Monday, December 30, 2013

So How Was Your Christmas?

A week ago today, we piled in the car and drove 12 hours to my hometown.  Our first family Christmas in my childhood home in 20 years of marriage, in part because my wife isn't serving a church so Christmas Eve is free from obligations.  I managed to run in to some old friends and distant family while back there, which is always nice.  Plus I saw or spoke to all my siblings; in fact, the only one I didn't see was my brother, and we had a nice phone conversation Monday evening.  My older sister and her daughters and my youngest sister and her (grown) children were at our parents on Christmas Day.  On Friday, we piled in the car again and drove to my oldest sister's house.  That late afternoon we went snowmobiling for the first time.  My nephew, old enough to be his cousins's parent (he's 36; my girls are 16 and 12), took them out first, then after I got the hang of it, I took each in turn.  Watching their faces while we rode, hearing them scream for joy - it was great.  My youngest sister and her son and daughter arrived a bit later and that evening and the next morning we had epic, Safford Family Uno games, invoking our late, lamented Aunt Joan who made Uno . . . well unique.  You had to be there; trying to explain to the younger generation was difficult.  You were dearly missed, though, Joan.  Her daughter, my cousin Claudia, was also missed; we mused on who sang "The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA" (it was Donna Fargo), a song popular one summer my sister and cousin spent much time together.

As my parents are, in my father's own words, ancient - at 92 and 89 he's not far wrong - it was nice to have one last Christmas at the old homestead, to have so much of the family gathered together, to have little sniping and grousing (there's always some with family), and to return home with warm feelings about the people and events.  You never know what things like this are going to bring, so the overall consensus that all involved had a good time, if too short, made this a great Christmas.  I'll always cherish being in the living room at my parents' house, in my usual spot, on Christmas morning, as my nephew passed out presents.  I think watching two of my sisters dancing to "Cherry Hill Park" by Billy Joe Royal is one my single favorite moments.  I found it on my phone after one of them mentioned it.  I hadn't heard the song in years and my sister took my phone and the two of them proceeded to have a great time embarrassing their children, and delighting their youngest brother.  We're all middle-aged farts now, but it's nice to remember when we were younger.

So that was my Christmas, 2013.  A year of transitions and changes and busyness and new realities ended with a week of family nostalgia that wasn't marred by over-exposure.  For that I'm grateful.  I'm also grateful for the two Adorno volumes, Essays on Music, and Philosophy of New Music, as well as the essay collection Music in Christian Worship.  Oh, I also bought Oliver Sacks's Musicophilia and Te Deum by Paul Westermeyer.  Lots of music reading ahead.

Hope your Christmas was peaceful and joyous.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Getting Our Hate On

Of the myriad reasons not fleshed out the other day when I wrote that I would be writing less (and here I am writing three days in a row, because nothing makes more sense than that), one of them is a kind of helplessness in the face of millions of people spewing whatever sits in their brainpans out on the Internet.  Whether one peruses the comment threads on news stories or blog posts; the various and sundry left-wing, right-wing, moderate and fringe political sections of the internet; or even Facebook and Twitter; as far as the eye can see every sort of opinion is aired, without any sense that things on the internet are not private, and the whole world can see your words.

The past three days have brought us, first Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty saying some pretty horrible things.  I've said what I want about that.  This morning, this LGM post and this Edroso post "discuss" Jonah Goldberg's latest, in which he gay baits a character in a commercial.  The depth of disgust, projection, and seething hatred on display - and the comment section is a festering stew of foulness - is enough to put you off your waffles first thing on a Christmas season morning.

Yesterday, however, there was a display of worldwide, day long hate that was quite disturbing.  If you hadn't heard, Twitter exploded in a ragegasm of epic proportions over an insensitive, bigoted tweet from a young woman named Justine Sacco.  You can see the on-going phenomenon here.  She has deleted her account.  The Tweet Heard 'Round The World, quite literally, has been captured for all time:
Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!  
A PR executive at an internet holding company that owns OKCupid and other popular sites, Sacco was on a long international flight to Cape Town, South Africa and, for reasons that will probably never be completely explained, sent out three tweets.  The first concerned being seated next to someone who was deodorant-impaired; the second was a dig at the British; then the last tweet before boarding her 12-hour, wifi-free flight.  That her life would never be the same after landing became apparent early yesterday.  Her tweet went viral, and her followers exploded from a couple hundred to almost 8,000 by last evening/early morning in Cape Town.  She lost her job, discovered hundreds of thousands of people calling her all sorts of horrible things, and even had Buzzfeed digging through her Twitter account to find "The 16 Tweets Justine Sacco Regrets".

Far from defending the content of her Tweet, I think it displays a kind of ignorance and low-level bigotry that far too many Americans carry around with them.  The difference between all of us and Ms. Sacco is her Tweet got picked up and spread around the Internet, then to major news outlets like The New York Times, her company was forced to act, and she went from a successful business woman to international pariah in the amount of time it takes to fly from one great city to another.  I think losing her job was the correct action; a PR executive who tweets the things Ms. Sacco did displays a lack of judgment that is truly astounding; her former employers, IAC, do have to protect their image, after all.

On the other hand, I cannot endorse the deafening rage that continues to pile upon her.  Compared, say, to Phil Robertson, a figure in a television program, or Jonah Goldberg, a political columnist, Ms. Sacco is a private individual of whom no one had heard before yesterday.  The hours-long spewing of name-calling, conjectures about how intoxicated she might be, the sexist comments calling her a "bitch" and "cunt" was not only ugly beyond imagining; it was out of all proportion to the offense contained in her Tweet.  The pile-on was like Orwell's "Two Minute Hate".  I have to admit more than little compassion for Ms. Sacco, not least because her life became something upon which the whole world could create whatever it wanted without any knowledge the furor existed.

There seems to be some deep well of rage and hate within us.  We direct it at all sorts of targets only marginally related to anything of importance.  I think this is so not least because our political system is completely unresponsive to the demands for action the people express, regardless of party or ideology.  Precisely because ours is a nation of inaction, this seething, roiling cauldron of frustration needs to escape; Ms. Sacco, alas for her, was just in the way.  I have no idea how she will manage now; any future in her chosen profession, Public Relations, is certainly out of the question.  That thousands of people have called her every sort of foul name certainly can't help.  That she has become a stand in for very real and foar more entrenched structural racism is so sad; as at least one person Tweeted last night, "You know what's racist? The education system in Mississippi."  We have real, serious structurally racist matters in this country; the insensitivity of one mid-level corporate executive is, in the scheme of things, meaningless.

The outpouring of rage directed at her, however, is meaningful, if only in a disturbing way, for what it tells us about who we are.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Robertson Follies

After writing yesterday that I wasn't going to write that much, and that I couldn't care less about the whole Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty flapdoodle, here I am writing about it.  I'm doing so because this nonsense has exploded far beyond any significance or importance, let alone relationship to anything that actually happened.

First, Phil Robertson had none of his rights violated.  He's an employee of a cable channel.  As such, he is under contract to do and not do certain things.  When that contract is violated, the channel can act.  Robertson isn't going to prison.  He isn't being stripped of his citizenship.  He hasn't been beaten, harassed, or been intimidated by police.  He certainly hasn't lost his livelihood; as the founder of the business at the heart of the program, he will continue to draw a hefty paycheck and live quite well.  He has been removed for an unspecified amount of time from a television program.

He was so removed because he said some pretty hateful things about gay folk, as well as some pretty ignorant things about the state of African-American life under Jim Crow.  Of course, in the midst of it all, he insisted it had something to do with his being a Christian, so all sorts of Christians are rushing to his defense, claiming persecution.  If Robertson had been fired after saying, "You know, as a Christian, I just don't think it's right that I'm getting paid $X while the folks behind the cameras barely make a living wage," I would probably nod my head in approval, at the very least.  What he did say was that people who are gay, because they are gay, are separate from God because of their sexuality.  Since, in traditional bland Christian orthodoxy "sin" is neither an act nor an essential part of the human condition, but a description of the broken relationship that exists between all creation and God, whatever else Robertson was saying, he wasn't talking about the Christian faith.  So, no, thank you, I won't defend his words as "Christian" because, simply put - they're wrong.

This piece by Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress captures just how fake the entire "controversy" is.  More than the ugliness of Phil Robertson's words, or that he claimed such ugliness as Christian, it is this that irritates me no end.  As Rosenberg says, A&E had to know who the Robertsons were and what beliefs they held.  That their image is manufactured, from their look to how they interact on the show, all of it is designed to sell a product: a wholesome, down-home American family from the heartland unchanged by wealth and business success.  Except, of course, that premise, being manufactured, is no more real than if Phil Robertson were an actor who played a fictional character with a different name and backstory.  That hundreds of thousands of Americans have been sucked in to the story, mistaking the image for the reality is a sad state of affairs.  It does not, however, give Robertson a pass when he says hateful, hurtful things under the umbrella of "Christian".  This is as manufactured as the rest, a bit of theater that is playing out precisely as scripted, including the support of viewers around the country.  All of it guarantees more money for A&E, for Duck Dynasty, and for the business the Robertsons own.

I do not nor will I watch the show.  I couldn't care less about the whole kerfuffle, except it, like Megyn Kelly's nonsensical white Santa/Jesus comments, reveals not so much a deep divide in America, as the lingering American Id, that part of our national psyche that lashes out at the Other - by turns gay folk, African-Americans, corporate executives, non-Christians in this particular case - without forethought or care for consequences.  If A&E lets Robertson back on the program, well, OK.  If for some reason counter to good economic sense they cancel it, well, OK.  In either case, the whole unfolding story is not about Phil Robertson or Christianity or censorship or rights.  It's about us, Americans, and our inability at times to tell reality from fantasy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Really Matters

Since the beginning of September, I've written 12 posts.  I used to write almost twice that in a week.  What's been going on?

First of all, life.  Since our move, our lives have become busier and more complicated.  You reassess priorities, and stuff that was important suddenly becomes less so.  Not that I don't enjoy writing and blogging; quite the opposite.  I miss it.  I also have other things that need doing, and so I continue to miss it so other things can get done.

With this priority shuffling comes the chance for reflection.  This autumn I also returned to Twitter, although in a more perfunctory way.  I rarely "Tweet" anything of my own, retweeting things others have shared, or leaving an appreciative comment.  While celebrity tweeting seems to be the big thing, the folks I follow most closely on Twitter comment on issues of race, gender, sexuality, and class, yet somehow manage to get the point across in 140 characters.  Some of them are quite amusing.  Unlike blogging or other forms of longer-form writing, there is an art to the good tweet, and I would rather share those that have mastered it than demonstrate my own incompetence at this particular form.

Yet, there is more to it than that.  Reflecting on my Twitter reticence and decrease in blogging, I have come to the conclusion that I, personally, am just no longer interested in what I have to say.  The explosion of the internet over the past decade, the democratization of communication and commentary thanks to social media, and the ever-higher wall elite commentary builds around itself all lend themselves to the odd phenomenon that, despite having the world quite literally at our eyeballs at the touch of a few buttons, there are fewer things of importance about which to write, and far too many people writing about them.  The noise-level in our public discourse is deafening, not least because at least some among my fellow Americans believe that volume equals both competence and a public following.  Personally, I prefer the simple declarative mode; if you like it, come on along, but if not, that's OK, too.  Far too many think it is necessary to TYPE LIKE THEY ARE SHOUTING IN ORDER TO MAKE SURE NO ONE CAN HEAR ANYTHING ELSE AND ALSO FOOL SOME FOLKS IN TO THINKING THEY HAVE ARE PART OF SOME LARGER SOCIAL OR POLITICAL FORCE.  Despite everything, the all-caps brigade continue unabated.

I've never wanted to be yet another voice shouting in the wilderness.  Now, the wilderness is far too crowded, and there are fewer things about which to write.  Take the past week, for instance: there's the report from the President's commission on the NSA; there's the surprise release of a new, pro-feminist album from Beyonce; one of the cast of Duck Dynasty was suspended after making some pretty awful anti-gay remarks; for some reason, Megyn Kelly of FOXNews insisted that a fictional character and Galilean Jew who lived 2,000 years ago are both white.  There's the nonsense over the website.  Every time Ted Cruz opens his mouth, news outlets race to put it in print and on the internet.

In the middle of all this, Pres. Obama gives a speech in which he says that rising inequality is the greatest challenge of our time.  The top 10% of income-earners in this country manage to rake in 42% of total incomes.  This has happened even as homelessness has risen; those depending upon food banks and other private support has exploded; there are 46 million Americans on Food Stamps, most of whom work either part time of full time.  For a socialist, Barack Obama is a pretty good oligarchical capitalist.  The real danger to our Republic isn't some fake businessman who wears a beard and spouts bigotry to make a buck from conservatives all too willing to fling money at people who say crap like he does.  Whether or not Beyonce is a "real" feminist isn't really all that important in the long run (although I'll grant the point that even raising the question masks persistent racism among some white feminists).  Beyond revealing her own racial blinkers, Megyn Kelly's nonsense is meaningless because, well . . . Santa doesn't exist and Jesus couldn't have been "white" in any way that makes sense.

None of this solves the problems of increasingly bad working conditions for too many Americans; corporations supporting their employment practices with public assistance in order to keep wages depressed and increase profits; a concentration of wealth in the United States that hasn't been seen since just before the Great Depression.  These are all things that are the result of deliberate policy choices of our government.  They are all things that can change, and should be changed in order for our country to remain politically stable as well as socially stable and economically vibrant.  They are things that are not going to change because interested parties have far too much invested in the status quo, despite its increasing untenability, to support even modest change.

People are far more interested in acting the church lady over Miley Cyrus or whining because a guy who pretends to look like a redneck says a redneck thing and then gets pulled from his fake show because he violated the terms of his contract than they are, say, in the fact that over a million Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits next week.  Combined with a feeling that I just am not all that interested in what I have to say; my own preference for the work of others; and a very busy, different life than I've experienced before, my own blogging is going to continue to be sparse, at best.  There are things that matter, and concentrating on the those things has made the whole project of public commentary questionable.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Extremes: A Review of The Rest Is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century By Alex Ross

The end of T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" has always struck me as the definition of storytelling.  When the end comes round, we should be at the beginning, seeing it for the first time.  So it is with Ross's narrative history of 20th century classical* music, The Rest is Noise: Listening To The Twentieth Century.  The narrative begins with the 1906 Graz** premier of Richard Strauss's opera Salome and ends with a description of John Adams's opera Nixon to China, which had its premiere in 1987.  Despite the years and events between them, there are remarkable similarities.  Strauss's opera was based upon the German translation of Wilde's play of the same name.  In a departure from operatic tradition, he used the text of the translation as his libretto.  The first sound from the orchestra, a clarinet playing a modulating scale, employs a trick that would become a mark of the 20th century: Strauss begins the scale in C# then modulates to G, using the tritone/augmented fourth/flatted fifth.  This particular interval is so unsettling, medieval commentators called it diabolos in musica.  Mid-century American bebop musicians used it a lot, as do heavy metal musicians.  Strauss's use of this particular dissonance was hardly its first use; it was, however, startling to begin this way.

Adams, a child of the 60's and imbiber both of the chemicals and the music of the era, absorbed everything around his ears and put it in his opera.  Like Strauss, he used transcripts from Nixon's trip to China as his libretto.  Like Strauss, his music was shocking in its originality.  Like Strauss, there is an element of playfulness in the midst of a very serious piece of music.

What makes these two events distinct, beyond the passage of decades and change of place, is the broader cultural milieu.  When Strauss's opera premiered, every significant musical figure in Europe attended.  Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg were there.  Schoenberg brought along his brother-in-law, Alexander Zemlinsky, among whose pupils were Alben Berg, who would take Schoenberg's music three or steps further down the line.  Adams' opera premiered and, other than a small audience and a few notices in the newspapers . . . silence.  Ross tells the tale that when Mahler would stroll around the plaza near the Vienna opera, passersby would point and whisper, "Der Mahler".  Ross also notes that no one in the late 20th century would do the same for John Adams, despite having similar reasons for doing so.

In between these two events unfolds the events of the 20th century, both well-known and oft-told, with the composers and their music the thread that moves us from Strauss and Mahler in Graz to Adams in Houston. Ross draws the lines linking the European composers of the first half of the century to the non-European composers of the latter half of the century.  His descriptions of the music never fall in to cliche or routine.  Unlike Gary Giddins, he does not reach for superlatives for each and every piece of music he wishes to describe.  Ross tells us about the music, then invites the reader to decide how best to hear it.

The last century was one of extremes.  Extremes in violence and death; extremes in its fertile hopes at its beginning and bitterness at squandered chances at its end.  The music of that century flowed with the times, reflecting it even, perhaps especially, when its creators insisted it was a critical response against those extremes.  Those extremes have names and faces and even pieces of music: Schoenberg and Berg and Shostakovich and Copland and Stockhausen and Cage; atonal and 12-tone and serial and music concrete.  It's all here, from the pseudo-pastoralism of Copland (a gay Brooklyn-born Jew was writing more what he thought about Middle America than writing Middle America) to the noise of Edgar Varese to the utter silence of John Cage's 4'33".  Two composers, Jean Sibelius and Benjamin Britten, receive chapters of their own, not so much because of their importance (although they are important, each in his own way, to the music of the 20th century) but for how they highlight so many of the issues surrounding 20th century classical music.  There are three chapters on music during what William Shirer called The Nightmare Years: music in Stalin's Soviet Union (including the equivocal career of Dmitri Shostakovich); music in Roosevelt's America; and the Danse Macabre in Hitler's Wagnerian Reich.

This is one of the best books on music I've read in a very long time.  It is one of the best histories of the 20th century I've ever read.  It illuminates the beauty of some of the strangest, most puzzling, confounding sounds we human have every created, against the backdrop of that bloody carnival of years.

*I am using "classical" here the way Ross uses the word.  Personally, I have preferred the word "orchestral" to describe this particular style of music.  "Classical" music is descriptive of a particular era of music-writing; you can love or hate the symphonic composers of the last century, but they didn't write "classical" music.  Still, I'm using Ross's terms more for the sake of consistency.

**Rumors of the scandalous nature of the opera forced the relocation of the premiere from Vienna to the provincial city of Graz.  In a conversation with Strauss in the 1930's Hitler claimed to have attended the premiere.  This may or may not be the case, but discovered in the burned-out ruins of Hitler's bunker were plans for rebuilding the opera house in Graz where Salome premiered.

A New Internet Tradition Is Born

This post at LGM concerns this post at Gawker (I know, I know; Gawker?).  One comment includes a link to this three-year-old post in which this guy gets taken outside for a whuppin'.

I swear if I didn't know who Feodor really was, I would have thought I'd found him.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hip Gnostics: Visions of Jazz:The First Century by Gary Giddins

This video, in many ways, encapsulates all that people who love jazz love about the music and people who cannot abide it give as evidence for their lack of . . . is abidance a word?  Apparently, because it isn't underlined!  Anyway, this clip from 1977 features the Oscar Peterson Trio (with the great Billy Cobham on drums and tenor saxophonist Eddy "Lockjaw" Davis) giving space for two very different masters of bebop trumpet playing, Clark Terry (who got his start playing for Count Basie) and Dizzy Gillespie (who spent two years pissing off Cab Calloway before Calloway fired him).  The tempo is brutal.  The soloists seem - notice I wrote "seem" - not to care all that much about things like melody; when they're trading first eights then fours, while they're listening to one another, they seem not so much call and response as finishing one another's sentences, yet not in ways the casual listener might expect.  Then, of course, there's the whole issue of the "Great Man" theory of jazz, a theory that seems more potent in a music one of whose tenets is, "Make It New".  You can't make it new if you aren't putting your own unique stamp on it; there are few musics as demanding of individual effort as jazz, precisely because the price of failure is so high.

No one knows the rules of jazz like Gary Giddins.  No critic has written so voluminously about jazz.  No critic since Nat Hentoff in the post-bop 1950's has been as big a booster of our national art form, working diligently to put before the public this style he loves, believing despite evidence to the contrary that we as a people will fall in love with it with the same fervor if we would only give ourselves to it the way he has.  The long-time jazz critic for The Village Voice, Visions of Jazz:The First Hundred Years, publish by Oxford University Press in 1998, is Giddins magnum opus, the attempt not so much to tell the story of jazz but to give, as the title suggests, his "vision" of jazz, defending his positions with the accumulated knowledge of decades combined with a musical acumen one finds in abundance among jazz critics.

The story of jazz, like all music, is complicated, rooted in social, political, economic, and our peculiarly American racial matters.  Born in clubs in the most dangerous part of America's most multicultural city, New Orleans, most chroniclers, Giddins included, date the music to a single performer, the trumpeter Buddy Bolden.  In many ways, Bolden's story - one of legendary prowess on an instrument; of uniqueness of style; of the excesses of a life spent too long in quarters harboring vice - is the story we know not just from the long history of jazz, but popular music in general.  It has been repeated ad nauseum, become a cliche so scripted we have our current crop of public figures - Lindsay Lohan being the best example - ready to play their designated roles if only they would allow themselves.

Giddins is both wise and thoughtful, along with knowledgeable of this particular music's provenance.  He doesn't start with Bolden.  In fact, he starts with the longest-lived form of popular entertainment, one wiped from our collective consciousness precisely because of its association with our racist national id.  I am speaking, of course, of minstrelsy.  The very first essay - and this book is little more than the collection of 79 essays - pairs two seemingly unlikely gentlemen: Bert Williams and Al Jolson.  Bert Williams was one of the first popular African-American recording artists, putting songs on record while the First World War was breaking out in Europe.  He was also one of the last great and popular minstrel performers.  What makes this latter so troubling for so many, however, was the fact that Williams was black.  He just wasn't black enough, forced in all his public appearances to darken his skin with burned cork, a humiliation he accepted with increasing rage over the years.

Jolson became famous both as "The Jazz Singer", which he never was, and as part of the last gasp of minstresly, which he never was.  The first performer to sing in what had been a silent medium, Jolson did so in black face, becoming at once the focus of much attention and the icon of a half-century of American popular performance.  The thing is, Jolson's appropriation both of the skin color and the music of his more talented and original partner in this essay adds yet another layer to the story of jazz - the uneasy, sometimes hostile, always freighted with America's sad history, dance between black and white performers.  Like the best musicians in jazz, Giddins doesn't so much come out and pound the theme in to our heads as he does show us, giving to the listener the work of figuring out what's going on based upon the evidence.

Giddins's book won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, the Bell Atlantic Jazz Award for Book of the Year, and it was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (1998).  One can be forgiven, then, if as a reader you come to it expecting greatness.  Like a jazz fan listening to a new piece of music from a favorite performer, a reader who scans the following among the blurbs on the back jacket, would be excused for believing Giddins has written something masterful: "A remarkably nonideological critic, Giddins has long demonstrated a passion for jazz in all its guises. . . . His writing, like the music he loves, is joyously polyphonic, with history, legend, musicology, biography, and performance all rising out of the mix."  This was from an uncredited review in The New Yorker.  My problem with this description, however, is it gets pretty much everything wrong.

Giddins is profoundly ideological, if by ideological one means taking sides in the many debates and discussions that surround jazz.  On the other hand, if by "ideological", one means "racial" - taking sides in the debate that has been around since the music was first recorded and disseminated to the broad public that jazz is primarily an African-American art form, one few whites can penetrate well - then being "nonideological" is not necessarily a good thing.  This is not an inconsequential matter, and discussions, debates, arguments, even the occasional knife-fight that break out over it are rooted precisely in that very first essay described above: white folk stealing and making their own this beautiful, sad, joyous, raucous art form is yet another indignity African-Americans have had to bear.  One can acknowledge that there have been white jazz musicians of uncanny beauty and power; one must always, however, note these are like Samuel Johnson's walking dogs and preaching women.  It is one thing to "play around" the melody of race, as Giddins does several times although not as beautifully as in the first essay; it is another thing, however, not to state that melody clearly.

Another thing that made this book a far more difficult read than it might otherwise have been is Giddins style. If one spends one's life as a critic, being limited by editorial insistence to 800-1,000 words, it might demonstrate one's acquiescence to this habit that creating a longer work benefits from writing a series of critical-style essays.  Yet, at times Giddins attempt to write either cogently or clearly about his subject matter fails so utterly, one wonders if he will find it again.  The best example comes from what seems to me to be a too-long attempt to give Coleman Hawkins's 1940 recording of "Body and Soul" its due.  Giddins sets the scene like any master story-teller would, noting that, like so many great moments, it was born of the humdrum of a musician's life, i.e., yet another recording date, and one song among several scheduled for that day's studio time.  The following is from p. 127, one of four or five paragraphs in which Giddins attempts to talk about what can only be heard listening to the song, after having acknowledged both the originality of Hawkins's accomplishment and the fact that, despite its popularity (the record sold quite well), it changed little to nothing in jazz.
If Hawkins's "Body and Soul" isn't the single most acclaimed improvisation in jazz's first hundred years, it is unquestionably a leading contender.  Nothing was changed by it.  Hawkins's station had long since been established, and Lester Young's time was at hand no matter what.  At least one critic professed not to understand the hoopla - Hawkins played like that all the time, he made fifty records as good, didn't he?  Not quite.  What elevated "Body and Soul" was its purity, its perfection; here, in one spellbinding improvisation, was the apogee of everything Hawkins achieved thus far, an uncompromising example of his gift, a work of art.  In his own way, he demonstrated what Lester Young was also in the process of demonstrating: a scheme to penetrate the presumed boundaries of conventional harmony.  And he did it with his patented arpeggios, compensating for the absence of identifiable melody with his drive, warmth, and coherence.  The public approbation was significant, if puzzling.  The record was a sophisticated abstraction of a popular song, yet Hawkins's variations were embrace to the degree that he had to memorize them to satisfy clubgoers, who insisted he play the famous solo, not a fresh improvisation.
Here we have everything that makes this work so difficult to work through, distilled to one paragraph.  How can arpeggios be "patented"?  In what way is "Body and Soul" "pure" or "perfect", beyond a description of the recording - an abstract meditation on a popular song?  If nothing was changed by it, is it well known just because of its beauty, its simplicity, its "perfection"?  If nothing was changed by it, why does it stand out so much?  None of the questions raised by this particular paragraph receive any answers in Giddins's text.  And this is just one of a couple dozen examples where Giddins's prose fails not so much himself as the reader.

Which leads me to the title of this post:  One of the things about jazz, at least in its past half-century or so, is the cliqueishness that seems to surround the music.  Its most ardent publicists and fans insist at one and the same time its accessibility and its complexity; its familiarity (if one is "American" enough) and its strangeness.  Giddins is no less given to betraying this particular vice (if it is one), in particular demonstrating a willingness to toss out terms from musicology that, it appears, he assumes his readers will understand.  This tendency becomes blatant in two esssays, the one on Charlie Parker and the one on Dizzy Gillespie.  Giddins includes transcriptions of music from each man, and attempts to use them to demonstrate . . . what, precisely?  Musical scores should illuminate, giving the reader a sense of what the performer is playing, even if the casual reader can't read a note of music.  One problem, however, is that notating a jazz solo illuminates nothing.  One in particular is more confusing the more one looks at it, or listens to the solo so notated while trying to follow along: Parker's solo from "Koko", one of the gauntlets bebop threw down before more traditional jazz in the year or two after the Second World War.  The notation lacks both the underlying chords Parker was soloing over as well as an explanation of the rhythmic subtlety that made Parker singular in his approach to the music.  Giddins does little to dispel the sense that, to "get" jazz, one needs access both to a vocabulary and a personal style that elevates one above the normal run of music listeners.  The picture of a bunch of white hipsters, berets at jaunty angles, sitting in a smoky club snapping their fingers carries throughout the book.

Yet, these frustrations hide many virtues, not the least of which is Giddins's utter lack of sentimentality.  Scanning the late decades of his story, Giddins finds much to recommend to the reader.  While dismissing fusion as an attempt at broad popularity this particular style failed to achieve, he nevertheless grants to some musicians who included electric instruments in their ensembles pride of place as he places before the unknowing reader performers as diverse as Henry Threadgill, Gary Bartz, Dave Murray, and the great Cecil Taylor, whose virtues require attentiveness to appreciate.  While far too many writers and fans yearn for the "Great Men" who have passed and whose like we won't see again, Giddins is insistent that jazz still lives, thriving in a variety of musicians who continue the music's individualistic ethic while navigating the waters between a stale traditionalism and the outer reaches of the avant garde that left too many listeners wondering if such things as harmony or rhythm would remain.

Despite its faults, I would recommend Giddins's book, with some provisos.  Listen to jazz first.  Familiarize yourself with the standards, the men and women who shaped the music in the past, their idiosyncrasies and personal touches that make it easy to tell the difference among so many performers using the same instruments.  To get used to Giddins's style, get a hold of Weatherbird, a collection of Giddins's review essays from the late 1980's, 1990's, and early 2000's (also published by Oxford University Press).  Finally, open yourself to the possibilities that exist within and through the music - the possibility not just of freedom and joy, pain and tears; but the possibility that you, dear reader, might become one among the initiates, a hip gnostic who understands that, in the words of British drummer Bill Bruford, "America is jazz and jazz is America."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Went To Healthcare.Gov And All I Got Was Health Insurance

If you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em?  Anyway - I know they won't, but the nuts can shut up now.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Never-Ending Story

A FB acquaintance of mine, recently installed as pastor of a UCC congregation in Oklahoma, posted the following as his status for this morning:
Let the never-ending exegesis of Psalm 52 continue!
It got me thinking about the whole matter of reading Scripture, figuring out what it means, discovering new layers and depths in familiar passages, learning new things about the original context that might just shade our understanding in a slightly - or perhaps more than slightly! - different way than previously.

More than anything else, this is why I find the project of reading the Bible each day so wonderful.  Not only do I find passages I hadn't encountered before, at least specifically; I also encounter old passages, reading them in the light of changed life-circumstances, or a changed understanding of the background or setting or perhaps even authorial intention, should one delve in to academic studies and monographs.
What if the story of Jesus was meant not just to be told but retold, molded, and shaped into something new, something present by the Evangelist to face each new crisis? The Evangelists were not recording a historical report, but writing to effect a change in their community. Mark was faced with the imminent destruction of his tiny community--a community leaderless without Paul and Peter and who witnessed the destruction of the Temple; now, another messianic figure was claiming the worship rightly due to Jesus. The author of the Gospel of Mark takes his stylus in hand and begins to rewrite the story of Jesus--to unwrite the present, rewrite the past, to change the future.
There is not just joy in such discoveries.  There is the deepening of faith, the assurance of that peace that passes understanding when we come to understand how little we understood even when we confidently insisted we did understand.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Come Out Swinging

I know, I know.  Been away for a while.  My life suddenly became incredibly busy, and blogging disappeared from the priorities of my life.  Things have settled down a little bit, though, and I thought I'd post something about our current nonsense.  If nothing else, this gives me a chance to vent.

The whole point of the PPACA was not "healthcare reform".  Rather, it was "insurance regulation", a related but different creature.  The main problem with our healthcare delivery system has been the high bar for access due to high cost.  Insurance ceased to be something people had from employment, a benefit employers gave to workers, and by extension their families, as an inducement to work for them.  Even companies that offer "health insurance coverage" do not offer it as a benefit they cover; they offer it as a private market, putting up plans from which employees can choose, but for which employees, rather than the employer, have to pay.  Insurers cover fewer and fewer things.  They refuse payment for treatments.  They drop individuals either because of some suddenly-discovered pre-existing condition or because there was a cap on payments that had been reached.  Plans change in midyear, sometimes with little notice from those who are on the plans, leaving them stuck.  Add to that the 48 million Americans who simply had no insurance and the crisis becomes acute.

The PPACA addressed these issues in a pretty straightforward manner.  They eliminated annual or lifetime caps on insurance payments.  They eliminated the restrictions on coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions.  And it created a marketplace for insurers to compete for individuals and corporate business for their products.  It also provided the opportunity for individuals to receive assistance in paying for coverage with subsidies they could receive to help cover the cost of purchasing health insurance on the individual market.  Finally, they offered states the opportunity to raise the Medicaid eligibility income level, bringing millions more in to that pool.

Most states have not created their own healthcare exchanges.  Most states have not raised the Medicaid eligibility income level.  These two things, combined with simple ignorance about what the PPACA actually does has brought us to the point where everyone is screeching and hollering about a lying President and a failed law.  The "lie" was that people could keep their insurance if they wanted to; the truth is, they could keep it if the insurance company brought it up to meet the minimum standards of the law.  The insurance companies refused to do that, then turned around and canceled millions of policies that were, by and large, little more than catastrophic plans with high deductibles, low caps, and tiny to non-existent co-pays.  The attraction of these plans was their low premiums.  The premiums were low because they didn't cover very much, or pay very much for the things they actually covered.

The President didn't lie.  The insurance companies simply refused to make the plans satisfy the requirements of the law.  For some reason, rather than being angry at the insurance companies for screwing them, the people receiving cancellation notices are angry at the President for telling them something that was true enough - they could keep their plans if they liked them - because he underestimated both how bad these plans really were and the recalcitrance of the insurers in updating the plans in question.  You want to be angry about your cancellation notice?  Be angry at the insurance companies.

Everything that's been in the news concerning the PPACA over the past few weeks has been frustrating as hell to read for one simple reason: most of the reporting, and almost all the mainstream commentary, has been abysmal.  No one seems to understand what insurance is or how it works.  No one seems to have looked at the law, or if they did they failed to understand how it works.  For example, I saw a young woman complaining that her insurance plan covers OB/GYN services even though she is not planning to have any more children.  Why should she have to pay for that coverage?  For the same reason she has to pay for prostate exams, colonoscopies even though she's under forty, hospitalization even though she will probably not spend a night in the hospital, and hundreds of other things.  Insurance is about pooling risk.  When she was pregnant and had her babies, her insurance company paid its share of those costs not through the money she paid in, but in part through money paid in by thousands of others on the same plan, most of whom would not be taking advantage of the OB/GYN services.  The larger the risk pool, the lower the cost for individuals and the companies.  PPACA works by increasing the insurance risk pool, creating incentives through public subsidies for people to purchase plans they might not be able to afford on their own, thus reducing costs both for them and for the insurance companies.

It's really that simple.

As for the foofraw over the website, all I can say is if you really think this is some horrible thing demonstrating either the incompetence of the Administration or the inefficiency of government in general, all I can say is: Really?  You can't pick up a phone and call a toll-free number?  You can't sit down and figure out if you're eligible for a subsidy that will cover some or even most of the cost of a plan that offers far more comprehensive coverage than the plan you currently have?  If you think the numbers of people signed up or signing up are too low, consider the deadline for signing up is the end of March (extended beyond the normal December 15 cut-off date because this was the beginning of the law's operation).  People have time.  Husbands and wives are doing the math, comparing plans and rates, thinking about that nagging back ache or persistent cough or pain that might signal something that needs more than a quick fix.  The numbers might be lower than if the website were functioning properly, but hardly demonstrating some catastrophic failure in the law.

I'm no fan of the law.  Personally, I would have preferred a system like they have in most of the rest of the world, where healthcare is just something the state takes care of because it's something people need.  You can go to your doctor for a check-up, or the emergency room in a crisis, and not worry about finding your insurance card.  That being said, the law is what we have and it's functioning precisely the way it was designed to function.  Considering all the complaints, I have to smile thinking of all the complaints people had about insurance companies screwing them over, refusing to cover treatments, changing plans with little notice, dropping coverage all together, or jacking up rates and reducing coverage and co-pays without any recourse at all.

Being as the word "church" is in this blog's title, I got to thinking of the children of Israel, stuck on the shores of the Red Sea, the Pharaoh's army pressing down on them, bitching about Moses leading them to freedom when they were so much better off in slavery.  To all those folks who want the law repealed, I say: Fine.  Let's repeal the law.  Let's kick millions of people off insurance plans, thus functionally denying them access to medical care because they have a chronic condition.  Let's put back those annual or lifetime caps on payouts so people in need of long-term care suddenly find themselves facing personal financial ruin because the insurance company refuses to pay any more yet on-going treatment is needed.  And let's not forget the 48 million Americans who won't have insurance coverage, yet whose treatment we pay for in higher fees and costs from medical providers.  Let's go back to the way it was before 2010, when we all bitched and moaned because the system was clearly working only to line the pockets of the insurance companies, instead of providing access to healthcare of individuals and families.  Let's repeal PPACA and then hear the howls because the insurance companies, no longer required to do all sorts of things, stop doing them.

In other words - grow up, America, and deal with it.

Lordy, but I feel better!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Thing That Bugs Me

With all that's going on the world, you'd think my occasional post would consist of commentary on something of importance. And it does.  Just not what most would think is important.

I know the answer to the question, but I'm going to ask it anyway: Why the hell do people on the internet not only scorn music they don't like, but impugn the character of people who like music they don't?

Any YouTube user knows how it can happen.  This post at Lawyers, Guns, & Money has over 240 comments because it devolves in to a long pissing contest over "Who's The Worst Band EVAH!!!!" and I threw up in my mouth a little.  It's assumed that bands like The Eagles, Journey, and Styx will get mentioned (my favorite review of any rock album was of Styx Paradise Theater, in which the reviewer said it was a parking lot of whale vomit).  Other, newer bands - Limp Bizkit, Radiohead, Coldplay - get honorable mention.  Pearl Jam came up a few times.  Finally, of course, straight from the headline, is Alberta's own Nickelback, a favorite punching bag.

It would be far better if people just let other folks listen to whatever they wanted and shut the hell up.  Seriously.  It doesn't matter to me one bit that other people not only like different music than I do but might not like what I listen to.  Who?  Cares?

You think the Eagles performed a few songs that are pretty good?  OK.  You would invent a time machine to prevent the parents of members of Roxy Music meeting so none of them would be born?  A bit extreme, but OK.  Don't listen to them.

If you don't like something, there's an easy enough solution: Don't listen to it.  Go listen to what you like.  Don't waste precious hours tearing apart the personalities and morals of others whose tastes differ.  You might miss out on something you like, spending all that time on the Internet telling the world how awful Nirvana really was.

I know that Internet trolls are the same whether it's politics or social issues or music.  "Pay attention to MMMMEEEEE!!" lies at the heart of it, along with a good dose of, "How cool am I?  Oh, and I know the difference between the Phrygian and Ionian modes therefore EXPERT!"  The Internet is a great boon to people with serious status anxiety issues, but really people: get a therapist.

Again, hardly the worst thing going on in the world, but all the same - if you find yourself wanting to engage in an epic struggle over whether Grand Funk Railroad was the worst band ever, take a deep breath and realize it just doesn't matter.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

No End Game

So we're in Day 3 of shutdown mode and I wonder about a few things.

I wonder if any of the Republicans in the House, and Cruz and Lee and Paul in the Senate, had an end-game in mind.  That is, allowing members a couple days of spittle-flecked rage at one another, do they have a plan to get from where we are to a functioning federal government again?  From the looks of things, I kind of doubt it. In fact, from the looks of things, they aren't bright enough to have had a game, let alone an end-game.  There is no way any of this ends well for the Republican Party.  If you play a high-stakes game like this without some inkling of what the conclusion will be, then you're screwed.  That no one seemed to believe a plan for an end-game was necessary tells me just how ridiculous these folks are.  They had to know the country didn't really want this, and would blame them, and would continue to blame them more as time goes on.  Believing their own rhetoric about the unpopularity of the ACA, that it doesn't work, blah-blah-blah, they refused to consider reality in their plans.

The result is the clusterfuck before us.

I wonder why people keep talking about John Boehner as if he is either (a) cowering before an alleged rump of his own party; or (b) secretly wishing for a light that illumines his way out of the tunnel in which he finds himself.  It seems pretty clear to me that the Speaker of the House, like the rest of the far right nincompoops in the House of Representatives, actually believes that the ACA isn't working; that the heroic stand he and the members of his Party are taking will be seen for what it is and praised by the American people soon enough as they clamor for release from affordable health care.  In other words, there is no actual evidence that John Boehner is secretly sensible and attuned to reality.  Rather, he is as delusional as the allegedly small group who is leading him and his party in the House over the cliff (even if the country doesn't follow, which isn't necessarily the case).

In the real world, John Boehner is the one person who can end this by doing the one thing he refuses to do.  That he refuses to do it is evidence enough that he isn't so much cowed by some small group, but a member of them.

Finally, I wonder about the repeated reports that there is only a small group of Republicans insisting on a die-hard position regarding tying a Continuing Resolution to repeal of the Affordable Care Act.  If this is true, why didn't a majority of Republicans vote with Democrats on Monday against that kind of bill, forcing the Speaker to bring a clean CR to the floor of the House?  For years I've been hearing about "moderate" Republicans, reading anonymous quotes in the press complaining about the right-wing of the party.  Where the rubber meets the road - in roll-call votes on the floor of the House of Representatives - I see zero evidence there's some huge war going on in the Republican Party.  The fact that over the past couple days former IRA fellatist Peter King (R-New York) is held up as a "moderate" tells me that, in fact, there are no moderates left.  There is no small group of fire-breathers holding the rest of the Party hostage.  This is what the Republicans want to do.  This is what the Republicans said they would do.

Did the Republicans believe the President would cave before allowing a shut-down of the federal government?  It's certainly possible they believed that.  That they didn't plan for the contingency with which we're now faced shows, as I said above, we are in the hands of morons.  They cannot save face.  They cannot escape responsibility.  Regardless of what they and their allies think or believe - this is disastrous for the country; this is disastrous for millions of Americans who are and will continue to suffer very real harm because of this; and this is disastrous for their Party, much worse than the 1995 shutdown.

So we coast or float or drift with no end in sight because there was never an end planned.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Autumnal Equipoise

While the calendar may have the next season beginning later in the week, yesterday and today up here on the prairie are giving us a taste of things to come.  It's been cool, even crisp.  Yesterday was damp, but today is sunny, the sky the kind of blue you see in early fall and mid-spring.  One of the hummingbird moths that frequent our flowering hostas got in our garage yesterday.  By late afternoon, it had moved from the ceiling to the back door.  I gently removed it from the door and set it on one of the plants outside.  It sat for a few minutes, then took off, feeding at our hostas again.

There is something marvelous about autumn.  Last week we had a blast of hot, humid air, reminding us that summer wasn't quite over.  Now, though, it feels like things are settling in as they should this time of year.  The languor of summer is passing, the busyness of fall has begun and now, at last, the weather is making such busyness feel a bit less like a burden.  Daylight hours shorten, the year's twilight reminding us the cool sleep of winter is coming soon.

As I write this post about the peacefulness of the onrushing seasonal change, the situation at the Washington Navy Yard is still unfolding.  Ten people shot, with reports of 2 to 4 people dead.  How many have died in Syria's intramural slaughter while the world dithers over one type of weapon, leaving tens of thousands of other deaths of seeming less importance, beneath the world's need to act?  How many children have died of curable diseases because nation-states and multinational pharmaceutical companies refuse to provide cheap preventive medications to poor populations around the world?  How many people have died from gun violence over the past 24 hours right here in the United States?

The reality of death and violence makes me uncomfortable with my own sense of peace and ease in this time of seasonal change.  I cannot ignore the immense privilege that grants me space and time to reflect on this bubble of peacefulness around me.  I cannot ignore the reality of pain and suffering around me because it harshes my mellow.  An full and honest accounting of autumnal equipoise would include the reality that I cannot rest within this space of quiet rest, but move out in to this world so beloved of God, a world so broken by sin and death there is no safe place for far too many, no peace and quiet for billions of God's children.

I understand Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, that desire to build a tent and stay forever in the presence that is so full of beauty and peace.  That, however, is not our lot.  The world is not yet that Mount.  It's our job to drag it there, kicking and screaming if need be.  Such is the real equipoise of autumn: The hope and promise that what is reality for me can be for others.  It isn't  about me giving up anything.  It's about others, indeed the whole world, having the opportunity to experience this same space and time.

That is our calling.  That's what we're to be about.  The Gospel message is meaningless if we aren't living out God's abundance with the world.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Getting It Done Right

With the United States and Russia agreeing on a protocol for Syria to follow for surrendering its chemical weapons arsenal; with the Syrian ambassador to the UN formally agreeing to adhere to the chemical weapons treaty, including allowing UN inspectors to weapon sites; with diplomacy moving forward even in the midst of a brutal civil war; all this, and the question on too many lips is: Was Obama duped, first by his Secretary of State then by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in to accepting a diplomatic solution that appears to weaken the United States?

It is both unanswerable (at least at this point) and irrelevant whether Kerry's remarks on Monday about a possible diplomatic solution were a "gaffe" that got out of control or part of a much larger strategy that included a threat to use force as a cudgel to beat Syria to the bargaining table.  Whether it was or not, the Obama Administration took it and ran with it in ways both smart and timely.  The President's much anticipated speech on Tuesday night included a plea for Congress to postpone a vote on the authorization to use military force to let the diplomats get their work done.  This comes just a few days after it was thought he was going to lay out a case for military action alone.

One feature this week was the New York Times op-ed appearing under Vladimir Putin's name that many on the right - and not a few on the left - thought was wonderful for any number of reasons.  As someone who has read a few things about international relations in my time, I found the contents neither surprising nor interesting.  They were, in fact, the kinds of things a foreign leader would say to the people of another country: trying to flatter the people at the expense of their leader in order to create mistrust and disagreement.  The fact remains that Putin said nothing that the Obama Administration wasn't already in the midst of doing.  The tongue bath Putin received from American conservatives was odd, unless one considers that he is (a) pretty hard-core in his reactionary positions; (b) playing by a rule book American conservatives understand (brute force plus ruthlessness plus a disdain for social and political and diplomatic niceties; and (c) the kind of leader too many on the right wish America had, i.e., one who is white, authoritarian, and unafraid to keep things simple and direct even if that means trampling the lives of others.  American conservatives have loved dictators since the 1920's, when they heaped praise upon Mussolini.  Since then, fascists from Franco through the Greek military junta of the 1970's, Pinochet in Chile - well, really, pretty much any Central or South American dictator in the 60's and 70's was the subject of much American praise, official and otherwise - and the Shah of Iran have all been held up by American conservatives as "statesmen".  Shoot, Lyndon Johnson said that Ngo Dihn Diem of South Vietnam was the Winston Churchill of southeast Asia!

There are many things that remain the be done.  There are many steps that need to be taken, and with Syria in the midst of a bloody civil war, those steps are made far more difficult.  There are many questions that I think are important to ask, including whether chemical weapons are different in kind from conventional weapons, which renders the hundreds dead because of them in Syria of some kind of different importance than the nearly 100,00 who have already been killed while the United States sat on its hands.  This last, in particular is an important question, and deserves some discussion.  All the same, at the moment international law sees such weapons just that way; the President reminded the American people, and the rest of the world, of that; the diplomats in Washington and New York and Geneva are doing the grunt work while the world watches, a far better way to verify than a UN inspection regime.  All this because of the deft way President Obama has spoken and acted over the past couple weeks.

As  far as I'm concerned, this justifies his Nobel Peace Prize.  Even with his initial martial bluster, or perhaps because of it, an international outlier long criticized for its refusal to conform to international law on chemical weapons has, in the midst of an ongoing, bloody, and still-inconclusive civil war, agreed to abide by the terms of the chemical weapons convention.  These are good things.

Good job, President Obama.  No.  Most excellent, Mr. President.  Thank you for reminding us that diplomacy can and does work.

Honest Interest In A Response

Over at LGM, there's a post highlighting something written by right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain (who defended the lynching of Emmett Till, so we know what kind of . . . "person" . . . he is).
Date rape is an apparently common campus crime that usually involves two drunk young people, one of whom has an erect penis, and the other of whom is unable to avert what the erect penis typically does.
Now my question is simple: Is this describing rape?  Is it describing bad communication between a man and a woman (she calls it rape; he says he was aroused and couldn't help himself?)?  Is McCain's claim that erect penises take over the mind and body of men a valid defense?

I ask these questions for reasons of clarification.  I really would like to know whether the two gentlemen who seem to believe there are such things as "sluts" that are identifiable by their dress and/or behavior would take the next step and insist there is more than a grain of truth in this notion that date rape is just two drunk people caught up in the moment, only one of whom seems to have regrets. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Week That Was: The Good, The Bad, & The Beautiful

Yesterday, President Obama surprised pretty much everyone and said that any decision about the use of military force would wait until he received Congressional authorization.  This is without a doubt a smart political move, a smart diplomatic move, and certainly Constitutional.  While not asking for a declaration of war - if the Republicans call his bluff on this and do that . . . - it at least acknowledges that Congress has an equal role in American foreign policy.  So - good.

Yesterday's Washington Post op-ed page carried a piece that argued - and I swear I'm not kidding - that statutory rape between students and teachers should be decriminalized.  I first heard about it on Twitter on Friday night, thanks to @AngryBlackLady.  I refuse to link to the article, because I'm now convinced it was only written as "link bait" - something to generate traffic - and I have no wish to give it any.  It should be easy enough to find.  Of course a few on the right are screeching about how the "liberal" WaPo now supports pedophilia, blah-blah-blah, but the only substantive criticisms I've read have been . . . wait for it . . . from left-wing and liberal sites.  Not a single liberal or "liberal" of whom I'm aware has said anything other than it is horrible, morally and in every other way.  Considering she ends the piece by arguing that since clergy can't seem to keep their knickers buttoned around kids and never face any punishment, teachers should face the same beneficent treatment.  Similar in logic to Feodor's "Guys have balls that produce testosterone so women should assume they're rape-bait and just accept that fact," I'm surprised he isn't supporting the argument at WaPo.  The death of print thanks to horrible stuff like that . . .

And now for the beautiful.  I'm not a fan of "praise music" in "contemporary worship" would be an understatement.  I find it theologically vapid, aesthetically mediocre, and is rooted in a business model - the Contemporary Christian Music industry based in Nashville, a branch of the Country Music establishment - that seeks to separate people from their money rather than give due honor and praise to God.  With that in mind, I offered the following this morning on FB as my kind of praise music:
Since the Latin title means "Give Glory To God", which is the sum total of 90% of the lyrics of most praise music, I would suggest that people who carry on about "praise music" learn things.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Heroes, Traitors, And Common Criminals

With Chelsea Manning's * conviction this week in the Wikileaks case, some pretty harsh lines have been drawn as to whether one believes her a hero or a traitor.  Similar in many respects to the discussions among those on the left about Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, there seems to be little room to breathe.  One either support Manning and Snowden and is therefore a full member of the left, or one does not support them and one is at the very least an Obama Apologist, or worse, a defender of the National Security & Surveillance State.

Had Manning (a) leaked only the video and information about the killing of journalists by the US Army and the subsequent cover up; (b) and done so to a reputable news source in the United States, I would say she was a whistleblower who acted in the best interests of openness.  What she did, though, is hand over 700,000 documents without going through them to a foreign national whose only concern was personal publicity.  While I don't consider her a traitor - she gave no direct aid and comfort to enemies of the United States, nor did she do so according to the testimony of two separate witnesses - neither is she "a hero".

What, precisely, was someone with her known issues - she was clear about her gender dysphoria with superiors prior to the leak - doing with the kind of security clearance she had?  This is not to say that people with mental illness (depression resulting from extreme gender dysphoria was part of her defense) are ipso facto a security risk; it is to suggest that the specifics of this case should have been at least a matter of concern for those who review security clearances.

As for Snowden/Greenwald and the revelations about PRISM, all I can say is . . . ugh.  None of this was new.  I wrote about it six years ago.  Anyone naive enough to believe that a new President would just give up a particular executive power because of his party deserves to be angry.  At themselves.  Since private corporations keep and store all sorts of data on us; since the federal, state, and local governments keep and store all sorts of data on us; since millions of us use social media to advertise everything from what we had for dinner to scurrilous attacks on those we've dumped or who dumped us, complaining that the feds have a database of our phone calls and the IP addresses of our emails is kind of silly.  Snowden and Greenwald conspired to commit a crime - Snowden contacted Greenwald and offered to take the job he had in order to steal the documents in question in order to leak them to Greenwald, making him at the very least guilty of fraud on his job application - then Snowden ran first to China then to Russia, neither of which could be described as having American interests at heart.  Recently Greenwald had the audacity to say that, for Snowden, Russia is preferable to the United States where he faces possible prosecution.  Considering Greenwald's possible reception were he to travel to Russia given the enactment of recent anti-gay laws there, this statement crosses from farcical to insulting.**

We can and should have a discussion about the over-classification of information; we can and should have a discussion of the continuation of the National Security State and our on-going surveillance state.  Neither discussion has been helped by either of these cases or the people involved.  They are neither heroes nor traitors.  They are common criminals, and deserve to  be considered such.

*I really don't want to get in to a discussion of Manning's gender dysphoria and its possible relationship to this case.  I recognize it was part of his/her defense, but to me it is a totally separate issue, as is the question of whether she receives hormone treatments in prison.

**When Greenwald's partner was detained earlier this week at Heathrow Airport, there was much hand-wringing.  Simply put - the guy was acting as a mule, and authorities in London had every reason to suspect he carried stolen classified documents.  That he was detained for a long period of time is pretty standard procedure.  That Greenwald was discomfited by the event, while understandable - who wants to see their loved one in police custody? - ignores the fact that he sent the guy to carry stolen classified information and bring it back to Rio.  And, no, I do not consider Greenwald a "journalist" anymore than I consider myself an architect.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Our Horrible Fellow Americans

I wish I had more time to delve through the unfettered racist id of my fellow citizens.  The racist freak-flag, once hidden behind layers of froth and coded language, flies free for all to see.  Whether it's a Colorado state representative (a Republican but we knew that without looking) carrying on about how "the black race" is poor because they eat chicken, the states of North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio instituting measures designed to suppress minority voting, or the right-wing press exploiting the senseless murder of a college student in Oklahoma to make some kind of point, we can at least rest easy that the bigots among us no longer feel compelled to hide.

I do so hope Art comes along and either demands I "prove" racism or at least explain what the hell his fellow righties are on about with the murder in Oklahoma.  Because that would be true to form, at least.

I am only slightly mollified by the thought that this kind of thing creates the illusion of huge numbers of people who think this way.  One is too many.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Words Without Knowledge: A Review

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? - Job 38:1-2
The Jin Dynasty in China was relatively short lived, fro 265 through 420 by the reckoning of the Western calendar.  A chronicler of that dynasty, Zhang Qu, wrote of peasants in Sichuan Province digging up dragon bones for use in medicines.  We now understand that what those peasants were using were the fossilized remains not of dragons, but dinosaurs.

Which description of the finds by these Chinese farmers is correct?  Was the contemporaneous description "They are dragon bones," wrong because we early-21st century westerners know that dragons have never existed and that, being dinosaur fossils, those long-dead Chinese peasants were wrong?  Were we to find a time machine that landed a paleontologist in Sichuan in the midst of these farmers and their discovery, and using a translator told them they were wrong, how would we go about doing so?  Would it be possible, without dragging things like evolution, the billions-year-long age of the planet, DNA, and contemporary scientific practice, to make these folks understand that "dragon" and "dinosaur" are not just two different descriptions for the bones they've found (and descriptions that sound eerily similar), but one is right and the other wrong?

Keith M. Parsons's Drawing Out Leviathan: Dinosaurs and the Science Wars would, I believe, insist not only that it would be possible to do so, but that posing the dilemma as I have done ignores the simple fact that they really are dinosaur bones, not dragon bones.  Setting up the situation as I did in the second paragraph, what I have done is bought in to the target of much of Parsons's ire, what he calls a "constructivist" view of science.  On page 82 he writes:
I see constructivists as committed to one or both of the following these:
Relativism Theory (RT): All epistemic standards, including those of natural science, are necessarily relative and parochial.  All such standards reflect only the epistamic conventions of particular social groups.  No set os such conventions is objectively better than any others.
Nonrationality Thesis (NT): Even when "rational" and "objective" standards are in principle available, scientific consensus is a product of conflict and negotiation in which rhetoric, politics, and other "nonrational" social factors determine the outcome. (italics in original)
Parsons uses some well-known controversies in paleontology - the wrong skull placed upon an apatosaurus  skeleton in Pittsburgh that created the non-existent brontosaurus; Robert Bakker's arguments for endothermic dinosaurs; David Raup's very public switch from critic of the Alvarez theory of mass extinction due to the impact from an extraterrestrial object to enthusiastic supporter - to criticize the constructivist claims about science and defend what can best be described as a kind of naive realism, best summed up in the following passage (emphasis added):
It is salutary to be reminded often that we all have axes to grind, and that our motives may be due to internalized social influences. . . Lacking a God's eye view, we simply have no choice but to follow our hunches and intuitions, realizing that these have certainly been shaped by our social milieu, but trusting scientific practice to give nature the final say. (p. 157)
Of the many things wrong with this work, the least of them is the assumption, here written out in full for anyone to read, that there is something called "nature" that dictates the outcomes of scientific experiments and controversies.  The list of far more egregious errors include: the use of the antonyms "rational" and "irrational" without ever coming within whispering distance of definitions for either; cursory (and often wrong) interpretations of figures with whom he disagrees, including Thomas Kuhn, Bruno Latour, Steven Shapin, and W. J. T. Mitchell; an entire chapter devoted to defending a Whiggish view of the history of science, by which he means our current practices and understandings judge and determine those of previous generations and find them wanting; a description of "science as contingent social practice and convention" without understanding there are varieties of social conventions and practices and that such a description hardly means "whimsical"; asking questions and demanding answers in terms that, to be generous, are open to interpretation and at worse miss the obvious point that differing vocabularies and interpretive schemes render such questions either meaningless or moot.

Parsons says this work grew out of his dissertation in philosophy and history of science.  I cannot imagine sitting on his committee without noting that he never once, and certainly not up front, defines and explains the position he supports and how the constructivist claims not only threaten it epistemologically but normatively.  I cannot imagine reading this, with his cursory dismissals of Popper, Feyerabend, and Lakatos (he only calls the positivists by their group name; they were, apparently, beneath notice) along with Kuhn and Shapin and Latour, and asking for longer, more detailed explanations of what these men said and how the position Parsons defends is both epistemologically and normatively superior.  Finally, I can't imagine reading this without directing Parsons to Ernst Mayr, who argues that biology (and paleontology, while a polyglot discipline, is a branch of biology) works not only with different methods but different assumptions, different criteria for theory acceptance, and different epistemic and ontological presuppositions than physics.  I would also note that the pattern and outcome of the controversies Parsons uses are open to multiple, equally legitimate interpretations, including ones exactly opposite from those Parsons insists are the "correct" ones.

I would certainly use this book in a graduate/post-graduate seminar on the history and philosophy of science.  I would use it as a primer on how not to do those things.

N.B.: Two things.  First, the title of Parsons's book is taken from the Biblical book Job, so I thought it apt to use another such quote as title and epigraph.  Second, while my time is limited, I hope to write a post or two in coming days delving in to more detail some of the many ways Parsons's book fails utterly and completely.

Friday, August 16, 2013

White Feminist Privilege And Hugo Schwyzer

As I've written recently on feminist topics, the near-total and very public meltdown of a formerly prominent self-avowed male feminist academic has brought to the surface lingering anger at the myopia of many white feminists toward their own privilege.  One of the long-standing bills of complaint against Schwyzer was his often vicious attacks on women of color, including threats to their professional careers.  With his admission - in the midst of much narcissistic argle-bargle in which his confession of sins became an attempt at more attention from people sympathetic to his formerly expressed views - he has yet to come clean about his own pattern of bigoted behavior.  White feminists have been slow in admitting their own complicity in silencing the voices of women of color.  I thought, especially since one of the women named in this controversy, Amanda Marcotte, is someone I respect.  The complaint against Marcotte - that a book she wrote had a racist cover which was defended by Schwyer - is straight forward (and I should add, legitimate; had it been me, I would have pulled the book from the shelves rather than let it go out to the public, which speaks to a certain tone-deafness on Marcotte's part).

I should add I had never heard of Schwyzer before.  I had not heard of the incident involving Marcotte's book.  A person can't be aware of everything, even in communities to which that person pays attention.  I do think any man calling himself a feminist is troubling; I support feminist issues, but I would never call myself a feminist.  In much the way too many of my (white) Facebook friends put up images of a hoodie after the Trayvon Martin verdict in what was, to me, total ignorance of their own privilege - they will never be stopped and frisked because of their color; they will never be pulled over while driving because of the color of their skin; they won't be followed by security in stores because they are black; they won't be hunted by a vigilante because they are the wrong skin color for a neighborhood - I think part of my own duty as a white man is, as many women of color are now insisting white feminists should do, to shut up and listen.

I will admit my own myopia on this matter.  Just because I thought there was no color barrier in feminist communities doesn't mean there wasn't one.  On the contrary, I have often thought that some feminist pro-choice arguments were and continue to be remarkably racist.  Recognizing this one blot over here, however, doesn't excuse any instances where I failed to see how my own privilege blinded me and closed my ears when there were voices I needed to hear.

There is a lot of soul-searching going on, and for some African-American women, it's too little too late.  That this soul searching is necessary is evidence enough of the unexamined privilege of white feminists, and their continued silencing of the voices of African-American and Latina voices, ignoring their realities, and limiting the reach of cfeminist discourse by insisting white women's experience is normative for all women.  That someone like Schwyzer was able to find a favorable audience among white feminists, all the while displaying very public disdain for African-American women, and displaying symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder along with addictive behaviors should demonstrate we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Opening The Bathroom Door

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that allows students at public schools to choose bathrooms and sports teams based upon their own gender identity.  By creating space for trans people, the law also creates space for ignoramuses and bigots.

The funniest part of all this - and you need to look for the funny in the roiling cauldron of hatred and fear - is Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council carrying on about biology (and engaging in a form of the fallacy known as "the appeal to nature"), a science he holds in disdain most of the time.

What's truly sad in all this is bigotry, ignorance, and fear get a seat at the table as some kind of principled opposition to opening up spaces in public services for trans kids.  It's bad enough they get treated poorly by other kids; having adults on television telling them they are just confused and need to get their heads straightened out I'm sure does wonders for them.

Of course, what else do we expect from people whose whole appeal is reinforcing bigotry and hate-filled nonsense around gender issues, from same-sex attraction and abortion to women's rights to near total ignorance about trans people.

 As for the whole, "What about the children?!?" argument, all I can say is - school is a place for teaching all sorts of things, including understanding people who are different.  Anyone who says that such education could violate a parents's rights is essentially insisting that parents have the right to teach bigotry, hatred, and fear.  Since part of a school's job is to get young people ready to live in a diverse society where they will encounter all sorts of people, and since such parents can take their kids out of public schools if they want, I suggest that offer be made rather than insist that schools reinforcing on-going marginalization of trans people.

Any time a community, state, or nation opens itself to the different ways people live their lives, we should celebrate that.  As for the hate- and ignorance-mongers, rather than give them a seat at the table, it would be far better to just call them out and move on.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (UPDATE, UPDATE II, UPDATE III)

A couple weeks back, a woman of my acquaintance told the following story.  She was out shopping on her own when she noticed a man glancing at her.  The man saw her notice and walked away.  A few minutes later, he walked up to her and said, "I just wanted to tell you, if you're married, your husband is a very lucky man."  She said, "I am married and we're both lucky."  The man walked away.

My first thought upon hearing this life-anecdote was, What the hell is wrong with people?  My second thought was, I hope she made sure this dude-bro didn't get her license plate number.

A few months back I wrote a short piece in which I made clear that rape-prevention begins with instilling in boys and men the most basic lesson: Don't rape.  Apparently, for some, this simple message wasn't clear enough.  As I said in the very first paragraph of that post:
I was going to avoid the story, because, honestly, how is it possible to say something on the topic of rape that isn't an easy way to make oneself look good?  Like the whole kitten-burning trap, one would think it takes zero moral imagination to speak out against rape.
Across the internet, there has been a rising chorus of women's voices speaking out against the ubiquity of online rape threats women receive when they speak out on matters related to pervasive, systemic misogyny.  Writing at Feministing, Syreeta calls this "The New Normal" and insists that it be met with ongoing publicity.  The post itself concerns both racism and misogyny, and the way they are used to silence women and people of color who have the audacity to speak out against them.

I have my own Katzenjammer Kids here who somehow believe I am full of soap on the matter of violence against women; that supporting anti-slut-shaming campaigns is somehow elitist; and that women who get raped in all probability deserve their victimization, the result of their own "poor choices" or the fact that men are nothing more than mobile penises, incapable of resisting the tiny voice from down below.

The whole point of my occasional posts on the topic of violence against women has been, and continues to be, to clarify the ways in which, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary; despite the many real and substantive gains made by women here and around the world; at the end of the day, most women most of the time spend at least part of every day dealing with men who believe it is their right to intrude upon their lives in ways big in small.  Whether the creep in the grocery store who, I am quite sure, thought his action the height of politesse, complimenting a woman he did not know on her appearance; or the daily abuse heaped upon women who dare to speak out - not just verbal but all too often physical; women live with the reality that most men most of the time assume a relationship of superiority toward women, a relationship that must be maintained even with the threats and reality of violence.

That is why rape has nothing to do with how women dress (the whole point of the anti-slut-shaming movement); it has nothing to do with the irresistible call of the penis.  It is, rather, an act of violence against women as women, done because men believe it their right and privilege just to do it.  Rape is about power, not sexual attraction.  That is why date rape and marital rape and the rape of sex workers are still struggling to be recognized as real crimes.  Everyone can sympathize when, say a child or older woman is sexually assaulted.  When a woman in college wakes up in a strange bed, realizing the cute guy at the bar slipped her a roofie and had sex with her while she was passed out; when the wife rolls over crying because her husband has forced himself on her yet again, insisting she fulfill her marital obligations; when a prostitute is dragged in to the bushes and raped, she knows her assailant is quite right that no one will believe her story because of what she does; when these things happen there are far too many voices willing to insist that what happened was not rape.  Women in such situations find few defenders and far too many willing to blame them for the actions of others.  I will say it again for the slow learners who insist I am wrong: Violence against women does not have anything to do with sex, or how women dress, or how they act, or what choices they make in their lives.

Thus the simple, necessary demand that people start teaching boys at a very young age, "Don't rape."  It does seem a no-brainer.  Yet, the growing awareness of how far we still have to go - not just here but around the world - and the rising chorus of the voices of both men and women demanding change demonstrate how far we still have to go, as well as how far we have come.  It's a message that needs to be repeated no matter how simple and clear it sounds.  It's a message that more people need to hear.  Blaming women for their own victimization only perpetuates this "new normal" that empowers men (I love the description in the Feministing piece of some doofus typing a verbal assault while ensconced in Mom's basement; it's an Internet cliche but no less true for all that) to believe it is OK to attack women verbally and physically because they have the audacity to speak out in ways that threaten these men in some way.

It will stop only when all people who understand the reality that none of this is about sex or those dirty whores and how they dress but about men terrified of the thought a woman might well have at least as much power and authority as they do.  Not just demystifying rape, but deconstructing male power, needs to be done each and every time some bit of this ugliness raises its blighted head.

UPDATE:  I knew I should have waited to read Amanda Marcotte before writing this post.
I’d like to recommend a couple of interesting pieces by Paul Mason and Lindy West, who have a point that I think bears stressing: Trolls are real people and they have an agenda outside of some vague “need for attention”. They are misogynists, and as I said during the CONvergence panel on this subject, it’s important to understand that misogynists believe they are in the right. Indeed, they are incredibly dogged and self-righteous, as Mason found out when he first decided to explore online misogyny—they get really mad when you do this, by the way, because part of their self-righteous worldview includes a belief that they should be able to push their agenda without being examined or questioned too closely.
Sounds familiar to me.  When called out for being a mansplainin' concern troll, someone heads to an online dictionary to demonstrate I'm trying to shut him down.  How dare I refuse to hear his considered words of wisdom?
Mason interviews the guys who claim they’re just in it for the “lulz” and discovers to no one’s great surprise that actually, these trolls have deep hatred and resentment of women and actually do take the mission to silence women very, very seriously. They just can’t quite admit that to themselves, because part of the identity of the misogynist is to deny that he is a misogynist—he loves women as long as they know they are subhuman sex/reproduction appliances put here to serve, so how can he hate women?!—so the amount of rationalization that goes on is astounding. 
I was once ridiculed for claiming that too many men see women as baby factories.  Imagine!  Unpossible!
 There is a sea of boiling anger out there because men are taught from a young age that women are here to serve, and then they grow up and discover that women often elect not to do that. Some misogynists—the Rick Perrys of the world—calmly react to this realization by deciding that women’s rebellion is a temporary, feminism-induced insanity, and that the proper legislative pressure plus a good dose of condescension can return them to their natural state of servitude. Some men get a sick pleasure out of stripping away the “illusion” that women are equal and violently showing them exactly how inferior they are. The online troll population has these kinds of characters in it, but the dominant class is men who don’t get the level of sexual attention they feel entitled to from women, and therefore have concocted elaborate, dogged theories about how women are broken, because they cannot ever allow that women have a right not to like them personally. (Or that if they started acting like decent people, maybe they would actually be more likeable.) All misogynists get upset when women are given attention for their talent or skills; it violates their core belief that women are here to serve. This is why writing on the internet while female means getting everything from laughably delusional men pretending to “critique” your writing while barely concealing their rage to rape and death threats. Particularly if your writing is not upholding the opinion that women are inferior servant class.
Simple, clear, plain English gets to the heart of the matter.  Every word typed denouncing feminism demonstrates just how fragile these men are, how threatening a woman actually being a human being is to their shriveled sense of self.
 That’s why it’s uncomfortable to have so many people insist that there’s an easy fix for troll targets, the “ignore the bullies and they’ll go away” fix, usually spouted by people who haven’t considered for a moment that the trolls may very well be actual people who are trying to protect and perpetuate sexism.
Which is why I don't so much ignore what my twins from different ideological poles write as point out what it is and carry on.  It enrages them, but then again that is the coin of their realm - rage that some might well see through their self-proclaimed concern for the seething mass of neurosis that it really is - and the best way to win the game is not to play.
West is right; it’s time to stop thinking of trolls as idiots who are just seeking attention, and see them for what they are: Misogynists with a political agenda. These are men that absolutely do not want to live in a society where women are treated equally, and they are obsessed with silencing the women online whose writings they rightfully fear are going to help push society in a more feminist direction. They want to harass feminists into silence. If we keep this understanding front and center and discard useless theories about “attention-seeking” or “lulz”, we can begin to have a more productive conversation about what the hell to do about the problem.
I disagree slightly; I do think attention-seeking is a huge factor.  Especially when touting one's moral and intellectual superiority.  The point, however, is well taken.  Highlight it, call it out, and remain on topic.  All part of those simple instructions: Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

UPDATE II: In case you're wondering if I'm being hyperbolic about the whole rage and violence thing, let us cruise through Wonkette to discover what hilarity a Republican Political Action Committee finds humorous:
[A] Republican superPAC, “The Hillary Project” has recycled this hilarious “Slap Hillary” game on its website. The game allows the viewer to administer a slap to a cartoon Hillary or to hear one of two brief audio clips that the producers must think are inflammatory. And as Buzzfeed notes, it was created in 2000, but the Hillary Project site “began spamming reporters to its existence Monday with the tweet ‘Have you slapped Hillary today?’” Oh, and did we mention the cartoon Hillary figure is wearing a pink pantsuit? This is cutting-edge political satire, kids.
Because nothing says "healthy" like the desire to assault someone with whom you disagree on politics, or offering others a chance to fulfill that same fantasy.

Misogyny - you're soaking in it.

UPDATE III: It isn't just adult women who deserve getting raped for their slutty clothes and poor choices.
Boy, it sure is hard to know when you can rape (or, as they say at Yale, have “nonconsensual sex” with) a kid, isn’t it? We know the Catholic Church has a hell of a time figuring it out. Like, sure, there are “laws” about how you’re not supposed to have sex with someone who does not consent to having sex with you. And there are “laws” about how a minor cannot give consent because she or he is, you know, a kid. But those are really more like suggested guidelines, aren’t they? Like, okay, yeah, you probably shouldn’t fuck a kid, but what if she’s a totally hot kid and she’s wearing make-up and she runs with a fast crowd and she’s, like, TOTALLY asking for it, you can tell, she’s got that look? Talk about a gray area!
The piece gives examples: a prison guard in Louisiana who raped a 14 year old inmate, insisting she seduced him; an English rapist who got off because the 13 year old was "egging him on";  the 11 year old gang raped, with the girl described as "dressing older" and "hanging with teenagers"; the 13 year old pressured in to sex then became pregnant, described as a "whore" by her neighbors because she became pregnant.

All of these fit neatly in to Feodor's and Art's little church-lady lecturings about poor choices and white privilege and blah-blah-blah.  The piece ends up with this bit of sage advice that Art and Feodor seem to believe is beneath them:
When can you have nonconsensual sex with someone? NEVER. Not even if she’s really hot or mature for her age. Not even if she’s wearing make-up. Not even if she has older friends. Not even if she’s “egging” you on. Not even if she’s drunk. Not even if she’s a total slutbag who has had sex with, like, a million other dudes so one more shouldn’t make a difference. Not even if you’re really horny. Not even if she only says no twice. Not even if it’s a day that ends in “y” or pigs flew by your window or you watched some porno where the chick said no but seemed to like it or your mother didn’t love you or some Republican said there are varying degrees of rape and some of it isn’t really rape or you think you can get away with it and no one will ever know.
Because if you do sex to someone who does not give you her permission to do sex to her — or cannot give you her permission because of how she is a child — you are a rapist and a bad person and if there is in fact a hell, you will burn in it. Even if a judge takes sympathy on you and the legal system lets you off the hook with a warning (or, in Yale’s case, a written reprimand). It is wrong and bad, and you are wrong and bad, and seriously, it should not be that difficult to understand that you should only fuck grown adult women (or men, whatever floats your boat, we don’t judge — UNLESS YOU’RE RAPING SOMEONE) who can and do give their consent for you to fuck them.

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