I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.

Things I Like: Dexter

The blog has been a little heavy the last couple of days — fascinating, and I’m loving it, but heavy — and I have a couple of heavy-ish posts planned for the coming couple/ few days. So I’m taking a moment to indulge in my new “Things I Like” series. In the interest of fending off incipient crankhood, I am making a conscious effort to occasionally write something positive about things I like. Here’s one of them.

Dexter-dvd
It’s not just that it’s well- written and well- acted. It’s not just that it’s a fascinating character study. It’s not just that it manages to be both seriously grisly and seriously funny (a combination that I’m almost always fond of).

Here’s what I like about “Dexter.”

(The Showtime series where the protagonist is a sociopathic serial killer who works as a blood spatter analyst for the cops and only kills murderers. For those who aren’t familiar.)

When I tried to get Ingrid interested in the show, she watched one episode and argued through it the whole way. Ingrid is something of an aficionado of true crime, and something of an amateur expert (if that makes sense) about sociopathic serial killers. Which is what made me think she’d like the show. But throughout it she just kept arguing, “No sociopathic serial killer would be like that. No sociopathic serial killer would care about whether the people he killed were good or bad. No sociopathic serial killer would care about some code his policeman father taught him. That’s what makes them sociopaths. They don’t care about right or wrong, and they don’t care what other people think. They think of themselves as above all that.”

A fair critique, and one I can certainly understand. After all, if I were watching a TV drama series on a topic I knew and cared a lot about — sex toys, say, or atheism — I’d probably give up on it myself if it got the basic facts about its subject so very wrong.

But her critique made me think about what it is I like so much about the show, and why I like it despite its lack of realism.

I don’t watch “Dexter” as an exploration of human nature.

I watch it as a truly astonishing narrative exercise.

Dexter1
The exercise: Can you make an audience care about a serial killer? Can you make them root for him? Can you make them sympathize with him, identify with him, want him to do well? Can you even make them sympathize enough with him that they want him to get what he wants… which is to kill people, and keep on killing people?

And the answer, astonishingly, is Yes.

I like Dexter. The character, I mean, as well as the show. Watching the show, I find myself on the edge of my seat, hoping that he’ll be able to go through with this next murder, that he’ll be able to hide the evidence, that he’ll be able to successfully frame someone else for it, that he’ll be able to get away with it.

Which is an intensely compelling, if somewhat unsettling, experience. And it’s an amazing achievement in narrative.

Freaks talk back
There’s a book called Freaks Talk Back, about sexual non-conformity and tabloid talk shows. (No, this isn’t a tangent — stay with me.) I haven’t read it, but Ingrid has, and she’s told me many of the interesting bits from it. And one of them is this bit of fascinating information: The best predictive factor in determining whether a talk show audience will be with you or against you, cheering and hollering “You go, girl!” or booing and cussing you out? It’s nothing at all to do with your story. It’s whether you get to tell your story first. Whoever gets to tell their story first gets the audience on their side.

The character of Dexter gets to tell his story first. The show is almost all from his point of view, with his internal monologue narrating the proceedings. And so he gets you on his side.

Then, of course, you have the whole “he only kills bad people” thing. He kills people you have no sympathy for. He kills people you’re actively repulsed by. He kills people you yourself might want to kill, or at least feel a desire to kill, even though of course you wouldn’t. And that turns down the volume on the moral revulsion as well.

And then you throw in Dexter’s horrible childhood trauma. I won’t describe it, in case you haven’t seen the show yet, but suffice to say: Horrible. Makes you feel sorry for him. Makes you feel like maybe he can’t help being who he is, and doing what he does.

Dexter foot
All this — plus the pure likability of lead actor Michael C. Hall (of “Six Feet Under” fame) — and you get a likable, sympathetic protagonist who kills people for pleasure, in a truly gruesome way, and then cuts up their bodies and dumps them in the harbor.

I may be making it sound as if watching it were a cool exercise in aesthetic appreciation. But it’s more powerful than that. It’s not like I’m sitting back going, “Hm, this is interesting, I’m sympathizing with this character even while I’m finding him reprehensible and repugnant.” It’s more like I’m feeling both of these emotions at the same time: the compassion and the repulsion, the fervent hope for him to succeed and the fervent hope for him to drop off the face of the earth.

It’s unsettling as hell. But it’s also weirdly enlivening. It makes me question, and pay attention to, what I’m feeling. It takes the standards of the sympathetic- hero narrative and uses them to twist your emotions. Thus making you question, not just your emotions, but the narrative standards as well.

And that’s just neat.

Dexter blood spatter
It’s not a perfect series. It has a tendency — all too common on TV drama serieses — to throw too many curveballs at once, substituting lots of big dramatic moments for actual drama. And some of the inaccuracies bug me as well… like the ones about recovered memory. But ultimately, I don’t care. It’s clever, and it’s well-made, and it’s vastly entertaining, and it totally screws with the assumptions we make about what stories are supposed to be like and how they’re supposed to go. And it is, above all else, unique.

And that’s good enough for me.

(Dexter Seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD, for purchase or rental; Season 3 starts on Sept. 28.)

Things I Like: Santa Fe

In the interest of fending off incipient crankhood and occasionally writing something positive and not critical, I am hereby inaugurating the “Things I Like” series. Ingrid and I were in Santa Fe recently for a family gathering: I was very struck by the city, which I’d never seen before, so I’m going to start there.

Santa fe
Santa Fe completely surprised me. In the course of about three days, it went from a city that I had almost no feelings or opinions about whatsoever, to one of my very favorite cities and a place I’m dying to go back to. Mostly because (a) it’s extremely beautiful, and (b) it’s extremely beautiful in a way that I’m not at all familiar with.

Most beautiful cities I know are beautiful in a pretty similar way: sparkly lights, magnificent towering architecture, gingerbready Edwardian/ Victorian/ Georgian houses with lots of fiddly little details. Santa Fe is beautiful in a completely different way from that. The architecture is simple, yet striking and distinctive: all smooth surfaces and rounded corners, with a style that seems both space-agey and incredibly ancient.

Santa fe 1And it’s uniquely harmonious with its natural surroundings. I’ve never in my life seen a city that seemed so much like a natural outgrowth of the land: like a geological formation, or an odd form of plant life.

Plus it’s lousy with museums, and the food kicks ass.

A few high points:

Mxmusicians
The Museum of International Folk Art. The main gallery of this place is simply astonishing. It’s an immense, insane, exuberant jumble of brilliantly colorful folk art from every part of the world. The displays are set up less like standard museum displays and more like dioramas, giving them a look that’s alive and welcoming. Many of the displays aren’t even organized by country, but by theme — toy trains from around the world, or fake food, or angels and devils — again, giving it a feel that’s less like a museum and more like a visual version of a mix tape.

And just when you think you’re done, you look up, and you see more art hanging over your head.

It’s a subsuming, overwhelming experience, one that completely envelops you in astonishing, hilarious, wildly inventive, brilliant beauty. It made me want to laugh out loud the second I walked in, and made me want to applaud when I left.

Cup-of-chocolate
Kakawa Chocolate House. This is the chocolate shop that makes me want to spit on all other chocolate. It’s almost more like a living museum of chocolate history, recreating hot chocolate drinks from both European and Aztec history. You have to be adventurous — the flavors are spicy and strong and often quite unusual, with flavorings like chili, agave, pepper, rose, orange blossom, and cardamom. Ditto the truffles. Let me put it this way: our favorite truffle was the rosemary.

It may sound weird. But it completely works. The chocolate — both in hot chocolate and truffle form — is intense and vivid, yet delicately balanced. It’s chocolate that makes you sit up and pay attention, chocolate that makes you savor it, chocolate that reminds you that you’re alive. It was chocolate with the power to astonish and delight. It was a completely unique experience.

Ghost ranch 2Ghost Ranch. Not so much the center itself, which was closed the day we were there. But the landscape in the area was a revelation. Like the city of Santa Fe, it was not only beautiful — it was beautiful in a wonderfully unfamiliar way. It wasn’t the beauty of lushness, of green forests and mountains and oceans. It was starker, and stranger, almost like another planet. I could see why so many artists get so ga-ga about the place. It looked like it had been sculpted and painted. It was magnificent.

Four stars. Greta-Bob says check it out.