Thursday, December 30, 2010

12/30 and Done

So, the Prudecutor simply substituted a column on Monday with former LWs sending in updates to prove how well she did. While updates are often welcome (it encourages that Mr Valium Drip's friend was able to overcome his initail reaction, if only a little), it struck me as self-serving when I reached the end of the column to discover that it consisted entirely of the accolades. As others have posted that it was not always the habit for an update column to be thus, I conclude that there might be some insecurity stemming perhaps from IGBP envy. It may well be a bit disconcerting when a colleague in a field where one habitually expects to do small bits of good in dribs and drabs at best suddenly does something that catches on more than expected and becomes genuinely big. While I was overemphasizing to call the Prudecutor's one reference to the IGB videos sniping, it would not surprise me if some part of the Prudecutor, whether or not she acknowledges or even recognizes so, is seething that that punk (Mr Savage) stumbled into the middle of a pot of gold. (I must be in a charitable mood to have the Prudecutor's Inner Fiend imply calling Mr Savage a Punk and not anything a bit less P.C.)

L1: Well, so much for holding charitable thoughts about the Prudecutor. Although I have long retired from softball pitching in real life, here we have, in commentariat terms, one of the biggest softballs at one of the slowest speeds of the year, and she does not come anywhere near a foul tip. Saying how wrong it was the first time around and how right it is now? Oh, good grief. Of course this is almost the *ideal* way to start a family. Meet someone after a bad protracted breakup and fall in love extremely quickly, produce a pregnancy within the first six months of the acquaintance, and then propose on the spot during a holiday without taking any time to reflect and probably with circumstances under which a refusal would have done serious damage to the future of the relationship. The only thing that would have made this better would have been if it had begun within a month or two of the breakup of the marriage.

LW1 makes this one too easy. It's all in the Alpha and the Omega. What is the first quality he cites about his fiancee? She is more sexually adventurous than his ex-wife. Even Claude Erskine Brown on a good day could figure this one out. And how does he conclude; what is the final and most important question the letter asks? Is she right to be angry with him because he's happy about his impending fatherhood! Now that is almost subtle. Out of all the possible reasons for her to be angry with him, he manages to pick the one reason that an outside observer can hardly approve without tearing up the oh-so-cuddly picture of the sweet little baby with Mommy and Daddy. Well, it was sufficiently well played to take in the Prudecutor - not that that necessarily indicates bowling out of the top drawer.

Now one might give the Prudecutor a little latitude on the grounds of her hearing en masse from the spouses of the Undecided, had she not made such melodramatic twaddle out of the ex wasting her only chance to be a mother. There are people whose reaction is that over the top, I am quite willing to grant, but they are the people who are so twisted in knots by the issue that they are writing to the Prudecutor about it. LW1's ex, for all the seven years during which he probably yanked her about like a yo-yo dangling his indecision and acting like a boat that keeps going out and coming in again towards someone trying to get on, did not consult the Prudecutor, or, as far as we know, anyone else. That would be an important line in the cross-examination of both of them. She didn't request counseling or anything in that line, and it took seven years for her to catch on that he was just using the issue as a way to jerk her around. And again, if she'd really invested all that in having children with him, she'd have picked some other response than to guarantee the end of the marriage by shutting off their sex life without actually ending the marriage herself. Who knew how much more time on her biological clock might have run down while she was already two touchdowns and a field goal behind?

I am quite happy to submit to the Jury that the real cause of LW1's state of being overjoyed is that he knew from the first that his ex would be driven right up the wall by the pregnancy (not to mention the engagement and the way in which she learned of the whole state of affairs). The Midsomer Murder in which an amateur actor playing Salieri is murdered during a performance (*Death of a Hollow Man* if memory serves) contains just this sort of situation, with the added bonus (unless LW1 cannily omitted to mention the fact; he must be asked) that the pregnant wife is a good deal younger than the ex (who would probably still take him back). But LW1 himself reminds me of the LW past whose old flame's husband could no longer be a husband to her either physically or emotionally and who was determined to provide her all the boinking necessary to sustain herself in her difficult position. One might recall that he could not go a sentence and a half without mentioning how hot she was and how she still had physical needs. LW1 is not quite so bad, but he seems at least partially cut out of the same cloth. I for one would be well amused if it turned out that the new woman's sexual adventurousness decreases almost totally after childbirth. Then Wife #2 will have the baby that she really wanted all along, LW1 will find himself not only miserably landed both with a wife who lost her sex drive and a baby he was right all along not to be sure he wanted, and the Ex can either tear her heart out over it all or be entertained by his misery. Apt all round. Of course, it's perfectly possible that by some bizarre fate LW1 has found Hos One True Love and they will live blisfully throughout eternity, but in that case he could at least have the compassion to have a bit of consideration for the loser.

This is not to state or suggest that XW1 handled the situation at all well. I do not blame her for putting up with LW1's indecision for seven years. It perhaps mattered more to her as a sort of confirmation of the solidity of the marriage than dealt a cruel and vicious blow to her saintly instinct to parent. She saw he'd bailed on the marriage, but could not resist the chance to be punitive on the way out. But the immediate pregnancy (which one might think extremely likely to be highly deliberate on his part; I am quite happy to submit that he was only too thrilled to get a different woman pregnant as quickly as possible just to twist the knife), the way the letter tries to slip in the Ex's still being single, and LW1's picking the one thing about his current picture for which people will not be inclined to convict him as the card he forces on the Prudecutor of her cause for justified anger... oh, he has the Ex in a neat spot and is probably winning the majority of the friends in common now that he's clearly a Winner and has established that it was all XW1's fault that they never had any children because somehow he always just knew it wasn't right. Okay. LW1 1, Prudecutor 0.

Moral: One does not have to be a great admirer of Ms Long to have developed a taste for declining annoyingly contrived marriage proposals in as devastating a manner as possible.

L2: Well, one must give the Prudecutor credit for finally taking the correct approach. There might be better comparisons out there, but she does at least make the effort to solve the situation through analogy. It strikes me that this might be largely a technical question. The exact chain of events seems a bit fuzzy. Should not LW2 have been told at the time of deposit that the check would not clear in its unsigned condition? Then, too, one must imagine that LW2 paid off some bills early rather than keeping the funds reserved for expenses related to the proposed trip, while F2 was busy making secret travel arrangements in LW2's name, in which case why F2 even bothered to send LW2 the check for the thousand dollars in the first place just confuses me to pieces. What LW2 ought actually to do I could not begin to say without having the facts before me much more clearly.

F2 reminds me rather of an old bucket (pronounced bouquet, of course). Quite the little controlling angel, isn't she, as she spreads her largesse far and wide (where others spread invitations to Candlelight Suppers)? One can almost hear Hyacinth phoning Elizabeth and issuing a command invitation to coffee at 3:25. The situation seems to justify the view expressed by Joanna Southwood in *Death on the Nile* that she finds it best to drop her friends when they lose all their money, thus to avoid having to buy terrible clothes from the boutiques they start up. Joanna only likes successful people, and claims that others just are less honest about it, and go on about how they just can't stand poor Emily or Pamela any more because her troubles have made her so *bitter,* poor dear.

I once saw advertised in a catalogue a book titled *Hyacinth Bucket's Guide to Etiquette for the Socially Less Fortunate*. Thinking that it would live in a variety of catalogues for years to come, I deferred purchasing it - and it never appeared again.

Moral: "You remember my sister Violet - the one with her own Mercedes, and a Jacuzzi, and room for a pony - but not in the Jacuzzi, of course (ha ha ha)!"

L3: Is LW3 male or female? It perhaps ought not to matter, but it may provide options for what LW3 does about BP3's ongoing difficulty. The early phrasing seems more or less male, although it's difficult to tell these days when *married* is not quite so broadly definitive an adjective as it once was. On the other hand, LW3 has sttod by and been supportive some five to seven times already without bringing up the issue, which does, although I apologize for stereotyping, sound a bit more in line with the way women are socialized.

My guess, if I absolutely were forced to make one right at this moment, is that LW3 is male and BP3 is perhaps making use of that or at least being given a generous slice of benefit from a rather small portion of doubt. If so, there are two ways LW3 can approach this. He can try ever so gently and supportively reminding her that she has been playing up gender stereotypes and asking her to be the strong feminist with whom he went into business, or he can have a little collapse of his own and give her a taste of her own medicine. If LW3 is female, it becomes a bit more tricky, although the call to be the Strong Female Role Model might still work.

BP3, with all due allowance made for her grief, reminds me a bit of Liz Probert, who does occasionally get to have it both ways in her full head-on political correctness.

Moral: "No; how would you describe me physically?" "Well, you're fat." "And should you be persecuted for saying that about me the way Claude is being for saying that about Wendy Crump?" "Of course not - you're a man!"

L4: If LW4 wants to study to be a Shakespeare professor, will the Prudecutor change her answer?

As I am calling a major foul and three jams in the penalty box for the Prudecutor, I think I shall waive either further elucidation or a moral.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

12/23 - Very Short Indeed

I begin still in a terrible mood with the Prudecutor about Monday and the MAF candidate. The incredible presumption that students in a Shakespeare class are disinterested teenagers in which she indulged her distaste for the fine arts might just have managed to insult more people who never did anything to deserve such an insult than any of her ill-chosen comments before. I stick by my hope that one day she will be tried for murder before a judge who has taken Mr Justice Bullingham, Mr Justice Graves or Mr Justice Oliphant as a role model by a jury consisting entirely of former Shakespeare professors who were all made redundant when people like the Prudecutor convinced all their deans and provosts to drop Classics for Business Studies.

L1: Here, alas, I find it necessary to recuse myself. I think I did rather fancy a kilt at that age or therabouts, although nowhere nearly to the extreme of the boy in question. But it really seems quite unfair on the column to present a LW of whom I might actually have to approve. What sort of sneaky trick is this? I might manage to avoid spoiling my mood by dwelling on the large number of small boys whose lack of such a parent (or presumably even pair of parents) and need thereof is one and the same. And happily I am not one who is automatically reminded of how his parents responded to such youthful inclinations every time he sits down. Perhaps LW1 deserves to be this year's annual recipient of the advice to Donate Large Quantities of Sperm.

L2: In this case, I can be even shorter and more to the point than I was with the previous letter. The solution to LW2's situation is a simple one. In a long life of change and infiltration, one is bound to encounter spouses of this particular nature. LW2 might be inclined to be somewhat grateful that the spouse in question is attached merely to a sister-in-law instead of to herself. Or perhaps she might be inclined to give herself credit for being a better selector than her sister-in-law. But the situation is clear. When the spouse in question inevitably calls to mind a much more widely known spouse, LW2 or some other family member need only proclaim in a loud voice that He Who Must Be Obeyed Has Spoken. If that fails to contain him...

L3: A sort of half-recusal seems in order on this one. Mainly, though, I get to restore all my lack of fondness for the Prudecutor. One notes the presumption that LW3 and the boyfriend's family celebrate Christmas, which may not have great significance here in its own right but which serves as a nice accent to the heterocentric air created by the Prudecutor's response. Of course the Prudecutor would think that family is formed only by blood ties and the promise of the perpetuation of the same. It ties in neatly with her assumption regarding the daughter-in-law who didn't like her husband's ex and ex's children (of unspecified fatherhood) being included in family gatherings that her husband could simply explain to his mother that she could no longer invite the ex and that such an explanation would automatically constitute the Last Word on the subject. And of course the possessor of a mediocre soul would think it appropriate to reduce a relationship that may well have ventured into the Family Relam for both LW3 and possibly the boyfriend's mother also (presumably it appears to have veered back, or perhaps LW1 shares the limited nature of soul enjoyed by the Prudecutor) to the virtual nothingness of the Impersonal Christmas Card Displayed on the Mantlepiece. How ghastly.

Of course, LW3 could do with a good deal of cross-questioning. How much can be she trusted merely to be motivated by a desire to make sure her however-close-to-nearly-mother-in-law understands that LW3 would never, ever, ever have done anything to jeopardize HCTNMIL's good opinion rather than by a desire to make sure that the cheating cad is exposed before all his family in the most uncertain and embarrassing way possible could take a long time to ascertain with confidence. Exposing the cad will not do. However, even if neither LW3 nor HCTNMIL have any inclination for each other's presence during actual holidays, there is no necessity to demean the relationship to the level of ICCDOTM.

Moral: I can just restrain myself from foreseeing a future in which the Prudecutor's daughter dates a series of charming and delightful young women who will shake the Prudecutor's beliefs to their core before marrying someone quite like the spouse in question in L2 (not wanting to be homosexist, I shall not specify a male spouse).

L4: Again I must recuse myself, as I have had such success borrowing a roulette wheel and layout I once gave as a present that I cannot proceed in complete confidence. It would be vastly entertaining to demand of LW4 exactly how exacting the labour involved in the production of the chef d'oeuvre might have been, but the exact nature of what conclusions I might reasonably have drawn is not something I can declare with comfort. I am quite content with the cross-examination submitted by the good Submariner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

12/16 - Wall. Head. Intobang. Repeat.

I was tempted to save my thoughts on the Heterocentric Bisexual Male from Monday for today's opening, but luck is with me. Having posted about him, I then had a few extra ideas float around, and one strikes me as not all bad. Thinking that it might be fun to get the perspective of being on the najority side of presumed universality, it then occurred to me that it might be made into a formal thing and given a particular duration of time. Eventually, the idea fleshed itself out into the possible adoption of Homocentric August, treating everyone and everything under the assumption of homosexuality until admitted otherwise for one month, which is close enough to proportional in terms of population. I thought of August because it occurred to me that the closest one might ever come to being right in such presumptions might be during summer holidays in such a place as Provincetown or somewhere similar.

I have practised one or two of the likely conversations. "A recent groom? Congratulations! Your husband is a very fortunate person. Oh - a WIFE! I'm sorry, I just would never have guessed... well, good for you! In fact, I am entirely in favour of opposite-sex marriage, and if we ever have a referendum on it here, I will definitely support it." "You wore this dress to prom? How lovely. Did your girlfriend's dress match? Oh - a BOYFRIEND! I'm sorry; I just never realized that schools around here allow opposite-sex couples at proms now. That's really great!"

There may still be a snag or two, and I may well find I haven't quite the nerve to follow through, but the idea has considerable charm.

But now, moving on to this week's crop of letters, it may be observed that one of the letters deals with the subject of diet, a topic on which I always recuse myself. Accordingly, I have arranged for the column to be undertaken by my regular substitute, C.E.B.:

Greetings to all you readers of Points for Cross-Examination who have been eagerly waiting for my return. As I have had astounding luck lately in getting my clients to settle their cases rather than make me stand up in Court and advocate for them, I have the spare time to assist dear old Rumpole with his weekly column. And who knows, a word or two in the appropriate ear and - hint, hint - we might even persaude Rumpole to reitre to Florida again, and then it might not prove a bad thing for this column to be taken over by a dashing Queen's Counsel with an encyclopedic knowledge, not of bloodstains like Rumpole, but of something much more uplifting, such as the works of Wagner. But now to the letters.

L1: Now, LW1, I am entirely on your side. Even Rumpole has frequently maintained that one is entitled to a degree of privacy, even in married life. I am reminded of the occasion when I took Liz Probert to the Opera back when Sam Ballard, our Head of Chambers, wanted us to go into partnership with solicitors. Naturally I only took Lizzie to the Opera to discuss the future of Chambers, but then unfortunately she left her program behind and bolted away at the final curtain, so that I took home two programs and left them sitting on a table where they were found by my wife. Rumpole told me at the time I should have claimed my right to silence and refused to say a word. But, facing the stern cross-examination of my wife (and some people think that Phyllida has had a more glittering career at the Bar than I have had, although I don't think they make enough allowance for the unfair advantage she has had for being a woman when the Lord Chancellor has been eager to appoint new women silks and judges), I naturally felt that I had to tell her somethijng. And, as she would surely misinterpret the truth, I told her I had taken Uncle Tom to the Opera. Actually, Liz Probert and I had met Uncle Tom on our way to Covent Garden, which was why I thought of him. Unfortunately, when I put it to Uncle Tom that I'd appreciate his backing me up, he cooperated only rather too enthusiastically, telling Phyllida I had taken him to a Show with lots of Happy Tunes. She naturally refused to believe that Wagner had written If You Were the Only Girl in the World, and the whole thing might have ended in disaster had I not thought to tell Phyllida that the whole idea of taking Liz to the Opera in the first place came from Rumpole. She thought that it would be the sort of idea he might have, and the incident more or less blew over.

Anyway, lie detector tests are not admissible in Court, so that I fail to understand what good it would do if you took it, whether you passed or failed. Now, Rumpole would have a good many questions for you. He would wonder how the question of marriage and the condition of the lie detector test had arisen in the first place. Did your boyfriend spontaneously mention this requirement, or was it something he only said because you were bringing up matrimony and wondering when he intended to propose to you. (Rumpole would also wonder why on earth you were sitting around and waiting for himj to ask you to marry him, but that's neither here nor there.) He would ask about your use of the word pinpoint, and whether it would be reasonable to assume that you might have been a bit fuzzy about strict truth on occasion, despite your testimony of your fidelity and honesty. He might go on for some time about why you didn't have the firmness of mind you appear to have now about what was or was not his business regarding your past. He would doubtless take great interest in your phrasing with regard to your compromises and sacrifices in the name of a happy partner, and why there have not been any on his side that you cared to mention.

Most of all, Rumpole would wonder why on earth the first mention of the test would not be enough to make you run for the hills. Personally, I don't think the occasional polygraph is too great a price to pay for what might be considered a more or less happy marriage overall. Only next time, do make sure that, whatever you might be suspected of doing, you've actually done. That's much more satisfactory, I can assure you.

L2: This letter, of course, is what caused Rumpole to recuse himself from the column this week and ask me to write it for him instead. You may remember the terrible dietary restrictions that were inflicted upon Rumpole by Hilda, acting in league with his physician, Dr McClintock. Of course, I don't think it right to judge Rumpole for being, well, corpulent. After all, it's not every barrister who can remain as trim as, well, need I say it, your humble servant. And he certainly had no better luck at remaining on his diet of Thin-o-Vite than your father, LW2. I cannot think how often Liz Probert or I would catch Rumpole sneakily adding a large sugar bun to his breakfast at the Tast-E-Bite Cafe.

Rumpole would no doubt have a good deal to say about the wisdom of choosing athletic holidays for a large family party in such a remote location. Then again, he might add that there could be considerable opportunities on this holiday. After all, who wants to live with a father who eats your sister's entire birthday cake all by himself? Go on your holiday and hike to your heart's content, and somehow just find an excuse to leave your father behind somewhere, no doubt after he picks a quarrel (after some judicious prodding). Leave him with a lengthy hike back to the hotel. Given the correct altitude involved, that should solve your problem. It's reminiscent of Patrick Seton's plan to take his diabetic pregnant girlfriend Alice to a chalet in Austria where she would at the inappropriate moment find herself alone without her insulin in *The Bachelors*, or Nevile Strange's nipping into Mr Treves' hotel and hanging an Out of Order sign on the lift, thus requiring that the old man with a dicky ticker would have to risk his life by walking upstairs in *Towards Zero*.

L3: Dear LW3, I am entirely on your side again, just as was the case with LW1. I too am being constantly dictated to by our Head of Chambers, Sam Ballard, as to how I am required to spend my hard-earned fees in keeping up the best traditions of the Bar. Members of Chambers are constantly being obliged to purchase tickets to the Inns of Court Dinner or the Scales of Justice Ball, or go to hear the Bishop of Sidcup giving a talk on the moral abivalence of the Rent Acts. And I must recall how, when I was defending in a case of assault in the Kitten-a-Go-Go Club, how Rumpole told me to investigate the locus in quo in order to cross-examine the witnesses on the terrain, which led to a photographer taking my picture. The picture was published in the Daily Beacon with a paragraph suggesting that such was my usual practice in the afternoons. Sam Ballard insisted that I sue the Daily Beacon for libel, despite my protest that the expense would be extreme. But nothing else would due, but I must sue, in order to uphold the Best Traditions of the Bar. As it happens, that worked out rather well, as the Daily Beacon settled the case and I received substantial damages, which, as I reminded my clark Henry, were entirely free of tax.

If he were advising you, Rumpole would compare your lot to his marriage. After all, once you've survived the first ten years, why abandon ship now? There are always little ways around these things without quitting. Are you really willing to toss it all away simply over a mandatory voluntary charitable contribution?

However, we have in Chambers someone with much greater knowledge of the true inner workings of charities than Rumpole or even Sam ballard himself. I refer, of course, to Liz Probert. Even if she has never displayed that natural taste for the Opera which I might have wished to awaken in her, Liz has an encyclopedic knowledge of the true inner workings of charitable organizations. After all, her father, Red Ron, practically ran all of his part of South London for years, and doubtless is behind a number of charitable concerns. I took the liberty of putting this question to Liz in a general way, and she said it was sure to be simple. This charity encourages corporations to mandate voluntary employer contributions. Such a charity must naturally be run on corrupt principles and practices. They are sure to have violated the sacred tenets of political correctness in a dozen ways. Find but a few, and you will have an unanswerable argument in favour of ending these enforced contributions forever. You will be a heroine to others as well as yourself.

L4: Once again, I find myself remarkably in sympathy with the LW. How could your parents even have considered selling your ancestral home? My own mummy would never have permitted such a thing. And I was always loyal to her, going back to stay with her whenever I had a little row with Phyllida, and taking her to the Opera every time I had two tickets and for some unaccountable reason everyone else in Chambers had a previous engagement for the evening...

I am convinced that your parents have found someone whose company they prefer to yours, who has cleverly insinuated his or her way into their lives, and who is now doing everything possible to push you out. For a parallel case, I would consider Tuppence's great-aunt Primrose in *By the Pricking of My Thumbs*, an elderly woman who took in a young man named Mervyn whom she claimed to be quite a kindred spirit. When Great-Aunt Primrose let her relations know that she had made a will in Mervyn's favour, the family acted in some haste, discovering just in time that Mervyn had an unsavoury past and putting the police on his tail in time to prevent anynthing happening to Great-Aunt Primrose.

I advise you, LW4, to make it quite clear to your parents that you find their conduct unacceptable, that you won't have it, and that, if they think they can replace you in the family with someone who make them more proud, they can think again. Rumpole would doubtless just tell you to grow up, stay at an hotel when you go to visit them, and be thankful they are being reasonable about your having an adult life with which they have nothing to do. But I think this situation is far too important. You must fight to get them back, even if it means you have to go so far as to get yourself fired and move back in with them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

12/9 and a Grim Mood Indeed

My carryover comment from Monday will be to blast the Prudecutor about her response to Works With Mean Girls. "Growing up does not eradicate the more pernicious aspects of human behaviour that thrive in high school, but as all the 'It Gets Better' videos try to express, going out in the larger world often brings relief from the relentless petty vindictiveness of high school."

If anything could tempt me to launch a private prosecution of my own, I would prosecute the Prudecutor for that disgusting sentence. The only thin sliver of a wedge of a point she has in her possible defence is that both situations do deal with something that does fall somewhere on the scale of bullying. It is highly ungracious of the Prudecutor to snipe at a project of a contemporary of her own that has probably done more good to the world in a calendar quarter than her entire collected life's work. It may just be possible that she considers the project to be so widely reputed that she need not credit Mr Savage by name. Just perhaps she can be given a Non Proven on this count, if one may be so Scottish. But TRY to express? And ALL? TRY to express has quite a dismissive air about it, as if she thinks that most of the videos don't quite reach her own personal high standards for making whatever point she thinks ought to be made, although, then again, the purpose of the enterprise isn't to put together a collection that suits the purpose of an originator or some other deciding power. And to try to reduce experiences that drive many young people to the brink of suicide and tragically often beyond to the level of relentless petty vindictiveness...? And they are getting it from many places other than merely high school.

That leads me to a potential sour note in President Obama's contribution. He advises young people in torment to talk to their parents, and never makes it clear that, for many of those worst off, their parents are a huge part of the problem. But that is a minor niggle. Prime Minister Cameron's contribution is perhaps less memorable for anything he says than for the fact of the leader of a conservative party and a conservative coalition government of a major nation sayingn them, which makes one perhaps somewhat envious. One favourite of mine is Senator Franken's. He goes beyond It Gets Better and says declaratively We Will Make It Better. As someone who quite honestly (within reason) cannot give a flying fig how much the poor or the rich or anyone in between pays in taxes, I like that sort of sense of purpose.

To conclude about the Prudecutor, I can imagine a number of people presenting a case that she is not anti-gay, and on some level she might not be, but this is where all her tee-hee, oh look! ANOTHER inappropriate Brokeback pun! ain't I just a card? from that black hole of a period during the summer when I had no home internet for nearly a month comes back to bite her in the you-know-where. Reduce gay people to being fodder for excessive attempts at feeble wit, and one loses credibility when one might need it later. I'll grant that she's not a homophobe of any stripe, but if I'm on the committee I'm not voting for her as the right sort of ally to make Grand Marshal of our parade.

But on to this week's batch.

L1: My dear LW1, where do I start? There are endless possibilities here. First of all, exactly how have you discovered that this is a sexual relationship? Do you have proof beyond a reasonable doubt, proof that meets the standard of the preponderance of the eivdence, or just the hearsay that Bee has told you she's boinking the glamourous Mr A? How did your closeness come about, and was it before or after you talked to him about the divorce? Did Bee's relationship with him seem to be on an exact parallel with your own, given her mother's illness? Exactly what sort of a position of power does Mr A occupy? Does he at present or will he probably or certainly have Bee in class as a student? From whom did the initiative come? Was there pressure involved? Could you see Bee with a different 45-year-old if she'd had similar opportunities to become closen to him without the particular teacher angle? How responsible has Bee been and how do you really know?

More to the point, why would Bee ask you to be her cover for a lie of fairly large proportion? Is this the sort of thing you have done for her frequently regarding smaller matters? Is there an imbalance in your friendship that might lead her to make use of you? Is there any trace in you of envy that Bee and Mr A are a couple? Is there a chance that you might have had a relationship with him yourself had circumstances inclined him towards you instead? And why is it that the one thing that terrifies you is losing her friendship?

This whole letter seems remarkably similar to the Cracker episode *The Big Crunch*, except that the friend of the girl involved in the intergenerational relationship is the man's backup, as it were, and lies to protect him rather than to cover up for her. If we learn anything from the conduct of Kenneth, the dynamic middle-aged schoolmaster/lay pastor of a congregation that is apparently a rogue sect, it is that, unless he is confronted with absolute proof, he will, as Rafe Gorse would advise, Deny, Deny, Deny. Even when the pregnant Joanne is brought forward and proclaims her love for him, Kenneth maintains to his wife Virginia that Joanne is delusional. It takes the photographic evidence provided by his sister-in-law Norma to topple Kenneth, who immediately slides into the response, "I was tempted and fell." While Joanne is missing, Kenneth arranges an interview for Fitz and Penhaligon with Sarah, Joanne's friend, who does her best to give a very inaccurate impression of Joanne's personality, habits and hopes. Only towards the end does Sarah reveal how wonderful Kenneth is and how much she's in love with and hopes to marry him.

There are way too many possibilities here to fasten on a single one. Quite possibly Mr A has had a long line of affairs, and there's even a chance LW1 might have been a candidate in his eyes or possibly might have been half-inclined to such a possibility herself. Then again, I keep recalling Phil Donahue's interviews with couples who became couples when one of them was quite underage who did go on to marry quite successfully. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I have been in similar situations on both sides of this, though without any actual boinking.

I feel too strong a need to recuse myself to be comfortable advocating any particular course of action here, but might be up to a few specific possibilities. If Mr A has Bee in a class, that is going too far. The other students in the class don't deserve the potential drama. If Bee is not the only one, regardless of her personal level of maturity, it becomes increasingly harder to talk down the Stone Mr A Club. Then a good deal depends on the nature of the request for cover. If that is way out of character for either of the two to do for the other and for Bee to ask, it could be a huge red flag.

I don't like this letter at all because a large part of me wants to tell LW1 to talk to Mr A, but I cannot convince myself it's safe. I really must recuse myself - way too much past history. But I will pronounce myself thankful that LW1's only cause for terror is that the friendship might end. Change the dynamics of the situation a little and we almost get the Rutgers bridge jumper.

Moral: "...and several smaller cash contributions, including one to the Police Widows and Orphans Association. I'm currently collecting for cancer research. Perhaps a small donation might be in order?"

L2: as I do not have to cross-examine LW2, I shall refrain from doing so. She has had enough woe to last a considerable period of time. But I shall observe that, once again, we have a notable missing ingredient from the letter - the notrious Husband Who Apparently Has Less Input Concerning Holidays Than He Did About The Wedding.

Why she even wants to be anywhere near her mother-in-law after all this I can only speculate in the least certain of terms. But again, it's entirely her choice. Maybe she can just smile and nod at whatever the mother-in-law suggests and then just do exactly what she always knew would suit her mood and her plans all along.

It would be interesting to cross-examine the mother-in-law. What part of, "I can't face that amount of shopping," does she not understand? And is she rather like LW3, one of those who always has to control and adjust all the details of every last holiday to be exactly to her liking? That LW2 acknowledges her mother-in-law's grief adds a Solomonic touch to the letter.

I have just finished reading a very sympathetic biography of Catherine de Medici. The author concludes that she had the dreams of an empress, planning to have all her children influencing the course of history from one European capital after another, but cheapened all her ambitions by negotiating for them in the manner of a shopkeeper. She was also very much a Peace at Any Price sort. I hope for LW2's sake that she does not get stuck in a pattern of following that example.

Moral: "She looked on thrones and crowns as though they were merchandise to be bargained for. In a sense she was right, but in staying so long in the marketplace, she lost that regal presence essential to kingship."

L3: What is LW3's real problem? Has she just overdosed on Martha Stewart? Is it not the seating arrangements but that it the size of the gathering is too much for her nerves, kitchen or budget and she can't bring herself to admit it? Or were the daughter's best friend and group mere placeholders until more legitimate claimants could fill out the table? If I were inclined to gamble, I'd go for the last proposition.

It would be a little too much to hope for if we were to discover that the best friend were really a girlfriend with a toddler or two and LW3 has been unwilling to admit to her suspicions all these years. But I rather expect that LW3 needs a same-sexed child (perhaps it is the daughter and the best friend just happens to be her best friend rather than a love interest) to give a much-needed push to her concept of family. For her to be so willing to flush people away, despite her expressed regrets, after seven years - and they have really never had other plans, nor would they have the capacity to make them on shortish notice? Something is not adding up here.

This reminds me of two women I knew, both widowed after long marriages, who had been best friends and regular bridge partners for several years. One year, they were quite excited by the prospect of a nearby regional tournament where they would be able to earn enough gold points to become at long last Life Masters. They put in a great deal of practice, and entered the week full of confidence. It turned out to be a disaster. Day after day they played worse than they had in years. A discussion on the telephone after the tournament ended started a quarrel which led to a rift, and they never played bridge as partners again.

Moral: "I love her like a sister. I have three sisters, and she means as much to me as any of them."

L4: Does LW4 know with fair certainty that her sister is going to start trouble about this? Or is she just caught up in a sort of general Fairness Malaise? This seems to have influenced the Prudecutor as well, who gets this one completely wrong. Dilute a gift out by dividing it into four (and who knows how many other) parts? Pathetic. Far better to have one relation in the family have a fully or more nearly fully funded education and be able to start a lucrative business which can employ all the other family members in good positions and pull them all up than just have a whole generation get a little assistance and start life with ten years' worth of loan debts instead of twelve. Discuss it with her sister or not - who knows, LW4 may meet all the members of the younger generation and wish she'd chosen a different one to favour based on his or her own character instead of that of the parents?

Jane Austen's own brother, one of a numerous family, was taken in by better-off relations and added their surname to his own, a common enough practice at the time, and one which had full familial approval. Miss Austen wove a variation on the theme into the opening chapter of *Mansfield Park*, in which the semi-adoption of a poor niece cements the reparation of an estrangement between sisters. Miss Brodie in the novel if not the film has Sandy and Jenny, when the girls have crossed the great divide into the Senior school, teach her Greek, likening the practice to the habit of families who could only afford to send one child to school having the scholar impart his learning to his siblings.

Also, my own experience of groups that have tried to run themselves by consensus is that such groups have fared much better when one or two people have privately taken on the heavy lifting.

Moral: "The letter was not unproductive. It re-established peace and kindness. Sir Thomas sent friendly advice and professions, Lady Bertram dispatched money and baby-linen, and Mrs Norris wrote the letters."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

12/2 Here: Prudecutor There: Boat

I have been contemplating the questioner from Monday who had the World's Worst Gift Giver for a boyfriend. It reminded me that, some time ago, I had seen parts of a number of episodes of some comedy called Yes, Dear. Two married couples were the main characters, and one of the wives habitually gave her husband birthday gifts that were never what he wanted but were what she thought he should have or experience. If he wanted a round of golf at Pebble Beach, she gave him an afternoon of Swimming with Dolphins. Only, of course, if one buys into the double standard that Men Just Can't Give Good Gifts and Women Are Intuitive Geniuses Who Always Give The Perfect Thing, her gifts always worked out brilliantly. Bleah. But it occurred to me that the Monday questioner wanted him to consult her girlfriends and sisters (instead of his own family and friends) about what to get her - and the idea filled me with alarm. There are very few reasons a sane woman would want her boyfriend to spend time with her girlfriends or sisters. Besides the obvious possibility that her girlfriends/sisters can suggest far more expensive presents than would be seemly coming from the recipient, she might well be trying to get him to have an affair with one of them. A variation would be something along the line of entrapment or a test of his loyalty. But my hunch as to what is most likely is that she is trying to turn her boyfriend into a GWAP, an acronym for which I am sure astute readers need no elucidation. Now, if one desires to be a GWAP, more power to one, but I cannot approve of this devious attempt to turn him into one without his knowledge or consent. But onward:

L1: Now, the Prudecutor actually comes a good deal closer to gettingn this one than one would have expected from her. But she gets a good deal too hung up on the Clintonian aspects of the proposal. There is really quite a lot here. For one thing, when did the question of his kinks arise? Did he not open up until after the marriage and then drop the whole bomb at once? How much has the couple actually tried? Had they taken the Savage Approach of growth by baby steps, LW1 would probably have found some very minor thing she could do, or at least would have revealed that even the slightest deviation from pure vanilla extract would be a deal-breaker, and if not for her then probably for him. Whose idea was it for H1 to go into therapy? Did LW1 tell him in no uncertain terms that SHE wasn't going to do that disgusting stuff so that he'd better get rid of the desire if he could? That seems arguable.

And the Prudecutor really does not go far enough. She and Lw1 both seem to have the idea that the answer Yes will end the discussion, but it will begin a great many more negotiations. I have the sense that there is some expectation of this perhaps being a One and Done deal. It reminds of the LW whom I have never forgiven for being the one having the affair instead of her 14-year-old son who was whining that He's Never Bought Me Flowers, and Ms Mermaid's eventual opinion that maybe if he did it once or twice that would be enough to get her to see that it was not the big whoop she was making it out to be. That seems overly optimistic. There's no reason why LW1 can't find out all the details beforehand or perhaps even go and monitor an encounter, though I suspect that she has already had quite as much to do with the whole topic as she wishes, and would be grateful not to have to think of it any more. But there are practical things, especially if it's not just something he'll want to do one time only, or possibly on one or two special occasions every year. Who decides how often? Does he get to go to the dominatrix as often as he wants? Does she get to control the outlet for him (interesting perhaps in a different way)? How are they going to compromise?

Then, too, there is possibly the question of funding. If they happen to be a one-income family, that becomes quite a major question indeed, but, even if they have two incomes and each of them has by agreement a reasonable quantity for discretionary spending, there still may be things worth discussing. It seems the gut thing to do to have the entire expense come out of his discretionary funds. I could perhaps see one or two minor modifications, especially if there are any generally reasonable things LW1 might want shunted off to his outside encounters.

I have a main concern in each direction. Will LW1 really be able to let this happen without resentment? Her initial reaction may be something akin to relief, but she strikes me as the type who might become quarrelsome later on. On the other side, how is her sexuality and satisfacvtion to retain equal significance in the marriage?

It is very easy in a couple for the half with the bigger or more interesting issues to become almost the sole focus of their joint time and attention. As an example, I can cite one of the two or three episodes I saw of the Real World season not long ago in Washington, D.C. The bisexual housemate (male) found a gay boyfriend, and they were going out to mixed clubs, where the housemate kept flirting with girls. The boyfriend did not like this, especially when his request to flirt with guys met with resistance, as the housemate didn't think either of them should be flirting with other guys, but that it was perfectly okay for the boyfriend to flirt with as many girls as he wanted. Needless to say, this did not go over well. Possibly LW1 might negotiate some sort of fair compensation - has she perhaps always really wanted to indulge in Ballroom Dancing only to have accepted that H1 is not so inclined? If it's enough of a passion for her, something similar might be a suitable equivalent.

My guess is that economics will be their undoing. Her birthday will come and he won't be able to buy her a present she deems suitable, or something like that. Too bad in a way; there have been worse couples.

Moral: Why am I thinking of Go Go Gophers?

L2: Oh, good grief. Why, tell me why, has LW2 been coping with thisn on her own all this time? What, tell me what, has her husband thought, said and done about his sisters' refusal to turn their own child over to their mother? When, tell me when, is the thought of an unpleasant conversation with her mother-in-law going to matter less to LW2 than risking the life of a child who lacks the capacity to say No for herself?

The Prudecutor is almost right, but playing the Husband Game is a luxury and the stakes are too high here. The family clearly needs a villain, and LW2 is in the golden position of not being the menace to society's biological child. She should do everything in her power to get the menace off the road short of poisoning her. No, she should not have to do it. Yes, someone in the family should have done it a long time ago. For whatever reason, they just aren't going to make it happen until after it's too late. Sad but true, LW2 - if not you, who?

Moral: why am I thinking of Sweet Polly Purebred?

L3: While I don't like to make fairly broad assumptions, it may be necessary to assume that LW3 is at least apparently culturally Jewish. At least in such a case the boss' suggestion makes some tiny amount of sense, though not a great deal. (If LW3 did happen to be Jewish, a separate display might well work out quite reasonably. I have often seen it done. An ornament on a Christmas tree - ecumenically minded but iffy.) While LW3 seems potentially to be on the pillish side, I want to have sympathy for a member of a minority oppressed by the customs of an overwhelmingly large majority. Then too I have a bit of natural sympathy for a soldier in the much-vaunted War On Christmas. It is also interesting that "multiple" people complained and got nowhere. What on earth in such a case does LW3 think the Prudecutor can possibly recommend when talking top management has accomplished nothing?

I suppose L3 raises the issue of some potential downside to Christmas as a secular as well as a religious holiday - when the lines start to blur, things get uncomfortable, and, among other things, well-intended people who think the line is being crossed into state-sponsored religion end up being declared to be The Enemy by Mr O'Reilly. If I had more time, I'd check in on the progress of this year's version of that entertaining annual event, the War on Christmas.

One real downside for LW3 is that there is no obvious plus in being somewhat flexible about demands for complete equality across the board and the maintenance of complete secularity about any holiday observation. If we were to take the marriage issue, there are those who take the purist position of calling on all their straight friends to boycott the institution of marriage until it becomes available to same-sex couples as well. However, in that case, there is a distinct plus to encouraging straight friends to marry, as they are, after all, our primary source of future same-sexers. Yes, in an ideal world it might be lovely if we didn't have In God We Trust on the money or other things, but who has the resources to fight every injustice in such a Christianist nation? I can't contemplate this for too long; it will depress me.

Of course, the Prudecutor, who enjoys seeing Christians (even of the C&E variety) make idiots of themselves indulging in the excesses of the worst part of the holiday, would have to go and advise LW3 just to "get in the mood of the season and be merry". Ugh, double ugh, treble ugh. Of all advice calculated to bring out someone's inner curmudgeon! But there is something LW3 can do, which is really quite subversive. Just as atheists tend to know a good deal more about Christianity than actual Christians, there are various admirable things that some Christians actually do at this time of the year, and that more would do if they were not spending too much time quarreling about gifts or hosting or trees or any of the four zillion little distractions that so amuse the Prudecutor and keep her in a flourishing condition. Set the poor wayward souls a good example, LW3. They so need one, and being subversive may be the best way to get through this sort of adverse season.

Moral: Why am I thinking of Tennessee Tuxedo?

L4: Once again, where on earth has LW4's husband been since the couple became a couple? What other issues have their families' divergent styles already given them, and what can be anticipated? I do give LW4 some credit for balancing the habits of the families instead of preening over the superiourity of her own, and for actually including her husband in the couple's not being gamblers or wanting to go. A little of this is undone when she asks what SHE should do instead of what THEY should do, but that might be a bit blurry. It might be possible to try hinting that her husband might not be quite so solidly in the No Go Camp as she thinks, but I have too little interest in the theory to flesh it out.

I hate to get technical, and this really smacks largely of being a Technical Question. When, tell me when, did his parents decide to Christmas in Las Vegas? With everyone living so near, the timing seems a bit rushed. They could hardlym have had the plan in place well before Thanksgiving, or LW4 and her husband could have switched plans. And how much of a commitment was involved on C4's part? What exactly constitutes the Christmas celebration, and how does Christmas ever "balance out" Thanksgiving anyway when Thanksgiving is *one specific day* but Christmas gatherings and gift exchanges can occur on basically any day within a reasonable time frame either before or after? Did C4 pay his parents a Thanksgiving visit to observe the spirit and many traditions of the holiday even though they actually spent Thanksgiving itself with her family? Somehow I doubt it. Were they planning to pay her family a visit at some time during the high point of the Christmas season in order to observe the spirit and many traditions of the holiday? Somehow I rather expect so.

Now in theory it may be reasonable if C4 simply swap out who gets Christmas and who gets Thanksgiving each year, but why on earth it would be so impossible just to have both days with one family one year and the other the next is beyond me. This seems like a golden opportunity to do so.

Of course, the Prudector had to get on board the I Hate Vegas (at least as a possible site for Christmas observations) Train and base her whole answer on that - who cares? The main issue here is that apparently the celebration has expanded considerably. The celebrants are hardly going to travel all the way there to spend there the same amount of time in celebrating that they would have done had they remained at home. It's the greatly increased commitment of time that is the hook on which to hang this one (although she sort of backs into it, but only by accident). And for future years it might help to have it made explicit at as early a date as possible exactly what will constitute his family's Christmas observations that season.

Moral: Why am I thinking of Savoir Faire?