Monday, October 30, 2006

"You have learnt something. That always feels at first as if you have lost something."
--George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara

See--even Shaw gets stuff right now and again! Via About Last Night.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

THE MEMORY PROJECT: "I founded the Memory Project in October, 2004, following the advice of a man in Guatemala. Having grown up in an orphanage, this young man did not have any pictures from his earliest years or any parents to share
memories of his youth. Consequently, he felt that much of his childhood had been forgotten, and he shared this feeling with a group of university students working at the orphanage. As one of the students, I was very moved by his story, and I founded the Memory Project as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization after returning home." (more--via E-Pression)
In any case I can't climb down off the high powered defense reflex whateveritis. The fleas come with the dog as Mr. McG. ...says. If you were Pius XII, my communications would still sound as if they came from a besieged defender of the faith. I know well enough that it is not a defense of the faith, which don't need it, but a defense of myself who does. The Church becomes a part of your ego and gets messed in with your own impurity. It's a situation I can't handle myself so I wait for purgatory to do it for me.
--letters of Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I CAN'T HELP IT. I did like "Dangerous Liaisons," but it didn't leave me as helpless to the power of its AWESOME as "Cruel Intentions." John Malkovich is a better actor than anyone in "CI" (though Ryan Philippe was fun--yeah, I said it), and the half-updated half-outdated dialogue didn't really work, and I'm two hundred percent over closing scenes where bitchy women get humiliated--and even so, all I can say is that this movie was ace.

...I can't tell if Catherine was supposed to be sympathetic or if I'm just completely wrong in the head.
I will never have the experience of the convert, or of the one who fails to be converted, or even in all probability of the formidable sinner; but your effort not to be seduced by the Church moves me greatly.
--letters of Flannery O'Connor
KITCHEN ADVENTURE: COME WIS ME TO ZE CASBAH. WE SHALL MAKE BOOTIFUL OMELETTES TOGEZZER. So okay, my first attempt at omeletteness kind of broke into parts. But I think that was because I was trying to transfer it into a too-small dish. Anyway, I used a recipe from The Foster's Market Cookbook and it worked really well. Your simplified version here:

1. Beat some eggs (they say three large, I used four smallish) with salt and pepper. I'm not totally sure what "beating" eggs entails (dude, be happy I can walk upright, okay?), but I whisked vigorously with a fork until the eggs were all mixed-up like the files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, and that seemed to work okay.

[EDITED: Frankweiler, obviously. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, and her, Elizabeth are all angry with me now.]

2. Put a big smacker of butter in the pan and heat it up and swirl it around until you've got butter everywhere in the pan. Mmmm mmm. Pour the eggs into the pan and, I guess, turn the heat down to medium, although I think I didn't do that for some reason.

3. This is where it gets interesting: "Let the eggs sit for a few seconds to begin cooking, then push the outer edges of the eggs toward the center of the pan with a spatula. As they cook, continue pushing the edges toward the center, allowing uncooked egg to flow to the outer edges of the pan."

4. "When the eggs are still moist but no longer runny, place the desired filling on one side of the omelet." The cookbook suggests all kinds of nifty-sounding fillings, which I won't reproduce here (buy the book! or read it in the store! just don't sue me!), but I used chopped tomato, onion, mushroom, and munster cheese, because that was what I had on hand.

5. "Fold the omelet over the filling with a spatula." I did a little cookity-cookity here, even though they don't say you have to, just in case. Anyway, voila! Decant onto plate and serve. "Garnish as desired."

In short, this was really neat-o keen, fancier than scrambled eggs, and easier than I'd expected. The eggs brown a little bit, and hold together better than scrambled eggs would. (I'm assuming that's because you use no milk and let the eggs sit longer.) Yum yum.
SEASONS IN THE SUN: If you had to name two women/girls, or images of women--whether characters or archetypes--who represented, to you, particular seasons of the year, who would you name?

like this: spring: Artemis (mostly because of her virginity, though a friend pointed out that as the goddess of the hunt she'd also be associated with autumn and the hunter's moon), Alice

summer: Maria Lactans, Andromakhe (or, in a completely different vein, Jean Grey/Phoenix--really, don't feel like these images need to be "high culture" or anything)

fall: Miss Havisham, Mary from The Secret Garden

winter: Narnia's White Witch, Medea

(obviously, these are very fuzzy distinctions, and which season you associate with which lady doesn't hugely matter to me.)


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I watched my blog in Newport Pagnell....

(I think I've done that one before.)

Amy Welborn: I'm not done yet with this post, and don't expect I'll even make a sortie on the comments; but I'll be thinking about it for a while....
...The question that has bugged me for ages is different from that I hear asked by others. Others try to rebuild, to recreate that old sense of Catholic culture--which is admirable, but is it possible? No, what I wonder about is how do we reconstruct Catholic life in the catacombs? By that I don't mean the extremes of persecution, but as Christians living in a culture that is really inimical to the Gospel, at every point, to the celebration of materialism, consumerism, economic success, personal appearance, to the rank hostility to life and the commoditization of sex. Christianity was born and flourished in the Roman Empire, in conditions hostile to it. There was no "Catholic culture" as we associate it with Christendom on. I'm thinking it is more useful and to the point to imagine myself, as a Christian, living in the time of Domitian, than thinking that the answer is to try to recreated 13th century Italy. As I've written before, as the witness of Ireland and Quebec show so painfully--is there a shadow to "Catholic culture"? As there is a shadow to everything?

much more

Balkinization: Marty Lederman vs John Yoo:
...Why was this the one point of absolute consensus within the Administration? Isn't that odd -- that the easy point of unanimous agreement was to keep our detention operations outside of our own nation, above all else? It's not as if these captured persons were all detained where they were found. No -- they were shipped halfway around the world; but instead of, say, detaining them at a military brig in South Carolina, which would have been the logical plan, the planes and ships made a sharp left turn at the last moment so that these folks would disembark in Cuba, which is less than 100 miles from the Florida coast.

The reason, of course, for such a resolute determination to keep the detainees offshore, was (as John quite candidly writes) because the lawyers assumed GTMO was a law-free zone -- a location impervious to any judicial oversight. And of course, in light of what we were doing to these detainees, there was damn good reason to keep our operations out the plain sight of any courts, lest they have the temerity to insist that the Administration follow the law.


and Brian Tamanaha tells a story I am linking because it interests me, not because I endorse any underlying purposes or assumptions (whereas I think I do endorse the Lederman post in content and purpose--I don't know nearly enough to do more than find the Tamanaha post interesting):
...I am able to recount the details of this event because the assistant federal public defender was me, handling the case in the mid-1980s. To recap the hard-to-believe basics of the situation: in the middle of a trial, I was charged with three criminal offenses on the grounds that the questions I asked in open court prompted the witnesses to disclose classified information. At the time of these supposed offenses, the prosecutors objected neither to the questions nor the answers, and neither they nor the judge gave any indication of a problem until the moment the charges were lodged against me. So there I was, still handling the ongoing trial, but now also facing my own trial to begin 30 days after the current trial was over. Despite my compromised position, I was not allowed by the judge to withdraw as defense counsel, and our request for a mistrial in the ongoing case was denied. I continued to examine witnesses from the CIA, but now with pending criminal charges hanging over my head, and a real prospect of more to come.

For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction. It preserves mystery for the human mind.
--The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor (much more from her soon--this is such an awesome, fun, fruitful book!)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

OLD SCHOOL: Kiriko Nananan's Blue. Manga, high school girl with crush on local "bad girl," read on recommendation from Journalista among others. It's a very, very well-done example of the "poignant, aching first love at boarding school" gay genre. (Although the school in Blue isn't actually a boarding school. But you guys know exactly what I mean, yeah?) Breaks no new ground, but is lovely to look at--black and white line drawings so crisp they're dreamlike, capturing that adolescent state of mind where nothing in the world seems real except you and her. The back cover copy reads,
The sky that stretches out above the dark sea.
The school uniforms and our desperate awkwardness.
If those adornments of our youth
Held any color
It would have been deep blue.

You see what I mean about old-school? If you are really into this genre, like I am, you will love this manga foolishly, like I do. If you're not, you still might take a look, since the artwork is intensely pretty.
Does biology matter?

Ask Rebecca Hamilton, a sperm-donor baby who’s now grown up. She has been searching for her biological father for years. “It’s a very human need to be able to look at a face and say, yes, that’s where I come from,” she says. She thinks the widespread practice of donor anonymity does a huge injustice to the offspring.

The first generation of sperm-donor babies can now speak for themselves. And what they are saying raises disconcerting questions about biology, identity, and families. Is it right to deprive people of knowing who their natural parents are? What happens to your sense of identity when one of your biological parents is missing? Is there a difference when you’re raised by “social” rather than biological parents? What if those parents are two women, or two men, or perhaps three people? Are children’s understandings of parenthood as flexible as we would like to think? How do kids feel about all this? And do their feelings matter? ...

In an ideal world, a reasonable response might be, “So what?” But this is not an ideal world. Already, courts in the U.S. are wrestling with custody issues that not even Solomon could sort out. They are frequently required to decide who a child’s parents are, picking among the many adults who might be involved in planning, conceiving, birthing, and raising her.

“Once you get three legal parents, why not four or five?” asks Ms. Marquardt. “What if they can’t agree? It’s hard enough for two parents to agree. What if these three people break up? Is the child supposed to travel between three different homes? How many homes are necessary to satisfy the parenting needs of three separate adults?”

No one doubts “social” parents love their children, or that their children love them back, or that same-sex couples can be great parents. “Love is not the question,” stresses Ms. Marquardt. “The concern and good intentions that non-biological parents have for their children are not in question.” The question is whether it’s okay to deprive a child of half her biological inheritance before she’s born.

Rebecca Hamilton marvels at adults who claim that what children really need is a loving family, and biology doesn’t matter. Yet it obviously matters quite a lot — to adults. “If biology didn’t matter, infertile couples would just adopt, instead of taking themselves through expensive fertility treatments,” she says. And if biology doesn’t matter, then why do so many parents of donor-conceived children keep their origins a secret?


The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adults' Rights and Children's Needs (I haven't read yet)

Friday, October 06, 2006

And the air hangs heavy like a blogwatch wine...

Balkinization: What the administration won't say about waterboarding. (There's a lot of stuff there about the implications of the McCain/Bush compromise for habeas corpus, too, but I haven't sorted through it yet. Scroll down for that.)

Cinecon on Visconti's Death in Venice, and other DIVa-ish thoughts.

YouTube in the womb. (Via Amy Welborn.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

MARC ALMOND'S "DEATH IN VENICE": I thought a bit more today about why I would so love to hear this imaginary opera. A big part of it is that MA would get the distance Britten sometimes seems to lack--Britten's opera sways into sentimentality, which Mann's novella stringently avoids. If anything, MA would probably be too scathing; but I'd prefer that error to the sentimental one.

It was then I knew that I'd rather be
with a .22 caliber next to me
than the blond boy...
FOUR LINKS: These are in alphabetical order-ish, which is why the second one seems so out of place.

Amy Welborn:
...Modern views of St. Francis present him as a nice, if eccentric fellow, presenting us with an alternative lifestyle through which we can clear our lives of bother and make them happier. It is all much harder than that in reality, and in understanding the story of St. Francis, the most important thing is to now how the story ends (on earth at least)--St. Francis, having suffered grievous physical pain for years, ready to meet Sister Death and be joined to the Lord, but his movement in disarray, alienated from his original vision, an aura of, in earthly terms, failure, surrounding him.

Name it and Claim It, indeed.


Hit & Run: In November, 11 states will vote on ballot measures restricting the use of eminent domain for private uses--i.e. the government taking your property and giving it to some developer or corporation. Is your state on the list?

NYTimes: "In one sign of their approach to tragedy, Amish residents started a charity fund yesterday not only to help the victims' families but also to help the gunman's widow."

How to donate to the Amish School Recovery Fund.

Last two links via Mark Shea.
LIVEBLOGGING DEATH IN VENICE: OK, not completely liveblogging, since I went back and edited my impressions before posting. But I watched/listened to the 1981 filmed version of Britten's DIV opera, and after about half an hour I began to suspect I would get more out of it if I gathered my impressions and asked opera-savvy readers to comment (or dispute). So this is my completely uneducated take; I know I was handicapped by a) loving the novella a lot, b) having a hard time with opera generally, and c) taking notes, probably being too aware of my own reactions. Still, onward and upward!--or, in the case of DIV, downward. (...And the timing of this was completely accidental, which is all I'm going to say about that.)

First impressions of Death in Venice opera:

1. Aschenbach has a weird, reedy, strained voice. I am guessing Britten was going for an exhausted tone, but it's unpleasant, grating, and we have to listen to it CONSTANTLY! Esp that whole vibrato thing. No like the straining vibrato.

2. English is maybe too colloquial for this opera? Too many contrasting sounds in the words--I usually like this diversity, how English can be thorny or supple by turns, but it isn't working here. The words seem alternately flat (instead of poignantly casual, dramatic irony) and turgid (instead of lush, infected, doomy). Some of the turgidity is in the music, as well, though see below. Without the libretto and the voice, I don't think I'd notice a problem in the music. ...Oh bah, Asch's thoughts about Tadzio and his form and whatnot really don't work when the slightly pompous, self-deceiving monologue is sung rather than written. I'm not really sure why--maybe when it's sung you have to look at it too long or too intently. Maybe it's just a very difficult tone of voice to do in operatic form??? (...Hee, he has to sing the words "human relationships." Poor singer.)

3. In prose, when you're just reading, the casual conversations about e.g. the vaporetto and how you can't take baggage on the vaporetto and welcome to our hotel, etc., can fall quietly to the ground like leaves, and just stay there in the reader's mind rustling a little. But when these lines are sung, you have to pay too much attention--too much weight is placed on them, weight they can't support.

4. I think I like the music, sans singing. Possibly I like it a lot. But then Aschenbach starts singing over it and gah! But maybe that is just because I'm more used to movie scores than to operas?

5. Oh, yeah, I do think the music is better at conveying a creepy, febrile beauty. OTOH, it is kind of the exact music you would expect from an opera of DIV. Evil carnival music. I'm such a sucker for evil carnival music.

6. Heh--it doesn't really work to have a Tadzio we can see and judge. Must be equally hard to cast your Helen. The costuming is fine but I just don't think this is filmable....

7. OH, here's the problem: In the story, the descriptive prose and internal monologue have to continue because they create the mood, the background to the action, whereas in the opera the music is the background, and so the libretto often feels intrusive.

8. AUGH, when the music tells you he has been overwhelmed and is fleeing, WE DO NOT NEED THE LIBRETTO TO SAY SO TOO!!!! Haaaaaaate for the libretto.

9. Hee, "naw-see-us." Human relationships!

10. Ai carai, the staging/filming here gets hideously overdone (just before A sings "Iiiiiiiiiiii love you," which itself does not work for me either). Again, the music is better than everything else.

11. "A sweetish medicinal cleanliness/overlaying the smell of still canals"--the imagery I like, but the actual lines are too sibilant, and it's made worse by that thin vibrato voice. "The city fathers are seldom so solicitous"--is he doing this crazy amount of sibilance on purpose?? Because it IRKS. It feels clumsy, not serpentine or whatever it is supposed to be.

12. Wargh, the Apollo vs Dionysos thing is really bad. Clunky. Although I like the clich├ęd-but-effective end ("I go, I go now"). Then it gets amazingly clunky again. ...Marc Almond could pull this scene off (in the style of his song about the bullfighters, or the cabaret Rimbaud), definitely, but Britten apparently can't. ...Actually I would LOVE to hear the Marc Almond version of DIV. Wow.

13. The Phaedrus section is really good, though. The lighter voice works wonderfully here, the music is mysterious and gentle and foreboding, and only the staging in this version causes trouble. The libretto can be ignored when it gets silly or too obvious, because the voice is working. "I will go" is a good echo of the Apollo leavetaking, too. ...Yeah, that was good.

14. The ending of this is so much better than the beginning. POSSIBLY BECAUSE THE END IS WORDLESS.
okay, so... that was my first impression. Other reactions, comments, howls of execration??
TWO LINKS: Disputations: "The hoarded wealth not only cries aloud, but after it corrodes, it acts as a witness for the prosecution -- and, in a particularly ghoulish image, it goes on to corrode the flesh of the rich!" (more, brief but really interesting & powerful)

and, via Journalista, a good review of Jaime Hernandez's Ghost of Hoppers. I commented on the comic here, but Derek Badman's review does some very cool quickie panel analysis to show how awesome JH really is. The cool thing is that there's more to say about both of the sequences he discusses--the way the tree stump parallels Izzie's posture, and the rhythm of "noticing" features of the landscape fits with the theme of Maggie's return to her old neighborhood; the POV shift at the end of the ghost-dog sequence, when we suddenly see Maggie from the back.... JH is awesome. There will be more comicsness here soon, maybe before the weekend.

Monday, October 02, 2006

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: 'WICHY WOMAN. So, inspired by this "Top Chef" episode, I've been trying out a passel of sandwich ideas--a change from my ol' favorite. These are all hot sammiches:

Mushrooms, bacon, gruyere, balsamic vinegar: Heat oven to 375. Take a largeish roll, split it down the middle, then cut the halves lengthwise. Put the bottoms of the roll halves on aluminum foil. (Do that for all of these recipes, except for the french toast one.) I used a mealhada roll for this. Any relatively plain roll would work--portuguese, for example. Slice mushrooms and yellow onion, and cut two bacon slices in half. Layer mushrooms, onion (drizzled with balsamic vinegar), and bacon on the roll-half bottoms, top with sliced gruyere, and cover with the roll-half tops. Wrap in foil and bake 15 minutes. ...The verdict: Neh. Tasted indistinct and weirdly antiseptic. Not sure what the problem was--possibly the vinegar?? Caramelized onions might work better.

Rosemary roll, bacon, and fontina: Oven to 375, foil, open rosemary roll. Fill it with thinly-sliced mushrooms, tomato, and red onion, then bacon and sliced fontina; cover with roll top, wrap in foil, cook 15-17 mins. The verdict: Fine, but not a standout or showstopper. The red onion was probably the best part. The fontina didn't seem to add much--probably overwhelmed by the high roll-to-cheese ratio. Would have worked better as an open-faced sandwich cooked in the toaster oven.

Mushroom, yellow pepper, and munster cheese: Roast a couple 'shrooms on a foiled baking tray in the oven--about 15 mins. at 375? Then prepare a mealhada (or whatever) roll as in the first recipe. Fill it with sliced vegs: tomato, roasted mushroom, red onion, and yellow bell pepper. Top with munster cheese, cover with tops of roll halves, wrap in foil, bake 15 mins. at 375. The verdict: This was really yummy. The pepper was especially delicious. Yellow pepper would work really well in these toasted sandwiches in general, I think.

Chopped fresh cilantro should also work here (on top of the cheese), and in the recipe below. Sort of like Mexican Radio Sandwich, which is delicious and which I ate practically every day for a week or two last year.

Pinto beans, bacon, yellow pepper: Exactly like the sandwich above, except using a rosemary roll layered with canned pinto beans (very easy--only slightly goopy), tomato slices, onion slices, bacon, yellow pepper, and munster cheese. The verdict: Good, but not great. Maybe would have been better without the bacon? (How can that be???) The pepper was, again, delicious.

And a breakfast sandwich: Make two slices of french toast in whatever way is your favorite. Drizzle with maple syrup and fill with crispy sliced bacon (cooked 1 1/2 mins. on paper towels in the microwave). Verdict: This was yummy, but needed maybe one extra component--a slice of fontina, say, or a fried egg. (Or both, if you typically use challah or another thick bread for your french toast. I make very thin french toast.) I'd also be interested in possible herbs for this, like rosemary.
GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN: Awesome para. from Australian Cdl. Pell:
...The most profound changes emanated from the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, the most problematic of all the Council documents at least in its implementation. This constitution quite properly called for dialogue with the surrounding culture rather than condemnation and urged us to emphasise what was common rather than to begin immediately with our differences. This is fundamental to the way we now see ourselves as an integral part of Australian society, the main reason why the majority accepts us as such and why all educated Australians now automatically and rightly presume that they have every right to comment publicly on distinctively Catholic teachings on e.g. the impossibility of women's ordination, or contraception or the mandatory celibacy of priests. Most Australians are much slower to do this with e.g. the Orthodox or the Jews and Moslems.


See, the neat thing about this passage is that it talks about something that ordinarily really irks me--random people who barely know Balaam's ass from a hole in the ground, yapping away about Crap They Wot Not--and points out that it's due to engagement with the surrounding culture, which I love about Catholicism. The Church is such a tabloid religion, so willing to get down in the gutter and start punching, so willing to bring the Cross to the people. Mysteries without secrets; an up-front and brazen faith. And if you shake it in people's faces... people will talk about you. Because you're hot.
I SCOURGE THE BODY ELECTRIC: "To borrow an analogy from Boston College professor Peter Kreeft and give it a twist, if I were to announce at a cocktail party that I just got my tongue pierced, I would be surrounded by an eager crowd of spectators. But if I were to announce that each morning before work I take a cold shower as a religious ritual, I would soon be talking to myself." (more--a really good piece) Via Amy Welborn.
Every single one of his blogs
Is titled a number, and starts with a watch....

Balkinization: Scroll down for links to Marty Lederman's essential posts on the detainee abuse (since I guess we can't call it "torture" because it, like, makes Laura Bush feel bad?) compromise; but for now, a leftist's union blues.

Disputed Mutability is back!!! R0xx0rz. And as usual, her comments section has a ton of interesting stuff, like this comment about expectations of same-sex friendships.

Hit & Run: Heart of Tony Starkness. Iron Man is one of my favorite superheroes, in part because he was the only bright spot in the first vol. of Mark Millar's irksome Ultimates. If people have awesome Tony comics (...or fanfiction?) to recommend, I'm all bionic ears.

SpaceBlog: What does outer space smell like? Anousheh Ansari, Iranian space tourist lady, tells us. This is... really just terrific. I was made for an age like this, you know?

As long as we're geeking out here--are any of you all watching Heroes? It sounds really well-conceived and maybe well-written: Super-Hiro and Wolverine the Cheerleader and the Flying Shark all sound kind of awesome to me. But I've heard the acting is crap. True/false? (...Yeah, not that this is wildly relevant in the short term, since in the spring my television decided to give up television for Lent, so I'm lucky if I get one channel. But still--Heroes? y/n?)

And: In re the blogwatch heading, I recently pushed "OK By Me," from Martin Tielli's Operation Infinite Joy, on a music geek who gushingly compared it to David Bowie. (I'm thinking Spiders from Mars era.) This comparison is less true of We Never Even Suspected That He Was the Poppy Salesman; but it really does work for OIJ, I think, and if it intrigues you, why not check the guy out?
...I am getting ready for a book tour to promote a new Rumpole. Unlike some writers, I enjoy book tours. Writing novels is a lonely business; your feet and legs get cold and you have no direct contact with your audience. ...

Rumpole keeps going because all his stories are a comment on the passing scene. At the moment, he is engaged in defending a Pakistani doctor accused of being a terrorist. He takes part in extraordinary trials of prisoners anxious to be freed from Belmarsh. In these alleged judicial proceedings, the prisoner and his lawyer cannot be told the particulars of the charges. When these vital matters are discussed, the accused and his advisers have to leave the court.

Such abandonment of our civil liberties as this, the diminishing right to silence, the partial elimination of jury trials and, in some cases, placing the burden of proof on the defence are all, in Rumpole's view, a victory for the terrorists who want to change our way of life. It is to be hoped that his latest escapade will irritate everyone at the Home Office and in the new, unnecessary Department for Constitutional Affairs.

more (I forget where I found this, maybe Hit & Run?)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A humourous piece of AA advice is: "Ask yourself what a sane, intelligent, caring person would do, then pretend you're that sort of person and do it!"
--Kathy Shaidle, A Seeker's Dozen: The Twelve Steps for Everyone Else