Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In Praise of Cranky Old White Guys

Moose is proud this morning of her home state senator, Dick Lugar (R-IN), for coming out in favor of sanity on the war in Iraq. In a Senate floor speech Monday night (which was turned into an op-ed piece for today's Wa Po), the former chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee makes a powerful, thoughtful case for changing course sooner rather than later. The crux of his position is stated as a risk/benefits calculation that we find a little cold, yet it's language that his audience in the diplo-politico-militarico establishment is far more likely to heed than our shrieking Code Pinko cries of "let's just bring them the hell HOME." Here's Lugar:

I believe that the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved by doing so. Persisting with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our interests over the long term. I do not come to this conclusion lightly, particularly given that Gen. David Petraeus will deliver a formal report in September on his efforts to improve security. I do not doubt the assessments of military commanders that there has been progress in security. But three factors -- the political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing stress on our military and the constraints of our domestic political process -- are converging to make it almost impossible for the United States to engineer a stable, multi-sectarian government in Iraq in a reasonable time.

In other words, LET'S JUST BRING THEM THE HELL HOME! Moose is creeped out by the appeal to national interests and the assumption that the failure to "engineer" a stable government in Iraq is due more to a problem of time than to a flaw in the conception of the whole fiasco of U. S. involvement there. Nonetheless, what is really striking in this paragraph is the role played by the reiterated "I": "I believe that the costs and risks. . . ," "I do not come to this conclusion lightly. . . .," "I do not doubt the assessments. . . ." Lugar's "I" is a slender, modest figure, a cautious man who has come to his decision after great deliberation and with some reluctance. One would call him self-effacing, except that Lugar's slender "I" keeps asserting himself into the paragraph and shoulders the heavy moral burden of publicly breaking with his party and his president on a matter of considerable urgency and import.

Americans -- and especially, perhaps, Midwesterners -- love this particular "I": cautious yet courageous, humble yet forceful, plain-spoken but not crude. (Yes, it's true, Lugar reminds Moose of her own late mild-mannered Midwestern dad, who spoke softly yet always managed to make her listen.) Lugar's "I" is no maverick on some self-promoting "Straight Talk Express." He is a team player, a company man, comfortable sitting at the table. When he bucks the tide, the other guys at the table can't dismiss him as a renegade or a loon. He is one of them, and he has broken the thick silence that had taken over the room.

So, fellas, are you listening yet? Will you tune in to a reasonable man who tells you that your "vital interests" are no longer being served by this disastrously misguided policy? Or will you close your eyes and pretend that Lugar is a wild-eyed woman in a pink tee-shirt?

(Wa Po has a piece today suggesting Lugar may not be alone in his party in his skepticism toward Bush's war policies. It's here.)

Another cranky old white guy deserving of praise this week is 87-year old Justice John Paul Stevens, whose continued good health you should pray for every day of your lives. Stevens dissented in the ridiculous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, which pretty much eviscerated the First Amendment rights of high school students, and he did so by comparing the current ban on marijuana to Prohibition and suggesting that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated instead of prohibited. In his dissent, Stevens writes:
[T]he current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our anti-marijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs.
Goose wept when she read these words and insists that Roxie's World declare the Honorable Justice Stevens our first Official Righteous Dude of the Week. It is so ordered.

Meanwhile, Tom Toles brilliantly skewers the unrighteous dudes on the Supreme Court who comprised the majority in the "Bong Hits" case, so we'll let him have the last word today:

Or maybe not quite the last word: You may not hear from your favorite dog blogger for a few days, kids. The moms are off on another little summer jaunt, this time to Texas for my Uncle Bobby's "When I'm 64" birthday party, which will include a gig at Austin's amazing Broken Spoke. Happy birthday, Bobby, and please, please, please, try to keep my moms off the stage!

Monday, June 25, 2007

On Virtue and Vice

(Photo Credit: Brant Ward, San Francisco Chronicle; 2007 LGBT Pride Parade)

Paws up for Elizabeth Edwards, kids. In San Francisco yesterday for the world's most fabulous gay pride celebration, she did what none of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, including her husband, has had the guts to do: She declared her support for legalized same-sex marriage, saying, simply:
I don't know why somebody else's marriage has anything to do with me. I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage.
To which Roxie's World replies: You go, girl!

(For coverage of Edwards' speech to the
Alice B. Toklas Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Democratic Club, click here.)

Regular readers may have noticed that we've had surprisingly little to say on the subject of marriage here in Roxie's World, though perhaps you figured that every cute reference to my moms and their twenty-three years of queer delight was a not-so-subtle argument in support of marriage equality. Gosh, you might have thought, Roxie's moms are so nice, so normal, so incredibly just like every other white middle-class person I ever met. They have a dog, a house, a hybrid car. They have funny fights about money, time, and what to watch on television. They have never skated down the street with dozens of pink and black balloons attached to their bodies. How can we not let them marry?

If you thought that, you are a really nice person deserving of a big lick on the cheek from Roxie's World, despite your puzzling aversion to public displays of pink and black balloons. Nonetheless, you are missing something important about the marriage debate and my position on it. Of course your favorite dog blogger with the two charming moms is unambiguously in favor of extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples, but we cringe whenever the argument is framed in terms of "niceness" and "normalcy." People aren't granted civil rights or the protection of the law because they are nice or normal. They get such things because they are people, and the law does not allow people to be treated differently from one another. Moose is fond of saying that she takes her position on civil rights from the words carved on the frieze of the Supreme Court building: Equal justice under law. It is as simple -- and as deeply, breathtakingly radical -- as that.

Despite the fact that their relationship is probably as close to "marriage" as you can get without a license (and the array of state and federal benefits that go along with that), the moms actually have a fairly fraught position on the issue of marriage. Growing up in the women's movement, they tended to see marriage as part of the problem of patriarchy and not part of the solution. They were proud and happy to be outsiders to an institution that had been so oppressive to women. In more recent years, they've also been strongly sympathetic to the queer critique of marriage as a diversion from the more radical goals of the early gay liberation movement. Snug as they may be in their relational cocoon, they are opposed to the linkage between marriage and the distribution of benefits to which all citizens are entitled. They also celebrate the range of intimacies and relational possibilities that queer cultures have brought into being. They've been more than a little bit influenced by the work of Michael Warner, whose book, The Trouble With Normal, is a compact yet devastating critique of the gay marriage movement.

And yet. . .my moms despise discrimination of any sort, and even though it's really, really manipulative to drag adorable children into political arguments, they hate the fact that their good friend, the Anatomically Obsessed 7-Year Old, lives in a family that is treated differently from other families just because he has two dads rather than one. They are also Marylanders, which means they are on pins and needles right now waiting to see how the state's Court of Appeals is going to rule in a major marriage case. (For details on Conaway v. Deane and Polyak, click here, and then send some bucks to our good friends at Equality Maryland.) They don't know what they'll do if the court agrees with a lower court ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is a form of gender discrimination, but they know they'll be thrilled if the Free State joins the company of other blue states that are moving toward marriage and family equality. Maybe they'll get hitched, and maybe they won't -- but you know your favorite dog blogger will put her paws in the air for a victory for fairness. In support of that goal, we've got our fingers crossed and a new sign out in the yard (get yours here):

Heads Up: Radical Change of Subject

I would be remiss in my duty of informing my readers if I didn't make sure you were all paying very close attention to Wa Po's riveting, terrifying series of articles on Vice President Darth Cheney. It's a four parter by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker that started yesterday. You can access the whole series here, and you should. Even if you already believe that Cheney is the locus of evil in the universe (and you should), the details will stun you. It's a bracing reminder that the mainstream media can still do vitally important work, which is why Roxie's World hereby declares Gellman and Becker our first Watchdogs of the Week.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"This Moment of June"

(Photo Credit: "Napping, Concord, CA, 1996: With Cal," Gwendolen Cates; see

This is going to be a happy post, maybe even a sappy one. If you're looking for snark, click elsewhere, or just sit tight til the New York Times puts Maureen Dowd's column for tomorrow up on its web site. That ought to satisfy your appetite for effete cynicism and shallow political analysis. You'll get none of that in Roxie's World, at least not today.

Why all the glee? It could be the weather. Your nation's capital (oh, dear -- apologies to my legions of loyal international readers for the U. S.-centric reference) is positively glorious today. (How is the weather in Dubai today, anyway? or Slovenia? or Korea? ye cosmopolitan denizens of Roxie's World?) Here, it's warm but not hot, and the humidity is low, the sky a lovely azure. It's the kind of day when an old dog wants to lie on her back in the yard and let the warmth of the sun bake the aches right out of her creaky joints. It's the kind of day when one mom will decide to walk for four miles on the trail rather than three and just grin when a passerby catches her singing out loud with her Nano as the Indigo Girls belt out, "I believe in you and I believe in love." Hours later, the other mother heads out for her own walk and phones home to say that one of the neighbors, who is normally kind of withdrawn and something of a sad sack, is out dancing in his front yard. With another person. It's the kind of day when an English prof pulls Mrs. Dalloway off the shelf because she has to re-visit those lines about a summer morning so deliciously fresh that the vivacious fifty-something protagonist is overwhelmed by the "absurd and faithful passion" of her love for life:
the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.
I warned you this might get sappy.

Or maybe it isn't sappy to affirm one's faith in love, one's reckless love of life itself. Maybe, given the precariousness of both, those are gutsy things to do. We live and die by instants. Do we dare give our hearts away to something that might disappear in the blink of an eye?

On a solstice morning twenty-six years ago, our beloved Goose almost disappeared after a car accident on a winding country road in New Jersey. Alone for seven hours at the bottom of an embankment, she nearly bled to death, yet managed to prop herself up to keep from choking on her own blood until she was finally found. This past Thursday was the summer solstice, and, as it happened, the moms were driving up to the Garden State for a short visit. Moose drove, because Goose is a teensy bit skittish about being behind the wheel on that particular day. About 30 miles from their destination, the sky opened up in a spectacular thunderstorm. Moose has never been in a serious car accident, but she's never been keen on driving in the rain. (Indeed, she's been known to cry during storms while riding in the passenger seat. She is not proud of this obvious evidence of wussiness, but she is an honest woman and so said I could tell you.) In any case, the storm was mercifully brief and Moose managed to maintain her composure as she made her way up the Turnpike. (By some miracle, she found herself surrounded by sensible drivers who slowed to a crawl as torrents of rain fell from the sky.) As suddenly as it began, the storm ended. Out the left side of the car, bright sun emerged. Out the ride side of the car, a magnificent double rainbow appeared, fully visible from one end to the other for a rapturously gazing Goose. Moose drove on through the traffic and the puddles, braving a smile at Goose and a glance or two out the right window.

Perhaps that's why we take the risks of loving people or life or putting our faith in anything. Storms happen -- but so, in an instant, do rainbows.

Hold that thought in your beautiful mind as you click on my music box. Take a listen to Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Why Shouldn't We," from her wonderful new album, The Calling, which is all about love, commitment, and figuring out what you were put on this earth to do -- then doing it. (Click here for Carpenter's contribution to NPR's "This I Believe" series. It's called "The Learning Curve of Gratitude" and is a reflection on Carpenter's recent experience of pulmonary embolism, which forced her to cancel a summer concert tour [for which the moms had tickets] and renewed her appreciation for the fact that "every day is all there is." The essay reminded Moose of why Carpenter has long been on her short list of artists she'd most like to have a beer with.)

Peace out, beloveds.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Count the Vaginas

(Photo Credit: Melina Mara, Washington Post; the inner circle of Hillary Clinton's campaign)

Are you worried that Roxie's World is taking a turn for the crude and anatomical? Are you more worried that, with our third Hillary post in a row, we've abandoned our position of neutrality in the Democratic primary race and are transforming your favorite dog blog into a bastion of mindless Clinton worship?

Relax, kids. The creative team and the political division are closely monitoring the situation and are determined to maintain Roxie's World's high standards of. . .popping off about whatever it is that happens to capture our attention on any given day. We just couldn't resist calling your attention to Lois Romano's terrific piece on Hillary's estrogen-fueled inner circle in this morning's Wa Po. Cynics will argue that Romano got suckered by a team of femi-nazi loyalists looking to humanize a candidate so often perceived as cold and calculating. (Snarky aside to Maureen Dowd: There's your lead for your next column. We'll let you use it for free if you promise to credit Roxie's World.) We say paws up to Romano for calling attention to the talented group of women who form the core of Clinton's campaign team. "Never have so many women operated at such a high level in one campaign," she writes, "working with a discipline and a loyalty and a legendary secrecy rarely seen at this level of American politics." In a couple of spots, Romano acknowledges the downside to the tightness of Clinton's inner circle -- the tendency toward secrecy, insularity, and a certain defensiveness -- but mostly she focuses on the fact that, "among her own staff, [Clinton] has cultivated a nurturing culture of collegiality and loyalty, a leadership style based in teamwork, and often favored by women, that values consensus over hierarchy." Heck, there are even weekly yoga classes at the campaign's Arlington headquarters! How much you wanna bet their periods are all in sync -- well, you know, at least among those who still have periods?

Moose is still chewing on that comment by Jen Moseley, quoted in The Nation piece on Hillary, that being a woman doesn't guarantee women will support Clinton, because "There's no vagina litmus test, people." She appreciates the point. She knows there are plenty of women she would vote against no matter how many birthday parties they threw for their devoted staff members. She also knows that feminism aims to create a truly equitable world in which differences of gender, sex, race, and class would cease to matter. In that world, there would be no need to count vaginas -- or notice skin color or income level -- but we don't yet live in that world or anything remotely like it. That's why a photograph of a group of smart, strong, smiling women working together to make history gives us a goosebump or two over morning coffee. The only way to get that world is to build it, and these poised, determined women look like they'd be pretty handy with the tools of world-building.

Roxie's World says let's give 'em a hammer and see what they can do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Stop --

Didn't I tell you people to go to Hillary's web site to try to prevent this??? Don't fail me, loyal fans! Don't fail Moose! You know how sensitive she is, especially when it comes to music! And yet, this may well be one of the most brilliant political come-ons ever. (You have to go to the Clinton campaign web site to learn the results of the theme song contest. The video is just a teaser -- and a darned effective one it is.) Oh, Hill. Oh, Bill. You get us every time. And if you didn't see The Sopranos finale, well, you're out of luck, but the onion rings joke is REALLY, REALLY funny, as is the creepy guy who glares at Hill and Bill so menacingly. (Yes, that is Vincent Curatola, who played John Sacramoni on The Sopranos, doing the glaring, according to a fun little report on the video in Wa Po.) But, oh, lord, CELINE DION??!!??

And here is further proof, should it be required, that Maureen Dowd is absolutely brain-dead on the subject of the Clintons. Rather than give the Clintons a few points for cleverness in their Sopranos spoof, Dowd wastes her ink on pointing out the ways in which Hillary is "like" both Carmela (she, "too, found a way to profit from her husband's failings and flaws") and Tony (she "is so power-hungry that she can justify any thuggish means to get the prize"). Oh, spare us your stupid, flat-footed analogies, Mo. It's unfortunate the Clintons aren't as ruthless and powerful as your fevered imagination seems to think they are. If the senator and the president were just a little more "thuggish," perhaps they'd find a way to shut you up.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mean Girls

(Photo Credit: Keith Bedford, Reuters)

[Disclaimer: Roxie's World endorsed Al Gore for president more than a year ago, though the political division here has begun to hope he won't jump into the race because saving the planet might just be more important than running the country. The moms have had a Hillary bumper sticker on the fridge for awhile, but that was a gift from the Official Gay Stalker of Roxie's World and not intended as an endorsement. Recently, however, this sensitive old dog has begun to detect a shifting of the political winds in our household. Goose sent Hillary a check a couple of weeks ago, and Moose has been heard humming that old feminist chestnut, "I Am Woman." Of course, Goose could be pulling a Steven Spielberg and sending money to all the Democratic candidates before making up her mind (Spielberg officially endorsed Clinton this week), but I haven't seen any checks written out to Obama or Edwards around the house. And Moose's humming could just mean she's thinking about weighing in on Hillary's public search for a campaign theme song. (Whatever your position on the race, you should get in on this crucial debate -- if only to assure the campaign doesn't choose a Celine Dion song. Please. Do it for Moose. Click on that link.) Still, I have a hunch the moms' long season of dithering may be coming to an end, so I write this post as the last creature in the household who is officially neutral on the declared Democratic candidates for president.]

A series of polls out this week shows Hillary Clinton with a widening lead over her Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination. (For a round-up of polls, click here.) A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll also shows voters preferring Democrats to Republicans in the presidential race by 52% to 31%. (You read that right, kids. Could it be that after six and a half years of being Bush-whacked voters in this country are COMING TO THEIR SENSES?) Finally, a Wa Po/ABC News poll shows that Clinton owes her 15-point lead among Democrats to her strong support from women, particularly from lower-income, lesser-educated women. Curiously, though, Clinton's support among women who are most like her -- i.e., over 45, college-educated, higher-earning -- is relatively weak. Among that group, her lead over Obama is just 4 percentage points (38% to 34%). That group also ranks her significantly lower than Obama on the question of who is most honest and trustworthy. She was the choice among just 19% of college-educated women, while Obama was the choice for 50%.

Judith Warner in the Times has some interesting thoughts on why Clinton's support among women of her own generational and economic cohort is relatively soft. She speculates that such women are less receptive to Clinton's communitarian language of shared responsibility ("It takes a village. . .") because they tend to be "big believers in the American ethos of individual 'choice' and 'personal responsibility,'" notions that have worked well in their own comfortable lives. Warner also acknowledges that there is a strongly personal dimension to elite women's ambivalence toward the junior senator from New York. She wonders if such women don't resent Hillary because of the largely successful ways in which she's negotiated the challenges and role conflicts they've had to contend with, despite their economic privileges. Warner writes:
Is it possible, now that stay-at-home momdom has become a fixture of the suburbs and when wealthy women have bailed out of the workforce in the face of family pressures, that the image of one who toughed it out – uninterruptedly, and with little or no publicly expressed angst – is less than welcome? . . . .

Could Hillary, the first woman to make partner at an old boy Southern law firm, a working mother who kept it all together – with a lot of household help – feel like a reproach to those who just couldn’t hack it? Does this explain, in part, some of the “who-does-she-think-she-is” rumblings that run through the Hillary-hate?

The moms have been struck for a long time by the harsh, personal tone of the judgments they've heard other women make of Hillary Clinton. A lot of their women friends have strong, principled differences with Clinton on important issues such as the war, but the level of vitriol aimed at Clinton is remarkable. "I hate her," a close friend declared back when Republicans were trying to remove Hillary's husband from office for lying about a sexual indiscretion. Recently this same friend -- affluent, politically liberal, and generally overflowing with empathy -- said she would vote for Clinton if she got the nomination but that she still has deeply mixed feelings about her. She finds her calculating. She is certain that Clinton despises her husband and has stayed in her marriage only to advance her political ambitions. She laughed dismissively when Moose tried to suggest that the heart of any marriage is a mystery to those who are outside of it and that there is a bond between the Clintons that has clearly endured. Somehow, Hillary gets blamed for whatever personal/political bargain the Clintons may have struck in their marriage. She put up with his philandering for all those years and then stuck by him after the humiliation of the Lewinsky affair. She keeps him around now because of his prodigious skills as a fundraiser and tactician and because he'll help siphon African-American votes away from Obama. No one seems to wonder or worry too much about what Bill gets out of staying in the marriage.

Of course Roxie's World does not advocate blind loyalty to members of one's own group, whether the group is based on race, sex, gender, or species. (If you doubt that, read what's been posted here under the label "Mary Cheney.") The reason the moms have dithered so long over who to support in this election is that they have their own qualms over Clinton's position on the war and her misguided allegiance to the politics of the Democratic Losership Council. Our beef is with the knee-jerk and often, if you'll pardon the expression, catty quality of much of the commentary on Clinton, particularly that offered up by women closest to her in age and life experience. (This is why we advocate a constitutional amendment prohibiting New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd from ever writing about Clinton again. We think it's in the best interest of the country, not to mention Dowd's pinched little soul.)

When I was a younger, sprier dog, I tended not to get along well with other female dogs. The moms would joke that, despite their best efforts, they had apparently failed to raise a lesbian. When I met another bitch on the trail, I would immediately assert my dominance to let the interloper know who the alpha female was. Few could effectively challenge my leadership status, which is how I earned the title "Mayor of Sligo Creek Trail." Perhaps Hillary Clinton and I are alike in this respect, and perhaps some of the resentment aimed at her by other women arises from the insecurity of non-alpha females who secretly long to be leaders of the pack. Or perhaps the non-alpha females have a terror in their hearts that no woman will ever be able to succeed in that role. They fear the possibility of her failure so much that they go out of their way to undermine her chances of success. They dream a change in the world, but they blink in that instant when swift action would make the dream real. Take it from a dog, folks: She who blinks first is never the alpha female.

Moose says I need to be careful with my analogies, but I rather like this one. I pointed out to her the magnet that's up on our fridge not far from the Hillary bumper sticker: A 1950s-style woman faces three other women (whose expressions suggest shock and fear) in her pristine kitchen. "You say I'm a BITCH," she complains, "like it's a bad thing!" To which the junior senator from New York and I might add: "Hear me roar."

Oh, and who looks like the alpha dog in this sweet little pack? You decide:

(Photo Credit: Harry Benson, "President William J. Clinton and Hillary Clinton, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1992," featured in "Being There" [through September 3, 2007 at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC])

Update from the Department of I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself: Please read the fabulous cover story in The Nation by Lakshmi Chaudhry, "What Women See When They See Hillary." It's fair to all sides of the question and worth pondering as the campaign season moves forward. One young feminist is quoted saying, "Being a woman does not get you the automatic support of women. There's no vagina litmus test, people." To which Moose replies, respectfully, "Perhaps there should be. Have you counted the number of vaginas on the Supreme Court recently? Did you not notice that the loss of one vagina on the Court resulted in a 5-4 decision that significantly undermined Roe v. Wade?"

Okay, kids -- Roxie's World has broken the V-barrier. After last week's references to fisting, I think it's fair to say we've entered into a new territory. Fasten your seatbelts!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Top to Bottom

Moose is in a bossy mood this morning. She insists that you watch this You Tube clip of the Most Fabulous Butch in America, Air America's Rachel Maddow, on Countdown the other night discussing the bizarre news, uncovered by the Sunshine Project, that in 1994 the Air Force proposed creation of a so-called "gay bomb" aimed at undermining the discipline and morale of enemy troops by inducing "homosexual behavior." Maddow, according to Moose, is gorgeous, brilliant, and hilarious in her conversation with substitute host Amy Robach, as she unpacks the weird mixture of homoeroticism and gay panic fueling this wacky sci-fi fantasy of an aphrodisiac bomb. The entertainment factor is heightened considerably by the fact that much of the discussion is run over video of Bush in his manhood-accentuating flight suit during the infamous "Mission Accomplished" stunt. He struts around the deck of the aircraft carrier shaking hands with one man after another as Maddow explains the homoeroticism of male activities and social worlds.

Dr. Maddow (she has a PhD in political science), Roxie's World gives you a Five-Paw Salute for your noble effort to raise the discourse and your keen sense of media-butch fashion. Moose thinks the world would be a much happier place if you had your very own late-night TV show. She was even going to suggest her insomnia might disappear if she could fall asleep every night to the sound of your dulcet tones and wry wit, but Goose shot her a look across the breakfast table that made her think better of that idea. Some days, I'm not the only one kept on a short leash in our house.

Also on the gay stack today is more fallout from Bush's nomination of Dr. James Holsinger Jr. to be surgeon general of the United States. You owe it to yourself to go to Slate and read the 6-page report Holsinger wrote for the United Methodist Church in 1991 on "the pathophysiology of male homosexuality" as part of the church's consideration of its stance on homosexuality. (As a member of the church's Judicial Council, Holsinger ultimately voted "with the majority to boot a lesbian from her post as a minister and to allow ministers to deny church membership to gay men and lesbians," according to a Wa Po editorial.) Holsinger's report is truly astonishing for its lurid attention to the details of a range of anal sex practices, notably fisting, and his insistence on the absolute separateness of the alimentary and reproductive systems in humans. (I am a mere dog and not a doctor, but apparently the absence of a cloaca in humans is a strong argument against the naturalness of, um, rear-guard sexual activity. Moose is trying to find her ninth-grade biology textbook to help me grasp the importance of the cloaca.)

It's hard to tell why a report on the alleged "pathophysiology of male homosexuality" would help to justify firing a lesbian minister (though Holsinger acknowledges that fisting is "occasionally practiced by heterosexual and lesbian couples"), but such logical lacunae are common in the discourse of medico-scientific homophobia in which the good doctor indulges. Indeed, Moose says Holsinger's comments on the anatomical "complementarity of the human sexes" bear a creepy resemblance to turn-of-the-century sexologists who relentlessly scrutinized human bodies for markers of deviation from the norms of sexuality. (For a more in-depth look at this fascinating topic, click here.) Not even Moose can explain the comments about plumbing and pipe fittings near the end of Holsinger's report. For that, you need the genius of Stephen Colbert, so we'll let him have the last word today:

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sense of an Ending

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Now baby I don't wanna be just another useless memory holding you tight
Or just some other ghost out on the street to whom you stop and politely speak
when you pass on by vanishing into the night
left to vanish into the night

I don't wanna fade away
Oh I don't wanna fade away
Tell me what can I do what can I say
Cause darlin' I don't wanna fade away
--Bruce Springsteen, "Fade Away" (The River)
Moose has a headache. Perhaps it's the insomnia that continues to dog her sorry perimenopausal steps. Or perhaps it's the fact that she can't get the execrable sounds of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" out of her head since she and Goose watched the finale of The Sopranos in the middle of the night. (The late viewing was due not to insomnia [which came even later] but to a swelegant dinner party the moms had last night. I'm telling you, kids, their pork tenderloin is so good it probably violates the sumptuary laws, so please don't tell the king about it. Just stop by some fair summer evening and see if you can get them to put some on the grill for you. Trust me. You'll love it.)

Anyway, the internets are on fire today with commentary on the inconclusive conclusion of The Sopranos, which went out with neither a bang nor a whimper but with a really, really bad example of what the culture mavens at Wikipedia describe as a "power ballad" (which is helpfully defined as a confessional rock song that "explore[s] sentimental themes such as yearning and need, love and loss"). It was a strange choice for a show whose soundtracks were always as compelling as its gripping plots and stunningly well-drawn characters. Tony plays the song on a jukebox while waiting for the rest of his family to join him for dinner at a retro-looking place called Holsten's. "Don't Stop Believin'" was on Journey's album, Escape, released in 1981, so perhaps its banal invocation of "a city boy" on a "midnight train goin' anywhere" taps into Tony's nostalgia for the lost possibilities of his own hard-edged youth. Tony, like Moose, was born in 1959, so he would have been twenty-two in 1981, the year Moose headed to Tony's home state of New Jersey for grad school without a tape of Escape in her Chevy Citation. (No snarky comments, please. It was not a cool car, but it was free. She has a cool car now, thank you very much, and it got close to 50 miles per gallon on the moms' recent road trip.)

What is it, one wonders, that viewers of The Sopranos are urged to not "stop believin'" as the song ends and the screen abruptly goes black? Should we cling to our faith in Tony's tough-guy
instincts, despite the blandness of his musical taste? Should we imagine that the tableau of Soprano family unity we are offered in the final scene will endure -- despite the fact that Meadow isn't at the table and the family is feasting not on heaping platters of pasta but on greasy onion rings that Tony has ordered? Perhaps the blandness is the point. That would fit in with the systematic de-romanticization of the characters that has occurred throughout the final season. (Tony seemed both brutal and petty in forcing Bobby Baccalieri to commit his first murder this year, while Carmela seemed barely to notice the bodies piling up all around her. Her instincts often proved to be as tough and self-centered as her husband's.) Or perhaps we are simply urged to believe in the afterlife of images. As the song says, "Oh, the movie never ends / It goes on and on and on and on" -- as will The Sopranos, through repeats and the eternity offered by the boxed sets that will soon be flying off store shelves. (Moose thinks Springsteen's "Fade Away," which she did have on a tape in her Chevy Citation in 1981, expresses this idea much more effectively than the treacly "Don't Stop Believin,'" which is why she insisted we quote it in the epigraph to this post. In the abruptness of the show's ending, Tony and crew may seem to have "vanish[ed] into the night" of that black screen, but their hyper-circulation in the culture of images guarantees they will never "fade away.")

Would it have killed them to end the series with a good Springsteen song rather than an awful Journey "anthem"? Steve Van Zandt, you couldn't do some kind of musical intervention to keep Moose's head from aching?

As for the lack of resolution, well, English profs have a pretty high tolerance for open-ended endings. Indeed, irresolution helps keep English profs in business. Moose has tortured students for years by pointing out that the technique of the freeze-frame, whether in film or fiction, keeps characters in a state of suspended animation that balks the reader's desire for certainty and "closure." (English profs hate closure.) Still, the moms are inclined to agree with viewers who felt cheated by the ending of The Sopranos, because the whole thing felt gamey, orchestrated to whip the audience up into a frenzy of anticipation that ultimately came to nothing. For the first time in the life of this brilliant series, The Sopranos struck some false notes as it lurched toward its ending. Corners were cut. Characters were compromised, as they were written into hasty actions that seemed insufficiently motivated. Dr. Melfi's abrupt dumping of Tony as a patient after all these years? Because of a study on sociopaths and some dinner party chit-chat among shrinks? Not bloody likely. AJ's announcement that he planned to join the military and become a helicopter pilot? Even though he quickly abandoned the idea, it would have been more credible if the slacker student who thinks that "Yeats" rhymes with "meats" had announced he was heading off to grad school.

Here's a round-up of some of the commentary:
  • Timothy Noah weighs in first on Slate in the conversation that he, Brian Williams, and Jeffrey Goldberg have been having about the final season. Noah is disappointed by the manipulativeness of the final episode.
  • Alessandra Stanley in the Times nicely captures the abruptness of the ending and the weirdness of the final musical choice: "The abrupt finale last night was almost like a prank, a mischievous dig at viewers who had agonized over how television’s most addictive series would come to a close. The suspense of the final scene in the diner was almost cruel. And certainly that last bit of song — “Don’t Stop Believing,” by Journey — had to be a joke." The Times also has a piece on on-line responses to the show.
  • Tom Shales in Wa Po likes the ending, saying it delivers the characters to myth and imagination.
  • MSNBC has some good stuff up, including a conversation between Tucker Carlson, who felt let down by the ending, and Star-Ledger media analyst Steve Adubato, who loved it.
  • Update: TV writers weigh in in NYT. Compelling.
We like the suggestion we saw somewhere that, in the end, it was viewers who got whacked by The Sopranos. The black, silent screen brutally exiles us from our imagined intimacy with "the family." We are forever outside their circle, doomed never to know what happens next, permitted only the hollow consolation of repeats and laborious examination of textual evidence. In the end, The Sopranos has made English profs of us all.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Smart Dog

The moms are on the road this week, but my pal Margie is taking care of me and reading the newspapers for me, which is a very good thing indeed because otherwise I might have missed this amazing bit of canine news from the world of science. Read on.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Roxie's World to hear that dogs are complex thinkers, capable of learning not just through imitation but through making inferences about the best way to accomplish a particular task. (Indeed, we might pause here to wish that some humans were more skilled in this kind of reasoning. Perhaps their wars would go better if they were, or perhaps they would have the wisdom not to start wars that would turn out to be hard to finish.)

The chart above (click on it to enlarge) illustrates experiments that were done at the University of Vienna to test the role played by instinct, imitation, and inference-making in dogs' performance of a particular task. The results of the experiments are nicely summarized in this Wa Po story by Rob Stein. The study offers clear evidence that dogs are similar to infants in deciding "how to imitate a behavior based on the specific circumstances in which the action takes place." It breaks new ground in the scientific understanding of the inner life of dogs. As one scientist put it:

"Every day, we're discovering surprises about animals and finding out animals are far more intelligent and far more emotional than we previously thought," said Marc Bekoff, an animal behaviorist who recently retired from the University of Colorado. "We're really breaking down the lines between the species."
Well, fellas, if you'd been reading Roxie's World you'd have figured all this out a long time ago, but we're grateful to you for finding the data to support what we've known here all along. I know how you humans love your data, and whatever makes you happy makes me happy. I am pleased, however, that my moms don't make me push on bars, with mouth or paws, in order to get treats. I get treats as a reward for merely existing, which perhaps explains why Goose found a dog biscuit in her pocket all the way out in Illinois this morning. Which perhaps explains why Moose felt a longing in her poor heart that could only be assuaged by typing for me. Ah, silly humans. Why do you ever leave home?