Friday, January 10, 2003

Here's an interesting post I found responding to some of my thoughts about religion, since we're sort of on the topic.
I can see Jesse's already angling for the 2003 Koufax award for funniest post.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

I'm upset that I'm going to upstate New York tomorrow night and I have to miss this; it would be fun:

Tomorrow night at 8pm ET the Donahue show will be live from New York City. Phil Donahue will be taking on a panel of conservative women as they discuss news of the week and women's issues. Please let me know if any members of your organization would like to attend as an audience member. (Please note: it's important to contact me with names off ALL who want to attend as seating is limited.)
This is getting a little absurd. No, it was a little absurd a long time ago. Now it's really absurd. I understand why Long Story, Short Pier (another great blog, by the way. So many smart people!) said we shouldn't feed the trolls. I was a newbie blogger; I didn't know. Maybe I should just be ignoring this. But heck, I'm going to write one more sorta silly, sorta serious open letter.

Dear Mr. Shapiro,

I see you have a post up about my desire to sleep with a woman as a man, and you're now positing that I am specifically representative of the decline of womanhood. I have never been accused of being representative of the decline of womanhood before. I'm not sure how to respond, but I'm going to.

I'd like to start off by saying I never dreamed I would attract so much attention to myself by writing you a letter; it didn't occur to me that anyone would care. I don't really know how to be a blogger or if I want to be a blogger. My blog will probably be retired or at least go on sabbatical (and if I come back I think I'd like to go all the way anonymous) when I go to Europe in March, so the whole thing is really just a little experiment. I didn't really intend for my blog to be political in focus; I admitted early on that I don't think I can speak authoritatively on anything, except maybe The Crying of Lot 49. (That's a book by Thomas Pynchon; it's one of my favorites. It's very short and very dense, and I read it four times in succession in college, read lots of criticism and all the annotations, and then I wrote a 36-page paper on it, which is nearly a third of the length of the book. I got to the point where I knew that book so well that you could basically pick a sentence and I could tell you its symbolic import and how it related to other themes and metaphors in the book, according to me, of course. That's the closest I've ever come to being an authority on anything.) I mostly wanted to write about my personal life so my friends could keep up with my doings.

I am a naturally sexually frank person. I always have been, even before I'd ever kissed anyone. So in my blog I write about my sex life, or since I'm not dating anyone, my thoughts about sex. I'd been thinking about politics lately, so a lot of politics seeped in. But even if I'd been intending only to write about politics, I probably would have written about my personal life, too, because I think my personal experiences inform my politics, as they do for everyone. If
someone asked me to write a New York Times editorial, I probably wouldn't mention yesterday's lunch date, but since the blog format adapts to everyone's idiosyncrasies, my confessional nature creeps in, or rather, splashes itself all over. I didn't think when I wrote that bit about Boys Don't Cry (Great movie! Have you seen it? It's all about the violence wreaked by threatened masculinity. It's very, very sad. I cried quite hard at the end) and tying my hair back, binding my breasts, and having sex with a woman with a strap-on that 2000 people would wind up seeing it, at least not so soon. (If you don't know what a strap-on is, they make roughly penis-shaped implements that women(and men, including straight men) can use either by themselves or with a partner. They're usually called dildos, but if you use a harness so you don't have to use your hands as much, that's a strap-on. I really don't like the term "dildo" (for some reason I always think: "The dildo ate my baby!"- that's a reference to the Meryl Streep movie A Cry in the Dark), so I often use "strap-on" as a generic word.) I'm not upset; there's nothing different, really, about 2000 people seeing it than 20 people seeing it, and I was okay with that. I chose to publish it in a public forum. All I'm trying to say is that all of this caught me a little off guard.

I certainly did not start blogging to make any enemies. I have no use for enemies. I like to think of myself as a pretty nice person who thinks hard about the way she interacts with people in the world and tries to do the best she can by others. Just because I'm interacting over the internet doesn't mean the people I'm talking to aren't real. Any spark of anger I once felt has now faded, and I mostly think our interaction has just been a little ridiculous, so, in the interest of maintaining my integrity:

I'm sorry I called you a blight on humanity (not in my letter, on my blog, but you may have seen it). This was unjustified. For all I know you're good to your parents and you volunteer at a homeless shelter.

I'm sorry I made up funny names for you like "Young Master Shapiro" and "Benny Boy." I never actually called you "The Virgin Ben," so I won't apologize for that.

I'm sorry I called you a prick while saying I was not going to call you a prick. It isn't nice to refer to people with the synecdoche of their reproductive organ. I prefer not to be called "pussy," "cunt," "twat,"
"coochi," "poon tang," “box,” "beaver," "slot," "slit," "slash," "fur pie," "muff," "fish taco," "bearded clam," "honeypot," "glory hole," "tunnel of love," "castle gates" or "pencil sharpener." I hereby promise not to call you "prick," "dick," "dickhead," "pencildick," "cock," “tool,” "phallus," "rod," "root," “dong,” “johnson,” “willie,” "bone," "carrot," "radish," "one eyed trouser snake," or "purple helmeted yogurt slinger."

I can't apologize for calling you a sexist; that has been too amply demonstrated.

You'll notice on my blog I suggested something along these lines for your apology to me and womankind:

It is evident that I offended some people in the blogosphere with my remarks on modern womanhood. I don’t believe that all women (or even a majority of women) are whores, but I can see how my comments conveyed disrespect. I hold women in as high esteem as I hold all of humankind. I apologize for giving any other impression.

If you cannot see your way to an apology of any sort, then there's nothing I can do about that.

I'd like to now address some of the substantive issues raised by our correspondence: your Orthodox Judaism and my depravity. You are entitled to all of your views, but if you see your opinions and your stance toward the world (guardian of morality against sex role non-comformity and sexual depravity) as a natural and inevitable outgrowth of the precepts of Orthodox Judaism, I'd like to provide a counterexample to illustrate that it is not: my cousin Ari. I'm picking him because he's a little bit older than you, at a not dissimilar stage in life. Ari is a warm and generous person. He lives in Israel right now. He has a rock band. He told me he's on a mission to make Jews cool. Ari sometimes jokes around about sex, even though he's never, to my knowledge, had any (but I can't be sure). He has never treated me with anything but respect. I'm sure if he heard me talk about how I had thought about having sex with a woman with a strap-on, he'd be more fascinated than repulsed. He goes to bars and hangs out and even sometimes takes a drink or a puff of a cigarette or two, even once, I think, a joint (don't say that doesn't make him Orthodox; you just can't obey all of the rules all of the time, and you, in fact, have been neglecting your lashon harah). We danced at his sister's wedding. Yeah, there was mixed dancing. You see, his Orthodox sister was marrying a Reform man; the service was Orthodox and there was separate seating during the wedding. Part of the dancing was separate and part of it was mixed. They wanted everyone to be able to have a good time. It was a slight compromise of Orthodox rules in order to make everyone happy and comfortable. Once I was at his house for Sukkot, and being the irreligious person that I am, I didn't know that I was supposed to be silent in between washing my hands and the mitzvot over the bread and I asked a question. He answered it, because the most important thing to him was not his sense of righteousness, but showing respect for the other people around him. He wanted them to see his religion not as something that reproached them, but as something that could welcome and include them. I have never heard him condemn anyone else because they lived their life differently than he, or they didn't live up to his standard. There's a word for a person like that: mensch.

But on to me again. People who know me are going to find my new status on the web as the Whore of Babylon pretty darn amusing. As a matter of fact, I was recounting my latest exploits on the web to my ex-boyfriend, who I'm visiting this weekend before he goes off to Seattle and I go off to Europe, on the phone, and just as I was saying the words, "I wrote this thing on my blog about Boys Don't Cry and how I'd like to wear a strap-on and have sex with a woman," and my aunt and Susan's new roommate Leslie came in (I'm staying at my aunt's house right now, in the living room where Leslie is also sleeping, which is contributing to my inability to get any sleep) and was slightly shocked ("I never would have thought it about you") and very amused. She then proceeded (after I got off the phone) to launch into a soliloquy about all the threesomes she'd been involved in, including longish-term three way relationships, how the first person she'd ever given a blowjob in which she swallowed to was Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin (she tried to explain what her life was like and said "I don't know how much you know about the '70s or what it was like." "I've seen Almost Famous," I offered. "Exactly! That movie was about me. I was a groupie. I haven't seen the Banger Sisters, but I'm told the Goldie Hawn character in The Banger Sisters was cloned about me." Later in the night the subject of Cheech Marin came up and she said, "Oh he's another one I fucked."). I guess I'm bringing all of that up to illustrate that while Leslie is wilder than the average woman, I am actually more sexually conservative. I don't exactly present as a party girl, but rather as sort of bookish and thoughtful and shy, and it's always a little startling for people when they come across my vulgar side for the first time, but then when they get to know me it seems really natural. I have not exactly been around the block. Maybe to the corner and back. I've never kissed a girl. I was 18 before I kissed anyone, 20 before I had sex, which is much older than the national average of 16 for girls. Once I was at a party in college at which some people decided to revive the practice of Spin the Bottle. I found the whole notion of kissing someone regardless of gender, regardless of desire, just because the bottle pointed to that person sort of creepy (and an excellent way to make sure everyone who hadn't already been exposed got mono, in fact, since I did get mono after my first relationship I'm sure I would have gotten mono from that STB); it cheapened the idea of kissing as an expression of desire for a particular person, and even though drunk (which, I will explain because you've never experienced it, is a state in which your inhibitions are lowered), I knew I didn't want to participate, so I walked away. I experimented a little with casual hookups the summer before this past one, but I concluded they were not for me. I only am interested in
getting it on with someone I think there's romantic potential with; I'm only interested in sex (Clintonian definition) with someone I'm seriously committed to. I respect the decision to wait until marriage to have sex. Negotiating sexual relationships can be hard and painful, especially when you're a young and intemperate person who has a lot to learn who's trying to have relationships with other young and intemperate people who have a lot to learn. I still want to be sexually active, because sex can also be very joyful, and I think that joy is worth all the difficulty you go through to get it, and because relationships are so hard that I want practice before I get married so my marriage is more likely to succeed. I didn't grow up with a set of sexual values that was handed to me; I've had to feel out my own, and it's been hard, at times.

This is relevant to your criticism of me as "representative of the decline of modern womanhood," because it's interesting to note that it's not my actions that make me so offensive to you, but my thoughts. If thoughts get articulated, of course they are fair game for criticism. I criticized your thoughts about my gender. But my thoughts didn't express any hostility or contempt for any segment of humankind; they were just a fantasy. Let me tell you about something. When you're having sex with someone, and it's good, meaningful, connected sex, that, in my experience, is about the closest you can feel to another human being. But even when you feel that close to someone, at some level you're always aware that the other person is separate from you, that you'll never be able to occupy the same physical space or
experience the same sensations they do, and that's infinitely frustrating. That's eros for you. I think everyone experiences this frustration, although not everyone articulates it. One boy I dated once told me about a fantasy he had in which I was standing in a wide shallow tank of water and little golden fish and was kissing my friend Caroline, but he stepped in and took her place, lay me down in the water among the fish and lay on top of me on top of me, and slowly sank into me-his cells slipped in between mine. That's a desire to overcome the fundamental distance between two people that can't be overcome. When you're heterosexual, the person whose experience you want to
understand is a man. Most heterosexual men and women I've discussed the issue with (maybe glbt people feel this way too) are very curious about what it is the other gender experiences, what it feels like for a girl (or boy) in this world, to paraphrase Madonna. That's what I was expressing the desire for when I said I'd like to have sex with a woman as a man. I'd like to come as close as I could to feeling what it's like to be a man, because it's something I'll never be able to know. The desire to cross barriers, to escape the limits of our own understanding, and to see the world from the unreachable other side is fundamentally human. That's what someone dreams of when he looks at the stars and wants to know what the stars see when they look back. It's one reason why we build space ships and are so thrilled that
we can know what the world looks like from the moon; that's a barrier we can cross. I assume you think it's okay to want to be an astronaut. Why are my border-crossing fantasies so offensive? Because they're sexual? Why is sex so different from every other part of human experience that it deserves to be so strictly regulated? If I am a disgrace to womanhood because I want to know what it might be like to be a man, than The Little Mermaid was a disgrace to merkind because she wanted to know what it would like to be a human. If you condemn me, you have to condemn her, too. But maybe you'll be comfortable with that. I don't know if it's any consolation to you, but given my current sexual attitudes (they may change), it's unlikely that I
ever will enact that fantasy, since as I said, I'm only interested in sex with people I can be involved seriously with, and I have no desire to have a serious relationship with a woman. Of course, if I had plans to go slurp up some cunt juice at the next available opportunity, that would be fine too. Oh I know, you think that's vulgar. Women aren't supposed to be vulgar. But sometimes women are vulgar, and no one appointed you lord high commander of how women should and shouldn't act.

Finally, I'd like to address your defense of your remarks in light of the fact that there were women who took Eden up on his offer. I'm not surprised that there were. I don't think it's truly a comment on the decline of womanhood. Do you know what they call the oldest profession? Hint: it's not carpentry. It doesn't, however, change your original narrative: Here's an example of a man who wants to pay women for sex. No women are discussed in the story at all. Somehow this reflects badly on women. Not just the particular women (who in your original narrative didn't exist), but womanhood in general.

You are responsible for the story as you told it. I suspect that you hadn't bothered to find out what the response to his offer was when you wrote that blog post, and you just did a google search now in response to the little controversy.

In any case, the fact that there are women who did want to
to sleep with Eden for money doesn't mitigate a thing about your remarks. Even if you had mentioned all the women who flocked to his door, it still would have been sexist to say that womanhood had declined. In fact, it's the very definition of prejudice (sexism, racism, any kind of prejudice) to make a generalized, unsupported, assumption about the actions and nature of the many, even if that
assumption is based on the actions of a few. Even if he was deluged with offers, there are still 3 billion women in the world.

Some women are whores. It would be pretty foolish to deny this, although it's important to note that some women are whores because of poverty, drug addiction, or because they're forced into it. A few women are whores because they think it's good business and they're providing a service. A friend of mine was considering stripping as a way to make money. I didn't like the idea and thought it would be more disturbing to her than she thought it would be, but I wouldn't have condemned her for it. I'm not sure what I think about using your sexuality to get money. I don't do it. (Well, occasionally there are train conductors who think you're cute and spontaneously offer that
you don't have to pay your fare. When that happens I smile and say thanks. Nothing's being asked in return). I think there are lots of forms of it in our society, from streetwalkers to Britney Spears. I definitely think it's wrong to exploit other people, and there are women who do exploit men for their money. I've known some of them. I don't think they are moral people. But they're just not a comment on womanhood as a whole. No individual is. No small group of individuals is. The classic prejudice revealed in Freud's famous question "What do women want?" is the fallacy that there can be one thing that all women want. Women want a lot of different things. In fact, I even knew I was being disingenuous when I wrote to you that women don't want men who are misogynistic assholes, because some women are attracted to misogynistic assholes like Yogi Bear to a picnic basket. In Chaucer's The Wyf of Bath's Tale, when a knight rapes a peasant girl he appeals to Guinivere for clemency, Guinivere gives him a year to journey around the country to find out what women want, and the knight is endlessly frustrated by the variety of answers. Do you understand? Some women are whores. They are not a reflection on womanhood. Womanhood is a 3 billion member seething mass and it encompasses a lot of different kinds of people. So if you read an account of women who want to sleep with someone for money, you're welcome to your opinion that that's not moral. I'm not sure whether it is or not, but the judgment that it is not is not particularly sexist. You can condemn prostitution in all
its manifestations to the skies. But the fact that some women are whores will never be a sad comment on womanhood as a whole. Get it?

And speaking of womanhood, if an intelligent, compassionate, warm, open-minded, funny, moral, pretty, spirited woman like me is representative of its decline, than I would have loved to see Womanhood in its full flower, though I think I may have been struck blind on the spot by Her Power and Majesty.

Katie S________
representin' for the degraded state of modern woman since 1979

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Matthew Yglesias today responds to Jeanne D'Arc; they both agree on the power of religion for social change, as long as the moral imperative of religion is conceived as a challenge to the oppressive status quo, not merely a charitable amelioration of it.

Right now at work (honestly, I am not a slacker, this is apparently what I am supposed to be doing. No one gives me enough real work to do at this job); I am reading From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate, a book that, from the 40 odd pages I have read of it, I would say approaches the question of the detioration of the American family and the well-being of children from a religious (mostly Christian) feminist perspective, at least, that’s how I would describe it so far. I like it a lot. (I would be appropriately grateful for having a job at which I could sit around and read a good book--though sometimes there’s a certain satisfaction in feeling legitimately busy—if I hadn’t gotten literally no sleep last night. All I can think about is how nice it would be to crawl into bed.) The reason I’m bringing it up is that this book has reminded me of one useful way religion can enforce the status quo. This book treads the rhetorical line of discussing single parent families in just the right way, I think: it acknowledges that there is a body of research which demonstrates well that intact, two parent families are better for children than single parent households, even controlling for every other factor imaginable, and then acknowledges that single parent households will always exist, and we as a society should figure out how to help single parents bridge that gap and do the best for their children that we can. As someone who had the pleasure of living through (as in, being a resident of the household) not one, but two divorces, I feel comfortable testifying that divorce is bad for children and other living things. (I actually have much more vivid memories of my father and stepmother’s divorce than my father and mothers since I was 15 for the latter and seven for the former.) Further, having parents who hate each other creates terrible dynamics for children even when they’re 23 (growing up with “you’re like your mother” or “you’re like your father” frequently levied as an insult whenever you fight with your parents creates some identity confusion, to say the least). I think it’s important when faced with a good body of sociological (or other kind of evidence) to be open to what that evidence is telling you rather than maintain something else for political purposes in contradiction to any available facts. I think most people have done a good job with this regarding the single parenting debate—in spite of a liberal’s instinct to defend all types of families as equally valid, sometimes facts is facts. (I also once during college had occasion to read over a chapter in a book surveying the medical evidence for a physiological basis for homosexuality; it was overwhelming, but the other important characteristic of the evidence was that the physiological characteristics that made someone gay uniformly (or nearly so) made that person more similar to women—this gland is smaller in gay men, just the way it is in women; gay men are exposed to this hormone in utero, just like women, and so on. I remember reading this and thinking that there were some queer and gender theorists who would probably yawp very loudly about the notion that there were two gender categories, male and female, and people who were gay were more “female.” But it seemed supported by the medical data I had before me. Of course, human beings are unique (or nearly so) among animals in their ability to futz around with their sexual identity. But I think the whole discipline of gender studies could benefit from a desire to find out the truth about cats and dogs rather than to decide what it ought to be politically and then work from there. Okay, that was a detour. If I get furious comments about this parenthetical note I’ll have to try to dig out my paper on the subject from my old Mac CPU, which holds my entire college career, but for which I have no monitor or keyboard (long story)). Anyway, this book so far is making the argument that mainline Protestant churches in this country have been failing in their responsibility to step to the families’ aid and become the social supports they need to be. It speaks somewhat critically of the way Episcopalians (my demonination of Christianity on my mom’s side) and Presbyterians have moved toward a model of deinstitutionalized loving and just relationships, blurring distinctions between marriage, cohabitation, nonsexual relationships, and all sorts of other kinds of connections people can have, a new emphasis which, while perhaps admirable in some ways (combatting patriarchy, for example), is incomplete and ignores the needs of children. The book seems to endorse more the Catholic Church’s emphasis on institutional marriage, but it strongly criticizes the Catholic Church for its antifeminism and whole its general failure to think critically about the family structures it advocates. (I think it’s going to deal with lots of different religious institutions eventually. I’m sort of skipping around. And I haven’t slept.) But what struck me in (okay, rather tenuous) relation to Matthew Yglesias’s and Jeanne D’Arc’s posts is that in addition to recognizing the power of the church to recognize a moral imperative to a more just and equitable society, and then to organize people toward attaining that end, it’s important to recognize the power of religious institutions as a force for stability, and that social liberals/atheists (like me and Matthew Yglesias) might rebel against this at first, but then we should take a long hard look at the greater social good. One thing that struck me was an interview with a Catholic woman talking about how her marriage sacrement was an external reality to her, and how she would have divorced her husband many times but for the existence of that reality. I think we are sorely lacking in that external reality today. I do think that there are times when couples are not meant to be together, and need to part for the good of everyone, including children. My mother and my father were such a case. But if they had taken marriage as an external reality to begin with they might not have gotten married in such dumbass didn’t really know each other conceived a child the week of their wedding circumstances, which would have meant I would have never been born, but that doesn’t mean it was a good decision. On the other hand, I think it was probably a really bad decision of my father’s to divorce my stepmother; that marriage could have worked, and she was a woman of much higher character (who was raised Catholic) than his, uh, concurrent and subsequent love interest, whose entire relationship with him has been concurrent to a marriage she evidently is quite devoted to. And talk about family instability, he didn’t talk to his daughter for five years and still hasn’t seen her in that length of time. So to the extent that churches can maintain that marriage is important, and it is quite distinct from just, say, “living together,” I think that is a status quo (the men and women remaining married) that it ought to be encouraging. And I think there is a lot of evidence that would actually be a force for change—it would fight poverty and lack of education as much as Oscar Romero could. It has a lot of power to do it; the fact of the matter is that if there is no strong external tie, it’s really hard to stay married. I can’t imagine a long marriage that didn’t include at least a year of hating your spouse’s guts. Of course there are secular versions of these commitments, but the extra kick of God wants you to can’t hurt. And after all, “God” can mean a lot of different things; it ultimately can be whatever is the source of your own moral commitment to forming loving and lasting relationships with the people in your life, and passing on your love of life to your children. I also think that the strong incentive to working marriage that the “external reality” creates is one of the strongest arguments (there are no weak arguments, really) for gay marriage (and not calling it something different, as is advocated by a group of people that inexplicably includes my mother). It seems one of the meanest forms of discrimination for the government (which presides over civil unions), to deny this “external reality” to gay people. Sure they can have commitment ceremonies, and even call it marriage, and many of those marriages will be very successful, but they are losing out on part of the extra binding energy. It is equally mean of every church, mosque, and synagogue that will not marry gays, but as I am not a member of any of their congregations, I have no sway over them. I do get to vote, though.

p.s. I wanted to mention an interesting factoid from this book, per the affirmative action discussion: Family disruption lowers success in college even more and seems to do so independent of race. For example, the sons and daughters of single parent affluent blacks do more poorly in college than the children of intact black families with lower incomes. That comes from a metaanalysis of four studies of family dynamics, three of them longitudinal, my McLanahan and Sandefur, published in the book Growing Up.
Now on to much more serious topics. I am disturbed to see that in spite of my strong stance against the goatee, one Goblin Queen reader is still growing one. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the goatee is a travesty of facial hair. If you’re young, it makes you look like a hipster doofus. If you’re old, it makes you look like you’re trying to be young, worse, like you’re trying to be a young hipster doofus. I know I risk sounding like a hypocrite since I’m being dogmatically prescriptive about the way the other gender should present itself, but my opposition to the goatee is too great to let this dissuade me. If any of you fellas out there want to announce your passionate opposition to that thing the girls in Los Banos Junior High School used to do with their hair--combing their bangs straight up as much as four inches above their hairline, curling the ends forward, and then shellacking the whole megilla with AquaNet--go right ahead. If you want facial hair, there’s a simple step: just grow two strips of hair connecting your sideburns and your goatee. Then you will have: a beard! Beards are sexy! Even on young men! In fact, even if the pure aesthetics of a beard weren’t better than those of a goatee, you get automatic points for not trying to grow the facial hair all the other hipster doofuses of your generation are growing. Beards are genuinely non-comformist! Radically traditional! Goatees are only non-conformist in the “everybody wants to be a non-comformist” sense.

I do have to admit, though, that last night I saw the television show Oz for the first time (and geez it was upsetting, both for the depiction of a woman raping multiple men, over and over, and for something terrible that happened at the end—this fabulous father who was trying to help his son (who was an inmate in the prison) regain a relationship with his own son and at the same time was working pro bono on the legal defense of another inmate in the prison who was the lover of his son, in spite of his extreme distaste for his son’s lover as a moral human being, winds up dying for all his amazingly selfless trouble—that’s what I get for watching HBO) and at the beginning of the show there was an attractive black actor who had a goatee, and it looked kind of good on him. I think black men often look better in goatees than people of every other race, so maybe if I were dictator of the world I would let them have them (maybe I do favor special priveleges for minorities), except, NO! he would look even better if he just grew that hair out to his sideburns (equity after all!).

p.s. I know that I'm not really dictator of the world and I can't make this happen, if you do persist in having a goatee, just know that Goblin Queen is looking at you and longing for two strips of hair.
From a guy at my job:

It's a long story, and it involves getting into the inanity that is my domestic partner's family, but the bottom line is: there are two adorable cats (young, but not kittens) that are going to the pound on Friday if we can't find them homes. If anyone knows of an interested family, please let me know. Thanks -- Bill

Want cats? Live near NYC or willing to pay for kitty transport? Lemme know; I'll put you in touch.

Update: as long as you're name's not Bill Frist, that is.
A blog I am going to delink: Andrew Sullivan, per this post.

Blogs I'm adding to my blogroll: Doxagora, The Volokh Conspiracy, and Tacitus. So many conservatives! I'm as fair and balanced as Fox News. Also Joe Conason (what was I thinking leaving him off?).

Speaking of not having people on your blogroll, The Corner will never, ever be on my blogroll. For why, see this post. If you have The Corner on your blogroll, I think you should consider whether it ought to be there. (I hope I am not being what I criticized just a few short hours ago, but when I was criticizing orthodoxies, I did not mean to suggest that there should not be a standard for how we talk about other human beings. Speculating gleefully that a mass murderer might not only be black, but gay, too (what an abundance of joys!), does not live up to that standard, in my opinion. If NRO offered an apology, or at least an explanation that convinced me they didn't mean it the way I thought they did, I would reconsider.)

I also want to say that the Watchful Babbler was exceedingly classy in the way he discussed Ben Shapiro (and linked to me. Linking to me is always classy). No protestations about how Young Master Shapiro did not represent conservatives or that he was discussed only by liberal sites, just an agreement that his comments were unacceptable and a suggestion that those few conservatives who did endorse him reconsider. We should all aspire to be so classy.
To my surprise, my aunt defended my date’s “crack dealer” comment. While I think that she has been quite bigoted toward Arabs, I really don’t think she’s bigoted toward blacks. She said that if she worked in this neighborhood (that is, the West Side of Midtown Manhattan, or Hell’s Kitchen) and she saw the same group of people hanging around with no apparent legitimate business in the same place every day, her first thought would probably be “pimps,” but “dealer” might not be far behind. (To blog readers who don’t live here, I might have given the impression that this neighborhood is a bit more spotless than it is. I’ve never knowingly witnessed a drug deal, but Caroline did once leave my house at three a.m. on a weeknight (I tried to get her to stay over) and see a pimp holding up a prostitute with a knife. She said it looked more like a nightly ritual than an actual holdup; the prostitute said she didn’t want to give the pimp any money, the pimp threatened her with a knife, and the prostitute kind of rolled her eyes as if she had been through this a million times before and gave him the money. Pimps suck.) I suppose my interpretation of my date’s assumptions would depend on whether the “big imposing black dudes” appeared to have an actual haircutting operation going on. Anyway, reflecting on my aunt’s perspective, I could kind of see what she meant. I told my aunt I still thought the comment reflected poorly on my date, because if you’re on a first date you should be on your best behavior. She disagreed, and said that you should be yourself so you both can figure out if you like each other. I still sort of disagree with my aunt; I think you should be yourself, but a version of yourself that makes the other person feel comfortable, and as soon as you start talking about race or anything similarly charged you should start thinking about how what comes out of your mouth is going to sound to the other person and measure your words a little. And when you’re measuring your words, you use the phrase “crack dealer” only to describe people whom you know to be crack dealers. I, in fact, have become through somewhat extensive practice astonishingly good at the first date ritual. I smile, I do my self-deprecating and ditzy in a non-stupid way shtick (that always reels ‘em in), I ask them lots of questions about themselves and listen attentively, all the while not being so quiet (this is me we’re talking about here) that I seem merely a passive receptacle, I keep the conversation going, even if I’m thinking horrible thoughts about them I don’t let it show (most of the time), even if I’m way smarter than them I don’t let it show (most of the time) and all of this means that it’s a very rare occasion when it isn’t clear to me that the person I’m on a first date with wants to sleep with me. Tragically, it’s around the three week into a dating relationship mark that my appeal starts to wane. I guess I can’t keep up the farce. Maybe that’s an argument for my aunt’s point of view, actually, and I should let them figure out sooner rather than later that they don’t like me. But then my romantic life would consist entirely of crushing blows to my ego, rather than consisting of crushing blows to my ego interrupted by intermittent slight ego boosts, as it does now.

Anyway, I brought this up because I wanted to discuss Two Things I Don’t Like About the Left. The first Thing I Don’t Like About the Left is that too many of us (myself included at times) are very, very quick to throw around terms like “racist” and “sexist” and all the other “–ists.” I do think Ben Shapiro is a sexist little prick, and I’m not going to take that back. A quick glance over his blog made me absolutely positive he deserved the name-calling. I think that any remark someone makes should be taken in the context of every remark that person makes (I was reluctant to call my date a racist because two hours spent with him wasn’t enough to give me the necessary context). For example, it felt pretty safe to call Trent Lott a racist because of everything else we knew about him, whereas if Carl Levin had said we wouldn’t have had so many problems if Strom Thurmond had been elected, it would be pretty goddamn weird and we’d say “hold on there, little doggy, just what do you think you mean by that?” but we might not call out the hounds quite so quickly. In any case, if Ben Shapiro wanted to prove to me that he was not a sexist little prick all he would have to do is say something on his blog along the lines of, “It is evident that I offended some people in the blogosphere with my remarks on modern womanhood. I don’t believe that all women (or even a majority of women) are whores, but I can see how my comments conveyed disrespect. I hold women in as high esteem as I hold all of humankind. I apologize for giving any other impression.” Then he would no longer be a sexist little prick. He would still be a prick in innumerable other ways, but not a sexist one.

In a lot of other cases people are really quick on the draw. I think Atrios might have held back a little before saying that Slate (and by implication, the author of the article, was racist. I think David E. had a lot of good points about that article (though I do wish he wouldn’t fisk. One of the big advantages the left-wing blogosphere has over the right-wing blogosphere is the lack of fisking. It’s kind of embarrassing that we have a blogger who fisks. And he’s smart; he doesn’t need to). It is fitting to question why a magazine is publishing contorted apologias for D.W. Griffiths. But since the author does at least try to make it clear that he thinks racism is bad, maybe we could all just keep our guns (which are loaded with our favorite accusation of prejudice) in our holsters and limit our rhetoric to “hold on there little doggy, just what do you think you mean by that?” Or even the way David E. addressed it was fine; he made his contempt for the argument of the article pretty clear, but he didn’t call anyone any names. Here’s another example that hits a bit closer to home and is a lot more idiotic than anything Atrios said. Check out comment number 1 in response to Atrios's citation of my post my post. I assume what anon was trying to say is that I was anti-Semitic in my response to Ben Shapiro (I can't think of anything else it's supposed to mean). If you read my post with any degree of care, this is pretty fucking stupid on its face. I’m perfectly clear that I constructed my hypothetical as an example of egregious anti-Semitism to try to make Young Master Shapiro understand what was wrong with what he said about women. A project for the seven-year-olds in the audience: stroll around my blog for a spell and figure out the irony of calling me anti-Semitic. Hint: I may occasionally be too hard on myself because I wear a size 10 in pants, but I have no issues with my heritage. But I don’t think anon is totally anomalous; this is a problem in the left-wing community. [Unless anon was really Ben Shapiro using guerrilla tactics—ed. I didn’t even think of that! Sort of like Sid Blumenthal—all those Jews think alike!] (If you are not an avid blog reader I apologize; this is an insufferably insidery joke about blogger Mickey Kaus.)

Why is it a problem? Because it inhibits the free flow of dialogue. It makes people paranoid about being taken the wrong way. “Racist” and “sexist” are powerful words and should be used judiciously when we are sure our targets deserve it. Instead, by using them with too much frequency, we’re creating a complex interconnecting system of orthodoxies. We’re liberal; we’re supposed to stand up to orthodoxy! Hell, we’re starting to sound like Benny Boy and his “Ultra OrthoBlog.” Did you notice what a persecution complex he has, and how he cries anti-Semitism the moment anyone says boo? ("They said 'Jew'! I heard them! That was definitely not a 'B'!") I understand why conservatives rebel against this orthodoxy, and I understand why they mock it. Let’s start rebelling more ourselves.

On to the second Thing I Don’t Like About the Left:

The reason I was moved to write the original post that sparked the small flurry of affirmative action controversy on my blog was that I read these lines of CalPundit’s and I found them overstated:

I simply don't understand how Bill Bennett can write 2,000 words about the mote of one white woman who can't get into her top choice of university while utterly ignoring the beam of racism that destroys millions of black lives to this day.

I stand by that. “Destroyed” and “millions” would both be fine on their own, but I don’t think in combination that’s a legitimate statement to make about American blacks today. Maybe I’m wrong; contradict me. So the other thing that frustrates me about the Left is that we have a depressing tendency when talking about serious, real problems in our society to get all apocalyptic and shit. Or perhaps I should say, in more measured terms, we have a tendency to be too bleak about the extent of the problem, to exaggerate about the degree to which the world is going to Hell. This is another characteristic we share with the Christian Right. It’s bad for several reasons. The first is that it diminishes our credibility when discussing the problem with people who are less inclined to take it seriously than we are. It reminds me of a discussion we had at work about the child care principles I talked about in this post. We decided “child care crisis” wasn’t useful language because even if there is a child care crisis, non-parents would look around and say, “What crisis? I don’t see any crisis.” If we describe the problem exactly as it is, we force the people who are less inclined to take it seriously to understand the problem’s scope, without the excuse that we are hysterics who are blowing everything out of proportion. It’s also a problem because it denies the import of the progress we’ve already made, and tons of that progress was due to the work we lefties did! We’re not giving ourselves credit. Even if we see some appalling sentiments in the comments section of Little Green Footballs, let’s be fair in recognizing that Bush did appeal for tolerance for Arabs and Muslims. If we do go to war in Iraq, I’m not sure whether that would suck or not, our government will not officially encourage us to sing, “We’re going to knock those Japs down on their Jap-a-knees!” (from the song “Goodbye, Mama, I’m off to Yokahoma"—the things I remember from 10th grade history). Even if the INS sometimes fucks up, even if there are still detainees in Guantanamo, so far we’re doing a little better than we did during WWII. Sometimes exaggerating the scope and severity of our problems leads to a sense of futility, and as an example, I am going to dredge up a bogeyditz from my archives: the non-voter. Bill Maher also shockingly said he didn't believe in voting, and it didn't sound to me like a joke, but judge for yourself. Further, blowing problems out of proportion can occasionally give lefties the aura of doom and gloom that is the source of the “conservatives have more fun” myth. (Though I’m sure they don’t.) And finally, while I think we should all be engaged in actively criticizing our government, and I’m grateful to all of those who can do it with far greater insight than I, occasionally our tendency to exaggerate what’s wrong with the world (and with our corner of it) prevents us from partaking of a little bit of good old fashioned patriotism. Patriotism should always be thoughtful, which unfortunately, it’s often not, but the most thoughtful person can find lots to admire about America. Maybe Sweden slightly edges us out on the U.N. standard of living index, and maybe the reason those Swedes are doing themselves in droves is not that they have great health care [wait, I mean doing themselves in in droves. But I thought "doing themselves in droves" was a felicitous accident, so I left it in], but corny as this may sound, we are the only nation in the world founded on an idea, that all men are created equal, and though in practice we don’t always live up to that idea, we’re constantly in battle, and we have the essential freedom to wage the war.

Thus ends my treatise on Two Things About the Left I Don’t Like.

p.s. I’ve been pretty appalled at my own laziness in blogging, and I think it’s showed in my spelling, my grammar, and my overall quality of writing. I tried to reform in this post. How’d I do?

p.p.s. I know Andrew Sullivan has a left-wing negativism watch. Does he also have a left-wing positivism watch? Do I get to be mentioned? Or do I not merit a citation since I was negative about the left?

p.p.p.s. I don't mean to suggest that all people on the left do the things I'm talking about or even that most of them do. I don't want to play into Andrew Sullivan's left-wing negativism bullshit (Andrew Sullivan has at times said essentially that the entire left wing defines itself negatively in opposition opposition to I don't know what. I'll look for the quote). Overall I like the left a lot better than the right, that's why I'm left-wing! They're just phenomena I sometimes observe.

p.p.p.p.s. I wrote this post between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the morning. I feel pretty miserable right now. I hate insomnia.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I changed the type on my blog, per these comments. Ampersand also thinks my format's ugly, and since he's the winner of the Koufax award for best design, I guess I ought to listen. I thought it was pleasingly dramatic, but somehow changing the font size has made it uglier to me, so perhaps I shall consider changing it.

I don't have to much time to blog today, but I just wanted to say, that while Matthew Yglesias is right that it's tempting only to see conversion therapies as a joke when in fact they are pretty dangerous, I found this prescription for how a father should make sure his son grows up straight really funny: "He can teach the toddler how to pound a wooden peg into a hole in a pegboard." And Johnny, that's just how you'll do it when you're a big man like me.

The author seems to be unaware that pegboards often come with lots of different kinds of holes.

All together now, in solidarity with the Williams of the world:

I'd give my bat and ball and glove
To have a doll that I could love!

Monday, January 06, 2003

So I have to reject someone (yesterday’s lunch date). He sent me an email yesterday (same day as lunch date) suggesting a romantic afternoon by the fire. I’m really not interested. I don’t know that his rather startling use of “crack dealer” as a generic substitute for “imposing black dude” was reflective of a deep-seated animus, but it was indicative of his larger cluelessness in every way that he presented himself. If you think you’d be embarrassed to have someone meet any of your friends, that’s a good indication that you shouldn’t date them. But I hate rejecting people. All it has to be is an email rejection, but I’m still dreading it. Maybe if I type the words here as a sort of a trial run, it won’t feel real, then all I’ll have to do for the real rejection is cut and paste and press send.

Hi Aaron,

Thanks for lunch yesterday. I had a nice time, but I don’t think there was a romantic spark. Good luck,


That’s okay, right?

Oh, it’s not this Aaron. That Aaron I did date briefly. By the way, if you’re a twentysomething single heterosexual female New Yorker, you might consider going to his meeting to chat him up. Unlike some people who’ve been without a significant other for a long time, there’s nothing whatsoever the matter with him, he just spends too much time alone to get out and meet women. But he’s attractive, he’s in good shape, he has a really nice voice, he’s very, very smart (and I wouldn’t say that lightly), he’s talented and very committed to his music (composing is his full-time job), and he’s really a mensch. Listen to this stunning interaction: once I was upset with how he had treated me in public. I wrote him an email telling him that I was upset about it and it was important that anyone I spent time with, whether romantically or not (this had happened on the day we broke up, or rather, he broke up with me), did not treat me that way. And he wrote me back and said, “You’re right; I don’t know why I acted that way; I’m sorry.” No “that’s not how I intended to act” or “here’s what you did that made me act that way,” just, “I’m sorry.” This is really unusual among his demographic: i.e., men in their early to mid-twenties. Maybe most men get a lot more mature and Aaron will stand out less as he gets older, but as someone who’s been in the trenches, let me tell you, right now he’s a catch. There are some things that are bad about him, but they're not that damning.
Here's a premise that I accepted in this post: colleges should consider race in admissions because colleges have an interest in a diverse student body; it improves the educational experience of all students, and diversity encompasses lots of elements, including race. So in addition to considering race, college admissions offices should look for rural and urban students, students who play lacrosse and students who play the trumpet. If you accept this premise, it would seem that schools like the one I attended should have an affirmative action program for conservatives, who, while not quite scarcer than hen's teeth, were still very underrepresented, much more so than were minorities. Maybe schools whose student body tends to be more conservative (Princeton?) should have the reverse program. Maybe there should also be an affirmative action program for underrepresented religions. I think the average atheist college student could stand to at least understand religion a little bit better before he gets all snotty and dismissive of it. As an atheist who is bizarrely sympathetic to organized religion, nothing makes me roll my eyes at another human being faster than hearing someone spout off about what a detriment religion is to humankind (or some variation thereof), without even understanding what he is condemning.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Do I get to be smarter than CalPundit now? It only took me two tries to figure out the secret of the ESP.

p.s. Even if I am better at divining ESP secrets, his blog is much better than mine, so we're even.

Update: Apparently I am exactly as smart as a nine-year-old!

So I idly looked up my site stats, and I saw that I had 98 visits today. My per day average is about 6, and some of that is me checking to see what I wrote. Naturally, my reponse was, what the fuck? Then I found out (click here, here and here). Apparently sending nasty letters to Ben Shapiro is what you have to do to get noticed in this town. I don't want to seem ungrateful, but I'm feeling a little shy. I don't know if I'm ready to be a real blogger. I just spent about 28 paragraphs saying I don't really know what I think about affirmative action. Sheesh, if lots of people start reading my blog I may even stop talking about the time my ex-boyfriend tied me up and stuff like that...
I was reading over my post about porn and wondering if I really do think that porn has no content and serves only as an inducement to orgasm. I think that may be some echo knocking around in my head of some Catherine McKinnon article I read at some time, and god knows I don't want to emulate her. In fact, a lot of ideas can be conveyed through porn, including the idea that violence towards women is acceptable, and that's the idea I'm objecting to. I think I still want to contend that there's no inherent right to commercially produced porn, but I should do that without saying there's no idea content.
If I were dictator of the world goatees would be illegal.
I removed the second Rittenhouse Review from my blogroll, and added Eve Tushnet, another conservative blogger I like! Which brings the total to two! (I'm sure there are more; I don't pretend to have surveyed the entire blogosphere.) I don't entirely understand how one determines what blogs should be on one's blogroll. Does one link people simply because they're notable, or because one truly admires their content? I'm thinking of delinking Andrew Sullivan, whom I included because he came to mind when making my initial list, on the grounds that I not only disagree with his content, I think he has a perennial habit of grossly misrepresenting the articles he discusses, to the extent that I am led to question either his sincerity or his intelligence. I once had an email exchange with him about his absurd failure to apprehend Harold Meyerson's meaning when Meyerson said, "In particular, Sept. 11 has made it more difficult for opponents of the administration's policy to argue that Iraq can be contained and deterred -- not because of the merits of the case, but because it is easy to make the containment argument look like the new-age version of Munich-like appeasement. And never mind that after 45 years of containment, the Soviet Union was appeased into collapse." Sullivan shockingly did not understand that Meyerson was being sarcastic when he said the USSR was appeased into collapse, that Meyerson's point was that containment is not appeasement--the containment policy employed against the Soviet Union drove it to collapse because the policy was tough. He was making fun of people like Sullivan who equate containment with appeasement. Sullivan took Meyerson literally and spent an entire column talking about how Reagan brought down the Soviet Union, responding to absolutely nothing that had been written by Meyerson. In my email exchange with him, he seemed so sincere in his defense of his point (though he was eventually reduced to maintaining that Meyerson's sentence was "unclear" (it wasn't), which seemed a bit of a retreat from declaring it a sentence so clearly offensive it merited an entire Salon column) that I started to wonder if I couldn't question his honesty, and I was then left with questioning his intelligence. Anyway, he does the same thing in his blog, most recently appearing to take Eric Alterman literally when he said, "The New York Times continues down the path laid down personally by crazed war-hawk Howell Raines to agitate for a war against Iraq. In this overhyped story, it offers the top-right column of page one to the administration’s phony prediction that the war Bush has decided to launch, without provocation or legal justification will cost only $60 billion or less in constant dollars than the 1991 Gulf War." In fairness to Sullivan, since all he did was give Alterman a "Begala Award," I can't be totally sure that he was serious either. But frankly, that's another element of his stock in trade: he often deals in insults that aren't even complete sentences, like Paul "Enron Advisory Board" Krugman. Since he's actually advancing no argument, he's very difficult to refute. All this is to say that despite being very notable, I don't find Andrew Sullivan to be a very good blogger. I think the habit of misrepresenting (whether intentionally or not) the things one discusses on one's blog ought to be a cardinal sin of blogging, or at the very least, if it's brought to the blogger's attention, the blogger ought to have the intellectual honesty to admit that he misunderstood the orignal piece, which Andrew Sullivan doesn't. Does that mean he shouldn't be on my blogroll? Another notable blogger: Mickey Kaus. I don't think he's as dishonest as Andrew Sullivan, but I really hate his blog. He has about two ideas that I can discern: Welfare reform=good and New York Times/Howell Raines/Paul Krugman=bad. He's extremely boring and repetitive. But he's notable. Should he be on my blogroll? Then I have to consider that I really have much higher standards for conservative blogs than I do for liberal ones, since I find some liberal blogs that are essentially just internet forums for people to get together and snicker at the other side entertaining, but I obviously wouldn't find the conservative analog to be worth a link. I guess in the end, it's my decision what to include on my blogroll. I guess the reason I want to figure out a convention to appeal to is that it was really only for convention's sake that I added a blogroll at all.