Wednesday, August 31, 2005


In the last week, a couple of posts opened up serious discussion about committed three-plus relationships in the Islamic, Mormon, and secular worlds.

I posted all over the second link, so my views are pretty well represented there. One thing I learned in discussion there, though, is that there is a basic disconnect between polyamory and polygamy. The first refers to plural relationships that are voluntarily entered into and dissolved according to personal preference; it is up to the individuals involved to maintain the relationships as they see fit. The second involves marriage law, social convention, family pressure, and institutional support. It's a very different kind of animal.

Polyamory can clarify one point in the debate about polygamy: it can be possible to balance multiple partners without necessarily being cruel. That's just about the only relevance that polyamory, defined as a sexual choice among others, has for understanding what polygamy means in societies where it's practiced. To put it very bluntly: polyamory is about finding a niche in an open market, while polygamy is about finding the best refuge in a limited market.

The more interesting argument should address the in-between stages. Polygamy makes sense in certain economic situations, but what happens when cultural and legal traditions persist after the economic conditions have changed? The US strategy of crushing polygamy in the West will certainly not work in the more heterogeneous mideast--and I understand that Mohammed himself condoned and legalized polygamy.

So, am I crazy to think that these linked articles, all of which advocate polygamy against perceived opponents, might counter-intuitively be seen as progress? If woman-advocating-polygamy is seen as news, could it be that more news readers perceive polygamy to be a retrogressive institution?

Below the fold, I reproduce my ObWi comment on my family's polygamous history, with some preliminary remarks on Mormon theology.

The Mormon afterlife is extraordinally bureaucratic; certain forms can be processed in the afterlife, and others must be processed here on earth. (Baptism is one that must happen on earth; hence the genealogical work and baptisms for the dead.) The forms that are processed on earth then carry over into the afterlife.

If you get married to more than one person--even if the marriages were serially monogamous--you'll end up with a polygamous afterlife, according to Mormon theology.

Joseph Smith's capacity for underhandedness and, IMHO, chicanery, I certainly don't deny, but the practice became much more widespread (and better regulated) after the move to Utah, after Smith's death.

I tend to agree with you that the widows-and-orphans line reeks of apology and bull in the Mormon case. It's a line I've heard a fair amount from contemporary Mormons try to justify (here: "explain while condoning") polygamy. On the other hand, in some cases, it seems to have had some truth.

A rather long family anecdote, to illustrate the ambiguities.

My great-great grandmother was a very poor young woman from Germany. I'm not entirely sure whether she was on the East Coast or in Germany when she converted, but German was certain her first language. Either way, in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, once she converted, she would have had an established wagon train to get to Utah. Since at this time individual members' property was largely considered Church property (although the full communitarian attempt was mostly over), her migration would have been either heavily subsidized or free. She became Joseph Smith's grand-nephew's fifth wife.

Was she happy? I don't really know. Her son, from whom I'm descended, wasn't a believer and even ran away from Utah. His father found him, though, and brought him back to the fold. This son eventually chose to raise his children within the church, in his own way. There's a family anecdote about his refusing to give a personal testimony when on a mission.

Was she young? Yes, I think so. In the annual family newsletter from that branch, each of the wives is portrayed in a photograph--so that members can identify themselves by wife, macabrely enough. Her photograph is the youngest-looking of the lot, and she was pretty.

Was her fate as the fifth wife of a comparatively wealthy and important Mormon man better than what she might have faced as a poor immigrant in the East? It's really hard to say, but in the end, I can only trust that she made her choices as she saw fit.

(The father eventually became President of the Church after the Feds shut down polygamy in the US. For details of the continuing legal effort to prosecute polygamy, see this more general wiki entry. The family didn't break up, although some legal shuffling may have happened. Historical accounts I've read claim that he continued to perform polygamous marriages into the 20th century.)


Chaotic Times

The aftermath of Katrina in the US South has sucked up almost all of my internet attention. My main portal to online sources has been the Nielsen Haydens' Making Light. They recently linked to Craigslist's New Orleans Lost& Found page, and reading just the titles of posts there made me weepy. The Nielsen Haydens also remind readers that one of the best reactions to emergencies is to prepare for future emergencies. To that end, I'm updating my own "jump bag" or "go bag" to reflect both James MacDonald's suggestions (very first-aid oriented) and the New York City OEM recommendations, which reflect the bureaucratic complications of refugee life.

Other links: I've been impressed by the ongoing local coverage at's weblog. Wikipedia, once again, has proved itself as a good immediate tracking and compiling resource. A good source for tracking the effects of this disaster on the oil economy is The Oildrum (a self-described peak-oil theory site). The best source for political outrage is Americablog.

On a more personal note, I really have to say that I'm not impressed by Bush's official statement this afternoon. He ran down a list of statistics about the response teams that were on their way (some of which were not due to arrive in region until Friday, he urged Americans to donate to the RedCross, and he asserted that New Orleans would persevere and rebuild. People are dying right now. I hope those response teams get there really damned fast, and on the government dime.

It's a wonderful aspect of US culture that people feeled obliged to give to private charities after catastrophes, but it's much more effective when governments use their resources in a well-coordinated effort. Which has more helicopters at hand, the American Red Cross or the US government? Whose orders in life-or-death situations are more likely to be obeyed, the Catholic Charity or the National Guard? It's really hard not to think that the federal response to Katrina has been too little, too late.

What weirds me out is that this is the only hurricane I've freaked out about beforehand, and I did so primarily because Teresa Nielsen Hayden blogged about it on Saturday and provided links to a Weather Underground site where commenters were predicting awful, dire things. This seems to be a case where the internet, passing through its better filters, really seems to have had the jump on officialdom.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Grandad's Yukon Stories 2: Domestic Life

In my first post about Grandad's stories of life in the Yukon, we see what honeymoons, manual labor, and real toughness meant to outback folk.

There were some real characters in the Yukon, and some of them were female. After the fold, one of the cautiously respected characters of the early 20th-c frontier, in my grandfather's words.
"One of the better known roadhouse operators in days gone by was Ma Schaeffer at Pelly Crossing. She was a large, tough, good-hearted woman with little education. She would rouse the crew and guests at the roadhouse in the morning by yelling up the stairs, 'Hurry up and come alive! I've got to have that sheet you're sleeping on for a tablecloth!' In later years she was married to Cy Detra who had a small ranch at Thistle Creek. They were flooded out one time by an ice jam and had to escape by going out the second story window and up onto the roof. Cy, who was not a big man, had a real struggle getting her out the window and up onto the roof.

"The Detras had a vegetable garden, raised hay, and had a few cattle, including a bull. The Pelly farm was also in existence at that time, and had some cattle but no bull. One time the Pelly farm owners arranged to borrow the bull from the Detras to service their cows. The bull had to be transported from one location to the other by steamer. Their deckhands were having a hard time persuading the bull to walk down the gangplank onto the steamer Casca. The ship was loaded with tourists and they were all out on deck watching the procedure. Captain Campell, a very proper, gentlemanly sort, was in the midst of them, leaning over the Texas deck railing. To amuse himself and the tourists around him, he was shouting gossip and joshing back and forth with the Detras on shore. Just to say something he shouted down, 'Mrs. Detra, has that bull of yours got a pedigree?'

"A look of astonishment came into her eyes as if she were saying to herself, 'Pedigree, pedigree, what the hell is a pedigree?' Then there was was a look of comprehension as if the word had suddenly clicked in her brain. 'Pedigree! I should sa-a-ay he has!' And she held her big, fat arm up in the air and pointed with her other hand to a cut off point near her shoulder. 'When that old bull gets excited he has a pedigree that big!'"



Hurricane Katrina is expected to make landfall in southern Louisiana in about four hours. At this time, weather geeks are debating whether it will be a category 4 or a category 5 hurricane when it hits. New Orleans is right in the path. According to commenters at Jeff Masters's Weather Underground blog, projecting the impact of a category 5 hurricane on the below-sea-level city has been a classic essay question on many metereological final exams for awhile. Over the last few years, a few worst-case scenarios have gotten into the public eye; they've now been linked around all over the place.

I'm not going to try to keep up with the links. Teresa at Making Light has been keeping tabs on the most reliable sources of older and on-going information.

We'll see what kind of impact this disaster will have on the oil industry and the US economy. Peak Oil blog The Oil Drum is watching the storm and the markets closely.

I'm terrified for the area and its inhabitants.

Light-hearted link to mitigate the gloom: If television's a babysitter, the internet's a drunk librarian who won't shut up.
(via Bookslut)


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sites for Jackmormons

Recently I discovered a website, Zarahelma City Limits, devoted to the Jack Mormon (or as one sensitive essay put it, "faithful unbeliever") point of view. Most of the people contributing work to the site have a much greater personal attachment to the church than I do: many served missions, raised Mormon families, and held leadership callings. It's an interesting place for former Mormons to poke around in.

And just today, I discovered a rather more tartly ex-mormon site, the Salamander Society, a newer site whose rhetorical tactics tend more towards blowing poisoned darts behind trees. Hey, no harm done! I enjoyed very much Joseph's vision of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I would really have liked to have received my automatic Patriachal Blessing, as I'd loaded the jave script with some really silly responses, but I repeatedly got an error page. Alas.

Across the post, some unfinished thoughts on Zarahelma's Onion-esque treatment of testimony.

So far, my favorite essay on the site is Michael Felix's Onion-inspired satire, "Area Man's Spiritual Experience Leads to Converts Worldwide," which magnifies into absurdity the value of testimony-bearing. Just a fair-use taste:
Giacomo Padovani, a Catholic priest in Milan, Italy, has informed his parish that he will be stepping down to join the Church of Jesus Christ. "I was very sure the Catholic church was the true church," he stated from his home Thursday evening. "I was priest for twenty-five years, then this! I wish I could reconcile it in my heart, but this evidence, it is too strong. I cannot deny what Mister Harris has seen!"
For those not in the know, every fourth Sunday, regular church services are suspended so that random church members can stand up and bear their testimony as to the truthfulness of everything that the church stands for. Also, bearing one's testimony is encouraged during missionary-work, at the end of community events, and in family prayer sessions. Even as a child, I was always hideously embarrassed on behalf of those who bore their testimonies, all of which seemed to follow a certain generic conventions.

Still, in church doctrine, the power of testimony is understood as overwhelming. As the expression of the sincere conviction of an upstanding man or woman, how could it fail to persuade even a hardened heart? The Book of Mormon opens with no fewer than three affidavits. Oh, the entire Whitmer family signed on to this? Well then, despite Mr. Cowdery's later apostasy, this book must surely be a third testament! It is surely a sign of how far I have fallen that I can find this sort of thing charmingly old-fashioned.


Billmon Respects Some War Reporters

I spent 2004-2005 rusticating in Germany, discovering blogs, and reading Vietnam war history, which latter I'd spent most of my life adamantly ignoring because it had been thrown at me for so long. What I found in the Vietnam histories were extraordinarily well-researched narratives by former war-correspondants: people who had been on the ground, people whose reports had been censured, edited, or ignored.

Billmon's most recent post, at the very minimum, gives us names of journalists to look for on bookshelves in the future. While I'm going to try to remember what names he trusts, my current filtering devices--look for details and atmosphere, don't believe official statements, look for qualifications and admissions of influence--seem to have kept me appropriately skeptical of this administration's plans since early 2002.

Someday, maybe, we'll read the histories we deserve, and it's more than likely that at least one of Billmon's names will write one of them.


An Anti-Endorsement for Mayor of New York

Last fall, one of the current candidates for the Democratic ticket sought to raise his profile by getting in on a breaking scandal, and early.

Within a few days of the semi-public release of the David Project's documentary of "student abuse," Columbia Unbecoming, and within only two days of coverage by New York's new daily tabloid, The Sun, the name of New York City Congressman* Anthony Weiner came on my radar for the first time.

He wrote a rather open letter to President Bollinger of Columbia University on October 25th, 2004, urging the immediate dismissal of untenured Professor Joseph Massad. According to The Sun's reporting of Weiner's letter, if the university did not fire the professor (on the basis of a documentary filled with unproved allegations, produced by a politicized group), Columbia would "enhance the public perception that it is condones anti-Semitism."

This is a long, sad, and somewhat humiliating story for everyone close to it; at the end of the internal committee's investigation, one incident emerged as being genuinely problematic out of the many alleged. For an example of some even-handed reporting on the story, see this long Nation article from March 2005 or this narrative Columbia Spectator article from May 2005. In the end-of-year Spectator article, just take a look at the time-line and remember how early, in the scheme of things, Weiner was willing to call for Massad's firing. There were serious questions of academic freedom, academic witch-hunts, internal grievance procedures, student freedom of speech, etc., that all needed very careful weighing in the aftermath of the Columbia Unbecoming bombshell.

When Representative Weiner submitted his two cents' worth--that a professor should be fired on the basis of completely unverified, political claims--almost nobody had even seen the documentary on which his opinion was based. His office added to a fire that nobody in the university quite understood yet. He was demogoguing, pure and simple, and he showed himself to be both a political opportunist and a reactive opponent to the spirit of academic freedom and rational discussion--as well as the principle of innocent until proven guilty!

I urge anyone voting in the NYC Democratic Mayoral Primary who considers him or herself a supporter of the principle of academic freedom NOT to vote for Anthony Weiner.

*Clarification: Weiner is the U.S. Congressman for the New York districts of Brooklyn and the Bronx.


The Social Psychology of Risk, Status

(I've continued to have problems getting online reliably: hypotheses abound.)

Researcher Dan Kahan, blogging at Jack Balkin's site, makes more public his explanation for what earlier cultural theorists had called "the white male effect": the seeming paradox that "white men [are] less concerned with all manner of risk (global warming, gun accidents, various medical procedures, etc.) than are women and minorities."

Piggy-backing on studies like this one that classify people according to cultural values, specific their alignment along a hierarchy-egalitarian axis, Kahan finds that the perception of risk aligns well with a hierarchical world-view. According to his work, maximizing risk would threaten hierarchical status, so people with more hierarchical worldviews tend to minimize risk, or even dismiss evidence of risk, in order to protect their perceived status. White men tend to hold hierarchical world views--and across gender lines, those women who also have these views also tend to be less worried about risk. In Kahan's words:
Status-protective motivations help to explain not only differences in risk perception across cultural groups but also certain demographic differences within such groups. Within different ways of life (hierarchical, individualistic, egalitarian, and communitarian), the types of behavior that entitle persons to esteem can vary according to gender and even race. It follows that within particular cultural groups, men and women, and whites and minorities, will react with different degrees of risk skepticism and risk sensitivity depending on whose status the dangerous activity supports.
Examples of issues that spoke to risk-perception were: nukes, the environment, industry, and abortion. Here's the takeaway line from the piece:
The natural tendency of persons (all persons, of all worldviews and demographic characteristics) to protect the status of their cultural group operates as a distorting influence on in the public’s processing of sound information.
This sort of finding always shaves close to being too cute to be true; confirming conventional wisdom by running data through at least two theoretically derived categorizations can lead to one's simply confirming the implicit biases of the theories. Sociology is, however, far outside my expertise: make of Kahan's post what you will, oh my five readers.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

James Bond Went To The Mid-East Once

As this site absorped the hits from the female-romance post, I couldn't help thinking that another interesting data-set would be the more masculine form of romance. Heroes in that genre would include spies, special-forces agents, and private citizens suddenly called upon to use their brains and muscles in the cause of righteousness and sexiness. This sort of book tends to be read by both men and women, and unlike the female-romance novel (as the Sheiks and Desert Love map so vividly presents), it is expected to describe real countries, at least somewhat plausibly.

So to start the scheming, a data-point. After the jump, I explain the title of this post.

In Ian Fleming's fifth novel, From Russia With Love (1957), the USSR launches a strange attempt to embarass the British MI5 by entrapping and ignominiously destroying its sexiest agent, James Bond. The bait is an important cryptographic machine, the Spektor, to be delivered by a gorgeous female defector. The handover is to take place in Istanbul, so Bond liases with the very colorful Darko Kerim, whose mother was an English governess and father was a Turkish circus-strongman, who brings Bond to a gypsy camp where two women fight almost to the death over a man. The Enemies in Turkey are the Russian KGB, of course, but also their mindless goons, the Bulgarians. Despite Bond's almost total lack of demonstrative affection towards men, Kerim conceives an affection for him that sanctifies Kerim's being killed and justifies Kerim's sons in blowing up ancient reservoirs for vengence.

Perhaps, in spite of all these Orientalizing tropes, Turkey shouldn't really be considered part of the Mid-East. If so, then the master-spy of intelligence-fiction never got to the region. He gets to mobbed-up France, Italy, and Greece, he gets to the Caribbean, the USSR, America, and South Africa, and he gets to Japan, Hong Kong, and some careful, coastal bits of China.

Ian Fleming did actually work in intelligence, but it was in the Naval Office during WW2 and its immediate aftermath. According to the most recent (and most objective) biography of Fleming, Andrew Lycet's Ian Fleming (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995), the most important intelligence mission he ran was a scheme to get around the Mediterrean blockade to pick up guns or refugees in Catalonia or the Riviera (my memory's a little scanty on details here, obviously): this big important plan went hideously awry.

Anyway, the point is that Fleming had no pressing reason to pay attention to trends in the Mideast, and so his novels, when they didn't ignore the region entirely, tend to portray it as a colorful battlefield for the USSR and the US to duke it out. At this point, in espionage-lit/male-ego-porn, the tropes of the Great Game still cover the Mid-East.

More data-points?

I have a few 1970s novels that treat the Mideast in an only barely updated version of the Great Game. Sam Durell specialized in this sort of Eastern spy romance. I've got his Assignment Afghan Dragon right here: written in 1976, it is based in Iran, and despite all the local color, it gives no signs, at all, of the turmoil that was about to erupt in that country. One would even suspect that the author hadn't been to the country recently, as so many plot details turn around archeology?

An in-between point might be the enormously popular political romances of Robert Ludlam, which, if my memory serves me rightly, become increasingly focused on the Mideast over the course of his writing. (Obviously, this remains highly speculative.)

Then there's the oeuvre of Daniel Silva: the hero of this more recent series is an artist and Mossad assassin. Lots of descriptions of Mediterrean culture for the (presumably US) reader; lots of backstory to explain/justify the decisions made by the Israelis. He's up to seven novels, by 2004's Prince of Fire. In this latest effort by the husband of NBC's correspondant Jamie Gangel, there is almost no character introduced who does not turn out to be a militant on either the Israeli or Palestinian side, and the world is their battlefield. The artistic and guilt-ridden assassin, Gabriel Allon, is our guide through these novels.

I've been reading spy thrillers for many years now, and rather longer than I've read female-romance novels. If we're really looking to data-mine fiction, I'm afraid that we should really be reading espionage/mercenary fantasies. After all, it's much more likely that these authors would actually interview primary sources than would, say, Susan Mallery.


Birth of a Nation

The Medium Lobster reminds viewers of the Iraqi constitutional debacle of the tumultuous times at the founding of the US.
[R]emember that the rule of law had broken down in the days of the founders as well, when Benjamin Franklin's Army of the Postmaster raped and killed any who broke with the extremist doctrines of Poor Richard's Almanac.
Seriously, I'd shell out to see that movie in the theater.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Server Troubles, Shiny Promises

Until my connection starts being more reliable, posting will remain light for the next few days.

I have requested a whole stack of sheikly-love from the NYPL, however (think I'm going to pay for that shit?), so the fun will continue anon.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Air Travel and Dubious ID

For a variety of reasons too stupid to get into here, I've been wandering around for the last year with only my passport for ID, which meant that in effect I've been wandering around without ID at all. (From my experience--no matter what this dude says--you can get in almost anywhere and buy almost anything without ID in New York City; clearly I'm getting older.)

Inevitably, sometime in the last month I misplaced my passport. It's either hiding somewhere really cunning, or it's gone. I didn't realize it had gone missing until three days before my scheduled flight from NYC to California. A thorny problem.

There are services that specialize in getting people passports within two days and even, according to one company's claims, within 24 hours. They tend to be rather expensive; the 24-hour service will set you back about $300, including the government fees. Although the services require all the official forms plus some, eventually get processed through official channels, and seem to be legit, it smelled wrong to me.

According to the TSA, if you don't have a government-issued, photo ID, for a domestic flight you can present two forms of ID, one of which has to be government-issued. They give the example of a Social Security card, which I don't have.* After talking with a customer-service representative, I decided to risk it.

Here is what I brought with me to the airport:
current student ID (1)
expired passport (1)
photocopies of missing passport (2)
expired driving licences (3)
notarized copy of birth certificate (1)
credit card (1)
library card (1)
I decided against bringing my gas/electric bill or my most recent here's-how-much-you've-earned SS report.

The airport security and airline counter staff invariably stopped dead in their tracks for a good minute when presented with this collection. All of the ID was perfectly genuine, just not quite valid: it was obvious to them that I was who I said I was, but they needed to be careful that they had a defensible basis for letting me fly.

I got on board my flights, although clearly what I brought was overkill. Still, what the staff seemed persuaded by, and how they reacted, varied. A travelogue with dubious ID through the link.

At La Guardia, the counter-person looked most closely at my birth certificate, student-ID, and most recent expired driver's licence. She gave me an extra card that allowed me to get past security showing only my student ID. I didn't get to hang onto the card, unfortunately.

At Houston, I had a long layover and wanted to leave the secured area. Inside the security parameter, before venturing out, I talked to the guy in charge and showed him my IDs. He seemed most interested in my expired passport. He told me that he'd speak to the screeners.

A short while later, I found that the screeners had not been spoken to--or if they had, they preferred to demonstrate the seriousness of their screening procedures. Three security officials spent almost five minutes comparing the pictures on my various driver's licences. They might have actually giggled. One of them said: "I can't believe you keep this old stuff!" More security staff wandered over: slow night. They passed the driver's licences around. Eventually, they got bored and let me through.

At Oakland, I got the hardest response. Two people at the check-in counter were on my case. They scrutinized everything and gave me hell. One of them told me: "Put those expired IDs away; don't use them. If you're ever asked for ID and you bring out an expired ID, bam, it's a $300 fine." (An older gay man, he seemed to know whereof he spoke.) Only the notarized birth-certificate seemed to save my bacon. The check-in person gave me a boarding-pass that qualified me for special security checks: metal scan, body pat-down, and overturned bag.

---it's a good idea to have more than one government-issued ID at all times.
---you can fly with only dubious ID, but the more of them that seem official, the better.
---pictures, lots of pictures, on your IDs. It helps if you're cute.
---everyone should get a notarized birth certificate. You'll only need to bring it out of your files when you really need it.
---if you're white, you'll get the toughest treatment in the most liberal areas.

* Although after nine years of higher education I have my Social Security number memorized, it appears easier than I thought to replace a card: according to the SS website, they accept school IDs!


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Grandad's Honeymoon and Other Yukon Stories

My grandfather moved up to the Yukon in 1918 and never moved back outside until he died last spring. He was an ornery old coot (as he'd be the first to insist), a former miner, longshoresman, mining-engineer, gold-panner, amateur historian, and for nearly a third of his life, a mourning widower. As one of the oldest coherent citizens to remember the old mining camps, his memoirs have some historical interest; he also wrote them to solidify his memories of his wife and to communicate his love for her to a generation of the family that would barely know her.

Grandad preferred ragtime to noctunes, though. Even the most sentimental passages tend to the rollicking. There's a little gooeyness admist the granite-hard frontiersmen in what follows,so if you 're here for hard-edged analysis----what the hell are you doing here?

After the jump, not-exactly sylph-like women, Buzzsaw Jimmy, and what it takes to be called a tough guy in the Yukon.

1. Not-exactly sylph-like women

So Grandad on his honeymoon. He'd been engaged for three years, infatuated with her for twelve. She ended up running away from her rather posher parents aboard a freight plane in the dead of a Yukon winter, and after the newly-weds made a two-day trek to a mining camp, he recalls this:
"I guess when you are truly in love, your partner takes on characteristics in your mind other people might not see. Particularly before our marriage, Dorothy in my mind seemed to be surrounded by a fairy-like aura, sort of unreal and sylph-like. Although she had led a very active outdoor life and was by no means a small woman (she was as tall as I was), I for some reason got the idea she sort of floated along.

In those days, because of my many years working longshoring, I was quite strong for my size. I remember my amazement when I proceeded to sweep her up in my arms to carry my bride over the threshold of our little cabin. She did not sweep so easily. She was very real and more gal than I had expected. She was strong and solid, yet so soft and lovely.
"More gal than I had expected"--I really like that way of understanding what could otherwise be phrased as disillusionment. Then again, they had nearly died in the fifty-below F voyage to Edwardian honeymoon bliss: his longshoreman muscles may not have been all that, at that moment. (They were both about 5'7", for the record.)

2. Buzzsaw Jimmy

Somewhat more typical of Grandad's memoirs is this kind of anecdote:
Buzzsaw Jimmy [Richards] was a real village character, no pretensions. He was reported to have had a fairly good education and to have studied some law, though you would never know it from looking at him. He was a small man of unprepossessing appearance who generally went around in dirty work clothes and with his hands and face splotched with black engine grease. He was mechanically bent with a lot of ingenuity; he had managed to put together the most marvelous saw for cutting into stove wood the 16-foot fuel wood brought into town. His saw was self-propelled, and he would run around from household to household, sawing up their winter's supply. With the help of a crew for handling the wood, he could cut up about 60 cords a day. I worked for him many times.

However the saw took its toll. Over the years he had lost several fingers and a leg, and had had his abdomen cut open. He stumped around with an artificial leg. During his many sojourns in the hospital, he always managed to fall in love with one of the nurses, much to her dismay.

One day he came into the Jap restaurant on crutches and without his artificial leg. He loudly announced, "I fooled the bastard this time."

It developed that the saw had severed a leg again, but this time it was the wooden one.
What has always struck me about these old-timey stories is the degree to which the oral history often--but not always--fizzles into the written equivalent of "well, I guess you had to know ol' Buzzsaw Jimmy." Grandad is paying tribute to a local character and a time, but on paper all these anecdotes turn into "local color" that he can't quite integrate into a cohesive narrative--because it was the texture of his life, repeated at a thousand parties to knowing laughter, and because to give all the necessary information to someone who doesn't already know the story is somehow to spoil the joke.

3. What It Takes to be Called a Tough Guy in the Yukon
And then there are a series of stories Grandad recorded and transcribed from a good friend, one "Clem Emminger," whose native tongue is not recorded but whose accent is transcribed as faithfully as my Grandad's ear was good. Here's one of the shorter ones, Clem Emminger on Bill Geary:
Oh! Bill Geary, yah!

Why, you, you remember da Gearys here. Why Jim, and Lyle was a boy about five or six year old and dere's a cabin right on de knoll. De road comes up right along de hill and right on de knoll dere is a cabin dere. And his (Jim's) broder was up in Loon Lake. He was hunting for de camp. See, in dem days dey didn't hab no fresh meat in from here. So dey got all wild meat and he was hunting. He had a couple pack horses and he hunted around and he bring it wheneber he kill someting. He bring it in and he sold it to de miners around der.

Well, dis particular day, dere was Joe Peters, and, oh, Bob Chestnut and him, ah, Jim Geary's broder. Dey had property on Loon Lake. Dat's a copper property and dey hard rock, and dey had been driving a tunnel. Dey had a nice cabin dere and dey had cached a case of powder under de cabin. And Bill just came along and he see a rabbit dere. He shot de rabbit and into de case of powder and blew it up. And it blinded him. And dis is 15 mile from Livingstone. But he made his way down to Livingstone, he had a dog along, but he couldn't see anyting. He just had to feel his way.

And when you get to Livingstone, de, de trail leads along de flat and den you go along de hillside. De trail leads up dere and, what I say, and de cabin of his broder was right on de brow of dis hill. And Lyle was playing outside de cabin, and he looked down and he seen, and he said, he hollered, "Daddy, dere's a bear coming up de trail!" De old man run out with de gun and pretty nearly shot his broder who was coming on all fours because he couldn't, he had to fell his way, you see. And his lost one eye and neber even came in here. He cut it off with his pocket knife. It was hanging out, and he neber came into town to see a doctor or anyting. De sight came back in de oder eye.

Yah! Really tough! Really tough!
*Shudder* I am made of rather softer stuff, but then so is most of modernity.

There's a lot more where that came from, and it's fun for me to look through, if readers are interested.

Anyone interested in getting the full version of my Grandad's memoirs, available (I think) from the Canadian National Archives should email me for proper names. Conversely, anyone who has, by this excerpt, guessed my Grandad's proper name should keep it under his or her hat to be polite.



(Pronunced: rah-tah-tooeeeeeee).

What they say about Borscht is also true for this Provencal vegetable stew: there are as many recipes for it as there are cantankerous, self-righteous grandmothers in the native region. Some cantankerous, self-righteous French grandmothers I have met or had invoked at me insist that each ingredient for ratatouille must be cooked in its individual pot--so as to concentrate the flavors, presumably. This technique relies on three conditions that do not ordinarily obtain in 21st-century metropolitan America:
1) a ginormous kitchen
2) unlimited quantities of cast-iron cookware
3) that the marginal returns in authentic taste are more valuable than a woman's hourly wage.
Vast quantities of healthy, delicious ratatouille can be produced without driving one insane.

Equipment needed:
one massive crockpot (cast-iron preferred but not mandatory)
one large pot
one large strainer
vegetable peeler
sharp knives (probably two: one for peeling and one for hacking at vegetables)
cutting board
one large bowl
a hunk of cheesecloth
a fastener for the cheescloth (I usually use a rubber band)
Ingredients needed:
(The ratio here is what happened last night, but you should know that the "proper" ratio of ingredients is hotly disputed by militant French grandmothers and their proxies.)
one large or two petite eggplant(s)
three zucchinis
two good-sized yellow onions
four cloves of garlic
one green pepper
two red peppers
four beefsteak tomatoes
olive oil

For seasoning:
four-six laurel leaves (if you substitute with bay leaves, use two-three)
a hefty pinch of thyme
a fat dose of dried fines herbes
a chunk of fresh basil
a light touch of coriander
four-six black peppercorns (I inexplicably misplaced my pepper grinder)
a ready supply of seasalt
If your appetite is intrigued, click through the link for what to do with all this goodness.

1. Peel and cube the eggplant and zucchini.

2. Put about a 1/4 cup of olive oil in your crockpot. You really don't want to skimp on the olive oil here because when you put your cubed eggplant and zucchini in, you need the olive oil to brown and seal the flavor of these ingredients.
(Note: if you intend to serve your ratatouille to French people of any age, you should deseed both your eggplant and your zucchini by cutting out the seed-bearing meat with a knife.)
3. While the eggplant and zucchini are browning over medium-low heat, prepare the following:
a. peel and slice finely your onions, put aside.
b. peel and mince your garlic, put aside.
c. peel and cube your peppers, put aside.

4. When your eggplant and zucchini are browned and starting to get mushy--but before they've lost all structural integrity--remove them from the pot and chuck them in that large bowl.

5. Put another two-three tablespoons of olive oil into the same crockpot, turn heat back up to medium-low, and put in the onions to blanche (the soft yellowing of cooked onions rather than the sweet brown of caramelization).

6. Put the peppers and garlic in with the onions to soften. While that's going on--remember to stir every few minutes!--prepare:
a. peel and deseed tomatoes, cut into chunks, put aside.
(Trick! in order to peel tomatoes, you must heat them in that large pot of water until they show signs of cracking. Then strain the hothothot tomatoes, run a whole bunch of cool water on them, then let them sit in cool water. The peels should then slip right off, without taking too much tomato-meat with them. Cut them into quarters and scrape out the seeds with your fingers. Sadly, this annoying subroutine shouldn't be ignored, even for non-French guests.)
b. prepare your seasoning-bag (bouquet garnis) by chucking all seasoning ingredients but the salt into your square of cheesecloth and fastening it securely.
(The bouquet garnis may seem like an annoying affectation, but it's a lot easier to remove a sodden lump of cheesescloth than it is to pick bits of laurel leaves out of your teeth at the dinner table.)
7. Put the chopped tomatoes in with the softened peppers and onions. Add your bouquet garnis. Cook for a little while, say, five minutes, then dump back in your eggplant and zucchinis.

8. Let 'er cook for another half-hour or so. Don't let the heat get hotter than medium at the very most, and keep the lid mostly on at this stage to retain moisture.

9. Maybe make some rice to serve the ratatouille with. That large pot can come back in handy.

10. Add some salt to your ratatouille. Serve.

Other uses for your ratatouille left-overs:
--omlette filling
--sandwich filling
--deep flavors for a pasta or a pizza sauce


Monday, August 15, 2005

A Sharp Drop in Schadenfreude

The monsoon that took up residence over New York seems to have moved on, the children yelling outside are playing red light-green light, the permanent block-party denizens are playing cards rather than watching fights on TV, and, with a number of conservatives finally admitting that there may be some rethinking to do in our Iraq strategy,* I'm feeling generous and friendly.

So when I ran across this "Caption this photo" post on Shakespeare's Sister, my first response was to think: My goodness, Condeleeza Rice is a beautiful woman.

Bad liberal! Bad! I should either be grimly impervious to her appearance or use my special Leftwing Goggles to see only the evil and/or incompetence in her soul! But, from time to time, a good shot just catches you in a weak moment, and you find yourself thinking, Man, it's kinda cool that we have a gorgeous, middle-aged black woman as our Secretary of State.

Of course in the linked-to picture, she's grinning at Rumsfeld and Bush, who don't even have aesthetics going for them.

[Update: BAGnewsnotes and readers attempt to read the photo's significance here. They point out that Rice sure couldn't have walked far on that gravel road in open-toed heels, that the composition suggests a wedding scene, and that the photo (and photographer) is very very French.]

*The immediate causes of the reconsidering furor seem to be twofold: a William Kristol article urging resolution and Rumsfeld's firing, and a Washington Post article quoting a "senior Administration official" (whom some believe to be Rumsfeld) on redefined objectives.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Suspiciously Emboldened Dissent

I'm all for dissent, mind you. Recently, however--and I mean in the last few weeks--dissent to the US administration's actions in Iraq has started to drumroll. As someone who was appalled by this war from the very beginning, from the very first glimmers of it in the public eye, I wonder at this apparent tipping-point--and am suspicious of my very hopefulness.

So why is it that people seem to be turning sane enough to demand public debate about the Iraq war?

The Fitzgerald investigations into the Plame leak got everyone in a tizzy this summer: sure, the liberal bloggers speculated wide and far, journalists "very concerned" about journalistic priviledge wrote high-minded articles, but what you really sensed was blood in the water. More than one writer suggested that what was really happening was that a government entity was finally finding a way to punish the administration for its representations of the war.

Bush's poll numbers are way, way down. Since January of this year, the number of people who say that they approve of the job he's doing is down 5 percent, to an average of 45%. Bush's support has usually been understood to have a core faction that will never change their minds, and his (and Rove's) election strategy has usually been to rely on and energize that core group while picking off centrists with hot-button issues like gut-wrenching fear of bearded bombers or of gay sex. This is a second term president rapidly turning into a lame duck with no annointed successor. Hunting season has opened.

We are almost at 2000 US soldiers killed, and that's not counting the wounded. Five years ago, that number would have seemed huge, but I'm already starting to think cynically to myself--"well, but how many names are on the Vietnam Memorial?" 2000 is a lot, especially for a "cakewalk."

This constitution that's on the verge of being written! Almost nobody can come up with a positive word for either the drafts or the process. The main questions seem to concern the extent of sharia law (not whether sharia law is appropriate), whether the Shia will have as much "autonomy" as the Kurds, and, you know, whether Iraq as a state has a future. No worries! I'm sure that a land-locked Kurdistan filled with righteous, well-armed, US-aligned racial victims won't prove a problem, just as I'm sure that a Shi'ite-dominated southern autonomous region filled with righteous, well-armed, Iran-aligned theological victims will be a-okay.
(Is it just me, or does this war seem to have pitted vaguely US-aligned Saudi Arabia against Iran for hegemonic control of the mideast? And in view of the cooperation treaty signed between Iraq and Iran, wouldn't the outcome seem to be that Iran won?)

And then crude is at 65$ a barrel, with more and more people talking about Peak Oil seriously. (It's been a nasty, record-setting summer across the US, and I suspect that your average citizen also starting to wonder about the administration's global-warming skepticism.)

All these factors falling into place before Cindy Sheehan started her vigil outside Bush's ranch, before she made his just-almost record-setting vacation time a little more uncomfortable.

Sure, people are calling her the face of a new anti-war movement, but the anti-war movement has been around for as long as the war has been. Something has changed, and I can't quite put my finger on what the tipping point might have been.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Sheikh-Lit Chick-Lit

A couple of the writers at the excellent MENA group blog 'Aqoul have posted reviews of absurd contemporary romance novels that feature very blond women and MidEastern men. In the 'Aqoul site's maiden posting, Eerie reviews Helen Fielding's 2005 spy-themed romance novel, Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination. In a more recent post, SecretDubai reviews, tongue firmly wedged in cheek, Lynne Graham's "seminal treatise on East-West relations, The Arabian Mistress," as an allegory of sexual-power relations personified between blondes and Berbers. Not on the 'Aqoul site, co-blogger Waterboy (Yin shui si yuan) reviews Lucy Gordon's The Sheikh's Reward and excerpts a bit of Romantic-Tension dialogue.

All mockery aside, I suspect that there is a statistically significant boom in such novels--one Susan Mallery began writing romance novels with "sheik" in the title in November 2001 and is up to eight in her series by now--but I can't really make the longitudinal argument I'd like to without more serious Library of Congress diving. And for that kind of research, I'll have to have an academic article in view. My hypothesis so far is that since romance novelists and readers are constantly in search of new diabolical male stereotypes, the recent media coverage of Arab masculinity has sparked an uptick in Arab-male leading roles in romance novels. And since the romance-novel writing business is so fast, I'll bet one could find one hell of a statistical correlation, if one knew how to look.

Since, at present, I don't entirely know how to look, I'll simply give a review of the Ur-Romance of Hot Arab on White action: The Sheik, a novel that, alarmingly enough, continues to influence the sexual fantasies of women everywhere. Click through for a plot-summary and some links.

[Update: Eerie, writing at 'Aqoul, has compiled some actual data from the hilarious Sheikhs-and-Desert-Love website--and she has even organized it into a chart! which shows a significant uptick of Desert Love novels around 2002...)

I'm not entirely sure how I first became aware of E.M. Hull's 1919 romance novel The Sheik. It certainly wasn't by way of the black and white Rudolph Valentino film, which remains that actor's most famous role. I've never seen that movie, although I'd like to. No, I think I caught references here and there in my more embarrassing pleasure reading: a number of the romance-y writers I read credited The Sheik and the 1820s underground classic The Lustful Turk as being the books that had seduced their young selves out of serious literature and into romance.

The novel was recently re-issued by the University of Pennsylvania imprint, Pine Street Books, which meant that when my roommate and I put in a mass-order to an academic press outfit, I was able to obtain this bodice-ripper with a discount and an excuse. Before I get into all the reasons that one should feel weird about this book, let me just say that I'm glad it's been re-issued and that the UPenn imprint was right to take this project on.

Why? Because the book establishes a standard in the romance-narrative that idealizes rape and because its denigration of its heroine goes so far beyond what we're used to seeing from our romance narratives that it reminds us to be shocked.

The heroine, Diana Mayo, is an exaggeratedly desexualized New Woman: raised by an hard, dandiacal brother, she spent her life travelling, denying softness, and laughing at her admirers. In the first third of the novel, she and her figure are repeatedly called "boyish." The lover who is to "break" this woman must be dominant indeed.

In order to justify the horse-taming analogy, the man in question is a master of horses--Arabian stallions, to be exact, for the man is an outrageously idealized Arab chieftan, one Ahmed Ben Hassan, whose tribe follows him with unquestioning loyalty and whose horses are renowned worldwide for their speed and ferocity. Such a man, with his outsized (and then, more lamely psychologized) hatred of the English, could force Miss Mayo into behaving as a civilized creature.

The plot is very standard romance genre--but remember, before the genre as such existed. Diana Mayo undertakes all whimsily a trek across the Algerian desert,* against the opposition of her brother and friends. She is kidnapped by a savage, exotic, but very manly man, who then rapes her. She is held Captive for a long time, in a culture that is Foreign to her. She begins to Understand the culture, with the assistance of secondary, intermediary characters: there is Nobility here, and, maybe, Humanity. She begins to want her rapist to Love her for herself. There are signs that the rapist might indeed be beginning to love her for herself. A person more like her arrives; while she does not love this more similar person, the more exotic person fears she might. A Misunderstanding arises: the exotic person evinces Jealousy, the similar person explains the relevant Psychological Background. Fortunately, An External Threat makes much clear: he is better than his tribal Others, and she cares enough for him to Nurse him of his wounds. A handy suicide attempt on her part, and she gets to stay in the Desert forever, huzzah!

Your average romance novel today wouldn't dare to present such an obvious Stockholm Syndrome case. Sure, bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz put her name on a blurb for the new edition: "This was the first real romance I ever read and it changed my life." But Krentz's heroines do not get kidnapped, raped repeatedly, terrorized, and then attempt suicide to gain their men. Not overtly, that is; the romance-genre's harder edges are usually filed off to gain the largest possible audience.

However, while trying to research novels of this type on the net, I found that readers at this site were particularly appreciative of The Sheik, criticizing it only as not depicting a truly "taken in hand" marital relationship. Poke around: it's unnerving.

Daniel Pipes review of The Sheik. The take-away quote from the review:
Well written and fun to read eight decades on for its exoticism and over-the-top romance, The Sheik both reflects and perpetuates the absurd clichés of its age about Arabs.
Pipes also pronounces himself perplexed that a UP republished the book and gives a link to a free online version.

Statistically improbable phrases, according to Amazon: "heavy scowl," "headlong gallop," "robber chief."

*Strangely, the Library of Congress classifies this novel as 1. British-Egypt-Fiction, 2. Kidnapping-Fiction, and 3. Egypt-Fiction, although the place-names firmly locate the action in Algeria.


Speaking of Saudi Arabia...

Yinshuisiyuan, writing at 'Aqoul, has posted a wonderful overview of the challenges that the new Saudi king Abdullah faces. I really can't recommend it highly enough.


Thursday, August 11, 2005

Notes From A Vacation

--Worrying about your Mormon relatives qua Mormon is pointless; worrying about them as relatives, on the other hand, can prepare you for awkwardly affectionate overtures. I bowed my head for prayers, not making waves, and drank my coffee without ostentation or stealth: no questions, no hassle, no problem. When disappearing was necessary, a sketchpad gave a handy excuse. (Actually producing sketches turns out to be an important component to this plan.) As is the case with probably most family reunions, I discovered that there were many people more nervy about being there than I was: believers, vague believers, non-believers, whatever. Ah, families!

--If your reunion lasts more than two days, your potted responses to the dreaded questions "how's your dissertation going?" and "so what's next for you?" will no longer suffice. People will start to ask more pointed and specific questions, and you will start either to dither or to admit vulnerability. Unless you do know exactly what you're doing, I suppose, but then that would be you.

--It's true what they say about dry heat's being different. It fools you into thinking that it's safe to wander out without 45 spf. I have sunburn in the wierdest places.

--If you're ever in the Sierras, somewhat East of Sonora, there's a fantastic hike from Waterhouse Lake down to Pinecrest Lake. And I do mean down: I can still feel my quads, some four days later. Parts of the about eight-mile hike are marked, either with trails or with cairns, but you'll mostly be scrambling along glacier-sculpted granite or through manzanita. At three or four points along the river, you can stop and swim at pools with nature's own waterslides. Gear: hiking shoes with serious traction, lunch, water and iodine, mosquito repellent, and a swimsuit comfortable enough to hike in. Just don't wear expensive swimsuits: the granite isn't quite that smooth, and the algae tends to leave marks. Oh, and while dogs are permitted in this area, dogs with short legs who don't really like being hoisted around broken rock shouldn't take this hike.

--A screwdriver wielded by an amateur can destroy a lock without actually disabling it. The movies make it look so easy.

--If you've got a tight connection at an airport, your incoming flight is late, the airline switches gates on you at the last minute and doesn't inform you about it, and the only flights that get you near your destination are either a) much more expensive to get home from or b) the next day, the airline feels no responsibility either to help you get home or to put you up for the night. Don't expect them to feel any sympathy for the stranded passenger, either. Thanks, Continental!

--When a court or a counsellor orders that a teenager is not to be allowed to do anything or go anywhere without the direct supervision of a parent, that teenager's sense of alienation and isolation becomes objectively true. I understand the arguments about responsibility, etc., but could it really be true that the court order be so rigid as to prevent a wayward--but essentially good-natured--teen from going sailing with cousins and uncles and aunts for an afternoon? The world of possibility is closing in on one of my cousins, who is starting to believe that s/he isn't permitted to do anything but be bored and endure. I felt angry and helpless, and I'm a full-fledged adult, very much outside the affair; I can only wonder at what my adolescent cousin feels.

--Two books of interest. Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel. This novel turns around the relationship between a psychic, Alison, a massively overweight woman whose underclass childhood literally haunts her, and her assistant/manager, a grimly practical recent divorcee named Colette. What keeps you reading through the devastingly honest character-work is the ironic play between what the "punters" need to hear about life after death and what Alison experiences with the dead. The dead, according to Alison and her "sensitive" colleagues, the dead who linger around the living are those who have unfinished business--which makes them querulous, inclined to petty vengeances and futile quests, and generally unpleasant, when not actively malicious company. As much as I loved Mantel's first novel, A Greater Place of Safety, I recognized, once reading this novel, that the NYT books reviewer (way behind subscription) was right to say that that first book difuses the contained savage voice that caracterizes Mantel's recent work. As I recall, the NYT reviewer called A Place of Greater Safety a typical first novel in that it was "wise." I remember experiencing it as wise, but as much as I think that this book goes further and dares more, both in formal and psychological matters, I don't have it in me to chart a trajectory from the early historical novel to this latest one. Hilary Mantel, good on you.

Oh, hell, I can't resist. Here's from the last paragraphs:
There are terrorists in the ditches, knives clenched between their teeth. There are fundis hoarding fertilizer, there are fanatics brewing bombs on brown-field sites, and holy martyrs digging storage pits where fiends have melted into the soil. There are citadels underground, there are potholes and sunken shafts; there are secret chambers in the hearts of men, sometimes of women too. There are unlicensed workings and laboratories underground, mutants breeding in the tunnels; there are cannibal moo-cows and toxic bunnikins, and behind the drawn curtains of hospital wards there are bugs that eat the flesh.
But today we are going to Sevenoaks, by way of Junction 5: to see whom forture favors today.
Cannibal moo-cows and pragmatic travelling directions: thanks, Ms. Mantel, I think you got it right.

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, by Washington Post editor Steve Coll, with Griff Witte. Coll was South-Asia bureau chief for the Post between 1989-92, and this book reads as though he remembers all the classified mysteries from those days and is only now, and only with sources finally willing to explain, putting to rest some of those ambiguously reported stories.
This is not to say that the book isn't well-presented to the layperson--each chapter starts with an action-based tableau attached to a vividly described person, and all transitions into historical background are clearly signally--rather, one gets the sense that Coll is putting together pieces of recent history that have been hidden either in clandestine files or in obscure memoires to create a cohesive account of how Afghanistan a) fell into civil war, b) managed, with CIA (et al) involvement, to dissuade the Soviets, c) provided a fertile territory for Saudi fundamentalist billionaire bin Laden.
I haven't finished the book yet, but already I have that gut-dropping feeling that I get when I read authoritative history-writing.
Reasons to read this book: 1) its very careful description of Pakistan's involvement in and goals for Afghanistan, 2) its short overview of the history of Saudi Arabia, as a state founded by the conquests of a religiously inspired tribe, 3) its use of Soviet documentation (most fascinating to me, the seemingly near-photo-memories of an archivist who defected to the West) to detail the Kremlin's attempts to advise its puppet into gradualism and Gorbachov's machinations towards retreat.
Another reason to read this book is that it gives me, a screaming liberal, a reason to rethink my antagonism towards Rumsfield's "proxy war" in Afghanistan. I haven't quite thought my way through this yet, but Coll's invocations of the terrain and tribalism of Afghanistan have put some qualifiers on my if-it's-worth-fighting-it's-worth-putting-US-soldiers-at-risk thinking.

Another day, perhaps, for the compelling but in the end formulaic "serious novel" Josie and Jack by Kelly Braffet, for the much better than expected "vampire romance novel" by Laurell K. Hamilton, or for the well-framed but less-than-substantive "Lacanian-historical monograph" Monomania: The Flight From Everyday Life in Literature and Art, by Marina Van Zuylan.

--If you're at all interested in literature, lit-theory, or disciplines whose edges have been nibbled by lit-theory, you really should be checking out Michel Berube's "Theory Tuesdays." (Sorry about the accents.) The recent installment does a wonderful job with Althusser: it's just the right mix of skepticism and respect.

From a personal perspective: as over-the-top as Althusser's Ideological State Appartatuses are, from a reasoned, logical perspective, his extreme argument made quite an impression on me as a nineteen year-old recovering Mormon. I didn't believe his account--even as a teenager it seemed too extreme--yet his account of "interpellation" lingered. His strong-argument version of anti-humanism was the first I'd ever encountered; while he pissed my fervent and still-sentimental post-Mormon self off royally, his version of the "self" constructed under false consciousness was strong enough to rattle my assumptions.

Berube's post on Althusser and his guest-blogger John McGowan's post on the Nussbaum-Butler debate seem to skirt the crucial academic question about theory's influence on the discipline: what students and disciples make of it. Althusser, for me, was almost as much as a tonic as Nietzsche; Nussbaum's criticism of Butler I read largely as a statement of exasperation about barely digested PhD and MA theses, not as serious philosophical refutation.
My opinions aside, I must say that Berube's blog is presenting literary theory (and its genealogy) as best as can be done. If you're inclined to mock, please do first draw up a chair and spend some time trying to understand. Then, if you must, mock away.

--You can get a pack of cigarettes for 4 dollars in the California Central Valley! That's compared to $7 for the same brand in NYC. I'm pretty sure that the price of cigarette packs rises in California once one reaches the urban/suburban areas, but I don't know that for sure. Still, here I was thinking that California was the anti-cigarette avant-garde--thanks, Mike.

Enough for now. Ah, I perceive the poetry in the pollution! Ah, I'm hep to the high of the humidity! Oy--sooner or later, I'll cave and buy an AC unit.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Rather than welcome John Bolton to NYC, rather than rail against Pataki for selling out NY women, and rather than actually deliver on my promise of really good posts just around the corner, I am leaving for a week's vacation away from the internet entirely.

It's not exactly vacation, however, because it's going to involve about fifty Mormon relatives. This will be rather complicated. I am determined to avoid conversations about:
1. politics
2. marriage and sex
3. my dissertation
4. religion
If my family didn't most want to talk about the under-seven crowd, I would worry that I wouldn't be able to talk about anything at all!

The good news is that I'll see some serious rocks and trees. As Jane Austen wrote in P&P, with all irony: "what are men to rocks and mountains?" I'll get to sail--even though lake-winds are never as exciting as ocean-winds--and I'll get to wander in wilds wild enough to imagine nature before people. Residents of New York City often need to be reminded that the world is not divided into paved or landscaped. A tree in Brooklyn is a sacred symbol; a tree in California is cover in a game of capture the flag or kick the can.

And then I'll have a couple of days in the Tule-fog summer of the Bay Area before I head into the dry heat of the Sierras--this will be very heaven compared to the polluted sauna of NYC.

(Can you tell by my positive qualifiers how nervous I am about the Mormon family reunion?