Saturday, December 27, 2008

Late Morning, Before The Memorial Service by Anthony McCarthy

Walking down the hall you don’t recognize the students automatically going to where they’re going. You think one might recognize you but you must be mistaken. The smile that could have been a smirk is gone into 208 as fast as you recognized it. They think you’re an older student taking music appreciation and are surprised, on reflection to find it makes you burn.

It feels strange but you know the way as well as any of them, you were a star here, an honor student, now a strange face to be ignored or wondered at.

Suddenly a teacher you had comes from a door, double takes and smiles. Oh, what brings you ... Of course, the memorial service

I’ve been asked to play a piece. .
Of course. You were close.
Well, we were. We talked on the phone once in a while. Hadn’t seen him in years.
You both liked modern music.
What are you doing now?
Teaching, private lessons.
Oh. She’s embarrassed at the modest outcome of your life. Well, speaking of that,.... I’ve got to get to class.
Of course.
See you later.

ou nod, she goes. The door closes. * OK, let’s get started.....* her conductor’s voice muffled through the door. You go on.

Someone upstairs is playing scales on a bass brass instrument. You go up and see the walls still the same ugly color they were. Unfamiliar posters and names on faculty offices. You remember a student who you’d known when you went here was one, only she’s gone now too. You wonder if that same awful piano is in the practice room on the end. It’s not.

How many days were there in a semester back then? You don’t have any idea, then there were the days during the summer you stayed here and practiced, got a job at the hardware store. It’s not there, you noticed on your way in. You go to the fire escape and look out over the campus. It’s an old building. You wonder how many students, most of them dead, you imagine, stood here and looked out.

Looking at your watch you’ve got to get down stairs to see the department chair to get the details of the service. See if what you chose was short enough. Minor Seconds, Major Sevenths. He taught it to you, told you to play those scale fragments more lightly, said you were a natural Bartok player.

He’s tall and smiling, a young department chair, affable enough, though someone you don’t know. He's intrigued with your choice, has good people skills. He says it's a good length.

The secretary is different. You wonder if V’s still alive, retired somewhere. She was always the one who ran the place back then.

Looking Back. Perhaps Living For A Time by Anthony McCarthy

The plan was to start today with a review of the Bush regime and its crimes, with a call to fully air those, punish the criminals and to recover as much of what was stolen as possible. The shortcomings and incompetence of Condi Rice was going to be among the first items. Along with her singularly incompetent performance as National Security Advisor, the war in Lebanon during her term as Secretary of State were going to figure in the piece. Then, this morning, I heard the news about the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. In passing, the news reader casually mentioned that about140 people were believed to have been killed, including children. This article in the NYT gives more details about what happened. 2&hp

I’ve decided to repost this piece from my old blog, written in August 2006. The Middle East is the third rail on leftist blogs, seldom written about because it’s so complex and the anger and accusations resulting from any attempt to discuss the issues involved are as certain as the violence at the end of a six-month cease fire. Those accusations of anti-Semitism or extreme Zionism, are inevitably made against those who are obviously guilty of neither but who are bringing up temporarily inconvenient aspects of the situation. Along with both anti-Semitism and the seemingly, peculiarly American form of irrational Zionism, dishonestly accusing those guilty of neither is a barrier to finding our way out of the endless maze of violence which is at the core of many of our worst problems . We can’t continue to put off talking about it for fear of being called names. It’s just getting worse. Sitting in relative safety in North America, the source of many of the arms and policies that have contributed to the slaughter in the Middle East, we have no right to be cowards about name calling. .

We've Got To Stop Pretending There Are Nice Guys Available To Make Peace In The Middle East

Israel is not going to disappear, it is not going to be driven into the sea. Just as importantly, Palestinians are not going to melt into the surrounding populations. They have remained a cohesive presence in diaspora for as long as Israel has been there. They may not have a real state and the military technology that Israel has but they are not going to disappear either. The assumption that they would was based on racism just as was the assumption that Jews, as a people, would disappear. The latest appearance of this kind of racism is found in the insane speculation that Iranians will stop supporting their despots with the encouragement of a bombing campaign against them, it is based on an assumption of innate Iranian cowardice and lack of patriotism. One thing Persians or Moslems in general have not proven to be is cowardly. Persians were patriotic before there were countries. It is to be regretted that all sides in the Middle East are too brave for their own good.

Israel will not allow itself to be destroyed, certainly not without consequences too horrible to contemplate. Israel has THE bombs. Many more than one. Whatever vicissitudes result from that fact, it is a fact. And it is almost certain that another Islamic country, if not an Islamic State will have one eventually. If they are determined they will find a way to do it even under attack, money is the only limiting factor. Pakistan, has it already and only an a psychotic would take actions that could impel that country towards rule by those who could feel divinely justified to use it.

Now that we've cut through that level of nonsense let's get some other things straight. Neither what substitutes for a Palestinian government nor the Israeli government has clean hands. This isn't an attempt at cowardly and labor saving self-absolution from favoring a side in the dispute, it is the truth. As Howard Zinn* has pointed out, governments lie, all of them do awful things. That's just the fact of it. Extra-governmental entities also do awful things. But it is among these awful people that ways, temporary or millennial, to stop the killing in the Middle East will have to be found. It will be a deal among killers, thieves and liars because that's the only kind of people who are in charge. Arguing degree of rottenness is a waste of time, it's who has the power that matters. Anyone who aspires to make peace in the Middle East had better get over their fussy and dainty sensibilities or they shouldn't waste peoples' time. .

Today the United States has no credibility as an honest broker in the Middle East. Some past presidents had more. After Iraq and now the Bush regime's role this past month in Lebanon it has none. It has none because it clearly and solidly has favored one side, Israel and the Bush regime appears increasingly likely to have done so for ends not necessarily in Israel's interest. There is little rational reason for Israelis or Arabs to trust Bush.

I am beyond caring if there was a reason for supporting one side or the other in any particular action in the past. If someone can tell us a way to go back and change what happened in the past it might be worth thinking about, but there isn't one. Bringing it up is a stalling tactic, a way for cheap politicians and others to curry favor by appealing to grievances and the desire for revenge. It's the present we can deal with and the invasion of Lebanon was dumb assed and I believe, as one of my regular readers put it so well, the Olmert government didn't have a clue it was going to go like this. The facts now are what will have to be dealt with, not what was believed a month ago.

As we began, no one side is going to disappear but many individual people are being killed as you read this. My entire interest in this is to have as many Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the area, live to be old and to die in bed of natural causes surrounded by their intact families and their friends. It is in that spirit that I am going to say the unspeakable and voice some, though far from all, of my deepest fears.

As the generation of the Second World War and it's children pass on there is a strong danger that the Holocaust will fade from consciousness and it's lessons will fade from peoples' thoughts. Huge numbers of dead when viewed in the inverted telescope of history look smaller than they were close up. Our claim on the attention of the future will compete with the entire past and will be, I'm afraid, far less compelling than their present. We will not be there to press the case. The best we can do is leave a written record of what we have known. We can't guarantee that the future won't repeat the evils of the past.

As time goes on, as more recent piles of bodies and other horrors block them from view, even the Holocaust will fade in its meaning to those who are not part of the groups that were murdered. The relatively forgotten Armenian genocide is one example of this and the mass graves of those murdered in Central America by terrorists funded by the Reagan administration are entirely faded from the collective, active memory of the United States. The innocent Druz, slaughtered by the USS. New Jersey in retaliation for the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon never got into Americans minds having been effectively blocked out. Even where distance is not a factor, the memory of the thousands lynched here, in the United States itself, is always in danger of slipping from the attention of white people. The quotidian violence against women is treated as routinely as traffic accidents.

I am posting a anxious warning based on what I am hearing. Israelis should dump the neo-cons who are bringing them to disaster. Those idiots, from their comfortable perches in the American establishment are going to get a lot more Israelis and others killed. Let's face another reality, a lot of them, Gentiles and Jews alike, are pretty unsavory characters who market themselves as "supporters of Israel". Some seem to have made a very nice living for themselves based on this. Would peace be as profitable for them?

Their alliance with fundamentalist "christians" should be all the evidence you need of their stupidity if not duplicity. End timers have only two uses for Jews, especially Israelis. Jews are either to be converted to "christianity", perhaps by force eventually, or they are extras waiting to die in their pre-enactment battle fantasies based on the Book of Revelations. As the events around Lebanon this month show, the fundamentalist ghouls can hardly wait for the real slaughter to begin. Their script calls for Israelis to die in the millions.

Failing the fundamentalists' favorite wish, Americans of future times will grow weary of supporting Israel if it is engaged in endless wars, endless conflicts and, especially, if idiocy on the level of this war in Lebanon continues. A constantly attacked Israel will become increasingly militarized and isolated and paranoid. With that will come the destruction of democracy. A nationalistic, perhaps theocratic and despotic Israel is certainly nothing that the vast, vast majority of Israelis or Americans want to see. If someone can convince me that isn't where it is headed I'd really really like to believe otherwise.

I have every confidence that these ideas have been thought about in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. I can't believe anything I'm writing here hasn't been more fully considered there where investigating every contingency is a matter of life and death. It is in the United States that they are unmentionable.

* See the excellent essay:
The View From History, What Nation Can Be Trusted?
Vietnam, The Logic of Withdrawal; Howard Zinn 1967

Note: The order of in which paired groups are mentioned in this post was decided by coin toss just so I could point it out for those who might be reading this through their bias detector. Even so, I'm sick of "sides" in this discussion. Sides are getting people killed.

On Crime Reporting

The descriptions of the Christmas Eve mass killing in California often include something of this sort:

COVINA - A man who showed up in a Santa outfit and killed nine people in a fiery bloodbath at his former in-law's Christmas Eve party had reached a divorce settlement with his ex-wife just days earlier and was struggling financially since losing his aerospace job five months ago.

Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, 45, owed ex-wife Sylvia Pardo $10,000 as part of a divorce agreement reached Dec. 18, according to court documents that detailed a bitter split. He also lost a dog he doted upon and did not get back a valuable wedding ring.

"No counseling or delay could help restore this marriage," the settlement stated. "There are irreconcilable differences which have led to the complete breakdown of the marriage."

I'm trying to recall if these types of explanatory paragraphs have been common in the past when describing horrendous crimes. As if those events made murder the obvious next step.

It's not meant that way, of course, and I know it. Still, there's something awkward about reporting the divorce and the job loss without any commentary by an expert who would point out that thousands of people have bad divorces and lose their jobs and still don't go out and slaughter innocent people.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Viagra and War

The little blue bomb wins us wars everywhere!

"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people – whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra," one veteran CIA officer told The Washington Post.

According to the newspaper, pills to boost the libidos of Afghan tribal patriarchs are the latest in a long line of inducements including medicine or operations for family, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions and visas.

In one case, a warlord aged 60 who was struggling to satisfy his four younger wives was also holding back information that could be crucial to American interests.

A clandestine CIA operatives who was visiting sensed an opportunity and reached into his bag for a small gift of four blue pills. "Take one of these," he said. "You'll love it."

Four days later, the CIA man returned to a beaming warlord – whether there were any smiles form his wives was not reported. The warlord furnished the CIA with invaluable details of Taliban supply routes and movements before requesting more pills.

I picked this particular quote on the funny-ha-ha Viagra story, because it at least refers to the warlord's four wives and the possibility that they might not have been asked about their desire for those little blue pills (or for their desire to marry the man in the first place). And of course it's a different society and of course women don't have a voice about any of these issues. Still, it's weird to read so many funny-ha-ha interpretations of the story, with the very silent four wives somewhere in the background as targets for the miraculous effect of the pill.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

By popular demand, here is the Very Big Striped Cat, whose foster mother has named Fido, because he gets along so well with her three dogs. He has a great, laid-back personality. There's more on him at PetFinder. Please pass this along to anyone in the Tampa Bay area who wants a dog-loving cat.

Manliness & masculinity (by Suzie)

          Manning up does not necessarily yield a feminist ally. 
          A couple of people defended The Art of Manliness blog, which Anthony critiqued this week. He promised to delve into it further, but, damn, I can’t wait. 
         The man who started the blog says he married a feminist and thinks the feminist movement has done much for society. But he says it is largely to blame for men feeling irrelevant these days, now that they no longer have to be the provider and protector of women. Shouldn't blame fall on the patriarchs who set men up as providers and protectors, the overlords of women? The blog goes on:
The fact that men and women are equal doesn’t have to mean they are exactly the same. True manliness sees women as equals in every way, but at the same time recognizes and appreciates our differences.
          This could be the Promise Keepers, with its Manhood '08 conferences. When people talk in generalities about innate differences, I worry how they may translate that into prescriptives for behavior. I also find it odd that some men think that, if they can't dominate, then they're irrelevant, as if those are the only positions possible.
          The post "Be a Modern Knight: Protecting Your Lady in the 21st Century" says:
Although the gender lines in this modern age have become increasingly blurred, there is one male/female disparity that even the most ardent feminist cannot deny: men are physically stronger than women. As such, they have from the inception of the human race been called upon to be the community’s warriors, knights, and soldiers. Fending off would-be attackers and predators, these men took seriously the charge to protect and keep safe the women and children.
          1. Not all men are stronger than all women at all times in their lives. 2. Some men were both protectors and predators. A man may consider himself the protector of his family and still abuse his wife and/or children. 3. Who called upon men to be warriors? Was it some long-lost matriarchy? No, male leaders called on other men to fight battles with them. 4. Apparently, these warriors were not just protectors even though this writing disappears the gender of the "attackers and predators," and who called upon them to take on those roles? The author seems oblivious to the idea that many men have fought each other, with women as property or collateral damage.
          The post continues:
While men are no longer called to be warriors against physical attack, we now have the duty to protect our women from emotional harm, to keep safe the hearts and esteem of the ladies in our lives.
          An example is that women feel pressure to be thin even though a lot of men prefer “a more curvy lady.” Thus, it’s not men’s fault! The blog blames the media and “the catty expectations of a woman’s female peers.” But the media is not an amorphous, androgynous blob. Men have long dominated the top rungs of the media as well as the fashion and beauty industry.
         Some suggestions from the blog: “Try to steer your lady away from tabloidy rubbish” and “steer her away from negative friends.”
          In another post, the blog presents “The 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library,” which is pretty much the Western canon, but with fewer female authors (only three). Apparently, the essential man doesn’t need to know anything about women that he can’t learn from other men.
            I had a similar reaction to the UU Men’s Network. In response to a post about the presidential campaign for the Unitarian Universalist Association, a reader said UU men were fighting sexism and working to reconcile with women. As evidence, he cited the UU Men's Network, whose "purpose is to build a mature, liberal religious masculinity: male-positive, pro-feminist / womanist, gay-affirming, culturally and racially inclusive and diverse."
            The dictionary defines masculinity as qualities appropriate to men, or associated with them. Many feminists wish people would not associate qualities, such as strength or empathy, with one gender or another. We want to tear down “masculinity” and “femininity,” not recreate them. Mike Leach has an interesting article on the politics of masculinity at XY.
             I’m glad there are men who are pro-feminist. Nevertheless, there is a difference between talk and action. That’s why it wasn’t deemed sufficient to ask the UUA candidates if they opposed racism. Instead, they were asked what they’ve done to fight racial oppression and promote multiculturalism.
             “Male-positive” also made me wonder until I went to the UU Men's links and forum. As I skimmed, I saw a few things related to feminism, and at least one feminist man, but most of it was the same old crap about Robert Bly, “men’s rights” and “refuting feminist lies.” One linked site announces: “Treat women with respect and you will be called a misogynist. Anyone who criticizes women is a misogynist.”
             With friends like these ...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Looking For God

I've posted this one before, but it's suitable for Christmas. A first draft with all the awkwardness intact, but I doubt I ever will work on it and I like the basic idea.

Jonathan is looking for God. He has looked everywhere: in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, in Hinduism. He has studied native religions from all parts of the world, studied meditation and shamanism. He has read all the holy texts, but he has not found God. He has talked to believers of all the faiths he has been able to find, and he has found them convinced of their own truths, shiny-eyed in certainty and happiness, and, yet, somehow, very frightening.

Of course, God might not exist, Jonathan thinks as he makes coffee in his kitchen, grinding the shiny, brown beans in the electric grinder. He probably doesn't exist. Jonathan pours the ground coffee in the filter and filtered, clean water in the coffee-maker. He clicks the on-button and waits. Who made the water? Did anybody or anything intend coffee to grow and humans to drink it? Or is the world just a chapter from books on physics, chemistry, geography and biology? And people, what are they? Lumbering apes with small lusty eyes, who can rape and kill, who can break everything with their clumsy paws, who can decode the DNA and go to space, still lumbering apes with small lusty eyes? Who, then is the god? The man with the most Nobel prizes? The man with the most money? The man who killed the most men and impregnated the most women?

Jonathan takes his coffee to the balcony. It is a beautiful morning, birds sing and the sun dapples the grass under the trees below. Here he sits, watching children play, drinking good coffee and drinking in the sun and the birds, the fresh breeze of a spring morning. He doesn't see how this goes with the lumbering ape theory, and, besides, he doesn't believe in lumbering apes. Apes are a mystery at which people gaze through human eyes, a mirror which humans warp to see what they believe is there, what their theory needs to be there.

The wind ruffles Jonathan's hair. It is not a chilly wind. Still, it sends shivers down his body. This is why he needs God: because everything affects him, tells him something, and he can't close his doors against that. A God would let him see patterns, understand what refuses to be understood. Not just why there are wars, holocausts, murders, cancer or airplane crashes. All religions tell stories about this, and although Jonathan doesn't believe in these stories, he is more obsessed with other patterns; patterns so subtle that he can't even see their presence, only sense them in some apparent absence.

He finishes his coffee and sets the empty cup down on the balcony table. The wind tosses a green willow leaf into it. The leaf hesitates a moment on the edge before falling to the bottom of the cup. Was this a conscious act? Anne would have smiled at this thought.

Jonathan picks up the leaf and looks at its intricate veining. Anne found Jonathan's search for God funny and exasperating. She knew that there was no God. They had read the holy texts together, criticized them to each other. She was the first to point out their inconsistencies, their espousal of some values which ancient tribal societies once shared but which now seemed reprehensible. She was the one noting that the god in these texts favored men over women. But they both saw the texts as reflections of what people once had thought god to be, what they had wanted god to say, not as a proof of the existence of God. Jonathan had been disappointed, Anne had been deeply hurt at his disappointment. She wanted to know why Jonathan could still seek for such a god as the texts described. She feared that he needed a heavenly father even if this father had disowned her as an equally loved daughter.

Jonathan wished that she could be with him on the balcony this morning. He would tell her that the God he is seeking is not a man, is not a father. Probably God would resemble no human being. But if Jonathan had to choose he would have God be a heavenly mother, a Goddess. Anne would raise her eyebrows in disbelief. Still, Jonathan rather liked the idea of a Goddess: a beginning and an end in her dark lap.

Is that where Anne was now, he wondered, in Her dark lap? Do suicides sleep there peacefully? Or is Anne simply gone like her ashes he had to sprinkle into the winds? Would she miss him if she could?

He misses her, the dark twin to his light, as she laughingly once said. They were together from the beginning, sharing the womb together, hardly ever apart even later. Without her Jonathan is unfinished, neither coming nor going, a man with one foot in some other invisible world. He needs God to put him firmly in one or the other.

Anne had taken the leap alone, trusting in the existence of no-one, not herself, not God, not Jonathan. She had been outfought. Her war against the world was an impossible one, and when she knew that she could never be more than half-alive, she had opted for total death. Leaving Jonathan behind, half-alive.

Jonathan picks up his cup and goes indoors. He is not working today and plans to spend the whole day looking for God. It doesn't matter if God doesn't want to be found. It doesn't matter if God doesn't exist. If ancient people could create gods in their own image, Jonathan can surely look for God in his own life. Today he is going to do so by meditating in the park.

The park is full of people. Joggers pass Jonathan as he walks in. Children and dogs run around and the benches are all taken. A kite climbs toward the sun. Jonathan finds a small empty corner and sits down under an oak tree. It must be an old tree; its roots are everywhere. Meditation is something Jonathan learned when he studied Buddhism. He never got enlightened, but he can relax his body, quiet his mind and, for some time, enter a state of emptiness. Should God come calling he'll be at home.

He closes his eyes and the sun paints psychedelic bursts on the insides of his eyelids. His body slowly slips its tension and his breathing gently expands. Thoughts drift in and out of his mind, then stop. Somewhere deep inside him a neutral eye opens and observes. Time passes and the sun moves.

He comes back to ordinary awareness when something earth-smelling and moist touches his face. He opens his eyes, staring straight into the brown curious eyes of a dog. There is barely an inch between their noses. Jonathan doesn't know dogs very well, but this seems friendly. It waves its large plume of a tail from side to side. He gives it a clumsy pat on the head. The dog looks at him with raised eyebrows. Evidently pats on the head are not correct.

The dog steps back a little and then bows to Jonathan. Or whatever it does, that's how it looks. It? He? She? She. She turns around and walks away, stopping and turning her head toward him as if asking him to go along. Who does she belong to? She has no tags or collar. She doesn't act like a dog who belongs to somebody. Jonathan looks around for a possible owner, but the park is now empty. The dog keeps insisting that he follow. Perhaps he should, perhaps the dog will show him what she needs or lead him to an accident victim or to God.

This amuses him as he gets up and starts trailing the dog. Dogs are used to hunt, after all, and he is a holy hunter. And wasn't Artemis, the goddess with the bow and arrows, always accompanied by hounds? Then there are the hounds of hell, of course. Better be careful.

Off they go, the man and the dog, stopping every now and then for her to sniff at an interesting smell, zigzagging across the park in apparently meaningless patterns. Jonathan begins to feel like an idiot, but whenever he tries to turn around and leave, the dog looks at him again with that challenging expression in her eyes.
They finally leave the park through one of the side gates. The street outside is busy and Jonathan suddenly realizes that loose dogs are dangerous in traffic. He lunges at the dog, trying to get hold of her but ends on his knees and elbows, staring at the ground. She must have evaded him at the last moment. He must have imagined that his body had gone straight through hers in its path to the ground.

The dog has already crossed the street, and Jonathan rushes after her. She disappears into the crowd and is lost from sight. Suddenly following her is imperative. Jonathan starts running, bumping into people and objects. He can't spot her and is becoming desperate. He looks everywhere, almost ready to give up. Then he sees her, patiently waiting for him at a corner. She turns to a sidestreet and Jonathan follows.

They walk on for what seems like hours to him. The streets begin to look alien. There are fewer and fewer people about. Jonathan is getting tired. Their tempo speeds up. She seems to know where she is going, now, and he can barely keep up. Storefronts whizz by and the occasional pedestrian on the street looks frozen in place. They go faster and faster, turning corners recklessly, crossing streets without checking for cars. Jonathan needs to catch his breath but they go on. He develops a stitch in his side. They keep going. He is sweating freely now, and his legs tremble and ache. They must have run for miles; the dog always at the same easy trot, Jonathan more and more haltingly. Finally he simply must stop and rest.

He stands leaning against a lamppost, drawing in ragged breaths. He doesn't know where he is, the shop windows are full of writing in some foreign script. He doesn't see any people. The dog sits at the next street corner, a vague blurry shape. She hasn't released him yet.

Jonathan closes his eyes and notices that they are full of tears. Is he that tired? The tears fall down his cheeks. He hasn't cried since Anne's death. She didn't care for tears; she managed her emotions by acting them out, by violently throwing books into the wall or by lifting weights until she was exhausted. Jonathan didn't want to cry for her but now he does. He wants her back alive and he wants God to arrange it.

The dog is coming towards Jonathan, stopping once to pee on something on the sidewalk. She is not a handsome dog, her ears don't match and her coat is tangled and matted. But she has something Jonathan needs. Perhaps she knows God.

She sits down nearby and waits until his tears are done. Then she gets up, tells him to follow and trots off.

Jonathan is hollow and light, empty to his bones, but he follows. They pass through streets he never knew existed, cross rivers marked on no map. They walk by odd, distorted buildings, by traffic signs with constantly changing wavering messages. He doesn't understand any of them.

The sun is setting and the mounting shadows take the shapes of plume-tailed dogs. Jonathan thinks that he may have walked like this not for a day but for a year, an eternity. He no longer feels tired, he can now walk tirelessly, softly like a dog. Anne walks by his side, sometimes smiling, sometimes turning her head away. She tells him stories which he doesn't understand. She storms ahead in frustration, then waits for him in mock resignation.. She takes his hand, her eyes fill with love and then she becomes ashes, scattered by the winds. Jonathan looks at his empty hand.


The dog has led him into a deep forest. He has to bend down to avoid the tree branches as he makes his way in. The needles of evergreens sting his cheekbones, the roots try to snare his ankles. The dog is a dim light ahead, still moving deeper into the darkness. Jonathan follows. Finally they emerge into an open area, a hollow, a bog surrounded by trees. The air is scented with something pungent, earthly. The ground beneath him gives on each step, squishes liquid and musky half-remembered smells as he forces his weight on it. A full moon is centered in the sky.

The dog leaps into the bog, splashing water everywhere, her four legs dancing in the air as she rolls onto her back. She rolls back on her stomach and lies there, panting. Jonathan can hear her panting; it is the only sound.

He sits down against a tree trunk and waits. This is where God will speak to him. The dog gets up and shakes herself. Suddenly she starts running. Not the way she moved before. Now she runs in the air, rising up in impossible arabesques, twisting around in slow motion. She chases her own tail high above Jonathan's head, chases imaginary cats around the moon, bounces and leaps through Jonathan's heart. She is all motion; a gentle, piercing song of air, a wild howl of pirouettes. She runs and turns into a golden shower of ashes which rains down on Jonathan. She becomes a dog again, lies down next to him, panting, and starts licking her paws in order. She turns her head and looks at him again with that unfathomable message. Anne turns her head and looks at him, her eyebrows raised. He almost gets it.


He opens his eyes. He is sitting under the oak tree in the park. It is night and he is alone. His body is stiff and numb; it takes a long time before he can get up. His clothes are wet and cold and there are pine needles in his hair. He walks home trying not to think. He takes a scaldingly hot shower still not thinking, changes into dry clothing and makes coffee.

He sits down at his desk with the coffee cup and pulls open a drawer. Somewhere in there is a picture of Anne and him, looking at the photographer through sun-squinted eyes. They are smiling in that picture, wearing matching T-shirts with 'twin' emblazoned on the front. Jonathan had hidden the picture in his grief. Now he needs it. He pulls open another drawer and finds it. He props it against the cup and looks at their faces, first hers, then his, then both of them together. He thinks of the dog. He almost gets it.

After a while he gives up and goes to bed, taking the picture with him. He places it on the pillow next to him and closes his eyes. Tomorrow will be a new day. Just before he falls asleep he hears, from somewhere far away, a solitary dog howl.


I wish to gift you with beauty today.

Vision of Hildegard van Bingen:

Sanvean. Lisa Gerrard:

Columba Aspexit. Hildegard van Bingen:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas ! Happy Holidays!

I found this song on YouTube last night and like the voice, but I haven't watched the video in great detail for suitability. Not going to watch it now, either, because I have gingerbread in the oven. But it's offered as a thank-you to all my readers, my dear hippopotamuses: so cute and beautiful and yet so very dangerous! Thank you and free scritches.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scary Gays and Lesbians

Pam reports on Elaine Donnelly's views on gays and lesbians in the military:

Donnelly treated the panel to an extraordinary exhibition of rage. She warned of "transgenders in the military." She warned that lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower. She spoke ominously of gays spreading "HIV positivity" through the ranks.

"We're talking about real consequences for real people," Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about "inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community," the prospects of "forcible sodomy" and "exotic forms of sexual expression," and the case of "a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault" a fellow soldier.

Ouch. Peeking into Donnelly's subconscious fears is not pretty.

She's an odd gal, our Elaine, best known for her great antipathy towards feminists and any expansion of the roles of military women. Maybe that explains why her take on sexual harassment in the military struck a very different bell only three years ago:

Imagine these scenarios: A junior female soldier has an affair with an infantry officer in Iraq. When the relationship cools she revengefully accuses him of sexual assault. Her e-mailed complaint activates the Office of the Victim Advocate in the Pentagon. OVA officials pressure the accused officer's commander to remove him from his unit on the eve of battle.

At the Naval Academy, a female midshipman willingly parties with a classmate. Both have broken rules against alcohol and sex in Bancroft Hall, but to escape punishment she accuses him of sexual assault. The male midshipman is threatened with criminal prosecution and dismissal.

Meanwhile a Marine is barred from his home because his wife told authorities she fears domestic violence. Civilians funded by the Office of Victim Advocate help obtain a court protective order, but not counseling to save the marriage. The accused husband's "treatment" requires him to sign a release disclosing his "violence history" to commanders and military investigators.

Scenarios such as this could become commonplace if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld establishes an Office of the Victim Advocate in the Pentagon. Legislation to establish a high-level OVA failed in Congress, but Rumsfeld's Office of Military Community and Family Policy signed an undisclosed contract with Wellesley College Centers for Women to "study" prospects for one anyway.

Implementation of a self-interested Wellesley proposal could create a new job market for "women's studies" graduates schooled in man-hating ideology. Sexual assault is always wrong and should be punished promptly at the local level. An OVA in the Pentagon, however, would operate as an "Office of Male Bashing" that would nuclearize the war between the sexes.

"Imagine these scenarios" indeed. What connects the two quotes is the identity of the presumed victims in Donnelly's world: It's always the heterosexual guys who are threatened.

Eek! The Gender It Blurs!

The Pope tells us that fighting for precise gender boxes is as important as fighting for the environment:

Speaking on Monday, Pope Benedict said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour was as important as protecting the environment.

The comments were "irresponsible and unacceptable", the UK's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) said.

Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian MP, called his words "hurtful".

The row erupted as news emerged that the pontiff is to pay his first visit to the Holy Land in May next year.


Pope Benedict made the comments in an end-of-year speech to senior Vatican staff.

Defending God's creation was not limited to saving the environment, he said, but also about protecting man from himself.

It was not "out-of-date metaphysics" to "speak of human nature as 'man' or woman'", he said. It came from the "language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans".

Ohmygod. This is really too funny. Note the part about "protecting man from himself." The Pope's Freudian slip is showing.

And The Prize For The Most Inane Pundit Comment Goes To...

Cokie Roberts for this:

By an overwhelming margin, criticism by Cokie Roberts, NPR contributing senior news analyst and ABC political commentator, of then-Sen. Barack Obama for choosing Hawaii, the state of his birth, to take his August family vacation was the most popular entry in Media Matters for America's poll for Most Inane Punditry of the 2008 presidential campaign. Readers chose Roberts' comments -- which included her characterizing Hawaii, where Obama vacations regularly, as "foreign, exotic" -- in greater numbers than her two closest competitors combined. Roberts stated: "I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place," adding, "He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time."

If we wish to limit the competition to comments about Barak Obama the terrorist fist bump and the exotic nature of drinking orange juice are pretty good, too. It must be hard to be a pundit who has to keep on talking about the election for years, though.

Now that I've been nice, let me propose a few Lifetime Inanity Awards, one for television and one for press. The former goes to Chris Matthews, the man whose mouth appears to be hardwired on a different channel than the rest of him.

The latter goes to Maureen Dowd, for reasons which are self-explanatory to anyone who has read her columns. Note that I have nothing against Matthews or Dowd, rather the opposite. They keep my juices flowing nicely when all I can see outdoors is cold snow.

Note also that these awards are lovingly given. I have the cootie awards for real nasties.

And that in mind I wish to ask you, my sweet and erudite readers, which comment about women (either as a group or as individual women) should win this year's pundit Louse Award?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Music

Well, not really. It's more of a laff.

On Unions

Some Republicans see the bailout of the car industry as a way to strike that last nail in the coffin lid of American unions. They see unionized labor as the reason why American cars are not competitive. Other countries can pay less to their workers and the U.S. should, too!

This is having the cart before the horse, of course (or it would be if we were not talking about horseless carriages), because the only way American workers could compete in wages with the workers of many developing countries is by accepting near-starvation money. Is that the goal of the Bush administration? I thought the goal wasn't to make sure that the owning classes are comfortable but that the American industry becomes competitive and continues to offer living-wage jobs to its workers.

Now, I'm the last person on earth to argue that unions are all good. They can be quite nasty as can any coalition of people, and they have done some not-so-pretty things in the past, including excluding black workers or women from their membership and meddling in crime and so on. But not having unions is even worse.

To see why, think about the actual negotiation most workers engage when applying for a job or a promotion at a very large firm. Think of the asymmetry of resources: The firm has enormous amounts of money, lawyers and options; the worker may have no money at all and very few other jobs to apply in the area. To pretend that the two sides are engaging in some absolutely equal contracting is preposterous. But that's exactly what some conservatives argue.

More generally, workers are handicapped in these contract games. Firms can take their business and move it to another country fairly easily. Individual workers are hard-pressed to do that, what with the need to learn a new language and a new culture. Even within one country, moving for workers means uprooting the whole family, pulling the children out of school and away from their friends, leaving behind all emotional ties. Firms don't have children or emotional ties which means that they are always ready to leave.

Finally, firms do tend to stick together, whether it's legal or not. What they do is not that different from being unionized. They work together for shared industry goals (such as going to Washington to get bailout money). Why should the workers not do the same? After all, the firms are already often bigger and more powerful than individual workers. If the firms also cooperate in deciding how to set wages and salaries the tiny atomic workers have even less power.

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote about the unions as a counterveiling power to the oligopolistic industries. If that counterveiling power (already waning) is removed what do you think will happen to wages, salaries and pensions in this country?

Meanwhile, in Iraq...

Remember how the Iraq occupation was supposed to help remove Saddam's rape rooms and to make the whole country into a democratic paradise? Even women were going to be empowered, by God!

Of course women are considerably worse off now, on most measures. They might be dead or widowed, for example. And educated women in Basra are subjected to Taliban-type controls and worse. Those actively promoting secular ideas such as women's rights get killed elsewhere, too.

Why am I writing one of these dismal posts which never gets any comments, because the whole topic is too awful and then we might step in with the wrong foot and what's the solution, in any case? Powerlessness is not pretty, and we are indeed pretty powerless in helping the women of Iraq. But I wish that the U.S. governments stopped pretending that they care about women (the majority of Iraqis, by the way) when it fits their other objectives. Dropping that pretense is so very unseemly.

Naturally I'd prefer real commitment to women as human beings and to their rights as part of human rights.

On Bush's Conscience

George has kissed us ladies goodbye. From last Thursday's Washington Post:

The Bush administration yesterday granted sweeping new protections to health workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal beliefs, setting off an intense battle over opponents' plans to try to repeal the measure.

Critics began consulting with the incoming Obama administration on strategies to reverse the regulation as quickly as possible while supporters started mobilizing to fight such efforts.

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.

< snip >

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill last month to repeal the rule, said: "We will not allow this rule to stand. It threatens the health and well-being of women and the rights of patients across the country." Similar legislation is pending in the House.

< snip >

Leavitt initially said the regulation was intended primarily to protect workers who object to abortion. The final rule, however, affects a far broader array of services, protecting workers who do not wish to dispense birth control pills, Plan B emergency contraceptives and other forms of contraception they consider equivalent to abortion, or to inform patients where they might obtain such care. The rule could also protect workers who object to certain types of end-of-life care or to withdrawing care, or even perhaps providing care to unmarried people or gay men and lesbians.

While primarily aimed at doctors and nurses, it offers protection to anyone with a "reasonable" connection to objectionable care -- including ultrasound technicians, nurses aides, secretaries and even janitors who might have to clean equipment used in procedures they deem objectionable.

There ya go! Now not only your doctors and nurses might lie to you but even janitors and secretaries can refuse to help you out!

I have written on this topic fairly extensively before, but it might be good to point out one additional aspect, having to do with this statement by a proponent of the new conscience clause rules:

David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association said: "We will do all in our power to ensure that health-care professionals have the same civil rights enjoyed by all Americans. These regulations are needed, do not change the law but simply stop religious discrimination."

Note the odd definition of civil rights in that quote. "All Americans" don't have the right to refuse parts of their work which they consider ethically wrong. As I wrote earlier, I, as a vegetarian, can't work at a deli counter and just refuse to fill any orders for meat. If I try to do that I will be severely reprimanded or fired. So where are these civil rights that I am supposed to enjoy?

And more importantly, where are the civil rights of the patients these people refuse to serve? Are patients to sit there, waiting and wondering if they have been told the truth? How can they find out an alternative provider of care? What if giving that person's name is against someone's conscience, too? That is scary.

Dr. Stevens applies an odd definition of discrimination in that quote, too. Think about it. Labor market discrimination commonly means treating a worker unfairly (in hiring, pay, promotions and firing) just because of the group the worker belongs to (e.g. gender or race or ethnic group) when a neutral observer would agree that the group membership is irrelevant from the point of view of work performance.

In my deli example I'd be discriminated against if I filled all the orders with a permanent rictus of a smile on my face but was still let go because of those snake scales (assuming snakes were one of the protected groups, but you get my meaning). But to refuse to do the work is not irrelevant. This makes Dr. Stevens' view of discrimination a very tricky one indeed.

Imagine the Pandora's Box we might open here! Almost everybody has some profoundly held ethical beliefs and it's not too hard to cast them into a religious command. Then we can all take lots of time off at work.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time's Most Memorable Pictures of 2008

Can be seen here. Out of the total 48 pictures 35 depict at least one man, 14 depict at least one woman (some have both men and women in them and some have neither).

Should you be bored out of your mind today you can go back and figure out how many named individuals of each gender those pictures depict (some appear in several pictures) and why it is exactly that they have been eternalized in this manner (powerful people? victims? perpetrators of violence? spouses of powerful people? symbols of something?).

This series is not intended to be representative of everything important that happened in 2008 or even of the news events of the year. But it can still be something we use to make the invisible visible.

What’s Your Favorite Christmas Movie? by Anthony McCarthy

I don’t really have a favorite Christmas movie, most of them are pretty bad.
Last summer I was given a boxed set of Due South shows and thought the Christmas episode ‘The Gift of the Wheelman’ was pretty good.

You Might Want to Read This Before Giving Old Dad Some Old Spice by Anthony McCarthy

My old father used to get some Old Spice aftershave lotion every year. Mostly because he was hard to buy for. A few years I and my brothers got “soap on a rope” probably picked up quickly at the same desperate hour on Christmas Eve. Ironically, it was something we would never use on a school night because it made us smell like we had perfume on. No boy in his right mind would go to school smelling like he had perfume on. The soap, suspended under the drippy shower head, quickly washed away and we went back to our usual Ivory till the next Christmas. I don’t remember my father, who, literally, had no sense of smell at all, using the stuff or asking for it. I don’t know if it’s not still aging in the attic of my mother’s house. Anyone know if there’s a vintage market for stuff like that?

Associating Old Spice with the season it was interesting to have this story now. The "Art of Manliness" - Old Spice competition for the “Man of the Year, got hijacked by a paleo-theocrat of the “women shouldn’t vote” variety.

The obviously blog swarming respondents to the poll thought that Matthew Chancey (a name that, somehow, just fails to ooze rugged manliness to my ears) is the perfect poster boy to fight against the blight of metrosexuality and the public school system.

Winner Matthew Chancey, a marketing and communications consultant from Ashville, Alabama-an up-and-coming Republican politician-topped a field of ten finalists with thirty percent of the vote (3038 votes). He is now honored as one who knows "what it means to be a man," which includes a $2,000 prize "and a manly stash of Old Spice products."

"It was not possible," according to the contest rules, "or even desirable to quiz each candidate about their political, religious, and social views."

Opening up the identity of the “winner” shows some interesting sidelines, some impinging on Suzie’s post the other day.

Key to Chancey's victory were the efforts of both his wife, who nominated him, and an entrepreneur named Doug Phillips, an important figure in the homeschooling movement, and his large family and network of supporters.

Phillips is an old pal of Chancey's and a religious and political co-belligerent from their days on the staff of the Home School Legal Defense Association; he heads a Texas-based organization called Vision Forum, which produces and markets books and other materials for conservative Christian homeschoolers.

But to describe Vision Forum as `conservative' does not tell the half of it. Phillips is a follower of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement whose seminal figure is Calvinist theologian R.J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. Rushdoony's voluminous, and explicitly theocratic work, (such as the Institutes of Biblical Law) was a pivotal influence in the development of the religious right, and more particularly, the countercultural homeschooling and Christian school movements.

Vision Forum's product line includes the Beautiful Girlhood Collection, which, "aspires, by the grace of God, to encourage the rebuilding of a culture of virtuous womanhood. In a world that frowns on femininity, that minimizes motherhood, and that belittles the beauty of being a true woman of God, we dare to believe that the biblical vision for girlhood is a glorious vision."

Someone with a more reliable electricity supply than I’ve got this morning might want to look into this soi disant “Beautiful Girlholld Collection” to see if it is as disturbingly icky as it sounds.

Since both the blog and the aftershave disavow their role in the choice, it’s not possible to blame them. But, Old Spice, beware of these cheap promotion gimmicks, they might give you more publicity than you were bargaining for. Don’t “be a man”, and stubbornly hold your ground, own up to your mistake and learn from it, dump the phony poll promo. If you’re going to name a MotY, have the courage to choose one yourself. That is if learning from experience isn’t too ‘girly’ for you guys?

Having never seen it before this morning, I can’t claim to have delved into the depths of The Art of Manliness blog. It looks like a somewhat weird and partly innocuous attempt to revive the masculine mystique that was the alternative to “The Playboy Philosophy” in the 50s and early 60s. I have no doubts that the entire thing could give feminists something to work with for quite a while, though I think it’s not going to gain much traction in the greater population.

If you venture into the blog, notice, that a lot of the behavior assigned to “manly” men, actually would be more accurately described as “adult”. Responsibility, bravery, courage, determination, bravery... men never had the ownership of those. Maybe men claiming those virtues of adulthood comes under the heading of “hogging the glory”.

I promise to look closer at this in the new year.

Do Mine Enemies Vindicate Me? by Anthony McCarthy.

Can’t resist pointing this one out. Some of you might remember the post I did on alleged scientific findings in the area of political orientation and the objections to my mocking poli-sci mating with evy-psy. As with many of my Sunday morning mockeries, it was an article in the prestigeous “Ideas” section of the Boston Globe, one of my daily papers.

One of the main sticking points was the inability to adequately define what a “conserative” was in order to study the issue with science. Well, I don’t know if the writer of the “Surprising Insights into the Social Sciences” - one of my more frequent targets- reads this blog but apparently someone has come to the same conclusion, sort of.

'Conservative,' whatever that means

THE CONSERVATIVE BRAND may be more powerful than we assume. A team of psychologists ran several experiments to see if the label "conservative" (which has a different meaning in politics than it does in finance, where it refers to lower risk) could affect financial decisions. Republicans preferred the financial option labeled "conservative" - but only if they had been asked about their political identity. Democrats were not affected either way by the label. The bias remained even when the label was inaccurate and even after the Republicans were specifically asked to explain the meaning of the "conservative" label in the context of the financial decision.

Morris, M. et al., "Mistaken Identity: Activating Conservative Political Identities Induces 'Conservative' Financial Decisions," Psychological Science (November 2008).


Also in the Boston Globe “Ideas” section is this far more satisfying column on the arbitrary usage monitors, who seldom go to the bother of even checking the OED to find out if their pronouncements are anything but arrogant and frivolous bloviation.

Wish I could find the old Nation article I used to re-read every once in a while, I believe it was by Jim Sleeper, mocking William Safire’s prescriptive grammar pretensions. He made some of the same points more than twenty years back. Alas, the phony linguists haven’t been mocked back into their holes.