Sister Novena's PortaPulpit
freedom, liberalism, movies, and truth

Saturday, December 04, 2004
One good turn

... as they say, deserves another. So - putting the difference in time zones between Australia and the US to its best advantage, I want to be the first to wish our gracious host, Sister Novena, a very happy birthday, for today, Sunday December 5.

I first met her online in January 1997 (on Bill Clinton's second inauguration day, to be precise.) I had just a couple of weeks previously bought myself a computer. I was all set up, connected to the internet, and was thinking "Well, now what?" One evening I stumbled across some online bulletin board thingy, and saw a posting there from a student at a liberal arts college in New England, who stated that she was interested in film and New Zealand. Intrigued, I sent her a three-line email (I think she had even stated her real email address ... wouldn't modern spammers just love that!), and said "Hello - I am from New Zealand ... what do you want to know?"

In return I got a three-paragraph email, which included the following:

"New Zealand seems to be developing a very lively film industry right now, ... ... I particularly admire the films of Jane Campion (both as a filmmaker-wannabe and as a woman trying make some progress in the ranks of the film education system) and Peter... what's his name again? I don't think he's actually a New Zealander, but he did Heavenly Creatures and Meet the Feebles, which was incredible."


And thus began a lively email conversation which has continued to this day. I've always looked forward to receiving a new message from her, and I hope she feels the same about messages from me. (To be fair, Sr Novena has always been the one to reply promptly - I am considerably more slack.)

Since January 97, by my rough estimation, Sr Novena and I have exchanged a couple of thousand emails, plus numerous phone calls, postcards, cds, dvds and other assorted items. Even though I've never met her, and actually only have a vague idea of what she looks like, she is one of my very best friends. Over the seven years, ten months and fifteen days since we encountered each other, we have confided our joys, hopes and fears, shared secrets, bitched and laughed about the world, our families, friends and lovers. It's been great - I really am lucky to have such a dear friend.

So, Sister, you have yourself a great birthday. I'm thinking of you, and I hope the day brings you happiness and fun. Much love
11:37 PM ::
Mr Smithers :: permalink
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Steeped In Metaphor

Oh, this is delicious:


AVENTURA, Fla. -- A decades-old cargo plane went down in a lake in a Miami suburb Saturday, but the pilot and co-pilot climbed onto the fuselage and were plucked to safety by rescuers.

The Miami Air Lease plane -- with the words "Eelect (sic) George W. Bush" running the length of the fuselage -- had trouble with one of its two engines shortly after takeoff, said company office manager Alina Nodarse.

(...)

Nodarse said both pilots are experienced and have been with the 35-year-old, family-owned cargo carrier for many years. Nodarse said the family is Republican and the pro-Bush message was painted on shortly before the election.

(source)

It's an omen, friends. This is what happens when you Eelect George W. Bush.
7:16 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink
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Friday, December 03, 2004
Wiki Me

Since it's the kind of thing that might otherwise slip by unnoticed, I thought I'd briefly mention that Wikimedia has unveiled its latest project, Wikinews. Unlike Google News, which is just an aggregator (albeit a very useful one, particularly for the Lexis-Nexus deprived), Wikinews is intended to be a fully free-content project, with all of the items appearing thereon written by independent "reporters" rather than corporate media conglomorates. I dunno if it's going to work or not, but I'm a huge fan of Wikimedia's other amazing projects -- Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, and the rest -- and I'm hoping for great things.

It's a hell of a complicated thing to undertake -- where current events are concerned, "real news" is still regarded by most as the one thing that can't be done effectively through open-source means. In the ever-increasing tensions between bloggers and professional journalists, this is journalism's trump card... they've got something that news and current events bloggers need. So this attempt to create open-source news reporting a reality is, if nothing else, an interesting experiment to watch. I'm always a supporter of putting as much of the media as possible into the hands of the general population. If it's free for everyone, so much the better.

To get a better idea of what this is all about, read the Mission Statement, which is actually rather inspiring.
8:07 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink
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Thursday, December 02, 2004
Lucky Guess

Here's what my horoscope says today:
December 2, 2004

Today you might spend a lot of time on the phone or exchanging emails with people in distant states or foreign countries. You might be making arrangements for a trip, or perhaps putting together a project of some kind, maybe one concerning education in some way. This may seem routine at the moment, but don't be fooled. It could in the long run bring about some major changes in your life, so be prepared.

I should fucking hope so. It's about time.
2:03 AM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink
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Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Backtracking

I got word yesterday that I have been formally re-admitted to my old college. There are still a couple of hoops to jump through -- I still have to clear the financial aid hurdle (I sure must love student debt), and I still have to figure out where/how to live on campus (please, god, just give me a single... I'm too old and grouchy to share a room with a nineteen-year-old pup.) This is a definite case of not counting my proverbial chickens, but those are both relatively minor concerns. The biggest obstacle has been cleared.

At a time like this I guess it's natural to feel one's feet getting chilly... you mean I might really, truly, actually go back? In real life and everything? Whoa. That's a pretty chewy concept for me.

It'll be nice to go back to the soothing, humanist arms of New England, where the scale of American life is decreased somewhat but people still manage to have big, expansive thoughts and ideas. I'll be going back to Howard Dean's state (where many people still consider him "too conservative"... heh, that's the place for me), where every little town has a whole foods/vegetarian restaurant and plenty of good bookstores, where the daily apparel of choice is mukluks and Tibetan wool hats and big gum-soled Sorrells. I'll get to play in the snow and cloister myself in the library like a monk. And I'm more than happy to take the plentiful, home-grown Ben and Jerry's, if not so keen on the Phish.

On the other hand...

This school is where I reached a personal nadir. I was there in a very particular context, with a very specific group of people -- and those people are gone now, that context no longer exists. But places always hold a sticky psychic residue for me, and I worry that in going back to the place I'll end up confused by the absence of that context, or risk falling back into that life. It's a serious case of backtracking through life for me -- though, true, I've gotten pretty good at that of late. I sometimes feel as though London represented the furthest-flung promontory on this particular track... hard to keep going backwards, thought, when what I really want is to cross whatever metaphorical sea I'm forever standing on the banks of.

Maybe this college is where I lost my intended trail, though, eh? It would make sense, given the circumstances of my leaving (which there's no great need to go into here). Flung from the path, wandering off towards the sound of water, finding a pleasant place to gather my thoughts for a while, and lately having to scout back through the woods using the broken twigs and muddy footprints I left during my first blind stumble through.

Am I getting carried away?

Doesn't matter... it works for me.

Anyway, Shaw and Randy and Jackie, if I end up back in Bratt, I expect to see all 'a y'all before you head off to other places. Yes, I will come to New York and/or Connecticut if that's what it takes.
2:29 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink
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Sunday, November 28, 2004
Discontent

Well, I'm in a mood.

It's not a sad or an angry mood, although there's been a great deal of brow-furrowing seriousness involved. It began sometime yesterday for no readily apparent reason; since I got up today it has become deep enough that I'm finding it difficult to be sociable -- my thoughts keep drifting elsewhere. Why it come over me or what inspired it, I don't know -- the creeping winter darkness, maybe, or the blurred twilight between a vitriolic political season and the compassion of Christmas. I only know that I began contemplating issues of class and status, particularly where the concept of entitlement enters the picture, and now I can't stop.

I admit that I resent those who display their sense of entitlement, From George Bush on down. Those who assume that the world is theirs alone to do with as they please, those who take for granted their innate superiority on every level -- moral, ethical, mental, material -- to others in the world. If I were forced to name a place where the left- and right-wing ideologies fundamentally differ, it would be on this: that the left assumes an intrinsic "I-Thou" relationship to the world that the right just doesn't understand.

In truth, once you start to look at other human beings as your equals -- even with their flaws and shortcomings -- it becomes extremely difficult to sustain the attitudes that the right thrives on. Each of us -- even the most moral, the most ethical, the most peaceful -- contains the potential to become a torturer, a murderer, an abuser; it only takes the right circumstances to bring that potential out. (This is why decrying the violent acts of others is so crucial to those of us on the left -- we realize that it COULD be us doing these things, and speaking against it is the only obstacle between us and the existential abyss. It's harder work to remain compassionate that most people realize; fear and destruction is the coward's way out.) Bombing the living fuck out of Fallujah is an exhilerating triumph if the people who live there are reduced to an inhuman bunch of "its"; but it becomes a horrific tragedy when you look at those once-living/thinking/breathing/feeling corpses as people who, in every meaningful way, were exactly like you. There is no just reason in the world why it should not be you lying in a fly-ridden pile in the street, except that you have had the good fortune to be here and not there when the bombs began to fall. There is no other difference; the bombs don't know or care who you were when they blow your body to pieces, they simply pop the mechanism and dispatch you. We can only hope that the people who would drop them do care about those intangible concepts as justice and innocence... and apparently they don't.

So I guess my question -- to George W. Bush, but also to all those who support this war and all of the bloody, brutal episodes that take place within it -- is, who the hell are you to decide who deserves to live or die? How is it that you feel entitled to judge? What god gave you that right?

"The hijackers," they might say, "decided for us who lives and dies; and eye for an eye."

To which I would answer: the hijackers all died that day. You can't kill them twice. If you choose, you can become as barbaric as they, killing your enemies without a thought as to who actually bears responsibility for whatever wrong you feel has been done to you; that position is always up for grabs. But don't mistake that for any kind of justice; that's merely revenge, one of humanity's darker, less useful impulses.

(We can at least be honest about our motives, yes?)

And as for "an eye for an eye"... the old-testament admonishment in question was never intended to be a incentive to make sure you get as many eyes as possible, it was a warning against doing more harm to those who've harmed you than they themselves have done. If someone gouges out your eye, you have -- at most -- the right to one of theirs, but not the right to kill them entirely, for example. It's not about revenge as such; it's about a response that's equal to the crime.

We lost something over 3000 people on 9/11. In Iraq we have killed -- depending on whose data you trust -- between 30,000 and 100,000 people... and those were people who by definition had nothing to do with the WTC attack. Is that an appropriate response? The only rationale would have to rest on the assumption that American lives are somehow worth more than Iraqi lives -- going back to the I-Thou concept, treating other people not as people but as objects. Otherwise, we have vastly over-reacted, becoming the very thing we claim to be fighting against.

What makes us think we're entitled to that kind of power? And who am I, the lefty peacemonger, to assume I'm above doing it, too? And for that matter, why is it that some of us refuse to take that step into brutal aggression?

As you can doubtless see by now, this line of reasoning doesn't readily lead to any concrete answers.

Anyway...

There's a great post up at Atrios' place about advent and the sense of waiting for something as yet unknown. And the poster is right... there is a sense of something coming, something significant. (My question is, will we know it when we see it? Or have our sense been so dulled by meaningless bullshit that we've forgotten how to recognize meaning when we see it?) Also, there's an interesting piece about Liberal America as battered wife at Deride and Conquer. (If the conservatives gets wind of it, we'll be treated to a barrage of, "I'm the abused one, officer, she hit back!" A whinier bunch of narcissistic victim-junkies you'll never see.)
8:38 PM ::
Sister Novena :: permalink
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