Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3.26 Wednesday (St. Aeolus Day)

Have just driven along the scenic 'southern tier' of Kansas on my return to Colorado, through a maelstrom of March wind in a light rental car. Crosswinds at 50 mph bearing an allotment of Oklahoma topsoil in the upper air, in the lower aether the contents of countless farmsteads, including wheat chaff, cottonwood limbs, barn shingles, ductwork from a (ca.) 1901 Acme combine, a dead Angus calf, several cats, and a large rural mailbox replica of a John Deere 830.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

3.25 Tuesday (Martyrdom of SS. Euphonius & Euphonia)

I was reading aloud to my helpmeet a piece from a recent issue of the London Review of Books, a bit of social commentary titled "The Public Voice of Women," in which the authoress makes a cogent case that women have been historically silenced, in the Western tradition, in ways that are subtle or (more often) not so subtle. It all started when Homer had Penelope descend from her loom to the hall where the suitors were gathered, intent on showing them the door, whereupon her stripling son, Telemachus, sent her back to her weaving with clear instructions to leave household affairs, specifically mantalk, to him.

The premise of the piece is an old cartoon from the British satirical magazine, Punch, in which several men and a single woman are gathered about a conference table in a boardroom, the chairman saying, "That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.’"

The argument is about 'voice' in both its accepted uses. In the first place, "public speaking and oratory were not merely things that ancient women didn’t do: they were exclusive practices and skills that defined masculinity as a gender." And secondly, "in speaking out, what are women said to be? ‘Strident’; they ‘whinge’ and they ‘whine’." Other accusations come to mind as well - hormonal, menopausal, or (in  stranger worlds like the one Rush Limbaugh inhabits) even a decayed virtue.

By contrast, consider "the ‘deep-voiced’ man with all the connotations of profundity that the simple word ‘deep’ brings. It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority. . . ."  It was this second point I fastened on, the part about the voice as sound. I remembered the mellifluous, deep voices of an older generation of newscasters, voices like those of, say, Edward R. Murrow, or Walter Cronkite or Eric Sevareid, the old stable of CBS broadcasters. The clear enunciation of Howard K. Smith, the dignified modulations of Huntley and Brinkley. When they spoke, the sounds they made lent credibility to everything they said.

Consider the current crop of announcers - take the lot on NPR, for example (many of whose names I don't know because I only hear the radio if I happen to walk through one of the rooms in the chateau) - I much prefer the sounds of the women's voices to those of the men. Lakshmi Singh, for example, could say that the Republicans had come up with a workable single payer mandated universal healthcare plan, or that the President had levied a fair tax on every U.S. corporation, and I'd believe her just because she'd said it  . . . you know, in that voice of hers.

I said as much to my wife, who promptly wondered what it was about the male voices in the broadcast trade. Well, I answered (in so many words), they all sound so effeminate. Think about what you just said, she shot back. I took her point - I couldn't in fairness say that I liked Lakshmi Singh's voice because it's manly. But she doesn't mince and take on mannerisms and wheeze - in short, she renders the feminine voice pleasant as well as authoritative.

No, take a guy like Scott Simon, I thought. Thin, the tone a bit wheezy, overly mannered. Enunciation a little precious, the general timbre of the voice not inviting extended exposure. And the males on the local NPR affiliate either lightly mince through their scripts about which-nonprofit-with-website-just-funded-the-following-program, or they talk as though they had just taken a mouthful of wet dough.

Generally, if a woman speaks like a woman and not a Valley girl, as admittedly many of them do, I can listen to her for hours. But when most of the men speak I want to take one of those wrapped sets of balsa wood restaurant chopsticks and poke them in the side of the head until they desist and leave the microphone. Which, I suppose is evidence enough that I could never own a radio. Or a gun - I wouldn't know what to do with it, nor would I if I did.

Monday, March 24, 2014

3.24 Monday (Dinah Shore Day)

An epic drive today, from the middle of Colorado across half of Kansas on Interstate 70 and south into Oklahoma. In a word, halfway across the romantic purlieus of the Great Dust Bowl. If there were, aside from amendments to our agricultural practice, any existential lesson to be learned from that grand meteorological chastisement, it seems we have been put on permanent notice that one cannot take it with one, wherever one happens to be going.

Nonetheless, historical memory is short, our acquisitive hubris is long. The Joads are still afoot along every highway in America: double-axle pickups loaded with all manner of essential household detritus under madly flailing tarps - cast-iron Chinese bicycles, garish plastic lawn furniture, childrens' toys, hot tubs, euthanized sofas and BarcaLoungers, plywood china closets - everything en route to a new and presumably worse abode. Not that I blame them for wanting to keep what they have in this downward national spiral.

The prize haul was a big yellow Ryder truck towing a trailer with a rusted, disfigured and partly dismembered cadaver of a '57 Chevrolet Bel Air ("a classic!") aboard. I'd guess (considering the size of the cargo hold) they were moving house with their worldly possessions stowed, perhaps looking for a start somewhere ( let's be charitable enough to suppose they weren't going back to live with parents), but fundamentally unable to disencumber themselves of what in essence is a boat anchor - the obligation to restore a bit of automotive design which someone has probably dragged about with them now for a considerable amount of time, long enough for this peculiar weight of history to become insensible, a part of the family's own history of acquisition and prestige.

The happy injunction of our late lamented American Epoch was always, "See the USA in your Chevrolet." Not with your Chevrolet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

3.23 Sunday (Apotheosis of Senator Inhofe)

This diary entry, arriving on the heels of a silence enjoined by the hereafter mentioned vow of ignorant indifference, was occasioned by an urgent telephone call from a representative of my longtime publisher, Smallwood & Heep (principal offices in Bournemouth, Dorset). I was at first impervious to his entreaties that I resume my literary and cultural endeavors, and resolved not to be prevailed upon in my unwillingness to resume my satirical lucubrations. 

He persisted, I began to relent; he threatened, I bristled; he cajoled, I was touched; he flattered, my vanity was touched. He offered no promise of emolument but urged that I had left a public bereft. I scoffed, he mentioned my 'page hits'. I agreed then, but only to this, that I would attempt a modest diary, some daily record of reflections, bonn motts and what-have-you's calculated to puzzle and stun the most ingenious of our race.

Awoke late to another day of abominable soul-destroying weather, snow and sky of a uniform and depressing gray, a textbook spring day in the Rockies. As I was taking a second coffee my neighbor Zeno knocked, brimful of geriatric urgency which spilled through the front door with a gust of snow, all to inform me that my meager livelihood was further imperiled by the unprincipled caddishness of the bodies politic of Kansas and Oklahoma.

In a word, the legislative bodies of these cultural outposts have proposed legislation to curtail the development of wind energy in their precincts. In the case of Kansas, the state's current legal requirement that energy providers include a mandated percentage of renewable options in their commercial portfolios is under the gun; Oklahoma is anxious to preserve its dubious scenic beauty by a moratorium on wind farms east of an arbitrary line along the Interstate 35 corridor, damning their brothers and sisters in the west to the unsightly if lucrative prospect of wind turbines along the endless brown horizon.

It can't be a coincidence that the statesmen and women of these two provinces are in the backyard of Koch Industries' Wichita offices, where the brothers Koch are known to do a brisk trade in gas and oil, fertilizers, commodities, and a sizeable stable of hacks in statehouses and congressional seats.

Having lately taken a monkish vow of indifferent ignorance, I was loathe to be reminded again of a world at large. Zeno's news sent me into a brown study, an unsatisfactory reverie on the nature of America's best and brightest. A professional politician, being readily available for purchase, is most often likened to a sex worker - unfairly in my judgment, since the only thing you can buy from a sex worker is his or her services, and a sex worker's success and reputation relies on giving professional satisfaction through the mastery of certain tangible and defined techniques. But a politician can be purchased whole and entire, body and soul. A sex worker's motivations might plausibly be some mixture of both commerce and philanthropy, but the motive energies of a politician are unvaryingly singular and pure. What passes for a democratic election these days is little more than a Craigslist complete with 'pics'. For the convenience of your further engagement in the processes of democracy, they all have a Paypal account.

Democracy at Work