Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ROUND-UP OF JEWISH REACTIONS TO PAPAL VISIT TO AUSCHWITZ. Very powerful stuff from Cdl Lustiger and his brother.
Jenny, Jenny, you're the girl for me,
You don't blogwatch but you make me so happy...

Wayward Catholic: Talks about firefighter series Rescue Me; makes it sound really interesting....

And two links via The Corner: Awesome retro cell phone; and

Track the words used in State of the Union speeches! Keep an eye out for "Catholic," "polygamy" (a search says the word appears in nine SOTUs, though I think it's only frequent enough to show up on the chart in one), "Indians," "slavery" (as vs. "emancipation," by the way), various legalese and regional acquisitions, "gentlemen," "debatable" (heh), "faith," "freedom," "America," "kill," "parents" and (shudder) "kids"--seriously, this is a wonketeria. The only bug I noticed on casual investigation is that the program seems to count "applause"--as an indication that listeners applauded--as if it were a word in the speech, which means the very recent speeches all have that as the most common word, with the other words kind of scrunched together.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

WHEN IT ALTERATION FINDS: So I wrote up what was, to me, by far the most interesting aspect of the X-Men movie. Spoilerish, but not especially so; if you know the vague outlines of the two main plots, you won't find anything unexpected. Here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

this is a post to make the other post publish

it will be replaced later tonight, once I have seen the X-Men movie.

eta: I have seen it. Verdict: ...sadly, no.
THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A MAID: People seemed to be into my first report from the St Matthew's Cathedral seminars on the theology of the body; so here are very brief reports from weeks three and four. (The next one is tomorrow! 10 AM, weird conference room you get to by walking down the driveway toward the parking lot, be there or be square!) ...As before, all notes are highly speculative, and I welcome comment on any of this.

SEARCHING FOR MR RIGHT/WAITING UP HALF THE NIGHT: One of the recurring themes in these seminars is anxiety about the single life. And not in the way I might have expected ("How do I get married?"), but a much stranger and--in my opinion--less Catholic way, a desire to justify single life almost as a "vocation" in its own right, on a par with marriage and vowed religious life. I (...obviously?) understand the problem: How do we understand Flannery O'Connor? might be one way to put it. And of course I wouldn't say that the only possible models for good Catholic living are marriage or religious life.

But I was a bit tripped out to hear the (very orthodox and awesome) priest who leads the seminars speak as if we shouldn't assume a vocation to marriage and family as the default, but should sort of introspect and see if we have some kind of deep longing for it. That seems to me a) to require way too much self-knowledge, and b) to diminish the eschatological witness of vowed celibacy.

That first point is especially powerful to me because it is one problem I have with the language of "finding one's soulmate." You don't know who your soulmate is--you barely know who you are! ("I myself comprehend not all the thing that I am.") By marrying, sticking it out, cleaving to your spouse, your soul becomes shaped to accommodate your spouse. Love and care and time work to change the landscape of your soul, wearing away some places like water against rock, building up others like stalactites growing in a cave.

RECONSTRUCTION SITE: A very quick note from the fourth week: In Genesis 3, God promises that He will restore us--a promise of Christ.

'CAUSE THE DEVIL DON'T BLINK: When the serpent tempts Eve, she doesn't turn to God. She doesn't even run! She thinks she can face down the Devil by herself, by the power of her reason and will. And so she fails. Don't ever get in a staring contest with the Devil.

The priest also pointed out that Adam never came to protect Eve, support her, or draw her away from the serpent. When she falls, he has failed too. "Sure, go talk to the huge, scary snake, honey. What could go wrong?" He protects neither the Garden (which is his job!) nor his wife.

More: Everyone but me has noticed this already, but I was struck when the priest pointed out that Jesus also faced temptation in a Garden, in his role as second Adam. And His disciples fall asleep, which seems to me to parallel Adam's failure to support Eve. (...And yes, I know that second sentence parallels Jesus with Eve rather than with Adam, so make of that what you will.)

Anyway, this whole discussion made me think hard about places where I've been Adam-like: where I've failed to protect friends who were tempted. Obviously, it's prideful and generally useless to think that you can judge and "change" someone. But we are called to look out for one another, even if that means risking rejection or humiliation. I think in the past few years I've become more humble about thinking I know what's going through a person's mind (or heart, or soul), which is something I desperately needed; but there's an opposite danger of relativism, retreating from my duty to protect and help my friends. I don't think there's "an answer" to this, or a guide to how to do it. Pray and ask for help.
Talk about the blogwatch or
How the blogwatch used to be...

Family Scholars: Lots of interesting posts today, including this very awesome post on rhetoric of purity vs. chastity.

Relapsed Catholic: The folk-song army. Hee. Reminds me of the election night a bunch of rowdy Yaliens decked out the Morse College Hippie Dove Boys with signs reading "AuH2O" and "BROADS, BUICKS, AND BUCKLEY." Good times, good times....

...It is this latter fact which always makes the Manolo give thanks to the person who invented the electronic zapper of the bugs. This clever device it kills the pests while the electric blue sparks provide us with hours of joyful entertainment.

If only the zapper it could be produced in the extra-strength congressperson size, then this city of Washington, truly it would be the Garden of Eden.

more (heh, actually I'm the only person you'll meet whose favorite season is August in D.C.; and I don't understand the Manolo's obsession with wedges, at all--to me they are clunky and sort of industrial-hippie; but this column is very fun)

And last but never least, what may be my favorite fan-poster for Snakes on a Plane. Via Snakes on a Blog, of course.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hit & Run:
Pennsylvania Pain Doctor Acquitted
Yesterday a jury acquitted Erie, Pennsylvania, doctor Paul Heberle of overprescribing narcotics, rejecting 14 drug charges and 12 Medicaid fraud charges brought by Attorney General Tom Corbett. (Two other charges were dropped at the beginning of the trial.) The state's investigation of Heberle began after one of his patients died of a fentanyl overdose; according to Heberle, the patient tore open a timed-release patch and swallowed a three-day supply all at once. Corbett's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation also said it had received complaints from pharmacists who thought Heberle was too generous with painkillers. According to A.P., jurors interviewed after the verdict said they concluded that "Heberle did the best he could treating patients that other doctors didn't want." The Pain Relief Network, which played a key role in Heberle's defense, reports that half a dozen of his pain patients attempted suicide after the state disrupted his practice, one of them successfully.


Maggie Gallagher:
...To [Georgetown prof and gay-rights advocate Chai] Feldblum the emerging conflicts between free exercise of religion and sexual liberty are real: "When we pass a law that says you may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, we are burdening those who have an alternative moral assessment of gay men and lesbians." Most of the time, the need to protect the dignity of gay people will justify burdening religious belief, she argues. But that does not make it right to pretend these burdens do not exist in the first place, or that the religious people the law is burdening don't matter. ...

But the bottom line for Feldblum is: "Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner." ...

Consider education. Same-sex marriage will affect religious educational institutions, [American Jewish Council general counsel Marc Stern] argues, in at least four ways: admissions, employment, housing, and regulation of clubs. One of Stern's big worries right now is a case in California where a private Christian high school expelled two girls who (the school says) announced they were in a lesbian relationship. Stern is not optimistic. And if the high school loses, he tells me, "then religious schools are out of business." Or at least the government will force religious schools to tolerate both conduct and proclamations by students they believe to be sinful.

Stern agrees with Feldblum that public accommodation laws can and should force truly commercial enterprises to serve all comers. But, he asks, what of other places, such as religious camps, retreats, and homeless shelters? Will they be considered by courts to be places of public accommodation, too? Could a religious summer camp operated in strict conformity with religious principles refuse to accept children coming from same-sex marriages? What of a church-affiliated community center, with a gym and a Little League, that offers family programs? Must a religious-affiliated family services provider offer marriage counseling to same-sex couples designed to facilitate or preserve their relationships?

"Future conflict with the law in regard to licensing is certain with regard to psychological clinics, social workers, marital counselors, and the like," Stern wrote last December--well before the Boston Catholic Charities story broke.

Think about that for a moment. Of all the experts gathered to forecast the impact of gay marriage on religious organizations, no one, not even Stern, brought up adoption licenses. "Government is so pervasive, it's hard to know where the next battle will be," he tells me. "I thought I had a comprehensive catalog, but the adoption license issue didn't occur to me." ...

"In Massachusetts I'd be very worried," Stern says finally. The churches themselves might have a First Amendment defense if a state government or state courts tried to withdraw their [tax] exemption, he says, but "the parachurch institutions are very much at risk and may be put out of business because of the licensing issues, or for these other reasons--it's very unclear. None of us nonprofits can function without [state] tax exemption. As a practical matter, any large charity needs that real estate tax exemption." ...

Precisely because support for marriage is public policy, once marriage includes gay couples, groups who oppose gay marriage are likely to be judged in violation of public policy, triggering a host of negative consequences, including the loss of tax-exempt status. Because marriage is not a private act, but a protected public status, the legalization of gay marriage sends a strong signal that orientation is now on a par with race in the nondiscrimination game. And when we get gay marriage because courts have declared it a constitutional right, the signal is stronger still.

more (debated here and here (scroll down for more))

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A BRIGHT COLD DAY IN APRIL: So I feel kind of dumb, but I just realized last night that the "Golden Country" in 1984 is the contrast to "the place where there is no darkness," where Winston Smith and O'Brien meet. I think that contrast is part of what makes the book more than a political tract--something a little more uncanny, subtle, and lasting.

(I note, too, that while I don't remember Orwell writing about CS Lewis and I expect that if he had the review would have been very unfavorable, the Golden Country/place without darkness contrast is very, very Lewis-like. In some ways with more power than similar moments in Lewis because subtler and more unexpected, more insistent and elusive; in some ways with less power because less well-written in terms of basic prose than many other parts of 1984, and less fleshed-out in imagery than much of Lewis's work.)
US PRISON POPULATION AND THE DRUG WAR: The Agitator has the awful numbers here.

My big prison-reform piece from 2003 is here.
BUCKET O' RANDOMNESS: Blogwatch, mailbag, and a couple quick-hit reviews.

Rick Brookhiser impersonates various Founding Fathers on issues of our day. I expect this to be a lot of fun, just b/c Brookhiser's biographies (I've read the ones on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton) were quick, incisive, purposeful, and great.

Gimme Your Stuff: "Cultural exchange" via blog. Basically, if you are in Texas, and you crave products from your Australian upbringing, or you want to check out home comforts from Hong Kong, or what have you, you can go on the blog and make a request, and get matched with someone who wants stuff from where you are. A neat idea.

The Rat posts an example of Allan Bloom's maxim that you can't have great sex without great books. ...At least, not if you're a cowboy.

75 years of Analog SF covers!!! Via, in a nod to libertarian stereotypes, Hit & Run.

Doublethink, the magazine of the America's Future Foundation (and home of my first published short story), is having a subscription drive (20% off cover!) and a release party for the new issue. Ramesh Ponnuru, Joseph Bottum, KA Mangu-Ward, and many more fun folk throng its pages. Why not check it out?

An anonyreader writes, in re St Anselm:
...There's a particular book that helped me to understand St. Anselm in a similar way to your blog entry. It's by Fr. Sokolowski at CUA, and he's a professor of philosophy--phenomenology, specifically. The book is called "The God of Faith and Reason" and while it's certainly not the easiest book I've ever read, I think it delves into the same ideas you have here. Perhaps you would enjoy reading it. I think you are already on a similar path.

And from reader TH:
On Thursday, you wrote: "but why was the Church so attractive to the philosophers?" One very likely answer is that Christianity answers perhaps the most important question, which especially the Neo-Platonists struggled with: I know what i ought to do in order to be happy and good. Why don't I do it?

Christianity has an effect on the philosophers similar to Augustine's reading of Athanasius' Life of Anthony (in bk 8 of Confessions). Here's this uneducated monk who is at the absolute height of the philosophical life. How's he do it? (ans: grace of the Holy Spirit). This is also how Monica's witness eventually works on her son, too. Anthony and Monica know nothing of Cicero or
Plotinus. Yet, they are the best, happiest, holiest. Augustine comes to believe that, where the pagan philosophers pursue wisdom in philosophy, Christians actually possess Wisdom and true philosophy in Christ (Logos).

Thanks to both readers....

Quick reviews--TV, disc 1 of "The Sandbaggers": 1970s British spy-bureaucracy fun. British people being politely furious with one another; interdepartmental turf wars; killing Commies; all kinds of good stuff. Highly recommended. I think I found out about it through Jim Henley or a commenter at his site. ...Possibly esp. interesting for Cacciaguida?

Book--Joseph Pearce, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. Um, if you want a strongly Catholic Wilde biography, this is the one. Pearce has a deep and obvious love of Wilde's work (although he also seems to like the poetry and very early stuff--with the exception of "Reading Gaol," I think Wilde's poetry is cliched and sub-Keatsian) and a great deal of charity for the various players in the Wilde drama. There's an air of table-pounding at times--I mean, I do think Pearce's interpretation of Wilde's life and work is more accurate than most; but even if you have a hammer, you don't need to hammer quite so loudly. ...Basically, if you hear "Catholic, art-oriented perspective on Wilde's life and work" and think, "Where do I sign?!", then get this immediately. If not, you'd be better served re-reading the fairy tales and plays. I got a lot out of it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

MODERN NATURE: Derek Jarman's autobiographies. Which I'm re-reading for work-related reasons. What follows is even more scattered than most of my posts.

LATE NIGHT, MAUDLIN STREET. A bit of background: Jarman seriously damaged my writing, when I was in high school. Admittedly, if he hadn't done it someone else would have! But, for whatever reason, he was one of the people I tried to emulate. This is not recommended.

When he died my best friend and I put up posters around the school with his picture, and text reading THE LAST OF ENGLAND or PREMATURE BURIAL.

Something about who he was hooked into something about who we were.

HOSPITAL VESPERS. It is bracing and necessary for those of us in the post-1965 (let's say) demographic to read AIDS memoirs; which is what these often are. I don't have any good way of describing what Jarman details--the constant, daily news that this friend is sick, that friend is worse, this man is dead. What it's like to build your life around a group of people who are dead or terminally ill before they turn thirty. Like I said--I don't have words for it. Just read something from someone who was there. (...And the Band Played On, while worthwhile in its own way, is perched too high above the devastation to do the kind of work I'm thinking of. ATBPO is about reasons for epidemic; and reasons aren't the only thing that matter in the wake of destruction.)

STICKY UNDER THE COLLAR IN ELSINORE. I was struck by how obsessively Jarman returned to the canonical Western culture--and how unable he was to see anything in it other than homosexuality and the beauty of nature. Shakespeare, Caravaggio, Britten, Marlowe, Wittgenstein: Yeah, you can go there if you want, but they cover so much more in their actual works than Jarman did in his. I was especially struck by Jarman's focus on Christian imagery and iconography: It never goes anywhere or demands anything of the gay viewer. He's obsessively drawn to the Church but can't make it interesting. Which... yeah, if my only contact with Catholicism were through my horrible boarding school, I would likely go the same route. But it makes all of his films seem half-formed, almost: a collision between strong imagery and weak theory.

ALL I ASK OF YOU IS THE ONE THING THAT YOU'LL NEVER DO. In Jarman's autobiographies, he allows no hint of ambivalence about the rightness of homosexual acts.

So I wonder why he keeps returning to the subject, and especially to the imagery of the Church. His family wasn't Catholic (although it sounds like the Horrible Boarding School was). But what drew him back to those images, again and again? Why couldn't he find anything in them besides the usual repression vs. liberation trope?

Why not leave it all behind? Is it just that the Church had deep, nefarious influence in Margaret Thatcher's England? That seems insufficient for someone as committed as Jarman to art for its own sake. He saw art much the way I do: enmeshed in the politics of its time (because enmeshed in philosophy), but also existing on its own, concerned with neglected beauty and the joys this world promises but can't deliver. So why did Jarman think the Catholic Church provided so much fodder for his vision?

I have my answer; I don't think the Church is just les fleurs du mal. (I got over that idea in approx. January 2001.) But what is so intriguing to me is that Jarman neither poses nor answers the question, ever.
...If we think of the actions of another as the sheep population of Scotland -- and, really, how can we not? -- then, for the vast majority of others, the one side of that one sheep corresponds to their actions visible to us. What they do that we don't see is as unknown to us as the rest of the Scottish sheep are to the American family.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

I had the pleasure yesterday of having breakfast with Suzy Marta, founder and president of Rainbows. If you've spent much time learning about children of divorce you've definitely heard of Rainbows--it's a really wonderful curriculum used by many schools and other organizations to help children around the time of their parents' divorce.

What I didn't know is how far the program has reached (49 states and 13 nations) and how many kids it has reached (nearly one million). And I learned a great deal yesterday about the other programs Rainbows has created for children struggling with enormous losses, such as the death of a parent or dealing with disasters like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Suzy Marta is now working in the Gulf Coast implementing her new program, Silver Linings, for kids there who have lost everything. She gives these kids journals where they can process the intense feelings, including the sights, sounds, and smells (apparently saltwater and rotting fish are high on the list) that bring back memories of the disaster. (She also tried to get a playground installed at a site where 600 families live in camper trailers--FEMA said no because of liability. I almost cried.)

She was incredibly inspiring--a visionary and a woman of action. If you don't know about her organization, learn more. And if you're looking for a way to help children in your community or somewhere else, check them out.

ONCE YOU KNOW HOW, YOU KNOW WHO: So I've had two problems with St Anselm's "ontological proof" of God. (You know, the one about how God is that than which no greater can be conceived.)

The first is the problem just about everyone has: The proof is like LSD. From what I've heard (...I have no firsthand experience here), LSD provokes these crazy visions, and you're so sure that you have access to ultimate reality, and it's amazing--and then the drug works its way out of your system, and you can't get into that part of your head again.

So too with the ontological proof. Every now and again I think I've made my brain turn that corner, grasped the entirety of that crazy Mobius strip of theology. And then... five minutes later, it's just gone.

But my other problem is maybe more interesting. I groused that even if Anselm's proof "went through," all he'd proved was an empty box labeled "God." He'd basically proved Platonic forms. That's completely less interesting than the Christian God.

Today, a quick comment at Amy Welborn's place made me think perhaps I was wrong about this criticism. Amy's comment:
One point that struck me a couple of weeks ago as I was mulling over these matters was that in Jewish Monotheism and Hebrew Scriptures 101, there was always this emphasis on the difference between the Jewish way of thinking about God and, say the philosophers' way. The Jews were not about God as a collectionof attributes. One knew who God was by reflecting on what God had done through and for Israel. Which indicates, then, that although these events might be seen through the eyes of faith, they were keenly intent on understanding these events. There was an historical core to religious experience in Judaism, an understanding that translated right into the Christian experience of Jesus.


This got me thinking about how far Anselm's claims actually get us. He's in some respects taking up the claim of Plato's Parmenides (if the One is not, then nothing is) and in some ways working the same theological plot of land I describe in this post about Augustine, the sunflower, and the asymptote. I had thought that Augustine did it much better; now I'm not so sure.

If Anselm's proof works, it would behoove us to look around for a claimant to the godhead who talked in ways compatible with that proof: a god who claimed to be ultimate reality, morally best and somehow more alive than us. This sounds, actually, a lot like the God of the Bible. "I am that 'I Am'"--I am what it is to be; I am more thoroughly than any other thing could be; I am the source and summit of Being. (CS Lewis, in the introduction to The Problem of Pain, puts what might be the same question this way: Why does the Biblical God unite morality and "the numinous" or the sublime? Other religions don't make their sublime gods the standard of morality; other philosophies don't imbue their moral standards with the awe and personality that attend the Biblical God. What difference does this difference make?) People argue that Hellenistic philosophy somehow corrupted the early Church; but why was the Church so attractive to the philosophers? Perhaps because it answered some of the questions they'd already discerned. Certainly the Christian story allows for the most striking elements of Platonism: love as the spur to wisdom, Being as something separate from this world that nonetheless somehow flows into the particular beings we see all around us.

In other words, if Anselm's proof goes through, by knowing how Good or Being is, we can know who Good/Being is; and by looking to the actions of God we can fill the empty box, and know what it looks like to be good, to be real.

Now, okay: I don't think reason alone--or aesthetic acuity, through which we can tell intriguing stories from bland ones--can walk across the "if" in that preceding paragraph. Walking across the "if" is what faith is. And really, this entire post is incredibly speculative, since it's been years since I read the ontological proof, or really any Anselm.

[eta: Except for the part where that's totally not "what faith is" at all. Why do I let myself get carried away by imagery??? Obviously, no one should have "faith" in Anselm's proof--that's just ridiculous. Sometimes I think I should listen to myself when I talk... so that I can make what the philosophers call "sense." Sorry people. I still think the rest of this post is useful.]

But I think I might understand better now why Anselm approaches theology the way he does. Maybe he's trying to show us how, because when we see how, we'll look around and find only one culprit whose m.o. fits the facts: We'll flip through the Identikit and come up with a sketch of God.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

And with your blogwatch wrapped around your arm, oh sonny
My heart, it left with you--
What else can I do?

Oh, it's just a cavalcade of rotten today, people.

First Things: "A few years ago the English edition of Magnificat (click here) was launched and it has caught on in a big way. It is a handsome little book sent monthly to subscribers and contains a simplified version of the daily office. I'm told that there are now more than 200 thousand subscribers, and there should be 2 million. It can be carried conveniently in pocket or purse and provides a framework for a disciplined prayer life, keeping in mind that an undisciplined prayer life is almost no prayer life at all." (...I resemble that remark.)

Hit & Run: Arrests in Syria.

From the Hartford Courant: "Mentally unfit, forced to fight":
The U.S. military is sending troops with serious psychological problems into Iraq and is keeping soldiers in combat even after superiors have been alerted to suicide warnings and other signs of mental illness, a Courant investigation has found.

Despite a congressional order that the military assess the mental health of all deploying troops, fewer than 1 in 300 service members see a mental health professional before shipping out.

Once at war, some unstable troops are kept on the front lines while on potent antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, with little or no counseling or medical monitoring.

And some troops who developed post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq are being sent back to the war zone, increasing the risk to their mental health.

These practices, which have received little public scrutiny and in some cases violate the military's own policies, have helped to fuel an increase in the suicide rate among troops serving in Iraq, which reached an all-time high in 2005 when 22 soldiers killed themselves--accounting for nearly one in five of all Army non-combat deaths.

The Courant's investigation found that at least 11 service members who committed suicide in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 were kept on duty despite exhibiting signs of significant psychological distress. In at least seven of the cases, superiors were aware of the problems, military investigative records and interviews with families indicate.

(more--link via Ratty)

And from the BBC: "I'm the Daddy":
Ian Mucklejohn made history when he became the first single man in the UK to have his own children without a female partner. But he knew one day they would have to meet their mother.

Five years ago bachelor Ian Mucklejohn, a 58-year-old businessman, decided that what was missing in his life was children.

He could have found a woman just to have a baby with, but didn't think that would have been ethical or morally justifiable. Also, if the relationship broke up, the mother would get custody.

So with the help of the internet he found an American egg donor, had her eggs fertilised with his sperm in California and paid a surrogate to carry the babies--something he would not have been able to do legally in the UK. ...

Despite being very close to his own mother, he does not believe his sons are missing out because the concept of "mother" plays no part in their daily existence. ...

And for the boys? They are still too young to fully understand the role both women played in their creation and behaved like typical five years olds, more interested in playing than meeting the women.

"They never really asked before and they have shown no more interest in either of their mothers since they met them," says Mr Mucklejohn. ...

"I have seen the unhappiness childlessness brings and this country makes it too hard to overcome that," he says. "But it can be done."

(more--ten different kinds of wtf, my friend. Link via Family Scholars.)

And from Reuters:
A Chinese Internet writer was jailed for 12 years on Tuesday for "subversion of state power" after backing a movement by exiled dissidents to hold free elections, his lawyer said.

Yang Tianshui, 45, who has been in custody since last December, did not plan to appeal, a protest against a trial he felt was illegal, his lawyer, Li Jianqiang, said. ...

It was one of the heaviest prison terms meted out in recent years to an Internet writer. Writer Shi Tao was sentenced last April to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets abroad.

Yang is one of several Internet writers and journalists being tried this month, amid what analysts say is a tightening of controls on media and freedom of expression.

Yang was charged after posting essays on the Internet in support of the "Velvet Action of China", a movement named for the "Velvet Revolution" that peacefully overthrew communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

(more--via BABH)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

...In abandoning real and regular fasting and abstinence as a corporate and nomative expression of our faith -- by making it optional -- the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community, the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.


Monday, May 15, 2006

BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL!: Sean Collins on the greatness of He-Man. I was more of a She-Ra fan (well, actually more of a Cat-Ra fan, which, yes, predictable), but I love this description of why the cartoon worked for Sean:
To the young (and old) Sean T. Collins, that was precisely what was so cool about the cartoon: It took everything a young boy digs--superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, swords, guns, monsters, villains, secret identities, superpowers, aliens, cool vehicles--and smashed them together, logic be damned. I don't think the journey from He-Man to Kill Bill (or to David Bowie, actually) is a terribly long one, you know?


At the same link, Sean praises Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, and suggests them for any Potter-obsessed young folk. I never loved the Prydain books, and didn't read the entire series; but I do remember liking The Black Cauldron a lot. If you want more children's fantasy reading suggestions, you could check out my "Outside Narnia" piece for Crisis, here. (Am I slightly embarrassed by all the praise for Tamora Pierce in that article? ...Yes. Yes, I am. Still, my other recommendations stand.)
A SMALL THOUGHT ABOUT THE TRIDENTINE MASS: The Weekly Standard has this review of a new book on Auden and Christianity. While I've just started reading a huge whopping hunka-hunka burnin' Auden, I doubt I'll read the biography, just because biographies by their nature are kind of absurd. I mean, people think fanfiction is derivative! Still, I was struck by this passage in the review:
...The structure and aesthetics of high Anglican worship were so agreeable to him, not for snobbish or campy-gay reasons, but precisely because they best embodied the pattern of impersonal dramatic repetition that he so desperately needed, the patterning that made it possible for the act of worship to be, for him, an act of personal re-integration.

"Only in rites," he would say, "can we renounce our oddities / and be truly entired." Only by yielding the chaos of his inner disorder to the controlling order and harmony of liturgical space and time could he be made whole. The idea that worship should be an act of spontaneous personal outward expressiveness, directed toward God and toward one's fellow congregants, could not have been further from his heart. On the contrary, he liked to insist, "orthodoxy is reticence," the form of reverence that is too reverent and tasteful to speak its name, at least not very loudly or often.

Now, the last sentence there doesn't strike me as necessarily the right cashing-out of "orthodoxy is reticence." But the rest of this made a lot of sense to me. And it stands as a good counterpoint to a conversation I had over the weekend. Cacciaguida and I were talking about various rites, and he described how many people don't realize that in the Tridentine Mass, the people really don't say hardly anything. Their responses are given to the altar servers. (...If I'm misremembering this conversation, I hope he corrects me. I've been to a Tridentine Mass only once or twice.)

And although I wasn't intent enough on my opinion to state it, I did think that staying silent would likely make me even more prone to woolgathering and accedia than I am already. Having to say the responses is very convicting for me, reminding me of all the places where I've lacked faith. I don't want to commit what you could call "spiritual perjury"; and so when I have to actually speak a promise or statement of faith or prayer, it makes me at least somewhat more likely to live in accordance with that prayer.

But the Auden-review passage really resonates with me, and points up an aspect of the Tridentine rite that I might have missed on my own.
EXTRA DOUBLE SUPER GAY!: Review of David Morrison's Beyond Gay. (The title of this book makes me giggle.)

OK, I actually read this a while ago, and don't have a copy with me, as I lent it out. But I wanted to do a (mostly) positive review, after the Payne debacle recorded below. So this will be brief, but possibly helpful.

When I first finished Morrison's book--basically an autobiography with generous helpings of theology--I was somewhat disappointed. I'd hoped that he would have written my book, so I wouldn't have to! Fortunately, I got over this lazy and entitled reaction, and I think now I can appreciate the book more on its own terms.

One major caveat remains: the degree to which Morrison uses "scared straight" rhetoric, especially in the book's opening. You know--statistics on drug use, depression, STDs, etc. As I indicated below, I'm really unimpressed with this line of approach. First off, no one is a statistic. So it's very easy to respond to the stats with, "OK, well, I won't do those things, though." Not everyone does! Second, if you don't make that response, there's still anger (we're messed up because of heteronormativity!) or despair (fine then, I'm doomed, so kind of you to let me know). I don't know of anyone who has responded to the "risky lifestyle" talk by actually embracing Christian teaching on homosexuality. I certainly didn't.

That said, there are a lot of good points to the book. It's engaging and personal, and it never feels like Morrison is just telling his audience what it wants to hear. Morrison gets the balance right, I think, on the "origin story" question--how come you're same-sex attracted, and how much does it matter? He does talk about incidents and relationships that influenced him, but he doesn't focus on the past. He identifies problems, seeks to resolve them, and doesn't obsess over them.

He also describes an ordinary Christian life, with ordinary prayer and ordinary struggles, rather than the "crisis followed by happily-happily-happily ever after" pattern so prominent in Payne's book. It's a humble and very hopeful approach.

This still isn't "my book." I even think some of the posts in Morrison's blog archive are better--more insightful and inspiring--than the book. But Beyond Gay is pretty darn good, really. Recommended with reservations.

(Also, of course, there are the links on my sidebar under "Sicut cervus"; and I'm going to trawl through Dreadnought's archives at some point, since some of his older posts are terrific and I'd like to sidebar-link them as well.)

[eta: I should mention that Morrison, unlike Payne, is writing about his own actual situation, rather than other people's. And I don't want to push that fact too hard. I think I gained a lot, actually, from the fact that when I was first encountering the Catholic faith, the Catholics I knew were all hetero. So I had to realize that everyone has a cross, and I should stop whining and feeling like my cross was extra special.

But I read a hilarious thing a couple months back about the "Sturgeon Number." Theodore Sturgeon famously said something along the lines of, "90% of everything is crap." And this blogger pointed out that while every idea can be done well, some ideas have a higher Sturgeon Number than others--a higher potential to be crap. "Snakes on a Plane," to take the obvious example, has an exceptionally low Sturgeon Number. It could be two hours of Samuel Jackson just yelling, "I want these m---f--- snakes off this m---f--- plane!!!" and it would still be awesome. People entirely without same-sex attraction writing about people with it, by contrast, are working with a high Sturgeon Number, no matter what stance they take on moral questions. That doesn't mean it can't be done well (Pat Barker comes to mind); just that it's good to be aware of the Sturgeon Number of any enterprise in which one plans to engage.]
AS USUAL, LACK OF CHARITY LEADS TO BAD READING: A reader rightly takes issue with one aspect of the big Payne-book-post below:
Lewis would have destroyed those letters because at that time (the 1950s) homosexuality was still illegal and its practise could land you in jail, destroy your reputation, embarrass your family, and have any number of nasty consequences. Lewis was a public figure and knew his correspondence would be read by people other than himself and might some day be published.

He destroyed his correspondent's letters out of charity, not disgust or hostility. Your reaction is--for you--surprisingly "present-minded" and lacking in insight.

It doesn't sound as though the Payne book was really worth the anger and distress it seems to have caused you! Forgive me--I don't mean to play the analyst, but your response to this book seems so uncharacteristic.

No, that's totally fair. I definitely was wrong to conflate Lewis, operating in his own time and his own position, with Payne, holding him up as a model in 1981. By the time I reached that section of the book I was unwilling to cut her any slack, and the fact that she seemed to present the Lewis quotes without any context or sense that some aspects of his situation and mental framework were problematic or no longer applicable made me a) do the same thing, taking Lewis badly out of context, because I b) assumed that Payne was nostalgic for the attitudes of an earlier era. Both of those are really bad reading-moves, and I shouldn't've made them.

As far as why the book upset me... well, a couple things: 1. It did have some insights, as I mentioned. In some ways that makes the huge problems seem worse!
2. It really was recommended to me. It's incredibly hard to find anything worth reading on the whole God-and-gays subject; thus extremely disappointing to read something on a recommendation and find out it's unhelpful to say the least.
3. I mean... the book gets into all kinds of very raw personal issues, and does so in a way I found clumsy and lacking in understanding.
*shrug* Now I've read it, and it's over; so I think I'll go have lunch with Ratty.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I LIKE NICE PEOPLE, THEY'RE THE ONES YOU CAN'T STAND: Review of Leanne Payne's The Broken Image. (lightly edited version) A couple people had recommended this book to me. It's, I guess, a guide to healing lesbionicity, or something. (I read it for work-related reasons. I might act crazy, but I don't smoke enough crack to read this sort of thing for fun.)

Yeah... I had a really hard time with this book, even though I also gained from it. So.

BLAME CANADA!: OK, the first enormous problem with the book is that it's really caught up in origin stories. How come you're so messed up? And... ha. It's been fairly humiliating for me to realize that I actually fit one of her profiles, to some extent (and to her credit, she offers several different profiles, doesn't assume that every Gay Story is the same); and yet I find her whole approach completely awful.

First off, she tends, especially in the sections dealing with women, to divide people into Villains and Victims. (Guess which one I am! ...Last to guess wins a pony.) Either you're a predatory lesbo or you're a sweet little straight girl turned to the Dark Side by bad childhood experiences. And just... you know, I got an F in the class "Children And How To Be One," okay? But I'm pretty sure I don't fit her profile for Villain (even though there are a couple things, in the general neighborhood of Teh Gay, for which I do really feel guilty) or Victim (even though Payne talks about separation from one's mother prior to the formation of solid memories, which, because of surgery to correct serious birth defects, I would guess that I experienced). And it kills me that these are the only terms in which she can see people with same-sex attractions.

JESUS IS MAGIC. Another part of my huge problem with this book is the way that it has this one cool, jargon-laden form of prayer ("listening prayer") that supposedly never fails. It's a cure-all. And it's just weird--you're supposed to, like, relive your birth trauma. No kidding.

And you know--when you ask me, "Hey, if you really had to pick one: Are you a big dyke because girls are pretty, or because you got hospitalized at a young age and had some kind of freaky separation trauma?"--it's really not that hard for me to answer. I know for a fact that girls are pretty. I'm not sure how I could ever know what the effects of the whole birth-defects/surgery thing were, if any. I don't remember it, it was a long time ago, most people get over it; honestly, how would I even know?

And that's part of what bothers me so much about the focus on "the origin of the problem." It's so much about finding someone or some incident to blame. It makes everything you do wrong yet another instance of Why Teh Gay People Iz Irreparably Damaged. It's the old, cruel dichotomy of Best Little Boy in the World vs. Tragic Statistic. And it's impossible to disprove, because everyone has some traumatic incident in the past. (And no matter how many heteros have the exact same backstory, apparently it's only interesting and troubling when the kid turns out gay. Seriously--if all Payne's different Primrose Paths to Poofery worked, the entire world would be gayer than a picnic basket. Color me a skeptical pink.)

Payne's whole approach struck me as blame-oriented, and in sharp contrast to the approach of e.g. St Augustine. I think both Payne and Augustine would agree that every sin is the result of a misdirected virtue; but Payne focuses so much on the sinfulness that it's impossible to tell what she thinks the misdirected virtue is. You can't work backwards to figure out how you should rightly express the virtue if you can't even identify it.

SOLID GOLD EASY ACTION. And Payne's whole shtik strikes me as too easy. If this chick has figured out how to cure Teh Gay through prayer--hey, whoopee!! No need for embracing the Cross anymore! Why didn't I think of that? Christ is fluffy!

You know, I doubt it's that easy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, C.S. LEWIS--or, Leather Elbows on a Tweed Coat/Oh, Is That the Best You Can Do? To get even more scattershot than this post already is--Payne quotes from Lewis quite a bit. She quotes a big chunk of a letter he wrote to Sheldon Vanauken, in which he said (apropos of homosexuality), "Every disability is a vocation."

And... there's a lot of fruit to be gained from that. If you buckle down, stop whining, and make yourself say, "Okay, these temptations aren't what God wants for me; nevertheless here they are; what good can be wrung from them? How can they shape my vocation?", actually I think you'll find an enormous amount of spiritual wealth. I think you'll find that your homosexuality (or any other strong temptation) really can be transformed into a vocation, made sublime. There may well be saints who would not have attained Heaven were it not for their temptations and their spiritual "disadvantages." God has given you your struggles for a reason. I really believe that.

But even Lewis and Payne (who are presented, really, as "the best you people can hope for"--anger. Like fire. Flames. On the side of my face...) won't cash out the meaning of that cryptic statement about "vocation." I mean... not that I necessarily trust them to! But it really got to me that in this same letter, Lewis noted, as if it would be obvious, that he had destroyed the letters of the homosexual man to whom he was referring. Of course, these are the sort of letters one destroys. (...These are the things we don't talk about. Inter Christianos non nominatur.)

Oh, but it's such a surprise when gay people are bitter about the Church.

ART FOR ART'S SAKE: OK, so having railed at the book for so long, I should say that I loved the clarity with which it proclaimed that art flows from spiritual discipline. I loved the book's focus on the imagination and the fact that the imagination flourishes when it feeds on Christ. (Although even there, Payne feels the need to assert that homosexuals are less creative. What.) ...I also thought the emphasis on forgiveness was really stellar. So... I can't recommend this, at all. But it does try hard, which... is better than average.

Which is why I need to write more.

[eta: People who were able to read this book with more charity than I could muster might find some of the above overstated--for example, Payne does talk about one or two people with non-gay-related problems--but honestly, I think what I've written here captures the overwhelming atmosphere of the book.]
When the brothers were quite young, probably under five years of age, Lady Wilde took them to stay at a farmhouse in the vale of Glencree about fifteen miles from Dublin. During their stay she met a young convert Catholic priest, Father Lawrence Fox, and asked him whether she could bring the two children to Mass. Soon afterwards, she requested that Oscar and Willie be baptized as Catholics. Father Fox duly obliged.
--Joseph Pearce, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. In praise of infant baptism: This is very End of the Affair.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

FIELD GUIDE TO COMMON CHRISTIANS. I have no words. My words... this has stolen them!!! Just click. You won't regret it. A tiny, tiny sample:
...[I]t's hard to be frightened by any group that communicates its message through dance. Goldberg draws explicit parallels between today's Christians and the Nazis of 1920s Germany,which only makes the whole thing more ridiculous: my own, admittedly non-intensive, study of the Third Reich has convinced me that ballet was generally low on the list of Stormtroopers' tactics. ...

Let's start with some of the terms that got Goldberg confused:

This is the belief among some Christians that, ever since Jan. 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillenialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while Amillenialists believe that in this context, "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

much much more!

Friday, May 12, 2006

EGYPTIAN PROTESTS... Alaa blogging from prison ("by hand," as General Anna's statue says)... much more, here.
Just one more drink and then I
Should be on my way home;
I'm not entirely sure
What you're talking about.
I've had a really nice time
But my blogs need to be watched.
I must say that in the right light
You look like Shackleton...

Done With Mirrors: Which of these similar words actually spring from common roots? I only missed one (hero/heroin)! I am SMRT! ...Very fun link, via Dappled Things.

Relapsed Catholic: Up, up, and oy vey!--or, update on that Jews-in-comics book, which is now complete.

The Margaret Thatcher Foundation--your source for speeches, interviews and much much more. Well, if they're Lady Thatcher's friends they're bound to be all right... (snerk). Via the Club for Growth.

And I'm not a fan of Wallace Stevens, but lots of people who are better than I am at this whole "reading" thing are; so I note with interest that Matt Scofield has transcribed Stevens's "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," for your reading pleasure. (...Or whatever it is you're supposed to get from Stevens.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

THIS TAKES THE CAKE AND LEAVES IT OUT IN THE RAIN. Argh! I still don't like Operation Infinite Joy! I still think its flaws overwhelm its good points!

So why can't I stop playing the dratted thing???
FREE ALAA BLOG. And: "We are also suggesting you to contact David Welch, Assistant Secertary and head of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. His email is:". (Links via and Instapundit.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ALAS, SHE HAS MY HEART BEGUILED: So I've lately been reading a truly exceptional X-Men fanfiction novel.

It's a sequel to The Aphanes, which is basically, if you want a lame description, X-Men action plus recovery from severe depression. It starts in the eerie territory staked out by Caryl Churchill's play The Skriker and Conrad Aiken's "Silent Snow, Secret Snow"; it swerves into Canadian politics, funeral games, and the purpose of art.

This piece, The Heart's Landscape (named after a poem from John Paul II), describes a Catholic life in a cruel country. It keeps the character focus and the focus on small, bureaucratic humiliations. Little darknesses. It's beautifully written. It's basically a science-fiction novel you get for free. I'm pretty sure that everything you need to know about the X-Men can be summed up thusly:
1. There are these people who have genetic mutations.
2. Nobody trusts them.
3. Professor Xavier is a telepath who is okay with mutants.

Yeah--I think you have what you need, now, to read The Aphanes and what we have so far of its sequel. Really, it's awesome. There's a very true-to-life (and not prettified) picture of life according to roughly Catholic-Worker-esque principles. There are many, many fascinating characters. Seriously--I know some of you all read Catholic science fiction. You should be reading this. It's beautiful and provocative.
YOU'RE A BUM, YOU'RE A PUNK/YOU'RE AN OLD SLUT ON JUNK: A few really scattered thoughts about Ramesh's book (see below) and my life.

The thing Ramesh pushes, more than anything else, is that you don't need to do anything to earn human rights. You don't have to be smart or good or kind.

This strikes me as one of the core Christian messages. God sees you. God knows you. Dude--God has your purity test results! And God loves you passionately, anyway. He died for you anyway. All He had to do was take one look at you, and He fell in love.

And you can't mess this one up. He'll keep loving you, no matter what stupid crazy crap you pull. (You can understand that, right? You probably have someone whom you've loved through her worst moments. Like the man says, "Friends hold your hand while you cry. Real friends hold your hair while you vomit.")

There are two ways to understand one's life. First, you can say that you have earned worth because you're smart, well-spoken, courageous, chaste, or whatever is valued in your culture. Self-conscious. Ironic. Compassionate. Hopeful.

Or you can say that all human individuals, no matter how much they suck!, have infinite worth. You can say that no one is worthless, nothing is forgotten, every stupid smelly ornery sheep is sought out and cuffed back to the fold. ("You get back here, you! Doggone animal! Can't you see I'm trying to feed you, you darn woolly pest?!")

Is it histrionic to say that I can only understand my life if the second thing is true?

[eta: by the way, Ramesh's book makes a philosophical case against abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia; it doesn't get all God-talk-y like I just did in this post. This is stuff his book makes me think about, not stuff he actually writes about himself in the book.]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

YOU'RE NOBODY 'TIL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU: Review of Ramesh Ponnuru's Party of Death. Really scattershot... sorry.

1. It really is an excellent resource. I don't know of any better source on the current state of American politics surrounding abortion, embryo-destructive research, and euthanasia. I'm pretty clued-in on these things, I think, and I still learned a lot from several chapters, most notably the last half of "Is Abortion Good for You?" (on maternal deaths before and after Roe), "The Corruption of History," and the section on euthanasia in the Netherlands.

2. If you want to show someone what the issues really are, and what the stakes are--I'd xerox Ponnuru's chapter "The Politics of Personhood" and the chapter "Abortion and the Children of Choice" from Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros. Between the two of them they strip away all the comforting illusions that we can make up our minds about abortion based on what we believe about sex, or women, or anything other than what you have to do to earn human rights.

3. This is a first-step book. I think that is one of the things frustrating critics from the pro-life left. Ponnuru does address arguments that roughly-left policies do better at reducing abortion rates than roughly-right ones; but that's really not the focus of his book, and he doesn't attempt, I think, to seal that deal completely. Think of it this way: If one person, or party, said that child abuse was a protected right of parents, and the alternative person or party said that it was not--would you really vote for the okay-with-abuse party because it supported birth control, or Medicaid expansion, or some other thing you thought might, maybe, reduce child abuse? Maybe you would; if you are 100% convinced that Medicaid expansion would reduce child abuse more than banning and/or condemning child abuse, you're taking a weird but maybe defensible position. But I think Ponnuru is mainly trying to move us to the point where we see abortion in these terms.

4. I'm not convinced that "death" is really the issue here. If it were, the book would have to address war and execution. (Ponnuru and I both oppose the latter but not necessarily the former.) It really is about what grounds our human rights. Is it just being a human individual, or do we have to demonstrate and/or maintain some cool ability? (...I guess I'm lucky that I always did well on standardized tests.)

5. A bunch of people have criticized the title and/or cover copy. And I agree with them. I know Ramesh defends the title (though not all aspects of the book's packaging), and yeah, it's derived from a "pro-choice" philosopher, et cetera; but it still seems like a classic case of narrowing your audience and handing people an excuse not to read your book. Why do that?

The one reason I can think of is that Ramesh is trying to rip through some of the comforting myths that have kept pro-lifers voting for "pro-choice" Democratic candidates. He's basically rubbing their noses in their lack of influence in their own party, and saying, Look, you guys are really honorable, but this is a hostile field for you, and you should at the very least consider the possibility that you're being played.

I think they are being played. Then, though, I also think a lot of people concerned with jus in bello got played (...let ourselves get played) by the GOP. And so I am really sympathetic to pro-life Democrats who basically respond to the more partisan sections of Ramesh's book with, "OK, and your solution is...?"

6. But this is not a book about solutions, at all. That's disconcerting. There's virtually nothing about crisis pregnancy centers, nor about possible post-Roe legal regimes. Again, I do think this book needs to be understood as a first-step book, and in that role it does really well. It shouldn't be dismissed for failing to find a fail-safe solution to the problem of the devaluation of the helpless human individual, you know? Still... this book is pretty much only about what's wrong, not about how to fix it. On those terms, it's great, no kidding. But given that I do think it's an unusually comprehensive and unusually intelligible discussion of what are often called the "life issues"--I kind of wish it had given me more ideas of what to do.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Online.
Not Dead Yet.
Be Not Afraid.
Destroyed, my people are destroyed
for lack of blogwatch...

(yeah, no.)

So yesterday I got to meet Mark Shea, Disputations [edited: except not. Why am I so thoroughly incapable of remembering names??? Mark Shea has a real personnel list here], and "Pavel Chichikov" of Catholic poetry fame--as well as several wonderful but blogless individuals! It was quite awesome.

MarriageDebate is hosting a debate on the effects of same-sex marriage on religious freedom. Lots of really interesting stuff--Maggie Gallagher, Anthony Picarello of the Becket Fund, Jonathan Rauch, and others. Really worth your time.

Go here for lots of information about the recent arrests of Egyptian dissidents, including specific thoughts on what us Amurricans can do. (Link via the Anglican WebElves.)
THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: Comics and music reviews. Really review-y rather than criticism-y, because I'm not sure how much I have to say about any of this stuff.

Comics. Daredevil: The Murdock Papers. The end of Bendis and Maleev's awesome run on Daredevil. You can get my thoughts on the second-to-last book here. This last book struck me as very slow (and with not nearly enough Det. Del Toro) until the end, when it suddenly sped up and became excellent. The ending was perfect enough that I am really looking forward to the first volume of the new team (Ed Brubaker and somebody), even though I'd been resigning myself to putting this title aside when Bendis and Maleev left.

Jaime Hernandez, Ghost of Hoppers. This is a story about Maggie Chascarrillo and the death of Hoppers. So you're either saying, "Oh my God! I need this now!!!"... or, "And I care because why?"

If you're in the first group--well, you probably already have the book. Just in case you don't: This is better, I think, than the other two post-Love and Rockets Jaime volumes (Dicks and Deedees, and even Locas in Love). It's wiggy and funny and--by the end--very frightening, and unresolved. There are the usual beautiful, curvy women (Maggie is especially rowr!), although I did feel like Jaime was making up more excuses than usual to show the women, hot or not, less than thoroughly clad. But basically--this is Maggie, her love life, her friendships, her family, her job, three thousand percent Margarita Luisa Chascarrillo, and you know you want it. [ETA: I will say that in this book Izzy Ortiz felt like a plot device, rather than a character, in a way that distressed me. I still think the book is really good, but... Izzy's misused, I think, in what should have been almost as much her story as Maggie's.]

If you're in the second group: OK, so Love and Rockets. It's two brothers, Gilbert (mostly South American slice-of-life/magical-realist stories) and Jaime (mostly bright lights big city California punker girls) Hernandez. It's given me the best horror comic I've ever read (Flies on the Ceiling) and two of my top five graphic novels ever (Poison River and Chester Square, in that order). The big problem is that L&R stories generally get at least some of their kick from continuity, and it's really hard to just jump in at Act Two. I don't have a hugely satisfying answer. All I can do is promise that if you go to your local comicopia, pick up a volume somewhere between v3 and v6 or v7, leaf through it, and really take your time--you're in for an amazing, addictive read. Just some of the best stuff ever done in comics. So, okay, its peak has probably passed. You won't even care by the time its hooks are in you.

Music: Against Me!, The Disco Before the Breakdown. Okay. So I got this three-song EP because of this thread at HolyOffice, on indie rockers and their God; which is also where I found out about the amazing band The Weakerthans. (And while we're here: The more I listen to Reconstruction Site, the more it gets to me, on every level. It's phenomenal, seriously.) This disc was... not as much my thing. It's yellingish emo rock, and I'm kind of not up for that right now; and I didn't think "Tonight We're Gonna Give It 35 Percent," despite its utterly terrific title, had as much going on as the HolyOffice comments led me to expect. So... not for me, I guess.

Martin Tielli, Operation Infinite Joy. In my continuing quest for bands with songs about Winnipeg.

Anyway, Tielli is... maybe experimental-pop-pastiche is the best term. And for me it was a lot like that Far Side cartoon with the man talking to his dog: "Blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER!" For brief moments it was really excellent, firing on all cylinders; and then it would seem like Tielli lost confidence in his direction, and the song would waver and go somewhere else, and no longer be awesome. Too much pastiche, maybe, too much self-consciousness, not enough pop? I'm not sure. I'm warming to this album on second listening, but it still seems like background music punctuated by swiftness. (I mean, I can't completely dislike anything with lyrical quick-hits like, "CINCINNATI! ARE YOU READY TO ROCK? I... I am not"; or, "Anything you do is OK by me," which totally reminds me of the moment when I fell in love with Absolutely Fabulous--"I've known you longer than anybody, Eddie, and everything you do is all right by me! --Can I take the car?")

I feel like this album is working the same end of the spectrum as other people who have done it better. In about this order, I am reminded of Jane Hohenberger (although where you find her music these days, I couldn't tell you); Huggy Bear (especially Rhythm and Destruction, and to a lesser extent the even better album Taking the Rough with the Smooch); They Might Be Giants in their "Nightgown of the Sullen Moon" mode; and Brian Dewan's excellent "Obedience School" song. (The missing line is, "I could ring a dinner bell.") All of those tripped many more of my triggers than Tielli. But... I don't know. I don't think I was the target audience for this album. If the above sounds intriguing, you could check him out for yourself.

Monday, May 08, 2006

As you can read here Alaa has been arrested , and the situation is turning bleaker by the minute. Given what the egyptian police is like , and how they wanted to hurt Alaa for quite a while now, I don't think it's wise to wait until they decide what THEY want to do with him. The fight should start immedietly.

The contact information for the Egyptian embassy is below:
The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington DC 20008
Phone (202) 895 5400
Fax (202) 244 5131
(202) 244 4319

E-mail them, send them letters, harrass them. The last time you did that we got Abdel Karim released. I am not joking when I tell you that I had information from a source inside that this is the only reason they released him.

more (via Relapsed Catholic, I think)

Alaa is one of the most active people working to support the blogosphere in Egypt. Coupled with his wife Manal, their "Bit Bucket", is the aggregator collecting almost all Egyptian bloggers. He won the special Reporters Without Borders--DW Best of Blogs award in 2005 and was previously interviewed on Global Voices. He is one of the people that the Egyptian blogosphere success and latest wide spreading is indebted to.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

QUICK HITS: Matt Scofield disagrees with me (...sort of) on the merits of Quigley Down Under. Having watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves last night, I will concede two things: 1. Tom Selleck is much, much better in QDU than Kevin Costner is in RH:POT. (A surprise to me. I always kind of thought Tom Selleck and Kevin Costner were the same person.)
2. QDU is very far from the worst movie Alan Rickman is in. It is now a toss-up, in my opinion, between RH:POT and the execrable Love Actually.

Here, have a sporking of RH:POT.

And, in more exciting news, Dylan of Tenebrae et Lux is back!! Not posting much just yet, but we shall see. Via Mixolydian Mode.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

WHEN I WAS THREE, I THOUGHT THE WORLD REVOLVED AROUND ME. I WAS WRONG.: So okay, I Netflix'd a bunch of movies, because... uh... Alan Rickman was in them. And he's done a lot of random stuff. I mean, Sense and Sensibility was predictable but okay (once you tell me that one sister is played by Emma Thompson and one is played by Kate Winslet, I get that you want me to root for the former over the latter, thanks). But then the mailman brought me Quigley Down Under.

OMG. Okay, so... 1) Did you ever wonder why there are brown people in the world? This movie explains! It's so that noble white people can defend them.

2) Did you ever wonder why there is Australia in the world? This movie explains! It's so that America can be better than it.

[eta: OK, on reflection this point is not as clear-cut in the movie as point #1. I was swept away by parallel structure.... Oh, like it's never happened to you.]

3) This was such a horrible, awful movie, I swear. Politically/philosophically wretched (I don't think a single one of the aboriginal characters had a line of dialogue, including a character who must have been able to speak English; nor did any of them have interesting character arcs; nor did they have characters at all, really--they could have been dolphins and the story would have been the same), narratively cliched (somebody get me a copy of the Evil Overlord List--stat!), hideously mustached.

4) I still gave it two stars at Netflix, rather than one, pretty much solely because of Teh Rickman. He's underused, but he does get to show off his hilarious teeth (I love the thing where he lifts just his top lip, in this evil tooth-baring grin) and occasionally gets to slink menacingly in the background. Other than that, this movie is evil. Like, "If God is all good and all powerful, why did this movie get made?" (...OK, Laura San Giacomo was probably about as good as she could have been, given the utter crapulence of her character. So, yay for her.)

I just hope AR got paid well for this tripe.
ONE OF US: Via Sean Collins, this neat-looking, thinky horror blog with an excellent sidebar. Which reminds me that Final Girl is one of my favorite blog titles ever.
Our duty is to form our sensibilities around our convictions, not the other way around.
--Party of Death

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

NATURE IS A LANGUAGE: So apparently next Sunday's New York Times Magazine will have an article on opposition to contraception. I'm sure it will be a theologically sophisticated, nuanced, understanding, reasonable--no, yeah, lying's a sin. I expect it will be uber-lame. So here are a couple links instead.

Maggie Gallagher on problems with the consequentialist arguments against contraception. (Not sure what I think of this yet. The Lambeth Conference abandonment of traditional Christian prohibitions on contraception seems like a huge cultural event, maybe bigger than the technological/cultural event of the Pill.)

More importantly, this issue of Eutopia is entirely devoted to contraception, and has a wealth of great articles from a variety of (Catholic) perspectives. I was especially struck by the "language of the body" theology--when I first entered the Church, contraception (like homosexuality) was one of those issues where I took the Church's position on faith, as a matter of obedience, while acknowledging that I really didn't "get it" at all. I still often feel that way about homosexuality--I go back and forth between feeling like I "get it" and like it's totally opaque. The Church's opposition to birth control, OTOH, in my view flows pretty clearly from two of the biggest questions that drew me to Christ in the first place: Why does sex matter? Why does poetry matter?
...Given urban planners' almost universal reverence for Jacobs, it is ironic that many have largely ignored or misinterpreted the central lesson of "Death and Life"--that cities are vibrant living systems, not the product of grand, utopian schemes concocted by overzealous planners.

Modern planners have contorted Jacobs's beliefs in hopes of imposing their static, end-state vision of a city. They use a set of highly prescriptive policy tools--like urban growth boundaries, smart growth, and high-density development built around light-rail transit systems--to design the city they envision. They try to "create" livable cities from the ground up and micromanage urban form through regulation. We've seen these tools at work in Portland, Ore., for more than three decades. But the results have been dismal and dramatic. The city's "smart growth" policies effectively created a land shortage, constricting the housing supply and artificially inflating prices. By 1999, Portland had become one of the 10 least affordable housing markets in the nation, and its homeownership rate lagged behind the national average. It has also seen one of the nation's largest increases in traffic congestion and boasts a costly, heavily subsidized light-rail system that accounts for just 1% of the city's total travel. Not exactly how they planned it.

That's because these planning trends run completely counter to Jacobs's vision of cities as dynamic economic engines that thrive on private initiative, trial and error, incremental change, and human and economic diversity. Jacobs believed the most organic and healthy communities are diverse, messy and arise out of spontaneous order, not from a scheme that tries to dictate how people should live and how neighborhoods should look. ...

As Jacobs opined in a 2001 Reason magazine interview, "the New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop. . . . And yet, from what I've seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don't seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They've placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don't connect."

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Reason isn't the opposite of mysticism. Both reason and mysticism are the opposites of practicality/pragmatism/"muddling through."
The last night I spent on Blogwatch Street,
Goodbye house forever...

The Club for Growth has created a new Free Speech Action Center to fight restrictions on political speech:
...Since the House passage of H.R. 513, columnist George Will said the action was "traducing the Constitution and disgracing conservatism." Forbes Magazine called that bill "McCain-Feingold on steroids" and said "the move is like banning printing presses because your opponents use them to publish brochures criticizing you." The Rocky Mountain News called it "noxious legislation." Earlier, National Review said "There's nothing conservative about trying to regulate your opponent to defeat."

The provisions from H.R. 513 go far beyond the reviled prohibitions on ads imposed by the 2002 McCain-Feingold law. This unprecedented provision would ban any such ads placed anywhere at any time in any kind of medium by a 527 group unless sponsored by a highly-regulated PAC.

This legislation holds immense dangers to all nonprofit groups and all Americans. Please read the information and take action today to preserve your free speech rights.


Reporters Sans Frontieres does a round-up on press freedom and attacks on journalists in 2005 ("the most deadly year for a decade")--with a bizarrely sunny closing paragraph about those Mohammed cartoons. Link via Colby Cosh.

Also via the Golden Treasury of Colby Coshery, many many memories of British school fights.
So, for example, some people take the view that human beings become "persons," and acquire rights, only when they acquire the capacity for abstract mental functioning, and cease to be persons with rights when they lose this capacity. If "capacity" is taken to mean immediately exercisable capacity (as it usually is on this view), then it is possible to allow abortion, research that destroys human embryos, and euthanasia of the permanently comatose and persistently vegetative.

There are, however, difficulties with this view. ...

Second: The capacity for abstract mental functioning varies continuously. But it is impossible to identify, without arbitrariness, the minimum level one must have to enjoy rights. It is also impossible to explain why people who have more of the quality should not be regarded as greater in worth, dignity, and rights than people who have less of it. (This is true, and necessarily true, of any of the qualities generally proposed as the conditions of worth: self-awareness, rich interactions with others, the ability to experience pain and pleasure, etc.) The notion that all human beings are created equal becomes a self-evident lie.

--Ramesh Ponnuru, The Party of Death (more when I finish the book)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

...Driving through Lakeview, a suburb which hugs Lake Pontchartrain and borders the University of New Orleans, where I went to school, I was afforded a much closer view of the same conditions. Here the water line is marked by a thick rusty smear sometimes twelve feet off the ground. FEMA trailers are parked out in front of many of the homes, which seemed to me way past salvaging. Spray-painted glyphs on the sides of houses track the efforts of the SPCA as they searched for pets after the sadder business of human body removal had been completed. Small bushes and shrubs which had been completely submerged in the toxic waters are uniformly dead. They look like no dead plants I have ever seen before: they are not brown but a flat grey, like ashen constructions, like enormous leached brains lined up along the neutral ground and nestled in people's front lawns.

Here it was also clear how social class made a difference. The devastation is now almost categorically confined to low-income areas. Partly this is due to the fact that much of the wealthier New Orleanians lived on higher ground, and as the city expanded the less affluent had to move into the cheaper houses being built on converted swampland. But in the Lakeview area there are some upscale houses, and most of these had already been repaired and looked pretty damned good. Those who were waiting for insurance money to bail them out -- and the insurance companies are insisting that what happened to these houses was flood damage, not storm damage, thereby neutering thousands of claims -- are still waiting.

Claiborne Avenue, once a thriving center of black-owned small businesses, looks like a ghost town. There is nothing open there. Nothing. I used to dread driving through that area because the traffic was so thick; last week, as Ingrid guided me through the city, there were at best a dozen cars on the road.

I promised pictures, and I went there with digital camera in hand, but I have to admit I couldn't bring myself to take any. It felt too much like photographing the grievous wounds of a loved one. I understand there are tours through the devastated Ninth Ward, much to the anger of the people who still live there. I was reminded of a line from the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink: "You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton. I live here." ...

After my last post Pam Noles reminded me that for all the neglect New Orleans still suffers, the rest of the Gulf Coast suffers even more. There is at least some measure of national press still devoted to my city; but nothing for the rest of the Gulf Coast, which suffers in the same way.

I want to go back again in the summer, and spend a little more time there. See a few more friends -- including Andy Fox, whom I was supposed to contact while I was there but didn't -- and just soak in the vibe of the place. Because it's still a beautiful city. And -- as I discovered on my arrival that night, feeling the place settle over me like a beaten leather jacket -- it's still my home.

more (via Mumpsimus)
My mistakes are no worse than yours
Just because I'm a blogwatch...

Amy Welborn: "My latest cause get Scholastic Book Fairs to offer titles specifically chosen for Catholic schools. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in my experience at least--which entails about 20 years of looking over the wares of Scholastic Book Fairs in various Catholic schools--I've never seen a "Catholic" book offered--not once. No saints books, etc."

Scalzi: Ten Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing. Many continue to apply in later life.... (Via Mumpsimus.)

Virginia Postrel: "Why (Legal or Illegal) Immigrants Are Better for Texas than California: ...Texas has no income tax, which means public services are funded by sales and property taxes. Everyone, regardless of income or legal status, pays sales and property taxes, either directly or indirectly through rent. California, by contrast, relies heavily on a very progressive income tax that doesn't fall on people who are paid off the books or who don't earn much money in the first place."

Wayward Catholic: "The passage I read today was from Genesis, when Adam and Eve eat the fruit and their action is discovered by God. I read a bit further than the selection prescribed, to where He expels them from the Garden never to return. What really struck me there is when God is throwing them out, but before he expels them, He makes clothing for them. It is such a heart-breaking moment, to clothe them and then say 'Now go'. The love is still so intense even though they have so disappointed Him."
LES MURRAY WAS WRONG. Things were better when I was young.


Because the only Starfleet captain on television was the one, the only James T. Kirk. And nobody would ever think of having Ben Affleck (?!?! interrobang!!!) play him.

I mean, really--what?? What???

Kirk was totally my first TV crush (perhaps coincident with a crush on Diana, the rat-eating lizardess from "V"--yeah, tells you something, I know...) and Il Shatner was a huge part of the reason. He's so awesome.

I am shocked and depressed at the mere thought of AffKirk. Please, no!

Monday, May 01, 2006

FAMILY SCHOLARS blog has a lot of links up today on issues surrounding sperm and egg donation--very much worth your time. My piece on "third-party reproduction" is here.
"Amnesty International is considering changing its neutral policy on abortion to one that would declare legal abortion to be an international human right. The organization is currently asking members to submit commentary on proposed changes to their Sexual and Reproductive Rights Policy."

GOD IS A THOUGHT THAT MAKES ALL THAT IS STRAIGHT CROOKED: New feature! Because I finally gave in and accepted that I'm probably That Girl, I added a sidebar set of links on God and homosexuality. These are links that do not suck. I will be adding lots more, I hope, in the next few days. Please send me your recommendations. Book recs will take me a while, since I will have to actually read the book, but I do want to get more substantive links up. And yes, of course I will be (re)reading actual-factual stuff from the Vatican and the USCCB, but I make no guarantees that I will like those things enough to link to them.

Some questions for you, the reader:
1. Do you hate this formating? Would you rather I create a separate page, and just link to that page, rather than this sidebar list of links?

2. Obviously, please recommend resources! Things written by women are especially welcome--although I know it's a small pool, since honestly, I think I'm very unusual in the degree to which my own self-understanding parallels gay men's narratives rather than women's. It's really hard to find lesbians whose descriptions of their lives sound like mine (Dorothy Allison is one exception), whereas I could throw a dart in a gay bar and find a man whose story resonates with me. (...This is especially vexing because hello, I like women! I want women's narratives, I want stories where women are central. See my comments on "Absolutely Fabulous" and why it is, indeed, so absolutely fabulous. Anyway, cleft stick, that's life, whatever.)

3. I really want to make clear that the Church's stance on homosexuality is intrinsically related to, and flows from, her general stance on sexual love. So pieces making that connection are especially welcome. I'm not sure whether I should include in this sidebar section resources on other stuff, like contraception or the theology of the body, where the link to homosexuality isn't immediately evident (and where, frankly, it's much easier to find non-crappy resources anyway). Your views welcomed.

3. What should I call this section? Right now it's "Sicut cervus," from the Psalms of course, "As the deer longs for the running stream, my heart longs for You, my Lord." I really like that, but it isn't wildly specific. Other options:
God and Gay Pride
Love comes quickly
I Can't Help Falling in Love With You [a song I adore, but which implies a certain Calvinism....]
The Nightingale and the Rose
Beauty in exile
Pretty girls in their Easter dresses
Lorca's Novena
Lily Among Thorns
[similarly] Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away
Desert of the heart

other possibilities? ...Anyway, vote for your favorites, if you care.
I've had enough of blogwatch, and messing around with jerks...

Hit & Run:
Now let me state the present rules,"
The lawyer then went on,
"These very simple guidelines,
You can rely upon:
You're gouging on your prices if
You charge more than the rest.
But it's unfair competition if
You think you can charge less!
"A second point that we would make
To help avoid confusion...
Don't try to charge the same amount,
That would be Collusion!
You must compete. But not too much,
For if you do you see,
Then the market would be yours--
And that's Monopoly!


ShoeBlogs: "Manolo says, how well the Manolo knows the six stages of the shoe-loss grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and shopping." Oh, this is so true.

The Rat mocks me. That's what friends are for.

Wayward Catholic: Comparing legal and illegal prostitution, from a woman who has done both. Today's must-read.

And the Institute for Justice has some great stuff on licensing florists, including an illuminating map. I'm not sold on their jurisprudential theory at all, but yes, these laws are more ridiculous than an orchid. Via Hit & Run.
O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!