Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In A Bind

I'll admit a couple of things, first off.

Last night, I didn't watch the second presidential debate. I've sadly become cynical about this election. I already have a darned good idea of how I'll be voting, and it won't be for the guy talking about...what was it again?...

Women in bondage?
A book of mail-order brides?
Great bookmakers (pun intended and not intended) who happen to be women?

Well, no, I mean this:
ROWLEY: Governor Romney, pay equity for women?  
ROMNEY: Thank you. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.  
 And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?" 
 ROMNEY: And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women. 
 I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
I want to believe that the man had some good intentions. It would be nice, after the past couple of weeks (hell, couple of months, couple of years, couple of millenia - take your pick...but I digress) that women around the world seem to be having.
I need you to get out of bed and go to school this morning for Malala. 
Grumbles and a slight roll over from the bed.  
 Hala. I need you to get out of bed today, without any whining, without complaining for Malala.
…and then a grumpy, whiny voice comes from under the blankets. 
Mom, what are you talking about, what is Malala.  
No. Not WHAT is Malala…WHO is Malala. Malala is a girl, just like you. She lives in Pakistan. And all she wants to do is go to school and learn. She wants to get out of bed every morning and learn. And the other day, she was coming home from school, and horrible men who think she should NOT be allowed to learn shot her. They shot her because she is a girl who dares to think she deserves an education. She dares to think she is just as smart as boys. She dares to think she should get to read every book and do every math worksheet and write every paper and do every report and learn and learn and learn just like every boy in Pakistan. But some of the people there do not believe that girls should learn. Malala stood up to those bullies. She stood up to the mean, horrible men who believe girls should not be allowed to go to school. And she went to school. So you, you will get out of bed, and you will go to school without one whine, without one moan, without one complaint…because you are lucky to live in a country where you CAN.  
Slowly my daughter got out of bed. Looking at me with confusion. She got dressed with me watching, and we went into my room where she brushed her teeth and continued to get herself ready for school. So far, she hadn’t said a word. She was still processing everything I had told her. The silence was deafening. 
I wasn’t sure I was going to tell her. She is only seven. A seven-year old should be not burdened by the evil in this world. But she is also old enough to understand that she is extremely fortunate to be able to get an education in a world that still does not treat its females with the respect and reverence it treats its males.
Would that this were confined only to Pakistan. It'd be easier to dismiss it as something belonging to another country, or another religion. Another religion...ohhh, I wish I had that smokescreen. While the Obama-Romney debate was finishing up, however, I got this news from a member of the Jewish clergy:
On the eve of the Jewish New Month of Cheshvan, 16.19.12, at 11:00 PM Anat Hoffman, Chair of Women of the Wall, was arrested while leading a prayer along with members of Hadassah, some of whom have travelled to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate Hadassah’s centennial convention. Over 250 women joined Women of the Wall for a late night prayer which started off beautifully, until Hoffman was detained during the Shema prayer. Hoffman was held in police custody for over 12 hours, much of the time in handcuffs and has sustained bruises from violent and aggressive treatment while detained.  
This morning, 17.10.12, at 7 AM, while Hoffman was still detained, Women of the Wall gathered for the monthly new month prayer service. Though the services went smoothly and quietly with no disturbance, police arrested Lesley Sachs, Director of Women of the Wall and board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, in the middle of prayer. The two women were detained and questioned for several hours. Upon release, the women were asked to admit to the crime of disturbing the public order, which they refused.  
In court proceedings today, following her detainment, Anat Hoffman was accused of disturbing the public peace for singing out loud at the Western Wall. She was finally released and issued a restraining order from the Western Wall for 30 days.  
The leadership of Women of the Wall remain committed to their struggle to gain the right of all women to pray at the Kotel, each according to her own custom, with Torah, Tallit and voices raised in song. Violence, intimidation and threat will not deter the group of women from joining together and praying together to celebrate every new Jewish month at the Western Wall.

Rosh Hodesh, the celebration of the new month, is sacred to women. So is their right to pray, to take on the obligations of prayer (tallit, kippot, tefillin) so long reserved only for men, to say the blessings that were meant to be said only by men, to gather and read Judaism's most sacred text at Judaism's most sacred site. Their only crime at the Kotel? Doing those things as women.

And then we go right back to Romney.

Sure, I laughed over "binders full of women." So did most of the internet. So did Tumblr. Hell, I may have helped create the Sacred Krewe of Binder Femmes as a marching bunch via Twitter. Look for lots of 36-to-48-to-50+ inch bindered broads come Halloween in New Orleans.

My question once all our giggles die down...

When do we do something other than make jokes about these acts and these lies?

And in Romney's case, I DO mean lies.

I know where I can keep on keeping on on all of this. In the voting booth next month.

cross-posted at NOLAFemmes

Saturday, October 06, 2012


The last time I recall seeing my granddaddy, it was my brother's college graduation, and his dementia was only apparent when I showed him pictures of his great-grandson, who couldn't make it to the event. "And who is that?" he politely asked me in the student center, and it hit me that, despite the overall happiness of the occasion, I had to momentarily face a reality my step-grandmother was valiantly dealing with each day - and I was ready to buckle under that moment right then and there. It would have crushed me if I hadn't done what we in my family tend to be too good at doing: I fast put it out of my mind and focused more on his merely being there and the miracle of his reaching the season of his next-to-youngest grandchild's commencement.

I would have taken in far, far more if I'd have known I wouldn't see him again.

How do I prefer to remember my granddaddy? Well, I'd known him since a little after my birth - the tall man who would fondly recall when I got just tall enough that he could place his hand on my head and simply turn me to where I needed to go. The man who would bring me to visit his aunt Ruth, a bright, happy redhead who lived at the top of a small mountain on Little Switzerland Road off the Chapman Highway, driving his huge blue Caprice up the frighteningly winding one lane road and honking the whole way to better warn those who might be driving down. He had faith in the power of technology - not to mention some good luck on his side, as we never encountered any cars going the opposite direction on Little Switzerland that I remember. Even if we had, driving in an early-70's Detroit heavyweight with extra former-pace-car horsepower at a low speed probably wouldn't make much of a difference if we did hit anything head-on.

He liked where technology was going, jumping into mastering personal computers just as much for the joy of experiencing them as well as the fact that, in his fifties, he was starting to get shaky hands and writing out what he had to say via keyboards was far easier. He adopted email communications pretty early, fell in love with playing with flight simulators, and got a kick out of seeing what the internet could provide on occasion. His first technological love, however, remained airplanes...he couldn't become a pilot, so he went for the next best thing during World War II and became an airplane mechanic, stuffing his brain with so much knowledge of how they worked that it got him into trouble when he got into University of Tennessee and began engineering courses. A report card from his freshman year that popped up amid family photos passed around during a reunion occasion showed that he had a series of Ds and Fs.

"Granddaddy, what on earth...?" I asked him.

"I'd just come out of the army and thought I knew it all," he said in a manner tinged with a little humor.

He turned it around really quick, eventually becoming the chief engineer of the Rohm & Haas plant in Knoxville. It gave him license to do the things he loved: getting a pilot's license and going in on maintaining a Cessna with a group of like-minded friends, singing in a barbershop quartet, and doing some things that I'm sure would have made my grandmother tear her hair out if she hadn't been so concerned about her appearance.

One afternoon, my grandparents, in town for a visit, came to pick me up from high school in Houston. Before I came out of the building at the end of the day, a sophomore came out to the student parking lot early, got in his car, and turned on the stereo. It instantly had all the other cars in the parking lot literally jumping a little on the pavement, and Granddaddy was intrigued.

"I'm gonna go talk to him," he said to Grandmother.
"Oh, no you won't!" she said, a tad embarrassed and very focused on watching for me.
"But...I just want to ask him how he managed to turn the entire car into a speaker."

When a friend of mine in college needed advice on how to make electromagnets for an art project, the first person I thought to call was my granddaddy. My friend talked to "Mr. Nichols" for quite a while and handed me back the phone, jazzed by the possibilities of hooking up an electromagnet to a car battery, or plugging it into the wall to see what would happen. Amused and a little horrified (I knew my friend and knew he would likely try those things), I got back on the phone.

"Granddaddy, what did you tell him?"

"Nothing I hadn't already tried before," he said cheerily. "Just like opening an umbrella and jumping off a pile in the hayloft - everyone should try these things once."

I learned later that he'd plugged an electromagnet into the wall of the house just to see everything momentarily jump three feet in the air before all the fuses blew. And yes, he'd tried the Mary Poppins umbrella bit as a youngster, too.

I could go on and on, and with many tales of my granddaddy that weren't exclusively mine. It seemed, though, that from what I'd heard, he carried the same demeanor he'd always had throughout his alert days into his dementia days. It helped that he had a loving woman in my step-grandmother caring for him.

He died peacefully yesterday morning, a son of Knoxville, Tennessee. A part of its history, born prematurely in 1924, so small he'd had to be incubated with warm bricks. He grew to be the tallest of his brothers and sisters, always curious and full of life.

Rest in peace, Granddaddy Hal.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Third-Hand News From First-Run Bands

We would fly along the interstates, windows down, the rough noise of passing through the air buffeting us beyond the windshield as we pushed along to Galveston on the weekends, or, occasionally, Tennessee in one extremely long day-to-night to see family. When Dad wasn't working the CB radio and chatting up any truckers he could conjure through the airwaves, we were adding to the roaring in our ears by playing cassette tapes on the Bronco's stereo. The tapes of choice? The Beach Boys' Endless Summer compilation comes to mind. Also, as I recall to my chagrin, a collection of John Denver's best.

But then Mom would pull out the homemade Maxell tape with the two albums she'd occasionally blast on the turntable at home, the ones she'd prefer over the two shelves crammed with late '60's - early '70's albums Dad had collected from his after-college days working at Sam Goody's. Depending on which side it was, "Monday Morning" would shout out first, or "Second Hand News," both of them displays of Lindsey Buckingham's virtuosity and his particular infusion of power rock.

The music on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours didn't end there, either. It was the women of the group as well as the men who shined. Though these days, Stevie Nicks is now a cliché-d witchy woman swathed in scarves and swirling skirts sounding as though she's singing (gracefully!) in gravel, she had a voice then that, cradled sometimes by bandmate Christine McVie's backing vocals, was a beautifully rough revelation. And McVie herself...well...

"I always loved her maiden name: Perfect," Mom would sigh occasionally when she'd hear tracks from McVie's solo album on the radio or when she'd hear "Songbird." It seemed McVie was perfect, beyond correct, able to slip into another softer realm that could be sentimental without being cloying. Whether she was backed by a great rhythm section (and boy does that get downplayed in the Mac's history, how solid the bass and drums were in their sound) or simply accompanying herself on the piano, Christine McVie was the center of the moment.

Those two albums were well crafted, yes, but they were also great to listen to in their entirety. Period. If I had a tape deck that didn't eat cassettes, I'd hunt down that old Maxell and really wear it out. Thank goodness for

I consider all of this now because, since I've been reviewing albums and books for a certain local publication for over a year now, I've had to come to terms with albums composed entirely of remade covers of a single band's oeuvre. Oh, I'm not unfamiliar with them - there was the Sweet Relief album for Victoria Williams, Red, Hot & Blue, as well as this personal favorite of mine that horrible, thieving movers stole years ago - but I do question making those types of compilations businesses in themselves, especially when ones like Just Tell Me That You Want Me are released. There are great moments on this tribute, don't get me wrong, but not enough to justify the album's existence ("Gold Dust Woman" done by the particular artist the producers chose sounds no different from the way it did when it was first cut. The point of that is lost on me.). From a straight critical blurb standpoint, that's where I am.

...but then I read reviews like this one and am struck by something else: compilation albums seem determined to amplify nostalgia whilst exploding it - and the best ones walk that tightrope so well, delighting you and giving you a shock all at once, that anything less is simply sad. Asking only indie rockers to handle classics like "Tusk" is catering to a lowest common denominator of interpreting and listening - it insults everybody involved. Where were hip-hop artists on this? Jazz musicians? Come on.

Compilers must keep in mind why the originals were so memorable in the first place, before they got consumed in commercials, abused as presidential campaign theme songs, and overcome by the band members' salacious backstories. It's what many bands do when they occasionally cover songs: play it in their own way, but with that window onto why they're playing it in the first place. Hopefully, the results will reach your heart and transform it a little, as any good performance does.

Unfortunately, I find that, in the particular instance of the Mac tribute, if I tried it out on a similar road trip today, the album wouldn't last me more than a few exits off I-59.

Compilers, artists, you can do better.