Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BOOKS TO NEW ORLEANS: Via my academic ninja network:
Seeking Book Donations
> The New Orleans Public Library
> (New Orleans LA)
> The New Orleans Public Library is asking for any and all hardcover
> and paperback books for people of all ages in an effort to restock
> the shelves after Katrina. The staff will assess which titles will be
> designated for its collections. The rest will be distributed to
> destitute families or sold for library fundraising. Please send your
> books to:
> Rica A. Trigs, Public Relations
> New Orleans Public Library
> 219 Loyola Avenue
> New Orleans, LA 70112
> If you tell the post office that they are for the library in New
> Orleans, they will give you the library rate which is slightly less
> than the book rate.
IF I WERE THE KING OF THE FOREST: 1. "Social conservatives" (ugh what a phrase--is that like a social disease?) would realize that ending the Drug War is a family issue. (One of the things I learned at the pregnancy center is that nobody says "in jail" or "in prison"--everyone says "incarcerated.") (more) (more) (more) You can hate heroin and hate the Drug War too.

2. All the people who like Wendell Berry would get over him and his terrible prescriptions, and start reading Jennifer Roback Morse instead. Eschew the lame! Embrace the awesome!

3. My regal robes of the forest would be satin. Not cotton. (Not chintz.)

Monday, February 27, 2006

446. I will not make Richard III dance the cancan while saying "Now is the winter of our discontent."
495. I will never have The Ghost of Hamlet's Father appear out of a Pepsi One machine.
504. If I am ever casting Macbeth, even if there are no male actors available whose abilities are commensurate with the title role, I will not have Lady Macbeth carry around a sock puppet.
509. While there may be a legitimate artistic vision that includes costuming the Exiled Duke and his men as hippies, and another that includes the Usurping Duke and his court in Star Trek costumes, I will not combine these two conceits, particularly if they also accompany a Forest of Arden made of silver balls hanging from the ceiling.
520. I will never make the audience watch John of Gaunt being sponged off.
532. No role in the Shakespearean canon is best played as an Elvis impersonator.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

YOU'VE GIVEN ME--GIVEN ME!--NOTHIN' BUT SHATTERED GLASS: So I had a whole line-up of newspaper movies in the Netflix queue--His Girl Friday (utterly stellar, except for the insane creepiness of the death-penalty/suicide-attempt plot--human lives used as macguffins rather than real characters--so I can't like this classic "remarriage comedy" even though I wanted to); Absence of Malice (better than I expected, but ultimately not that awesome, and misogynist IMO); and then Shattered Glass. It's the story of how Stephen Glass snookered the New Republic into printing his completely fabricated stories of debauched Young Republicans (it's hard for me to understand why this story was scandalous really--I mean, actual young Republicans act like monkeys all the time!), political memorabilia salesmen, and teenage hackers.

I got so obsessed. I mean, I watched the movie; then I immediately watched it again with the commentary track (the writer/director, and Chuck Lane, TNR editor and movie hero); then I watched the "60 Minutes" interview with Glass as he promoted his novel about a Glassine figure; then I watched the commentary again. Seriously, for about 24 hours I lived and breathed Shattered Glass.

There are ordinary reasons for this: Billy Ray, the writer/director, really understands all the different aspects of his craft. He had insightful comments on the camerawork, the framing choices, the soundtrack, the casting (although I'm super not sold on Chloe Sevigny). And the movie is set in my milieu: that part of Washington where people who are much too young have too much influence. The scene where Chloe S's character edits another young woman's work is brilliant, and exactly true to life. The cubicles, the faux-quirkiness of too much modern journalism... yeah. Plus, I love Peter Sarsgaard and Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures).

But there's also a reason worth exploring as we careen toward another Lent. Shattered Glass is essentially about the divide between the public face and the private man. It's about the opacity of the face we present to others every day, and about all the shameful secrets that face was developed to hide. How many of us can stand the thought of being seen for who we really are?

One of the more astonishing features of Catholic Christianity is its relentless insistence that God knows who you are, requires you to confess all that your public face hides, and loves you anyway.
DC AREA: Went to the first day of the St Matthew's Cathedral "Theology of the Body" series. Lots of people; lots of food, yay!; looks like it will be a really cool series. You should go! It's every second and fourth Saturday of the month--thus, the next one is March 11th. For more info, email Tricia at sunflowernyts@aol.com or Kimberly at kaniebauer@comcast.net. (And for those who need more practical prompting, I noted one chick who looked a bit like a butchy Penelope Cruz and another who looked a bit like a femmy Hilary Swank--both adorable, the Cruz girl wry and the Swank girl very sincere... no rings, AFAICT, so go fetch! ...I'm sure there were cute guys too. I, uh, don't really notice that kind of thing unless I already like you.)

Anyway, it looks like they're working hard to keep the series accessible to those who have no prior exposure to TotB but also challenging to those who have read a bunch of TotB stuff already. I was quite impressed by the syllabus, and I'm really looking forward to the next meeting.
"Wealth should be seen less for its own qualities than for the human misery it stands for. The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold parties, and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. The poor man cries before your house, and you pay no attention. There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand there in a dilemma over a choice of carpets."
– St Ambrose of Milan
HAY UNA DISCOTECA POR AQUI?: Some good snippets from the Crunchy Con blog (which has added Jonah Goldberg, Ross Douthat, and Jesse Walker, yay):

Mitch Muncy:
I suppose I'm thinking of Crunchy Conservatism in the same terms in which Mark Henrie has described [pdf] "traditionalist conservatism": "It might be said that traditionalist conservatism is not yet a political theory but rather a tradition of social criticism that is working its way to a political philosophy adequate to its deepest moral intuitions." Mark points out that just as liberalism doesn't seem to have a satisfactory account of the moral life, traditionalist conservatism doesn't seem to have an adequate account of politics, so there is, in a real sense, no traditionalist political program.


Rod Dreher:
At first I am left scratching my head as to why a book by an American written for an American audience has resonance with Europeans. But it does--when I was visiting Fred Gion in Paris in December, he told me (after he finished the galley copy) that the call to political renewal through cultural recommitment was a powerful theme in Europe.


An anonyreader (man, I hope he's wrong about this):
In promoting the genuine goods of tradition, community, public beauty, local variety and family integrity on which most conservatives agree, it's important to disentangle three modes of promoting the perceived Good:
1) Personal suasion, religious teaching, conversion, appeals to beauty and justice;
2) Social pressure, the threat of ostracism, moralistic disapproval;
3) Governmental diktat.
Most of us as Americans are comfortable (as I'll admit I am) with modes 1) and, oddly enough, mode 3), and deeply resistant to mode 2). As a nation of frontiers, where one may always "light out for the territories," we have little patience with the intrusive force of the Gemeinshaft; in Switzerland, a former U.S. ambassador to that country informs me, if you litter or jaywalk, little old ladies really will come up and reprimand you. As an anecdote, this is charming; I don't recommend trying it in New York City. ...

Think of how the Temperance movement went from a religious revival to legislative machine imposing Prohibition on the entire country. That's what happens to ideas in this country--they either remain the preserve of a funky subculture, or they get enacted into law. There is a middle ground, but no American wants to live there. We understand the individual, and we understand the state. We don't understand society. And perhaps we never will.


Bruce Frohnen:
Liberalism and its variants are about liberating individuals from the ties that bind. Unfortunately, this not only leaves those individuals lonely, it also leaves them alone when the chips are down and the central government decides it would rather spy on them, put them out of business, or worse.


Jonah Goldberg:
One of the flaws of the Crunch paradigm as I understand it is that it rejects libertarianism (and hence fusionism) as a useful standard. I'm no libertarian but I think no major government decision should ever be made unless there's a libertarian in the room explaining to people why he thinks it's a bad idea. The libertarian won't always be right, but he'll be right often enough that he should always be listened to.

(link--I should note, for those following this discussion, that there are lots of libertarians who aren't individualists--see blogwatch below re "I'm twentysomething and I have too much money"....)

Angelo Matera:
In the end, cultural renewal that doesn't take into account the new role of freedom is just sentimental. This explains Pope John Paul II's (and now Pope Benedict XVI's) relentless emphasis on both faith AND freedom, and why in the end conservative cultural renewal must not fear freedom, but embrace it.


In my dad's generation and before, nobody thought much about mobility; you moved back to town because that's what you did. That's where your people were, and you made your life work there. That doesn't happen anymore, and I think this social dynamic, of which I am a part, impoverishes smaller places of the kind of cultural diversity (and perhaps even economic diversity) that they need to thrive. I'm wondering to how the Internet can change that. In the past year in my town, a small independent bookstore has opened. Its owner is a young husband and father my age who relocated there to be near his dad, who retired to the town. He doesn't have enough business locally to sustain the shop, but he does a big mail-order business over the Internet. Just having a guy like Tommy and his family living in this small town will help make it intellectually and culturally more diverse--and frankly, attractive.


Small, random thought: People talk about the virtues cultivated by independent farming. And I don't disagree. (I certainly don't know enough to disagree.) But from my very limited sense of things, agrarian life also cultivates fatalism and/or a belief in the helplessness of the individual as vs. the weather, the state, etc. Not always, obviously, but as long as we're talking about tendencies, it seems wrong to ignore the negatives. (And this is apart from other important points about how you feed a fairly huge population, how you get milk cheap, etc. I seem to recall that Hayek had good stuff about population-driven economic change at the end of The Fatal Conceit... but I'm too lazy to go look it up.)

Less-small: Don't get why "crunchy cons" valorize withdrawal from the mainstream. I didn't enter the Catholic Church because I liked it, but rather because I believed it was true; but I do, actually, really like the way the Church supports monastic life and also those who get down in the gutter and start punching at the problems. The Church is in the fight. I like that. I got no interest in an insular community (where I would almost certainly be even more alienated and unhelpful than I am now!). ...I realize that my phrasing is probably swinging too far in the other direction, here, and I certainly don't think e.g. moving to a small town is bad! But I really don't think it's a good idea for everybody. Actually, as a universal ideal it strikes me as silly (and, potentially, a temptation to ignore those who haven't attained one's own level of mobility and choice).

Final thought, not perhaps as snarky as it sounds: Is anything gained by saying "market values" instead of "cupidity," "greed," "money-lust" (would that too obviously suggest that the root problem is power-lust, of which money-lust is merely one instance?), or "materialism"? Because to my mind, "market values" is not the name of a sin, but e.g. a theory of pricing (how do we know what the market--alias "people"--values?), and by contrast "spiritual values" is not necessarily the name of a virtue. There seems to be some sort of economic theory being smuggled into a moral critique through this language, and not only have I only a vague idea what that economic theory actually is; not only do I suspect that the more I know about it the more I will disagree!; but it just seems, at base, distracting from specific examples of sin. ...Also, if the problem is "market values," the problem is diffused and located outside ourselves--Gee, Crunchy Con Krupke!--whereas "greed" or "money-lust" are more obviously my fault too.

(I should note, though, that the archaic usage of the word "luxury" [in which it's not a good thing!] might import enough cultural critique to be satisfying to Rod Dreher as well as to me. Yeah?)

Jane Jacobs, Wendell Berry (hssss!!! fffftttt!!! rrrrr!!!), and others get some play at the blog. Me... I think you can love Dorothy Day, virtue, beauty, and all the rest of it, without signing on to this "crunchy con" thing a'tall. Your comments, as always, very much welcomed.
THREE LINKS ON DETAINEE ABUSE, WHO KNEW WHAT, ETC., from Balkinization. One (the most important, by far); two; three.
Leaving the village behind, we followed the heady sweeps of the road up into a land of slow glass.
--Bob Shaw, "Light of Other Days"--a haunting, intense SF story you can read here. Via Mumpsimus.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MARRIAGE (but were afraid to ask Stephanie Coontz): The Maggie-nator strikes again.
Please be outside the Embassy of Denmark, 3200 Whitehaven Street (off Massachusetts Avenue) between noon and 1 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 24. Quietness and calm are the necessities, plus cheerful conversation. Danish flags are good, or posters reading "Stand By Denmark" and any variation on this theme (such as "Buy Carlsberg/ Havarti/ Lego").


I will try to be there.
I'm at Blogwatch now you know, e-i-e-i-e-o...

If you haven't checked out After Abortion yet, now might be a good time. Personal stories, recent studies, compassion and hope.

Camassia: Why heaven?--resurrection, social justice, failure, and "pie in the sky when you die." A fierce and fantastic post.

"Crunchy Con" blog: I'm instinctively unenthusiastic about this book, which might be surprising given my deep dissatisfaction with contemporary categories of left and right. Nonetheless, several people discussing the book here are really awesome, e.g. Frederica Mathewes-Green and Amy Welborn, so I expect I'll end up reading it (the blog, if maybe not the book) anyway. So... yeah, if you're into talk about virtue, and beauty, but also for some reason organic foods, click and enjoy. On your computer, which is presumably neither organic nor purchased at a mom-and-pop.

Family Scholars: We don't love people "because." Or, the limits of social science.

GetReligion: Russian newspaper closed over (a different, but related) cartoon.

Hit & Run: Cute map comparison of words used in Reason magazine vs. blog. Check out the relative prominence of e.g. "abortion," "terrorism," and "school." Makes me think maybe I should check out the mag again, since H&R comes across, in this graphic, as the kiddie-pool, dowhutchalike, "I'm a libertarian because I'm twentysomething and I have too much money" version. ...She said cattily. To point out the limits of my cattiness, I should also point you to this post on the death penalty and the logic of revenge. (You could say "the logic of justice," IMO, and the post's point would hold. I think we tend to underestimate how painful justice is, without mercy.) ...I should also note, in retracting-claws mode, that I initially pegged the prominence of "drug" and "drugs" as yet another sign of the blog's overprivileged-Washingtonian-ness, before remembering that while overprivileged Washingtonians do like to drink our gin-and-tonica and smoke our marijuanica, ending the drug war is also and primarily a social-justice issue. (And I'd bet a lot of those "drug" posts are about the FDA, inc. painkilling drugs, an issue where pro-lifers and libertarians ought to be able to work together--underprescription of painkillers may well be driving the demand for euthanasia.)

Relapsed Catholic: "Now, as the title itself makes clear, Life of Brian is about a guy named Brian, who is mistaken for the Messiah. When the Pythons gathered to write the script for what was then being called Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory, they prepared by reading the Gospels, and quickly concluded that Jesus didn't deserve to be spoofed."

The Corner: Ramesh Ponnuru makes an excellent, limited point about Constitutional interpretation. The starting point for a discussion, but a much more insightful starting point than most.

The Rat: Ovation sluts. "So anyway, if you're an ovation slut, stop it, because one of these days I MAY HIT YOU."

Soviet jokes. Via the Club for Growth.

From the Independent Institute:
Parade magazine recently ranked the twenty worst dictators currently in power. Many names are familiar--Fidel Castro, Muammar Qaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Robert Mugabe and others. They are all guilty of human rights violations and in some cases have committed outright genocide. But there's another trait common to all twenty leaders--every single one has received foreign aid from wealthy Western countries. ...

...The U.S. contributed to 19 of the 20 worst dictators; King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia was somehow left off of the U.S. gravy train.

(more) --via the Club for Growth

Ask a Mexican. (It is real, not a spoof. And seriously awesome.) Via Ratty.

And here's a new-to-me blog: Mumpsimus. Lit-crit with a strong science-fiction slant and lots of interesting posts.
Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are.
--Gertrude Stein, for some reason

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Friday, February 17, 2006

"Who knew some Danish comics would start WWIII? I always assumed it would be Cathy."

and on that note, here's your blogwatch. It's small.

A US unit in Iraq garners praise. (via Andrew Sullivan)

Confessions of a Wayward Catholic:
When I was visiting Westfield Monastery, I told Sister that prostitution is a lot like an addiction. And like many addictions, the struggle to not slide back into that addiction when things in life get rough is an on-going battle. Even now it is something I struggle with as the days pass and I'm still not working, and the University folk can't get their act together and get things up and running for this degree I was supposed to start working on this week. I could log onto Craig's List this minute and be turning tricks in an hour if I slipped and "took that first drink" as the metaphor goes.

The only thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow is going to Confession and confessing the temptation. But there is a certain grace here as well, because it is in these moments of weakness that I am reminded once again that God uses his servants to give me strength. Each time I face a priest in the confessional and bring up the topic of prostitution, I brace myself for the condemnation. I’m still waiting though. The only thing I've received is love, empathy and compassion, things I find I'm completely unable to brace myself for and so they end up breaking me apart in ways that I cannot predict. But through God's grace and mercy, I am reknit and each time the sutures that hold me together feel stronger and more secure.

(more; I know I said "must-read" earlier today, but... uh... this one too!) (link via La Welborn)

Rubens caught a ricochet; Durer's lady cried today....

Thursday, February 16, 2006

WHO IS IN GUANTANAMO AND WHY? National Journal must-read, via Andrew Sullivan.

Oh, and while we're here: Who was in Abu Ghraib and why?
One fellow, he was making the rounds. He came to us and said, yeah, he knew this cell, that he fingered about 20 people that we had at Abu Ghraib there. And as time went on, and we were talking to people that were in there, not because of him but for some other reason, but they knew him, and it turned out that this guy was a con, a fraud. He was a criminal. He had been in jail under Saddam's regime for various things. And he had grudges against these people that he was fingering.


and more:
...Well hypothermia was a widespread technique. I haven't heard a lot of people talking about that, and I never saw anything in writing prohibiting it or making it illegal. But almost everyone was using it when they had a chance, when the weather permitted. Or some people, the Navy SEALs, for instance, were using just ice water to lower the body temperature of the prisoner. They would take his rectal temperature to make sure he didn't die; they would keep him hovering on hypothermia. That was a pretty common technique.

A lot of other, you know, not as common techniques, and certainly not sanctioned, was just beating people or burning them. Not within the prisons, usually. But when the units would go out into people's homes and do these raids, they would just stay in the house and torture them. Because after the scandal, they couldn't trust that, you know, the interrogators were going to do "as good a job," in their words, as they wanted to. ...

And I mean, I felt it myself. I remember being in that shipping container in Mosul. You know, I'd been with a guy all night long. And you just feel so isolated, and morally isolated, that you felt like you could do whatever you want to this guy, and maybe you even want to. But then in the daylight when I would talk to the other soldiers or see other prisoners, that was unacceptable to me. ...

And I saw that over and over again. And some of the worst cases that I saw of abuse coming out of the Force Recon Marines in North Babel -- I was writing reports about this, abuse reports and sending it up through the Marine chain of command. And I know that nobody ever investigated these things because I had taken pictures of the wounds. I had organized the medical reports that the Corpsmen had put down, and taken sworn statements from the prisoners.

Nobody ever came to look at that stuff; no one ever came to talk to me about it. I just felt like I was sending these abuse reports to nowhere.

SIX REASONS TO KILL FARM SUBSIDIES AND TRADE BARRIERS: An excellent primer for those new to the issue, a good reminder of Why We Fight for those who have long opposed subsidies. Via Hit & Run and SRD.
THROUGH A MAILBAG DARKLY: Various responses to my post on The Man in the High Castle. I should have made it clear, in the original post, that the novel-within-a-novel (The Grasshopper Lies Heavy) isn't set in our world, but in yet another alternate reality. I conflated the Grasshopper world with our own world, which two of the characters see in visions/apprehensions. I conflated the two in part because I couldn't think of anything interesting to say about the differences between them; but as you'll see, other people made some really intriguing points.

First, Jim Henley and his readers weigh in, with much good comments-boxing, making me want to read quite a bit more PK Dick. Matthew Yglesias comments here.

Bruce Baugh sent me and Jim this quick, intriguing note:
I'm sending this to both Eve and Jim for tidiness' sake, since neither of you touched on something that I think is very important and very often overlooked or misunderstood in High Castle: the true reality shown to Abendsen isn't ours. It is a more just history, I think, with Hitler denied the escape of suicide. When I read the book as a teen, I figured, oh, just one more alternate world along with the rest. Now I think that Dick very much intends the readers to see that we too aren't where we ought to be.

And Michael O'Brien writes (the formating at the end will probably get stripped out by Blogger, for which I apologize):
...I liked your comments a lot. I wanted to note one thing, though--the "real world" in the novel is not our world. It's close but different. FDR only serves two terms, after which Rexford Tugwell succeeds to the Presidency, and a few decades later America and Britain have their own battle for the throne of the world. I think this is an ingenious move on Dick's part because it still makes the reader unsure of "reality," the nature of which he continually questioned in his writing. Also, I think the end of the book shows that the art within the book hasn't just brought the characters closer to understanding the world, but have actually magically brought them into the world--Julia steps into a taxicab, not a pedecab, a much more humane and real-world type of hired transportation.

You mentioned the Taoist nature of Dick's work, but you should also check out the Gnostic influence. There's definitely the element of "God-haunted man," as you put it, because he really felt, like some versions of Gnosticism, that we were holy but kept unholy by the evil nature of the world, whether it be the Nazis in TMitHC, cops in Scanner Darkly, or the Roman empire's Black Prison in his last crazy set of works, the VALIS trilogy. It's not something I entirely share, as a Catholic like you, but it made me get a lot closer to Dick's personal beliefs. At the start of one of the VALIS books, he quotes Wordsworth:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home...

So I think you're exactly right here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Haven't posted about the "intoonfadeh" because I didn't have much useful to say. Here's a roundup of things that have interested me, in case you care.

Anthony Esolen, at Mere Comments, with what may ultimately be the most insightful comment on the whole mess:
Some years ago, after teaching a few classes on what happened to the works of the Islamic heretics Avicenna and Averroes, I asked a philosopher friend of mine whether their rejection was inevitable. So it seemed to me, reading selections from the Koran and from their bitter and clear-thinking opponent, the theologian Al-Ghazali. He said that he thought that Islam really left no room for the development of natural law thinking; the flaw lies at the heart of the religion, in the voluntarist conception of God. "What will happen to us, then?" I asked. "One side will destroy the other," he replied. And he was a liberal who detested war.


As I understand voluntarism, it sharply divides God from human reason. Once you've made that move, I expect it's hard to know why a believer should ever bother with religious freedom. I don't know enough to have an opinion on whether Islam is inherently voluntarist in this sense (...obviously); but if it is, that's a very bad sign. (And also a reason the many Catholics who identify with Islam as a faith despised by secularists might want to reconsider their allegiances. This one bites, I think.) ...Link via Relapsed Catholic.


Koranic criticism: the next battlefield?

Your Life of Brian reference for the day:
...For better or worse, expatriate and foreign-educated Middle Easterners have helped to shape decisively the secular and religious cultures that have dominated their homelands since World War II. Many of the best and brightest of the Middle East now live abroad. Many have sought greater freedom of expression and personal liberty in the West. Is it Presidents Clinton and Chirac's desire that Muslim satirists never develop because their work would be insensitive to less irreverent Muslims? In its heyday, Islamic civilization contained many heterodox and heretical strains. In particular, Shiism, always a vehicle for minority protest, was rich in movements and cultural experimentation that sometimes electrified and horrified the Sunni Muslim world. ...

Like Christendom before it, the Muslim Middle East will have to work out its relation to modernity. The faster democracy arrives, the sooner the debates about God and man can begin in earnest.

(more; well worth your time, and a counter to the Esolen perspective)

Toons bad! Fire pretty!, or, links you should look at. Also via Relapsed C.

A nuanced discussion from Amy Welborn, which--to my un-nuanced mind--centers on the question of whether America can do better than Europe in responding to Islam, and, if so, why.

Pictures of prophets: "For reasons that include 'cultural sensitivity,' and today's bloody news, none of these old paintings is currently on view." (more)

Kevlar kisses from the silver screen....

Cause opened for sainthood for priest killed in Turkey: "A cause for the beatification of Father Andrea Santoro, the Italian missionary slain in Turkey last Sunday, will be opened as soon as possible, Cardinal Camillo Ruini announced at the priest's funeral." (more)--via Cacciaguida.

And yet more Kathy Kathy Kathy!:
Were they deliberately provocative? Of course. Deliberate provocations are also part of the great Western tradition, from the Boston Tea Party to the Sex Pistol's first single. And many people deserve to be provoked. It will do them some good.

(she wasn't raised by nuns for nothing...)

Michael Kinsley vs the world.

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls."
And whisper'd in the sounds of silence

Oh, awesome, too much. (Also, unsurprisingly, via Relapsed C.)

Surely Voltaire and the Prophet (pbuh? snuh?) are not our only options.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Blogwatch, where everybody goes around
sniffing televisino
or taking footballino...

Well, here I am again. (And I learned that the summer camp in Wisconsin was not, technically, Communist. Merely medium-rare....)

Camassia has a neat post on Revelations as cartoon. I absolutely loved, and have recommended to a lot of people, Scott Hahn's Lamb's Supper, which maps Revelations onto the Mass. It suffers from the usual pop-apologetics cheesiness (please be patient with the puns), but the content is excellent.

Be sure to check out the additions to the blogroll: Gruntled Center, The American Scene, and Thinking on the Right.

And two of my victims answer the fours-meme: ePiscoSours and Ratty.
Why do people keep asking Miss Manners what to say, in a social situation, when they are offered drugs? What ever happened to "Yes, please" and "No, thank you"?
--Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (Freshly Updated)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

AWAY MESSAGE: Unexpected travel until Sunday. If I owe you email, I will try to reply on Sunday or Monday. Thanks.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"WHO'S THERE?": Yeah, I find Jenny Davidson's comments on this list of the "best first lines of novels" more interesting than the list itself. (Both links via About Last Night.) Some thoughts:

1. You really have only three options for first sentences: in medias res, powerful description of setting, and self-conscious acknowledgment of the telling of the tale. You'll hear, sometimes, about opening with a strong character; but as far as I can tell, that kind of opening really becomes one of the three mentioned above.

2. The first line of 1984 will be remembered long after the rest of the novel has fallen into the obscurity of the PhDs. The entire novel--and the entire theory of Communism as a revolt against human nature--is summed in that first, cold, dull, beautiful line.

3. Yeah, I don't know why people got so into Garcia Marquez, either.

One of the all-time great first lines is Donna Tartt's opening for The Secret History:
This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.
Night City was like a deranged experiment in Social Darwinism designed by a bored researcher with one finger permanently on the fast-forward button.
--William Gibson, second sentence of Neuromancer, entirely from memory thus perhaps misremembered. The point is that you could remember it if you wanted to!
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE: I just finished this novel, in which the Axis powers win WWII. It takes a very long time to figure out what's up here. For a while it just feels like, Yeah, this is an interesting psychological picture of how Americans would have reacted if we'd lost, but what else you got?

It doesn't feel that way once you finish it. My first thought, on slowly closing the book, was whether TMITHC would be read long after its political context had entirely lost resonance, solely for its metaphysical intuitions. I wondered if future generations would read TMITHC pretty much the way I read The Man Without a Country--I honestly don't care about the patriotism angle; what I noticed was the angle of exile from a beloved country.

This thought made me realize that TMITHC used the conventions of alternate-history in something similar to the way that Hamlet uses the conventions of the revenge tragedy. What if the tricks and tropes weren't just there to make the plot-gears grind? What if they had real metaphysical weight? What if you wrote an Axis-wins novel not because it was creepy, but because it said something about God-haunted man?

I don't think that's necessarily what Philip Dick wanted to do with TMITHC. From what I can tell from the novel and the limited amount of "secondary material" (= people bubbitzing about the novel) that I've read, Dick is writing from a Taoist stance that I don't share.

Which maybe makes it all the more powerful that I found so much in TMITHC that resonated with the way I see the world. I think in the end, Dick is saying a lot of things (and I'm trying hard here not to spoil), including:

1. This world is a shadow of something else. One of the fundamental moments of insight is the moment when we realize that this is not what was meant to be--that there is something else, something real and true ("Inner Truth"), where at least some of this world's evils never happened. Where human actions and choices took place in a gentler context.

2. Art is one way of gaining access to that world, the real world of which our own experience is only a shadow. True art--not "ideal" art, not art that separates itself from humans and human needs and human realities (like the Nazi art Lotze praises in the novel), but art that somehow connects human loves to an outside reality--moves human perceptions closer to understanding the world as it ought to be--the world as it, in some important sense, really is. (It's somehow important that the world where the Nazis lost is not fake, is not imagined, is not abstract--it's somehow important that the world where the greater horror lost is real.) Dick's novel manages to make the case for art as spur to healing without falling into the lame, facile Richard Rorty trap of claiming that novels make you nice. Perhaps that's because in Dick's novel, art makes the characters act rightly toward one another because art offers some kind of entry into the world as it should be--the world as it is, not the shadow-world of cruelty and horror.

3. Entering into the "real world," the world as it is, does not make the characters reject the denizens of the world of shadows. They don't selfishly retreat into their visions of the salvaged world. Instead, it's their experience of the salvaged world that prompts them to take anti-Nazi actions in the world they know.

4. The novel is deeply realistic. A final cocktail party is so familiar that I had to laugh. The emotions of a subordinate people come through clearly. The hallucinatory interludes come in places where I believed real people would break free from their ordinary experiences of the world. This psychological realism helps cement one of the themes of the novel: Art connects human experience and individual lovingkindness to an outside, "other" reality; and it is by this other reality that we judge our own actions to be better or worse.

5. The characters don't necessarily recognize that the "real world" (= the world you and I know, where the Axis lost) is preferable to their own world, where Africa is a heap of bones and North America is a collection of occupied territories. I'm trying hard not to spoil, but it's part of the novel's exceptional achievement that I completely believed a) that one character had experienced a vision of our world; b) that in that world, the character had been subordinate, rather than dominant as he'd been in the Axis-ruled world; and c) that this vision nevertheless prompted one of the central humane acts of the novel.

So yeah. One of the things I'm thinking about a lot, right now, is how personalism recognizes the essentially lacking, seeking nature of the human person. Liberalism appeals to the seek-y-ness (sorry) of our souls--the sense that we need to find our own harbor, that simply forcing us to dock somewhere will not suffice. And conservatism appeals to our incarnate being, our historicity, the fact that we as seekers always begin somewhere. We always have a language and a tradition; and yet that language and tradition are always inadequate, and, in most cases, already present humans as exiles, somehow cast out, somehow broken before we even began. The mythic Golden Age is always already past. I think that personalism is a way to understand why liberalism happened, and what it gets right; and why conservatism asserts itself in response, and what it gets right; and why neither one of these philosophies genuinely satisfies the human heart. And The Man in the High Castle understands all of that, I think--which makes it hopeful, and human, and great.

Your thoughts, as always, welcome. For lit-crit obsessives, I note that I came up with my docking/anchorless metaphors above before I remembered that San Francisco is a harbor.
MAY THE FOURS BE WITH YOU: (...Sorry.) Amy Welborn tagged me for a meme I'd been avoiding precisely because I had no interesting answers. So instead, I will craft a hand-woven, unique meme just for my fabulous readers. Because it's all about me, me, meme.

Four movies I could watch over and over:
The Last Unicorn. Love is regret. Sublimity, resignation, and the one character every child should know: Molly Grue.

Grosse Pointe Blank. "You're a handsome devil. What's your name?"

Sweet Smell of Success. You can't pawn your soul.

The Lion in Winter. Not sure why this one can be watched over and over--it's ultimately nihilist, despite an attempt at existentialism ("If the fall is all there is, it matters"), and nihilist artworks are very hard to revisit. Perhaps TLIW works because of the iconic opening music and the naturalist, bleachy-colored cinematography. I could watch this right now, whereas I'd shy away from Vertigo, The Philadelphia Story, or even Sabrina (the Hepburn/Bogart one)--those movies demand too much of me.

Four places I've lived (the only four--in order of preference, least to most):
Santa Monica, California. I was not skilled at being a child, and the brief fifth-grade California interlude brought that incapacity to the forefront. Elizabeth Marquardt's book on children of divorce at times implied that children from intact families tended to be self-centered, unable to recognize others' needs and griefs; Santa Monica might be where I most exemplified that privileged narcissism.

Madison, Wisconsin. I barely remember it. I do remember one small incident from Communist Jewish summer camp--one of several memories in which I pushed boundaries, and then, when it turned out that I had broken the rules, became angry and ashamed, and attempted to deny that I had ever intended harm. Like I said, I was not skilled at childhood.

New Haven, Connecticut. This is the place where I made my best mistakes. Empty niches under gray Gothic skies; subaqueous nights and lasting friendships. Last weekend I walked through Branford courtyard again, and again I remembered what it's like to live amid beauty, all the time.

Washington, DC. I'm an Antaeus, I need my home. This is where I learned the beauty of the seasons--moving through the alleys of Shepherd Park, tasting cherries in the spring, honeysuckle in the summer, apples and pears in the fall, and crisp cold ice-leaves plucked off the holly bushes in the winter.

Four TV shows I watch:
Star Trek: The Original Series. Heh. To the extent that I have a "type," in guys, it's totally Captain Kirk. Sad but true.

Absolutely Fabulous. I can't express how much I love this show and these women. Patsy Is My Queen. "Shall I hit him for you, Eddie?"

The Apprentice. Yeah, I know. But--it kind of is about leadership! And Trump is so hilarious--like a big stuffed cobra that a kid's been chewing on for a few years. Hee hee. And I was so rooting for Alla, last season....

House. I have a lot of problems with House. But it has Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard (ooh... you're all grown up now!), and Lisa Edelstein; and it has these exchanges:

House's explanation of why he finds it more comforting not to believe in an afterlife: "I would hate to think that all of this was just a test."


Wilson (defensively, caught in mid-pre-demi-affair): I love my wife.

House: You loved all your wives. [...]

Wilson: I love my wife.

House: You certainly love saying it.

Wilson: At least I try.

House: Well, as long as you're trying to be good, you can do whatever you want.

Wilson: And as long as you're not trying, you can say whatever you want.

House: So between us we can do anything. We can rule the world!

Four comfort foods:
Macaroni and cheese (from scratch, yo), with roasted tomatoes on top. Recipe:
Boil water and cook two cups macaroni.
1 inch butter, melted; 1 heaping tbsp flour. Mix together completely. Mix well with two cups milk. Heat in microwave for 8 mins. Mix in two cups shredded cheddar cheese. Mix in macaroni. Chop tomato and top macaroni and cheese with tomato slices.
Bake for 30 mins. at 350 degrees.

Toast and cocoa.

Sammiches. Recipe here.

Baker's soup. I can't make it. You can only get it at the place where Louis dwells. I don't know what it is, but I know that I can't live without it.

Four things I think I'm slowly figuring out:
what personalism is

how to plot

that, as they say on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "a vague disclaimer is nobody's friend"

how to cook scrambled eggs

Four books I read because of something I saw on the Internet:
The Mask of Command
Achilles in Vietnam
Letters from a War Zone
The Mystery of Capital

Four things I wish I could have in my home: a cat, a couch, a working freezer, and order from confusion sprung

Four scraps from the fiction-notes:
1. the big revelation(s): more reaction shots!!!! How do these revelations affect the characters?

2. The old Anglican wedding service refers to marriage as "an honorable estate instituted by God in the time of man's innocence,"

3. S. on her hometown: "Yeah, it's the sort of place where the police blotter comes out once a month in the paper, and it's got items like, 'Threatening phone calls turn out to be somebody's cousin trying to play a practical joke,' or 'Snowmobile carjacked, comma, returned.' It's like haiku."

4. I'm a key that doesn't open anything anymore.

Four scraps from the furry book (my commonplace book, which is covered with fake fur):

1. how to cook salmon steaks: (brush with white-wine vinegar, top with sliced garlic and cook) 10 mins. each side at 450 degrees. (Top with fresh cilantro!)

2. I can be a luminary of humility, and so on. --Fyodor Dostoyevsky

3. For who among mortals, dreading nothing, is just? --Aeschylus, Eumenides

4. Transubstantiation [is equivalent but not equal to] art (deceptive accident hides truthful substance), as vs. Plato's condemnation of the physical & the fictive? (Geo. Steiner)

Four books I've recommended in the past week:
ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON (download it for free!)
THE GREAT BRAIN (are there British children's books with the same entrepreneurial fire you find in the Great Brain books, the Henry Reed books, The Toothpaste Millionaire, even the Babysitters' Club books? SERD and I couldn't think of any, with the exception of Diana Wynne Jones's excellent Witch's Business/Own Back Ltd.)

Four books I've had recommended to me in ditto:
THE SABBATH (Abraham Heschel)

Four pop lyrics, because... why not:
Countries fall into the sea/It doesn't matter much to me/As long as you're safe, Kimberly

And it's so sad to see/the world agree/that they'd rather see their faces filled with flies/all when I want to see white roses in their eyes

The pleasure, the privilege is mine...

Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some f---ing blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids
At the sick bed of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer
And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair...

Tag (for my meme, or Amy's): Rat-O, when she resurfaces; Cacciaguida; ePiscoSours (yes, I am being pushy); Mark Shea.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The weight of my cross began to make itself felt very soon after my Baptism. During my earlier life as a gay Christian I had agreed to help a friend, Chris, establish a small monthly newsletter magazine called Malchus. Malchus, in the Gospel of St. John, was the high priest's slave who lost his ear to St. Peter's sword when the crowd arrived to arrest Jesus. Further, St. Luke's Gospel records that, though Malchus is not named, Jesus healed his ear before being bound and taken away. These two relatively obscure Scripture texts gave us the background metaphor for Malchus's name. St. Peter, representing the Church, routinely attacked and wounded people because of their same-sex attraction, the metaphor went, but Jesus healed us of that attack. Of course, the metaphor's flip side named our journal after a servant of the high priest, a man arguably one of the Gospel's wicked characters, but we rarely discussed that part.
--David Morrison, Beyond Gay

Oh man, that's old-school. That's like... I used to know who Mattachine and Bilitis were! Although, you know, like everyone past the age of 21, I used to know everything.

More substantively: I'm about halfway through this. It isn't the book I would have written (...obviously), and I think it starts off on its weakest foot, but I am gaining quite a bit; it's always good to have companions on the way; and it's worth reading if you've got a personal stake in Ye Olde Gaye Questione. And I note that Morrison shares my loathing of the whole "good people" idea.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

POETRY THURSDAY: Jorie Graham, "Mind."

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity's
stake in things. The leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.
In Ramallah tonight, in the coffee shops and falafel stands of the city, its people are talking over politics, attempting to make sense of a political reality where certitude lies only in that all is changed utterly. Tonight, as in previous nights it had been Fateh's, it was now the turn of Hamas's supporters to parade through the streets after dinner, under green flags and to shouts of Allahu Akbar.

Today, the stock market declined by five per cent as it has each day since the results, its maximum it is allowed to fall before trading is halted. Dr Hassan Yassin, its head, speaks now of a one-week trading holiday.

And what of the word on the Arab street? Munib Masri of Nablus, the richest man in a city known for its business acumen, is it's said being courted by Hamas as a technocratic prime minister. Hassan Khurayshi, who had been in the PLC as Fateh, and in these polls ran on the Hamas list from Tulkarem, is being tipped as head of parliament.

Zuhair Khalaf, a Christian and erstwhile Fateh member who in running as an independent in Ramallah attracted 8,000 votes, had his house shot up by Fateh sympathisers.

None of this is in the news.

The basis of optimism is sheer terror.
--Wilde; via Ratty. Apply to current events as needed.
PSA: "How do I tell if I'm an alcoholic?" Forthright and sensible; from a LiveJournal with a lot of recent posts about the James Frey mess, probably easiest to find if you scroll down from here.
Your coming back to me is against the blogs
And that's what I've got to watch...

The Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club has an enormous roundup of Deus Caritas Est news and views. Via Amy Welborn.

Colby Cosh:
Wonderful meth-war news from Iowa: threatening pharmacists and browbeating their customers has led to a reduction in the local supply of pseudoephedrine, and meth labs are closing left and right, with a corresponding drop in burn-centre traffic.

The big winner? Mexican drug cartels, according to the New York Times, which dutifully reports the Iowa drug czar's admission (Iowa has a drug czar?) that his crackdown on precursor chemicals created a market for more expensive, super-pure imported meth. Result: more overdoses, more thefts by price-squeezed tweakers, and more child seizures by social-welfare authorities.


Thinking on the Right: "Does 'conservatism' continue to be a coherent or meaningful term in the American political debate. Do the questions 'Who is a conservative' or 'What is conservatism' matter?" I suspect many of you all--especially, perhaps, fans of The American Scene--will find this blog intriguing. Plus, it's by the husband of the Desperate Irish Housewife!

The Castle Coalition has a map site tracking eminent-domain abuses across the country. Via the Club for Growth.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Yet eros and agape--ascending love and descending love--can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to "be there for" the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).
--Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (...which I still have not finished, because I am lame)