Monday, March 31, 2003

Of Flagpoles, Gay Sex, and Jurisprudence

I know I'm really late to the party on this story, but it is simply too good not to comment on. Check out Dahlia Lithwick's fabulous column on one of the several interesting cases before the U.S. Supreme Court right now, Lawrence v. Texas:

Before we get hung up in the nuts and bolts of Lawrence v. Texas, let’s be clear: There are two kinds of homophobia, at least in Texas. The first is a hatred of all things homosexual. That’s bad. The other involves a certain fondness for gay people — an acceptance that they are A-OK, so long as they don’t commit any of those sex acts they’re inclined toward. This sort of Will & Grace (“gays are so cute but don’t show me what they do in bed”) homophobia seems not only to be defensible according to the state of Texas; it also appears to be the lynchpin of their argument in today’s long-awaited gay sodomy case.

The facts of Lawrence are straightforward and mostly undisputed: Texas police entered the apartment of Houston resident John Lawrence in response to a neighbor’s fabricated claim that a man in there with a gun was “going crazy.” What the cops actually found was Lawrence and Tyron Garner having anal sex, for which they were promptly arrested under a Texas law prohibiting “deviate sexual behavior” (i.e., oral or anal sex) between persons of the same gender.

Pause here to consider that bestiality is not considered “deviate” under Texas law.

There are far too many worthy quotes in this piece. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Obligatory War Post

I decided over the weekend that all commentary on the war is really just media analysis, so I was very happy that Vaara pointed me to Mr. Cranky's appraisal of the Iraq War news coverage. Some highlights:


CNN has probably done the best job of exposing the more tragic aspects of this war -- namely the fact that its reporting crew got kicked out of Baghdad over the weekend. The resulting 72 hours of nonstop coverage of the crew's tearful group hugs at the Jordanian border and ceaseless "how did you feel?" line of questioning from Atlanta made me think I had stumbled on an episode of Oprah. The fact that this had suddenly become "the story" in CNN's eyes, even as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were getting immolated across the border, illustrates the inward focus that has played a primary role in the network's downfall.


One interesting feature of MSNBC's coverage is the huge map of Iraq laid down on the studio floor like a supermarket advertisement for Empire Flakes. All that's missing is the little toy tanks and planes being pushed around by generals on their hands and knees making zoom-zoom noises. MSNBC does claim frequent contact with an actual Baghdad correspondent, CNN refugee Peter Arnett, but Pete is suspiciously quick to note that he's actually a National Geographic correspondent, ostensibly left behind on a Mesopotamian excursion gone horribly awry.

Fox News:

Like an Iraqi soldier dressed in civilian clothes, Fox News has crept in under the false cover of objectivity to unleash a blitzkrieg of bias so right wing that channel-surfers often mistake it for a eugenics infomercial. The only nod at an actual exchange of ideas is Hannity bitch-slapping the hapless Colmes while slobbering permaguest Bill Bennett slowly undoes his belt buckle in anticipation of giving that liberal fucker his final comeuppance. It's enough the scare the teeth right out of Ann Coulter's vagina.

When I have the energy and the time, I'll do a similar analysis of British / Belgian coverage. Anybody know of a site that has already done so?

My Masquerade

Well, at long last, I'm back! Blogging duties should commence with a bit more normalcy than of late, now that Katrien is once again slaving away in the salt mines and I have free reign of the internet. I was going to jot down a quick post about my weekend, highlighting my Saturday watching Euro 2004 qualifying action -- Go Lithuania!! -- and walking around a reconstructed 19th-century Belgium in Bokrijk, but then two things happened. First, I realised that, wow, I had a really boring weekend; second, I remembered that I'd still not finished the paper I'm supposed to be reading on Saturday, and have thus been consumed with that since Sunday. In an effort to further explain my centripetally-challenged PhD thesis (for a reasonable example -- though I am no means saying the quality of my work matches his -- see the structure of Douglas Hofstadter's classic Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid), I thought I would instead post the summary-version of Saturday's paper. It doesn't completely nail down what I'm trying to do in my thesis, but it is at least where the tale begins.

* * * * * * *

If all writing is a peculiar rewriting, what gives the secular and sacred texts that we read their currency? In Herman Melville's final novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, this question takes on an unexpected, radically theological tone. Enveloped in an economy of duplicity, Melville's oeuvre itself bears the dubious marks of that which has secrets to tell and faces to disclose. His is a puppet-show proscenium, which leads him eventually to one final disguise. The masquerade, of course, is basseted by silence. But how silent is a secret when, to be itself, it must unveil with the left hand what the right hand is forever trying to conceal? It is, I wish to show, a giving and a taking, and is thus closely parallel to the character, that is, the being-itself, of theology. In other words, the destabilisation and uncertainty of characteristic consciousness that Melville (dis)embodies is in fact the crisis of theology.

In The Confidence-Man it is also the impulse that propels the steamship 'Fidele' down the Mississippi River towards New Orleans. With nothing completely denied or affirmed, Melville's novel ostensibly pulls the wool over its readers' eyes. As its seemingly random episodes of peddlers and beggars of uncertain character accumulate and expand, one's confidence in stable identification is, equivocally, stressed. Retracting as it is expanding, moving and going absolutely nowhere, The Confidence-Man signals the transfer of the mask that Melville had self-consciously suffered behind, at least since Moby-Dick, to its snug replacement upon his reader. Loving his text much, he would set it adrift down the mighty Mississippi, and neither it nor his readers ever returned. This is a sacrifice of character -- a 'characteristic sacrifice', we might say.

If this is true, Melville's reader is in much the same predicament as the old man at the end of The Confidence-Man who, while examining a bill with his newly purchased 'Counterfeit Detector', laments, '"there's so many marks of all sorts to go by, it makes it a kind of uncertain."' To make matters even more complex, the old man realises that some signs, such as red marks on a 'three dollar bill of the Vicksburg Trust and Insurance Company', which, by their absence, hint at a counterfeit, also cannot be trusted because '"some good bills get so worn, the red marks get rubbed out. And that's the case with my bill here -- see how old it is -- or else it's a counterfeit, or else -- I don't see right -- or else -- dear, dear me -- I don't know what else to think."' The implications of these worries reach beyond a nascent nineteenth-century American economy, and interrogate contemporary theological assumptions about identity.

To characterise the theology of the masquerade or the counterfeit is to be confounded by the blurring of secrecy and sacrifice. Here, reading and writing is a violent economy, a sacrifice of the returned stability and 'value' we naturally assume when doing either. Consequently, the secret, the counterfeit as counterfeit, remains elusive, both spoken and unspoken. Melville's unsubtle use of biblical imagery and eschatological allusion in The Confidence-Man portends a sacrificial promise of 'something further', which betrays an unsettling resemblance to the return of a sacrificed Christ and the forgiveness wrought by the blood of a bull, each of which must necessarily remain just beyond the clouds or behind the temple's veil. Is something similar occurring in the Gospel of Matthew, where the resurrection, from which Jesus ostensibly claims his identity and authority, is also presented and regarded by some, even amongst the disciples (Matt. 28.17), as a 'deception' (Matt. 27. 63-66; 28.11-15)? Does not the same Gospel quickly conclude with an affirmation, one that might be paraphrased 'There is no secret as such; I deny it'? Much like sacramental wine, affirmation and denial necessarily bleeding into one another, confusing the sacred good news with the indeterminacy of a secret, secular passion.

Blurred distinctions litter The Confidence-Man, but particularly in the novel's ambiguously climactic final chapter. Here we find the same old man with the Counterfeit Detector explaining the nature of the Apocrypha to another passenger. It is, he points out, literally tucked, 'in black and white', between the 'certain truth' of both the Old Testament and the New Testament, adding that it is of an 'uncertain credit'. The other passenger is relieved to have been reminded of the distinction, but is quickly troubled anew by the fact that he had failed at all to notice the distinction of value. He thus espies a problem that persists today in various forms and contexts: '"For the moment, its being such escapes me. Fact is, when all is bound up together, its sometimes confusing. The uncanonical part should be bound distinct."

The counterfeit coinage of sacrifice, the necessary blurring of sacred and secular, is the programmatic problem that pricked Melville for most of his writing career up to The Confidence-Man, where, it seems, he came to a certain set of conciliatory terms with his own sacrifice, as well as that of his reader. This proposed paper will explore the structurally problematic implications of the intertwining secret and sacrifice in the equally, but often silently, intertwining texts of Herman Melville and theology. Indeed, the stammering of confusion and uncertainty found in and between so-called secular and sacred discourses revaluate these self-perpetuating, but themselves also counterfeit, currencies that potentially make them both radically emergent and adaptive in an increasingly fluid marketplace.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Honestly, I really expected to get more blogging done this week than I have. But, alas, Katrien's had dibs on the computer, due to a huge project she and I are carting back to Brussels tomorrow afternoon. It would appear, as of two o' clock Friday morning, it is finished -- I'm finally burning it onto a CD anyway. Anyway, hence the silence as of late. Not that there's a whole helluva lot to blog about, though. If it's not war coverage on the television, it's really bad movies like Forces of Nature (Good God... I have better chemistry with girlfriends who never talk to me anymore than Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock!); sad to say, I willingly opted for the latter last night.

As you undoubtedly know by now, the war rhetoric has switched to a "Dig in, boys, this could take a while"-mode. Good thing Bush and Blair keep reminding me of this war's moral necessity, otherwise I'd start worrying about the strain felt by America's military reserves. Oh well

Outside of that, I've been living the high life in rural Belgium: reading Friedrich Schlegel, watching the local soccer club get destroyed by another not-so-local soccer club. Good times. I'll be sure to find a couple of adventures in my train travels tomorrow so I'll have something interesting to say before the weekend.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Collegiate Slave Labour -- It's Faaaaaaaaaan-tastic

Our intrepid basketball fan -- who, by the way, I'm just trying to piss off with such an abrasive title for his post -- braved through a bout of Montezuma's Revenge to get this post written. Dedication... and they say people of my generation don't have it.

* * * * * * *

So, yeah, as I said in my other posts, the Big East is overrated; well that is if you ignore the fact that all four of its teams are in the sweet 16. As for more information on my life of love, it interfered, but in a good way, with my normal game watching. I ended up watching Sunday's third set of games on the web at Ball State while she was there taking a quiz. [ed. What did I say, people? Dedication!] The decision to go to dinner where we could watch the rest of the games turned out, though, to be disasterous. As we left the computer lab, Auburn had just taken a lead against Wake, and Xavier had cut Maryland's lead to four. But, of course, what was playing at the Texas Roadhouse? Texas-Purdue. No flip-over to the closer games either. Plus somebody on staff must of thought it would be cute to flip the channel to QVC, probably the same joker who made my chicken and left me with food poisoning.

A couple of notes of interest from the weekend. (1) The Cornette's have two sons playing in the tournament. One in Anaheim with Notre Dame, the other with Butler in Albany [ed. No, I don't have a clue what he's talking about either!]. (2) Butler played with much more intensity then Louisville, and Archey was unconcious in what he was doing from the 3-point stripe [ed. The mind doth wonder at all the possibilities -- some of them are, I'm a bit bewildered to admit, a bit prurient -- of said Archey's doings behind that stripe. Man, I'm going to have to start reading just to understand what the hell is on my own site! That, or just get my head out of the gutter when reading guest blogger's posts.]. (3) If I were a parent paying tuition to Butler I would be a bit disturbed that the word dogs is written DAWGS on the cheerleaders uniforms. [ed. Better than "Bitches," I guess.]

(4) Next up for Notre Dame and Butler are, respectively, the #1 seeds of Arizona and Oklahoma -- with parity where it is right now, I believe they both could be knocked off. (And of course I'm rooting against Lute.) (5) The two teams I liked from the beginning in the West and the East, Duke and Oklahoma, are still alive; so based on the previous posts, I've just doomed them both to an immanent defeat.

You know, Rick Majerus is the unluckiest man in basketball, as it seems every tournament bracket has to lead his Utes into a showdown with UK. Nothing different this year at all -- same game, same result. Man, UK is just walking through this tournament, and I think they'll walk through Minneapolis as well.

Biggest surprises after the first weekend? Wisconsin still alive. Renee Zellwegger not best actress. [ed. She obviously did not have everybody at "Hello."] Michael Moore unable to take a good moment and leave it at that. The response to Bowling for Columbine winning was similar to critical response to Roger and Me. [ed. Too bad it's not nearly as good though. Much funnier, sure, but that's about it.] And his speech? We'll this is the man who brought us Canadian Bacon. [ed. Oh, well, now you're just being mean. And by the way, didn't you recommend that movie to me way back when -- or, was that just payback for that horrible Teri Hatcher boob-flick I told you to rent?]

Back Saturday to preview the Elite.

Check 'Em Out

I only do this rarely, due primarily to the fact that I think too much inter-blog post linking as a wee bit incestuous, but sometimes it cannot and should not be avoided. First... ever wonder about whether evil can possibly be incarnate? To be convinced, or for simple confirmation, or maybe just to watch your tax dollars at work(!!), check out Wampum's post on Senator Bill "I Got Your Back, Eli Lilly" Frist.

Second... speaking of tax dollars at work, do check out Scott Martens' attempt to use Bush's tax cut reasoning as a method to also deduce how much the war is, thus far, going to cost you personally. Have your checkbook handy!

And thirdly... while we're on the subject of fuzzy logic, also check out Digby's post (and Update) about the documented divide between the best laid plans drawn up in Washington (sometimes with the help of Ken Burns) and their reality on the battlefield. A must-read if you think you're boss is a blowhard. Oh God, it's come to this -- object-lessons!!

UPDATE: I fixed the link (and the spelling of his name -- shame on me!) to Scott Martens' site, Pedantry. Little has changed in the world to make the post any less timely -- money is still money -- so check it out.


Oh dear, this is very grim.

Hopes of a joyful liberation of a grateful Iraq by US and British armies are evaporating fast in the Euphrates valley as a sense of bitterness, germinated from blood spilled and humiliations endured, begins to grow in the hearts of invaded and invader alike.

Attempts by US marines to take bridges over the river Euphrates, which passes through Nassiriya, have become bogged down in casualties and troops taken prisoner. The marines, in turn, have responded harshly.

Out in the plain west of the city, marines shepherding a gigantic series of convoys north towards Baghdad have reacted to ragged sniping with an aggressive series of house searches and arrests.

A surgical assistant at the Saddam hospital in Nassiriya, interviewed at a marine check point outside the city, said that on Sunday, half an hour after two dead marines were brought into the hospital, US aircraft dropped what he described as three or four cluster bombs on civilian areas, killing 10 and wounding 200.

[. . .]

The marines are aggrieved: aggrieved that the Iraqis aren't more grateful, aggrieved that the Iraqis are shooting at them, aggrieved that the US army's spearhead 3rd Infantry Division tore through Nassiriya earlier in the invasion without making it safe.

"They didn't clear the place, and then they left, and now the marines sure have to clear it," he said. "Just like the goddam army."

And the Iraqis are aggrieved at the marines. A 50-year-old businessman and farmer, Said Yahir, was driving up to the main body of the reconnaissance unit, stationed under the bridge. He wanted to know why the marines had come to his house and taken his son Nathen, his Kalashnikov rifle, and his 3m dinars (about £500).

"What did I do?" he said. "This is your freedom that you're talking about? This is my life savings."

In 1991, in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the first Gulf war, Mr Yahir was one of those who joined the rebellion against Saddam Hussein. His house was shelled by the dictator's artillery. The US refused to intervene and the rebellion was crushed.

As my dad just asked via IM a second ago, "Is it just me, or is this Gulf War not going nearly as well as the first one?"

I was going to post individually about this, but I'd prefer to relegate the bad stuff to one post for a change. One doesn't need to agree with everything George Monbiot wrote in yesterday's Guardian to see that Guantanimo Bay certainly doesn't help the international reception of American complaints about the treatment of POWs in Iraq. Then again, silly me, when has this administration really cared that much about the international reception to anything? Whatever it takes to get the rabble roused in America, I guess. Jesus...

Monday, March 24, 2003

Late Night Recovery

It's nearly one in the morning here in Voorshoven, Belgium, and, in spite of my intention and determination to get some blogging done this morning, afternoon, or early evening, I'm still looking at a week's worth of posts not my own. Yes, it's nearly one in the morning here in one of Flanders' many fields, and Katrien is none too shy about letting me know the time for writing should soon be replaced by sleeping. ["I think and communicate better later at night, dear," I say. "No, it only seems that way because nobody else is awake to listen to you," she dutifully replies.] Apologies in advance if this post becomes weird.

First of all, thanks to my guest bloggers. If you've not yet read the one-shot post about "Ana," I recommend that you do so immediately. And if you love mysteriously allusive, slightly sneering sports writing, Silentio is the place for you. Follow the rest of the tournament here, as one basketball-obsessed man seeks to discover how to juggle two jobs, a new girlfriend, a black-and-white television, and the NCAA tournament. Round two updates will be posted shortly -- I think.

As for me. Well, the past week has been a whirlwind. A couple of unrequested notes and observations regarding my week:

  • I've almost finalised everything for the academic day conference I'm hosting in a couple of weeks -- "Characterising Religion: Herman Melville & Religion," if you're curious of the title and topic. The only thing now, I suppose, is making sure I have a paper of my own to read!

  • I packed up my bags and flew back to Belgium for a couple of weeks. Nothing new here, since I do this about once a month; but, it always takes at least a couple of days to reestablish myself. Belgium is, by and large, as I left it. Ah, but not everything. A bit of history is needed for me to continue: Brussels is not my favorite city in the world. It's not even in the top ten. In fact, it took me about four or five months to really warm up to it at all. Much of this had to do with my affection for Leuven, where I spent many a spring and summer day with Katrien, and the incredible contrast between the cities; but perhaps even more has to do with the fact that Katrien's been robbed in Brussels a couple of times, I've stepped in one too many piles of dog poo, and a gentleman once very nearly peed on my shoes while I was waiting for a tram. Less significantly, I've been proposited by some of the ugliest prostitutes I've ever seen, and I believe I've slept, due to one of the aforementioned robberies, in one of the seedier B&Bs some of the prostitutes undoubtedly go about their business. But alas, the city, to some extent anyway, won me over. How? Westmalle Triple and really bad pop music. Most of my American readers can figure out the latter, but might not know that the former is an extraordinarily good Belgian Trappist ale that I try to consume on a bacchanalian level, when afforded the opportunity (it's not as good, incidentally, as Westvleteren, but far more accessible in the city's cafes). Anyway, I tell you this only to say that on Tuesday evening, upon my arrival to Brussels, I discovered that my favorite Irish pub -- which, when it's not showing truly awful Premiership football that I inexplicably know a lot about, is playing exquisitely awful pop music that I cannot help but sing along to (you've not lived, my friends, until you've heard me singing to the classics of Billy Ocean and/or Lionel Richie) -- was no longer serving Westmalle Triple! A quiet haze fell over my eyes as the downy-skinned, dumb-eyed waitress told me the news: "We stopped selling Westmalle." Those fateful words were repeated on Wednesday evening, when Katrien and I stopped by to confirm the tragic news. I weep a tear even now as I type them. You Belgian readers out there, particularly those in the Brussels-area (I know there's at least one of you out there), do you have any suggestions for a good replacement -- preferably one in the De Brouckere area? I'm going back to Glasgow at the beginning of April, but will return five days later for the rest of the month. Help!!

  • Since I'm not drinking too much, I'm watching lots of movies. Katrien tells me I watched a lot before, and blames the alcohol on my fading lucidity when it comes to this matter. No matter. Since arriving, I've watched, either on the big screen or at home, The Hours, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Untouchables, Starship Troopers, Three Kings, and The Pianist. Of these I will say but two things: Whoo-Hoo, for Adrian Brody at the Oscars; boo-hoo, for Julianne Moore.

  • When I wasn't watching movies, I was walking through the evening streets of Maaseik, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, and trying to remember why in the world I (a) watched all those movies, and (b) where I left the British Library's copy of Friedrich Schlegel's Dialogue on Poetry. For any readers who happened to be at Glasgow-Prestwick airport last Tuesday, please, if you should find it near the slot machine I was sitting, please return it to the helpful staff of RyanAir.

  • Oh, and yes, how could I forget, I sought an escape (only to find this is impossible) from the "military action" in Iraq. I will not promise to not blog about the war in the coming days, weeks, months, etc.; but I will hold off for now. In the meantime, check out:

    ** The Agonist for, bar none, the best minute-by-minute (no exaggeration!) coverage, from sources all over the world;

    ** Nate Thayer for a harrowing first-hand piece about journalistic life in Baghdad at the moment;

    ** Oh, and don't forget about periodic updates updates on the economic boom this war is bringing you and me alike;

    ** And lastly, a positively dire forecast for one proposed plan for the seige of Baghdad.

Yikes! It's nearly two. Sorry about the autobiographical posts. I don't do those too often, I don't think. I'll try to return to reclusive anonymity tomorrow after a bit of sleep.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Round One, Day Two; or, A Love Story

Today we have another installment of Silentio's beat reporter, who, when he's not working and wooing, he's watching basketball -- at least that's what he told me to justify asking him to do this! Anyway, I realize not everybody is into the tournament, or sports in general for that matter; but, what can I say, I feel completely out of the loop with this basketball tournament. No better place to get your basketball updates, I decided, then a photo-lab manager with a B&W television -- oh yeah, watch out ESPN.

Incidentally, I should be back to my regular blogging self by Monday! Prepare yourself, friends.

* * * * * * *

Well here in the rural lands of Indiana the debate will continue to rage over Bob Knight, Mike Davis and all the other joys of life at IU. Myles Brand will always be a villian or a saint, and day two of the NCAA tournament allows discussion of these and many other factors. Starting in Boston, where I had decided that 'Bama, with the ball and trailing by three, would drain the 3 and win in OT. This was my thinking despite the fact that I couldn't shake the feeling that a team that went 10-1 in the pre-conference, beat one #1 and took the other to OT in the Big 12 title game would have made for a better story and match up that would make more sense; oh well, but then again I wouldn't have given IU a 7-seed or scheduled BYU in a bad bracket. So the Hoosier advance to take on Derek Whittenberg and Wagner College. Oh wait, sorry, just like his shot against Houston, Whittenberg came up short -- and Lorenzo Charles wasn't there to back him up this time. Sure, years of Cream and Crimson flow through my veins [ed. [ewwww], and I'm still not sold on the Big East, but I like Pitt on Sunday.

Something of note: Indiana as a state actually played against the SEC four times on Friday. Although, one of the schools is a private school, my tax dollars pay for the other teams. Gene Keady and his lovely wife traveled to Birmingham and took on LSU -- the same mighty team that beat Arizona and about whom Tim Brando was already describing a possible match up with Texas. Funny thing, though... Gene and the combover rolled over LSU. Ah, but my state wasn't done yet. Butler went on to knock off Mississippi State in the final game of the night, with New Castle, Indiana's own Brandon Miller hitting the game-winner. Hmm, National Championship game in New Orleans, kid from New Castle on the team (actually two with Darnell Archey -- Hi to his mom, and keep bringing me your film if your reading this); could it be '87 all over again? Louisville may just have too much talent, though. Oh, but don't worry about Miller though, rumor around town is he's heading to Iowa City to begin a coaching career; although, come to think about that, that rumor is spreading out of control, as word is now that he could end up in Blommington once Mike Davis leaves for UCLA. As for Miller and Archey's former coach, expect him and Sato to finally convince Cincinnati that the real team of power is on the east side of town.

Anyway, so at this point the state of Indiana is 3-0 against the SEC as Ron Hunter, his 3K dollar suit, and IUPUI get to face Orlando Smith and the team to beat in most brackets. [ed. One half later....] And the streak ends. You know, UK is a team I have a love/hate relationship with. Part of it is because it was nearly impossible to follow IU in the Queen City and I had to watch a lot of UK games while in college. Now that's not so bad, I don't guess, but when you're talking basketball with UK fans, it's hard not to find them to be some of the most obnoxious people on the planet. So what's the swing vote in how to decide what I think about UK during tournament time? The Ashley Judd factor, of course. No other team can give me that. BTW, in A Time to Kill ("Yeah, I killed him and I'd kill him again") how can Matthew McConaughey even consider cheating on her with Sandra Bullock?

Speaking of temptations and distractions, I've had a hard time staying focused during this year's tournament. Ah, that's right, I've found love in rural Indiana. The problem is she doesn't seem to get this whole tournament thing. Maryland, though, might have changed all that. The dramatic three to win the game at the buzzer seemed to make her understand the focus I have for these three weeks every year. The rest of the day was look-ins [ed. Um, you are talking about the games right there, right?], and, of course, another riveting afterrnon of Dan Rather. Don't get me wrong, I understand the idea that news coverage of war is supposed to be important, but has anybody else notied that all the channels seem to have the same picture, which, by the way, looks kind of similiar to what we saw 12 years ago. And who is the cruel bastard that won't let Rather, Jennings and Brokaw sleep? [ed. Al Qaeda, of course.]

Round two, coverage tomorrow.

Friday, March 21, 2003

March Madness -- A Belated Day One Retrospective

The guest bloggers have arrived! Hallelujah! Starting today, and continuing through the month (hopefully) we will have a regular NCAA tournament update by hoops afficianados worldwide! Okay, you got me -- Silentio's influence could only make it to rural Indiana. The first update is a day late, I know, but c'mon people it's just basketball, get over it!

* * * * * *

Another year, another bracket in shambles. And it's only the first day. My normal policy every year is that some coaches just don't have it. I'm looking at Roy Williams, Bob Huggins, Jim Boheim and Lute Olson here. Don't give me '97 on Olson either -- if Pitino realizes that Derek Anderson's agent walking around the Fayette Mall was feeding him a line, and had Anderson been used to play in that tournament for more then shooting technical shots against Minnesota, there would be no banner hanging in Tucson. But hey Rick was leaving for the NBA a couple of months later, what did he care?!

Speaking of great NBA career moves, let's start with Rick's buddy and Conference rival John (what violation at UMASS?) Calipari. I had them in the Sweet 16, and what do they do? They do lose to Arizona St. Terrific. But what was I thinking -- Conference USA?? Unless it's UNC-Charlotte, I just don't trust this conference. Which begs another question -- how could I have Memphis as a Sweet 16 team? The Roy Williams factor, that's how! Utah State had the chance to follow my bracket; but, alas, with 12 seconds to go, they opt for four horrible-looking shots, and Kansas survives. Oh well, I'll take the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Top of the bracket at Utah -- pretty simple, since it was Duke. I fell asleep as they went up by six, and awoke to find Dan Rather talking about Baghdad. I'm somewhat surprised we haven't sent Coach K to go after Sadaam. I guess he's going to have to settle with playing Creighton though, right? As much as I hate Conference USA, I just got to love the Valley. Always a great conference tournament, except this year, where Creighton left nothing to chance and blew Illinois St. in the finals [ed. I kept this ambiguous typo because it was just too damned funny.]. Well well well, funny thing they ran into the Chippewas of Central Michigan. Kent St. last year, could it be Central Michigan this year? No, Duke continues on to the Final Four.

But wait, how can that be? Isn't Arizona in that bracket? Aren't they one of the dominant 'Cats? Yeah, but, like I mentioned before, Lute will blow it. All the same, the top of that bracket looks good. Just like I called it, Gonzaga puts the Bearcats to sleep, but not before Huggins gets ejected. Nice job Bob. Although the season he's had, maybe he wishes the heart attack had taken longer to overcome. As much as it pains me, I just don't see the Zags in the Sweet 16. Oh, but don't worry Lute, don't start getting elite on me yet.

Why? 'Cause Brian Cook is going to take care of you, if he doesn't foul out. UW-Milwauke made it a good game, but the Illini move on to face the Irish . . . and, yes, they will crush them. Western Kentucky had the chance against Notre Dame, mostly because they have no interior defense. How do you blow a lead by allowing alley oops? Something to remember: Big East = overrated.

Hmm, maybe I should have taken Wittenburg and Hampton over Pitt afterall, but I'll get into that with day 2 commentary tomorrow. For now, in the West I'm taking Duke over Illinois, and expect that we will soon hear about how Roy Willaims is the coach with "potential."

Speaking of the West, Dayton got to Spokane because the pods help keep the top four seeds close to home. Interestingly, Notre Dame and Illinois get Indy, Dayton and Wisconsin like Mr. Smith go to Washington. What do I know about those games? Well nothing, except I didn't expect either team to win. Half-right ain't too bad in March. With that in mind, I think I'll go ahead and take Tulsa over Wisconsin -- you lose at Penn St. and you don't deserve to get out of the second round (oops, may have played my IU card early).

Oh, and this pod system sucks.

Speaking of pods, what a great job the committee did in not realizing that in BYU, had they made it to the Elite 8 (yeah, I know, they got beat on Thursday), they had the one school that won't play on Sunday set to play on a Sunday if they were to make it to the Elite 8. That's like scheduling Sandy Koufax to pitch on Yom Kippur. Oh wait, I guess that did happen. (BTW, during that '97 Final Four, I saw Sandy from the second tier of the dome, through the binoculars of the guy next to me after I came back from the concession stand, after skipping the Arizona practice because there was no way they could win a national title!). More comments later.

Ana Speaks

I was to be asked to contribute to Silentio when Brad's first and second choices flaked out. My folks couldn't be prouder! The task of coming up with an original thought that I believed was interesting or important enough for anyone else to want to read about was daunting, to say the least.

Living deep in the heart o' Texas, I briefly considered writing about the huge backlash in response to Natalie Maines' comments from the Dixie Chicks' recent London concert. The local radio and television stations here were obsessed, as if there's nothing else going on in the world. You would have thought that she literally took a shot at W. I figured I could start there and move into censorship, or maybe just take my own figurative shots at George; but then I was told about something so deeply disturbing that I knew it was the only topic I could write about. Do you know that feeling you get after learning details of child or spousal abuse, or the way you feel after visiting the Holocaust Museum? The feeling where the world just doesn't seem right and you know something inside you changed? It was that disturbing.

I'm talking about what The New York Times magazine calls, "The Secret Society of the Starving". I'm talking about Pro-Anorexia web sites:

"Pro-ana, the basic premise of which is that an eating disorder is not a disorder but a lifestyle choice, is very much an ideology of the 21st century, one that could not exist absent the anonymity and accessibility of the Internet, without which, the only place large numbers of anorexics would find themselves together is inpatient treatment. Primarily the sites reinforce the secretiveness of the disorder."

So secretive, in fact, that I had no idea they existed until yesterday. From the research I've done in that short amount of time I've learned how many fingers to shove down my throat, how to move them around and how long to leave them there to vomit properly. I've found foods that come up easily and those that don't. I've found pages and pages of women so thin that not only can you see their bones, but some you can see the shape of their organs as lumps under the skin. These pictures are considered "Thinspiration." I've learned how you can manipulate friends and family to make them think you're eating.

"If your parents are suspicious tell them that you love them and wouldn't do any thing like that because you love them and wouldn't want to hurt them."

"While being made to eat, take an [empty] mug that u CAN NOT see-through and after taking a bite go to 'Have a drink' and spit it out again, regularly 'refill' your mug [empty it in the bin]."

"Clean something. Cleaning something dirty can make you lose your appetite. The toilet, the litter box, under the kitchen sink, scrubbing out the garbage bin, anything grimy or smelly. The mess, along with the smell of the cleaner, can put you off food for a while."

"Different sleeping habits. Go to bed later than everyone else, so you can exercise while they're sleeping."

There are pro-anorexia chants, songs, message boards. One site has its own "Thin Commandments." Here are a few:

1. If you aren't thin you aren't attractive.

2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.

4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.

5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.

7. What the scale says is the most important thing.

9. You can never be too thin.

This same site has a Creed and code of Beliefs. The latter reads

"I believe in Control, the only force mighty enough to bring order to the chaos that is my world. I believe that I am the most vile, worthless and useless person ever to have existed on this planet, and that I am totally unworthy of anyone's time and attention. I believe that other people who tell me differently must be idiots. If they could see how I really am, then they would hate me almost as much as I do. I believe in oughts, musts and shoulds as unbreakable laws to determine my daily behavior. I believe in perfection and strive to attain it. I believe in salvation through trying just a bit harder than I did yesterday. I believe in calorie counters as the inspired word of god, and memorize them accordingly. I believe in bathroom scales as an indicator of my daily successes and failures. I believe in hell, because I sometimes think that I'm living in it. I believe in a wholly black and white world, the losing of weight, recrimination for sins, the abnegation of the body and a life ever fasting."

I feel a little like that person who smells something awful and then says, "This smells like shit. Smell it," or, "This coffee tastes like bile. Taste it." I haven't decided exactly what I hope to accomplish by sharing all of this, but I know, without any doubt, that "pro-ana" is even worse when it remains a secret while people are dying -- about one in 200 American women suffer from Anorexia; two or three in 100 suffer from Bulimia. Arguably, these disorders have the highest fatality rate of any mental illness, through suicide as well as the obvious health problems involved. With this in mind, you be the judge of Ana's moral ambivalence.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

As I Lay Dying

I'm not going to beat around the bush here, people. All this stuff I can't help but read about Iraq, North Korea, DNA bungling, starvation and AIDS throughout much of Africa, massacres in Ivory Coast, and mysterious Asian illnesses that scare the hell outta the World Health Organization have effectively wiped me out, physically and emotionally. It all comes back, in other words, to death. Thinking about the deaths of others, as selfish as this sounds, makes me think of my own death. And this drains me. It's one of the things I can't help but think about; even when I'm not thinking about it, I'm only repressing it; and when I do actually think about my repression, or the possibility thereof, I think about my weakness, the weakness of my life-unto-death. Depressing? Yes. Depressed? Me. We spend our lives searching for the words to say just before we die. This is why we spend so much money on counselors these days, I guess.

I say this for two reasons: (1) to rationalize my paltry posts as of late; (2) to excuse myself from the blogging scene for a few days; and (3) to introduce the extended quote below.

Re: (2). For the next few days or so, I'm entrusting Silentio into the able hands of a couple of guest bloggers -- a nice embodiment, I think, of my vision for it all along. So, yes, by all means please keep reading. What the hell, if you're a regular reader, I repeat, keep reading, and then also let me know if you yourself would like to post something over the next week!

Re: (3). I can already see one regular reader and commentator rolling eyes now, but I shall leave you with one of my favorite dialogues in contemporary fiction about, appropriately enough, death -- specifically, the fear of death -- from Don Delillo's best novel, White Noise (Chapter 37). Sit back, relax, and crack a smile or two . . .

* * * * * * *

The long walk started at noon. I didn't know it would turn into a long walk. I thought it would be a miscellaneous meditation, Murray and Jake, half an hour's campus meander. But it became a major afternoon, a serious looping Socratic walk, with practical consequences.

I met Murray after his car crash seminar and we wandered along the fringes of the campus, past the cedar-shingled condominiums set in the trees in their familiar defensive posture -- a cluster of dwellings blending so well with the environment that birds kept flying into the plate-glass windows.

[. . .]

"Why can't we be intelligent about death?" I said.

"It's obvious."

"It is?"

"Ivan Ilyich screamed for three days. That's about as intelligent as we get. Tolstoy himself struggled to understand. He feared it terribly."

"It's almost as though our fear is what brings it on. If we could learn not to be afraid, we could live forever."

"We talk ourselves into it. Is that what you mean?"

"I don't know what I mean, I only know I'm just going through the motions of living. I'm technically dead. My body is growing a nebulous mass. They track these things like satellites. All this is a result of a byproduct of insecticide. There's something artificial about my death. It's shallow, unfulfilling. I don't belong to the earth or sky. They ought to carve an aerosol can on my tombstone."

"Well said."

What did he mean, well said? I wanted him to argue with me, raise my dying to a higher level, make me feel better.

"Do you think it's unfair?" he said.

"Of course I do. Or is that a trite answer?"

He seemed to shrug.

[. . .]

"Your status as a doomed man lends your words a certain prestige and authority. I like that. As the time nears, I think you'll find that people will be eager to hear what you have to say. They will seek you out."

"Are you saying this is a wonderful opportunity for me to win friends?"

"I'm saying you can't let down the living by slipping into self-pity and despair. People will depend on you to be brave. What people look for in a dying friend is a stubborn kind of gravel-voiced nobility, a refusal to give in, with moments of indomitable humor. You're growing in prestige even as we speak. You're creating a hazy light about your own body. I have to like it."

We walked down the middle of a steep and winding street. There was no one around. The houses were old and looming, set above narrow stone stairways in partial disrepair.

"Do you believe love is stronger than death?"

"Not in a million years."

"Good," he said. "Nothing is stronger than death. Do you believe the only people who fear death are those who are afraid of life?"

"That's crazy. Completely stupid."

"Right. We all fear death to some extent. Those who claim otherwise are lying to themselves. Shallow people."

"People with their nicknames on their license plates."

"Excellent, Jack. Do you believe life without death is somehow incomplete?"

"How could it be incomplete? Death is what makes it incomplete."

"Doesn't our knowledge of death make life more precious?"

"What good is a preciousness based on fear and anxiety? It's an axious quivering thing."

"True. The most deeply precious things are those we feel secure about. A wife, a child. Does the specter of death make a child more precious?"


"No. There is no reason to believe life is more precious because it is fleeting. Here is a statement. A person has to be told he is going to die before he can begin to live life to the fullest. True or false?"

"False. Once your death is established, it becomes impossible to live a satisfying life."

"Would you prefer to know the exact date and time of your death?"

"Absolutely not. It's bad enough to fear the unknown. Faced with the unknown, we can pretend it itsn't there. Exact dates would drive many to suicide, if only to beat the system."

We crossed an old highway bridge, screened in, littered with sad and faded objects. We followed a footpath along a creek, approached the edge of the high school playing field. Women brought small children here to play in the long-jump pits.

"How do I get around it?" I said.

"You could put your faith in technology. It got you here, it can get you out. This is the whole point of technology. It creates an appetite for immortality on the one hand. It threatens universal extinction on the other. Technology is lust removed from nature."

"It is?"

"It's what we invented to conceal the terrible secret of our decaying bodies. But it's also lfie, isn't it? It prolongs life, it provides new organs for those that wear out. New devices, ne techniques every day. Lasers, masers, ultrasound. Give yourself up to it, Jack. Believe in it. They'll insert you in a gleaming tube, irradiate your body with the basic stuff of the universe. Light, energy, dreams. God's own goodness."

"I don't think I want to see any doctors for a while, Murray, thanks."

"In that case you can always get around death by concentrating on the life beyond."

"How do I do that?"

"It's obvious. Read up on reincarnation, transmigration, hyperspace, the resurrection of the dead and so on. Some gorgeous systems have evolved from these beliefs. Study them."

"Do you believe in any of these things?"

"Millions of people have believed for thousands of years. Throw in with them. Belief in a second birth, a second life, is practically universal. This must mean something."

"But these gorgeous systems are all so different."

"Pick one you like."

"But you make it sound like a convenient fantasy, the worst kind of self-delusion."

Again he seemed to shrug. "Think of the great poetry, the music and dance and ritual that spring forth from our aspiring to a life beyond death. Maybe these things are justification enough for our hopes and dreams, although I wouldn't say that to a dying man."

[. . .]

"Why have I had this fear so long, so consistently?"

"It's obvious. You don't know how to repress. We're all aware there's no escape from death. How do we deal with this crushing knowledge? We repress, we disguise, we bury, we exclude. Some people do it better than others, that's all."

"How can I improve?"

"You can't. Some people just don't have the unconscious tools to perform the necessary disguising operations."

"How do we know repression exists if the tools are unconscious and the thing we're repressing is so cleverly disguised?"

"Freud said so. Speaking of looming figures."

[. . .]

"Do you think I'm somehow healthier because I don't know how to repress? Is it possible that constant fear is the natural state of man and that by living close to my fear I am actually doing something heroic, Murray?"

"Do you feel heroic?"


"Then you probably aren't."

"But isn't repression unnatural?"

"Fear is unnatural. Lightning and thunder are unnatural. Pain, death, reality, these are all unnnatural. We can't bear these things as they are. We know too much. So we resort to repression, compromise and disguise. This is how we survive in the universe. This is the natural language of the species."

[. . .]

"Why do I feel so good when I'm with Wilder? It's not like being with the other kids?" I said.

"You sense his total ego, his freedom from limits."

"In what way is he free from limits?"

"He doesn't know he's going to die. He doesn't know death at all. You cherish this simpleton blessing of his, this exemption from harm. You want to get close to him, touch him, look at him, breathe him in. How lucky he is. A cloud of unknowing, an omnipotent little person. The child is everything, the adult nothing. Think about it. A person's entire life is the unraveling of this conflict. No wonder we're bewildered, staggered, shattered."

"Aren't you going too far?"

"I'm from New York."

"We create beautiful and lasting things, build vast civilizations."

"Gorgeous evasions," he said. "Great escapes."

* * * * * * *

(Note to self: Harry Houdini as a model of living?)

More DNA

This has been a good week for DNA news. Unfortunately, it's not all been good news. Today's Times picks up and builds on the story I linked a couple of days ago about the too-often forgotten human element of DNA evidence.

DNA testing, when properly conducted and interpreted, can provide categorical proof of guilt or innocence. Its role in the exoneration of more than 120 people has captured the public imagination. But this uniquely authoritative tool can also play a role in wrongful convictions.

"It is powerful evidence both to convict and to exonerate," said Peter Neufeld, a founder of the Innocence Project at Cardozo Law School, a program that works to free innocent people in prison. "It's kind of a truth machine. But any machine when it gets in the hands of human beings can be manipulated or abused."

[. . .]

Elizabeth A. Johnson, an expert in DNA testing in California, said everyone in the criminal justice system should be wary of accepting reports concerning DNA evidence without testing their conclusions.

"It is very, very reliable if you do two things right: if you test it right, and if you interpret the results right," Ms. Johnson said. "The problem is that jurors think it's absolute and infallible."

The problem with DNA testing is not that it results in falsely positive results. The problem is the human factor.

"So many of the people who give DNA testimony," said Stephen B. Bright, the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, "went to two weeks of training by the F.B.I. in Quantico, say, and they are miraculously transformed from beat policemen into forensic scientists."

And so the white porn-laden van drives on.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

An Awakening(?)

I've almost nothing at all to say about this -- I was stunned into submission and silence. The New York Observer has awoken. Even if you don't agree with me on Iraq, read it -- it'll do you good to get a different perspective from time to time. If with that you've not thrown your computer across the room in a rage, be sure to check out Paul Krugman's latest column, too. Keep questioning, friends!

Friday, March 14, 2003

A House Divided

It's really good to know that the Bush administration has its ducks in a row in regard to a democratic Iraq. I mean, really, could things get a little more contradictory? They seem to top themselves with each passing day and decision.

A classified State Department report expresses deep skepticism that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East, a claim President Bush has made in trying to build support for a war, according to intelligence officials familiar with the document.

The report exposes significant divisions within the Bush administration over the so-called democratic domino theory, one of the arguments that underpins the case for invading Iraq.

The report, which has been distributed to a small group of top government officials but not publicly disclosed, says that daunting economic and social problems are likely to undermine basic stability in the region for years, let alone prospects for democratic reform.

Even if some version of democracy took root -- an event the report casts as unlikely -- anti-American sentiment is so pervasive that elections in the short term could lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled governments hostile to the United States.

"Liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve," says one passage of the report, according to an intelligence official who agreed to read portions of it to the Los Angeles Times. "Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements."

The thrust of the document, the source said, "is that this idea that you're going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible."

[. . .]

The official stressed that no one in intelligence or diplomatic circles opposes the idea of trying to install a democratic government in Iraq.

"It couldn't hurt," the official said. "But to sell (the war) on the basis that this is going to cause 1,000 flowers to bloom is naive."

I beg to differ, Mr. Official. To buy this war on this basis, as the majority of Americans seem to be very willing to do -- passively or actively -- is naive. Selling it is just dubious used car salesmanship, a cynical masquerade of optimism and thrift. Buyer Beware.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Always a Flip Side

Like a lot of people, I was pretty comforted when I read yesterday about the proposed $1 billion package for DNA testing. I mean sure, I was a little suspect because John Ashcroft was touting the idea, which de facto makes it the equivalent of getting in that dirty white van that pulls up beside you when your car's broken down on an isolated road, a van whose interior is lined with porn. Getting in seems like a good idea at the time, if nothing else.

Hot on the heels of this proposal, though, is today's report in The Guardian about the wide-eyed, trigger-happy nimrods in the Houstons who have consistently made a mess of DNA testing.

Thousands of convictions based on DNA evidence have been called into question after inspections revealed that sloppy standards and contamination of evidence were rife at American police laboratories.

The debacle is centred on Houston, Texas, where the first sample to be retested showed that DNA used to convict a man now serving 25 years for rape could not possibly have been his. Another 524 cases are being scrutinised in the city, while similar problems in Oklahoma, Montana and Washington state could give thousands more inmates new grounds for appeal.

Josiah Sutton, now 21, was jailed in 1999 on the basis of the Houston police department's genetic testing, since the victim was the only witness and her recollection was sketchy. But lab technicians there were incompetent, standards were poor and some DNA evidence was even contaminated by rainwater from a leaking roof, the audit concluded.

"What's that you say, Mr. Driver of the White Porn-Laden Van? I have a pretty mouth? Why, um, thank you, I think. . . ."

Monday, March 10, 2003

A Father-to-Son Talk

Leave it to Dad to rain on your parade:

The first President Bush has told his son that hopes of peace in the Middle East would be ruined if a war with Iraq were not backed by international unity.

Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations.

He also urged the President to resist his tendency to bear grudges, advising his son to bridge the rift between the United States, France and Germany.

"You've got to reach out to the other person. You've got to convince them that long-term friendship should trump short-term adversity," he said.

Junior's unequivocal case for war, it seems, is about as convincing to his dad as my eloquently-presented case to mine that school wasn't necessary after eighth grade

[Bush, Sr.] said that the key question of how many weapons of mass destruction Iraq held "could be debated". The case against Saddam was "less clear" than in 1991, when Mr Bush Sr led an international coalition to expel invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Objectives were "a little fuzzier today", he added.

If Bush, Sr. is anything like my dad, the next thing on his fatherly to-do list is the all-important lesson: money doesn't grow on trees.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum makes a good point about this story; namely, that it's not much of a story. Ho hum. This is what you get for blogging while eating dinner.

Note to Self [3]

Note to self, Edward Gorey is, and has always been, delightfully fucked up. [ed. What was the world wide web for so long without The Gashlycrumb Tinies?]

Note to Self [2]

Note to self, upon leaving Britain, do not move to Tokyo.

Note to Self [1]

Note to self, as soon as I get this blasted degree . . .get the hell outta Britain!.

Saturday, March 08, 2003


Holy Crap! The Washington Post actually printed this story about fake nuclear evidence:

A key piece of evidence linking Iraq to a nuclear weapons program appears to have been fabricated, the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector said yesterday in a report that called into question U.S. and British claims about Iraq's secret nuclear ambitions.

[. . .]

Knowledgeable sources familiar with the forgery investigation described the faked evidence as a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in the central African nation of Niger. The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away -- including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the officials said.

"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.

To laugh or to cry? to turn on the television and hope for something better? to drink to gutter-bound excess? to self-medicate until the black spots in my periphery become blinders?

UDPATE: Man, a domino effect here. Newsweek is jumping on the bandwagon, too. 'Tis what happens, Mr. President, when you're stock is going down quicker than one of your daughters at a frat party. [Apologies to Tbogg for lifting one of his recurring jokes.]

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Still Really Damn Cool

The second episode of The Animatrix is locked and loaded for download. I was only nominally interested in The Matrix, but for some reason this stuff is really blowing me out of my chair.

A Wish

Where I wish I was right about now.

Status Report

Most people won't care about this, but some of you periodically ask how things are going with my research, if the directions have changed, and to what degree. For the helluva it, I thought I'd post the theoretical model of theology with which I'm working this evening, as I desperately try to find the words for a conference paper proposal. The more I look at it, the more I realize it's not really proposing much of a paper, and just asserting my perspective on things; plus, I'm really quite wary that I seem to be more obviously interested in aesthetics than theology. Then again, is there a difference? Oh, dear me, this could prove to be a long evening.

* * * * * * *

What becomes of theology when its beginning can only be known as such in the midst of the ironic interrogation: 'What is the character of theology?' Indeed, where and how does theology begin to reply? When 'character' betrays a necessary essence that is to be unveiled, theology's character is a revelation. And yet this revelation (essence) can only begin, that is, can only return to itself, as revelation, in an economy of self-identity. Thus continues the interrogation in which theology begins. Theology's essence, then, its revelation of itself, its beginning and ending, appears as a 'characterising' return. This appearance of self-reflection, which is the masking of essence, however, changes the interrogation only slightly to 'Who is the character of theology?' The self-imposed split of reflection -- the ‘I Am that I Am’ of theology -- is theology's immeasurable problem, its necessary search for an essence / nature by way of a reflection / discourse that can only ever mask it. As a result, theology is always emerging both as question and answer, subject and object; as such, theology's character becomes then one of essence and problematising reflection.

Provocatively, the theological discourse described here, as ironic characterisation, perhaps even peculiar theatricality, is more complex than what critical theory usually allows. What is too often missed in any economy of deferred return is that confusion and uncertainty are only ever apparently the deferral's natural consequences. In fact, on the stage suggested here, the appeals to syllogism and correspondence cannot actually be silenced. Importantly, these recalcitrant appeals are thoroughly theological, inasmuch as they seek to articulate the differences between 'beginning' and 'ending' that mark the identity of self and other, an articulation which assumes an unspoken essence that precedes and encompasses this articulation's reflection upon itself. That which identifies a character 'as' a character, must (and yet, problematically, still cannot) remain unspoken; articulation, like consciousness, remains a necessarily impossible avoidance. The resultant play of complexity and characterisation implies a repositioning of one's perspective from the binary logic that inevitably leads to identification for both structuralism and post-structuralism, to that of more complex, decentered networks, in which identity is an evolutionary emergence within a complex of variegated networks whose identities are also being constructed similarly.

From this perspective, theology (as that which is unspeakable) only ever truly emerges in an apparent inter-disciplinary confusion, often between the likes of literature, philosophy, and science. Moreover, theological discourse is a reflection upon the necessary attempt of any such discipline (including, even, that of Religious Studies) for an impossible cognisance of its incognisance, and thus is the dynamic attempt within a discipline and discourse to explore the liminal moment of its becoming-itself. Concerned with the boundary between chaos and order, the character of theological discourse conforms to the pattern of self-organised networks, and is staged on the critical, precipitant point where a small, seemingly isolate change has the potential to push it into chaotic madness or lock it in an inert stasis. Not surprisingly, most contemporary theorists regard this point as the site of the most interesting behaviour that occurs in any complex system. More importantly, this is where all such systems tend to gravitate when given the chance to do so. Because many inchoate 'Artificial Life' systems are assumed to operate here as well, it is not merely anecdotal that we find a suggestive parallel with the knotted network of theology.

For much critical theory, the character of theology is one of hyperreality and duplicity. And yet to follow this trajectory beyond the liminal movement between order and chaos is, I suggest, self-defeating, as the necessarily impossible avoidance of speaking the unspeakable awaits either pole. The interplay between the two is, rather, a non-linear, intransitive point of complexity and adaptation. By continually morphing shape and changing masks, the character of theology is seemingly chaotic; however, it also unexpectedly hints at a predilection for the self-organised, interdisciplinary stage of order and homogeneity. The result of this play is a network of radical and spontaneous moments of uncertain discursive and disciplinary directions. Consequently, theology, as the intransitive moment that blurs just before it blinds (i.e., the subject), remains vital outside the classical realm of disciplinary theology. Because the pragmatic adaptability and reified systemisation of reflection are always already conditioned by evolutionary complexity, theology's character, as theological discourse (i.e., the object), emerges on the indispensable interdisciplinary stage of a self-reflection that makes any discipline or discourse comprehensible but altogether inadequate to explain why this is so.

* * * * * * *

What was I saying earlier in the week about my research keeping me distant from the 'real' world?

Beating a Dead Horse By Now

I know what I said yesterday about my anecdotal evidence to the contrary of those that are reporting rampant harassment of Americans across Europe, and I still stand by what I said, but I'm also big enough to admit, under the weighted strain of one fiery Belgian's forceful argument, that I should not ignore the broader dynamics of anti-Americanism itself. The bottle of wine I just drank, though, is close to setting in; so this is where Simon Schama's essay in The New Yorker comes into play. Obviously, as Scott Marten over at Pedantry points out, the story Schama tells begs the telling of its converse -- the history of anti-Europeanism in America -- but it's a start. Definitely worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

A Story I Don't Believe

According to the USA Today a few days ago, Vince Vaughn is not enjoying the anti-American harassment he's getting while in Europe. The piece is peppered with several anecdotes from a variety of Americans who didn't feel they were welcomed with open arms here in the Old World. As an American living abroad, I, too, have a few supplemental anecdotes of my own.

In the past year and a half, I've not had one problem with anti-Americanism. The closest came from a guy I walked past on the way out of the subway in Brussels who was muttering something inane about sex, Sadaam Hussein, and George Bush. Katrien tells me that my lack of confrontation stems from my not being the "typical American" (i.e., not as loud, quite willing to be critical of America, and able to hold my liquor [ed. Okay, I made up the last one, as it is one she would seriously contest]). Sorry dear, but I think you've missed the mark on this one. The "typical American" in Europe (remember, I'm speaking very anecdotally here, and thus quite generally) didn't vote for Bush; as such, there's a damn good chance that the "typical American" is willing to be just as critical of what's going on in their name as I am. Keep in mind, first, that no more than 20% (possibly even, depending upon the statistician, 8%) of Americans have passports; second, reflect on those (middle & southern) Americans who today are all too happy to admit that they voted for Bush. With both of these facts in mind, and being very wary to avoid making too much of a pejorative value judgement about the individuals in question, let me make an assumption that is based purely upon my experience: the latter are probably not representative of American world-travellers. The people most willing to leave the country for any length of time, business executives notwithstanding, generally have a more reasonable perspective on their country. ("Reasonable" here in the sense that, no matter their vote in 2000, they generally cringe when they're abroad and witness the most recent round of American sabre-rattling and bridge-burning, often directed at the same countries they're visiting, because it is difficult to connect current policy with the coldly objective sense to which we like to associate anything that is "reasonable.") Most of the Europeans I've ever met realize this reticence, I think, and thus generally confine their screeds to George Bush until they're given reason to believe you're more than an equivocating, ambivalent supporter. In the end, remember that most Europeans are like you, in that they're just trying to get through their day without going insane. (Americans have anti-depressant pills, golf courses, and ammo to blow off steam; we have alcohol and casual sex. Pick your poison, I guess.)

Then again, there might also be an element of truth to what Katrien says, albeit in a way she may not agree with. I spend most of my days and nights cooped up in front of my research, getting out only to drink. When I drink, my volume increases; and when my volume increases, my willingness to be critical of America is spread throughout the pub or cafe. Hence, perhaps, my never having any problems with anybody.

As for Vince Vaughn, I think his problems in Europe can be pinpointed exactly to that moment he decided to have an acting career, post-Swingers. Mr. Vaughn, they will not forget nor forgive The Lost World, Return to Paradise, Psycho, The Cell, Domestic Disturbance, et al. You're only hope is that Will Farrell saves your ass over here in Old School; otherwise, you best burn that passport, 'cause the Bulgarians, I hear, are getting mighty pissed.

The Story Nobody Believes

This only slightly deviates from the private promise I mentioned yesterday because it so closely relates to my overriding interest in life as storytelling. In other words, bear with me.

Let me see if I understand this situation correctly. According to Jack Straw yesterday, if France and/or Russia don't cooperate and either abstain from voting in the Security Council or use their veto, then then "reap a whirlwind," by pushing America "into a unilateral position in which they are the centre of a unipolar world." Meanwhile, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld continue to insist that a second resolution isn't necessary either way. If I'm reading this right, correct me if I'm wrong, the rest of the world remains America's bitch either way the vote goes, right -- be it through explicit punishment and retribution, or tacit threats that are intended to keep up appearances.

The fact is, though, America's unilateralism has a flipside, as we're seeing unfold with North Korea now; as such, and due to the tenuous state of the worldwide economy, I think it's only capable of going so far. Of course, Bush's threat that America won't forgive or forget is a not-so-subtle economic threat, but let's not kid ourselves into forgetting that the economic war between Europe and America already began a few years ago. This is a patriotically-driven escalation that I very cynically dismiss as a temporary blip -- Americans (the public, if not the government) are not known for sustaining their interest in these kinds of things, especially when they're out of work and hypnotized by the latest reality show (I'm still awaiting word, incidentally, on my reality show proposal about college athlectics, Slave Labor); and let's not forget, French wine is fucking good!

In all, the only thing that this yawn-inducing imbroglio will effect is an equally banal story that nobody but the West buys anyway. Honestly, I just don't see the maintenance of American multilateralism as a viable, all that convincing story anymore. Either way this next Security Council vote goes, until something fundamental changes in American foreign policy the story of its cooperative involvement with the world as a whole is not going to be one that anybody truly buys. Some of the implications of this are downright frightening. For instance, I can't fathom how this will help diminish the effects (and the dangers) of anti-Americanism abroad; and if this is the case, you of course then have the heightened risk of terrorism, which in all likelihood will thus extend the encroachment upon the same civil liberties that enflame the passions, sometimes violently so, of domestic fringe groups (one need only think of Oklahoma City). And this is only one train of thought amongst many more (admittedly, some of the possibilities are not nearly as bleak [i.e., the democratization of the Middle East], but they are mostly predicated upon a best-case, ideologically-free scenario we have little to no reason at all to expect). If the Bush administration does actually think beyond an outdatedly simple paradigm of cause-and-effect -- for every action there is a (predictable) equal reaction -- they sure as hell, for one reason or another, are not articulating this.

I'm not sure which is scarier, their possible ignorance or their outright duplicity.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The sound of one hand clapping

The hit rate for Silentio has been pretty low the past couple of days, so I don't think too many people have noticed this, but I'm trying to cut back my posting until I have something halfway interesting to say. This doesn't mean I won't occasionally throw out five posts that consist only of links; it just means that I think that my inclination to do so is on hold for a while. I've been trying to get my head around a couple of things here for school, and just couldn't find the words to reflect on the thoughts that I have about the things that you may or may not finding interesting. That seems like a pretty fair description of this blog, don't you think?

I'm at a sluggish point of the term, it seems, in which self-imposed expectations are emerging. It's not yet April, but I sense the cruelest month around the corner. The more I anticipate, the more I dread; the more I dread, the more I delay; the more I delay, the more I frustrated I grow; the more frustrated I grow, the more I drink. That said, I'm trying to break the cycle tonight by drinking before the frustration sets in. Perhaps later tonight I'll report on my relative success.

Here's a wishlist of things to comment on in the coming days, or perhaps coming week. Hold me accountable, or it may never happen:

  • How the distance I feel from American popular culture is equal to the proximity of American news, and how this relates to the myth of globalization.
  • The interplay between sex and technology in the construction of self.

  • My absurd tale of my afternoon of deceit, abnormal breasts, and James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake at a postgraduate seminar dedicated to the question, "Do animals have souls?"

  • Comments upon my first reading of Shawn J. Rosenheim's book, The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Poe to the Internet.

Interspersed here and there, of course, will be the obligatory links that I find interesting and/or funny. Regarding the latter, I'm sticking by a private promise to keep my reflections, pro- or anti- (however I feel that day), about the war to a stark minimum; to not inundate Silentio with reminders that millions of people might very well die in another war in Southeast Asia; and to post absolutely no more naked pictures of myself. Agreed? Good.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Thoughts on Consistency, Part II

You know, now that I think about it, American Christian bookstores operate with such consistency that it is the causa causan of the inconsistency to which I am referring. Christian bookstores, for example, are by and large undergirded by an evangelical faith whose paramount theme is the transcendence of God. However, its inconsistency lies not in the parallel and yet wholly paradoxical belief in the immanence of God, but in the production and selling of books and theological systems that wrangle such a deity to the dust, hogtie it, stand up, and say, "Look at what I can do!" A riddle solved isn't much of a riddle, if you ask me; it's closer to a joke with a punch line that may or may not make us laugh. One doesn't need to believe in God to think that something is askew by making absolute Otherness vapid Sameness. The evangelical faith presented in these bookstores also holds up the Bible as the definitive, awesome revelation of a graceful God to and through humanity; while on the same shelf, the same doctrine is likely deflated into an array of bracelets, glow-in-the-dark stickers, and diet and relationship books that resemble the Bible only inasmuch as they invoke the occasional biblical name and exhort the memorization of biblical stories and verses. In essence, the Christian bookstore both seduces and is seduced by the consistency of its own very peculiar inconsistency.

It hasn't been too long, I'm rather shocked to admit, since I was last in such a store. The reason eludes me, but I'm sure it was not a good one. Impious reasons for my visit notwithstanding, I found myself agog by all sorts of novel knickknacks near the door, specifically "Bible Pictionary" ("Oooo, oooo, I know, is it the rape of Tamar?") and "Adam to Jesus Genealogical Chart" (apparently, God kept a faithful family tree to show Jesus, just to make sure he couldn't cop out when he realized that during that last really awkward dinner with the boys he should've green-lighted Peter's bum-rush of Judas). However, nothing better typified its self-made seduction more than what I came to affectionately call, "The Wall O' Crosses." The highlight, if that is the correct word for it, is the stunning rendering of Jesus' final moments on the cross. The spear had pierced his side, and he was limp with the release of his spirit. A stunning moment, to be sure, made even more stunning by something the Gospel narratives seem to have missed: the garroting of Jesus. It took me several seconds to notice it, but the very placement of the price tag on the crucifix is itself priceless. Capitalism reigns in this interesting but I would imagine wholly unintentional metaphor, as the price tag is wrapped around the strained neck of Jesus. The same dollar that burns deep into our pockets cuts even deeper into the flesh of Christ.

The term "secular" necessarily assumes the "sacred," and vice versa, and yet, particularly with the advent of humanism, both preach the rhetoric that each has overcome the other. Walking through a Christian bookstore, however, is an odd, somewhat unnerving example of a kind of quasi-reality that often mimics what it proclaims to have overcome. For instance, one of the mainstays of Christian popular culture in America is the ubiquitous Christian t-shirt. As I examined the shirts pinned to the walls as though Christ to the cross, I realized that they very intentionally, and often imperceptibly, perverted the logos and images of "secular" popular culture just enough (a) to avoid copyright infringement, and (b) to inject some moralizing, Christian theme that is ostensibly intended to provoke religious conversion or edification (or simply to make the person damned for hell feel really bad about it prior to going there). My visceral reaction was to cry foul at what appeared to be, if nothing else at all, a vacuous lack of creativity. The more I thought about it, though, the more I became impressed. Granted, I still find it all grossly condescending and overwhelmingly cheesy, but I remain ironically impressed by the sheer audacity to conjure up and sell such a product. In other words, in a strange sort of way that made me need to go home and take a shower afterward, I too found myself seduced by the consistency of the inconsistent here, the direct necessity of what the sacred purports to have overcome.

Another of the more interesting products, one that made me search frantically through the store in search of an available electrical outlet, stumbling over a child playing with a Noah's Ark action figure set in the process, was a nightlight. I realize that doesn't sound interesting enough to interrupt a worldwide, cataclysmic flood, but be sure, my friends, this was by no means an ordinary nightlight. In fact, it too was a stunning icon of a religious subculture that, in my opinion, has entirely too much money to spend. The nightlight itself was normal enough, but the cover was brilliant because of the incongruity with its function. The bulb was facing a disproportionately large stained glass inscribed with the characteristically biblical scene of a shepherd tending his flock, accompanied by the words of John 10:14-15: "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep." The sanctified function, one assumes anyway, is the colorful illumination of this image and verse for anyone who might need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

My visit to the bookstore, in the end, left me both amused and perplexed by the things I had seen and, quite honestly, nearly purchased. All the while, however, I remained slightly frustrated. For I, along with everyone else, seek consistency on my own terms -- perish the thought of relieving myself in front of the Good Shepherd seeking his lost sheep! This marriages of heaven and hell, beginning and end, consistency and inconsistency are not generally met with an eager embrace. We naturally balk at the reality that the only fixed point is an ambiguous one. The need for a stabilizing differentiation, for segregation, for opposition is within and without us, or so it would appear. But, as the Christian bookstore shows, and it is but one example out of many, such a need seems to be only apparent. Appearances can be, and often are, deceiving. In the end, the overwhelmingly natural inconsistency within the play of surfaces, of characterization, expectations shouldn't compel us to ask, "How can I solve this problem?" or "How can I be more consistent?", but maybe just "Wow, what now then?" After all life, life goes on, with, and perhaps even because of, its self-deception in tow.