Tuesday, June 28, 2011

ARE ALL THOSE YOUR GUITARS? Mountain Goats epic posting, part three in a series of I do what I want! (No, seriously, I'll try to finish up tonight.)

The Sunset Tree: I am so easy for those songs where some indie-rock guitar singer-songwriter dresses up his voice like he's some kind of sexy gumshoe. ("Dilaudid," "The Lion's Teeth.") Also, "Up the Wolves" made me choke up this time. This is a really heartfelt album, trying hard to forgive a lot of things. I also really like how place-oriented all of these albums are; this one is Southern California, insistently, some sunny noir place behind the Orange Curtain. ...I also liked "Love Love Love" better this time around. Already liked the opening verse a lot--this guy is notably good at openings.

Get Lonely: Ehhh, this is the first one so far I haven't really loved. It's very breathy and just... there.

Heretic Pride: It took all the way to track four ("Autoclave") before I liked something, and there it was mostly because I am impressed by John Darnielle's commitment to this house-as-home metaphor across many albums.

"In the Craters of the Moon" and "Lovecraft in Brooklyn" are more tough-guy-bleeding songs, though, so I liked them. "Woke up afraid of my own shadow--like, genuinely afraid!" That's actually a pretty great updating, the Valley Girl slang combined with "Rats in the Walls"-level urgency. I'm trying to think of ways Lovecraft could actually illuminate this guy's lyrics and obsessions, and all I can come up with is the belief that (or struggle against the belief that) origins define outcomes, the past controls the future, the Old Ones will always come back to destroy us even when we think they've been sated and killed and forgiven. I don't actually think that's what this song is going for, though, so I'd welcome other interpretations.

Is a "dragon spruce" a real kind of tree? If so, I continue to love this insistence on naming the exact plants of each song's setting, e.g. "Louisiana live oak." So far we're five albums in and home is the unstoppable cry of each one: the contrast between Eden, our model, the memory which makes all insight a form of recognition, and the temporal places where we all lived out our unskilled childhoods. ...OK, so I guess it's obvious that I would really like this guy.

And just in time to ratify my belief that unsettled and painful metaphors of home are one of the defining characteristics of this guy's lyrics, here's the line, "If I forget you, Israel, let me forget my right hand"--and cf. "This Year" with "There will be feasting in Jerusalem this year," too. Also, with the Israel line, it's basically the chorus, which is always pop music's way of signaling what it considers its home: You return there after each verse, and see the chorus in a new way.

OK, two albums left here.
"WHY BLACK MEN ARE WEARING PRISON JUMPSUITS IN CHINATOWN": The Museum of Crime & Punishment consistently has the most trivializing, jokey-worship-of-a-police-state advertising I've ever seen, so this is really not surprising. I suppose I've never seen them use a prison-rape joke so... that's something! But really, when a tacky tourist sinkhole like the Spy Museum outclasses you on a regular basis, you should rethink your choices.

Link via Racialicious.
A persistent and damaging national-security myth is that in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks a dispute developed between the FBI and the CIA over the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. The intelligence agency was uniformly in favor, or so the story went, and the FBI was strongly opposed. What should have been a simple question about efficacy (what is the fastest and best way to gain reliable information from terrorists?) was transformed into a highly charged debate in which facts were discarded and emotions ran high.

In "The Interrogator: An Education," Glenn Carle, a 23-year CIA veteran who retired in 2007, confirms what I knew from my own experience as an FBI agent at the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba and at so-called black sites: It would be a struggle to find a CIA operative who endorses the use of enhanced-interrogation techniques. The agency's supporters of such measures were predominately political appointees and desk officials, not professional field operatives. Anyone with actual interrogation experience knows that rapport-building techniques, which use knowledge to outwit detainees and gain cooperation, produce better intelligence than enhanced interrogation.

more, including explanation of the perverse irony and machismo behind this post's title

Via Mark Shea.
IF MY HEART WERE A HOUSE YOU'D BE FROM A BROKEN HOME BY NOW: The Mountain Goats, redux. I'll catch up with myself in the next post. (Really!)

All Hail West Texas
: Yes, I know I already talked about this disc. I have a lot of feelings, okay?

This is an album about the American experience as, above all else, transience. Post-office boxes in towns we don't live in anymore. I wonder how much this contributes to our obsession with marriage--cf. Andrew Cherlin on European obsession with birthrates rather than marriage, for example. Home is anywhere you hang your head. Home is anywhere you hang my effigy.

The standard, effective guitar chords often serve in place of rhyme--a way of making simplicity seem more than sincerism. The chords make the songs rhyme in your heart, if you're an American raised on the "three chords and a hope" of rock'n'roll.

"Blues in Dallas" is a 25-cent hymn on a jukebox heard from the bottom of a bottle. "Will I see you there/When that final trumpet blows?/Will I see you there/When that final trumpet blows?/If I don't see you there/I will run/a comb through my hair/and I will wait./I will wait./I will wait."

"And night... night comes to Texas." (last song on this album, quiet, shaky)

Tallahassee: "Moon stuttering in the sky like film stuck in a projector"--this is the exact kind of expressionist metaphor which will always work for me. Art is more real, in our experience of life, than the raw experience itself.

"And I hand you a drink of the lovely little thing/On which our survival depends./People say friends don't destroy one another./What do they know about friends?"

I got really into Elvis Costello because of his lyrics. I don't know if that can happen with the MG (this is how it really happened for me) but maybe if I quote the lyrics enough you can find out for yourself.

"The House that Dripped Blood": the whole first verse is amazing, and that killing harmonica whine at the end just makes it. Dostoevsky had a spider the size of a marriage; this song has a mosquito.

"the cellar door is an open throat"

"dig up the laughing photographs"--wow, this really is a horror movie of a song. I bet this house has laughing windows, too.

And then that IV needle of a harmonica, which carries you all the way into the vein.

I hope I've already made clear what I think of "No Children." It's like getting punched in the face by all the girlfriends you never even got the chance to disappoint. It's what dripped into Loki's face all those years in the cave with Sigyn. It's like if the present and future and subjunctive tense ganged up on the past and beat it up in an alley and stole its lunch money--and then spent the money proving it right.

Oh hey, I seem to have crossed "This Year" with "Old College Try" even though they're basically opposites. Story of my life! "Things will shortly get completely out of hand." Wow, the contrast between the easy chords and bass and synth/organ here vs. the brutal, hope-in-a-hopeless-world lyrics really hit me in a part of my 1980s day-glo heart which will always be badly bruised. Fans of Diamanda Galas's poppier, more fluorescent songs might like this.

"Oceanographer's Choice": Disorienting, bitter, catchy, poppy, self-lacerating. Are we totally sure this isn't an '80s MTV hit with the synth stripped out? ...Seriously, not sure I could love this more unless it somehow incorporated the Reagan-era "it's happy hour in America!" day-glo swizzle-stick aesthetic.

"And night comes to Tallahassee." (not the last song, but ferocious and vengeful)

Monday, June 27, 2011

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: MONSTER MASH! ...Not quite, but still: a couple demi-successes.

Not garlic bread: First I did my standard roasting-garlic method. Everyone has one. Most involve roasting an entire head after getting the papery casing off but not the thicker casing around each individual clove. I find that approach messy and fiddly, plus it makes way too much for a single squid. Instead, I set the oven to 375 (as always, you should play around with times and temperatures before blaming me for your failures!) and put some foil on a tray. I set out another square of foil. I peeled a bunch of big cloves, sliced off the ends, halved them, and removed the green stemmy things. (I hate those guys!) Then I set the halved cloves on the top foil square, drizzled with olive oil, scrunched up the foil around them, and let 'em bake. I waited a time period which can be described as either "ten minutes" or, more relevantly, "when I could just begin to hear them sizzling and smell their delectable scent."

Then I took the pan out of the oven. I took about 1/4 of a baguette and sliced it lengthwise, and buttered it severely with this amazing sweet butter from the farmer's market. (So expensive, but so worth it. I'm gradually compiling a list of things where the flavors don't really improve enough to be worth it--milk [the Whole Foods whole milk is quite good and even cheaper than Safeway's, so I'm going for price here], onions, garlic, jalapenos--vs. things where the market makes a difference I'm willing to pay for, like tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, peaches, and butter.) Then I chopped most of a tomato and half a large jalapeno (see prior parenthesis for the origin stories of these items, which I'm sure fascinated you!) and piled that on top of the buttered bread, with some salt. All of that went on the foil and into the oven, along with the garlic, which would finish cooking.

Another 10? 15? minutes passed, and the toasts came out of the oven and got a light topping of grated parmesan. The garlic--which varied from "divinely perfect" to "...burnt," unfortunately--also got shaken over the top. Once it had all cooled, I began to fill my face.

the verdict: tasty! Delicious, actually. My only regrets were a) no milk in the fridge to cut the intense heat--jalapenos vary a lot in amount of capsaicin, and this one was feisty--and b) that I didn't get roasted garlic in each bite, as I'd hoped. But this was a pretty easy version of spicy loaded garlic bread, and I'd definitely do it again.

Not a plantain mash: Okay, so I bought a plantain. I was all excited about doing this dish where you prick the peel with a fork, roast the thing until it's all soft and yummy, and then make it into a mashed fritter with various spices and veggies.

Then I got wary. By the time I actually approached the plantain to cook it, I was convinced this would be a disaster.

Good news: It wasn't a disaster!

procedure: prick very ripe unpeeled plantain with a fork. Place on parchment paper and bake in oven at 425 for... ten minutes-ish-ish. Slice a medium yellow onion, chop a whole mess of garlic and the other half of that intense jalapeno, and when your plantain is ready, let it cool and then scoop out the flesh with a fork. Avoid the weird yellow jammy bit right up against the peel. (I still don't know what that was all about, and I don't think I want to.) Mash the plantain with the chopped veg and saute with garam masala, cinnamon, cumin, and some salt. Eat with Greek yogurt to cut the heat.

verdict: Interesting! I really didn't like the task of prepping the plantain, I used too much olive oil in the saute pan, and some cilantro would definitely have helped here. But overall this was a good mix of sweet and spicy and vegetal, and my expectations were low so I was pleasantly surprised. I suspect many of you could make this dish better than I did.
"WELL IT CERTAINLY ISN'T OUR MISTAKE." Kindertrauma's "Stream Warriors" series continues to be a fantastic guide to overlooked horror/suspense gems, now available on Netflix Instant Viewing. Last night's movie was 1969's Games, a creepy, twisty little pleasure-cruise of a movie.

The premise: A plush New York couple live in the world's most awesome apartment, filled with pinball machines based on car accidents ("You're Dead, Man!"); pop art about infidelity; spirally things; crazy porcelain-and-gilt masks, and similar rich and strange flotsam. From the luscious jewel tones to the '60s seafoam and lavender, the colors in this movie are just a joy. Even the crocheted afghans are art-designed within an inch of their lives. Plus the entire movie takes place in the apartment, so although you get terrific lightning, rain, and falling leaves outside, you never really leave the glittering web.

The rich couple enjoys spooky dress-up games, living in a decadent playground free of any actual children. Then one day a mysterious European saleslady/con artist (Simone Signoret--!) rings the doorbell and insinuates herself into their lives. She holds their childish, American "games" in contempt, and begins to introduce some more dangerous varieties. There's simulated wife-beating... simulated adultery... but there's also a very real gun.

As Kindertrauma notes, several of the final twists are easy to guess if you've seen this kind of movie before, but the pleasure is in the journey and not the destination. There are a couple real scares, about a thousand stunning shots (including more meditative ones, like the wife dreaming in a garden chair as rain begins to spatter and leaves begin to blow through her long hair), a great ambiguous femme fatale in La Signoret, and a slightly vicious class-war angle. The fun of this couple's life is part of their problem (which gives a nice subtle edge of condemning the viewer for enjoying it so much!) because they have no sense of when the party needs to end.
THOMAS TALLIS FLASH MOB IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM! Via Wesley Hill. A nice description is here.

update: Unsurprisingly, the YouTube video doesn't have great sound quality. If you'd like to hear some really sublime music, though, check out the Tallis Scholars.
"The Slav is never subject, not even to himself."

and "Queen Natalija was chaster than snow, she was as chaste as sleet."
--both via TKB and from Rebecca West, Black Lamb, Grey Falcon

Sunday, June 26, 2011

UK EUCHARISTIC FLASH MOB! Your Corpus Christi link, not quite too late. The clapping is weird but watching the people come and kneel is pretty amazing.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I SWEAR I'M NOT ALWAYS GROSS AND BITTER. Sometimes I also listen to music?

The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas. It's kind of amazing how catchy he already is. I get these songs stuck in my head all the time now. Everybody needs to know "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" because we've all known those guys (...I hope?) and also I'll say that the one time I really did fly in to DFW they really did pretty much tell me, "Come on in; we haven't slept for weeks. Drink some of this; it'll put color in your cheeks." In general I think patient fans of the Weakerthans would like these guys, but then, if you like the Weakerthans you probably know that already so maybe I should run this recommendation the other way around.

Tallahassee. You know, finding out that John Darnielle is happily married was just like finding out that Philip Roth was a Gentile woman. (...Except for the part where the first thing happened.) "No Children" is one of the best and harshest songs about marriage ever written, and we've had a long time to enter that sweepstakes. There are other good songs on this album, which explores the divorce of a fictional couple, but seriously do you need more than one bullet through the heart?

The Sunset Tree: Apparently the only album which is definitely autobiographical, and it's just as bruised as you might expect. Ranges from the anthemic ("This Year") through the ambiguous ("Up the Wolves") to the randomly- (and perhaps unnecessarily; I like this song less than most people, I think) Dostoevskyan ("Love Love Love").

Next batch of albums in next post, as I am running out of Friday.
WHAT SHE SAID: "I SMOKE BECAUSE I'M HOPING FOR AN EARLY DEATH/AND I NEED TO CLING TO SOMETHING...." Out of all the songs on Meat Is Murder this is probably the one with the soundest political philosophy. It is anti-rationalist and it acknowledges that if someone does things you wouldn't do, she probably doesn't do them for the reasons you think she does. A surprisingly rare insight.

In an extension of my previous post about evo-psych fear of praising gender, I'd like to add that in general the reasons professors come up with for the things we do don't match up very well to our real reasons for doing them. A political philosophy based on rationalism will a) always place experts over subjects, placing those who can articulate their desires in contemporary jargon over those who insist on speaking like poor people or weirdos; and b) always turn mere experts into Pharisees, who believe that because they lead the lives their culture supports they are morally-equipped to tell the rest of us who we are. Or, as the current "nudge" political-philosophy fad would have it, they're equipped to structure our incentives.

Don't expect them to thank or forgive you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

SOME GIRLS ARE BIGGER THAN OTHERS: I guess what's so weird to me is that evo-psych explanations expect that their readers prefer equality-first.

They often act as if gender is the regrettable fallback; we wish we didn't have gender, but oh gross, there it is.

And I guess I want someone to stand up for Antony. I really want gender differences. I don't know how art happens without gender.
The best-ever death metal band out of Blogwatch...

Real review of, seriously, maybe seven or eight Mountain Goats cds once I've finished listening to them. For now you get a blogwatch.

"How to Become an Author, In Five Incredibly Difficult Steps." The usual Cracked.com disclaimer, but I loved #2 a lot, and the point about needing a huge amount of research in order to write fiction is also really good. #1 should be skipped unless you really, really want to feel bad about your bank balance.

Guest posters at Megan McArdle's site:
On April 20, 1980, Fidel Castro made an important contribution to the social sciences. His unexpected declaration that the port of Mariel would be temporarily open to any Cubans seeking to flee the island served as a natural experiment that has helped labor economists understand the impact of immigration. In his now classic paper, economist David Card convincingly showed that the massive influx of 120,000 Cubans increased the labor force of Miami by 7% yet had almost no impact on the employment or wages of natives.

This result is probably shocking to many, and certainly runs contrary to the popular but unfortunate myth that immigrants "steal our jobs". But while this study is an important result in the literature, it is not an isolated one. Most research on immigration shows small or zero impacts on unemployment and wages. This, however, does present something of a puzzle: if immigration increases labor supply, then why didn't wages fall and unemployment rise? How was it that the labor market in Miami was able to absord so many new workers?

more; mostly interesting to me because I care about Mariel, but that of course raises the question: Does US growth depend on immigrants a) fleeing sufficiently-fleeable-hell and b) not assimilating to our awful demographics once they gain some economic success?

Sublimity Now:
While she was doing this, she went on for a while about how lucky she is, given that some people get shingles all over their bodies, and she only has to deal with an useless right arm, and apologized profusely for not being able to prepare a duck dinner for my brother before he ships out to Quantico.

Please remember her in your prayers.

it is okay she eats so slow--at least she eats!

and even moreso:
Point is, my father thought I was literally plowing a field instead of being vaguely emo. He is the best. May we all strive to think so well of our loved ones!

context, but why?

The Groom's Family:
This sentiment, i suspect, is due no less to the sheer fact of my being a Jew than to my personal biography. Any Jew, with the questionable exception of the generations born in Israel, is always an immigrant, caught in a complex relationship between a home from which he is distanced by both space and historical time, and a current residence from which he is separated by a paper-thin but surprisingly resistant mental wall. He has no choice but to be a cosmopolitan, and there are three general ways in which this cosmopolitanism may manifest. ...

The religious Jew, as the monk, is a cosmopolitan in that he makes do everywhere and belongs nowhere.

The progressive secular Jew is a cosmopolitan in a very different way. Like his religious brother, he never has the pleasure of belonging to a place; as the Nazi episode among others illustrates, his decision to treat a place as his home means very little to others and to history. Unlike his religious brother, however, he does not see his loneliness in the midst of the nations as a prelude to salvation; it is rather a source of confusion and often pain that he must learn to mitigate.

more; emphasis added because I genuinely believe that sabra Jews often carry the marks of displacement without the humility forced by the humiliation of needing to understand others' perspectives in order to survive--or, to put it more bluntly, I sometimes think that growing up in Israel is bad for Jewish children. Jews must raise their children in a Jew-hating world; ideologies of Jewish superiority are one obvious path. (And, for contingent 20th-century reasons, often an atheist path which leads to dissolution of Jewish identity in the later generations.)

The Rat:
It reminded me of some of the things we were taught in hospice training; and also of a line from Paul Claudel that MFB quoted to me in a letter well over a decade ago, but that's stuck with me ever since (even though I'm not Christian): "Jesus did not come to remove suffering, but to fill it with His presence." The principle holds whatever your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), and also seems to me one that might be particularly useful in this country, where even the most well-meaning people—Christians included—can often have trouble negotiating secondhand tragedy. We're a nation of fixers, and also of Pelagians—plus there's so little guidance out there about this kind of thing.

There are so few things we can ever really do for another person, however much we like to think we can, and however many fairy tales/Hollywood scripts/etc. are themed around rescue. If you know a survivor (esp. a recent survivor) of trauma, do have a look at this list, and others like it

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"THE TACO IS THE MOST VERSATILE FRUIT." This series is so funny I actually started crying with laughter. Amazing. Rough language and, well, drunken cookery.
EDGE OF FIFTEEN: On a recommendation from Kindertrauma, I watched the 1969 suspense flick I Start Counting--and found a melancholic, adolescent movie, all elbows and knees and awkward longing for what used to be and what is still to come.

The basic story: In a small English town where the old houses are being torn down for redevelopment, a Catholic schoolgirl begins to suspect that her (adoptive? step-?) older brother, on whom she has a severe crush, is the local serial killer. The movie portrays England as a culture in its awkward adolescence, childishly trying on big-girl sexy clothes, unaware that its panties are showing. The mystery moves quickly and yet the movie itself feels quiet and lingering, with the girl going back to her ruined childhood home and swaying back and forth in the backyard swing, or bumping her way down the staircase on her bottom after her first encounter with pale ale.

The movie's portrayal of adolescent girls' sexuality is surprisingly sensitive, maybe because it's based on a novel by a woman. Wynne and her friend Corinne skitter nervously from tarting themselves up and enjoying boys' and men's attention to pulling away when masculine aggression goes from thrilling to scary. The movie shows, quickly and fairly subtly, how often men pass off their threats as "only protecting you." These teenage girls' skins prickle when they're around certain older men, but they're also still the kind of foolish virgins who brag about how many men they've slept with.

The movie's flaws pretty much all come in the actual suspense/killer narrative. The two twists are both handled somewhat clumsily, the main villain's Big Villain Speech is wrong-footed in several different ways (although his final line is unexpected and good), and the pacing is strange. I didn't feel much suspense by the time we start finding out what really happened. That's fine (and anyway Kindertrauma disagrees, so you might as well), since I was so invested in the characters and their emotional journeys, but just know that this is a thriller in which a shot of a bulldozer plowing over a sewing machine is much more intense than the reveal of the killer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

DC VIGIL FOR VICTIMS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS. Organized by GW Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, it looks like; tomorrow, 6/17, 8 - 9 pm in Lafayette Park.
"But in her memory, Jewishness was more a sense of a way of life and of community, rather than anything religious. Or maybe it was just the loss of memory. When people secularize, they don't really remember."
--quoted in Doubly Chosen

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"SHAPING THE STORY." Via... DLB maybe?
"Sasha [Gelich] had a hard time coming to faith. He was a Jew, a member of the Russian intelligentsia, and the whole idea confused him quite a lot. Zoya proselytized frequently to him, but he could not quite come into the Church. Once, I remember, he had been drinking. He was a great fan of drinking, a beautiful 'drinking artist.' Zoya said: 'Svetik, show Sasha your cross.' And I showed him the cross. The very next day he went to the priest."
--quoted in Doubly Chosen--man, those are the best parties.

Monday, June 13, 2011

IF WHISKEY WERE A WOMAN, HOW MUCH WOULD I OWE IN ALIMONY? Also last week, I saw Everything Must Go, now playing at the E Street Cinema and the AFI Silver theater. Will Ferrell gets fired for being an alcoholic mess, and comes home to find his wife gone, the locks changed, and all his possessions on the front lawn. He basically says, "Well to hell with it then," and lives on the lawn, holding an ongoing yard sale to get around local zoning laws. Based on a short story by Raymond Carver.

It's not a perfect movie. There's some on-the-nose dialogue and at least one over-easy plot twist, which I thought let our hero off a bit cheaply. Ferrell's character befriends a local kid who's played with a very flat affect, which sort of worked for me but was a bit distracting; I imagine a lot of people would chalk it up to bad acting even though I'm not sure it really was. It's certainly noticeable acting.

That said, this movie really struck me. It's cringingly funny and poignant, heartbreaking and almost-but-not-quite-defeated, a story about salvage. Ferrell is terrific, completely convincing, and his intensely public rock-bottom really brings home that Mother Theresa line, "There is no humility without humiliation." There's a certain relief to having hidden shames exposed, getting it over with--even when the people doing the exposure are staining their own souls through pride and cruelty--and that experience can also be a path toward redemption. I could've watched several more hours of this stuff. A different version of this is the closing song and it's well-earned. This is a bruised, forgiving, sorry-ass movie.
PLAYING TO THE GODS: Last week I saw Venus in Fur, at the Studio Theater through July 10. Basic story: Pompous playwright/director who thinks nobody really feels passion anymore is auditioning actresses for the role of Wanda in his adaptation of Sacher-Masoch's novel (i.e. the one masochism is named for). A blowsy New Yorkeress stumbles across his transom in hooker heels, too late for her audition (which isn't on the schedule anyway), but insists on reading for him. She is more than she appears! An erotic game of cat-and-other-cat ensues as power shifts from director to actress and each one struggles for the upper hand--or are they really fighting to be the one who submits?

So far so cliched, really. The whole "topping from the bottom" power-shift dynamic seems really played to me at this point. It's so often presented as sexy and edgy and challenging when it's really a rejection of the idea of genuine submission, suffering, or unwanted self-knowledge. Four things raise Venus in Fur--by the same guy who wrote that Spinoza play I loved so much--above the old joke about the masochist who says "Beat me!" and the sadist who says "No!"

1. It's very funny! And it doesn't rely on faux shock or spray-on sexiness. The laughs allow the audience to relax enough that the genuine danger can sneak up on us.

2. Studio found two superb actors. Christian Conn is convincing as the playwright, whose shallowness hides hidden depths of his own, and Erica Sullivan is just terrific as the actress. She gnaws the scenery with aplomb! I loved watching her.

3. The power dynamics do come to a resolution, and it's not one which simply affirms the usual American preference for individuality, self-control, and self-acceptance.

4. This play made me think about the gods in a slightly new light. It suggests, or at least it suggested to me!, that genuine submission can only be submission to divinity, for two reasons. First, with any human-all-too-human beloved or master, there's a moment when it becomes obvious that their judgment is no more intrinsically or universally reliable than mine. There's a sort of "You're nothing but a pack of cards!" moment--when O ditches Rene for Sir Stephen, for example, giving the lie to the personae all three are pretending to embody. No merely human woman is going to know this playwright thoroughly enough to devote herself completely to his education. Actual humans make mistakes, say dumb things, miss their cues, fail to suss us out when we wish they would, and have their own agendas which are often pettier than the agendas we project onto them.

And then, too, any mortal beloved will be conquered by death. Death can in turn be conquered to some extent by art--this is one of the subtler themes of the play, surfacing now and then like a gilt thread in a big dark tapestry--but for real mastery you would need a real immortal.

Anyway I do recommend the play if it sounds at all interesting to you; it's very well done and I feel validated in my decision to make David Ives a playwright I watch for.
"OBJECTS OF ART AND RITUAL OBJECTS." Hey, somebody's writing about the thing I wrote about in this InsideCatholic column! (Also, the National Gallery of Art's "Sacred Made Real" exhibit--sorry for subscribers-only link--included many "working" artworks which returned home to grace monasteries and get paraded through the streets on feast days.)

Stone Owl link via WAWIV.
During an extended visit to Soviet Russia in the Brezhnev era of stagnation, on several occasions I was asked by acquaintances of only a casual nature whether or not I believe in God. Why, I wondered, would anyone on the streets of Moscow in the 1970s care about my personal religious life? This had never been a topic of interest in the United States, except, if ever, among close friends.
--from the introduction to Doubly Chosen: Jewish Identity, The Soviet Intelligentsia, And the Russian Orthodox Church; Judith Deutsch Kornblatt says as much about where in America she lived--or rather, where she didn't live--as about Russia....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Since 2008, Mississippi has trimmed its corrections budget by about 5%, to $332 million. Reducing the prison population hasn't caused the state's violent crime rate to rise. In fact, the rate falling toward 1970s levels, and the state's recidivism rate has decreased to 30% in the last four years — well below the national average.

Mississippi's effort is being closely followed by other states. Ohio's Senate, for instance, is considering a potentially sweeping overhaul of the state's corrections system. There is, of course, the risk that the' inability of states to invest in rehabilitation programs for ex-offenders reentering a society that still bars them from jobs and housing will ultimately cause crime, and recidivism rates, to rise. Nevertheless, Epps believes his reforms will ultimately pay-off. "I'm proud to say we're moving Mississippi into the 21st century."

--Time, cited here, via WAWIV
SEND THIS, GUNS, AND MONEY. I have lawyers in the family already.

Via TKB.

Friday, June 10, 2011

LOSING IN FRONT OF YOUR HOME CROWD: I have watched neither Friday Night Lights nor Glee, but I have not been able to get this column comparing the two out of my head. FNL comes across as both better and more countercultural, which does not surprise me. (I do think it's bizarre that the author reads "everyone moves away from Dillon because it's a dead-end small town" as a rejection of solipsism--I'm pretty sure she means that since the characters we like get switched out for new characters, the audience's focus remains on the town as a whole, a community, but she makes this process sound a lot less tragic than the "meager chance of improvement earned at the price of leaving your hometown" storyline really is. Why shouldn't people "loom[] around Dillon forever"--why is staying home presented so negatively, given the author's other premises? Anyway that's just a bobble in an otherwise terrific piece.)

Link via Wesley Hill.
Given the findings in this study, it is tempting to idealize the working-class patterns of exchange and reciprocity in an overly individualistic society. But[] the flip side to the positive interdependence is conflict and resentment over whether someone owes someone else a favor. In addition, the concern over reputation and privacy among the working-class respondents was sometimes overwhelming. It is also tempting to idealize middle-class patterns of friendship if one is interested in self-development and the expression of individuality. But middle-class friendships sometimes left respondents feeling isolated and alone. For the middle class, times of trouble are times when friendship, whose focus is shared interests and leisure, may not survive.
--"'Always There for Me': Friendship Patterns and Expectations Among Middle- and Working-Class Men and Women," Karen Walker, Sociological Forum v 10 no 2 (Jun 1995) pp 273-296

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: SO CUTE! I had a wee little stuffed potato for lunch, and another for dinner. The basic how-to is here, and I didn't deviate from that, but of course you can make the filling from whatever you like. The new potatoes I used were about half the size of your basic russet, and the filling was tomato, jalapeno, basil, Greek yogurt, "authentic Mexican" Sargento shredded cheese blend (though I prefer their inauthentic Mexican blend), salt, a bit of cayenne for the second batch since I was low on jalapeno, dried oregano, garlic, and the innards of the potatoes. All of that got piled high on the cut and scooped-out potato halves. The result was delicious: tangy from the yogurt, comforting from the golden crispy-fluffy potato, and spicy. This took slightly more effort and noticeably more time than most of my meals, but it was much easier than I'd expected it to be.
"She reregistered the apartment in her own name. I'm like the heir or something."

"Then kill her! Have you forgotten how it's done? Make it look like an accident."

"I can't. I just got baptized. I made a vow, for the rest of my life." ...

"How about this," Maxim said, interrupting the silence. "I'll kick her out myself. Then you'll be off the hook. Where's your place?"

--in which someone volunteers to be a shabbos goy for murder; from Vladimir Tuchkov, "Pure Ponds, Dirty Sex or Two Army Buddies Meet," in Moscow Noir ed. Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

FLAILING: Can someone tell me how to be able to type in Cyrillic? I'm on a MacBook, running OpenOffice word processing software, and I have tried switching the language to Russian but all that does is make everything fail the spellcheck.

Your reward, which you receive in advance: Irina Slutskaya as Catwoman. You're welcome.