Greetings seekers of wisdom. You may have come to this web site because you saw Duncan Black mention "krgthulu" on his web site Eschaton and you Googled the word. When Black uses that word, he's talking about Paul Krugman.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Further observations on Sex and the City

Well this cold has lasted for three days, and all I've been doing is lying around blowing my nose in a state of utter exhaustion. I finally got off the sofa and did my laundry on, which I guess means I'll have to go back to work soon.

It's pretty safe to say that except for this cold I would have gone my entire life without watching so much Sex and the City. At this point I'm up to the middle of season 4.

Carrie Bradshaw, the focus character of the show, is trying to quit smoking and finally got herself an email account - in 2001. On AOL. I got my first AOL email account in 1995. And it isn't like Carrie is computer illiterate, she's shown using a laptop to write her column from the beginning of the show. Then her computer crashes and she has to take it to a techie guy played by none other than Asif Mandvi of the Daily Show. And speaking of, at one point Miranda is shown watching the Daily Show - this would have been the early days before Jon Stewart became the voice of a generation.

Also making guest appearances, Alanis Morrisette as a lesbian friend of Carrie's bisexual boyfriend, and Margaret Cho as a fashionista. And Matthew McConaughy and Hugh Hefner (ugh) as themselves.

There was one especially good episode in season 4, when Miranda's mother dies and her friends come down to Philadelphia to be with her. It was quite touching. And the story arc with Samantha taking up with another woman was a welcome diversion from that character becoming extremely monotonous with the constant one-night stands. There was a moment in the episode with Miranda's mother when I thought it was possible that Samantha would have the orgasm that had eluded her for days, during Miranda's mother's funeral. That's how crass and ridiculous I thought the character and the show had become. Fortunately she didn't, and instead cried for Miranda's loss, which was a touching moment of welcome realism. As a general rule, story arcs that focus on Miranda tend to be realistic because Miranda herself is more like real women than the other characters. But did they really have to give her such an unflattering hairstyle?

What's really striking is how influential this show is even now. Women are still writing about it and the show ended in 2004. And one favorite theme is how much people hate Carrie Bradshaw. Most of these think pieces on hating Carrie Bradshaw are within the past couple of years.

It helps to have a sense of perspective though, as this writer wisely noted last October:
Since the show went off the air nearly 10 years ago, fans have been hating on Carrie Bradshaw to the point where, in a 2013 essay for the New Yorker, writer Emily Nussbaum referred to her as “the first female anti-hero on television,” on the same level as Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen or Walter White. 
It’s not difficult to find examples of this anti-Carrie sentiment on the web: Carrie is “the actual worst,” crows Total Sorority Move. She’s “the kind of impossibly self-absorbed, cutesy, un-self-aware woman whose view of the world—and her place in it—hasn't changed since she was maybe 15,” wrote Anna Breslaw in Cosmopolitan. And in an op-ed for the Gloss from 2010, Amanda Chatel argued that Carrie was “a horrible role model for women the world over” and that the character “sort of set women back.” 
To recap: Walter White sold meth. Tony Soprano strangled a man in cold blood. Carrie Bradshaw slept around, bought lots of shoes, and maybe used the first-person a little too much for people’s liking. Also, she wore really ill-advised du-rags occasionally. But I have yet to see anyone argue that Bryan Cranston or James Gandolfini “set men back.” Anyone still want to argue that culturally entrenched sexism is no longer a thing?

Yes, exactly.

However, I will admit to having my hate Carrie Bradshaw moment, and it begins with the going-to-the-country-house-of-boyfriend-Aiden story arc:
  • She's a bitch about going to the country
  • She wears high heels to the country
  • She whines about the country the whole time she's there
  • She invites her ex-boyfriend Big, the asshole man-baby to see her in the country
  • She invites her country-hating friend Samantha to the country in order to entertain her, Carrie Bradshaw
But what really pushed her into hate-able territory, from merely occasionally annoying, is when she saw a squirrel in the country and shrieked this high-pitched shriek like she was a 4-year-old child. That's when I really wanted to slap Carrie Bradshaw. But instead of slapping her, boyfriend Aiden soon after the shriek decides to have sex with her.

And how is that even a contest? Creepy older man Big played by Chris Noth versus hot young handy sweet Aiden played by John freaking Corbett? Ridiculous. 

Well I guess I'm going to have to see this whole series through to the end. Maybe Carrie will stop being such a dumbass.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Shit People Say to Women Directors

This is a Tumblr devoted to sexism in the film industry, but there's plenty of this in theater as well.

One of the most resonant quotes for me:
"I think actually most of the time, the sexism is not so overt. Mostly it is a general questioning of your authority on set, a constant undermining of your decisions… There is this assumption (by both men and women) that as a female director, you have no fucking idea what you’re doing. My favorite comment from a (male) crew member (in front of everyone ), on a project that I produced, directed, wrote and financed: “That’s just not how things are done. You don’t get it.”
In my own situation, I have produced, directed, written and financed shows, gotten good reviews and won an award in one case, and yet I'm still treated with utter contempt by many men and women in the theater world, from actors to stage managers to producers. The misogyny is utterly pervasive, no matter how unacknowledged.

I'll never forget one actor in my ill-fated JANE EYRE production who informed me well after the production was over that I was not a good writer or director. He had only ever seen one play written and directed by me, but on that basis he was confident of my lousiness.

I think part of the problem was that I actually had the nerve to try to direct this actor during the show. I asked him to stop taking such incredibly long pauses when delivering his lines. It was driving people crazy - several people complained about it to me. And he was extremely offended that I would dare tell him this was a problem. And even the fact that he didn't get into Juilliard failed to convince him that perhaps just maybe he wasn't infallible as an actor.

And he at least was well-behaved during the production itself, except for not following my direction. Two other actors in the cast actively sabotaged the show by abusing the stage crew, among other things. One of them was a female actor - but regretfully in my experience female actors are even more likely to be disrespectful of me as a director/producer than male actors. I've previously discussed my theory about this.

Meanwhile these same actors work happily and respectfully for one of the worst film directors around for no pay. The sexism of these actors is mind-boggling.

Of course it isn't only the entertainment industry. Women's work, everywhere, is systematically devalued on the basis of gender. There are many, many studies that demonstrate this undeniable fact.
The finding that international relations articles written by women receive fewer citations than those written by men is surprising and disturbing to many in political science. Unfortunately, however, this evidence is consistent with a broader body of studies that reveal a tendency for both women and men to value work by men more than work by women. Both men and women hold subconscious biases that affect their impressions and may influence their subsequent behavior. While it is almost impossible to rid ourselves of ingrained subconscious biases, we can become more self-aware and take steps to limit the influence of these biases on our behavior.
Two recent studies provide experimental evidence commensurate with this phenomenon. In one study, scientists were asked to rate resumes and suggest starting salaries for students applying for a lab job. The researchers found that job candidates with traditionally female names were rated less qualified and offered a lower average salary, despite the fact that all other information was identical. In another study, communications graduate students were asked to rate conference abstracts for scientific quality. The same abstracts with traditionally female author names were rated less well, especially in subject areas considered traditionally male, including politics. In both studies, male and female evaluators were equally likely to devalue the work of women.
Why would this be? Perhaps some people believe that women inherently produce less valuable scholarship than men, but I don’t think most of us subscribe to that belief. Most of us assert that similarly qualified men and women should be paid the same and that research should be equally valued regardless of the authors’ gender. And yet, experiments reveal that our behavior does not conform to those beliefs.
Back to the world of theater. In the "why do plays by women still only get 17% of all productions" debates that pop up frequently in social media invariably some man will suggest that the reason for this is because women don't write as well as men. And every now and then a woman in theater, like a theater director who goes by the name of Bitter Gertrude, will write something in support of the idea that women just don't write as well as men.

Internalized misogyny is possibly the worst form of misogyny. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My third post about Sex and the City

Some actor, my actor friend Diane, and Chris Noth
Since I came down with a cold this weekend I got into binge-watching the first two seasons of Sex and the City. I have lately been pleasantly surprised by aspects of the show, primarily by the friendship of the four main characters and the interplay of their contrasting personalities - Samantha's libertinism vs. Charlotte's traditionalism being the most extreme contrast. And I love the Samantha character since she has so few hang-ups and the gets the best-looking guys.

And there is a pretty high percentage of good one-liners and intelligent dialog. And I was pleased to see that Jenji Kohan (of "Weeds" and "Orange is the New Black") was involved in writing for at least one of the episodes.

It's also interesting to see how things have changed since 1998-1999 when these seasons first aired. The Carrie character does a lot of smoking, for one thing, and people still used answering machines and pay phones. And of course the shots of the World Trade Center in the opening credits.

But what is really starting to bother me is the obsessive focus on romantic relationships in the show. All the women have jobs that could be the source of entertaining TV - Carrie is a sex column writer, Charlotte works for an art gallery, Samantha has her own publicity company, and Miranda, the butchest of the four friends (and played by real-life lesbian Cynthia Nixon) has the most traditionally male career, lawyer. And yet the show does almost nothing with their careers, except showing them, occasionally, as a backdrop to their love-lives. I'm not saying the show should become all about work, but there should at least be some second-tier characters from their working lives that we see occasionally, joining them for their frequent brunches and cocktails. TV Tropes notes this: Lower Deck Episode: Stanford is the only character outside the lead 4 who ever got his own subplots now and then.

So the relentless focus on relationships is becoming tiresome half-way through the second season. And it's not helped by the fact that the big love of Carrie's life is a character known as "Big" who has a horrible, block-like personality and is played by Chris Noth, who I don't think is attractive. And since Carrie is the main character, there are many episodes with this Big character and they're uniformly dreary - Carrie frets about his emotional unavailability, and he acts emotionally unavailable like a traditional boring taciturn middle-aged man. And he's a decade older than her, which annoys me.

And meanwhile Carrie is rejecting guys like the one played by Bradley freaking Cooper for silly reasons - in that case because he pointed out an unflattering photo of Carrie in a magazine.

So I'm starting to feel pretty alienated from this show, and now I'm remembering why I didn't warm up to it in the first place.

But t turns out I have my own tenuous connection to SATC - in an episode in the middle of the first season, my actor friend Diane pops up, playing the girlfriend of a guy that Big sort-of knows - see photo above. The point of the scene is for Carrie to fret about why Big didn't introduce her to these people, and Diane only gets to say "nice to meet you" but it's still kind of cool. I worked with Diane just this past December in a reading of my DARK MARKET play. I don't remember her ever mentioning she was on SATC, but I imagine that in its day it was a little like Law & Order - almost every NYC actor appears on the show at some point.

So I don't know if I'm going to watch the entire series. I guess it depends on how long this cold hangs on.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More on the pernicious misogyny of Evan Marc Katz

There was a much-touted study by OKCupid that demonstrated that men and women have different sets of expectations in the world of online dating.

What this study demonstrates is that although men rate women on a continuum from ugly to hot at OKCupid, they mostly message the hottest women. This is a fact - almost every straight man in the United States, no matter what he looks like, thinks he deserves a much younger, much better-looking woman.

Women, on the other hand, have much lower expectations, no doubt because we live in a world still completely dominated by men, and all cultural traditions, going back for thousands of years ensure that up until very recently all humans were raised with the idea that men are just better in every important way, as a group, than women.

And it's been empirically demonstrated that women do settle, the way dating coaches like Evan Marc Katz are incessantly exhorting them to do.

But misogyny in the world of online dating is so reflexive that even when women clearly are settling, it's twisted into something else. I will let Christian Rudder of OKCupid demonstrate how this reflexive misogyny works:
As you can see from the gray line, women rate an incredible 80% of guys as worse-looking than medium. Very harsh. On the other hand, when it comes to actual messaging, women shift their expectations only just slightly ahead of the curve, which is a healthier pattern than guys’ pursuing the all-but-unattainable. But with the basic ratings so out-of-whack, the two curves together suggest some strange possibilities for the female thought process, the most salient of which is that the average-looking woman has convinced herself that the vast majority of males aren’t good enough for her, but she then goes right out and messages them anyway.
...Women, on the whole, are far more discerning than men when it comes to physical attraction. In the linked OkCupid study, women think that 80% of men are BELOW average in attractiveness, when, in a normal distribution, that number should be 50%. I’m not going to say whether these women are right, although THEY certainly feel they are. I will say that men, for all their flaws, are equal opportunity daters in a way that women are not. While they will still lust for the hottest woman around, they’ll ultimately marry someone in their league, which, empirically, is not always that attractive.
Somehow even though women clearly are settling, Rudder turns it into "the average-looking woman has convinced herself that the vast majority of males aren’t good enough for her," while Katz turns it into "men are equal opportunity daters in a way that women are not."

To get a sense of how extreme Evan Marc Katz's double standards are (I address Christian Rudder's double standards here), this is his response to a different OKCupid study showing that men prefer 20-something women no matter the man's age:
20 year old men prefer 20 year old women. 40 year old men prefer 20 year old women. It’s shocking to see on paper, but not so surprising if you’ve ever talked to an actual man, read a men’s magazine or looked at porn intended for men. This doesn’t mean that 40 year old men want to MARRY that 20 year old woman, only that they find her the most physically appealing. To tell men NOT to feel this way would be akin to telling them not to breathe.
Women aren't doing a comparison study of all the images being presented to them - they are just responding based on what they like. But Evan Marc Katz's response to women liking what they like is most certainly NOT "tell(ing them) NOT to feel this way would be akin to telling them not to breathe."

As always, Evan Marc Katz's (and Christian Rudder's) message is: guys gotta be themselves and women better change themselves to conform to what men like. Because men are certainly never going to change. With the unspoken: and why should they? 

Christian Rudder and Evan Marc Katz refuse to acknowledge the reality that men make almost no effort to look good for women. Which is pretty much what you would expect of a group of people who believe in their own superiority. Why should they "make an effort" when they're good enough for even the hottest woman, as-is? 

But there are some dating coaches who do acknowledge this reality. Dr. Nerdlove devotes a column to telling men they need to think about their appearance. Something, it's safe to say, nobody has to tell women:
Step Two: Get a Haircut.
Cold hard truth: women hate your hair. Sorry.
Most men have absolutely no idea what to do with their hair. They go to the barber or Supercuts, get the exact same haircut over and over again, and never stop to think just how much a decent hair cut can change how they look. There’s more to a haircut than just trimming off a couple of inches here and there; a proper hair cut can completely transform your face, bring balance to your features and help frame your personality.
I would maintain that the reason that most men "have absolutely no idea what to do with their hair" is because they've never spent any time thinking about it. Because most men think they look fine no matter what. 

And Evan Marc Katz may be right, men are never going to change - once they've been blessed with the high self-esteem of male entitlement, they ain't never going to give that up.

This is why women should date younger men. The younger the man (at least in the West) the less likely he will feel that extreme sense entitlement, or harbor the belief that gender inequality is ordained by God and/or evolutionary psychology.

And 20-somethings are better looking, on the whole. Which is not to say that every 20-something guy is hot - I, of all people, can attest to the fact that many many 20-something guys are completely unappetizing. But on the whole, you have a better chance of finding a physically appealing 20-something than a physically appealing 50-something.

And hey, that's how I feel and telling me not to feel that way is like telling me not to breathe. And I'm sure Evan Marc Katz would believe I have a right to feel that way. If I was a man.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Evan Marc Katz's war on feminism, part 2

As I blogged about not too long ago (Is Evan Marc Katz a Sexist Who Tells Women to Settle...?), Evan Marc Katz, the guru of traditional-gender-role loving men and women, attacked feminists, claiming that the patriarchy was basically dead (or would be if it wasn't propped up by feminists themselves!), while conveniently ignoring the constant drumbeat of male entitlement that suffuses all the comment threads on his web site.

Well now Evan Marc Katz is here to tell you that the hate groups known as Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) are the equivalent of "the extreme wing of the feminist blogosphere."
The manosphere is like the extreme wing of the feminist blogosphere. They have some very valid ideas that are dwarfed by their monolithic thinking and negativity towards the opposite sex.
Predictably, Katz presents no evidence at all of the existence of the extreme wing of the feminist blogosphere. None.

Comparing feminists to MRAs is like comparing the NAACP to the KKK. The former group is advocating for an historically oppressed group of people, the latter is devoted to oppressing that same group of people. And no matter how "extreme" any member of the NAACP is, there is just no comparison to the Klan.

Katz is expressing a common fallacy that both sides of any issue are always equally extreme. Economist Paul Krugman addresses that mindset here.

And make no mistake, virtually all the big MRA groups are hate groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on just exactly how deep the misogyny goes.

You can tell exactly where Evan Marc Katz is coming from because instead of referring his readers to the greatest existing source of news about the "manosphere" known as We Hunted the Mammoth, instead he links to an article by an anti-feminist named Andrew Aitkin. Aitkin pretends to be pro-feminist (and as Evan Marc Katz himself explains on his blog, it's no longer the cool thing to be a blatant sexist) but what he really thinks of feminism is that if you support feminism you will never find love. Don't believe me? Read this:
Support feminism (and ultimately androgyny) by aligning yourself with its goals: suppress your feminine qualities and emphasize your masculine ones, in an effort to further your career and the feminist cause.
Take advantage of the male-female polarity that (still) exists by allowing your feminine qualities to shine through, since this (still) attracts men.
Ultimately, the point is this: Option 2 attracts men, Option 1 does not. So you can either support feminism in the hope of bettering the state of affairs in the future, or better your life now by finding love. Call me selfish, but it seems like an obvious choice to me...

Who is Andrew Aitkin, you ask? Just some uncredentialed guy who thinks he knows it all. No, I am not kidding:
I am a 30-year-old, American, straight, white, single man. I write this blog in my free time. I am from a large family and my parents are still happily married. I grew up with very masculine environments and had very little help in learning about women; so I can empathize with being ignorant about the opposite sex, and I understand the learning process one has to go through in order to correct that. 
I do well with women. There are certainly some better-looking men out there, maybe some that are more confident, and possibly some that are smarter. Obviously there aren't any who are more modest ;) I am not at the very top of the heap, but I've made significant improvements. Several years ago I could barely talk to girls, let alone attract them, so I can definitely identify with the struggle for self-improvement. 
I love women and have an extremely analytical mind. The former trait motivates my observations, while the latter facilitates my curiosity and helps to process those observations. I also love ideas and writing: this blog is the result.
So where does Aitkin get this notion that feminism means suppressing feminine qualities and emphasizing masculine ones? Hell if I know - he doesn't cite any sources (in the Evan Marc Katz tradition) and I can't think of any feminists advocating any such things.

But what does Aitkin consider masculine qualities, which he believes feminists are advocating that women acquire? You won't believe it, so here it is the handy list of masculine-quality don'ts that Aitkin warns about:
  • Having only or mostly guy friends
  • Claiming that "girls are too bitchy and emotional, guys are just easier to get along with"
  • Laughing at stories about guys treating girls like shit
  • Scoffing at girls that get upset or "overreact" when a guy breaks up with them
  • Being proud of the ability to drink a lot, or to drink strong liquor
  • Pretending to be OK with just hooking up or just having sex with a guy
  • Being proud of her one night stands, and telling stories about them openly
  • Not making demands of a potential boyfriend because "it's no big deal"
So just in case you missed it - the above itemized list is what Andrew Aitkins claims feminists are advocating! He is seriously representing feminists as a group of people who promote "laughing at stories about guys treating girls like shit."

Either Andrew Aitkin is doing his level best to smear feminism as, basically, misogyny itself, or he's just so stupid he is incapable of following his own logic.

I sure wish I knew who the other members of this alleged  extreme wing of the feminist blogosphere were so we could team up and devote ourselves to taking down the businesses of the feminism-smearing Evan Marc Katz and Andrew Aitkin.

UPDATE: I was not at all surprised to find that Evan Marc Katz has admirers in the MRA world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More something awful

So what's Andrew Bellware up to these days? Long-time readers of this blog will know him as the misogynist who attacked me personally because I blogged about his casting calls which require nudity but offer no pay.

Bellware is a good buddy of some actors I used in a production a few years ago, who turned out to be just awful people. As of his latest endeavor, Bellware has used all four of them in his movies.

OK, now, I despise these actors, absolutely. But even I wouldn't wish a Bellware movie on them.

Although at this point it's their own fault for agreeing to work for him, most likely for the usual fee of bupkis. By now it's a foregone conclusion that his movies will get scathing reviews. Although nothing quite as extreme as the hysterical commentary from Something Awful. And no, I had absolutely nothing to do with Bellware's work being brought to their attention, and I only discovered the SA reviews by lucky accident. I think they found him because he's rapidly becoming second only to Tommy Wiseau for bad director infamy.

Take the reviews for his latest movie, "Robot Revolution". Here is one example:
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Worst movie I ever saw! By Amazon Customer on March 11, 2015
Format: DVD
This movie makes PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE look like an Academy Award winner. I couldn't take more than 15 minutes of it.
One thing I really like about reading these reviews, besides naturally, the shadenfreude, is the fact that other people find Bellware's movies incoherent, as in a true epic saga of a review at Amazon, which concludes:
...As usual, there a lot of exposition, but most of it is incoherent. Only die-hard sci-fi fans may salvage something from this nonsense. If you're looking for a gory, shoot'em up saga with lots of profanity and nudity, you will definitely be disappointed by this one.
I had seen a couple of Bellware movies as well as read at least one screenplay, and I thought they were incoherent, but I also thought it was possible it was just me. Maybe I fast-forwarded too much. But no, it seems that Bellware simply just cannot tell a coherent story.

I wonder if it's his theater connection that is to blame. Many people in the theater world have no problem with plays that are incoherent. Hell, Mac Wellman has made a career of incoherence. But movie viewers are much less forgiving than theater audiences. They expect to have some clue what is going on.

Perhaps the saddest thing is the last sentence from the epic review. "If you're looking for a gory, shoot'em up saga with lots of profanity and nudity, you will definitely be disappointed by this one."

Wow. How bad is it when you can't even deliver gore, profanity and nudity in sufficient quantities? Not even nudity? What is he not-paying these people for?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The last pillar of patriarchy

I decided to have a look at the women my age on a dating site - not because I decided to finally give bisexuality a try, but because I wanted to see how much I had in common with them, or not.

I am definitely different from the vast majority of women my age on this dating site - the age-range of guys I'm interested in, 25-55, is much greater on the younger side than the older side. Most women my age specify guys 10 years younger and 10 years older, or 5 years younger up to 15 years older.  Some don't even want guys their own age, only older.

I thought that more women my age were open to younger guys. Which is only the practical thing to do, since younger guys are more into us. I think I saw only one other woman who listed the youngest age of what she was looking for as in the 20s. Which I guess is just as well for me - much less competition for 20-something guys who like older women - and there are many more of them than you might guess.

The high percentage of men in my age group who won't even consider a woman as old as his same exact age makes me want to puke. And they ALL want much younger women. And now that I've seen what women my age online look like, they are much much better looking than the men. Much better. And I'm not into women. And presumably a fairly high percentage of them are lying about their age and are actually older - which makes their photos even more impressive.

But male entitlement in dating is surely the last pillar of the Patriarchy standing and it must be destroyed. There is no reason why women should be expected to be with older unattractive men, nor men expected to be with younger women.

Once those expectations are no more, we will know that the patriarchy is finally on the ropes. I hope I live to see that day.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why Jon Stewart quit

Great piece in the Guardian. My favorite bit:
My biggest objection to Fox News, I say, is not the scaremongering, it’s the way it’s reshaped the Republican party. It will misrepresent social and economic issues, and promote the more extreme elements of the party, politicians such as Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, in a way that is hugely detrimental to American politics. (For the record, Rupert Murdoch disagrees, and last year claimed that Fox News “absolutely saved” the Republican party.) “Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing,” says Stewart. “I live in a constant state of depression. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd lung disease.”

Now that he is leaving The Daily Show, is there any circumstance in which he would watch Fox News again? He takes a few seconds to ponder the question. “Umm… All right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realise, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gloria & Marilyn

One of the most flabbergasting facts of American cultural life is that Gloria Steinem knew Marilyn Monroe. Not well, but they were both in Lee Strasberg's method acting class.

An interesting review of Steinem's book about Monroe appeared in the NYTimes in 1986, headlined Please Don't Make Me a Joke.

The NYTimes wrote in 1984 about Steinem's 50th birthday party.

Steinem is interviewed about her writings about Monroe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Daily News asks her for the dope, she says man, the dope's that there's still hope

Still hope for the theater that is. The Mac Wellmanesque musical IOWA was roundly trashed by every theater critic I've read so far, like the Daily News:
“Iowa” is like spaghetti.
Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks seems to be the approach in this abstract play with music.
Unfortunately, little sticks.

Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond must be very confused. Wellman is almost universally praised for this kind of thing. But Schwartz and Almond's get trashed by Isherwood in the NYTimes:
The scatterbrained and self-involved Sandy doesn’t really take in much. Minutes later she continues her mother-daughter talk with this stream of unconsciousness, after Becca glumly wonders why her mother is planning marriage when she’s going through menopause. Answers Sandy: “Perimenopause. Sad face. One can still get pregnant. As long as one still gets one’s period. Are you writing this down? Becca? Need a pen? Lesson Two. Your body will betray you. Embrace it. Delete. Don’t let yourself go. Men are very visual. You wouldn’t understand. You’re a lesbian. Lucky duck. I have a wedgie. Don’t gloat. Moms can too wear hot pants. Says me. That’s who.” 
Given Sandy’s attention-span problem, it’s hardly surprising that she announces she and Becca will be moving to Ohio, only to have Roger pipe up that it’s actually Iowa. “What’s in Iowa?” the bewildered Sandy asks. 
“Corn, cattle, caucuses, me,” comes the answer. 
“I’m a sucker for a caucus,” barks Sandy. “Say no more. Enough said.” 
Rather more than enough, really. It’s only a few minutes into “Iowa,” which is directed at a choppy pace by Ken Rus Schmoll, that Ms. Schwartz’s babbling dialogue, delivered at warp speed, begins to grate. You also wonder why the sensitive, sensible Becca hasn’t had her mother locked up in a mental institution, since her endless narcissistic chatter tends to fly off in crazy directions. 
In a conversation with Becca’s best friend, Amanda (Carolina Sanchez), Sandy delivers a nonsensical meditation on Islam, ordering Becca to buy her a burqa. “Try Amazon,” she says. “Dot-com. I said, a burqa. And while you’re at it, get me a Quran. Preferably paperback.” (Later she actually starts calling Becca burqa, and vice versa.)
Nor, alas, is Sandy the only absent-minded blatherer in Becca’s life. When Becca announces she’s not moving to Iowa, but would rather go to London, where her father, Jim (Lee Sellars), lives, he evinces a similar inability to focus. When she tells him, “Mom’s getting married,” he answers in mystification, “Married? That’s impossible. My mom’s dead as a doornail. Doornails don’t get married.”
If you had told me this incoherence and cutesy-wootsey wordplay was written by Mac Wellman I would have believed it - this is just his style. Why the critics would universally praise Wellman for this kind of thing and nobody else is a mystery of the theater. Although few are as harsh about IOWA as the NYPost: Off-Broadway’s ‘Iowa’ is nothing but a flyover play.

Whenever I hear that lyric: "hey busdriver, keep the change, bless your children give them names" I always think of my ex-boyfriend John quipping "as opposed to what, numbers?"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I enjoyed this reference to Kafka's most famous work outside The Local coffeehouse near my job on Monday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

More Marilyn research

Marilyn Monroe
I got a copy of the Monroe biography by Donald Spoto, and it seems to be very well-researched compared to most of the things written about her.

He claimed that she was planning to re-marry Joe DiMaggio when she died, and he claims that her death was the result of an accidental double-dose of drugs from her psychiatrist and her house-keeper who was acting as a kind of nurse.

Interesting interview from the early 1990s with Spoto. The video also includes an interview with Susan Strassberg who was a teenager when she knew Monroe. Strassberg talks about the two sides of Monroe, which is the basis of my play, currently titled Norma Jeane at the Payne Whitney.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

ROM COM online

I finally got the videos together for the TAKE BACK THE ROM COM project. I only really liked three of the plays selected. There wasn't a lot of good plays to choose from because although we got almost 300 submissions, at least half had to be discarded for being neither romantic nor comedic, as specified in the call for 10-minute romantic comedies. So several of the plays selected, while technically romantic comedies, had nothing exciting going on - they're just long dialogs.

But that's how it goes. Most people just can't write a good play, but that doesn't stop them from submitting their work. So virtually any evening of 10-minute plays will have at best two or three good plays and the rest will be filler because there was nothing else better to use.

So what's the next project for NYCPlaywrights? Well whatever it is, something not quite so expensive.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My mother the Harvest Queen

The Harvest Queen in
the attire of a commoner
For some reason I don't remember hearing the story of how my mother became the Harvest Queen. By the time I knew my mother she was already in early middle age and not at all glamorous, but at one time she was. Apparently she and my father, when they were still dating, attended some kind of dance - I assume it was called the Harvest Dance - and dancers were given numbers and someone went around picking some of the couples dancing, and then the women were presented and a vote for prettiest was taken by hand-clapping and my mother won. She got a set of luggage as her prize. Unfortunately there are no pictures of her as Harvest Queen, but here is a photo taken around that time, with my mother got up in all 1950s splendor.

She is standing in the back yard of the family home, in Northeast Philadelphia that was once the only house on a large lot, but the lot had by this time been sold off for row homes. You can see the row after row of tiny backyards behind my mother in the photo. My grandmother bequeathed the house to a cancer research organization, I think.

Well my family doesn't exactly come from royalty, except for the odd Harvest Queen, as the story of my great great grandmother and her fight for her Civil War pension reveals.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The lighter side of human trafficking - the GIGI musical

Whee! My family wants me to grow up to be a ho!
I watched the movie Gigi a couple of years ago and blogged about its innate creepiness and the celebration of the delights of the patriarchy in general: a woman's choices in 1900 were a life of trading sex for financial support from one man - that is to say, traditional marriage;  or trade sex for financial support from a bunch of men as a prostitute. Or a life of drudgery and/or living with relatives as an old maid.

I figured that since the movie was made in 1958, they were fine with the patriarchy. So naturally some genius decides to turn this into a Broadway musical in 2015.

  As Charles Isherwood said in his review:

You probably remember the most uncomfortable passage in the froufrou-bedecked 1958 film, which won a hefty nine Oscars including best picture (and which was also more treacly than the Colette story on which it was based). Recall Maurice Chevalier, playing the narrator, the suave silver fox HonorĂ© Lachaille, singing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” as he strolls through the Bois de Boulogne, eyeing young girls romping in the park. 
As the French say, eeck. 
The current production, directed by Eric Schaeffer, features a new version of the Lerner book adapted by Heidi Thomas (“Call the Midwife”). No doubt leading the list of Ms. Thomas’s chores was removing this song from the mouth of an elderly gentleman. It has now been cleverly bleached of lechery, reassigned to two female characters, Gigi’s grandmother, Mamita (Victoria Clark), and her Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty), becoming an innocuous elegy for the fleeting nature of young girlhood. 
Other small adjustments have also been made. Gigi is now 18, not 15. Gaston Lachaille (Corey Cott), the sugar millionaire who begins as an avuncular admirer of this pert teenager and gradually falls in love with her as she blooms into womanhood, seems to be just a year or two older than Gigi (and scarcely an inch taller), making their relationship more akin to the romance depicted in, well, “High School Musical,” than the version in the original story or in the movie, where Louis Jourdan fell for Leslie Caron. And when Gaston finally realizes that the honorable thing to do is to marry Gigi, not keep her as a mistress, he proposes himself, instead of asking her grandmother for her hand. 
These and other minor changes smartly align the material with our more enlightened times, when a lighthearted musical comedy about a girl being trained to trade sex for creature comforts would naturally raise eyebrows.
Judith Thurman, writing for the New Yorker, is rather more sympathetic - the problem from her viewpoint seems to be not so much the issue of human trafficking presented as a lighthearted romp, but rather the audience:
But reviving “Gigi” in 2015 is a challenge for another reason: the paradox that Americans are, more than fifty years on, after a revolution in mores, less prudish yet more moralistic than their parents. Lerner and Loewe had to contend with the Motion Picture Production Code (widely known as the Hays Code), which was instituted in 1930. It mandated “special care” in handling provocative subjects, including “the sale of women, or of women selling their virtue,” and “the deliberate seduction of girls.” “Any inference of sexual perversion” was strictly prohibited. When I saw the film as a girl myself, I had no idea that Gigi was being educated to be anything but a fine lady. The “special care” Lerner and Loewe took with their material made her lessons with Aunt Alicia (in choosing a cigar, appraising a jewel, learning to pour coffee, gliding across a room) seem like the kind of finishing school that another fairy-tale heroine who was then in the news—Grace Kelly—had attended. I can recall only one scene in which the sale of virtue is explicit: when Gaston asks Gigi if she understands his lascivious proposal. Yes, she replies, looking demure, but with an unflinching candor more troubling than a blush would be, “I will sleep in your bed.”
The Hays Code expired in 1968, but after showing the musical to focus groups, Thomas had to adjust the book, she told me last week, for an audience sensitive to, if not outraged by, its subtext of “pedophilia.” (The “misconception” of a male theatregoer alarmed her for another reason: “ ‘It’s about a young hooker,’ he told me—with enthusiasm.”)

Ah yes, the moralistic are such party poopers. Why, did you know that there are some who tsk tsk at the idea of a minstrel show, which portrayed African Americans as being all nostalgic for the plantation system? Slavery as a light-hearted romp. Let's make a musical!

But then I suppose that Thurman would tend to be sympathetic to the author of GIGI as a biographer of Colette.  However, Thurman reveals in the New Yorker article that Colette was a gigantic asshole:
Thomas also had “feminist” ambitions for the musical, which would have horrified Colette. (“The suffragists,” she told an interviewer, in 1910, deserve “the whip and the harem.”)
She had a problem with the idea of women voting. It isn't surprising coming from someone who romanticized human trafficking. Now when will they make a musical about female genital mutilation?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Orphan Black is coming back

The third season of Orphan Black premieres on April 18. In the meantime, you can watch the first 4 episodes online for free at the BBC America web site - warning, it is extremely addictive.

My favorite clone is Cosima:

My daughter's favorite clone is Alison - and I have to admit, she's hysterical.

CLONE DANCE PARTY - with green screen

Monday, April 06, 2015

Yet another play I have to write

I have to finish these videos for NYCPlaywrights TAKE BACK THE ROM COM so I can get to my Marilyn Monroe play and edit my DARK MARKET. And on top of that I was inspired to write another play based on my mother. She lives in an older adult apartment complex and things are not nearly as sedate as you might believe. The man next door thinks my mother is his girlfriend (which she denies) and then there's the guy on the first floor who turns out to be a transvestite. "You seem normal to me" my mother said to him when he revealed his love of women's clothing.

It's all going in the play. Which I hope to write. Some day.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

You said it Krugman!

As usual, Krugman gets right to the heart of the matter:

After all, what is Atlas Shrugged really about? Leave aside the endless speeches and bad sex scenes. What you’re left with is the tale of how a group of plutocrats overthrow a democratically elected government with a campaign of economic sabotage.
I love me some Krugman.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

My only other blog post about Sex and the City

I've never been interested in "Sex and the City" and five years ago I blogged about that. I had no interest in the show but I did defend it against all the hostility it seemed to generate.

Well, for whatever reason snippets of episodes of the show were popping up in my Youtube "recommended for you" and I watched a few and found them quite entertaining. And the sexually voracious character Samantha gets many great lines. I ended up watching most of season six of the series tonight mainly for the storyline between her and her hot younger boyfriend - they had scenes that were much more sexually explicit than I expected. Now that's entertainment.

Although it is a bit dated - everybody's always talking on the phone and of course this was pre-Facebook so people are all amazed by how their old highschool classmates look, when they run into them, rather than already seeing all their stuff online.

On a related note, the replacement for Jon Stewart appears to be Trevor Noah. And he's said some offensive things:

"Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I'm sexy!" - fat chicks everywhere.

But I think that what this demonstrates is mostly what a rare find Jon Stewart was when they recruited him for the Daily Show - a show created by two women, Lizz Winstead and Madeleine Smithberg. Stewart is very rare for a male comedian, at least in my experience, in that he doesn't have obvious contempt for women, and he almost never punches down.

That being said, Stewart on at least one occasion referenced Sex and the City in a mildly disparaging way. I was disappointed in Stewart, but that's such a small thing compared to most male comedians. Trevor Noah is just not as special as Jon Stewart, and it would be surprising if he was.

Somebody put together a collection of the best Samantha bits. The cop's response at minute 4 always makes me LOL.

This is not safe for work.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a complete badass

Shows you how much I know. I never felt much interest in Millay, not enough to investigate her or her work. But then I read in a NYTimes article that mentioned her husband took care of the domestic chores in their household, which intrigued me.

Like any garden-variety sexist I believed that Millay was merely some mid-20th century lady poet, whose work could easily be taught without fear of embarrassing the most Puritanical of high-school teachers.

Well Wikipedia set me straight:
  • The three (Millay) sisters were independent and spoke their minds, which did not always sit well with the authority figures in their lives. Millay's grade school principal, offended by her frank attitudes, refused to call her Vincent (as she wanted people to call her.) Instead, he called her by any woman's name that started with a V.
  • While at school, she had several relationships with women, including Edith Wynne Matthison, who would go on to become an actress in silent films.
  • While establishing her career as a poet, Millay initially worked with the Provincetown Players on Macdougal Street and the Theatre Guild. In 1924 Millay and others founded the Cherry Lane Theater "to continue the staging of experimental drama." Magazine articles under a pseudonym also helped support her early days in the village.
  • Millay was openly bisexual. Counted among her close friends were the writers Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, and Susan Glaspell, as well as Floyd Dell and the critic Edmund Wilson, both of whom proposed marriage to her and were refused.
  • Millay’s fame began in 1912 when she entered her poem "Renascence" in a poetry contest in The Lyric Year. The poem was widely considered the best submission and when it was ultimately awarded fourth place, it created a scandal which brought Millay publicity. The first-place winner Orrick Johns was among those who felt that “Renascence” was the best poem, and stated that “the award was as much an embarrassment to me as a triumph." A second-prize winner offered Millay his $250 prize money.
  • In the immediate aftermath of the Lyric Year controversy, wealthy arts patron Caroline B. Dow heard Millay reciting her poetry and playing the piano at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine, and was so impressed that she offered to pay for Millay’s education at Vassar College.
  • Her 1920 collection A Few Figs From Thistles drew controversy for its novel exploration of female sexuality and feminism. 
  • In 1919 she wrote the anti-war play Aria da Capo which starred her sister Norma Millay at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City. 
  • Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 for "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"; she was the third woman to win the poetry prize...
  • In 1923 she married 43-year-old Eugen Jan Boissevain, the widower of the labor lawyer and war correspondent Inez Milholland, a political icon Millay had met during her time at Vassar. A self-proclaimed feminist, Boissevain supported her career and took primary care of domestic responsibilities.
  • Both Millay and Boissevain had other lovers throughout their twenty-six-year marriage. For Millay, a significant such relationship was with the poet George Dillon. She met Dillon at one of her readings at the University of Chicago in 1928 where he was a student. He was fourteen years her junior, and the relationship inspired the sonnets in the collection Fatal Interview.
Back when I was hot and heavy into writing sonnets I became interested in the work of Emily Dickinson (the epitome of the celibate lady poet in spite of her genius) and Walt Whitman (who contains multitudes) and of course the sonnets of William Shakespeare - but I completely missed Millay and her sonnets inspired by a younger man. So of course I immediately hunted them down. This is one of my favorites:

EVEN in the moment of our earliest kiss,
When sighed the straitened bud into the flower,
Sat the dry seed of most unwelcome this;
And that I knew, though not the day and hour.
Too season-wise am I, being country-bred,
To tilt at autumn or defy the frost:
Snuffing the chill even as my fathers did,
I say with them, "What's out tonight is lost."
I only hoped, with the mild hope of all
Who watch the leaf take shape upon the tree,
A fairer summer and a later fall
Than in these parts a man is apt to see,
And sunny clusters ripened for the wine:
I tell you this across the blackened vine.
Clearly this relationship was no smoother sailing than Shakespeare's with his Dark Lady, the muse of his greatest sonnets. 

I consider Millay's bisexuality to be part of her badassedness - it was not a thing easily owned in the early-mid 20th century. Will Geer, who played the grandfather on the TV show The Waltons, was another, married to a woman but sexually involved with legendary gay rights activist Harry Hay. And Geer was also a card-carrying member of the Communist party.

I often wish I could be a bisexual, and not just because it doubles your odds - it seems so much more sensible to desire people based on their personalities and "souls" than for something as mechanistic as genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. But for whatever reason I can't get my head around the idea of getting it on with another woman. I guess for me, in a non-specific sense, dick too bomb.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dick too bomb

I'm not sure if this is a problem or what but anyway this NYMag article is funny.
How can I use this term in everyday speech?
We suggest the simple Dick Too Bomb and Dick 2 Bomb, or the shorthands DTB/D2B. For emoji, try eggplant, peace-sign fingers, bomb. Example: “Olivia Pope needs to break up with Fitz and Jake, but dick too bomb.”

The song is old. If I use this term, am I just belatedly appropriating it?
Yes, to some extent. The song is a few years old. Teens have been using it extensively on social media: #dicktoobomb is a commonly deployed Twitter hashtag, and teens are really into lip-syncing the song using dubsmash videos that they post to Vine. (Further investigation is needed to determine if a teen can truly grasp the concept, but we might address that in a follow-up report.) However, the sentiment is evergreen and timeless. Someone’s dick will always be too bomb, and it really is a fantastic way to describe pleasing male genitalia.
Is there any hope for me if I encounter a D2B?
Like all addictive things, dependence on a bomb dick can be mitigated through responsible enjoyment and may include periods of withdrawal. It is our belief that there are no dicks so bomb that they are truly permanent in our lives if we want them gone.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Is Evan Marc Katz a Sexist Who Tells Women to Settle...?


Every time I Google questions about online dating, I invariably get links to Evan Marc Katz's business of telling not-very-intelligent, conformist women that men are never going to change and women better suck it up and cater to men or they'll die alone.

Evan Marc Katz himself is completely conventional in his outlook - he's mildly liberal but at the same time he believes that sexism and racism are no longer real problems anymore.
This echoes my own perception as well. It’s not that sexists are dead. But sexism as an institution is embarrassing, on the wane, and illegal in the workplace. Same with racism. It may linger in subconscious attitudes and latent behavior, but full-out racism will pretty much disqualify you from holding down any job..
You see, in spite of the fact that for millennia men have completely beaten women down - literally as well as figuratively - things have been better for women for the last 40 years (at least in the West where it isn't as common to force your daughter to marry an older man as it is in other parts of the world) so SHUT UP BITCHES! 

I was surprised to hear about the vitriol from Rosin’s latest Slate piece about “The End of Men”. In it, she asserts that “the patriarchy” – the nameless, faceless, male conspiracy designed to keep women down – is all but dead. And that really rankles some feminists whose entire livelihood depends on fighting against the patriarchy.
Katz doesn't offer any evidence of feminists "whose entire livelihood depends on fighting against the patriarchy" (although I am ready to sign up for that job!) but then his audience is composed of the gullible who don't ask for evidence from their guru.

Katz himself doesn't see male entitlement - the conviction that men deserve to have younger, better-looking mates - as sexism. "There's not much we can do about that."
That said, men ARE impossibly shallow. I struggle with it in my coaching every day. Clients who tell me, as they show me their lists of hot, underaged favorites, “I can’t help what I’m attracted to”. Yeah. There’s not much we can do about that. It’s why the 50+ set is interested in you. Just know that there ARE men out there who are looking for peers. My 60-year-old Mom married a 60-year-old guy. I’ve had single parent clients find the love of their lives on, JDate and Nerve. It happens all the time.
Well women can't help what they're attracted to, but Evan Marc Katz certainly does think there's something they can do about that. But then, Evan Marc Katz's livelihood depends on telling middle-aged women what they can do to change themselves  to meet the standards of men who are soaking in the entitlement granted them by a patriarchy that is still very much alive - but not because of feminists. 

So it is imperative for Evan Marc Katz to try to gaslight women - men feeling entitled to better-looking and younger mates isn't sexism!  It's just part of nature! There's not much we can do about that. And we all know sexism is just about dead!

What Katz fails to mention - and this is never acknowledged in this kind of discussion - but the unspoken reality is that if these middle-aged men can't pick a woman from a list of hot underaged favorites to date, they will go out and get an underaged prostitute. Men don't have to settle because they can always buy a woman. Either for the night, or for marriage with some young woman from a desperately poor country. 

As with so many other things, when it comes to sexism and the patriarchy, it's the economy, stupid. Women in the US no longer have to settle for any man just because he has a job - but men are failing to adjust to this reality, in part because they can still buy women. But as long as we live in a world where there are millions of women being bought and sold to men, we are not living in a post-patriarchy. 

Let’s be honest here – not everyone is equal at all things. I am argumentative. I am short-tempered. I have a low sex drive. I like to talk about myself a lot. So if my wife were to say to me that she’s dated men who were less argumentative, more easygoing, had a higher sex drive, and were better listeners, is that an insult to me?
Evan Marc Katz sounds like quite the catch. I think maybe he's the one who better worry about dying alone.

I'm just sorry that the blog Cupid is Burning is no longer being updated. Miranda had Katz's number in 2013: EMK: Want a man? Then shut up and slap a smile on it, cupcake!

Also on this topic: Evan Marc Katz's war on feminism, part 2

Thursday, March 26, 2015

More "racial realists" bemoan Razib Khan's firing

If you have any doubt of the true opinions of Razib Khan's comrades in race, you need look no further than the American Renaissance commenters' response to his firing by the NYTimes:
Walter Lew Publius Pompilius Quietus
Being a (White) racial supremacist is a badie like being a Nazi-Hitler-KKK, and there is no profit in not going along with the public conception.
However, once one becomes a race realist he is forced logically become a (White) race supremacist.
Unless the race realist holds the opinion that dunking a basketball and performing heart surgery are of equal value.
Razib Khan sure has a swell bunch of buddies.

In more Razib news, I could hardly believe my eyes - Khan referenced Marvin Harris!

  1. Razib Khan
    marvin harris in *cannibals and kings* refers to many warlike societies which go through this stage. i think one key here is that often inheritance is passed from maternal uncle to maternal nephew. these are societies with less than perfect certainty in paternity, so this is how men in groups pass their power down. eventually this just does not scale (in any case, the certainty has to be pretty low for expected relatedness of nephews to exceed sons!, i.e. e(r) = .25 vs. 0.50, even with a fudge factor on the latter). societies seem to go from matrilineal->patrilineal (e.g., parts of south india), but to my knowledge not the reverse, though one tension that emerges is that maternal grandparents are still often closer than paternal. this is true in bangladesh, where there is a disjunction between the cultural ideal of total loyalty to your father’s family, but the reality that often you are closer to your mother’s family.

Of course Harris completely disagreed with the conclusion that Khan makes at the end of his blog post, that humans are innately violent. But I don't think Khan actually gets Harris.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brilliance from Katie Goodman

I think I might have posted this brilliant video by Katie Goodman from 5 years ago on this blog before. But it bears repeating.

And she's still at it - her latest video got a shout-out on Facebook from Gloria Steinem (my FB friend!) today. It's awesome.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In which I am impressed by Louis Armstrong

My first awareness of Louis Armstrong was the day he died. Even my father, whom I never knew to have any musical interests whatsoever, remarked when the news came on the radio - nothing memorable. Just something along the lines of "how about that?"

Not having ever been much for jazz myself, I paid scant attention to Armstrong, and my general impression of him was that he was the Bill Cosby (from the pre-rape Cliff Huxtable era) of jazz: affable and non-threatening enough that lots of even conservative white people liked him. And he sang "What a Wonderful World."

And then I caught the Ken Burns Jazz series and saw a video clip of a performance of Armstrong at the end of the second episode. And wow. Now I got it.

I had no idea how important Armstrong was to the development of jazz, much as it took me years to learn how important Beethoven was to the development of the classical orchestra.

I have been very aware of how African Americans invented American culture though. I know this intellectually, through books and series like "Jazz" but it was only when I was outside of the United States that I really got it. I travelled to Ireland at the end of the last millennium because the company I worked for was based in Dublin. And while I was there, it hit me. Something was missing. And after some reflection I realized what it was - it was just too white in Ireland. Celtic culture certainly has its charm but it is missing that fundamental element of, for lack of a better word, "coolness." And that coolness derives from African American culture, so well encapsulated by jazz and by some forms of rock music too. It was a real revelation to me.

Speaking as I have been about the socio-biologists, I remembered Al Franken got off a good one against them at his 1996 appearance at the annual White House Correspondent dinner:
...also here tonight is Charles Murray, who I understand has been hard at work on a sequel to the Bell Curve entitled "Jazz, the Music Created by Morons."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Razib Khan, race, and "human biodiversity"

I don't use the word "racist" lightly. Having been smeared in my Google results as a racist by a pack of Social Justice Warriors with Tumblr accounts - because I disagreed with one of them in 2011 on whether John Lennon and Yoko Ono were/are racists - I'm sensitive to the term being flagrantly misused.

I'm not racist because I think the concept of race itself is scientifically invalid. And you can tell it is because one of the leading proponents of race as a scientifically valid concept, Razib Khan, can't actually explain "race" in any but the most idiosyncratic and slippery of ways.

Although I am certainly aware of the ways that the variety of certain group differences have been used to justify horrific violence and exploitation and other forms of idiocy. "Race" exists as a social concept and that cannot be denied. What Razib Khan, Charles Murray and other proponents of sociobiology do is try to find scientific justifications for the use of the social, colloquial, non-scientific uses for "race" and the scientific justification of human social hierarchies based on "race."

A hallmark of the online opinings of Razib Khan is lack of clarity. Although I believe that this has worked in his favor, career-wise, at least until the NYTimes got a clue.

There is a web site devoted to human biodiversity and they include several links to Razib Khan's work in their Bibliography, including The race question: are bonobos human? in which Khan writes:
By this, I do not mean to imply that I support racism, or am personally against battling racism. When it comes to racists, broadly defined, I am not personally a great fan (as can be attested by my pattern of bans and rebukes). And when I say racism, I don’t just mean white people behaving badly. I mean people who express racial nationalist sentiments in a crude and crass manner, and are often inappropriately assertive about the righteousness of their views (e.g., a few commenters have complained that I, an Indian [yes, I’m not technically Indian], should not talk so much about Westerners. Of course I view myself a Westerner, but to a racialist this is simply not even wrong. Naturally this is a chasm in world-views which is not reconcilable.
And he even questions the concept of race, for a hot second, before the weasling begins:
So let’s move to the science. Do races exist in human biology? Is it a useful concept? That depends on criteria in both cases. The reality is that I’m not sure I know what a species is in an axiomatic sense, let alone race (many biologists don’t, that’s why there’s a whole area devoted to studying the issue of the definition). Rather, for me species are evaluated instrumentally. Is the classification of a set of individuals as a species useful in illuminating a specific biological question? Species are human constructions, categories which are mapped upon reality. That doesn’t make them without utility. Many of the same “where do you draw the line?” questions asked of race can be asked of species. In a deep ontological sense I don’t believe in species. But in a deep ontological sense I don’t accept the solidity of a brick (most of the volume is space of any object of course!).
He briefly touches on race, then shifts to species, then to philosophy. In one paragraph. And this guy apparently makes his living as a science writer.

He then goes on to discuss whether ethnic diversity is a gradient - he uses the term "clinal" - and seems to be arguing that it is necessary to force ethnically diverse populations into the buckets of "races", just as teachers must divide gradient test scores into distinct scores of A, B, C and F. Then he  demonstrates his fondness for referring to diverse ethnic populations producing children together as "hybridization." 
This is why I told some of Antrosio’s commenters to be careful about hitching their wagon to isolation-by-distance and clinal variation; there is some evidence that many of the world’s populations extant today are the product of relatively recent hybridizations between previous rather distinct groups.
And then he says:
The question ensues: are Sub-Saharan Africans several distinct races? Using evolutionary history as a measure I would say yes! This is definitely one area where social expectations have led us astray. It turns out that it may be that the Bushmen/non-Bushmen separation is only 1/3 as long ago in the past as the Neanderthal/modern human separation. In fact, the Bushmen may predate, and not be part of, the “Out of Africa” event. Along with the Pygmies and Hadza there seems to be a very ancient differentiation between the agriculturalist and hunter-gatherers in the African continent.
What is happening here is that Razib Khan has taken a term which he admits has no clear scientific meaning - race - but which has a very clear colloquial meaning, and decided to apply it to ethnic differences based on some vague "evolutionary history" and claim that as a scientific term.

In the case of people with dark skin who have ancestors most recently based in Africa, it is commonly understood that they are  one "race" and nobody outside of Razib Khan, that I am aware, consider Sub-Saharan Africans to be "several distinct races." 

So Razib Khan uses the term race in his own unique way. And it is such idiosyncratic obfuscation that has allowed him to almost end up a regular contributor of the New York Times - people writing for the Times are impressed by his charts and his use of STEM terms, and they don't actually concern themselves too much with what he is saying, or the miserably incoherent way he is saying it. 

And then he expresses his concern for racism against the Bushmen, as if racial prejudice is unique only to that group:
For me these details of history are fascinating. But going back to normative concerns: is there a worry that Bushmen will be dehumanized if it is understood that they are not part of the modern human expansion event circa ~80,000 years before the present? Unfortunately, I don’t think that science matters much in this case. The Bushmen have been dehumanized for hundreds of years. The Pygmy of Central Africa have also been dehumanized. All without science. An understanding of our evolutionary history is informative, but I doubt it is the prime motor for the great injustices of history. The 19th century race science which modern biologists and anthropologists revile (to a great extent, rightly) did not give rise to the race system of the West. Look at the history, and you see that its genesis predates Darwin by decades. Science may have been a supporting argument, but this was thesis looking for talking points.
So racism pre-dates science. Thanks for that newsflash, Razib. 

But now that Razib Khan has informed us that "race" means anything he says it means, he switches the subject back to species:
The Bushmen are human. The Bonobos are not. Why? I don’t think it has been definitively proven that modern humans and Bonobos are not inter-fertile. Granted, the separation between the Bonobos and humans are about two orders of magnitude greater than Bushmen and other humans, but there is some evidence that Bushmen have admixture from archaic lineages diverged nearly 1 million years into the past, pushing elements below a magnitude! Where do you draw the line? Species are a typological concept, but usually as a pure categorical typology the class is useless. Rather, it’s a tool, a framework. What you do with a tool, well, that’s a different thing altogether…. 

His argument seems to be that it's OK to use the word "race" in inexact ways because, he claims, speciation is also inexact.

In another essay of his Why race as a biological construct matters, in which he fails utterly to prove that race as a biological construct exists, let alone matters, he also mentions a "framework":
There is no Platonic sense where there are perfect categories with ideal uses. Rather, we muddle on, making usage of heuristics and frameworks which are serviceable for the moment. We lose our way when we ignore the multi-textured nature of the issues.
His use of "Platonic" is curious. He uses it again in American Racial Boundaries Are Quite Distinct (For Now):
It is entirely reasonable to argue that racial categories in the United States are blurred if one holds to a Platonic and essentialist view which resembles that which underpinned white racial supremacy and the law of hypdoescent. But as it is these views have no necessary scientific basis, and a percent or two of African ancestry in someone who is ~98 percent of European ancestry does not make them non-white in any rational sense. The 12 year old paper, Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease, has aged well in my opinion. A conclusion that 10 percent of whites in South Carolina are actually black because they have detectable African ancestry strikes me as crazy. But then, hypodescent also strikes me as somewhat crazy, though the rationale which drove it is also eminently understandable (i.e., the exclusion of illegitimate children and maintenance of a racial order). I hold that the racial lines are “blurred” only if you hold to the criteria which arose in the 17th and 18th centuries in the culture of the American South.
Khan seems to be saying (his prose is so lacking in clarity I can't say definitely) is that the NYTimes is the real racist, by saying that racial categories are blurred (in the article that he references earlier  White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier

Because they hold  to "to a Platonic and essentialist view which resembles that which underpinned white racial supremacy and the law of hypodescent."

In other words, by accepting the usual social understanding of "race" and then pointing out that the social understanding of race is not based on a clear biological distinction, the NYTimes is being "Platonic and essentialist" just like white supremacists!

This is what it says in that Times article:
In the United States, there is a long tradition of trying to draw sharp lines between ethnic groups, but our ancestry is a fluid and complex matter. In recent years geneticists have been uncovering new evidence about our shared heritage, and last week a team of scientists published the biggest genetic profile of the United States to date, based on a study of 160,000 people
But Khan is the king of slippery writing, either due to incompetence or on purpose, so you have to really tease out the meaning - or the lack of meaning - in everything he writes.

So Razib Khan doesn't consider "race" a tidy biological entity, but he considers racial classification a "tool" and a "framework." So how exactly does he propose to use that tool?

I will get to that soon.