Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Imitatio project: Human nature

The other day I was reading a piece about recent research about women's sexual responses. The research, which is pretty well known stuff, showed that the level of sexual interest women in relationships have declines far more and far more quickly than is the case for men. The conclusion the a number of women journalists writing about it reached was that women just aren't made for monogamy.

Now that is interesting for all sorts of reasons but the thing I want to highlight is the assumption that our moral beliefs ought to coincide with human nature. These writers were saying that we should change our moral beliefs about marriage and monogamy because women aren't naturally inclined to be monogamous. That isn't crazy. Morality should have something to do with human nature.

That said, it isn't hard to think of long lists of things that we aren't naturally inclined to do. We aren't naturally inclined to consider the feelings of others. We aren't naturally inclined to work hard. We aren't naturally inclined to exercise. We aren't naturally inclined to do mathematics. And I could go on and on and on ...

The point being that while it is a positive step to start thinking that the only kind of morality that is worth having is one rooted in human nature, it is silly to make that connection by insisting that we should only be asked to do things that we are naturally inclined to do.

Okay, now let me tell you about something that happened to me this week. Before you read it, though, you have to turn your sneer off. You are no better than this woman and neither am I, so let's think about what her example tells us charitably.

Anyway, this woman tells me that she has broken up with her boyfriend. And I make sympathetic noises and ask her how she is dealing with it. And she tells me she is doing okay. And then she tells me that one of the things she has done to make herself feel better is to get a gym membership.

That's human nature. To suddenly start caring a whole lot about your appearance the moment you are out of a relationship. If you've been paying attention, you'll know that women do this all the time. Not every woman does it, and not every woman does it all the time, but it is something women are naturally inclined to do and you can collect examples of it if you are so inclined.

If you're the sort of man (or woman) who is inclined to smug superiority or bitter hatred towards women, then this sort of thing can fuel your nasty tendencies. But what if you're not? What lesson do we take then? Women are naturally inclined to work hard on their appearance in order to get into a relationship but not naturally inclined to keep it up once they are in a relationship. Some women, of course, do keep it up. What's more, my observations tell me that there is a staggeringly dependable correlation between how hard a woman works on her appearance after she is in a relationship and her socioeconomic status. Such women are generally admired, including by other women. But most women aren't willing to make the sort of effort such women do.

Which is why we all know their they're special.

Which is why I discourage sneering. It's too easy to sneer at the woman or man who messes up. To actually learn from the woman or man who succeeds. That is daunting. And they have the same natural tendencies you and I have.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Biblical scholarship and Mary Magdalene

I have been sort of half-following the Reza Aslan affair. Aslan has indeed misrepresented his credentials as reported at GetReligion and elsewhere. This would count for something if legitimate biblical scholarship was, well, legitimate. But the fact is that current biblical scholarship is often a sad joke. Not all of it. But my point is, even though his credentials are not legitimate, Aslan's work is not all that different from what legitimate biblical scholars produce.

Aslan is quite correct to point out that the new testament sources on Jesus are not a good historical account. Where he fails is that having wiped away false assumptions from the blackboard, he is far too eager to fill it with his own speculation.

But, you know, I have just finished a book called Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene by Bart D, Ehrman, who is not only a biblical scholar of unimpeachable credentials but is also one of most admired scholars in his field and a lot of what he writes is just silly. I'll be discussing some of it in days to come.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Smooth baritones of summer: problems with Sinatra

As far as our era is concerned, Sinatra is the baritone if not the singer. Anyone who sets out to be a serious male singer of standards tends to take Sinatra as a role model. Actually, that understates the problem. As Mark Steyn said somewhere, we have a whole generation of crooners who more or less do karaoke versions of standards as sung by Sinatra.

That's a problem and not just because it's a sterile approach. It's a problem because there are aspects of Sinatra's style that are being absorbed uncritically.

Sinatra had three careers. He had a career in the 1940s when he sang mostly for women alone at home while their husbands and boyfriends fought the war. We think of performances like "I'll Never Smile Again" when we think of that period. He had a career in the 1950s when he sang mostly for men adjusting to the social changes that came after the war. We think of the great concept albums he did with Capitol records when we think of this career. Finally, he had a career as a swaggering, swinging very male man in his final decades. We think of an awful lot of tripe such as "My Way", "This Town" and "New York, New York" when we think of this career. *

One problem here is that that last phase of his career tended to establish his persona for the baby boomer generation. Sinatra reported hated the Doors song "Light my Fire" and that is all well and good but Jim Morrison learned to sing by imitating Sinatra and he learned well. With albums such as 1966's That's Life Sinatra started to get blustery and assertive where he had been subtle and unafraid to show vulnerability.

And then he did something worse. In 1967, the year that the Doors music became so painfully popular, Sinatra recorded this awful song. It's not just the awfulness of the song, it's the way he sings it. Jim Morrison developed his style by copying Sinatra and here we see Sinatra debasing his by copying Morrison.

* There was lots of good stuff as well in this period but most of it, think of the album September of My Years, succeeds because it is a throwback to what he was doing in the 1950s. The sole exception is the Jobim stuff he recorded. Sinatra's versions of the big bossa nova hits are the only ones that do anything more than simply copy the Brazilian originals. He was on the edge of developing a new style that could have been the beginning of something great. Sadly, Sinatra wasn't willing to work as hard at that point of his career as he did in the 1940s and 1950s. Then again, who can blame him. Why should he have?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another image, what is it selling

This is a sad one.

That's from an ad that kept popping up everywhere I went for a while. The short answer is that it's selling software that, I think, manages online help services for corporate customers. The obvious question, then, is "What does a young woman in an orange tank top and no bra with a tattoo that she likes men over fifty years of age have to do with the product?"

Your guess is as good as mine.

Now, everyone knows that there is a company that uses blatant sexual ads to promote internet-domain-name sales so why can't these people do the same? Well, no reason, really. It's their advertising budget so they can waste it whatever way they want. That said, this is soooo stupid.

First point, if you are going to sell something this way, you have to be sure that the audience you attract will be bigger than the audience you are likely to alienate. A TV ad running during the Superbowl is going to reach an awful lot of men. More importantly, it's going to reach an audience of easy-going, beer-drinking men who aren't easily offended. The audience for help-desk software is a bunch of mid-level executives and, whether they are easily offended themselves or not, they can't risk offending anyone. A mid-level executives entire life is about not giving anyone a reason to fire him or her. If he is a him, the last think in the world he wants his colleagues to associate him with a company that advertises this way. If she is a her, well, I don't need to explain the problem do I.

Second point, "I love 50 plus"! Seriously?

I hope the people who engineer their software are smarter than the people who do their advertising.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Imitatio project: Don Draper's Guide to picking up women

It's a pretty safe bet that anytime someone tells you that a sketch on Saturday Night Live was hilarious the actual sketch will be lame. That's mostly because Saturday Night Live is usually lame. Here's a clue people: it's Saturday Night and you're sitting at home watching late-night television! That's what losers do. Late night Saturday, anyone who isn't a loser is either out on the town or in bed.

Anyway, Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women wasn't funny even though I kept reading people saying it's brilliant. You can watch it yourself at this link until the copyright enforcers find it.

I've transcribed the four easy steps:
  1. When in doubt, remain absolutely silent.
  2. When asked about your past, give vague, open-ended answers.
  3. Have a great name.
  4. Look fantastic in a suit, look fantastic in casual wear, look fantastic in anything. Look good, sound good, smell good, kiss good, strut around with supreme confidence, be uncannily successful at your job, blow people away anytime you say anything, take six hour lunches, disappear for weeks at a time, lie to everyone about everything, drink and smoke constantly, basically, be Don Draper.
It's the last one that does all the work trying to be funny and it is telling that they are trying too hard, which is why it isn't funny. And they are trying so hard because they are intimidated. I'll go at these one at a time.

But first, a question: Does Don Draper pick up women?  Obviously, he ends up with quite a few but he doesn't pick them up. That's the first thing to note about his approach: he doesn't have one. Okay, the script is on his side and that is why women approach him but there is a lot to be said for this. The last line of the joke is, "basically, be Don Draper". If you look at the way the role is played, however, you'll notice that is what he does.  He doesn't go after women so much as he goes after the role. He is always trying to be Don Draper and he is always trying to be Don Draper because he is not, in fact, Don Draper.

As I've said before, this makes him like a Greek hero. Read the Iliad and you will see that Hector worries about being Hector. He has a role and he knows he has to live up to it and he worries about falling short of it. That's the opposite of what we are told today. We are told to be yourself and then we are advised to go out and pick up women, working with "a wingman" and a whole lot of other bullshit.

Okay, back to the four steps.

The first is actually really good advice. As a man, you should just shut up when in doubt and the world would be a better place if more of us did. Talking too much is asking for it. Don't do it.

The second isn't quite accurate. Don Draper does give vague, open-ended answers but that is because he doesn't talk about himself much. And that, again, is very good advice.

The third is kind of funny in a way that the writers at Saturday Night Live didn't intend. "Don Draper" is actually a very plain WASP name in an era when people have been trying very hard to have exotic names like Laetitia, Beyonce, Jay-Z and the like. There is a lesson here.

The final bit of advice is just lame but there are some telling mistakes in it. Don Draper would never say "kiss good" or use "basically" as an introductory clause. He usually speaks correctly, elegantly and simply. If he does something else for effect, it really has an effect because it is rare for him to do so. A related point, Don Draper not only wouldn't say "kiss good", he wouldn't say "kiss well" either because he is a man and not a fourteen year old girl.

Take away the inflation and deflation that fails to make this funny, and Don Draper is the strong, silent type and that is a good thing to be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Social policing watch

People love to run other people's lives for them. The excuse for doing so is often that the policing is for the good of the person being policed but it never is. Notice the following example. It starts off as a mini-rant against high heels and then the writer promptly reveals that she not only has no evidence to back up her claim but that, rather, she has evidence that contradicts her claim.
Whenever I see a woman walking (or trying to) in stilettos — skinny heels over 3 inches high — my first thought is, “There’s a sprained ankle waiting to happen.”

An estimated 28,000 ankle injuries occur daily in the United States, most of them through sporting activities, including jogging on uneven surfaces. But while no one suggests remaining sedentary to protect your ankles, experts wisely warn against purposely putting them at risk by wearing hazardous shoes or getting back in the game before an injured ankle has healed.
The problem is not heels but athletic activities. It would have been a different article altogether if she had started off with, 'Whenever I see someone playing field hockey, my first thought is, "There is a sprained ankle waiting to happen." Field hockey is the activity most likely to lead to sprained ankles. The next three are volleyball, football and basketball. Nowhere in the article is there even a scrap of evidence that wearing high heels is bad for you.

That's not surprising as the evidence against high heels is surprisingly thin on the ground. I know, you remember reading somewhere that ... . Well, the thing is that if you wear high heels all day, every day, it's bad for you. If you ate nothing but broccoli that would also be bad for you. Wearing high heels for a few hours when you go out on Friday or Saturday night is not only not bad for you but is good for you.

But let's get back to Jane Brody. That's her work above. She doesn't approve of high heels. On others. She doesn't want you wearing them. That's why she drags high heels into a column that has nothing to do with high heels. For a woman like Brody, suppressing traits she doesn't like in others is a full-time job.

Why doesn't she want other women wearing heels? Well, that's an interesting question. She's lying when she says it's a health concern. Part of it may be an attempt to flatter her audience who are mostly seniors. I don't know but my suspicion is that women like Brody don't want other women to make efforts to be sexy because it puts competitive pressures on her. That's what makes what she does social policing.

One of the odd things about this sort of social policing, this is something I've noted before, is that it isn't intended to stop women from dressing attractively. No, the point is always to make sure that women dress attractively in the approved ways. Of course, these approved ways will favour certain body types and not others so it creates (or protects) a class system.

Anyway, keep an eye out for social policing; there's a lot of it about. It's done by men and women but more so by women.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene ...

... is today.
When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires.
Gregory the Great

Friday, July 19, 2013

The advice they give: female insecurity meets male insecurity, mutual satisfaction ensues

Her insecurities

Angelica wants to know why young guys are ogling her. She posted the question on Yahoo. Here is how she describes herself:
I am a woman in her mid-30s and decent looking. Decent, not drop-dead gorgeous by any means.
She apparently didn't notice anyone ogling her when she was younger and now, at a period in her life when she doesn't feel as ogleable as she used to feel, she is noticing it. She says she wants to know why? I say "she says she wants" because I don't think she is being entirely honest.

But that is okay, because her less-than-honest question gets a less-than-truthful answer from someone named "Dalrock".
They see you as in their league so they are more bold in checking you out than they would be with a woman who wasn’t in their league. You are at the intersection of the male and female curves for sexual attractiveness. Young women are the rockstars of the dating world, while young men are fairly low in the pecking order. As women age their attractiveness declines, while as men age their attractiveness tends to increase until around their mid 30s (where it starts to decline as well). As your attractiveness has declined, you now find yourself roughly at par with late teens/early twenties young men. See the article from OK Cupid linked in the sources for data on how age impacts attractiveness for men and women.
The really significant thing here is that, of the answers she was given Angelica picked Dalrock's as the best. (Although that's a lot less impressive than it might sound if you go read the, very few, other answers she got.)

Now, as I've said many times before here: They aren't lying to one another but to themselves. 

Let's start with Angelica because she is the easiest to explain. She got five answers. Three mocked her and one praised her (the praise came from another woman). One of the mocking answers suggested that she is just bragging and, well, yes, of course she is. But only to a point. She is doing a limited hang out. She brags that guys are ogling her but, because she is a woman insecure, she cuts it down quite a bit by describing herself as just decent looking. Dalrock then comes in and gives her the answer she wants. You might think, well, why would she want such a cynical answer? But the point is that, however cynical his take, it validates her. A seemingly cynical guy took her claim that she is being ogled at face value and that is what she really wanted.

And everyone's happy.

His insecurities

Okay, we've discussed female insecurity, lets look at the other side of the rock. I'm sure Dalrock really means and believes what he said but his answer is crap. First read the first sentence of his answer:
They see you as in their league so they are more bold in checking you out than they would be with a woman who wasn’t in their league.
Now, let's ask all the men who have  held back from ogling a woman because they thought she was out of their league to raise their hands.

Yeah, there is your problem right there. In fact, any time a guy ogles a woman, it's a dead giveaway that he feels sex is such a low probability that he may as well go ahead and ogle her because he has nothing to lose by doing so. That could be, and sometimes is, because he doesn't think he has a chance. That's not the most likely reason though. The primary reason guys don't pursue women they find sexually attractive is because they can't stand the thought of putting their pride on the line. Failure has a huge impact on self worth and most guys won't/can't take that chance. They want opportunities for sex to drop in their lap, unearned.

(And there are other risks too. He may already has a girlfriend. He may be too worried about the consequences of sex to actually pursue it ...)

But the most likely reason, by far, is that he isn't willing to risk the personal capital.

Now we can go back to Dalrock and what motivates him. Angelica has handed him a  gift.  She has given him a chance to pretend that men like him hold more cards than they really do. She has done this by making it possible for him to describe the act of ogling a woman (a behaviour trait that is pretty reliable a low-status marker)  as if that is something that someone with real status does.

You can prove this for yourself anytime you want by simply following (discreetly, of course) a hot woman as she walks down the street, across the campus, through the mall or whatever. Don't look at her but at the way others look to her. You'll quickly see that the men that ogle her are the creeps and losers.

Sorry to pick on poor Dalrock, but the more we dig into his answer, the more ludicrous it gets. For who here thinks that ogling a woman is a way to get a date?

Ogling is an end in itself; it's like scratching an itch. You do it to respond to a felt need and for no other reason. It's a way of getting a sexual charge out of a woman that you will probably never talk to never mind have sex with. Not that the man ogling her knows this. All he is really aware of as he ogles her is her sexual power. If you thought you had power, if you were honestly convinced you might be taking her bra off in the future, you wouldn't need to ogle her breasts right now. You know that, she knows that, we can all stop pretending.

So the honest answer to Angelica's question is that guys are ogling her because they are getting a sexual charge out of it.

But it isn't even an honest question to begin with. The real point was to get someone to respond as if her feeling that she is being ogled is plausible thereby validating her self worth. That acceptance of plausibility gives her more of a  sexual charge than any actual ogling. And, despite her protestations otherwise, she didn't need that validation when she was 19. She does now.

I'm pretty certain, by the way, that she is not imagining she is being ogled, that men actual are looking at her in a sexually appreciative way. In fact, I'd bet that a lot more men look at her and think of sex than she realizes. She's probably noticing the younger men for two reasons: 1) because young men aren't subtle and 2) because she, needing validation, is paying more attention to how she is being looked at than she felt the need to do when she was 19.

She'd probably be disappointed if she actually tried to entice a young man she caught ogling her into sex. He'd most likely run in fear. He'd run because he feels powerless towards her in the first place (that's why he is ogling) and second because the risk to his self esteem would be too great. In addition, he will almost certainly be convinced that she has more sexual experience than him and will be terrified that he will not be able to impress her. His right hand is far more likely to get a workout than she is out of this. (The arrogant and cocksure young man who'll just "nail some woman" given the slightest chance is more of a female fantasy than a male reality. And it is a fantasy that, and this tells us something important, is equally useful to both the woman  trying to reach orgasm and the woman who hates men and sex.)

How to ogle a woman correctly

Short answer: just don't. (Although I have done it myself in moments of weakness.) Glance, don't ogle. You won't get away with it either way. No matter how discreet you are about glancing down at her body, she'll notice. But she is more likely to appreciate, rather than resent, a few glances; that is, unless you "glance" down at her breasts every two seconds.

But let's suppose you're looking (whether glancing or looking hard) at a woman and you suspect that she has noticed what you are doing. What do you do then?

Here is the most important thing: Don't look away! That is death. If she resents the fact that you are looking at her, she will do so even more if you look away; that makes you aggressive and weak in her eyes instead of just aggressive. If she is insecure, she will take your suddenly looking away as rejection, and brutal rejection at that. If she is even remotely interested she'll take your looking away as proof that you're a pussy and she doesn't need another one. No matter what the circumstances, looking away is a big-time loser move.

So here's the first tip, train yourself not to look away when a woman notices you noticing her. That is difficult to do because your natural instinct will be too look away. It's that personal capital thing I was talking about above. And it's triply difficult because the odds that a woman who happens to look your way isn't interested no matter what the circumstances. If you've been looking at her, she most likely is calling you on it and expects you to stop. Even if you looked like George Clooney, most women aren't going to want the attention most of the time. (Which is why no one, male or female, sees ogling as an opening move to "dating"; anyone smarter than a Poinsettia knows that it is highly unlikely to succeed.)

Second, keep looking where you were looking. Your checking out her legs and you think you see her reacting in your peripheral vision? Keep looking at her legs. Don't look up! Move your eyes up her body deliberately from wherever you were until you meet her eyes. Don't hide the fact that you are enjoying the view. As my grandmother used to say, "You may as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb." No, she isn't necessarily going to love this. And even if she does like it, she isn't necessarily going to see it as a prelude to sex. But that doesn't matter, because you have absolutely nothing to gain by quickly glancing away or guiltily shifting to meet her eyes. Those moves are pure chickenshit.

Third, once you have eye contact, hold it.

At this point there are four possibilities.
  1. She gives you the finger or mouths something offensive at you. In which case, you laugh at her and turn to your friends and talk about anything but her. 
  2. She gives you a look that says, "I'm calling you on this", in which case you shrug, smile, raise your glass and turn away. (General note: if you are the sort of guy keeps paying attention to women who give no indication of any interest in you, I have some very bad news for you.)
  3. She looks away furtively. In which case, you look down at your drink and smile appreciatively but don't look back. Don't worry, she'll steal a second furtive glance your way and see your smile. The chances of anything coming of this are better than your chances of winning Olympic gold but that is about all you can say for sure. And, hey, you got a good look and she'll appreciate that smile and neither of you have lost a thing. (If you cross her path that evening or the next day, however, say hello and introduce yourself. Don't however, try to make it happen.)
  4. She continues to look at you. In which case, you continue to look back. At her eyes! Wait until she looks away. It's a  really good sign if she looks down. Smile appreciatively, look down into your drink and swirl the ice cubes around, take a drink and then wait as long as you can stand it (which won't be long), then count to five slowly, pick up your drink and walk over to her and introduce yourself. Do not, even for second, look down at her body again. If you later find yourself taking her clothes off, you can look but not before.
You're welcome.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The weird surge in pageviews continues

All coming from Germany. Thousands of them and not to any particular post. I can't figure why anyone is doing this.

Imitatio project: Nostalgia cont'd

Second thought

Last week we were discussing Don's weird and seriously inappropriate blurting out of his secrets during the meeting with Hershey. But, more than that, it was entirely out of character. What the &*%$ is going on?

SInce we have been paying attention, we know that Matt Weiner thinks people can't change. He's wrong about that but it's obviously his big belief. (And a useful rationalization too.) Anyway, the next step, if you believe that, is that anyone who tries to do what Don Draper has done will see their personality disintegrate.

And thus the blurting out.

I think we can go further than that. If we flash back to The Hobo Code, we will see that young Dick's discovery that his father was a dishonest man had a huge impact on him. He needs to be different from that. That is why Sally calling him on his lies had such a deep impact on him.

All this is the character as Matt Weiner seems him mind you. I don't find it plausible at all myself. My father is of the Don Draper generation and my Godfather was of the Roger Sterling generation. They were guys who shed the culture they were born into to become successful just the way Don Draper does. They were born into struggling minority cultures and they left it all behind. In fact, they cut their pasts off just as brutally as Don does Adam. And they didn't disintegrate. They held together and triumphed.

And that scares the crap out of us baby boomers. We're intimidated by those older generations because we know that nothing we have done can measure up to what they did. No, they weren't perfect but they were better than we are in a lot of ways and we could do well to stop smugly dismissing them and learn something from them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Weird surge in pageviews

This afternoon, over a period of one hour, I got a huge surge of page views from Germany. They came in from a variety of browsers. Usually, when I get a surge it's because someone has linked a particular post but these views are all over the place, visiting hundreds of posts one after another. It's got me feeling a little paranoid.

Imitatio project: Nostalgia

First thought

What do these words mean?
Because there are people out there who buy things. People like you and me. And something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable.
Give up?  think it's the boomer vision of the 1960s.

They're the words that Don says to Peggy at the end of Season 3 to win her over and get her to follow him in starting a new agency. The obvious suggestion is that Peggy, having given up her baby, knows what it is like to lose her innocence.

The whole Peggy and her baby subplot might seem like a lawnmower moment; that is to say it might seem like one of those moments where the show just gets weird and quirky because it can, and "screw you" loyal viewer expecting sense. But it isn't. That plot is all about abortion. But the creators were too chicken-hearted to show an actual abortion so we got this crazy Peggy-was-in-denial-about-being-pregnant plot instead.

But the consequences were exactly the same as if she'd had an abortion. And thus her "abortion" is her loss of innocence.

Why is that the boomer vision of the 1960s? Because every boomer lost their own innocence sometime. It was more likely in the 1970s than the 1960s but the 1960s are the decade with the revolutionary mythology associated with it. As a consequence, boomers narcissistically  project their personal loss of innocence onto the whole decade. Some terrible event, the Kennedy assassination is the usual favourite, changed everybody so that "the way they saw themselves is gone".

Now the fascinating thing here is that Weiner obviously thinks we will see a strong parallel between Peggy and Don here. She lost her innocence by having a heavily disguised "abortion" and he lost his in Korea.

And I hope you can see the problem here. It doesn't fit either character. It makes them both into passive characters whose major significance is what happened to them as opposed to what they did. That's not the way we see them when we watch the show at home but I think it is the way Matt Weiner saw them when he created them.

Think of Don's return from Korea in season one. What was his plan? He has to have known that he would be recognized immediately when he got off the train. So why did he even get that far? Was he planning to step off the train and put a finger to his lips so everyone would be quiet until the other authorities were gone?

None of it makes any sense. And I think it doesn't make sense because Matt Weiner has always conceived of Don not as a deserter, that is, not as a guy who acts, but as someone nursing an old wound. ("Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone")

Here's the problem, you can't disdain nostalgia if you like and watch Mad Men. The whole appeal of the show is nostalgia. If you hate the show, you can hate nostalgia. If you hate the fact that other people love the show, you can hate nostalgia. But if you like, even just a little bit, you can't do that.

So , whatever else he does, Matt Weiner has to justify the nostalgia. At the same time, he has to be true to the porogressive liberal notion that the past is so tainted with sex and racism that it is EVIL!!!!! and that the only justification for past culture is that it led to future culture. The old wound is what allows the show to both embrace and reject the past. Well, Weiner thinks it does anyway.

More tomorrow ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How is Pope Francis doing so far?

Did you see the story about the couple who were driving to a Dave Matthews concert and stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and the hitchhiker turned out to be Dave Matthews? Wait, it gets better: Matthews was hitchhiking because he had a flat. On his bike! Because the big rock star rode a bike to his own concert!

Why do I mention this? Well, all of a sudden Pope Francis paying for his own hotel room doesn't seem like such a big thing does it?

The bigger problem, as I pointed out at the beginning, is that the whole making a show of your humility isn't humble. It's the exact opposite. Dave Matthews doesn't brag about biking to his own concerts, he just does it. If there were photo opportunities for the press to get shots of him on the bike every concert, we'd all have been properly cynical and suspected there was actually an air-conditioned SUV sitting around the corner.

I'm sorry, but this pope has a major Uriah Heap vibe going about him. This became particularly painful when it was reported that he has twice surveyed the parking lot at the Vatican to see if any of the priests there were driving cars that were too nice.

For those of you who think of Uriah Heap as a mediocre rock band, I mean the Dickens character. These three sentences from Wikipedia will give you a good feel for him: "The character is notable for his cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own "'humbleness". His name has become synonymous with being a yes man. He is the central antagonist of the later part of the book." No, I'm not saying that Francis is like that.

But we don't know that he isn't either because, to date, we know almost nothing useful about the man. Yesterday at NCR (The Not Catholic Reporter), John Allen noted that a lot of recent coverage of Pope Francis has been pure hype. Actually, all the reporting on Francis from the moment of his election has been hype. And if we judged this guy the same way we judge rock stars, we'd immediately recognize it as such.

Will it work?

But there is another, deeper problem. You might put it this way, "Is it even good hype?" Is this whole humble guy act the sort of thing to inspire the world or that will pull Catholics back to the church? Journalists love it but an awful lot of journalists are shallow and obsessed with novelty. Pope Francis needs to convince people to make very serious decisions about their destiny and purpose in life. This is far deeper and more momentous than the sort of thing that makes fickle journalists stand up and salute. I don't see any substance yet.

This week in Canada, the press covered the "grieving process" of the community that suffered a major rail disaster last week. Think about that for a while. The pain and suffering of others was treated as an occasion for "news", which is to say entertainment. In any sort of reasonably civilized culture, the journalists who showed up to film these people in what ought to have been private moments would have been horsewhipped.

The thing that worries me about Francis is that too much of what he does plays into that kind of journalism as morality play. Too much of it is about posing as humble the way celebrities are humble.

And it gets worse if you ask yourself, what has the man actually accomplished? It's early days and perhaps that question is unfair but all this hype tends to force the question on us. Pope Francis is in great danger of becoming Pope Oprah.

I hope and pray that I am wrong but ...

Friday, July 12, 2013

Smooth baritones of summer: The Gospel according to der Bingle

This is for the Lemon Girl.
Yet I do love a certain light and a certain voice and certain fragrance and a certain food and a certain embrace when I love my God, the light, the voice, the fragrance, the food, and the embrace of my inner man, where His light that no place can contain shines into my soul, and where sounds reverberate which no period of time can carry away, and where aromas rise that no eating can diminish, and where that is embraced that no satiety can separate. This is what I love when I love my God. (Augustine, Confessions Bk 10, Chapter 6)
The Lemon Girl sang for a man with Alzheimer's a few years ago. He remembered very little else but he did remember how to sing this song.

But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Manly Thor's Day Special: Disturbing trends

I'm going to revisit the Mad Men, especially the episode "A Tale of Two Cities (Week 9). At the time that the episode was broadcast, I remember thinking that some of the commentary struck me as not just wrong but anti-male.

The first thing that jumped out at me was these remarks of Hanna Rosin's.
Don and Roger both suffer in this episode for their insular arrogance. ...  But Roger is very behind the times. The California execs see right through them. And Roger loses his showdown with Danny, the twerp he once fired who is now a successful Hollywood writer. Looking rich and handsome doesn’t get him very far anymore. At the pool party, Danny punches Roger in the balls and goes home with the girl.
First of all, she is wrong, the California execs catch him off guard, but Roger recovers well and they get the account.  Pretty soon they are talking about opening a new office in LA to handle it. More disturbing, though, is the claim that Roger loses his showdown with Danny. I'm sorry but sucker-punching someone in the testicles does not count as winning a showdown. That Rosin thinks it does says something about her and it isn't good.

There are rules of manliness and these rules matter. A certain amount of risk taking and bluffing is not only allowed but praised. But cheap shots are not. Rosin not only doesn't understand this, she judges everything she sees by an appalling double standard.

Back to Rosin:
There are two strains to the American bootstrap story, as Jackson Lears so beautifully lays out in Something for Nothing, and I think you’re right Paul, Bob Benson and Don Draper represent each one. The hero of one (Benson) is a self-made man who relies on discipline and hard work, who believes in a clear guiding principle (“one thing, just one thing”) and a Providential plan. The hero of the second (Draper) is a con man, a marginal type who depends on gambler’s luck and believes in grace as a kind of spiritual luck that falls from the sky.
Okay, hindsight has made her look pretty stupid here. She didn't know, and couldn't have known, that Bob was about to be revealed as a con man bluffing his way through just like Don. But she is just stupid to think that Don didn't make it on discipline and hard work. Yes, he once bluffed a hung-over Roger into thinking that maybe had had asked Don to come into work, but he proved his worth once there. The binary distinction she wants to make here is driven by nothing but hatred for men like Don Draper and Roger Sterling.

But it gets worse for there is an appalling double standard. You may remember that the episode also includes scenes in which Joan tries to bluff her way into getting Avon. In this she is helped by Peggy who fakes a call from Avon to help Joan. Rosin has nothing but praise for that.
Seth, you ask why the women—most notably Peggy and Joan—have to take the jagged, unexpected path to the top instead of climbing the corporate ladder. The obvious answer is that they have no choice. Anyway, isn’t the stereotype these days, confirmed by Lean In, that women sit around and wait for someone to hand them a promotion? If so, then maybe we all should learn to lie like Joan.

Dear Hanna, it's painfully obvious that you already know how to lie.

Bad style rising

This may seem trivial relayed to the above but the style trends emerging on the show are telling. Fans of the rebellious spirit of the 1960s like to forget about the 1970s or they pretend that that horrible culture and morals of that decade are somehow unconnected to the 1960s.

The really ugly and stupid clothing of the late 1960s and 1970s are beginning to make their presence felt.  Exhibit number one is that incredibly ugly pantsuit that Peggy wears in the final scenes of the finale. Read, and laugh along with me, as Tom and Lorenzo try to rationalize this monstrosity.
The Polyester Pantsuit of Power. A couple years ago, we were doing some hardcore research into the styles of the late ’60s, because we knew big changes were coming on the Mad Men front once they passed 1966 and we needed to refresh our memories. Early ’60s clothing is easier for us to discuss, but late ’60s clothing requires some fairly precise knowledge of the time and the culture in order to understand how revolutionary it was and to place the sometimes difficult-to-look-at (in the modern day) styles in context. ...

As hard as this is to accept or believe, this is the trendiest thing Peggy’s ever worn. Not only that, it’s the most declarative, important thing she’s ever worn. We cannot stress just how seismic it is for a woman to come into an office in 1968 wearing pants. It’s only slightly less seismic than a man walking into his office job wearing a dress in 2013. She’s actually a little ahead of her time here, and anyone who went through grade school in the 1970s has countless class pictures with smiling teachers wearing this exact outfit. It’s HIDEOUS to most modern eyes, but it did become something of a standard for working women through to about 1975 or so.
Well, that's okay then.

Well, no it isn't.  As I said way back in season one, it matters a whole helluvalot that an era characterized by taste and elegance is going to be replaced by an era of incredible crassness.

This is a major problem for a show like Mad Men. The music, the clothing, the cars, and the interiors that have characterized the show so far are about to disappear. There have been hippies and other signs of encroaching disaster but they have been kept to the background by focusing on the office. They can only hide this for so long. Everything is about to fall apart.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A manly look at feminism Pt2

We all have cherished beliefs that we can't really defend and we all get defensive and angry when we are called on to defend one of these positions. Ann Althouse hit one of those limits last week. She expressed a lack of sympathy for men who end up paying child support and got a whole lot of pushback in the coments at her blog and elsewhere. And this was her argument in response:
You are free, you need to think about how you use your freedom, and don't just think about your own perspective as you make arguments that law and society ought to be arranged to facilitate your choices. I'd say I'm being quite libertarian. And as for social connishness, I support abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and — it's right there in my quote — I'm not out to punish those who decline to channel their sexuality into committed relationships with child-rearing. I'm just defending legal and political decisions that center on protecting the interests of children rather than the ability of males to avoid the consequences of procreation, consequences that occur even though the male power over reproduction ends — because he controls only his body and not the woman's — at an earlier point in time than the woman's.
She's more interested in "protecting the interests of children rather than the ability of males to avoid the consequences of procreation"? I don't believe that. I suspect she believes it but that is because she isn't being honest with herself about this.

Her problems starts with the line "... consequences that occur even though the male power over reproduction ends — because he controls only his body and not the woman's — at an earlier point in time than the woman's." Let's spell this out. A man controls reproduction by either using contraception or not having sex in the first place. The woman on the other hand has those options plus the additional option of having an abortion if she gets pregnant. In fact, she can have an abortion for any reason at all. She can get pregnant intentionally, change her mind and get an abortion.

So, here is the first question, why should he feel any responsibility for a child that she can unilaterally kill or not at her will? It's not his child anymore once you make that step. Yes, it will become his child if he helps raise it but up until the moment of birth, you can't hold him responsible for something he has no say in.

Imagine what would happen if we gave the man the option of signing off. It should be the woman's responsibility to inform the man that she is pregnant and he should be given the option of signing a form saying, "Yes, I accept the responsibility for raising this child," or "No I do not accept the responsibility for raising this child." And the form should also include an option for his accepting on the condition of a paternity test.

That would even things out. It wouldn't limit her "rights over her own body" in any way. She can still have the child or not. He isn't forcing her either way. (I suspect that one embarrassing consequence of such a step would be a significant drop in the number of accidental pregnancies.)

But that's only the first step. The next problem is no fault divorce. because she can end the marriage any time she wants and be relatively certain that she will get sole or shared custody rights. Plus she gets support payments enforced by law but (and this is very important) she is in no way accountable to him as to how she spends those support payments. In Canada, he isn't even allowed to ask for an accounting which means that in cases where the "support" payments are very large, the woman can spend it on spa visits or a vacation with her new boyfriend.

The point being that the incentives for marriage for men have been severely reduced. Not surprisingly, men are taking this into account in making their life choices.

It's interesting by the way, to see how different groups are responding to this. Men I know who are over the age of 40 or so are often quite angry about it. They grew up with a certain set of expectations and now the carpet has been pulled out from under them. Interestingly, this has effected men who embrace traditionalist values least. They have tended to marry women who embraced the same values as they do. But others can be quite bitter about it.

Younger men, on the other hand, seem to be quite enjoying it. There is a guy we know who lives in a van. He travels all around the country being a photographer. He even has gotten arts grants to do this. There is woman here in the neighbourhood he stays with for a few weeks every summer and winter on his way through. She's a massage therapist, which I expect makes her pretty good in bed—sex and a massage. I doubt very much that she is the only such woman on his circuit.

It's a pretty good deal. You may say, "But it won't last forever." That's true but when he gets to be old enough that he is going to have to settle down he is going to be in a stronger bargaining position that any of the single women available to him. He'll probably be able to marry a woman younger than the ones he is having sex with now.

More likely, he'll just move in with her

And it's hard not to suspect that is why Ann Althouse is a little touchy on this subject.
You are free, you need to think about how you use your freedom, and don't just think about your own perspective as you make arguments that law and society ought to be arranged to facilitate your choices.
That's true enough but if you change the basic social contract, even if you do so for the best of reasons, you have to expect that there will be multiple effects and that you aren't going to like some of them. And don't turn around and try and beat us into submission with a lot of talk about the interests of the child. Between abortion and no-fault divorce it has been made very clear to us that we have no say in those interests beyond paying court-ordered support. Don't expect us to care.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I love this

Like you, I get these stupid teasers from media sites. This one made me giggle:

They don't get cellulite for the same reason that dead people don't get cancer. If you have cellulite, you don't get to be a bikini model. If you already are one and you get cellulite, you're fired. If you click on that link, you're a moron.

Imitatio project: Revealing your shame

I'm down to the last of the limiting factors for my Don Draper type character "J.A.C.":
He has burned some bridges by admitting publicly that he has a shameful past.*
I have two (related) preliminary points to make here.

The first is, don't do it. Don't reveal your shame. There is a telling moment early in the novel Lord of the Flies, where young Ralph is talking with another boy. The boy asks him if he can use a nickname for Ralph and Rakph says, sure, "Just don't call me what they call me at school." Then the other boy says, "What's that?" Then Ralph, the stupid loser, tells him that they call him "Piggy" at school. Ralph is called "Piggy" from then on.

Don't, don't, don't advertise your weak spots. The other kid only knows that Ralph has a weakness because he tells him. And, just in case this isn't obvious, shame = weakness.

I remember, for example, a staggering number of women whom I met back in university and the years just after who would tell me, for no good reason, that they felt sexually inadequate. Or they would tell me about their previous boyfriend and the reasons that relationship had gone wrong. Not women I was dating, just women I was getting to know. We'd be talking and they'd just blab this stuff out.

I know why people do this. They think that saying something like this is going to make others treat them more kindly. To be honest, I've made the mistake myself more than once. But it doesn't work. In the other person's mind, it puts an asterisk beside your name forever. Even if the guy whom a woman has told of her feelings of sexual inadequacy sticks with her, he will always be looking for failure from her thereafter.

That brings me to the second related point and that is that a lot of good liberal types will actually advise that we air our shame. They believe that only good can come from this. But what happens when you do the thing that all the good liberal nannies tell you you should do and the results are negative?
The grand irony of Dick Whitman’s long exile from the world and feverish need to cover up his true self is that his greatest fear of discovery turns out to be true: people abandon him the minute they find out who he is. Just as Betty walked out once she found out Don wasn’t, in fact, a football star who was angry at his father but instead simply poor white trash, the partners of SC&P forced him out the minute he told them all about his Whershey Whorehouse antics. For a decade and a half, he’s lived in mortal fear of being found out and it turns out all his fears were well-founded, from his perspective. Megan’s the only person who stayed with him after hearing the truth of him but it’s been a struggle from day one for the two of them to stay connected and with last night’s angry monologue after finding out he screwed her over yet again, we find out that Megan isn’t quite as committed to this marriage as she tries to appear.
Tom and Lorenzo, who make the above observation, upon being informed that they have committed heresy against liberal nannyism, immediately attempt some backfill by insisting that this is only the way it appears from Don's perspective as opposed to how it actually is. 

But what other possible explanation is there for the rejection. This is just a desperate attempt to avoid reality. Tell people where your vulnerabilities are and they will exploit them. The reason we know Betty is heartless bitch is that she does reject him instead of admiring him for what he has overcome. (To be clear, Don's serial infidelities would be reason to leave him, but that isn't why she does it. She leaves him because she learns of his secret identity. And don't give me any bullshit about it being because he was "living a lie" because everyone has shameful secrets, including Betty herself, and she knows she does.)

Now, there is an argument that says that Don's weaknesses can become strengths. That is to say that he could turn around and claim that his self-made status as a man who grew up in an under-privileged home and made something of himself. And sure, he could do that but that isn't what happens here. Dick wants to shed his heritage.  You may think that he should have done otherwise but you're not him and it isn't your place to make the decision for him (that's why I call this attitude "liberal nannyism") . He's allowed to do that (as is Bob Benson, by the way, and note that he is far more of an intentional fraud than Don and yet gets nothing like the criticism that Don does.)

 I hear some thinking, "But why should he be ashamed of who he is?" The answer is that he isn't ashamed of who he is. What drives Don is that he doesn't want to go back there. You see that very clearly in Nixon vs Kennedy in season one. Don is running away from his identity not because he is ashamed but because that isn't what he wants to be. As Bert puts it, "a man is whatever room he is standing in". Don doesn't want to be what he used to be.

And this shouldn't shock us. Don's story is only a more dramatic version of what all of us do when we move out of the house and into town. We go to a new environment where the people and things that used to define us are no longer present to limit us.

College-educated white liberals always want to force other people's "authenticity" on them. They want black people to like "black" music and culture. Meanwhile, though, we always allow ourselves the freedom to adopt whatever persona we want. That is what is happening here, a bunch of comfortable white people are rejecting Don when they find out who he really is. Don't kid yourself about this, this is the way the game works.

In any case ...

In any case, the milk is spilt now and J.A.C., like Don, must live with the consequences. The thing is, he doesn't want to be Dick Whitman. Nobody does and only a spoiled child of privilege would be so stupid as to suggest that he go embrace his "authentic" identity.

The most honest account of this in all literature, by the way is in the Lemon Girl's favourite novel Mansfield Park.  It's heroine, Fanny Price, is in a position very much like Dick Whitman's. She comes from a family struggling on the margin and is sent to live with wealthier cousins. She is very much the outsider in her new environs. However, she refuses an offer of marriage that the aunt and uncle she is staying with think she should accept and she is sent home to her poor family in the hopes that she will learn her lesson.

Austen handles this theme with an honesty that no modern writer would. She gives us the full horribleness of a life of poverty. And it's not just a financial poverty but a moral and cultural one too. Fanny sticks by her principles but she does so at a horrible price. This makes Mansfield Park unique among the Austen novels in that it is the only one where we get a full glimpse of just how heavy the price of failure is.

Don Draper, unlike the many people who find it easy to criticize him, knows exactly what this price is. He knows the soul-destroying squalor that comes with "authenticity" and he isn't going there. (At least until Season 6, which is not only the worst but the most morally dishonest season of Mad Men.)

So that is where our hero is. Where does he go next? I'd better think of something by next Monday.

* The complete set of limitations are:
  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
  • He has a drinking problem.
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
  • He has burned some bridges by admitting publicly that he has a shameful past.
I've written about them all in this set, just click "Imitatio project"  below to see all the posts on this project.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Imitatio project: more mommy issues

Moving along with my five limiting personality factors that a Don Draper type character would have, the next two are
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
 I'll begin by throwing you a curve ball. There is an interview out there where Matt Weiner says his mother was something like Betty Draper. He said it response to someone who argued that the portrait of Betty is too negative. I wonder what she thought of that?
What do his parents think of the show?

“I think they love the show,” he said.

He thinks? They haven’t told him?

“Ah, not really. I think they like to tell other people more than they like to tell me.”

Now read this:
After my first day on the set, I met Weiner for dinner at L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, AMC’s base for out-of-towners. He was outside finishing a cigarette. Earlier in the day he commanded, “Don’t say I smoke!”

Why not? His face changed, and he seemed about 12 years old. “My parents don’t know.” I found that appealing, though I could see him wince once he said it.
Those quotes are from a New York Times Magazine profile of Weiner that came out during the second season. Reading it, you can see that Mad Men is a mythologized version of Matt Weiner's own life. His parents had moved out of New York to Baltimore and they had nothing good to say about the city. Young Matt visited his grandparents in the city and did fun stuff like see Hair. So the home family in Baltimore and the fun grandparents in New York became the models for Henry and Betty and the fun grandparents in New York were the inspiration for Don and Megan's apartment in New York. (Read the story I link above and you'll find a rich vein of evidence as many of the things Weiner talked about unguardedly back in 2008 have since shown up on the show.)

So let's go back to Betty because she is the person through whom Matt Weiner is working out his mommy issues.
“She is an incredibly beautiful woman who married a man she barely knows because he looks good on paper. Her mother has just died, and she’s realized that when her beauty disappears she will cease to exist. She’s not enough for her husband, and she doesn’t want to accept it. She’s terrified of dealing with that problem because she cannot get divorced, she cannot be single, she cannot start over. She is somewhat puritanical.”
No, I don't think that Betty is exactly like Weiner's mother but Betty went to college and then became a housewife and Weiner's mother got a law degree and never practiced. At times Betty seems to read like the creation of someone who read The Feminine Mystique and then brutally forced history to fit the theory—that is certainly the way most critics read her—but she makes much more sense if read as the creation of a man who has not successfully blown up the relationship he had with his mother. Or, to approach the problem from the other end of the telescope, many of the things that don't make sense about Betty sound like the sorts of things a guy who hasn't outgrown his mother would see in a romantic interest.

Rebuilding the structure

So, I think we are in a position to understand Don better than his creator. Abigail, the stepmother, isn't real. She's just a  caricature and not a believable character at all. Betty is really Don's mother and not his first wife. His, or my recreation of him J.A.C., has a hard time relation to women because he has all this baggage of the relationship with his mother hanging over him.

But that still leaves a puzzle. The temptation is to say that Don marries an infantile Megan and that is his fault. I don't see that. Megan's faults strike me as very much her fault and not his. She just isn't enough woman for him.

Our era doesn't see that. We blame the man for everything. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Smooth baritones of summer #2 Armstrong and Crosby

I meant to get this up Friday. Oh well.

This is not a great song. The melody is stolen and the lyrics are, well, disposable is probably the nicest thing anyone will ever say about them. That said, the lyrics work well for the point I want to make. There is no terribly profound meaning to be excavated here. You have a song about being musical being sung by two guys who were better at being musical than just about anyone else alive in the twentieth century.

This is one of those rare occasions where the medium actually is the message.

Because the lyrics are stupid, you can ignore them and notice how each man makes his voice work first against and then with the other mans voice. They can sound very distinct for a few bars and then turn around and blend like Scotch (Armstrong) and Soda (Bing). It's very easy to listen to but just try doing it yourself.

And here is the thing, Sinatra couldn't sing like that to save his life. And he knew it.

He used to say that his kind of singing was harder than Crosby's kind but that isn't really true. Sinatra was a genius with phrasing and he could go up to F#, which is a major third higher than Crosby could go*, which is to say, there were things Sinatra could do that Crosby couldn't. Sinatra also mastered the long-playing format that Crosby had only a few successes with. But it's nonsense on stilts to pretend that what Crosby could do wasn't hard. It was very hard and the fact that he made it look easy only makes it more daunting.

I love Sinatra, with some reservations, but Crosby was the more significant artist.

* It's telling that some Sinatra fans use range when trying to make the case for their man as neither Sinatra nor Crosby had much range (by serious singer standards that is, my own range is right between the two men's).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Socially conservative Catholicism

Earlier today I was blogging about when some forms of social conservatism and some forms of  feminism line up. It reminded me of a conversation I had a while ago with a Catholic woman who put of sex until marriage and didn't get married until her very late twenties.

She started by running down this long list of health problems she had in her twenties, most of which were the sorts of health problems that show up in people who are not happy and are living stress-filled lives as a consequence. Then she tells me about these long arguments she had with her doctor. This doctor had tried to convince this young woman that she'd be happier and healthier if she was sexually active. My friend was incensed at this and triply so because the doctor was also a Catholic and woman, which my friend regarded as betrayal of the values that go along both with Catholicism and womanhood.

I bit my tongue, as I so often do in conversations with socially conservative Catholics or feminists but the truth is that she most likely would have been both happier and healthier if she had been sexually active. No, she should not have had sex if she believes it is morally wrong to do so; no one should have sex ina situation where they feel it is morally wrong to do so. But, that said, there is lots of evidence that having sex is physically and mentally more healthful for women than abstaining (but not promiscuity which tends to be bad for both physical and mental health.)

Both social conservatives and feminists reflexively bristle at any suggestion that men might be good for women.

I'm a traditionalist Catholic myself, especially with regards to the liturgy. But sometimes when I talk to other traditionalist Catholics I find myself wondering at the tendency they have to assume that simple factual disputes will always line up with their moral views and, consequently, the tendency they have to exaggerate or even simply make up facts to support their arguments. Traditionalist Catholics, for example, regularly make claims about the degree of risk of breast cancer associated with the pill that are so far out of touch with reality as to be insane. Likewise, the claim that the pill is a a potential abortifacient at all  is far from clear and yet many traditionalist Catholics argue as if the pill always has abortifacient effects.

A little culture: the bachelor life

Is more and more attractive. Here is why:

On the other side of the argument, this is one of those cases where, perversely enough, some social conservatives and some feminists tend to line up. Both sides think that men should just suck it up and deal with it even though it is obviously not in men's interest to do so. They argue as if men should willingly sacrifice their own interests to claimed social benefits just because feminists and social conservatives want he to.
The conservative reaction to Dr. Helen’s Men On Strike is interesting because it is the opposite of their general stance on government creating the wrong incentives.  When high income taxes discourage investment and production, conservatives point to the Laffer curve and advise lowering tax rates to rectify the problem.  The liberal response to conservatives pointing out that high taxes are strangling the economy is to accuse those responding to the current incentives of being selfish or unpatriotic.  We see the same pattern across a slew of issues, including stifling environmental regulations, capital gains taxes, minimum wage laws, and rent control.  Liberals tend to want to shame actors into going against their own best interest in order to prop up bad public policy, where conservatives tend to point out the folly of using shame and moral coercion to overcome bad policy.  The solution to bad policy, conservatives regularly point out, is to fix the policy, not to try to strong arm companies and individuals to go against their own best interest.

But all of this suddenly changes when the bad policy is regarding marriage.  Then the same conservatives who stand ready to offer a detailed lecture on the need to match risk with reward, authority with responsibility, and to have consistent and fair enforcement of contracts suddenly switch to the tactics of a liberal defending a 90% marginal tax rate.
But Dr. Helen is absolutely right, if you take away the positive incentives to marry, then a lot of men will make the rational choice and stay single.

I'd add this: history has some very brutal ways of dealing with societies that don't recognize that men and women have different strengths and fail, as a consequence to cherish men who possess masculine virtues. Our civilization will fail very quickly if this does not change.

By the way, pretty much any time you find feminists and social conservatives on the same side of an argument you can be sure it's the wrong side. Both ideologies have outlived their usefullness.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Manly Thor's Day Special: Looking at feminism through manly eyes Pt1

As I've often joked, the worst possible thing you can do is to do a good study that comes up with inconvenient results.

You run this risk in a big way if, for example, you do a study comparing the political knowledge of different groups.  Why? Because there isn't a lot of room for questioning your methodology; it's a pretty straightforward project. And there is a good chance that those results are going to cause discomfort because, little as we like to admit this, some groups tend to do a lot better than other groups when you test them on their political knowledge. Or, to put it in a way that people really won't like, some groups tend to do a lot worse than other groups when you test them on their political knowledge.

What groups? Well, women.
In a finding sure to inflame the gender wars, research funded by the U.K. government suggests women around the world, and especially in Canada, are significantly more ignorant of current affairs and politics than men.
How very inconvenient. But facts are stubborn things.

And this result shouldn't surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Compare the good morning shows on the big networks to the evening news and you will immediately note that the morning shows, whose audience is primarily women, tend to focus a lot more on gossip, make up, fashion and other lifestyle issues than they do on politics. Over the last few decades as the media has tended to focus more and more on female readers, they have done so by increasing the amount of gossip they cover. That is why once-respectable newspapers now treat Pippa Middleton's clothing choices as serious news.

No, I don't think this is a good thing nor do I think there is nothing that can be done about it. But nothing will ever change so long as we don't acknowledge that some things are women's fault. The people responsible for the study are desperate not to do that.
The mystery of what causes this alleged knowledge gap is the “extraordinary question at the heart of this study,” said the lead author, James Curran, professor of communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, and director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre.

“I think it’s because public affairs is indeed dominated by men. It may be that there is also patriarchal bias, but it isn’t possible to determine whether reality is being distorted or whether it is merely being reflected,” he said in an interview.

He suggested three partial explanations. One is a “historical hangover” from an age when public affairs was men’s work, and women stayed home. Another is that women can be more busy than men, with less time for news. A third is that the men seem to be more prominent in current affairs, which can discourage some women from taking an interest or feeling involved.
Notice that all of those "partial explanations" treat women as helpless victims of their environment. None of them suggest that maybe the solution might be for women to stop wasting their time on tripe like women's magazines The Vagina Monologues and the like and read the political news that grown ups read instead.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Imitatio: a drinking habit

I started a mint julep before settling down to this one.

There are very serious problems with the way Mad Men handles Don's drinking.

The big one is that it, like the entire entertainment and literary field, the show has not absorbed the disease theory of addiction. The key point is this: Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a cause and not a symptom. Alcoholics drink because they are addicted to alcohol and not because they have character faults or because they have deep psychological problems or because they have a bad habit of anesthetizing their feelings instead of "dealing with their issues".

You may want to dispute that. You may feel that alcohol abuse is a function of psychological problems or bad ways of dealing with stress. And you can believe that if you want, it's still a free country. But here is the thing: YOU! ARE! WRONG!

You're entitle to your own opinions but not your own facts. And here is what you need to know: every single therapy based on the theory that alcoholism is a symptom of other problems has been a miserable failure. There are no exceptions.

On the other hand, the twelve-step method used by alcoholics anonymous, which is based on the assumption that alcoholism is a disease, has had incredible success. More success than every other method of helping alcoholics live ordered lives put together.

So here is the question: Is Don an alcoholic? If he is, then he needs to go to an AA meeting.

This question has dramatic implications as well. Why? Because whether he is or isn't alcoholic has nothing at all to do with his character or psychology. It's like getting cancer: it's not your fault!

Now it is your fault if you don't do anything about it; it is your fault if you ignore the symptoms.

But that is not the way this show (as well as hundreds of other TV shows, movies and novels) handles alcoholism. It treats Don's drinking problem as if it is a symptom of the way he lives and of the way he handles his problems. And all that is, to use a technical term, bullshit. (Notice the double standard by the way: none of the habitual users of marijuana or LSD have any problems.)

Having a drink at the end of a stressful way is not a bad habit. It will not lead to ruin. It will not cause you to explode like a boiler because you have been ignoring "the root causes" of your stress. In fact men, who are more likely to to do this, tend to have far fewer stress-related diseases than women, who don't tend to handle stress with a drink.

Okay, I hear you say, but Don drinks too much. Yes he does. But how do we explain that? If we put it down to alcoholism then it has no implications at all characterwise.

I think the way out of the problem is to treat it merely as a bad habit. In real life, that is a bad approach because a heavy drinking habit is often, but not always, a sign of alcoholism. But the show can't have it both ways and, since the show has chosen to present Don's heavy drinking as related to his psychology and character, we have to treat it as a bad habit.

Implications for my character J.A.C.? He has to have a bad habit that he has formed through long practice that he needs to overcome. I'm not sure it should be alcohol because, for the reasons stated above, alcohol tends to muddy the issue. I'll have to think about it. (My first inclination is to go with something sexual because, in my experience, the most common bad habit men have is to stick with a woman they are having regular sex with even though she is bad for them and they ought to dump her.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Imitatio project: so where was I?

Last Tuesday, I suggested that any attempt to make a more positive type of "Don Draper" than what Mad Men offers us is faced with certain limiting facts. And since I am starting something new here, I am going to assign these facts to a new fictional character with the initials J.A.C. They are:

  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
  • He has a drinking problem.
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
  • He has burned some bridges by admitting publicly that he has a shameful past.
I'll deal with just the first two today.
  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
Let's begin with the show. It overdoes these things quite a bit. Dick's natural father is a hot-headed man prone to drinking too much. He also doesn't trust anyone. His adoptive father is a pimp. Dick's birth mother is a prostitute and his stepmother becomes a prostitute when times get hard. That's not just hard times, that's Dickensian!

With an important difference: Dickens had actually experienced hard times and Matt Weiner experienced a life of privilege from the very beginning. Weiner has no notion of what people are like. It's not inconceivable that a woman who says, "Communists have souls but they cannot be saved," would, in difficult times, resort to prostitution. But she'd be a lot sneakier about it than Dick's mother is in the story.

But it is extremely unlikely that  she'd do such a think in the first place.

A dishonest man lives here

The important thing to grasp is that Draper uses his past as a kind of mythology. Nobody else seems to have grasped this. They take his flashbacks as factual remembrances even though he couldn't actually have experienced some of the things he has flashbacks of (the most notorious of these being the flashback to his own conception).

And even this mythology isn't enough. Dick also has an encounter with a hobo who introduces him to "the hobo code" back in the first season (one of the best episodes ever, BTW). This hobo code is what gives him the basis of his own personal moral code. And the thing that code gives him is the warrant to reject his own father's morality.

When we reduce Dick to these essentials, I think we begin to see a fairly recognizable type. His parents both advocate strong morals but show little capacity for love and both show themselves to be hypocrites because they can't maintain their high moral standards in the face of life's vicissitudes. That sounds like, well, that sounds like a whole lot of people.

In other words, Matt Weiner has used all this mythology to take a pretty common childhood blight and distance it a bit so that it makes worthy fiction.

But what about the dishonest mother?

So these first two limitations are not limitations at all. That older Don retells the story of Dick's youth this way is a healthy and honest way to deal with parental relationships. Every young man (or woman for that matter) needs to confront their father's moral limitations.Father's have a tendency to sell you a moral code that is based on the way they wish life was rather than what they know it actually is.

No, Don's he problem is that he doesn't blow up the relationship he has with his mother. Weiner has a good thing but ruins with a lot of Freudian bullshit. His chief problem is that he is still fighting with his mother as an adult. He has relatively little trouble finding male father figures to relate to. It's his relationships with women that are a problem.

So our fictional character J.A.C. is still struggling with the his mother.