Wednesday, December 31, 2003

MORE FODDER FOR MY ANTI-SANTA CAMPAIGN. "It is argued that, if children were told the truth, that it would take the joy and magic out of Christmas. I am living proof, however, that this is not true. I was told by my parents that Santa Claus like Superman; he wasn't real, but sometimes it was fun to pretend like he was. My childhood Christmases were as happy as any other, I suspect."
"Emmanuel [seminary], it turned out, was unique only in its verdant isolation from the rest of China. Hundreds of other seminaries dotted rural and urban commuities throughout the country. A few weeks later, I visited an underground seminary in a major city in China's southwest. It was one of four apartments being used as seminary colleges. This time, besides having to be in a van with tinted windows, I also had to duck my head down as we drove into the apartment complex. Even Chinese visitors might be closely scrutinized if they were not recognized locals, and too many unanticipated arrivals could trigger a police search at any moment."
--Jesus in Beijing

Tuesday, December 30, 2003


Plus lots more from me and people who disagree with me.
COMICS ERRATA: Johnny Bacardi writes:

Hi, Eve--

Regarding Sleeper, while I can see how it can be interpreted as "being in charge of world events", Tao's organization is more into manipulation of world events for their own benefit, and any superiority achieved is a
side effect. The central conflict, to me, is not how Carver can fulfill his mission, but how can he get out of his predicament alive, and does he really think he deserves to, after all he's been a part of and has done. Maybe I'm
getting ahead of myself here; if you've only read the first TPB then these things are made a bit clearer.

Fave Simpsons quotes:

"I've coughed up scarier things than that"
--Grandpa Simpson

"Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try."

"My cat's breath smells like cat food"
--Ralph Wiggums

Happy New Year, Eve! When ya gonna blogroll me?

Eve: D'oh! I wasn't clear. I didn't mean that the TAO organization (the thing the main character infiltrates) controls the world. I meant the other organization, with the creepy paradise retreat--the one where TAO kills the father so he can manipulate the son's vote. That one is specifically described as controlling world politics and culture.

In re blogrolling, it's all random, but I'll try to update it tonight.
MIDDLE LEFT. Alice in Wonderland for the Onion age.
T.M.I.? A while ago, I realized that for years I'd been harboring a dark and suppressed anger: I resent dolphins.


What makes them think they're so smart?

They're like all peaceful and junk. They're like the annoying hippies who hold you in contempt because you're not as mellow and One with the Universe as they are, and also you think they should get a job.

So you can see that this Onion story would affect me adversely.

Just look at the one in the photo. I mean, don't you want to slap that smug smile right off its blue face?

Via The Rat--member of a far preferable species. They may spread disease, but at least they're not stuck up.
IN DEFENSE OF GLOBAL CAPITALISM: Interview with Johan Norberg. Via Dappled Things.
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION: I'm going to bite the bullet (mmm, bullet) and see a doctor about my insomnia. Last night just sucked.
"You can't keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once, and move on." Get many fine Homer Simpson quotes here.
"Conscious of the conflict between his desire to be good and his inability to obey his father's advice to bank on his own strength, Richard came to the Christian faith sometime in his senior year. ...His life began to change very quickly. He said even his parents noticed that, while Richard had been something of a wild teenager before going to college, he now seemed compliant and polite."
--Jesus in Beijing

Not an effect conversion had on me, I'm afraid.

Monday, December 29, 2003

"DESIRE: APRIL FOOLS": The fifth and final installment of the current short story. This one was fun. What happens to Holly, the world's first bachelorette adulterer?

You can get the final segment here or--I recommend doing it this way--start from the beginning here.

Friday, I'll start posting "Getting Fired."
READING AROUND IRAQI BLOGS: "usually my nightmares have either Italian girls dumping me, or American soldiers stopping me on check points." Raed of course. Plus, lots of stuff exploding outside the windows, in the night. And black market gasoline.

Healing Iraq: "It's good to be back to normal again. By normal I mean total chaos, endless lines for gasoline, long electricity outages, and sounds of unknown explosions and gunfire. Yes you guessed it right, I'm back in Baghdad again. Though to be fair things have relatively improved since the last time. Electricity has been better since Christmas (only 12 hours of outage!) and queue lines at petrol stations are a mile or two shorter. And no I'm not being sarcastic at all. Thats the way it is.

"I got back yesterday evening. My parents were really happy and I was surprised to hear that our neighbourhood was surrounded and raided by about a thousand American troops just two days ago. Thank Goodness our house wasn't raided." And much more.

Iraq at a Glance: Gas on not-black market. Also, notes from Basra (scroll around).

Iraq the Model: "...children who fear the moon." Haunting poem. Also women in Iraq, Uday's Iron Maiden, and electricity. Also a letter from Samoa, Iraq, where the Dutch are at.

Mesopotamian: Crocodile tears from the Arab countries.

Nabil (of Iraqi sportsblog fame) is back, after his exams.

New blogs (new to me, anyway): A Family in Baghdad.

Secrets in Baghdad.

These are more of Salam Pax's blogchildren. In fact, they are Raed's family. The student has become the master....

Road of a Nation: Blogchild of Iraq the Model. Written by an architectural engineer.

Iraq and Iraqis. Expat. Quick and interesting posts.

The Iraq Blog Count. This rocks.

Iraqi Blog BBS. Via Mesopotamian.

Great to see the new "faces." Our prayers are with you and your country.
CALIFORNIA LEADS IN MAKING EMPLOYERS PAY FOR JOB DEATHS: ...It happened at the Aguiar-Faria & Sons dairy, a sprawling farm of some 1,700 cows operated by one of Gustine's leading families. Two dairy workers, illegal immigrants from Mexico, drowned in a deep, dark sump hole filled with manure and wastewater. The coroner's report succinctly cataloged their struggles in life and in death: Between them, they had eight pennies and one dime in their pockets; their lungs, however, were packed with bovine excrement.

The people of Gustine saw one more hard, cruel stroke of fate.

Roy Hubert saw a golden opportunity. In January, in a place where dairy is king, he methodically assembled enough evidence to persuade a grand jury in nearby Merced to indict the farm's general manager and its herdsman for involuntary manslaughter and other felonies.

Just like that, both men were looking at nearly five years in prison.

...Many were baffled by what they saw as a ludicrous intrusion by the government. How could there be a crime in something like this, something that nobody ever meant to happen?

Especially when Pat Faria had not even been on the farm that day.

...Roy Hubert would have been amazed, and disappointed, by any other response.

"These are not evil people," he said. "They are not people who hurt for the sake of hurting. They are not bad people. This is good ol' Pat, good ol' volunteer fireman Pat. He feels terrible. He's devastated. I get a lot of that. Well, good. So are the widow and the mother and the father and sister and brother. Just imagine the incredible despair and anguish as you're drowning in manure."

...California stands alone in the United States in its willingness to prosecute employers who kill or harm their workers by violating safety laws.

Long before Congress created the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970, California had its own workplace safety standards, and it is one of 21 states that run their own versions of OSHA. Its powerful labor leaders and big-city district attorneys have long been adept at using headline-grabbing workplace deaths to win ever-stronger enforcement powers for the state agency, known as Cal OSHA.

Under federal law, it is a misdemeanor to commit safety violations that kill workers. The maximum penalty is six months in jail and a $500,000 fine. But after a deadly refinery explosion in 1999, California adopted one of the nation's first laws making that same offense a felony. In California, conviction carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Every workplace death or serious injury in California is investigated with an eye to potential prosecution. That work is done by a special Cal OSHA unit, mostly former police officers, whose members are required by law to refer every death to local prosecutors if there is credible evidence of a deliberate safety violation.

Federal law sets a far more exclusive standard: only the most egregious workplace deaths--those caused by an employer's "willful" safety violations--can be referred to the Justice Department. But as The New York Times found in an eight-month examination of workplace death in the United States, in even those worst cases, the federal OSHA only rarely seeks prosecution.

It is largely the same story in the other states that run their own workplace safety programs. California has prosecuted more employers for safety violations than all of those states combined, The Times found. At the same time, its workplace death rate is substantially lower than that of the rest of the nation. [Eve's emphasis]

Still, California's record can be misleading. Most of these prosecutions take place in Los Angeles, San Francisco and a handful of other large cities whose district attorneys have the resources and political will. In dozens of small rural counties, district attorneys have been just as reluctant as the rest of the country to pursue what are often technical, time-consuming and politically sensitive prosecutions.

Roy Hubert and his small band of roving prosecutors are trying to rectify this pattern of uneven enforcement. Called the Circuit Prosecutor Project, they work from the offices of the California District Attorneys Association in Sacramento, under the direction of Gale Filter, a man who combines a prosecutor's cold-eyed pragmatism with a reformer's messianic zeal.

...On dairy farms across the valley floor, there has been a broad reassessment of safety. Farmers are hiring safety consultants, putting their workers through safety training, installing first aid kits and posting signs.

"It makes you concerned because you think, 'Heck, he's a dairyman and I'm a dairyman, too,' " said Mark Ahlem, a young farmer in the valley.


Via Amptoons and Confined Space.
WEARING BUT A PAPER DRESS: Comics reviews. In alphabetical order to maximize randomness.

JM DeMatteis and Glenn Barr, Brooklyn Dreams. This is a fun and easy to read coming-of-age/family/drugs/search for God tale, but nothing more. DeMatteis has a sweet sense of humor, and the drawings are appealingly exaggerated--portraying the world the way children see it, cartoonishly. The pictures set in the past are stark black-and-white, funny, and hyper; those set in the present are awash in gray tones, subtler, adrift in the confusion of adulthood. Very nice stuff--captures the cartoony, exaggerated way the world looks to kids, who have not yet learned a sense of scale. Compassionate pictures of the narrator's parents make the clash of child/teen vs. adult perspective more obvious. Lots of moving stuff here, and lots of fun stuff, but I'm not sure it adds up to a whole heck of a lot.

BD at first seemed to be made for me. It's got the Jew vibe, the Catholic vibe, the Dostoyevsky vibe. But it keeps promising more than it delivers. (Lots of suspense--"But we don't have time for that right now..."--which goes from intriguing to really funny to shticky.) I do understand that spiritual payoffs are unusually hard to describe (this is where Creature Tech failed too, for example), but honestly, what am I to make of this kind of thing?: "But here I was--glimpsing the place in every passing heart, where so-called good and so-called evil met, where yin and yang balanced." The pictures do not illuminate this statement. So the book starts much stronger than it ends, unfortunately.

Brian Bendis, Fortune and Glory: Well, now I know that I can detest a Bendis comic.

This is the story of Bendis in Hollywood, as he tries to make a movie out of his (quite good) comic Goldfish. The pictures are nicely cartoony--gooey arms, bug-eyes--but this is the first Bendis comic to bring out my Inner Editor. I found myself growling, "Cut this. This doesn't work. Cut this. Cut this," at the page. Ordinarily, Bendis's repetitions and stuttering dialogue add to the suspense and drama of a scene. But here, since the stakes of the drama were so low (we already knew the movie doesn't get made, and even if we didn't know that, is this really super-exciting?), the dialogue style just felt like padding.

Moreover, much of the book is various people praising Bendis. Isn't this... creepy?

Don't buy this. But, also, don't take this as representative of Bendis's generally excellent work.

Ed Brubaker and Colin Wilson, Point Blank. I got this because it was the predecessor of Sleeper (which see). It's a fun, twisty covert-ops riddle, with a harsh ending--like something written by a more sadistic Chandler. Until the end, I was underimpressed--was not taken by the art, and this is ultimately just very well-done comics noir--but the ending really twists in your gut. A short sharp shock. Won't change your world, but it is worth your time.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Sleeper: Out in the Cold. This book is much prettier than Point Blank. It's also not as smart. The premise is sweet: The only person who knows which side a deep cover agent is really working for is in a coma. In order to fulfill his purpose and maintain his identity, the agent has to somehow aid the side he's really fighting for; but how can he do that when nobody trusts him?

The characterization is also very nicely done. I especially liked the woman who sickens and dies unless she hurts other people. I like anything that challenges the too-common assumption that acting rightly always makes people feel warm and cuddled.

The pages are laid out in tightly-controlled squares. Each character is tightly framed, constrained, often placed behind bars or in even more constraining doorways or windowframes; the squares are always hierarchically ordered on the page, mirroring the hierarchy of the criminal organization the sleeper agent has infiltrated. Hardly subtle, but good-looking nonetheless. I note that for whatever reason, the pages of this book also felt heavier or glossier--more fun to turn--than usual. There's a predictable but effective sensual pleasure here.

I was seriously annoyed by one major plot element: This comic features a cabal that controls the world. That's stupid. The world is messier than that. These people need to read their Hayek--top-down control will always be worked around; there is no They that tells you what to do and what to like. There are no excuses for our lousy choices.

Apparently Sleeper is only getting better, so perhaps this cabal is ultimately revealed as fakery; but within this book it irritated me and made the protagonists look gullible. Nor was it in any way necessary to the plot, at least not so far.

Despite these criticisms, I'm pretty sure I'll be on the lookout for more Sleeper. There's always room for slick noir fun.

Bruce Baugh reviews both books at greater length, and tells you more about the plot than I did (but not in a spoilery way).

Christophe Blain, The Speed Abater. I bought this as part of the ongoing ghost-ship project. It's the story of a sailor in the French Navy and his misadventures aboard an aging ship. It is all right. The story takes a while to get off the ground, and really only startles and captures when the sailors descend into the mechanical hell that drives the ship. But the scenes amid the heat and noise of the machinery are vivid and powerful. Worth checking out if ships are your thing; otherwise probably not so much. I will say that Blain writes good argument scenes, which I respect since it's something I find difficult.
"SLEEP? THAT'S WHERE I'M A VIKING!" Contribute your favorite "Simpsons" lines. Yes, it's one of those threads. I love those threads.

"Even Gore Vidal has kissed more boys than me!"

"Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls."
I'm afraid of people who like Blogwatch in the Rye;
Yeah, I like it too,
But someone tell me why...

(Actually I really hated Catcher in the Rye the only time I read it, but maybe that's because my school made us read it in, I think, junior high. This cannot be the best way to read the book.)

Daniel Drezner: American tariffs and subsidies throw American candymakers out of work. Interesting stuff in comments, too. Oxblog explains why this post is important: It's easier to see the concentrated costs of free trade than the diffused benefits.

More Drezner can be found at, where DD is guest-blogging.

Hit & Run: Families Against Mandatory Minimums on TV! Yay!

Kesher Talk: Big list of Jewblogs. (BlogJews?) Rabbis, rebels, Reformers, and assorted whatnot.

Krubner: "This is a project that I've been meaning to get to for over a year: going over the work of Christopher Hill on this weblog, and in particular his book The World Turned Upside Down. For the next 2 weeks, with a few exceptions, posts will be about the English Revolution of the 1640s and 50s and also, in particular, the clash that arose between what might be called 'bourgeois' Protestantism, and the much more radical kind of Protestantism that flourished during the revolution.

"Rarely has any nation gone through as much spiritual turmoil as England did from 1646 to 1653. It interests me that things like atheism can become a mass event, like a mass hysteria, enveloping large chunks of the public for a year or two, before the mood passes.

"It interests me more that much of a nation might suddenly realize that they can be saved, that Jesus, perhaps, died for them. ..."

Punishment Theory: Very interesting debate thread about "faith-based prisons." Via Los Volokh.

GoogleAlert: Tells you when something new comes up when someone Googles your name. Indirectly via the Invisible Adjunct.

The PoMo English Title Generator. Instant hilarity.
"Among Chinese Christians themselves is the belief--indeed some Chinese Christians refer to it as a divine calling--for Christian believers from China to bring the Gospel to the Muslim world."
--David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power

Friday, December 26, 2003

LYRICS TO "OBEDIENCE SCHOOL": I've been listening to this Brian Dewan song (listen to it here) obsessively for the past, oh, week or so. The lyrics don't seem to be online anywhere. This is what I gleaned:

When I was in obedience school,
I could make a rabbit stew.
I could fix a sewage pipe,
I could build a beaver dam.
When I moved to a rooming house,
No one told me what to do.
Now I play with bottlecaps;
I can break a drinking glass.
People tell me every day,
"Don't tell people what to do!"
Well, that's all right--I'll do it like you tell me to.
Everybody is in charge,
Cooks aplenty making broth for everyone,
Bumping into everyone.
But back when I was in obedience school,
I could fold a paper plane.
I could wear a pilgrim hat,
I could [make?] a dinner [???];
Sit beside a metronome,
Listen to an intercom,
File into a corridor,
Be made to do a jumping jack;
Sing a song of loyalty
Wearing but a paper dress;
Standing in the morning rain,
Sing a song all o'er again;
Spend the afternoon indoors
Making useful things from trash,
Learn to build a candy dish,
Eat a can of tuna fish,
Scour and scrub a basement sink,
Sweep around a skating rink.
Oh, those bygone days!
They were so peaceful and great.
MEA CUBA: Powerful meditation on Spain, Cuba, family, and Sister Death. Your dose of myrrh at Christmastide. Must-read.

Via Dappled Things.
PARTS OF A HOLE: Dappled Things' sermon for Christmas. Describing that feeling of insufficiency, of thirst in a salt sea, that is one of the greatest motive forces in history.

...The problem seen by the Jews and pagans is not a long-gone problem of the distant past. As long as humanity exists, there will also exist the problem of the emptiness of the human heart. What can possibly fill it? It is a problem that confronts us all.

...From the poorest peasant to the Queen upon her throne, everyone, when he sits alone and thinks about his life and ponders his place in the world, realizes that his existence is a very fragile thing and that his little joys are easily lost in an ocean of solitude and shadows. In these moments of introspection, he sees that he himself shares the problem of the ancients, that he himself can feel that same empty hole within his own heart, and this emptiness smells of death.

The meaning of Christmas is that God has understood all of this and has come into the midst of our existence -- not as some abstract presence hovering up above us all, not as some ethical rules that will produce a happier life, not as a few pretty thoughts and swollen words -- He has come in flesh and bone, this same flesh and bone that you and I share. He knows our condition because He has lived it Himself. This is Christmas. This Child that lies today upon the manger of wood, one day upon a Cross of wood will die. He was born for us, and for us He will be sacrificed.


CS Lewis comments on same
SING HO! FOR THE BIBLICAL GENEALOGIES!: Mark Shea has an excellent post on, as he puts it, "Why the Biblical genealogies aren't boring."
"I now know that if you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist."
--The Naked Civil Servant

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

HEY, MY REGISTER COLUMN ON THE MASSACHUSETTS SSM DECISION IS ONLINE! I didn't know that. (I note they declined to use my draft headline, "From the State That Brought You Harvard.")

It's not every day a court gets to stand against all of recorded history.

That's what the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court did Nov. 18 when, in Goodridge v. Department of Health, it ruled that marriage in Massachusetts is no longer the union of a man and a woman but the union of "two persons." The court argued that forbidding a man to marry another man constituted unlawful and irrational sex discrimination.

...The Massachusetts court is saying to citizens, "You all go ahead and vote for the laws. Then we'll tell you what you really voted for. Don't expect it to look much like what you thought you agreed to." The rule of law requires that laws be predictable and stable--that laws not be yanked out from under citizens like a carpet in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The Massachusetts court (like the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade) has ignored this principle.

The funny thing is, this bait-and-switch approach to judging may be turned against the Goodridge decision itself in the future.

...Marriage--civil marriage, not just sacramental marriage--is essentially a procreative union in two ways.

HITS AND MISSES 2003: Stuff I wrote on this blog in the old year. Some of my archives are Bloggered, so this is incomplete; shrug.

January: Tradition vs. the past: "...The first and most basic point is that tradition is not about restoring some real or imagined past era. Tradition gives an institution (a nation, a debating society, a university) a persona; it makes the institution more like a person. And this is necessary in order to make the institution a possible object of human loyalties, since all our loyalties are to persons. ...

"I've also found that tradition's roots are often very odd--and that isn't a point against tradition! Tradition often develops and accumulates in a Hayekish spontaneous-order kind of way, but along the way traditions also result from jokes, accidents, and misreadings...."

In defense of free will: "First, a recent conversation with my friend Gene underlined for me the ways in which the question of freedom of the will is linked to the question of personal identity. Free will requires that there be a 'me' who chooses, rather than simply a pushing and pulling jostle of neural impulses and affects. ...

"...I tend to believe that free will is one of the philosophical questions that is far better handled in poetry and fiction than in philosophy, in part because it is such a bedrock, foundational issue...."

March: Against torture. Why was this controversial? Anyway, start here and scroll down as desired. "Better to die like a man than to live like a utilitarian."

May: Two Spenserian stanzas I wrote: "Time is regret" and "'I love you when you're less like me!'"

And I argue that those who hate Bush v. Gore should also oppose Roe v. Wade. Start here and scroll for my (attempted) rebuttal of Prof. Jack Balkin's theory of "high" vs. "low" politics in Constitutional jurisprudence.

And addiction as ritual.

June: What my wisdom teeth have to do with abortion and "women's right to know" laws.

And a pro-life reading list for people who want to know why I, and many people I know, stopped supporting legal abortion.

October: My review of "Carnival of Souls." This is a short piece but I really like it--I do think it gets at the reasons CoS is one of the best horror movies ever.

Rene Magritte, Master of Horror. "Belgium is an absence of identity."

A round-up link to October's same-sex marriage post series.

December: Superfast, allusive descriptions of great comics you might like. Comparisons between media: comics to movies, comics to novels, comics to paintings, whatever.
"In the sixties, if you tell someone that you are a practitioner of advertising, you will still be treated as though you had said you were in burglary, but morality has changed. The increased scale of your operations will lend you respectability. Who, except possibly the Postmaster General, would refuse to shake hands with one of the Great Train Robbers?"
--The Naked Civil Servant
DEATH ON THE JOB: Via Amptoons I find Confined Space, a blog devoted to workplace safety and health. You should go there now for the NYTimes pieces at the top of the page: "A Trench Caves In, A Young Worker Is Dead. Is It a Crime?" and "US Rarely Seeks Charges for Deaths in Workplace." Sad, angering, and gripping stories.

A while back, I did a chunk of research and several interviews on various OSHA reform proposals, for a "news analysis" story that never quite jelled. I generally prefer market-based solutions--for reasons including a) market solutions tend to be suppler and better able to respond to changing conditions and practices; and b) governmental, top-down regulatory solutions are often hijacked--is the phrase I'm looking for "regulatory capture"?--as the biggest players write the regulations to favor themselves and disfavor smaller competitors. So I read some libertarian-oriented analyses of OSHA (though I don't think any were dogmatically, or "rigorously" if you prefer, libertarian) and also spoke with various scholars about proposed regulatory tweaks meant to give the governmental structures some of the flexibility of market structures. E.g. attempts to make workplace regulations focus more on outcomes rather than on processes (= "reduce death and injury at your workplace by X amount or X percent by time T--we don't care how you do it, just do it--here's a guide to best practices if you need ideas, but basically, just get your deaths and injuries down"). Many of these sounded like good ideas, but none seemed sufficient. This is an area where I'm not especially libertarian, though I'll note that I'm far from an expert here--not even an "insta-expert" of the faking-it-in-the-service-of-journalism kind.

My point (and I do have one) is that, wonk proposals and counterproposals aside, this should change: "[Even companies that willfully violated the law and killed workers] face lighter sanctions than those who deliberately break environmental or financial laws.

"For those 2,197 deaths, employers faced $106 million in civil OSHA fines and jail sentences totaling less than 30 years, The Times found. Twenty of those years were from one case, a chicken-plant fire in North Carolina that killed 25 workers in 1991."
The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear blogwatch...

Charles Murtaugh is back, with much LOTR-ness and biotech-talk--and even two posts that combine both!

Oxblog: Ways to fight terror by spending your Christmas money. It's the American way!

Unqualified Offerings: Qualifying (ha ha) claims (linked on this very blog, and coming from such notable hawks as the New York Times editorial board) that Libya's announced end to its WMD programs is a consequence of the Iraq war. More on the invasion of Iraq/disarmament of Libya connection, working both sides of the street, from CalPundit. I'll note only that you needn't believe Libya's announcement is a huge shocking about-face to think the invasion of Iraq gave Gaddafi a big push to move faster.

Speaking of UO: In case you missed that fine blog's post on why you should be leery of the memo alleging a Saddam/Atta/Nidal terrorists R us link, here's the Newsweek story claiming that the memo is likely a fake. Sorry I forgot to post this earlier.

And last... ImplosionWorld, "Where Demolition Comes Alive." Via Mark Shea.
"Nobody escapes my love."
--Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant

Sunday, December 21, 2003

MAKING THE PICTURES BIG: GodSpy interviews Barbara Nicolosi: "...When you've been thrown out of the convent during the worst vocation crisis in the history of the Church, what else can the world do to you?

"...If we turned over Hollywood to the Christians tomorrow, we'd make worse movies than we're making now because they would mostly be guilty of what Flannery O'Connor called--for Christian--'inexcusable sentimentality.'

"...One of the reasons Barbara Hall became a Catholic, as she expressed it to me, was: 'I just got exhausted with unbelief. I just couldn't keep it up anymore.' She's typical of the creative community that has worn itself out since the sexual revolution, throwing itself around, doing anything it wanted, absolute license and power. And they're exhausted. So, they come to faith with a deep understanding of sin.

"...First, in terms of artistry, I think the Catholics, even the ones who are lapsed, have a natural sense of allegory and metaphor that comes from several thousand years of ingrained liturgy. The liturgy is real, but it's also rich in symbols. So you have the people who are fallen away--I'm thinking of a screenwriter right now who's an angry, angry ex-Catholic. He's done so much harm. But he has an instinctive sense of symbolism that gives his writing visual power. I've said to him several times, 'the reason you're really good is because you were Catholic' and when we're alone he'll acknowledge it. I think the liturgical tradition is key to that.

"...I think that, unfortunately, a lot of orthodox Catholics and Christians are either sitting in the cave hunkered down, or they're like Jonah sitting under a Gourd plant waiting for God to vent his wrath on the world--on the ungodly--and they're going to be disappointed if He doesn't. I don't see these people having sorrow for sin; I see them having indignation towards sin. And to me, that's an important difference. Sorrow for sin is 'I am a part of this.' Indignation for sin is 'you are the ones messing up the world.'"

I know a girl from a lonely street,
Cold as blogwatch, but still as sweet...

About Last Night: Terry Teachout quotes the best passage from CS Lewis's best work: "All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead."

Hit and Run: Libya disarms. Dominos going click-click-click?

Marriage Movement: "Home is the place where you begin when you ask 'Who am I?' 'Where did I come from?' Having two homes oriented around two separate poles of mom and dad means the child travels between two wholly differentiated spheres of moral and spiritual meaning. The parents do not communicate or seek accord on these core issues anymore, but the child still looks to both of them at the first and most important role models for how to think and what to believe. The child must seek, alone, to make sense of all the differences that he or she observes in the parents and develop his or own identity and value system much more independently than children of intact families -- who live in one home -- must do."

Oxblog: Law books to Iraq.

NYTimes: Bush was right on Libya.

And if I said this, you'd all hate me: "Homosexuals can always tell tinsel from gold, they just prefer the tinsel." Do I get away with it by saying I think there's something intensely attractive and human there?
"'I mean, ordinary people, right? All the things that happen to them....'"

Thursday, December 18, 2003

If I had a gun
For every blog that I have watched
I could arm a town the size of Abilene...

Church of the Masses: Why artists can't accept aesthetic relativism--a dialogue:

"Writer Friend: ...I could go on about what's wrong with anything... but what's the point?

"Barb N: Because we want to be great artists."

Thought Balloons: These are really pretty covers. Like broken-up Soviet realism. Og like. (Yeah, that really shored up my anti-aesthetic-relativism stance....)

A Volokh Conspirator on France's hostile secularism. Relapsed Catholic points out that headscarves are often worn because women fear they'll be attacked without them; I like how thoroughly the French government is avoiding addressing that problem.

Bishop Accountability. Tracks news, court documents, etc. related to Catholic clergy abuse. If you check out this site I strongly recommend you also take a look at Amy Welborn's site (which is where I got the link), since she reminds us that while these sites are absolutely necessary, they're necessary as a way of cleansing the Church and returning us to focus on Christ.
"'I shall go and tell the indestructible man that someone plans to murder him.'"
--Alan Moore, Watchmen

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

IRAQNESS: Iranian blog reactions to Saddam's capture.

Healing Iraq: "I still haven't been able to get rid of this deep sadness that has overcome me the last two days. People have been emailing asking me to explain. I wish I could, but I simply can't.

"...If you had lived all your life ruled by a tough dictator elevated to the level of a god and then suddenly without warning watched that dictator displayed to the public on tv as a 'man', you probably would have related with my position.

"The images were shocking. I couldn't make myself believe this was the same Saddam that slaughtered hundreds of thousands and plundered my country's wealth for decades. The humiliation I experienced was not out of nationalistic pride or Islamic notions of superiority or anything like that as some readers suggested. It was out of a feeling of impotence and helplessness. This was just one old disturbed man yet the whole country couldn't dispose of him. We needed a superpower from the other side of the ocean to come here and 'get him' for us. I was really confused that day I went out and almost got myself killed by those Fedayeen and angry teenagers in the Adhamiya district.

"...He must be handed over to Iraqis. I don't care about legitimacy. He must be tried publicly in an Iraqi civil court by Iraqi judges. The rest of the Arab dictators should see it and learn from it.

"And I'm still wondering why? Why did he have to put himself into this? Why did he have to destroy Iraq? What did he gain from all of this?"

Enormous amount of stuff at Iraq the Model and you should read all of it. Including: "I met him in a photo copy office owned by a friend. My friend introduced him to me, his name is Firas Mahmood Ya'koob, a junior resident in Al-Karkh hospital for surgery in Baghdad, a shy young man, holding some photos of men, women, and children. He wanted to make copies of them so
I knew there was a story behind them. I couldn't help asking him about it, he said 'I'm from Al-Dujaile.'

"I understood what he meant.
In Saddam's time we used to whisper about Al-Dujaile, we all knew that a massacre happened there, but we didn't dare to ask about the details and I never met any one from there. Now I can know all about it from my new friend and here it is, in his own words..." more

Plus news bites. And this: "I asked one of the waiters about the secret behind this sudden improvement, he laughed and told me: Saddam's gone now, and our boss can expand his business without worrying about being kicked out of this place and losing every thing he spent on this coffee shop, Saddam and his relatives had enormous greed for any piece of land near the river." And more.

Where Is Raed is back on the air: "There was another moment when the GC members were describing their meeting with Saddam and told the journalists about the deriding remarks he made when they asked him about the Sadir's assasination and the mass graves, he sounded like he has totally lost it.

"I want a fully functioning Saddam who will sit on a chair in front of a TV camera for 10 hours everyday and tells us what exactly happened the last 30 years. I do not care about the fair trial thing Amnesty Int. is worried about and I don'r really care much about the fact that the Iraqi judges might not be fullt qualified, we all know he should rot in hell. but what I do care about is that he gets a public trial because I want to hear all the untold stories" more
"DONNIE DARKO": Saw this movie on Friday with Tepper, an anarchocapitalist for marriage, and Mrs. Shamed. (Tepper: "So... we've got a conservative, an anarchocapitalist, and a radical federalist." What better group to see a movie about a giant apocalyptic rabbit?)

Anyway. I'm still not sure whether "DD" made any sense. Apparently this site OOPS! this site! offers some guidance. I will say that I am really, really, REALLY looking forward to seeing it again. It feels sprawling or sloppy in structure, but I'm pretty sure every moment was crafted to advance the point--whatever that point was! The main thing I'm still trying to figure out is what the $#@! was up with Jim Cunningham and his final fate, so if you have theories on what happened to him and how it plays into the main questions of the movie, send 'em along.

I described "DD" to Ratty as "a perfect late '80s/early '90s teen-rebellion flick--like 'Heathers' or 'Pump Up the Volume' only much better--crossed with a Christian or quasi-Christian apocalyptic movie."

Her response: "So basically this was the movie of your life, then?"

Yeah. I've gotta see this again.
I have only come here seeking knowledge,
Things they would not teach me of in blogwatch...

[Are those really the lyrics? "Things they would not teach me of in college"??? I thought it was the much-less-stupid "things they would not teach me back in college." Points off, "Sting." ("Sting"?) ("Hannnnsel?"--prize to whoever gets that one.)]

After Abortion: More on post-abortion grief--don't try to go it alone; and more on post-abortion depression: "Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood indicated in her letter to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that '10 percent of women who have abortions experience depressive symptoms of a lingering nature.'

"I could have gone on to include her claim, as per her linked letter, that a similar percentage of women who give birth experience lingering depression.

"I also could have pointed out that both of her claims are unsupported by current research...." more

MarriageMovement: Besides the usual Marquardtly goodness, there's a series of sharp posts from Tom Sylvester on Strom Thurmond and his daughter: "He paid his daughter to deny her own father. For over 60 years. And it was his fault that she would have been poor in the first place." Public image, limited. And Thurmond as illegitimate father.

The Volokh Conspiracy: Randy Barnett on the Ninth Circuit decision, based on Commerce Clause, invalidating prohibition of medical marijuana. I don't pretend to understand the commerce clause; on first glance this looks like the right call, and certainly I'm happy about the policy outcome.

And it's a beautiful day/For an Otto-da-Fe.
"'I want him to go to Hebrew school! I want him to be bar mitzvahed! How can a boy named 'Vinny' be bar mitzvahed?'"
--JM DeMatteis, Brooklyn Dreams
THE BAD SEX AWARDS. Arguments for censorship. One runner-up includes the term "pant-hoots," which are panting hoots, I think. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Via Arts and Letters Daily.
FIGHT SOCIALIZED SORCERY! "Evil makes good look better," "AWAKE! to the danger of gawking!", "RESIST PLASTICS," and many other fine slogans. Fun stuff.

Tangentially via Motime Like the Present.
SURVEY: Found randomly amid various Internet flotsam.

1. Which book are you currently reading?
JM DeMatteis/Glenn Barr, Brooklyn Dreams.

And Lend Me Your Ears, a collection of speeches edited by William Safire, but you really can't take that on the bus or in the bath, thus it's hard for the Book Ape to make progress here.

2. What book did you read last?
The Great Short Works of Franz Kafka, tr. Joachim Neugroschel. "In the Penal Colony" is the best by far. The short-shorts aren't nearly as hard-hitting or skewed as the ones in Parables and Paradoxes, which I need to reread.

3.What book are you planning on reading next?
Quimby the Mouse, that speeches book, and Plutarch's Lives if I can find my copy. If I can't find my copy and get too lazy to schlep to the library, I'll probably read The Naked Civil Servant to see how it's (/I've) aged. If I do schlep to the library, I'll probably forget about Plutarch and get sucked into reading The Book Against God.

4. Do you own most of the books you read, or do you borrow them from a library?
Half and half except for comics, which you really can't find in the DC library system.

5. Who was your favourite author when you were a child?
Diana Wynne Jones for overall achievement; Peter S. Beagle for writing my absolute favorite childhood book, The Last Unicorn.

6. What were some of your favourite books when you were a child?
Find them here... plus Diana Wynne Jones and Michael de Larrabeiti. Oh and Helen Cresswell. Good grief, didn't I read any red-blooded Amurricans?

7. Which literary character would you least like to be stranded on a desert island with and why?
Hamlet! Talk talk talk! Or, even moreso, the kid from Call It Sleep--I'd feel guilty just looking at that boy.

8. Which character would you most like to be stranded with?
Adrian Healey maybe? That could get a bit tense, though. Let's go with Donald Trefusis instead.

9. In which literary/fictional location would you most like to live?
Wow, there are just about no books set in the parts of DC I love. Let's go with the pseudo-Savannah depicted in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

10. Which is the best TV/film adaptation of a book you have seen? why?
"The Last Unicorn." Script entirely from book, animation beautiful and perfectly captures both the darker tones and the sweet humor of the book. And I grew up with the Journey songs so I don't mind them.

I guess "Lion in Winter" doesn't count because it's originally a play. "Gone With the Wind" is also amazing, though not as good as the book.

11. Which is worst TV/film adaptation of a book you have seen? why?
Again, "Titus" probably doesn't count (originally a play). And really, it does an excellent job of mimicking the absurdities of the original. ("Enter Lavinia with her hands cut off, her tongue cut out, and ravished.")

12. What film adaptation do you actually like more than the book?
Hmmm... can't think of one off the top of my head.

13. What book do you like better than the film adaptation?
Ghost World

14. What is your least favourite book and why?
I doubt this is actually my least-favorite book, but I do remember loathing Silas Marner. All that blonde symbolism. I also deeply resented having to read Things Fall Apart not once but twice for class.

Monday, December 15, 2003

AFTER ABORTION: Two random thoughts: First, about 80% or so of the post-abortive women I've counseled express serious regrets. I do realize there's self-selection going on here; we're a pro-life center (although many, many of our clients view abortion as a tragic necessity) and most of our clients were raised Christian.

But I also wonder whether our attempts to understand "post-abortion grief" aren't stymied by a misunderstanding of a particular kind of Protestantism. Many of my clients have felt regret after abortion that is as deep (as far as I can tell) as any regret they've ever felt. They then confess to Christ, ask for forgiveness, and know that Jesus forgives; and they move on, as they move on from other actions that they know are grave sins. Because all this is private and can happen in a moment (praying the Sinner's Prayer, for example, or responding to an altar call), I think it can look, to people raised outside this particular strain of Protestantism, less weighty and less of a relief of a terrible burden than it really is. These women speak very precisely about how they've dealt with their grief and moved on; but the way they deal with grief and regret over abortion is the way they would deal with grief and regret over any terrible sin. They give it to God and move on.

That can be off-putting to people who come to post-abortive women with preconceived notions that they should feel no regret or that they should feel a constant, inconsolable ache. Fortunately, I'd been so thoroughly indoctrinated into abortion-rights propaganda that I was expecting very few of our post-abortive clients to express regret at all, so I was startled enough to pay attention when that turned out not to be true.

NOTE: I edited this post because Avram of Pigs and Fishes pointed out that the thing that prompted these thoughts, a link on After Abortion that is actually making a different point, doesn't say what I thought it said--should have been much more careful: "Eve --

"Did you follow the link to the StarTribune article? It says 'Studies show that 10 percent of women who have abortions experience depressive symptoms of a lingering nature. The same symptoms occur in just as many women after childbirth.' The implications are a bit different with that second sentence attached.

"According to the National Institute of Mental Health, that's about the same as the percentage of the general adult American population (9.5%) that suffers clinical depression, and lower than the percentage
of women in general (12%) that are affected by a depressive disorder each year."

I shouldn't've been linking to the Star-Tribune piece anyway, since what I wanted to write about was post-abortion grief and regret (emotional and spiritual categories) rather than depression (medical category). Apologies....
JANUARY 2003 REASON DEBATE ON INVASION OF IRAQ: John Mueller (anti-invasion) vs. Brink Lindsey (pro). Worth a read, now.

My take: Mueller misses the point of the North Korea comparison (he assumes Saddam-nukes are only geopolitically dangerous if Saddam makes the incredibly stupid decision to use them, rather than the not-stupid-at-all decision to use them as major leverage at the bargaining table) and somehow forgets that Saddam's sons were possibly more freakazoid than their father.

He also conflates two kinds of threats: "One can’t simultaneously maintain that Iraq’s military forces will readily defect and can easily be walked over--a common assumption among our war makers--and also that this same pathetic military presents a serious international threat." I don't think any warmongers were arguing that Saddam's troops were the problem.

And he muddies distinctions between kinds of tyrants. Yeah, they're all egomaniacs. But nobody thinks Jean-Bertrand Aristide (or Papa Doc Duvalier!), or Fidel Castro, is trying to develop WMDs. How come?

However, he makes good points about the oil market, the terrorism ties, and the difference between international response to the Iran/Iraq war and international response to any future ("future" from the January 2003 perspective of course) Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or elsewhere.

Lindsey relies on the belief that Saddam was in the process of developing WMDs, which seems, at this point, either unlikely or a great anti-war argument (= war led to WMDs being shipped out of Iraq to points unknown). Sure OK, pretty much everyone, including anti-war types, thought Saddam was amassing WMDs. Why wouldn't he? Still, this point tells strongly against Lindsey today.

Lindsey makes strong points about Saddam's wigfest character and Mueller's blitheness.

The debate leaves me as clouded as ever--I tend to think Mueller more persuasive--but it is definitely worth a read. Via Hit & Run.
"DESIRE: JOY DIVISION": The penultimate chapter of the Holly-Laila-Suha story. I hate the title to this section but I don't have a better one yet. Anyway, things fall apart here. This section needs to be longer, but since I've been posting rough drafts, I'll show you the skeleton. You can read the whole story so far starting here, or just get the new bit here.

The next section's gonna be fun. Twist ending.
THE SAINT LINUS REVIEW: A magazine I probably can't contribute to, but you might. For Catholic poetry and short prose. Link via Mark Shea.
1999, THE ABORTION NUMBERS: Multiple abortions; abortions and race; which states report the most abortions (not all states report); deaths from legal abortion; more.

Via E-Pression.
Animals strike curious poses;
They watch the blog--
The blog between me and you...

Amptoons: Two threads on non-superhero comics recommendations.

Dappled Things: His sermon on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe: We are all guadalupanos! "The first thing we need to consider is what is important to the Virgin. The Virgin appeared to a poor Indian and spoke to him in the only language he knew, not the conquerors' Spanish, but the native Nahuatl. She came not to bring more oppression, but to bring a people to the Gospel. Through her intervention, Latin America became Catholic and traded in the bloody cult of the local gods for the merciful religion of the Virgin's Son. Throughout the years, the image of this Virgin would accompany Mexicans in their greatest needs and stand alongside the poor and marginalized without fail. To be guadalupano, then, means in some sense to follow the Virgin's lead. It means to stand up for the weak, the powerless, and those stripped of their rights: the unborn children menaced by abortion; those without food to eat; those without places to live; the people afflicted by war, persecution, and violence of every kind; immigrants, with and without papers; whoever is forced to the margins of society and left at the mercy of the stronger. If these people are important to her, then they had better be important to us." more

Mark Shea: Quite a lot of interesting stuff, including how Zell Miller became pro-life.
WHICH (NOT WHAT!) MUPPET ARE YOU? I can't make the site open right now, but last night I was the big freaky thing that looks like it crawled out of a trash can--I think its name may be Blossom?

No, here we go, it's Sweetums: "You are Sweetums. A hard exterior covers up the soft sweet center of your soul. And you love to eat humans. SPECIAL TALENTS: Really big dance steps. FAVORITE MOVIE: 'Big' QUOTE: 'Wait for me!' LAST BOOK READ: 'Taming Your Outer Beast' NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: Robin the Frog"


Also via Tepper.
WHICH ROMANCE MOVIE BEST REPRESENTS YOUR LOVE LIFE? I'm "Casablanca": "'You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss.' Your romance is Casablanca. A classic story of love in trying times, chock full of both cynicism and hope. You obviously believe in true love, but you're also
constantly aware of practicality and societal expectations. That's not always fun, but at least it's realistic. Try not to let the Nazis get you down too much."

Via Dave Tepper.
IRS VS BOOKSTORES UPDATE: Corner Comics capitulates--not enough money to fight the IRS on their terms; Journalista! takes a stab at untangling the relevant tax law, and wishes there were a trade organization to help retailers in situations like this.
When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?

Iraqi blog round-ups here and here.

Plus more here (must-read): "...When he announced 'We got him' everyone in the room cheered out loud. The following video of Saddam in his long hair and beard was a shock to us all. My grandmother burst in tears.

"...I had no reason to, but I felt humiliated. I sank into an overwhelming depression and sadness, and I had a desperate need to get terribly drunk. I should have felt joy but I didn't. And I'm still disappointed with myself.

"I went out again, the streets were empty now, everyone was at home watching the news. Celebratory gunfire continued for hours. In the evening, I went out to find armed teenagers filling our street carrying Saddam's pictures. They were shouting the vilest things about Sistani, Hakim, and even Ali Bin Abi Talib. Some of the mob were dressed in Fedayeen clothes with grenades and explosives in their hands. I got foolish and tried to take photographs. They dragged me in their midst and I thought this was it. Some accused me of being a spy, and others shouted 'Kill the bastard.' My parents and some neighbours were all over me and convinced the kids to leave me alone. After that they blocked the street and started to threaten passing cars, all the while shooting in the air. 4 or 5 IP cars showed up and the crowd dissipated. Shops closed and the streets were empty again." more

and here: "We both agree that this is the last chance for the radical Shii to make a mark. It could amount to a Revolution within the Occupation. ...I have argued that since Iran is on its last legs, and in sight of a 'velvet' revolution itself, within, say, 9-12 months, the obvious way for the Mullahs to shore up their position would be to destabilise Iraq. The majority of Iraqi Shii are moderate, but the mood is distinctly anti-American because that is the nature of the beast : they are Muslims and the Americans are not. " more

and here: "I just talked to some Iraqi friends in Baghdad and here's what they report...."

Oh and I agree with Mark Shea that this is the right reaction, and a hard one: "We want to see him in a cage bending more and more, humiliated more and more, just as he forced all the Iraqis to bend to him, like they were his slaves. But we will not be like him, we will give him a fair trial, and he will get just what he deserves, although I have no idea what does he really deserve."

Much commentary from varying perspectives at Oxblog, The Corner, and Unqualified Offerings, all very much worth your time. Jonathan Adler makes the best case I've heard so far for an international tribunal; UO points out the shakiness of the "Atta trained with Abu Nidal in Baghdad" story. And I've added Baghdad Skies to the blogroll--found via BuzzMachine, which I should also add back.
"'You've seen that it's not easy deciphering the script with your eyes; but our man deciphers it with his wounds.'"
--"In the Penal Colony"

Friday, December 12, 2003

RAMESH PONNURU ON JUDICIAL REFORM: "One sometimes runs across conservatives who are hostile in principle to judicial review and want to abolish it. I'm not one of them, although I definitely understand the impulse. I do, however, want to strengthen constitutional checks on the power of the federal judiciary. For example, I'd like to see Congress exercise its power to regulate the courts' jurisdiction. Most conservatives, and especially most conservative lawyers, have preferred to concentrate their efforts on getting "good judges" confirmed. They have had a variety of reasons for this preference. One of those reasons--not the most important reason, as it happens, but a reason--is that anything that tends to weaken the ability of the federal judiciary to invalidate laws would weaken its ability to invalidate laws that conservatives believe are unconstitutional.

"Liberals (and libertarians) may want the courts to strike down laws against abortion and pornography. Conservatives (and libertarians) want the Court to protect political speech, commercial speech, federalism, and executive-branch powers from laws that meddle with them. They want the Court to strike down racial preferences. They want it to invalidate state laws that they regard as violations of religious liberty (such as the Blaine amendments that prohibit government funding for religious schools).

"Whether conservatives are right to want all of these things is a question for another day. My point today is that in practice, conservatives don't get many of them."

SAMPLE LETTER TO A REPRESENTATIVE about the Corner Comics/IRS vs. comic shops, used bookstores, and assorted small businesses mishegoss.
FORUM 18: "Forum 18 believes that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, which is essential for the dignity of humanity and for true freedom. ...

"Forum 18 News Service (F18News) is a Christian initiative which is independent of any one church or religious group. Its independence is safeguarded by a board whose members are Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians, and who are responsible for matters of policy and fundraising. F18News is committed to Jesus Christ's command to do to others what you would have them do to you, and so reports on threats and actions against the religious freedom of all people, regardless of their religious affiliation."

This seems to be what has taken the Keston News Service's place, providing on-the-ground reporting on religious freedom in places like Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Definitely worth a look.
THE POWER TO TAX IS THE POWER TO DESTROY BOOKSTORES?: I know there are lawyers and legal experts who read this blog! Here's a really troubling case for you all to look at:

"The owner of my local comic shop, Paige Gifford, was approached by the IRS in March for a 'compliance audit.' The brand-spankin new agent they had put on her case didn't believe she could make a living selling comics. Once she was able to prove that she was in compliance, and not selling something on the side, and that yes, she did make a living selling comic books, the agent went after her inventory. He said that he knew how much baseball cards are worth, and so old comics must be worth a lot of money. He estimated how much her backstock was worth (based on his own bizarre calculation). He then told her that she hadn't paid taxes on her inventory, and that she owed $14,000 in taxes. She's a small business owner. $14,000 is a lot of money.

"So she got some help. At times the thing seemed almost resolved. But the IRS is determined to run her out of business. Within the last week she was told that she cannot have any backstock of comics. She has to destroy her backstock--shred or burn every comic book--by December 31st in order to get out of the debt. And she needs a receipt to prove that she destroyed the comics. Otherwise, she owes the IRS $14,000, and will owe the IRS an inventory tax every year from here on out. Even though her lawyer and accountant are convinced that she's completely in compliance with every pertainable law.

"I don't know about you, but if this audit is applied equally and across the board on all small-business owners, I don't think there will be any bookstores or comic book stores left that are locally owned. You cannot have a decent comic shop without backstock, and according to the IRS, backstock is NOT ALLOWED."


a letter from the shop owner

links to taxpayers' groups

more: "This case has the power to put most of the country's comic book stores, and most of the country's used book stores, out of business. It probably has implications for second-hand stores of all kinds, which means it poses a huge danger to readers and consumers. You and I will have fewer choices and the ones left to you will cost you more."


comments-box discussion of the tax-technical issues here
CLONING IN NEW JERSEY: From the Weekly Standard: USING "embryonic stem cell research" (ESCR) as a Trojan Horse, the authors of New Jersey Assembly Bill 2840 are trying to sneak one of the most radical human cloning legalization schemes ever proposed into law. How radical is A-2840? If the bill passes, it will be legal in New Jersey to implant cloned human embryos into wombs, gestate them for up to nine months, and then destroy them for use in research.


Me on embryo-destructive research.
If you want to touch the sky
Just put a blogwatch in your eye...

Hit & Run slams the campaign finance reform decision: "That there's a 'media exemption' only makes it more grotesque--one powerful faction in society (elected officials) throwing a bone to another (the press)."

And Volokh hits the other side of the "newspapers are corporations too" coin: "I've mentioned before that I think corporate speech should be just a protected as noncorporate speech. One piece of evidence for this position is that newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, and other media outlets tend to be corporations, too. So far, the restrictions on corporate speech related to campaigns have excluded the media, at least as to some of its functions ('news stor[ies], commentar[ies], or editorial[s],' in the BCRA statute that was just upheld). But (1) it's not clear why some corporations should have more statutory speech rights than others, and (2) these exemptions from the media are, under the Court's logic, matters of legislative charity; legislatures could, if they wanted to, restrict newspapers, TV stations, and cable programs owned by corporations just as they restrict speech by other corporations."

I don't think we know whether the long-range effects of the CFR bill will be good for media corporations (they become proportionately much bigger fish in a proportionately smaller pond), bad for media corporations (if future legislation does try to treat e.g. FoxNews as a corporation just like any other), or neutral (because there are so many loopholes--apparently the NRA is considering forming a media corporation to run its near-election issue ads--that CFR just won't do much). But looking at the newspapers vs. other corporation issue, in general, is a great way to see the problems with CFR. Bleah.

Oxblog: Hee!

There's a whole blog devoted to the theory of punishment (and related legal and philosophical questions). Who knew? It looks super-intriguing; via L. Solum.

Henry Rollins tours with the USO.

The demonstrators converged on the provincial governor's office on Sunday with banners, sleeping mats, cooking pots and a simple demand: Iskander Jawad Witwit should quit.

After three days and nights of continuous protests, Witwit did just that. But the demonstrators have refused to budge.

As soon as Witwit resigned, the local representative of the U.S. occupation authority appointed a former Iraqi air force officer as acting governor. To the protesters, that was unacceptable. The new governor, they insisted, should be chosen not by an American but by Iraqis -- through an election.

"Yes, yes for elections!" shouted the protesters, a collection of students, clerics and middle-aged professionals whose ranks swelled to more than 1,000 on Thursday. "No, no to appointment!"

The protesters have pledged to continue their sit-in outside the governor's office -- they have erected tents and dug latrines -- until their demand is met. Leaders of Hilla's largest labor unions have vowed to hold a general strike starting Saturday in support of elections.

Local leaders described the passionate but peaceful demonstration in this predominantly Shiite Muslim city as a preview of what U.S. occupiers will face if they follow through with a plan to select a provisional Iraqi government through regional caucuses instead of general elections. Although elections have become an increasingly popular rallying cry in Shiite-dominated central and southern Iraq, the protest here is the first indication that mainstream Shiites are willing to take to the streets to press the issue, adding a volatile new element to the country's impending political transition.


OxDem agrees with the demonstrators, by the way.
WHICH LOGICAL FALLACY ARE YOU? I'm Ad Hominem: "You are rude and inconsiderate. You don't like people and would rather not participate in public speaking as a general rule . . .except for the part where you get to make novices cry. That's fun."

Via ViciousXRedDragon.
WHAT KIND OF POSTMODERNIST ARE YOU? I'm a Tortured Conceptual Artist--have to say this sounds sadly true: "Your fellow postmodernists call you an anachronism, but you've never cared much about the opinions of others. After all, most of them are far too simple-minded to appreciate the nuances of your work. They talk, while you are part of a lived tradition."

Via Motime Like the Present.
"'It's a singular apparatus,' the officer said to the explorer, running his somewhat admiring eyes over the apparatus, with which he was after all familiar."
--Franz Kafka, "In the Penal Colony"

Thursday, December 11, 2003

BELOW you will find: a long thing about the Establishment Clause; a silly thing about the Establishment Clause; two good Advent homilies; comparing comics to works in other media--this might be a place to find comics recommendations if you're interested and have not read much of 'em before; "how I got into comics"--medium vs genre, and problems in the industry; Martin Amis on porn.
I EDUCATE. YOU INDOCTRINATE. THEY BRAINWASH. If Joshua Davey had kept his scholarship, would that constitute a state establishment of Christianity?

Here, let me quote Dalia Lithwick: "The case was brought by Joshua Davey after a university scholarship he'd been given by the state of Washington was rescinded when he declared that one of his two majors would be in 'pastoral ministries' at a Christian college in Kirkland, Wash. Washington is one of 37 states with broader prohibitions on public spending for religious education than is required under the federal constitution. The state's constitution bars the spending of public monies on religious instruction, and they've drawn a distinction between spending on religion when it's taught in a secular manner and spending on training students for the ministry. Davey and his supporters, including the Bush administration, contend that this discriminates against the religious. Washington says it's just policing the wall between church and state."

It seems to me that John "Grotesque Anatomy" Jakala is arguing that Davey's scholarship would in fact represent establishment of religion--most explicitly in his comments box, in response to a column by me (admittedly, a column that, on re-reading, I agree is less germane to the points Jakala'd initially been making than I'd thought). If I'm misunderstanding, I do apologize, though.

The belief that discrimination against religious institutions is required by the Constitution, in order to prevent establishment of religion, is a pretty common interpretation. Thus school vouchers shouldn't be used at parochial schools or yeshivas or whatever.

I don't know whether barring religiously-affiliated schools from public scholarships (and vouchers are just scholarships, of course) is constitutionally permitted. I don't know whether Davey should win his case. I suspect he should, honestly; my reasoning is much like Eugene Volokh's here.

But I am much more sure that barring religiously-affiliated schools from public scholarships is not constitutionally required. Using a voucher or other public scholarship at a religious school is not an establishment of religion, assuming that the same voucher or scholarship could just as well be used at a non-religious school or a school professing a different religion.

Maybe some examples will help. Are any of the following public-scholarship recipients participating in establishment of religion? And, if all these cases involve the same scholarship fund... what religion, exactly, is being established?

1) Suzy Catholic studies theology at Notre Dame; she thinks she might maybe want to be a nun, and so she makes sure to take courses geared toward Carmelite spirituality (good grief, I hope they have such courses at ND!), but she maybe wants to be a comparative literature professor instead.

2) Jacob Evangelical studies medieval Islam at Georgetown (a Catholic university, or so they tell me) so he can do interfaith work and possibly missions work in an Islamic country.

3) Tricia Atheist majors in religious studies at Yale, but in her sophomore year, while still on scholarship, she converts to Judaism and refocuses her studies to prepare her for the rabbinate. Is this case different if Tricia a) never converts, remaining the only atheist in the rel-stud major? (these things do happen!), or b) remains an atheist, but attends a religiously-affiliated school?

4) Marc Catholic studies theology at Georgetown in order to get a better grounding in his faith, even though what he actually plans to be is a consultant.

5) Jenna Jew double majors in psychology and philosophy at Yale (she has no social life) in hopes that these courses will help her be a better rabbi. Does it matter if one of her professors, himself a rabbi, teaches with an eye toward pastoral work?

6) Sally Catholic (Suzy's sister), who also wants to be a nun, studies philosophy at Notre Dame, with a specialization in natural law. Three of her seven classmates (all in the same scholarship program) are Catholic; two are atheists; one is Jewish; one is a Deist, yes, a Deist.

None of these cases seem to me to be substantively, radically different from Joshua Davey's case. More importantly, if all of them are possible outcomes of the scholarship program, I really can't see how it's "establishing" any religion, or asserting a preference for religion over not-religion. (Or asserting a preference for not-religion over religion.) In fact, such a scholarship program would seem to me to be shying away as carefully as possible from anything resembling establishment of any religious belief or belief about religion. If religion is being established, again... what religion is it?

And I worry that Jakala's use of language (which I expect is the result of the quick writing one uses in comments boxes, rather than some carefully thought-through phrasing--I don't want to imply that this is how he'd write if he were writing a blog post or an op-ed or whatever) echoes the fear that underlies many of these discussions. He writes, "I don't care if I pay for children to be taught views I disagree with. But I do care if I pay for children to be indoctrinated in a particular religious tradition."

This switch from "taught" to "indoctrinated" reminds me of the old line about dirty pictures: "What I like is erotica. What you like is pornography. What they like is smut." Hence the title of this post.

Is "indoctrinating" children in a particular religious tradition different from/worse than "indoctrinating" them in a particular political or philosophical tradition (like the Afrocentrism I discussed in my column) or a particular interpretation of US history? How come? Do all religious schools "indoctrinate"? Do no non-religious schools indoctrinate? Do no public schools indoctrinate? (Am I asking "gimme" questions? :) )

This stuff becomes even harder when we're discussing colleges, since the students typically have much more choice in where they go (so "indoctrination" concerns should recede, I think) and the array of worldviews presented by the schools' professors tends to vary more. Georgetown, Notre Dame etc. offer scores of non-Catholic professors of philosophy and theology; Yale and that cold school with the weird Puritan mascot offer several deeply religious professors of ditto. As it happens, I don't think intra-university religious diversity should matter to this question--what should matter is whether the student could use the scholarship at schools of any religion or none--but it might matter to some people, so I mention it.

So yeah--the "myth of neutrality" that I discuss in that Jewish World Review column can't even be talked about until we agree on the nature of religious establishment, which so far, it seems like Jakala and I don't. I hope this has made my position at least a bit clearer.
IRAQIS VS. TERRORISM linkmania, for those four readers who don't read InstaPundit.
ESTABLISHMENT CLAUS: That's what I'd do, if I were a bratty Christian and/or libertarian student who wanted to take the piss--set up some kind of Santa display in whatever passed for the local public square, and label him Establishment Claus. I'm anti-civic Deism, and anti-Santa Claus as generic symbol of the Winter Shopping Festival rather than actual Christian saint, so it would be fun to see the fireworks that would ensue. You could make Est. Claus more or less Christian depending on the reaction you wanted to provoke!

More on the actual establishment clause in a moment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I COMPLAIN A LOT about Saint Matthew's Cathedral, my usual church. But Advent seems to have brought out the best in the 5:30 homilist (yes, I am that lazy), who I think is Msgr. Jameson--? The past two Sundays have brought us really good homilies.

The first Sunday of Advent we were reminded that Advent shouldn't just be a kind of seasonal costume parade, where we all pretend like Jesus is coming for the first time, make-believe. Advent should be an opportunity to relive the coming of Christ by opening our own hearts--our own lives--more deeply to Him. It should be a reminder that we have to relive Advent for real, not for show, all year; both reminder and practice, really. I liked this because it's way too easy to read the Catholic emphasis on liturgical seasons as a kind of costumery, rather than as a reflection of seasons of the heart and a way to practice responding to those seasons.

The second homily was on exile. I wish I remembered it better, since this is something of an obsession of mine--all Christians are exiles. Hence the insistent tone of the "Hail Holy Queen"; hence, too, the Christian identification (when we're doing what we should...) with the outcast. The homilist reminded us to live as exiles, and also to care for those, such as refugees, whose exile is temporal rather than existential in nature.
COMICS LIKE WHAT YOU LIKE: I get a lot of people asking me, essentially, What's a nice girl like you doing in a semi-comics blog like this? This is because people generally think of comics (a medium) as superheroes (a genre--even a subgenre); see below for more on that. So I figured what I'd do is go through the really fun/powerful comics I own and tell you what they're like, and if they're like what you like, maybe you should check them out! Adding the visual storytelling really does change the shape of the stories in a way I find totally intriguing--if you like the ways movies differ from books, you probably will also like the ways comics differ from books.

So, in alphabetical order, and with no attempt to keep genres together:

Brian Bendis, Alias: "Sweet Smell of Success" meets the chick version of a Graham Greene antihero. The visual acuity of Lee Miller, the ferocious dialogue of "Gilda" run through a shredder. (Is that one of those meaningless critic-sentences? I hope not. What I mean is that the content of the dialogue is as furious as in the best noir, but the style is more realistic, less repartee-ish. Some people are distracted and irked by Bendis's attempts to mimic real speech patterns while making his dialogue much snappier than what real people say; I think it's the best of both worlds, and it definitely makes me more attentive to how people talk out here in real reality. Oh, reminding me! if you like Pat Cadigan's Mindplayers you have no excuse for not picking up Alias. Alias is better.)

Grant Morrison's Animal Man is like Jorge Borges goes to Disney World with Peter Singer. Crazy metafictional stuff, less symmetrical than Borges but, frankly, more fun. Fans of The Counterlife might also dig this. What you should do to know if you want to read it: a) read this column (which spoils significant bits of plot, but which does give you a great sense of why this comic is cool) or b) stand in a comics shop and read "The Coyote Gospel," from the first book.

Brian Bendis, Daredevil: "Sweet Smell of Success" maybe? Am I just saying that because I like both DD and "SSOS" a lot? Bendis in general has a real SSOS feel, and it's probably my favorite noir, so that's high praise.

Wendy and Richard Pini, ElfQuest books 1 through 4 (but not after): What's your favorite children's fantasy epic? Artistically better than the Alanna books, more blunt and contemporary (yes, despite the elves) than Lord of the Rings. Get this for a kid you know, then read it yourself before you wrap it. (Am I right in thinking they re-colored the new editions? Try to get the old ones, if so.)

Carla Speed McNeil, Finder: Sin-Eater 1 and 2: Samuel R. Delany, only with more vivid characters. I wish I had more to say about this, since if you like science fiction or want to read about gender or guilt this is a must-read.

Human Target: Final Cut: "The Usual Suspects," or "L.A. Confidential." Slick neo-noir-y-type-thing. Fun, not wildly meaningful, but fun. It has plot/theme points in common with both those movies.

Like a River: I can't think of anything this is "like," but it's a ramshackle Russian story of little lives, exploring the chasm between father and son. You know what it really reminds me of, sort of? Patti Smith's song "Birdland." And "Elegy." Both together.

Los Bros. Hernandez, Love and Rockets: Hard to describe this series, in part because it does everything it does about a million times better than anyone else attempting the same genres in different media. So... imagine if magical realism were good, instead of crap like it mostly is. Imagine if telenovelas grabbed your heart and squeezed, kept you on the edge of your seat with real psychological insight and real human drama rather than sentiment, cliched suspense, and melodrama. Imagine how you felt when you heard that first punk record, then the second one, and it was like a whole world of people insane the way you were just opened up. Then imagine if someone remembered that feeling and grew up anyway. Mix one shot "Cheap Tragedies" with two shots Flannery O'Connor and a jigger of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and shoot. Best place to start is maybe The Death of Speedy?

Alan Moore, A Small Killing: Brightness Falls in the hallucinatory style of Marc Chagall doing the design for "Jacob's Ladder," and with the attention to sexual corruption of "The Ice Storm." A small but harsh story.

Brian Bendis, Torso: If you like true crime and/or those newspaper noirs starring Edward G. Robinson, you will almost certainly like this. Next try Bendis's Jinx (better overall, more visually distinctive, but with a flaccid midsection and a short bit of most interest to superhero fans) or Goldfish (lowlife criminal/family drama).

EDITED TO ADD: Junji Ito, Uzumaki vol. 1 (I wasn't so into 2 and 3, but you might be): Eerie, haunting horror. Not "Misery" or even "Blair Witch"-style horror; much weirder than that. Very Japanese Magritte, with an assist from the titles and music of "Vertigo"??? The Hitchcock it feels most like is "The Birds."

Alan Moore, Watchmen: You know, I don't really know what to compare this to--which is a good sign. My advice is to check out some of the other stuff on this list, or on somebody else's comics list, and if you don't react weirdly just to the whole pictures plus words combination, read this. Does for superhero comics what Measure for Measure did for Elizabethan romantic comedy--does that help? Probably not. It's much more hopeful than M4M but has some of the same sense of drawing out the corruption underlying a genre. And just as you should read M4M even if you've never read Eliz. rom. com.s, in part because ERCs' sensibilities still shape our perceptions of romance, so you should read Watchmen even if you're not into superhero comics, in part because superhero comics' sensibilities--like it or not--still shape our perceptions of power.