caro thinks

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date 2001-04-15:12:50
on being a woman Here's a thought inspired by an article cited by Andrew Breese. The article reports that 'Mary Batten, author of Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, argues that female mating strategies play a major role in driving men to compete for power and wealth, thereby fostering in all human societies the "social dominance orientation" of men.' (Please consult the full article to ascertain its author's position, as I won't be discussing that here.)

I know some women. I am one, in fact, though I might be a complete weirdo. I have a sister and a mother, too. I've known a couple of women who were looking for wealth, power, and dominance in potential male mates. A couple out of hundreds that I've known. The rest of us thought that these women were very strange.

So the women I've known (including me) must be looking for something else in men. Let's start with physical appearance.

It may be hard to believe, given the rhetoric we all have to listen to every day, given the outrageous pairings we see in fictional media, but physical appearance is important to women. I can't call to mind any woman who ever said or implied "I don't care how a man looks, as long as he has a job commanding lots of people or making huge sums of money." Or even anything close to that. Women say "Ick!" a lot when we talk about men. 'Ick' can be response to some gross behavior; but it is very often a response to a neglected body.

Women I know like fit, cut bodies. Abs are high on the list of features that receive discussion. And abs are a pretty good indication of overall health and fitness: they are men's trouble spot, where the bags of chips, boxes of doughnuts, cases of beer, absence of healthy food, and a sedentary lifestyle, all congregate and organize the welcoming committee that is the first thing a woman meets. Men who are interested in touching women make a very grave mistake when they neglect their health and their bodies. I wrote a few days ago about the one woman that I know who played "hard-to-get." The rest don't play hard-to-get; they are hard-to-get, and one reason is they are so frequently and cavalierly confronted by a protruding belly.

Men I have questioned have a very weird idea of what counts as "ugly" or "handsome" or "cute" in the eyes of a woman. First, it is not the case that all women like the same facial features. Second, a man can have a very attractive face which is unfortunately preceded by a beer-gut. I often wonder about the men who think that their ugliness is the reason that they can't attract women, especially since I don't think that most of these self-deprecating men are ugly. It could be any number of reasons; one of them may be the shape of their bodies.

Disappointingly, intellectual men have a tendency to neglect their health, and this fact reveals itself plainly before any words are spoken. Worse, they think it's OK to be so neglectful, and will even defend it as a serious life-choice, demonstrating to selective women just how irrational they are willing to be.
music Listening to J.S. Bach's Musicalische Opfer (Musical Offering), which consists of a number of variations on a complex theme. Perfect working music: steady rhythm, continuous sound, much too complicated to distract me with boringness or repetition and much too integrated to distract me with incongruences. When I turn my eyes from words for a moment to reflect, it's there, tying my thoughts together with the flux of color and sunshine on the patio.

Bach is woefully misunderstood and misrepresented by people who are slightly familiar with his works. I've heard all sorts of odd claims: Bach is formulaic (!), Bach is "too mathematical" (!!) Bach is too precise (!!!); or, as one person said, "There are too many deedle-deedle-deedles" (referring, I guess, to the use of counterpoint, split arpeggios, trills and mordants--kind of like the chapel-meister in Amadeus, who criticized Mozart's work for having "too many notes." I snicker.)

Bach may actually be all of these things, but to say that he is too much of these things is like attempting to criticize by saying, "Your philosophy is too true! It would be fine if it were less true!" or "That ice cream is too delicious! Make it less yummy!"

But I've also heard people say that Bach is expressionless. Interestingly, there are a variety of ways to represent human expression in music. One way is by playing instruments more loudly at some points, more softly at others. This is only one of many techniques that musicians use, even contemporary ones. To some extent, Bach didn't have this kind of volume range available, though that isn't completely accurate; many of his instruments did have volume control, the pipe organ being one of the most important. The harpsichord, a mechanically-plucked instrument, does not have soft-and-loud capability in virtue of the force that the musician uses. But there are other ways of representing emotion on the harpsichord, and even of changing the volume, or the perceived volume, a little: slight pauses before a note is struck makes it more important, hanging onto a note a little longer allows it to compete with the other notes and seem louder than a quickly-released one, striking two or three strings on the same note at once (as one can do by coupling the harpsichord keyboards on double manual instruments) increases volume and importance, arpeggiating chords instead of playing all the notes together draws special attention to each. Making a note "less significant" in some way is very like making it quieter in terms of volume. But one has to become accustomed to these other sorts of variations; they are not as immediately and grossly obvious as a large change in volume, or a drum roll, or a dog barking.

Because Bach is so often said to be "mathematical," with all the implied insults of non-emotionality that commonly come with that description, I'm surprised that he isn't a favorite among engineers, and all the measurement-omitting objectivists. All that math and measurement and abstraction, people! Intricate and complicated relationships and integrations amongs the parts, the form of the music following its function: to touch the human brain and soul deeply, one must access the most rational part, the thinking thing, and what more precise method for doing that than the precise, mathematical, rational, carefully-measured music of Bach! Indeed, it takes an analytically-inclined mind to even tolerate such a personal invasion, let alone appreciate it and see the beauty in it.

While I have independent reasons for preferring to hear baroque music played on baroque instruments in baroque-sized ensembles, comparatively speaking most musicians trained in the contemporary style don't seem to know what to do with ancient music. Whatever one may say about other composers, Bach didn't write haphazardly. He took his instruments into account, thought about their capabilities, and wrote the music to fit them and the various styles of playing them that were current (you'd never know that, looking at modern transcriptions of Bach's scores, originally so bare and spacious by comparison). There are ways of playing Bach sensibly on modern instruments, but you don't usually find those performances on $4 bargain tapes named "Bach's Greatest Hits!" and "Bach's Love Themes" played by the Chipotle Municipal Orchestra and Brass Marching Band. If the harpsichordist isn't named on the label, and if a description of the instrument isn't provided, you may as well buy the score and perform it yourself on your kid's toy piano.

Relatedly, I am frequently accused of liking Bach, and especially liking Bach on original instruments, "just because". The list of "just because" reasons always surprises me. All I can think is that, because my critic can't comprehend the music himself, or can't comprehend causality in the area of aesthetics, he has to come up with some broad abstraction to explain the inexplicable: interest in baroque music. It must not be genuine: it must be "just because" it is fashionable in early music circles to hold "authenticity" above all other values, such as tone and expression (it isn't, I know for a fact, having been in those circles for many years); it's "just because" I have mindlessly allowed myself to be swayed by these fashions. It must be "just because" I haven't heard other composers (not so! since the age of 13 I have listened to as many composers as have been made available via public radio, sometimes sleeping with random programming playing). It must be "just because" I have not heard such-and-such an artist. Etc, etc.

Why is it so difficult to believe that I love Bach's music for what it is, for what it says to me? Why is it not possible that the instruments upon which he composed happen to sound more beautiful to me than instruments from other periods? And why might it not be the case that hearing Bach's music on Bach's instruments adds, for me, a value that isn't available when it is played on modern instruments?

I suppose I have to chalk this up to a lack of imagination. Think they: "If I don't like it, no one else could, so any professed interest must be merely feigned, and if we could just get the girl to listen to Rachmaninoff, she'd soon change her tune!" Thank you. I've heard him.

Take for example, my troubled relationship with the clarinet. How deeply I hate the sound of this wretched whiney instrument! I sometimes start to feel antsy and disturbed while I'm working, and then I realize that the radio station is blasting clarinet music at me. You could use the sound of it in electronic rodent repellent devices. And yet, there are people who play the damned thing, or buy music played on it! Despite the fact that to me it is about as aesthetically interesting as the sound of fingernails on slate, I imagine that the sound of the clarinet must thrill them the way the sound of the baroque oboe thrills me. I don't see how, given my tastes, but there's no need to make up other explanations when taste will do. Imagination is important.
predictions By the year 2020, class-action law suits will have begun targeting the environmental "scientists" of the 1980's and '90's for indirectly causing increased incidence of skin cancer and risk for skin cancer in the U.S. under-sixty population.

Hypothesis: The sun is not bad for people. Human beings are fit to live on Earth. The reason that some races are pale and blue-eyed is so that they can get _more_ sun during the months of unclothedness. With the sun, the human body produces vitamin D, an essential nutrient that, most dramatically speaking, prevents the disease rickets, which is manifested in the softening and bending of bones. The under-forty population has been so terrified by environmental "science" that, not only do they not venture outside without massive doses of sunscreen, but they slather the stuff on innocent infants and children as well. This panic-reaction keeps the pale population exceedingly pale, and, instead of building up a gradual tolerance to the sun's intensity, they remain helplessly transparent to it, so that the first time they are caught out they get severely burnt (in very odd patterns, I might add), thus increasing their risk for cancer. When enough people realize this, the whole environmental "science" infrastructure is going to crash, and lots of people are going to get their white butts sued right off, and I'm going to be laughing my tan butt right off. Everyone will smell a lot better too, being free of the chemicals currently employed to keep the life-giving sun off their bodies.

The sun can, of course, kill you if you get too much. Water, too, will kill you if you drink too much.

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