Lessons in Avoiding the Subject You’re Talking About

A small group of women, who call themselves Missouri Women Standing with Todd Akin (MWSTA), have banded together to support the embattled Republican senate candidate. The Guardian had an article about them last week, Todd Akin’s female army: “We want to stand with him.” (If I were in a more cynical mood, I’d say the “want” in that sentence is just proper feminine modesty and deference. To say “We stand with him” would be a bit unladylike, wouldn’t it? So aggressive.)

The Guardian says that “what [MWSTA] share the most with Akin is strong belief in God, and what unites them is their unshakable pro-life views.” One thing that struck me in this and other articles about MWSTA, and in a YouTube video they made, is the astounding amount of doublespeak and the acrobatic ways they have of saying nothing.

Linda Becker, a spokeswoman for MWSTA, provides the best example of doublespeak (here and below, all emphasis is mine):

Asked how she reconciles these beliefs [Akin’s belief that the government doesn’t have a right to interfere in healthcare] with Akin’s belief that the government should have a say in what women choose to do with their bodies, she said: “There is a real war on women today because of pornography and abuse. I don’t think anyone is trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.”

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Phone Call: A Very Short Story


She rehearsed the call. She knew what to expect. She’d heard it all before. She had an answer ready for every objection, every accusation, every snide comment and insult.

It just didn’t turn out as she thought it would.

But she walked away feeling strangely relaxed.

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Halfway through his tale of his journey to the Underworld, Odysseus paused. All the Phaiakians were silent, overwhelmed by the story.

Alkinoos spoke up:

          Odysseus, we, as we look upon you, do not imagine
          that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth
          breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up
          lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have
          a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them . . .

I’d read the Odyssey a dozen times, and I never really read those lines until a few years ago, when, preparing for class, I read them and felt a sudden chill. My stomach tightened. What if Alkinoos was wrong; what if we’d been fooled by Odysseus—all of us, from Homer on.

kafeneioAs he rounded Cape Maleia, Odysseus didn’t get blown off the map and into a world of Laistrygones and Lotus-Eaters. He just ended up on Crete, as had most of Menelaos’ fleet, after they were also blown off course at Maleia. Perhaps it was a perfectly un-supernatural storm that destroyed his twelve ships with their red-painted bows, killing all of his companions. Perhaps Odysseus was the only survivor. He swam to shore near Kydonia in western Crete in the same way he described swimming to the shore of Scheria, the Phaiakians’ strange, magical island.

I can see Odysseus sitting for ten years in a taverna at the port, drinking kafes ellinikos in the mornings and wine in the evenings, thinking up what he’ll tell Penelope and the men in the assembly when he gets home.

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The Phantom Unicyclist

The Phantom Unicyclist

Visions of a ghostly unicyclist began to be reported over a century ago and were initially thought to be a sign of demonic possession. The presence was called the “Phantom Unicyclist” (a name that is often still used), and its “victims” were routinely institutionalized.

Today the visions are no longer feared except by a few. Most consider the visions a blessing, but there is great debate about their meaning. The Society for the Blessings of the Unicyclist, like many of the more conservative schools of thought, continues to argue that the Unicyclist chooses certain people purposefully and that a vision is a sign of grace. The Unintentionality School, however, insists that the visions are random. By phone, Dr. Cecilia Villanueva of the MacMullen Institute of Unintentionality said, “well, if they are a sign of grace, explain the case of Francis ‘Franko’ Whiting. His vision has been admitted by all to be genuine, but the guy’s an idiot and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk. He nearly got himself arrested again last night for swimming in the fountain at city hall, by the way. No ‘sign of grace’ in that case.”

Most scholars do agree, at the very least, about the state of extreme delight and levity brought about by a sighting of the Unicyclist.

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In Homer’s Odyssey, Thrinakia was the island of Helios, the sun god, where he kept his herds of cattle and sheep. Odysseus was warned that when he and his companions got to the island, they should not to slaughter and eat any of the cattle or sheep. When they sailed near the island, Odysseus suggested they not land there at all, but his companions insisted, swearing that they wouldn’t touch Helios’ herds. He relented. A wind, sent by the gods, sprang up in the night that prevented them from sailing the next morning; it continued to blow for a full month, until they had consumed all of their stored food and had started to starve. Finally, once when Odysseus had been lulled into a deep sleep by the gods, his companions killed and slaughtered the best of the oxen. Odysseus woke to the smell of roasted meat. Portents of their doom began to be seen. The skins of the slaughtered animals crawled, and the bloody meat skewered on the spits over the fire bellowed like cattle.

A week later, the winds died down, and they set sail, only to have their ship immediately destroyed in a storm for their impiety. Odysseus was the only survivor.

Not that I really think that life is unfair or that the gods are against us, but it’s just a useful thing to remember that we’re probably screwed.

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