It's a sad day. My friend Bill Kenney died yesterday. The Big C went after him with a vengeance. I saw him three weeks ago and despite the metastasis and harrowing therapies, he said he felt surprisingly well.
The written and spoken word was Bill's life, recreationally and professionally. That he spent one of his last good days in the bookstore is a blessing. The Egglestonian Creed
was his blog, and I've lifted one of his gems to reprint here today.
So long, Bill. We will miss you.
Sunday, April 24, 2005Fat stuffJuvenal said that it was impossible for him to observe life in Rome and not write satire. While I don't want to turn the Creed into a fat-rights blog and lack Juvenal's powers in any case, it's fairly difficult for me to observe the ubiquity of baryophobia and not comment on it. I recently encountered it in a surprising (to me) venue and equally recently noted it in an area where it had been present for years but has never been addressed.A little more than a year ago, at the request of a friend, I applied for membership in an organization which I will call Sempronius. Sempronius has some membership qualifications, similar in kind to those of Mensa, but it is a much smaller organization and is less commonly known. It has no meetings, all of its business being conducted online or through its journal.I was accepted for membership and indeed contributed two articles to Sempronius' journal, one of which featured the picture of Paige and me playing rithmomachy (see December archives). Most of the action took place on its online mailing list, though, and I found myself receiving dozens of e-mails a day when I had previously not averaged more than two or three a week. Some of these were reprints of articles in the papers, and quite a few were tedious (and tendentious) defenses of materialistic monism, but several were of real interest and quality, and I took part in a few discussions.Suddenly, in late February, my inbox was filled with denunciations of fat persons, along the lines of "Those blimps shouldn't be allowed to show their faces in public" and "I have to sit with them on Chicago trains, and I can't stand to look at their rear ends." Well, my rear end has graced, or possibly disgraced, the seat of a Chicago el train, and so has Meg's (definitely graced).I promptly responded to the most virulent of the posters, whom I will call John, asking whether Meg, an emergency-room nurse with more than a decade of stellar service who is also "overweight" by fashionable standards, should also cower in shame so that his fastidious psyche might not be traumatized, and advising him to cut the photograph out of the journal, since all 340 pounds of me were on blatant display. I also posted to the list, noting that I could get all the shame and contempt I wanted merely by turning on the TV or radio, and that I hardly needed to pay annual dues to anyone for further doses of them; and, furthermore, that there was no point in my continuing the "discussion," since anyone who believed me unfit to appear in public was highly unlikely to be impressed by any evidence or arguments I might offer. Therefore, I was resigning my membership in Sempronius.One of the officers, whom I will call Ted, responded by saying that I couldn't resign without writing a letter to the membership officer (who was in transit between residences and had no known mailing address) and asking me to remain in the organization, but discontinuing my access to the list. While this might seem reasonable, it was not balanced by discontinuing John's access, and he continued to post on the topic, as I discovered when John admitted as much in an e-mail to me expressing shock that I took the matter so personally (to which I replied simply by quoting his own posts and observing that the comments therein were not couched in the idiom of clinical discourse). When I questioned the asymmetry, especially since John had violated the list guidelines (made known to all members) by making personal attacks, Ted replied that John was not a Sempronian but a list member only -- he didn't get the journal and possibly didn't even qualify for membership. This was comforting insofar as it was now certain that his tender soul would not be seared by pictures of fat rithmomachy players, but disconcerting insofar as it now appeared that the interests of a qualified Sempronian who paid full dues had been sacrificed to those of a nonmember who did not.I questioned this in a return e-mail to Ted, whereupon I was told that John's statements did not violate the guidelines since (a) Jews had also been attacked as a class and (b) I had not been mentioned by name.Now, I don't consider myself PC at all. However, it's not PCness, but simple Aristotelian logic, that dictates that A and E propositions refer to all members of the subject class. If all humans are mortal, and Socrates is human, then Socrates is mortal. You can't argue that Socrates is immortal because the word "Socrates" doesn't appear in the major premise. Of course, any statement that "fat persons shouldn't show their faces" is a personal attack on Meg and me, regardless of whether we are named. (John may never have seen Meg. However, he had that photo and knew what I looked like.) I have no idea why I should meekly put up with such attacks, and I can't fathom what Jews have to do with the matter.I had earlier pointed this out to John, and I mentioned it tonight to Ted, who is still trying to get me to rejoin (my membership had run out at the end of March, whether or not my resignation was valid). Since Ted is a law student, I put the argument in legal terms. Is it okay for me to commit murder because the statutes of Indiana make it illegal but do not specifically say that Bill Kenney may not commit it?The real problem, though, as I told Ted in every e-mail, was that I had joined Sempronius in hopes of finding intelligent discussion, and had instead found the same vicious fat-hatred that I could find on five-sixths of the talk shows on TV. I had hoped that the filthy tide would not rise so high.This leads, more or less, to the other venue (I need to work on writing segues), since it also purports to be, and often is, highly intellectual discourse. I refer to historical writing about the Third Reich. While there is a folk (or filk?) rule that the first person who mentions Nazis loses the argument, I'm not making an argument but an observation, and it's not about Nazis but about writing about them -- or about one of them.It seems that authors cannot mention Hermann Goering three times without at least once identifying him as "fat" or "corpulent," as if there were a skinny Hermann Goering from whom he had to be distinguished. Nothing like this occurs when other Nazis are mentioned. Hitler's physique was far distant from that of the blond Nordics he believed to be alone worthy of power, but this contradiction is seldom mentioned and never reiterated. Himmler believed in the Welteislehre, a crank notion that the cosmos existed in a state of eternal struggle between fire and ice and that the Milky Way was a pile of gigantic blocks of ice, but his scientific ignorance is discussed only in essays specifically addressing science in Nazi Germany, not harped on every third time he is named. Goering himself was far more interested in looting the Louvre than in consuming the products of French restaurants, but he is not repeatedly referred to as an art thief. Why do we have to read over and over that Goering was fat? Isn't being a Nazi bad enough?Just wondering. . .