Transgender People and Restrooms

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There’s a lot of fuss about the recently passed North Carolina law to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that don’t match their original biological gender. I have my suspicions as to why, but could be wrong. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
The objection to allowing transgender people use any bathroom they please seems to be that they might be sexual predators looking to mistreat women and girls. Such a thing is probably possible, but is there any history of it having happened? So far I haven’t heard of any.
I read an article earlier tonight saying there seem to be more teens interested in changing gender than there used to be. The article did include a teen who said that there had always been people who wanted to change, but hadn’t felt safe in saying so. That particular desire is alien to me. I always felt that my sexual orientation matched my gender, and never felt any urge to change it. That makes me wonder just why people do feel uncomfortable with the gender they were born with. Is that discomfort something that came about during their childhoods, or is it something they were born with? Would any of them be able to definitively say? Or is there a way to prove it?
My opinion, for whatever it is worth, is that the North Carolina law is an encouragement for people to discriminate against LGBT people, especially since it bans localities from legislating anti-discrimination ordinances. My guess is this is because many people equate transgender people with homosexuals, and many people still fear and hate homosexuals, whom they also equate with pedophiles.
One excuse for that is that the Old Testament calls homosexuality an abomination. It also calls eating shellfish an abomination, as well as pork, and (I’m told) more often than homosexuality, but that apparently makes no difference to those who hate the practice. Their dislike is visceral rather than rational.
My personal feeling about homosexuality is the assumption I came to early in my teens: I never felt I had any choice about my sexual orientation, so I assumed that those attracted to people of their own sex also had little or none. If this is the case, then what my meditation teacher said is valid: Our sexuality is given, and our choice is to deal with it more or less honorably.
There are, of course, bisexuals, which means they do have some degree of choice. Transgender people also have clearly made choices, if surgery and/or hormone therapy are involved. Why exactly do people wish to make such choices?
Camille Paglia, in her book, Sexual Personae, analyzes the work of a number of great writers who seem to have identified with the sex opposite to theirs. This seems, in many cases, to have caused them great distress. I suggest that transgender people must have great discomfort with their original gender to go to so much trouble to change it.
There seems to have been, at about the time that Christianity began, a general anti-sexual feeling, and idea that sexuality itself was evil. The Gnostics, at least some of whom were Christian, believed (at least some of them) that this world was in itself evil, and that one ought to try to escape it to the world of spirit. Sexuality they thought to be one of the things that kept people attached to this world. One friend summarized for me his opinion about the effects of abstention on the early Christians: it made them mean. There are those who currently claim to be Christian who might also be considered mean.
So dislike of transgender and homosexual people may be a sort of shorthand for dislike of sex in general, and a willingness to persecute anyone who engages in sex in ways that some disapprove of. It doesn’t take into account how gay or transgender people may feel, but finds them to be suitable targets for hatred. Hatred may be exactly the political point of this law.
One friend in North Carolina makes the point that transgender people have probably been using restrooms for the gender they’ve acquired for years without anyone even noticing. To force them to use restrooms intended for their original gender might well expose them to assault. People who hate will assault whomever they hate. So will perverts, and I don’t want ANYONE to be more vulnerable: women, children, or transgender people.

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Classical Concerts

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I always have music running around my brain. Lately it’s been Tchaikovsky. That’s probably because I took my wife to a symphony concert about a month ago, the first one I’d been to for more than twenty years. The program was a prelude from Lohengrin (I think I’d heard that one before), a Violin concerto by Samuel Barber (which I hadn’t), and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth symphony, the only piece I was really familiar with.
I remember seeing a program on PBS in which an orchestra was getting ready to perform the symphony, though they hadn’t gotten as far as rehearsing yet, only thinking about how they were going to play. One woman said she had about 23 very nice notes to play on piccolo in the fourth movement, but she had to play them very fast.
That movement IS a very fast movement. I’ve likened it sometimes to a series of car crashes, but the sound isn’t quite that percussive. Drums are present, but I was surprised to notice that the kettle drummer had to be extremely precise about where she played, and then immediately silence the drum so it didn’t reverberate. As one seduced by the grandeur of classic rock, Tchaikovsky sounded a little too smooth.
His music was some of the first classical music I ever paid attention to, and I loved his last three symphonies. The Fourth is the first of those, and starts off portentiously with braying horns, then enters a quieter theme with an oboe (?) followed by sweet strings. The 78 rpm album we had at home of that symphony featured a drawing of someone doing the gopak on it, the dance (Cossack?) in which the person squats, and kicks out one leg than the other. The drawing and that second theme always intrigued me.
I’ve listened to a lot of classical recordings over the years, but haven’t attended that many concerts. The Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz I saw the Cleveland Orchestra do almost 50 years ago (I think George Szell was still actively conducting) left me pretty cold, but a couple of concerts almost 10 years later were different.
One outside at the Blossom Music Center featured Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to which I can never be indifferent. Possibly my favorite symphony, and also probably my favorite Beethoven composition.
Another was a performance by the Cleveland Symphony in Akron, where I was living at the time. I went there for the program of two favorite pieces: Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodyt on a Theme of Paganini. The final piece performed that night was Shostakovitch’s Fifth Symphony. I had some idea who Shostakovitch was, but had never heard any of his music at that time. I had already decided to go home, as I had to work the next morning, but found the opening movement of the symphony fascinating. The sound seemed immense and powerful, as if it were producing something enigmatically twisted. I haven’t been able to hear that on recordings since, which makes me believe the symphony is best heard in performance, possibly in a particularly good acoustic space.
That performance was memorable, and I kind of wish I had stayed for the whole piece. Other classical concerts were somewhat less so. A performance of Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto at Dartmouth College was memorable mainly because the student trumpeter was clearly unable to play his solo parts. I communicated my amusement in a low voice to someone I was sitting with, drawing the ire of someone sitting in front of me.
The other piece was De Falla’s Nights in the Garden of Spain, also a longtime favorite. The performance wasn’t bad, but what I was most impressed with was the pomposity of the pianist. It wasn’t that he played poorly, just that he seemed arrogant, for what reason I have no idea.
The Tchaikovsky symphony was the first classical concert I’ve attended since then, as far as I can remember. I hope to attend more while I still can.

The Scarcity of Humor

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Humor is difficult to do well. There are many comedies that are lame, downright stupid. I howl with laughter when I watch A Night at the Opera by the Marx Brothers, but it’s the only movie of theirs I really like. The others are unfocused: great bits, but incoherent.
That’s less true of more recent movies. Those I’ve watched (I don’t claim to have watched a large percentage) are often simply dumb ideas pursued at great length. TV comedies have to be more focused than that. I don’t mind watching bits and pieces of them when at work, but they aren’t the sort of thing I’d care to spend much time on. I’ve had periods of watching a lot of TV, and I can take it, but also leave it.
Recently I reread an early favorite for the first time in decades: Leave It to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse. It reminded me just how much and why I liked it.
Wodehouse was about 42 when it was published. He had been writing for a living for quite awhile, and was pretty close to the top of his game in this novel. Psmith, the main character, had been a character in earlier stories featuring him and a friend when attending a public school (what we would call a private school) in England. I think the story is also the first appearance of the Earl of Emsworth and Blandings Castle, both of whom would appear again, if not quite as felicitously.
The story is not, of course, about anything profound. It’s partly a love story, but more about various people trying to steal a valuable necklace to finance their plans, some more nefarious than others. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot in which the Earl (extremely vague about everything except his gardens and his prize pig) interacts with his sister (who intimidates him), his son (not excessively bright, but less vague), a visiting poet (the visit arranged by his sister, in which the Earl could hardly be less interested) whom he manages to alienate, and Psmith who, observing that the poet has absented himself, replaces him, thus advancing the plot.
Psmith actually reminds me of a longtime friend (whom I don’t think I had met when I first read this) who also enjoys talking at length and having fun with whatever life throws at him. I don’t think Psmith makes a later appearance in the Wodehouse canon, probably because he’s both independent and competent. Jeeves is also competent, but he makes a pair with Bertie Wooster.
Psmith’s habit of talking at great length (he seems to delight in informing newly met people that the P is silent) is disconcerting for those with whom he has conversation. We meet him just at the point when he has decided he will not work among fish, as his uncle wants him to do, and will take any job that might plausibly be congenial. He doesn’t keep his situation secret, and the coincidence of meeting the Earl advances the plot because the Earl’s son has asked him to steal his aunt’s (the Earl’s sister’s) necklace. On the same day we also meet Psmith’s love interest, a woman friend of his school friend’s wife, who has coincidentally been hired to catalogue the castle library. As Psmith is impersonating a poet, we also meet an actual poet who is also a thief. Does this convey Wodehouse’s opinion of writers who see themselves as on a higher plane than he? This is not impossible.
The necklace eventually does get stolen, but then disappears. The exceedingly intelligent and efficient secretary to the Earl (who the Earl dislikes) sleeplessly considers where it might be, gets locked out of the castle, and is unable to wake anyone to let him back in in the middle of the night. He then has an inspiration about how to get attention, as all Nature seems to say to him, “Say it with flower pots.”
That’s just the most memorable line. There are many of them scattered throughout the book. I found myself chuckling if not howling with laughter every couple of minutes. As far as I’m concerned, Wodehouse never achieved that height again (another person would probably have a different favorite), though he had a tremendous output: between ninety and a hundred novels, more or less.
He seems to have had a pretty sunny personality too. During World War II he was detained by the Germans for awhile, and people in England seem to have thought he was writing German propaganda since he was so cheerful about it, which may explain why he moved to America.
I don’t know exactly why I find so few things funny–REALLY funny, at least. Some things are amusing, but many that aim at comedy fall short even of amusing. Maybe if I looked for comedy and comedians I would find more that I really liked, but I think I’d find more that weren’t even amusing. Maybe I’m just too demanding, but I think it’s very difficult to be really funny, especially in a sustained kind of way. I don’t expect to find many really funny things, and I haven’t. There are things that make me chuckle, and there are things that are peculiar, but really very few that delight me.
I’m grateful for the existence of P.G. Wodehouse and the Marx Brothers, though.

Trump Voters

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Kevin D. Williamson made a splash with a column he published in the National Review in which he had little good to say about voters who like Donald Trump. He said they come from dysfunctional white communities around the country, some of which are found in New York State, some in Appalachia, and some in west Texas, and that nobody has failed these communities: they have failed themselves by alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, and should simply die. My immediate guess was that he was some young privileged person contemptuous of any social class below his. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In fact, according to some of the columns of his I browsed, he comes from western Texas himself, which leads me to believe that his contempt isn’t the ignorant kind, but born of rather close acquaintance. It comes across as very personal.
He’s not some kid either. He has some fifteen years of experience in journalism, and his writing shows it. It’s vigorous and vivid. Whether one agrees with him or not, he seems to be a considerable personality. His beliefs are not lukewarm. I don’t particularly agree with him, but can’t simply ignore what he has to say.
One of his suggestions is that if one’s community offers no opportunity, the best option is to move away. I wonder if this might not set off the kind of migration we see from Hispanic America and Syria, but maybe it’s good advice. There certainly are areas (and probably more than just the ones he mentioned) where opportunity doesn’t seem to reside. I don’t suppose Mr. Williamson is entirely wrong in blaming the individuals of those communities, but I’m not sure he’s entirely right either. Opportunities for the untalented and uneducated don’t abound anywhere. Making a pilgrimage to a place where there are good jobs doesn’t guarantee you’ll get one.
Detroit is a large example of the sort of community he’s talking about. A population of 1.8 million in 1950, he says, has declined to well under a million since then, and many people have, as he recommends, voted with their feet. Those who are left aren’t in good shape.
The reason, in his analysis, is that too much of the money Detroit had sixty or so years ago was invested in the wrong things: large pensions and money that union leaders skimmed were some of those. Failure to invest in the future was the primary sin, though. It never occurred to a lot of political and industrial leaders that parts of the world ruined in World War II would eventually rebuild and begin competing with our country’s industries. Detroit auto makers, meanwhile, were building the large luxury cars they liked best to sell, allowing foreign manufacturers whose cars were smaller and more efficient, to take that part of the market away from them.
Then the effect of flight from the city kicked in: there was debt all over, and a drastically smaller tax base to pay for it. Public services became almost nonexistent. Few, he says, of the population are high school graduates. What industry is going to invest in Detroit, when there are so few who could plausibly become competent workers?
Sloth and corruption no doubt played their parts in this mess, as well as in many smaller cities and towns. I’m not so sure that’s the whole story, though.
Some of Detroit’s factories moved to Mexico. Was it because Mexicans are better educated than Detroit natives? That may well be true, but I doubt it was the decisive reason. I suspect (without knowing for certain) that it was possible for automakers to pay Mexican workers lower wages, and that they didn’t need to be as concerned about pollution there. That’s the liberal narrative, as the conservative one is to blame workers and government bureaucracy. I suspect both may have a measure of truth.
Industrialists tend more often to be conservative than liberal. Their dislike of unions has historically been visceral–they used to eagerly injure and sometimes kill workers with the temerity to strike for higher wages or better working conditions–and they haven’t been any more eager to regulate the pollution of their industries. Many of the factories that used to pollute so badly are gone to other regions or countries now. With them have gone many of the jobs that young people could use to start out in the workforce or be able to make into a career that could support themselves and their families.
There was a time when a person could begin their working career with one company and stay with that company until retirement. Not any more. Some companies don’t last that long. Others move from one area to another for one reason or another. The usual reason is the bottom line. If moving will save them money, they’re going to do it, and not worry about the effect on anyone else. Profit is every corporation’s main concern. Less of a concern seems to be how profit is obtained.
For-profit prisons and predatory lenders are two examples of industries that claim to serve the community, but mainly serve themselves. If, as Republicans say they wish, we slash regulations, we’ll have more such industries being even more predatory. And if we can’t depend on industries to be ethical enough to refrain from moving overseas, we’ll have to ask government to prevent it. Unless it’s preferable for the strong to prey on the weak.
Social Darwinism favors predators. Many conservatives claim to be Christians. Does their behavior show it?
Maybe Trump’s supporters are moral failures who deserve no consideration. Maybe they have no right to be angry. I wonder if there aren’t a lot of other people in America who are angry this year, though. Maybe the people angry with the liberal elite have now become angry with the conservative elite too. The contempt which is so personal for Mr. Williamson may be less personal with bigger names in the conservative movement, but I have the feeling that a lot of people may vote for Trump, a lot of whom have been voting Republican most of their lives, and don’t feel they’ve gotten much out of it, exactly because they’re tired of being objects of contempt.