Thursday, August 31, 2006

Back from Utah

Medieval Utah -- Anasazi wall painting, 12th or 13th century.

I'm back from a brief trip to Utah, where strange things are always occurring. It appears that the righteous and God-fearing Utah Liquor Commission, always ready to stand up to non-Mormon depravity, were ready to bust a convent of Carmelite nuns who were ready to turn their fundraising fair into a Sodom and Gomorrah of booze and gambling (i.e., they were going to have beer and bingo). The commission finally allowed the nuns to sell beer, but the good sisters had to agree not to charge for the bingo cards -- and damnit, put it in writing, because the Latter Day Saints on the commission were certainly not going to take their word for it. You have to keep your eye on those nuns, otherwise they'll lead all of Zion into debauched corruption.

It's news stories like this, plus the fact that Utah still has the highest public approval rating of the Bush administration, that can lead even our fearless leader himself to make a public appearance. And he did, to speak to the American Legion. One would think that at least speaking to the Legion in Utah our president could not raise much of a fuss. Stereotypes, however, always disappoint, and the capital city of ultra-conservative Utah has a firebrand ex-ACLU lawyer as mayor, who not only led a demonstration against the president's policies, but gave one of the most no-holds-barred anti-Bush speeches I have heard from the mouth of an elected official. You can see it here or read the transcript here. It makes one wonder about facile descriptions of red states and blue states. I wonder if the nuns were at the demonstration.

PS: Good news -- Guillaume le Fou, a.k.a. Cowboyangel, has started to blog again. Stop by his site and encourage him.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

book meme

Ezra and his books.

Sandalstraps tagged me with this book meme, which I will only half take seriously. It did get me scratching my head -- damn, I'm a book person, I've spent my whole life reading and writing and the name of a book that has changed my life does not jump immediately into my head? I think books have changed my life, but just one? Certain books have changed how I think about certain things (Hobbes' Leviathan changed how I look at politics, for example), but does that change my life? When I was sixteen, I thought Nietzsche changed my life, but now I realize I didn't understand him. Besides, as I grow older I see that real change is slow and over time. Even sudden conversions as a result of a crisis aren't as unexpected as one would think -- life has been laying the tracks for them, unseen (or in the case of the good conversions, God has been calling for sometime, unheard).

I will, however, do my best.

1. One book that changed your life: This was a tough category, and I had no idea until I saw that Brian, who had also caught the meme, listed Purgatorio under a different category. I think the Divine Comedy has changed my life, though I'm not sure how. It just seems to be the summit of human achievement -- theology, spirituality, history, politics and everything else all wrapped up in the most beautiful poetry imaginable. I feel constantly drawn to it and I think Dante's encompassing vision may have had quite a bit to do with my own return to religion -- if that's true, it has changed my life, and quite a bit.

2. One book that you've read more than once: Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara. This gem of a book changed my life as a poet: I saw that a poet did not have to limit himself or herself to "sensitive thoughts about feelings," but that personality and energy could make the simplest of poems electric. I have not only read this book more than once, I've bought it more than once after having lent it and never seeing it returned. One of its poems, called "Poem":

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island: Okay, I know everybody says this, but I would take the Bible. Not only would a desert island experience be a great chance for really studying scripture, but besides, the Bible has everything: poetry, adventure, revelation. Never a dull moment.

4. One book that made you laugh: Candide by Voltaire. If you haven't read it, trust me: brutal, but hilarious.

5. One book that made you cry: I had to think about this one. One book that moved me a great deal was Raymond Carver's collection of short stories, Where I'm Calling From, especially the haunting "A Good Small Thing." The part about the nuns in the South Bronx in Dom Dillo's Underworld is also beautiful.

6. One book you wish had been written: The Complete and Perfect Prosopography of Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Leon and Castile. Yeah, it doesn't sound too exciting. Still, if you were doing the work I'm doing, you'd understand.

7. One book you wish had never been written: There are books out there that represent the most hateful and dangerous ideas that have been formulated (e.g, Mein Kampf), books that represent the worst part of that sewer called contemporary American politics (Unfit for Command or anything by Ann Coulter) and books that can be classified as hate crimes against good English prose (Dan Brown). Still, to wish a book had not been written is something like destroying or burning a book. One shouldn't fight bad ideas with repression, but with good ideas. If I had to choose one, it would be the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for its dangers and its staying power.

8. One book you're currently reading: The Quest for El Cid, by Richard Fletcher. This is a wonderful book about eleventh-century Spain for non-specialists, and I would recommend to any history buff. It's well written, and Fletcher has a great gift for explaining the technical difficulties of medieval historiography in a way that is neither dry nor confusing.

9. One book you've been meaning to read: Any big scary theology tome by Karl Rahner or Paul Tillich.

10. Now tag five people: This is the hard part, since most of my blog friends have already done this. Here goes. If any of you have already bookmemed, put the link in the comments: Jeff, Crystal, Gillaume le Fou, mi primo, and Fay.

Now I'm going away for a few days. Behave yourselves.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Happy feast of Antoninus

St. Antoninus

I was just reading that, according to the 13th-century chronicler Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada, the bishopric of Palencia, lost during the Muslim conquest, was refounded by King Sancho el Mayor of Navarre in the 11th century after a miraculous experience. He was hunting in the woods that covered the once prosperous Roman and Visigothic city and chased a boar into what appeared to be a cave. When he raised his arm to strike it with his lance, his arm became paralyzed. He had committed sacrilege, brandishing a weapon near the altar of the tomb of St. Antoninus. He only recovered when he promised to build a church on the site. That church would become the Cathedral of Palencia.

Cathedral of Palencia -- late gothic, not the one Sancho built.

None of the 11th-century documents refer to this legend, and although there was a Visigothic crypt on the site, it probably did not contain the relics of St. Antoninus, since the cult of that 4th-century Syrian martyr was not brought to Spain until the 11th-century. Now however the story of the boar is represented in Renaissance carvings next to the stairway that leads down to the crypt. Today is the feast day of another St. Antoninus. Happy feast of St. Antoninus.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Assumption, the dwarves, diversity

Romanesque sculpture of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Happy Feast of the Assumption everyone! Get to church!

Very busy as usual. Later this week I will respond to Sandalstrap's challenge, right now I'd like to point out a couple of interesting news items.

According to a recent Zogby poll, while 75% of Americans can identify at least two of the seven dwarves, only 25% can identify two supreme court justices (even though "Grumpy" and "Scalia" can be used interchangeably for both categories). What fun. Uninformed public = no democracy. Also, 74% can name the Three Stooges while only 42% can name the three branches of US government. Other questions reveal other examples of cultural and scientific illiteracy. This is definitely something that would be a lot more funny if it weren't tragic.

Better news comes from the census bureau, via the New York Times. 60% of New Yorkers are either immigrants or children of immigrants. While this news gets the minutemen to start loading their shotguns, it pleases me greatly. This city continues to be dynamic and ever-renewing itself, diverse, and full of people with imagination, desire to work, and an international perspective. I'm a student and I can't usually afford the shows, the clubs, and the expensive restaurants that amuse wealthy New Yorkers, but I can enjoy walking down the street and seeing the world in all its multiple human beauty, the music of hundreds of languages in my ears. The Chinese chef in the Mets cap speaking Spanish to the Mexican delivery guy wearing a Knicks jersey who will be taking the food to some Ukrainians watching a Jets game. I love this town.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

liberals and conservatives

Ottoman manuscript of the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum. I had initially wanted to find an image of a manuscript of the Politics, but this is too pretty not to post.

Let me start this fragmentary blog post by saying that I am very happy Ned Lamont won in Connecticut and find Lieberman's reaction appalling.

I must be a liberal.

Last night, desperate to get news on the primary while cooking dinner, I tuned my radio to Air America for the second time since they went on the air. For the second time, I quickly turned it off. Instead of information, analysis, news, etc., I had to listen to some fool ranting for fifteen minutes about how Dennis Miller was joining Fox News again. Was this an intelligent discussion about why Miller's support for Bush and his policies are misguided or mistaken, a cultural analysis of what it means to be a "hip conservative," or anything, however humble, that could contribute to meaningful political discourse? No, it was a tirade about how Miller was a "failed comic," an "idiot" of "mediocre talent" whom the Air America commentator would relentlessly "mock."

Really, is this the best we can do? Copy Ann Coulter's style? I have not listened to much Air America and perhaps there are better programs than this, but I have no desire at this point to listen to find out.

I have no problem with using the most sophomoric of obscenities and insults towards our current administration when drinking with friends, but I think public discourse should offer a bit more. I have tried to avoid letting emotion get the better of me on the blog, just because there are too many blogs out there that are dedicated to showing how stupid/dangerous/evil the Republicans/Democrats/wingnuts/moonbats are, and there's no reason to add to it. Sometimes I've come close, but even then I've mentioned certain politicians by name. I have no desire to hate all Republicans and Republican voters. If you're reading this and you still enthusiastically support Bush, I don't hate you. I am thoroughly perplexed by you, but I don't hate you.

I believe the Bush administration, aided and abetted by a fawning Republican congress, has done irreparable damage to this country and to the world in general through debt, corruption, war, and environmental destruction (and that's the short list). The only short-term solution is a strong opposition, and this is why I support Ned Lamont. I don't see myself as "partisan," though, because I can't place a great deal of faith in the Democratic party. There are some Democrats I admire, and I sincerely think they would do much better than the Republicans at running the country, but I think the system itself is not working well. American democracy is dominated by sound-bites and cash, and it will need more than an election to fix it.

Am I a liberal? At dot.commonweal I found the following quotation from a conservative originally from First Things:
You know you are a liberal if you think that the poor need money more than they need moral discipline.
All this tells me is that I'm not a conservative, because the sentence makes very little sense to me. There's so much wrong, where should I start? The paternalistic tone so common to conservatives who believe that they themselves have moral discipline and probably don't know what it's like not to have money? The utterly simplistic notion that social programs (money) and "moral discipline" are mutually exclusive? The complete lack of understanding of the manifold social problems that are very real that many of the underclass face (cycles of violence and poverty, racism, a lack of education, etc.) that make preaching about "moral discipline" irrelevant if not insulting? I could go on.

Somebody left this comment on that post:
You know you're a liberal if you:

Hate Walmart
Wear Birkenstocks
Eat only organic foods
Think Al Gore is a great prophet
Think Hillary Clinton is too consrevative
Are rejoicing at Lieberman's defeat
Hate George Bush
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Hate Dick Cheney
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Hate Donald Rumsfeld
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Use the phrase "Speak truth to power"
Think all big corporations are evil
Believe that the monogamous hetereosexual family is the nest of fascism
Believe that terrorists' grievances are all legitimate
Believe that an angry conservative is full of hate
Believe that an angry liberal is passionate

I could go on (and on, and on...)

NOTE: One must believe at least 90% of the above list ;))

Hmm... Am I a liberal. Let's see:

"Hate Walmart... Hate George Bush... Hate Dick Cheney... Hate Donald Rumsfeld... Believe hate is a very destructive emotion."

This is, of course, a trap to show what hypocrites we are. I believe Walmart is a very negative and malicious influence on society. I have written about the Bush administration before. As a Christian, I do believe hate is a destructive emotion, though as a human (and a sinner), not one I can always avoid. But my political opposition to these men and that corporation is not based on hatred, just on the fact that they have perpetuated such a great amount of injustice on our society and on the world at large that they must be stopped. Many on the right talk about liberals' "obsessive hatred of Bush" (this after what they did to Clinton). If I had time I could list the hundreds of reasons why I oppose Bush. Calmly, without hatred.

"Wear Birkenstocks... Eat only organic foods." I have sandals I wear in summer. They are not birkenstocks. My personal style is very little hippy-influenced. I can't afford organic foods and I don't worry too much about that right now.

"Think Al Gore is a great prophet... Think Hillary Clinton is too consrevative [sic]." I think Al Gore (along with just about every responsible scientist) is right about global warming and that we ignore what he's saying at great peril. I don't know if Hillary is conservative or not -- she's a consummate politician and her ideology changes with the wind. She is not particularly progressive.

"Use the phrase 'Speak truth to power'." I don't think I have used that phrase, but many people left and right feel they are poor, oppressed and misunderstood because they dare to "speak the truth" (think David Horowitz). I do like Stephen Colbert, though.

"Think all big corporations are evil."

I think big corporations are profit-oriented, and profits are morally neutral. Many of them will do nasty things if they can get away with it, because they're not about good or bad, but about money. That's why the state needs to regulate them.

"Believe that the monogamous hetereosexual family is the nest of fascism." Right. That would include my family. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me, however, how gay marriages threaten straight marriages.

"Believe that terrorists' grievances are all legitimate." Once again, a trap. If you look for root causes, anything more sophisticated than "they hate our freedom," the terrorists win, you are blaming the victim, etc. We ignore the real reasons behind terrorism at our peril.

"Believe that an angry conservative is full of hate... Believe that an angry liberal is passionate." See above on hate and also above on Air America. If you're full of hate, you're full of hate.

I have to take filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis out for lunch, so there's no time to analyze this further right now. Am I a liberal?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Another reason to love Spain

Myself (R) with my good friends Miguel (L) and Ernesto (C).

I have been far too busy with the middle ages to blog, but I thought I'd post this picture from Madrid to point out another great thing about Spain. Look closely at the words over the door. Is there anywhere in the US where the "Thank you for your visit" sign is in Latin?