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Member since: Sat Sep 24, 2011, 10:36 AM
Number of posts: 15,350

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 clich้, 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
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