Monday, April 23, 2012

For the Record, My Game of Thrones Reactions

Because everyone else is doing it, here are my Game of Thrones reactions.  Needless to say, spoilers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What the Hell is Balin Greyjoy Wearing? -- Costuming, Characterization and World-Building

Like many people I've been watching Game of Thrones on HBO.  Unlike many, I don't love it and A Song of Ice and Fire is nowhere near replacing LoTR and the Earthsea books at the pinacle of my fantasy pantheon.  But I like it, I really do.  Except for the costuming.  I've remained silent for this long, but I must ask:  what the hell is Balin Greyjoy wearing?
Yes, I can see that it is a blueish-gray...thing.  
That doesn't answer my question.

Balin Greyjoy is the Lord of the Iron Islands -- not much of a domain compared to the rest of Westeros, but a significant realm, and according to him he is not just its lord, but its king.  And yet there he is, wearing rough-spun cloth (of an indeterminate identity) dyed a dismal color.  He does not look kingly.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The NRA -- another arm of the Republican Party

The Daily Dish has a post* about the NRA's dedicated campaign against the democratic party, out of all proportion to Democrat's actual views on gun control (mostly, they don't care anymore -- gun control seems  less important than it did during the murder explosion of 1984-1994).  I have little to add, other than to say that it is  true in my experience as well.  Moreover, I feel like the NRA has gotten more partisan after Heston handed off the reigns to Wayne LaPierre -- rather than being a single-issue lobby it seems like another arm of the republican party, dedicated to marshalling gun owners to support Republican causes.  And, of course, enrich the NRA's own coffers.

*This is another good article.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


So over the weekend John Derbyshire, a rather vile racist whom American conservatives thought was erudite and charming partly because he was British, wrote something over-top-viley racist.  I won't link it, just google "Derbyshire Talk" and you'll get it.

Honestly I don't think there's much worthwhile to be gleaned from this whole affair, except that it confirms the fact that the mainstream American right will tolerate the presence of a lot of bigotry* as long as it isn't too overt.  I suppose I could speculate as to why publications like the National Review are so tolerant of racists in their midst -- probably some combination of white populist rabble-rousing and a natural consequence of the right-wing belief that racism in America is restricted to semi-literate crossburners in Mississippi and Nazi fanatics in northern Idaho (so of course that eccentric Englishman can't be a racist).  But that's not my primary reaction to this kind of thing.

Whenever I read something by a white person like Derbyshire who fears 'the blacks' I am filled with a visceral contempt; it reeks of a cowardice I find repulsive.  This reaction doubles when I read much of the commentary defending Derbyshire, which generally centers around a plot against 'European-Americans.'  My reaction to men who think that feminism will emasculate them is similar -- 'what are you afraid of, you big baby?'  As a white man what do I have to fear from minorities?  From women? 

I've never suffered, in my life, from being white or being male, so I cannot help but think that white men who feel that 'the blacks' and 'the feminists' are victimizing them are either looking to feel sorry for themselves or seeking to justify their prejudices.  Probably both.  Or maybe they're afraid of losing their former privilege to rule over their wives as though they were children and to always consider themselves to the superior of black men.  In that case we see someone who is so dependent and so weak on their own that they need unearned privileges to make themselves secure.  To hate or condemn such sentiments is almost taking them too seriously.  They only deserve derision.

*(Derbyshire was employed in the conservative press for years, and he's a milder example than some)

Confessions of a Teenaged Pro-Lifer

Preface:  I have been sitting on this for some weeks because, as a guy, I don't want to be That Guy who walks into a conversation about topics important to women and act as though everyone should listen to me; sometimes its better to listen than speak (difficult though that is for someone with my temperament).  That said, I wrote it, so I might as well post it.


Like a lot of people I've been following the case of Trayvon Martin's killing pretty closely.  Unlike many of them, I  have nothing intelligent to add.

So I'm going to dredge up a topic of discussion from two news cycles ago and talk about women's health and reproductive rights issues, which I started thinking about more during the whole birth control 'debate' and in that long-ago time when Santorum was actually winning primaries.

I'll start off by saying that I don't have a uterus and thus don't have as much to add  to any discussion about abortion or birth control  as a woman would -- my opinion on this subject has as much moral force as my opinions  on pet grooming.  But my opinion has changed a lot over time, and reflecting on my former opinions I think I understand the premises of the pro-life movement better than I might otherwise.

I've noticed that advocates for women's right to have a legal abortions will (justly) focus on the intrinsic sexism of forcing women to use their bodies as incubators for 9 months.  Metaphors often conceal more than they reveal, but forcing women to bear all conceived children to term would be a form of indentured servitude inflicted on women, and women only.  Thus, it is misogynistic, and those who would enforce this upon women are misogynists.

I have also sometimes heard pro-choice arguments that go on to say that this forced pregnancy is a form of punishing women for having sex, and that pro-lifers believe that women should be punished for 'unchastity.'

Now I would agree with both of the above statements, but I think that both need further explanation, particularly when figuring out how 'pro lifers' view women.

Back in my own pro-life days* I was one of those mushy middle people that didn't think abortion was murder, but thought it should only be legal in certain circumstances.  Partly I thought this because finding such a 'middle ground' position made me feel clever,  but at a deep level I think that abortion disturbed my moral sentiments --it felt wrong, so I figured it should mostly be illegal.  And yet calling it murder would logically dictate that abortion never be legal, even in cases of rape or dangerous pregnancies, and that was also upsetting to said moral sentiments.  So I went with what felt right -- abortions for some people some of the time, only if they were pregnant for a certain reason or in a certain (dangerous) way.

It should have upset my moral sentiments that women would  be forced to act as incubators for nine months, but it didn't.  I reasoned that getting pregnant was a risk of having sex, and that sometimes women would just have to live with it.  I wouldn't have framed the above statement in terms of punishment, and I doubt most pro-lifers would, even to themselves, even though 'punishment' is an apt characterization.  What's most striking to me about viewing pregnancy as a 'consequence' of sex (other than the logical holes in it) is that I was so easily content with that argument.  I don't think I really thought much about what it meant for women.

And I think that's where my own misogyny is most visible.  It's not that women were bad or destined to serve  men or whatever -- it's  that they and their welfare just didn't matter to me.  And I suspect that's at the heart of a lot of pro-life feeling today -- women just don't matter.  That is what pro-life arguments are -- an attempt to either ignore women completely or minimize them and their experience, so that we can get back to the important business of saving fetuses.  It is sexism, whether or not it is attended by overt statements that women are meant for motherhood or that babies are God's punishment for sluttiness.  And to me the most convincing argument against such a line of reasoning is to simply point out what it omits -- women -- and to place the rights of women at the center of the question.

*I was teenaged, and had never dated anyone.  I was not sheltered by my parents, but the opposite sex was off the radar save in the most furtive way.  The idea that people had premarital sex kind of scared me -- not sure where I got this, as I didn't have a conservative upbringing or anything.  My prudery was very much my own.  Oddly enough, it evaporated over several years as I started dating.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week Pt 3 - A Painting and a Song for Good Friday

Today is Good Friday.  Rather than running my mouth off* I will let Van Der Weyden and Bach speak for themselves.

 Van Der Weyden's Crucifixion Diptych at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Made for a Carthusian Monastery, it is one of the starkest paintings of its type I've ever seen.  In person it actually takes your breath away.

The Opening Chorale to Bach's Matthew Passion.  I couldn't find a Youtube recording of "Ach Golgotha" that I liked.

*I was going to  write a longer post about how Bach's St Matthew Passion is a masterpiece of Baroque-era sampling (Bach re-appropriates tunes liberally, not just in the Chorales).  But it was a stretch, and has been said before.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Week Pt 2 -- Religion, Adolescence and Adulthood

In the past few years I find myself in the unaccustomed position of being a believer, but not being very devout.  To explain why this feels strange for me it would probably help to explain where I'm coming from, religiously speaking.

I was at my most religious when I was in high school and early college, ages 14-20 or so.  My religious beliefs during that time tended toward the extreme -- not in a fundamentalist theological-political sense, but in an absolutist, give-up-everything for God sort of way.  I admired the urgency of Jesus' all-or-nothing message in the Gospels, particularly Matthew " "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.".  If you'd asked my when I was 19 what was most important in life, I may well have answered "mystical communion with the divine."  Though I wasn't planning on selling my possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, I felt vaguely bad about not doing so.  To me the best life was the most meaningful life, and the most meaningful life was the one tied to the highest things.

I suppose there are several reasons for my adolescent religiosity.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week pt 1. -- The Strangeness of Liturgy

I grew up in the liturgy of the Episcopal church.  I was baptized, confirmed, and married according to the Book of Common Prayer.  I've heard the Eucharist service more Sundays than not since I was born, and have witnessed 24 church years progress from Advent 1 to Christ the King Sunday*.  Going to church for so long, its rites are as familiar as my family's Christmas or Easter Dinner or the road to the diocesan retreat center in the mountains of Western Virginia.

Being familiar, the rites do not lose their beauty, but I suspect they lose some of their power.  The Eucharistic prayer is lovely every time I hear it, but the strangeness of Theophagia is easy to ignore when you've done it 1,000 times before.  Religion risks becoming something merely comfortable, which is not exactly appropriate if it is supposed to be an encounter with God.

So I'm glad when Lent and  Holy week roll around.  The great holidays of Lent -- Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday -- make me feel as though I'm in some 'exotic' religion from  the east, like I'm living out a picture of Divali or another Hindu feast that is outside of my modern, western experience. 

Ash Wednesday will never cease to be strange--getting ashes put on your forehead as a priest says "remember thou art but dust, and to dust you shall return" is not something to get used to.  And the strangeness continues.  Palm Sunday starts with the congregation waiving palm branches and shouting 'Hosanna' and ends with us playing the part of the mob shouting for the blood of our own God*, whose death we give thanks for every Sunday.  Maundy Thursday sees us reminded of the weird origins of our weekly Eucharist (and  sometimes watching one another's feet) and Good Friday is stark, silent and grim.  In Easter the mood does a 180 again, and in some ways it is a Sunday like the rest -- once again a celebration of resurection.  Yet it means more because of the preceding week and 40 days before, which serve as a reminder of just how strange our Sunday rituals are.

*Advent is the season before Christmas, and the start of the church year.  Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday before advent.

**I really like this part -- Like the arias of Bach's Matthew Passion, it shows that the sin of all human beings is responsible for the death of Christ, and thus gives the lie to the toxic notion that 'the Jews' killed Jesus.