Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Call to Bloggers: Take Your Stand on Miers

I'm accepting The Truth Laid Bear: Call to Bloggers and taking a stand on Miers.

I support the Miers nomination.

I've heard a lot of arguments pro and con, but for me it comes down to two issues: 1) Is she qualified? 2) Did the president pick her?

1) That's not "is she the most qualified person we can imagine?" It's not "did she attend an Ivy League university and clerk for the Supreme Court?" It's not "does she take the 'right' stand on issues that are important to me?" It's "does she meet rational standards of ability to handle the questions posed to the Supreme Court?" Her background and experience say, "yes."

2) That's not "trust Bush." It's that the same Constitution Miers' opponents say they hold so dear gives the president -- Washington, Jackson, Roosevelt, Clinton, Bush -- the authority to pick Supreme Court Justices. If the nominees are qualfied (see #1 above), then they should be confirmed. Ginsburg, Souter, White and O'Connor were all qualfied, whether we like the outcome or not. If David Frum, Ann Coulter, George Will and the rest make the investment and take the risk to run for president, I will consider them for the office. If they win, they get to choose the Supreme Court nominees for seats that open during their administration. The idea that they can strong-arm the elected president (whoever he is) into making their pick is beneath them.

I want to get back to the written text of the Constitution as much as the next person, but if Republicans go back to it by violating it, there will be nothing to go back to.

Note to Fourth Estate

Very important distinction about the Second Estate:

A UPI story about the recent synod of Catholic bishops in Rome attempts to clarify the issue of priestly celibacy:
The Orthodox Church allows priests to marry, but those who do are not eligible to become bishops.

OK, here's where it gets tricky.

The Orthodox Church ordains married men.

Most if not all Protestant churches permit ordained men to marry (though it probably happens the other way more often), but we don't.

Notice the sequence: marry first, ordained to diaconate after (the priesthood, if it comes, comes after the diaconate).

I know it probably seems like an unimportant distinction to people who don't go to church, but we don't have "available" men leading Orthodox parishes. They're either married or monastic. I'm sure there are highfalutin theological explanations for this, but as a practical matter, having an eligible man as leader of a parish, hearing confessions, receiving the attentions of eligible (and ineligible) women, as well as the awareness that he might always be choosing "the one," frankly creeps me out.

Maybe that's just me. But I don't know the highfalutin theological explanation.

H/T: Father Joseph.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Orthodoxy for losers, freaks and failures

A famous Orthodox priest came to Portland last weekend. I won't give his name because I couldn't attend his presentation, and so this is not really about him, but about why I don't like to go to hear religious speakers anymore.

My friends and I -- the Fabulous Crones -- gathered Sunday afternoon for coffee and conversation, and two of them had gone to hear the presentation. The Famous Priest spoke Friday evening and then again all day Saturday. My fellow Crones were unimpressed.

They thought perhaps he was tired, but then we got down to it. He spent three hours Saturday morning talking about his family -- six kids, perfect wife, perfect dog, etc. (actually, they didn't say he mentioned his perfect wife or perfect dog, but I got the idea). I was glad I hadn't gone.

There should be a sign over the door of such retreats: Do not enter unless your children are under age 11 and your life is otherwise perfect.

"Oh," Famous Priest would protest, "but my life isn't perfect. Just last week, I stubbed my toe and uttered the 's' word. And my wife isn't perfect. Just last month she discovered a dust bunny under the piano. And of course child 1 didn't get his scholarship to Harvard so he's going to have to settle for Stanford; child 2 came back at 10:05 from a date last evening, and child 3 missed a homework assignment last year.

"So you see," Famous Priest continues, "we've got enough problems and sins to keep us humble, but of course we gather as a family and pray 45 minutes three times a day, just something simple you understand, and then we all relax as children 1 and 2 entertain us with light Bach pieces on the piano and violin as child 3 works on paintings for his upcoming art show."

I don't begrudge Famous Priest -- or anybody else -- his perfect life; in fact, I would wish it for everybody. But not being from Planet Perfect, i have a hard time relating to the effervescent assumption that I could move to Planet Perfect if only I had the right amout of optimism and discipline and spirituality and good character and wisdom and . . . . In other words, if only I were someone else, someone from Planet Perfect.

It's a recipe for despair.

Bring me a speaker to talk about "Orthodoxy for Losers, Freaks and Failures," someone who understand that Orthodox kids do meth, leave the church, sneak out at night, get sick, run away, get into car accidents; that Orthodox adults bring their own sins and gaps to their relationships and make things worse trying hard to make them better, hurt people deeply in ways that can't be corrected, zig when they should have zagged, and take on tasks that they're not qualified to handle, because all the better-qualified people are too busy and too wise to take the risk; that marriages break apart for good and bad reasons, that teen-aged girls cut themselves, and grown-ups live with the emotional and physical scars of past hurts and injuries.

Bring me one Orthodox speaker who is a loser, freak or failure to tell us people from Planet Loser about how to built our spiritual lives. I don't know what such a retreat leader would say, but I'd sure like to find out.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

'You have to break a few eggs . . .'

From the glass is only half empty department comes this New York Times review of the new biography of Mao: The Unknown story.

Nicholas Kristof reviews the book positively overall, and he credits the authors with having written a book that will ruin Mao's reputation forever. He says it "supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. . . . Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin."

Nevertheless, Kristof has reservations, because "Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China."

He details a lifelong history of deception, double-dealing, thuggery and indifference to other people's suffering. On the legendary Long March, Mao reports that he was carried on a litter. He tortured 4,400 "subversives" in the Red Army and had most of them executed, up to a quarter of the entire army, often by having red-hot rods forced up their rectums.

When the peasants were starving in the 1950s, he said, "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." He told Moscow that he would be willing to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time.
At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."
Seems like the comparison to Stalin holds up pretty well.

But Kristof has a bone or two to pick with the authors. For one thing, the authors say that close to 38 million died in the great famine from 1958 to 1961. But other authors say the number was maybe closer to 30 million and someone else says, no, it was just 23 million. I've got an idea. Let's Mao 23 million consecutive life sentences instead of 38 million.

Kristof sums up the legacy:
Finally, there is Mao's place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao's legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.
I wonder if Kristof recalls that land reform in Japan and Taiwan have brought far less suffering to their people than Mao's version of it, and in fact, if it hadn't been for Mao, China would probably have the freedom and economic vitality of Taiwan now, instead of having been devastated by famine and the Cultural Revolution; that women have been emancipated in many places without killing 70 million (or 55 million) people; that, as far as being one of the worst places to be a girl, what about the effects of the one-child-per-family policy on the population of girls in China (it's hard to have a good life as a girl if you've been drowned in a bucket at birth because you weren't a boy)?

I can't help remembering the words of Kristof's NYT predecessor, Walter Duranty, discounting Stalin's famine in Russia and Ukraine in the 1930s: "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."

For future reference an dfor context, here's the whole article:
The New York Times
October 23, 2005
'Mao': The Real Mao

If Chairman Mao had been truly prescient, he would have located a little girl in Sichuan Province named Jung Chang and "mie jiuzu"- killed her and wiped out all her relatives to the ninth degree.

But instead that girl grew up, moved to Britain and has now written a biography of Mao that will help destroy his reputation forever. Based on a decade of meticulous interviews and archival research, this magnificent biography methodically demolishes every pillar of Mao's claim to sympathy or legitimacy.

Almost seven decades ago, Edgar Snow's "Red Star Over China" helped make Mao a heroic figure to many around the world. It marked an opening bookend for Mao's sunny place in history - and this biography will now mark the other bookend.

When I first opened this book, I was skeptical. Chang is the author of "Wild Swans," a hugely successful account of three generations of women in her family, and it was engaging but not a work of scholarship. I was living in China when it appeared, and my Chinese friends and I were all surprised at its success, for the experiences she recounted were sad but not unusual. As for this biography, written together with her husband, Jon Halliday, a historian, I expected it to be similarly fat but slight. Also, the subtitle is "The Unknown Story" - which, after all that has been written about Mao, made me cringe.

Yet this is a magisterial work. True, much of Mao's brutality has already emerged over the years, but this biography supplies substantial new information and presents it all in a stylish way that will put it on bedside tables around the world. No wonder the Chinese government has banned not only this book but issues of magazines with reviews of it, for Mao emerges from these pages as another Hitler or Stalin.

In that regard, I have reservations about the book's judgments, for my own sense is that Mao, however monstrous, also brought useful changes to China. And at times the authors seem so eager to destroy him that I wonder if they exclude exculpatory evidence. But more on those cavils later.

Mao is not only a historical figure, of course, but is part of the (tattered) web of legitimacy on which the People's Republic rests. He is part of the founding mythology of the Chinese government, the Romulus and Remus of "People's China," and that's why his portrait hangs in Tiananmen Square. Even among ordinary Chinese, Mao retains a hold on the popular imagination, and some peasants in different parts of China have started traditional religious shrines honoring him. That's the ultimate honor for an atheist - he has become a god.

Mao's sins in later life are fairly well known, and even Chen Yun, one of the top Chinese leaders in the 1980's, suggested that it might have been best if Mao had died in 1956. This biography shows, though, that Mao was something of a fraud from Day 1.

The authors assert, for example, that he was not in fact a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party, as is widely believed, and that the party was founded in 1920 rather than 1921. Moreover, they rely on extensive research in Russian archives to show that the Chinese party was entirely under the thumb of the Russians. In one nine-month period in the 1920's, for example, 94 percent of the party's funding came from Russia, and only 6 percent was raised locally. Mao rose to be party leader not because he was the favorite of his fellow Chinese, but because Moscow chose him. And one reason Moscow chose him was that he excelled in sycophancy: he once told the Russians that "the latest Comintern order" was so brilliant that "it made me jump for joy 300 times."

Mao has always been celebrated as a great peasant leader and military strategist. But this biography mocks that claim. The mythology dates from the "Autumn Harvest Uprising" of 1927. But, according to Chang and Halliday, Mao wasn't involved in the fighting and in fact sabotaged it - until he hijacked credit for it afterward.

It's well known that Mao's first wife (or second, depending on how you count), Yang Kaihui, was killed in 1930 by a warlord rival of Mao's. But not much else is known of her. Now Chang and Halliday quote from poignant unsent letters that were discovered during renovations of her old home in 1982 and in 1990. The letters reveal both a deep love for Mao and a revulsion for the brutality of her time (and of her husband). "Kill, kill, kill!" she wrote in one letter, which became a kind of memoir of her life. "All I hear is this sound in my ears! Why are human beings so evil? Why so cruel?" Mao could easily have saved this gentle woman, the mother of his first three children, for he passed near the home where he had left her. But he didn't lift a finger, and she was shot to death at the age of 29.

By this time, the book relates, many in the Red Army distrusted Mao - so he launched a brutal purge of the Communist ranks. He wrote to party headquarters that he had discovered 4,400 subversives in the army and had tortured them all and executed most of them. A confidential report found that a quarter of the entire Red Army under Mao at the time was slaughtered, often after they were tortured in such ways as having red-hot rods forced into their rectums.

One of the most treasured elements of Chinese Communist history is the Long March, the iconic flight across China to safety in the northwest. It is usually memorialized as a journey in which Mao and his comrades showed incredible courage and wisdom in sneaking through enemy lines and overcoming every hardship. Chang and Halliday undermine every element of that conventional wisdom.

First, they argue that Mao and the Red Army escaped and began the Long March only because Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek deliberately allowed them to. They argue that Chiang wanted to send his own troops into three southwestern provinces but worried about antagonizing the local warlords. So he channeled the Red Army into those provinces on the Long March and then, at the invitation of the alarmed warlords, sent in troops to expel the Communists and thus succeeded in bringing the wayward provinces into his domain.

More startling, they argue that Mao didn't even walk most of the Long March - he was carried. "On the march, I was lying in a litter," they quote Mao as saying decades later. "So what did I do? I read. I read a lot." Now, that's bourgeois.

The most famous battle of the Long March was the Communists' crossing of the Dadu Bridge, supposedly a heroic assault under enemy fire. Harrison Salisbury's 1985 book, "The Long March," describes a "suicide attack" over a bridge that had been mostly dismantled, then soaked with kerosene and set on fire. But Chang and Halliday write that this battle was a complete fabrication, and in a triumph of scholarship they cite evidence that all 22 men who led the crossing survived and received gifts afterward of a Lenin suit and a fountain pen. None was even wounded. They quote Zhou Enlai as expressing concern afterward because a horse had been lost while crossing the bridge.

The story continues in a similar vein: Mao had a rival, Wang Ming, poisoned and nearly killed while in their refuge in Yenan. Mao welcomed the Japanese invasion of China, because he thought this would lead to a Russian counterinvasion and a chance for him to lead a Russian puppet regime. Far from leading the struggle against the Japanese invaders, Mao ordered the Red Army not to fight the Japanese and was furious when other Communist leaders skirmished with them. Indeed, Mao is said to have collaborated with Japanese intelligence to undermine the Chinese Nationalist forces.

Almost everybody is tarnished. Madame Sun Yat-sen, also known as Song Qingling, is portrayed as a Soviet agent, albeit not very convincingly. And Zhang Xueliang, the "Young Marshal" who is widely remembered as a hero in China for kidnapping Chiang Kai-shek to force him to fight the Japanese, is portrayed as a power-hungry coup-monger. I knew the Young Marshal late in his life, and his calligraphy for my Chinese name adorns the Chinese version of my business cards, but now I'm wondering if I should get new cards.

After Mao comes to power, Chang and Halliday show him continuing his thuggery. This is more familiar ground, but still there are revelations. Mao used the Korean War as a chance to slaughter former Nationalist soldiers. And Mao says some remarkable things about the peasants he was supposed to be championing. When they were starving in the 1950's, he instructed: "Educate peasants to eat less, and have more thin gruel. The State should try its hardest . . . to prevent peasants eating too much." In Moscow, he offered to sacrifice the lives of 300 million Chinese, half the population at the time, and in 1958 he blithely declared of the overworked population: "Working like this, with all these projects, half of China may well have to die."

At times, Mao seems nuts. He toyed with getting rid of people's names and replacing them with numbers. And discussing the possible destruction of the earth with nuclear weapons, he mused that "this might be a big thing for the solar system, but it would still be an insignificant matter as far as the universe as a whole is concerned."

Chang and Halliday recount how the Great Leap Forward led to the worst famine in world history in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and how in 1966 Mao clawed his way back to supreme power in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Some of the most fascinating material involves Zhou Enlai, the longtime prime minister, who comes across as a complete toady of Mao, even though Mao tormented him by forcing him to make self-criticisms and by seating him in third-rate seats during meetings. In the mid-1970's, Zhou was suffering from cancer and yet Mao refused to allow him to get treatment - wanting Zhou to be the one to die first. "Operations are ruled out for now" for Zhou, Mao declared on May 9, 1974. "Absolutely no room for argument." And so, sure enough, Zhou died in early 1976, and Mao in September that year.

This is an extraordinary portrait of a monster, who the authors say was responsible for more than 70 million deaths. But how accurate is it? A bibliography and endnotes give a sense of sourcing, and they are impressive: the authors claim to have talked to everyone from Mao's daughter, Li Na, to his mistress, Zhang Yufeng, to Presidents George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford. But it's not clear how much these people said. One of those listed as a source is Zhang Hanzhi, Mao's English teacher and close associate; she's also one of my oldest Chinese friends, so I checked with her. Zhang Hanzhi said that she had indeed met informally with Chang two or three times but had declined to be interviewed and never said anything substantial. I hope that Chang and Halliday will share some of their source materials, either on the Web or with other scholars, so that it will be possible to judge how fairly and accurately they have reached their conclusions.

My own feeling is that most of the facts and revelations seem pretty well backed up, but that ambiguities are not always adequately acknowledged. To their credit, the authors seem to have steered clear of relying on some of the Hong Kong magazines that traffic in a blurry mix of fact and fiction, but it is still much harder to ferret out the truth than they acknowledge. The memoirs and memories they rely on may be trustworthy, most of the time, but I question the tone of brisk self-confidence that the authors use in recounting events and quotations - and I worry that some things may be hyped.

Take the great famine from 1958 to 1961. The authors declare that "close to 38 million people died," and in a footnote they cite a Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well, maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one really knows for sure - and certainly the mortality data are too crude to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book's: Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30 million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?

Another problem: Mao comes across as such a villain that he never really becomes three-dimensional. As readers, we recoil from him but don't really understand him. He is presented as such a bumbling psychopath that it's hard to comprehend how he bested all his rivals to lead China and emerge as one of the most worshipped figures of the last century.

Finally, there is Mao's place in history. I agree that Mao was a catastrophic ruler in many, many respects, and this book captures that side better than anything ever written. But Mao's legacy is not all bad. Land reform in China, like the land reform in Japan and Taiwan, helped lay the groundwork for prosperity today. The emancipation of women and end of child marriages moved China from one of the worst places in the world to be a girl to one where women have more equality than in, say, Japan or Korea. Indeed, Mao's entire assault on the old economic and social structure made it easier for China to emerge as the world's new economic dragon.

Perhaps the best comparison is with Qinshihuang, the first Qin emperor, who 2,200 years ago unified China, built much of the Great Wall, standardized weights and measures and created a common currency and legal system - but burned books and buried scholars alive. The Qin emperor was as savage and at times as insane as Mao - but his success in integrating and strengthening China laid the groundwork for the next dynasty, the Han, one of the golden eras of Chinese civilization. In the same way, I think, Mao's ruthlessness was a catastrophe at the time, brilliantly captured in this extraordinary book - and yet there's more to the story: Mao also helped lay the groundwork for the rebirth and rise of China after five centuries of slumber.

Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, has written books about China and Asia together with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friday, October 21, 2005

Genocide promoted in North Carolina State University?

Nobody ever answers my letters, although to be fair, the Africana Studies Department of North Carolina State University is proabably getting a boat load of them, since it hit the news that one of their "affiliated" faculty members, Dr. Kamau Kambon, has advocated genocide against "white" people. (The squirm quotes refer to the difficulty of determining who is white or black or Jewish or Japanese or . . . , but that's more googling and linking than I can pursue right now.)

Here's the money quote from Dr. Kambon:
Now how do I know that the white people know that we are going to come up with a solution to the problem? I know it because they have retina scans, they have what they call racial profiling, DNA banks, and they’re monitoring our people to try to prevent the one person from coming up with the one idea. And the one idea is, how we are going to exterminate white people because that in my estimation is the only conclusion I have come to. We have to exterminate white people off the face of the planet to solve this problem. Now I don’t care whether you clap or not, but I’m saying to you that we need to solve this problem because they are going to kill us. And I will leave on that. So we just have to just set up our own system and stop playing and get very serious and not be diverted from coming up with a solution to the problem and the problem on the planet is white people.

All that having been said, here's the letter to NCSU that will probably not get answered -- or even read:
What is the position, please, of North Carolina State University on genocide?

I'm sure that the university would be opposed to genocide if it were proposed by, say, members of the Ku Klux Klan or perhaps even the Nazi Party. But when one of your "Affiliated Faculty and Instructors," Dr. Kamau Kambon, proposes the elimination of 30-80% of the population of the planet (depending on how he defines "white"), does the university take a position?

I'm just curious, but perhaps North Carolina's taxpayers and the university's alumni would be even more interested.

Thank you very much.

Jan Bear
West Linn, Oregon

By the way, I'm not surprised or offended that they don't answer my letter. I suspect their servers are running their little legs off. The webside for Kambon's Blacknificent website has been shut down for lack of bandwidth.

Well, Dr. Kambon, I hope you're enjoying your 15 minutes of fame.

UPDATE: NCSU cries "uncle." I wonder how many others still on staff there and elsewhere have the same ideology but just haven't been captured on television.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

On the benefits of cleaning one's office

I engaged pickaxe and shovel today and burrowed down to the woodgrain on the top of my desk.

The main benefit of leaving the piles is that it's a natural way of prioritizing those tasks that you've really chosen not to do -- consumer surveys, vote-by-mail ballots (or maybe that's really the same thing -- "Your opinion is very important to us . . . ."), membership application for an organization I don't have time for anyway.

The down side is, of course, more obvious -- floating out one of those de-prioritized tasks when you discover that it really is important; going looking for something that is actually in long-term storage on top of the desk; and the overall sense of clutter that -- no matter how inured you think you've become -- affects your overall sense of peace and tranquility.

The last was the reason that I vowed that today would be the day to attack the pile. It was left over from an aborted attempt to Get Organized that I suffered a couple of years ago.

Another thing I suffered a couple of years ago, tangentially related to the literal desktop, was the loss of a computer hard disk and all its contents. When I changed operating systems, I didn't make the effort to develop a backup plan, so everything was just gone, gone, gone -- photos, nine drafts of a novel, short fiction, including one story that I thought might be worth finishing sometime.

The benefit of losing all your fiction in a hard disk crash is that when you come at it again, you're free to rethink everything down to the fundamental assumptions. That's happening with my novel, and it's going to be better than it would have been.

The downside is that you may not have enough of the idea left to retrieve the piece from the overstuffed and disorganized filing system in your brain.

So here's today's serendipitous benefit: "Alias Allison," a short story, in its most recent version, printed out and partly edited. It still may be a sh*tty short story, but at least I've got it.

So how has your Saturday gone?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Obligatory post on soon-to-be-Justice Miers

And a great wailing was heard across the land, lo, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the people shouted, "Whoa! We have been undone, undone, we say, and disrespected, and our leaders have forsaken us and our God has ceased to listen to us. We asked for judges from the League of Indestructible Vines, but instead we have one come to us from the Plains of Dry Grasses. How can we accept the judgment of a foreigner, who does not know our ways? How can we accept the judgment of one whose judgments we don't already know? Where is Justice Luttig? Where is Justice O'Connell? Where is the justice who will overturn the rulings of the mighty? Can anyone named Harriet overturn the rulings of the mighty?"

And a voice came from the clouds louder than thunder, and it cried, "Get over it. It's just the way it is."

I don't know soon-to-be-Justice Miers, and I have no stronger crystal ball about her future rulings than anybody else does, but I stand in awe of the political savvy of the man who nominated her.

Look at it this way: Miers is going to be confirmed. If Republican Senators vote against her, Democrats will vote for her. If Democrats raise their opposition to high gear, the Republican "base" will come on board. If Senate Democrats try to mount a filibuster, they risk losing the filibuster against other, perhaps more objectionable (to their point of view) judges in the future. And despite all the threats and concern, more Democrats will vote to confirm her than Republicans against her.

Bush plays his constituencies like a piano. Getting the Schlaflys and the Coulters and the NRO crowd to proclaim his pick unacceptable will undermine her opposition among Democrats. Smelling blood, the NYT is putting its resources into finding information that will further alienate Republicans, again shoring up support among the Democrats. If she turns out to be a solid conservative -- as she may very well -- the Dems are going to feel so snookered that they will scream and stomp like Rumplestiltskin.

But a more apt folk tale may be Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby -- and that's George W. Bush you hear shouting, "Please don't throw me into the briar patch!"

Or the Schlaflys, Coulters and NRO crowd could be right, in which case W. will lose the 2008 presidential election.

It must be football season -- a game of inscrutable rules where two teams have fun hitting each other for a couple of hours, at the end of which the only thing that's different is that one of them is now further in the equally inscrutable process of playing off for the championship.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Jeffrey Dahmer's brain

Practicing four-voice testimony at court reporting school last night, we did this transcript about the disposition of Jeffrey Dahmer's brain.

Here's what I love and can't wrap my mind around: the words are so calm, clinical, ordinary, and the subject matter has Mad Scientist melodrama written all over it. But the father just loves his son, who will be a legendary mass murderer; and the mother just wants science to study his brain, which is in a jar somewhere waiting for a court to decide what to do with it. Another scientist has gotten a grant to study it.

OK, novelists, here's a concept: What if the father of a deceased mass murderer gets wind of a plan to clone his son's brain to create a secret elite corps for world domination?

Don't like it? Neither do I. But do it better. Put it in the comments, if you want.

Just for the record, we've departed from the Dahmer case into FICTION.

Bloggers beware

Libel and defamation happen on the Internet, and one blogger is being sued for what his commenters said.

The message may be worth a lawsuit, but it's probably wise to go into it with a clear awareness of what it may cost.

RatcliffeBlog gives a guide to libel, defamation, slander and confidientiality for citizen journalists and bloggers.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

What I learned from the Sitka icon

Grace went to see the Sitka icon when it came to her parish. She ended up taking an inkjet copy to a sick friend and witnessing what is quite likely a small miracle.

My miracle was even smaller.

I actually don't like the Sitka icon very much. It's in the "realistic" painting style that characterizes the Western captivity of iconography that has finally been broken, mostly, over the past several decades. The garish riza, or gold covering, eliminates the color symbolism, and it has these spiky haloes, instead of the traditional ones identifying the persons of Christ and the Theotokos. Maybe most significantly, the depiction of the "Father" at the top is against the canons of iconography.

And yet.

When you're in the presence of the icon, it's as if it really is a window into heaven, and the prayers and devotion of undemanding people brush past you like a breeze. You realize that what's required for sanctification is not so much perfection as devotion.

We should by all means aim for perfection, timeless beauty, faithfulness to the Tradition of whatever endeavor we undertake. But we should also understand that our best human efforts, the works of Michelangelo and the Pyramids and Dostoevsky and Mozart, are like a toddler's finger painting, stuck on God's refrigerator more out of love for the artist than appreciation for the art.

Even as we aim high, we need to realize that at the end of our works, love is enough.

Grace's miracle was more miraculous, but mine was what I needed that day.