. . . with the productions of time.
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.
For $30 you can download 18 hours of audio recordings of Paul Zahl talking about his wonderful book Grace In Practice. I just downloaded my copy and can’t wait to start listening.
You can buy the download here — Notes From the Underground (River): A Course in Grace In Practice.
Today, prosecutor Juan Martinez finished up his cross-examination of Jodi Arias in her first-degree murder trial. He continued badgering her, asking ambiguous or compound questions that allowed him to jump on her, like a rabid ferret, whichever way she answered.
I’m not sure what his strategy was — the technique was crude and blatantly unfair, but perhaps he was hoping to provoke her into a dramatic display of anger or arrogance. Instead, when he showed her, yet again, photographs of the corpse of Travis Alexander, the man she’s accused of killing, with premeditation, she fell apart weeping.
Then he said, “Were you crying when you were shooting him? Were you crying when you were stabbing him? How about when you cut his throat, were you crying then?”
It was a powerful moment, but will it piss off female members of the jury, arousing sympathy for Arias? There’s no way she will be acquitted, but could female jurors hang the jury — or, more likely, refuse to vote for the death penalty?
We can’t see the jurors in the live feed of the trial — Martinez and his team can. He seems like a very smart guy, and maybe he knew what he was doing.
We shall see.
It may just be the presumption of a fiction writer, but I feel I have a pretty good idea of how and why Jodi Arias happened to kill her sometime lover Travis Alexander on 4 June 2008, for which killing she is now on trial for her life.
My theory differs from the prosecution’s and from Arias’s explanation of the event.
If Arias were just a textbook psychopath, or a pathological narcissist, she wouldn’t be very interesting. She certainly has psychopathic and narcissistic qualities, but she seems more convoluted than that. She has an unrealistic sense of her own cleverness — at one point she planned to conduct her own defense at trial — but this seems to mask an insecurity about herself which is very close to the surface of her consciousness, which is not the case with a classic psychopath.
Her psyche, insofar as it can be read from her writings and from photographic and audio evidence dating from before the killing, seems fragile, unstable. She adopts one of three poses — a shy, serious one for public consumption, a bubbly, Barbie-like one for her courting behavior and an aggressive sexual one for private display to men.
All three personae got Alexander’s attention and led to a relationship. Publicly she followed him into the Mormon church and into one of his dodgy business ventures. She played a ditzy, adoring blonde in their courting rituals. Privately, she indulged his sometimes kinky sexual fantasies enthusiastically, despite the fact that they were both breaking the Mormon “vow of chastity”.
I don’t feel that she had much psychic investment in any of these personae — they were adopted to get what she wanted, which was basically a marriage proposal from Alexander. Alexander was, however, an intensely self-involved boy-man. He accepted Arias’s subservience as his due, enjoyed it but did not take it seriously — although he occasionally pretended to.
Arias developed a tremendous sense of shame and rage over this, and a kind of bewilderment at the fact that all her ingenious stratagems were useless. Beyond shame and rage I think there was something more profound — a sense of existential nullity. Alexander made her feel, ultimately, like nothing.
She broke up with him, watched him start to become involved with another woman (Mimi Hall, above) who seems to have had more self-possession, less need to defer to his ego and sexual demands, and Arias moved away from the town where she and Alexander were living.
She tried to put it all behind her — but she couldn’t. She heard that Alexander was taking his new flame to Cancun, and she snapped. Ironically, the new flame she envied had no serious interest in Alexander — the Cancun trip was strictly chaperoned and would not have involved physical intimacy. But to Arias the new flame was hot, kept her personal dignity intact, and was still about to end up with the prize that belonged by right to Arias — Travis Alexander — a prize she had given up so much of her self to attain.
Arias stole a gun from her grandparents home where she was living in California (this is a fact in dispute, but I think it’s probably correct) and drove to Alexander’s home in Arizona. I believe she was going to give him one last chance — try to win him back or kill him, so no one else could claim her prize.
In Arizona, Arias submitted to Alexander’s sexual demands, did her best to reclaim him, and failed. Alexander had been working out to look his best in Cancun and, in his relentless narcissism, wanted Arias to photograph his newly sculpted body. She suggested that the photographs be taken in his shower.
She snapped a series of photographs of him, probably becoming more and more furious, grabbed a gun or a knife (the order of the attacks is also in dispute) and inflicted several fatal wounds to him, in a blind fury. At this point, she didn’t just want him dead, she wanted him obliterated, she wanted his new body ruined — she wanted to turn him into meat.
Partly this was payback for the unflattering nude photographs he had taken of her earlier in the afternoon, pictures that are, with one exception, dehumanizing and shaming. She had shaved her crotch for him and braided her hair, because he liked to fantasize about sex with little girls. Earlier she had gotten a boob job to be more voluptuous. He still saw her as meat. Now he was meat.
In some twisted way she had reclaimed her existential substance — which he had stolen from her. If she now has to pay for this act with her life, I suspect she will still consider it a good enough bargain. She was already dead when she committed the act — dead without dignity. Now she can meet what will probably seem to her a nobler kind of end.
Psychologically, Arias is a very sick woman. Mythologically, however, she has a kind of emblematic stature. She is an American Medea.
In some ways the photographs taken on the day of Alexander’s death sum everything up. These two people were twenty-somethings who photographed themselves and each other obsessively. Arias had dreams of becoming a professional photographer. She had submitted to the nude photographs reluctantly — one final instance of deferring to Alexander’s sexual fantasies.
He had wanted the results of his recent work-outs documented in photographs. He got Arias to photograph the booty that she assumed would become the property of Mimi Hall. After she killed him, Arias accidentally — apparently by stepping on the upside down camera which had fallen to the floor — snapped pictures of herself dragging Alexander’s corpse across the bathroom tiles.
She deleted all these photographs before she left Alexander’s home but they were still there, in unallocated sectors on the camera’s memory stick, not yet overwritten, and the police were able to recover them. They were time-stamped and date-stamped. They cracked the case.
There was DNA evidence of Arias’s presence at the scene, but she had spent a lot of time at Alexander’s home and this evidence might have been successfully disputed by the defense. There was no disputing the photographs. That memory stick, like a recording angel, told most of the story and placed Arias at the scene precisely when the killing took place.
This is the last photograph Arias took of Alexander while he was alive, after which she stabbed and shot him in various locations around the bathroom and its adjoining hallway, presumably as he staggered around trying to get away from her:
This is the photograph she took inadvertently when she was dragging his corpse back to the shower:
Less than two minutes had elapsed between the two images. What happened in those two minutes is ultimately unrecoverable, all but unthinkable, and should be left undisturbed on God’s memory stick..
The Jodi Arias trial can be read as the great, sad, banal epic of our time. It involves a lot of sensational material — the sex lives of Mormon youth, the unbelievably savage killing of a young man by his sometime lover, an attractive and intelligent young woman — but what’s riveting is the context brought forth in the trial evidence and testimony. This context delivers a portrait of people making a massive digital record of their lives, lives that seem less and less substantial, more and more bewildered and aimless, the more we learn about them.
It’s profound — public theater on a par with the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings and the O. J. Simpson trail but involving ordinary middle-class people leading ordinary middle-class lives, which are revealed as utterly devastating in their existential emptiness and hopelessness.
It’s all in the details, though, in the vast accumulation of details — snippets of the sensational revelations give no idea of what this trial has to tell us. Not even the greatest of novelists, with the possible exception of Tolstoy, could convey it with the same authority, insight and impact.
There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you will never get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.
– Robert Jordan, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Click on the image to enlarge.
If you’ve reached the age of sixty, you’ve lived long enough. You’ve lived twenty years longer than John Lennon, two years longer than George Harrison. If you’re sixty, you need to start thinking about how you’re going to take your leave of this world — something George Harrison started thinking about long before he died at fifty-eight.
At sixty, you’ve tasted joys in this world beyond imagining — making love, doing good work of one sort or another, for at least a few moments, seeing awesome wonders, like the Grand Canyon or The Empire State Building or Willie Mays playing center field. It’s more than you ever deserved — so start thinking about checking out with some grace and gratitude.
Click on the image to enlarge.
I love Christmas, because it’s a holiday that celebrates the birth of a child, one of the reliably hopeful events in a wicked and horrific world, bringing a message of joy and peace in spite of all.
But the context of the Christmas story is very grim. It involves a mother forced to give birth in a barn because there’s no room for her at the local inn. It’s followed soon by a massacre of infants by the crazed king of the region, fearful that one of those infants will grow up to depose him. The child born in the barn will instead grow up to be murdered for no good reason by another set of tyrants, deposing temporal authority only metaphorically.
Christmas is not a time to forget the horrors of the world. It’s a time to be cheerful in the face of the world’s horrors — in the face of the Sandy Hook murders, and the drone strikes that kill little children in far-off lands, whose funerals are not covered by CNN, and the cowardice and meanness of our leaders. It is a defiance of all those things — just as the birth of a child is a defiance of all those things.
Click on the images to enlarge.
. . . somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.
With friends like this, Christianity doesn’t need enemies. It will continue its quietly efficient decline into irrelevance all on its own, until it’s just an unpleasant memory in human history. If that does happen, it will be further proof that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. God doesn’t kill little children to endorse the psychotic self-righteousness of dicks like James Dobson.
Dobson, by the way, isn’t some lone Christian maniac. Time magazine once called him “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader” and he once hosted a radio program that reached an audience in excess of 200 million listeners worldwide. His brand of religious hooey is the face of Christianity to millions today for a reason.
The Church Of England voted this week not to allow women to serve as bishops. This is the church’s way of saying, “We are a rotting ambulatory zombie corpse — someone please put us out of our misery.”
Kindle pricing by the publishing industry is the industry’s way of saying, “We are a rotting ambulatory zombie corpse — someone please put us out of our misery.” (With thanks to Ray Sawhill . . .)
I just paid a premium price of $17 to see a moderately entertaining movie on a modestly-sized IMAX screen. This is Hollywood’s way of saying, “We are a rotting ambulatory zombie corpse — someone please put us out of our misery.”