Treating pregnant women with steroid to prevent lesbianism

You read that right. The researcher is associate dean for clinical research at my university:

Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation. In a paper entitled “Sexual Orientation in Women with Classical or Non-Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia as a Function of Degree of Prenatal Androgen Excess” published in 2008 in Archives of Sexual Behavior, Meyer-Bahlburg and New (with two others) gather evidence of “a dose-response relationship of androgens with sexual orientation” through a study of women with various forms of CAH.

The paragraph that raised my eyebrows:

“CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”

(H/T The Stranger)

Village of the Damned

Black and white photography as rich as Christian Berger’s in The White Ribbon is as much a triumph of legerdemain as it is of lighting; the imprimatur of black and white in a post-Ted Turner world signals seriousness of intent. Very serious. Michael Haneke is no Judd Apatow. He’s a proselytizer, a thesis writer, a scold. But he’s got good editing reflexes; if he were ponderous the experience would be a mortifyingly slow death. It’s unclear what exactly Haneke wishes to articulate here. Random outbreaks of violence in a German town just before the pistol shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – well, what else? If Caché, The Piano Teacher, and his two versions of Funny Games proved anything, it’s Haneke’s penchant for collective guilt. The subtleties of pathology interest him less than blaming the forces that shaped it. He’s smart enough not to give it a face or name; he won’t even limn it, which adds to the undercurrent of menace with which his films are imbued – and which has certainly helped their box office. Caché fans gave him a pass because the requirements of his choice of genre (mystery) helped him keep hidden what Henry James would call the figure in the carpet. Audiences can respond to the vague dread and take pride in not knowing what the film was “about.”

The sharp, almost woodcut images in The White Ribbon force Hanenke into more direct expression. His self-control is so powerful that the movie avoids the explicitness I expected from the movie’s fable-like contours; it’s as amorphously hortatory as the rest. Watching Samuel Fuller’s White Dog for the first time a few days ago, I was struck by its resemblances to one of Buñuel Mexican movies: its tone-deaf, emphatic, expository dialogue with acting to match (a simmering Paul Winfield excepted), Manichean ethics, and determination to prove a thesis. It did – scarily. I don’t wish The White Ribbon had been a pulp thriller, but, boy, two and a half hours of scowls and accusations demands too much of Haneke, not to mention the audience. He hasn’t written enough of a movie to sustain the portents of doom. Even Carl Dreyer and Bergman – to whom Haneke’s compositions and conceptions owe a considerable aesthetic debt – brought most of their movies in a reasonable hour and forty. The cast is strong, particularly Leonie Benesch as the nanny. Haneke has assembled quite a menagerie: so many wan, grim Lutheran zombies.

“I have a bit of a paranoid streak”

Laurie Anderson, in an interview with Rob Harvilla, still showing she understands the nuances of language:

That administration, the Bush administration, was a very story-savvy one. They knew what they were doing when they paired a ridiculous word like “homeland,” which nobody uses—no American would say “homeland”; it sounds like something from a small Balkan country, and you wouldn’t say that. But they sandwiched it between two very bureaucratic words—Department of Homeland Security—to make it somehow appealing or whatever.

I’m still absorbing the album.

Hope I die before I stay young: on listening to music

Lots of stuff to digest in this ILM thread addressing what must look like a precarious situation to a twentysomething still infatuated with music: what happens when the consumptive urges inevitably wane with age, partners, and children? Created, naturally, on the same day as this thread about harshly judging people whose tastes don’t coincide with yours. I’ve taken the latter point for granted. As I wrote, “Like politics, my musical tastes so rarely coincide with the people I see every day that I take my isolation for granted.” The Internet has exacerbated this trend towards aesthetic and personal fission.

Which is to say: the friends and colleagues with whom I share the consumptive sensibility aren’t the ones I see every day, let alone every weekend. When my friend Hector and I discuss music, it’s almost always about older acts we’ve discovered or shared rediscoveries (the transient glories of Steve Winwood’s “Valerie,” say). Chris, whose tastes run closer to Pitchfork’s, will opine on this Sleigh Bells song or that Vampire Weekend album. Meanwhile my professional responsibilities — part of which involve overseeing a student radio station — require me to fraternize with college radio kids. As I noted on one of those threads, our sports director spent ten minutes begging me to reconsider the Drake album, with which he’s infatuated despite acknowledging all of my demurrals (Drake’s below-average voice, blah lyrics, uninspired flow). For the first seven minutes I got frustrated and thought, “Why the hell does he care so much about my liking it?” Then it hit me: he respects my opinion, is moderately aware of my background, and is thus genuinely interested in what I have to say. Flattering, naturally, but it worked both ways: I’m giving Drake another shot thanks to him.

So often the task of assessment happens in solitude that it’s a relief to get involved in arguments. Stylus Magazine’s message board still lives, an often stuffy cloister in which comrades, good friends, and fellow-travelers can still debate the topicality of Laurie Anderson’s latest and, right, the merits of Drake. Likewise The Singles Jukebox allows for an exchange of views which, while not dialogic, at least allows for the possibility of mediating between poles of enthusiasm and disdain. In most cases though I work in what Warren Zevon called splendid isolation, writing and thinking without interfering, especially now as many of the professional outlets on which I relied have become casualties of the post-Internet’s leveling wind. I remember a line in my Stylus obit: “Consumption is not thinking.” Discussion isn’t always thinking.

Love stinks

In yet another example of a film “about” a novelist made by people who’ve never read a novel, The Last Station exists as a vehicle to get costume designers, Helen Mirren, and Christopher Plummer a bunch of Oscar nods. Less risible a notion, however, than accepting the shouted drivel about “freedom” versus “love.” I can’t think of a single grace note: not Mirren’s embarrassing performance (all this blather about what a cougar she is, yet a role like this is supposed to burnish this rep?), not Plummer, not the execrable score, not James McAvoy (playing one more in his long line of anomic ingenues in period drag), not Paul Giamatti reprising his breathy, bearded John Adams*. For writer-director Michael Hoffman, “Tolstoy” is a signifier of depth and sincerity, especially when his novelist most resembles the guru of a Los Angeles New Age consortium whose selfishness is supposed to be cute because, after eighty-five minutes of grotesque insensitivity, he expires histrionically before making it clear to the audience that he really did love Mirren after all. And we all need love.

* One half of a grace note: Giamatti is a dead ringer for the middle period Henry James.

What are you putting in that box?

Like riding a bicycle without training wheels and my first lust-driven erection, separating myself from toys was supposed to be one of those milestones. I didn’t mean a single word when I imperiously told Mom on Christmas 1987 that the Transformer I’d gotten was “the last one.” I started high school in eight months; high school students didn’t play with toys. Nevertheless, I’d made a promise — before the world, I thought — so I spent a desultory freshman year making the quietest laser gun noises the human mouth could form, afraid I’d get caught. I really said goodbye before my sixteenth birthday; this time the motivation sprung from a sense of competition. For months the short, Saki-inspired fiction (whose surprise endings inspired self-congratulatory cackles) on which I devoted ever-increasing imaginative resources was hell on my abilities to make plots up for the sake of my Transformers and G.I. Joe toys. Writing for its own sake — for the rush of barely suppressing my admiration for the supposedly awesome sentence I’d just crafted — and the love of making things up had possessed me, and I knew how the rest of my life would unfurl.

Toy Story 3 hints at what analysts would call “separation anxiety” in its last ten minutes, too late. For all the pleasures of the first ninety-five minutes (the best edited action movie I’ve seen in a couple of years), the film settles for a particular kind of chewable sentimentality; the audience yields to brief tears as it’s collecting its children and heading to the parking lot. A brief scene in which Andy considers the consequences of boxing Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the others would have touched chords familiar to many of us. Why a man chanting and whooping for a favorite college and pro sports team is a more accepted form of immaturity mystifies me.

Singles – 6/24

This week’s singles and links to my reviews, with 1 the lowest and 10 the highest score. I found Trey Songz’ hit cuter than everyone else did, but I’m aware of the half-life of cute. As for Sade, I can’t believe I liked her single more than the sick beat on M.I.A’s, but six months later I’m still singing “Baby Father”‘s sweet, sad chorus.

Sade – Baby Father (7)
M.I.A. – XXXO (7)
Trey Songz – Neighbours Know My Name (7)
Mike Posner – Cooler Than Me (5)
Jason Derulo – Ridin’ Solo (3)
John Mayer ft. Taylor Swift – Half of My Heart (3)
Miley Cyrus – Can’t Be Tamed (2)

Avarice and ambition — Brit edition!

One of Tom’s best posts. He’s illuminating on the phenomenon of Bros, the English boy band that mesmerized their country for a couple of years in the late eighties. I’ve no idea what if any stateside MTV exposure these blond schemers got; we had the Boston fivesome to worry about a few months later. But compared to these chalk-voiced hustlers the New Kids were the Stones. Tom reminds me of what is of course an obvious point about Bros’ product (it’s barely music; it’s more like the sound of three dozen cash registers captured on a Synclavier) — they made no secret about wanting your money and showing their contempt for the suckers who surrendered it. In this, I suppose, they were more honest than other teen-pop idols before or since. Amusing sidenote: Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins played their svengali, which might explain Tennant and Lowe’s fascination with Bros in the hilarious Pet Shop Boys, Literally, Chris Heath’s account of their 1989 world tour.

Here’s a clip of their only worthwhile song, and the one that made the faintest of blips on the US charts:

Deferring judgment

Stanley Fish on the peril of student evaluations. I’ve never minded them, despite getting more than my share of responses criticizing my lack of “clarity” and “not explaining assignments,” which are usually buzzwords for “He won’t tell me exactly what I need to do to pass the course.” Or, in Fish’s words: “They don’t welcome the introduction of multiple perspectives, especially when no master perspective reconciles them; they want the answers.”

Then there’s what Fish calls “the relationship between present action and the judgment of value”:

If a waiter asks me, “Was everything to your taste, sir?”, I am in a position to answer him authoritatively (if I choose to). When I pick up my shirt from the dry cleaner, I immediately know whether the offending spot has been removed. But when, as a student, I exit from a class or even from an entire course, it may be years before I know whether I got my money’s worth, and that goes both ways. A course I absolutely loved may turn out be worthless because the instructor substituted wit and showmanship for an explanation of basic concepts. And a course that left me feeling confused and convinced I had learned very little might turn out to have planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.

Two cheers for ambiguity

I suppose it’s tempting to credit E.M. Forster’s rather non-committal attitude towards his homosexuality for the querulousness and fussiness that make his fiction charming, daft, and, in the wrong mood, unwelcome, like a sweet old lady in the supermarket checkout lane who insists on talking to you; but that would be grotesquely reductive, yet so modern, drenched as our language and attitudes are with the offal of psychoanalysis and “grief management.” However, the forces that draw men and women together in his novels don’t begin as romantic impulses, although they often end as such. Think of Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox in Howards End, both of whom abjure romance for the more trying labor of administering to Wilcox’s grown-up family and overseeing their respective properties. What love (in our smug early twentieth century understanding, that is) develops has the shape and texture of companionship: the sense in which a couple can accrue enjoyment from a sharing of horrors and memories. At the risk of imposing our societal innovations on poor Forster, the Wilcox-Schlegel marriage reminds me of a middle-aged homosexual couple.

Forster couldn’t know this in 1910; the tragedy of his life is that he wouldn’t know this in 1960 either, even as the legal system that had sentenced Oscar Wilde to two years of hard labor accepted certain inalienable tenets of human behavior not long before. Which is why Wendy Moffat’s new biography sounds pedantic and tiresome in the way that only a product of academe can. “Isn’t it time to retire this metaphor, the critical lens that justifies partial views—as if we’re incapable of shifting perspectives, comparing views, shifting the focus?” Michael Levenson sensibly wonders in his Slate review.