Thursday, November 19, 2009

Makeup Is Easy: I Haz A Zit.

Okay so a while back I was like "stop harassing your face with greasy concealer, it will not work" and I'm sure everyone was all "yeah whatever crazy lady" and clicked away to read about birds or something. However! I have returned to the topic with a top-shelf example, in the form of a Gigantic Zit of Doom. Observe.
Holy shit that's terrifying. Let's look at the close up.
Christ on a bicycle. Now, for all of you who are NOT blind now, let us discuss how I dealt with it using my very simple method of Basically Just Paying More Attention To One Area But Doing Everything The Same.

In the case of a giant zit, do not skip moisturizer. If your skin is dry (and it probably is, because...winter. Drink water!), your skin is going to snork up whatever you put on it. Make the first thing be something good for it. I have been using Neal's Yard Remedies' Frankincense Hydrating Cream and then following it with Amarte Aqua Veil, which is a really cool serum that feels like you're rubbing a lotion made of water on your face. Help yourself out. I also followed the moisturizer with Laura Mercier Foundation Primer that I got as a sample from Sephora, but I don't think that's necessary unless you plan to have your picture taken.

After that, I applied my Presecriptives foundation all over. I'm sure if you've experienced the joy of large caliber zits, you will know that the surface of these little miracles is kind of weirdly slippery - the skin is stretched tight, so any little textures are pulled out. I took a little bit of the foundation and tapped it onto the zit, making sure not to rub, until the color had evened out. I then applied Body Shop Mineral Powder and my new favorite thing, Guerlain Meteorites. The result was this:
...aaaaaand up close.
Here is a basic fact about human perception...your brain wants things to look a certain way. Even though you are completely neurotic about the zit and think it's visible from space and that everyone is looking at it, if the color is as uniform as possible whoever is looking at you will kind of shoehorn your face into looking even and dezittified.

I then put on my color for the day, which was from my Dior 5 Colour compact in Tender Chic. I used four of five colors - dark purple on the lid, shimmery pink above it to blend, yellow over that, and white for highlighting along the brow.
I used this funky Revlon lipgloss thing in a berry red, but I hated how it felt (really dry and crackly), so I put my Get Rich Quick Dazzleglass from M.A.C. over top and all was sparkly and well.
Be zit free!!! Viva la not-having-zits!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Relevance of Christian Just War Theory in Modern Foreign Policy

I recently opened my big stupid mouth and said that one of my Just War Theory professor's paper assignments did not sound like it would be fun, which made him get all creepily "oh, you want FUN do you?!?" about it. He then assigned us something that was still a weighty paper but was less formal than usual. The idea was to write something that could be printed as an OpEd column in a newspaper, defending the value of Christian Just War Theory in today's foreign policy, even to non-Christians. (I believe the prompt did give you the choice to say it had no value, but I happen to think that's incorrect.) Since the idea was to speak to the masses, I thought it might be worth actually taking to said masses. Feedback welcome!


Today we find ourselves enmeshed in three wars: the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and a war of opinion. Our public discourse is awash in vitriol but lacks a certain seriousness that would allow us to properly discuss the military wars before us, creating a third war of words. At the same time, our society is secularizing; religion has taken on the feeling of a hobby or pasttime, the Western zest for toleration leads us to place a wide berth around any assertions that one religion more than any other is superior, and misreadings of the American Constitution have fostered a wild paranoia that any religious influence upon government will send our government spiralling into oppressive theocracy. Our troubled relationship with religion has prompted us to abandon certain options available to us in referring to church-influenced theory, primarily those of Christian Just War Theory. Considered rightly, Christian Just War Theory can provide us with a moral language to use to discuss the justice of our military wars and a context in which we can consider them. Christian Just War Doctrine relies on a natural law accessible to all men, which renders worries about strictly religious government influence moot. Finally, our engagement with the Muslim world demands that we address matters of theological doctrine, whether we choose to or not. Though Christianity may not speak for the West as a whole, Christian theorists have made enough of an effort to make their arguments accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike that they provide an effective starting point for the consideration of justice in war.

It is particularly difficult to gauge the justice of a war from the center of it, and it may be impossible for every citizen of the United States to come to an agreement on the status of both the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. Moreover, there are two aspects of war to appraise for justice – the decision to go to war, and the way we transact it once we are there. These complications do not exempt us from the justice of our wars, particularly if the United States wishes to continue its reputation as a benevolent force on the international stage. The necessity of these considerations demands that we develop a reasoned, methodical approach to apply, and this in turn requires us to subscribe to a more deeply rooted basis for our theories. Modern American politics operate on a somewhat superficial understanding of political urgency; even if these politicians do appeal to a less transient rationale than their emotions, they rarely go deeper than the American Constitution. Though that document is grounded in grand liberal tradition and forms the basis for American life, it is relatively young and restrains our politics to a certain depth. Christian Just War Theory encourages us to look beyond our particular political structures and rely on natural law for guidance.

There are two primary sources of Christian Just War Theory and both understand Just War to be a limiting force. Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas understand that any political consideration of war must begin with the realities of man's fallen state and that because of this, man's “profound desire for justice” is difficult for him to realize. A just war must be proportionate and narrow, which can sate both the desire for revenge and the desire for justice. As we mentioned before, it is difficult to gauge actions in the thick of war. Considering the justice of a war will limit unjust acts in the heat of the moment, freeing the combatant from later regret associated with the unjust actions. In St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, he explores four essential questions of Just War and provides three necessities for going to war justly. Thomistic Just War requires that the ruler setting out to war have legitimate sovereignty, that there must be just cause, and that the intent of the combatants be rightful (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 40, sect. 1). The requirements of both men cut a large swath through many of history's wars, so frequently fought over minor slights and mere property. Christian Just War limits the combatants to the pursuit of good and the destruction of evil, not temporal – and temporary – gains. Just War is not for the pursuit of simple victory but of the tranquilitas ordinis, a peace that would allow people to live as children of God.

With this guidance, we can get to war, but questions continue after the initial decision is made. Aquinas carefully analyzes the questions of clergy participation, the laying of ambushes and fighting on holy days to understand how to transact a just war. In the end, clergy may not participate because it is fundamentally opposed to their service to God. It is, however, acceptable to go to war on holy days, because a just war would be in the service of God and there is a precedent for the meting out of religious punishments on holy days. Perhaps most important however is the approval of ambushes in action but not in speech (Summa Theologica, Part II, Question 40, sect. 2-4). This distinction reveals the heart of Christian Just War Theory – ambushes in deed push the war for just cause forward, but ambushes in speech make the tranquilitas ordinis virtually impossible because the trust and honor upon which it depends cannot exist if the peace was forced through lies. We see here that justice must be considered at every step, not just on the path to war.

Though Augustine and Aquinas so refer to the Christian God in their theories, the bulk of the arguments are based on natural law teaching, and this basis allows Christian Just War Theory to reach well beyond Christianity. Natural law is accessible to all men. Americans understood that there was such a law and based their own government on this knowledge long ago at the country's founding. In this way, the relative youth of the American government and its foundation in natural law make Christian Just War Theory uniquely applicable to our foreign policy. In George Weigel's article Iraq: Then and Now, he explains that the Bush Administration referred often to Just War Theory in the much maligned 2002 National Security Strategy, though the aspect that the media clung to was that of preemption (Weigel, p.39-40). Discussed without a serious consideration of Christian Just War Theory, preemption seems a choice more suited to sandbox squabbles, but in context, we may understand the choice to strike first as a blow against injustice rightly understood.

Weigel also takes aim at the idea of the United Nations as an international authority on just war, successfully attacking the claims to sovereignty often raised by its advocates. One part of our fallen state so willingly embraced by Christian Just War Theorists is our mortality and our inescapable connection to the Earth. This means that our political life is necessarily influenced by our connection to and perceived ownership of our territory and property. Sovereignty originates in this physical politics and the United Nations relies on the gift of power from member nations for the mere illusion of sovereignty. Even the United Nations' Charter understands this reality. As Weigel points out, Article 51 leaves an “'inherent' right of self-defense” to the member states (Weigel, p.37), and if this right remains under the purview of individual nations, then the UN has no sovereign authority – it cedes the valuation of war and justice, ostensibly the most important part of statecraft, to individual nations. Without sovereignty, there can be no just war in the Christian tradition nor in natural law teaching. We must abandon the United Nations as anything more than a tangentially useful center for debate, and not allow it to guide our foreign policy.

Christian Just War Theory and its basis in natural law provides an excellent guide for determining the justice of our wars. “Christianity” has become a strangely loaded term in American political discourse, and people may shy away from something they believe requires them to sign on to theological doctrine. It is the natural law foundation to Just War Theory that makes it accessible to all men, not its Christian structure. The Theory demands that we take justice seriously and adopt a complete and operable vocabulary for the application of justice to war. None of this is to say that Christian theory must be stripped of its theological bent to be accepted by a large population. There are certain themes that are reflected across religions, and even atheists can agree that man is not perfect. This is what Augustine found so important to considerations of just war. He called it a fallen state, but that is his term for a universally understood term. A fallen state means temptation from earthly desires, and this is why we need to take such great care in the contemplation of war. Reinhold Neibuhr points ouf that “Even the most 'Christian' civilization and even the most pious church must be reminded that the true God can be known only were there is some awareness of a contradiction between divine and human purposes, even on the highest level of human aspirations (Neibuhr, The Irony of American History, p. 173).” He goes on to remind us that our enemies' unjust actions come from the same impulses that lead us astray to unjust wars both ius and ad bello. It is considering our actions seriously that can keep us from acting in defiance of natural law, and Christian Just War can help us pay these questions the attention they are due.

It is easy to understand how non-Christians would shy away from embracing Christian Just War Theory, but when we examine the teachings thereof, we see that Christian teachings on just wars are some of the only approaches that make a serious effort towards creating a widely applicable, grounded context for the study of war. Its dual justification through both theological and natural law doctrines increases its accessibility and encourages the student of politics to talk about and rightly consider war. Our impoverished political dialogue cries out for nourishment, for something deeper than punditry. Christian Just War Theory offers us this lacking seriousness, and gives us more to work with than the emotions of the moment. In a time of great unrest and a reinvigoration of theological struggles between the Muslim world and the West, Christian Just War Theory's measured approach only gains in value and appeal.

Cannonball Read #48: Sweet and Low, by Rich Cohen

I never really know how to explain the part of my personality that makes me like books like this, but I usually wind up saying something like "I just really like...things." It's a little bit like that scene in Cocktail where Tom Cruise is all "some guy invented drink umbrellas and made a ZILLION DOLLARS," but more like "some guy thought of this and then made it happen. Why would you think of such a thing?" I must admit that Sweet and Low is not my favorite of the faux sweeteners, but the genesis of the product is fascinating if only for the way it fit in with sweeping changes in the American relationship with food.

Sweet and Low is an account of - surprise! - the family that created Sweet and Low and the individual packets that contain it. It's also about the American enthusiasm for dieting, individualism, mafia activity in New York, business, New York City, family dynamics, Jews and myriad other topics, all of which weave through the principle story of Sweet and Low and those little pink packets.

I think this book could have been either longer or shorter. Cohen tries to take on a lot here, connecting Sweet and Low to a massive number of topics, all of which are worthy of deeper analysis and many of which do in fact have entire research industries surrounding them. Part of making a book engaging is keeping your focus narrow enough that you can cover it comprehensively, and I don't think that needs to dictate your length, either. You could count either Michael Burleigh's The Third Reich which comes in at a brisk 992 pages in paperback or Immanuel Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals at an easily lose-able 79 pages as comprehensive works with a narrow focus. While all of the threads do come back to the main story, I was left wanting more detail on many of them.

Whenever the author of a book is directly related to the book's subject, the whole project enters a certain hazard zone. I think it's directly linked to the motive for writing the book, and there are only a few motives that don't interfere with the tone of the finished work. Cohen's book half succeeds at unbiased presentation because about half of his motivation is simple exploration. I suspect that the writing of this book began in a certain kind of...affrontedness, shall we say, stemming from his branch of the family being summarily excised from the Sweet and Low fortune. It is clear that his family history is extremely important to him, and that lineage has been important to his family generally for a very long time; the whole book is tied up in knots of family connections.

I feel that Cohen could ultimately have edited more closely for over-personal connections and fleshed out some of the historical context for the real ascendancy of the company. It's a good, quick read, but it did leave me wanting more information. I think that's a plus in the end, but it does relegate the work to a piece of a larger body as a historical document. As an interesting story about a quirky family written in brisk prose full of wit and verve however, Sweet and Low stands on its own two feet and earns your time easily.

288 pages

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cannonball Read #47: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte

I figured out what irritates me about Arturo Perez-Reverte. First, he needs to shake up his descriptions, particularly of women. When I read The Club Dumas there were times when I actually said out loud, like a crazy person, things like "holy CRAP yes, green eyes, tan skin, long legs, complete Lolita fantasy, I get it, GOD." There's certainly value in providing physical and emotional profiles of your characters, but rewording it occasionally is helpful. Ditto with the comparisons of people to animals...we get it. Wolflike. 10-4.

That's all mildly irritating, but the big problem I have with his writing is that he makes it seem like he's going to pull of these really fascinating connections between ancient artifacts and modern day events, and then in the end he makes it riiiiiiiiight up to what should be the big reveal, and then it turns out that it was just modern day people dicking around and being evil jerks. It's still interesting that way, but Perez-Reverte is a good enough writer that you get really excited about what you think he's going to pull off, only to be let down in the end. I want more out of his books because I think he can DO more in his books.

In the case of The Flanders Panel, the story surrounds a Flemish painting being restored by the Pure-Hearted Protagonist of the novel. In the process of the restoration, she discovers a hidden message in the painting, and embarks on a search for answers. The painting features a game of chess, and one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the eventual necessity of playing out the game portrayed. I don't know much about chess - not good chess, anyway - so seeing how it can all be played and reasoned out was fascinating. I must say that I was not wild about the way Perez-Reverte inserted pictures into the book, but I'm also not sure how else it could have been made accessible (an appendix?).

I'm going to put this one in the beach book category. It's not a bad book even though it suffers from the above mentioned crisis of direction, and it's a good lightish read while still requiring some brainpower to keep track of everything. Worth your time but not getting arrested for speeding on the way to the bookstore.

294 pages