What Not To Get Me For Christmas

Good news, men — master shoe designer Manolo Blahnik has created a new line of men’s footwear. If you don’t recognize the name, your wives or girlfriends can explain that his designs are highly prized and very expensive. Now, possessors of the Y chromosome can have the access to Blahnik’s genius, as represented in this new design:
Men, we’ve waited years for this opportunity. Now we can also wear open-toed slingbacks with a low heel:

Well, guys, listen up. There’s a man who wants you to put on a pair slingbacks. And they’re blue suede, open-toed, and cost about as much as a flat screen TV.
This week, Manolo Blahnik, the Spanish designer famous for making women swoon over $700 stilettos, announced he’s putting out a line of men’s shoes. Among the styles: Afiyet, the aforementioned blue suede number, and Bir, a sandal made of leopard-print leather.
“There are some simple sandals in beautiful materials, and a few classics — with a twist,” Blahnik said in a statement. “I thought it was time to bring back some color into the male wardrobe.”

Unfortunately for me, I live in Minnesota, where the idea is to get more shoe around the foot, not less, especially this time of year. Not only would the snow spoil the blue suede — and is that cobalt blue? — but it would also give me frostbite. Come to think of it, why would I pay more for less shoe? And has it suddenly become fashionable to wear black socks with sandals? A lot of middle-aged and older men will celebrate that change.
ABC acknowledges that the market for Man-olo may be somewhat limited. “It’s not entirely clear who will buy Manolo Blahnik’s men’s shoes — or what they’ll wear with them,” the caption reads. Perhaps a nice cobalt-blue murse (man-purse)? Maybe a blue suede suit, complete with an oversized matching fedora and outrageous peacock feather? Afterwards, I can trick out my Honda CRV as a full-blown pimpmobile, too.
I think I’ll leave Manolo to the women, and stick to Bostonian and Johnston & Murphy for my dress shoes. Tell Santa to skip the slingbacks.

The Devil In The Corpus Callosum

Our friend Barbara Oakley has an interesting follow-up to our conversation on Tuesday with this intriguing opinion piece in today’s Chicago Tribune. The author of Evil Genes discusses cultural blind spots, starting with a personal anecdote regarding her adopted sons, both Balkan Muslims. She noted that they have never even thought to look at Islam critically, as they do with other religions. Similarly, Westerners have a blind spot when it comes to their belief in the inherent good of each individual:

It’s fashionable in the West today to assert that every culture has its blind spots, and so culturally speaking, everything is relative. But what many Westerners are unaware of, unless they have also spent time in a totalitarian state, is how much more free Westerners are to study their blind spots, to write about them and to publicly attempt to put a spotlight on them.
One blind spot Westerners have is the widespread assumption that everyone is innately good — or at least capable of being reasoned with. Neuroscience, however, is beginning to provide proof that the dogma of innate rationality and decency is deeply flawed — at least in a small percentage of people. Instead, it appears that both environment and genetics can occasionally combine to shape people who are naturally duplicitous, amoral and completely incapable of being reasoned with.
When we reflect on these findings, they make sense. After all, was Hitler trustworthy when he suavely insisted he was a man of peace? Could you reason Ahmadinejad out of his firm belief that there are no homosexuals in Iran? Is Russian President Vladimir Putin being honest when he insists he has nothing to do with his enemies’ oddly common tendencies to die horrific deaths? Is Hugo Chavez really attempting to give himself extraordinary rights to control every facet of Venezuelan politics for purely altruistic reasons, as he likes to imply? Will Chavez’s next step be the elimination of the press that helped spearhead his recent electoral loss?
“Successfully sinister” individuals exist, it seems, in every society. These manipulative individuals often do not have the charm, phenomenal memory or ruthlessness of a Hitler, Putin, Ahmadinejad or Chavez. Instead, they show their nature on a more banal scale: the malevolent department head who terrorizes his underlings, or the long-suffering mother who has been poisoning her children.

This is an extension of our discussion on Tuesday, and another interesting look at Oakley’s research. Not every individual, she postulates, is born either inherently good or a tabula rasa on which environment engraves the cultural values of good and evil. That challenges some of the assumptions on which modern Western culture rests, and calls into question how society can protect itself.
It also calls into question the concept of free will. Oakley will join us to discuss this again next Tuesday, since we never got to that discussion. If successfully sinister individuals exist because of their neurological structure, can they be said to operate from a sense of free will or instinctual compulsion? Similarly, does altruism exist as a choice or a biological response? Even if one accepts the neurological explanation as determinative, which I’m not sure even Oakley does, can society afford to act in any other fashion than under the assumption of free will?
This is not an academic question. Western justice — indeed, human justice — relies on the notion that people have responsibility for their own actions. Exceptions exist for the truly insane, those who cannot distinguish right from wrong in any sense. If successfully sinister people lack the will to operate in any other fashion, can they be judged as neurologically equivalent to that state? If so, how does society protect themselves against the malignant narcissists?
I believe that the individual comes with certain predispositions, but has consciousness and the ability to make choices. That consciousness allows humans to rise above instinctual compulsions, especially when the consequences of actions are clear, such as with lawbreaking. The neurological component exists, but to relegate actions completely to it amounts to claiming to be possessed as a defense. If the devil exists in the corpus callosum, the individual still has the responsibility for allowing him out. We’ll see what Barbara has to say about this next week.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, 67%-26%

If a war over Christmas really exists, it’s not much of a fight. We’re heading into the part of the calendar where we can expect to read about retailers who substitute “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas”, with critics claiming the former as a dilution of the significance of the season. As it turns out, two-thirds of Americans in almost all demographic groups prefer the traditional greeting (via the Political Machine):

As the holiday season begins, 67% of American adults like stores to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” in their seasonal advertising rather than “Happy Holidays.” A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 26% prefer the Happy Holidays line.

It’s as much of a sweep as anything anyone will ever read in a poll. The only demographic categories giving “Merry Christmas” less than 60% were Black (50%-44%) and Other (55%-37%) ethnic categories, and people making under $20,000 per year (52%-39%). Men, women, married, unmarried, investors or not, the numbers all look strikingly similar — people strongly prefer the traditional greeting to the politically-correct substitute.
Retailers do not want to alienate people with the religious reference, but the opposite could be true, especially with those who spend the most. The numbers climb to the mid-70s for working-class and middle-class incomes, peaking at 77% for those who make between $75K-$100K, and dropping back to 66% for those above that. With such strong preferences, one wonders whether the substitution doesn’t have the effect that the retailers wanted to avoid in the first place.
So Christmas purists can rest easy this holiday season, as they have plenty of company. Retailers, however, may want to rethink their print orders for displays and mailers, and save “Happy Holidays” for their Memorial Day sales.

Narcissistic Deviancy Comes Of Age

As the price of technology drops, the barriers to entry for the markets they represent do as well. The blogosphere provides an excellent example of this dynamic. The cost to publish has become almost non-existent, and now millions of people (including me) have created their own on-line publications. BlogTalkRadio allows anyone with a phone line and an Internet connection to become a talk-radio host on any topic — and we have thousands of hosts in the network with almost as many topics. Self-publication has grown into a mass movement, a revolution in how information gets disseminated and absorbed.
This dynamic has a darker side, too. As the price drops on video technology and publication, a strange new phenomenon has arisen — the need for people to put themselves on display in the most extreme moments of their lives. A certain class of narcissistic deviants have been unable to commit their acts without photographing and videotaping them for publication:

There was the recent arrest in Nevada of Chester Stiles, who allegedly filmed himself raping a three-year-old girl. This sensational item overlapped with the capture in Thailand of Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian schoolteacher accused of posting on the Internet images of himself having sex with a series of children. Neither would in all likelihood have been jailed so quickly had they not photographed themselves performing these atrocities. Both Pekka-Eric Auvinen, who shot eight people in a Finnish high school on Nov. 7, and Cho Seung Hui, murderer of 32 at Virginia Tech this April, made confessional videos for broadcast or posting online–so called massacre manifestos–designed to outlive their suicides.
A partial list of others happy or compelled to document their own crimes in recent years would include the young arsonist in California who took pictures of himself against the background of the infernos he set. Or the Canadian joy-riders who cruised around Vancouver at night, shooting frightened pedestrians with paint-ball guns while recording themselves whooping it up during these escapades. Or Sean Gillespie, a neo-Nazi who videotaped himself in 2004 firebombing an Oklahoma City synagogue as part of his racist promotional package. Or the three teenagers arrested last year in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for clubbing with baseball bats three homeless men, one of them to death, events the boys commemorated by making a video.
The guards at Abu Ghraib also participated in this trend. Their abuse and torture of Iraqis might have remained whispered rumors within the prison walls had they not taken pictures for their own amusement. The members of al Qaeda who beheaded Western journalists and aid workers are a subset as well. They staged these murders for the cameras in hopes the group’s ruthlessness would be broadcast to viewers everywhere. Like the lead character in “Peeping Tom,” they took pleasure in filming and watching playbacks of their own cruelty.

Richard Woodward also notes the rise of amateur porn offered freely on the Internet, but a rich tradition exists in utilizing the latest imaging technology to capture the sex act. Even before the computer age, pornography managed to find its way onto cellulose or tintypes early in the life cycle of the specific technologies. Porn got a big boost in videocassettes and DVDs, as well as with the computer industry. The change now is that so many just post their intimate moments for no charge at all — and the low barrier finally represents a threat to the porn industry. No one needs a prostitute when someone else gives it away for free.
The rest of the article, however, does put a certain new twist on image technology. In these cases and many more, criminals seem compelled to provide startling and repellent evidence of their actions. A few years ago, we would shake our heads in wonder at the idiocy of teenagers taping the random beating of a man. Why would someone keep evidence that would convict them if arrested?
Criminals don’t just keep the videos any longer — they proudly publish them, sometimes just to a circle of friends, but sometimes to the wider audience. It makes deviancy almost a currency, a hierarchy of double-dog-dares that one usually outgrows sometime in middle school. Woodward believes that the contributors to this market believe that the public scorn and potential risk of arrest gets outweighed by the thrill of looking back at oneself, but that’s not the real thrill — the real thrill is believing that thousands or millions of people are looking at oneself. Self-made celebrity outweighs all.
It’s the age of narcissistic deviancy, and the Internet is the perfect marketplace. I suspect that this impulse has existed all along, but with the almost-nonexistent barrier to entry, that impulse will get full vent.

So Much For Daylight Savings Time

One of the reasons why Congress extended Daylight Savings Time doesn’t appear to have panned out in the Twin Cities. The extra week has allowed for longer daylight on Halloween, which arguably made trick-or-treating safer for the smaller children. Instead of darkness dropping at the time parents got home from work, they’d have an hour or so to take the kids around while drivers could still see them on the streets.
I’m manning the door this year, not in costume (unless mild-mannered blogger counts as a Halloween costume), and we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater until well after 6 pm and complete nightfall. We’ve seen a good number of small kids already, but also our share of teenagers. So far, we haven’t had childless adults showing up, which is supposed to be this year’s expression of arrested development.
Earlier today, the Little Admiral visited with Mommy and Daddy, and she’s dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. She was supposed to be a cat this year, but she must have changed her mind. She even had the ruby-red slippers, which reminded me of Wicked all over again. I would have taken a picture but she bumped her head and bled from a cut, and by the time everything got cleaned up, she had to leave. I’m sure we’ll get a good picture from someone else tonight.
In the meantime, I’m trying to meter the candy out so that the last trick-or-treater gets the last bit of it. I hope you have a fun Halloween!

What Drives The Skank Impulse?

Halloween will arrive tomorrow, with plenty of kids hitting doorbells looking for candy. Some of them will dress as though they want to work something out in trade, as Newsweek noted yesterday (via Instapundit):

Apparently, witches aren’t ugly anymore; they’re sexy. So are pirates and pumpkins and princesses–traditional little girl Halloween costumes that used to say, Isn’t she cute? now scream, That’s hot! with an increasing array of halter tops, bare midriffs and miniskirts. Costume catalogs and Web sites, filled with images of pouty preteens modeling the latest in Halloween fashion, seem almost to verge on child pornography, and ooze with attitude. Witches are “wayward” and grammar-school pirates are “wenches.” A girl isn’t an Army cadet, she’s a “Major Flirt,” and who knew female firefighters wore fishnet stockings? Even Little Bo Peep comes with a corset, short skirt and lacy petticoat.
And while complaints about “slutty” kids’ costumes may seem like a yearly parents’ lament, the industry has been ramping up the sex appeal to ever younger groups of girls. It’s not just 10- and 12-year-olds who have gone Halloween trampy. Now 6- and 7-year-old models are featured in catalogs wearing child-sized versions of skimpy costumes that used to be reserved for adult boudoirs. If you think we’re exaggerating, note that they’re actually selling something called a “Child’s Chamber Maid Costume.” And, many of the tween girls in the photographs are wearing more make-up than Christina Aguilera on awards night. More disturbing may be their expressions–they look as if they’ve been told to give the camera their best “sexy” gaze.
Tack on all the licensed outfits from popular TV shows and toy lines like Cheetah Girls, Bratz and Hannah Montana, and parents are having to search farther a field for something that won’t make their little trick-or-treater look like a lady of the night. But with adolescent girls parading around in short-shorts that say JUICY across the bottom, and every younger girls aspiring to be a diva of some sort, is it any wonder that their Halloween costumes have gotten racier? “No, but it is distressing,” says Joe Kelly, founder of the advocacy group Dads and Daughters. He sees the trend as symptomatic of a deeper issue. “The hypersexualization of younger and younger girls only serves to reinforce gender roles. When an 8-year-old girl can’t find a doctor costume because all they have are nurse outfits, that’s a problem.” Celia Rivenbark, author of the 2006 parental manifesto “Stop Dressing your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank,” has noticed it too, and says that Halloween has become “just another excuse for little girls to dress like sluts.”

It’s not limited to the girls, either. Michelle Malkin points out that boys can get in on the prostitution theme by dressing up as pimps. The Washington Post keeps the focus on girls in a front-page piece today that reports on the challenges parents face with pre-teens and costumes such as the Playboy Racy Referee, Major Flirt, Devilicious, and French Maid — all sized for the elementary-school set.
Why are we sexualizing our little girls? Whose interests does that serve? Carol Platt Liebau takes a look at the issue in her new book, Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!). As the grandfather of a 5-year-old girl, this trend disturbs me and makes me question how she will manage to learn responsible sexuality in a world determined to cheapen and degrade her.
I look forward to reading the book — but in the meantime, we’ll have Carol on Heading Right Radio on Thursday, 3 pm ET. This topic hits close to home, and it won’t go away on November 1st. Be sure to join us.

When Exactly Did Art Die?

At least the latest travesty in the art world comes Down Under rather than the US, but that only shows how global the collapse of art from a meaningful form to an anti-Christian realm of bigots has become. The latest examples are entrants in the Blake Prize competition in Australia, which features a statue of the Virgin Mary in a burqa and a holographic image of Jesus that transforms into … Osama bin Laden:

THE artist behind a controversial work depicting terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden morphing into Jesus today asked people to look deeper into the work.
Queensland artist Priscilla Bracks denied she had deliberately set out to be offensive.
“Absolutely not, no, no. I am not interested in being offensive. I am interested in having a discussion and asking questions about how we think about our world and what we accept and what we don’t accept,” she told ABC radio. … Ms Bracks said one issue behind her work was the glorification of Osama bin Laden in some parts of the world.
“What I was thinking about is, well, what would happen to the stories about this man over thousands of years. Could that possibly lead to someone with a cult-like status,” she said.

Right. So Osama is somehow the Jesus of our time. I get that, too, because Jesus went around killing people as a show of his power, and directed his followers to go out into the world and kill everyone who didn’t believe in his teachings. Oh, wait …
You’ll notice, of course, that Bracks didn’t take the obvious comparison of morphing Mohammed into Osama, as Andrew Bolt points out. Not only is the point more germane with Mohammed, who actually did lead an army that conducted wars on infidels, but Osama is (obviously) a follower of Mohammed. Why not have Mohammed morph into Osama? Because any depiction of Mohammed is considered profane by Muslims and can get an artist killed. Just criticizing Islam got Theo Van Gogh murdered in the street in Amsterdam.
It’s much safer to demonize Christians. They don’t try to kill people.
Artists discovered this quite some time ago. Dropping a crucifix into a beaker of urine became a celebrated work of “art”. Flinging elephant dung at a picture of the Virgin Mary and surrounding the image with pictures of genitalia got NEA funding here in the US. The art world found out that it could generate outrage by explicitly venting hatred towards Christians, establishing reputations for courageous iconoclasm while neatly avoiding any criticism whatsoever of Islam, which could result in physical violence.
It’s become too easy to see through the charade. Art has lost all vigor, as it celebrates works that become increasingly puerile and bounded by bigotry. Its obsession with Christianity as an evil presence has cost it its relevance to the modern world, and it has become nothing but a masturbatory exercise only for its own circle of mechanics. (via Memeorandum)
UPDATE: Fausta notes the complete lack of rioting among Christians over this “art”.

Must Be Pon Farr

As longtime CQ readers know, my nickname came from the period in my life when I was a Star Trek fan. I don’t think I qualified as a Trekkie; I never attended a convention, and the only outward sign of my Trekophilia was my personalized license plate and its “Carship Enterprise” frame. I also dated, had a life, and got married.
Now Trekkies want to do the same, and a new dating service promises to take them where few of the men have gone before:

By day, 28-year-old Scott Josephson is an educational software writer. By night, or during any of his free time for that matter, he is a Trekkie.
In fact, Josephson’s obsession with “Star Trek” has evolved to such a degree that he is now attempting to watch all the TV episodes, from the original version all the way through “Enterprise” — in chronological order. But “Star Trek” is not the only thing on Josephson’s mind these days.
He is also trying to find a girlfriend.

You know, it seems to me that Josephson’s two pursuits might be mutually exclusive. If he wants to watch all of the TV shows from the various series in chronolohgical order, that would take up most of his free time. That may be why he has little success even with Internet dating sites:

“I am not doing the bar and club scene, so it is not that easy for me [to meet people,]” said Josephson in an interview with ABC News. “I have tried some dating sites with minimal success. I am just not finding that person unique enough to date me.”
Fortunately for Josephson and the many “Star Trek”-loving seeking light saber-wielding/video game-playing among us, the answer may now be just a mouse click away. It’s sweetongeeks.com, a new dating site that encourages its members to embrace the geek in all of us.

Actually, this is a brilliant marketing move for dating services. As the founders of this service argue, the same impulses that dominate the normal dating scene also dominate the on-line services — an emphasis on looks and income, if not initially on skills. That tends to make every dating service more or less the same, unless they explicitly specialize — and even then, the same dynamics hold true within that specialization.
It will be interesting to see whether the same holds true for self-described geeks. The early adopters will probably remain on board with the concept, but human nature being what it is, that may get diluted in direct proportion to the success of the site. Men and women will follow cultural imperatives in the long run, and beautiful geeks who earn a good living will likely still get better results than those who lack physical beauty and/or social skills.
In the end, though, it takes commitment to engaging in social activities and honing social skills enough to attract a mate. It’s hard to do that when one has set a goal to watch 400 hours or so in television episodes.

Maybe Men Are More Forgettable

Surveys taken around the world about sexual habits of men and women all have one thing in common: men claim to have more sex partners over a lifetime than women. Supposedly, this reflects a primal urge for procreation. Men act promiscuously while women act more to provide a family unit for children.
There’s only one problem with this explanation. It doesn’t add up — literally:

One survey, recently reported by the federal government, concluded that men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners. Another study, by British researchers, stated that men had 12.7 heterosexual partners in their lifetimes and women had 6.5.
But there is just one problem, mathematicians say. It is logically impossible for heterosexual men to have more partners on average than heterosexual women. Those survey results cannot be correct. …
Sex survey researchers say they know that Dr. Gale is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal numbers of partners. So, when men report many more than women, what is going on and what is to be believed?

The New York Times reports on four possibilities. One is that men go outside the population to add sex partners, but that seems highly unlikely given the disparity. If men on average have to have twice the number of women in a population for sex, wouldn’t tourist companies have discovered this market by now?
Another is prostitution. These surveys deliberately exclude sex workers as they would skew the statistics, but even if one granted that each prostitute had 1000 different partners, one would need 100,000 prostitutes to service 100 million men for just one extra sex partner. Possible, but not a serious explanation.
That leaves us with the obvious. Men exaggerate and women underestimate. That’s also a cultural norm; men with lots of partners are called alpha males, studs, and ladies’ men. Women with lots of partners get less attractive labels, like sluts, whores, and hotel heiresses. You think either can be trusted to be honest, even with the kind of privacy afforded by such surveys?
Or, it might just be that men are more forgettable. Not male CQ readers, mind you, who all could have challenged for the role of James Bond before Daniel Craig won the role, but the rest of the male population.
In any case, the problem with this logical conundrum is that it makes all of the data suspect from these surveys. Either the sample was bad or the respondents dishonest. When one finds this level of false answers in a survey, it automatically calls into question the veracity of the answers on other questions. And since this is seen in practically every sex survey conducted, it means that all of the data we’ve seen may be unreliable. Either that, or someone has misunderstood the math here.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire says the mathematicians interviewed confused means and medians. I think that men just like to exaggerate … and not ask for directions … and refuse to take medicine … and ….

Will They Invite Quentin Tarantino To The Funeral?

The NAACP plans to bury an old adversary and, unfortunately, for some an old friend. Chairman Julian Bond says that the group plans to symbolically bury the N-word on Monday at its annual meeting in Detriot:

Julian Bond wants people to understand that when the NAACP symbolically buries the N-word on Monday, the effort will be led by the younger members of the venerable civil rights organization.
“Seven young people are on our board of directors, and they are spearheading this initiative,” said Bond, the group’s chairman. “This is the continuation of a long fight against the denigration of African Americans in popular culture. If it’s someone black or someone white, it’s equally wrong.”

I agree, but most of the word’s use over the past few decades have come from the rap industry, which seems to have a love affair with the word. It didn’t start with rap, though; that started with its acceptance in the black community as a term of rough endearment, the same as in rap today. I recall discussing this with African-American co-workers over twenty-five years ago at my first full-time job, who explained to me that it meant something different when Caucasians said the word. I understood their point, but I never understood why anyone would want to perpetuate such an ugly slur, even for the irony.
So good for the NAACP, but it’s interesting that it took this long for them to stand up to the rap industry, which is the subtext here. It wouldn’t have happened at all if it hadn’t been for the fallout from Don Imus and his use of racially-charged insults on the air. Imus didn’t use the N-word, but when the outrage of his bone-headed quip peaked, people began asking why Imus got such harsh treatment when rappers said much worse on almost every record. Under that pressure, chief Imus antagonist Al Sharpton attacked the recording industry, and the word finally got the disgust it deserves.
It’s worth pointing out that it isn’t just rap that has a problem with the word; Hollywood does as well. For some reason, Quentin Tarantino seems to regard the word as a talisman for authenticity in his overblown and mostly overrated grindhouse genre flicks. Other indie producers have followed suit. I loved Pulp Fiction, but nothing in that movie makes me cringe more than when Tarantino as Jimmy keeps barking the N-word at Samuel L. Jackson in their scene together.
Perhaps Bond should invite Tarantino to the funeral, as well as rap producers, singers, and filmmakers. The most ironic point of this burial is that the people who used it most in the last couple of decades are those who exploited it for financial profit, rather than for any racial animus. That’s why, despite this well-intentioned and long overdue burial, I expect to see the Night Of The Living N-Word shortly thereafter, as the term is simply too lucrative to stay dead for long — which is another sad commentary on our culture.