Monday, April 30, 2018

Ken Burns' The Vietnam War (War is Hell, part 1)

You probably know that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick created a 10-part documentary series on the Vietnam War that aired on PBS last September and October. I don't think I got around to watching it until November.

I found it very moving and interesting, and it's a big part of the impetus behind this "War is Hell" week. There was a lot of information there, but what shook me most profoundly was a brief moment in the introduction to the first episode, when the cameras start rolling back.

I suppose it was a good reminder just how many of those famous photos that everyone recognizes are from the Vietnam War era. I hadn't even known that so many of those moments were not just photographed, but filmed.

I took a photography seminar once. We spent a lot of time on settings, but then the instructor pointed out that most of your best shots will happen with the automatic settings because the moment just happens and you have to capture it without thinking. Yes, you can think ahead about what might happen and what might help you get a better shot of that, but there's a certain amount of chance, and you put those odds in your favor by always being ready to shoot.

That would have been true for the photo and film crews there.

One of the most disturbing shots for me was always Saigon Execution, taken by Eddie Adams. He wasn't sure what he had, but it ended up being a symbol of the ugliness of the war. To the people at home who saw it, it looked like a cold-blooded murder by one of our allies.

That is not how Adams saw it, and he always regretted the damage he did to the reputation of the shooter, Nguyen Ngoc Loan. By all accounts, the man shot - Nguyen Van Lem - had murdered many as well. The paper was careful to publish it with a picture of a child slain by the Viet Cong, but that image has not endured the same way.

I don't remember exactly when I first saw it, but I definitely didn't know anything about the context. I only saw the wince, which I interpreted as fear before the shot, not the pain after the fatal shot. I do remember wondering how you could take a picture of something horrible, instead of trying to stop it.

Given time and some seminars, I know that you shoot instinctively, not always knowing. I know that this is necessary, especially with journalistic photography. There are things that cannot be stopped but need to be documented. I know that sometimes you take the picture and help.

Nick Ut filmed the burned and terrified children running toward him, but he also took  Kim Phuc to the hospital. Though they thought her burns were severe enough that she could not survive, he visited her every week until he was evacuated. The last I knew, they still talk on the phone once a week.

That run was also filmed, and that was one of the images shown in reverse.

It plays terrible emotional trick. Here are these images that horrified you, and look, they are being rewound. The children are running backward to before the napalm hit. The crumpled body springs back up and the bullet returns to the gun so that Nguyen has not yet shot Nguyen. Protesters are not beaten, missiles do not fall. There was not footage of it, but I can imagine no one dying at Kent State.

Being given that glimpse of it doesn't make it real. You can't undo what has been done.

You can try and heal it, and hope to learn from it, but it can't be undone.

That is an excellent reason to think carefully before releasing Hell on earth.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Band Review: Punch Brothers

I added Punch Brothers to the review list because of Claire Coffee - Adelind on Grimm - because she is married to band member Chris Thile.

Punch Brothers are roots music, so at times you are reminded of country and folk without them ever being either. They definitely are old-timey, but their latest album, 2015's The Phosphorescent Blues, retains an interesting mix. I especially like the juxtaposition of a version of Debussy's "Passepied" with their "I Blew It Off".

I am nonetheless amazed at how much I hated their 2015 track "Sleek White Baby". I'm not sure if it is just a misfire, or a different product name would have worked better, but I strongly object to that song. For previous releases, try "Movement and Location" instead.

Punch Brothers are definitely a good fit for fans of roots music, and fans of bluegrass will probably enjoy as well.

You know who you are.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Band Review: Charles Esten

I don't love country music. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. Still, I am doing a week of country music for the daily songs, and it seemed like a good time to get to two of my reviews that have been in the queue for a long time. One of them was Charles Esten.

I still think of him as Chip. I knew him from Who's Line is it Anyway?, which led to me recognizing him in 13 Days and an episode of Married With Children, but I primarily knew him as an improviser. However, what opened the door to him getting invitations to Whose Line was a long run in a musical, and he can sing. I was glad when he got cast in Nashville, which seemed like a good thing for his career.

The show began airing in 2012. In 2016, having written several songs and trying to decide what to do about releasing them, Esten committed to releasing one new song #everysinglefriday for a year. He did it. I knew eventually I was going to want to check them out.

Charles Esten is a country singer.

I don't know if he has gotten a lot of push back on getting started as an actor, or performing songs on a show,  but he is undeniably an actual, accomplished country singer.

At one point I was reminded of an old Saturday Night Live sketch, "Who's More Grizzled?" (guest Robert Duvall by a landslide), but Esten does - as the songs call for them - sound grizzled and twangy and even whiskey-soaked.

It is not terrible, but it is still not my favorite. He seems happy, though, and he seems like a good person, so I am just going to be happy for him.

May he never lose his wife, job, truck, and dog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Are you still writing?

I'll tell one more story about something that happened when I left the house, and then I'll move on.

Of the many musicians that I admire, there is one who recognizes me. I saw him recently and it was great, and he asked me if I was still writing.

That is so much more complicated a question than it should be.

To be fair, he also asked how I was, and that is way more complicated than it should be too.

On top of an already difficult life, that hard drive crash really set me back. I was grateful to be able to get at least some traction with the laptop, and my friend's mother's old desktop is a huge help, though it does slow down a lot. I did get FinalDraft and Office back up and running (though it also has OpenOffice, and sometimes the differences are hard to tell and I have documents in both Word and WordStarter and maybe a third program too). Clearly I am blogging again.

I am not blogging as well. I used to draft posts in a Word document, and then copy them over. I should still be completely capable of proofreading regardless, but I spotted errors better in Word, so what I pasted into Blogger was better. I could create another Blog Draft document, but that doesn't feel right. It may be a sense that this computer is only temporary, but also there may be ways in which spending less time on the blogging helps when there are always so many things to do.

Getting FinalDraft reinstalled does not give me editable copies of my screenplays. I can download the PDFs from Amazon Studios and recreate them, but worse than that, Amazon Studios has stopped accepting open submissions. Granted, they never bought anything anyway, but that was the one place I had where it didn't matter that I don't have an agent and that no one knows who I am, and it's gone.

Frankly, from a financial point of view there is no evidence that me writing is productive, and honestly not a lot of evidence that a decline in my blogging quality makes much difference.

That all made the question resonate more: Are you still writing?

Should I be? Does it make any difference at all?

I didn't really have time to think about it then, but I kept coming back to that question, and is this the time to walk away?

And I can't.

It may be that the only reason I woke up less worn out today than I did yesterday was because I got in some productive journal writing. It is certain that writing my messy, oversharing blog posts even while busy and worried felt better than skipping them last week.

And I love my creative writing, even though the amount of money it has brought in has been negligible.

I am reading a lot of soldier stories now, and I find things in their writing where I see things I got right in things I have written.

I still like what I write. I still only feel good when I write.

No, I haven't been writing much. I should be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Seeing and being seen

I am aware that yesterday's post kind of wandered, and may have seemed disorganized. That will continue today.

Going out leading to being seen was a key component there, and that is going to play out in a different way today.

I went to see The Shape of Water a while back, and it led to two specific instances of being seen, though I am not sure that either of them means anything.

When I was in line to get my ticket, a man was walking toward me. He may have been homeless, but he also reminded me of someone who is frequently on my mind, though who absolutely was not in town right then. I was getting my wallet out and had cash in my hand, and I looked up and we made eye contact, and I think I nodded, I may have said "hi", and he returned the greeting and told me to enjoy the movie.

If he was in fact homeless, that could have been a very bitter thing - get your money and treat yourself while I don't get to do that. It could also have been dangerous, waving cash around after dark on a city sidewalk. But it wasn't any of that; we had good will for each other. It stayed with me, because it feels like there was some significance to it, but I don't know that there was anything else.

After the movie I glanced at the clock in the box office and saw that I was running about half an hour later than I thought I would be, which mattered because when my sister was going to show up at the train station was based on my guess. That bothered me, but there was nothing I could do about it so I just kept walking to catch the train.

At this point I should mention that the last movie I'd seen was Coco. It was excellent, but the aging parent with the fading memory slew me, and I was a wreck after seeing it. I decided after Coco that I just have an open wound, and I have to live with that. At the MAX platform after The Shape of Water I thought - ironically - that at least I was composed after seeing this movie. Then everything hit me.

This weight descended on me that my mother has dementia and I can't fix it and it makes things like getting to movies hard and I don't know at what rate it will get harder or how hard it will get before it is over, and the only way it ends is death - which is not comforting - and until then there are all of these money problems which I am not solving, that even the things that I thought would help aren't, that actually I am the loser who hasn't even been able to afford a phone payment so that even if I can't drive or maintain a car I could at least call the person who is coming to get me and give an accurate update of when I should be there instead of having them wait for half an hour because I got it wrong. Suddenly, I was crying again.

At this moment, I made eye contact with another guy waiting for the train. I know he saw me, his eyes acknowledged that he saw that I was crying, and I acknowledged that he saw it, but also turned away after that, because I didn't necessarily want to share it all with him.

It's not that I think he necessarily wanted that either. If he had asked me if I wanted to talk, I don't know that it would have mattered. The more upset I get the harder former words is. But there we were.

So those two incidents stood around the movie like book ends around the experience, and they may not relate to this last one, but maybe they do.

It did not happen in conjunction with a movie. I was getting groceries, and on my way out of the store I noticed a man resting at the blood pressure booth. He was not taking his blood pressure, but there was a chair there, and he needed it, and I couldn't just go past him.

I took out a $5 and said "You look tired," and gave it to him. He laughed a little,"I've been tired for a long time." I gave some kind of well wish. I don't even know. I know I immediately saw the person kind of monitoring the door and felt guilty, like maybe I drew attention to him.

Here's the thing: I know that part of his tiredness was weariness of not mattering and not being seen.

Five dollars is woefully inadequate for his needs, but that was the right amount because I can't afford to throw around twenties (which, realistically, are still inadequate) and ones would be not exactly insulting but still too paltry. Because the actual thing I was trying to give was a reminder that he mattered and he was seen, that will have a hard time standing up against all the other evidences against it. I improved a moment, but there are many moments ahead for both of us.

The other thing is that I could not stop thinking about it but I could not tell anyone about it until my sister confessed that she had sent a get well gift to someone we know who had been in an accident, and it felt stupid doing it because it wasn't someone we are close too, or something that will really help, or actually I don't know why we find so many reasons to be embarrassed about the kind things we do.

I mean, I know there is conditioning to keep your well-doing secret so that you don't get proud over it, and there is a lot of conditioning (especially for women) to only really be aware of your flaws because no one likes conceited people, so I get not blaring out every nice thing you do, but I know it doesn't need to feel so self-conscious.

My life is much harder because of the uncertainty that goes along with my primary issues, so maybe I am extra drawn to things that are concrete right now, but I am certain about this:

Caring about people is good. Seeing needs, and finding ways that you can contribute to those needs, and acting on them is good.

No we can't solve everything and yes we might do some things without the best of motivations - we remain messy, complicated beings.

But that complication becomes simpler when you can see that every other person out there is a person, and that they matter, and should have the means for happiness within reach.

No messes can be cleaned up until we start acting based on that.

Monday, April 23, 2018

All about me

Last week when I wrote that I wasn't going to write, I wrote more than I expected to. I realized that I probably didn't need a break from writing at all quite as much as I needed to pause writing about world issues (even if done in a really personal matter) and catch up with me personally.

Yes, I am still a mess. Yes, I will give more details.

But no, I am not only a mess.

Remember going back that after missing one karaoke night I was afraid to commit to attending another one, because it didn't feel like my life was really under my own control. I accepted the other one anyway.

That was good on multiple levels. I got out of the house, I sang, and I visited with people. One of the visits was especially important.

Generally I kind of dread people asking me for a status update because everything is so complicated and kind of horrible, but again with the "not only", it is not only horrible.

One friend asked, and he asked at the right moment, or in the right way, or somehow it worked out that I could also see the good in the situation. I could say that we were getting by. I could say that there have been good things about this.

That was affirming for me, and then he made it better. He told me to keep being me, and it would work out, and that felt good too.

There are family relationships that have improved throughout this. My faith has been reinforced throughout this. Impossible things have happened.

None of that means any of this is easy, and we are still recovering from the week that made me think maybe I needed to take a few days off of blogging. But we are still all here.

One important reminder through it was that I need to get out of the house.

It is tricky when there are only so many hours in a day. There are the things I need to do for my mother and my family and myself, and that doesn't leave a lot of extra time. I need time by myself to recharge, but I also need time with others. It doesn't all fit in at all, but I have to make an effort sometimes anyway, and make those connections. Those are the times I really feel seen, and remember my value, so it has to be done, even though it's not easy.

It's not like anything else is.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Band Review: Cam Bird

Cam Bird is a Melbourne hard rock band fronted by Cameron Bird, previously a metal artist with an emotional link to Metallica.

I mention that because it was interesting listening to this band - in which he is joined by Bobby Manilla on bass and Tyrone Georgiou on drums -  and hearing the influence of Metallica but without the music being metal.

As you can imagine, that metallic infusion into alternative rock also leads to some similarities with grunge, so fans of many 90s bands should enjoy Cam Bird the band. A key difference is that I hear no attempts at irony here. The music is emotional and earnestly trying for connection.

New music is coming out next month, but a good starting place now is probably "Rust" which seems to have resonated with a lot of listeners.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Band Review: Rebel Panic

When I started listening to Rebel Panic, the first thing I noticed was the sound recording quality. It may have only needed a better mix, but vocals sounded reedy and the whole ensemble sounded far away. Many bands deliberately choose muddy or fuzzy sounds, but this sounded unintentional and amateurish.

Looking into the band more, then there is the picture of what looks like three kids in a shabby living room, except that now everything seems geared toward just the one person. Then I saw the blog post where "drama" caused the other two members to leave, but it doesn't matter because the one who was left was the one who wrote all the songs and worked out the costumes. That still seemed kind of amateurish, and the spelling errors didn't help.

As it is, James Anarchy has another project now, Descending Superstar, so Rebel Panic may not even matter, but they are the band that followed me and ended up on my review list.

From what I can tell, James is not a bad guitarist. If that is him singing he is not even necessarily a bad singer, though he could probably use a little coaching.

However, the claims that the other members didn't really matter, combined with the quick move to something different, and even the name choices where there is no indication that either "Superstar" or "Anarchy" have been earned, all give me a sense of an immaturity that will get in the way of excellence. It's not that the problems are unworkable, but that I doubt the work will happen.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Worn down

I'm taking a blogging break, I think just for three days. (Four if I count yesterday on the Provident Living blog, but I intend to be back with a band review on Thursday.)

Mainly I am just really tired. Last week started with my sisters going on vacation and my brother and mother sick. It was just bad timing. I also spoke in church yesterday and did three sets of taxes, and over the week I cut out 92 angel dolls. Also, I found something out that makes me need to completely re-examine my hopes for generating some kind of income.

I don't deny that I could have paced myself better, or put some things off. As it is, I was afraid that I might be getting sick Friday. I think I am going to be okay, but am still in that zone that kind of feels like being underwater. 

Anyway, more later.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Concert Review: Senses Fail

I really liked Senses Fail.

I regret that I've only scratched the surface with them on listening, regardless of seeing them live, so this review will not be exhaustive.

I can say that the back-lighting for their show visually reminded me of those highly stylized police chases through the woods that Grimm became so fond of just as their plotting started going downhill. Fortunately, the concert's vibe was neither diminishing quality nor being pursued by a hostile force. Instead it felt very supportive.

Their music can convey a lot of angst, but the visiting between songs was warm-hearted and uplifting. You could feel good about spending time in their company.

I wish I could say something more definitive about the music. It feels logical to say that the newer albums are more mature and deeper, but I am reluctant to say that when some of the older tracks are so deep and emotionally affecting. I was particularly moved by "Yellow Angels".

I believe fans of Saves the Day would enjoy Senses Fail.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Concert Review: Reggie and the Full Effect

Every time I am reviewing Reggie and the Full Effect  it is tempting to just say "So good!". As accurate as that would be, it still isn't very enlightening, so let me try a little harder.

As it is, in retrospect I probably shouldn't have done the album review last month. At the time I wasn't sure if I could make it to the concert. I am still glad that I did an in-depth listening to the album, and glad that I saw the performance from the previous year (April 28th 2017 at Revolution Hall) that I did not review. This review will try and put them all together with the most recent show (March 27th 2018 at the Hawthorne Theater).

For both shows, James Dewees has been backed by members of Pentimento, one of the bands that toured with him in 2014 (that show was on Super Bowl Sunday at Branx).

The Revolution Hall set was practically perfect and everyone sounded great. I did mention that in the album review. What I didn't mention was at the time picking up on this sadness and wondering if it had been there all along and I had missed it, or if it was new. Then I remembered that his mother had died, and it was about at the anniversary of that. That and another death and a divorce all went into 41, which is a beautiful and a sad album.

(I don't think this is the article I remember reading, but it covers some of the same information:

 Given all of that going in, I didn't really know what to expect. I definitely didn't expect that they were going to open with "Guerrera". That was explained as a sound check problem where they needed to start with a song where they were all playing the same note, but what you get is a song that rocks pretty hard. Then the "F--- you aliens" refrain was dropped, I had to wonder if the song had been shortened, and if maybe things were getting faster and harder and more punk.

It did feel like there was more of an emphasis on guitar than synth than in previous shows but I can't swear to it. Historically there has always been plenty of strong guitar on Reggie albums.

Mainly, I was just impressed at how it could be so different and still so good. It's the same musicians, so it's not a lineup change that makes the difference. It probably helps that they have been working together for a while now, but they were great a year ago too.

I'm sure it helps that they are all into it. They might have seemed a bit more free this time, but I was also closer to the stage so I may have just noticed different things.

(Regardless, I swear Vincent Caito is the liveliest bass player ever.)

It's not like I don't know that music can be powerful, and that different types of music can stir us in different ways and that there is a wide range of how to be good.

I remain impressed at how many things James Dewees can do well, and that he can then make changes and adjustments and only make them better. I remain impressed at the beauty he can take out of a horrible year.

And all of those words basically come down to "So good!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Toppling the "great man"

Reading about Larry Nassar, one of the things that helped him get away with it so long was that when questioned he would start using really technical terms and explain why what he was doing was absolutely fine and necessary but people who weren't doctors just didn't understand. Deference to doctors and men and universities and the Olympic dream all helped with that.

Therefore one thing that should be helpful is that there should be guidelines for what to expect during a medical exam and physical therapy. There should be guidelines for what to expect during a psychological counseling session, really. In any environment where there is a trained professional and a vulnerable patient or client, there should be some ways of knowing what might be appropriate - even if unpleasant - but also some ideas for what it looks like when someone is starting to be abusive.

Doing this requires some thinking, because there is room for disagreement and often a professional organization could worry about cornering their members and encouraging lawsuits, but that can be worked out, especially if you have a sincere desire to end abuse, which I hope anyone in a healing practice would want.

It also takes a belief that untrained people can understand enough of the basics to make a reasonable call. I do believe that.

If you think about it, even now the reason so many abusers are successful is not because the victim doesn't know something is wrong, but because they are afraid to speak up, or not believed when they speak up. Making guidelines available then becomes not just a guideline, but also an expression of confidence in people: they can know what is appropriate, and they deserve to be treated appropriately.

There is a "great man" theory of history, largely popularized by Thomas Carlyle. For the record, I lean more toward Herbert Spencer's analysis that it was a hopelessly primitive, childish, and unscientific position, which he largely based on the importance of the social environment.

I believe in the importance of the social environment, but also I think greatness is easier to find.

As famous producers and writers started being named in #metoo, there were lamentations that this was the end of the golden age of television, because here goes everyone with talent!

There were a lot of things wrong with that mindset, up to and including that still, very few people have been fired and no one has been charged. Beyond that, we have over the past year or so seen some really well-done films directed by women, produced by women, written by women, and also many done by men who aren't nearly so famous and whom we can also hope are not nearly as predatory.

All right, I do suspect that Christopher Plummer's nomination for All the Money in the World was somewhat reactionary, but I also do not doubt that he gave a good performance, and that getting rid of Kevin Spacey did not ruin the movie.

With Harvey Weinstein, there were people who did not know about the sexual abuse who still found him abusive and bullying, because that's how he was. That made some people not want to work with him, and some people excuse it because that's just Harvey and he makes money, but is it the only way to make money?

It feels like it became kind of a cult a while back with House and maybe both Sherlock Holmes' series (House was also based on Sherlock Holmes) and I think a bunch of other television shows that I don't remember anymore. There was a rude genius and it was hard to be around him, but he was right and got the job done and isn't that all that matters?

I am not really looking to add another TV show to my schedule, and certainly not another procedural, but if I were going to it would be Instinct because it looks like they are taking the bold move of having the smart guy also be genuinely pleasant and emotionally healthy (still quirky though).

One convenient aspect of being a genius jerk is that it effectively closes the pool to anyone who isn't white or male, because if you are not you can't get away with it quite so easily.

Let us remember, though, that in addition to all of the people who have been chased out of industry and academia and entertainment, there are also people who are there and really good and could do great things, except we are throwing all of our support to the people who do the worst things with their power.

I like entertainment a lot, but it is probably least important there. Look at what is happening to privacy and politics because technology has not been sufficiently critical of what damage they could do. Think of all that has been lost from medical research because of the people who have been held back. If we were building a society that was supportive and collaborative instead of competitive, think how much better things could be.

That's one thing that often gets lost. When we talk about patriarchy and the privilege of white males, white men who do not have that much wealth and power feel offended and close their minds. Taking down those hierarchies will benefit you too. Yes, you will not be able to hold on to at least having some superiority over women and people of color, and there may be an un-examined feeling of a threat there (which you don't examine because it's terrible to want to hang onto it).

What I promise you is that as we achieve equality, your lives will be better too. Feminism is not against men; it is for everyone.

Yes, that world will be a drastic change, and it may be hard for bullies to adapt. Hopefully they will find other things to like, and they will be better people for doing so.

We need to let go of a lot of crap to get there.

Okay, I really think I am done with this round. I can only imagine what kind of horrifying revelations will make me rethink that, but for now, I am moving on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

So inextricably linked

Currently for the daily songs I am doing weeks of things where there is a category that I have been interested in exploring, but where I don't think there are enough songs for a month. There has been a week of songs by actors, and songs from non-Disney cartoons, and I'll probably wrap it up in about two weeks with a week of country songs.

The tricky one was songs with celebrity cameos, because suddenly all of these songs that came to mind had cameos by people with abuse allegations against them. Hey look! There's Al Franken! And Michael Douglas!

I did use both of theirs, and I left some songs unused that might have been worse, but if we look back we are going to find a lot of things.

Recently I saw it pointed out that David Letterman has a new show, and he got Barack Obama as his first guest, but he also had repeated workplace relationships that led to extortion and a hostile environment for other employees.

That may describe it too well, because some of the hostile workplace issues for the women who were not in relationships make you wonder how consensual the other relationships were; it gets messy. The point is, this came out at a time before #metoo had gained momentum. It's out there, and known, but doesn't seem to matter. Maybe that's because other people did worse, but it's questionable. In the meantime, some people are having to debate getting rid of comfort films that are important to them, and teachers are looking for new books they can feel comfortable assigning, and we are starting to have people apologize for signing petitions in favor of Roman Polanski and working with Woody Allen, but there's a lot of unfamiliar territory.

I have emphasized listening a lot, but there are a few more things we can think about.

I really appreciate Peter Jackson coming forward about the blacklisting that Weinstein did against women who refused his advances:

Granted, it probably didn't look like blacklisting at the time, but probably sincere and helpful advice: "Don't work with them! They're difficult." People who will harass and abuse aren't going to have any compunction about lying. This makes thinking about things that might have been sabotage a good area for reflection. Have you been warned off about anyone? Could there have been ulterior motives?

It may also be helpful to examine humor. Frances McDormand gave an important and practical Oscar acceptance speech. Lots of men found it hard to mention without calling her crazy. A lot of that seems to be based on her not wearing makeup. Is that a good reason to discount someone's words? Part of the whole Tony Robbins thing was explaining how now men can't hire pretty women because of harassment. How possible is it to find that perfect spot between not so pretty that you are a threat to abusive men, but still pretty enough to not be a crazy witch?

People used to call Ann Curry crazy too, and I never thought about it much. Once you hear about the target harassment that she received on the set of Today, that could explain part of it. If you add to it all of the other things that happened with Today but to other people, and listen to the stories that are coming from other newsrooms, well, it's probably really convenient to always be able to call a woman crazy or difficult and not have it questioned.

That leads to my final point today: think about the things we don't talk about. It's rude to talk about money, but that is also very convenient to keep people from examining gender-based wage disparities, and unfair business practices, and many things that support the people who are economically on top.

It's not polite to talk about sex, but that leads to a lot of women never really getting to enjoy sex or to even come near that without being labeled a slut.

It's rude to make a scene, but then the person who is rude and unafraid to be rude gets to slide. That's not to encourage rudeness, but our silence provides tacit acceptance of many things that may be terrible. With enough silence we may not even know what needs to be changed.

Cui bono?

Monday, April 09, 2018

Finally, Matt Damon

Okay, now it's time for Matt Damon.

Granted, I could go other places for finding men who get tired of listening to women. Very close to home I could find Multnomah County judge Kenneth Walker, who interrupted Dana Parks three times before ending her chance to read her victim impact statement, because he wasn't enjoying listening to it. 

It can be very disturbing to listen to stories of abuse, though the refusal to listen is the sort of thing that perpetuates the abuse, but you know,  how can you expect a judge to care about the environment that allows crimes to happen?

Closer to now I could mention Tony Robbins, who criticized #metoo inaccurately, then when corrected used his physical size to intimidate and double down, before offering a terribly insincere apology that seems most likely to be a precursor to allegations against him coming out.

I mean, you could easily argue that the point of #metoo is not for the people coming forward to make themselves important (which it does not do), but to acknowledge that they already are important as people and that abuse against them is not acceptable, and reclaim their voices, which sounds like a very positive thing, unless you aren't actually interested in any shift in power dynamics. I guess Tony Robbins just doesn't read my blog.

But I want to go with Matt Damon here - whom I like (or at least have liked) - because I think he gives us a good springboard into another discussion.

He said many things, like admitting that allegations against someone would not be a reason not to work with them (so much for allegations destroying careers), and saying that he had never heard of Weinstein's abusive behavior but also contradicting it because he had heard about what happened to Gwyneth Paltrow (so maybe he just didn't know of any completed rapes), but that's not what I really want to get into.

I can't really quote it. This is not just because of the profanity but also because it is so poorly said, but the point he was trying to make is that there are many men who don't sexually harass and why aren't we talking about them?

This could easily be dismissed as a pretty typical #notallmen; I don't rape so please give me attention and cookies. Much like the typical #notallmen respondent, he misses some important points.

First of all, if he did know about Gwyneth Paltrow's experience with Harvey Weinstein and did not think of Weinstein as an abuser, then it is quite clear that this group of men who don't do that may either not have as many members or their conduct may not be as good as he thinks. That is worth thinking about.

Beyond that, given his own explanation of the "spectrum" of behavior, could there be types of behavior that contribute to this environment, maybe even without being sexual.

Matt Damon did not sexually harass Effie Brown.

He did shut her down when she tried to raise concerns. They were concerns specific to diversity, and as a Black woman she might have been worth listening to on that subject, but Matt Damon knew better.

Sure, you could think about how if diverse hiring only affects acting, and not writing and behind-the-scenes that this can perpetuate a lot of bad things. I mean, Gone With the Wind had Black cast members and somehow it is still pretty racist.

Beyond that, if the go-to reaction to women mentioning a problem is shutting them down - and that seems like a pretty common reaction - what does that perpetuate?

And I'm guessing that Matt Damon doesn't read my blog either, so any pondering on that will have to be done by other people.

Just allow to once more emphasize the importance of listening.

Also, for more on how you need more than diverse characters, but also diverse voices creating the characters, setting up the characters, and so on, this article is kind of fun:

Friday, April 06, 2018

Concert Review: Have Mercy

Have Mercy struck me as a really laid back band.

(Some of that may have been contrast, because the band after them had an unusually expressive bassist.)

Other than making me feel that maybe it's okay if I tend to close my eyes when I sing, there were two things that seemed important about this laid back impression.
  • It in no way detracted from the feeling that they were very happy to be there and performing for us.
  • It might be kind of a relief, too, because some of their songs are really sad, like the kind of music that you might listen to after a bad breakup or a death or something that hurts. That they still seemed happy and relaxed is kind of hopeful. The hurt doesn't have to leave you broken.
2017's Make The Best Of It is a really strong album. They have earlier tracks that stand out; I especially liked "Howl", "Two Years", and "Let's Talk About Your Hair" for that, and I love that they did a cover of "Somebody's Baby". Still, listening to "Drive"and "Coexist", this band has matured. Listening to "Good Christian Man" may give an idea of some of what that maturation entailed.

Overall, this is a good band and probably a good time to be listening to them. The tour with Senses Fail just wrapped up, but they have a bunch of dates coming up in June.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Concert Review: Household

I went to a show with four bands last week (March 27th at the Hawthorne Theater), so these next four reviews will all cover that show, based on the order in which the bands performed.

The opening band was Household, and I missed a good part of their set. My train was held because the train in front of us was being held for the police, leading to a missed bus and a late arrival. (At least I wasn't on the train that was being held for the police.) Anyway, I missed a lot, but I did get to see them perform some, and I have been listening to them all week.

Because more of my experience is from their recorded material, that may be why a lot of my thoughts seem to be based on their video for "Don't Listen To Me".

There is a comment on the video saying that while the song is nice, the transitions and key changes make it sound like four different songs together. I don't agree with that because I think the overall mood of the song works together. I do get why someone might think that, and I can also see how the video could reinforce it. Using some old communication technology, some interpretive dance, and some reverse film, there is a sense of disjointedness and separation, but that works with the theme. It is a somber theme, but one that touches on common human experience.

The band does have a somber sound overall. There are times when they rock pretty hard, like on "Wistern", but the overall mood is fairly downbeat. The best description I can give is that if you combined The Starting Line and Pearl Jam, but also they read a lot of Sartre, I think that band would sound a lot like Household.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

This is not women helping women

As much as men need to learn to think about women differently, women have work to do too. Undervaluing ourselves and overvaluing men has a cost.

One of the more obvious costs is that we will frequently accept bad treatment when we don't have too. Sometimes there is no escape route, or we try to get out in ways that don't work. Sometimes we successfully say "no" and get punished for it in other way. But sometimes we say "yes" because we think we have to. Frankly, the first two instances do a lot to support the idea that we should not be fighting for ourselves. It's very demoralizing.

Also, sometimes we pick on each other. Yesterday's post referred to an association between women enjoying sex and being sluts. Too much enjoyment can even seem doubtful when it is a woman whose only partner has been her husband, just because those ideas can take such deep root. Furthermore, sometimes the worst judgment comes from women.

There are lots of sociological reasons why this makes sense. Frequently women don't get to exert much power over men, but they can wield power against women via social acceptance and rejection and gossipy criticism.

(A good side path could be examining the correlation between having a lower status and being more abusive of those further down, but we're not going there now.)

This is really just a prelude to criticizing two more celebrities, not for them assaulting or harassing anyone sexually, but for being stupid about it.

I admit that the first thing that stuck out to me was Drew Barrymore's urgent plea to the women coming forward to reject anger. It stuck out to me because I had recently learned the value of my own anger. It stuck out because even though there has been plenty of talk about how opposite of helpful tone policing is, she literally referred to the "tone of anger" (and has rightly been called tone-deaf).

There's that, but on the second pass I noticed this repetition about women "not expecting to have things handed to them" and working hard and proving themselves.

What is anyone trying to have handed to them other than being heard?

Many of the women who have come forward have proven ability in acting, some also with directing and producing, and they have worked plenty hard to get there. Thanks for invalidating all of that, but seriously, what do you think they are asking for? Is it that you have to work very hard to be allowed to say when someone with power over you abuses you?

Have you fully thought about the ramifications of that? Because it seems like then we're going to have to stop caring about child abuse and inmate abuse, but I guess we can still listen to hotel and farm workers who get abused because they work really hard. Only we're not listening to them, but basically listening to people who have a name we recognize or maybe they have an abuser whose name we recognize. I concede that's not a perfect system, but I swear Barrymore is not thinking about what she is saying, and that's unfortunate because she has a recognizable name.

I know anger can be dangerous, but it can also be empowering. Denying victims a form of empowerment because it makes you uncomfortable (and then crapping on them even more by implying that your hard work was the magic power that protected you) is not a good look. Honestly, it makes you sound a little fragile, like you are afraid that if you think too much about the bad stuff it will all fall apart. I can have sympathy with that, but take it to a therapist, not to a television interview.

She's still better than Susan Sarandon.

I couldn't find the quote that I remember, talking about career choices that protected her, because we all have the ability to pick and choose roles when you are trying to make it in a really competitive industry. That's okay; I found a worse quote.

"Now, I’m sure there’s a lot of men who were much smoother at seducing than-” she bursts out laughing – “James Toback and Harvey Weinstein, who a lot of women felt very flattered to be sleeping with, even if they didn’t get the job. There’s just a culture, starting in the 60s and 70s, where there was a certain amount of liberation that made it possible for those things to happen without even seeing yourself as a victim.”

Or possibly it feels different when a man is pursuing you for a relationship and you like him than when a man is forcing himself on you, scaring you, sabotaging you, and putting his hands around your neck.

Let me say one more thing about Sarandon; I tried to find an article that only focused on her reactions to #metoo and not on her political beliefs and support for Sanders. I could not successfully do so. Partly she may just be proud of all the ways in which she is contrary to those other actors, so it kept coming up. However, that reference to the liberation, and how that let things happen, is interesting in a couple of ways.

Actresses got raped in the 40s and 50s too, for sure, along with getting drugged more. Also, the one article also referred to Peggy Noonan (whose level of affection for the Clintons is similar to Sarandon's) drawing a similar connection to sexual liberation and #metoo.

(To read a pretty twisted quote from Noonan without having to be a Wall Street Journal subscriber, go here:

That still ignores the history of rape, assault, harassment, and misogyny, and then conveniently finds a way to blame victims and find oneself superior. I mean, it's interesting that someone so conservative and someone so liberal have the same take on a matter of abuse. There could be some interesting things to think about with the far left there, though I think that is still something I don't want to get into yet. Beyond that, a lot of people just really like being able to look down on someone else.

Maybe that will end up connecting to a post that gets written Monday, but I do want to get closer to wrapping this up, and then talking about books and movies.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Bad dates (and mates)

This is going to be about sex.

No, I am not an expert. I do pay attention to people, and I think there are some points I can make.

This is starting with an account of a date with Aziz Ansari. If you are not familiar, the account is here:

Many people were indignant on Ansari's behalf, and that totally wasn't rape because she could have said "no" at any time. No one was suggesting that he be charged with rape, of course, but that doesn't make it a good date, or a good experience for the woman.

Yesterday I wrote about how when women are deciding how to respond to unwanted advances, they don't know how the man will react. Fear is an element of that, but it is not the only thing that comes up. We have been socialized for a long time to please others, to not create problems, and to not expect a lot from men. Sometimes wanting something romantic to happen can be a factor, because even though he is being disrespectful maybe he doesn't mean it, and really cares about you even though he isn't showing it at the moment. Making excuses for men doesn't end up being good for men or women, but there's a tradition there.

Now I want to leave Ansari behind and move on to something else that I had been reading about around the same time, and to which many women were responding in agreement: sex is often painful for women, and not in a "hurts so good" kind of way.

There were two things that worked together to be of particular concern, in that women often don't feel comfortable mentioning it, and also that the pain could be a sign of a serious health problem, and thus should not be ignored.

There is also a long tradition of inadequately exploring women's health issues, and a long tradition that only slutty women are supposed to enjoy sex. These are not helpful for anyone. "Thinking of England" may get you through the pain, but it won't heal a prolapsed uterus and is seems like it would make sex much less of a bonding experience.

Now I'm going to zag one more time, to an old episode of Everybody Loves Raymond: "No Roll!"

Ray buys an erotic board game, Sensuopoly. He is surprised when Debra agrees to play, but then he keeps just trying to jump her. As they argue over this, Ray thinks the issue is that he isn't romantic, but it's really that he isn't that good at sex.

My family several sex-centric episodes saved. They are funny, but also I think they handle the content really well. They make important points, getting around prime time constraints with humor and hints, and still being pretty clear.

Debra's specific issues were needing more variety and needing Ray to be less selfish. This is really logical. A man's shortest path to completion tends not to be the most effective path for a woman. So, if sometimes she is not too enthusiastic, it may be that she won't get much out of it.

And sometimes you are feeling pressured, and even though you tell him and he seems to agree to back off, he pressures you more, leaving you feeling gross and used.

And sometimes it hurts, maybe like being stabbed in the uterus.

Sometimes the point of faking an orgasm is to get it over with already.

Here is where we get to applying it personally: do you know if your significant other is getting as much satisfaction as you? Could they be putting aside pain and feelings of degradation for your sake. Possibly most important of all, if making things better for them means more work or less sex for you, are you willing to change?

We are in a transition here. More people are willing to accept that sex should be good for women too (though there are still a lot of people who think that makes women sluts). Some women on their own are able to be more assertive, and also able to decide that they don't need a selfish and disrespectful man. Some men are frustrated with that, and don't seem to recognize the frustration on the other side that leads to it.

There are still a lot of women who do not feel free to speak up. They were trained to be nice, and not talk about these things (and be highly criticized for even trying to talk about them) or be selfish (where it feels like any self regard is selfish). They may say "yes" to things out of guilt, and they feel the criticism when men complain about how heartless and shallow women are.

Many of us fall somewhere in between.

There is room to examine personal attitudes there, but that would be incomplete without looking at the history and the traditions and how these behaviors have developed. Legally women are no longer property, but the attitudes haven't completely gone away.

To fix that, many people will have to change their thinking, seeing women as fully functioning humans with agency over their bodies, having both the right of refusal and the right of consent.

Part of that is going to be listening to women, and letting what they say matter.

When women try to open up about their worst experiences and they are shouted down, we are not honoring that.

Yeah, eventually I'm going to talk about Matt Damon.

Monday, April 02, 2018

The Monday Morning Quarterback

I am still working on sexual assault and harassment, I am going to take a tangent related to mass shootings for a moment, because it relates.

The far right has been harassing shooting victims and their families for a while, with claims of hoaxes and false flags, and they have certainly been criticizing protesters and activists for a long time, with everything being insincere and funded by George Soros. That's nothing new, but in the wake of youth from the Parkland shooting protesting gun violence, there is starting to be some push back. Laura Ingraham has had to take a vacation after losing sponsors, and Dana Loesch is trying to sound more nurturing. Sure, a lot of people are still throwing around the term "snowflakes" and making the usual arguments about how gun laws could never work, and they are certainly paying more attention to the white kids than the students of color, but it does feel like some kind of progress.

Obviously, there could be a lot to talk about there, but I am not going there right now. The point I want to bring up is the other direction things have been going, with students (because there are many students protesting, not just the Parkland survivors) being encouraged to reach out instead of walking out. The idea is that if they will just be nicer to each other, then there won't be any shootings.

I am not promoting bullying, but I object to the promotion of the myth that bullying is the root cause of school shootings. Of course students should not bully each other; but - especially lately - the way to stop school shootings would have to be for girls never to break up with one boy and date another boy, or to date anyone when there is a boy who likes them, or something like that. It's like the attention that was focused on the wife of the Pulse shooter or the girlfriend of the Las Vegas shooter; women are supposed to know what their men are up to and control them, but a lot of these shootings are about controlling women. I can't find any indication that the women the Santa Barbara shooter felt rejected by had any idea that he was interested in them, but the answers given later are still that women should give these poor guys a chance.

We can draw some pretty convincing lines between how workplace sexual harassment and rape and assault and mass shootings all go together, but again, that's not what I'm trying to get at today.

The point I am trying to make may not even be that valuable, because often the people who criticize what various survivors have done are giving courses of action that were in fact taken, with no indication that they are interested in understanding the facts or empathizing with the people. Nonetheless, there's still one thing I keep remembering.

It was in a women's magazine (probably Woman's Day, but I am not sure) that I read when I was a young teenager. The article was about surviving, I guess, but what I really remember was an anecdote about a woman in an elevator. She was alone, and at one floor a man got in and started to grope her. She slapped him and he beat her, leaving her with a broken arm.

Slapping him had seemed like the right response, probably because of those cartoons and things: "I'm not that kind of girl!" Except if you think about it, in movies those slaps just show that she is feisty; getting out of the situation requires a rescue from a man. So maybe she should have known it wouldn't work, but it's a lot of pressure under the circumstances, and how do you know? Even when it isn't a stranger, how do you know? Because if he was the person you thought he was, he wouldn't be doing this, right?

Maybe sometimes you can leave safely, but then it turns out to not be safe. Maybe sometimes a joke works, but other times he might decide that being funny is consent, or he might know that it's not consent but that's kind of a turn on for him.

I support self-defense training, but if it's your boss licking your ear, or the guy who comes back and shoots after you wouldn't give your phone number, that doesn't help. Even having thought of different scenarios and how to react in them, those have not been the situations that came up for me.

So I want to make two points from this. The first is just shut up about what people should have done. And if it happened to you, and you keep trying to figure out what you should have done differently, try and let it go. You can't change the past, and the other things might not have worked either.

The second point is - knowing how many horrible things can happen, and all the mental calculations that are going on to try and guarantee safety that so often end up being futile - that when these things are being discussed the key point is never #notallmen. If your concern is more about being lumped in with the bad guys, rather than the existence and support and freedom of the bad guys, you are not that good a guy. You are not helping. You are, in fact, hurting, even though there are worse things you could do.