Quiet as it's been 'round here, there's been some talk about the doom and gloom among conservatives. I've put up some relevant thoughts, incorporating a short speech on blogs that I gave today, over on Anchor Rising.
Perhaps continuing my theme of grappling with inexplicability, it took me a while to figure out what is so bothersome about Charles Bakst's seemingly plain argument for same-sex marriage:
This is a tough, tough situation. I was struck by an Oct. 3 Boston Globe report about Catholic parishioners wrestling with the issue of whether to support the referendum drive [to put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Massachusetts]:
"One woman at the cathedral, who did not want to give her name, said she planned to sign the petition even though it was hard for her because her daughter is gay.
" 'It should be between a man and a woman,' she said of marriage. Of her daughter, she said, 'I pray for her every day. I respect her. I'll never stop loving her. I'll never stop praying for her.' "
I don't question the depth of this mother's love or the sincerity of her beliefs, which are shared by some other parents of gays. But if I had a gay daughter or son, I'd want that child to have the same chance to find happiness in marriage, with the same rights and prestige, that society bestows on anyone else. If I felt otherwise, I'd be asking, "What's wrong with me?" and praying for help for myself.
The unnerving quality of these paragraphs is the ease with which Bakst shifts from declaring the issue to be a "tough, tough situation" to presenting a simplistic, untainted meaning for same-sex marriage. One gets the sense that same-sex marriage creates a "tough, tough situation" only for we who are insufficiently enlightened to realize that our beliefs are wrong.
Bakst captures the broader perspective of many same-sex marriage supporters, I think, by characterizing it from the point of view of a parent a liberal parent, at that. What parent doesn't want his children to have an equal "chance to find happiness"? What parent doesn't wish for children's social acceptance (however differently we may define such a thing)? The toughness comes in when parents put aside illusory and ultimately selfish visions of their children's lives and weigh their responsibility not only to those children, but to the society of which those children are a part and of which those children's children will be a part.
That parental and social responsibility ought to make for tough, tough situations doesn't necessitate a particular conclusion. It does, however, suggest that Mr. Bakst ought to be asking himself the question that he thinks incumbent only upon those who feel differently than he: "What's wrong with me?" Or, to put it more charitably and more accurately: "What am I missing?"
My latest FactIs column, "The Premises of the Culture of Death," ponders a theme upon which I can't quite land my finger. Something about things not meaning what they mean in pulsing cultural conversation that lacks substance.
This, by the way, is my final FactIs column. I'm very grateful to the folks who produce the 'zine for giving me the opportunity, and for doing so with such consistent courtesy and encouragement. But timing is as it is, and the need to prepare my house (and household) to accommodate another child in the spring as well as the need to support that house (and household) will leave me unable to devote sufficient time to a regular, polished, deadlined column.
If you've let it slip from your weekly routine during my or his period of slow blogging, you might be interested to know that Lane Core has resumed his Blogworthies feature.
I haven't been able to muster much interest in the whole Wilson/Plame thing since the post from over two years ago in which I noted that Wilson had named his wife in his own online biography. Frankly, I'm surprised and disappointed that these names are still floating around the public consciousness. But some wild speculation from John Podhoretz has added an interesting wrinkle to the story (as wild speculation is apt to do):
What if she then went to Google to look up stuff about Wilson and found his bio online at the Middle East Institute? That bio (which is no longer available on line--gee, I wonder why) featured the line: "He is married to the former Valerie Plame and has two sons and two daughters."
As I recall, the type on that bio was incredibly small and in sans-serif type. She may simply have misread the surname "Plame" as "Flame."
What if, therefore, she learned about Valerie Plame in part because of Wilson's own efforts to publicize his story from his own bio -- and then, as she was talking to Scooter Libby, threw the name "Valerie Flame" at him? Evidently he did not react to the name, either because he was being discreet or because he had never heard her referred to as anything other than "Wilson's wife."
What if, therefore, Judy Miller's source for the name "Valerie Plame" was....Google?
The small font recollection sounds familiar, so I thought I'd check the WayBackMachine cache for that page. As you can see, the font is perfectly legible. Of course, a lost or changed style sheet could account for that. You'll observe, too, that the same bio on the Corporate & Public Strategy Advisory Group's Web site is also legible. It may be, though, that the bio (of which Mr. Wilson was apparently fond) once appeared elsewhere, in the bumbling design of a novice Webmaster. It may also be that Ms. Miller's browser or monitor settings rendered any one of the bio's reprints poorly. So the Google theory needn't be discarded, if it helps the reader to make it through another round of press coverage.
As for me: back to ignoring this flickering Plame thing.
The courtyard was in an uproar when Nathaniel burst upon the scene from the northwest entrance. He took it all in as if having the opportunity to leisurely scrutinize a room of sculptures, all within a momentary evaluation. Everybody was present, though Martin and Othello were on the balconies, Martin looking eagerly and lasciviously down into the turmoil, Othello looking concerned and perhaps a little aghast. Below Martin, Sal stood in the corner, and though his eyes were hidden by his sunglasses, he gave the impression of a man trying to avoid being pulled into an argument but willing to toss indiscriminate blows should the opportunity arise. John was standing before his chair, seemingly jolted to his feet but frozen upon rising, and behind him, barely visible within the shadows of the doorway to the entrance hall, Alex lurked, wearing, as it seemed to Nathaniel, an amused smirk. Under the willow, Huck stood with a restraining hand against Jake's chest, though the position seemed an unnecessary gesture, because Jake stood coolly, despite being obviously agitated, a drop of blood seeping from his lip. In a statement both of preventative concern and friendly consolation, Steinbeck had a hand on Jake's shoulder, and he cast a wary eye beyond the tree at a laughing Holden, who held back Nick, disheveled and flailing to break free.
"What's going on here?" Nathaniel shouted.
Nick was undaunted, redoubling his efforts to get away from Holden, who looked as if he was willingly losing the struggle. Nathaniel walked determinedly across the grass until he stood before Nick, looked him in the eye, pointed a finger in his face, and said, "Stop it!" in a commanding tone.
Nick's eyes flew open in frightened outrage. Then his fury relaxed into frustrated anger.
Nathaniel turned around and asked the opposing trio, "So what's going on?"
"Ask him," said Jake, meaning Nick. "He just up and swung at me."
"Hit you pretty good, too!" Nick snarled from behind Nathaniel, who spun just in time to push him back and tell him to keep his mouth shut.
"Why?" he asked Jake.
"How the hell am I supposed to know why his kind acts like they do?" was the reply. Jake was hiding something.
"You know damn well!" Nick shouted, and Nathaniel had to wrestle him to the ground to stop him this time.
Trusting that Jake was no longer a threat to the general peace, Huck helped Nathaniel up once Nick had ceased his writhing. "Seems our boys've brung somethin' from the outside in," he explained. "Be best ta let it simmer down, an' come back to it when we're all cooled."
Nathaniel brushed himself off and looked around. Everybody had closed in. Martin and Othello had come down from the second floor, and Sybil walked into the yard.
It's because of me, Nathaniel thought, then said out loud, "No. It's over."
He felt as if they had crossed some line that he had always known existed, just as he had always known it would be crossed. He was in the company of strangers, in a situation that had changed irreparably.
"You can't just let these things fester," suggested John, still standing by his chair. "I think it would be best to resolve it right away."
"No. It's over," Nathaniel repeated. "All of it. Go home." And again, "It's over."
All eyes glanced at all eyes, not understanding the import of the moment, or not believing that it was resolved and uncompromising.
"What're ya tryin' ta say, Nat?" Huck asked, the idea that Nathaniel would throw them all out being unanticipated, even unthinkable.
Nathaniel kept his eyes focused on the spot where the willow entered the ground. "I mean exactly what I said. It's over. It's all lost its meaning and its usefulness. Get out."
"But..." somebody began but never finished.
"Get out!" Nathaniel screamed, glaring around at them. "All of you. It's finished. It's ruined. Go live your lives. Leave everything here. Or come back for whatever's yours after I've left, but just go."
Having said all that he intended to say, Nathaniel walked past Sybil.
"You don't have to do this," she told him quietly.
"It's been coming," he said and walked on.
Martin called, pathetically, up to Nathaniel, who had reached the door to his room, "How will we keep in touch?"
"We won't" was the answer.
They all heard the door slam shut, and then the other. And for the first time that any of them could remember, they heard the rusty locks of Nathaniel's room being turned. Instantly, they all realized that, for whatever reason and despite the capricious speed with which Nathaniel had altered all of their lives, it was over, and they had no option but to do as he had commanded.
Amazing the bewilderment that keeps these friends silent as they look around at each other, although it's not an unfamiliar scene. Some of them begin to voice questions to the others, but the answer comes merely as a shaken head, intended to say, "I don't know." One of them seems to make a decision and walks toward the stairs, planning to make an appeal for reparation, no doubt, but another stops him and whispers, "No." Another makes the attempt but needs no stopping.
Some of them think, perhaps, that if they wait long enough it will all be put back as it was. Others think that some time away will make repairs and that the following year will find that they've all forgotten and forgiven... and returned. Still others begin to realize that, though they cannot fathom the reason, the decision has been voiced and can never be amended. A few of these might resolve for themselves that, even were the act to be repealed, the future would merely be a disappointing shadow, and they begin the process of letting go. These are the first to walk from the courtyard, initiating the relief of movement. The rest follow, one by one.
Eventually they have all but one said their goodbyes, some secretly giving phone numbers and addresses, and they leave with time enough before the sunset. There is nothing else to be done, and none of them have traveled with such a burden that it cannot easily be taken up. The words have been spoken. Nothing will ever be the same, some of them think as they take their last looks at the house. But we know that is mistaken.
As the sun begins to fall beyond the mountains, a rusty lock can be heard turning, and Nathaniel descends to the courtyard. John is waiting for him. His eyes tear as he tells Nathaniel, "I've nowhere to go." The younger man puts an arm around him and offers him hope.
Nathaniel breaks a twig from the willow, making an unbearable snap in the unusually still rural evening. He sits at the piano and plays a melancholy piece of music. He runs a finger along the dusty spine of a long unread book. And the two men walk toward the eastern door together, slowly, torn between wanting to breathe the air of the Pequod one last time and needing to make the break quickly.
Finally the door closes behind them. The house is empty. In minutes, a raccoon climbs the stairs onto the porch. An owl flutters into the courtyard and lights on the willow calling out for replies that do not come. A deer emerges from the underbrush and dines on the grass, not looking through the windows or the French doors. Not concerned with the paintings beyond them or the books behind the paintings or the piano beyond the books.
In an hour, night has come in all of its dark mystery. The moon is rising, past being full, but still bright. Bright enough, at least, to cast a gray-blue glow on something white moving below. A woman sneaks stealthily into the house and emerges moments later with a burden of notebooks.
So what do you think? We had come here to rest. To sleep. But we chose perhaps without the proper consideration to follow these humans for a final show. Were we looking for a reason to stay or to go? Whichever the case, do we follow them back into the world that we had thought to have escaped? Or do we forget them all and sleep?
I say there is time enough for sleeping, especially when we've no inclination to awake. So let us follow. If only for the chance to sleep without questions. For all questions have answers that can be found, as they must, if we insist on finding them.
So now let us leave the tranquility and make haste to follow this last representative of the people whom we have left as she picks her way through the trees and finds the brook. And from there as she looks for her neglected automobile. Call out to her; lead her in the right directions so that we may be led, ourselves, into a world where we know only the answer to the question of where we, ourselves, will end.
My latest column, "Speaking Past an Oppressive Template," remarks on the difficulty in motivation and in practice of being "well informed," and the accompanying difficulty of communicating.
I can't believe how little I've managed to post lately. Circumstances are such that my time should open up some beginning this week, but I can't make any guarantees. I guess I'm just at one of those times in life during which the best we can do is to trudge along, addressing what obstacles we can and accepting that a great many are going to make us stumble.
I apologize (and am disappointed) that the stumbling has mainly been on the writing, of late, but I don't see any way to make it otherwise.