Monday, January 31, 2011

I WANT ASSAULT RIFLES AS LONG AS THEY'RE FREE; I WANT YOUR LOVE: It's been many years since I've run a contest on this blog. But in honor of what's happening right now in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in every country where people watch those scenes and dream of freedom--especially those countries where the American mainstream media response is, "But we liked your dictators!"--I will print any awesome rewritings of "Bad Romance" in which the two parties are the US and her client states. I don't care who is whom.

(I won't, and I wish this were obvious, print anything which doesn't understand why Israel happened. Huge hint: It's about England and the USA at least as much as it's about the Holocaust. If you don't understand why Israel's existence as a religious state is the result of Christian Western NIMBYism from Hell, then I don't really know what to do with you.)

Joe Biden says, “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things. And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”

Lady Gaga says, "You're not a criminal as long as you're mine."
For my twelfth birthday my Aunt Harry gave me a one-thousand-dollar bill, a ten-foot-long boa constrictor named Calvin, and a five-year diary.
--Joyce Cool, The Kidnapping of Courtney Van Allen and What's-Her-Name

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A chilled Martini is truly a work of art. But the chemist/photographers behind the company BevShots have taken that idea to the microscopic level. Research scientist Michael Davis, of Florida State University, crystallizes cocktails on a lab slide, then photographs them using a camera attached to a light microscope. According to Davis, the light is polarized, resulting in these wild images of, say, a Tequila Sunrise or a Margarita. Oh, and you can buy the photos to memorialize cocktail hour 24-7. (Davis also made the images into ties, in case you want to sport your Guinness at the office.)


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TWO MORE posts from me at Cato Unbound's traditionalism symposium: "Who Put the Tradition in 'Traditional Marriage'?" and "Tradition's Comedies of Error."

The whole discussion is available here.
THE SILHOUETTES OF CANA. A lovely picture; and the point Sullivan is making in this post, while I disagree with it, proves once again that he is basically an aesthetic thinker rather than a rationalist. Good for him!
...AND NEW THINGS TO HIDE: My review of "Hide/Seek," the *~*controversial*~* gay-themed exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, is up at the Commonweal website. I'll post some notes which didn't make it into the final draft in a bit. The exhibit runs through February 13 so you really, really should go if you're interested in the subject matter and you're in the area.
HOW A THRILL BECOMES A LAW: Something I drafted and then rejected for the Cato Institute symposium on traditionalism. Beneath this post you'll find a review of an unnecessarily good horror movie, and some very small kitchen adventures.

I want to know what love is. I want you to show me.

--Julie Ruin, “I Wanna Know What Love Is”

The most important fact to know about the law is this: Law proceeds by analogy.

Common law allows us to see this procedure most blatantly. Bathsheba Jones hexed the cow of Modesty Smith, and since that's obviously wrong to do, we deduce that it's wrong for Britney Jones to adulterate the butter of Madison Smith. Common law can only exist because we can recognize similarities between cases.

But constitutional or statutory law relies on analogy—and therefore on aesthetics, the red-headed stepchild of rationalist political theory—far more than common law does. Common law at least compares stories to stories, like tracking variant versions of “Cinderella.” Statutory and especially constitutional law, which by their nature must appeal to abstract principles, can seem like an astringent application of pure reason to the mess of human community. Nothing could be further from the truth.

How do I know what is equal, what is cruel and unusual, what is a rational basis? These abstractions gain flesh only through stories. Since I'm desperately Plato-damaged, I'll put it like this: It's through love that we approach the Forms.

We've been trained to view aesthetic questions as volatile, whereas rational questions are stable. We've been trained to think that there is no wrong answer to aesthetic questions, whereas social science and peer review can translate moral questions into syllogisms—even into algebra, where our only task is to solve for “unjust.” And so arguing that our legal regime rests on aesthetic assumptions seems like arguing that our legal regime rests on a preference for chocolate over Rocky Road; and every side of every political argument works to pile up slush-mountains of statistics, in which self-selection or self-reporting or even self-comforting are all ignored because numbers are prettier than people.

Think of the word “happiness.” Story tells us how much it's worth (not too much, if you ask me) and whose perspective we should take in assessing it. A society which assesses new reproductive technologies and family forms will likely take very different perspectives if its basic image is of a child longing for knowledge of her father, as vs. an infertile woman longing for physical, biological connection to the child she yearns to raise. Both emotions are stunningly deep and heartfelt. But they point in opposite directions, and a society has to choose—because stories inevitably become analogies, and analogies become laws.

A friend of mine once suggested that we're so fond of TV shows about “doctors and policemen” because these professions serve the only goods we can all agree on: physical safety and health. And yet I think more recent shows about doctors and cops attract us precisely because they force one of our deepest philosophical conflicts into sharp focus: Do we serve health and safety, or is there some greater good, like liberty or creativity or authority? Shows from House to The Wire focus on the obvious consensus goods, in order to spotlight the more controversial goods.

Political philosophy—especially the libertarian variety, I'm sorry to say—tends to view emotional identification as an obviously illegitimate basis for law. It tends to view aesthetics as a creepy haunted mansion, devoid of the possibility of agreement between rational persons of good will. (That possibility is obviously manifest in every other realm of political philosophy, where all the big questions have been resolved!) I would instead argue that love lets us know what our abstractions mean, and therefore discourse and disagreement about love is the primary purpose of contemporary politics. There is no argument about rights, equality, or liberty, without at least a partial prior agreement about human nature.
THE WORLD IS A FROST GIANT'S CORPSE: I Netflix'd Frozen because of Kindertrauma's glowing review, and I was not disappointed. This movie is so much smarter than it has to be, you guys. It's a horror flick about three college students (I think? twentynothings at the most) who get stuck on a broken ski lift, abandoned and freezing and alone, with no help in sight for days.

Both Kindertrauma and I expected popcorn, disposable entertainment; both of us got something memorable and frightening instead. I don't recommend that you read the comments until you've watched the movie (although I sort of agree with one of the criticisms a commenter raised), but I really liked KT's Unkle Lancifer's comment that if you can get into the "there, but [for the] grace of God, go I" mindset, this movie will hurt you.

KT notes the dialogue, which I liked well enough, but I want to call attention to the use of time and of nature photography. Frozen is a short movie which feels grueling, in the best way. You feel like time is passing with agonizing slowness even as you're held in suspense, literally cringing and covering your mouth. The manipulation of the audience (at least me!) was just masterful.

And the stunning shots of fir trees, and mist shivering over snow, were deployed expertly throughout the film. These lingering beauty shots actually added to the increasing weight of the characters' despair.

Chocolate-covered pears. Procedure: Chocolate-covered strawberries, only a) with sliced (but not peeled) Bosc pears instead of strawberries and b) you don't have to refrigerate them for more than the time it takes to cool to get best results.

results: THE OM NOM NOMMIEST. I scarfed these down.

Spinach chips. Procedure: This recipe, only a) I covered my baking tray with parchment paper, and I suggest you do the same; b) it took me longer because I didn't lay my spinach leaves out properly and I don't have a very good oven--some leaves crisped up nicely while others were still clingy and flexible; and c) the seasonings I used were, in about this order, cumin, salt, and cayenne.

results: really yummy! Again, I devoured these. (I ate them in two batches, since I had to put about half back in the oven for more baking after the first half were already done.) However, I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure how often I'll make these given that they take noticeably more time than just sauteing spinach with butter and garlic and whatever.
"It makes D.C. sense."
--a friend's cabbie, in response to a complaint that the quadrant system doesn't make sense

Thursday, January 13, 2011

CATO BOUND. My essay on traditionalism is up now.
The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, "You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers."
--The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, tr. Benedicta Ward SLG

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TOMORROW IS YESTERDAY: This month's Cato Unbound symposium is on "Traditionalism in a Futuristic World." Russell Arben Fox kicks it off here, and my response should be posted sometime today. James Poulos and John Fea will also respond, and then we'll blog and argue with one another (and with you all, I expect) over the next week or so.

Warning you in advance that I stole the opening quote from Sublimity Now.
Friendship is one of our most important social institutions. It is the not only the salve for personal loneliness and isolation; it is the glue that binds society together. Yet for a host of reasons--longer hours at work, the Internet, suburban sprawl--many have argued that friendship is on the decline in contemporary America. In social surveys, researchers have found that Americans on average have fewer friends today than in times past.

In Friend v. Friend, Ethan J. Leib takes stock of this most ancient of social institutions and its ongoing transformations, and contends that it could benefit from better and more sensitive public policies. Leib shows that the law has not kept up with changes in our society: it sanctifies traditional family structures but has no thoughtful approach to other aspects of our private lives. Leib contrasts our excessive legal sensitivity to marriage and families with the lack of legal attention to friendship, and shows why more legal attention to friendship could actually improve our public institutions and our civil society. He offers a number of practical proposals that can support new patterns of interpersonal affinity without making friendship an onerous legal burden.

An elegantly written and highly original account of the changing nature of friendship, Friend v. Friend upends the conventional wisdom that law and friendship are inimical, and shows how we can strengthen both by seeing them as mutually reinforcing.

oh how I'm ordering this as soon as I get my new debit card

Via JRB.
"AGNI PARTHENE"/"O PURE VIRGIN"/"REJOICE, O UNWEDDED BRIDE" in Arabic, Slavonic, Romanian, French, and English you can hear! Amazing stuff, via IP.
"Johnny, you're drunk!"

I wasn't drunk, just a cheap date. Galina let loose with a stream of insults, screaming at the top of her lungs about how disrespectful and shameful I was.

"How Russian can you get?" she said before pushing me inside. "Showing up at the ballet drunk, with a whore."

--Johnny Weir, Welcome to My World

I can confidently say that if you think you might want to read this awesome book, you definitely should. I want to rewatch several of his competitive programs now that I've read his thoughts on how they were developed and what it felt like to skate them.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A CHRISTMAS WISH LIST FROM GEEK CORNUCOPIA: "But there are things that are either in legal limbo or hard-to-find (even on the gray market or in archives) that I'd like to see...." Oh man, that second one sounds amazing.
My beloved is mine, and I am his; He feedeth among the lillies (Canticles ii.16)

Ev'n like two little bank-dividing brooks,
That wash the pebbles with their wanton streams,
And having rang'd and search'd a thousand nooks,
Meet both at length in silver-breasted Thames,
Where in a greater current they conjoyn:
So I my best-beloved's am; so he is mine.

Ev'n so we met; and after long pursuit,
Ev'n so we joyn'd; we both became entire;
No need for either to renew a suit,
For I was flax and he was flames of fire:
Our firm-united souls did more than twine;
So I my best-beloved's am; so he is mine.

If all those glitt'ring Monarchs that command
The servile quarters of this earthly ball,
Should tender, in exchange, their shares of land,
I would not change my fortunes for them all:
Their wealth is but a counter to my coin:
The world's but theirs; but my beloved's mine.

Nay more; If the fair Thespian Ladies all
Should heap together their diviner treasure:
That treasure should be deem'd a price too small
To buy a minutes lease of half my pleasure.
'Tis not the sacred wealth of all the nine
Can buy my heart from him, or his, from being mine.

Nor Time, nor Place, nor Chance, nor Death can bow
My least desires unto the least remove;
He's firmly mine by oath; I his by vow;
He's mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He's mine by water; I am his by wine;
Thus I my best-beloved's am; thus he is mine.

He is my Altar; I his Holy Place,
I am his guest; and he, my living food;
I'm his by penitence; he mine by grace;
I'm his by purchase; he is mine by blood;
He's my supporting elm; and I his vine:
Thus I my best-beloved's am; thus he is mine.

He gives me wealth, I give him all my vows:
I give him songs; he gives me length of dayes.
With wreaths of grace he crowns my conqu'ring brows:
And I his Temples with a crown of Praise,
Which he accepts as an ev'rlasting signe,
That I my best-beloved's am; that he is mine.
--Francis Quarles