Tuesday, March 29, 2005

THE 1947 PROJECT: True-crime tales from 1947 Los Angeles. Via Hit & Run.
A senior Zimbabwean clergyman has issued an unprecedented plea for a peaceful Ukraine-style "popular mass uprising" to remove President Robert Mugabe after elections this week.

The highly respected Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, the Most Rev Pius Ncube, said that the parliamentary elections on Thursday were certain to be rigged. "I hope that people get so disillusioned that people really organise against this government and kick him [Mr Mugabe] out by non- violent popular mass uprising," said Archbishop Ncube. "As it is, people have been too soft with this government. So people should pluck up just a bit of courage and stand up against him and chase him away."

Archbishop Ncube, who is a prominent critic of Mr Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF, made the radical suggestion, in an interview with The Independent, as evidence was mounting of more subtle forms of intimidation and coercion than the overt violence that characterised the previous two elections. "I am simply backing a non-violent popular uprising, like that in the Philippines in 1986 and such as in Ukraine," he said.


Via Sed Contra.
I THIRST: Amy Welborn has a lot of links on Terri Schiavo. You should click through to all of them. If your time is limited, you should especially click through here (how common?), here (how humiliating!), and here (Congress).

Sunday, March 27, 2005

...Were it not for the crinkled maps of China, the pictures of mass graves and the two desperately overstuffed Rolodexes on her desk, Chang might have been just another former high school homecoming queen from the aptly named Sunnyvale. But she had become one of the foremost young historians of her generation after publishing, seven years ago, a bestselling account of the Rape of Nanking, one of the worst episodes of human cruelty in recent history.

Her book brought international acclaim and controversy, and many spoke of a stellar future. It was not to be. In November she killed herself, no longer able to bear the weight of horrors from seven decades ago.

The Rape of Nanking in 1937 began with the march of invading Japanese soldiers up the Yangtse River. They occupied the Chinese capital of the time and soon conquest was followed by bloodlust. Soldiers slaughtered between 100,000 and 300,000 civilians sheltering in a few city blocks. Slowly.

Over a six-week period, up to 80,000 women were raped. But it wasn’t so much the sheer numbers as the details that shock--fathers forced at gunpoint to rape daughters, stakes driven through vaginas, women nailed to trees, tied-up prisoners used for bayonet practice, breasts sliced off the living, speed decapitation contests. ...

Orphans, rape victims and Holocaust survivors all wanted to bare their souls to her, finally relieving themselves of agonies sometimes decades old. They felt encouraged by the passion that she brought to the sort of grievances few of them could tackle on their own. ...

But the Japanese attacks were the easy part. With her newfound fame, Chang felt compelled to visit Chinese communities around the globe to hear more horror stories of Japanese occupation, forced prostitution in so-called "comfort houses" and nerve gas experiments on prisoners in Manchuria. After these encounters with people who would often approach her in tears, she felt utterly drained even hours later. Friends said that she was beginning to look frail, and she admitted to them that her hair was coming out. The more of others' suffering she absorbed, the more her old energy and intensity drained away. Each horror story seemed to pull her down a little farther.

Via Arts & Letters Daily.
DAPPLED THINGS' EASTER SERMON: "...Christianity, and particularly Catholicism as the perfect manifestation of what Christianity is, is fundamentally a joyful, an optimistic religion. Twelve unkempt fisherman are made the pillars of a Church that encompasses the world. A meek and humble Virgin from Nazareth becomes Queen of Angels. Bread and wine become God's Body and Blood. A murdered Rabbi rises from the dead and promises us the forgiveness of our sins. If the Christian God can do all of that, there's even hope for people as messed up as you and me." (more)
The overcrowded chapel was sweltering, but Catholic Bishop Donald Wuerl had an utterly attentive audience as he prepared to wash the feet of inmates at the Allegheny County Jail.

He told them that Jesus had offered his life as ransom.

"Imagine if someone said, 'I'll serve your sentence,'" he told 100 male inmates in red prison uniforms.

"That is what Jesus did in his death for anything that any one of us would ever do."

The jail chaplain had expected 75 inmates, prepared for 90 and had to bring in extra chairs. Wuerl has visited the jail many times and confirmed some of the inmates last year. ...

The jail may be his favorite place to do confirmations. He recalled one year when the first inmate confirmed was so overwhelmed that he began to weep and then threw his arms around him.

The remaining confirmands thought the hug was part of the ritual, and did the same. It was, Wuerl recalled, "the only place I've been where everyone has hugged me."


Via Amy Welborn.
Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown in union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
--Romans 6:3-11

Thursday, March 24, 2005

IN THE TEST OF DEATH: Amy Welborn has written a must-read post on Terri Schiavo's life and our own lives here. "It's deepened my interest in preparing myself and my family for the day that will come for me and for them, as well -- not in terms of legal documents, but in terms of our spiritual stance." (much more)

Also, the Old Oligarch notes that BlogsForTerri needs money to pay its server fees.
BY THE WAY: The fine people who bring you the National Catholic Register (for which I occasionally write) also have a guide to the rosary and a companion guide to the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE: Fascinating collection of quotations typically taken out of context--or, one might say, more honored in the breach than in the observance!
"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT": SAY GOODBYE TO ALL THIS. The dystopia story is finished. Probably you all have seen my warning by now: This story is distressing in about six different ways. I think it's worth writing, but I do realize in a healthier age it would probably have ended up on the Index. (Then again, in a healthier age I doubt it would have been written at all.) So: the final section is here, and the story as a whole is here. There are lingering problems with this story--problems of pacing, problems of motivation and underexplanation (I think coyness might be my biggest weakness as an author), and a possible theological problem at the very end--but I think it has potential to be one of my best so far. For what that's worth.

My heart is by dejection, clay;
And by selfe-murder, red.
NOT DEAD AT ALL: Disability activist Harriet McBryde Johnson on Terri Schiavo.

Also, "Florida's House and Senate are considering a dehydration and starvation protection act that would require stronger evidence of informed consent prior to removing assisted food and fluids from an incapacitated patient." (more)

[ETA:] Some powerful posts at Kesher Talk.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

RIGHT REASON: Blog of "philosophical conservatism." Includes Rogers Scruton and Kimball as contributors. Here.
FAMILY SCHOLARS has a lot of important posts up--mostly news links, mostly on divorce and children of divorce.
AND MEANWHILE, SHE IS BEING DENIED FOOD AND WATER: Amy Welborn is an excellent source for eloquent statements of the pro-life/Catholic viewpoint on Terri Schiavo; Welborn also covered the Congressional debate.

CodeBlueBlog: Medical blog disputes common interpretation of Schiavo CT scan. Discussed here and here.

The Corner is having a kind of John Derbyshire vs. the world discussion--most of the arguments you'll hear are being discussed there.


The editors of National Review.

Noli Irritare Leones: I was struck by the comments on "dignity" and helplessness, and the question of how common these cases really are.

Ron Bailey has an interesting column on brain death here. I really disagree with his presentation of the issue of "what Terri would have wanted"; but the article is very much worth your time nonetheless. I am more with Colby Cosh: "I'm in favour of continuing to feed Terri because the law seems to have used a simple, cold balance-of-probabilities analysis to determine her presumptive wishes. There's no written living will; the only evidence we have is oral, and it comes from one source. The chance that she would regard her feeding tube as an instrument of rape is being treated with more respect than it deserves, since the decision to withdraw her food and water is irreversible. I think the standard's got to be much higher than that before you starve somebody to death. And while I'm not qualified to comment on the possibility raised recently that her husband is engaged in destroying evidence of spousal abuse, that's a possibility in principle with all these cases--which is one good reason death shouldn't be treated as having claims equal to those of life."

Unqualified Offerings: I disagree strongly with Jim's framing of the situation in the first part of this post--and he himself backtracks on it in the update--but thought this bit was a good summary: "My preference is that, absent a clear, written directive from the sufferer, that if someone is willing to speak for her and assume her care, they should be able to assume custody. The alternative, our present system, strikes me as worse." He adds: "Not speaking to the facts of the Schiavo case specifically, while your spouse is the person most likely to know your wishes, your spouse is also the most likely to profit (in various senses) from your death." (more)

I don't, myself, have a lot to say. Will be praying for everyone involved. I have noticed, as I expect you have as well, that as a general rule someone's beliefs about Terri Schiavo can be predicted if you know his beliefs about the sexual revolution--gay liberation and abortion, mostly. This is obviously a huge generalization, and there are lots of exceptions--Derbyshire on the one hand [ETA: I take it back], and the blogger at the Independent Gay Forum on the other (probably? I don't actually know what the IGF blogger thinks of abortion, and would be quite pleasantly surprised to learn he's pro-life), to take just two examples. But nonetheless, as a generalization it holds. For some people I'm sure that's primarily a result of conflicting answers to the "who do you trust?" question, but for many people I think it also reflects a deeper, more fundamental divergence of beliefs: possibly, the belief that the human body has an intrinsic, given meaning that neither helplessness nor suffering can destroy, vs. the belief that the human body is essentially a useful tool for the purposes set by individuals' minds.

I also am struck by, but unsure what conclusion (if any) to draw from, the fact that the three prominent "right to die"/end-of-life cases of our time all involve women: Nancy Cruzan, Karen Ann Quinlan, Terri Schiavo.

All right. Now to pray.
You come here looking for the ride to glory,
Head back home with a blogwatch story...

After Abortion: "The world feels much less safe if it seems to be a world where we chronically notice and repeat bad things about each other. An unsafe harshly critical world is not a good world to be pregnant in."

Hit & Run: Internship at Reason.

R. James Woolsey recommends spy novels. Via The Corner.

Friday, March 18, 2005

"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT": COUNSELING AND COMPROMISE. Next scene of short story. In which Irina breaks the rules for Leon, Alison breaks the rules for Irina, and we see both women doing their jobs. The basic idea, at this point: We're watching three people who are embedded in a deeply evil system, like ticks buried in flesh. We get right inside their heads, at least if I'm doing this right. Therefore, this story is very disturbing. The second scene is the one it's easiest to slap an NC17 rating on, but really, that scene (of sexualized violence, and vice versa) is only the most heightened representation of what the society in the story is all about. Anyway, story so far is here; new scene is here. There's probably only one more installment.
SERIES ON PRO-LIFE WOMEN WHO ABORT: At After Abortion. Powerful. "I'm writing this series because of the mistaken belief that if you teach your children that abortion is very wrong, your children will therefore not have abortions, even if they agree with you that abortion is very wrong."
RISING STARS OF MANGA: TokyoPop is running a "readers' choice" poll with lots of new manga artists. Frequent ET.com commenter Joshua Elder has an entry, "Mail-Order Ninja," here. I don't have time to read any of these today, but you might; today is the deadline for picking your favorites. Definitely do check out Joshua's piece!
BOOK REC: Steve Sparrow writes:
Couldn't agree more with you vis a vis fighting materialism with socialism. I reckon it's a crying shame high schools all over the world don't study these two novels back to back, viz. Orwell's Animal Farm and Hilaire Belloc's The Mercy of Allah. Orwell dissing Socialism and Belloc unbridled Capitalism. Most read Orwell but few Belloc. Mercy of A is brilliant fantasy/satire on money. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Some boys blog and some boys watch,
And that's all right with me.
If they can't raise my interest then I'll have to let them be...

Home, Throne, Altar: Three kids & the making of a conservative. Powerful and right-on. A lot of this resonates with my experience at the pregnancy center. The only thing I'd add would be stories of parents trying hard to do right by their kids in the teeth of a culture that constantly rejects and thwarts them. ...HTA link via Hugo Schwyzer, who comments here. (For my part, I think fighting materialism with socialism is like fighting a wood fire with an electrical fire.)

Relapsed Catholic: Thousands pray for Hollywood. Seriously? Can any of you all pray also for journalists? I for one could use the help.

SoDakMonk: He's moved. For all your South Dakotan monastic needs, go here.

I am usually not so thrilled by Cathy Seipp--her "on the one hand, but on the other hand" shtik wears thin--but this rambly column on women journalists makes several good points. Excerpts:
...Many of my readers are the sort of old-fashioned, hard-headed guys feminists assume are in need of enlightenment (military men, cops, prosecutors, engineers, etc.), and I get all sorts of reactions from them, but one that I've never encountered is any whiff of that patronizing, "Now-see-here-little-lady..." attitude. ...

In any case, I think what's really missing from the op-ed pages is not more women writers but more real diversity among those writers. I can't think of any major female columnist who brings the perspective of raising children without the safety net of a full-time staff job and/or a comfortably employed husband -- in other words, someone with firsthand knowledge of life beyond the small, privileged circles of the media elite.

JK ROWLING AS DETECTIVE AUTHOR. Posting this to remind myself that these principles don't only apply to detective stories. Things that matter to the climax of the story need to appear earlier, rather than coming from out of nowhere. (That's one of the many kinds of problem with "Kissable Pictures.") Also, I tend to write rough drafts very intuitively, and then go back and see which intuited moments or images were actually advancing the point of the story and which ones were superfluous or distracting. Thinking about this relationship between the end and the beginning of the story, where elements that appeared earlier are crucial to the resolution of the plot, is helping me figure out some things that will happen in the big finale ("and then they exploded") of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent."
SHERLOCK HOLMES MEETS H.P. LOVECRAFT. Not really my thing (I'm more of a Scream for Jeeves kind of gal), but I bet a lot of you people will like this.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

IHS!: Darin Lowder writes:
I thought your readers might appreciate a reminder about the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) Summer Seminar deadline approaching March 31, 2005.

Each summer, IHS sponsors a series of seminars for undergraduates, graduate students, and recent college graduates exploring a wide variety of issues. From globalization and the environment to the limits of freedom, we bring top students and faculty from around the world together for lectures, discussions, films, and socials lasting well into the night.

This year, we're sponsoring eleven seminars from coast to coast, and we've added a "Civil Liberties in the 21st Century" seminar exploring the limits of personal and economic freedoms.

For more information, please go to: www.TheIHS.org/seminars.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

HONEY, WHERE YOU BEEN SO LONG?: Not only is it a blog specializing in the blues. But it is a blog, specializing in etc., which is having a Stagolee week. All Stagolee all the time. Here.

[Parts of this are overstated. But the bits I'm quoting are powerful and right. --Eve]
...A culture that treats the body as a mere machine for pleasure will produce the perfect recruits for the machinery of pain. The breakdown of ethical restraints in our military prisons has been made possible by the liberal idolatry of the self, whose will to power cannot tolerate the restraints of chastity or religious obligation. ...

...The greatest blasphemy is using Christian rhetoric to stick a happy face on a regime that would have us act from fear instead of faith, and that uses self-justifying legalism to exclude prisoners and aliens (those special objects of Christ's concern) from the circle of our ethical obligations.

I merely want to warn progressives to think twice before breaking down the taboos that we once called civilization. The body desacralized, the appetite unleashed, so easily become the torturer's tools. Why did we ever believe that if given the choice, the children of liberation would always make love, not war?


Monday, March 14, 2005

"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT": COLD AND RAW THE NORTH DID BLOW. Irina might be in trouble. She talks with her supervisor, and remembers V-Day. There's champagne and cognac, and Irina learns what month it is. This section is g-rated, but as I've said before, the rest of the story very much isn't. This is definitely the story that has most disturbed me in the writing of it, so, you know, forewarned. Anyway, story so far is here; newest scene is here. There are maybe two more segments.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Congratulations! You're 116 proof, with specific scores in beer (60), wine (66), and liquor (78).
Screw all that namby-pamby chick stuff, you're going straight for the bottle and a shot glass! It'll take more than a few shots of Wild Turkey or 99 Bananas before you start seeing pink elephants. You know how to handle your alcohol, and yourself at parties.

Test your Alcohol Knowledge here. Old O, if you get less than the highest score, I will never respect phenomenology again.
SOME DO IT WITH A SIX-GUN, SOME WITH A FOUNTAIN PEN: MLY writes: "Your political art post made me think of Hugo's Last Day of a Condemned Man and the movie 'Dead Man Walking.' Is the former better than the latter, according to your criteria? Do they both succeed? Might be interesting to give examples of successful and failed political art."

Unfortunately, I haven't read the Hugo nor seen DMW. And it's hard to think of examples of successful political art--in part because it is, you know, very hard to do without falling into caricature, or assuming that your audience already knows the score so you needn't be surprising, or exploiting our desire to feel superior to others. Here are some artworks--narrative art, since I think the rules are different for something like (an example brought up at Teachout's talk) the song "Strange Fruit"--that I think are both political and great. You all should feel free to comment if so moved.

In rough order of how quickly they came to mind:
Pat Barker, REGENERATION and THE EYE IN THE DOOR: Anti-war novels, basically. Flawed, and the flaws are often those specific to political art; but nonetheless, I'll recommend these books to anybody. See this post for more commentary on what succeeds and what fails here.

Ralph Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN. Succeeds because it's stylistically brilliant, and because it hooks the experience of being black in America into universal human experiences of rage and alienation without ever abstracting or moving away from the particulars of race. I had a high-school English teacher who said this book reminded him of some of the writings of Soviet dissidents. That distressed some of the other students. I don't think the point was, "OMG America is as bad as Soviet Russia!!!" I think the point was more that if literature is about human experience, one of those experiences is what it's like to be oppressed; there are different kinds and degrees of oppression, just like there are different kinds and degrees of sexual jealousy, ambition, self-sacrifice, or any of the other themes of literature.

I think part of my point here may be that where Teachout draws a bright(ish?) line between religious art and political art, I don't; something like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (novel, not movie) is going to knock against and perhaps change your views of criminal justice, I think, as well as your views of free will and moral evil (Burgess at one point described his book as "a sort of allegory of Christian free will"). That's because the latter subjects have implications for the former.

There are other possible examples--I don't think you can watch FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE without coming away with a visceral sense of the ferocity of the Cultural Revolution, even though that's more the setting of the movie than what the movie is "about." I'm not sure whether satire shouldn't get its own category; but then, most great political works are salted with satire. How much really separates INVISIBLE MAN from DR STRANGELOVE there? There are political artworks with lower (ON THE WATERFRONT maybe?) and higher (RICHARD II) levels of ambivalence. There's the fact that almost all narrative art has a political context, and thus political implications--Chandler, not just CHINATOWN; BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, not just GRAND ILLUSION. (This corresponds to the fact that even artworks that are trying to be "just" political necessarily also have a moral and a metaphysical, religious context.) So in the end, I think I'm less interested in categorizing than in saying, Look, I don't care what you do--do whatever works--but realize that these are the big dangers. Please try not to caricature; or dehumanize; or refuse to challenge or surprise or even implicate your audience. I think those cautions hold for political art only because they hold for all art.
...No one disputes that for ex-convicts like Mr. Auguste, 28, who completed a 10-month jail sentence for the attempted sale of cocaine, deportation to Haiti is a grim prospect. Under Haitian policy, federal and immigration courts have found, deportees with a criminal record are placed in indefinite preventive detention, without food, water or toilets, in cells so crowded that they cannot lie down; prisoners are subjected to police beatings, and sometimes are burned with cigarettes, choked, hooded and given electric shocks. Some have died in custody.

But is that tantamount to torture under the law? The answers have varied in the last four years. The Third Circuit panel, while likening the conditions to "a slave ship," ruled in January that indefinite detention in Haiti did not constitute torture because Haitian officials intended the detention to prevent crime, not specifically to inflict severe pain and suffering amounting to torture.

Their holding, the judges acknowledged, was "in tension" with the language of another Third Circuit panel's decision in a torture claim case, directly rejecting the "specific intent" interpretation. To resolve the contradiction, Mr. Auguste's motion seeks a rehearing in his case before all the appellate judges of the circuit, which covers New Jersey and Pennsylvania. ...

Anti-torture laws bar the United States from handing over people, even criminals, to countries where they are likely to experience torture.

Torture is defined in the law as the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, with the acquiescence of a public official, whether for interrogation, punishment, intimidation, coercion, "or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind." The law explicitly rules out making exceptions during wartime or public emergency, but it excludes from the definition of torture suffering that is accidental or the consequence of a "lawful sanction." ...

By late 2001, the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is run by the Justice Department, had ruled in several such cases that indefinite detention in Haiti was torture under the law, halting the deportations. But in 2002, narrower definitions took hold, said Lori A. Nessel, a legal scholar at Seton Hall University who has tracked the shifting immigration decisions. ...

Among those denied protection, for example, was Takky Zubeda, a woman who had fled from Congo to New York after being raped by the soldiers who decapitated her father and brother. But in 2003, Ms. Zubeda won an appeal to the Third Circuit appellate court, which rejected a "specific intent" requirement.


Friday, March 11, 2005

TODAY IS A GOOD DAY FOR SOMEBODY ELSE TO DIE. Funny Discworld quiz that makes me want to read the books.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT": JEUX SANS FRONTIERES. Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Or, in other words, the second scene of the dystopia story. Alison mixes business and pleasure; Irina forgets. NC17. Here.
We all feel blogwatch in the dark...

Dr. Weevil: Ten things (academia nuts).

St. Blog's Parish, UK, is seeking British Catholic bloggers.

Awesome interview with Sandra Miesel about Catholicism and science fiction. I'd love to hear her comments on Kathe Koja.

"Rendition Realities," a.k.a. as close as the Washington Post is going to get to endorsing outsourced torture. Um. I'm not persuaded by this argument. And I really want to know what the hell "family pressure" means. If it's like, mom pleads with terrorist to renounce his terrortacular ways, then okay. If it's (as it has been in the past, you know) more like, "We've captured your family members, so if you don't talk I don't think they'll be very happy," then that's absolutely wrong. And I'm not reassured by the fact that this piece doesn't make clear which of the two scenarios is under discussion.

Mark Shea on Catholicism and torture. If I needed persuasion that human nature has no history, that attempts to end history through genetic modification would merely reify the constant, recurring effects of original sin, I'm pretty sure the fact that torture is a contemporary political question would do it for me. Well--that and infant euthanasia, I suppose. Welcome to the working week.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

TENS, ANYONE?: (Sorry!) Laudem Gloriae (Viet Nam, fried guinea pig, and saving a life--not all in one entry); Mommentary has a fine comments-box going, including crazy Polishness from the century of blood; Pax Nortona on Alcatraz.
LUV ACTUALLY: Jesse Walker writes (my comments in itals):
You left out the two worst things about Love Actually:

1. You know those syrupy climax scenes that weigh down the endings of every romantic comedy these days? This movie *opens* with one, and then it keeps bombarding you with them *all the way through the movie*.

[Oh, yes! Yes! Exactly!!! --E]

2. In the middle of all that crap, the subplot about Bill Nighy as the aging singer is actually funny. So you find yourself recommending things like "Tape it, then fast-forward through 90% of it," and people just look at you funny.

[Ehhh... I liked the Nighy subplot for a little while. Then it started feeling just as predictable as everything else. (I called the fat-manager angle less than halfway through the movie, I think; and felt cheated on the denouement there.)--E]

(Aside from Nighy, the other reason to watch it -- though this applies only to foreign-policy obsessives -- is to see how mainstream Brits have apparently gotten over the empire entirely, given that the movie treats the country as one big small town. The imperialists are those beastly Americans, ther country run by someone who somehow gets to be Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the same time.)
"LET ALL MORTAL FLESH KEEP SILENT": IN THE NEW CENTURY I THINK WE WILL ALL BE INSANE. First scene of new short story. Um. This is a rough one. Rated for sexualized violence, and vice versa. (Mostly in the second scene, not this one.) It's a dystopia, with all that implies; this is about Bad Things happening. I don't, you know, write this stuff unless I think the story requires it. Anyway: Irina tries to figure out whether it's winter, and Alison prepares her materials for an experiment. Here. Second scene probably tomorrow.
ART OBJECTS: So on Monday night I heard Terry Teachout talk on "The Problem of Political Art." I should have taken notes, but I didn't; I'm lame. Because of the lack of notes, I can't give you a reaction to the substance of his talk, just a series of scattered points. So here goes.

1. I went away from the talk more convinced, not less, that political art is possible. I'm defining "political art" the way Teachout sometimes seemed to define it: Art that makes the audience leave the theater, or put down the book, or close the CD case, wanting to do something about a current political question. Sometimes Teachout seemed to think that this action-oriented art was "instrumentalized," opposing art to politics and subordinating the former to the latter, and so it was bad. Other times "instrumentalized" seemed to basically mean "propagandistic": manipulative, appealing to the worst in human nature rather than the best. But those aren't really the same definitions. Politics, ideally, springs from ethics; which springs (am I wrong to use the singular here?) from metaphysics. There's no escaping politics. Some things in life are really entirely wrong or right, and if you try to show a believable world you have to at least acknowledge that part of the architecture of the world is its moral architecture.

2. So I came up with two rules for political art--that is, art about contemporary, pressing, controversial political issues. a) All characters must be actually human. No caricatures. No straw men. No predictable villains.
b) The work--at least if it's a narrative work, like a novel, a short story, a movie, a comic, or maybe also an opera--should show how political issues derive from and hook into ethical, metaphysical, and, ideally, also aesthetic issues. In other words, if you're writing something that can fairly be described as a play against the death penalty, that's fine. But show us how the death penalty relates to broader ethical questions of responsibility, like the nature of justice, or free will vs determinism. If you can, suggest how the death penalty relates to metaphysical questions (to what or to whom are we responsible? what does the nature of justice tell us about human nature?). If it works, shape the narrative's structure around the points you want to make. (For example, if you want to show that "responsibility" can be understood as loyalty to particular people or to principle, you want to shape your narrative such that one character has the first kind of loyalty and another character has the second.)

I think this sounds a bit formulaic, and I don't mean it to. Presumably political artists want to make political art because of something they (...we) have actually seen or experienced. There are then two necessary things they must do: Go back to the source experience, and look carefully at the particular people and situations involved, so that you can portray the unpredictability of lived human experience; and figure out your core philosophy, so you can know what counts as a distillation of life and what counts as a dilution of life, which gestures are telling and which are red herrings.

3. My problem with Shaw, as a playwright, is that his plays basically read like Platonic dialogues. And while part of the point and poignance of the dialogues is their dramatic structure, that doesn't actually make the dialogues successful as plays.

4. This is bouncing off something Teachout said: Conservatives tend not to create political art because the kind of energy that, on the left, is invested in politics--that sense that here we are approaching the heart of things--is more often, on the right, poured into religion. The "Four Quartets" are maybe Eliot's "Angels in America."

For my part, I do find that even my stories that are in some obvious way about politics (mostly abortion--I find I write a lot of stuff that is in one way or another pro-life) are mostly really about the grappling match between God and man.

5. Professionalism, in e.g. journalism, is a tradition; and like many traditions, it's a way of transforming a necessary subordination into beauty. (The subordination in this case is that of the newcomer, the rookie.)
Boys may blog and boys may watch
And that's all right you see;
Experience has made me rich and now they're after me...

The Agitator: Will Ohioans need an auctioneer's license to use eBay? (Via Dappled Things. And if you think this is a ridiculous idea, maybe you want to reconsider entry barriers for other economic activities, no? Related link.)

Elayne Riggs: Um... I really appreciate the link, and all, but I'm not a progressive blogger. I think "progressivism" is incoherent as a philosophical concept (progress vs decay can only be judged in relation to an unchanging moral standard) and deeply destructive as an actual existing political movement. I'm a conservative with libertarian nostalgia. I certainly hope that opposing torture and believing in the preferential option for the poor doesn't disqualify me for those parties... because you know, the punch is stronger on the right. --Or actually, you know, if you want to predict my political stance, I hope the best guide is just to know that I'm Catholic.

Hugo Schwyzer: Interesting points on the changing age of menarche, and on fathers and daughters.

And, ten things: Hugo Schwyzer (money for good and money for evil); PapaFamilias (reader, he married her).
SHADOW DANCE: "Hot out of the box with a brand-new cinematic meme is Cinetrix, who asks:

"What movie character do you identify with the most?"

at worst: Scottie, in "Vertigo"--actually I think most writers would identify at least to some extent with Scottie.
at mediocre: Martin Blank, in "Grosse Pointe Blank"
at best?: Edward G. Robinson's character, in "Five-Star Final." My, that's a crappy "best"!
Hey big spender,
Watch a little blog with me...

Dave Tepper: bankruptcy anecdotage.

The Volokh Conspiracy: Pointed quotations about free-speech issues. Some fun stuff there.

And: "Welcome to gallery of anti-alcohol posters from soviet propaganda era." Via Hit & Run.
LOATHE ACTUALLY: I just watched a very bad movie. It was bad in so many different ways that I will try to enumerate them for you, although I'm sure I will miss a few. So: The Crimes of "Love Actually."

1. too much music...
2. ...all of it horrible.
3. too many characters (so many that I confused one scrubby-Englishman-and-thin-blonde couple with another), thus
4. none of the plotlines ever get enough development to provoke emotional investment, so
5. the script relies on stereotypes, stupidly broad humor, and cliche.
6. so sugary my back teeth are still hurting.
7. lots of very dull culture-clash comedy,
8. including "defining British cultural identity solely by opposition to the United States." Which... when you're making a really really bad movie, best not to slap at the country that gave the world Hollywood.
9. I don't think Hugh Grant can act. Am I wrong about this? Because I don't know if I've seen any of his other movies (except for the truly great "Lair of the White Worm"), but he was pretty bad in this one--making cliches more cliched.
10. two "boss dating subordinate female" subplots.
11. horrid cute-kid subplot, with not great kid actor.
12. movie is set at Christmastime. Bad idea.
13. love at first sight/falling in looooooove despite not speaking same language.
14. creepy subplot requiring lots of "funny" nudity.

OK. Enough. Am now going to try to forget this whole thing ever happened.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

BOUND BY CONVENTION: A look at interrogation techniques; via Noli Irritare Leones.
...I had spent hundreds of hours with the interrogation teams first assigned at Bagram. At one time or another, the Bagram crew had considered versions of the methods listed in the right column of that Abu Ghraib sign. They had rejected most as beyond the law, and adopted a few others in less potent form. But the trend line was clear--the longer they were at the prison, the harsher the methods they employed, and the better the information they got. ...

One of the biggest breaks came midway through the war when a Special Forces team returned to Bagram with a pile of documents. Among them was an Al Qaeda training manual on resisting interrogation.

The interrogators were stunned. It spelled out all of the maddening tactics they had faced for months. It coached detainees to withhold key information until their former colleagues had time to adjust their plans, to claim to have forgotten all names and places, to use the Islamic calendar for all references to dates--anything to slow or confuse captors.

The manual practically taunted the interrogators, saying prisoners had little to fear in U.S. custody, that Americans were weak and disinclined to use the harsh methods employed by Middle East countries. Indeed, it urged prisoners to bait American interrogators into physical confrontations, saying bruises or broken bones witnessed by the Red Cross could create an international outcry. ...

From the beginning, they had discussed, and sometimes tried, harsher methods. One interrogator was reprimanded early in the war for putting a prisoner in a stress position—making him kneel with his arms extended for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. At one point, MPs suggested using dogs to frighten detainees, an idea that was quickly dismissed. But the method that prompted the most internal debate--and came to be embraced like no other--was sleep deprivation. ...

The reason not to engage in torture is not that it is ineffective. Most interrogators will tell you that torture or physical coercion produces only bad information—that a prisoner under duress will say anything to end the pain. That may be true in the extreme, but there are other points along the continuum, and the experiences of Task Force 202 suggest that harsher methods do work.

The rationale for prohibiting torture is more fundamental: it is dehumanizing, it knocks the interrogator off the moral high ground, and when such methods are exposed, they breed more enemies. One of the many tragedies of Abu Ghraib is that the images of abuse there will inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world for years to come.

X: Yet more ten-things lists! Cacciaguida has a roundup here. Also, Mansfield Fox (almost flirting, bowling, destroying, and enlisting), Noli Irritare Leones ("Got called on to replace software because the customer's copy had been left behind when his country got invaded"), SoDakMonk (monkness, wild things, banjo), and DGM (the Ronald Coase thing is one of the funniest things I've read in a while).

Friday, March 04, 2005

Maybe I'm just like my blogwatch, too bold...

Hit & Run: Al-Jazeera shaking up the Middle East.

The Old Oligarch: Phenomenology of married life, and cute zoo animals. Also, I resemble that remark: "How about an application of Saul Kripke's Naming and Necessity to Beavis & Butthead? It was Beavis, after all, who recalled man's estrangement from nature to the minds of a generation, when, upon seeing a goat for the first time, said, 'Hey, Butthead, that's a wolf!'"

And lots more "ten things I've done and you haven't" lists! Bluepoppy (nun vs. firemen, Nureyev vs. foot), Hadleyblog (fire in the sky), DeepYogrt (Pope Paul VI meets Iron Butterfly), Mommentary (who has churned butter!), and Woodstove (only six, but one of them involves turpentine, tar, and seaweed). I really love reading these.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

YOU KNOW THAT WE ARE LIVING IN A MATERIAL WORLD, AND I AM A MATERIAL GIRL: Eheu, eheu, people who believe in conservative or libertarian ideals fund magazines that promote those ideals! Nooooooooo!!!!!

Would you like some cheese with that whine? [EDITED: that's the right link.]

(I met the guy who wrote this piece, and he was pretty cool, which makes me all the more annoyed that he thinks forcing all Yale students to pay for left-wing propaganda is in some way morally strengthening whereas having vigorous campus dissent paid for by outside sugar daddies is somehow suspect. If you want to win, freakin' start some think tanks of your d--n own, like we did. Don't make me pay for your mishegoss.)

ps: If you ever want to know how to identify the counterculture, here's a helpful guide: The counterculture is funded by outside agitators. The prevailing culture is funded by tuition.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

MORALITY PLAYS: For the past few weeks I've been kicking around various ideas about the relationship between morals and art. I don't intend this post as a manifesto--more as a series of problems. I go through phases: a year as a journalist, a year as a philosopher, a year as a (fiction) writer. These days I'm 100% writer, and it takes a huge and perhaps detrimental effort to make my fiction synch up with more abstract concerns. So I'm going to present the problems, and tell you how I solve or at least address them in my fiction, and ask for your comments (with the understanding that I didn't say I'd listen):

1. When I first wanted to write about this topic, about a month ago (so if you think I'm all about the bold gestures, feel free to revise in the face of my obvious cowardice), I wanted to say that our culture today believes in absolute identity and relative morality. We believe that a fifteen-year-old can make some kind of grand unifying statement about his soul and identity, but we don't believe there's an overarching moral structure to the world in which he tries to figure out who the heck he is. And I wanted to say that my stories were about the reverse: a world of absolute morality, in conflict with the coruscating individuality of contemporary fabulous Americans.

I still think that's partly true. I think it's a decentish beginning of a description of "Desire," or "Why Can't He Be You?" (the story that used to be "A Separated Soul"--the one about Nina Trapetto, the ex-abortionist).

2. But that isn't what I actually believe about morality in art.

What I actually believe is that every artwork implies a set of questions. This, I think, is not negotiable. In order to be great art, a work has to hook into these enduring questions and conflicts.

Not every artwork has to take the same questions seriously. I wrote here a defense of the Western canon precisely because its questions were more important than the questions addressed by other canons, which, presumptively, had equal status from a stylistic point of view. I know that I read the Western canon as an American--and an American who, moreover, believes that the Western canon is a road that leads to an inevitable divergence between Russian and American authors on the one hand, and everyone else on the other. I really believe that. I really think that great literature, since approximately the end of the Elizabethan age, can be divided into "Russian," "American," "Imitators of Ditto," and "Lame, Lame, Lame."

I think that because I think Russian and American literature correctly identified the moral questions. Is there anybody watching? Is love about self-satisfaction, self-forgetting, self-annihilating, or something else? In Russian and American literature, the individual is the key figure: the self, in negotiation with the broader cultural context, but never accepting himself as merely a nexus of cultural forces. The self, unique, the soul: never the historicist man. Never the man of Marxist, Hegelian, Heideggerian, nor even Rortyan thought.

Any work of art that forms itself outside this moral latticework is unlikely to appeal to me. Any work of art that embeds itself deep within these crises is likely to appeal to me, no matter what position it ultimately takes.

3. It's possible to lie with pictures. On the far edge of the screen there is pornography, mammy cookie jars, and the many representations of happy servants of the Communist or Nazi states. Tender comrades.

Is it wrong to represent women, black people, kulaks, as less than human? If you say "yes," you have already accepted the claim at the heart of a moral aesthetics: Great art is a distillation of life, not a dilution of life.
THE POLITICS OF DANCING: "WHERE YOUR EYES DON'T GO." One in a continuing series of posts in which I impose my own beliefs on various pop songs. Previous victims include The Cramps' "Eyeball in My Martini" (still my favorite--honestly, one of my favorite posts overall, which maybe tells you something distressing about me); Cat Power's "Say"; Queen's "Princes of the Universe". Now we turn to They Might Be Giants, and their song about (...or not) the mystery of sin.

I've heard a lot of people try to explain why we do the things we do. I've heard a lot of people think that if you've explained some tendency you have somehow captured it, caged it, and now it won't get out and hurt you anymore. Like, if I know that I gossip because I'm jealous of other women, now I can stop gossiping. I've also seen many people believe that they've somehow demolished the philosophical justification for belief in free will by describing the choices we make: "You gossiped because you're petty and jealous! Ergo, your pettiness and jealousy are the causes of your gossiping action! Ergo, you were predetermined to gossip!"

No, pussycats. A description isn't a cause. And sin is a lot harder to figure than that.

You can talk about cultures that make sin easier. ("In Dixieland where I was born in/Early dawn, one frosty morning,/Look away! look away, Dixieland!" ...or, "Every freakin' night and every freakin' day/I wanna freak ya baby/In every freakin' way.") You can talk about personalities that make sin easier. (Hi, I know everything you're about to say about youngest children being irresponsible, or just, in general, describing my personality.) But in the end it's just a description. It's never an explanation of how one particular person chooses wrong over right.

I don't know. The Scholastics seem to think that if we had full and true knowledge, we would never sin, and so the problem is not with our wills but with our circumstances (what we know). As I understand it, that's what my man St. Anselm tries to defend in De Casui Diaboli (On the Fall of the Devil). I don't know. Maybe once I finally read DCD, I'll agree; certainly Cur Deus Homo (Anselm's treatise on the Incarnation) was a huge influence on my conversion, and a huge influence on the medieval shift to emphasizing Christ's humanity, so I give this guy a lot of credit. But at the moment, just guessing from my own experience, it's not at all hard to envision someone who "really knew" (what does that mean?) how amazing Heaven is nonetheless choosing Hell.

We do this every day. We choose against. Sometimes we make excuses, saying we're choosing for certain values; but often they're values that even we know are worth less than the values we deny. I've seen people choose comfort over truth. I've personally chosen habit, self-image, relaxation, release from physical pain, and hiding under the bedcovers over what I knew to be right. I know what I've chosen over truth, happiness, and hope.

This is hard to explain; but very easy to describe, actually. I think it's the main reason I'm obsessed with the word "blank." I think there's a conscious decision to look away from the truth, to choose opacity over self-knowledge. I've written about that in a lot of my stories: the moment when you turn toward, or turn away.

And I don't know of any work of visual or musical art (as opposed to short stories and novels, which are perhaps--?--better equipped for this task) that portrays this opacity of sin better than They Might Be Giants' "Where Your Eyes Don't Go." It's bouncy and quick and kicky. It's fun! And yet the lyrics are creeptacular. Just like the mystery of sin: the candy-coated outside is interesting, yes, but it doesn't in any way explain why we choose the poison inside. We don't just want candy. For that moment, at least, we want poison in a pretty pill.

I don't know why. I only know that the only explanation that makes any sense is the Christian one: We used to be whole, we know what it is to be whole, and yet now we're broken; we can't fix ourselves, and the hundred people and things we seek out as medicine can't fix us either. If anyone can fix us, it must be someone outside this closed system.

Someone who can come from a place where our eyes don't go--because we don't, yet, love what there is to see.
I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU CAN RESIST CLICKING THIS LINK: "Old editions of the Yale Songbook included a German drinking song called 'The Pope.' This was its first stanza: 'The Pope, he leads a jolly life / He's free from every care and strife. / He drinks the best of Rhenish wine, / I wish the Pope's gay life were mine.'"

if you're hesitating, may I point out that this is Rick Brookhiser? (And it's a substantive piece, well worth your time.)

Via The Corner.
12. ME AND MY SNOWBALL ONCE AGAIN STORMED THE GATES OF HELL. Ten Things They've Done That (...Which?) You Probably Haven't.

A Frolic of My Own: More cosmopolitan than a trashy magazine!

The Rat: She's just cooler than you. Admit it, accept it, move on.

Keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

WHAT HE REALLY THINKS OF YOU: There's a striking passage in one of Harold Bloom's books--probably The Western Canon? or is this just something he'd say in his lectures? not sure... Ratty will know--where Bloom compares King Lear and the portrayal of Yahweh in the Old Testament. He basically says, "These characters both come across as mad old kings, relentless in their unreason; and yet the most admirable characters are devoted to them." I can't remember what he concludes about Yahweh, but he does, I think, make the point that Cordelia's and the Fool's devotion says something not only about Cordelia and the Fool, but about Lear.

I was thinking about this the other day, and it prompted a thought I hadn't had before. You've probably grasped this already, but it was quite powerful for me: Christ's devotion to us, His sacrifice for us, doesn't only say something about who He is. Because He knows us best, it also says a lot about who we are. We may be mad old kings, "poor bare forked creatures," but we command the loyalty and love of God Himself.

God's love can seem as silently inscrutable as Cordelia's, as patiently needling as the Fool's. But it's also as constant as theirs. It's what He really thinks of you.
With President Putin's popularity in sharp decline, the Kremlin has set up a new Russian youth movement to ensure its control of the streets in the event of mass anti-government protests.

Hundreds of youths, many belonging to the president's cultural society "Walking Together", held a meeting in a house owned by the Kremlin Property Department to launch the group at the weekend. The organisation, which leaders hope will attract 300,000 members, was christened "Nashi" [Ours], a word which in Russian has chilling nationalist overtones.

When two outsiders –- one from an opposition party, the other a journalist -– sneaked into its founding conference, they were humiliated and one was beaten.


Via The Corner.
Going to a movie only makes me sad;
Blogwatch makes me feel as bad,
Now that we're through...

After Abortion: Counseling guidelines for men seeking vasectomies, and what they imply about pre-abortion counseling.

Yale's Fiercest Provocation: Most commentaries on today's death-penalty decision focused on the procedural questions. Diana Feygin instead highlights a section of Scalia's dissent that focuses on psychological and philosophical questions of maturity and responsibility. Really interesting--definitely head over there if you want to comment.

Ten Things I've Done that You Probably Haven't--Cacciaguida (opera, Hitler, and car theft) and The Outbreak ("Dammit, Janet!").
CLEARING OUT INBOX: MLY comments on my "Apprentice" post:
The first season of the apprentice was much better. In part, this is due to casting. The first bunch was just more clever, and thus more interesting. (Perhaps the show’s original producer has become distracted with other projects.) But The Apprentice has also declined precisely because it has become more about competition and less about leadership. Less time in each episode is devoted to the task –- e.g., creating an advertising campaign for Pepsi, renovating and then selling an apartment –- and more is devoted to "the Boardroom," the mostly silly session at the end where Trump interrogates the losing team and fires one of them. Also, the way people get eliminated from the show allows for bad team-players and leaders who are, nevertheless, good boardroom fighters, to survive far too long. Sadly, I believe this bug is a feature for the producers. Most of the show’s audience probably prefers the backstabbing. Why else would the producers add more of it? I liked the show because it was a flawed and silly but still provocative case-study in business leadership. And it was certainly more true-to-life than the romance reality shows. Does the Bachelor or the Bachelorette really desire love, or think that the show is the best way to get it? At the very least they have multiple motives. On The Apprentice, however, I do not doubt that these people genuinely desire the Trump lifestyle of fame and fortune. But now the show is about pettiness and scheming at worst, and competition at best. And I'm less interested in competition than leadership and business. Accordingly, I watched most of the first season, three episodes of the second, and two of the third. (The third season doesn't think it's over, but I do.)