Why on earth should we?

That's the answer to the stupid question of the day?

“Do they not trust Joe Lieberman? Do they not trust me?”

Why wouldn't we trust you, Joe, on matters involving foreign policy, especially in the Middle East? Might it be because you've continually bashed the Democratic party since the beginning of this controversy, because you,among others, gave King George the Lesser the cover he so desperately needed for this disastrous war in Iraq, a war that you still continue to support wholeheartedly, and that you apparently wish to expand into Iran?

This is how it works, Joe--you're allowed to screw up once or twice, or even more often, as long as you admit that you've screwed up and try to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. If you do that, then you get another chance with us. But if you screw up, refuse to admit that you did, and help to make matters worse, then you lose our trust, just as you lost the trust of your party in Connecticut the last time you ran for office. And here's a hint: saying that your resolution is meaningless because “if this administration wants to take military action against Iran, it doesn’t need this Kyl-Lieberman amendment; it can use the general powers of the commander-in-chief” is not the way to make anti-war activists (which is about 2/3 of the country at last count) feel more sanguine about your intellectual capability.

When I first read this article, my immediate reaction was "there's another reason not to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary," but that's really unfair to her. It's as unfair as leaning away from Barack Obama because uber-dickweed Andrew Sullivan is supporting him. But Clinton's support for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment is reason to deny her my vote in the primary, and to actively work against her during that process.

Oh, and one last thing, Joe. If you want people to trust you, you might avoid this kind of crap:
Asked Tuesday whether he’ll endorse any candidate prior to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Lieberman said no and repeated his previous statement that he’ll wait until both parties have settled on their presumptive nominees before he makes his endorsement.

“This is the new-found independence I was given by Connecticut Democrats,” Lieberman said with a smile.

Don't think it'll come as a surprise when you give an address at the Republican National Convention next year--we've been expecting that for two years at least.

If you're planning a trip ...

...think about going here.

This looks like my kind of vacation spot (hmm ... what does that say about me?)...

For when you want to read about what I'm reading

Since I have a tendency to go on and on when I write about something I've read, I decided to make a space for that. (You know, since I need something more to do with my time.)

Check out my reading blog: The Bohemian Seacoast. I'll still blog here, of course. I'll even cross-post some things that will be of interest to our regular readers.

Anyway ... stop by my new spot if you want to read my (sometimes pedestrian) thoughts about what I'm reading right now.

Some campus hauntings for your Halloween.

A little holiday shopping

Is it wrong that I purchased Halloween candy and Christmas cards at the same time?

Well, I did. I know that Brian and Amy didn't grow up in households with holidays, but Bradley and I both did. And I take Christmas cards very, very seriously. (Bradley can attest to this. A low figure would be at least 60 cards. But it's probably more than that).

One of the things that I like about them, though, is that it's a way to keep in touch with people. It's an annual excuse to contact people I've been thinking about, but am too distracted to email at another time of year. It's also a way to bridge some familial differences. I've noticed that when Bradley and I were about to be married, a number of his (conservative) cousins sent us cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Bradley. Even though my mother-in-law had made it quite clear that I was keeping my own name.

Most of Bradley's aunts (and Bradley's mother) thought it was great that I was intent on keeping my name. But the cousins were obviously less convinced.

More recently -- and probably in response to the mailings I've sent the relatives about changing addresses and more Christmas cards -- those cousins have been addressing the cards with both of our names. I appreciate that. I like to think that I've introduced some feminism into their lives -- that they can associate me with a political idea that they're generally skeptical of. I also like that despite obvious political differences, we do make up one big family (my own family is very small).

But I also just like sending and recieving holiday cards (I send appropriate cards to appropriate people. And mostly, my cards tell everyone to hope for peace on earth. Never a moment without reminding people of what I believe in).

Oh. And go check out this picture from Halloween 1987.

Gordon Lee to Finally Get His Day In Court (Again); Also, Essayist on the Road

From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

"On November 5, after three years of criminal charges, legal proceedings, and seemingly countless delays, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund defendant Gordon Lee will finally have his day in court.

"Lee's trial comes after three years of legal action arising from the Halloween 2004 distribution of Alternative Comics #2, a Free Comic Book Day sampler which featured an excerpt from the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Salon that depicted Pablo Picasso in the nude, and was allegedly handed to a minor. The CBLDF has spent over $80,000 on Lee's defense since taking the case in early 2005, and expects costs to reach six figures by the end of the trial.

"Mr. Lee will stand trial for two misdemeanor counts of distributing harmful to minors material, and faces penalties of up to a year and prison and $1,000 in fines for each count if convicted.

"'Everyone at the Fund is glad to finally take this case to trial,' says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. 'For three years Gordon has had to live with the tormenting reality of this case hanging over his head, and to suffer criminal accusations, a complete change of facts by the prosecution midstream, and numerous delays when it looked like the end was near. All for something that shouldn't have been prosecuted in the first place. We look forward to taking this case to trial, and because of the donations of the CBLDF's supporters, are confident that we have the best team possible to prove Gordon's innocence.'

"Outside the comics community, Lee's case is being closely watched by the mainstream media for its implications on Free Expression. Stories have appeared in venues including NPR's Morning Edition, CourtTV, The New York Times, The Book Standard, Publishers Weekly, New York Magazine and dozens more.

"'This case has broad consequences for all retailers of First Amendment protected material,' Brownstein explains. 'If Gordon is found guilty, it would establish a precedent that makes anyone offering any book, magazine, or film depicting non-sexual nudity vulnerable to a similar prosecution in the State of Georgia.' He adds, 'We're confident that Gordon is not guilty of the charges he's accused of, and that the work in question comes nowhere near the threshold the law requires to deem a work harmful to minors.'

"For a detailed summary of the case and its developments, please see Gordon Lee: The Road to Trial -- http://www.cbldf.org/articles/archives/000318.shtml

"To support Gordon's defense by making a tax-deductible contribution to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, please visit our donations page -- http://cbldf.safeshopper.com/12/cat12.htm?479

"The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community. For additional information, donations, and other inquiries call 800-99-CBLDF or visit www.cbldf.org ."

I've written about Lee's case before, but the short version of the story is that on Halloween, 2004, Lee accidentally gave a comic book featuring nudity in a non-sexual context to a minor, whose parents would not accept an apology for the mistake and instead demanded that Lee be arrested for distributing such "filth." To be clear-- this book wasn't pornographic. It just showed Picasso's little Pablo. Apparently, these parents, police officers, and prosecutors think it's very, very important that young boys be shielded from the knowledge that men have penises.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Fuckin' what the fuck, you know?

Anyway. I'm a-leavin' on a jet plane in just a few hours. In honor of the NonfictioNow conference, I'd like to direct your attention to this post about Matt Taibbi, over on Shakesville. It turns out there are quite a few reasons to hate Matt Taibbi beyond my own "He's like Hunter S. Thompson without the wit, insight, or writing ability." Frankly, I don't agree with all of them-- I'll never be able to get behind the suggestion that some things are so serious that they can never be joked about, in any context whatsoever. But I think Melissa's right when she says that Taibbi's "Fred Thompson rape joke" from his latest dispatch is disturbing without being funny or insightful, and others have also pointed out Taibbi's tendency to go for the easy "fatty" or "retard" joke in his writings. Of course, Taibbi's defenders point out that he's critical of the Bush administration, the war, politics-as-usual in America, and-- frankly-- has all the qualities we expect from a Rolling Stone journalist. To which I reply, "Yes, but can you imagine how good he could be if he could actually write? If he had a unique voice, rather than just pure ego?" Again, Taibbi tries to do "gonzo" the way Hunter S. Thompson did it, but at the heart of some of Thompson's best work (Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"), there's a sense of self-indictment along with the criticism of others-- as if to say, "America's is a cesspool, and as an American, I'm just more muck." Taibbi doesn't do that-- he employs a confrontational diction and crass language to describe others, but always makes it perfectly clear to his readers that he's quite certain he's above it all.

As odd as it may sound, arrogance is the enemy of the nonfiction writer. Sure, it takes a certain amount of ego to write a memoir, personal essay, or journalism that employs the first-person, but if your primary goal (or, at least, one of your primary goals) in your writing is to demonstrate how brilliant you are and how contemptible your subject is, then you're not likely to approach the material honestly-- you've already limited your scope too much; whatever you write has to prove this self-centered hypothesis you've established for the work. That's why Montaigne, Baldwin, Dillard, and McPhee are so great-- they're intelligent enough to admit their ignorance at times, and that admission gives them the freedom to probe their subject matter thoroughly.

That's just my opinion, though. Que sçais-je?

Not quite this bad, but...

So here's the report on the surgery and the post-surgery recovery. I'm posting this more as supplemental information for people who might google Dr. Stein or his office or vasectomy reversals in general looking for information, rather than for discussion, but if anyone has questions, I'm glad to answer them.

First of all, Dr. Stein's office is incredibly professional. They answered all my questions directly, and from the time this process started months ago, have been very open about the procedure and the chances that it will result in not only a return of sperm, but in pregnancy in general. The chances are low--about one in three--and I never felt like Dr. Stein was trying to make me feel like the odds were any better than that. Everyone in the office was nice and did everything they could to make me comfortable.

And comfort, as you might imagine, is a big deal in this kind of surgery. The entire procedure takes about three hours, and for that time, you're lying flat on your back with your legs more or less straight in front of you. That caused a problem for me, because my back doesn't like that position, and it got seriously uncomfortable for me about halfway through the procedure. Because Dr. Stein does his procedure in-office, as opposed to in a surgical unit, he's limited in the types of anesthesia he can use--this was done using a local anesthetic, which was great on my balls, but did nothing for my back. He did, however, call in a prescription for valium and vicodin, (which blesséd Amy walked down and filled) which eased the discomfort enough for me to make it through.

When I mentioned to Dr. Stein and his office staff that I'd be writing about this on the blog, they made sure to ask me to be honest about the experience--don't sugarcoat it. And I'm not. There were some times in that 3 hours where I wanted to scream from the back pain, but when you're talking about a $4,000-6,000 difference, between Dr. Stein's method and what other places wanted to charge, you suck it up. And when the discomfort got bad early on, Dr. Stein seemed a little surprised that I hadn't been prescribed something in anticipation of this procedure, and had me medicated inside 20 minutes.

Dr. Stein was very animated thoughout, explaining what was going on at every step of the procedure. He invited Amy to sit in and watch (which she did for part of the time) and offered me the use of a mirror if I wanted to watch. I didn't take him up on it--there are some parts of my body I'd rather leave mysterious, and the inside of my scrotum is one of them.

The post-surgery recovery has been no biggie. The discomfort started to fade almost immediately once I got off the bed. I haven't taken any pain medication at all since the stuff I took for the back pain, and don't foresee taking any afterward. In short, I recommend Dr. Stein with no reservations.


I've now finished up all of the school work I had to get done before leaving for the big NonfictioNow Conference in Iowa City. I've been looking forward to this conference for months now-- I'm on a panel with Natalia Rachel Singer and David Griffiths, talking about politics and the essay-- and, more importantly, the political essay. My paper's been done for a while now-- I thought it was good, then I hated it, then I kinda liked it again, and now I'm not sure if I hate it or myself.

I am a tortured, tortured essayist.

Anyway, as part of the disccusion component of the panel, I've been tasked to think of a list of political essayists I like. This should be easy, right? I mean I'm always writing about Orwell and Baldwin here on this blog-- I must really like them. But then again, everyone likes Orwell and Baldwin. It's kinda too easy. Plus, I feel like my choices should be people whose politics I don't always agree with. Montaigne wrote some interesting stuff praising reason above democracy-- that's pretty political. But again-- what kind of a dumbass goes to a nonfiction conference and says "I like Montaigne!" That's like going to a Star Wars convention and saying, "You know who I really like? Jedis." I mean, come on, Bradley! This is what you do for a living. Think, think!

Okay, so how about this-- I acknowledge the Montaigne, Orwell, and Baldwin stuff, but then also point out that-- even though as a long-haired tree-hugging liberal sex fiend freak I find their politics frequently troublesome-- I quite like the writing of Joan Didion and Christopher Hitchens. Didion may be kind of obvious too, but I could compare her essay "The Women's Movement" (where she complains that second wave feminism became preoccupied with a type of a type of self-centered naivete) to Seymour Krim's "To My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business," where he points out that Americans are, as a species, prone to a type of self-centered naivete. I like both pieces, but find myself in closer agreement with Krim's social observations even while preferring Didion's dry wit to Krim's somewhat irritating "irreverent hipster lingo."

Or something like that. Maybe?

I dunno-- what political essayists do you like? Maybe I should open the question up and talk about memoirists who write about political subjects-- Alix Kates Shulman, maybe. Or I could talk about bloggers who are exceptionally good writers who struggle with complicated issues and points-of-view. Amanda Marcotte. Teh Portly Dyke. Lower Manhattanite. People like that.

Or, I could fake a nosebleed and go running from the room just before it's my turn to talk. I did that at a particularly tedious dinner once, when I was an undergrad, and it seemed to have worked. Those people haven't tracked me down yet.

Bah. This post is whiney and uninteresting. I'm still pretty psyched for this conference. Just nervous. Here, to cheer us all up, is a clip of Richard Simmons teaching aerobics on General Hospital in the early 80s.

Waiting rooms are tense places. Of course the real action is going on behind that closed door, but the jolly laughter and the occasional sound of -- a drill? a bandsaw? -- keep me half-terrified as well. The only thing keeping everything sane is the calm narration of Sir David Attenborough, who, as he describes the starving pride of lions devouring the elephant calf above my head, does so in such a way as to say, "yes, life is brutal, this is simply how it is," and one relaxes into the tension of the moment, and forgives.

I did suggest that Brian blog from the stirrup as it were, since the doctor's office has wi-fi (in addition to enough Audubon and National Geographic material to make Sir Attenborough proud), but he took in the latest Southern Review instead. Expect his feelings on this issue to be colored by an -- unusual reading room.

You might feel a little pressure

So I have my surgery in the morning, followed by a couple of days of bed rest and a month of not-picking-up-heavy-stuff, followed potentially by continued fatherhood. It struck me tonight that I might become Danny Wheeler.

Danny Wheeler was an elder in the congregation I grew up in. His son, Jeff, was about 3 years older than I was, and was about 17 when his parents got pregnant with their second child. They followed, a couple of years later, with a third, and my dad used to joke that Danny would be, if he wasn't careful, giving his kids their allowances out of his Social Security checks.

And here I am, a week shy of my 39th birthday, heading into a doctor's office to get reconnected, just over 17 years after the birth of my daughter. I hope my Social Security checks are big enough to handle those allowances.

When I decided to go through with the surgery a few months ago, I started a poem titled "Ode to my vasectomy (reversed)." It hasn't been published yet, though it's been turned down by some fine magazines. I'm posting it here because, well, because I don't really have much more to say now, other than that I'm nervous. Of course I'm nervous--a stranger is going to be sawing on my nads for three hours tomorrow morning. Wish me luck.

Ode to my vasectomy (reversed)

And now, unsnipped (or soon, if all goes well)
the plumbing reattached, my swimmers free
to hunt for ovum once again. I can’t quite tell
(it’s been so long) what difference there will be
in sex this time around—it felt the same
when I was snipped those fifteen years ago,
but I was young, a new father, and knew
only that I couldn’t bear the shame
of living with my in-laws if ano-
ther child came along. I never rued

that day, not when the marriage came apart
like a burst zipper, our threefold cord rent,
shredded, the friction of separated hearts
and long-submerged desires became apparent,
she to her lovers, I to mine, the fear
in sex now only in disease. No fear of sin,
of future child support, of wrath of God.
I fucked and fucked and fucked for fifteen years;
and now, dropped pants, my doctor feels the skin
for where the vas was clipped, feels for the knots

that seem to say I’ve got a better chance
than most who’ve waited for this long to try.
The good news: “I’ve got nodules in my pants”
means that it’s now thirty percent plus five
that we’ll conceive, that we’ll bring in a child
(or three—one never knows what will come
once this gets going). Children. Names we have,
a board full, drawn in blue and aqua green dry-
erase marker, for easy changes. It’s odd
we say, to talk, debate and haggle

over Pearl, Irenie, Nyssa, Eden,
Trajan, Laszlo, Buck or Mr. Whiskers.
No compromise. We want a meeting
of the minds, names our friends won’t whisper,
roll their eyes at, or worse, think ordinary.
Perhaps something in Latin, with a joke
hidden in the unfamiliar tongue.
Something strong yet odd, cool and airy,
ephem…, no, ethereal, like smoke.
The naming’s hard; at least the making’s fun.

Wherein I take a book review too personally

In yesterday’s New York Times had a book review essay that got me thinking. And not necessarily happy thoughts.

Joe Queenan reviews Henry Petroski’s new book The Toothpick: Technology and Culture, and it’s not a particularly flattering review. The review is not so much unflattering of the book or the writing, per se, but rather of the general trend in a great deal of academic work that looks towards the role of the quotidian objects of world history.

(By the way, I just noticed that the Times Book Review puts books in quotation marks and not italics. Or at least this essay does. What’s up with that? Anyway …)

Queenan proposes an intervention for Petroski, like the sort of intervention that John Travolta needed after making Battleship Earth. He explains that

The very existence of “The Toothpick” is a testimony to the perils of inhabiting a permissive society, for just as the unchastised teenage shoplifter, mistaking society’s indulgence for applause, will evolve into a bloodthirsty hired killer, it is inevitable that the author of “The Pencil” will one day morph into the author of “The Toothpick.” Quite rightly, he assumes that society is simply not paying attention anymore.

“The Toothpick” is animated by the dubious proposition that the venerable mouth-cleaning device in and of itself is worthy of our consideration.

Queenan points out the response that reviewers will have, and why he thinks he is inappropriate:
Reviewers of “The Toothpick” will automatically lump Petroski’s work in with “Salt,” “Cod,” “How Soccer Explains the World,” “A History of the World in Six Glasses” and other volumes that view society through an odd prism. These books argue that without cod, salt, booze or the penalty kick, we would not be where we are today. This is true, though the same could be said about tuna, cocaine, beavers, coriander, the infield-fly rule and the “going out of business” sale. These books settle arguments no one is having.

Moreover, comparing “The Toothpick” to these other works is inappropriate. Books of the “How Longitude or Beer or the Irish or Something Changed Civilization” sort are mostly the work of journalists. No strangers to harmless hyperbole, these writers desperately want to close the deal but are aware that unless they keep hawking their wares, the reader may nod off. …

“The Toothpick,” by contrast, is the work of a maddeningly sober pedant who is anything but a crowd pleaser.

The response that Queenan has – that these are arguments no one has – frustrates me. My initial response is that this is the sort of response scholars had when feminist scholars suggested that woman’s daily lives might be worthy of study.

This isn’t even what I find most frustrating in Queenan’s response to this book (a book, I must admit that I haven’t read). Queenan out of hand dismisses the work of any scholar who works with material culture – and particularly the quotidian material culture. These are things that are important.

I admit that I do find it pretty funny to look at the history shelves of my local bookstore – there are many, many books claiming this, that or the other peoples invented the modern world or the modern human. At the same time, this dismissal of salt and cod – and even the toothpick – suggests a lack of understanding of a great deal of current scholarship. Although books by journalists are not the same as books by scholars (those of use that Queenan calls pedants. Ahem), the argument that salt is an important material for modern culture is true – salt, not coriander meant that people could preserve food, which in turn enabled further sea travel. Is this the most important thing for modern existence? Not necessarily, but it is one of a variety of important pieces that make up cultural history.

This gets me back to my initial response – Queenan insists that “these are arguments that no one is having.” I’m simply not sure that this is true. It took a major overhaul of the way that we think about the nature of scholarship – in history, art, literature, etc. – that we moved away from thinking about history as moments when great men did great things.

I’m getting long … but I’m just trying to think through this article. Part of the reason that I’m so immediately bothered by it is that it essentially attacks what I do. I’m preparing to return to a small project on tobacco usage on the early modern stage. Would Queenan think that this is irrelevant? I’m not going to argue that it’s the most important thing in the world, but talking about these things does allow us insight into the ways that people of other times thought and felt and lived.

On the job search

I just spent the last several hours submitting job applications electronically. It's a strange experience to apply for so many online.

In fact, the whole job application process has been strange -- there's something about sending off my job letter to all sorts of people I've never met that's both terrifying and exciting.

Anyway ... I might blog more frequently now. I've got one big, big task done.

I Admit, I'm a Little Surprised

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are an Eco-Avenger, also known as an environmentalist or tree hugger. You believe in saving the planet from the clutches of air-fouling, oil-drilling, earth-raping conservative fossil fools.

How Psyched Am I That SoapNet Is Running a Mini-Marathon of Days of Our Lives Episodes from Back When I Was in College, When Marlena Was Possessed by Satan?

Pretty fuckin' psyched, thanks for asking.

As the title of this blog post suggests, SoapNet will be showing three hours of vintage soap opera goodness from the mid-90s-- the time when Days heroine Dr. Marlena Evans Brady Black (played by daytime TV icon Deidre Hall) was possessed by the devil and her on again/off again lover-- the amnesiac John Black-- suddenly learned that in his long-forgotten past, he had been a priest-- just in time to perform the exorcism!

If you think that sounds lame, you're not my friend.

Starts at nine, soap fans.

People take this guy seriously?

I mean, this is reasoning that wouldn't get a C in my freshman comp class.

From the start, I've argued that the NSA's data-mining program is essential and easily made legal by updating the FISA law. The Bush Administration cynically refused to make it legal, hoping to use Democratic opposition as a political bludgeon...

(And I have no problem with telecommunications companies being protected from lawsuits brought by those who may or may not have been illegally targeted simply because the Bush Administration refused to update the law.)

What Klein here is saying is that even though the telecoms broke the law, they should be immune from lawsuits because they were breaking a law that needed to be updated. Forget Comp 1--Klein needs to go back to high school Civics class, because he's obviously forgotten that neither people nor corporations nor the President of the United States get to change laws on their own, nor do they get to interpret the laws that currently exist. Congress gets to do the former, the courts the latter.

So it's really irrelevant whether Bush was being cynical when he didn't go to Congress for the update. Because he didn't, the law stayed the same, and he authorized illegal activity. And it doesn't matter whether or not the telecoms felt they were doing their patriotic duty when they agreed to the Bush request, or if the law needed updating--when they agreed, the law hadn't been updated, and so they were breaking it.

This isn't Hegel we're dealing with here. This is basic reasoning--our governmental system says that the courts decide what's constitutional, not the President. And the Congress gets to write the laws, not the President. And if Congress decides not to update laws in a particular arena, then the old law stays in effect, and people and companies who break that law are subject to penalties, both criminal and civil as they apply. Fortunately, Klein is neither God nor the Congress--he doesn't get to decide whether or not the telecoms will be made immune from lawsuits stemming from this program--Congress will, and I hope they say no.

For a fuller discussion of all these issues, read Hilzoy.

Because if it's stuck in my head

it ought to be in yours too. Doesn't the FCC have a rule against playing songs like this on the radio?

The Future's Not What It Used to Be

High Praise for a Novel

In the form of an unusual experience: I enjoyed reading Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square so much that I actually forced myself to read it slowly, rationing it out to just a little each night and the ending this afternoon, so that the enjoyment of reading would go on and on.

Otherwise I might have overindulged in a night and might have woken up regretting it the next morning (thus requiring I take a stroll 'round hangover square). I can't remember that last time I liked a book that much.

The novel is neat and clean, and successfully and suspensefully weaves together a few narratives each of which would not add up to as much on its own: it is the story of a bunch of freeloading drunks living in London just before the start of WWII; very subtly, it is an allegory of the politics leading into WWII; it is a story (and this is established first) of a man who has two personalities, one of which is in love with Netta Longdon, and the other which only knows that he cannot find peace until he kills her. That suspense, established at square one, brings edginess to the whole novel, makes it emotionally irresistible for the reader -- and makes more palpable the threat of impending war.

But as the heart pounds, the brain delights: I'm not sure I've ever read an author with such a brilliant knack for dialogue, especially the dialogue of drunks. His descriptions also show an astonishing talent for making the familiar unfamiliar so that we better know it, perhaps for the first time. I'm going to give a small example, one that really delighted me:

In the mornings, nowadays, George Harvey Bone was awakened by a fluffy white cat belonging to the hotel. At about seven o' clock he would hear a little cry--petulant rather than appealing--outside his door, and he would blunder out of bed in the darkness and open the door. He would blunder back into bed and hear no more.
Then there would be a sudden springy soft weight on his body, and the cat would begin to manoeuvre near his head. Sleepy as he was, he could put out his hand and stroke its fur.
After a while this motion seemed to generate an electrical disturbance within the animal--an aeroplan-like throbbing, slowly growing in volume and drawing nearer--the purring of the cat in his ear. The purring, this surrender of its being to a rhythmic and externally audible throbbing, in its turn seemed to induce in the cat a sort of frenzy, a frenzy manifesting itself mainly in the front paws, which, in the agony of restless pleasure, stretched and relaxed, the right paw stretching while the left relaxed, and the other way about, in eager alternation. George called this "playing the piano." He did not know the name of the cat so he called it "Pussy." "Don't make such a noise, Pussy," the big drinking man would gently murmur in the darkness. "And stop playing the piano." But the cat would not stop until a place had been found under the bedclothes near George's head; then it would go to sleep, and George would attempt to do the same.
But usually it would be too late, and in a few moments he would be wide awake, grinding out the problems of his life, delving into the night before to see where he had got to exactly, where he had left off. This morning he knew, because of the sickness in his heart, and the giddiness in his head, that he had got drunk, but he couldn't at first remember how or where...
Of course I've had this experience a million times, the cat waking, the drunk waking, the cat drunk waking, but this passage made me feel it new. I really admire that kind of skill. If you want to love reading a book, I recommend this one.

Random Reading

It's probably not correct to call this "random reading," but I don't have much else for a blog post right now, and I thought I'd share some cool stuff I've come across via my internet ramblings.

Toner Mishap: Start at yesterday's post and scroll down through the whole story of his experiences on a jury of a murder trial. It's a look you don't get from newspaper or television coverage.

The American Prospect: Ezra Klein interviews Paul Krugman

My Right-Wing Dad: A repository of all the right-wing email spam that's fit to mock. If you ever wondered why some conservatives think liberals are the spawn of Satan, this will illuminate you.

Pam's House Blend: Dallas billboard promotion: wearing saggy pants makes you gay.

Grimcity: Random Meat Snack: Hog Head Cheese

Elle PhD: Bobby Jindal: a new start for whom, exactly?

Feel free to add your own in comments.

It's Here! It's Here!

The new College English arrived yesterday. Those of you who know me also know that I've been kinda excited about it, as this issue features my first piece of published scholarship, "The Ethical Exhibitionist's Agenda." Up to this point, I've had to be content with having strangers who read blogs tell me I'm an idiot. Now, English teachers and professors across the country are gonna know how stupid I am. Huzzah!

Rhetorical Strategies to Alienate People and Harm Your Cause

I haven't taught freshman composition in over a year now. For that, I get to on my knees and praise the gods of academia (Beelzebub and Osama bin Laden, in case you haven't been paying attention to Bill O'Reilly) everyday. Teaching comp is hard, hard work for most people. Part of that is because most of us aren't rhet/comp specialists-- we go to grad school to study poetry writing or Early Modern drama, and we wind up having to learn logical fallacies, Rogerian strategy, and whatever it is Peter Elbow is always writing about.

(Oh, I kid Peter Elbow).

The other thing that makes teaching logical argumentation so difficult is that, sometimes, it seems like we live in a culture where the merits of a conviction are judged based on how loudly they are screamed. In his novel Straight Man, Richard Russo's narrator Hank Devereaux observed about students who write letters to the campus newspaper, "As a group they seem to believe that high moral indignation offsets and indeed outweighs all deficiencies of punctuation, spelling, grammar, logic, and style. In support of this notion, there's only the entire culture."

Like most people, when I taught comp I tried to emphasize the importance of considering audience while constructing an argument. It's easiest to write for a friendly audience, because you know they already agree with you. You can write "Rudy Giuliani is a senseless asshat" if you know that your reader already believes that Giuliani would be a terrible president. But that's not persuasion, is it? You didn't persuade me to vote for a candidate other than Giuliani with that statement-- I planned to do so already. All that statement did was remind me that I'm not alone in hating Giuliani-- a fact that I'm already quite confident on.

Too often, I think a few people on the left are way too quick to congratulate rhetorical acts that do absolutely nothing to persuade-- in fact, some of these acts are downright detrimental to their movements. By now we're all familiar with the 9/11 conspiracy theorists who made jackasses of themselves on Bill Maher last week, but in case you've forgotten, check this out:

Being surly, disruptive, and disrespectful is not going to help anyone's cause-- if anything, this display has only convinced more people that the 9/11 Truth Movement is made up of crazy people and intellectual lightweights. This may not be the case, but if your rhetoical strategy is to simply scream until security escorts you out, you're certainly not going to persuade anyone. In fact, you've made your opponent's position seem much more sensible. Maher lost his temper, but in this exchange he seems entirely justified.

As if being rhetorically spanked by a late-night cable talk show host isn't humiliation enough for this particular group, they repeated this mistake again on Tuesday, this time with former president Bill Clinton:

And then there was this ineffective bit of protest earlier this week, which made Condoleeza Rice actually look like a sensible person:

My point? None of these protests accomplished a damn thing for any person or cause other than the protesters as individuals. Yeah, they got to see themselves on TV. And I'm sure they feel really good for "speaking truth to power." But did one single person become convinced that 9/11 was an "inside job" because a bunch of people screamed that it was so? Did confronting the secretary of state with halloween vampire blood on one's hands bring back a single soldier, or convince anyone who was previously in favor of the war to take to the streets in protest? Of course not.

Defenders of this type of demonstration invoke civil rights marches and Vietnam protests. They talk about civil disobedience without actually bothering to look up what the term means. They avoid the fact that Martin Luther King, Joan Baez, Henry David Thoreau, and Mohandas Ghandi talked to people, not at them, and made their cases elegantly and persuasively. They did not just shout about injustice-- they actually demonstrated effectively and worked to change minds through discussion and logical argument.

Effective protest is rarely as dramatic as these outbursts, they don't always make for good TV, and the change they affect is awfully slow-going. But it happens, eventually-- taking part in organized public demonstrations, organizing a walk-out at your school, writing letters to our elected officials, publishing our thoughts on our blogs, and-- yes-- teaching logical argumentation to a group of students who have grown up in a culture that rewards arrogant bluster and punishes nuanced reflection (see the Election of 2000 for more details) will change the word for the better. Standing around screaming will simply cause others to dismiss you for the intellectual lightweight you probably are.

Jonah Goldberg Sucks Ass and a Random Ten

I'm all out of clever today. Bite me.

Pointing out flaws in Jonah Goldberg's reasoning is a bit like shooting drunk fish in a barrel with no water-- it's not too challenging, it's not very sporting, and it's frankly not the sort of thing a man who still has to write up an introduction for tonight's creative nonfiction reading should be doing. But... well, he's such an asshole. I should probably just let this go, but...

In his most recent display of profound stupidity, Goldberg aims high and decides to take Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, and Madonna down a peg. If I understand him correctly, Goldberg thinks that women who pay off poker debts with sexual favors, have sex tape scandals, and make out with Brittney Spears on awards shows should not be considered role models. With me so far?.

The trouble with this reasoning, of course, is that no one-- except for conservatives trying to construct straw man liberals-- has ever argued that these women are role models. I can't imagine there's a parent in the world-- liberal or conservative-- who has ever thought, "Someday, that's going to be my little princess, getting out of the limo without underwear on!" And kids don't look up to Pamela Anderson or Madonna, because they very likely don't know who the hell these women are-- Pam and Madonna had their moment in the sun years ago. Sure, they'll always be kinda famous, but they'll never again be the pop culture forces they once were. And Paris is famous because people hate her. Or did you not notice the nationwide celebration that coincided with her incarcertation?

What's even more interesting is Goldberg's complete lack of reflection when it comes to the media's role in creating celebrities, and the way these celebrities embody conservative values. He criticizes the press for being "professionally and personally infatuated with celebrity" in a colum devoted to discussing Pam Anderson's marriage, Paris Hilton's sex tape, and Madonna's reinvention of herself as a working mom. Pot, meet kettle.

Furthermore, it's striking to see someone like Goldberg-- a conservative dittohead-- make a proclamation like, "The working-class teenage girl who tries to follow in Madonna’s or Paris’s or Pam’s footsteps isn’t going to follow them into the pages of People magazine." Uh... dude? Don't fake concern with "working-class teenage girls," okay? You hate the poor, you hate the young, and you hate women. Try to keep that in mind.

And then there's this little gem: "When a woman pushing 50 who looks like she’s been working out in a Bolivian prison yard declares she won’t use her sex appeal as a marketing tool anymore, maybe it’s a tad less courageous than all that? I hear Abe Vigoda just announced he won’t be touting his buns of steel to peddle his line of Old Man Pants either." Because as we all know, as women age, they just get hideous. The very idea that someone would ever want to fuck a woman who's older than 40 is just grooooooss.

At this point, I would like to point out that Mrs. Jonah Goldberg is 44 years old. Presumably, she's the least-satisfied woman in America. Or she's fucking the pool guy. Either way, her husband thinks her best years are behind her, which is pretty sad, if you ask me.

What's most striking about all of this is that one man-- Rick Salomon-- is at the center of both the Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton stories, yet he barely gets a mention. Pam talks about paying off poker debts by performing sexual favors of Rick Salomon; Paris had a private sex tape released by Salomon, her ex-boyfriend. And yet the problem, as Goldberg sees it, isn't that Lord Douch of Shitbag Manor keeps exploiting women; no, the problem is that these women are harlots.

Sensitive guy, old Jonah.

I doubt I'll ever come to Pais Hilton's defense again (unlike Goldberg, I genuinely do have a problem with decadent rich people), but the fact of the matter is, Paris was clearly Rick Salomon's victim. She apparently got on with her life (and even sent Pam and Rick a video camera as a joke wedding present), so good for her, but still. She was all of, what? 19-years-old when she made that tape? And furthermore, if you've ever watched that tape-- and I have-- you realize that it's impossible for anyone but the most committed misogynist to find it arousing. Here's this young girl constantly saying, "I love you" to this unseen man who keeps whispering things like "You dirty slut" and "Show me your pussy," and you know that he's destined to further exploit her by releasing the video as soon as they break up-- that he was, presumably, planning to do so as he was making the damn thing.

But yeah. Salomon's not the issue here. It's the harlotry. Won't somebody think of the children?

Here's the Random Ten. What you do is, get your music player drunk, convince it that you love it, and then sweet talk it into playing ten songs at random, with the understanding that it will only be between the two of you. Then, once you've got your Random Ten, put it on the Internet for all the world to see. And remember-- it's the music player's fault. Harlot.

1) Prince-- "Thieves in the Temple"
2) Public Enemy-- "Fight the Power"
3) Reel Big Fish-- "She Has a Girlfriend Now"
4) Morrissey-- "I Will See You in Far Off Places"
5) Regina Spektor-- "Music Box"
6) Regina Spektor-- "Edit"
7) Lily Allen-- "Smile"
8) Moby-- "Love Should"
9) John Cale-- "Movement 1-- From Kiss"
10) The Velvet Underground-- "Sheltered Life (Demo)"

Satan Comes to Florida and the Random Ten

The Great Orange Satan, that is, and he's not exactly coming to Florida. He is, however, going to do an interview on Kenneth Quinnell's Progressive Radio program today. You can get the stream here. The show kicks off at 1:00 p.m. EDT, at which point I will be expounding upon Othello to my enraptured Drama students.

Also tonight, if you're in the Boca Raton area, FAU is hosting a creative nonfiction reading, hosted by none other than our Bradley, and including a reading by Culture Industry phenomenon Mark Scroggins. 7:00 tonight in the Ritter Gallery. If you find yourself facing an older guy with a gray, push-broom mustache, who's screaming about the SunBelt Conference, you've wandered into the homecoming festivities for the Mighty Burrow Owls, who are taking on the fearsome Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. I've never been to a university homecoming event--it was something that I thought died with high school--so I have no doubt I'd be utterly terrified at such a happening. I have bribed a couple of my classes with promises of extra credit if they show up at the reading, however, so perhaps they will drop by on their way to the club. I don't expect more than ten, and of the ten, I expect at least four will look sullen.

Here's the Random Ten--Amy suggested last night that I should do an all-vasectomy reversal version, as I'm having the procedure done next Tuesday, but about the only catchy tune we could think to modify was "We Want the Spunk," and if you're starting there, the descent into hell is rapid and merciless. Here we go.

1. Brown Sugar--Mos Def
2. Aquarium--Me'shell Ndegéocello
3. Who Got It--Talib Kweli
4. Died In Your Arms--Cutting Crew (that's embarrassing)
5. Naked Eye--Luscious Jackson
6. Sign Your Name--Terence Trent D'Arby
7. Put a Sex Mo-Sheen in the White House--Mojo Nixon
8. Salt Flat Epic--Veruca Salt
9. The Remedy--Jason Mraz
10. Waterloo--ABBA

Feel free to add your own, or to come up with your own sperm-reference song titles.

No Respect

A book review on Salon is most interesting for what it has to say about writers:

Norman attributes some of this animosity to the essential mystery of the writing process. To the tough, practical, working-class men who founded the movie industry, it looked suspiciously like loafing. "None of them were quite sure what a screenwriter did," he writes, "or even how he did it. Certainly he or she delivered an artifact, a screenplay, that worked or didn't, but where did it come from? ... Did it take them a year to write a screenplay, or only one day and then they waited a year to hand it in? There was no telling because nobody could see the work occur."

That's the thing about any kind of writing: It may be difficult, but it sure looks easy -- you can do it in your pj's! Until the advent of reality TV talent shows like "American Idol," most of us existed in blissful ignorance of the sheer number of completely untalented people who remain convinced that they are destined for stardom. But consider this: Although practically anyone can instantly recognize tone-deafness when they hear it, in a world where fewer and fewer people read at all, bad writers can go on believing in their (unappreciated) genius indefinitely.

More at Salon.

Cary Tennis is dumber than usual today

And that's really saying something, because his "advice" has created a cottage industry for people who dissect his vapid responses. But today, he's outdone himself, in my opinion.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm taking this personally because I can relate to the letter writer in a way that most people probably can't:

I am a 20-year-old who is attending college full time. I am also an atheist. The problem is, no one knows and I feel like I cannot tell anyone.

For one thing, I attend a Christian-affiliated school that in order to attend I was required to sign a statement of faith. I knew I didn't believe in a god (or specifically, their God) when I signed it, but I did anyway just so there wouldn't be any hassle with the college -- I'm a transfer student and I just want to finish my degree as soon as possible. If I began actually being honest, however, I have a feeling the school would dismiss me.

The other thing preventing me from "coming out" is the number of relationships that seem like they would crumble as a result. My parents and I have never had the best relationship. We've just recently started becoming close, and I don't want to lose that. They are deeply religious, however, and my admitting to be an atheist might tear that fragile bond apart. This past summer I tried having some conversations with them about my changing religious beliefs, and I've never before seen them so angry. While I do not need their approval (there is no way I would claim a belief out of guilt), I also do not need to be alienated from my parents. Then there is all of my friends, who are mostly Christians. They all think I believe likewise, and I haven't really done anything to prevent the thought. I'm afraid that telling the truth about who I am might place a huge distance between me and the ones I love.

I'm really tired of lying and I just want people to know me for who I am. But would announcing my atheism do more damage than good? Should I just remain as I am until I graduate and am out on my own? Or should I be bold and be honest and hope it all works out for the best?

As long-time readers know, I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, and the Witneses practice shunning--they call it disfellowshipping--anyone who leaves the church or who commits sins for which they deem one to be insufficiently repentant. That's me.

When I was a freshman in college, I started to discover that the Witness's teachings and the real world were, well, at odds, and after some soul-searching, left the church. One divorce, two years and three apartments later, the elders of the local congregation tracked me down because someone had seen me smoking a cigarette and confronted me (the Christmas tree in the living room and the girlfriend asleep in my bed were lagniappe), and three weeks later, I was officially cast out. That meant that my family was supposed to cut me off, and my parents did. In the twelve years since then, they've hardly spoken to me.

So I know what this kid is facing. There is no closer community that one can belong to than one of absolute believers, and when you leave that behind, there's a gaping hole to fill. That's terrifying for someone who is established and sure of him or herself as a capable adult, but for a young adult, it's even worse. The fact that he's even considering the consequences of such an action points to, I think, a maturity beyond his years.

So what does Tennis do? He questions the sincerity of the atheist's position, for starters, but then--and this is the unforgivable part to me--raises the dishonest specter of the, as Amanda puts it, straw-atheist.
Since you lied to get into this college, we must also ask about your ethical beliefs. If one were to argue that man or woman is strictly a biochemical process, utterly alone in the universe, utterly free, responsible to no God and no civil authority, then you might argue that lying to the university is perfectly OK. But if you believe that atheists ought to abide by the ethical system of the society they live in, that's a different story. Are you bound by contracts? Do you believe in the authority of civil law? Or might you reject civil law, too, on the grounds that it is rooted in feudalism and Judeo-Christian morality?

One would only argue that first point if one is a sociopath. No atheist I've known, no matter how strident, no matter how Richard Dawkins-ish, has ever made that argument. You know who makes it? People who imagine that, if there actually isn't a god, that humans would magically transform into a bunch of ravening beasts. I mean, when Aaron MacGruder does it, it's funny.

Not so much when people actually mean it. The idea is insulting, frankly, both to atheists and believers (more so to believers, because it turns you folks into a bunch of pathetic, weak-willed creatures living in fear of an invisible daddy figure who says, to quote Kevin Smith, "do it or I'll fucking spank you"). Even I, as strident an atheist as I am, don't think that of believers. I have more respect for you.

Tennis gets one thing exactly right--he says "This is all way over my head." Indeed it is, Cary. Indeed it is. But he also notes, at the end of his column, that "many readers of this column will find your dilemma worthy of serious comment."

So here's my serious comment for the writer. You sound like you have too much going on right now to add this very divisive problem to your plate. Be like the jellyfish on this--let the currents take you where they will. Finish your degree, and move on from the Christian college to whatever pursuits catch your interest. Avoid religious discussion whenever possible--just remove it from your life as much as you can, and wait until you're at a more stable point in your life before making religion an issue with your parents. In short, be very Zen about it, because you'll need that calm place to go to when it does finally become an issue. It won't reduce the pain you feel if your parents don't accept your choice to not believe, but it will help you remain calm during it.

More Words of Wisdom from Carver (Or Was It Lish?)

Since our discussion of Raymond Carver and minimalism a few days ago, I've been re-reading a few Carver stories here and there when I've had the time. Should we ever decide to replace the Barack Obama quote at the top of this page, I propose that we adopt this one, from Carver's story "Gazebo," which I read this morning:

"Booze takes a lot of time and effort if you're going to do a good job with it."

If you think about it, you know it's true.

If good news comes in threes, where's my two-book deal?

I know I just did a brag-post yesterday, but that was about a minor ditty of a poem, which is not my passion and reason-to-be -- this is. "Venus Envy." Precious "Venus Envy." I have been hawking this story for 5 years now. When baby was first born she won a $1000 prize, and that was the first draft, such a precocious little darling was she. She has since gone on to receive some of the most gushing rejections you'll dare to dream, not to mention fetching me my 2nd ever fan letter, yes, click on that link, it's funny. So I cannot tell you how happy, happy, happy momma is to finally see her all grown up and getting published. Thank you, genius editors of Fringe. Now if we can just end this week with that one last lil' bit of good news (hint hint see subject line)... {{sigh}} ...at moments like this, I wish I could un-hypocritically pray.

I will post a link to my world-shaking work of startling genius (nod) when it is published. No wanking. ;-)

That's a good point

Ecuador has an offer for the Bush administration. If they want Ecuador to renew the lease the US has on an airbase in Manta, then the US has to allow Ecuador to put one in Miami.

"We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami -- an Ecuadorean base," [Ecuadorean President] Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

"If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States."

Back in the old days, if a Latin American leader mouthed off like that, he'd have a CIA-led military coup on his ass inside of six months, and if I were Correa, I'd make trebly sure that my bodyguards had everything they wanted and could possibly dream of in the event of something like that happening.

But what this is really a sign of is the way world opinion of the US has fallen in the last 7 years. When you're a bully in the process of getting your ass handed to you by guys with roadside bombs and little else, it's kind of hard to impose your will on the rest of the world.

Hat tip to Mark Weaver


Click it, fool!

The Onion

Rowling: 'Dumbledore Is Gay'

At a public appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York, author J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore, the headmaster character in her popular Harry...

He's Calling From Inside the House! Get Out! GET OUT!

This week, The Onion’s AV Club asked schlock director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) to program a 24-hour horror movie marathon for their readers. You can see Roth’s response here. Roth isn’t much of a director—his films are more notable for gore and tits than any genuine scares—and he seems way too pleased with himself (it seems like every movie he talks about can somehow be related back to his own work, despite the fact that he’s talking about horror and slasher classics, while his own work is usually derivative and boring).

Nevertheless, he has some good taste in horror movies, and this is a great idea. So I’m pleased to present to you, dear Incerterrorists, my own 24 hour horror movie marathon program. Read on… if you dare.

First of all, Roth designed his own marathon to run from noon on a hypothetical Saturday to noon the following Sunday; this makes sense to me. That gives participants time to get up, eat a big breakfast, get some caffeine in their systems, and then sit down to watch 24 hours of blood, ghosts, and demons. Start any later, and people are liable to get fatigued early into the marathon. Plus, it gives us more of the day Sunday to recover.

With this list, I’ve deliberately left out both the classic Universal monster movies and most of the popular Hammer Horror movies—I could easily fill an entire marathon with Boris Karloff and Bela Legosi and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. So I won’t.

Noon-- Night of the Living Dead (dir. George A. Romero, 1968)

An oldie but a goodie. Light on the gore, heavy on the tension, Romero’s zombie classic will set the mood for the festivities without overdoing things too quickly.

1:30—The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

The greatest haunted house movie ever. Here’s a fun fact: Stephen King hated the Kubrick adaptation of his novel, and later took part in an effort to create a new film version for TV starring Steven Webber (of Wings and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and all sorts of other things nobody likes). It sucked ass. Here’s another fun fact: Stephen King is an idiot for not liking the Kubrick movie.

4:00-- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)

The Citizen Kane of slasher movies. Seriously. This is one well put-together movie—and it’s not as gory as you think it’s going to be, if you haven’t seen it (in fact, there’s no gore at all, really). It’s just really, really scary.

5:30—Suspiria (dir. Dario Argento, 1977)

It seems like there’s been a backlash against Dario Argento lately, probably because everything he’s touched in the past decade has turned to shit (seriously, try watching his version of Phantom of the Opera or his God-awful Masters of Horror episode-- featuring The [fake] Shining's Steven Webber-- for proof). Nevertheless, he’s also responsible for some great films, and Suspiria-- beautiful, elegant, gory, and terrifying—is one of his best.

7:00—The Exorcist (dir. William Friedkin, 1973)

Let Jesus fuck you!

9:00—The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1975)

The first of two “horror musicals” we’ll be watching during this marathon. Forget what you heard about the Neil Labute/ Nicolas Cage remake—this is one damn good movie. Scary, weird, sexy, and altogether awesome. Brit Ekland’s naked song and dance scene is especially memorable, even though it turns out they used a body double because the director was reportedly dissatisfied with her ass for some reason.

10:30—Black Christmas (dir, Bob Clark, 1974)

I’ve written about this movie on this blog before, so I won’t say much about it here, except to reiterate what I’ve said all along: Scariest movie ever.

Midnight—Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)

Largely considered to be one of the best slasher movies of all time, and directly inspired by the film we just watched.

1:30—Demoni (Demons) (dir. Lamberto Bava, 1985)

A little break from the intensity of the last two movies—this is the kind of movie they used to show on the USA Network at three in the morning when I was a kid. Basically, you’ve got a group of people in a movie theater, and they start to turn into green-paint vomiting ghouls… for some reason. It’s actually more like a zombie movie than a demon movie, but… Well, I don’t want to give too much away. Needless to say, it wallows in its low budget, Eurotrash griminess. It’s not to be missed.

3:00—Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)

There aren’t a lot of monster movies on this list. So here’s one—the greatest one of all time, if you ask me.

5:00—Hellraiser (dir. Clive Barker, 1987)

Most of Clive Barker’s efforts are kinda… meh. And the vast majority of the Hellraiser movies are profoundly unwatchable. That’s why it’s surprising to realize that the first two are actually totally awesome. Hell, it turns out, is like an S & M club that you can never leave, populated by insect demons and ghouls with impossible piercings. This movie’s genuinely scary, due in no small part to the connection it makes between sex and terror.

6:30-- Hellbound: Hellraiser II (dir. Tony Randel, 1988)

Okay, the only sequel on the list-- and I even had to leave out my all-time favorite slasher movie A Nightmare on Elm Street to make room for it. It just seems to me that the first two Hellraiser movies link together to tell a larger story in a way most horror movies and their sequels do not. Think Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, only with people who don’t have skin.

8:00—Cannibal! The Musical (dir. Trey Parker, 1996)

After spending three hours in Clive Barker’s hell, we’re probably ready for an intellectual palate-cleanser. So here’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, years before South Park, in a film they made while undergrads at the University of Colorado. The movie tells the “true” story of Alferd Packer, a man convicted of murder and cannibalism in the late 19th century, with singing and dancing. As the announcer in the trailer put it, this film is done “In the tradition of Friday the 13th… and Oklahoma."

9:30-- Frankenweenie (dir. Tim Burton, 1984)

A comic/ horror short about a boy and his resurrected monster dog. Something light, to prepare us for the tension of our final film…

10:00—Odishon (Audition) (dir. Takashi Miike, 1999)

And finally, to end our festival, the most fucked-up movie I’ve ever seen. If Tobe Hooper and David Lynch could somehow have a kid together, I think that kid would be Takashi Miike. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is the most brutal, intense movie I’ve ever seen. Like an Eli Roth film, this movie revels in physicality and carnage. Unlike an Eli Roth film, this movie is shot beautifully and has a larger point to make beyond just blood and guts and gratuitous nudity. The perfect film to end a horror marathon on, I think.

So that’s it. Already, I’m filled with remorse. No Psycho? What about Phantasm? And for God’s sake, what about the classic silent horror movies like Nosfertatu and the Barrymore Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Ah well. There’s always next year.

For a good time ...

Check out these pictures on my brother's blog.

He's currently living in Hakodate, Japan (on the island of Hokkaido). He found some, um, interesting store names.

Poem Published, Typographical Stuff

I had a poem published today which I never dreamed would be published: first, it's political, and political is a hard sell to most literary journals. Second, it's a "closet drama": a form somewhat out of favor, it seems to me. Third, it's full of crass, naughty words (mainly I'm just a potty mouth). And fourth, it has weird typographical stuff at the end, which I wondered if anyone would even want to bother with. So hurrah for acedmagazine.com, whose editor likes my politics, my potty mouth, my strange typefaces and the exquisiteness of closet drama!

Incidentally, I'll be doing a feature on gay marriage for the same magazine, shortly...

And Jon Stewart is on vacation...

You know that Stewart has got to be wondering if his vacation time works on odd news stories like washing your car does on thunderstorms, because no sooner does he take a week off than we get this:

In Shirley MacLaine's new book, the actress and longtime friend of Dennis Kucinich makes an interesting claim: During a visit to her home in Washington state, Kucinich said he saw a UFO and heard messages from it.

"Dennis found his encounter extremely moving," MacLaine writes. "The smell of roses drew him out to my balcony where, when he looked up, he saw a gigantic triangular craft, silent, and observing him.

"It hovered, soundless, for 10 minutes or so, and sped away with a speed he couldn't comprehend. He said he felt a connection in his heart and heard directions in his mind."

I knew his pockets were a gateway to another dimension.

On not giving birth

First off, I like other people's children. In great part because they are not mine and I do not have to take them home with me. Long ago I realized that I did not want to give birth -- and I haven't changed my mind.

So, I was interested to see Helen Mirren's comments about remaining childless. She explains that as a young teen, she watched one of those films that explained the process of childbirth (including the requisite pictures of the crowning). She found this rather traumatizing.

I have a similar recollection, but that's not yet my point.

Anyway, Mirren didn't want to have children, so she didn't.

I read through the comments on the Huffington Post. Most of the comments are either about how beautiful and/or miraculous childbirth is or about how disgusting children are and/or overpopulated the planet is.

The comments that stuck out for me, though, were the ones that suggested that Helen Mirren must have "other issues" that led to her choice of remaining childless. One commenter even explained that "I think the idea that seeing the birth of a child could keep someone from ever having a child is a bit, how shall I say, overly dramatic... I think there are other issues she perhaps has not identified."

This grates at me. A lot. In part, because this commenter has the gall to presume that Helen Mirren -- a 62 year old woman (and one presumably past menopause) -- must have some issues that she has not yet identified. But it bothers me so much more because this commenter assumes that the choice to be childless -- or the choice to avoid giving birth -- means that a person has some "issues."

I hate when people essentialize womanhood in this way. Having a baby or not having a baby doesn't mean a person has issues. Having a baby doesn't "make" a woman a woman any more than not having a baby prevents me from being one.

Will the wingnuts make this a three-way race?

The threat has been there for months, simmering under the surface--religious conservatives aren't satisfied with the frontrunners on the Republican side, but see Hillary Clinton as Satan's lesbian lover, and so are torn. Rudy Giuliani has lots of socially liberal baggage (though if you think he wouldn't sell out abortion and gay rights for the support of the wingnuts, you're delusional), and Mitt Romney is, well, a Mormon. Fred Thompson isn't quite as conservative as he was first billed, and Mike Huckabee can't get anyone to give him any money, and without money, you're not a candidate.

Third party, anyone?

NEWSWEEK: So we wanted to ask you, first of all, about the third-party idea and whether it's serious. A number of people are suggesting it's just a threat.

Richard Land: My intuition [is that] this is not a bluff. If Giuliani is the nominee there will be a third party. There are things that Giuliani could do to help mitigate the damage. But I have been in too many discussions over the last 15 years where evangelical leaders have said, "The one thing we will never allow to happen is for the Republican Party to take us for granted the way the Democratic Party too often takes the African-American community for granted."
This is not a bluff.

He might be serious. I hope he is, for purely selfish reasons. After all, he's at least honest enough to admit that if it happens, his candidate won't win.
[NEWSWEEK]: So what you are saying, as a bottom line, is that you would be prepared to help Hillary [Clinton] get elected if Giuliani were in the race?

[Richard Land]:Well, I personally wouldn't be saying that … It's just [that] I'm not willing or able to violate my moral conscience. It would be like asking an African-American to choose between Strom Thurmond and George Wallace or asking Abe Lincoln to vote for a pro-slavery candidate. I personally can't do it. I am not going to criticize those who choose the lesser-of-two-evils option. [But] I can't do it, and my guess is somewhere between 25 percent and a third of our people won't do it.

Let's set aside for the moment the disgusting rhetoric that compares Hillary Clinton to a couple of racist segregationists, and look at the numbers. He acknowledges that no more than a third of his people, that is, social conservative evangelicals, would refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party nominee. Those aren't winning numbers--they're spoiler numbers. And if Land has an inflated sense of the number of people who listen to him, they're Nader numbers, or worse.

I suppose an overconfident person would say, it really doesn't matter--the Democratic party nominee is probably going to romp in 2008, barring some extraordinary event in the meantime, so a third party would mean the difference between a 6 point victory and an 8 point victory, and if this election does become more of a referendum on which party gets to lead than on which personality inhabits the White House, that's probably the case. Most Republican strategists are basically ceding 2 to 6 Senate seats and a handful of House races already. So why even talk about further dividing the already weakened conservative vote?

I think part of it has to do with the idea among socially conservative evangelicals that big losses are purifying acts. In his book American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips, while discussing the rise of the Southern Baptist Convention after the Civil War writes:
Because of its theological weight, Scripture could not be abandoned when the Confederacy experienced disheartening reverses, as with the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863 or Lee's defeat at Gettysburg. Searching again, southerners opened their Bibles to different passages. In the words of James McPherson, "Like Job, many southerners concluded that God was testing their faith as a preparation for reformation and deliverance; as a southern woman put it, 'The Lord loveth whom he chasteneth.'"

Besides, God's chosen people had been led into captivity before--by the Egyptians and the Babylonians---only to eventually triumph. In Still Fighting the Civil War, David Goldfield concluded that "southerners not only accepted adversity; they wore it as a hair shirt of faith...As white evangelicals restored southern pride and dignity, they convinced themselves that the war has been part of a grand design, as one minister noted in 1866: 'God is working out larger ends that those which concern us as a people.'"
Page 144
For this small group of people, a massive loss for not only their candidate, but the party candidate they deemed unacceptable has a twofold benefit. First, they're able to feel pure about their personal decision, and second, they can look at the coming experience under the winner--the evil one, if you will--as a chance to prove their faithfulness under fire.

If that rhetoric sounds familiar, that's because it is. There's precious little difference between that logic and the Nader's arguments in 2000, that we have to allow the country to be destroyed by conservatives before people will believe that it needs rebuilding. I think he's been proven right--conservatism has indeed done considerable damage to the country--but I'd rather he hadn't been so instrumental in proving the case, because the last 7 years have come at considerable cost to a lot of innocent people along the way.

So will Land and Dobson make good on their threat to run a third party candidate if Giuliani is the party nominee? My gut tells me no, if only because they have a personal stake involved. If they go third party and the election is even remotely close, they'll be pariahs in the party, and never trusted again, and they know that. Why take that risk? You only do it if you're a true believer in the power of purifying pain. I'm cynical about the depths to which fundamentalist believers actually believe their own mouthings, though perhaps I shouldn't be, given my background. Gary Bauer started the process at the recent Values Voters convention by playing the "Even Rudy is better than Hillary" card, though he was alone in doing it. I don't blame Dobson and Land for holding out--why concede before the nomination process is done?--but the cynic in me says that they'll say exactly the same thing in 2008, once the nominee is selected, and it's not Mike Huckabee.

I wrote a little review

On the blog here a week or so ago for Perry Moore's book Hero, which is just a great (and fun) little story about a young man who is a true superhero, and who is gay. It's just a great story, but it's also a sensitive coming-of-age story, and an action packed sock-em-up in traditional super hero form. Its author recently published in Harpers a little list he compiled of real-world gay comic book heroes, and their fates. I offer it in full:

AMAZON: crippled, made a supervillain terrorist, electrocuted

APOLLO: gang-raped

BATWOMAN: revealed as a closeted lesbian, kidnapped, tortured; stabbed herself through the stomach with a sword

BLARNEY COCK: disemboweled, whereupon a gerbil crawled out of his anus

BLOKE: killed on first mission

NED CAMPBELL: slashed into bits after his wife finds him having sex with a male lover


CAPTAIN POWER: disfigured by an explosion, driven to insanity, murder

CHAIN: dead

KAROLINA DEAN, HULKING, & WICCAN: tortured while straight teammates were not


DESTROYER: in the closet

FRENCHIE DUCHAMP: alcoholic, double-amputee; beaten nearly to death with his prosthetic leg

ELECTRO: realized he was a homosexual after a lengthy stint in prison

EL EXTRANO, “THE STRANGE ONE”: attacked by an AIDS vampire

FAUNA: dead

FREEDOM RING: finger sliced off; impaled on twenty-eight spikes, including one through the groin and anus

GREEN ARROW II/CONNOR HAWKE: made retroactively heterosexual

HOODED JUSTICE: murdered by teammate

ICE: murdered, last seen in hell

JARVIS: shot through the head, dead

JERICHO: impaled on his father’s sword

JETMAN: blackmailed by a villain who threatens to out him

KARMA: raped as a child, kidnapped, disfigured; later reappears but is too fat to move on her own

WALTER KASKO: killed in a botched gang-slaying

MADAME FATAL: dead; his funeral, attended by drag queens, is mocked

MIDNIGHTER: heart ripped out

MONSIEUR MALLAH & THE BRAIN: sadistic gorilla and disembodied brain in a jar; searching for a body for the Brain so they can consummate their love

MOONDRAGON: kidnapped, ear ripped off by a villain who makes her girlfriend deliver it to Moondragon’s father as a ransom note

NORTHSTAR: killed in three different realities, resurrected as a zombie assassin

OBSIDIAN: depowered, corrupted by his sexual strife, manipulated by dark forces, thwarted in an attempt to destroy the world, made a security guard for a team of heterosexual superheroes but not allowed to sit with them at the table

PHAT: dead

PIED PIPER: parents murdered by teammate

RAWHIDE KID: revealed he was only pretending to be gay

ROBIN: exposed as a villain; explained that his turn to the dark side was due to his unrequited love for Batman

SHATTERSTAR: rewritten as a heterosexual

SHOUT OUT: thumbs ripped off

SILHOUETTE: murdered, along with her lover, after being outed


ULTIMATE NORTHSTAR: shot at point-blank range, left to die


WING: admitted crush to his mentor, who broke his arm and beat him; given a check for $750,000 and forced to leave his superhero group in dishonor

This really requires no further comment: if you believe that gay people are, in fact, people, and not "things" which are icky and detestable, the list is appalling. I'm sure I do not make a novel observation when I suppose that homophobia runs especially hot in worlds dominated by hormonal young men, and obviously the trend has been to either kill off or "un-gay" -- or in some cases outright humiliate, and then also possibly kill -- the gay character. But comics have in the last decade or so expanded their audience base beyond the bepimpled newly-baritoned, so here's hoping. One of the things I liked most about Hero was how it dealt openly with the crisis of being both a superhero and gay -- I mean, the league has an image to keep up, doesn't it? So on and so forth -- but of course being a hero means more than being strong -- it means being brave, and doing the right thing even when you know you'll take endless abuse for it.

One more reason that it, for all it's poppish appeal, Perry Moore's little book might have a worthwhile place in a lit class.


One entry found.


Main Entry:

Late Latin crapulosus, from Latin crapula intoxication, from Greek kraipalē
1 : marked by intemperance especially in eating or drinking
: sick from excessive indulgence in liquor

...Too early in the week?

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