Taking Back Abstinence

(An excerpt from an editorial in the Daily Princetonian by Charlottesville native Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Cristina Stanojevich. See link to full article below.)

“YOU’RE not religious. Why should you be abstinent?”

Or: “Abstinence is just for conservatives. You probably also think gay people shouldn’t get married.”

Or, even better: “Abstinence is just an excuse because you’re not getting any.”

At various points during our Princeton careers, we’ve both had periods of abstinence and heard these pieces of wisdom. We both have had sex before marriage (assuming we do marry); one of us doesn’t have sex outside of committed relationships, and the other has spent part of her college career with the active decision to abstain. Abstinence, for both of us, was an important personal choice. It was temporary, but it allowed us to respect our bodies and our boundaries and to make sure that when we did have sex, it was the sex we wanted to be having.

Abstinence seemed logical and not particularly unusual. But our friends were still confused about and sometimes antagonistic toward our terminology. Our use of the word “abstinence” to describe our decisions was often the launching point for a series of assumptions about our political beliefs, our ethical values and our religious traditions. And when we tried to separate abstinence from chastity, we got blank stares.

Abstinence is at the center of a storm of controversy over our campus sexual ethic, but we all seem to be surprisingly ignorant about the different forms it can take. For example, abstinence and chastity are not synonymous. Celibacy, a word that is often invoked somewhat confusedly in these conversations, has even less to do with abstinence. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, chastity is “purity from unlawful intercourse,” while celibacy is the “state of living unmarried.” Both of these ethics imply a moral choice, a view of some forms of sex as categorically impure.

By contrast, abstinence doesn’t need to be connected to sex — you can abstain from doing anything, for any reason. It’s a simple “no” — without moral implications. You can be abstinent for a weekend. You can be abstinent after being in a sexual relationship. You can choose to be abstinent at any point in your life. As a college student, you can be abstinent knowing that you will probably have sex before marriage.

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‘The Hour,’ Famous Cocktail Guide, Is Reissued

IN days of yore, American men were expected to have opinions about drink. A signature cocktail, and how to mix it, mattered. It was part of the male identity, like the ability to grill meat or change a carburetor.

It was in this spirit that the literary critic Bernard DeVoto wrote a curious book, “The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto.” First published in 1948, it has long been regarded as a classic, one of the first attempts to formulate a philosophy of the cocktail. It has been out of print for decades, but Tin House Books has just reissued it, and now, modern readers can recapture that moment from the middle of last century, when calibrating a martini was theology, not mixology.

Mr. DeVoto, a Mark Twain scholar and the longtime resident of the “Easy Chair” column in Harper’s, lays down the law in words of fire, banishing all manner of mixed drinks to outer darkness, lamenting the perversion of national taste during Prohibition and flailing away indiscriminately at just about any target crossing his sightlines.

Strait is the gate and narrow is the way to Mr. DeVoto’s magic cocktail kingdom. He abhors rum, because rum drinks require fruit juice, pure poison to any cocktail. Public enemy number one, in this regard, is the Bronx, a mixture of gin , vermouth and orange juice that, for Mr. DeVoto, ushered in the Orange Blossom and its ilk, so prominent during Prohibition.

So the Bronx is out. And so, astonishingly, is the Manhattan — “an offense against piety” because it has vermouth. “With dry vermouth it is disreputable, with sweet vermouth disgusting.” The daiquiri he dismisses as “a regressive fantasy.” Hot drinks are verboten. Scotch is an abomination. The list goes on and on.

In fact, Mr. DeVoto shrinks the cocktail universe to two drinks: “a slug of whiskey” and the martini. The first, of course, is not even a mixed drink. The second he surrounds with more caveats and fine-print instructions than a car-repair manual.

First, no olives or onions or orange bitters. The martini can be shaken or stirred, but no ice particles should enter the drink. The strainer must be perforated, not encircled by a coiled wire. Only American gin is permissible. The drink should not be premixed and stored in a refrigerator, lest “the fragile tie of ecstasy” be snapped. You may hum, but not whistle, as you make the drink, which must be consumed in the city, for it is essentially an urban cocktail. In a spasm of gender generosity, Mr. DeVoto states outright that there is no reason why a woman cannot mix a proper martini.

And the proportions? Mr. DeVoto, mortal enemy of sweet drinks, calls for a ratio of 3.7 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, with an upper limit of just over four to one. This is not a dry martini by modern standards, but in his day, when a half-and-half martini was common, this rates as arid. The finishing touch is two drops of lemon oil squeezed from a piece of rind, which may be deposited in the drink as long as it has no pith.

Mr. DeVoto’s text is part Fourth of July oration, part sermon, part St. Crispin’s Day speech. It is written in the mock-heroic style favored by writers for The American Mercury — see Herbert Asbury’s extended introduction to Jerry Thomas ’s “Bon Vivant’s Companion” — and two-fisted drink columnists like Esquire’s Murdock Pemberton. It can be hard to take.

“This is the violet hour,” Mr. DeVoto writes of that magic moment, 6 p.m., alluded to in the title. It is “the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.”

A little of this goes a long way. But when he emerges from the empurpled shades, Mr. DeVoto does deliver some very funny send-ups of cocktail recipes in cookbooks (still pertinent) and the “laff-riot” accessories that filled suburban home bars — the nudie bottle stoppers, the signs reading “Danger — Hangover Under Construction.”

Yes, he bans 90 percent of drink culture as we know it. But someone has to hold up standards. As he says when banishing punch, “Well, you asked for a ruling.”


Eliot’s The Waste Land

by O. Strom

MODERNISM is defined as “a modern artistic or literary philosophy and practice; especially a self-conscious break with the past and a search for new forms of expression.”

A supreme example of modernism (and its founding text for that matter) is T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

The Waste Land shows how imagism transitioned into modernism and created a portrait of a failed modern society. Eliot considered his contemporary society to be hypocritical and to have moved so far away from its spiritual and cultural roots as to have lost all moral value.

The poem is full of broken, disjointed and otherwise unrelated slices of imagery that come together to form a disjunctive anti-narrative. The motif of sight and vision is as central to the poem as it is to modernism; the omnipresent character Tiresias acting as a unifying theme (Tiresias was a blind prophet of Greek mythology). The reader is thrown into uncertainty, unable to see anything but a heap of ruined images. The narrator, however, promises to show the reader a different meaning; that is, how to make sense out of dislocation and fragmentation. This construction of an exclusive meaning is vital to modernism. The poem shifts between satire and prophecy, and is dedicated to his fellow poet, friend and masterful editor, Ezra Pound.

The style is similar to a dramatic monologue like that found in some of Eliot’s earlier work such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The poem is full of historical allusions including quotes and famous short sayings in foreign languages (Latin, Greek, Italian, German, etc.)

It is written in five parts:

  1. The Burial of the Dead
  2. A Game of Chess
  3. The Fire Sermon
  4. Death by Water
  5. What the Thunder Said

These five parts are a meditation on the state of Western civilization, especially concerning the sense of despair, waste, and ineffectiveness of the post-World War I era; the poem blends descriptions of contemporary life with literary allusions and quotations, religious symbolism, and references to ancient and medieval cultures and mythologies, vegetation and fertility rites, as well as Eastern religions and philosophies; the poem emphasizes themes of barrenness and wretchedness and portrays a dying society, but the ending suggests hope of redemption through concepts and images grounded on the synthesis of Christian and Eastern (Hindu/Buddhist/Taoist) spirituality. Although it is debated as to whether Eliot wrote the poem as a collection of five separate poems or one long one in five “parts.”

The tone reflects the experiences of a man who lived through World War I. It is best summarized in the poem itself, and in part of the dedication to Ezra Pound, “For once I saw with my own eyes the Cumean Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her, ‘Sibyl, what do you want?’ she answered, ‘I want to die.’” (a Latin and Greek epigraph from The Satyricon of Petronius).

The poem begins with its most famous line, “April is the cruellest month, breeding  Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing  Memory and desire, stirring  Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding  A little life with dried tubers.” The poem describes the world as dead, dying, full of shadows and suffering. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” and “…A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,  And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,  And the dry stone no sound of water. Only  There is shadow under this red rock,…”

The poem ends with “Shantih shantih shantih,” a Sanskrit mantra. Interestingly enough, Eliot had studied Indian philosophy and Sanskrit at Harvard University about ten years prior to publishing this poem.

The poem has many speakers of undefined quantity, each making seemingly true but conflicting statements. This creates a paradox of sorts. This is a modernist theme along the lines of this: Each individual has a unique identity, yet they are able to connect to each other, albeit only temporarily. However, as seen in events such as the Great War, human society is often extremely defective. The title itself, The Waste Land, (although originally titled He do the Policemen in Different Voices which is a reference to a Dickens novel) is a metaphor for the worth of modern culture.

“The Burial of the Dead” serves as the title of Eliot’s first section and is an allusion to the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of the Church of England — and several other biblical allusions. The second section of “The Burial of the Dead” shifts from the voice of the powerless Marie and becomes the voice of the narrator. The first twelve lines of this section include three Old Testament allusions, and the narrator finds himself in a summer drought that has transformed the land into a desert. He is referred to as the “Son of man,” a title common in the Hebrew Bible, sometimes applied to denote any man — i.e. son of man = human — but sometimes also used to single out a specific man, for example Ezekiel, who was called upon by God to warn Israel to repent of their idolatry. It is also a title used in the New Testament, notably by Jesus when referring to himself, speaking of his coming death and apocalyptic return, or when making prophetic predictions of judgment to come (e.g. Gospel of Mark 10:32-34, Gospel of Matthew 20:17-19; Gospel of Luke 18:31-34 and Mark 8:38-9:1, Matthew 16:27-28, Luke 9:26-27, etc.).

In Ezekiel, God finally tells the prophet that Israel will not change; therefore, their altars will be desolate, images broken, and their cities will lay in waste. In the book of Ecclesiastes, God warns the Jewish people that they should remember the days of their youth, for in their old age “fears shall be in the way” and “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was” (Authorized King James Version, Ezekiel 6:4, Ecclesiastes 12:5-7). One critic, Gish, analyzes these allusions by writing, “Dead land, broken images, fear and dust, all take on the significance of human failure” (50). After such a depressing sequence of events, the narrator is offered shelter under a mysterious “red rock” which is an allusion to Isaiah’s reference to the coming Messiah who will be “as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2).

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Islamic Finance Course at CFA

ACCORDING TO Arab News, the Charlottesville, Virginia-based CFA Institute will soon be offering a curriculum that includes “Islamic Finance.” The Institute has offices around the globe and promotes transparency, fairness, and ethical standards in the financial industry.

For religious reasons, Islamic societies traditionally forbid practices that are common in Western economies: the taking of interest on loans or the creation of money as interest-bearing debt, as practiced daily by commercial banks and central banks like the Bank of England in the UK or the Federal Reserve here in the United States.


Nosferatu: A Film Analysis

by O. Strom

NOSFERATU is a silent, German expressionist film made in the early 1920s. It was directed by F.W. Murnau with cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner and Günther Krampf, starring Max Schreck as Count Orlok and Gustav von Wangenheim as Thomas Hutter. It is based on Bram Stoker’s book Dracula, although the names and a few other details were changed because the studio was unable to obtain the rights to the novel. The story involves Thomas Hutter’s (Jonathan Harker) encounter with a “nosferatu” (vampire) named Count Orlok (Dracula) whom he meets at the Count’s castle in Transylvania. He is sent to the castle to negotiate the Count’s purchase of a house in Wisborg, were Hutter lives.

Nosferatu is a gothic horror film that would influence later Dracula productions, and the actual legend of vampires as well (it introduced the idea that vampires fear and can be destroyed by the Sun). It is considered by some to be the greatest adaptation of Dracula.

The photography in Nosferatu is highly influenced by the German Expressionist Movement and is very symbolic and stylized. This is what makes it one of the creepiest of the genre. The photography, for the most part, enhances the story. For instance, almost the entire film is shot in low key which adds to the eerie mood Murnau is trying to convey. Low key is used except for the few pleasant scenes like the pretty German countryside seen before entering Orlok’s castle — which is used for a contrast to the ominous building. Many shots are also in high contrast. Count Orlok is often shot in high contrast which emphasizes his pale hideous face and long, claw-like hands against the shadows and his dark clothing. This might also be used to symbolize the relationship of light and dark. Another thing I noticed was that Murnau barely uses any camera movement in the entire film; in fact the shots are rather simple, with most being full shots. There are some long shots and establishing shots that give the setting, but few close-ups. He does use a some point of view shots when characters are looking out of windows. However he uses a low-angle shot on the ship where we see Orlok waking on the mast, and some great close-ups of the Count in his coffin — and those terrible rats coming out of every little hole. When the townspeople are chasing Hutter’s employer (who is under the control of Orlok) he uses a high-angle shot that shows the entire street full of angry people between the houses.

There are also some surprisingly good special effects. Stop-motion animation is used in the carriage ride and other scenes to represent some sort of demonic speed, a pretty “creepy” effect. In that same scene he inverts the negative (switching the darks and lights) which adds to the other-worldly feeling of Orlok’s land. He also uses superimposition to create a ghost-like image of Orlok a couple of times, as when he is destroyed by the Sun and turns into mist and smoke. All of these effects and shots enhance the film, but the shots that stand out most to me are the silhouetted ones of Count Orlok preying upon his victims in the night. The shadow of the twisted, stiff, and distorted figure of Orlok with those long, skeleton-like claws is a really powerful image. You see the outline of his hands climb up and wrap around his victim like a spiders’ web. This iconic image is what I always remember about this film, along with the general image of Orlok/Dracula which is different than the modern-day interpretation. The only thing that was a bit confusing was telling what time of day it was — as even the night scene were rather bright.

In conclusion, I would say that the photography is what makes Nosferatu a great movie. Since it is silent, the cinematography plays a much bigger role in setting the mood and invoking emotions than it does in talking films. Murnau, Wagner, and Krampf did a good job bringing this story to life. Using photography, good settings, and skilled actors they created a believable world and a most menacing monster. This uniquely Expressionist and symbolic film will not only remain a classic of its genre but also a major achievement of F.W. Murnau, a great director, and a disturbing film too — as it was intended to be.


WNRN: the Good and the Bad

by Garet G. Sarkisian

WNRN is an independent, non-commercial radio station in Charlottesville, 91.9 on the FM dial — and I really love its main programming staple, modern rock. Modern rock (sometimes called alternative or indie rock) is the negation of all the commercialized trends in popular music since disco.

It’s sustained mainly by small businesses — recording studios, record stores, small venues, alternate ‘Net-based distro schemes — and for the most part disconnected from big multinational corporations.

Modern rock proponents might not like to admit it, but their genre marks a return to melody and refined emotions (coupled with rock’s tremendous dynamic energy) — quite at odds with the big music corporations’ attempt to merge rock with the crudest kinds of rap and hip-hop.

Many’s the time that listening to WNRN has opened my mind to new artists, new bands, and new lyricists, which I’ve later explored in detail. In fact, WNRN is my guide to what’s new and worthwhile in pop music, and guides my music purchases and explorations of Shareaza and other peer-to-peer networks (hey, I do like to try before I buy — and WNRN focuses my efforts).

But I think they need to do a couple of things better. I’d really like it if they dropped the hip-hop stuff they play late on weekends. It doesn’t fit, and other stations do that better anyway. And I wish they’d quit compressing and clipping the hell out of their audio — it sounds even more compressed than the commercial stations in town, and that’s too compressed, taking away the sweetness of the CD sound and removing too much of the dynamic range. They should take a page out of WTJU’s engineering book and back way off on the audio processing and turn off the clipping altogether. WTJU (91.1 FM) sounds like a high-fidelity stereo dream, even on my high-end German headphones, and their audio is still plenty loud to give them great coverage with only 600 Watts of power.

WNRN’s online audio stream isn’t particularly wide bandwidth, either.

But enough of the criticism. WNRN obviously cares about the music. They were first in the field — and are still ahead of the Modern Rock curve. They’ve built an impressive network with simulcast stations in Waynesboro, Lovingston, Lynchburg, Lexington, Richmond, Harrisonburg, and Staunton. They subsist on donations, not commercials or big-media bankrolls.  They’re good at what they do. Enjoy some new music and tune them in. And send them a few rapidly-depreciating Obama dollars if you like what you hear.

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WINA: Why No Live Feed?

by Garet G. Sarkisian

YOU KNOW, I really like WINA radio, AM 1070 in Charlottesville. They have a variety of views represented — not just one solid phalanx of party hacks like WCHV or that “progressive” station on 1450. They have the most complete local news. And when bad weather strikes, they get on the ball fast with live reports on conditions so my family and I can stay as safe as possible.

But why, oh why don’t they have a live streaming feed of their station on their Web site, or anywhere on the Internet? (Yes, they have podcasts of some of their shows, but that is definitely not the same thing — for one thing, podcasts aren’t live.)

After all, they are an AM-only station, and with the rising tide of noise on the AM band from CFL lamps to switching power supplies to computer monitors, there are many places (especially my office) where the AM signal is just plain painful to listen to. Or inaudible. And, like many AM stations, they reduce their power at night. In some areas of the county, they might as well sign off at night considering how weak their signal gets.

All of these problems could be instantly solved if WINA streamed their programming live on the ‘Net. I could listen to them on my desktop or laptop anywhere in the city or county — or, for that matter, in Rome or Peru or Afghanistan — and have absolutely perfect reception. I could use free software to record the programs to listen to later on my iPod.

So, please, WINA, grant my wish: start streaming your excellent station on the Web!