October 10th, 2010

A dramatic improvement in the quality of debate

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/10/07/why-masturbation-helps-procreation.html?obref=obnetwork


A friend e-mailed this, along with another link about this particularly odd candidates unusually [insert adjective here] views.

I'm mildly surprised Newsweek covered this, in this particular way. I'm _happy_ -- just surprised. Is this the result of the change in ownership and the general move away from paper to online for the magazine? Maybe I'll start reading it again.

childhood bullying

I _love_ that this stuff is really taken seriously now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/fashion/10Cultural.html

I was the target of a lot of bullying by girls in elementary school, starting more or less the day I showed up. I tried a lot of things to deal with it, including spending as much time in the library during recess as I could, but all the teachers were trying to get me to play with other kids. It was insane. This was at a school where instead of A-F grades, report cards had went on a scale of plus, check plus, check, check minus, minus, as if this somehow could not be immediately translated into the letter equivalents. As is I suspect still typical of elementary schools, there were an insane number of line items on the report card as well, and I consistently got minuses in handwriting and plays well with others -- which meant the teachers were piling on, and then when I got home, my parents piled on to (somewhat -- they mostly didn't care about whether we had friends). Dead loss all around.

I did play with the boys, to avoid the girls, which worked until the boys started to care what the girls thought, and then the girls would tell less-popular boys to pick on people like me to score points. Being the person I am, I just asked them why boys who had always been friends before why they would do something rotten (like trip me), and boys being boys, they (shamefaced) told me.

Things got a little better in 3rd grade, partly because of the nature of the classroom I was in that year, and partly because I was spending part of the week at another school for a special program. They didn't really improve until 6th grade, when my school was closed and we were sent to a different school. The shake-up and increase in class size dramatically reduced the power of the ruling clique of girls, and no one else set up a stable hierarchy. Junior high and high school all had multiple groups to choose from, and it was just easier to avoid people with 6 classes a day, exterior entrances to classrooms and exterior lockers.

Tempting as it is to make fun of this article for implying that things happening at this age is new, I can't bring myself to do it. Hooray that the issue is being brought out into the open. The next step, of course, is to force the parents of the kids doing the bullying to be aware of what their children are doing and to apply some group pressure on those parents to modify their own family dynamic and personal values to a less vicious approach to human relationships.

children: this one isn't for you

http://www.slate.com/id/2269951/

LJ is going to make my whole journal adult content one of these days.

This is more secondary coverage of the recent, large sex survey that I still haven't tracked down a copy of yet. It's Slate, and it's by someone with a man's name, so this isn't too surprising:

"That's a lot of butt sex. And remember, this is what women are reporting. If anything, they're probably understating the truth.

So what's with all the buggery? Is it brutality? Coercion? A porn-inspired male fantasy at women's expense?"

Obviously, not a man who is reading romance novels with a lot of the sex lately. Or, for that matter, the SB tribe talking about same. But despite having a steep learning curve, this is someone who can read the data and understand it.

"So why did the inclusion of anal sex bump the orgasm figure up to 94 percent? It didn't. The causality runs the other way. Women who were getting what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners' wishes. It wasn't the anal sex that caused the orgasms. It was the orgasms that caused the anal sex."

That is decent analysis. I am impressed.

ETA: Don't go assuming that just because I think Saletan did a nice analysis here implies that I think Saletan does a consistently good job of analyzing data. He does not.

_What She Needs_, Anne Calhoun (kindle)

This is a short: a novella, at the most, and while available in more than one ebook format, I don't think it's available in paper at all.

I bought it on the strength of _Liberating Lacey_, which, IIRC, I bought based on an SB review. Like _LL_, this is an erotic contemporary romance with no secondary characters or plot and no supernatural elements.

My reviews almost always have spoilers and this one isn't going to be any different, so if you dropped into my blog via the google, you should bail out now if you have a problem with someone telling you the gimmick.

Our heroine has received a call to come to the Embassy Suites hotel bar to meet "Jack". Jack has a room and after they each have (part of) one drink (he has a Heineken and she has a chardonnay), they go upstairs. There's a d&s theme running throughout, but without any b&d or lifestyle elements. It's subtle: a tiny amount in verbal phrasings and non-verbals that are not particularly overt (hand at the nape of the neck rather than hair pulling, for example).

Once upstairs (did I mention that happened fast? This is basically an extended sex scene), they make good use of the door with its mirror, then strip the bed down to the bottom sheet. Since this is electronic only erotic fiction, I figure someone is going to care: manual, oral and tab p slot v sex. There is anal penetration of her by him with a lubricated (yay! I love the realism) dildo.

If that was all there was, I think my only complaint might be, hm, where are the condoms? And the answer to _that_ is supplied and beautifully. There are little nibbles laid out for the alert reader: that they've known each other sexually for at least 15 years would be the real gimme. One of the cliche fantasies for long-term couples to act out in an effort to get the zing back is the pick-up-a-random-stranger-in-a-bar (but with each other). And that (hey, spoiler weenie, leave NOW) is what this story is.

The structure of the story is fantastic. The relationship is believable. The where-are-the-kids question is answered. You know what these people do for a living, and even get a sense of what their days and nights and weeks and years are like. It is a phenomenally well-executed version of something which gives me the heebies: a massively unbalanced relationship. The guy is a trial lawyer working 80 hours a week and she is a stained glass artist who is running the home front. And this imbalance, she believes, is why she desperately needs this periodic stranger-in-a-bar-followed-by-hot-dominance-in-a-hotel-room sex.

It's so well done, and the people involved are so believably loving to each other, that I can't hate it. But it isn't really what I am looking for, either.

I'm very much looking forward to more by Calhoun.

_C Street_, Jeff Sharlet (kindle)

Subtitled: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

This is definitely a sequel to _The Family_ -- not a retread. The structure is basically the same, in that a little over half of the book is devoted in particular to the somewhat-decentralized international group started by Vereide and currently presided over by the Coes and called, variously, The Family, The Fellowship, etc. The remainder of the book is devoted to evangelicals in America in general.

Sharlet finds really horrifying stories. Better yet, he doesn't just find the victim of some nasty piece of work and then do a little fact checking. He works pretty hard to get the perpetrator to talk to him. The result sounds a little dangerous at times (the trip to Uganda to talk to Bahati, notably), and at other times, just disturbing. Listening to someone in the military explain in detail that no, they weren't talking religion to a group of troops or whatever, just America, and then go on and on and on about God -- that's just bizarre. Unfortunately, also believable.

What's in here: the Uganda Kill-the-Gays bill is covered in detail, with a lot of talking to people in Uganda, including, amazingly Bahati; the Jesus-Killed-Mohammed incident in Samarra that Sharlet wrote up as a Harper's article; what's going on at the Air Force Academy; evangelicals in the military, and Mikey Weinstein's single-handed efforts to make sure freedom of religion is a reality in the armed services; a bunch of stuff about Siljander and what he did and how he got in trouble for it; some hair-raising stuff about the Family's activities in Lebanon and Tom Coburn; ditto Sri Lanka; and, inevitably, summary coverage of Ensign, Sanford, and Pickering (which is presumably what everyone would be expecting, given the title part of the title).

There are parts of the book that are problematic. The description of going to protest the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC, for example, felt in some ways a little self serving and long-winded. On the other hand, the description of the street preacher who was there protesting but still intending to vote for the Republicans only made sense in the larger context. And _that_ is a very important story to tell. Throughout the book, Sharlet describes evangelicals who use small stories from their personal lives (or retell something from someone else's life) in service of a larger lesson. Telling the 2004 RNC story fits into this context on many levels -- that's good. Sharlet uses a wide variety of adjectives to describe this particular narrative tic of evangelicals: narcissistic, projecting, modest. And while those adjectives don't feel very compatible, they're all basically accurate. Evangelical story telling and evangelical narrative in general suffers from an enormous amount of self-incompatibility that is generally completely unrecognized by the person doing the telling. This isn't an easy thing to depict and it is even harder to present in a way that isn't snarky, sarcastic, vicious, contemptuous, or something else very negative. Sharlet does a remarkable job of portraying the narration and highlighting the problems presented by the narration, without apologizing for it or being mean.

We have a political story, or frame, or meme, or whatever, in this country, that we are a small-c conservative country, and that the country has been headed to the right for some unspecified period of time. Depending on who is repeating this idea, it is either Too Awful or Yay Team. In Sharlet's description of Vereide's Idea, "the unsung virtue of the American Right that has allowed it to endure through liberal and conservative seasons, transforming the nation not so much through grand programs as by tiny steps" includes undercutting DC gun control laws, a 2010 Utah law "that effectively criminalizes miscarriage", the possibility of "requiring women to review ultrasound images of their fetuses before getting an abortion", "a conscience clause allowing pharmacists to refuse prescriptions for birth control -- possible under the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, not yet passed but supported by members of both parties". He talks about the tea partiers and Grover Norquist, Citizens United and Holder v Humanitarian Law Project, Fugitive Safe Surrender in 2007. He pulls in charter schools in the context of those who would like to see an end to the Department of Education.

Sharlet knows that this isn't particularly likely stuff and then suggests that if we focus on The End and deem it implausible, we'll miss what's happening in the here-and-now: the evangelicals who are post-millenial, not pre-millenial, the ones who want to implement God's Kingdom on Earth, "brick by brick, a foundation strong enough to endure any electoral tides".

It sounds ominous, and makes a nice lead in to the tale of Wilberforce. But like all attempts to demonstrate that a backlash is stronger than whatever led to it, it suffers in the face of reality. There are women in the air force who get pilot slots and then walk away from the because a christian commander tells them to go home get married and make babies. Yeah, that's bad. Yeah, that needs to be fixed. The commander needs to go. The guys above him need to be picked up by the scruff of the neck and given a good shake. And the whole chaplain systems needs to be dramatically modified. But let's not forget: _there are women in the air force who get pilot slots to walk away from_. We're currently arguing about gays serving openly in the military. The women aren't leaving the military and there's no indication that'll happen any time soon, if ever.

You could laundry list any area where the backlash (and that's all C Street and the rest of them are anyway) is working and document that all their efforts net to less than nothing. Conscience clause for pharmacists? Plan B became available without a prescription a few years ago. It is more useful to worry about the backlash as a regional phenomena (particularly with the murder of Tiller) and as damaging to marginalized people (altho I feel really bad describing the population of DC that way, they don't have representation so they really are marginalized). It might be helpful to get the general population riled up so they feel inclined to defend the victims. But it'd be sad if the energy got dispersed protecting people who don't necessarily need protection -- which is often what happens when a problem at the margins is presented as a more general problem.

Those are all comments on what to do with the energy you might have as a result of reading this book. It's definitely a book worth reading. Sharlet is enjoyably geeky when interviewed: a smart, detail-oriented guy who never loses his focus. He is admirable. He'll do good things with the money that comes from buying his book. I'm sure of that; after all, the money from _The Family_ led to _C Street_. Let's make sure there's a third one to come.

listening to Maroon 5's Hands All Over

R. took T. to Boston Children's Museum today. He bought us a pass, so we now have one copy of it each with our name's on it (temporary -- permanents will arrive later) and I've ordered one for the local museums even tho strictly speaking they have reciprocity. This way, when B. forgets to give us back the Discovery Museum pass back, it won't matter at all.

On the way back from the museum, he stopped at the Boca Grande to get burritos, and brought extras home, so I had one for lunch. He also stopped at Newbury Comics and bought CDs, including this one.

Which sounds exactly like what I expect Maroon 5 to sound like. I am happy.

ETA: Altho to be fair, probably a whole lot of the credit for that should go to the producer.

_Once Upon a Wish_, Kate Willoughby (kindle)

Another Ellora's Cave book, so available in numerous ebook formats but not in paper (I don't think, anyway). Erotic romance (manual, oral, tab p slot v, no anal whatsoever) contemporary with supernatural elements. Most romance/supernatural novels have substantial plot outside the romance, often carried through a series; this has some, but less than many other series. This is the third in a trilogy (?) about the Universal Wish Federation. A werewolf figured in an earlier entry, but the main supernatural element is fae: specifically, wish granting fairies. The gimmick is three young women go to Mexico, buy bracelets that grant a wish if you wear them until they fall off. The same fairy is in charge of all three wishes: Davina.

Livvy, the third of the trio, is a freelance graphic artist who suffers from sobriety and skepticism: she refuses even the Good Faith Wish that Davina offers, much less the full Wish. So she doesn't get her HEA. When her two friends from the previous books find out, they contact Davina and apply pressure to her to fix the situation. Davina, already in trouble for her activities in earlier books, is reluctant to do anything, but ultimately purchases contraband magic to get Livvy her Fairy Tale Ending.

Fairy Tale Ending turns out to be ambiguous, and the contraband magic has some Issues. There are golden goose eggs (that, not unexpectedly, eventually disappear), some wallboard that temporarily turns into gingerbread, hair that grows crazy long, then falls out entirely. Then one night, as Livvy is staking out her yard in hopes of finding out who or what is leaving the eggs, a glass coffin materializes. Inside is her next door neighbor. Only the decorated vet is out of his wheelchair and his legs look just fine. She kisses him, he thinks it's a dream, and antics ensue.

Once he figures out it isn't a dream, and she tells him what is going on, they explore their attraction to each other, hide out from the aide who helps him around the apartment, and plan a trip to Tahoe to go skiing. There, they discover that if Joe (the hero/neighbor) gets more than a quarter mile away from Livvy, his legs fail again. Upon returning home, a different fairy shows up, to repay Joe for a very small favor he did her in Tahoe. She makes the healing permanent and protected, and tells Davina's nemesis Gertie about what she discovered, warning Gertie that the contraband is festering.

Obviously, this is all going to get reconciled. There's a level on which it feels a little easy to have the disabled vet find love by being miraculously healed by a wish granting fairy. OTOH, _this is escapist reading_. Within that context, Willoughby does a nice job dealing with Joe's bout with depression when he was first injured, and his response to uncertainty as to whether he will get to keep using his legs, and his feelings about not being able to get more than a quarter mile from Livvy. I continue to enjoy the mild tension that comes from job-conflict (instead of the intra-Pack, lineage rivalry, and Pack vs. Vampire rivalry so typical of other supernatural fiction) at the UWF.

I particularly enjoyed Joe's attachment to a Magic: the Gathering style card game called Dark Source and made by Hex Dex (*snicker*), which Livvy does some illustrating for. The tiny backstory of Joe's older brother flushing his dice, Joe rediscovering fantasy games in the military, then recruiting Livvy to play Dark Source with him was note perfect. The description of Livvy's creative process was also really great.

It was also nice to see some additional development of the extremely flighty Davina, and some sympathetic elements brought out in Gertie.

If Willoughby keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. Hint, hint? :-)