Saturday, February 28, 2004

PRIEST SEX-ABUSE REPORT: What follows is Amy Welborn's take:

The NYTimes takes a look at the studies

"Two long-awaited studies have found that the Roman Catholic Church suffered an epidemic of child sexual abuse that involved at least 4 percent of priests over 52 years and peaked with the ordination class of 1970, in which one of every 10 priests was eventually accused of abuse."

Stop there and ponder that for a moment.

"The other report, on the causes and context of the crisis, was written by a team of prominent Catholic lawyers, judges, businesspeople and other professionals whom the bishops had appointed to a national review board.
They reached their conclusions after interviewing 85 bishops and cardinals, Vatican officials, experts and a handful of victims, and after seeing the data from the John Jay researchers. Those interviewed were promised that their comments would not be attributed, which resulted in great candor, the report said.

"Their report, 145 pages and covered in purple to signify atonement, dissects the culture in Catholic seminaries and chanceries that they say tolerated moral laxity and a gay subculture. They make recommendations for reform, but no judgments on whether church doctrine or rules need to be changed."

And this

"Both reports are highly critical of the bishops and church officials, and the Review Board's report singles out a few by name. Among them are Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned his post as archbishop of Boston as a result of the scandal; Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York for failing in his former post as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., to remove a priest with a developing pattern of accusations; and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles for resisting grand jury subpoenas that sought church files on accused priests.
The review board's report on the causes of the crisis said that board members could not find a single expression of outrage in church correspondence from a supervising bishop about any priest that the bishops knew had been accused of abuse."

And then this, which is about all you need to know:

"The John Jay researchers found that only 14 percent of the priests accused of abuse were reported to the police by their bishops. The rest were never reported, never investigated. Ninety-five percent were never charged with a crime. Of the 217 priests charged, 138 were convicted."

And before we discuss, remember this: These reports are based on self-reporting by dioceses. The researchers did not go through files--they depend on what the bishops gave them.
A rush and a push that the land that we blogwatch is ours...

Dappled Things: Guide to indulgences. And selecting a Lenten penance. (Yeah, a bit behind here, sorry.)

Diotima: Reply to my post on hookups--pointing out that men, too, often feel the lack of a deeper connection. Elizabeth Marquardt only interviewed women, and of course I mostly only know that side of things as well, but I'm heartened (and unsurprised) by what Diotima says.

Noli Irritare Leones: Reply to my post on hookups.

Sursum Corda: Do the ashes still burn?

Edward Gorey's book covers! Via About Last Night.
"Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table."
--Calvin Coolidge, address to the Massachusetts Senate

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

LENT, thank God. I think I've been looking forward to this since at least Advent. Must get my head together.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.

--"Comfort, Comfort Ye My People"

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

WHAT'S MY LINE?: On Friday I heard a talk by Elizabeth Marquardt, discussing her research into the "hookup culture" on college campuses. For those of us who graduated recently, there were few surprises: Nobody asks anybody on dates, nobody knows whether they're dating or not, people either engage in sterile futureless hookups or embed themselves in "joined at the hip" relationships with a strong flavor of folie a deux. This much I knew (although it was interesting to note how much these facts surprised Marquardt, who is quite young--this stuff must be relatively recent).

But one thing she said was not something I'd heard before, and it really struck me. She pointed out that the hookup relationship is the only kind of erotic encounter that is actually "scripted"--where you know, going in, what you should do and how to get what you want. You're not supposed to want to talk to the person afterwards (as a friend of a friend said in a slightly different context, "I $#@!'d you, I don't want to see you!"). Afterward, if you long for the person or want some emotional intimacy to go with your physical intimacy, that means you're "clingy" and needy and bad. (It doesn't mean, say, that you are someone who has an integrated sense of her body and her mind; someone who knows that there is a language of the body and a meaning to our actions in the physical world.)

And there's one other thing to note about the hookup script, Marquardt added. The script often includes getting drunk, and rarely includes any kind of communication about what the two people involved are doing. That sounds like a different script: the one for date rape.

In the sexual revolution, I'm unconvinced that sex won.
"For who among mortals, dreading nothing, is just?"
--Aeschylus, Eumenides

Monday, February 23, 2004

YOU ARE RULE 11! You were designed to make sure that attorneys in federal cases make reasonable inquiries into fact or law before submitting pleadings, motions, or other papers. You were a real hardass in 1983, when you snuffed out all legal creativity from federal proceedings and embarassed well-meaning but overzealous attorneys. You loosened up a bit in 1993, when you began allowing plaintiffs to make allegations in their complaints that are likely to have evidenciary support after discovery, and when you allowed a 21 day period for the erring attorney to withdraw the errant motion. Sure, you keep everything running on the up and up, but it's clear that things would be a lot more fun without you around.

Which federal rule of civil procedure are you?

Can't get no respect. Via Tepper.
Now we're running just as fast as we can
Holding on to one another's hands
Trying to blog away, into the watch,
When you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say:

Old Oligarch: "Besides, you sick, wretched creature of the flesh filled with works-righteousness, the exploding drink is God's mercy to you: By blowing off your lips, He teaches you to surrender your creatureliness." In other words, the O.O. beats up on Karl Barth.

Unqualified Offerings: Superhero expressionism. I agree with this. Also agree that "people are as outlandish as they can afford to be."

Sean Collins: "In a film theory class I took my sophomore year at Yale, one of the films on the syllabus was Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. ... And when we began to discuss it, we naturally focused on the famous 'Vertigo Shot'--that weird camera effect produced by simultaneously tracking back and zooming in, used in Vertigo to convey Scottie's paralyzing fear of heights. ...

"'What's going on in that shot?' our professor asked. We weren't really sure what she was after. I mean, there's the technical trickery behind it, but other than that, isn't it obvious? It's a point-of-view shot that shows how scared Scottie is. 'Is anyone here scared of heights?' she then asked; I raised my hand, as did several others. 'When you feel vertigo, is this what you see?' Uhh, well, no, not exactly... 'Of course not. When you are scared, your eyes don't suddenly work differently. This image is impossible to see without a camera. It doesn't and can't represent anything in nature. And yet you all knew exactly what it was supposed to represent--the terror of vertigo.' And what's more, she went on to argue, it represents the spiraling chaos of Scottie's life (connected as it is to the ever-present spiral motif of the film's mise-en-scene), and his fixation on a point (the zoom/Madeleine) and his inability to actually reach that point (the track-back), and indeed by its very impossibility suggests the fundamental wrongness of Scottie's life.

"All that meaning, all that power, would have been lost if Hitchcock had eschewed spectacle for realism."

I have nothing to add to that except, YES. PREACH!

Yankee or Dixie? quiz. I seem to recall scoring "barely Yankee." (Yup--41%. My answers were an apparently random mix of Northeastern, Midwestern, and Southeastern, which, you know, sounds about right.) And here's a dialect survey that looks super-interesting and useful. I'm working on a story where the protagonists hail from New York City and North Dakota--thus nobody in the story has my actual accent and speaking patterns--so I'm going to be spending quite a lot of time on the second site. ...A few months ago, I heard two girls speaking the way I (think I) speak, which is really rare. I of course turned around to watch them. They were the only white girls in an almost entirely black class of maybe sixth- or seventh-graders. So that's it!

...I think we're alone now...
AMERICANA IN ARABIC TRANSLATION PROGRAM. Excellent: "The classics of American thought and literature have been little translated into Arabic. Worse, even when they have been translated, they have appeared in small editions (typically no more than 500 copies printed). Worse still, the distribution system for Arabic books is poor, and there are few public libraries, so that many books that have been published in the past are no longer available to most readers.

"I have therefore decided to begin a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively. I hope also to subsidize their distribution."

Via Oxblog.
A PRETTIER JOBS PICTURE: Virginia Postrel in the NYTimes: ...In a quickly evolving economy, in which increased productivity constantly makes some jobs redundant, we notice the job losses. It is much harder to spot where new jobs are emerging. Our mental categories tend to be behind the times. When we think of jobs, we see factories, secretarial pools, police officers, lawyers. We forget all about jobs we see every day.

The official job counters at the Bureau of Labor Statistics don't do much to overcome our blind spots. The bureau is good at counting people who work for large organizations in well-defined, long-established occupations. It is much less adept at counting employees in small businesses, simply because there are too many small enterprises to representatively sample them. The bureau's occupational survey, which might suggest which jobs are growing, doesn't count self-employed people or partners in unincorporated businesses at all. And many of today's growing industries, the ones adding jobs even amid the recession, are comprised largely of small companies and self-employed individuals. That is particularly true for aesthetic crafts, from graphic designers and cosmetic dentists to gardeners. These specialists' skills are in ever greater demand, yet they tend to work for themselves or in partnerships. ...

It is tempting, of course, to treat these undercounts as trivial. After all, what do 200,000 massage therapists or 300,000 manicurists matter in a country of 290 million people? But this list of occupations is hardly comprehensive. In every booming job category I looked at, official surveys were missing thousands of jobs. As the economy evolves, however, this bias against small enterprises and self-employment becomes more and more significant. By missing so many new sources of productivity, the undercounts distort our already distorted view of economic value -- the view that treats traditional manufacturing and management jobs as more legitimate, even more real, than craft professions or personal-service businesses. But the truth is, value can come as much from intangible pleasures as it can from tangible goods.


Via Hit & Run.
"I feel, finally, that this (in the crocodile) is my normal condition."
--Dostoyevsky's journals

Friday, February 20, 2004

HMMM: I echo Ramesh Ponnuru's question about scientists' opinion of research cloning: "Some surprising data about their views. Supposedly 73 percent of American biotech researchers and 78 percent of foreign ones believe it to be 'ethically unacceptable' to create human embryos for research purposes. Can this be true?"
RATTY, like the Wuggly-Ump, is drawing near, so posting will be limited while we riot and destroy. However, I hope to reply to your emails (and post some interesting stuff of my own) by Monday morning. Comics reviews, too. I note that my tastes must be becoming more mainstream (yay, more people like what I like!), as my comics shop was sold out of two things I tried to buy: Mother, Come Home and Deep Sleeper.
I didn't collect my thoughts
And all kinds of women are waiting for me
I'll come--
Or is it because very early
Everything very early was killed in me

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky's journals (channeling Cat Power)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

GETTING FIRED: THE ISOPOD BEAUTY SALON. In which Edward G. Peeler hits our hero below the fold; and things start to get seriously weird. Read it from the beginning here, or get the latest installment here.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? HUMAN CLONING. WDYT? is one of my favorite Onion features, and this one is especially good. The anti-Christian one isn't unique or unexpected enough to be funny, but the others are great. My favorite is probably the top right-hand corner--which allows me to drop my second A.K. reference of the day. Go here and do a search for "cloning" to find my nominee in the Best Impression of a Foul-Mouthed Maggie Gallagher category.

Oh, this is pretty good, too: "Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each of Us."
SADLY TRUE: My inner child is sixteen years old!

Life's not fair! It's never been fair, but while adults might just accept that, I know something's gotta change. And it's gonna change, just as soon as I become an adult and get some power of my own.

How old is your inner child?

Via E-Pression.
Hey Mr. Blogwatch, I thought you said we had a deal...

Dappled Things: Many more "songs from groups that are not chiefly religious bands (no Gospel bands and Christian rock, in other words) but that cite the Bible, Catholic liturgy, or other explicitly Judaeo-Christian sources."

Infocult: The Sims play the Sims. Heads explode across meta-America. Via Hit & Run.

MarriageMovement blog, a fantastic site dealing with perhaps our most pressing domestic issue--the renewal of marriage--is now Adjust your permalinks accordingly!

Otto-da-Fe: Now this is just wrong.

Peiratikos: Animal Man-ia. Just scroll.

Unqualified Offerings: Lotsa comics reviews. I'm heading to the shop sometime today, so expect a report back... Mondayish?

Southern Appeal: I haven't had time to read the Ninth Amendment debate yet, but since this is possibly the amendment I think I have the least grip on, I'll definitely be heading over there when I get a chance.

When Will the Hurting Stop: This is true: "Here's a little note to AK: people are going to stalk you all across the internet for the rest of your natural born days until you get a new regular gig." Via Sean Collins.

The Roundup: Snarky, leftist news-headline site: "*Iraq, Afghanistan Remained Screwed

"* Russia, Too

"* Prague in News For No Apparent Reason."

Lots of fun. I forget where I found this.
I surrendered my sinful body
He struck the [river] with his tail
[Tightly he entwined me]
And I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled,
And he pierced my body
voluptuously with his teeth.

--from Dostoyevsky's journals

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

MY LIFE ISN'T ANYTHING COMPARED TO STARS AND SOUND, SOUND: Absolute best thing that has happened to me in the past week (not counting Mass): The Old Oligarch FIXED MY DVD PLAYER AND CD PLAYER!!!!!

I'm honestly kind of startled at how happy this makes me. I'd been listening to horrible rough scratchy awful DVD sound, and NO compact discs at all, for so long that I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to have these EARS. So I'm deeply pro-ears now.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I've noticed about the content of the discs I've played so far is that the music in "X2: X-Men United," while more stirring than the music in "X-Men," is not as unique. The "X2" music is heroic-generic, even though the actual movie is swift and pleasingly polished. "X-Men" has this doomy, histrionic score that works really well, although it is--like the movie it accompanies--slower and less memorable than its "X2" counterpart.
LIPSTICK VOGUE: A useful, if deeply passive-aggressive, description of the hypersexualized (and therefore creepily anti-erotic) atmosphere of the modern elite college campus. Rough language and so forth.

A more up-front, but perhaps for that reason less effective, discussion can be found here: "The problem with the Yale sex drive is not that it is too strong, but that it is too weak." As C.S. Lewis says, we are far too easily pleased.
WHY YOUR JOB ISN'T MOVING TO BANGALORE: ...In objecting to moving service jobs overseas, Senator Kerry is wrong on two counts. First, his economics is faulty: the practice only adds to the overall economic pie and improves the competitiveness of American companies. In a world economy, firms that forgo cheaper supplies of services are doomed to lose markets, and hence production. And companies that die out, of course, do not employ people. ...

Unfortunately, the issue is further confused by claims that American jobs are being "transferred" abroad. This is usually not the case. When I came to my university 25 years ago, I got a secretary. Today, the new hires get a computer instead. In India, where a secretary costs a small fraction of what one would in New York City but a computer costs more, any Indian professor who asked for a new laptop would probably get a secretary instead. It is simply a matter of economic reality in both places. The hiring of the secretary in India should not be seen as "transferring" a job out of New York.

The fact is, when jobs disappear in America it is usually because technical change has destroyed them, not because they have gone anywhere. In the end, Americans' increasing dependence on an ever-widening array of technology will create a flood of high-paying jobs requiring hands-on technicians, not disembodied voices from the other side of the world.

HOSPITALS AND HUMILITY: Father Tucker on the personal experience of ex opere operato. "You can tell yourself all sorts of things about what a wonderful job you do, but when push comes to shove and somebody wants his sins forgiven, any old priest will do."
STOP ME IF YOU THINK THAT YOU'VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE: (a.k.a. "He talks about you in his sleep, and it's all that I can do to keep from cryin' when he calls your name, Jolene.")

Themes you return to again and again?

Queer Catholics/Christians. Either or (esp.) both.

Fatalism vs. hope, a.k.a. Jesus doesn't want me for a sunbeam, a.k.a. the sin of despair. Frequently disguised as other sins, e.g. substance abuse, lust.

Cultural conformity vs. capitulation to self vs. defining oneself through love of some other. Who you are vs. who you think you are vs. who other people think you are. The against-the-odds attempt to maintain an identity that can be strong enough and constant enough to promise--and, therefore, to love.

The desire for justice--even in the absence of a belief in mercy. A.k.a. my personal policy brief in favor of bad Catholics.

Beauty as an arrow toward meaning; things in the world as words spoken by God.

Doing the right thing can feel like and appear as betrayal. (This actually comes up much less in my fiction than I would expect, given the prominent role it plays in my twisted psyche.)

In this order: pride (= despair--they're really the same thing), wrath, lust, vanity, gluttony, envy, avarice.
"CURRENTLY DEAD." But everything can change. Your crash course in X-Men comics. Via Naomi Chana.

Or you could just go here.
I'M CHARLES IV, MAD KING OF FRANCE! Is anyone really surprised?

A fine, amiable and dreamy young man, skilled in horsemanship and archery, you were also from a long line of dribbling madmen. King at 12 and quickly married to your sweetheart, Bavarian Princess Isabeau, you enjoyed many happy months together before either of you could speak anything of the other's language. However, after illness you became a tad unstable. When a raving lunatic ran up to your entourage spouting an incoherent prophecy of doom, you were unsettled enough to slaughter four of your best men when a page dropped a lance. Your hair and nails fell out. At a royal masquerade, you and your courtiers dressed as wild men, ending in tragedy when four of them accidentally caught fire and burned to death. You were saved by the timely intervention of the Duchess of Berry's underskirts.

This brought on another bout of sickness, which surgeons countered by drilling holes in your skull. The following months saw you suffer an exorcism, beg your friends to kill you, go into hyperactive fits of gaiety, run through your rooms to the point of exhaustion, hide from imaginary assassins, claim your name was Georges, deny that you were King and fail to recognise your family. You smashed furniture and wet yourself at regular intervals. Passing briefly into erratic genius, you believed yourself to be made of glass and demanded iron rods in your attire to prevent you breaking.

In 1405 you stopped bathing, shaving or changing your clothes. This went on until several men were hired to blacken their faces, hide, jump out and shout "boo!", upon which you resumed basic hygiene. Despite this, your wife continued sleeping with you until 1407, when she hired a young beauty, Odette de Champdivers, to take her place. Isabeau then consoled herself, as it were, with your brother. Her lovers followed thick and fast while you became a pawn of your court, until you had her latest beau strangled and drowned.

A severe fever was fended off with oranges and pomegranates in vast quantities, but you succumbed again in 1422 and died. Your disease was most likely hereditary. Unfortunately, you had anywhere up to eleven children, who variously went on to develop capriciousness, great cruelty, insecurity, paranoia, revulsion towards food and, in one case, a phobia of bridges.

Which historical lunatic are you?

Via Naomi Chana, as is fast becoming traditional.
BE A NICE GIRL, KISS THE WARDERS Dagnabbit! I'm Jacques Derrida. At least I'm not dead! But really, slim pickin's all around. Me for Saint Anselm. Screw the century of blood.

Which 20th century theorist are you?

Via Naomi Chana.
I AM TOM LEHRER'S "CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE, BY GOLLY": Christmastime is here, by golly!
Disapproval would be folly.
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the glass and don't say "when"...
Kill the turkeys, ducks, and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brothers, here we go again!

Which Christmas carol are you?

I note that this is really not true. I love certain Christmas carols, especially "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," "In the Bleak Midwinter," "O Holy Night," and "Joy to the World." But hey... here's what Quizilla thinks of me:

"Hmm, you really don't like Christmas, do you? From the moment they start playing carols in the shops in October to the appearance of the first Easter Eggs in the shops on New Years Eve, the rampant hypocrisy of the Christmas spirit sets your teeth on edge. You know just how many family fights start over Christmas dinner, how many people are injured in the Boxing Day sales, and how few people actually find Christmas even remotely merry. You liked Scrooge far better before those ghosts got to him, and you are only doing this quiz because you are bored at work and anything is better than listening to everyone else discuss their Christmas shopping. Still, it is two days off work, which does count for something... Enjoy the break."

Via Naomi Chana.
I'M OTHELLO. "You are the innovative and ground-breaking tragedy about civil rights for minorities. [Um?] Everyone hated you, but you ignored it, because you were in love with a woman of the 'other' race. Unfortunately, she was the only one worthy of your trust... and you didn't trust her. And now you're both dead."

Which famous Shakespeare play are you?

Via Naomi Chana.
"Mr. Tarnopol is considered by Dr. Spielvogel to be among the nation's top young narcissists in the arts."
--My Life As a Man

Sunday, February 15, 2004

AND I HAD A FEELING I COULD BE SOMEONE...: Two contrasting conversations keep knocking together in my mind.

In one of them, a friend described his experiences with men he knew who had fathered a child out of wedlock. This guy described how he would tell the men that their children needed them. The sons needed to learn what it means to be a man, how to be a responsible man. The daughters needed to learn what they could expect from men--that they could demand that men be responsible, loyal, an intrinsic part of the family. The children needed their fathers. And when he said this to the men, they lit up like Christmas. In a world where they were rarely considered necessary, in a culture where they were treated as problematic-at-best, suddenly they had a place. A role. An honorable role. Because they were needed.

The other thing wasn't actually a conversation. It was some things Molly McKay of Marriage Equality California said at the very interesting debate we had at Stanford, a couple weeks ago. McKay (who absolutely won the debate! she's good!) said several things to which I was quite sympathetic, even though, obviously, we disagreed. But she also said some things I found seriously disturbing, seriously destructive. She emphatically denied that children need their mother and father; she argued that single parenting and divorce were not worse for children than marriage. ("Can everyone in the audience who was raised by a single parent, or by a divorced parent, raise your hands? And see--you all got into Stanford! Your family must have done something right!")

What could she tell the men, the unwed fathers? Who are they, in her worldview? Have they got a role in the family--and a corresponding duty?

If I could change one thing about the same-sex marriage debate, I would make people who support SSM make only arguments that acknowledge and honor children's need for their mother and father. Some supporters do that some of the time; a few do that all of the time. But mostly not--for reasons that I think should be obvious.

More--and more eloquently by far--here.
WHY AYN RAND WAS A NOVELIST: Because reason ain't gonna define itself!

The ever-interesting Krubner replies to my post on the inability of abstractions to serve as standards of value.

He writes, "People die for the flag, they die for their nation, they die for the family, they die for the Land, they've been known to tree-sit for a month and then die for the Earth. People have died because they were unwilling to sign loyalty oaths, and they were unwilling to sign because they felt loyal to the abstract ideal of freedom of the human spirit."

Here is a perhaps overly-brief reply: People often think they are acting in accordance with some abstract ideal! But when it comes time to define that ideal--when there are conflicts over the meaning and requirements of the ideal (what should the dictatorship of the proletariat look like? how do I know what love is?)--something else happens:

a) People go with prevailing cultural definitions.
b) People look to heroes, figures who serve the godlike function of giving meaning and surprise/correction to their ideals. This is why Ayn Rand was so wise to write novels: She needed not just descriptions of reason, but depictions of Roark and Galt actually living out her ideals. She needed saints. (This is what I got from Reflections on the Revolution in France: Marie Antoinette serves as a national symbol, giving the country a face, making the country like a person, and thus making it a possible object of loyalty. Traditions generally serve the same functions for an institution.)
c) People twist (or, less judgmentally, "adapt") their ideals to serve their own wants.

All of these are natural, inescapable, and often good human impulses (the urge to admire, for example). People who hold to particular belief systems owe it to themselves and to others to work with these human urges: to praise people who act heroically, or create art in which people act right; to shape cultural definitions; to educate children so that their desires are more likely to be in accordance with what is right. But I hope these impulses' limitations as standards for ethical conduct are obvious. When you are trying to figure out what is true, you can't rely on these definitions from within the culture; something--Someone--must enter from outside.

I also can't say I rightly see how Shakespeare is a humanist--at least not in the sense of thinking that "being merely human, after all, is a fantastic thing in itself." The Swan of Avon was supercagey about which worldview, of the many displayed in his works, he actually believed; but in many of them he goes radically against this particular position. Hamlet is God-haunted, trapped between fatalism and salvation; Lear is Larkin's "Aubade" at the decibel level of Philip Roth; Macbeth is a condemnation, Measure for Measure a horror burlesque, Richard II and Richard III both pictures of the immense littleness of the human self, and even what Harold Bloom calls "the Falstaffiad" is ambivalent, at best, about the Ultimate Value of Humankind As Such. Probably you could make the best case for Much Ado About Nothing... although I wonder what the title does for that question. Or, wait, A Midsummer Night's Dream might do you for, also. But certainly not Shakespeare's works as a whole. IMO.

"For I am sure that no man asketh mercy and grace with true meaning, but if mercy and grace be first given to him."
--Julian of Norwich
PLAYGROUND TWIST: What follows is a) extremely speculative and b) even more a "purely private opinion" than most of what I post here. Please refrain from importing stuff from this post into how you read anything I write in my professional capacity, since what I'm trying to do here is talk out some thoughts and see if I get helpful, illuminating responses; I'm not laying out a firmly-held or well-understood position.

I've been thinking about the fact that homosexual attractions are treated so differently in our culture from many other temptations to sin. This was more true in the recent past, but it's still pretty obviously true. Kids say a pencil sharpener or a t-shirt they don't like is "so gay"; they don't say it's "so gossipy" or "so cruel" or "so klepto." People who realize that they have strong homosexual desires quickly learn to feel alienated and isolated in a way that is simply not true of people who feel strong temptations to many other sins. (Even if we're not counting the sins, like heterosexual lust, that are praised and supported in our culture.) Two things may result from this:

1) A hardening of identity--your sense of self-as-homosexual is strongly reinforced. You start to think of yourself as deviant, and thereby strengthen the deviant aspects of your personality. Most people spend most of their lives living out a persona--a mask--and so how we view ourselves can have deeply damaging, even tragic, consequences. People whose sexualities might otherwise be more fluid end up reinforcing the homosexual self-image so intensely that the lost fluidity can't really be recaptured (or only with great difficulty). I know this happens because I just described lots of people I know.

2) Sort of the same thing that happens with overblown anti-drug programs in schools. Our school foisted this ridiculous stuff on us, like if you smoke one joint (or drink too much caffeine!) you'll end up a slavering acid casualty who thinks she's a potato. So then your friends smoke up, or you do, and you find out that it's really not that big a deal. And the credibility of the program is just gone. Similarly, if your culture builds up this totally stupid, unrealistic depiction of homosexuality, in which, e.g., sin never accompanies love, and gay people are weird twisted alien freaks, you're bound to meet actual humans with actual loves. And so you swing over to the other extreme, thinking that, because people in homosexual relationships are (gasp!) real people with real emotions and real commitments, there can't possibly be anything wrong with it.

St. Augustine was not so naive; he well understood, and emphasized, that sin can be woven into the fabric of a loving relationship (or, if you like, that loving care can be woven into the fabric of a sinful relationship). He even argued, if memory serves, that the root of all sin was misdirected virtue.

I wrote here about the ways in which Courage, the Catholic ministry for people with same-sex attractions, avoids this "your temptation is uniquely horrible and defining!" trap, unlike the "ex-gay" movement.

Anyway, just some scattered thoughts. I may or may not write more on this later, when I've mulled more.

"...that attitude smacks of attempts to identify liberal education, and
intellectual acuity or seeking, with one side or another in the culture wars."

With the liberal side, of course. Does this surprise you? If an institution devoted to liberal education can't advocate liberalism, then fer gosh sakes who can?!

I don't mean to imply that I approve whole-heartedly of the posted document. I find it bland and full of the sort of overly vague pseudo-spiritual talk ("We are called upon to find ultimate meaning in life through our spiritual selves as well as our physical and emotional selves, which can bring healing and strength to all of our relationships") that's more appropriate to a greeting card with a blurry photo of a flower or a watercolor sunset on it, when it isn't engaging in pseudo-intellectual baffle-gab ("In the ancient world, sex was 'not intrinsically relational or collaborative in character'"). It reads like it was composed by a committee, and several people on the committee had a strong affection for [b.s.].

Well, I don't know quite how to interpret that; and even if I did, I'm not sure which assumption would be harder to reply to without sputtering and growling: the belief that "liberal" as in "liberal education" means "liberal" as in "following the policy positions of The Nation," or the belief that a university can only educate its students if it officially endorses the position that the Christian God loves sodomy.

Wait, I think I just growled.
"HAITI'S COLLAPSE": From The Nation. Okayish piece but comes across as an apologetic for Aristide. Why doesn't the writer even try to come up with liberal-democratic opposition figures--even if only to tell us that they don't have enough support to succeed? Surely there is someone on that island better than both the defrocked Communist priest and the (ahem) Cannibal Army.

I will keep foraging for better pieces on the Haitian crisis.
Oh, those blogwatch days!
They were so peaceful, and great.

Hit & Run: Syria frees 130 political prisoners. How come?

Sean Collins: Journalista! (temporary) farewell. Sigh. Can't wait for Dirk's triumphant return.

New York Times blog. Via Oxblog.

Why haven't I blogrolled the Christianity Today weblog yet? I don't know.

Hatch's Plot Bank: There are a finite number of plots in the world. Here are over 2,000 of them. I forget where I got this, but it's funny stuff.

Interview with Carla Speed McNeil of Finder fame: "One image in particular [from old horror comics] sticks in her mind: 'It was very odd, but not very creepy: kids in a huge dim room, like a manor house or a museum, looking through a huge open archway into another, more brightly-lit room. On the far wall, framed, is a tooth--a long, pointed thing; a relic. Ordinary room furniture and other trappings surround. But filling up the enormous room is a ghostly image of a harpooner and the whale from which the tooth came. The idea that deliriously large stories contained in tiny things were reeling around in every spare corner was immensely satisfying to me.'"
I DIDN'T KNOW THIS: Longtime readers may recall my posts on naming trends for boys vs. girls. Father Neuhaus of First Things (in)fame is also interested in this stuff, and he writes, "I don’t know how interested you are in onomastics. (For those who aren't interested at all, onomastics is the study of names and their origins.) But, in response to my annual report on how boys and girls are being named, Father Paul Mankowski, who teaches in Rome and is interested in and knowledgeable about at least a dozen fields I've never heard of, had this to say: "On names for children. You write that 'girls get the glitzy and frivolous names while boys are named more seriously, usually for biblical figures.' There is a sense in which this reflects the biblical tradition itself. Almost without exception, male Israelites had names which express some theological content: 'My God is Justice,' 'YHWH is Lord,' etc. And more often than not, Israelite women were named for spices, jewels, and cute animals: 'heifer' (Leah), 'ewe' (Rachel), 'honeybee' (Deborah = Melissa in Greek), 'gazelle' (Tabitha)—or they had names of endearment: 'my sweetness' (Naomi), 'my delight is in her' (Hepzibah), 'princess' (Sarah). There’s a sense in which it would seem that different emotions and purposes are to the fore in naming baby boys and baby girls, though after the first century it seems both Christians and Jews began to name babies of both sexes after biblical or religious figures.' So I suppose that, at least with respect to the names of girls, we may be witnessing a return to biblical, or at least Old Testament, practice."

Christians defending moral teachings on homosexuality are increasingly running foul of laws that ban any negative statements about the subject. A British Anglican bishop, for instance, who suggested that homosexuals seek psychological counseling was the target of a police investigation, the Telegraph newspaper reported Nov. 10. ...

In Ireland, meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned the Catholic Church that distributing the Vatican guidelines on same-sex unions could bring prosecution. The document published last July by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith falls foul of the Incitement to Hatred Act, according to sources quoted in the Irish Times on Aug. 2. ...

David Bernstein, professor at George Mason University School of Law, addressed the topic of how antidiscrimination laws are creating problems for free speech in his recent book, "You Can't Say That!" Fear of litigation, he observed, "is having a profound chilling effect on the exercise of civil liberties in workplaces, universities, membership organizations, and churches."

Bernstein related how one U.S. Catholic university was beaten down by legal actions into giving full recognition to student homosexual groups. And citing several recent legal cases in Canada, he commented: "Indeed, it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex."

AFTER CASTRO: From the Wall Street Journal: ...There is little doubt that when Fidel waves his revolutionary finger in the air and denounces the imperialist Yankees for the last time, the tectonic plates of Cuba's political system will heave mightily. Exiles call it the "biological solution." Conventional wisdom holds that the regime will crumble, freedom will blossom and the path to Cuban prosperity will open up at last.

Mark Falcoff isn't so sure. In "Cuba: The Morning After," Mr. Falcoff concludes that post-Castro Cuba may well struggle hard to recover from more than four decades of dictatorship. "Failed states typically become--like Haiti--platforms for the export of illicit substances, centers of international criminality, and vessels leaking illegal immigrants," he writes. "Perhaps, indeed, the island will somehow avoid this fate, but present indicators do not offer much encouragement."

This is no casual speculation. Mr. Falcoff, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, offers a painstaking historical analysis and a detailed investigation of Cuba's current realities. ...

Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, who heads the Cuban military, has warned that "things are all arranged--but good." Indeed, Raul has "summoned to life a new structure of power within the existing regime," writes Mr. Falcoff, "by putting professionals and military men loyal to him in key positions, particularly in the few dynamic sectors of the economy such as biomedical products and tourism." What is more, the Castro family runs an economic empire that represents, according to accounts in the Spanish press, "$1 billion worth of transactions a year." Prying greedy hands off that war chest may take more than the death of an old man.

Other obstacles abound, Mr. Falcoff argues, even if the dictatorship topples like the Berlin Wall. Cuba, once prosperous, is now desperately poor, and one of Castro's legacies is the destruction of the whole framework of civil society. Gone are the entrepreneurs of Spanish-immigrant culture. Gone are the vibrant business groups, labor federations and professional societies. Gone are the engines of wealth, like a profitable sugar industry. The regime has trashed the island's environment and badly damaged its human capital. Cuba now ranks among the world's top five nations in suicides per capita. Even psychologically healthy Cubans are burdened by years of indoctrination, with its bias against individual responsibility and risk-taking.

By the end of Mr. Falcoff's thorough work, it is easy to feel less than sanguine about Cuba's future, at least in the near term. Yet that is what sober, scholarly assessments are for: to throw doubt on easy triumphalism. One thing is certain: Nothing will change until Fidel dies, so powerful is the cult of personality surrounding him and the romance of his revolutionary past.

OUR ANCIENT ENEMY, THE SUN: If next week is as vampiric and wrathful as this past week, I'm going to go OUT. OF. MY. GOURD. (Would anyone be able to tell the difference?) GRR!

Yay for Aerosmith.
"The paper was replete with all those words that now held such fascination for him, but which he had hardly, if ever, uttered back in the living room in Camden: 'irony' and 'values' and 'fate,' 'will' and 'vision' and 'authenticity,' and, of course, 'human,' for which he had a particular addiction."
--Philip Roth, My Life as a Man

Friday, February 13, 2004

I HOPE THIS IS THE ONLY THING I POST ABOUT KERRY AND SOME CHICK: "Anyway, one of the great things about practical politics is it offers so many no-lose propositions for the libertarian psyche. Either Kerry is an examplar of the hypocrisy, recklessness and arrogance of power, OR his enemies prove just how much venality and viciousness exists in the world of 'public service.'"

Real thinking, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, from me soonish.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

I watched a blog
I climbed up there
You (you, you, you) didn't care
Her feet were bare...

The Agitator: Good comments on the death penalty.

Church of the Masses: There's still time to apply for Act One--intense, competitive writing boot camp for Christians seeking to work in Hollywood.

Old Oligarch: Yale's greatness even in its concupiscence. (With apologies to Blaise Pascal.)

Sursum Corda: "For a moment, the public space of the town square had become a sacred space merely by being within earshot of the bells."
LEARNING FROM INSOMNIA: Middlebrow movies starring John Cusack mostly suck (with one exception); better to rent B- or even B-minus thrillers.

The roundup: "28 Days Later": Compelling, watchable, grim, but not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Basic zombies. Not worth your time unless you, like me, are working on a project involving zombies. (This is different from the ghost-ship project. I am genretastic.) Oh--no, I'm wrong--this is also worth your time if you want beautiful, loving scenes of England as green and pleasant land (despite zombies). The scene with the horses, especially, is breathtaking; also the cutting from a modern abandoned grocery store to a bank of flowers as colorful as product packaging.

"Gossip": Ohhhh so trashy! But so satisfying! And some very good-looking leads. I feel creepy about this movie due to the fact that the plot revolves around rape accusations, ordinarily a complete dealbreaker for me--be forewarned, it's not like this movie treats the subject with care or class. But for whatever reason, I was able to enjoy this as pure glittering trash. I have no idea whether that says good things about the movie or bad things about me. Or both.

"High Fidelity": Boring. I expected much better from this movie. Not sure what to say except, boring.

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil": Some fun (priceless scene where the Lady Chablis, playing herself, crashes a black cotillion), but mostly this movie somehow managed to drain an intensely fun, charming book of all its energy and seedy "Jezebel" glamour. Also, final scene goes over the top, and not in a good way.

"Mystic River": Argh. I watched this on the recommendation of a friend who usually has excellent taste in movies. But this flick struck me as exploitative, overwritten, and overscored (why the swelling music?). The male leads do good work with bad material; the women do nothing with nothing. Much, much too conscious of its own status as a Modern Tragedy. Grr.
"'Feel my feather.'"
--Portnoy's Complaint

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

UPRISING IN HAITI. I haven't been able to find anything yet on what the rebels want. Aristide is a repressive, two-bit tyrant, but there's no guarantee that what replaces him would be better.
"But I will not treat any human being (outside my family) as inferior!"
--Portnoy's Complaint

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

BEN--I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS! Is it a bad sign that "Willard" (2003) is a guaranteed tearjerker for me?
SAMSON, YOU STAY WITH YOUR 'LILAH...: Dappled Things has a roundup of the "Christian references in pop songs" thread. I can't believe I forgot the song linked in the headline of this post. Anyway, go read. Much fun.
CENTURY OF BLOOD: Hitler's would-be executioner dreams of dead friends. Via E-Pression.
A LESS THAN MAXIMALLY TRANSPARENT EYEBALL: See now, I am interested in so many of the same subjects as Motime Like the Present. And I am semi-hemi-demi-steeped in academic litspeak. And yet I find myself utterly unable to comprehend more than half of what he posts. I don't know why. Maybe it's just the old Emerson vs. Nietzsche conflict? Anyway, for whatever reason, I never do feel like I'm using words the same way he is. So from now on, assume that any comments on MLTP posts are simply my riffs, possibly unrelated, on whatever he's posted.

Nonetheless, I agree with everyone and his mom that MLTP's Watchmen series (start here and scroll down, or start here and scroll up) is totally worth your time. And I'm really looking forward to the new Animal Man series. I don't know that I'll understand it; in fact, I expect I won't. But I hope it will provoke fruitful misprision.

Also, Commonplace Book has a fantastic post on one image from Watchmen, and the relationship between order and hope in the book: "Where in Watchmen do we see evidence of meaning, of the higher hand? In the structure. Where are the fingerprints of the forces that shape all things? In the repeating patterns, the reiterating Hiroshima lovers, the ubiquitous bloodstains. Our lives are messy with the taint of thwarted love, betrayal, rape and violence; we look like mere human stains, defacing the natual happiness of orderly faces on Mars. But this mess is itself orderly, itself patterned, by a hand higher our own grasping, slapping, embracing ones. Moore has always been a religious writer it seems, and here he gives us The Book. Does this make Moore God? Only by way of metonymy, since his point is and always was that we are all heroes, gods in our souls. ...But Moore does find despair a sin, and he attacks it with the whole book, as opposed to any one part."

Speaking of, I will note, contra MLTP, that I have known at least one nihilist who could take a joke. It didn't make him any better, though. (This was the character that Ratty and I decided was a hideous hybrid of Shakespeare's Richard II, Richard III, and Lady Anne. This sounds interesting in description but in actual fact was not so much.)

Monday, February 09, 2004

THEY KNOW IT'S KILLING TIME: Oxblog is a font of worthwhile posts about a New York Times piece that seems to report that Al Qaeda, at least, thinks we are making great progress in our war against... well... them. I count at least three must-read posts for people seeking to assess the state of the war.
MORE IRAQI BLOGS! Some new, some not.
LEGACY ADMISSIONS: A while ago, in a polemical context, I wrote: "Without the authoritative, can't-ignore-it-can't-work-around-it teaching of the Church, I doubt that a sizable chunk of the greatest writing about wrongdoing, justice, mercy, personal identity, and the importance of the human body would ever have been conceived."

Here now is a very, very short list of books exemplifying this statement--and which I think you all should read--which never would have been written were it not for the Catholic Church. I include in this list only those books that present some kind of positive stance (except Lancelot)--which means that I exclude many of the books that have been most relevant to my own faith, since I am most struck by the books that present the alternatives and the "seventh proofs of God."

Pat Cadigan, Mindplayers--marriage is both sign and source of personal identity
Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo (How God Became Man)--the nature of justice, the inevitable need for mercy
T.S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi"--God need not feel good
ditto, "Preludes"--the physical world is covered with the fingerprints of God
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory--sufficient grace is offered to all
Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio--the nuptial meaning of the mind--the mind is an arrow seeking an as-yet-unknown beloved
ditto, Veritatis Splendor--ditto
ditto, The Theology of the Body--the nuptial meaning of the body
Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz--love persists through time and despite physical incapacity; God works with what He has
Walker Percy, Lancelot--justice; Ecclesiastes as film noir
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT A LITTLE MAN LIKE YOU COULD DESTROY MY BEAUTIFUL WICKEDNESS? Just re-read my "table of contents for a spiritual autobiography," and thought it might be of interest for people wondering how a girl like me ended up in a nice place like this.
WELL I WENT TO SCHOOL IN OLYMPIA, AND EVERYONE'S THE SAME: Very useful comments from Krubner in re conformity. I especially liked this Chestertonian line: "To be a non-conformist in all things is to be psychotic." I thoroughly agree. To me, it is a question of where we find our standards of value--when desires and beliefs conflict, how do we know what should trump? But yeah, absolutely--part of the point of "Desire," really, is that nonconformity can become simply the photonegative of conformity, with its own constrictions and cliches. Anyway, Krubner is one of the best readers I've ever come across, and I am really looking forward to reading some of his own fiction (which I know he's blogged in the past) so that I can return the favor. You all should visit him--he runs a site with a great mix of economic and literary commentary.
TOP EXPERT ON THE SUPERNATURAL TELLS YOU HOW TO...: Avram Grumer replies to my anti-UCLA rant (he is in bold, I am in plain text):

Eve, it seems to me that the UCLA text in question does not call for supporting sexual orientation at the expense of religion, but for reconciling religion with tolerance of a wider variety of sexual behaviors. You might do better to ask yourself why it is so important for some people to practice their religion in a fashion that causes them to act with hostility towards gays.

"I know quite a few people who both take their religion (and I am talking about Jews and Christians -- including, specifically, Catholics -- here, not neo-pagans, though I know plenty of them as well) who get along just fine with, and in some cases even are, homosexuals or bisexuals. I even know an Orthodox Jewish gay Objectivist. No, I don't know how he reconciles it all either.

But this proves my point, no? If charitable giving were a pressing contemporary cultural issue, should UCLA put up a web page (with no rebuttal, of course) dedicated to convincing Jews torn between their loyalties to God and to Ayn Rand that they need not engage in tzedakah in order to be faithful to God? If UCLA did put up such a web page, how would Grumer expect "traditional Jews" to respond? Or, to hit the other side of the real-life example, what if UCLA put up a web page with this speech from Ron Belgau, with no rebuttal? What if they chose the side that I believe is accurate in the Great Gay God Debate? I still would think this was simply none of UCLA's business. I know universities must take some moral stands. I don't think that justifies them taking all moral stands they think they can get away with; that attitude smacks of attempts to identify liberal education, and intellectual acuity or seeking, with one side or another in the culture wars. It's an attempt to close off debate through shame--an attempt to add to the list of cultural attitudes we must adopt in order to fit in. Otherwise why would UCLA pick sides in the intra-Christian struggles over proper understanding of sexuality, sacrifice, and the human person? Why would the university see its role as making "gay Christians" whose denominations reject homosexual behavior comfortable (ugh word) with their sexuality, rather than with their religion?

And in re this: "You might do better to ask yourself why it is so important for some people to practice their religion in a fashion that causes them to act with hostility towards gays"--well, what is one to say to this, really? Under what circumstances would a reasonably inquisitive bisexual chick enter the Catholic Church in the year 1998 without thinking very hard about this particular question--and thinking very hard about whether the Church's teachings actually stem from "hostility towards gays"? Give me some credit here, people.

I am so angry. I am so at ease.
READ ME, SEYMOUR: Wow. I owe Krubner big time. He offers really, really helpful criticism of/questions about my short story "Desire." I know the story is too sketchy. I planned out a lot of the imagery in advance, but the plot (always my weak point) was driven more by instinct and slapdashery. Krubner's questions, I think, will really help me focus as I rewrite.

I always have a hard time figuring out which things need to be explicit and which need to be subtle. I thought the physical self-image theme was perhaps underplayed, but Krubner totally picked it up, whereas he doesn't mention what I thought was the more obvious critique of both conformity and individualistic "authenticity." (Seeking a third alternative between cultural conformity and capitulation to the damaged, unreliable self.) Much to ponder as I knead, scrape, and pummel.
GUILT VS. SHAME: Via Mark Shea I found this speech by Ron Belgau of Courage, on same-sex attraction and Christian discipleship. I was most struck by this description of the difference between guilt and shame, which really resonated with me: "Guilt recognizes that I, God's child, have done something inconsistent with my new Identity in Christ. It leads to repentance and a renewed commitment to live in Christ. Shame, on the other hand, 'is the feeling that I am no good, I am worthless, and I cannot control my behavior.'"
They said "There's too much caffeine in your blogwatch,
And a lack of real spice in your life..."

Baraita: Jewish blog book club beginning: "...I think we seem to have consensus about our first volume: S.Y. Agnon, A Simple Story. ...Since this isn't a book that's likely to be at all of our local bookstores (if so, lucky you!), I suggest we take until April 1st to acquire, read, and respond. Future installments will stick to a monthly schedule." The list of suggested future books is very intriguing. Via Kesher Talk.

God of the Machine: Interesting piece on corporations--a defense of limited shareholder liability, plus stuff about free speech, plus worthwhile comments from readers.

Marriage Movement: NOW filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against a federally-funded marriage promotion program that helps poor men (but not women) get jobs. David Blankenhorn comments and growls: "I don't know if this program has violated the law or not. But I have met one of the young men who runs the program. I'd say he's about 30 years old. He's an African American, working at the local anti-poverty, social service agency. Most of his colleagues are African American women. They know -- as research by Sara McLanahan and others has confirmed -- that one big problem facing young couples in the inner city is joblessness. They also know that many of the couples specifically say that the father does not have a decent job, and that, if he had one, things would be much better for the couple and for the family. So this young man I know, and a number of his colleagues, have been going to local Head Start centers, establishing relationships initially of course with the mothers, but then carefully reaching out to the fathers. They offer a whole range of services, including marriage education. But because they realize that the challenges that these young couples face have an economic dimension as well, part of what they do is offer this job training program that is of special interest to many of these young fathers.

"...Don't they know that their efforts help low-income African American males in Allentown, PA, are standing in the way of the needs of an elite, mostly white women's organization in Washington, D.C.?"

Mirror of Justice: Catholic law profs blog. Very intriguing. Via Les Volokh.

Old Oligarch: "His blood be upon us, and on our children" in salvation history.

Unqualified Offerings: Who said, before the war, that Iraq had no WMDs?

And Physical Theories As Women. My favorite is string theory, but several of the others are also quite funny.
"GETTING FIRED": TIME TO MEET MR. PEELER. Part two of my current short story is finally up. Sorry for the delay! Start at the beginning here (recommended) or just get the latest chunk here. In this installment, our hero applies for a job, sees some bizarre sunglasses, and continues to have a very, very bad day.
THE STRAIGHT DOPE ON THE U.S. PRISON RATE: Good column, though it gets weird at the end.

"The U.S. certainly doesn't have the highest incarceration rate in world history, and depending on whose figures you believe may not even have the highest rate now. However, to be honest, we're more competitive than you might care to hear."
CATHOLICS IN DC: Looking for something to do for God? I find in my church bulletin this week a notice about a day of retreat to discern whether you are called to prison ministry, mentoring prisoners re-entering society and their families, or ministry to crime victims.

"Prison Ministry Through Restorative Justice" will be held in the West Conference Room of St. Matthew's Cathedral, 17th and Rhode Island Ave. NW (Farragut North or Dupont Circle metro), on Saturday, February 21, from 9:30 AM to 3 PM. Guest speakers, free lunch, Mass celebrated by the DC Jail's chaplain. For more information, contact Peggy McGrail, (301) 601-2004,; Brian Fish, (202) 986-8906,; or Chris McCullough, (202) 347-3215,
IRAN BOTH NIGHT AND DAY: Roundup from Winds of Change (via Oxblog). Includes the uncensored, with-stuff-not-shown-in-the-US "Forbidden Iran" documentary; the regime's attacks on workers; sex slavery; blogging Parliamentarians; and much more. And this:

"FYI: The Islamic Regime's Ambassador to the UN, who met with Senator Specter and others last week, is Mr. Javad Zarif, who just so happens to be a member of the student gang who in 1979 took American diplomats hostage for 444 days. (Just some food for thought)"
"It's a family joke that when I was a tiny child I turned from the window out of which I was watching a snowstorm, and hopefully asked, 'Momma, do we believe in winter?' Do you get what I'm saying?"
--Portnoy's Complaint

Thursday, February 05, 2004

CAPITOL HILL PREGNANCY CENTER is holding volunteer training sessions in March! Call (202) 546-1018 for more information. You know you want to!
NEEDFUL THINGS: One of those Internet things, from Tepper. (Hey dude, come play with us some time. We must watch grimsome movies together.)

Favorite Color: Black, black, black is the color of my true love's hair.... (Yeah, it's an affectation, but 'tis mine own, baby.)

Favorite Flower: Lilac trees in the heart of town, on the street where you live.

Favorite Scent: Commercial: Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche. So chemical! So "Metropolis"!

Nature Is a Language, Can't You Read?: Lilacs. Also, girls sweating. I mean, glowing.

Favorite Cocktail: Ummm... does Kentucky Lemonade count?

Favorite Wine (if any): Cheap white with canned peaches in it.

Favorite Soda/Drink: Coke Is It.

Favorite Food: Portuguese roll + canned corn + plum tomato + mushrooms + Vidalia onion + artichoke heart + munster cheese, wrap in aluminum foil and cook 15 mins. at 375. Sooooo good.

Favorite Restaurant: Pizzeria Paradiso. Wait, I mean the Yankee Doodle....

Favorite Treat: Escargot. Oh the feel of the buttered antennae slithering down your throat!

Favorite Candy: Anything Godiva dark.

Favorite Number: Um. Seventeen? I'm not a math person.

Favorite day of the year: Whenever the first heat wave starts.

Favorite Season: August in D.C. Yes, I am the one person who loves it. Swamp rockin' yo.

Favorite Holiday: Easter for real, Fourth of July for fun.

Favorite Game: Canasta rummy.

Your addictions are: How much time we got?

If you had a whole day to yourself, alone, and you wanted to treat yourself, what would you do?: See a matinee movie, visit the new Hall of Mammals at the Natural History Museum, read Philip Roth, and buy comics.

If you had an extra $200 that you didn't need to spend on bills or debt, what would you buy with it?: Movies.
WHO YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE: Eugene Volokh focused on the First Amendment ramifications of this story from the UCLA Lesbian Gay Bisexual Campus Resource Center: "Readers of this blog are likely aware that I have no moral objections to homosexuality; and I sympathize with the desire to make students who might be troubled by their sexual orientation feel more comfortable with it. But the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause caselaw (whether it's right or wrong) makes clear that government agencies may not endorse any particular religious viewpoint (with a narrow exception for firmly established traditions, see Marsh v. Chambers (1983)), even in the service in the best of public policy goals; see the majority opinion in County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989)...."

But I'd like to focus on the substance. Whoever put this little religious note up as the university's official stance on Gay Stuff believes that where there's a clash between one's perceived sexual orientation and one's religious beliefs, sexual orientation naturally trumps.

How come?

Why should a university, addressing (say) gay Christians, Jews, or Muslims, seek to make them more comfortable with their sexual orientation at the expense of their religion rather than vice versa? Why is God expendable but sexual desire necessary?

It seems to me that if we even begin to take the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious claims seriously, religious identity trumps family identity, sexual identity, national identity, ethnic loyalty, and pretty much every other identity one could come up with. Love of God is first, and other loves must be sacrificed if they conflict. Better to enter the Kingdom of Heaven missing an eye than to enter Hell with both eyes.

Has UCLA any compelling reason for rejecting this worldview, this relative valuation of loyalties and identities, for its students? Or is this just another expression of elite opinion, to which we are expected to acquiesce if we wish to pass as "shoe"?
I've got this friend you see who makes me feel
And I blogwatched more than I could steal...

Church of the Masses praises "Monster." I'm not totally sure I can take this movie. I'm usually hardcore about stomaching horror in the service of story, but... eh... I knew a lot of people who related really closely to Aileen Wuornos in a way that makes me not so sure that I want to see this, no matter how good it is. Wrath is, as regular readers know, one of my besetting sins. We'll see.

Krubner (who is back!) replies to me about the Healthy Marriage Initiative. Actually, there are quite a lot of anti-divorce programs out there (the ones I know best are Marriage Savers and Retrouvaille--please consider giving these groups your time and money). I should say that the ASOnline article comes across as less skeptical of the marriage initiative than I actually am. I think its potential problems are those of any sweet-minded big-government initiative. I would rather you all strengthened marriage on your own time, in your private capacity. Find out what your high school is teaching about marriage. Volunteer with a crisis pregnancy center. You don't need to wait for Congress.

Sean Collins is right about Justin Timberlake. "Note the awkward use of the passive voice in order to place the blame squarely on Janet, and not her male counterpart (who I imagine is a bigger star than she is these days, saleswise). ...Note that the violent and misogynistic overtones of the act are not even mentioned." And there's more: "Both these phony lesbian displays and Justin's stripping of Janet's clothes (invariably and inexplicably referred to by the media as 'Janet's stunt') involve women tortuously convoluting their sexuality in order to please the male audience."

Mark Shea: Let His blood be upon us, and on our children. Powerful meditation. "Every time we approach the Cup we ask for his blood to be upon us. Every time we baptize our babies, we pray his blood will be upon our children."

The Old Oligarch: "So many universities stop with Plato or Aristotle and pick up with Descartes. Thus you only get the theory of forms at its most rudimentary stage (earliest Greeks) or in the fractured, compromised wreck you see in Descartes." Yes, yes, YES. O.O. is like a million times harder core about this stuff than me, but I have the advantage of the literary background, which I think ought to push you both toward the attractions of Plato (objects in the world have intrinsic meaning) and toward Plato's limitations (is there a form of dirt? of mud? of very watery mud? of very muddy water?). And some chastisement w/r/t the calling of Jeremiah: "If the text makes any point about charismatic vs. institutional authority, it refutes the mentality of those who would seek to use it as a ready-made symbol for their dissent." Plus bonus attack on "faith alone," whatever that means.

Letters to send to protest the introduction of sharia law in Iraq. Hasn't happened yet. Might be worth your time. Via Hit & Run.

States visited: My map looks like the US is wearing an unraveling sweater. CA, CT, DC (home sweet home), DE (visit sunny Rehoboth), IL, IN (South Bend = small-town Iowa), IA ("It's not just for deer!"), MD, MA, NJ ("I don't expect much"), NY, NC, OH (Cleveland, Cincinnati, AND Dayton, beat THAT!), PA, RI, TX, VA, WA, WV (beautiful country and friendly people--don't believe the anti-hype), WI (birth of the boom).
IRAN, IRAN'S SO FAR AWAY... Oxblog roundup on Iranian liberalization. You need to read this stuff. One-third of their MPs have resigned, y'all. This ain't just whistlin' Dixie.
GAZA STRIPPING: This sounds like the sort of thing that needed to happen. Actual Israelis seem to agree. Links via Les Savy Volokh and Oxblog. What, you think I read newspapers? I'm lucky to read the crawl along the side of a daggone New York skyscraper.
SOMETHING HAPPENED: Minisinoo, Queen of X-Fic, asks: "What is 'story'?"

Her answer: "...I view a story as a journey on which the author invites the reader. Any kind of journey, whether in space and time, or in philosophy and spirit, or in character growth. I also think 'conflict' of some sort is a necessary part. Some challenge has to be posed, and resolved -- if only partially.

"(I don't think it's always necessary for a story to answer all questions, as sometimes what we share as human beings are the questions, not the answers. But I do think there's a difference between a story that never intended to answer questions -- raised them on purpose -- and an author who simply wrote him/herself into a corner and now finds too many dangling plot-threads to resolve, or who's simply lazy and uncareful. Action!Distraction and lots of blown-up buildings is not a substitute for poor plotting.)

"But ... yeah, story. I think 'journey' and 'challenge' define it for me.

"But what's 'story' for the rest of you?"

While I was in New Haven, I brought this up with The Rat, and she hiked out a lit-theory tome by some Russian (Shklovsky??? help me out here, people...), who basically argues that in a story--as opposed to a storyless chunk of fictional prose--we move from false assessment of the situation to true recognition. There's still movement, but it may be movement in the reader's mind rather than in the characters' lives.

I initially wanted to dispute these movement-oriented definitions of "story." I wanted to say that stories could also be chunks of fiction that change the way the reader looks at the world, without there being any movement within the story (whether false--> true or journeylike). I wanted to cite the experience Agatha Christie mentions at least once (maybe in Endless Night?) of seeing a piece of modern art and being so struck by it that afterward, the entire world looks like the art. (I presume other people have this--the thing where you find yourself thinking in the cadences of whatever you've been reading, and borrowing the lens of your current obsession-author.)

But I realized I was probably trying too hard to assimilate "story" into all other kinds of art. Magritte gives you a lens through which to view the world. There's little movement in his works--even in the ones, like "Grelots roses, ciels en lambeaux," that at first seem sequential. This moveless art, in which the artist basically jams his glasses onto your face and holds you in place until your eyes adapt, is often incredibly powerful; but that doesn't make it "story." And it's worthwhile to have a category for "story" that's separate from "imaginative prose," so that we can discuss how different fiction writers operate. Chekhov, for one, seems to have a hard time kneading his impressions into a story. Many of his stories ("A Hard Case," "Concerning Love") simply stand there, like Easter Island heads, no climax or denouement and no movement from false to true. That's one way to operate (although I think it works better for Kafkaesque parables than for Chekhovesque portraits) but yeah, it isn't story. Make with the movement!

Also, the comments to Minisinoo's post include a great quote from the movie "Adaptation."
PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES: There's no place like home.
SING A NEW SONG: Dappled Things is compiling "a list of songs from groups that are not chiefly religious bands (no Gospel bands and Christian rock, in other words) but that cite the Bible, Catholic liturgy, or other explicitly Judaeo-Christian sources. This should be more than simple references to God and religion. ...I'm interested in seeing the allusions and references as indications of the impact of religion on popular culture, so for this purpose it doesn't really matter whether the references are entirely flattering or not."

Here are Camassia's contributions.

And here are mine:

Ani DiFranco, "Adam and Eve." "You think you're Adam/And you think I'm Eve." There's a self-righteous chorus that I hate ("I envy you your ignorance/I hear that it's bliss"), but except for that, this song is perfect, and DiFranco's ripping-at-the-seams low wail is stunning. My favorite bit: "Just don't treat me like I am/something that happened to you."

The Avengers, "Corpus Christi." Title refers to the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Whole song is about how Catholicism sucks. Catchy tune though! (Well, to be fair, the song seems to me like it's sung from the perspective of someone who was once genuinely seeking Christ--that's the verses--but has now given up--that's the chorus.)

Cat Power, "You May Know Him." "Oh, Lord, surprised by the rise in sin, you came through/Over and over and over and over again."

The Fugees, "The Beast." "On the mountain Satan offered me Manhattan/Help me Jah, Jah." This was one of maybe five lines that made me say, I must have this album.

Huggy Bear, "Prayer." "I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I'm feeling fine."

Peter Gabriel, "Mercy Street." "Confessing all the secret things in the warm velvet box/To the priest--he's the doctor--he can handle the shocks." A beautiful song.

P.J. Harvey, "Snake." Whole song is about the snake and Adam and Eve.

Severed Heads, "All Saints Day" and "Greater Reward." The things in quotation marks at the end of the lyrics are statements by the lyricist, Tom Ellard, on what he was on about.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, "The Lord's Prayer." This is how I remembered the Lord's Prayer when I first became Catholic and didn't have it in memory. It's a pretty lame song, unfortunately. "Sacre bleu! Holy cow!" ...No.

The Violent Femmes, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" Not quite a cover of the Culture Club version: "Man of Sorrows, word unbroken/His sweat like blood came down like tears..." Such a great song, from such a great, bitter-trying-to-be-sweet album.
"Portnoy's Complaint n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933- )] A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient's "morality," however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration.' (Spielvogel, O. "The Puzzled Penis," Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, Vol. XXIV, p. 909.) It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship."
--Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint

Monday, February 02, 2004

...Over the past year harrowing first-hand testimonies from North Korean defectors have detailed execution and torture, and now chilling evidence has emerged that the walls of Camp 22 hide an even more evil secret: gas chambers where horrific chemical experiments are conducted on human beings. ...

Kwon Hyuk, who has changed his name, was the former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. He was also the chief of management at Camp 22. In the BBC's This World documentary, to be broadcast tonight, Hyuk claims he now wants the world to know what is happening.

'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'

Hyuk has drawn detailed diagrams of the gas chamber he saw. He said: 'The glass chamber is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metres wide, 3m long and 2.2m high_ [There] is the injection tube going through the unit. Normally, a family sticks together and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners. Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass.' ...

'It would be a total lie for me to say I feel sympathetic about the children dying such a painful death. Under the society and the regime I was in at the time, I only felt that they were the enemies. So I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all.' ...

The number of prisoners held in the North Korean gulag is not known: one estimate is 200,000, held in 12 or more centres. Camp 22 is thought to hold 50,000.

Most are imprisoned because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime. Many are Christians, a religion believed by Kim Jong-il to be one of the greatest threats to his power. According to the dictator, not only is a suspected dissident arrested but also three generations of his family are imprisoned, to root out the bad blood and seed of dissent.

With North Korea trying to win concessions in return for axing its nuclear programme, campaigners want human rights to be a part of any deal. Richard Spring, Tory foreign affairs spokesman, is pushing for a House of Commons debate on human rights in North Korea.

Blogwatch! blogwatch! bow wow wow!...

Motime Like the Present: More Watchblogging. I'm pretty drastically uninterested in characters as unconstrained as MLTP says Silver Age superheroes were, but it takes all kinds, I suppose.

Let us spring up out of our sober shells. We will soar like drunken eagles. (Hilarity.)

I'm on th' road ag'in until Wednesday, but I have a bunch of interesting posts percolating. I hope to use my fabulous seven-hour layover to write them. If you're at Stanford University, come say hi! (Trip details below.)