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malthaussen

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Member since: Sat Sep 24, 2011, 10:36 AM
Number of posts: 13,671

Journal Archives

War on Christmas

Eulogy for a Friend's Cat


Variations on a Theme of Christopher Smart

Four-footed fur friend
From birth to last of nine lives.

For head tilted with curiosity, luminous eyes
For your imperious gaze, nose in the air
For the arrogance with which you ignored me,
For the vulnerability with which you solicited pats.
For the disdain with which you regarded your food,
For the hunger with which you scarfed it anyway.
For the involuntary purrs which you surrendered
For the skirts you covered with fur while enthroned on my lap.
For the furniture you clawed, and the friskiness with which you played.
For deigning to permit my touch,
For the gift of your affection.

You have been loved.
You will be missed.

-- Mal

Fun With Words: Fla(c)k

FLAK was originally an acronym, it meant FLugzeugAbwehr Kanone, which is German for anti-aircraft gun. Thus the expression "catching Flak" was originally pretty serious stuff: it meant that while you were flying over a German city trying to bomb it back into the Stone Age, they were shooting at you and trying to turn you into a fireball. Well, we all know how that one turned out: we bombed more of their cities back into the Stone Age than they were able to turn planes into fireballs. After the war, in business parlance "catching Flak" came to mean receiving criticism or complaints from consumers, it apparently not being just a jungle out there, but an Air Defense Zone. As the art of Public Relations was evolving quickly after the Second World War, companies came to create positions for PR men to catch the flak, and they were called – get this – flak catchers. The idea was that they would listen to the complaints and make soothing noises, thus allowing the serious company executives to concentrate on making money. Which is anyway better than being turned into a fireball. The "catchers" part of the name was dropped pretty quickly, and the position became known as a "flak," increasingly spelled "flack" as people apparently forgot the origins of the word. It looks like an overcorrection, anyway, but it is possibly significant that anti-aircraft guns in England were known as "ack-ack," and maybe some concatenation of the terms might have occurred. (In the US, however, anti-aircraft guns were known as "AAA" or "Triple-A," for "Anti-Aircraft Artillery," which for whatever reason failed to make the grade as a corporate term)

In continued evolution, fla(c)k seems to have become the name for a PR person who doesn't so much deal with complaints as put out the company line. There is an implication that nothing they say can be taken seriously, that they are just making soothing mouth-noises to appease the unruly masses. Funnily enough, their kind of output is often called "chaff," which was the word for little bits of aluminum which planes ejected to fool radar screens so the flak couldn't turn them into fireballs. Obviously, public relations is today's strategic bombing.

Well, that's two minutes of your life you won't get back, but thanks for reading.

-- Mal

Why Sexual Abuse is Like Combat

I've been ruminating lately about sexual abuse, and particularly the sense of guilt that attaches to the victim thereof, especially in cases where that victim remains silent. It has occurred to me that there are surprising parallels between sexual abuse and combat, and that a look at these might go some distance to understanding the guilt question.

Consider the victim of sexual abuse: whoever you were, whatever you thought about life, love, and sex at the time of the abuse, it was violently wrenched from you by the act; to abuse a cliché, nothing was the same afterward. Combat is much the same, as any veteran of it will tell you if you get him drunk enough. Most of us would prefer not to kill anybody, and just about all of us would prefer not to die; and I think most of us would prefer not to be raped, either. In neither case do we usually have much choice in the matter.

It is a truth that, Hollywood depictions to the contrary, most soldiers in combat are interested only in keeping their sorry asses alive. Maybe things have changed in recent years, I don't know, but it was not unusual for soldiers to never even fire their weapons in combat, and this despite all the macho male gun-ho (I use the term advisedly) flag-waving conditioning that can be devised by the warriors who try to break down this wish we have not to kill other people. It is, in fact, so uncommon for soldiers to actively participate in the fun and games of combat that we have devised medals to honor those who do more than is expected. Now, recently it has become trite to say things like "all soldiers are heroes," and it is not a subject about which I am disposed to quibble. Historically, however, endurance has been the minimal expectation of combat, and rewards have been reserved for those who act beyond the call of duty. No one would suggest that a combat veteran who has emerged unscathed and undecorated is somehow unworthy, because he has met the minimum expectation and is if anything praiseworthy therefore. And it is here that I want to draw the parallel with victims of abuse most specifically.

Victims of abuse commonly feel guilty just from the fact of having been abused, and the underlying belief of our society that one gets what he deserves reinforces that feeling of guilt. And if they have remained silent about the abuse – out of shame, out of fear, out of guilt – how much more ashamed and guilty are they likely to feel for that silence? And yet, it takes uncommon courage to speak out when one is abused, just as it takes uncommon courage – or insanity – to do more in combat than try to stay alive. Thus it seems to me that, in cases of abuse as in combat, the person who does no more than try to stay alive incurs no demerit, though for a surety one who speaks out in such cases is deserving of great praise.

Some of us may remember the old Gary Cooper movie They Came to Corunna, in which Coop plays a poor schmuck who thinks he is a coward and tries to discover from Medal of Honor awardees what "courage" consists of, all the while unaware that he is the most courageous of the bunch. One theme that emerges from that movie, and from other anecdotal evidence, is that courage is often indistinguishable from a brief moment of insanity. In times past, madmen were honored for being touched by the gods; honored, yes, but no one particularly wanted to be a madman. Possibly I stretch the comparison, I don't know. Presumably most of us would like to believe ourselves brave, decent, and honorable. We are at all times encouraged to be more, to push ourselves, to perform above expectations. But the key part of that phrase is above expectations. It is ridiculous on the face of it to presume that the expected, which is the average, is worthy of blame, since after all "average" embodies the majority of mankind. Does one feel guilty, if he cannot perform athletics above expectations? Or academics? Or mechanics? Or anything, really? Well, of course we do, in areas where we wish to excel. So I suppose the question really is: should one feel guilty in such cases? All I can say is, it seems like a no-win proposition to me.

Of course it is understood that not speaking out about abuse, however understandable, serves nothing to stop the abuse or bring the perpetrator to justice. Just as in combat, failure to shoot at the bad guys serves nothing to win the firefight. Naturally, failure to shoot will draw criticism from those who want you to shoot, as failure to speak will draw criticism from those who want you to speak. Oddly enough, however, it is rare for people who have actually had their asses on the line to criticise either. Which might just be an indicator, you know, that the minimum expectations of those with no skin in the game are quite different from the minimum expectations of those who do. Which now that I think of it, might just be a general principle of human nature.

-- Mal

She Loves You, yeah...

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I've always thought this was pretty funny: 3 versions of the same song, and the band that sounds the least like the Beatles is... the Beatles!

-- Mal

Fire-Bringer's Tale

The Story of the Fire-Bringer


This story is told among all different peoples, for it comes from a time when language was young, and we had not yet invented those terrible words, those words of pride and arrogance which separate us from each other, rather than bring us together: I mean those names of People, and Tribes, and Nations, and States, those names of Beliefs and Dogmas and True Paths. It is told among the blacks and browns, the pinks and whites and tans, among the reds and yellows; and it was told among those little green-faced people who were exterminated in a war of hatred so long ago that now they are forgotten, except for those who see them in vision. For it is a story from a time so long ago, that we all suffered identically, living in fear our lives that were cold, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short: a time when we longed for friendship and community, not pride and dominance.

For we lived in darkness, then, my children, in darkness and in cold, huddled in our fearful caves while Chaos howled in the night without; that Chaos which now lives in our closets, or under our beds, the big thing that will eat us if we don‘t watch out, for we are so very small, and so very alone. In our fear, we supplicated the Chaos, and we gave it names, the many names of our many fears, and we sacrificed to it, to appease it: we gave it our King, or our Princess, or our first-born son; or even we gave it a tithe of all our people or goods, so that it would be satisfied, and pass us in the night. We gave it names, and we called it by those many names, those names of the earliest gods. By naming it, we sought to control it: by manipulating the names, we sought to manipulate it. And Chaos laughed to itself, because it is bigger than our names, and we can never control it, or manipulate it, but only those parts of it we can name. Indeed, it cannot even control itself, as this story shows.

For among even the gods, there lived one, who is called by many names, in many cultures, and I will not name him here, because I do not pretend to know his true name. This one wept for the fear of the people, and sympathized with their need to harness the Chaos: for he saw how their fear took the joy from their faces, and tainted the beauty of living in the world. And this one bethought him of a way to help the people, to steal for them a gift that lay within the hold of the gods, a gift from the domain of Chaos itself: the gift of fire.

Now, many among us know what happened next, for this is an old story, and we’ve heard it all before: though some tales may dress it up with quests and deeds of daring-do, and others will spin it out and try to draw from it morals of great significance, the meat of the thing is this: he stole the fire from the gods and brought it to the people, and when the gods caught up with him they made him pay, whether by drowning, or being buried alive, or sacrificed in any other inventive way, or even chained to a rock for eagles to gnaw his liver. You may draw from this any moral that you will; indeed, I know you will. But what few remember is the other part of the story.

For when he brought the fire to the First Man, the Man laughed. And why did he laugh? Oh, for many reasons, my children: because the fire was bright, and danced the way our fingers do, and our toes, when we are young; or the way the people do, when they celebrate. And the brightness drove back the darkness, and the warmth of the fire could be used for oh so many things: to light our pipes, so we could surround ourselves with clouds of smoke and look philosophical; and to cook our meat and give us the opportunity to create sauces. And many other uses, great and small. And he laughed, because the fire was a thing wholly of the Chaos, and yet was harnessed now, and within his control: and from this sudden realization of power many paths diverged, but those are other stories for other places. But most of all, my children, he laughed because he was happy. And this is the lesson that seems to be forgotten, among so many of the Enlightened ones. For, given the power, it seems we must seek to discover its uses, and to see how it may bring to us even greater power, over the chaos, and over each other. And we forget why the Fire-Bringer brought it to us in the first place, oh, my children: to make us happy. And so, my children, we come to a very great irony, indeed, for who are the eagles who gnaw the Fire-Bringer’s liver? You and I, my children, you and I.

Any Second Lifers out there? If so, come to Caledon.

This is a PSA for the Independent State of Caledon, a long-running (6 yrs old in 2012), stable, 50-sim community with a Victorian/Steampunk theme. As such, it is part of the Steamlands, which include a couple of other lesser polities where the emphasis is on courteous, civilized conduct (at least in public), creativity (many well-known builders, scripters, and world engineers call Caledon home), and helping each other learn about SL. The University of Oxbridge has over 9.000 alumni, and is a good spot for newbies to learn about avatars, building basics, and all of the nuts and bolts of the game. It also has classes in photography and how to earn and best-spend your Lindens. Caledon is involved in many charities and promotes them with fairs, activities, and competitions. It's also a place to have fun, with daily dancing at one venue or another, aerial kraken hunts in steampunk aero-machines, and even a bit 'o piracy on the high seas. All-in-all, a great place to live and work, especially if you dread setting foot on the mainland for its rudeness, and shun the Vampire, Gor, and sexual-free-for-all areas. Caledon is proud to be an equal-opportunity sim: Tinies, furries, mechs, and every possible combination are a vital part of the Caledon community. What other state has an elite bodyguard of Gun Bunnehs?

(This message has NOT been approved by the Caledon Chamber of Commerce, and is just my personal opinion.)

-- Mal

Love at first sight?

Or something, anyway, at first sight.

I've been ruminating about a phenomenon that is rare in my life, but has always puzzled me since it first happened when I was 30. Classic tale: a woman walks into the room, and the instant I saw her, I felt like I had been just smacked in the gut with a two-by-four. Literally, I had to force myself not to bend over from the shock, and also not to reach out for her with both hands. Never saw her before, and there was nothing at all to differentiate her from a hundred other women. I wondered if this was what people were talking about when they talked about Love At First Sight. I can assure you, my IQ dropped by about 50 points, also.

This has happened to me a total of four times (I'm 56), and I wonder about it a lot. Obviously, this has nothing to do with love, since I knew nothing of the person. So why such an insanely powerful reaction, even when there were others who were easily more "attractive" in the common view than the ladies in question? What causes this attraction? I've heard "pheromones," but pheromones across a room? That's some powerful stuff! Two of the women were similar in characteristics, the other two differed from each. And none of them, oddly, matched my normal aesthetic, except that the first two were tall and slim with dark hair and I gravitate towards the short and small with dark hair. I'd give at least a nickel to figure out what goes on here.

I've also wondered if this powerful attraction is a) necessarily mutual, b) may be felt by only one of the two people, or c) either one. Circumstances in each case were such that I never even got to exchange two words with any of the women in question, which makes me grit my teeth from time to time (but just wait until next time it happens!). I'd be interested in views on this burning issue.

-- Mal

How many guys who reached puberty in the late 60's

... had a thing for actress Angela Cartwright, who played the younger sister on Lost in Space? She was only a few years older than I, and I think my entire female aesthetic (short, small, long dark hair...) was formed because I was noticing her interesting bits just as I noticed that I had an interesting bit.

We talk of Ginger and Mary Ann (and Jeannie, who takes the crown), but I wonder how many guys were weird like me, and thought little Penny Robinson was just the girl I wanted under the Christmas tree? But I didn't like her big sister at all. And anyway, she was already taken.

-- Mal

In Memoriam

Probably too personal, but I am so sad now, I don't care. I crave the Indulgence of the Court. This is just by way of "goodbye" to someone (I doubt anyone on DU knew her) I never wanted to say goodbye to.

In 1973-74, I loved a girl. She was my best friend then, she is still one of the two or three best friends I ever had. I was 17/18, she was 24/25. Any time during the past 38 years, I would have married her in a heartbeat, if she'd have had me. She wouldn't though and she was probably right. (I can see your sardonic grin right now, girl) She left me with two quotes I use frequently: "Timing is everything," and "If it wasn't meant to be, it wasn't meant to be." Maybe not too profound, but serviceable in so many situations. We were friends, never lovers, and in '74 she sailed away. For awhile, anyway.

In 1980 I faced the worst crisis of my life (so far). Out of the clear blue, six years after she'd left, I called her up and asked for her love and support, and she never hesitated an instant. No surprise to anyone who knew her, she was the truest and most loyal friend anyone could want. She'd closed that distant door behind her, but would open it out of love and the goodness of her heart. Maybe she saved my life -- it's possible. And so we parted again -- friends but not lovers, however much we may have loved -- for good, I figured.

And so it was, except in 1986 I met her in the elevator at the university. She was just starting a BA (at 37, just like her), I was working on my PhD. I invited her to my office -- she never did come by. 73-74 had been bad years for her (not because of me, though. Or not much) I know she wanted to forget them -- and I wouldn't have wanted to stir up bad times for her for anything. Timing... is everything.

And now, of course, she is dead. She died July 8th, I just found out today when I decided to see if she was on Facebook. Imagine my surprise. Anytime during the past few years, I could have sent an email, just to tell her she has never been forgotten... but if it wasn't meant to be, it wasn't meant to be.

As the years pile up, and friends and lovers die, and even my brother, too... how easy it is to understand that simple old saw: "The secret of life is to love and be loved in return." Yet every one of us, it seems, must relearn that secret, again and again. DU, please forgive the too-personal nature of this post. Alene, I will always love you.

-- Mal
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