After Abortion blog. Emily, who runs the site, is pro-life, but she includes links to many post-abortion forums and sites, several of which make no claims about the moral nature of abortion. They're for women who want to discuss their experiences without having to deal with political or moral debates, or other people's agendas. Emily also links to fiction and poetry about the experience of abortion, and new, peer-reviewed research on possible health risks (including mental health) of abortion.

A moving, powerful piece for Christians.

For the legal issues, honestly, the best thing to do is just read the Supreme Court decisions that brought us to the legal position we're in today: Roe v. Wade.

The section of Doe v. Bolton that makes pro-lifers so leery of "health exceptions." It's obviously true that emotional, psychological, and familial circumstances affect health; it's also obviously true that if abortion is allowed for emotional, psychological, and familial reasons, uh, which reasons are left? "Health" then covers virtually every reason anybody might abort, ever.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey a.k.a. Law to End All Law: everybody. Main opinion. Scalia's dissent.

Stenberg v. Carhart, the partial-birth abortion case: everybody. Main opinion. Kennedy's dissent (includes an abortionist's description of the procedure). Thomas's dissent. Scalia's dissent.

There's also a federalism issue, which I personally have not followed enough to feel like I understand. The Corner and Ampersand are good places to go to follow that debate.

I should note that the law is, like, not the only, or even the most important, thing to work on if you do read these books and whatnot and become convinced that abortion is unjust. In Frederica Mathewes-Green's words, "[I]f we miraculously padlocked all the abortion clinics tomorrow, without making any changes in our support system, all we'd have is women banging on the locked doors and crying." The law is a big deal; but there are a hundred things you can do to oppose abortion before you even get around to law-related stuff. So I guess I just want to encourage everyone who reads this site and supports abortion to take a good long look at the stuff I've linked; and to encourage those who already oppose abortion to try to do some of those hundred things. This is a social justice issue if ever there was one.
I don't mind you coming here
Watching all my blogs...

As before, I'll just link to the main site for Blogspot pages. I know, I know, but I don't have the time to figure out how to move off Blogspot, so here I am....

Balkinization: Basic post on WMDs, but gets the job done.

L. Solum continues his defense of Really Really Strong Stare Decisis. I haven't had time to read this yet but it is doubtless worth reading. I should reiterate that you can defend stare decisis but place it significantly lower in the hierarchy of judicial decisionmaking than Solum does--we're not faced with a choice between Solum's position and "D--n the precedents! Full speed ahead!"

Marriage Movement: "But today, when somebody says 'family diversity,' I hear 'father absence.'" Yup.

Oxblog: Results from the "philosophical pick-up lines" contest. Some groaners, some laugh-out-loud bits. Fun stuff. My absolute favorite is the Sartre one, because it is soooo true to life.
"'The water is not to be trusted, and you will find no Coca-Cola now that the Americans have moved out. At night when you hear the shooting in the streets you will think perhaps that a strong glass of rum...'

"'Not rum,' Mrs. Smith said.

"'Shooting?' Mr. Smith enquired. 'Is there shooting?' He looked at his wife where she sat crouched under the travelling-rug (she was not warm enough even in the stuffy cabin) with a trace of anxiety. 'Why shooting?'

"'Ask Mr. Brown. He lives there.'

"I said, 'I've not often heard shooting. They act more silently as a rule.'

"'Who are they?' Mr. Smith asked.

"'The Tontons Macoute,' the purser broke in with wicked glee."

--The Comedians

Thursday, June 05, 2003

OXBLOGGING on the Aqaba talks (Sharon + Abu Mazen) and Charles Taylor. If those links are broken, go here and scroll to "Chutzpah Watch" and "Sheikh It Up Baby, Now"--the scrolling is worth it.
A HECTIC DAY. More bloggage tomorrow, including a pro-life reading list.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

LAST NIGHT I watched the first "X-Men" movie. I was wrong. Everyone else in the whole world was right. "X2" is better. There were some very nice moments in "X-Men" (esp. when they get to Liberty Island), but in general the actors don't inhabit their characters nearly as much as they do in the sequel. (Also, I'd forgotten how cliched Rogue's position in the narrative is--they might as well have used a cardboard cutout labeled "Damsel In Distress, this way up.")

Part of what changed my mind is that I ended up seeing "X2" three times. Yup. Thrice. Why? Well, because it's a really terrific, rollicking movie. I underestimated it the first time, I think because it does move too fast--character development is squeezed into quick moments and fleeting gestures--and because the very end is lame, leaving you with a bad aftertaste. (Seriously, what gives with the last White House scene?) But the movie lingered with me, and so I saw it again. And it was great. And I kept noticing more and more cool things about it. And the actors were in fine form--Famke Janssen and Hugh Jackman were much improved from the first movie (they weren't bad in "X-Men," but they were kind of bland, whereas they were very striking in "X2"), Alan Cumming of course was a fun addition, and even Ian McKellen, who was the highlight of "X-Men," made a finer villain the second time 'round. He managed to keep his toothmarks off the scenery for the most part. So I saw it again. And decided that three times was not overkill.
CONFIRMATION WARS AND OTHER LAW STUFF: Well, Lawrence Solum has moved on from confirmation wars to defending really really strong stare decisis (no, that is not an inflammation--at least not always!--it's a jurisprudential doctrine). Solum's a very smart guy and a fun writer, and in general his site rocks. But I think some of what he says about stare decisis is off-base. Two issues: stability as the "primary purpose" of the judiciary--as long as we're going for "primary purpose" I'd much rather say "applying the law to particular cases" or "resolving disputes about the meaning of the law" or, jumping up a rung on the purpose ladder, "guarding the Constitution" (yes, I know con law is not the majority of even the Supreme Court's work, but as long as we're talking primary purpose...). I think this stance strongly colors my response to Solum. I may write more about this later.

Second, Solum lauds really really strong stare decisis (hereafter, RRSSD) as a way of depoliticizing the judiciary. Buh? Doesn't it actually raise the benefits of mucking around with the law (B-, C-, and D-level judging, in my formulation), because as long as you slide one political power play under the bar it's law forevah? Seems to me that's a huge, chocolatey, cream-on-top temptation for judges to Resolve The Difficult Issues for us little people.

(Ah, I see Sub Judice said this earlier. D'oh! Oh well, in this area it is not good to be too original!)

Solum will add Part Two to his defense of RRSSD tomorrow. I look forward to it--I always find his site thought-provoking and well worth my time.

Anyway, that's not what I intended to talk about in this post, and, as I said before, I don't feel like I understand the issues behind RRSSD very well, so perhaps I should leave well enough alone and stop there. What I actually wanted to talk about is Solum's proposal for resolving the judicial-confirmation wars in the Senate. I initially totally misread his post, not sure why. Actually I think he really has a handle on what needs to happen, although I have some caveats and important quibbles. (Yes, I said "important quibbles.")

Solum writes, "Both Democrats and Republicans seem to share a fundamental assumption about the current confirmation war. That fundamental assumption is that judging is inherently political in nature. If we concieve of the judiciary as a third political branch of government, with the authority to use the powers of judicial review and constitutional and statutory interpretation to achieve a political agenda, then control of the judicial branch is the ultimate political prize. The reason that neither party can trust the other is that the stakes are too high."

So he proposes a "radical move": "A truly radical move is one that would call the fundamental assumption into question. That is, a truly radical move would be for either the Republicans or the Democrats to suggest that judges should be selected on the basis of their possession of the judicial virtues, rather than their political ideology. Such a move would not be pleasant for either party. Judges who are committed to the rule of law are likely to offend both Democrats and Republicans. For example, a judge who takes precedent seriously would be committed to both Hans v. Louisiana and Roe v. Wade, disappointing both the right and the left. But the point of nominating and confirming neoformalist judges is not ideological balance. The point of a radical move to restore the rule of law is that it offers both parties a principled basis for agreement. So long as we think of judges as politicians with life tenure, a truce in the confirmation wars will be difficult to negotiate."

Quibbles: 1) Obviously, I take issue with the precedent stuff, whatever, I've said what I have to say about that for today. Oh! except that it's really pretty confusing to try to convince people that judging should be apolitical by using, as your example, the apolitical rewarding of political judging.

2) "judicial virtues rather than political ideology" misses the point. It's about jurisprudential philosophy. Sure, let's look at virtues too, that's fine, but what I really want to know is whether someone believes in writing his favored policy positions into the Constitution. Not what those positions are (=political ideology), but how he believes they should be implemented.

3) This is the point I feel shakiest on, because it's about the more horse-racing, poll-driven, politicking aspects of this issue: A solution isn't going to come from the Senate. The pressure to grandstand is too high and the pressure on either side to cave is too low. If the ice breaks up in the confirmation freezeout, it will happen because the political stakes change, not because somebody decides we should all just get along. The political stakes will only change when the rhetorical climate changes. The rhetorical climate will only change when a lot of ordinary people get fired up about judicial oligarchy and/or getting judges confirmed. My personal suspicion is that two things will happen that will put the Senate in a position where it has to break the ice: a) A court somewhere will mandate same-sex marriage. Fur will fly. The courts will become a major political issue, much bigger than they are now.

b) A critical mass of pundits, legal theorists, and--ideally--judges will come to agree that both Bush v. Gore and Roe v. Wade were wrongly decided, and that their problems, while hardly identical, are related. (Coincidentally, that's the view I set out in my vast A-B-C-D-judging post.) Pace Ampersand, I do not care whether you think Bush is worse than Roe or vice versa. To me, comparing their respective problems is a bit too apples-and-orangutans to be illuminating. All I want is agreement that both are bad. I think that this agreement may, just maybe, alleviate many of the left's suspicions that textualists or whatever we want to call 'em are operating in bad faith ("You're just promoting judicial restraint because you hate women and minorities!").

All for now. As I say, I look forward to more on RRSSD from Solum.
IF I COULD FIX MY TEMPLATE, I'd put AfricaPundit under "Daily Stops."
LIBERIAN DICTATOR CHARLES TAYLOR CHARGED WITH WAR CRIMES. No duh, huh? But they haven't got him behind bars yet. Taylor's Al Qaeda ties. If you're wondering where you heard that name, think "Sierra Leone war," then think "rape," then think "cutting off people's arms." There you go. That's the one.
ICONS AND THE AWFUL ANGEL: Just finished Frederica Mathewes-Green's soon-to-be-released new book about icons. I'm reviewing it, so I won't tell you too much about it here (gotta keep some things up my sleeve); but the review will be short and so there are some bits I won't be able to comment on. The book is generally good, but I do want to take issue with one aspect of it: Mathewes-Green champions icons over all other forms of religious art, and does so in a way that I find overstated.

Mathewes-Green writes about how glorious icons are, how they are windows to Heaven. All this is true--and her well-chosen illustrations make the point for her. Lots of icons are great. Even sub-great icons tend to avoid the kitsch that besets much sub-great Christian art.

But she goes on to say that Western-style religious art is "accomplished and beautiful, but noisy. In their busy drama those paintings remain earthbound, superficial. Not that the content of such art is superficial; it may provoke deep thoughts or strong empathy. Yet, in a way that's hard to define, icons touch a completely different interior level, something below the hectic arena of thought and emotion. Deeper down there is a place where we first confront life, before we decide what we think or feel about it. That is the intimate place where icons speak." That reminded me of a painting I saw before I became Christian. I don't remember who painted it, unfortunately, and although I've looked for it since my conversion I haven't been able to find it.

It's a painting of the Annunciation, from, I think, the Renaissance. The angel is rushing in, almost breaking in, with enormous energy. His wings are glorious--I seem to recall rainbows of color, but at any rate, they're wild wings, astonishing. The angel is like an arrow aimed at Mary's heart. Your gaze rushes along the angel's body, down the outstretched arm, and along the stem of the lily he is offering the Virgin. And then your gaze skids to a halt against Mary's upraised hand. She has recoiled from the awesome, awful sight; her hand and her whole body are tense. She looks afraid. She looks as if her whole life has just been overturned and she still does not really know how to respond.

She's about to say yes. But she hasn't yet.

The painting depicts the moment of choice; and it expressed exactly the combination of wonder, longing, and terror that I felt when I was trying to figure out if I should convert and what would happen to my life if I did. A non-Christian friend once wrote a brief poem about the Annunciation in which she said, "An angel is like an earthquake," disrupting and overturning everything it touches. This painting showed that radical aspect of conversion. It showed God breaking into the world in order to rescue the world.

I'll take a lot of "Precious Moments"-style kitsch in order to keep that painting of the Annunciation. As far as I can tell, it speaks directly to that "place where we first confront life."

Similarly, Mathewes-Green writes, "You'll notice that the use of blood here [in an icon of the Crucifixion] is restrained, almost delicate; the parallel stripes of golden red are laid down like threads. Icons do not show Jesus writhing in agony or excessively gory, as was sometimes done in Western art. In general, icons do not aim at deliberate emotional effect, which can slide so easily into sentimentality. While there is no doubt that Christ's Passion involved real, and even gruesome, suffering, Jesus undertook it with divine dignity and of His own will."

I'm deeply sympathetic to the anti-sentimentality stance. I think it was George Orwell, in one of his descriptions of the English character, who discussed the close kinship between sentimentality and brutality: Sentimentality is all about wanting to feel comfortable emotions, emotions that don't challenge you, emotions that require nothing of you. Pity without a goad toward charity; tenderness toward the imagined Virgin or baby Jesus, but callousness toward actual women and children around you; the warm-bath feeling where your compassion just proves how good you, personally, are. That stuff is born in pride and ends in cruelty toward every real person who threatens to disrupt the pretty dream.

But I think on the question of representing Jesus's suffering on the Cross, Mathewes-Green is wrong here. Christ's death was bloody even for a crucifixion, itself one of the most horrible ways to die. There was the scourging, the crown of thorns, the lance in His side. God is trying to tell us something with all this blood, I think, and it would behoove us not to look away. Some of the grislier Spanish-style crucifixes seem to wallow in the gore, like a "Mortal Kombat" game. But many more simply present the death of Christ as it probably looked. It probably looked awful. To avoid that fact is, I think, anti-Incarnational, and Mathewes-Green's book contains many vigorous defenses of the Incarnational in art. Rejecting representations of the "real, and even gruesome, suffering" strikes me as just as wrong as rejecting representations of the "divine dignity."

It's best, in my view, to have many different representations showing the different true aspects of what happened at Calvary. My beloved church in New Haven, where I was baptized and confirmed, has an imposing, dark, blocky crucifix showing Christ triumphant, reigning from the Cross. That is one true aspect of the Crucifixion. But the blood is also true. (One of the most striking pieces in the "Time to Hope" exhibit of Spanish Catholic art, shown at St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral after September 11, was a portrait of Christ scourged, crowned with thorns, cloaked in the mocking purple robe. But along the edge of the robe the painter had written the Agnus Dei. Breathtaking.)