Wednesday, October 29, 2008





ETA: By the way, if anybody wants the CD (ahem), you can buy it on iTunes. I know there are at least 3 people I said I would send CDs to and I never did; I'm really sorry about that. I'm terrible with these things. Anyway, the easiest thing to do is get it on iTunes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I confess

So I'm reading Augustine's Confessions for class and it's a profoundly weird experience--being up against someone's overflowing faith like that, when you have never experienced anything remotely analogous and feel no need to.

It's making it hard to focus on the book, because, well, I don't care whether God is in him or he is in God or both or neither. I'm impressed with his ability to maintain cognitive dissonance--I suppose that's a big part of what faith does--but in terms of the actual investigation? Yawn.

It's not a general allergy to religious texts. I enjoyed reading parts of the Hebrew Bible that have profound influence on his thinking--I recognize a lot of language. I suppose that's the difference between studying actual myth and studying a person's experience with that myth? Then again, maybe it's just that I'm tired and hungry. Plus, I was reading the Hebrew Bible in the context of a cultural history of myth and making a lot of connections to Mesopotamia and West Semitic gods, and we got to read all kinds of unorthodox variants that I'd never seen before. It's much harder for me to read Confessions as literature.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The middle

"[T]hat is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle."

--Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft

This is what I mean when I talk about language and naming in politics. This is why I follow politics as closely as I do (other than because I'm a junkie)--because I want to see not just what people are saying but how they are saying it. Because how they say it reveals how they think about these problems, how problems and their potential solutions are positioned in people's minds.

Probably my single greatest disappointment with Obama so far (though he may yet come through) is that he is uniquely well positioned to redefine the terms of American politics and has not done so. He is a candidate premised on "change" and a fresh perspective, coming at the end of a political and ideological era, with outstanding command of language. That he has not done more to obliterate Republican framing of politics, problems, and people and replace it with a more progressive lens makes me put my head down on my desk.

Homophobia motivating acceptance of transgendered children?

he Atlantic has an interesting article about transgender children which I've been switching off with my homework for reading material. I was struck by these paragraphs:

Catherine Tuerk, who runs the support group for parents in Washington, D.C., started out as an advocate for gay rights after her son came out, in his 20s. She has a theory about why some parents have become so comfortable with the transgender label: “Parents have told me it’s almost easier to tell others, ‘My kid was born in the wrong body,’ rather than explaining that he might be gay, which is in the back of everyone’s mind. When people think about being gay, they think about sex—and thinking about sex and kids is taboo.”

Tuerk believes lingering homophobia is partly responsible for this, and in some cases, she may be right. When Bill [the father of a transgendered child] saw two men kissing at the conference, he said, “That just don’t sit right with me.” In one of Zucker’s case studies, a 17-year-old girl requesting cross-sex hormones tells him, “Doc, to be honest, lesbians make me sick … I want to be normal.” In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, but sex-change operations are legal—a way of normalizing aberrant attractions.

Overall, though, Tuerk’s explanation touches on something deeper than latent homophobia: a subconscious strain in American conceptions of childhood. You see it in the hyper-­vigilance about “good touch” and “bad touch.” Or in the banishing of Freud to the realm of the perverse. The culture seems invested in an almost Victorian notion of childhood innocence, leaving no room for sexual volition, even in the far future.

I don't have anything to add, really--I had just never thought of transgender as a comforting (for some) "escape condition" for homosexuality. It dovetails nicely with how focused parents of transgendered children seem to be on the biological rather than environmental explanations. Not saying yes or no particularly--just musing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Girl Effect

Gawd. Most people in my situation (having just ended a 1.5 year relationship) watch trashy movies and cry into ice cream. Me? I watch videos about international development and manage not to cry into my ice cream. (It is called "The Girl Effect," though, so I guess at least it's a chicktastic video about international development.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yet another bizarre video of McCain/Palin supporters. What got me about this one, though, is that this is a segment taped for Al Jazeera. This is what people are seeing of America in the Middle East (and around the world):

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Every day a little death

This is a really interesting piece on existentialism and conservatism. It opened up a whole intellectual community that I didn't know existed, and it was the first piece on or of existentialism that gave me some sense of what that philosophy (or, as he would have it, critique of philosophy) might really be about.

The author would probably say that I just haven't thought far down enough, but I still think it's a bit of a crock. To me, this is really what the God Gene (which, of course, does not exist as a matter of science--I'm using it as a shorthand for a kind of personal predisposition or need) is all about. Either the sheer experienced fact, objectively real or not, meaningful or not, of one's existence is enough, or it is not. For existentialists (at least of this stripe), it is not; the screaming abyss of unmeaning is pain and chaos, and the starting point for either a way out or a way to live with it. From the essay:

Am I living in personal despair? No. No, I'm not. Things are pretty great, actually. That's the other reason. For all my clever criticisms of Karras, and Dreher, and the pomocons, I don't live my despair the way pure intellect perhaps insists I should. That's the laurel that my pragmatic approach to human life has rewarded to Karras and her inconsistent, but humane, refusal to live in the mind. She will, I suppose, have this last laugh. This is also, by the way, why the intellectual love of my life will always be Simone de Beauvoir, who crafted a livable existentialism, far thorougher and more compassionate than anything approached by Sartre and Heidegger. She recognized the existential death at the heart of living life too seriously.

What The God Gene means to me is this: some people ask a kind of existential question. They may answer it with religion, with conservative tradition, with community, even with genetics (The Selfish Gene, anyone), or with existentialism, but it is fundamentally the same yearning for a meaning, an explanation. Some people may not have an explicit answer so much as a certainty.

I'm an atheist who can't stand conventional atheism. And it's for this reason: only God can rescue human life from meaninglessness, if not me, if not the ego and the I. Atheists love to say that most religious people actually think like atheists. I think most atheists think like the religious, because they have not yet begun to imagine the wasteland of meaning that the death of God has left us in. (I think of Bill Maher and his stupid sneering face, and I see a man who wields the truth the way a chimpanzee holds a gun.)

But some people don't ask. I am one of these. If there is an explanation, I'll admit to being fundamentally skeptical of it, but I will allow as to how it may well be--because if there is one, I am immovably convinced that it is far too big to see. But I am 100% fine and dandy with either not knowing what it is, or, far more likely in my opinion, simply not having one. We are born. We live. We die and then we rot. These things are simple objective truths, in my view, and they are...neutral.

I was going to say "They are enough," but that would be false. "Enough" implies a need to be filled or a standard to be met. I have no such measure. These happenings of existence can never be too little, enough, or too much--too much for what? They are. What can be too little or too much, and what we bear responsibility for, is what we do in between. No, I don't know what "enough" is, or what the standard is; I mean only that these things can be evaluated, while the above neutralities cannot.

The beauty of this divide, to me, is that it ultimately doesn't matter. Whether we're living an existence pasted over a painful abyss of nothing, an existence granted us by a God, or just existing (does this make me a nihilist? I wish I had time to just sit around and read everything), we all tend to come out in the same place--buying groceries. Getting on with things. It's the nutjobs at both ends who get us in trouble.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Your tax dollars at work

People suspected of terrorism (though not, of course, convicted), have been kept in detention facilities on US soil (in Virginia and North Carolina) and tortured to the brink of sanity.

Now recall what we found out about Qahtani:

At the end of months of sleep deprivation and other forms of torture, Qahtani, according to an FBI letter, "was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end)."

This isn't about intelligence. It isn't about national security. It's sadism. Treating human beings this way is simply evil.

Not going to the back of the bus

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Oh, Foucault, I love you.

Oh, Foucault, I love you.

"...with sovereignty the instrument that allowed it to achieve its aim--that is to say, obedience to teh laws--was the law itself; law and sovereignty were absolutely inseparable. On the contrary, with government it is a question not of imposing law on men, but of disposing things; that is to say, of employing tactics rather than laws, and even of using laws themselves as tactics--to arrange things in such a way that, through a certain number of means, such and such ends may be achieved.

"I believe we are at an important turning point here: whereas the end of sovereignty is internal to itself and possesses its own intrinsic instruments in the shape of its laws, the finality of government resides in the things it manages and in the pursuit of the perfection and intensification of the processes which it directs; and the instruments of government, instead of being laws, now come to be a range of multiform tactics. Within the perspective of government, law is not what is important: this is a frequent theme throughout the eighteenth-century texts of the Physiocrats which explains [sic] that it is not through law that the aims of government are achieved."

From his lecture on Governmentality.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

File under "didn't see it coming"

Iceland is on the brink of financial collapse. We're talking grocery stores not being able to import pasta anymore, old-fashioned bank runs, the works. The currency is currently ranked just above Zimbabwe's.

Feminine wiles?

Andrew Sullivan sez:

The damage John McCain's baldfaced sexism and Sarah Palin's cocktail waitress act have done to American feminism has yet to be fully assessed. Palin has actually forced me to realize that, however much I despise Hillary Clinton, I have never doubted her professionalism and capacity to fight and win on her own terms in a male-dominated world by meeting and exceeding the standards of any male counterpart. (It was not her fault she ran against the political genius of his generation.) I cannot even imagine her winking and flirting on stage, although the New Hampshire tears were a bit of a stunt.

Thatcher remains the standard. She was not above using feminine wiles in charming individuals; but in public, in debate, in the Commons, she beat men at their own game, using nothing but knowledge, forensics, expertise, argument and courage.

From Thatcher to Palin is not a slide downwards for conservative women. It's a free-fall. And McCain did it.

I call major bullshit. I would be absolutely shocked if Andrew Sullivan has not attributed Hillary Clinton's success in part to Bill's coattails, as I hear many people doing in discussions of her merit. Guess what, male politicians benefit from nepotism as well--why is it suddenly a problem when it's a woman? Oh, right, she doesn't belong there.

And I love his description of Thatcher. Feminine wiles to charm individuals in (it is implied) not-public? Take that like a step further and then think about it real hard. Lovely, Sully. I'm sure Thatcher would be delighted with your assessment.

His larger point about Palin's winking and flirting is true. But I will be so damned glad when this election is over and the constant spewing of sexism from the media and almost all other directions aimed at any and all women in politics at least slows down to more normal levels.