Thursday, April 24, 2008

NAVEL ATTACK!: Hooray--tagged for a meme about me!

What I was doing ten years ago: Making a complete fool of myself, in the most traditional undergraduate ways. Also, enjoying my first month as a Catholic! Oh, that first Confession comes so depressingly quickly....

Five things on my To-Do list today: 1. Laundry
2. Personal and work emails
3. Dinner
4. Preparation for week-long trip: Do dishes, take out all trash, make hard-boiled eggs for the journey, check when Metro opens, reset alarm, and pack. And probably something else I'm forgetting.
5. Mail The Seventh Victim back to Netflix, once I've finished watching the commentary.

Things I would do if I were a billionaire: Develop secret identity. Become superhero and/or supervillain. Wear awesome costume, possibly featuring feathers and sparkly things.

Three of my bad habits: Wow, Clio's pretty much work for me, too: "1. Procrastination.
"2. Day-dreaming. (A form of the above.)"
3. I don't think I read terribly wicked blogs, so for my third, I'll say spending too much money. Or for something more serious, postponing Confession, which isn't about procrastination so much as shame and self-delusion ("I can do it on my own!" LOL NO).

Five places I've lived: I can only remember four: Madison, WI; Santa Monica, CA; New Haven, CT; and the District of Chaos, imagination's capital, Downed City, home sweet hopeless.

Five jobs I've had: I haven't. I've pretty much been a journalist and a think-tank thunker and that's it. Yes, I can hear you from here.

Five books I've recently read: Ohhh this spring has been bad for reading. Sherman Alexie's The Toughest Indian in the World (which I liked a lot, but which sometimes got a bit too Look At My Acute Social Observations! for me--like David Brooks, but with Indians, which admittedly is an improvement); Revelation; the Gospel of Matthew; four Bagthorpe Saga books which I'm counting all together; and Heinrich von Kleist's mind-boggling, terrific Penthesilea, on recommendation from the Cigarette Smoking Blogger. With illustrations by Maurice Sendak, for that extra hit of vertiginous monstrosity!
MEET ZE MONSTA: A reader writes:

Just saw your post on monsters. I just finished a terrific commentary on Aristotle's Poetics by Michael Davis, The Poetry of Philosophy. He makes the point that Aristotle's contrast of epic and tragedy at the end has this function: epic presents the strange to us (monsters, e.g.) so that we wonder at its strangeness, and then are led to the contemplation of ordinary life, which comes to light in the contrast with epic's strangeness. Tragedy presents ordinary life itself as strange, which also leads to the contemplation of the ordinary. In both cases, the ordinary is invisible until it is contrasted with the strange (epic) or made to seem strange (tragedy). Poetry thus provides us with the service of allowing contemplation of real life. Monsters do this by their very strangeness, which we cannot but notice. The deliberate contradictoriness that your author points out, Aristotle would say, is not (at least in good poetry) done in order to deconstruct our categorical impositions, or some other foolish thing, but to bring to our notice how the depicted object differs from what is real, and therefore to bring what is real to our notice where before it would have remained invisible and unexamined. The monster, in fact, depends on the prior fixity of real life. If real life had no fixity, there would be no need for a monster. Further, the monster itself would be invisible (as would everything else), and so the entire life of philosophy would be unavailable.

Anyway, hope that makes sense. ...

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: PACK YOUR KNIVES AND GO! OK, so I'm a total geek, and decided to do modified, cheapjack versions of some of the challenges from "Top Chef." Thus far none of them have turned out ridiculously well, so I'm also giving you guys a bonus adventure at the end, from several months ago....

season 1, episode 1, "signature dish": I... don't have one, you know? I just cook stuff. So I made spicy squid with capellini. I blanched 1/4 lb. squid (boil water, dump in squid, cook 30-40 seconds, dump into colander and rinse in very cold water--yes, should be ice water, but as we've discussed, my freezer doesn't work). Then sliced the bodies into rings, melted butter in a pan with lime juice, cooked the squid in the lime butter with minced garlic, chopped plum tomato, cayenne, black pepper, possibly cumin?, and a hint of cinnamon, and ate it with the angel hair pasta and more butter.

the verdict: Better luck next time! I think the problem here was that I made too much pasta, and/or didn't cook the pasta in the sauce. When I could taste the lime and squid and cinnamon, it was delicious!--but those flavors got overwhelmed by the starch. I'm terrible at judging how much capellini to make. Using a broth of some kind, ideally something like lime-garlic-jalapeno(-shrimp?) stock made with a cinnamon stick, might also have helped.

s1, e4: gas station: The challenge was to make a dish using only things you could buy at a gas station, plus dried herbs and spices. My apartment building has a very well-stocked convenience store, so I raided that, but tried to confine myself to things I might plausibly find at a less-well-stocked gas station.

So I made a croissant sandwich with Munster cheese and spicy black beans. I cooked canned beans with cayenne, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, a bit of curry powder, and I think a bit of chili powder, then cut the croissant in half lengthwise, topped the halves with cheese slices, and toasted it in the toaster oven. Then filled the sandwich with the black beans.

verdict: The beans were great! But I knew they would be. That combination of flavors is hard to ruin. The croissant, on the other hand... didn't work, at all. I'd hoped it would crisp on the bottom, with the melted cheese on top. Instead, it got soggy and limp.

s1, e2: fruit plate: This was really supposed to be a challenge about "knife skills." I have the hand-eye coordination of a monkfish. So I just tried to use fruits and cheeses that would taste good together. I used a pink lady apple, an Asian pear, some goat gouda, some Parrano (a nutty, grainy, delicious yellowy-orangey cheese), and some Morbier. I also tried out black pepper and balsamic vinegar on the fruit.

verdict: Hmmm. The fruit went really well with the Parrano (and also the pepper; not so much the vinegar). Fruit + goat gouda was okay. The Morbier was too stinky for me, and not nearly stinky enough for my cheese-loving snacking companion.

I think the leftovers here would've been really good in scrambled eggs. I ended up not doing that, but I think if you diced the fruits, the Parrano, and the gouda, you'd be ready to go.

and now, success: Whiskey Pork with Apples & Onions. I made this a while ago, as I said, so I don't really remember how long I cooked everything. Besides which, my oven doesn't always seem to work the way recipes think it should--sometimes it cooks much faster than predicted--so I tend to play it by ear, check up on the food and stir it and so forth.

Anyway, this is what I did: Turned oven to 375. Thickly sliced a red baking apple. Covered a baking tray with foil. Laid the apple slices on the tray, doused them with Jack Daniels, peppered them, added cayenne I think (possibly I only added cayenne to the pork--as you may have noticed, I'm crazy about it), and cooked for maybe ten, twenty minutes. Then stirred the apple and added two pork loin... chops? The things you get at the store that say "pork loin on sale." A bit more whiskey, more pepper, cayenne. Back into the oven. Cookity for ten to fifteen minutes, while chopping a peeled medium onion into big chunks. Turned the pork, stirred the apple, added the onion. Cookity for fifteenish minutes more. Stirred, tasted; it was ready. Consumed!

verdict: Oooh this was good. Moist, porky, whiskeyed, peppery, sweet. I microwaved the leftovers for lunch the next day and it was still fantastic. This is obviously more of a wintry, comfort-food dish, but I'm going to keep it in the repertoire, for sure.

I received some help from Cooking with Booze.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

TWEED FOR WEED. Photos from a Yale anti-Drug War protest. Yeah, I was pretty fond of the sign reading, "I couldn't protest the Drug War on 4/20 because I was in church."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums
"Battlefield Conversions"
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
HOW DO YOU SAY "WOOT" IN BRITISH?: Go congratulate the Rattus!!!

(more blogging soon btw)

Friday, April 18, 2008

CERVUS AND LEADERSHIP: Tonight's work at the pregnancy center made me realize I need to think more about the ways in which counseling is leadership. I tend to think--almost certainly over-dichotomizing--that there are at least two possible paradigms for what we do, leadership and social work, and I need to work in the former category.

There are ways in which that's true. Leadership requires creation of an individual persona--the mask of command. It requires personal relationship and intimacy. Although I would never claim to be the friend of the women I counsel--I don't risk nearly enough in our relationship to claim that title--I do give out my phone number a lot, for example, in part because I need to be available, open, personal rather than systematic.

Leadership involves me in complicity with the client and her choices. The social-work paradigm, to the limited extent to which I understand it, involves the counselor in complicity with "the system," capitalism and the welfare state, and the pressures it imposes on the client. ("Client," a social-work term.) Catholic charity and social justice work seems to me to swing wildly between these two complicities, in ways which sometimes make sense and/or are equalizing, and sometimes make no sense and/or are condescending.

Nonetheless, there are ways in which the social-work paradigm is necessary for what we do. To take an obvious example--a lot of boyfriends want to come and sit in on our counseling sessions with their possibly-pregnant girlfriends. These boyfriends are pretty evenly divided between awesome, supportive, loving guys... and controlling/drunk/generally-loserish schmucks. In order to persuade group #2 that we don't see them as members of group #2, we lean heavily on language like, "I'm sorry, it's our center's policy that we always do the first part of the counseling one-on-one. Afterwards, you can come on back and we can all talk together." That's system-based, non-individualized, anti-leadership talk, and it really helps.

Still... I need to think about when each paradigm is appropriate, and how to play to my strengths, which--to the extent that I even have any--are all in the area of leadership, not social work, or not the construction I'm calling "social work." I'm pretty sure one thing I can do is pray more often with our Christian clients, and pray in more traditional Christian, Catholic language--I think "may Christ our Lord shelter you in His wounds" is actually more appropriate to my leadership persona than the standard evangelical "I just thank Jesus for bringing us here today" stuff which makes me really self-conscious and fake.

Comments, questions, suggestions, howls of execration?
THE CHEATIN' SONG AS FRACTAL: This post made me think of the fourth section of this one. And check out section five for an entirely Eve-approved use of the term "distilled"!

Also, me vs. realism.
PITY THIS BUSY MONSTER, MANUNKIND: This post about Junji Ito's horror manga Uzumaki (h/t Sean Collins) made me think about a couple of things. First, I realized that I have a harder time with cosmic-horror than with small-scale horror, and so realized that if I went back to Uzumaki knowing that cosmic horror was on its way, I wouldn't be disappointed by the later volumes, and might get a lot more out of them.

But also! There's this:
In his superb The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart, Noel Carroll argues that monsters are central to the effects of horror, and the primary trait of these monsters—beyond their obvious malicious intent--is their impurity, defined by their “interstitiality and categorical contradictoriness” (43). As human beings, we structure the world into mutually exclusive categories and respond with dismay and revulsion when we encounter something or someone that doesn’t fit into that worldview--i.e. a monster.

And I couldn't help thinking: OK, but so here, Christ is a monster (in a monstrance!)--genre-crossing God and man. The Eucharist is a monster, bread and flesh and God. The Trinity is a monster, three and one. The Mass is a monster, now and always.

And man is a monster, several times over: clay and breath, soul and flesh, consciousness and meat, sinner and imago Dei.

I don't have a huge amount to say about this, really. One: Monster horror is self-recognition. Two: Possibly the best genre for the Crucifixion is horror, not tragedy. Three: Not all "impurity" is the same kind of impurity.

If people have more to say... I'd like to hear it.
ROMOPHOBIA--THE WORST DISEASE: Speaking of things I haven't read yet, the Cigarette Smoking Blogger has posted her senior essay: "Decadence, Christianity, and Oscar Wilde's Conversion to Catholicism." I've been putting it off for fear that reading it will cause me to explode from sheer awesome.

(Was a bit conflicted whether this post title was the best possible punk reference; would also entertain nominations of, "When Two Heavens Clash." 1877, and we are going mad....)
MARRIAGE MAKES THE BOURGEOISIE AND THE REBEL: The Institute for Marriage and Public Policy has collected the Pope's statements on marriage (PDF). Learn the secret connection between weddings and world peace!

(...I haven't read it yet.)
RIDDLING WHILE FOAM BURNS: I just saw The Way Things Go.

In a seemingly-abandoned warehouse, an incredibly complex apparatus has been set up, with no apparent purpose save its own destruction--and glory. A slowly untwisting garbage bag sets off a chain reaction of rusty, low-rent, slow, implacable old objects. The camera moves in relentlessly; the soundtrack is intensely tactile; there are menacing knives, whistling kettles, huge wooden spools rolling all catawampus toward an inevitable destination. There are unnatural combinations, like the burning foam, and eerie puns, like the shoes that walk by themselves. The action accelerates, but mostly decelerates, its rhythm winding you up into a fever of anticipation. What if it won't work? What if it doesn't work? ...But you know it will work.

Oh my gosh, you guys. This is basically a horror movie where nothing bad happens!

Incredibly highly recommended. Parents and teachers might really love this as a science hook for their kids--I haven't watched the special features, but I'm pretty sure the physics and chemistry of the crazily awesome Rube Goldberg contraption get explained--but really, I loved this for its funhouse reflection of horror. Many thanks to the Rat.

(Title credited to Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

THE FOUNTAIN OF BETHESDA, MD: Claw of the Conciliator writes,
Just saw your new Weakerthans article. Just FYI, in case you don't know: St. Boniface and St. Vital are the names of two neighborhoods here in Winnipeg. St. Boniface is the historically French one, and St. Vital is a fairly upper-middle-class one that people make a lot of jokes about. I guess because it's got a high proportion of rich kids with time on their hands there's a lot of wild parties and whatnot.

I did not know that! Because the alternative would make me look dumb (and, to be fair, the line does specifically ask for the saints'/neighborhoods' intercession), I stick to the story that it's a double reference....

Friday, April 11, 2008

ENEMIES OF EROS: It's startling how much of contemporary rhetoric is expended to get us to view sex as banal, rather than sublime.... I guess it hurts less that way?

Or: "We're just roommates," says the last man; and he blinks.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

NEVER BEAST TODAY: So it took me until yesterday to figure out that this post about the Beast in Revelation might somehow be connected to the 200-proof, killer distillation of present-tense in, "I Am that I Am."
...It got even hotter in the Conex container, the kind you see on top of 18-wheelers, where Ben kept his prisoners. Not uncommonly the thermometer inside read 135, even 145 degrees. The Conex box was the first stop for all prisoners brought to the base, most of them Iraqis swept up during mass raids. Ben kept them blindfolded, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic zip ties, without food or sleep, for up to 48 hours at a time.

Via Noli Irritare Leones.
No constaba el nombre del heresiarca, pero sí la noticia de su doctrina, formulada en palabras casí idénticas a las repetidas por él, aunque--tal vez--literariamente inferiores.
--"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"
UNQUIET GRAVES: Horror movie reviews. Or, really, snacks. In the order in which I saw them:

Audition: Japanese horror; incredibly scary and suspenseful until the climax begins, about 20-30 minutes from the end. After that it devolved, from my perspective, into standard-issue icky-creepy-ouch. I loved the setup (widower auditions women for role of next wife, but becomes enthralled by intensely frightening beautiful lady with a secret) but the climax felt way too horror-movie, rather than actually horrifying. Still: scariest gray bag in movie history, you ask me.

May: I feel like I must have been missing something. It struck me as utterly predictable indie-Psycho. I'm pretty sure that people liked this movie for a reason, so if you did, please don't think I'm saying you're wrong: I'm saying I don't get it, and I'd be interested to hear what you think I didn't grasp here.

...I also saw Session 9 around the same time I saw these two movies, and between the three of them, I got thoroughly sick of "being hurt by others makes you a bad person" storylines. "I live in the weak and the wounded"--an idea that's more cruel than it is true; anti-Christian; and, three movies in a row, just wearying.

I actually got a lot out of Session 9, and I'll say the following four things with certainty: It looks absolutely amazing (it was filmed in a real, abandoned mental hospital, an enormous complex of sorrow--this setting is the reason to see the movie), it has a terrific blue-collar setup, the actors are great, and there are too many red herrings. It's a memorable and beautifully-shot movie. I'm not sure what, if anything, I have to say about mental illness in horror; Session 9 equivocates between being a movie about past suffering and being a movie about creepy people. I didn't like the fact that the movie didn't even seem to realize that it was exploitive.

It's a powerful B-movie, basically. I love B-movies, but a lot of them... not so much with the thinking.

Ringu and then The Ring: It's probably easier to talk about these two together, even though it might well be true that people generally prefer whichever one they saw first. I strongly preferred Ringu.

Some of that was because, compared to the American remake, it maximized horror elements that always work for me (shots of the black and churning ocean) and minimized horror elements that never do (lugubrious children). I will say for certain that the soundtrack of Ringu is just miles beyond the predictable soundtrack of The Ring--Ringu's inhuman noises genuinely kept me up at night afterward, jolting awake at every little rumble or squeak. I'm pretty sure the acting is better, more physical and horrifying. Ringu is a scary, scary movie, with an awesomely uncompromising ending. (And yes, I realize there's one way in which the American ending is actually more merciless. I'm not sure why I still preferred the Japanese one--possibly just because the ending is deeply character-centered, and I cared about the Japanese characters more, see below.)

Sean Collins writes about the way in which the American version has certain culture-war/cautionary-tale elements. And I mean, yes, your parent is not your pal; but the addition of this cautionary element is the main reason I disliked the American version from the start, and only slowly got over myself and started noticing ways in which it was also good, and even the occasional improvement over the Japanese version. (You should see both, btw, although I agree with the friend who strongly urged me to see Ringu first.)

Anyway, the American characters are just so incredibly unpleasant! They're rude and annoying (yes, the kid too, very much so), and I didn't want to be around them. The Japanese characters are kind of generic, but generically likable. The lady even remembers to take off her shoes when she enters a creepy scary cabin she's casing! I think that makes the indictment of the story's ending more universal in the Japanese version: Cautionary tales are inherently less scary if you don't do the bad behavior in question, and I, you know, don't cuss in front of children, and I try not to do that obnoxious American "*sigh* I'm sorry, but not really" vocal inflection. Or maybe I can phrase it as: "Be as bad as you want, it doesn't matter" is less scary to me than, "Be as good as you can, it won't matter"....

ps: Possibly wrong, or banal, oversimplifying thought: Could it be said that The Ring turns its merciless storyline toward the horror of children as moral equals, and Ringu drives the same story toward the horror of family as hierarchy?
YOUR MOM'S A MAMMAL!: So today I finally got to see the new(ish) Hall of Mammals at the Museum of Natural History. It's so awesome!!!

The old Hall was totally fun, but basically just stuffed animals in poses behind glass. I loved it, but I don't think I ever learned much beyond, "Look! wolfs!" You needed more focus than a child can typically muster to not only read but also remember the wall captions.

The new Hall is improved in every way. The taxidermy is terrific: the leaping, clutching, clawing lionesses attacking their prey; the ickle vampire bat feasting on a fake human foot (!); the stalking jaguar and spraddle-legged giraffe and superb Cape porcupine. At least two critters were posed nursing at their mommies' teats, which I thought was absolutely adorable.

The interactive displays are geared to a child's level of ability and concentration, but manage to be fun and informative nonetheless. Guess which skull belongs to a nocturnal creature, and lift the flap for an answer! (It's the one with the bigger eyesockets.) Find the food sources hidden in the autumn forest! What's a monotreme, and why? (...Ew, is why, it turns out.) The new Hall understands that a "night monkey" is kind of cool, but "the world's only night monkey" is much cooler. Kids get interesting debates and ideas that could lead to future reading and learning, presented in a way they could easily remember: There's a dingo posed in spotlight, with a shadowed thylacine in the background; you can press a button to spotlight the thylacine, read a brief blurb on when the dingo displaced the thylacine, and see a photo of two dingos fastening on one prey animal, with an explanation that cooperative hunting is one reason the dingo may have triumphed over its ecological rival. There was really quite a lot of information in a brief caption, presented quickly but memorably, and in a way that engaged both reason and imagination.

I was really, really impressed. Wildly recommended!

Friday, April 04, 2008

"IN PRAISE OF DISENCHANTMENT": My Inside Catholic column, on superstition.

I've got a four-leaf clover
And it ain't done me a single lick of good --
I'm still a drunk and I'm still a loser
Living in a lousy neighborhood

-- Old 97's, "Four-Leaf Clover"
Bioy Casares había cenado conmigo esa noche y nos demoró una vasta polémica sobre la ejecución de una novela in primera persona, cuyo narrador omitiera o desfigurara los hechos e incurriera en diversas contradicciones, que permitieran a unos pocos lectores--a muy pocos lectores--la adivinación de una realidad atroz o banal. Desde el fondo remoto del corredor, el espejo nos acechaba. Descubrimos (en la alta noche ese descubrimiento es inevitable) que los espejos tienen algo monstruoso. Entonces Bioy Casares recordó que uno de los heresiarcas de Uqbar había declarado que los espejos y la cópula son abominables, porque multiplican el número de los hombres.
--Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius"--yes, I'm trying to read Spanish for the first time in at least ten years.