Saturday, May 09, 2009

Spring In Your Step

Political geeks live too much in their heads, staring far into the cyberspace or having their livers riot in anger or in the glory of success. But life is much more than that:

A blueracer racing into hiding:

Spring wildflowers blooming:


Jacob's ladder


These pictures are by 1Watt, Hermit.

And for those of you who need your daily kitten fix, don't miss Frankie, the Blue-Eyed devil kitten.

In Dubious Battle by Anthony McCarthy

Duty calls to lend my hand to doing what I was certain was going to have to be done when it was put on the legislative agenda. I’ve got to help defend gay marriage in my state from an assault by the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland and the folks I’ve called the Maine Klux Klan more than a few times.

Some of you might know that an irony of this situation is that I think it’s the wrong fight for the wrong time. I’ve stated why here before. It’s not going to be easy, these folks have won a number of times through referendum in my state before. Maine is not anywhere near as liberal as it’s made out to be, We have a sizable and organized religious-fundamentalist presence, now they’re making common cause with a far-right Catholic bishop. That’s one thing we used to be able to count on, Maine used to have a relatively progressive bishop. If you don’t think there’s a difference between having a progressive one and the one we’ve got now, you just don’t know.
I don’t believe the state should be sanctifying anyone’s marriage, that’s up to them. I favor civil unions as the most a state should confer to any two adults and that it deal with all of those of any sexual orientation on an equal footing. I favor that form of union be given to any two adults who want to form a household, regardless of whether or not they have a sexual relationship. Ironically, I also do not favor giving special treatment to couples over single people. But you don’t always get to pick which fight is necessary.

In a year when the economy is in the condition it is, the struggle for national health care is beginning and a myriad of other problems endangering lives and the planet are on the agenda, this is not where I would have chosen to be spending my non-existent free time. A gay man can see that there are other peoples’ lives in danger, this seldom used right, one that he would like to be able to exercise, himself, is not the most pressing at this time. I do think that the healthcare of both children and adults is much more important than this issue, climate change perhaps even more important than that. I’d rather be fighting for those this year. And in the end, I’m not even expecting to get a marriage proposal out of it.

It’s an odd position to be in but you can find yourself in odd positions all the time. If you have the most radical agenda of them all, radical economic justice, that of a democratic leveler, you’ve got to be realistic. You have to realize that incremental steps towards the goal are the most you’ll live to see in your lifetime. That will win you the hatred of the impatient purists. Being opposed to both religious fundamentalism and also to several other fundamentalist faiths that are explicitly anti-religious, you get it on all sides, all the time.

I’m worn out, I’m taking classes so I can get a new job. And now this issue in this recession. I’ve got to cut back on my blog activities. Will that change? Maybe they won’t collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot this time.

Friday, May 08, 2009

On communication & relationships (by Suzie)

The title of this poem carries two meanings: comprehension and contract. As a feminist, I've been concerned with how we care for people and animals over whom we have power. Recently, I explored this in regard to my father. 

An Understanding

That morning when I called, you looked
with what I thought was disdain.
Perhaps it was pain or fear.
Perhaps you knew what I did not:
that you would curl up, cozy up,
to death, and I would cry
over your sleek black fur, perfect,
like a child’s stuffed animal.
More than ever, I wished
we had had a common language.
When you purred in my lap,
were our desires that different?

Letters and cards and calls.
So many words, Mom.
Did we say it all before you slipped away?
So slowly the tumor settled
into your mind, editing your thoughts,
uniting the real and the unreal.
Surely you knew I would love you still,
that I would care for you,
even when you regarded me with suspicion.
Near the end, what were you thinking
as you looked up with those wide green eyes,
those inscrutable cat eyes?
If only I could have had you back
for a moment to say,
“Look how I cared for you.”
“Look how I loved you.”
But you would have hated
the loss of independence and privacy.
Perhaps it’s best
that only one of us knew.

Mom & memory (by Suzie)

         As Mother’s Day approaches, I want to share a snippet that I wrote a decade ago about my mother. She had surgery for a benign, but large, brain tumor when she was in her mid-70s. She had been a writer, and there’s nothing like a writer with brain damage. She was prone to confabulation, in which memory and imagination intertwined.
        That longhorn bull and I – we are the only creatures crazy enough to brave the noonday heat. He grazes the fields of grass burned gold by the drought. I am in Little Red, the compact car that my father should no longer be allowed to drive. My mother is by my side. I belted her in myself, so the metal buckle wouldn’t brand her. I can barely hold the wheel. What was my father thinking when he got a black interior?
        She is telling me the story about how her philosophy professor encouraged her to break up with her first fiance more than 50 years ago. Light shines in her eyes, her large eyes, whose green stays true no matter the weather, no matter what she wears. I wonder what he saw in those eyes. He was only a few years older than her. Did he want to teach her about more than philosophy? All I know was he could not bear to see her trapped too early.
        She is telling the story, but she is telling it wrong. In her damaged brain, the story has become better. The conversations, the actions, have become more dramatic. I drive with eyes straight ahead, concentrating on the golden fields, resisting the urge to yell out: “That’s not true. This is all wrong.” I want to sob: “I always trusted you. I depended on you. Now I don’t know what is true anymore.”
         Are these variations any less true than her old stories? Do any of us remember our lives exactly or are our memories just as much a part of our lives as the events as they occurred?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

A lot of people are contemptuous of seagulls, just as they are of pigeons, considering them a nuisance. Many people love animals that are wild as long as the creatures don't bother them, and they like animals to adapt to them as long as they feel they have some control, as with pets. 

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bad Poetry Hour

It's not all bad but it's all bad poetry, if you get my meaning. I have lots of fun with it. Not sure if any of that comes across.

Here's a political poem:

You slammed the door against the light
Because it hurt your eyes
You named it blindness
You left it out

You wrote down all that should be right
And how to weed out lies
You left out kindness
You do without

Because you closed out light
You cannot see your day is night.

And here's the Woman Professor's Morning Song:

In the hallowed halls
the chalk dust sleeps
Old bones dance in bounds and leaps
The light has died
But the power keeps.

Ach Mein Vater, hold me tight
Brand my forehead with thy sign
Symbols whisper Latin stories
algorithms and allegories
Computers and rats in cages
Pages upon untouched pages.
Let them think that I am right
Let my circles meet thy line.

Knowledge is a cruel fetus
sucking, sucking air
Fed on academic blood. It soaks
through the academic cloaks
which hang suspended
Yet logic rules though mended

No Alma Mater dare
To enter there.


Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Frank Luntz is the man responsible for "ownership society", "death taxes" and "tax relief"; all terms which give debates a conservative frame. Now he has come out with the wingnut dictionary on how to talk health care. For example:

Luntz Tip No. 1: Scare people. Especially about their children. Luntz's memo includes a road map to how to most effectively scare the bejeezus out of the American public when it comes to health care. Results show the phrase health care rationing frightened the most people, so Republicans are urged to sprinkle it around describing Democratic reform plans. It's also better to warn that Democrats want to put politicians in charge of health care, rather than bureaucrats: "Bureaucrats are scary — but at least they are professionals."

The Republicans are always about scaring people. There's a terrorist under your bed and a politician will operate on your tonsils, unless you do exactly as Frank Luntz wants you to do!

In any case, all health care systems ration care, even the current American one (which does it through the ability or inability to pay for care and through health insurance denials).

I hope someone in the Obama administration is busily creating an alternative system of frames for this topic, including the concept of "freedom from manufactured fear."

Something To Do For Mothers' Day

I can think of lots of good things to do in honor of this coming Sunday, but here's one great idea: To donate diapers and other necessities to organizations which help homeless and poor mothers.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ed Gillespie Is An Asshat, Too

Via Think Progress:

BLITZER: You remember, your President — President Bush — he did find a woman, Harriet Miers, to be his nominee, and that didn't exactly work out. Did he get gun shy after that?

GILLESPIE: He did not get gun shy after that, but I think that in the next round of the selection process, the person who emerged as clearly most qualified — really head and shoulders above others –was Samuel Alito, and there wasn't a woman who was of a comparable experience and skill and temperament and intellect.

Lou Dobbs Is An Asshat

I knew this was coming when I first heard of Souter's retirement from the bench: The assumption that a woman couldn't possibly be the best candidate, combined with the assumption that a white man would obviously be nominated only on the basis of pure and unadulterated merit. More precisely:

For example, when CNN host Lou Dobbs asked why all of the potential nominees that CNN's Jeffrey Toobin listed were women, Toobin said that "[m]ore than half the law students in the United States are now women. Almost half the lawyers in the United States are women. There's only one out of nine justices on the Supreme Court who are women. I think President Obama, who believes in diversity, thinks it's time to even out the balance a little bit more." Nonetheless, Dobbs responded by asking: "Are you talking about the death of meritocracy on the court? ... Wouldn't it be strange that this court ruled against affirmative action, racial quotas, and ruled in favor of a truly sex -- gender- and race-blind society that then Justice Souter be replaced on the basis of group and identity politics? ... Wouldn't that be captivatingly ironic?" Toobin then explained that "Obama would say diversity is not opposite of meritocracy. Those are very qualified candidates."

Similarly, Buchanan said that Obama should pick a "liberal, Democrat John Roberts who has real stature, impresses people, maybe even gets Republican votes. But I think what he will do is I think he's gonna go for a minority, a woman and/or a Hispanic because he sees that as their turn."

Some conservatives also reject Dobbs and Buchanan's argument. On the May 4 edition of MSNBC Live, for instance, host Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) whether, "all things being equal," Obama should nominate a woman. Gregg replied: "I think that in the legal system which we have today, we have a huge amount of talent out there. And you can -- if you feel that the balance on the court should be addressed relative to women being on the court, which I happen to think is a good idea, you can certainly find a lot of extraordinarily talented people who are -- happen to be women also. And that would probably be good."

Just imagine a reversal: A country where men are slightly more than half of all citizens and where the Supreme Court consists of eight women and one man. Would you think that is fair?

This isn't really about diversity, and I wish it wasn't portrayed that way. Women are the majority of Americans, and yet there's only one woman on the bench.

A Surprising First

At least I was surprised to learn that Carol Ann Duffy is Britain's first female poet laureate. What with us girls being so good with words and all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Marilyn French, RIP

Marilyn French died on Saturday at the age of 79. The Washington Post obituary calls her a controversial feminist author:

Marilyn French, 79, a feminist whose 1977 debut novel "The Women's Room" sold more than 20 million copies and who became a prominent thinker on women's history, died of a heart ailment May 2 at a New York City hospital.

Ms. French, an erudite and angry writer, blamed men for the condition of women throughout the centuries, a stance that brought her sharply divided critical attention. Although many feminists lauded her for writing one of the most influential novels of the emerging feminist movement, others outside the movement charged that her books were belligerent and artless.

"In a way, 'The Women's Room' was, to a particular part of the women's movement, what Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man' was to the civil rights community," feminist Gloria Steinem said yesterday. "She was always so far ahead because she wasn't writing about reforms around the edges. Her theories were big and exciting, and they definitely appeal to younger women who hear about them."

The novel centered on a repressed young woman described by one critic as "expectant in the 40s, submissive in the 50s, enraged in the 60s . . . in the 70s independent but somehow unstrung, not yet fully composed after all" she'd been through. Partly autobiographical, the book was acclaimed by women eager to see their lives in print, and it was translated into 20 languages.

Some critics claimed that in the book Ms. French was overtly anti-male and provided as evidence one of her characters who asserts: "All men are rapists, and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes." Ms. French shrugged off the critics.

"They said I was a man hater, and I never defended myself against that, because I do believe that men are to blame for the condition of women," Ms. French told London's Guardian newspaper in 2006. "Even men who are not actively keeping women down, but are profiting from women's position, or who don't mind things being the way they are -- they are responsible too. I don't hate men . . . but men are responsible for the situation of women."

That piece of evidence is an odd one, because it's a fictional character saying something. If all authors were held responsible for every utterance by their fictional characters we'd have loads and loads of controversial authors.

Or to turn it around, what about all those hard-boiled detective novels where the characters hate all women as evil temptresses? You rarely see that give the authors a controversial label (though I think it should).

In any case, I have a future post stewing on the whole question of who the enemies of feminism are and what the position of men might be in all that. It's a topic that requires much sharper and clearer handling than I'm up to right now.

French's most famous book is The Women's Room. The title refers to the bathroom or the toilet, and it is deeply symbolic of the book, on many different levels. The book is still well worth reading.

Too Fat To Fit On The Bench?

The Daily Beast (via feministe) tells us that only thin women should be on the SCOTUS:

Consider the two women widely considered the frontrunners for the nomination: former Harvard Law School dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Within hours after the news broke that Souter was resigning, concerns arose that Kagan and Sotomayor might be too fat to replace him. A commentator on the site noted that of the three most-mentioned candidates "the oldest (federal judge Diane Wood) is the only one who looks healthy," while Kagan and Sotomayor "are quite overweight. That's a risk factor that they may not last too long on the court because of their health."

At The Washington Monthly, a commentator claimed to have employed a more scientifically rigorous method: "To all the short-sighted libs who are clamoring for the youngest-possible nominee... Right idea, wrong methodology. You want someone who will serve the longest, i.e. with the greatest remaining life expectancy—and that involves more than simple age. I tried assessing their respective health prospects, and ruled out all who even border on overweight. Best choice: Kim McLane Wardlaw, whose ectomorphitude reflects her publicly known aerobic-exercise habits."

(Wardlaw's "ectomorphitude" also gets rave reviews at legal gossip site Underneath Their Robes, which describes her as "Heather Locklear in a black robe. This blond Hispanic hottie boasts a fantastic smile and an incredible body, showcased quite nicely by her elegant ensembles.")

Meanwhile, a letter writer at Salon comments on Sotomayor's candidacy, "How do you say 55, overweight, and diabetic in Spanish?" (Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type I diabetes—which doesn't correlate with higher weight—when she was a child).

All this is related to the ideal Supreme Court nominee: Someone with steel constitution and still in diapers. That way the next wingnut administration cannot replace our candidate with theirs.

But there's more to this story, as usual, because men are not screened through the same lens having to do with looks and fuckability, really. (If they were we'd get a completely new Supreme Court, heh.) And as Paul Campos notes at the end of his post:

Still, nonsense about women, weight, and "health" is particularly pervasive and destructive. Indeed, if we were really concerned about medical risk factors that actually do have a significant negative correlation with a candidate's life expectancy, the most relevant is one that has afflicted 108 of America's 110 Supreme Court justices: being a man.

That has to do with the average life expectancies of men and women, by the way.

Chickens and Eggs.

This study about possible relationships between racism and mental health is an interesting one. It has the usual problem of one-shot studies: It can't tell us which came first, and because of that it can't really prove causality:

Fifth-graders who feel they've been mistreated because of their skin color are much more likely than classmates without such feelings to have symptoms of mental disorders, especially depression, a study suggests.

There is evidence that racial discrimination increases the odds that adolescents and adults will develop mental health problems, but this is the first study to examine a possible link in children of varied races, says Tumaini Coker, the study co-author and a RAND Corp. researcher and UCLA pediatrician.

It does not prove that discrimination caused the emotional problems, because unlike studies of older people, these children weren't followed over time. It's possible that prejudice harms children's mental health, but it is also possible that troubled kids prompt more discriminatory remarks from peers or that children with emotional problems perceive more bias, says study leader Mark Schuster, a Harvard pediatrician and pediatrics chief at Children's Hospital Boston.

It would be even harder to do a similar study on sexism and its possible correlation with mental health problems, because sexism is much more diffuse and because it may begin inside the family rather than just outside it.

What I Learned On NPR This Morning by Anthony McCarthy

It’s not the weekend, and I apologize, but I just had to post this while it was fresh.

On NPR's Morning Edition today, in Tom Gjelten’s report about President Obama’s intentions to cut the tax breaks corporations get for shipping jobs to other countries, we had this interesting lesson in market economics.

As Gjelten could have read from a Chamber of Commerce press release, and he could have let the Chamber’s flack included in the piece parrot the guff, not giving American corporations these tax breaks would mean that they would be at a competitive disadvantage to foreign corporations who get even more favorable tax breaks for their foreign operations. It would be bad for American corporations An unasked question is how a corporation’s foreign assetts enhance their status as “American corporations”.

And to compound this problem, if American corporations are given a disincentive for outsourcing jobs and have to keep them in America, employing Americans, then American worker would be getting an unfair advantage that would amount to unfair protectionism. I’ll leave aside the revenue that the federal government would get from taxing the foreign operations of these corporations aside to balance out the last thing I said in the last paragraph.

- So, when the American government provides tax breaks to “AMERICAN CORPORATIONS” in order to give them an advantage in competing with foreign corporations, it’s sound economic policy.

- But, when the American government takes measures to provide AMERICAN WORKERS with a chance of not having jobs shipped to places that pay slave wages, it is an evil hindrance of true, fair and good economic competition, and no doubt will lead to disaster.

Protecting allegedly “American” corporations, good, pure and right.
Protecting indisputably American workers, evil, corrupt and disastrous.

You got that?

And, lest anyone not appreciate the full flavor of this, NPR will certainly be looking for its handout from the Federal government this year including tax breaks which will give the likes of Tom and Steve and Rene a chance to be employed.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: Texan Style

This is a tragicomic piece of news:

Gov. Rick Perry has accepted nearly $5 million in political campaign donations from people he appointed to state boards and commissions, including some in plum jobs that set policy for state universities, parks and roads, records show.

Nearly half the appointee donations came from people serving as higher education regents, including more than $840,000 from those at the University of Texas System, according to a Houston Chronicle review of campaign-finance records.

Political patronage is nothing new for Texas governors in both political parties. The contributions are a legal and common practice, though it has been fodder for critics over the years.

Do read the whole piece. Of course only the rich can give enough money to buy positions of power in the system.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Wolf Whistles

Naomi Wolf (the author of The Beauty Myth) reviews Jennifer Scanlon's biography of Helen Gurley Brown in the Washington Post and takes that opportunity to give us a no-calories-light version of feminist history. The title of the piece summarizes it:

Who Won Feminism?
Hint: She's the diva who ran Cosmo

That's Helen Gurley Brown who supposedly advocated an exchange of dinners and trinkets for sex for single women and who also firmly believed that women can pull themselves up not so much by their bootstraps but by their garters.

Wolf implies that the Third Wave of feminism is the (slightly slutty) daughter of Helen Gurley Brown, not the daughter of the Second Wave feminists, those humorless nags with lots of armpit hair. That's evil step-mothering for you! But the bio-mom won:

And guess what? In the long battle between the two styles of feminism, Brown, for now, has won. Just look at the culture around us. Ms. Magazine, the earnest publication that defined feminism in the 1970s and '80s, has been replaced on college women's dorm room shelves by sexier, sassier updates such as Bitch and Bust. The four talented, smart -- and feminist -- women of "Sex and the City," who are intent on defining their own lives but are also willing to talk about Manolos and men, look more like Brown's type of heroine than "Sisterhood Is Powerful" readers. The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland.

This quote explains why I call Wolf's views of feminist history light-and-fluffy. She replaces actual history with stereotypes that are partly the creation of anti-feminists and homophobes ("ugly feminazis just can't get laid" is not that far from the "hirsute Amazons") or with plots which make feminism harmless ("Girls Gone Wild" is not that far from "sexier and sassier"). Real feminist history is a lot more complicated, much more interesting, not that easy to plonk into simple boxes and not about the personalities of feminist women themselves. It's about the issues. It's also quite a lot harder to research.

Sigh. I come across like one of those humorless nags, don't I? I did try to write it differently, something like this:

Revolution should be fun and painless and have lots of men giving me head and you can wrench my lipstick from my cold, dead fingers, sweeties! Let's have the Chippendales come in and strip for us, ladies, while we remake the world in our image (presumably by using all the vast financial resources, political machinery and societal powers we already obviously have acquired to, say, help the women in Afghanistan).

That's still nasty. And still judgmental. Sigh. There's no hope for me. Also, I firmly believe in women's rights to be sexual creatures, in the rights of all humans to decorate themselves, to laugh and to have fun. But why should I have to choose between serious armpit hair and fun sex, hmh?

Wolf's conclusions are not bad, and she does recommend a merging of those views. She advocates combining the messages of the Second and Third Waves of feminism to create a grass-roots movement, and I'm all for such a movement. But no other social justice movement is EVER criticized for not being funny enough or sexy enough. No other social justice movement is EVER expected to sell itself in the way feminism is expected. It's as if feminism is a new pair of shoes or something; an item women can easily do without, an item they might not be able to afford (because the societal costs of being a feminist can be considerable). So the movement must sell itself, I guess.

Monday, Monday

You know Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan?" The first three lines of the song:

They sentenced me to twenty years of BOREDOM
For trying to change the system from within.
I'm coming now, I'm coming to REWARD them...

Song lyrics are what one reads into them, ultimately. What I read into those lines are the rewards one gets for being a Good Girl. If that 'one' is lucky, the reward is just boredom. But the powers that be never tell you that. Good Girls don't get raises at work for working harder than everyone else and they certainly don't get promoted. Good Girls may save the world but it is they who are left with the dishes and the laundry. And being a Good Girl is not a defense against the horrors of this world.

When I write 'Good Girl' I'm not talking about real ethics, caring or self-sacrifice based on deep thought, but the kind of societal cake molds women are so often expected to fill, and to fill precisely, not to come out flat, not to overflow the pan. These molds may indeed be of the traditional Goody-Two-Shoes, or the "Biblical Woman" or the Mother As Madonna, but they can also be pans for baking amateur strippers or the perfect girlfriend/sex doll. You can tell when you are being molded this way, honest. It feels like a metal circle constraining whatever the real you is. Men have their molds, too, though the societal kitchen doesn't try to squeeze them into quite as many (and contradictory) shapes as it does women.

I've strayed a bit from my topic, which was really supposed to be song lyrics and what it is about them that suddenly makes that connection, straight to the solar plexus, or not. Anyway...

Meanwhile, in Pakistan

The husband of singer Ayman Udas came home (from getting some milk) to find his wife of ten days shot to death. He believes that she was killed by her two brothers, to fix the honor of the family:

As a singer and song writer in her native Pashto, the language of the tribal areas and the NorthWest Frontier province, Udas frequently performed on PTV, the state-run channel.

She won considerable acclaim for her songs but had become a musician in the face of bitter opposition from her family, who believed it was sinful for a woman to perform on television.

Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught.

The final song performed by Udas on screen seems to have portended her death. It was entitled, "I died but still live among the living, because I live on in the dreams of my lover." Udas, a divorced mother of two, had remarried 10 days before she was murdered.

Note that crimes like these remind other women what might happen to them if they rebel against the fundamentalist norms of the area. A hate crime? Hmm.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Personal Sanctity (by Phila)

The Missouri house has passed a law stating that "no pharmacy can be required to perform, assist, recommend, refer to, or participate in any act or service resulting in an abortion and it will be immune from liability for refusing to do so."

There's no word on how this prospective law would handle "dual-use" products. Perhaps you'll have to go elsewhere for coathangers. And ulcer medications. And Methotrexate. But probably not. More likely, so long as the pharmacist's smug sense of personal sanctity remains intact, it'll be immaterial whether pregnant women kill themselves trying to induce an abortion by other means, or are beaten or murdered when they can no longer hide their pregnancy. As long as you refuse to think about the consequences of refusing to do your job, God can't hold you personally responsible. Ignorance is bliss!

A similarly ugly burlesque of morality was common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most "respectable" doctors refused to endanger their high opinion of themselves by treating patients who'd contracted venereal diseases. As Laurie Garrett notes in Betrayal of Trust,
From the earliest days of organized public health, Americans had exhibited a peculiar inability to cope with the conjunction of three fearsome factors: sex, disease, and death.
In The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America, John S. and Robin M. Haller describe the situation in more detail:
The same public morality which drove venereal vicims out of the cities of London and Paris in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and later heard from papal pronouncements that syphilis was God's punishment for incontinence, survived in institutions supported by public donations in the nineteenth celltury. Many hospitals in New York and elsewhere had rules prohibiting the treatment of gonorrhea or syphilis.
As late as the 1930s, many American hospitals still had an official policy of refusing treatment to victims of venereal disease, even though Hippocrates himself stated that doctors "must inspect the unseemly and handle the horrible." A similar moral delicacy was observed in the early 20th century by doctors in Queensland, Australia, who piously refused to treat aboriginals who'd contracted venereal diseases (from white settlers, as often as not).

Here's the delightful Dr. John Simon of London, writing in 1868 against the use of public money for the prevention and treatment of venereal disease:
Now, it is quite certain that, rightly or wrongly, the proposed appropriation of money would, in the eyes of very large numbers of persons, be in the last degree odious and immoral....I suppose it may be assumed that public policy is very decidely in favour of marriage as against promiscuous fornication; that the latter, however powerless may be laws to prevent it, is, at least, an order of things which no State would willingly foster; that, whereas it has some contagious maladies, such drawbacks from its attractions are not in their kind a matter for general social regret; that venereal diseases are, in principle, infections which a man contracts at his own option, and against which he cannot in any degree claim to be protected by action of others - the less so, of course, as his option is exercised in modes of life contrary to the common good; that thus, prima facie, the true policy of Government is to regard the prevention of venereal diseases as a matter of exclusively private concern. Caveat emptor!
Returning to the present, the fact that you've managed to channel your basically murderous impulses into the protection of "innocent life" doesn't make you a good person, and certainly shouldn't exempt you from the professional standards that apply to your chosen profession. It's amazing how many people who deny that there's any right to a living wage, or to legal protection from sexual harassment, are convinced that there is a right to work in a government-licensed pharmacy, whether you're willing to do your job or not. Pharmacists, the logic goes, should enjoy legal protection from martyrdom, while reserving the right to thrust it upon other people.

Speaking as a radical vegan extremist who longs to force my irrational worldview down everyone else's throat, I look forward to getting a job at McDonald's -- or better yet, a public high-school cafeteria -- and refusing to serve anyone who orders animal products. I'm sure state legislators will be happy to scribble up some "conscience clause" that'll reinstate me if I get fired. After all, this isn't some mere eccentricity on my's a deeply held conviction about the sanctity of life.

In other news, a school official in Kentucky has allegedly told teachers to deny bathroom breaks to homosexual students. Let's hope that the state legislature moves swiftly to protect this official's freedom of conscience.

Dawn Upshaw by Anthony McCarthy

When her recording of Henryk G√≥recki’s Third Symphony, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs*, made her famous it could have been the beginning of a limited career for Dawn Upshaw. The beauty and purity of her voice on that recording would have tempted many singers to go in that direction, to the exclusion of any other. And there must have been some financial incentive to consider it. But Upshaw’s continuing career shows that she’s not that kind of artist. Subsequent work has shown that she is not interested in resting on past accomplishments or living within comfortable and profitable limits. When it comes to being a great musical artist, she doesn’t play the part, she’s the real thing.

This article, in what, as I write this, could be the last edition of the Boston Globe, shows that she is the opposite of the stereotype of a classical singer**. Reading her list of recent and upcoming activities makes you wonder how anyone in perfect health could do it. And Dawn Upshaw went through breast cancer treatment during part of it.

A great ‘new music’ singer is a pioneer, originating roles and giving first, and the even more important, subsequent performances of pieces. Composers hear what they can do and challenge the limits of those abilities. This short piece, capturing the astounding variety and courage of her work, makes me hope that someday, in her semi-retirement, she writes a book about what it is like to be the kind of professional singer she is. I think she could write one as good as Russell Sherman’s Piano Pieces, which I recommended a couple of years back as the best book I’ve ever read about what it’s like to play the piano. She’s an artist at the same level.

I’m restricted to a very slow computer this week or I’d go looking for musical examples to illustrate Upshaw’s work. This short biography gives some details about her extensive and distinguished work in more standard repertoire. Most 'new music' specialists are also accomplished performers of older music as well.

* The misunderstanding of this piece, often used as “relaxing” or “soothing” background music, is one of the strangest musical phenomena of the past twenty years. It’s a good indication of the ability of some people to hear but not listen and the dangers of accessibility to a composers’ intentions.

** Actually, most really accomplished classical singers don’t fit into that stereotype. Even the kind of career based in a limited range of repertoire and style is damned hard work. Once I got into a discussion which began with someone bragging that they’d memorized a moderately long poem. Someone pointed out that actors learn entire plays by heart all the time. The point that opera singers learn the text, in many languages, the music, generally pretty difficult music, the same kinds of blocking that actors do and top it off with wearing some really difficult costumes was as far as it could go. A really good singer is generally a great musician and an intelligent artist.