Monday, July 31, 2006

The reporters pick up their blogs and watches, they rush to the scene...

Hello again. Things will be very busy here for the rest of the week, so I'm not sure how much I'll be around. I hope to post something brief on The Imitation of Christ, and maybe something on the painter CRW Nevinson. For now, though, all you get is a small blogwatch.

Balkinization: On Article 3 and the origin of the 1996 War Crimes Act. Powerful.

Claw of the Conciliator reviews Tim Powers's fantastic Cold War demonology, Declare.

Donate or show your support to the Seattle Jewish charity where that Muslim* guy killed someone and injured several. (Via Dreadnought.)

[eta: baptized Christian, self-declared Muslim, your guess is as good as mine.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

THE IRAQI BLOGROLL on the side there has been updated. (...Finally.) All of the blogs are very much worth your time--please check them out. If you want more, Iraq Blog Count is a really good round-up site.
ScatterChat is a HACKTIVIST WEAPON designed to allow non-technical human rights activists and political dissidents to communicate securely and anonymously while operating in hostile territory. It is also useful in corporate settings, or in other situations where privacy is desired.

It is a secure instant messaging client (based upon the Gaim software) that provides end-to-end encryption, integrated onion-routing with Tor, secure file transfers, and easy-to-read documentation.

Its security features include resiliency against partial compromise through perfect forward secrecy, immunity from replay attacks, and limited resistance to traffic analysis... all reinforced through a pro-actively secure design.


I... don't really know what that stuff means, but it certainly sounds useful. Via the Club for Growth.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

ALWAYS OUR CHILDREN: As part of working on the piece described below, I finally read the US Bishops' document addressed to parents of gay children. It's... significantly better than I expected! I mean, yes, there is some CatholicSpeak, and some waffly places where I suspect there was a lot of catfighting behind the scenes. The section on chastity is convoluted and less helpful than it needs to be. When I hear the phrase "gay and lesbian ministry" I think of this, not this, and while I understand why the bishops didn't want to single out any particular group or ministry for praise, they could definitely be clearer in their phrasing. But overall, yeah, it is helpful, and I think the criticism of it has been overplayed. I'm sidebar-linking it.
YOUR DISCO NEEDS YOU! Hi peoples. I am working on a piece for USA Today on traditionally religious parents whose children come out. (And yes, I hate the phrase "traditionally religious" as much as you do, so feel free to suggest something a) better and b) two words long.) Basically it will be advice: how to show your love for your child, maintain your faith in God, reconcile if you've said something really horrible or become estranged... stuff like that. For this piece, I'd really love to speak with people who have been on either side of that exchange--parents or children. (Or siblings? If you have a story or something to share, that would be helpful too.) Although the piece is written from a Catholic perspective--you guys know my deal--I am just as interested in speaking with gay people or their parents who no longer practice their faith due (in significant part) to their experience of family and sexual orientation.

Practicalities: I plan to have this thing to my editor by 5 pm Friday. It's very unlikely that I will incorporate everyone I speak with into the piece. I can definitely quote you anonymously/pseudonymously if you want.

To reach me, please email, or use the email link on the left side of the screen.

THANK YOU. Please feel free to link/quote this on your own blogs if you think it might be useful, though please do note my time constraint, so that people will know when it is too late to respond.
TWO LINKS: The Agitator replies to critics of his paper on the rise of paramilitary policing.

And the Washington Post's anti-farm-subsidies series continues: a look at drought aid here, with links to previous reports on catfish farmers, ranchers (and again), growers in a good year, and people who don't farm a'tall.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

TWO LINKS: Lots of stuff lately about that Anglican lady who is ministering to the fashion industry. But the article that caught my eye is this one from the Telegraph--completely worth reading in full:
..."So I thought, if you play this argument through, the law is saying there are good reasons why I shouldn't be alive. And I look at my life and I think, 'That's rubbish.' Even if I hadn't had my surgery, even if I'd chosen to stay the way I looked before, that's no good reason for me not to be alive."

more (via Thunderstruck. It was also striking that Rev Jepson instinctively and casually uses the term "bio-ethicist" to mean "someone who says it's okay to kill innocent humans".... Anyway, it's a really powerful piece, you should read it.)

And Alice von Hildebrand with a beautiful piece on friendship:
Friendship is the remnant of paradise. ...

Augustine tells us that his heart was "black with grief." He could not conceive how he could live without the one with whom he had developed such a profound bond. He wept, suffered, and shed abundant tears, but these were unbaptized tears. Years later, when Augustine wrote the Confessions, he remarked: "O madness which does not know how to love men as men should be loved." Deeply rooted in the Faith, Augustine perceived that any true friendship or human love should be rooted in God. It is only in Him that true love can blossom. ...

The question is: How deep, how profound, how total is one's love for one's friend? How far does the "moral" obligation go? Tell me how much you are willing to sacrifice for your friend, and I will tell you how deep your love is.

more, both practical and inspiring. I think everyone can find some measure of needed chastisement here, as well as needed encouragement. (via And Also With You; I hope to write a little bit about friendship soon, though it will hardly be as lovely as this.)

Monday, July 17, 2006

MISCELLANY: About Last Night has a cool quote.

The Agitator's paper on the rise of SWAT teams and paramilitary policing is out now:
...We're also launching an interactive map to accompany the paper. And I frankly think the map is what's going to convince most people of the scope of this problem. I've plotted every botched raid I found in my research, with a description of what happened and a list of sources. You can sort the map by type of incident. So, for example, if you wanted to see only those raids where an innocent person was killed, it would look like this. If you wanted to see raids where a nonviolent offender was killed (a recreational gambler or potsmoker, for example), it would look like this. If you wanted to see all of the "wrong door" raids where no one was killed, it would look like this.


And Dappled Things is seeking submissions:
Dappled Things is currently accepting submissions for its Feast of the Archangels 2006 issue, which is scheduled for publication on September 29, 2006. As always, we are seeking exceptional work by young authors and artists inspired by the religious, literary, artistic, philosophical, theological, and cultural heritage of the Catholic Church. We accept fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, cartoons, fine arts images, and photography. The deadline for submissions is August 14, 2006. To view our submission guidelines please visit our website at

Sunday, July 16, 2006

ANNA THE K: Ratty gave me Richard Pevear and Larissa Volonkhosky's translation of Anna Karenina, and I finally finished it. These are some fairly random and unfocused thoughts about a really great book; your comments welcome. Spoilers throughout, not so much for the climax (which I expect everyone knows about) but for other things in the novel--and I'm glad I didn't know about those things before reading it, because I do enjoy suspense in reading, so if you haven't read AK and think you might not want to know all of the plot points, you might want to skip this post.

Og No Like: OK, I am not good at the 19th-century novel. All those scenes! Scenes of people doing stuff, for no apparent reason--shopping for leeks, talking about paintings, but rarely in a way that connects up with the larger themes or plot-arcs. It's realistic, I suppose: Most of what we do all day doesn't connect to the "themes or plot-arcs" of our own lives, yeah? But it's also boring and frustrating for me as a reader. I have real life to be random and seemingly pointless--it's not what I go to novels for. (Insert rant about how expressionism is the ultimate Catholic style. Someday I'll write that rant.)

I also found both Levin and (especially!) Kitty kind of slappable, especially in Kitty's relation to Levin's brother's mistress. Very Lady Bountiful. But see below.

And the ending, with Levin's thoughts about God, was... unsatisfying. I know it's very difficult to write about religious experiences in general--as a reader I often come to such descriptions with a high level of defensiveness, and have an unusually hard time relating to experiences that are very unlike mine. And Levin's inner life in this final section is very, very unlike mine. So I am not completely willing to say, "This section failed." I'll just say that it failed for me, and I disliked it, and didn't see the point of it.

Og Like!: Well, now that I've beaten up on a writer who had more talent in his pinky toenail than I have in my entire self, I will say that opening with the Oblonskys and closing with the Levins is perfect. Avoiding opening or closing with the triangle at the book's center really works. At some level it makes the book less tragic and more bourgeois--its assumptions are steadier than what I'd expect from a tragedy, if you see what I mean.

I did love so many of the characters: Stiva, Seryozha, Karenin especially, I think. All of the characters felt very real. And the Levins' childbirth scene was amazing, one of the most powerful things I've read in a novel. See below for more on that.

Heteronarrativity: Okay, now this I found really interesting, but I'm also worried that others will a) find it obvious and boring or b) think I'm saying something that I'm not. But fortuna favet audaci, so here goes: Anna Karenina may be the most heterosexual novel I've ever read.

Partly, this is a statement about me: I haven't read any Austen, nor any Trollope, for example. (And yes, I plan to remedy the Austen thing, at least, very soon.)

But even so--AK's narrative thrust and emotional power come from its depiction of things like: how having a child with a person changes your view of that person (for good or ill). How your changing relationship to your child's parent changes your relationship with your child (again, for good or ill). How the inescapability of childbearing changes marriage (and adultery). How societal expectations change people when acceptance of these norms is the default, rather than heroic resistance being the default.

And there are elements very common in the other works I've loved, but absent or marginal in AK: alienation is the most obvious. There's less emphasis on physical beauty than I'm used to, I think, with a correspondingly greater emphasis on clothes and other cultural products. (The land is depicted in a way that does emphasize its beauty, but embeds that beauty in a rhythm of work and generativity.)

AK resonated very strongly with me--though almost exclusively because it sounded so much like what married friends of mine had experienced, not at all because it sounded like my experience. I'm not trying to make any larger point really; I just thought this was interesting, and would, as I said, welcome readers' comments.
Tore up all your blogwatch,
didn't feel too clever.
Spent the whole of Sunday
sticking you together...

Camassia: Fryblogging!

Deuteronomy 30:16: Conversion-story-blogging. Now, with extra Hecate....

Saturday, July 15, 2006

BRIEF INTERVIEW with me, here. Mostly on blogging and/vs. journalism.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

VIA THE RAT: Description of a high-school-turned-prison-turned-museum, in Cambodia:
...Many of the prison guards here were just children themselves, usually between the ages of 10 and 15, sometimes picked out from other camps. Literature from Tuol Sleng says the children usually started out quite normal but increased in their remorseless cruelty towards those they were charged with minding. Eventually these children were often killed themselves by other children that replaced them.

Prisoners had to ask permission to do anything—from going the bathroom to even moving their bodies. Failure to obey immediately would result in savage beatings with electrical wire or electric shock. The regulations were posted in each cell, some of them even detailing how prisoners should behave during torture. For example:

"Rule #6 - While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all."

more (very difficult to read, for obvious reasons.)

The Rat also links to a chilling report on kidnapping as a tool of China's one-child policy:
...Although other regions have seen forced abortions, activists say the abuses in Linyi were unusual because local authorities took villagers within the area hostage. When women fled to avoid losing their babies, lawyers and residents say, officials seized their parents, nephews or cousins as leverage, hoping this would force the women to return.

Liang Suhe, a villager in Banqiao, said he was detained with his wife for a month last year because her brother and sister-in-law were planning to have a third child and authorities couldn't find her.

"We were both beaten up, but my wife was beaten harder," he said.


Monday, July 10, 2006

KITCHEN ADVENTURE: FRY COOK. I can make french fries at home!!! ph34r my l33t sk1llz!!!

Okay, first I will give the recipe I was working from; then I will tell you what actually happened. Real-life cooking never replicates what happens in the books with the glossy pictures. I think you will do best to follow the recipe but keep my problems/modifications in mind, and adjust flexibly and quickly when things seem not to be following the plan.

recipe (from a Food & Wine cookbook): Oven Fries with Garlic and Parsley. Four servings. Active: 30 mins, total: 1 hr 15 mins.

2 lbs baking potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/3-inch-wide fries; 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil; salt; 2 large garlic cloves, minced; 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley; freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 475. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add the potatoes and let soak for 15 mins. Drain well and pat dry.

2. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the olive oil and season with salt. Spread the potatoes on a large nonstick rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for about 20 mins, or until the potatoes are golden on the bottom. Turn and bake for about 25 mins longer, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp. Transfer the fries to a platter, sprinkle with the garlic, parsley and pepper and serve at once.

what really happened: I am bored by this talk of garlic and parsley. Og want fries!!! ...Also, my freezer doesn't work so good.

So instead of using ice water, I put a bowl of tap water in the fridge for a half-hour. Yeah. Then I soaked the cut-up potato (just one potato) in the water, still in the fridge, for the requisite 15 minutes. I did everything else according to the recipe (using proportionally less olive oil, of course, and interpreting "rimmed baking sheet" to mean "baking tray covered in aluminum foil"), until the first 20 minutes of baking had passed. Then I opened the oven door to turn the fries.

That's when the smoke alarm went off.

Heh. It turns out that for whatever reason--maybe the lack of ice water, maybe the foil, maybe something extra-hot in the apartment (could it be... me?)--the fries were already pretty much done. I don't own a "platter," so I put 'em in a bowl, sprinkled more salt, and macked them like it was my job. (...Only with more enthusiasm.)

They were so good. One fry was burnt and inedible (I assume that's the tattletale who tripped the alarm); one fry was very slightly undercooked. The rest were pretty much perfect, even though they had been cooked for less than half the recommended time.

So basically--be flexible, check your fries, keep your windows open... and be a confident cook! I always thought fries were kind of exotic and awesome, the sort of thing for which you needed decades of steeping in the esoteric secrets of Better Homes & Gardens--and in the end, they were super easy, quick, and delicious. And really, is anything in the grocery store cheaper than the humble brown potato? Highly recommended.
SUMMER READING LISTS FROM "THE SMART SET"... and also me. Many thanks to Kelly Jane Torrance for letting me be a part of this fun project--and she's still soliciting thoughts on summer reading, so go say hi!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone;
I can see all blogwatches in my way...

Mumpsimus: What's wrong with infodumps anyway?, and other questions on exposition in fiction. (Be sure to read the comments, too.)

Sed Contra is back!

And, from the Asia Times: Economic growth hasn't stopped repression of journalists, Buddhists, and Christians in Vietnam. (Via Colby Cosh.)

ETA: Mansfield Fox on closing a rooming house in New Haven: "For the tenants' own sake, we must thrust them out of the only in-city housing they can afford, and onto the streets!"

Thursday, July 06, 2006

WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS IS A GOOD FIVE-CENT FLOPHOUSE?: Interesting Weekly Standard piece on reducing homelessness by, basically, bringing back rooming houses. I do not know enough to comment on this stuff; if others have thoughts, send 'em in. Link via SRD. Snippets:
...At a remarkably underreported conference in Denver in May, advocates for the homeless met to discuss a pattern of falling homeless populations across the country. In the past six months, New York has announced a reduction of 13 percent, Denver 11 percent, Portland 20 percent, Miami 30 percent, Philadelphia 50 percent. ...

"Housing First" has now returned to the original idea--that housing is the problem--with a twist. The problem is not that the federal government is not building public housing. The real problem is that cities have been very efficient in eliminating bottom-rung housing through building code enforcement, zoning restrictions, and (in cites such as New York and San Francisco) rent control. All these "reforms" were supposed to upgrade "substandard" housing and improve opportunities for the poor. In fact they worsened conditions for the very poor.

The principal victim of "reform" has been SROs--the single-room occupancy hotels
that were the last resort of winos and stumblebums in bygone days. Entrepreneurs used to take old factory floors and other buildings and turn them into "partition hotels" where people could sleep behind thin walls for as little as $2 a night. It might have looked like blight, but it was functional housing for transients. "In Chicago, SRO units declined 80 percent between 1960 and 1980," reported veteran social worker Richard White in Rude Awakenings: What the Homeless Crisis Tells Us (1991). "In the past twenty years, there has been a net loss of 22,000 low-rent units in downtown Seattle. . . . [A]n increase in the number of homeless singles there in the past five years has corresponded directly to the loss of these SROs."

Mangano witnessed the same pattern in Boston. "Governor William Weld commissioned a study, and we found that almost 96 percent of these bottom-rung units had gone out of business during the 1970s and 1980s," he says. "SROs, lodging houses, mom-and-pop rooming houses, all had fallen before campaigns that were supposed to improve housing. At the same time, there was a mirror-image rise in emergency shelters. By taking away bottom-rung housing, we left the poor with nothing."

The Interagency Council is now encouraging cities to reverse this trend and adjust building and zoning codes to tolerate housing once labeled "substandard." Seattle has created 50 new units with a shared kitchen and a bathroom down the hall and 25 more that are nothing but a partitioned room with a bed and a dresser. Indianapolis found it had 20,000 vacant units ripe for rehabilitation. San Francisco is restoring 1,500 apartments in the Tenderloin district through private ownership.

COMMANDMENTS COMEDIES: (I still haven't watched Decalogue, no.) Dan Mansueto writes to suggest Divorce Italian-Style as a possible Ten Commandments-y movie. He notes that I don't have any comedies on my list--might be interesting to do an all-comedy list. I also realized that not only is my entire list American, but virtually all of them are so intrinsically American that they couldn't really be translated into other nationalities.... I'm not sure what difference that would make, but again, I'm still taking movie suggestions from You The Viewers At Home. I've Netflix'd Divorce Italian-Style....
ALL THINGS COUNTER, ORIGINAL, SPARE, AND FILLED WITH NINJAS: Dappled Things' Feast of Sts Peter and Paul issue is available online here!--a very cool Catholic literary and cultural magazine, which had the dubious taste to publish one of my stories.

And friend of this blog Joshua Elder writes to say that the first volume of his manga, Mail-Order Ninja, is available in comics shops and bookstores now. (Or here, for example.) It is about a kid who orders a ninja in the mail. The short piece on which it was based won an award from Tokyopop and is lots of fun....
He knew and felt that what was being accomplished was similar to what had been accomplished a year ago in a hotel in a provincial capital, on the deathbed of his brother Nikolai. But that had been grief and this was joy. But that grief and this joy were equally outside all ordinary circumstances of life, were like holes in this ordinary life, through which something higher showed.
--Anna Karenina (during Kitty's labor)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

ERIC CONVEYS AN EMOTION is back online!!!
SUPER-MEH. Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure the only way I would have really loved the new Superman movie is if John Cho played Superman and Kal Penn played Lex Luthor.

Not the target audience, no.
CELLULOID TABLETS: So I'm about to watch Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue series, ten movies keyed to the Commandments. And I got to thinking about which movies I would pick to illustrate which commandments. This is a personal and perhaps bizarre list; I'd be interested in reader comments and suggestions. My only criteria for the list were: 1. I had to at least like the movie (Any Given Sunday is on the borderline here--all the others I really think are excellent, whereas this one is just goodish), and 2. it had to intuitively feel right. So these aren't necessarily movies that preach--just movies that explore some of the things the commandment is concerned with. ...This is not an especially serious-minded list, but I'm doing it because I'm very interested to see how KK's approaches to the commandments differ from the ones I was working with here:

You shall have no other gods before me. The Apostle. Excellent movie, with, I think, an undercurrent about having faith in preachers or leaders (or one's "legend in his own mind" self-image) rather than in God.

You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain. The Godfather. I'm taking this commandment as, "don't use holy things for what is commonplace or unholy"; both the godfather role and the contrast between the sacrament of marriage ("my daughter's wedding day") and the Mafia work here.

Keep holy the Lord's day. Any Given Sunday. Obvious really.

Honor your father and your mother. The Bride of Frankenstein. Heh. Lots of anxieties about generation and creation vs. procreation here. Plus, it's an awesome movie.

You shall not kill. Apocalypse Now.

You shall not commit adultery. The Secret Lives of Dentists.

You shall not steal. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. The Talented Mr. Ripley--not so much because it involves false witness against a neighbor, but because Ripley's entire character is composed of and eaten up by falsehoods.

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods. Two together in The Sweet Smell of Success, one of my favorite movies (the novella is excellent too). Hunsecker for the first, Falco the second.

KITCHEN ADVENTURETTE: SPINACH THING. Because I had a bunch of stuff.

ingredients: spaghetti, garlic, dried herbs (basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, plus black pepper), button a.k.a. plain old mushrooms, olive oil, spinach! from a package, plum tomato, balsamic vinegar, lemon, butter, parmesan cheese.

to make: Put a pot of (salted, except I'm out of salt) water on to boil. While it's heating, chop the garlic (I think coarse chopping would actually work better than fine). Put the chopped garlic in a pan with olive oil and the herbs. Set it cooking. Slice/chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan. When it's nice and crackling and snapping along, turn the heat down to simmer and stir the garlic and mushrooms now and again. When the water is boiling, add the pasta. Cook cook cook. About halfway through the pasta's cooking time, add the spinach to the pan and turn the heat back up. Cook the spinach, adding more as it cooks down, until you've got as much as you want. Chop the tomato. Add the vinegar to the pan. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the pan. Stir stir cook cook. At the very last minute, add the tomato to the pan. Stir stir. Drain and butter the pasta and top with vegs and cheese. Yum!

it tastes: bright and tangy! also buttery and rich!
LINKSES. The Washington Post is doing a series on farm subsidies and some of the (many, many) reasons they suck. Here is the first installment, "Farm Program Pays $1.3 Billion to People Who Don't Farm"; here is the second, "Growers Reap Benefits, Even in Good Years." Here is my dormant farm-dole blog.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack vetoes bill that would curb eminent domain. Bah! Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said some good stuff though. Via the Club for Growth.
"Well, I'm very glad," he said, coldly looking at her, her hair, the dress he knew she had put on for him.

He liked it all, but he had already liked it so many times!

--Anna Karenina, tr. Pevear and Volonkhosky

Sunday, July 02, 2006


(and yes, I'll be back soon--have some stuff I want to post, but I'm tired now.)