Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 19, 2011

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn, Part 1

Filed under: Movies,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:59 pm

Published in The Marshall Independent TV Guide

I really didn’t want to like this movie, so it was with some trepidation that I decided to review it, with visions of mobs of angry teenage girls besieging the Independent’s office with torches and pitchforks dancing in my head.

Plus I have met and liked one of the actors (Dimitri the vampire) and it’s kind of touchy critiquing the work of someone you know, however slightly.

But I was trained as an anthropologist with a strong background in folklore studies since childhood. This recent trend in reworking the vampire legends offends me professionally.

Let’s get this straight, a vampire is not Anne Rice’s “dark, Byronic figure.” A vampire is a corpse risen from the dead. In some legends reanimated by a demon. They could be victims of other vampires, atheists, illegitimate children, or other outcasts and undesirables come back from the dead to exact a geek’s revenge on society.

And they have bad breath.

Admittedly there have been some pretty good modern reworkings the vampire theme, discarding much or most of the supernatural elements of the legends. One is vampirism-is-a-disease, inspired by theories that vampire legends may have drawn on observations of victims suffering from pernicious anemia, porphyria, or rabies. The “Blade” series is an example.

Another is that vampires are another species that prey on humans from their position one link higher on the food chain. Good examples of this are “The Vampire Tapestry” by Suzy McGee Charnas, and “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin.

The “Twilight” series falls into the vampirism-as-a-communicable-disease camp. If you can call an infection that makes you stronger, faster, and gives you psychic powers and everlasting youth a disease. There is that overwhelming desire for human blood thing, but evidently that can be controlled by strong self-discipline and animal blood, according to author Stephanie Meyers.

There is so much about this movie that grates. To begin with it drags, if you’re not in the mood to watch beautiful scenery (Oregon and Rio) while waiting for the action to start. And for those of us who have actually been present for a partner’s pregnancy and delivery, it makes one kind of queasy as Bella’s life-threatening pregnancy advances, and definitely gross when she drinks human blood and delivers by Caesarian section performed by amateurs.

And oddly, since Robert Pattinson (Edward) and Kristen Stewart (Bella) are reportedly a real-life couple, there is something missing from their on-screen romance. Edward is 80-odd years older than Bella but we don’t see a hint of the tensions, misunderstandings, and sweet poignancy couples with a marked age difference experience. It is mentioned Edward struggles between his love for Bella and his desire to murder her for the blood in her veins, but again it doesn’t show in their performances much.

(Russian-English actor George Sanders once remarked, “It is impossible to be in love with a woman without experiencing upon occasion, a desire to strangle her.” I suspect women feel a different urge than strangulation, and am quite certain it’s more than occasionally.)

But all that said, I have to say the popularity of the Twilight series among young people fascinates me.

I think all thoughtful people must realize this is a bad time for lovers in our society. We are conflicted about what the nature of real manliness is, somewhere between the extremes of wimpiness and brutality.

What I see here are young, and not so young, girls longing for manly strength, gallantry, and lustiness tempered by honor and discipline. A man who could tear apart anyone who threatens them, but who wouldn’t willingly harm a hair on their head. A man who is stirred by their femininity but can keep his hands to himself. A man in whose arms they’d feel safe jumping off a high cliff into a tropical pool.

Teenage Bella is courted by not one, but two such men. Bitter rivals who it appears will become fast friends. And it is strongly hinted, the rejected suitor will become the hero her newborn daughter will need in a dangerous world.

I see the wish-fulfillment fantasy of every girl becoming a woman, in a society unsure of what a man should be. And I wonder what it means that this is presented as a fantasy.

March 4, 2011

Wow f**k! Read this.

Filed under: Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:02 am

Long time readers know I occasionally put in my two cents worth about the relationship scene in America today.

I touched on the subject in Have Some Free Relationship Advice and A Bad Time for Lovers.

I think they were quite well-received, so trust me – read this.

Tracy McMillan is a successful TV writer (Mad Men, The United States of Tara – not too shabby!) and a three-times married single mother of a 13-year-old son.

Sometimes desperation and/or resignation makes one brutally honest with oneself. McMillan writes about Why You’re Not Married and my guess is she’s going to catch hell from a lot of women, who on some level know she’s right.

They’ll never forgive her for that.

For a small number of American women, this might be the slap that brings the Sudden Zen enlightenment. (I’m guessing McMillan experienced the Gradual Zen enlightenment.)

McMillan starts from the premise, you want to get married. So why aren’t you?

She lists six reasons, and goes into greater but not tedious depth.

1) You’re a bitch.

2) You’re shallow.

3) You’re a slut.

4) You’re a liar.

5) You’re selfish.

6) You’re not good enough.

There is however, light at the end of the tunnel. She does have some good news and advice on how women can fix their predicament.

One should point out however, that she’s still a forty-something three-time loser and author of, I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway: A Memoir.

A look at the book blurbs is enough to scare any man.

And a kind of sad endnote. I can’t find it now, but the other day I was looking at a similar article by a never-married thirty-something writer who admitted she’d kind of like to be married too. She mentioned she’d had a few long-term boyfriends who never got into committment mode.

This was kind of wistfully sad – but somebody ought to tell her that she isn’t doing herself any favors by listing under “orientation” in her online profile, “slutty.”

Trust me on this one too.

UPDATE: OK, this did piss off some women. Go see Jessica Ravitz’s Why I’m Not Married (and it’s not because I’m an angry slut.)

Oh. My. God. I have no reason to believe Ms Ravitz is a slut, but oy vey is she angry!

June 27, 2009

SEX!

Filed under: Relationships — Tags: — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:44 am

Boy that got your attention didn’t it?

It seems to have everyone’s attention these days. At the latest count there are two political sex scandals in the news, one writer humiliating her soon-to-be-ex husband in print, and 24/7 coverage of the death of an accused pedophile pop megastar.

To wit:

– Senator John Ensign (R-NV) revealed he had an affair with a staffer – and was by the way cuckolding another staffer.

He came clean after they pulled what looks suspiciously like a Badger Game on him.

Anyone else remember that idiom? Its’ an old con: woman seduces man, her husband walks in…

No less a politician than Alexander Hamilton fell for that one.

Ensign’s wife issued a statement, “Since we found out last year we have worked through the situation and we have come to a reconciliation.”

Since “we” found out? Was Ensign sleepwalking during this affair? Perhaps he had amnesia?

Of course liberals are ecstatic about this one. Oh the hypocrisy! Ensign is a born-again Christian and got awful holy about Clinton’s adulteries a while back.

Leftist politicians are by definition not hypocrits about sex and extramarital affairs. It’s only hypocrisy if you believe what you’re doing is wrong.

The likes of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy are not hypocrits, merely opportunistic liars. Their only regret is getting caught.

The hypocrits are the feminist leadership who make excuses for them when they treat women as disposable conveniences to be used and discarded, sometimes in shallow bodies of water.

Ensign showed a measure of backbone by refusing to be blackmailed.* Like the Duke of Wellington when a would-be blackmailer threatened to publish some damaging correspondence.

“Publish and be damned!” Wellington replied.

Of course, by that time the Iron Duke was in the House of Lords and didn’t have to stand for no steenking election.

The Ensigns have three kids.

Note: remember that I foretold you here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/10/perfect-storm-of-left.html

Starting I think a year after Obama takes office, if there is a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, it’s going to get very bad.

If the Republicans succeed in keeping a one or two-vote filibuster number, how much do you want to bet the news media can find a scandal or two to knock at least one Republican politico out of congress?

Told you.

– South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (A Republican with a libertarian bent) fessed up he’s been having an affair for, evidently a while now. His wife kicked him out of the house a while back, and more importantly didn’t stand up with him in public while he made his obligatory public abasement. (Good for her!)

The thing that makes this scandal actually, you know… interesting, is the sheer airheadedness of the way Sanford sent emails which wound up in the hands of a local paper for months before the scandal broke, and left the state without doing his constitutional duty to turn the office over to the Lieutenant Governor during his absence.

By now EVERYONE knows emails should be considered about as private as a postcard. His ineptness in covering a flight to Argentina**, where he spent five days crying in homage to Evita, suggests that on some level Sanford wanted to be caught.

Governor Sanford’s public confession was a weird mixture of painful and kind of sweet to watch.

It’s always painfully embarrassing to watch a man fall apart in public. What was kind of sweet was, as he was maundering on about his Argentine inamorata, it became plain the guy’s in love with her.

This isn’t a Bill Clinton/Ted Kennedy-style conquest f**k, Sanford plainly adores this woman. Can you doubt this after reading the emails?

Lust can make you do extremely stupid things, but it takes true love to really motivate you to screw your life up.

He could have pulled a Sarkozy, divorced his wife, and married the exotic hottie. Liberals are always going on about how the Europeans are so much more sophisticated about sexual matters than we grim American puritans, they’d scarsely be in a position to kvetch* – but he’s got four young boys.

If you think they’re not going to hurt for a long time over this, maybe forever, you’re fooling yourself. That goes for you too Sandra. Tsing Loh, sweet chariot…Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, “After all guys, it is their turn.”

Sandra Tsing Loh, writer and performance artist (with a B.A. in physics, I’m impressed) has a piece in The Atlantic that has a fair number of conservatives in a twitter. (Oh wait, that means something different now. And BTW, Sandra makes puns on her own name as well. She once had a radio show called, “The Loh Life,” which I thought was pretty clever.)

“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

The author is ending her marriage. Isn’t it time you did the same?

Sadly, and to my horror, I am divorcing. This was a 20-year partnership. My husband is a good man, though he did travel 20 weeks a year for work. I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. I don’t generally even enjoy men; I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. Cataclysmically changed, I disclosed everything. We cried, we rent our hair, we bewailed the fate of our children. And yet at the end of the day—literally during a five o’clock counseling appointment, as the golden late-afternoon sunlight spilled over the wall of Balinese masks—when given the final choice by our longtime family therapist, who stands in as our shaman, mother, or priest, I realized … no. Heart-shattering as this moment was—a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history—I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in Against Love, and as everyone knows, Good relationships take work.

The rest is rather rambling and disjointed. In the middle it reveals that she finds some of her friends are thinking of doing the same, claims her two daughters are just fine, and ends with a rousing call to… what? Get rid of marriage?

Not quite, in spite of the title and subtitle. She does point out that marriages over time tend to get almost intolerably dull.

One is tempted to congratulate her on the triumphant discovery of the obvious.

She says the company of a good man who is a great father was ultimately never going to be as heart-poundingly exciting as trysts with her lover.

Ditto.

Although, there is curiously little about her lover in the piece. He, like her husband and even children, appear briefly onstage as curiously two-dimensional characters. The only people in the piece who appear fully fleshed-out are her female friends, who seem to stand in as extensions of herself and her need to gas on endlessly about her favorite subject, herself.

And though her encomiums to her husband abound in the article and the videolog she’s keeping about the divorce process, one has to wonder what he did to her to piss her off so much that she should humiliate him in public?

Oh, she never meant to do that when she implied, or actively stated that she found him a bore in bed and cuckolded him with someone so much more exciting?

And no doubt her children will never get it back from their schoolmates because little kids don’t read The Atlantic, and their parents would never talk about that kind of thing in front of them.

But do read the article, she does in fact have some interesting things to say. Also a great many misleading ones, such as the prevalence of divorce in America.

“One in two marriages ends in divorce,” is true but does not mean that most couples are going to get divorced. Most people do in fact wind up in stable, long-lived marriages.

What the statistics (and observation) reveal is that the divorce average is inflated by 1) people who have one early marriage that fails, remarry and stay married the next time, and 2) a much smaller number of much-married relationship junkies who raise the average way high all by themselves.

(An ex of mine had just divorced husband number five last I heard. Which was some time ago, she may have done even more to raise the average by now.)

Loh discovered that living with the same person for a long time can become, we shall say routine, and going to bed with a good book and a glass of Merlot is what she looked forward to every day.

This, as I mentioned, is not news to the vast majority of married couples. So what is to be done?

There’s good old-fashioned cheating of course. But that involves deception, which Loh evidently couldn’t live with.

For Christ’s sake, even Dear Abby (the original, not her daughter who took over the family business) said, if you slip; bury it, live with it, and don’t burden your partner with it.

Open Marriage*** has it’s advocates, though Loh admits the concept is kind of icky.

It is indeed, and I would point out that over thirty-odd years, couples I’ve known with open marriage agreements have had a 100 percent failure rate. Making “open marriages” far less stable than merely adulterous ones.

Listen, I understand, really I do. The desire for sex with someone new is a drive probably hard-wired into our brains by evolution, and I’ll deal with that in a subsequent post.

Perhaps even more than the discipline of fidelity, the responsibilities of marriage with children weigh upon one. No matter how happy or content you are, from time to time you are going to be tortured by the possibilities that would lie before you if you didn’t have the responsibility of caring for little persons who would be helpless without you.

I don’t mean the freedom to tom-or-tabbycat around. I still dream of building that oil-drum raft and pushing off into the Pacific ocean like that 70-year-old man I read about in my youth.

Maybe I will someday – but that day is not yet. Not while there are little ones relying on Daddy to be there for them.

– And then there’s Michael Jackson, the celebrity death that surprised me least.

I really can’t bring myself to say much about that sad, pathetic person-of-male-gender.

Was he an active pedophile? So far all we have is a Scotch Verdict, “Not proven.”

De morituris nihil nisi bonum est, but…

1) Paying a multi-million-dollar settlement is not the behavior of an innocent man. On the other hand, after paying once and realizing it really encouraged others to make the same accusation, he did fight tooth and nail the next time it happened. On the other hand, the behavior of that “welfare mother” Geraldo Rivera so plainly despises looked a lot like a greedy mother getting a kid to “take one for the team” – shades of The Godfather!

2) The saddest thing of all is that he hired women to create children for him, to be his playthings. Anyone want to take bets on how their lives turn out?

3) If he wasn’t an active pedophile, his behavior with little boys was still mega-creepy.

Rest in peace Michael. Sadly, this is probably the only peace you’ve ever known.

* I’m going to say this again. The leftie sophisticates’ claim that sophisticated Europeans see nothing wrong about this kind of thing is misleading at best. True, many cultures European and non-European like the Philippines, allow a man to keep a querida on the side, but the rule is you do not let it affect your marriage and you DO NOT humiliate your wife.

** It has however, produced one really great joke. His staff misheard when they said he was hiking the Apallachian Trail. He actually said he was tracking some Argentine tail. Thanks Gov.

*** ‘Open Marriage’ was the title of a book published in 1973 by anthropologists George and Nena O’Neil that quickly entered the language as a synonym for what the Brits call a “relaxed marriage.”

The book was basically about marriage where the couple were comfortable enough with each other that they didn’t feel the need to live in each others’ laps, gave each other their space, etc. Stuff that sounds pretty orthodox now.

In precisely one short chapter they discussed the possibility of non-monogamous relationships – which were seized on by bunches of readers as permission to cat around.

They came to bitterly regret this, and Nena specifically argued for fidelity in a subsequent book. Largely because every one of the couples they knew with ‘open marriages’ got divorced in the interval between the first book and the second.

Previous posts on marriage, sex and relationships:

http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2008/11/bad-time-for-lovers.html

http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/have-some-free-relationship-advice.html

UPDATE: That article where Tsandra Tsings is evidently striking a chord. The morning after this was posted I opened MSN to find the article in full and a video interview of Sandra, with the obligatory defense of marriage shrink by her side.

Sandra’s argument is weak, though to be fair she probably had all of 90 seconds to make it. The interviewer paraphrased it for her first: marriage is an invention of agrarian societies because intact family units were needed to work the farm.

No, marriage predated agriculture. It is a universal feature of hunter-gatherer societies as well.

Sandra made a revealing statement before the video cut off, “I decided I had better things to do with my time than over-parent my kids.”

So is she divorcing her husband or her kids?

* UPDATE: Nope, it now turns out Mommy and Daddy were paying off the couple to the tune of $96,000 – so far as of the time of this update. That’s not bad for pimping your old lady. The payments were explained as “gifts” to the wife, husband, and children.

I hope she was good John, that is one expensive piece of tail.

Hey kiddies, Mommy’s taken an extra job to earn your college money.

May 3, 2009

And speaking of pictures…

Filed under: Personal,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:32 pm

We had an exchange at the office the other day, which I’m still chuckling over, for reasons I can’t quite explain.

The weather outside was foul, and our town is still rationing sewer use. The durn college sports auditorium electronic billboard is flashing, “Yellow is mellow, brown flush it down,” if that gives you an idea.

At any rate, I got an email from my father with pics of my wife and kids. They’re staying with my parents on the east coast while the emergency lasts.

(I suspect my boy became instantly popular in school after telling his new schoolmates there were no toilets in our town, “Ewwww gross!”)

At any rate, I was telling a female colleague in the office about the pics, and how the sun is shining on the bay and everything looks so beautiful.

“I don’t want to see them,” she said grumpily.

“Damn she looks good!” I remarked.

“Steve!” she said, shocked.

“Hey, that’s my wife I’m talking about.”

What can I say? Nine years and I’m still crazy about my wife.

There was a time that was considered shocking. The Polish King Jan III Sobieski, who led the Polish-German forces that relieved the siege of Vienna by the Turks, had a wife Maryszenka. Their relationship was the scandal of Europe at the time.

You see, one doesn’t know how to put this delicately, but the king was known to be in love with his wife.

That just wasn’t done!

Polish popular movies still make fun of this. I saw one in which foreign ambassadors come to the palace to meet with the king, and the palace staff find him in a corner enjoying a little slap-and-tickle with the queen.

Since the king was often away on campaign in those turbulent times, they wrote to each other a lot. It’s a pity their correspondence hasn’t been translated, I’m told it deserves a place among the masterpieces of delicately erotic literature.

“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

G.K. Chesterton

December 7, 2008

An indelicate question…

Filed under: Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:59 pm

Looking over a previous post, ‘A bad time for lovers,’ I was reminded of a question a late friend of mine asked many years ago, “Why is it that the best lays are usually disasters as human beings?”

He was male, and a wounded veteran of the gender wars. I have no idea if the question ever occurs to women, although perhaps it’s the male equivalent of, “Why are women attracted to bad boys?”

I thought about it for a few days, and came up with a possible explanation:

The way you get good at sex, is the same way you get good at anything. You practice.

(Perhaps with the aid of any number of the how-to books available.)

There are two ways you can practice. You can find a willing partner, and practice a lot together.

Or, if you can, practice with a lot of different partners. This is obviously easier for women.

Observation: People capable of forming stable, long-term relationships – do.

Corollary: Most of the people capable of forming stable, long-term relationships are going to be in one at any given time.

So… the people you are most likely to meet who are great in bed, are most likely to come from that subset of the category of “great lays” who are not capable of forming stable, long-term relationships, i.e. “disasters as human beings.”

I thought this was one of the cleverest short arguments I’d ever come up with – and most depressing.

My friend couldn’t find any holes in it either.

And by the way, he died very lonely.

November 29, 2008

A bad time for lovers

Filed under: Book reviews,Culture,Relationships — Tags: — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:15 pm

There has been a bit of Net buzz lately over Kay Hymowitz’s two articles about the marriage and dating scene, published this year in City Journal.

Hymowitz first looked at the scene from the point view of women’s complaints in the Winter 2008 issue, Child-Man in the Promised Land.

Now meet the twenty-first-century you, also 26. You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?

Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. Decades in unfolding, this limbo may not seem like news to many, but in fact it is to the early twenty-first century what adolescence was to the early twentieth: a momentous sociological development of profound economic and cultural import. Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence.”

Then evidently she received a deluge of mail from angry, resentful men, and had another look – from the point of view of twenty-something men, in the Autumn, 2008 issue, Love in the Time of Darwinism.

It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM (Single Young Male) is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

Here’s Jeff from Middleburg, Florida: “I am not going to hitch my wagon to a woman . . . who is more into her abs, thighs, triceps, and plastic surgery. A woman who seems to have forgotten that she did graduate high school and that it’s time to act accordingly.” Jeff, meet another of my respondents, Alex: “Maybe we turn to video games not because we are trying to run away from the responsibilities of a ‘grown-up life’ but because they are a better companion than some disease-ridden bar tramp who is only after money and a free ride.” Care for one more? This is from Dean in California: “Men are finally waking up to the ever-present fact that traditional marriage, or a committed relationship, with its accompanying socially imposed requirements of being wallets with legs for women, is an empty and meaningless drudgery.” You can find the same themes posted throughout websites like AmericanWomenSuck, NoMarriage, MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), and Eternal Bachelor (“Give modern women the husband they deserve. None”).

I have to say, I think it’s admirable of Hymowitz to turn around and consider that there is, after all, another side to the problem.

Perhaps I’m not well-qualified to speak to this issue. For one, I haven’t dated an American woman in about twenty years. For another, I’ve been married for eight years – a new personal best in relationship longevity for me.

When I was last single in America, my experience was not good. I wrote in a previous post, ‘Have some free relationship advice’.

(UPDATE: Now divorced and raising two kids alone. The ex Americanized rapidly.)

I’m a survivor of two really bad long-term relationships. I won’t go into the details because, 1) they’re really not relevant, and 2) in spite of the Oprah-age, let-it-all-hang-out culture we live in, I think it’s vulgar. Suffice it to say, together they consumed a total of ten years of my life and had repercussions that echo to this day.

It wasn’t until the end of the second disaster (nice word that, it means “evil star”), that I realized I had made the same mistake as the first. The first was excusable, I was young and new to the serious relationship scene. The second time, I thought I’d hooked up with a partner who was different in every way from the first – physically, intellectually and personality-wise.

What I realized too late was that they had both had something in common that overrode all their basic differences – they were unhappy people.

I have had no personal contact with either of these former partners for many years. I have heard of them though, and the evidence would seem to indicate they are both still unhappy people. (One is married with two grown children and still cruises bars, less and less successfully as she ages. The other had divorced husband number five when I last heard of her. That game isn’t going to get easier as she approaches 60 either.)

Slightly better were relationships with single mothers raising children with zero help from the fathers, financial or otherwise. Yes they wanted a meal ticket, but at least showed evidence of being willing to show gratitude for it.

In that whole period of my life, the best relationship I had before I left for Poland was a purely utilitarian one. I was working on finishing my Master’s, she was in the middle of a divorce and neither of us had time for complications. We were introduced by mutual friends, and used to meet for conversation and physical release, no strings attached.

Understand, I liked her just fine, she was good company. And she probably liked me too. But we walked away without a backward glance, in spite of some good times together. I remember her quite fondly, but I probably think of her least often – and I suspect the same is true of her.

It would be easy for a man to blame this on American women – and some do. (See: http://www.americanwomensuck.com/)

I recently had a conversation with a friend in Texas who is getting his doctorate in Mathematics, so his income prospects are pretty good. He’s good-looking, well-travelled, cultured – and single.

He told me, “If a woman expresses an interest, about half the time I’ve found she’s setting you up for humiliation.”

If I’d had time though, there are a couple of women I could have introduced him to. Both in their 30s, intelligent, great personalities (I’ve known both of them since they were kids), real lookers – and single.

I could even have introduced him to another academic (not American), who is highly intelligent and goddam gorgeous. You’d think she’d have to beat off potential suitors with a club.

I’ve never seen her at a social function with a date.

What the heck is going on?

Well, women are delaying marriage for career reasons. This is actually not new, Thomas Sowell pointed out that this was actually more common in the early 20th century than it became in the 1950s – so perhaps this is the upswing of another one of those cycle things.

And yet something is different this time around. A woman may have married later back then, but she was expected to arrive without the baggage of kids with no father in sight (unless she was a respectable widow), and any sexual history was supposed to be discretely buried.

Some conservatives blame the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation.

Well, the Sexual Revolution deserves a re-thinking for sure. Birth control, and antibiotics, delivered us (for a while at least) from our biology – but not from our nature.

“Sexual liberation ought logically to have brought in a time of ‘naturalness,’ ease, and candor between men and women. It has, on the contrary, filled the country with sexual self-consciousness, uncertainty, and fear.” – Wendell Berry

People who sleep together regularly, tend to fall in love, get possessive, sexually jealous and all that old-fashioned stuff. Unless they are emotionally retarded, or deliberately, by a conscious act of will, shut off a part of themselves from their partners.

(Or unless they are sleeping with someone they are at least adequately attracted to – and don’t like. And believe me, there is something enormously liberating about that -in a thoroughly soul-corrupting sort of way.)

And what we kept running into was, young girls who become sexually active, on a level below rational thought, want to get pregnant. It’s one of those basic biological drives that extreme environmentalists (like Marxists) don’t want to believe in.

Can there be any other explanation for the combination of readily available, effective birth control and the skyrocketing rate of out-of-wedlock births?

For nearly two generations, newly-discovered antibiotics could handle nearly all common STDs. Then our vacation from history was over with, first herpes – then AIDS. In essence, we were thrown back to our grandparents’ world of incurable STDs. AIDS, was the new syphilis.

Women’s lib started as a righteous demand for women to be let into the work force and judged on their competence like anyone else, and for men to stop patronizing them.

Watch some of those TV commercials from the ’50s and early ’60s if you don’t think that last was a valid complaint. They are absolutely cringe-making in the patronizing attitudes towards women they display.

Then it got hijacked by lunatics. Now whatever it’s about, it’s not equality. The Larry Summers affair at Harvard demonstrates that with certainty. Women on colleges across the country demanded the right to punish a man – not even for an opinion, but for a tentative speculation based on a demonstrable truth. For Thoughtcrime in fact.

But who started this? Anthropologist Lionel Tiger (what a wonderful name!) speculated that Women’s Lib was a response to men abandoning their responsibilities of support for partners and children. Which for women is scary enough to drive them pretty crazy.

My generation’s contribution to Men’s Lib, “Like wow, this fatherhood trip isn’t my thing. See ya.”

Tiger speculated the implicit message of Women’s Lib was, “If you won’t support us, then give us your damn jobs!”

I could speculate forever, but won’t here, yet. I’m getting too far from what I’m really sure of.

I will venture one guess, two things are different from previous times of great social change.

One is that while previous codes of morality and behavior may have been harsh, they were at least based on a generally good understanding of what human nature is, and formulated rules accordingly to control the excesses of behavior that we are prone to by nature.

They didn’t know about evolutionary biology, back in Old Testament times, but they had what I call a “pre-scientific intuition” of its consequences.

In these times, the lingering legacy of the extreme environmentalist position has it that there is no fixed human nature, or that “human nature is infinitely plastic” (Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who really ought to know better) and can be molded to whatever form we desire.

No-it-is-not.

The other piece of philosophical lunacy is that there is no fixed reality and that truth can always be redefined contextually.

The consequences of this are far-reaching and show up in unexpected places. One of which I suspect may be the youth suicide rate. The notion that there is no place to plant your feet is terrifying for young people.

What all this adds up to is, here and now, it’s a bad time for lovers.

September 27, 2008

"Sex in the City" and Auntie Mame

Filed under: Literature,Movies,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:02 pm

We watched the movie “Sex in the City” last night, from Netflix.

My wife has followed the series throughout, and I’ve watched it from time to time with her to fill me in on the backstory.

I’m not outraged by it, as some conservatives are. But by and large, I just don’t feel any connection to these people and their problems, trials and tribulations. They just don’t seem like my kind of people, living the kind of life me and my friends live.

Of course, that’s precisely the attraction the series must have had for some folks. Those of us who don’t have the finances covered to the point they don’t have to worry about paying for those up-scale New York apartments and lunches in tony restaurants, can concentrate on relationship issues to the exclusion of all else, and drop everything to get together with their buds whenever.

Would be nice if we could all be secure enough to concentrate on the art of living.

So at the end, Carrie marries Mr. Big. She’s 40, and you don’t get the idea they’ll have children, and that’s probably a good thing. Carrie is a perfectly sweet honorary aunt to Charlotte’s lovely adopted Chinese daughter, which is a part-time job. “Parent” is not something you can switch on and off, and frankly, Carrie and Big stike me as being a bit too self-absorbed to make room in their life for kids.

Charlotte is happily married and finally gets pregnant after being an adoptive mother for five years.

I have got to mention that adoption as a “priming the pump” phenomenon is well-known, though little understood, but many adoption agencies specifically screen childless couples who they think are motivated by this.

Miranda and Steve have a bad patch when Steve, frustrated by lack of noogie, confesses to a one-night stand.

Even Dear Abbie used to say, if you slip, don’t make that mistake again, bury it quietly and don’t burden your partner with your guilt.

Miranda puts him through hell for six months before she takes him back. Serves him right perhaps – but there’s a kid involved who has to go through this too, and there is zero time in the movie devoted to his perspective.

Smoking Samantha finds that monogamy is not for her, and dumps the much younger hunk who stuck with her through her chemo.

“You just compared him to chemo!” Charlotte observes.

Samantha frankly confesses that she’s much more into “me”, than “us.”

Good for Samantha, at least she didn’t pretend. Some women should not try to settle down, and men should not try to domesticate such.

Of course, she’s 50, and though fabulous still, how long is that going to last? Samantha is going to grow old very lonely, one suspects. Though perhaps as another honorary aunt to Charlotte’s (now) two girls, she’ll be a super and much-adored source of worldly wisdom for them as they grow into young women.

How Charlotte is going to feel about this when they start to bloom…

At any rate, I rather enjoyed the movie as light entertainment. Something was nagging at my memory though, and I only realized what this morning.

It was Auntie Mame.

Auntie Mame was a 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis. It was fiction, though strongly based on his freewheeling aunt Marion Tanner.

It was made into a movie with Rosalind Russel in 1958, then into a Broadway musical with a fabulous score, and filmed with Lucille Ball in 1974.

Camille Paglia said of it, “Auntie Mame is the American Alice in Wonderland. It is also, incidentally, one of the most important books in my life. Its witty Wildean phrases ring in my mind, and its flamboyant characters still enamor me. Like Tennessee Williams, Patrick Dennis caught the boldness, vitality, and iridescent theatricality of modern American personality. In Mame’s mercurial metamorphoses we see American optimism and self-invention writ large.”

That indeed we do. Some years back I got the chance to read it, and it’s what she said alright. There is real affection in it for the unconventional auntie who eats life like there was no tomorrow.

What Camille doesn’t seem to see however, is there’s a real pissed-off kid in the story too.

Auntie Mame didn’t choose to have kids, but got two dumped on her by the death of her brother. And while she’s often a fun aunt, she’s also an irresponsible flibertygibbet who just can’t seem to freakin’ grow up when that awsome responsibility gets dumped in her lap.

And incidentally, I’ve read that the real Marion Tanner did not like her fictional counterpart one bit.

I wonder, is this America? Bold, optimistic, self-inventing – and not really very responsible about our children’s future?

I mean hey, what did future generations ever do for us?

June 13, 2008

Father’s Day, lessons for an older dad

Filed under: Culture,Personal,Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:31 am

About seven years back I found myself an expectant father, much to my surprise. It happened right about the time in my life I had given up hoping that it would ever happen for me, a time when many of my friends were starting to think about becoming grandparents.

I did all the enlightened modern father things, I went to birthing classes (in a language not my own) and trained to be a “birth coach.”

Thankfully when the time came, the (female) staff made me step aside, hold my wife’s hand and let the pros handle it.

For the next few years I would have these “fatherhood moments,” when it would just hit me right between the eyes, “Omigod, I’m a FATHER!”

Then about the time I’d adjusted to the idea, my wife informed me we were going to be parents again.

This time my son and I were both there, holding hands while he offered helpful advice like, “Don’t worry Mommy, it’s only a baby.”

So it started all over again. From time to time, out of the blue, it would just hit me, “Omigod I’m the father of TWO children!”

I wonder if fathers of big families ever get over that?

So there I was, an old dog trying to learn new tricks, the same way a dog learns – by getting my nose rubbed in it. So what did I learn?

Same things every other dad does I guess.

To begin with, dads and moms are not interchangeable.

Since both of us were English teachers when our son was born in Warsaw, my wife and I decided to structure our schedules so I’d teach my business classes in the morning and she’d put the baby down for a nap and go teach her pre-schoolers in the afternoon. Very modern, very enlightened.

Except that when a six-month-old baby wakes up early from a nap, daddy is NOT good enough. I’d hold the baby while he cried inconsolably – until my mother-in-law came by after work and the baby would turn off the faucet and gurgle and coo at the sight of grandma.

Second thing I learned was, no matter how much an enlightened male helps out with housework, diaper changes and child minding, fatherhood is not and never will be, as physically exhausting as motherhood.

After the birth of our second, I had another horrified realization. I was always pretty sure I had a handle on raising a boy, based on the (subsequently confirmed) theory that he’d be a lot like me, personality-wise. That is, he’d be a bright, healthy, active, smart-mouthed little hellion – and I’d have to keep a close rein on my temper when I got the backtalk. Simple.

When our daughter was born, it hit me that I had absolutely no idea how to go about raising a daughter. Zero, zip, nada. Worse still, I’ve begun to suspect it doesn’t gets any better.

And what surprised me most, I found I’d become dreadfully afraid of the effects of our culture on our kids. I mean trashy TV shows, video games, and idiot foul-mouthed celebrities with too much money, too little sense, and entirely too much attention paid to them.

I discovered I’d gone from being a hipster to a square. You know, four corners, L – seven.

A while back I had a conversation with a friend with more experience at this fatherhood thing. He’s got three kids, all older than mine.

I told him, “Man, sometimes I think all I can do is to give my kids parents who love each other and love them.”

He replied, “Sometimes it’s all you can do. But sometimes it’s enough.”

Note: This appeared on the editorial page of the Valley City Times-Register. In 2009 it won First Place for Personal Column – Serious, in the North Dakota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest, in the category of 12,000 or less circulation.

April 12, 2008

Moms and kids

Filed under: Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:19 pm

Over here: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200803/single-marry

is an article by Lori Gottlieb some quarters are all abuzz about, called, Marry him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough.

Lori Gottlieb is an author, commentator for NPR, and single mother who conceived thorugh artificial insemination by donor in desperation to have a child when she was 40 and unmarried.

It’s ve-e-e-e-ry pragmatic, funny, witty, and terribly sad.

I’m obviously not an expert on the dating/romance scene in America. Point of fact, I haven’t dated an American woman in almost 20 years. And last time I was single and living in America, my luck was pretty rotten.

Now I’m looking at what Gottlieb says and realizing I’m the archtype of her big disappointment, and most painful episode of Sex in the City
Mr. Maybe Good Enough who she didn’t settle for and now sees married to a younger woman with kids of his own.

And she realizes that back then she saw a guy who didn’t make enough money and never remembered he’d told that joke a zillion times before, and now she sees a guy who is on balance kind, thoughtful, changes diapers and actually likes spending time with his kids.

What I’m hearing in Gottlieb’s essay is what I and many others felt 20 years back, that it’s a bad time for lovers in our culture today.

How did this happen to us in the otherwise luckiest county on earth?

Some blame the rise of militant feminism, but my gut tells me this is a symptom rather than a root cause.

Was it that our culture had arrived at a place where it seemed that good times would go on forever, and that we were free to experiment with the fundamental institutions of our society? Heck, of any society.

My parents generation had many people who started families because it was expected of them and it didn’t occur to them that they might be happier without kids.

There are quiet obviously, more men in this category then women.

But back then a man with kids was expected to stick around and pay for the groceries, and faced pretty severe social oprobium if he didn’t.

My generation won the freedom to say, “Like wow man, this fatherhood trip isn’t my thing, I’m off. Hey write when the kids are grown won’t you?”

Nowadays I know a lot of single mothers who I think are doing a wonderful job under difficult circumstance. But I don’t think there’s a one of them who doesn’t think it sucks.

And, is there anyone out there that thinks that a large and growing demographic of kids raised by single parents will have no undesirable long-term consequences, or only trivial ones?

March 20, 2008

Somebody got it

Filed under: Relationships — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:57 am

Further comments from the Objectivist website on the ‘Hugh Hefner, Living Large’ post:

J (male)

RATING: 2.5 Stars

COMMENTS: Not quite sure what the overall point of this article really
was. Are we for or against this situation? Or was this just to comment on
leggy blondes?

I am a bit confused.

L (female)

RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: What is the point? This is all over the place. I’m not sure if
you are in favor of Hefner, opposed, maybe a touch jealous. The ideas are
very poorly strung together.

But now, at last:
W (male)

RATING: 4 Stars

COMMENTS: I agree, and I enjoy your analysis. The fantasy sounds fun, but
eventually one has to become a man.

Folks, when a teacher’s class, or a writer’s audience isn’t getting it, it’s generally the teacher or writer’s fault. He’s talking over their heads or being unnecessarily obscure.

When some do and some don’t, well he’s probably got what we used to call in English language schools, a homogeneity problem.

In this case the essay, and subsequent one, was a musing on what it is to be a man. Not an original point to be sure:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”

We’ll speculate later about what this means about the audience, and perhaps I’ll tell the story of the one university class I ever had (in philosophy) where I thought it was the class that failed the teacher.

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