Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I'VE NEVER WATCHED "JOAN OF ARCADIA," but if you really like it, there's a chance you can help it move to another network rather than getting canceled. More info. Via Church of the Masses.
WAYS TO SUPPORT THE TROOPS. Via Vernon Dent/Done With Mirrors.
HOW FAR CAN YOU GO?: That was the original and best title of the book I just finished, published in the US as Souls and Bodies. It's a novel (...sort of) by David Lodge, basically about how a group of young English Catholics respond to the Second Vatican Council and Humanae Vitae. These are going to be scattershot and rushed impressions, because I'm leaving to return the book to the library in about fifteen minutes.... This is a negative review because that's the final impression the book left on me, not because all of it is lame.

1. At first the book was both easy to read and compelling. There's a wry tone, sometimes but not often skating into too-clever-by-half (the "Snakes and Ladders" depiction of Catholic metaphysics, which is, honestly, much too easy a comparison to be illuminating). Because the prose moves quickly I didn't notice that the characters are fairly slight and their future trajectories perhaps obvious from the beginning.

2. This is almost always a novel about The Church, not a novel about (say) salvation, Christ, redemption from sin, or even, really, faith and suffering. Those last two themes do surface in the book, but they're seen through what I found to be an entirely this-worldly lens, a "muddling through, do your best" kind of lens. Which is fine, obviously that's one perspective on the world, but it's... not something I'm wildly interested in. There's nothing wrong with writing a novel that dates, but it's worth mentioning that this novel is, in fact, dated. That's really the point of this novel (as the final lines, noting the election of Pope John Paul II, make explicit): to capture one time and place from an entirely temporal, secular perspective. The interest lies, maybe, in the clash between the secular perspective of the novel (and, ultimately, the protagonists) and the eternity-minded claims of the Catholic Church.

3. Souls and Bodies is more honest about death than about sex; and the book's American title makes most sense in the passages on death. I found the book most powerful in two areas: the sections that depicted the aging body and the threat of death; and the sections that show how different ways of life often simply change one form of unhappiness for another. (There are at least two moments when a married character and an unmarried character confront each other, each embedded in their own specific unhappiness, and each thinking, That's easy for you to say.)

4. As far as sex: If you already have an opinion on Humanae Vitae, I can guarantee that you will already have heard everything this book has to say about it. I don't know if Lodge's presentation of the issues was fresher in 1980, but it's definitely non-exciting now. And it damages the novel in at least two ways: a. There's a several-page essay just jammed into the book's midsection, arguing against the encyclical; you can't get away with doing that in your novel.

b. The book is manipulative. I noticed this manipulation when I realized that although three couples in the book have children, only one child is actually given a personality or described at any length. This child, Nicole, is born with Down's Syndrome (which is implied to be a result of her parents' use of the "rhythm method"...), and although there are a lot of poignant moments in her portrayal, it's hard not to get the sense that she's there to be the Bad Thing that happens to Good People. I'm pretty sure that sense would be much less if any of the other children were more than just names.

5. I shouldn't make it sound like Lodge was unaware of the snakes breeding in the sexual-revolutionary garden. The book has passages very reminiscent of "The Ice Storm"--people who want to be good, but who have no compass, nothing but desire and fear. I do really like the British title (although his editor should have scissored a few of the explicit references to it within the text); it's clear that Lodge knows that it's possible to go too far. (Even if he doesn't know where "too far" begins.)

6. I wonder why that question--How far can you go?--is almost always asked to discern how far you can go from the Church. Why not, How far can you go for Christ? Perhaps an obvious point. But this novel, I think, assumes that everyone's perspective is basically, How tall do I have to be to ride this ride? What is the minimum necessary?, when it's quite clear that some people do end up asking, What is the maximum possible? ...And that strikes me as the more interesting question.

Have any of you all read Lodge? This is my first of his. I have Thinks... on my reading list for later. Am I off-base, am I missing the point, should I read his other books? Your thoughts welcome.
From the Washington Post:
Much of the discussion has focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple years. Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention to anticipate what one called "the bleed out" of hundreds or thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. "It's a new piece of a new equation," a former senior Bush administration official said. "If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to locate them in Istanbul or London?"


Via Unqualified Offerings.

Also, via UO and, I think, the Volokh Conspiracy, a roundup of torture-related links.
When the ship runs out of ocean
And the blogwatch runs aground
Land's where we know the boat is found...

(Yes, there will be real posting later--definitely a book review, maybe other stuff--but for now, this is all you get.)

Church Marketing Sucks: How blogging can help the church. This is in the comments: "On my church's website I have set up a situation where people can search the bible for topics and the website keeps track of the most popular topics requested. From there I write a brief blog elaborating in more depth on the topic. This helps me know what my people are wrestling with (in an anonymous way) and gives me the opportunity to help them out." Via Relapsed Catholic.

Church of the Masses: Really neat post on adapting a story from one medium to another. In the comments box, there are some notes on Russian-to-English translation that might interest Ratty and other such Russophiles.

Telford Work: Is Christianity a cop-out?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Where do the rockets find blogwatch?

Dappled Things: Re-posts his great resource, "bare-essential book recommendations for seekers." For all interested in learning more about the Catholic Church and the Christian faith.

The Holy Office (hee!): Comments on this Christianity Today piece on horror movies. My favorite quote from THO:
Many critics have written that horror -- whether in movies or books -- is fundamentally conservative, because it inspires the audience to identify and revile an "outsider" -- the monster onto which our fears and hates can be projected. Intriguingly, Christianity Today's author instead sees horror as a chance to identify with the monster, and so to recognize an innate "monstrousness" within ourselves. At the same time, he sees an identification with the victims of horror movies, and the implication is that the monster and the victim are, in a sense, the same.


Oxblog: The military academies' "class of 9/11" graduates.
My friend Amy is a navy wife who's first child was diagnosed as anencephalic. She ws away from home and her husband was at sea for most of her pregnancy. This is part of a letter she sent out after the birth (and death).

I think the part where I choked up most was this, from a poem the wife wrote to her husband: "Very few Fathers can say,
'Yes, I was there every moment he needed me, I held him from
birth until death, his every action was a triumph, the span of his
life was never wanting for truth, and I know for certain that he
will rest for eternity in the palm of God's hand.'"
That "I was there every moment he needed me"--oh. Parents' desire always to be there when their children need them, and children's desire for their parents always to be there, is just about never fulfilled. (And in most cases, you do need to face some things alone and to allow your child to face them alone, no matter how hard it is.) This woman's testimony and her faith are amazing, humbling.

Friday, May 27, 2005

THE HOLY OFFICE. Interesting site, esp for fans of GetReligion.
BOOOOOOOOOK!!! Barbara Nicolosi says:

I'm not someone who gets excited very often...but this is cool.

Here's a link to our new Act One book Behind the Screen. Published by Baker Books, you can place a pre-order for it NOW (Hurry! Rush! Quick!) and help us get our Amazon ranking up. Right now, we are hovering around 498,247 most popular book on the planet.

If we get enough pre-orders, the publishers will do a bigger initial press run.

The book is a collection of essays from eighteen of our faculty. The idea behind the book is to be a bridge between Christians working in Hollywood, and Christians out there on the other side of the screen. Each essay, hopefully carries with it a different way of thinking about culture, movies, television, and how the Church should relate to the same.

We have essays from faculty members like Ralph Winter (X-Men, X2, Fantastic 4), Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emilie Rose), Ron Austin (Fr. Dowling Mysteries, Mission Impossible), Barbara Hall (Joan of Arcadia), Linda Seger (Making a Good Writer Great), Dean Batali (That 70's Show), Janet Scott Batchler (Batman Forever)....and others...and I'm in there too.

Please do your part to spur the new renaissance in the Church and in Hollywood -- buy our book!


Thursday, May 26, 2005

BWAH-HA-HA!!! ("Star Wars," relativism, hilarity.)

And: a site linking to lots of blogs where men and women discuss their abortion experiences, from a lot of different perspectives. Via Amy and After Abortion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

If you see the Blogwatch Child, say "Hammer down" for me...

Lots of people doing the book meme: Cacciaguida, Dappled Things, Jim Henley, Mommentary. All fascinating!

Amy Welborn: BBC America has no plans, as yet, to show a monastery reality show that sounded utterly fascinating. You can write to request it at the link she gives here.

KausFiles: "Sen. McCain Saves The Palm": "Why, after all, are so many people in Washington attached to the Senate's "right to unlimited debate"? Is it because the filibuster--which effectively requires a supermajority to pass anything through the Senate-- guarantees 'freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate.' (Sen. Byrd's modest version.) Or is it because the filibuster, and the exaggerated power it gives to both minorities and individuals, is the basis for much of the Senate's--indeed Washington's--corrupt cash economy?" (No clue if he's right, but he's interesting.)

Yurodivi: How the blogosphere's Holy Fool became a Catholic. Good stuff--and I know many Catholics can't get enough of conversion stories, so I expect lots of you will want to read this if you somehow missed it over at Amy Welborn's.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

ENGLISH-TO-AMERICAN DICTIONARY--funny, and with lots of neat etymologies I didn't know. A great timewaster even if you already know what most of the words actually mean. Via Oxblog.
FICTION BLEG: If you have lived for, let's say, five years or more in Lexington, KY or thereabouts, would you mind dropping me an email? Thanks so much.
MABEL: Today I finished one review, and I'm about a half-hour from finishing another. These are the first pieces of journalism I've completed in a long, long time--much too long. They terrified me. I honestly didn't know if I could do it anymore. Finishing these (incredibly everyday--they're book reviews for pity's sake! the easiest source of journo cash!) two things made me confront one of my deepest fears. (Not actually joking, there.) I'm afraid of becoming Mabel.

Mabel is a character in Alice in Wonderland--or rather, Mabel is somebody Alice thinks about. I can't remember exactly, but I think this might be when Alice has grown very large, as a result of eating the EAT ME... cupcake, is it? Anyway, Alice tries to remember various bits of schoolchild lore, and keeps getting them wrong: How doth the little crocodile/improve his shining tail, instead of How doth the little busy bee..., and so on. (This is all from memory, so don't bite me if I've gotten some details wrong.) She keeps misremembering, though. Twinkle twinkle little bat/How I wonder where you're at/Up above the world so high/Like a tea-tray in the sky. For example. And she suddenly starts to fear that she is turning into Mabel: the stupid girl in her class, the one who could never get things right.

Oh man. I constantly fear I'm turning into Mabel. On some level, I know--and this is maybe one of the most important things I really do believe--that no one's worth is determined by her intellectual prowess. But as a matter of everyday fear, becoming Mabel is one of my biggest terrors. I would say it ranks second in my personal Madame Tussaud's Gallery of Horrors, right after being somehow intrinsically unworthy of salvation (that beautiful collaboration of pride and despair--I am so special that the forgiveness extended to Saul of Tarsus can't reach me! I am the Mary Sue of sin!). I hate being wrong. I would rather embarrass myself by failing to have an opinion at all than risk being wrong. (Yes, this clashes with my exhibitionist streak. Hence the blog.) I can't even estimate how tall someone is, or how many people there are in a room, because those measurements offer an objective standard by which outsiders might figure out that I'm wrong. My inability to judge measurements is slightly pathological--I have resisted guessing how many people were in a room when I could have counted on my fingers. Because what if I say fifteen and really it's fifty?

Anyway... I'm pretty sure I'm not actually turning into Mabel. I knocked off 500 words because I had to. Then I knocked off the rough draft of a much longer review because I had to do that. I write fiction, I yammer and blog, I do my Alice thing. There are a lot of deadlines whizzing merrily over my head as we speak, but I am actually capable of doing the work I need to do when I'm convinced I really need to do it. (And for someone who has what can most charitably be described as a Catholic work ethic, I do in fact derive a lot of personal satisfaction from productive work.) But I decided to post this because identifying the problem is the first step in solving it, and I get the impression that a lot of people have the Mabel terror too. If you all have found strategies for dealing with this fear, let me know--since I'm quite aware that the Mabel terror makes me panic and avoid work I really need to do. Everything becomes overwhelming and impossible--yet another reason I need hard and fast deadlines, with consequences, so that I can prove to myself that I can deliver the goods.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

ANECDOTING: John XXIII (meow!!).
decade of my birth
BOOKERY: I've been tagged by two bloggers (ETA: three!) with the book meme. (Sean's answers are here; Old O's are here; Minisinoo's, btw, is here.) So here goes.

1. Total Number of Books I've Owned. No clue. I can't count. I don't really own that many at the moment--I tend to sell 'em off quick.

2. Last Book I Bought. Andre Gide, If It Die. (Last book acquired, by hook or by crook--those two wonderful Kathy Shaidle books.)

3. Last Book I Read. The Gospel of John.

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot to Me: I decided to do five books that represent different things to me, because otherwise this list would be either five children's books or five Catholic books.
(a) Michael de Larrabeiti, The Borribles. Earliest example of "man without a country" obsession; treachery, friendship, giant rats.

(b) Henry IV 1 & 2. Falstaff.

(c) Stephen Fry, The Liar.

(d) Donna Tartt, The Secret History. Looking for ekstasis in all the wrong places.

(e) St. Anselm, Cur Deus Homo. Sin, justice, Incarnation.

Runners-up would include: Diana Wynne Jones, Dogsbody; Ottfried Preussler, The Satanic Mill; Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn; Hamlet; GK Chesterton, The Dumb Ox: St Thomas Aquinas; ditto, St Francis of Assisi; Philip Larkin, complete poems; Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind; Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals (and probably Beyond Good and Evil).

5. Tag 5 people and have them do this on their blog. Hmmm... Jim Henley, Agenda Bender, Cacciaguida, Camassia, and another vote for The Rat--if you guys want to play, consider yourselves tagged.
COOKERY: Another experiment last night. The main point of the exercise was to learn to broil a yellow pepper. It was very easy. I get too intimidated by these minor cooking tasks.... Anyway, I started out intending to make soup, but halfway through decided I wanted it as a pasta sauce instead, so next time I do this I'm using less milk and cream. Still, it was very tasty, and I'll be eating the leftovers for lunch in a minute. Here's the deal (all quantities are "add as much as you want"; every aspect of this recipe can be meddled with):

I used: one yellow bell pepper; one tomato; maybe 2/3 of a jalapeno (should've been more--the pasta and dairy really cut the heat, so I wished I'd used at least the whole jalapeno); chopped onion; little baby carrots from a package (hey, it came free with the Cosi sandwich I'd had for lunch that day); minced garlic; heavy cream; milk; shredded cheese (I used my favorite, Sargento's "Mexican blend"); spaghetti; butter. Next time I'll think about herbs and spices--the recipe I was roughly working from didn't call for any, and I'm not entirely sure what I'd like to add to kick it up a bit. Maybe rosemary and thyme, with a bay leaf? I do think roasted garlic cloves would have been more fun than the minced garlic, though. And I'd be interested in experimenting with other kinds of peppers in this dish--serranos, maybe--and perhaps oyster mushrooms....

What I did: Covered a tray with aluminum foil. Put the pepper on it. Moved the oven rack up as high as it would go and put the tray on it; turned oven to "broil." Waited... let's say five minutes. Turned the pepper with tongs. (Parts of its skin had blackened at this point.) Put it back in the oven for a few more minutes (and could probably have kept it in a bit longer, but I was feeling antsy, never having broiled anything before). Took the pepper out, let it cool a bit, and used fingers to peel away the blackened skin (this was quite easy), revealing the tender roasted pepperflesh beneath. Mmmmm. Sniffed the pepper appreciatively.

Chopped up the onion, jalapeno, baby carrots, and roasted pepper. Put 'em in a saute pan with the garlic, milk, and cream, and cooked 'em for a bit. Decided I wanted pasta; turned the heat way down under the saute pan and began to boil water. (You can see how this could have been timed more efficiently.) Cook cook cook cook, stir stir stir stir, add pasta to boiling water, blah de blah. At the last minute, got the mess in the saute pan nice and bubbling hot again, and added the tomato. Drained pasta, buttered pasta, topped with cheese, poured ex-soup over pasta. The spaghetti and cheese soaked up a lot of the soppiness of the sauce, but it was still soupier than it should have been. Tasted delicious though.

Next trick: broiling a portobello cap stuffed with garlic cloves. Mmmm.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND. My reactions to "The Lady Eve," in chronological order:
1. before seeing the movie: Eh, these old fun flicks are never quite as fun for real as they are in your head.
2. seeing the movie: Hee hee!
3. ditto: Haw haw haw! Barbara Stanwyck, you're cellophane!
4. ditto: Awwww. Ohh, so sweet. C'mon don't mess this up!
5. ditto: Oh ick. Is that really what we're supposed to think she saw in--
6. ditto: Oh, brilliant, much better. Yay for Barbara Stanwyck!
7. ditto: Hee hee, awww, heh heh heh.
8. aftermath: Ratty might like this one a lot.

Hooray for Netflix.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

JUS IN BELLO LINKNESS: Evangelicals and interrogation strategies (via Andrew Sullivan; you have to scroll for the part I'm interested in).

Jonah Goldberg changes mind on rendition: "ultimately counterproductive and immoral" (in that order?). FWIW.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The man who's escorting Blog Watch to his bride
Knows he is courting an impudent pride...

A Family in Baghdad: English lessons, culture clash, and much more....

Church of the Masses: "I am seriously considering dissing all non-representational modern art as far as the Church is concerned. You have a few days to try and stop me..."

RiverbendBlog: Rugs... carrots... car bomb. Also, watching American media.

"Inventing Our Evolution"--wild 'n' crazy tech news roundup. Am posting this to remind myself to read the whole thing later. Via Dappled Things.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

KIDS NEED A REAL PAST: Elizabeth Marquardt on donor-conceived children. Powerful.
A little boy is pictured with his hands raised high, eyes looking off camera, lips pursed pensively to show off his adorable chubby cheeks. It could be just another Internet picture of a cute 3- or 4-year-old, but this one instantly filled me with shock and anger, for his sake.

Why? Because the words on his crisp, white T-shirt read, "My daddy's name is Donor." ...

Adopted children know that their biological parents, for whatever reason, could not or would not raise them. That knowledge is painful. At the same time, they also know that the parents who adopted them saved them from the terrible fate of having no family. They feel gratitude to their adoptive parents and love them as any child loves the parents who raised him.

By contrast, donor-conceived children know that the parents raising them are also the ones who intentionally created them with a severed relationship to at least one of their biological parents. The pain they feel was caused not by some distant, shadowy person who gave them up, but by the parent who cares for them.

This knowledge brings the loyalty and love they naturally feel for the parents raising them in direct conflict with the identity quest we all must go through. When they ask, "Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?" they confront a welter of painful uncertainties our culture hasn't begun to understand.

lots more

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Oh Liverpool Lou, lovely Liverpool Lou,
Why won't you blogwatch just like other girls do?

Cacciaguida takes a dip in Caesar's Bath. I infest his comments-box. In the process I realized that I actually like many more things about the Harry Potter series than I thought, although many, many things about it drive me up a wall. And I don't argue that others should read the books, since I understand that my own interest in them is spurred by particular and personal obsessions. Nonetheless, here's what I love about them, in chronological order of when these elements began to intrigue me:
1. Snape. I'm all about men without a country. Snape is why I started reading the books (which means that JKR can be held responsible for my Alan Rickman obsession--I'd never seen him in anything before I Netflix'd HP and the American Children Are Not As Stupid As You Think Stone).
2. Those names! Oh, she's so good at names.
3. They're really inventive books--something always popping and crackling into life at the edge of the page.
4. The death imagery: thestrals, the Veil, the Death Eaters. I really hope something awesome comes of this.
5. She must have a better handle on psychology than she sometimes seems to, because she manages to capture so perfectly the roots of personal conflicts. Easy example: Sirius Black and Severus Snape are quite obviously mirror-images of each other, and yet the very few differences between them make me detest the former and instinctively want to defend the latter. This makes for a highly contentious fandom, since almost everyone has a point!--but it's also a sign of perhaps-subconscious insight, I think.
6. I like the intermittent "books are threatening" imagery (the diary, the Monster Book of Monsters).

She still needs to enter a Capslock Methadone Program though.

Vernon Dent/Done With Mirrors: Carnival of the etymologies! Awesome. Via Dappled Things.

Stay home and love me, my Liverpool Lou...
BLOOD PUDDING: Just finished re-reading Seamus Heaney's collection North. Had not read it since high school. Really found it to be too much of a muchness: the earth = language = sex, yes, okay, I get it, also with a dash of Northern Ireland politics, a gobbet of prehistoric violence, stir well and serve at room temperature. I dunno. Felt like I should have been more struck by this than I was. Partly, the language is aggressively clotted--the mind's tongue keeps balking, to the point where it's showoffy as well as frustrating. You slog through the words. Partly, the problem is that almost every poem was doing the exact same thing as the other poems. Partly it's that there sometimes seemed to be an overquick identification of humans and human things with the natural world: One of the points of being human is that we are a different kind of critter. Partly, maybe, it's a lack of metaphysics--I never really felt the shock of the transcendent. Partly it's a degree of self-praise for being A Poet, coupled with the usual contemporary pomo poet-as-traitor shtik, in more or less exactly the wrong proportions for my taste. (Or perhaps those bits just struck too close to home!) You'd really think I'd still like these poems: so much clinging to place, to homeland, to particular trees and turf and accents. But the collection really left me cold. Anyway, am still planning to re-read Station Island, but maybe not immediately.
OUT & ABOUT--was at the Competitive Enterprise Institute's annual dinner last night. Julian Simon Award was given; many familiar faces, including Jeremy Lott and Julian Sanchez; I am still wearing the complimentary Mardi Gras beads; Billy Tauzin told us not to beat up on the companies that develop medical innovations, and plugged the Partnership for Prescription Assistance; and, sadly, I failed to get a hold of Iain "Edge of England's Sword" Murray. if I can think of anything else sufficiently exciting, I will let you know....

Oh, almost forgot the very fun comics blogosphere gathering! Julian again, plus Will Wilkinson (who sent me the links to his series of Letters to a Young Objectivist: one, two, three--I know several people read this site who might be interested in those), plus Jim Henley, Dave Intermittent, and Marc Singer (whom I initially confused with John at Commonplace Book, because I'm an idiot). Topics under discussion included: James Wood (I love his writing, but unfortunately so does he); my desire to find more blogs that will point me toward comics that sound like things I'd want to read (every month, Johnny Bacardi almost sells me on The Losers--but so far the sale hasn't gone through... should maybe also check out Hawaiian Dick); was Heloise just another woman deluding herself that she was Being An Individual when really she was throwing herself at the feet of a man? (...yes); does this whole "meme" theory add anything that Nietzsche couldn't teach ya? (I'm undecided); and who would buy a comic that revealed Bucky's hidden liaison with the Green Goblin (me, apparently). I talked way too much for the first half, then subsided into near-silence for the second half, because apparently I am incompetent at a) social interaction and b) the Golden Mean. (Which came as no surprise.) But a good time was had, I hope, by all.
RIGHT REASON IS NATURAL, RIGHT REASON IS GOOD. NOT EVERYBODY USES IT, BUT EVERYBODY SHOULD. Info on a natural-law seminar for college students and recent graduates. Deadline to apply is Sunday, May 17, but extensions may be available.

POPE + BEER = OF COURSE I WILL LINK TO THIS. Via Relapsed Catholic, with a snickery headline.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

AGAINST RENDITION. The news is the URL. Via Andrew Sullivan.
IRAQI FILM AND TV INDUSTRY: From the LA Times. Not all sunshine by any means, but really exciting for people like me, who believe in the transformative powers of pop culture, journalism, and art.
FOODS TOUCH: Minisinoo on fan expectations, the X-Men, marriage, and "mundane grace." Be sure to read the comments.

Monday, May 09, 2005

RUSH HOUR IN PYONGYANG: And other images from the North Korea the Communists let you see. Via JRB.

See also here.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

When I think of time,
Sunsets, or dead violets,
I hope they're not you.

Yes, it's Shakespeare's sonnets as haiku! You know you want to click.
RATZINGER ON THE WOUND OF BEAUTY AND THE WOUNDS OF CHRIST: This is obviously only the beginning of meditation, but there's so much food for thought here. And our new Pope has a real ear for apt, provocative quotations. Here's an excerpt:
...An early awareness of the fact that beauty has to do also with pain is undoubtedly present also in the Greek world. Let us look, for instance, at Plato's Phaedro. Plato considers the encounter with beauty to be like the healthy emotional shock that brings man out of himself, and makes him "enthusiastic" by drawing him to something other than himself. Man, says Plato, has lost what he conceives as the perfection of his origin. Now he is perennially in search of the primeval healing form. Remembrance and nostalgia lead him to the search, and beauty takes him out of accommodation to the daily. It makes him suffer. We could say, in a Platonic sense, that the dart of nostalgia hits man, wounds him, and precisely in this way puts wings on him, lifts him upwards. In Aristophanes' speech in the Symposium, he states that lovers do not know what they really want from each other. On the contrary, it is evident that the souls of both of them are thirsting for something other than amorous pleasure. However, the soul does not manage to express this "other," "it only has a vague perception of what it really wants and speaks to itself of it as an enigma." In the fourteenth century, in the book on the life of Christ by the Byzantine theologian Nicolas Kabasilas, we find this experience of Plato's again, where the ultimate object of nostalgia continues to remain nameless, transformed by the new Christian experience. Kabasilas states: "Men who have inside them a desire so powerful that it goes beyond their nature, and long and desire more than is suiting for a man to aspire, these men have been struck by the Bridegroom Himself; He Himself has sent a burning ray of His beauty to their eyes. The extent of the wound shows what kind of dart it was, and the intensity of the desire gives insight into Who it was that sent the dart flying."

Via the Old Oligarch.
...But in my experience, these 3.5 months of motherhood have been awesome. For the first time in many years, I feel really alive. I love interacting with my baby.

(Probably) to keep expecting mothers from setting their expectations too high, books and friends caution that in the first few months "you'll be getting up every two hours to feed the baby, you won't get any sleep." This is mostly true. But what they don't say is "Every two hours, you'll be cuddling with a tiny, adorable, gentle baby whose only desire is to eat while looking up sweetly into your eyes." So it's not so bad. ...

Lastly. When Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered in a carjacking a few years ago, he told the press that his son was his "hero." I wondered what he meant by that at time (he's said more about it here), because I couldn't imagine being my mother's hero. But my baby is definitely my hero. I root for her. I want her to win. I want to help her, but I want her, not me, to be the definitive champion over the challenges in her life. If there were Baby V merchandise, I would wear it.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

He let the contents of the blogwatch do the thinking...

Colby Cosh: "Controlling for" factors in social-science research.

Hit & Run: History of the pope and Roman Jews.

Hugo Schwyzer: "Genital expression" vs sex.
SIGHTINGS: About a week ago, the Old Oligarch and I were walking around downtown DC when we saw a woman wearing a button that read, THEM, with the no-smoking slash through it.

I totally want one. Although more often, my button would read, US.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

TORTURE: Andrew Sullivan: "...But why hasn't the press corps been more aggressive than they have been? Open-ended questions about 'rendition' don't hack it. How about asking Bush directly how he can send terror suspects to Syria and Uzbekistan? How about asking him why he won't allow a legislative ban on CIA torture? How about asking him directly whether he considers 'water-boarding' to be torture? This is about as profound a moral issue as can be found in today's politics. And yet the press lets the president off the hook. What gives? Are they really that afraid?" (more)
TWO LINKS: Not quite enough for a blogwatch.

Cacciaguida got to see "Kingdom of Heaven," and comments here.

Stay of Execution: How to throw a good party. Some neat ideas, though I really enjoy party decorations, and they don't need to throw you into a tizzy. My friend Sara has a passion for party decorations, and it shows--her parties always have a profusion of funny, somewhat random themed knickknacks, posters (find a picture or quote or whatever on the Internet and print it out), colored lights, and so on. It really adds to the party atmosphere without being standard-issue, intimidating, or especially high-maintenance. If you really like throwing parties (I don't--I'm sure you're shocked), why not pick up a few themed tablecloths (Sara has a candy-corn one in black and orange for Halloween, for example), swizzle sticks, or other cheap party goods? Anyway, like I said, many good ideas for breaking the ice and getting the guests to go home happy. Via Kesher Talk.

Oh! Almost forgot. A reader writes,
The perhaps slightly more respectable 18th century version of fanfiction is the subject of [the] about-to-be-published book The Afterlife of Character 1726-1825, which "reconstructs how eighteenth-century British readers invented further adventures for beloved characters, including Gulliver, Falstaff, Pamela, and Tristram Shandy." Publisher description here, and it can now be preordered on Amazon for delivery when available.

SHROOMS! I cooked a delicious dinner last night: a modified version of a recipe from a Food & Wine cookbook. Here's the deal. (All quantities are "add until it looks right.")

I used: A nonstick pan. Olive oil, garlic (I used a heaping spoonful from a jar of minced garlic, but obviously you can use fresh chopped), a package of portobello caps (one cap for one person), button a.k.a. plain old white mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, fresh oyster mushrooms, shiitake marinade, heavy cream, fresh chervil, fresh basil, oregano, butter, and spaghetti. You can obviously mix all this up with different pastas and herbs and mushroom combinations (porcini, cremini, maybe chanterelles?).

How-to: Set water to boil, add pasta. While pasta is cooking, chop up however many 'shrooms you want to use. Plunk 'em in the pan with the garlic and saute in olive oil. Add marinade. Add cream (you don't need much), stir a bit until it's all mixed, shred up the fresh herbs and add them along with any dried herbs you're using, cook a bit more. Drain pasta, butter pasta, cover pasta with lovely mushroom sauce. Active cooking time: ten minutes, maybe fifteen?

Cost: This is definitely pricier than most of my pasta sauces. I bought most of the ingredients (exceptions: garlic, oregano, pasta, butter, olive oil, button mushrooms, all of which I already owned) at the local Whole Foods, and it set me back about $18. However, I should have enough ingredients for two dinners and two light lunches/snacks (leftovers), and I expect to have about half of the basil, at least half the chervil, and about 90% of the delicious shiitake marinade left when the second batch is finished. So it's not nearly as expensive as it seems, given that this sauce tasted like something I'd eat at a restaurant rather than the yummy but very homey sauces I usually cook.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

YOUR VOICE, MY WORDS: Have been thinking about fanfiction, and why I really love it even though I can't write it. Most of this post will be old news to people who read a lot of fanfiction, but I've definitely learned things about creativity and writing from thinking about this stuff, so maybe you will too. ...I've read in at least eight fandoms (not counting ElfQuest since I was, like, fourteen the last time I read that), but the examples in this post will be from Harry Potter and X-Men fandoms, so possibly unintelligible to the rest of you people. Also, some of these links will lead to stories with disturbingly violent or sexual (or both) content. I've indicated those with an asterisk, but... my disturb-o-meter may not be calibrated like yours, obviously.

1. common objections, a.k.a. Is there nothing original in you except original sin?
a) You're stealing, or cheating, or something, by using somebody else's characters and world. I'm not going to bother making the very obvious response that everyone's stealing from someone; complete "originality" would be incomprehensible, a rejection of language. Instead, let's talk about this: I will agree that fanfiction is alienating. It's a conscious inhabiting of someone else's skin, or an attempt to wear two faces at once, to look at the world through two pairs of eyes.

But that's what art is. Cat Power puts it best:
He doesn't even notice as the hours go by,
Lost inside a screen.
He watches a film about the evening sky;
It was someone else's dream.

I submit that our need--and I think it is a basic human need, though perhaps a need that originated in the Fall--for "films about the evening sky" rather than just going outside and looking is significantly creepier, more alienating, and more like "cheating" than the fact that some films about the evening sky are set in Hogwarts, or Gotham City. In fact, fanfiction strikes me as significantly less creepy than the "usual" audience stance (not convinced it is usual--didn't most of us, when we were too young to be fully conformed, tell ourselves stories based on the stories we loved?). We're trained to think of audience-hood as passive, a consumer role; that passive role can often become willingly putting on corrective lenses made by mad optometrists. In fanfiction, by contrast, you don't "lose yourself" in art, nor do you lose the world you see. Instead, you (...sometimes, anyway) try to use whatever media flotsam inspired you as a provocation to delineate more clearly what you actually see when you look at the world. Which bits of the source spoke to you and which were lame or irrelevant?

b) Fanfiction is self-indulgent--wish-fulfillment fantasies, romance novels for the overeducated. And yeah, it can be. Sometimes people need to be overwhelmed, almost possessed, by a work of art, so that it can break through their preconceptions. And some fanfiction is a reaction against that possession, an attempt to make the source material conform more to the reader's preferences or culture. It's kind of boringly obvious that this is also true with every work of art: Nobody will ever force you to shake off your self-indulgence or your culture's/subculture's cliches. And as with other writing, sometimes the collision of cultural product (the Troilus and Cressida story; or Magneto--if you laugh here, hold on a moment, I'm getting to this) and a determined writer can create something true. Something that translates the world (and yes, I do believe in a world perhaps coterminous with but certainly not bound by language: it's part of that whole "Creator God" thing) from the reader's culture into the language of the reader's heart.

In other words: Yeah, I read some fanfiction and I think, "Dude. People don't act that way. You're writing people acting that way because 'isn't it pretty to think so.' You're retreating into utopia and that is very lame." But go watch any box-office smash (I dare you), go read any NY Review of Books pet author, and I can guarantee you will see the exact same problem. You want the solution? All I got is Barbara Nicolosi.

c) Are you seriously comparing Troilus and Cressida to... Magneto?

Totally. Y que no?

Look, stories are (often) popular for a reason. Magneto vs Xavier is popular at least in part because at this point in the X-Men mythos, it can easily be understood as a clash between a man with heroic instincts and a bad philosophy (Magneto) and a man with troubling instincts and a good philosophy (Xavier). That's inherently interesting and important. (It's also only one way to read the conflict; there are lots of other really cool ways, and--as legions of comics writers have proven over the years--lots of lame ways.)

d) So, but you admit yourself that fanfiction can usually only be understood by a very small slice of the populace. (shrug) Ulysses. 'Nuff said. Limiting one's audience is entirely appropriate if the thing you want to do can only be done within those limits. Most of what we write will blow away like ash. If you're only good, a few generations at most will love you (Walker Percy, maybe?) and then your star will fade, and that's more than enough. If you're great, nobody will care how many obscure puns and references you make: They'll make Folger Library editions and concordances and annotations.

e) Fanfiction is the province of geeks and obsessives. My people!

2. why I like it! So many reasons.

a) I want to spend more time with these characters. I'll really enjoy pieces that aren't wildly great writing (usually not bad writing, just not great writing) because the author gives me more of characters I love. Here's a nice little example for fans of Minerva McGonagall and/or Alastor Moody.

b) Related: How much can a person change? I really like seeing how fanfiction takes a character and shows all these different interpretations. How far can the character be changed before he becomes unrecognizable? What does that say about the character's actions and representation in canon? Easy example: I believe that the portrayal of Harry Potter and his world found here under the heading "Expectation/Reality" is 100% consistent with canon. Except that it's more consistent than canon! (Not surprising, as lots of people have noticed that it's the inconsistencies, silences, and failures of "canon" that provoke fanfiction authors the most.)

I've written before about how tripped-out and even frightened I was at the idea that baptism is being "born again," receiving "new life." Dude! What happens to my old life? What happens to the person I've always known myself to be--the one corroded by sin, but also the only home I've ever known? So I'm really interested in anything that explores the limits of identity, or, in art, the limits of characterization. If ethos is the daemon (character is fate), figuring out how much ethos can stretch and shift will tell you how good or bad you can be--how heroic, how craven. And more importantly, in making the shift from canon characterization believable (when they do), fanfiction authors give a hint of what one might need to do in order to change. What makes a change believable in fiction (for readers with their heads screwed on) is what makes change possible in real life.

c) I want to spend more time in the author's/creators' world. Here's a nice Harry Potter example with characters I usually detest.

d) I want to see critical engagement with the source material, but I want to see it in fun narrative form! Hey, stories are often better philosophy than philosophy is. So why shouldn't stories be better literary criticism than literary criticism is--given that lit-crit is just an especially un-self-conscious branch of philosophy? In Harry Potter fandom, pogrebin* is by far my favorite source for this stuff. Just a brilliant, compressed, poetic, ferocious writer. Here, try "Unsticking the Shadow," possibly her best thing.

e) It's just good writing. Minisinoo for structure (especially Climb the Wind* and Special*). This piece, about complicity and how someone stumbles into evil, is really well-paced. C Elisa's "Nameless" is a lovely X-Men piece that I think people into philosophy of language would especially enjoy. pogrebin has several pieces that... honestly? They're worth at least figuring out who the characters are, just so you can read them. (I realized, writing my little "Liberty/License" exercise, that it was a total ripoff of her "Sand*"--and so you know, that asterisk is a warning for incest, so click at own risk.) pogrebin's "Comme la pluie*" (don't ignore me when I asterisk!) is one of the most chilling takes on pornography I've ever read, whether or not she meant it that way.

3. Why I can't write it.
I don't really know, actually. I've banged out quite a bit of proto-fanfiction for X-Men and HP, but I just can't hit that precise combination of borrowing and originality, maybe. I want too much control! When I was futzing around with the X-Men, I basically killed off all of them as fast as possible so I could make up my own! I don't regret the exercise, though. I've used a lot of that proto-fic (especially the HP stuff) for my fiction. Here are some examples, just in case you really want to see how thin the line is between "original" and "derivative":
a) The description of Shepherd Park in the final scene of "Desire" started out as my description of Jean Grey's parents' neighborhood. Similarly, I wrote the Music Emporium (based on a real guy, Big Al Sevilla, but we won't even start in on that debate) for a Scott Summers vignette before it ever appeared in "Kissable Pictures."
b) "Why Can't He Be You?"--the Nina Trapetto story, the one that I posted with the title, "A Separated Soul"--started as Snape fanfiction. Here's a little bit of The Madness That Is Me: The song Nina sings at the end of the story started out as Marc Almond's "River." But see, Narcissa Malfoy wouldn't be interested in a Muggle song! So I tweaked it a bit until it was the song you see in "WCHBY?". Similarly, the Baptist girl in the "PRINCESS" t-shirt started out as an entire family related to Nymphadora Tonks.

Really, I find this whole question of "originality" funny. Possibly I find it funnier than most because I can't write straight-up, recognizable fanfiction, but I'm quite aware of how much I borrow from various "source texts." Example: In "You Will Be Pulled Back" (the sci-fi one with the two boys who grow up together), a lot of Philip Leland's gestures and movements are borrowed from Alan Rickman in "Dark Harbor." That's just true. It's where I got 'em. Does that change your perception of my descriptions of Leland's movements? At least one detail in my portrayal of Leland as a kid was drawn from fanfiction pieces showing a young Severus Snape. Is it worse now? Less original? The piece was initially meant to be, among other things, a pastiche of Ray Bradbury's sci-fi entertainments. I don't think it really attained that goal, but that was part of the point when I started. Is it less original now? The little girl Lee sees painting the base of the lamppost with mud is an actual little girl I saw on Euclid Street in 1998. Is it less original now?

I'm pretty sure "You Will Be Pulled Back" is less original than any of pogrebin's fanfiction. I'm 100% sure it's less important than her best work.

That's why I read fanfiction.
HOW TO MAKE MOSS GRAFFITI. If this is real, it's supercool. Via The Corner.
CONCRETE VERONICAS: A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of reading two books by Kathy Shaidle, alias Relapsed Catholic. I've been meaning to tell you all about them. Right now I'm underslept and overstressed, so this is not going to be eloquent; maybe the best advertisement I can give is to note that I'll be buying extra copies of both books to send to friends.

The first one I read, God Rides a Yamaha: Musings on Pain, Poetry, and Pop Culture, is a small book, enticingly purse-sized, collecting 24 of Shaidle's essays plus an introduction. The essays roam and graze: vignettes, slogans, sharp observations, quotations from TS Eliot, Simone Weil, and Dolly Parton. The rambliness makes some of the essays feel slight--especially in the second half of the book, which is less focused. (The first half focuses more tightly on Shaidle's diagnosis with lupus.) But Shaidle can nail the experience of chronic sickness, religious struggle (I picture someone not so much wrestling an angel, more throwing punches), and that weird "running with the hare and hunting with the hounds" attitude of Christians who find ourselves deeply embedded in pop culture. You can also tell she's a poet, from scattered phrases ("a sweatshop of psalms") and an attention to images (from a sharp little riff on political radicalism: "I once blabbed on about how the root of the word 'radical' is, well, 'root.' Today I see that there's a nasty implication in there somewhere, to the effect that roots are somehow more important than, say, flowers").

So yeah. These are really good. Meditations on x-rays and illness as Lent; sunglasses at night; Ed Wood, healing hairdressers, "grow your own hairshirt" and the "Vancouver of the soul." Read and learn "How to be sick, unemployed, and insane." Among other things.

So next I read Shaidle's book of poetry, Lobotomy Magnificat. I've been describing it to people this way: "You know how a lot of Eliot is like, Take poetry and then hit it really hard until it breaks? Well this is like hitting Eliot until it shatters even more." Short violent poems that take a long time to read. Amazing imagery--in the title poem Rosemary Kennedy, prepped for her lobotomy, notes, "they have set my hair free." It's hard to quote from the poems because Shaidle's pacing is so perfect. The poems are unsettling, often heartbreaking, without an unnecessary word.

She posted her poem on Flannery O'Connor here. It's really good, but not the best one in this collection--beaten out by "A Summer Thunderstorm Considered as the Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy," or "Lobotomy Magnificat," "Evelyn Speaks," "The Missionary Performs an Exorcism," "I'll Cry Tomorrow: Lillian Roth at the Well." The images twist, warping the way the world warped at the Fall--at first glance you think those phrases are absurdism, surrealism, but really the proper genre is often horror.

You can buy both books from Amazon here.
WHY DO WE ALWAYS COME HERE? I GUESS WE'LL NEVER KNOW: It's time for more of the search requests that brought people to this little blog.
David Bowie and to star and Gnostic
see her squid
screwed up pentecostals
why men have long hair and when it gets wet they have to shake their heads to let all the water out
cartoon nerve
looking to buy art for sublimation
favorite movies of gays
is there such a thing as ethics essays
confucius rude rats
filipino values centripetal morality
what happens eat kleenex
my blog has a crush on Eve's blog
weird surnames
condoleezza thigh boots
clownish voodoo
Sigyn fan fiction
Creepy Quotes
evil atheist conspiracy member acolyte
Josh mercer immortal
tearjerker movie crocodile in the background
punk seminary counseling audrey hepburn
ROARK any smooth figure of revolutions membrane stresses

Monday, May 02, 2005

CAESAR'S BATH MEME: Mansfield Fox throws me this thing, which I'd seen at various fine blog locales: "List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can't really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), 'Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice.'"

Here goes. In order of how fast I thought of them.

1. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I've watched a bunch of scattered episodes, and all of season... three? Whichever season ends in "Graduation Day." I liked "Hush" (the silent episode) a lot--great mix of creepy and funny. I love Alyson Hannigan; she's a terrific actress, and if she ever stars in anything non-horrible-looking I'll go see it. Liked Faith, liked Giles. Had sneaking fondness for Cordelia and Wesley. The show is another example of genre entertainment as the one place in American arts where you can find depictions of team leadership. (Liked Wesley because he reminded me of bad leaders I've seen and/or been.)

But. a) Everyone praises the dialogue, but it generally sounds forced to me. Stylization that distracts rather than illuminates.
b) Buffy is irksome, Angel aggressively boring, their romance a thing of bathos.
c) The show's mushy metaphysics really bothered me. Concepts like heaven, hell, and soul are deployed to manipulate the audience: to draw on the emotional resonance of these religious concepts without actually i) making sense or ii) having the underlying theology that gives those concepts their importance. The show should have gone for a straight-up pagan metaphysics rather than a veneer of Christianity. When Buffy was in "heaven," what she describes sounds more like, maybe, the Elysian Fields--there's certainly no sense of the beatific vision, or even cleansing from sin--but audiences wouldn't have reacted as strongly to the Elysian Fields, so the heaven label got slapped on. This confusion of terms and concepts hurts the story, because you keep trying to figure out what the show is saying, or what the actual states of the characters' souls are, when the show itself can't answer those questions coherently.

2. Anthony Hopkins. Don't have anything to say here; just don't get it. Used to be more into him, I think.

3. Aristotle. I've said this before. Where's the sublime?

4. Orthodoxy. Some insightful moments and powerful phrases, but also all of Chesterton's worst tendencies on flagrant display: e.g., the same sentence three times in a row with different clever paradoxes, or all the "fairyland" wispiness. I recommend his saint biographies, St Francis of Assisi and The Dumb Ox: St Thomas Aquinas, but most people do seem to be more into Orthodoxy, so maybe I'm missing something.

5. Chinese food. This isn't something any of my friends has a particular passion for; just something that everyone else seems to like more than I do.

Passing the meme-stick to: Cacciaguida; Dappled Things; Ratty . We'll see if any of them take me up on it.
BLOGS FROM AFRICA can be found here and here.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

RANK AND FILE HAVE TAKEN HEAT FOR ABU GHRAIB: From the Boston Globe, via Balkinization.
With his job on the line over the shocking revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison last year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the world to ''watch how democracy deals with wrongdoing and scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes and, indeed, our own weaknesses."

Now, exactly one year after the photographs from Abu Ghraib became public, the Defense Department has placed seven low-ranking guards under court-martial. No general -- or colonel, or CIA intelligence officer, or political appointee -- has faced any charges. ...

Disclosures at other military detention centers, from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan, have revealed use of sleep deprivation, shackling in painful positions, exposure to temperature extremes, and beatings that have resulted in at least 28 deaths -- suggesting that the detainee abuse scandal that started with Abu Ghraib will haunt the war on terrorism for years to come. ...

The Army is preparing to update its interrogation manual to bar such harsh techniques and to incorporate safeguards to prevent such misconduct at military prison camps, The New York Times reports today, quoting Army officials. The officials said that such practices as stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for long periods, and using dogs to intimidate inmates would be prohibited.

I watch the blogs go by dressed in their summer clothes;
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes!...

Lots of must-read stuff out there, people. Why are you here? Go away until you've read these!

Balkinization: Report on a debate on torture and the role of a govt lawyer. (More on this later tonight.)

Family Scholars: Elizabeth Marquardt on siblings created by donor conception (of sperm or egg); and on donor conception generally: "Intentionally creating people who are forcibly broken from their genetic families, to serve the interests of others who desire children. Meanwhile insisting that it doesn't matter, all that matters is the love and good intentions of the adults who do the desiring."

Hit & Run: Best post I've seen so far on Bush's exchanging long protein strands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Link-rich and infuriating. Also, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation interviews Lebanese people who have been held in Syrian prisons.

Unqualified Offerings: Excellent takedown of drug prohibition; key bit: "For instance, I think most libertarians believe that consequences should fall as close to the decision-maker as possible. In the name of preventing a marginal increase in addicts, heroin prohibition (and especially cocaine prohibition) shift consequences unconscionably far from the subjunctive addicts in question - onto everybody who has to endure living in a neighborhood riven by drug gang disputes; everybody who suffers or fears theft from real addicts trying to make the inflated prices of their habits; everyone who falls along an AIDS vector begun with dirty needles in a transaction whose furtiveness stems from its illegality; everybody who lives in a country caught between narcoterror and norteamericano interdiction efforts; everybody who gets their property seized because they had the misfortune to have a drug user or dealer in their family; everyone at the address the anonymous paid informant gets wrong or pulls out of his ass; everyone with a reasonable if naive expectation of privacy in their financial transactions; every seventh black guy who picks up a felony record and the other six suffering his stigma by association. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was one of the few prohibitionists to be honest about this, at least in the abstract, years ago, in an American Scholar essay where he wrote that the policy decision to minimize a drug problem was also a decision to exacerbate a crime problem."

On a totally different note, he also offers Japanese oddness, headlined, "Who died and left Bruce Sterling God?"

Ron Belgau, "My Alternative Lifestyle"--homosexuality and Christian faith. Some of this resonates really strongly with my own experience, some of it doesn't, but it's a good read and very much worth your time. Via Amy Welborn.
"THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY": I saw it yesterday. Wanted to both praise and rant, so I've posted a spoilerrific reaction here. Short version: It's very pretty and very funny, but it has both plot and theme; neither are good. It was worth my ten bucks, though.
MINTY: [Note: I actually wrote this over a week ago! Have been too busy to post it.] So a (non-Catholic) friend of mine mentioned that she'd gotten an email from a friend of hers, asking the question, "How do you feel about Pope Benedict XVI?" And I jokingly said that for my part, I felt "minty."

But actually, thinking about this, that's closer to the truth than I think people might expect. I feel like I'm supposed to have a strong emotional reaction to the pope, and to Ratzinger as pope, and I just really don't. I think he'll most likely be wonderful. I'm happy. As I said earlier, shaking the invisible pom-poms for him.

But so what? If I suspected he'd be a lousy pope--a cretin, a coward, or worse--it would not prompt me to leave the Catholic Church. Nobody ever promised me a saintly pope. The one thing they can't do, as I understand it, is teach heresy as the faith of the Church. Other than that, Katie bar the door--and rarely, but occasionally, Katie doesn't. I knew all that when I joined up.

People who are too deeply emotionally invested in the selection of the pope--to the extent that they make noises about leaving the Church if the pope doesn't share their moral, philosophical, and/or political beliefs--seem to me to want the Church and the papacy to have a much more exalted self-understanding than is in fact the case. In fact, the Church makes very modest claims for the papacy. I trust that Pope Benedict XVI will not teach heresy. I don't count on him to fix every problem that I see, to make the changes I would make, to discipline and conciliate and comfort and honor where I would. Obviously, I hope he'll do all that. (And I hope, too, that he'll challenge me. I strongly suspect he will, given his views on contemporary warfare.) But there are very few problems in Washington, DC that can be fixed from Rome.

So I feel happy. It feels good to pray for Benedict's intentions. It's fun, honestly, to have a "German shepherd" (I think Ratzy would appreciate the humble imagery there!) who attracts so much expected loathing and perhaps-unexpected praise. But on a deeper level I think perhaps a degree of pedestrian mintiness is warranted.
Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te Deus.
--Ps. 42:1 (As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.)