Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Nashville readers

Get religion does a great gotcha on a British snob who presumes that people in the Bible Belt don't read. Read the whole thing; it's worth it.

But here's what snagged my interest. They did a seat-of-the-pants survey of the top books ordered from from regions inside and outside the Bible Belt (the Bible Belt readers were doing quite well, thank you), but check this out:
1. The Praktikos Chapters on Prayer by Evagrius Ponticus
2. Wisdom of the Celtic Saints by Edward C. Sellner, Susan McLean-Keeney
3. Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses by Abraham Malherbe
4. Athanasius: The Life of Anthony and the Letter To Marcellinus by Robert C Gregg
5. Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller by Marshall Chapman
6. Celtic Spirituality by Oliver Davies, Thomas O'Loughlin
7. Discipline for Life: Getting it Right with Children by Madelyn Swift
8. Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, edited by G.R. Evans
9. Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense, edited by Edmund Colledge, Bernard McGinn
10. The Rule of St. Benedict: In English by Benedict, et al

As someone in the comments asked, "What's the deal with Nashville?" It looks like the whole town is joining a pre-Schism Church reading group. Maybe the Patriarch of Constantinople should move to Nashville. "American Byzantium" has a nice ring.

Scene to chapter to act to novel

There's a parallel structure in fiction that runs from the overall arc of the novel down through act, chapter and scene--and, so I've heard, down through paragraph and sentence.

There are a lot of different terms for these different aspects, but a central reality at the heart of all of them:

Character starts in her *ordinary world*, her everyday life, in which she has some problem or desire that's bigger than she's aware of. Something happens, something extraordinary that throws her out of that world, out of her comfortable set of presuppositions. The world as she knows it is gone (inciting incident).

She responds to this new world, learning its tricks and traits, acquiring new skills to deal with it. Nevertheless, it's too much for her, and it gets worse and worse, and defeat is imminent,

Until she pulls her resources together and fights back (crisis). There is an outcome to the struggle, for good or ill (climax), and she returns to a state of equilibrium with the original problem having been addressed (resolution).

Summary: ordinary world -> inciting incident -> crisis -> climax -> resolution.

Now here's what I've learned. The novel is made up of acts. Act I leads up to the inciting incident; Act II leads up to the climax; Act III is the resolution. The inciting incident is the climax of Act I, and the climax is the climax of Act II, and the process of resolution in Act II contains its own climax. In other words, each act has its own story arc, beginning with an ordinary world (the situation as it is at the beginning of the act), followed by reversal, response, decision, outcome of decision and a return to some kind of balance--the character incorporating new information--before the beginning of the next act.

It also works on a chapter level. The chapter is a series of scenes, leading through the same series of steps, but on a smaller scale and within the building of the overall arc. (In screenplay terms, a sequence is the rough equivalent of a chapter.)

So, to give an example, detective Josh Blain goes into a bar, having just interviewed the dead man's widow, to ask the bartender what he knows about the murder. Even though it's chapter 13, he begins from a point of relative equilibrium (ordinary world). He asks the bartender, gets slipped a mickey, and finds himself tied up and tossed into a cellar (inciting incident). He makes several attempts to untie himself, and then he smells smoke. They've set the building on fire with him in it. On the verge of despair, he gathers his resources and burns the rope through (crisis), then escapes just in time to get the license number of the retreating car (climax). Now he knows something more about the killer and goes on to chapter 14.

And each scene has a similar, but smaller arc of rising and fallng action. In the first scene of Josh Blain chapter 13, Blain walks into the bar (ordinary world). The bartender, instead of answering his questions civilly, tells him to get the hell out (reversal of expectations--inciting incident). Blain threatens the bartender, and the bartender threatens back (rising action). Blain collects his resources and tries a more amicable approach (crisis). The bartender gives him a drink and talks to him. Then Blain realizes that he has been slipped a mickey (climax). The world goes fuzzy and he blacks out (resolution). In the next scene, he wakes bound in a cellar with a roaring headache, and that's his next "ordinary world."

I've been told that this carries down to the paragraph and to the sentence. Is that true? Is it an optimum to work for?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Of Roasted Brians and Other National Cousins

I've got to run this morning, so I'll just send you off to a funny column in the Moscow Times about mangled English in Azerbaijan.

Here's a taste (so to speak):
In restaurants, menus offer weird and wonderful dishes, from "Hot and Cold Snakes" to "Blins under Cold Sores." My personal favorite is "Roasted Brians." is another source of these translation oddities, although there, sometimes, it's not so much mangled as just translated from one inscrutable culture to another, such as today's label on a pair of pants:

Mountaineer and Fisherman
of Favorite Style
Surprised Pants
The New State of Color
For Your Healthgiving

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Oregon Berries

It all started when a Dutchman named Maarten asked blogger Matt about Oregon. Douglas referred him to my site, which wasn't particularly Oregonian at the time. But I had talked about Charles Williams, and Matt is a fan, so he mentioned this site on his.

Well today, we went berry picking, and to my readers who don't live in berry country, I can only say Too bad.

So sad.

What a pity.

A couple of pies are cooling on the stove right now.

Oh, and thanks also to Douglas (yes, the same one) for the html lesson on using the "title" tag. That's how I persuaded the little box to appear with the berry names when you hold the mouse over the photos.

The door remains closed (for now)

At GetReligion, Terry Mattingly posts this photo of a door in Constantinople (Istanbul to those who count the past 550 years as more important than the prior 1450).

It's symbolic, because it's a door into the Phanar, the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate there, which was welded shut after the Turks hanged Patriarch Gregory V after the 1821 Greek rebellion.

Now, in an effort to prove that Turkey has religious freedom and merits entry into the European Union, the Turkish government is thinking of allowing the Orthodox Seminary at Halki, closed since 1971, to reopen. The Greek community has been progressively hemmed and harried from the Ottoman conquest until now. Mattingly writes:
There are fewer than 2,000 Greek Orthodox Christians left in Istanbul, most of them elderly. Turkish law requires the patriarch to be Turkish and, quite literally, if the current patriarch died tomorrow he would be almost impossible to replace.

He adds that the Turkish government says it will reopen the seminary when the Church opens the welded door. The Church replies that it will reopen the welded door when the Turkish government permits it to open the seminary. It sounds like a squabble going on right now between two high-school girls of my acquaintance, but I guess that shows how important the symbolic gestures are rather than how trivial the parties are.

I wonder if it's too late to save the Patriarchate of Constantinople, one of the five great patriarchates of the ancient Church.

The Onion Dome is up

This week's Onion Dome is posted. Alex discovers a convert who doesn't like Way of a Pilgrim, I've covered this week's lineup on The Orthodox TV Network, and Marie visits But and Mary Jane and Her and Alice at the Summer Festival at St. Serious of Radonezh Retreat Center.

Friday, June 25, 2004

As I Lay Lying

This is the last you'll see about the Clinton memoir here, but The Minor Fall, the Major Lift has a brilliant parody in the style of William Faulkner:

Here are a few paragraphs:
There was a fire in it and Vince squatting in his shirt tail in front of it, chunking Rose Law Firm records into the blaze.

"What you know about it." Hilsey said. "What trance you been in."

"Dont need no trance." Vernon said. "Aint the sign of it laying right there on that bed. Aint the sign of it been here for folks to see four years now."

"Spose it is." Hilsey said. "It aint hurt none of you and yourn, is it. Mack working and McDougal dead off your hands and A.G. getting big enough to take Billy's place when term limits finish getting him."

Read the whole thing.

SOURCE: Maud Newton, including a nomination for the Bulwer-Lytton Award.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

From grammar to voice

I haven't read the best-selling grammar-advocacy book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, not for any reason of taste or principle, but just because it hasn't risen to the top of my stack (it's a tall stack). Now Louis Menand in his New Yorker review of the book says I haven't missed much. I've got some disagreements with his grammatical issues, but they're not worth blogging about.

The second half of his article talks about "voice" in writing, and it's well worth reading. He begins:
One of the most mysterious of writing's immaterial properties is what people call "voice." Editors sometimes refer to it, in a phrase that underscores the paradox at the heart of the idea, as "the voice on the page." Prose can show many virtues, including originality, without having a voice. It may avoid cliché, radiate conviction, be grammatically so clean that your grandmother could eat off it. But none of this has anything to do with this elusive entity the "voice."

As you can see, he defines "voice" not as the essential something, the DNA, about anyone's writing, but more as an engaging manner of writing that hooks the reader by its style of conversation. I hold with the first definition, but all the same, he makes some pertinent observations about that second definition of "voice" (whatever might be a better term for it).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Greater Trumps

I don't read Charles Williams in quite the same way I read other novels, unless every novel is different, which is a possibility. I don't read him for the puzzle, for the "Aha! I know that person!," for the eye-popping descriptions. I know when I pick up one of his novels--or his poetry for that matter--that it's not going to be a beach read, but I bought a used copy of The Greater Trumps a few months ago, and when I finally got around to reading it, it was as hard to put down as people tell me The DaVinci Code is (next on deck is a Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, another puzzler, and a different kind of delight altogether, but I was talking about Williams).

Williams is controversial in some Christian circles, and Trumps is a perfect example of why: An ancient Tarot deck has a perfect correspondence with golden figurines who illustrate the dance of the cosmos. Fortune-telling, manipulation of the environment, murder and mayhem--and those are the good guys; in another of Williams's novels, a man who has practiced witchcraft his whole life is finally redeemed because he truly loved Satan, and that love is enough of a hook for Love to catch hold of.

Williams also has some unusual spiritual ideas, such as co-inherence, which I wouldn't dare try to explain, but will only hint that people can really bear each other's burdens, literally and truly, even spiritual ones. It's an idea best explained through poetry, and his poetry is difficult (though it rewards the effort).

And if anyone can explain Shadows of Ecstasy to me, I would be grateful.

Compared to his Arthurian saga in poetry and Shadows, Trumps is a walk in the park (OK, walk in the park through a cataclysmic snowstorm). Here's how the Charles Williams Society summarizes the plot:
The Greater Trumps (1932) has the original set of Tarot cards coming into the posession of an English legal official, with devastating results, of which the threat of a universal snowstorm is only one. Williams's use of symbolism is close to its highest here.

His description of the cosmos as participating in a dance, from the atomic level through the decisions of human beings, is something that strikes very close to home for an Orthodox Christian (Williams was Catholic), and his character of Sybil Coningsby, the protagonist's maiden aunt who is very advanced in the ways of Messias, as Williams calls Christ in his novels (why does he do that?), gives a speculative glimpse into the mind of a great saint.

I never know quite what to do with Williams. His works stir my soul in ways that I can't say are bad, but they are so idiosyncratic that I can't abandon myself to their currents either.

Here are a few lines that I copied into my notebook, thinking, "I wish," but wondering . . . .
. . . responsibility, that task put into the hands of man in order that his own choice may render it back to its creator, that yoke which, once wholly lifted and put on, is immediately no longer to be worn.

I can proof-text it, too, but is it the mind of the Church?

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Who's reading your blog?

I've always been impressed that St. Jude and others read the classifieds page of the newspapers.

Now I learn that Allah reads Lileks.

What does it take, do you suppose, to get on God's blogroll? St. Seraphim's?

Just wondering.

Garage sale

I was out yesterday tending our garage sale. A great day for it--hot, in the sun at least. But in the breezy shade under the tree in the front yard, I communed with Charles Williams (+), Elmore Leonard (-) and then Umberto Eco (!) as the people came, looked over our stuff, bargained it down, and took it away. It was too hot to sell the sweaters.

More than half the people who came were from somewhere else--Hispanics mostly, but also Slavs and Middle-Easterners, some with barely accented English, others with little English or none, paying 50 cents or a dollar for a clothes, books, puzzles, learn-to-read games. A Russian asked me if I'd take a quarter for a nice teen-ager's fleece pullover (perfect for Oregon winters). I said it's a good pullover; I was hoping for 50 cents. He looked dubious. Fifty cents. I said how about three for a dollar. Done. Hah. I drive a hard bargain, eh?

The best was the two little Hispanic girls with their mom, who bought I forget what and found she had enough left over to ask about the stuffed animals. My daughter is selling them for 50 cents for the little ones and a dollar for the big ones. Well, the little girls were so cute that we called the middle-sized bunnies they picked "small," and they went away hugging their new toys.

Planning and organizing the things are always a hassle. Siphoning through the junk, putting the ad in the paper, putting up signs, coming up with displays. I always hate the idea of it, and then enjoy the negotiating, marketing, people-watching and long stretches of sitting in the shade with a book or talking to a neighbor. What can be better than that? (I know. A lot of things. But it's up there--somewhere.)

I go away lighter (especially after delivering the unsold stuff to the Goodwill), and the folks go away with that special glow that comes from getting a nice stuffed toy for 50 cents or three good jackets for a dollar.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Damick does it again

Andrew Damick poses a question that has puzzled me a lot over the years: Why Should the Devil Get All the Good Music? Instead of bemoaning the incroachment of rock 'n' roll into the "sanctuary" or observing that the melody to "The Star-Spangled Banner" came from a drinking song, he actually gets at the philosophy behind some of the "church" music trends these days.
Most popular Christian art in America shares the same essential assumptions as secular art, so it is largely trying to accomplish the same thing ­ products are being created for a particular market, artists are engaging in self-expression, and art is being consumed as entertainment.  . . . How many times have we heard songs in which the object of affection could just as easily be Jesus or a boyfriend?

. . . . Christian artists find their stylistic inspiration in secular art, then “change the lyrics” to fit the tastes of a Christian sub-cultural market.  . . . Meanwhile, while secular art is being repainted with the face of Jesus on it for the Christian consumer, secular artists have moved on to the next big thing, leaving their Christian contemporaries to catch up in the next few years.

And then, having addressed the phenomenon, he gets to the answer for it, an answer worthy of (probably inspired by) Fr. Alexander Schmemann:
First, there ought to be no separation between the sacred and the secular.  Rather, all must be made sacred. The secular should be subsumed into the sacred, baptizing it in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, cleansing it of what is impure and vivifying it with the uncreated life of the Holy Trinity.  Or to consider the issue from another angle, Mother Raphaela in her book Growing in Christ says, “Rather than thinking in terms of putting Christ into our Christmas, we may rather think in terms of putting ourselves, including our Christmas, into Christ” (p. 35).

We must make Christ our cultural atmosphere.  We must make our source of inspiration not the spirit of the age but rather the Holy Spirit.  We must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, a transcendent and eternal culture which is the life of becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).  This pursuit of the sacred is a denial of the very existence of secularity, which has no real existence, being ultimately nihilistic.  In previous ages, when the idea of having a non-religious society did not even occur to most people, all art was what today might be identified as “religious” but to our forefathers was simply “art.”

I've blogged Damick's thoughts on Christianity and the arts before, at Fellowship of St. Caedmon. Apparently, this essay is the introduction to an upcoming book of his titled The Transfiguration of Culture: Orthodox Christianity and the Arts. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

They should withhold their next payment

Bloggers are outraged
that Dave Winer pulled the plug on their blogs without warning.

He'd been hosting 3,000 blogs on his server for free, beginning in 2000. Now, because of time, financial and health demands, he decided that he couldn't do it any more. So he stopped.

People woke up Monday morning to discover that they didn't have a blog.

Bummer. I'd be shocked, too, if it happened to me. I confess that for all the bells and whistles on this site--template, server storage, site meter, blog indexes, comments, I've paid not one penny (it's probably obvious). It's a choice I've made, and an option I'm grateful for. When one of these free benefits stops working, either it gets fixed or I drop it. But calling the giver an "egomaniacal blowhard" is just plain weird.

Blogger belongs to Google now, another free service, but it has long-term stability. But we haven't signed any contract. I keep copies of my own archives on my own hard drive. If Blogger sometime decides to collect fees for the service, I'll analyze the benefit against the cost and make a decision. But I won't accuse anyone of betraying "blogtopia."

Sheesh. Get a grip. (And back up.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Horror story settings

Abandoned buildings talk--they laugh and gibber and shriek like crazy old ladies. The folks at Dark Passage hear them, too.

It's a tour of some of the creepiest places around, like the tunnel that eats light and comes up under the house that used to hold the funeral home that processed H.P. Lovecraft's body.

I don't know why this photo of the Abandoned Science Institute in Yonkers seems so full of fantastic possibilities. It's a geenhouse, for Pete's sake, with red doors and light-streaming glass roof. But it's almost empty, and the gray light filtering in could be from a post-apocalyptic dawn or the gray afternoon on a haunted English manor. Looking through the series of doors gives the effect of looking into twinned mirrors and finding one of the images out of step with the rest.

There's also a story about the secret subway tunnels in New York and FDR's underground route from Grand Central Station to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

I read the fine print. They apparently don't care if you use their photos as a jumping-off place for horror fiction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I feel better already

I swear it's not schadenfreude. The author at debcentral (sorry, I've got my wrong glasses on and can hardly see the screen, much less read small white type against a black background) has kindly posted a gallery of her rejections.

I've got more of those than she shows on the web. Altogether, I may have more than anyone. But we have some of the same ones. And she's got some scrawled encouragement, and I've had some scrawled encouragement.

It's a club. I'm a member, and Deb's a member, and if you're a writer, you're probably a member, too.

One suggestion for the major fiction markets: if you made the rejections slips smaller, you could get, oh, maybe 150-200 of them out of one 8.5x11" sheet of paper. Don't worry about us. We'll buy microscopes to read them.

I've got a couple of stories I need to get back into circulation.

SOURCE: Maud Newton

The Storrow Drive Venus

If Charles Williams were blogging in the 21st century, he might sound something like Stephen Baldwin:
. . . as the discarded soda and beer cans bobbed along in the water's edge like rusting buoys in a brown foam so disgusting that it seemed even the seagulls disdained to get their feet wet, I thought to myself: what kind of Venus would be born from the waves of an ocean into which such a river flowed?

And then suddenly - as if belched out from the guts of some mutant, bottom-feeding mollusc - there she was, standing before me in all her grotesque, obese, acne-scarred, frizzy-haired, gum-snapping, incoherent shouting glory.

I've been wanting to refer my readers to this blog for a while, but haven't found a passage to capture his quirky, ethereal prose. This one does it.

Sometimes it seems like he's obliquely referring to the world the rest of us know; sometimes not. But always worth a read, in my experience.

Monday, June 14, 2004

It's not just the Islamists who think Americans are Satanic

Apparently, the Greeks do, too.

I knew about the Greeks' disaffection for America, but Mike Epitropoulos, a scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, writes that the disfavor goes beyond the Muslim immigrants and holdover communists. The Orthodox Church wrote a prayer to protect Greece from Western (especially American) tourists:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on the cities, the islands and the villages of this Orthodox Fatherland, as well as the Holy monasteries which are scourged by the worldly touristic wave.

I guess I'll delete Greece from my list of places I'd like to visit, sadly. I'd hate to be part of the "worldly touristic wave" inflicted on that unfortunate country.

Epitropoulos's piece is long and worth reading. I was particularly interested in the complicated relationship between Greek-Americans and their anti-American brethren back home.

Anyway, I just sent in my Onion Dome piece last evening, and if anyone wonders where I get such weird ideas, they're "ripped from the headlines."

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Bad advice

At the West Linn High School graduation last evening, the unpublished theme was "risk-taking": "Follow your dreams"; "The only thing you'll regret is not taking chances"; "Don't pay any attention to what the naysayers say."

Even the school board chair, Tom Bruggere, talking about his 40th reunion with the Berkely, Calif., High School Class of 1963, took up the meme. After a toss-off line about classmates who ruined their lives in Haight-Ashbury, he said that everyone was there (at the reunion), and the only thing anyone regretted was the risk not taken.

The dozen valedictorians, along with the various teachers and administrators, gave examples of good risks--going to college, moving from Ohio to Oregon, sky-diving, joining the Peace Corps--but they spoke before hundreds of high-school seniors, many of whom are already participating in high-risk behaviors. Even in an upper-middle-class school district like West Linn (or maybe especially in an upper-middle-class school district like West Linn), drug and alcohol abuse are rampant, as are sexually transmitted diseases, along with young drivers' reckless habits. These students already ignore the tiresome naysayers (the ones who still have the courage to say, "Nay") who tell them to stay straight and sober, get more education, learn delayed gratification.

No one mentioned delayed gratification throughout the whole evening, nor even a passing obervation that the value of risk taking depends on what's being risked and the possible rewards. No, the consensus was that risk is an objective good, no further analysis needed.

I'm sure that Bruggere was not accurate when he said everyone was at his 40th high-school reunion; I wish he had mentioned what happened to the ones who ruined their lives at Haight Ashbury. And the view that his classmates regretted not taking more chances tells more about their dissatisfaction with their own lives than about the value of risk for high-school seniors, because it's impossible to know what the outcome of an untaken action would have been.

Probably most of the kids in their green robes and flat hats were too excited to hear the speeches anyway. But I wish that someone had the courage to lead, to inspire, to push toward greatness, rather than just to advise the kids to "follow their dreams" and then turn to the next class.

UPDATE: Here is the commencement address I wish someone had given. It may be what they meant, but were too careless with words to say (which is understandable in high-school kids, even a dozen valedictorians, but I wish there were more to administrators. Oh well.)

Friday, June 11, 2004

Do you think anyone would notice if I started talking like this?

In his Telegraph UK column, Oliver Pritchett has struck a chord for grace and elegance in language.

Think how much more beautiful our airports would be if this message told us to mind our bags:
"Put not thy trust in bags that are unattended, for it may be the work of thine enemies who seek to devour thee. Go forth first and find a man who travaileth in the terminal and speak unto him, saying, 'Behold, this suitcase standeth alone like a rock in the desert.' Then shall the man seek out the forgetful person who left the suitcase there and he shall chastise him."

Or this warning:
"Great is this carton for it containeth a brand new personal computer. Let its ways be for ever upright. Let no man smite and let not the rain fall down upon it. For if the heathen droppeth it from a great height it will be destroyed and all its software with it and the heathen will then rend his garments and hide his face."

Lo, my heart bends to form such beauty of speech from the words of my mouth, but my soul quails within me, for those who travail beside me would laugh me to scorn, and those among whom I dwell would rend their garments and cry out to the LORD: "Alas! for our mom has gone off the deep end at last, and we are smitten with grief, for it was hard enough to understand her before!"

Verily did this link come from GetReligion.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Orthodox radio on the Web

I love Incarnation Broadcast Network, which is why it's so maddening that it's so charmingly wonky. (I listen by way of Live 365.)

A Liturgy in fine Byzantine chant is interrupted suddenly by a whiney-voiced woman giving an honestly inspiring reflection about the Fatherhood of God.

When she finishes, a Liturgy begins that has the background noise of a hotel conference room, so badly recorded (on top of being badly sung) that it literally hurts my ears (I'm listening at work with earphones).

I have to tune out, because I can't stand it, but when I come back a little later, the noted Orthodox musicologist Vladimir Morosan is giving a talk on the late-19th-, early-20th-century Russian liturgical music composer whose name I didn't quite catch. I had hopes of learning about him in more depth, but it was not to be.

Morosan is interrupted by a minute or so of Russian Church bells, followed by yet another program of liturgical music, interrupted by yet more church bells.

Then we get a 30-second snippet of a talk about the role of the unordained theologian in Eastern and Western theology. I've just gotten hooked when it switches to Pascal vespers.

Bewildered, I go away to Pat's Guitar Jazz, which at least has a program and plays the song all the way through.

Incarnation Broadcast is typically Orthodox--done with love and devotion, but seemingly built like the great churches of Byzantium, without a plan, just a pile of stones formed into arches and domes and overlaid with stunning frescoes that testify to the glory of God.

UPDATE: I suppose it's only fair to report a few days later a normal morning of Web radio at the Incarnation Broadcast Network. I heard the rest of Vladimir Morosan's discussion of Chesnikov (that's who it was), an excellent workshop-type lecture on the measure of one's closeness to God and good music played from beginning to end.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Emigres and immigrants

In his New York Times piece titled A Russian Émigré Finally Gets His Russian Passport, Serge Schmemann tells about his uncle's receipt of a Russian passport after decades of living as an emigre in France. Serge (I guess I can call him Serge, since he gave my newly adopted daughters and me a ride from Liturgy at St. Catherine's to where we were staying in Moscow in the mid-1990s. Funny how we presume on past kindnesses given us. Nevertheless, onward) writes gracefully, as always, about the long-term exile of some Russians.

His father, on the other hand, theologian and priest Father Alexander Schmemann, wrote in 1977:
I, for one, never emigrated from anywhere: I was already born an "emigrant," and although I have never been in Russia, I have always, since I was conscious, identified myself unequivocally as a Russian — and this despite my having lived almost 30 years in France and accepted French culture as something very close, almost my own; and in recent years, I can say without exaggeration, that I not only have embraced America, but have dedicated the major part of my life's work to it.

I can appreciate the loyalty of the exile, but even more, I appreciate the generosity of one who embraces a younger culture, who brings the gifts of his home to it, who enriches the lives of those who might otherwise never have known what he taught. Recommended reads: For the Life of the World and The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983,

Thanks to Geri Ethen for the tip.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Multicultural crisis in Eugene

Oh, please, is my first reaction to this "cultural crisis" recounted in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the newspaper of the University of Oregon in Eugene.

At a conference to teach students how to obtain jobs, a workshop leader told students that for best results they should use a firm handshake and good eye contact. One student said that in her culture, those things were discouraged.

The leader told the student that a small thing like that could distract the employer from her many finer qualities and lead to her losing the job. He called the syndrome "the blemish effect." (I could get started on human resources jargon, but it would be a side trail with no return.)

The student was offended, saying that the workshop leader must have thought her culture was a blemish. And she reported her discomfort to the Diversity Police at the Ethnic Diversity Affairs Committee, who instead of explaining the language of the culture where the student lives, proceeded to list recommendations so that no one (except those who hold traditional values) will ever be offended again.

These magic steps? Create a five-year plan to address the issues. (This is good. It should keep the Diversity Police busy for at least five years.) Develop standardized and enforced procedures for handling complaints. (The complaint form will be 12,010 pages long, continually growing, and computer readable, with such questions as "The workshop leader called my culture a blemish" Y/N.) Require diversity training for staff and faculty. (Now here's the employment opportunity. Only how does one get trained in diversity? The only way to keep from offending anyone is never to say anything. We may as well close down the university now and send those tender souls back to a culture that understands them.)

I love this:
Graduate student Jim Lyda, coordinator of the college's Ethnic Diversity Affairs Committee, said students of color in the college have experienced cultural insensitivity from some faculty members. He said local schools also have raised concerns that the college produces teachers who lack multicultural skills.

"That's kind of what we term a crisis," Lyda said.

It's kind of what they term a crisis. Does he mean it's almost a crisis? Or it fits into a broad category of things that they deem crises? Probably the latter, since I suspect their recommendations come up every six months or so.

What are students of color anyway? When I grew up in the 1960s, we referred to African-Americans as "colored people" (it was the polite term at the time, about four designations ago). But I can't imagine an African-American woman in a university setting being afraid to look someone in the eye. The woman's complaints sound more Asian to me. Have Middle and Far Easterners become "colored"?

Here's the thing: If a simple misunderstanding provokes a crisis, then I would guess that not many professors refer to their students as "ragheads" or "frogs." And if the sensitivity patrol can't help deal with real cultural misunderstandings, but call them crises and propose programs and standardized tests, then who loses?

As far as I can tell, no one helped the "student of color" figure out what her options are when she's job interviewing and some employer reaches across his desk to shake her hand. Have him arrested for insensitivity?

Source: Tongue Tied

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Blood libels and American politics

I'd like to see a survey of the relationship between various blood libels and genocide down through history. My hypothesis is that there are several roles in the development of genocide.

First, the idea-shapers promote the libel--that Jews eat children, that Christians drink blood, that blacks are apes or whites are soulless ghosts. It begins with the accusation of heinous crimes and progresses to a denial of human status.

Then others dissociate themselves from the subjects of the libel, so that they are not caught in its net: "First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew . . . ."

Finally, the genocide takes place, with the cooperation or at least the nonintervention of those who have been persuaded that the victims deserve it. I suspect that the same process has taken place before every genocide in history. Not that the blood libel always precedes genocide, but that genocide is always preceded by the blood libel.

What brings this to mind is Michael Feingold's theatre review of King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe. Feingold reads it as an allegory about George W. Bush. For a good deconstructionist critic, literature is always about whatever the critic himself is thinking about at the time, but Foreman's program notes support his view: "I hope [that the play's fictional devices] allow many levels of theatrical irony and comic energy to coexist with my anguished point of view concerning the direction in which current American policy is leading us."

But as far as I can tell the libel is Feingold's, not Foreman's:
Republicans don't believe in the imagination, partly because so few of them have one, but mostly because it gets in the way of their chosen work, which is to destroy the human race and the planet. Human beings, who have imaginations, can see a recipe for disaster in the making; Republicans, whose goal in life is to profit from disaster and who don't give a hoot about human beings, either can't or won't. Which is why I personally think they should be exterminated before they cause any more harm. (emphasis added)

We've seen it all: the Bush=Hitler signs; the bumpersticker that reads "Lobotomies for all Republicans: It's the law"; the unwillingness, even on the part of such "reasonable" and nuanced parties as the Religious Left, to acknowledge that their opponents in the political arena may have the best interests of the poor at heart, even if different ways of pursuing those ends; and the accusation that Bush and his cabinet caused and profited from 9/11.

I know that there are people such as Michael Savage out there, profiting off the production of right-wing bile. But he is his own voice and not representative of anyone else. He is certainly not the media presence of the Village Voice or the organizations, such as who work with the Democratic Party. Nor are those voices as widespread on the right as on the left.

All the same, I wonder how seriously Feingold takes himself in this respect. If someone handed him a gun and promised not to prosecute him, would he join the firing squad? I ask this because I know people who make similar statements, and I wonder where their hearts are. It's only a joke, they would say, but would it be funny if it were turned the other direction?

And what would be the result if this blood libel triumphed?

(Link came from Politburo Diktat.)

UPDATE: Jessica's Well helpfully adds a yellow Republican star for us to wear on our clothes when the Feingoldian Brownshirts take charge.

Friday, June 04, 2004


Just finished reading G.K. Chesterton's novel Manalive, a story about the pursuit of joy.

Innocent Smith is a man with two legs, who discovered in college the truth behind the pessimistic philosphies of pre-World War I England: that the professors could talk gloom and despair all they wanted, but if bullet whizzed past their heads, they would be happy to be alive.

Building on that discovery, Smith goes to the ends of the earth (well, to the other side and back) to "find" his home and elopes with his wife again and again to keep the magic in the relationship.

It's classic Chesterton, with lines that make you laugh, scratch your head and then laugh again, with characters who talk deep philosophy in a way that actually works as fiction. Set in the context of a "trial" of the criminal Mr. Smith, the story carries echoes of the trial of Christ, then the holy fools, then a simple man who is searching for joy in his own life. The progression from Great Mystery to struggling person maintains the believablity of the character in a context that begs for unbelievability.

I had the story recommended to me by someone who had read my story, "The Fool." It's not the only "fool" story I've run across recently. Another friend gave me a paperback mystery about an accused arsonist similar to Max. Chesterton's fool is similar to the way I'd envisioned mine--they even share a wind--but Chesterton's work is longer. I didn't even dare to try to maintain mine for that length of work. His is funnier, bigger, wilder and more extravagant. I was trying to make mine something one might see any day and not realize. No one could see Innocent Smith without taking notice.

If I were in grad school, I'd think about a thesis on the fool in literature. It could be a big topic.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Israel: Sympathy or statecraft?

Chris Jones comments on Doesn't sound like apocalypticism to me:
I am a supporter and admirer of President Bush, but I think his remarks, as quoted, must be regarded as politically necessary rhetoric, not to be taken seriously as the truth.

Serious reflection on the meanings of the terms friend, ally, and democracy does not suggest that they apply particularly well to the State of Israel and her relationship to the United States. Sympathy, more than sober statecraft, has always driven our policy concerning Israel.

My response went over 1,000 characters, and my comments wouldn't hold it, but since I'm queen of this blog, I can post it right out here with as many characters as I want:

My distinction was between those who say that the only reason to support Israel must be the (to my mind) flawed correspondence between the biblical "Israel" and the modern state. There are other reasons, whether of statecraft or sympathy; neither is fundamentalist theology.

However, and again for all its faults, Israel holds up quite well in comparison to other allies (notice the lack of squirm quotes) such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and France. And it's alone and under seige. There are more non-Jewish Arabs elected to national political office in Israel than in any other country in the Middle East. May Iraq soon pass them in that distinction.

If the death-worshipers stopped killing Israeli kids and little old ladies, as well as Arabs, I would get back to criticizing Israeli policies again.

As for Bush, those who think he's stupid (not pointing at Chris) misunderestimate his strategery. We won't know to what extent for another 50 years or more, when the information is released and when we get past the passions of our times. I probably won't be here to see the definitive 20/20-hindsight biography, and I regret that.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Oprah picks Anna

Oprah Winfrey has picked Anna Karenina for her book club.

I've never watched Oprah's book club (not a snob, just never made the connection), but I'm impressed with this selection. If her fandom reads this impressive volume, it will ennoble our civilization. I'm serious.

I'm only sorry that Tolstoy can't collect the spike in royalties.