"Falling back in love with God at Christmas is the worst kind of cop-out, like taking back a cheating boyfriend because he brings you flowers. I'm a sucker that way, though: sing me O Holy Night and the wheels start turning, I start seeing the value in addressing the whole God question again, and next thing you know it I'm back in the pew. I can't break up with anyone successfully." --From First Draft
[Illustration by pmagalhaes, Braga, Portulag]
Monday Morning Bloggerback
Surviving Christmas, bin Laden Naked, Posner Plugged...
Candide's Notebooks/December 26, 2005
From 800 trillion posts, here's the week's best, brightest, grimmest, silliest and least calorific from the world of bloggers. The line-up (click on the link to go directly to the summary and the post):
We were looking for a decent way to cap off the Christmas season, something neither too gloomy nor, God forbid, Thomas Kinkadish. We found it at Barbara O’Brien’s richly read Mahablog. She manages, as most of us cannot, to take a break from chronicling the cynical and the obscene — leitmotif to the days of our lives compliments of our Lord and Savior’s slouch toward dictatorship — and gives us this:
There is so much obvious hypocrisy and humbuggery in most religious institutions one might wonder why anyone with two brain cells to rub together gets taken in. But then there’s that pain of life thing, and the urge to look for someone or something more powerful than oneself to take the pain away. And the fact is that religion can be redemptive. Yes, it has given us such loathsome creatures as Torquemada and James Dobson, but it’s also inspired Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, and Aung San Suu Kyi. It may be that most of the popular beliefs of the major monotheistic religions — God, Lucifer, angels — can be traced back to ancient Persian folk tales, and much religious faith amounts to an emotional crutch. Yet an instant of pure experience — grace, epiphany, kensho — can be genuinely transformative. And I believe that beneath much of the fruitless hamster-wheel existence of modern life there is a deeply buried longing for a true spiritual path, a longing that modern Christianity rarely addresses. This same longing likely was felt by a Jewish fellow named Y’shuah who lived 2,000 years ago, and a king’s son named Siddhartha, who lived about five centuries earlier. Read the full post…
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Wafah Dufour’s Doff
Naturally, Wafah Dufour, distant niece of sorts to Osama bin Laden, has been getting a bit of the attention she sought when she took off her nylons for GQ. Supposedly it’s her visa to American acceptance and affection, more likely her way of cashing in on celebrity’s quickest buck, or in her case on the quickest route to celebrity, given the obscurity of her till-then-who-gives-a-duff status. Who ever said the bin Laden name wasn’t worth its weight in lucre? One conservative blogger, JWL79, took time off from seeing Christ’s picture in every waffle of American policy and celebrating Bush’s return-ride in one poll, from dismal to mediocre (because that’s where we are with this presidency: its supporters are happy to celebrate the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” to quote the Lord and Savior President’s own words), to revive that old habit of—when all else fails in the conservative world—beating up on the fat guy (Michael Moore): “ One of Michael Moore's favorite arguments that Bush is evil because he let some of Osama bin Laden's relatives go after the September 11 attacks. Apparently, the civil liberties minded lib wanted to detain innocent people just because they share blood with our enemy. In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words.” JWL then follows that bit of reasoning with a display of Wafah Dufour, on silky sheets seemingly borrowed from a Penthouse set, but proving what? That the Bush administration was brilliant in whisking the bin Laden Group out of country just because “being a blood relative of bin Laden doesn’t make you a murderer”? (Odd reasoning from a conservative camp usually eager to round up camps-full of material witnesses.)
The Black Iris, an interesting blog by Naseem Tarawnah, “a 22 year old business graduate student with a degree in Political Science & Administrative Studies” whose life aspirations “include world domination and such and such” but who has the good sense to dislike “Dr. Phil, inane Texas metaphors, Pat Robertson” and “anti-Islamic rants,” gives us this observation about Dufour, which gives Wafah’s story the scent of a hoax: “’In the interview, Dufour says she would not date a fundamentalist Muslim.’ This struck me as odd… A Muslim by default does not date (or rather: should not) So why would a fundamentalist Muslim even be available for her to refuse in the first place?” See The Black Iris whole…
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Jamie Boud is a Rhode Island School of Design grad with an eye for framable prose. His Known Universe is a many layered blog of sights and words that gave a running live, and lively, account of New York City’s subway strike from street-level. Here’s a sample (but be sure to click back to the original to catch the story of his very special car ride with the Puerto Rican couple punch-lining its way to Victoria’s Secret):
I didn’t even bother trying to find an alternative way home. I stopped for a slice of pizza on the Manhattan side of the bridge, a little less than halfway home. The pizza guy slid it in the oven to warm it up. Just then, a crazy homeless guy came in to buy a couple garlic knots with nickles. “The strike is over,” he said, spreading out his change on the counter. “Trains’ll be running tomorrow.”
He was wearing a filthy Army coat and smelled like booze and body odor. There were flecks of white fuzz in his wildly uneven afro.The girl behind the cash register and I looked at each other and shrugged, wondering whether the bum was right or not. “Is that true?” she asked him.
“The trains will be running at 12:01 tonight,” he said, jabbing his finger into the counter. “Twelve-o-one! Tomorrow morning. Just after midnight. Exactly twelve-o-one. The mayor is bringing in the National Guard. The Nation Guard is coming in to run the trains. They’ll be running at twelve-o-one. THe National Guard.”
I figured he had his facts a little messed up. It seems to me the National Guard have other things to do, and wouldn’t have a clue about how to operate the subways, anyway. But I’m never one to dismiss the crazy ramblings of a drunken bum, and I thought maybe he heard something. Crazy homeless guys sometimes have the inside track. They get around, and sometimes hear things on the street. Of course, they also hear things in their heads.
“The Army is comin’,” he said. “The mayor called the Army, and the Army is comin’.”
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The World Wide Web’s George Washington
It isn’t every day that the architect of a revolution becomes so readily accessible. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has started his own blog. (Getting a Knighthood two years ago must not have been satisfying enough.) It’s somewhat spiderless for now (just two entries as of this writing) but it links to fascinating views of the earliest web pages, and gives us a small view of TBL’s first expectations for the WWW:
In 1989 one of the main objectives of the WWW was to be a space for sharing information. It seemed evident that it should be a space in which anyone could be creative, to which anyone could contribute. The first browser was actually a browser/editor, which allowed one to edit any page, and save it back to the web if one had access rights. Strangely enough, the web took off very much as a publishing medium, in which people edited offline. Bizarely, they were prepared to edit the funny angle brackets of HTML source, and didn't demand a what you see is what you get editor. WWW was soon full of lots of interesting stuff, but not a space for communal design, for discource through communal authorship. See the rest…
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Richard Posner Unplugged
Also from the world of celebrity bloggers, we happened by the Gary Becker-Richard Posner duo. Both are University of Chicago professors, Posner is also the most prolific judge in America. He sits, as a hobby, on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and writes books on subjects and at speeds last spied when Anthony Burgess was alive. The blog is gushy, always entertaining, inevitably provocative (whether you agree or disagree is irrelevant, and distracting, from the point of these debates) and eagerly contrarian: Becker and Posner both rang in Christmas with a conveyer-belt post on capital punishment, including that trademark of the school of jurisposner, the cost-benefit bonus of state-sponsored murdert; from Becker:
Admittedly, the argument gets less clear-cut as the number of lives saved per execution falls from two to lower values, say, for example, to one life saved per execution. In this case, I compared the qualities of the life saved and the life taken, to the dismay of some readers. […]This argument helps explain why capital punishment should only be used for some murders, and not for theft, robbery, and other lesser crimes. For then the trade off is between taking lives and reducing property theft, and the case in favor of milder punishments is strong. However, severe assaults, including some gruesome rapes, may approach in severity some murders, and might conceivably at times call for capital punishment, although I do not support its use in these cases.
I do not consider revenge an impermissible ground for capital punishment. Revenge has very deep roots in the human psyche. As I have long argued, basing the argument on work by evolutionary psychologists such as Robert Trivers, the threat of revenge must have played an essential role in maintaining order in the "ancestral environment." That is a term that evolutionary biologists use to describe the prehistoric era in which human beings evolved to approximately their current biological state. In that era there were no laws, police, etc., so the indignation that would incite a person to revenge himself upon an aggressor must have had substantial survival value and become "hard wired" in our brains. The wiring remains, and explains some of the indignation that people feel, especially but not only the friends and family members of murder victims, toward the murderer.
Luckily for us, Posner does “not favor public executions; nor dismemberment or other horrific modes of execution. The incremental deterrent effect might well be nontrivial, but would be outweighed by public revulsion. There is also the danger of brutalization.” Read the full sentences …
We would have gladly detailed the even more delightful Anti-Becker-Posner Blog, the running corrective that essentially lives up to Berners-Lee’s hope that the Web would be a continuing, self-editing world where hierarchy matters less than something else, yet to be determined. Except that the blog last posted in June.
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Our Kansas Fetish
For reasons that remain mysterious even to us, we consider Kansas (all politics and Sam Brownback zealotry aside, to be sure) among creation's sweeter gifts. Our fetish isn't, by definition, widely shared. So we tend to reach for whatever's there. We came across Sometimeshappy, written by Troy of San Diego (“23, gay, vegetarian, artist, lover, student, athlete”), who was recently asked by his mother no longer to post matters relating to his family on his blog. We hope he won’t comply too much even though he disclaims all facts as such. This flight log from just before Christmas (not the one cute Freudian slip half-way down):
On my flight from San Diego to Denver I sat next to an incredibly attractive young man. Wow. Next to him was this girl who was cute and had a little dog in a bag that was made of pink leather and fake cheetah. When she left to the restroom, the dog flipped out and started barking. All we see is the bag jostling around. Hot Guy and I bonded, he kicking and shaking the dog bag and me laughing and encouraging him. On the flight from Denver to Kansas I sat next to a young female school teacher who lives in San Diego and grew up in Kansas. I was reading the book "A Mind of It's Own: A cultural history of the penis." She asked me what I was reading and I told her. He'd heard of it, which suprised me. She shared with me a book she had just read, "A Million Little Pieces." And we talked about drug and alcohol addiction (the subject of her book), wine, the smoking ban, life in Kansas, where we got our plane tickets, the girls dog on the previous plane flight and her boyfriends cabin in Mammoth, cars, her students mothers who are trophy wives and the great places to eat in Hillcrest (gayborhood of San Diego).
Troy's post “on reading a menue,” as a vegetarian, is a treat, even for those of us whose last meal was a pot roast.
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Speaking of the cultural diversity of the penis, it seemed inevitable that someone somewhere other than the ever-ready energizer known as Attention Whore would finally address the matter of “Penis Diversity,” though how, and why, leaves us bemused. Delayedgrace, a student somewhere in Ohio who’s been giving, picks it up from here:
But you know what, I haven't seen a penis that was born in a different country... so I would say I haven't had much diversity. I HAVE however seen a couple different ethnicities of penises, but they are American born boys. I guess the midwest doesn't include many foreigners. But I have to say that I'm jealous of the British penis and the Italian girthy penis. I have not seen nor experienced either. Oh, and if I remember the story right I also haven't seen the penis of a random man browsing the video store either... what the hell?
What the hell indeed. Maybe Richard Posner could light up the way. Let’s hope Delayedgrace keeps us in the know as she takes to Ohio’s seas in her caravel of discovery—neither Nina nor Pinta, but Santa Maria de Penis. That ought to close the circle on the Wafah Dufour cycle.
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Rousseau of the Week
To close things off on a more elevated note this week (at least in the literary sense), we get New Yorker Deb’s Let Me Go On and On, written by a “Neurotic Christian lesbian with ADD/OCD/PMS/SAD” who warns us that side effects of reading her “include nausea, headaches, dizzy spells and sweaty palms.” She doesn’t mention that reading her could also be affecting, encouraging, redemptive, and so on. But ought to have. This from a recent post:
Thank God. A trip to the psychiatrist should do the trick. He should be able to calm my nerves and make me feel a little better this Christmas holiday. This is exactly what I need before I go into Toys "R" Us and Walmart to be trampled down by overstressed mothers trying to get the latest toys for their kids. Psychiatry was on my ‘to do’ list. Shopping is definitely a sign of love. I absolutely hate it--what an oxymoron!
But it’s the longer story of “The Unknown” — of parental prejudices and felonies past, of measured triumphs since — that caught our attention. A bare sample:
At the age of sixteen, I witnessed my parents being taken away by the FBI. They were indicted for money laundering of a nearby garbage company. My father had to go away for six months at a federal prison in Allendale, PA. My mother was released. This was all a surprise. I was always in the dark. I gained knowledge of my father’s background as well as my mother’s. They weren’t perfect. The full post is a must…
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