Tuesday, September 30, 2003

NATURE IS A LANGUAGE, CAN'T ANYBODY READ? Second-to-last part of "What You Can Do for Your Country." Last part will be posted Wednesday-ish. You can read the whole thing in order here or just get the latest chapter here.

As usual, I am really sorry about how awful that page looks. Try to go all ascetic and "the beauty of this world means nothing to me!"-ish. Well no, don't; but still, try to ignore my hideous fiction-blog template. I'll fix it someday (and its little dog, too).

Monday, September 29, 2003

YOU WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE A CUNNING PLOT IF IT PAINTED ITSELF BLUE AND DANCED ON THE TABLE SINGING "CUNNING PLOTS ARE HERE AGAIN!" Hilarious what-not-to-do "Batman" takedown by Sean Collins. Plot-oriented writers should read this one.

In other comicsy news, that Lying in the Gutters link below has "New X-Men" rumors that intrigue me. Scott Summers is by far my favorite X-character, and I got into NXM in large part because so far Grant Morrison has totally had Scott's number but good. (The first NXM issue I read was, I think, either "Brimstone and Whiskey" or one of the issues flanking it.) So the fact that Morrison is fighting to make permanent, non-refundable, non-retconnable (YAY!) changes in the character definitely catches my eye. Hmm hmm hmm!

Have I mentioned that I know you care about this stuff? Anyway, the first link really is of interest to non-X-fans who want a good "Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper"-style beatdown. The other one not so much.
DEATH AND THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER. Characteristically powerful post from Dappled Things. This (death) will be the subject of the next short story I blog. I'm not sure which one it will be--there are two I'm choosing between--but both of them are about a) mortality and b) death. (Not quite the same things--a condition and an experience.) I would say I don't know why this subject came up twice in the stuff I've been working on lately, except that I kind of do.
ARE YOU IN OR NEAR TAMPA, FLORIDA? Have you got bones? (Like, your own?)

Via Lying in the Gutters, ultimately via Journalista!:

"A young child needs bone marrow transplant urgently, and it's been very difficult to find a match. ...

"Maybe you can help. The full press release is reprinted below. Find out more about the crisis at www.fbsblood.org. E-mail Tony at tonypanaccio@yahoo.com. And if you're in the area, there's a drive for marrow donors scheduled for Tuesday the 30th from 11am to 4pm at the The Phyllis Marshall University Center, University of South Florida, Tampa.

"Tampa Bay Area Girl Needs Bone Marrow Transplant, But Cannot Find Donor Tampa, FL "September 26, 2003 -- A 3-year-old Tampa girl may be the latest victim of a bone marrow donor crisis that is affecting ethnic minorities around the country.

"NBC News last night reported a national crisis for ethnic minorities waiting for bone marrow transplants. More than three-quarters of the existing 5 million existing bone marrow donors in the national registry are Caucasian. That means anyone who belongs to an ethnic minority will have an exponentially more difficult task finding a match. Experts estimate that more than 4,000 people a year, mostly minorities, die from leukemia alone because they can't find a matching donor.

"Katia Solomon, the three-year-old daughter of Myron and Tracy Solomon of Carrollwood, falls into the ethnic minority category, and may soon die without a bone marrow transplant. She was diagnosed with Leukemia in April of 2002, has been through a battery of chemotherapy and complications, fought her way into remission, but as of last month, has relapsed and been readmitted to All Children's Hospital to prepare for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. The only problem is that the family, working with the Florida Blood Service, has not been able to find a donor.

"While the Florida Blood Service has set up several open blood drives over the next few days in different parts of Tampa Bay, anyone around the country can help this weekend by going to ANY blood bank or bloodmobile donor drive and being tested to see if theya re a match for Katia's bone marrow. Being tested to be donor is easy and fast. Simply advise whichever blood bank you visit that you are testing for Katia A. Solomon, and they will take a small vial of blood from you, and that's it. You'll be notified in a week or two if you are a match, depending on how many tests are sent to the lab.

"Direct contact for Myron Solomon: (813) 249-4279

"Media Contact for family: Tony Panaccio
(813) 781-2446
I SHOULD READ THE FREE COPIES OF THE WASHINGTON POST LYING AROUND IN THE COFFEESHOP MORE OFTEN. Those "Iraqis want to love us and hug us and squeeze us and name us George" polls aren't all they're cracked up to be.

And North Carolina is paying reparations to the "unfit" people sterilized at the command of the state up through the 1970s.
Blogwatch on the streets of London,
Blogwatch on the streets of Humberside...

Riverbend Blog: Anybody got more info on this?: "This media free-for-all [in Iraq] lasted for about two months. Then, some newspapers were ‘warned’ that some of their political content was unacceptable- especially when discussing occupation forces. One or two papers were actually shut down, while others were made to retract some of what they had written. The news channels followed suit. The CPA came out with a list of things that weren’t to be discussed- including the number of casualties, the number of attacks on the Coalition and other specifics. And we all began giving each other knowing looks- it’s only ‘freedom of the press’ when you have good things to say... Iraqis know all about *that*."

Unqualified Offerings: Command-and-control in Iraq. Only it's not clear so much about the "control" part. Also, this is my promise and/or threat that I will in fact organize my previous posts on same-sex marriage and reply to UO's/other people's various posts on ditto, this week, but not until at least Thursday. You have been warned.

The Volokh Conspiracy: "Doonesbury" and campaign finance reform. And the power of the press. A very good, basic post on one of the problems w/CFR.

...Burn down the blogwatch
Hang the blessed DJ
Because the music he constantly plays
It says nothing to me about my life....
"WHAT IF THERE IS SOMETHING GOING ON IN THERE?": "Daniel Rios is 24 years old, with wavy black hair, a thick mustache and a glassy stare that seems to look both at you and through you. One day almost four years ago, while he was taking a shower, a blood vessel ruptured in his brain, and he collapsed on the bathroom floor. After emergency surgery, he lay in a coma for three weeks. When he finally opened his eyes, he could not speak or move his body; his head simply lolled. In the months that followed, the doctors monitoring him at the Center for Head Injuries at the J.F.K. Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison, N.J., saw few signs that he had any meaningful mental life. Sometimes he looked as if he were crying. Other times his eyes would follow a mirror passed before his face. On his best days he was able to close his eyes on command. But those days were rare. For the most part he lay unresponsive, adrift in a neurological twilight.

"One morning just over a year after his accident, Rios was taken to the Sloan Kettering Institute on Manhattan's East Side. There, in a dim room, a group of researchers placed a mask over his eyes, fixed headphones over his ears and guided his head into the bore of an M.R.I. machine. A 40-second loop of a recording made by Rios's sister Maria played through the headphones: she told him that she was there with him, that she loved him. As the sound entered his ears, the M.R.I. machine scanned his brain, mapping changes in activity. Several hours afterward, two researchers, Nicholas D. Schiff and Joy Hirsch, took a look at the images from the scan. They hadn't been sure what to expect -- Rios was among the first people in his condition to have his brain activity measured in this way -- but they certainly weren't expecting what they saw. 'We just stared at these images,' recalls Schiff, an expert in consciousness disorders at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. 'There didn't seem to be anything missing.'

"As the tape of his sister's voice played, several distinct clusters of neurons in Rios's brain had fired in a manner virtually identical to that of a healthy subject. Some clusters that became active were those known to help process spoken language, others to recall memories. Was Rios recognizing his sister's voice, remembering her? 'You couldn't tell the difference between these parts of his brain and the brain of one of my graduate students,' says Hirsch, an expert in brain imaging at Columbia University. Even the visual centers of Rios's brain had come alive, despite the fact that his eyes were covered. It was as if his sister's words awakened his mind's eye.

"To the medical world, Rios and the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who suffer from impaired consciousness present a mystery. Traditionally, there have essentially been only two ways to classify them: as comatose (eyes closed and responses limited to basic reflexes) or vegetative (eyes opening and closing in a cycle of sleeping and waking but without any sign of awareness). In either case, it has been assumed that they have no high-level thought. But Schiff, Hirsch and a small group of like-minded researchers are studying people like Rios and finding that the truth is far more complicated. Their evidence suggests that even after an injury that leaves a brain badly damaged, even after months or years with little sign of consciousness, people may still be capable of complex mental activity. 'If I say, ''Touch your nose,'' and you touch your nose, and then I say ''Touch your nose'' six more times, and you don't do it, how do we account for the one time you did?' asks Joseph T. Giacino, a neuropsychologist who collaborates with Schiff and Hirsch."


This stuff is important not only to doctors and to the families of people with profound brain injuries. It affects all of us, because there are people right now who may be denied food, water, and the kinds of treatment that in some cases have helped them recover, because somebody deemed them insufficiently conscious with no hope of recovery. Very important link via Amy Welborn.
"In the [John] Adams formulation, aristocracies were to society as the passions were to the individual personality, permanent fixtures susceptible to disciplined containment and artful channeling, but never altogether removable."
--Founding Brothers

Friday, September 26, 2003

Are you not loyal to your pride?
Are you not on the blogwatch side?

The Center for the Future of Russia has a blog tracking anti-liberal developments in that beleaguered country. Via Cacciaguida.

Forager23: If I ran film grad school... "The movies shown will include canonical classics, pure period pieces, forgotten gems, as well as the occasional piece of utter crap, just to keep our students guessing."

Inappropriate Response: On same-sex marriage. Over the weekend, assuming my archives return, I'm going to organize my previous posts on this subject so that you all can at least have a fighting chance of making sense of my tangled comments.

Polytropos: Football. I empathize. I don't get it, personally. "All that aside, I still enjoyed myself, though I have grown envious of foote-ball fans. Clearly they possess a special, extra compartment in their brain devoted to storing foote-ball trivia and statistics. I assume this must be the case because if I had to retain the amount of lore they are able to draw upon at a moment’s notice, it would quickly edge out other important data such as the complete lyrics to 'It’s the End of the World As We Know It,' the fact that Thundarr the Barbarian’s sidekicks are named Ariel and Ookla, and how to brush my teeth."

The Chaldean Bishop of Baghdad thinks things are going as well as could be expected, says media is distorting the picture. Via Hit & Run.

Which superhero are you? I'm either Nightcrawler, which is pretty darn cool, or the Hulk, which is less so. Ah well, you won't like me when I blogwatch.... Via Neilalien.

An interview with Grant Morrison in which he says several things about the X-Men that strike me as accurate. Also, pretty pictures. Via Big Sunny D.
"Anyone ever tell you that you have a dormant, deep-rooted hostility complex?"
--Henry McCoy, to a prehistoric guy riding a giant carnivorous bird, Essential Uncanny X-Men vol. 1 a.k.a. a big book made out of ice cream

Thursday, September 25, 2003

BROKEN RECORD (ME, NOT HIM): Unqualified Offerings on me on same-sex marriage. I guess I just find it odd that a hardcore libertarian like UO (that's not an insult! seriously!) is defending SSM rather than simply saying marriage should be just another contract. I mean, unless we are starring in "Willard," we all have intense personal relationships. Why do these relationships suddenly become the state's business when we start sleeping together? Why do we need/seek/prefer state sanction and status for sexual relationships when we wouldn't need/seek/prefer it for other intense personal relationships?

EDITED TO ADD: Maybe another way to put this is, Before you figure out "why same-sex marriage?" you need to figure out, "why marriage?"

I think it is much easier to answer that question for male-female sexual relationships than for any other kind. Others may differ; but I do think that's the essential question for those who start from a libertarian perspective.

And I think I answered the "persistence of gender roles" thing here. Yeah, UO is absolutely right, you gotta get up real early to thwart children's desire for gender. The only question is, Who will give them the models of gendered action--you, or MTV?

EDITED: I do realize I didn't address most of Jim's specific points. I'll probably do that sometime this weekend. But I kind of wanted to swoop back for a moment and get the wide-lens view.
U.S. OUT OF SAUDI ARABIA: Whoa. Wow. This is really important.

Also, perhaps relatedly, an article on Saddam/Osama ties. I seem to recall some of these being significantly shaky. And if they weren't shaky... I mean, everyone has to assume the Bush administration is wildly incompetent at something, right? People who oppose war in Iraq have to assume he's screwing that up majorly, and people who support it have to assume he's doing OK in the actual war but totally stupid when it comes to presenting said war in the press. So, still skeptical, but the link above should at least give you a decent starting point for (I hope) dismantling my skepticism. Via InstaPundit, predictably.
TOP TEN SONGS BY FUGEES: CD player: still broken. Old cassette collection: still getting a workout. Thus, I'm thinking about which songs by Fugees members are the best. My votes:

10) (tie) "To Zion," from "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." Sweetest childbirth song ever. And "Gunpowder," from "Carnival." Cliched but still really affecting. I hate myself for getting all worked up by this song. "The preacher man told me, 'Good things come to those who wait.'/Do good things come to those who wait?"

9) "Jaspora," from "Carnival." Apparently some Democratic presidential candidate (Dean?) named this as his favorite song. So they're not wrong about everything.

8) "Ready or Not," from "The Score." Best work Enya ever did.

7) "Guantanamera," from "Carnival." "Soy Celia Cruz! Azucar!" The Fugees made their name on covers ("No Woman No Cry," "Killing Me Softly with His Song") but they did much better with songs that jumped off from, without replicating, previous hits. This is one.

6) "Lost Ones," from "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." The abstinence radio hit, for a reason. The vocals twine around your heart. EDITED: Oops! Apparently my memory deceived me--I kind of melded together two songs, "Lost Ones" and "Doo-Wop (That Thing)". Sadly, the made-up song in my head was a lot better than the two actual songs on the album. Oh well.

5) "Year of the Dragon," from "Carnival." I fully admit that this choice may be influenced by the fact that the Fugees' childhood is kind of sort of close to mine, so we recall the same cultural icons. Whatever. I still love this song. "Paranoid cause this boy around my neighborhood got shot/Name plate hair straight metal braces on my teeth/Fat laces on my feet the year crack first hits the streets./In the year of the dragon, lots of men disappeared/Quiet as it's kept, they won't be back next year."

4) (tie) "The Mask" and "Cowboys," both from "The Score." Best storytelling, decent sound. Memorable lyrics. Paranoia. Good stuff.

3) "Fu-Gee-La," from "The Score." One of the perfect summer songs.

2) "Sang Fezi," from "Carnival." I don't know what they're saying but I know I like it.

1) "Manifest," from "The Score." It's got the Jesus. It's got the ferocity in Lauryn Hill's voice. It's got the resigned beat and the powerful lyrics. It kicks.
I REALLY COULDN'T MAKE MYSELF ENJOY GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, but this is cool nonetheless. Via the Shrubbloggers.
"WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY": My short story. You can read the story so far starting here; or just read today's installment here. (Actually, I recommend reading from the beginning, because I made a fairly significant change in order to shorten the story.)

I think there are about three episodes left. Next one should be posted Monday.
DREAM SEQUENCES: COMICS REVIEWS. Raise your hand when you spot the growing obsession!

Finder: Dream Sequence: A big and creepy story about the perils of being the audience or the artist--living in someone else's dream, and being the one whose dreamworld attracts so many tourists.

Magri is the creator of Elsewhere, a virtual reality filled with landscapes and lightning storms that he has never seen, but has imagined so vividly that everyone else wants a piece of the dream. Ayo works standing up with a box around his head, crammed in among other office drones like a Dilbert sardine, and spends all his free time plugged in to Elsewhere. (There's a logic hole here, I think--why don't people just work from home, rather than dealing with these insanely crowded head-cubicles?)

When a ferocious wolfman-like beastie starts rampaging through Elsewhere, Ayo is left with a messed-up head, Magri is confused, and the corporate masters who profit from Elsewhere face a potential PR nightmare.

"Dream Sequence" is probably the most physically brutal of the Finder books I've read. Hoo boy, does bad stuff happen in Elsewhere! And in Magri's memories, too. Talk about "a world of hurt"...

...which is part of my problem with the book. Magri, as a character, does not work, I think. He's too dissociated, wounded, and vague. (I should note that I ran into the same problem with the narrator of "Judica me Deus"--it's really hard to write intentionally unformed, blank characters without frustrating the reader or copping out on crucial character-formation tasks. So I sympathize with the problem here. But still, Magri doesn't work.) He wanders through the book fulfilling various cliches of martyred artistry, rejected child, and repressed anger. Ayo comes across much more powerfully, in part because his voice is more distinctive, less gray and static-y, even though he gets much less screen time.

So: There are several great sequences and moving images, but ultimately, no.

Finder: King of the Cats: I was going to review this. But then Unqualified Offerings got there first, and said maybe not exactly what I would have said, but definitely what I should have said. I'll just sign on to his review. (Plus you get a bonus review of "Eightball #22," free inside each specially-marked package!)

Finder: Talisman: At the Small Press Expo, Carla Speed McNeil said that this book garnered bushels of letters from librarians, telling her that her book had made them weep. It's easy to see why: "Talisman" is an ode to bibliomania. (Interesting to contrast with the far more jaundiced view of living-through-others'-dreams presented in "Dream Sequence.")

Because this is McNeil, you can expect clean, evocative art. And I think I could read about the Grosvenor family, who starred in the "Sin-Eater" books, more or less endlessly. They're terrific characters, and several scenes in "Talisman" gain new potency when you realize how they fit into the "Sin-Eater" sequence. ("Can you kill my husband for me?") We get to see a family drama first through the adults' eyes, and then through the eyes of a child living out her own adventure often disconnected from the family's rhythms.

But my general conclusion, after reading all these Finder books--all of which are very good, I should note--is that McNeil is at her best writing plot-driven stories rather than idea-driven stories. In "Sin-Eater," which I can't recommend highly enough (really, you owe it to yourself to check this out), the themes emerge gradually from the surf of plot and character. The other three volumes all seem more like the idea came first, and plot accrued around it and was ultimately dominated by it. Many writers work well that way. McNeil, with her hawk eye for character, ambivalence, and conflicting impulses, does not.

Jinx: A big hulking noir romance from Brian Bendis. The good stuff: compelling characters, lovely art, very effective use of noir visual effects--the book really does translate noir directly into comics. I loved that, since I'm a) hooked on the noir style (except for its overly slick, all-surface manifestations), and b) fascinated by "crossover" possibilities in different art forms--whether and how comics can do what we normally expect from music, or movies/prose, etc. Anyway, the book looks great, and the visual effects underscore the story and characterization nigh-on perfectly.

The bad stuff: pacing. Jinx starts fast and propulsive, but somewhere in the middle the pace flags and never quite recovers. The too-short chapters add to this problem. The middle feels saggy, overstuffed.

Overall: I am fascinated by noir and a fan of Bendis generally. So I definitely wrung my money's worth out of this fat book. But if neither of those descriptors fits you, you should look elsewhere for your fun.

Like a River: Story of a near-despairing Russian widower whose estranged son returns to try to put their relationship, and his father's life, back together. Harsh, ramshackle drawing; taciturn, equally-matched characters (nice to see that the narrative doesn't overbalance to favor either son or father); poignant story. This was really good. It probably won't change your world, but it is well worth your time.

Breakdowns thought that the "fixing a roof = fixing their relationship" and "life = river" metaphors were a bit tired. I agree w/r/t the river, but actually, I thought the book did a good job of presenting several different task-metaphors (not just the roof) and treating each one only glancingly as a metaphor. So you get a more realistic sense of how a family is patched back together, one small task at a time, each task a battle of wills but no one task assuming especially heavy metaphorical baggage. Recommended.
MARK SHEA WANTS YOUR MONEY. This guy provides a host of links, fulmination, theological sanity, and attitudinal wit, every single day. Why not kick in a few kopecks?
GROWL. Apparently my apartment building is conducting an all-day fire alarm test, with very. loud. alarms. at random intervals throughout the day. So I'm going to the library. More later.

In the meantime, Camassia has a good post up on gender and bullying, and there's a lot of debate about fidelity and relationship models at MarriageDebate.com (with one long post from me). I'll pitch in more there later, either today or tomorrow.

Off to escape the klaxon of doom.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

EASILY AMUSED. Funniest complaint about comments-box fluctuations I've seen.

Shea also asks about favorite books (not "best," but favorite). Here are mine. You will notice a distinct skew away from "best," but not, I think, entirely leaving that high ground. In order of how fast I call them to mind.

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Henry IV 1 & 2, and, like, pretty much everything else. Someday I'll get it together to post my paper on Shakespeare's "tragic sidekicks." If I had to name five, and only five, other Shax. plays, I think I'd go with Lear, Richard II, Love's Labour's Lost, Macbeth, and Midsummer Night's Dream. Maybe. Argh, maybe later this week I'll try to post on why these plays in particular.

Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody

Michael de Larrabeiti, The Borribles and The Borribles Go for Broke

GK Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi and The Dumb Ox: St. Thomas Aquinas, in that order (remind me to tell you about the Hamlet/Francis parallel)

Ottfried Preussler, The Satanic Mill

John Milton, Paradise Lost

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals (esp. in Francis Golffing's translation) and maybe Beyond Good and Evil

Oh! and how could I forget Stephen Fry, The Liar?

Or Donna Tartt, The Secret History?

Honorable mentions (books that strongly influenced me but that aren't really "favorites"): Caryl Churchill, The Skriker

Edward Hale, The Man Without a Country

Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (bet you weren't expecting that one!)

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

That's not counting all the supposedly non-literary influences like Alfred Hitchcock, though....
TOMORROW, when I can think again (I hope), I'll post: comics reviews; final reply re same-sex marriage (I promise it will be short!); Poetry Wednesday; finally, the next episode of "What You Can Do for Your Country" (it's already written but I'm too tired to type it in--yes, I am lazier than roadkill); and whatever else crosses my palm with silver and asks me to tell its fortune.
ARGH! Want to do one more Amp/SSM-related post, on equality & the purposes of marriage, but can't think of best way to do it now. Stay tuned.
MY RELIGION AND OTHER THINGS YOU DON'T NEED TO SHARE TO AGREE WITH ME ABOUT MARRIAGE: Look, I'm Catholic. My religion says guys shouldn't boff guys and girls shouldn't boff girls. Obviously, that affects my view of same-sex marriage.

But I do not think you need to share my faith or my moral assessment of homosexual acts in order to agree with me about SSM. If I thought that, I wouldn't bother making secular arguments on this blog! I don't make arguments I don't agree with. So if I'm not talkin' God in a moral/ethical/political argument, you can take it that I don't think I need to.

So first of all, I think the non-Catechism-related arguments I make here (specifically here, here, here, here*) are valid. But also, I know or have read the work of several people (like Professor Paul Nathanson) who do not believe that homosexual acts are immoral, but oppose same-sex marriage. Several of my (atheist, agnostic, Deist, but definitely not Christian) close friends fall into this category. If they did it, you can too!

RECONCILING THE SEEMINGLY DISPARATE: More Ampersand and gender. He misconstrues my somewhat ironic suggestion that "marriage is how we reconcile the opposite sexes."

Amp writes, "I'm very sorry to hear that Eve, who is (I think) unmarried, has no close male friends nor any good relationships with any male relatives, and exists in a state of permanent war with all men. ...

"The point is, if I search for friends based on my interior life -- my enjoyment of science fiction, or my commitment to feminism -- I'm far more likely to find people I share things in common with. According to the rabbi, I should just look for an all-male group and I'll automatically be among my peers -- but in reality, men aren't all the same, and we don't all have the same interests.

"...The basic point is, do you think that men and women are individuals, with individual traits (some of which are gender-typed, some of which are not), or robots whose every trait and interest are determined by their genitals?"

See now, unsurprisingly, I don't think this rather strenuous over-reading and over-dichotomizing is "the basic point" at all. There are two huge problems here (yes, I know, this is another numbered list--when I'm sleep-deprived I fall back on these annoying blog tricks):

1) Wild dichotomizing! It's runnin' rampant! Head for the hills!

I mean, surely we can all imagine something that is neither, "Men and women have exactly the same interests, pressures, and needs, because We Are All Individuals--there are no men and no women, only People," nor, "I-am-robot-female-take-me-to-your-kitchen." In fact, Amp concedes as much in his reference to "gender-typed" traits. Why can't he accept that these are precisely the kind of traits that people who talk about "reconciling" the sexes are addressing?

(And yes, "opposite sexes" is itself a fairly obvious bit of overstatement. I was trying to signal my dislike of the true-but-bland term "gender complementarity," but in case anyone is wondering, I do not think men are from Mars and women are from Venus or whatever. Hence the title for this post, from Helen Cresswell's hilarious kids' book Absolute Zero--"reconciling the seemingly disparate.")

Oh! Actually I think I may see the problem: Possibly Amp was focusing on "opposite" (the part of that phrase that is least accurate!) and I was focusing on "reconciling"?

2) So what are those gender-typed traits? What are those differing interests, needs, pressures, etc.?

I think it's telling that Amp talked about how he would find friends, since friendship is precisely not what I'm discussing here. (Well, OK, I don't know what the rabbi he cites is talking about, but I do know what I was talking about.)

We're talking about marriage, and therefore we're talking about sex. And in heterosexual relationships, yes, the sexes do need to be reconciled. The risks they take are very different. The possibility of pregnancy (including the fact that women have a shorter reproductive life than men) is only one reason for these sharply differing risks.

One of the reasons I didn't write this post yesterday--besides the inzombia thing--was that I didn't think I could be non-bitchy about it after a much longer than usual session of follow-up calls for the pregnancy center. Do my calls for me, then we'll talk about how men and women in sexual relationships don't need any structures to reconcile their differing risks, needs, desires, and interests. (Was that non-bitchy? Maybe a little bitchy?)

I hope that clarifies my stance. Now, back to my permanent war with all men. Be afraid... be very afraid.
GENDER: Ampersand posts a fierce and heartfelt rebuttal of my blog comments (and possibly my JWR column?) on gender roles.

He argues that supporting gender roles at all means fostering the kind of brutal enforcement of rigid gender roles that made his youth awful: "The belief that there is a correct 'gender role' which must be taught inevitably leads to child abuse, in my opinion." I can definitely sympathize; it should be obvious that I think what happened to him was evil. In fact, I think in a lot of ways we're trying to address some of the same problems, including/especially male bullying and violence. So let me make my position a little clearer:

1) I'm not advocating for rigid gender roles. Tried to make this point in my JWR piece:

"Rosalind, Antony, Lear, Beatrice, Iago, Emilia, Leontes--could any of them exist in a genderless world? I think not; and I think even the apostles of gender neutrality would miss that menagerie when they were gone.

"And also: Could any of them exist in a world where women were 'angels in the house' and men were Strong Silent Types? Again, no; I can only hope that the apostles of gender rigidity would miss them."

Don't know if I succeeded. But anyway, this is not about whether you like sports or shopping. (I hate both.) I think there's a very wide array of possible gendered roles--in some ways analogous to the wildly varied lives of the saints.

2) I doubt that rigid gender roles (boys are good at sports, girls think math is hard) can be promoted without harm to children's well-being and self-image.

However, I'm pretty well convinced that flexible gender roles can be promoted in ways that respect kids; I've seen it. It happens. A lot.

3) If you take away the gendered incentives to act rightly--gendered roles, gendered heroisms--you don't get a genderless world. You get bad gender roles. If a man can't be a masculine hero, he is a lot more likely to choose to be a masculine bully or a masculine womanizer rather than a gender-neutral feminist.

In the JWR piece (sorry for linking this so insistently but I do think it addresses a lot of Amp's concerns) I suggest some reasons this happens. These reasons are deep-rooted enough in the human heart that I don't think there is really any chance of just saying, "Well, but we shouldn't want gender. Let's make it so people don't want gender anymore." Here, I'll quote the piece:

"Children want gender because they want a role in the world, a place in the story unfolding around them, a role to live up to and by which they can judge their actions. Gender fits us into the cycle of family and fruitfulness; it connects us to our parents, who have taken on the most obviously gendered roles of all when they became mother and father; and it provides children with a connection to their future maturity, and thus to sex. Children want a sexual identity even when they do not plan on kids or a spouse, because they want an adult identity."

OK. Will post on some of Amp's other points in a bit.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE RESPONSES PART ONE: Jonathan Rauch responds; then Maggie Gallagher.

Dave Tepper responds but misses what I meant w/r/t why it's important to talk about sex, not just committed loving relationships, when we talk about marriage.... I genuinely do not think the SSM debate reduces to, or even needs to address, "Is sodomy A-OK?" But I can see that I was unclear about that. Hope to make my point clearer a little later today, when I respond to Ampersand's lengthy post.
Blogwatch sat bathing by a stream where fairest shades did hide her....

Body and Soul: Mentally ill man dies naked and alone in jail after being arrested for panhandling. What more to say.

Unqualified Offerings: Property rights in Iraq.

Edward Gorey at Yale.

GodSpy--new Catholic online mag. Sleek, has an article by Fr. (Msgr?) Lorenzo Albacete, looks intriguing though I haven't had time to check it out.

In insomnia-related news, I made the top picture on this page my desktop background.
IRAQNESS: Unqualified Offerings links to this really interesting discussion of the proposed Polish role in the rebuilding of Iraq, and how it fell apart. As he notes, there's some discussion of the main post's veracity (in comments here and here). The author of the initial piece comes out strongly in support of the war, and it's being published on an Objectivist site, so there's some potentially relevant background info.

More on the rebuilding and information sources here (via Body and Soul).

I certainly have zero firsthand knowledge, and can't really vouch for this stuff, but I thought you all would want to see these posts--they're worth the time it takes to read and form your own judgment. Feel free to bring the same skepticism you'd apply to any other enormous government program....

Also, send toys to Iraqi kids.
DOING ZOMBIE RHUMBA: I've had extremely bad insomnia for almost a week now. Am operating on approx. three hours of sleep. Apologies if I get punchy or discombobulated. Anyway, on with the show....
"The trademark [John] Adams style might be described as 'enlightened perversity,' which actually sought out occasions to display, often in conspicuous fashion, his capacity for self-sacrifice. He had defended the British troops accused of the Boston Massacre, insisted upon American independence in the Continental Congress a full year before it was fashionable, argued for a more exalted conception of the presidency despite charges of monarchical tendencies. It was all part of the Adams pattern, an iconoclastic and contrarian temperament that relished alienation."
--Joseph Ellis, Founding Brothers

Friday, September 19, 2003

HERE IN DC, it was just your basic fierce summer storm. The sky turned light purple with rain for a while. Wind whipped the lampposts around. The streets went white with rain, then dark and wet. Then it stopped. Now everything is gray and the Metro is open again. So much for Isabel.

UPDATE: Well, apparently Iz did some serious huffin' and puffin' here after all--I saw a big uprooted tree on Capitol Hill, and Russo reported seeing a tree blocking off 18th Street and a lamppost bent in half. Wild. It really didn't look that crazy when we were watching the storm last night; but then again, we were inside....

Thursday, September 18, 2003

THOUGHTS ON THE A.F.F. SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DEBATE: Scattered impressions, of course--what, you expected concise paragraphs in military formation?

The panelists were Pia de Solenni, Robert Knight, Patrick Guerrerro, and Jonathan Rauch. Rauch was by far the best speaker, as I'd expected. He kicked off the panel with a strong defense of two things that may or may not be the same thing: marriage, and "long-term caring relationships," "someone to come home to," someone to provide stability in one's life.

He also argued that if same-sex marriage doesn't pass soon, a Chinese menu of alternatives to marriage will arise (or rather, will gain in popularity--all of these already exist): domestic partnerships, civil unions, committed relationships without marriage, etc. etc. Basically, the idea is that heterosexual couples will see these other relationship models being practiced by homosexual couples, and will pick these looser-but-stabler unions over the demands of marriage. (Interestingly, this claim rests on the premise that hetero couples will take advantage of problematic relationship models offered by homosexual couples. That's a premise that advocates of SSM generally deny when the question is whether hetero couples will imitate male-male couples' often laxer standards of infidelity.) I think this is Rauch's strongest claim, and will perhaps write more about it later.

De Solenni made one really good point, which is that advocates of SSM rarely cash out what makes marriage different from best-friendship. I think it's fairly important to ask why nobody thinks the state should sanction or affirm my closest chosen relationship unless I start sleepin' with her. More on this soon. Unfortunately, this interesting point was sort of lost amid vague, un-cashed-out talk of "complementarity" and children.

Guerrerro is a politician--he's a big wheel in the Log Cabin Republicans--and talked like one, for good and for ill. He spoke movingly about 50-year-long loving homosexual relationships that have lasted through thick and thin. I found myself wondering whether Guerrerro really thinks that nobody is ever really in love with his mistress. IOW "but they love each other" is not really the end of the argument, you know? For oh so much more on that tip, check out Denis de Rougemont's incisive and potentially life-changing literary study, Love in the Western World.

He also offered a very attenuated understanding of friendship (can you tell I've been thinking about this a lot?), as if a friend is just a casual acquaintance, rather than, so often, a well-loved shelter from the storms of life.

Knight... well, eh. I've seen him speak more persuasively than this on topics relating to homosexuality. Basically, he said that butt sex is bad, and we should be encouraging people to become "ex-gays" (not a notion I'm super fond of).

Then the moderator asked everyone to define marriage. You can probably do Knight's and De Solenni's yourself, but Guerrerro's and Rauch's definitions were interesting: G. said that marriage is when "two loving people choose to have the state recognize their lifelong committed relationship, with all the legal rights and responsibilities offered to heterosexuals." Rauch, in a clipped and passionate tone, simply said, "To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for richer and for poorer, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, 'til death do you part."

Overall take-home thoughts from the debate:
Like most of these discussions, it was framed in terms of heteros vs. homos. I think that's unnecessary and misleading; I've said before that I think this is an issue about men and women, not gays 'n' straights.

Similarly, both Knight and the pro-SSM speakers seemed to think it was very important to figure out whether or not people could change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation. I don't think that's an especially important question (to the extent that it's important to one's personal life, you can find my answer in the "ex-gay" article linked above), and I think it reflects an unwarranted American pursuit of "the authentic self"--what I am rather than what I should do. Include me out.

Opponents of SSM need to work much harder on explaining what "the children!" are doing in our argument. There needs to be much more careful attention to the role of ideals and models in people's lives. Instead, we're getting bogged down in questions about infertile couples, etc., which I think are just plain irrelevant.

We need to talk about the effects of changing the ideal marriage to a unisex, not necessarily physically constant model, where children only enter the picture when you specifically go out and plan and get 'em. We need to talk about the expectations that new model raises, and the desires it does and doesn't cater to. (Does = the desire to have control over our bodies, a control that is, frankly, illusory, especially for those whose sexual relations can and often do lead to pregnancy. Doesn't = the desire for gender. For example.) None of that stuff got brought up last night.

Advocates of SSM really need to stop talking about me and my best friend when they think they're talking about marriage. I mean, I don't think Knight's approach was super helpful either, but at least he did in fact talk about sex. Let's have a less abstracted and more visceral, embodied understanding of what makes marriage unlike other socially-beneficial relationships.

Advocates and opponents of SSM might usefully discuss what they think about children and gender. Should children learn gender roles? Is that harder with a same-sex couple? Is it harder in a society with same-sex marriage? Do those questions matter, and if so, how much?

The language of "gender complementarity" is kind of bloodless. I more like a formulation, which I think Maggie Gallagher may have come up with?, that marriage is how we reconcile the opposite sexes.
CONFESSIONS OF A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY: Recently finished Florence King's autobiography. I'd told myself that I would be good, and stick to my reading list, but King was just too tempting! This is definitely the kind of book you devour--engrossing and a fast read. It takes you through King's childhood (caught between Granny's fevered discourse on "woman troubles" and Mama's fierce tomboyisms), college, brief stint as a lady Marine, grad school at Ole Miss (easily the best part of the book), and budding career as a true-confessions writer and virago.

King is a passionate writer (especially about books and sex) and a wry one. COAFSL was immensely fun and often moving. (Although there were several blushworthy moments when I somewhat regretted reading it on the Metro, where people could glance over my shoulder!)

King is also, as The Rat (who gave me the book as a birthday present) pointed out, pretty blatant in her egoism and amorality.

But that too is very Southern. There's a long Southern tradition of elevating personal ties, loyalties, wants, and attempts to establish oneself as a "character" over moral laws. In that respect, King, like the polite bohemians at Ole Miss with their embroidery hoops, didn't quite achieve escape velocity; but then, I don't get the impression that she wanted to.

Via Mark Shea.
"Southern bohemians never quite make it. An embroidery hoop containing a half-finished sampler fell out of the Army B-4 that Sorella used as a book bag. Augustus carried in his chinos an heirloom pocketwatch with an inscribed lid. Lucius kept his place in Tropic of Capricorn with a strip of leather containing the tenet, 'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.'"
--Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
TOMORROW: Florence King, marriage-debate report, fun with hurricanes, finally-updated fiction, and more. Unlike the federal government, this blog will be open for business. Uh, unless we lose power.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003


A big, successful dork.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGE DEBATE HERE IN D.C. TONIGHT: I will be there. 7 PM. Free food, beer, wine. Interesting speakers. AFF is fun. You should come. I will report back when it's over. I will use longer sentences then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Her name is Noelle
I have a dream about her
She rings my bell.
I got gym class in half an hour
and oh how she rocks
in her Keds and tube socks.
But she doesn't know who I am.
And she doesn't give a damn about me

Cuz I'm just a teenage blogwatch, baby
Yeah I'm just a teenage blogwatch, baby....

After Abortion points us to this affecting story of a woman's tattoo, and this post on pro-life hiphop. (I guess Common says he's "pro-choice," but Lauryn Hill is a member of Feminists for Life, representin' for Maplewood, New Jersey.)

The Agitator: The permanent emergency. Hey, here's my JWR column on the very same topic. (Speaking of, have you given them money? They can't live on their Trilateral Commission salaries forever, you know....)

The Volokh Conspiracy: A headline (not esp. interested in the post's content) that manages to combine my loathing of both ag subsidies and birth control! As you might imagine, this doesn't happen every day....

More than you ever wanted to know about the California recall insanity. Let 'em fall into the daggone sea already.

And I realized, when I noticed how happy I was that there's a new Comics 101 up, that I should plug that site. It's an intro thing for people wondering what the heck the X-Men, or Pogo, or... um... I guess... Ant-Man (just teasin'!) are all about. Much fun to be found in the archives here. Thanks, Scott.
"Mama hated to be alone; Herb had so many inner resources he could have committed folie a deux all by himself."
--Florence King, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady

Monday, September 15, 2003

LIGHT BROODING AND HEAVY INSOMNIA last night, plus jury duty today, equals head full of white noise. I'm not really capable of thinking anything beyond, "Og want food. Og want bath. Og want sleep." (Am only awake now b/c I don't want to mess up my sleep schedule even more.) Tomorrow I will be fun, come here tomorrow.

In the meantime, why don't you check out this stuff?

Big Sunny D (more of him at the end): Odd hair on the rise in East Kilbride. I'm pretty much pro- anything that falls "somewhere between 80's pop star and evil sci-fi villainess." In fact, I think that is my new career choice. ("Um...'new'?")

The Old Oligarch: Great post on being a Catholic theologian moving through a world where everybody has a question.

Unqualified Offerings: More on decoupling health insurance and employment. As a lowly ant in the vast wasp's nest of the self-employed, I am on his side. More here.

A hilarious Style Invitational this week: Washington, DC-themed pickup lines. Samples: "Excuse me, ma'am, but the gentleman at that table has sent you a FYH 2005 energy and water appropriations bill rider for a $52.3 million solid-waste treatment plant upgrade in your home congressional district, with his compliments."

"I'm guessing you work for Fannie Mae, because your fanny may be the best I've ever seen."

"How about if we get away somewhere and completely deregulate ourselves?"

"Boy, that dress you are wearing is the most effective Request for Proposals I have ever reviewed."

And, for once, the Invitational winner is actually the funniest entry: "Your beauty renders me as powerless as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton."

read the rest

And now is the time on "Sprockets" when I indulge my X-obsession. Both Big Sunny D and Paul "How--And Why?--Does He Read All Those X-Books?" O'Brien heap praises on the Big Twist issue of "New X-Men." (The spoilers! They taste... pointy!)

D and O'B have much, much more faith than I did that this will turn into something interesting rather than collapsing under pressure to return the franchise to status quo ante.

So I will elaborate very briefly: NXM #146 is a beautiful example of what somebody or other called, in praise of Agatha Christie, "animated algebra." Yeah, I totally went back and looked through all those old episodes, reading them with new eyes, seeing all the clues. That was a fun puzzle. Click-click-click-click all the frames of the Identikit fall into place. (With a few mysteries left hanging for the next issues!)

But. All kinds of nifty moments and ideas and themes have been woven in along the sides of Morrison's X-Men issues, never getting nearly enough time, and I am really hoping that they will not simply be abandoned in favor of making this storyline all about... how to say without spoiling... well, status quo ante seems adequate. I'm worrying that this is all we're gonna get--animated algebra, attention to the clockwork of the plot and the expectations built up by 40 years of X-stuff, but that's about it.

I of course hope to be proven utterly wrong. The more I thought about the Twist, the more highly interesting repercussions I saw it could have on the characters, and if Morrison takes us there I will happily eat my hat with ice cream.

Also, you can buy a "Magneto Was Right" t-shirt. It was only a matter of time. Too bad my birthday just passed!

Friday, September 12, 2003

VOLUNTEER AT A PRO-LIFE PREGNANY CENTER! Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center, the place where I volunteer, will be holding its next volunteer training sessions in October. EDITED TO ADD: There will be three evening sessions (which I think are two hours each), on October 7, 9, and 16, and one all-day session on Saturday, October 11.

This is a great place--you work with amazing, inspiring women (both volunteers and clients--many of our clients are incredible people), and offer counseling and material aid to women and children in need. I love this place. It is a Christian ministry, and all the counselors are expected to sign a statement of faith.

If you're thinking about whether you want to do Christian crisis pregnancy counseling, or if you know someone else who might be interested, please consider CHPC. You can call Tara Woods at (202) 546-0117 for more info. Guys too--we've had a male mentoring program in the past and I think they'd like to start it up again.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: My short story. You can read the story so far starting here, or just catch the latest installment here. Next installment on Monday.
MORE ON POWER in V for Vendetta.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

A GUIDE TO THE PATRIOT ACT, PART TWO: So far, very valuable and persuasive.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO HATE?: One of the things that convinces me that the temptation that I talked about in the previous post is a big deal: It still amazes me when I wake up and think, Yesterday it didn't get to me.

I still don't really know how I got through a life so deeply controlled by an evil temptation. It's so different now--even when it recurs, it's so incredibly weakened--it's so hard for me to think myself back into the state where this temptation controlled my entire life (almost wrote "my entire lie," which would be pretty accurate!). Now I know that I can be a self without this particular kind of hatred, and so it is weakened--it can no longer fasten onto my desperate desire to be a distinctive human being, a self in the world. A "sparkly" for the Jeremy Crows of the modern media.

But realize, this temptation was all I knew how to be from approximately 1982 through 1996. I do hope this explains any histrionics I may display in future theological discussions. Because this is so very real to me. Evil is most of what I have ever known.

Two crucial points: 1) Evil will make every excuse it can. The worst thing I've ever done in my life had nothing to do with the temptation I've fought since childhood; you sneak up on yourself, and perpetrate evil. I snuck up on myself and did something so horrible that I can't even come up with metaphors for it. You all who know me through my blog have no $#@!ing idea.

2) Every sin is a deranged attempt for some good. "The man who enters the whorehouse is seeking God," as Chesterton said in a quote that spurred my conversion. And conversely, for every one of the best impulses of our souls, there is a demon waiting to hijack us and use us. And there is a part of our souls ready to let that demon do its thing.
YOU'RE IN LOVE, BUT IT FEELS LIKE PAIN: Fantastic comments thread sparked by Amy Welborn. I have three thoughts:

1) I am so glad someone had the honesty to talk about his problems with faith here. And I'm also hugely grateful that someone responded with what I think is the essential insight: "Most people confuse strength, hope and courage with feeling strong, hopeful, and unafraid."

A lot of people will try to help you find The Answer to your struggle with the Christian faith. You know, ultimately all of them are probably right! But the only thing that has ever helped me has been to acknowledge that maybe the struggle is the answer.

2) I don't have any supercool stories of the aroma of roses or the apparition of the Virgin.

At one point I kind of sat up, and realized that it had been months since I had been tormented by a sinful temptation that had beset me DAILY (do you know what that's like? literally every day? do you know what it's like to hate--when it's way down deep inside...? God, death is preferable) since I was, I kid you not, four or five.

But you know, it did eventually return. I still struggle with that same old temptation, and with all the varied demons that have taken its place. I have no gentle answers. I'm amazed that I spend any day of my life without the temptation I mentioned above--something that shapes my self-image and my life to this day, and likely always will--but you know, sin finds its way in. No remission is permanent, at least not for me.

3) But if you caught me and made me tell you why I am a Catholic, after all, I think I would say something kind of like this:

You know the thing Stephen Fry says, in his amazing novel The Liar? The thing about how everyone is afraid that he will be found out? How you are not merely wrong in certain particulars, but somehow horribly wrong and wrong-footed from the start?

God has found you out. He knows; and He forgives; and He will make you change; and He will make it possible for you to change.

That's all, really. What else can there be?
IF IT WASN'T FOR DISAPPOINTMENTS, I WOULDN'T HAVE ANY APPOINTMENTS: Decent, intermittently insightful Glenn Reynolds column on self-employment and the new-new-new-new-no this time I really mean it! new-economy.

My deal: I started freelancing because I was laid off. Nowadays I do think hard about which tradeoffs I'd be willing to make--how much autonomy would I cash in? The main thing that makes me want a Real Job is absolutely health care. COBRA is a poisonous snake, and self-insurance isn't much better. I am super in favor of rethinking the employer-based paradigm--this is, IMO, the basic econ/politics domestic problem (as opposed to trade barriers, which are equal parts domestic and foreign problem) today.
I woke up this morning with a bad hangover
and my blogwatch was missing again...

Dappled Things: In today's only non-comics blogwatch link (WAIT! NO! READ FURTHER!), Father Tucker answers my question about when a homily is really a sermon and vice versa. Interestingly, "homily" is the most directly Scripture-linked term, while "sermon" is a more free-floating, umbrella term. I know you care! (Also, there's an interesting point for us St. Anselm junkies.) Plus an excellent post on sex and growing up Cat'lick. I wouldn't know, of course, but Father T's reminiscences are well worth your time. Oh! and there is a comics link--how is Jeremiah like Spider-Man?

Unqualified Offerings: A growly, but I think accurate, review of Blankets. Actually, anyone in danger of creating vaguely autobiographical art (that would be me!) needs to read this post. UO doesn't talk about all the very lovely snow, though--and in fact there's pretty much nothing about the visual aspect of the book, where both I and Jess Lemon went all sweet on a book that otherwise left us not so thrilled.

Sean Collins: More on V for Vendetta. I didn't have a problem with the vigilante-terrorism aspect (except for my aforementioned unexpected post-9/11 reaction to major landmarks blowing up--well, okay, I guess that's a pretty big "except") because I didn't think we were supposed to fully identify or even sympathize with V. Maybe that's not how most people experienced the book?

Sursum Corda: Okay, this is the non-comics entry. Necessity is the mother of ministry: A priest works to remove tattoos from people whose tats prevent them from getting jobs. Theodore Dalrymple has written about this problem in Britain as well.

Best blog name spotted today: Spanish-language comics blog called La Carcel de Papel (The Paper Jail). Via Johnny Bacardi. Maybe I'll try to sharpen my Spanish on this site before I hit Ficciones again.

And a personal note to Grant Morrison: Unless something fairly large happens, you seriously annoyed me today. I didn't even like "Of Living and Dying" and "Ambient Magnetic Fields" all that much... but why use 'em as throwaway red herrings for such a cheap twist? (Oh! and "Teaching Children About Fractals" and "When X Is Not X"--some of us want to know what happened with the Special Class...) This had better be going somewhere that actually means something for the characters, not just for the fans. You know?
"I'm too weird to be a tourist and not weird enough to be an employee."
--Carla Speed McNeil, Finder: King of the Cats

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

COMICS WORTH READING... AND ALSO SOME OTHER COMICS: In alphabetical order, to maximize randomness!

Cuckoo #12: Subtitle: "One woman's true stories of living with Multiple Personality Disorder." Gripping story, rough scratchy intermittently lovely art, memorable images. This issue is a sampler. It begins with the narrator denying that she has multiple personalities, then opening her diary and seeing the riot of differing handwritings and voices. It ends with a ferocious, blackly funny rewriting of that therapy cliche about the hole in the street (you know, where you fall in the hole, then the next day you pretend you don't see it and fall in again, then you fall in but you get out immediately, then you avoid the hole, then you take a different route home)--in reality, there're about five hundred ways to end up in that hole, and you'll find every one of 'em. ("If I crawl over the hole, it's less far to fall. I do a happy handspring into the hole. There's a barrier but those rules don't apply to me. There's a cute guy/girl in the hole and I jump in." etc.) The last picture in that sequence is especially harsh.

This is pretty brutal. It includes a harrowing scene of gang rape. I stupidly read it in a public place and almost started crying (which is not something I do). So be forewarned. But this is a really, really good comic. I'll be looking for more of these.

Finder: Sin Eater Books 1 and 2: I can't think of enough good things to say about this comic. Science fiction with lively, crisp drawing; excellent design sense; realistically ad-hoc, duct-tape-and-chewing-gum setting; vivid, moving characters. I wanted more more more more more. Themes of justice, guilt, shaky sanity, city vs. wilderness, gender, violence, and family. Man, just awesome stuff. I need to get smarter so I can come up with more things to say to make you read these!

(Minor complaint: Some of the gender stuff seemed unrealistic. Not the stuff involving the actual characters, but some of the peripheral descriptions of how other societies organized gender. I found it interesting, and confirming of my beliefs, that the more in-depth and character-oriented CS McNeil's explorations of gender got, the more realistic I thought they were.)

Human Target: [the one that isn't Final Cut--I can't find a subtitle or issue numbers]: The idea behind this series is swift: A guy is so skilled at impersonation that he rents himself out to people whose lives are in danger. He pretends to be them, then takes out their assailants when they're attacked. But he's so good that his identity pretty much dissolves into his clients, so that he has a hard time figuring out where they end and he begins.

Nice setup that plays on my obsession with formation of personal identity. In what may or may not be an ironic twist, the resulting comic is very much WYSIWYG. You get the neat idea, some perfectly serviceable artwork, and that's about it. Impulse better than execution; ah well.

My Uncle Jeff: Hmmm, what to say. This is a well-drawn, moving pamphlet about two virtually opposite brothers, their ailing and mentally drifting father, and a family reunion at which everyone has to decide what to do about the old man.

I am generally uncomfortable with autobiographical art that airs this much of other people's dirty laundry. It also did not especially strike me. It's good, but not, I think, great. I think for people in similar situations it would be more powerful, but I am generally a soft touch for family stories and this did not work for me, even though I really can't say why (except for the uncomfortable feeling that I was looking over someone's shoulder as he read someone else's diary). In general I am much more in favor of fiction than of autobiography--fiction is usually more true, for one thing....

Teen Boat #3: Picked this up for 50 cents at SPX. It's the perfect Good Humor comic--cheap, sweet, totally lacking in nutritional value but good quick fun. It's a b&w comic about a teen who can turn into a boat. The tagline pretty much tells you everything you need to know: "The angst of being a teen--the thrill of being a boat!" (Non-coincidentally reminiscent of Unqualified Offerings's observations on Spider-Man: "It would totally suck to be that guy. ...It would totally rock to be that guy.") In this issue, Teen Boat gets detention.

I enjoyed this. The art is basic and clean. No reason to write away for it or otherwise seek it out; I just wanted to say, thanks for the ice cream!

Top 10 Book One: Fluffy, breezy story of police station in superhero-packed city. Not my thing (humor too self-referential, soap-opera elements never quite clicking), though it definitely included some funny moments (ad for Vigilante car: "Do yourself justice"; the investigation of the murder of Baldur the Beautiful). Ultimately, too much going on for too little payoff.

Tupelo #s 1 and 2: Another SPX find. The guy who sold me this was very funny: First he pushes a real hard sell on me, really encouraging me to get this great comic ("second issue's free!"). Then when it looks like I'm actually gonna buy the thing, he gets all remorseful, "Oh, um, you don't need to feel, uh, pressured or anything, uh..." Heh. I'd been kind of looking for this comic anyway, though, so I reassured him and bought it.

Tupelo is "the world's greatest junkie superhero," and the comic is set in the NYC punk scene in what I guess is The Near Future a.k.a. dystopia. The comic suffers from two main problems: a) occasional bad art (odd foreshortening, static fight scenes), and b) too many ideas all jostling around. Junkie superhero = potentially good idea. Grungy NYC guy-with-powers comic = less enticing, but potentially okay. Guy who can transport people to the bizarro symbolic fantasy worlds they supposedly "come from" = lame idea, IMO. The usual anti-media conspiracy theorizing = uberlame. All these things added together = lame outweighs not-lame. Definitely some clever moments, but overall, no.

V for Vendetta: OK, so there's undoubtedly nothing I can say about this that hasn't been said already. Famous, wildly influential dark dystopian series about anarcho-revengekiller in Guy Fawkes mask. My superbrief thoughts:

Yeah, it was really, really good.

Murky, old-fashioned-looking art (like reprinted color newspaper comics, I thought) is beautiful, but it was very hard to tell the male characters apart.

The first time I leafed through this in the comic shop I don't think I was prepared to see Big Ben explode. A little too post-traumatic, these days. This time I knew it was coming so it didn't freak me out.

Very very English. Good.

But more cliched in its dystopianism than I'd expected. Under what circumstances--even granting a survivable nuclear war--would England in the 1980s actually feature a fascist quasi-Christian state whose slogans include "Strength Through Purity/Purity Through Faith"? (It's the quasi-Christian-ness, not the fascism, that I find unbelievable, by the way.)

This is something I'm trying to get at in my current short story, actually: History doesn't repeat itself. We keep expecting the next horror to be blatant even though the ones before it were not. It's extremely difficult to imagine a realistic dystopia because we're so tempted to create a caricature. We feel the need to make it obvious to the audience that this is bad even though the real next evil thing is likely to insinuate itself into our lives under unexpected, non-obvious coloring.

Final point: V4V falls into the inevitable trap of anarchist dys/utopian fiction. You want to tell the readers not to follow you--to create a new world, follow their individual dreams, rather than latching on to your messianic proclamations. But that means you can't tell 'em what to do or how to do it. So you end on the threshold of a new world, but you can never step over the threshold. This makes it much harder for the reader to believe that your vision of the future is realistic, that it could ever happen. We start to suspect that you're not showing us the future because you have nothing to show.

Alan Moore shouldn't feel bad about this--Thus Spake Zarathustra falls prey to the same dilemma (are dilemma carnivorous?)--but it is what happens to writers who say, "If you would follow me, then follow yourselves." Hello, I didn't write the book! Why would I pay twenty bucks for a comic book I wrote?

Let this be a warning to you.

Anyway, it's really, really good. Vivid, vicious, visceral.
"THE SECRET LIVES OF DENTISTS": Saw the movie yesterday, per parental recommendation. It's excellent. I can't add to the chorus of married people who have said it is one of the best representations of real marriage that they've seen on the silver screen, but I will say that many, many of the moments rang exactly true to me. The kids act like real kids. There's a subtle moment where someone says, "I love you," and means it--and it's exactly the wrong thing to say. This is a hard-hitting movie. It's great art and an intense pro-marriage statement. There's even a Cat Power song!

Tiny quibbles: The voice-over narration sucks. Fortunately it only appears at the beginning and end, but sheesh, don't people know that voice-overs are the classic What Not to Do of adapting novels to the screen?

There's too much imbalance between husband and wife. Although you definitely see both characters' viewpoints, the husband is so completely the children's caretaker that audience sympathy sways too much to his side--it's not really a fair fight for sympathy between him and his wife. There's a scene that basically parallels the wife and the children in a way that only reinforces this overly-heroic portrayal of the husband. (I should be clear: The husband is not portrayed as a flawless icon, at all. And like I said, you definitely see where his wife is coming from. But I think the movie would have been more powerful if their roles in the family were more balanced.)

Sometimes the music is too insistent.

But those are really minor complaints compared to the richness of the movie's moral vision and the acuity of its observation of family life. Do yourself a favor and go see this.

Bring Kleenex. Even if you don't think you'll need it.
INVITATION TO A BEHEADING: Finished this last night. What a frustrating book! It begins brilliantly. Its sharp, twisty, surrealist prose style conveys a vivid sense of powerlessness and absurdity; its psychological portraits of the prisoner and his guards were harsh and accurate. The cloudier moments hinted at a description of a Fallen world. Nabokov (and/or his translator, a relative) had the same gift for choosing the exact right word that James Wood does--but Wood works that talent so hard, so relentlessly, that it goes from a style to a shtik, whereas Nabokov knows how not to show off.

But. About halfway through the book, I started feeling like the thing was padded. The protagonist lapsed into passivity that might be understandable in a prisoner but that meant the narrative fell slack. The bad guys' one-dimensionality went from caustic to just strident. The surrealism became less Magritte, more Kafka, not a bad thing in itself but really not as startling. And the ending, when I finally reached it, struck me as a real cop-out, Nabokov refusing to make a crucial decision about where his book would end and what it would ultimately say. Like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book with the back pages ripped out--you'd think it would be even more open to the reader's imagination, but in fact it's just an unfinished bridge to nowhere.

Should have been a novella, or even a short story.
THOUGHTS ON ISAIAH 45:9-12 AND A REVIEW BY HAROLD BLOOM: The collapse of the attempt to pit ethics against God the Creator:

1) The world is malformed. It is not Fallen--it was not created good--its deformation, its wreckage, is the fault of its Maker. It is His fault.

2) In order to say that, I must know right from wrong, beauty from ugliness, acceptable from unacceptable. But I do know--you can't deny me that!--and what God has done is unacceptable. This work gets an F.

3) Where did this knowledge of what constitutes good and evil come from? Where did I get this rock within myself on which I can stand to condemn God?

4) All that I have--including my knowledge of the good and of its wreckage, including my conscience--is a part of Creation. All that I love--including those on whose behalf I bring charges against God--is a part of Creation. In condemning Creation and its Author, am I sawing off the branch on which my conscience and my condemnation sit? (This question is why Milton's Satan has to pretend that he is self-begotten.)

5) At this point, the paths open to the atheist (as opposed to the anti-theist) are closed to me. I can't assert the worth of myself against God, because the wrecker God created me. I can't follow my culture or my beloved for the same reason. I don't think the Gnostic option--the spark within, the divinity accessible to the elite sect of knowers--can cut this knot. (Nor do I think epistemological elitism is a particularly appealing ethical stance on its face.)

Eve in her own voice now: I don't see a way out of this. Either there is some other explanation for the existence of both good and evil, the obvious wreckage of the world; or my perception of "good and evil" is just a trick of the light, a psychological problem brought on by the demands of evolution perhaps, and not to be taken too seriously.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
--Isa. 46:4
CACCIAGUIDA HAS MOVED to Can Grande Della Scala.
SMALL PRESS EXPO: I have only the most scattered impressions, since I spent maybe three hours there. Later today I'll review some of the comics I picked up. Here are reports from Sean Collins (d'oh! sorry we were so birdbrained and didn't get in touch until you all had already left for the con), Unqualified Offerings and Polytropos.


1) UO said the indie-comics conventiongoers looked much like the people at non-indie-oriented comics cons. I suggested that this was probably a good thing.

2) Very cool to see the wide variety of art styles out there. This is probably old news to you! But not to me. There were comics that basically looked just like ol' familiar zines, comics that looked like regular old Marvel/DC stuff, a whole raft of comics (which I liked at first, but am a bit overwhelmed by now) with that Daniel-Clowes-cover kind of washed-out-colors look (do you know the thing I mean?), and many, many comics that looked just like themselves.

3) Carla Speed McNeil was great fun. She confirmed two of my suspicions: a) Fine arts professors often have a truly demented bias against representative art; and b) She is a fan of Samuel Delany. Fun bit: "People send me things. One girl always sends me weird stuff--in a good way. Last time she sent me some emu feathers. Somebody sent me an eggshell... I'm thinking soon I'll be able to build an emu from parts." She is one of those rare people who come across as very smart in person, not just on paper.

4) Too many of the comics on display were basically one-liners. Puns. You come up with a pun and think you have a plot or a character. Like (I'm making this one up) "Haunted Mouse." He's a mouse... but he's inhabited by ghostly fleas! Hilarity! I got very tired of wordplay-based comics ideas very fast. One or two are okay. (I didn't look through "Frankenstein Mobster" but I could imagine forgiving its creator.) More than that, not so okay.

5) After the expo, UO and I had dinner with the engaging and acute Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading. UO and I semi-argued about the ethics/politics relationship in (mostly) Spider-Man, which he has come very very close to calling "commie."

6) Then UO, Mrs. O, and I went to a party, where I met, among others, Eric Dixon, Jeremy Lott, and Jesse Walker. Walker's got a wildly intriguing bookshelf. Themes include the Black Panthers, film criticism (as opposed to Books Where People Obsess About Movies, which are more to my own taste), science fiction (I recommended Declare), and anarchism. Also Italo Calvino. You can tell what I do at parties, no?
PRO-VOUCHER INTERVIEWS SITE: Krubner has restarted his blog Free the Schools, a pro-vouchers site based around interviews with people discussing their experiences with public, private, and home education.
WHAT YOU CAN DO...: The next installment of my short story. You can go here to read the story so far in order, or just click here to get part three. Part four will be posted on Thursday.
HER FATHER MOLESTED HER AT AGE 5. At age 14, she was posing for a school superintendent who told her he was a professional photographer; exchanging sexy emails (including "racy" photos of herself) with a cop; and engaging in what I guess you have to call an online sexual relationship with a preacher.

Obviously, she's the predator here.

Fourteen-year-old girl. Read it and weep. (Notice the role of the mother, too.) Thank heavens for little girls--without them, who would big boys blame?
HOW SALAM PAX BECAME THE BAGHDAD BLOGGER: Wild stuff. Minor mistake re me; doesn't matter. Via InstaPundit.
TERRI SCHIAVO. Sorry I haven't blogged about this before. Terrible case in Florida.

Here's my related piece from the Register, "Awakenings: Coma Patients Can Recover," which spells out the Church's position on providing food and water to people who cannot feed themselves.
FREE TRADE LINKS: All of these links are absolutely worth your time. They touch on major issues of economic justice and care for the poor. Read 'em! TechCentralStation free-trade linkfest.

Cato symposium, featuring both defenders and opponents of globalization, organized by Radley "Agitator" Balko.

And a book review from Reason. Among many other interesting nuggets: "In the United States, sugar quotas alone cost consumers $900 million annually. The high price of sugar has cost the United States around 9,000 jobs in food manufacturing and refining, as many heavy users of sugar have closed down or moved their facilities to other nations.

"Meanwhile, restraints on steel cost about $4 billion and restrictions on maritime shipping cost another $1.3 billion. Irwin cites one 1996 estimate that, all told, U.S. trade barriers cost Americans $32 billion annually."
You can't catch me where I'm gonna blog
You can't catch me where I'll watch
This world's too cold, so I'm gonna run
I'm moving to the sun...

Cranky Professor: Lots of interesting stuff, mostly about technology and/or liberal arts education. Also, his comments on the "X kills! Wait, I mean, a mislabeled drug that isn't Ecstasy at all kills! But X is still really really bad! We'll tell you why as soon as we figure it out..." study. My personal beef against Ecstasy remains what it has always been: I already have a religion that says I gotta love everybody. Last thing I need is a drug that makes me like everybody.

Dappled Things: Nifty sermon on Jesus' healing of the deaf-mute. (Hey, are a sermon and a homily the same thing?)

Kesher Talk: Vast trove of links relating to Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish, his meditation on his father's death.

Old Oligarch: In olden days we had the allegory of love. Now we have the allegory of Quake....

Relapsed Catholic will be on TV the 14th and the 21st. She'll be dissecting same-sex marriage, the Ten Commandments monument mishegoss, Al-Jazeera, and Paul Hill.

Unqualified Offerings: Comic-book Jews! Fun, fun stuff, celebrating Arrival Day (the day the first Jews came to America). Here's another article on the same topic, via Journalista!.

Basic, interesting intro piece about the nooks and crannies of the intelligence war. Profiles of Djibouti, Indonesia, and Mauritania. For those who didn't see it at InstaPundit.

And: "Up on stage for the raunchy performance of Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' was 6-year-old Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. Little Lourdes was dressed in First Communion white, decked out in lace gloves, a crucifix, and a studded belt with the words 'BOY TOY.' Paving the way for the entrance of Madonna and her entourage of sexual exhibitionists, Lourdes tossed flower petals on the dance floor while a mosh pit of fans writhed in front of her and the porno soundtrack throbbed behind her." I'll steal Mark Shea's shtik: A country that despises virginity is a country that hates children. Madonna link via Relapsed Catholic, I think.
A voice says, "Cry!"
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people is grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.

--Isaiah 40:6-8

Friday, September 05, 2003

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Cacciaguida writes: "For some reason I am currently unable today to access my blog 'Cacciaguida.' My 'username' appears to have been reassigned to another individual. My last post to that blog was the opera post dated Sept. 1. Until further notice, assume anything added later than Sept. 1 is by an impostor.

"If Blogger can't resolve the problem, I'll create a new blog to continue Cacciaguida."

If you have any advice for him, please email paradisoxv@hotmail.com.
FOR THOSE FOLLOWING THE SAGA of my sickness, I'm better now. Upcoming posts (maybe tonight, probably Monday): another bushel of comics reviews, more story, more stuff about formation of sexual identity. On Monday, assuming all goes as planned, I'll also tell you if anything fun happened at the Small Press Expo!