Friday, January 30, 2004

"A MARRIAGE HEALTH ADVISORY": Hey, look, I'm in the American Spectator Online, talking about the Healthy Marriage Initiative.
WATCHMANIA: Alas, a Blog on Alan Moore and social improvement through superior firepower.

Four Color Hell on Watchmen vs. Dark Knight Returns. I haven't read DKR, but dispute the characterization of Watchmen as so entangled in Cold War anxieties that it no longer appears especially relevant. IMO the political points are still sharp, and the existential questions never get old.

Unqualified Offerings posts his Watchmail: goyishand Jewish installments.

Via Oxblog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

MEN AND ABORTION. Noticed that After Abortion has posted several links recently about men who impregnated women who aborted.

Post-abortion counseling for men.

Choices and conflict.

"I stood there and said nothing. ...I hurt over it like I could never explain."

The whole site is very much worth your time.
"MOST OF THEM WANTED YOU SCARED." The New York Times Magazine on sex trafficking in the United States. Grim and necessary.
There were times when I could have blogwatched her--
But you know I would hate anything to happen to her.
No I don't want to see her...

Agoraphilia: Did NASA invent everything? More here. My only personal association with Tang is the role it played in the Worst Breakfast I Ever Ate (the day I managed to come down with both pneumonia and heat fever--beat THAT!), but I do like Velcro, and I don't like NASA, so I'm intrigued by any site claiming that the tax-guzzling government space race is a big ol' waste. Not convinced--I don't know enough to have an opinion here--but intrigued. Via The Agitator.

Amy Welborn: American Library Association kisses Fidel Castro. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Britius is your source for pix, movies, and general whonowwhatnow? regarding the breakdancer who performed for the Pope.

Matthew Yglesias feels my pain. The Yale Free Press concurs.

Gospel of the Body blog! Neat! "The hope is that Christopher West will be able to provide an article on the blog once a week, and I will be soliciting articles from a number of theologians/speakers who are familiar with the subject." Via Piraeus.

Rick Brookhiser nails a basic American dynamic: "Michael asks why the blackout [of mainstream coverage of the March for Life]. It is religion configured as class. On the inside cover of Paul Fussell's sharp, nasty little book, called Class, he gave as class signifiers these statements: (Upper) Grandfather died. (Middle) Grandma passed away. (Lower) Uncle was taken to Jesus."

Give Sean Collins your money!
WATCHING THE DETECTIVES: More good responses to my Watchmen piece.

Superhero comics as the literature of ethics, a.k.a. stuff I almost entirely ignored! (Partly because I was more into the murder-mystery/existential questions than the superhero/ethical ones. But this post makes like a dozen really good points.) Snippet: "I've reread five issues so far and I'm more convinced than ever: Watchmen is not a story about 'what superheroes would really be like.' It's a story about Cold War America."

But wait! there's more! UO follows up with another really toothsome post, including this yes-yes-YES moment: "Along that line, isn't it past time to stop discussing Watchmen as a work of hyper-realism?" Hyper-realism is both overrated and impossible to recognize. And oh wow do I wish I'd considered the Jewish angle. Must ponder further, in the Ponder Patch.

Oh and as long as we're linking to Unqualified Offerings on comics, there's bonus growliciousness here. I agree wholeheartedly--I cannot, cannot, cannot! deal with stories where the ethical questions are dodged in the precise way UO details: "If you're going to write war stories, have the [deleted b/c no blasphemin' on the blog] balls to acknowledge that killing people is what the participants in a war do." Oh man, is this one of my personal rant ignition switches. Fortunately, UO has done my ranting for me.
IT SPEAKS! I will be speaking on same-sex marriage at Notre Dame University, Tuesday, 12.15 PM, at the law school, under the auspices of the Saint Thomas More Law Society. Not sure of the room number, but if you're enterprising I expect you can find me.

I will also be speaking on a panel about SSM at Stanford University on February 3. I forget time and don't know place, but will post an update when I have better info. There are more speaking engagements in my future, but no dates confirmed so far. Watch the skies!
"'In my innermost self I condemned you, but you were so wretched and pathetic, your behaviour was so monstrous, that my heart bled for you.'"
--"The Duel"; more on this soonish

Monday, January 26, 2004

BY THE WAY: Friday night, I reread Daredevil: Hardcore as a substitute for the usual method of knitting up the ravell'd sleeve of care. So! much! fun! From that sated, unapologetic, killer cover, through the "reruns of your grief" plot (oh so much more on this when Grant Morrison leaves New X-Men), just too swift for words. It's at times like this that I regret waiting for the trade--I may well pick up this past week's issue, even though I know the ads will seriously get up my snout.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

MORE WATCHMEN: Peiratikos and Unqualified Offerings both make really good points about the political resonances of the comic, a subject I entirely ignored in a way that probably threw my analysis off. UO, especially, may cause me to seriously rethink my take on the pirate comic, though again, that will have to wait until I can reread the book. Anyway, go read these pieces! They're short and very fruitful.
"And she suddenly wanted to make him love her--then rob him, cast him aside and await the sequel."
--"The Duel"

Friday, January 23, 2004


UPDATE: Well, the last two are lame. But the others are great.
GROTESQUE ANATOMY ON WATCHMEN, very much worth your time if you liked my piece below. I'm not sure I agree with him about Dr. Manhattan's consistency--need to reread it with GA's take in mind. I definitely need to explain my overly-compressed bit about Rorschach, meaning, and justice better. Will try to do that Sundayish. Anyway, there's good food for thought here.
MEASURED OUT IN BILLION-DOLLAR COFFEESPOONS: There was an insomniariffic post here about the SOTU and the obviousness and lameness of Bush's big-government tendencies and marriage promotion as limited-government initiative, but due to its confusing phrasing and overly sharp tone (which was NOT what I intended it to sound like) I'm scrapping it.

MAN I'm tired. I was already exhausted when I wrote this (which is a good reason I should have kept my mouth shut) and have been up and doing pretty much ever since. So I apologize for the tone of this post--I think it came off as harsh toward Sean Collins, which is REALLY not what I intended.

Bed now.
BUNCHES OF CATHOLIC BLOGS, including some priestblogs I hadn't seen before. Via Relapsed Catholic. Nice way to expand your blogreading.
ALL THIS USELESS POETRY: (Or, someday all this will be picturesque stanzas.) A lot of poems from various years, 2001-present. No speakers are me or anyone else I know; all restrictions apply; void where prohibited; close cover before striking.

The World Tonight
He's been a shouting head for years before,
But never so reluctant on display.
Four men sip coffee; they debate the war:
The hawks and doves each know what each will say,
Save one, his certainties become dismay.
"What's your advice?" He makes his pen an awl
To gouge the table--"Stop, repent, and pray.
Confess." Quick then, the moderator's drawl--
"Good night, that's all the time we have, that's all."

Army of One
His hand rests on the throttle's leather skin,
His fingers trace the puckers at the seams.
His thoughts are smoldering the past within:
The towers fall again each time he dreams;
Their smoke pours down a street awash with screams.
The targets cross his view, he's aimed, he's fired.
The black smoke sinks. He thinks of his old schemes,
Old hopes, and thinks, of all he once desired,
How little he will miss the night his life's required.

Coffee after midnight
awake awash in lust
a solarized slant mind
desire coiled in must
Coronas after midnight
one two three six ten!
suck tomorrow's loose tooth
& sis boom bah again
Working after midnight
sleepless timeless caught
against the living rhythm
so laugh--"you broke, you bought."

And a riddle:
What all men desire:
to be arrested before the act.
But the sun will burn this future into past.

(a frozen waterfall)
OH, HOW THE GHOST OF YOU CLINGS! Notes on Watchmen. So... a while back, I compared Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen to "Measure for Measure." Re-reading the book has only strengthened my sense that Moore was using a passel of Shakespearean tics and motives. I doubt that was intentional; they're the kinds of thing that many writers would try to do, if they were good enough. Both M4M and Watchmen take the conventions of an often fluffy-sweet-melodrama genre (Elizabethan comedy and pre-WM superheroes respectively) and turn them rancid by refusing to ignore or play along with the hidden assumptions--exaggerating what usually gets intentionally overlooked. (Watchmen's "happy ending," like M4M's, is orchestrated by a powerful schemer and leaves a foul taste.) Watchmen puns constantly, countless pictures and words playing off one another. Sometimes the visual and verbal play just adds a much-needed note of (usually bleak) humor; other times it sets up genuine symmetries and resonances between seemingly disparate characters or situations. And Watchmen shares the Shakespearean obsession with, and jaundiced attitude toward, the craft the artist himself practices (comics or theater) and the art of plotting. Watchmen even shares a characteristic flaw with midlevel Shakespeare: the rich, compelling, often devastating monologue that serves a thematic purpose but throws off the plot's center of gravity.

There's so much to say about this comic. I'm going to offer a very disorganized look at some of the book's themes. I'm making no effort to avoid spoilers--this is a post for people who have already read Watchmen. I loved the thrill of not knowing what came next when I read it, so if you haven't read it already, I strongly suggest you skip this post and go read it! then come back when you're done. A couple more caveats: I haven't read any other long pieces about Watchmen, partly because I haven't found any and partly because I'm lazy. If people have good essays (especially but not exclusively online), let me know. Also, of course, let me know if you think I'm missing or misconstruing something. ...And I am doing this all from notes and memory, because I stupidly lent my copy out before writing this post! But my notes are pretty thorough. OK, let's go.

"With a Little Kiss, Like a Signature": One of the most astonishing things about Watchmen is that, although it's usually treated like a philosophical or at least aesthetic tract, each of its characters has full humanity. (Veidt may be the necessary exception.) One of Jon's first, and most affectionate, memories of Laurie Juspeczyk is of the unique, personalized way she kisses; each of Moore's prominent characters feel similarly individual. Each is a world entire.

Watchmen is Shakespearean yet again, insofar as it does not try to present the author's One True Vision of the world; it merely presents one world, our world the way it might be, and lets us make up our own minds whether this is our world the way it is. Moreover, it presents several equally persuasive interpretations of the world of the book, and again does not try to sway us to one side or the other with special pleading. Characters even present more than one opposing worldview within the book, while remaining believable, consistent characters. Jon's affirmation of the worth of an individual human life, when he speaks with Laurie on Mars, conflicts with his remote, utilitarian acceptance of Veidt's scheme at the book's climax; but both these moments feel like they came from the same character, a being shifting between Jon Osterman and Doctor Manhattan. Rorschach's denial of any intrinsic meaning to the patterns and suffering in life, in his speech to Malcolm, is more obliquely in conflict with his actions at the climax (in which he seeks to uphold an absolute vision of justice that implies conformity to a preexisting, objective pattern), but again both moments feel utterly true to life. If we allow for the necessarily high-contrast, highly distilled nature of art, we can say that people really do behave the way Moore's people behave, and their questions and the evidence they work with are ours as well.

Shakespeare gives no hint as to whether "Lear" or "Hamlet" or (the vastly underrated) "Love's Labour's Lost" presents the world as he thinks it really is; and he has no responsibility to do so. Similarly, Watchmen is a realistic picture of the world, and anyone who wants to come up with theories about "what is to be done" and what we owe each other and whether there is a God needs to grapple with the fact that the world presented in the comic is utterly believable.

The characters are often played off one another, and there's a lot of subtlety in the echoes Moore sets up. Take the trio of Rorschach, Comedian, and Veidt. After the Keene Act, neither Rorschach nor the Comedian quit; Rorschach went vigilante and the Comedian signed up with the government. They're the only two costumed heroes (um, I'm not counting the "superhero" Dr. Manhattan, because everyone in the book views him as a different breed of cat entirely) in the book who do not at least give the appearance of quitting. Rorschach also refers to the Comedian, early on (but late enough that we the readers know better!), as "a better class of person." Uh-huh. There's one important similarity between the two: The Comedian and Rorschach both strongly disapprove of Veidt's plan. Their bloody-mindedness won't excuse that level of utilitarian carnage. The Comedian kills for selfish reasons and as an act of nihilism; Rorschach kills out of merciless justice; but neither one of them is a twentieth-century-style blood-soaked utopian. As for Veidt, Rorschach looks down on the advertiser, but when he visits Veidt he comes literally with hat in hand. And notice that Rorschach and Veidt are the only characters who never doubt their course.

Fearful Symmetries. Watchmen actually performs the "Hamlet" transformation--using a genre's tropes to make metaphysical points rather than merely move the plot machinery around--on two genres: superheroes, of course, but also murder mysteries. The superhero stuff has gotten the most attention, but in my opinion the infusion of existential questions into the murder-mystery tropes is more crucial to the book.

On the most basic level, the mystery--who killed the Comedian?--lets the comic hammer its thematic points home pretty hard while keeping us occupied with trying to figure out who's attacking and killing costumed crimefighters. It takes a long time before we even notice the thematic elements of the mystery.

Probably the biggest theme in Watchmen is interpretation of patterns: What do you see? What is the meaning of life? There are patterns--"symmetry" is both symbol and technique, from Rorschach's face mask to the way each chapter (and the book as a whole) opens and closes with variations of the same image. But the pattern is very hard to see. Rorschach's name is key, of course. The very fact of a detective named Rorschach ought to clue you in (heh heh) to the centrality of this theme.

Three speeches approach this theme from different angles. I'll talk more about Rorschach's speech to Malcolm the egotistic psychiatrist and Jon's talk with Laurie on Mars later. The third, though, is Veidt's soliloquy in Antarctica, which is exclusively concerned with the process of teasing order out of chaos. Veidt's talent is pattern-spotting and pattern-manipulating. Veidt believes that the patterns do have meaning--but that meaning imposed by powerful, responsible individuals like himself. Patterns are there to be taken advantage of.

Veidt is the book's plotter, so he stands parallel to Alan Moore. Within the narrative, Veidt creates many of the symmetries and links Moore put in (Pyramid, Gordian Knot, the Nostalgia motif); it's not clear whether he creates or merely notices the symmetry between the trackless Antarctic wilderness and the moral wilderness into which he's thrust Dan, Laurie, and (seemingly) Rorschach. And Veidt's plot--his scheme--is the skeletal structure of the book's plot, of course. Rorschach's symmetrical costume makes him another parallel for symmetry-creating Moore. The advertising theme in Watchmen is echoed in A Small Killing (and the Nostalgia and Millennium ads are good!--evocative), and here the parallel between Moore and the advertiser is much clearer. I'll note also that Veidt's plan brings together (on the island) high art, pulp culture, and advertising, suggesting that there's not that much distance between the three.

With Great Power... comes the temptation to take responsibility for others. Moore reverses the classic superhero shtik--power is thrust upon you and so you have to save everyone. Instead, he says, power is seized by those whose darker motives push them to save others because they can't do jack for themselves. The offices of the ex-superheroes are creepy-pathetic--those of both Hollis Mason ("Obsolete Models a Specialty") and Adrian Veidt (surrounded by posters and toy versions of himself). Our first visit to Hollis's shop is only a couple panels before the first shot of the "Nostalgia" ad (although we don't see the tagline then). In our first sight of the Nite Owl costume, it's erect and bigger than Dan is. This has been perhaps the most obvious aspect of Watchmen and so I'm not entirely sure what more I can say about it. Veidt's attempt to manipulate the world is wrong; but so too is Dan and Laurie's abdication of responsibility. They could have told everyone about the plot, and they don't. It's understandable, but hardly admirable.

Finally, the straightforward, garish style of the art--such pretty women's legs!--helps fit the comic into the genre it's breaking. A darker or more experimental style wouldn't work, since it would too quickly and easily distance Watchmen from primary-colors superhero comics rather than letting that distance emerge through the story.

"Would You Like to Add a Rider?" The visual/verbal punning doesn't just provide a few laughs in the midst of a grim story. It also serves to intertwine past and present (another major subtheme: the past's echoes--from "Nostalgia" to "Spirit of '77" to Jon's trip to the abandoned nuclear base to the entire Silk Spectre subplot). It links and contrasts "fiction" (fictional stuff within the book, like the pirate comic), plots and narratives created by the characters (mostly Veidt and Rorschach), and "reality" (the stuff that happens in the book). And the puns often link characters to one another: For example, at one time or another almost every major character is compared to or echoed against the pirate in "Tales of the Black Freighter."

Finally, the wordplay-with-pictures allows Moore to show that the same statements can have totally different meanings coming from different people in different contexts. Again, the comic is full of Rorschach tests: What do you see?

The pirate comic is the most obvious example of linkage. It doesn't function in Watchmen's plot as "The Mousetrap" does in "Hamlet," but it does or should affect readers' understanding of Veidt's plan and the role of hope in the book. The pirate comic is a story of despair as a self-fulfilling prophecy: The castaway assumes that the black freighter's crew has devastated his hometown, and so he himself causes the carnage he feared. Veidt assumes that without his hideously gory intervention, the world will end, and so he himself causes the book's greatest destruction. I am pretty sure that part of the point of the pirate comic is to suggest that Veidt is wrong, that his deadly plan was not the only way to prevent World War Three. (A few people have suggested that Veidt's plan is obviously stupid, and so Dan and Laurie look dumb for thinking it could work. I suppose you could point to the notable lack of other countries rallying around the US much after 9/11; but in Moore's defense, the US did ally with the USSR to fight Nazis, so there's precedent for a common enemy overcoming major hostilities. It's not unthinkable, and worth the suspension of disbelief. Dan and Laurie also see the plan apparently starting to work, as they watch Veidt's bank of television monitors. So their decision to go along with it, while definitely an exhausted capitulation, is understandable.)

It's important, too, that the pirate comic is grisly. It's easy to think of death in superhero comics as either action-movie meaningless cannon fodder, or temporary downtime before the inevitable resurrection. The pirate comic, woven throughout the main narrative, lends a cold sense of impending disaster and visceral destruction that allows Moore to make Veidt's attack on New York really powerful without having to show a lot of blood and guts. Instead of going for a splatterfest in an attempt to shock us into taking the attack seriously, Moore prepared us throughout the book and let his pirate comic's gore seep into our response to the "real" attack. The physical horror of the pirate comic would probably seem over the top, gross for its own sake, if it happened in the "real" narrative, but as a sub-narrative it effectively adds to the sense of dread and the smell of blood that hangs over Watchmen. (The pirate comic is especially effective at heightening the sense of foreboding when Dr. Manhattan leaves Earth.)

"Why Does One Death Matter?" That's maybe the biggest recurring theme or question in the book. Rorschach's speech to Malcolm argues that there is no meaning to the patterns, that there is only death and horror--the reverse of Laurie and Jon's interaction on Mars. And both are predicated on female pain (the little girl; Kitty Genovese; and Laurie herself). Including Kitty Genovese isn't just a cheap use of other people's pain. It's an act of force on Moore's part, allowing no escape for the comfort-seeking reader. It's the reason Dostoyevsky used real newspaper accounts of tortured children to shape the "Rebellion" chapter of The Brothers Karamazov.

A woman's pain is crucial to one of the other key moments in the development of this theme: the moment when Doctor Manhattan does not intervene when the Comedian kills the Vietnamese mother of his child. This moment foreshadows his decision not to intervene to stop Veidt. His decision to return to Earth turns out to rest on attachment to Laurie, not to individual humans as such. ("Love of one is always a barbarism--the love of God, too," as Nietzsche says.) Laurie and Dan expect him to be the deus ex machina (more punning--he gets his powers while trapped within a machine), but he refuses. Except this time it's not just not acting--he has to affirmatively side with Veidt by killing Rorschach. As John Jakala pointed out somewhere I can't find on Google, just as Laurie's pain at learning who her father is prompts Jon to return to Earth, so murdering Rorschach severs his final ties to humanity. One death matters, but it might not matter the way you expected it to....

Watchmen features two unsuccessful replacement gods: Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan. But what is it they were supposed to do? Were they supposed to prevent suffering? That's precisely what they tried to do, with the necessarily imperfect knowledge and understanding that even wildly intelligent or semi-transtemporal created beings are heir to. In order to fix everything, to remove conflict and suffering, the replacement gods mistrust and destroy ordinary humans. I don't think that this can be pushed too hard, but I'll note here the parallel with a fairly basic Christian response to the problem of evil--to force us to love is to remove our ability to love; to remove our capacity for evil is to make us robots, not humans, and ultimately to destroy us for our own good.

"Ordinary People..." Just as Rorschach's justice-without-mercy role is taken on due to female pain, so the only instances of mercy in the comic are undertaken by women. Sally Jupiter forgives the Comedian; then Laurie Juspeczyk forgives her mother; and Malcolm's wife forgives him. I'm pretty sure these are the only examples of explicit forgiveness shown in the comic. I think that's why it ends, in a seemingly too-easy way, with the Silk Spectre. Women seem marginal to the world of Watchmen (even Laurie), but they're central to its theme--which is, I hope, an intentional statement about what is overlooked by fantasies of universal justice. Women, who have so often been "wounded in the house of a friend"--suffering intimate violence--might be more able to articulate or represent the terrible price of either justice without mercy or mercy without justice than a male character would be.

There's so much I haven't touched on here--to take just one example, there's the theme of joking or laughter. The Comedian; Rorschach's last words ("Joking, of course"); the man with the fake breasts. Maybe I'll talk about that stuff later. If you all want to take that up, PLEASE do.... The email link is to your left!
"Perhaps he was highly intelligent and gifted--a remarkably honest man. Had he not been hemmed in on all sides by sea and mountains, he might have made an excellent rural welfare worker, a statesman, an orator, a publicist, or a great man of action--who could tell? And if so, how stupid to argue whether one was doing the decent thing or not! Suppose some able, useful person--a musician or artist, say--broke down a wall and tricked his gaolers so that he could escape from prison? In such a situation any action is honourable."
--the genteelly catty Anton Chekhov, "The Duel"

Thursday, January 22, 2004

HOPE FOR SUBSAHARAN AFRICA: ...Consider first the advance of democracy south of the Sahara since the end of the cold war. In the 1960s and 1970s, no African ruler was voted out of office. In the 1980s, one was. Since then, 18 have been, and counting. That still leaves a lot of countries where polls are rigged and dissidents disappear, but it is surely a sign that some African governments are becoming more accountable to their people.

Africa's media, too, are shaking off their shackles. Under most of the military regimes of the 1970s and 1980s, independent newspapers and radio stations were simply not allowed. Today, they are as numerous as they are irreverent. Television is still largely state-controlled and journalists are still persecuted--occasionally in most countries, systematically in places such as Zimbabwe and Eritrea--but, overall, the mighty are subject to greater scrutiny than before, which makes it a bit harder for them to abuse their power.

...Angola and Sierra Leone are at peace. The pointless border clash between Ethiopia and Eritrea has stopped. Congo's war, the worst anywhere since the second world war, is formally over. Liberia's warlord, Charles Taylor, has been driven into exile. Even in Sudan, which has known only 11 years of calm since 1962, government and rebels are on the verge of signing a power-sharing deal.

It is too early to say that Africa has turned a corner, however. ...


Via Oxblog, which discusses the piece here.
Anywhere the action's at
We're blogwatching this and that...

Obsidian Wings: Should have linked to this long ago--series on Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen shipped, with INS complicity, to Syria for torture. I haven't forgotten this and will SOON (next week) be posting more stuff on his case. Via Body and Soul I think. Excerpt from one post in the series:

"A deportee/victim who is probably innocent* of all wrongdoing, who may have been taken on very flimsy evidence, who was taken from a U.S. airport, who was taken to one of the worst regimes in the world, with the approval of the second highest person in the Justice Department, despite an explicit warning to the government that he would be tortured. It may be that this is an unusual combination, that we usually 'render' people captured abroad and people whom we know are guilty, and we usually deport them to Jordan or Egypt or Morocco rather than Syria, and we usually retain some semblance of control over their interrogation. How comforting any of this is is up to you.

"But is also possible that what is unique is not Arar's fate, but that we know about it. Someone who is a Canadian citizen, who saw a lawyer before he was deported, who had family in the West who intervened forcefully on his behalf, who got out, who was willing and able to hire a lawyer and talk to the press.

"Which is it? I don't know.""like Snopes, only just for U.S. politics." I haven't checked this out myself, so don't know to what extent it is itself slanted, but it definitely looks interesting. Via Kesher Talk.

Very good piece by Ron Bailey on Health Savings Accounts. Important issue; just became even more personally relevant to me because my new insurance is through an HSA. Discussion of the piece in comments box here.

Here's a somewhat confused Goldberg File that does provide a handy-dandy roundup of disappointing decisions by President Bush. Goldberg beats up on "compassionate conservatism," yay!
"Falling in love with Nadezhda two years earlier, he had felt that he only needed to become her lover and take her to the Caucasus to be saved from the shoddy hopelessness of existence. Similarly, he was now convinced that to abandon Nadezhda and leave for St. Petersburg was to satisfy his every need."
--Chekhov, "The Duel"

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

LAST-MINUTE ADDITIONS TO SOTU DRINKING GAME: Drink once for "nation of immigrants."

Once for "Vicente Fox."

Once for anything about marriage being the union of a man and a woman. Twice for mention of a Federal Marriage Amendment. Finish your drink if Bush actually commits to pushing the amendment (not just in that wussy "if necessary" way).

Twice for "fabulous."
DO YOU ABUSE LITERATURE? How many of these apply to you?

1. I have read fiction when I was depressed or to cheer myself up.
2. I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day. ...
6. Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.
7. Sometimes I rewrite film or television dialog as the characters speak.
8. I am unable to enjoy myself with others unless there is a book nearby. ...
11. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I have finished a novel.
12. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead. ...
17. I have wept or become angry or irrational because of something I read.
18. I have sometimes wished I did not read so much.
19. Sometimes I think my reading is out of control.


Via Fructus Ventris.
"Suspicions, conjectures, deductions--seven years of married life had made such things second nature to him and he often thought that he had had enough practice at home to turn him into a first-class detective."
--Anton Chekhov, "His Wife"

Monday, January 19, 2004

THE OLD OLIGARCH WILL LOVE THIS: "I'm tangentially reminded of what a friend in Santa Barbara would say when he ran into really hard-core relativist types. Eric was very much into the intellectual end of neo-paganism, so this wasn't an infrequent sort of encounter. When someone started going on about how everyone construct their own subjective religious experience, Eric would get todally deadpan and say, 'I'm glad that works for you.' When asked what he meant, he'd explain that in his practice, he encountered universal and objective forces, so he couldn't adopt the other person's relativism, but he was happy that they'd found a practice that worked for them. Very very often this led to huffy assertions about he was wrong, at which he'd affect great umbrage and say something like 'Are you trying to force me into your views? Have you no respect for my individuality and personal quest?' I saw this a few times in Santa Barbara's good used bookstores, and always loved it."

INTERVIEW WITH ALVEDA KING: Martin Luther King's niece; she'll be speaking at the Silent No More gathering of post-abortive women as part of the March for Life. Excerpts follow:

My uncle said, "The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sell the future of his children for his personal and immediate comfort and safety."

Where he said, "Negro," I add, "America." America cannot win, humanity cannot win, people cannot win, if we will sell the future of our children for our personal and immediate comfort and safety.

Parents making a decision to abort--because sometimes both are involved--are aborting a slave, in that the baby has no say so over whether it will live or not live. Likewise, the baby has no choice over its nourishment. The baby has no choice over where it can go or what it can do. It does what the parent says it will do. The baby is totally dependent on the parent.

During the 1970's, right after Roe v Wade, I aborted a child. This was before I became a born again Christian in 1983. For almost 20 years I lived in agony. Was it a boy, or was it a girl? Did the abortion hurt the baby, cause it great pain?

Thank God I didn't abort my other children. I made a decision for six children who are alive, and tragically I made the decision against one. At the time, I was not aware of what I was doing. There were no sonograms back then. If I had seen one, I don't think I could have done it. Now, today, it is only through the salvation of Jesus Christ that I realize I am forgiven for the act against that baby's life, and I will see my child again in heaven.


Via After Abortion.
COURAGE GUY SPEAKS AT GEORGETOWN THIS FRIDAY: I can't go, but you should. There's a good basic piece on Christ, eros, love, and same-sex attraction at that link, to give you a sense of what this guy does.
OXBLOG LINKFEST, in re democratization and liberalization in the Middle East. As always, well worth your time, although this post seems a bit sloppy in its casual equivalence of "democratization" and "liberalization."
"Some of these students are sent by para-church organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ. That organization is not permitted any official presence in China, but it has regional leaders scattered all over the country. Campus Crusade students sometimes speak among themselves in a sort of English-language Christian slang to disguise what they are really saying. Here is a brief glossary of terms and their meanings:

"PRC--'Pray to receive Christ,' not People's Republic of China...

"The Company--Campus Crusade for Christ, not the CIA."

--Jesus in Beijing

Friday, January 16, 2004

EXCELLENT NICHOLAS KRISTOF PIECE ON SWEATSHOPS. "For the fundamental problem in the poor countries of Africa and Asia is not that sweatshops exploit too many workers; it's that they don't exploit enough."

Via The Agitator and Unqualified Offerings.
FATHERLESS AMERICA: I'm strongly sympathetic to the point I think Jane Galt is trying to make here, about Bush's "marriage promotion" plan. I haven't looked at the plan and am very skeptical of the efficacy of governmentally-funded (and therefore governmentally-constrained) marriage promotion.

But I think her angle of attack is just silly: "As I was saying, if our mothers can't browbeat us into getting married, what hope has a faceless government bureacracy?"

Well yeah, whatever. But every week, I speak with women who have nobody pushing them to marry, asking them to consider marriage, or even honestly discussing what marriage is like. I often ask whether they have any couples they can speak with who are in good marriages, so they can get a realistic idea of what marriage is. Pretty much never do they have such role models. Pretty much never did they spend their girlhoods with their own fathers. They generally aspire to marriage and are very happy to talk about what they can do to make a good marriage more likely--since they do not hear this stuff every day, and they do not see models of good marriages all around them. Very much the opposite. So you know, I am not really sure Jane Galt is the target audience here. Be a libertarian, I'm quite sympathetic to that, but please try to be realistic.
SESAME STREET VS. MARRIAGE: How far Oscar the Grouch has fallen.

More here.
"EVERY CHILD A WANTED CHILD": Ever since I became pro-life (1997-ish), I've thought that was a particularly eerie slogan. If you're not wanted... then what?

"Dan Cere, a professor at McGill University and an affiliate scholar at this Institute, wrote a brief paper some years back that I just read, titled 'Every Child a Wanted Child.' He argues that the idea that every child should be 'wanted,' while sounding compassionate, is actually quite disturbing. It does not value children for their own sake. Instead, it says a child has value -- is 'wanted' and deserving of life -- because a grownup has decided that it is valuable, fits in with their vision of their own life, and is deserving to be born."

The affirmation of the human dignity and worth of those whom others would discard as "unwanted" is what links advocacy for prisoners, for the severely mentally ill, for the terminally ill, for the homeless, and for the unborn. And, frankly, we're all burdens--we're all "dependent rational animals." On Wednesday I got a check that will let me pay next month's rent, but I am under no illusions that I am somehow better than people who are considered "burdens." A society that believes people are only valuable when they are "wanted" is a society that has abandoned social justice. God wants everyone, loves even those who can't yet love themselves. So too should we.
LISTENING TO GEORGE JONES, "SHE THINKS I STILL CARE." Somebody make Chan Marshall cover this.
"'In Beijing,' [Xiao Dongfang] said, 'we see more and more people in writers' circles who are Christians. There is a new literary style called sheng jing ti ['biblical' in Chinese]. It means objective, truthful, terse.'"
--Jesus in Beijing
My sight was poor, but I was sure
The sirens watched their blogs for me...

Baraita: "This post is actually intended to pick up on a passing comment I made last year, in which I suggested some sort of reading group for bloggers -- or regular blog-commenters for that matter -- who'd enjoy discussing books of Jewish interest in the English language. The comments indicate that (a) several people are very interested and (b) we do not want to get into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which certainly works for me. ...We'd want to pick books which are in print and not horrifically expensive (so much for all the Yale Judaica hardcovers), and I'm guessing we'd want to allow about a month for people to read, blog, and discuss." Sound good? Get in touch with Naomi Chana! Via Kesher Talk.

Mark Shea: Interesting, basic post answering various Protestant objections to Catholicism.

Marriage Movement: NPR, unlike the New York Times, manages to interview one actual poor person when discussing a program for poor people. Let's hear it for the Fourth Estate.

Everyone has already linked to Slate's series on "liberal hawks reconsidering the war." I haven't read it yet, but it looks worthwhile, so here it is in case you somehow missed it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

PAULINUS SOUNDS COOL: "One of [Peter] Brown's ongoing themes is that the modern distinction between 'popular religion' and 'high religion' is an 18th century philosophy-of-religion idea which actively impedes understanding the early centuries of Christianity (and which may simply be false). Paulinus's poetry and buildings were designed to teach and serve the people of his diocese, but not from a 'separate' kind of religious position in which religion was a tool for the control of the masses -- he wanted them to share the friendship he had established with St. Felix."


I seem to recall that Peter Brown's most popular book is the only one of his I've read--his excellent biography of St. Augustine. Gotta read more of this guy.

The US is urging members of the World Trade Organisation to restart the stalled Doha round negotiations, saying it is prepared to address seriously the issues--particularly agriculture--that led to last year's breakdown at a ministerial meeting in CancĂșn, Mexico.

Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, told the Financial Times he would send a letter today to trade ministers of all 148 WTO countries laying out a series of ideas for trying to reach agreement on a negotiating framework by the middle of this year. That would lead up to a new ministerial meeting in Hong Kong by the year's end.

Mr Zoellick said he now believed no final agreement would be possible without the complete elimination of agricultural export subsidies by a certain date, a position anathema to the European Union. [Eve's emphasis] ...

The letter signals a shift in tactics, with the US moving away from its joint position with the EU on some key agricultural issues that have stalled the negotiations and reaching out to developing countries. ...

In another conciliatory gesture, Mr Zoellick said he wanted the chairmanship of the WTO's general council to go again to a developing country official when the current chair, from Uruguay, steps down at the end of this month. He mentioned as possibilities Brazil, Chile, Pakistan, Singapore and South Africa.


Friday, January 09, 2004

I'D LOVE TO, BUT... I did my own thing and now I have to undo it.

...I have to go to the post office to see if I'm still wanted.

...the last time I went, I never came back.

...I'm trying to build a pig from a kit.

...I have to floss my otter.

...I'm uncomfortable when I'm alone or with others.

and more.
IF YOU GET EWTN: Pro-life series.

(My TV doesn't even get TV--no antenna yet, just a DVD player--so I haven't yet sampled Mother Angelica's televisual feast.)
REASONS TO BE BEERFUL: The Modern Drunkard's calendar for January. One holiday per day. Foul-mouthed, high-proof hilarity. Be sure to check out February's descriptions of Empire Day and Charles Darwin's birthday.

Via the Old Oligarch.
EVERY DAY IS LIKE POETRY WEDNESDAY: Walter de la Mare, "Napoleon." Sorry about formating problems.

'What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.'
KENNETH POLLACK ON WMDS--"WHAT WENT WRONG": Must-read. Via Oxblog I think.

...In 2002 I wrote a book called The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, in which I argued that because all our other options had failed, the United States would ultimately have to go to war to remove Saddam before he acquired a functioning nuclear weapon. Thus it was with more than a little interest that I pondered the question of why we didn't find in Iraq what we were so certain we would.

The U.S. intelligence community's belief that Saddam was aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction pre-dated Bush's inauguration, and therefore cannot be attributed to political pressure. It was first advanced at the end of the 1990s, at a time when President Bill Clinton was trying to facilitate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and was hardly seeking assessments that the threat from Iraq was growing. ...

U.S. government analysts were not alone in these views. ...

But it appears that Iraq may not have had any actual weapons of mass destruction. ...

Figuring out why we overestimated Iraq's WMD capabilities involves figuring out what the Iraqis, especially Saddam Hussein, were thinking and doing throughout the 1990s. ...

The intelligence community's overestimation of Iraq's WMD capability is only part of the story of why we went to war last year. The other part involves how the Bush Administration handled the intelligence. ...

What we have learned about Iraq's WMD programs since the fall of Baghdad leads me to conclude that the case for war with Iraq was considerably weaker than I believed beforehand.

INSPECTORS LOOKING FOR IRAQI ARMS SENT HOME. Good roundup of the state of the search. Not even slightly surprising at this point. We must all hope that there just weren't any WMDs, rather than that they have found new owners during the chaos of invasion.
He wants a blogwatch,
The kind with teeth!
People should get beat up
For stating their beliefs.
He wants a blogwatch,
The kind with teeth,
'Cause he knows there's no such thing.

Dappled Things: Morality, other uses of religion, and the point: "The point isn't that we have loved God, but that He has loved us."

Real Tegan praises Set, an immensely addictive, fun card game. She's right that it would make a great gift.

Swedish faith-based prison program. Via Dappled Things.

OK, that was a really long header for a really short blogwatch.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

BY THE WAY, I'll soon start thinking again on the blog, not just linking. But things here are madder than a cow, and thoughtful blogging has been one casualty of the chaos. I hope to have neat stuff for you soon on the theological and comics-related tips.
TERESA BONOPARTIS BEGINS BLOGGING AT AFTER ABORTION: "As a means of introduction, my name is Theresa Bonopartis and I am the program coordinator for Lumina, a post-abortion referral service in the New York area."

Her story. Powerful; priests esp. should read it; happened before Roe but in New York, where abortion was already legal.

The subtitle of Matthew Miller's book The Two Percent Solution promises that it will "fix America's problems in ways liberals and conservatives can love." ...The idea is to provide high wages, health insurance, campaign-finance reform, and a decent education for all for an additional investment of two percent of GDP.

Right away, we have been taken away from neutral territory. The purpose of government has been assumed to be the solving of problems. And not just any problems, but the ones that most concern liberals. There are no chapters on how to "solve" problems of family instability or cultural balkanization. ...

All of the above said, Miller's specific proposals are interesting. His suggestion for a wage subsidy for employers makes a lot of sense, although I would prefer this to be a replacement for the minimum wage rather than a supplement to it (as he advocates).

Miller's best chapters concern education (although his brief passages on Social Security are terrific). He wants to spend a lot more federal dollars on it, in return for teacher-tenure reform and vouchers. He elicits some great quotes from the teachers' unions heads. ...

The worst grand deal Miller offers is his proposal for universal health insurance coverage. In this area, he is not radical enough. He is not even, in a way, sufficiently hostile to the insurance industry. He would have the government stop bribing people to get their health insurance through their employers. But he does nothing to address the government's favoritism toward insurance, as against out-of-pocket expenses, in the first place. ...

MOLESTATION-RING CHARGES IN WASHINGTON ARCHDIOCESE: "The archdiocese, the letter says, has 'taken a path of denial and resistance' despite 'credible allegations of a pattern of abuse in Washington and Maryland that is identical to the pattern we have encountered in Boston, Chicago and other locales.' A network of child-molester priests, it says, operated out of a parish in Prince George's County from the 1960s through the 1980s. 'Dozens' of boys, it says, ages 8 to 16, were treated as 'sexual servants' by priests."


"The Three Self continues to live at the beck and call of the Religious Affairs Bureau, or to give it its most recent official name, the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA). This is the political agency that reports to the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party on how China's religious life is being administered and controlled. Privately, Three Self officials often complain about the interference and restrictions imposed even on China's 'open' churches by SARA officials. They decide how many pastors the Three Self can ordain in any six-month period, how many meetings Three Self pastors can hold in any one-month period, and who is permitted to teach and graduate from China's seventeen official Protestant seminaries.

"All SARA officials are Communist Party members, and thus are not permitted to adhere to any religion."

--Jesus in Beijing

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


..."When a normal man sees an attractive woman, he is drawn to her stylish hairdo, nicely applied make-up and flattering dress, and he reacts with an intense desire to marry her," Wasserbaum said. "The naked-lady fetishist, however, is unmoved by such features as hairstyle and clothing, regarding them as distractions and impediments to the one thing that truly interests him--her naked body." ...

Scientists theorize that naked-lady fetishism may represent a long-obsolete evolutionary remnant, a vestigial instinct that once served some reproductive purpose among early hominids.

"About 70 million years ago, the female form may have served as a visual cue, triggering male arousal for the purpose of procreation," Brown University anthropologist Isaac Gage said. "But the human species evolved beyond that point long ago. Why a small handful of individuals would still exhibit traces of this ancestral evolutionary past is curious, to say the least. But one thing is certain: We should not permit our feelings of shame and ignorance to cloud our perceptions. Geary should be seen for what he is--a deeply disturbed individual in desperate need of medical help."

"GETTING FIRED": Part one of the new short story. This segment is relatively normal, really, but this story is about to get very, very weird. Basic setup for the story is: German expressionists and '30s pulp-noir filmmakers team up to remake the Purgatorio. And a good time is had by some.

As usual, I'm writing too fast in order to get the draft out, so I know there are problems. Any and all criticism of this or any story, especially negative comments, are extraordinarily welcome. I am the mad doctor sculpting a new kind of life, you are the hunchbacked assistant, and your comments are the scalpel I'm requesting when I snap, "Igor! scalpel!"

PS: If you want, I will read your thing and tell you about it in return!
AT LEAST 29 CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES KILLED IN 2003. Listing of names and circumstances of death, from Fides.
"At the National Conference on Religious Work in 1954, the new Religious Affairs Bureau director Ho Zhenxiang made it clear that Christian theology itself could now be modified and altered at will by the authorities. Calling the process 'infusing Marxist-Leninist thought into the positive doctrines of religion,' Ho declared,

"'The positive values of patriotism should take the place of negative religious propaganda. We Communists can accept as reasonable certain parts of the Bible, which Christians use, but we must also pay attention to the doctrines that they preach. If we infuse those doctrines with our Marxist-Leninist thought, then they will have positive influence and can serve our cause.'

"Ho made it clear that the parts of the Bible he objected to were the Ten Commandments, anything supernatural, and anything about the days leading up to the Second Coming of Christ."

--Jesus in Beijing

Monday, January 05, 2004

"SECRET CASE": From the California Yankee "The public docket for the court in which the case originated is devoid of any mention of the case; the published court calendar for the appellate court was obliterated to omit the names of litigants; the appellate court's computer records were altered to remove from public view any information about the case; the appellate court closes its courtroom to the public and the press to hear arguments in the case; and the litigants are not allowed to talk about it.

"That is the way the government and the federal courts have dealt with Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel. The Supreme Court is now considering whether the lower courts were justified in sealing the entire record and docket without making findings supporting the sealing. ...

"...I have no sympathy for Bellahouel, if he is in fact in the U.S illegally. I am extremely concerned, however, about the degree and manner in which the government and the courts have kept the very existence of the case from us."


MATT AND JEFF'S DIVERGENT JOURNEYS: Interesting blog written by two old friends--one studying to be an evangelical minister, the other a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Via Mark Shea.
"THE SAUDI PARADOX": Basic Foreign Affairs piece on divisions w/in Saudi govt. Via Journalista!

...The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. Many agree that the Saudi political system must somehow evolve, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.


Friday, January 02, 2004

THE TROUBLE THRESHOLD: "Yet, whites are not the top performing group. As the Thernstroms point out, the gap between white and Asian-American student performance is actually wider than the gap between blacks and whites, with Hispanics performing about as poorly as blacks.

"Among the most intriguing possible reasons for this disparity is an intriguing group difference in the way students measure their family's 'trouble threshold,' according to one study that the Thernstroms cite. The 'trouble threshold' is the lowest grade that students think they can receive before their parents go volcanic with anger and start clamping down on TV time, etc. In the survey by Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University social scientist, published in his 1996 book, Beyond the Classroom, most of the black and Hispanic students surveyed said they could avoid trouble at home as long as their grades stayed above C-minus.

"Most of the whites, by contrast, said their parents would give them a hard time if their children came home with anything less than a B-minus.

"By contrast, most of the Asian students, whether immigrant or native-born, said that their parents would be upset if they brought home anything less than an A-minus."

Clarence Page, via Eugene Volokh (who notes that this item is "rated S, for 'Indirectly Quotes Studies That the Author Hasn't Personally Read'").
TACITUS 2004 PREDICTIONS: He did pretty well on his 2003 predictions. Worth a look; plus some interesting posts (and the usual enormous helping of wishful thinking) in the comments section. These prediction things are probably a better test of one's political acumen and general sense of how the world works than they might at first appear.

Via Kesher Talk.
SUING OVER SUBSIDIES: The World Trade Organization's "peace clause," which prevented lawsuits over trade subsidies, expired December 31. KickAAS (Kick All Agricultural Subsidies) is on the case; and here's a piece from The Economist.

...There are certainly a lot of subsidies to shoot at. The OECD, a club of rich nations, reckons that the agricultural subsidies of its members cost consumers and taxpayers about $230 billion in 2001 alone. The European Union, the United States and Japan were to blame for about 80% of those transfers. The typical milk producer in the OECD makes half its money from selling milk, and the other half from milking its government. Rice and sugar producers do the same. ...

Brazil already challenging America's cotton subsidies, arguing that they violate a term in the peace clause that caps subsidies at 1992 levels. Now the clause has expired, other targets will present themselves and other countries may join the fight. WTO members will be able to challenge any subsidy reserved for a specific industry (a sugar subsidy, for example) that can be shown to cause "serious prejudice" to their interests.

Such prejudice is easy enough to prove. Richard Steinberg of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Timothy Josling of Stanford University have read the statutes and crunched the numbers. They show that America's extensive subsidies to its barley producers, for example, helped keep foreigners out of American markets. Its subsidies to corn producers helped to displace rival producers from third-country markets, such as Mexico, Canada and the Philippines. Meanwhile, by subsidising exports, the EU is depressing world butter prices by as much as a fifth, according to one economic model.

"Where the Three Self churches [a government-sponsored Christian/quasi-Christian movement] are allowed to do what churches in most parts of the world do--counseling and encouraging for church members, visiting and praying for the sick, operating orphanages and homes for the elderly, or explaining Christianity to anyone interested in it--they generally do it very well. Much of it is accomplished through the Amity Foundation, a nonprofit institution established in 1985 to enable North American and European churches and private individuals to fund a broad variety of social and cultural programs in China, many of them administered by Three Self churches in different parts of the country. The Amity Foundation has an annual budget of $5 million, of which 25 percent comes from the U.S. and Canada, 51 percent from Europe, 15 percent from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, and only 2.5 percent from China itself. Much of its support from the U.S. comes from mainline Protestant groups like the Lutheran World Federation, and the Church World Service, the global service arm of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S. ...

"As mentioned earlier, while Bibles are indeed available for sale at Three Self churches in at least seventy locations throughout the country, house church leaders repeatedly tell me that it is not possible in most places for one person to purchase several copies at a time. House church Christians wanting a Bible may have to travel a hundred miles or more in order to obtain one. In some cases, Christians have been asked to indicate their names and addresses before being allowed to purchase Bibles. Bibles are also not available in ordinary Chinese bookstores, even though copies of the Koran and of Buddhist scriptures are."

--Jesus in Beijing