Thursday, November 27, 2003

WHICH NABOKOV CHARACTERS ARE YOU? I took the chick version and got Ada, from Ada, or Ardor. Haven't read the book, but pretty much every sentence of the description in the quiz results made her sound radically not-like-me. Whatever. The guy version made much more sense for me (insert joke about conforming to one's gender role here)--Cincinnatus C., whom I liked.

Via Crescat Sententia.
POETRY WEDNESDAY: Two songs I've been listening to the Whiffenpoofs sing...

"Down By the Salley Gardens" (Yeats)
Down by the Salley Gardens
My love and I did meet;
She passed the Salley Gardens
With little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
As the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
With her would not agree.

In a field by the river
My love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
She laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
As the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
And now am full of tears.

"Black, Black, Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair"
Black, black, black, is the color of my true love's hair.
Her lips are something rosy fair.
The purest eyes and the prettiest hands,
I love the grass whereon she stands.
Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair,
Her face is something truly rare.
I know my love and well she knows,
I love the grass whereon she goes.
Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.

Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.
Alone, my life would be so bare.
If she on earth no more I see,
My life would quickly fade away.
Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.
POPE INNOCENT III ACTION FIGURE. Too bad the Latin on the scroll ("Hohenstaufens, kiss my @#$!") is apparently mistranslated. Nonetheless, fun stuff.
Kermit and Fozzy: Movin' right along, footloose and fancy free.
Fozzy: You're ready for the blogwatch!
Kermit: Is it ready for me?

Church of the Masses: Rave review of "Big Fish," and a question: Why are the good movies lately all wet?

Permanent Damage: Interesting column on the difference between reviewing and criticism. Obviously, the lines are much blurrier than this, but his basic distinction interests me: "The purpose of reviews is to tell the consumer how to spend their money. ...The way the reviewer gets and keeps an audience is by dressing this three-word-max up with as clever (or pithy, if it's clever-pithy) a song and dance as possible, so that, ideally, even if you never agree with the reviewer's conclusions, you still return each review for the sheer enjoyment of watching the reviewer dance the steps.

"...Critics, on the other hand, are supposed to examine, deconstruct, draw connections and disconnections, and generally place a text (we'll use the word in this instance to refer to any artistic 'product') in a greater context, whether historical, aesthetic or whatever, to draw out the meaning of importance of a text, a body of work or school of thought. ...Good criticism is always an exploration, an invitation to others to join in on the process. (I guess a short, snide version would be that reviews tell people what to think, and criticism tells them how to think.)" read the rest!

People interested in issues of marriage, gender and parenting, and (specifically) same-sex marriage, really should be reading and (and not just because I edit the latter site!). features the thoughtful stylin's of Elizabeth Marquardt and David Blankenhorn; is more narrowly focused on the SSM debate, is wilder and woollier, and is specifically intended to provide about a 50/50 split between supporters and opponents of SSM. End of plug.

My parents' new cable package includes not only an all-'80s music channel, but a separate all-New Wave music channel. I was in hog heaven. I could listen to that New Wave channel pretty much endlessly.
WHY I WILL NEVER GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL: Ratty sent me this quote from a book she has to read, Mieke Bal's Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative (2nd edition): "Narratology studies narrative texts only in so far as they are narrative; in other words, in their narrativity."
"And sorrow flows not from the absence of those good things we have never yet experienced but from the loss of those to which we have been accustomed."
--Pericles, "Funeral Oration"

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

THE BOOK OF RATINGS. Rates everything from danger symbols (Flammable: "It's kind of similar to the old Campfire Girls symbol, but Campfire Girls are flammable, so that's okay. It's just kind of...boring. At best, it makes me crave s'mores. I think what it needs is a guy suffering") to--hilariously--state quarters (Arkansas: "Rice. A diamond. A duck. A lake. I feel like the Arkansas quarter shows the possible answers to some demented multiple choice question the Devil keeps in his @#$"). I have this hideous feeling that I will spend way too much time poking around this site.

UPDATED! The Norse Gods one is pretty sweet. Also, there are many comics-themed ones. And I think I agree with every single comment in the Sesame Street Characters one.

Via Polytropos.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003


In which we see how little comic books have in common with one another! Medium is not genre. But if you're reading this post, you probably already know that.

Junji Ito, Uzumaki vols. 2 and 3. Here's my rave review of Uzumaki vol. 1, the killer-spiral comic. Here's Bruce Baugh's take on the series. I'm less positive about the later two volumes than he is; I didn't think the story wrapped up well. The ending seemed to me to go on too long and reach too hard for a "cosmic" feel. Also, the creepiest images--the ones that linger like the impress of clammy fingers on the back of your neck--are in the first volume.

However, 2 and 3 do offer some effective chills (what happens to the man-snails really got to me), and these comics are cheap enough that if you liked vol. 1 you should check 'em out. Volume 1 really is fantastic; brrrrr.

Alan Moore and Oscar Zarate, A Small Killing. A sad, creepy, utterly distinctive book. I initially checked this one out because of the advertising theme: An ad designer en route to Moscow to sell cola shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union stops off in his home country, England, and becomes convinced that a small boy is stalking him and intends to kill him. The story is part horror/thriller (of the "quiet chills" genre), part broken homecoming, part commentary on advertising, identity, and wilfully abandoning one's conscience.

The story is really powerful, and Moore's writing is evocative without going into that overblown PoetrySpeak that so many people think conveys pathos. The ending does suffer from the same problem on a personal, emotional level that V for Vendetta suffered from on a political or philosophical level. I don't think Moore convinces us of his more hopeful overtones; the ambiguities and darker layers are much more believable. He sells yesterday better than tomorrow.

But the art. Clownish colors, carnival-looking people (like the carnival from Something Wicked This Way Comes...), artificial without being difficult to follow. The pictures heightened the unhappy mystery of the writing, while also adding an element of humor that the book needed. Just really fine stuff.

You should read this.

Mark Millar, various artists, and the Marvel Hive Mind, Ultimate X-Men vols. 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. There's so much wrong with these comics. Huge stupid plot holes... interchangeable female characters (quick, without referring to their powers, love interests, or backstory--just personality--tell me what differentiates Jean and Storm)... a world that falls apart in your hands if you examine it too closely.

But I was reading these during downtime at the preg ctr when the other counselor asked me what I was reading: "You're grinning from ear to ear!"

Ult. X-Men is so--much--fun. Dumb, dumb fun. I ordinarily am not a big fan of comics that are mostly stuff exploding, but for whatever reason this one really kills me. I don't care that it often stops making sense. I just like the pedal-to-the-metal, 90 mph in a school zone feel. I like the high stakes (um, OK, as high as you're liable to get in an X-book anyway) and the interchangeable wisecracking comic relief. The series starts with a bang--huge not-quite-as-stupid-looking-as-usual Sentinels tracking down and killing mutants everywhere--and basically keeps yelling the whole way through. This is the McDonalds french fries of comics... and I love McDonalds french fries.

I did notice one vaguely substantive thing, in between all the flashbangery: This title doesn't feel nearly as much like a series about leadership as, e.g., New X-Men. I think that's because the power and authority imbalances between Xavier and his students are too great--we all know who the leader is, so there's no real point in exploring the issue. Fortunately, the book does a good job of hitting the "are the X-Men traitors to their kind?" theme, and I am even more obsessed with treason and betrayal than I am with leadership, so I'm satisfied.

Mmmm, french fries.
JOHNNY OF THE CROSS: First Things on the Man in Black. Via Amy Welborn.
MORE MATTER LESS ART: Finished Anne Carson's Beauty of the Husband, twenty-nine poems (she calls them "tangos," which strikes me as prissy) and a coda, about marriage, infidelity, and divorce. What is good in this book is very good; what is bad in this book is truly annoying.

The good: "The husband swallows his ouzo and waits for its slow hot snow inside him." "Her voice sounded broken into." "...under a black umbrella/in a raw picking wind." There's something like that--some phrase that catches exactly right--on just about every other page. Harsh, physical writing.

The anger and the conversations are very well-written. There's a three-page exchange between the spouses that starts in fury ("Coward./I know./Betrayer./Yes./Opportunist./I can see why you would think that...") and slowly collapses into resignation, self-defeating attempts at connection, and artsy, self-dramatizing grandiosity. It adds up to a gripping, sad segment.

The bad: Oy, this book is pretentious! I kept wanting to smack everyone implicated in the poems' production. Each "tango" (grrr) has an obscure, usually Keats-citing, usually way-too-long title, a hurdle you have to get over in order to get to the poem, like those ugly concrete Jersey barriers they put up around the White House a few years back. There is much much much too much John "The Dying" Keats in this book. I am not a Keats fan anyway (with the exception of "This living hand, now warm and capable," which is one of the four poems I know by heart) but even if I loved the guy madly I think I would be sick of him after seeing his poetry and (muddled) thinking larded throughout this book. Anyway, too much of this book is the poetical equivalent of a German art-flick.

The philosophy is shaky. This only really gets in the way at the very end (although I suspect it's also responsible for the surfeit of Keats). I mean, anything that ends, "Here's my advice,/hold.//Hold beauty," is not thinking as hard as it thinks it is. The self-centered concerns work perfectly when the poems are describing the anger and betrayal of a wronged wife; not so much when the poems attempt to discern some kind of Meaning In It All.

Overall: TBOTH is a fast read, and well worth the time it takes--those phrases really do linger.
WHICH EDWARD GOREY BOOK ARE YOU? "Dancing Cats and Neglected Murderesses--You are a bit bitter in some ways about how life has treated you, but you will do anything to change it around...anything!"

Via Mixolydian Mode.
"and he was holding Yes and No together with one hand"
--Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband

Monday, November 24, 2003

THE SONG CLOCK: Oakhaus's post on songs that remind you of breakups you've known (mine is in the comments) reminded me of a post I'd been pondering for a while--listing the songs that colored and reflected an entire period in my life. Don't know if you care, but here is the soundtrack for the movie that is me:

High school:
Severed Heads, "Contempt" and "Hot With Fleas"
Coil, "Tainted Love." Actually, I'll listen to pretty much anybody's version of "Tainted Love."
The Smiths... um, everything, really. Manic-depressive jukebox featuring "I Know It's Over" and "Vicar in a Tutu," though my actual favorite Smiths song is definitely "Rusholme Ruffians."
A.K.A. Harlot #1, everything... especially their one and only release, "100% Criminal Candy." Huggy Bear run through a shredder in Port-au-Prince. Click here for more info.
Chumbawamba, "Morality Play in Three Acts"
Vestpocket Psalm, "Ocean" and "Broken"
Violent Femmes, "Look Like That" and "Add It Up"
Nirvana, "Lithium"
Louis Armstrong, "Kiss of Fire"
The Slits, "So Tough"
Bratmobile, "Where Eagles Dare" and "...And I Live in a Town Where the Boys Amputate Their Hearts"
Huggy Bear, "Carnt Kiss" (and much more)

Summer before college:
Nas, "If I Ruled the World"
The Clash, "Rudie Can't Fail"
Jane Hohenberger, "Mirror"
Skunk Anansie, "Weak" and "I Can Dream"
Fugees, "Family Business" and "Fu-Gee-La"
Vestpocket Psalm, "Sonic Reducer"
Nina Simone, "Sugar in My Bowl," "Real Real Real," and "My Man's Gone Now"
Elvis Presley, "Blue Moon"
Big Mama Thornton, "Unlucky Girl"
The Adverts, "New Boys" ("A tendency to intellectualize, won't let things be/Your conversation locks my doors then throws away the key/You can't help me")

1996-7: Elvis Costello, "Little Palaces"
The Roots, "Do You Want More?!?!?!?!?!"
Sex Pistols, "Sub*Mission"
U2, "One"
Elvis Costello, "Green Shirt"
Rolling Stones, "I Don't Know Why I Love You"
Talking Heads, "Mr. Jones"

1997-8: Cat Power, "Ice Water"
Patsy Cline, "Strange" and "She's Got You"
Theme from "Vertigo"
Aerosmith, "Falling in Love (Is So Hard on the Knees)"
Elvis Costello, "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Aerosmith, "Sweet Emotion"
Phil Collins, "Mercy Street"
Nirvana, "Drain You"
Elastica, "S.O.F.T."

1998-9: Theme from "Lion in Winter"
Nena, "99 Luftballons"
Men in Hats, "Safety Dance"
Cher, "Believe" (this one is NOT MY FAULT!)
UB40, "Red Red Wine"

1999-2000: ABBA, "Take a Chance on Me" and "Dancing Queen" (these really aren't my fault either...)
Twisted Sister, "We're Not Gonna Take It"
Theme from "Laverne and Shirley"
Levellers, "One Way" and "Another Man's Cause"
Theme from "Labyrinth"
Queen, "Princes of the Universe"
Madness, "It Must Be Love"
Dead or Alive, "You Spin Me Right Round"
Rolling Stones, "Mother's Little Helper"
Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Nirvana, "The Man Who Sold the World" and "Pennyroyal Tea"
David Bowie, "China Girl"

Summer 2003: Elvis Costello, "Lipstick Vogue"
Patsy Cline, "You Belong to Me"
Hank Williams Sr., "I Saw the Light"
Blondie, "Dreaming" and "(Touched by Your) Presence Dear"
Elvis Costello, "Return to Big Nothing"
Severed Heads, "Life in the Whale"
Marc Almond, "Blond Boy" and "Tenderness Is a Weakness"
Siouxsie & the Banshees, "Nightshift"

Fall 2003: Elvis Costello, "Battered Old Bird"
Vestpocket Psalm, "Sonic Reducer"
Dead Milkmen, "Stuart" and whatever that song is about the lesbian left-handed midget albino Eskimo ("Life can be pretty hard for that young lady")
Patti Smith, "Horses," "Kimberly" ("Countries/Fall into the sea/It doesn't matter much to me/As long as you're safe, Kimberly") and "Elegy"
Avengers, "Cheap Tragedies"
Devo, "Uncontrollable Urge"
The Cramps, "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" and "Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots"

Always: Morrissey and Siouxsie, "Interlude"
SPEND SPEND SPEND: Part two of my short story, "Desire," is up now. It's been a while since I posted part one, so you might want to start at the beginning; but if you only want the most recent section, it's here.
LONDON CALLING: More Dappled Things--this time, his trip to London. I went there with The Rat two summers ago, and told you all about it here (random notes), here (travelogue), and here (the Imperial War Museum, which was just amazing). Anyway, some excerpts from Father T's adventure:

"I was very pleased with the state of the Liturgy througout the city. ...

"I saw a very good exhibit called Gothic Art for England at the Victoria and Albert Museum (conveniently next door to the Oratory). The exhibit had, logically enough, English art (royal, ecclesiastical, and secular) from the Gothic period. In the ecclesiastical sections, there was something very poignant about seeing, item after item, a label which would read something to the effect of, 'This is the only example of X known to have survived the Reformation.' ....

"...In the next days, I realized that most of the city seemed to be under 24-hour camera surveillance. On the one hand, it made me feel very secure. On the other, an American naturally feels suspicious about surveillance cameras in public places. One poster on a public bus had a little bus driving along with a half-dozen disembodied eyes hovering overhead and an announcement that read, 'You're safe under the ever-watchful eye. CCTV being recorded and monitored 24 hours a day.' Maybe it's just me, but I found that a bit creepy.

"...British food is a bit heavy on the potatoes-and-frying side, but the dishes were always tasty, and London is full of ethnic restaurants, much like Washington, DC...."

(Eve again: Actually, what the delectable English breakfasts we ate really reminded me of was Southern food: heavy, fatty, fried, and catering to an intense sweet tooth.)
ARE YOU READY FOR KIDS? Very funny. Via Amy Welborn.
GABRIEL PROJECT: Father Tucker at Dappled Things says his diocese is starting up a branch of the Gabriel Project, which gives material, emotional, and spiritual support to families in need. I had the honor of speaking with the Silver Spring branch on Saturday morning; they're a great bunch of people.

I was supposed to touch on some of the themes of my Weekly Standard piece on life at a pregnancy center (subscribers-only link, sorry). I was a bit scatty (7:30 AM is not a normal Saturday wakeup time for me!) and I think I spoke too fast, but here are some notes on what I said:

First, I talked about two problems that come up again and again at the center: fatherlessness, and an understandable but misguided view of marriage.

As I said in the Standard piece, there's a line on our interview form where we're supposed to record what the client's father would want her to do if she's pregnant. (There are similar questions about her mother and the baby's father.) But I almost never am able to fill that line out, because so few of our clients are even in touch with their fathers.

In fatherless families and fatherless neighborhoods, it's much harder for women to a) know what to look for in a man, a sexual partner, a potential husband; b) know what they can demand of a man--they don't have to have low standards!; and c) believe that there's any point in waiting for marriage. For many of our clients (not all, certainly), "waiting for marriage" sounds about as realistic as "waiting to win the lottery."

That plays into the second problem: Marriage is viewed as the last item on life's to-do list. You get married once you're financially stable, once you have a nice place to live, once everything else in your life is set up.

This view is based on totally understandable and even accurate premises: Marriage is a big deal and people don't want to rush into it. But the marriage-last view causes major trouble when it runs up against reality. For a lot of our clients, if you wait until you're financially stable to get married, you just won't get married. (And marriage itself is likely to increase your financial stability.) If you wait until you're totally "ready" for marriage... well, I mean, lots of us are definitely unready for marriage, but is anybody totally ready?

And, most importantly, if you're not ready for marriage--if you're not financially and emotionally together enough for marriage--what on earth are you doing sleeping with a guy? By the time our clients come in for their pregnancy tests, of course, they've already figured out the huge flaw in their program: Sex makes babies.

And there's more: A lot of clients respond really strongly to something I cribbed from this essay--a line from the movie "Vanilla Sky": "When you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise, whether you agree to it or not." This really resonates with women, and we talk about making sure that your body isn't, essentially, writing checks your mind and heart don't want to cash. It's really important to talk about the emotional and spiritual dimensions of sex outside of marriage, not just the basic, biological facts.

This point offered a segue into the other thing I wanted to talk about: what works? What can you say in an hour (at most!) that will actually resonate with a woman and help her make good decisions about her life?

The major theme I hit here was how often our clients want to do all the right things. They have the right ideals. They want to get married. They want a closer personal relationship to Christ. They want to be good mothers. They want to finish college or high school.

But the things they're doing now work against achieving their goals. You're less likely to graduate from high school if you're having sex, with its attendant emotional drama and possibility of pregnancy. You're less likely to make a good marriage if you date and sleep with men you know to be unreliable. You're not going to have a close personal relationship with God if you don't go to church and don't try to bring your life into line with God's will. Etc.

What I do, quite often, is a kind of counseling jujitsu--if you listen sympathetically (and God knows people often need someone to listen to them) and ask a few guiding questions, often the client ends up basically counseling herself. Sometimes I'll offer advice--things that have worked for me in similar situations--or agree with her points and underline them by using snazzier, more memorable language (like the "Vanilla Sky" thing above). Other counseling sessions require more from me: information (I have a quick, no-more-graphic-than-it-needs-to-be description of a D&C abortion), or presenting the Gospel, or gently, carefully pointing out things the client may not want to acknowledge. But often it's just encouraging her in her goals and brainstorming things she can do to make achieving those goals more likely.

The other thing, the much harder thing, that I need to do in these situations where the client wants the right things, is simply convince her that her goals are attainable. How do you show someone that a good marriage is possible when she hasn't seen one? How do you show someone what life in Christ should look like when she thinks the people at her church are all gossipy hypocrites?

That's a lot harder; it usually takes a longer-term relationship than the counseling session can provide. I try to hook my client up with other people--our parenting class, for example, or our Mentor Moms program, or a good church, or a well-loved teacher. We talk about whom the client trusts, someone she can talk to about marriage and dating.

We also talk very practical, basic, step-by-step stuff: Don't hang out with friends who will lead you astray. If you're in a situation where you think you might do something wrong, leave, or go to the bathroom and pray, or move (e.g. instead of hanging out alone at the guy's apartment, go get something to eat). It's easier to picture small-scale actions than the big goals for which they serve as preparation.

I can't remember how I closed the presentation. Probably I just realized I'd been yattering for a while, and stopped. But everyone was very nice about it! Anyway, lovely people, wonderful program. I'm quite grateful that I got to see it.
A HAIKU POEM FOR THE CHEERIOS: Search-engine requests that brought you to this fine blog. In chronological order, earliest first.

where to publish a short story about necessity to give up a cat
women are faster
rat silhouette
nifty same sex encounters ("nifty"?)
elvis and twin towers wallpaper
nikita dallas vodka bar photo service
aaron burr philip nolan's legal problem (yes, Aaron Burr did have something to do with a slight legal problem for Philip Nolan...)
usa boy to boy forking sexy net come
evolution not revolution clothes pants
maggie gallagher idiot
a Haiku poem for the cheerios
famine theme park
will my jewish mother in law hate me (yes)
western trashcans
jokes on bk of Ecclesiastes
good manners cover up our animal selves
nifty dandy good grief expressions
jenifer aniston's most moving quote
inflatable alligator
christian faith latex clothes
similar to porn blog wars
slogan for scalia's family (Hey, it's been way too long since we had a good contest here... why not send in your suggestions for Scalia family slogans? Coats-of-arms will also be accepted)
CULTURE CLASH: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" is the official song of... English rugby?!?! HuhWHAH?
"The girl had taken a Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say, 'My daughter is a nurse,' or 'My daughter is a school teacher,' or even, 'My daughter is a chemical engineer.' You could not say, 'My daughter is a philosopher.'"
--Flannery O'Connor, "Good Country People"

Friday, November 21, 2003

OUTSOURCING TORTURE: Body and Soul is your source for news about the guy the INS shipped to Syria for torture. More on this from me Monday, for serious.
I cried for you
I died a thousand times for you
I committed endless crimes for you
I sold my soul to some blogwatch to do with as he will...

Coming soon at this site: Watchmen; why I started investigating Catholicism, why I was almost an English major, and what all this has to do with same-sex marriage (you cannot escape!); the song clock, plus The Breakup Song.

Coming soon at MarriageDebate: more links than you can shake a stick at. I have to go to my volunteer job soon, but by Saturday morning I'll have linkaliciousness there.

Krubner has a whole host of interesting stuff posted right now. I was especially interested in his posts on farm subsidies, "love punks," and underground music in central Virginia. But really, the whole site is worth your time.

Motime Like the Present: The last word (for now!) on "eye-level aesthetics," God, and stuff.

Movie Palace: His horror movie picks. Fascinating. I must see "White Zombie"!!!! Via Johnny Bacardi.

The Old Oligarch: Yet more male headship! This time with practical examples, which is helpful to me, since honestly I have mostly seen relationships that either rejected headship outright or had so completely entered into "the more excellent way of love" that headship was not noticeable.

The Medicine Wheel: If, like me, you are an X-fan with a specific thing about Cyclops, you must check out this site. Minisinoo is a published writer, and I can see why. Seriously, this site has provoked my writerly instincts and definitely fed my Cyke jones. This is fanfic the way you wish it would be.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

AS YOU MIGHT IMAGINE, I'm a bit busy right now. More soon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I can almost taste your blogwatch
As I reach out for your face
And I strike...

Body and Soul: Maher Arar update (guy INS shipped to Syria, where he was tortured).

Forager23: "Eye-level aesthetic" and Love and Rocketsness. I am going to look for Grip, which I hadn't even known existed until just now.

Motime Like the Present on an "eye-level aesthetic." I find his insouciance about the difficulty of figuring out ethics disconcerting, though he's right that Nietzsche collapses into Platonism. That's because Nietzsche rejects a) eros and b) a personal God. Anyway, here's me on figuring out how to treat people right. I wish it were as simple as just looking everyone in the eye.

"Space Ghost Coast to Coast," featuring William Shatner! Via Franklin Harris.

I'm about to post a LOT of Goodridge (same-sex marriage case in MA) links at MarriageDebate, so check in in about 15 minutes.

I wonder if that was the most random concatenation of blogwatch topics thus far.
Used to ramble through the park
Shadow boxing in the dark
Then you came and caused a spark
That's a four-alarm blogwatch now...

Body and Soul: Good, long post (with very well-chosen pictures) on women's subordination, agency, and individuality, focusing on what the new book The Bookseller of Kabul notices and fails to notice.

Jane Galt: Recommend economics books for beginners! I did find Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson quite readable and very intro-level, and PJ O'Rourke's stuff is fun too. Her commenters add suggestions from varied political/econ perspectives.

The Old Oligarch: More on male headship--an exchange between him and Mommentary.
"RUSH LIMBAUGH IN THE CONFESSIONAL": That's the title of Mark Shea's latest column for the National Catholic Register. It's good stuff--sadly, not online. Excerpts:

...I was raised in a household where I darkened the door of a church or Sunday school maybe 10 times before I started seriously trying to understand Christianity in college (and at least one of those times was because there was a meeting or something at the local Methodist church).

I can tell you all about deep-seated guilt. Crippling, unrelieved guilt. ...

The amazing thing to me in becoming Catholic was the discovery that you could actually go somewhere and unburden your soul of all the miserable, wretched, shameful things you'd been lugging around for years. To my astonishment, delight and intense relief, God would really take that load away and not only forgive you but also give you the grace to be the new person you wished you could be. I get teary just thinking about it.

Some of the most poignantly sweet moments of my life have come in the confessional.

...I thank God for that mercy, not only because it is sweet but also becuase it is so rare in this dangerous world. I think of that brutal fact as I have watched Catholics on the Internet make amazingly naive demands that Rush Limbaugh should have just gone on the air and "come clean" with 20 million people by confessing his addiction struggles, criminal activities (assuming there have been some), and so forth.

...A person struggling with addiction tends to hide that struggle, not only because he is ashamed (particularly when he's a noisy public figure) but also because he has plenty of good reason to fear that the public (God bless it) is made up of cannibals who would eat their young if they get half a chance.

...Me: I think Limbaugh was wrong to recommend locking up addicts, largely for the reasons that Limbaugh himself is now discovering.

[for the rest, you'll have to find yourself a "dead tree" copy of the Register...]
MASSACHUSETTS COURT LAME-OSITY: Hey there. If you want my take(s) on the Massachusetts same-sex marriage decision, or SSM generally, click on over to, or check out my series on the subject. is also currently hosting a debate on whether children need mothers and fathers, or just two committed parents. There's some stuff there that constitutes a partial reply to John Jakala's points about gender. (I haven't forgotten you, JJ! More later--I'm totally swamped with work right now.)

Anyway, we try to keep 50/50 pro-con on SSM, so whatever your opinion, please email me if you have something to say. Know that you will be edited for length! Also, if you want me to blog your email on the site, please include a quick one-line biographical note (a la "Eve Tushnet is a freelance journalist in Washington, DC"). Thanks....

Oh, and Eugene Volokh has been blogging quite a bit about the decision--he's a law professor who supports SSM but is pretty concerned about the way the court reached its decision.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

HEY, A KENYAN BLOG! Catholic stuff, sports stuff, Kenyan stuff. He likes Bowie (yeah!) but hates Nietzsche (boo!). Niftiness from the referrer logs.

Monday, November 17, 2003

ANALYZE THIS: Unqualified Offerings delves into the New York Times "how're we doing in Iraq?" chart, and concludes that the Times is painting sunshine on the data. He makes a good case.

EDITED TO ADD: He's also two hedgehogs. (They tell me that cryptic one-line links encourage readers to make with the clicking.)
HOW CAN YOU KEEP 'EM DOWN ON THE FARM, AFTER THEY'VE SEEN CRP? Well, it's been a while since I gave you all a post on farm subsidies. So here's something from today's Washington Post, a profile of a dying Montana town. Excerpts:

"...Like thousands of small towns on the plains, Geraldine is bleeding young people.

"The town has lost 23 percent of its population since 1970. But the high school has shrunk even more: By 53 percent since 1970, from 103 students to 48. There are 11 students in this school year's graduating class. In 2007, there will be six.

"...Stagnant farm prices are part of it, as is the declining birth rate, the trend toward larger farms and the increasing sophistication of farm equipment. Modern tractors, equipped with global positioning devices and autopilots, allow a single operator to farm several thousand acres without a hired hand. Five years of drought have also forced families off the land.

"But perhaps the most important reason for the depopulation of Geraldine and eastern Montana is a 15-year-old federal subsidy that pays farmers to grow native grasses on their land, rather than grain.

"Called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), it was intended to remove fragile, easily eroded land from production and stabilize crop prices by reducing the amount of grain that farmers grow. Thanks to the CRP, 40 million acres of farmland are out of production across the United States, including 3 million acres in Montana. ...

"The program has had a salutary effect on wildlife in the plains. Farmers say they have never seen so many pheasants, deer and antelope. Geraldine's football field is on the edge of town, and during practice last week, pheasants chortled in the nearby grass and deer wandered to within reach of a long punt.

"The CRP, however, has also had the unintended consequence in Montana of emptying small-town schools, according to farmers, bankers and local federal officials. ...

"Since the program locked up about 20 percent of county farmland, scores of business owners that cater to farmers have closed up shop across Chouteau County. Most moved away, taking their children with them. ...

"Thanks to the CRP, it no longer has a single dealer that sells farm implements. To buy a tractor or get parts, farmers have to drive 70 miles to Great Falls. ...

"Young farmers with children are disappearing because the CRP makes it possible for elderly farmers to stay on their land. Normally, the cost of paying their land taxes would force retired farmers to sell farmland or lease it, usually to up-and-coming young farmers. With CRP money rolling in risk-free, they have no financial reason to do so."

LOOK A HERO IN THE EYE: At first, I didn't quite know what to make of Motime Like the Present's call for an "eye-level aesthetic." And you know, I'm still not sure I grasp what he's saying. It seems like he's contrasting the "eye-level" view to both a "reverent" view of e.g. superheroic characters, and a "cynical" view. Let me riff just a little on these categories, and try to clarify what I would mean if I said what Motime says. Since our basic philosophies are really different, this may not be what he's trying to say at all!

EDITED TO ADD: Be forewarned, this post is quite rambly and moves freely between real life, excellent art, and pop culture ice cream. Since it's about the images that shape our worldviews and actions, though, that seems okay to me, since we draw these images from all three of those sources.

1) "Cynical": I really can't stand art/pop works that get their kicks from looking down on people. Easy target: Is it just me, or is the punchline to 90% of Ted Rall's cartoons, "Americans are really stupid"?

One of the reasons I like the Silver Age Marvel stuff I've read is that although it's quite obviously unserious, quite obviously aware of its own absurdity, it doesn't try to make you feel like an idiot for reading it, and its attempts to make you feel like you're "in the know" and supercool are lighthearted, ironic, and not meant to make you feel like you're better than everyone around you.

A lot of cynical art participates in the sentimentality of machismo--it's "soft," womanish, to admit that some people really do great things, that some actions are genuinely heroic and worthy of our admiration. More on this in the Watchmen post coming soon.

And speaking of Watchmen--often a piece of art and/or pop culture will be derided as cynical when it's really not. I don't think the "point" of Watchmen is that heroism doesn't exist. You can deflate old cliches, force a degree of insistent and even scathing humility, without retreating into boring old photo-negative cynicism, a worldview that's still controlled by the old cliches simply because it tries to always do the reverse of whatever they did.

2) "Reverent": Well, obviously, I think there are some things or Persons to whom we do owe reverence! There are also ways of showing love of, for example, beauty, simply by making beautiful images. (Not to open the "Alex Rossenstahl" can of worms again, but I loved the flames-in-darkness of his Human Torch in Marvels, which I thought was not reverent toward the character so much as toward the rawer beauty of fire and night. But also--didn't I just say I didn't want to talk about this?--I think Marvels, the only Ross thing I've read, makes the reg'lar-guys characters more glamorous than the superheroes. End of diversion.)

But it's really easy to slip into idolatry or back-patting when portraying heroic figures. (The back-patting comes in when you feel good about yourself because you recognize the goodness of this heroic figure and identify with him.) This is one reason that the idea of a reverent picture of Superman makes me feel vaguely sick to the stomach.

Power is sometimes sublime; the sublime evokes awe; awe is a kind of fear; but our response to power should not be an overly-quick slide from blank fear to awe. (This is one reason I think God's words to Job are not about raw assertion of power, but about what it means to be a creature--what our options are, really.)

So if something akin to this rambly free-association is what Motime's trying to get at, I'm with him.

3) "Eye-level": I think this phrase is--or could be!--meant to convey a perspective on, at least, other people (not sure about non-human stuff like beauty, let alone God), that is neither idolatrous nor prideful. (Ha, I'd bet money that that isn't how Motime would put it!) Not groveling; not delegating the responsibilities for right action to other people, the mythic "heroes"; but also not humorless, unable to see the ironies and the gaps between oneself and one's self-perception.

Thinking about this stuff made me think about Wei Jingsheng. Wei is a genuine hero. He defied the Chinese Communist government and spent almost 18 years in the laogai or Chinese gulag. If you read his letters from prison, one thing that strikes you immediately is the humor (this really comes out in his letters to Deng Xiaoping). Wei is an immensely ironic guy. He's also convinced that he has not done enough for China; anytime an interviewer tries to praise him, he quickly says that the ordinary, unknown people of China are the true heroes.

This, to me, exemplifies what an eye-level view of the world looks like--neither precluding heroism nor turning it into just another excuse for self-love.

If that is totally not what Motime meant, I'm all ears--this post is intended as much to poke and prod him to write more about his views as to express my own.
PALOMAR, MI PALOMAR: Your two Love and Rockets links of the day: Sean Collins wants to know how he can stop worrying and learn to love Los Bros. Hernandez. He's plowing through Music for Mechanics but finds it slow going. I can totally see that--I love M4M but I read it well after I'd already started to care about the characters. Sean's problem, really, is that he feels like he needs to read a series from the beginning in order to get into it, and L&R starts slow and rusty.

I can't rightly improve on the suggestion here that he get over his usual aversion to starting in the middle, and try out some of the later books--The Death of Speedy, or Flies on the Ceiling, or maybe just stand in the store and leaf through books until something grabs him.

Now we turn to the Battle of Brother Against Brother. It's funny, I never would have guessed that the comicsphere consensus is that Gilbert is a greater artist than Jaime, since, like Johnny Bacardi, I much prefer JH. This doesn't matter a huge amount, since a) pretty much everyone acknowledges that both brothers are geniuses, and b) Gilbert did create the best L&R book of all, Poison River.

Nonetheless, let me put in a couple words for Jaime's particular genius. His drawings are sparer, more "in glorious black and white," more elegantly stylized, more Weegee, less rough than his brother's. Both are masters of facial expression, but Jaime's pictures have that high-contrast gloss to them--a crisp, hot-lights noir feel with very black blacks. (Best showcase for this might be Chester Square.) Both brothers are known for their strong, appealing women, but I find Jaime's chicas more knockabout and (somewhat!) less idealized--less the Generic Strong Woman. Both brothers seem to have peaked, sadly, but I've liked the quiet, postpunk denouements of Jaime's characters better than the everyone-goes-to-America soapiness of Gilbert's.

Again, all these comments should be taken with the understanding that I do agree that Gilbert is a one-in-a-zillion master of the art. To some extent, I'm just bein' contrary. You should seek out and read both of these guys' work, forthwith.
MISSING LINKS? Here's a roundup on the weekend's Iraq/Al Qaeda opining.

The Weekly Standard piece, based on a memo from Douglas Feith, laying out the case that Saddam cuddled Osama like a five-year-old girl with a kitten (stuff in italics is from the Feith memo): "Reporting entries #4, #11, #15, #16, #17, and #18, from different sources, corroborate each other and provide confirmation of meetings between al Qaeda operatives and Iraqi intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. None of the reports have information on operational details or the purpose of such meetings. The covert nature of the relationship would indicate strict compartmentation [sic] of operations.

"Information about connections between al Qaeda and Iraq was so widespread by early 1999 that it made its way into the mainstream press. A January 11, 1999, Newsweek story ran under this headline: 'Saddam + Bin Laden?' The story cited an 'Arab intelligence source' with knowledge of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. 'According to this source, Saddam expected last month's American and British bombing campaign to go on much longer than it did. The dictator believed that as the attacks continued, indignation would grow in the Muslim world, making his terrorism offensive both harder to trace and more effective. With acts of terror contributing to chaos in the region, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait might feel less inclined to support Washington. Saddam's long-term strategy, according to several sources, is to bully or cajole Muslim countries into breaking the embargo against Iraq, without waiting for the United Nations to lift if formally.' [Eve adds: This bit is important because many people asked why a secular Ba'athist freakshow would ally himself with an Islamist freakshow--what was in it for Saddam?]

"Intelligence reports about the nature of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda from mid-1999 through 2003 are conflicting...."


Rebuttal from the Washington Monthly, calling the Iraq/Al Q claim "The Weakest Link": "When it comes to international terrorism directed at the United States, however, there is mounting evidence of Saudi complicity, but virtually none on Saddam.

"... Far from being 'harbored' by Saddam, Ansar al Islam operated out of northeastern Iraq, an area under Kurdish control that was being protected from Saddam's incursions by U.S. warplanes. Indeed, some of its members fought against Saddam during the Iran-Iraq war. ...

"...The contacts were not, as Tenet's language suggested, ongoing for the past 10 years. Most had occurred during the mid-1990s, in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. At that time, Sudan's Islamism had sent so many spies and terrorists flooding into Khartoum that the city resembled a jihadist version of the bar scene from Star Wars. There, some of the world's most infamous terrorists, such as Hezbollah mastermind Imad Mugniyah, frequently crossed paths with foreign intelligence agents, including, Tenet claimed, Iraq's. But even if Iraqi agents had had contact with al Qaeda operatives, notes one former intelligence official, 'that's what all intelligence officers do. They try to get in touch with the bad guys, the enemies, and co-opt them in some way, with money or something else'--which is quite different from forging a working relationship. ...

"...First, as far as we know, there were no significant contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda after 1998. Second, these Iraqi overtures do not appear to have been reciprocated."


Reactions from Matthew Yglesias : "Second, much of the alleged link seems to pertain to al-Qaeda way back in its Sudan days when it was a pretty different organization. Links from then are much less significant than links from the era between the '98 embassy bombing and 9-11, and way less significant than evidence of post-9/11 links. ...Note that the information becomes much sketchier after 1998. In particular, there are several uses of the tactic employed by Powell at the UN where one extremely slender thread (i.e., a guy who 'claimed' to have gotten a job in Malaysia 'through the Iraqi embassy' was at a meeting) is used as an excuse to provide an extended discourse on the bad acts of some al-Qaeda members. I have no doubt that the folks involved in that Malaysia meeting were bad people, but the question was the link to Iraq. The only evidence of such a link is the say-so of one man that he got the job through the embassy, and even if he did get the job through the embassy that hardly proves he was given it in order to collaborate with al-Qaeda...." more

Parsing the DOD memo: I don't speak bureaucratese, but I have to say it sounds like Josh (who is undecided on the memo's salience) is stretching--hard not to read the memo as a disavowal of the WS's interpretation. (Which doesn't mean the WS is wrong!)

David Adesnik asks the political questions; Josh replies.

David's most compelling question, to me, is this one: "Why has the information turned up now? Why would the White House sit on information that would vindicate its decision to invade Iraq? The Standard article says the information was compiled in response to a request by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Why the heck would the administration wait until the Senate showed an interest before doing some serious research on the Saddam-Osama connection?"

Mark Shea: "So while it will be a very fine thing if, in fact, a support of Al-Quaeda is out of the way. But it will be a very bad thing if, in tradeoff for that, we transform ourselves into a nation which says the ends justify the means. The question that still needs to be attended to is the justice of the war as it was when we launched in it in March when Bush said there was no connection between Saddam and Al-Qaeda."

You can use this handy search results page at to find multiple statements by George Tenet on this question. Link via one of Yglesias's commenters.

Me? Still confused. Sorry....
IT'S TIME TO PLAY THE MUSIC, IT'S TIME TO LIGHT THE LIGHTS: Today is the feast day of my patron saint, Elizabeth of Hungary!
Youth culture watched my blog,
And I don't think it's fair...

Hit & Run: The rest of the world knows a lot more about American culture than we know about theirs. No duh, huh? Anyway, Tim Cavanaugh uses a quiz show to illustrate this basic truth, and adds a Somerset Maugham recommendation.

Movie Palace: Good grief! Scads upon scads of reviews of old-time cinema gems. Via Motime Like the Present.
NEW PLAY BY AESCHYLUS! I forget where I found this.

"Cyprus's national theater company, Thoc, plans a modern-day world premiere of Aeschylus's Trojan War story Achilles in Cyprus next summer. The play will then be performed in Cyprus and Greece.

"Scholars had believed the trilogy to be lost forever when the Library of Alexandria burned to ashes in 48 BC.

'But in the last decades archaeologists found mummies in Egypt which were stuffed with papyrus, containing excerpts of the original plays of Aeschylus,' Thoc director Andy Bargilly told Reuters...."


Sunday, November 16, 2003

"THERE ARE NO HAPPY ENDINGS--BECAUSE NOTHING ENDS": So I feel a bit odd about the histrionically anti-happy-endings post from Wednesday night. It's especially weird since my current story (first scene here!) actually does have what I consider to be a genuinely happy ending.

So yeah, what the world needs now is love, sweet love... or something like it.
BLOGROLLING THUNDER: The blogroll (to your left) has been flensed and reorganized. The biggest changes are, obviously, the creation of an "Iraqi Blogs" section (totally stolen from Healing Iraq, who also features a supercool soldiers' blogs section) and the shifting "daily reads" list. I actually try to check in on people who aren't on my daily-reads list quite frequently--chronic insomnia has its benefits--so the changes should be taken solely as a measure of my personal change in focus (less politics, more Christ and narrative), not as a measure of which blogs I think are/aren't awesome.
IS THAT YOUR REAL MASK?: Ampersand posts on a subject that forms the major theme of the short story I'm blogging: gender or sexual identity. He links to a post that separates out six categories of identity.

This post reminded me, actually, of Mommentary's post about the literary characters with whom we've fallen in love. I found it genuinely hard to distinguish between characters I'd fallen for and characters with whom I'd identified. (I'm a narcissist, I guess...!) Grantaire is more an identification-character, Sula much more a want-character, but really, it's a bit of a tangle. And virtually all of the literary characters with whom I identified strongly, especially as a child, were male. (In the well-written, feminist Alanna books, I identified with Alexander of Tirragen even though he's an obvious villain--I have a hard time liking the good guys!)

Anyway, I thought I was in an interesting position to fill out the Jasper survey: bisexual, strongly pro-gender, conservative Catholic chick. Let's see what happens....

core identity: Wait, you mean people have core identities? I'll go with "wry Catholic alienated male-identified chick."

biological sex: I'm one of the ones that can get preggo, and I've known that all my life. (IOW even if you are a woman who can't become pregnant, you have known all your life that people like you are the people who give birth, not the people with the option to walk away. That has shaped your life. Some comedienne--Carol something??? Hofstadter???--had a great line, "I don't have any children--at least as far as I know." That's funny coming from a chick but just plain true coming from any dude who's ever slept with a lady.)

sexual/romantic attractions: people I think are better than me; also, beautiful losers. You can imagine this makes for a wide range of possibilities.

sexual/romantic attractiveness: depends on whether I have long hair or not.

gender expression: babycakes, I express my gender in ways you couldn't imagine.

social perception: With long hair = your basic chickadee, probably someone you can ask favors of (directions, spare change, etc). With short hair, dressed punky = Punky Brewster, nonthreatening, weirdo. With short hair, dressed butchy = "Are you... you know... that way?" Yeah, I can look superdykey if I want to. Threatening to middle-school boys, but then, who isn't?

As you can probably guess, reviewing this list only reinforces my basic belief that American society focuses way too much on who you think you are--your quote-unquote authentic self--and way too little on what you should be doing with your life. Way too little on whether "who you are" is actually best defined not with reference to your own feelings and inclinations, but rather with reference to what and Whom you love. Or, as in my case, Whom you want to love and try to love.
"GHOSTS OF THE ABYSS": Just saw my first IMAX movie, a documentary on the exploration of the wreckage of the Titanic. (Yes, this is more of my haunted-ship thing.) I don't know how many movies I'd want to see on IMAX, but this one--with the waves crashing and the soft bacteria stalactites swaying right in your face--was wonderful. An unsubtle but nonetheless poignant picture about disaster; the human drive for the horizon, conquest, and test-your-strength machines; and our restless, dissatisfied, embellishing need to attach art and personalities to everything we touch. (The still-intact leaded glass windows of Titanic speak that last need in measured, stately tones; the fact that the exploration crew nicknamed their two robot cameras "Jake" and "Elwood" speaks the same desire in a casual, street-level accent.)

As best as I can remember, here's the plaque the crew hung on the wreck: "The 1500 souls who lost their lives here still speak, to remind us that the unthinkable can happen if we fail to exercise vigilance, humility, and compassion."
And the mawkish monsignor,
With a head full of plaster,
Says, "My man, get your vile soul blogwatched!"...

Alan David Doane: Why you should read Palomar. Absolutely.

Britius: St. Martin of Tours on St. Bryce (Britius): "If Christ could tolerate Judas, surely I can put up with Bryce." I love saints.

Diotima: How do you decide whom to marry?

The Old Oligarch: Male headship. EDITED TO ADD: A rejoinder from Mommentary.

Sursum Corda: Learning masculinity from one's father. Moving.

Tacitus: He wants to go to Iraq. Click here for more info.

Thought Balloons: In which I forget Len Wein. D'oh!

Saturday, November 15, 2003

"Electro! This sensational super-powered criminal became an instant sensation when he first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #9! And now he returns, more sinister than ever, to face another mighty Marvel super hero... and this, the thrilling account of their epic battle, may well be remembered as long as literature endures!!"
--Who could it be but Stan Lee? From "Daredevil #2: The Evil Menace of Electro!"

Thursday, November 13, 2003

OF WHICH REASON KNOWS NOTHING: OK, so I thought I was being all irenic (with an "e") when I avoided naming names in my diss of Reason's recent cultural coverage. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize my comments were unclear and thereby insulting to writers I like a lot.

So here's the thing: I really, really like Reason when it's not trying to impress me. I love reading Virginia Postrel, Jesse Walker, Charles Freund, Matt Welch, Julian Sanchez, and Ron Bailey--even though I disagree strenuously with several of these people. But lately Reason has seemed unduly interested in proving that it is a) hip and b) nonpartisan, and ultimately that just ends up being c) conformist. And boring.

More interviews with welfare mothers!
THE CITY OF ANGELS, THE HOLY WOOD: Heard Barbara Nicolosi, of ActOne: Christians Writing for Hollywood and the Church of the Masses blog, speak at the America's Future Foundation tonight. She's a sharp little Sicilian stiletto! Here are some scattered thoughts from a very fun talk:

She said her organization was working on a credo, based in Christianity but translatable into Aristotle, for artists. She gave us five points of the credo, all of which I thought were great:

1) Sacramentality: Things are arrows toward the spiritual; what we see signifies what is unseen. Apparently the Aristotelian term for this is "hylomorphosis"??? I wouldn't know--the only A. I've read is the chapter in the Nicomachean Ethics on ekrasia.

2) Sacredness of the human person: Individual humans are valuable for what they are, not for what they do. This ought to lead to an appreciation of individual privacy.

3) Connectedness: You are not alone. Friendship, self-donation; you are part of God's plan for the world.

4) Good and evil are not equal.

5) Ironic juxtaposition of joy and sorrow--there is hope even in the most painful and horrifying moments.

I would sign on to all of these. If I had to list the elements of the credo that shapes my own writing, I think these would be the most prevalent (not the most important themes in the world, just the themes I personally return to again and again):

1) Justice. Humans desire justice, and we know that it is not fulfilled in this life. Many of us would rather have justice--for ourselves and for others--than mercy, and we think we can only have one. We accept a partial good because we cannot believe in the astonishing, bloody coexistence of justice and mercy offered to us on the Cross.

2) Sacramentality, as described above, especially in matters pertaining to cities and to sex.

3) Neither self nor culture are worth full allegiance. And the only hope for avoiding conformity to self or to culture is belief in a personal God.

4) Sin is real. If sin is not real, then all our ideas of justice are either self-righteous back-patting ("thank God my sins are not like the sins of that publican!") or the random effluence of the ape-brain, like belief in a sky god. You say belief in sin makes no sense? I think disbelief in sin makes much, much less sense.

Anyway... Barbara also dissed the tendency among Christians trying to break into film to go all "grim 'n' gritty," trying to prove that we can be as "hardcore" as the non-Christians. Like, I have a gang rape in my movie, you must take me seriously! As usual, Christians are behind the times here--the industry, according to Barbara, is moving away from raw exposure of body parts and violent acts, even as explicitly Christian flicks are trying to co-opt that stuff.

The other problem Christian moviemakers run into is modeling themselves on the "Contemporary Christian Music" scene, a.k.a. J4J--Junk for Jesus. (Um, that wasn't Barbara's term, so direct any hate mail my way--I think that stuff reeks.) Barbara inveighed against the disdain many Christians feel toward the movie industry--and therefore toward the very craft they are trying to practice! She pointed out, "Boycotting is what whiners do. Creation is what artists do." She's uncompromisingly on the side of the artists.

She also noted that making G-rated movies is very far from the point. G vs. R in no way maps onto good vs. evil. (In her discussion of "The Passion," she said someone had commented to her, "There's something wrong with an R-rated movie about Jesus." To which she had replied, "Well... there's something wrong about the Crucifixion.")

I was a bit conflicted about her presentation. I strongly agree with her basic stance, and with the points of her credo. But the stuff I write is, I think, more sexual and, if not violent, then certainly wrathful and depressive (same thing--anger turned inward), than what she wants Christian artists to produce. I believe it is harder, in this culture at this time, to write well about characters who do good, and so I believe that is a challenge thrown down before a writer, and I try to take that challenge up in my own way. But at the same time I can't get the They Might Be Giants song out of my head--"There is only one thing that I know how to do well, And I've often been told that you only should do what you know how to do well, And that's be you... Be what you're like. Be like yourself. And so I'm having a wonderful time, but I'd rather be whistling in the dark...."

I do think my talents (such as they are!), at the moment, are directed toward portrayals of whistling in the dark; losing; sin; failure; and what I think Milton called "the precincts of despite." I think, despite and notwithstanding, when you truly explore the darkness you give the reader a sense of where the source of light might be.
SOAP OPERA SUPERHEROES: Forager23 is talking about the X-Men, which has prompted me to do my planned post about Chris Claremont--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: If you like the X-Men, you pretty much have to give this guy props. He made them popular, he created characters that still resonate (Rogue, Wolverine [yeah, I know, but the basic idea is pretty good], Storm, Nightcrawler--yes, I did get into this stuff through the X-movies, why do you ask?) and deepened older characters.

He also broke away from stasis. He had characters actually, you know, change and develop. He made us see that Professor X has a villain's personality and a hero's philosophy, while Magneto has the opposite--a dichotomy I find hugely fascinating.

He wrote lots of powerful storylines. The ones I know are "Dark Phoenix" (no duh, huh?), "Days of Future Past" (ditto--it really is good), and "Exit Cyclops" (which I liked because it made sense of both Cyke, my favorite superhero, and Xavier). Actions had consequences (most notably, if like me you have only read those Claremont X-Men comics that are collected in the Essential X-Men series, in "What Happened to Kitty Pryde?"). The whole thing felt less trapped in amber, more moving (in both senses--the characters moved, and the characters moved us), less a frieze and more a rambly, tangled epic.

The Bad: Oy gevalt, though, how much soap opera does the world really need? There's a middle ground between stasis and over-seriousness/adolescent angstfests, and CC, obviously, never found that ground. (I think Morrison has done better, though there are still problems there.)

With character development comes the temptation to retcon, to write events out of the history. You all are probably sick of hearing how much I hate that. But if you want readers to trust you, to invest any degree of themselves in your work, you get no do-overs. Sing it right, or don't sing it at all. Related: Can anyone read the issue with the Summers/Pryor wedding ("'til death do you part") without cringing?

He lacked the utter wig-insanity of the '60s. Something about that era, captured in Essential Uncanny X-Men vol. 1, feels totally reckless to me, like driving too fast, and I love it--it's the same "look ma, no hands!" feeling I get from New X-Men, and if I can ever figure out how to explain it, I will. These comics don't take themselves too seriously, but they don't make you feel stupid for reading them, either. They're neither cheap irony nor cheap melodrama--they're just insane in the membrane. Anyway, Chris Claremont lacks that, and I wish he had it.

CC is not as insanely distinctive as the best superhero comics. I get the impression that he wasn't entirely committed to the world he was building. I was ranting about this stuff to a non-comics-reading friend, and then, later in the conversation, read her the awesome scene from the first Alias book where Jessica Jones says she won't go on a date with Ant-Man. My friend made the connection that I hadn't: Alias--like NXM, like the '60s X-Men--has that nutso commitment to its world. Within the world, everything fits and makes sense: Of course Jessica Jones wouldn't want to date the Ant-Man! ("He's not even the real Ant-Man?") And nothing from outside that world enters in.

By contrast, with CC, you get tons of stuff that doesn't seem to fit within the X-Men framework: Dracula (at least twice!). A dragon (oh please, kill me now, I thought every time the dratted thing appeared on panel). Aliens and magic--yeah, I know, NXM has some aliens too, and I can't stand 'em, but they somehow seem more peripheral there. The problem with aliens and magic is that they don't have to play by any rules. "What do you mean it doesn't make sense? They're aliens!" So you get stupid, stupid stuff like Grant Morrison's alien who doesn't understand the concept of memory. (It's the thing that allows you to string together coherent sentences, idiot.)

I know it's unfair to blame Claremont for that. But I can't help it. He took the stuff seriously, made actions have consequences, but then left this junk in that only makes sense if you completely ignore all realism.

Oh, and like I said, I haven't read pretty much anything between 1983-ish and NXM, but so far the affair with Emma is the only one of Cyclops's relationships that has made any sense at all. He makes sense with NXM-Jean because she's judgmental, and I get the impression Cyclops seeks out people who will grade him on performance, but of course '60s Jean was just a generic Marvel skirt, and neither Lee Forrester nor Madeleine Pryor (again, in Essential UXM vols. 1-3) have anything remotely resembling a personality. Scott + Emma makes an enormous amount of sense (more on this when Morrison's run is finished), and the chick actually gets to have a distinctive personality! Anyway, I guess that's a nitpick, but he is my guy and this is my blog, so hey.

The Ugly: Speaking of the fearless leader, his '70s costume totally makes him look like The Tick. That's not Claremont's fault, but it's also not something I can separate out from my experience of the comics. Sorry.... In the early '80s, out of costume he starts looking like Alex P. Keaton, which is also a big problem.
WHO ELSE SHOULD BE ON OUR MONEY? A Shrubblogger asks who should be on our currency, if not politicians. While I appreciate the way other countries use cash to honor geniuses in other fields (I especially like Maria Montessori's appearance on Italian money), I do think the US "all politicians all the time" approach works best for us, for two reasons:

1) Most of the best and most unique stuff we have given the world has been political. Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin ( about that order) are the distinctive Americans, the creatures no other country could produce, par excellance.

2) Our great artists don't work well on money. Either they were satirists of the first order (Mark Twain) or they defined themselves starkly against the competing Enlightenment visions that animated the country's Founding (e.g. Hawthorne, Dickinson in her own insane way, Faulkner, West, Roth). Neither of these categories seems to me best honored by a spot on a ten-spot.

For my own part, I think the most important project of contemporary political philosophy is to re-ground the effects and "platform planks" of the Founding on post-Enlightenment principles. First Things is the only journal I know of that has really taken up this challenge, mainly via Fr. Neuhaus's work; I'll write more about it if I can make my brain work, later. But basically, I want the American literary genius to reshape and revivify the American political genius. If we can do that--we will be greater than Periclean Athens. If we can't--we will be a fine idea at the time.
SEARCH FOR A POPE: That was the Time magazine cover the day I was born. Check out the five guys on the cover--where are they now?

Thanks to Johnny Bacardi for pointing out the Time birthday search engine!
NATURAL WOMAN: Good basic piece on natural family planning: "I had no idea I was so beautiful. I found myself near tears one day looking at my chart and thinking, 'Truly, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.' My fertility is not a disease to be treated. It is a wonderful gift. I am a wonderful gift."

She had to fight hard to even find out what the Church teaches and how to implement NFP. That's just lousy. We can do bettah!

Via the Old Oligarch and his Mantis Mate. If you are one of the freaky people who find bizarro philosophico-literary discussions in postgraduate-damaged language more enticing, you can find a great discussion of NFP and the "language of the body" here. Me? I think English majors, who know that objects in the world (the signifiers in art) are arrows toward a deeper or higher meaning (the signified), should be the most receptive to NFP.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

"...[W]e remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? 'Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.' But I think it may be urged that this misses the point. A man's physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man's hunger does prove that5 he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called 'falling in love' occurred in a sexless world."
--CS Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

Monday, November 10, 2003

THE GUILTY PARTY FIELDS A CANDIDATE. In New Haven! At last, one of my people runs for office!
TalkLeft on the WaPo editorial

Because I'm both swamped with work and uberlame, I haven't called around yet. But I will. You should too. I will print anything you send me about your calls to advocacy groups, Congressbeasts, and other people more influential than me.
THE DOSTOYEVSKY DRINKING GAME. I feel the need to bring this to your attention once more.
Fascinatin' blogwatch, you got me on the go...

Iraq At a Glance: New Iraqi blog! a.k.a. the secret lives of Iraqi dentists.

LucyHoney23: Dissection of porno. Via her husband. Contains, as you might expect, lots of explicit descriptions (and definitely wouldn't get the Imprimatur), but insightful and even poignant: "the NORM in porn is the guy disconnecting physically--even before the sex act is over. that's pretty messed up."

Noli Irritare Leones: Doesn't quite answer my question about what the deal is with the Avengers (the costumed vigilantes, not the excellent punk band), but does describe some fun-sounding storylines.

Unqualified Offerings: Help Arthur Silber!--with bonus urban-wonk libertarianism. I love me some urban-wonk libertarianism--more on that below. Anyway, Silber is a great guy, so please lend a hand if you can.

Jesse Walker explores how Business Improvement Districts exist "between public and private," and the theoretical and practical problems that twilight status causes. These urban-wonk libertarian articles are what I read Reason for, people. (OK, that and Charles Freund.) Their supposedly "fun" pieces on sex, drugs, and rocknroll virtually never tell me anything the mainstream isn't already yapping in my ear, thus they are no fun. So yeah, stop trying to be cool.

They're trying to snatch her kids because she scored low on an IQ test? Is this for real? (via Mark Shea.)
"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. ... If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. ...We are far too easily pleased.

"We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of rewards. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. ...The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation."

--CS Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

Saturday, November 08, 2003

EDUCATION IN REVERSE: The first section (of five) of the new short story, "Desire." A comedy. Broken ribs, corrective lenses, model girlfriends, and punk rock privilege. This is spring; the next season is summer, consumerism and desire, sunshine and smokescreens, "Spend Spend Spend." We like to think of sexual desire as the most authentic expression of our True Selves; I'm unconvinced.
In the blogs of snow
You hold your rifle
In the watch below
The enemy hide...

Messopotamian: Another Iraqi blog!

Oxblog: Powerful speech against the proposition, "Resolved: This House believes that we are losing the Peace."

Sed Contra: The rosary as seen through the beatitudes' description of the "poor in spirit." Here, here, here.

Tacitus: What it's like to be depressed in the Army. This is really an incredible post, completely worth your time. I fully agree with the comments that point out the courage required to make the decisions Tacitus made. Your must-read link. Via Unqualified Offerings.

Excellent article, Poland-focused, on "Losing the New Europe." Via Oxblog.

Friday, November 07, 2003

IF YOU CAME HERE FROM NRO'S CORNER, you're looking for this post. Not that the rest of the blog doesn't also warrant your attention!

Something specific has to hook me in to a superhero comic. I'm kind of like this with all literature (it's why I have such lurid and whacked-out tastes), but a lot more so with superhero comics. Here's my (very personal) rundown of what does and doesn't work for me in superhero stuff, in alphabetical order. Note that this is also your "concept vs. execution" post.

The Avengers. I don't get them. This column attempts to give me a sense of what their point is. So far no dice. What are they avenging? What makes them cooler than other team books? What are their characteristic themes, the things they do that other concepts couldn't? So yeah, haven't read one yet, don't get it.

Batman. Idea: fine, I guess. Nice costume. Creepy. But the temptation to hit up the abused children and the insane assailants is just too tempting. I've read maybe five Batman stories, and Batman Meets Houdini (if that was the name?) is the only one that did anything at all for me. (The others: Arkham Asylum [pretty but vacant], Gotham by Gaslight, the one with the killer monks, and I think there's one I'm forgetting.) There's just too much angst. And yes, I realize how that sounds coming from an X-fan.

Daredevil. When I was in college, I spent a year running the campus conservative/libertarian monthly. Like all good campus right-wing maniacs, we got our money from the Institute for Satanic Individuals.

But my year, our publication schedule somehow came detached from our funding schedule. We never had enough cash to cover expenses. ISI always came through in the end, but man, there were some hairy moments. So I ended up writing checks for the paper out of my personal bank account--and then, when my own balance groaned and threatened overdraft, I'd have to pay my rent out of the newly-replenished Yale Free Press account. I lost money on this deal, but it totally must have looked like I was embezzling.

Anyway, that's pretty much how I think of Matt Murdock. Constantly shuffling between incompatible lives--never able to make his emotional and spiritual accounts balance. (I guess Born Again is when he finally gets audited....) He's Murdock until he can't take that anymore, then he's Daredevil until that becomes too hairy and he switches back. The movie captured this tension nicely.

The guy's my second-favorite superhero character ever. Catholic womanizer; vigilante lawyer; highly competent walking train wreck; devil costume in the confessional. Blind justice; pure symbol. I just eat this stuff up with a spoon. It hits me where I live.

And I love that his beat is so small. His love of Hell's Kitchen reminds me strongly of my love of this little District of Chaos, the city beyond the Nation's Capital, D.C. the hometown not Washington the dateline.

So yeah, Daredevil. Great stuff.

The Hulk. I've already noted that I identify with the big green guy. I've got a vicious temper, for reals. But I'm actually totally uninterested in stories about the Hulk. I want him as part of my mental furniture, like Cinderella or Peter Pan or the Selfish Giant. But he's more impressive as an archetypal, monumental, and motionless symbol than as a character in an ongoing series. (The "Hulk" movie did nothing to disabuse me of this belief that the Hulk does best when he isn't yoked to a plot.)

Spider-Man. The basic concept ("with great power comes pretentious captions") is strong. The beautiful "Teen Boat" contrast ("All the angst of being a teen--all the thrills of being a boat!") is sweet. Unqualified Offerings captures the point of Spider-Man brilliantly.

Why don't I care?

I don't know. Part of it is that Spider-Man, like the Hulk, works best as a motionless character. Take him out of suspension and you get the continuity problems UO details in the link above.

Part of it is that Spider-Man is kind of a generic teen, and I need something more screwed-up. There's nothing insane, distinctive, Mark of Cain-like about Spider-Man. He's just an archetype of growing up. Fair 'nough, but not really my thing; I need some whiskey in my coffee, and some barbed wire in my whiskey.

Superman. I see the point of him, maybe. I guess we need a symbol of purity and strength. But that don't mean I gotta like him.

The X-Men. Oy ye yoy. Now we get to the most severe disjunction between a) concept, b) inherent but unnoticed strengths of concept, and c) execution.

a) The concept of the X-Men sucks. Let's just get that out of the way at the beginning. At brunch last Sunday, UO pointed out, "Yeah, it says it's a comic about prejudice, but it's really a comic about its [I can't remember if he said 'readers'' or 'characters''!] persecution complexes." And there is much wisdom in this statement! (Here's an interesting piece on the problems with reading "X-Men" as a comic about racial prejudice. I don't know that I agree with all of it, but it's a fun ride.)

So yeah--if you try too hard to read "X-Men" as an anti-racist comic, you will find it boring, despairing (have the X-Men changed anything in the past however-many-Marvel-years they've had??), and alternately irrelevant and creepy.

So don't! There are other ways to look at "X-Men."

b) First, it's the most realistic look at team dynamics I've read in any medium. "X-Men" replicates the personal and political dramas of my college debating society, a.k.a. The Freaks Who Changed My Life, perfectly.

If you read "X-Men" as a book about leadership, you won't be disappointed--and leadership is something I could think about all day. It's an endlessly fascinating topic to me, since I was pretty much forced into a leadership role I wasn't suited for, and had to figure out how to make it mine. I think I did. I've seen my debating society hijack a lot of lives, and so I'll read anything that helps me understand how it exists and how its particular brand of alienated, intense, political personal leadership works. "X-Men" resonated.

"X-Men" gets at the sense that teams don't solely form out of personal affinities. Teams are also political--the sphere of the unchosen. Comics101 points out, "no one wanted to be an X-Man." They've got the Mark of Cain; they're the Catholic Church of superheroes, they'll take anybody. I just got New X-Men #5: Assault on Weapon Plus, and was struck by the fact that although I strongly sympathized with Emma Frost throughout, I also totally knew why Sage was fed up with her and her dramas. I recognized that feeling from my life with the Party of the Right: People come into conflict even when there's no "bad guy." They come into conflict because they have clashing personalities, clashing perspectives, and clashing partial views of the truth. The team creates its own drama.

c) Second, there're just some really good characters lurking in there. I like the concept of Rogue ("Stop me before I kiss again") better than the execution, and the reverse for Emma "I've become the perfect Faberge killing machine for a reason... and that reason is surely not to wave the flag for X-Liberalism" Frost. I love how the grandiloquence and constant third-person references of the '60s Noble Beast can be seen as Henry McCoy's attempt to build a personal identity through sheer willpower--a feat he's still trying to accomplish in New X-Men. The X-Men have seen more than their share of stupid crap (a dragon???? Dracula?!?!) but they have also had more than their share of strong, archetypal characters.

More on that when I write my whole "Why I Like Grant Morrison But Not Chris Claremont" thing. Assuming I do like Grant Morrison by the end of his X-run, of course....