Friday, May 28, 2004

For here I am sitting in a blogwatch,
Far above the world...

I've been under the weather the past couple of days, hence light posting. Basically recovered now. Mood: growly. Definitely #17.

Cacciaguida on same-sex friendships, and also opera.

El Camino Real replies to my reply to his reply to me. I will get growlier if I respond, and I think we may have reached the limits of our shared premises anyway, so I'll just give you the link.

Old Oligarch: Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder...

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

you and i have unfinished business: Disturbing search requests, from Peiratikos. Hilarity.

Current mood: still #7 with a hint of #16.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

BEHIND THE CRICKET PAVILION AND THE BICYCLE SHEDS: I'd like to thank everyone who has offered commentary (whether critical, complimentary, or both) on my "Not Exactly Natural" post below. Here I will ramble through my thoughts on the various replies. This post will be both unusually theoretical and extraordinarily disorganized, because a) I don't have time to organize it and b) I'm still trying to figure out what I think of all this. So, forewarned is half an octopus. Let's go.

RASHOMONOLOGUE. In any life there are many possible narratives that could make sense of that life. The memories we dwell on are easier to remember; consequently they play a greater role in shaping our later lives; and so we assign them importance, in retrospect, that they perhaps did not hold at the time we experienced them. We build our selves through the stories we tell ourselves.

And so I think it is a perfectly valid question to ask why I choose to tell myself this story, the queer story, rather than other possible stories. Why not present my early sense of alienation as the alienation of a smart girl, or a lonely girl with a temper? Why Richard Ellmann's biography of Oscar Wilde, rather than Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden? And really, why think about it at all, rather than Moving On?

Well... I can think of a few reasons.

First, most obviously and least interestingly, I chose all those florid metaphors of rhyming and lockpicking in the prior post for a reason. I read all kinds of stuff about other specific forms of alienation that I could also be said to share--but I only read those books once. (Well, I exaggerate. I never read anything once. But I didn't return to them quite as obsessively.) I really couldn't trouble myself to care too much about, or sit up nights thinking on, Meg Murry or whoever. (I don't even rightly know who the relevant characters would be.) Whereas Dorothy Allison, Derek Jarman, even pop junk like Genet, all seemed handcrafted just for me, and I paid out countless hours obsessively turning their works over and over in my mind.

Then, too, the initial post (like the "mask of command" post) was prompted by thinking about my writing. I've been thinking a lot about the ways in which the specifically queer alienation has shaped the way I write--the things I notice, the themes I return to, the ways I talk around subjects. I don't know that I can articulate any of the effects especially well. I haven't figured a lot of it out yet. But I do know the influence is strong and lasting. And working out some of these effects (e.g. the ways in which I notice and respond to sensual detail, or the kinds of suspicion that come easily to me) has helped me understand my characters and sharpen my writing instincts.

And finally, all cultures, I suspect, idealize and prettify some forms of sin. But they pick different sins for different reasons. It's worth exploring what SSA, in this culture at this time, feels like, in order to better understand a) the culture itself--why has it picked "homosexuality" to value? why has it taken these experiences and slapped this label on them?, and b) SSA itself--what about these experiences made them fodder for a political and cultural movement at this time and in this place? I don't see this as especially different from trying to figure out what the courtly tradition of idealizing adultery tells us about medieval courts, about eros, and about marriage and adultery.

DOUBLE ENTENDRE. It's also true that "homosexuality"/same-sex attraction/queerness serves as a code for other and deeper alienations. I think this is true of virtually everyone with a strong and early history of SSA. You come across the same scene over and over in the autobiographies (including, I note for the polemically inclined, Jonathan Rauch's [in Gay Marriage] and Andrew Sullivan's): Before there was any sense of sexual difference, there was a dug-in, abiding sense of exile, of aloneness, of having been cut off from some needed love. Rauch, Sullivan, and I later ended up linking this sense to our sexual and romantic attractions. I suspect that there is some reason for that--this was not merely a random coincidence on our parts. I also suspect that although this linkage was encouraged by our cultural context (including in the ways that culture tried to discourage and denigrate homosexuality), it was not as if culture was somehow imposing homosexual attractions that weren't there.

But the sense of exile comes first. When I was little I had all these little knickknacks, china cats and clay unicorns and so forth, who lived on the top of my dresser drawer. They had their own village. One of them, a pale, yellowish plastic soldier, always stood at the very edge of the dresser, facing away from the village; for something he'd done (I think his crime changed now and then as I forgot what it was supposed to have been), he was never allowed to return to his hometown or even look back at it. (Yes, I read The Man Without a Country at an impressionable age, why do you ask?) He could only come home when a delegation from the village came out to retrieve and redeem him.

I hope it is obvious how this small plastic soldier relates to my willingness to believe in the Fall of Man. I hope it is at least becoming somewhat clearer how my "queer story" made it easier for me to understand that Christianity was true, that the world described by my Catholic friends (and by St. Anselm) is the world I knew. I was, of course, very resistant to a God Who told me I couldn't do whatever I wanted to do; but I had always this reminder that I didn't really trust my wants, and that I knew something had gone wrong. I began to suspect that the queer alienation could not be explained away as the results of "homophobia."

So yes, homosexuality often serves as code or stand-in for other exiles. But it isn't only that; it's also itself. Even when it starts entirely as code (if it ever does), eventually the mask sinks into the skin.

WHATEVER YOU SAY, SAY NOTHING. El Camino Real has a response to my post with which I must say I can't agree. Stuff in bold is ECR, stuff in plain text is me: "...But I'm beginning to think that, in the context of day-to-day living, it is a mistake to self-identify as someone with same-sex attractions."

I would have a better sense of whether I agree with this if I knew whether we were using "identify" in the same way. I think of myself as a journalist. Also as a writer. Also as someone with a very vicious temper that needs to be checked. And also as bisexual. All of these are "identities" in very different ways, though. If I didn't think of myself as someone with Wrath Issues, I suspect I'd be a lot worse about actually controlling my temper. Thinking about myself as "someone with same-sex attractions" isn't like thinking about myself as a journalist (since it's obviously a temptation to sin, whereas journalism is only a near occasion of sin!), nor is it like thinking about myself as someone with a violent temper (because queerness has shaped my life much more than anger has).

I don't believe anyone should think of himself as essentially characterized by sin or tendency to sin. But I talk about things all the time that aren't part of my "essential" identity (which would be what, really, other than "child of God"?).

More: "There are two primary reasons for this. First, homosexuality is not something that normal people should be thinking about on a regular basis one way or the other. It is especially not something children should be thinking about. It follows that forcing other people to confront one's personal sexual disorders is probably not the most charitable way of interacting with them."

Really, what is one to say to that? I am sorry that by writing a weblog I have forced y'all to confront my personal sexual disorder. (And is it worse for "normal people"--which are who, exactly? Which sins count as "normal" sins?--to think about other sins that don't attract them? Should angry people never write about their tempers, since calm people might be reading?)

"Second, as has been discussed before in these pages, knowledge of homosexual temptations is a serious impediment to same-sex friendships. By self-identifying as someone with SSA, a person is severely limiting prospects for friendship with heterosexuals. Deep and lasting friendships do not require that one ever discuss what is best reserved to the confessional."

I assume ECR is saying that widespread discussion of same-sex attraction makes it more likely that people with some minor degree of it would begin to notice that attraction and reinforce it. That's almost indisputably true. But I wonder if he realizes that he's ceding the entire cultural battleground to people with a radically false view of SSA. If the only people who get to talk about it are people who think it's just dandy... isn't that much more likely to lead to a reinforcement of SSA?

I'll also note that I can't really imagine a deep and lasting friendship in which matters for the confessional were never discussed. This rule would also preclude publication of e.g. St. Augustine's and Dorothy Day's autobiographies... not that I'm, you know, comparing myself to them! But still.

I think I have fewer problems with his last paragraph, so I won't bother quoting it; you can of course find it here.

SHADOWS ON THE CAVE WALL: Finally, as the last tangle of yarn in this disorganized post, I should note an interesting issue that one of my readers brought up. He writes, "Is it possible that [pretty girls in their summer dresses] are just objectively beautiful, like a great painting, capable of being marveled at by persons of either sex? Of course you could claim that you react to them the same way a man would -- but (a bit of throat-clearing here, not meant to be patronizing but probably coming off that way -- sorry!) how could you know what that is, at the level of particularity necessary to make this a life-defining claim? I had male friendships sufficiently intense and exclusive that outsiders called us 'gay'; we didn't care, because we knew we weren't, and we knew we weren't because we knew our relationship, though emotionally intense (I'm talking age 13, 14 here), was not at all oriented toward guy-on-guy sexual expression. I totally join you in deploring the way '"real love" in this formulation is always sexual' -- but if a same-sex friendship is emotionally intense yet non-sexual, do people who experience them need to think of themselves as homosexual?"

There are a couple different issues here, but they all center on the question of how you know whether an attraction is sexual or not. There are, as he says, emotionally intense same-sex friendships that aren't sexual--and some that are rightly characterized as "romantic" but not sexual. Intense, jealous, inseparable, prone to folie a deux, yearning, obsessive--all that good stuff--but not always, necessarily, sexual. Plus, as he rightly notes, girls = pretty! So how do you know that what you are experiencing is what is called "same-sex attraction," rather than intense friendship or aesthetic appreciation?

This strikes me as basically a philosophy-of-language question. We learn what words like "sexual" and "romantic" and "lesbian" and "desire" mean through culture, through literature, through the entire complex matrix of language. Is what I feel like when I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes "the same" thing a man feels? Well, first off, which man? I think there are some guys, and some male authors, who have described similar feelings in ways that sound like descriptions of my experience; and others whose descriptions strike me as "interesting, but that's not really how it is for me." In my own fiction, as far as romantic life goes, I think I'm slightly more like Peter Ware ("Getting Fired") than like Charles ("Judge Me, O God")--but then, I'm not much like Laila or Suha ("Desire") either.

But as to the phil.-of-lang. question, I can only know what name to call my experiences the same way everyone else does. How do "straight" men tell the difference between women who are "good-looking, but not my thing" and women to whom they're attracted? How do people in general tell the difference between philia and eros? Well, we talk to other people, and we read books and listen to songs, and we discern the meaning of words. I don't see that this process would be radically different for same-sex attractions.

CAULDRON OF ILLICIT LOVES: And now to your email. I'm just posting excerpts, which is why these will seem kind of choppy. Nothing that follows was written by me (except some brief stuff in brackets).

Reader #1: What gripped me was that [the initial post] resonated with my own high school experience -- of being a CONSERVATIVE: the sense of isolation, pride tempered by apprehension of others' reactions, and those Quentin-Crispian moments when you meet Another One....

From this phenemenon of isolation-plus-elite-recognition comes -- you saw this a mile away -- hardening of identity. Being a conservative becomes what one lives, breathes, is. Maybe this is why, as [mutual friend] once said, "the two groups most given to imitating their own stereotypes are conservatives and gays." Thank God that Catholicism came along to provide me with an alternative platform from which I can judge conservatism itself.

Reader #2 notes the standard gay-activism contradiction: Invariably [my friend] would either say that his being gay was such an inconsequential part of his life that I shouldn't care about it either way or that, conversely, his homosexuality was such a huge and intrinsic part of his nature that to hate it was to hate him.

Reader #3: What about people who don't identify as "queer" but all the same do have sexual relationships with their own sex? I've known quite a few people like this--usually women. A one-time co-worker had many love affairs with women but resolutely insisted she was heterosexual. In fact, she never quite confessed to me, though she hinted. I heard it from one of her female lovers.

Do you think that any of this might have to do with the difference between male and female homosexuals, or even the difference between men and women? Camille Paglia thinks that male homosexuality may be the result of, not a gay gene, but an artistic gene. Masculinity is eroticized by artistic boys as they yearn for male acceptance. (Rejection by fathers doesn't have to be part of this scenario, although
it often is.)

There is a very good piece on men, male violence, and the need for fathers, in an old edition of First Things. It's by David Gutmann. Perhaps you know it already? Although it's not directly concerned with homosexuality, it led me to think about the problem of the Absent Father and the sexual and emotional confusion it causes in men, and to a lesser degree in women.

[Eve says: Fascinating stuff. One quick comment: I suspect the homosexuality/artistry connection may work both ways, as sexual difference prompts heightened awareness of personal interactions and heightened introspection and fantasy life.]
YESTERDAY: #14. AN HOUR AGO: #17. NOW: #7. A little bit of this and a little touch of that.

1) Cacciaguida has an "opera for klutzes" post here.

2) I saw my first living "al-ciQaedas" yesterday. They really don't swarm much downtown--thank goodness.

3) For the three people actually reading "Kissable Pictures," I should note that a) I'm definitely changing the order of the scenes to track chronological order instead of jumping around in time, and b) the most recent scene I posted should really be longer and split into two scenes. This is the problem with all of these drafts: They're too short, because I figure out which scenes I need only when I've gotten a draft down and seen where I rush my characters. All my papers in college were too short, too--my senior essay clocked in at 22 pages, no longer than a regular paper. ...I'm pretty sure I know what the next story will be: a creepy little Ray Bradbury pastiche, probably called something like "You Will Be Pulled Back."

4) Alias: The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones kind of sucked. Arrrrgggghhhh!!!! I still really adore the first volume, but each succeeding one declined in quality.

5) One of the things I like about LiveJournal is how you can have a little mood icon with each post. I got on this weird kick of listing which moods I'd have available for everyday use if I had a LiveJournal. So here are my 20 recurring moods (without capitalization, since proper punctuation on LJ somehow seems overdressed):

1 hey mister d.j., i thought you said we had a deal
2 a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again
3 99 in the shade
4 well, at least we saved humanity. that's something.
5 it didn't quite succeed
6 work is a four-letter word
7 i want to do great things
8 secrets of my success
9 look back in anger
10 is it raining where you are?
11 love is not love that alters when it alteration finds
12 the man comes around
13 kill troll with sword
14 a famine of the word of the lord
15 learn to be still
16 and i will sing of the sun
17 gay blood for oil
18 you suddenly bring a bluer sky, a brighter day
19 there go the icbm's
20 amo libertatem, odi aequalitatem
"KISSABLE PICTURES": THE TIDE IS HIGH, BUT I'M HOLDING ON. In which there's less rock, more talk.

The chronology here is weird. The Virginia Beach scene in this episode takes place before the Manassas concert scene in the prior installment. I'm not sure if or how I'll rearrange it in the final draft.

As is fast becoming traditional for this story, the prose does what it has to do but nothing more. No, I'm not satisfied. I'll fix it in post....

Anyway, in this installment we learn what is up with the whole weird sibling shtik; and our music journalist discovers one sister and lies to another. Click here for the latest section, here to read the whole thing from the beginning.
"But He does more than say to adore Him. 'Take and eat, take and drink: for this is My Body, this is My Blood. They have been given for you.' We are allowed to receive Christ's bodily presence within us, His Body and Blood mingling with our own, His perfect humanity reforming our cracked humanity, His divinity slowly making us divine. Before the Last Supper, this was an intimacy that not even the Apostles had. This is a privilege that, even now, the angels do not share. You take within your mouth the God Who lit the stars. Consider well what it is that you do at the altar rail, and prepare your soul for Him with much care and love."
--That would be Dappled Things.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

IRAQ: "New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge": "Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets. [This sentence, believe it or not, significantly prettifies the allegations.--Eve] ...

"'Do you believe in anything?' he said the soldier asked. 'I said to him, "I believe in Allah." So he said, 'But I believe in torture and I will torture you.'"

more--via Hit & Run

"Brutal interrogation in Iraq: Five detainees' deaths probed": Brutal interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel are being investigated in connection with the deaths of at least five Iraqi prisoners in war-zone detention camps, Pentagon documents obtained by The Denver Post show.

The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents.

Details of the death investigations, involving at least four different detention facilities including the Abu Ghraib prison, provide the clearest view yet into war-zone interrogation rooms, where intelligence soldiers and other personnel have sometimes used lethal tactics to try to coax secrets from prisoners, including choking off detainees' airways. Other abusive strategies involve sitting on prisoners or bending them into uncomfortable positions, records show.

"Torture is the only thing you can call this," said a Pentagon source with knowledge of internal investigations into prisoner abuses. "There is a lot about our country's interrogation techniques that is very troubling. These are violations of military law."

Internal records obtained by The Post point to wider problems beyond the Abu Ghraib prison and demonstrate that some coercive tactics used at Abu Ghraib have shown up in interrogations elsewhere in the war effort. The documents also show more than twice as many allegations of detainee abuse--75--are being investigated by the military than previously known. Twenty-seven of the abuse cases involve deaths; at least eight are believed to be homicides.

No criminal punishments have been announced in the interrogation deaths, even though three deaths occurred last year.

more--via Hit & Run or maybe Unqualified Offerings

And to end on a non-hideous note: Mickey Kaus has been blogging a lot, substantively and persuasively, on why Iraq can and should have rolling elections as soon as possible. Click and scroll.
"THERE'S ROOM AT THE CROSS FOR YOU": Christianity Today has this article about Waco's Church Under the Bridge. Excerpts:

Lugging backpacks and Hefty bags on Sunday at sunrise, they trickle in to the expanse of dirt and gravel under Interstate 35. Littering this city block between 4th and 5th streets in Waco, Texas are taillight shards, pigeon feathers, and at least one dead bat. The men sit mostly in solitude at the base of support columns, waiting for something to happen.

More than a dozen are there when, just after 9, a van with men from two drug rehab centers eases over the curb and parks. Two pickup trucks follow with trailers of folding chairs and sound equipment. One flatbed truck doubles as a stage. Recovering addicts line up chairs beneath the northbound lanes.

A hoodless, bumperless Chevy pickup arrives. Made from '73 to '85 parts, its burnt-orange bed is filled with balding tires, plastic drums, aluminum cans, wire-tangled innards of mechanical devices, and a push broom. Former drug addict and ex-con Kenneth Kucker gets out, slams its blue door, and hands a visitor a peppermint, his smile peeking through a lopped-off ZZ Top beard. He smells of the axle grease that permeates his jeans, but he's dressed for worship in his best T-shirt that reads CHURCH UNDER THE BRIDGE.

"It's a humble bridge," Kucker says. "Today it's going to be sanctified."

For Waco's homeless and hard-living people, there may be no safer place than this bridge on Sunday morning--as safe from street crime as from the glares of worshipers in other churches.

The interdenominational Church Under the Bridge (CUB) began in 1992 when Baylor professor Jimmy Dorrell, 54, began a Bible study for homeless men who slept under this overpass. The group grew to include more homeless, poor, drug addicts, prostitutes, and bikers. They were later joined by others who had no church experience or felt they didn't fit into area congregations.

Now the people who worship under the bridge are a demographic snapshot of this city of 100,000 people and 257 churches. Black, white, Asian, and Latino students from Baylor University, and others from the upper middle class, form the body of Christ with the down-and-out of all colors.

CUB's calling is to be a church to the unchurched of all socioeconomic levels and races, and to serve the poor and marginalized. Ex-prisoners and food-stamp recipients worship with the well-heeled and educated. Along with breaking down class barriers, racial reconciliation is one of the church's main pillars. At one service, Dorrell had the assembled break into small groups to talk about any prejudice they harbored, and to pray for forgiveness. ...

Kucker, 54, drove a Cadillac in the 1970s when he earned $50,000 a year as body shop mechanic. He's a Vietnam vet with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a self-described former "junkie, car thief, and alcoholic" who became a Christian while in prison. Once out, he drifted, homeless, among the big cities of Texas. He moved to Waco to be near the Veterans Administration hospital psychiatric ward.

Churches he tried to attend--two in Waco and one in Houston, where a security guard confronted him two steps onto the church grounds--all threw him out because of his appearance. In Waco he was living in a Geo Metro with an Apple computer in back when he heard about free meals under the bridge. He was hungry enough to check it out.

Today, 10 years later, he's a church leader living in an apartment owned by CUB's relief and development arm, Mission Waco.

Dorrell parks his pickup a few cars over from Kucker's and a couple of rows from a Mercedes-Benz SUV. The plump, gray-bearded pastor in shorts and a Baylor T-shirt greets folks with handshakes, back pats and hugs so hearty that at times they lift people off the ground. He mingles among indigents and Mercedes drivers alike with gestures of acceptance and welcome.

Dorrell's journey to the bridge began in the 1970s, when he was a missionary to lepers in Calcutta and New Delhi slums. There he had something of an epiphany. He believed the church is the primary agent of change in the world, but surrounded by India's abysmal poverty, he asked himself, What is the church doing to incarnate Christ? ...

It's not that the CUB disregards the need for repentance and obedience, Dorrell says, but God's incredible love--not more condemnation--is what brings people to repentance. "We do preach the reality that there has to be a change" in behavior after conversion, he says. During church services, he often encourages people to "make things right" with each other and straighten out various areas of their lives.

Congregant Charmaine Beers adds that repentance happens, but the challenge is believing in God's forgiveness for so much sin--or that there's a God who even cares. "You don't know what it is to have a pure, righteous, upright, holy life when all you've known is sad and ugly," she says. "I've led people to Christ by example and love--but it took two years before they felt it might be real, not another lie of the world or another letdown."

Love brought Beers back to the bridge 10 years ago, after Jimmy Dorrell preached the funeral of her sister-in-law, Dixie. A crack- and heroin-addicted prostitute, Dixie was found in a weedy field one freezing morning. She had overdosed. Someone had dumped her body in the field and stolen her shoes. She was buried in a pauper's grave.

Months before her death, Dixie had told Beers she had felt welcome at CUB and had been treated kindly. Dixie's death hit Dorrell hard.

"Just another prostitute gone, but Jimmy loved her--you could tell he cared," says Beers, herself a former methamphetamine addict.

An eighth-grade dropout who began smoking pot at 12 and dropping LSD at 13, Beers drifted in and out of homelessness much of her life. After Dixie's funeral, Beers's husband, Randy, nagged her to return with him to the bridge. Like most newcomers to CUB, Beers hung to the back, quietly watching well behind the rows of chairs. If this is real, show me, she prayed.

God answered. "I found out there's a loving, forgiving God out there who wants to love me despite me," Beers says. "Jesus loves me, no matter what."

Her first job was running Mission Waco's thrift store. Now she's office manager of the Mission Waco social services center, which provides emergency aid to the needy. ...

CUB is not a celebration of sin but an acceptance of people where they are. People aren't expected to clean up their acts before they come to church. The leadership knows sanctification takes time. Charmaine Beers, for example, kept taking drugs for at least six months after she committed her life to Christ. She didn't marry her live-in boyfriend for more than two years after that.

Many people at the bridge feel they're so unworthy that God couldn't want them. "The church typically reminds them of their sinfulness," Dorrell says. "Our responsibility is to love them. The Holy Spirit's work is to convict them. All come, feel love, and draw closer to God. They have spiritual gifts, personal value, and worth."

more, including more links about CUTB

Via Sed Contra.
She took me to her parents' for a Sunday meal;
Her blogwatch took one look at me and he began to squeal...

I'm on the road. Be afraid--I may be near YOU!

Another (Je est un autre) is a blog exploring depression and literature. When I am not completely exhausted and brain-fried, I will read it more deeply, because it looks really interesting (despite kind of cutesy italics in title). Via Mixolydian Mode, of which more in a moment.

Sometime after sleep, I will add Mixolydian Mode to the blogroll. Ballads and literary-ness and randomness, and more ballads.
"Everybody was a baby once, Arthur. Oh, sure, maybe not today, or even yesterday. But once! Babies, chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of our us-ness, that we parents hurl into the future, like leathery footballs of hope! And you've got to get a good spiral on that baby, or evil will make an interception!"
--"The Tick." Man, I love The Tick.

Via Mark Shea.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

NOT EXACTLY NATURAL; STUNNING, NONETHELESS: Someone sent an email to me, in my capacity as editor of Marriage Debate, that read, in its entirety (as best I can remember), "What is homosexuality?"

And to be honest, I don't think I know.

Homosexuality has gone from an adjective applied to acts to an adjective applied to people--from a tendency to an identity. But that identity shivers out of your hands when you try to grasp it.

Some define it as a lack: an incapacity for sexual and/or romantic fulfillment with the opposite sex. (I am guessing, though I'm not sure, that this is how Jonathan Rauch is defining it in Gay Marriage.) This negative definition is wildly unpopular with contemporary gay activists, for obvious reasons. "I'm only gay because I can't possibly really love a woman/man" is not a rallying point for "pride." (And notice how "real love" in this formulation is always sexual....)

I don't have that lack. I ordinarily do not write much about my personal life on this blog; I don't like giving out information, let alone Too Much Information. But here is where the personal really does intersect with the political, and so I think it might be worth talking about. So: I can have romantic relationships with men, and have. ("But not very often!" as the Smiths say.)

What I remember--what makes me "identify as queer" as the young folk say, even after my conversion to Catholicism and my very, very late decision that I opposed same-sex marriage (I am not sure I opposed civil SSM as late as a year ago today--I was super ambivalent about it)--is this: I remember feeling like an alien, freakish, reprehensible outsider for my sexual orientation. I remember finding gay culture in books and movies and music and taking to it "like a duck to ducks" as Quentin Crisp says. I remember hiding everything I felt from myself and everyone around me. I remember that intense, sensual, paranoid awareness of how everyone around me was reacting, so I could be sure to react the same way, to react appropriately instead of reacting in a way that would expose me. (Possibly this experience has made me sympathetic to wildly desiring hetero guys, who ordinarily would really piss me off!)

I remember, too, pretty girls in their summer dresses, and the sweetness when my eyes swerved and I noticed some summer beauty. I remember, too, seeing my semi-secret girlfriend in the hallways of our high school, and remembering the smell of her cigarettes and her shampoo, and hearing again her voice as she explained why I had to be so careful so her parents would never know we were dating. I remember, too, what it felt like to find other people who lived as I did. I remember developing secret languages with my best friend so we could talk about the people we had crushes on and the ways we envisioned structuring our romantic lives. I remember spending obsessive hours reading gay subtext into every single book I read and every single song I liked, so I could find someone who was like me--so I could feel that astonishing thing, like when you solve a difficult rhyming problem in an English poem, like when you pick a lock and hear all the tumblers finally shifting into place, click-click-click. So I could feel the door open.

I remember all that, I should note, even though I was raised in an extraordinarily gay-positive family and general atmosphere. But still there was this sense that it was not only the usual childhood alienation, not only the usual estrangement of the over-intellectual, but some specifically sexual, specifically queer exile that caused my sense of difference.

Doubtless this was strongly reinforced by cultural messages that homosexuality was an identity, and that, therefore, if you desired the practice you must share the identity and make it a huge, defining part of your sense of self. I think we are far too naive about how much our culture shapes which identities we think are "real" and "deep" and "my essential true self." That's why I've said a couple times on this blog that we should focus on what we should do, and Whom we should love, rather than on what we think we are.

But I don't want to go there just yet. What I want to do is ask: Is this a description of a queer childhood? Is this the narrative that launched a thousand lawsuits? What do we talk about, when we talk about homosexuality?

I have never been sure.
THE INTERNET MUSEUM OF FLEXI/CARDBOARD/ODDITY RECORDS. I only have one of these, I think--"Billy and the Boingers Bootleg" from Bloom County, featuring... let me think... "U Make Me Sick (But I Love U)" and something I can't remember on the B-side. But yeah... this is a treasure trove of the bizarre.

You make me sick! way-oh, way-oh, way-oh,
You really stink, girl...
BRIEF IRAQI BLOGWATCH: New blog! (New to me, anyway.) Suha in Iraq, blogging at Suhax.

Raed has an alternatingly harsh and sweet post in which his emotional, rational, and political selves battle for dominance. Reminds me of the famous Lee Miller photo from the Blitz, "One Night of Love."

And Ali from Iraq the Model harasses a complaining cab driver and finds a kindred spirit from Sadr City. I didn't know that Ali used to work at a hospital in Sadr City. This post is fascinating and, like the one above, a must-read.
WELCOME TO MY BLOG! NOW GO AWAY! As you might guess, the Marriage Debate blog (my day job--exploring all aspects of the debate over same-sex marriage, from a variety of philosophical and political stances) is roaring along this week due to events in the state that brought you Harvard. Why not take a look?
ABU GHRAIB AND BEYOND: Hit and Run notes, "[O]ne reason why the torture scandal keeps attracting coverage is that it, unlike the Berg video, keeps yielding new developments." That post links to pieces on a possible coverup of "dozens" of other soldiers' involvement in the scandal, and on allegations of disgusting actions of U.S. forces elsewhere in Iraq.

And some black humor in The Onion: "U.S. to Fight Terror with Terror." Via Mark Shea.
"I know very few young people, but it seems to me that they are all possessed with an almost fatal hunger for permanence. I think all these divorces show that."
--Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies

Via Kelly Jane Torrance, who has a review of the upcoming Stephen Fry movie adaptation of Vile Bodies here, and a good but depressing piece on the decline of the short story market here. I'm especially intrigued by her suggestion that short stories are an especially American form: "The short story is pretty much an American invention. Its first master, Edgar Allan Poe credited the American magazine with creating the new literary form. Notes Jack Clemens, an associate editor at Writer's Digest: 'Before America, a short tale was not known as a short story. Collections of stories were not really published [elsewhere], at least not with the popularity that came in the United States.'"

I don't, at the moment, think that there's anything in the short story form that makes it uniquely suited to American writers (or vice versa), but I'm open to persuasion. It is a form that requires a strong foundational idea, like science fiction.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

FROM THE ICE AGE TO THE DOLE AGE, THERE IS BUT ONE CONCERN: Well, the National Catholic Register, that excellent but somewhat Luddite newspaper, has not yet posted my most recent column, so I think it's okay for me to print it here. It ran a while ago but I'm not sure when (nor do I know what title they used, or how it was edited from my draft) because somewhere in the Register/Post Office/my apartment building sequence all of my copies of the paper seem to vanish. Anyway! Onward and upward. Here is my piece about gender, poetry, and the Creator God.

In 1972, the Pioneer 10 space probe ventured out, bearing images from Earth to distant galaxies. To convey a sense of who humans are, we sent up a map showing our location in the galaxy, and drawings of a man and a woman.

Apparently, we thought it important that the aliens know that human beings come in two kinds. And not just any two kinds: We didn't send drawings of a fat man and a thin man, or a tall woman and a short woman. Nor did we attempt to send one androgynous silhouette, like those eerie sexless mannequins at some of the artier clothing stores.

If any aliens have received those images by now, they know more about humans than many of us know about ourselves! Today,one common view--perhaps even the default view at the ritzier colleges and newspapers--holds that the assumption behind the Pioneer 10 pictures is just wrong: The difference between men and women is trivial. It's interesting when you happen to be watching a Tracy/Hepburn movie, but easy to ignore whenever it might prove inconvenient. La differance doesn't make much difference when you don't want it to. Men and women are basically interchangeable, and that's great, because it means we operate under far fewer constraints.

This viewpoint spills out from the political realm through the theological and into the intensely personal. If men and women are interchangeable, children do not need a mother and a father; two mothers or two fathers will do just as well. If men and women are interchangeable, women should be ordained. If men and women are interchangeable, cultures need not develop and maintain courtship practices that recognize the sexes' differing risks and vulnerabilities.

Americans may be especially prone to this anti-gender worldview. We romanticize the unconstrained individual: the Lone Ranger. We hate the thought that accidents of birth--whether you're born a boy or a girl--should restrict your life's possibilities. We especially fear being constrained by our bodies, because every fleshly constraint is a premonition of death, the final limit our physicality places on our ambitions. Moreover, we live in a young nation born of revolution. It's only natural that we're skeptical of received wisdom and open to radical innovation.

But if Americans are unusually vulnerable to anti-gender thinking, there are two groups of people who should be unusually attuned to the meaning and value of la differance: writers and believers in a creator God.

Poets, playwrights, and novelists can look back through the history of their craft and see a parade of vivid, compelling characters: Hektor, Medea, the Wife of Bath, Falstaff, all the way up through Molly Bloom and Mickey Sabbath. And all these characters would be unimaginable in a world where gender meant little. Many of the great characters break societal conventions; they don't conform to what their culture considered the proper roles of men and women. (After all, the clash between role and desire, or between individual and society, generates the drama that the great stories need.) But their manhood or womanhood matters. Medea's break from convention is shocking, horrifying--and the horror is especially great because a mother has slain her own children, a woman has taken up a knife. The men are intensely men, the women intensely women; and sexual difference, unlike (for example) class and ethnic divisions, persists at high intensity in radically different ages and countries. From ancient Roman comedies to Gone With the Wind, He does not behave like She.

On a deeper level, literature relies on the symbolic use of real objects and features of our world. Writers rely on a belief that things in the world have particular meanings that can be understood, in at least some cases, across cultures. The world is itself a kind of symbolic dictionary--that's the feeling writers get when they know they've hit upon the exact right image, the exact right word. When a lamppost or a sparrow turns up in a poem and you know it couldn't have been anything else, the writer has tapped into that inherent meaning in physical things. This intuitive sense understands that a sparrow doesn't convey the same symbolic meaning as a peacock; and it also knows that there is a far deeper difference in meaning between a man and a woman. Trying to write a man where the poem needs a woman would lead to results even more ridiculous than if Shakespeare had written, "There's a special providence in the fall of a peacock."

And this belief in creatures as words in a symbolic language is also the natural perspective of anyone who believes in a creator God. For us, God is the one who speaks the words that make up the world, and by speaking them brings them into being. If Man and Woman are especially important, unique words, we would expect creation narratives to reflect that fact. And so they do: "Male and female he created them."

We can, if we hate constraint that much, pretend that sexual difference makes little difference. It will cloud our eyes as we read great literature. It will blind us to the fingerprints of God impressed into the world around us. It will warp our politics and our private lives. It's anti-poetic and deeply unromantic.

Which would you rather be--an autonomous mannequin, or a word spoken by God?
LAST CALL--AND THIS TIME I MEAN IT! But I had to note: You want a nice title? Here's a nice title: Kyle Baker's WHY I HATE SATURN. I haven't read it yet, but every single time I see that title I think, "You know, that sounds like a lot of fun."

Oh, and as soon as I posted this, I remembered another title of something I haven't read: H. Rider Haggard's SHE. Woman as Other, woman as exotic, woman as challenge and land of opportunity and conquest, all in three letters. Nice. I have no desire to read the book, but really--what a title!
COMICS AT THE LIBRARY: I had occasion the other day to wander past the comics section at Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library--the main DC library--and I noticed something. I'd been to that section before, and it had been sparse, with a fairly random selection: Maus, yes, and something by Joe Sacco (really!), and one lone volume of Love and Rockets. Really no rhyme nor reason.

This time, the section was full to bursting with interesting stuff. I had to restrain myself from checking several books out. Age of Bronze; yes, there was Safe Area Gorazde, which is probably the Sacco from last visit; Y: The Last Man; and, on a table where some kid (or out-of-bounds pseudo-adult like me--the comics are in the YA section) had been reading it, Brian Bendis's excellent Torso. And lots more that I can't recall right now. I just remember thinking it looked like a really good selection, with all kinds of different genres and styles. I don't know if that's new since I last visited, or if my previous visit just happened to come when many of the books were checked out (I hope!), or what--but I thought I'd pass this on to you all. Sign of the times and whatnot.
MOTHER, COME HOME: I finally read this wrenching comic. It is really, really good. Paul Hornschemeier has the Mishima technique of zeroing in on a particular object, a particular small image, and using that tight focus to convey a deep sense of dissociation and loss. By the end, yes, as a few reviewers have noted (be sure to read the asterisked bits at the end of that second link), the comic becomes too top-heavy with tragedy. But I'll definitely remember images from this work (the lion mask; the sandwich) long after most things I've read have faded. And the writing, while very occasionally veering over the top, is much, much better than most comics writing--too often people get hyperpoetic in "serious" comics writing, whereas Hornschemeier, because he's trying so hard to convey alienation and dislocation, ends up with this doomy but generally not overdone cadence. He's willing to let some things go unspoken. (Should've used that more often, though.) This comic is very much worth its cover price. If you want to know whether you should read it, stand in your local comics shop and read the introduction. I was captivated from the first page.
CHINESE PRIESTS ARRESTED FOR TEACHING THEOLOGY AND NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING: Via the Cardinal Kung Foundation via FoxNews via Mark Shea. You absolutely should check out the CKF as they are doing amazing work. See also the Laogai Research Foundation (exposing the Chinese gulag system--run by Harry Wu, a true hero) and Freedom House.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

"IO: Do not care for me more than I would have you."
--"Prometheus Bound" tr. Grene

Also, more titles here; my favorite of these is You Give Drugs a Bad Name.

Friday, May 14, 2004

LET US HAVE NO MORE MARRIAGES: The current question at MarriageDebate is this: "Some advocates across the political spectrum are making the radical case for separating the civil and religious dimensions of marriage entirely. Let religions keep the word 'marriage,' they say; the state should merely provide civil unions for all. Lawmakers in New York and Massachusetts have already proposed this move.

"This radical proposal has won a surprising amount of support from religious believers who think the definition of marriage should be left to the churches; gay-rights supporters who want all couples to be treated equally; and some who believe it's the best way to prevent alternative family forms from being enshrined in law.

"What's your view?"

You can find a really excellent quote from Jonathan Rauch on this subject here. You can find a much less excellent post from me here.

Now, I ordinarily do not push my Day Job on you people. But I think a couple of the constituencies who read my blog (libertarians? hardcore crazy theocons? I'm so looking at you...) have a lot to say about this issue. Look: For a lot of reasons that I think are really, really bad, the more extreme libertarian and theocon positions are getting a mainstream hearing w/r/t civil marriage. Surely you want to take advantage of this opportunity. So tell me what you think.

Jim Henley: Hello, yes, staring fixedly in your direction. I am sure you have cogent commentary on all this.
SAME-SEX ATTRACTED ANGLICANS SPEAK OUT: Brave stuff, via David Morrison.

We, the undersigned, are Canadian Anglicans who were once active homosexuals. Some of us are now celibate homosexuals; some of us are now heterosexuals. We represent a much larger group than appears on this paper. We are united in our commitment to the authority of Holy Scripture, and we reject the resolutions regarding the blessing of same-sex unions sent by the Council of General Synod to General Synod, 2004. We believe that facilitating the blessing of same-sex unions, without listening to the stories of God’s transforming power in our lives, is to act irresponsibly, and without weighing all the facts. To pass these motions would be to betray and marginalize those of us who have come under the authority of Scripture and entered into a process of exodus from the homosexual lifestyle. As such members of the Church, we are witnesses to God’s Holy Spirit, his transforming power. We look to the Church for pastoral care and moral direction, subject to the authority of Scripture, which would empower us in the ordering of our relationships. It is not loving for the Church to encourage us to live in slavery to this mortal flesh. Instead, we look to the Church to empower us to draw closer to God by offering our bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing unto God.

Our voices have been silenced in the Anglican Church of Canada; you have not paid heed to us. Today, we ask that you would not betray us by passing these motions allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions within the Anglican Church of Canada without first weighing our voices and hearing our stories. We ask that you would table these motions and commit yourselves instead to listening to our voices before making any move as a Church. Let us all acknowledge the love and lordship of Christ who makes all things new.

"Behold, I make all things new." Revelation 21:5


Rob Goetze, Diocese of Edmonton
Michel Schnob, Diocese of Ottawa
David Colpitts, M. Div, Diocese of Toronto
The Rev. Don Alcock, Diocese of Huron
The Rev. Stephen Emery, Diocese of Huron
The Rev. Dawn McDonald, Diocese of New Westminster
The Rev. Mario Bergner, Diocese of Quincy, (born in Thetford Mines, Quebec)

Here's that link again.

Morrison comments here.
THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES: I think this will be my last post on titling--thanks very much to all who wrote in!

Sean Collins adds a large list, with which I often though not always agree, here (and notes that I am super lazy and have bad blog etiquette! How's this, SC--previous title posts can be found here here here here here).

Joshua Elder says something with which I thoroughly agree: [T]here remains a glaring omission I simply must address: "Airplane!" The Zucker Bros. masterpiece boasts one of the most sublimely descriptive titles in all of cinema history. It tells you that it's a parody of overblown airborne disaster movies and it accomplishes all this with the addition of a single innocuous mark of punctuation. Brilliant.

David Fried writes: [T]wo very different favorites of mine, both from Larry Woiwode: "What I'm Going
to Do, I Think" (catch the ambiguity!) and "Beyond the Bedroom Wall" (a great multi-generational family saga.)

And ...the Delmore Schwartz short story '"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"[.]
SCREAM FOR JEEVES! Hilarity from WJ Duquette.

You can buy the original Scream for Jeeves: PG Wodehouse meets HP Lovecraft here, and believe me, it is worth every cent.
CHORUS: Did you perhaps go further than you told us?

PROMETHEUS: Yes, I stopped mortals from foreseeing doom.

CHORUS: What cure did you discover for that sickness?

PROMETHEUS: I sowed in them blind hopes.

CHORUS: That was a great help that you gave to men.

--Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound," tr. Grene

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

"I TASTE A LIQUOR NEVER BREWED": Terry Teachout writes to say, in re Ye Olde Title Discussion, "Dickie Umfraville, one of the characters in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, serves a cocktail dubbed Death Comes for the Archbishop. I've always wondered what was in it!"

This seems like a good lead-in for a contest. Way back in college, Ratty and I hosted a drink-mixing party in which we started with the names of drinks and attempted to come up with recipes that would fit the names. We... didn't quite succeed, although we did have fun, and learned quite a lot about the interaction of various tropical fruit juices and hard liquors. So: drink names. People who send in recipes that sound like they might actually taste GOOD will win everlasting fame and fortune, if by "everlasting fame and fortune" you mean "an email published on my weblog." Also, feel free to suggest more drink names, and if I like 'em I'll add 'em to the contest.


THE MOVIES SEARCH FOR SPIRIT: Excerpts from a phenomenal speech by Barbara Nicolosi. Stuff in bold is my emphasis.

...There is an artistic movement crowding in on Hollywood which is pushing this idea more and more. It is changing cinema, or in many ways, restoring cinema to its roots in the lyrical, poetic imagery of the Silent Screen.

I call this movement, The "Don't Show How Things Look, Tell Us What They Mean" Movement. It is being driven very much by a young crop of directors who made their way into the business through the music video world. Music video is all about what things mean, as opposed to how they look. The best music video directors freely distort real colors, shapes, dimensions and points of view, in an effort to complement and interpret a song. Rejecting the demand for gritty "realism" (as though that were possible in a movie...) of the Baby Boomer filmmakers, these young filmmakers are pushing for a cinematic lyricism that could mirror and echo the emotional power of music. Films that reflect this movement include Donnie Darko, Levity, and TV shows like HBO's Carnivale.

This new trend toward meanings as opposed to appearances is showing up particularly as regards the portrayal of human sexuality. In forty shameless years of the Sexual Revolution, cinema has shown us every possible permutation of two naked bodies writhing around. Suddenly now, many filmmakers consider it pedestrian to simply show what sex looks like. This is not because of any ethical-moral sense, but from we could call an artistic-moral sense which rejects the idea of being unoriginal or uncreative. "We've seen sex before. Don't go there in the movie unless you are going to show us what sex means for the two characters." ...

My students are very concerned with creating movies that "tell the truth about sin." Again, part of this is driven by the fact that their generation has been the victim of the lies of the Sexual Revolution, but for my students from Christian homes, this is actually a rejection of the artistic sensibilities of their religious parents.

Religious people have responded to the excesses of sex and violence in mainstream cinema, by clamoring for an art that is "non-offensive." They want happy stories, with no challenging ideas and images that will be "safe." Hence, Christian parents are embracing really bad movies--in terms of their lack of artistry--like Cheaper By The Dozen, Walk to Remember--which are, in fact, over-sentimentalized G-rated lies. ...

The new generation of young Christians coming into Hollywood are all about telling hard truths honestly. The problem is, in their urgency to show sin as being very ugly, they run the risk of violating the audience. Again, as Emily Dickinson said, "Tell the Truth, but Tell it Slant, or All the World Be Blind." ...

For half a century, religious people have been complaining that there is too much violence in movies. Now, a movie comes along that is--in the words of one Los Angeles critic, "a two hour execution," and people of faith everywhere are embracing it, and being moved to compunction, repentance and spiritual renewal.

What we are learning from all this is that the problem is not with violence on the screen. It is meaningless violence that is wrong in entertainment. The Passion reconnects violence to its source in rebellion against God. It never objectifies the subject of the violence, nor does it dehumanize the perpetrators of violence. It shows the effects of violence in all its horror.

read the whole thing!
"HEPHAESTUS: For the mind of Zeus is hard to soften with prayer and every ruler is harsh whose rule is new."
--Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound," tr. David Grene

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

AUTHOR TURNS LOVE OF RATS INTO BOOK: Sullivan's book tracks the history of rats, describes such oddities as the promoters of rat fights in the 19th century and details a convention of exterminators.

While he once captured a rat, Sullivan says he has never brought one home nor is he likely to adopt one as a pet.

"No I never kept a rat. I'm married," he explained.


Via (who else?) The Rat.
WHICH CICADA ARE YOU? Stupidly funny. I am Teenage Mutant Ninja Cicadas!
"KISSABLE PICTURES": OOH OOH, THEY'RE OBSESSED WITH YOU. In which John is disturbed and disturbing, and our music journalist attends a concert.

More workaday prose here, sorry, and a few placeholders that I will change in the final version. But there are a couple things in this segment that I like. There are two or maybe three sections left after this one.

The usual warning: This story has sex in it. (Not, as such, in this section.) It has creepiness in it (this section and passim). This story is not healthy for children or other living things.

Click here to read from the beginning, or here to get the most recent section.
FREE THE IRAQI PRESS!: Excellent piece from the Weekly Standard. Excerpts:

...Then came bad news. On March 20, the Coalition issued Decree Number 66, signed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, turning the Iraqi Media Network into the Iraqi Public Service Broadcaster, a government media enterprise equivalent to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Zayer and the al-Sabah staff professed shock that, under the decree, their newspaper would become a state-owned newspaper, with no prospect of the promised privatization....

Before announcing their attempt at independence, al-Sabah had published a detailed critique of the media laws set to be imposed in Iraq. Coalition Decree Number 65, also issued March 20, for example, had established an Iraqi Communications and Media Commission. This body would regulate all "telecommunications and telecommunications-related information services," including print media, broadcasting, coverage of elections, mobile telephone services, Internet providers, and Internet cafés. The commission, which would issue licenses for all such enterprises, was to be supported by an array of chairmanships, boards, and panels.

In an editorial, al-Sabah described the commission as "bigger and more powerful than Iraq's former Ministry of Information--a state within the state." The newspaper continued, "This
Commission will be lawmaker, prosecutor, and judge, technical engineer and moral guardian of the interests of, for example, children (against too much violence on television) and consumers (against fraudulent advertising)....[I]n order to be prosecutor and judge, this Commission will need considerable staff to monitor television and radio programs and read the newspapers and weeklies."

With so many print organs already in existence, al-Sabah's editorialists were justified in asking how the commission would find time to keep track of the press. Al-Sabah blamed this unwieldy plan on Simon Haselock, the British official named media commissioner by the Coalition in August 2003. The decree making al-Sabah part of the Iraqi Public Service Broadcaster also comprised the creation of another whole set of governorships, boards, committees, and related bodies.

In all this, three things should be obvious. The first is that imposing a massive bureaucratic apparatus on top of Iraqi media is a disincentive to independent reporting, entrepreneurial investment, and other essentials for media success in the free market.

The second is that these offices, boards, and other bodies will instantly become centers of political patronage and corruption, regardless of safeguards written into their constitutional documents.

The third and overarching fact is that this is no way to cure the Iraqis, or any other Arab society, of the statist legacy of the Baathist dictatorship. ...

It is often said that the Coalition in Iraq needs a voice of its own. That is true: It should express its views at frequent press conferences open to all reporters. A vigorous, free press is the best possible place to begin the real democratization of Iraq.

IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT: The scathing Army Times editorial on Abu Ghraib. Via Hit & Run, I think.
IN THE GRAND TRADITION OF SCREAM FOR JEEVES!: H.P. LOVECRAFT MEETS P.G. WODEHOUSE: Terry Teachout at About Last Night writes: "Apropos of last week’s posting about whether Raymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse attended Dulwich College simultaneously, a reader writes:

"'Moments in greatness: suppose if Wodehouse had had to fag for Chandler? The parody almost writes itself.'

"You know who you are. You know what to do."

Eve adds: Aaaaiiiieeeee!!!! PLEASE, somebody, do this!!!
A WINTER'S TITLE: Scattered notes on The Great Title Discussion:

1) Embarrassingly, I misremembered the Ray Bradbury title I listed as one of my top five! It's THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, not THE OCTOBER PEOPLE (although Bradbury uses the latter phrase, with much the same meaning as the former, in his excellent Something Wicked This Way Comes). Anyway, as a title, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY is better.

2) I now have a title theory! Sort of. And it's astonishingly boring. Still, here it is, for what it's worth: Many of the titles I love and remember have either a) some element of sharp contrast, whether within the title itself (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is the most obvious example) or between the title and the first impression of the work (A WINTER'S TALE); or, more frequently,


I really have no knack for titles, and I don't expect that this minimal, boring theory will help me develop such a knack; but if you're more rationalist in your titling methods than I am, perhaps it will help you. I note that the one person who mentioned which of my titles she liked best picked NOW AND AT THE HOUR, which has both an implied time-arc and a contrast with the content of the story (since the point of the piece is that the implied time-arc has been disrupted; the narrator is stuck in "now," unable to reach the second half of the title). Story, by the way, starts here and continues here.

3) More of your suggestions:

Our Girl in Chicago (of About Last Night blog) here.

Parabasis here.

Amy Carney writes: Has nobody mentioned Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather? It's definitely in my top 5 . . . it has curb appeal, it makes you want to see the inside.

Douglas Hofstadter has some excellent titles, although they're actually so well-crafted that they're a bit too self-conscious. But my favorites are Le Ton beau de Marot; Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid; and The Mind's I.

Tom K offers: The Revenge of the Lawn

Irina Manta: Has anyone yet mentioned "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (Milan Kundera) as one of the greatest titles? I haven't read the book yet, but the title sure rocks. Some of Rand's titles were not so bad, actually, especially "We the Living" (which was oddly enough not the original title of the book, I think). "Notes from Underground," "The Picture of Dorian Gray," "Dangerous Liaisons," "As I Lay Dying," "Fahrenheit 451" and "1984" and also deserve honorable mention. I guess a lot titles that contain numbers intrigue us, see also "Catch-22." As for non-fiction, it's hard to beat "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat."

[she later added:]
The World According to Garp (John Irving)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey)
It (Stephen King)

And finally, Kathy Shaidle: Death on the Installment Plan
I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream
Trout Fishing In America
High Wind in Jamaica

And the Band Played On, with its understated allusion to an earlier gay milestone from slightly happier times, The Boys in the Band.

Being Canadian, I feel obliged to add: The Edible Woman
And while it wasn't that great, we had a first novel here a few years back called Fly-Boy Action Figure Comes With Gas Mask

The play Bill Murray is writing in Tootsie: Return to Love Canal
I'M SITTIN' ON TOP OF THE WORLD, BLOGROLLIN' ALONG... As many people on my blogroll have announced plans to blog less frequently or to stop altogether, I've changed it around a bit. Just wanted to explain why the place looks a bit different.
"There are multiple distractions that somehow leak themselves in, even into these open spaces. Things about cleaning and creditors. All sorts of ephemera...

"Little ghosts to be brushed aside.

"There is one that keeps occurring to me though.

"Something that I think may be of some import. Something we created together.

"A doll? A talking something? Something that made us happy.

"I will look for it--we will look for it--after I find you, but only after. It is important to prioritize."

--Paul Hornschemeier, Mother, Come Home

Sunday, May 09, 2004

WOULD YOU CONSENT?: Ariel Dorfman in The Guardian:

Is torture ever justified? That is the dirty question left out of the universal protestations of disgust, revulsion and shame that has greeted the release of photos showing British and American soldiers tormenting prisoners in Iraq.
It is a question that was most unforgettably put forward over 130 years ago by Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the saintly Alyosha Karamazov is tempted by his brother Ivan, confronted with an unbearable choice. Let us suppose, Ivan says, that in order to bring men eternal happiness, it was essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature, only one small child. Would you consent?

Ivan has preceded his question with stories about suffering children--a seven-year-old girl beaten senseless by her parents and enclosed in a freezing wooden outhouse and made to eat her own excrement; an eight-year-old serf boy torn to pieces by hounds in front of his mother for the edification of a landowner. True cases plucked from newspapers by Dostoevsky that merely hint at the almost unimaginable cruelty that awaited humanity in the years to come.

How would Ivan react to the ways in which the 20th century ended up refining pain, industrialising pain, producing pain on a massive, rational, technological scale; a century that would produce manuals on pain and how to inflict it, training courses on how to increase it, and catalogues that explained where to acquire the instruments that ensured that pain would be unlimited; a century that handed out medals for those who had written the manuals and commended those who designed the courses and rewarded and enriched those who had produced the instruments in those catalogues of death? Ivan Karamazov's question--would you consent?--is just as dreadfully relevant now, in a world where 132 countries routinely practice that sort of humiliation and damage on detainees, because it takes us into the impossible heart of the matter regarding torture; it demands that we confront the real and inexorable dilemma that the existence and persistence of torture poses, particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. Ivan's words remind us that torture is justified by those who apply and perform it: this is the price, it is implied, that needs to be paid by the suffering few in order to guarantee happiness for the rest of society, the enormous majority given security and wellbeing by those horrors inflicted in some dark cellar, some faraway pit, some abominable police station.

Make no mistake: every regime that tortures does so in the name of salvation, some superior goal, some promise of paradise. Call it communism, call it the free market, call it the free world, call it the national interest, call it fascism, call it the leader, call it civilisation, call it the service of God, call it the need for information; call it what you will, the cost of paradise, the promise of some sort of paradise, Ivan Karamazov continues to whisper to us, will always be hell for at least one person somewhere, sometime.

An uncomfortable truth: the American and British soldiers in Iraq, like torturers everywhere, do not think of themselves as evil, but rather as guardians of the common good, dedicated patriots who get their hands soiled and endure perhaps some sleepless nights in order to deliver the blind ignorant majority from violence and anxiety. Nor are the motives of the demonised enemy significant, not even the fact that they are naked and under the boot because they dared to resist a foreign power occupying their land. ...

Alyosha knows, as we should, that torture does not, therefore, only corrupt those directly involved in the terrible contact between two bodies, one that has all the power and the other that has all the pain, one that can do what it wants and the other that cannot do anything except wait and pray and resist. Torture also corrupts the whole social fabric because it prescribes a silencing of what has been happening between those two bodies; it forces people to make believe that nothing, in fact, has been happening; it necessitates that we lie to ourselves about what is being done not that far, after all, from where we talk, while we munch chocolate, smile at a lover, read a book, listen to a concerto, exercise in the morning. Torture obliges us to be deaf and blind and mute--and that is what Alyosha cannot consent to.

There is, however, a further question, even more troubling, that Ivan does not ask his brother or us: what if the person being endlessly tortured for our wellbeing is guilty?

What if we could erect a future of love and harmony on the everlasting pain of someone who had himself committed mass murder, who had tortured those children; what if we were invited to enjoy Eden all over again while one despicable human being was incessantly receiving the horrors he imposed upon others? And more urgently: what if the person whose genitals are being crushed and skin is being burnt knows the whereabouts of a bomb that is about to explode and kill millions?

Would we answer: yes, I do consent? That under certain very limited circumstances, torture is acceptable?

please read the whole thing
CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES: Yet more. I still have no Title Theory. You people have been no help at all! (Hee.)

Anyway. More titles I love:

About Last Night challenges me to narrow my selections to Five Best Ever. I'm going to use the same core criterion I used for the "43 favorite movies" list: stickiness. These are five titles I will never be able to get out of my head--titles that shape the way I view the world.


I desperately wanted to list THE SECRET HISTORY, but suspect that I am overly influenced by the actual book (the Tartt one--the Procopius is fine if you want Byzantine gossip, but, well, you know... with the inevitable forward march of progress come new ways of hiding things, and new things to hide...).

Now on to you lot. Asterisks mean I agree. Toni Wuersch writes: There was a book in Switzerland with a title for the ages:

Die Frau des Geliebten der Mutter

( The Wife of the Lover of the Mother )

It was the number one bestseller for more than a year in the late 80s.
The author was the wife of a scion of the Basel superrich, and had
three children by him. But he had a years long affair with her widowed
mother, which, when she found it out and tried to defend herself, led
him to separate and then divorce her, which caused her to lose her
Swiss citizenship for 30-35 years.

Lee Bockhorn contributes: A Good Man is Hard to Find (I'm pretty sure I didn't see this anywhere on your page yet -- surprising, considering all the other O'Connor suggestions. She came up with a lot of good ones!)

I know you're not a big Fitzgerald fan, but a few of his short story titles come to mind:

Dice, Brass Knuckles, & Guitar (how's that for intruiging?)
Babylon Revisited (in context)
The Diamond as Big as The Ritz

The Fire Next Time
* Invisible Man (in context)
* Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (I noticed you've been reading that lately...)

Music (thinking back to my music-school days...):

Quartet for the End of Time [Quatuor pour la fin du temps] - Messiaen. [Chamber music piece, written and first performed while Messiaen was in a German concentration camp during WWII.]
Enigma Variations [Elgar]
* Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? [jazz tune]
* Strange Fruit (in context) [sung by Billie Holiday]

From Cacciaguida the following: La Vita Nuova: a very daring title, given the theological claim it makes about the Beatrice experience

Roy Campbell had a lot great poem and poem-collection titles: The Flaming
Terrapin; Mithraic Emblems

Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday; The Napoleon of Notting Hill

How about operas?
Wagner, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) (adapted or spoofed by Nietzsche as * Götzendämmerung, Twilight of the Idols)
Korngold, * Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City) (not about a plague, but about a man trying to overcome grief over his dead wife)
Rimsky-Korsakov, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kertezh
Mussorgsky, Khovanschina (Khovansky Stuff, or Khovanskying Around)
Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry)
Montemezzi, L'Amore dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings)
and of course
Strauss, * Die Frau Ohne Schatten (The Woman Without a Shadow)

From someone whose email still names him as "Bat-Mite": Book titles:

All Tomorrow's Parties
Mona Lisa Overdrive
The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
The General in His Labyrinth
Fahrenheit 451 (in context, me thinks)
Dog is my co-pilot
The man who was thursday

-- Comics

Harlequin Valentine
The Wolves in the Walls
The Mystery Play
Kill your boyfriend
* Death: The time of your life.
* Death: The high cost of living.
Apocalipstick (Invisibles Vol.2)
Say you want a revolution (invisibles vol.1)

-- And overtly ambitious names impossible to live up to. Nice tries,

Automatic Kafka (comic)
Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime)

And from Christopher Arndt, after a very nice intro: every fiction that Tom Clancy has ever written. Each title in his Jack Ryan series is intriguing and sensical. More importantly they all sound suitably dramatic!

As it is, Shaara's "The Killer Angels" also works.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

MORE FUN WITH SIN!: Lots of interesting emails in re my post on original sin. Here are a bunch of responses, mostly cashings-out of the concept of "total depravity."

Aaron Armitage of Calvinist Libertarians replies here. I approve of the language of "common grace." Not as sure about the rest of the post. I am not sure that he means what I would mean if I said that stuff. However, I am way too tired right now to think these things through--sorry--operating on only four and a half hours of sleep. So I'll just point you to his post so you can see for yourself.

OTOH Aaron may simply be saying what Willard S. Moore says, with which I completely agree: As I understand it, the doctrine of total depravity means not that we are wholly bad, but that every faculty is tainted. For example, those who think that virtue is a matter of letting reason control our bad emotions are mistaken, because our reasoning capacities are flawed. We cannot reason our way to God. The same response, mutatis mutandis, would be made to those who believe that following our hearts, or our instincts, or any other native faculty, will lead us to God. Only if God comes and gets us, as the father ran out to the prodigal son, can we know Him.

So possibly we don't disagree, which is kind of disappointing.

Similarly from Eric Enlow: You are a little off on the meaning of "total depravity" which isn't surprising (I'm guessing you haven't been browsing the canons of Dordt). Total depravity simply refers to the state of affairs set out in Romans 14:23 that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." Man in his natural state cannot do well. The totality of depravity refers to the effect of sin on all aspects of our powers, ie it is intended to deal with scope as opposed to quality as might be suggested by "absolute depravity."

Specifically, total depravity is opposed to confusions of the Pelagian nature, which arise if we believe that we seek God as we should without his power. It has never been taken to be opposed to conscience or an awareness of God and sin, only to the idea that we are capable of acting on such an awareness naturally.

Jason Spak of Spak writes in with Rousseau's take, but to me this explanation just pushes the question back one step. If society corrupts us what made society suck? Anyway: I liked your post on original sin very much. Same for your blog in general.

Sadly, I think your questions have answers. You probably know this, but Rousseau argues that we're all born good, without taint of sin, and society
inexorably corrupts us. If true, this would account for both our sense of
goodness and our earliest memories of badness. It's not true, of course,
but absent revelation Rousseau's account strikes me as being as logically
compelling as original sin is. You'll find a brief discussion of all this in what is, for me at least, a surprising place: the website of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, better known as the home of the world's largest six-pack.

And from John Louis Schwenkler: [O]n Wednesday, you asked how people who don't believe in original sin can make sense of its obviousness. Good question, which reminds me of a great Chesterton/Shaw story I once heard during a homily on the Immaculate Conception. Legend has it that as GBS is raging against anyone who could believe in something so silly as the IC, GKC promptly asks whether he believes in OS, and GBS replies that, no, that is utter silliness as well. To which GKC responds by pointing out that the denial of OS amounts to the claim that everyone was immaculately conceived. Boo ya.

Thanks very much to all who wrote in.
"KISSABLE PICTURES": I DON'T WANNA CHITTER-CHAT. In which Jen and John drink mint juleps, our music journalist has Sunday dinner with his family, and actual kissable pictures appear. This segment is...what... PG-13 rated, I guess? But the section that precedes it is very much not, so click at your own risk.

The prose in this episode is workaday at best. There's one bit that spent the past four days beating me up and stealing my lunch money--I wonder if you can guess which bit it is!

Read the whole story starting here, or just get the most recent section here.
VIOLENCE IN AMERICAN PRISONS: Actually, I want to give you all excerpts from the article I linked in the previous post. Here they are:

Physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, similar to what has been uncovered in Iraq, takes place in American prisons with little public knowledge or concern, according to corrections officials, inmates and human rights advocates.

In Pennsylvania and some other states, inmates are routinely stripped in front of other inmates before being moved to a new prison or a new unit within their prison. In Arizona, male inmates at the Maricopa County jail in Phoenix are made to wear women's pink underwear as a form of humiliation.

At Virginia's Wallens Ridge maximum security prison, new inmates have reported being forced to wear black hoods, in theory to keep them from spitting on guards, and said they were often beaten and cursed at by guards and made to crawl.

The corrections experts say that some of the worst abuses have occurred in Texas, whose prisons were under a federal consent decree during much of the time President Bush was governor because of crowding and violence by guards against inmates. Judge William Wayne Justice of Federal District Court imposed the decree after finding that guards were allowing inmate gang leaders to buy and sell other inmates as slaves for sex.

The experts also point out that the man who directed the reopening of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year and trained the guards there resigned under pressure as director of the Utah Department of Corrections in 1997 after an inmate died while shackled to a restraining chair for 16 hours. The inmate, who suffered from schizophrenia, was kept naked the whole time.

The Utah official, Lane McCotter, later became an executive of a private prison company, one of whose jails was under investigation by the Justice Department when he was sent to Iraq as part of a team of prison officials, judges, prosecutors and police chiefs picked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to rebuild the country's criminal justice system.

Mr. McCotter, 63, is director of business development for Management & Training Corporation, a Utah-based firm that says it is the third-largest private prison company, operating 13 prisons. In 2003, the company's operation of the Santa Fe jail was criticized by the Justice Department and the New Mexico Department of Corrections for unsafe conditions and lack of medical care for inmates. No further action was taken.

Home is a blogwatch
You've got to escape
Want to go and wander in the tickertape...

Dappled Things: Suggestions for celebrating Mary's month.

Healing Iraq: "Not much has been going on in Basrah lately. Traffic and movement has returned to 'normal', a few streets where IP stations are located are still blocked. Explosives were found near a primary school which caused some panic among concerned Basrawis, another small bomb was dismantled close to a primary health care clinic which caused me to panic since I work at one. Basrah IP said the bombs were amateurish and wouldn't cause much damage anyway, so I'm a bit relieved!

"There are signs, graffiti, and banners all over town against returning former Ba'athists to governmental institutions. Other signs strongly condemned the appointment of General Jassim Mohammed over the Fallujah brigade. One sign reads 'Basrah residents demand a trial for Saddam's new cowboy in Fallujah'. Another said 'The return of Ba'athists is a return of Nazism and mass graves.' Shi'ite clerics have also been making a fuss over it. There is a widespread belief that the US is turning toward Sunnis to take over Iraq again. One doctor at the residence said 'This is just the first step, wait and see. Gradually, everything will return to what is was like under Saddam.' Other Shia are comparing the US moves with the situation in 91, when the US allowed Saddam's regime to suppress the Shi'ite uprising following the Gulf war."

much more

EDITED TO ADD: Joe Perez replies to... well, to Jonathan Rauch, really, on homosexuality-as-mild-disability. I think we share so few premises that it would take me time and mental energy I don't have to write up my own perspective on this stuff... so I won't. Sorry.

Forager 23 and Motime Like the Present both have cogent comments on the "highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow" distinction. Forager: "I think it's better to ignore the prejudices of those cultists of modernism who damned the middlebrow in the first place. Their war waged for the highbrow was based on two premises:

"1) The aesthetic experience should and could stand in for the religious experience, that is, it could fill modernity’s spiritual void in the way that religion had in pre-modern times.

"2) Commodifying the aesthetic experience would necessarily destroy it.

"Nowadays, we can’t simply buy into these premises."


Motime: "If you say something that people prove they aren't interested in hearing by staying away from you, you are a 'highbrow'. If they do happen to flock to your work, you become a 'middlebrow'. And it's probably not because you've 'condescended' to 'their' values. It's the effective expression of personality (not 'ideas') that matters. Charles Schulz invokes classical music, Tolstoy, and anything else he happens to be thinking about while he's stting at the drawing board, and no one thinks of 'Peanuts' as a 'highbrow' strip. Is it because he mixes in Snoopy's antics and baseball games? No. It's because people like it.

"And that's a good thing. As an artist, you want people to like what you do, don't you?"


The Corner: Andrew Stuttaford on Abu Ghraib and Leavenworth: "Something else to consider is the suggestion (implicitly made here by Instapundit) that the abuse of Iraqis by US troops in Abu Ghraib could be a reflection of the way in which sexual humiliation and violence in American jails now seems to be accepted (and sometimes even celebrated)." Much more here.

And: It's a HayekBlog! All Hayek, all the time.