Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Conversation

(cross-posted at Pacifist Viking)

No, the most depressing conversation I had on Thanksgiving wasn't my grandmother noticing my balding spot and telling me, "Joe, put your head down. I just noticed that. Did somebody hit you? Do you have a scar? It's so thin there," then proceeding to tell me what shampoo she uses to get thicker hair. The most depressing conversation I had on Thanksgiving was the following:

Aunt: Does anybody know, when is the last time the Vikings WON a Super Bowl?

(I stare blankly)

Aunt: I tried to look it up, but I couldn't find it.

Me: It will probably take you a while.

Aunt: I could only find the info back to like '67.

Me: That's around when they started having Super Bowls. But the Vikings have never won one.

Aunt: So what did they do before the Super Bowl? Just have nothing?

Me: They called it the NFL Championship.

Aunt: Oh. So when is the last time the Vikings won that?

(I blankly stare)

Me: They never won that either. Actually, they won it in '69, but then lost the Super Bowl.

Aunt: Oh. But they were in, like, three Super Bowls.

Me: Four, actually.

Aunt: Well, what team has gone the longest without winning a Super Bowl?

Me: Um, the Vikings are pretty close.

Aunt: So they're like the Chicago Cubs of football.

Me: Yes.

Aunt: Well, then it could be worse: it could be another 60 years of waiting.

Me: Did you walk out of my nightmares and into my waking life?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eating foods

A triple play of vegetarians from Slate: Juliet Lapidos on fake turkey, Lapidos again on green beans (I still cut fresh green beans for my spinach salad, out of season be damned), and Taylor Clark on the social reaction to vegetarians (Clark's column really speaks to me).

In The New Yorker, Jhumpa Lahiri writes about her father cooking rice.

From PETA, Miami Dolphin running back Ricky Williams is a vegetarian and now he has a restaurant. When I find out an athlete is a vegetarian, I start rooting for him or her.

The easiest freaking salad in the world

For Thanksgiving, my wife volunteered to bring a salad, and I volunteered to plan and prepare it (this is the sort of thing vegetarians can do to ensure getting quality food for the meal).

Bam: spinach, walnuts, craisins, some sort of vinaigrette. I'll be tossing in some fresh cut green beans just because I think they're good. Simple, healthy, delicious, vegan.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gratuitous Link

Gary Steiner's "Animal, Vegetable, Miserable" in the New York Times.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vegetarians and Priorities

Advocates of animal rights or animal welfare often have their priorities questioned.  Aren't there many human problems?  Why should we focus so much attention on the suffering and death of animals when there is so much suffering and death of humans?

In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani says as much in her review of Jonathan Safron Foer's Eating Animals:

"It’s arguments like this that undermine the many more valid observations in this book, and make readers wonder how the author can expend so much energy and caring on the fate of pigs and chickens, when, say, malaria kills nearly a million people a year (most of them children), and conflict and disease in Congo since the mid-1990s have left an estimated five million dead and hundreds of thousands of women and girls raped and have driven more than a million people from their homes."

The problem is that this sort of logic--that we shouldn't "expend [...] energy and caring" on animals when there are still human problems--is that this logic can rightly be applied to most human activities and endeavours in the developed world.  Why is Kakutani devoting any energy at all to reviewing the fiction of Nabokov, or Irving, or Ishiguro and Roth, when she could be devoting her energy to solving the world's human problems?  What is reading literature doing to stop malaria or war or oppression of women?  Why does she care about novels, when human beings are suffering?

Vegetarians are expected to get their priorities straight, and worry about the problems of human beings first.  That all sorts of people are devoting all sorts of time, energy, and resources to all sorts of things that do nothing to assuage human suffering around the world is left aside.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rereading "The French Lieutenant's Woman"

I just finished re-reading John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman for the fourth or fifth time over the last eight to nine years. In grad school, I also read most of the published academic criticism of the book. I feel thoroughly familiar with the book. So why, after all this time and study, do I find myself at points unable to put the book down? How, when I know all that will happen, do I read some passages with piqued energy, racing with anticipation? Why do I still feel challenged by its themes, enraptured by its style? How does Fowles succeed so completely at pulling me into the world of his novel?

That's what I want when I read a novel: to be pulled emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually into its fictional world. I want it to engulf me, so that while reading I am virtually experiencing its world, and when I am not reading it, that world lingers with me wherever I go. Fowles succeeds.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Literature as Personal Challenge

From John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman:

"You know your choice. You stay in prison, what your time calls duty, honor, self-respect, and you are comfortably safe. Or you are free and crucified. Your only companions the stones, the thorns, the turning backs; the silence of cities, and their hate."

Overdramatic, even adolescent? Perhaps. But what is real in the novel is Charles' choice. He chooses humiliation, the scorn of society, the ridicule of his age, to "escape" to his freedom. He seeks his authentic self and authentic love, and to do so requires a clear break from his social world and from respectability. And that's the choice he makes.

I can't help but take Charles' choice as a personal challenge. It is not only Victorians that can avoid authentic actions, that can hide from their own freedom, for the sake of convention to remain "comfortably safe."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gratiutous Link

Last week, I tried to articulate my reaction to displays of military virtue during sports broadcasts. Relevant to that discussion, at Slate Michael Oriard discusses the November 8th FOX NFL pregame show from Afghanistan:

"The festivities were high on patriotism but low on militarism, leaving out any hint of blood or fighting. For the U.S. military, the Fox broadcast was an opportunity to tell a story about its humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, to sell the war at home at a time when anything like a clear-cut military victory appears unattainable."

On Parenthood

Modern technology offers a wonderful gift to today's parents: DVR. Children require major alterations to your schedule, and they make frequent demands that must be met immediately. Yet DVR means you don't have to miss your favorite TV shows: you watch them on your own time, when the kids are in bed. Watching sports on television is easy too. When the kids require full attention, you just pause the game, and come back to it when you are able. I don't mean pausing for hours and watching later: I mean pausing for 1-5 minutes at a time to care for whatever needs or wants the kids have.

DVR means you can be a good parent while still devoting your full attention to a football game, or even a sitcom.

Gratuitous Claim

Rereading John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, I'm reaching a startling conclusion: this is my favorite novel. Ever.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On being a pacifist sports fan

This past weekend, several networks showing NFL games used the broadcast as an opportunity to pay tribute to U.S. soldiers currently occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. I've been struggling to articulate why I find these tributes unsettling, and I realized, why even have a little-read blog if not to explore one's own thoughts through writing?

Consider this, then, one pacifist's attempt to explain to himself why these tributes to the troops disturb him.

The "Thank You" contains implicit support of the current wars
Many of the statements of thanks to the soldiers are couched in conventional language: thanks for keeping us safe, thanks for protecting our freedoms, etc. But to thank soldiers currently occupying Iraq and Afghanistan for keeping us safe/protecting our freedoms implicitly assumes that their current mission is necessary to keep us safe/protect our freedoms, and is therefore "good." Such statements of thanks, then, become more commercials for waging these wars.

Perpetual tributes for a state of perpetual warfare
Tributes to serving soldiers have been going on during NFL broadcasts at least since Thanksgiving 2001, shortly after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. That means that for eight years, NFL broadcasts during special occasions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Veterans Day, etc.) have been used to pay tribute to soldiers currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've understood a need to pay regular tribute because we've accepted that U.S. soldiers will be occupying foreign countries for a long time.

The normalization of militarism in culture
Like toy soldiers, military video games, and wearing camouflage for style and fashion, the fusion of military tributes with our sports entertainment just further makes militarism and military values a normal, everyday part of our culture. We accept shows of military virtue as something that is ensconced in all parts of our lives--and thus we perpetuate a culture that supports military violence.

Relevant reading
Last March, Nathan Schneider at The Row Boat suggested that

"There must be a way to honor such sacrifices as war brings out in people while abhorring the pointless insanity that occasioned it, abhorring it so completely that it can never possibly happen again."

I shared my doubts, which I think are relevant to the issue I'm exploring here:

I’m not sure. I’ve been increasingly influenced by the work of John Howard Yoder and other Christian pacifists, and I feel no need to “honor” militarism. I am compelled to abhor violence; I don’t know if I can abhor the large-scale war while honoring those carrying out the war (at any level). It seems an inconsistent position: to commit to a life of peace, yet to “honor” those who participate in the violence of war. “Honor” comes too close to glorification (whether or not that is true in the realm of ideas, it is too often true in actual practice). I think it possible that continuing to honor the people who participate in war is a significant part of perpetuating a militaristic culture, and thus goes against the desire to abhor war “so completely that it can never possibly happen again.” Stopping the honor of militarism might be a significant step toward stopping war.

So not “honor.” But sadness, sympathy, empathy, and love. Perhaps another word entirely. For those who sacrifice much, for those who lose much without ever having the choice.

And at Salon, Glenn Greenwald exposes in David Brooks a common disconnect: cheerleading in support of war while calling others who commit violence "evil."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gratuitous Link

At The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews the book I now want to read, Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.