October 21, 2014

"Don't touch me"... "Don't touch my girlfriend."

Who says "Don't touch me"? Most famously: Jesus. He said it — "Noli me tangere" — to Mary Magdalene, in a scene depicted many times in art:

That had something to do with the fragility of the fleshly body in the immediate aftermath of resurrection. A very special case. In modern times, I think we tend to think of a woman saying "Don't touch me." But Howie Mandel wrote a book called "Don't Touch Me":

He was writing about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Maybe you remember pre-"2001" Keir Dullea as David in "David and Lisa" with his mentally disordered fear of touching:

"You touched me! You want to kill me! Touch can kill!... You coarse, clumsy, stupid FOOL!"

The truth is that we all have a right to sovereignty over our own bodies. It's not just something for women to demand from men. It's something we are all entitled to as human beings. We are now encountering the defense of female integrity embodied in the rather muddled campus policy known as "Yes means yes," but it applies to men too. Women care about our bodily integrity, but too many of us believe that our sexual favors are so universally desirable that a "yes" from a man can be presumed, that a woman can impose upon a man. But that's wrong.

And now, today, we see this story of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, making the kind of assumption that is more typical of the female — the assumption that the person he chooses to touch must necessarily want to be touched. Obama is caught in a relationship with a man who postures as the woman's boyfriend and says to the President: "Don't touch my girlfriend." The President proceeds to grasp at his own dignity by demonstrating to that man that he most certainly can touch that woman, but what of the woman, that woman possessed by two men? It was her choice whether to be touched by the President, and her choice whether to be owned by the man who said to the President "Don't touch my girlfriend," and yet both men assumed ownership over her autonomy — the boyfriend because he had a past with her and the President because, like too many woman, he thought of himself as so universally desirable that a "yes" from any woman can be presumed.

In the history of the world, has there ever been a woman as uniquely subordinated as Aia Cooper? My heart breaks to see how she saw her best hope in coming to the aid of both men, both men who, within seconds, claim sovereignty over the territory of her body. What history lies behind this instinct to protect these 2 men, these 2 exemplars of male power — the boyfriend and the President of the United States? Cooper didn't even want to stand next to the President: "I was like, 'do I have to stand there? I don't really want to stand there.'" And after the incident in which Cooper defended her boyfriend and acceded to the Commander-in-Chief's command "You're gonna kiss me," Ms. Cooper reached out to the President's wife:  "I wanna meet Michelle... Hopefully she doesn't think anything about me, but I really want to meet her."

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth," Jesus said.

I thought only "yes" means yes: Did Obama get true, verbalized consent from that woman before he kissed her?

No. He did not. People are focusing on Obama's interplay with a man who said "Don't touch my girlfriend" as Obama was voting in Chicago, demonstrating how to vote.

But let's talk about the woman. Obama orders her to kiss him: "You're gonna kiss me. Give him something to talk about. Now, he's really jealous." As you see in the video, he makes that declarative statement and immediately grabs her and kisses and hugs her.

Why is that acceptable? He's using her in an effort to regain dignity and to humiliate the man who humiliated him. It might all be dismissed as play humiliation and play counter-humiliation. But the woman's body was used as an object of that play, a means of communication between men.

"[Bell] Hooks had just come from a seminar entitled 'Transgression: Whose Booty Is This?'"

"She said, 'Pussies are out. It’s bootylicious all the way.' [Laverne] Cox agreed. 'It is the age of the ass,' she said. 'Booty as cultural metaphor is really interesting. J. Lo made the ass a thing fifteen years ago, and now we have issues of ass appropriation.'"

From a New Yorker piece about a conversation between Bell Hooks, the longtime activist feminist, who's currently a Distinguished Professor in Residence of Appalachian Studies at Berea College, and Laverne Cox, the LGBT advocate and actress who's in the TV show "Orange Is the New Black."

Hooks proceeds to declare that she has "had an ironing-board butt all my life," and Cox responds with an observation about astrology, but maybe Hooks is not "into astrology," and Hooks says: "Oh, I’m into psychics, telepathics, you name it... All the paranormal world is very interesting to me." And both of them speak retrogressively about aging: "This aging thing is a bitch" (Hooks, 62 years old) and "I do not [reveal my age]. My official age is 'over twenty-one'" (Cox).


1. Ageism is certainly one of the "-isms" that people still seem to feel safe about openly displaying. Maybe some day we will look back with shame at what bigotry we spouted.

2. It utterly amazes me that people who want to present themselves as intelligent and sophisticated nevertheless openly profess belief in astrology and other "paranormal" nonsense, including people like Hooks and Cox who are activists purporting to push the rest of the world forward into enlightenment. How can you get any footing to push when you're standing in blatant idiocy?

3. Asses. When will they be out?

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg owns a surprisingly large number of ‘Notorious RBG’ t-shirts."

And she is aware of people talking about her on the internet and that opera about her and Scalia. And there won't be "enough" women on the Supreme Court until there are 9. (Note to people who have trouble processing language: That doesn't mean we ought to be hoping for or trying to get 9 women on the Supreme Court. That means that there is no point at which anyone ought to say there are now "enough" women on the Supreme Court and another would be too many.)

Email from James Lileks.

How cool is it to get email from James Lileks? Subject line: "Knew this would come in handy some day."

Body of the message:

Get it?

The Oscars, Pistorius and de la Renta.

1. It was handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance: Oscar Pistorius got a 5-year sentence.

2. Oscar de la Renta, who dressed First Ladies and movie stars, has died at the age of 82: "With French lace and delicate embroidery, he helped women subdue their insecurities. And with his eye for a gentle flounce and a keen understanding of line and silhouette, he helped them build a powerfully stylish wardrobe that never denied their femininity nor apologized for it.... Today, there are designers in New York who are more adept at capturing the sexuality of the modern era.... But de la Renta represented a kind of old-school fashion with its emphasis on propriety, elegance and good taste."

October 20, 2014

At the October Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.

"I love the law, intellectually. I love nutting out these problems, wrestling with these arguments."

"I love teaching. I miss the classroom and engaging with students. But I think being a Justice is a little bit too monastic for me. Particularly after having spent six years and what will be eight years in this bubble, I think I need to get outside a little bit more."

Barack Obama, quoted at the end of Jeffrey Toobin's mostly routine New Yorker piece about Obama's "judicial legacy."

ADDED: What's up with the verbal phrase "to nut out"? The (unlinkable) Oxford English Dictionary designates the relevant meaning — "to work out through careful thought; to puzzle out" — as "slang" that is "chiefly Austral. and N.Z." Example: " If you have trouble nutting this maths problem out, the Australian Mathematics Competition is not for you." There are no other meanings for "nut out," though "nut" without "out" is a verb that can mean: 1. "To look for or gather nuts" (rare), 2. "To curry favour with" (obsolete), 3. "To fix, fit, or fasten by means of nuts," 4. "To castrate" or "Of a man: to have sexual intercourse with (a woman)" (U.S. slang), 5. "To butt with the head" (British slang), 6. "To kill" (Irish English slang).

"What is the case for Hillary...? It boils down... She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn."

Writes Doug Henwood in a Harper's article titled "Stop Hillary!/Vote no to a Clinton dynasty." You're going to need a subscription to read all that, which is stupid, because the imperative — "Stop Hillary!" — seems ludicrous if you hide the argument. But the truth is, I have a subscription, so let me pull out the parts that seem significant to me:
Today we desperately need a new political economy — one that features a more equal distribution of income, investment in our rotting social and physical infrastructure, and a more humane ethic. We also need a judicious foreign policy, and a commander-in-chief who will resist the instant gratification of air strikes and rhetorical bluster.
So, she's not left-wing enough? That counts in her favor in my book.
Hillary absorbed the conservatism of her father and her surroundings. In junior high, she fell under the influence of a history teacher, Paul Carlson, a frothing McCarthyite. As Carlson [said], the young Hillary was “a hawk.”

Soon after, though, she found another guru, one she would stick with for years — a young minister at the First Methodist Church of Park Ridge named Don Jones. Jones was a dashing intellectual who helped open Hillary’s mind. He got the church youth reading D. H. Lawrence, listening to Bob Dylan, and talking about Picasso....
Uh oh! Reading D. H. Lawrence, listening to Bob Dylan, and talking about Picasso... Man, that is the story of my life!
"We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living."
That's Hillary, at her college graduation, and that's pretty much what we were all saying back then.
By Yale Law standards, Hillary was a conservative, which meant that she opposed the Vietnam War but still basically believed in American institutions. Despite looking like a hippie in her tinted glasses and candy-striped slacks, she had no patience for the utopianism of the time.
Good for her! It's like Harper's's Henwood thinks we need a hippie President!

"God is not afraid of new things."

Said the Pope.

"Two San Francisco radio stations have put the kibosh on Lorde's song 'Royals' until the World Series is over."

"Why send any positive vibes to Kansas City?... Why not give the song a rest? No one is going to get hurt over it."

The weirdest part is that the song, which doesn't seem to be about baseball, was, according to Lorde, speaking last year, inspired by a 1976 photo of George Brett:
"I'd been kind of thinking about writing that song for a while and been pulling together a couple little lines here and there, and I had this image from the National Geographic of this dude signing baseballs... He was a baseball player and his shirt said Royals. I was like, I really like that word, because I'm a big word fetishist. I'll pick a word and I'll pin an idea to that."
Can this lady, a citizen of New Zealand, sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"? She's pretty much going to have to now, right?

"Staring at the computer screen, I spent the day shouting: 'oh my god!' and 'I can’t believe they put that in' or 'That’s so out of context.'"

"And those were the only thoughts that interrupted a relentless mantra in my head: 'I want to die.'"

Says self-titled "Patient Zero" in that terrible epidemic called The Internet.

"Do the Most Hipster Thing Possible..."

"... Move to Des Moines."

AND: "When young college graduates decide where to move, they are not just looking at the usual suspects, like New York, Washington and San Francisco."
Other cities are increasing their share of these valuable residents at an even higher rate and have reached a high overall percentage, led by Denver, San Diego, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., according to a report published Monday by City Observatory, a new think tank.

"All that drama!... I cannot understand why you do it."

Says Death in the Ted Hughes translation of the Euripides' play "Alcestis." Death is talking to Apollo about us humans:
As far as I am concerned, their birth-cry
Is the first cry of the fatally injured.
The rest is you — and your morphine.
That is what they call you the god of healing.
Life is your hospital and you call it a funfair.
Your silly sickroom screen of giggling faces,
Your quiverful of hypodermic syringes
That you call arrows of inspiration.
We went out to see that play yesterday in Spring Green, which looked like this:


The light through the reddish grass was lovely, but this wasn't one of the outdoor plays. We were indoors for this play...


... which is about a queen, Alcestis, who gives her life so that the king, Admetus, can live, in some deal that makes sense to the gods. Alcestis is the least interesting character in the play that gets her name, since it's established at the get-go that she's going to die, and she does exactly that early on. She's mostly talked about.

In fact, in the end, when — spoiler alert — Heracles brings her back from the dead, she's incapable of speaking for the first 3 days of resurrected life, and the play ends before that happens, so we never hear from her again. My favorite character was the king's father, who, we learn at the outset, refused to give his own life for his son's. The son is outraged that this old corpse of a man — as he sees it — clings to the meaningless shred of life he's got left. When the old man finally speaks for himself, he says just that: It's all he's got left.

Driving back home, (ad)Meade(us) and I talked about the play, and the phrase "death panels" came up. The son thought it was selfish and disgusting that his elderly father and mother wouldn't die. Quite apart from his need to have someone die for him, he had contempt for their attachment to worthless life. Of course, Death, quoted at the top of this post, thought all of life was agonizing drama, and the newborn baby's cry was crying at the fatal injury that is birth. All of life is a hospital, and you call it a funfair.

"If the appeal of Mr. Walker, who is the son of a preacher and left college without graduating, is his earnest, regular-guy ability to win a room..."

"... Ms. Burke’s is her résumé: Georgetown, Harvard Business School and time in the private sector, including at the Trek Bicycle company her father founded," writes Monica Davey, as The New York Times pays some attention to the Wisconsin gubernatorial race. There's nothing that we in Wisconsin haven't seen many times, and for presentation to NYT readers, the emphasis is on Walker's need to win this close race if he is to be a presidential candidate in '16.

"The Americans who went to the moon before us had computers so primitive that they couldn’t get e-mail or use Google to settle arguments."

"The iPads we took had something like seventy billion times the capacity of those Apollo-era dial-ups and were mucho handy, especially during all the downtime on our long haul. MDash used his to watch Season Four of 'Breaking Bad.' We took hundreds of selfies with the Earth in the window and, plinking a Ping-Pong ball off the center seat, played a tableless table-tennis tournament, which was won by Anna.... Steve Wong had cued up a certain musical track for what would be Earthrise but had to reboot the Bluetooth on Anna’s Jambox and was nearly late for his cue. MDash yelled, 'Hit Play, hit Play!' just as a blue-and-white patch of life — a slice of all that we have made of ourselves, all that we have ever been — pierced the black cosmos above the sawtooth horizon. I was expecting something classical, Franz Joseph Haydn or George Harrison, but 'The Circle of Life,' from 'The Lion King,' scored our home planet’s rise over the plaster-of-Paris moon. Really? A Disney show tune? But, you know, that rhythm and that chorus and the double meaning of the lyrics caught me right in the throat, and I choked up. Tears popped off my face and joined the others’ tears, which were floating around the Alan Bean. Anna gave me a hug like I was still her boyfriend. We cried. We all cried. You’d have done the same."

From a New Yorker story by Tom Hanks (which you can read or listen to Tom Hanks read at the link).

Democratic Senators think hammering on the female organs just might work.

Manu Raju has a piece Politico called "Obama’s standing with women hurts Senate Dems," which studiously loads the blame on Obama for the flagging power of the old war-on-women politics:
In battleground states across the country, Obama is underwater with female voters — especially women unaffiliated with a political party — and it’s making it harder for Democrats to take advantage of the gender gap, according to public polling and Democratic strategists....

First, they must overcome the Obama factor. After defeating Mitt Romney by 11 points among women in 2012, the president has seen his approval rating drop sharply with females, particularly in the battleground states....
The theory is, Obama has lost popularity with women, and Democrats still need women, so they ought to double down on war-on-women politics:
In Alaska... Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)... fighting for his political life against Republican Dan Sullivan... knows full well that female voters will be a key part of his equation if he manages to pull off a win next month. So he’s hammering home Sullivan’s opposition to abortion rights and pay equity legislation and slams his views on birth control and a version of the Violence Against Women Act. 
Hammering and slamming on the female organs. That oughta work...

... cuz it worked before.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is way down in the polls but less way down with women, so:
Udall has been running a campaign heavily focused on Gardner’s opposition to abortion rights, hoping to disqualify his GOP opponent in the eyes of suburban women and independent female voters.
Raju doesn't mention that Mark Udall's obsessive focus on female organs has got people mockingly calling him Mark Uterus.

Stop poking at us like that! What worked before might not work again, and when it seems not to be working, doing it more and harder might make it worse. We may see your desperation, see what you are trying to do, and that's exactly what will make it not work. Women have a full range of interests, not just the interest in maintaining control over our reproductive function, and once you've made it obvious that you think you can have us because we do care about that, we might find your approach insulting and offensive.

October 19, 2014

Sunday in Madison.

Out by the lake:


In the neighborhood:




Help me make a list of people who have been imitated by a President of the United States.

The previous post has video of Harry Truman doing an imitation of the radio commentator H.V. Kaltenborn. And I can remember Barack Obama imitating Al Green. Or maybe that shouldn't count. He was just doing his best at singing "Let's Stay Together." Oh, I see that later he joked: "Tonight, I am speaking not just as a President, but as one of America's best-known Al Green impersonators." Obama also imitated the Seahawks' Richard Sherman: "I'm the best President in the game!"

I couldn't think of anything else. I googled people who have been imitated by presidents, and the first hit was a NYT pieced called "The Spirit of the President. Let it be Imitated." which I misread as promising for my list-making purpose. Turned out it was from November 12, 1864. Abraham Lincoln had called upon "all having a common interest [to] reunite in a common effort to save our common country," and the NYT editors recommended an imitation of his "forbearing and generous spirit." That's an immensely interesting detour, profound when I'm being lightweight. I'm only mentioning it because it's my way to blog about the process of blogging, and today, especially, has been a day of blogging details.

I'm genuinely trying to make a a list of people who have been imitated by a President of the United States.

A witty allusion to H.V. Kaltenborn.

For reasons that need not be explained here, today's post titled "Out-olding the nouveau old" eventually gets around to the topic of what Holden Caulfield ate in "Catcher in Rye," and I quote him saying:
When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H. V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.
This prompts commenter Rob to say — and I have no reason to doubt the truth of this:
I'm guessing there's damned few readers today of The Catcher in the Rye who pick up that in talking about "H.V. Caulfield" Salinger was making a witty allusion to H.V. Kaltenborn.
At the link, we learn of the radio commenter who was born in Milwaukee in 1878 and lived until 1965. Apparently, Kaltenborn could speak vividly and intelligently without a script for hours. I liked this anecdote about him and Dizzy Dean: