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Once With Heads Held High

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I got some feedback on “Behind The Beauty, Cracks Appear“, published four weeks ago today.  What did surprise me was that the feedback was for the most part supportive.  In all honesty, I expected a good deal more negative feedback.  After all, roughly two-thirds of my fellow state residents, and clear majorities in ten other states, voted a position opposite mine.  So thanks to those of you who wrote or pinged in support.

As I say, though, there were some rebuttals to my post.  As many of these rebuttals involved counterarguments of one kind or another, I thought I’d share my reactions to the arguments made in opposition to homosexual marriage.  I’ll probably let this be my last word on the subject for a while.

Majority rule

“It’s what the people want.”

Agreed.  Thus my angst.  But anyone with any sense of history knows how weak the “majority rule” argument really is.  There are plenty of unacceptable things that the people wanted at one time or another: slavery, racial separation, and a restriction of voting rights to men, to name but three.  (There are dozens more.)

You’ll note that I have not, at any point, advocated the overturning of the recent votes.  However misguided I believe them to be, the results of these democratic votes are not something I would simply cast aside in an attempt to make the world conform to my personal views, any more than I would advocate overturning, by either legislative action or executive fiat, a Supreme Court decision on the grounds I didn’t like the ruling.

Nevertheless, I can (and some would say should) oppose this turn of events by speaking out and seeking to change minds.

A slippery slope to Hell

“Once we allow gays to marry, it will open the door to bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia, and worse.”

This is so wrong, I can’t even believe I have to explain why.

A marriage of two homosexuals would be a union between consenting adults.  Got that?  Everything clear?  Bestiality does not involve consenting adults: it involves a human and an animal, the latter of which cannot give consent.  Pedophilia does not involve consenting adults: it involves an adult and a child, the latter of which cannot be said to give informed consent, no matter what the child actually says.  Necrophilia involves an adult and a corpse, the latter of which can only give consent in horror movies.

You do see the difference, right?

One person who trackbacked the original posting said, among several other equally logical things:

I’ve watched a few demolition derbies at the county fair. That looks like it would be fun to do and would make me happy. Does that mean I should be allowed to drive around on the streets and smash into cars?

Actually, it means you should be free to enter a demolition derby… which you are, assuming you have the entry fee, a car you’re willing to smash up, you agree to the rules of the event, and so on.  Nobody’s outright prohibiting you or anyone else from participating.  That is, after all, one of the underlying features of demolition derbies: everyone participating is a consenting adult who has entered into the activity of their own free will and with an understanding of what the activity entails.

If, on the other hand, there are demolition derbies where you are barred from participating on the basis of, say, your eye color—something which in no way adversely affects your ability to participate in the derby—then I’d say you were being unfairly discriminated against.  You’d probably agree.  So why disagree with me when I say it’s discriminatory to prohibit people of certain sexual orientations to marry?  I don’t see a difference.

As for the “on the streets” idea (which was a fairly obvious misdirection, but I’m willing to work with it anyway) if you can get the consent of all involved parties—including all other drivers, pedestrians, property owners, and civic officials in the area you intend to do this—then yes, you should be allowed to do that.  If not, then no.

I’m still sort of stunned that I have to explain that.

A slippery slope to Hell, part 2

“What about polygamy?  What will prevent that door from opening?”

In a word: money.  Our institutions aren’t fiscally configured to deal with multi-partner marriages.  Health insurance, for example, has single and family coverage, but that family coverage is structured around the idea of one spouse and some number of children (and usually the premium goes up a bit with each new child).  Similarly, a university might allow a spouse to take free classes, but only one spouse.  There’s no provision extending free tuition to six spouses, nor should there be: that would be an undue financial burden.  Also, the IRS isn’t very likely to approve of “married filing jointly with five other returns”.  And if the tax man don’t like it, well, it ain’t too likely to fly.

Besides, didn’t most of the Old Testament patriarchs have multiple wives?  When you think about that just a little, it’s clear Biblical proof that marriage has not always been a bond between a single man and a single woman, and thus it seems to me that the God of the Bible didn’t intend marriage to be only the union of one man and one woman—unless the Bible is inaccurate or not to be obeyed in its entirety, of course.  In which case I’d expect the really traditional churches would be pushing for polygamy, not against it.

Cheapening of marriage

“If gays can get married, that will weaken traditional marriages.”

The case for allowing gays to marry begins with equality, pure and simple. Why should one set of loving, consenting adults be denied a right that other such adults have and which, if exercised, will do no damage to anyone else?

— “The case for gay marriage“, The Economist, 26 February 2004

I’d read the above-quoted article a while ago but forgotten it; Warren Stevens was kind enough to remind me about it via e-mail.  It’s short, well-reasoned, and probably a better case than I could make.  So is their first article on the subject, “Let them wed“, from 4 January 1996.  Still, I’ll continue to add a few cents to the pot.

A heterosexual Satanist couple (but not a homosexual Christian couple) can get married anywhere in this country, and odds are that some have.  Some people get married solely for financial reasons, and are essentially roommates while they date (and have sex with) other partners.  Do these marriages weaken your marriage, or the marriages of those around you?  Do you imagine that your marriage somehow affects theirs, making it weaker or stronger?

For that matter, if we’re going to talk about things that weaken marriage, I think we should look at the ease with which people get married and divorced in this country.  That’s a far bigger threat to the sanctity of marriage than any number of gay marriages could ever be.  Britney Spears got married for 55 hours.  Apparently that’s more acceptable than a homosexual marriage because she was married to a man, even if for just over two days.  Why would it be less acceptable if she were to marry a woman, and stay faithfully committed to that partner for the rest of her life?

If gays are able to marry, it will not bring all heterosexual marriages to a screeching halt.  It won’t even make them less acceptable, or less worthy of respect.  If anything, it will make them more so, because there will be a reduced demand for sham marriages.

If nothing else, I’m tired of hearing about the sanctity of marriage from nationally recognized conservatives, most of whom have already been divorced two or more times.  Their hypocrisy depresses me, but their inability to defend their own marriages has, so far as I know, failed to weaken my marriage, or that of anyone I know.

Marriage isn’t as important as love

“A gay couple can stay committed and faithful to one another, just as if they were married, so there’s no need to grant legal recognition.”

The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

—from the opinion of the U.S Supreme Court in 388 U.S. 1, Loving v. Virginia, 1967

I entirely agree with the Court.  And no, I don’t see an ethical difference between prohibitions of marriage based on gender and those based on race, which is what 388 U.S. 1 addressed.

Furthermore, I propose that anyone who believes that marriage isn’t necessary for any truly loving homosexual couple should voluntarily abstain from marriage, and get divorced if they are already married but stay with the same partner.  Show that you mean what you say.  If you truly love someone, then it shouldn’t be a problem to live with them for the rest of your lives without getting officially married, just as you advocate for gays.

If that isn’t acceptable to you, and you think hard about why, then maybe you’ll begin to understand why it isn’t acceptable to gays either.

(Thanks to Rich Manalang for the pointer to 388 U.S. 1.)

Inability to reproduce

“Gays don’t need to get married because they can’t have children.”

If the ability to reproduce is a core tenet of an acceptable marriage, then my marriage to Kat is unacceptable: we are unable to reproduce, and believe me, we did try.  Does anyone believe that we should be forcibly divorced, or have our marriage annulled, because of this?  Come on, speak up.  Alternatively, should all couples who intend to get married be required to undergo fertility testing, with those who fail the testing prohibited from being married?  Do you really want the government to start medically testing its citizens in order to tell them what they can or can’t do?

Because of the medical barriers to our reproducing, Kat and I chose to adopt.  I know Alan Keyes condemns people like us because, in his world, adoption makes incest inevitable.  (No, I’m not kidding.)  Lunatics aside, though, the last time I checked adoption was seen as an acceptable course of action by most people.  Regardless of how anyone feels, it is quite likely the only way Kat and I could have a family.  It is also one way that a homosexual couple could have a family.  I do not see a difference between the two.

Of course, gay couples are already adopting.  There was one such couple in our orientation group at the adoption agency with whom we worked.  Thus, homosexual marriage would change this very little, if at all.  It might in some cases make it easier for a gay couple to adopt, since they could legally show combined income, joint tax returns, health insurance, and the like.  I understand that would be objectionable to some, who fear that children raised by a gay couple might grow up to think of a homosexual lifestyle as acceptable.  As I pointed out, too late: it’s already happening.  It’s also the case that liberals are allowed to adopt—Kat and I did, after all—and many of those children grow up thinking liberalism is acceptable.  Shocking, I know; and yet I assure you that it happens.

Anyone in favor of restricting adoption only to those people who meet specific ideological standards?

Children’s welfare

“Children should be raised by a man and a woman, not by two men or two women.”

That’s a common belief, and one that has evidence both supporting and contradicting it.  I’m not at all convinced that a child needs to have one parent of each gender in order to be well raised.  Any time a child has a parent or parents who love, nurture, and discipline it as needed, I think the child is likely to turn out just fine.  Conversely, any time a child has a parent or parents who are cruel, abusive, or distant, they’re probably going to grow up maladjusted.

Society is better served by maximizing the number of children who grow up in loving, stable homes.  If a homosexual couple can provide that, then I don’t see why it should be problem.  If they can’t, then I think it’s as much of a problem as a heterosexual couple who can’t.

Choice

“Gays choose to be with same-sex partners.  If they chose to be with opposite-sex partners, they could get married.”

First, I’m going to leave aside the whole question of homosexuality as a choice versus a matter of nature.  There’s evidence on both sides, and against both sides.  I know what I believe, but I’m not going there, mostly because as far as I’m concerned, it’s not relevant.

Of those who are married or in a committed relationship of some kind, how many of you dispassionately chose the person with whom you fell in love?  When you truly love someone, it’s because that’s the right person for you, and vice versa.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the story.  Why would anyone choose to step away from the one they love because that person wasn’t the accepted gender, or race, or religion, or body type, or whatever else?  More importantly, why would anyone else demand that they do so?

Suppose I said that all married couples had to be interracial, or interfaith.  How is that ethically different from demanding that married couples be intergender?  I don’t see that it is.  Note I said “ethically”.  I understand that many see a moral difference.  Speaking of which…

Moral qualms

“It’s just wrong, and oughtn’t be allowed.”

There are religions that say the consumption of porcine meats or shellfish is wrong; others forbid the consumption of beef.  In fact, taken as a global aggregate, adherents of those religions outnumber Christians.  All those who do not follow these food-limiting faiths that are planning to alter their eating habits (that is, their lifestyle) based solely on the demands of said faiths, please raise your hands.

Anyone?

I was, in my original post, a bit sarcastic when I said “oh noble defenders of morality”.  The sarcastic part was the word “noble”: I never perceive intolerance as noble.  Other than that, the “morality” part was kind of my point: it’s your morality, not everyone’s.  This street goes both ways, of course; many feel that allowing gays to marry would be an imposition of external morality on them.  Conversely, the prohibitions of gay marriage are an imposition of external morality on gays.  Where’s the balance?

Something I’ve seen making the rounds is the idea that the government should stop issuing marriage licenses altogether, and instead grant legal recognition to civil unions (both hetero- and homosexual).  Of course, if a couple chooses to marry in a church or other setting, they would be entirely free to do so.  The point here would be that the civil unions would have the current status marriages hold—the rights, privileges, and burdens that come with being recognized as a married couple would be conferred upon these unions.  Marriage would be made a more personal and spiritual act, one that every church could perform for whomever they choose.  Some could restrict it only to opposite-gender couples, while others might only marry same-sex couples.  Or, and here’s a radical concept, a church might choose to marry any two people who love each other enough to undertake so serious a commitment.

It seems to me that this, or something very much like it, would be a workable approach.  I’ll grant you that it would force some churches and other socially conservative organizations to co-exist with (if not necessarily accept) something they don’t like, but that’s fairly inescapable.  In a large, complex society, every one of us will have to tolerate things we don’t like.  I, for one, don’t much like the recent votes to prohibit gay marriage, but clearly I have to live with them, at least for the time being.  I also don’t like people who can’t be bothered to signal lane changes, civilian-owned Hummers, Web design tools that generate malformed markup, and Rush Limbaugh.  Tell you what: support my legislation to ban the things I don’t like, and I’ll support yours.  Fair enough?

I could go on, but I think that’s quite enough.  There will, of course, be those who read this and despair that I’ve bought into the “homosexual agenda”.  Well, let’s see.  Near as I can tell, the agenda in question is one of asking that our society treat homosexuals like human beings, that it grant them the same rights and privileges accorded to other adults, and that it treat them as the equals the United States Constitution says they (along with everyone else) truly are.

Quite frankly, we should all buy into that agenda.

Mailing List Community Care

Clay Shirky recently published a missive titled “Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software” that I almost dropped into the Distractions list, but then realized I wanted to write about in a little more detail.  Clay talks about mailing lists as one of the oldest forms of social software, and how they tend to become clogged with flame wars.  He makes the case that since flame wars are inevitable in a group setting, there should be mechanisms that help prevent and control the fires.  For the most part, I agree with him that some mechanisms would be a good idea.  I do not, however, accept that flaming is inevitable.

I can draw on personal experience to make this claim.  I’ve been responsible for a mailing list (css-discuss) for almost three years now.  In that time, the list grew so large that it started to overload its home, and had to migrate to a more capable host.  As of this writing, the membership list stands at 5,128 subscribed accounts.  That’s not a typo.  Bear in mind that any account that is disabled due to excessive bounces gets automatically removed after a couple of weeks, so the amount of deadwood is pretty low.

So, yeah, I know what it’s like to be a part of a very large mailing list community.  Over the lifetime of the list, we’ve had very, very few flame wars.  (Most of them have centered around font sizing, unsurprisingly enough.)  And what we call a flame war would hardly even raise an eyebrow in most online fora.  By the standards of the css-d community, any thread that contains more than two agitated posts is considered a flame war.  Posts where list members actually insult each other are rare as moon cheese.  Condescension is a little more common, but not by much.

We aren’t running magic software to make this happen; the list is running on Mailman 2.1b5.  What’s made the difference is me.

Warning!  Ego alert!  Ego alert!

Actually, not at all.  From the very first, I’ve worked hard to make sure list members understand the nature of the community.  It is not a democracy, and it isn’t an anarchy.  It’s a benevolent dictatorship.  This is no secret: I’ve said so on the list at least a couple of times.  I try not to wield the Brickbat Of Administrative Correction unless necessary, and when I do, I do so in as neutral and even-handed a manner as possible.  In the end, though, I make it very clear that within the confines of that community, my word is effectively law.  I decide what’s on topic, and what isn’t, and gently make my decisions known.  End of story.  When I call for a thread to end, it ends.  Or else.  If list members ask for changes to the list’s nature, as happens from time to time, I listen to their reasoning and then make a decision.  That’s it.

Maybe that all sounds like a guy on a massive power trip, but honestly, I’d much prefer that I didn’t have to make those calls.  I’d prefer to have a community where the members keep themselves in line.  That’s actually possible so long as the community is very small, and everyone both listens and is heard.  In a large community, it’s effectively impossible.  Even if 99% of the list membership is adult, the 1% can ruin things for everyone else.  On css-d, a 1% flame rate would mean 50 members were out of line.  In absolute terms, that’s unacceptable.  Thus I actively watch and chaperone the list.  I also wrote some material enumerating the policies, how to avoid being offended, and the right way to answer questions.  People really like that material.  I’ve been asked permission to re-use that material several times.

I also participate in the community as best I can, setting an example for how questions should be answered and list members should act.  Of late, I’ve been too swamped to offer more than token participation on the list, which is why I just yesterday selected four list members to be moderators.  They’ll be helping with administrivia, but more importantly, will be helping to keep things on-topic and civil, although I honestly don’t expect them to have to work very hard at that last part.  Heck, I’ve been an absentee dictator for a couple of months now, and things have stayed mostly on-topic and very civil.  Basically, having put the effort into rolling this massive boulder in a certain direction, it kept going that way even when I stopped actively pushing for a while.  Just recently, things have started to deteriorate a bit.  That was a major impetus to get off my keister and pick some moderators.

So I guess my point is that there’s more to a community than its members.  The founder’s influence is strong, and if the community has someone (or several someones) actively in charge who can make my-way-or-the-highway decisions but still be reasonable about them, it can be kept very nearly flame-free.

Still, some of the ideas Clay discusses would be very useful, even in an already-civil environment like css-d.  He proposes, for example, adapting features of the Slashdot karma/moderation system to mailing lists.  In the css-d context, such a system would probably function more like the eBay “Rate This Seller” feature; for us, it would be a “Rate This Member” mechanism that could communally identify those who are helpful, knowledgeable, and so on.  Similarly, a “Rate This Thread” could be used to identify topics of interest as well as topics that nobody wants to hear about.  (Like font sizing.)  I believe that by getting distributed, evolving community input of that kind, the list would be strengthened and enriched.

It would be interesting to add such features, but in the current environment, I don’t see a way to do so—and, let’s face it, I’m not the world’s most proficient programmer.  Right now it’s mostly something to keep in mind for the future.  Especially if you happen to be working on mailing list software.

Behind The Beauty, Cracks Appear

This one is going out to all the social conservatives in the room.

Congratulations, people!  You’ve managed to strike a blow for the promulgation of promiscuity and the diminishment of the American dream.  That was the point, wasn’t it?

Yes, I’m referring to the eleven state issues that passed a week ago, each and every one declaring marriage to be the union of a man and a woman, period, move to France if you don’t like it, end of story.  Here in Ohio, we passed one of the most stringent versions by amending our state constitution to define marriage that way, and also to prohibit the granting of equivalent legal status to any other kind of union.  Which means that not only can gays not get married in Ohio, but their domestic partners can’t be granted any of the rights and priveleges that marriage confers even by means of a civil union or some other not-marriage-in-name-only device.  The same is true for heterosexual domestic partners.  You’re either married, or you’re out of luck.  And if you’re gay, well, it would seem you’re just plain out of luck.

So yes, that’s right, oh noble defenders of morality, by enshrining your discomfort with homosexuality, you’ve done your level best to promote continued homosexual promiscuity.  After all, American society is pretty clearly telling gays that they shouldn’t ever hope to have a long-term committed relationship recognized by the state.  So is it any wonder that they don’t tend to form such relationships?  There are, of course, exceptions; I know of at least one gay couple that’s been together for a decade and a half now.  But they aren’t legally married, nor can they be so long as they live in this state, or really almost anywhere in this country.  The message is loud and clear.

As for the American dream, well, your crusade has tarnished that as well.  Remember “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?  So much for the last of the three.  When two people love each other enough to commit their lives to each other, why should anyone else stand in the way of their happiness?  And yet we do, as a society.  In the name of our discomfort, we impair their happiness.  Life and liberty are still mostly assured, although it’s likely Matthew Shepard would choose to disagree, if only he could.

I know that I’m generalizing here, but at the same time, this is what our democratic process has delivered.  If a vote is the voice of the people, they’re saying something that tastes like ashes to me.  It’s the same process that blocked interracial marriages for so many years.  It’s about as right now as it was then.

You know, according to the CIA World Factbook, the population of the United States in 2003 was 290,809,777.  According to the ratios documented in multiple studies, approximately 29,080,977 of those Americans are homosexual.  The total membership of the largest Baptist churches in the United States, by comparison, was about 29,553,000—roughly the same size as the homosexual population.  (And of couse there are people who are members of both sets.)  Since we’re all apparently willing to prohibit small minorities from marrying, I say we define marriage to be a union between a man and a woman, neither of whom is Baptist.  Sound fair?

Yeah, I thought you’d feel that way.

  (Ed. note — it has been pointed out that the 10% figure is no longer accepted.  Unfortunately, there is not much in the way of firm data on the actual percentage of homosexuals in the American population.  One source describes research which gives a variety of numbers that can, depending on one’s definition of “gay”, yield figures anywhere from 4.2% to 13.4% of the population.  The abstract point being made still stands regardless of the exact numbers, but the original inaccuracy is regretted.)

I’ve had some friends ask me when I’ll be moving, and I can no longer answer “I don’t plan to”, because I’m just not sure any more.  The problem isn’t Cleveland, of course.  Sure, we have problems hereabouts, but this is a relatively tolerant corner of the state.  The particular suburb in which I reside, Cleveland Heights, had the first voter-approved domestic partner registry in America.  Our street had about two dozen Kerry signs and one Bush sign, but so far as I know nobody gave the Bush folks a hard time.  Heck, the guy who mowed “BUSH” into his lawn the next street over was talked about with neighborly amusement and a touch of admiration toward his level of dedication.  Nobody proposed running him out of town.  We didn’t even call him names, or speak with derision.  We generally live and let live around here.  That’s kind of a liberal trait, actually—at least, among the liberals I know.  And I know a lot of them.

The problem isn’t even Ohio.  Yes, this state collectively told gays (and unmarried heterosexual couples) that we don’t much like their kind.  So did ten other states.  Right now, the same would happen just about anywhere in America.  So the problem seems to be America, or maybe just Americans.  Either way, there’s something about homosexuals getting married that a whole lot us just can’t stomach.  I don’t know what it is about this issue that has everyone’s panties in a bunch, and to be frank I’m not sure I much care.  When I’m this far out of touch with so many of my fellow countrymen, maybe it’s time to consider leaving.  After all, if the majority is always sane, then I’m the one who’s wrong here.

It isn’t that easy, of course.  I have no real wish to leave behind the country of my birth; I have great affection for America, and deeply believe in the principles on which it was founded, in a time when so many people seem to feel otherwise.  It grieves me to think of my country as being on the wrong track, but I do.  And then there’s my family to think about, but that actually deepens the quandry.  I don’t exactly want to ask them to move over a point of principle, but at the same time, I’m not at all sure I want to raise my children in a country that seems to have become so shamefully intolerant and narrow-minded.  Kat and I will set for them the best example we can, but when it’s us against the body politic, well, we’re just a little outnumbered.  We might be better served to find a society that will support our beliefs, instead of one that opposes and belittles them.

This isn’t an attack on America, and it isn’t a promise to leave, and it isn’t a story with any kind of decent ending.  It’s a glimpse into one citizen’s inner disappointment.  It’s an attempt to exorcise some of my frustration, and to plead a case, however clumsily.  It’s a lament for a noble dream, one we seem to have forgotten in the heat and noise of our harried, fearful lives.

I wish I could end with a flourish, or even better, with an answer, a call to action.  All I have is a sorrowful shake of my head and a small shrug of resignation.

They Got It Fixed Right On

This morning, as I pulled records for my show, the host before me asked if I had a special theme in mind.  “Nope,” said I; “the next thematic show won’t be until October 20th, which is Jelly Roll Morton’s birthday.  Nothin’ better than two hours of Jelly Roll.”

And then the double entendre hit me.

See, “jelly roll” was once upon a time a slang term for, to put it politely, female genitalia.  This was the case when he took on the moniker, in fact.  It’s sort of the circa-1900 equivalent of “Pussy Galore”.

There’s a tendency to think of earlier eras as being more innocent, more pure in some way.  They weren’t.  Not even close.  If you’re looking for a time when salacious puns and obvious, racy double entendres didn’t exist, you’re going to have to go back to the time before humans invented language, if not further.

Consider for a moment the first two verses and chorus of “They Got It Fixed Right On”, recorded by Georgia Tom Dorsey in 1930:

A girl with a Ford and a guy named Jim
He liked her and she liked him
Ford broke down in a quiet park
Didn’t get home ’till after dark

But they got it fixed, ain’t no doubt
Nobody knows what it’s all about
Too bad that the news got out
But they got it fixed right on

Well, Peg Leg Sam had a girl named Sue
She broke his peg leg half in two
Only way to fix the leg
Was to have his gal take a whole lot of peg

It starts out relatively tame, of course, but the second verse doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination, now does it?  I’m not even sure it qualifies as a double entendre, which I usually think of as being at least somewhat coy.  And remember, this is from 1930.  It isn’t quite as direct as “gonna have you naked by the end of this song”, nor as crude as “I wanna f— you like an animal”— but it isn’t exactly “Tea For Two”, either.

I’m not about to claim that this is the only example of saucy songwriting from the era, either.  Cliff Edwards, better known as Ukelele Ike and the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, made a career of racy songs like “I’m A Bear In A Ladies’ Boudoir” and “I’m Going To Give It To Mary With Love”.  That was also the time when Mae West was saying things like “Let’s forget about the six feet and talk about the seven inches” in her movies.

Back to Georgia Tom, though.  A later verse keeps up the laciviousness levels:

A girl went into the butcher’s shop
Grabbed the butcher’s big ham hock
Butcher knocked her off her feet
She missed his bone but she got his meat

I’ve played this song on my show a few times.  One of those times, a fellow programmer came into the studio and said, “Are you sure the FCC will let us air this?”  It seemed unlikely at the time that they’d fine or otherwise penalize us for a song recorded in 1930, but now I’m not so sure.  After all, if Janet Jackson’s nipple can cost CBS approximately $1.1 million per second, who knows?

I know a girl in a pastry shop
Selling those doughnuts and lollipops
Preacher came down to save her soul
She asked him to fix her jelly roll

There’s that jelly roll again, and being offered to a preacher, no less.  If only the kids today behaved more properly and showed some respect for public decency, just like their forebears did, eh?

It’s long been the case that one of the things I love about my show is that I don’t have to worry about previewing the songs.  After all, how much trouble could I get into for playing Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong?  Plenty, as it turns out.  The original recording of “My Sweet Hunk o’ Trash”, a duet between those two, is included on a Billie Holiday collection we have at the station.  In this version, as Billie sings one of the verses, Louis intersperses comments between her lines (a common practice).  One of his responses is “F— ‘em, baby”.  This was in 1944, and Decca records planned to release the song.  Only public complaints from Walter Winchell prompted them to change the line to “How come, baby” in the released song.  The compilation has the original.

So there’s one song I can’t actually air, despite it being recorded half a century ago.  That’s pretty clear.  Although, last I checked, classic rock stations could still get away with airing The Who’s “Who Are You?”, which features the very same ‘naughty word’.  But never mind that now; double standards are, like double entendres, very much par for the human course.  What worries me is the songs that flirt with the line between indecency and obscenity, like “They Got It Fixed Right On”.  Or, for that matter, the 1947 Dinah Washington number “Long John Blues”.

I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall
Yes I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall
Long John they call him, and he answers every call

Well I went to Long John’s office and told him the pain was killin’
Yes I went to Long John’s office and told him the pain was killin’
He told me not to worry, that my cavity just needed fillin’

He said “when I start drillin’, I’ll have to give you novocaine”
He said, “Yes, when I start drillin’, I’ll have to give you novocaine
Cause ev’ry woman just can’t stand the pain”

He took out his trusted drill
And he told me to open wide
He said he wouldn’t hurt me
But he’d fill my hole inside
Long John, Long John, you’ve got that golden touch
You thrill me when you drill me, and I need you very much

When he got through, he said “Baby that will cost you ten”
Yes when he got through, he said “Baby that will cost you ten
Six months from now, come back and see me again”

Say you’re supposed to see your dentist
‘Bout twice a year, that’s right
But I think I feel it bobbin’
Yes I’ll go back there tonight
Long John, Long John, don’t ever move away
Say I hope I keep on achin’ so I can see you every day.

These days, it’s hard to know what can get you in trouble; even a spot of dental work, we discover, just isn’t safe.  And twice in this entry, I’ve sanitized a certain word beginning with the letter “F” because I know many readers come here from work machines, and I don’t want to be responsible for getting them in trouble with their content filter administrator, let alone their boss.  Some people, upon tripping the content filter, have to fill out paperwork explaining the nature of the site they visited, why it had a Bad Word(tm) on it, and why they shouldn’t be reprimanded or fired as a result.

You’d think we’d have grown up a little more by now.

Reagan’s Dead? Really?

Okay, Ronald Reagan died.  I got it the first six hundred times.  I grew up in the Eighties; I remember the Reagan years quite clearly.  He did a lot of good things, a lot of bad things, and a lot of ambiguous things while President, just like every other President I can remember, but frankly, at this point I think people are starting to go a little overboard.  As usual, Jon Stewart nailed it squarely (if I may paraphrase): “The ones I pity in all this are Ford and Carter. Because they’re watching this and thinking, ‘When I die, no way am I getting that.’  My advice to them: die while saving a baby.”

Still, I think the way the Liberal Media has totally ignored his death is just a travesty, don’t you?

Electron Opiate

Television possesses a scary, scary power.

All day today, Carolyn was in a cranky mood, no doubt because yesterday she got her six-month vaccination shots.  As the day wore on, she was less and less amenable to distraction.  We tried feeding her dinner, and that worked for a while, but then she started crying.  We switched to toys, and that was good for a few minutes before the sad face returned.  Kick-and-play seat, no good.  Jumping chair, nothing.  Walking around while bouncing her in my arms kept her to a minimal crank, but stopping for more than a minute caused the crank to escalate fairly rapidly.

So, at last, in desperation, I put her in front of the television and started a Baby Einstein video.  From the moment the TV turned on, she calmed down.  We ran through the DVD twice, and she didn’t so much as fuss.  Even the end credits kept her captivated.  She stayed calm after the television was turned off, nursed, and went quietly to sleep.

This may be in part because it’s roughly the sixth time she’s seen the television on in our house, so there was a certain novelty factor involved.  If anything, this little episode has reinforced and deepened my determination to keep our children’s television exposure to a very bare minimum as they grow up.

Self-Referential

A week ago, I published an entry that was two parts exploration and one part experimentation.  The experiment was to see how readers commented on a post of that nature, one that was potentially very inflammatory even though was not at all its intent.  The commenting ability is still new for me, and I’m working out how open I want to be about comments.  When I was writing the entry, I had in mind to not permit comments, realizing that it could easily draw a metric ton of flames, accusations, and other sundry ickiness.  At the last minute, I decided that it would be better to open comments and see what happened.  I’m well satisfied with the results, but have now closed comments on the entry (you can still ping it if you want).

I do want to follow up just a bit on some of the comments that were posted.  A few people said or implied that I should have picked a less volatile subject than intimate partner violence (IPV).  That’s just it, though: I didn’t pick the subject with an intent to post.  I was doing my own research, for my own information, and at the end of the process decided I’d share the results rather than just sit on what I’d learned.  Why?  I’ll quote myself:

…I was able to do some in-depth fact checking of my own in less than an hour, using nothing but Google and some well-chosen search terms, and obtain a more accurate picture of the world than I’d had before. I believe that this ability to self-inform is one of the most important and often underappreciated benefits of the Web. If nothing else, I’m glad I went on this particular search because it reminded me that the Web really is something worth fighting for, and that improving the Web is always an effort worth undertaking.

It was an aspect of the Web I’d rediscovered, and thought it was also important to share.  I’ve been doing this stuff for more than a decade now, and when I started my whole goal was to help put information online.  That’s why I wrote the HTML tutorials at CWRU—to make it easier for people to share information about whatever they knew best.  I’ve seen a resurgence of that impulse recently, with people blogging obscure fixes or problems they’ve encountered so Google will pick it up, and it will be there for the next person who needs it.  (See, for example,”Writing For Google” over at Daring Fireball.)  So if I can forget that the Web is an astonishing source of information, and need a reminder, maybe others could use the same reminder.

And why did I share so much detailed information on such a potentially sensitive subject?  I don’t think my points would have had the impact without the details.  That probably sounds like I was trying to use a touchy subject to raise my exposure, but that’s not it at all.  If I’d just posted to say, “I was curious about something and dug up a lot of information about it, and that’s what’s cool about the Web” it wouldn’t have had the same resonance.  Walking through the process and pointing to the sources I quoted established a context for my final points.  It was also the case that I believe I found some useful information about a very important subject, and was able to disseminate it further.

My thanks to everyone who contributed comments, especially those of you who pushed back a bit.  I’ll close with a favorite David Byrne lyric; make of it what you will.

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
—”Crosseyed and Painless”

My Dinner With Brian

I was back in the training groove this week, and on Monday morning one of the attendees had to duck out at one of the breaks.  “I have to talk with Brian, who’s consulting for us.”  I must’ve looked blank, because he said, “Brian Foy.  Do you know him?  Works with Randall Schwartz.”

I’ve been reading Brian‘s missives from Iraq on the O’Reilly Network for a year now, and was really psyched to meet him.  As it turned out, we both were planless on Monday night, so I picked him up at his hotel and blundered around the neighborhood until we found a Thai restuarant.  Over appetizers, Brian told me his wife (an opera singer) has been doing her own Web design for a while now, and was getting into CSS.  Then he mentioned buying the O’Reilly CSS book for her, and as he talked about why he’d bought it, I quickly realized that he’d picked it up because it was an O’Reilly book, and recommended.  He literally didn’t know he was having dinner with its author.

After a couple of minutes, I finally told him who’d written the book.  I should probably feel bad about not admitting it right away.  I wasn’t going to say anything here either, but he already blogged it, so… what the heck.

It was very interesting to talk about Iraq with someone who’d been there.  I was able to ask him the question I’ve wanted to have answered for a while: “How does the news coverage compare to what’s really going on over there?”

“It’s horrible,” he said.  “We got CNN and Fox on the Armed Forces Network and they were both just terrible.”  He said that he’d literally been present for things that were being covered on TV by the time he got back to the barracks, and nobody ever accurately represented what had happened.  Not even close, apparently.  Brian made the observation that images are so overwhelming, so powerful, that the story was always driven by whatever footage had been shot.  Not by the actual event in its totality, nor the context.  Just the visual.

It wasn’t surprising to hear that, but it left me saddened and frustrated.

December 2014
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