Category: Culture

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A photo of three women's legs in fishnet stockings.

Working Girls, Morality, and Capitalism

People—even the poorest most downtrodden of us—have one thing of value with which to bargain for food or shelter or a pretty trinket or a fancy dinner for two at some high-end bistro, or maybe for their very lives. It’s a commodity that needs no stock broker or bank vault or coin purse. In  fact, money and cars and stuff are treated with more respect and care than items of barter: their bodies. And bargaining with their bodies for basics, for extras, for salvation and groceries, for safety and security, produced—for women as well as men—a whole range of policies and emotions, a wide swath of anger, and apoplectic reactions to the merest idea, even the slightest suggestion, that prostitution should be legalized.

The arguments against legalization of sex for money (or is it money for sex?) mostly bunch together in just a few main categories: health concerns, legal  problems, safety issues, and the big one—the one which overlaps and underpins most of the others—morality.

Health concerns are often mentioned in connection to the sex trade. It is argued that legalizing prostitution would lead to regular health checks, perhaps medical insurance. Toulouse Lautrec’s painting, “Rue de Moulin: Medical Inspection,” shows us this idea of inspection was already obvious in the 19th century. But some arguments against the idea of legalization are that health tests are unreliable, they take too long to result in definitive diagnoses, and one I really smiled at:  thinking that health testing would prevent disease is like thinking pregnancy tests prevent pregnancy, which is as flawed an analogy as one could find, since both kinds of tests are not taken to prevent anything, but to see if anything happened. In both cases, action of some kind would be taken if the tests were positive. Health IS a concern, but maybe OSHA could open a cubicle in their main office for this. In any event, if prostitution were to enter the mainstream consciousness of society, all the concerns of health and safety would have to be addressed.  Admittedly, current health and safety issues of non-sex workers aren’t being addressed very much now, but at least the idea of providing health care for prostitutes would always be a legitimate policy matter for governments to address. […]

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Stylized images of Herman Melville and Vivian Maier.

Vivian Maier, Herman Melville, & The Artist Underneath

‘We had no idea she was a photographer,’ said Vivian Maier’s employer. These were the words muttered during the filming of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier (2013). It is the story of a woman who spent her life working as a nanny to only then be discovered posthumously as one of the greatest street photographers. ‘We didn’t know some creative person lived here.’ I don’t suppose, however, that anyone might have seen her walking about with her Rolodex in hand? Might that offer a clue?

While I don’t begrudge this individual for not knowing—or at least recognizing—that Maier might have had some creative inkling, to her employers and the outside world, she was ‘just a nanny.’ I mean, why would there be more? Could there possibly be some artist underneath? Or is this just another example of the arrogance of the non-artist? So what is this arrogance, then? We toil within in an image-driven world, where the thought of anything beyond what one sees does not exist. Maier worked as a nanny and so this is all she would ever be to those for whom she worked. Vivian Maier—Nanny Extraordinaire and nothing more.

I have only had one person of authority ever recognize something special about me. My high school English teacher—Mrs. Vaughan—she could see I had writing talent. Not only a teacher—she was an artist herself. Yet other than she, no professor, no employer, no supervisor ever saw anything more than how I outwardly appeared. Usually lacking in confidence, I’d labor among only to repeatedly feel misunderstood and forgotten. ‘But you don’t know what people think—perhaps they did see more,’ one might suggest. Alright, I’ll humor this a moment. ‘I know you,’ one of my supervisors said. Admittedly, her words made me cringe. She meant well, but whom did she know, exactly? I wanted to inquire but did not. I was, after all, forced into subservience, as I wished to keep my job. So, rather than address it, I continued to feel shoehorned into a culture I felt I did not belong. God forbid if my passion points to creativity over corporation. […]

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A stylized image of Ladbaby, a UK video blogger.

Quiet Bloodletting: Tax Avoidance and the LadBaby Distraction

It’s 2022, and the UK has 4.3 million children in poverty and 49% of children in lone parent households are amongst that number. Many of them during the height of the pandemic had their free school dinners revoked. After campaigning by football player Marcus Rashford, the government U-turned on this decision, only to send out a “week” of those dinners that in reality were “Two potatoes, one tin of baked beans, eight single cheese slices, two carrots, three apples, two bananas, one small bag of penne, one tomato, three Frubes, two Soreens and a loaf of sliced bread”.

The scandal of one year can be old hat by the next, and completely forgotten by the one after. This is the case with the school dinners fiasco, which embroiled the UK government in early 2021 and is now almost completely forgotten about. The necessary thrust for writing politics can be in how it connotes a larger systemic inadequacy, or act of deliberate machination. And despite UK politics being a narrow niche, you feel compelled to untangle the web.

This article is a portrait of the apparatus UK democracy has assembled – an apparatus in which by covertly cutting services and tightening purse strings the government creates an urgent problem in living standards, and then seems to solve this crisis. However, the solution is worse than the original service, funded by charity/private sector companies, and often owned by Conservative affiliates. This is with the intention of tax-dodging on an enormous scale. The government then obfuscate this underhanded switch by publishing high-profile scandal and policy, ad infinitum. Then follows the inevitable sacrifice of a hapless Minister for Health and Social Care, or Education, and the damage is never undone, justice served. […]

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An illustration of a man dropping a vote in a voting / ballot box.

Voting: A Different Perspective

Twenty-three thousand years. Science has dated footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico to a time well before the 13,000 or 15,00 years that puzzled experts had estimated human beings set their feet in North America.

Humans have been voting since their beginnings, just as they do now. Paper ballots are not the only way to do that. In that very early time in hominin awakening, those beings voted with their feet. They wanted out their old habitats, deciding to go someplace else, giving their previous residences a negative vote. Archaeologists and anthropologists are still finding scraps of their voting behavior in North America. But these items are not merely the fascinating detritus of early humans, but election results.

Humans still vote with their feet, moving from city to city, state to state, even country to country.  We also vote in many other ways—for the station with the cheapest gas (getting tougher to do); we vote for the best market, the best value. We vote so much and so often, under the rubric “choice”, that we don’t see our behavior as voting at all. We tend to think of voting as being ONLY putting paper into boxes, but if one considers voting as choices being  made, without the patriotic  music and images, one can use a completely different template to observe society. For example, one chooses one gas station over another, mostly based on price. That means that the motorist chooses against all the others. But this way of presenting it leaves out Identity-based voting. A motorist might go to the same gas pumps for years—out of convenience when prices all over town are about the same. The station is on the side of the road she drives on from home, so she doesn’t have to cross over any double lines or cut across oncoming traffic. But if prices begin to become too much for her budget, her vote will change to some other gas pumps which spew out the precious liquid at a more reasonable price. Her loyalty to a particular place is fluid.  So, as far as choice is concerned, the idea of Identity Politics is ridiculous, since the person voting (making his or her choices) would not only be foolish to keep going to the same gas station out of muscle memory or tradition or convenience, but harmful to the family budget. […]

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A stylized shot of George Fairweather who founded the Fairweather Lodge and small group process

Small Group Process: The George Fairweather Way

Fairweather friends we are not. We are in it for the long haul, like a family, for better or worse. George W. “Bill” Fairweather was a disillusioned 60s California psychologist who got tired of watching the revolving door of mental illness: in the hospital, out of the hospital, back in the hospital…and so forth. Dr. George Fairweather threw his hat in the ring with a possible solution: The Lodge. A Lodge was something like a group home for those with mental illness, but unlike any group home you’ve ever known. The time was the mid-60s.

Later, George Fairweather, in the mid-90s, would lay out his strategies in his three books: “Empowering the Mentally Ill”; “KEEPING THE BALANCE: A Psychologist’s Story”; and, “Guidelines for Problem-Solving Support Groups”. These books were discussions by Dr. Fairweather laying out the dynamics of what happens in a Lodge. Rather than their literary merit, these books are recognized for their revolutionary ideas.

Dr. Fairweather was proclaiming the process which would save persons with mental illness from tragic and meaningless lives. It was a scant decade earlier that we had de-institutionalization of mental illness releasing people to the streets, and that’s where a lot of them stayed. To be healed in a Fairweather Lodge almost sounds like hot springs, but it is not that, just a similar goal. […]

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A stylized photo of Quinn, one of the more famous transgender athletes

Transgender Athletes: Society Swimming in Deep Water

Lia Thomas is a record-breaker. The University of Pennsylvania swimmer dominated the 500m prelims, and then finals, at the Zippy Invitational at the University of Akron in December. She broke the Ivy League record and set two school records in a pair of freestyle events. In one of the events she won, she was thirty-eight seconds faster than the woman who came in second. As swim times are measured, that is equivalent to a geologic age. Some, however, are not pleased by this chain of events, since just two years ago, Lia Thomas was Will Thomas, who was swimming for the men’s team.

If there is one thing everyone should have learned by now, it is that the issue of transgender athletes competing on women’s teams, in women’s divisions, is confusing, exasperating, unsettled, and produces multiple Everests of commentary, pro and con. And the rules of all this are not very clear—or if they are, they seem to address the core issue of fairness, but not resolve any of the issues tangential to it. Lia Thomas is following the rules set out by the NCAA, but are those rules fair? And what IS fairness for this issue? So far, the majority of the discussions center around the material aspects of this issue: testosterone and its effects on the body, and who has enough or not enough. So the various controlling agencies have been forced to find some way to decide an issue—and they’re trying to do it with rules. […]

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A painting of a condemned Socrates, a historical gadfly.

Gadfly – Any Takers?

The dangerous man was on trial for impiety and corruption of the youth of the city, but he was calm even though he was facing a penalty of death. The charges were spurious, as the real reason he stood in the dock was that he was a gadfly, an irritant to the power and control of authority and he WAS dangerous—dangerous to the established order, the mores, the context of the society:

“And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the god, or lightly reject his favor by condemning me. For if you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the god; and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires it to be stirred into life.”

So proclaimed Socrates in Plato’s “Apology”. He would be just one of a few of his breed to question the State and its citizens’ apathetic and lethargic approach to life and living. As he famously remarked in this dialogue, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The most important qualification for being a gadfly is being an impartial searcher for truth. One is not a gadfly if one simply criticizes and denigrates someone from “the other side.” A gadfly might, indeed, have certain political or social or cultural preferences, but that does not prevent the gadfly from critiquing “his or her own.” One cannot wear any label of identity, declare some “written in cement” position, have a rigid point of view, live in one’s own little box—and be considered a true gadfly. The TV shows, podcasts, news “specials” and the like do not even come close to this standard, as they are merely iterations on a theme: I am on THIS  side, the side of Good, Truth and Inerrancy; the Other side is Evil, always wrong, and needs elimination from public discourse. Other than Socrates, one good example is I.F. Stone. […]

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A stylized depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ done in colored lights

Jesus Is Born: The Christmas Story As Art

Luke 2:1 – 24 is the prophet Luke’s story about the advent of Christmas. But much more than just a factual account it is a story told artfully. This is especially true if we are talking about the King James version of the Bible.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Thus begins the story. It’s not, ‘Caesar decided to tax the folks.’ Luke sets the scene for a magnificent story to follow. Yes, it’s factual, but choosing those words, “all the world should be taxed” is a grandiose scheme by a king. What could top it? And we know what will outshine it.

In short order we are introduced to two of the major players, Joseph, a descendant of King David, and Mary, his betrothed who is with child. Our attention to Caesar is immediately upstaged by these two partially because King David plays a major role in the Old Testament and it has been prophesized that from his lineage a Savior will come. Luke calls Mary “his espoused wife” to flavor a nuance of the Virgin Birth. Expectations abound.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Hear the music of that. Something as everyday as childbirth is elevated to a major accomplishment. It is recognized that most people who are reading this account, are at least vaguely familiar with the story, but reading lines like that are a shot in the arm especially for believers. […]