Friday, February 23, 2007

A day late...

I'm out of here for awhile, until the second week in April. I don't blog a lot but I think about blogging a lot, and I spend an insane amount of time lurking around other people's blogs. I avoid doing work I need to do.

Lent seems to be a good time to change that, to re-orient myself. So that I seek out people -- not distraction.

Besides, anything but giving up chocolate, don't you know.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My take on the Edwards blogger controversy

A recent kerfluffle in the blogosphere has been the hiring/non-firing/resignation of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan from the blogging post for John Edwards campaign. William Donohoe, conservative head of the Catholic League, had screamed for the two to be fired for alleged anti-Catholic and profane remarks that they had made on their personal blogs, Pandagon and Shakespeare's Sister, respectively. The bloggers on the left, correctly, had pointed out the Donohoe was no one to be calling anyone bigoted, given his own history of anti-Semitic public remarks. In some cases I read, they also criticized Edwards for being too lukewarm in support of the embattled bloggers.

Edwards said that he found the remarks offensive, but that he had talked to the bloggers and was satisfied that they had not intended to malign anyone's faith, and was not going to fire them (they later resigned anyway). Should he have been more forceful?

No. His campaign never should have hired them in the first place.

Look, I am all for free speech. I support McEwan's and Marcotte's right to make the most outrageous and inflammatory remarks on their blogs they desire. And to do so free from the intimidation that has been thrown their way by fanatics -- inflamed by people like Bill Donohoe. They should be free from having to deal with people lobbing obscene and hateful names at them -- not to mention threatening email. The vile and personal -- and potentially violent -- abuse that these two woman have been subject to is a scary reminder that there are some very sick people out there, indeed.

But their inalienable right to free speech does not bring with it the right to any given platform they desire, even if they are not reporting on their own views. A presidential campaign, like it or not, does have to consider all potential voters, for the simple reason that if the candidate is successful all of those voters will be his constituents. This does not mean a candidate needs to pander, but it does mean that candidates -- and the people who work for them -- should strive not to gratuitously give offense. When you refer to a segment of the populace as "wingnut Christofascists," as McEwan did in one post, or speculate about what would have happened had the Virgin Mary taken an emergency contraceptive as Marcotte did, it is beyond credulity that you did not intend such statements to be offensive. Of course such statements were intended to be offensive: just to people who the bloggers believed to be not worth caring about.

The bloggers have claimed that what they wrote on their own blogs is irrelevant, since they would be reporting on their candidates views and not their own. So this means that if John McCain hired Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, known to espouse views that sometime cross the line of common decency (most recently a suggestion that the U.S. should assassinate Iranian government officials and scientists), the left-blogosphere would not immediately jump on this as (further) proof of McCain's lack of fitness for office, and demand that he go? Riiiiiggghht. And I have some lovely prime real estate in Monroe County, Florida I'd like to talk to you about.

A president has to be careful whom they assume to be beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That the people surrounding the current occupant of the White House seem to believe otherwise and resort to stating that those who oppose them "embolden the enemy" doesn't change that.

Bloggers and commenters I have read have argued that there is too much deference given to religion, and that one should be able to discuss or challenge religious principles without being attacked as being disrespectful of religion and religious people. Point taken. But the answer is not to drag discussion of religion -- or the intersection of religion and politics -- into the sewer where so much of the rest of public discourse takes place these days. And I'm not referring to merely the presence or absence of profanity: the right-wing blogosphere, which prides itself on refraining from four-letter words, contains many a high-profile cesspool. Simply because something is not profane does not render it not obscene. (See above suggestion by Glenn Reynolds.)

It is possible to discuss politics and religion -- heatedly, even -- without viewing the people on the other side as less than human. And unless we do that, the breech in the national fabric is only going to get wider.

Because, whether people in the blogosphere, right and left, like it or not, we're all in this together, "profane anti-Christian bloggers" and "Christofascists" alike. The world is a complicated and nuanced place. We need to grow up* and act like we recognize that fact.

UPDATE: You know, I really shouldn't bother writing these, since between the time I started writing this (I write things, and then put them away to think about them) RMJ of Adventus came along and wrote about the whole situation more completely, more cogently, and more eloquently than I could. You can read his take on things here, here, here and here. Heck, just read the blog. It's worth it.

* Ovlzl has compared the blogosphere to high school. That sounds about right.

Friday, February 09, 2007


A few weeks ago, in a discussion in a different forum, I commented that I was "articulate with rage." Not what I meant to say, of course, and when I changed it to "inarticulate," several of my friends jumped in to say, no, the first wording was more accurate. I was flattered, and then a uncomfortable.

The source of my discomfort is simply that I don't write when I am outraged. Not consciously. I sit down at my computer, and write, and then I say "Who the hell is responsible for that?" How I write when I write deliberatively is different -- more casual, less structured.

So the last time I wrote something in a state of complete outrage, I listened to the voice that spoke the words in my head.

It was Keith Olbermann.

It seems I channel K.O. when I get good and angry. What Would Keith Write? Not that I try to do that, mind you, or that what I write is as good as Olbermann's, just that his writing -- his voice -- has had an influence on how I channel my own outrage.

Although I should note that I have always distanced myself from my own outrage, even before I had ever heard of Keith Olbermann. (Actually, that's not quite accurate: I've known of Olbermann for years, but only as "that guy who used to be on SportsCenter.") Anger comes from a place deep inside of me that seems somehow detached from my meek mild exterior -- my warrior woman.

There has not been much of her lately: not that there hasn't been much to be outraged about, just that it's really hard to sustain the appropriate level of outrage. The Vice President surely was involved in the smear campaign against a CIA operative, and the press didn't care enough about its sources to make a big deal of it? Old news. The death Anna Nicole Smith -- a woman whose main claim to fame is her marriage to an octogenarian millionaire who died -- is more important than the latest casualties from Iraq? So what did you expect? The president is making menacing noises towards Iran? Yeah, like any of us can do anything about it. The new budget figures are made of smoke and mirrors, and anyway result in large cuts to government agencies to pay for this useless war in Iraq? Pretty much SOP. Even the machinations of the schismatics in the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican reactionaries in Africa and elsewhere elicit merely a weary shrug.

Outrage fatigue has set in. I look at the world, and America, and who we are, and what we have done and what we are doing, and I can't even weep anymore. I can simply sigh.

Fortunately for all of us, Keith Olbermann still has plenty of outrage left -- witness this latest special comment about the President's State of the Union address. Not as good as his best, which was called "The Beginning of the End of America" about the Military Commissions Act, but still quite good, nonetheless.

Maybe if he can stay outraged, he can inspire me to remember my outrage, too.

Notes from art class

I am taking a drawing class. Oh boy.

I earned this class by virtue of volunteering at a local arts organization for 100 hours -- answering the phones and staffing the reception desk, mainly. "No, sir, the pastel portrait class is still cancelled, and no, the instructor will not give you a different answer. If you insist, I will give her a note to call you." "No, I can't give you the phone number of the painter whose work you saw in an exhibit in a gallery in the city last month -- especially when you're not sure of the last name -- because I've never heard of them and they're not listed on our website." "Yes, you can register for the Zen of Printmaking* which started last week, but you still have to pay the full amount of tuition. No, we do not pro-rate fees. No, the instructor will not give you another answer." "If you want to drop off crafts to sell in the gallery, you need to make an appointment to see the gallery director. Really." "Sorry, the Insanely Popular Collage course** is full. It fills up the first week of registration. You can speak to the instructor, but there are two people already on the wait list and you will be put at the bottom." And so on.)

I wasn't sure if I was going to go today; it's raining and my legs and elbows are hurting. I made myself go -- drawing class is something I look forward to a great deal and I figured it was good for me to get out of the house. I had to sit down for class, which makes drawing trickier, but I still went. Yay me.

Herewith my notes from art class:

Aaaaaarrrgggghhhh!!! still life! Complex forms!!!! FLOWERS!!!!! Run away!!!!!

I hate ginger jars. Damn things are hard as hell to get proportioned right. Give me a wine bottle any day.

Apples are not round are not round are not round. Oranges are round. Pears are.... um, pear shaped. Grapes are a pain in the ass. Which is why I decided to draw the stupid ginger jars, remember? So I wouldn't have to draw the grapes?

Gee, I never thought of it before, but R. (the instructor) is sort of a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Keanu Reeves. Which could explain the popularity of his classes. Good thing he's also a good teacher.

Yay! R. said I had a good composition! So the fact that I cannot draw the thumbnail sketches (to determine composition) to save my life but instead have to sort of figure it out as I actually start drawing didn't kill me.

Why do the other students tell me I'm doing a good job? I don't feel like I am. It's so damn frustrating -- I can't translate what I see to what I can put on paper. It's almost enough to turn one into an Abstract Expressionist.

Damn, forgot to turn off the cell. No, Not-so-little Drummer Boy, I am not going to drive over on your lunch period and drop off the lab notebook you left at home. I'm in class. I'm making art, here.

Actually, what I'm making is charcoal dust, which I am getting all over myself. Once again I end up looking like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I might as well take up sweeping chimneys and be done with it.

Oh, well, as the song says, art isn't easy.

But it is fun.

*Not a real class. But wouldn't it be great if it were?
** Not a real class, either -- but a description of one of the classes we offer. It's not a beginning class, so people repeat it. There is a mad rush when registration opens to get signed up.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I got bored, and decided I missed my old color scheme. It took me all of a few minutes -- with no mucking about in HTML -- to get it back to the way I wanted. Unlike when I first set it up.

Have I mentioned how much I love the Blogger template customizer?
It's been a day.

Not much of a day, but a day, nonetheless. The house is filled with the incense of wine and oregano, as the pot roast slowly simmers towards its ultinate culinary destination. Dinner was originally suppposed to be around 7:30, but as I picked him up from school the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy announced that he had a percussion group practice in preparation for a charity performance tomorrow night. And oh, yeah, he wasn't quite sure where the practice was located.

A frantic Google session allowed to figure out where he thought it might be, and after a delay while I browned the beef and got the roast simmering, we headed out. Fortunately, he was right, and he showed up, late, but at the right place.

I came home and had to oversee Echidna Boy's project -- the one that he was supposed to have done a couple of days ago. He had called from school to let me know that he was "benched" -- kept in from recess -- until he got it finished. He now has a fake newspaper (on heavy watercolor paper -- he turned down the newsprint) all about Johnny Tremain and the Revolutionary War.

My house is not clean, but that's okay. I am listening to good music, and there are wonderful smells coming from the kitchen that hold the promise of delights to come, and I have slain one very small dragon today: I have learned how to sharpen my charcoal pencils.

I take a drawing class. We work in charcoal, probably because charcoal is very forgiving of the incompent -- you can practically erase it with your hand, especially if you use vine charcoal and don't draw darkly. Some of us appreciate this quality a great deal. We also use charcoal pencils, which we are to sharpen with our x-acto knives.

Each pencil is supposed to have a 3/4 " lead. Right. At this point, I have sharpened away more than three inches on one particular pencil in my search for that elusive stretch of naked 6B charcoal. But even where I've managed to get enough open charcoal, I've never quite understood how to sand it properly. I always end up with a point -- which sort of defeats the purpose of all that carving, no?

Tonight, as I settled down with my supply box to prep my pencils for tomorrow's class, it came to me. There was no blinding light or dove descending from the heavens, but just a clear sudden understanding that, hey, if you sanded the charcoal on the side you didn't get a point but a line of charcoal, allowing you to use the entire 3/4"! Calloo Callay!

As I said, a very small dragon. But sometimes the small victories can be just as sweet.
When I started this blog, I was hoping to post every day or two. Clearly this was optimistic, to put it charitably. The past couple of months, however, my posting has been spottier than usual, with days going by with no posts (sometimes followed by days with multiple posts). There has been a lot of stress in my personal life, but the most significant issue has been pain. As in, a lot of it. All mine. Sometimes the pain -- or the pain medication -- makes it difficult to concentrate, and on other occasions it hurts to walk so I spend a lot of time at my computer.

I have fibromyalgia. I've had it for years, actually, and it has been an occasionally discomfort, and very occasionally significantly painful, for short periods.

Until this summer, that is. Since this summer, I have had more days in pain than otherwise. The pain ranges from achiness to, some days, severe enough to make it difficult to walk. And if I ignore the pain and "play hurt," the muscles will stop responding, and it will be difficult to walk at all. A good day can be followed by a bad day. It is hard, on days when I feel "almost normal" not to do as much as I used to do all the time -- because if I do, then the next or the day after that will be horrible. My doctor and I are working on ways to control the pain, and I have a referral to the Pain Clinic, but right now, I'm in pain. I keep praying that this is temporary, that the fibromyalgia will disappear as quickly as it appeared in June, but it hasn't, yet.

I am trying to let go of this. I am trying to learn to turn this over to God. I am failing.

I do not ask "Why me, Lord?" I keep feeling that somehow I must have done something to deserve this, even though the rational part of my brain says it's just a disease, and God doesn't work that way. I do not feel anger at God, only shame before God.

I know that there are psychologists and theologians out there who have done work on the pictures of God that people have internalized. I want to believe that God is love; I really truly do. And part of me does. But part of me internalized an angry, vengeful God, who is punishing me for who I am and the sins I have committed. And all my knowledge of a nurturing, caring God flies out the window in the face of that picture. My understanding of the falsity of that theology -- rejected expressly in the Book of Job! -- does not to lessen its grip on my psyche.

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.