Saturday, February 20, 2010

Taking The Housman Cure by Anthony McCarthy

February, twenty six years ago. By this time of the month I was slowly convalescing from the first of two cases of pneumonia that I’ve ever had. The long bed rest was the first intimation of middle age, which I wouldn’t officially enter till a few years after.

I’d been to the library two weeks before and had opted to pay off more of that perennial duty to read the great classics which you had somehow never read before. By some fate, the book was A Shropshire Lad, by A. E. Housman.

Like everyone, I’d read several of the poems deemed suitable for Jr. High and Highschool anthologies, the woodlands hung with snow, of course. That perpetually moldering athlete dying young, as well. It didn’t impress me much. But S.L. was a slim volume, as the chestnut has it, and the poems were short and it wouldn’t cost much time to see what joys Housman held. I knew, of course, that he had been gay. That’s probably the reason I took it off the shelf. Though for him that term is one as ill suited as has ever been appended posthumously.

I read it through the first time as I was getting sick and, I’ll confess, it struck me to my core. The grey toned sadness, the yearning, the longing for connection, the sheer, obvious desire for love with a man, the erotic attraction of a strapping farm boy unsullied by the pollutants of city or university - though an abstract one who seemed to be rather cleaner and freer of sweat than farm boys of my experience*. The underlying theme of Housman is the assumed, permanent state of exile of gay men from the comfort of normal society, from the impossibility of believing that you belonged in the world.

Of course that would speak to any gay man who was leaving youth, alone, without the wonderful, unconscious knowledge that you had deep emotional relationships that would be unmolested by a hostile general culture. Without the possibility of entering into an unremarkable and secure home life. Though fully knowing I was not one, I fell fully into the consolation such that Housman had left to such luckless lads, now that he was dead and gone. More about which in a while. Shropshire girls, apparently were hardly worth mentioning, except in so far as useful to the lads who were, one assumes, trying to pass.

Reagan had been in office three years, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II around, longer. The televangilists were flowering putridly everywhere, and there was the first realization that your gay friends in New York were coming down with an unknown and yet unnamed illness. The very beginning of that long death watch. It was the perfect time for a sick, gay man to be converted by Housman to his regime of cold comfort, the attractions of suicide, the view that the world was inalterably not for you. Comforted only with the inevitable return to dust and an insensate non-being. Except for that brainless and impatient man of bone that would remain, the part that Housman, apparently, saw as the most significant.

Needless to say, it wasn’t reading that lent itself to therapeutic optimism while facing the onslaught of hacking coughs, painful breathing, fevers and at the lowest point, the real possibility that this could just be the end.

Still, it carried what one might want to grasp on to as a kind of stoic comfort, the assertion that facing the inevitable was the right and brave thing to do. You had to look not left nor right because the only road ahead held nothing but the night. It appealed to the deep agnosticism which I had arrived at by my reading of logic. For agnosticism is as far as logic can honestly lead you. Having thought my way out of the romantic view of science, I was, nonetheless clinging to the rock of logic, unable to, yet, admit that it was, at its core, no more knowable than God. Unable to stand that this most solid of all intellectual positions, was, in itself, not founded on rock. I will say this, agnosticism makes a better life jacket than Housman.

After the crisis passed and it appeared I wouldn’t suffocate in my own lungs I read Shropshire Lad a second time. There were certain erotic themes, I guess that held my interest at that point. This time my spirit rebelled violently against Housman’s invitation to suicide, “so quick and clean an ending” as that might be. I must have noticed that on first reading but suppressed it in view of the said attractions of Housman. Whatever else, I knew it was a horrible idea. With the hardships of growing up gay, it was hardly an act of friendship to promote suicide as an ethical program. It’s pathological in a gay man, it’s self-hatred by proxy. By then, making the effort to breath through the coughing and phlegm must have seemed fully worth it.

I’ve known more straight men than gay ones who have esteemed Housman, though there have certainly been gay men who have. Maybe it’s the en passant uniform fetish. There seems to be a kind of rather nice, often science department based, straight man who relishes The Lad. I recall one such naming it as one of two books he would willingly be shipwrecked with. I don’t recall the other one. I’ve known few women who have had that much use for it, though I know they exist too. The promotion of suicide, dying young, and other such delights of Housman are far easier to take as self-presumed spectator than as intended spectacle.

By the third reading I’d noticed that there was little real love in the book. Yearning, yeah, lots of that of a self-indulgent kind, but not of a kind that carried any hope. There didn’t seem to be much faith in the possibility of it. Better to figure that it’s not worth getting too attached. In fact, other than to kill yourself, I didn’t find there to be a lot of encouragement in the book. By that time I’d learned of the great unrequited love of Housman’s life, Moses Jackson, a straight man who emigrated to India, then Canada, after going to extraordinary lengths to keep Housman from attending his wedding. The first thing that came to mind is if I had Housman yearning after me I might want to put an ocean between us too. His hand of friendship extended doesn’t carry a lifeline, it carries an anvil. I think by then, I was trying to fight my way out of the hole I had gotten into on the first reading. I’ve read recently that Housman, knowing that Jackson was dying in Canada was eager for him to read his unpublished poetry, one does wonder if it was to encourage him to end it all.

I read some of it a fourth time as life turned back to normal, though not every poem, and ended the book knowing I was about through with Housman. I knew the old fart hadn’t shot himself through the head. For himself, at least, he concluded that was not right, that was not brave.

And so Housman endured on in his faculty apartment, reported to have all the ambiance of a public waiting room, sniping at young classicist lads, and I’d imagine, the rising class of classically inclined lasses, who trespassed on his flagstones. The geezer might express sufficient care for their well being to encourage young folk to shoot themselves in the head or to just die, but the desiccated old classicist had no intention of offing himself or tolerating the frolics of youth in the solely imaginary fields and vales of Latin or Greek he’d staked a claim to, grousing at their youthful follies. He was famous for being horrible to his students and never learning their names.

Housman left me with a peculiar taste that I had known before but had never quite identified. A sourness stripped of any bracing tang, bitterness without the persistent effort required by that emotional obsession. V. S. Naipaul is a contemporary specimen. I came to think of the bard of Shropshire as an old fraud. Having read about his jaunts to Paris to indulge in pornography and rent boys and other continental delights forbidden to pollute the green and apparently not so pleasant land of England- I’d asked my brother to pick up a bio of him from the library, perhaps to try to finally get shut of him.

By the last time I got to the penultimate poem, “Terence this is stupid stuff”, another of those sufficiently sexless to enter into the required reading of an American 9th grader of the early 60s, I saw it for the pantomime of mirth it is. Exactly like those numerous and insufferable pieces by knighted British composers that trudge along in jolly good fun, of the most pedestrian and tedious variety. Like Mithridates, Housman intended to die old, stewed in his self-administered poisons.

I went on through to approximate completeness by reading the thankfully few “Last Poems”, so named because by then the aging and very famous poet of young folks dying and oblivion, had said what he could on his abortive theme of discouraging people from hoping and living. It finished in the “More Poems”, which he had left to his brother Laurence to destroy.**

From being obsessed with Housman and the easy attraction of his poetry to a lasting disgust for him and his death cult within the shortest month of the year.

What remains of Housman for me is the key to understand why I dislike a kind of recent British writing and so much English language writing influenced by it*** . First there is just the plain meanness of so much of it, a lack of sympathy, even a distaste for human love. There is the rancid rejection of actual life, the cowardly refusal to abandon the easy way of secure classicism and the conventional attitude.

The conventional attitude. For all its homoerotic content, etc., Housman was unobjectionable to the Victorian audience that first took his cranky poetry to their bosom. That alone should show you that there isn’t anything unconventional about it. Like its author it doesn’t much do without the benefits of comfort and security and the prestige of university life. Its popularity also marks it with the profitable allure it shares with the cosy school of British crime fiction. It is intellectually and emotionally unchallenging and proudly wears its dead-on normal average temperature as if that was sufficient virtue. Billy Collins seems to me to be the direct American descendent, replacing Housman’s mild dyspepsia with cute cynicism.

After Housman I was done with all that. And with more. Once you abandon the cowardice, an attitude that comfortable endurance and the intellectually safe and reputable are the standards to live by, you are free of the morose manacles which held me during that long illness. Any sense of duty to Housman, the eminent gay poet, died. And I think my sense of duty to the officially great, dead writing of white male authors of the English Speaking Peoples and those who imitate them, died with it. For which, I suppose, I might be grateful. Maybe I would be if I didn’t have to worry about gay kids shooting themselves in the head. I’d kind of like for them to grow up and have a real life.

* Being a farm boy myself.

There is in Housman’s stately pose of veneration a feeling of class exploitation, of the young laborer being viewed as an object of use, the poems a recommendation of a varietal to others of Housman’s own class. Like a favorite ale. It has been wondered how much of the local brew he had actually tasted before he wrote the book, famously not having set foot in Shropshire until after he’d written the poems. Perhaps he’d imported.

** A hypocritical pose which any fool who knew him would know he wouldn’t do. Of course Laurence would publish them, and he did. Housman wanted it published but wanted his brother to take any flack from its publication

I haven’t bothered to read the last thing that even his brother held back, the Housman observations on love.

*** Also developed through reading William Carlos Williams essays on Rebecca West and others. It is remarkable how much of British writing in all forms is full to the brim of completely dislikable people and no other kind.

The Unsaid The Unheard By Anthony McCarthy

from olvlzl, May 20, 2006

Note: I just heard someone say it a few minutes ago, on the rebroadcast of Terry Gross’ interview with David Dow. In introducing the interview, it was felt necessary to point out that Dow opposes the death penalty. That’s something I wrote about a long time ago.

Some ideas are so common that they are only mentioned in passing as an obvious truth or they go without saying altogether. One of these conventionalized truths is that someone who opposes the death penalty is disqualified from the discussion of it. "Of course x is opposed to the death penalty," is often treated as the last that needs to be heard of x on the subject. It often goes unsaid but its assumption has fundamentally distorted the discussion of the imposition of capital punishment.

I believe that this attitude was consciously adopted by politicians and prosecuting attorneys because it effectively eliminates opponents of the death penalty from being heard. It is inconvenient for them to have this vehicle for career advancement always coming into question by people with a moral or ethical opposition to it. And, let's say it, in most places for politicians and prosecutors, an association with the death penalty is a career builder. Having opponents excluded from the discussion removes a potential factor that could lessen the value of their past work.

I believe that it is also adopted by the media for reasons of profit. Our media love the death penalty. It adds drama to their coverage of trials, it becomes a most easily reported story within itself. Even anticipation of the failure to impose it can provide an occasion for a show of dramatic outrage in the reliable clack of cable conservatives. And it is as much of a boon for the entertainment division of our media conglomerates as it is for their loss leader, the "news". I don't for a second believe that any of these people actually cares if someone is put to death or not. The issue is entirely one of utility for them. They hardly want to risk dissipating dramatic tension with rational discussion of the issue.

In the courts, themselves, the exclusion of death penalty opponents from juries is an obvious injustice. The population contains large numbers of people who oppose the death penalty. To exclude them from the jury pool on that basis is to stack the jury. It excludes a large segment of the population, perhaps even entire religions. The reason given, that death penalty opponents will not be impartial is exactly the reason used to exclude black people and others from juries. And in allowing the exclusion the allegedly impartial judicial system promotes the increased likelihood of a given outcome. It unquestionably guarantees a less than representative jury pool even in the guilt phase of the trial. A prosecutor doesn't have a right to a jury biased in favor of a given outcome.

Most death penalty opponents come to that position after careful consideration of it. To exclude opponents of the death penalty from juries could result unless careful, less thoughtful juries. There should have to be a compelling, overriding public interest stated with factual support to allow this kind of exclusion. But I don't believe that has ever been done. It is possible that the prosecution could benefit from more thoughtful juries as well as the defense.

Maybe it is that judges love the death penalty too. In the Rumpole stories it is said that judges used to order muffins in their club after imposing death. Who can doubt that some of our Supreme Court members would be quite capable of that. Scalia, apparently one of those who got the giggles in the discussion of whether condemned prisoners in Florida have equal rights to about-to-be-put-down pets, said that there is no right to a painless death at the hands of the state. Muffins at his club would be less depraved than that, certainly among the foulest things said by someone sitting on that bench in its history. I regret that no one could have asked him if that would include death by dismemberment. No doubt his answer would have allowed the hilarity to continue.

Update: One of the great unsaid things about the exercise we refer to as justice is the unexamined truth that it isn't only the accused who has a right to a fair trial, one which might end up in their acquittal. The People have a right to only have the guilty punished, they have the right that the wrong person NOT be found guilty on their behalf. Among other important aspects of that right of The People to not have a prosecution favored process, an innocent person in jail or executed means that the real guilty person goes free to commit more crimes or not. The People have absolutely no right for the innocent to be punished, they should not be encouraged to minimize the wrongness of that with the disgusting idea "Let God sort them out".

The media almost always, in this age of trumped up toughness on crime, ignores that the acquittal of the innocent is probably a superior right of The People, who just might find themselves wrongly accused of a crime some day. NOT that they find that nearly as suitable to their purposes as the typical entertainment that's in vogue these days.

Sex Addiction

It might be an actual compulsive/addicted condition:

The phenomenon didn't have a name until 1983 when psychologist Patrick Carnes published the influential book, Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. Prior to that, the behavior was described as "hyper-sexual arousal." In short, the term "sex addiction" is used to describe a pattern of frequent, progressive, and often secret sexual behavior, even when the behavior jeopardizes a person's time, employment, financial stability, relationships, and reputation. While often conflated with adultery, sex addiction does not necessarily mean cheating—or even intercourse. Rather, it can manifest as a dependency on pornography, masturbation, phone or Internet sex, and other related behavior.

The culture constantly suggests to us that there's no such thing as "too much sex." But of course there is. Anything in extremes is most likely to be very bad for you, and the easy (and secret) availability of Internet pron can't help.

I have always wondered if watching a lot of pron would make a person unable to actually enjoy sex with real humans, imperfect and equipped with personalities and needs as they are. This links to the worry I've written about before: That heterosexual teenage boys might acquire their ideas about real sex from pron and that this would then be expressed as the way heterosexual teenage girls are supposed to behave. It's a worry because so much pron is focused solely on the enjoyment of the male actors.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Arts & medicine (by Suzie)

She was an angel with an autoharp. Like many people, I had struggled with sleep in the hospital. She offered to play, and I told her I didn't know if I could stay awake. She laughed and explained she was there to help, not perform a concert. After a few minutes, I snored along with her, in a duet.

As if in a dream, I remember another woman playing for me.

During my week at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the Arts in Medicine staff worked wonders. One man, a friend, maneuvered his double bass into the crowded room. I cried when he played "Evening of Roses," just as another sarcoma patient did several years ago. We think of it as her song. I hadn't cried in a long while, and I made him hold me as I sobbed. That was healing, too.

In addition to music, the program includes art, poetry, journaling, dance and other movement. Most of the staff and volunteers are women, and most of the oncologists are men. No surprise there. In the West, healing and the arts have been widely practiced by women, even though men have predominated in the higher-paying and more-prestigious jobs in both fields.

I'm glad to see bastions of conventional medicine offering other ways of healing, and I hope patients seek them out. Don't wait for your doctor to recommend them because he may know little about them. If your hospital has no formal program, invent your own. Bring your own music, notebooks and art materials. As Dr. Jimmie Holland says:
Not all medicine comes in a bottle.

Friday bird blogging (by Suzie)

A great blue heron, by Peter.

On Heroes

First: Debra Moriarty in the Alabama University case:

Joseph Ng, an associate professor who worked with Bishop in the biology department, was in the cramped faculty conference room when gunfire erupted Friday afternoon during a monthly meeting.

About a dozen teachers and staff members were sitting elbow-to-elbow at a long table when Ng heard the "pop-pop-pop" of a 9 mm handgun.

He watched several of his colleagues go down, starting with the ones close to Bishop. He and the rest of the survivors dived under the table desperate for cover. Three people were wounded.

Within seconds, the shooting stopped. During the lull, Debra Moriarity, a biochemistry professor, scrambled toward Bishop and urged her to stop, he said.

Bishop aimed at Moriarity and attempted to fire but the gun did not go off. Moriarity then led the charge that forced Bishop out the door into a hallway. Her colleagues barricaded themselves in the room, and Bishop was arrested moments later outside the building.

"Moriarity was probably the one that saved our lives. She was the one that initiated the rush," Ng said. "It took a lot of guts to just go up to her."

Second: Robin Dehaven in the IRS Austin case:

Robin Dehaven, a glazer at Binswanger Glass, was on his way to a job site when he saw the small plane approaching the seven-story building that houses the Internal Revenue Service offices in Austin.


Dehaven extended his ladder up to the stranded workers and tried to instruct them on how to secure it, but they were unable to. So, rather than have them climb down an unsecure ladder, he climbed up.

"I climbed inside the broken-out window into the building with them," said Dehaven, who has a 3-year-old son.

"My ladder slipped a little bit actually," he added.

With the help of one of the men inside, he then broke another window near a ledge, and secured the ladder there so he could get five people out safely.

"I held onto their waists and their backs so they wouldn't fall if they slipped," he said.

Dehaven said the woman and four men he rescued all appeared to have been uninjured, with the exception of one man who cut his hand trying to break the window.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vomit Time

When mentally ill people commit murders most politicians do NOT suggest a similarity to those who voted them in.

On the events in Austin themselves: I agree with Amanda that the letter the man left behind seems to reflect a mash of various political opinions, some from the left and some from the right. I doubt they had much to do with the rampage itself. If it was linked to any rational cause it would have to be the described problems with the IRS.

I'm pretty furious at the media coverage of this event. And for Scott Brown to suggest that this event is somehow representative of how people feel, in general! Or that the government should start responding to rampages like this by changing its policies! What message does that suggest to you? Pretty nearly the one this mentally ill person left behind, about violence being the answer.

Let's spell it out v-e-r-y c-l-e-a-r-l-y: Murder-suicides are horrible disgusting murders, the ultimate violations of another person's integrity. The proper reaction should be a focus on those who suffered from this man's acts.

What's Your Effective Tax Rate?

The average for the four hundred top earning U.S. households in 2007 was 16.6%:

Each of the top 400 earning households paid an average tax rate of 16.6 percent, the lowest since the I.R.S. began tracking the data in 1992, the statistics show. Their average effective tax rate was about half the 29.4 percent in 1993, the first year of the Clinton administration, when taxes were increased.

As the apologist in the quoted article mentions, most of that income came in the form of capital gains and those may have dropped since then. On the other hand, I'm sure that some of the 2007 windfall must have been saved. It's a relief that I don't have to worry about the well-being of this group of Americans. Elsewhere, of course, things are not going too well.

From The Funny Files

Jason Mattera's speech at CPAC 2010 (the great meeting of wingnut minds)

It's a good reminder that there IS a difference between the two parties in how women are treated and in how minorities are treated. The Republican attitude is open contempt. For another example:

What occurred to me while watching this is that none of the three men appears to visualize the audience as consisting of anything but men. That's the only way they could laugh so very merrily.

Getting Stupaked

Women are. The Stupak amendment to the health care reform proposal has become the fashionable thing to imitate in several states. What these proposals amount to is the application of the Hyde amendment to private insurance purchases.

Here's the Kansas proposal:

Kansas lawmakers are currently considering a law that would bar insurance providers from covering elective abortions — unless a woman pays extra for a special plan. The problem with such coverage, however, is that it forces women to "plan for a completely unexpected event." The bill "wouldn't apply to abortions performed to save the life of a woman, or to pregnancies resulting from rape or incest." However, in the latter case, women would first be forced to file a police report:

The bill would require a police report to be filed if the woman wants an abortion to be covered by her insurance under the incest or rape exemptions. [...]

"You'd have to have a report that someone stole your car," said Rep. Steve Brunk, a Bel Aire Republican. "This is kind of the same thing."

See the Hyde amendment in that quote? Notice how abortions required for health reasons are not going to be covered unless the woman will otherwise croak?

Then that car theft analogy. Officer, someone stole my vagina!

Does Rep. Brunk really lack all normal human emotions such as empathy? Sounds like it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Well Worth Watching

Yesterday's Frontline, "The Warning":

"We didn't truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market," says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency -- the Commodity Futures Trading Commission [CFTC] -- who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country's key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. "They were totally opposed to it," Born says. "That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?" (more »)

It's also good watching from a feminist point of view (starting at about 13 minutes). And it has Larry Summers in it!

On Feminism

Another old essay that I feel like re-posting

Would you like to do something crazy and reckless with your life? Do you have the strength to throw away job security, pension benefits, even the approval of your dearest and nearest ones? Are you quite content if you'll never set a foot in a TV or radio studio, never get invited to another Republican fundraiser, never have another "Letter to the Editor" published?

If your answer to all of these is a resounding yes and if you have always felt kind of curious about life in leprosy colonies, you might possess the stuff that makes a woman stand up and declare herself a feminist. You can then spend your life fighting for a worthy cause, viz. the conviction that women, just like men, are fully adult full members of the species homo sapiens and should be treated so rather than as domestic gadgets or sexual aids. You will be joined in this fight by a handful of equally nutty and courageous women and men. Your opposition will span millions of men and women and millions of millions of dollars. They will fight you with everything they've got: the old boy network, the old religious network and the big media networks.

You will be accused of everything that ever has gone wrong in this country: crime, abandoned children, divorce, unemployment, promiscuity, even weakened national defense. Wow! This is heady stuff and might make you feel powerful beyond your wildest dreams. Hard to believe that feminists have been able to wreck so much of Western civilization without media access, money or military backing. Well, if it sounds too good to be true....

This doesn't mean that you wouldn't need to be strong to be a feminist. But it is even more important that you can laugh at yourself. Others certainly will. In fact, ridicule and prurient interest in your life, loves and looks will follow you throughout your feminist career.

People will say "No wonder she is a feminist; with a face/clothes/hair like that what other options did she have?" or "All she really needs is to get laid" or even "She is just one of those man-haters". If these statements get you down consider an easier career, say, early Christian martyrdom in the Roman style.

If you are still game, get working. We all need you to, us non-feminists, who will ultimately reap the rewards of your labors without having lifted a finger. Oh, you'll get your reward, too. When you have been safely dead for a century or so we'll erect a few monuments in your honor and insert a sanitized paragraph or two about your life in the history books. We'll even encourage others to choose the feminist career path.

Not Everyone's Cup Of Tea

Those tea-parties. But Sarah Palin likes them a lot:

If you listen to her carefully you will notice the reference to "self-proclaimed elitists" and later on to the teabaggers as a movement where the leaders don't have to have titles. All this was of use to me in trying to figure out why people like David Brooks call liberals and progressives elitist and why the elites never ever include any of the actual people who would qualify based on the dictionary definition of the word.

It has something to do with the creation of a white populist movement which can encompass the very wealthy and the ones they exploit, while creating an enemy of those who point out this odd marriage.

How large is the tea-party movement? I have not found any good estimates at all. The attention it gets appears out of proportion to its probable size and to its demographic characteristics (which are not those of a majority movement).

But based on Palin's arguments they all seem to want to live in Somalia, with hardly any government and no taxes, either.
This story sort of links to the idea of a smaller government and what it means.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Those Daring Young Women On The Flying Trapeze

Or rather ski-jumpers. But women are not allowed to participate in the Olympic ski-jumping:

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the women's exclusion isn't discrimination. President Jacques Rogge has insisted that the decision "was made strictly on a technical basis, and absolutely not on gender grounds." But female would-be Olympic competitors say they don't understand what that "technical basis" is. Their abilities? They point to American Lindsey Van, who holds the world record for the single longest jump by anyone, male or female. (Ironically, she broke the record flying from a jump built at Whistler for the Vancouver Olympics). Their numbers? When the IOC voted in 2006 not to add women's ski jumping, 83 competitors from 14 nations jumped at the top level, less universality than required to add a new event. But in the same year, women's skier cross claimed just 30 skiers from 11 nations. The committee added it. (There are also too few male ski jumpers to qualify, but as one of the original 16 Winter Olympic events, their event isn't subjected to the same rules.)

All that boils down to the idea that there aren't enough female ski-jumpers. But the piece I quote also points out the problem is circular: If the event doesn't qualify for the Olympics, then fewer countries bother to support those daring young women in the first place, and then the event keeps on not qualifying.

The other expressed reason for women's exclusion are those vulnerable female bits and pieces:

In an interview with NPR in 2005, Gian Franco Kasper echoed the sentiment. "Don't forget, it's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view," the International Ski Federation (FIS) president said.

Is he talking about the uterus slipping out, eh? The main reason for such prolapses is actually giving birth. But not to worry! Medical science can fix those problems.

This argument about ski-jumping reminds me of a similar argument about professional jockeys. Women should have an inherent advantage in both fields because of smaller average size. Hmmm.
And yes, the attached picture in the post I link to is not a ski-jumper.

On Chairs, Spoons and Toasters

This is an old essay I'm reposting.

How do you write a letter to someone who doesn't want to read it? Doesn't want to read it not because you are an enemy, a nuisance or a guilty reminder but because you are a complete nonentity, a thoroughly uninteresting everyday object, a piece of the background against which heroes do their stuff.

How do you write to people who don't plan to pay any attention? How do you get their attention? Should we cry? 'Look, guys, a chair just walked in and cried!' Should our words be weapons? 'Hey man, that toaster just tried to cut my throat!' Should our sentences plead? 'Gee, I could've sworn that spoon just begged me for understanding.'

No. All it would achieve is a small surprise, the astonishment that an inanimate thing suddenly acts and feels. This would be added to the list of supernormal events. It wouldn't make us seem any less of a chair, toaster or spoon; only an uncommon kind, a weird chair, toaster or spoon. Something that, for one fleeting second, might deserve curiosity. But not for long.

How do you touch someone who doesn't believe in your existence? Can it be done?

And if not, is it enough to talk to the other chairs, toasters and spoons? To write 'chair books', 'toaster stories', to be exhibited with the works of other spoons? Is this of value?

Perhaps. If you know that at night the chairs dance, beautifully, on one leg, twirling around the kitchen, leaping over the toasters which tell stories about their lost loves and vanished hopes, while the spoons drum a rhythm from misty worlds full of desperate questions and complicated answers. Perhaps . Isn't this life, too? Isn't this a sort of heroism, a type of victory in the war against dying? Isn't this human, too?

So why bother trying to reach the others? Because they are the sitters on the chairs, the eaters of the toast, the stirrers of the spoons. Because theirs is the kitchen in which we dance, whisper stories, sigh and cry. And because when they see us and say 'Such a comfortable chair, such an efficient toaster, such an elegant spoon. What would we do without you?' they turn away without expecting an answer, without hearing us scream.

The Post-Feminist News Baby

Troy Patterson tells us that this is an apt description of Megyn Kelly on Fox. Read for yourselves:

On Tuesday, for reasons unknown, one of her colleagues presented us with a photo of Kelly wearing a strapless dress, tan lines glowing, at some black-tie function, and she heaved a deep laugh when he said, "I just think you look fabulous in that dress you're not wearing in this photograph, Megyn." On Wednesday, when she thanked spy novelist Alex Berenson for coming in for an interview, he submitted that any red-blooded American male would rush to bask in her glow, and she said, "Honesty—so refreshing!" Then she recommended that her female viewers give the men in their lives a Berenson book for Valentine's Day: "You could deliver it in a saucy little outfit, combine everything all in one." Secure enough in her intelligence to be comfortably upfront about working her sex appeal, Megyn Kelly qualifies as a post-feminist news babe. Don't laugh me out of room for saying so; the case is tighter than Anderson Cooper's T-shirt.

Let's set aside the fact that all the women working on Fox look like animated Barbie dolls while the men vary in ugliness and portliness and so on. Let's set aside the question how it got that way (not naturally), and let's set aside the whole question of Fox news and their biases of all kinds.

Instead, let's ask a very simple question: What IS post-feminism?

I have asked that question before on this blog, so long ago that the search-key doesn't bring it up (dratted Blogger). But it is an important question, because it is often made to serve two purposes: Somehow feminism won and now we can return to all the old pre-feminist practices! Yes, it's perfectly OK to pick women for television on the basis of their boobs, as long as they speak lawyerly! So it's also perfectly OK to kick them out once their boobs start to sag. It's perfectly OK to demand botox for thirty-year old television performers, as long as they are female.

Troy's piece also tells me that television news are intended for heterosexual men. Hence the idea that Megyn's sex appeal should be generously available and the idea that women should not complain about it. Rather the reverse, as Megyn teaches other women how to present their boobs most appetizingly.

Notice to People Posting Comments by Anthony McCarthy

You might have noticed that Echo is eating comments here as well as at other blogs that use it. So, if you're annoyed that your entirely within bounds comment has disappeared that's probably the reason. Several of mine have as well.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Worst DIY Project In The House

What is it? I have several possible candidates in my cruddy head (including a few which offer plaster in sandwiches for several weeks), but the winner might well be stripping and re-varnishing one of those old staircase railings with about a thousand spindles and so on. When I went to get some of the tools and materials many years ago, the hardware guy told me that they call that particular project the marriage-breaker. Because people get into horrible fights over it and because it takes forever and because it's right in the middle of the house where it's hard to avoid.

In any case, I have stripped (in the last five years) approximately 45% of the spindles. Almost every time I skip down the stairs the stripped spindles stare at me, accusingly, among the ones which still have that molasses-like covering on. One day I'm going to replace the whole thing with a red ladder and a rope, the latter for sliding down in the mornings. But I doubt I'll ever finish the stripping project.

Buh-Bye Evan Bayh

So he is retiring and the reason is the lack of comity and bipartisanship in the Senate. Or at least the reason he gives. Time to pick up his toys and go home. I keep thinking of that old song about not playing in your yard, sigh.

Yes, the Senate is hugely dysfunctional. Yes, the Republicans are acting like spoiled brats AND like the Mafia at the same time. But why does this mean that they should be allowed a better chance to get back into power? Is the inability of the Democrats to get some things done a good reason to let the wholesale destruction of this country to continue?

It obviously is ultimately up to the voters. But if the current majority the Democrats have in the Congress isn't enough, how will a smaller majority work for them, hmh? That's what the most likely outcome for the November elections looks like, right now. It might be a time to fix those Senate rules so that the brats on the right don't spoil everything for the whole country.

Let's be honest about the Republicans: They are NOT going to play bipartisanship, because the failure of the Democrats is what might get them back into power. What they play is "My way or the highway." And that is not going to change.
Added later: Yeah, I know that Bayh is a DINO. But I wanted to get all this off my chest.

Crud Posting

I'm sick with something that's making its rounds. I managed to keep it off until several necessary projects were finished. It's odd that one can do that and then collapse. I now sound like a hippopotamus which is funny.

This is a good opportunity to write about weird stuff:

The oldest death row inmate in the United States, who spent most of his life behind bars, has died of natural causes at age 94.

Viva Leroy Nash died late Friday at the state's prison complex in Florence, said an Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman.

Nash was still on death row, but spokesman Barrett Marson said Sunday he did not know if Nash died in his cell or in a medical facility at the prison.

Nash had been imprisoned almost continuously since he was 15 and was deaf, mostly blind, crippled, mentally ill and had dementia, said his attorney, Thomas Phalen. State prosecutors were appealing a federal ruling that Nash might not be competent to the U.S. Supreme Court at the time of his death, Phalen said.

He spent roughly eighty years of his life in prison.

It is the idea of a 94-year old death row inmate that is weird. We tend to associate criminality with prime ages. Old people are supposed to be frail and feeble and ultimately kind people, just as babies are supposed to be essentially good and kind. Whether this is the case I have no idea, but a few of those babies do end up on death rows, a few end up as saintly people and most as the rest of us.

This is not really related, but I have sometimes wondered if anyone would ever have children should children pop out as miniature teenagers instead of as babies. Imagine that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Science Ignores The Real World That’s Right In Plain Sight by Anthony McCarthy

In the paper this morning is a serious seeming, seemingly well researched piece about why a majority of Americans are convinced that crime is rising, even though the most reliable statistics - and they’re a lot more reliable than opinion polling - shows that crime is decreasing. What the piece shows is how badly wrong the believe in the efficacy of the behavioral sciences can lead a newspaper column.

But as the crime rate has dropped, Americans have missed the news*. The number of people who told Gallup that crime is getting worse climbed to 74 percent last year, a figure higher than any year since the carnage of the early 90s.

The piece, typical of the Boston Globe’s Ideas section, is full of sociological theory linked to the evo-cog-sci fad.

Part of the reason for this divergence is what sociologists call pessimistic bias: the unshakable conviction that things are not just worse than they are, but also worse than they used to be. Humans appear to have a hard-wired tendency to compare contemporary life with largely fictitious good old days, in which all schools were top-notch, politicians had integrity, children behaved, and crime was nil. This happens in good times and in bad.

Well, I don’t know. Have they seen these hard wires to back up this idea? But that’s not news to anyone who has been exposed to the various denominations of contemporary soc-sci. As the predominant practice of mid-brow science-based journalism, it hardly seems worth going over it again. Your eyes glaze over.

There was one thing that jumped off the page like a hazard sign, and it wasn’t because it was there. There was no mention of the role television and movies play in shaping the beliefs of Americans.** The focus on some, apparently, biologically based pessimism while ignoring the depressing effects of watching non-stop images of violent crime is ridiculous.

When the subject is the world in which people imagine they are living, what that image is made of IS THE SUBJECT. How could any serious scholar of American attitudes and beliefs could ignore television as the mould in which the collective American mind is made?

The Nielsen Co.'s "Three Screen Report" -- referring to televisions, computers and cellphones -- for the fourth quarter said the average American now watches more than 151 hours of TV a month. That's about five hours a day and an all-time high, up 3.6% from the 145 or so hours Americans reportedly watched in the same period last year.

Television executives ...have the recession and the heightened interest in election coverage to thank for the increase in TV watching. People are staying in and watching the boob tube rather than spending money outside the house

.... Newfangled distribution methods are adding to the total: an extra three hours on the Internet for people who watch online video, and four hours on cellphones for those who watch mobile video, the report said.

How many hours a week do Americans spend reading newspapers, books, magazines? How many hours do Americans spend in church or meetings of civic organizations? How many hours do they spend in classrooms?

How many hours do Americans spend talking to each other without TV being on? How much of that actual human conversation is about what they've seen on TV? How much of what goes into forming our ideas comes directly out of the box?

For anyone to ignore the impact of the explosion of alphabet soup, "reality" crime-show crap on TV as THE CLEAR MOVER AND MAKER OF THE AMERICAN MIND boggles the imagination. For scholars to start inventing some metaphorical and invisible “hard wiring” when the cables, dishes, antennae and broad band are right there to be seen in the real world is hard evidence that these would be scholars are seriously out of touch with real reality.

I wonder if these scholars and the reporter can’t see the real way in which American mind is formed and functions because their focus is on theories they are professionally and socially invested in. The extent to which social science training might bias the observations and analysis of professionals, and those who have deep faith in them, would make a really interesting topic for a serious, and brave, researcher.

* Maybe that’s because the news they watch is made of sensational crime coverage.

** Buried at the end of the piece is this telling passage:

One encouraging finding of the Gallup poll is that people have a far more accurate sense of crime in their own neighborhoods than they do about the rest of the country: When asked about their immediate surroundings, a smaller percentage believe crime to be going up. In other words, we are capable of processing this type of information, as long as it’s gained through firsthand experience.

So, when people can see past what the TV is drilling into their brains, by seeing it first hand, they are more capable of sensing local reality.

The role that TV has played in the backlash against feminism and civil rights is too little studied.

This Is Hilarious

Remember the Dodge ad? Here it is again:

And here is a response to it (thanks, AA):



Sanforization is a process of treatment used for cotton fabrics mainly and most textiles made from natural or chemical fibres, patented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett (1874-1968) in 1930.[1] It is a method of stretching, shrinking and fixing the woven cloth in both length and width, before cutting and producing to reduce the shrinkage which would otherwise occur after washing.

Jenny Sanford has written a book Staying True about her now-dead marriage to Mark Sanford, the philandering governor of South Carolina, and all I could think when reading the reviews was that above definition of "Sanforized", because that's what is missing from all the juicy, outrageous and very curiosity-satisfying reviews of the book. Some fun snippets:

The idea that Jenny Sanford wrote her memoir Staying True to mollify her sons, as she told the New York Times, is quite comical if you've actually read the book. There is no child who needs to know precisely when and how his father lied to his mother about the mistress in Argentina and how she watched him disintegrate into a pleading, heartsick fool. Sanford's tone is studiously not vengeful, and yet this book is an act of revenge. As well it should be, since the poor woman was married to the most doltish specimen of a husband this side of John Edwards—a fact she elaborates on in exquisite detail for future generations of Sanford men to chew on.

What puts Sanford in a cad class of his own, however, is his complete misunderstanding of the companionate marriage...


On the morning of his wife's birthday, he faxed clues so she could have "a treasure hunt." She was overjoyed when she found the necklace and wore it to dinner when he returned home. "That is what I spent all that money on?" he said. "I hope you kept the box."

According to Sanford's account, "He returned the necklace the next day, thinking it was not worth the money he had spent. He could see I was disappointed. ... In truth, once I knew he thought he had overspent, I also knew it would pain him to see me wear the necklace had I insisted on keeping it. I wouldn't have felt comfortable wearing it in his presence, so what was the point?"

The unintentional point, of course, has to do with the power of martyrdom. As Sanford informs us elsewhere in the book, "Women were made for sacrifice."

And boy, does she sacrifice. What's never clear from her extended exercise in score-settling is why? The man she describes is driven, self-absorbed, pathologically cheap and 360-degrees weird. She runs his political campaigns, puts up with his habitual absences and bears him four sons.

Let's repeat the important question:

And boy, does she sacrifice. What's never clear from her extended exercise in score-settling is why?

My simplest answer to that (and there are others) that Jenny Sanford had been Sanforized before she ever got married. She had been stretched, shrunk and fixed in both emotional and mental length and width so as not to get that shrinking once she got married to an asshole. The technical name for such Sanforization is Christian Lady Upbringing, and it seems to even work on women who have money and education, if this case is taken as an example. Christian Ladies are all about sacrifice.

But that training includes even more: The very idea of a non-companionate marriage, one in which the woman is the support of the man and he the provider of diamond necklaces in return:

For another, Jenny has consciously chosen to avoid the path of feminist heroine. Unlike Hillary Clinton, she was not dragged out of her big city life into a southern America kicking and screaming. Despite her success at the investment bank Lazard Frères before her marriage, she had no interest in putting in 18-hour days and couldn't wait to get to Charleston as a stay-at-home wife (at least, when she wasn't playing campaign manager). She imagined her life just as she thought it was—staying home in a big house, raising a brood of boys with the help of a successful husband who made it home for dinner sometimes. She did not bristle when he hinted he wanted boys and wouldn't know what to do with a girl.

When reviewers ask why Jenny Sanford endured her bad marriage for so very long, especially given that all the alarm bells should have started ringing early on (his refusal to promise fidelity in the marriage vows, his jokes about him being the more intelligent gender and only wanting her to give birth to sons, his use of presents or their withholding as a form of power over her) they fail to understand this particular Christian type of marriage. Sanford only broke its rules when he exposed his wife to public ridicule, and now she has the right to respond.

That's my take on it. Note that I'm not arguing that Jenny Sanford had no choices or that she was a hapless victim of Mark Sanford or of the culture in general. She obviously could have chosen differently. But it helps to understand that different sub-cultures have different ideas about what marriage is all about and about what "reasonable compromises" might entail. The fundamentalist Christian view of the man as the head of the couple makes it difficult to know where a graciously subjugating woman is supposed to stop her subjugation, if anywhere.