Monday, April 30, 2007

All Your Art Are Belong to Us

In 1990, a group of police officers arrived at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in the middle of the night in answer to an alarm, and gained entry to the building. Unfortunately, there had been no alarm, and they weren’t exactly police officers. In short order the museum was minus 13 pieces of art, including works by Vermeer (who wasn’t all that prolific in the first place), Rembrandt and Manet. In other words, some pretty good stuff had disappeared from public view. The crime remains unsolved.

Over the weekend, while seconded to the in-laws in New Hampshire, we shot down to Boston to the ISGM, which is why I bring this up. This museum itself, because of its quirkiness, plus the theft, raises a lot of questions about art that are worth thinking about. That’s the nice thing about the off season: you get to change the subject for a while. I do realize that certain members of the VCA are heading for Kentucky in a few days, but most TOCers already have about 429 rounds on the topic, and could use a break. I’m happy to provide one.

The first question, of course, is about the robbery, because that has a certain, shall we say, glamour to it. It’s a grand scheme requiring a lot of effort and people, and the end result is that the works must disappear from view for a virtual eternity, else the jig will be up. That is, whoever ended up with the paintings can never do anything but look at them in private. There’s a certain James Bond super-villain side to this, some Dr. No or Goldfinger type with unbounded resources slobbering over the masterpieces in his secret underground lair. A more real world view is that the works were stolen by an organized crime syndicate and sold to private investors, but the concept is similar, masterpieces being slobbered over in private. It doesn’t matter if the private slobberers are Mafiosi or old-rich Middle-eastern potentates or Japanese business lords or Steve Ballmer, it’s still private slobbering. So the question arises, absent the illegality of stealing works of art from a museum: What claim does the public have, if any, on the masterpieces of world art? Does Vermeer belong to his descendants, the Dutch, the people who purchased his paintings, the museums that display his paintings, or the general public? This asks you to challenge the idea of ownership of art. And our ideas on the ownership of art should be challenged.

Let’s boil it down. Imagine you find a Navajo artifact on public land. Who is the owner of that artifact? You (the finder), the government (owner of the public land) or the Navajos (heirs and assignees of the original creator)? You all have some legitimate claim on the artifact.

Comparable situations, although more complex, arise regularly (including in the redesign of the Metropolitan Museum’s ancient Greek and Roman collection). In what we might call less enlightened times, adventurers of one sort or another swept through various countries and collected all sorts of treasures, shipping them out of their countries of origin to collectors around the world. Museums today are faced with the reality that, to all practical purposes, at least some of their works are stolen, by today’s definitions, if not necessarily the definitions of the world at the time. Perhaps the prime example of this is the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles. What claim does a country have on its heritage? Probably a fairly strong one. If people are digging up stuff in my back yard that my family put there a long time ago, you’d be hard-pressed to claim that the stuff doesn’t belong to me. Colonizers don’t get a very good rap overall. The mind boggles to believe that the literal Empress of India was England’s Queen Victoria.

So it’s hard to find a museum that doesn’t have at least some objects of dubious provenance, even if that dubiousness is only that history has changed the way we look at art ownership. Some of the provenances, on the other hand, are more suspiciousness by any measure. Stories about these works, frauds or thefts or the like, pop up regularly, and one pities the poor museum curator who must deal with them. The questions that this area of art brings up are fairly large-scale. The most interesting one is the claim that a culture has on itself, on the components that make up that culture. A culture ought to be able to some degree to own its artifacts both in fact and in underlying explanation. That is, this thingummy is our goddess and cures warts, versus a third party analysis, this thingummy represents their goddess and is believed to cure warts. One might think it all well and good to look at Bast and say she’s the patron of cats and a maternity symbol and explain how a woman who wanted children might wear an amulet with the number of kittens equaling the number of children she desired, and to separate this belief from any particular reality since the believers have all gone by the boards, but how does one look at pieces of the cross, Korans and Tibetan prayer flags? Sort of depends, I guess, on what you believe and what “they” believe. Does your opinion of smoke signals depend on whether it’s stereotyped Indians sending messages from mountain to mountain or the color of the smoke arising from the Vatican during a papal election? One enters dicey territory here, and needs to keep in mind that closely held beliefs need to be respected. The hermeneutics of religion, if you will, can be very scary intellectual territory. But all culture is not religion, and plenty of natural authority over content applies in other areas. Respect for culture in general, if not as thorny as respect for religion, is probably a good thing. So boiled down: What claim does today’s Athens have on Praxiteles?

There’s another angle to all of this, if we look at it on a contemporary basis. We are, after all, post-contemporary analysts, poco being the underlying gestalt of the VCA, and looking at the contemporary situation is akin to other modern ideas we’ve discussed in the past vis-à-vis art theory. Claims on art from a theory perspective become very interesting.

First of all, there’s pure provenance. What claim does an artist have on his or her own works that have not yet left the workshop? To what extent does a creator own a creation? It depends on definitions of creator, own, and creation. In a pure Lockean sense of property, my stuff is my stuff, and I’m entitled to the fruits of my labors. But what is my personal entitlement to the fruits of my labors if those fruits have a potential value to enlighten others beyond the fungible sense? That is, it’s one thing if I work up a crate of oranges that I can trade on the market for a crate of apples, but if I work up a painting that inspires another painting, what is that all about? Much of the argument about who owns Mickey Mouse, which ought to be out of copyright by now, revolves around how much the public owns the concept of the Mouse versus the Disney Corp owning the concept of the Mouse. Disney Corp would like to see its ownership endure in perpetuity. But as the argument goes, if such sort of perpetual ownership were possible, Walt himself would never have been able to take the public domain story of Snow White and become Walt Disney in 1937, and today you’d be able to get all the old Mouse cartoons you want at because nobody would care about them anymore. (All of this being in contrast to the Mouse as a corporate entity, and a brand, yet another complicated extension of the original argument.) The study of “public domain” is fascinating.

Once the creation leaves the workshop, it is sold presumably to someone who has some rights to the work, depending on the work. If I buy something, I could own it lock, stock and barrel. If I buy a painting or drawing, I may only own the actual work, but not the representational rights to the work. That is, I may not be able to reproduce it. Look at Hirschfeld ( I can easily reproduce any of his line drawings in many media and they look perfectly identical to the original, but I do not have the right to do so. Even if I owned one of his drawings, I would not necessarily own the right to sell a photograph of it. Interesting.

What I’m mostly interested in, though, is the claim the public has on art, if any, despite provenances. Is art somehow transcendent of property claims because of its special nature? In a way this is tied into cultural claims, but mostly it’s tied into the concept of, simply, what art is. If it’s a simple commodity like lima beans, then the public has no claim on it. If it’s nature is truly transcendent, the public might have very clear and important claims on it. Which would mean that the James Bond super-villains who now own the ISGM works stole not only from the ISGM but from the public weal. Their crime was not merely against the museum, but against all of us. Given the likelihood of my seeing too many Vermeers in my lifetime, I do subscribe to my personal welfare being harmed, however insignificantly, by not seeing the one once purchased by ISG. My soul, in other words, has a claim to that painting. Your soul has a similar claim. Theoretically the harms to our souls may be greater to the harm to the museum.

Which does bring up yet another interesting piece of the puzzle. ISG endowed her museum for the public with the expressed proviso that it be kept exactly as she left it. Which makes the place…unique, and brings up yet other questions about art ownership. ISG died in the ‘20s, and the art is distributed about the building by her whim, and without labels. Keeping with her wishes, no labels have been added. Further, because of the damage from natural sunlight, and the inability to install up-to-date lighting, much of the place is so curtained off you can barely see your hand in front of your face, much less the paintings. The museum is so tied to the claim of the original endowment that there are now bare spots where the stolen art was, as if it were just ripped from the frames last night. So the question arises, given the nature of many of the masterpieces in the place, which we “know” (allow me the quotes, please) could be better displayed for the sake of the viewers, and even perhaps for the sake of the art itself, is ISG’s legacy claim on the art, in fact, illegitimate? Does the museum, by following the will of the framer, so to speak, to the letter, cause damage? Would we be better off with, say, museum activism? Although this could perhaps be impossible, at least at the moment, since there are, apparently, living heirs to ISG who continue to protect her vision, however misguided that vision may or may not have been.

I am led by all of this to an analogous area, in which I’ll bet anything you would immediately and hypocritically deny everything you’ve thought so far. That is, let’s assume that you agree that an artist has claims on his or her creations, and that provenance can include some but not all rights of ownership. Is there some point where, without the consent of the artist, the creation belongs to public and not the artist or his assignees? Can you make a case that, despite not owning the publishing rights to the Hirschfeld drawings, you have a right to publish them? Or that without owning the actual drawing, you have a right to that drawing? Got your answers all written down? Good. Then change it from art as drawing to art as music. Do you have the right to perform a song written by a living composer without recompense to the composer? Do you have the right to go to a performance of music without paying for a ticket? Do you have the right to steal CDs from a music store? Do you have to right to download music for free, regardless of the source, regardless of the rights of the owners of that music, just because you can? I have seldom heard an argument in defense of stealing the property of musicians—i.e., illegal downloads—that doesn’t claim that either it’s so easy to do so that this ease is tantamount to an invitation, or that record companies are already ripping off the artists, and that not paying the record companies is somehow helping the artists. The former argument extends to any lightly policed property or easily accessible property: it is moral to steal if it’s easy to do so. The latter argument extends to any immoral act: if others do it, then it is not immoral. Good luck on either count. I mean, let’s face it. Put yourself in the position of being a musician, making a living from your work. At would point would you believe, beyond a small allowance for promotion, your stuff should be given away? Or stolen by people because they can? Something tells me, not much.

Still, ownership of art is not always so cut and dried as you getting free music that you should have paid for. At some point we, as a society, seem to believe that, after the creators are no longer around to benefit from it, their work should become owned by the public at large, i.e., in the public domain. This is, we believe, beneficial to society because it enhances the free process of culture (whatever that is). But there are sooooo many claims to art. Often you have to just pick one.

If that’s not indicative of the postcontemporary condition, I don’t know what is.

Friday, April 27, 2007

O'C falls down on the job

The modern age being what it is, and Little Elvis being what he is, I am able to post today despite not being in any of the usual haunts (I'm spending the weekend in New Hampshire with the in-laws). But I have little to say, other than to curse out O'C. For probably the first time I am actually interested in ex-cruz-iating coverage of a debate tournament, to wit, the New York State finals, and he's not providing it, the spalpeen. If WTF isn't good for that, what is it good for?

Aaaarrrghhh! I want my money back.

For those with eagle eyes, I have begun tagging entries. I don't know how far back I'll go, and to make it useful I'll also have to update the template, but I know that the VCA expects me to be on top of things, so on top I am. If conversation with the in-laws lags at any point, I'll start meandering into the deep dark coachean past and tag things a little bit.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The real top ten

(Today's Bracketology is primarily for the Chetans in the audience, although I'd be really surprised if Chetan is in the audience.)

According to the new Zagat guide to WDW, here’s the top 10 attractions, in order:

1. Soarin', Epcot
2. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Disney-MGM Studios
3. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney-MGM Studios
4. Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Kingdom.
5. Space Mountain, Magic Kingdom
6. Test Track, Epcot
7. Expedition Everest, Animal Kingdom
8. Splash Mountain, Magic Kingdom
9. Haunted Mansion, Magic Kingdom.
10. Big Thunder Mountain, Magic Kingdom.

In other words, people are nuts. Of course, I can’t speak to numbers 1 and 7 yet, but I’m not willing to concede them. Let’s face it, here’s the real top 10:

10. Celebrity Deathmatch: Jon Cruz vs Cinderella I’ve got the photos of this one, of course
9. It's a Small World, when it breaks down and you get stuck for three hours and the music never stops playing
8. The guys who clean up behind the horses on Main Street, USA
7. Disney Emporium Emporium: Located immediately adjacent to the exit of the Disney Emporium, Disney Emporium Emporium is the ultimate gift shop, where you can buy souvenirs celebrating the Disney Emporium gift shop.
6. Character Binge Drinking: Meet and greet and get looped with your favorite toons, located at Pleasure Island
5. Antonin Scalia Orthodox Wedding Chapel: There's nothing goofy about our marriages
4. Disney Studios Bathroom of Terror (Information supplied upon request)
3. Sons of Liberty Stockholder Revolution: Performed daily under the Tree of Liberty, a recreation of the ouster of Michael Eisner
2. Backstage Tour—The Corpsicle: Visit the legendary frozen remains of You Know Who. Requires 9-year advance reservation.
1. Jean Baudrillard Memorial Parking Space Located outside the Magic Kingdom on Ursula the Sea Witch Drive, spot #45203. Fast Pass available.

(Of course, I hasten to point out that at least one of these is a myth. He was cremated. Keith Richards has the ashes to prove it.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

O'C at leisure; Old soldiers; Undercover Walter

I can always tell when O’C has time on his hands. Yesterday he asked for the results of the Red Light District, which unfortunately are still in limbo because of our hopes to turn our lights yellow. Then again, according to Benny the P there is no limbo anymore, so maybe our prospects are good. Hard to say. I do note that the clock is ticking ever more loudly. I’ll be with in-laws this weekend (and not at States, which ought to work as the platform for at least a couple of obvious jokes) so I won’t know till Monday where we stand. Anyhow, Cruz also posted two comments yesterday. Was it some sort of Bronx holiday, where only they had the day off? I would indeed love to hear how he adjudicated WDW. And yes, it was the New Yorker article that got me started, but then I searched the concept of the internet and found that bracketology is, if nothing else, a time-honored tradition. We proudly break no new ground here at Coachean Life. We ask the VCA to do the same. Today’s entry is Superheroes, another toughie.

As with the end of every debate year, I feel as if I’ve done a MacArthur, and just sort of faded away. (Today’s did you know: Douglas MacArthur’s father’s name was Arthur MacArthur; obviously Dougie’s grandfather was appellationally challenged.) I keep thinking of all these things that I never got around to, or merely brushed against. Summer reading, although I think we did a drive-by at the last formal meeting. A simmering idea for some sort of team picnic, which I mentioned only in passing to some random Sailor (who no doubt feels like a real personage in his own estimation, which one could say is the basis for human worth, and not Jiminy Cricket, but to understand this, you had to be there). Some remarks about Pffft, which I’m hoping will be a real option to a handful of Plebes in their sophomorage. I guess I’ll just email them. Oh, yeah, and also the fact that the Sailors always take the higher seed in coach-overs (which could come up at States). The Crank is still complaining about the time I coached him over at Harvard. This was, I think, in 1924, but he has a long memory and a need to put some new stuff into it. I personally think he should start reading books. I do it all the time and it works wonders for me.

We’re now at the 15-day mark. Today’s trivia is the little known fact that Walt Disney worked for the Russian KGB. He had been captured right after World War II when he was on a fact-finding mission for Truman (how many Mickey Mouse nose cone planes had gone down in the ETO?) when he disappeared for almost two months, no doubt to some Potemkin Village where he was brainwashed out of his well-known anti-Communist stance (he blamed the strikes at his studio on the Reds) and indoctrinated as a courier. Henceforth, every useful piece of information that arose in Hollywood, from 1947 to his death in 1966, was sent by Walt Disney directly to his handlers in the Kremlin. Fortunately for history, there were no useful pieces of information that arose in Hollywood from 1947 to 1966, so Uncle Walt’s memory can survive unsullied.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The countdown continues

First of all, today’s Bracketology is especially for O’C, although Kt might be interested. My top two when I did it were an impossible-to-break tie.

Last night was the States chez, and that’s that. It was a pleasant session, explaining to Humpty Dumpty that words do not mean what he wants them to mean (and would someone please explain to me why, as I type this in Word, the word Dumpty is underlined in red and the word Humpty is home free?), wondering where Frank Lloyd Wright fits into the picture of the UN (except insofar as the Guggenheim is the Boris to the UN Building’s Natasha), and hearing Robbie update us on the crank (I had just told Smilin’ J that NG was thinking of law school, but apparently he’s thinking of business school). LPW, for reasons known only to him, had decided to run a negative argument that Termite had invented during a tooth extraction, and we managed to talk him down from that one. I waxed poetic at great length about the fish shack, although to be honest, it’s been so long since I was in Albany that, for all I know, they’ve turned it into a mortuary. And we even moved a few gross of the WWMD tee shirts up to the front of the store, for easy access during the holiday buying season.

This morning I learned that Paul Frees was not only the Ghost Host and Ludwig von Drake, but also Boris Badenov (which is probably why Boris is on my mind as I write this). I think I knew this already, but it falls into the area of facts you know but don’t know, that great mass of data you collect and immediately lose to make room for other things, like what Foucault says about free-ranging insanity during the Renaissance. Although why I need to know the latter versus knowing that Frees also voiced both John Lennon and George Harrison in the Beatles Saturday morning cartoon series in the ‘60s is beyond me. Anyhow, this information comes from the magic of podcasting, as I poke around for a WDW show to tide me over till vacation. I do miss’s show, which was right up my alley, exactly the level of theme park I liked to hear. Oh, well, nothing is forever.

16 days, 4 hours. If you’re reading this in aid of burgling the chez while I’m gone, don’t bother. Pip the Diabetic Wondercat and Tik pronounced teek will both be in attendance, with occasional visits from the local Catwoman for care and feeding and shooting and tidying. This was a job formerly performed by a certain sister who has gone off to college in the middle of nowhere. But I can see why she abandoned us. Tik is getting more and more vicious with the passage of time. Last night he left Alli in total tatters. What burglar in his or her right mind would run the risk?

Monday, April 23, 2007

It was too nice a weekend to think about debate

(I actually typed the word no for the word know over there on the right; fortunately, O’C caught it. Jeesh. I do need that vacation. 17 days, 2 hours, according to the widget. And who else do you know who starts talking with parentheses?)

Today’s bracket is Classic 60s. This one should stop the thoughtful Baby Boomer dead in the proverbial tracks. Henceforth new brackets will be listed in the appropriate place on the right. (You’ve got to pay attention to the sidebars around here, bub. We can’t fit everything right up front.)

For those who wonder (and who doesn’t), Nostrum is continuing apace. They’ve been coming out pretty regularly every week, and I even seem to have a listener (in addition to legendary Sailor LPW—who wouldn’t be legendary with a nickname like that?—who confuses the topic in Nostrum with the topic in real life). If Jules and the Nostrumite and I can change just one life (other than LPW’s), our work on this planet will be done.

This weekend will be the New York State championships. To put it mildly, I have discussed NYSFL at some length here, so I won’t bother to do so again. I could not talk our three qualified novices out of it, and I wish them well. The high point will no doubt be their visit to the fish shack (there’s this great fried fish place right off Wolf Road), which is where I’ve always stopped for lunch on Friday. Tonight the three Staters will be chezzing it up one last time. After that, oh NYSFL, dibattiti te salutamus. (If that’s even close to the correct Latin, it’ll be a miracle.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bracketology 4 / Disney Princesses 2 / Debate: The Motionless Picture

Part One: Bracketology

First of all, four new brackets:
Northeast LD Schools
LD Philosophers
And especially for Chris Palmer: Composers
I’m going to collect these somewhere shortly, when I get a minute. It’s my greatest contribution to debate since the invention of the crappy prize.

Part Two: Disney Joins the VCA

Last week Disney announced a line of bridal wear based on its princess characters. You have to ask yourself, are they reading this blog? Are they doing this just for me?

This schmatta-fest obviously makes the WDW wedding all that much more literal a version of a fairy tale come true. The girl who grew up identifying with Belle can now wear a Belle-inspired wedding gown. I do pity the poor schlemazel she marries, who presumably she considers something of a beast, but there’s not much to be done for that, except maybe to convince la fiancée to go instead for Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Jasmine or Snow White, the other possibilities. (I do hope there’s a place for legs in the Ariel outfit.) Then again, what does the Cinderella gown say to the bride’s long-suffering stepmother? And what are the seven bridesmaid’s outfits like that go with the Snow White ensemble? Even the old Baudleroo would be dumbfounded by the possibilities, and would tighten his grip on to the parking lot even that much more, if he had only lived long enough to hear about it.

I’m just scratching the surface of the problems with this stuff, of course. Going back to the new pro-gay marriage Disney policy, let’s face it, this is a real slap in the face to gay guys (although at least neither of them has to be the implied beast). On the other hand, lesbians are faced with the problems of wearing the same dress (dueling Jasmines) or facing possible princess clash (Aurora vs Ariel, a Celebrity Deathmatch if there ever was one). I don’t even want to begin to explain the problems these gowns will cause for the inner princess lurking within the transsexuals in the audience. Which means that, in one swell foop, every conceivable sexual orientation and/or clothes orientation is sent into something of a tizzy over one small gown collection. And I’ll bet you’ve been underestimating the power of fashion all these years.

Then again, as my wife put it, much more succinctly than I ever could: “Grow up.”

Part Three: Debate: The Motion Picture

It’s not surprising that there is now a movie out about debate, or so they say over at WTF. I’m surprised it took so long. Certainly I’ve seen various debate mentions or scenes in movies and tv shows in the past, but never serious ones. As a rule, debate is code in show biz for nerd alert. The cool kids do anything but, and the uncool kids are recognized as such because they’re on the debate team. (And, also, because they dress like refugee clowns from outer space.) Obviously this is far from true in real life, where debate is simply one cool hottie piled on top of another, until there’s nothing but a mountain, nay, a veritable Everest of hotties and coolness.

Wait a minute. Maybe I’m thinking of something else.

I never have been able to figure out what it is that brings newbies to the team year after year, what resonances the word debate has in their empty little middle school minds that makes them think that this activity is for them when they make it to high school. It’s not like, say, the Tropical Fish Society, where presumably you already have some tropical fish, and the idea of schmoozing with other tropical fishists sounds like an aquarium made in heaven. You don’t come to debate already debating, nor probably having much of an idea what debating is (unless you’re a legacy, which has a blinding effect all its own). You don’t come to debate because you’re a nerd, and you’ve heard that debate is where all the nerds go. It’s not even that you’re smart, and you’ve heard that debate is where all the smart kids go, because there are plenty of smart kids who don’t join debate (because they think it’s for nerds) and plenty of dumb kids who do join debate and who coincidentally are not nerds (and who, lucky for them, come out smarter in the end for having done so, but I think that they’re too dumb for this to be their original motivation). As I say, I have no idea what people’s preconceptions are, nor what would work toward building a conception that would attract more (or for that matter, any) people when it comes time for recruitment. In any case, it’s nice to believe that there may be a movie which, if it does nothing else, will have some relatively reasonable and true depiction of the debate universe. With Sean Astin as the coach, no less. Samwise Gamgee himself. Patty Duke’s little boy Sean.


Of course, for all I know, the movie is a bust, and from what one can read about it on the net, debate is just a part of it (and for that matter, high school is just a part of it). I would love to see the proverbial perfect high school debate movie, and I would imagine it would be based to some degree on the action in Nostrum, which strikes me as accurate, if occasionally dated. I don’t know about you, but regardless of the content of my proverbial perfect high school debate movie, I certainly do have the proverbial perfect cast for it (although some of the ages of the actors are a little off):

Smallville High School Administration:
Principal: Jeri Ryan
Asst Principal / Dean of Discipline: Anthony Perkins

Smallville Debate Team:
Coach: Charlie Sheen
Asst Coach: Paul Reubens
Policy A varsity team: Penn Jillette, Teller
Policy B varsity team: Wil Wheaton, Jessica Simpson
Policy novice team: Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland
LD A varsity debater: Tom Cruise
LD B varsity debater: Will Smith
LD novice debater: Keanu Reeve

Tabroom Staff: James Doohan
(Computers courtesy HAL 9000)

TOC Director: Clint Eastwood
NFL Director: John Waters
CFL Director: Audrey Hepburn (Sister Luke)

Defeat Longjohns Website:
Webmaster: The Rock
Managing Editor: Woody Allen

“Iams: the Debater Chow You Can Trust”

Okay. Tell me you wouldn’t go see this movie, no matter how well or poorly it’s reviewed.

Bracketology 3

Bietz suggests that there's inherent seedings in these things, but not really. I'm just pairing them willy-nilly in sets that make sense to me, in no particular order. Why I enjoy them I can't imagine. Here's a few for those who have no interest in res forensicia.




Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bracketology 2

Chris complains about lack of criterion on the tournaments. Hmmph. In that case, try this one: Debatists. Paired by loving hands...

I'm tired of doing all the work around here

It's your turn. Think braketology. Click here for the actual jpg in normal size. Octos at the top, quarters at the bottom, Hen Hud removed because it wouldn't be fair to the others.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Rising stars"

I love rising stars. We now seem to have round robins just for them, or at least pods of round robins just for them. What a concept. First of all, presumably these rising stars are, at the moment, dark unseen spots filling up the sky, gray faceless contenders in a sea of forensiciana. They are the kids that come from the sticks, from Allentown, Pennsylvania… “Sawyer, you listen to me, and you listen hard. Two hundred people, two hundred jobs, two hundred thousand dollars, five weeks of grind and blood and sweat depend upon you. It's the lives of all these people who've worked with you. You've got to go on, and you've got to give and give and give. They've got to like you. Got to. Do you understand? You can't fall down. You can't because your future's in it, my future and everything all of us have is staked on you. All right, now I'm through, but you keep your feet on the ground and your head on those shoulders of yours and go out, and Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!”

(Odd advice to give a tap dancer, to keep you feet on the ground, but anyone who has ever seen Ruby Keeler tap dance pretty much realizes that for all practical purposes she is keeping her feet on the ground.)

So we celebrity up these unknown kids from Allentown, and we send them out on the stage, and maybe they become real stars, their names in lights on that Great White Way of debate that is the National $ircuit. Broadway rhythm’s got me—everybody dance!!! There’s flowers sent to the divas by the stage door johnnies, blazing marquees, bold-faced names in Winchell’s column, caricatures at Sardi’s. Ah, stardom. Of course, the next thing you know Eve Harrington (also known as Hockaday EH) comes along, and you fasten your seat belt because it’s going to be a bumpy night, and you're yesterday’s news, a has-been, a nobody. Show biz is tough, baby. And you’ve got to be tough to survive in it.

And what about those rising stars who don’t make it. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.” They start out burning oh so brightly, they are peas in the rising star pods of all the round robins, and then they’re never heard of again. What happens to these bums, anyhow? I see them out on the street, a couple of dozen pencils in their tin cups, begging for spikes off the third criterion turn. Oh, the humanity!

I probably maintain something of a minority opinion on the RR situation, that they’re coming a little too fast and a little too furiously, and that they might be concentrating on the wrong side of the debate universe. They are, after all, debate competition distilled down from everything that usually goes with a tournament. For one thing, even the poor schlimazel who comes in last is probably pretty good, unlike the poor schlimazel at an invitational who comes in last who probably doesn’t know his aff from his elbow but who is nonetheless being exposed to ideas he might otherwise never even know exist. I’m all for that invitational schlimazel. I guess that every tournament can’t and shouldn’t exist for that poor schlub, but all those that do are the reason I show up week after week. As for the others: as Homer Simpson says (in The Day of the Locust—now there’s a trivia question for you), Oh, Lord, forgive me for harboring such unworthy thoughts, but sometimes I wish I could tear it all down!

Thus ends today’s sermon. Please join me for tea and popcorn at the local revival house. We need to catch up on some classics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

My Meat Loaf tapes will live forever!

Curious weekend. I heard from Smilin’ J, who demurred from my discussion about him back in the day. Apparently he’s just come upon my writing, and far from wanting the tee shirt, he demanded that I set the record straight on what I had said about him. And so I will: In 1993, without question, Jason Baldwin almost smiled. There is photographic evidence of this event, available upon request.

There. Done. All inaccuracies in this blog have now been adjudicated.

So I don’t think I’ve gone into detail on the Great Tape to Pod project, although I know I’ve mentioned it. Back when the mists of prehistory hadn’t yet settled on the papaya trees, I remember reel-to-reel tapes, where you could fit three albums on one side of a tape. At that time everything was LPs, which meant you popped up to change the record every twenty minutes or so, unless you had a record changer that dropped one record on top of another in a process guaranteed to turn your vinyl into chopped liver. The process of getting up to turn or change the record was rather sacramental, and regular. But as I say, the tapes meant you got up once every two hours or so, which fit in well with college life. I never owned one of these players myself, but I envied those who did. The players were the size of a small buffalo.

Cassette tapes came into their own in the ‘70s with the arrival of the Walkman. When I first moved to Manhattan I had already begun the process of copying all my LPs (and there were a lot of them) over to cassettes, and acquiring most of my new music on more cassettes. I was never much of a Walkman fan back then, because I enjoyed walking around without distraction, enjoying life on the hoof as it happened. It wasn’t till I moved to the ‘burbs and began running in the mornings that I started going through a series of ever-breaking Walkmen. Meanwhile I continued to acquire cassettes, often dupes from library borrowings. I’ve never had too much music. And I’ve gone through a lot of phases: rock, jazz, cabaret, opera, classical, shows, tropicalia, etc. When I run out of new things to listen to I will no doubt be dead. “He who is tired of music is tired of life,” to once again bring up Dr. Johnson (although, of course, he said London, but no one but a blockhead ever quotes anyone other than Dr. J).

There are, in the chez, enough cassettes to provide musical entertainment for each and every soldier on both sides of the Global War on Terror (or GWOT, as it is known), except I admit that I have very little Islamic stuff except for a few guitarists and Cat Stevens Version 2.0, so Osama is going to have to make do with various versions of the Cajun favorite, “Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot.” In any case, as life has progressed, these cassettes have gravitated to the chez basement. I do my daily constitutionals nowadays not with Walkmen but with the Nano and the latest from my favorite podcasts. The only time I plug cassettes into the regular stereo is Christmas, because whereas I had no compunctions about upgrading, say, the White Album to CD, I’d be damned if I was upgrading “Elvis’s Christmas Album.”

I have followed the idea of copying down cassettes to mp3s for a while but never gotten off the old duff until an article a couple of weeks ago in the Times. They simply said that a copy of Toast on the old Mac would set you on your way, and that was good enough for me. The lesson here is: Don’t always believe the New York Times. All the news that’s fit to print, and half the technical data. Feh! I ended up buying a new amp, plus Toast, plus an iMic. But in the end, the setup works fine, thus:

Play cassette (which is hooked up through the amp and out the headphone jack through the iMic into the Little Elvis USB). This is a real-time process, which means I’ll be doing this forever. Yesterday I moved some chezian furniture to ameliorate the process. There’s a program called CD Doctor which is part of Toast, and you use that to record the cassette. Set the recording time for 45 minutes, and go off and read a book.

When the recording is done, you send the waveforms to CD Doctor. At this point the program attempts to separate the tracks, but its accuracy is not perfect, so you may need to do some readjustment at this point, on a macro scale. If nothing else, you delete the extra time at the end (the empty track, if any). And if a song in a mix is something you already have on disk, you can delete it and take it off the conveyer belt.

Next, you have two choices. First, you can send the material to Toast, for burning as a regular CD, and I’ve been doing that for show music. I haven’t heard Camelot, for instance, since King Arthur was in the White House. And Carousel. And Merrily We Roll Along. Those were among this weekend’s haul, all going straight to regular old CDs. Works like a charm, and those I play through the main house system, which is the usual show tune venue. I mean, I have a few shows on the MegaPod, but that’s not usually the kind of music I listen to when I’m listening to the pod, whereas nothing goes better with the Sunday Times than Broadway. Go figure.

Alternatively, you can send the music to iTunes. Here I save them as mp3s (there are other choices). No biggie. Then I copy the stuff over to the MegaPod and listen to it in the office. These are all unlabeled tracks, and at this point, as I intimated in an earlier entry, I’ve got a lot of unknown music by unknown performers. Yeah, I can recognize the Beatles more often than not (we’re talking about a hundred mix tapes here), but I do trip up on those deep Jo Jo Gunne cuts. But as you listen to the music, you plug guesses about the lyrics into Google, and nine times out of ten you see a hit for the lyrics giving the name of the song and the performer. After that, Wikipedia and iTunes one way or another set you on the path for verification. So as you listen to the music, you carefully list (and if necessary, acquire) all the track info and save it out. (Later on, if you’re so inclined, you can even pick up album art from Amazon or the like.)

Sometimes a track is complete, one song, and that’s that. Sometimes it’s more than one song, or it’s fuzzy and needs processing. In these latter cases, you go back to the computer and open the song in Audacity, process it as necessary, including breaking it up into separate tracks, and export out as mp3s. Replace the old mp3s with these new mp3s both on your hard drive and in iTunes.

Next, attach the iPod back home. First you delete all the tracks from the iPod. You still have all the original tracks you recorded, pointing to the files on your hard disk, in iTunes. Plug in the new track info into these tracks in iTunes, and when you do iTunes also updates the actual file. Then you copy all the music over again onto the iPod, and you’ve got edited—if necessary—tracks with complete info. Finally, you back up the tracks on your hard disk so you’ll never have to do all this nonsense again.

And that is how I plan to spend my summer vacation. You learn a lot in this process. For instance, there are two King Biscuit Boy tribute sites (at least), and Jo Jo Gunne (yeah, they’re real) has reunited. Who knew? As far as I know, by the way, I possess no hiphop tracks. No gangsta music. No Celine Dion (which makes gangsta rap sound like Mozart). But if any turns up, I’ll let you know.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Coincidence? I don't think so.

Don Imus is fired for saying, well, you know what.

The same week, Don Ho dies.

Don't tell me the universe is random!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Let's see what's skakin' over at you-know-where

I have little to report of my own today, which means it’s time to visit WTF and see what’s up with them.

Hmmm. Ryan Hamilton has celebrated his 21st birthday. I’m not surprised that the event has taken place, but I am rather concerned about what year it occurred in. I thought Ryan was at least about 35, give or take a few weeks for spa treatments. According to this report, he’s a mere sprat. No wonder he’s always complaining when Legionnaires and their ilk besmirch college students. If I can do the math correctly, RH is still one himself. (Note to the VCA: whenever I am being vituperative against college students, do not include Hamilton in that number. On the other hand, when I am being vituperative about 35-year-olds, that is obviously the code for Ryan Hamilton. Just so we’re clear on that.)

The TOC has published it’s list of people no longer likely to be possible fathers of Anna Nicole’s baby judges for final round at TOC. Unlike previous years this hasn’t drawn too many attacks, despite the fact that I’ve seen just about all these people’s bones on display at the Jurassic exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. The issue is not digressive vs traditional so much as people who are still around late on Monday who have ever heard of Lincoln-Douglas vs the kitchen staff at the Ramada dining room. People do tend to leave for home during the last day, except for those who feel they may have horses in the race, or who simply traditionally stay the extra day, and a couple of years ago JW was apparently literally in the kitchen offering $20 a head to anyone who’d sit through finals, so that explains this list more than anything else. Of course, if this group of people were not to be considered about as good as it gets, then we really are in some sort of serious trouble in LD Land. It will be fun to see them split 7-6 or whatever.

I also see that O’C is putting together next year’s calendar, an admirable venture. (Hint: everything is the same as this year only a day earlier, in the way of all calendars and fixed events like high school tournaments, except after February, because of Tik-pronounced-teek’s birthday.) Apparently Easter is way early next year (sometime during Christmas vacation) which will throw all the March qualifiers into a tizzy, but the norm should remain, uh, the norm. Which is, in most respects, normal. I do understand, however, the Big Jake is moving to Cleveland on the day after Thanksgiving, but everything else should be status quo antebellum. (Will he comment on that out of fear that someone might actually believe it? Place your bets quickly on

There is also now a new website, Forensics Online (, now operated by the NFL. Not really new, actually, but under new management. If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em? The site is about as volatile as [insert your own comedic image here for some really non-volatile thing]. I’m rather taken by this Jason character’s final farewell, which has been front and center for a couple of weeks now, mostly because I never heard of this guy, and there’s an early eulogy plus a photo. I like this guy’s looks. I might put him on my next run of WWMD tee shirts.

Back on PCB, meanwhile, there have also various lists of milk carton runaways round robin participants for the upcoming weeks. Round robins are an interesting animal. Like the all-girl RR down in Texas, they exist for complex purposes. Most tournaments exist, let’s face it, as fund-raisers. RRs tend to exist to some extent as more-fund-raisers, but also as promotional vehicles for the fund-raiser tournaments. Also they are quality boosters. If you have an RR and invite people or schools you perceive as top drawer, they will stay for your regular tournament and their presence elevates the level of your normal event. In Iowa’s case, I think the RR is as much a vehicle for their institute as anything else. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, of course, and it makes sense, but there does seem to be a proliferation of these things lately. If there were a handful throughout the year, they would be sort of special (although, no doubt, they’d draw on mostly the same group of $ircuiteers). But if there’s one in every Middlesex village and town, they lose a little of their currency. On the bright side, as I’ve said recently, ESL’s promotion of all debate lately, and not just pure $ircuitry, means that all of these venues are getting their moment in the sun, and the glow of any one venue, including TOC, is dimmed by having to share the light. This is a good thing. At the point where more people (other than the high school students) are reminded that we are talking about high school debate and can see its appropriate position in the universe, we are better off than if we submit to endless hagiographies and the like.

But then again, when it comes to hagiography, in this very entry I’ve sent to the Vatican the names of Ryan Hamilton, the TOC finals panel, the goombah who used to run FOL, and everyone who’s running a round robin. If any of these people start performing miracles, poor Benny the P is going to be a very, very busy man.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Apparently there has been some talk of the perfect tee shirt for sale at Bump. Normally I don’t put much truck in the idea of debate merchandise, but in this case I’ll make an exception:

So far in order to acquire one of these shirts you have to send all the money you have to the chez, at which point your general worthiness will be contemplated and we may or may not send you a shirt by return mail. Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that a spalpeen like you will make the grade, but don’t let that deter you from sending cash, checks or money orders.

Actually, this did come up at Tuesday night’s meeting (thus setting a record for strange topics that even CatNats is unlikely ever to top). For reasons that elude me, there are some debaters out there whom I shock and awe. I am the George W. Bush to their Iraqi army, so to speak. How bizarre is that? According to Emily, there are also strange adulatory remarks about Lingo on Amazon. I remember going there years ago, when they allowed the authors to post their own comments, and announcing that I’d give a win and 30 points to any debater carrying my book into any round that I was judging. Not one person took me up on it, although the book did have some notoriety in forensician circles. This is to be expected, as few are the novelists who actually schlep debate teams to, for instance, Newark, New Jersey. But aside from requiring the discipline of two Spartan armies and a monastery full of Benedictine monks combined, putting out a novel really only boiled down to the fact that I like to write; you’ve probably already figured that out by now without need of any evidence from your local bookseller. I also did some how-to-program books once upon a time, not because I was such a great programmer, but because I enjoyed the exegesis (which is my word for the week, right after aleatory). There are other forensician writers, by the way. I know that both Catholic Charlie and the Good Doctor (figure that one out for yourself) have both put pen to page, or electron to printer, or whatever, and found publishers willing to take a flyer on them. And of course there’s always Jules and the Mite, who wrote probably the longest debate epic (and probably the only debate epic) on record yet remain mostly unheralded. I have been recording their work faithfully nevertheless, putting up a new podcast episode every week or so with fair regularity, and also republishing the text files. They never found a publisher for Nostrum, when all was said and done, but they did find me. A marriage made in heaven, that, except, of course, they never made a dime for all their effort. Dr. Johnson would not applaud their efforts, nor mine in continuing them—"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money" is the appropriate quotation.

Tuesday’s meeting, as I indicated yesterday, will probably be the last as such. Once it’s over, it’s over, and we’ve all earned a rest. I do plan a few chezzes, though, to prep first the Statesmen and then the CatNatter. I hate the thought of sending people off totally unguided when I have an opportunity to inspire them with some “Win This One for the Gipper” speeches first (and, maybe, sell them a couple of tee shirts for the trip). But that doesn’t really count as meetings. It’s more just sitting around chewing the rag, as we used to say. (Or maybe it was someone else who used to say that. I’m not sure; age and infirmity will do that to you.) At this final meeting we mostly talked about 1ARs, but there was lots of general nonsense as well. Termite likes to tell us about this round he once had where the guy was running some nonsense or other—I never actually know what Termite is talking about—so there was some discussion about that for about the 80th time, and then there was the recommendation of a good book on the notorious Hen Hud English reading list (Brave New World took the honors), then some talk about the forensic summer reading list (I sort of pushed the Alderman/Kennedy titles), and a suggestion from Peanuts that I allow him to kidnap two of next year’s novices so that he can tie them up in his basement and turn them into Pfffters. Which really does give off that “once it’s over, it’s over” sense to the proceedings. We’ll carry on here, however. After all, I’ve got tee shirts to sell!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The root word, Julius, is alea. That's all you need to know, you Latin scholar, you.

All right. I did say I was done. And I usually don’t feel the need to comment on current events, given that all the other blogs in the universe do that. But just out of curiosity, how did you perceive the Imus issue? This is another complex litmus test of the social construct. Did you see his remark as anti-black, anti-women, or quite specifically as anti-black women? Which view you take reflects which area of critical theory you are viewing from. His comment is both racist and sexist, but which bothers you more? And do you concentrate on one or the other when you think of what an asshat the man is, or do you go for the unique area combining the two? There’s no right or wrong answer, since there’s enough theory to go around for any angle you want to take. Which angle you take does, however, become something of a defining characteristic of you, if not him. I point this out because it does demonstrate some of the complexity of critical theory. There’s a certain Uncertainty Principle that applies: the material is perceived pursuant to your method of perceiving it. And it is this aleatoric (I love that word), subjective aspect of theory that underlies much of my reaction against it for debate purposes. If the world is indeed randomly subjective, the theorist would claim, then there’s no point in trying to establish universal ethical claims because they’re intrinsically unachievable. This argument would apply to all ethics, and therefore pretty much all LD resolutions: one case fits all! Since the world’s woes cannot be solved, it says, arguing them is pointless, and the person who points out the pointlessness of arguing them wins any argument before it begins. Yeah, that’s real competitive, and a great way to address the problems of the world. It offers nothing other than a way of abducting the critical theorists in order to avoid the problems of the world (which is, in fact, a regular knock against the CTs outside of LD).

I keep coming back to the purpose of philosophy, and in many respects the uselessness of some philosophers (and here I don’t just mean CTs). Philosophy, when it is purely academic, seems rather jejune, to say the least. The problem with philosophy is how much of it is inaccessible except at an elevated academic level. Now, you could say that this is true of many disciplines—how many nuclear scientists do you know who are self-taught hobbyists—but that’s not a reason to accept it. And besides, how many other disciplines revel in their inaccessibility as much as philosophy seems to? Scientists are always trying to explain what they’re doing to lay people in non-technical languages, and lay people seem to have a general interest in science (as witnessed, for instance, by the weekly Science section in the New York Times) but philosophers seem to be trying to confuse even scholars with their hyper-technical language, and the general public accepts this with an unstifled yawn (there is no weekly Philosophy section). Sure, there are a few texts out there attempting to explain things to the common yabbo, but why are the primary texts all so difficult? At some point we have to accept that ALL PHILOSOPHY IS MADE-UP STUFF!!! It is an attempt to understand life/thought in an explanatory, exegetic fashion, entirely pulled out of the imaginations of its practitioners. Plato made all his stuff up. Kant made all his stuff up. Hegel. Nietzsche. Wittgenstein. All of them. They made it up. They may have built on each other, but that was simply borrowing already made-up stuff and making up more stuff about it. Isn’t their stuff, insofar as any of it is true, and therefore relevant in explaining the meaning of existence, of interest to everyone? All right, maybe not every person on the street is all that crazy about the purpose of life and the best way to live, but certainly there must be a handful of non-academics out there with such concerns.

So shouldn’t our goal (referring to ourselves as educators, in this case) be to take as much of this gobbledygook as we can and, when there’s good stuff in there, and make it as accessible as possible so that non-academics (high school students) can understand it and use it to further their understanding of life and the universe and everything? One of the things I like about a lot of modern writing in the social sciences (like how I put that?) is that there is some nicely readable material. For instance, I find reading the old Baudleroo quite entertaining, but what I fault is not his lack of meaningful application of his, shall we say, theories, but the vapid attempts by others to find meaning in his amusing yet rambling work. It’s bad enough that the old-line philosophers were hard to understand, but at least they wrote from a position of logical presentation, and the straightforward tools of logic could (in theory) be used to understand the material. Nowadays it is up to the reader to apply his or her own ad-hoc, subjective logic to find out what exactly is being said in the material. Think Derrida, for instance. For that matter, think Nietzsche, whom I’m perfectly willing to categorize as an early modern rather than a late classical. This puts us back, as interpreters, into Uncertainty Principle text-readings. Should this be the sort of material we are training high school students in? Even if they are brilliant scholars, wouldn’t we be better off sticking to material that, at the very least, has its own generally acceptable (if obtuse) entryway? And, of course, there is also the idea that one should start with the basics before moving on to the advanced; you can’t understand Nietzsche if you don’t know what he’s criticizing, in other words. But why would anyone want to learn scales if they can sit down and immediately play Beethoven’s Pathetique? Why, indeed?

Oh, well. These are just random thoughts as I shut down the Sailors for the year. The season is not quite dead, but it is breathing its last gasps. There are merely States and CatNats between us and blessed vacational peace. And an orchestra concert—the bane of forensics, the one activity all forensicians are a part of, with their flugelhorns and piccolos and glockenspiels and zambonis. Bah!

I’ll report on more mundane things than Critical Race Theory, Nietzsche’s insanity and unnecessary obfuscation on the morrow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tostada and Fugue in Claire Minor


Twenty-nine days to WDW, which has become the only principality in the New World to condone—nay, to insist on—gay marriage. I’m going to be honest: the whole idea of getting married at WDW borders on the bizarre to begin with. This ties back into my notes earlier on Disney princesses. By the time you’re old enough to get married, you should have put the whole princess idea behind you a bit. But to maintain not merely the substance of the princess fallacy but also the form? That goes beyond delusion into what can only be considered serious dementia. Let me tell you: I know a lot of guys who are married and not one of their wives thinks that any of them are any sort of Prince Charming. Yet the deluded WDW bride can arrive at the chapel in a white carriage, and the groom can arrive on a white horse. Whoa, Nellie! And don’t even ask how much all of this costs, but then again, weddings aren’t cheap even when they’re at the local 7-Eleven. Obviously I’m not quite in the spirit of this thing, gay or straight.

Speaking of not being in the spirit of things, yesterday the father of Juan, Kwan and the Stoners: The Next Generation managed to wreak yet a new kind of havoc on the chez. I’d already met Dad one morning as he surveyed the landscape. Dad is retired, but he likes to keep his hand in, and JKS:TNG comprises his entire progeny, or at least the ones who have taken to the family trade. When I ran into Dad (it was about 4:00 a.m., and I was out tending the sheep on the back forty and I’m not quite sure what Dad was doing there), he patted the chimney fondly and told me that he had built this one himself, way back when. Fire having been recently invented, apparently, the building of fireplaces was considered quite avant garde at the time. Of course, JKS:TOS had covered up all Dad’s brickwork last year with the new stones, but Dad was undeterred, and proud as punch over the original work, the new work, his sons, me, the sheep, and life in general. Dad’s day is, apparently, not exactly brim-filled with incident. Anyhow, last night when I came home from a business dinner, no amount of clicking could get the garage door to open. Cleverly trying to outwit the clicker, I tried the door on the other side of the garage. Still nothing. At which point I noticed there was no outdoor light welcoming me home, and also that Liz’s car was on the outside of the garage looking in, a most unusual position. It turns out that yesterday morning Dad, in a covert attempt to help JKS:TNG, had begun working solo on some drainage for us, and managed to cut the electricity to the garage. I guess we’re lucky he didn’t fry himself, but for the moment, the mews is off-limits. Fortunately the JKS:TNG progeny include a full contingent of electricians, one of which will pop by today and set things aright. With luck, the progeny include a prison guard who will lock Dad up until the work at the chez is concluded.



Or, let’s finish up this feminism stuff.

The question raised by the princess fallacy (and my calling it that begs the question of what value I give it) goes to the core of feminist thinking, or more to the point, thinking about females. An article I read this weekend about the Brooklyn Museum, which is opening a center for feminist art, succinctly explained the situation, citing the range of thought from the essentialist (represented by the essential physical aspects of the female, the case in point being Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, which is currently on display) to the social construct of the feminine. That is, the idea of female lies somewhere between the fact of the female side of reproduction and the beliefs we have in our culture/society about women. We know what makes women primarily different from men physiologically. That one’s easy. But what makes them different culturally? And is there anything about the cultural difference that is real, and not merely an ephemeral social construct? Or to phrase it in a way even a Plebe can understand, are men and women really different, aside from the naughty bits?

I have no glib answer, but I offer the Larry Summers Dilemma for helping evaluate the question. And I strongly recommend some reading on the subject aside from what I’m saying; it would behoove you as a debater to have some academic material under your belt (maybe O’C can recommend something). Anyhow, the Larry Summers Dilemma suggests you to take any situation and look at it from every angle. Summers, while the chief Hot Dog at Harvard, famously posited that women were bad at science because their brains weren’t inherently hard-wired for the stuff, presumably as an excuse/rationale for his university’s lack of women in the science area. Yeah, he’s not working there anymore, almost entirely because of the ensuing flap over this statement, but that’s not the point. The one fact in this that was clear—and this one clear thing is the starting point you must find first in any pursuit of the subject—was that, given the percentage of women in the world, roughly half the general population, women were not roughly half of Harvard’s science population. Why not?

Well, let’s see. First, we can accept that either men and women are equally adept at science, or that one or the other group is more adept. If we accept that they are equally adept, then perhaps Harvard is simply discriminating against women in its policies relating to its science departments. The same fact of discrimination would be true if we accepted that women are more adept at science than men. And it would not be discrimination if men were more adept at science than women; in this case the actual numbers would be merely a reflection of the general adeptness of the two groups.

So we need to discover the relative adeptness of men and women in the sciences. And here is the next problem, which is whether or not we’re willing to believe that Harvard’s policies are discriminatory. Theoretically, the number and type of students studying something is presumably a reflection of the number and type of students interested in that thing. For instance, if in a university 5% of the population studies architecture and 30% of the population studies computers, this can be seen as a measure of the percentage of architects and computists in society at large rather than a discriminatory policy against those interested in architecture. So the number of women in sciences may not be a result of discriminatory practices, but simply a measure of the percentage of women in science in society at large.

If we’re willing to accept this non-discriminatory reflective idea, we start approaching the core of the issue, which is why there are more men than women in science in society at large. There are three possibilities, and we’ve already in a sense discounted one, which is that educators discriminate against women in science (although this could indeed be true, but we want to proceed beyond this question for a moment). The other two possibilities are that men are better at science because they are inherently better at science (i.e., Summers was right, and their brains are hard-wired for it and women’s brains are not), or that men are better at science because they are socially accepted/acculturated/developed/perceived as being better at science (that is, society’s brain, if you will, is soft-wired to believe that men are better at science, regardless of the truth of the matter). Obviously, if the latter is true, that society believes men are better at science than women with absolutely no basis in fact, then the number of men versus the number of women is reflective of a social issue which, if not exactly discrimination, nonetheless is part of a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, are men better than women at science? And if so, are they better than women at science because of essential innate abilities or because of society’s beliefs about those abilities?

We can boil this down further. Are men different from women at X? And if so, are they different from women at X because of essential innate biology or because of society’s predisposition to believe in that difference? This is the feminist test you can apply to any situation. Are we acting this way because of our biology or because of our culture? That, in a word, is what feminism is all about. How do we discover the innate differences between men and women, and deal with those, and how do we discover the artificially constructed beliefs that separate men and women, and deal with those? We need to seek truth, of course, and accept that truth, whatever it is, but what separates feminist theory different race theory or legal theory or the like is that there really is at least some meaningful biological differences between men and women, whereas there are no meaningful biological differences between blacks and whites. (I assert that last point, but nonetheless I stick by it.)

So maybe we should leave this here. Solving the feminist question is a deeper, more academic pursuit henceforth. But at least I think we’ve managed to frame what the question ought to be. As I’ve said in the past, you are the philosopher, learning the meaning of existence in order to create a better world. Your job now is to figure out how to do it in a way that makes sense. Otherwise all we’re doing is trying to win debate rounds qua debate rounds. And what would be the point of that?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Soft blog entry with boiled beans

If you want to do the British-type crosswords, here’s one clue you might be able to get (taken from yesterday’s paper): “Say, Harry Potter’s friend, in spring.” (Answer printed below.)

Am I the only person who thinks the photo headings over at WTF make everybody look inebriated? What are they serving in the punch at these high school tournaments, anyhow? No wonder people are running nonsense: they’re too drunk to know the difference.

I took the weekend off, so to speak, ignoring emails and the like, to pursue a variety of personal endeavors. At the level of most complicated, combined with most likely to lock my brain into the 60s for all time, is a new project to copy all my old cassettes over to mp3s. Well, not all of them; some deserve to be forgotten, but there was a period when I copied practically everything I owned (mostly records purchased during the 60s) onto cassette (the past’s wave of the future), as well as buying practically everything new on cassette. The Sony Walkman was the invention of the age, and one version or another lasted me about 30 years of running/walking/whatever. Inspired by an article in the Times a couple of weeks ago, I purchased a copy of Toast, an iMic connector and a cheap amplifier, attached my good cassette player (which ordinarily only fires up to play the Muppet/John Denver Christmas album) and began copying away. Magic! First you have the music as a simple waveform copy, if you want to make a CD, then you can port it over to iTunes. I imagine there will be some music worth CDing (and all will be backed up, of course—I have no intentions of ever doing this again), but most is going straight to the MegaPod. In among the Small Faces “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” (pre-Rod, originally released in a round album sleeve) and lost cuts from Cat Stevens’s “Mona Bone Jakon” and like gems, are songs by people whose identity is a total mystery to me. These are items I picked up from library borrowings and the like. So there will be a new iTunes entry thus: Song: Unknown, by Artist: Unknown. In one weekend of porting over exactly 2 mix tapes (this stuff takes muchos time, although I did do a bunch of non-mix albums too) I’ve got about a dozen Unknown/Unknowns. Good stuff, too, whatever it is. If you hear any of it in the tabroom and can identify it, speak up. I need to know!

Other than throwing logs on the fire of my music collection, Saturday we headed into Manhattan with a few million of our nearest and dearest non-English-speaking friends (if you doubt that the dollar is on the skids, go to your nearest tourist destination) and visited the Met, among other things. I strongly recommend the Barcelona exhibit (although I also strongly recommend you listen to “Company” first in order to exorcize the song from your mind in advance, otherwise it will drive you crazy as it jiggers through your brain in room after room). Ramon Casas was, to me, a serious revelation. There’s a sampling of Picassos from the womb on up, if you want to watch the eyes evolve to one side of the head. There’s the Mies German pavilion. There’s baffling Miro paintings. And there’s Gaudi, Gaudi and more Gaudi. What more do you need? If any further spur were needed to get me to visit the peninsula in the very near future, this was it. Iberia [sic] or bust!

Answer: pronounce. Say=pronounce; the word ron (HP’s friend) within the word pounce (in spring). Piece of cake, eh?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Coachean log, supplemental: Legionnaire's Disease

I got elected, despite the fact that I didn't vote for myself, and that I recently admitted to having snorted Keith Richards' father's ashes. Go figure.

Feminism Part 3

I just happened to look over at VBD, and apparently the female RR had inspired them to bloviate too. I quickly tire of endless comments on a thread, but I did find this from Stacy Thomas, which is part of their invitation:

“Over its first two years, this round robin generated a lot of discussion, which is one of its goals. I have come to decide that pinning it down to a particular mission is difficult. This tournament means different things for different people. Some have told me that they think it is important because girls aren’t invited in equal numbers to other competitive round robins or that they don’t receive equal recognition for their successes. Some people have told me that it is important to them because they think that within the debate community we have constructed our own gender norms in terms of stylistic and behavioral expectations both inside and outside rounds that impact the experiences of those involved. Some people have told me that this event is important because for whatever reason many of the top young women in the activity choose to quit after high school while many of the young men stay well into college to help educate the next generation of debaters. This tends to result in seeing fewer female judges in late elimination rounds, at least on the TOC circuit, and can become a self-fulfilling cycle since it is hard to stay in an activity in which one feels a sense of isolation. Some coaches, especially, have expressed concerns to me about their talented female debaters, even when experiencing early success, giving up on the activity over time, leaving all together or losing their love for the game as they progress through high school.

“All of these statements are debatable in their own right and should be discussed in our community. I still am evolving in terms of my own opinions. Personally, this year, I’ve decided to continue this tournament because many people I care about in debate have asked me to hold it again, from students to coaches to judges. And, the letters I received from girls who attended last year made me feel the importance of this event even if I can’t always articulate those feelings. I know this tournament meant something special to many of the girls who came last year, that it generated new friendships, and that it helped motivate some debaters, coaches, and judges in their passion for an activity that I truly believe is life-changing. For me, that is enough. I guess it is unavoidable that this tournament make some kind of political statement. It is near impossible to avoid flame wars online these days on the debate boards. Last year, I was told simultaneously that this tournament didn’t allow for enough discussion about gender in debate and that it focused too much on the issue. What I hope isn’t to create some kind of revolution in debate or even really to make some grand statement to the community at large. What I hope is to create an important personal experience for those who attend. It is about the participants for me. It is a weekend for them. It is their space. So, I hope you will choose to join us for a unique competitive experience that is both intellectually and socially stimulating, supportive, memorable, and fun.”

Girls hanging out with girls, in other words. At that level, it’s hard to argue with. Sometimes I like to hang out with the guys, some times I don’t. No difference, really. Take it on the face value. That’s pretty much what CLG’s comment is speaking to. At the point where it’s just people of like hanging with people of like, it is not only unobjectionable but pleasant. (BTW, in the recent Sailors trivia quiz, no one was able to locate the Islands of Langerhans, so I feel CLG’s pain. So does Pip, the Diabetic Wondercat.) Stacy’s articulate explanation of what she’s doing, as well as her summary of the general issues that may or may not surround the activity as a whole should answer any questions about the purpose, need or goals of the RR per se. As she says, however, those issues raised, remain.

The WTF thread, which as I say I didn’t read all of, covers all sorts of territory. There’s a belief that Digressive debate is inherently male, which is pretty silly, unless it’s a veiled insult (i.e., only guys would be so dumb as to run this bloody nonsense). I mean, all the classic ethical philosophers lived in much less enlightened times than these pomo/CT authors, and we don’t claim that as a result girls are inherently hampered when they run Kant or Locke (or that they are inherently aided when the run the proto-feminist Mill). There’s claims that the Digressive judges are blatantly anti-female, and I might be willing to accept that at some level, if only insofar as I can’t figure out why all these college guys aren’t hanging out with college girls, if you get my drift. In other words, do I detect a sort of loser-ism in the college kid who spends every available moment of free time back in the high school environment? Graduate, for pete’s sake. Move along, there! Could these judges harbor some true anti-female feeling based simply on their social maladroitness? Do cod salt well? Come on, now. But this isn’t sexism, it’s just sort of sad. Give back to the activity, yes, but get a life, too. If you’re not planning on being a secondary school educator, your presence is suspect, even if your actions are pure. Unless someone is paying you an awful lot of money, and even then… But I’ve been down that road before.

The question remains, as Pajamas (AKA Pyjamas) brings up and CLG echoes, whether we lose all but the top of the female population after the first blush. Someone on the WTF thread tried to offer statistics to support this theory, but the sample was too small and too politically weighted (TOC attendance) to be meaningful. But the perception is there, and it may reflect reality. I just wonder if it’s endemic to debate, or if it pervades other high school activities as well. While it’s self-satisfying to look at debate in a vacuum, it is
part of a very active, very complex system known as high school, peopled by very active, very complex individuals known as adolescents. I would wonder if there are not factors aside from those intrinsic to debate that cause this drift, but that could only be proven if the drift exists in the first place, and then if it exists in other activities as well. Given the former, I’d be surprised if not the latter. But I have neither statistical nor anecdotal data to offer one way or the other. I believe it, nonetheless; just don’t ask me for a card on it. The point being, why should debate be any different from anything else? No relevant difference having been shown, I go with the lack thereof.

As I read Stacy in her later posts (on the “moved” thread in WTF’s forums, and again I apologize for not reading everything too closely but, you think I’m long-winded?), she too seems to believe that the problem of sophomore drift does exist, and is not limited to debate. More to the point, she calls to task the sexism in the culture as a whole, which is as it should be. I mean, as a feminist I would expect her to be knowledgeably attacking the status quo if it were worth attacking. What I see from my personal-history perspective is what I can only call backpedaling by the movement itself, or at least by women themselves, whereas from her perspective she just sees not that much gain. But we’re seeing the same things, and only theorizing upon them differently. Equal pay for women, for instance, may still be an issue, but when I was in knee pants, unequal pay for women was expected. Women in power positions may be far from reflective of the number of women in the population, but again, when I was in knee pants, powerless women were the expectation. We’re talking poor representation today, but we’re no longer talking flukes. But again from my perspective, as my pants have gotten longer, why haven’t we moved further along than we have? In other words, I’m not pointing out the difference between now and then to say I’m satisfied with the numbers we have now; I’m only showing that they’re better than they were. But they are not good enough. Where did the momentum go? What happened?

There are some possible answers. First is that women are not suited to power and have failed at it. This is laughable on face, but think about it. The single biggest factor that mitigates against an individual woman’s momentum in the world is child-bearing. It’s not that having children turns a woman into a lesser person, but that having children sidetracks a woman from her career. Sometimes it’s a matter of weeks or months, sometimes it’s a matter of years, and if you factor in economic status, sometimes it’s forever. This is a hard issue to overcome, and until we provide at the very least a measure of universal childcare that does overcome it, it’s not going to go away. Further, we need systems in place to allow women the freedom to control the early years of child-raising however they see fit: this needs to include not going back to work at the earliest possible moment, but giving a few years to formative childrearing. This may be simply too utopian, but until we reach a point where a woman can be away from the job for a considerable amount of time without penalty either to herself or her children, the problem will persist. The richest, most competent, most powerful women going into childbirth with those advantages of money and and competence and power will probably do okay, but the rest are going to be set back. Until the setback is culturally erased, it is going to have its effect. Either we accept that this is the way it is, or we find ways to fix it. It’s as simple as that.

Second, we can blame the slowness of feminism on the fact that incorporating civil rights is just by its nature a slow process. Well, yes and no. It is a slow process to change the way people think, but if people are thinking wrongly, how much time do we give them? One only need look at blacks in America for an answer to that. It took a hundred years post Civil War to seriously institute rights protections, and fifty years after that we still live in a racially divided country. What part of that is the way it should be? What part of that is permissible because that’s just its nature? If anything, the way people think about women is even more entrenched than thinking about race, if such could be imagined. We prioritize sex higher than we prioritize race in virtually all aspects of culture. Does that mean 150 years from now we’ll be marginally better off than we are today, but we will not have solved the problem?

Third is that the culture that feminism is fighting against it is almost too powerful to break. As I said, beliefs about gender are about as entrenched as any beliefs we have, prioritized in culture above almost all others. Among the reasons for this is the simple biological aspect of male and female, all that chemical stuff that goes on in the nether regions of our brain that connects us to the amoeba. Didn’t Sagan refer to that as the lizard brain? The instinctive, animal, innate, unthinking us? Okay, then, that may all be true. My brain reacts to gender on a totally instinctive level. Fine. I’m instinctively afraid of the dark as well, being a diurnal mammal, but ever since we’ve invented light bulbs, I stay up sometimes until 9:00 or even 10:00 at night and hardly ever trip over anything. The point is, if we are philosophers, working to understand ourselves, with that growing understanding of our natures ought to come a purpose of directing those natures however we can to acting in an ethically sound and just manner (which sounds vaguely like LD to me, so you may be just the right audience for this). We ought to seek to know ourselves in order to build a better world, not simply to accept the world we’re in with shrugging resignation. I didn’t buy on for that particular interpretation of the animal. (And part of my brief against pomo/CT is its shrugging resignation, plus its self-satisfaction at its cleverness at finding something to shruggingly resign itself to.)

But of course I’m not talking about feminism anymore, and I want to get back to that. I want to look a little more closely at girls and how they are raised. If everything above is true, than how we raise our children may be the most important test of our beliefs, and the best way we have to change the world. And as educators, we get an extra shot or two at it because of all the other people’s children who come our way. Interesting…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Thursday is feminism-free day! Men of the world, unite! We're going to burp, scratch, and generally enjoy ourselves, for once.

So last week I answer the phone in my office, and there’s a woman on the line who wants to get a book published. It’s about her visions of Jesus, she says. When I tell her that we don’t really publish original books, she adds that she also had a vision of Frank Sinatra, and that she was in California at the time, and he was in New York. My guess is that she suspected that somehow not only would Sinatra be the difference between your run-of-the-mill visions and the Big Chance, but the added attraction of a continent’s distance would be as awe inspiring to me as if, well, I were having a vision of Old Blue Eyes myself. I explained to her how to find a publisher for her book (there’s resources in local libraries) and wished her good luck, hanging up as quickly as I could before saying something I might regret. I’ve been mulling over the Jesus-Sinatra connection ever since. I have arrived so far at no particular insight.

Yesterday was, apparently, Crawl Out of the Woodwork Day for the VCA. I heard from Pajamas, O’C, and CPalmer, and I just opened my mailbox a minute ago and there’s now a comment from CLG. Only a couple of these are related to the feminism theme, and I’ll get to them probably tomorrow. I hadn’t really planned on going off on this particular toot, but I’ve found it interesting to work out various thoughts. As my thinking has congealed, shall we say, I realize that I’m actually starting to formulate a thesis of some sort, but I’m certainly coming at it ass backwards. I probably should read the latest literature, but my tolerance for pomo/CT, the home of said literature, is pretty slim. Chris sent me this link yesterday, and it’s me in a nutshell. I’m especially fond of the chalice in the palace holds the brew that is true (or is it the vessel with the pestle)? Anyhow, I should probably sit down with O’C, feminist scholar that he is, and have him educate me a bit. I could use it. He’s been giving us the gift of his absence to take a little time off from debate, he says, and I understand the feeling, having occasionally gone off-line myself, completely ignoring the old email until getting back into the mood again. It’s nothing personal, just the grabbing of a moment or two of peace and quiet. A mini-vacation (as compared to a Mickey vacation, which is enough said on that subject for the moment, except to announce that yesterday I reserved the very very last dinner, at Emeril’s).

And speaking of off-line, yesterday marked the arrival of hardware and software for me to begin turning all my old cassettes into mp3s. I am reminded of the golden age lo these many years ago, when I turned all my LPs into cassettes; to a great extent, this is simply an extension of that, turning my cassettized LPs into mp3s without having to find where I put my turntable. I know there’s one in the house somewhere, but I dare you to find it. If the chez already weren’t upset enough, Juan, Kwan and the Stoners: The Next Generation, have been tearing up the place this week putting in a new septic system. Oh joy, oh rapture. There are few things you can purchase in life that are that expensive while being that unsatisfying in the consumerism sense. I’m especially taken by the look of pride on JKS:TNG’s face as they extend an arm over their handiwork and tell me to look on their wonders and marvel. Personally, I have a vision of a house with not JKS: TNG or TOS, but just me and Liz and the cats enjoying home ownership at its finest. Instead, if I can get my car into the driveway I see backhoes and gravel pits and mud flats and half-patios…

Then again, I could be seeing visions of Jesus and Sinatra. I’m hard-pressed to decide which would be preferable.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Feminism a la Disney

I loved Norway. The real one. I also loved the Norway attraction at Epcot. So imagine my dismay on learning that the restaurant has been turned over to, of all things, Disney princesses. Even setting aside the irony of the history of Norway vis-à-vis princessness, the mind boggles. I guess there weren’t enough people visiting WDW who wanted to sample different herring, so an extra added attraction was needed to pull them in. Disney princesses. Oy.

If I am steeped in anything I am steeped in the critical literature on Disney. For a variety of reasons Disney is a major weenie on the cultural studies landscape, and the women’s issues of Disney are, as a result, heavily covered. Again, without doing an academic analysis of the literature, it is interesting to look at the general situation.

Disney (and I’m concentrating now on the Disney that informed the baby boomers, and therefore the Disney corporation that existed under Walt Disney, and not the diffuse corporate entity that has evolved in the generation since his death) gets a heavy rap for its portrayal of women. Looking only at the animated features, which makes sense, one is surprised to see that they are not all princesses and evil stepmothers, given one’s presumptions about the oeuvre. Still, excepting only Fantasia and Lady and the Tramp, one can see similar threads.

Snow White: orphan princess vs evil stepmother queen/witch, into the arms of Prince Charming at the end.
Pinocchio: virtual orphan redeemed through divine female intervention to become child of single parent (a good father)
Dumbo: child of single parent (a good mother)
Cinderella: Orphan vs evil stepmother (Lady Tremaine is, by far, the scariest villain in all of Disney history, having no power aside from sheer unadulterated malice), divine female intervention, into the arms of Prince Charming at the end at which point she becomes a princess
Alice in Wonderland: No parents in sight but definitely there’s an evil queen.
Peter Pan: No parents in sight, a rare male villain (usually the same actor as the father in the play, although Barrie had originally planned for the role of Hook to be played by the mother!) and divine female intervention.
Sleeping Beauty: Virtual orphan vs evil queen/witch, divine female intervention (times three), into the arms of Prince Charming at the end.
101 Dalmations: Threat of dogs becoming fur coats at hands of (virtual) evil witch
Sword in the Stone and Jungle Book: No princesses but orphan heroes.
(One probably should throw in the latest incarnations of Disney Ps just for coverage: Ariel, single male parent, evil witch, into the arms of Prince Charming at the end; Jasmine, single male parent, evil wizard, into the arms of boy who becomes Prince Charming at the end; Belle, single male parent, into the arms of beast who becomes Prince Charming in the end—the Disney Renaissance films are nothing if not identical, which is one reason why the South Park film parody was so funny.)
Mary Poppins: Only semi-animated, but I just throw this one in to point out another world of absent parents and divine female intervention.

So, as often as not, evil in the Disney universe is personified by a female. The critical literature tends to highlight this over most other aspects of the works. Personally I think they’re reading too much into it (duh!), because all children’s literature plays with the absolutely prime idea of child/parent relationship. A child is totally reliant on parents, so stories with no parents or evil parents play on the core of what children are interested in, even if only subconsciously. You will have to work to list classic children’s literature featuring fully “functional” traditional families. That the mother (or mother surrogate) is the evil one simply fits into the model discussed yesterday of the perfect family, with the father out working and the mother at home raising the family. The storyteller has more of a field day with the mother gone bad because the mother is a more key figure in the existing family circle. Dad is out all day hunting or accounting or whatever, and is already a tangential figure to the child. Mom, on the other hand, is omnipresent. Make mom evil, and you have omnipresent evil. What more could a storyteller want?

So I’m reluctant to accept that the evil women in Disney are representative of an anti-female sentiment and thus worthy of much feminist interest. They are more of a storytelling device used in all the comparable literature or fairytales and children’s books. Disney simply played with the same material in roughly the same way. No surprise there. The idea of the divine female intervention is not particularly interesting either in a feminist sense, although I’m surprised to see so much of it. Some are elderly, and there’s a bit of Joseph Campbell in that: in male stories, we have the Gandalfs. In female stories, we have the Fairy Godmother. Both are surrogates, the wise old grandparent (and for that matter, in much children’s storytelling we literally have the wise old grandparent), and we have one sex or another simply because our hero is a boy or a girl, and boys have boy old-timers and girls have girl old-timers mostly for convenience’s sake. I wouldn’t bother exploring that too deeply. A sage is a sage is a sage.

Which leaves the redemption of the poor, helpless heroine falling into the arms of the masterful Prince Charming and living happily ever after. At least, that’s what the critical literature would have us believe. And more importantly, that was the gist of the material from the point of view of the baby boom feminists. And it was twofold, the poor, helpless heroine plus the resolution with Prince Charming. These two, in fact, are the underlying evil. Young women are, one, helpless and two, meaningless without husbands. Your classic Disney princesses do indeed fit this mold: Snow White (a little ditz who sings to the sparrows and is innocence personified), Cinderella (whose clothes are made either by mice and sparrows or a Fairy Godmother), and Sleeping Beauty (who, simply, sleeps through the whole enterprise). In the world of classic Disney, the classic Princesses are not female role models by any measure. In the world of Disney 2.0, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine are pointedly females of wherewithal. They have brains, spunk, character (although as an aside, the spunkiest female character of all time is Dorothy in the rather large library of Oz books; Baum should be a hero to feminists everywhere), as a clear response to the lack thereof in their predecessors. Presumably Jeffrey Katz gets credit for that one. And getting back to the underlying evil there are, secondly, all those Charming husbands, which haven’t really gone away (Ariel, Belle and Jasmine all get one) but are perhaps less objectionable than the characterless heroines. After all, your most avid feminist is not anti-male in that sense, i.e., the paradigm of feminism is not virulent anti-male lesbianism (although many anti-feminists have painted it as such). So it’s those blank-headed heroines that are the main problem, and not necessarily their husbands who were forced to attempt a happy life forever afterwards with some blank-headed bimbo.

And therein is the key to much anti-Disney sentiment among baby boomer feminists, the portrayal of heroines as good-looking blanks. Much talk was conducted about women not setting Prince Charming as their goal in life, but more importantly we are talking about women who were raised with, at least in this arena, a serious lack of role models, and who therefore revolted against one of the most obvious sources of that lack of role model, the Disney princess. To pretend to be a Disney princess, therefore, is to aspire to, as I’ve put it, ditzy, incompetent somnambulance. It was to design your life to be a good-looking blank, and to consider yourself to have failed if you weren’t good-looking or blank. Brains were frowned upon. Non-beauty was a non-starter. With this in mind, how will you raise your daughters?

Any wonder why I won’t be signing up for a character lunch with the Disney princesses at the Norwegian restaurant?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t quite get the concept of an all-female round robin. I consider myself a hell of a lot more feminist than the average bear, but not in the academic sense—not unsurprisingly to the VCA, I have not immersed myself in the latest critical literature on the subject—and I have to wonder what exactly the situation is that such an event is bringing to light. Are there teams out there that exclude girls? Granted that the percentage of girls in the activity is smaller than that of boys, but they succeed in accordance with their percentage. So is what we’re talking about a general feminist critique of society in general insofar as it acculturates fewer females into the debate milieu? If so, it’s pretty oblique, and the idea that there is feminist training at the RR is, shall we say, if not exactly preaching to the choir than at least attempting to convert the faithful. But I can draw no other conclusion that this general feminist critique is exactly the point.

So I’m extrapolating quite a bit here, and there may be some other rationale for this altogether. But it looks like me that it’s simply a statement of feminism against a broad-based entrenched antifeminism in society, as compared to prejudice against females in debate. I would love for someone to straighten me out on this, if I’ve gotten it wrong.

From my perspective (the oldest living person in the universe), the subject of feminism is an interesting one. I’m not going to outline the literature of the subject, aside from pointing out to the newly hatched that good old J. S. Mill (the Digressives shiver in their timbers!) was among those who dipped an oar into the water early on. You’ve probably read more on the subject that I have. But I have lived through various stages of feminism that have kept me very interested, because of the vast changes from one short era to the next. There’s a whole big mix of events and thought that have colluded to get us where we are today, and I’ve been a part of a lot of them.

So, absent the literature on the subject, let’s look at the narrative as it unfolded in the last few generations. (As a post-contemporary philosopher, the narrative matters to me more than anything. Read Caveman if you don’t believe me.)

Whatever the roles of women had been up to World War II, there is no question that those roles changed on the homefront in the ‘40s. Many of the young men were off fighting, and many of the women who stayed behind took on their jobs. Numbers notwithstanding, simply the image of Rosie the Riveter is arresting in comparison with earlier images of women in the popular imagination, which are demur or matronly or floozyish flapper but seldom if ever competent characters doing “men’s” work. Women were not accepted as equals in the realms of men. Women as professionals were a rare breed. The remnants of hunting/gathering society aren’t all that far off in a modern societal concept of men working, women tending the home. The industrial revolution brought women into the workforce, but in a second, subsidiary tier, as machines in the manufacturing cog. It was an aspiration of women to move on from those jobs into rearing families full-time (although economics weren’t always so sunny as to allow it). It was an aspiration of men to support their full-time wives. How often that happened notwithstanding, that was the ideal, the cultural paradigm.

The working homefront WWII women demonstrated the ability of women to do the jobs just as well as men would do them. Some of these jobs, in war-related manufacturing, were such that women were responsible for manufacturing the tools that protected fighters’ lives. Not only were women now obviously as capable of men of doing any job, they were capable of doing the most important jobs on which the war relied! From this, one would expect a major paradigm shift in the feminist dynamic when the war ended, but this is not what happened. Other factors trumped this real-life demonstration of feminist potential.

The return of the soldiers from the homefront meant that a lot of young men, after years of war, were back and hungry for their perceived cultural normality. They wanted and needed jobs, and they wanted and needed women. And society had not changed as much as some people might have thought. On the one hand, the women were pushed out of the jobs to make room for the men, and on the other hand, the women hooked up with the men and together they began creating families. There was also pent-up energy in the post-war economy and the Fifties boomed with more than just babies. For middle class white American, this was mostly a great time. The men had jobs, the women had babies, everyone moved to the suburbs and watched television. A pretty good deal in many ways, at least relating to the creature comforts of life.

The baby boomers who lived through these Fifties, who you would have thought would have been raised for lives of ease, ended up in lives of protest. Not every teenager in the Sixties was a hippie by any means, but for whatever reasons there truly was a meaningful generational gap between this group and their parents. Much of it was caused by the Vietnam war. The older generation had fought their war, but the younger generation wasn’t going to repeat the process. The older generation had known what they were fighting for; the younger generation couldn’t figure it out. So the younger generation became politicized in new ways, many of which were only tangentially related to Vietnam. Feminism was one of these new politicizations.

The feminism of the Sixties was truly political, based mostly on an idea that men and women should be treated as equals. In fact, much feminist belief went beyond the political, claiming that men and women were identical not only in their claim to rights but in their physiology (with one or two essential differences). This claim was made for every disenfranchised group, and if it was certainly a given in race it was also something of a given in sex as well. The belief in the core identicalness, if you will, of men and women was based not merely on the politics of the time but the sociology and, to a great extent, the science. You learned this in college. Men and women were the same. Therefore, they should have the same entitlements. It informed almost all of feminist thought at the time.

The growing political power of women, fed by new writers and thinkers and leaders, was flamed by the sheer numbers of new women arising from the baby boom and coming into their majority in the Seventies. The stay-at-home mom, which was not simply a theory but a reality for a vast number of boomers, was no longer a relevant model. Women entering the marketplace of the Seventies hit the political ground running. Equal rights. Equal pay. Equal everything.

There was always, of course, a vocal anti-feminist movement claiming that women were meant to be mothers and not CEOs, and that feminists were denying their womanhood. The image of the mother-woman was conflated with images of saintliness, while the image of the business-woman was conflated with unnaturalness. It was hard to understand this anti-feminist movement, rooted as it was in values that seemed meaningless to a lot of young people on the move. Because women had babies they should have smaller salaries for the same work? It was hard to find the logic in that at any level, unless you believed that women shouldn’t have salaries in the first place. That much of the anti-feminist movement was led by powerful women was an irony not unmarked at the time.

Time, and society, do not stand still. Nor do they move in what we like to call progress. Dialectics ensue, false steps are taken, giant steps backwards are taken…

Contemporary feminism is quite different from the first bloom of modern mass feminism in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Science has demonstrated ineluctably that men and women are seriously different in ways beyond the simple reproductive. The python’s dinner of the baby boomers moved along the digestive system from newly graduated power-hungry twenty-somethings to parents balancing all the responsibilities of life and family. Radical young people turned into conservative old people. Today, feminism is way more complex than either the women-in-the-home model or the women-in-power model. Women almost have financial parity with men, but not quite: there are plenty of women in positions of fiscal power, but not in proportion to their numbers. They almost have political parity with men, but not quite: there are plenty of women in positions of political power, but not in proportion to their numbers. In general, though, we do not any longer believe that women can’t do “men’s” work. No one seriously says Hillary should not be elected because she’s female; it’s because she’s Hillary that some folks are agin’ her. For that matter, no one seriously says that Obama should not be elected because he’s not white. Oh, sure, there are racists and anti-feminists out there—I’m not that naïve—but when I was a kid governors blocked black students from attending white schools by standing in the doorway barring their entrance, and the President of the United States had to call out the National Guard! I could be wrong on this, though. Maybe the fact that people are seriously saying that Mitt should not be elected because he’s Mormon are nothing more than pent-up hatred that’s too embarrassed to express itself in sexual or racial arenas, but somehow feels comfortable in a religious arena. I remember serious discussion about Lieberman’s Jewishness in ’04; would he need some sort of shabbas goy to run the country on the Sabbath?

In today’s world little girls are not identical to little boys (which would have been the expected world of the empowered ‘70s feminist). They are not raised the same way, or play with the same toys. Girls do girl things and boys do boy things, and for me to even write that sentence gives me the willies. To what extent are these sexually dimorphic things inherent, and to what extent are they socially imposed? This, ultimately, becomes the question we must ask, and must always ask. I think that, maybe, the world today is not afraid of women, nor does the world think they are simply inferior men. And women do very well for themselves in the (American) world at large, for the most part, although there is still some room for improvement. Or at least women do as well as men, and can’t blame society as a whole too much for their lack of success (as they very clearly could at other moments in our history). But at the point where society does distinguish between male and female in any way aside from reproductive (and even there, of course, there are arguments), we have to be very, very careful that the distinction is a correct one. I was formed to make no distinctions at all, which may not be the best position to hold. But at least it’s not a horrible position, and I would suggest that any position that distinguishes between male and female ought to be held to a standard that the distinction cannot in any way lessen the personal, political or social power of the people involved.

Which is why, I guess, I don’t understand Round Robins for girls. In my mind, girls=boys in debate. I don’t mean to suggest that I feel that it’s wrong to have such an event, but I just don’t get it. As I said, I would love for someone to set me straight, especially in light of what I’ve said above.