Thursday, June 30, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #22

Escape (the Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes
If you wanted to establish your I-don't-take-music-too-seriously bona fides, this was the song to do it with.

No, you don't hate it, so stop pretending you do. Yes, I'm sure you heard it too often but you haven't heard it in a while.

A narrative song is a hard trick to pull off in pop music because everyone already knows the story the second time they hear it and a song has to be a song you'll want to hear again and again in order to be a pop song. That goes double when the whole thing depends on a twist ending as is the case here.

It's a goofy song that doesn't take itself seriously. Why it's even terribly self-conscious irony, the defining attitude of the 1980s. Only it's carried off with considerably more ease and grace than the two Davids (Letterman and Byrne) could ever manage. Any seriousness in this song is a lot like the rum in a Pina Colada, the creamy confection overwhelms it so you can barely taste it.

Added: It's odd to think there was an era when a man would refer to the woman he loved as "my old lady". Yechhh! On the other hand, they at least had the sense to realize that anyone who was really "into yoga" was not going to be very smart. Something lost and somethings gained ....

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Manly Thor's Day Special

Does driving a Porsche make a man more attractive to women?
 Hey, they did a study? Your tax dollars at work folks.

The funny thing is not just that the answer is exactly what you would have guessed without spending a whole lot of money keeping otherwise useless academics employed. The funny thing is the great lengths they go to try and find a silver lining in the cloud:
However, there was a catch: Although women found the flashy guys more desirable for a date, the man with the Porsche was not preferred as a marriage partner. Women inferred from a man's flashy spending that he was interested in uncommitted sex.

"When women considered him for a long-term relationship, owning the sports car held no advantage relative to owning an economy car," said co-author Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice. "People may feel that owning flashy things makes them more attractive as a relationship partner, but in truth, many men might be sending women the wrong message." 
He might be sending her the wrong message? Because the guy in the Porsche is looking for marriage and a nice little house in the suburbs? That must be why Porsche uses this sort of advertising to sell their product:

The copy reads "Owning a Porsche is  not only about the driving experience". And you'll note the presence of the word "date" and the absence of any mention of marriage.

To get back to the news release accompanying the study, it makes interesting reading. There is a lot of stuff about how men use conspicuous consumption to get sex with women and, as above, about how women don't think of these men as good marriage partners but there is only one sentence telling you that the peacock strategy works if what you are looking for is sex:
According to the researchers, women found a man who chose to purchase a flashy luxury product (such as a Porsche) more desirable than the same man who purchased a non-luxury item (such as a Honda Civic).
Yup, women put out for guys in Porsches. Are you as stunned as I am at this unlikely result? I bet if a guy works out a lot to build up his muscles, wears nice suits and takes women to glamorous places in his Porsche that his chances get even better.

Downside, according to the researchers, when it comes time to marry, she'll settled for some schmo in a Honda Civic ... while the Porsche driver is out nailing her even hotter kid sister.

What's the take away here? I think it's this: You had better really want what you really want! Is love and marriage really your goal? I ask this in all sincerity because I don't think those guys who put everything into getting the Porsche and other accessories are really anywhere near as miserable as you might want to think they are so if you ever find yourself sitting around second guessing yourself for choosing the Civic live instead of the Porsche life you just might end up feeling bitter. (You could end up feeling even more bitter if the Civic life was the only choice available to you.)

I love this detail from the write-up about the study:
Women inferred from a man's flashy spending that he was interested in uncommitted sex. 
Well, I'm relieved to find out that women are smarter than fence posts aren't you? But the thing is that the study also says they found those men more attractive. Like maybe the women were not adverse to a little uncommitted sex with a flashy spender.

Let's consider this from the perspective of Porsche guy: Guy buys Porsche because he is interested in getting uncommitted sex, woman correctly ascertains that he wants uncommitted sex and she is more attracted to him because he drives a Porsche. I'm not seeing any downside from his perspective here are you?

And if that doesn't hurt enough, I want you to seriously consider that the woman you marry may be just like the test subjects: that is that she really does find the Porsche guy more attractive but doesn't consider him good marriage material. As a woman friend of mine once crudely put it, "Once in her life every woman is going to go for a guy simply because he has a really nice car, a really nice investment portfolio or a really big ____." And then she'll marry someone like you.

This is another example of the Althouse Rule: When you talk about characteristics that distinguish women from men you always have to do so in ways that make the woman look good. That study stresses the fact that some guys are a bunch of vain peacocks in order to soft pedal the more significant finding that women are attracted to vain peacocks.

But but but ...

Yeah, I really wanted love and marriage too. And that is where I ended up but not because I wanted to feel superior to guys who drive Porsches.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clarence Clemons RIP

If you read obituaries of Clarence Clemons you'll notice that they don't say an awful lot about his music.

 I have to preface this by saying I don't mean this as a put down: it's not bad music. But, how to put this gently, the man never had an original musical idea in his entire life. If Clemons had been playing in 1955 he would have sounded up-to-date but not terribly innovative.

Again, please don't take this a sneer. Clemons' fellow band member David Sancious is unquestionably an innovative musician but I'd listen to Clemons before Sancious any day.

The interesting thing here is something that has been (nervously) pointed out before: as far as most white music fans in the era from about 1965 to 1995 were concerned, the golden age of black music was in the past.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #21

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen
 It's a sing along song. You can open your mouth and belt it out. It's got a narrow range and it's in a key that pretty much anybody can sing with easy-to-memorize lyrics that aren't going to challenge your brain.
Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don't know where it's flowin'
I took a wrong turn and I just kept goin'
Now, strictly speaking this is a stupid lyric. What can "a river that don't know where it's flowin'" possibly mean? Perhaps he is thinking of all those other rivers that do know where they are flowin'. But it doesn't matter because a smooth, clean girl could lean back her head and sing those words with abandon knowing this wasn't about her life and it never would be.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Also true of Emily Bronte

Martin Amis discussing Christopher Hitchens in the forward to a new book, says the author often “speaks like a genius” but “thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child’s eager apprehension of what feels just and true)”.

I don't know enough about Hitchens to say but that describes Emily Bronte perfectly.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Heathcliff beat women

That is women plural. Beat them as in grabbed them and held them against their will, hit them violently and locked them indoors. And he did so repeatedly. And he threatened them regularly when he wasn't actually beating them. And then there were the other abusive acts such as hanging Isabella's dog from a tree, locking women in rooms and forcing them to marry and robbing them of their property.

And then there is this:
When our teacher asked us, a class of adolescent girls, how many of us would like to marry Heathcliff, all the hands in the class shot up. 
Now you may think I'm being unfair to Sheila Kohler in that she does recognize there is a problem and goes on to say so.
I imagine if she'd asked us about Mr Rochester we would have done the same thing. This, I imagine, did not augur well for our futures, our lives as women and wives or our careers.
And she goes on to talk about her own marriage to an unfaithful man and then she moves to Vampire fiction and finally to the brooding Mr. Rochester. All very interesting I'm sure but it misses something very important: Heathcliff is in a category by himself.

Heathcliff doesn't just have bad habits, he isn't just moody and difficult to get along with, he isn't just faithless and uncaring, he isn't just oblivious to anyone else's feelings or needs including being oblivious to the feelings and needs of the woman he loves, although he is all of those things. No he is a systematic abuser of other people especially women and children. Heathcliff belongs in jail.

And yet he remains a hero to many.

Wuthering Heights is full of brilliant writing but all that brilliance adds up to nothing. I just finished reading it again for the first time in about thirty years and was surprised to find the writing was not just better but much better than I remembered it. But there is a huge problem with the morality of this book. It is driven by the moral outlook of the raging child. It is driven by I'm-going-to-hold-my-breath-until-I-die-and-then-you'll-be-sorry-Mummy-but-I'll-be-dead-so-ha-ha-on-you morality.

You can see this in the three sleights of hand it pulls.  The first is that Heathcliff simply disappears for a long stretch after Cathy rejects him and then comes back, strong and financially independent. What happens while he is gone? How does he manage this trick against fearsome odds? We never learn. This huge hole in his development makes something that ought to be ludicrous appear reasonable to us. That is that years later he is still consumed by the rejection.

Women are allowed to reject men (and vice versa). Responding to rejection by thinking that she can only be with me rather than sucking it up and moving on lesson learned is classic behaviour in abusive men. This is the way guys who shoot their ex-girlfriends or ex-wives before sticking the barrel in their own mouth think. If Bronte had actually given us some notion of what it would have taken Heathcliff to maintain and nurse that rage all those years he was away the sheer moral insanity of it would have been to give the game away.

(By the way: Is there anything that looks even remotely like plausible evidence that Heathcliff would not have also beaten Cathy had he been able to marry her as he wished? Look at the man and ask yourself,would a married Cathy have been able refuse this man anything he wanted without getting the same treatment Isabella did? And a real answer to this question would include actual evidence rather than saying. "But he really, really, really luuuuves Cathy!")

The second trick is Catherine's death. It's not just the silly superstitious thinking that someone could die of an emotion (again the morality of a raging child); it's the way she dodges the fact that it is Catherine's fault and nobody but Catherine's fault that she dies. If we compare Catherine to Marianne in Sense and Sensibility we can see the problem clearly. Marianne's sickness is not instantaneous. She neglects herself for weeks on end so there is is some credibility to her sickness. And, as with Heathcliff's nursed grudge, the more realistic account makes it clear where the responsibility lies.

The final trick is Heathcliff's own death. And they were dead happily ever after. It imposes a formal end on a novel that has no moral trajectory. Heatcliff just goes on being this vile bastard for hundreds of pages and then he stops. And he has to die because having him walk around and try to explain the supposed change in himself would be to reveal the hollow empty space at the core of the novel.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #20

Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
When Tori Amos broke in the mid 1980s, the joke was to say she was just like Kate Bush only talented. That, as the old Monty Python gag line had it, was cruel but fair.

But Kate had one song in her and this is it. Yes, the lyrics are stupid and that video is painful to watch (you can't help but get the feeling that Kate's attitude to drugs was "just say yes') but, given the source that inspired the song, that is entirely fitting. I'm rereading Wuthering Heights right now and I can assure you, Emily Bronte was a whack job but she was a whack job who could write brilliantly. Sometimes it doesn't matter that the content is stupid and this is a fine example of that.

Update: Kate bush apparently didn't appreciate this version but what is to stop us?

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #19

Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel
I think it's time to move decisively into a new decade. Decades really do have identities no matter how much we might want to insist on the artificiality of the distinction. Change is always an attractive option and a year ending in zero is the perfect excuse.

That's a bit difficult because every decade starts a few years into the decade. There is always a period when people cast around looking for an identity. A big part of the problem is that no one wants to bravely lead off in a new direction to find that everyone else went another way.

Boy do some people love to hate Billy Joel. That was also true when this song was a hit. It was the tune that people who "really care about music" loved to hate while just about everyone else loved to turn up the volume. And that tells a whole lot about what happened in the 1980s. Smooth clean girls increasingly fell into the category of people for whom music existed to accompany other activities rather than something you used to define yourself as a human being.

 There were lots of songs with the words "rock and roll" in the title or the lyrics during the 1970s but you couldn't really dance to them. A smooth, clean girl could dance to this. That the lyrics made a lot of sense—and you could make out every word on first hearing—was an added bonus.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Sort of political Monday

Why pragmatic liberalism is struggling
Short answer: the Internet has made pragmatic liberalism into a non-adaptive trait. The long answer is below.

In politics pragmatism has two regularly recurring characteristics. The first is an insistence that their views are the result of nothing more that common sense and basic decency. The second is a tendency towards incrementalism: in politics the pragmatic liberal doesn't seek to achieve an agenda so much as to always keep the ball moving in a certain direction.

Insisting on your common sense and basic decency ultimately makes you look crazy
Taking them one at a time, the principal challenge that arises from maintaining your own views are based on common sense and basic decency is explaining someone who disagrees with you. One irony of modern liberalism is that liberals insist that their own motives are simple and transparent, they have produced huge volumes explaining why the people who vote against them arrive at their purportedly mistaken opinions.

The most famous (infamous?) recent example is the suggestion that people "cling to their guns and religion" out of fear and in it we can see the central strategy that has been used in the past. The suggestion is that while the political decisions are transparent, some of the surrounding issues are complicated. So, the politics is obvious but the economics are complicated. Or the psychology is. Or the history is. Once the good liberal patiently explains the larger context, all opposition should vanish.

Oftentimes the explanation needed to be no more than to claim there was an explanation. When I was part of the academic world one of the things that really jumped out at me was how many times people would say there was no need to take some view seriously because it had been "demolished by N". When I would ask what the argument that N had used was, people would get impatient because they didn't want to talk about it any more. They just knew there was an argument and that was all they needed to know to get back to what really concerned them.

Now if patient explaining didn't work, that meant the problem wasn't with the opponents common sense but with their basic decency and thus the common liberal tendency to attack the motives of their opponents.

All of this relies absolutely on the people being explained sitting there like a good little anthropological study subjects and not arguing back. The second they do the whole house of cards comes tumbling down for reasonable people can disagree and there are a wide variety of reasonable political views without abandoning common sense or basic decency.

Pragmatic liberalism, however, is not prepared to acknowledge these. It can only dismiss. On the Internet this has had a disastrous effect for liberals very often come across as surprised and angry that anyone can disagree with them and people who act surprised and angry at opposition tend to look crazy.

Incrementalism ultimately makes you look like either hapless and innefectual or an extremist
Here are two different people talking about the term "progressive" and what it has meant in the American political tradition.

Person #1:
"I prefer the word 'progressive', which has a real American meaning, going back to the progressive era at the beginning of the 20th century.

"I consider myself a modern progressive, someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms, who believes that we are better as a society when we're working together and when we find ways to help those who may not have all the advantages in life get the tools they need to lead a more productive life for themselves and their family.

"So I consider myself a proud modern American progressive, and I think that's the kind of philosophy and practice that we need to bring back to American politics."
This is the voice of the pragmatic liberal. The intent here is very clearly to emphasize common sense and basic decency.

Here is person #2
That understanding is essential to the spread of uprisings and movements like the one that has developed in Wisconsin....

Make no mistake: What is often referred to simply as “Wisconsin” has spread. And it will continue to spread if activists in other states go to their own histories for inspiration.

Every state has radical roots....

In each state, we need to reclaim our progressive history, honor this heritage, and celebrate its continual life. There should be yearly progressive festivals in every state to invoke this unique collective progressive memory....

The empowerment comes from sensing that we are a part of something constant and strong.
This is the voice of the radical. In fact, this person uses 'radical' and 'progressive' as synonyms. That might just scare a few people.

Now the obvious problem for person #1 is how does she (for person #1 is Hillary Clinton) differentiate herself from the radical who (C/O Ann Althouse) is John Nichols writing at The Progressive.

The problem is that Clinton cannot solve the problem in the most direct and obvious way. That is, she cannot simply attack the views of John Nichols and other radicals. Why not? Because she is an incrementalist and she is moving, she in fact wants to move, in the same direction as Nichols. She, obviously enough, doesn't want to be associated with some of his positions but she wants to go in that general direction.

This is an old strategy. Three generations ago, liberals used to distinguish themselves from socialists by insisting that socialists were just liberals in a hurry. They managed to avoid the obvious corollary: that liberals are just go-slow socialists. If progressive really means go-slow radical then you aren't a centrist.

But you don't have to worry about this so long as no one asks the question. Thus the strategy implicit in Clinton's answer above. She wants to reassure people so no one asks where all this is ultimately headed. She does not do this because she has a hidden agenda, as conservatives often charge. No, her problem is that she does not have an agenda and therefore she doesn't really know where it is all headed other than always generally leftwards.

And there is the problem for the liberal argument is always to dismiss ends and argue about means. But again, in an Internet era, the problem is how this makes you look in the midst of a big argument in which anyone can join. Now people can and do ask liberals to differentiate themselves from the more extreme elements on the left not just in terms of means but actual ends. So long as liberals could reasonably keep people focused on the supposed extremism of others, everything is fine. But when it comes to defending their own policy decisions, they look either hapless or extreme.

Where to go?
Okay, I've posed the problem. How do pragmatic liberals get out of this? my suspicion is that they can't. Pragmatic liberalism, or progressivism if you prefer that term, has reached the end of its useful life. All movements come to an end.

Now some one could come in, as a feminist who calls her self Harmony came in on a different post and say,
We don't need to measure our success based on your metrics; that's kind of one of the points of feminism.
That is certainly true to a point and anyone who thinks that feminism or liberalism are ongoing success stories can just keep what they've been doing and see what happens.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #18

Love and Affection by Joan Armatrading
This song was another one that was big with the smooth, clean girls years after it was a hit. They were still listening to it when I got to university in the early 1980s. They weren't the same smooth, clean girls I'd known in high school. No, they were a new set of even better smooth, clean girls—smarter, more sophisticated, better looking and far less prone to send mixed messages. Only now they were smooth, clean preppy girls.  The Indian cotton had been replaced by LL Bean.

I remember visiting these two women who really liked me and I couldn't believe my lucky to be in with them again. They had a sour cream tub that each had to put a dollar into every time she wanted to play this song to prevent either from playing too often. The tune had come out when I was in high school but somehow I'd missed it.

Beyond that I don't know what to say. This is perfect. Not only did the smooth, clean preppy girls love the song, the lyrics told you exactly what you had to do to get in good with them. Happy days were here again for the first time.

By the way, there was a movie that all the smooth, clean girls saw that first year at college and if a guy wanted to get in with them, he had to see it and be able to respond to the things a smooth, clean girl wanted to say about it. You can catch that movie here.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #17

Rich Girl by Hall & Oates
Trying to describe the pain of watching smooth, clean girls my age who were now out of reach singing along to this and trying to believe that "She doesn't realize that it's about her" is too much for me even now. So I won't.

Damn, this is a great tune though.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'll remember Clifford

I like the music of Miles Davis. I really do. Except for the gimmicky stuff starting in the late 1960s.

But Miles Davis would be little more than a footnote if Clifford Brown hadn't died.

 This is high art.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #16

Melody by the Rolling Stones
At some point in the mid 1980s all the cool clubs in town started playing the album this song came from. The album had been a  flop when it came out; it was reviled by critics and ignored by fans. Except the smooth, clean girls who often owned it, or their friends did. And so it just percolated away in the background for years. And then some observant person somewhere noticed that the kinds of girls you wanted in your club seemed to all know and like these songs.

Sometimes back in high school when this or Memory Motel came on you'd find yourself in a tough spot. All the guys you knew would sneer at that "piece of ____". But a couple of tables over, the smooth clean girls would clearly be enjoying it and you'd be torn between trying to get a smile of approval from a girl who'd never give you anything more than that versus continuing to have the respect of your male peers.

And even after you'd decided in favour of retaining the respect of the boys you'd watch the smooth, clean girls moving in their seats and wonder how you were ever going to learn to dance.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Womanly virtues Friday ...

The take away: any time you hear someone use the term "sex positive" it means they're full of crap
Courtesy of Instapundit we have the curious case of the "surprising" story that isn't that surprising at all. Cosmo runs it under this headline:
A Surprising Divorce Predictor You've Never Heard
And what is the predictor? Early sex.
Sociology professors at the school found that women who first had sex before age 16 were more likely to get divorced than those who had waited till after turning 16.
And the difference was not subtle:
How much more likely? Of the female subjects who'd had intercourse at 15 or younger, 31 percent divorced within five years of marriage, and 47 percent split up within 10 years. While the women who had waited till at least 16 had divorce rate of 15 percent at five years, and 27 percent at 10 years.
That is one huge difference.

But is this surprising? Well, it's not even news. Something else, however, was surprising and very interesting and I'll get to that.

This study merely confirms what a number of other studies have already determined. Early sex is a powerful marker for poor impulse control and poor risk assessment skills both of which are traits that predict failure at, well, practically everything including marriage.

Cosmo, shockingly enough, doesn't want to know why this may be and prefers to ask its readers what they think. If we go to the actual study, we learn that having multiple partners and getting pregnant before marriage are also divorce predictors. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that having a tattoo is also predictor of divorce and having multiple tattoos is even more so.

The real news
Now, when I said poor impulse control you might have thought that the impulse in question was these women's desire for sex. It isn't. The really explosive bit of news in the study was this:
Only a small percentage of women who had sex before age 18 said it was completely wanted.
Even 21 percent of women who have their first sex after 18 report it wasn't completely wanted.

This lines up with other recent studies that suggest that women tend to pay a far higher price for sex than men do. Having sex leaves a woman emotionally vulnerable or, to put it another way, it can never be just about the sex for women.

So why would a girl have sex that wasn't completely wanted at such an early age? I was discussing the study with my friend Laura and she nailed the issue immediately, "These girls are the ones who are terrified of not seeming cool."

And that's the impulse they can't control. If you want further evidence, go read the seduction techniques that the creeps who talk about having "game" and being pick up artists use. They don't play on building up a woman's sexual excitement, they play on her need for acceptance. Establish your alpha credibility and then ignore her is the main strategy.

And it works on a surprisingly large number of women. (When I was in high school, there was a guy who went after a girl with a reputation for being "a good girl". His technique? He called her (and I apologize for the term) "cockteaser" in front of all her friends. And I thought, "What a jerk; like she is going to have sex with him now just to prove him wrong". I was wrong. She did exactly that.

Sex positive?
Now, I want to call your attention to an odd disconnect here. This study tells us that the actual act of having sex is a really momentous thing for a woman to do. It tells us that having early sex has powerful effects on a woman's ability to successfully connect with a marriage partner later in life*. In short: it tells us that women's caution about sex is entirely justified. So what do the researchers worry about? They worry about being sex positive.
"The results are consistent with the argument that there are down sides to adolescent sexuality, including the increased likelihood of divorce," Paik said. "But there's also support for the 'more sex positive' view, because if a teen delays sex to late adolescence and it is wanted, that choice in itself doesn't necessarily lead to increased risk of divorce."
I think Anthony Paik means there are downsides to adolescent sex and not adolescent sexuality as being sexual does not require having sex. You can be an adolescent and not have sex but I don't think it's metaphysically possible to be an adolescent and not be sexual. But how surprising is this? Would it come as a shock to you to learn that there are downsides to adolescent driving? Or adolescent drinking? Would you be shocked to learn that there are downsides to  getting married in your teens? Why would we be shocked that taking up an adult activity in your teens carries serious risks?

And we might note that there is all sorts of people getting worked up about outward ways that girls can display their femininity. There is no evidence at all that dressing like a princess when you are a little girl does you any harm and there is no evidence at all that dressing "like a slut" does you any any harm when you are a young woman but there are legions of people trying to stop girls and women from doing these things. There is evidence that suggests that having sex before you are really comfortable with it is not good for you and we have people worrying that they aren't being sex positive enough.

But if you are waiting for someone to hold "Not until" I'm ready marches, you're going to wait a long, long time. But if you really cared about girls, that is what you would push for.

Explaining men to women
Now I would remind you that the people who are so concerned about being "sex positive" here are the writers at Cosmopolitan and academics at the University of Iowa. I remind you lest you be tempted to blame these attitudes on men. For this study actually vindicates some typical male behaviours that are often decried as selfish and irrational.

That guy who never called back after that night of sex? He has merely reached the conclusion that you aren't good relationship material. If anything, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that he'd already concluded you weren't relationship material before the sex and that was why he pushed for sex last night. If he wanted a relationship, he'd have gone slower and more cautiously.

And note that playing hard to get is not the solution. The point is to actually be hard to get.

*Lest I be getting too traditional for anyone here, it does not indicate that remaining a virgin until marriage improves the success rate of marriage although it does indicate that the number of partners before marriage does have a negative effect. You don't need to be pure but you do need to be able to control and restrain myself.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chastity belts and other nonsense revisited

I was walking to the grocery store thinking about these guys who get turned on by having their wives make them wear chastity belts. In an abstract way that is. I'd rather not think of the specifics thank you very much.

The thing is, the general thrust of their sexual play doesn't strike me as that weird. It's not that hard to picture a woman turning to her husband on Wednesday and saying, "Not 'til I give you permission". I'm sure lots of couples play games like that all the time.

The thing that makes the chastity belt guys weird is the elaboration. I mean, if you need a prop, the woman could get a necklace with a purely decorative key on it or a pin and that could be the signal that she had decided to play the game. And she could take the key off and hand it to him as a sign that it's time. I've never done that but I can see how it could be a lot of fun. But getting an actual chastity belt—which must be uncomfortable, expensive, potentially humiliating and even a health hazard—is, what's the technical term, crazy.

What all this elaboration is really telling us is that these people aren't very good at relating to one another as human beings in a sexual way. The elaboration is not unlike the rules that govern organizations such as the military. It makes perfect sense for the military to do this, of course, because in the military a large number of people need to interact successfully. If two people who are supposed to be united in love need the same sort of elaborate rules and rituals to make it work that should tell them that something is wrong.

And that is why I think you get this odd synchronicity where the people into kinky sex games and some Catholic writers end up discussing the supposed positive results of having the women be in control in more or less the same language. Both groups are unable to make sexuality work in an ordinary human context so they need elaborate formal structures to control everything. The end result in both cases is to make male sexuality come across as some sort of moral disease.

It is worth noting that, contrary to what is claimed, these formal structures do not actually give much power to women. For this power is coupled with a commensurate increase in responsibility. If Jill has a key and her husband has agreed to practice absolute restraint when he sees her wearing it that whole game is predicated on the assumption that Jill has promised to make something really good happen a few days down the road. If Jill took to wearing the key as a way of saying, "Not tonight I have a headache", she'd very quickly lose her power in the game as he would lose all interest in playing it.

Similar problems apply in the Catholic situation. Contrary to what some have claimed—that this power could be used to change men—the women more or less have to play their part in the game, meaning that they meet his needs, for it to work.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #15

Lowdown by Boz Scaggs
Baby's into runnin' around,
hangin' with the crowd,
puttin' yo business in the street and talkin' out loud.
Sayin' you bought her this and that and how much you done spent.
I swear she must believe it's all heaven sent.
Yeah, towards the end of high school older guys from outside school moved in on the senior girls and these older guys had cars and money and the girls could dress up a little and the doormen at the club would let them in where we could never go. And for a few years the smooth clean girls were showered with attention and presents. I remember talking to one of the girls from my school five years later and realizing with a jolt that she'd never paid for her own drink even once. What Boz doesn't get around to saying is that the sense of entitlement that girls started to get at that age is entirely justified. They are the most desirable women on the planet. Even the biggest sex symbol of the generation pales next to them.

You would think, by the way, that a few years later when I became one of those slightly older (just older enough) guys with money and a car who could was moving in on those girls myself that I would have had some pity for the poor guys moping around them. You'd be wrong to think that.

Everyone has to toughen up. I made it through it, so can they.

Around this time, the look started to change. The sandals went and were replaced with something finer. The girls still favoured natural fabrics but they slowly became a little less seventies and a style that would soon be called prep started to slide into place. They were still smooth and clean though.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Manly Thor's Day Special

When her state of mind is the whole of the truth
Note to women readers: you may find this offensive.

 A true story
Joel and Patti got married and for the first year they lived in an apartment. Then they bought a house. When the movers and their friends were finally gone they ordered Szechuan take out. Joel went to get it. Patti looked for the box with the dishes in it.

The only dishes she could find was their good china so they had Szechuan take out on Spode plates and ate with the flimsy plastic forks and napkins from McDonalds that Patti found in the glove compartment of the car. Neither of them had remembered to get something to drink so they toasted their new venture with lukewarm tap water in champagne flutes. They laughed and talked and planned late into the night. It was one of the most wonderful nights they'd ever had together.

Patti told everyone they knew about it which miffed Joel just a little. He saw it as a sacred, private memory for just the two of them.

Seven years later, Patti wanted to move. She told Joel her reasons. They were good reasons and he could see her point. The house no longer suited them and they had a daughter now and the local school was not the one they wanted to be sending her to. She wasn't of school age yet but she would be soon enough.

It took a few months to convince Joel but he agreed. At one point, Joel said, "I'll miss this place though."

And Patti said, "Not me, I've always hated this place."

Joel was shocked at this. He had fond memories and he tried to remind her of them. This was a big mistake because Patti's state of mind now was the whole of the truth. She hates the house now, so she has always hated it.

Joel can see that arguing is making it worse. The more he tries to convince her otherwise, the more adamant Patti gets. He realizes he will just have to give up on this but, before letting go, he mentions that first night. And she denies all memory of it because she really has forgotten. So he tries to remind her of the details but she gets angry because the discussion she wants to have right now is about moving out and she thinks he is trying to change her mind.

And she really tears into him, She not only tells him that this is his memory and not hers, she tells him that his obsession with "childish details like this" is "a perfect example of what's wrong with you".

This will happen to you
I watched that one happen. I've changed a few details so no one else will figure out who Joel and Patti are. At the time I thought Joel is just going to have be a man and to suck it up. And he did just that. But I was also sure it would never happen to me. It's always easier to tell the other guy to accept that life is like that so suck it up. Just a few years later it did happen to me for the first time. Not about a house but about something else and not with the woman I was in a relationship with but with a female relative.

It happened with a male friend once. But it happens more often with women. I think it is a pretty safe bet that it will happen with every woman you ever really care about.

The thing that really tears you when it does happen is that you lose something and you can never get it back. It's no help at all to Joel to know that he is right. That's the easy part. What he can never get back is the shared experience. It's no good to him to cherish this memory alone.

If you're any kind of a man, you already know that life means loss. You can accept that things you treasure will be lost. But you figured you'd always have the memories together. But one day, a woman you love will turn to you and tell you, "That is something that matters to you, I never liked it." And she will mean it as she says it.

I wish I could offer some advice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Perspectives on chastity

Ah, the things I could have gone through my entire life never knowing about if it weren't for weird things coming up in what ought to be innocuous google searches.

I was intrigued by Lisa Graas's misuse of the word "chastity" in describing herself using the expression "chaste for life". She seems to think that chastity means abstaining from sex. That's a pretty common misconception but you would expect someone who writes on Catholic issues to know better. (You can abstain absolutely and still be very unchaste whereas a sexually active married couple can be chaste.)

Out of curiousity, I googled the expression "chaste for life" to see what came up and something I wouldn't have guessed came up.

It seems there are couples whose big turn on is to have the husband put on a chastity belt and then hand the key over to the wife. The chastity belt apparently makes any sort of pleasure impossible without her consent while allowing him to do the other things he needs to do. I can't actually picture the, ah, hardware involved.

As you would expect, there are things these couples talk about that Catholic advocates for abstinence and chastity would find a little hard to deal with. What I didn't expect, however, was the number of things they say that wouldn't sound out of place in a Catholic forum. There were guys saying, for example, that the restraint made sex more meaningful and loving when it did happen. And there were guys saying that it made them more respectful of their wives. There was even one guys who said he could see this leading to a lifelong abstinence.

No, I am not and would not conclude anything from this, I just found it ... something.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #14

Love Hangover by Diana Ross
Somewhere along the line the smooth, clean girls who were my age started to become inaccessible because older guys were starting to move in. Meanwhile the ones a few years younger were still off limits to us guys.

Being so far behind a few years earlier had been easy compared to this fresh new hell. The smooth, clean girls in Indian cotton would all smile knowingly when this came on because they knew about a kind of "love hangover" other than what the most obvious interpretation of the song seemed to imply was and we could only guess.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Interesting antecdent problem

This is a point about grammar and meaning so try to put aside your own views on the issues involved and just focus on the grammar of these two sentences.
Most Catholics still understand on some level that abortion and same-sex “marriage” are opposed to true justice. As such, they are opposed to authentic liberty.
 The problem is the word "they" in the second sentence. It stops you dead because you initially think the author's point is that Catholics are opposed to authentic liberty. The point she wants to make is that abortion and same-sex marriage are opposed to authentic liberty.

And the thing that makes the misunderstanding weird is that she has followed the rules. The pronoun should refer back to the noun that immediately precedes it and it does here. So why the confusion?

The problem with the two sentences above is that they are convoluted. We could simplify the language and make problem disappear.
Most Catholics understand that abortion and same-sex marriage are opposed to justice and are, therefore, opposed to liberty.
But now we can see another problem that the convolution was camouflaging. It's like saying, "The cat flew the window". That is a grammatically correct sentence and we all know what "cat", "flew" and "window" mean but we can't imagine any situation where we could use that sentence in our lives and actually mean something.

It's a peculiar notion to think that liberty means following rules. I can understand if someone said, "Follow the rules or you'll go to jail and then you won't have liberty". I can even agree with someone arguing that some liberties are well worth sacrificing as in , "The liberty that comes from being single is worth sacrificing for the fulfillment that comes with marriage". But to say that living a life proscribed by rules is liberty is Orwellian and calling it "authentic liberty" doesn't help.

The two sentences are the work of a writer named Lisa Graas who is new traditionalist Catholic. She describes herself as follows:
Lisa Graas is a convert and a single mom of four living chaste-for-life. 
And there it is again. I would guess that most Catholics would not be able to tell you what "chaste for life" means. The funny thing is that there is no reason to do so. The "for life" adds nothing at all to the word chaste in this context.

No, the problem is that an awful lot of Catholics can't make arguments using the same language that everyone else does. I don't think Graas is unaware of the problem. In certain contexts she might argue that it is a good thing that her language doesn't line up with the common language. Except that sometimes she wants to argue about culture and politics. And there it gets tricky.

Just think, for example, of the issues that led her to use the phrase "Most Catholics still understand". She's not sure other Catholics will be able to understand her. And her concerns are justified.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #13

Still Crazy After All These Years by Paul Simon
They always left you. It's not that it didn't work out. Teenaged love isn't supposed to work out. No, it's the way they dumped you before you even had time to think maybe the end was coming.

The other big hit on this album was "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" but this was the song that summed up the attitude a seventeen-or-eighteen-year-old smooth clean girl in Indian cotton had about leaving you. It's that anticipatory nostalgia again and you'd be watching her listening and realize with a terrified jolt that she was smiling through the saxophone solo at the thought of meeting you years from now because she's about to dump you soon and she is already savouring the bittersweet feeling of looking back on you.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Another premise that dare not speak its name

But isn't hard to figure out. Some gay activists are upset about this but it's not a crime to not want to look gay. It shouldn't even be offensive. The fashion industry for men, such as it is, tends to produce a lot of clothes that are ideal for the man who wants to look gay and not much for men who don't, which is rather odd given that the ratio of heterosexual to gay men is somewhere in the range of 50 to 1.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A suggestion for Anna Pasternak and any other women who think men are getting too picky

Hang around with successfully married women. Don't hang around with other singles.

If you are are single or divorced and not remarried in your 40s you might just have had bad luck but more likely you aren't very good at this relationship business. if you want to get better at it, start hanging around with people who've succeeded and start with the assumption that they know better than you. Then see what you can learn from them.

Are men getting too picky?

Anna Pasternak is concerned that men are becoming "more exacting, arrogant and demanding than we [women] could ever be, and who have this vile presumption that they are some kind of sought-after prize that we would be so lucky to 'get'".

Included in her evidence for this proposition is this:
... when I look around at my girlfriends - bright, attractive, successful, fabulous women in their 40s who are single — I sincerely begin to wonder: Is there even one solvent, kind, desirable, heterosexual single man in his 40s left in Britain?

My friends and I have a horrible suspicion that the answer is no.

The topic was much debated when I went on a detox holiday in Morocco at Easter with nine single women, ranging in age from mid-30s to late-40s and all looking for love.
Because it's not even remotely possible that the sort of woman who goes on detox holidays in Morocco could be a high-maintenance nightmare?

The funny thing about "picky" people is that if they can get away with being picky then it's not really a problem for them. If someone, on the other hand, finds themselves perennially single that is a powerful indicator that there is a problem with them. Yeah, you can get unlucky for a while—just about everyone does—but if you find yourself still single in your forties that is a very strong indicator that there is something wrong with the way you live and the character you have formed.

Sort of political Monday

I want to move away from the Liberals and other formerly powerful parties that are ostensibly centralizing but really  move-to-the left incrementally parties. Before I do, a final thought. This is nothing terribly profound nor is it anything that thousands of others haven't said before me but it needs to be said to close the discussion.

The Liberal Party of Canada, my primary example here, differs from its two chief rivals in two respects:
  1. it elects it leader indirectly, or has elected its leader that way until now as there are discussions to change this, and
  2. it has relied for financial support from a small number of large donors giving large amounts rather than a lot of individuals giving relatively small amounts. There are also efforts to change this.
It will be impossible for the party to do these things and maintain its current policies of governing by brokering between the interests of different groups. Anyone who wants to get elected leader under a  more direct process will have to appeal directly to individuals rather than interest groups and any attempts to collect funds from individual donors will have to appeal to the interests of a large number of individuals rather than interest groups. Powerful interests within the party are fully aware of this and are already manœuvering to block or neutralize any proposed changes. If they succeed the party will die and will deserve to do so.

That, of course, is a problem for the people who are actually members of the party to resolve. They will either succeed or fail. They can go away and work on this and then we'll see what they come up with.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #12

Sara Smile by Hall and Oates
I started off with sandals as one of the essential identifying characteristics of the smooth, clean girls but decided that "smooth, clean girls in Indian cotton with leather sandals" was too unwieldy. But I should say something about the sandals. They were thong sandals with a little loop that went over the big toe and braided thong that ran up through the gap between her toes and across the foot. There was a store downtown in the part of town where the head shops and the Army/Navy Surplus store was and if you were really lucky, a smooth, clean girl in Indian cotton would invite you to come down with her when she went shopping. The two of you would feel very brave walking past all the dope dealers and other street people. I would look at the others and think how dirty they all looked and contrast that rough dirt unfavourably with the clean smooth girl at my side.

The shoes were made of some sort of exotic-sounding but actually dirt cheap leather. Water buffalo maybe? I can't remember.

What I do remember sitting on the beach and listening to a smooth, clean girl named Carol Taylor sing this song and I looked at the callouses on her feet from having walked miles and miles in those sandals. As good as the original version below is, it can't quite match that memory.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

"The Liberal Party of Canada’s core assumptions in politics are about power"

Political ideas (2)
That was how Alfred Apps, the president of the Liberal Party of Canada began an op ed summarizing what the party stands for. The op ed was excerpted from a speech he had made.

If you've spent much time around members of the party, it will be a very familiar line to you. My father, a card-carrying Liberal like his father before him, told me this over and over from when I was a boy in much the same tone as you might say, "that is the whole of the Torah, the rest is just commentary."

And when Liberals claim not to have an ideology, this is how they begin. But if you look at the rest of this piece, you will notice that Apps is also trying to accommodate this notion to something else.

First he gives us the traditional Liberal view:
... the primary ongoing role of the state should be to transfer power from the powerful to the less powerful.
In practice that has meant, that the government should act as a broker between interests or, as the Doug Saudners piece that began this discussion has it:
The big-tent parties functioned, during their glory years in the postwar decades, as the paternal overlords of protected, closed national economies, engaging in brokerage politics whereby the fruits of growth could be spread out among clients and beneficiaries ...
You might object that Apps description describes something more morally pure and that is true but in practice that purity transfers into the brokerage practice Saunders describes. And it matters little whether we are being moral idealists or hard-nosed pragmatists (two stances the Liberals have adopted as has suited their purpose of the moment) for that approach is different from this:
... because we believe in the primacy of the individual, we think of that power being placed in the hands of individuals to the maximum extent possible.
And here, we have, I think the real crux the Liberals face. They are a party whose real ideology—however much they deny having one—has been to continually expand the government's power to act as a broker between interest groups that is trying to adjust to a time when civic life has become much more individualistic (and see the post immediately below for evidence that Liberal issues are becoming less meaningful).

And it has become more individualistic in a large part because the project of serving interest groups has changed the way we see public goods. But that is a subject for net week.

Sort of political Monday

One of the big temptations in life is to analyze global phenomena in local terms. I've been going on about the decline of the west's big centre-left parties for a few weeks now in large part because I think this is one of those phenomena that we have to look at from the larger perspective.

If I were still a Liberal, the following chart would make me break out in a cold sweat.

That shows the percentage of the popular vote garnered by the Liberal Party in federal elections beginning in 1945 running up to the most recent election this May. I've left out all other parties, who won and so forth so what we can focus on the larger trend and that larger trend is negative. The peaks keep getting a little lower than the last peak and the troughs keep getting deeper; the long term trend is down.

Regardless of who the leader was at any particular moment, no matter which of the various factions within the party was dominant, the Liberal Party of Canada has been getting progressively less popular for more than sixty years now.

A good party leader would look at this and immediately realize that a a return to fundamentals is not what is called for but, rather, would conclude that it's time to rethink those fundamentals. It's not a matter of blame. The accordion was once the most popular musical instrument in the world and then it was supplanted by the guitar. This didn't happen because there was something wrong with the accordion. It happened because the culture around the accordion changed making it a far less desirable instrument.  The culture around the Liberal Party and the other formerly great centralizing parties has changed making these parties, as they have existed until now, far less desirable than they used to be.

The good news for these parties is that they are not like a musical instrument. They have the power to redefine themselves to be more in accord with the culture. That, however, is precisely what they are not doing as I will discuss later this morning.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #11

Rhiannon and (added) Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac
The first time I heard Rhiannon I was in the car with my sister and three of her friends. They could see my puzzled expression at the obvious reverence they held the song in. "It's about a witch", one of them explained and that, apparently, should have been sufficient.

I've never liked it but smooth, clean girls in Indian cotton loved it not least because of the essential role model handling the vocals on the tune. If there was a woman the smooth, clean girls wanted to grow up to be more than any other that woman was Stevie Nicks.

Gold Dust Woman revisits the same theme several years later and is a vast improvement. I remember sometimes catching girls listening intently to this when they didn't think anyone paying attention to it and being able to tell what she was dreaming about.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #10

Love Will Keep us Together By Captain and Tenille
If there is one thing that distinguishes women who really love music from men who really love music it is that the women are far less likely to be purists about it. They are willing to like a song simply because they like it and let's have no nonsense about authenticity or fine parsing of the lyrics. And, you know, they are right. Put your purist attitudes away for three minutes and just enjoy what is a wonderful little song.

The opposite of anticipatory nostalgia is the unabashed happy song and this fits the bill perfectly. Well, almost. For the most part smooth, clean girls in Indian cotton stood out from their peers because they were forward oriented. They saw themselves as women in the making rather than as girls. But no matter how she might set out to be, some kinds of pure blissful happiness win out and here it is.

 I hinted above that there was a flaw in the ointment. Here it is:
Young and beautiful
Someday your looks will be gone
When the others turn you off
Who'll be turning you on.
 No smooth, clean girl in Indian cotton old was ever so  hopelessly blissed out by thoughts of love and happiness that she could miss the darkness hiding here. I believe that one of the things that distinguishes the way women listen to music (and the reason they don't feel the need to be purists about music) is that women are willing to be satisfied if the music fits the mood of the time. The darkness was noted and then excluded as not worth worrying about right now.

And she still has painful memories of the boyfriend she had in college who sneered at her musical taste and how he never heard this without launching into a tedious rant about the supposed superiority of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division.

If a smooth, clean girl hears this song today when others are present, she will respond with a bemused smile. If she is alone, she'll crank the volume and sing along. If the Joy Division song comes along and others are present she'll say something positive about it. If she is alone, she'll turn it off.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Not losing his timing late in his career

I linked this video at the bottom of yesterday's smooth song. I want to revisit it today because I think it says something really important about real artistry.

This is pretty late in Sinatra's career and his voice is not what it was and yet it hardly matters for he can still turn out something as great as this. But the real surprise is that the actual techniques he uses to achieve this artistry aren't that difficult to do. He doesn't do anything here that lots of other singers can't do. The difference is how meticulous, careful and thoughtful he is about it.

The primary technique Sinatra uses here is called rubato. It means stealing time from some notes in order to linger on others.

So he lingers on the word "in" in the couplet:
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air. 
There is a little jump to the music as written on the word "in" suggesting a trapeze artist letting go of one bar and jumping to another. Sinatra doesn't change that but he enhances it—he lingers on "in" and then hesitates just a moment and then rushes through "mid-air"—and we get that sense of watching the trapeze artist as she seems to hang in mid air and we all hold our breath wondering if she is going to catch the other bar or fall to her death.

That is really important because it is a Broadway song. On stage it has a specific context but sung as a standard that context is gone. Most interpretations of this song come across as a little narcissistic because we don't get any sense of any other person involved. With that almost-missed catch, Sinatra makes us feel that there really is some other person in this relationship; some other person worth caring for and worrying about.

He does it again on the couplet:
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
He really makes the melody move thought tearing around and then stops it on "can't'. Again, this is not rocket science and yet no one else does it quite so thoughtfully.

The accompaniment from Tony Mottola is also an amazing example of doing a lot with a little. The basic rule of accompaniment is that when there is a lot happening with the melody the accompaniment should be simple, when the melody gets simple, you make the accompaniment a little more busy.

Okay, but notice how at 2:33 when Frank has finished singing "don't bother they're here" and he is lingering on the last word Mottola slips some circus music under "here". It's moments like this that hammer home just how over-rated Charlie Parker is. There is nothing even remotely like showing off here.This is music performed for the benefit of the audience and not, as with Parker for the performer and a few insiders.

And then immediately after that Frank sings two questions. 
Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Mottola puts a rock solid chordal foundation under the first question and then pulls the rug out from under the next one. And, by doing so, he makes you rethink the whole meaning of the song. The protagonist is the one who keeps asking "Isn't it rich?" like someone wrapping themselves in a protective armor made of solid irony. But the "Isn't it queer?" is far more forlorn like someone who has lost all sense of what is or isn't normal.

And Mottola comes back to the question to finish the song as if to say, we're finished, now over to you.

It doesn't get any better than this.

Burying the lead

(Note: No, it is not supposed to be "lede.)

Imagine that your company screwed up and delivered lousy service. Now imagine that a journalist calls up and offers to write a major thumbsucker about your error only framing it so as to actually make you the hero.

Well, if you're Frank Graves of the Ekos polling company, you don't have to imagine because Michael Valpy did just that. Short version: Ekos numbers were off last election because they failed to anticipate that young people are considerably less likely to vote than older people. And water is still wet, men and women are still different from one another in important ways and bears do use the woods for a toilet. Oh yeah, Michael Valpy also thinks that the fact that young people don't vote in large numbers is a deeply troubling sign for our democracy and it's hard not to suspect that is mostly because the party he thinks ought to have won didn't.

But for all its triteness, the Valpy piece does contain one fascinating fact:
On one side of the gap: Canadians over 45 enthusiastically favouring the Conservatives, with a likelihood of voting starting at about 60 per cent and rising with age to more than 80 per cent. 
Meaning that baby boomers overwhelmingly vote conservative. Also meaning that the age group most likely to read the Globe and Mail also vote conservative, a detail you'd never guess in a million years if you took the Globe itself as your guide to the attitudes and beliefs of that age group. 

But here is the thing, rewind back to 1990 when today's 45 year old was twenty-five and what do you find? Why, you'd find some things the same and some things different. You'd find that young people favour the Liberals or NDP  but are less likely to vote. That's the part that is the same.

But on the other side, you'd find that older people were more likely to favour the Liberals. That is where the real action is. Left-leaning parties always get the youth in polls, elections are won or lost on the basis of that over-forty vote.

Hef versus Friedan

There is a rather tortured bit of journalism in this morning's Globe asking whether Hugh Hefner might be a feminist. Despite having linked to it, I can assure you there isn't a single thing in it that you couldn't have successfully guessed upon being told the title was "Dirty old man or radical feminist?"

And it is rather odd to have this review and the book it is about surface the same week Hef was revealed to actually be a pathetically deluded old loser.

All that said, the joke profile the writer has provided at the tail of the piece is significant:
Unlike most girls at her gym, Toronto writer Rosemary Counter doesn't have a Playboy bunny tattoo.
And that is telling for the real question is not who is or is not a feminist but rather, "Who has had the most lasting influence on young women today?" And by that standard, Hef wins in a walk.

By the way, check out Rosemary Counter's book. No, really, check it out  it's relevant to the question.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My sole post on the Weiner scandal

Not unrelated to the privacy in the global village stuff I was talking about earlier today, one of the things we can all do now is see the inside of the condo owned by Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin.  This is one of the featured photos:

Those embroidered cushions are presumably for Huma and Anthony but I immediately thought, how convenient that it also works for Huma Abedin, so she can divorce him and not have to get rid of the cushions.

More seriously, the context shifts in interesting ways don't you think. They agreed to have these photos put online to help sell their condo not to have guys like me make snide remarks on their embroidered pillows. All it took was a little cross-referencing though, and it's all out in public.

PS: the 850 square foot condo was listed for $449 K. After hearing for years now about how awful the New York real estate market is, that doesn't strike me as all that bad.

The village elite

We live in an era where more and more of us have less faith in our betters.

Consider, for example, the case of Alexandra Samuel. Who is she? Here is her blurb:
Alexandra Samuel is the Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the co-founder of Social Signal.
And her blog is published under the auspices of the Harvard Business Review.

She is deeply troubled by what happened in Vancouver. Not by the riots themselves, which she assures us she can take in stride. No, what troubles her is that ordinary citizens might use social media to help get the idiots responsible for this arrested.
But it's one thing to take pictures as part of the process of telling your story, or as part of your (paid or unpaid) work as a citizen journalist. It's another thing entirely to take and post pictures and videos with the explicit intention of identifying illegal (or potentially illegal) activity. At that moment you are no longer engaging in citizen journalism; you're engaging in citizen surveillance.
Because engaging in citizen surveillance is a self-evidently bad thing? As opposed to, say, a morally good and caring thing we can do for the good of the community we all share and value.

She goes on:

What social media is for — or what it can be for, if we use it to its fullest potential — is to create community. And there is nothing that will erode community faster, both online and off, than creating a society of mutual surveillance.
The level of delusion here is stunning. What community doesn't consist of mutual surveillance?

Here's a suggestion, what really is going on here is something else and you might call it fear of the global village. Villages are inherently more conservative than cities for the simple reason that it is harder to escape the surveillance of others. This plays out in weird ways. Joe who lives in a big city might, for example, go cruising for sex at night and write articles promoting traditional sexual morality by day. And he can do this confident that the "community" he hangs out with at night won't overlap much with the "community" of readers he has during the day. In a village the overlaps between groups are much wider and there is less moral anonymity as a consequence.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Neither I suspect. People have managed to live happy lives in both villages and cities and we'll adjust to what comes along. There will be some losses and some gains. But an elite made up of people who think that rioting and looting as something they can take in their stride but see citizen surveillance and a clear and present danger is something we can do without. And more and more of us are deciding these people are not worthy of our respect.

Because it's summer: smooth song(s) of the day #9

Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez and Send in the Clowns by Judy Collins
The Baez song was an odd one for smooth, clean girls in Indian cotton to love but love it they did. Generally, they didn't go for songs that felt like they belonged to the sixties generations unless they were introduced to them by an older sister. This was one big exception. I think they would have loved it a lot less if they'd known it was about Bob Dylan.

It was a song that fits into a category I call anticipatory nostalgia. A girl can sit there listening to a song like this and think how terribly cool it will be to have her heart broken so romantically that she'll really understand what all the words to this mean.

The Judy Collins song, OTOH, felt odd at the time ("a Broadway tune?") but now makes perfect sense. It is, in every way, a vastly superior piece of songwriting. It actually goes somewhere both lyrically and harmonically instead of endlessly circling around the same vaguely expressed lyrical notions over the same boring chord sequence like the Baez song does. You might object that there are much better interpretations out there, and there are, but this one is good enough.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.

Update, I can't resist adding this. Here is a version:

Womanly virtues Friday ...

Homo-eroticism again
I know, I know, I keep coming back to this but not for the reasons you think. What I want to call our attention to is not something to titillate us or to make us laugh. There are already nine gazillion other people doing that. I want to remind us how ordinary homo-eroticism between women is. Here is an image to ponder (Courtesy of James Lileks who doesn't own the image but went to a lot of trouble to find it and scan it so go see what he has done with it).

The product is Bon Ami, a company that has been in business for 120 years now. A name that, as most people already know, literally means "good friend" and that is probably the idea being the image here. The good friend offers to help with the clean up but no need thanks to my Bon Ami. But an advertisement that featured two men looking at one another like that would be the subject of endless comment and snickering. But it is so ordinary between women isn't it?

Why if you were  in the kitchen at the end of a party and you saw one Elaine come in the door and look at Jill that way. You'd feel the erotic spark but you wouldn't think anything unusual was happening. If Elaine came in and looked at Ben that way you'd begin to wonder what was happening between them and likewise if Frank came in and looked at Ben that way. But a frankly erotic gaze between two women is the most ordinary thing in the world.

And remember that this ad was intended to sell products to women.  It would have appeared in a women's magazine.

The woman who has just finished cleaning the counter has an interesting Georgia O'Keefe thing going in front. I always think of this wonderful picture of Edith Wharton when I see something like that.

Note the seam that connects the bodice to the skirt of the dress and then the pattern of the stripes on the skirt; notice particularly the way the over-skirt with the vertical stripes opens up to reveal another layer where the patterns form, of all things, a series of V shapes. Why it's almost as if everything about this dress was intended to remind you of what was underneath.  It seems that way ("seams" that way?) because that is exactly what it was intended to do. (By the way: You'd never guess from that photo what a miserably unhappy sex life Wharton had.)

That a woman presents herself to everyone, including other women, in a frankly erotic way is a very ordinary thing. That is something worth remembering the next time someone tells you there is something unusual about the eroticization of girlhood today. There is nothing unusual at all about this. It's what young women do and always have done.

I'll tell you what is unusual. What is unusual is the notion of an extended period of innocence called childhood. If you go back through history, that is the thing that no one else has ever had.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #8

Boulder to Birmingham by Emmylou Harris
There was this girl, I can't mention even her first name because someone will figure out who I'm talking about. Her father was the chief of police and she had a leather bikini. She only wore the top in front of me (usually matched with a black taffeta skirt that looked like it belonged in a vintage western). When she wanted to see my poor little boy brain explode and splatter grey matter all over the walls, she would wait until her parents went out, pour me a glass of her daddy's best whisky, put Emmylou on the stereo and casually remark that it was hot and slip out of her shirt to reveal this leather bra.

For some reason I was firmly convinced that this song was about Martin Luther King (it's actually about Gram Parsons) at the time so I have rather odd associations involving a smooth, clean girl in a cotton shirt and skirt with a leather bra underneath when I read about the civil rights struggles thanks to her.
The series starts here.

The next song is here.

The Canadian sin (2)

The Globe and Mail has actually devoted an editorial to the subject of last night's loss:
The drought is unbearable and unnatural. There are Canadians nearing the age of majority who have never seen a Canadian team win the Cup. The last was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. It is, in Canadian terms, a deprived childhood.
That is so pathetic I can't begin to comment. I'm almost, almost inclined to think that there is some moral justice that Boston won given that any team whose fans spout moral drivel like that should lose.

The Canadian sin

A fairy-tale season that seemed destined to culminate with the franchise's first Stanley Cup title instead ended in profound disappointment Wednesday night for the Canucks.
But what about the other team's fairytale? They had one too.

I was a hard core hockey fan once. Then I went to see the Edmonton Oilers. Twice. It was the legendary Oilers squad when Gretzky was playing at the height of his powers. I went away depressed, especially the second time.

'Legendary" is the right word to describe famous moments in hockey. If you had, as I had up until that point, gotten all of your knowledge about the Edmonton Oilers from watching games on television and reading articles and books about them there was an important thing about the team you would have been in complete ignorance of. Because the commentary always talked about the brilliant plays, the tactical genius and so forth. They never mentioned that even by hockey standards, which are not impressive, the Oilers were a very dirty team. Especially Mark Messier and Esa Tikkanen.

They weren't the dirtiest team to play the game but they were dirty players and that dirtiness was one of two factors that had much more to do with their winning than anyone wants to admit.

The other was that the game officials protected Gretzky. Gretzky was a brilliant player and would have been effective even if they hadn't been but he was a lot more effective given that every player on the ice knew they could end up in the penalty box for what would have been a perfectly legal body check on any other player in the league.

The Canadian sin is the desire to see the world in terms of fairy tales. We invest ourselves in fantasies about moral destiny based on nothing but our desire that it should be so. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of the game of hockey knows that high-scoring teams tend to come unstuck in the playoffs. When it really matters, such a team can always be ___ed up and that is what happened here.

It's the nature of the game and always has been. If you had to put hockey on the spectrum of sports it belongs down towards the same end as professional wrestling. It's not anywhere as bad as professional wrestling but it tends in that direction. And the big reason it remains this way is that we Canadians never seem to lose the capacity to look at this vicious frontier game and convince ourselves that we are watching a finesse game with fairytale storyline.

And nothing will even get us to question that. Not even this:
It was the first unleashing of tear gas in the city since the infamous Stanley Cup riots that erupted in 1994, when the Canucks also lost the seventh game of the Cup final.
 I love the Globe's headline on that story by the way "Rioting overshadows hockey as Vancouver reels after Game 7 loss". Yeah, like the way the Lincoln assassination overshadowed a good play.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

is there anything more cruel than poetic justice?

Hugh Hefner's 'fiancé' was reportedly playing him:
Hugh Hefner's wedding to Crystal Harris was called off after she secretly planned to ditch the Playboy mogul at the altar in return for a $500,000 media deal, Page Six has exclusively learned.

Harris, 25, was shopping for a big-bucks deal to tell all after she ditched hapless Hef, 85, in front of 300 guests at their wedding at the Playboy Mansion on Saturday, to be filmed for a Lifetime TV special. 
If virtue can be it's own reward, some kinds of vice can be there own punishment.

Because it's summer: smooth song of the day #7

Midnight Blue by Melissa Manchester
Speaking of irony, I think there used to be a porn magazine called Midnight Blue. It was printed on pulp paper and the title was either "Midnight Blue" or something close to that. I remember finding a pile of them in my friend's garage and realizing they must belong to his dad. When this song came out, I remember thinking it was ironic that porn should share the same title as this song which I honestly believed had nothing to do with sex. I believed this for the simple reason that I believed that no smooth, clean girl in Indian cotton I knew could have anything to do with sex (outside of my fantasies about them that is) and so I figured that the fact that they all loved this song meant it couldn't be about sex.

Okay, girls are ahead of boys at that age and my failing to notice what this song was about is further proof of something that needs no further discussion. But, given that all of us boys are now grown up enough that we know what the song is about we might also notice the attitude expressed: she wants sex now because she wants sex and she is even willing to say "maybe it's not the end" when it is clear that it is the end and she is leaving. There is a male song "For the Good Times" by Kris Kristofferson that expresses exactly the same sentiment (added below) but women were not supposed to think this way and yet here they were thinking this way. Liberation? Your call.

Here is the Reverend Al Green giving the Kristofferson song far more care than it deserves.

The series starts here.

The next song is here.