Thursday, January 31, 2013

Manly Thor's Day Special: the launch of hipster chick history month

I was talking to a friend about Lana Del Rey (I love Lana Del Rey) and how I'd just heard her most recent EP for the first time this week. I quite like it and I bought it. And he said something along the lines of of, "The hipsters all loved her until she got really popular and then they turned against her."

I think that is completely wrong-headed. What really happened is that the hipsters or, to be more precise, the hipster chicks ate up Lana Del Rey and that had the effect of raising her profile enough that she became the target of all the people who hate the hipster chick style. And they hate it because it is a style. At the same time, they don't hate it because the girls who adopt the style are so damned desirable. But again, they do hate it because hipster girls tend to be unavailable to them. It's all terribly complicated. Long story short, poor Lana became the perfect target for their hatred when she came along.

The hipster chick has a long history. I don't know exactly when she starts but Jackie Gleason did a concept album called Tawny in 1954 all about falling in love with such a girl. This was an easy listening album, which is to say that the type had to have been already well-established enough that Gleason could take it for granted that he didn't have to explain it to anyone; he could take it for granted, in fact, that millions of men would buy the record, which they did. And Audrey Hepburn was already parodying the type in the 1957 movie Funny Face. I'm sure there are earlier examples.

It's a fascinating style because it's one of those rare male sexual fantasies where you can find lots of girls willing to live the part. No, much more than that, where you can find lots of girls who want to be the part for reasons of their own. You might find a girl willing to play at being a Baby Doll type or even who has a secret sexual fantasy of playing the part but you won't find many girls willing to adopt the type as her personal style in everything.

There are millions of girls in every generation who eat up the hipster style like it was candy and would do it even if it weren't attractive to boys and, cough, older men. And this, odd as it may seem, is one of the reasons for the anger. If you are a man and your secret thrill is to be dominated, you'll probably have to pay someone to do it as most women hate doing this, but you won't be taunted by the presence of dominant-type women you can't have all around you every day. But if you are into hipster chicks, you could well end up like the the stranded sailor surrounded by water he cannot drink. There are always hipster chicks—sometimes more sometimes fewer depending on fashion—but they aren't easily available.

It's worth noting that one of the reasons they tend to be unavailable is that they became hipster chicks for themselves and not to attract men. They aren't stupid, they know some men like the look a lot, but they did it because being a hipster was a thrilling thought for them. Sex was part of it but the main reason was because the whole style appeals to these women all the time and not the tiny fraction of time they have sex whereas the men who obsess about them think only in terms of sex.

The other big reason hipster chicks attract so much hatred is political. Hipster style is a style and liberals hate style for style's sake, or at least they affect to do so when it suits them. They only tolerate hipster style under one of two conditions. First, they will tolerate it when it is directly tied to a political movement, which it rarely is. Second, they'll tolerate it when it is tied directly to some sort of gritty reality (thus the same people who hated Lana Del Rey will typically love Girls).

In any case, I was thinking of devoting the entire month of February to writing about Hipster Chick Style. I don't do this on the basis of any authority or special knowledge. To be honest, I never really thought about it much. I have long been interested as a consequence of falling in love with the much older hipster chick wife of a friend of the families when I was about fourteen years old. I'm doing it for the simple reason that I damn well want to, which is the great thing about having a blog. If you think I don't know what I'm talking about and want to tell me so, fire away.

I'm going to say little about the clothing and more about the intellectual and moral aspects of the style, which will, no doubt, offend the people who believe there are none. I'm not sure where I'm going to start but I will start tomorrow. There were, I think, hipster men before there were hipster women so I'll probably start with the question of why that was and why women in the 1920s weren't quite so keen to adopt the style as men.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I'd like to revisit that bit I quoted from an article about Sylvia Plath yesterday.
It was obvious from her poetry that Sylvia thought herself in love. Yet Perry had a rather different perspective. ‘It was all incredibly innocent. Our dating comprised of just getting together and talking or bicycle riding. I viewed her as a tremendously appealing person, but I never recall ever being romantically attracted to her, which puzzled me because she was so pretty.’
Perhaps one of the reasons was Sylvia’s emotional inconsistency. Whereas she assumed a boy would remain fixed in his feelings for her – to remain in awe – she felt able to flit from one heart-throb to another.

She never grew out of this capriciousness. She was forever in a state of emotional flux, yet assumed those around her to be fixed, their gaze directed towards her alone.
As I said yesterday, the problem being described here is not "emotional inconsistency". Plath, in fact, never changed. She always saw those outside of her primarily as being those who were, or should be, interested in her. Her emotional focus was very consistent; it was always on Sylvia Plath.

Okay, but why should we care about this narcissistic loser, especially given that she offed herself decades ago?

Answer: No reason I can think of.

But what virtue should she have had? What virtue should we all have?

If we simply take "emotional inconsistency" and reverse it we get "emotional consistency". Is that the thing we should aim for?

Well, we spend a lot of time trying to convince ourselves of that. It doesn't matter how lame pop songs on the theme of "I will always love you" get, they still find millions of buyers. And Adele can sing a song about being a creepy stalker showing up outside her now-married-ex's place and people will sit around crying into their chardonnay because it's so terribly meaningful that some loser should still feel love for the person who they can never have.

Here's another question: Hey Adele, the guy left you and married someone else, has it ever occurred to you that he might have done that for good reasons? Maybe you were selfish, maybe you were never around when he needed you, maybe you criticized him all the time, maybe you were a really lousy lay. Instead of focusing endlessly on your own emotions, maybe a few hard questions about what you have done wrong would be apropos. Starting with, I know I repeat myself, why are you stalking this guy?

The virtue we should be aiming for is the one Jane Austen praised: constancy. Constancy is not an emotion; it isn't inside us. Constancy is something that can be recounted in terms of behaviour and not by pointing "inside" myself at some nebulous thing that others have no way of telling if it is actually there.

Have you ever seen this scenario. Someone you know is in a relationship with some guy/gal and she/he speaks critically of them all the the time. Then the much criticized guy/gal leaves her/him and suddenly she/he is wallowing in her pain and talking about how much she/he loved him/her. And the thing is, they aren't lying if lying means saying something you know to be untrue. They genuinely believe what they are saying.

Of course, what they are saying isn't actually true simply because they feel it to be true. Emotions work that way. Emotions are always true when you feel them. If you feel cheated, then you feel cheated because the measure of the feeling is the feeling. No one who feels cold ever asks themselves, "Do I really feel cold?" And if you later feel warm, it doesn't make sense to think, "Did I really feel cold? Maybe I just thought I felt cold?"

It doesn't even make sense to ask whether you really were cold. The room may have been eighty degrees but if I felt cold then I felt cold. There is no room for dispute.

If love is a feeling, then there is no way to test love. It makes no sense to accuse someone, or ourselves, of being emotionally inconsistent, if love is a feeling. If, on the other hand, love is going to be something we can prove, then love has to be something that can be measured in terms of actual behaviours.

Constancy! It means loyal and dependable. Is that love? It is if we mean by love what Saint Paul meant by love (that reading comes up this Sunday by the way). It is if we mean by love something that is self-sacrifice for another person. This self-sacrifice can be quite joyful. Most of the time it is. Sometimes it isn't and sometimes it is excruciatingly painful. Either way, it can be justified by pointing at behaviour.

Try it in the case of selfishness. Think of Adele showing up and stalking her ex. She says she still loves him and the proof of that is ... that she is behaving like a creep trying to disrupt his life?

But, but, but, she hasn't gotten over him, she feels pain, it isn't her fault.

Maybe, but would you enter into a relationship with someone if you knew she or he was capable of that sort of thing? Okay, turn it around, do you think anyone else would want you knowing you are?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Double standards

Sylvia Plath didn't like them:
She didn’t want boyfriends to think she was ‘fast’. But what was so bad about showing love and affection?
The double standard particularly angered her: if a girl said she was going steady with a boy, he could still do almost anything; whereas if a girl dated lots of guys she was considered loose and cheap. 
On the other hand, she claimed to have had hundreds of boyfriends. All of this according to Andrew Wilson, who has written a book called Mad Girl's Love Song about Plath. The article at the length is also supposedly written by him but it seems to be more of a hasty and poorly done cut and paste job from something else, possibly the book in question.

Where does one draw the line between a reasonable number of boyfriends or girlfriends and too many? Somewhere before "hundreds" no doubt. Even allowing for hyperbole, Plath is not credible on this (actually, she isn't very credible generally speaking).

The long life of Sylvia Plath mythology is puzzling. Her poetry is really good at times but not particularly special even by the low, low standards of the 20th century. The chief limitation of it is that it often tends to be about Sylvia Plath and while Sylvia Plath was clearly an object of endless fascination to Sylvia Plath she was a shriveled, miserable mess of a human being.

Yet, while her life is boring and pathetic, there is little industry of books about her, a little community of people who like to wallow in that pathetic life.

Here is something to think about: although double standards angered her, she had one of her own and it's a lulu:
It was obvious from her poetry that Sylvia thought herself in love. Yet Perry had a rather different perspective. ‘It was all incredibly innocent. Our dating comprised of just getting together and talking or bicycle riding. I viewed her as a tremendously appealing person, but I never recall ever being romantically attracted to her, which puzzled me because she was so pretty.’
Perhaps one of the reasons was Sylvia’s emotional inconsistency. Whereas she assumed a boy would remain fixed in his feelings for her – to remain in awe – she felt able to flit from one heart-throb to another.

She never grew out of this capriciousness. She was forever in a state of emotional flux, yet assumed those around her to be fixed, their gaze directed towards her alone.
Is it too rude to point out that there is nothing emotionally inconsistent about that attitude? To the contrary, it's very consistent, you might even say pathologically so. (It is one of the fond fantasies of intellectuals to imagine that the narcissism that is so prevalent in our culture is driven by commercialism but it is far easier to find its roots in high culture as here with Sylvia Plath.)

Does some odd drug switch off intellectuals brains when they read or write about Sylvia Plath. She "assumed those around her to her to be fixed, their gaze directed towards her alone." Does that sound like someone to admire and study? Is anybody even a tiny bit surprised that a woman who thought this way might commit suicide after discovering that her husband had an affair with another woman? Is anybody really shocked that a man married to such a woman would have an affair? (That is once we get over the surprise at his having married her in the first place.)

Her physical attractions, by the way, were considerable. There is a shot of her in a one piece bathing suit with the straps down at the link that is worth clicking on the link just to see. I'm sure that has nothing to do with anything about her character though.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Feminisism subverted

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” 
The  quote is from Simone de Beauvoir. It appeared on Chantelle lingerie's Facebook page this morning with the following question appended: "Don't you agree?"

The irony, of course, is that de Beauvoir would not agree to her own words in this context. Her point was to destroy the claim that women were women because of biology, temperament or intellect. Chantelle's point is that being a woman is an achievement and that a necessary, although not sufficient, condition for being a woman is becoming a convincing sexual being in the eyes of others. In other words, that biology (in several senses of the word) matters a whole lot.

And it matters in the eyes of others!

What, did feminism not happen?

The two views are not directly opposed in content, as we shall see, they agree on the salient points, but they are very much opposed in intent.

Unlike her friend and companion Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir did not believe women were free or could be free in the radical stoic sense. You couldn't simply reject the culture you were born in and say, "I'm going to be a woman entirely on my own terms." What it is to be a woman, in her view, will always be determined by the male gaze; she will become what she is seen as. Feminism, as a consequence, was a project to change society right from the beginning.

That is far from crazy. Anyone who has watched high school kids in action will know that kids tend to become what their peers see them as. Three is no practical reason why the wimpy boy couldn't start working out and become athletic and strong but, generally speaking, he doesn't. And, in this, his situation is analogous to de Beauvoir's "woman". It is the gaze of other students, the cruelly contemptuous attitude other boys and girls  take towards him for not being masculine enough, that drives the identity he assumes. And, fascinatingly enough, he rarely changes; he tends to remain the effeminate type that others hate right through high school.

Of course, biology may have something to do with it. He may not be genetically inclined to exercise or muscle development. Except that I knew guys like him in high school who later turned around and became quite athletic and manly. Talking to them later, it was really obvious that they became athletic to compensate for how they were treated in high school.

But they couldn't do it while still in high school. The wimpy boy had to change his society before he could change himself. He did that by graduating and going elsewhere.

It's not hard to think of reasons why that might be. To work out, he'd have to go to the weight room and gym and those areas are dominated by just the people who'd mock him. He could, in theory, get weights to work out at home or join a private club but that is unlikely. So he remained, for the duration of high school anyway, exactly what they expected of him.

Human types are the result of moral syndromes. That is to say, there are sets of moral values that go together and when you adopt any one value, a whole boatload of others tend to go with it. We like to fantasize that this isn't the case. We want to believe that the cello-playing truck driver should be an option available to every kid but the plain fact is that the people you meet at cello school aren't going to admire truck drivers and the people you meet at truck-driving school aren't going to admire cellists. You may feel very strongly that it shouldn't be that way but it is. If you want to go to cello school or truck-driving school, you assume a whole lot of values that go with it.

Of course, one is a woman or a man; you don't choose these identities, and nothing transsexuals imagine to be the case changes this. A whole syndrome-load of values comes along with it. And the syndrome comes along no matter what you do. You can, as our culture sometimes likes to pretend, that it doesn't matter but it matters and it matters a whole lot.

And the odd thing about these roles is that in western culture to be a woman is far more of a sexual role than to be a man. No one necessarily expects a man to be a sexual being. Everyone, particularly other women, expects a woman to be a sexual being. If she isn't she is regarded as something of a failure.

That is why there is no multi-billion dollar industry selling male-sexuality to men the way there is such an industry, including Chantelle lingerie, for women.

Why this remains the case is an interesting thing. There are women, although not many, who buy out of the identity. They reject the notion that they have to present themselves as sexual beings. And there are far more women who, although they go along with the notion, do so with some feeling of doing so under duress. If large numbers of them decided they just weren't going to play the game anymore, we'd see massive social change.

But they don't.

And it is important not to say more than we know. We could speculate about the whys and wherefores, but the simple truth is that we don't know. This isn't a complete return to traditional sexual roles, although we don't know what the future might hold. All we know is that in this one area, it is very much like it used to be.

And I'll stop there and end with a reminiscence. I remember very clearly the moment when the women I knew started to shift back. And you could explain it with two words: Annie Lennox. For the women I knew, Lennox was the one who wrapped the notion that a woman had some sort of obligation be a sexual being in a feminist mantle. I remember seeing her perform live sometime in the middle 1980s and she came out on stage in a black dress with a red lace bra clearly visible underneath it. That seems tame by today's standards, but no one but strippers dressed like that in 1984, and only while working.

I was part of a group of about fourteen people and expected that the conversation afterwards would be dominated by the men but it was the women who were smitten. They couldn't stop talking about her.

Here is a little exercise in visual analysis for you. Watch the video below a few times. Notice the narrative line. It's ostensibly about a woman gaining freedom from a nasty, a possibly abusive boyfriend. But if you look at just the visuals—and do make sure to watch it at least once with the sound off—she achieves "freedom" by becoming more feminine, more sexually feminine. Watch especially for the moment when the earrings go on. That begins the transition. And of all places for this to begin, it happens, wait for it,  in front of a mirror! The visuals tell a different story of what it means to be yourself and that story is all about sexual self-presentation.

This wasn't the end of feminism, of course, although it was clearly in decline from that moment on.  If anything, we were headed back to a kind of femininity that hadn't been seen for a long, long time and Annie Lennox was the one who sent young women this message.

And  a whole lot of young women heaved a sigh of relief and went out and bought themselves a red lace bra just like the one they saw Annie Lennox wearing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A little light culture: Circling the wagons around Girls

There is a small panic in Girls-land as season 2 gets underway.
But there's something about Girls that seems to drive critics a little nuts, inspiring them to pick up slings and arrows that ought to be aimed at the television industry as a whole and use them instead solely against Dunham.
Yes, the show is being attacked by critics. It might be snuff'd out by an article!

To fans of the show, and there aren't many, any criticism at all is "irrational". It's like a cult for them. And with only 866,000 fans tuning in for the heavily hyped season premiere the term "cult" is as apropos here as with Scientology.

And then there is the bizarre admission hidden in the line above: Why are they singling-out this show for doing the same stupid things as everyone else does? That's not crazy but it's quite a come down from "the voice of a generation" to "no worse than any of the other crap on TV".

The thing is that the show is not unrepresentative. There really are young women, lots of them, whom a show like Girls could speak to. Wednesday I was on the bus and overheard a conversation between two young women. The subject was the efforts of one of the girls to manipulate the boy who currently has the status of guy-who-has-sex-with-her into assuming the status of boyfriend. It was all pretty pathetic. She is trying to shame him into staying overnight instead of leaving after sex. She has also started borrowing his clothing and stuff and leaving it in her apartment instead of returning it.

And, just in case that isn't pathetic enough, she has started psyching herself up to do sexual things he wants but she finds degrading including changing her dress from bland to slutty.

That last detail inspired her friend to ask what she plans to do when her mother sees her "new style"., The first girl said her mother will just have to get used to it. Here is how the rest of that conversation played out:
"Your mother will yell at you."

"She can't."

"Yes she can."

"She can't. It would be a double standard."

"Just because your mother is a skank it doesn't mean she can't yell at you for being one too."
You know, that last response is rather profound. On several levels. And it goes right to the heart of the problem with Girls. Yes, this generation of women is a confused mess trying to pass off self-degradation as self-assertion. That's not so bad as that is true of every generation. Yiddish proverb: What the daughter does, the mother did. The problem is that this resignation is being passed off as rebellion.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Manly Thor's Day Special: The sex advice they give to women

It's not just sex advice being given to women but sex advice being given to women in our name: the teaser for the article promised it would be all about five things women do in bed that men hate. Does your mileage match these "men's"?

My response is that these five things are really only two and that those two both boil down to women not understanding themselves and, consequently, not learning how to respond during sex.

1) The first candidate is a classic example of burying the lead (which some pretentious people spell "lede"):
Having sex only in the dark. Unless you've lied about your gender, you have nothing to hide during sex. He can feel your body, and he's been looking at it since you met. If he really disliked it, you wouldn't be making love right now.
Having sex only in the dark is the symptom not the problem. The problem is her narcissism. (I'm not slagging women particularly here: we live in a narcissistic age and that means we all have narcissistic traits.)

I know, it would seem that the problem is her self-criticism but it's actually her magical thinking, a prime behaviourial trait of narcissism. Think of the problem in flow chart terms. If there is something about her body she doesn't like then she can either do something about it or she cannot. If it really bothers her and she can do something then she should do something. If it really bothers her and she cannot do something about it then she should get over it.

To wait until you are kissing her and loving her and then denying you the opportunity to appreciate all the things that are wonderful about her is her way of making the things she won't face magically disappear.

The vast majority of women have something beautiful about them; usually, they have a whole lot beautiful about them. It says a lot that at the precise moment when she might be sharing these wonderful gifts with you as an act of love, she suddenly turns off the light or cuts off your compliment about how beautiful her body is to you to tell you about some aspect of her body she hates.

This isn't just something guys hate, it's a mind-bogglingly selfish thing she is doing, narcissistic in fact.

2) The second bad habit is another misdirection:
Not asking for what you want and not interrupting what you don't want
I know that sex "experts" think they are being wonderfully useful when they advise women to tell their partners what they do and don't like but it's the single worst piece of sex advice ever dished out. There are times when a little well-placed advice can be a very good thing. I will be forever grateful to the girl who said, "Move your finger in small circles instead of up and down." But note that is advice about what you might do better rather than about what she does or doesn't like.

Here is the thing, women who are really good in bed don't have to tell you what they do or don't like because what they do or don't like shows in their response. Pardon my arrogance, but if you really want to be great in bed, practice responding.

Here's an experiment. Imagine eating your favourite food. Imagine putting it in your mouth and giving no signs at all that you are enjoying it. I ask you because you could do that if you wanted. There is nothing about tasting, chewing and swallowing that you cannot do if you suppress all the sounds and actions that go with enjoying food. (There is a feedback loop with eating and, ahem sex, however, and sighing or arching your back or groaning will increase your pleasure, provided, that is, that you practice making these responses to match your feelings instead of faking them.)

Now carry it the next step and watch other people eat. Some people really get into it. Some people show no signs at all. Some people obviously fake it. Here is the thing: all three of those are learned responses.

It isn't easy to learn how to respond. For starters, it involves acting in front of someone else. And yes it's acting. Which brings us to the second problem, you can either act in ways that reveal your desires or you can act in ways that mask them. And revealing your desires makes you vulnerable.

Sex is a social skill. It applies in every aspect of your life. How you dress and interact with others out of bed is sexual activity. How you respond to the way men look at you and to what they say to you tells them what to do next. They initiate, you respond and your response tells them what to do next (and what not to do next).

And the cruel truth is that a lot of women are really bad at this. They get very good at sending sexual signals, such as wearing push-up bras or leggings, when they want attention but don't get very good at interacting with the particular boy they particularly want to interact with (bring back dating!). They never get a chance to practice interactions such as meeting glances, looking down shyly, sighing appreciatively, intentionally positioning their bodies in ways that are more or less receptive depending on what they hope he will initiate next and so forth. Never having gotten very good at this outside of bed, they fail in bed.

Any time you have to break this dance and explain is a sign of failure on someone's part. It's unavoidable that there will be some failures, of course, but advising people to tell others upfront what they want as a matter of course is like advising them to go to court before they even try and work things out otherwise.

3) Number three is just number one repeated in different terms:
Protesting whenever he says you're sexy
4)  And number 4 is just number 2 repeated in different terms
Focusing on intercourse more than you want to
It's the "more than you want to" that gives it away. And I have nothing more to add on that front.

But there are two related issues that the good Dr. Klein doesn't deal with that I'd like to touch on.
  • Why is sex that just proceeds along to intercourse disappointing to men? After all, entering a woman is one of the most pleasurable things this life has to offer. Why would a guy not like that? Well, what he doesn't like is the feeling that we have gotten this far with no sign that any of this is doing anything for her. Sex ended up here because this is the natural place for sex to go and that is no different for someone who is just going through the motions.
  • "But he wants sex all the time and sometimes I'm willing to please him even though I don't want it much right now?" The key thing here is that what we are discussing is a gift. Gifts only work if the context is set such that it really is a gift. If you are going to have this kind of sex, then you should initiate it and it you should make it clear to him that you want to do this for him. A gift he has to ask for isn't really a gift. Neither is pretending to do this for your own pleasure. (Of course, it will sometimes happen that you do something just for him, paying no attention whatsoever to your needs and unexpectedly find yourself getting very aroused and ... well, that opens a whole lot of complicated issues doesn't it? That is the tricky thing about responding honestly, it makes us vulnerable.)

5) Number 5 isn't really a tip about sex per se but is rather revealing in a political sense:
Being less than 100% responsible about birth control
Really? Women aren't always 100% responsible? I thought men were always the problem.

Wow, next you'll be telling me that women behave in very ambiguous ways about these things or even that some women, when very in love and uncertain about whether this love is returned might get a little careless about things. And perhaps some women are inconsistent in their own feelings about pregnancy and unwilling to be honest with themselves about this.

Or, here is a really crazy one, maybe there is some set of genetically driven responses that make women worry much less about getting pregnant when highly aroused and that this genetic impulse might have collateral effects such as making women discount other risk factors as well. And she might even bitterly regret things she did the night before in the cold light of day. And she might even blame the guy that these things happened!

(A response I don't have any problems with myself, by the way. That said, there are all sorts of other things that would go with this. This would imply that sex would have to be something that only took place within relationships based on trust and commitment. And we'd spend a lot more time dating and a lot less time casually hooking up.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Another image: What are they selling?

For a month or so now Facebook has been treating us to pictures of people on their log-in page. I wish I'd thought to start collecting them sooner. Last week, we had a shot of a couple walking along a trail on the seashore and this week we have this.

Does anything jump out at you? All sorts of things jump out at me but I think the thing that is supposed to make an impact is the maple trees in the background.

Yes, that guy is an aspirational image. You are supposed to either want to be him or, if you are a woman, be with him. But it matters a whole lot that he is standing right in the middle of the street in front of maple trees. It matters because that gives the shot a north-eastern feeling about it. That's either a university campus or it's an upper-middle class neighbourhood that's been around long enough for the trees to get that big. Wherever it is, it's in the north east because it's fall and the trees are so red.

Did I mention that last week's shot was a couple on a trail running along the top of a bluff over-looking the ocean. "If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air, quaint little villages here and there, you're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod."

Facebook is an international thing and yet they are absolutely certain that if they show you an image of an upper-middle-class white boy from the northeast, you will think that Facebook is full of the people you want to connect with , which is to say white upper-middle-class people who live somewhere like New England.

Facebook's challenge was that they needed to appeal to your desire to be part of this very white culture while avoiding the criticism of being very white. So our aspirational white-boy icon has an Asian girlfriend! The feeling you are supposed to get from this shot is one of racial acceptance so it's probably not nice of me to remind you that you never see this image the other way around. And notice how he is comfortably taller than her. And she, while oriental, isn't the just-stepped-out of-Hentai chick of male sexual fantasies. She's an everygirl who just happens to be Asian.

She's a little old looking for university, which tells us that Facebook knows that their biggest user group is female university graduates. They chose her because most of the women who make up the largest group of Facebook users will look at her and not see a threat.

That female university graduates are the largest group using Facebook is a problem for them because women will abandon anything, including the world's most successful social media site, if they start to worry that mostly other women go there. And thus the guy. He's the dominant figure in the picture. He is the one they aspire to be with. He's young (aging better than the girl they can imagine replacing), he's successful and, oh yes, he's white.

Living next door to a campus, I can tell you that the mixed race couple you most commonly see on campus is a big back guy and much smaller white girl, usually blonde. You never see that image on TV, in the movies* or in advertising though. Odd that. Well, no it isn't. It would appeal, to some women to be sure but it would have the same effect on guys as would a picture of the guy above accompanied by an Asian hottie would have on women. And Facebook cannot afford to scare away guys.

* Outside of porn that is.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sorta political: the second innaugural

It's one of the mysteries of our time that Obama can deliver stinkers like this and all the liberals line up and praise him like we was a second Lincoln. This speech is so mediocre, so delusional.

Let's look at a few lines going through the speech. Here is the opening:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a President we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional -- what makes us American -- is our allegiance to an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Notice the shift here. He begins with the constitution but very quickly brushes it aside in favour of the Declaration of Independence. That should set off alarm bells. Progressives are notoriously dubious of the constitution and Obama is situating himself firmly in the progressive camp here.

Next paragraph:
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. (Applause.) The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
That first sentence just stinks. The phrase "bridge the meaning of those words" means nothing at all. And again, the patriots of 1776 did not give us "a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people"; it was the constitutional convention that gave us those things and they had to because the patriots of 1776 were far clearer about what they did not want than what would replace it.

Moving along:
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Actually, no! There were lots of people, including Thomas Jefferson, who thought that the union could survive just fine with some enslaved and some free. (And where does "half" come from?) And lashes and swords played a pretty small role: guns, ships, generals and big, big money had a lot more to do with it.

There was huge disagreement on slavery. This disagrement was not just between those who wanted to do away with the institution and those who wanted to preserve it. There was also a major fault line between those who wanted to fight to end it and those who deplored slavery but were willing to hold their noses and live with it for the sake of the union.

There is an oddly passive tone here. The implication is that "we learned" when in fact, "they fought" for this long before any of us were born.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.
Again, this is grade A bullshit. A small group of people pushed hard for railroads and highways and schools. Some of these were very good things indeed but one hell of a lot of railroad and highway and school construction was pure pork driven by cronysim of the very worst sort.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
That's a lie pure and simple. Lots of people, including most famously, Adam Smith, had figured this out before the Declaration of Independence was written. It's also one of Obama's favourite fallacies. Notice the implied opposition here: that some people believe the market should be completely unregulated. Who are these people? He's making them up. This is classic straw man rhetoric.

Watch for the "but" here:
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

But ...
Any time that word appears (also "however" and "nevertheless") it means that you can throw the stuff before the "but" away. He's saying all that to pacify you, to make what he says seem balanced. What he really emans is what comes afterwards:
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.
This is fallacious on so many levels. Notice, for starters, the appeal to consensus. "we have always understood"? Who is this "we" Kemo Sabe? And I love the "always understood". Why then do we need a confrontational system of government if "we have always understood"?

Remember what I said at the top about progressives and the constitution. They can't be trusted to uphold it. Particularly now when so many of them have contempt for free speech, freedom of religion and gun rights.

And notice the problem that the words "collective action" creates. Gee, Mr. President, who is going to lead this "collective"? Particularly as a lot of the people aren't on board about what, if any, action should be taken. And again, go back, and notice how Obama framed issues such as the abolition of slavery and the building of railroads, highways and schools as if they were collective actions where "we" all learned together when in fact they were all born of conflict.

This isn't a speech from a guy who believes in "a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people". It's very much a speech by a guy who believes in getting his way and who holds anyone who disagrees with him in contempt.

Should we be worried? Well, a little. Obama needs to be checked but, fortunately, the people who wrote the constitution he claims to care so deeply about built all sorts of checks and balances into it. And, unless you believe that the weak and unconvincing President who was for Obama's first term was just an act, it's hard to see how he is going to be terribly effective. If he couldn't sell pseudo-centrist policies, and he couldn't, he is really going to struggle pushing an openly progressive agenda.

Assuming he even means to try. Here is my cynical read. Obama is a narcissist, the only legacy that really matters to him is his self image. So he's going to go for the bully pulpit. He plans to run around spouting progressivist platitudes for his second term.

He'll push for the policies too of course but he knows full well he isn't likely to get them, although he will try anyway. But he thinks his legacy will be his words. Secure in his own sense of his own greatness, he means to talk them up. He thinks his words will live on. They won't.

Others have said it before me, but can you remember anything really profound that Obama has ever said? Can you picture these words carved in stone:
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time.
Hey baby, want to come with me and "bridge the meaning of some words"? The realities of our time? As opposed to the realities of some other time maybe? On "a never-ending journey". What a hack!

The danger Obama represents is not anything he might do. The problem is the culture of narcissistic mediocrity that he is a symptom of.

Sentence of the week

I don't know if I will really do a sentence every week but I was inspired by Ann Althouse's going through Gatsby and picking out sentences and commenting on them. We hear a lot about writers who supposedly crank out great sentences these days. More often than not, the claim is pure nonsense. But there are great sentences.

For example,
It is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you.
It is the "in fact" and "altruist" that makes this sentence work. 

Normally, to insert "in fact" into a sentence is bad writing. The snappy come back: "If you have to tell people that your factual claims are factual claims, then you don't really believe them yourself."

But take it out and look what happens:
It is asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you.
That signals irony. It signals heavy-handed, smug, insufferable irony.

The "in fact" tells us that the seeming irony is perhaps not. At first, we flatter ourselves by hearing ironic intent and thinking, "Yes, that is how we good people get treated." But the "in fact" sticks in your throat, stopping you from swallowing too easily. It is the foul-tasting medicine that keeps the spoonful of sugar from going down.

The sentence occurs in Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End. The protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, is meeting his eldest brother whom he has not been close to. The tension in their conversation arises because some noble gestures that Christopher has made have been misinterpreted by others as signs that he is involved inappropriately with two women.  The elder brother has no problems with a man, even a married man, having affairs so long as he behaves discreetly. Christopher has not behaved discreetly for the simple reason that he was not having affairs and yet he has done these very noble things for others and that has led many to assume that he is only doing them because of a sexual involvement.

I keep using the word "noble" instead of some other alternative such as "kind" because he doesn't do them out of kindness. He does these things out of a sense of noblesse oblige. For example, when his wife runs away with another man and Christopher is asked if he will divorce her, he says, "Only a blackguard would divorce a woman." He wouldn't, we know, mind at all getting rid of his wife but his view is that nobility does not behave that way. So he doesn't behave that way.

When, as a consequence, people assume the worst of Christopher, Ford wants us to consider that perhaps he really is asking for it.

Ford uses the word "altruist" pointedly, just as I used "noble". It would be a different thing altogether to say,
It is asking for trouble if you are more moral than the society that surrounds you.
We wouldn't  feel quite so easy with that sentence. Not because we couldn't imagine that it might happen that the most moral person in the room should be shat upon or even that we might cheer along when they are shat upon. But to say that sentence and have it seem ironic, you'd need to sneer as you said "moral". That would make the delicious sense of ambiguity that Ford's sentence has impossible. "Altruist" doesn't need the sneer because while individual acts of altruism are generally admirable, there is something suspect about arguing that being self-sacrificing is a good way to live in general.

(That final point, by the way, was what Ayn Rand argued. I know a lot of people like to hate and mock her, but she's right on this point. Rand's epistemology is simplistic and deserves mockery but her philosophical anthropology is profound and challenging.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

A little light culture: "People still put out flowers for him"

It was a whole year since he died and yet people still put out flowers for him. The writer was surprised they still cared that much. And you can't blame him.

And you have to sympathize. I mean, "It was a year ago people, get over it! I mean, it's sad and all but let's not make too big a thing of it."

You're curious to know who it was that died that some people still cared that much a year later aren't you?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Young narcissists

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be.
This quote has been popping into my head the last few days. Not the exact words as I don't have the book, or even parts of it, memorized. I kept thinking of it because I keep reading arguments that sound like it. Obama's arguments in favour of gun control, for example.

Let me be clear: there are good arguments in favour of some gun control. (I live in Canada where we have quite a bit of gun control and, while I think we might have a tad too much in some cases, I like it this way.) This is not about taking sides in that debate; it's about the quality of the arguments being marshaled in that debate. And, I'm sorry if this offends anyone, but the President's arguments were really, really stupid and, quite frankly, childlike in a bad way.

Like Holden Caulfield above, he seems more concerned with the the feeling of doing good than actually doing good. And it's not just him. Every time I talk to kids in university these days about what they want to do with their lives, I hear a whole lot about how they want to feel about themselves and the work they expect to do, the job they, in fact feel entitled to, but nothing about other people who are actually out there and what they might need.

Caulfield is an extreme example. There is no field of rye on the edge of a cliff with thousands of kids running around in it. Kids don't need to play in fields of rye because actual adults (and you'll notice that Caulfield has conveniently fantasized these away) have built playgrounds for them to play in that aren't on the edges of a cliffs.

Playing in the rye (or the corn as we used to do when I was a kid) makes perfect sense. Kids who were privileged enough to grow up in the country love doing that. You don't have to walk far into a field of grain of any sort before you disappear. Even better, you walk into a tiny, enclosed world where everything else disappears. Which is the whole appeal.

I mention all that because it's important to grasp that Caulfield's fantasy doesn't take into account what actual kids find appealing  about a field of tall grass, grain or corn. Other people don't matter to him. The only thing that matters to him is that he deserves some role that will give him the feeling of doing good.

A friend of mine used to say that there are some books that teens love reading that are immensely compelling until they get insane. The Bell Jar was her favourite example. At some point in the book, you should realize that Plath was clinically depressed and stop taking her seriously.

The goes in spades for The Catcher in the Rye (for pretty much anything Salinger wrote actually). At some point it should sink in that Caulfield is a narcissist and that he, and not the world around him, is the problem. It seems to me that we have spent the last few decades training kids to do exactly the opposite. To try and become Caulfield rather than reject him. And now one of them is the president.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some gems from the last psychiatrist

He writes even longer than me. And, also like me, he has a tendency to circle an issue rather than going straight at it. And, man, is he good.

Here are some great bits from his latest:
The fraud women now believe is that it is wrong to look good for men only, as an end in itself; the progressive delusion is that looking good for men is synonymous with submissiveness, so while you're allowed to look good to men, it should always be secondary to looking good for yourself. This is madness. You are enhancing your outward appearance, which is great, but then you pretend it's for internal reasons?
"Ugh, women are not objects." Then why are you painting them? I'm not saying you have to look good for men, I'm saying that if wearing makeup not for men makes you feel better about yourself, you don't have a strong self, and no, yelling won't change this. Everyone knows you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, now you're saying the cover of the book influences how the book feels about itself?
Feminism has left women in a really weird place. Maybe that's okay. In the long run. But that is what it has done.

Finally, a point I have often made here:
The trick to the makeup debate is that it pretends to want to be free of male pressure, yet the pressure to look a certain way is actually much worse from women.
And he's just warming up. It keeps getting better after that. Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Another image: What are they selling?

Rather than build up to the answer, I'm going to answer the question right off the top: they are selling hatred.

This graphic is ostensibly intended to prove that false accusations in rape are rare. There are two kinds of problems with it. The first is that the statistics it is based on are dubious at best and crassly manipulated at worst. I'm not sure it's worth it to get into the Alice-in-Wonderland world of rape statistics. Suffice to note that the largest group on the infographic is supposed to represent unreported rapes and that category is very difficult to quantify and anyone who claims to be able to do it with accuracy, as the Enliven Project does here, is lying, delusional or (most likely) a bit of both.

But even if we take the graphic at face value and assume it's based on sound statistics, it's still a great steaming pile of it. What's worse, it's a great steaming pile with a clear anti-man bias.

First of all, we might ask ourselves why the two little dudes labelled "Falsely Accused" are part of a graphic labelled "Rapists" in the first place. If they are falsely accused, then they aren't rapists. And notice that all the guys labelled "Reported" and "Faced Trial" are also labelled "Rapists". The presumption of guilt here is staggering.

Another huge problem with the graphic has been acknowledged even by Amanda Marcotte and that is that rapists generally have more than one victim. She cites figures that suggest that the average rapist has six victims. She further argues that the best statistics suggest that 54 percent of rapes go unreported as opposed to the 90 percent figure this graphic assumes. Doing a little rough math* that means that the 898 cases "unreported rape" implied by the graph should be only 117 rapes. If Marcotte's other figure suggesting that the average rapist has six victims, then that number of figures should be reduced to twenty rapists.

We can count all the guys who faced trial as singles for obvious reasons but the reported-but-not-tried category gets trickier. We couldn't honestly say that roughly one rapist is responsible for each six of those reported cases for the simple reason that being reported should sharply increase his chances of getting caught. Suffice to say, however, that the ratio of false accusations to actual rapists is higher than the graphic suggests.

Marcotte suggests that the graphic could be  made "clearer by just labeling the little dudes "rapes" instead of "rapists." Well, only if we reduced the total number of rapes to 219 from the current 1000 to begin with! And it would be even clearer than that if we gave all the stick figures skirts so all the little dudes were actually dudettes because what is actually being claimed here is the number of victims. Further, the two figures in the bottom right don't represent falsely accused rapists (a category that cannot have any members by definition) or rape victims but represent rather women who falsely accused men of having raped them.

Marcotte also suggests that the figures labeleld "Falsely Accused" would be more accurately be labelled "False Reports". I don't buy her argument but even if we did we would then have to throw out the unreported rapes altogether because false reports can only be meaningfully analyzed as part of the total number of reported rapes. This move, as virtually every aspect of the infographic above is a matter of comparing apples to oranges and claiming to produce meaningful data.

And we'd have to expand that for the apples versus oranges problem continues throughout. Notice that there are also a number of male figures labeled "Rapists" who only "Faced Trial". And you'll also notice that the graphic labels those who get convicted as "Jailed". Why not say "Convicted"? Well, because doing that would force them to acknowledge that vast majority of the "Faced Trial" were acquitted. Now given the burden of proof in the criminal courts system it is no doubt true that some of them were simply not proven but it is a certainty that others were simply innocent.

And that is also true of the larger category of "Reported Rapes". Some of these have to have been guys who were innocent and either falsely or mistakenly accused.

Now I appreciate that some are already saying, as I have already acknowledged, that rape is very hard to prove. But that knife cuts both ways. It is also very hard to prove a false report or false accusation. In both cases, there are certainly more of both than come to light. How many? Anyone who tells you they know is a liar.

The graphic isn't false because something being false requires it to make sense in order that it can be tested in the first place. Nonsense cannot be tested so it cannot even be wrong and that is the case here. But even nonsense tells you something about the people who created it and what it tells you is that they have it in for men.

Progressives and liberals desperately want to believe that crime is a social problem. In order to do this, they have to deny the blatant truth that virtually all crime is the work of a small minority called criminals. When that strategy is combined with feminist analysis of rapes, you get a tendency to blame all men for what is actually a tiny subset of men and, thus, you get the kind of nonsense presented as an information in the graphic above.

One question we might ask ourselves is, what do we know about the guys who are convicted of rape? They are, after all, the only guys in the big picture who we can say with certainty that they actually are rapists. If you really wanted hard, reliable data on rape, you'd focus on them. If I have counted the number of rows and columns correctly the total graphic represents 1000 claims of rape, many of which are dubious, only eight ten can certainly be said to be rapists. What are those eight ten guys like? I ask because if the answer is, "Very different from most men" then the approach most "rape activists" take to the problem is a complete waste of time and at least partly driven by a bias against men in general.

* Please note that all the math here is "rough" which is to say not intended to prove anything beyond following the logic behind the graph to its own absurd conclusions.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Relativism is an idol

I took part in a discussion tonight in which a very earnest young person spoke against relativism, speaking with more emotion than logic.

And then she was asked what "relativism" means and she began her answer by saying, "To me, it means ...."

If you put that into a movie or a novel you'd be accused of being heavy-handed and obvious.

On the way home the Lemon Girl said it was a sign of how pervasive relativism has become. People live it, even the people who think they are most fervently against it. But it's all just a giant time waster. It's the thing people do instead of thinking when they are asked moral questions; "Well, to me it means that ...".

Nowadays, mostly because of the power of Hollywood, the word idol has come to mean things that have power over us. In horror movies, for example, the mask, the statue, or the ancient curse is real and has real power. This notion would have struck the psalmist or Saint Paul as bizarre. For them, the problem with idols was that they were nothing at all.

The danger that went with idolatry then was that you'd waste your entire life on a nothing. And that is the real danger with relativism. The fear is not that you're going to accidentally convince yourself or others that rape, murder or cannibalism are okay. The chances of that are almost non-existent.

No, the danger of relativism is that you will spend your entire moral life doing nothing at all while under the impression that you are doing something.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A little light culture: Out of the nice guy trap Pt 1

I see that nice guys are in trouble again. There was a Tumblr set up to mock guys who used a dating service called OKCupid and whose profiles featured bitter statements about the women who weren't putting out for them because they were "nice guys". Lots of fun was had mocking them and, even better, getting all self-righteous about hating them.

And it's easy to mock. The guys being mocked are driven by a sense of entitlement. They have been nice to girls and, instead of getting sex, they are being relegated to "the friend zone". In the bitterness that follows, they suggest that women only want sex with bad guys.

So there was much mockery.

Hey, I have an idea, why don't we match up all these bitter nice guys in their twenties with all those still attractive women in their late thirties and forties who can't get a date? Heh, heh, heh.

Well, no, you're not supposed to mock deluded women. Only deluded men are fair game.
The Friend Zone is a bullshit, misogynistic, make-believe land Nice Guys have come up with to demonize women for not wanting to date them. They use it as an excuse to ignore the fact that there are Actual Reasons behind their decision to not pursue a relationship or have sex with this guy.
That's a very good point, but the exact same thing could be said of the woman who wrote the next bit I cite. She too can't see that there are "Actual Reasons", and good reasons at that, why no one wants to date her.
Because 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 answer is "no" because desirable, heterosexual men tend to get married in their thirties.

I don't think it's a coincidence that attitudes of the women who can't find love exactly mirror the attitudes of the men who can't. The men claim that women just want to be friends with the nice guys while giving sex to bad guys. The women claim that the guys who are available to them are either just players who only want sex or determined partner-hunters who only want the best choice available to be the mother of their children.

Here's a wacky thought. Imagine there was a social revolution, let's call it "the sexual revolution", wherein we attempted to throw all the conventions about sex out the window so that everyone could now have sex based solely on whatever any two (or more) consenting adults could agree upon. One of the first things you would expect to follow from this would be that lots of people, probably most people, would take a time out from pursuing more permanent relationships to see how much fun they could get out of this. Love and marriage wouldn't disappear but people would think, I'll see how much fun sex I can get first; I'll experiment and do all the stuff I want to do.

What harm could come from that?

Well, you can decide for yourself what does or doesn't count as "harm", but it is pretty easy to predict one set of consequences. First of all, the age that people will get married at will rise. In the mean time, women are going to be interested in having sex with the highest status men available to them and high status males are going to return the favour by eating up the easy sex they offer them like honey. But that isn't going to be an equal match up. High status men are going to discover they can have lots of partners available and they are going to be more interested in multiple partners than women are. And men, being interested in multiple partners, are going to be less exacting about how high status the partners they seek are—they'll want some high status partners, particularly as regular dates, but they'll cheerfully settle for much lower status partners in between or even coinciding with their higher status partners. Meanwhile, because the marriage age is older and high status men can always find partners from a younger age group if their current partner disappoints them (while most women don't have this option), a lot of women are going to run out of time in which to find a partner while their status is still relatively high. All of which is to say, you very quickly are going to get exactly the world that all those "nice" guys and all those "bright, attractive,successful, fabulous women in their 40s who are single " complain about.

Put up your hand if you've never known women in their twenties who have had sex with guys who obviously have lots of other partners and equally don't have the slightest intention of being in a relationship with them simply because that guy is really attractive to them?

The losers in this situation are going to be men who don't have enough status to get sex and women who have just enough status to get sex from higher status men and spend their time pursuing those relationships until they lose their status end up single and unwanted. And that, not surprisingly, is exactly the groups the people complaining bitterly come from.

And maybe that's just fine. Life is under no obligations to be fair and if you think it is you might want to consider the next severely handicapped person you see and ask yourself what his or her love life is like. Some people just get crapped on in life and maybe you're one of them.

I know, that's not very kind of me. But how could a culture based on everyone freely pursuing the kind of sex life they think of as best for them be any different?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Voice lessons

That is what I was doing today. It's something I have been meaning to do for a while now; one of those things on the bucket list. It's also one of those things that tests your confidence. That's why no posts today (aside from this one). Too much nervousness.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Elizabeth Wurtzel's latest piece about herself is actually shockingly well written

I know, I know. I understand the anger. Go ahead and call New York magazine and tell them you have written five thousand words about yourself and see if they publish it. Wurtzel not only got published, they spent big money to have a photographer take a picture that uses all the resources available to the art to make Wurtzel look more like she used to than she does now.

The key point in the article is when she suddenly starts talking about how her parents weren't rich. That's the thing about Wurtzel; she is part of an elite but she doesn't like to think of herself as part of an elite. She likes to think she earned her place in life.

Then she goes on to talk about how that elite life is about to disappear and how it's a sad thing that the rest of the world isn't subsidizing it anymore. That's important because New York magazine did publish her article and they did so for a reason.

But let's go at this from another angle because you know Elizabeth Wurtzel. I am going to be crude here. She had, and you can still see traces of it in her latest photo, what my friend Alison once called "a blowjob face". She once said of an ex-girlfriend of mine, "Guys will put up with endless bullshit from her because you love to picture that face looking up at you when she's giving you a blowjob."

That's the thing about Wurtzel that no one wants to say out loud. Wurtzel is a talented writer but she gets rated higher than she deserves because of her looks. (Wurtzel mentions that Harvard has published a circular in which she is the only female famous alumnus mentioned under the heading of "literature". Think about that. Harvard put her, and no other woman, in the same category as " T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, William S. Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Norman Mailer, John Updike, George Plimpton, David Halberstam, and Henry David Thoreau".)

As I say, you know her. You've met the woman who cruises through life getting jobs and good marks easily because she has sexual power. She isn't hot enough to be a model or a actress but, unlike them, she is right there in the room with you. And that matters to everyone, even other women. No matter what she does, the men and women around her continue to have hope in her. We want her to succeed.

As a consequence, women like Wurtzel are always forgiven for what they do and never have to forgive anyone else. Notice the contrast between the self-righteousness in these lines,
I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.
Then contrast that with the incredible self-forgiveness a paragraph later,
For a while after my first book came out, I went home with a different man every night and did heroin every day—which showed my good sense, because the rest of the time I was completely out of control.
The arc of a life like hers is not hard to predict. In a Jane Austen novel it would work out just as you would guess. Nowadays, the critical view is that we have shaken off the shackles of the classic English novel. Nowadays, we write stories that are grimmer but, we like to insist, freer because they acknowledge the randomness of life.

And yet, life has a disturbing tendency to play out like an Austen novel.
It had all gone wrong. At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24. Stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up, and so I was becoming one of those people who refuses to grow up—one of the city’s Lost Boys. I was still subletting in Greenwich Village, instead of owning in Brooklyn Heights. I had loved everything about Yale Law School—especially the part where I graduated at 40—but I spent my life savings on an abiding interest, which is a lot to invest in curiosity. By never marrying, I ended up never divorcing, but I also failed to accumulate that brocade of civility and padlock of security—kids you do or don’t want, Tiffany silver you never use—that makes life complete. Convention serves a purpose: It gives life meaning, and without it, one is in a constant existential crisis.
It isn't hard to imagine Mary Crawford saying something like that if we were to track her down twenty years after the events described in Mansfield Park.

Wurtzel wrote this piece because of her desperate need for attention as opposed to any desperate need for money; which is to say that neither Crawford's life nor Wurtzel's is likely to be tragic. Their lives just won't be as good as they once seemed. All that rich promise their lives seemed to have, for others as well as themselves, when they were young and still had sexual power is now gone and it all gets kind of sad from here on in.

One temptation is to read the practical issues as moral ones. One reason to hate Wurtzel is because you believe she is finally getting the comeuppance that she has long deserved. (Or, for feminists, because the defiant role model they once loved is now an embarrassment.) This is misguided because life works out the way it does and morality will not ensure practical success. The thing about both Elizabeth Wurtzel and Mary Crawford is that they are both aware of and savvy about the practical consequences of their actions in a way that Lydia Bennet or Sid Vicious, for example, are not.

Wurtzel and Crawford defy convention not because they hate it but because they see themselves as above it. It's not so much that they don't see that the practical consequences of life will apply to them but that they feel that they should not.
Even now, I am always in love—or else I am getting over the last person or getting started with the next one. But I worry about growing old this way.
Well, now she worries.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Libertine" is back

I took the word "libertine" out of my profile, as in "crypto-Catholic libertine" a while ago. Thinking about it, it struck me that it was silly to get worried about the word as the irony ought to be obvious. So it's back.

By the way, it isn't a frequently asked question but every once ina  while someone will ask the origin of the tag. As one of my readers put it:
By the way, what on earth is a crypto-Catholic libertine? Do you "continue in sin, that grace may abound?"
The answer is:
A "crypto-Catholic libertine" is an expression I stole from John Mullan who teaches English at University College London. He used it when discussing James II. Mullan said that even James older brother Charles II who was a crypto=Catholic libertine, which is to say a fairly debased character from Mullan's perspective, was able to see the folly of James behaviour "in matters of religion and sex".

So the sense of the label applied to myself is to suggest that even as bad as I am I might have a moral, religious or literary insight now and then. Or, as the German proverb has it, even a blind chicken finds some seeds.
The article that inspired me to start this blog, How the divine right went wrong, is still on-line in case anyone is interested. It may be a little difficult to connect it to what you find here as a lot of the connections are obscure and only make sense to someone with my precise history. The line that got me going was this description of James II, "Here was a royal rake who became a devout believer." That made me think of myself. I'm no historian but James II has always struck me as a decent guy (by the standards of his time) who tried to do the right thing as he saw it and it is no fault of his that he ran afoul of a bunch of Catholic-hating fanatics.

Seen on the bus

Six years ago, the Lemon Girl and I started thinking about living without a car. The car we owned at the time, a nine-year-old Honda, overheard us and promptly called our bluff. It broke down in a bunch of ways at the same time and we suddenly found ourselves confronted with a repair bill that exceeded the what the  resale value of the car would have been after the repairs were done.

It has been six years now and the experiment has been a successful one. I should add, though, that it has only been possible because we live in a relatively densely populated part of the city. There is a bus stop a half block from our front door a bus goes by every fifteen minutes that travels straight to the downtown core. If we weren't privileged enough to live in this neighbourhood, and we are privileged, it wouldn't be possible to live without a car (and if it makes you feel better to hate me as a consequence, there is nothing I can do to stop you).

That out of the way, I'll get to my main point. I should warn you that it is a highly incorrect point and there is a very good chance that you will be offended by this. When you give up your car and travel on the bus all the time you get to see what poor people are like and a lot of what you discover about them is not good. The poor in spirit are definitely blessed, the people who are simply poor are not necessarily so.

We see a lot of hatred directed at rich people who only care about themselves, who never give back, who have no concern whatsoever about good of the greater society that makes their life of relative comfort and security possible. And such people do exist. But the brutal truth is that you find far more poor people who only care about themselves, who never give back, who have no concern whatsoever about good of the greater society that makes their life of relative comfort and security possible.

It's not a difficult thing to show a little concern  for your fellow passengers. it's not difficult, for example, to move ten to fifteen feet further into the bus so that you aren't blocking the entrance for everyone else who is getting on an off. It's not difficult to resist staring at a woman's breasts intently for twenty minutes so she can travel comfortably too. It's not difficult to take your back pack off and carry it so you don't block the aisle for everyone trying to get by you. It's not difficult to move over to the window so someone else can have a seat. It's also not difficult to not sit with your knees wide apart. It's not difficult to not scratch things into the windows with your keys or to not right angry, woman-hating things on the back of the seat ahead of you with a Sharpie.

If you ride the bus a lot you will see hundreds upon hundreds of people who simply will not do those things for others. They stand right in the doorway. It's not that they don't know that they are causing inconvenience for others. They know damn well what they are doing and it shows in the way they hunker down defensively and avoid eye contact. (When someone on public transit studiously avoids looking anyone in the eyes you can be sure they are planning to be an asshole about something.) The have decided that a relatively small gain in convenience for themselves is more important than showing any concern for other people.

The corollary to this first point, and one some will find even more offensive, is, as the Lemon Girl noted last Friday, that this lack of concern for others has a lot to do with why these people ended up on the bottom of the heap. No, I am not saying that all poor people are selfish or that poor people deserve to be poor. But the simple truth is that if you don't care for others, they will return the favour. They won't trust you and they won't form bonds with you. You won't have friends who will help you, a spouse willing to marry you and employers won't trust you with anything but the most unimportant, menial jobs.

Not only do these people not contribute much, they also cost society billions of dollars every year. They do damage to public property, the make operations like public transit less efficient, they cause more people to drive cars in the first place by making the experience of using public services less pleasant (and if you think they make public transit unpleasant, you should see what they do to public parks and public washrooms). And because they do such a poor job of talking care of themselves, others often end up having to take care of them.

The thing is, if we want to attack the rich for "not paying their fair share", we have to do the same for everyone else too. I'm not sure it's entirely a good thing to insist that everyone pull together all the time about everything but when we move from the private realm to the public, that everyone who takes public transit should contribute by behaving themselves is a tiny thing to ask.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Most viewed posts of 2012

A a couple of caveats:
  • This is not, and does not aspire to be, a huge traffic blog. I am not claiming these posts were huge successes in absolute terms. They just drew more traffic by my humble standards.
  • These are the posts that I put up in 2012 that drew the most traffic in 2012. There are posts I put up two or three years ago that drew more views than some of these in the last twelve months.

#1 White Girl Singers Who Sound Black

This surprised me because I thought I was writing about something that would only interest me when I put it up. I've tracked the subject in a terribly informal, not serious way over the years and wrote about some singers I remembered. I suspect its relative popularity stems from the fact that very few people write about this subject and the few that do use it as an excuse to moralize about race rather than talk about the singers. I may be the only game in town for readers who are simply curious.

#2 Mad Men: What is Lakshmi up to? 

 True confession time: I expected to hate Mad Men when I first watched it. Everything about the show and the people who were praising it to me led mo to think it was going to be an over-rated bit of fluff. Instead it turned out to be a fascinating show that digs deeply into the moral ambiguities of our time. (So far anyway.) This particular episode was a perfect example of that. TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, on the other hand, was upset about one scene this past season that he described as the ...

... most incoherent scene in season five of Mad Men, and the one that most lends credence to the notion that this is ultimately a male-centered show that understands many of its female characters in an academic rather than intuitive way.
I argued that the exact opposite was the case and there were enough people out there who felt likewise to make this my second-most viewed post of the year.

#3  A little light culture: That anal sex question

It's one of the oddities of the sexual politics of the current era that the near-universal popularity of fellatio both with men receiving and women giving is seen as a problem whereas anal sex, which is of little attraction for most men compared to other options available to them and hated by most women, is promoted as something everyone should try. This post examined one of the the more blatant and offensive examples of this promotion. Offensive, by the way, because it promoted anal sex to young teens.

#4 Neo noir Thursday: Swimming Pool

Anything that seems ripe for parody is probably much harder to do than it looks. A prime example of this is neo noir. Often attempted but rarely pulled off, a good neo noir is a rare thing and a good neo noir with a female lead is nearly impossible. The relative popularity of this post probably is probably because it directs people to one of the very few examples of the latter out there.

# 5 What are they selling: Another image

There is certainly a right to pursue dignity, just as there is a right  to pursue happiness, but it is problematic to suggest that people are entitled to success in these pursuits. That is unless you are part of the poverty industry and looking for a pitch that will pull the money in.

# 6 A lighter political item

Stacy McCain has a blog that probably draws more viewers every five minutes than this post picking on a momentary indiscretion of his has in a year. That said, there is a tendency on the right to shoot off mouths before really thinking things through and that is especially true when mocking women's sexual self-presentation. If Rush Limbaugh had read and thought about this post he never would have made the mistake of calling Sandra Fluke a slut.

#7 Neo noir: Impulse

A thorough trashing of a film that richly deserves it. This is, as I keep saying, a very low-profile blog but it's not impossible that more people read this post than saw this movie. Well, no, not really but I still suspect the post's relative popularity is a reflection of the issue it raises rather than any interest in the movie I write about. And that issue is this: Why can't a woman misbehave sexually in a film and yet remain a sympathetic character? There are thousands upon thousands of male roles that pull this off. Why can we not, despite all our much-bragged about "liberation" and "enlightenment", appreciate a sexually misbehaving female as a complex but ultimately sympathetic character?

# 8 Well worth reading

A post recommending a piece about Susan Sontag. I doubt anyone has ever come to this blog looking for interesting stuff about Susan Sontag. Lots of people come, however, to read what I have to say about Mad Men and it was probably my suggesting that the barbarism that Sontag first encouraged  and then came to regret was an important bit of background for understanding the show that attracted readers.

# 9 A little light culture: Jenny McCarthy's hot dog

A recurring theme on this blog is the paradoxical way that our culture obsesses about women's sexuality but still remains utterly naive about the things women actually do with and about their sexuality. This is one of many posts on the subject and it probably drew traffic because the words "Jenny McCarthy" are Google bait.

# 10 Sorta political: Why David Weigel deserves our contempt 

Collectively speaking, the news media are currently incompetent and morally despicable. In this post, I went after one target in a target-rich environment.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A little light culture: Anne certainly Hathaway about her

And all the Shakespeare scholars groaned because that pun is one of the hoariest in their trade. In this case, however, I'm talking about the actress. You may remember that the last time we discussed her, Hathaway had gone out with a dress with major slits and no panties, revealed a slit not in her dress to photographers and then claimed that she was surprised and humiliated that this had happened. Well now we know why she did it:
"I'm not Rihanna," she told Harper's Bazaar. "I'm not cool. When people come up to me in the street, they often want a hug not a photo, and they want that because they like my work. 
Think of how bizarre that is. An actress doesn't want to be known for her work; she'd prefer to be known as a bad girl.

Even more oddly, she admits that she knows here erratic behaviour off the set could hurt the prospects of her latest movie.

And then she spills the beans:
Now, after her "secret" marriage to Adam Shulman in September, she has told of her worries about turning 30, as well as the effect of her personal life on her performance. "It doesn't help that the new crop of girls is so gorgeous, and so 22 years old," she said of her recent birthday. "But I'm excited about it." 
As great as her supposed success in  Les Miserables has been, Hathaway realized "a few days" into the shooting that she was moving from sex symbol to character actor. In today's entertainment industry, even character actresses have to be really hot to get major roles. Best case scenario, Hathaway has five more years of good work ahead of her and she will increasingly be playing supporting roles.

She will still be able to get the attention an exhibitionist like her needs after that but she'll have to do it the way Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie do it—which is to say by being a drama queen for the tabloids.

By the way, I ask the question I keep asking again, If things are going so well for women right now, why do things like this keep happening? Why is it that Hollywood actress's careers are still pretty much over by the time they hit their thirties?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Evil as a man can be

There's two kind of people
I just can't stand
Evil-hearted woman
And a lyin' man

Don't you lie to me
Now don't you lie to me
Because it makes me mad
Evil as a man can be
The question of evil came up in the comments on another post. To be honest, I've never thought about evil much in my life. Not in a philosophical way that is. I tend to think that evil will always be a part of human life but that has mostly played out in my political views. One of the many reasons I am impatient with progressives and liberals is that they keep acting as if evil can be engineered out of our culture.

Ironically, my certainty that evil will always be with us comes from my having grown up in an old-style east coast environment where everyone was unfailingly polite to one another, where family members loved and supported one another and really bad things hardly ever happen to anyone. And yet, even there, evil things were done.

But what sort of thing is evil?

That may be a deceptive question. It tends to bias us towards a Platonic approach. We ask "What is Evil?" and assume that there is a "thing" that corresponds to the word. A very useful word "thing". We can use it to describe things without getting too specific about what they are. If I asked, "What sort of substance is evil? you would immediately know I'd said something stupid for if we know one thing about evil it is that it isn't a substance.

That said, we never wonder that evil doesn't seem to have any substance and that is odd.

To think of  evil as a thing is also to unconsciously assume that it is always and everywhere the same thing.

A more useful approach, I think, is to approach the problem like analytic philosophers and ask ourselves how the word is used. In that case it is a superlative used to describe badness outside the realm of ordinary badness. And we have a whole lot of words to describe badness: immoral, naughty, unkind, cruel, callous, uncaring, destructive .... These words, as Iris Murdoch would remind us if she were here, describe a rich palette of human behaviour and that is important to remember, as she would insist, because we tend to impoverish our vocabulary when we put our philosopher hats on.

Evil then is the word we reach for when words such as immoral, naughty, unkind, cruel, callous, uncaring, destructive and many, many others no longer seem enough to describe the degree of, well, evil we see. When we want people to know, for example that Angela wasn't just careless about the sexual relationships she and others were in but that she was so to a superlative degree, we say she was "evil".

It's also the word we use to describe when we are lying about people we want to defeat. The temptation to paint political opponents as evil is often irresistible as we saw just recently as proponents of gun control unleashed their hatred on Wayne Lapierre whom they saw as evil simply because he stands in the way of what they want to do.

When we think of the ways we use the word "evil" instead of thinking of it as a sort of "thing" we can also see that one of the odd paradoxes about the word is that it can be used as a compliment. We can, and I have, say to someone that they are evil when they have understood us better than we understand ourselves. When we say this we recognize a power to seduce us and we play it as highest compliment because the idea of being seduced by this person fills us with pleasure.

And keep that in mind because the thought of an enemy understanding us better than we understand ourselves would not be pleasurable at all. That would be frightening in a way that few things in life are.

To go back to what I originally said in the comments to the previous post, I can think of two broad approaches to the problem of evil:
  1. We could treat the decision to be good instead of evil as some sort of fundamental choice a person makes. This is the view we get in the world of graphic novels. Batman and The Joker are relatively similar in terms of their "virtue", the difference between them is that Batman has made some fundamental choice to fight on the side of good and The Joker on the side of evil.
  2. The other avenue we might take is to think of evil in the same terms that the Catholic church thinks of a depraved conscience. That is to say that every time we willing choose to do what we know is wrong or choose not to do good we degrade ourselves. Do this long enough and I will reach a state where I am so depraved that it would make sense to call me evil.
At this point I would add what was perhaps already obvious and that is that I favour the second approach.The notion of a fundamental choice about evil is only possible if evil is something that is easily defined and, not incidentally, homogenous. That is why a morally ambiguous character such as Don Draper is a more useful foil for discussions of virtue than Batman. It's also why people who hate Don Draper feel obliged to paint him in the starkest moral terms possible.

Another thing I would add is that otherwise virtuous people can allow themselves to go so far as to be evil in one aspect of their lives. We have seen, for example, thanks to Twitter, that people who are otherwise civilized will say vile things of people about whom they know nothing other than that they have different views about public policy.

Perhaps the most disturbing example of this is racism. In literature and movies, racist hate is always shown as part of an entire package—the hater is evil in every way. In real life, racism shows up in people who are well-mannered, kind to children and puppies and often braver and more thoughtful than is the norm in our culture about just about everything except their attitudes towards people of certain races. 

I could say much more but I won't.