Saturday, July 30, 2011

KARL MARX MONUMENT DISMANTLED, TO BE REPLACED BY CHURCH: The Google machine tells me this is real. Via WAWIV; click through to the link-within-a-link:
The monument to Karl Marx at Sovetskaya Square in downtown Penza was dismantled as a cathedral will be erected instead of it, the Penza Diocese told Interfax.

"A part of the Savior Cathedral will occupy this part of the square; its construction is underway," the interviewee of the agency said. ...

The world's first monument to Marx was set up in Penza on May 1, 1918, but it broke down as it was made of clay.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A federal court today ruled (read the court's decision) that Louisiana’s government-imposed monopoly on casket sales in the state is unconstitutional, closing the lid on the economic protection scheme and resurrecting an opportunity for local monks to provide for themselves by creating and selling their handmade caskets. The monks of Saint Joseph Abbey of Saint Benedict, La., and the Institute for Justice, which represents the order in court, had filed suit to fight Louisiana’s government-imposed casket cartel.

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

--from yesterday's readings; the way God answers your prayers is never the way you expect, even when the answer is "yes"

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SHEEP IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING: OK, so which responses to the "atheist/Christian Turing test" really were by atheists and which were by Christians? I expect Leah will post more on this soon, but the "answer key" is here for those who want to speculate wildly on What It All Means!
"DEPRESSED" FERRET STILL ON RUN AFTER FLEEING SIBERIAN CIRCUS: Via TKB, on a slightly different note from the post below....:
Hopes were raised Friday that the ferret had been found when Chita resident Ivan Burtsev found a ferret on a city street near the Zabaikalye hotel the night before and brought it to the local zoo.

"He is absolutely tame. He understands how to open doors, and he comes when you tap your leg," Burtsev told news site, adding that he had been aware of the runaway ferret from news reports.

But circus art director Zhanna Lazerson rejected the ferret after examining it at the zoo.

"It's not our ferret," she said, according to Interfax.

Lazerson said earlier that the circus wasn't exactly missing its ferret, calling the animal a "terrible glutton, idle to the core." ...

The monkey was found shortly after the escape in a circus doghouse, cuddling with a dog. Both were sound asleep. The parakeet is still on the run.

Twitter blogs have been opened in the names of the two missing animals. In a weekend post, FerretFeelsDown complained, "Look here, even the parakeet is ignoring me :( ."

I noticed something as well during the idle minutes of waiting. I had often seen German soldiers at home, naturally. But then they were always in a hurry, with tense, occupied faces and flawless attire. Here, on the other hand, they were different, more relaxed. That was my impression. They moved a bit more casually.
--Imre Kertész, Fateless, tr. Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson; the narrator is a 15-year-old Hungarian Jewish boy recounting his first hour in Auschwitz

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

THE PLANTS UNDER THE RUGS ARE MOVING. Have I done this post before, where I talk about what you should read if you want to read Stephen King? [shifted to my other blog, because there are a couple spoilerous things.]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blogwatch--so they say--is the root of all evil today...

"Out of Poverty, Family-Style":
A turning point came when Keshwar was asked to join a group of families who had self-organized as part of an initiative that helps people in low-income communities achieve their goals. Called the Family Independence Initiative (FII), its approach is radically different from the American social service model. Although it is still quite small — working with a few hundred families — its results are so striking that the White House has taken notice. What FII does is create a structure for families that encourages the sense of control, desire for self-determination, and mutual support that have characterized the collective rise out of poverty for countless communities in American history.

FII is not a “program” in a traditional sense. It doesn’t seek to implement changes, but to elicit them from others. It was launched as a research project by Maurice Lim Miller in Oakland in 2001. Lim Miller, whose mother was an immigrant from Mexico who worked multiple jobs to support her children, had previously spent 22 years building Asian Neighborhood Design, a youth development and job training program, for which he was honored by President Clinton during the 1999 State of the Union address.

Lim Miller had come to believe that the American social welfare system focused too much on poor people’s needs and deficits, while overlooking — and even inhibiting — their strengths. A safety net is crucial when people are in crisis, he said. But most poor families are not in free fall. They don’t need nets to catch them so much as they need springboards to jump higher. In a conversation with Oakland’s mayor Jerry Brown (now California’s governor), Brown challenged Lim Miller to try something different and gave him broad scope to be creative.

Lim Miller wanted to see what families would do if they came together in a context that supported their initiative. He began by identifying families in low-income communities who were surviving, but who had “given up hope” of aspiring to more. He asked them to pull together six to eight other families. He offered them a challenge. The country had been waging a war on poverty for 40 years, he said, but the problem remained unsolved. “What we’re going to do is give you some resources and connections and we’re going to trust that you’ll do something,” he said. “You guys are in the power position. If you do nothing we’ll fail. If you do something we’ll all learn.” ...

“When you come into a community that is vulnerable with professionals with power and preset ideas, it is overpowering to families and it can hold them back,” he said. “Nobody wants to hear that because we’re all the good guys. But the focus on need undermines our ability to see their strengths — and their ability to see their own strengths.”

more (via WAWIV)

Megan McArdle: Create a special job credit for the long-term unemployed. More here, including McArdle's own memories of the fear and shame provoked by unemployment. And a relevant much earlier post on the economics of hiring convicts, among other things.

"Patt Morrison Asks: Donald Heller, Death Penalty Advocate No More":
'Remanded" -- taken into custody. In his career as a New York prosecutor and a federal prosecutor in California, Donald Heller has asked the court to remand guilty defendants countless times. He helped put away Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford, and a big-time heroin dealer, a man Heller believed destroyed many lives. At the dealer's sentencing hearing, the prosecutor remarked that were the death penalty an option, he would volunteer to "throw the switch." After that, a law clerk called him "Mad Dog," and the nickname stuck. Heller left the U.S. attorney's office in 1977 -- the "remanded'' sign was a farewell gift -- but he didn't give up his law-and-order cred. He's the author of the Briggs initiative, a 1978 ballot measure (named for its sponsor, state Sen. John Briggs) that broadly expanded the kinds of murders eligible for capital punishment. It helped make California's the most populous and expensive death row in the nation. But for more than a decade, Heller has been saying it's time to stop. Now a defense attorney with a mostly white-collar clientele, he testified recently at the state Capitol about the need to undo his legal handiwork, which has changed so many lives -- and ended some.

more (via SKTJ--some interesting stuff here, even for those who have followed the issues relatively closely)

Geek Cornucopia: Christian movies! A couple of these look really fascinating, and are definitely getting added to the queue.

Kindertrauma: "How to End Things, With John Carpenter."

And finally, Unequally Yoked has opened voting on the "Christian Turing Test." Basically, she got a bunch of Christians and atheists to answer questions about why they're Christian, so half of the field is bluffing and the other half is answering honestly. You get to guess which is which! It's a pretty fascinating cultural project, and while I have no idea how I would answer any of the questions (including the ones for atheists, in the previous round), I am really looking forward to reading her conclusions and other people's comments.

Friday, July 15, 2011

IT'S FUN TO LOSE AND TO PRETEND: Kathleen Hanna on the secret history of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Rough language and imagery, and obviously I don't agree with her re: pregnancy centers, but if you can listen to this without crying then maybe you need to recalibrate. (And some guys in the audience hoot when she first mentions stripping, because... because agony and irony are side by side on my piano keys?)

Here we are now; entertain us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

HOW TO MAKE ANY CHEESE MELT LIKE AMERICAN (ALMOST): I pretty much use munster and pepperjack on burgers, both of which melt like crazy no matter what you do. But if you prefer something else, this post will be relevant to your interests--and it's kind of awesome in a "...that's chemistry, right? Or physics? Crap, it's really physics, isn't it?" sense.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"I AM A YOUNG MAN." I know it's hard to believe, but I had never seen The Hunger before last night! It was just as awesome as I'd hoped, lush and not gory and very sad. I liked that vampirism was really horrible--sexual, yes, but not some sanitized metaphor. The music is great, the cast is stellar, and while I'm glad I went into it knowing that the ending lacks what the philosophers call "sense," it was very emotionally-effective. Few horror movies focus on fear of aging and its humiliations without demonizing the elderly, IME; this movie didn't pull many punches on those subjects, but identified with the sufferers rather than being disgusted by them. (Cf the kissing-old-Bowie scene.) Really glad I saw this.
BLANK SILVER SCREEN: So far, my readers seem to find it much easier to suggest movies which strike them as "atheist" in tone rather than Christian ones. I don't know what that says about you people, or movies, or God.... Anyway the suggestions include Bio-Dome, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Dagon, Zardoz, and Altered States.

Friday, July 08, 2011

INSIDE OF A CATHOLIC, IT'S TOO DARK TO READ: Summer reading recs 2011; I am involved.
DOCTOR, MY EYES: Unequally Yoked is holding a contest-type thing where atheists and Christians attempt to answer relatively basic apologetic questions without letting on what they really believe. Then, you guys (yes, you, the viewers at home, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea) get to vote on which responses you think are from real atheists and which are from papists and snake-handlers dressed up in ghost suits. This seems fun! So I figured I'd let you know that voting on the Talk Like an Atheist round is now open.

I have a lot of problems with the questions for atheists, which seem to provoke really bloodless and boring responses (cf the repetition of some variation on, "If I had a road to Damascus experience, I'd check myself in to a respected medical establishment"). That said, I think it's kind of fascinating to see what people think atheists are like, as a tribe or contemporary identity-group, and I suspect the same will be true for the Christian responses.

I'm startled and dismayed by how few of the "atheist" responses (again, some are really written by Christians, so keep that in mind) are basically, "The world is obvious and boring! Morality is mostly a matter of willpower, not discernment. I'm a good person!" Very few of these guys have anything to say to Kafka, let alone an actual Christian. That said, I'm totally fascinated to see which kinds of self-presentation are considered most convincing by atheists and by Christians; I think this is mostly an exercise not in philosophy but in cultural criticism, in which we try to figure out who we think we are and who we think they are. As such it's pretty great.
SOME SAY THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES. I SAY BARACK OBAMA IS HOT! This may, of course, be merely a selection effect (as opposed to a selection effect which nonetheless says something important), but it seems to me that I'm much more likely to run across liberals who really like Democratic politicians and feel proud of them or protective of them, and conservatives who really dislike Republican politicians and hold their noses in the voting booth.

If I'm right about this, what should I make of it? A lot of op-ed types seem to take any expressed conservative disillusionment with the overall GOP field as a sign of weakness or bad conscience--even the right-wingers know they're wrong! I tend to view it in the exact opposite light. I generally take this divergence as an indictment of liberals (detainees? what detainees?) but I do realize that my tendency toward political despair is at least partly the result of my own incompetence in forming political judgments. If I talk about explicitly political issues on the blog you can be sure I really, really mean what I say (e.g. on marriage, or torture) because most of what I've learned since I started the blog in 2002 is how often I have nothing of value to contribute.

In turn, this has made me really viscerally aware of how much our political judgments rely on personal trust (since the amount of knowledge we would need to amass to be respectable wonks, combined with the amount of political philosophy we'd need to do to sort through and assess that knowledge, is simply astounding), which I think has made me more personally negative toward both politicians and people who "like" politicians or have favorite politicians. You can like things about people who are politicians (I like Michelle Bachmann's commitment to foster parenting) without feeling any warm fuzziness about their public service or business acumen or whatever Little Father mishegoss we're supposed to accept.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

CINEMA PARADISO: So there's an atheist film festival. Reading about it, I found myself wondering how a movie could really represent one worldview over another. I think what a lot of atheism-vs-theism debates miss (more on this soon) is that you can work with the exact same evidence and come to radically different conclusions about the meaning of that evidence. And since film is such a visual medium, I'm fascinated by the difference between films which present a basically godless world and films which present a basically Christian world. (Only going with Christianity here because it's what I'm most familiar with, both because I believe it and because I've seen more movies which believe it.)

So I'm opening the floor to you guys: Which movies would you screen in an atheist film festival? What about a Christian film festival? Or other religions?

For me, Cube and the Orson Welles adaptation of The Trial would absolutely be a part of the atheist festival. Nobody Knows would also be there, I think. For movies which portray or make real a Christian world--movies in which, while the evidence is still open to interpretation, the obvious interpretation is Christian--I'd say Cavalier's Therese of course, and Of Gods and Men, and maybe even Donnie Darko. Looking at these lists, I think the distinguishing characteristic is how the movie presents our intense longing for suffering to have meaning: Is this longing simply the most heartbreaking kind of wishful thinking, or does it reflect something real about the world for which we were made, in the same way that thirst implies the existence of water?

I think that's my most common criterion. What are yours?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

SHADES OF BLACK: Akashic Press has a demi-fascinating series of books called _________ Noir, where ________ is the name of a city or area. The idea is that each volume has stories which are in some sense "noir" and which capture some essential element of the setting. I've read almost all of Moscow Noir (didn't finish it because I somehow lost the book in a Whole Foods in Tenleytown, which is pretty much the least noir place in the entire world) and all of Indian Country Noir, so here are a couple thoughts on how those books differ. Wild overgeneralizations ahead!

Moscow Noir is basically roughed-up stories about roughed-up men, with the occasional girl in cheap lipstick. It has a lot of self-consciousness about its noir elements, a lot of explicit references to Hollywood. The men are all low-level thugs, life's losers, and the overall atmosphere is Tenement, Half-Drunk. I liked it a lot! Fans of LA Confidential might check it out.

Indian Country Noir is much more varied in tone. There are several revenge stories, and that revenge is often at least somewhat satisfying for the reader, as vs. Moscow Noir where revenge is always a failure which leaves the reader feeling thwarted and sad. The political elements, the specific nature of racism and oppression, are much more explicitly-named here than in the Russian book.

Native religion is a real, viable option for these characters, whereas Russian Orthodoxy is only mentioned in one story in Moscow Noir and is treated with a certain half-respectful acidity there. Several ICN stories are written as if Native religion is true, real, the actual story of the world. Sadly, I think if those stories received a contemporary genre classification they'd be called "magical realism," because mainstream lit-fic isn't allowed to believe in God or the gods anymore. On a perhaps-related note, peace is a more explicit theme in this book than in Moscow Noir, although I'm not sure it's ever presented as a real possibility.

You could say that the Moscow book is noir because what consistently fails is the protagonists' struggle for success or at least escape, and the Indian Country book is noir because what consistently fails is the protagonists' struggle to make peace. That's reductive, but I do think it might be a bit illuminating.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"I THINK THAT BAKING IS KIND OF LIKE... PARENTING." There's a new My Drunk Kitchen!
UPDATE: Oh yes, this "Mountain Goats of Base" video is immensely endearing. With hand gestures!
AND SOME WE DO FOR LOVE, LOVE, LOVE: Some brief comments by me on that NYTM cover story about Dan Savage and adultery-for-your-marriage. Let me know if you see any interesting commentary on the Times piece.
SOMEDAY ALL THIS WILL BE PICTURESQUE RUINS: Final Mountain Goats post (for now).

First, some links from others. Light on Dark Water talks about the gallows humor of Tallahassee.

AM suggests that Goats fans check out Wovenhand, and offers this ferocious, Soviet-surrealism video as evidence. (He says it "would fit well with your 'so far from God so far from the United States' tag.") Well worth your time. I haven't read this interview yet.

And both CR and HEAR pointed me toward this video of Darnielle covering Ace of Base. Awesome. I love watching people love things.

And now some short notes on albums.

We Shall All Be Healed: This grew on me. (Like a fungus, yes, I know.) At first it's scraps and postcards and bad broken memories from a really unpleasant time of life, a friend handcuffed to a hospital bed; and then it sort of comes together into the getting-clean album, cotton balls in the top drawer. The persistent punishment of not being trusted. There's a lot of resignation to consequences ("You're gonna do what you want to do, no matter what I ask of you," which works both ways, from the addict to the cop or from the lover to the addict). Man, this guy really tries hard to hope in a hard-up world.

The Life of the World to Come: Another entry in the death-haunted art of friendship, with song titles from Scripture, sometimes comforting and sometimes... the other things that Scripture is. "And if my prayer go unanswered, that's okay" reminded me of the Weakerthans' "I want to call requests down heating vents/and hear them answered with a whispered 'no'," and in general I could just point you to my Weakerthans review piece instead of writing about this album.

The title of the last song pretty much says it all: "Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace."

All Eternals Deck: "Estate Sale Sign": Yeah, if you liked Everything Must Go you might check this one out too. Similar metaphor, similar meaning, similarly awesome, with the urgency acknowledged rather than denied as long as possible.

"The Autopsy Garland": "Deco cufflinks and cognac by the glass," REALLY nice use of hard consonants. "You don't want to see these guys without their masks on. Or their gloves."

I know the title of this song is the reason I had this thought, but it's still true: Fans of the MGs should read Kathy Shaidle's poetry.
I pose before a lined and numbered wall,
my head like shot-glassed whisky.
ALWAYS COMING HOME: The tally, Independence Day 2011:

Drunken renditions of the national anthem on the roof of our building: two. Plus another song I genuinely couldn't even understand, but the people singing it seemed very patriotic!
Number of people assigned to bring knives for the watermelon: two.
Number of watermelon-capable weapons achieved by our party: zero.
Number of heart-shaped fireworks: even one is too many.
Wine on my keyboard: not mine.
Books lent: ...I think, seven?
Books borrowed: one.
Things spilled on a book by Raymond Carver: salsa; rain.
United States policy choices denounced, current: only three in the conversations I heard; probable future: at least two; alternate-historical, one.

Happy Fourth of July, y'all.