Frustrations and stallings

Ballet was okay tonight: a lot of the usuals didn’t come, in advance of what my students would call our ‘hell week’: the week of rehearsals and anxieties before the performance. But we’ve got rehearsal on Sunday, then class on Monday, (and class on Thursday, though that hardly counts: very few of the beginning-beginners are performing, so that remains a technique and foundational class), then rehearsal on Friday instead of class, and rehearsal on Saturday before the performance… and the performance on Saturday.

Our pointe piece was a mess tonight. None of us was – ahem – on point. D kept messing up – which she normally almost never does – I think since K wasn’t there. And W – rather heavily pregnant at this point, though she’s got five months to go (I have no idea how she’s going to manage that, given her current size) – has been really worn out by the heat wave.

But we had it basically perfect on Monday, so that was a fluke, and it will be fine. The only part of that piece I’m actually worried about is the walk on and off: I still feel really awkward and gangly walking in pointes.

But it will be fine.

And if it isn’t, well. I don’t think the ballet police will come for us, and we will have had the cojones to dare it, which is enough.

whoever put this one up must be really into Schuylkill River city-view shots

whoever put this one up must be really into Schuylkill River city-view shots

Work is very frustrating right now: I am trying to organize the material finds of the archaic and classical periods, and my sources are not user friendly.

At all.

First of all, none of them are in English.

(Well, one or two are, but the rest are in German, Latin, Italian, or French. All of which I can read, with varying degrees of facility, but – to put it lightly – I’m better at reading English.)

Second, the most important of them date to the 19th century. Citation practices in that era were, shall we say, lax. And, to complicate things, references and terminologies have changed. For instance, Corfu is sometimes Corcyra, which can become important when you’re searching for specific items: which name are they tagged with in which source? And of course opinions have changed, so what Janus Six, in his 1885 Latin dissertation, dated to the early 6th century might now be dated to the late 4th, which means I have to triangulate between all these disparate sources and try to make some kind of sense.

Never mind – thirdly – that I am not in my element with material culture. Give me syntax and intertextuality any day over the fine distinctions between Protocorinthian and Attic aryballoi, or how a sima relates to an acroterion.

I started a series of notecards for categorizing everything, but it’s a messy process, given all of the above.

It is not going as well as one might wish.

though Mr Stanley Bull Squinkles, III, is supporting me with all he's got, as usual

though Mr Stanley Bull Squinkles, III, is supporting me with all he’s got, as usual

Some of us might be feeling frustrated and annoyed, on top of being hot and distracted by dance – not to mention distracted by the possibility of getting lost in trip planning. We leave for Bulgaria in ten days.


And then the news from Munich, which I can’t even.

(Remember Berlin, from last spring’s class? He turned out to be from Munich, actually. So I worried about him today, though he’s probably in New York – all of our students end up in New York, working in fucking finance. Goddammit. thehashtagwastedpromise)

And then this Tim Kaine guy. I know nothing about him. The husband says he’s a White Guy [TM] and should be palatable to the center, which I am not super thrilled about: there’s a lot of leftist energy right now, and maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to capitalize on that.

But whatever. Obviously it couldn’t have been Elizabeth Warren: two women, pbbth. No fucking way. Especially not with both of them blond and ‘old’ [=unfuckable]. That would be Trump in a landslide.

(You realize, I trust, that those are not my opinions, but opinions I suspect the majority of my country-mates would end up landing on.)

And I’ll close with the [paraphrased] wise words of a dear friend of mine: fear is a motivator, to be sure, but not a good one. Be motivated by love and hope and happiness and excitement and wonder, and act in the world in reaction to those things. Not in reaction to fear.


Proops said essentially the same in his most recent podcast: the world is dark, yes, and always has been, and likely will continue to be for some time. So it is imperative that we cherish and nourish and live within what light we have: make that quilt, hug that grandchild, write poetry, paint canvases, sing out loud. Dance, of course.


Always dance, even if only in your head.


For my part, since the ironing board is already out and now unoccupied, and since I just started a new book (on which more another night, of course!), I think I’m due a quilt block or two before bed.

Let’s keep choosing love, my friends. Earth’s the right place for love / I don’t know where it’s likely to go better


(whence – the incomparable Sandra Boynton)

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Filed under around Phila, ballet, culture, dance, goals, identity, politics, tragedy, varia, writing


My sister has always been prone to zealotism, if that’s a word. She’s wired for the zeal of the convert.

When I lived with her in high school, it was Richard Bach and various new-agey mysticisms and ‘manifesting’ good things in the universe.

Once she recovered from that, it was Jungian psychology and dream interpretation; she has a master’s in humanistic psych from a fairly woo-woo school.

She’s still in that world, but she also became a Jew when she married her husband, and became very Jewish. Like, she doesn’t say halla bread like most of us do, when talking about that braided, egg-painted Shabbos staple. It’s aggressively CHCHallah. And my nephews’ names are Hebrew.

Which is not totally crazy, as their father grew up partly in Israel, and he does know Hebrew reasonably well, I believe. It’s just a sign of how fully she has turned her back on our ‘heritage’, such as it is.

Which is, I think, a big part of the problem: we haven’t got much heritage. We have the generic Christian traditions of atheists brought up in America. We have deep Texas roots, and a long line of interesting women behind us. But we were never good at community, our little family. I’m certainly not, and my mom is little better than I am (she’s great at talking to people and listening, but she is always kind of an alien looking in).

But my sister seems to have always needed something to organize her inner life. For whatever reason.

(For the record, I don’t think this is especially weird or unusual, and certainly don’t think it’s ‘weak’ or anything. (1), whatever gets you through the night, and (b) that would be the height of hypocrisy for me to criticize people for relying on systems and rituals. Says the academic who studies what we have long imagined to be the origin of western civilization.)

(Don’t get me started on the degree to which we’re actually the inheritors of some monolithic Greco-Roman tradition, but it’s true that I love the unbroken lines of Latin and Greek literature and philosophy stretching back millennia behind me as I muck about in my little corner of the field.)

So the Judaism and Jungianism remain, and more recently – since the Occupy movement, really – she has added activism. I joke that she knows both the black people in Boulder personally, but she has actually been really involved with various social justice groups out her way. And not just attending meetings and waggling fingers, but also doing real concrete things like making banners for some big marches and demonstrations (she sewed up something like a three-foot-wide, ten-yard-long banner for something in DC a few months back, for instance).

The problem with this, for me, is that I’m not always sure she’s on the right side of the line; she’s a bit of a drama queen, and likes a little bit of notice.

My niece female-bodied-sister’s-child [FBSC] shares all of this, as far as I can tell, and in fact just a day or two ago my sister posted a picture of FBSC lying on the ground in a bright red dress, very gothy, a sign artfully dropped next to her that read NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.

And now I’m thinking about it, maybe my FBSC feels endangered for being gender queer. That would be a perfectly natural thing to feel, given the state of the world just now, and the RNC platform – which has no time for gay marriage, never mind any ‘farther out’ fringes of queerity. So maybe I will regret using this example, but I’ll leave it be for now. Feel free to set me straight in the comments if I’m being unfair.

Thing is, my sister is one of those virulently anti-Hillary people. Thehashtaganyonebutclinton. Clinton is no better than Trump, she says. She’s voting Green Party, she says.

(I’m all for the Green Party, by the way, but (A) Jill Stein is an anti-vaccine person, I think, which doesn’t sit well with me because I tend to believe in science, and (2) SO MUCH THIS.)

I don’t love Hillary. Partly that’s my mom, who never forgave Hillary for standing by Bill back in the 90s.

(Although my mom has weird hatreds of certain women: Hillary and Oprah are the two who really get her dander up, and I have no idea what exactly is so offensive about either of them, precisely.)

But I personally find Hillary untrustworthy and unprincipled.

So my sister would rather see Trump elected than vote for Hillary, while I am going to eagerly vote for Hillary, because she’s at least pretty predictable. Pretty fucking far right, for my tastes, but predictable. She will oversee incremental changes. She probably won’t do much to help the poor or reduce income inequality. She probably won’t do much for campaign finance reform. She just might start a war someone off in the Middle East, because she seems kind of into that sort of thing.

But she won’t get rid of legal gay marriage, and won’t ban Muslims (whatever the fuck that means), and seems to believe in climate change more or less (she’s a bit too pro-fracking for my taste, but the husband says I’m brainwashed and wrong on that, so maybe I am). She seems to think education ought to be a right and ought not be controlled by moneyed interests.

She probably won’t sell off the national parks, and she almost certainly won’t appoint judges to the Supreme Court who don’t believe I should be trusted with autonomy over my body.

She doesn’t have the charisma or easy charm of Obama, who stays cool no matter what gets thrown at him, but she’d be fine. She’d be more of the same, yes, but compared to burning this motherfucking house down with the ‘torch of liberty’ (to borrow from Reince Priebus’ earlier speech), yeah, I’ll take a very imperfect status quo.

What’s more, I hear my black and brown and Asian, and my gay and queer, friends, and they are all saying that it’s thehashtagnevertrump all the way: not standing in the way of Trump means not standing in the way of ending whatever thin measures of security they’ve managed to obtain in the last forty or fifty years.

And my gay friend who recently adopted a black baby boy is particularly loud and adamant about it, for obvious reasons: she would like to remain married to her wife, and remain the legal parent of her son, and not see her son killed at some point for spinning a little plastic gun idly in the park on a summer’s day or whatever.

So it seems to me that my sister is not listening to the voices she claims to be adamant about amplifying, which makes me uncomfortable.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a monolithic Black Culture or Gay Culture either, so maybe her black and gay friends are not feeling as threatened as mine are, but I am worried that she is more wedded to the idea of Making A Stand [TM] than about actually planning for a liveable future.

I ought to talk to her about this, but I don’t know how to. In part because I don’t talk to anyone, really, except by email or in person, and she doesn’t really email and lives across the country, but in part because she seems to have committed herself so fully to this anti-Hillary position, and she has no room for nuance or compromise.

Which is, ironically, one of my major complaints about Trump.


I am curious to see how next week goes, and whether or not it touches my life at all – it’s all happening a mile south of me, but I expect it will remain pretty contained.

I know the person responsible for the Phila contributions to this little project, though, and I have been given a sticker myself, and I have a plan for where to put it; stay tuned.

Is this cycle playing out in weird ways in your family? Do you know anyone like my sister, or – god help us – anyone who really plans to vote for Trump?

I’m glad I’ve got so much else to keep me busy. It probably seems from TDP that I do nothing but obsess over politics and news, but I’m usually doing neither, believe it or not!


Filed under culture, family, identity, musings, politics

On balance

On balance, a good day.

I made a tasty sausage and mushroom pasta thing.

While listening to Canticle for Liebowitz. It’s an old sci-fi classic – written in 1960, I think – and the name has always intrigued me, and I’m finding it really interesting.

(Spoilers ahead, I guess, for a 55 year old book?)

The book is in three parts, Fiat homo, Fiat lux, and Fiat voluntas tua. (That would be ‘Let there be man’, ‘Let there be light’, and ‘Let thy will be done’, essentially.) It’s set over a thousand years or so so there aren’t really any central characters (well, there’s one, but put a pin in that for now), so the real anchor of the book is this abbey in the southwest – West Texas or New Mexico, I think. Fiat homo takes place in the 26th century, some time after the world has clearly gone to shit from nuclear war: basically all technology and science and civilization are lost, there are weird mutant humans and pseudo-humans around, and America is a bunch of tribal fiefdoms who don’t really communicate except to prey on each other.

The church – the Catholic Church, recognizable still – is about the only bulwark against total chaos, and our story takes place in an abbey of Beatus Liebowitz. It comes out that Liebowitz was an engineer who was martyred – or something like that – around the time of the shit-show nuclear war, and part of the arc of this section of the novel is the question of whether or not the Beatus ought to be made a saint – shifted from Beatus to Sanctus.

In Fiat Lux, it’s 3100 or so, and things have developed to a kind of feudal system that has more stability, more communication, more cooperation, but the world is still rough, and largely without technology to speak of. One of the central issues in this part – which takes place in the same abbey – has to do with the question of the purpose of knowledge: the monks preserve it almost for its own sake, but do little with it. A secular scholar comes to the abbey to study their books, though, and argues that knowledge shouldn’t be chained up in dark, distant towers but made available to everyone. This section ends on the brink of an attempt by a local warlord to capture the abbey for a defensive fort, which would probably mean the end of all that precious knowledge anyway.

Fiat voluntas tua opens in 3700 or so. Humanity has advanced beyond contemporary science and technology, and has redeveloped the nuclear bomb, and has also established several colonies in space. It is again set in the same abbey, though now there is a town built up around it, and a highway that runs through it, and a woman’s section. Saint Liebowitz has become a kind of patron of engineers (appropriately: he was himself an engineer in the 20th century), and currently – I’m about halfway through this section – the world is poised to start nuking everything again, and tensions between east and west are high, and the monks of the abbey are about to send a delegation to a space colony with the relics of their order so that all is not lost in the new apocalypse – because they know, from their records and books and cultural memory, how the old one went, and know what to expect.

Through it all one character persists: a little hermit, a Jew, who seems to be, if not immortal, at least extraordinarily long lived, and was a cousin to Liebowitz when Liebowitz lived, but now has outlived everyone, and still is waiting for the savior of the Jews and the salvation of Israel.

I don’t know yet how that piece will come out, but he plays interesting and important roles in each of the three parts.

This book is very much of its time – the specific anxieties of the America at the height of the Cold War are clearly on display – but I really like the ways it is thinking about the tensions between church and state, and the roles of each, and especially the questions it asks about the preservation of knowledge, and the whys and hows thereof. Also interesting is the way it reflects on mythification: how the nuclear war became incorporated into the Christian scriptures, and became as canonized for them as ‘Two Corinthians’ [couldn’t resist] is for contemporary Christians. And the unity of place anchors the book well enough that the disjunction of time and character is not a problem. It’s also a great thought experiment in how loyalties and cultures might shake out over centuries when you throw Americans – white and black – and Mexicans and atheists and Christians together in the deserts of the southwest and shake well for five hundred years: old borders dissolve easily, but cultural ties persist.

(There are also basically no women characters, which annoys me, but see above re: ‘of its time’.)

Anyway, if you’re looking for a read this summer, and like you some speculative fiction, and don’t mind things being a little dated, this is a thought-provoking book. The performance (I’m listening to it on Audible) is not my most favorite ever, but he’s more than competent, and he does make it easy to keep characters straight, as his voices are all distinctive.



All three cats went to the vet today for annual checkups, so the husband stepped in to assist. (Usually I see to cat things, it’s just how division of labor has fallen out.) The boys were stoic once we managed to get them in their carriers, but Clio has never been a good traveler, and moaned incessantly, and then peed and pooped her carrier halfway to the vet.

(Which is to say, five minutes into the trip.)

The vet tech was totally unfazed, of course, and all sympathy, and they took her to the kennel to clean her up and give her a clean space to sit in while the boys got checked out.

No surprises, really, though more details: Clio has kidney disease, which we’ve known for some years, although it seems it may have progressed – the vet estimated her to be in stage 3, and there are four stages, so she is not in good shape. We’re going to switch her to a prescription kidney disease diet, but I’m not sure that we’ll do much more than that. No major medications or intensive treatments.

Our Oscar’s little respiratory infection of earlier this month may be indicative of asthma, which could be complicated to treat given his heart condition, so we’re to watch closely for signs of coughing or breathing problems for the next few weeks; the antibiotic he was on is a strong one, and had steroids that would knock out symptoms of asthma without, obviously, curing them. But if it doesn’t recur then we’re probably just dealing with his heart condition, which can be managed as long as we’re attentive.

Mr Stanley Bull Squinkles, III, is the picture of health – the vet actually rated his physique a ‘5’ on a ten-point scale, in which 1-4 are various stages of emaciated and 6-10 are various stages of obese: five is peak fitness and top form.

(Oscar is a ‘6’, incidentally: a little on the rounder side of fit. But that’s where he’s always been, and where his build seems naturally to place him, so it’s not concerning.)


though he’s taking it hard

I was going to talk more about some political stuff – like, how my sister and I are squaring off in weird ways this election, and how weird I feel about it – but I think we’ll leave it for another night.

I’ll just note that Ted Cruz, human-shaped grease-weasel, spoke at the convention tonight, and ended by not endorsing Trump, and instead saying that he wanted voters to ‘vote [their] conscience’.

This is a big deal, and hilarious to me, because it’s his little attempt to position himself for 2020 or whatever, but also ended the night by highlighting the stark divisions tearing that party up right now.

The crowd booed him, and I am uncomfortable with myself for feeling the smallest bit of grudging respect for him for not caving like everyone else (I’m looking at you, Mitch McConnell, because your speech last night was disgustingly obsequious).

Oh: and I’ll just leave this here.

(In short: it’s too soon to say, but there’s some suggestion that the speechwriter who took the fall for Melania Trump’s gaffe is actually, um, another made-up persona of Trump meant to deflect. Y’all. I can’t even with this convention.)

Stanley, the perfect '5', doing his Melania Trump impression

Stanley, the perfect ‘5’, doing his Melania Trump impression

Anyway I’m over time, and maybe due some quilt block sewing, now that our electricity is all back in order. Certainly no more politics tonight!

We’ll pick that up tomorrow, with a heavy heart —


Filed under books, culture, identity, literature, musings, politics, reading, varia


I think ‘gobsmacked’ is a word I learned after one of the times that Mary Beard was bombarded with awful internet abuse, but it’s how I feel right now.

About the Republican National Convention, I mean.

About my country – my world – right now, I mean.

So there’s Turkey, where Erdogan is back in [relatively] secure power, and is now making what look, from my Roman history classes, disturbingly like proscription lists. Initially they were mostly military people, of course, given it was a military coup, but the list has broadened considerably, and now includes a long list of names from academe: deans and professors and teachers and intellectuals who haven’t always toed the party line.

This makes me nervous for Turkey.


I realize my own self-interests are implicated in this response, but still: I can’t think of a time when it’s gone well, historically, when Power tries to control the centers of learning and historical memory. Why do you think the Right is always so in love with the idea of dismantling public and open education systems.

And I don’t even know, with the RNC. Every time I think they’ve hit bottom, someone does something else that is just beyond the pale, and turns it more into a farce or satire, except it’s not a farce or satire, it’s actually happening, and is actually going to have some real and possibly intense impacts on some real lives.

Probably not mine, I admit: I am a middle-class, middle-aged, straight, white woman living in a major city on the coast; chances are my life will continue more or less as normal, regardless of what happens in November, but for my gay friends, my queer friends, my black and brown friends, my Muslim friends, my undocumented friends, my poor friends… and that list covers a lot of my friends… shit could get very real.


I was shocked in 2000 when Bush was elected appointed. After growing up under 8 years of comparatively progressive Clinton, I was sure that Gore was a shoe-in.

I hope the kids today aren’t so naive or blind: we’ve had a pretty fucking good run with the Kenyan Muslim, yes, but that can incite backlash as easily as inertia!

See, for instance, the UK. I don’t want to be making faces like John Kerry.

Life is compromise, of course, and none of us is pure or perfect – we’ve all got blood on our hands – out out damned spot and all that if you’re reading this on an Apple product or a Google product, for instance, or working for an industry or company that isn’t exactly 100% on the right side of history – but surely there are lines in the sand.

Like, okay: say you decide that it won’t be a big deal if you copy some sentences from someone else’s speech. Fine. Do it, and then own it when it backfires.

But that campaign is denying that it happened, somehow, or blaming it on someone else?!

It’s just bizarro-land.

And I have nothing interesting or important to say about it, other than the announcement that I am gobsmacked, so I’ll leave you with:

(1) a really nice, thoughtful analysis (as usual, from Doug Muder) of the false dichotomy of #BLM vs. Police – third options are available to us, and could go a long way in improving life for everyone;

and (2) next week, as you may be aware, the DNC descends on my fair city. We’re hoping it won’t be as bad a shit-show as the RNC (stiff competition indeed, so I’m optimistic they can at least clear that astonishingly low bar), and there are actually some signs of hope, like this app that plans to help get uneaten food from the convention to the people in Phila who do not have food security – and they are legion – and apparently it’s going to stick around after the convention, and keep trying to connect hungry people to safe, free food. Which is beautiful and brilliant.

Let’s keep aiming at kindness, my friends! Some of us will hit it sometimes, and the rest of us will be too distracted trying to get bogged down by hate —


(apparently that item sold, but if you wanted to ask the maker to do up another custom one for my next birthday, this is where you would go)


Filed under around Phila, culture, history, identity, musings, politics, varia

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

(1) Regular readers will know that Our Oscar is just the epitome of cat: curious, excitable, ritualistic, agile, and acrobatic. Unsurprisingly, then, he likes to walk on the railing over our stairway:

Oscar gives No Fucks

Oscar gives No Fucks


The husband’s bedtime has become, oddly, something that Oscar gets extremely excited about (he’s been playing under the sheets lately, and it just drives him out of his mind), and yesterday he was so excited that he ran out of the bedroom and leapt up onto the rail and started jogging —

— and slipped!!

Our hearts stopped as we thought of him landing on the sharp hard wooden stairs, and I imagined my night changing from The Usual to Emergency Vet Visit…

But he caught himself on the rails, just. He was hanging there by his front paws for a second, and we were scared to move to help him lest we scare him and make him let go, but then he just hauled his ass up by pure strength and will, and jumped through the railings, and carried on almost as if nothing at all had gone awry.

I haven’t seen him on the railing since, though.

Mr Stanley Bull Squinkles, III, is in many ways the opposite of Oscar. I mean, he is equally sweet and gentle and affectionate, and somewhat less playful, and much more cautious. He is also really clumsy. Like, we’ve seen him trip on the stairs numerous times. Not when he was running or playing or anything, just an ordinary walk up or down stairs resulting in him getting his feet tangled up and flopping around a little before regaining his balance.

This is usually not an issue because he is not an ambitious cat, for the most part: he is content with the lot that has been given to him, and rarely seeks to expand his horizons.

But occasionally he jumps on the railing too, and it is always terrifying: he wobbles and whips his tail around frantically, and loses his footing and only just catches it, and we watch with bated breath until he gives up and jumps down into the hall.

I don’t think he would have thought to jump up there on his own. I think he got the idea from Oscar, and he just can’t execute well.


(2) I am starting to feel a little anxious about the ballet performance. Not about knowing the choreography: I will absolutely know it. I’ve performed dance enough times at this point to know that I will learn the choreography cold. So that’s fine.

And anyway the more advanced dancers are around and in front of me, so they’ll draw the eye and help remind me of any choreo I blank on.

I am just aware of the enormous gap between what the choreography could look like, and what it actually looks like when I embody it.

Nor am I criticizing my skills or effort, y’all! But I am an adult beginner, and I simply don’t have the balance or lines that come with years of muscle memory. And my ports de bras are not as elegant as I might wish. And so on and so forth.


I also realize, of course, that I am an adult person with some impressive accomplishments under her belt who does this as a hobby and should in no way ever compare herself to semi-professional dancers, but one does like to be good at what one does, doesn’t one.

And we will be. I know perfectly well that everyone in the audience will be full of admiration, because this shit is fucking hard and takes mad work, even to do is as mediocrally as I will.

Anyway the pointe piece is going to be gorgeous. We’re performing at the barre – the teacher is introducing it as a condensed sample of our classes which need to meet the needs of dancers of various levels, from very experienced to beginners like me. So there will be four barres on stage, diagonal to the stage and parallel to each other, and two of us at each barre, and we will mostly stay at the barre, but there is some moving around and shifting from en face to cote and so on, and it should look quite stunning.


Also, while it makes me laugh, I think I am kind of sold on the soft shanks! I’ve learned how to wear them anyway. The harder shanks will now feel like such a luxury, when I get to them, but I do think my soft shank shoes will get me through several more months of wear now.

(3) Now here’s what actually got me to the title of this post, and I’ll be brief about it, but I’ll also try to be clear:

Just because you can drop a few names and facts from antiquity doesn’t mean you know fuck-all about anything or have the authority to make sweeping claims or comparisons between the ancient and modern worlds. Unnuanced analyses never look good on anyone.


Here are the three recent articles I’ve come upon lately that pissed me off (all linked there through so they don’t register the hits or get the ad revenue).

Let’s deal with the latter two first: they are by the same author in the same venue, and attempt to draw 1:1 parallels between the early Roman Empire – i.e., the end of the Roman Republic under Caesars Julius and Augustus – and contemporary America. Like, dude literally says that Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln were basically the same thing:

Julius Caesar (Abraham Lincoln) made the mistake of winning a Civil War, unifying the empire and ruling too openly as an emperor. He suspended habeas corpus and created a unified empire from Belgium, to Palestine (In Lincoln’s case, from California to New York and from Maine to the Rio Grande). The Romans after Caesar built roads. The Americans under Lincoln built railroads.

I will trust that those weak parallels are too tenuous to even need extensive correction. Nor does he do any better with his next comparison, which is Augustus Caesar to FDR.

(Nor – just to pick the low-hanging fruit – do I know by what metric he is putting FDR ‘one generation after’ Lincoln. Seems like a bit of a stretch to me.)

The follow-up article attempts to ‘prove’ how the Clintons – both of them, I guess? because they’re basically the same? – are just like Nero.

Y’know, Nero. The fifth, and final (because he was fucking insane) scion of the Julio-Claudian emperors, who allegedly burned Christians as torches (almost certainly not) and married his sister (that… seems likely, alas) and fiddled while Rome burned (probably apocrophal) and inducted a horse into the Senate (probably true – and frankly probably better than some of the representatives we’ve currently got in our House and Senate).

So, no. Really nothing at all like the Clintons.

The article continues into Vespasian and Bush and Obama and the potential of Clinton Redux, but the argumentation doesn’t get any stronger, nor the historical honesty any better.


Context matters, people. Just because you can force vague parallels between specific American presidents and specific Roman emperors doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything responsible or even interesting.

The first piece [not]linked above is just the worst kind of drivel, and needs only a few words to put it in its place.

Let me start by quoting the first sentence of the second paragraph:

The Latini were an Indo-European (IE) people (read “White”) who migrated into the Italian Peninsula around 1000 BC.


Not at all, in any way shape or form.

‘Whiteness’ as a thing to be, as opposed to being ‘black’ or ‘brown’, had not yet been invented when the Latini were mucking about in Italy. I’ve taught this class: race was tied to climate and geography and was assumed to reveal all sorts of stupid and unscientific things about people – that the Persians were ‘naturally’ soft and prone to dictators, or whatever, whereas the Spartans were earnest and strong – but there was no fucking anti-black or anti-brown bias, which means there was no fucking white supremacy.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: the Greeks and Romans (once they cohered as such, and presumably before as well) were just as racist and xenophobic and tribal as the day is long, and lots of them probably would have been sympathetic to Trump’s platform, once they learned English and got a sense of what modern democracy entails.

But they were not fucking white supremacists, because there was no such thing as ‘whiteness’.


‘Whiteness’ is made-up bullshit designed to make some people feel better about oppressing and abusing other people. That’s why it’s so powerful when James Baldwin breaks it open by changing the language and referring to ‘white people’ as ‘people who think they are white’.

People who believe, or have been convinced, that ‘being white’ is a thing, and means something, take it very seriously, to be sure, but don’t put that shit on the Greeks or Romans. That belongs firmly in the early modern period, and has to do with justifying colonialism and slavery in the developing West, and still isn’t a closed category – how many people on a random street in America would call Jews white, for instance?

Not all of them, by any stretch. But some of them. Which reveals the absurdity of the category.


I ranted longer than I meant to, but it frustrates me when people try to use the cachet of antiquity for their own short-sighted and bigoted viewpoints.

Take a beat, dudes, and take a minute to learn some actual facts and a little bit about historiography.

As for the rest of us… I suppose it’s never a bad idea to read wide-ranging sources from all points on the spectrum, but sometimes it really is just drivel and needs to be called out as such.


We can do better than this. And let’s agree to hold those who would call themselves historians to higher standards.

Or, like, any standards at all.



Filed under ballet, classical antiquity, culture, dance, history, identity, musings, politics, reading, Rome

Home and away


That shows the central point of the ‘away’, I suppose: Jane’s Addiction at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, New Jersey. 25th anniversary of Ritual de lo Habitual.

just to start in on the 'home' theme right away too

just to start in on the ‘home’ theme right away too

Jane’s Addiction was a revelation to me in high school. I fucking loved them. So much contempt for normalcy. So much energy and rebellion. And pretty good music, frankly. Not all of it, naturally, but a lot of it is interesting and innovative and experimental and new, and most of it is tight and precise.

I never saw them as a kid. I wanted to, but I couldn’t afford concerts, mostly – certainly not that first Lollapalooza (which is apparently now a spell-check approved word! What a world, what a world).


It was a good show. More to the point, the husband and I had fun: the drive out was easy, and we started out with the radio tuned to WURD until we lost it somewhere in central Jersey, and it got us talking about race and race relations and America, and you know there are few things I love more than that.


It’s a good station, by the way, WURD is. Sometimes they get a little off-the-wall, but they have conversations that mainstream media would never have, and they offer an important voice and point of view. And they have a facebook page, in case you feel like checking them out without committing to a serious radio session.


(They have a correspondent in Cleveland this week, incidentally. Should be… fascinating.)

This was on Saturday afternoon, some 20 hours before the new shooting in Baton Rouge.

About which…



Maybe later.


Asbury Park is a little town on the Jersey Shore, but it’s one I can’t really make sense of: on one hand, the city itself seems to be one of those scraping-by towns, by and large, and there are a lot of empty old beautiful buildings on the boardwalk, but what retail is there is relatively high-end.


There’s also the pinball machine museum, which is amazing. Run by a dentist, I believe, as a side hobby, you can buy entry by the half-hour (we spent $7.50 each for the half hour), and get full access to a packed game room of arcade and pinball games from the last fifty-some-odd years.


I was never an arcade gamer, for various reasons that regular readers can probably guess, but still it’s kind of incredible to play the Frogger arcade, and the overwrought pinball machines of the 80’s are really something to see.


We’re up against the clock, somehow! I’ll cram the rest in.

  • It was raining lightly during the concert, which dampened everyone’s moods only slightly, although the husband and I did leave early – in no small part because I was looking around at how drunk everyone was, and imagining sharing the roads with them… and I wanted to be safely fucking back in our hotel before they started piddling around in their cars.
  • Perry Farrell has never been someone I’d mistake for, ah, progressive, exactly, in the way I understand it. Like, he probably thinks certain drugs should be legal, and probably thinks black people ought to be treated like people, but I wouldn’t accuse him of practicing particularly incisive feminist analyses.
  • So I wasn’t at all surprised when there were nearly-naked women out on the stage gyrating for some of the songs. I mean, the original videos of those songs had essentially those same women – different women, yes, but what matters is that their shapes and imagined availabilities and willingnesses were the same – and I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly pulled a muscle, and complained to the husband.
  • Here are some alternatives, for bands that are thinking of using women as props:
    • sure, fine, but use the same women who performed in the videos back in 1992. They’re 50 now, yes, but so is fucking Perry Farrell. We’ve all gotten older. Let’s celebrate it.
    • if you’re going to use 20 year olds, fine: find some controntionists who can do interesting and impressive and mesmerizing moves, or at the very fucking least choreograph something interesting for the ladies to dance – they were clearly strong and capable dancers, but they were given nothing to work with, so they were really fucking boring.
  • No, I didn’t expect more, but it was still disappointing. It’s never not disappointing.
  • And yes I still basically enjoyed the show – in part because it was delightful to see middle aged Jersey ladies in loose floral dresses rocking out to reconnecting with their youthful angst and energy. Because we age, right, but I’m beginning to guess that we never stop feeling things passionately. It seemed to me when I was a kid that adults had it all figured out, and were just calm, but that’s fucking bullshit. We just get better at controlling it.


Today we meant to go to the beach, but… I don’t even know exactly what, but instead we headed back to Phila, and did some errands, and bought some new lights for the living room, and I think they’re not bad. Not ideal yet – we need to figure out the cord on the hanging lamp, for one thing, and make it less obtrusive and dumb – but definitely an improvement.


It will be a busy week for both of us – a busy two weeks, really, and then Bulgaria, and then the year basically begins again for me on my academic calendar.

Everything is cycles.


So we carry on —

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Filed under around Phila, art, culture, identity, musings, politics, travel, varia

Totally random thirty: summer 2016 edition

But first:


It’s so distressing. And yet utterly predictable: Erdogan is a reactionary conservative in a country that has long been secular and relatively liberal, and he has been oppressive, and typically oppression results in people rising up. Pretty much every time, eventually.

The husband texted me about it shortly before ballet, when it was still very much in progress:


It seems like things have settled down a bit now – Erdogan is back in Istanbul and reasserting control – but nothing good can come of this. Nor does anything good typically come from martial law, nor do I personally see much good coming from Erdogan’s regime, so I don’t have a better answer…

But what a fucking bummer. Turkey is a glorious, culturally rich, amazing place. I’ve only been to Istanbul, and only twice, but it is probably my favorite city after Rome, because you can see the story of civilization – eastern and western, in Istanbul, though I’ve never been to the Asian side myself – open up before you as you walk through the modern streets. The past is with you, in those cities. Gorgeously so.

Here’s to peaceful resolutions for our Turkish brothers and sisters – and the nearly 3 million Syrian refugees living amidst them, not to mention the Kurds and Armenians, who have their own tensions.

On a personal, selfish level, there is something so moving and upsetting about seeing violence in places that you have personally visited. At its most extreme, of course, the twin towers on September 11 – I celebrated my 23rd birthday at Windows on the World only a few years before that day – but also seeing the violence at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, or the brutality at the Simferopol airport in Crimea a couple of years back. I’ve idled away time in those places! I’ve got a basic, low-level bond with anyone else there, we’re loose travelling team mates. How can people now be suffering in them?!

This is one reason why travel matters, and why more people should have access to travel. It’s not the only way to strengthen empathy, obviously, and it’s not particularly hard to feel empathy for people in utterly foreign, unfamiliar places, but it changes when the awfulness is going on on sites you have literally walked through. Amongst people you have potentially brushed shoulders with. Then it becomes personal and real, which is something I think this kind of violence too often isn’t. And we desperately need it to feel that way, if it’s ever going to end.

(Which – a cynical part of me pipes up – it isn’t, because we’re human, and violence is what we do. But — ach. What if we didn’t. What if we did something else instead.)


Anyway. Now I suppose it’s more of a ‘Totally Random Twenty’, but we’ll make it work, and it was worth it.

1) The electrician came by today and disconnected the previous owner’s alarm system, and fixed the several suddenly dead outlets in the sewing room, and replaced an outlet in the kitchen with one of those safer outlet gizmos that has TEST and RESET buttons. I didn’t ask the husband why that particular outlet drew his attention. I think because the cat water fountain is plugged in there, which means it’s always in use.

He also noticed the florescent lights over our washer and dryer and said idly, Those are going to catch on fire eventually, you need to take them out.

So now we’re in the market for a little battery-operated lamp for the laundry area.

It will be fine. I never particularly liked those lights anyway.

2) I don’t know why ballet is so exhausting right now! Maybe because it’s so hot, and the heat really wears me out.

(Texans, don’t shun me: I live a lightly air conditioned life, so the heat weighs heavy.)

Also we’re doing an accelerated barre to spend more time rehearsing for the performance (two weeks!) and somehow a shorter barre actually ends up almost being harder. And then I guess we’re also spending more time in centre, which means more full-out dancing, which is more tiring.

But we finished the pointe piece tonight, and have nearly finished the soft-shoe piece, and I feel pretty good. I’m leading the ‘easy’ section, remember, which means I’m literally center stage for basically the whole piece.

(Fortunately the more advanced dancers are working around and in front of me, so I definitely won’t be the center of attention, but my Team is depending on me to lead them right.)

I think I have it. There are still a couple of places that need mad work – like the ballottés, for instance, which make me feel so fucking awkward and ungainly.

Unlike those young ladies, who make them look pretty good.

3) My shoes were good tonight, incidentally. I think I just needed to learn to do the work with my muscles as opposed to relying on the hard shank to keep me supported, and need to keep focusing on doing so. Not to say I regret ordering the other shoes – I don’t, at all! – but it is good to have backup, and I will certainly use them eventually, even if not this summer.

4) Tomorrow we’re going to Asbury Park! I’d forgotten until the husband reminded me tonight. It’s an hour drive or so, and involves a beach, and a Jane’s Addiction concert.

And instead of ‘beach’ I really should say ‘shore’; Phila and Jersey people don’t go ‘to the beach’, they go ‘down the shore’. D’yowna’shore, more or less, if you hear it spoken.

5) I asked D. after class for some suggestions about where to stay in Paris. She loves Paris, and seems to know it reasonably well, and it’s also a convenient way of strengthening our friendship, such as it is, a little: people like it when you ask their opinion on things and trust them with expertise.

(That sounds very mercenary, I know, but I’m not natural with people, so it helps me sometimes to think in these terms.)

She recommended the Latin Quarter, and explained why, and her reasoning was solid, so we’re going with that.

I may pass on trying frog’s legs at that one place, though. I do have my limits and boundaries.

6) I’ve added French on my duolingo. ‘English speaker learning French’, I mean, as opposed to the ‘French speaker learning Italian’ that I’ve been playing with. Never hurts to brush up on basics before you get dropped, however briefly, into a place where your language is not the default.

7) Two letters for the husband done, a third nearly so. Four more to do next week, but the client submitted a very detailed worksheet describing his clinical work, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

8) We’ll end with a bit on Roman Plovdiv, which was then Philippopolis, or ‘the city of Philip’, because it was allegedly founded by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. (Though the Thracians had already been occupying the area for millennia at that point, it’s just that they’re ‘barbarians’ rather than Greeks or Romans, so their history gets erased.)

Lucian of Samosota, one of the most interesting and prolific authors of the Second Sophistic, had a dialogue about runaway slaves, in which Heracles and Hermes briefly visit Philippopolis / Plovdiv:

Her. Straight to Thrace, then?

Hera. Yes, Thrace, and I will show you the way. I know every inch of Thrace; I have been there so often. Look here, this is our route.

Her. Yes?

Hera. You see those two magnificent mountains (the big one is Haemus, and the other Rhodope), and the fertile plain that spreads between them, running to the very foot of either? These three grand, rugged crests that stand out so proudly yonder form as it were a triple citadel to the city that lies beneath; you can see it now, look.

Her. Superb! A queen among cities; her splendours reach us even here. And what is the great river that flows so close beneath the walls?

Hera. The Hebrus, and the city was built by Philip. Well, we have left the clouds behind us now; let us try our fortune on terra firma.

Lucian himself visited Philippopolis in 165CE or so, and it will be fun to stand among the Roman ruins – many of which are contemporary with Lucian – and imagine his visit.

8a) Oh, also, for one person: a couple of descriptions of ancient textiles, from historians who don’t really know what they’re talking about.

And so goodnight, my friends. I hope you are warm and safe and comfortable tonight, and I hope we all recognize how lucky we are to be so. And we are thinking of our friends in Turkey and Nice and Syria and… so many other places.

Here’s hoping for peace, somehow, someday.

Everyone deserves it.


Filed under ancient greece, ballet, classical antiquity, culture, dance, goals, history, identity, learning, musings, politics, tragedy, travel, varia