Summersongs: Frente!

31 08 2014

How did I hear of Frente? I have no idea.

I didn’t have cable so I wouldn’t have seen them on MTV (if they were on MTV), and I mostly listened to MPR when I lived in Minneapolis, so I doubt radio was the source.

I can think of two possibilities: a music review in either City Pages or the Twin Cities Reader, or it was playing at the Electric Fetus.

Anyway, “Accidentally Kelly Street” is pure confection, a state I associate with summer:

This is not wholly complimentary, insofar as I’m a more tang/salt than sweet kinda gal, and, of course, I don’t like summer.

Still, if one is in the right—which is to say, light—mood, it can be kind of charming.

Not all of the songs on Marvin the Album are as, well, twee, as this one, but Angie Hart’s high and breathy voice makes even political songs like “Cuscatlan” sound like bouncy summer fun:

Now, I’m not unalterably opposed to twee—I do own a coupla’ Belle & Sebastien cds, after all—but I can only listen to so much before it’s helium “hi! hi! hi!” attitude grates.

Still, in the summer, a song or two of helium-hi’s aren’t all bad.





Turn and face the strange

26 08 2014

I knew that birthday call to my sister would last awhile—it always lasts awhile—but I didn’t think it would go on that long.

This, by the way, is my excuse for not posting last night

~~~

Classes begin on Thursday. I am, as ever, looking forward to it.

I recycle a lot of material from semester to semester—if it works well, why change it?—but I periodically amend or even overhaul courses: maybe it works well, but I’m bored, or maybe it doesn’t work so well.

The politics & culture course got revamped (due to boredom) last year, and while it worked okay, it just never came together the way I wanted it to. So for this semester I fiddled a bit with the first third, left the last third alone, and redid the middle third.

I’d been using Charles Taylor’s edited volume Multiculturalism to get at, well, issues of multiculturalism, but the argument of he and his interlocutors was pitched a bit, ehhh, not high, but not in the direction that was most fruitful. So I tossed Chuck and added some online readings, readings which come to the pointy-point much more quickly than Chas and his gang.

(If you’ve ever read Taylor you know exactly what I’m talking about. He’s smart and his stuff is worth reading, but good lord the man won’t use 10 words when a hundred will do.)

Anyway, I think it’s a good bet that the students will be more engaged by Ta-Nehisi Coates (among others) than academics speaking academically.

As for the bioethics, that’s pretty damned well set. I did add some short bits on gene therapy and epigenetics, but otherwise it’s the same. I did dig out for my lectures some more recent stuff on genetics and stem cells and, later in the semester, will on ART issues, mostly to make sure I’m not giving my students out-of-date or, even worse, wrong information.

The lectures on the science are, as I repeatedly warn the students, ur-basic and no substitute for the real thing; still, while I’m willing to simplify, I don’t want to mislead.

The good news is that it doesn’t look as if anything I have been teaching has been wrong.

~~~

I’m watching Criminal Minds on Netflix and it is, of course, terrible.

Yes, I have new shows in my queue and I do watch them (The Fall, Bletchley Circle), but I’ve gotten so televisionally-lazy that more often than not I prefer comfort and predictability over innovation , or even just the mostly-unwatched.

This is a failing, as I often do like something new, (Leverage! Yay, Leverage!), but if I’m in any kind of mood at all, I’ma gonna click on a link that takes me to a place I’ve been before.

As with Criminal Minds. I watched the first season or two on t.v., when I had a t.v., and this past year I’ve been watching the current season on CBS.

Well, okay, not wholly watching: I am over watching psychos torture their vics, so I zip through those portions. And the show has gotten more savage over the years, stretching out the screen-time given to crimes; in the early seasons, these are more glimpses than extended scenes.

And it’s not as if I particularly like any of the characters on the show. I don’t hate them, but, as with NCIS, they range from boring to annoying to eye-roll-inducing.

So why watch? Goddess help me, it’s a fucking procedural and fucking procedurals are my televised comfort food. This fall I’ll probably end up watching both that NCIS New Orleans show and CSI Cyber or whatever the hell it’ll be called.

Jesus.

Yes, I should change my diet, but I’ll probably only go as far as occasionally adding something more intellectually nutritious, and will keep mowing down the junk in the meantime.





All things weird and wonderful, 44

24 08 2014

Oh, those wacky Bulgarians:

Oleg Popov/AP Photo

It seems Bulgarians have been treating Soviet war memorials in their country as a kind of palimpsest, albeit one in which the previous image is incorporated into the new one rather than erased.

The Russians are unamused.

I have some sympathy for the Russian position, not least because I am almost always moved by war memorials. A plaque, some names, dates: I stop, and read, and sigh. Some times I tear up.

And, of course, the Soviet sacrifice, both military and civilian, during World War II was immense, and Allied victory would not have been possible had the Soviets broken.

Still, I have to applaud the Bulgarians, here. They know the memorial matters—why else choose it for periodic makeovers?—and in so re-imagining it, re-mind us (or, at least, me) of the, ahem, absurdity of this human life.





Here I am again

18 08 2014

This is my first tattoo, from a couple of years ago:

003

It’s Sumerian cuneiform, the oldest known written language. It’s a way to mark what I’ve chosen.

It’s zi.

It’s life.





Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose

14 08 2014

There was another death, of course, one I didn’t so much skip over as decide to mull.

Robin Williams’s suicide, I mean.

I was a fan, I guess. His flights away from ordinary conversation at first made laugh, later made me uneasy, and thought some of his acting schticky, but when he was focused his characters could be, as with Parry in The Fisher King, almost unbearably human.

But as my fandom was mild, I didn’t have much to say.

And then I heard this:

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Those struggles now ended. He is, as his Genie character in “Aladdin” would have it, finally free.

BLOCK: Well, that idea – that suicide is freeing – has prompted a lot of concern in the mental health community. We heard from a number of our listeners about that. Among them Elizabeth Minne, she’s a licensed psychologist in Austin, Texas, and she joins me now. Thanks so much for being with us.

ELIZABETH MINNE: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And you wrote in to express your concern. You said, comments like this make my job difficult. Explain what you mean by that. How is it more difficult?

MINNE: I have found that comments like this can be interpreted by families and by individuals as a sign that they too can attain something positive by committing suicide.

BLOCK: Something positive meaning some sort of liberation from the pain that they’re in?

MINNE: Right. Some sense of freedom or view it as a positive way to find – or an appropriate way to find some sense of relief.

Minnie goes on to note that she tells her patients that “suicide is never an option for working through distress – that there is always a way for us to get to a better place.”

Most of the commenters were, shall we say, unimpressed, calling out Minnie’s credentials, expertise, and even motivation—one accused her of wanting to keep her patients alive just to make a buck off of them—and generally decrying her inability to see how awful depression could be.

Her words pricked my ears, certainly, and had I heard something similar when I was in the midst of my own self-destructiveness, I would have lit my own torch against her: Of course I have the right to kill myself! Of course I can free myself of all of this terribleness!

But I’ll give Minnie half a break: she is a psychotherapist who works with greatly distressed people, so if she’s going to be of any help to them she has to carry the hope that they lost. She has to believe they can get through until they can believe it themselves.

I’ve spoken enough about this before to say simply that that mattered to me, even if I wasn’t at the time wholly conscious that and how it mattered.

But it also helps to acknowledge that suicide is, in fact, an option, and that suffering in life can be so great that wanting to shed that suffering by shedding life makes sense.

It’s about recognition: just as telling someone that they can get through is a way to see that person when she, perhaps, can’t see herself, noting that suicide is on the table is a way to see, to allow one to see, her suffering.

You don’t have to agree with it or like it or encourage it, but if you know you can’t save someone else—and therapists damned well better know they can’t save someone—then maybe you have to accept that he can’t save himself. If his life is in his hands, then his life is in his hands.

Depression morphs one’s mind—I look back to old journal entries and think Who was the person?—but it’s not as if one is a less authentic self when depressed when not, that somehow all one has to do is to scrape off the weight of despair and one’s real life will pop back up.

I don’t know, maybe some patients want to hear that, want to hear of the elasticity of the self, and who knows, maybe for some it’s true.

But for some it’s not, for some the suffering has seeped in so deep that the only way to get rid of the suffering is to get rid of the self.

I don’t know how a therapist deals with a situation like that. I mean, I know that the two who worked hard with me kept working, but I don’t doubt that they knew the limits of that work. Do they see mental illness like other potentially fatal illness? that sometimes the surgery and the chemo and the therapy don’t take? Or is that fact that there’s no hospice care for depression mean that the limits themselves aren’t understood?

In any case, my life was in my hands, and only when I finally, finally, figured that out for myself—only when I knew that death and life were both options—was I able to sigh, Okay.

It could have gone the other way, of course, and that sighed Okay could have been my last word. But I don’t know that I could have closed my fist over life had I not also held death in my hands. I had to hold them both before I could let one of them go.

I am sorry for Robin Williams’s family that he let go of life, and I’m sorry for him for the suffering that led to that letting go.

Okay.





This is not America/Ain’t that America

13 08 2014

Or should it be the Nick Cave song: “One more man gone” ?

The police kill an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, then try to lock down the town.

Ryan J. Reilly, HuffPo

Reilly and another reporter, Wesley Moore (of the Washington Post), were arrested for not vacating a McDonalds; they were later released.

So many others have so much more, and better, to say. I’ll note simply the insanity of militarizing the police in order to protect the police.

As if, in a polity, the police aren’t there to protect the citizens. As if we were a police state, where the point of the police is to protect the police. As if. . . .

In any case, #Ferguson gives the latest; Greg Howard goes long.

Whitney Curtis/NY Times

This is us.





Free free, set them free

12 08 2014

People break.

We break because of who we are and what we are and the things we do and the things done to us, intentionally, unintentionally, and no matter how hard we do and don’t try to break.

I’ve gone over this before, so I won’t belabor the point: any politics worth its salt has to take account of how humans are, and how humans are is fragile.

We’re not just that, of course—we’re also jerks! and brave and beautiful and inconstant and mean and weird weird weird—but our fragility is a basic part of our condition as humans, and no amount of bluffing or, so far, technology, can undo the fact that we are and will be undone.

So even if a libertarian moment has arrived (I have my doubts), I gotta wonder where it’s gonna go from here—“acerbic sideline critics”, after all, don’t usually perform center stage.

More to the point, libertarianism seeks a clean line through politics, government and society; however admirable such cleanness may be, that line can only, like us, break down when dealing with the inevitable messes of human life.








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