Madonna and Child

8225469451_2d84cc2eb2_zThe entrance makes all the difference.

I recently watched the opening of a Madonna concert, mostly for the same reason that I struggle not to crane my neck when driving past an accident. It was her MDNA tour, which is a clever title when you think about it, because MDMA is an acronym for the drug known as ecstasy, while MDNA evokes the sacred genetic strands that constitute the entertainer known as Madonna.

Her clever set designers put those letters to further use by stationing them around the intersection of a large cross, where once might have gone the letters INRI, signifying the Latin for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Madonna of Bay City is herself a kind of royalty, perhaps not equal in circumstance to the deity with whose trappings she adorns herself, but certainly surpassing him in pomp.

[Read more...]

Back off, Man, I’m a Scientist

bill_murrayMy friend in graduate school used to groan as the holidays approached. His father was a surgeon whose every dinner table pronouncement about medicine was taken as authoritative. His sister was a lawyer, and her proclamations about whatever legal conflicts happened to be in the news were likewise greeted with unquestioning acceptance.

My friend lamented that our impending PhDs in political science garnered no such deference. Your uncle holds forth on the need to start a third political party, and is not dissuaded when you explain that America’s system of plurality elections and congressional districting is mathematically geared toward sustaining only two parties. Your brother, the avid talk-radio listener, exclaims that voters are going to punish Party X for bottlenecking legislation in the Senate Finance Committee, and rolls his eyes when you mention polling evidence that voters know little about congressional activity.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We were dealing in facts, my friend and I, but our opinions were considered no more reliable than anyone else’s. This is why a part of me cheers that moment in Ghostbusters when Bill Murray’s character, a researcher named Peter Venkman, says to someone questioning his methods: “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

[Read more...]

Riding the Waves

Woodlief photoMy sons argue over Avengers characters. The littlest insists he’s Captain America. Another claims Hawkeye. There’s an argument over Ironman. They resolve it by awarding that honor to me, given that I’m a smartass and look a little like Robert Downey, Jr.

I argue that I’m the Hulk. I flex my muscles. They roll their eyes, but their mother would understand. She told me once, not long before our divorce, that I am the angriest man she’s ever known. A therapist once told me I’ve been angry since childhood. Another said I’ve been depressed my entire life, like my mother before me. I told him about the first diagnosis. He shrugged his shoulders. Flight or fight, does it really matter when your enemy is yourself? That’ll be 100 dollars.

I don’t remember if October was when the weight always came closest to leveling me, or if that cycle commenced after my daughter died. I suppose no matter which therapist was correct: I’ll always have something to blame my mother for, because she died in October as well.

[Read more...]

Renouncing the Gridiron

onionI gave up sports for the same reason I gave up politics and pornography.

I was once in a political party, not because I felt any great affection for it, but because the aims of its chief opponent constitute a recipe for civilizational suicide. I still suspect as much, but I long ago became an Independent, because I concluded that associating myself with a political party was a moral act, or rather an immoral one, given the criminality, corruption, and prevarication engendered by its leaders.

This is also a reason I stopped watching porn—because viewing it not only corrodes one’s soul, it sustains the market for predation and debasement. The same, I’ve reluctantly concluded, can be said about viewing big-money sports.

[Read more...]

The Machinery of Cowardice Fails the Children of Rotherham

policeMy children once heard someone address me as “Doctor,” and so they asked me if I am the kind of doctor who helps people. I told them no, I have a PhD. I told them I’d studied why smart people do dumb things in groups. It interested me at the time, but when I see the headlines coming out of Rotherham, England—hundreds of children systematically raped and otherwise brutalized while authorities did nothing—I think the problem isn’t smart people collectively behaving like fools, but decent people becoming cowards.

The details of this tragedy are varied enough to whet any axe: the ethnicity and religion of the perpetrators; their targeting of impoverished children; fear by authorities that cracking down would lead to accusations of racism; the notion among police officers witnessing gang rapes that the victims—some of them as young as eleven—were willing participants; the concurrent persecution by child welfare authorities, even as they ignored these crimes, of foster care families whose political activities were deemed unsavory. The entire story sparks rage and it invites despair.

I am always curious about the decision processes of authorities in the midst of such atrocities. How can an infrastructure of ostensible protection become so dysfunctional that it overlooks mass rapes of children for a dozen years? [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X