Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hearing A Million Philomels by Anthony McCarthy

One of the early motivations for creating electronic music was that the composer could directly control the sound of their composition, not relying on the variable interpretations of performers. The problem of performers distorting the composers intentions is a big one in music, and in the other performing arts. Some of the most beloved and famous performers are flagrant distortionists, most generally of familiar music of the past. For music, especially when it has no programmatic content, this can destroy the integrity of the piece. A composers intentions is in the sounds that are produced, their pitch, timing, intensity and coloration. Distortions of those aspects of the music can make the composers’ conception disappear.

Another motive for many of the early electronic composers was that they would at least get to hear their music. Public performance opportunities for the more conventional modern composers are rare. For a composer whose music is, in fact, box-office poison*, they are about non-existent. Performers who specialize in new music, though generally strict observers of the composers instructions, are rare and seldom presented. So, some of the more technically adept composers in the 1950s and onward produced finished pieces which existed in their definitive and final form, on tape. As with all music that is produced, most of it is somewhat less than a roaring success. Though some of it is a complete success.

Early on the possibility of combining a tape and live performance was used and, in the opinion of some people, the two produced some of the more interesting pieces in the genera. Some people found that pure tape music tended to be sterile. There are great pieces of pure electronic music produced. Adding one or more performers, though, did add more than you could get on tape.

This is about one of those pieces, Milton Babbitt’s setting of John Hollander’s poem Philomel c. 1963 for tape and soprano. More specifically, it is about the recording of the piece that was first issued in the late 60s with the great soprano Bethany Beardslee, for whom the piece was written. You can hear the first part of that here.

In the classical story, Philomela was raped by her brother-in-law, Tereus, king of Thrace, who cut out her tongue out so she couldn’t tell her sister, Procne. Deprived of her ability to speak, Philomela wove her testimony into a tapestry and showed it to Procne. They took revenge by cooking Tereus’ son Itys and feeding him to his father. When he found out, Tereus pursued the fleeing sisters through the woods. When he was about to catch up with them Procne was transformed into a nightingale but the tongueless Philomela was turned into the relatively inarticulate swallow. Hollander didn’t follow the original Greek version but that of Ovid who had Philomela turn into a nightingale. The poem attempts to create what her mental state might have been like after her transformation**.

The first time I heard the recording was as assigned listening in an elective university course on music in the post-war period. I’m not sure exactly what year it was but it couldn’t have been long after the recording was first issued. One of the students in the class gave the rote complaint about Babbitt’s music being “musical mathematics”. This was the first lesson in variations of experience. “Musical mathematics” was already a hackneyed charge more than thirty-five years ago. Variations on it have been said about composers going back into the 18th century, whenever someone resented what they took to be the “inaccessibility” of a composers music. In Babbitt’s case, it was sometimes justified by the fact that he was familiar with some pretty sophisticated math, though I don’t think the music supports it. And saying it after hearing this particular piece is kind of flabbergasting. Philomel is a disturbing mono-drama about the pain of violation and the agony of being torn out of your life and forced to live on remembering your unrecoverable past experience but being entirely torn out of that life and having to live on in confused pain. The Philomel sung by the soprano is reflected, enhanced, in parts of her, recorded on the tape which also deliver parts of the text. It’s pretty gripping stuff.

Even given the resentment of an unsympathetic student being assigned to listen to it, how anyone could fail to see the super-heated emotional content of it is interesting only in that it shows a difference in how people hear the exact same things.

I liked the piece, and the others on the album and bought the recording, both on vinyl and, later, on CD. I’ve listened to it many times over a period of many years. The recording on vinyl took on all the modifications of pops and scratches, which became a part of the accustomed experience of listening to it. Then on CD with those predictable accidentals removed and, I’m reluctant to point out, greater recording clarity. But it was, for all intents, the same performance, unvaried by more than those minor differences.

But over the years, my experience has changed radically. First, and most of all, in the ensuing years, the issue of two men producing a monodrama about a woman’s mental state has come to the fore front. The implications of that didn’t register on me the first times I heard it, I’m pretty sure. Then I was interested in the music and Beardslee’s phenomenal vocal abilities. The fascination of what Babbitt was able to do with the most primitive of synthesizers, already antique just a few years later, was also of paramount concern to me back then.

Two men writing a piece dealing with that story which their gender would necessitate they see in a fundamentally different way in which two women would have likely seen it. Writing it on behalf of and at the request of Bethany Beardslee. The questions and conclusions that you draw from that, alone, change, fundamentally what you perceive when you listen to it. Given the history of the myth, probably told if not invented by men, definitely in Ovid’s rendition, Hollander’s modern version might be the least patriarchal which exists. If there is are versions by women which aren’t attempts to follow the patriarchally informed tradition, they would be interesting to read. It would be interesting to hear someone like Pauline Oliveros’ version of the story. I’d definitely buy the CD.

More generally, even if the poet and composer had been women, you could not be the same person you were thirty-five years ago. Like Philomel, you would have endured change, painful transformations in the world and who you are. Though you can remember it, you can’t recover the past. The loss of the easier views of life have to give way to a different way of seeing the world. A lot of that is due to our own mistakes and crimes. And, it shouldn’t be forgotten, Philomel did kill a child as part of her revenge. That is also something that I’m sure didn’t register in my early hearings.

The goal of creating an unalterable musical experience was understandable for all of the reasons given. But there is no way to control how a listener or an audience is going to experience that music. Not on the first hearing, there is no way to force someone to hear what is there. Not in subsequent hearings, when the same person will hear different things and have different responses. That is a given with live performance, it won’t be the same even twice. But even for one listener hearing a recorded performance, there is no way to go back to the point before it was heard. The information gained by listening informs subsequent hearings. We change, even as the sound stays the same.

Note: You might want to read what Milton Babbitt had to say about Philomel many years after he wrote it. Note the obvious difference in how the piece was presented in a theater with four speakers and how it would be different from hearing it in a stereo recording. The notes for the album also say that Beardslee dramatized the piece in ways that an audio recording couldn't reproduce.

* In music as in none of the other arts, people seem to resent that there is music that is produced for a specific audience that most other people don’t like. Why people get so angry about temporary musical experience that they can almost always avoid is interesting. Sometimes. But as Babbitt pointed out in the 1950s, their angry rejection doesn’t have to matter to those who do want to hear it. Composers can choose to compose for the interest of a smaller, more specific audience. It’s strange that their writing what they want to should upset people not involved with that interaction by their own choice.

* *My personal interpretation of Hollander’s poem is that it is a depiction of the pain of violation and fundamental, inexorable change in the post-war, nuclear period. Especially in the third section in which Philomel talks about her constant pain which she can’t articulate. People who remembered the world before WWII and the bomb must have felt like they’d been transformed into a different kind of being lost in a strange place. It can seem like that even to those of us who don’t remember that world but whose world changes constantly and, often, in ways that are fundamentally painful.

Saturday Critter Blogging

1WattHermit took these two pictures of a squirrel. The first one is a good metaphor of the current economic situation for many of us. I hope we do as well as the squirrel.

And in the next one the squirrel wants some privacy, thank you very much.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Such Pretty Faces

I have a photo of my teenage self, wearing orange eyeshadow with long drawn out extra eyelashes painted only on the lower lids. I had a lot of fun creating that look, but must admit that it doesn't photograph terribly well (unless you like eyes which resemble fat orange spiders). Neither did the black lipstick. But it was lots of fun to experiment with face-paint. To this day I'd like to have my whole face temporarily tattooed with tiger stripes in black and white.

All this is to show that I'm not one of those surly feminazis who want women to sprout nothing but armpit hair. I love the idea that humans decorate their bodies! What I'm not so much in love with is the size of the cosmetic industry, the lies they often tell, and the humongous amounts of money women (and it's mostly women) spend on cosmetics, especially if the desire to do so doesn't come from the women themselves but that whiny little mosquito buzzing on television and in women's magazines and in music and inside our heads which tells us that we are not pretty enough without cosmetics, but that for only $130.78 we, too, can look sexy and stunning and ... acceptable! There was a time when I felt naked without having goo on my eyelashes, and that feeling did not get its start from my own desires, you know.

Megan sent me a link to an article about what the French Elle is doing about make-up and photoshopping, and that's what reminded me of those orange eyelids:

The April issue of French Elle features eight female European celebrities--including Eva Herzigova, Monica Bellucci, Sophie Marceau, and Charlotte Rampling--all without makeup and, perhaps even more revealing, all entirely without Photoshopping or retouching of any kind. The mag's headline "Stars Sans Fards" translates to "without rouge/makeup," but it's a French saying that also suggests a sense of "openness."

Judging from the images that have been leaked so far (the entire issue hits newsstands later this week), this title could not be more apt. Model Herzigova, 36, and actresses Marceau, 42, and Bellucci, 44, all look refreshingly natural, relaxed, and vulnerable in a way American stars are seldom seen.

In fact, what might be most striking about French Elle's pictorial is how it actually appears to embrace and celebrate the organic beauty of these famous faces (even if the lighting is super, super flattering and the women are all unbelievably gorgeous to begin with). In the U.S., when you come across a "stars without makeup" story, there's always a GOTCHA! element, a message that says "Our gift to you: Derive pleasure from how ugly this person looks without cover-up for her zits!"

The link has some 'natural' photos for you to look at, should you care to do so.

The topic of feminist reactions to cosmetics is huge. Huge! And full of wolf-traps for the unwary. I'm going to leave most of those for the discussion I hope we are going to have. But what I was really thinking when reading that article is that cosmetics are in some ways just another form of veiling. Women's actual naked faces are, to some people, too shocking to be seen! So they have to be veiled in one way or another. (I have no idea how generally true that is. My impression is that cosmetics are losing their 'must-wear' status in many subcultures. But it's too fun an idea to qualify. Though I just did.)
Picture from my family files.

A feminist critique of independence (by Suzie)

           I helped take care of my father, who had Alzheimer’s. Medicare paid for an occupational therapist to help with his upper body strength and coordination. My father had boxed back in the days when a lot of Jews boxed. It turned out that the OT enjoyed boxing. For therapy, we put boxing gloves on Daddy, and the OT would yell out “left hook,” and Daddy would punch. He was in his element. 
           I tell this story because of recent conversations on this blog about the rights of people with disabilities. Echidne asked what it meant to have a “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as discussed by Glenn Beck, for example.
           Medicare isn’t interested in “the pursuit of happiness.” It provides physical and occupational therapy, often with the expectation that the patient shows improvement. The goal is to make the patient more independent. As the Center for Medicare Advocacy explains:
Many Medicare denials are based on the lack of expectation of a significant improvement in the patient’s condition within a reasonable and predictable period of time. However, "restoration potential" is not required by law and a maintenance program can be covered if skilled services are necessary to prevent further deterioration or preserve current capabilities.
          In my father’s case, he had a progressive illness, and we wanted him to retain as many skills as long as possible, but we had no hope of him becoming independent. Our main concern was making him less miserable. To that end, the OT kept boxing with Daddy as long as he could. 
          Before I moved in with him, I happened to read “Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency” by Eva Feder Kittay, a philosophy professor who had a child with severe to profound retardation.
          Kittay had examined liberal political theory that imagined citizens as free and independent, and she had seen flaws in regard to women. Male philosophers saw themselves as independent even when others were tending their homes and raising their children. She writes: 
The independent individual is always a fictive creation of those men sufficiently privileged to shift the concern for dependence onto others. 
          Even John Stuart Mill assumed women would continue to have domestic responsibilities, Kittay writes. (This reminded me of Ashley Montague, the pioneering anthropologist who wrote “The Natural Superiority of Women,” published in 1952. Like Mill in philosophy, Montague influenced his field as a man championing women’s rights, but he, too, saw it as natural that child-raising would remain the purview of women.)
          Kittay recognized her daughter, Sesha, as fully human, deserving of rights like any other citizen, even though she would always be dependent on others for her care.
           Kittay faults disability advocates who place too much emphasis on the need for independence. This can create an unreal expectation in parents and the person with disabilities; not everyone can become independent. It also means therapy for independent living gets higher priority than therapies aimed at enjoyment of life. Performance matters more than enjoyment. One reason may be that a professional can measure whether a child can dress herself, for example. It is more difficult to measure happiness.
            All people will be dependent at some point in their life because we all start as infants, many of us will need help at the end of our days, and many will need help at different points in between.
          Many feminists who reject the idea of atomistic individualism still insist on mutuality, in which people relinquish some independence in exchange for help from others, Kittay notes. But some relationships go beyond mutuality and interdependence. Some people are dependent, she says, and we must fully accept and recognize that.  
         I see this issue while working with cancer patients. Independence is so valued that many people (including me) hate to ask for help. 

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

A pelican at Redondo Beach, Calif. I wonder if pelicans think that we look funny? 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Our Very Own Sinfonian!

He's a guy who writes a progressive blog and I met him once in meat space. Then he decided to speak at a recent conservative teabagging party, and the rest is history. Here's the video:

So Beautiful

Leonard Cohen singing "If It Be Your Will"

It's this particular performance that I find perfect. Simple, past bargaining, straight through despair to the other side. A prayer to the god who does not hear. The tortured god?

Note that this has nothing to do with my own spiritual beliefs, just the beauty of this particular performance.

The Frailty Of Memory. Or On Kooks.

The Memory Hole must be enormous in this country, because few people in the mainstream media compare what's happening right now with what took place in the last eight years. Suddenly the government of Texas talks about seceding! And Rush Limbaugh says he's no kook. Neither does he appear to be a traitor at all. But oh-so very recently any criticism of the government was treason and kooks were abundant on the left.

Then there's the conservative argument that the government is trying to make dissent a crime. Suddenly! And after the last eight years when dissent was something that was respected and even encouraged! It's all very confusing for someone who actually has a functioning memory (mine does function, all too well).

But more seriously: Dissent should not be stifled. It is violence that should be stifled. That's the tightrope the government must walk along and should always walk along.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan

Three hundred women protested against the new law for Shias which would require women to 'preen' for their husbands, give sex at least every four days and ask for permission to leave the house (though they can leave without permission if the house is on fire). The counter-protest was three times bigger and included men. Nicholas Kristoff:

I'm awed by the courage of those 300 Afghan women who endured stones, jeers and threats to march through Kabul today demanding a measure of equal rights. As my colleague Dexter Filkins reports, the women were chased and insulted as "whores" by a mob of men and women three times as large. The women were protesting a new law, applying only to Shiites, that obliges women to sleep with their husbands on demand and bars them from leaving the home without their husbands' permission.

It's particularly impressive that many of the women apparently were Shiites — from the Hazara minority — because Hazaras are poorer and less likely to school their daughters. I find Kabul a pretty scary place sometimes, and I can't imagine the guts it would take to be a Hazara woman walking with a banner demanding equal rights through an enraged mob of stone-throwing, spitting fundamentalists.

Yes, it's awe-inspiring courage, indeed. I wonder how many women did NOT march because they knew what they would meet on those streets of Kabul? Then Kristoff goes on to address some tricky issues:

Unfortunately, I'm afraid Zara is wrong: She's not in the majority, at least in Afghanistan. Polls show that men and women alike in Afghanistan mostly don't believe in equal rights. Women are a bit more likely to support gender equality than men, but only a bit more. The best predictor of whether someone favors women's rights in Afghanistan isn't whether the person is a man or woman, but whether the person lives in the city or the countryside. People in the cities are far more sympathetic to equal rights — in other words, it's a sign of Kabul's progress that the demonstration happened at all. It would never have been imaginable in, say, rural Zabul or Kandahar provinces, not least because the women would never have been allowed out of their homes.

I'm enormously impressed by the courage of these women, but I do worry about a backlash. Afghans are very nationalistic, and the women today were denounced as pawns of Christians and foreigners. Remember that during the first Gulf War in 1991, Saudi women held a demonstration to demand the right to drive, and the protest attracted enormous attention. Yet in the end it so antagonized and frightened men that it probably set back and delayed the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. I hope that's not the case here, because Afghanistan can't develop economically and achieve stability so long as girls are kept home and women are mostly barred from the work force.

Do you ever get the feeling that a pair of scissors somehow got landed in your gut and is now snip-snip-snipping away at your innards? I got that feeling after reading the above quote, for several reasons. One of those reasons is that Kristoff is quite right about where the backlash will come from and why. Don't you remember all those writings about how western feminists must shut up about women in other cultures, because it just makes the lives of those women more difficult, what with the history of colonialism and all?

Of course shutting up about those women will leave them without support from other countries, but that's what Nicholas Kristoff is for! (Yes, I'm bitter about that piece he once wrote about the uselessness of American feminist women.) Though it would seem to me that a white western guy writing about these things is even worse than women writing about them. After all, women can be safely ignored in the traditional cultures. But the president of the United States cannot, if he is a guy, at least.

Another reason has to do with the clash of feminism with religion. It crops up all the time, all the time, all the time, and it cropped up in the counter-demonstration to this march in Kabul, too:

Afghan Shiite counter protesters shout slogans in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, April 15, 2009. The group of some 1,000 male and female Afghans swarmed a demonstration by 300 women Wednesday protesting against a new conservative marriage law. Some counter protesters pelted the women with small stones as police struggled to keep the two groups apart.The banner reads "The private laws are according the bases of holy religion of Islam."

So there you are. That most Afghan women don't believe in the equality of women and men is because they live in a society with none of that stuff and because their religion (or its interpretation) tells them that men are more important than women, with many more rights. Let's not forget that the Taliban is respected by many because of their religiosity.

The third reason for those scissors in my belly has to do with that you-are-damned-whatever-you-do ending to Kristoff's piece. If women protest then the menz (and traditional womenz, too) will get angry and squash them down harder. If women don't protest, then nothing, naturally, will ever change for them. And the women who do protest are partly to blame for the backlash. So what's a girl to do? Speak up or not? Protest or not? Perhaps she should ask very sweetly for a few itty-bitty rights at first. Then things would go so very smoothly. (There was a time when I really believed that, you know.)
Cabdrollery has more thoughts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I'm getting the feeling that the adults in the Tea Party movement should stand up and get some of those folks under control.

link via sekmet

On The Purity Myth

Jessica Valenti has written an interesting book on the American abstinence movement with its Purity Balls on one side and the Girls Gone Wild popular culture on the other hand. I participated in a TPM Cafe Bookclub discussion on the book, but I didn't contribute very much, partly because of still having a bit of a flu and partly because of realizing that I wanted to take the topic international and that wasn't the drift of the conversation at the Cafe.

The Purity Myth is alive in the United States and its supporters certainly grew in power during the Bush era. But the consequences of 'sexual impurity' are much more devastating for women in many other cultures. The merest suspicion of 'sexual impurity' can be a death sentence for women in some cultures and the value of young women is very much connected to their virginity. Virginity is needed for making an acceptable marriage (which may be the only feasible way for a woman to survive), chastity is needed for keeping that marriage. But note that the same requirements don't apply to men anywhere as rigorously. If anything, men are encouraged to pursue 'sexual impurity'(nudge-nudge).

That's the traditional way the game has been set up, in my humble (well not so very humble) opinion. This does NOT mean that (heterosexual) women don't want sex or that all (heterosexual) men are trying to get through those walls of virginity. What it does mean is that the consequences from premarital or extra-marital sex are very different for men and women in traditional cultures. It is mostly the women who get punished. And that's where the roots of the U.S. Purity Myth are found, too.

But western industrialized societies also have a totally different myth about sex, having to do with images of sex from popular culture and the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, the Playboy magazines and now the Internet porn sites. I'm not sure what this myth should be called, but I'm pretty sure it's a myth, with certain expectations about 'appropriate' forms of sex for women and men, and much of it is focused on male desire and male pleasure. It's between these two myths that I see young teenage girls suspended by the culture, as if they'd have to choose between them and them only.

All this comes across as written by an anti-sex feminist, which I'm not. I'd like those young teenage girls to find their own sexuality, in a society which doesn't tell them that they have to save themselves for marriage or to give blowjobs at the age of thirteen in order to be a good person. Indeed, Jessica's book very much stresses the importance of viewing women's ethical standing on the basis of their whole lives rather than linked to their virginity or chastity.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia

The arranged marriage between an eight-year old girl and a 47-year old man has been declared legal again. The girl's father gave her to a friend as a payment for a debt.

But worry not, the girl herself can sue for divorce once she comes into puberty. I hope that this means the marriage is not going to be consummated until then.

Party On!

Today is the day of the tea parties, the conservative protest against taxes in general and the obvious fascism of the Obama administration in particular, and the parties are getting their due attention from the media (which sort of ignored the gigantic women's rights march in the past), even though numbers turning up are not earth-shattering. But this really is a great hat:

Grover (drown-the-government-in-a-bathtub) Norquist on this important day:

Today is tax day. I just returned from the tea party rally at Lafayette Park. Despite the rain there were about a thousand folks at the Washington rally. Focus was on runaway spending in Washington and the taxes that will follow as a result.

So short are our memories about runaway government spending, especially if it ran abroad to be spent in Iraq!

Here's the NYT on all this partying:

Although organizers insisted they had created a non-partisan grassroots movement, it was argued by others that these parties were more of the synthetic "Game Day Grass" variety, since the occasion was largely created by the clamor of cable news and fueled with the financial and political support of current and former Republican leaders.

Fox News was covering the events and streaming live video as its own commentators Neil Cavuto and Michelle Malkin were headlining the protests in Sacramento, Sean Hannity appeared in Atlanta, and Newt Gingrich showed up at City Hall Park in New York. The web site listed its sponsors, which ranged from FreedomWorks, founded by former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey (R-Texas), Top Conservatives on Twitter, to RNC, to the book from Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina, "Saving Freedom," giving his "firsthand account of the unsettling socialist shift."

The idea for these demonstrations grew out of a rant from CNBC commentator Rick Santelli, who on Feb. 19 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said that the Obama administration was promoting "bad behavior" and that Americans should protest government in the form of a tea party in Chicago. The clip went viral and spawned a movement, of sorts, and earlier protests, in cities like Cincinnati, Green Bay, Wis., and Harrisburg, Pa.

"Our main goal as far as a national organization — although that's a tough term to use since we wish we were organized better than we were — is just to facilitate an environment where a new movement would be born," Eric Odom, the administrator of, said in a brief interview on Wednesday morning. "We're confident that we'll see taxpayer coalitions at the local level starting tomorrow."

But it was hard to determine from the modest turnouts by mid-day (especially in the rain-soaked East) just how effective they would be. In Boston, which held its protest in Boston Common, near the State House, about 500 people showed up, fewer than the 1,500 that had responded on the internet.

Watertiger has a funny sign from one party.

Bob Herbert Is Worth Reading

This week. Here's a quote that should make you think:

Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the country's attention understandably turned to terrorism, nearly 120,000 Americans have been killed in nonterror homicides, most of them committed with guns. Think about it — 120,000 dead. That's nearly 25 times the number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But because we are used to the nonterror type of violence we don't get shocked over all those deaths. They have been happening a long time. Nothing to see here, move on please.

This familiarity-breeds-blindness aspect of crimes may also be the reason for the attention crimes committed by women get in the media. Women commit a small percentage of violent crimes, and this makes any violent crime with a female suspect newsworthy. But then the media focus might make us think that such crimes are more common than they really are.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This song from teh British singing talent competition. It would be possible to analyze the whole setup in some detail and certainly there's lots of feminist food for thought in it, but mostly you should just enjoy.


Tomorrow is the day when the conservative anti-tax protests will take place. They are now called tea parties, which is a take on the Boston Tea Party. These current tea parties are just against being taxed, not against taxation without representation.

What strikes me as oddest about these protests is that almost everyone I speak with these days has at least one family member who has been laid off or lost a job, and many people have more than one person in that hole, or the others are being asked to take pay cuts. At the same time, people are not buying, not consuming, and firms go bankrupt. To add to these contracting forces less spending by the government would work wonderfully well if you want to make the record books as the Greatest Depression ever. But I guess it's easier to think very short-term and selfish thoughts in that respect.

A Lovers' Quarrel

An early item on the murder at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., described it like this:

A WWJ reporter on the scene says a male student appears to have shot a woman, then turned the gun on himself at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich.

WWJ reporter Pat Sweeney has information that it was a lover's quarrel in which the gunman shot his girlfriend, then himself.

Emphasis mine. Using that term appears to be very bad journalism. Was there evidence of a quarrel? Note that 'a quarrel' is not the same thing as a man walking in and killing a woman with a gun. At least to me it means something different.

I think this term, just like the term 'domestic violence', serve as shorthand for crimes in which you, the reader, are unlikely to be at risk. If a crime is between 'lovers' or domestic in nature then strangers are safe. But the corollary of this is that putting those labels on a crime makes it somehow less important to report on.

Monday, April 13, 2009

From The Diaries of Thad Tough, A Man About The Town.

Dear diarrhea!

Today I joined a health club. Not that my perfect body needs any more exercise than it gets between the black silk sheets of my crowded round bed. But others may benefit from seeing How It Is Done, how a mere machine cannot stop the awesome manliness of my very eyebrows, how all those wannabes can be shown to be warped caricatures of the True Testosterone. It is a favor I'm granting them, to show up at their rinky-dinky little club, to show them a Real Man, I mused while picking my teeth with the thighbone of a liberal effete wimp.

But here's the problem: I arrived at the club, undressed and changed into my G-string. They told me I needed a cup! A cup! Have they not heard of buckets?

The first installment of Thad's diaries is here.

Affordable Health Insurance Is Within Reach!

Sorry. It's just an ad I saw today, not a real proposal. But it reminded me of the difficulty of defining 'affordable' in this context. A policy could be affordable, in the sense of being cheap, but it might cover very little, or everything you file might be debated by the insurance company.

The ultimate difficulty is of course in defining what it is that the policy is buying for you, what it is that you might one day need (or 'need'), and whether what is written in the policy as covered actually will be covered. As long as these are unclear so is the question of how good the price is. That's just how it is.

This is not to argue that we can never know anything about the policy. Policies which cover only catastrophic care are fairly easy to understand and to evaluate. But those policies usually cover no other care, which means that all routine and non-catastrophe care will come out of your pocket. That may sound like a good deal for the young and healthy, but over the whole insured population it may mean that people delay care (because it's not covered) until indeed more catastrophe care will be needed.

It's interesting to read through an insurance policy, by the way. Take a glass of wine and a nice comfy blanket and settle down for a night or two. By doing this I found out that one policy I had in the past would not cover the care that might be caused by a failed suicide attempt! So one better succeed the first time...

The Effete Political Hack

A Shaolin monk breaks an iron sheet with his head during a performance at a temple in Quanzhou, China

The effete political hack would be me. Someone called me that in the comments to an article or a post I wrote some time ago, and someone else recently thought that my writing style is effete.

But that doesn't work as an insult against a goddess of the girly persuasion, you know. I'm supposed to be effete. That's the whole point behind the insult: someone acting like a woman who is not one. Women are beneath contemplation for these types of insults. So whoever called me effete probably thought that I was a guy god.

Something like the Shaolin monk in the above photograph, breaking iron sheets with his head. That's not effete, right? I must admit that I have never broken iron sheets with my head (I was born with my head already this way), though I did break boards with my hands in my karate dojo. Indeed, many women (and men) like both kicking ass and effete stuff. My guess is that even more women (and men) would like to branch out if they weren't concerned about gender-linked stereotyping.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oh My

I was reading this article about the happy ending to the Somali pirates hostage crisis and then saw a link to a yahoo discussion thread on the same general topic. Read the beginning of that thread and then the end and you, my friend, shall also go OHMY and then tear off your hair and throw some ashes over yourself, too, because far too many people equate international politics with a pub brawl.

Though it's a funny read, too, that thread, because we are told that everything was Obama's fault but the resolution of the situation was either God's doing or the Navy Seals, not Obama.

I hasten to add that discussion threads are not a representative sample of anything much.