The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, October 30, 2006
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FEAR of DARKNESS?: It seems pretty apparent to me that a dark skinned person (of any race, but especially applicable to those of African descent) doesn’t have the same chance to make it in America as a lighter skinned person. Not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but I honestly think that a general trend exists, despite the ideal of color-blindness which our system espouses – on its better days.

I don’t know of any scientific studies that prove this. I suppose there aren’t any, because it would be politically incorrect as hell. So here’s my two-bit attempt at an unscientific analysis. I gathered some digital photos of African American men and women arrested over the past two years for violent crime, and isolated a block of space on one side of the person’s temple, where the lighting was even (between the glare of the flash and the shadows). I managed to find thirteen such color samples; I didn’t pick and choose, just used whatever I found. Then I found relatively well-lit pictures of five nationally acclaimed political leaders of African American heritage. Same thing, I isolated an evenly-lit block from the face, usually the temple. Then I put these blocks side by side. It’s fairly clear to see that on average, the criminals have darker skin tones.

Again, I don’t claim that this “analysis” has any scientific validity. It’s extremely quick and dirty. My criminal picture selection process attempted to be random, but it could still be “system-biased”. And my “national leaders” selection is not random at all. It’s a very small cohort; if you expanded it to 30 or 50 top black political leaders, you would get a broader range of skin tones. That range of tones would expand even more if you included other successful blacks in academia and industry. But you do have to admit, the people I did select are the most well known black leaders nationwide, at the moment.

If my “analysis” were to hold up under a more rigorous methodology, it would still be a comparison of the extremes. But if the extreme social failures (violent criminals) are, on average, darker skinned, and the extreme social successes (national political leaders) are significantly lighter skinned, it would indicate that the playing field is not level, that it does tip against darker skin. I think it would be good for some gutsy academian who isn’t grinding any axes but is merely in it for the truth (hope there are such people!) to do a real study like this, and then investigate the mechanisms by which darker skin tones are disfavored. Oh, and do it on a cross-cultural basis, including dark-skinned Asians and Mediterranean peoples. America needs to learn that it shouldn’t fear the dark; such fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:35 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 28, 2006
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I read the news story about the Islamic Sheik in Australia who caused a stir because of a line he used during a sermon defending the practice of women wearing head covering. Here’s the quote: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside … without cover, and the cats come to eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s?” The Sheik (Taj Aldin al Hilali) took a lot of flack for that from various luminaries, including the Australian Prime Minister. And to be fair, a number of other Muslim leaders condemned this statement, and the Sheik later conceded that women in Australian society have the right to dress as they choose.

Most of the criticism focuses on the Sheik’s “whose fault is it” line, which seems to say that if a woman is raped, it’s her own fault for flaunting her charms. I myself am amused at the good Sheik’s high estimation of a woman’s sexual power, and his low estimation of a man’s self control. He seems to see us all as totally overwhelmed by sexuality, totally out of control before it. The only way we can be Godly is by brutally repressing this sexuality; and since women are the source of sexual energy, they must bear the brunt of this repression.

I’ll be the first to admit that humanity is not totally above its animal heritage. Unfortunately, there are too many places and circumstances where people become the equivalent of dumb animals (and even worse, as they still have a conniving brain). I can think of one situation where the Sheik’s advice makes sense; my employer runs an annual summer program to familiarize high school youth with the world of criminal justice. One part of this program involves a tour of a jail. And every year, without fail, one of the young female participants shows up for this tour with a sexy, revealing outfit on. Obviously, they are sent home; we aren’t about to start a prison riot.

But for the most part, we here in the western world would like to think that the laws and notions of civilized society hold, in most instances. Sexuality is all over the place here, because it greases the skids of capitalism. But to be honest, I find that all the T&A; on TV and the movies and on the Internet has an “inoculation” effect. It honestly becomes boring after awhile. We still have way too much rape, unfortunately (1 rape is too much). But although I’m not an expert on sexual assault, it seems to me that rape is generally not a matter of being overwhelmed by sexual desire; it’s usually a pathological exercise in domination, control, and humiliation. The sex is almost incidental.

Personally, I’m not totally opposed to women wearing head coverings and long baggy robes that hide everything – if they so choose. I know a woman at work who faithfully dresses this way, as a sign of dedication to her heritage and to her spirituality. She’s a crime victim counselor. You can’t help but sense her sincerity and her holiness (and yet her smile and her sense of humor still shine thru). And there’s something to the argument that American society puts too much emphasis on judging women by their appearance, whereby the old Islamic tradition of making all women look alike perhaps levels the playing field and gives all women a better chance to manifest their inner qualities. Unfortunately, however, “old school Islam” also keeps women from developing those inner qualities, e.g. by denying schooling and career opportunities to them.

But Sheik Hilali’s words reflect an unhealthy mindset regarding women, sexuality, and humankind in general. I admire Islam in its insistence upon a fervent reliance and trust in God’s will. But when that fervor describes men and women as something even lower than sinners, as mere animals out of control and in need of harsh and strict husbandry, then I think there’s a big problem. You want to ask some of those old-school imams and ayatollahs, “does Allah make junk?”

P.S., Christianity hasn’t had such a great track record with regard to sexuality and women either. But I doubt if Islam could accommodate the story regarding a 7th Century monk named Vitali. According to legend, Vitali compiled a list of all “women of ill repute” within Alexandria, Egypt. During the day he worked for cash, and at night he visited the brothels – but not for the obvious. Vitali supposedly gave his hard-earned money to the lady de la nuit and shut himself in her room. . (Guess he paid enough to hire her for the evening). Vitali then begged the hooker to lie down and sleep, while he spent the entire night in the other corner in prayer to God for her sins. He did this long enough to “hit” every prostitute in town, more than once. Because of his faith, many of these women left the trade; some married, others went to a monastery and others got day work.

Well, who knows if that could be true or not (or mostly true, but perhaps Vitali slipped once or twice??). All I’m saying is that Christianity often assumes that people can and should get their sexuality under control and sublimate it to godly causes. Feminine sexuality is not seen as an inherently corrupting force. Although, it wasn’t all that long ago that the Roman faith required women to wear head cover in its churches; and women still can’t become priests. So, both Christianity and Islam have yet a long way to go.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:41 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, October 23, 2006
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SIDEWALK SENTIMENT: They were fixing a walkway on a house up the street, and the work crew decided to cast its baseball playoff sentiments into stone (they’re eventually gonna cover it with pavers). Unfortunately, they were rooting for the New York Mets. And so was I. Oh well, maybe next year.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:30 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Economics/Business ...

In less than a month, this blog will mark its fourth anniversary. How ‘bout that. But I haven’t developed much of a following, like some bloggers have. And that’s probably a good thing. I probably wouldn’t handle fame and acclaim very well – my ego would get puffed up too much. And it’s nice to think that there are still some undiscovered and underrated things out there in the world. Is my blog one of them? Well, I try to keep believing. And I keep trying to be humble, although I’m obviously having my problems with that. I guess the best thing to do is to shut my ego up and keep writing.

But I know that it’s tough sledding sometimes for the handful of you who do try to read my stuff. I did a little search and found that I used the word “economics” in at least 15 of my essays over the past four years. And guess what I’m going to talk about right now?

But hey, economics ultimately means the stuff that’s in your wallet; just because something’s boring don’t always mean that it’s unimportant. Anyway,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:10 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, October 16, 2006
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Global warming: what to do. The global warming crisis is a real toughie. The government can’t just put out laws and regulations to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike other pollutants, we don’t really know how to effectively cut back on them, other than to lower our living standards. Greenhouse gasses are a necessary by-product of any fossil fuel combustion; a whole lot of it is created whenever there is fire. I hear much talk about “carbon sequestering technology”, but such technology is in its infancy. We’re still very unsure just how effective such technology will be in removing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses from the exhaust created by power plants, furnaces and engines (yes, including automobile engines). And then, just where do we put the stuff so that it doesn’t leak back out into the air? The nuclear power industry never did solve the problem of radioactive waste disposal. So why do we think that greenhouse gasses are going to be any easier?

Another tough thing about global warming is that we’re still not sure whether it’s going to become the huge environmental crisis that now certainly seems possible. The whole thing is still very probabilistic. So if we go into crisis mode and spend what may be needed to deal with a situation that threatens billions of people, we could really mess up the economy; taxes and prices would shoot way up, and increased government control might be needed to avoid severe depressions. A whole lot of people would become poorer in the short and medium terms, and some personal freedoms would be given up (although in the long run the world might experience an economic boom from the spin-offs from all the technology that would be developed to deal with greenhouse gasses). So do we take that chance, given that the whole thing may turn out to be a semi-false alarm (i.e., something that will happen more slowly and manageably over the next few centuries than James Lovelock and his like predict)?

Well, I would say this – it’s time for our world to start hedging its bets about global warming. Unfortunately, the world is an unruly, every-nation-for-itself place. It’s going to take one really big player to start the ball rolling. As the Kyoto accords show, not much is going to happen without the USA. Uncle Sam is the man here. It’s up to our nation to decide whether to save the world or not. Or at least get things going in that direction.

What I’m imagining is an expensive crash technology program by the American government to develop carbon sequestering and alternative (non-fossil) energy sources. It would be funded by a nasty tax on oil, gas and coal, and by progressive surcharges on the incomes of the top 10% of earners (perhaps with special credits for investments in the commercial development of anti-warming technologies, and for purchase of carbon reduction credits).

Once these technologies start to reach the feasibility stage, they would be offered to entrepreneurs who would try to make a fortune by selling the best and cheapest greenhouse gas reducers, carbon storage arrangements, and alternative energy sources. As with things like the canals, railroads, the aircraft industry, the telephone and the internet, government would have to “prime the pump”. Once things went beyond the experimental stage, the business world could take over. Once anti-warming technologies were proven to work, the government could impose limits on carbon emissions (making use of reduction-credit bartering systems), and private entrepreneurs would have a guaranteed market for their investments in sequestering and alternative energy technologies.

Such a crash program would probably take 20 or more years to make a dent in the problem. Living standards in the USA would stagnate or even fall back a few decades. (But in a way that would be good, especially if the overall distribution of wealth went back to the way it was in the 1960s – i.e., much fairer than today). However, if in 5 or 10 years our scientists conclusively determined that global warming is not going to have such a big impact after all, we could “waive off” and go back to a low-tax, high-growth, high-inequality economy such as we have today. And furthermore, much of the research into carbon sequestration would not go to waste; there would no doubt be many spin-off technologies, as with the Space Race back in the 1960’s. The economic growth that the US experienced up through the mid-1970’s was probably fueled to a large extent by all of those government dollars that went into beating the Russians to the moon.

How about the rest of the world? Europe would take its usual hypocritical stance for a while, i.e. talking a good line but not doing much. But once the USA proved that it was serious, I think that France and Germany and Britain would take our cue and join in with our research efforts. Cautiously at first, but with greater enthusiasm as the first fruits of our programs became apparent. And as we got further down the road, I suspect that India, China and Russia would get aboard too. In the short term, they would seemingly have more to gain by ignoring our expensive greenhouse gas control techniques. But over time, once those technologies started to get traction and the costs of fighting global warming started to come down, they would realize that they had better get on board the technology train or be left behind, along with the rest of the “developing world”. Imagine that – the USA once again being the technology leader of the planet, as it was 30 or 40 years ago.

Obviously, George W. Bush is not going to be the President who would get such a crash program under way. The GWB presidency has become a presidency of denial. One can only hope that the 2008 election is going to be about reality fixes. Still, I’m not sure if the American public will be ready for the notion of sacrifice by then; the consumer spending party that has been going on since the late Reagan years will not be easily ended (even 9-11 hardly put a damper on things). We’d like to think that we can still have our McMansions and SUVs and consumer electronics devices and big vacation trips, while fighting the world’s problems. A change to this attitude may not come until 2012 or 2016, when the public finally realizes that we have a real crisis that threatens everyone. Well that’s too bad, because for every half-decade that we wait, the global warming problem gets that much harder to solve. If by some miracle we could get a real start on an American techno-ingenuity program within the next couple of years, I’d be optimistic that we might avoid the worst of it. But if we keep on choosing big TV screens and surround-sound and Caribbean cruises over a sustainable world for our children, then I really have my doubts.

It will be interesting to see if and how Al Gore will play a role in the great policy deliberations that will start just over a year from now in the 2008 battle for the White House. But hey, Al can only propose. America, it’s up to you as to how you dispose.

Of your carbon, and of your conscience. And, your vote.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:22 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 13, 2006
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SHINE ON HARVEST MOON: I saw the moon setting into the trees the other morning, so I pulled out my camera and got a few pix. Since it’s autumn, I guess it would be called a “harvest moon”.

That brings back some memories. I was never an athlete; just wasn’t built with the body or brain for it. I just couldn’t coordinate my muscles thru time and space as well as other kids could, and to make it even worse, my arms and legs weren’t quite as strong or fast. But for some odd reason, I went out for the high school track team in senior year. I guess I was reaching out and trying other molds, even though it was clear that I didn’t fit into them. Well, obviously I never earned any points for the team. My long jumping just wasn’t all that long. But the whole thing was kind-of fun to do, and most of the kids respected me for trying.

But what I remember more than the practice sessions and the competitive events were the bus rides to and from the different schools where we had our meets. Put a bunch of viral, athletic high school guys on a bus stuck in traffic and you’re bound to get some pranks. Of course, one of the classic pranks was to get a fellow to put his backside against the glass on the rear escape door and pull down his pants, so as to make an impression upon local motorists. Once this was done, the group would spontaneously break into song. I’ll never forget those accapella refrains: “shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky”. I can still hear those raspy young male voices singing in unison as the bus bounced along thru suburbia. And finally that half-second break followed by the coda: “for me and my gal”. It still brings a smile to my face as I wander the moon-gray landscapes of Essex County bureaucracy on a typical workday, 35 years after those after-school track meets took place.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:06 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
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WHY THE NEW YORK YANKEES DON’T GO TO THE WORLD SERIES: I’m not much of a sports fan these days. But when I was a kid I liked baseball (even though I could hardly play it), and was a big Yankees fan. The first time I went to a game at Yankee Stadium, I was with my uncle Joe and cousin Mike. We arrived a little late; it was the bottom of the first. We had just sat down, and immediately had to stand up again. The Mick had blasted another one into the stands. It was quite an introduction to the Bronx Bombers.

But as I drifted from teenagedom into young adulthood followed by creaky middle age, my love for the New York Yankees died. By the late 1970s, the Yanks were a hot team again (they were quite pathetic in the late 60s and early 70s, although I loved them nonetheless). But winning came with a steep price tag: i.e., ownership by George Steinbrenner. Sorry, but I never liked that man. He turned the Yanks into the best team that money can buy (tip of the hat to my brother for giving me that line). OK, no professional baseball team is in it purely for the olympian ideal. They all have a right to make money. But Steinbrenner turned it into something akin to the Roman gladiator games.

As such, I couldn’t help but feel good about the AL first round playoffs last week, where the Detroit Tigers trounced the Yanks. I even watched the final game on Saturday, rooting for the Tigers all the way. It’s nice to see that even in this modern era of big business baseball, there is still the occasional Cinderella team, the team that defies the odds with spit and vinegar. The Yankees, with their $200 million payroll, are a long way from spit and vinegar.

So the baseball fans here in metro NY are scratching their heads over the Yanks. Since 1996, they’ve been a game-winning machine during the regular season. This year they got off to a slow start, but by August they had the AL East shut down. The Yanks took the World Series in 96, 98, 99 and 2000 (against the NY Mets), but since then it’s been downhill. They lost the Series twice to National League expansion teams (Arizona in 2001 and Florida in 2003). And since 2003, they haven’t gone any further than the playoffs. What went wrong? Certainly not a lack of talent; the offense remains solid with Jeter and Giambi and Matsui and A-Rod and Sheffield, etc. etc. The pitching rotation perhaps needs a makeover, as Randy the Unit and Mike the Moose are getting old. But you’d think all that batting firepower would overcome the high ERAs. And yet, those bats seem to go cold in October. How do you explain that?

Well, here’s my take. I firmly believe that it’s economics. (At bottom, everything is economics! Well, mostly, anyway.) Most teams have a star hitter or two, maybe three if they’re lucky. With the Yanks, it’s almost all stars, all with high priced contracts. These guys have lawyers and accountants to help them think things through. In October, when the playoffs and World Series occurs, the players have been thru a long 7-month season, and it starts to get cold outside. The risk of injury goes up. The lawyers and accountants probably study the odds about that. They explain to their clients that it would not be in their long-run economic interest to “put out 200%” for a World Series ring. Sure, winning the Series does bring each player some extra cash. But if that cash is earned at the expense of a career-ending injury, then what good is it?

The lawyers and accountants also have a pretty good idea of how a team owner (like Steinbrenner) is doing financially. Even if they don’t see the official books, they know how attendance has been and how many broadcast contracts the team is getting with the media. If they see that it’s been a good season and that the team owner is clearly going to make a profit, they know they can keep squeezing for better contracts for their clients (i.e., the super-star players). In other words, after a good season, they all really don’t need the World Series! One or two playoff rounds is quite enough financially, for a team like the Yankees.

So . . . . I am boldly suggesting here that the super-star players for a team like the Yanks intentionally play a bit easier, a bit safer, a bit more conservatively once the winds of October start to blow. Let the guys from the one-shot, fluke Cinderella teams make the diving catches and miraculous throws and crashing plays at the plate. They know it’s probably their only chance at glory. Guys like Jeter and A-Rod need to live to see another season.

So, as always, Steinbrenner will blame the manager and bring in someone new. (Too bad, because everyone liked Joe Torres). And nothing will change. Steinbrenner will continue to make his money and the big Yankee stars will make their money and the big networks will make their money showing some underdog team going to the Series (perhaps the Mets this year) and doing the baseball equivalent of a cockfight. As back in the Roman Coliseum, it’s all pretty well scripted.

Enjoy, capitalist sports fans!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:16 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 8, 2006
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Sometimes I wish that I had more time to study philosophy . . . and that there were more people around to talk about it with! Actually, I’ve met a handful of people who know things about the great thinkers and the great ideas. Unfortunately, they’re kind of hard to get thru to. Maybe that’s the way I am too. Maybe there’s just something about philosophy that makes it hard to talk with other philosophers about. Well, such is life.

Or maybe I just don’t understand it all that well. I’ve been going thru my “Great Minds of the Western Tradition” CD series again, and I’ve found that I make a bit more sense out of it this round. But still, a lot goes over my head. Some of these thinkers really hit home for me, and some of them don’t. I felt good about Plotnius, Erasmus, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Vico, Hume, Montessquieu, J.S. Mills, Kierkegaard, James, Freud, Dewey and the Frankfurt School. And Nietzsche wasn’t as bizarre as his reputation would have it. But Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Husserl, Heidegger and Wittgenstein just didn’t cut it with me. And the modern guys (and they are all guys – not one female made the list of great thinkers here) like Quine, Rawls, Rorty and Nozick left me cold too. Forget about Derida and Levi-Strauss; DOA for me. No one seemed to latch on to anything exciting since the turn of the 20th Century; but then again, it was a difficult Century. And then again, maybe it’s just me and my lazy mind at [non] work.

One thing that did irk me about so many of the pre-20th Century philosophers was their search for an “anchor”, an unmovable reference point for knowing, being and truth. E.g., Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”. No one ever did much better. Plato speculated that there are “forms” behind it all; Hegel talked about “world spirit”; Schopenhauer said it is all grounded in “will”; and Husserl postulated something about a “transcendental ego”. And of course the ancient Jews and Christians said that it all comes down to God. Some folk said that science and empiricism is the best answer. Well, as it turned out, rational thinking left much to be desired (although irrational thinking leaves even more).

But one area of science does help answer a lot of philosophical questions, and that is the process of Darwinian evolution. In more than one lecture about a 16th or 17th century thinker, I wanted to shout back that all of this guy’s speculation could have been cut short and a lot of ink and breath could have been saved if they just knew how evolution worked back then. The first “great thinker” that seemed to get it was Dewey with his “empirical naturalism”.

But then again. I enjoy metaphysical speculation too, and I haven’t given up on the idea of God yet. So it may seem a bit contradictory for a person like me to be espousing the theory of evolution as the end-all for human wisdom. Well, perhaps I’m as much of a “piece of work” as some of the philosophers. Or maybe I’m just ready to concede that there is a natural realm, about which evolutionary processes can tell us much; and there is, at least in our minds, also a metaphysical realm, where everything is up for grabs. And the bridges between the two realms are very shaky.

But as humans, we are natural bridge builders, just as beavers are natural dam builders. So we go on speculating about how our realm of day-to-day objects, forces and complex side-effects (like American politics) relates to our imagined worlds of “forms” or “God and heaven” or “great laws”. Or perhaps “no other side at all”, as the atheists and modern scientists would have it. Well, no-bridge is still a metaphysical bridge of sorts; perhaps because evolution set our minds up to believe in some kind of metaphysics. It’s just part of our nature. The danger behind all this is that people too often decide that their bridge is better than all others. Then, even worse, they start trying to undermine or blow up the other bridges. That’s known, in its lighter manifestations, as closed-mindedness. When taken too far, it becomes holy war.

The best philosophy I can think of right now would be the attitude that your “bridge to the other side of reality” is my bridge too, and my bridge is your bridge. All bridges are to be respected (so long as they don’t lead to obviously disrespectful things like ritual killings or such). All religious and metaphysical views are to be considered. No one’s particular vision can contain the whole truth, but perhaps in the sum of all such visions lies a greater truth. That’s the best I can do for now.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:34 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, October 6, 2006
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It’s difficult to talk thoughtfully about the late Charles Roberts and the mayhem that he caused in an Amish community in Pennsylvania this week. You could try to write him off as a “nut case” or a “whacko” on the basis of what he did; but until last Monday, he was Mister Middle America, the kind of guy that modern neo-conservatives celebrate as the backbone of our country. He attended church, his father was a cop, he drove a truck picking up milk from farms during the wee hours, he was married and was a loyal father to three children. Roberts was the portrait of social stability, the kind of fellow that keeps this nation from flying into pieces. So when a guy like that flys into pieces, you gotta wonder.

I’m not a shrink, but I will say this. Male sexuality is not an easy thing to deal with here in America. Every day, the typical guy receives a whole slew of subtle but very contradictory messages from society about his inner reproductive urges (hey, that’s what they are, biologically, whether or not you want to think of them that way). Advertisements use sexual innuendo as a come-on; TV and the movies are full of it. Shock jocks on radio talk about and joke about sexual perversion, way beyond the boredom point (well, for me, anyway; I guess someone still likes to listen to Howard Stern).

And then, at the same time, there’s the new conservatism and the resurgence of old-tyme religion (especially in places like where Mr. Roberts lived). Our leaders now tell us to heed to our traditional morals and values. For a guy, that means keeping the rocket securely in the pocket until after wedding day. The licentious 1960’s are long gone; the pendulum has swung well to the other side. Except that our businessmen and women still use that licentious spirit to sell cars and clothes and movies and whatever. Modern porno is generally disgusting, but it’s just a mouse click away on any computer tied to the net.

And this confusion extends to the world of dating and mating. A whole lot of young women entering relationships today don’t want guys to be cave men, but they don’t want them to be completely in control of the “desire factor” either. So they keep their boys enticed with perfume, sexy clothes, hints and innuendos, etc. – always keeping them a little bit aroused and a little bit frustrated. It’s the woman’s way of expressing power in these cynical times. So much for finding your soul mate.

So what’s an honest guy to think about his strong, hormone-driven urges? Are strong male desires something to be acknowledged and tolerated, or something to be repressed and ashamed of? No one can give a fellow a straight answer; our society doesn’t have one.

Well, the truth is that most guys somehow figure it all out and make it into their 40s and 50s just fine, when the fires of desire start burning low (and then they reach for the Viagra so as to relive the good old days, if just for half an hour). Most guys don’t become rapists or child molestors. However, if there are other bad things going on, e.g. loneliness or unresolved anger or other unhealthy forms of “psychological environment”, then it starts getting easy for a young guy to imagine things such as Mr. Roberts did. Think about all those Roman Catholic priests who did so many terrible things to kids participating in their church programs, to the shock of so many lay Catholics. And the sad truth is that it’s open season for most children living in urban and rural impoverished neighborhoods (high crime, low employment rates, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, etc.). Rampant child abuse is a not-well-kept secret in the ghetto and the ‘holler.

I’m not trying to make an excuse for what those priests or poor folk do, or for what Mr. Roberts wanted to do (and what he did, which was even worse). But I think that someone has to be willing to talk to young males and let them know that America in the early 21st Century is NOT an easy place to grow up in, and that there’s not much support available about how guys can honestly and responsibly think about their sexual feelings. If someone authoritative could just say “no, you’re not a monster for having these urges and you’re not crazy for being confused about them. It’s not your imagination that you’re being jerked around by the world.” I can’t say that this message would have saved those innocent Amish girls in Nickle Mines, PA. But I can say that there are a lot of young guys who are walking wounded but don’t look like it, and their confusion about what their body is doing to them and what religion says about it and what they see on TV or the Internet makes it all worse. Just a bit of sympathy and understanding, just a hint that “you’re not alone”, might help a whole lot of them to get thru it without hurting themselves or anyone else.

P.S., about the Amish. I don’t know how their culture deals with male sexuality. You’d think it would be extremely repressive, but maybe it’s easier that way; no confusion, clear standards.

Nevertheless, we are getting a pretty good indication about how the Amish deal with the shock of violation and death wrought by the outside world. They deal with that by doling out forgiveness. They refuse to hate. They don’t call for the death penalty. No eye for an eye, and the violator’s dental work stays intact too. They’re reaching out to Charles Roberts’ family and offering sympathy. That’s extremely powerful. My hat is off to the people with the funny hats. They don’t talk much talk, but they do walk the walk.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:12 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, October 1, 2006
Uncategorized ...

I watched a little bit of a new TV show called “Ugly Betty” the other day. It’s on the ABC network. ABC – are they still around? I don’t watch much TV these days, but the two or three programs that I do watch generally come from NBC and PBS. Once in a while I might catch something on CBS, but ABC is pretty much the dregs. ABC shows are mostly second-rate re-makes of things that worked on other channels. There’s not much originality or risk-taking on that channel (ever since “Sports Night” went down). About all ABC has going for their shows is that they always select the most handsome male actors and the hottest female actors for them. To me it’s way too artificial, even by TV standards. I call it the “Ephram Zimbalist Junior” syndrome. Yes, ABC did have a couple of hits in the 70’s and 80’s using dumpy looking actors – there was Roseanne, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Welcome Back Cotter. But those were the exceptions that prove the rule. ABC has always tried to make up with pretty faces for what they lack in plot line and originality. Don’t forget that ABC is where Bruce Willis got started (ah yes, remember Moonlighting?).

[I think that the pretty-face syndrome helped to kill Commander In Chief, which was an interesting idea (a woman as President of the US). CIC might have stood half a chance had ABC used realistic actors (akin to what NBC did with The West Wing). It also would have helped if ABC didn’t try to focus the plot so much on the super-stars, i.e. Donald Sutherland and Gena Davis (who wore way too much red lipstick to be taken seriously as the Leader of the Free World). But ABC is locked into the pretty-face philosophy.]

That’s what makes Ugly Betty somewhat interesting. According to the plot, Betty is a dumpy-looking secretary set into a pure ABC scenario, i.e. a fashion magazine where everyone is rudely glamorous. As such, it’s an interesting meta-twist against the standard ABC formula. Betty lives with her gritty Hispanic family in Jackson Heights, New Yawk. So Ugly Betty is sort of like Roseanne meets Dynasty (yea, I know, that was from another channel; but it could well have been an ABC show!). Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope that the writers and producers of Ugly Betty see and appreciate the irony; much less will they be able to play against it. For one thing, Betty’s ugliness is fake. Betty is played by actress America Ferrera, who in reality isn’t ugly. They have to give her braces and a bad hairdo and some nasty glasses in order to make her seem repulsive. And even then, she’s no worse than a mildy geeky high school girl (if there are still any like that these days). Come on, if they wanted real ugly, it wouldn’t have been hard to find.

And the show is an hour long, which is a lot of time to cover with a half-baked idea. The killer is that the second half-hour competes against The Office on NBC, which is another NBC success story (it’s become my one regular-network indulgence each week). So, I predict that Ugly Betty will be lucky to survive thru the spring following a time change. It’s just too bad; it’s another interesting TV show idea that somehow landed in ABC’s lap and they just couldn’t handle it. Oh well, at least I don’t own any stock in Disney (ABC’s owner).

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:29 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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