Inhuman Swill : Page 18
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

Le mot juiced

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I read the following essay, which appears in somewhat different form in the epilogue to The Accidental Terrorist, in the Essay Fiesta series at The Book Cellar in Chicago, on December 21, 2009.

There is no worse feeling than, five minutes after some unpleasant confrontation has left you tongue-tied, humiliated and confused, smacking yourself on the forehead and exclaiming, "Oh, my God! That's what I should have said!"

This is not that kind of a story. This is the story of how I once delivered the perfect rejoinder, in the moment, when it counted. I tell it not to demonstrate how smart, suave, or clever I am, but because it so rarely happens that way with me. In fact, this may be the only story of its kind I have.

This happened in December 2003, at a Christmas party my wife Laura and I threw at our apartment in Queens, New York. Our parties, if I do say so, were legendary, always with an interesting mix of people, and always with good booze, and plenty of it.

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Happy New Year! I mostly try to keep all the news about Tuesday Funk, the Chicago reading series I help run, over on its own blog, but today I can't help trumpeting our mention in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:

Article: Drink it in: Beers paired with the wisdom of Chicago authors

The feature by David Hoekstra in today's Entertainment section introduces four of tonight's five participants, who each discuss the pieces they'll read and suggest the perfect beer from Hopleaf's vast menu to drink as accompaniment.

Check out the accompanying slideshow as well, and if you're in town I hope to see you tonight upstairs at Hopleaf. The free reading starts at 7:30 pm, but you should arrive at 7:00, when the doors open, if you want a seat. You can find all the relevant information here.

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Curling with opossums

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Last Friday night, Laura and I went out for pizza with a couple of good friends. We were driving back home afterwards, north on Damen Avenue, when I thought I saw the silhouette of a small critter amble through the headlights of an oncoming car.

"I think there's a possum in the street up ahead," I said.

I slowed down, and as we got closer we saw that there was indeed an opossum in the middle of the street, just our side of a stop sign and crosswalk. It was walking in a slow circle, while cars alternately stopped and drove carefully around it.

"That poor possum," Laura said as we in turn drove past. "It looks scared. It's stuck in the middle of the street and doesn't know which way to go."

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"Ella-Vision" calendar for 2013!

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Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar
Hi, gang! Laura and I are happy to announce that the new Ella calendar for 2013 is available now from Lulu.com. It features thirteen months of all your favorite Ella photos from 2012—well, okay, all our favorites—and for the moment we're offering it from Lulu.com for the discounted price of only $19.99.

But wait! If you order today, you can take another $3.00 off that price by using the discount code 18DEC at checkout. That makes it only $16.99 plus shipping and handling. What a steal!

Click below and buy now, and you can keep watching Ella-Vision all year long.

Ella-Vision 2013 13-Month Calendar

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So, over on Facebook I opined that it's now time for Mr. Obama to get his ass in gear about global warming. I further opined that it was time to stop referring to it by the namby-pamby term "climate change" and get back to calling it "global warming." Boy, did that incite some strong responses!

As I said there and will reiterate here, "climate change" may be a descriptive term in a bland way, but it's way too soft and weaselly. "Climate" as a scientific term is just not understood well enough (or at all) by most of us, and "change" is just, well, change. It says nothing about the degree or direction of the change, about whether it's good or bad, and it even leaves some dangerously stupid pundits enough wiggle room to say, "Hey, change is no problem. We'll just adapt."

"Global warming," on the other hand, is direct and scary, and we need to be scared by it. We need to be shitting our pants because of it. "Global"—it affects all of us, everywhere. "Warming"—this identifies the most direct effect of the most critical element of the climate-change equation, to wit that if we keep dumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere, the average global temperature will keep going up faster and faster, leading to every other bad outcome, like increased sea levels, decreased permafrost, increased ocean acidity, increased extreme weather events, and so on. The most important thing we can and must do to stop climate change is to stop that temperature rise.

Now let's all change our underwear and call Congress (202-224-3121) and the White House (202-456-1111) and tell them now is the time to get very serious about halting global warming.

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It seems absurd for me to say that I wish we were in New York City right now, with Hurricane Sandy bearing down, but we are definitely thinking of all our many friends there and all over the East Coast and hoping everyone stays dry and safe.

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To follow up on my post from Friday, the latest issue of Rolling Stone features an article by Mikal Gilmore called "Mitt Romney and the Ghosts of Mormon History." It provides an excellent overview of how the Mormon Church has drifted away and distanced itself from its founding philosophical ideals, and how Romney has done the same with his own family's legacy. Here's a great passage:

When Romney veers from liberal to conservative to moderate stands, what he makes plain is that the world he is in, but not truly part of, is the political world. The shifting is a sleight of hand, like Joseph Smith's magic, a means to an end. That end is higher attainment in the big payoff, the eternal world. As a result, expecting Romney to be accountable to a secular morality is to misunderstand him. That's part of the Mormon hubris, and it's what grants him the right to withhold specifics about both his political vision and his deeper beliefs. But if you hold yourself apart from the world, how can you understand those who do not? And how can they ever understand you?
Gilmore was born into a troubled Mormon famly, and his grasp of the church's history is incisive. I'll link to the article if it ever appears online, which I hope it will in the next couple of weeks.

Mikal Gilmore also wrote the excellent memoir Shot in the Heart, about his relationship with his brother Gary, the executed murderer, and their relationship with the church and its murky doctrine of blood atonement. Dark, dark, dark, but highly recommended.

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Referring to his fluid political positions, a number of commentators of late have been making statements to the effect that the only thing Mitt Romney seems to believe in is that he should be president. That got me thinking about how such a belief might have arisen, and how it might explain all the shifty flip-flopping we've seen over the course of the presidential campaign—and, in fact, the whole of Romney's political career.

Mormons believe that God has an individual plan for every one of us. This is not to say that they believe in predestination, an idea that would play havoc with their crucial belief in free will. Mormons instead believe in the doctrine of foreordination, in which God has specific tasks in mind for each of us to accomplish in this life, but with the actual accomplishment of them being dependent upon our own faith and diligence.

Another thing Mormons believe in is personal revelation. This means that if we have a problem or a question or a goal, we can turn to God in prayer after sincere consideration and ask for direction. God, we are told, will answer either by causing a confusion to come upon us that makes us forget the thing that is wrong or by affirming through a burning in the bosom that the thing is right. (See Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9.) No good Latter-day Saint should undertake any major pursuit without having gone through this process of spiritual confirmation.

But this is a tricky doctrine. When I was growing up, I myself was able to convince myself that God approved of many different courses of action that probably weren't so good for me, simply by praying about them persistently and feverishly enough. And this is where Romney's belief that he should be president comes in. I have no doubt that, being a faithful Mormon and in fact a Mormon leader, he prayed long and hard about whether or not to pursue this office. The fact that he threw his hat so firmly into the ring is proof that he received his spiritual confirmation.

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Mitt Romney's comment about "binders full of women" during the debate the other night could not have been more unfortunate, especially considering his family's history of polygamy. Anything that inadvertently conjures up images of the young women in Roman Grant's "joy books" on Big Love is probably not a place Mittens wanted to go...

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There are moments when you just can't get your camera up in time.

Tuesday morning Ella and I went to one of her favorite haunts, Warren Park, for an extended walk. Tennis ball in mouth, Ella bounded up the south side of the park's huge sledding hill in pursuit of a couple of squirrels. I followed along at the bottom of the hill, trailling a little behind her, expecting that at some point she would drop the tennis ball and keep going. As it turned out, she did, and the ball rolled almost exactly to my feet. I didn't even have to break stride to scoop it up.

As I was stashing the ball in my shoulder bag, Ella turned west and headed down the hill, having spied another squirrel in the middle of the grass. The squirrel ran west and vanished around the corner of the high chain-link fence that encloses the park's ice rink. Ella followed closely behind.

I could tell from the rattling sounds I heard that the squirrel had climbed to the top of the fence. Ella loves chasing squirrels along fences, and when I saw the squirrel come scurrying back around the corner on top of the fence, I started fumbling my iPhone out of my pocket. A good squirrel-chasing picture was sure to follow.

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