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Archive for September, 2011

Girly Man, With Son

I don’t know if anybody saw this article in The New York Times a week or so ago. It says that men’s testosterone levels drop after they have children. This study prompts the Old Gray Lady to ask, “Dads, are you no longer manly?” That’s right, it’s official, according to science. Being a dad has also made me a woman.

I have friend, a new father like I am, who answered the proposition that we’re not macho anymore with one word:  “Good!” What’s not to like that we don’t pick fights or try to pick up other people’s chicks anymore? What’s bad about the fact that my maternal instinct has kicked in around my newborn son Xander, who doesn’t, I think, need a football coach at this point?

Sorry to sound like a shrill feminist, but on one level, the questions the paper asked are insulting and set up a completely false dichotomy. If men really are more nurturing, less aggressive, less randy and less territorial after they make sprog, then there is obviously some biological imperative at work, right? Some good reason? Yet we’re supposed to get our panties in a wad, says the paper of record, because this biological phenomenon doesn’t accommodate the totally cultural concept of masculinity. In other words, the paper asks, shouldn’t we be protecting the image of ourselves as macho ass-kickers at all costs, even if nature doesn’t even think it’s necessary? What the hell is that all about, New York Times? Whom exactly, I ask, are we doing this for? Our relatives in the military? Clint Eastwood? Arnold Schwarzen-lecher? Our dads? The other guys in the locker room in junior high?

Nature, we’ve got to admit, really mocks us when it comes to reproduction. Our mandates, science suggest, are not static, but change. We are attracted often to people who are not good for us in any way. We often want someone badly who we later don’t want at all. Researchers have found that women like macho guys at one time of the month and girly men at other times–when they are not ovulating (the story I read said Sean Connery is more attractive during ovulation and Leonardo DiCaprio at the other end of the cycle. Put that on a movie poster! How about we call it “Moon Men”?) And while evolutionary biology has explained a lot of things, it still doesn’t explain why some of us are born attracted to the same sex and can’t be changed under any circumstances.

What in the hell kind of lessons are these to take from our vindictive Hebrew deity evolution? I remember an Esquire article written years ago called “The Big Dog Gets the Girl–The Return of the Alpha Male.” I loved the writer (a manly man himself who actually offered me a job once) but hated the ideas. He forced the reader to confront the thought that certain attributes generally considered “male,” including the randiness, the out-of-control lust, the aggressiveness, etc., were necessary and useful in a world of animals, which of course we are. You don’t have to go much further than your corner bar to see that females, regardless of education and despite all their bitching, respond to aggressive behavior and turn up their noses at the weaker protein (and these patterns don’t necessarily disappear if you’re gay). I have to admit that these are points hard to argue with. But then you get in trouble with your generalizations when you encounter people who don’t adhere to the rules. There are lots of guys who are effeminate (not homosexual, which is a different thing, FYI) and women who want to join the Army and go kill.

I think we lose our way when we think these mix ups are a bad thing. We err when we draw broad conclusions about what a girl or boy is. In fact, in a perfect world we could share, switch off, take turns at being boys and girls when the mood strikes us. The diversity among us–and within us–is just part of the imperfection of the sex drive, whose hallmark more than anything else is its drive to diversity (Thank you, Mr. Kinsey.)

This doesn’t have to be distressing news to you douches out there with your proud douche heritage. Nor to women who revel in the rich rewards of their feminine wiles and all the free margaritas that come with them. Because being only an alpha male all the time, guys, or being only girly girls all the time, girls, are limitations that can rob you of the richness of experience, whether you have a dick or not. This is what the sexual revolution was partly about: playing the rigid roles 24/7 was making us all assholes. Haven’t you watched Mad Men?

So, if you have read The New York Timesand feel confused, I personally give you a dispensation. Go be a boy. Or a girl. Or not.

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Insight vs. Logic

I remember having this conversation with my Christian aunt a few years ago: The reason we tend to have progress is not only because we are logical, but because we have intuition and insight to reflect on that logic. A number of people have suggested that it’s one of the reasons robots will never be as advanced as humans, something I happen to believe. How do you, with a bunch of mathematical rules, create something that can reflect on itself reflecting?

So I was tickled when I saw this article on Yahoo! the other day about those who believe in God being more intuitive than reflective. According to the article, people who are more intuitive tend to believe in God. They also tend to screw up math and logic problems.

This doesn’t mean that only dummies believe god, of course, it just highlights philosophical problems going back to Immanuel Kant’s time. People who believe only in a mathematical/deductive reasoning approach to knowledge tend to completely miss the ideas that experience and intuition offer. Reasoning is indifferent to pain, and it’s our innate spirituality, the fact that we can imagine ourselves in somebody else’s head, that we tend to be more humane.

But intuition without logic is bad, because it can have you believing in fairies and wood sprites and … yes, even a benevolent deity who invented everything. Indeed, intuition almost always requires a human agency or a spirit whose hand operates the loom of the world, even though logic and science and millions of years of progress have taught us otherwise. Because humans have an innate ability to see through other people’s eyes, they always assume there are eyes out there. Sometimes there aren’t.

The problem is that knowledge and understanding require both things. Intuition without logic leaves you with bizarre religious beliefs (I know god is there because I FEEL him.) But logic without intuition leads to a world where pain and suffering are not comprehended, where the essence of things is not understood or even how the essence of something changes. Logic understands how to win an argument but doesn’t understand how the terms of the argument and the rules change.

I am an atheist, as my long-time readers might have figured out. But I think that man is a spiritual creature, and that this is mainly because of our brain’s ability to perceive things that cannot normally be understood through objective reasoning (though, unfortunately, it’s also why God will likely keep getting reinvented over and over, no matter how many times science kills him off). Despite my apostasy, I’ve always been a little biased toward intuitive types, mainly because I know lots of people who are extremely logical and can argue any point with perfectly manicured precision but who nonetheless lack basic wisdom about the world and themselves in it–and for that cause themselves and others pain for it.

There’s an appealing idea that sometimes a relatively dumb person can grasp things through his intuition that the smarties cannot. That meretricious proposal underlies a lot of our political rhetoric today, and gives people like Sarah Palin a populist appeal. She doesn’t need a degree. She’s got the common sense of the people. But to put faith in that kind of intuition is as good as flushing your whole brain down the toilet. To think to the best of your ability about things means trying to aspire to do both the due diligence of logic and reflect on its possible failures. Even if you’re not very good at one type of thinking or the other, you have to try to do both. If you’re a Christian, I would argue to you that common sense and willful ignorance do not sit well together side by side, and you cannot forever argue against ideas like evolution with faith alone. On the other hand, if you’re married to objectivism only, like the troll Ayn Rand, you will tend to see the world in either black and white, not knowing that sometimes the world can be both.

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Live Blogging The Emmys*

–*It’s nice to see Charlie Sheen presenting something other than blood in the urine.

–*Let’s face it. John Hamm should be nominated in both best actor and best actress categories, because nobody on “Mad Men” gets near as many lines as he does.

–*The audience laughs and laughs at a musical number starring the Lonely Island and Michael Bolton and Akon, hoping that the laughter turns soon into some understanding about what the musical piece is about.

–*Let’s have a montage of every drama on TV right now to remind them what they aren’t watching when the Jersey Shore is on.

–*Scott Caan is a douche. But that’s OK, it makes him a casting slam dunk.

–*The Emmys celebrates scripted television, serialized Saturday Evening Post fiction, CB radio, betamax video, DDT and kitschy knickknacks from the 50s.

–*A new category: most self-righteous dialogue on a show featuring a female lawyer.

–*A new category: most coy penis jokes on a show featuring female doctors.

–*A new category: the most disgusting and also highly unlikely forensics scenario that can be conceived by a murderer or the writer of a CBS crime show. CBS will be the clear winner.

–*The new Charlie’s Angels ask, “Would the world be a worse place if we recycled ideas?”

–*Oh, yeah. “Friday Night Lights” keeps winning everything.

–*This is Jane Lynch’s time. Unfortunately, it’s also Snooki’s time and Michele Bachmann’s time. So, really, this is not a very good time.

–*”Women’s Bathroom Spy Cam” is really lowering the bar on TV dramas this year.

–*The nominees for best stock market crash are, October 1987, September 2001, September 2008, February 2011 and August 2011. There are no winners.

–*The producers of the TV show “Glee” admit that the show is now only 60% glee.

–*Gloria Steinem called the new Playboy Club show sexist. That’s not fair. It’s way more stupid than sexist.

–*The “In Memorium” segment reminds who died, but also allows us to finally put some names to faces … “Oh! That guy died?”

–*JWoww insists that the success of Jersey Shore is really hanging on her shoulders.

–*Jane Lynch coyly suggests that the cast of “Entourage” are Lesbians.

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Our friend Maggie Hames reviewed several new TV shows at the site “Media Darlings” yesterday and gave an incredibly nice shout out to the “The Retributioners,” calling Stephanie a “Mary Tyler Moore for the 21st century.” I love reading Maggie, who has helped ease me into the role of parent as culture vulture a bit more easily with such cool columns as “Apps For Babies.”

She also says that our show is miles above two new NBC sitcoms, “Up All Night” and “Free Agents.” I have to say, I’m a bit bummed by that: I was hoping that “Up All Night” might be a new show for me to fall in love with, not only as a new parent facing the same issues, but as a huge Will Arnett fan who has watched all the episodes of “Arrested Development” twice. But Maggie says the show lacks pragmatism. “Get a nanny!” she yells at the screen.

As for “The Retributioners,” we’re glad that the show keeps giving good karma, even though we haven’t put out a new one in a while. Maggie needs to write a new blog called “How to keep your Web series going when you’re a new parent.”

I’m trying to work the baby into the plot some how. Maybe an episode in which Stephanie gets even with Xander for her post-partum depression. You all like that? Raise your hands!

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

This is a bit of an update to yesterday’s post. The cowards at “The Rumpus” didn’t post my comment. So you can officially file that site under the heading “Glib, small-dicked wussies masquerading as dissenters but secretly afraid of dissent.” Yes, a cumbersome file name, but I’m not much of a bureaucrat.

Again, I’m not one for sad anniversaries, but I have noticed that I do commemorate 9/11 in a very special way. Every year, I seem to become a Republican for a day. This isn’t by design; it simply seems to be the nature of the arguments I have. When far leftists tend to discuss Sept. 11, they usually have one of two problems: 1) Even if they kindly acknowledge it as a mass murder (thanks, pinkos!), they still have to carefully couch their language so that it meets the prescriptive of their doctrinaire worldview (America’s behavior on the world stage means this action was understandable). Or 2) They deny we were attacked altogether and insist 9/11 was an inside job.

I tried to pulverize that first argument yesterday, though I left out a couple of side notes: If the writer for the Rump Ass considered his “compassionate celestial” view more carefully, he would have realized that a celestial view isn’t a compassionate one at all. It’s simply indifferent. I would challenge the writer to interview a family member of one of the 9/11 victims, to ask specifics of how their loved one died, and then dare ask the question: “Did you know, when your husband ran back into the building to save those last three people on the stairwell, who America was giving money to in El Salvador in 1983?” As it happens, I did interview family members after 9/11. It caused me great anguish because I felt their pain in many ways was none of my business. I should have known, however, that I was helping keep their memories alive. This clod at The Rump Ass, however, brags about his unfamiliarity with those who died, and therefore his Wittgenstein-like refusal to speak of things he knows not. It’s for a very simple reason. If he ever had to interview a family member or write a profile of somebody at Cantor Fitzgerald who died instantly and had never even heard the name Osama Bin Laden, he would go back and look at the horrible article he wrote for the Rump Ass and he would destroy it. He would print it out and dip it in kerosene and burn every word and bury the ashes in quicklime. And he would have wished to god he had not spoken with such glibness and vanity about compassion being selective. He would have realized he traded empathy for doctrine. This guy says, 150,000 people died around the planet on 9/11, so why are 2700 Americans special? Should I similarly disregard anybody who died in Rwanda in 1994 because each of those days saw thousands of deaths elsewhere? Does it not bear remarking that most people don’t die horrifically everyday for political reasons when they are struck down by machetes or trapped in buildings that have turned into ovens? The Rwandans just wanted to kill each other, so why should I care or hope my government should do anything about it? If the author chooses not to show compassion for political reasons on 9/11, then he would have to spread that dispassionate view equally to Rwandans. Can he? Would he?

But let’s look at No. 2, the 9/11 Truthers. I was once working with a filmmaker from Germany on a Long Island movie, and we hit it off. Then on the subway ride home he tried to convince me that no men in caves could have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it was obviously a controlled demolition. I was thoroughly disgusted. It was a bit like finding out you’ve hit it off with a racist or an anti-Semite or a cannibal. One of the first things any engineer, philosopher, writer, linguist, philologist or doctor would know in his respective field is the rule of simplicity. It’s called Occam’s Razor and it means you don’t overcomplicate simple insight to fit a theory. Engineers don’t try to improve on the Pythagoras theorem by changing the numbers in gravity. Writers don’t come up with a hundred jargon words to say “The dog walked down the street.” Doctors don’t triple check a broken arm by opening a person’s heart. And a real thinker doesn’t remove the plane from a plane crash. This is logic so simple that my infant son would know it. And yet every time I’m on this here CB radio called the Internet I must confront people who say that the Twin Towers were brought down in an inside job, theoretically because g-men had days and days and days to plan and ably overcame bureaucracies and witnesses not noticing the tons of explosives being placed around the complex. The smoking gun: George Bush wanted war in Iraq. Therefore he destroyed the towers. There. It’s proved.

The fact that so many Americans believe this is truly chilling. These people are also, we presume, driving cars and raising children and handling knives. If you point out the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, they have the easiest retort in the world–they simply add you to the plot. Dehumanize you and your argument. George Bush has programmed you. It doesn’t occur to them that if you simply agreed with them to avoid confrontation, you would be much more of an automaton, much more a tool of somebody else’s will.

Why do people complicate simple insights? Helplessness. When the world seems bigger than you are, when you personalize complex events and the world makes you feel small, vulnerable, feckless and inferior, a conspiracy theory is one of those things that gives you false sense of power. You are suddenly part of a group of people who know a secret. Having joined a group, having become a joiner in the worst sense of the word, you ironically enjoy a feeling of false emancipation. You think you are a free thinker, even though you haven’t done the work free thinking requires: due diligence, proving steps, finding chains of causality, finding the simplest explanations. Having your ideas put up to scrutiny.

It is doubly repulsive because the Truthers, I think, are the people who made the world safe for another detestable “-er,” the Birther movement. I see these two buds inextricably intertwined like roses on a trellis. It was the Truthers who created a toxic polemical environment where even proof of Barack Obama’s citizenship with a birth certificate was no longer proof. Witnesses were no longer witnesses. Hospitals are no longer hospitals. Hawaii is no longer a state.  The real insight is that Barack Obama is black, and so how could he be president, ask the Birthers, of “our” country. The same logic is at play with Truthers. “George Bush wanted a war, so how could 9/11 have really been plotted by the people like Islamist extremists who made categorical confessions of their own guilt?”

The rest is window dressing. Truthers pull out lots of meaningless specific heat capacity calculations to prove their theory that paper fires don’t melt steel. You try to tell them that steel doesn’t have to melt in order to stop doing its job, and for that you’ll get called a Manchurian candidate. Or they point out that falling debris can’t fall down on top of more debris with the speed of gravity because the building itself is “the path of least resistance.” In other words, the Twin Towers should have fallen over on their sides if they were destroyed by planes. Never mind that a house of cards wouldn’t fall over “on its side” if you knocked it down. Never mind that if you watch videos, the impact points of destruction start from the top and move down, where the falling floors cumulatively add new destructive weight, whereas controlled demolitions start from the bottom (using gravity as a weapon, perhaps the best weapon). Raise your hand if you saw the Twin Towers crumble from the bottom.

But again, by getting into these arguments, you remove the planes (some people actually try to do that too, by making 9/11 the world’s greatest advertisement for PhotoShop ever). To remove the planes makes you a non-thinker. A partisan who places himself at the center of a paranoid web of strange facts and non-facts. I’d feel better frankly, if many of these people just admitted they were lying. Then they would merely be scumbags. Instead, they poison the sort of thinking required of enlightened individuals to synthesize, dialectically, a better world. They’re making us all stupider.

I thought to further my contribution to a better world, I might offer some of the better Web sites debunking the Truthers. Here is one from a site called “Implosion World.” They say they are independent. So to Truthers, that means they’re probably part of the plot.

And then there’s this wonderful YouTube video that gives common sense descriptions of what happened when the planes hit the towers. If you are a non-Truther, I bid you a nice time enjoying your brain.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

It’s human nature to politicize things that ought not be politicized–even the weather. I have personally come to believe that politics is not evil incarnate or the instrument of the devil, as Bob Dylan once put it, but as natural a process as cell division in biology. Some day, a scientist will show the direct parallels between a cell’s meiosis and a polity dividing. It starts with memes, symbols, words, and codes. Soon, people are debating, disagreeing, self-identifying and self-segregating around those semions, just as surely as haploid cells divide in meiosis. Because I’m not a scientist, I had to content myself with writing a novel about this process. It’s called “The Ghost and the Hemispheres,” and I’m shopping it to agents now.

But we are political and we do seek out political differences, perhaps because of a genetic imperative to innovate. That’s why I should have expected a horrible, recrudescent strain of 9/11 backlash articles like this shitty one. Like a good leftist speaking in the codes of his faith, just like Michele Bachman does to her flock, the guy runs at the mouth with a lot of the same predictable schtick about the evils of American exceptionalism. Not stopping to figure out that it was outsiders who decided to single us out in 2001.

Maybe I should confess that I agree with 20% of the piece, specifically the idea of Sept. 11 as a dubious cultural rallying point. I have not been much enamored of the 10th year anniversary memorials for 9/11. The author calls it the “pornography of grief,” which is a nice touch. But mostly he slips into the kind of pedantic, “told-you-so” moralism that characterized the far-left writings after 9/11. Lest we forget, this kind of attitude smeared the entire left wing in 2002 and 2003 and allowed warmongers to launch their immoral war because they could easily con the political center into thinking everybody on the left was crazy. As a left-winger, I get pretty torn up when liberals are wrong, as many of them were when they said the United States deserved the attacks in New York and Washington for all of its sins. I’m sure there’s a folksy phrase for this fallacy: Maybe killing Peter to pay back Paul.  So I wrote this long tirade in the comments section of the Web site:

“This is an execrable piece. A piece that trades one fell morality for another like chips in a poker game, when in fact, as none of you can evidently see, the writer is willing to abdicate his morality altogether to settle petty political scores. He is unwilling to apply a simple categorical imperative that the murder of thousands of innocent people for religious reasons is wrong. If you think the Iraq war was wrong, as I do, for the simple reason that the United States wasn’t attacked by Iraq, then you must be willing to assert that the murder of thousands of Americans in for one man’s specious political calculation and religious chauvinism was wrong. The idea that “they hate us for our freedom” is stupid. The idea that Osama Bin Laden’s motive was the freedom of the Palestinians, whom most of the Arab world regularly spits on, is just as stupid. Bin Laden built himself up on American power and then turned on it. He decided to make thousands of Americans victim of an internecine squabble with his own government. To make him the moral voice of the oppressed Vietnamese or the Chileans is an act of stunning stupidity. But let’s talk about your celestial view. Isn’t Putting 9/11 into “perspective” a bit like putting the Manson murders into “perspective”? Yes, it was sad that a pretty pregnant lady got stabbed, but Charles Manson was right, the black people are oppressed, while rich white people are drinking champagne. This article offers the supreme intellectual dishonesty that anybody who lives in the United States and is willing to walk into a tall building, even to work, is worthy of being burned to death by jet fuel or defenestrated from the 87th floor for what has happened in Nicaragua, East Timor, Panama, Angola, El Salvador and Vietnam. There is no philosophy or ethics or morality that wouldn’t collapse under the weight of this viewpoint, and for the author to invoke unnamed children dying in huts is particularly pitiful; he’s not making the point that people should be equal but that misery should be. It’s anti-humanism at its worst. And if the author stops to think about it, it’s also an imperialist outlook. He’s not speaking FOR anybody. He’s just speaking against the United States as a sometime participant. And knee-jerk anti-patriotism is just as bad as knee-jerk patriotism. You all let that sink in. If you can. We all grieve in different ways; some of us get over it more quickly than others. I live in New York and did not choose to watch all the coverage tonight because I don’t want my grief to be preserved in amber. But if somebody else decides they want to be part of the grief–to give to charities, to comfort friends or to simply imagine that it could have been them (because if you’re an American, it could have been), then that’s his choice. If you decided that you did not belong to a country that day, that’s fine too. But be warned: you’re sounding a lot like a Tea Partier, who gets to pick and choose when he belongs to a commonwealth or the human race. The Tea Partier may decide to opt out when its time to help fund health care for everybody, but you, my friend, have decided to opt out when it comes time to show pain for 2700 people dying all at once. So today, you have made the Tea Party look good, the left look bad, and put your hatred on display for all to see. I only hope they can.”

I don’t normally read this site, and I don’t usually pick fights on bulletin boards, but usually keep my polemics to myself at this, your 24-hour Rasmussen station. But when my Facebook friends on the left started coughing up some of the old shit from their scarred lungs, I decided to go ahead and speak up. To lie down and do nothing while somebody is selling you a bill of goods is … un-American. And on certain occasions, I’m proud to be one.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

Here’s something I don’t post very often: A story I wrote almost ten years ago–five short bios of rescue workers who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. As I posted last year in a more personal account, the Sept. 11 attacks caused me, at the time a not-so-serious journalist, to confront a more serious world. One of the hardest things I was asked to do by editors at the time was call up bereaved families while the story was still in progress. For a long time, I shrank from that task. Chasing grief was not something I had ever wanted to do as a writer in New York City; all I had ever wanted to do was be creative. But with mayhem all around, with ashes of the iconic towers snowing down on my neighborhood and with no real idea of what I was doing, I had to finagle a subway ride into Manhattan and go interview people. I had to come to grips with my limited talents and see if there was something (anything?) I could offer the world as a writer to deal with something so monstrous and inhuman when I’d led my life before chasing whimsy. One wonders at a time like that how competent he is, how necessary in the vast scheme of things, when all around there is need and he hasn’t prepared himself. One wonders, I hate to say, about things he hoped he’d never have to, even about topics he’d shunned since his teen years. I wondered for a time what is masculinity, and would I have served the world better as a warrior or a burly firefighter rather than a cowering writer in my garret. These are the psychological wounds that 9/11 inflicted on some of us, too.

And as I confronted these problems, nearly wanting to collapse with heartache, instead, I made myself write something; I made myself be part of the world.I’d ask you to click the first link to see the brave men (and women!) who didn’t have to think about it, because they were too busy acting on instinct to save people, and for that died.

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