Friday, December 31, 2004


I wish all of you a happy 2005. 2004 was a good year in many ways for me, but in many other ways, it's been an incredibly challenging year. Still, I'm in better shape tonight than I was 366 days ago.

I'm not much for New Year's Eve parties. I went to friends' house tonight for dinner, but I'm alone now, and I anticipate being asleep long before the ball drops.

I'm sad tonight because I got into a fight with someone today whom I care deeply for. It's one of those fights where neither of us is right or wrong; there's a fundamental difference between us that is irresolveable. We try to live in peace with that difference, but today, due to a combination of things, not the least of which is that it is my least favourite day of the year, we managed to create a situation where I don't know if tomorrow will bring a resolution to the fight or a decision to stop being in contact with each other. My preference would be a peaceful resolution, but that will require me living with something that is difficult for me to accept, despite my intellectual intentions to do so.

I don't like using this blog as a confessional, but tonight, of all nights, I'm just so aware of how despite all the time I've spent in recovery, I still don't want to accept reality nor do I want to surrender control. It scares me to be out of control. The world is a frightening place, and even though I spend as much time as I can trying to let go of the things I cannot change and accepting that is so, there are nights, like tonight, where I flail. I should let the water carry me where it needs to carry me, but tonight, damnit, I wish I could be in charge of the tide.

I understand why people become addicts. Or they live off their anger. Or they shop. Or they go through lovers like toilet paper. Being alone can be a place of amazing strength and inspiration; as a writer, I have to be alone to get my work done. May Sarton once said something to the effect that loneliness is the absence of company but solitude is the company of the self. More often than not these past few months, I've gotten to experience solitude. But I have moments when the loneliness is overwhelming. Loneliness is the ground in which addiction of all kinds takes root.

Tonight, I feel as if I'm observing my loneliness through the lens of solitude. I have enough perspective to see that what I'm feeling is temporary, that the hype around the holidays, which emphasize family, and connectedness, and being in a relationship, that all of those things are sold to us the same way we're sold cars and stereos and watches and aspirin. If we just buy the right thing, we'll be happy, our pain will be gone, we'll get what we want. If we're in the right relationship, we'll be happy, our pain will be gone, we'll get what we want.

There's a lot of pain in the world tonight. And my discomfort tonight is nothing compared to what so many people are experiencing. But I'm still entitled to my grief; we can't shut off our feelings because in comparison, our suffering doesn't match up.

My resolution for this coming year is about my continued desire to practice surrender. I wish you could snap your fingers, say you surrender, and voila! Instant acceptance. What I keep finding out is that surrender is a daily process. Daily? Hell.Hourly. So my resolution is to continue to let go of the things over which I have no control.

I wish you all serenity.

While You Were Sleeping

© Francesco Zizola/Magnum

At least 70,000 have died in the Sudan. Food supply trucks cannot get through because the UN is understaffed and China is blocking efforts to commit more UN forces. Major aid agencies have withdrawn because of danger to their staff.

Apparently, we are so inured to people dying on the continent of Africa that we shrug our shoulders. AIDS, war, and famine. Oh my!

By the way, both the British and the U.S. governments believe that there is no reason to count the number of Iraqi civilian deaths since the March 2003 invasion. Dead civilians don't count. .

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sodomy and Anarchy

Witches and Penises There are some interesting connections made in this article between the infamous "bird's nest" story in the Malleus Maleficarum and this 13th century mural.
The 13th-century mural was discovered four years ago at Massa Marittima, a town south-west of Siena. Dr Ferzoco believes it was intended as a warning, by supporters of the papacy, of the anarchy and licentiousness that would supposedly engulf the town if it fell into the hands of their political rivals.

The bird's nest story from the Malleus tells of a witch who, using "glamour," tricked men into believing that their penises had been removed. She kept all the penises in a bird's nest, where she fed them oats and such. One young man, distraught at having been deprived of his member, asked the witch to restore it to him. She took pity on him and told him he could climb up the tree to grab one, but not the "largest one, because it belonged to the village priest." Kramer and Sprenger were the most humourless of Dominicans, and they reported all of these stories as fact.

What I find fascinating about the mural as described in the article is, as the researchers say, it points to the anarchy that results when sodomy and licentiousness take place. Civilization must, as Freud pointed out, get our baser impulses under control. Governments cannot run if there is sexual anarchy in the streets. The government depends on a well-ordered family unit, headed by a father, in order to inculcate political obedience into its citizens. Pierre de Lancre wrote extensively on this in 16th century France, and the worst threats to this well-ordered system were "witches" and Jews. Witches because they subverted the order of the household and Jews because they didn't believe in Christ, who had given power to the king.
The government is like the family, and increasingly, the Bush White House has reverted to these medieval systems. Daddy President will take care of us if we all get in line and obey. And those nasty homosexuals and loose women are a threat to that system. Everyone has to be in a nuclear family unit so that we can all be good, obedient children to our daddy. That's what all this moral values bullshit is really about. Control. Consolidation of political power. Daddy knows best, even if it means leading us into an ill-conceived war that will cost thousands of us are lives.

Go Here to Help

120000 dead. If you want to know how to help, please go to Jo or Democrappy for information and direct links to aid agencies.

Saturday, December 25, 2004


I'm doing Xmas with the family. The girls and I drove 1260 miles to Orlando, where we will be for about 8 days. I would like to be able to tell you that I'm loving it here. I'm not. I'm loving having a "family" Xmas--first one I've had in 8 years--but I'm finding Orlando repulsive.

First off, did all these people really vote for Bush/Cheney? Apparently so, if you go by the bumper stickers. There's no recycling here. They're barfing up houses like frat boys at a kegger and the land around here is a drunken sorority girl. The thing that's been making me crazy is that I can't find a bookstore. I've driven all up and down major strips--I can find 12 million souvenir shops and ticket shops and crap, but I can't find a bookstore. I know there must be one in this city, but Jesus. The Bush/Cheney stuff and the lack of bookstores is adding together, you know? And then, well, there's a sign as you come into Orlando. It's a huge billboard. It's got a picture of the Smiling Chimp and the sign says "Our Leader." Is this Orwell's America?

I don't mean to rank on a city. I'm sure that there are charming parts of Orlando that I have yet to find. I'm sure that when I called all the movie theatres looking for something to go see that it was just an accident that there was not a single independent movie anywhere.

I need some cul-chuh. And I don't mean going to Epcot and pretending to sit in a Moroccan bazaar.

Karen is a Star

Karenis reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. How fucking cool is that?

Here, for your reading pleasure, is the review in full. I TOLD you guys to read her books.

December 26, 2004

Immaterial Witnesses

Karen Novak's first novel, ''Five Mile House'' (2000), in which she introduced a police detective named Leslie Stone who could see dead people, was pretty strange. The second book in the series, ''Innocence'' (2003), in which the spirits of murdered children clamored for Leslie's attention, was stranger still. Now Novak has written something really weird.
THE WILDERNESS (Bloomsbury, paper, $15.95) is no more a conventional ghost story than the two previous books. Rather, it continues Novak's attempt to expand the limits of human understanding by probing Leslie's disordered mind for buried memories and subliminal images that might account for her extraordinary vision. As Novak puts it, her objective is to learn how blind spots work by studying the images the brain throws off to compensate for them.
Off the force and out of the institution where she landed after deliberately killing a child rapist, Leslie has made a pact with her husband, Greg (''I was not to harbor ghosts in secret''), and has set herself up at home as a private investigator. But when a frail old man, James Kendrick, is found frozen to death at Happy Andy's, an abandoned petting zoo she visited as a child, Leslie becomes obsessed with his death and gives herself up to the disturbing fantasies it awakens in her.
Novak is a spiral thinker and an imaginative storyteller, so while the dense narrative is apt to wander off like a child picking berries in the woods, individual scenes of horror stand their ground with the frightful intensity of a bad dream. The nightmares are especially vivid at Happy Andy's, where the locked pens of long-gone goats and ponies swing open and visitors are stalked by specters of angry peacocks. Unable to stay away from this dreadful place, Leslie follows the ghost of a little black girl in a white dress to a frozen rock pit where the skeletal remains of a child are found.
Leslie is now convinced that James Kendrick was the child murderer who was the bogeyman of her own childhood, a belief shared by Sophia Mallory, a black journalist with her own reasons for hiring Leslie to dig up the dead man's past. The two women puzzle over Kendrick's journal references to an old nursery rhyme whose lines can be manipulated for hidden meanings. Although much is made of what these cryptic readings reveal about the dark history of the Kendrick family, it's the imagery that unlocks Leslie's imagination and triggers her hallucinations. ''The bird stood in as guilt for my failures,'' she says of ''those iridescent and unforgiving eyes'' that stare at her from the peacock's tail.
Unfortunately, that guilt seems justified, considering the hell Leslie puts her family through when she stops taking her medication and sneaks out of the house to lose herself for days on end -- increasingly, in the company of a lover -- in what she calls ''my haunted amusement park of a mind.'' Not quite as cavalier about domestic responsibility as her headstrong heroine, Novak devotes entire chapters to tense updates from the home front, where Leslie's two daughters act out their anxieties about their absent mother while their father struggles to hold things together. For someone so committed to second sight, Leslie can be blind as a bat.

Monday, December 20, 2004

What's really going on in the Lincoln Bedroom?

Cracker Jackboots is at it again. I must have missed this story from last week, but The Guardian reports that our beloved "Big Hole" Allen had his FIFTH meeting with Dubya in the White House.
You remember Mr. Allen, don't you?
What should we do with US classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Color Purple? "Dig a hole," Gerald Allen recommends, "and dump them in it." Don't laugh. Gerald Allen's book-burying opinions are not a joke.
Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be meeting with President Bush on Monday. I asked him if this was his first invitation to the White House. "Oh no," he laughs. "It's my fifth meeting with Mr Bush."

The world is falling apart: crisis in Darfur, crisis in Iraq, nuclear weapons in North Korea, ad nauseum, and Bush has time to meet with Gerald Allen five times over the homosexual agenda? What's really going on in the Lincoln Bedroom? I think I know.
Bush and Allen stay up late, sitting in the Lincoln bedroom, reading the "good" parts from literature.
"Ew. Boys kissing!" says Bush.
"Yucky." says Allen. "Let me read you something else."
"You put your penis where?" says Bush.
"In a big hole," says Allen. "Wanna try it?"
"That was bad. Books are bad. Burn books. Books made me do it. I hate books. LAURA!!!!"

8 am and -3F

Okay. It's cold.
Wanna know how cold? For those of you who don't know what below zero feels like, here are two things to know.

Snow SQUEAKS when you walk across it.
The hairs in your nose freeze when you breathe in. My temperature gauge over the past 11 years has revealed that this only happens at 0 or below, so when I walked out to my car and my nostrils started sealing shut, I came in and checked the temp. -3. -3. Minus fucking three.

Fiction Picks for 2004

These books were not all necessarily published in '04, but it's when I got to them, so here are my faves. I read several of the books on the "buzzed about" list this year and was not impressed; however, I don't pan books. There is way too much of a writer's heart in any book. Criticizing a book is like smacking someone's baby. So I may think that certain writers are overblown gasbags, but I'm not going to pick on their books.

This is a fiction list. Non-fiction will appear later.

1. The Wilderness Karen Novak. Leslie Stone is a detective with a leaky imagination, haunted by children she cannot save. Having discovered the bones of a child long-dead on Christmas Day, Stone's unraveling of the crime leads her into the wilderness where there is strange fruit hanging from the trees.

2. A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali Gil Courtemanche. A French journalist falls in love with a Rwandan hotel worker in the months leading up to the genocide.

3. Eyes Like Mine Paul Cody. Cody narrates this disturbing but mesmerizing story of a young man who kills the members of his family.

4. The Darling Russell Banks. I would read Cracker Jack boxes if they were written by Banks, but his latest is great. A member of the Weather Underground flees America to escape the FBI, lands in Liberia, and marries a government official. From her vantage point, she watches as the country moves toward civil war, and watches as her children are drawn into it.

5. The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Fascist Spain, a love of books and their secrets, and young lovers' yearning combine to create an incredibly intelligent, lyrical book about a quest.

6. The Dogs of Babel Carolyn Parkhurst. Devastated by an accident that killed his wife, a widower sets out to get the truth from the only living witness: the couple's dog. An amazing meditation on grief.

7. Oracle Night Paul Auster. This book is not for everyone. If you like tidy endings, this'll kill you. Auster's character is enchanted by the notebooks in which he writes his stories. A book that is really about the writing process.

What would you recommend?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Pen strokes

Male writers have groupies. I've seen the phenomenon myself up close and personal, and believe me, it's not pretty.

Why is it that so many male writers think that writing gives them ingress into women's ingresses? And why do so many women fall for those cunning linguists?

Best of 2004 survey

This is the first in a series. Today's topic: best cds of 2004. These were four I loved. What cds did you like? Why?

1. Postal Service Give UpSub Pop
Combine the sensitivity and intelligence of Death Cab for Cutie with aural candy, you get this gem.
2. Green Day American Idiot
This one has been on high rotation since the election. Maybe over-produced, but the lyrics and the melody have me stomping along in my car. Cathartic for those of us who woke up to a nightmare on November 3.
3. Patty Griffin Impossible Dream
No one carries a tune like Griffin and the starkness and beauty of the imagery in her lyrics will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. "Useless Desires" is my favourite track on this album.
4. Garden State Soundtrack
Yeah. I know. It's a compilation. But Zach Braff put together such a fabulous combination of tunes (except for Colin Hay's, which I skip every time). And he gave us Natalie Portman offering Braff music that would change his life: The Shins.

Okay. So I know P.S. came out in 2003--so sue me.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Coping With Hate

I'm not coping very well with the latest reports of how everybody-but-Muslim Americans want to "mark" Muslim-Americans in order to feel safer. I'm suffering from an overwhelming sense of deja vu. As an historian, there are so many echoes bouncing around in my head that I can't make sense of them.
I have spent a huge amount of my life attempting to understand how prejudice works. And what's amazing is the stories we tell to distinguish "us" from "them" never change. "They" kill babies, desecrate our religious symbols, rape our women, castrate our men. "They" have no respect for life, and are fanatics, and will kill for their beliefs. "We" are never safe because they are invisible. So we must mark them so that we can see them, and once we can see them, we can destroy them.

Jo and I were in graduate school together, and Jo did brilliant work on how Jews came to be branded in Christian Europe as ritual murderers. I was fascinated by accusations of witchcraft, because I wanted to understand what role gender and religion played in the formation of prejudice.

While I was an academic, I increasingly intellectualized the problem. Here's a precis for a paper I gave:

"Suffer the Children: Representations of Ritual Infanticide in Renaissance Europe"
Lorraine Berry, Department of History

 Beginning in the Quattrocentro, a proliferation of fantastical images appeared in both Italy and Germany, illustrating the imaginary ritual killing of children. One set of illustrations depicted, in lurid detail, the centuries-old charge of ritual murder/blood libel against the Jews. The second set of representations portrayed women killing children while present at the witches' sabbath. In this paper, I want to look specifically at a limited number of these visual representations. Ranging from Florence in 1475 to Germany in the late sixteenth century, these woodcuts helped to disseminate the twin discourses of ritual infanticide. I will argue that these representations of ritual infanticide were both the products and producers of discourses of abjection whose social effect was the instantiation of the Christian subject. Employing the theories of such feminist writers as Kristeva, Butler, and de Lauretis, I will show how the very images of ritual infanticide themselves, while depicting the "Other" engaged in acts of violence against children, also served as discomfiting parables for their Christian audiences. While unarticulated, these images functioned to remind observers of their own relationship to the abject.

Note the intellectual distance, the attempt to layer language between myself and my topic. What I wanted to do was to stand before the audience and scream, "Look at what propaganda looks like! Look at how it was used to incite hatred--which inevitably led to murder--against groups of people who were regarded as the internal enemy." But screaming at your audience in academia is not considered cool.

But I also wanted to point out that the things we fear in the Other are the things we claim are not ours. We do not torture, or rape, or rip fetuses from their mothers' wombs and claim them as our own, or lynch, or threaten children (who are having to be escorted by the National Guard) on their way to school. (And no, I'm not providing links. The documents are out there.)

And one of the major fears, which comes up over and over again, is that somehow we're going to mix with them. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreed that Jews needed to wear a distinguishing circle on their clothes. Why? In order to prevent their men sleeping with Christian women or Jewish women seducing Christian men. The history of fears of "miscegnation" in American history is encyclopedic. Ask Emmett Till what happens to an African American boy who dares to whistle at a Caucasian woman.
So, 44 percent of Americans think that Muslim Americans should have their rights restricted. In the meantime, we can trust the mainstream media to present us with lurid images of death and destruction, intimate that "they" did it. And the ranks of them are getting larger. If you have been following the news of late, the only people who can be trusted to safeguard our morals are born-again Christians. The rest of us don't count. You don't need to have me repeat Niemoller's warning. You should know it by heart.
I don't mean to lecture. I really don't. It's more of a howl in the dark.
I sit here and want to cry. As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Make 'Em Wear Gold Crescents

The Hate Mongers are winning.
In a study to determine how much the public fears terrorism, almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should -- in some way -- curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University.

About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage. In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans.

In perhaps what is the most telling part of the survey,
The survey also showed a correlation between television news-viewing habits, a respondent's fear level and attitudes toward restrictions on civil liberties for all Americans. Respondents who paid a lot of attention to television news were more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties, such as greater power for the government to monitor the Internet. Respondents who paid less attention to television news were less likely to support such measures. "The more attention paid to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties," says Nisbet.

More to come on this. In the meantime, residents of Colorado Springs will be getting a nice fictional supplement with their Sunday papers.

I am speechless, disheartened, need to go off and think for a while. I want to believe that people are basically good, but the reptiles are winning. They're manipulating those primitive parts of our brains where all our fears live. They're summoning bogey-men night after night after night. And it won't be too much longer before people grab lighted torches and pitchforks and go out into the night to hunt the monsters. And I'm scared. Because I'm one of the monsters.

The Plot Thickens

150 ballots were found today in King County. I still don't understand how you can accidentally put away 150 ballots and forget where you put them, (I mean, it's not like me with my car keys or anything. Or my cell phone. Or the dvd remote. Or the men I used to date.) but watching what happens in a state where a real recount is underway is fascinating. As I've mentioned below, the Democratic party-- but NOT the DLC should be taking notes on how you protect democracy.

So, just how many votes do we think may have been misplaced in Ohio?

7:16 pm update
Republican fuckers.

Why I love the Finger Lakes

Ithaca - Waterfall.jpg
c. Mark Beazley (
All of Mark's photos, of which these three are a very small sample, are for sale. Still looking for last-minute Solstice gifts?

A Fixed Idea

Prospect Park in Snow.jpg
c. Mark Beazley (

A Fixed Idea

What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant, and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence.  Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught.
You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life.  I love you so
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.

Amy Lowell
A Dome of Many-coloured Glass

The Lion in Winter

Lions In Winter 001.jpg
c. Mark Beazley (


Today is crisis day for me. I go through this every semester. This is the day I am supposed to turn in my grades, to determine the rating each of my students will receive. I hate this day. It causes me anxiety, even after I've given myself the pep talk that argues, "You're not giving grades. You are recording the grades your students earned." Last semester, for the first time in my career, I handed out failing grades. Damn near killed me. I want students to do well. I want them to be excited and motivated, and, for the most part, they are. If I could, I'd simply tell all of them to keep writing and designing and not let someone judge them the way the university asks me to judge. Maybe it's because my students are all creative types--writers and artists--that I find this so damn difficult. So, here goes. Deadline approaches. If you start seeing multiple blog entries today, you'll know it's because I'm in serious avoidance mode, trying to delay the inevitable.
If you want to see the work my students do, check out NeoVox

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Ursula LeGuin on being betrayed

I tried to watch "Earthsea" on the Sci-Fi channel the other night. I lasted about 10 minutes. As I've written before, Ursula LeGuin understands things about our culture that our priests and politicians seem incapable of seeing. What Sci-Fi did to her book was criminal. And LeGuin has decided not to be silent about the white-washing abomination broadcast with her title.

Jesus, Elvis, and Diana are all Dead

Having lived through the death and various conspiracy theories about two of our most vaunted celebrities, Elvis and Diana, I'm now beginning to believe that a similar thing may have occurred with the rock star from Nazareth. As I see it, four conspiracy theorists by the name of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John started publishing their little theories all over the Roman Empire, and blammo, the next thing you know, you've got a religion on your hand. A thousand years from now, Elvins and Dianans will be harassing and intimidating their non-believing fellow citizens into celebrating their founders' death days, which, suspiciously both supposedly occurred in August.

In the future, blowhards like Bill O'Reilly will be declaring those who don't celebrate the August holidays to be non-citizens, proclaiming that they need to go back to Israel. As usual, Jews will now be persecuted for not believing in the miracles propagated by the trucker's son from Mississippi or the kindergarten teacher who became a princess. After all, it's apparently the Jews' fault that Mel Gibson can't catch a break in Hollywood.

So, let me just go on record as saying that as is the case with Elvis and Diana, I believe that Jesus is dead. Just as the rest of us will be when we die. It's frightening to think there's nothing after death, but if heaven is a place where born-agains proclaim their moral superiority to the rest of us while Americans torture prisoners at Guantanamo, bomb children in Baghdad, rape children at Abu Ghraib, and allow our own citizens to lie homeless in the streets, well, I'd rather take my chances in whatever hell you can dream up.

Gregoire Update

It's not over in Washington State. A hand count of 500 ballots in King County is underway, and if the trend continues, it is possible that Gregoire could wind up winning the election by fewer than 20 votes out of 3 million cast.

As I said before, Gregoire took a lot of heat for not giving up. I applaud the woman. Democracy means counting every vote, even if it's inconvenient. And, regardless of whether she ultimately wins this election, the lame-ass Democratic party could take a major lesson from this woman's chutzpah.

Hawk News

Photo (c) Anthony Congiano

Some of you may have been following the story of Pale Male, the magnificent red-tailed hawk evicted from his nest by Richard Cohen and Paula Zahn (yes--the CNN princess). The day-by-day account of the protests is at Hiding in Plain Sight . It's a small thing, evicting a hawk from his nest. There is so much pain and suffering going on in the world that I feel overwhelmed. But restoring that nest feels incredibly important right now; I would see it as a small way of restoring my faith in humanity.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

In Our Name

Investigative Action, Whidbey Island – Navy Hospital Oak Harbor Alleged Assault of Iraqi Prisoners of War. 10/07/03 11/23/04 USN Summaries of interviews with USN medical employees re knowledge of abuse of EPWs while deployed to Iraq. Reports that when an Iraqi was deemed an EPW, he would be taken to an empty swimming pool, handcuffed, leg cuffed and have a burlap bag placed over his head. He would remain in the kneeling position “no longer than 24 hours” while awaiting interrogation. EPWs would be yelled at or jerked into an upright position if misbehaving. Despite this description, interviewee stated that he “never saw any instances of physical abuse”. Since returning to NHOH, all corpsman “experienced some form of problem from what they observed in Iraq.”

This is just one small snippet of an incident of abuse as contained in the documents released under the FOIA to the ACLU.

I want you to kneel on a hard stone floor with your hands behind your back with a burlap sack over your head. I want you to see how long you can hold that position. Can you do it for 24 hours? Are your knees aching yet? Are you breaking out in a rash from the combination of sweat and itchy burlap against your skin? Do you have to take a shit? Have you wet your pants? Is someone yelling at you in a language you can't understand? Do you think you've been physically abused? You do? Your captors don't, and yet, they report that they have trouble since they've come home. Some images stay with you. You torture a man, it stays on your conscience.

There will be more to come on this. I'm gathering my thoughts.
In the meantime, be proud to be an American.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Jesus Has Left the Building

My head has just exploded. There is nothing rational that can be said about the following article, other than to wish you a HAPPY SOLSTICE and hope that these people wind up having Christmas trees shoved up their asses in honor of the season.

Required Reading

c. Jymi Bolden

I have been thinking about Karen Novak a lot these past few weeks. Not because the two of us are friends, and, as friends are wont to do, we think often of those we love, but because once again, as one of Karen's novels is about to be released, I find myself wondering how she does it--how does Karen somehow tap into some underground spring of knowledge that comes to the surface in the news only after Karen's work is complete and in press. As if she is prescient, or one of those
animals that picks up on the shifting of the earth long before the rest of us find ourselves caught in the earthquake. In this case, it's the photographs. I assume you know the ones I'm talking about: the ones where ordinary men and women stare at us, grinning, ecstatic, proud, direct from hell's trophy room, and give us the thumb's up as they pose with what they've bagged, humiliated, destroyed. And they sent these pictures back to their friends and relatives like
postcards--"having a great time. wish you were here." There was another time in our country's history when such postcards were mailed, when human beings posed with their victims, unrecognizable in their butchered humanity, and again, as before, the torturers felt no shame, only glee at what they had done. It is that time, that time before, that The Wilderness explores.

Looking at the photos now from Abu Ghraib one is struck by how blind
the torturers are to what they've really done. And it is that type of
willful not seeing that is a theme that runs through Karen's books.
Because the first thing that Karen questions is whether it is voluntary
blindness or a trick of the eye that keeps us as human beings stuck in darkness.

Karen's characters illuminate their own blind spots for us the readers while they remain unable to bring them into autofocus. As with all of us who choose to remain conscious in a world where we might better long for the sweet release of oblivion, Karen's characters circle around
their own blind spots as a person might do who is trying to see her own spine by looking over her shoulder. You know it's there and visible to others, but you have to accept that it's part of who
you are and forever out of sight.

Whether it's detailing the slow erosion of a marriage until that one day when both partners awake at the bottom of the ravine, or following the frantic road of a mother's desire to love her child, or telling the tender story of a daughter's desire to protect her father to the point of doing him grave harm, Karen's willingness to allow her characters to be flawed without needing to fix them is the revelation of one of the facets of Karen's gift. If her characters receive epiphanies, they are not the epiphanies that bring about happy endings, they are, instead, those moments that Rilke, in letter #8, said, "are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing." Karen allows those moments to retain their silence, and does not grant to her characters the easy epiphanies of instant gratification. Knowledge, like life, is slow and comes only on its own terms.

And yet, as flawed as Karen's characters are, they are radiant. The Japanese have a philosophy called wabi-sabi, an aesthetic that insists that things are not beautiful in spite of their flaws, but rather, because of them. There is great beauty in the chipped jug, the asymmetric bowl. Karen's world is inhabited by wabi-sabi, and she is its mistress, leading us by the hand, making us look at those imperfections, to really see them, and in seeing them, noticing just what fucking glorious creatures we really are.

My favorite day of the year

The announcement of the bad sex awards.
And the winner is Tom Wolfe. Couldn't have happened to a more overrated author.

All the naughty bits.

The Complexity of Moral Judgment

Great discussion of why SUNY Cortland's attempt to stimulate an intellectual climate on campus by assigning simplistic books is doomed to failure is here. If we can't have nuanced discussions about morals on a college campus, surrounded by intellectuals, where in our culture can we have them?

Christine Gregoire for President

Christine Gregoire, Democratic candidate for governor of Washington State, was urged to "concede graciously" when it turned out her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, had "won" the election by a margin of 261 votes out of 2.5 million cast. Gregoire refused to back down, and insisted on a hand recount. Guess what? It now turns out that over 500 votes in King County alone were wrongly disqualified and it looks as if Gregoire will be governor after all.

The lesson in all this? Well, where to start? If the Democratic National Committee had shown Gregoire's chutzpah after the 2000 election, imagine where we'd be. If both Gore and Kerry had not "graciously" conceded, but instead fought to have the votes of the disenfranchised counted, imagine where we'd be.

Seattle Times reports that the Republicans are planning something that looks suspiciously like a riot to protest the newest development. Why am I not surprised?

UPDATE AT 2:39 PM It's fucking Florida all over again. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled today that election officials do NOT have to count previously discarded ballots in a hand recount. So, there will be no opportunity to include ballots that were wrongly discarded in the first place.

Idiot Report

I wasn't going to comment on these stories, but it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Lodi (CA) School District considers allowing a "Crisis Pregnancy Center" to design its sex-ed curriculum.

Featuring such insights as "my mother was an idiot," and "if you don't want your teenage daughter to get pregnant, don't allow her to" Carl Worden shares his words of wisdom for befuddled parents.

This one may take the prize. A school district in Texas, concerned that its school isn't meeting science-curriculum standards, considers how to better educate its students about science. AT the same meeting , it decides to teach an ABSTINENCE-BASED sex education course in its (are you ready for this?) science courses.

ACLU is Anti-Christian.

Hate mongers look like Tom Selleck. Is there an editor at the Miami Herald?

My IQ temporarily dropped 20 points while I was reading this drivel, and I feel slimey. I think I'll go take a shower and see if I can coax my frontal lobes into working again.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Slavery Wasn't So Bad

Slavery should have its proponents in order to give students a "balanced view" of the causes of the Civil War, according to Christian school administrators.

Leaders at Cary Christian School say they are not condoning slavery by using "Southern Slavery, As It Was," a booklet that attempts to provide a biblical justification for slavery and asserts that slaves weren't treated as badly as people think.

Principal Larry Stephenson said the school is only exposing students to different ideas, such as how the South justified slavery. He said the booklet is used because it is hard to find writings that are both sympathetic to the South and explore what the Bible says about slavery.

I've checked the school's web site, and not surprisingly, every single picture is of a white child. Statistics are not available on the site, but I'm guessing that there are not a lot of African Americans enrolled.

While I agree that an attempt to understand the past necessitates a presentation of the philosophy that led to such things as slave-holding, there are much more intelligent, honest ways to present such information. Using Uncle Tom's Cabin as the straw man against which the school is presenting another view is a specious argument; in the 140 years since the end of the war, vast amounts of scholarship have been done that document how the North profited from Southern slavery even when it condemned it. Any history teacher worth his or her salt knows this; Cary's administrators are propagandists, not historians. There were reasons that the South went to war, but defending slavery is an abomination.

I'm assuming that the following topics will be covered in Cary's curriculum in the coming year:

"Putting Jews to Sleep: Why gas was a humane way to deal with the Jews according to biblical principles."

"Native Americans were pagans: Wounded Knee as justified by the Old Testament."

"Paul Told Women To Shut Up: The biblical perspective on beating the crap out of your wife."

Thanks to Jo for alerting me to the story.

The Fine Art of Oral Sex

Apparently, not content to destroy Iraq in a search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the army went looking elsewhere. And it found them: Blow jobs = explosions = evil.

But, in a ruling that declares non-procreative sex "natural," oral sex is once again okay.

Ms. Davis (below) must be blowing a gasket, but not her husband.

Tutorials on the delectable art of bringing one's partner to orgasm using one's mouth:
Going down

Giving head

Liberals are Terrorists; Sex is Evil

Sex is evil The New York Times has a lengthy article today on a number of efforts to push items on the fundamentalist agenda through state legislatures in the wake of the so-called mandate. Items on this agenda include banning sex education and banning the teaching of evolution. In both cases, the curriculum items would be replaced with fundamentalist dogma. Despite the huge report published last week by Henry Waxman , Fundamentalists continue to push for an abstinence-only sex education program.

It's difficult to know where to start. I could cite the statistics that show that these programs don't work, and in fact, teenagers who sign "abstinence" pledges are MORE likely to engage in unprotected, premarital sex than their more well-informed peers. But citing those statistics is like spitting into a hurricane.

What has left me reeling is the following statement made by a state representative from Missouri, who actively compares those who support sex education to terrorists.
State Representative Cynthia Davis of Missouri prefiled two bills for the next session of the Legislature that she said "reflect what people want." One would remove the state's requirement that all forms of contraception and their potential health effects be taught in schools, leaving the focus on abstinence. Another would require publishers that sell biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter with alternative theories to evolution.

"These are common-sense, grass-roots ideas from the people I represent, and I'd be very surprised if a majority of legislators didn't feel they were the right solutions to these problems," Ms. Davis said.

"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."

Ms. Davis needs to hear from people across the country, regardless of their position on contraception. Comparing people you disagree with to terrorists is a form of fascism. Yes. The "F" word. My letter to her is below.

Luckily, not everyone in Missouri is ready to get lock-step behind the Davis brigade. Columnist Sylvester Brown, Jr. has a lot to say in response to his fellow misery-loves-company staters. And sometimes, letting people hang themselves with their own words is perfect.

Mohl said Waxman's report doesn't consider the versatility of the nation's "say no" programs.

"There are many kinds of programs. It's not fair to brush us all with the same stroke. There's no single curriculum. Our program is developed locally, and I can assure you, there are no religious overtones."

It's nice to know that Ms. Mohl likes to be stroked. Perhaps if stroking oneself was part of sexuality education, there would be fewer incidents involving farm animals in Missouri.

But, lest we think that fear of sex is a red-state phenomenon, the following story comes to us from Massachusetts. Seems there are pharmacists who object to doing their jobs if it involves dispensing contraception to unmarried women.

Do not crawl back under the covers. Do a search to find out what bills are before your state's legislature. And while you're at it, please drop a note to Ann Coulter's soul sister in Missouri.

My letter to Cynthia Davis:

Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2004 05:59:40 -0800 (PST)
From: "Lorraine Berry"
Subject: Thank you

Dear Ms. Davis,
Thank you for your efforts to eradicate the ability for people who
disagree with one another to have a conversation. You're right: We
should not be talking to those with whom we have differences. It's so
much more effective to label the other side "terrorists." That way,
we've dehumanized them, and, well, you can't talk to animals now, can

Comparing those who advocate for a medically based approach to sexual
education (as opposed to one based on Christian Fundamentalist
morality) to terrorists hijacking a plane was an act of political
cowardice. It is beyond the pale of civil discourse. It is not the
compassion toward one's fellow humans that Christ taught. It is, Ms.
Davis, unChristian.

Shame on you.
Lorraine Berry

Daily Kos
Hiding in Plain Sight
HB 34

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Right To Life

Photograph by Nicole DeVito
Copyright © 1999 The Register-Guard

56 percent of those contracting AIDS in Africa are women, according to reports publicized on World AIDS Day (December 1). It's no accident that women are the majority: while we mouth bullshit affirmations such as "Just Say No," women who are powerless to say no to their husbands are infected with AIDS. Statistics show that it's single women in Africa who are less likely to contract the virus; the rate among married women is climbing.
Whenever one of my female students tells me that she's not a feminist, I've come up with a pat response: "So, what exactly is it about the idea that you're not entitled to the same rights as men that you object to?" The conversations are mind-numbing. "Oh, I don't have a problem with equal rights. I just don't identify with feminism--I mean, I shave my legs and I like boys."
Christ on a Crutch. At this point in the conversation, I usually point out that this person has allowed herself to buy into the Right's interpretation of feminism. She's allowed the enemies of women to tell my student, who usually considers herself a free-thinker (after all, she has tattoos and multiple piercings), that she isn't a feminist because she shaves her legs. And, since many of my closest friends are lesbians, I'm deeply offended by the idea that being considered a lesbian is an insult. If I didn't like boys so much, I'd be a lesbian in a heartbeat.
It's this sort of hijacking of the terms of human rights that continues to contribute to the AIDS epidemic around the world. Without the power to control one's own body, one cannot protect oneself. If you have no legal rights to stand up to your husband, you cannot prevent him from fucking you without a condom even though he's HIV positive.
If you cannot control your own body, you cannot make decisions about whether to bring a child into the world. Right-to-lifers who claim that they are doing this out of love for the fetus, but then turn around and refuse to care for the children brought unwillingly into this world, will sit in the inner circle of hell. Right-to-lifers who teach women that they are nothing more than vessels for bringing children into the world do not love women. They hate women, and many of their number are self-haters.
In Africa, orphans roam the streets. Deprived of their parents by AIDS, war, and famine, forgotten children have nowhere to go. The situation is overwhelming, and there are days when I feel helpless. But, there is a tiny thing you can do. There is a small AIDS orphanage called Makindu , where children have a refuge from the brutality of the streets. A donation would go a long way.
The Children Left Behind
For a Child's Smile

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Coming Up For Air

I haven't posted for a few days. I've had a virus, but it's also the end of the semester, and suddenly I'm swamped with all the articles my students were supposed to be steadily turning in over the course of the semester. Instead, I've got, at last count, about 35 articles to edit, and there's more on the way.
My 13-year old plays on a basketball team. Earlier this week, the mother of one of her teammates was crossing in a crosswalk and was run over by a SUV that kept going. I see constant reminders of the fragility of life. Iraq is about that, of course, but in a way, on days when I don't want to deal with Iraq, I simply don't read the news. But my child is trying to understand how you can say goodbye to your mom in the morning and then find out in the afternoon that she is dead.
I had my own near miss in October, when I was involved in a serious car accident that everyone on the scene told me I was lucky to have survived. I'm not depressed by this; I think the sadness I feel for this woman's children is appropriate. But I also feel grounded by it. It makes me aware that life can't be controlled, it can only be accepted on its own terms. It doesn't mean you don't fight like hell for the living, or to change what you can, but it seems to me that there's a certain grace in being aware of where you really are in the vastness of the universe.
I always thought that serenity would involve a form of ecstacy, and there is joy there, but serenity is more quiet.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Monday, December 06, 2004

Who'd a thunk?

Some marriages were meant to be.

All together now: "Fox and ClearChannel sittin' in a tree..."

He has no more dreams

Dahr Jamail is an unimbedded freelance journalist reporting from Iraq. This is from his blog. I am trying to imagine the horror of eating rice soaked in dirty water, and of course imagining the inevitable gastro-intestinal consequences.

“There were families with nothing. I met a family with three daughters and two sons. One of their sons, Mustafa who was 16 years old, was killed by American snipers. Then their house was burned. They had nothing to eat. Just rice and cold water-dirty water…they put the rice in the dirty water, let it sit for one or two hours, then they ate the rice. Fatma, the 17 year-old daughter, said she was praying for God to take her soul because she couldn’t bear the horrors anymore.”

The families’ 12 year old boy told Suthir he used to want to be a doctor or a journalist. She paused then added, “He said that now he has no more dreams. He could no longer even sleep.”

One of the most disturbing things that Jamail is reporting is that refugees have reported seeing U.S. tanks with dead Iraqis strapped to the front like trophies. I wonder if one of those photos would be reported in the mainstream press?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Lest We Forget


This is what hatred looks like.
This is what happens when hate-mongers in our culture are successful in their mission to dehumanize their brothers and sisters.
This is what happens when ordinary people allow themselves to get caught up in that hatred.
This is what happens when the Bible is quoted to justify the separation of the races, the subjugation of women, the denial of civil rights to gays and lesbians, holy war.
This is why we must not be silent.

On S'Amuse

Sub Pop has put out a whole new line of tee-shirts. My favorite? This one: Jesus Hates You .

Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure

Discovering that you don't want to teach high school
English .

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Cracker Jackboots

Well, Alabama made it a two-fer this week. First, it voted to uphold segregated schools and rejected free public education; now, another of its legislative dim bulbs, afraid that young Alabamans would decide that if anal sex was good enough for Plato, it was good enough for them, has proposed banning all books from libraries in which homosexuality is shown in a positive light.

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.

Hehhehheh. Hey Beavis, he said "big hole."

The legislator, who appeared on the courthouse steps in jack boots and a trench coat, reported that the trauma caused by his erections in public libraries, as he read Evelyn Waugh novels and The Phaedo, was something he wanted to spare other young men. "I mean, my wife caught me beating off to a picture of Tennessee Williams and she's made me sleep on the couch ever since," he offered. "I'm doing this as a public service. No one should ever have to go through the trauma of getting turned on by reading about boys kissing each other. I thought that maybe I was a fag, until my pastor convinced me that it was the book's fault. Books are evil."

Friday, December 03, 2004

HumVee Heaven

Barbie is doing just fine. It's the rest of us who are in trouble...

I had to travel to Costa Rica on business in June. One day, I found myself sat next to a young college woman from Texas. During the course of our conversation, she casually mentioned that she and her boyfriend (a businessman in his mid-50s who was doing some "consulting" work in San Jose) were big fans of Bush. "In fact," she said, "We just bought a HumVee because we got an enormous tax credit for it."
What do you say to that?
Jo's juxtaposition of the two articles is perfect. Please take a look.

George W. Narcissus


He has now surrounded himself, of course, with a multitude of Echoes.


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Cowardly Broadcasting System

An open letter to

Dear CBS,

The irony of juxtaposing your statement on diversity with your decision not to air the advertisement from the United Church of Christ is staggering. You seem to have no problem with giving hate-mongering Christians--those who misquote the Bible to condemn gays--plenty of airtime through inviting them to speak on your news programs, and selling their PACs advertising during the election season, but a simple advertisement that argues that perhaps Jesus wasn't a bigot is too controversial for you to air. How do you sleep at night?

I have wrestled with myself today as to the type of letter I should write to you. I wanted to make it respectful, to tactfully suggest to you that you reconsider your opinion, but I'm tired. I'm tired of hate being promoted as a moral value in this country while loving one's neighbor is depicted as a perversion. You have clearly cast your lot with the hateful bigots in this country. May you enjoy their company.

You can inform your other advertisers that there will be one less viewer for "CSI." My hope is that I'm not alone, and there will be economic consequences for you in refusing to run the ad.

You are cowards. Plain and simple. There is no diplomatic way to say it; there are no euphemisms. You are the Cowardly Broadcasting System. At least you don't need to change your call letters.

Lorraine Berry

To see the ad .

CBS statement on diversity .

Letter will be sent to NBC later today.

The faces never change


This is my great-grandfather. He died in the trenches of World War I, while my great-grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother. My grandmother, of course, never met her father. World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars.

The Parable of The Old Man and The Young
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife. 
And as they sojourned, both of them together, 
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father, 
Behold the preparations, fire and iron, 
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering? 
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, 
And builded parapets the trenches there, 
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son. 
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, 
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, 
Neither do anything to him. Behold, 
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; 
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. 

But the old man would not so, but slew his son, 
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Real Presence

Real Christianity was demonstrated by Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury this week. His statement has, in some way, raised my hopes that the Golden Rule will once again come to characterize Christianity, as opposed to its most vocal proponents' scorched earth policy of apocalyptic blood lust that justifies hate, bigotry, and violence.

While not yet ready to bless homosexuality, Williams equated hostile words with real violence against gays, "warning that such language could lead to suicide or even murder."
"...violence in word or deed and prejudice against homosexual people were unacceptable and sinful behaviour for Christians.”

Williams, is, of course, being lambasted by conservatives for being out of touch with mainstream Christians. So, I guess my question to those mainstream Christians is this: Show me the verse where Jesus condemned homosexuality. I can't seem to find it in my copy of the Beatitudes.

Mutton Heads

"Look at you in war--what mutton you are, and how ridiculous!" "In war? How?" "There has never been a just one, never an honorable one--on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it." Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger: Chapter 9. (1916)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Alabama: Now Two Centuries Behind

No such thing as a free education. At least not in Alabama. In one of those decisions that would make me shake my head if it didn't make me want to howl in despair, Alabama has decided that it's just fine with segregated schools, thank you very much.

I keep reading letters from Southerners who whine that we in the North look down on them, but when people decide that the state is not compelled to pay for public education, the height from here is dizzying.

According to a spokesman for, sigh, the Alabama Christian Coalition, amending the Alabama Constitution to remove language that legalized segregation had nothing to do with racism. Of course it didn't. It was about that goddamned federal government again.

"The amendment had two main parts: removal of the separate-schools language and the removal of a passage - inserted in the 1950s in an attempt to counter the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling against segregated public schools - that says Alabama's constitution does not guarantee a right to a public education.

Opponents cite tax concern
Leading opponents, such as Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles, said they did not object to removing the passage about separate schools for "white and colored children." But, employing an argument ridiculed by legal experts, Giles and others said guaranteeing a right to a public education would have opened a door for "rogue" federal judges to order the state to raise taxes to pay for better schools.

I mean, it didn't take much research to find all the data about levels of education and income in Alabama. Guess what? They're not in the top half of the country in either category. (If you do a google search, you'll find loads of PDF files with the documentation.)

The North's record on segregation is fraught with some pretty vicious fights, but at least we agree that education is a universal right. If that makes us elitists, well, so be it. Lux fiat.

Hate Mongering 101

"We have a sports culture that practically encourages this and promotes it, by rewarding the most obscene behavior with the most television time and the most attention, and the most appearances on the highlights reel, and so one thing feeds off the other. So I don't know what they're going to do to get hold of it. I think just put it in perspective. As I said before the last hour ended, "Just rename the city of Detroit to 'New Fallujah, Michigan,'" and then what happens at the palace of Auburn Hills will be understood by everybody who goes there. By the way, has anybody noticed all these outbreaks, all this violence, all this stuff happens in blue cities, ladies and gentlemen? I mean, you don't see this happening in Charlotte. You don't see this sort of stuff happening. But you do see it happening out of Miami; you do see it happening in the blue cities out there. So, you know, call L.A. "New Mosul, California." You could call New York "Baghdad, New York," and this helps people put this in perspective. But you just listen. You listen to all these ex-NBA players saying, "I'm not going to get dissed. Any fan touches me is going to get his head knocked off." You're going to hear that said all over the place. It's all about this hip-hop culture not getting dissed and not being embarrassed in terms of your manhood and all this."
Doctor-shopping, Oxycontin-snorting, multiple-times divorced, draft-dodging moral values arbiter, Rush Limbaugh. November 22, 2004

Starting to Spin

Walk Away . It's happening. I'm trying to think my way out of a situation and have found myself on the hamster wheel. Maybe dialogue is impossible. Maybe the way to deal with the hate mongers is to put it down, walk away, and get on with the revolution without them.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

How about some real dialogue?

I don't watch the Sunday morning news shows; nor do I watch any of the "debate" shows on CNN. They're theatre, not real opportunities for dialogue, and I'm hungry for people to talk to one another without playing to the audience. Apparently, "Meet the Press" featured four prominent Christians trying to talk to one another.

I think true dialogue requires more than this.

A friend and I talked yesterday about what dialogue really means. If I'm completely honest, I realize that what I want is to bring the person I'm in dialogue with over to my point of view. There are issues that I feel so strongly about, I'm not going to back down. But can I defend my views and engage in respectful discussion with those whose beliefs are, dare I say it, abhorrent to me? How can I oppose the hate mongers without hating them?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Omelas and us

The photographs of the Iraqi children keep sending me to the story by Ursula Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas." I was introduced to the story by a close friend, Karen Novak,
an author whose books explore difficult themes with heart-rending grace and grit.

The story of Omelas is the story of knowing that your happiness rests on the misery of a single other. But if that were simply the case, the choice would be too easy. Many of us (our current president excepted) would willingly sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another. The moral choice in Omelas, however, is much more complex, as true moral choice is.

The "moral values" crowd is dead wrong on that. Moral values are not predicated on simple binary opposition. Moral choice is not yes/no, either/or. Moral choice is "yes...but" or "no, except." Moral choice is the willingness to accept that decisions have consequences, actions produce effects, and not taking those into account is immoral.

For the ad fontes crowd, moral choice is as clear as the contrast between black ink on a white page; they cite ancient texts to control the living. I'm not singling out Christians here. Islamic, Jewish, Christian and Hindu Fundamentalists all present a threat to a world that is trying to escape binary opposition in favor of ecumenical cross-boundary morality that recognizes the full ramifications of making moral choices.

Many want to argue that removing Saddam Hussein was a moral choice. And yes, it's true, he needed to be removed from power. But if someone had bothered to think about the difference between Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islam, to understand the history of the region, the opportunity that removing Saddam was going to create for Islamic Fundamentalists, the moral choices might have looked a little different. And now we are faced with real moral choices in Iraq, as we are forced to ask whether it would be moral to walk away from a mess of our creation in order to save American lives.

Nicholas Kristof has raised these issues this morning in the NYT. What are our obligations to Iraq now that we have been dragged into an ill-conceived war? And can our happiness be built upon the suffering of Iraqi children? I don't know what the answer is; all I do know is that I find myself wishing that I could be one of the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Cigarettes Can Kill You

We've all seen him. The soldier having a smoke break after a long, hard day of fighting war. Today's Guardian has
Naomi Klein's astute, wicked smart analysis of American reaction to that photo. Seems a lot of people are upset because the soldier is smoking--and that's not a very good role model for kids who may want to idolize the warrior hero.

I would assume that many of these people have not been able to bring themselves to go to the real photographs because they don't want their versions of reality messed with. And when reading the comments that have been posted on that blog, it's clear that, even when people are looking at the photos, they're still not seeing what's in front of them. They've accused the brave soul who posts those pictures of getting American soldiers killed. The mind boggles.

I find myself without words at the moment. Instead, I feel some ancient keen rising to the surface, or perhaps a Banshee-like wail. Today, it's just too much.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Cry the Beloved Country

Labour seems to have learned the lessons of the American election well: scare the shit out of people and convince them that their only salvation lies in voting their fears.

Propaganda is about stimulating the reptilian parts of our brains, making us think we're under attack, stimulating our "fight or flight" responses. It is difficult to think rationally when you're under attack: evolution says that those who respond rather than think, survive. But do we need to continue living like Neanderthals?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Because linking here is the right thing to do

What $200 billion buys us.

by Norman Rosten
In Guernica the dead children
Were laid out in order upon the sidewalk,
In their white starched dresses,
In their pitiful white dresses.
On their foreheads and breasts
Are the little holes where death came in
As thunder, while they were playing
Their important summer games.
Do not weep for them, madre.
They are gone forever, the little ones,
Straight to heaven to the saints,
and God will fill the bullet-holes with candy.
Monday April 26, 1937 4:30 PM

I'm pathetic

Sitting With the Dead got published Monday in the Ithaca Journal. (Yes. I know. I'm blogging myself. How fucking pathetic is that?) But as I was driving to work, my cell phone rang, and it was some woman who had read my piece and wanted to call and tell me how moved she had been. It was incredible--to think that someone had gone to that trouble. But, I'm also getting people who think I'm an ignoramus commenting on my blog, so my ego is right-sized, I think. Too bad my country's isn't.

Things That Make Me Want to Parse My Eyes Out with a Sharp Stick

From today's NYT: My commentary in italics

November 23, 2004

Rare Weapon to Hunt Deer

The rifle that killed five Wisconsin hunters and wounded three more on Sunday was an SKS 7.62-millimeter semiautomatic assault weapon not normally used in hunting animals.
Which immediately begs the question: Who the fuck is it used to hunt?

"This is not a gun you go deer hunting with," said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry trade association.

The reason the SKS is not used by hunters, Mr. Keane said, is that it is designed for combat soldiers and is therefore underpowered for killing an animal like a deer with a single shot, the goal of good hunters.
Because the object of war is to make the other guy suffer. Therefore, you use an underpowered rifle that's going to make him think about why he's dying as he's doing it.

"The ethics of hunting are you don't want the animal to suffer needlessly," Mr. Keane said.
The ethics of kiling people, however, is a whole different thing.

Mr. Keane said he suspected that the man accused of the Wisconsin killings was not a trained hunter, since with the SKS he was carrying, he would have had to shoot a deer several times to kill it.

The SKS is a precursor of the AK-47 assault rifle. Though it has a longer barrel, it otherwise looks much like the AK-47. It has become popular in the United States among gun collectors, target shooters and some criminals, because it sells for less than $200, or more than $100 less than an AK-47, said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group.
Who knew death could be so cheap?

By executive order, President Bill Clinton barred the importing of Chinese- and Russian-made SKS rifles. But the Bush administration, Ms. Rand said, has specifically authorized the importing of SKS's from Yugoslavia and Albania.
Because we need to give economic support to peoples who spent most of the 1990's engaged in ethnic warfare that killeds thousands of them. Now they have all those extra guns and they need money.

It is not known where the SKS used in the Wisconsin shootings was manufactured.
But if it turns out that it was manufactured in China or Russia, then, as with everything that has gone wrong in the past 12 years, it must be William Jefferson Clinton's fault.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Red, White and Blue Emma

In July, 1917, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were convicted of opposing conscription. Before they were sent to prison, Emma made an impassioned plea to the jury. Here is an excerpt. As events have continued to unfold these past two years, Emma's words have rattled around in my brain.

Gentlemen of the jury, we respect your patriotism. We would not, if we could, have you change its meaning for yourself. But may there not be different kinds of patriotism as there are different kinds of liberty? I for one cannot believe that love of one's country must needs consist in blindness to its social faults, to deafness to its social discords, of inarticulation to its social wrongs. Neither can I believe that the mere accident of birth in a certain country or the mere scrap of a citizen's paper constitutes the love of country.

I know many people--I am one of them--who were not born here, nor have they applied for citizenship, and who yet love America with deeper passion and greater intensity than many natives whose patriotism manifests itself by pulling, kicking, and insulting those who do not rise when the national anthem is played. Our patriotism is that of the man who loves a woman with open eyes. He is enchanted by her beauty, yet he sees her faults. So we, too, who know America, love her beauty, her richness, her great possibilities; we love her mountains, her canyons, her forests, her Niagara, and her deserts--above all do we love the people that have produced her wealth, her artists who have created beauty, her great apostles who dream and work for liberty--but with the same passionate emotion we hate her superficiality, her cant, her corruption, her mad, unscrupulous worship at the altar of the Golden Calf.

We say that if America has entered the war to make the world safe for democracy, she must first make democracy safe in America. How else is the world to take America seriously, when democracy at home is daily being outraged, free speech suppressed, peaceable assemblies broken up by overbearing and brutal gangsters in uniform; when free press is curtailed and every independent opinion gagged. Verily, poor as we are in democracy, how can we give of it to the world? We further say that a democracy conceived in the military servitude of the masses, in their economic enslavement, and nurtured in their tears and blood, is not democracy at all. It is despotism--the cumulative result of a chain of abuses which, according to that dangerous document, the Declaration of Independence, the people have the right to overthrow.

Full text of Emma's speech to the jury is here .

Jesus Ain't No Girlie Man


I've always loved Dave Horsey. He's the cartoonist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, probably the dumbest name for a newspaper, ever.

Thanks to my student, Justin, for sending me the 'toon.

Join the Army.

White House says fuck you to low-income college students.

But keeping the old formula in place for another year would add an extra $300 million in grants for college students to a program that is already running at a shortfall, the Office of Management and Budget said. So, the bill approved yesterday, brokered by Congressional leaders in a conference committee, eliminates a provision that would have barred the Education Department from changing the eligibility formula. A Senate staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the White House insisted the provision be dropped, citing the shortfall, and House Republicans were adamant in their agreement to do so.

"They are throwing students out of the opportunity to seek a college education," said Senator Jon S. Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat who wrote the amendment to stop the changes last year, and introduced a similar provision this year that did not survive the conference committee. "It is now clear to me that this was a backdoor attempt to cut funding from the Pell grant program."

The exact impact of the new rules is difficult to predict, but had the new formula gone into effect last year, it would have prevented about $270 million from being spent on Pell grants, the nation's primary scholarship program, the Congressional Research Service found. Many students, perhaps more than a million, would have received smaller grants, many education experts estimated. And about 84,000 students would have lost their Pell grants altogether, the research service reported.

The other day at lunch, I was accused of being incredibly cynical when I stated that I expected the White House would continue to de-fund college education. "After all," I said, "What's the purpose of educating young men who you're intending to send off to die in Iraq? What a waste of money."

This morning's report makes me think that maybe I'm not so cynical after all.

What was the Washington Post thinking?

The story is here. The Post should be able to buy a lot of things with its 30 pieces of silver.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Let's talk about sex...

I am in the midst of writing a novel in which the erotic is an area of exploration. Literary sex is the topic of this article. As a writer, sex is extremely difficult to write about given that it's hard to straddle the pole between writing a gynecological treatise and engorged purple prose.

Here's how not to do it:

Robot sex can be good.


ZZ Packer explores many of the things I've been thinking about and have previously expressed here. That is, how do we talk to a conservative Christian constituency that was mobilized by the Republicans in this past election?

The Protestant Reformation was about splitting reason from faith. Packer talks about how to appeal to the hearts and souls. There's a really thin line, I think, between the kind of writing that touches the heart and opens the head up to new ideas, and propaganda, which is about stirring the emotions and bypassing the intellect altogether. But somewhere in there is wiggle room. We don't need to propagandize to right-wing Christians, but we do need to find a way to reach them so that they are able to see the moral good in what we on the left are offering.

Aid the Boxer Rebellion

Senator Barbara Boxer of California has stated in today's
New York Times that she is willing to filibuster in order to prevent passage of the omnibus spending bill that has anti-reproductive rights provisions hidden within it.

Take a minute and please send her a note of support.
Senator Boxer

Friday, November 19, 2004

Iraqi shadows


An AP photo from Iraq.

In Hiroshima, after the bomb blast, people who had been vaporized in their tracks left behind the outlines of their bodies, as if someone had done charcoal tracings of them at the moment when death came.

My friend, Maura Stephens and her husband, George Sapio, journeyed to Iraq prior to the latest U.S. invasion. Their story is here . On the trip, they visited a memorial to a bomb shelter. It had been a safe haven where Iraqi families had gone to seek refuge during one of our bombing raids during Gulf War I. The shelter was obliterated by an American bomb, and the souls within it were killed. On a concrete wall, the remnant of the shelter, are the shadows. The one that haunts me is the mother, cradling an infant. She was breastfeeding at the moment when the explosion reduced her and her infant to charcoal. (You can find the photo on page 3 of the article.)

Why can't I stop thinking of Plato's Allegory of the Cave? How all those people are crouched in the cave, watching the flickering shadows, afraid to leave? How in the US, we've become a nation in which we watch the flickering images on our television screens and think we're seeing the world, understanding reality? And what happens to us now that our government has decided that we can't see the real images from Iraq?

And why can't I stop thinking about that mother? In the chaos of the bombing raid, as her child no doubt screamed in terror of the noise and the lights, she offered the only thing she had: her body as pacifier, as nurturance.

This is a government that claims to love motherhood. We love it so much we want every woman to get to experience it, regardless of whether she wants to. After all, they told us that "W stands for Women?" But wasn't this Iraqi woman a mother, too?

How do we talk to this person?


This is an AP photo. I'm trying to imagine how one goes about talking to this person.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Cooking Rice

For those of us who think exchanging Powell for Rice is disastrous, even if Colin Powell should have fallen on his sword two years ago rather than continue to represent this administration,
this is a must-read.

The only thing I have to add to it is this: Years ago, when Maggie Thatcher was PM of the UK, my grandmother, who lives in the north of England, which was subjected to a scorched earth policy by the Tory government, had this to say. "I don't understand all these people who say that a woman can't do the work of a man. Maggie Thatcher does the work of two men: Hitler and Mussolini."

Camus and the Christians

This review of the legacy of Camus coincided with my own return to the late, great philosopher.

I was obsessed with Camus beginning in my late teens. I once told one of my professors, a noted intellectual historian, how much I admired Camus. His response? "You'll get over it." But I haven't. Not really. I stoppped reading him for a while, but I still think his essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus," is one of the most hopeful documents ever written. (Yeah. I know. Puts a whole new spin on hopeful.) But I find myself wishing that Camus was alive today so that he could be yet another voice that calls tyranny tyranny and speaks truth to power.

This speech, given to the Dominican monks at Latour-Maubourg in 1948, has been preserved as an essay entitled "The Unbeliever and Christians," in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. Here are the last three paragraphs:

"That, I believe, is all I had to say. We are faced with evil. And, as
for me, I feel rather as Augustine did before becoming a Christian when
he said: "I tried to find the source of evil and I got nowhere." But it
is also true that I, and a few others, know what must be done, if not
to reduce evil, at least not to add to it. Perhaps we cannot prevent
this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we
can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you don't help us,
who else in the world can help us do this?

Between the forces of terror and the forces of dialogue, a great
unequal battle has begun. I have nothing but reasonable illusions as to
the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought, and I know
that certain men at least have resolved to do so. I merely fear they
will occasionally feel somewhat alone, that they are in fact alone, and
that after an interval of two thousand years we may see the sacrifice
of Socrates repeated several times. The program for the future is
either a permanent dialogue or the solemn and significant putting to
death of any who have experienced dialogue. After having contributed my
reply, the question that I ask Christians is this: "Will Socrates still
be alone and is there nothing in him and in your doctrine that urges
you to join us?"

It may be, I am well aware, that Christianity will answer negatively.
Oh, not by your mouths, I am convinced. But it may be, and this is even
more probable, that Christianity will insist on maintaining a
compromise or else giving its condemnations the obscure form of the
encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the
virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago. In that
case Christians will live and Christianity will die. In that case the
others will in fact pay for the sacrifice. In any case such a future is
not within my province to decide, despite all the hope and anguish it
awakens in me. I can speak only of what I know. And what I know--which
sometimes creates a deep longing in me--is that if Christians made up
their minds to it, millions of voices--millions, I say--throughout the
world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals
who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere
and ceaselessly for children and for men.

I share with Camus his unwillingness to declare a belief in a supreme deity, and yet, I also believe that Manichean Christians aside (and I would put most born-agains, including the Prez, in this category), if Christians would make up their minds to end their contribution to the perpetuation of suffering on this planet, Jesus, what a difference it would make.

This is not to say that I don't believe evil exists. It does. And it is being perpetrated in our name. But I also believe that to declare the other side as evil shuts down the dialogue I so desperately long to have with them. Rantings about them aside, there's still a part of me that wants to talk to them, to convince them to come closer to the fence so we can try to work this out.

I am not a Christian, but I cannot believe that the WWJD crowd really believes that he'd be killing civilians in Fallujah.

The Crusades were a disaster. There is no evidence to suggest that this Crusade is not going to end up the same way.


The cultural differences between Ithaca and Cortland are legion. As I pulled into Cortland and waved "hello" to Wal-Mart, I realized I was behind a car that actually had a "Boycott France" bumper sticker. I don't know how you boycott a country and what exactly is entailed by that. Did she intend that we not buy French products? Not speak French? Not visit France on our next vacation? Or that we not patronize anything that was remotely French? I hate inexactitude of language.

But, after I had called this woman every synonym for moron I could think of, I realized that perhaps this is a good thing. If a large portion of the population, convinced that somehow France is responsible for us getting our troops killed in Iraq, decide to boycott all things French, well, things could get better for the rest of us rather quickly.

Pasteur, after all, was French. And therefore, they'll not be able to drink any Pasteurized milk products, which perhaps will allow them to all contract antibiotic-resistant strains of TB. And, if they get cancer, they won't be able to have any radiation treatments because radium was discovered by Polish Marie Curie who was married to a Frenchman, Pierre Curie.

I'm sure the list goes on and on, but you get my point.

Vive la resistance!

Late Breaking Addition: Someone reminded me today about the Louisiana Purchase. So what are all those people who want to boycott France going to do who live in those states?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bollocks to Prince Charles

The bloody British monarchy strikes again.

This is what happens when a small group of elitist rich people interbreed over generations: you wind up with the British monarchy, Paris Hilton, and the Bush family. The fact that the British people continue to pay for these morons to make their royal pronouncements used to be beyond me; having watched Americans once again choose Bush, I now comprehend that I know nothing about human nature.

It seems that HRH runs an "elitist" household. The mind boggles at the idea that a monarch would run a democracy; still, his official statement in response to a former employee's complaints was chilling:

According to THE GUARDIAN:

The prince wrote: "What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities?

"This is to do with the learning culture in schools as a consequence of a child-centred system which admits no failure. People think they can all be pop stars, high court judges, brilliant TV personalities or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability.

"This is the result of social utopianism which believes humanity can be genetically and socially engineered to contradict the lessons of history.

I guess I have two comments:
1) Um. Chuck. Other than the fact that your royal mum shat you out, you've got no technical capabilities to speak of.

2) This is America's future.