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Swimming with Unreasonable Sharks

We are back from summer vacation, and boy do we have slides to show you.

As we did last year, we joined my wife’s daughter and her family in renting a beachside house. Oak Island NC is a barrier island – separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway – and is near Myrtle Beach SC. The ocean side shoreline runs East to West, and faces South, so you can sort of watch both the sunrise and the sunset. We drove in through lightly-flooded West Beach Drive just as the weakling Hurricane Bertha was passing far out to sea. Last year the air was hot and the water was chilly. This year the air was warm and the water was mild. So I was not surprised to read, New Study Sees Atlantic Warming Behind a Host of Recent Climate Shifts, in Dot Earth:

Using climate models and observations, a fascinating study in this week’s issue of Nature Climate Change points to a marked recent warming of the Atlantic Ocean as a powerful shaper of a host of notable changes in climate and ocean patterns in the last couple of decades — including Pacific wind, sea level and ocean patterns, the decade-plus hiatus in global warming and even California’s deepening drought.

Other climate scientists question whether the Atlantic is actually a mover and shaper, or just part of a complex system, but the article confirmed my sense that the ocean felt like bathwater this summer. Once Bertha moved away we had clear sunny days, but fewer and fewer strong waves to surf.

The house was ten lots away from the one we had last year, and far more comfortable. I would wake up, lurch into the surf and swim up and down while trying to forget all the media buzz about Jaws and sharks and gators. One doesn’t have to venture far out to feel terribly alone in the water. After breakfast I would surf the internet and read. After lunch we men would pile into the waves for body-surfing. Rinse and Repeat. Sometimes the women interrupted our swimming, eating, drinking (and my reading) to drive them places. The idea is supposed to be that everyone gets to relax, but in practice the women kept busy planning and preparing meals, dressing to hunt shells on the beach, dressing to go shopping for t-shirts, dressing to sit on the beach, dressing to go to the Food Lion, etc. And the boys dragged their poor grandmother out to the mall or the WalMart or the Surf Shop.

When they weren’t in the water, the boys played an online war game called Call of Duty almost constantly. I think we had a connection delay because our guys could run around a corner and empty a clip into an opponent – who, unbloodied, would then take them down with one shot. That game features a background voice that barks commands at the players as they coordinate an assault in an urban battlezone. I grew to hate that voice. “Domination!” “Secure the objective!” “We’re losing A!”  “We’re falling behind!” “We’re being dominated!” That insistent voice reminded me of Harlan Ellison’s Twilight Zone episode, Soldier, where Michael Ansara is a heat ray-wielding warrior from the future, wearing an earpiece that urges him, “Find your enemy. Attack, Kill. Attack, Kill.”

We didn’t see any loggerheads hatch this year. Around high tide, we watched brown pelicans diving for fish and flying in tight formations against the wind, and looser formations with the wind. The pelicans were frequently escorted by gulls. Around low tide, tiny Sanderlings and longer-legged and -beaked Willets would scour the beach for anything that might be edible. The women noted that there weren’t as many shells to pick from this year. Once while they looked for conch, whelk and scallops shells, I scored a Corona bottlecap, a rubber band, two rubber hairbands and a charred cigarette. One of the boys found an almost full plastic bottle of Mountain Dew. In the low tide surf there was also a lot of what appeared to be clear, decomposed plastic foam, much like you’d find in the Pacific and Gulf dead zones. My wife found an intact crab, and was wondering what killed it, but we didn’t see any live crabs in the surf.

Last year we went to Pelican Seafood, picked through all sorts of seafood and had a great dinner at the house. This year, Pelican said the boats only brought shrimp, scallops, one salmon and one snapper. It could have simply been a slow day, but it made me wonder what will be available next time. In The Bottleneck Years, HE Taylor’s speculative fiction novel (also posted on Science Blogs), the recently deceased author predicts that the fishermen will sink their boats complaining that the sea had become populated by nothing but jellyfish.

I first read the next chapter of Brown Dog,  a collection of James Harrison’s stories – tall tales really – about a simple soul who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, passes himself off as Native American when it suits, works only when he must, drinks when he can and chases pussy when it wanders too close. Then I started Unreasonable Men, Michael Wolraich’s third person omniscient retelling of the rise of the Progressive Movement in the early 1900s. I met Michael and many other folk online several years ago at the defunct TalkingPointsMemo Cafe. Sometime later he invited me to join his political blog, dagblog, which I did for a few years. I eventually met him in person when he presented his first book, Blowing Smoke, at a Washington DC bookstore.

Unreasonable Men is well organized – each chapter has a clear date, and many omniscient assertions about the inner motivations of Speaker of the House Joe Cannon, Senate Leader Nelson Aldrich, House and Senate Gadfly “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, President Teddy Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft are supported with footnotes. Michael’s assertions may open him to challenges from conservatives who interpret history differently, but the active voice does make one feel in the moment and moves the story along. His descriptions, citing of facts and use of quotes bring life to figures that usually repose in the dust of the passive tense.

Michael opens by describing a political landscape in 1904 that could easily be mistaken for 2014. Rich vs poor, dwindling resources, financial crashes, and congressional paralysis sound like topics on Meet the Press, The Daily Show or Democracy Now. But in telling about the past he leaves us to make our own comparisons with the present. I knew from high school that Roosevelt had fallen out with Taft, and had started the Bull Moose Party, and I knew that Taft eventually became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but Michael fills in the back story. Learning about Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot’s breakneck assignation of 16 million acres of woodlands into the US Forest Service’s national reserve before an appropriations bill stripped them of that power was worth the whole book. Conservatives lost interest in conserving when it became clear that the land wasn’t being set aside for their future exploitation.

While reading about the tariff debates, I was reminded of a press conference at the Green Party Convention in 2012, which I covered for dagblog:

Each time, as [Dr Jill] Stein or [Cheri] Honkola was answering a question, [Ben] Manski was floating behind, waiting to add a few comments. I stopped trying to figure out the signals and simply raised my hand. Based on Manski’s comment about corporate money, I asked whether the Green Party had accepted or would consider accepting contributions from an environmentally-responsible corporation, if say, Patagonia wanted to support them. Stein hurriedly said that they accepted no corporate contributions or PAC money, and that even if money was found to be from a high ranking company official it would be returned. Manski chimed in that corporations had offered money in the past, but that Patagonia had not.

At the time I wondered which of us was being naive. In my opinion, government serving only business is a kind of fascism, but for government and business to be completely independent would be wasteful if not chaotic. Unless you favor anarchy, the trick seems to be a balancing act between corporate fascism and populist chaos. LaFollette and his brethren led a Progressive movement of the middle class against too much business interference, but one wonders if there is any sort of mechanism to do that today when every politician depends so heavily on corporate contributions to stay in office.

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Astyk Surfaces

Sharon Astyk has been one of my, and my wife’s, favorite writers, but seemed to vanish from the blogosphere over the last year. I often cruise ScienceBlogs and found her post, Ambiguous Anniversaries, just before I left for Age of Limits. Once there, a fellow who knew and worked with her stood up to give us an update of how much is on her plate at home, which is also covered in her post:

It was complicated – we ended up with four [additional foster children], and not necessarily the four we originally agreed to take. Two of my children’s brothers are in a different home together, although it took a little while for everyone to settle to where they were going to be. And so came Q., then 16 mos, K. and R. then-3 1/2 year old twins, and D. 10, going rapidly on 11. With our then-10 month old foster son Z., that gave us four children under 4, and developmentally speaking, five children under 4 (Eli, our autistic eldest operates at about 2-3 years old). The twins had significant developmental issues – at 3 1/2, behaviorally and cognitively they functioned like 18 month olds (K.) and 2 year olds (R.). Both raged and tantrumed for hours every day – they had almost no functional language and were responding to both the incredible trauma in their home of origin and the trauma of being removed. The only words we were sure both children shared on the first day were “bitch” and “booty.” Add in a pre-teen girl who crossed the cusp of puberty thirty seconds after arrival, with all the joys of that mixed up with trauma and removal and well…it was hard.

I can’t even imagine …

A Pleasure Working Under You

The war between men and women continues unabated. One of the most emailed and popular articles on the NY Times has been, Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? It is a very long article, and very speculative, but the upshot is that the author feels that equality leads to a happy wife, a happy life, but not necessarily more, or passionate sex:

No matter how much sink-scrubbing and grocery-shopping the husband does, no matter how well husband and wife communicate with each other, no matter how sensitive they are to each other’s emotions and work schedules, the wife does not find her husband more sexually exciting, even if she feels both closer to and happier with him. … “The less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire.” In other words, in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered.

According to the article, both men and women are hard-wired to expect that passionate sex will involve male dominance and female submission. Though the devil is in the details, that idea rings bells for me. When I was a boy, my mother and I were watching a movie on tv (Number One) with Charlton Heston as an aging quarterback. In one scene he argues with Jessica Walter, who plays his disaffected wife, then forces himself on her. She initially resists, then starts to respond. “And they call that rape,” my mother said. That was … a surprise.

During one of our necking sessions my first (much more experienced) girlfriend dragged my hand to her breast. I had no idea what to do then. (OK, I had some idea, but wasn’t sure what was allowed.) She soon dropped me for someone that presumably did. Quite a bit later my first lover asked me to talk trashy to her during sex. I had no idea what to say. Tom Jones and Balthazar B were about the extent of my sexual heroes, and neither waxed eloquent while making love.

But on the other hand, many lovers later, I made passionate love during a thunderstorm, at one point holding my arms around her arms around her head. She always loved thunderstorm sex, but grumbled that me pinning her down reminded her of the time she had been raped. I’ve dated one woman who showed me a picture of her black eye, one who was intimidated into office sex, one that was date-raped, one that was raped in her dorm room by an intruder and whose ex-husband used to spit on her if she couldn’t achieve orgasm. Yes, the one that was raped had trouble enjoying marital sex.

Here is where I’m supposed to give a pat rejoinder to the article’s premise, but I’m still as confused about women as when I had a crush on a little blonde girl in Kindergarten.

It does seem clear to me that women are attracted to powerful and wealthy men who can take care of them, but at the same time it is an article of faith among self-identified nice guys that women are drawn to the bad boys. Does that sound like a plot quandary from a Woody Allen film? If so he solved it by becoming rich, powerful and a bad boy. In light of the Dylan Farrow furor, XoJane asked, What Is It About Our Artists and Very Young Girls?:

It’s no mystery why teen girls would be drawn to the powerful men who court them. Young girls, a traditionally fairly powerless group, wake up one day to discover they wield enormous sexual power, power they may use without the perspective or emotional maturity to fully understand the consequences. Many 13-year-olds with access to rock stars and visionary directors would be thrilled to capture one’s interest, but unable to fully understand how unlevel the playing field truly is.

I’ve never courted younger women, but in three musicals I dealt with teenage girls in the cast flirting with me. Over the run of a show everyone becomes close through common purpose; it is easy to confuse that closeness with other feelings, and some guys do take advantage of that. I realized that these girls weren’t looking for a lover, they were just charmed that a man would actually talk with and listen to them, and had turned me into a fantasy boyfriend. Just before dress rehearsal one actually dragged me out in the hall to show her friends.

I wonder now – if I had taken advantage and groomed them for sexual encounters, and later been accused – I wonder how many male internet commenters would step up to defend me and attack them? In, Victims Of Sexual Assault Need To Take Their Share Of Blame, Too, TPM continues to report on blaming the victim:

[Wall Street Journal columnist James] Taranto is a reliable soldier in what he’s called the “war on men.” He wrote last June that Democrats … were trying to “criminalize male sexuality” in their efforts to eliminate sexual assault from the military.

Taranto had quoted a New York Time article, Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault, which reported on an effort to recruit bystanders to stop the rape of approximately one out of every five college women:

According to an account in New England Monthly at the time, an extremely drunk freshman was led into a Stoke Hall dorm room by three drunk sophomores who took turns having sex with her. One went into the hallway and bragged that they had a train going, high-fiving his friends. Several students, including the resident assistant, knew what was going on but did not put an end to it. Nor did the roommate intervene as the three boys tried to pressure the girl into saying it was consensual. …

College men use two words to describe when a man gets in the way of another man’s business, and it is not “bystander intervention.” For the purposes of a family newspaper, call it “shot blocking.”

In the Urban Dictionary, Cock Blocking is defined as, “To hinder, by whatever means, the chances of another male from getting a sexual encounter with a female.”

Eulogy

Thank you for coming on this cold and icy day as we gather to say farewell to your wife, your sister, your grandma, your friend and my mother Genevieve. I am the eldest of her seven children. My mother loved all her family, and all their children, all their friends, and their children and was dearly loved by all of us in return. She loved countless dogs, cats, birds, horses, goats, and one cantankerous pony. I’d like to think they all loved her, too.

My mother was born just after the lowest ebb of the Great Depression and grew up on Long Island during the recovery and World War II. She told us stories about capturing Japanese beetles in her father’s garden. She told us how the young girls’ style was to wear Dad’s old cotton shirts, with the tails hanging out, and bluejeans rolled up above the ankles, and about sneaking cigarettes with her best friend Jeannie. About going to see matinee movies with two nickels to buy a ticket and a pickle. She sang us the song, “My mom gave me a nickel to buy a pickle, I didn’t buy the pickle, I bought some chewing gum.” Her mother would ask what she wanted for lunch, and Mom would call back, “A honeymoon sandwich,” to which her mother would say, “OK, Lettuce Alone!”

She eventually went on to attend nursing college and often said she loved to assist the doctors and surgeons with operations but hated changing bedpans. Dad recently told me how he met her on a trip to the beach, and how beautiful she was. They got married and she ended up changing diapers and bringing her children to doctors and surgeons.

Mom had a lovely voice, and one of my earliest memories is of her singing while she did housework:

“Dear Genevieve, sweet Genevieve, shan’t I be young before I’m old?”

I was impressed that she had her own song. And looking back, even as she did get older, she always seemed to have a young outlook.

She was technically a stay-at-home mom, but also a go-out-shopping mom, and a stay-up-late to watch Carson or Cavett mom. This was long before remotes, so sometimes I’d wake up in the middle of the night to turn off the static. Finally she got a long cord so she could turn off the set from the bed. But in the morning, awake or not, she somehow managed to get us all off to school.

She greatly influenced all of us. We didn’t need Google because she seemed to remember just about everything worth knowing. If one of us told the dog to go lay down, she would remind us “No, it is Go Lie Down.” She told us a story from back in Salem Drive days, apparently I once told her, “This kid used three words I’ve never heard.” “OK, what are they?” She did explain two of them but made it clear that using words like that was not something I should be doing.

Once for her birthday I called her and did my best Ted Cassidy impression, saying, “Ah the Old One – the one who made us.” Mom knew her Star Trek so she just laughed and asked what was new or startling.

The best memories I have of Mom are late in the evening around the kitchen table, when everyone would prod her to tell us family stories. Maybe about Cinnamon and Maureen, or Fire Island. A lot of the stuff I think I remember probably comes from her telling us about it, and I’ll bet that’s true for a lot of you.

Mom liked music, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and the middle of the road stuff on WMAL, but she kept up with some of what we listened to. I know she had qualms when I listened to Jethro Tull or Patrick listened to Killer Queen. Once she was in the kitchen doing a crossword, I heard her singing along to We’re an American Band, and I said, “You know that song?” She replied, “Of course I know Grand Funk Railroad!”

I have no idea what her favorite song was, but I do know she really liked Mac Davis. So I’m going to close with something based on one of his tunes:

Oh, Mom we’re sure gonna miss you,
You were perfect in every way,
You always were happy to see us,
And you got better lookin’ each day,
To know you was to love you,
You just were a hell of a Gram,
We’ll treasure the love that you gave us,
And remember you the best that we can.