Wednesday, March 31, 2004

ON TV TONIGHT. I am laughing very very hard now. The WB, PBS, Telemundo, USA, and Cinemax ones are my favorites. Via The Rat.

Via Amy Welborn.
RECIPE FOR PORK CARAMEL. That is not pork with caramel. That is pork caramel.
STUART BUCK blogging again; recovering.
"EXPLORE THE IDEAS OF LIBERTY..." at seminars from the Institute for Humane Studies and Cato University. I've heard great things about IHS, and am a big fan of their globalization website, A World Connected.
"I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world."
--Last words of Charles I, on the scaffold

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST: American stories, isolation, God, and violence. So everyone has a pet lineage of American literature. As far as I can tell, the line I find illuminating and compelling is sharply different from the one traced by Motime Like the Present, for example. (I mean, c'mon--Emerson? Why drink Diet Caffeine-Free Nietzsche?) Most cultures are characterized by particular tensions and conflicts--cultures aren't univocal, but they emphasize some of the eternal conflicts over others. There's a dark red streak in the American storytelling arts (lit and movies), an old and lurid line, violent and strikingly concerned--as some critic or other put it--with "ultimates." Grand-scale questions. Here are some very scattered thoughts on that lineage. Impressionistic, not dispositive. Apologies in advance for scatteredness and high reliance on assertion rather than proof.

Blood at the Root. Despite--or, more likely, in reaction against--the American belief in second chances, the immigrant nation's belief in starting over, American literature returns again and again to the idea that, in Faulkner's words, "The past isn't dead; it isn't even past." The attitude toward the past isn't nostalgic or accepting. It's often an attitude of violent rejection--forget your old name, tear down the old buildings, leave home and start again as someone new, and hope nothing ever comes "Out of the Past" to find you. The edges never get dull. (Gee, I wonder if this could possibly have anything to do with the conflict between the Declaration of Independence and the slave economy?)

And They Were All Alone! In American cities and suburbs as much as in the romanticized West, there are all these humans who have either sought or been thrust into a rootless, anchorless, anti-traditional world, with little of the small-town sense that someone is always watching you (and therefore watching out for you). Americans are "The Searchers," Lost in the Cosmos, without the familiar answers and moral habits supplied by a traditional life. (Agatha Christie writes a great deal about the breakup of the English social consensus after World War II; but that sense that suddenly you didn't know who was in the next house, that the world had become strange and alien to you, comes naturally in American literature well before the twentieth century.)

A Protestant of my acquaintance once joked, about his approach to theology, "Well, so there we were, just me and Jesus...." So many American stories have this sense of radical aloneness, the ferocious quest to find out whether there's anyone else out there. Think of Addie Bundren bringing the switch down on her children: "When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever."

When no one is watching, it's possible to feel like you control the truth itself. You're what the linguistic philosophers call "Super-Crusoe," the man alone--there's this whole controversy about whether Super-Crusoe could even develop language, since language requires regularity, verifiability. Both "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" and "Memento" get at this question--what is the point of the truth? Can the truth be made up if you know how? These questions haunt a society that is deracinated, fragmented, where the social consensus is constantly unsettled--where you escape the security of the beliefs you were raised in before you even have time to fully assimilate them.

This emphasis on the radically alone individual is, of course, the dark half of the American belief in the primacy of the individual conscience. Most cultures' best tendencies are also the source of their worst failings, and so too ours. The culture that honors hope and second chances is also a culture that has to come to terms with the darkness we drag around behind us: Wherever you go, there you are. Or as Eric Sevareid put it in his eulogy for Werner von Braun, "Everything in space, von Braun said, obeys the laws of physics. If you know these laws and obey them, space will treat you kindly. The difficulty is that man brings the laws of his own nature into space. The issue is how man treats man. The problem does not lie in outer space, but where it's always been: on terra firma in inner man."

Final thought: The national literature that most resembles American lit is not British but Russian. Violent, high-lonesome, and fiercely either for or against God (but not indifferent).

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Sources (besides those already named above): Every Western I've ever seen, every (American) noir I've ever seen, Invisible Man, Blood Meridian, quite a lot of Emily Dickinson's more ferocious work, Miss Lonelyhearts, Lancelot, Sabbath's Theater, possibly Lolita (I need to reread it), and--let's get some real pulp on here--The Secret History.
GAYER THAN A PICNIC BASKET: More responses to "Playground Twist."

Clio writes about possible sources of the difference between societal response to homosexuality and response to other temptations. Since I was focused more on the effects of that response on people with whatever degree of same-sex attraction, I really didn't get into any of this stuff: Neither you nor your correspondents have suggested that homosexuality is "treated differently" than other sins of the flesh by Christians for reasons that have nothing to do with religion at all, but are rooted in both biology and in the deepest aspects of sexual psychology.

I say this with some hesitation, as I know it's the kind of thing many people find painful; others may find it too obvious. But I think it needs to be emphasized, in defense of us benighted heteros.

And let me first explain that I am not referring now to the causes of homosexuality itself, but to the origins of anti-gay prejudice.

So what are the biological and psychological aspects of anti-gay prejudice?

1. Desire for dominance: in the animal world, mounting behaviour directed by one male to another is a mark of dominance-seeking. Only the most submissive males tolerate it. Thus young men who may be at their peak sexually but who lack any other mark of dominance to secure their status will ALWAYS guard against the possibility of penetration.

2. Fear of effeminacy, part A: Men, especially young ones, again because they are insecure, feel the need to distinguish themselves from women in order to win a female mate. Thus they make a great point of being hostile to gay men, especially to effeminate gay men. This problem has grown worse as women have moved into the public sphere because there are now far fewer things that only men are allowed to do. One reason why Islam had a long tradition of de facto if not de jure toleration of male homosexuality until recently is that women had no place in the public sphere in most Islamic countries; much the same can be said of pre-industrial Europe. Anyway, one result of women's increasing freedom is that hostility to male homosexuality increases, as sleeping with women becomes one of the few remaining marks of manhood. Another is that men's fondness for "bimbos" grows more acute, as it becomes more difficult for them to impress liberated--and demanding--women.

3. Fear of effeminacy, part B: Gay men who adopt effeminate mannerisms (I realise they are a minority today but they do exist) are disproportionately threatening to other men because they remind them of the possibility of collapsing back into permanent childhood, mamas' boys unable to break free of the lures of the mother-goddess who rules all our childhoods. I've noticed that straight men who are mamas' boys, or even too dependent on their wives, often seek psychological freedom by pursuing as many sexual partners on the side as possible. (Think of Joey Buttafuoco...)

This isn't a comprehensive list. All of the points apply more to gay men than lesbians, but social hostility to gay men seems to be far fiercer than to lesbians.

Incidentally, I realise you've alluded to much of this already, when you've talked about children's need for "gender certainty" and other such matters. But I think it's equally important to the understanding of why anti-gay prejudice is so persistent, when other forms of sexual misbehaviour get more of a free pass from religious believers.

John applies the wisdom of the Desert Fathers.

Transcendence offers a personal post about his journey to Catholicism and chastity. Powerful, well worth a read. If permalinks are bloggered, it's the second post here.

Zorak misreads me pretty seriously; I'm not sure what I said to cause this impression, but let me see if I can clarify.

I never said anything about one person's situation or temptations being "worse than" another, and I, too, find that kind of "who hurts more" contest really distasteful. But I don't think homosexuality is treated like "the sin of pornography, masturbation, any other unusual sexual compulsion, self-mutilation, suicide, compulsive eating, etc, etc, etc."

For one thing, my initial post was about the ways in which our society treats homosexuality as something you are, not something you do. Here I quoted Ron Belgau's description of the difference between guilt and shame: "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.'" The whole "eww, that's so gay!" mentality, the constant attempts to prove that you're not gay and the people you dislike or view as vulnerable are gay, all that stuff is about imposition of shame, not calling someone to account for a guilty action.

For another, some sins are supported in large swathes of our culture: pornography, say. Some are viewed as funny but basically neutral: masturbation. Some are viewed as tragic but not a basic, defining characteristic of one's identity: self-mutilation, compulsive eating. All of these differing attitudes present different obstacles to Christian life. Heterosexual lust is often reinforced in our culture; that's one major obstacle for people struggling with heterosexual temptations. It's worth talking about the particular kinds of cultural barriers faced by people struggling with homosexual temptations, as well. Why wouldn't it be? Why on earth would we expect our culture to treat all temptations the same way, presenting the same incentive structures for or against each?

None of this needs to be about who hurts more. (Which is why, you know, I didn't compare homosexuality to anything else. I was talking about one thing, with no comparison to other things either stated or implied.) It's about accurately analyzing cultural patterns to see the ways in which they reinforce sinful temptations and false beliefs. The mainstream of our culture treats homosexuality--when it's affirming it and when it's attacking it--as an unchanging and defining aspect of one's identity. Obviously, that makes it a lot harder for people with same-sex attractions to hear the Church's message. For me, personally, figuring out the ways in which the culture had "hardened" my identity was really important in helping me figure out how to deal with sexual temptation (to the extent that I have) and how to understand the Church's teaching on the subject.

Here're the key bits of the initial post. I hope it will make my take on all this stuff clearer: "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."

More on this topic here and here.

I Capture the Castle of Otranto: Bloodcurdling, gothic--but tender--coming-of-age saga.

Gone With the Wind in the Willows: Thrills, romance, voles.

Go Ask Alice in Wonderland: Teen girl becomes drug addict, takes the trip of her life.

From Russia With Love Story: James Bond discovers that the love of his life has a terminal illness. Mind your sides!

On the Road to Wigan Pier: Author meets working-class people, borrows money.

Stupid White Noise: Non-fiction polemic about the post-modern authors that are destroying America.

Snow Crashing on Cedars: Hacker uses futuristic technology to solve murder in Pacific Northwest. Jake Gyllenhaal to play lead in film version.

The Joy Luck Fight Club: Chinese American daughters and mothers bond over fist fights, family history, dim sum and bouts of anarchy

The Old Man and the Seabiscuit: The old man goes fishing. He casts his line. With a horse.


Via Bookslut.
BUT I CAN'T SAY THAT I SEE THE POINT OF THE GIANT SPACE STARFISH: Scattered thoughts prompted by Jim Henley's "Gaudy night: Superhero stories and our own," and the comments thereto.

First let me get the polemical point out of the way: People who complain about superhero characters' vigilantism are being too literal-minded and missing the point. The situations superhero characters confront are meant to mirror or illuminate situations we face. Sometimes the vigilante nature of the superhero helps call societal conventions into question, emphasizing the primacy of conscience and placing the hero alone in a moral landscape a lot like the landscape of the Western (another very American genre--and more on this stuff soon). Sometimes vigilante status is just a way to clear away bureaucracy and real-world constraints so that the storytelling can move fast and keep a tight focus on the central character's choices. For those of us who read those serial-killer-profiling books, in the second kind of story vigilantism is m.o.; in the first kind, it's signature. Obviously, many superhero stories use both aspects of the convention, with one or the other predominating.

Comparison: the costumes. Superhero comics use costumes for a host of reasons. Mechanical: Costumes make it easier to tell the characters apart, especially when the artists keep changing. They also make it easier for readers to slide into the fantastic--they're like unicorns; when you see one you know you've left real-world conventions and should readjust your expectations accordingly. Plot: Costumes make it easier to suspend disbelief that characters with secret identities can maintain their secrecy. Thematic: Like secret identities in general, costumes help emphasize themes of identity-creation, personal vs. public persona, and the attractions and stresses of playing a role.

But costumes aren't there to suggest that dressing up in colorful spandex is actually an effective response to trouble in the world or in one's psyche. That's just not what they're doing. Ditto, IMO, vigilantism. It serves mechanical, plot, and thematic purposes, but there's no point in trying to force it from symbol into policy prescription. Therefore, criticizing it for being a lousy policy prescription misses the point.

Having said all that.... It's interesting--I don't think I respond to the same things in superhero stories that Jim does. Possibly this is why Spider-Man bores me so much! I gravitate toward what I guess you could, if you really, really wanted to, call the existential questions rather than the ethical ones. Even in my Watchmen post I talked much more about the questions Jim doesn't touch (Is there a pattern and a meaning to life? What does one death matter? What is the nature of creation?) than the ones he does discuss, even though the power-and-responsibility stuff is obviously all over Watchmen.

I gravitate to stories that seem to me to say something powerful about identity-formation, conflict between possible visions of the self, and leadership. The latter subject is probably closest to Jim's interests, but even there, I'm especially interested by stories that explore the personal/public nature of leadership--the need to become one's persona in order to lead, rather than artificially wearing the persona as if it were a costume (more on this in the next post)--and the interaction between personal leadership and some external ideal or rule set. (Anyone who can write the Scott Summers/Charles Xavier relationship well has a key to my heart--that negotiation between two generations or levels of leadership, that attempt to forge an identity while not only acknowledging but embracing the powerful influence of someone else's dream. Thank you, Grant Morrison.)

Thus I want to read stories about Beast (identity-formation--again, I think Morrison has nailed Henry's character), Daredevil (I talked about him here), and Jessica Jones (even the name of her book/business, Alias, gets at the "who are you? to what extent are you trapped in a role? what are the constraints on who you could become?" questions). Other characters seem to run into these questions less often, or else I haven't yet seen the stories in which the questions arise, and so there is more of the duty-to-others stuff which, for whatever reason, I find less compelling. This isn't meant as a slam on those stories. I'm just trying to point out another set of questions I think superhero stories have proven to be adept at addressing.
"Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: --either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king, will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others."
--Plato, Apology, tr. Jowett. Good grief that's creepy. I mean, I'm not the world's sunshiniest human, but at least I prefer something to nothing. L'chaim, Socrates, yo.
PLEASE PRAY FOR STUART BUCK'S RECOVERY. Information, and other prayer requests, here.

Update on Buck's condition here.
edited, I should read entire articles before linking to them!

There's a discussion of the issue this post was about (drug war and search warrants) here.
SIMPUTER FOR POOR GOES ON SALE: From the BBC: A cheap handheld computer designed by Indian scientists has been launched after a delay of nearly three years.

The team first came up with the idea for the Simputer in 2001 to help India's poor join the internet age.

But development of the computer was hampered by lack of investment and by little interest in the idea from computer manufacturers.

The Simputer was officially launched on Friday and the basic model costs around $240.

The Simputer is the first computer to be designed and manufactured in India.

It was developed by scientists and engineers at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore who were looking for a way of taking the internet revolution to India's rural masses.

Only nine in every 1,000 Indians own a computer, mainly because the machines are simply too expensive. The Simputer was designed to provide cheap and accessible computing on the go.

But it had a troubled time moving out of the development labs and into commercial production.

In the end, the government-owned Bharat Electronics agreed to manufacture the handheld.

The device goes on sale in April and the backers of the project hope to sell 50,000 in the first year.

Branded as the Amida Simputer, the handheld comes in three versions. The basic model has a monochrome screen, a 206Mhz processor and 64MB of memory. It also has an internal microphone, speakers and a battery that lasts for six hours

People can use the Simputer to surf the net, send e-mails or organise their finances, using a stylus to write on screen. It also comes with software to let users type notes and letters in Hindi and Kannada.

In order to keep costs down, the computer uses the Linux operating system.


Via Hit & Run, I think.
LISTEN TO THE ARAB REFORMERS: Jackson Diehl. Excerpts: ...The most underreported and encouraging story in the Middle East in the past year has been the emergence in public of homegrown civic movements demanding political change. Two years ago they were nonexistent or in jail. Now they are out in the open even in the most politically backward places in the region: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria. They are made up not only of intellectuals but of businessmen, women, students, teachers and journalists. Unlike their governments -- and the old school of U.S. and European Arabists -- they don't believe that change should be gradual, and they reject the dictators' claim that democracy would only empower Islamic extremists. It is the delay of change, they say, that is increasingly dangerous.

These people weren't created by George W. Bush. They are the homegrown answer to a decadent political order, and they ride a powerful historical current. But they will tell you frankly: The new U.S. democratization policy, far from being an unwanted imposition, has given them a voice, an audience and at least a partial shield against repression -- three things they didn't have one year ago.

"In the Middle East today, you talk about food, you talk about football -- and you talk about democracy," says Mohammed Kamal, a young political scientist from Egypt. "Some people condemn the Americans, others say, 'Look at the other side, these are universal values.' The point is that for the first time in many years, there is a serious debate going on in the Arab world about their own societies. The United States has triggered this debate, it keeps the debate going, and this is a very healthy development."

Kamal and another prominent Egyptian political scientist, Osama Ghazali Harb, were in Washington last week; both attended a groundbreaking meeting of civic organizations at Egypt's Alexandria Library earlier this month. The conference, unthinkable a year ago, produced a clarion call for democratic change -- one that was all but ignored by Western media.

So here is what the Alexandria statement said: "Reform is necessary and urgently needed." That means: an "elected legislative body, an independent judiciary, and a government that is subject to popular and constitutional oversight, in addition to political parties with their different ideologies." Also, "the freedom of all forms of expression, especially the freedom of the press . . . and the support of human rights in accordance with international charters, especially the rights of women, children and minorities."

How to get there? The document offers a clear path: reform constitutions so they provide for periodic free elections and term limits on officeholders; free all political prisoners and repeal all laws that provide for punishment of free expression; abolish all the emergency laws and special courts on which Arab rulers depend.


Via Oxblog.
LIBERAL AND LIBERTARIAN BOOKS FOR IRAQ: Tom Palmer writes: I'm putting together shipments of books about liberty to be distributed to the universities in Iraq. (I will do the usual books by Hayek, Friedman, Rand, Smith, Bastiat, etc., as well as economics textbooks, books by libertarian eastern Europeans on post-Soviet transition, and the like.) Providing English-language books for universities (and for distribution to bilingual intellectuals) will parallel a translation program to get the best items into Arabic for publication in book form and through web site PDFs. I've raised some funds for this already, but anyone who’d like to chip in can send a check made out to "Cato Institute" to my attention at the Cato Institute (Tom G. Palmer, Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, USA) or make a donation via the Cato web site and send a note to me at (also, but I get a LOT of spam on my Cato account) telling me about it, and I will ensure that it goes into a special account to be spent exclusively on promoting liberty in Iraq and the Arab world. My heartfelt thanks to those who have already pitched in!

[later, Palmer elaborates:] But back to the main point, reading thinkers such as F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and the like is helpful mainly to avoid mistakes (such as imposing price controls or protectionism, or arbitrarily confiscating property). What is needed in the process of transformation is a set of guidelines for transforming unfree and impoverished societies into free and prosperous societies. The Iraqis have much to learn from both the failures and the successes of the reformers in the countries of the former Soviet Empire. And they will be better able to move from fear and slavery to confidence and freedom if they understand better the principles of liberty, of the rule of law, of property and the market economy, of toleration, and of agreeable disagreement, conversation, and deliberation. Good books help people to learn, but they are no guarantee of success. Nothing is.

Thanks to Bret for pointing to Juan Cole's translation project. I have read his writings and have often found them very enlightening. His Americana project sounds quite useful. My interests are somewhat less "American" oriented and more oriented toward the universal principles of liberalism that the American Founders espoused. I'd like to get important works by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Milton Friedman into Arabic editions, but also works by Scotsmen (e.g., David Hume and Adam Smith), Frenchmen (e.g., Frederic Bastiat and J. B. Say), Englishmen (e.g., Arnold Plant and Ronald Coase), Austrians (e.g., Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek), and others, as well. I'm also working on some getting some texts into print with facing Arabic and English pages, to assist those who are struggling to learn one language or the other.

[Can't remember where I found this.]
IN DEFENSE OF OUTSOURCING: Daniel Drezner in Foreign Affairs. Excerpts:

...If offshore outsourcing is not the cause of sluggish job growth, what is? A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests that the economy is undergoing a structural transformation: jobs are disappearing from old sectors (such as manufacturing) and being created in new ones (such as mortgage brokering). In all such transformations, the creation of new jobs lags behind the destruction of old ones. In other words, the recent recession and current recovery are a more extreme version of the downturn and "jobless recovery" of the early 1990s -- which eventually produced the longest economic expansion of the post-World War II era. Once the structural adjustments of the current period are complete, job growth is expected to be robust. (And indeed, current indicators are encouraging: there has been a net increase in payroll jobs and in small business employment since 2003 and a spike in IT entrepreneurial activity.) ...

The data affirm this benefit. Catherine Mann of the Institute for International Economics conservatively estimates that the globalization of IT production has boosted U.S. GDP by $230 billion over the past seven years; the globalization of IT services should lead to a similar increase. As the price of IT services declines, sectors that have yet to exploit them to their fullest -- such as construction and health care -- will begin to do so, thus lowering their cost of production and improving the quality of their output. (For example, cheaper IT could one day save lives by reducing the number of "adverse drug events." Mann estimates that adding bar codes to prescription drugs and instituting an electronic medical record system could reduce the annual number of such events by more than 80,000 in the United States alone.)

McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that for every dollar spent on outsourcing to India, the United States reaps between $1.12 and $1.14 in benefits. Thanks to outsourcing, U.S. firms save money and become more profitable, benefitting shareholders and increasing returns on investment. Foreign facilities boost demand for U.S. products, such as computers and telecommunications equipment, necessary for their outsourced function. And U.S. labor can be reallocated to more competitive, better-paying jobs; for example, although 70,000 computer programmers lost their jobs between 1999 and 2003, more than 115,000 computer software engineers found higher-paying jobs during that same period. Outsourcing thus enhances the competitiveness of the U.S. service sector (which accounts for 30 percent of the total value of U.S. exports). Contrary to the belief that the United States is importing massive amounts of services from low-wage countries, in 2002 it ran a $64.8 billion surplus in services. ...

Finally, the benefits of "insourcing" should not be overlooked. Just as U.S. firms outsource positions to developing countries, firms in other countries outsource positions to the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of outsourced jobs increased from 6.5 million in 1983 to 10 million in 2000. The number of insourced jobs increased even more in the same period, from 2.5 million to 6.5 million. ...

The problem of offshore outsourcing is less one of economics than of psychology -- people feel that their jobs are threatened. The best way to help those actually affected, and to calm the nerves of those who fear that they will be, is to expand the criteria under which the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program applies to displaced workers. Currently, workers cannot apply for TAA unless overall sales or production in their sector declines. In the case of offshore outsourcing, however, productivity increases allow for increased production and sales -- making TAA out of reach for those affected by it. It makes sense to rework TAA rules to take into account workers displaced by offshore outsourcing even when their former industries or firms maintain robust levels of production.

Another option would be to help firms purchase targeted insurance policies to offset the transition costs to workers directly affected by offshore outsourcing. Because the perception of possible unemployment is considerably greater than the actual likelihood of losing a job, insurance programs would impose a very small cost on firms while relieving a great deal of employee anxiety. ...

The refrain of "this time, it's different" is not new in the debate over free trade. In the 1980s, the Japanese variety of capitalism -- with its omniscient industrial policy and high nontariff barriers -- was supposed to supplant the U.S. system. Fifteen years later, that prediction sounds absurd. During the 1990s, the passage of NAFTA and the Uruguay Round of trade talks were supposed to create a "giant sucking sound" as jobs left the United States. Contrary to such fears, tens of millions of new jobs were created. Once the economy improves, the political hysteria over outsourcing will also disappear.


Via Hit & Run.

Monday, March 29, 2004


1. Never read where your children can see you.

2. Put a TV or computer in every room. Don't neglect the bedrooms and the kitchen.

3. Correct your child every time she mispronounces a word.

4. Schedule activities every day after school so your child will never be bored.

5. Once your child can read independently, throw out the picture books. They're for babies.

6. Don't play board games together. Too dull.

7. Give little rewards for reading. Stickers and plastic toys are nice. Money is even better.

8. Don't expect your child to enjoy reading. Kids' books are for teaching vocabulary, proper study habits, and good morals.

9. Buy only 40-watt bulbs for your lamps.

10. Under no circumstances read your child the same book over and over. She heard it once, she should remember it.

11. Never allow your child to listen to books on tape; that's cheating.

12. Make sure your kid reads only books that are "challenging." Easy books are a complete waste of time. That goes double for comic books and Mad magazine.

13. Absolutely, positively no reading in bed.
"For often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death."
--Plato, Apology, tr. Jowett

Sunday, March 28, 2004

"GETTING FIRED": THE BULLDOG AND THE HYENA. What I expect to be the second-to-last installment of the current short story. You can read the story so far starting here, or just get the new installment here.

I am very, very, very, very, very interested in receiving comments on the story, especially critical ones. A few things about this particular segment: I already know the blocking is atrocious. When I revise it I'll have to go through and carefully plot out where everyone is standing and how (and why) each person gets from point A to point B.

What do you all think of the pigeons? I wanted a delaying mechanism, and the pigeons are cute in a way that this whole scene ought to be cute. But I'm not fully satisfied with the pigeon vignette and suspect it may be too much of a muchness. Should I reduce the pigeon stuff, or cut it entirely?

Too much smiling here? It's really a sweet segment, so that's kind of inevitable, but I did feel like I was writing "smiles" and "grins" about fifty times. Not sure what to do about that, though, since the reactions are in character and there are only so many non-pretentious ways to describe happy facial expressions.

I know Mr. Merced's dialogue isn't quite right. Needs to be slightly more elaborate. Will fix when I revise.

Other thoughts?
BABY, LET'S TWIST AGAIN, LIKE WE DID LAST SUMMER: My post ("Playground Twist") on how societal response to homosexuality shapes our identities got a lot of really illuminating, personal, intense responses. I'd really like to thank everyone who wrote to me, and apologize for not replying sooner. I didn't write back to people in anything remotely resembling a timely fashion. But I really, really appreciated every email I got.

Here's a selection from the emails I received.

Anonyreader #1: Interesting post. Point number 2 is pretty spot on. Point number 1 differed from my experience a bit (though I believe I came out at a considerably older age than you--I was 33). Hardening of identity--probably--but it might be likened more to "siege mentality"--a very real sense that I and people like me were under attack (whether sexually active or not) and that the gay community was a vehicle to do something about it.

In the past week I have discovered yet another grand unifying theory of the sort I discover about once a month. The stereotypical gay activist appears to lump gay identity, homosexual orientation and homosex into one sort of all-or-nothing package. To have an objection to any of it is to be hateful to the entire person. Then there are the (I'll call them) anti-gay Catholic conservative people who try to explain the distinction the Church draws between homosex (deemed immoral) and homosexual persons (fundamentally good--but possessing an objective disorder). This just explains the relationship to the homosexual person.

Both of these positions ignore one thing--the culture. I think it is fair to say that in addition to wanting homosexual individuals to live chaste lives, the Church also wants the culture to teach chastity and the ways in which the culture teaches chastity are far from precise and often quite cruel. The playground incidents you describe are just a small subset of how I'm convinced the culture used to convey disapproval of homosex--by heaping stigma on the gay person. In other words, you avoided looking for gay sex because, well, someone might get the impression that you ARE a homosexual.

While I have read, and believe I know pretty well, what the Church teaches about the dignity of the homosexual person, I do see them supporting cultural conventions that try (granted without too much success lately) to keep homosexual persons from being able to identify each other (potential partners) by encouraging them to remain silent about their orientation (which is accomplished by stigmatizing the orientation). This is what makes "love the sinner hate the sin" and "all God wants you to do in this area is avoid sodomy," which does describe the Church attitude toward the homosexual individual, ring pretty false.

A possibly-anonyreader writes: There is some truth to your first observation. You second observation is, at best, a half truth. The most telling omission is that you neglected a sense of group identity formed by common oppression. A grown up gay man who hears some kid being called "faggot" is justifiably outraged because he knows precisely how that feels.

The problem with "Courage" is that it sweeps the last point under the rug, and that's not acceptable or forgivable. It's the reason so many gay-identified people hate Courage.

Elizabeth says some stuff that rings really true to me, and that does not exactly speak well for the Church's response to contemporary culture: I've formed this from what I've heard some Christians say about homosexuality and people with SSA. They often talk as though homosexuality is the "unforgivable sin." Non-Catholic types seem to do this more as they don't seem to distinguish between the disorder and the person; just to be homosexual is sinful even if one is chaste.

So my theory goes like this: Homosexuality affects a minority of the population so most Christians do not live with this temptation to sin. And while they may be tempted to pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, porn etc. they are not tempted by a person of the same sex. Plus, they can reason it's normal to be attracted to a person of the opposite sex, so it's normal to have sex with them. And, homosexuality is never normal, even if one is not sexually active. Main point: It's one sin they are almost guaranteed not to commit.

Now if some do happen to be living with some degree of SSA but believe that if anyone found out that they will be ostracized and condemned they may not act on it. They may be even more strident than others to deflect suspision. Once again, it's a sin they are almost guaranteed not to commit. The cost would be to great.

I know I made some generalizations here; I hope they are not too sweeping.

Anonyreader the third: So I read the above-named post. It's on-target. The particular stigma attached to homosexual attractions doesn't just harden one's identity. It creates an unhealthy disconnect between one's inner and outer self. By this I mean not just being in the closet, but having as a result such a stark divide between inner actions and outer actions that one might view the former as existing in a sealed container. If one can help it, they do not affect one's outer actions, so one is tempted to believe that they don't matter.

And if the shame doesn't harden one's self-identity enough, the mantra to the effect that a gay leopard can't change his spots will--even less motivation to guide one's internal currents. I'd call it textbook vice, but this particular example doesn't appear in the textbooks. (For the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many, etc.)

And your comment about loving care being woven into the fabric of a sinful relationship (or vice versa)? So very Brideshead--Charles and Sebastian, Charles and Julia, Julia and Rex, Lord Marchmain and Cara. There's a reason (among many) why it's my favorite novel.

Joe Perez responds here. I think this is condescending (I mean, Joe couldn't know this, but I did co-found my high school's gay-straight alliance, this is stuff I've had to wrestle with practically since I could read, I really am neither new to this stuff nor unwilling to put myself on the line) but it is nonetheless worth reading. I find it thoroughly bizarre that he writes, "I can honestly say that, by and large, the possibility has never seriously occurred to me that my sexual instincts, attractions, and desires could possibly be as disordered, evil, sinful, or disgusting as so much of the world around me preached." I mean, I can't think of anything I believe that I have never doubted, except for stuff that nobody in this society tries to make you doubt, like "genocide is wrong." I can think of things I've never actually changed my mind about (the political examples are capital punishment and the drug war), but really, the fact that I desire something tends to make it more suspect for me, not less. Yet I do realize that neither attitude ("I will do what comes naturally" or "I will do what I hate in order to assert my willpower over my inclinations") is an especially good guide to truth.

Anonyreader #4: Some unconnected points on the question you posed about why homosexual temptation get treated as unique (it's long, and the most important part is at the end if you want to skip):

(1) I think sex (as opposed to gender) has often, maybe always, been a centrally important way for , especially for women, but for men too. With saints, you have martyrs and virgin martyrs, who get their own category. When two close friends of mine in college met as freshmen roommates at Harvard, on the first night after the lights went out, one asked the other what she most felt she needed to know about this stranger she'd be sharing space with: "Are you a virgin?" Virginity is its own complicated issue, but I think it points to people's tendency to self-define and define others through sex. And on the other side of the Madonna-whore dichotomy, 'slut' is probably the schoolyard label most stigmatized after 'gay,' and sometimes has equally little to do with whether someone's actually had any sex--the class 'slut' can be someone who's pretty or develops early or talks to boys. I do realize this label is different from 'gay' in that it doesn't deal with someone's besetting temptation, though.

(2) I think that in parts of Evangelical America, same-sex attraction has become the scapegoat that people look at when they don't want to think about there own sex lives. This goes both for things people might not think of as sexual sins at all and those they do think are sinful but don't see as self-defining. Yes, it's simplistic to accuse people of saying, "Sure, I have sex outside marriage/have been divorced and remarried three times/use abortifacient contraception/watch a lot of porn, but I'm not like those homosexuals," but I think there's a grain of truth to it.

(4) Which came first, viewing same-sex attraction as a unique and defining temptation or insistence by gays that being gay was a central aspect of identity, like being black or female? Maybe there's a historical answer to this, or maybe it's a chicken/egg problem--I don't know.

(4) Getting more personal: when I was thirteen I considered the fact that I was odd, thought girls were pretty, and found boys my age annoying, and became afraid that I was gay. For about six months I was secretly full of angst and fear like I've never known about anything else, and I think the why of it is interesting. My parents are not Christian, are in fact very much opposed to organized religion in general, and I'd never thought of the belief that homosexuality was a sin as anything other than superstition. I knew gays were stigmatized, but considered that stigma a bad and stupid thing, like racism. Still, I wasn't thrilled about acquiring a stigma I'd never grow out of (unlike 'nerd'), but that wasn't the thing that scared me most. What scared me most was the thought that I could never get married and have kids. Which was weird, because (a) I had never before been aware of wanting to such a thing, and (b) this was 1995, and I read a lot of TIME magazine, so I must have known that there were gay people who had partners or even kids, but that never struck me as a future life that was even within the realm of possibility for me. In a culture with almost no positive ways of thinking about celibacy that (especially in '95) hadn't really absorbed the idea of gay marriage, what gay really meant to thirteen-year-old me was isolated, lonely, without family. Which may have been why I started thinking I was gay in the first place, because I was already isolated in the way only over-intellectualized middle-schoolers can be. And I think that idea--that gay means isolated, cut off the deep ties of marriage and family--may help explain both why same-sex attraction gets treated so differently from other temptations and why supporters of SSM see it as a basic human right.
With her smile painted on his mouth
He walked out of the town called Blog Watching...

Catholic Ragemonkey: Blogrolling these priests. Lovely post on the Annunciation: "For today's homily at Mass, I reflected upon the seeming incongruity between the season of Lent and the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Lent stirs up thoughts of penance and sacrifice and struggle. The Annunciation is a moment of exquisite joy because the long-awaited redemption of Israel is announced, is under way. It looks badly matched if one looks no deeper than the surface of the events. But if we pentrate into the inscape (a word coined by Caryl Houselander, a contemporary English theologian), we see the true threads of what is beginning here." more!

They've also started an online Catholic book club. Current reading: Meditations Before Mass by Msgr. Romano Guardini.

Cinecon: Another Maya Deren fan! I was not so much fond of her moviemaking--just her book on voodoo--but Cinecon makes me want to see "Meshes of the Afternoon" again. "MESHES is clearly a dream about something or other that can be unpacked and debated at the espresso bar later, but *while the film is unspooling* it has near-perfect dream logic (which isn't at all the same thing as wtf incoherence). The images are recognizable and cogent but don't quite look right or are followed by a scene that cannot follow it logically. Obvious motifs (like the knife) are dropped in and call so much attention to themselves that they become structuring principles and unite the narrative discontinuities and impossibilities. The movements of Maya throughout the film (the garden, the stairs) are repeated, slowed down and/or speeded up for emphasis (the way Maggie Cheung moves and the way Wong Kar-wai uses her in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE's Yumeji sequences is heavily indebted to Deren in MESHES). ...It's like a Salvador Dali painting come to life." (I wrote about Deren's book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti here.)

Also, he watches "Eyes without a Face" and makes the obvious contemporary parallels. I think he's trying too hard for a genre separation between science fiction and horror, though.

Midwestern Conservative Journal: Gay Anglican Bishop headline contest. Via Cacciaguida. As you might expect, some of these are... uncalled-for. But many are hilarious. Some of my favorites: Gay Anglican Bishop Enjoys Being Gay Anglican Bishop; "I'm Gay, Anglican, and a Bishop," Says Gay Anglican Bishop

President sends Gay Anglican Bishop as peace ambassador to Al Qaida

"Gay Anglican Bishop Ordains First Openly Muslim Anglican Priest"

"Gay Anglican Bishop Reveals Results of His 'Quizilla' poll"

Spring Break Shocker! Gay Anglican Bishop parties in Cancun with Dalai Lama

Gay Anglican Bishop Takes Queen's Rook

And last: Gay Anglican bishop gets bent out of shape over new pew.

"Agil qual leopardo
ti avvinghiasti all'amante;
in quell'instante
t'ho giurata mia!"


Friday, March 26, 2004

FORTY-THREE MOVIES: Inspired by Motime Like the Present, I'd initially planned to post a list of my 50 favorite movies, with brief annotations. But I got weird about it (you're shocked, I know) so there are only forty-three. Here are the rules:

a) "Five-Star Final" is the lowest-ranked movie on the list. That's why there are only forty-three. I decided I wanted a hard lower boundary, and picked 5SF.

b) I went by gut reaction. So for many good movies that didn't make the cut, I'd just ask myself, "Do you want to see this listed above 'Five-Star Final'?", and if I didn't, that was a good enough reason to keep it off.

c) "Stickiness" is probably the biggest factor in getting a movie onto this list. If the picture did something so memorable that it's stuck in my memory, becoming a touchstone, that weighed heavily with me as I drew up the list. (For example, although I really enjoyed "The Ruling Class" as I was watching it, its cold satire faded faster than I'd anticipated, so it's not here.) Stickiness definitely wasn't the only important factor, though. Plain old quality counts (thus, although I could probably recite half of "Labyrinth" to you, this sticky movie is not among my top 43). Uniqueness and unexpectedness count--something above mere competence. "Chicken Run" is a very funny comedy, with several cute allusions and sharp lines ("In America, when we want to motivate people, we don't talk about death!"), but... well... that's what it's supposed to be. I like it, I recommend that you rent it, etc. etc., but it didn't bully its way onto my favorites list. Similarly (and this must be the only way this movie is similar to "Chicken Run"!), "Raise the Red Lantern" is tragic and there are several moving scenes that I definitely won't forget. But I didn't need to see the movie for that to be true, really. If you told me what happened I would know the point of the movie. It does what it is supposed to do but nothing more. ...In general, be advised that my criteria for movie selection and ranking tended to shift around a bit, so don't expect maximal consistency.

and finally, d) Although this is a "favorites" list, not a "best" list, I do trust there's a significant amount of overlap, and if something's bizarrely high on this list you can expect that I will defend its quality rather than just conceding that I, personally, happen to like it. But let's not take quality too seriously. There's no way on earth that "Five-Star Final" is the forty-third-best movie I've ever seen. I don't care. It stuck with me and so I will make it a star.

Okay, enough rules. On to the movies.

43 Five-Star Final: Edward G. Robinson as a self-loathing gutter journalist. The hilariously oily Boris Karloff (!!!!) as a lecherous ex-divinity student. Lovely bit roles--even actors with only three lines got fun, fleshed-out characters to play. Now, I should probably mention that most of this movie is doughy melodrama. It's awful, really. But the brilliant parts are just stellar. I can't stop thinking about this sloppy, shambolic, significantly-less-than-half-assed movie.

42 The Ice Storm: You know, I don't even know if this should be on the list at all. I've seen it, I think, twice, and was really struck by its portrayal of basically good people--weak, sure, but not ill-intentioned--trying to live in a culture without a moral compass. The acting is good and there are many well-done scenes (Nixon mask, frozen diving board). But enough of this film has faded that I should really see it again before I put it on this list. Oh well, whatever.

41 Coffy: Um, this is solely because I wanted some representative of the many fine blaxploitation pictures I've seen, and Coffy edged out Blacula. Barely.

40 The Court Jester: Oh, this is such a sweet, fun movie. Charming derring-do and much singing. "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the flagon with the dragon holds the brew that is true!"

39 Arsenic and Old Lace: Peter Lorre is very, very creepy. Cary Grant is hilarious even when all you can really see are his eyebrows.

38 My Own Private Idaho: Another one that might not even belong on this list. But I put it here because I don't remember that it sucked, and I want to honor it for the whole run-Henry-IV-through-a-shredder idea. I seem to recall the movie was at its best when it was most directly Shakespearean. But it's been a long time since I saw this, and I have this horrible fear that if I see it now I'll hate it.

37 Double Indemnity: You don't really need me to explain this to you, do you?

36 Ninotchka: Ditto. Sweet but creepy movie; almost--but not quite--manages to smother the Cold War in cake and champagne froth.

35 Rear Window: This should be higher. It's just that everyone knows that this is what Hitchcock does--voyeurism, Jimmy Stewart, suspicion and shadows of a doubt--so I'm biased against ranking it where it rightfully belongs. What a great premise, though.

34 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: The more I think about this movie the more I like it. While I was watching it, it felt unnecessarily long, but there's so much fascinating stuff going on there. What is the worth of the quest for truth? How does an old order pass away, and a new one begin? ...Plus, I love any movie in which a drunken newspaperman kisses his press.

33 The Secret Lives of Dentists: It really is a gripping, startlingly accurate portrayal of family life. It just digs right in and doesn't let go. Intense, excellent movie. Go see.

32 The Birds: Because it freaks me out that Hitchcock managed to use all the techniques people use when they're making a movie about some theme or idea or question or truth or doubt, to make a movie about, as far as I can tell, how much it would suck if one day birds decided to attack us. Pure form. Either too much meaning or (this is my take) none at all.

31 Grosse Pointe Blank: I did my defense of this movie here. Saw it again recently and was reminded of how tight it is and how little of its dialogue is wasted.

30 The Manchurian Candidate: Another movie with excellent lines for very minor characters. To some extent you have to translate its paranoias for the movie to have anything even approaching the impact it doubtless had when it was released; but it's not like human nature has changed so very, very much in the intervening years. Hallucinatory imagery, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury... and an ending twist that always gets my heart in my mouth. Even though I know what happens.

29 Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb: Another one that needs translating. Feels light rather than scathing, these days. But still so funny. "I do not avoid women, Mandrake. I merely deny them my essence."

28 Sunset Boulevard: Another one that needs no commentary from me. Just go rent it and wallow in the decadence.

27 The Producers: Yet another one that has doubtless seen the years wear down its edge. But I don't care. Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder have incredible chemistry (that scene in the theater bar--"By the light, by the light, of the silvery moon..."--is one of the most sweetly ridiculous things I've ever seen) and you will walk out humming "Springtime for Hitler." I want to see this movie right now. It's like how talking about food makes you hungry.

26 Election: I get a kind of "Ice Storm as farce rather than tragedy" vibe from this flick (heh).

25 Freaks: Gooba gabba.

24 Carnival of Souls: Can't improve on my description here.

23 Frankenstein

22 Gilda: I wish I knew what to say to make you see this movie, if you haven't already. Obviously, it has Rita Hayworth in it, and that is good. But Glenn Ford is fantastic, and the dialogue... rrrrr.... yes. "I was born the day you met me." Glittery, but watch out for the sharp pointy edges.

21 It's a Wonderful Life: I think people sometimes misread this movie, expecting "wonderful" to in some way imply "easy" or "free of losing." IAWL has this marshmallowy reputation, and then when you see it and see how dark it is it's easy to swing in the other direction and think it undercuts its own ostensible message. I'll just say I don't think it does. I don't think the title is ironic. I only watched this because it has Jimmy Stewart in it--expected to endure a warm cloying hug--and fell in love.

20 Gods and Monsters: Beautiful, dark meditation on mentorship, alienation, and homo- and heterosexuality. Based on the life of James Whale, director of "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Same."

19 Cape Fear: Robert Mitchum at his second-scariest (see below). Genuinely frightening movie (I am hard to scare at the movies) with intriguing theme of the limits of the law. I hear the remake is awful.

18 Memento: Imagine if Richard Rorty stopped being such a sunshine boy and decided to make an experimental neo-noir instead of misreading Philip Larkin. (Um, yes, small chip on shoulder, why do you ask?) Anyway, intellectually intense movie, gripping, etc. Too bad the acting is bland and the dialogue is completely unmemorable. But the idea behind the movie is strong enough to knock it up to #18 despite these major flaws.

17 Metropolis

16 Farewell My Concubine: You'll notice that I rarely watch movies made outside the good ol' U.S. of A. Yeah, I know. There's a whole world out there full of German art flicks and plucky Indian youngsters. (Kidding.) At any rate, FMC is the story of three singers in the Beijing Opera whose lives are torn apart by the Cultural Revolution. It's brutal. Don't watch if you can't take. Much heartbreak and betrayal. A lush, bloody, exhausting movie that, even though it sounds cliched, really is operatic. The late Leslie Cheung is incredible.

15 The Godfather Part II

14 Bride of Frankenstein: Yes, it is that much better than Frankenstein. There's just something turned-up-to-11 about Bride, something one-step-beyond.

13 Strangers on a Train: My favorite of the "no one is innocent" Hitchcock flicks. I have a thing about Farley Granger, I think maybe, although he's not as stellar in this as he is in Rope. Lovely, poisonous chemistry between the leads; many, many memorable scenes and moments of suspense. Best of basic Hitchcock.

12 Rope: Hitchcock thought the technical trick he used here was a failure--a gimmick, rather than a tool for illuminating the movie's themes or heightening its suspense. He shot it to look as though it was all one continuous take; no cuts, no outside world, just you stuck in this apartment with these two killers. The master was wrong: The trick works. The movie is intensely claustrophobic--perfect for a folie a deux story. John Dall and Farley Granger practically give off sparks. Jimmy Stewart has a thankless role; he has to spout most of the movie's pop philosophy. It's sort of Nietzsche for Murderous Dummies. Ignore those bits.

11 Bringing Up Baby: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and two count 'em two leopards. Sweet fun that made me laugh until my ribs hurt. Perfect, perfect screwball.

10 Gone With the Wind: Scarlett's much more complex in the book, but it doesn't really matter once everything catches fire, does it?

9 The Night of the Hunter: Robert Mitchum at his scariest. Killer preacher stalks helpless children. Really frightening movie shot through with intense beauty.

8 Sweet Smell of Success: I'm obsessed with this movie. (The story it's based on, by Ernest Lehman, is also excellent, and lacks the overwriting of the movie dialogue.) Tony Curtis as scum-sucking publicist trying to pawn his soul, to be redeemed later. Black humor, rancid atmosphere, gorgeous city-noir photography.

7 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: The Looney Toons of horror. Or else Looney Toons is the Cabinet of funny animal mayhem. Either way, this is an incredible movie--the sets alone, with their painted-on shadows and crazed angles, are thrilling. And yes, it is still scary.

6 The Godfather

5 Sabrina: Audrey Hepburn at her most completely charming. Humphrey Bogart as a Yale man (he sings "Boola Boola"!) in--ugh!--love. A movie about very unhappy people, but it will make you happy.

4 The Philadelphia Story: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart; comedy about vulnerability, wealth, patience, and honor. Sweet and very funny.

3 The Last Unicorn: Okay, I'm not fully rational about this movie. I may have watched it a hundred times. But whether or not it really needs to be #3 on anybody's list of anything, I will say these things for sure: The graceful, fluid animation is beautiful to behold. The dialogue is astonishingly rich--would be excellent in any movie, but is simply unparalleled in a children's fantasy. (It's almost word-for-word from Peter S. Beagle's equally wonderful novel.) The themes of love, duty, and regret are startlingly adult. The bittersweet ending is perfect. Tart-tongued Molly Grue and not-entirely-hapless Schmendrick, Last of the Red-Hot Swamis, are among my favorite fictional folk ever. This movie manages to be, as needed, homey, awe-inspiring, silly, knowing, and wise. Go! Go see this!

2 The Lion in Winter: Henry II (Peter O'Toole), Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins), and Geoffrey (John Castle) try to rip each other's hearts out during a Christmas court in 1183. Oh right, John Lackland's there too (brilliantly, pustulently played by Nigel Terry). Add a French king and an unhappy slip of a mistress into the mix. Oh, and (in ascending order) the photography, music, and dialogue are truly excellent. There is just no way this movie could be better.

1 Vertigo: I can't improve on The Rat's description here.
I'M BEING LEANED ON! By my own influences.

I was thinking over some of the imagery in "Getting Fired"--especially some of the imagery I came to more through intuition than through planning. Before I started drafting the piece, I sat down and wrote out about two pages of free association, just listing images that fit with two of the themes of the story. For example, the "This. Is. His. Face" girls were in one of those lists. The fly in the first scene, too, and the homeless guy. In general, I do plan out the imagery in my stories fairly rigorously. (It's the plotting where I go all baggy.) But as "Getting Fired" progresses, it does what stories do: Its plot is going in places I didn't anticipate when I planned out my imagery, and so I'm starting to operate much more on instinct, relying very little on the initial lists.

Usually, this is good. I like my image instincts. But "Getting Fired" is proving troublesome, and I think I know why.

The story is heavily influenced by '30s genre movies--horror and hardboiled-newspaper-type flicks. And these movies, since they were written and directed by men, are soaked in male anxieties and guilts. Women typically appear as symbols, ciphers, or catalysts. When I write that male anxiety and female opacity, I think it comes across as... well... male-bashing. Really, the gendered imagery in "GF" is out of control, and I can't believe I didn't notice it until about this past Wednesday or so. Since a) that is not what I'm trying to say with this story and b) if there's anyone in this piece I empathize with, it's the (male) narrator, followed closely by Mr. Peeler (thus I don't think there's any subconscious man-hating going on, although I suppose by definition I wouldn't know), I'm pretty sure this is a sign that I've insinuated more of the movies' atmosphere into the story than I even realized!

That's awesome in a lot of ways, but it does mean that I now have to yank on the reins a bit, and reshape the ending of the story to ensure that I have at least some semblance of control over what I'm saying here. Pretty sure I know how: You're going to get more of Amy than I'd initially planned, and possibly more of Miss Mikveh and the three receptionists, too. The women in this story do have anxieties and guilts; showing a few flashes of their inner lives should get the story's center of gravity back where I want it, away from the strong attractions of the '30s.
I'M MEETING PEOPLE, NICE PEOPLE TOO... Have been radically antisocial (even for me), turtling in my apartment glowering out at the world. But I did manage to meet Neilalien last week (another reader of both comics and Nietzsche... hmm...), and yesterday I met Sara "Diotima" Butler. Awesome, long conversation in the Dupont Circle sunshine. I may have to rethink the lurk-based approach to human interaction.
"...Bramo. La cosa bramata
perseguo, me ne sazio e via la getto,
volto a nuova esca."


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

THE INCREDULITY OF ST. THOMAS: Otto-da-Fe is right about the greatness of this painting. I'm a huge Caravaggio fan in general, but this one may possibly be my favorite. I'll sign on wholeheartedly to Otto's comments: "Incidentally, Caravaggio's 'Incredulity of St. Thomas' is one of my favorite paintings; it emphasizes Christ's physicality at least as effectively as a bloody Crucifixion. And Doubting Thomas's expression is wonderful--not unlike that of the typical viewer seeing this painting for the first time."
"Charles liked poetry because the lines were so short. You could think your own thoughts in the spaces around the print."
--Diana Wynne Jones, Witch Week

Sunday, March 21, 2004

DOLLY, DOLLY, DOLLY! Is anything better than "The Essential Dolly Parton"? I didn't think anything could redeem "I Will Always Love You" from Whitney Houston's window-shatteringness. But I'm listening to it now and it's really sweet and not overdone hardly at all. Anyway, yes: I love this album.
"GETTING FIRED": RESTROOMS ARE FOR CUSTOMER USE ONLY. The latest installment of my short story. In which we meet the boss. You can read the whole thing from the beginning here, or just get the latest events here.

Next installment: Amy.
ST. BLOG'S PARISH HALL: Discussion forum.
I KNOW A SONG THAT GETS ON EVERYBODY'S NERVES: I don't know why this happened. It just did. (There are already at least two verses reserved for the oral tradition.) Tune is, of course, Right Said Fred.

I'm too meta for my books,
Too meta for my books,
More meta than I look.
I'm too meta for my theory,
Too meta for my theory,
So meta it's eerie.
I'm too meta for this song,
Too meta for this song,
So meta, it's just wrong.
I'm too meta for my age,
Too meta for my age,
More meta than John Cage.
[four minutes & 33 seconds of silence]
I'm too meta for this conference,
Too meta for this conference,
No way I'm "finger-quoting."
I'm too meta for my narrative,
Too meta for my narrative,
So meta it's imperative.
I'm a theoretical model, you know what I mean?, and I signify my sign on the framework.
Yeah on the framework, on the framework, yeah I shake my Weltanschauung on the framework.
I'm too meta for this context--
Darling, it seems that you belong in Gone with the Wind; the proper place for a romantic. You belong in a tumultous world of changes and opportunities, where your independence paves the road for your survival. It is trying being both a cynic and a dreamer, no?

Which classic novel do you belong in? (The questions are above average.)

Also Tepper's fault.
YOU'RE INCREDIBLY JEWISH! Either you're a full-fledged Jew or you're one lucky Christian.

How Jewish are you?

Via Tepper.
My life is like unto a blogwatch store...

Old Oligarch: On "The Passion." "It has become a welcome desert in my heart." Some interesting observations on the audience, as well.

Sursum Corda: Very nice post on family and discipleship, on Saint Joseph's feast day.

I'm adding Get Religion to the blogroll. It's about mainstream media coverage of religion, especially Christianity.

Nina Shea (of the excellent religious-freedom advocacy group Freedom House) on the interim Iraqi constitution.
WASH. MAN PLEADS IN CAMBODIA SEX CASE: The first person prosecuted under a law protecting children overseas from sex crimes by U.S. citizens has pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with boys in Cambodia, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Michael Lewis Clark was arrested last June in Cambodia and was indicted last September in Seattle. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to two federal charges of engaging in and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places.

Clark was charged under the Protect Act of 2003, signed into law last spring and best known for encouraging states to set up Amber Alert systems to help track down missing children. The provision of the law under which Clark was charged makes it a crime for any U.S. citizen to travel abroad for the purpose of sex tourism involving children.

Court documents said Clark flew to Cambodia from Seattle and engaged in sexual contact with two boys, about 10 and 13 years old.

The Cambodian National Police arrested Clark in Phnom Penh, accusing him of "debauchery involving illicit sexual conduct" with the boys, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. The Cambodian authorities later dropped the charge, which allowed Clark to be indicted in the United States.

Prosecutors said in papers filed in federal court that Clark has spent a considerable amount of time in Cambodia over the last five years and may have molested as many as 50 boys aged 10 to 18. He most recently flew from Washington state to southeast Asia last May.

The complaint said Clark acknowledged he has been a pedophile since 1996 and that he usually paid the Cambodian boys $2 each for sex.

Clark faces a potential maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.


Via How Appealing.
"I love my enemies because you are one of them."
--Ibn Zaidun

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING, I've been sickish and slothy. Failing to work up enthusiasm for interaction with others; instead, turtling and sleeping a lot. Hoping it's over now, as fever and sore throat seem to be retreating.
OLIGARCH-WATCH: Tons of good stuff here.

Ad for "Touching Evil" has the tagline, "What didn't kill him made him stranger." Hilarious. Possibly my new motto.

Fun with Metrodrunks: The one: "Jesus Christ! Would you..."

The other, interrupting: "Don't say 'Jesus Christ.' Say Mel Gibson."

The one: "Mel Gibson! would you look at that..."

And... "So I think to myself: What if I crush and muddle this caffeine pill with Pernod?"
BEAUTIFUL: "One thing I do try to do is end with the Our Father. Sometimes they say it with me, sometimes they don't. I try to pull them both up on my lap and hold them close while I say it. I'm hoping that in years to come, when they say the prayer on their own, they'll remember the feeling of being held close by their father, which is, of course, what I hope we all might feel when saying our prayers." more
"My days of old have vanished--tone and tints."
--Douglas MacArthur, at West Point, 1962

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

DEEPLY SHALLOW: Just a note: The "Deep Thoughts" below are, indeed, from "Saturday Night Live." While The Rat is one of the funniest people I know (funny strange, funny ha-ha, it's all good) she did not personally craft these thoughts.

I really like this description of the blog: "Also, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, there's a certain plane crash quality to Eve's blog that keeps me coming back...."

Oh, and I flensed some of the more egregious overwriting from the most recent installment of "Getting Fired." This section does have to be pretty hothouse, but let's just say I didn't need to use phrases like (shudder) "obsidian gaze." That's just sick and wrong. It's better now.
"But with the inevitable forward march of progress
come new ways of hiding things,
and new things to hide."

--Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

YOU SIT AND YOU WONDER WHETHER IT'S GONNA BE SYNDICATED... I finally got an Atom feed. I don't even rightly know what that is, but you can find it here. Please tell me if I've messed it up somehow, since, as I say, I have no clue what this is. But people kept asking when I was gonna get one.

In other "shiny new toys!" developments, I've added a PayPal button. Use it wisely.

(Real blogging soon--and I mean it this time!)
DEEP THOUGHTS: Ratty sent me a vast list of 'em. She pointed out that most of them were metaphors for her life, for my life, or for same-sex marriage. (Sometimes, of course, I worry that my life is just one big metaphor for same-sex marriage.) Here are some samples; judge for yourself.

My life: Sometimes the beauty of the world is so overwhelming, I just want to throw back my head and gargle. Just gargle and gargle, and I don't care who hears me, because I am beautiful.

What is it about a beautiful sunny afternoon, with the birds singing and the wind rustling through the leaves, that makes you want to get drunk? And after you're real drunk, maybe go down to the public park and stagger around and ask people for money, and then lie down and go to sleep.

The first thing was, I learned to forgive myself. Then I told myself, "Go ahead and do whatever you want, it's okay by me."

Consider the daffodil. And while you're doing that, I'll be over here, looking through your stuff.

If I was the head of a country that lost a war, and I had to sign a peace
treaty, just as I was signing I'd glance over the treaty and then suddenly
act surprised. "Wait a minute! I thought we won!"

Let's be honest: isn't a lot of what we call tap-dancing really just nerves?

The other day I got out my can opener and was opening a can of worms when I thought, "What am I doing?!"

I'm telling you, just attach a big parachute to the plane itself! Is anyone listening to me?!

I wish I had a dollar for every time I spent a dollar, because then, yahoo!, I'd have all my money back.

Isn't it funny how one minute life can be such a struggle, and the next minute you're just driving real fast, swerving back and forth across the road?

The tiger can't change his spots. No, wait, he did! Good for him!

I don't say that the bird is "good" or the bat is "bad." But I will say this: at least the bird is less nude.

Probably the saddest thing you'll ever see is a mosquito sucking on a mummy. Forget it, little friend.

Before a mad scientist goes mad, there's probably a time when he's only partially mad. And this is the time when he's going to throw his best parties.

If the Vikings were around today, they would probably be amazed at how much glow-in-the-dark stuff we have, and how we take so much of it for granted.

Perhaps, if I am very lucky, the feeble efforts of my lifetime will someday be noticed, and maybe, in some small way, they will be acknowledged as the greatest works of genius ever created by Man.

Sometimes I think I'd be better off dead. No, wait. Not me, you.

If you're a blacksmith, probably the proudest day of your life is when you get your first anvil. How innocent you are, little blacksmith.

If a kid ever asks you how Santa Claus can live forever, I think a good answer is that he drinks blood.

It's funny how two simple words, "I promise," will stall people for a while.

SSM: If you're ever on an airplane that's crashing, see if you can't organize a quick thing of group sex, because come on, you squares.

Instead of a bicycle built for two, what about no kinds of bicycles at all for anybody, anymore? There, are you happy now?

If you're an ant, and you're walking along across the top of a cup of pudding, you probably have no idea that the only thing between you and disaster is the strength of that pudding skin.

I think a new, different kind of bowling should be "carpet bowling." It's just like regular bowling, only the lanes are carpet instead of wood. I don't know why we should do this, but my God, we've got to try something!

Via T. Bress.
SCIENCE FICTION DOUBLE FEATURE: So I've recently sampled two sci-fi/horror works: the first volume of Junji Ito's killer-fish manga Gyo, and the '60s French b&w film "Eyes without a Face." Both were effectively creepy, but neither really captivated me.

Gyo begins with an intriguing sequence between a young couple on vacation at Okinawa. The girlfriend is repelled by the boyfriend's bad breath; they fight about money, and she complains of the worsening smell. But the smell turns out to emanate not from the boyfriend, but from these utterly creepy fish on insectlike stilts.

These walking fish (and squid and sharks and manta rays) are severely spooky. They're the kind of blunt, blank-faced horror image that seems to be Ito's specialty. Perhaps the most effective and frightening thing about Gyo is the sound effects. That's a tough trick to pull off in a comic, but Ito manages it: Every scene has an eerie shaaaaaaaa, a deceptively quiet plish plish plish, or a hideous gashunk. The fonts (not quite the right word since the sound effects are drawn, not typeset) add to the menace.

But the rest of the comic--everything that isn't the walking fish--really didn't work for me. The relationship between Kaori and Tadashi gets exactly no development (unlike the characters' relationships in Ito's killer-spiral manga Uzumaki). And whereas the killer spirals in Uzumaki seemed to have too many meanings and resonances--a scary and intellectually exciting approach--the walking fish don't really seem to mean much at all.

"Eyes without a Face" has a much more coherent underlying intellectual picture. It's about the terrible things we'll do for those we love; it's about how the scientific quest for an end to suffering can lead to human sacrifice and a loss of personal identity. I'm really attracted to both those themes. Plus the movie has a lot of very haunting images: the face mask, the operating room, the pearl necklace, the masked girl comforting the dogs, the masked girl releasing the doves, the car traveling through the woods.

My problem with "Eyes" is the same as one of my problems with Gyo: I really don't respond to narrative horror unless there's a strong element of characterization. This is sort of like how I find it very hard to follow music unless there's a human voice. It's the reason I love The Shining (the book), which relies on characterization for its horror (the slow revelation of Jack Torrance's secrets and his descent into evil), but was left cold by "The Shining" (the movie), which relies on imagery for its horror. People who don't have this need for characterization in their horror should definitely check out "Eyes," though, as I expect they'll get much more from it than I did.
I'VE BEEN MESSIN' WITH THE BLOGROLL, ALL THE LIVELONG DAYYYYYYY.... Two additions: Diotima, who posts primarily on feminism and its discontents, and law-blog-god How Appealing. I also fixed some bad links, and finally updated my archives list.
INTERNATIONAL JEWISH CONSPIRACY. Hee! Includes "Are You a Giant Lizard? You'd Be Surprised!"

Via Cacciaguida.
"GETTING FIRED": "YOU MUST BE HERE FOR THE MACHINE." The latest installment of my short story's rough draft. This is probably the height of the story's weirdness. It's pretty creeptastic. B&w film homage continues as our hero watches two members of his profession get... beautified. Read the story so far starting here (recommended), or just read the most recent installment here.
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: TWO VIEWS OF MARRIAGE. Me at MarriageDebate. Not an argument, more an introduction or framework. Also, sometime this morning there will be a new question of the week: Does history matter? Plus the usual news-and-opinion smorgasbord (orgasbord, orgasbord).
CLINTON AND IRAQ: WMDs, sanctions, lying to the public, and trusting defectors. Start here, then go here, then here (comments too), then here. All are very much worth your time. I am way too tired to pull together coherent commentary, though.

Also: "The Bush administration's assertion that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda -- one of the administration's central arguments for a preemptive war -- appears to have been based on even less solid intelligence than the administration's claims that Iraq had hidden stocks of chemical and biological weapons." Almost entirely written from anonymous sourcing, so you know; but there's a lot of stuff of interest here.
I will watch the blog from Venus (for science!)...

Cacciaguida: "Die Frau Ohne Schatten"--the secret is out....

Unqualified Offerings: Homeschooling and socialization. Me on ditto.

Johnny Cash reads the New Testament. Via Relapsed Catholic.

India's Muslims are oppressed. Why aren't they angry? I don't know enough about the situation to say whether this assessment is accurate, but it is interesting.

And last: "Now he's the author of 'Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things,' a book that shows readers how to turn lemons into batteries, transform milk into plastic and create a 'power ring' capable of triggering homemade magnetic switches.

"One of the book's most impressive improvisations is cobbling together a working radio from a penny, a toilet paper tube, a piece of cardboard, a twist-tie, three paper clips and 25 feet of telephone cord." Via When Will the Hurting Stop?.
HOOKUP CULTURE: I must not have been clear in my post about Elizabeth Marquardt's presentation on the college "hookup" scene. Lawrence Krubner read me as arguing that hookups are in some important way analogous to date rape; what I was actually trying to say is the much more limited point that the hookup "script"--get drunk and keep communication minimal--makes date rape much more likely.

More Krubner soonish....
LOL. Obligatory disclaimer: I have not seen "The Passion" and don't especially plan to. But I thought this exchange was a hilarious commentary on how oblique and intuitive the creative process often is to the artist. You can train yourself--you have to train--but the point of that training is to shape your instincts and intuitions, because very often you make the artistic choices and figure out the reasons why later, if at all. (Barbara discusses this more eloquently if you follow the link below.)

The minister was not happy with me. He waited a few cold seconds of silence and then talked past me to Mel. "And that scene with the ugly baby. What was that?"

Mel said, "I dunno. I just thought it was really creepy. Didn't you think it was creepy?"

Minister guy: "But what is it supposed to mean?"

Me: "Satan brought a friend. He wanted to share it with a friend."

Mel laughed. "Yeah, he brought a friend!"

Minister guy persisted with exasperation, "But WHERE did you get that from?"

In other words, "You DIDN'T get it in the Bible, because I KNOW the Bible."

Mel, at this point was getting just as exasperated, "I dunno. I guess I just pulled it out of my ass."