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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Some articles for this lazy Sunday.

* "A Boy's Life": Biology, politics, and transgender children in America.

Brandon raced by, arm in arm with his new friend, giggling. Tina and Bill didn’t know this yet, but Brandon had already started telling the other kids that his name was Bridget, after the pet mouse he’d recently buried (“My beloved Bridget. Rest With the Lord,” the memorial in his room read). The comment of an older transsexual from Brooklyn who’d sat behind Tina in a session earlier that day echoed in my head. He’d had his sex-change operation when he was in his 50s, and in his wild, wispy wig, he looked like a biblical prophet, with breasts. “You think you have troubles now,” he’d yelled out to Tina. “Wait until next week. Once you let the genie out of the bottle, she’s not going back in!”
* "Rock, Paper, Scissors": A history of the polls.
Voting in America, it’s fair to say, used to be different. “Are you not a man in the full vigor of manhood and strength?” a member of the House Committee on Elections asked another Harrison supporter who, like Kyle, went to the polls but turned back without voting (and who happened to stand six feet and weigh more than two hundred pounds). The hearings established a precedent. “To vacate an election,” an election-law textbook subsequently advised, “it must clearly appear that there was such a display of force as ought to have intimidated men of ordinary firmness.”
* "Red Sex, Blue Sex."
During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.
* "The Things He Carried": Jeffrey Goldberg exposes the joke that is airport security.
During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.
* "Verbage": The Republican war on words.
Doesn’t this reflect a deep suspicion of language itself? It’s as if Republican practitioners saw words the way Captain Ahab saw “all visible objects”—as “pasteboard masks,” concealing acts and deeds and things—and, like Ahab, were bent on striking through those masks. The Melvillean atmosphere may not be accidental, since, beyond the familiar American anti-intellectualism—to work with words is not to work at all—there’s a residual Puritanism. The letter killeth, as St. Paul has it, but the spirit giveth life. (In that first debate, McCain twice charged his opponent with the misdeed of “parsing words.”) In this vision, there is something Pharisaical about words. They confuse, they corrupt; they get in the way of Jesus.
* "Thumbspeak": A brief history of texting.
Texting is international. It may have come late to the United States because personal computers became a routine part of life much earlier here than in other countries, and so people could e-mail and Instant Message (which shares a lot of texting lingo). Crystal provides lists of text abbreviations in eleven languages besides English. And it is clear from the lists that different cultures have had to solve the problem of squeezing commonly delivered messages onto the cell-phone screen according to their own particular national needs. In the Czech Republic, for example, “hosipa” is used for “Hovno si pamatuju”: “I can’t remember anything.” One can imagine a wide range of contexts in which Czech texters might have recourse to that sentiment. French texters have devised “ght2v1,” which means “J’ai acheté du vin.” In Germany, “nok” is an efficient solution to the problem of how to explain “Nicht ohne Kondom”—“not without condom.” If you receive a text reading “aun” from the fine Finnish lady you met in the airport lounge, she is telling you “Älä unta nää”—in English, “Dream on.”