Friday, October 29, 2004

"HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOCAMPUS": Yet another refraction of "Donnie Darko," this time kinda pop-Freudian. I generally find that stuff a lot less interesting than e.g. this take on Christian symbolism in "DD." And Emerson is leaning way too hard on his pet interpretation. But there's no reason the adolescence and sexual themes can't coexist with and play into existential and religious themes (no duh, say those who have read some of my stories), and I'm always, always in the market for more interpretations of "DD." Spoilers abound in both those links, of course. ...Both links via Dave Tepper.
YURODIVI replies to my voting post. I should note that I meant that you should vote, not that you shouldn't--I wish I hadn't missed the reg deadline. I'm lame.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

TIME TO TELL HUSSEIN'S STORY: Powerful Anne Applebaum piece. Excerpt:

Listen instead to Kanan Makiya, the former Iraqi dissident who has now dedicated himself to consolidating, scanning and investigating the archives of the former regime. Makiya thinks that what matters is not whether the Iraqis remember Hussein's reign but how they remember it. Was the Baathist state a totalitarian regime under which the entire nation suffered? Or was it a conspiracy of the Sunni minority against the Shiite majority? If Iraqis come to believe the former, argues Makiya, it might still be possible for them to unify behind a new national government. If Iraqis come to believe the latter, the result could be ethnic civil war. A complete trial of Hussein, one that showed the extent of the corruption, forced collaboration, violence and terror he imposed on the entire nation, might help Iraqis understand that all of them -- Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish -- suffered in different ways.

If Makiya's views aren't convincing, listen to Leszek Balcerowicz, who was the Polish finance minister during his country's economic transformation at the beginning of the 1990s. Ruminating recently on the parallels between post-communism and post-Baathism, Balcerowicz noted that along with inflation and price controls, one of the most serious obstacles to reform in Poland was the information imbalance. Because there was no free press before 1989, Poles knew little about the real state of their country. After 1989 there was a lot of free press, and it was all negative. Fed on a diet of "isn't everything terrible," many began to idealize the past and reject the present. Something similar may be happening in Iraq today. Increasingly, everything that is wrong in Iraq, from the malfunctioning infrastructure to the ethnic tensions, is blamed on the U.S. occupation. A wider debate about how Iraq got to where it is -- how Hussein mismanaged the country, murdered whole villages and stole the nation's money -- might help persuade Iraqis to invest in the present.

whole thing
IN THE PRECINCTS OF DESPITE: So, the election. As I said below, I don't expect to persuade anyone, for a lot of reasons: my own negativity and ambivalence, my lack of importance!, the fact that it's already 10/28--and one big thing, which is that this campaign has been mostly waged in the subjunctive tense. Challengers generally have to do that, relying on contrary-to-fact clauses: If our guy had been in charge, we wouldn't be in this mess! But Bush's supporters are relying heavily on the subjunctive too: If Saddam Hussein had remained in power... if the sanctions had been ended... if Kerry had been president in 2001... and none of this, of course, is verifiable.

And the candidates have been diligently turning themselves into blank projection screens onto which various groups of voters can play out their fantasies: If you think the US rushed into war without securing necessary alliances, Kerry is all about Our European Friends. If you fear a French or German veto on American foreign policy, Kerry is all about America First. Voters end up relying on instinct, speculation, templates borrowed from previous wars (WWII, the Cold War, Vietnam...), and difficult-to-articulate judgments about trust.

So, some scattered thoughts, in an attempt to at least gesture toward the reasons why, if I were registered to vote, I would vote for (growl) Bush--the man who puts the "W" in "WTF?!"

First: Why am I not registered? 1. For a long time I was not convinced that I could vote for either major-party candidate without implicating myself in serious sin.

2. I live in DC. I know where my electoral votes are going. I hadn't thought about the idea that it would be best to vote anyway due to the post-2000 importance of the popular vote; by the time Kaus laid out that case, the registration deadline had passed.

3. I'm really lazy.

Second: problems with Bush. I'm not even going to bother with complaints about spending, or about particular programs. You can do that yourself. My two main reasons not to vote for Bush (which would mean voting third-party or not at all; there is no way I would vote for Kerry, the altar boy of the abortion lobby) are simply jus ad bellum and jus in bello. Just reasons for war, and just conduct within war.

Jus ad bellum: I supported the war in Iraq. I couldn't tell you whether, in the long run, it will turn out to be a disaster or a damaged but important success. I do know that some of the reasons I supported the war have vanished into air: The sanctions, which helped destroy the Iraqi middle class, also seem to have worked as far as leading Hussein to destroy most of his major weaponry. Jim Henley's constant reminder that war is a government program with bombs, and subject to the incompetence and bureaucratic information failure that prompts libertarian skepticism of government bureaucracy in general, seems to me to have proven accurate. The flight of Iraqi Christians strikes me as a terrible sign for the country's future. It frightens me to hear people defending the administration on the matter of missing weapons materials by saying that the materials were likely shipped to Syria in the days before the war began--which is exactly what anti-war libertarians like Gene Healy warned would happen.

Some of the reasons for war still stand, of course, but they are all subjunctive reasons: the prospect of sanctions ending with Hussein still in power and able to restart his weapons programs; the prospect of Iraq in chaos, or ruled by the Bat-$#@! Crazy Sons of Saddam, after Hussein's death; the prospect of yet more decades of lacerating sanctions and simmering war in the no-fly zones. (Yes, I think there would have been disastrous consequences to either continuing or ending the sanctions, with the former only barely preferable.)

I do think Iraq can become, in time, a more-or-less liberal more-or-less democracy, and that that transformation would be hugely important for both Iraqis and us. I do think Bush is more committed to that future than Kerry (solely because Kerry is IMO not committed to anything at all--more on this below) but I am, to put it mildly, not convinced that the Bush team has the ability to promote that future. I do think more good happens in Iraq than we see in the papers. But I don't know how much entrepreneurial growth, how many voters, how much new and rebuilt infrastructure, makes up for all the bodies, in the minds of actual Iraqis.

Jus in bello: The two obvious words here are "Abu Ghraib." I totally agree with those who point out that this wasn't solely a matter of isolated depravity, but rather, a breakdown of responsibility that made depravity much more likely and much harder to stop. I realize that this war has been conducted at a far higher jus in bello standard than almost any other one I can think of--higher than WWII (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among other interesting moments), higher than the Cold War (just ask the nuns of Central America). But "Um, we created the conditions that made torture more likely, then verbally condemned it when it was revealed, then doled out a few punishments and hoped you'd forget" is pretty obviously not good enough. Moreover, any violations of right conduct in war become, implicitly, jus ad bellum failures as well: We know that war makes madness, so those who support "wars of choice" bear some responsibility for that madness even if we try to minimize it. (And yeah, that's directed at me, too.)

So--Kerry, a.k.a. "You're really clicking tonight, you gorgeous preppie!"

There is no "there" there. I have exactly no idea what guides Kerry's thinking on anything at all--unless "what I need to say to placate the necessary voters and interest groups" counts as a guide to thought. He is without ideas: without what Jonathan Rauch, in a good column with which I agree about 65%, called a "road." This makes him Silly Putty in the hands of the Democratic interest groups; which, in turn, makes him unlikely to ever support a single program or policy I would approve. On the most important domestic issues, abortion and the courts (emphasis added!), he and I are of course at odds. On the most important foreign-policy issues he is a mass of contradiction, pandering, and attack without a sense of what position he's actually defending.

Bush would have to do something fairly spectacular to get me to vote for Kerry. I'm not going to pretend that I was ever a "swing voter" in that sense. And, as I said, I can't vote in this election anyway. But I know a lot of Catholics, and a lot of conservatives, are considering voting third-party or sitting this one out. And I hope they won't. I don't think Bush's foreign-policy failures are worth a Kerry presidency. I know this is unlikely to persuade; so I will just go back to what I have been doing, which is praying, writing fiction, volunteering, and trying to bring some kind of order and hope to my life and the lives of the people I can touch.
COMICS REVIEWS: A FAIR IS A VERITABLE SMORGASBORD-ORGASBORD-ORGASBORD...--in other words, here are five books linked only by the fact that they're comics. Something for everyone!

The Tick, omnibus vol. 2: Wildly fun superhero parody. Sort of "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast," or, since I'm pretty sure The Tick came first, Space Ghost is very Tickish, only with more postmodernity and less of The Tick's wiggy fun. In this volume, The Tick gets his battlecry, "SPOON!" Yay.

Daredevil: King of Hell's Kitchen: Perfectly serviceable Bendis Daredevil. Con: There are lots of places where Alex Maleev's art becomes ugly rather than the usual "gritty with flashes of decrepit urban beauty." And the psychologizing is a bit thicker on the ground than I'd like. Pro: I really like how we get lots of different, well-fleshed-out perspectives on Daredevil's decision to basically take over an entire area of New York. Everyone's reaction makes sense, so Bendis can play out some of the vigilantism issues while still keeping a tight focus on character. I also found the Night Nurse extremely creepy, in a good way, and want more of her. And it was very fun to see Spider-Man's bantering contrasted with Daredevil's seriously psycho criminal-terrorizing. Loved all those frightening shots of Daredevil in darkness, all gleaming eyes and bared teeth. Overall, I liked this, but it isn't what I'd recommend you start with for either Bendis or Daredevil.

Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris. I suppose David Fiore may take this as just another sign of my degeneracy, but I was very, very unsold on this book. It's Grant Morrison doing crazy superheroics, which could be lots of fun (the Doom Patrol fights the Brotherhood of Dada!), and it's much warmer than the eminently dislikeable first volume of The Invisibles. But I had one medium-sized problem and one huge one: 1) The "journey to the center of Crazy Jane" plot is a) way, way too Sylvia Plath by way of Sybil, and b) resolved in a way so anti-feminist I have to think Morrison just found the plot got out of his hands. I mean, Jane is saved by a man, but it's okay, because he's not really a man--he's a man's brain in a robot body? Whatever.

2) The big problem: There's always too much happening. We never get a chance to get to know the characters because there's always some new creepy pseudo-postmodern villain or henchbeing popping onto the page. It becomes wearying and prevents the book from actually exploring any of the neat-o keen metafictional stuff that I would have thought would be, you know, the point.

Why I Hate Saturn: Such mixed feelings about this book! It's the story of a tragically-hip New York female, her best friend, and her sister (who thinks she's from Saturn, hence the title). For the first several chapters, I swung wildly between hating the aching hip-osity of it all, and laughing out loud as Kyle Baker's dialogue perfectly captured the aching hip-osity of my actual life and my friends'. I eventually settled into liking the book, but I'm pretty sure if you're not in the right demographic you'll be bored by it. (I was also very irritated by a scene in which the male best friend has to explain to the protagonist that there's a beauty double-standard that damages women. No intelligent twentysomething female should need a man to tell her this. Sorry, not believable.) ...If you're twentysomething, overly ironic, and too clever by half, you might really like this. If not, best pass it by. I enjoyed it.

City of Glass: "Close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, friends. City of Glass is a translation of Paul Auster's novel into comics. I haven't read the novel, but there are a lot of moments that work very well as comics: for example, a map of the anonymous city streets in which the protagonist tries to lose himself morphs into a fingerprint--from the dissolution of identity to its most vivid representation.

City of Glass is about the attempt to rebuild the Tower of Babel--to recover the lost "language of God." It's also about the human sacrifice, the sacrifice of a son, that this attempt involved. There's a compelling sense of Fallen-ness here: something wrecked, something that once was whole and made sense, could once be spoken, but now twists on the tongue and can't be recovered. There's a furious echo of the binding of Isaac here, I think; and of the Pelagian project of saving oneself. There isn't, I don't think, an echo of the sacrifice of Christ. That willing sacrifice, and the transformation of identity that Christian believers are called to (putting off Adam, becoming part of the Body of Christ; being baptized into His death and into His life), are so thoroughly absent from the book that saving oneself seems like the only alternative to despair. Yet the Pelagian/Babel project collapses into cruelty, self-destruction, and, ultimately, absurdity.

This is almost a great book. The "almost," though, is huge: There are no people in this book. There are only counters moved around on the great Snakes and Ladders gameboard. And so it's very hard to believe in the choices confronted by the abstracted, cipher-like characters.

This was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere.
SHADOWS SEARCHING FOR WHAT CAST THEM: This is most of what I wrote in the past year or so. As I plunge into the Season of Revision, I'd greatly appreciate any comments you have on the rough drafts. Also, it's possible you would like a story of mine that you've missed. So I'm putting all the links together here. (There are three drafted stories I never posted, so this isn't quite complete.) This is a combination Eve Tasting Plate and plea for help, so the descriptions will be half-enticing and half-plaintive. Sorry about that.... In order from oldest to newest:

Judge Me, O God: Cindy "Kristallnacht" Greenberg in crisis, prompted by a (justified) accusation of date rape. Starts here, continues here. Question: Do you feel like her reaction, and the places she's looking for answers, make sense?

What You Can Do for Your Country: A researcher investigating genetic malformation tries to regain control of her career and her life. Starts here, continues here. Excerpt:
I still haven't read the Newsweek story. I guess I should do it now. Bedtime story. "Once upon a time there was a perfect little child just like you, only with lovely soft wings--but then the nasty scientists came and ate him!"


Now and at the Hour: "My finest death was two centuries ago now." Welcome to a future where the drugs make you think you're in West Berlin, and you can live forever if you really think you want to. Starts here, continues here.

Desire: A romantic comedy. Starts here, continues here. Question: If I place Suha's handfasting in the Winter section, rather than in "April Fools," will the abrupt change in the final section feel more earned? Excerpt:
We were always well-equipped for Halloween, my favorite holiday. Since early childhood I'd created these utterly obscure, private costume ideas--when I was ten I was "the ghost of a wolf," which was not even the most bizarre. I would ring the doorbells, waiting, secretly wishing that behind the cotton-cobwebbed doors I would find someone who would guess what I was. This, of course, never happened.

Getting Fired: Peter Ware loses his job and begins a bizarre adventure heavily influenced by '30s movies. Of all the things I've written, this is the one I think has the most potential to be genuinely great. ...It also has the most continuity errors and dropped subplots, so enter at your own risk. Questions: Who do you want to see more of, and why? Are there actions that don't make sense here? When--if ever--did you feel like you "got" what was happening? Are there philosophical problems with any of the events? Anyway, the story starts here, continues here, goes here, and finishes here. (Sorry about that. I do think this one is worth the schlepping from link to link.)

Kissable Pictures: Fun metafiction-y thing about disturbed and disturbing relationship between the two people who make up a newly-popular band. This is one of my two favorite pieces (second only to "Getting Fired"). Starts here, continues here, then finishes here. (Again, apologies for schlepping.)

Through the Years We All Will Be Together: Claustrophobic, baggy story about a group of friends at the Christmas party from Hell. Any suggestions on structuring this piece would be especially welcome, as right now it's a big tangle. Starts here, finishes here.

You Will Be Pulled Back: "Did you perhaps go further than you told us?"--or, When you are king I had better be the first against the wall. Two boys growing up and discovering the power of dreams. Question: What the heck did you think this story was about? Also, do you hate the title? ...Starts here and finishes on that page.

Better At It: How do you fight aliens who are better at being human than you are? I really like this one. Here.

I Count Only Sunny Hours: Two psychics have very different responses to their gift. Question: This story is either much too opaque or much too obvious... and I can't tell which. Can you help?! ...Here.

Ship Comes In: My reworking of the Norse myths, focusing on Sigyn, Loki, and Loki's lover. This story is a bit of a mess, really. Tell me what you think it's about; that will help me figure out where I let it get out from under me. I do think there are some really nice bits here, but the story needs to be whacked into shape. Here.

A Separated Soul: Christ brings new life. But what if you miss your old life? ...I really don't like the title. Anyway, the story is here.

Odysseus's Scar: Spies, lies, and naked thighs. Here.
I SEND MY S.O.S. TO THE WORLD: So I mentioned that the Last Story of 2004, "Odysseus's Scar," needs a serious fixin'. Mostly, it needs to get longer. If you read the story, I'd really appreciate your thoughts on what needs to get added, since I am way too close to the material and cannot tell how it reads to others. So if you have anything to say about the questions below, please do email me. Criticism is, if anything, more welcome than praise; although if something really worked for you, that's useful information too.

1. What do you still want to know about: Justin, David, Fr. Bianchi, Frank Harlowe, Mary Harlowe, Bill Harlowe, Kayla Harlowe? Do you want to know anything about Leonard Brand, Zehava, Simon, Verna, Donte, or Tom?

2. Do you want/need to see David's family?

3. Which actions felt seriously undermotivated to you--places where you found yourself asking, "Okay, why is he doing that?" (I'm tempted to attribute the undermotivation to the fact that I was experimenting with writing a much more dialogue-heavy story than my usual; but the point here is to turn that into a successful experiment, rather than a failed one.)

4. What do you want to know about the political situation--the refugees, the separate peace, the CIA, etc.? Who did you think was right about what should be done, to the extent that you could form an opinion?

5. Most important: What did you think was the point or points of the story? I don't write messy realism; I write philosophically-driven, distilled, and consciously framed fiction. I suspect "Odysseus's Scar" reads much more like messy realism than I want it to, with the points I'm trying to illuminate obscured by poor plotting and undermotivation.

6. Minor points: Was Donte totally underused and turned into a plot device/token? Were there moments when the description or word choice made you wince? (Yes, I hate the "Afterschool Special" paragraph about Kayla's parents as much as you do. But were there other similarly wincemaking moments?)

Any other comments would also be welcome. I'm sending up the Bat signal here, because I do think this story can be made good, I'm just not sure how. Many thanks.
CATHOLIC VOTE: Lots of worthwhile links and commentary at Amy Welborn's site, especially in the 10/27 entries. More on my own personal Catholic non-vote (I'm not registered; I live in DC) later, not because you care but because it feels like a real cop-out not to post on the election at all. Feel free to skip and/or loathe.
GREAT SIN AND GREAT SORROW: Former Khmer Rouge killers embrace Christ. Via Get Religion.
CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH: Excellent post from Dappled Things on living in imperfect communion with the Church. A lot of this is stuff that's relevant both to my own life and to my work at the pregnancy center, so it might be especially worth reading for those who volunteer in Christian ministry. Excerpts:

...The first thing I would consider is the fact that conversion (and this is what we are talking about) is rarely, if ever, a total and absolute change in a person right away. Vices (which are ingrained habits of sin) do not go away overnight, and belief always stands in need of strengthening. ...

A second thing to consider is what one does agree with and how one is practicing the Faith. Before talking about your dissent from the Church, lay out what you do assent to. Start with the Creed. ...A person should ask himself what doctrines he does believe, and why he believes them, starting with the central ones. He should ask himself how the Gospel impacts his life and changes his behavior. Only after all that should he start to highlight what he rejects and how he diverges from orthopraxy -- and what the reasons are for those
divergences. I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much they do believe.

A third point I'd make is that, even though God does want our all, it's not true that if we can't give all we might as well give nothing. God wants you in Mass every Sunday. But, once a month is still better than nothing at all, and that will at least maintain some contact with Christ's Sacrifice and the community of the faithful. Even if you're not keeping all of the Commandments, don't abandon them all. Even if you're not the most faithful Christian, for God's sake don't give up on prayer altogether. Just because you can't receive the Sacraments, don't boycott the Mass. In the inscrutable calculus of grace, it's impossible to tell what acts of religion will make the difference between one's salvation and one's loss. What one hopes will happen is that these little acts will be the seeds that lead to an eventual full embrace of everything that the Church offers.

I guess what I'm saying in these three points is that no one should feel he must cut himself off from the Church out of some all-or-nothing approach to Faith. People can, I believe, recognize that their beliefs or actions put them at odds with the fullness of the Faith but, at the same time, remain within the Church in an imperfect way. Recognizing that their communion with the Church is seriously compromised, they should refrain from sacramental Communion, but there are still plenty of ways to get the most out of the imperfect communion that they do share. ...The acts of piety and witness of prayerfulness and Christian sacrifice that have impressed me most have not been those of the walking saints (because, in a way, I expect it of them), but rather of the obviously flawed people whose relationship with God and the Church is visibly messed up. When I learn that one of them is in the perpetual adoration chapel everyday, or that they have practiced heroic acts of charity toward a neighbor, or they faithfully say the rosary even though it's been years since they could go to Communion: this fills me with great hope -- for them, for me, and for all sorts of people who might be tempted to think that God and the Church have written them off.

whole thing!
THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT: John Peel's "festive 50" songs. I forget where I found this.
THE COMICS REPORTER: Fun new site so jam-packed with stuff that I still haven't read most of it. Via the world and his wife. (More comicsness very soon.)
THE LONG TAIL: How the Internet has made it possible to give people the unpopular books, music, and movies we want; and how businesses should respond. Excellent stuff. Via Hit & Run.
"Didn't you find it all... rather unsatisfying?"

"Yes, but I couldn't seem to see a way out. It was like being three different people, and they all wanted to go different ways." A slight smile. "The result was I went nowhere."

Rivers waited.

"I mean, there was the riding, hunting, cricketing me, and then there was the... the other side... that was interested in poetry and music, and things like that. And I didn't seem to be able to..." He laced his fingers. "Knot them together."

"And the third?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You said three."

"Did I? I meant two."

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

"Rivers laughed. 'The point is you hate civilians, don't you? The "callous," the "complacent," the "unimaginative." Or is "hate" too strong a word?'

--Pat Barker, Regeneration

Monday, October 25, 2004

WILD AND AN UNTAMED THING: New question at MarriageDebate:
Would same-sex marriage tame gay men?

Okay, so most iterations of that argument don't put it quite so bluntly.
But one of the undercurrents of the gay marriage debate is the idea that marriage tames men, in general, and so gay marriage would help transform gay male culture, shifting it away from promiscuity and toward responsibility and sexual restraint.

But a lot of people within the gay community find this line of argument insulting, irrelevant, or wrong-headed from the start. And many opponents of SSM suggest that it's women who tame men in marriage; or that the cultural influences might flow both ways, reducing the cultural belief that marriage requires sexual fidelity.

What's your view?

(longer version of question here; email me if you want to join the debate!)
"So, anyway, it's 3 a.m., and I'm doing my usual 3 a.m. bit, which is lying in bed, bemoaning my fate. Not lying, so much as sitting, actually, because if I bemoan while lying down, I end up with scotch in my hair."
--Kyle Baker, Why I Hate Saturn

Saturday, October 23, 2004

"ODYSSEUS'S SCAR": YOUR OWN PERSONAL JUDAS. (Someone to hear your prayers. Someone who cares.) ...Anyway, here's the final section of the last story I will post until the New Year!

And it's totally lame. Lots of stuff happens, the plot gets slightly out of my hands, and our characters descend into soap opera. Um, right, the story is about spies. And stuff. I do think it can be made good--perhaps even very good--but right now... lame. For one thing, it's too short, hence the soapy quality as all the plottiness crashes in toward the end. But please, if you have any other comments, let me know, so I can make this story Be All It Can Be, Get an Edge on Life, etc. There are a lot of elements here I find unsatisfying.

Here for story from the beginning; here for final section.

Not sure what, if anything, I'll post by way of fiction for the rest of the month. On November 1 I will start revising the... let me go count... 17 (!!! I rock!!!) rough drafts I've got. While I'm revising, I'll be doing a super fun, super weird writing exercise, and posting the results at least once a week; so there will still be fictionality here, but it will be very short and very bizarre. Next year, while I'm sending out the fixed-up stories, I'll get started on the... let me go count!... nine-plus story ideas I've already got very close to the drafting point. In the New Year, expect class-reunion hijinks, hurricanes, deep romantic love, memory problems, fantasy of manners, The Zombie Survival Guide, and much much more!
Oh well I feel so loose tonight I might fall to pieces,
So be prepared to sweep me out the door,
And I might be horizontal by the time the blogwatch ceases,
So I think I'll get acquainted with the floor...

Otto-da-Fe goes underground--and finds a hidden movie theater! Too cool.

"The Myth of the Catholic Voter"--and the revenge of the '70s. (Purple toupee and gold lame, after the hair has gone away....)

"Old Testament Parenting"--hilarity, via The Corner.

"Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea, and of all foods
that are acceptable in my sight you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the hoofed animals, broiled or ground into burgers, you may eat, but not in the living room. Of the cloven-hoofed animal, plain or with cheese, you may eat, but not in the living room. ...

"Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. ...

"Bite not, lest you be also bitten again. Neither drink of your own bath water, nor of the bath water of any kind; nor rub your feet on bread, even if it be in the package; nor rub yourself against cars, not against any building; nor eat sand.

"Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not the humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, you shall drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape."

and much more.
"The inventors of the documentary hypothesis believed that by trying to distinguish the various strands they were getting closer to the truth, which, in good nineteenth-century fashion, they assumed to be connected with origins. But in practice the contrary seems to have taken place. For their methodology was necessarily self-fulfilling: deciding in advance what the Jahwist or the Deuteronomist should have written, they then called whatever did not fit this view an interpolation. But this leads, as all good readers know, to the death of reading; for a book will never draw me out of myself if I only accept as belonging to it what I have already decreed should be there."
--Gabriel Josipovici in The Book of God, quoted in Robert Alter's World of Biblical Literature

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"ODYSSEUS'S SCAR": WHO'S ZOOMIN' WHO? Next section of the science-fiction-twin spy story. In which David Malone gets a very unwelcome head check. Plotness ensues.

Sorry for the delay. Should finish story... well... either tomorrow or Thursday. Here for story so far, here for most recent section.

Strong language, weak wills, ressentiment, and many other things that would, in a more confident age, have landed this story on the Index. Enter at own risk. If this were on TV, it would have to be on cable. And it would have a lot less internal monologue, too. (I hope.)

If you feel so moved, I'd love to know what you're liking, hating, or puzzling over with this story, so email away. I am nigh-impossible to irk or offend when it comes to critiquing my fiction.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"ODYSSEUS'S SCAR": IF I HAD A ROCKET LAUNCHER. Next section of the current short story. Home is anywhere you hang your head, a.k.a. Justin reverts to melodramatic adolescence. The plot moves not at all. (Sorry.)

There are two more sections of this, both plottier than your average cemetery. I hope to have it finished by Monday.

Danger, Will Robinson!: I am becoming bored with trying to write clever disclaimers about the sketchy content of this story. So all I will say is, Enter at own risk. Management is not responsible for lost or stolen items. Filling may be hot.

Here for story so far; here for most recent section. As always, your comments are most welcome. What are you liking? What are you hating? Tell me or I shoot the dog!

LL (alias Clio): Did you get a reply email from me? I still don't know if my daggone email works.
SPENT MY LAST TEN DOLLARS...: So I have a long, rambling, only slightly polemical thing up at MarriageDebate about bisexuality, emotional stress, and... stuff. Readers interested in gender, sexuality, marriage, and related whatnot might visit and let me know what you all think.

And I'm almost done with the next scene of "Odysseus's Scar," I promise. Just stalling on some awkward transitions. It's a disappointing scene, I think, because we're in the middle where nothing plotty is happening, but it will be posted by 3 a.m.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Spent my last ten dollars on blogwatching and beer;
My life was so much simpler when I was sober and queer...

[Trying out cool blockquotes, pointed out by Krubner. Please work, O Blockquotes!]

Camassia: Assuming authority--and abdicating it.

A lot of churches seem to make it their main job to assert their own harmlessness, advertising a "safe, accepting environment" and that sort of thing. As Dave points out, this can be taken to weird extremes, to the point where the church seems to stand for nothing else.

Yet underlying this is an odd, almost arrogant assumption of power.


Church of the Masses: Draw the line dividing art from sin.... (Intriguing post with fascinating comments. If I can think of anything useful to add, I will.)

"An Opening for Arab Democrats":
More intriguingly, independent human rights groups and pro-democracy movements around the region are continuing to sprout, gather and issue manifestos -- all in the name of supporting the intergovernmental discussions. An independent human rights group appeared in Syria this month; Saudi women organized a movement to demand the right to vote in upcoming municipal elections. On the same day that the Egyptian foreign minister belittled what is now called the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) in an interview with The Post, an unprecedented alliance of opposition
parties and citizens' groups issued a platform in Cairo calling for the lifting of emergency laws, freedom of the press and direct, multi-candidate elections for president.

While there have been some arrests, most of the nascent democrats are surviving. Despite all the defiant rhetoric, Egyptian and Saudi police, it turns out, are hesitant to pummel people who say they are responding to the president of the United States.

Very good roundup. Via Hit & Run.

"Truth Stranger than 'Strangelove'": Also via Hit & Run.

What few people knew, at the time and since, was just how accurate this film was. Its premise, plotline, some of the dialogue, even its wildest characters eerily resembled the policies, debates and military leaders of the day. The audience had almost no way of detecting these similiarities: Nearly everything about the bomb was shrouded in secrecy back then.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY: Decent basic piece linking Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and In the Shadow of No Towers as expressions of nostalgia for early 20th-century visions of the future. The piece starts wandering and wobbling by the end, and some of it is silly, but this topic fascinates me so I figured I'd pass it on. Via Hit & Run.
THE EMERGING GIANT PLANETARY BRAIN: If by "purpose," you mean "thing that lots of its actions usually do," and by "design" you mean "mindless process," then this article makes sense. Grrr. Why do people let their metaphors eat their metaphysics?!

In related news, a friend wrote in with a question about this post (and the ones that follow). But I just checked my inbox and found that I seem to have deleted the $#@! email with his question. I'll summarize as best I remember it. Gene, if I get this wrong, let me know.

As I recall, he was asking how I can say that reason requires the existence of a personal and interfering God, given that, in order even to make that statement and argue for it, I have to be using reason. My answer, in two very brief sections:
a) Keep in mind that those posts (and other times I discuss this question, e.g. here and here) are about reason as a norm, a standard of value, that is distinguishable from both personal preferences and cultural conformity. So the posts are addressing the claim, "We should follow the dictates of reason!", when that claim is being used as a basis for morality. In other words, we're not talking, here, about the rules of logic, or whether you'll die if you don't eat, etc. We're talking about whether reason can guide us not solely to learn about objects in the world, but about ethics; not solely what we can do, but what we should do. I'm not 100% sure this is what's separating us, though, since obviously most philosophical discussion incorporates large chunks of both reason-as-rules-of-logic and reason-as-norm. The boundaries between the two are often much fuzzier than people expect.

b) Even setting that point aside, I don't see how Gene's claim follows. We talk about the prerequisites for reason all the time. Is he (are you?) really arguing that any time someone states, "Interesting Thing X is necessary if reason is to have content greater than my own impulses and/or culture!", that's an invalid line of approach because you're using reason to make the claim? I mean, if I argued, "A self, as opposed to a pointillist array of affects and impulses, is necessary if reason is to be a guide to ethics," would that be out of bounds? It's not like we can settle this question through foxy boxing. (In outer space!)

...I'm not sure how we can discuss any aspect of the nature of reason without violating Gene's stricture. If I argue that reason is simply "what my culture calls reasonable" (to oversimplify wildly), I'm using reason. If I argue, "Dude, you're buggin', reason is totally not just what your culture calls reasonable, here's why," I'm using reason. If I argue that reason (as something more than the rules of logical inference) can be founded in an atheist metaphysics, or that it doesn't need to be founded in anything because metaphysics is lame, or anything at all about the (potentially) normative aspects of reason, I'm using reason. So either these questions can never be discussed (in which case, woohoo! Foxy Boxing for the Soul of Man!), or else it's kosher to discuss the conditions under which reason could and could not have normative force.

Gene also has a question about free will, but that's way above my pay grade. If I ever get a chance I'll maybe say some stuff on that as well, but honestly, free will is one of those things--like football--that I leave to greater minds.

PS: By the way, if you're going to argue about the reason-cannot-withstand-the-fall-of-God stuff above, please do read this (and the two after; they're short) and the section on Habermas (and Snape!... er, sort of) here. I know some of my phrasing above was unclear, as I tried to compress a multi-part argument into a single phrase so we could get on to the meta-argument.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Cato Institute
1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

"Was the Iraq War a just war or just a war?" Looks like some very interesting people will be there; we are promised sharp disagreement on every panel. And did I mention it's free? (It'll also be webcast.) For more information, and to register, go here.

Via The Agitator.
GENTRIFY MY LOVE: Really good post on gentrification here; with bonus Jane Jacobsness. I don't remember where I found the link.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"ODYSSEUS'S SCAR": THEY WOULD KILL YOU IF THEY KNEW. The new section of the current short story. (I ran out of Roethke taglines.) In which David talks politics, Justin talks shop, and we see the discontents of peacetime. This story contains many, many things that are barred by the Comics Code Authority and the Legion of Decency. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. Close cover before striking. This bag is not a toy.

Here for story so far; here for most recent section. I think there's either one or three sections left, but no more than three.
OOH SHINY: I have a new way of describing the thing I want to do with my fiction. Same article as below. You absolutely must read this piece; it's amazing.

"To both renounce and own the main features of one's life, as does Augustine in the voice of repentance, creates a literary effect that we might rightly call atonement."
"FEAR OF REDEMPTION": Brilliant essay. Excerpts:

...When Emerson says, "Imitation is suicide," he is drawing attention to the spiritual death that stems from self-alienation. When we stretch ourselves to meet the standards and goals set by others, we risk waking up one morning drowning in the responsibilities of marriage, children, job, and mortgage, feeling as though we have lost touch with all the passions and desires that once animated and moved us. An empty life is the antithesis of self-possession, and it is against the dispersing, emptying force of duty and responsibility that Emerson preaches his American version of the faith of the Savoyard Vicar: "No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and evil are but names readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it." The highest good is self-affirmation, and thus Emerson concludes, "If I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." Self-loyalty is the antidote to alienation. To thine own self be true is the first commandment.

Ironically, Rousseau's and Emerson's diagnosis of self-loss in social conformity has become conformist wisdom in our time. "Question Authority" is the bumper-sticker philosophy of millions, and it flows directly from the worry that collective demand will corrupt individual integrity. ... For at root, the impetus for rejecting traditional morality is protective, not permissive. The worry concerns atonement, not freedom.

Both Rousseau and Emerson are profoundly pessimistic about any form of personal change that is not internally motivated. They despair of the possibility of linking who we presently are to the persons traditional morality would discipline us to become. They cannot see how a man or woman subjected to the disciplines of commandments can be "at-one" with himself or herself. Both see morally mandated personal development as a form of self-destruction, an immolation of one’s desires and impulses for the sake of something extrinsic to the self. Thus, in order to affirm their loyalty to their own individuality, both Rousseau and Emerson reject all forms of moral discipline that are not tailored to their consciences. Again, I want to emphasize that the goal is not to clear away moral demands in order to make room for heedless self-indulgence. Neither Rousseau nor Emerson wants us to disperse ourselves in vain projects that yield only momentary satisfaction. They want our unique circumstances, our distinctive needs as individuals, and our intensely personal sensibilities and feelings to guide a life of self-possession, since only in this way can we be both morally ambitious and "at-one" with ourselves. ...

...Modernity did not discover the threat of alienation. The concern about self-loyalty is present in classical Christian literature as well, and it is a concern that Christianity meets head on.

St. Augustine's story of his conversion to Christianity, for instance, turns on the same problem of atonement and personal identity that worries Rousseau and Emerson. As a young man, Augustine read Cicero's Hortensius. "The book changed my feelings," he writes in his Confessions. "It gave me different values and priorities. . . . Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom." With newfound zeal, Augustine embarked on a search for the truth.

For Augustine, the search was difficult and involved setbacks, but in the end he came to see the truth of Christianity. Yet this was not enough. For all his intellectual gains, nothing had changed for him as an individual. "I myself was exceedingly astonished," he reports, "as I anxiously reflected how long a time had elapsed since the nineteenth year of my life, when I began to burn with a zeal for wisdom, planning that when I had found it I would abandon all the empty hopes and lying follies of hollow ambitions. And here I was already thirty, and still mucking about in the same mire in a state of indecision."

The problem Augustine faced is one of personal identity, not human nature. Augustine was convinced that chastity is virtuous, and that virtue is a fulfillment and not a diminishment of his nature as a rational creature. He had no difficulty imagining a transformed human nature--and yet, he could not change. "Fettered by the flesh's morbid impulse and lethal sweetness, I dragged my chain, but was afraid to be free of it." Augustine sought to change, but he could not, for he wished to be loyal to himself. "Now I had discovered the good pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had," but, he reports with dismay, "I hesitated." Augustine loved his habits, and he could not conceive of living without them, not because he thought them good, but simply because the habits were his.

...Like Dante before the wall of fire that forms the exit from purgatory, Augustine hesitated before the disjunctive demand of Christian morality, a demand that is the moral form of the promise of redemptive change. The demand seems to require a death of the self, a renunciation of personal identity. Augustine could not believe that a bush might burn without being consumed.

more! you know you want more!
"The Hegelian and the Leninist views of the Exodus have no place for the covenant, but it is central to the Jewish tradition and to much later revolutionary thought. And if the Israelites were too stiff-necked to live up to all of its requirements, they were also too stiff-necked ever to forget it entirely."
--Exodus and Revolution
ATTN: JIM HENLEY! Hi there. If you do not get an email from me in the next twelve hours, please give me a call. Cell phone = best, number in book = okay. I am growling about missing SPX. Email is still wonky. GRRRRR.

Monday, October 04, 2004

ONE CAN TELL BY YOUR KISS THAT YOUR GIN IS EXCELLENT: "...Purcell has two different pieces about different sorts of English women, 'She who lives for love, but finally discovers the joys of wine', and 'She who lives for love, but soon discovers the joys of wine'."
COLOR PHOTOS OF WWI: Here, via Matt.
VOICES FROM THE DAYS OF SLAVERY: "Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves Tell Their Stories provides the opportunity to listen to former slaves describe their lives. These interviews, conducted between 1932 and 1975, capture the recollections of twenty-three identifiable people born between 1823 and the early 1860s and known to have been former slaves. Several of the people interviewed were centenarians, the oldest being 130 at the time of the interview. The almost seven hours of recordings were made in nine Southern states and provide an important glimpse of what life was like for slaves and freedmen. The former slaves discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, how slaves were coerced, their families, and, of course, freedom. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all of those interviewed spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives, rather than their lives during slavery, that are reflected in their words. They have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond. As part of their testimony, several of the ex-slaves sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement."

Via E-Pression, who also has links to the online texts of several Kierkegaard works.
"And there is a kind of bondage in freedom: the bondage of law, obligation, and responsibility."
--Exodus and Revolution

Sunday, October 03, 2004

BULLETS AND BALLOTS: Iraq/El Salvador redux. Well worth your time.
ODYSSEUS'S SCAR: I MEET MY SHADOW. The next section of the current short story. Fixed the title. In this episode, we see an off-label use of the confessional, and learn why I insisted on setting this story en el futuro! (Also, we're back in Justin's POV. He's as sorry as you are.) Caveat lector, carpe canem, beware the fish, etc.: This story contains rough language, sexual situations, blasphemy, and other things that do not come in the Barbie Dream House playset. If you click anyway and get upset about these things, it is your own affair.

Here for story so far, here for most recent segment.

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

"THE SCAR OF ODYSSEUS": I MADE MY OWN WAY. Part two of the current short story. In which another major character is introduced, fancy food is eaten, brains are discussed, and the plot lurches forward. We also get out of Justin Harlowe's head; I'm sure he wishes he could join us. Achtung!: This story (although not this scene, much) contains raw language, including raw discussion of sex.

Here for story so far; here for most recent section.

In times when nothing stood,
But worsened, or grew strange,
There was one constant good:
You did not change.
I LAUGHED, I CRIED, IT WAS BETTER THAN "KING RALPH": The presidential debate in 15 minutes. Note, "South Park"-y humor and language. But this is fantastic.

Friday, October 01, 2004

HUGE CACHE OF WWII PHOTOS: I will be sinking hours here, I'm afraid. Via Lileks via The Corner.
THE DEBATE (Unqualified Offerings): "...Things that naturally didn't come up: torture; the costs of interventionism; how much of a blank check to give Ariel Sharon's Likud government; whether we truthfully want to democratize cooperative Muslim autocracies or should want to; our continuing involvement in the Andean Initiative; sanctions on Cuba; the difference between prudence and panic in anti-terror policy." (more)
OUTSOURCING TORTURE: Good basic Washington Post piece: "The Bush administration is supporting a provision in the House leadership's intelligence reform bill that would allow U.S. authorities to deport certain foreigners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or abused, an action prohibited by the international laws against torture the United States signed 20 years ago."


Human Rights Watch letter here. I don't have an actual-size Congressional representative, but maybe you do....

Post link via Dappled Things and How Appealing.