After signing on to HBO Now to get the disappointing last season of Game of Thrones I firmly intended to drop the service. Really. But then they advertised the new His Dark Materials series from studios in Great Britain. I read Philip Pullman’s trilogy almost twenty years ago after catching a review of his middle novel, The Subtle Knife. Like most people I was underwhelmed by plotting failures in the third novel, The Amber Spyglass, but overall Pullman created a fascinating world. The major motion picture version was really OK, but ended strangely and didn’t do well enough in theatres to justify a sequel. The new series is keeping my interest. As Lyra Belacqua, Dafne Keen is a can-do heroine, along the lines of Emma Watson, Maisie Williams and Bella Ramsey. Ruth Wilson is delightful as a can-do villain. I’m not sure if Lin-Manuel Miranda was the best choice to play an alt-universe Texan, but he’s not pissing me off. The Gyptians are all great. I particularly like how race doesn’t seem to matter in this series. Heroes and villains come in all skin tones. But the daemons steal every scene.
Since I have HBO Now, I’ve been watching some of the other offerings. I already knew that Westworld was awfully violent. The Watchmen turned out to be almost as violent. A friend and I took in the first two episodes, but despite the dramatization of the Tulsa Massacre, I haven’t felt like watching any more. My youngest is always after me to watch The Walking Dead, which is a fairly good show except for all the people getting stabbed or shot or clubbed in the head. I can only watch so much of that gratuitous violence. Even though it is supposed to be zombies or robots getting killed, it bothers me.
I also watched two episodes of Divorce, which was not too bad, and one of Euphoria, which was disturbing because it might be accurate. I tried watching Succession, which is well-liked on twitter, but after the first episode, I didn’t like anybody. I also tried watching Mrs Fletcher, also a fav on twitter. I might show Mrs F to my wife and see if she wants to keep watching.
I raced through the season of the Japanese series, Miss Sherlock. I always appreciate a fresh version of the Holmes stories, and besides, Elementary is over, and Sherlock is on semi-permanent hiatus. Yūko Takeuchi plays Sara Shelly Futaba, whom the police refer to as Sherlock. Does that mean the Conan Doyle stories exist in this universe, or does it leave the door open for Benedict Cumberbatch to drop by? Dunno. Futaba-san is joined by Shihori Kanjiya playing Dr Wato Tachibana, recently returned from volunteer medical duty in Syria. So we have Sherlock and Dr Wato-san, and characters roughly equivalent to Mrs Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, and Mycroft Holmes. Takeuchi’s Sherlock is more brusque and socially inept than most Western versions, and that means something in Japan. Her playing a stand up bass instead of a violin is a nice touch, but I do wish they would find some less familiar pieces than The Passing of Time for her to play. I did guess a major plot twist. Can’t wait for the second season.
I then watched Teenage Psychic, which has a bit of a misleading title. Filmed in Taiwan, the heroine, Xie Yazhen, is actually a Temple Maiden: a medium who can communicate with the dead. When she’s not earning her keep consoling bereaved and troubled folk at the Taoist temple she is, however, a typically troubled 16 year old high school girl confounded by social expectations and one boy in particular. Played by Kuo Shuyao, she appears very homespun Chinese in contrast to some of the more Western-looking popular girls.
Finally, as a guilty pleasure, I’ve been watching a series that ran from 2011-2014 called Hung. Like Breaking Bad, Hung features an antihero high school teacher fallen on hard times. Thomas Jane as Ray is a former star athlete, current coach and history teacher, but his wife has left him, his house was damaged in a fire, and he lives in a Detroit long hollowed-out by neoliberal politics. Ray’s worries include paying support to his ex-wife, played by Anne Heche, and staying in the lives of his unhappy teenaged son and daughter (Charlie Saxton and Sianoa Smit-McPhee).
Instead of selling drugs, he decides to sell his well-endowed body, and with the help of two odd women, lines up wealthy clients willing to pay him for sex. If the genders were reversed, this would be entirely believable, but I take it in as a dark comedy.
Ray happens to be an escort with a heart of gold. An Atlantic review praised the show as featuring men who were competent instead of idiots, but I wouldn’t go that far. These men have a lot of blind spots, but they usually want the right things, while many of the women are batshit crazy, particularly his unofficial pimp, Lenore, played by Rebecca Creskoff. His official pimp, Tonya, played by Jane Adams, is a mess, but generally means well. Lenore calls her, “Tea Brain,” and muscles in on her business relationship with Ray at every opportunity.
I think my next attempt will be Catherine the Great, who according to Helen Mirren, was savaged as sexually-obsessed by political rivals like Frederick of Prussia, but who was in fact simply a competent female ruler with a few lovers.
Men marry a body, women marry a lifestyle.
I ran across the above statement in the comments section of a youtube video, probably the one called How to Fix a Broken Heart. After citing A Tale of Two Brains in a previous article, I had watched the full, five-part Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, and of course if you watch anything on youtube they will lead you to more of the same. So I watched a lot of TEDx talks, the best of which was, Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person by Alain de Botton.
Again, Laugh Your Way was very amusing, and probably helps more than it hurts. But Mark Gungor is a minister, and in religious fashion he asserted that access to sexual relations should be reserved until after marriage. Why? Because he believes sex is a sort of bargaining chip that women should hold to induce men to commit to marriage. I think a situation where one person only “performs” sex to get marriage demeans both parties.
The most interesting TEDx talk was Maria Røsok’s The Unknown Greatness of the Clitoris, which I would recommend for anyone who either has one, or who wants to be intimate with someone that has one. Spoiler: there’s a lot more to it than that little button-sized glans most old textbooks labeled as clitoris.
Botton is a philosopher and essayist, born in Switzerland, but raised in Britain. Having attended Harrow, Cambridge and Harvard, he is extremely well-read, but uses a disarmingly dry wit to bring things back to earth. Botton writes on a wide range of topics, and even hosted a three-part television series called The Perfect Home, in which he decries the English developers’ penchant for building safe neo-Georgian and neo-Tudor tract houses. Here in America, you could probably substitute neo-Colonial, and perhaps neo-Spanish Colonial in the West.
One of Botton’s premises was that when we seek a love partner, we are unconsciously looking for the familiar. Over the years a lot of people (often girlfriends) have given me pearls of wisdom from magazines, like, ‘men secretly want to marry someone like their mothers,’ or ‘women want to marry someone like their fathers,’ and one girl swore that ‘both men and women want to marry someone just like their mothers.’ According to Botton, as infants and children we become accustomed to certain behaviors as we receive love from our parents, and are attracted to familiar behaviors in a potential mate. That can be very sad, of course, if someone had a dysfunctional childhood, and seeks to find someone just as violent or perverted as dear old Mater or Pater.
But usually these accompanying behaviors are a lot more innocuous. So if your mom or dad was demonstrative, you may be attracted to demonstrative people rather than reserved types. If your mom or dad delivered love with humor, you might look for funny partners. My parents were very smart, and Mom could tell great stories. I was an introvert, and Mom always felt compelled to jolly me out of a bad mood. I know that I was initially attracted to bright, sunny and cheerful women that could do most of the talking. However as I adapted to become less introverted, I would say that I became much less reliant on later mates to cheer me up. Now I’m often the one that makes my wife laugh, though she certainly has her moments.
Botton also believes that the overarching theme of the romantic age – finding our one, true soul-mate – has been good for quite a few industries, but tough on individuals. He believes that instead of searching for the one and only, we should be searching for someone who is good enough. My wife and I had a lot of fun with this concept one morning. I asked her if she felt she had married the Wrong Person, and she replied, ‘No, I found you and you’re Good Enough.’ To which I replied, ‘Honey, you’ve just made me the happiest-enough man in the world!’
Regarding the title, I have found articles that support the idea that men marry primarily for the person while women marry for the lifestyle and children that go along with marriage. I’ve never been one to believe we are from Mars and Venus, though. Although men and women are different, I think both genders hope for a certain life to go along with their partner. I do think that with certain individuals the potential lifestyle, or perhaps the physique, will drive the romantic attachment, though.
As a fan, I have been following the Australian Open (AO) tennis championships, which feature both women and men players. That seems to mean I’m old.
According to a 2016 study of sports leagues, the average age of the ATP’s television audience is 61, fourth highest of all major sports. The WTA fares better; its average viewer age was 55, and the age of its audience decreased between 2006 and 2016.
I actually prefer watching the WTA, but I’m still older than the demographic they want.
After some lean decades, the AO moved from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to Flinders Park (now called Melbourne Park) and has blossomed into equal standing with Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Its main stadiums are named Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena.
In the weeks leading up to the AO, there was a lot of media chatter about players boycotting, or even renaming Court Arena. Though a fantastic player, with 24 major titles to her name, Margaret Smith Court was a traditional woman, who only toured when she wasn’t being a dutiful wife and mother. Though she had played and lost badly to Bobby Riggs in the Mother’s Day Massacre – the precursor to the Battle of the Sexes – Court was reportedly lukewarm towards Billie Jean King’s efforts to start a more egalitarian women’s tour. After her tennis career, she converted from Catholicism to evangelical Pentecostalism, eventually becoming pastor of her own ministry, where she espoused conservative Christian values … and attacked gay rights, as she told the West Australian in Perth:
“Politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take,”
“The fact that the homosexual cry is, ‘We can’t help it, as we were born this way,’ as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern,”
I believe that Court is entitled to her beliefs, and as an evangelical, to preach them, but I also believe that she had to expect a great deal of criticism in return from a sport with outspoken lesbian heroes like Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, to name only two.
But as the tournament progressed, the controversy over Court Arena faded. LGBT supporters wore rainbow colors on their clothing while playing, but no one refused to play their scheduled matches on Court. Upsets and scintillating matches took over the headlines. Two lower-ranked male players, Hyeon Chung and Tennys Sandgren made unexpected runs into the quarterfinals. Chung is a talented South Korean who recently won the ATP Next Generation exhibition in Milan. Nextgen featured eight young players who are only starting to make a mark in the tour. Tennys Sandgren wasn’t one of them, but his name had garnered occasional attention among writers looking for easy headlines, and he seemed to be an affable fellow, and he was an American from Tennessee.
At the AO, Sandgren vaulted from near-obscurity in defeating journeyman Jeremy Chardy, 2014 champ Stan Wawrinka, fellow newbie Maximilian Marterer and world #5 and genuine contender Dominic Thiem. These were his first four wins in the main draw of any major tournament. But he found himself under the scrutiny of the media, and twitterverse callouts of his tweets that had been ignored before suddenly became worth a second look.
Sandgren, it turned out, had been following the tweets of Tommy Robinson, Nicholas Fuentes and had retweeted articles by Jordan Peterson. Tommy Robinson is a pseudonym for Stephen Christopher Yaxley, a political activist who led the English Defence League, founded the European Defence League, worked in the British Freedom Party, a think tank called Quilliam and a UK offshoot of the German anti-Islamist group Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes). Robinson had been moving away from the more violent groups, but remained opposed to the introduction of Islamic culture. Nicholas Fuentes is not the Peruvian footballer, he is a white supremacist student from Boston University who has been quoted saying, “Multiculturalism is cancer.” He left BU after receiving threats due to his participation in the Charlottesville white supremacy rally.
I can hardly fault Sandgren for retweeting Jordan Peterson. Around the middle of last year, my browsing habits led Google to suggest videos of Petersen speaking with Camille Paglia and other intellectuals, and he sounded fairly reasonable. I looked for more information, and found that he was a psychologist interested in religion and ideology, and had become famous, or infamous, for refusing to use transgender pronouns at his school, the University of Toronto. Many reasonable people reject the more extreme political rhetoric, but it seems that Peterson also espouses a strictly binary view of sexuality in which men are men and women are women. Not unlike Margaret Court. Still he’s a lot more palatable than, say, Ben Shapiro, who recites alt-light talking points as fast as possible and calls it debate.
But Sandgren had also retweeted so-called Pizzagate conspiracy rants, and some insults directed towards black folk in general and Serena Williams in particular. He responded to social media attacks by deleting his tweets, which only made him look guilty of something. After defeating Thiem, Sandgren botched the post-match interview by reading a prepared statement attacking the media’s right to question anything he had done on social media, and proclaiming: “It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best me I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone.” Yeah, that was going to work.
As his match with Chung began, Serena tweeted simply, “Turns channel.”
Soon after losing to Chung, Sandgren tweeted a sincere-sounding statement rejecting alt-right beliefs. Some folk bought it, but I found his statement politically-correct and unconvincing. I suspect that Sandgren still leans alt-light, but is now afraid to express what he really feels – which is a shame. Even though I disagree, I would rather hear what people really think than hear carefully-constructed pablum. In a similar vein, Glenn Greenwald tweeted that while he in no way endorsed Sandgren’s tweets, he did regret that a young person had no space to make mistakes.
I posted before about the unfortunate near-riot when Charles Murray attempted to debate professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College. As predicted, the Resistance and the MeToo movement have brought about an inevitable backlash. In New York Magazine, self-described Oakeshott-conservative Andrew Sullivan claims even the LGBT movement has lost focus:
The movement is now rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation (“intersectionality”), prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as “problematic,” masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. They have no desire to seem “virtually normal”; they are contemptuous of “respectability politics” — which means most politics outside the left. Above all, they have advocated transgenderism, an ideology that goes far beyond recognizing the dignity and humanity and civil equality of trans people into a critique of gender, masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality. “Live and let live” became: “If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.” I would be shocked if this sudden lurch in the message didn’t in some way negatively affect some straight people’s views of gays.
While I realize that Sullivan is not entirely wrong here, his POV is very insular. He, a gay conservative, got what he wanted out of the LGBT movement, and that should be good enough for everyone.
The refusal to consider other viewpoints, or to even listen to anyone that disagrees has become a pathology in our culture. It is the key first step in dehumanization of the other. A fellow, Umair Haque posted on Medium that he believes our very culture is severely ill:
American collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American intellectuals, media, and thought doesn’t put any of its problems in global or historical perspective — but when they are seen that way, America’s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by unimagined diseases.
Seen accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely special — the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives, frames, and theories cannot really capture it — much less explain it. We need a whole new language — and a new way of seeing — to even begin to make sense of it.
Despite not knowing what it was for, I joined Twitter a few months ago. I don’t tweet much, but I follow people I respect, and read a wider variety of articles. Aussie progressive gadfly Caitlin Johnstone tweeted that, except as concerns Russia, President Trump seems to be caving to the establishment agenda. I decided to circle back to John Robb at Global Guerillas, and in an article from a few days ago, The OODA loop of Trump’s Insurgency has been Smashed, he agreed. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act:
… the real uniting goal of Trump’s insurgency was “opposition to a failed establishment.”
That goal held the insurgency that put him in office together, despite gaffes, scandals, leaks, etc that would have ended the political career of any other candidate. It was also a goal that allowed the insurgency to continue after winning the election. In most cases, once the goal has been accomplished (i.e. remove Mubarak), the insurgency evaporates.
The reason it didn’t: the media. …
It was maddeningly clear that the establishment media was in the bag for Hillary Clinton over Sanders, then over Trump. In the world according to Robb, that was enough to keep resentment of Clinton stoked, but it hasn’t been enough to maintain a Presidency aimed at dismantling the Deep State. Steve Bannon, the architect of that goal, was ushered out weeks ago, and now:
… senior military staff running the Trump administration launched a counter-insurgency against the insurgency. …
•Former generals took control of key staff positions.
•They purged staff members that were part of the insurgency and tightly limited access to Trump.
•Finally, and most importantly, they took control of Trump’s information flow.
That final step changed everything. General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, has put Trump on a establishment-only media diet. Further, staff members are now prevented from sneaking him stories from unapproved sources during the day (stories that might get him riled up and off the establishment message). … by controlling Trump’s information flow with social media/networks, the generals smashed the insurgency’s OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act). Deprived of this connection, Trump is now weathervaning to cater to the needs of the establishment (as seen with his new stance on DACA and the Wall).
Robb broke down his view of the Trump political climate further back in August in, American Politics: Bad Boys vs. Mean Girls. I’ve quoted but rearranged his descriptions:
The political parties and the media aren’t the primary actors in the US political system anymore. Increasingly, politics is being waged online by networks. A fight between two powerful and very different online social networks:
Robb claims that the ‘Bad Boys’ “(similar to a gang or tribe) network grew in support of Donald Trump,” but I think they’ve been growing as long the middle class has been collapsing and have long flourished on certain corners of the internet. In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle sets a possible beginning of transgression for it’s own sake in 2003 on 4chan, but I encountered the same sort of misanthropic and misogynistic ‘transgressors’ in usenet in the 1990s. Eventually, as explained by Ta-Nehisi Coates recently, they and Trump were bound to find each other.
[Bad Boys] has one organizing principle: disrupt the status quo. This network fights like an open source insurgency composed of many small groups and individuals acting independently. It disrupts from the shadows. It’s opportunistic, disorganized, and aggressive. It misleads, angers, and intimidates. It scores victories by increasing fear, uncertainty, and distrust.
Robb calls Trump’s opponents the ‘Mean Girls’ “(similar to a social clique or ruling aristocracy) network solidified in response to Trump’s unexpected victory.” Again, I believe that some sort of establishment or Deep State has been around for decades, but found a more compelling common cause in opposing Trump.
[Mean Girls’] cohesion and single mindedness neutered the Trump administration even before he took the oath. … It has one organizing principle: repel the barbarians. This network fights like a ruling clique, albeit vastly larger than we have seen historically due to the scaling effects of social networking. This network openly connects people in authority across every major institution (from education to the media to the government to the tech industry) and leverages it and the politics of identity to establish moral authority. It fights by categorizing, vilifying and shunning enemies. It scores victories by manufacturing consensus.
One only has to read my old haunts TalkingPointsMemo or dagblog, or watch Stephen Colbert or John Oliver or Samantha Bee go after Trump, or one of his staff, or even Bernie Sanders to see this clique in action.
Which leads to my question: Where does the progressive citizen who wants things to get better for everyone fit in? Clearly the Bad Boys want to toss out anyone who isn’t white (or doing a pretty good imitation of white) and start over in a pastoral America that never really existed. There’s no place for the Normies there.
Just as clearly, the Mean Girls profess a world where everyone can be equal and get ahead based strictly on merit. That’s great if you are one of those who can swing a tech job, but not much comfort when those tech firms are transferring the few remaining blue collar jobs to immigrants, foreigners or robots. The Mean Girls become much more pragmatic when asked to support the more progressive reforms proposed by Bernie Sanders.
Are the Bad Boys and Mean Girls just the loudest part of the electorate? Could we create a populist network to rival either of them?
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is doing away with its message boards:
IMDb is the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. As part of our ongoing effort to continually evaluate and enhance the customer experience on IMDb, we have decided to disable IMDb’s message boards on February 20, 2017. This includes the Private Message system. After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.
The example James Pilant cited on his business ethics blog was that many IMDb members have effectively driven down the ratings of the new documentary film about James Baldwin. I Am Not Your Negro has been nominated for a Best Documentary Feature, has a 96/100 Metacritics rating, and a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but only 5.8 out of 10 on IMDb. When I look at the votes at this moment, some 585 have given it a perfect ten, 482 have voted it an awful one, and 300 or so members have voted at some number in between. Pilant’s source had the ones leading the tens about 400 to 300, but readers seem to have responded.
I will be sorry to see the boards go. I like to check on some old TV show like Sky King, or some actress who played a small part in The Time Travelers, and I usually learn some interesting tidbit. But it seems to be the rule that an interesting and informative core group will always be forced out by trolls and abusers. I like to peruse the videos on LiveLeak, but the comments section is a misogynistic, racist and jingoistic nightmare. I watch TYT Network, but the comments are infested by trolls who seem to either love or hate only Cenk or only Ana. And Gamergate, the anti-Social Justice Warrior movement came to light when women objected to being harassed on gaming sites.
I hear you thinking of suggesting moderation, but in my experience trolls are too smart to be held back by anything but a dedicated human moderator with nothing else to do. I like to read some comments sections, and I comment myself, but I’ve stopped feeling like I’m part of a community anywhere.
A few days ago I listened to a three-months-old discussion between Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank – author of What’s the Matter With Kansas, and Listen, Liberal – in which Frank defined what I had been calling the comfortable class as the meritocratic elite: people who go to the same sorts of schools, know the same sorts of people, enjoy the same sort of success, etc. Frank sees them as the top ten percent, while I was thinking more like top twenty of thirty percent.
Anyway, for those who are still ticked off at our choice of presidential candidates, Mr Frank brings up the elite again in an article in Harper’s called Swat Team, The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders, and real reform
But 2016 was different. It was a volcanic year, with the middle class erupting over a recovery that didn’t include them and the obvious indifference of Washington, D.C., toward the economic suffering in vast reaches of the country.
For once, a politician like Sanders seemed to have a chance with the public. He won a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and despite his advanced age and avuncular finger-wagging, he was wildly popular among young voters. Eventually he was flattened by the Clinton juggernaut, of course, but Sanders managed to stay competitive almost all the way to the California primary in June.
His chances with the prestige press were considerably more limited. Before we go into details here, let me confess: I was a Sanders voter, and even interviewed him back in 2014, so perhaps I am naturally inclined to find fault in others’ reporting on his candidacy. Perhaps it was the very particular media diet I was on in early 2016, which consisted of daily megadoses of the New York Times and the Washington Post and almost nothing else. Even so, I have never before seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.