Thursday, 29 November 2012

Exercise, Train, Workout

Every January the swimming pools and gyms across the country fill up with people I've never seen before. For six weeks they take up equipment and class slots that the serious trainers need. Then between the middle of February and the first week of March, they vanish, leaving behind available equipment and classes.

Amateurs. Slackers. Pansies. No discipline, no application, no drive, no motivation, incapable of keeping even the simplest promise to themselves. No self-discipline. And it gets worse. How many of them stop because they can't tell their manager they aren't going to work late or over lunch? Or because the partner is complaining that it cuts into their time together (aka makes her feel insecure because he's actually looking better)? Or because they aren't seeing any results and don't want to accept it's because they aren't working hard enough? Or because they prefer "networking" (aka having a drink after work)?

Sheer moral failure. Well, actually, not quite.

What no-one will admit is that keeping up an exercise regime isn't about "remaining motivated": it's about all sorts of darker traits. Like mild OCD, vanity, lack of self-confidence, fear of going back to looking like one of the civilians... The Normals show up and in six weeks pick up on some of these odd negative motivations. It makes them feel uncomfortable, without ever knowing why, and they stop going.

This, however, is not you. You know that dark motives lie behind all human accomplishment. You understand that sacrifices must be made in the name of self-improvement. You understand that you feel better after exercising, your head feels clearer and there's a tautness to your muscles you're starting to like. There's something about submitting yourself to the discipline of a routine that you know is good for the soul. You know that training is not a party trick but part of a life. Maybe your partner is getting a little upset by your improving physique, but you see that as her problem. She can either quit whining, get with the program herself, or move out.

You don't need a gruelling one-hour workout, and you don't need to heft the huge weights those guys on the bench next to you are doing. For one thing, you simply might not have that kind of body. You do need to push yourself just a little more each week until you get to the point where even on a bad day you can do eighty per cent of what you do on a regular day.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Learn To Cook

I'm not talking about chef-cooking. You can do that if you want. I'm talking about the ability to grill fish, fry a steak, cook kidneys, slice vegetables and fruit, and generally put together something that might be simple but tastes good. 

Real cooking is done with gas. And sharp knives. It involves dead animals, hot surfaces, boiling water and neat tricks with heavy implements like throwing somersaults with an omlette in a frying pan. It has a technical vocabulary all its own, and you can't hide when it is done badly, well or just plain ordinarily. That's why cooking attracts Real Men. Real men can cook. Real women can cook as well. Do not even think of having a long-term relationship (or even staying for breakfast) if all she has is a toaster and a microwave. The chances are she won't have good coffee, either.

Most men of my generation were turned on to cooking by the late great Keith Floyd's first series Floyd on Fish. Keith Floyd was a very talented brasserie chef, not so much of a talented businessman, a not-so-closet drinker and an all-round lad. Here was a man who cooked things, and prepped the bits, in real time, while getting thorough a hefty glass of wine. He made it look as though a bloke paying a bit of attention could do it as well, which is why we blokes piled into the kitchen. He made preparing, cooking and presenting food look like something a man could do. Previously, the men had been a little precious, or just plain whipped, like Johnny Craddock. (You'll need to look that up.) Floyd make cooking a Real Man's occupation.

Don't expect to cook like they do on the TV cooking porn shows. Those guys are actual chefs, professionals, and it's what they do, all day. And get paid for. You and I are not going to be able to cook like that because, oh, right, we're not actual chefs. I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to prep and cook like that. I cook plain and simple these days. (I can bake, but I'm not supposed to be eating cakes.)  Also, the food you and I cook will not taste like it does in the better restaurants. Chefs get better ingredients than we can: they know where to buy carrots that taste like carrots and meat that tastes like it might once have been on an live animal. The ingredients most of us can buy are pretty average, and in England, pretty tasteless.

Plus, what no-one tells you is that a lot of the recipes in the books don't actually work. Seriously. It's why people used to worship Delia Smith: her instructions actually work. Nevertheless, you are a Real Man, or a Real Woman, and so you will learn to cook. 

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I'll Believe In God If I Don't Have To Go To Your Church

As a good 12-Step Guy, I have a Higher Power. For me, that is the good advice and ideas of other people. Do I believe in God? It's a good question. Say it loudly and firmly and accusingly: "Do you believe in God?" You have to answer Yes or No. If you say NO, the other person can turn away in disgust. If you say YES they can ask you why you don't go to Church. In Eurup where even the Catholics are godless atheists, that's not such a big question. In the USA it's HUGE. 

Not only can they ask you why you don't go to Church (Temple, Mosque, Chapel, Meeting, wherever), they can ask you why you eat pork, are clean-shaven, allow your daughters to walk around bare-headed, are / are not circumcised, eat any kind of meat, wear fancy clothes or tolerate homosexuals. Because God has an opinion on all those things. Apparently.

Do I believe in God? Sure, just not a God who would stone an adulteress, burn a widow, refuse me bacon, keep my women indoors, kill queers and dykes, force us all to get married and have children, or any of that other stuff. So if your God isn't like that, and doesn't have any opinions on fashion, diet, politics, science, family structure, hygiene and the use of mobile phones, we may have something in common. Most Gods have opinions on these things. I'm not sure I believe in a God with opinions about teaching Creationism.

I don't believe in the Archbishop of Canterbury - but then neither do any of the other Archbishops - and I don't believe in the Pope either. Apparently I get a choice of Grand Mullahs and Rabbis, but I'm not so sure I'd believe in any of them. I don't believe in Bill W and Dr Bob, though I appreciate the good work they did and the message they carried.

But then, being British, I'm Church of England by default, and so Northern European Protestant, which means that unlike Catholics, Muslims, and most other religions, my relationship with God is direct, individual and there whether I believe in it or not. In most other religions, you only have a relationship with God if you attend one form of schule or another and know the rules and ceremonies of the community: that's why infidels aren't allowed in mosques and goys aren't allowed in a synagogue. But in an European Christian church anyone, absolutely anyone, from anywhere, brought up anyhow, can stand in line and take Holy Communion, and no-one will stop them. Raise their eyebrows and mutter, sure, but not actually stop them. Because in European Christianity, no-one has any right to get between anyone else and their communion with their God.

Is there a bearded patriarch in the Land Above The Clouds? I don't think so. We die, and we're dead, except in the memories of those who survive us. Is there a universal spirit into which we are re-absorbed? Yes, actually. It's called Nature. Oh, you meant a conscious, moral spirit, kinda like a ghost but even more insubstantial. No. There isn't one of those. There's this existence and this universe and that's it. This existence can be richer and weirder than the Vulgar Atheists (you know who you are) allow, and if you want to feel that in extremis you felt the presence of a Being Greater Than Us, I am not going to spoil the value of your feeling to you. Just so long as you don't claim it has ontological significance. 

I'm a 12-Step Guy. I have a Higher Power. I know that sometimes I can't do all this living shit by myself and I have to trust that someone else can and will help me. When they do, I am grateful and feel fortunate. On the unlikely chance I can be that assistance for someone else, I'm happy to be so. Do I believe in that Higher Power? Yes. Am I going to go to your Church? No freaking way.

Monday, 19 November 2012

It Isn't Being A Lonely Old Man You Should Be Scared Of

It's being an old man in a house with an old woman who long ago ceased to love you, fuck you or even treat you with anything more than perfunctory respect. Believe me I see enough of those on the train to make me thank a God I don't really believe in that I got out of an LTR that had basically headed that way. I have had a brief visit to that hell, and now I know there are worse things to be than an Old Guy Alone In A House. 

You won't know this unless you too have been in a failed LTR or marriage and got out with your assets, income and dignity intact (not so likely with marriage, which is why under the present laws men should not get married). If you're in a marriage that's working, you don't have a problem. Right up until the day, which you will never see coming, when she walks out and takes your money with her - though the odds of that happening decrease once the marriage lasts more than twenty years. I'm not sure exactly how many marriages of over twenty years' duration are full of joy, respect, sexual satisfaction and contentment: ten? twelve? maybe fifty? From what I see, the rest decay into mutual tolerance with public displays of respectful affection if you're lucky

Hell is a failed relationship. Sex isn't even a memory, you're sniping at each other, constantly negotiating, looking forward to the moments when you're on your own, and when you are alone, the idea that you will have to re-join them clouds the pleasure. I turned sour and grumpy, which I'm not now. I saw everything in the world that might irritate and grumpify me, and not the things that would give me a little flash of enjoyment.

You shouldn't be scared of being a sixty-year-old guy living in your own quarters, exercising regularly, in good health, working with smart younger people, reading interesting books, going to the movies, dance, theatre, concerts, taking holidays and sometimes just slouching round your rooms in your dressing-gown watching the latest hot TV series because you have a cold. 

You should be scared of being poor, unfit, in poor health , with a tired mind full of junk, and a woman you can't get rid of nagging and snarking at you at will, surrounded by equally tired old people in their mid-fifties and older at work and at home. That should freaking terrify you.



Thursday, 15 November 2012

WTF Is Wrong With Management These Days?

This is a for-real article on Business Insider (I like the site, but man does it have some clunkers). It lists four signs that employees are losing motivation, two of which are the same, that employees losing motivation: a decrease in productivity, increased rates of absenteeism, and increased turnover throughout the company.

This is what it suggests managers should do:
1. Make a personal connection with your workers.
2. Let them know their skills are needed.
3. Make them feel like they have ownership in the company.
4. Tell them their work contributes to a bigger picture in some way.
5. Treat each one of them differently from one another.
6. Give constructive criticism — begin with their strengths, discuss weaknesses, then close with strengths again.
7. Support their creative endeavors.
8. Make sure they understand their chances in upward mobility.

Okay, so your staff are leaving, goofing off and not working so hard when they do show up. And the insightful suggestion is that you take them aside and give them a pep talk? WTF? 

Point 8. Very few companies can offer "upward mobility", aka "promotions", and everyone knows it. Where I work, the pay rise that goes with an increased grade is five per cent (5%) and there are people, including me, who have said that there is no way they are taking that much extra responsibility and work for 5%. 

Point 7. Oh. This is Google you're talking about? Because at every other company, you're there to work on their stuff, not your stuff.

Point 6. Let's see, you're worried that they might leave or slack off even more, and you're going to take their inventory using the famed "shit sandwich" format that employees hate and hold you in contempt for using? 

Point 5. This is exactly what you're not doing. You're running the same formula past everyone.

Point 4. Uh. They know that already. And they give a shit.

Point 3. "Make them feel"? How about "give them some actual equity they can sell in twelve months"? Oh. Yes. Sorry. That's just for the guys and gals at the top.

Point 2. Oh. So their skills are needed? Needed so much the company might pay some more? No. Thought not.

Point 1. It takes two to make a "personal connection". I'm guessing the manager's staff have pretty much closed the door on that one.

We're all experiencing lack of motivation at work. Here's what our company needs to do:

1) Give us all individual desks with pedestals and let us put photos of our cats and families up
2) Pay us the same in real terms as we were being paid two years ago
3) Next year, don't cut our bonuses because of the sins of some assholes who encouraged large-scale mis-selling. It wasn't us.
4) Fix the toilets and get them cleaned properly
5) Re-paint the work-house sized office. White would do. Lift the fake ceiling by a foot.
6) Let our product people talk to the agencies - get the freaking bureaucrats in Marketing out of the way
7) Provide open-access wi-fi for our phones, since the 3G reception sucks and our internet access is seriously restricted
8) Give me a computer that was made this side of the twenty-first century
9) Did I mention the toilets?

Oh. Well. Okay. I'll settle for a motivational message from the CEO on the Intranet.

What the fuck is wrong with management these days?




Monday, 12 November 2012

27 Platitudes For Mastering Anything - And The Truth About Achieving

I ran across this list of suggestions on Business Insider about how to achieve "mastery" of something or other. Quite apart from the fact that not a few are about how to make money and get famous once you have achieved mastery, most of them are egregious examples of question-begging and playing to your vanity. Plus, there should be a rule that any self-help guide or suggestion illustrated by an episode in the life of a Very Famous Person is either a) a mis-understanding of the episode or b) of no use to us regular mortals at all, and c) isn't to be taken seriously. 

No ordinary person (that would be me and you) can learn a damn thing from the lives and practices of Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Martha Graham, Karl Jung, Glenn Gould or John Coltrane, to mention a few of the people he cites. If you need to ask why, you are suffering some severe delusions about your abilities, energy levels and creative ability, just as a mid-level bureaucrat in a giant corporation is severely deluded if they think they can learn how to be a better manager by reading about Steve Jobs. Anyway, here's the new age stuff, then I'll lay the truth on you.

Rather than compete in a crowded field, find a niche where you can dominate.
Rebel against the wrong path, and use that anger as motivation.
Love your subject at a very basic level.
Engage in deep observation, practice incessantly, and experiment.
Value learning over money so you're not a slave to everyone's opinion.
Revert to a feeling of inferiority in order to truly learn.
Engage in intense practice and lean toward resistance and pain.
Rely on trial and error more than anything.
Choose a mentor who will intensely challenge you.
Absorb your master's knowledge completely and then transform it.
Accept criticism and adapt to power structures and society.
Meticulously craft your persona.
Suffer fools, and learn to exploit them.
Absorb everything and then let your brain make connections for you.
Avoid putting things into familiar categories.
Don't let impatience derail your plans.
Value mechanical and abstract intelligence equally.
Avoid 'technical lock,' or getting wrapped up in technical artistry instead of the real problem.
Shape your world around your strengths.
Know that practice is just as important as innate skill.

This is great advice because (irony alert)...

There's a niche just waiting for you to dominate it, and you have the ability to do so
You're lucky enough to care about anything that lets you make money to live on
You're in an environment where there are useful lessons to be learned
You have a private income
You have the self-discipline, time and family support to practice that hard
You have a manager who's prepared to let you try and fail
There's anyone you know who would make a decent mentor
You are smart enough to understand even half what your "master" is telling you
You have enough taste and nous to craft a persona in the first place
You have strengths (I just avoid my weaknesses)

Anyway, here's what no-one says about being good at anything.

It has nothing to do with goals, motivation, commitment or any of that feel-good, positive new-age nonsense. Sure, achievers do have goals, but only in the way that the rest of us have shopping-lists. Achievers can have off-days, and may describe themselves as "un-motivated", but that doesn't mean there is a "motivated" state which makes their training or competing something they want to do. They don't need to feel enthusiastic to train, or to learn, they just do it. What makes them different from us, is that they train whether they want to or not. They are driven.

Driven comes from inside, and it comes from places people don't want to talk about. Ego, pride, neurosis, obsession, fear, vanity, addiction, chasing the high. It comes from genetics, or a dysfunctional family, neighbourhood, school, peer group, and in some places, church. It doesn't really matter where it comes from, or what it is. What matters is what it makes them do.

It makes them self-harmers (Victoria Pendleton to name but one), amphetamine users (Paul Erdos and other mathematicians), steroid abusers (Lance Armstrong, Flo-Jo and hundreds of athletes in the '80's and '90's), depressed, hand-washers and pencil-straighteners, and for all I know it makes some of them promiscuous. It separates them from most of the human race and from each other. It makes them focused on what can seem like an unbelievably narrow, or weirdly off-centre, range of experience. 

The weirdness does not come from the excellence: the excellence and the weirdness comes from an initial seed of driven, and the driven comes from some neurosis, disorder or flaw. It means they don't fit in with the rest of the kids at school, they don't get why people would just hang out, talk about fictitious characters as if they were real, or follow a football team. They don't feel comfortable with the Normals, and when the sports teacher tells them to show up after school for running practice, and at weekends, that's what they do because then they don't have to feel bad about not behaving like a Normal. 

If you're driven, you can't not - once you've discovered it. Athletes retire and stop training, but usually they no more stop exercising than they stop breathing. I have to learn new stuff: it's what I do. You might say that learning is associated with youth, so I am trying to deny my ageing and inevitable death, and that may be true for some people, but if you were inside my soul, you would experience it as a natural urge, like turning your face to the sun on a cool day.

"Driven" is why most people never get beyond the advanced beginner stage, why they never learn to troubleshoot, nor acquire second-order problem solving skills. Why they zig, and never zag (Hegarty); and why the audience for any kind of even remotely challenging art, music, literature, science or mathematics, is so small. To get those things needs work, study, tolerating a certain amount of irritation and puzzlement until one day you just get it. The mass-market demand is for stuff that can be "got" more or less immediately.

Normals look at driven and recoil. Real achievers are coached to talk about themselves in the positive, new-age-y way because that's good PR. They are not going to tell the truth.

This is why the champion or genius who is angry because of everything they "sacrificed" to get where they were is a cliche character of cheap drama. It's nonsense. There was no sacrifice, just an exchange of one misfit agony for another. 

And why self-help gurus can make fortunes from books telling normals that excellence and achievement are about good teachers, hard work and playing along with the system. You too can be Normal and compose a piece of music as timeless as A Love Supreme or win a boxing championship.

Nah. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Why I Don't Like Big-Company Decision-Making

Peter Drucker says somewhere that the purpose of organisations is to allow ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Many might add that organisations also prevent extraordinary people from doing ordinary things. (Ordinary, that is, to an extraordinary person.)
In a large organisation, many people can say NO and nobody can say YES. Let me explain: in a small owner-managed company, if the boss wants it done, it will be done, unless the few people he listens to persuade him otherwise. Nobody is under any doubt that if he insists, then it will be done. In a large company, even if the CEO orders it so, it can be blocked by bureaucrats of so lowly a junior status that they will never meet the CEO, even if they have defied him. This is why CEOs, like Heads of State, prefer to spend time on mergers and acquisitions (foreign policy) rather than internal growth and development (domestic policy). Merchant bankers and lawyers are so much more responsive than their own staff  - as at those prices, they should be.

Getting anything done in a large organisation isn't about finding someone to say YES. It's about making sure everyone who can say NO won't. It isn't about making a decision, it's about stopping the decisions being thwarted. It's less about getting the go-ahead as not getting the stop sign. It's about convincing people that whatever it is won't mess up their personal and departmental agendas, especially the ones about their egos. And it's never anybody's fault: it's budgets, rules, or priorities. Except that's a total crock and everyone knows it. If it was about having favours out and due, or having clout, I could live with that. I understand the favour economy. But it isn't. 

And sometimes the bureaucracy does things to make its life easy. As the result of a re-organisation, I and my co-analyst (a team of two) suddenly needed access to the full range of data, which had been denied us in the past for every nonsense reason you could think of. We were dreading the endless futility of applying for access and being denied because we didn't have the "business case". However, one Monday morning we signed in to the database... and found we had access. I swear we never filled in one form. In this case, someone realised their lives would be easier if they just did it, and they did. 

Needless to say I find that process frustrating. NO is to me a personal rejection, a sign of indifference and contempt. (Addict, remember?). There are plenty of other people who can take it as "come back with another proposal and we'll toss a coin on that as well" and are happy in a world of coin-toss decisions. (Sorry, I meant, a world of rapidly-changing priorities.) I'm good with work and I subsume myself to the work. I have no time for people who seek out positions where they can exercise their egos at the expense of the work, and I'm really bad at hiding my dislike of them. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

How Not To Talk To Your Daughter, Ma'am

"I just want to support you in going forwards"

This was said by a mother to her daughter in a Caffe Nero at 07:55 in the morning. For god's sake doesn't she know the difference between her daughter, who should be talked to and thought of with plain human language, and the other women at the office, who can be fobbed off with such corporate babble?

That's what working does to people. She's around that nonsense eight hours a day, and because it has money and status games attached, she thinks it's real. She thinks it's appropriate to take outside the office and use in the real world. 

What should she have said? "I'm your mother, I'm supposed to check up on you and be a pain in the ass about how you're living your life." "If you want to make all the mistakes I made and wind up like me, I'll shut up right now and you can turn into me when you're thirty-five." "You need to lose twenty pounds and do your damn coursework or you will wind up with some beta and it'll be a race between you losing interest in him or him in you." 

That's all I can think of. Consequences. Do today to put off a worse tomorrow. Not something that means much to most young people, for whom their immediate feelings are all-encompassing. The girl looked as if she had had a double shot of resentment before getting out of bed that morning and there is nothing you can say to someone with that hormone going round their bloodstream.   

The catch is the situation itself. By the time a late-forty something mother is talking to a daughter at university, it's too darn late for the motherly wisdom. That was supposed to be imparted ten and more years ago, as daughter learned to cook by helping Mommy, and learned how relationships worked by watching Mommy and Daddy, and learned about helping others by working with Daddy in the garden, or with the allotment, or whatever. The fitness was supposed to be from games at school, and after hours participation in a sport. Homework was just something that she did, after some initial tantrums, because Mommy and Daddy sat with her while she got over the reluctance. I'm making this stuff up, how the heck would I know what the Normals do?

Or here's the thing. Maybe what I was trying to describe is what the Successful Parents do. The Normals make a mediocre mess of child-raising. The Dysfunctionals make a bigger and more deep-rooted mess. A few vindictive and nasty parents actively mess up their children's lives, and when it suits the internal politics of some inner-London child services department, we read about that stuff in the papers.

Confusing how to live with how to work? I remember the giddiness with which I greeted the idea that I could run my personal life like my career: I could have Objectives, and Plans, and To-Do's, and Targets. It's a crock. That's how you run housekeeping, or your exercise routine. Not how you run your personal life. Here's the catch: if you have to figure out your personal goals in life, you don't have any. Beyond getting by day to day, which is a tougher task than you may believe when it has to be sustained over seventy years. Businessmen write down objectives exactly because they are external and contingent: your own objectives are as much a part of you as your arms.

Friday, 2 November 2012

On Being A Man

There's no issue about what it is to be a woman. There never has been. There's three stages of being female: girl, woman and old. Girls are below the age of consent or haven't had their menses. Old women are post-menopausal. Woman is any menstruating female over the age of consent. There's no requirement about moral and personal qualities, employment, relationships, responsibility, education or anything else.

Which is the exact reverse of what being a man is about. Sure, you need to be over some fairly arbitrary age - fourteen if you're Jewish, eighteen most everywhere else - but simply having a working set of testes doesn't get the job done. Being a man seems to be about a whole heap of moral and personal qualities.

However, being a man isn't about those moral and personal qualities. Those are invented by wives, daughters, mothers, employers, tailors, training sergeants, fathers-in-law, priests, family members, anyone who needs you to do something for them and will stoop at nothing - shaming, alienating affections, insincere flattery, glossy advertisements - to persuade you to do it. That's where all this "a man has a family" or "a man doesn't play X-Box", or "a man has a raincoat" or "a man gives up his seat for a lady" and other nonsense comes from. Flush it all down the toilet. Any time you feel like objecting "but a man does / doesn't...", figure out in whose interests it is to have you believe that, then forget it. There's being a Man (the structure of your approach to your self and the world) and there's being a 'Man' (somebody's idea of an upright citizen and all-round exemplary behaviour). I'm talking about the structural stuff. All the rest is someone trying to sell you something.

And that is the clue. However we define what it is to be a man, it can't set us up for guilt trips and manipulation. I'm with the MGTOW guys when they say that the answer to what a man is cannot depend on a woman, and would add that it can't depend on the economy either. Men aren't what women say they are, and they aren't what an employer says is desirable either. You can be unemployed and a man (surviving some adult unemployment is part of the seasoning). You can be a player, a ghost or guy who gets laid now and again, and be a man. You can be married or not, have children or not, wealthy or not, creative or not, chop wood or not, leave a legacy or not, lay tile or not, fix engines or not, cut code or not, wear trainers to work or not. Hell, on the occasional day, you can even snivel. Just occasionally. 

Being a man is a role, and a huge part of that role is being autonomous: we do stuff because it helps us achieve our objectives: because that's what it takes to get money, or support, or co-operation, or laid, or whatever else. There's a bunch of stuff we won't do because those are our boundaries. Where those boundaries and objectives are, how low we will stoop, speaks to our moral character. Not to whether we are men. 

We are about the work. Not pleasure, happiness, fulfilment, intimacy, closeness and all that other stuff. Those are feelings, that come and go like all emotions. Not power, wealth, success, fame and beautiful lovers. Those are lottery prizes, and can be won by robber barons, criminals, corrupt officials and greedy corporate executives. Reputation and recognition, yes, but only from other men. Sure we can can chase women, laze on a beach, watch movies, climb mountains, enjoy a Michelin-starred meal, take a funfair ride, get drunk, play with our children, gaze at the view, breath the air, ride a horse, tend the plants, play poker, feed the rabbits and all that other good stuff - but these are diversions, times when we let the spring relax before we wind it up again. That's part of what life is about, but it's not the purpose. Our purpose is to use our marketable talents, however so modest, to benefit ourselves and others. Which brings us to the next point. 

We acquire and develop skills, usually in the manipulation of materials or information, or in the command and influence of people. It's how we earn our living, and as it takes a few years to acquire those skills to any employable degree, it's part of how we identify themselves. As a consequence, we can seem less adaptable than women, but that's because most women choose jobs that require generic, lower-level skills (accounting, HR, project management), rather than anything technology- or industry-specific. Committing to specific skills is a higher risk than bumping along on generic ones, which is why in the end we are paid more.

While we're on the "command and influence of people" thing, this does not mean "people skills". Command and influence is earned by acquiring a reputation for competence at the task - and the exercise of command by non-competents is deeply resented. In practice, "people skills" are either basic politeness between colleagues (which can be lacking in big companies) and often hokey Dale Carnegie tricks for establishing some kind of rapport and co-operation with slightly awkward people - though those would be on the advanced course.

We have a clear, practical, view of the world. We understand that any part of the world is as it is because someone designed it that way, even if they gave the design precious little thought. We understand that someone is responsible when a patient dies on a trolley in a hospital corridor, or when the food is under-cooked. We do not live in a magic world, partly because we understand enough science and technology to know otherwise. A magic-dweller says "Isn't that amazing, aren't they wonderful?", we think "That was amazing. How long did they train?" Yeah, I do mean engineers, medics, mathematicians, programmers, mechanics, designers, musicians, artists and other craft-types only. Lawyers and MBA's, not so much. If they get a hands-on technical hobby, they may yet make it.

We are straightforward. We don't do mind-reading and we don't expect to have our mind read. (The fabled female capacity for mind-reading is just that - a fable.) We might play games to get laid, but that's because those games are the price the girl is charging. We sort out our problems face-to-face and in direct language. We understand that friends and policemen are entitled to the truth should they ask: our enemies get whatever lies it benefits us to tell them, and everyone else gets polite nonsense.

Mostly we don't do stuff for free: we get paid or you owe us a favour. Minor kindnesses and taking an injured person to hospital are exceptions. Being the Designated Driver, the guy who sits twiddling his thumbs waiting for closing time while everyone else gets loaded and has a great time, is not a minor favour. If you take that on and the others don't recompense you in some way, you're being played, even if by yourself. Designated Drivers get Designated Lays or they don't do the job. Seriously. (There are times we have to put in "investment energy", as when establishing a reputation at work or in our profession, or when joining communities and chasing women, but that's a finite effort that should be understood before we start, and for which the rewards cannot be arbitrarily withheld. A lot of younger workers don't get the 'investment' bit and a lot of employers and women don't get the 'not arbitrarily withheld' bit.)

We have self-respect. We stay in shape, eat well, dress with restrained style, avoid junk food and culture, and cultivate a sense for the Real Thing. We do not, however, fuss over the finer points of Saville Row tailoring or organic mangos. The point is to avoid being crass and absorbing junk, not to be Beau Brummel. 

How about marriage and children? We covered that. Neither are compulsory. You can figure out how compatible marriage, children and personal autonomy are. If paying child-support and picking up the kids at the weekend is one of your life goals, you have a forty per cent chance of achieving it through marriage.

What about self-defence? Sure, if we live in a world where we can expect to have your physical safety threatened. I don't. If you want to learn to box, grapple or fight because it makes you feel more confident and gets the hormones going, be my guest.

Now get this. We are not saints, and neither are we sinners. We are not 'flawed' because the idea of 'a flawed' relies on the idea of 'a perfect' and there is no 'ideal' man. There are guys who get being a man right sometimes, and wrong sometimes, and then there are guys who miss the point pretty much entirely. We are not here to strive to achieve someone else's ideas of perfection, and we are not here as a host resource for parasites to live their lives. We're here on business and some R&R at the weekends.