Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Revenge of the Turds

Via Megan:

I have nothing to add to this except to ask:  what strikes you as the salient difference between the TSA agents (especially the woman (I think) in the foreground), and their victim?  What do you think is really going on here?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Speak Now: an Album Review

Those of you with tween-aged daughters certainly know that Taylor Swift released her third album, Speak Now, on 25 October.  (Actually, considering that the album sold a cool million copies in the first week, everyone except you Martian cave dwellers probably knew this even without little girls to remind you, like, every day.)

Let me say at the outset of this review that it is a measure of my respect for Swift’s talents that I even notice this at all.  In fact, I couldn’t even name a single album released in the last decade.  As I listen to the music while writing this review, I will fully concede that Swift’s latest work retains for her the position of America’s sweetheart.


I was disappointed.  Thematically, we’ve heard all these songs in Fearless.  Both albums divide easily into the I-love-my-boyfriend songs, the my-jerk-boyfriend-left-me songs, the I-left-my-jerk-boyfriend songs, and the my-boyfriend-to-be-is-dating-the-wrong-girl song.  Each album also has a triumph-over-adversity song:  “Change” in Fearless, “Long Live” in Speak Now.

This last was a comedown from its earlier counterpart. 

Long live the walls we crashed through
How the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
I was screaming long live all the magic we made
And bring on all the pretenders
One day we will be remembered

Nothing in the rest of the song provides any context, but the opening line is incoherent.  Why would we want the “walls that we crashed through” to “live long”?

There are a few bright spots.  A few of the songs explore old territory in a new way.  “Mine” was especially moving as she sings of a girl (in the first person) whose parents’ broken marriage colors her current relationship:

And I remember that fight, two-thirty AM
You said everything was slipping right out of our hands
I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street
Braced myself for the goodbye, cause that's all I've ever known
Then, you took me by surprise
You said, "I'll never leave you alone."

“Better than Revenge”, in its own category as a that-scheming-slut-stole-my-boyfriend-and-I’m-gonna-crush-her song, has this funny'-‘cause-it’s-true line:

Stealing other people's toys on the playground
Won't make you many friends
She should keep in mind,
She should keep in mind
There is nothing I do better than revenge, Ha

If Fearless left any gaps in its exploration of female narcissism, Speak Now plugs them.  But at some point, I really would like her to apply her talents to subjects that aren’t all about her.  So Taylor, if you really want to solidify your position as the premier songwriting talent of our generation . . . write us a new national anthem.  “The Star-spangled Banner” is so 1812.  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reflections of an Underachiever

My father came to visit me last week.

I’ve always admired my father.  He is what we in this corner of the blogosphere would call a natural alpha*, although significantly, I didn’t really appreciate this fact until I was well into adulthood.  But I did know that he succeeded wildly at a high-risk profession and as an entrepreneur (and at everything he tried, in fact, except, unfortunately, investing).  I knew that he owned fine houses and expensive foreign cars.  And I knew that he was in charge.

In short, he was everything I expected to be when I grew up.

What I didn’t know was how different we were.

I began succeeding at school much earlier than my father had, as well I should have:  my father climbed up from working-class mill family origins, whereas I always enjoyed high parental expectations.  I excelled at academic subjects of which he had no understanding; ergo, I was smarter.  By high school I could run farther and faster than he could, and by college I could swim faster too; ergo, I was more physically attractive.  It was simple math.

But although my father is only slightly taller than I am, he is much larger.  Imagine, for a moment, Don Draper and Pete Campbell standing next to each other.  I’m Pete Campbell.  A taller, more athletic Pete Campbell perhaps, but still:  Pete Campbell.  It took me until quite recently to understand how that might matter.

Looking back on it, there were plenty of signs.  Inside my father’s stories of his youthful hijinks was the message that he had a gang of friends that did stuff together.  Inside his stories of high-stakes gambling at pool and cards on the rough side of town was the message that he faced dangerous situations with confidence.  Inside his stories of conflict at work was the message that he was the master of his situation.  His was the life of someone who expected to succeed.  It was not the life of someone who’s daily objective was to get through the day without getting beat on, or made an object of ridicule.

Much of this began to sink in around the time I got married.  My father got married at age 25 to a woman not yet 20.  I loved my mother, but growing up it never occurred to me to compare her to anybody else.  I knew she was pretty, but I never stopped to think about what that meant.  Looking back on it, I guess I would say that I unconsciously saw her as the baseline of attractiveness.  I wasn’t, at that point, sure if women were worth the aggravation of being married to one, but I assumed that if I ever did get married that it would be to a woman who resembled my mother in certain salient respects.

It wasn’t until I was engaged myself that this was brought home to me.   I remember attending a party with mother and watching her across the back lawn of the house when it struck me that my mother wasn’t merely pretty.  She was, in fact, strikingly beautiful in an uncommon way.  She does not – or pretends to not – see herself in this light, so I had few cues that this was the case.  She does see herself as disciplined about diet and exercise, perhaps, but even here she fails to appreciate how, in practice, this physicality is not often willed into being among women.

And I realized then that my own success with women would never equal my father’s; despite having four extra years to work with, I was marrying a woman 15 months older than I was.  Don’t misunderstand me:  I did not want to marry my mother.  Nor even did I want to marry someone like my mother.  Mrs. Φ excels in the domestic arts in a way that my mother, an accomplished musician, never bothered, and she has proved her loyalty through circumstances with which I would definitely not test my mother.  But I could nonetheless grasp the difference between the position my mother occupied in the status hierarchy – her SMV, as it were – and the position that my bride-to-be occupied, and what this said about my father’s position relative to my own.

I’m not sure my father has reconciled himself to the fact that his son is, from his perspective, an underachiever.  He doesn’t know that my own adventure as the pointy-haired boss could be charitably characterized as mediocre.  He’s figured out that I’m not especially upwardly mobile with my lifelong employer, and that my houses don’t seem to be getting any bigger, but he doesn’t grasp that being a Company Man is about the extent of my realistic ambition.  He’s proud of the fact that I’ve worked my way to near completion on a PhD, but it’s also clear from his comments that he thinks, why hasn’t this kid struck out on his own?  Thought like a man who expects to succeed, rather than someone who tries to get through the day without getting beat on, or made an object of ridicule.


* Parenthetically, I should clarify here that my father has never indicated he is much motivated by sex.  On the contrary, his stories show him to be very much a straight arrow in this respect, straighter than me even, though he is not especially religious.  (This trait I inherited from my mother.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.

William Bradford

Ye Governor of Ye Colony


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

PC Zombies

Episode 2 of AMC’s new series The Walking Dead provoked the expected eye-roll.  I mean, c’mon:  can’t we enjoy a zombie movie without being treated to the spectacle of a white southern racist hurling the N word?  In all the years I lived in the South, and as many times as I heard the N word, I never once witnessed a white person use it to address a black person.  Not.  Once.  And yet, I’m supposed to believe that among the six human survivors in Atlanta, one of them will use it against another in the middle of a zombie siege!!!

But that said, let me try to extract a worthwhile question out of this.  Come the zombie apocalypse, which social model will prevail:  a multi-cultural one?  Or a tribal one?

Deputy Rick, the series’ protagonist, opted for the first:  “There are only two races now,” he tells Merle-the-Racist, “the living and dead.”  Cornball as it sounds, I suspect something like this is probably true.  I understand that it is a commonplace among social historians that larger social groups (e.g. nations) are often forged in the fire of total war, and I’m pretty sure facing millions of the undead trying to eat our brains would motivate us to take our alliances where we can find them.  The result, I would guess, would not be multiculturalism, but rather a new culture alloyed from the remnants of the old ones.

But maybe not.  Perhaps the future would belong, not to our diverse band of survivors, but to ethnic mafias newly empowered by the collapse of the administrative state.  I’m thinking of something like MS-13 battling for territory and resources against, say, SAMCRO, and the zombies serving mainly as a nuisance that both sides must contain but otherwise ignore.

Does anybody have a strong opinion about this?

Monday, November 22, 2010

What’s a “Fixie”?

Christian Lander reported a while back that fixed gear bicycles are the rage among SWPLs.  The picture headlining his post appears to be of the standard diamond-frame bicycle.  I once saw one of these bicycles in an upper end bicycle shop listing for $900+.

Φ’s daily commute takes him through what this corner of the blogosphere would call a prole neighborhood.  Not, I hasten to say, an underclass neighborhood:  it’s racial composition is similar to Φ’s Lily-White Little Burg, and its median income is slightly higher than that of the state.  But that’s still some $30K less than Φ-ville, with houses priced proportionately.

One of the things I’ve seen often enough to notice is what appear to be older teenagers (i.e. 14 y.o.+) riding fixed-gear children’s bicycles that look obviously too small for them.

Why would they do this?  Even during the phase when Φ’s family was scrimping by, my parents still managed to spend $60 –$80 on a ten-speed for my 12th or 13th birthday.  That’s in 1981 dollars. Today, you can go to Wal-Mart and for less than $100 get bicycles with features that in the early 90's (when Φ last paid attention to this kind of thing) could cost thousands of dollars. (Note that those features were typically attached to alloy, aluminum, or titanium frames rather than steel frames, but still.)

Is riding a too-small BMX bike some kind of young prole version of the fixie movement?  Or are these young people really so poor that they can’t afford better?

Friday, November 19, 2010

[Back]scattered Thoughts

Megan is on a tear:

Dear Airline: I'm leaving you. But don't feel too bad. It's not you, it's me. Or rather, it's the TSA.

I'm not going to lie. It's come between us. If I have to let someone else see me naked in order to be with you--well, I'm just not that kinky.

Several things come to mind. First, if Megan objects to what airport security has become, well, she should have thought about that before cheerleading the immigration policies that allowed into our country hundreds of thousands* of Arabic Muslims while at the same time insisting that ethnic profiling at TSA checkpoints is immoral. She is now reaping what she sowed.

But given these constraints, it's hard to get upset about the backscatter scanners. On the contrary, if these ever provide sufficient resolution to replace the shoe-and-belt-removal and the unpack-the-baby-stroller aggravations we're presently enduring, then they'll be a welcome improvement. No, I don't like the diminished zone of expected privacy either, but I like getting killed by terrorists even less.

But a stranger will see us naked! To which I respond: they get what they pay for.** Seriously, the porn value of these images, judging from the TSA samples I've seen, is pretty limited, and in any case, if the prospect of getting seen naked motivates some of the travellers I've seen at airports to either (1) lose weight or (2) take the train, then . . . explain to me where the downside is?

Megan objects that the TSA has failed to make a public case for the extent to which the backscatter machines marginally improve airplane security, which is fair enough . . . but it's also kind of the point. By way of analogy, consider the intelligence community (with which I have a passing familiarity). The kinds of information we are able to collect and the ways we collect it (i.e. "Sources and Methods") receive the highest security classification handling our government has, and for good reason: to know the sources and methods is to know how they can be defeated. The same is likely true for backscatter images: exactly what they can tell airport security about what passengers are carrying on their persons would be exactly the kind of information that aspiring terrorists would want to know, and thus should remain closely held.

But I repeat: if you don't like these security arrangements (and I don't), then join me in calling for the expulsion of the aliens among us, or for profiling them.

* I don't know the exact number, except that it's too damn many.

** In my case, they get more. I look pretty good naked.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

DADT Humor

The graphic below may or may not be circulating among Powerpoint presentations given at local military CC calls:


Monday, November 15, 2010

Higher Education

I’m gonna curb stomp whichever one of you dweebs recommend I watch the John Singleton movie Higher Learning.  I’ve enjoyed Singleton’s work both before and since, but the clichés in this one, from the Midwestern white girl who clutches her purse tighter when she shares an elevator with a black student, to the preppy college kids turning their campus into South-Central LA to celebrate the start of the semester, were probably absurd back in 1995.  Today, they made me abandon the movie five minutes in, cursing the 3-day Netflix turnaround.

I’ll give you this though:  Kristy Swanson was a total babe back in the 1990s.  It’s tragic the way actresses try to use plastic surgery to recover their fading bloom when I can’t think of a single instance in which this was done successfully.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Link Love for Default User

Default User writes, inter alia:

Φ, you say: “If what I write doesn’t describe you, then I’m not talking about you.” That’s OK because I doubt anybody cares. And, for God’s sake, get a proper name. I mean “Φ,” do you think you are Prince?

‘Tis true:  my aesthetic is a mess.  I write under a Greek pseudonym on a blog with a Latin name and an English URL, and my avatar is a fictional TV trial lawyer as acted by a homosexual.  None of these has any obvious connection to the other.

Clearly I’m befuddled beyond measure.


Robin Hanson joins the growing list of writers who find wisdom in the Unabomber’s manifesto.  He also writes great posts on the politics of voting, civility and breast cancer:

One obvious difference is that being anti-breast-cancer is framed as being pro-women. Thus one can insinuate that folks who resist social pressures to support the campaign are anti-women. Since folks fear seeming anti-women much more than seeming anti-health, a breast-cancer campaign can tap into far more social pressure than can an exercise or sleep campaign.

Think pink gets much of its energy by offering a way for folks to be indirectly political; one can seem pro-women, and insinuate that others are anti-women, while only ever explicitly talking about health and medicine. AIDS awareness gets a similar political punch; one can talk only health, yet insinuate that others are anti-gay. Much of medicine is not about health, but about showing that you care, in this case caring about the right political groups.

Megan McArdle summarizes arguments against the corporate income tax.  My favorite:

There are already substantial disincentives to shelter your income in a corporation.  Every time I suggest this, I get a lot of people arguing that people would simply funnel all their expenses through a corporation, and avoid paying income taxes.  These people are unaware that there are already substantial reasons to do this now, because corporations can deduct all sorts of things that people can't--rent, cars, utilities, non-mortgage interest payments, and so forth.  So why don't people do this? 

Because the IRS won't let them, that's why.  While owners of corporations do manage to chisel at the margins, the smart ones don't funnel their whole personal budget through the firm, because doing so is a sure route to an audit and a hefty fine.  You can argue that we need to beef up the rules, and maybe we do.  But there's no reason to worry about wholesale abuses of the system, because the IRS is already reasonably adept about ferreting these out.

Roissy shows “Modern Marriage in One Picture”:

Via Steve, an excellent article by Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard.  The last section is a detailed history of Singapore’s 30 year effort at reversing its collapsing fertility rate.  As you will see, Singapore approached the problem with kind of coordinated focus that America reserves for land wars in Asia, and its failure will be sobering to those of us concerned about America’s shrinking white population.

A couple of months ago, somebody I read posted a YouTube (I think) link to a very well done two-part video on the role that mortgage lending played in the financial collapse, equipped with very nice graphics.  I watched part one, but somewhere lost all links to the video.  If anyone can point me to it again, I’d sure appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I completed my John Cazale experience by watching Sidney Lumet’s movie Dog Day Afternoon on Neflix Instant Play.  I had seen the beginning of the movie as a child when it originally came out on television, but as it is not a children’s movie, I quickly lost interest.

Steve Sailer has written about the gradual professionalization of law enforcement since the 1970s, specifically that police departments have trained their officers in specific procedures that maximize their own safety.  Dog Day Afternoon portrays the early 1970s New York police as an unfunny clown act where the detective managing the siege barely controls teeming crowd of uniformed and plainclothes officers, who seem more interested in getting a piece of the action than in going home alive.  Is this a representative portrayal?  Or have movies and television gotten better over the years at the way they depict law enforcement sieges?

Al Pacino’s character famously incites the multiracial crowd against the police surrounding the bank by reminding them of the Attica Prison Riot, which ended when police opened fire into the tear gas befogged prison yard.  It’s not clear whether the real-life bank robbers did this, but clearly the scene had resonance with mainstream movie audiences in 1975.  The weird thing is that today – in ways large and small – the police are even more inimical to the freedom of Americans in general than they were in the early 1970s, and yet politically they seem almost as untouchable as the armed services, at least among whites.  Why is this?

I have a couple of possible answers to that question.  White America invested massive social capital in law enforcement as part of winning the war on the black crime spree of the late 70s - early 90s, and they are still riding that social capital.  Related to that is the loss of political balance:  the cause of law enforcement (and prosecutorial) restraint was all but dropped by white Democrats after the 1988 election.  Now we have two parties bidding each other for the tough-on-crime vote while the police are getting away with murder, sometimes literally.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Triumph before the Fall

I watched Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will on DVD.

I remember watching the preparations for a parade at the Magic Kingdom a few years back.  D!sney runs several of these per day, I think, and carefully preps the parade route by inserting metal posts into prepared holes and stringing chains along them as fencing to keep people off the route.  The last car in the parade collects the posts and chains.  It’s actually a pretty well-run operation.

I thought about this as I watched Hitler’s motorcade drive through the center of Nuremberg.  The sidewalks were packed with apparently adoring fans, yet only a handful of uniformed men were necessary to keep everyone lining the streets instead of obstructing traffic.

Very orderly people, those Germans.

I was surprised to the extent that Riefenstahl’s movie focuses on not German nationalism or the National Socialist political program – although there are elements of these – but Hitler personally.  But perhaps I should not have been:  the extent to which the Nazis would remain true to their socialist roots was one of the major issues driving the “Night of the Long Knives” and the purge of Ernst Röhm.  By the Nuremberg Rally (the subject of the movie) late in 1934, Nazism had degenerated (if that’s the word) into a personality suffused with pagan religiosity, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the U. S. since . . . well, since the 2008 election I suppose, but it really hasn’t been that common in my political observation.

Hitler Youth corps had a significant campout at Nuremberg for the rally.  The movie shows shirtless young boys teeming about, wrestling for sport, bathing from a trough and washing each other’s backs.  The whole aesthetic looks a little . . . gay, but I wondered if 1930s audiences would have perceived it that way.

Even into my own boyhood during the 1970s, depictions of Hitler on television continued the war-era practice of speeding up the film to make his mannerisms look more psychotic than they actually were.  By the History Channel era, we had largely outgrown this practice, possibly because of the better availability of footage that wasn’t Allied propaganda news reels.  But even in Riefenstahl’s film, most of the Nazi leaders sound like they’re on a screeching rant.  I’m not sure how much of this is a function of the sound reproduction systems of the day, but Josef Goebbels stands out as the exception to this rule; his voice comes over quite mellifluously.

One thing I hadn’t quite realized was that the trademark Nazi marching style, the “goosestep”, was only a feature of SS parades, and even then, the height of the step could vary.  I don’t think I saw anything like the NORK marches of today.  Most of it seemed pretty ordinary compared to its portrayals in the American popular representation.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Redefining Beautiful

I Tim 2:9-10:

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

I caught this story on Fox:

Pass the cold cream -- barefaced is the new black, baby!

At least it is at one Texas high school, where teenage girls have formed a group that celebrates going makeup free on Tuesdays.

Fed up with media portrayals of young girls wearing revealing clothes and caked-on makeup, Colleyville Heritage High School students Samantha Gibbs, Lauren Gilby, Nina Smith, Emily Gates, Laura Kelly, and Caroline Tessler founded Redefining Beautiful, a group celebrating natural beauty and self-confidence.

Here’s a picture


On the one hand, I’m encouraged that that someone wants to call a truce in the clothes and cosmetics arms race among high school girls.  But on the other, it’s not clear that these girls are redefining much of anything.  On the contrary, most of the girls in this picture are in the very flower of their natural beauty by its existing definition.  What’s changed is that they are not dressing in ways that signal sexual availability, but that isn’t the same thing, and every high school boy knows it.

So, what are we looking at here?  Are these girls making a genuine effort to “clothe themselves in good works”?  Are they opening a new front in the high school status war by declaring, “We can look beautiful without makeup”?

Like all things, it’s probably a bit of both, but determining the ratio depends on whether the girls shown in this picture are representative of the level of female pulchritude among teen girls in general, or whether we are looking only at girls that can pull off a no-makeup day successfully.