Monday, January 30, 2017


(An Intimate Geography)
-by natalie angier
This book is taunted on the back cover as the shakespeare to the "Our Bodies, Ourselves" bible...and i can't conjure a more apt or compelling comparison. Does it feel so enormous because the subject matter is so under-researched? A bit...but angier, a pulitzer prize-winning science writer for The New York Times, brings fierce insight and flowing style to her subject. She is eminently humble regarding all we don't yet know about female anatomy and psychology, and appropriately incensed that so much of our ignorance is simply because (as in all matters of societal focus or funding), women are still largely what they've always been - an afterthought. She reveals reams of data, hazards guesses that employ more restraint than i might manifest, and you quickly come to feel that her compass is as well-pointed as any you'll find.
She offers chapters on the egg, genetics, gender stereotyping, the clitoris, the uterus, the breast, the ovary, milk, hormones, estrogen, testosterone, aggression, love, physical strength, and menopause. She investigates why human women seem to be the only menopausal animal on the planet, and rattles the cage of the possibly-criminal epidemic of doctor-persuaded hysterectomies. She offers a brilliant final chapter on evolution/adaptability (with a mind-blowing study on how aggressive monkeys raised by a more conciliatory species become peacenik paragons). She gives a biting rebuttal to all those (including some prominent women) who suggest that feminism's work is done, exposing all the double standards that still pervade our media and mythologies. Her tour de force is chapter 18, which deconstructs and demolishes evolutionary psychology (women are natural nesters who seek quality over quantity, and men indiscriminate seed-spreaders), replacing it with a picture of a highly-adaptive species who employ a sophisticated network of strategies in response to the ever-shifting sands of culture.
Superlatives very nearly fail me. An amazing piece of work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

george michael

"I'd service the community...but i already have"
When all is said (and too soon done), was george the most honest pop star since john lennon?*
On the surface, it seems a contradictory claim, as he spent the early part of his career "in the closet", and playing the fame game to the hilt. But really, he was never THAT far in the closet, and he came out with unapologetic aplomb...almost startling forthrightness in fact, yet couched in such musical shimmer that the message never weighed the material down. It was easy to see how chagrined he was knowing his bubblegum beginnings meant he might never shake the mantle of "lightweight", yet had he not gone chasing his tail, would he have burned so beautifully? At first, he distanced himself more than he ought - a great pop song is a great song, and only pretension cries otherwise, so he never needed apologize...but too, will probably never get full credit for his often stark self-revelations, like unmistakably admitting to plastic surgery in order to make it big ("Freedom '90"). Is there a more satisfying statement of personal growth and acceptance than "An Easier Affair"? A more joyous, artistically sublime response to "scandal" than the song (and video) "Outside"? A more winkingly in-your-face title than LADIES AND GENTLEMEN? At the very least, george channeled his personal life more nakedly than any rock star since the walrus. And the fact that he celebrated sexuality itself, above any label or preference, is perhaps his most enduring gift. In a world still chained by religious self-loathing, there are few messages so direly needed.
Nor was he simply about fucking...his romantic love-bonding essentials were unimpeachable.
It leaves one a little hollow to know that george was more or less on-target with "Through", his farewell to the music business and the last song on PATIENCE. Upon first hearing, it came off as indulgent self-pity...yet that was just the selfish desire to not lose him. He did have more artistic output to come, but never again would he release a studio album. Yet his subsequent brush with death ("White Light") apparently left him determined to do so much more with his musical life.
Will he ever get full credit for how fantastic a composer/arranger he became? Has there ever been an artist more consummately deft at both ballad and burner? How many more inventive or audacious video artists can you name? Did any artist ever sample classic songs more unobtrusively and perfectly? You may not have noticed how often he did that...which is exactly the point. And has any artist ever combined protest song and club music as well as "Shoot the Dog" (or even tried, for that matter)? Has any artist of any pigmentation ever released a more seamless, exquisite union of soul and funk than "Spinning the Wheel"?
Were there clunkers? Damn few (though "Monkey" has a distinctly refractory effect on my turgidity). And there was the occasional seeming contradiction, such as the monogamy ethos of "I Want Your Sex", contrasted with "Fastlove" or the one-fuck fantasy of "Freeek!" But i think it's possible to reconcile those messages (scientists call it "social monogamy"). Failing that, go with latter george over earlier. Given the persecutions and losses he faced, a tragic end or drug habit can hardly be surprising...but the same can be said for just about anyone, of course. In george's case, his journey from straight to bi to gay was played out, however little or much we realized it, right before our eyes, and something in that lent him an artistic strength and vision unique in pop history.
His first anthology is missing his final (and perhaps greatest) album, and 25 is too inclusive. So here then, a humble suggestion for the posthumous collection almost certain to be released.
Thank you, george. In a lost world, you nudged us a little closer to sanity.
Freedom! '90
Careless Whisper
Everything She Wants (radio edit)
The Edge of Heaven
I Knew You Were Waiting (with aretha franklin)
Praying for Time
Spinning the Wheel
Star People '97
Shoot the Dog
American Angel
Please Send Me Someone (Anselmo's Song)
White Light
I Want Your Sex (parts 1-3)

Freedom '90
Shoot the Dog
Flawless (Go to the City)

*Okay, we'll call it a shared title with randy newman.
**The least overtly brilliant, but no other so perfectly captures the man and his message.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"The Seventeen Solutions"

-by ralph nader
Who is this conservative fusspot? Who is this ralph nader?
Oh, wait. He's not a conservative. He's the progressive, socialist civic idealist at the forefront of the attempt to establish a viable third party in the american political system, in the hopes that the actual democracies of the world will stop laughing at us (though admittedly, there's nothing funny about american foreign policy).
But i hope i won't be faulted for pointing out that nader sometimes sounds like a conservative. He's a defender of the two-parent family paradigm, which i promise you is NOT forward-thinking, and he's far less of a global citizen than an "imagine no countries" hippie like me might prefer. If he can be called a conservative, it harks back to a time (goldwater?) when republicans were genuine fiscal conservatives. But yes, his socialist credentials are otherwise strong...even though he doesn't lead with them. The most he offers in that direction is an unguarded admiration for european democracies, with their health care, child care, and tuition treated as basic human rights, not luxuries. European democracies also provide their citizens better pay and benefits all around.
For better or worse however, ralph is a reformer, not a revolutionary. He's an ardent fan of the constitution, and believes that the democratic mandate of our republic can be wrested back from the corporate/military/congressional pirates. He points out that eisenhower's original speech warning of the military-industrial complex included congress as the third member of that axis. Not wanting to alienate his associates, he thought better of it...but shouldn't have, as congress has become little more than a panting lapdog for big business (and for the president as well, as congress has rolled over for both bush and obama, in abrogating their prerogative as the only body who may declare war - they've also allowed the executive branch to trample the rights of citizen privacy).
Nader presents solutions to get this country back on track, and in and of themselves, they're pretty comprehensively inarguable. His most resonant attacks are on corporate welfare, corporate tax evasion, and corporate crime. He outs the idiocy of those who complain about the "welfare problem", as personified by single mothers and people of color. A true understanding of the numbers shows that civic welfare is literally a drop in the bucket of corporate welfare (and that more white people are on the dole than colored, i might add). Similarly, those who think we need to get "tough on crime" tend not to realize the economic bucket-drop that personal crime is compared to corporate crime.
Nader also makes some searingly salient points about the salutary effects that comprehensive congressional reform would accomplish...give them no job benefits not available to all americans, take away their golden parachutes, reduce their salaries to minimum wage, and require their offspring to be on the front lines of any war this country declares.
Does he come perilously close to glamorizing crappy blue collar jobs? Yes, in the sense that he doesn't seem to realize that "crappy eight-hour blue collar job" is a redundancy. But the deeper fatal flaw of this book is that nader paints such a crystal-clear picture of how deeply we've been corrupted by the ruling class (a certain mr. gates, for example, being allowed to control as much wealth as the poorest 130 MILLION of us), that it comes off as preposterous to propose that anything short of revolution (peaceful or otherwise) might put this country in the hands of those who have allegedly owned it all along - the people.
This book is fantastic on two levels, then. In research and insight, nader gets high marks. But his optimism ultimately feels like a fantasy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"New Primal Scream" leftovers

I'm still coming to terms with how enamored i've been with dr. janov's book:
The parallels between primal and scientology alone (repressed memories = engrams, a homosexuality "cure") are enough to make one shudder. But perhaps that knee-jerk reflex is reflective of how hard it can be to be 100% objective about anything...we often rush headlong to throw the babies out with the bathwater, but what if scientology (for example) is actually right about certain points? And conversely, is it too easy for me to want to reject the entire establishment psychiatric paradigm just because they're cripplingly, criminally off-target over the "naturalness" of monogamy? Perhaps the greatest challenge of objectivity is understanding that almost nothing is all right...or all wrong.
I think a fair take on primal therapy would allow that janov is perhaps absolutely correct in at least some of his premises, while certain conclusions and methodologies may be overreaching or flawed.
Or not.
And not that it means anything, but Tears for Fears have MUCH better songs than "Shout".

Friday, January 13, 2017

dear eglantine

Dear eglantine,
This is a letter i think will never be sent. There are too many imbalances and differences between us, for pure honesty to be wise (as it always ought be, but hardly ever is). I do, however, dream of reaching out and loving you in the most elemental, healing way (a healing that would have reciprocal effects for my own battered self)...knowing how imprudent that would be though, it might help me to share this letter with the universe, at least.
I think that we (humans) are all here to love each other. When someone comes to us saying "can you love me", our response shouldn't be negotiated, qualified, or quantified. It should simply be yes, tell me what you need.
In your fumbling, dysfunctional way you have asked me for love. For my friendship, as a rare person you regard as intelligent. And when your self-medicated tongue flows more freely, you speak (or almost speak) of looking to me for some of the physical love so clearly missing from your life. The other night when you drunk-called me, you spoke of what you do when your mother is give her a cuddle, because you know that's really all she's asking for. How could i not smile at how meanly you had treated me earlier that day? Were you intentionally speaking in allegory? The night you showed up drunk at my door, admiring my muscles...and that day you walked in on me in the shower, i found that pretty sexy...despite our myriad differences and my middling attraction, i do dream of giving you the carnal healings you need. I wonder whether i've EVER met a human who so obviously needed that...and that, dear friend, is saying something.
Of course, the pachyderm in all this potential ointment is the fact that your personality is so stressful and wearying that i can only take you in small doses. Your bossy, bristly, superstitious, dogmatic, interruptive personality wears me down. If i say that you are insane, please understand that i mean we are all's just that most cover it up a lot better. I'm pretty sure you're self-aware of at least some of this. I'm not sure whether that makes it less tragic, or more.
As lovers or friends in any conventional sense, we would be a howling disaster. So a part of me will always dream of the unconventional...or of even just giving you the occasional cuddle.
There is a rip in my spirit (and shame for my species), where helping to give you the uninhibited healing you need, should be.
your foolish friend,