Archive for January, 2010

Vicious Circle #37

January 29, 2010 - 12:25 pm Comments Off

Alan, Jay, Robb Allen, Jim, Stingray, and me cover… this and that, mainly that. Features me attempting a version of Jay’s accent, which I was then asked to repeat… a lot.

Vicious Circle

No They're Not

January 28, 2010 - 7:11 pm Comments Off

Title of article: Afghan Men Struggle With Sexual Identity, Study Finds.

The actual content of the article, on the other hand, details the culture clash between Western forces and the local Pashtun culture, in which men having sex with men is common but those participating deny being gay. Go ahead and read all of it; it’s interesting.

What’s more interesting to me is the title of the article and the line in it about “a new report suggests an entire region in the country is coping with a sexual identity crisis.” But, if you read the article, the locals don’t sound remotely confused; so far as they are concerned, it is culturally normal to lust after and take sexual pleasure from men and boys, and to marry women and have children with them. They’re not gay; they don’t (so far as they claim) have romantic relationships with men, just indulge in sexual pleasure, whereas gay men fall in love with and have relationships with other men. QED- at least to them.

They’re not even all that unique; that cultural pattern has been seen before, in some places and times in ancient Greece, in at least one Indonesian tribe I know of, and one African. (Forgive me for not citing- the sources on the latter two cultures are in some of my anthropology books that I never took with me when leaving home.) They all have several other things in common, too- women are largely socially segregated from the men, either in having their own separate world or simply not taking part in society at outside the home. Misogyny and extreme patriarchal control are the common thread: when women are seen as worthless except in terms of bearing sons, it apparently becomes difficult for men steeped in such a culture to get excited about having sex with them. Humans are still pretty randy creatures no matter what kind of sexually repressive culture they’re brought up in, though, so as usual, given enough time, teaching twists to accommodate the local culture- and allow the men a sexual outlet with those that ARE admirable and therefore possibly desirable. The Pashtun men probably ARE no more gay than the men participating in male-male sex in prisons are- as much as that disturbs Western sensibilities from several angles. (Though I’d bet money there are a few in there that *are* having relationships and romances and are pretty much gay- closets are big and roomy when you can be caught having sex with another man and not be doubted as straight.)

One of the arguments frequently brought up by those arguing that homosexuality is just a recent perversion and product of cultural decline is that there was no such thing as a gay sexual identity until the late nineteenth century, and they do have a point: modern Western sexual identity is very much a creation of our culture, and filtered through our understanding of how love and relationships work, which is also a pretty recent construct. Love as the primary tie between married couples, rather than economics, status, and reproduction, is one of Rousseau’s more radical inventions- just one that caught on like gangbusters in wealthy first-world nations. Thus, when Westerners wrestle with their sexual identity, they filter it through that prism of love and relationships, so that that identity is defined by who you want sexual relationships with- which our culture stresses are legitimized by love.

The thing is, heterosexual identity and relationships have come in a pretty huge variety over the course of history as well, with massive variation on when and in what contexts it’s considered normal to express sexual feelings, how many partners can or should be in a marriage, and whether it’s okay to have partners outside of your primary relationship- right up to whether it’s okay or not to achieve sexual climax when not trying to reproduce at all. (Usually the woman gets the short end of the stick on this, but there are a surprising number of cases where male ejaculation is seen as draining and lessening him as well.) This just doesn’t strike us as unusual because for obvious biological reasons, heterosexuality is normal and assumed; it doesn’t rock anybody’s world that it should vary, and vary a lot. Homosexual identity and behavior, on the other hand, we tend to expect to look the same all over the world regardless of what frame we’re thinking about it- either as a seamless whole of identity and behavior as inevitable as red hair, or as a perversion caused by some sort of pernicious outside influence.

Culture dictates, up to the point possible, the shapes that all the monkey urges humans naturally have take; it gives us the options for the acceptable ways to experience or express anger, frustration, affection, attachment, grief- and love and lust. Not all cultures are created equal, and I among others would certainly define one that found keeping children of any gender as sexual servants for the high status as disgusting- but it should not surprise us so much when they vary. The Pashtuns aren’t confused about how their world is ordered and the identities they have within that order- only we are.

Who the Sad Pandas?

January 27, 2010 - 9:39 pm Comments Off

Seems some members of the media are bent out of shape that the Tea Party Convention is only inviting a few news outlets, and that all of those news outlets are either directly sympathetic to their cause or, in the words of the Convention organizers, “have never bashed, misrepresented, or maliciously distorted the Tea Party movement, its events, or its adherents”. Even Jake Tapper, whom I normally respect for regularly recalling that his role in life includes keeping a critical eye on the government rather than cheerleading it, was bitching about it.

The American Thinker (slightly pompously) makes the point that the right to free association also includes the right to, well, not associate- up to and including with the media, and that to do otherwise has a pretty big stifling effect on a movement that may face hostility. This point is entirely true, though I don’t really think it’s why these media members are pulling the sour-grapes routine or what I think the central one is. Nobody was suggesting that the Tea Partiers ought to be forced to include the press in the name of public good, after all.

It’s that the self-same media is used to always being included in anything relevant, even if the people doing relevant things want them to die in a fire, because the organizers usually want the publicity that badly. When the Tea Party movement started up, the media leapt to the conclusion that they were an irrelevant and silly fringe, and they wasted no time in mocking and deriding them, often to the point of open scorn during what were supposed to be objective reports on national TV. MSNBC and Anderson Cooper called them “teabaggers”, again on national TV- a phrase that refers to an act that is most definitely not prime-time friendly and was clearly intended as a juvenile way of belittling the protestors. The term has since caught on, become standard in the non-conservative media and in political attack ads, and has become nearly more mainstream under that meaning than its original one.

But what happened was the Tea Partiers didn’t stay fringe. They captured a massive undercurrent of dissatisfaction, and managed to sweep up enough ticked off independents and beleagured taxpayers to have a fair amount to do with Scott Brown’s victory in thought-to-be-unassailable Massachusetts- and thus make it crystal clear that no matter how much scorn Democrats and their media friends poured on them, the Tea Partiers were very much relevant and the reflexive derision started to sound like desperation and elitism rather than merited dismissal of genuine kooks.

To which I say: too fucking bad. As it turns out, the Tea Partiers never DID need the media’s help for publicity, don’t need it now, and are completely free to invite whomever they choose to their events- and keep whomever they DON’T want out. Next time, try acting professional and maybe you won’t be off the invite list to cover the next relevant movement’s meeting that comes along. Pointing out that the included networks were chosen on pure partisanship is the height of hypocrisy- it was blatant partisan bias on the parts of those networks and journalists that turned the Tea Partiers hostile in the first place, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of legwork to turn it up.

Want to be invited to the party? Don’t call the first people at the table radicals, un-American, extremists, or make gay sex jokes about them on national television. This shouldn’t be something any journalist needs a reminder of.

I Got Nothin'

January 26, 2010 - 6:52 pm Comments Off

So instead, the following loose basket of random.

- Burn Notice and Breaking Bad are currently competing in my head for best thing on TV. Burn Notice is a lot more fun, and Breaking Bad much darker, but they’re both far better written and acted than they have any right to be, given their respective premises. I don’t think anyone had ever really asked Bruce Campbell to really act before, but Matt Nix has pulled it off.

- Superdickery is a deliberately out of context archive, but it still does a pretty good job of offering a window into just how seriously screwed up comics can get. Plus it has amazing real super powers of time-wasting.

- Apparently if you want a comfortable stick when having blood drawn, it’s worth politely pointing it out to the phlebotomist when she’s hammering away on your median nerve while trying to raise a vein. I blame my current devastating lack of inspiration on being a quart low, but at least it was nearly painless.

- I want to start some kind of a charity fund or organization to take screenwriters to the range and run them through a basic three-gun course. It really sucks for your suspension of disbelief, even with a cheesy crime drama show, when a character who declares himself to be “not a gun guy” busts two clays from directly behind a trap machine throwing high, slow targets and this is received as an impressive feat of shooting by the rest of the crowd. I did that the first day I held a damn shotgun. It’s NOT THAT HARD.

Please Stop Protecting Me

January 24, 2010 - 8:50 pm Comments Off

Look, I agree that the creeping sexualization of younger and younger girls is creepy and damaging and bad and wrong and I would like to see it stopped. My reaction to coming around a corner only to come face to face with Baby Bratz, the adorable infant dolls that look like they’re ready for a gang-bang, once nearly got me thrown out of Sears. I fully acknowledge and recognize the pressure that girls and women are under to be sexual and edgy in order to be seen as any sort of prospect for boys, and I acknowledge again that it’s bad and damaging.

That said, human women have sex drives. Some of them are on the right and left tail of the bell curve regarding this, but even a doe-eyed teenage girl has hormones just like the teenage boy does. Sure, she might be sexting that cad of a boy because she wants to be loved and feel valued, but she might also be doing it because it’s exciting and sexy and on some level she wants to do him. It’s bad for society that girls feel pressured to be overtly sexual in order to be worth interest at all, but at the same time it’s also equally bad for both the girls and for their future mates if they’re told that women (real women, good women, proper women) don’t really have sexual feelings like boys do, and that if she feels otherwise she’s just sick in the head because of cultural pressures. It tells her both that she doesn’t and can’t know and understand herself- and that those real feelings are things she should reject, whether shoving them entirely aside (most can’t, welcome to life as a sexually reproducing species), or constructing elaborate rationalizations and denial games so that, to her, it doesn’t really count if she was drunk at the time or it was otherwise spontaneous. (And unprotected, and ill-advised.)

Being a teenager is a messy stage of figuring out your identity and your place in the world and what you’re going to do with all the things that go into that. So teenage girls do silly, stupid things, and screw up, and so forth- but the catch is that this includes sexuality, whether we like it or it’s good for us or not. You don’t know who you are yet, so you flip through goth and nerd and band and jock identities looking for one that fits. You don’t know how to manage your emotions without your parents telling you how yet, but something inside you tells you to break from them, so you go through big emotional storms about little things because that’s still new ground. And, likewise, you don’t know how to cope with your own genitals yet- so you have weird fantasies you feel ashamed and excited about and do things that, in the eyes of any adult, are just as foolish as having a complete meltdown because having blue hair was banned by school/your parents. But they’re about sex, so the consequences are much bigger- not that this makes a bit of difference to the necessity of the phase.

We treat boys as though they’re infected with this massive, explosive power, but we acknowledge it’s not really their fault- wanting sex is just part of being male, after all- so we don’t, as a culture, treat it like that big of a deal, we just impress upon them that the consequences can be huge as best we can and move on. With girls, on the other hand, we talk as though parents failed when they set toe in the exact same territory, as though it’s up to them to keep that cache of explosives safe, and to impress upon the girls that it will be their responsibility to protect civilization by keeping the out-of-control filthy male beasts… that she wants to be important to, that she’s probably irresistibly drawn to if heterosexual, and whose basic drives she shares… at bay. Meanwhile the boys get the message that the girls are prey to be caught, or a challenge to be cracked, rather than being confused much like themselves. And, well, if they indulge the “beast”… well, boys are like that, it’s not their fault really. (But it might be hers, she didn’t try hard enough to get away.)

Sex and love create enough problems just by their very nature without culturally front-loading even more frustration, self-loathing, and false dichotomies into it. When you’re setting up a societal expectation that even wives must basically want jewelery, chores, or something else in exchange for doing her brutish, carnal husband the favor of having sex with him… that creates its own problems. Reacting in the opposite direction from over-sexualization of women and girls and trying to stuff them in cultural burqas won’t solve more problems than it creates- but normalization might.

Please Stop Representing Me II

January 22, 2010 - 2:47 pm Comments Off

So it seems the National Organization of Women is upset about Martha Coakley’s loss even though she, um, explicitly ran on the promise of supporting the health care bill they want killed entirely. (For very good reason.)

“Women are clearly harmed” by these lawmakers, O’Neill said. “Shame on the male-dominated Democratic Party for supporting them. They hold themselves out as the party that is women-friendly; well they’re not acting like it.”

“And that has a lot to do with why Martha Coakley lost this election,” O’Neill alleged, explaining the Democrats’ loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat with an argument that few others have made.

Well, er… the Democratic party, while indeed male-dominated just as the Republican party is, also went out of their way to choose her to fill the “Kennedy seat”, and she won an election against a male Democratic challenger. And if she ran on the promise of changing the anti-abortion language in the health care bill, I never heard about it. (Which doesn’t mean she didn’t, admittedly, but the message I got was she intended to help the effort to pass the monster as-is.)

Martha Coakley lost the election because she richly deserved to. The Democratic party did a horrible job vetting her past and didn’t bother to take note of some of the amoral things she had done as a prosecutor until they became campaign issues, at first she didn’t bother to run at all on the assumption she had it in the bag, and then when she did start campaigning it was an incredible series of gaffes and missteps that only made Brown look better and better. The Washington Democrats are blaming her for the loss because most of the blame indeed belongs to her, though they’re also trying to stick their heads back in the sand regarding the part of that loss that belongs to them.

Lemme ‘splain something about sexism and feminism. Feminism is the premise that women are people, which means treating women like full and complete persons. Part of that exalted status is owning your fuckups as well as acknowledging and respecting successes; when children fail, we kiss their booboos and take responsibility for the damage, because they can’t be full members of society yet. When adults- citizens- fail, we fucking expect them to own it.

Excusing Martha Coakley’s failure as a politician due to perceived sexism is treating her as less than a full, adult person. Nobody ever tried to blame Walter Mondale’s epic crash and burn on his manliness.

A Good Day

January 21, 2010 - 6:04 pm Comments Off

Signs pointing to the D team getting the hint and giving up or starting over on healthcare reform.

Important bits of McCain-Feingold struck down, Supremes admit political contributions are speech.

Air America goes through its last stage of failure.

This calls for an Aquaman dance.

It's A Pickup, Not A Pitchfork

January 20, 2010 - 3:41 pm Comments Off

So in the wake of the Scott Brown roflstomp of Democratic legislative ambitions in the Senate, the leftist and “progressive” pundits are in the throes of an apocalyptic episode of Chicken-Little tantrumming. Never to be left out, here we have Keith Olbermann and Howard Fineman mulling over the REAL reason for the Brown victory, which obviously cannot possibly be that the Democrats have used their massive majority for massive incompentency and corruption and Americans are kind of pissed about it. No, it must be that blue Massachusetts has had a sort of allergic reaction to the President they went 26 points for in 2008 and turned racist. And you can tell because there was “coding” in the Brown ads that involved pickup trucks. I hate watching Olbermann too (and for the record I have no more stomach for O’Reilly than I do for him), but it comes in the first bit of the video.

To recap, in case you didn’t watch it or just couldn’t quite believe what you were hearing: Massachusetts voted for the white guy over the white chick because the Scott Brown ads featured pickup trucks and that was secret visual code for “we’re not okay with having a black guy in the White House.”

Originally I asked Stingray if he wanted to do this post, seeing as how it seemed like the kind of material that inspires him do those berserker profanity binges that he’s so artistic at, but he just quirked his eyebrows at me and pointed out the obvious, which is that trying to spin this as a race thing is just so incredibly stupid and pathetic it’s impossible to really get angry over. And, really, he’s right. This is just the spastic kickings of someone who finds it completely impossible to admit to himself that His Team, led by His Guy, is doing kind of a crap job right now and that large numbers of Americans are recognizing that and are upset about it- and not about some other thing, like race, that would make it totally not His Team’s fault and them just Bad Bigoted Americans.

I have to give Fineman a small shred of credit- but not a whole hell of a lot, since he said “that’s a good question” rather than “are you serious”- in that somewhere in his bizarre pickup truck ramblings he manages to more or less land on the truth, which is that the pickup isn’t a racial message but a class message to a pretty big demographic that doesn’t trust the urban elite ruling class that Washington is largely composed of.

What he fails to mention, of course, is that this demographic has an excellent reason not to trust that class and that he’s sitting next to a really good example of why. Rural and suburban proles don’t have pickup trucks to tote around their crosses, lighter fluid, and lynching victims, they have them to tote around the tools and materials with which manual labor is done, and the fact that Olbermann apparently can’t even wrap his head around that enough to connect it to work and to class rather than attach it as a nebulous symbol of a racist “underclass” is a picture-perfect illustration of why they don’t trust him and the governing class he represents.

What’s especially sad about this is that non-white people own pickups too, lots of them. If you live out in the sticks or have a job that involves manual labor or are just in an economic bracket where doing your own dirty work makes sense (and that includes educated pasty us), then having a pickup truck is really handy. They’re ubiquitous on the Indian reservations and among the Hispanic working class out here, and might even have become a racial symbol in that sense if so many white people didn’t own them for the same reasons. I don’t live in a state with a large black population, but I suspect the same is true among black people in not-completely-urban areas in Southern states.

Barack Obama is impossible to picture in a pickup truck, but that’s not about the color of his skin, it’s about his class. His educational credentials are Ivy League, and so are his wife’s. They may be darker than past Presidents, but they came from the exact same culture as the entrenched governing class. If the Pickup People can make the distinction between class and skin color more easily than Keith Olbermann can, that says a lot more about Olbermann than it does about them.

Personally I think Brown’s victory had a hell of a lot more to do with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid than Barack Obama, but if you want to make it about him, at least get it right.

On Today's Election

January 19, 2010 - 6:24 pm Comments Off

Once upon a time in late 2008, a charismatic and forceful young President carried both himself and his party to overwhelming electoral victory, in what many saw as setting the scene for an unfettered Democratic hand in dramatically remaking the American political landscape, if they could but muster the vision and boldness to execute it. With powerful majorities in the House and Senate. January 2009: Yes We Did!

One year later, the only thing of note the administration has managed to accomplish was the massive TARP bailouts expanding upon the Bush bailouts, which Americans are slowly realizing only stimulated legislative backscratching hands. Cap and Trade has been shelved indefinitely, and the health care bill that was to be the administration’s signature achievement has spiraled into a nightmarish vision of legislative sausage-making, with it becoming ever more apparent that they now want to just pass something, anything, that they can claim as an accomplishment, no matter how vile. Foreign policy has gone largely nowhere, with the Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Israelis, and Olympic Committee being equally uinmpressed and overall disinclined to do anything but what they were going to do anyway. January 2010: What, Exactly, Did We Do?

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ted Kennedy met his last martini and inconvenienced the Congressional Democrats by dropping dead before the final vote on the health care bill could be had. Before Kennedy arranged to have the rules changed in MA to avoid having a Republican governor be able to pick a successor to a MA seat, and instead arranged for a special election to be held, this would have been meaningless; a sufficiently Ted Kennedyesque replacement would have been slotted in the Kennedy Seat and it would have been business as usual.

It still should have been business as usual. Massachusetts has been a Democratic fiefdom for many decades; every once in awhile the populace gets sufficiently annoyed with the very worst excesses of a single-party state and elects a Republican governor to do some damage control, it’s generally acknowledged that Massachusetts Congressional seats are Democrat seats and that’s the way it is the same way Alaska is snowy. And under that belief, the DNP shrugged and picked a likely enough candidate (due to being a Democrat, having a pulse, and being a DA) and then more or less forgot about the special election, as did the placeholder candidate in question. In order to defeat a Republican candidate, all she had to do was not die or be caught with a dead hooker, after all.

Then a charismatic and forceful guy named Scott Brown with an R tag after his name (the GOP would love to claim credit for him, but they had little enough to do with his success) started conducting his political campaign against Coakley in the same high spirits as Sherman’s campaign against the South. Suddenly polls started showing Scott as having a chance, and then as having a close chance, and Coakley and the Democratic Party collectively lost their shit. Coakley hit Brown hard with a barrage of negative advertising, which mostly backfired, since she took to doing this as silly as declaring Brown an enemy of rape victims.

The harder she tried and the more desperate she smelled, the higher Brown’s polling climbed, and now it’s election night, and Coakley’s so panicked the blame ping pong has already begun even though the polls aren’t closed yet- and so has the accusation of cheating.

Even if Brown DOES manage to lose, the fact that he’s gotten this close to a miracle like taking a Massachusetts Senate seat away from the Dems should be blaring red klaxons that they are in serious political trouble and that they need to make a major shift in how they’re handling governing if they don’t want to suffer a bloodbath in the midterm elections akin to the 1994 Republican takeover. And some of them know that.

Obama, meanwhile, has issued a statement on how he plans to handle it- by doubling down and getting more combative about his approach. This could have the same expiration date as every other Obama statement, but I actually doubt it; never in his political or personal career has he ever actually been thwarted from something he really wanted to do, and I don’t think he intends to start now. If so, all the GOP, as idiotic as they are, will have to do is stand back and let him walk himself into the sawblades- and hope he doesn’t do too much damage to the country on his way through.

Good News for Blogorado Folks

January 18, 2010 - 6:26 pm Comments Off

1. I found my stout recipe.
2. The beer store had the correct hops & malts for said recipe in stock today.
3. Draw your own conclusion.