Tuesday, August 31, 2004

JOURNEYMEN THEATER ENSEMBLE: Good piece in the 8/27 Washington City Paper about Deborah Kirby and her new theater troupe, which focuses on plays exploring religious faith. (Kirby is an evangelical Christian.) The troupe's first play was the medieval Everyman. Not all the performers are Christian; the company holds weekly fellowship meetings, but attendance is voluntary. Journeymen is struggling for cash. Sounds like a project that could use your support. Their website is here.
KITCHEN CHEMISTRY: Tried some weird stuff over the weekend. Recipes were heavily modified from a pasta cookbook I got for my birthday. The verdicts:

#1: Four-cheese sauce--which was really three-cheese, since I didn't have parmesan on hand. I think I was supposed to toss the pasta with chopped cheese, and add some sage leaves or something, but that sounded boring. So instead I chopped a tomato and sauteed it with thyme, oregano, basil, black pepper, and cayenne, then added the Gorgonzola, mozzarella, and Roquefort, ending up with a kind of fondue-y sauce. This wasn't bad, but the Gorgonzola overwhelmed all the other flavors. I'll try this again with parmesan and without Gorgonzola. The other drawback was that the pan was slightly harder to clean than usual, due to all the melty cheesiness. I'll be buying more mozzarella: I like cooking with it. I like how it rolls under the hand.

#2: Cannellini. I just dumped half a can of Goya habichuelas blancas (which I'm pretty sure are cheap cannellini) into my pan with a chopped tomato, some olive oil, and the same herbs as before, sauteed, and poured onto pasta topped with Sargento's Mexican four-cheese blend. (I adore this packaged blend, by the way. It's odd but it works wonderfully with Italian spices on pasta.) The resulting dish was homey and filling, but did not set off fireworks in my mouth. I'll eat this again to finish off the beans, but I don't think it was better than my usual sauce.

#3: Avocado, lemon, and jalapeno. I was nervous about this because I'd never dealt with an avocado before, and it intimidated me. But in the event it was exceptionally easy to cut and peel. (I don't own a peeler, but I didn't need it, as the skin came off easily once I'd cut into the flesh.) Again with the chopped tomato and the sauteeing and the herbs, this time with the jalapeno added in. Toss cooked pasta with avocado, squeeze half a lemon over it, top with sauteed sauce, top with Mex cheese. This was quite tasty, although the avocado and lemon flavors weren't aggressive enough to compete. The jalapeno was delectable. I've started adding a jalapeno to my standard sauce, mmm. I'll be buying more avocados: I think they'd work better as filling for grilled-cheese sandwiches, with tomato slices or maybe chopped onion.
"VENGEANCE" SWIPES CAKE, EATS IT TOO: "A 6-foot-tall, 275-pound bearded man crashed a children's birthday party in Oak Forest, identified himself as 'vengeance,' then helped himself to a piece of cake, police said."

whole thing
"He felt his moral nature falling to pieces."
--James Joyce, "A Painful Case"

Man, I hate it when that happens! ..."APC" is the first story in Dubliners so far that has been just horribly written. No humor, just the lowing of a sad, self-pitying cow. I'm enjoying the next story, "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," much better: Nothing has happened, but at least we are getting strong dialogue and basic descriptions of persons, places, and things.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

GOD, GREENE, AND GENRE: Provocative piece on Graham Greene. I definitely disagree several statements and turns of phrase, but it's still very much worth a read for Greene fans. Via Arts & Letters Daily.
"Her hair would grow back, but my watch was gone."
--from memory, and via The Rat; ultimately from The World's Shortest Stories of Love and Death.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

AND THIS TIME I MEAN IT! I said, lo these many months ago, that I would add Hugo Schwyzer to the blogroll.

It happens tonight.

Hugo writes mostly about gender, masculinity, and similar stuff. By his own account he is, among other things, "a progressive, consistent-life ethic Anabaptist Democrat (but with a sense of humor), a community college history and gender studies professor."
"A SEPARATED SOUL": AND DO YOU THINK YOU'VE MADE THE RIGHT DECISION, THIS TIME? Um. This is a vignette, a one-shot, and I expect a lot of people will hate it. On one level it's about a woman at a conference for people who used to work in the abortion industry before they found Christ. It's also about all the things conversion doesn't necessarily change.

I realize that the first level may prevent people from seeing the second. But this is the story as it presented itself to me. (PSA: If you want an actual group for people leaving the abortion industry, try the Centurions.)

I hate the title, by the way, so feel free to suggest a better one. Also, the tenses are a mess, and I still don't know what I'll do about that. Forewarned &c.

Friday, August 27, 2004

With the blogwatch resting on your shoulders,
You're gonna need someone on your side...

Hit & Run has a highly interesting and useful post on a new Egyptian liberal party.

TAPPED (The American Prospect) has two good posts on Abu Ghraib-related matters: dogs and CACI, the private corrections firm that trained interrogators and just got its contract renewed.

Radley "The Agitator" Balko profiles Modest Needs, which helps people over the rough spots in life. Excerpt: "Modest Needs was conceived, built and still operates on simple concept--a small investment to help an individual or a family with a utility bill, rent check or health-care invoice reaps huge rewards if it keeps its recipient employed or prevents an eviction.

"So Modest Needs cuts small checks to people in short-term straits. The goal is to keep the recipient self-sufficient and off public assistance.

"The average Modest Needs grant is $180, and the organization won't give any single applicant more than $1,000. But Taylor estimates that the $234,000 Modest Needs has given out since its inception has saved its recipient families about $7.7 million in possible lost income.

"Modest Needs only accepts donations from private individuals. It won't take money from corporations, foundations or state or federal government."

whole thing

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": POISON MOON, REDUX. This is the end of the rough draft of the Norse myths story.

Man, what a woolly, misshapen story. It has potential! But I didn't have enough of the mechanics and backstory--the rules of the fictional world--taped down in my head before I started. So I don't think the themes I was trying to explore came through very clearly. Plus, it's overwritten to the point that it's a tic rather than a stylistic choice. Your comments on these and any other matters are, of course, encouraged.

Still... I like it. It'll be good when I've had a chance to do some serious reworking of the clay.

Whole thing here, last scene here. I'll start the next story by Monday, but I'm not sure which one it will be yet.

I will laugh right in the face of the poison moon.
ROBERT SAMUELSON VS. CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: "But the truth cannot remain forever obscured. Campaign finance laws must fail at their larger aim of improving public confidence in politics and government. They breed disrespect for law, the Constitution or both. If the laws are aggressively expanded and enforced -- with more limits on contributions, spending and 'coordination' -- people will realize they're losing their rights of free speech and political association. But if the laws are laxly enforced, as they have been, they will inspire continuing evasions and harsh condemnations by 'reformers.' Public confidence suffers either way. Americans will ultimately have to choose between the Constitution and a mere law -- or watch both be damaged."


Via Hit & Run.
"Reading was something Jay knew about only from books, yet he was quite anxious to experience it for himself."
--Bride of Dark and Stormy

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": LIFE INTIMIDATES ART. Second-to-last section of the Norse myths story. This is all Michael all the time. It's also possibly confusing, so please let me know if you read this section and think, "Ah who a what now?!" Any other comments, questions, and criticisms are, as always, not merely accepted but welcomed.

I also realized that I'd forgotten to write something without which Michael and Sigyn's actions make very little sense. So if you're reading, please do check out the end of the trial scene, since I've added the thing I forgot.

Click here for story so far, here for most recent section. This will be finished very soon.

Monday, August 23, 2004

IT'S AN INTERVIEW WITH TELFORD WORK! excerpts: "...I don't know whether ['The Passion of the Christ'] will have helped or hindered knowledge of Christ in the wider culture. I have no idea what unchurched Christians' long-term reactions will be. However, within evangelicalism I am a little worried about it. After the film I spent a good deal of time explaining Catholic soteriology to some very confused and distressed Protestant students. Evangelical theology is a poor theological grid for interpreting passion plays, because passion plays presuppose a participatory rather than substitutionary doctrine of atonement. Evangelical students were liable to take the hypersuffering in the film (e.g., the traditional three falls of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross rather than the single fall in the gospels) as underlining their own guilt at making Jesus suffer instead of them.

"A friend of mine put his reaction to The Passion of the Christ beautifully: 'For the first third of the film I was mad at the Romans for inflicting all that punishment. For the second third, I was mad at myself for doing the sinning that had to be paid back this way. For the last third, I was mad at the Father.' This is a natural, if unusually candid, evangelical interpretation of the film. It was traumatic for my friend, and also for many of my students. They were greatly relieved to learn that Catholic soteriology reads the cross as human suffering appropriated by Jesus in solidarity with us, rather than as Calvin reads it. ...

"... How would you define 'postmodern Christian'? Does the term mean anything particularly helpful today?

"The term is variously construed, of course. As I define it, I consider it helpful.

"Modernity was a movement to dispense with the necessity of trusting others. It is located in the aftermath of the Wars of Religion when people tired of trusting either Catholics or Protestants. Getting beyond the anxiety, hubris, and false wisdom of that age is a good thing, because it means we are getting beyond our need to make Jesus jump through our epistemological hoops. 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah' (Matt. 12:39). No wonder modernity failed!

"James Wm. McClendon, Jr. characterizes continental postmoderns (Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault) as 'most-moderns,' because while they have abandoned the Enlightenment Project they are still mesmerized by its agenda of certain knowledge, propositional solidity, cultural progress, and individual autonomy. They aren't really postmoderns, at least not as much as others. I call them modernists on the rebound; having been dumped by the girl they want, they still can't get her off their minds. These thinkers have things to teach us (for instance, Radical Orthodoxy uses them somewhat fruitfully), but I can't follow their program.

"McClendon distinguishes these most-moderns from true postmoderns such as Wittgenstein, John Austin, Michael Polanyi, Alasdair MacIntyre, Newbigin, Nancey Murphy, and himself because these 'Anglo-American postmoderns' really are over the girl. They are ready to go on in a world in which learning presupposes trust and offers confidence rather than airtight certainty. That's a world that is finally becoming hospitable again to the good news."

whole thing (which includes a lot of intra-Protestant talk that I, frankly, don't understand). I probably found this via Camassia.
SALAM PAX IS HERE. Well, actually he's in Najaf, God help him. But you know what I mean.
THE FINAL FRONTIER: PLANETES v. 2 and 3. Just finished the second and third volumes of this ongoing, excellent sci-fi manga series. Scattered thoughts:

First of all, go read Planetes. It's a messy, character-focused space exploration story that manages to almost-successfully combine episodic drama and a strong plot arc. There are some beautiful moments (the books are worth it just for the drawings of space, or for static lovelinesses like the vol 3 image of the dragonfly against the moon) and you will root for the characters.

I have a couple caveats, especially about these two volumes. The first volume was divided about evenly between the three crewmembers of a ship that collects space debris--basically Garbage Truck To The Stars. I empathized with bereaved Yuri, adored fierce and down-to-earth smoker Fee, and felt embarrassed recognition when confronted with conflicted and angsty Hachimaki. The first volume is fantastic and you should go get it right now if you haven't already.

The later two volumes (I think there are three more coming) focus much more tightly on Hachimaki. Some of the subplots continue (especially a nicely-done storyline about anti-exploration terrorism, which simmers for a while before bursting into the main plot) but it's mostly the story of Hachimaki and the first mission to Jupiter. The first volume's themes of isolation and the need for human connection are repeated, but I thought they were overemphasized here, over-obvious. We're being leaned on in these volumes and I don't like it. Stuff gets spelled out much more explicitly than is healthy.

My other caveat is Tanabe, the love interest. 'Cause that's just about all she is. She is the Eternal Feminine, forgiving and compassionate and able to reconcile terrorist and victim with her abounding sweetness. Kill... me... NOW. Oy, but Tanabe is the kind of character I just cannot deal with, on a very basic philosophical and personal level. I think she's fake and wrong and kind of horrible. Tanabe is Nutrasweet personified.

But! It takes a lot for me to recommend a book with one of those Nutrafemme characters in it. But Planetes is so good it can get away with Tanabe. These two volumes have lovely portraits of family life; sweet, quick, confident vignettes; truly awe-inspiring pictures of space; a contemporary sense of tragedy combined with a Golden Age sense of wonder; and a very funny scene with a word game that overcame all my resistance to sentiment and cuteness.

Planetes is a deep and sometimes too-blatant testament to Eric Sevareid's statement, "Everything in space, von Braun said, obeys the laws of physics. If you know these laws and obey them, space will treat you kindly. The difficulty is that man brings the laws of his own nature into space. The issue is how man treats man. The problem does not lie in outer space, but where it's always been: on terra firma in inner man." The third volume is all about how you can only recover the wonder we feel at the vastness of space and the astonishing exploratory need of the human intellect once you've understood human love. There's a gorgeous scene of Tanabe and Hachimaki looking at a rocket as it sails into the night sky: Hachimaki can finally love space again, because he isn't alone. Planetes knows that this terrible human drive for the frontier, for the unknown, can be either a pathetic escape attempt or a transcendent submission to beauty.

For that alone you should be reading it. Even if it weren't cheaper than American comics!
JOURNALCON!: It was fun. I was hugely busy and sleepless, and so I was only able to be there for my own personal panel, on the nexus of personal blogging and professional life. But the people were great and the questions were fun. A couple superbrief observations: 1) This is the first blog-oriented crowd I've ever been in that was about 80% women. Welcome to the wild world of things that aren't political blogging....

2) I was the bad girl: I did one journalism internship and one year-long reporting job, but I'm not sure I've ever sent a query letter, so my journalistic life has been sharply different from pretty much everyone else's. That makes my advice suspect, I should think.

I do have three pieces of advice that I think apply across the board: a) Do not bother going to j-school. Just get out there and report.

b) Google is smart and your pseudonym is probably not. Nobody on our panel had ever had a job, since starting their blogs, where no one had connected employee to blog. Someone will find you, so keep that in mind. Gossip is one of the most basic human currencies.

c) Relatedly, be aware that these days journalism is an intriguing, philosophically rich, but sometimes crude blend of personal and political life. Many employers will view your public persona as an icon. You need to be an icon they can justify keeping on payroll. Readers (or at least editors) these days seek out vivid characters who can show how their perspective colors every action, from music preferences to voting choices. I really like the way blog-influenced journalism emphasizes the personal touch, a kind of continuity in all aspects of the journalist's life. That seems to me a necessary corrective to the fake, plastic "objectivity" (which always seems to mean conformity and conventional wisdom) that journalism sometimes affects. However, if your public, online persona incorporates aspects of your personal life that will get your employer nasty letters, you are very likely to become a liability rather than an asset. So, you know, forewarned is half an octopus. It's weird how many people need to hear this: If you worry that somebody might find your blog, he already has.

3) Every single person on my panel was a comics fan! This was too awesome. I shared the Planetes love; of which more soon.

My deepest thanks to the people who finagled my spot at JournalCon--it was a great time and I wish I could have stayed.
TOO OLD TO BE A CHILD STAR; TOO YOUNG TO TAKE LEADS...: Happy birthday to me! (Actually, Sunday was my birthday, aka the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, which entirely rocks.)

I'm feeling really, really happy about this birthday. It feels more significant than most. The year I was 25 was, honestly, kind of horrible, for reasons entirely under my control: I made a lot of bad decisions and in turn they made me miserable. And at Mass on Sunday I realized one of the biggest reasons why. I found myself praying, "Please help me love You above all else"--and I realized I hadn't prayed that, sincerely, in a long time. I've been putting all kinds of things (some good, some neutral, some actively bad) above my love of Christ. I've been withholding huge swathes of my life from Him. If you'll allow me this metaphor, I'd been using "protection" because I wanted to keep my life the way it was; and so I was not filled with new life.

So my birthday resolution is that I will change that. Let's try this again. There were some things about being 25 that were amazing (most notably the amount of writing I did), and I plan to keep those. But let's throw away this bizarre and self-damaging clinging to the old Adam, shall we? Let's do something bigger and better.

Because I want to do great things.

Fiat voluntas Tua.
"THE TOWN THAT DIDN'T STARE": Moving piece on reconstructive surgery on WWII veterans. Via The Corner.
"RAISING KEVION": Intermittently sweet, harsh, true-to-life piece from the NYT Magazine's welfare beat reporter. Must-read; if I've heard this story once I've heard it a hundred times. Via Family Scholars.

Excerpts: "Nearly a decade has passed since the country 'ended welfare' with a landmark bill imposing time limits and work requirements, and low-skilled women like Jewell have entered the work force in record numbers. But low-skilled men have not. And low-skilled black men, the sea in which Jewell has spent her life swimming, have continued to leave the job market at disconcerting rates, even during the late-90's boom. In cutting the rolls and increasing work, the 1996 welfare law, and a related expansion of services, has been celebrated as a rare, even unique, triumph, and on one level it is. But with about 90 percent of welfare families headed by single mothers, it is also a lesson in the limits of a policy that is focused on one sex. Whatever it has done to put women to work, it won't really change the arc of inner-city life until it -- or something -- reaches the men. ...

"A parallel story resides on Angie's branch of the family tree. She did know her father -- knew him as a drunk. 'Wanna marry my mama?' she once asked a city bus driver as a little girl. 'I want a daddy!' Still, her feelings toward her father ran so deep that she credits them for her decision, after leaving welfare, to become a nursing aide. She saw her father for the last time just before she moved to Milwaukee, and she was stunned at how sick he had become; she had to help him use the bathroom. A month later, he was dead. Taking on a caregiver's job, she said, was her way of making amends. 'I felt so guilty -- I did not do anything for him,' she said. 'I was mad at him, yeah, but . . . he was still my daddy.' ...

"His idealization of the wedding extends to the marriage. The sociologist Kathryn Edin argues that poor, unmarried couples often conceive marriage as an especially exalted state -- relationship perfection -- rather than as the acceptably imperfect structure in which daily living occurs. That's certainly how Ken described it. 'Once you get married, that means she's everything in a woman you're looking for and you're everything in a man she's looking for,' he said. Jewell said much the same: 'It's just you and that person, become one.' A marriage, therefore, carries intimidating risks, none greater than the risk of your partner cheating. 'Oh, yes, yes, yes,' Ken said. 'If you're married, and she goes out there and cheats on you, that's like the worst thing in the world! 'Cause you said those wedding vows. When you get married, you say you got an inseparable bond. So if she goes out there and cheats on you, she's breaking laws and policies!'''

whole thing
"The warm tropical sun caressed the golden Bermuda sand where Kimberly lay slathered in cocoa butter, welcoming its embrace and wallowing in the reverie while pounds of care melted away from the thighs of her psyche."
--Bride of Dark and Stormy; and also how my Sunday went, yay.

Friday, August 20, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": THOSE ENDLESS DAYS. Next section of the Norse myths story. Again, not much Michael, and much assumed knowledge of the mythos on the part of my readers. You have been warned. You'll get more Michael in the next section.

Here for story so far, here for most recent section. (Note that the most recent section has slipped off the front page. It's the August 1 entry now.) This story will be complete by Monday; there are two more sections.

Thank you for the days
Those endless days those sacred days you gave me
I'm thinking of the days
I won't forget a single day believe me...
LAW AND WHAT HE'S BEEN THINKING: Hey look, my father is guest-starring at Professor Jack Balkin's blog! Go, read!
IRAQI PRO-DEMOCRACY PARTY: These are the Iraq the Model guys. Via Oxblog, because I've been totally remiss in my Iraqi blogwatching duties. Will make the rounds sometime this weekend.
AWWWW, ISN'T THAT CUTE? "The authors of this book are dedicated to the Enlightenment principles of rational discourse,the application of logic,and the scientific method. The data and arguments we present follow these principles. As for politics, we are committed to the separation of church and state,the rule of law, and a political culture of civility and tolerance,all of which are necessary for a healthy democracy." (link)

But you know, professing one's allegiance to or defiance of the chaste goddess Reason is only the first step. The more interesting one, I find, is figuring out precisely what the goddess requires of her votaries.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

THE FIRST LINE: Magazine of short stories, all starting with the same first line. Neat idea. The current line is, "The inside was dark."

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


Via Family Scholars.
POETRY WEDNESDAY, REDUX: Not Auden! This poem, at Dappled Things.
POETRY WEDNESDAY: VAUDEVILLE SHALL PREACH: Auden, of course. Who could resist in this, our hour of need? (I have nothing to declare but my obsession.) First a small sharp cutting from "The More Loving One":

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.


Much more to follow. I have the final symptom of English-major damage: Seeing the dedication "To Cyril Connolly" makes me cry. Am I wrong in thinking someone said that obsession is the wellspring of genius and madness?

Also, if I ever have children they will memorize this. Um... and I will memorize it too, if strictly necessary. And if my children inherit an interest in the law (or lawfulness, with which I've rarely concerned myself) I think this might not come amiss.

Ah, shh, are you crying again? I suppose someone is always listening.
O TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE: There are no responses to your query.

(I owe that particular search-result to The Rat, of course--let the more cultured one be her. More Auden presently as I am obsessed.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Finder: Mystery Date. Wow, I'm so conflicted about this book. First off, I am a Carla Speed McNeil completist at this point. I'm addicted to the Samuel Delany-esque Finder world. This is wonderful science fiction, extending out beyond the borders of the page; rough and weird and sprawling just like real life. It feels like McNeil is describing the Finder world, rather than creating it.

But. Um. This volume feels... lecture-y. Now, that's maybe because the characters are professors and students. In real life, such people lecture. And McNeil's lectures feel relatively real. But still, I felt like I was being beaten over the head with characters' respective positions. The main character is a temple prostitute and most of the lectures involve sex in some way or another, so it's also lectures about something I've thought a lot about (I mean, it's my job), and I really didn't feel like I was getting anything new.

One of the major themes of the book is the clash of expectations. And usually this is something that would immediately attract me to a work of fiction. I love seeing clashes where one character is completely shocked by what another character takes for granted. But again, it didn't quite work here. My guess is that it didn't work for me because the main conflict was a clash between two very differently-situated cultures (one positioned as "civilized" and one as "exotic") in a way I feel like I've had pounded into my head a hundred times since entering high school. And at this point, either I'm a jerk about "exotic" cultures or I'm not, but I've heard all the arguments already and seen all the lopsided conflicts in which the "exotic" cultural insider is obviously more open-minded and sensitive and questioning and whatnot than the "civilized" intellectualizing outsiders. I'm starting to think that right now I more want to see the clash of expectations within a culture--people who thought they were on the same page and only now realize that they were never even reading from the same script. Anyway, I find it hard to tell if it's that McNeil is being too exaggerated and blunt or if I'm just hugely jaded on this whole question after my Riot Grrrl years, or what.

But see, every Finder book ends with McNeil's notes, and these are so utterly charming and scientifictionally pleasing that I come away with a huge love for the book. She really has this whole world in her head and it's wonderful to see. Also, her drawings are amazingly sweet and fluid. I purr at her drawings even when I'm not wildly thrilled by the storyline to which they're hooked. Plus, her characters are vivid, realistic, and lovable. Very much worth your time even though you might find yourself (as I did) growling and muttering at the page.

Human Target: Strike Zones. This is really a series of short stories about Christopher Chance, who can impersonate anyone perfectly. Lovely little overwritten fables about personal identity and lack of same. I keep hanging on to this fairly predictable title because I'm obsessed with the theme (oh so Walker Percy!) and I can put up with the fact that it always has at least thirteen more captions than it needs. Someone needs to flense the captions, seriously. Anyway, it's a James Bond suspense thing with a much deeper underlying emotional current than the Bond films, so I'm into it.

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl? Probably suffered in comparison to the other titles. I resisted picking up Powers in part because of the artwork, which for some reason I didn't like. Now, I have no idea what I was thinking. The artwork is big and brassy and exaggerated and I love it, almost. (The "almost" is for the amazingly annoying, predictable reason that Oeming draws every female with the same Barbie physique and gives us several infuriating, physics-defying shots of Detective Pilgrim with her pants falling off her ass.)

The dialogue is Bendis standard, which is fine, but... I dunno. I didn't feel like this comic was giving me anything I couldn't get better in (the first volume of) Alias, or even Sleeper. Seriously, what is the unique thing that Powers offers? It looks good, but I got no interest in it beyond that.

Oh hey, I totally didn't tell you what it is. It's a detective story about two cops, ex-superhero Walker and rookie Pilgrim, investigating crimes committed against your basic costumed superpowered folk. "Homicide superior," as they say.

Sleeper: All False Moves. I'm so in love.

Okay, so at first glance, this sounds like Powers. It's basically The Superpowered Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Except he doesn't get to come in from the cold, because the only person who knows he's really still one of the Good Guys is in a coma. But it's a twisty creepy shivery spy story with superpowers. How come you should get it right now? (After you get the first two volumes, Point Blank and Sleeper: Out in the Cold.) I've got three reasons:

1) Characters. The characterizations of double (?) agent Holden Carver, his "only happy when somebody else is screaming" girlfriend Miss Misery, his boss TAO, and his friend Genocide Jones are fun and consistent and compelling.

2) Suspense. I flipped every page with intense interest, worrying about what was going to happen to our knockabout and decidedly compromised quasi-hero.

3) Ohhhhhhh, the layout. This book is such a sensual pleasure. The layout is noticeable, but simple and not showy: lots of boxes. But the boxes are positioned in such a way that you can't help but make the connections to the themes of the book: windows (frame-ups, constricted vision, limited POV), cages, organizational flowcharts, playing cards, photographs (evidence). I dug this layout in Out in the Cold and now I think I have a huge layout crush--I want to send it anonymous Valentines with soppy poetry. Also, the pages are still glossy and weirdly thick in a way that is strangely exciting to turn.

OK OK, Sleeper won't change your world. But it's as good as Chandler. It's fantastic noir-spy comicsness. You want it. You really, really do.

Next up: Planetes v. 2 and 3; the first volumes of The Invisibles and Doom Patrol.
COSTUMED VIGILANTES: an exchange between me and Jason Spak. He gets the last word.

Me: Here.

Jason: What you wrote about Dahlia Lithwick pleased me. Like you, I get annoyed when lefty commentators "give[] us nothing other than personal policy-outcome preferences as a guideline for how judges should interpret the law." I read the other blog entries you linked to, and concluded that if you're on crack, one wouldn't know it from reading your thoughts on constitutional interpretation.

Do you really want to come up with a counter-argument for people like Ms. Lithwick? If so, my hunch is that it will be more profitable to consider what they have to say about original understanding, than it will be to challenge them to devise a comparable theory of jurisprudence. To that end, here are three questions that I sometimes think about:
1) Like you, I tend to think bitterly of certain passages, like the infamous "mystery doctrine" in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as policy preferences cloaked in high-falutin' language. But to some extent, aren't passages that advocate "original understanding" doing the same thing? In other words, would conservatives like "original understanding" if it wasn't helpful to them politically? See, e.g., http://www.offthekuff.com/mt/archives/001227.html

2) The Supreme Court has used substantive due process, the essential tool in every activist judge's kit, in good ways: it struck down an Oregon law that barred parents from sending their kids to Catholic school (Pierce v. Society of Sisters), and a Nebraska law that prevented kids from learning German in school (Meyer v. Nebraska). The opinions in those cases find a "right to parental control of education" that isn't in the constitution any more than a "right to abortion" is. Would conservatives really jettison substantive due process, if they knew that laws like these might be among the results of doing so?

3) Hasn't the court always been politicized? Look at the 19th century, when the Court used substantive due process to decide Dred Scott on political grounds, or the 18th century, when a conservative attempt to pack the courts with political hacks before Jefferson could do it gave us Marbury v. Madison.

Me: "Do you really want to come up with a counter-argument for people like Ms. Lithwick?"

Not necessarily, actually. I'm increasingly convinced that while it's possible to talk about what NOT to do in jurisprudence, it's very difficult or maybe even impossible to develop a hard and fast, bright-line theory of what TO do. Hence the "prudence" in jurisprudence, I guess. I am more comfortable about talking about what I think is definitely out of bounds than in coming up with a theory that would provide answers to all or maybe even most legal questions. It's sort of like defining art, maybe--any top-down theoretical definition is going to be inadequate, but you do need some way of talking about what artists are doing and whether it works and whether it's good. Not a great analogy, but I think it at least captures the degree of fuzziness I think is inevitable in jurisprudential theory. (All those "maybe"s and "I think"s should show how uncertain I am even about this uncertainty!)

"But to some extent, aren't passages that advocate 'original understanding' doing the same thing? In other words, would conservatives like 'original understanding' if it wasn't helpful to them politically? See, e.g., http://www.offthekuff.com/mt/archives/001227.html"

See, those are three different questions: a) Isn't 'original understanding' philosophical-kingship and vague disguise for personal policy preference? To this I think the answer is 'no, but.' Obviously 'orig. understanding' needs to be fleshed out. (For example, Scalia is not an "originalist" but rather a "textualist," a philosophically different beast; and not a 100% textualist at that, more of a 75% textualist. He gives a nice popularized explication of his views, with replies and his response to those replies, in A Matter of Interpretation, which youmight really like if you haven't read it already.) But one of my basic "Are you a philosopher king?" tests for judges is whether they would say that certain unpalatable policy options are forced on them by the laws. E.g. I don't think the Constitution guarantees the right to life of the unborn, even though I'd obviously like it to and I've read various arguments that it does. So I do think it's possible to be a "real" textualist or originalist (though not a 100% one, see above re impossibility of top-down theories) rather than just using that interpretive framework as a convenient disguise for policy preferences.

b) Would conservatives be "originalists" (argh, NOBODY is a 100% originalist or textualist and the concepts are almost certainly incoherent just from a linguistic philosophy standpoint, but I'm going to shut up about that now) if/when that perspective doesn't serve their policy ends? It depends on which conservatives! (And maybe on which policy ends.) See above re possibility of jurisprudence against one's own policy preferences.

c) What do I think of the Off the Kuff link? ...Eh, I'm not wildly impressed by it. I think it sounds like Kuffner hasn't read the extended-play version of orig/textualist claims, and is working off an oversimplified understanding of what they entail; and it's SOOOO WEIRD!!!! to say that the amendment process, as specified in Article V, is an argument for tacit amendment of the Constitution by crusading judges! I mean, I did a real doubletake on that one.

"The Supreme Court has used substantive due process, the essential tool in every activist judge's kit, in good ways.... Would conservatives really jettison substantive due process, if they knew that laws like these might be among the results of doing so?"

Again, depends on the conservative! I honestly do NOT know enough about the arguments in Pierce to express a judgment of it one way or the other. (Again with the fuzziness. I'm so unsatisfying!) But I can easily come up with "substantive due process" claims that would provide results I like while relying on a jurisprudential view (of the courts' role in discerning and maintaining the rule of law and the Constitution) that I find abhorrent. So yeah, I'd give up some good stuff (which we could GET OTHER WAYS, via all the traditional other tools of social movements) to restrict the courts.

"3) Hasn't the court always been politicized?"

Oh, sure. And doubtless always will be. The question is, though, once we acknowledge this, do we seek to get away with politicization for our own ends (git 'em girl, before they git you) or to minimize politicization, maximize public skepticism of it, and minimize the political benefits of it for any side? IOW you'll always have some level of politicization/philosopher-kingship, but I am idealistic enough to think it varies and we can through our jurisprudential theories contain it to some extent.

Final thought: One helpful way to think about this is to take the perspective of the voter trying to be responsible in exercising the franchise. Can voters know what they are voting for? I go into that here.

Jason: A) I agree -- wholeheartedly -- that it's "very difficult or maybe even impossible" to develop a top-down theory of judging. More to the point, it's annoying -- the kind of empty exercise that gives phrases like "ivory tower" their often pejorative ring. I thought you were trying to create such a theory in the earlier blog posts you linked to, which seemed to catalogue of levels of political influence and types of stare decisis. I'm glad to know that you either weren't then or aren't now doing so.

1)a) You mention "one of [your] basic 'Are you a philosopher king?' tests for judges . . . ." Do you really have more than one such test? If so, you should consider contacting Quizilla and creating something on-line.

1)c) I should have linked, not to Kuffner, but to the Lithwick article he cites. In it, she says that "Scalia can afford to be an originalist, only because he personally agrees with most of the moral and religious assumptions of the framers." To my mind, that's the argument (the idea that Scalia et al. mouth the words "I'm only following the framers" because they know that the framers either favor them, or favor the status quo, on issues like gay marriage) that advocates for "original understanding" and their kin need to confront.

Z) I'm not sure I grasp your marriagedebate link. There usually isn't too much press when the Court construes or misconstrues the laws that regular people vote for (not that we directly vote for anything here in Pennsylvania); the real kerfuffles happen when the Court construes or misconstrues amendments to the Constitution, none of which were "voted on" in quite the way that pieces of legislation are.
"SHIP COMES IN": AND THE DOORS SWING BACK AND FORWARD, FROM THE PAST INTO THE PRESENT. The next section of the Norse myths story. More domestic fighting--and Loki's murder trial.

A few points and questions: 1) Yes, I know, I keep saying "Aesir" when I mean Aesir and Vanir. I'm going to fix that in the revised version.

2) I also know the flashbacks-within-flashbacks are hard to follow. Please email me if you have comments about that; it's something I'll definitely be fixing in the revised version.

3) I'm now 99% sure I have at least one of the patronymics wrong, so again, I solicit advice on them.

4) Do you hate the fact that I'm assuming a fairly solid knowledge of Norse myths on the part of my readership? I mean, I had scenes in mind that would explain the murder trial, but ultimately decided that my job was reshaping rather than retelling the myths, so there was no need to play out the scenes that you all knew would happen. Did that not work? Do we need to see much more of Balder, or of his traditional role in the mythos? (These are different questions, I know.)

Anyway. That said, you can get the story so far here, and the most recent section here. There are three more sections, I think: the cave; the aftermath; and the Bitter End. Comments and criticism on everything and anything are not merely requested but welcomed.

And you say you didn't do it--but you know you did, of course...
LINK ROUND-UP: "The Struggle Over the Torture Memos": "At its annual meeting in Atlanta last week, the American Bar Association called for a bipartisan investigation into the Bush administration's internal deliberations about interrogation and detention that may have led to the torture of prisoners in Iraq.

"At the same time, 180 prominent lawyers, judges and law professors signed a statement calling for the administration to release any remaining confidential memos relating to the treatment of prisoners and detainees. ...

"But Walter Dellinger, who headed the office during the Clinton years, notes that in every administration, about 20 percent of its memos have usually remained unpublished. Of these, a small percentage include classified information and the rest involve requests for legal advice when the executive branch never took the action in question and would prefer the advice not be disclosed.

"'One reason for not releasing the unpublished memos is that an administration may sometimes come up with a truly stupid idea, and a strongly worded legal memorandum can dissuade them from taking the proposed action,' Mr. Dellinger said. 'If you know the memos will be made public and could be used against the United States in court, the executive may be reluctant to ask for candid advice on matters of questionable legality, and lawyers may be reluctant to give it.'"

whole thing

Ramesh Ponnuru has an inspiring little piece on embryo-destructive stem cell research, here: "...The meeting with Souder did not go exactly as planned. They didn't persuade Souder to support the funding. Instead, he persuaded them to oppose it."

The Old Oligarch reminds me that I'm speaking at JournalCon DC. I'm on the Saturday 10 AM panel, "Getting It in Writing: Personal and Professional Writing."
"The Nyima hail their god of war as a bringer of civilization. This doesn't make sense unless you consider that the Greek god of wine and drunkenness was also considered a god of civilization."
--Carla Speed McNeil, Finder: Mystery Date, endnotes

Monday, August 16, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": THIS NEVER WAS ONE OF THE GREAT ROMANCES. Next section of the Norse myths story. In which Michael defends the marital bed and takes more photographs. Lots of cussing, for those who care. Click here for story so far, here for the newest section. Oh, and we meet Balder the Beautiful... who, as you probably know, is a significant figure in our tale.

All the angry words that passed between us...
OK , ON FURTHER READING, that Post piece on "Washingtonienne" is a must-read. Seriously. Click and you will see. Walker Percy couldn't have come up with this, though he would have tried.
[deleted, duplicate post, go read "Ship Comes In"]
SUDAN: GENOCIDE, TERRORISM, AND AMERICA'S NATIONAL INTEREST: Transcript of American Enterprise Institute forum with William Kristol of the Weekly Standard; John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group; Ronald Sandee, Ministry of Defense of the Netherlands; Thomas Donnelly of AEI, and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va). Haven't read yet but plan to. Via Mark Shea.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

We all feel blogwatch in the dark...

Dave Tepper writes about Gov. McGreevey and same-sex marriage. I think Dave's way of connecting the two is wrong, and there are major reasons for even a supporter of SSM to avoid this interpretation of events. Chris Crain and Jonathan Rauch roughly agree with Dave; E.J. Graff, Josh Chafetz of Oxblog, Sed Contra, and I (here) roughly disagree, from quite different political positions.

Sed Contra on a startlingly sound piece from the Washington Post on "Washingtonienne." Draw your own connections to McGreevey's situation.

Dahlia Lithwick says the term "activist judges" is meaningless but gives us nothing other than personal policy-outcome preferences as a guideline for how judges should interpret the law. I growl at this view at length here and at an oblique angle here and here (please do read all of those before replying if you think I'm on crack). Basic thesis: "[B]oth Bush v. Gore and Roe v. Wade were wrongly decided, and [] their problems, while hardly identical, are related."...Lithwick link via How Appealing and Family Scholars.
"I couldn't leave America.

"America is the only place where I make any sense."
--Peter Milligan, Human Target: Strike Zones
"SHIP COMES IN": COMPLICATED SHADOWS. Next segment of the Norse myths story. In which Sigyn has her first two children and Michael begins a major project. Here for story so far, here for most recent segment.

But iron and steel will bend and break...
"I know the blood is fake, the corpses get up and go home to their families. But that doesn't make it not real."
--Peter Milligan, Human Target: Strike Zones. I did mention I visited the comics shop, right?


Friday, August 13, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": OTHER WICKED LITTLE THINGS. The next section of the Norse myths story. In which Sigyn and Loki begin a marriage fit for gods and monsters. A few things to note: 1) I went through and messed with the earlier segments of the story, changing some bits of prose I hated and dropping a tiny hint or two about something I just figured out about the scene at the Bitter End.

2) This new section, which includes Sigyn's wedding night, got significantly more frank than I expected. I guess R-rated? I've been sticking pretty close to Sigyn's vocabulary and locutions (though not always to her POV), so the descriptions are sometimes slightly out-of-date because that's how she would think about sex.

3) That said, I'm not satisfied with this section, and would welcome comments on whatever is or is not working for you with this story.

4) There's very little Michael in this section, but you'll get more of him in the next one, which is also the one where we meet the children.

So: click here for the story so far, here for the new scene.

Bridal books, engagement rings,
And other wicked little things...
Nervous juvenile, won't smile, what became of you?
Did that swift eclipse blogwatch you?

A commenter at Amy Welborn's site thinks I was too demanding in my post on gender and the "feminine qualities" discourse: "If a bunch of bishops issued a list of men's gifts, the immediate response would be 'what a bunch of self-important sexist pigs.'"

But my points were these: 1) When you only list women's Special Gifts, you're talking as if women are the only gendered people out there--men are gender-neutral. This elision of men's gendered nature does a disservice to women (who are viewed as bizarre deviations from the neutral male standard) and men (who are left with no language in which to describe and discuss masculinity).

And 2) That said, I dislike the "list of qualities" talk for either sex, so I would also not be wildly thrilled about a document that listed Special Manly Gifts as well as special lady gifts. My earlier post was an admittedly rudimentary attempt to come up with a more accurate way of describing gender differences and complementarities.

Quoth the Maven: Really intriguing, thought-provoking post on developmental stages and the different fears that serve as threats in children's literature: getting lost, death, damnation. Via Church of the Masses.

Sean Collins writes an excellent rebuttal of my uncannily and astonishingly disorganized post on New X-Men. (I also note, on rereading, that I used the word "denouement" when I meant "backstory"! Who stole my brain???)

I'm still not convinced that Sean's account of the Phoenix intervention is more justified by the text than my irritated reading. (I think the sequence of events makes mine more plausible. Then again, I was also somewhat emotionally disconnected by the last volume in the series, and emotional disengagement usually warps rather than enhances critical judgment.) But it's a possible reading and a far more interesting and charitable one than mine, so when I reread the series, as I undoubtedly will, I'll reread hoping to find that Sean has convinced me: "It’s the Jean-Phoenix that makes this decision, meaning that all of Jean's life experiences, beliefs, and desires come into play as much if not more so than the Phoenix entity's cosmic concerns. And how does this new and better direction get set into motion? By Jean so loving the world (and Cyclops in particular) that she gave Emma her only beloved husband. 'Live' is her injunction to Scott (a deliberate echo-twin of The Filth's concluding 'We have love'), as she gives not just her permission but her blessing to Cyclops. Through her real, true, total love, he can put aside his grief for a relationship that was kept alive like a zombie for years out of both comfort and fear, and embrace a new, vibrant woman, a relationship with whom will provide both Scott and Emma with a wealth of potential for human growth and happiness."

Sean points out that this reading, where sacrificial love makes possible--but doesn't force--new life and regeneration, echoes the Gospels; in fact, that language is very close to how I present the Gospel at the pregnancy center.

Sean is definitely right about Beast's role, and I am kicking myself for not noticing it.

When Will the Hurting Stop?: Another list of eleven comics that libraries should stock. Via Sean, who needs to fix the links in his posts!

"Mom who smoked dodges jail time": More insanity from the borderland where divorce court meets the nanny state. Via How Appealing.

"The View from Out There": What other countries' textbooks say about American history. Fascinating stuff, via E-Pression and Mark Shea.

"Lourdes 2: Countercultural pilgrimage": Lovely piece from Uwe Siemon-Netto; excerpt: "There is no other spot in the world where the ill fraternize -- in the literal sense of the word -- as intensely with the healthy as Lourdes. There is no place where strapping nobles and university professors, wonderful young men and women brimming with health, cheerfully take care of the sick for 16 hours every day, often spending their nights curled up on the floor below the foot-end of their patients' beds.

"Lourdes is profoundly counter-cultural. It is a mass gathering of those who affirm the 'you' as opposed to the 'me,' which is why the West's anthropocentric, anti-Catholic and in the final analysis anti-Christian elites find Lourdes so scandalous -- pointing, often dishonestly, to the kitsch that is for sale there."

Via Otto-da-Fe.
"You keep cereal in your desk?"


"That is the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life."

"Well, you're young."
--little girl and detective, Brian Bendis, Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?--Yes, despite my best intentions, I seem to have gotten suckered into reading Powers. Apparently, like Elvis Costello, I talk to myself but I just don't listen.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

SECONDARY MUTATIONS: This is my big post about Grant Morrison's New X-Men. Spoilers, of course, abound.

"WOLVERINE. I THINK YOU CAN STOP DOING THAT NOW." Perhaps the most obvious feature of NXM, by the time it ended, was the way it took every single reader expectation and rubbed its face in the dirt. Every single kind of X-Men story was warped and molded to the NXM framework: Shi'ar aliens, Sentinels, Phoenix, everything is recycled. The line that summarizes the most obvious feature of NXM is Emma Frost's sardonic, sympathetic-but-unrelenting reference to "these reruns of your grief." Morrison is clearly trying to shake something loose just by hitting the old X-Men motifs hard enough.

And I almost like that approach. I love how Morrison suckered me into preferring ferocity to sense, and then let his storylines show how sense was really the better path. I love how he made me want Magneto to be right, and then showed me how that only works as a slogan on teenage t-shirts.

And I love the metafictional premise. I love the assumption that every kind of story can be made a story about Grant Morrison's personal obsessions. Murder mysteries ("Murder at the Mansion"), space operas ("Imperial"), schooldays fiction ("Riot at Xavier's")--it is all available for whatever meaning you, the creator, choose to impose. I expect I identified too heavily with the writer for this to have much impact. What you want to know is how people who don't think of themselves as the writers view this kind of blatant manipulation. I loved it; but then, I would. It heightened my sense of my own power: my author's sense that I can draw my own preferred meaning out of any situation.

YOUR FUTURE LIES IN GENOCIDE: One of the most impressive things about Morrison's work is the fact that he never forced his interpretations on the characters. Instead, he drew out the aspects of characters that had been neglected for decades. Morrison has a pitch-perfect sense of what Emma, Henry ("C'est moi! La Bete! ...Emma, it's Henry..."), Scott ("Insurance takes care of everything"), and Jean would say. I'm especially impressed that although Jean's temper is a strong undercurrent pushing the action, she never comes across as a motiveless bitch. We sympathize with her ("Doesn't everything seem mildly traumatized?") and we want her husband to come home, even though I think as presented Emma is much better for Scott than Jean is.

Morrison pushes his fingerprints into the clay of the X-Men while still making sure that they take their expected places on the chessboard. He gives fans what we want. And then he shows us that what we want isn't what we really want. Oh, you want the return of Magneto? Come on. The guy by this point has got to be a ramshackle maniac barely held together by your faith in his competence.

NXM is an extended exercise in giving the people what they want, in the hopes that Courtney Love was right, and once they get what they want they'll never want it again.

Well, it's not quite that bad. I do think that's the biggest thing happening in NXM, and it's kind of embarrassing and unfortunate since really it's not that big at all. Just as Cassandra Nova collapses the whole universe into her struggle with her twin brother Charles, so the entire series pretty much collapses into metafictional commentary in which little exists outside the womb of Marvel comics. I wish that weren't my ultimate verdict, since I like Marvel comics a lot but really don't think they're worth the effort here expended.

There are other tendrils, though. There's the pacifist tendril: violence as capitulation to our worst tendencies. There's the tendril that explores the attractiveness of evil--everything from Cassandra's Richard III-like speech to Mr. Trask ("Forget your dental practice. Your future lies in genocide") to readers' cruel desire to see Wolverine wreck ass at the very end. We want the X-Men to blow stuff up, and Morrison plays nicely on that desire.

There's the tendril that explores deception, and forced self-revelation. This is the most complex subtheme, I think, and the one that is least-resolved at the end of the series. There are deep layers of deception: the beautiful, Christie-worthy Xorn deception ("When X Is Not X"--oh yeah, you think?); the deception of Slick, which Quentin Quire blasts through; the deception of Quentin himself, which the Stepford Cuckoos decide to plow through for reasons far removed from Xavier's dream; the psychic affair, which I really do think is the heart of the series, and which begins because of the self-revelation forced on Scott by En Sabah Nur (I think this is a fair characterization even if you think, as I do, that he's using his possession as an excuse); the Beast's lying to the press about his sexual orientation. And there's the constant deception in which Charles Xavier pretends he's not a mutant running a school for mutants, and the deeply ambiguous circumstances in which that particular pretense is shattered.

These deceptions allow Morrison to set up lovely parallels. The Special Class parallels the original X-Men (superstrength, eyeblasts, telepathy, wings--c'mon man, do you need an ice mutant before you see the connection?), but they become Magneto's first and key recruits. Quentin Quire's gang also parallels the X-Men--they're the ones that say, "We're the new X-Men!", after all. But the Special Class are far more important in the end. Their storyline emphasizes the imperfection of the Xavier School (where kids mock Angel and Beak--have I mentioned that "Some Angels Falling" is my favorite issue of the entire Morrison run?) and the heroism of the students who defend the school that almost rejected them. ("Xavier School is the best school!")

Oh, there are so many nice character moments. There's that teachers' conference where Scott and Emma call for greater order in the school, even though, with their affair just starting, they are the most obvious representatives of disorder. There's the fact that Scott's relationships finally almost make sense. There's the sweet courtship of Angel and Beak, where she's striving for plausible deniability and he is just in abandoned bliss until she turns up pregnant. There's the focus on the little guys: the Special Class, sure, but also the duct-tape-and-chewing-gum team of X-Men in the final battle against Magneto, including a random human NYC cop. There are the U-Men, who I think show a much more nuanced, envious, hateful yet needy perspective on the old standard "X-Men as racial minorities" trope. The U-Men are complicated in the way that the real world is complicated.

AND THEN WHAT? AND THEN WHAT? New X-Men is more reactionary than revolutionary. It consistently shows human revolutions as prompted by personal weakness (I'd like to smack GM for the "Afterschool Special" denouement of the Riot at Xavier's storyline). The final scenes, in which the world breaks out of its rut and moves into a new and better path, are only made possible by the intervention of a superhuman freakazoid force. I truly hope I am not the only one who growled and sighed at this development.

Don't get me wrong: If we have to have the Phoenix--and Morrison's modus operandi, twisting every canonical or played-out X-storyline to fit his own themes, suggests we must--then I guess this might be the way to do it. Maybe.

But it still left a really sour taste in my mouth. All the prior issues had shown a rather lovely balance between keeping the X-Men in character and using their typical storylines to express Morrison's personal themes of generational conflict, rejection of violence, and the difficulty of knowing who one is and what one is to do.

And then at the end the Phoenix comes and slaps Scott Summers upside the head until he says, OK, I will mess with Emma after all. Grrrrr. Maybe it is my unusually depressive mindset, but I would really prefer something that would not require The Intervention Of The Phoenix!!! If you'd asked me what was most likely, based on what we knew of his character, I would have predicted that he would reject Emma even though she was obviously very, very good for him. Scott is not good at making the right choices about his romantic life. To have the Phoenix yank him into the right choice because otherwise the future will suck! seemed really, really cheap to me, and a basic denial of the importance that Morrison had placed on minor characters' choices throughout the rest of the series. I mean, if the Phoenix just fixes everything she doesn't like, why does it matter what Beak decides to do?

So. Morrison's run was challenging--it zeroed in on the biggest problem for any mainstream superhero comic, the inevitable bathos of these "reruns of your grief"--and it was often beautiful, especially towards the end. (Although I still think "Some Angels Falling" is the perfect marriage--eek, bad metaphor--of art and storyline. But I accept that I read this story at a time when it had a deep, harsh, personal resonance, and I probably can't convince anyone who read the story without that resonance, nor do I especially want to.) But in the end I think there was less here than met the eye.

I mean, I could talk about a lot of stuff. There are fairly obvious Gnostic notes in NXM. And anti-Gnostic notes: It's pretty clear that the people trying to escape contamination by the material world are the bad guys. There are lovely reflections and echoes (I think "Teaching Children About Fractals" is the best-named issue of the series). The conceit of the series--that one could create a coherent X-Men narrative while undermining every previous standard X-Men stock plot--is awesome and I still laugh just thinking about it. So audacious!

But it didn't, I think, quite come off. NXM should have been important in its own right, but I think in the end it is only important as The Last X-Men Story. I really dig the X-Men, so I'm okay with that--and the truly sweet grasp Morrison has on the characters makes every page a rewarding read--but I can't help feeling that this series should have been something bigger.

Prove me wrong?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"SHIP COMES IN": NOW THE CABARET IS FROZEN. In which the Aesir look at art; Sigyn dances; and Michael changes in response to a catalyst. Here for the story so far, here for the most recent section.

You say you'll be sweet to her, but everybody knows....
GOAT RETRIEVAL SERVICES, LTD: Thanks so much to everyone who wrote in with insomnia suggestions. I'm posting them anonymously below. Some of them are quite out of the question for me (I will exercise only if directed to personally by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) but I'll be taking up many of the others. Will be asking my doctor about Ambien, which many of you all recommended. As for reasons for the insomnia, I know full well what they are: I am stressed out and furious. This is unlikely to change soon, however, and so like a good American I am addressing the symptom and not the cause.

#1: Have you given up caffeine? At the very least have you dropped it after lunchtime? Sorry and concerned to hear that your summer is so stressful. It appears to be going around. Hang in there.

[Eve replies: Total decaffeination is not an option. I need to be kicked into consciousness every morning. However, I've been trying to drink no coffee after five, and have in general been drinking less caffeine than I'm used to.]

#2: First, I drink only decaf and no caffeinated sodas. I even stop drinking decaf by noon...my body is particularly sensitive to caffeine. (I discovered just how sensitive during vacations when I had one cup of real coffee in the morning and after a couple of days, just stopped sleeping. The same happens when I have decaf after dinner.)

Second, I have come to love a pill called "Ambien." I take half a 5 mg pill when I need to. (The usual dose is 10 mg. They make 5 mg, and I cut it in half. If I take an entire pill, I am drowsy the entire next day...so 2.5 is what I need and take.) I generally sleep all night and wake up fine the next day. (I still "sleep fast"--5-6 hours, but it seems to do me fine.)

Third, (and this works better for one of my friends than it does for me, but it sometimes works for me) taking a warm bath just before bed seems to help sometimes.

[Eve notes: Oy, I've tried the bath trick, and it does exactly nothing for me. But I do expect it helps lots of other people. It's the sort of thing that seems like it should be relaxing, but for me, isn't.]

#3: Get an herbal compund with valerian--"Fatigued to Fantastic" formula is good.

Take 1200 mg calcium/magnesium compound every evening.

Non-habituating prescription drugs: Many people like Ambien. It made me feel weird, but try it a few nights and see what you think.

Trazodone is also good. It's technically an anti-depressant but if you take the minimal dose right before bed it acts as a sleeping pill. Trazodone is my friend.

Stay away from the benzodiazapines if possible, they are very habituating.

#4: Try shovelling either snow, coal or garden soil for an hour and a half and then go lie down with a glass of wine--drink it of course and close your eyes. Alternatively substitute the shovelling with a good brisk walk for that hour and a half followed by the other. Of course all this presupposes you don't operate from a wheelchair or some similar disability. The rosary is a good way for me to become drowsy but then falling down in Church is never a good look. Always invites sidelong glances of deep suspicion and/or solicitous if irritating enquiries. I'm sure there must be a patron saint for sleep; go google for her/him. My wife would say try garlic but then she uses that for almost any malady. I remember somebody I worked with a long time ago (a WWII vet) who said rub garlic on the souls of your feet and it'll turn up on your breath in ten minutes. Anyway if none of the above is of any practical help I hope it at least makes you smile.

[Eve says: Will definitely be checking for a patron saint of sleep. The shoveling, not so much.]

#5: I've always had trouble falling to sleep early enough, though I sleep well enough once I drop off. But here's some stuff I've learned: (I'm sleeping as well as ever now.)

1. Get some exercise every day. A little is better than none.
2. Don't do things that stimulate your mind late at night. Wind down instead. Mellow out.
3. Alcohol and too much stimulants (caffeine) are trouble.
4. "Erase the blackboard in your mind" exercise, takes discipline but works.
5. Lay down. Relax body. Relax face. Erase blackboard. KEEP it erased--takes discipline.
6. Focus on your breathing. In out in out. Somehow it works.
7. Recognise mental "wheel spinning" due to anxiety issues. Get help if needed. This can be heavy duty stuff.
8. Milk and meat have tryptophan which makes some feel drowsy.
9. Anyone will naturally get drowsy if they keep their mind blank. Stop the ideas from parading through.

I dealt with some heavy anxiety stuff 2 years ago and things got better. If anxiety is a serious issue look at basic family relationships from childhood. Amazing how so many of us have same issues.

#6: You asked about insomnia cures. One "natural" one that does me some good is melatonin. The standard pitch for it is that it regulates sleep cycles, whatever that means. I think it's better than Sominex -- which, if I recall aright from the list time I compared ingredients and prices, is just Benadryl, repackaged and marked up.

But the real action is in the prescription zone, so if you're seeing a doc, ask about Ambien. It's all the rage. It's being prescribed now the way Halcyon was in the early '90s. Now everyone's anti-Halcyon, no doubt in part because Bush the First was using it on his trip to Japan where he hurked on the Premier. There was probably some bad sushi going around, but in drug-Puritanical America, the sleep-aid gets the blame. No doubt fifteen years from now there'll be some reason to be mad at Ambien, but I find it works very well. ...

Ambien is not a member of the benzodiazepine family (such as Valium, Xanax, etc.). That said, it's my opinion that a careful visit to that family never hurt anyone. Valium is passe, and Xanax is distrusted by doctors because it metabolizes very fast and thus lends itself to addictive use. The one most in vogue, I believe, is Klonopin (clonazepam), which metabolizes slowly (slower to work; lasts longer). The Benzos are not directly soporifics, but if anxiety or tension or concern about what they're doing to your goat is what's keeping you up, they can really help.

Obviously, don't do alcohol in combination with any of the above.

So that's my $0.02. I didn't grow up in Manhattan in the '60s for nothing.

#7: Sounds like you've got a pretty bad case. This probably won't work, but have you tried running? You don't even have to smoke a cigarette while running for it to work.

[Eve says: Running? You mean like, with the legs? No comprendo.]

#8: Here are a couple of things that unexpectedly knocked me out:

Gravol, a nausea medicine (do they even have it in the US?)

(New Age version): a little oil of rosemary in a hot bath

Eve says: Again, thanks so much to everyone who wrote in. I have pretty much caught up on sleep now but I will absolutely keep these suggestions on hand for the next bout of craptaculousness.
NATURE IS A LANGUAGE, CAN'T YOU READ?: So people are talking about the Vatican's latest salvo in re boys and girls, ladies and dudes. I haven't read it, so I won't address specifics. I do, though, want to talk about a way of discussing gender differences that I think obscures much more than it reveals.

This is the "feminine qualities" discourse. Chicks have this special gift for certain qualities, like nurturing, or mercy, or I don't know, cleanliness. There are several bizarre aspects to Catholic authorities trying to promote this notion in the contemporary context:

1) Um. Isn't everybody supposed to be nurturing, merciful, and I don't know, clean? If these things are easier for the ladies, shouldn't we spend our time presenting these qualities in a way that is especially attractive to men, rather than just buttering up the chiquitas?

2) Amy Welborn and Lynn Gazis-Sax have already noted that in this kind of gender discourse, men never seem to have special "gifts." Their spiritual talents and preferences are assumed. It's only women who need special praise. One cannot help but feel that this is condescending--"Oh, honey, why trouble your pretty little head with courage or intellectual acuity? You're so sweet!"

3) It's perfectly obvious to anyone who observes the human scene, or even just reads about it, that men and women come to different crossroads in their lives. But to talk about those differences, and the different kinds of moral choice that they require, you need to get very specific. You need to say stuff like, "If you're the one carrying the child, pregnancy--whether it ends in birth, abortion, or miscarriage--means something different to you than it does to the father. And vice versa." You need to get down in the visceral messy matter of human sexuality. I don't know that philosophy is especially well-equipped to do this; literature seems to me much better suited for the task, much more adept at balancing individuality and the reality of gender differences.

So let me propose an admittedly very imperfect metaphor: gender as language. Languages differ. Translation is hard. Translations can cause hilarity ("I am a jelly donut") or misrepresentation. People who know more than one language well will often tell you that full translation is simply impossible. We can talk about characteristics of languages: English, perhaps because of the frequent invasions of the sceptred isle, has a wealth of subtly shaded synonyms that few languages can match; Latin allows a grammatical compression that stands like a crisp marble image of taut perfection.

And yet the most important things can be translated. There is no language, I believe, in which freedom, Christian love, justice, or mercy cannot be communicated.

Similarly, men and women can each demonstrate every moral quality. Some qualities may require more baroque expressions in one sex or the other. Some qualities may be swiftly expressed in compressed and easily-understood gestures, whereas others must be fought for and discussed at length before they can be really understood.

I always approach the question of gender differences as a reader and a writer. The story I'm working on now, "Ship Comes In," has a woman as its main character. Her strongest character traits are, in about this order, heroic courage; wrath; vengefulness; envy; and cattiness. Only the last trait is often coded as "feminine." And yet it's very easy to write her as a woman, and it's obvious to me that she would express all these traits differently if she were a man. La differance is one of the key themes of the story, and yet it has nothing to do with these rather silly and irrelevant categorizations of moral traits that come easier to women.

Men and women are courageous, merciful, gentle, fierce; they love, hate, envy, need, crawl, capitulate, and resist. But they don't do it the same way. If you've written a character that could be interchangeably male or female, it is hard for me not to suspect that you've written a cipher, or a trick, or an ideological construct. I write men and women, not "people"; but I don't write concatenations of gender-linked traits. I write people who are often more constrained by gender than they might want to acknowledge; the heroic choices and sublimations and venal refusals women make look different from those made by men. But heroism and sublimation and venal refusal are equally available to either sex, and that too is an important point.

It has the added advantage of being true.
TORTURE IN IRAQ: Ours (via Krubner)--a horrific must-read on the disclosures about Abu Ghraib.

Theirs (ditto): The national guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below. From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days.

In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices -- metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their back and legs. The soldiers disarmed the Iraqi jailers, moved the prisoners into the shade, released their handcuffs and administered first aid. Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson of Albany, Ore., the highest ranking American at the scene, radioed for instructions. But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson's superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 -- Iraq's first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion.

The incident, the first known case of human rights abuses in newly sovereign Iraq, is at the heart of the American dilemma here. In handing over power, U.S. officials gave Iraqis authority to run their own institutions -- even if they made mistakes. But officials understand that the United States will be held responsible when the new Iraqi authorities stumble. "Iraqis want us to respect their sovereignty, but the problem is we will be blamed for leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Michael Rubin, a former adviser to the interim Iraqi government who is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "We did not generally put good people in."

I SWORE I WOULD LOVE YOU 'TIL THE END OF TIME--SO NOW I'M PRAYING FOR THE END OF TIME...: Ron Bailey reports on the World Transhumanist Association conference. In the future we will live forever, control our emotions, agree with one another, make our children do what we want them to do; and, doubtless, hate one another more efficiently than ever.

And people wonder where writers get our ideas.

Just remember: Wherever you go, there you are. Whatever you engineer, it is always and only you engineering it. Or as Poly Styrene put it, "When he becomes the creator, will he let us exist?"
IN THE FLESH: More shameless cribbing from Dappled Things. (I will post something I actually personally wrote soon!) Excerpts:

...It would be easy for us to reduce Christ's mission to a simple moral lesson and to reduce the Gospels to edifying texts of ancient history, and plenty of people have done precisely that. But as nice as that all is, it's really not enough to save a world. It's not even enough to save a human being. The Scriptures themselves tell us that there is something more. Salvation comes from Calvary, and Christ has given us a way to stand under the Cross and bathe in the very Blood that pours from His side, the fountain of life from which the Church has her power and Saints are born.

Within the words of institution, with which Christ established the Eucharist on the night before He died, we find an explicit connection with the Sacrifice that was to be offered on the Cross the next day.

"Take and eat, for this is My Body, which is given up to death for you. Take and drink, for this is the Chalice of My Blood, of a new and eternal Covenant, Blood which will be spilled out for you. Do this to the end of time as a memorial of Me."

Christ does more than change bread and wine into Himself. He gives Himself to us in a sacrificial way: a Body handed over and betrayed, Blood out-poured. The Eucharist always carries this sacrificial element within itself, as often as we celebrate it in memory of Him. And we are invited to do more than merely stare: we are asked to receive the fruits of this Sacrifice by consuming them.

This is why Saint Paul is able to say, " The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" From the very start of Christianity, those first generations understood that if they wanted a part in the victory won by Jesus, there had to be a sharing in His Death. And of the many ways in which that can happen, the most excellent is through reception of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

In some way that cannot be explained, the Christian who takes part in the Mass finds the walls of the church dissolving and the hands of the clock stopping and the familiar faces around him being lost amid a multitude of faces of people who have lived the Faith throughout the centuries. He finds himself beneath a Cross as bread and wine lose their reality, and crucified Flesh is held aloft, and sacrificed Blood comes streaming out of a Heart that was pierced 2,000 years ago. With the eyes of his Faith, he sees, as John saw in the Apocalypse, a slaughtered Lamb that lives again. And he is offered a chance to be a part of that Sacrifice, to eat and drink the Death of Jesus, which is the only way to win the promise of a share in His Resurrection. "Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

The physicality of the Eucharist -- the fact that you can see It, and taste It, and swallow It -- is a sign of God's love of our humanity. He made us with souls and bodies, and for us the only way to perceive anything, even spiritual realities, is through the mediation of our flesh. The same Christ Who chose to rise again in the flesh and Who promises to do the same to us, has chosen tangible reality as the means of sharing the power of His Paschal victory. And all the created beauty of the Liturgy -- the smells, the colors, the art of it all -- serves to bring that point home to us.

A participation in the Sacrifice of Calvary, made present upon the altar, is the necessary starting-point of our Eucharistic consideration. But there's another element to it, without which the Lord's death loses its true meaning. The crucified Flesh we eat is not dead. It is Flesh and Blood that has been raised from the dead and that enjoys the brightness of Resurrection. It is a participation in Jesus' rising from the dead, and thus it is a promise and a sort of conditioning for the kind of life that we hope to enjoy for eternity.

This connection with the Resurrection is something special and even more astounding than the sharing in the Lord's suffering a death. As long as we're alive on this earth, we live under the Sign of the Cross. "With Christ, I am crucified to the world, and it to me." A participation in Christ's death is the stuff of every day for us: a participation in His Resurrection is a rare thing, a glimpse of something that awaits us just beyond the horizon. Although the dying and the rising are two aspects of the same event, time necessarily separates them out, the one from the other. And because we are creatures in time, we too experience them separately, with the Cross coming first. Think of all the Saints who bore the bloody wounds of the stigmata. Plenty of them. But how many bore the marks of the Resurrection? None, as far as I know. None went around immune from pain, spared sorrow, untouched by the sufferings of the world. In fact, it almost seems as if the greatest Saints were given double portions of the Cross and even less Easter than most of us sinners get. Death and resurrection get separated out.

In the Eucharist, though, the reality of Jesus' Resurrection, which took place so many years ago, and which even now continues in eternity, comes to us as a foretaste of the sweetness that is promised us, too. We receive His victory over death into ourselves and are reminded of the truth of our baptism, "If we have died with Him, we have a sure hope that we shall rise to life with Him." The Eucharist is, as it were, a down payment on that promise. It is a little bit of Heaven on earth, the rosy glow in the East that precedes the dawning of the sun.

HIROSHIMA: Am reprinting in full a post at Dappled Things.

Hiroshima and Peace -- The Sixth of August is not only the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is also the anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima, to be followed by the bomb for Nagasaki. Those two weapons of mass destruction not only ended a war, they also wiped out the lives of countless men, women, and children in the blink of an eye. It's sad to recall that it was our country that did the deed -- an action condemned as an indefensible atrocity by Pius XII's Vatican and considered a war crime by traditional Catholic morality. It's also often forgotten that the bomb that erased Nagasaki also destroyed one of the few Catholic enclaves in Japan, the descendants of the Christians who saw their martyrs nailed to crosses in the days of the persecution.

If the First World War made Europe begin to consider how much more faceless and brutal modern war had become, the dropping of the two bombs at the end of the Second War posed the question of how possible just wars could be in the modern age. Cardinal Ottaviani, the fiercely conservative head of the Holy Office, famously went so far as to deny that a just war could be possible at all in practice.

The Twentieth Century didn't learn the lessons of peace from its bitter wars. And we have opened the Twenty-first by adding "pre-emptive war" to our arsenal, something that both of the main presidential candidates seem to endorse. On this day, which most of the news media have passed over in silence, American Christians ought to take stock of our attitudes toward war and peace, our opinions of the atrocities of our own past, and the role that we think war should play in our foreign policy. The peace movement isn't just for hippies.

RAZING OBJECTIONS: Reason magazine on the Poletown reversal. Excerpts:

Just before dawn on July 14, 1981, Detroit police hooked a tow truck to the basement door of the Immaculate Conception Church on Trombly Street and tore it off its hinges. They stormed in and arrested a dozen parishioners who were making a desperate, doomed attempt to save part of their neighborhood from an assault by an unbeatable alliance of big government, big business, and big labor.

This was the last stand in the battle over Poletown, a lower-middle-class, racially integrated neighborhood of Detroit that was razed at the behest of General Motors more than two decades ago. To make room for a G.M. assembly plant, the city cleared 465 acres, incidentally destroying some 1,400 homes, about 140 businesses, and several churches.

In a shameful capitulation, the Michigan Supreme Court approved Poletown's demolition as a legitimate exercise of the city's eminent domain powers. It accepted the argument that the jobs and tax revenue the G.M. plant was expected to bring rendered it a "public use," as required by the Michigan constitution (as well as other state constitutions and the U.S. Constitution).

Last month the court finally acknowledged that its ruling in Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit was a mistake that opened the door to the potentially unlimited expropriation of private property in the name of the greater good. While considering an attempt by Wayne County to seize land for a 1,300-acre "business and technology park," the court's seven judges unanimously overruled the Poletown decision.

"Poletown's 'economic benefit' rationale would validate practically any exercise of the power of eminent domain on behalf of a private entity," the court noted. "If one's ownership of private property is forever subject to the government's determination that another private party would put one's land to better use, then the ownership of real property is perpetually threatened by the expansion plans of any large discount retailer, 'megastore,' or the like."

Then-Justice James L. Ryan, who dissented from the Poletown decision, said much the same thing in 1981, warning that the ruling "seriously jeopardized the security of all private property ownership." A lot of damage has been done since then, both in Michigan and in other states where courts have copied Poletown's reasoning. ...

In the wake of Poletown, courts across the country have endorsed forced transfers of land from its rightful owners to people with more political clout--from homeowners to condominium developers, from small businesses to large businesses, from churches to retailers. Last fall the Nevada Supreme Court cited Poletown in upholding the condemnation of land to be used for casino parking in Las Vegas.