Monday, November 29, 2004

This is the Fish Patrol in 201, came the voice. Our Flying Fish flew away. In fact, things are so rotten here that even the pigs won't stay. But we'll fight to the bitter end! Beware the Fish!
--Beware the Fish (my mood this weekend... better now, I think.)

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Bitterness/Repression: Give In. 150 words.

The Life/The Work: Science Fiction Heroine. 150.

High Heel/Foot: Stand Tall. 250.
POETRY WEDNESDAY, ALMOST: From the T'ang dynasty. Just because.

The autumn leaves are falling like rain.
Though my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups at my table.
NEW BLOG: LIBERTY AND VIRTUE. "A person who experiences same sex attraction and who endeavors to live chastely in accordance with his religious beliefs keeps an eye out for examples of gay activists' (1) showing intolerance and hatred of traditional religious and moral beliefs and believers, (2) attempting to deny freedom of speech, assembly and religion to others, and (3) trying to cause the government to impose liberal views on sexual morality on society. Other stuff of interest to blogger may also occasionally be posted."
AAAAAUUUUUUGGGGHHHHH!!!! Finish your daggone book soon, you hear?
LITTLE MISS EVIL. More great movie lines from Relapsed Catholic.
LECTURE? I HARDLY KNOW HER! (Oh, man... sorry. Sometimes I just can't help myself. Anyway...) So over the turkey, my family got to talking about the structure of college classes, and it made me realize that my actual college experience was definitely out of line with my instincts. Basically, if you described a seminar and a lecture to me and asked which one I'd get more out of, I'd guess the seminar; and yet in real reality, most of the courses I loved were lectures. How come? I'm not entirely sure, but here are three partial answers (discerned through a conversation with The Rat):
1. Star Power. Some of those amazing lectures were lecture courses in the first place because the professors were so popular. And they were popular because they were good. I can't believe I got to take intro to Greek history from Donald Kagan--he's the man. And I only had that opportunity because he taught a lecture course; if he taught only seminars, only history majors would have been able to take them. Similarly, it's possible that the Shakespeare courses I took with Harold Bloom were technically listed as seminars, but there were so many of us that really it was just Sit at the Feet of the Master time.

I don't know why people think that's bad. If you have Harold Bloom in a room with a bunch of sophomores, do you want to hear the sophomores yapping or do you want to hear Herr Doktor Professor Bloom? Sometimes it's entirely appropriate to sit back and watch a master at work.

There are teachers who work much better in a seminar setting. I'm not sure whether that talent is actually rarer than the lecturing talent, or whether Yale just prefers talented lecturers to talented seminar-leaders (to the extent that teaching ability factors into Yale's hiring and especially tenuring decisions at all, which is, as far as I can tell, almost nil), or what. My own guess is that seminars are more difficult to do well, for reasons described below; and so people who can create good seminars are extraordinary, and supercool.

But lectures are an excellent, efficient way to a) teach introductory-level material or b) immerse students in One Man's Madness for a few hours a week. Both of these are entirely honorable educational strategies; a good college education, I should think, incorporates both.

2. I Didn't Shave My Legs for This. When lectures go bad, you can basically ignore them and read or write quietly in the back. When seminars go bad, you can hear your brain cells screaming as they die.

Seminars suck because lame people talk in them. Seminars suck because people who haven't done the reading talk in them. (Mostly, those people were me. I do apologize, and swear to my former classmates that I wouldn't've opened my trap if it hadn't been part of my grade. You see the problem?) Seminars suck because people refuse to argue, so it devolves into the conversation my friend Sara summarized as, "Oh, you have an opinion, how nice! Oh, you have one too!" Kill. Me. NOW.

I won't defend anti-argumentativity (...or making up random words because you can't be bothered to find the right one). And I won't defend being lame and saying stupid things. But I will defend not doing the reading.

Because I really did learn more outside the classroom than in it. At Yale I was pushed into leadership positions that took up enormous amounts of my time and changed the way I carried myself, the way I related to other people, the way I thought about authority and choice and, really, just about everything. There's no substitute for the experience of leadership--especially for people like me, who don't take to it naturally. I was also staying up until three or later every night debating God and the death penalty and the whichness of the why, and trying to figure out the world. I was doing a lot of amazing, life-changing stuff.

What I wasn't doing, was the reading. Didn't have time. I did what I had to in the courses that were so difficult I couldn't skate. (The only course for which I did all the reading on time, in my entire undergraduate career, was Plato's Metaphysics a.k.a. Who Broke My Brain?! I was the only freshman. I was terrified, little koi among the sharks, and you better believe I was doing the reading. Man, that was a great class! Sort of the reverse of Bloom--I think it was listed as a lecture, but there were only 13 or so of us, and we were all super-dedicated--no "Oh, you have an opinion!"--so it was basically the most wonderful seminar ever. Anyway.) I read before exams, and during break, and so forth. I read things when the courses were over: during the summers, or, in several cases, after I graduated. That was when I finally had the time! ...I hope seminar leaders can take some degree of solace in the fact that no matter how pathetically lazy I seemed to be while I was actually enrolled in these classes, I did re-read my notes after college, I eventually did if not all then at least more of the reading, and I learned a lot more than I let on.

I don't know that this Extracurriculars Uber Alles ("Wait--you mean they have libraries at Yale?") approach will work for everyone. It worked for me in large part because of a cult--um, scratch that, a debating society--that offered me far more than a semester-long, four-hours-a-week seminar ever could. Which brings me to point #3.

3. Friendship the Matrix of Philosophy. Seminars, even at their very best, are short and full of strangers. They're generally about understanding and interpreting other people's ideas as a means to develop your own; this is absolutely necessary, but the focus is still (rightly) on the authors you study rather than on your own beliefs and the consequences those beliefs should have for your life. Seminars, at their very best, are pale imitations of the intense Socratic questioning and existential exploration I got at the dinner table with my friends every night. They could call me to account when my actions didn't match my professed beliefs. They could provoke me without violating our trust.

Plato's Metaphysics was so great in part because, out of those 13-ish students, at least 11 of us knew each other from this debating cult. We had a shared vocabulary, a sense of camaraderie, and a shared intensity of purpose. But most seminars don't have that advantage. They are too often reminiscent of desultory common-room conversation on those first nights at college, when no one knew anyone and everyone was defensive, posturing, or simply uninterested.

So yeah: When seminars work, they're fantastic; and they certainly approximate the form of philosophical practice better than lectures do! But good lectures are IMO more common than good seminars (proportionally, anyway), and definitely part of a balanced educational breakfast. Don't be dissin' the lectures.

Friday, November 26, 2004

"THE CLASSICS IN THE SLUMS": Phenomenal, must-read article on the love of literature, from the 19th-c. English working class to contemporary American drug addicts. This is a great piece.
...Kansas's economy has actually outpaced the nation's for years now. Throughout the 1990s and the first part of this new decade, Kansas had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. economy as a whole. In fact, when the country's unemployment rate dipped below 5 percent from 1997 to 2001, Kansas's fell under 4 percent--a level so low that economists basically consider it full employment. Overall, the state's economy added 256,000 new jobs during the 1990s, a 24 percent growth rate, compared with a 20 percent national gain in the same period. Even when the economic slowdown set in and the recession finally hit in 2002 and 2003, Kansas lost jobs at a slower rate than the national economy did.

The objects of Frank's particular concern, his hometown of Shawnee and the rest of Johnson County, have done especially well. For three years in the 1990s, the Shawnee area's unemployment rate actually dipped below 3 percent, making it one of the tightest labor markets anywhere.


Via How Appealing.
"Attention, world! We bring you the Fish!"
--Gordon Korman, Beware the Fish

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

OH MY GOD, THERE ARE MORE: (in re #297, though, come on--Mercutio? That's totally reasonable. Lord Capulet not so much.)

161. If I must stage Macbeth in a modern setting, there is no reason to dress the Scottish nobles as Hare Krishnas, especially if I also arm them with machine guns.
165. At no time shall Romeo slap Tybalt with a fish. This is especially key during their confrontation in 3.1.
201. Similarly, I will remember that Much Ado is a comedy. I will refrain from having the company dress in funereal black for the wedding, dance to sombre music, and then die in a bombing raid. Even if am labouring under the misapprehension that this would be terribly artistic.
202. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth meet for the first time, I will not transform their greeting into five to ten minutes of rolling around the stage making out, groping, and kissing like two teenagers in the back seat of a car. This goes double if I've costumed Lady Macbeth with a black leather miniskirt. If I do decide to go ahead with this insane idea, I shall make sure that the miniskirt is pointing away from the audience.
203. I will never dress Puck in a black t-shirt reading PCUK, even if it seems funny when I think of it.
219. I will not decide that Helen of Troy in Troilus and Cressida is actually a sports car, nor will Pandarus do lines of cocaine off of her. (I will especially not do this if I can't afford a real sports car and have to make do with a small toy Ferrari, set on a table).
232. I will not cast Hamlet as two people, one male and one female.
254. Titania/Bottom sex scenes are never necessary. This is especially true when using an actor who's clearly very proud of his braying abilities and wants the whole world to know it.
256. The Montague clan are not aliens. No, really, they're not.
258. In a production of As You Like It, I will not portray the banished Duke and his followers as a community of Mennonites simply because I have an excess of those costumes in the costume storage shop.
259. I will never cast Hamlet as a horse just so I can have characters ride around on his back during the so-called sexually tense scenes.
261. Also, it would be wise to avoid ever staging Macbeth as if it were Reservoir Dogs, especially if the witches are going to be homeless people clinging to chain link fences.
265. Do not set fire to the actors to emphasise their emotions. It never helps.
280. The main theme of Richard III is not the suffering of the female characters. Even if it were, a sound design of continuous wailing is not the best way to represent this.
290. I won't ever have Romeo shoot Tybalt in the back.
347. I will not decide that the best way to portray "Exit, pursued by a bear" is to have the rest of the cast dressed in brown and do some sort of modern-dance amoeba thing to absorb the character.

and still MORE.
HOME IS THE HUNTER: I recently finished re-reading Regeneration and The Eye in the Door, the first two books in Pat Barker's World War I trilogy. (I remember the third book, The Ghost Road, as being pretty awful, thus have no immediate plans to re-read it. If someone out there would like to confirm or correct this impression, please drop me a line.) Here are some admittedly overpersonal and quite scattered thoughts about the two books.

Regeneration is mostly about the psychiatrist who "treats" the poet, decorated veteran, and war protester Siegfried Sassoon. His protest has been defined as illness, and his return to duty is the desired cure. The Eye in the Door shifts focus to a minor character from the first book: Billy Prior, also a patient of the same psychiatrist, who works for the Ministry of Munitions sniffing out and turning in people who hide deserting soldiers. Both books are really good, almost excellent. They don't hesitate to be cruel, which I respect. I preferred the second book, partly because Prior's aggression is preferable to Sassoon's over-explicit proclamations, and partly for a reason to be discussed at the end of this post.

Both books are striking in that they're anti-war novels that never visit the actual site of battle, and whose principal characters declare that they are not pacifists. Unless I'm forgetting something, neither Rivers (the psychiatrist) nor Sassoon ever consciously comes to believe that "nothing could be worth this." (Prior doesn't really think in those terms, anyway.) This made the books more powerful for me--the ethical shifts and ambivalences are entrapping, where I think a rigid ethical certainty might be too easy for the reader to reject. The books get a lot of their effects by having the characters explicitly deny those effects.

There are two main places where I thought the books were importantly deficient.
1. Politics, or the lack of politics. There's no sense of why the war is happening, and no sense, even, that there should be some kind of non-pathological explanation. WWI happens, in these books, because old men want to kill young ones. First off, I want that to be presented rather than assumed. But also, I don't rightly know how you stop mindless filicide; and there's a strong stench of inevitability and an anti-political helplessness hanging over the books. (I wonder if the emphasis on humiliation contributes to this.)

Relatedly: These books have Enemies. Priests = always Bad with a capital B. Actual supporters of the war = always bad, probably sadistic. People with Unenlightened Views on homosexuality = always bad, probably cracked. Unless I'm forgetting something, there are no exceptions; and the latter two categories are related to two of the books' key themes, so the absence of anything remotely resembling a non-caricatured other side is really striking.

Look, I know I react badly to the caricatured Bad People in part because I'm pretty darn sure that Barker and I disagree on a lot of things--political, moral, religious, prudential--and that if I were in one of her books either I or people I care deeply about would be among the Bad People. But whatever. This is the least important aspect of my problem (though, because people are self-centered, it's probably not the aspect I feel least keenly).

I don't believe in Bad People. I'm pretty sure that almost everyone suffers at some point from a crisis of conscience or of faith. I'm pretty sure that everyone has either reasons or a breaking point; and that if you write a character, you should be able to understand or forgive or imaginatively enter into one or the other of those two things. If you don't, I think, you swerve into caricature and propaganda.

2. This second point is much smaller, and really only became noticeable in The Eye in the Door: The grimth is so unrelenting that even childhood is depicted as a series of oppressions, suppressed rages, and revenges. I understand that unity of tone could be considered a virtue (although I think Macbeth is much improved by the Porter; and, for that matter, think the Porter heightens the play's horror rather than diluting it). But when you show me children, it is easier for me to believe the horrors if I also see them playing Knock Down Ginger, or conkers, or whatever. Depicting childhood (even an impoverished and screwed-up childhood) in the same palette used for trench warfare doesn't work.

But. But. But. I was completely, thoroughly gripped by these books. Especially the second. It's hard for me to be even vaguely objective about The Eye in the Door because it's really about one of my all-consuming obsessions, divided loyalties. Complicity, bad conscience, "holding Yes and No together with one hand," double-agentry and division within the self.

If those themes get to you the way they get to me, you absolutely should read these books.
"He did not have the habit of self-examination and had the feeling that it was vanity that made people speak about their virtues. And their faults."
--"Where All Things Wise and Fair Descend"

This, by the way, is an excellent story. It's not especially subtle; it's declarative and collegiate and nervous. It's also a stark portrayal of grief, youth, and, maybe especially, California. You should read it. (It's in this anthology.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

"OWNERSHIP SOCIETY STILL NEEDS RULES": Sebastian Mallaby column, via SRD. Excerpts:
The Bush team's "ownership society" is mainly about Social Security: It wants to convert part of this government program into private retirement accounts. But the administration is skeptical of corporate collectivism as well as the governmental variety. It's not sure that your employer should provide your health care or your retirement plan. And it may well be right.

Corporations became the anchors of traditional benefit programs only by accident. During World War II, the shortage of workers forced companies to compete hard for them; and government-imposed wage controls forced this competition to express itself in non-wage benefits. Later, tax breaks induced companies to expand those benefits. But without the distortion of wage controls or tax incentives, corporate provision of retirement and health plans would make little sense. ...

Before it proceeds any further with its trial balloon, the Bush team better emphasize that the market for individual health insurance would have to be regulated into providing socially acceptable results. There would have to be rules on which risk factors insurers could consider (smoking yes, race no, and so on); and insurers might have to be subsidized to take on patients with preexisting conditions. None of this would be simple. But corporations are clumsy anchors of health and retirement systems and are in any case withdrawing from this function. Other options could work better, provided they are done right.

YOUNG AND CATHOLIC: New blog! and new book! Tim Drake of Register fame.
TROOP SUPPORT SITES (send care packages and more): A list here. Also, Operation Uplink--so soldiers can call their families--via a couple people, most recently Unqualified Offerings.
GONZALES: Scathing piece in Washington Post.

Timid-but-still-fairly-scathing-given-the-source editorial from ditto.

This matters. Earlier I compared Gonzales to Arlen Specter. Specter still has his cute little chairmanship. But he had to make a lot of statements that will (I hope, and expect) constrict his future actions; he had to expend political capital; he had to watch as someone else wrote the script for the rest of his term. Everybody says Gonzales is gonna get confirmed. Okay. I don't like that, but if that happens, I at least want him to get confirmed in a way that tells the major media where his weaknesses are and what to watch for, and a way that gets him on record disavowing the wretched junk he has pulled in the past. And, as Jonathan Adler points out, a way that makes him unattractive Supreme Court material, too.
Blogwatch changes everything...

Amy Welborn: A little one!

Mark Shea is right about Michael Ledeen: "Personally, I prefer to give the Marine more credit and hope that he was trying to do the right thing, not enlist him as a poster boy for Ledeen's evil suggestion to go ahead and 'enter into evil' by 'doing things we know to be morally wrong.'"

Relapsed Catholic: Links to American Film Institute's "100 best movie quotes" nominees; but far better than their choices are her comments: "How do you nominate two lines from Ghostbusters and miss 'Cats and dogs, living together'? Or my favourite (which we used to use at peace marches when they'd bring out the mounted police): 'When I give the sign all prisoners will be released! You will perish in flames!!'"

Unqualified Offerings: Insuranceblogging redux.
"Nobody he had ever cared for had as yet died and everybody in his family had come home safe from all the wars."
--Irwin Shaw, "Where All Things Wise and Fair Descend"

Saturday, November 20, 2004

FARM DOLE. Ooh ooh, can I write the missing paragraph about international effects of American subsidies? Pick me, pick me!

...Of course, markets always reward some and punish others. The real annoyance in recent farm prosperity is that it only seems to have increased the burden of American taxpayers. Even as farm net income rose by half between 2002 and 2004, the volume of direct government payments (read: subsidies) paid to farmers rose by nearly the same amount, from $11 billion to $15.7 billion. If farmers are reaping such a green harvest, why are the rest of us subsidizing them so heavily?

The reason is that our demented farm policy has managed to get even worse recently. It's no surprise that this strangely market-distorting action has taken place in the last few years under a Republican Congress and a Republican president. Despite their self-identification as the party of entrepreneurial, competitive small business, the Bush crowd has shown itself to be a relentless advocate for non-entrepreneurial, competition-averse large businesses. Political geography also plays a role here. Many of the largest farm-goods producing states are red, and many of the largest farm-goods consuming states are blue. ...

Here's a precis of the 2002 bill's provisions. It provides three sources of income support for commodity farmers. Direct payments are made to farmers regardless of "current production or ... current market prices." According to this chart, those will cost us $5.3 billion in 2004. A new subsidy program--counter-cyclical payments--guarantees farmers a minimum price for their crops regardless of the market price (estimated 2004 payments: $1.9 billion). Then there are provisions for loans ($4.1 billion), a special dairy program, and payments for conservation.

OMG. "My question: in retrospect, can Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit be helpfully classified as Mary Sue fiction for history fans, do you think?"

(you! must! click!)
We'll drink a drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink,
The savior of the blogwatch race...

After Abortion: Dem leader who won't scrape and grovel to abortion lobby? Can it be? Maybe it can! ...And more here.

EDITED TO ADD: Church of the Masses: Isolation and community in the artist's life. The expected brilliance from La Barbara.

Jane Galt: Yet more praise for Jason DeParle's American Dream; welfare and the problem of realistic hope.

Motime Like the Present: Nice, nice post on Daredevil and his alter-alter-ego (why have just one?). Plus this: "The King's world is at right-angles to the stars; Ditko's art--even when it goes psychedelic (or didactic!)--is fleshier and more humanistic than most humans can bear to look at; and Colan's figures are passionate waxworks that melt instead of move." Plus he argues that there's no such thing as subtext, and I'm trying hard to figure out whether agreeing means I've either erased the author or posited a Secret Self.

Oxblog: Iraq, the Philippines, and democracy promotion in the interest of mission success. And follow-up with responses to criticism. ...And, on not so much a different plane as a different planet, Boola Boola!!!!

Unqualified Offerings: Insurance: Why the suckage? Very good stuff with promises of follow-up. UO wins coveted Best Insuranceblogger I Read title. "Insurance classic is about the pooling of risk. Contemporary health insurance is that, but it's also the pooling of certainties." (more)

The Corner: The U.N., Afghanistan, and the Drug War: Hi there, I'm a recipe for a cluster...unpleasantness.

The Yale Free Press blog has been jumping lately, with a punchy atheist on the nature of charity; FairTaxery; international law; and much more.
THANK U VERY MUCH: You end up with a very... dissonant picture of England when you alternate between reading The Eye in the Door and listening to "The Very Best of Scaffold." I suppose the American equivalent would be Blood Meridian with a soundtrack by the Beach Boys.

Deep thoughts, I know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

IMPOSED/DISCOVERED: HOW THEY MADE THE MANTICORE. Anthropomorfic the second. Good grief, two rabidly conservative ficlets in a row! I had better post "Power/Freedom" right quick. ...Anyway, this one is actually a snippet from a much longer piece, a fantasy-of-manners thing called "The White Darkness." But this section gives you the heart of the story. These characters will likely recur in other ficlets. Their names, if you're wondering, are Alazon and Virgule; but the names didn't really fit into this bit, so for now they are just she and he.
DAY COMES, NIGHT GOES--THEY JUST WANT TO BE TOGETHER, EVERYONE KNOWS: So I kept teasing you all, talking about this cool weird-o writing exercise I'd found. I reveal it: Anthropomorfic*.

You look at me like Manuel, and say, "Que?"

Anthropomorfics: Very, very short fiction (I'm limiting myself to 150-250 words) in which the "characters" are allegorical abstract nouns or hemi-allegorical (what?) concrete nouns. I'll be posting two or three of these a week from now until the New Year. In this post I'll list the pairings I'm considering. The italicized ones are my favorites: ones I'm almost certain to do. If you want me to do any of them, itals or not, please write in, as I guarantee I will write any pairing you people choose. This is, after all, a writing exercise, not a writing mud mask or jacuzzi session! ...Also, if you end up writing this kind of completely bats thing, let me know. It is always comforting to find that "we're all mad here."

* Website includes descriptions of sex, and stuff. So might some of my writing exercises. Some stories need sexual description, as some stories need melodrama; but with both of these elements, a little goes a long way. For what it's worth, I think blasphemy is worse than sexual sin, and at least equally appealing in its typical literary depictions; so if you want to get on my case about the things I write, please be forewarned that I really have thought about this quite a bit and am thus far unconvinced that I need to lace-knickers my stories for the Lord.

Here are the possibilities:
Present/Subjunctive with implied Past/Present
High Heel/Foot
Newspaper of Record/Tabloid Press
Ugly/Beautiful followed swiftly by Ugly/Sublime
Natural Right/Natural Rights
Ars Longa/Vita Brevis
Church/Liquor Store
Tradition/Cliche or Tradition/Addiction
Never/Seldom; Never/Someday; Never/Now
Text/Penumbra; Text/Intent
Shot Glass/Mug
Open Parenthesis/Close Parenthesis
Bird's Nest Soup/Moo Shu Pork
War/Postwar with implied Antebellum/War
Mashed Potatoes/Vodka or maybe French Fries/Vodka
Love Interest/Sidekick
Nobody/Anybody or Anybody/Somebody
The Life/The Work
RANDOM: The Closing of the American Mind--like The Man Without a Country--reads best the further one gets from its particular political context, when its existential concerns can come to the fore.

THE GHOSTS OF WELFARE PAST, WELFARE PRESENT, AND WELFARE YET TO COME: Slate symposium on Jason DeParle's book on the ground-level effects of welfare reform. Mickey Kaus is there. Wild horses couldn't drag me away.
PAYING THE WORDS EXTRA: Hey lookit, there's a blog dedicated to exploring what a progressive Constitution would look like in 2020. (via Volokh)

Hey lookit, there's this guy... think I've seen him around somewhere....

For those who care: My own jurisprudential philosophy, at this point, is wary of rationalist theories, and dedicated primarily to working against the Humpty Dumpty theory of law:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

SEND HIM TO SYRIA and see how sunshiney he is about torture.

Alberto Gonzales.


And I note that the latter link concludes, "Senate Democrats are expected to press for full disclosures on these and related matters. But privately, even they acknowledge his confirmation is all but assured."

OK, now, why? Look, the headlines Monday were all like, "Arlen Specter in trouble!", and as far as I can tell that was an entirely consciously-ginned-up (yay! this is the kind of gin I like!) controversy. If Kathryn Lopez can do it, why can't actual Democratic congresscreeps? Or, you know, perhaps a Republican. Chris Cox? Bueller? Bueller? WRITE AND CALL! Andale, andale, arriba arriba! (You knew I would go there.)

Or, if you think I'm bugging, tell me why. But from what I've read about this dude, including the words of his supporters (whose basic line seems to be: "meh"), no, I think he's bad news. We can do bettah!

If you don't like the news, make some of your own.
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR: Hilarious list of Things I Will Not Do When I Direct A Shakespeare Production. Including but definitely not limited to the following:

1. The ghost of Hamlet's father will not be played by the entire ensemble underneath a giant piece of diaphanous black material.

10. I will not treat A Midsummer Night's Dream as though it were Un Chien Andalou.

25. I will not use long red ribbons to represent blood, particularly if the long red ribbons bear an unnerving resemblance to pasta.

55. I will not allow the King's ghost in Hamlet to look like a hairy popsicle.

67. I will not put people in elaborate period costumes that only go down to their shoulders.

69. Richard III will not be portrayed as a whiny little prat who couldn't seduce or murder his way out of a wet paper bag.

70. I will not use metatheater as a way to disguise the ineptitude of my cast or of myself. If by some chance I find myself forced to take this course anyway, I will make it clear that the production is meta and not just half-assed.

98. I will not have sheep in my pastoral scenes.

128. Lady Macbeth doesn't start out the play insane. If she does, there's nowhere to go. It's called a character ARC!

137. At no time will Hamlet be allowed to impale Claudius with a chandelier.

145. If I have a high concept production, I have to make sure it makes sense to people who aren't me.

151. Having Shylock pour blood on a prayer shawl and ululate in Hebrew while waving a curved knife during the trial is just overkill.

153. Puck should not wear a tutu. Nor should he be twins.

there is a clicking at the gate!
Rivers lifted his hands to his chin, smelling the medical school smell of human fat and formaldehyde, only partially masked by carbolic soap. He watched Head's expression as he looked at Lucas's shaved scalp, and realized it differed hardly at all from his expression that morning as he'd bent over the cadaver. For the moment, Lucas had become simply a technical problem. Then Lucas looked up from his task, and instantly Head's face flashed open in his transforming smile. A murmur of encouragement, and Lucas returned to his drawing. Head's face, looking at the ridged purple scar on the shaved head, again became remote, withdrawn. His empathy, his strong sense of the humanity he shared with his patients, was again suspended. A necessary suspension, without which the practice of medical research, and indeed of medicine itself, would hardly be possible, but none the less identifiably the same suspension the soldier must achieve in order to kill. The end was different, but the psychological mechanism employed to achieve it was essentially the same. What Head was doing, Rivers thought, was in some ways a benign, epicritic form of the morbid dissociation that had begun to afflict Prior. Head's dissociation was healthy because the researcher and the physician each had instant access to the experience of the other, and both had access to Head's experience in all other areas of his life. Prior's was pathological because areas of his conscious experience had become inaccessible to memory. What was interesting was why Head's dissociation didn't lead to the kind of split thta had taken place in Prior. Rivers shifted his position, and sighed. One began by finding mental illness mystifying, and ended by being still more mystified by health.
--The Eye in the Door

Friday, November 12, 2004

LINK FROM JULIAN SANCHEZ: Everything that follows is from Hit & Run:
Via The Agitator comes the Spending Explosion flash game, in which you slap GOP officials with the Constitution (a Cato Pocket Constitution, to be exact) whack-a-mole style in an attempt to keep runaway spending under control. For extra verisimilitude, it appears to be a Kobayashi Maru. Random D.C. incestuousness aside: The game's designer, Brian Kieffer, now lives in my old apartment.

SUPPORT-THE-TROOPS SITE. In time for the holidays.
If you have been wanting to know more about this "Rivers" person who keeps coming up in the book quotes, go here.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

WHOA: "Why would a child as young as three years old ever be on mind-altering drugs? For the past eight months, the News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooters have poured through reams of state documents and discovered thousands of foster kids appear to be on powerful psychotropic drugs. Many of these children are barely in kindergarten. Some are mere toddlers."

more (via Family Scholars)
Rivers waited. When it was clear Prior could offer nothing more he said, "You say the worst feature of their situation is the eye?"


"The constantly being spied on?"


Rivers asked gently, "In that meeting with Mrs. Roper, who was the spy?"

"I--" Prior's mouth twisted. "I was."
--Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

M TO THE A TO THE S TO THE K: Came back yesterday from a conference on "the renaissance of traditional marriage." I spoke on marriage and masculinity (yeah yeah, I know, those who can't do teach)--brief version of my talk will be on Marriage Debate tomorrowish. As usual, I felt a lot like a lion in a Christian suit. But I was really heartened to hear a lot of support for prison reform; so I figured I'd link again to my Crisis magazine piece on that subject, "Fifteen to Life: Reforming the Criminal Justice System."
SCANDAL: Dappled Things excerpt:

I had a professor in seminary, a Dutch Jesuit who was an excellent Church historian, who always regaled us with the most embarrassing and shameful episodes of the Church's history -- torture chambers, simony, Popes with their mistresses and bastards, Cardinals who spent fortunes on parties and loose living -- two thousand years of scandals, in other words. The gentler souls in the university hall -- innocently pious seminarians and third-world nuns -- were frequently shocked by the things that the professor lectured on. It eventually became clear what his aim was with these digressions: our Faith is placed in God alone, and the better acquainted we are with the seamier side of the Church's history, the fewer dangerous illusions we'll be carrying around to trip us up during the next set of scandals. God is perfect, and the Church is holy, but those of us who make up the Church are seriously flawed and won't fail to disappoint. If I'm a practicing Catholic because Fr Schmidt is a saint and Sister Cecilia hasn't committed a venial sin for thirty years and the parish secretary is always so kind, then my Faith in Jesus is in sorry shape. When another secretary embezzles a hundred grand, and Sister Lucy starts running guns for the Sandinistas, and Fr Murphy runs off and joins the circus, where's my Faith then?
Men said they didn't tell their women about France because they didn't want to worry them. But it was more than that. He needed her ignorance to hide in. Yet, at the same time, he wanted to know and be known as deeply as possible. And the two desires were irreconcilable.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

GIMME AN A! GIMME A B! GIMME A D! What's that spell?

Oligarch! Oligarch! Oligarch! (Mono--d'oh!)
BLOOD MAKES NOISE: Or, eugenics and the Scopes "Monkey Trial." A good reminder.
They talked for over an hour. Near the end, after they'd been sitting in silence for a while, Burns said quietly, "Do you know what Christ died of?"

Rivers looked surprised, but answered readily enough. "Suffocation. Ultimately the position makes it impossible to go on inflating the lungs. A terrible death."

"That's what I find so horrifying. Somebody had to imagine that death. I mean, just in order to invent it as a method of execution. You know that thing in the Bible? 'The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth'? I used to wonder why pick on that? Why his imagination? But it's absolutely right."

Friday, November 05, 2004

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND THE LEGAL PROFESSION: Rick Sander is guest-blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy, about his new study arguing that affirmative action "hurts black law students more than it helps them, by bumping applicants up into law schools where they are more likely to earn poor grades, drop out, and fail their states' bar exams." I note that I'm totally incompetent to judge the study itself. But it's a really interesting subject and will be looking forward to reading Prof. Sander's posts. Here's his schedule:
--How does affirmative action in law schools work? (Monday)
--How do racial preferences affect the performance of blacks in law school and on the bar? (Tuesday)
--How do racial preferences affect how blacks do in the job market for lawyers? (Wednesday)
--What would the black bar look like if we abolished or limited racial preferences? (Thursday)

And his comments: "As Eugene suggested, there are a few things that make my work on this topic unusual. First, I'm somewhere in the liberal-left spectrum on most issues, and I've worked actively in civil rights (especially on the issue of housing segregation) through most of my career. So my generally negative conclusions about affirmative action put me at odds with many close friends (not to mention former funders). Second, the study is heavily data-driven. Good longitudinal datasets on law students and lawyers have only recently become available, making it possible to ask questions that we could only speculate about before. Third, my interest in affirmative action policies of law schools is not whether they betray general normative goals, whether they are unfair to whites, or whether they have subtle negative effects on blacks--instead, I'm focused on whether the policies meet their simplest goals of producing more and better black lawyers. I was surprised and dismayed to find that, in most cases, the policies fail at this basic level."
CAN THIS INSTITUTION BE SAVED?: Interesting Christianity Today piece on the Smart Marriages conference. Via Family Scholars.
OUTSOURCING TORTURE: Must-read Nat Hentoff column. Via Hit & Run.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

HOW DO IVF BABIES TURN OUT?: Fertility specialists confront disturbing evidence.
C.S. LEWIS ON THE LAST THINGS (especially Purgatory). The Great Divorce is an excellent and quick read.
HERE'S HOPING: From Sed Contra: "I think these election results can only serve to strengthen the hand of the pro-life Democrats since they can now reasonably make the case that if the Kerry campaign had reached out to socially conservative Democrats, Kerry might have won." (here)
WORDS OF WISDOM FROM RELAPSED CATHOLIC: "Don't pray for victory. Just pray." (more--good to read)
YIPES: Metro trains collide on the red line. Thank God, no one was killed and there are no life-threatening injuries. Link via The Corner.
PEOPLE ARE HAVING SEX IN MY ARMPIT: You need a break from the election, no? Why not take that break with some adolescent humor? Here, have a site where people provide titles for movies based solely on the promo posters. I find it thoroughly hilarious, so if you ever wondered exactly which brand of geeked-out stupid teen humor pushes my buttons, now you know. Click at own risk; link contains foul language, smutty implications, and amazing geekosity.

I forget where I found this. ...Will have some post-election thoughts eventually (once we actually have a post-election). Main thing is that, as Jim Henley says, you vote one day out of the 365. Make the other 364 count more--no matter who wins.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Don't, don't, don't let's start,
This is the blogwatch...

Raed in the Middle: Raed Jarrar and his family are running a fund drive for Iraqi hospitals. It's done through PayPal and Raed promises frequent updates on funding and where it's going. Click here to learn how you can help.

Unqualified Offerings: I'm wrong about the Sybilicious Doom Patrol plot. Jim is probably right. I think the plot had irritated me so much by the end that my reading veered from uncharitable into plainly inaccurate. I was more peeved by the very, very silly "I'm not a man because my body is made of metal! Except for my brain! And stuff." speech than by the chick-saving, really. This speech seems like it should have set us up for the mind/body shtik in the last section (with the Brain and Monsieur Mallah the gorilla), except that a) it's stupid (brain = flesh = body, pussycats) and b) the Brain/Mallah thing gets stupidized in order to produce a cute-ish plot twist.

"Twilight of the Liberal Hawks": Or, Yesterday, when they were mad. Scathing Tim Cavanaugh piece about Iraq-war supporters for Kerry, with lots of points equally applicable to, uh, me. Via Hit & Run, I think, as well as Unqualified Offerings.
When my turn comes to step up to the podium for the archangels to question my reasons for entering this land of dreams, this heaven on earth, I get asked a question that will trouble me for a long time after the interview is over: "Sir, are you religious?"

Now, I am the type of Muslim who would tell you that even if there was an Allah hovering up there, he should be punished by collective disobedience because he has been doing a miserable job.

So the answer to Mr Immigration Officer would be a hearty: "Oh, no. I dropped that potato a long time ago." But instead I keep looking at the little cross hanging from his neck and feel like telling him that this is none of his business. But I don't. We all know why he is asking me this question and what my answer should be: "No, sir, I am not religious and I do not know how to prove that to you." I feel ashamed that I have just said these words.


via Iraq Blog Count.