March 29, 2006

Hemingway and God, one soldier's perspective

One of the nice things about not having the sitemeter up and running is I can blather on about Hemingway and don't have to worry about watching my site stats plummit

Hemingway, a WWI vet, got a kick out of playing matador and other "Extreme" sports, before there was such a thing. Why?

My teacher, text, and presumably conventional wisdom, say this was part of living life to its fullest to Hemmingway. A devout Athiest and a man obsessed with his own mortality, he sought to wring every drop out of life before its end (ironic that when death came, it came at his own hand).

But, just from a few short readings I've done, I'd put a slightly different spin to it. Starting with "Soldier's Home", a short story about a man that returned from the war changed, finding that he no longer fits into the family or society he left behind. Day to day suburban life is too banal, so he slides into an apathetic maliase from which he cannot work up any emotion for anyone, including himself. While Hemmingway leaves open to interpretation exactly what a Soldier's Home is, I would say that, no matter how much he might hate it, a soldier's home is combat; the only thing that feels natural or comfortable is war.

Hemmingway's almost agressive Athiesm also seems to stem from the war. When the soldier's mother begs him to pray, he responds: "I can't". In another story, a character mumbles out the Our Father and a bit of the Hail Mary, substituting "Nada" and "Nothing" for every noun in the prayer: "Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada...Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee..."

I've said before that the aphorism "There's no athiests in a foxhole" is absolutely wrong; in my experience, there isn't much room for God when the shit really hits the fan. Everybody's too worried about what is concretely right in front of him, there isn't time for naval gazing on the nature of the universe. So what is created is an awful perfection of existence: there's no questions, no equivocations. The whole of the universe is you and your friends, the enemy and his friends, and whatever terrain is in the immediate vicinity. The rest of the world, God and Country and the rest, vanishes into the brutal symmetry of kill or be killed.

That, in my opinion, is the Soldier's Home, and is why so many soldiers feel so out of place when they get home. It is not a mentality that is much called for in civilian life, and it necessarily leads to isolation and apathy if the soldier is unable to readjust.

That, I think, is part of what Hemingway was chasing with the bullfights: a return to the simple world of combat, where the pressures of religion and family and carreer are rendered down to their proper state of inconsequentiality, and the world is set aright for a short while until one of the combatants is killed. It is, perhaps, a combat addiction: not a need to kill, obviously, but a need to get back to the perfect world of combat and leave all the seemingly silly complications of regular life behind.

Posted by Francis at 05:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 26, 2006

one more feminism post

...and then I'll quit blathering on something about which I really know very little.

I mentioned the debate on feminism that's been going on over at Ilyka's to my girlfriend, and asked her the same question I asked over there, generally: If feminism is "The radical theory that women are people too", then what's all this other stuff that, as far as I can tell, has very little to do with that?

She told me that, in college, she took a Women's History course. The first day covered that basic theory I have quoted above. The rest of the semester was pretty much about how men are evil, always have been evil and always will be evil. It was then she decided she didn't really want to be a feminist, or at least to go under that label. She's no wilting flower, she was raised by a very strong woman and is making a professional life for herself, but she didn't want to be a part of the nuttiness extolled by her professor. So there's that, whatever it's worth.

The more we talked about it, I sortof noticed something. See, I think part of the reason that I don't get all that excited about feminism is because I simply don't see...the problem, I suppose. Gender discrimination, like racism or any other broad discrimination like that, is such a foreign idea to me that I have a hard time believing in it. I don't practice it, I've never been subjected to it, I don't associate with people that think like that.

But then she started talking about stuff that's happened where she works. She deals with the public daily, and I was amazed by some of B.S. she has to put up with from some of her male customers. Nothing gratuitious, more along the lines of comments or suggestions of inferiority. "You wouldn't understand, you're just a girl" type stuff. I guess, according to her, it's not all that terribly uncommon, which I find ridiculous. Does that kind of thinking still fly? She's a college educated, intelligent, professional woman: I guarantee, bubba, she understands whatever it is you're trying to get across, probably better than you do. If somebody treated me like that, I'd punch him in the head.

It's that kind of thinking that makes me glad for the feminist nutjobs out there. I may disagree with 'em on a whole raft of issues, but for chrissakes, that stuff just ain't kosher. See, it isn't the big issues that people scream bloody murder about and get into foodfights on teevee over, it's that casual, girls-are-dumb or girls-are-weak everyday mentality that I'll never get, and that really pisses me off.

So power to the Andrea Dworkins and NOWs of the world that dedicate their lives to fighting it. I just hope, sincerely, their tactics don't alienate more people than it converts.

Posted by Francis at 08:32 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 24, 2006

more on the panic attacks

talking about the bird flu the other day, I mentioned media hyperbole for effect, and to that end there's a neat roundup of media (and politician) predictions of casualties from the Iraq war at Instapundit (via PW, as I have neither the time nor the inclination to actually wade through instapundit every day).

If the media and their experts are as accurate on the bird flu as they were on that, I think we can all take up eating raw pigeon meat tommorow without fear.

Posted by Francis at 06:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

who's the feminist

This is a partial comment in response to a post at Ilyka's. It's not perfect and I don't have time to complete it, but I'm preserving it here as a more thorough, if still incomplete, version of what I said there:

I guess what I'm missing out on here is a definition of feminism as a political force. If feminism simply means "Live your own life/don't let the patriarchy get you down", then great, count me in. The problem is that there's a whole range of people out there operating under the banner of feminism that, I would say, take it a bit farther than that.

I've always had one problem with the "Strawfeminist" thing, that there really are people that self-identify as feminists pushing the exact sort of ideas that Ilyka proscribes to the strawfeminist. I actually liked the term "Feminzai" or "Radical feminist" to delineate between people, like me, that 100% support equal pay, fighting subjugation, punishing abusers and the like; vs. the nutters that use the name feminisim to push a radical agenda. I've always used the term "Feminist" to describe "Women are people too", but that isn't the same thing as "Under patriarchy, every woman's son is her betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman" or the old chestnut "All sex is rape" (that one isn't a canard, click the link before jumping down my throat).

It's the same reason I don't generally call myself an "Environmentalist": I think trees are great, but I don't want to be associated with people that blow up factories.

Posted by Francis at 06:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

"A discussion on the ethics and issues of the Iraq war"

...or, well, not so much a "discussion", per se, more of a lecture. A Tirade, if you will. A Browbeating, followed by an ideological food fight.

Six speakers: two English prof's, a Philosophy prof, a dean of something-or-other, a local pastor, and another professor who teaches, I think, extraterrestrial biology or metaphysical basket weaving or something. The topics, respectively: Use of Language as it relates to War (subtitled: YOU'VE BEEEN DUPED!); Poetry of War; Philosophy of Pacifism; Five Questions about the Iraq War (and the answers, in case you're too stupid to figure them for yourself -- hint: BUSH LIED!); Religion on a Geopolitical stage (or, alternatively, "Muslims who fly planes into buildings and cut off people's heads and murder girls for impure thoughts and want every last one of you dead really aren't any different from the prodestant family down the street, and besides, who are we to force our democracy on them, don't you know that's not their culture?"); and, finally...well, I'm not sure. The last guy mumbled, but it seemed to be pretty much par for the course DailyKos stuff so I went to smoke a cigarette.

The presentations ranged from inarticulate (over fifteen minutes about a German soldier during WWII named Kaufmann, but that's all I can tell you about him, because the rest of it didn't make any damned sense at all), to trite ("They were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation! Say it again (she says it again. and again. and slower, for the ESL crowd)" This was presented, not as a joke, but as a serious point), to offensive ("Every day, American Soldiers are commiting atrocities around the globe!"), to simply tired (Sixteen words, No Blood for Oil, Blah de blah blah blah).

I had hope for the "Five Questions" speech, he kept cautioning that these questions were important no matter what your stance on the war, until it became clear that he was going to answer all the questions for us. (Because it's important to question your beliefs, as long as you agree with me in the end). The poetry was not an examination of, you know, actual poetry through history, but rather two selections written by the speaker. I use "written" in the loosest sense of the term..."dribbled" may be more accurate. The speech on the language of war was actually somewhat interesting; subtract out irrelevant lefty talking points flung at random into the speech like a tourette patient's obsceneties, and it would have made an interesting semantic debate.

But wait, the worst is yet to come: You may have noticed that there was a...lack of diversity in the panel. The audience, however, was easily 10% military (ergo, pro-war), with another twenty or thirty percent on the same side. After an hour and a half of being lectured, insulted, condescended to, and generally harrassed a Marine in full dress and another Marine wearing an OIF sweatshirt were, literally, fit to be tied. They started shouting as soon as the last speaker was done. Another english teacher, a republican (!), asked for a few minutes to present the other side, then proceeded to go on for easily twenty minutes and, when not contradicting herself or insulting somebody, didn't make any sense at all. I can't imagine she was any worse than the guy I had skipped out on earlier, but it had to have been a close thing.

"Islam is a Death Cult". Woah, woah, flag on the play. Indignant: "I never said Islam is a Death Cult. (blah blah blah) Islam, see, is a Death Cult." I had previously thought that having to sit quietly through speech after speech that I disagreed with would be the worst: not even close. There is nothing worse (in this forum) than having to sit through a speech by someone who, generally speaking, you probably agree with, but who absolutely butchers the argument. I mean, really, makes a mockery of the idea that there could ever be any sensible argument for the war, simply through overwhelming ineptitude, innacuracy, incoherence, unfamiliarity with the issues, and general incompetence.

This was followed by the two Marines I mentioned earlier, who went with the "I was there, I saw it, none of you have any idea what you're talking about and, really, you should all just sit down and shut the fuck up because I'm the only one allowed to have an opinion on the matter" tact, which never really carried much weight with me. I kept my mouth shut, and promptly bounced out of there when a hippie kid in the back started shouting down the well-dressed Marine, insisting that "The US is the real terrorist", followed by the Marine telling the kid he has "No idea what terrorism is". Nothing good was going to come from that, so I went for another cig and the calmer atmosphere of the smoke area.

Where, oddly enough, I got caught up in conversation with the professor who gave the language speech and a moderate anti-war girl about, get this, the war, the presentation, and ways that both could have been better or worse, all without any name-calling or raised voices or grandstanding. We agreed and disagreed, and everybody came away happy.

See how easy?

Posted by Francis at 03:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2006

catastrophe, coming soon to a television near you

I was talking about the bird flu thing with my girlfriend a few days ago, and I made the comment that I think alot of the hype about it is just that: hype. The media, I said, needs something to scream about 24/7, and avian flu just happens to be the topic du jour. She was sceptical of my scepticism, so I guess that raises the question: How panicked should I be?

After all, there are a lot of important people talking about this. The secretary of Agriculture is telling us to stock up on tuna. Some guy on the radio last week said we were looking at a 50/50 chance of the flu going human to human.

Then again, Newt Gingrich said there's only a two or three percent chance. But then again, what the fuck does Newt Gingrich know? My pet cockatiel knows more about bird flu than he does.

There's talk of wiping out upwards of thirty percent of humanity off the map, and higher. But so far, only...what, 150, 200 people have been hit? On a global scale, that isn't exactly a crisis; besides, most of those cases came from people noshing on stray fowl that made the mistake of landing in their back yard. I suspect garden-variety food poisioning has killed more people than that over the past few weeks. Do a google news search on "Bird Flu Casualties", and the biggest news is how many people haven't died, delivered in the breathless tone of impending disaster.

Scanning the news reports, the best fact-based analysis I can find is this: We Officially Have No Fucking Clue. Avian flu could be spoken of by our descendants the way we talk about Plauges of Locusts, or it could be over before we know it, doing less damage than Ted Nugent on a good weekend.

But it's all described and delivered in a manner that, in a movie, would require an extra-badass badguy: Wagnerian bumper music, ominous graphics of peaked-looking chickens, Serious people speaking serious nothings in serious tones.

It all looks like a big cya-game. Nobody knows what the fuck is going to happen, so all the hacks get out there and make sure everybody knows that they have no idea what is going to happen, and if what does happen is bad then they opposed it, whatever it is. Add to that the constant need for media crisis (See: Potential casualties of Iraq war, mass murder post-Katrina, and, most especially, Y2Friggin'K) and I somehow feel less than compelled to go into full-on pants-crapping mode, stocking up on tuna (which will also kill you, except when it won't) and building a flu-proof shelter under the woodshed.

How many times, over the past, say, ten years, has the media predicted a world-changing catastrophe? How many times have they been accurate? People make fun of the weather man's accuracy, but meterologists are the Oracle of Freaking Delphi compared to the talking heads on Sunday morning shows. The biggest catastrophes I can think of came completely out of the blue upon an unsuspecting populace, which the media would then rush in and try to make look a whole lot worse than it really was.

Every newsroom on earth should be wallpapered with those ever-perfect words from the Hitchhiker's Guide: DON'T PANIC. That should be the banner on every major newspaper, exept, of course, that that wouldn't sell. Fear and Panic are what sells copy, so by god, go find some someplace.

Having said all that, the guy with the bird-proof bombshelter has every right to laugh in my face through his biohazard suit as I lay dying of Avian Flu. Someday, maybe paranoia really will pay off, as they keep telling us it will in the movies and media. But that kind of paranoia takes some serious energy, and right now, it's time for lunch.

Posted by Francis at 04:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

that's depressing:

In Sadr City, the Shiite slum that is essentially a city within a city, government forces have vanished. The streets are ruled by aggressive teenagers with shiny soccer jerseys and machine guns. They poke their heads into cars and detain whom they want. Mosques blare for American troops to stay out. Increasingly, the Americans have been doing just that.

I spent most of my time over there in Sadr (nee Saddam) city: trying to establish a respectable police force, patrolling streets, raiding houses, trying to disentangle American sensibilities and Iraqi law, and generally performing police functions as they are performed in places like that (I always called it the "Wild West"). If, as that article alleges, the whole of the city has fallen to roving vigilanties, that all that work and the high hopes of those living and working in Sadr City has gone to shit, it would be a monumentally depressing development. Of course, I don't put much stock in the media, but I had certainly hoped that, by now, things would have at least gotten better, not worse.

h/t Ace.

Posted by Francis at 02:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 03, 2006

speaking of bored...

A map of florida, from a guy that hasn't been south of West by-god Virginia for years:

(click for bigger)

That's for Andrea, because of this post, via Ilyka.

(Yes, the rude line about rednecks points directly to Valdosta: I have some very good friends there.)

Posted by Francis at 08:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What to write, what to write....

Okay, let's start with this: Somehow, I moved into a house that is only a few feet on each side from its neighbors, and yet does not have any sort of broadband internet access. I've lived there since October, and still don't have any internet. (I Hate Verizon, but that's a whole other story). So now I have to get local telephone service and (ack) dial-up, which is going to cost me more than I would have paid for DSL or Cable. Fortunately, I occasionally get access at work, at least for the time being, and I can always surf at school.

So that's part of the whole no writing thing. I don't want to bore you with the details, but the past few months have been re-focusing on what I need to focus on and trying to get rid of all the extraneous b.s. For a while, that's included web-stuff. Now I'm bored, so it's back to the blogs.

Also, I've actually logged in here a few times, but it's so...empty. Scary empty. Intimidating empty: work to do. I need to clutter the place up some. I'm sure it'll look like a total trainwreck in no time.

See? Here I am, and I have nothing to say. Politics sucks. The port deal: UAE is not UK, no matter who says it is. Sorry, guys, I hear you've been behaving lately. Talk to me in two hundred years after fighting together in a few world wars and maybe I'll reconsider.

How about a book reccommendation: somehow, I find myself reading a book put out by "The Feminist Press" of New York City College. Somehow, I have a hard time seeing alot of commonality between my reading tastes and the folks at the Feminist Press. I picture lots of books about lesbians and the patriarchy, which isn't really my bag. But they have a whole division "Women Write Pulp", which is all classic pulp fiction written by (wait for it) women. I don't know how much feminist mileage they get out of a book titled "The G-String Murders" written by the Jenna Jameson of her day, but it's great reading regardless.

Posted by Francis at 06:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack