Saturday, December 23, 2006

One Day

A report from life

Posted by olvlzl

Now, as you read this,
Now, December 23rd
In a kitchen, now in Maine
Now, a butterfly, pale green,
Reflected moonlight in spring,
Eyespots, dark edged wings
Flying against the light.
Which plant harbored it
Three months ago?

Flying in place.
Going nowhere.

Did it know night?
Cold, maybe yearning for farther lights?
The light tube seeming a heart’s end, then.
As close as it will ever be.
But still trying.
If it broke through the glass
Does it imagine
flying into a florescent eternity,
No light being final enough?

No, it grew in the house,
on a plant brought in.

My friend told me that caterpillars didn’t really have brains, only neural ganglia, mocking regrets at killing cabbage worms. Home from her masters program in neural physiology, never tempted to vegetarianism. “You dope”, she said. “You wanted to be a farmer. You know, Bt is the safest way to get rid of them”.

I said that someday aliens could say the same thing about us, evoking Twilight Zone memories. Though, we agreed, the probability of compatible biochemistry making us a delicacy was remote. But a malign species, no question. We would call for strict control if not eradication.

Ah, it’s trying again.
Surely this phototaxis
Is volition
And wanting, striving,
Isn’t that the same thing?
Sara is gone,
I can’t ask her.

What does it eat?
The Coleus?
Wetting my hand, I catch it.
Careful, slow, catching it.
Or rather,
Resting from its pursuit.
It extends its mouth and
there’s something
important enough
to interrupt its attempts at light.

From my body?
Too romantic,
The iron filter makes the water salty.

It stays and puts its coiled
Mouth to my hand finding
Enough on the drying skin.

Resting longer than it seems
likely to find something.
Am I wasting its time?

Then it’s at the tube again.
What if it’s there tomorrow?
It wouldn’t live a minute outside,
It wouldn’t fly in the cold.

What does it mean?
It’s brief life,
enforced chastity,
never breeding,
at the beginning of winter.
Wait a minute?
Do cabbage moths turn green in the cold?
Hum. Sounds like Sara’s idea of a joke.

Wetting my hand again
It feeds and I see
Its green body, hairy and perfect,
What does it’s coming mean?
But why meaning?
What is the concept of
meaning in the Lepidoptera?
A title for a thesis, that.

Maybe it’s reason
Was to be seen.
A gift at solstice tide.
But that seems unfair.
Maybe it’s purpose
Stands apart
From its desires.

Maybe it’s this,
That slow, slow capture
The careful not-holding
A gesture with a wet hand
To nurse this one
That won’t know.
That can’t be known.
It is served,
Kept alive another day,
To wake in the morning
And still be here,
On the window,
To try after light
To see the futility
It can’t know,
To hold a wet hand
To it
Does it matter
When a butterfly
Needs water in December?

Alas, It's Not In The Public Domain

It would have been nice to have included a real Christmas story, Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path". If you have it handy, it's probably the best Christmas story written in the past hundred years. Wikipedia says that Alice Munro called it perhaps the most perfect short story ever written.

No, Not "That" O Henry Story

Having planned this weekend's posts as a sort of Christmas cracker for you I thought that an O Henry story would fit in nicely. No, it's not the one you might expect. It's this one.

Here's a hint, I always hear this as it might have been read by W. C. Fields.

Speaking of Embalmed

Posted by olvlzl.

Yesterday my mother came back from her Christmas visit with a shut-in even older than herself, considering she's getting up towards 90 that's saying something.

She told me that this little-old-lady showed her the Christmas card another member of their age cohort had sent her, detailing the pre-planning that a fourth one had done. This led to a seasonal discussion of cremation, all those mentioned are Catholics, by the way, though my mother is the only one who is Irish. The level of detail got quite involved and went on for quite a long time. While this was being related to me I started feeling distinctly uncheerful, the details of the mortuary mixed in with Christmas trivia. Gradually my mother noticed that I was getting glum as she recounted this conversation.

What's the matter? She wondered, genuinely mystified that I could find it depressing. Apparently the original discussion didn't do anything to dampen the holiday mood before they went on to complain about the Midnight Mass schedule and the priest shortage.


Posted by olvlzl

You will be spared another joke about fruitcake here.

Anyone who has ever tasted real fruitcake, made in a kitchen or a bakery and not in a leather factory, knows that the real thing is varied and complex and doesn't taste like solvents. There was a recipe in the Boston Globe the other day that I'm going to try after the holidays. But I'm definitely going to replace the candied peel with any or all of a combination of diced dried pineapple, apricots and or craisins. I'll hold the icing too.

That, friends, is the crux of the fruitcake problem. Citron that comes prechopped, smelling of mucelage, and those awful red and green cherries. Once you get over those fruitcake can be wonderful. So, white or black, fresh or embalmed in rum or brandy, try fruitcake without the citron or those carcinogenic cherries and it's a whole new thing. Not like the jokes, those are as old as the stupid tipping stories that the lazy media do every year.

Luck Won’t Get Us There, We Have To Make Our Own Good Morning Together

Posted by olvlzl.

I haven’t seen the movie about Murrow yet, not going to the movies for years at a time, I get behind. I just saw “Chicken Run” the other night. The last time I went to a movie theater was when “Hairspray” was in its first time round at the Knee Cramp Bijou. It’s on my list of things that I’ll see someday. Always been more of a music person, you see.

ut even without the historical perspective that the best of Hollywood might give, I’m going to go out on a limb. Bill Moyers, the greatest English language, broadcast journalist in history, certainly the greatest from the United States, still walks among us. I'm trying to think of a Goodnight and Good Luck incident in his life that will make for a movie script and am having a hard time coming up with one. Drama there has been but not, so far, that kind of thing. That he may never be honored with a cinematic memorial will, probably, lead to doubters of my assertion but I’m still making it. For what he has accomplished in hard reporting I’m confident in saying that the close competition for the title, either through corporate or historical circumstances, didn't quite go as far as his best work on NOW and several of his special reports broadcast on PBS. His broadcast in the 1980s pointing out the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the then high riding and ascendent fundamentalists and his lifting of numerous cover ups of corporate wrong doing are unmatched by any other individual.

A lot of his success is due to his knowledge of many things, his devotion to the basis of democracy and his fine writing. The kinds of things that are career killers in today’s corporate media. The rest is courage and moral integrity. The kind that doesn’t skimp due to professional mores.

Bill Moyers has "A Parable For Our Times" which is the best seasonal meditation I've seen so far this year.

Of course it’s hard to grasp what really motivated this movement. Many of the new conservative elites profess devotion to the needs of ordinary people, in contrast with some of their counterparts a hundred years ago who were often Social Darwinists, and couldn’t have been more convinced that a vast chasm between the rich and poor is the natural state of things. But after 30 years of conservative revival and a dramatic return of the discredited “voodoo economics” of the 1980s under George W. Bush, it’s reasonable to follow the old biblical proverb that says by their fruits you shall know them. By that realistic standard, I think the Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow’s analysis sums it up well: What it’s all about, he simply said, is “the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful."

Well, That Was Tricky

New Blogger was a bit reluctant to let me in this morning. Apparently the password changed or something. The posts will be coming soon.

Until then, are you as tired of The War On Christmas as I am? Even the War on the War on Christmas is as stale as fruitcake jokes, and when that joins the "tipping" and other habitual stories that every single part of the media does every single year, you know that the industrial grade fruitcake bought in a department store for those at the very bottom of the list, itself if fresher.

As I said, fresh posts soon.

yours truly,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Silly Post for Christmas Vacation 1

It's frightening to number posts, because there might be only one, after all. This silly post is about one aspect of the American use of English that I had trouble with. Statements such as: "I'm dying to see Borat!" or "I love peanut brittle but want to kill vanilla ice-cream." The strength of the statements.

When I adore something I tend to say "It's kinda nice." This contrast caused me some trouble right after arriving in the United States. A lot of people seemed to love me and want to be my bestfriendsforever, but then they didn't, not really. They were just being polite to a stranger. Now, where I come from a stranger will be regarded as one for about three generations, and I am comfortable with that.

Similar problems occur with physical space. How close can one go to a person without getting into his or her space? That's fairly culture-dependent, but it can cause problems when someone hugs you and you freeze, not because you don't like the person doing the hugging but because hugging to you means something quite different. Yet the outcome usually is that the hugger is hurt by the freezing of the huggee.

These problems tend to solve themselves with time, and I don't have any recent bad experiences. But I've noticed while traveling that similar dilemmas are not that unusual.

The Mainstreaming of Bigotry of All Types

Check out the ten (or more) outrageous comments by wingnut pundits during 2006. Then think about how extreme many of these comments are. If you had to write a satire of them, could you? I doubt it, because you can't really go any further in many cases.

That is what the wingnuts have achieved in the last decade, a sort of reverse of political correctness as an epidemic, "political correctness" the way the wingnuts use the term. Almost nothing is beyond the pale to say now, as long as it insults only the groups without much political power in this country. So now the Townhall publishes a column which regrets the fact that women have the vote. The logical next step would be to bemoan all those people who want to stop men from "physically correcting" their disobedient wives. I predict that in 2007 we will read that in a wingnut column, because Nancy Pelosi's public visibility will serve as a permanent thorn in the sides of quite a few misogynists.

I bet that the above paragraph will be interpreted as me advocating censure of what people say. This is not what I advocate. What I do advocate is a careful scrutiny of the way outrageous statements are being mainstreamed under the disguise of freedom of expression, statements, which have no information value and no value in general except that of legitimizing hatred based on no factual grounds. I also advocate responding to those comments rather than ignoring them, though I know that some of you disagree with me on this. But I think the mainstreaming process is too far gone for ignoring it to work. We need to use the same freedom of speech to correct lies and untruths and to point out sheer bigotry when we see it. Because bigotry is wrong. It hurts the innocent and props up the vicious.

Sheesh. I wanted to write something funny today but what is, is. As Donald Rumsfeld might say.

Alice In The Wonderland of Political Debate

Alice would be me. This is what I don't get: The political debate has recently been of the Alice-in-Wonderland type, where a person, such as the Mad Hatter, runs by saying something bizarre and then you are supposed to discuss it as if the statement had not been bizarre in the first place. I have very little patience for this game, and perhaps that disqualifies me as a political blogger.

Take the whole recent discussion of the Iraq occupation and what should be done about it to "win". Almost all of the arguments are bizarre and almost none of them would actually lead to any improvement. Then there are several arguments of the sort which start with "if we had more military forces" and then go on positing all sorts of things which fall apart because we don't have more military forces. But if we had them then this and this and this could be done and then we would win. Except that we don't have them and nobody in their right mind would suggest a draft because that suggestion is equal to committing harakiri and so on. But what we need is more troops on the ground. Though only about one in ten of Americans thinks this would be a good idea in the first place.

And so it goes, in ever tightening circles of madness and delusion. Of course the real game is not about the Iraqis at all. The real game is about domestic politics on the one hand and about reputations of pundits on the other. It's an ersatz game. It's like politics with Altzheimers, but we are not supposed to say that. Those who say that are not interested in politics, the Game. Those people are not Doing Politics.

I see things rather differently, sadly. I see an inane occupation, entered into without careful thought or any real understanding of the country the U.S. occupied. I see a country, Iraq, which was an artificial creation in the first place, a country, which has several large tribal units fighting over the same resources: oil and very little access to water. A country which the U.S. essentially demolished, and a country with more people than it can support at a high level of well-being.

Then I see religion as a form of identity and a form of resistance and lots of people with very little education and little allegiance to the concept of the country of Iraq. The allegiance they have is to their tribes and their religious factions. And the neighboring countries support different religious factions for reasons of tradition and their own interests.

Now this is the setup for the real Game. What happens next is unclear, but further violence is inevitable. To limit that violence at all requires diplomacy, not more troops.

But what do I know.

Merry Christmas! Another Recess Appointment

Let me see. How would you pick someone to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting board? Would you prefer someone who says this about public broadcasting:

Bell's support for public broadcasting has also been called into question. A September 21 Los Angeles Times article reported that several of Bell's former colleagues had sent a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee in which they claimed he had previously described public broadcasting as a waste of taxpayer dollars and proposed "dismantl[ing]" CPB:

In a letter sent Tuesday to the committee's ranking members, a married writing-and-producing team that worked with Bell for two years on "According to Jim" stated that they often heard him say that federal money should not be "wasted" on programs like public broadcasting.

Jeffrey B. Hodes and Nastaran Dibai said the topic came up during political discussions that frequently arose in the show's Studio City production offices. They served as executive producers on the ABC comedy before leaving in 2005.

At one point, "We said to him, 'How would you change CPB?' " Hodes said in an interview. "He said, 'I would dismantle it.' "

Further, in the July 16 Times article on his nomination, staff writer Matea Gold reported that "Bell admitted that he has 'limited' familiarity with NPR, adding that he usually listens to sports talk radio."

Those are the opinions of Warren Bell, the new CPB member appointed by George Bush.

Nothing new about this. After all, the conservative idea is to destroy the government, and a good way of doing that is to appoint incompetent people and people who hate what they're supposed to protect. And Bell is your gen-w-ine type of dyed-in-the-hide wingnut with the proper opinions on women and minorities and the poor, too:

* Bell on Democrats: "I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain." [5/11/05]

* Bell on using TiVo to keep his children from viewing birth control ads on TV: "A little vigilance is all it takes -- well, that and a couple hundred bucks for a TiVo. Sorry, poor people, your kids are going to be asking you awkward questions about condoms." [6/2/05]

* Bell on reproductive choice: "I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues. I support a woman's right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one." [5/11/05]

* Bell on Touchstone Television's alleged request that he hire more minorities for the TV sitcom he produces, ABC's According to Jim: "Of course, the conservative in me wants to say we should just find the best damn performers available, and judge them on the content of their character-acting, not their color. Ultimately, I will face a situation at some point this year where I say, 'Well, X was the funniest white actor, but we should probably go with Y'." [8/10/05] (Touchstone Television officials issued a statement that Bell's claim ''reflects no one's opinion connected with According to Jim other than his own.'')

I have an astonishing character flaw which turns out to be helpful in political blogging: I can always be freshly outraged by this stuff. It's as if I get remade into an outrage virgin every night while I sleep. Now, this is hard for me but helpful for blogging, because if I functioned normally I'd just start typing "the same old shit" repeatedly.

More On The Proud Sexist Article

This refers to the post right below and consists of an appendix, if you like, of all the things that I thought after pressing the Publish-button on that one. Most of those things have to do with what is flawed in the arguments of Grabar's initial column. Looking at those may be beneficial.

First, Grabar applies a very negative stereotype to the group "women" without providing any valid evidence to support it. Anecdotal evidence does not count, because it is not objectively verifiable and because anecdotal evidence can only be used to disprove some general ("all people" are xyz) argument, not prove it.

Second, Grabar applies a completely different but positive stereotype to the group "men" by assuming that all men are logical, rational and unfrivolous. She doesn't offer any non-anecdotal evidence for this stereotype, either.

Third, the article makes hidden value assumptions in a deeper sense: Emotional intelligence is viewed as stupidity, narrowly defined cold rationality is esteemed, and then these attributes are made gendered. Once again, no real evidence is offered on why certain characteristics are "good" and others "bad".

Fourth, despite the frivolity and illogicality of women the article, and especially the comments to it, implicitly assume that these flawed creatures are the ones who should educate the next generation. Thus, either these wingnuts really don't believe what they are saying about women or they really don't care about the well-being of children or both. Dishonesty, thy name is...wingnut.

Fifth, the solutions Grabar offers to the "problem" she has defined are punitive in nature. Men must be the managers and warders of these half-crazed creatures called women. Supppose, for a wild bizarre moment, that her arguments were correct. Why then wouldn't she consider a wider menu of policies to improve women's understanding and behavior? Education, say? It is in the immediate choice of the punitive solution that Grabar's misogyny is most obvious. (Not to mention the fact that on average men are not more logical than women. Women and men score on average equally in tests of logic.)

There are probably more points I could add to this list, but my time is valuable and my bed beckons. But isn't it funny how very similar the wingnuts' views on women are to those of bin Laden's supporters? Brothers under the skin.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Sexist - And Proud of It

Conservatives are tending that way, these days, out in the open. That many of them have always been sexists inside their private minds goes without saying. Tboggs noted an interesting Townhall column on this coming-out of sexists and the logical fallacy its author, one Mary Grabar, fell into. She begins like this:

After watching The View and following the inane statements made on the program, I've come to the conclusion that it really is true what Aristotle, Saint Paul, and John Milton said: Women, without male guidance, are illogical, frivolous, and incapable of making any decisions beyond what to make for dinner.

Right-o. As Tboggs noted, this would be the time to stop reading Grabar's column, given that she is a woman. Unless there is a Mr. Grabar somewhere in the background pulling her strings, of course.

The problem for the women who have drunk patriarchy's KoolAid has always been the schizophrenia of looking down on all women yet being one of that despised species. How to solve this dilemma? The obvious solution is to ask for an exemption: Though women are headless hens cackling away and good-for-nothing but taking care of children (funnily enough, the Most Important Job in other conservative contexts, yet something that can be trusted to cackling hens), the woman stating these opinions is NOT a cackling hen. In fact, she is not a woman at all, but a miniature version of the Calm and Always Logical Great Man:

I admit I'm not a typical woman.

When I was a graduate student, for $50, I participated in the Psychology Department's study and took the Myers-Briggs personality test and came up, not surprisingly, as an INTP. My type is the absent-minded professor, which I learned was very rare among women.

And will this let you use the men's public toilets, hm?

Sigh. Grabar goes on to say that women's suffrage was a Big Mistake. I'm sure she'd be willing to take one for her (male) team by not voting herself, ever again.

Do you know what I found most interesting about Grabar's column? The comments. All the sexists and misogynists and believers in the innate inferiority of women saw a green light and crawled out from under that slimy rock to pipe in their approval of this courageous act of going along with the powerful in this world. And by doing so they proved themselves indeed not just anti-feminists (the so-far accepted version of misogyny) but true sexists: people who find women stupid, over-emotional and all those other things that no man is ever guilty of. People who stereotype wildly and quite illogically all over the place. And people, if female, who want to be given the exemption certificate from their sex.

One of my recurring themes has to do with the return of sexism in much public discussion, a return which hasn't happened for racism to the same extent. If you translate the message of this column into terms of race you might notice that Grabar is advocating (even if only to annoy us feminists) the disenfranchising of a whole group of people, indeed, the majority of people. Just imagine if a black columnist had advocated disenfranchising all blacks.


This recipe makes a crisp gingerbread cookie. I've left the desiliters and grams untranslated, because I'm lazy. My gingerbread castle (the icing looks very professional, heh) required three times this recipe. It works in multiples.


3/4 dl dark molasses
1 dl sugar
125 grams butter
1 ts ground cinnamon
1 ts ground ginger
1 ts ground cloves
1/2 tbs ground pomegranate peel (you won't find this, probably, so substitute the same amount of grated orange peel if you find organic oranges, or just omit)
1 egg
1/2 ts salt
1/2 ts soda
c. 3 1/2 dl all-purpose flour

What to do with them:

1. Mix molasses, sugar, butter and the spices in a saucepan. Let the mixture come to a boil. Then cool it.
2. Add the egg to the mixture. Separately mix together the flour, the salt and the soda. Sift them into the molasses-mixture.
3. Let the batter stay cold until the following day (put it in the fridge).
4. Roll the batter out on a floured board. How thin depends on what you use it for. If it's for a gingerbread house, 1/4 inch is adequate. If just for eating, as thin as you can make it. Cut out shapes as needed. If you're making cookies use those molds you can buy. If you're making a gingerbread house, make a paper pattern for the walls and the roof halves (and the four sides of a chimney if you want to have one) and use that as a guide. Remember to cut the holes for the windows and the door. You can save the piece for the door and when the house has been erected glue it back on as half-open.
5. While you are doing all this, heat the oven to 200 centigrades (400 Fahrenheit). Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes. Makes about sixty. You can decorate the cookies with icing sugar, mixed first with a little lemon juice (and water, if needed). But you probably don't want to just daub this on like I did.

If you're making a gingerbread house, glue the walls together with melted sugar (melt it in a frying pan) (CAREFUL! VERY HOT!), first in pairs of two adjoining walls and then the pairs together. Glue the roof halves together in the same manner and gently place the roof on top of the walls. You can decorate the window edges and the door and the shingles on the roof with icing sugar, too. A tealight lit inside the house looks very nice, by the way. Just remember to watch it.

Now that I think of it a little, this whole project sounds pretty goofy. And you may need to lower the oven temperature a little for the walls and the roof as they are big so need to bake longer at a lower temperature.

On The Surge, The Thrust and The Bulge

Tut, tut. This post is all about the Iraq war. As all wise people know, the only serious blogging topic is the surge. President Bush's idea that the mess in Iraq can be fixed by stirring in more troops. Reminds me of one of my more desperate cooking attempts and the last minute experimentation with various spices to disguise the fact that the stew tasted awful.

Anyway, what a blogger is supposed to do is this: Assess how likely it is that more troops are to be found, except by squeezing the already existing ones drier of vacation time and sleep and so on. Then assess what adding extra troops could achieve, assuming that they were either sprinkled over Iraq evenly or stuffed all into one problem area or used to make Baghdad look acceptable. Finally, a blogger is supposed to discuss the role of the Saudis, Iran and Syria and such in all this, to assess how mad the Shias are going to be if the U.S. starts chasing them more than has happened in the past. Inbetween all this earnest investigation, a few comments about how Bush doesn't listen to anyone and will do his own thing, no matter what, are also expected, but they must be snuck in elegantly and in polite-speak.

I'm having none of it. I'm totally pissed off at the people Atrios calls the Wise Old Men of Washington. It doesn't much matter what Bush does at this stage. Iraq is down the drain, and more military force will not work unless the force is truly enormous. And nobody is talking about sending in an extra million soldiers.

But then nobody is interested in my opinions in the first place, because I was always opposed to this war (and only those who woke up too late are worth listening to) for the simple reason that a glass vase, once broken, never looks the same again. I didn't break the vase and I'm not going to discuss how to glue it together again. Though I will say this: The Wise Old Men in Washington are misled in their recommendations by the truism that the United States is the greatest military power on earth. This is true, but only in the total-devastation sense. The United States could use nuclear bombs to kill everything that breathes on this earth. But knowing this doesn't help us in managing Iraq. The skills needed are not those nuclear bombs possess. Or those that George Bush possesses, obviously.

Tweety's Been Poking, Again

Tweety is Chris Matthews, a pundit, and he has been poking Hillary Clinton, to see what makes this female thing work. Examples from the show on the 19th of December:

MATTHEWS: Bob, I know you're a liberal, but when are -- when is a politician like Hillary Clinton or anybody else going to admit they have the A-word, ambition, and stop with this coy thing about, "I'm so flattered by so much" -- it's just like a strip-teaser saying she's flattered by the all the attention. Hillary is running for president. She wants to be president. What's wrong with saying it?


MATTHEWS: Bob, didn't you think she had a nice, mellifluous voice there? She was calm, she was charming, her hair looked just to be cosmetic, her hair looked great, she looked great. Can she soften her image from the more strident Hillary and do well without it?


MATTHEWS: Is she a convincing mom?


MATTHEWS: -- she lets her husband get away with what he's gotten away with? Don't women resent that

Is she a convincing mom? How do you do "unconvincing" in motherhood? You have no stretch marks or something? And how old is Chelsea Clinton, again?

This is not even funny. First Tweety wants her to come clean on her oh-so-unfeminine ambition. Then he wants her to be softer, more feminine. Then he questions her credentials as a mother and as a wife.

Look, it's fine to criticize Hillary Clinton's political acts and opinions. But if we are going to put her through the clothes-wringer like this, let's do it to all other politicians, too. Let's ask how good a husband Rudy Giuliani is, for example.

Today's Action Alert

Via this Kos diary, go here.

It's a petition against the choice of Mr. Keroack, a man who doesn't believe in contraception, as the administrator in charge of the Title X Programs which are all about family planning.

Weblog Awards

It's fun to juxtapose this year's winners for the best liberal and conservative blogs: Think Progress and Little Green Footballs, respectively. If you have spent any time at all on these two sites you know that the latter specializes in hating on the Muslims whereas the former actually has a lot of factual posts. Not too much should be made of the results, sadly, because the voting process allows multiple votes by the same people and so the results will reflect community sizes and the fervor of those who voted. But still. If I were a conservative I'd feel ashamed by the victory of LGF.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Blobosphere

I was going to write about Anne Applebaum's article blaming the "Old Europe" for not fixing America's problems in Iraq after America spat on it, but others have been doing it without any help from me. Though you might want to read an old post of mine using a parable to explain why Europeans are annoyed and not too eager to help.

As my first choice was taken, I'm going to steal another choice from Shakespeare's Sister and talk about the Blob Mob, subtitled ""Written by fools to be read by imbeciles", by Joseph Rago.

Rago works for the Wall Street Journal and looks down on blogs:

Because political blogs are predictable, they are excruciatingly boring. More acutely, they promote intellectual disingenuousness, with every constituency hostage to its assumptions and the party line. Thus the right-leaning blogs exhaustively pursue second-order distractions--John Kerry always providing useful material--while leaving underexamined more fundamental issues, say, Iraq. Conservatives have long taken it as self-evident that the press unfavorably distorts the war, which may be the case; but today that country is a vastation, and the unified field theory of media bias has not been altered one jot.

Leftward fatuities too are easily found: The fatuity matters more than the politics. If the blogs have enthusiastically endorsed Joseph Conrad's judgment of newspapering--"written by fools to be read by imbeciles"--they have also demonstrated a remarkable ecumenicalism in filling out that same role themselves.

Nobody wants to be an imbecile. Part of it, I think, is that everyone likes shows and entertainments. Mobs are exciting. People also like validation of what they already believe; the Internet, like all free markets, has a way of gratifying the mediocrity of the masses. And part of it, especially in politics, has to do with conservatives. In their frustration with the ancien régime, conservatives quite eagerly traded for an enlarged discourse. In the process they created a counterestablishment, one that has adopted the same reductive habits they used to complain about. The quarrel over one discrete set of standards did a lot to pull down the very idea of standards.

Hohum. I have no idea why I wrote "hohum". Because I'm a blobhead?

But isn't it interesting how the wingnuts pursue populist policies of the nastiest kind: those encouraging racism and sexism and xenophobia, yet at the same time the populism of the blogs is a source of great condescending merriment? "The mediocrity of the masses?" Gulp. My mass isn't that great, goddesses being mostly of air, but I get the idea.

Rago makes a few pertinent points. For instance, it is true that blogs have so far been of limited value in debates across the aisle dividing political opinions. Most of that debate has turned into trolling. But the mainstream media (coughthe editorial page of Wall Street Journalcough) isn't any more capable of considered debate across party lines.

Likewise, Rago's statement that "people also like validation of what they already believe" is pretty much reflected in how people read newspapers or watch television. Those eager faces focused on Fox News don't belong to liberals or progressives (unless someone is paying them to monitor O'Reilly or Hannity). Could it be that Rago dislikes the validation aspect of blogs because it is about the only place now where progressives opinions get validated?

Are the blogs successful simply because "free markets always reward mediocrity"? (What on earth made a conservative write something like that?) I believe that at least part of the success of blogs is in the gaps they fill. There are points of view and opinions which the traditional media will not touch. For example, if you want to read about feminism what do you find in the mainstream media? Articles about feminazism, political correctness, the war against boys, the opt-out revolution of career women and so on. With the exception of a few magazines, not much which would give feminism any positive credit and not much which shows some study of the field. For those you have to turn to blogs.

Have a cocktail weenie, Joseph:

Oh, I forgot to add: The blogs have a fairly nice price, too.

The Pre-Christmas Week

I have all types of interesting political thoughts having parties in my head, but this doesn't seem to be the best of times writing them down, because many of you, my sweet and smart readers (plus a few assorted trolls), are too busy cooking and vacuuming and wrapping for political stuff. Or that is what I think. But instead of just thinking it, I decided to put it out here to be scanned quickly while someone is looking for women having sex with snakes and somehow gets on this blog. Or of course for those who read what I write, for some weird masochistic reason. Or not.

That is a terrible paragraph of crap. What am I trying to say here? That I'd like to know what to post on during the Christmas vacation. Would you like nice and comfy posts, mainly, or something totally different? Book reviews? Discussions on the mating habits of unusual animals? Gingerbread recipes? My feminist pet peeves? Nice anger? Love and kindness? Both?

A Dragon Miracle

Quite sweet, in an odd way:

As Christmas approaches, a virgin mother is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her offspring. She's Flora, the Komodo dragon.

In an evolutionary twist, Flora has managed to become pregnant all on her own without any male help. It would seem the timing is auspicious: the seven baby Komodo dragons are due this festive season.

"We were blown away when we realized what she'd done," said Kevin Buley, a reptile expert at Flora's home at the Chester Zoo in this town in northern England. "But we certainly won't be naming any of the hatchlings Jesus."

Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora's virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon earlier this year at the London Zoo, are the first time it has been documented in a Komodo dragon.

The reptiles, renowned for their intelligence, are native to Indonesia. They are the world's largest lizards and have no natural predators — making them on par with sharks and lions at the pinnacle of the animal kingdom.

Parthenogenesis is a clever twist for a species to survive during times when it might be hard to meet some handsome young male dragon. Handsome young male dragons, mmm.

Sex And The Single Girl/Guy

So 95% of all married Americans have had premarital sex, and this percentage doesn't show much change across generations. Now this is big news. Why it is big news should be bigger news in itself: Because this government is trying to micromanage the private behaviors of Americans, especially in terms of sexuality, and part of that micromanaging is giving recommendations to stay abstinent until the age of thirty at least, unless one is already married.

This recommendation is supposedly based on health grounds, to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. But sex within marriage can also give you sexually transmitted diseases if your partner brings them home, and strict health grounds shouldn't cause the recommendation to apply only to sex outside the marital bed. It's all about morality, of course, or about one specific type of morality based on one specific religious point of view.

Well, Wade Horn (the assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and also incidentally the guy who believes that what makes a family is a father) now pretends that the abstinence-for-adults program has nothing to do with feeding the wingnuts their daily quota of raw meat:

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defended the abstinence-only approach for teenagers.

"One of its values is to help young people delay the onset of sexual activity," he said. "The longer one delays, the fewer lifetime sex partners they have, and the less the risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease."

He insisted there was no federal mission against premarital sex among adults.

"Absolutely not," Horn said. "The Bush administration does not believe the government should be regulating or stigmatizing the behavior of adults."

A nice bellylaugh I got from that last paragraph.

This may be a suitable place to point out that the liberal/progressive ethics on sex are not those of a pornographer. Or at least mine are not. My ethics on premarital or marital sex are really very simple, but they exist, and they are almost religious (heh): Don't do to others what you don't want done to you.

This means that all concerned people (including any partners you are planning to cheat) should be treated with respect, that there should be no coercing, that the feelings of all concerned people (see previous paragraph) should be considered and that the consequences, including health consequences, should be taken into account. All this even if you happen to married to the person you want to have sex with!

Now this should be good for some debate.

Back To The 1950s But This Time in Israel

Let me see if you can get my riddle: What act in the American history of the 1950s sorta resembles what happened in Israel quite recently, but sorta does not? Here's the quote:

A woman who reported a vicious attack by an ad-hoc "modesty patrol" on a Jerusalem bus last month is now lining up support for her case and may be included in a petition to the High Court of Justice over the legality of sex-segregated buses.

Miriam Shear says she was traveling to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City early on November 24 when a group of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men attacked her for refusing to move to the back of the Egged No. 2 bus. She is now in touch with several legal advocacy and women's organizations, and at the same time, waiting for the police to apprehend her attackers.

In her first interview since the incident, Shear says that on the bus three weeks ago, she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women. The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that violence was used against her, but Shear's account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked "severe beating."

Shear, an American-Israeli woman who currently lives in Canada, says that on a recent five-week vacation to Israel, she rode the bus daily to the Old City to pray at sunrise. Though not defined by Egged as a sex-segregated "mehadrin" bus, women usually sit in the back, while men sit in the front, as a matter of custom.

"Every two or three days, someone would tell me to sit in the back, sometimes politely and sometimes not," she recalled this week in a telephone interview. "I was always polite and said 'No. This is not a synagogue. I am not going to sit in the back.'"

But Shear, a 50-year-old religious woman, says that on the morning of the 24th, a man got onto the bus and demanded her seat - even though there were a number of other seats available in the front of the bus.

"I said, I'm not moving and he said, 'I'm not asking you, I'm telling you.' Then he spat in my face and at that point, I was in high adrenaline mode and called him a son-of-a-bitch, which I am not proud of. Then I spat back. At that point, he pushed me down and people on the bus were screaming that I was crazy. Four men surrounded me and slapped my face, punched me in the chest, pulled at my clothes, beat me, kicked me. My snood [hair covering] came off. I was fighting back and kicked one of the men in his privates. I will never forget the look on his face."

Shear says that when she bent down in the aisle to retrieve her hair covering, "one of the men kicked me in the face. Thank God he missed my eye. I got up and punched him. I said, 'I want my hair covering back' but he wouldn't give it to me, so I took his black hat and threw it in the aisle."

Here comes the spoiler: This should remind you of Rosa Parks, except it doesn't, because somehow all the things that were done to blacks here are not so bad when done to women in the name of religion. And so it goes.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What Do You Want From Santa?

Assuming that you believe in Santa, natch. What would you like to get for presents? Nothing noble allowed in this thread. Only silly things. But they can be nonmaterialistic silly things.

A confession: I think I would like to shift to January 2 in some painless and instantaneous way, because I don't want to clean or cook or wrap presents. I'm an Auntie Scrooge, though it wasn't always that way. But I've realized that Christmas is like dish-washing. You do it, and then you do it, again and again, and nobody gives you any credit for a successful job of organizing the parties and cooking the meals and buying the tubesocks in the parcels, but if you don't do it everybody notices. And calling the celebrations something different (say, Solstice) doesn't make any difference. O how Scroogey.

The Newsweek Obama-Clinton Story

Or: Are we really ready for blacks or women behind the steering wheel? You know, concern trollery (term due to Phila). You may have read the story. If not, here is the link. Many bloggers have pointed out that the story didn't address Newsweek's own recent poll which showed Hillary Clinton polling ahead of even the sainted McCain, even though it was discreetly linked to. Greg Sargent contacted Newsweek editor Jon Meacham and got this answer for the odd omission:

Now Meacham has responded to all the criticism. In his interview with me, Meacham claimed the numbers weren't included mainly because they were well over a week old, and because horse race numbers this far out are meaningless.

Asked why the numbers weren't included, Meacham said:

"We routinely poll on the horse race numbers. Whether we put them in the magazine varies from week to week. We have tended not to use horse race numbers because we are so far out."

Ok. So polls this early are meaningless but articles which will affect future polls are not? From now on I will keep an eye out to other similar Newsweek stories, checking that all poll numbers a week old or older are ignored.

This is silly. The poll was probably ignored because it didn't go with the storyline of the article.

The New Arbiter Of Ethical Behavior: Donald Trump

According to an article in the New York Times:

He characterized her choices as "very, very bad." But in the end Donald J. Trump magnanimously announced today that he would give a second chance to Miss USA, Tara Conner, the beauty pageant winner who has been the subject of numerous published reports of alcohol and drug use and wild partying.

Miss Conner, who just turned 21, fought back tears as she appeared at a news conference with Mr. Trump, a co-owner of the Miss Universe Organization. Wearing a light blue shirt under a dark pinstripe suit, Ms. Conner acknowledged drinking alcohol while under the legal age, but said that it would be "pushing" it to say that she had a drinking problem.

Such a hilariously juicy topic, is it not? Donald Trump, the man who changes wives as often as other men change their underwear telling a young woman that she is acting irresponsibly because she is copying the way the Big Guys play. But then Donald Trump has money and power and he is a white guy and he really pretty much owns Tara Conner. So he can tell what her ethics should be but she can't tell what his ethics should be. None of us can tell Trump anything.

Beauty pageants. I'm not a fan of them. In that I'm almost like the genuine 1960s and 1970s feminists. Not because I want to stop all fun or because I don't get laid enough or because of having hairy armpits (goddesses don't have armpits, silly) or because of being envious of other women's beauty. But because this is the only field, truly, in which the traditional patriarchy wants women to compete: against other women, for male attention, and only in lengths of legs, shapes of butts and size of boobs. A cattle auction.

Of course beauty pageants are other things, too. But most of those other things, such as scholarships and interviews about why the candidate wants to save all the children in the world and then erect world peace were added because of feminist complaints. They were not what the pageants were about, initially, and they are not the reason why some people still watch them. They are watched to look at the gams and the tits and to make ridiculing comments about the choices of clothing and the silly things the candidates say.

The ethics clauses and the requirement that the participants can't be married are also there for a reason: To make the candidates Fresh Goods, unused and still in the package, and also to cover up the semi-pornographic aspect of the pageants.

It's weird writing this post, because I don't think about beauty pageants very much. They take place in some alternate reality. But this Trump thing is just plain silly.

George Bush's Wars

There is the real war in Iraq and the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, though the latter has been put on a backburner, even though it's the more relevant one in the so-called war against terror. And there is naturally the very famous war against the concept "terror". Ironically, one of the defensive tactics in this war is making people scared. Of terror. Which intends to make people scared.

You've heard about those many times. What is a little less well known are the other Bush wars, some against particular groups, such as the poor, some over the ownership of valuable resources, such as women's wombs, and some against yet more concepts. The war against information belongs to that category. Slowly and silently, the administration has changed the availability of information on almost all topics it dislikes or doesn't want to support. This will have long-term consequences, especially in combination with the salting of the civil service with lots of wingnuts. Book burning in a modern form.

Valuing Human Life

Economists and lawyers do this, because someone must. But it's not a fun task and assigning some number as compensation for the loss of a partner or a parent or a child doesn't mean that the monetary figures adequately measure the value of a human life. In the case of a court judgement the money is usually compensation for a lost livelihood and based on the income lost to a family, say, because a breadwinner died in some way that another party is blamed for.

But putting some numbers on the value of a death prevented is necessary. Think of this example: A country has a budget of x dollars for improving traffic safety. How is it best spent? If all of it is invested in making one single traffic junction safer then people will keep on dying, perhaps needlessly, elsewhere, and what this decision tells us is that the value of some human lives (of those using the now-safe roads) is greater than that of some other lives (those traveling on other roads).

Why am I talking about this boring and esoteric topic? Because of the case at Mount Hood where several people are trying to rescue two climbers. We know their names. We are rooting for them. The value of their lives appears infinitely high. Television pundits have a tear in their eyes when discussing the so far fruitless rescue efforts, and nobody thinks of the money that is being spent. This is because these are "known lives", lives with names and families and faces.

Now contrast this with a statistical human life: spending the same amount of money in preventing further mountaineering accidents would save x lives. X lives of some people we know nothing about. Now suppose that x exceeds two lives. We still might not be willing to spend the same amount on these statistical lives.

I think that this is called "the man in the rowboat" syndrome (or something similar): The fact that our willingness to spend money to prevent deaths is much greater when we have some knowledge of the person or persons saved. This knowledge makes the case real and the urgency greater. A similar thing happens with those who are dying in Iraq. As long as they are just numbers the deaths don't really hit us deeply. But once we are given names and other details (an old man, a child, a pregnant woman) we become more concerned.

Though all this may be natural, it can mean bad ways of spending our prevention dollars. But then it is linked to another silly thing we humans do: Not giving much credit to those who prevented catastrophes from happening while praising and adulating those who make a mess of the prevention but manage to control the catastrophe at the last minute.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Concern Trolls and Hillary Clinton

Concern trolls are a subcategory of trolls on blogs. Concern trolls pretend to be on the side of the blogger or the blog readers but sneakily put in opinions and arguments which are the very opposite, all the time bemoaning the horror, horror!, that such arguments can be true, because they totally destroy "our" positions and what the fuck can we do now? Well, blogs are not the only place where concern trolls can be found. Even famous liberal newspapers have them, when it comes to the topic of Hillary Clinton's possible presidential run in 2008.

Here is a beautiful example:

It was political Kabuki -- Bill Clinton, held in check -- on a night that some observers saw as the start of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Bill is poised to mightily help or deeply hurt his wife's White House prospects. Either way, his impact will be profound as he undertakes the unprecedented role of ex-president turned male campaign spouse to the first woman ever to have a serious shot at the presidency.

Yes, Bill can deliver political superstardom. He's a razor-sharp political strategist. He knows the institution of the presidency. His fundraising chops are unrivaled. All that is well and good -- perhaps too good, according to a September CNN poll, which showed his favorable rating higher than hers, 60 percent to 50 percent.

But there's the other Bill, the one who could be a massive and messy distraction. That Bill is the ex-president known for his outsize appetites and indiscipline, the Bill who still revels in the limelight, who runs with global jet-setters. He is prone to pop up in the press for even the smallest of curiosities, like being spotted at dinner with another woman -- bad news for an ex-president already infamous for marital infidelity.

If she runs, will voters focus too much on him? Will they remember too much of the national trauma known as "that woman" (Monica Lewinsky) -- and the presidential prevaricating, hair-splitting (what is"is," anyway?) and impeachment that followed? Can voters look at Bill without thinking of sex? If they don't think of sex, they'll likely think the word: "president," which may also not be such a good thing for the spouse who wants that title.

"If she runs, will voters focus too much on him?" Just in case they won't, the author of this article helps the focus by pointing out Bill Clinton's cocksucking episode as an example of what the voters could, perhaps, just perhaps, focus on. And for the bestest, most astonishing concern-trollery, just savor this sentence slowly:

Can voters look at Bill without thinking of sex? If they don't think of sex, they'll likely think the word: "president," which may also not be such a good thing for the spouse who wants that title.

Do you remember reading an article about George and Laura Bush in these terms? Something about what people might think about events in Laura's past? I don't remember reading one, either, and if such articles are going to be written of one candidate then they should be written of all candidates.

How much of this concern-trolling is because Hillary has the wrong genitals? I'm not sure, but I'm sure of one thing: If the voters didn't have Bill Clinton's shenanigans and stature in mind before reading this article they do now.

Time Magazine's Person of the Year

It's a mirror! Honestly. Buy the magazine and what you find is a mirror on the cover. This is a smart way of saying that YOU are the Time Magazine's Person of the Year. Though not "you-you" but some mythological type of "you":

It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes," said Grossman, Time's technology writer and book critic.

"The tool that makes this possible is the World Wide Web," he said. "It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter."

So why didn't they name the Web the person of the year? I guess it's because the Web is not a person. But then neither are millions and millions of us "a person". In any case, the concept of the Person of the Year has changed from being the Person of the Year with Testicles to being a Good Person of the Year Who Had an Effect. Osama bin Laden never made it, even though he clearly was the person with the most effect on the world in 2001. The effect was horrible, true, but the initial definition for winning this competition didn't require goodness.

There is a point to the selection, though, if only we called the competition the Time Magazine's Trend/Fad/Fashion of the Year. But we don't call it that.

I get the reason for the selection, of course, and people on the internet can indeed be marvelous to each other, all sorts of political power is being grabbed and the powers-that-be are desperately trying to grab it back. But there are also trolls on the net. Just saying.

Franz Kafka's Trial Re-Enacted?

Read The Trial if you haven't already. It begins with a simple announcement:

Someone must have slandered Joseph K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

Joseph K. learns that he is accused of a crime so secret and mysterious that he himself is not allowed to learn its name. Thus begins his futile and panic-filled struggle against the blind and impossible-to-understand processes of criminal justice; a struggle like that of a fly desperately trying to free itself from the sticky web of an unfeeling spider, causing nothing but further enmeshment. Kafkaesque. This is where that word was born.

Now compare Joseph K.'s experiences with those of Donald Vance. Sadly, Vance is not a fictional character:

One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military's maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.

American guards arrived at the man's cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon's detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.

But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

At Camp Cropper, he took notes on his imprisonment and smuggled them out in a Bible.

"Sick, very. Vomited," he wrote July 3. The next day: "Told no more phone calls til leave."

Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.

Can this be true? I'd prefer it to be from a book, even from the Trial. At one point in the book Joseph K. gives this speech:

"There can be no doubt—"said K., quite softly, for he was elated by the breathless attention of the meeting; in that stillness a subdued hum was audible which was more exciting than the wildest applause—"there can be no doubt that behind all the actions of this court of justice, that is to say in my case, behind my arrest and today's interrogation, there is a great organization at work. An organization which not only employs corrupt warders, oafish Inspectors, and Examining Magistrates of whom the best that can be said is that they recognize their own limitations, but also has at its disposal a judicial hierarchy of high, indeed of the highest rank, with an indispensable and numerous retinue of servants, clerks, police, and other assistants, perhaps even hangmen, I do not shrink from that word. And the significance of this great organization, gentlemen? It consists in this, that innocent persons are accused of guilt, and senseless proceedings are put in motion against them..."

Donald Vance also had a hearing:

"Boards," he wrote April 24, the day he and Mr. Ertel went before Camp Cropper's Detainee Status Board.

Their legal rights, laid out in a letter from Lt. Col. Bradley J. Huestis of the Army, the president of the status board, allowed them to attend the hearing and testify. However, under Rule 3, the letter said, "You do not have the right to legal counsel, but you may have a personal representative assist you at the hearing if the personal representative is reasonably available."

Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel were permitted at their hearings only because they were Americans, Lieutenant Fracasso said. The cases of all other detainees are reviewed without the detainees present, she said. In both types of cases, defense lawyers are not allowed to attend because the hearings are not criminal proceedings, she said.

Lieutenant Fracasso said that currently there were three Americans in military custody in Iraq. The military does not identify detainees.

Mr. Vance and Mr. Ertel had separate hearings. They said their requests to be each other's personal representative had been denied.

At the hearings, a woman and two men wearing Army uniforms but no name tags or rank designations sat a table with two stacks of documents. One was about an inch thick, and the men were allowed to see some papers from that stack. The other pile was much thicker, but they were told that this pile was evidence only the board could see.

The men pleaded with the board. "I'm telling them there has been a major mix-up," Mr. Ertel said. "Please, I'm out of my mind. I haven't slept. I'm not eating. I'm terrified."

Mr. Vance said he implored the board to delve into his laptop computer and cellphone for his communications with the F.B.I. agent in Chicago.

Each of the hearings lasted about two hours, and the men said they never saw the board again.

Can this be true? How many times did Joseph K. turn the same question over in his head?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

That Favorite Christmas Music Thread

Posted by olvlzl.

My favorite recorded Christmas music is Odetta’s Christmas Spirituals*. Odetta is incomparable, no news there, and this album is deep and rich and simple all at once. Virgin Mary had a Son, the first song sets the tone. This isn’t going to be a porcelain manger scene with a high fire finish, it’s going to be about life. A call, “Leave your sheep and leave your rams. Rise up Shepherd and follow,” and a charge to action, “Go Where I Send Thee,”.

Made at the height of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s the themes of freedom and responsibility are highlighted among the familiar details of the story. Odetta and Bill Lee created an album for the ages.

I’ve mentioned the Christmas music of Marc Antoine Charpentier, a French baroque composer. I don’t think my favorite, ravishingly beautiful, recording of his Midnight Mass by Les Arts Flourissants is available just now but a new recording of it is available on Naxos. I haven’t heard it so am unable to give details. Chapentier’s Pastorale** and his other Christmas music is all a refreshing change from the ususal Anglo-Germanic fare.

Another old album, The Holly Bears The Crown by The Young Tradition is one that is too hard to find but which is good if you can. Jean Ritchie’s Carols for All Seasons*** combines her traditional Appalachian soprano with a harpsichord and recorder played in best 1950s style. The several songs she sings with her dulcimer and without accompaniment are the best ones on the album.

A Music Box Christmas****, 19th century Christmas music played on period music boxes is another one which doesn’t seem to get old despite listening to it through LP, cassette and now CD.

* Christmas Spirituals Vanguard 79079-2
** M. A. Chapentier Pastorale Harmonia Mundi HMC 901082. Also try Marc Antoine Charpentier Antienne “O” de ‘Avent HMA 1905124, included is a Christmas cantata and several Noels. Both recordings are with Les Arts Flourissants conducted by William Christie
*** Carols for All Seasons Tradition TCD 1058
**** A Music Box Christmas Columbia CK 8498

Let’s Try The Christmas Narrative The Way It Must Have Been.

And watch the "christian" right go nuclear.

Posted by olvlzl.

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece about Andres Serrano’s infamous Piss Christ. To come clean, it was a defense of it. The piece went into quite a lot of detail about the meaning and use of religious imagery and how the casual and dishonest use of the cross, an instrument of one of the more brutal forms of widely used state terror ever devised, ignored the fact that people were killed with it. Reading it over, I had to conclude that the piece was dishonest in itself and so didn't post it. Having seen Serrano's other work I don’t really believe that was what he intended. Given that* I have to believe he made the photo to create a sensational splash, which it did.

But the issue of religious imagery is particularly important this time of year, what with FOX’s phony “war on Christmas” promotion and the annual fight over government sponsored religious displays. The issue is what the two Nativity stories found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke really say and if they have any effect on the daily life of believers.

I won’t deal with the virgin birth part of it, the part that usually gets the most attention because, well, as a New Englander that kind of thing always struck me as being none of my business. What Mary was doing was her own affair and, given the rest of the gospels, not particularly important. Besides, there isn’t any way to know what really happened.

In the stories, Jesus was born to parents of almost the lowest class. They were so low that both of the Evanglilists had to explain that they came of good families that somehow ended up in hear destitution. Mary apparently was the object of cheap gossip. Joseph was a carpenter or stone worker, and I don’t mean a union carpenter with benefits. She would have stood a good chance of being killed for dishonoring her family if Joseph had wanted to be a creep about it, which we are told he wasn’t. Apparently he was a nice guy who didn’t hold a grudge. Maybe the entire history of Christianity hinges on his not having been a macho jerk.

Somehow the couple found themselves in a distant town when the baby was born, so they were, in effect, homeless. They didn’t have the money to get a room anywhere so the baby was born in a barn of some kind.

Consider what the people who originally read the narratives knew about living with large animals in a crowded town. It means, most obviously, that the baby was born among manure and urine and a nightmare of flies and gnats. The original members of the Jesus movement would have known this. Even one cow or donkey can produce quite a bit of both in one day, anyone who has cleaned a barn could appreciate what that was like. Even a well kept barn is unpleasantly redolent. . And the likelihood was that in a town the barn would have held at least several large animals and few barns are well kept, even now. There were no tractor driven sidebars or hay bailers so bedding and fodder would have been at a premium. They would have been hard put to find clean hay to put in the manger. Have I mentionted that the best kept barn is thick with flies? Having cleaned barns, those flies are what really gets to me.

What was done to the plastic model in Piss Christ is nothing compared to this part of the story, nothing. Giving birth to a baby in a barn. And there isn’t any mention of an attendant. They were on their own. A carpenter who might well have never even seen an animal being born and a woman who would have been in her early to mid-teens. They must have been scared as hell.

The shepherds who Luke tells us were the first devotees to Jesus would not have been much higher on the social scale or likely much cleaner and they didn’t arrive in time to give any advice about the birth. All concerned would have been seen as the lowest of the low.

So, we have the only begotten son of God born in these conditions. And it gets worse. In the first mention of upper class people, pagans, the Magi, pagan astrologers, not the kings of orient were, came to worship Jesus and inadvertently set off a pogrom. Herod, himself, put a contract out on the baby and the family had to flee, becoming aliens in a foreign country**. You can imagine that Joseph would have had a hard time finding work, a casual laborer for at least a while. He might have stood on a street waiting to be hired as day labor. Who knows what other hardships they endured as aliens?

These people were not the figures in the creches, they were more likely to look like the really hard cases found on the street today. The original members of the Jesus movement in the middle east would have known this. How would a realistic depiction play with the FOX and ETWN cultists? It’s a question but you know as well as I do, a realistic view of the story would set off another war on Christmas, this time the suppression would be all from that side. The same people don't seem to have gained any respect for the dregs of society, the class that produced the baby they pretend to worship.

* The flagrantly sensational and gruesome photos of brutalized corpses and the rather gross pictures featuring mixed body fluids, for example.

** John Harbison's "The Flight Into Egypt" is one of the rare pieces of music dealing with this part of the story. As I remember he wrote it during the time when the Reagan administration was pursuing illegal immegrants from the homicidal, fascist regimes he was supporting in Central America. A fine recording of it is on New World Records 80395-2.