The Blog of Chloë and Pete  

Two characters (that would be Chloë and Pete) looking for love, safety, and Krispy Kremes. A book looking for readers and a publisher. An author (Jessica) looking for an agent, a life, and a region-free DVD player.

email: jessica_lynn -at-

About Me 23.07.02

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What follows was originally going to be a post in the MATH+1 discussion of the potential war, and it got so long I decided to save everyone's eyeballs and post it here instead. Which probably opens me up to all sorts of negative comments, but I would need to read them anyway.

Now for Part 2: Jessica's General Political Stance As Relates to the Iraq Question.

PG asked, well, if Saddam is such a sumbitch and full of human rights violations, why don't we go after all the other sumbitches with human rights violations -- Mugabe, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong-il, the Chinese Communist Party, The Dictatorship Formerly Known as SLORC, etc.? PG, I'm going to give you an answer you won't be satisfied with. But it's mine, all mine; I don't speak for anyone else here (or my employer, for that matter).

What I believe, in the long run, is that countries pursue their own self-interest exclusively. Countries are not moral. The people in charge of those countries might be acting according to a particular moral stance of their own, but in the long run and in the aggregate, countries act to maximize what they see is in their best interest. So trying to explain geopolitics along a moral framework -- human-rights-based, Christian-based, whichever moral framework the explainer prefers -- doesn't work.

Geopolitical actions come down to a series of tradeoffs. This leads to the "our sumbitch" way of thinking: If you present a country's leaders with a choice between, in a foreign state, supporting a leader who is democratically elected but could potentially be hostile to your country, or supporting a not-so-democratically-elected leader who's more willing to help you out in your needs, almost all the time, historically, the leaders have chosen the latter, despite their professions of love for free and open systems. (Two examples: the US preferring Pinochet to Salvador Allende in the 1970s, and I believe -- though I could be wrong -- that the French government did not protest too much when the Algerian government suppressed elections in 1992 (1990?) rather than let an Islamic government take power.)

The only way, as I see it, that you can convince a country to act against its own perceived interests is to provide it with evidence that the long-term benefits of acting against those interests will be greater. This is usually not easy to do because politicians in democratic countries have such an incentive (read: elections) to think in the short term. Usually -- there are exceptions -- a moral incentive alone is not enough; there has to be some sort of political or economic incentive as well. No country ever did anything solely because it was "the right thing to do".

Take Burma, for example. Burma is a hellhole. Burma has a fledgling, very brave democracy movement that gets stamped on in horrific ways. It could be very much "the right thing to do" for the US to go in and overthrow Former-SLORC* -- and in our long-term interests, as well, as a peaceful, democratic Burma would probably produce fewer tons of illegal drugs and act as a slightly more stable balance in southeast Asia. But that's a very long-term scenario. In the short term, getting the US into a war in Southeast Asia would horrify a lot of voters, would shake up a lot of relationships the US currently has in SE Asia, would piss off China to no end, et cetera, et cetera. Our interests trump Aung San Suu Kyi's bravery, however much we would like to swear otherwise.

So the real question is, as the MOC quite rightly noted, "What are the benefits of a US war with Iraq, and do they outweigh the potential costs?" It's less just "oil" per se than a desire to try and stabilize a very unstable (and geopolitically valuable) region, impress our enemies (I could write a whole thing about a gendered reading about this war on Iraq, but Timothy Garton Ash already did, in the New York Review of Books), bolster Israel, and get at al-Qaeda indirectly since there aren't very many direct routes, and we don't seem to have done very well with the ones we tried. In the long term, there is also the potential for a richer, friendlier Iraq, just as World War II produced (in a way -- but I certainly wouldn't give MacArthur all the credit) a richer, friendlier Japan. There is, as I argued earlier, more potential for a richer and friendlier Iraq in attacking than there is in leaving well enough alone. Now, whether those benefits outweigh the costs is certainly worth arguing.

But I think trying to look at it in terms of "right" and "wrong" just doesn't get anywhere on a geopolitical scale. There are too many competing definitions of "right" and "wrong," and by trying to invoke them you end up looking like you're just trying to impose them, and causing your listener to resent you. Bringing up human-rights issues doesn't help unless you can frame the discussion in a way that says, "It is in our long-term interests that Palestine has an economically viable state, and that trumps our short-term interests of keeping Israel at its current size and thus keeping American pro-Israel voters happy."** Invoking human-rights issues, or a God-given need to make the world safe for democracy, just makes the country look hypocritical.

This is not, admittedly, a fun way to look at geopolitics. And it's not much help to Bush, either, since he has thousands of armed forces members and their families looking out for their short-term interests, and they want something a little more compelling than "After considering all the tradeoffs, this is the path that seems to offer the most long-term benefits for the fewest short-term risks." So then we get invocations -- from both major political parties -- of right and wrong, because right and wrong sell more easily, and from there it's a short step to, "I'm Right and he's Wrong and I shall show my contempt for him accordingly," and to a debate that's too emotionally charged and personal to really help matters, in my opinion.***

Personally I resolved that paradox for myself by deciding that I think the system that America currently represents in the world -- free-market, representative democracy, emphasis on individual rights -- is a good thing, and leads, in the long-run, to the greatest long-term benefits, for everyone. That influences my judgment of American foreign policy. I think a democratic, free-market Iraq is, in the long run, best for Iraq and America both, and I think the way to get there is via invasion (or coercion with the looming threat of invasion -- but for the threat to be good we'd have to be prepared to make good on it, so it amounts to the same thing), whereas non-invasion carries the potential cost of more terrorist attacks, so I support invasion. But when I waver on those conclusions I waver on the war as a whole.

For those not as convinced that the system represented by America brings the best benefits over time, the arguments presented in a cost-benefit framework are much less compelling. And Bush hasn't done a good job of finding a way to sell the war on Iraq to those people. I don't really know how, myself, but calling them unpatriotic or stupid or blind or Axis of Weasel or whatnot doesn't help.

And the viewer might say, "It shouldn't be like this! We should be thinking about what's right and wrong, not being selfish!" Maybe. But I don't think countries are actually going to stop pursuing their own perceived interests, even if they talk a right-and-wrong talk.

Does any of this make sense? It's a bunch of stuff I've been trying to process and put together for quite a while now -- ever since I decided I was in favor of continuing most-favored-nation trading relations with the sumbitches in charge of China, and then had to explain to myself (and others) why.

* SLORC changed its name a couple years ago -- I don't remember what to.

** I do think in the long run an economically viable and relatively stable Palestinian state is in our best interests. The biggest mistake Israel has made has been to isolate Palestianians to the point where the best source of income is the money Saddam pays suicide bombers. But that's another argument altogether.

*** But I'm personally much less comfortable with the amount of name-calling and mockery that goes on in American political debate -- and I won't say "today" since American political debate has a long history of name-calling and mockery -- than many, so that probably influences my POV.

  posted by Jessica @ 14:10 |



Best. Bleat. Ever. Ever ever ever ever.

I want to elaborate, but for now, must work. Go read it, and then stop by Chez Pamie to congratulate her on her awesome news. I can now revel in the fact that I have now actually met someone who's worked with Scott Thompson.

Hmm. Pamie -- fabulous writer, hard-working, increasingly well-connected -- don't you think she'd be just right for a groundbreaking new newspaper? I'll assume that said groundbreaking new newspaper already has an Asian DVD reviewer who works for cheap, and thus volunteering my services will get me nowhere ("Jessica, the Cheap-Ass Asian DVD Reviewer: Will Work For Emails from Welch"), but I'll continue to draw little "Pamie + L.A. Examiner 4-Eva" hearts until told to shut up. Or the coffee wears off.

Lileks. Pamie. L. A. Examiner. Coffee. Google. Whee!

  posted by Jessica @ 10:56 |


It's been too long since I mocked Creative Loafing. They do, at least, have a decent news team going. Take, for example, an article on a recently retired City of Atlanta cop and his mid-1990s corruption investigations:

    So, [then-mayor Bill] Campbell and his police chief, [Beverly] Harvard, had several options to deal with this potential image disaster. They could, for example, put a lot more officers on the street to fill some of the city's 300 vacant cop jobs. That was expensive. Or, they could take a much, much cheaper route -- playing with crime statistics . . .

    In 1997, Arcangeli began sending memos to Harvard, pointing the finger at two deputy chiefs, Bobby Rocker and Carter Jackson. The chief was, at best, cool to the suggestion that numbers were being cooked for public relations spin.

    Then came the meeting. Arcangeli was organizing the police move to City Hall East, when he received a cell phone call from a very angry chief summoning him to an inquisition.

    "I screwed up," Arcangeli says. "I really screwed up because I didn't think that [Harvard] was materially involved. I was wrong about that."

    Arcangeli walked into the meeting and found Harvard flanked by Rocker and Jackson. The message was clear. "I took one look, and I knew she was part of it."

    Harvard at first refused to let Arcangeli summon the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to probe the anomalies in crime reports. But after Arcangeli went public, the GBI waded in. The state agency absolved officials of criminal intent. Yet, the GBI found 498 robberies and 56 rapes had been omitted from the crime statistics. "That was in only three categories of crime," about 20 percent of all reports, Arcangeli sighs. "Who knows how many total crimes weren't reported?" . . .

    Meanwhile, Harvard has remained true to character -- she got caught trying to pad her paycheck and those of her top aides with "overtime" following the 9-11 terrorist attack. ("Deplorable," says Arcangeli.) Campbell left office amid a gale of federal investigations. The new mayor, Shirley Franklin, looked at Harvard and said, no thanks; Harvard ended up with an oh-so-Atlanta sinecure at Hartsfield International Airport.

Not exactly surprising to anyone who was in Atlanta during the Campbell administration, and a little one-sided, but still, an interesting story.

Now. Same issue. Opinion piece by Tom Houck, longtime CL contributor, who apparently didn't get a look at the good-cop-bad-cop story before it went to press:

    When [Bill Campbell] entered office [in 1993], Atlanta was known as the "murder capital of North America." He appointed the nation's first black female police chief and focused like a laser on crime. When Campbell left office, Atlanta had its lowest homicide rate in 34 years.

Maybe Houck irritated the editorial staff. If he feels that strongly about Campbell and crime, he ought to get a chance to respond to the article in a forthcoming issue, rather than be left hanging and looking like an ignoramus. Then again, maybe I'm the only person who reads more than just the music listings and the ads.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:37 |



When I posted my lyrics quiz on Monday I figured that by Thursday morning my audience would have long solved it, derided me, and moved on. But so far my audience's collective score is 2.5 out of 10, which is puzzling. Granted, I put in a few obscure ones, but I would've at least bet that Brooke would've gotten one or two.

Maybe everyone's doing one shot for every billion AOL Time Warner wrote down in 2002. Numfar, do the dance of Schadenfreude! I'm surprised there haven't been a few more two-steps at the news that AOL Online was the big money loser. The New York Times, at least, seems bemused:

    AOL Time Warner executives said Mr. Turner did not formally resign as vice chairman until late Tuesday, when he sent Mr. Parsons a letter saying "this company" had "been a significant part of my life for over 50 years." Mr. Turner is 64, so his letter indicated he began dedicating himself to the company that became Turner Broadcasting when he was 14.

Although, knowing Ted . . .

  posted by Jessica @ 10:16 |



I went in with little idea what to expect -- unspoiled, you might say -- and I thought Bush did a pretty good job. (Stephen Green, drinking cheap brandy instead of vodka, has the play-by-play beginning here.) There were some surprises in the domestic part -- hydrogen cars? My boyfriend jumped up and did a strange little dance; I'm still not sure if he was happy or outraged -- and the five minutes on AIDS in Africa, which is four minutes and fifty-nine seconds more than I thought the entire continent would get.

Hydrogen cars? I mean, nifty, but Bush and hydrogen cars? I almost imagine him turning to one of his speechwriters and saying, "Okay, fine, but what am I going to say to all those it's-about-oil people?"

Okay, cool, hydrogen cars. If we get a joint Swedish-American Hydrogen Volvo initiative, even better.

I'm being silly. I wanted to be convinced. In a weird, childish way I wanted to believe in Bush himself. There were a couple moments of MBA-speak, but then he got into a rhythm and seemed grave, almost sad. Expect for the line about not having to worry about certain al-Qaeda members anymore, I didn't see a sign of a smirk. He's not a commanding, imposing man; he's not pretending to be completely on top of the situation. He's just charging ahead with God on his side. I am apparently less threatened by references to God than I was five or ten years ago.

  posted by Jessica @ 22:30 |



Salon (which is a lot more fun to read when I can just click four times to get to the premium content) has an introduction to Bollywood films from a Times of India correspondent, plus her personal Top 10 list. It's not bad. She's very fond of Kabhi Khushi Khabie Gham, which I've stayed away from because I've heard the politics are a little retrograde, and of Kareena Kapoor (but not Karisma). I wish she'd played up Dil Se a little more, since that seems to be the best film for Intro to Bollywood 101 purposes (and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for Bollywood 102: Advanced Filmi Gossip and Shah Rukh Appreciation).

Actually, the writer is so concerned about Bollywood films being taken seriously she neglects to mention how the celebrity gossip is half the fun. Lovers sending illicit text messages! Actresses trying to see who can out-insult the other! See Kareena throw a fit because Bobby Deol's wife gave her costar better clothes in wardrobe! (Seemingly half of Bollywood's current stars are from the Deol, Kapoor, Mukherjee or Bachchan families. If Abishek Bachchan and Karisma Kapoor had gotten married as they'd planned, I think the system would have imploded from that much star nepotism.)

By the way -- for those who read the article and aren't quite sure: Kajol is a woman. A very attractive woman.

  posted by Jessica @ 09:33 |


I'm going to be keeping an eye on Governor Perdue (just typing that makes me cringe) tonight. Greg? What about you?

  posted by Jessica @ 19:11 |



Since the week ahead is likely to be filled with online shouting matches, I thought we might start it off with something light and fluffy: a Lyrics Jessica Likes quiz. I'll give ten lyrics that have struck my fancy for one reason or another, and you get to guess the title and artist and make fun of my taste. Guess correctly and get a nice warm glow of pride and the ability to buy Frankenswag just in time for the Big Apple Blogger Bash on February 6th.

No Googling, now. If I can come up with these off the top of my head (and probably flub a word or two in the process), you can too.

Hint #1: None of the songs' titles is contained in the quoted lyrics.

Hint #2: All songs originally in English, tempting as it was to hit you with the translation of "Satrangi Re."

1. The less I say, the more my work gets done.

2. She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake.

3. It was early Sunday morning in the Central Standard Zone
You were quiet like the TV, and I like the telephone
You were sleeping next to me, I might as well have been alone
And it's a long way back to El Paso . . .

4. While you were off in Oregon,
I've been drinkin' here all alone . . .
They shot a nine-year-old boy for a hundred dollars.

5. But the hip-hop and the white funk just blew away my puppy's mind.

6. Like a dog with little sense I keep returning
To the very area when I did see the ship go down,
As if there's something at the scene I should be learning.

7. I have a phone that doesn't ring, a line that doesn't sting,
A letter never sent.
I have a dream where snowflakes fall inside a painted hall -- ha!
That don't pay the rent!

8. Your best friend wrote and told me you had teardrops in your eyes.

9. In a coat of a thousand colors,
And a star-spangled Cadillac,
He picked up a rodeo queen
With whiplash marks all over his back.

10. Never let your conscience be harmful to your health.
Let no neurotic impulse turn inward on itself.
Just say that you were happy as "happy" would allow,
And tell yourself that that will have to do for now.

Have at it. Really, I'm just curious if anyone else's pop tastes are as wacky as mine.

Edited 5/2/03 to add hints.

  posted by Jessica @ 09:04 |


Of the blogs participating, my favorite (in English, since, sadly, I don't read Spanish well enough) is Caracas Chronicles.

  posted by Jessica @ 07:00 |



I've said this before about Anne Lamott writing in Salon: I read her new work and I feel weirdly sad, almost personally hurt. Her tone is so sure, her contempt for Bush and his administration so all-encompassing, that I feel if I were talking to her in person and said something even vaguely pro-war, she'd sigh a little, smile bravely, and say, "Well, it was good to meet you," and hug me, because she's big enough to give even a pro-war person a hug; and out of earshot she'd tell her friends it was a shame, since I'd seemed like such a nice person.

Like this: If you march against war when the war is for shitty reasons -- oil and reelection and profit -- your shoes might get wet, but maybe fewer people will die in Iraq. What if you think that war will mean fewer people will die in Iraq? And possibly also in Iran, Israel, Kuwait, and the US? I want somebody on the left to say, "There is a way to construct a moral argument for invading Iraq. I don't think it's right, but I want to acknowledge it, and the people who put faith in it."

I don't like apocalypses. I never did. Clinton didn't destroy the country, and Bush won't either. (If he were going to, William Rehnquist would have retired by now.) My boyfriend, a Libertarian with a capital L, occasionally goes into rants about how the country is becoming a socialist dictatorship, and I stiffen; I turn sulky; I say, "And where were you planning to move?"

It's a strange emotional response on my part -- I want very much to believe that the people in charge are not evil, that by and large people are trying their best, that chaos is not just around the corner. Talk about the sky falling and I don't just disagree -- I get angry. Which is not really helpful.

  posted by Jessica @ 19:44 |




Although I should note that no man who's seen me in person has ever courted me so assiduously. Hmm.

  posted by Jessica @ 16:31 |


Neal Pollack, Fanfic Hero.

To give all my thoughts on the Arisia just past would be difficult, especially since (a) I have to work and (b) I'm on my second cup of coffee and therefore a little jumpy, so, the important points:

There was very little debauchery, but much fun. The fanfic panel was interesting, the sci-fi-and-academia panel even more so, and the slash panel went all to hell when the well-meaning moderator uttered the words "Harry Potter slash." Henry Jenkins is a pretty interesting (and charismatic) man in person, and I wish I'd gotten to talk to him at greater length, but then so did half the panel attendees. Scissorkiss's next album, Where Is My Silver Love?, is going to be damned good. If you're in Boston, I highly recommend you get on their mailing list so you can go to their release party next month.

Oh, and Stoli Vanil is best drunk neat.

I got home yesterday, and last night got to watch the first of the newly acquired DVDs, Shaolin Soccer. I'd heard all sorts of raves, but I was surprised at how good it actually was -- it managed to take a timeworn story (underdog sports team made up of misfits) and put some really surprising new twists on it. The boy had already seen it but was happy to see it again.

One note about Shaolin Soccer: I believe Miramax is going to release a dubbed version in theaters sometime this year -- but the Miramax version, from what I've heard, is under 90 minutes long, and the version I watched last night is 111 minutes. While not every second of those 111 minutes is absolutely necessary, the movie is so well-paced at 111 minutes that I really don't see how the cut version can be better. Regardless of whether you see the cut version when it's released, I would highly recommend buying the DVD. This DVD has English subs, as well as a (subbed!) "Making Of" special and some shot-by-shot breakdowns of the special effects.

One last note -- Barry Deutsch responded politely and calmly to my earlier post, which he certainly didn't have to do. He deserves all the publicity he can get.

  posted by Jessica @ 11:04 |



Might I qualify for the Crayon Diversity Award if I say how annoyed I was that Gavin got killed and zombiefied on Angel last night? I mean, in six full seasons of Buffy and three and a half of Angel -- all set in California, with two Buffy seasons set primarily at a public California university -- there has been a grand total of one -- one -- Asian-American character. And now he's dead. It's a damn shame, since Daniel Dae Kim is not bad in the eye candy department. In fact, he is probably one of the best-looking Haverford alums I have ever laid eyes on.

The zombie sex appeal notwithstanding, the lack of Asian-Americans in the Buffyverse has bugged me for a while, especially when the show moved to UC-Sunnydale. I think a character who drew on an Asian tradition or set of traditions, be it bushido, Chinese folk medicine theories, or Buddhist philosophy, might have proved an interesting foil to Buffy, who so far has drawn almost exclusively on Western knowledge and tradition in facing her enemies. Come to think of it, a Hispanic character would have been interesting too -- an episode that revolved around the Day of the Dead could have had the potential to be really, really cool.

Ah, well. Looking for a slightly-closer-to-actual-California-representation Buffyverse is an almost-lost cause at this point. Apparently Daniel Dae Kim, Haverford Hottie, recently started a role on 24, but considering the death count on that show, I'm not even sure it's worth trying to catch up just to find him. The TWoP 24 forum has a discussion going on about race/class/gender on that show, but as best I can tell he hasn't come up.

  posted by Jessica @ 18:04 |



In Which I Bite the Hand That Links to Me

Dear Barry Deutsch,

You have a very interesting cartooning style -- certainly more visually interesting and inventive than that of, say, Dan Perkins. And like I said, I was flattered when you linked to me. However.

My father worked for Coca-Cola from 1979, the year after I was born, to 1995. Would you care to come over here and make jokes about him having me murdered? There's the comment link right below.

You want to talk about Coca-Cola's involvement with paramilitaries in Colombia? Go right ahead: start here, here, and at for your argument. But as a Coke kid, I have to say: that was not funny.

  posted by Jessica @ 16:33 |


Instapundit points to an article on the inhumane conditions in a North Korean gulag and speculates that when eventually it will come out that South Korean politicians knew about such atrocities for years, and will suffer political consequences for the coverup. (He makes the point more strongly here.

I disagree. Going back to my earlier argument that a lot of South Koreans see North Korea as wayward family, I suspect it won't be just a bunch of slimy politicians who knew, or had their suspicions, and went on whistling. I suspect a good many ordinary South Koreans will learn, or have it finally confirmed, that they had relatives serving as prison guards, petty Communist officials, camp administrators, et cetera. Their position will be closer to the French immediately after World War II, or China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution -- a very small minority worked very hard to keep their hands clean, and the rest all have, by varying degrees, an uneasy relationship with the actual evildoers. I think one or two politicians might end up as scapegoats, the rest will call for national reconciliation, and it'll be another generation before the newly reformed Korea even begins to deal with a half-century of Northern atrocities and Southern longing.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:24 |


The Top 10 Conspiracy Theories and Speculations of 2002, as listed by the leftist online zine Popmatters. I used to write for them, by the way. I stopped not because of ideological differences, but because they don't seem to have figured out a way to pay their writers yet, and if I want to pontificate for free I'll do it here. I still check in with them every so often, if only because of the breadth and scope of their music reviews. (I bought the Chemical Brothers' Come With Us on their recommendation, and wasn't disappointed.)

None of the individual points is particularly shocking -- that the FBI bungled some initial identifications of the hijackers, that Dick Cheney might have wanted Afghanistan to keep Enron from buying the farm. (Which I find hard to believe, given that Enron's demise had very little to do with its South Asian initiatives.) To take one example: #7, "The New World Order Will Not Be Televised":

    Assuming you haven't stopped reading yet -- either to start digging a bomb shelter in your backyard or to flip on FOX News for a much-needed dose of pro-war soma -- you have to be wondering how these flabbergasting stories escaped the notice of America's intrepid newshounds. Examine this question for even a minute and you will stumble onto a proven, card-carrying evil conspiracy: it's called the U.S. Congress, and conclusive evidence links them to a truly terrifying document known as the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

    This legislation is relevant post-9/11 because it allowed the megamergers of media conglomerates to become ultra-monstermergers. As a result, today a handful of multinationals control most of what is said in the U.S. about military actions overseas and the reasons for them. At least one of these companies -- General Electric -- has financial stakes in the weapons racket as well, but this blatant conflict of interest gets as much coverage as the Telecommunications Act originally got when it was on the floor of Congress: next to none. Some media observers and academics, like MIT's Noam Chomsky and Norman Solomon of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, have doggedly pointed out that the bloated media emperor has no clothes. Too bad they stand little chance of appearing regularly on
    Face the Nation.

    Not many people noticed when the rules governing what gets said about war and who gets to say it were exposed in
    Harper's Magazine, which ran a Florida News Herald memo outlining some of the carefully crafted talking points journalists must observe in discussing U.S. bombing campaigns. Among them: ignore or minimize innocent death. "If the story needs rewriting to play down the civilian casualties" caused by U.S. bombings, the Herald's copy desk decrees, "DO IT.... Failure to follow any of these or other standing rules could put your job in jeopardy". . . Lesson? If you live in the U.S. and think you know what your government is doing to other countries and why, just because you watch cable or read a daily newspaper -- think again.

One problem with this line of reasoning: the News Herald of Panama City is owned by Freedom Communications, which has its own "libertarian advisor." So while the criticism of the News Herald's copy editor is just (as best I know), to assume a vast conspiracy leading all the way up to Jack Welch doesn't, in this case, work.

I've said in the past that I'm not a big fan of the "Bush Knew" school of thought. I won't automatically dismiss the idea of the government as secretive and malevolent -- Exhibit A: Tuskegee. Exhibit B: the CIA's experiments with LSD -- and I'm even willing to listen to the argument that the arming of the Lusitania was not entirely a mistake, which the Popmatters author, regrettably, doesn't cite. I wouldn't even be all that surprised if the papers in Arabic found at Logan Airport turn out to have been a plant. But to leap from there to Bush checking his watch on the night of September 10th and saying, "Oh, World Trade Center demolition tomorrow"? Too much for me.

But I'm worried. I like Popmatters. They -- especially Cynthia Fuchs, who helped found the site and served as my editor -- have a way of taking something seemingly simple and standing it slightly on its head. But what's the use of sneering that Bush "did a marvelous job of looking completely unsurprised" on September 11th? It goes nowhere. It doesn't even go so far as naming politicians who might combat Bush's evil menace (save Cynthia McKinney). It adds up to nothing but paranoia -- not even useful paranoia, save for that warning about the newspapers.

A while ago I asked for some good liberal blogs, and nobody responded. There are good, strong, anti-war arguments out there -- the conservative commentators give them a teensy-tiny mention before going on to demolish the easy targets. Popmatters doesn't seem to have found them yet. So where are they?

  posted by Jessica @ 18:53 |



Best. New. Adjective. Ever: "citrofag."

I've never been to Arisia before (having only two cons under my belt: PhilCon, once, and DragonCon, more times than I care to remind you). Alastair promises much debauchery. Debauchery sounds good. Besides, my college roommate's new band is playing Friday night, and I haven't heard her sing with them yet. And, hey, Henry Jenkins will be there! Maybe I'll get to go up to him and say, "I've never read your work, but I cite it all the time!" He'll be enchanted, I'm sure.

But I have nothing citrofaggy. Or citrodykey. Or citrobreedy, even.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:19 |


Because someone complained of being left off The Blog of the Rings:

    GANDALF SPEAKS . . . and brings word that the Sauronofascists have been roundly defeated. Kudos to him and the remaining Fellowship. Of course, the scaredy-cats in Gondor don't know what to make of a joint elf-dwarf-human army: are they still trying to convince themselves that Aragorn is an irresponsible cowboy?

    In equally good news, the lovely Eowyn is alive, beautiful, armed, and still single. I wonder if she plays chess.

  posted by Jessica @ 16:48 |



More on the failure of The Lovely Bones, this time from Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, who has a recommendation instead: Mary Rakow's The Memory Room. (Link via Bookslut. Really, 90% of the book links I post here are from Bookslut. If you're not checking in there regularly, you should be.)

Like me, Charlotte McGuinn Freeman is blogging while writing a novel. Unlike me, she's already been published. Her blog includes information about her first novel, Place Last Seen. It looks interesting.

One thing I should note about The Lovely Bones (which I haven't read myself, beyond the first two chapters) -- both Charlotte and Daniel Mendelsohn (in the New York Review of Books) note early on that Alice Sebold herself was a rape survivor, and wrote publicly about her rape in Lucky, and then go on to castigate The Lovely Bones for its belief in easy solutions and last-minute reconciliations and happy endings. Neither of them, however, considers the possibility that Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones out of her own psychological needs -- that she might have very personal reasons to write a story in which a young girl, horribly raped, goes on to a happy heaven, good sex, family reconciliations, et cetera. Mendelsohn and Charlotte (I'm not trying to be overly familiar -- that's how she signs her posts) both castigate the reader of The Lovely Bones for choosing the easy and comforting story over the harsher and possibly truer one -- that a story that begins with the rape and murder of a 14-year-old is not going to have a happy ending -- but don't directly castigate Sebold for making the same choice.

To stop dancing around the issue: I've never been raped, myself, but it ranks as one of my worst fears: my imagination hears the word "rape" and immediately pulls a blanket over itself. I heard on Friday that a friend of mine had been mugged and badly beaten, and didn't hear more news until yesterday morning. In the meantime I looked hard at the possibility that she might have been raped, and realized that I wouldn't know what to do when I saw her or spoke to her, if that was the case. The rape would be so huge and looming in my mind that I wouldn't be able to see her as the same person I spoke to on Thursday. She wasn't, thank God. But if she had been I know I would have been a coward.

I can't think about rape without retreating, I can't talk about rape without retreating, and I certainly can't write about rape without retreating. The sucky first novel was in large part about rape and destruction and redemption, which is part of the reason why it was so bad: I couldn't even get my mind around my subject. I wanted destruction and rage and ended up with tearful conversations. It was bad. It was plenty bad. It was not simply an artistic but a moral failure.

There's not much point to this entry, I suppose, other than to wonder what it means to The Lovely Bones that Alice Sebold is a rape victim. I don't know -- I can appreciate the objective failures of the book, but on the other hand, I honestly have a hard time imagining myself surviving what she went through, let alone being able to write afterwards.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:45 |


Tim Burke, blogging professor extraordinaire, has his students studying weblogs (scroll down to Week 5). But not mine. Is there a Former Students of Tim Burke webring I have to join, or something?

Though there could be some reason for this: he doesn't want to scare the students that they'll all be turning centrist and firing guns by their fifth reunions. From talking to classmates I know the whole "leave Swarthmore, turn right" phenomenon is not widespread. If any students of Tim Burke stumble upon this, rest assured: I'm a freak. Avoid dating libertarian gun owners from Texas and you'll be fine.

Interestingly enough, has me listed as a "Blog of a Feather," as opposed to the "Blogs on the Right." I'm . . . flattered, I suppose. Flattered, and comforted that I haven't fully gone over to what I still think of as the dark side yet.

  posted by Jessica @ 18:14 |



Not unexpected, but very sad nonetheless.

I'll be keeping an eye out over the next few days for tributes by film critics, since my ability to sum up the importance of Fukasaku's work is rather limited -- I've only seen three films of his, Black Lizard, Graveyard of Honor, and Battle Royale. Mind you, they are three very different films, which in and of itself is a testament to Fukasaku's skill. Black Lizard, best known as the answer to the trivia question "In what film did Yukio Mishima appear naked?", is best described as Japanese noir with Aubrey Beardsley as cinematographer; it's a candy-colored, acid-whipped, cool-drenched salute (maybe a two-fingered salute, or the Japanese equivalent thereof) to beauty and melodrama. Graveyard of Honor, by contrast (the films were made about a decade apart) is relentlessly bleak, gray, and detached: the hero starts at the bottom and can't see anywhere to take himself but down. And Battle Royale is energetic, funny, visceral, angry. It's hard to explain how a film that twenty minutes in has a teacher throwing a knife into his student's forehead can be not only profoundly moral but passionate in its morality, but it is. My own conviction after seeing the film was that it was an oblique indictment of the Japanese militarism of the 1930s. Fukasaku said it was derived from his experiences as a teenager in wartime Japan, and the profound distrust of adults he developed at that time.

I can't say, for example, how influential a filmmaker he's been, either at home or abroad. (I can't say for certain that Quentin Tarantino is a Fukasaku fan, for example, other than that Tarantino introduced Battle Royale's first New York screening.) There have been lots of other places to find cool gangsters, severed arteries, and moody zooms in film in the last thirty years. If nothing else, in my opinion, Fukasaku deserves film immortality for Battle Royale and for furthering Takeshi Kitano's career -- Fukasaku was the original director of Sonatine, and handed the reins over to Takeshi Kitano when unable to complete the film.

Patrick Macias, who occasionally posts on Mobius, interviewed Fukasaku for his book, TokyoScope, and was organizing get-well notes for the director last year. If he posts any reminisces or tributes, I'll link to them.

  posted by Jessica @ 17:36 |


The New York Review of Books has apparently made bid for the Catty Review of a Book That's Been Successful for a While slot the New Republic typically gets: Daniel Mendelsohn looks at The Lovely Bones and manages to slam all of American society post-9/11 in the process. (His slam of the book is more effective than his slam of American society, frankly.)

TNR is busy with more important things: Gregg Easterbrook, a.k.a. the haiku-writing, violence-in-entertainment-deploring, why-are-you-kicking?-asking TMQ columnist, explains why SUVs are such a public nuisance. I've only hit an SUV once. I was coming out of a dead stop. It was going maybe 40. My car was totaled and my mother's rib still occasionally flares up five years later.

  posted by Jessica @ 13:27 |


Yesterday's DVD haul:

  • Guns & Talks (Korean; apparently my boyfriend will like it)
  • Come Drink With Me (one of those King Hu movies you apparently Must See if you want to call yourself a Hong Kong films fan)
  • Sonatine (Beat Takeshi's directing debut)
  • Swordsman II (despite the fact that I still prefer Cecelia Yip and Sharla Cheung to Michelle Reis and Rosamund Kwan)
  • Rangeela (Urmila Mandotkar and Aamir Khan!)
  • My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (the best Lau Ching-wan horror comedy, according to L)
  • Shaolin Soccer (since the US theatrical release will be cut and dubbed)
  • No. 3 (Korean, and Region 3 only, as are Come Drink With Me and Sonatine -- I have been told that the PS2 is a multi-region player; we'll see)
  • Attack the Gas Station! -- the Spectrum DVD, the one I've been hoping for ever since I learned it existed. Hooray!

Those of you hoping to seduce me with copies will now be forced to seek another route. Although the NTSC Battle Royale, with a subtitled Battle Royale Gaiden included, might just do it.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:59 |


Comments added to my post on fantasy below.

For those who've gotten to the story on Fulton County animal shelter kill rates from Jesus Gil and the the Sexy Scourgers, two notes: one, there's a weird class dynamic going on in that article. "North Atlanta" (where the couple whose purebred English pointers ran away and were euthanized after three days) means Buckhead/Sandy Springs. Buckhead/Sandy Springs means wealthy. The shelter at Howell Mill Road, which is close to Buckhead if not actually in it, has animals in "much better condition" than the one on Marietta Boulevard, which is city of Atlanta -- i.e. in a much poorer neighborhood. In other words, what's happening is that the Fulton County shelters are responsible for destroying the pets of the inner city, which (surprise, surprise) are not necessarily well-cared for, and in their brutal approach to the situation they've offended pet owners in wealthy Buckhead, hence the fuss. At the risk of sounding far too cynical, if Fulton County and the Atlanta Humane Society had used the three-day policy only downtown and a more lenient policy at Howell Mill, they could have held off this fuss for quite a while.

If you want to protest, as the Scourgers rightly suggest, writing to Mayor Shirley Franklin is not your best bet. The city of Atlanta and Fulton County have two separate governments, and pounds are county-run, not city-run. The people you want to contact are Mike Kenn and the other Fulton County commissioners.

  posted by Jessica @ 09:42 |



Mainly because it has preoccupied A. C. Douglas so much -- see this entry, for starters -- I went ahead and read Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's scouring of the fantasy genre for The Times. Which somewhat ties into the question A.C. asked me a long time ago about why Buffy intrigued me, an otherwise smart girl, so much; and I gave him a very long answer that did, and didn't, explain things well enough. And I think the answer to Fernandez-Armesto's and ACD's question -- "If fantasy is so dumb and predictable, how come people like it so much?" -- ties into my Buffy fandom.

Because here's the conundrum: I've seen an episode and a half of Buffy this season (the ep being "Sleeper" and the half being the second half of "Never Leave Me," for the fans out there). I haven't liked it. I haven't been particularly motivated to tape episodes so my boyfriend and I can watch them after Tuesday board-gaming nights. If Sunnydale finally gets its apocalypse but good this season, I will not care. But I can't say I've lost interest in the show, because I still think about the characters and their relationships, etc., a good deal.

ACD asked me why Buffy and not, say, The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or Star Trek. I think the thing that intrigues me the most about the Buffyverse -- which the show has been true to, despite some really atrocious writing and bad plot choices -- is its flirtation with nihilism, its toying with the general question about whether saving the world is really worth it. The question has been conveyed not merely in the good guys having their shades of gray, but by slowly removing and toying with, one by one, the incentives for Buffy to do good. By the end of Season 2, she'd closed the portal to Hell, but in the process she'd lost (however temporarily) the two people she loved most -- Angel, whom she had to send through the portal, and her mother, who told her not to come back. Season 3 brought Faith, who had Buffy's powers without her morality. In Season 4 she joined a larger organization that proved just as dangerous and corrupt as the beasts she was trying to fight. In Season 5, after defending her mother from numerous demons and seeing her through a brain tumor, Buffy found her mother dead on the couch; then it turned out that her sister Dawn wasn't actually her sister at all. At the end of that season she made the biggest sacrifice she could -- her own life -- to save the world, and her friends repaid her in Season 6 by dragging her out of heaven and turning into an evil witch (in Willow's case) or a demon (in Anya's). At this point Buffy could hardly be blamed for turning against the world that keeps punishing her for saving it, and the only intriguing thing about Season 7 to me is the possibility that she is subconsciously no longer good; that she has simply been through too much, and received too little reward, to keep a pure soul.

But that doesn't answer the question of why I'm still a Buffy fan even if I no longer watch the show. By ACD's and Fernandez-Armesto's standards, I should know better, having grown up on Greek myths -- I used to dress my Barbies in togas made of washcloths and act out the myth of Perseus and Andromeda. (I'd like to hear Mr. Douglas's take on Neil Gaiman's American Gods; my bet is it would be very unsympathetic.) But I don't think about the Greek myths (sadly, the Greek being the only mythology I'm really familiar with) half as often as I do about the Buffy characters. What makes the difference?

I think the answer lies in Mr. Fernandez-Armesto's gripe:

It is hard to feel involved when the author can whistle up a wizard to get the hero out of a fix.

On the contrary: it is splendidly easy to feel involved -- if you stop privileging the author and become the author yourself. My overarching thought after having seen The Fellowship of the Ring was not to reach backwards to Norse mythology but forward and think, "Out of that trilogy thousands and thousands of nights with character sheets, 20-sided dice, and the optional bong were born." The fantasy world may have originally been Tolkien's (or George Lucas's, or Gene Roddenberry's, or Joss Whedon's, or J. K. Rowling's), but for reasons not entirely clear to me yet, the reader feels comfortable taking on the world and thinking up an alternative scenario.

Contemporary fantasy, in other words, is somehow especially receptive to reader-response theory, the idea that the ideas within a work are not fixed but shift with the readers' interpretations. The letter ACD ridicules carries reader-response to an extreme, but beautifully illustrates the general principle. Why privilege the author, be it J.K. Rowling or Shakespeare, if you can be the author yourself? It's a completely narcissistic, unhumble form of looking at a story, but it's not entirely without precedent: witness the 17th-century versions of King Lear in which Edgar marries Cordelia at the end, or the many early-20th-century pieces of pulp in which Sherlock Holmes does battle with this or that non-Arthur-Conan-Doyle-approved foe (often, Jack the Ripper).

Some conservative reader, or Mr. Douglas himself, is going to jump on the fact that the two most obvious manifestations of reader-turned-author as applied to fantasy, those being fan fiction and Dungeons & Dragons, originated in the 1960s. I'd argue there are three other elements at work that just the general 1960s upheaval:

1. The generally low status of F-SF for much of the 20th century.
2. The distribution methods of F-SF prevalent from the 1930s to the early 1990s.
3. The advent of computers.

One at a time. Fantastic and SF authors didn't enjoy a lot of prestige to begin with in the general literary world. To mess with Shakespeare or Chekhov or Tolstoy would be outrageous: there's not a lot of fanfic out there that begins with the premise that the train stalls and Anna Karenina gets up after a few minutes, or starts out with Rosalind and Orlando expecting their first child. The blogger ACD quotes notwithstanding, many F-SF fans are willing to accept the premise that most of Shakespeare's plays are more valuable as they are than anything by Isaac Asimov or Frederick Herbert or Tolkien. So it's in turn easier to conceive of messing with the world of Dune than it is the forest of Arden, simply because the creator of said world is less sacred in his own right.

Second, a lot of F-SF writing and discussion from the 1930s to the early 1990s involved fan writing and self-publishing in the form of APAs (amateur publishing associations) and "'zines" (hand-printed magazines). (For what I thought a very convincing, and not particularly nostalgic, fictional treatment of 1950s SF fans, see Zombies of the Gene Pool, by Sharyn McCrumb.) Fans would print up reviews, original stories, criticism, letters to each other, etc., and circulate them, which further lessened the distance between author and writer.

Then came the computers, which meant three major things: first, the creation of Star Wars, in which an SF story became a mainstream phenomenon; second, the more rapid distribution of fan work, for fan fiction, role-playing game scenarios, and discussion of what-ifs; and third, the hiring of nerds (to use Fernandez-Armesto's word, and he's not being kind) in computer positions, giving them economic clout and a more visible subculture. Suddenly it became economically feasible to promote products that both contributed to and had been created by the reader-response approach to fantasy, as White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, and Lucasfilm can all attest.

So I disagree with ACD that reader-response fantasy is solely a product of the egalitarian, postmodern, death-of-the-author culture that rose out of the 1960s; I think the two phenomena, one intellectual, one more sociological and partly economic, fed each other. What I want to add is that those using reader-response on a certain text, while claiming to revere the original story, are in fact degrading it, pulling it down a level and putting it alongside all the subsequent stories. Is Peter Jackson's version of The Lord of the Rings better than Tolkien's? Is Timothy Zahn's vision of the Star Wars story better than Lucas's? Do some of the people who write about the sexual tension between Kirk and Spock, Mulder and Krycek, or Buffy and Faith tell a better story than did Gene Roddenberry, Cris Carter, or Joss Whedon? Quite possibly. It's the literary equivalent of open-source code: well, this is okay, but if we just tweak this little bit . . . oh, this version is much better! When I thought Buffy was a good show, I went along with the events onscreen with little need to change them. To think of my own scenario I had to make a decision that I could tell a better Buffy story than the writing team could; I couldn't do it until I lost respect for them.

I'm not as horrified by this development as ACD and Fernandez-Armesto are, mostly because I'm less horrified by reader-response theory. (I think the attractiveness of reader-response theory is inversely proportional to an author's self-esteem.) But I'm not willing to go so far as to accept the idea that fanfic should be considered as legitimate as the original work. Never mind the point that fanfic doesn't go through as rigorous a screening process as do the originals (Sturgeon's Law, Sturgeon's Law, Sturgeon's Law); in the end, fanfic merely becomes a variation on a theme, a contribution to the collective. Its value is limited. Ideally fanfic should be a stepping stone, a place people rest where they hone their style and gain confidence in themselves as authors, and then they go on to their original works. And the ability of a work to provoke reader-response-style thinking is as much a product of its time and its context as its inherent value. What is The Lord of the Rings but Norse myth fanfic, and Tolkien the original Dungeon Master? I stopped reading The Fellowship of the Ring because it bored me. I don't read the Harlan Ellison short stories "Jeffty Is Five," "Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine," or "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," because the emotional response they provoke in me is just too overwhelming. Buffy inspires me; Ellison shakes me. The former leaves me safe within the confines of my own imagination; the latter makes me question those confines.

I don't quite know where that leaves me in the many-front war ACD seems to be fighting against the pro-reader-response group. But at least now I know why I've felt vaguely ashamed of my fanfic impulses all this time.

Edited 13 Jan for typos and to clarify exactly which ACD posts I was responding to.

  posted by Jessica @ 14:38 |



Last time I flogged The Atlantic, so this time I'll praise it: a really interesting dialogue between James Fallows, Robert Coram, and Donald Vandergriff. I have a soft spot for Coram in particular because he used to write for Atlanta Magazine (as did I, though not at the same time) and his piece on the history of the magazine for the 35th anniversary issue in 1996 was excellent -- affectionate but not worshipful. I don't know enough about the military to know if Coram's and Vandergriff's criticisms are accurate; from the little I know, they sound dead-on, but there could be a lot of rhetoric and exaggeration involved. Hopefully some of the military bloggers, such as Sgt. Stryker, will comment on the debate.

  posted by Jessica @ 12:55 |


At long last -- and long overdue -- I've added a permalink to Ibidem, which may be out of Spain but still manages to keep an eye on Fulton County, where my parents live. Thanks goodness both their dogs have tags and those little ID chips.

  posted by Jessica @ 09:43 |


A few observations to start the morning:

1. There is no faster way to screw up your checkbook than to pay bills online. It feels unreal, to sit at your computer and just realize you're now $80 poorer, just with a click -- and to make matters worse, that you now have to wait and make sure you're actually $80 poorer.

2. Along similar lines: the idea that smaller banks are friendlier and easier to use than big money-grubbing corporations? Has not proved true, in my experience. I have accounts at one of each, and Big Money-Grubbing Corporation does not charge me $0.50 every time I try to look my balance up at an ATM. Granted, I have more money at Big Money-Grubbing Corp. precisely to avoid such fees, and at least at Small Supposedly Friendly Bank I have a name, a face, and a business card if anything goes horribly wrong, but my general conclusion is that banking is annoying regardless.

3. The next Big Apple Blogger Bash will take place on February 7th, at which time I will be nowhere near New York. Sigh. But if you are in or near New York on that date, by all means go: they're good people, they are.

4. I will also be nowhere near L.A. when Pamie's play, Call Us Crazy: The Anne Heche Monologues, opens Friday. But it will be quite funny, for those of you who are in L.A.

5. On the Steve-Martin-produced, Alan-Cumming-starring, gay-detective-series, as reported in Entertainment Weekly:

''They're interior designers who solve murders while picking out Tiffany lamps!'' says GLAAD media director Scott Seomin. ''We haven't seen two gay leads in a longtime relationship in a sitcom or drama. This is a first.''

Gay . . . interior . . . designers. Is "a first." Why don't they just go ahead and call it "The Mincing Detectives"? Gah.

As a side note, this is part of the reason I love The Amazing Race so much: in three seasons they've had the longtime gay couple that became the villains everyone loved to hate (Bill and Joe, TAR1), the straight father and his gay son (Dennis and Andrew, TAR3), the straight brother and the gay brother (Ken and Gerard, TAR3), the longtime friends who are both gay but not actually dating each other (Oswald and Danny, TAR2), and so on; they've had funny gay men, annoying gay men, even Evil-with-a-capital-E gay men (though anyone who's frequented Television Without Pity's Amazing Race boards knows that Bill and Joe are actually very nice and not evil at all), without making a big fuss about it. No gay women yet, though I know of at least one lesbian couple that hopes to get on the show, so hopefully it's only a matter of time.

6. Speaking of gay women on TV (ha), or at least the women who've played them, today is Amber Benson's birthday. I only mention this because some very nice fans of hers have a charity drive going in honor of her birthday, so if you were sitting around thinking to yourself, "Man, I really haven't made any charitable donations lately, and it would be really cool if I could do it in honor of a hot young actress," today is the last day to participate.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:27 |



I like Joan Didion's essays -- the spare outrage of "The White Room," especially -- but this is a transformed lecture, not an essay. It troubles me, and I'm trying to put into words why.

It's not her distrust of the post-September 11th sentiments; to be in New York last fall was to be overwhelmed by sentiment. Everywhere you turned there were flags and portraits of the missing and people waving at firefighters. There are still walls papered with children's drawings at the 14th Street-Union Square subway stop (or were, last time I had the chance to ride through Union Square). And, in all honesty, how much value -- not necessarily artistic, but emotional -- value does an anonymous kid's drawing have after a while? After a while it becomes something of a cheap provocation.

Then there's this passage:

Only when I got back to New York did I find that people, if they got it, had stopped talking about it ["it" being the distrust of official rhetoric] . I came in from Kennedy to find American flags flying all over the Upper East Side, at least as far north as 96th Street, flags that had not been there in the first week after the fact. I say "at least as far north as 96th Street" because a few days later, driving down from Washington Heights past the big projects that would provide at least some of the manpower for the "war on terror" that the President had declared—as if terror were a state and not a technique— I saw very few flags: at most, between 168th Street and 96th Street, perhaps a half-dozen. There were that many flags on my building alone. Three at each of the two entrances. I did not interpret this as an absence of feeling for the country above 96th Street. I interpreted it as an absence of trust in the efficacy of rhetorical gestures.

I'm not quite sure what point she's making about New York, or why people north of 96th Street would trust the flag gesture less than people south of it. Her discussion of "New York" throughout the lecture is a different "New York" from the one that was usually seen in the post-September-11th narratives: not the grieving flag-waving blue-collar New York but the powerful New York, as in "New York and Washington." Does that New York begin or end at 96th Street? Why would the flag mean one thing south of 96th Street and another north of it? Where exactly does Joan Didion live, anyway?

It's tempting to mock her for the September 11th Ruined My Book Tour opening, but unfair: her larger point is about her audience. I just wish she'd published more about that audience, rather than simply restating things New York Review of Books readers probably already knew, such as the rampant criticism of Susan Sontag or Chomsky's 9-11 selling well. She talks a lot about people disagreeing with "New York and Washington," but doesn't really say what shape that disagreement takes, or what the specific criticisms are.

The best description of popular anti-war thoughts I've read so far is an op-ed Zell Miller wrote a while ago for the New York Times -- being Zell Miller, he adopted his Patented Folksy Tone, and claimed to have talked to a God-fearing blue-collar middle-aged couple eating breakfast somewhere in Georgia, and presented the questions they asked him, one by one: "Mr. President, they wanted to know . . . " It was transparent -- and remarkably effective. More effective than this lecture, at any rate, in presenting a coherent argument against Bush's policies, rather than simply an expression of distrust of sentiment.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:24 |



If Sage Stossel, in her introduction to an interview with Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, was deliberately hoping to annoy me, she couldn't have picked a better opening line:

Odds are that the pulled-together young woman you encounter riding up in the elevator, emerging from the gym, or riding the subway wearing sleek professional attire but no wedding ring is struggling to meet someone to spend her life with.

Or she's happy with her career and her single life, thank you. Or she has a partner but hasn't yet settled on marriage yet. Or she's waiting to make sure she knows who she is before she goes trying to tie her life to that of another person. Or she dates around but wouldn't say she's "struggling" just yet.

For women, however, the delay makes the search more difficult, fraught with anxiety, and shadowed by the possibility of ultimate failure.

"Ultimate failure"? Was Michael Kelly wearing a loincloth when he let this piece run? I cannot believe The Atlantic, in 2002, is saying that not having a child is the "ultimate failure."

It is this pervasive anxiety on the part of unmarried young women that explains the current popularity of such movies, television shows, and books as Bridget Jones' Diary, Sex and the City, and Cowboys Are My Weakness, all of which feature thirty-something women struggling to find men.

1. Cowboys Are My Weakness was published ten years ago.

2. To watch Sex and the City for half an episode is to know that the four main characters have absolutely no trouble finding men: Carrie dated a New York Yankee, Samantha bedded a fireman, Charlotte got married and divorced and then slept with her lawyer, Miranda had a baby with a bartender, and so on, and so forth. Lee Siegel's analysis of the show was a lot more dead-on than this dreck.

3. Why, why, why is it always assumed that the young women are feeling "anxious," rather than reveling in Schadenfreude? It's a powerful emotion, Schadenfreude. It fuels catty book reviews -- and probably more than one reading of Bridget Jones's Diary, since Bridget Jones is a chain-smoking, weight-obsessed, tongue-tied cartoon, less a character than a collection of humiliations. At least Time, when reviewing The Bachelor's success in its year-end round-up, had the insight to recognize that the young women watching were not feeling particularly anxious, but superior and snarky.

The interesting thing, when you go on to read the interview, is that Whitehead herself has two single daughters in their thirties and doesn't seem to see the phenomenon as a "problem" or a "failure." I suspect her book is a lot less alarmist than The Atlantic's tone. It's a shame -- The Atlantic has been doing so well lately, and then they have to go and publish demeaning sexist crap. I hope they bring Heather Havrilesky in as a guest editor and she gives them what for.

  posted by Jessica @ 15:27 |



While I'm reviewing 2002, might as well post the Top 10 Movies I Saw in 2002 (not that these were all necessarily made in 2002, mind you):

10. Shiri (South Korea, 1998). Not the best action film I've ever seen; not the best film revolving around inter-Korean relations I've ever seen; not even the best Song Kang-ho film I've ever seen -- but still better than 97% of Hollywood action movies.

9. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (USA, 2002). Maybe they should've tried something broader than the PPGs' backstory, but I still thought it a very cute and well-thought-out film. The many varieties of Mojo Jojo were absolutely brilliant. Once you get into the series -- I would especially recommend the episodes with The Boogie Man, the Meetles (as in "Beat the Meetles") and the introduction of the Gangrene Gang -- definitely pick this up.

8. Dr. Wai in the Scripture With No Words (Hong Kong, 1996). Picked this up on videotape at random and watched it one day while suffering from a cold. It's Jet Li meets Indiana Jones meets Walter Mitty. Many on the MHVF think this far too silly, but I think it's quite cute. Plus, Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan actually kiss!

7. The Map of Sex and Love (USA/Hong Kong, 2000). Apart from an excruciatingly dull stretch in the middle, a lovely film about colonialism, memory, guilt, and hot gay men making out. Not in that order.

6. A Better Tomorrow (Hong Kong, 1990). No, I didn't see it until this year. (And I still haven't seen The Killer.) Chow Yun-Fat's performance is the memorable one, but Ti Lung, Leslie Cheung, and Waise Lee all rise to the occasion and then some. If they weren't infusing their characters with such force it would be just another John Woo shootout.

5. Dil Se (India, 1998). Probably should be higher for getting me interested in Bollywood, but it has to share that honor with the "Chamma Chamma" sequence in China Gate. And apparently it fared poorly back home. (I wonder how Lagaan did.) But still, as the first lesson in Bollywood 101, it's a good choice, especially since Shahrukh Khan's and Preity Zinta's performances are naturalistic and nuanced.

4. My Sassy Girl (South Korea, 2001). I'm going to get such a beatdown for making this fourth. It's funny, it's poignant, it's grabbing you by the neck and hollering in your face, it's shy, it's bleak, it's hopeful, it's a bare shot of a lone tree on rocky ground followed by a scene where the heroine pukes all over some poor schmo on the subway. It is everything you could possibly want in a romantic film, and the fact that only Region 3 DVDs are available should be enough to make you start hacking.

3. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Japan, 2001). The narrative slips and slides. The teenagers' cruelties to each other test the boundaries of credibility. One character's entire personality changes midway through. Lily Chou-chou herself is never actually seen. It's still a brilliant film that understands a lot of things -- how to listen to music while standing perfectly still, how people meet online, how a little incident can have you rethinking everything you've done up to that moment.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (USA/New Zealand, 2001) (Extended Edition). I told you I just saw it a couple weeks ago. I'm one of those people who put down the book somewhere in the first 50 pages, and yet was held riveted for three hours. Beautifully shot, epic without resorting to cartoon characters, poetic without pretension or self-involvement.

And finally . . . drum roll, please:

1. Kick the Moon (South Korea, 2001). Not because Lee Sung-jae in a suit is hot, though he is. Not because Cha Seung-won in anything is hot, though he is. And not because Kim Hye-soo with chopsticks in her hair is hot, though she is. It's almost as knock-down, drag-out, roll-in-the-gravel funny as Attack the Gas Station!, but it has more on its mind: anyone who feels that men don't get enough attention in movies anymore needs to see this film. It's actually a sociological study of male bonding and the expectations formed by friendships that just happens to include many bloody noses, a karaoke party gone very wrong, a cop who throws his badge around like Xena's chakram, a gangster beach dance, and enough smackdowns to make The Rock hurt -- it's worth watching. It's possibly even more worth watching than AtGS!, even though that movie will always be closer to my heart.

Second tier: Chance (USA, 2002); As Tears Go By (Hong Kong, 1994); Running Out of Time (Hong Kong, 1999); Princess Blade (Japan/Hong Kong, 2001); Humanist (South Korea, 2000).

Worst movies seen in 2002: Storytelling (USA, 2001); Fulltime Killer (Hong Kong, 2000); Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (USA, 2002).

Movies I'm hoping to see in 2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (USA/New Zealand, 2002); Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Champion, Road Movie, Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, Independence Day Amnesty, and YMCA Baseball Team (all South Korea, 2002); What Time Is It There? (Taiwan, 2001); Ek Chothi Love Story and Company (both India, 2002).

  posted by Jessica @ 18:13 |



2002 in review:

It was an odd year. It was a good year, overall; it will prove, in the long run, to have been a very useful year.

Which is not to say it was entirely a happy year. There was a lot of self-discovery involved, some of it quite painful. Some of the friendships I counted on, when I poked and prodded at them a bit, turned out to be hollow; but some of them turned out to be quite strong indeed. Put it this way: I now have a much better idea now of what relationships are healthy for me than I did at the beginning of 2002.

I talked to A last night over instant message -- after eleven years, and only one face-to-face meeting since 1993 -- I don't think we've even talked on the phone in almost two years now; when all is said and done, we can still talk about things big and little. I'm glad she's still putting up with me.

2002 was mostly about learning to trust myself. I took what could be a significant risk, with significant payoff, in terms of my career, my financial health, and my relationship with the boy -- so far, so good. Going to Birmingham was a smaller example of trusting my instincts, and it paying off. That was definitely one of the highlights of the year, alongside two trips to Boston and two separate weeks in London.

Oh -- and the blogging. It ought to be mentioned, although 2003 will probably turn out to be the Year of the Vlogger and I'll have to pose as "old-school" to keep from looking hopelessly behind the times. ("She's still on Blogspot? Puh-lease.") But I have met a good number of very interesting and kind people through this blog -- first and foremost My Secret Agent Lawyer Man and Larry the Awesome Beta Reader, but also Franklin Harris, Dave Tepper, and the New York bloggers, especially Jane Galt, Jim, Paul Frankenstein (to whom I owe a Christmas card), and Ken Goldstein. And y'all who have linked to me -- many many thanks.

What else did I do in 2002? Wrecked a car. Flirted with, or tried to flirt with, Kang Je-gyu, the director of Shiri. Won two bucks on the $0.02 slots in Shreveport. Had a couple mini-breakdowns. Listened to "The Metro" by Berlin over and over and over. Finished the second draft of the book. Finished the first 69 pages (single-spaced) of the third draft of the book. Discovered, in no particular order, Aamir Khan, The Stars My Destination, Jim Lauderdale, Bookslut, the game Puerto Rico, and I-20. Acquired Gus. Put about 5,000 miles on Gus. Learned a lot.

I've been telling people that 2003 is going to be a good year for me and a worse year for the rest of the world. I hope I'm wrong. I think it'll be another learning year -- I'm still settling into my own skin, figuring out what's good for me and what's not, trying to keep my more self-destructive impulses at bay. I feel stronger; it remains to be seen whether I actually am stronger.

  posted by Jessica @ 10:11 |


Ian Buruma, whose work I respect quite a bit -- here's a sample, and if you like that, you should definitely read Bad Elements -- wrote an essay for The New Republic once on the idea of "exile". His general point was that exile had become a romantic concept, to the point that people who are not actually "exiled" in the political sense were appropriating the term to describe an intellectual or emotional state. One of Bad Elements's sub-themes is that exile is not romantic: it is more likely, in the case of recent Chinese dissidents at least, to leave the exiled in a whirlwind of guilt, resentment, longing, and confusion.

I bring this up because of a recent interview (found via Bookslut) in which Art Spiegelman describes himself as feeling like he's in "internal exile" -- having read the piece, I think he was referring specifically to feeling exiled from David Remnick's New Yorker rather than the United States. But I'm not sure.

From what I've seen, I think Spiegelman's take on The New Yorker is dead-on -- it's a lot quieter than it was under Tina Brown, and obviously with a less combative attitude towards Bush than might have been expected -- that glowing profile of Condoleeza Rice must have annoyed Spiegelman to no end. Middlebrow, would probably be the appropriate word in this case. And "middlebrow" is not particularly exciting. Or angsty. Or sexy. Maybe the New Yorker just needs cattier book reviewers.

Anyway, anyone who's read Maus knows that Spiegelman knows a thing or two about actual political exile, as opposed to the metaphorical mental kind; hence my suspicion he was talking about the New Yorker. Spiegelman is not a candidate for Fisking, is my point. I respect his work too much -- not only Maus, which in the long run might not even be judged his best work, but his drawings for Joseph Moncure March's The Wild Party ("Queenie was a blonde / And her age stood still / And she sang twice a day in the vaudeville") and his essays on the comics greats of the past, such as Jack Cole. Here's a very small sample of his new series, "In the Shadow of No Towers," being printed in Die Zeit and The Forward; I don't think the whole series is online.

Oh, I sound all wishy-wishy and not combative, don't I? I'm a middlebrow blogger. Oh, well -- one of the things I learned in 2002 is that I don't really like combat, intellectual or otherwise. I like a good debate, long as everyone is paying proper respect to the intelligence of everyone else involved, but I don't like an argument loaded with contempt. That's okay. Y'all can go elsewhere for the Fiskings and come here to learn about (a) the book; (b) Asian films (I've been negligent, I know. But I have a DVD player now! And the DVD of Master of the Flying Guillotine!); (c) the joy that is WDVX-FM, which I have playing right now; (d) anything else that enters my strange little head.

(The DVD player, for what it's worth, is a Playstation 2. The boyfriend discovered Grand Theft Auto: Vice City last night, which led to some amusing conversations: "Honey, am I supposed to carjack everyone?" "Yes, dear. I'm not sure how you get the whores in the car yet." No, I don't know how to all-region-hack it yet. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.)

I should write something about 2002 . . . separate post.

  posted by Jessica @ 09:20 |

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