Sunday, June 29, 2003

Sex roles and betrayal

Many years ago I watched Flip Wilson do a comic sketch on the difference between the way a black man from the inner city spoke to a black woman and the way he would speak to a black man. To the woman he would speak in low tones, slowly and confidently; with movements to match. To the man his voice was high pitched, quick and agressive with short phrases. I remember thinking "Yep, I've seen this, and Flip nailed it."

Of course, things like this are more dramatic when seen from outside the culture. Still, if you look closely, you can see the same kinds of differences in how men act with other men and with women in mainstream culture. It's a bit harder to spot the differences in environments where everybody is taught to be aware of how they act and to be afraid of accusations of sexual harassment. Even so, watch the body language.

When women are around, men go on display. Married or single doesn't matter. Only with the very old or very young or close kin does this effect not kick in. [I assume the same thing happens with women but by definition I'm not there when women are alone together.] So long as a woman is around, the men are "strutting" and there is an atmosphere of . . . the only phrase that fits is "sexual tension." It is mild, of course--I'm not talking about heavy breathing and bedroom eyes; not talking about a mating dance; just a form of roleplaying.

Received wisdom to the contrary, I've never found any evidence that this is intrinsically bad. The details of the display vary from culture to subculture, but I see displays everywhere. When women arrive, men do the psychological equivalent of sucking in the gut and standing taller. And in some subcultures the change is quite dramatic.

When the women leave the men "relax." That doesn't mean they're glad when women leave, just that they stop the display.

You needn't remind me of situations where a woman is considered "one of the guys." Sure, that can happen; though I suspect she often isn't as much one of them as she thinks. I'm interested in the general picture here.

That general picture shows men going to the extra effort and tension of a display when women are around, and not taking on those extra roles when only men are present. It seems to me reasonable that men should properly want to spend time both with and without female company. Since this seems to be adequately backed up by observations of anthropologists (sometimes with very odd theories), I'll take it as given.

Given that men will want time with other men, what will their expectations be? During that time they expect no sexual tension; no need to display; and no worry of being evaluated on their sexual attractiveness.

This has nothing to do with "homoerotic" motives. On the contrary, introducing a homosexual into the group frustrates the expectations of the other men and can be experienced as a betrayal: betrayal of the expectation that there is no-one evaluating their attractiveness, betrayal of the expectation that "we can all relax and be secure."

Some claim that someone who reacts with displeasure to the presence of a homosexual is insecure with his own latent homosexuality. Aside from the utter lack of evidence for this claim, it never seemed very convincing psychologically. My "betrayal" model has just as much evidence to back it up, and seems to fit the character of some people I've known rather better.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

FYI: TV and radio ignorance

You may notice that I write virtually nothing about current radio and TV personalities. I know very little about them--just what I read in the papers, and I know how far to trust that. I watch virtually no TV, and listen mostly to the NPR classical music station when I have the radio on at all at work. (My daughters tend to monopolize the radio at home.) The only episode of Seinfeld I saw was while I was in the hospital emergency waiting room--for some reason the show didn't seem very funny. Chatter distracts me at work, and we found years ago that letting the kids watch TV made them hyper and hard to get to bed.

I got out of the habit of watching the tube, and never troubled myself to get back in. My experience of Rush is 15 minutes of his TV show over 15 years ago; I've no real clue who Michael Savage is; and what I've heard about Howard Stern tells me I don't want to hear him. Is this blissful ignorance?

Friday, June 27, 2003

Side effects :-)

I see that low-on-the-hips pants are quite popular among the young ladies, often with a fairly long bare midriff. The allure of bare skin needs no explanation. The very low pants line combines the element of danger (near falloff) with an emphasised hip movement.

When the waistline is high, the straight line rests on a part of the body that is stable during walking. The outer edges of the hips shift up and down, so when the waistline is low it seesaws, drawing attention to the hips. In addition, the straight line of the waistband contrasts with the curve of the hips, and once again emphasises the hips.

And all's well, if the woman is wearing shorts. However, long pants are in style, and so is wearing the waistband very low. If the lady wants the pants to stay on, she has to cinch them tight.

The result is perhaps not quite what the wearer intends... If you pull tight, the waistband pulls in and the flesh bulges out above and below. Now the seesawing waistline draws attention to a new curve--a pudge on an otherwise svelte lady.

I don't know if there's a big-screen market for a movie about Carrie Nation

but I think it would make a bock-buster video.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The Power to Tax

is the power to destroy: Justice John Marshall. So, a tax on my income is like attacks on my income?

Monday, June 23, 2003

All the news that doesn't bother anybody, we print

I have no great interest in the sports pages, and I've noticed that referring to teams by mascot names leads to confusion (how many different Cardinals are there?). I don't doubt that some of the Indian mascot names really are offensive, and serve no particular purpose.

From this article in the Wisconsin State Journal, comes this quote:

Kathleen Rutledge, editor of the Lincoln Journal Star, the most recent paper to adopt a policy against using the offensive team names and mascots, said the issue of accuracy was discussed at her paper.

"But the thing that guided us at our paper was respect," Rutledge said. "We decided that respect trumped accuracy and objectivity."

When something is beyond satire words fail me. Is this really the guiding philosophy of their newspaper?

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Colors of the Wind
Blue is for the half-burned hydrocarbons
Red the nitrous oxides in a haze
Yellow is the airborne sulfur acids
And green is from a heavy metal glaze . . .
 Green is from a heavy metal glaze.
You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can free the hidden elemental powers
And you paint with all the colors of the wind.

OK, so maybe that isn't quite the way Disney Co. wanted it to read. But there was a line from the original that I find horribly stupid: "But I know ev'ry rock and tree and creature Has a life, has a spirit, has a name."

There's a word for this: animism. The definition in the dictionary doesn't improve on Disney's lyric. In a nice comfortable country at a nice safe distance this view of the world sounds comforting and inspiring.

In the real world, though, nature is not all sweetness and light. For every beautiful vista there's a snake hiding in the bush. The terrors of nature--floods, lightening, cold, heat, silent predators, disease, death in childbirth--are more dramatic. If every rock and creature has a spirit, a lot of them are malign. The world of the animist is not full of joyful recognition but of terror and perpetual uncertainty--"have I run afoul of some spirit I didn't know about?"

I'm not being theoretical--this is how they actually live. We forget how liberating monotheism is.

Inquiring minds want to know

Do college English professors still give a play-by-play on Shakespeare?

When the baby spits his apple juice all over himself, does that make it a topical beverage?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Historical Fiction

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield was recommended to me at a party last month--I'd never heard of him before. I'll be looking up his other books now. The story of Thermopylae is told from as the personal history of a squire to the Spartan knight Dienekes. I'm not a Greek history scholar, but wherever I knew something about the era Pressfield got it right. The descriptions of the battles are impressively detailed and plausible. Recall that the Greek soldiers used heavy shields with long lances marching in tight formation--rather like porcupines, with another line of porcupines right behind them, and then another. What do you do when fighting like this, and why? He shows how intelligent warriers would be willing to fight that way.

The Spartans used notoriously brutal training to produce some of the finest fighters of the era, and were held up as admirable models for almost two thousand years (they've fallen a bit out of favor lately). Pressfield makes you see how they could be admirable.

Scholarship is a good thing, but the point of a novel is to tell an engrossing story. I'm happy to say that Pressfield succeeds very well at both telling the story and at engaging your interest in the people from that almost-alien culture.

I have a few mild quibbles: To tell the story he has to get the Spartans to talk rather more than their fabled laconic style would suggest. Their attitude towards their slaves seems a little more benevolent than seems plausible. And although religion is a very big deal, and our hero has a divine encounter, he doesn't have the daily sense of fear/awe you expect to find in a polytheist/animist society. Minor quibbles all.

Go for it. Have fun. I did.

Department of Redundancy Department?

On a bag of Green Gro Composted Manure the label also reads:
"with organic matter."

Tuesday, June 17, 2003


Thursday as I sat resting after work with our idling computer behind me I suddenly heard the deadly tick-tick-tick that told of a hard drive now destined for the trash. And my last backup 5 months old--mea culpa... The smallest disk available (I'm cheap) turned out to be too big for the BIOS on the slowly failing motherboard, so I went for a new HP Pavilion 515 (and kissed disposable income goodbye for quite a while).

Nice features: it is quiet, compact, has things like the USB ports on the front (I don't use USB, but that's the right place for them), and a nifty hinged hard drive box so you can easily insert the un-returnable drive you picked up the night before. Kudo's to the engineer that came up with that one.

Not-nice: air circulation is very poor around the hard drive box--I'm going to have to kludge some fans to hang on it. The main drive is partitioned with one giant partition and a small system backup partition. For safety's sake I like a system partition and a user partition--but if I split the monster up the "drive" letter of the backup will change and I wouldn't bet that the backup will work right anymore. I miss having a copy of the OS around for the day when the hard drive goes south, but that lack isn't HP's fault. And some of the software is unwelcome, and not easy for a non-expert to get rid of: the hp-center and the freedom software come to mind, for example.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Using Linux/Mozilla/Blogger

I hear the praises of MoveableType and other tools for blogging, and if I composed at great speed I don't doubt that these would help. However, I compose more slowly than I type as a rule, and so I find it no great hassle to toss in the HTML commands as I plow along.

I don't use anything sophisticated for text composition: just vi or nedit. When I think I'm done, I log into blogger and cut/paste my deathless (undead?) prose, click Post+Publish, and log out. Of course, there's a slight catch.

Blogger has a little problem with RedHat (6.1-7.3) + Mozilla (1.1-1.3) which I figured a work-around for. The composition window has several frames, one of which has the text input region and the Post/Post+Publish buttons. If I enter text in the text window, eventually it scrolls and so do the buttons! They don't scroll back, either. So I right-click on the text-input frame and open that frame in a new window. In that window the buttons don't scroll away forever, so I can paste my text in without losing the ability to Post.

Then I have to remember to update my index posts :-)

Cloning a near miss?

I see one group is making progress on cloning the Tasmanian tiger. Except, of course, that they will have to use the egg of a different species to host the DNA. It seems plain enough that the RNA is important to the way the DNA is expressed, and we won't have exactly the right RNA for the tiger's DNA--the expression is going to have to be different.

I have no feel for how different the result will be. Between the mother and child there's some difference, but not a great deal. Within a species, I expect a little more variation, but probably not enough to cause harm. I would expect that the same embryo growing in its mother will turn out differently than if it were grown in a surrogate of the same species. Remember that CC has different markings than the cat it was cloned from. I expect there are other minor differences as well.

But from one species to another the differences could be lethal. Maybe you could clone something mammoth-like using an elephant, but I'd be astonished if you could clone a dog using a cat.

Perhaps the hope for cloning is the second generation, where the RNA ought to match the DNA.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

It seems a bit ironic that our materialist culture relies on intangibles. The value of money depends entirely on trust--a mental action. And we all know that your car is less valuable (it depreciates) than your promise to pay for it; which has its value ultimately in your integrity, which is a spiritual quality.

The demolition seems to be nearly done on second floor. The floor quivered when they broke up the walls under my office, but I see only about 10 feet of block wall left. (So why the jackhammer this morning?)

The cast wall is turning out to be problematic: plans call for it to be ripped out, but it turns out that wall supports an exterior wall for floors 3-6. I was under the impression that architects were paid the big bucks for paying attention to details like that, but perhaps I was misled.

Monday, June 09, 2003

OK, erase the board and send the next student up

In Luke Chapter 20:37-38, Jesus says that God is not "God of the dead but of the living: for all live unto him." To look at this another way, everything past present and future is all present with God. The completion of a new house with the paint just drying is just as much present with God as the completion of a newer house on the site of the original and the lean-to a hunter used to keep the rain off a thousand years before.

Nothing we build really lasts in this world. The American habit of trying to turn every other building into a historical monument to be preserved for eternity promises to pave the countryside with bronze plaques and clog the cities with untouchable "Rank Lloyd Frights." If we weren't blessed with so much space the silliness of it all would be more vivid.

It is humiliating to think that little or nothing I do will even last my own lifetime, but it makes sense to design a world this way. If everything we made endured and was honored in the world forever, we'd run out of places to build new gardens. In a world where everything has to be maintained, and eventually replaced, there's room for my children to design something different when my things wear out. The same decay that tears down my designs gives scope to theirs.

All of which is very cold comfort, since I want my work to have some meaning and some finality. And, of course, it does--not because future generations will stare at my palaces in awe, but because God (remember Him?) holds everything eternally present. The work I did laying bricks is present with God, though the building was destroyed; and He judges whether I was careful or sloppy and built with love or with greed. One day no man will know English, and every word I've written will be lost: except to God.

God is not just an archivist, but the judge. And if my works and His judgement of them are eternally present with Him, it seems likely that they will also be present with me hereafter--and I've done a lot that I'm not proud of. Will that last? 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 seems to refer to this: the evil gone and the careless burned away--what remains?

I suffer from the same malady as many others: things I can see and touch seem more real than what and Who I know exists behind them. So I'm distracted into valuing only the physical and neglecting the eternal. May God forgive and correct.

I'm reading the Narnia chronicles to our youngest. (You haven't read them? Quit surfing and go get them out of the library.) He doesn't seem to be enthused about The Horse and His Boy. I wasn't all that keen on it either until I was older. Maybe that's because the characters start out alien, with no point of contact or common interests. Shasta is a slave/son of a fisherman in a Persia-like country who meets a talking horse with whom he contrives to escape. My son's never met anybody like the main characters, and even horses aren't as common around here as a few generations ago (though some of the other 4H kids have some). Maybe I should have read Sinbad first...

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

The Dixie Chicks are back in the news again, losing another concert--probably more fallout from their anti-Bush remarks. This is the sort of thing you can expect when you alienate your fan base, but ...

If a man acts from the courage of his convictions and takes the consequences, you must admire that--even if he is dead wrong. Right or wrong; courage is noble in itself, and not that common either.

Is that what we have here?

  • Taking the last point first, are they accepting the consequences as the natural price of their courage? Not exactly--it sounds more like whining that they were misunderstood. Unfortunately, the New York Times is not the only news source with a cheerful disregard for inconvenient facts that clutter up a juicy story, so I don't actually know for certain all that the Chicks have said on their own behalf. I could spend a couple hours and find out, but I think I'll give them the benefit of the doubt for the sake of the argument. A lot of the moans about 'censorship' were made on their behalf by other folks.

    On the other hand, they very quickly decided on emergency measures to shore up their popularity: getting naked on the cover of a national magazine. I gather that the ephithets sprinkled over their bodies were meant to make this look like a political statement about freedom of speech, instead of the usual "Why can't they put their hands somewhere else?" attention-getter. (Exercise for the reader: "Demi Moore is famous for...?") They revealed their desperation as well as their hips, and the use of the epithets suggest that either they're politically tone-deaf or cynical. I vote for cynical.

  • Convictions is a strong word to use to describe most people's opinions. At least half the people I know, left and right, fell into their opinions instead of thinking their way into them. Since they usually hang out with like-minded sorts, they're never challenged, and never have to deliberately sort out the true from the uncertain. (How often have you heard that the Iraq campaign was designed to help the US oil interests, despite the rather obvious fact that it would hurt them instead? The slogan-shouters never thought through their ideas but merely accepted them on faith.)

    Anybody with a little spare time can research an issue, think it through, and come up with their own judgements on it. With a little more time, they can find a sparring partner to argue the issue with, and sharpen up or even change their judgements. Everybody should--this is what makes a democracy work. But when I hear sloppy ideas, careless reasoning, and flat-out false claims I have to suspect that on this subject at least, the speaker has inherited his opinions and not actually judged the issue.

    What I heard Natalie quoted as saying sounded like sloppy thinking.

  • Were they courageous? If they were from the east or west coast entertainment environments, I'd bet not. In those cultures it shows no courage to oppose war, or indeed anything a Republican might advocate; and from the whining about censorship I hear I suspect that the entertainment business types are so insulated from the rest of us that they have no notion that honest people can disagree with them. However, the Chicks are supposed to be more of a country group; and I don't know much about the Nashville political scene. Natalie issued apologies that I don't think would even be thinkable in Hollywood. So, I guess that their attitudes bucked the local trends.

    The comments that got them in hot water were made overseas, at a foreign crowd. The comments sounded like Natalie getting the sense of a crowd; trying to please the crowd; saying what the crowd wanted to hear. They wanted applause, and got it. Not courageous.

It would hardly seem worth the effort to analyse their few remarks, if it weren't that there's still some stir about them. I tentatively conclude from the above list that the Dixie Chicks are not brave and admirable souls, standing up for the truth as they see it. Too bad. On the other hand, they get enough benefit of the doubt that I can't classify them among the usual fatuous Hollywood crowd.

And, although my daughters regard listening to any country music as a sign of a deep character flaw, I like Long Time Gone.