Sunday, March 16, 2008

What I've Been Reading

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Summary: Fundamentalist Mormon brothers brutally murder their young sister-and-law and her infant daughter because God said so. Interesting history of a religion "invented" in 1830, and now practiced by over 12 million people. I fell asleep in the middle because I couldn't keep all the names straight (it was like reading Genesis: Adam had a son and named him Seth and lived for another 800 years, and then when Seth was 105 he became the father of Enosh, and so on), but it got better.

In Chapter Twenty-Three, one of the murderers is brought to court, and it must be determined whether he is mentally competent enough to stand trial. The defense team brings psychologists to say he is deranged; the prosecution brings psychologists to argue that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Whether Ron lived or died would hinge entirely on whether a jury could be convinced that his religious beliefs--including his certainty that God had commanded the removal of Brenda and Erica Lafferty--were not only sincerely held but also so extreme as to be a delusional artifact of a diseased mind.

Such a defense would unavoidably raise...difficult epistemological questions: if Ron Lafferty were deemed mentally ill because he obeyed the voice of God, isn't everyone who believes in God and seeks guidance through prayer mentally ill as well? In a democratic republic that aspires to protect religious freedom, who should have the right to declare that one person's irrational beliefs are legitimate and commendable, while another person's are crazy? How can a society actively promote religious faith on one hand and condemn a man for zealously adhering to his faith on the other?

Rolling Stone March 20 issue
"The Fabulous Fraudulent Life of Jocelyn and Ed"

Summary: Jocelyn and her boyfriend Ed make bogus IDs, steal their neighbors' identities and set up credit card accounts in their names, and spend over $100,000 traveling the world, which they document on MySpace. When Ed's boss sees how tan Ed is after taking "sick days," Ed is fired. Jocelyn gets caught writing bogus checks for her $2,000 hair extensions. When they are finally caught and arrested, she sobs and tells the police it's not true: her hair is real. The police bring in a hairdresser who examines her scalp and confirms that they are extensions.

Zoetrope Winter 2007
"The Stars Are Bright in Texas"

Summary: The recently bereaved go house hunting in Houston. Best short story I've read in months.

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