Lydy's Anarchist Revival Meeting
25th March, 2019. 10:36 am. Travails, Gynecology Edition, with side notes on Logistical Troubles
I sometimes wonder what gynecology would be like if the medical profession had any history of treating women's pain seriously. Of even their dignity. Possibly it would be different?
I have achieved a major life goal: no babies. I have never been pregnant my entire life, and tests confirm I'm in menopause, so, Achievement Unlocked! Howsomever, that also means that I need to have the IUD which has been my boon companion for the last five years removed. The Mirena was lifechanging, I tell you what. Gone were my periods, and with them crippling menstrual cramps. I tried to talk my doctor into letting me just keep the damn thing, since any dilation of my cervix hurts like a whole host of blue demons, and this is gonna be terrible as hell, but she insists that no, just no. Really no. No with no sauce. Under no circumstances no. So I finally made an appointment.
And because the universe hates me, my car is in hospital. The heating system has been wonky for about two weeks, and for the last week, the heat simply refused to come on. Occasionally, there was a bad smell, like a skunk a long way off. On the way home from Jen's wedding (which was very fine), I noticed that the engine was making a weird noise. I looked at the temperature gauge, and it had pegged in the red. I was seven blocks from home, there was no where to park, and I said fuck it, and drove the rest of the way home, alternately cajoling and threatening the car.
The car is old, and falling apart. We have reached the point of nickel and diming me to death, but I need to save up a down payment on a new car, and I don't have that, yet. So I'm hoping we can patch the poor thing up for a little longer. I wish some distant relative I don't like would die and inexplicably leave me money. My life would be completely transformed by twenty grand. But that's not happening, so I muddle through as best I can. If the car is not salvageable, I can probably patch together transport to work for a couple of months while I get it together to get a new car, but it would mean that I can't go to other labs if there was overtime offered, unless David can let me borrow his car. Which is not impossible but could be inconvenient.
There's a reason professionals talk logistics, man. It impacts everything. In the mean time, my very kind friend Eileen is going to take me to the aforementioned doctor, because god knows gynecological services can't be provided at the clinic 17 blocks from my house, but must be in the fucking suburbs because I don't even know why.
Still, no babies. So there's that.
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19th March, 2019. 1:33 pm. Contempt and Politics, a Noodle
This is not a well-formed essay because I don't have all the pieces, yet. But I want to put down what I do have, because I think it's important, and I think it might be important for other people, too. Or, you know, not. Do tell me in the comments.
I've been thinking of the role of contempt in politics. As a personal project, I've been trying to eliminate contempt in my own political discourse. This is, you should understand, a work in progress. I first noticed my own issues with contempt when I started following @NeolithicSheep
on Twitter. She is a small, sustainable farmer in Virginia, a Democratic Socialist, and extremely acerbic about city folk, especially Northern city folk, being condescending and judgmental about the rural South. She makes a couple of really striking points. When we talk about being progressive, we talk about caring about the poor and working class. There is no definition of poor and working class that doesn't include the rural south. More striking, the rural south has a lot of people of color in it. When Northerners talk about writing off the South, we are basically saying that people who live in generational poverty because of the racist white ruling class are unimportant. She says, often, "We don't leave anyone behind." When Northerners think about the South negatively, we think about the white people. Worse, we allow the white people who either identify with slave holders, some of whom are descendants of slave holders and inherited wealth generated by slavery, to define the narrative. And it is to their benefit for Northerners to only see them, only see their issues and struggles. All those sympathetic "Trump supporter" profiles continue to give voice and power to that narrative, and ignore the descendants of enslaved people, ignore the very vibrant and active progressives in the South. Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum took Northerners by surprise, but they came to prominence because there is an extremely vibrant and active progressive alliance in the South which built organizations, and mobilized. It is an alliance which is regularly ignored or shit on by Northerners, except when they feel that they can use those people for their own ends. Lord love a duck, how we adore the white savior narrative. But the Civil Rights Movement, that wasn't born in the North amongst white people, though the stories we like to tell tend to be skew that direction.
Contempt is a way of discarding people. A way of walking away from problems. When we say, "Should have let the South secede," what we are really saying is that the problem is too hard for us, and that we don't really care about the people who live there. We are accepting the white supremacist narrative of the South. I grew up in a Fundamentalist church. My father was a minister, and I was fascinated by theology as a child. I think that Fundamentalism is profoundly dangerous, and often evil. But I am so very, very tired of people saying that Fundamentalists are stupid. They aren't. My father was very smart, my mother is extremely bright. They held virulently horrible opinions about the world. There are stupid Fundamentalists, but you don't have to be stupid to believe in Creationism. That belief system serves some very specific needs and desires, and very smart people do some very interesting intellectual gymnastics to believe in it. They do it because they need something it offers, not because they are stupid. Bigots and racists are not stupid, they are evil. They are making choices that damage the body politic. But shrugging and saying, "Well, what do you expect from a bunch of hicks," does nothing except make you feel good about yourself.
Contempt is a way of refusing to engage. Refusing to look at the what's and the why's. Which is going to sound like I think that you should debate Nazis instead of punching them. No, no I don't think that. I would argue that debating Nazis is often a form of contempt, not respect. Ask me how I know. I used to go out onto Usenet (yes, I am that old) when I was bored, looking for people with bad opinions to argue with and condescend to. It was fun. It changed pretty much no ones mind, but it was entertaining to troll the trolls. I held them, and their beliefs, in contempt, and I enjoyed demonstrating that on the Internet. I was not engaging with them, I was mocking them. They had nothing to say that I valued. Dear friends, nothing a Nazi says is worth engaging in. Nothing a racist says about race is worth engaging in. Bigotry and hatred is not something to debate. It is something to hate, something to excoriate. My humanity is not up for discussion, and no one else's should be, either.
I think that many of those Trump voter profiles were actually rooted in contempt, masked as empathy. I think that there was a sense that these people were so pitiably stupid that they had nothing to say, nothing of value, and that profiling them would make that clear. And, yeah, no. If someone you respect says something gobsmackingly wrong, you try to correct them. Ideally without humiliating them. I do come from a sub-culture where correcting people is considered polite, so I am biased in that direction. The profile of Richard Spencer, which spent a lot of time talking about how natty he was, and not about how hateful his views and goals were, is contemptuous to the point of malfeasance. The only reason that Richard Spencer matters is because he is getting political traction for Nazi talking points, and a profile more concerned with his polish than his politics is contemptuous of both Spencer and the reader. If you have nothing useful to say about the reason Spencer's views are dangerous, if you can't write a piece which constructive engages with his hateful bigotry (and I will grant you that writing such a piece may not be possible) then why are you profiling him in the first place?
I find that when I try to remove condescension from my political discourse, I have more room for both compassion and anger. I am more willing to hold people to account for their own actions, and more willing to consider the context in which they have taken those actions. I am more aware of what people do, and less judgmental of who they are.
Here endeth the noodle.
27th February, 2019. 6:39 am. Letterkenny Progress
I can now report that the two hockey dudes are named Reilly and Jonesey. I am unclear as to whether they have first names. I have also been sufficiently acculturated that when Reilly and Jonesey decided that the way to win back Katy was to beat up her big brother Wayne, my second response was, "Could work." I continue to be impressed that most of the people in this show are kind, that there is very little contempt, and very little embarrassment humor.
20th February, 2019. 4:03 am. These Are Their Problems
Ok, who else has seen "Letterkenny"? And why, oh why, did you not tell me about it?
I am still in the "Oh, my god, what the fuck has happened to me" stage of the experience. When they say, "This is for mature audiences only" they are not fucking around, my friends. Is is easily the crudest, most casually obscene thing I have ever seen, with no graphic sex and very little violence, but oh my god, so crude. Hysterically, hilariously, intensely crude.
Also, and not joking here, it is extremely poetic. They use repetition in a way that I have not seen, but I believe some forms of poetry do use repetition in this fashion.
I am unsure if I like any of these people. But I am entranced by this show. It is really, really rare to have something with intensely vibrant verbal pyrotechnics combined with an amazing range of obscenity and vulgarity and profanity. I mean, they fucking use all the goddamn words. All the words.
This, for example, is a description of a bar fight in alphabetical alliteration. The guy giving the prompt is Daryl, and the guy describing the fight is Wayne, the toughest guy in Letterkenny.
Warning, there is Language.
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16th February, 2019. 10:56 pm. I fucked up
I forgot that today is the Mnstf Pool Party. It is one of the two (three, if you count Minicon) Big Deal parties of the year. I have been having unusually bad brain weather, and so keeping track of things like, Today Is a Day I Go to Work has been difficult. I didn't wake up until 9:30 p.m., and had to shower and red up the media room because Eric and Pamela are sleeping here to night, so I wasn't really ready to put on clothes and leave the house until 10:30 p.m. By the time I got to the hotel, it would be 11:00 p.m., minimum, and many of my friends will have already left. So, I've decided to stay at home and drink beer and eat nachos.
I'm really angry about this, but there's no one to be angry _at_. It was no one's job to remind me, and no one's job to make me make plans, and I forgot, and I didn't make plans, and I haven't seen my Mnstf friends in forever, and I'm just really sad and pissed.
Possibly it will be more than one beer.
13th February, 2019. 4:00 am. Something as good as I remember
Beacon Hill Cookies.
Also, they are dead easy to make, even I can bake them. They are basically a chocolate meringue with walnuts. (Some recipes call for pecans, but i grew up with walnuts.) They are gluten free, if you need that, and even DDB, who is deeply dubious of meringue in all its forms, liked them. And the prep time really is just about 10 minutes, and the cooking time really is 10 minutes.
My mother used to make these, and I love them to pieces. Also, a cookie I can bake! Pretty neat, huh?
4th February, 2019. 8:40 am. Question about Dance
So, recently a friend showed me this video. It is Vienna Teng's "Level Up". www.youtube.com/watch
(I have no idea how to embed, sorry.)
It's a stunning video, and it reminded me of how much I love this kind of dance, and how much I don't know about dance. As in, I have no idea what style(s) the dance in this video is/are. I see some breakdance moves, but that's not the only thing going on here. Does this fall under the rubric of "modern dance"? Is is something more specific?
More importantly, where can I see more of this? Especially, where in the Twin Cities can I see this live? I don't even know what to search for, so impoverished is my vocabulary.
Anybody have any good pointers?
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30th January, 2019. 6:58 am. Further Thoughts on "They Shall Not Grow Old" and" Lord of the Rings"
mentioned Jackson's treatment of LOTR in the previous post, and I think that, in fact, there are some strong similarities to the choices he made in the LOTR trilogy and TSNGO, and I'd like to noodle about that for a brief moment.
We know as a matter of historical fact that LOTR is heavily inflected by Tolkien's experience fighting in World War I. It was not, nor was it intended to be, an allegorical work. At the same time, his experiences were very influential. There's been a lot of ink spilled on that topic, and I've not read most of it, but even at a glance, one can see the reflections and resonances.
Jackson, in his treatment of LOTR, makes two very consequential and contra textual changes to Tolkien's work. The first is the way he treats the One Ring. It is, in the movies, an absolute corrupter. It deprives those near it of agency. It is how we get to see Boromir as a tragic hero, and weep for him. In the end, it's not really his fault that he tried to rape away the ring from Frodo, he was caught in the thrall of the One Ring, and it wasn't really his fault. This reading of the power of the ring also forces Jackson to do the most egregious bit of rewriting. Faramir in the book said, "I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory." In the movie he is strongly tempted by the ring, and almost steals it from Frodo. That impeachment of his character still infuriates me. That change also alters our understanding of Denethor, makes his choices and tragedy less explicable. In the book, we understand Denethor through his relationship to his sons. This change makes Denethor much more of a cipher, makes his choices less explicable. The weight of that change steals agency from every character who interacts with the ring. It's subtle, but that choice changes the heroics of Sam, the temptation of Galadriel, the actions of Gandalf in ways that make their choices less consequential and more fated.
The other extremely consequential change, which mrissa
mentioned, is removing the Scouring of the Shire. One of the reasons that Lord of the Ring works so very well, is so intense and readable and important, is because he tells the grand sweeping, mythic story from the view point of a common, small, not very important hobbit. I expect there's a lot of literary criticism about how this creates a relatable character to allow the reader to identify with. But there's something else going on, too. It's not just a nice literary device upon which to hang a mythic tale. It is also a viewpoint that people matter. That actions matter. That people like Frodo, and Merry, and Pippin, and Sam, matter, that their choices and their actions matter. The Scouring of the Shire has some of the "as above, so below" resonance that one would expect from someone well versed in Catholic theology. But it is also, indelibly, about context and significance. One of the reasons that hobbits continually surprise Gandalf, one of the reasons that they are capable of such enormous courage and stubbornness, is because of where they came from, and what they value.
In Jackson's treatment of LOTR, the hobbits' context is largely played for a joke. Their heritage, their concerns, their delights in food and drink are reduced to jokes about second breakfast and the smoking scene after the flooding of Isengard. None of these things are real for Jackson. He doesn't care. The fact that who they are is partly a product of where they came from, that the choices that they make are heavily inflected by their past, is stripped away.
So, in LOTR, we see Jackson strip his characters of agency, and treat their context as a joke. He doesn't manage to do this as thoroughly in LOTR as he does in TSNGO, because the story Tolkien told doesn't really let him completely denude the characters of choice and past.
I only saw the first of The Hobbit trilogy. I reacted to it like blue food. I had an extremely bad reaction to Radagast the Brown. I found him vastly offensive. But I would also argue that Bilbo can't carry the story that Jackson said he wanted to tell. He's a simple hobbit with simple desires, and that is the fundamental charm and strength of Tolkien's story telling. We see small people as consequential. Not because they are huge heroes, but because they want a nice cup of tea, and yet still are endowed with great courage. This huge scope robs Bilbo of agency. He's a bit part in a large play, yes. But what he does matters a lot, and he does it for his own reasons, within his own frame of reference. Jackson doesn't seem to think that this frame of reference matters. He doesn't seem to believe that people's actions actually matter.
Tolkien, I think, fundamentally believed that people matter. Their choices matter. Their lives matter. The world is huge and strange and there is a larger story than any of us can comprehend of which we are a part. But we are not an inconsequential part. We matter. Our lives matter, our past matters, our choices matter, and our future is not completely outside our control. No one wants to live in such terrible times, but, "that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
I think that Jackson has a broken sense of story. I think that he has a broken sense of agency, of consequence, of truth. I think that shows in his treatment both of LOTR and the Great War.
28th January, 2019. 4:52 pm. "They Shall Not Grow Old", a rant
I saw Peter Jackson's "They Shall Not Grow Old" last week, and I have feelings. I said some of this on a locked post, but I find that I still have many, many feels, and I wish to share.
So, let's start by what Jackson actually did. He had access to about 100 hours of silent movie footage, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, and about 600 hours of audio, largely from the BBC, of interviews of veterans. My impression is that much of the audio was collected in the Sixties or Seventies, so probably for 50 year retrospectives of the Great War. Jackson did a lot of computer work to enhance the visual components. The movie footage was supplemented with contemporary stills, as well as stills of contemporary drawings from a magazine called something generic, like, "The War Magazine," of which Jackson, personally, owned about 200 issues. These images were mostly used during the battle sequence, since there is very little contemporary still footage and no movie footage of the actual battles. The only narration of the documentary is from the BBC audio. I am not sure how many individual voices were used, more than a double dozen, I think. They are never identified while they speak.
The movie opens with a series of men talking about how the war was important, formative, and if they had to do it over again, they would have. The fact that the only narration is from veterans gives the entire movie a gloss of authenticity. All the visuals are contemporary, all the voices are of people who are talking about first hand experiences. The structure of the movie itself strips away all the political context, and the passage of time. There are men talking about enlisting, then men talking about boot camp, then men talking about the trenches, time spent either in the trenches or behind the trenches, then men talking about being in battle, and then a few voices talking about how they couldn't find jobs when they returned home. All these voices are British. I am not good enough to sort out class by accent. None of these voices are identified. The segues between the voices make them sound as if they are speaking as one voice. After the movie is over, there is a 30 minute coda with Jackson talking about how he built this film, talking about some of the technical challenges, the foley work, how and why he chose to colorize certain bits, and so on. All of this is interesting. But he also says some things that are just...wrong. He talks about his choice to ignore the politics in the context of saying that what he was trying to do was represent the generic experience of an infantryman. He says that the experience of being an infantryman was roughly the same for the British, the Canadians, the Americans, the Italians, and the Germans. At which point my brain, which had been trying to make sense of his storytelling choices, screeched to a halt, and I became very, very angry. I am still angry.
So, let's start with a couple of theories about Story. Teresa Nielsen Hayden has said that plot is a literary convention, but Story is a force of nature. We are pattern-matching and pattern-creating creatures, and one of our primary ways of understanding things is via Story. We will create Story out of any set of random facts you care to throw at us. It is essentially impossible for this documentary not to be telling a story. And, indeed, Jackson claims to be trying to tell a story, just a denatured, generic story. But the thing about Story is that is never generic. We are not generic. Who we are now, who we have been, who we hope to become, all of these things are essential to our personal story. The details of our lives create the narrative that we use to understand them. The best way to enhance an emotive connection, to enhance the common humanity of the other, is specificity. A guy goes to war is a generic story, and not very relatable. A boy raised on a farm who has never seen a big city but who feels the call of both patriotism and a desire for wider horizons and so signs up at fifteen and his parents let him because they too feel the pull of patriotic duty, that is a story with a beat you can dance to. You have never been that boy or lived in those circumstances, but the detail brings the story alive. You feel as if you understand that choice, that person. And that's the other essential thing about Story. It is about choice. The choices people make, the choices they fail to make, the alternatives they see, the ones they fail to see, the ones they see in hindsight. Story is both choice points and connective tissue. The context matters. Context always matters. Context controls content. Simple declarative sentences are very different, depending on the context. "Clean up your room," "I hate you," "That was an interesting choice" are all sentences that can mean very different things, depending on tone, context, the speaker, and the intended audience.
SO, WHAT ON EARTH MADE JACKSON THINK THAT THE BEST WAY TO TELL A STORY ABOUT MEN DOING SOMETHING EXTREMELY STRANGE, HARD, UNTHINKABLE, AND HORRIFIC, WAS TO STRIP AWAY CONTEXT? IN WHAT WORLD DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?
There are a lot of different voices in this documentary. And they are telling very, very different stories. One of the most interesting "tells" are the men who speak in the first person plural versus the ones who speak in the first person singular. The ones who speak in first person plural tend to talk about the war in a positive fashion. "We were, none of us, afraid." "We had a job to do, you see, and so we did it." "We were all very proud of being British." The first person singular voices were more specific, and more nuanced. "I wasn't afraid of dying, but I was afraid of losing a limb." "I have never been more frightened in my life." "That was when I lost any idea that war was noble." I don't know if Jackson did any computer magic to make the voices sound similar, but there isn't any obvious way to tell when the narrator switches. The voices segue from one to the other, without any notation as to who is speaking. They are all very British male voices, and while you could generally tell when a different person started speaking, there was no way to tell if this was the same guy who had taken off his stripes on the way over to France because he had heard that officers were targeted, or the guy who insisted that they were all proud to do their duty. There was no way to tell if the man who said that he lied about his age in order to join up was the guy who had never been more frightened in his life, or the man who said that battle was just a job of work and so he got on with it. The man who says that they were trained to stab bags of sand in preparation to bayonet human beings is never connected up to anyone's experience of actual battle. And there is no way to tell if the man speaking at any given time was an officer or an enlisted man, if he saw combat, if he did a week in the trenches or the whole bloody four years.
These men do not have the same story, nor do they tell the same story. The sergeant in charge of turning a raw recruit into a soldier, the boy from the factory who is undernourished and weak, the Boer War veteran, have the commonality of the trench, yes, but where they came from must surely change how they saw their time there. There was one story that stuck out of the narrative, in part because it was an actual story, with detail, choice, and consequence. In the battle montage, the voice says that there was a fellow soldier with horrific, fatal wounds who was crying for his Nana. The narrator shot the wounded soldier, and says, "It was the right thing. He would have died. I couldn't just let him suffer. But it hurt me. It hurt me very much." In this incredibly homogenized and denatured montage of battle memories, it sticks out.
I also question the way in which Jackson carefully distances distinctly different views from each other. You do not hear a man saying, "We were none of us afraid" and another saying "I was never more afraid in my life" one right after the other. Rather, there are other voices in between, and that stark juxtaposition is missing. This cannot be accidental, and I assume it is in service of the conceit that Jackson is telling the "generic, average" story.
Something that I didn't realize until later, but which seems very important, is that every one of these voices is the voice of a dead man. I am certain that Jackson has the unimpeachable legal rights to use these voices in this way, but none of these men could have consented to it. None of them had the opportunity to look at how Jackson used their voices. The interviews were given in a particular context, and presumably much of what was said was in the response to questions. All of that is stripped away, and I do wonder exactly what was lost, and if the speakers would agree or disagree with the story that was told using their voice. (In the coda, Jackson mentions that one of the videos, of men in the sunken lane, are all in their last half-hour of life. They all died in the battle that followed. This, too, stands out because suddenly there is context for those smiling boys in uniform, a bit dazzled to be in moving pictures, a bit scared about what comes next, and trying not to show either emotion.)
One final detail also very much bugs me. The film starts with men whistling "Hanging on the Old Barb Wire." I know the lyrics well. It is an anti-war song, a sarcastic commentary on the horrors of war, and how those horrors are not shared equally across the ranks, how the officers live well and better based on rank, and how the common soldier dies in horror and mud to maintain that social status quo. (As an aside, I believe that at this point in history, officers were usually chosen from the upper classes, and so the difference between officer and enlisted man was usually a difference of social standing as well as military rank.) The whistling gives the song a haunted air. The credits are to the sound of a half-dozen diplomats flown in for the occasion, singing an energetic rendition of the cleaner verses of "Mademoiselle from Armentières.
" So, what story is Jackson telling by starting with a war protest song, full of pain and class consciousness, but stripped of its lyrical detail, narrating a story in dead men's voices but stripped of context and detail, then ending with a legendarily dirty song, cheerful and complete with lyrics, sung by live men who have (probably) never seen war?
Jackson was asked to create something never seen before. He did. The visuals are stunning. But it is also the first time I have seen The War to End All Wars portrayed as generic, denatured, bereft of agency, and vaguely cheerful around the edges.
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20th December, 2018. 9:41 am. Note to self:
Back A Page
Do not fall down the stairs.
I am achy, my wrist hurts, my palm is swollen, and I have an amazingly large, dark bruise with swelling on my right ass cheek.
Advil is one of the great wonders of the world.
I can still knit, although I need to take breaks. But that's a relief, you have no idea.
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