Saturday, April 30, 2011

On "Whining"

One word I encounter entirely too much online is "whining".  It is the all-purpose put-down, and I object to its use in serious writing for four reasons:

First, because it comes off as too blithe and superficial for serious essays.  It sounds like something a teenager would throw at another.

Second, because its use borders on hypocrisy.  When you apply a pejorative to someone's else's grievances, you are complaining about complaining, more or less.

Third, because it obscures meaning.  A charge of "whining!" could be an indictment of style or substance, but many authors who use it feel no apparent need to clarify.  If someone has a legitimate grievance, but gets their message across in a maudlin or repetitive tone, it is fine to express your opinion on that matter if you consider your appropriate role to be that of editor.  If not, it may be better to focus on content.

Fourth - the subtlest and most important reason - it is easiest to use to unfairly slur those communication styles that are most healthy, not those that are the most obnoxious.  I have noticed in recent years a distinct tendency to get one's grievances across through put-downs (aggressiveness) or through intentional distraction put into question form (a form of passive aggression).  Whether or not these strategies have been developed to avoid the ubiquitous charge of "whining", I don't know; the point is that both aggression and passive aggression are unhealthy.

Consider the following (completely fictitious) scenario.  A man has just come from a 12-hour shift on a construction site.  In the past, he has offered to lend his lawnmower to a roommate, noting that it is quite dirty, and stating vaguely that "You or I could clean it; shouldn't be too hard."  Neither remembers the conversation verbatim.

Roommate:  Hey, your lawnmower's totally filthy, dude.  I need to use it.  Hop to it, dude.

Man:  Oh, you can clean it if you need it right now.  I had a long shift and I'm not inclined to do it this evening.

Roommate:  What?  It's your lawnmower.  Why can't you clean it?

Man (version 1):  You must either be deaf or a moron.  I said you can clean it.
Man (version 2):  Why should I clean it?
Man (version 3):  I'm too tired to clean it right now.  I need a shower.

Ask yourself which of these versions is the healthiest (i.e., most assertive).  Now ask yourself which of these versions is most vulnerable to the charge of "whining".

Version 1 replies to Roommate's fallacious complex question with insults and repetition.  It doesn't move the conversation forward, but it can hardly be accused of "whining".

Version 2 is just a "question", albeit a fake question (there is no reason the Man should clean it, so it makes no sense to ask for a reason).  Most modern people were brought up in highly ideological institutional schools where it was constantly drilled as a mantra that there is "no such thing as a stupid question", and so they become habituated to putting most of their jabs and ripostes in question form as a form of rhetorical defense.

Version 3 is the most informative and least obnoxious, but in the modern world it would surely invite the knee-jerk reply.  It is also the sort of reply I hardly ever hear any more (outside of my marriage and certainly highly-scripted "professional" discussions).  To constantly scream "Whiner!" discourages people from being assertive or even minimally informative, and encourages the verbal war of all-against-all that seems to have replaced discourse.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maybe You Can Legislate Morality After All ...?

My office is mostly women.  A chatty bunch, they are usually either talking about American Idol,  child-rearing, or the weather.  The other day I heard one of them talking, or preaching, about how heinous it was for so many old men to be looking at a certain 17-year-old female celebrity.  She didn't mentioning about lust or drool, she actually used the phrase "look at".  Something like, "They shouldn't be doing that.  Don't they know how old they are?  She's not 18, she's 17."  She was met with nods and murmurs of agreement.

Never mind the ominous tones of thoughtcrime and sexcrime.  What was weird was the statutory tone of this woman's moral judgement.  To declare that someone's date of birth (to the year) determines who we should be "looking at" (perceiving sexually) seems like an extremely bureaucratic way to make a moral-ethical judgement.  I'm not questioning the statutes; I know that Loki's wager makes it difficult to get across the need to draw a legalistic distinction between child and adult where no bright-line distinction exists, psychologically.  It makes no sense to speak of informed consent when someone is too young to truly be informed. 

The point is, why exactly is an expedient legal provision turning into grounds for actual moral condemnation?  We have grown accustomed to (or given up fighting) the notion that anything an 18-year-old girl consents to is perfectly acceptable, since we don't want to be accused of "censorship" (apparently criticism is censorship when directed at pornography).  So now we have to hit back in a manner patterned on a legislature - pick a numeric dimension (17 versus 18 - not "leering at girls" versus "appreciating beauty", because neither of those concepts could be defined in regulation) and pass a resolution.

Bureaucratic states pass on their patterns to their subjects.  People begin to think like bureaucrats, to set their judgement aside, to confuse concepts of regulation and custom, acceptance and passivity, legal action and moral condemnation.  

(If you're curious, I think they were talking about the magnificent Selena Gomez, who is now actually 18 or 19, but that isn't relevant since the ladies were pretty sure she was under 18.)

State Representative John Martin is a White-Hating Piece of Filth

Maine State Representative John Martin is an anti-white bigot, who recently accused the state's Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Philip Congdon of insufficiently kowtowing to the tender feelings of Maine's failed minorities.  Martin chose to insult and vilify Congdon based on comments the Commissioner is alleged to have made, conveniently while no cameras or recording devices were present.

Unsurprisingly, no news source has had the courage to print what the Commissioner said (the Bangor Daily News filled out its article on the matter with summaries of the Commissioner's feelings about french fries, and an unrelated personnel matter).  I surmise that he was simply pointing out the truth that affirmative action, and the "disparate impact" court cases that go hand-in-hand with it, force businesses to make hiring decisions that make no sense to them.  The economic costs of AA are enormous, and it is the Commissioner's job to know that.  What he did not know was that, according to the mainstream media and their shills in the legislature, it is apparently also the Commissioner's job to cover up the costs of affirmative action.

John Martin should resign and apologize to the victims of affirmative action.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Men Don't Like Harpies, Men Like ...

My wife and I have been reading about and discussing game quite a bit recently.  OneSTDV and several other right-wing bloggers have written on the subject.  Then Cassandra Goldman wrote a post about young men that sent my thinking off on a sharp tangent.  The question that formed was:
Why do men complain so much about shrews, harpies, bitches, castrators, etc., without mentioning or perhaps even thinking about the opposite?  We talk about the opposite of ugly women, dumb women, unavailable women, slutty women, etc., so what gives?

Part of the problem, surely, is the obsolescence of the phrase "nice girl".  It means any number of things other than "woman who is respectful, mature, and supportive", so we run into the very same Missing Term Problem I point out in so many discussions.  But that only tells half of the story.  I'm convinced that the reason men don't talk about how they desire to meet, associate with, and marry nice women is that it involves admitting, to themselves as much as the world, that they want to be treated well, emotionally speaking.  

A woman can be pretty, smart, and virtuous in a vacuum, but for her to be nice requires someone to be nice to.  Obvious though it might be, if a man lets on that his anti-bitch attitude is matched by a pro-nice-woman attitude, he may be tagged as a wimp who fears roughness and demands to be coddled.  Nobody want to come home to put-downs, iciness, emotional instability, or a voice raised in anger.  

As an adolescent I remember listening to the other males judging the girls in our class, and I remember all of them carefully avoiding this topic.  Obviously they were highly focussed on appearance, but they seemed to pick around the topic of whether or not so-and-so was a backstabbing, trash-talking grouch.  It is not a surprise that boys don't know what they want, but it's a little distressing that the same macho complex has gamed so many older males into forgetting.

Gentleman, it is not a weakness or even an eccentricity to seek out a woman who is kind, considerate, sweet-talking, sweet-natured, and thoughtful.  These goals are laudable.  You don't prove that you're a tough guy by letting a woman cut you down constantly, but you don't prove you are a tough guy by out-bitching her either.  You just have to avoid that sort of person.  You should seek the sort of woman of strong enough character that she holds her tongue rather than vents anger at another person, of strong enough character that she would rather criticize than insult, and rather inform than criticize.  And you should be proud of that.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vegetables: you must try this

This is a post about one of my favorite subjects (food), also one that I know very little about (making it).  On the advice of my mother, my wife tried cooking vegetables in a way that is simple, delicious, and nutritive.

Vegetables:
We use broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, red peppers, onions, garlic in whole cloves, and string beans.

Cut vegetables into the desired sizes (we used largish bite sizes), place into a ziplock bag.  Add extra light olive oil and shake until coated evenly.

Place vegetables in high-sided baking dish and salt to taste. (We use a Corningware 9" for two crowns of broccoli; you don't use the glass lid in this recipe.)  Roast broccoli, red peppers, cauliflower,  Brussels sprouts, and garlic in a standard oven or toaster oven at 350F for an hour; this will scorch the tops of broccoli, garlic and the edges of Brussels sprouts slightly black (don't be distressed that it looks "burnt."  Trust me, it is delicious).  Potatoes and onions go for an hour at 400F; carrots take longer.  We've done broccoli, potatoes and Brussels sprouts individually as side dishes (throw a little crushed rosemary on the potatoes), or the entire above list of veggies all mixed together under a big roast beef.

The point of this post is to add some more ideas for a good paleolithic diet (or quasi-paleolithic, e.g. with potatoes and string beans as above).  I don't find salads nearly as satisfying as hot vegetables, and a lot of vegetable dishes are either bland (boiled, plain), totally unpaleolithic (full of corn and/or dry beans) or heavy on everything but the actual vegetables (i.e. vegetable soup that is mainly potato and beef).  So vegetables black roasted in olive oil present another delicious option.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Clockwork Orange: A Meta-Review [spoilers]

So I finally got around to watching A Clockwork Orange.  It's a movie I'd heard so much about, I considered it almost superfluous to watch it, but considering that I occasionally mention it in writing (it's on anyone's list of dystopian moves, and I've often noted how rare non-dystopian futuristic movies are, by comparison) I figured I should give it a try.

It was very, very different than I had been led to believe.  Far from a fast-paced orgy of drugs and violence, the movie dragged from time to time.  Kubrick has his points to make about bureaucracy, and in A Clockwork Orange he makes them fairly literally (i.e., prisoner intake is lengthy and laborious, psychiatrist interviews are lengthy and laborious, etc.)

As to the main character, I was again misled.  Most fans of the movie said Kubrick's genius lay in his ability to create a charismatic figure out of a boy who committed unspeakable violence in nearly every scene.  I found Alex to be occasionally comical and about as despicable as his reputation.  I didn't find him nearly as "eerily charming and magnetic" as someone like Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader, but then I am more turned off by puerile, self-centered "non-conformists" than most so that isn't surprising.

Oddly enough, as the movie wore on I found Kubrick almost understated the violence of Alex and his gang.  They beat up an alcoholic derelict, but they don't kill him even though he begs for it (which he does for personal reasons, before they have hurt him).  Next they take on rival thugs and stop a vicious gang rape, albeit serendipitously.  The barbaric attack on the writer and his wife are when Alex first shows his true colors.  Following this up with an attack on an even older, even more defenseless (and a more cautious and probably more sympathetic) woman, the only reason Alex's arrest feels unfortunate is that three quarters of his gang get away.

While Kubrick doesn't spend too many reels showing Alex as a cold-blooded killer, it's his cinematic handling that generates the most controversy.  The crimes, we are told, look too fun.  This might have bothered me ten years ago, and it surely would have bothered me when I was Alex's age, but as I get older I get more used to the idea of an artist throwing us headlong into the bad guy's point of view.  This may be because, as a hard rightist who is also a former center-leftist who used to associate heavily with leftists, I am quite well acquainted with the bad guy's point of view.  Kubrick's "exciting and fun" camera work never offended me - he was just trying to show how an obnoxious, selfish teenager can throw himself into a life of hardcore evil as a means of entertainment.

So there you have it - I'm one of the ones who didn't misunderstand Kubrick.  (I think.)  Alex is not a nonconformist at all - he's just a prick.  But then again, Kubrick's "bleak, dystopian" future only looks bleak if you're stuck in the Summer of Love (the Brits didn't even have Vietnam to spoil their fun).  From the perspective of 2011, it's not that bad.  There is no interracial violence, the economy seems to be working okay, noöne ever complains about food prices or wonders if her son will ever return from Central Asia.

The awful Ludovico technique into which Alex was forced ... was actually something he chose.  Granted, he was unclear on the details, but between sessions of watching the films (about as violent as Kubrick's first reel, seems like), he converses normally with psychiatric staff.  During the viewings, eyedrops keep his eyes from drying out.  Only the introduction of the drug causes the violence to as sickening to him as it should be.  The technique seems to be awful mainly by accident - it causes Alex to associate nausea and illness with the one wholesome part of his character: Beethoven.

The main downside of the world of A Clockwork Orange is that leftists are still stupid.  And this brings me to the crux of this post, and the deep sickness of modern leftism betrayed by reaction to the movie: all the praise and condemnation I have heard for this movie concentrates on the ethically questionable anti-crime activities that form the movie's middle.  The demonstrably pro-crime, pro-barbarism activities that form the movie's coda never warrant a mention.  It's like "thank goodness he's cured, and he can be an edgy non-conformist again."  Questionable means can't be purified by a laudable goal, but apparently using the same means (spooky experimental psychiatry) is just fine if your goal is to turn a defenseless young man into a monster.

The plot arc of Mr. Alexander, the writer character who is an apparent alter-ego of Anthony Burgess, seems to be a pretty obvious indictment of the liberal's critique of the Ludovico technique.  The writer, like the audience, is steadfastly opposed to this "brutal" technique, only he changes his mind when he realizes Alex is the same boy who had invaded his house and brutalized its occupants, years ago.  It seems that when crime victims remain an abstraction, the liberal finds it easy and even laudable to sympathize with the criminal, no matter how brutal.  Alex's ill-considered rendition of "Singin' in the Rain" turns Mr. Alexander into a conservative, as it were.

In my experience, the film's audience is not so easily moved.  The truly dystopian ending to the movie, in which it is hinted that the anti-crime party has taken to enlisting thugs to intimidate political opponents, was lost on most of the people I've known who have discussed the movie.  The idea that their beloved state, far from using "spooky mind control" to turn thugs into well-spoken young gentlemen, is turning impressionable youths into narcissistic, hypersexualized political footballs is just too horrible for the leftist to contemplate.

And that is leftism in a nutshell.  It surprised me not at all to find that Burgess was a rightist and a monarchist.