Quote of the Day

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

–Marcus Tullius Cicero


200,000 Slaughtered Animals Say: Who’s This Gadhimai, Anyway?

BARIYAPUR, Nepal (AP) — The ceremony began with prayers in a temple by tens of thousands of Hindus before dawn Tuesday. Then it shifted to a nearby corral, where in the cold morning mist, scores of butchers wielding curved swords began slaughtering buffalo calves by hacking off their heads.

Over two days, 200,000 buffaloes, goats, chickens and pigeons will be killed as part of a blood-soaked festival held every five years to honor Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power.

This is even more bizarre than the item I recently blogged about here. Why would a god require the senseless slaughter of animals?

Here’s how one observer defended the killings:  “It is their tradition and it is fine if they continue to follow it. No one should try to tell them they can’t follow what their ancestors did,” he said.

Precisely the same argument could be made, and no doubt was, in favor of slavery.

Anyway,  Happy Turkey Day Thanksgiving! Remember: tofu and gravy. . .tofu and dressing. . . tofunkin pie. . .candied stuffed tofu. . .

9-11 Plotters’ Trial: An Incoherent Strategy?

Clive Crook in The Financial Times writes  the best stuff  I’ve seen so far on the decision to try the 9-11 planners in a civilian courtroom, raising a number of provocative questions about the Obama administration’s strategy here and tackling one of Attorney General Holder’s  weakest points, in my judgment. Key quote:

Officials have suggested that whatever happens,  Mr. Mohammed will not be let go: he will be detained indefinitely, regardless. So this exemplary trial either brings in the correct verdict, or else is annulled. This rather dulls the declaration of justice for all that the administration believes it is making to the world.

Exactly. If the point is to give these monsters a fair and open trial, then they also deserve the outcome of a fair and open trial, which might include acquittal. And if  “Mr” Mohammed is acquitted, shouldn’t he walk–even though that walk would spell the end of the Obama presidency? I sense a case of having it both ways.

Crook’s  full piece is here.

Amazing, Heroic Consistency

Readers here (those who have not decamped to Facebook) know that I’m awed by great feats of consistency, sticking with it, keeping some worthwhile project going day after day after day until the creator has done what he set out to do.

Persistence seems like a mundane, shopkeeper’s virtue, but what good thing ever got done without it? How many people do we all know who brim with marvelous ideas and do almost nothing with them? Or they make a great start on a diet, an exercise plan, a journal, or a new life plan,  and fizzle out a few days or weeks later for reasons they can rarely articulate.

Great starts, let me tell you, are easy. It’s the follow-through that gets most of us. When we wistfully look back at the musician or painter or ballerina we once hoped to be, we too easily blame a lack of blazing genius for our failure. Perhaps we weren’t gifted like Eric Clapton or Picasso. . . or perhaps we just didn’t stay with it like they did.

My admiration for this unglamorous quality of stickwithitness led me to praise Art Garfunkle’s astonishing 40-year reading list, which, alas, you’ll have to Google for yourself because some killjoy removed the link.   It led me to read and applaud Bob Greene’s Be True to Your School: a Diary of 1964, not because Greene is any rival of Faulkner or Proust, but because, as a high school student, he set out to keep a diary of an entire year, writing on every one of its 365 days, and did it. I’d give anything to have a diary of one of my high school or college years, or my first year as a teacher, or my first year as a professional writer. Alas, I’ve tried journals probably five or six times but never made it past a month.

Now here’s another awe-inspiring example of heroic consistency. This woman set out to read–and review!–a book every day for a year. And she did it. I stand in awe:


And here is a NY Times piece  about her project.

Quote of the Week

It’s rare to come across a quote that’s simultaneously exhilirating and frightening, but here’s one:

“It’s not naive to think you can change the world.  It’s naive to think you can possibly be in the world and not change it.  Everything you do changes the world whether you like it or not.”

— David LaMotte

National Book Award Winners: How Many Have You Read?

winner 1982, rabbit is rich, john updike winner 2001, corrections, jonathan franzen winner 1980, sophies choice, william styronwinner 1980, john macdonald, green ripper

As we approach the Sixtieth Handing Out of the National Book Awards, here’s a list of all the winners. The Big Names are predictable: Updike, Styron, Bellow, Cheever, Roth, Powers. But I never knew, or had forgotten, that William F. Buckley won for one of his Blackford Oakes  spy novels ( Stained Glass,  1980 ), and John D. McDonald took the 1981  prize for  The Green Ripper ,  one of several Travis McGee novels that blur the lines between detective genre fiction, sharp social criticism and rewarding  literature.

How many have you read? Check them all  out here; each winner is accompanied by a thoughtful essay evaluating the book.

Modern Warfare 2: Digging that “Murder Simulator”

If you’re not part of the multi-billion dollar video game world, and you’ve never played one of those “first-person shooter” games in which you take the POV of a killer, this Slate magazine article may leave you baffled, as it does me.

And you may have the same question I do:  Is it really possible that people can devote countless hours to this kind of virtual mayhem–and not have their real-world minds and hearts affected in any way by it?

Key quote from the author, Chris Suellentrop, who is a real, grownup journalist, not a nipple-pierced wack living in his parents’ basement:

As part of a group of four men with guns, you walk toward a security line full of civilians at a Russian airport. And then you kill them.

I’ll admit it—I pulled the trigger. The game had instructed me to follow the lead of my fellow terrorists, and I had been told that preserving my undercover status was important for the country. But after an introductory gun burst, I couldn’t do it anymore. It was the most powerful emotional experience any video game has ever given me. I don’t know that I cried, but I was knocked off balance by emotions that I thought I had tucked away. As the travelers screamed and fled from the indiscriminate slaughter, I strolled through the airport. I didn’t fire my weapon anymore, but I watched the three Russian terrorists kill. One of the men shot a passenger as he crawled along the blood-streaked floor and pleaded for his life.

This is a game, remember. Suellentrop has a fairly complex reaction, describing a kind of tug-of-war between the kick of killing and the regrets brought on by the game’s amoral plotting. In his case, revulsion over the slaughter seems to win out–barely.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And some of them, dark and strange indeed, seem to make  a ton of money.