Friday, October 2, 2015

Pope Francis, Kim Davis and the New Gay Fundamentalism

What can we learn from the American left’s apoplectic reaction to Pope Francis' meeting Kim Davis?

Perhaps nothing; the reaction is entirely predictable. By turns disillusioned, gasping in disbelief, screaming “I TOLD you so!”--the left progressive crowd is now more or less united in writing off Francis as a loser and a bigot and not someone any respectable person could support.

As for those few liberals who still remain sympathetic to Francis--“even after he met with her”--Charles P. Pierce kind of summed up their tone in Esquire:

This is, obviously, the dumbest thing this Pope ever has done. It undermines everything he accomplished on his visit here. It undermines his pastoral message, and it diminishes his stature by involving him in a petty American political dispute.

Pierce more or less sees the meeting with Davis as the end of the Pope’s honeymoon with liberal America. Note his particularly obtuse suggestion that it is all so sad--because the Davis case, after all, is just “a petty American political dispute.”

There’s the rub right there, the crux of liberals odd misreading of Francis. The assumption that gay marriage is “just, like, so obvious”; that of course a man as progressive as Francis must see this; that any foolish individual, such as Davis, who’d risk legal repercussions for refusing to go along with the agenda is just being “petty”.

I myself don’t think Davis has conducted her conscientious objection very wisely. But I do think she counts as a conscientious objector. And from the Pope’s words during his visit it’s pretty clear (pace Pierce) he doesn’t consider struggles over religious liberty, or individuals with the guts to wage them, at all “petty”. In any case, I don't think the Davis meeting was or is important on the Pope's visit agenda. It is one short encounter among many.

After the news hit, I stopped by at the “progressive left” DailyKos community to see which way the wind was blowing. As if I didn’t know. It was the usual righteous fury one sees in that crowd whenever anyone disagrees with one of the Holy Gender Tenets.

The meeting with Davis proved that Francis is obviously, as one person put it, “just another misguided, anti-gay bigot who pretends to be loving and compassionate”. Another instructed as follows: “Add poison to an otherwise nutritious soup, and all of it is poisoned.” A third waxed poetic: “All I can say now is, hypocrisy, thy name is Francis!” Etc., etc., on it went.

Yes, there were some mentions of the good that Francis had done on climate change, but in general the mood was: Bigot. Hypocrite. Fool. Fake.

Francis’ radicalism on so many issues supposedly so dear to the left would no longer influence the Kos majority. If you don’t worship LGBT people’s every demand, you don’t get a pass with this crowd.

I commented as follows:

Listen to you all. “I’ve no more use for this Pope." "This Pope is slimy." Etc., etc.


At present Pope Francis is probably the world's most consequent voice calling for serious action on global warming. He's a trenchant critic of unfettered capitalism and outspoken supporter of the dignity of workers and of unions--to the point that he sets the Fox crowd and the Limbaughs into shivers of rage.

But the fact that his thinking (as is very likely the case) doesn't line up with yours on same-sex marriage means you've all suddenly "no use" for his stance or voice.

"No use" for Francis' stance on climate change? For his stance on free-market madness? For his stance on militarism?

Again you show that sad old trait of yours. Any figure who doesn't check all the same boxes you've come to check in your own historically specific cultural setting, any person who doesn't see eye to eye with American progressive liberals on EVERYTHING, especially those things related to sex or gender, is necessarily "slimy" or of "no use".

What kind of mature politics is that? It is cultural imperialism is what it is.

You think the Pope is being hypocritical?

The Pope's remark "Who am I to judge?" came at the end of the following statement spoken of a gay or lesbian person: "If someone is trying to live a holy life and seeking God, who am I to judge him?"

Why would progressives assume that the whole first part of that sentence was irrelevant to the Pope's meaning and why would they read into the last five words something like: "Though I'm the leader of the Catholic Church, I'm utterly against its teachings on sexual ethics."

It is very likely Pope Francis does not consider same-sex marriage to be marriage. It is very likely that when he refers to "attacks on the family", he is thinking in part of things like the Obergefell decision. (For the record, during his tenure in Argentina he did express support for something like civil unions for non-heterosexual couples. Which makes him more liberal than most in his church.)

So assuming that Francis does not acknowledge same-sex marriage, and recognizing the importance of religious liberty and the right of conscientious objection in his vision (how many of you, by the way, believe in conscientious objection? or perhaps you only believe in it when the objector agrees with you on all sex/gender/marriage-related issues?)--assuming this, why would it be hypocrisy on his part to meet with Kim Davis? Has she advocated jailing gays and lesbians? Has she picketed funerals with "God Hates Fags" signs? No, she has taken the one step of refusing to allow her name on licenses for same-sex marriages. As a purely negative action, a refusal to act, it's actually a pretty classic conscientious objection stance: "I won't bow to or sign my name to or perform such-and-such an action required by," etc., etc.

So I would think, in Francis' book, Davis' case would count as a valid instance conscientious objection. How not?

Yes, I also have some doubts that the story is legit. But if Francis did in fact meet with her, it wouldn't shock me--as it seems to have shocked so many of you. Is it because so many of you can't imagine there exist people who might agree with you on A, B, and C, but not on D? Is it because that's just too much of a stretch for your "progressive left" cultural imagination?

As myself a Catholic on the left, I admire Francis all the more for the way he screws up the expectations of both the American left and right. And it isn't any wonder. American left and right are both growing to be about equally bigoted and deranged.

I knew I’d mostly be attacked for this comment, and I was. After all: Who was I, “a Catholic”, to be calling anyone a bigot? How “ironic”. Etc.

But what does all this reveal about the current American left? I’d have to put it bluntly: They’re not so much left-wing in any traditional sense as they are obsessed with sexual identity politics. In my comment I mention the need to check “all” the boxes they do, A to Z. But of the boxes one must check to be heard in this crowd, worshiping the LGBT movement is now by the far the most important. How has it come to this?

A pathological Gay Fundamentalism has taken over the American left. And of course, since we’re dealing here with a fundamentalism, it is no longer by any means enough to respect LGBT people or defend their rights. No, one must agree with their every demand. One must of course, first of all, acknowledge that gay marriage is an obvious right, true from all eternity; that gay couples can raise children just as well as heterosexual couples. But in addition to this, one must also express delight at LGBT people’s vanguard role in all the central social arenas. Because, don’t you know, it is LGBT people who are leading the charge to right our education system (from Kindergarten up), our public mores, our very ideas of sex and gender. For who is it if not gays and lesbians who’ve taught us that great and fundamental truth of human being, namely: Male and female sexuality have no inherent relation to male and female bodies. Indeed, everyone can--and should!--bend any such supposed relations as much out of shape as possible. For only then will the “ideology” that made them be broken! Only then will one be free to be oneself! Which is . . . whatever one demands oneself to be.

Disagree with these fundamental truths and you are a “bigot”. And in this crowd, a bigot is the worst thing you can be. (Rod Dreher, who recognizes that what these authoritarians are forcing on us is an actual shift in metaphysics, has been particularly good at reading the fallout of this shift.)

On the left myself in many things, I cry bullshit to all of this. With each passing year I’m ever more sickened by this cultural demagoguery. That these Gay Fundamentalists need to be hounded back to the margins where they belong is more obvious with each passing season. They must be stopped, but with the youth almost entirely under their sway, and with the remaining sane people cowed into keeping their mouths shut, how might this be done?

The basic truths here are clear. But is anything accomplished any more by simply stating basic truths in a culture that’s given up on the very idea that the universe and humanity have truth?

One finally has the exasperated feeling one might get trying to explain to an especially dumb geometry class that they can’t draw four-sided triangles, even if they want to.

And so, yes: Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. That exceptions exist does not mean this paradigm is wrong; it merely means these exceptions aren’t part of the norm to which the vast majority fits.

A just society gives space to and doesn’t persecute the exceptions. A sick society fetishizes the exceptions and uses them to destroy the norm. A sick society lets the exceptions remake the whole culture in their own image.

This is what is happening in our society now; our media, our mores, our education system. Gay pride has morphed into gay arrogance. The media and fashion industry cheer in perverse glee at the newness of it, if only because “newness” is the very definition of media and fashion. The public, lacking any deeper education, doesn’t want to feel left behind.

Thus a Gay Fundamentalism is given carte blanche to impose its agenda on our schools, our universities, all central institutions. Anyone who dares risk opposing this agenda will be fined, run out of business, jailed. The gay commissars know what is right, they are watching, and woe to you if you do not bow to their wisdom.

We must have the courage to call out this new fundamentalism. With a vengeful animus, it will not stop until it has ferreted out every pocket of dissent. And so: We must dissent loudly, and work together. We can start by calling the movement what it is--a form of fundamentalism--and by making the label stick.

Eric Mader

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bill Nye's Abortion Argument is Ethically Hollow

Just watched the recent short clip of Bill Nye the "Science Guy” lecturing people on why they should support abortion rights. Nye shows, yet again, the amazingly shoddy ethical understanding these “science guys” tend to have. It's almost embarrassing to listen to him. (I’m not going to link it. Go find it on Google yourself if you like.)

Nye argues that we shouldn’t insist an individual’s humanity begins at conception because, consider, many fertilized eggs don’t attach to the wall of the womb and thus don’t survive anyway. Nye seems to think this fact of human reproduction carries ethical weight. His point seems to be: “See, if these fertilized eggs die, why not just give ourselves the right to kill those other fertilized eggs that do in fact attach to the womb and begin to develop?”

Nye’s easygoing demeanor in this clip shouldn’t obscure the obvious: His ethical logic here is appalling.

That many fertilized eggs don’t attach to the womb is merely an accident of nature. It does not carry ethical weight of any kind and cannot direct us at all in assessing the ethical status of abortion.

One can see Nye’s logic in all its glory if one merely applies it to a test case.

Suppose there is a mountain village in Guatemala that suffers a landslide which kills 85 of its 102 inhabitants. Earth tremors triggered the landslide, burying most of the village in the pre-dawn hours. The traumatized survivors wait for rescue.

That landslide, like Nye’s point about fertilized eggs that don’t attach to the womb, is an accident of nature. That 85 of the villagers didn’t survive tells us nothing about the value of the survivors or how we must treat them.

How would Nye’s “humane” thinking apply in this landslide case?

In fact, according to Nye’s brilliant ethical logic, we might give ourselves the right to go in and kill those survivors rather than rescue them. After all, they 1) could easily have been among the victims and 2) it will be difficult to rescue and care for them.

At the end of the day, Nye might argue, we should “leave it up to the rescuers” to decide, because, after all, it’s their country.

If you think this kind of ethical logic deserves respect, well, you’re living in the right century. Welcome to the “scientific” understanding of ethics.

Nye’s ethics is not ethics at all, but merely a smartish guy talking out of his bow tie. And this is the problem with so many science types when they attempt to speak on ethical issues. They don’t recognize that ethics is a branch of philosophy that requires serious questioning of premises and logical implications. They think they can just make it up as they go along, which is to say: They are no more qualified to speak on such issues than any old drunk on the street.

Bill Nye: Proving again that “science guys” have precisely nothing to tell you about what is right or wrong.

Eric Mader

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Planned Parenthood? What about PLANNED RETIREMENT?

Imagine the year is 2035. And imagine that in most American cities one can find branches of a new national organization called Planned Retirement.

Planned Retirement has many defenders, and many detractors.

The organization’s policies are progressive. With help from the federal government, they provide low cost housing, food and limited medical care to people over 65. When a resident has reached the ripe age of 77, the organization sends a doctor to the resident’s room with the medical equipment needed to crush the resident’s head, thus ending his or her life. Any salvageable organs are sold to research institutes, and residents’ bodies are buried in landfills.

Many Americans, especially Christians, are strongly opposed to Planned Retirement’s practices. They argue that killing the elderly in this way is a form of murder and that the difficulty of caring for elderly people is no excuse to end their lives. They also argue that mass burial in unmarked graves and the marketing of the dead’s organs as “research material” is an obvious ruse to avoid facing the painful truth--namely, that each of these elders was a unique human being with the inalienable right to life.

In Congress there is a new effort to defund the organization because of its snuff policies. But liberals are up in arms in support of Planned Retirement. They want to focus the debate on the health care and housing Planned Retirement offers elderly people, thus diverting the public's attention from the issue that led to the push to defund, namely: Planned Retirement's practice of terminating human lives.

And so: “This is just another attack on elderly health care!” the liberals scream.

Besides being an obvious attempt to change the subject, there's a second element of dishonesty in this cry. Liberals actually mean to imply that those seeking to defund Planned Retirement are somehow motivated by a disrespect for elderly people. Which is interesting, to say the least.

But consider another detail of Planned Retirement policy: If the family of an elder resident chooses to terminate Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa’s life before the age of 77, they can provide written consent for such termination.

The reasons people give for wanting their parents’ termination are various: “We don’t have time to visit her any more.” “We have a right to live our lives as we choose!” “The fees to keep Mom there are too much for my budget.”

In a widely shared rant in defense of Planned Retirement, liberal senator Elizabeth Warrick argues: “How can we dare interfere with these families when they are making what is probably the single most difficult decision of their lives? How can we dare?”

Senator Warrick seems think that the moral difficulty individuals might face in deciding to kill their parents or grandparents should carry more weight than the lives of those whose heads are to be crushed.

Again: Interesting argument.

My point:

If in the current American debate about defunding Planned Parenthood you’ve found yourself arguing that “This is an attack on women’s health care!” or “Abortions only account for 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services!” or “It’s a difficult decision! We shouldn’t presume to judge!”--well, congratulations: To me, as a Catholic, you sound precisely like those future liberals above arguing in support of “Planned Retirement”. Your arguments ring equally hollow are are equally beside the point.

The fact is that Christians and others are not opposed to Planned Parenthood because of some vague lurking misogyny. No, they are opposed to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers because of one obvious truth: Just like the unfortunate elders in the above future scenario, the unborn are each unique human beings.

This is not merely Christian teaching, or some religious teaching, it is a scientifically demonstrable fact. Each unborn person has an integral human body and unique human DNA. As such, she or he is a unique human person and deserves the defense of the law, regardless of whether or not she or he has a name.

In terms of the ethics involved, my above dystopian tale of “Planned Retirement” offers a precise parallel to what the real organization Planned Parenthood is doing right now. Planned Parenthood serves the “health” of young mothers and their children in the same way that my fictional Planned Retirement serves the “health” of the elderly and their families. In both organizations, when people are judged to be inconvenient, they are snuffed.

Because of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, we already live in a dystopia. Defunding is the least they deserve.

What kind of wool is it, of what thickness, do American liberals have to keep pulling over their eyes to avoid seeing this? It must be morally exhausting to have to defend, for decades on end, such an Orwellian vision of humanity. Women's "health care"?

Last year Planned Parenthood ended the lives of an estimated 165,000 women, tossing their broken bodies, or at least those parts that couldn’t be sold, into the trash bin.

American liberals really don't get it. That wool must be damn thick.

Eric Mader

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Ahmed Mohamed's Clock and Bull Story

Why would a smart teen bring a box of clock parts
to school claiming it was an "invention"?

When I first heard the story, I thought it was sad, but also somewhat inevitable: a Muslim teen got arrested for bringing a bomb-like device to his school. But now I'm starting to wonder if we all haven't been had. Consider the details.

Indeed, Ahmed Mohamed’s "clock invention" story is looking more and more like a clock and bull story. It turns out the invention, in any case, was no such thing. It was just a disassembled digital clock from the 1980s, with the parts oddly rearranged in a pencil box. A smart teen would never claim this was an “invention”, though a 5-year-old might. You could do the same thing by taking any old digital clock apart and splaying out the pieces in a box. But why would you ever do that?

Likely answer: Because there's a digital readout on the device, just like there is on many Hollywood bombs.

Yes, it is definitely possible that Ahmed knew what this object looked like and that what he was up to was not showing off an “invention” to his teacher so much as bringing something to school that looked like a bomb.

Some are beginning to wonder if the whole thing was not intentionally done to cause just the reaction it did, a kind of set-up to “prove” that Muslims are discriminated against. After all, the boy's father is an anti-Islamophobia activist. This might all just be coincidence, but note how quick this family was to stage press conferences, etc., after the event happened.

Honestly, as more details emerge, the more our president looks like a moron for inviting this kid to the White House.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis and the Decline of Religious Liberty

Do you believe in religious liberty and freedom of conscience? Do you believe American law is obliged to protect citizens’ religious liberty?

A test case: Let’s say there’s a Muslim-owned print shop in Illinois and a man comes in wanting to print 500 copies of a pamphlet he wrote. Rashid, the owner of the shop, sees that the pamphlet attacks Islam as a false religion and specifically attacks Muhammad as a false prophet. The shop owner refuses to print the pamphlet, saying it is blasphemous.

“Get your pamphlet printed somewhere else!” Rashid says. “It’s against my religion and my conscience to take part in spreading such blasphemy.”

Do you support Rashid’s right to refuse to print that pamphlet? I do. Were our laws to force him to print it, I’d consider it an offense against his dignity and an offense against our American idea of religious liberty.

Would you say Rashid is unjustly discriminating against the man who wrote the pamphlet? Though I strongly believe in freedom of speech, I wouldn’t consider this a case of unjust discrimination. Rashid isn’t saying the man has no right to print his pamphlet, only that he, as a Muslim, refuses to take part in such printing.

Last week a Christian woman in Kentucky went to jail because she refused to take part in licensing same-sex marriages. I’m not personally a fan of Kim Davis’ way of making her stand, but I do believe strongly that our law should allow some route for people such as Ms. Davis to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriages. That she ended up in jail is an offense against religious liberty.

Though same-sex marriage has great support at present in many Western countries, the fact remains that there are tens of millions of citizens who firmly believe such marriages are an offense against God’s law. One can work to convince these believers they are wrong to think as they do, but one cannot simply discount their convictions, which are clearly grounded in long-standing religious traditions.

In Kim Davis’ mind, her taking part in legitimating same-sex marriages would be a form of blasphemy--hardly different from Rashid’s printing of anti-Muslim pamphlets. You can think Kim Davis is being petty or silly or even bigoted for believing such blasphemy is real, but that is the thing about religious liberty: It’s not up to you to decide what is and isn’t valid in her religion.

If you support Rashid’s right not to print those pamphlets, you should likewise support laws defending the rights of religious bakers, caterers and even county clerks in their refusal to take part in legitimating or providing work toward the celebration of same-sex marriages.

Really, the two cases, that of Rashid and that of the Christian marriage traditionalist, are almost precisely similar. But for some reason, in our current cultural climate, it's become impossible for otherwise intelligent people to see this.

Why is it so difficult for people to see that religious liberty is being offended against when bakers and florists get run out of business or when county clerks are not given a legal route to recuse themselves from taking part in gay marriage?

Too many liberals, weighing in on this issue, show no sense of balance. There's a rising liberal fundamentalism, which, if its proponents had any historical sense, they'd recognize as a contradiction in terms.

Were a customer to come into that hypothetical Muslim print shop asking to print menus or pamphlets on zoology, and were Rashid to proclaim “Get out of here! I don’t serve atheist Jews!”--that would be a case of illegal discrimination. And the customer would be right to take Rashid to court. Likewise were a restaurant owner to refuse to serve a gay customer simply for being gay, we would be talking about real and harmful discrimination. But Rashid, and the Christian bakers too, have the right to refuse to take part in things they consider blasphemy. It's as simple as that.

American liberals are committing egregious mistakes in the way they're trying to integrate same-sex marriage into the culture. What we need are sane and balanced RFRA laws. We need them now.

(Personal note: As a Catholic with great respect for my Church's teachings, but also with an active and critical intelligence, I would not define myself as "opposed to" gay marriage. At the same time, however, I am definitely not a fan of the absolutist tactics of the marriage equality movement, which is now cheerleading one witch hunt after another. I remain engaged in the theological debate over the issue and see routes for changing doctrine, and I'll pursue these routes in dialogue with fellow Catholics. But simultaneously, the sight of so many liberal friends eager to betray fundamental liberal principles is depressing to say the least.

As a strong pluralist, I would insist that America is failing here. There is room for everyone under the tent, and our law should be protecting both sides in this important debate. Because, regardless of the Obergefell decision, the debate is far from over.)

Eric Mader

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ryan and the Cherubs

Ryan Lin (?), Huang (?), Lee (?)--the class clown, I don't even know his last name--somehow we got on the subject of him and cherubs. Ryan has a penchant for all things cute and roundish, so it wasn't too out of line. But then it came about, somehow, that we were discussing the word torso, a word in Dan Brown's recent novel Inferno, which we're reading page by page in the class, and finally I only had the last half hour of class time left. So I gave them an assignment--to write something on the theme of "Ryan and the Cherub". The results are below.

Eric Mader

* * *

Ryan and the Cherub

by Johnny Jiang (江寧)

Once upon a time there was an old man named Ryan. He was an ugly person, so that nobody wanted to marry him and even no boss wanted to hire him.       

One day, a little cherub flew through the street by Ryan's house and saw him crying because no one was there to remind him to turn off the gas stove and so he burned his dinner.      

The cherub was so kind and felt so sorry for Ryan that he decided to help him find a good wife.       

Next morning, when Ryan went to the market, the cherub followed him, planning to wait for a young lady to stand in front of him.       

Poor Ryan, even if old grandma saw him she would jump up from her wheelchair and run away!      

No young woman stood anywhere near him.       

Finally, in one shop, a clerk came up to Ryan and told him to leave the store because he was standing and talking to himself.       

The cherub thought this was his only chance to find a woman for Ryan, so he quickly pulled out his arrow and shot the unlucky clerk.       

Ryan screamed and ran out of the shop. The clerk also screamed and fell to the ground.       

The cherub realized that he had taken the wrong arrow: it was a real one. The cherub was shocked and embarrassed and flew away up into the clouds.       

What a poor clerk!

Ryan and the Cherub Avengers

by Anthony Huang (黃聖翔)

High in the clouds, a troupe of cherubs circled together, examining a mangled and gruesome object. One of them held it in his outstretched hands.      

"This must be one of us," he said. "But where is the torso?"      

"Who would dare do this?" another said. "We must find the killer! We must avenge our brother!"      

And so it was that the Cherub Avengers came to be: Ironrub, Greenrub, Captainrub, Thunderub, and Eaglerub. They each had their special weapons with which they would exact their terrible vengeance.

They traveled the world, seeking the enemy who had dared kill one of their holy brotherhood.      

One day, searching through Xin Yi Road in the city of Taipei, they came upon a strange boy eating curry ice cream in front of a building with a sign that read "ZEI: Costco of Torsos!"      

They came down and surrounded the boy.      

"Excuse me," Captainrub said. "What does this sign mean?"      

"It means go @#&*#% yourself, angel boy," the boy replied.      

The cherubs found this to be a rude reply. They sent Eaglerub into the building to find out the truth.      

Suddenly the strange boy leered, shouted "Torsos!" and grabbing Captainrub by the wings he twisted him around and cut off his head.

"It is you!" the other cherubs cried out, and so the combat began.      

Ironrub slipped into his iron suit and shot love missiles from his springloaded fists; Greenrub became a giant Cherish and tried to attack the boy with his green love punch; Thunderub flew forward to smash the boy with his love hammer.      

But the boy squirmed out of the way of each of these attacks, and spitting curses and foul curry, he drove the cherubs into a startled retreat.      

As the cherubs tried to regroup, Eaglerub flew out from the building, crying: "Hey! This kid has got some wonderful torsos in there! I want to buy some!"      

But nobody paid him any attention.      

"Alright then!" Eaglerub said. "I'll pick some myself!" And he flew back into the building.      

The battle continued, curry and love arrows and hammering. The boy roared out: "I'm Ryan, Curry King and merchant of cherub torsos! You will never defeat me!"      

The three cherubs fought like heroes, but none could harm Ryan.      

Finally, in the heat of battle, the Curry King opened his huge mouth, baring his foul curried teeth, and began to suck violently. The screaming cherubs could not bat their wings fast enough, they were sucked into his mouth. Ryan chewed them and spat their limbs and torsos onto the sidewalk next to him.       

At this moment Eaglerub exited the building with a large white shopping bag. He saw the scene on the sidewalk.      

"Uh oh," he said, and shot straight up into the sky.      

And that is the story of the rise and fall of the Cherub Avengers, the stupidest Hollywood movie of the year.

Ryan, Ryanair and the Cherub

by Ryan

Once upon a time, there was an unnamed man called Ryan. He was a pilot working for Ryanair.

One day, as he was flying an old Boeing 787 to Costco, a terrorist with a bazooka began shooting passengers from his seat. So Ryan locked the door of the cockpit and continued listening to music.

Suddenly, a cute cherub appeared outside the cockpit window, 25,000 meters above the ground, and magically entering the plane, he went back and shot the terrorist with an arrow.

The terrorist died immediately.

“Nooooo!” cried the cherub. “He was supposed to fall in love! With me!”

Ryan was finally getting angry. All this was too much for one flight. He left the cockpit and went back into the cabin. First he yelled at the cherub, then he broke his little bow and arrows; finally he began to beat the cherub’s round head, hands, legs and wings. Even the passengers, the ones who hadn’t been killed by the terrorist, thought this treatment was excessive.

But what none of them knew was that the terrorist had also planted a bomb on the plane. It exploded, blowing off the back half of the cabin.

Ryan grabbed what remained of the cherub and struggled to the cockpit. As the broken front half of the plane spiraled to the ground, he got on his emergency parachute and jumped.

And that’s how Ryan lost his job at Ryanair. But it’s also how he got his first cherub torso.

The Psychopath and the Cherub (after Dan Brown’s Inferno)

by Claire Fan-Chiang (范姜詠欣)

“Ow!” yelped Ryan as the arrow struck his forehead. He looked up to locate his attacker.

Oh, he had never seen such a handsome young boy in his life! Blonde curls that shone and flickered in the evening light, the clearest eyes whose colors seemed to be changing like a kaleidoscope, skin pale yet beautiful as alabaster, and a smile more radiant than the golden sun itself.

Ryan leapt up, pinning the cherub down and accidentally squashing his wings against the floor of Florence’s famed Palazzo Vecchio. Ryan’s parents were on the other side of the great Renaissance hall from him, studying Vasari’s huge mural The Battle of Marciano. They’d taken their son to Italy with them to learn about European culture.

As Ryan held the wounded cherub pinned to the floor, the museum guards struggling to pull him off, a low humming filled his head, the murmur of many voices, then the thunder of soldiers’ footsteps, and a high scream sharp enough to rent The Apotheosis of Cosimo I in two.

But it didn’t matter; for all that Ryan knew was that the cherub looked delicious.

Half an hour later Ryan was seated, handcuffed, in the back of a black van. Next to him was Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey and the handsome soldier gripping her left calf. The streets of Florence flew past through the van windows. But that didn’t matter either. All Ryan remembered was the cherub’s face and that delicious taste that left a tang of iron inside his mouth.

* * *

A flash of blonde wove through the crowds of summer tourists. It was Sienna Brooks, running madly down the stone pavement along the river, tears splashing down her cheeks.

Sienna had never felt so betrayed by anybody, her mind was blank--an emptiness caused by the shock she’d just suffered. She stopped. A gentle wind touched her cheek. She screamed a venomous curse over the olive green water of the Arno.

* * *

Up in the palazzo’s massive garret, Vayentha and Langdon were sitting on the viewing platform. She was listening to Langdon talk about his Mickey Mouse watch. Vayentha didn’t catch every word Langdon said, but it didn’t matter. All she could think of was how beautiful Langdon seemed at that moment.

If only this could last forever!

* * *

The cherub stared up at the rent canvas, mouth agape, full of hatred for the garish ceiling of the Hall of the Five-Hundred. Warm liquid oozed from his broken body; nothing the medics did seemed to stanch the flow. A buzz echoed in his brain; his mind was in chaos now, memories flashed by, fleeting images of wings and clouds and lovely limbs. A tear slid down his cheek. How stupid he was to attack a trained assassin! If he had not, he would not have been shot; and if he hadn’t been shot, he would not have fallen, hitting the psychopath with his second arrow. How had that boy leapt so high? How had he not swerved from his grasp? Had he only swerved in time, he would not have been pinned to the stone floor and the crazed Asian boy would not have gnawed into his flesh as he did, a fatal wound.

His vision swam before his eyes, his consciousness slipping away. Finally darkness took him in its soft embrace.

* * *

Six months later, a shop opened its doors near the old Taipei Sogo. The space had formerly been a tapas restaurant, neither very small nor very large. The new shop owner had installed an imposing wooden door; through cramped, yellow-tinted windows the merchandise could barely be made out along the dimly lit interior.

You pushed through the heavy door, curious to verify if what you had seen could be true. You heard the heavy click of the automatic lock snap shut behind you as the door swung closed. And then, stepping forward, the mad leer of the patron, his familiar crazed and gleeful cackle: “Welcome back.”

Suddenly, from behind, a cloth was pressed against your face as a strong arm seized you round your chest. A heavy medicinal smell filled your nostrils and stung your panicked eyes. In your last instants of consciousness, you realized that the shop, the dim lighting, the tinted windows, the sign--“Cherub Torsos”--it was all a trap to draw you in.

But now there was no turning back.

* * *

Ryan, international man of mystery. And crackpot.

* * *

Yes, in fact some people don't believe that my Taipei teen students, who don't even speak English as a first language, can write prose as good as what you find on this page. They say I'm writing most of the stories for them, or heavily changing the stories. This isn't true in the least. I edit the pieces, yes, I correct grammar or usage problems, and sometimes add phrases to make things clearer or sharper. Here's a photo of one of the pages from Claire Fan-Chiang's piece, to give you some of idea of how much I typically edit. Click on it and enlarge if you want to see the details. I'm even going to be so bold as to claim that some of these kids write English better than most American kids their age. And English is a second language for them! Which should tell you something about American education. --E.M.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Shares of Idiocy Remain Stable after Taipei Times Review

Bradley Winterton at the Taipei Times reviewed my Idiocy, Ltd. today. A mix of positive and negative. I knew the review was coming, and having read Winterton's reviews for years, I foresaw some of the things he wouldn't go for. Still, I'm glad he appreciated what he did and that he took the time to review the book rather than just say "WTF is all this?" He's in any case scrupulously honest in his reviews, you get the man's own readerly reactions rather than fluff or posing, so I was interested to read it.

The only thing that annoyed me about the piece was the title, which I strongly suspect Winterton himself didn't write, but that some friendly editor at the paper tacked on.

See the good, the bad and the ugly here.

And visit Amazon to get your copy of this now officially underappreciated masterpiece of deadpan prose.