Thursday, 31 December 2015

That Ain’t Working, That’s The Way You Do It, You Get Money For Your Sperm and Your Porn For Free

I have to finish the year with this little gem. It's from an article in the Telegraph about how English women are going to Denmark for sperm. Which wasn't the way I read this paragraph...

When “John”, one of the 250 regular donors on the books of European Sperm Bank, walks through the door, the attraction of using a Danish donor seems a little more obvious. In his twenties, with Nordic good looks and utterly charming, he donates three times a week, getting paid around £30 a visit. He insists that although the money makes a difference, it’s his desire to help others that is key. “Instead of donating blood, you can do this to make people really happy,” he tells me.

Yeah, right. Three times a week!

Have a Prosperous 2016.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Rey is Not A Feminist Heroine, and Kick-Ass Females are Actually Male Fantasies

So there’s a new Star Wars movie out, in case you hadn’t noticed, and it has a female action heroine (Rey, played by Daisy Ridley) and a black male hero (Finn, played by John Boyega). I’m not going to discuss that, because Star Wars is now a Disney movie, and Disney movies have central characters like Rey and Finn. Rey is Disney’s take on the kick-ass heroine.

Kick-ass heroines have been a staple of Japanese manga since the Dawn of Manga (and Joss Whedon is a huge manga fan, which is where both Buffy and Dollhouse come from) and manga got it from earlier Japanese stories about warrior women. Furthermore, the idea of Warrior Women and Goddesses is as old as all sorts of northern European myths - which is where Wagner got his Valkyries from.

But feminist heroines? Are you kidding? First, all kick-ass females are always hot, as well as fit and healthy. So that’s really feminist. Second, they right wrongs with often extreme violence dispensed with nary a doubt. Bad guy? Kill. Move On. So that’s really a feminist thing to do as well. Third, they don’t dissemble, manipulate, or engage in “relationship management” (aka “lying”). Which is also pretty feminist. Nikita uses her considerable sexuality feminine power on men, but since Maggie Q is tall, slim and very hot, she doesn’t count as feminist.

Since kick-ass heroines are women, they don’t carry any freight of moral expectation. They can kill, maim, detonate and destroy at excessive will without anyone wondering about their moral character. The only male action hero who can wreck as much havoc as Maggi Q’s Nikita is James Bond, and he is always told off for being a near-psycopathic rogue at least once in every movie. Most ruthless male killers, such as Denzel Washington’s Equalizer, turn out to have been brutalised by their time in Special Forces, or something similar. The capacity of the female for psychopathic levels of violence at the drop of a hat is a cultural given. This is a boon for writers and directors who want maximum carnage with minimum time wasted on explanation and moral justification.

Why the growth in kick-ass heroines in western culture? It’s tempting to blame Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar, who found a way to westernise the extreme Otherness of manga heroines. But the real blame lies with an earlier creation: the anti-hero. Anti-heroes do the right thing, eventually and reluctantly, for the wrong reasons and with the wrong attitude. They are competent and capable, but also cynical, lost, disillusioned and have questionable personal morals. Anti-heroism passed into the mainstream and made all male lead characters more complicated, requiring backstories and explanations. (Or exceptional luck with casting: why waste words when you can cast Harrison Ford as Han Solo and let his face do all the explaining?) It got to the point where it was impossible to have a simple male hero unless he was wearing a cape or a mask. And after the Dark Knight even the capes got complicated.

But with a kick-ass heroine, it’s easy. Women are known to be random complicated. Having swallowed the utter implausibility of her combat skills and strength, why strain at the gnat of psychology? Anyway, she’s a SHE, so there’s nothing to explain: mood swings, emotional upsets, changes of mind and motivation, all come for free with a female character. So there’s no need for characterisation or character development. Male characters change and develop (the one weakness of the Bond franchise is that Bond doesn’t change): female characters are created whole and perfect. (Quick: think of any female character with a development arc who isn’t played by Demi Moore or Sandra Bullock.) So if you want a simple hero, get a heroine.

The kick-ass heroine is a male fantasy figure: she can take care of herself, doesn’t exploit the impressionable young men around her, hauls her share of the load, takes responsibility for getting stuff done, and is generally a pretty decent sort of chap to have around, despite being hot. So just like thousands of teenage girls then. She’s not whiny, dependent, manipulative, exploiting, and above all, she shows up and doesn’t flake. She is the Girl All Men Want But No Girl Wants To Be. The fantasy isn’t about “hot”, as “hot” is the default for actresses, unless fat-or-ugly is a feature of the character, as in many comedies. The fantasy is about a woman who is capable, straightforward and dedicated to a higher goal than a new pair of shoes.

By contrast, feminism is obsessed with power, not capability. A feminist heroine wouldn’t be kicking ass at all: she would be giving the orders for men to die kicking ass. And then escaping on her personal transporter when the Rebel Alliance flew in to save the day. And therein lies the problem. Someone who does that is not a hero. The Big Three of World War Two - Patton, Montgomery and Rommel - are admired as commanders, but not as heroes. “Feminist heroine” is a contradiction in terms. Rey, Buffy, Nikita and the others are plain old heroines, and there’s nothing “feminist” about them.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Dear Pamela Stephenson, Here’s The Reply to Your Recent Fake Question

The other day in the Guardian online (I have to stop reading that) Pamela Stephenson had a fake love problem concerning a woman in her mid-forties who had not had sex for ten years, missed it and was worried that a future partner would be put off by her extended period of chastity.

Here's the reply I couldn't post from work.

Dear Fake Lady,

I’m going to assume that you have not suffered some awful disfiguring accident, nor an emotionally traumatic event that has left you incapable of relating to men except as fellow members of the economic machine in which I assume you are also a cog. I’m also going to assume you are size twelve or under, exercise at least three times a week and have managed to maintain a pleasant and charming exterior.

So...

You are right. Don’t mention that you haven’t had sex for ten years, in what is supposed to be the prime of a woman’s sexual life. A man will rightly take your behaviour as proof that your sexual drive is minimal and politely end the conversation as quickly as possible so he can meet a woman who experiences desire. No man over the age of thirty has any sympathy for a woman complaining she can't get laid. He was rejected by so many of them in his twenties that as far as he’s concerned, her current dry spell is her due karma. Any woman can find a man to have sex with, anywhere, at any time of day. If that’s all she wants.

You want more than sex. Much, much more. You want sex on your terms with a man who ticks as much of your 463-bullet point checklist as possible. And you don't want him to provide you with just the physical act. You want him to provide you with what the physical act means to you. Which is one or more of about two hundred and forty-three different things, none of which are events in the physical world, and all of which are events in your interior world of emotions and feelings.

And why do you want all those Good Feelz? Because you’re wondering why you should, or how you can, go on hauling yourself through the day without some Good Feelz to encourage you. Is this it? Is this all you have to look forward to?

Yep. It is. Welcome to the rest of your life. For the next forty years you are going to work, feed and wash yourself, keep your lodgings clean and tidy, keep yourself fit and healthy, eat well, read challenging books, go on holiday and persue whatever hobby you have... all for no other reason than you woke up alive again. This is where you prove you're an adult. Happiness, love, belonging and other such happy hormone stuff are for children. Adults live right, day after day, for no reward and no reason, and that is the definition of self-respect.

Woman up. Quit whining. And buy a dildo.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Recent Music - November / December 2015

I’ve been hitting the music recently. Here’s a list and some examples...

(Some of these seem only to be available from You Tube)

Black Widow - In This Moment

The Strange Case of… - Halestorm

Late Night Tales / Nils Frahm

Going to Hell - The Pretty Reckless

A 22 CD Box set of nearly all Stravinsky's work - basically a re-issue of the "Stravinsky Conducts" recordings

A box set of Ry Cooder soundtracks

We Are Harlot - We Are Harlot

The First 3 EP’s - Golden Teacher

No Deal Remixed - Melaine de Blasio

Elaenia - Floating Points

Magister Leonis, Sacred Music from 12th-Century Paris

Gregorian Chant - Choral School of Vienna High Church

Canto Gregoriano (yes, that one!)
 

Heavenly Revelations - Hildegard of Bingen

Facade, William Walton
 

Works for Solo Vihuela, Luys Milan

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Mac Air 11” vs Windows laptop?

I spilled a small amount of water on the top-right hand side on my 11” Mac Air a couple of weeks ago, and though I mopped up quickly, and it carried on working for a while, but once it went into hibernation it refused to wake up again. When I connected the power lead, the light didn’t come on. The guys at Mac1 Spitalfields pronounced it dead, and ridiculously expensive to repair, and my insurers paid up the cost of a new one minus the excess. So I bought the 13” 256GB version as an upgrade, which I had been thinking of doing for a while. I really can’t justify a MacPro with Retina - I’m never going to be doing image processing on a grand scale.

Of course, the original upgrade plan would have left me with the 11” Air as a travelling computer. Right now, I’m back using the old 10” Asus EEPC, which while it works, really doesn’t handle Chrome very well, stutters a lot when I edit in Evernote and can come to a halt when task-switching. Four or so years ago it cost about £200, and needs to be upgraded. Software has moved on, and bloated.

£200 now gets me a 2 x 16 GB Chromebook, especially if I really want an 11” screen. If I can live with a 13” screen and a 3lb computer, I can get a proper laptop for around £250 - £400 depending on storage. From Amazon it will have Win 8.1 and there can be issues with upgrading to Win 10 with some OEM installs – I have an issue with Win 7 on the Asus. The spec of those mid-price machines is variable at best, and looking in PC World suggests that the keyboards can be random in quality. If I want an i5-level spec, it’s going to be around £600 for a 13” machine.

Let’s deal with the 11 vs 13 thing. The Air actually has an 11.6” screen with 1366x748 pixels, and the 13” has 1440x900. These are different aspect ratios, but in terms of real estate, the 11” gives 1,021,768 pixels and the 13” gives 1,296,00, which is almost 30% more. Frankly, I’m not noticing it while writing in Evernote. I probably would if doing photo manipulation.

How much is the 11” 4MB x 128GB Air? With a keyboard you can only love? And a solid aluminium body? Oh, yes, £749. Which I know is 11” vs 13”, but it’s also 2 lbs vs the 3 lbs+ of the 13” machine. I’m not taking a chance that the lower price has been achieved by scrimping on the processor, HDD or motherboard. I can avoid by getting an i3/i5 or above 13” Wintel machine, but then it costs about £100 less than the 13” Air, and we have the same arguments again. If I needed to use Windows and was doing something that needed computational heft, I’m fairly sure I’d go for an i5 / i7 Asus Zenbook – and those things cost as much as the equivalent Macs. (Sure, there’s stuff on sale at Amazon for less than these numbers, but look closely and you’ll find it has Win 7, or is almost three years old, and may not be Win 10 upgrade-friendly.)

There’s what looks to be the truly awesome Chillblast Helios i5 6200U 13 Ultrabook with 8 x 250GB, what looks like a good chicklet keyboard, a 1920x1080 screen and an aluminium unibody chassis and all for just £735 (inc VAT). My alarm bells ring on seeing that they offer to upgrade the glue that holds the heat sink to the CPU for £5.99, and that may reduce temperatures by up to 5 degrees Centigrade. Um… why not just do that anyway? It’s less than 1% of the final price? It’s an odd thing to tell people is an option. But… that spec in a Mac would be nearly twice the price at £1,319. Shame you can’t see or try a Chillblast. I would want to if I was after a Wintel laptop. Also Chillblasts are hand-made, and for computers that’s not always a good thing.

While we’re on the subject of Apple’s pricing strategy, here’s why it is what it is. Their core market is photographers and video makers. A high-quality telephoto lens can cost as much as a 15” Mac Pro Retina with all the trimmings. A basic pro-quality lens costs as much as a decent 26”+ display. Compared to camera kit, Macs aren’t that expensive. They handle Adobe’s programs really well, and seem to have drivers for every camera ever made. Next market along are people who make music, and the same thing applies: compared to old-school music recording and mixing gear, Macs are cheap as chips. Next market along is / was designers: design workstations used to cost multiple thousands, and with horrible screens. This is how pricing is supposed to be done: not by using the manufacturing cost as a benchmark and marking up to cover fixed costs and profit, but by charging less than the ridiculous prices your target market is paying to do on the existing kit what it can now do on your kit.

So the “Apple Tax” is now the “no compromise on quality or consistency” premium, and it’s got smaller. It’s now around £150. This has the effect of making people like me trade up to a Mac, or to trade down to whatever I can get for £400 but has a really good keyboard. Sadly, laptop keyboards are a prime thing to compromise on, and it takes a lot of search time to find one. I chose the Asus EEPC because I could test the keyboard in-store.

In the cafes of Soho, Shoreditch and Richmond-on-Thames, all I see are Macs. I see all brands of tatty Wintels being used by commuters on the train, and I assume these are supplied by work. When people buy a computer they are going to be using a lot, for themselves, they pay the premium.

I’m stalling buying the 11” Air pending just this kind of review and how long I can go on working with my Asus. If I had not had the accident, I would have spent £999 on the 13” Air and had the 11” already. I spent £400 (net) on the 13” and £749 on the 11”, which is of course the insurance excess of £150. So that’s what the accident cost.

Expensive water.

(PS: How’s this for an alternative? I don’t really need a computer: I need something that runs Evernote and has a keyboard that isn’t horrible to use. That would be an iPad Air with a Logitek keyboard. I have the iPad, so instead of buying the 11” Air, I bought a Canon inkjet colour printer and the keyboard. I’ve been promising myself the printer for an age. As a consumer, I am a total mystery to myself.)

Monday, 14 December 2015

Then and Now - Maybe

Thirty years ago my car was a second hand VW Polo with four-speed gears with carburettors, manual windows and manual steering. Now I have a second-hand Punto with fuel injection, power steering, five gears, power windows and central locking.

Twenty years ago, I had a 100Hz 22” Panasonic TV which was a monster, and a video recorder with slo-mo. Now I have a 28” Bravia LCD screen and Blu-ray player which give a picture vastly superior to the TV.

Twenty years ago I didn't even have a computer, and 64kps ISDN was considered pretty much the top end of data transmission. Now I have 8Mbps download broadband connecting a netbook, a desktop replacement Wintel, a Mac Air and an iPad Air. Apple, Google, Amazon, Dropbox and others are offering me more online storage for free than possibly existed in the whole world in 1980. I get free e-mail and calendering, and photo-editing apps for £1.49 that do things that would have been considered black magic twenty years ago.

Online banking? Amazing. Amazon? Fantastic.

Don't even get me started on how much better the coffee is than it was thirty years ago. There's simply no comparison between the food in restaurants either.

But...

Thirty years ago, I parked my car at 08:00 in an abandoned car park fifty yards from the station, and got a seat on the 08:15 train. Twenty years ago, I could use the station car park for £3 a day at 07:30, and still get a seat on the next train. Now, I park my car on the road half a mile from the station at 06:30. Parking anywhere near the high street is £10 a day. I can get a seat on the 06:41 or 06:45 trains, if I go any later, or take the fast trains, I will be squashed or standing.

The abandoned car park is now a block of partial-owner flats. The Blockbuster I could rent videos from is now a bathroom salesroom. Sure there’s a Tesco and a bunch of other shops where the old IBM offices and a bleak 1970’s concrete plaza used to be, but the Library doesn’t have books in it and I don’t use the shops.

Thirty years ago I shared an office and had a high-backed swivel chair. Now I pack my crayons and exercise books away at the end of the day and put them in a locker. There aren't enough desks for everyone who works in the building, deliberately, so people like me who need to be in every day have to get there early to make sure we get 'our' desk.

Thirty years ago I was about to hit the worst patch of my drinking, but at least I was getting laid now and again. Twenty years ago, I was two years sober. Now I'm an old-timer and I'm not sure I could actually let my guard down even if I was offered sex by an attractive woman. Attractive women are much more attractive than they were even twenty years ago, but there are way fewer of them, and the others are heavier, fatter, harder-faced and less feminine. There are a lot of those.

Now half of English women between 24 and 35 are overweight or worse, and the men aren't much better. By contrast, I'm in better physical shape than I was even thirty years ago, which is a tribute to the way the human body responds to resistance training. Hell, I'm in better shape than most of the kids in my office.

If you have a job that pays above third quartile wage; if you have your own lodgings; if the only debt you have is a mortgage; if you have positive cash flow over a year; if you aren't divorced and making child and spousal support payments; if you have your health and aren't chewing foul modern medicines; if you are able to exercise; if you can avoid junk culture; if you have friends who really are friends... then this is a better world than it was twenty years ago.

I’m not so sure how it is if you’re depending on Uber to pay your way, or a piece-work Amazon delivery courier, or a graduate looking for their first decent job; or if you’re thirty and still flat-sharing; or if you’re still paying off your student loan; or if you couldn’t replace the cooker or the TV if it broke without taking a payday loan… then I’m not so sure.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

November 2015 Review

The nights draw in and the SAD sets in. I’m pretty sure I started the month able to do assisted pull-ups (never you mind how much assistance) and ended it unable to even hang on the bars with the support because my left shoulder gave out cries of “leave me alone”. Yep, autumn injury time again. Suddenly weights that floated off the ground or into the air become impossible to even take off the rack. What a sensible person does is get to their favourite Sports Masseur, and what I do is leave it two weeks. I had the first session on the last Wednesday of the month. And I accepted that I was injured, backed down on the weights and did the “show up and lift what you can” routine. This ensures that I do some exercise so that when it’s all sorted out, I don’t have to spend a month getting back up to where I was. The ability to do this is one of them many signs of superior moral fortitude that separates Them from Us.

I read Duel at Dawn by Amir Alexander; Mary-Jane Rubenstien's Worlds Without End: the Many Lives of the Multiverse; Sex Criminals, vol 2 by Matt Fraction; re-read John Horgan’s The End of Science; Pedro Ferreira’s The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity; Robert Glover’s No More Mr Nice Guy; Busy by Tony Crabbe; The Whitehall Manderin by Edward Wilson; Somerset Mauham’s Cakes and Ale; Deborah Davis’ Strapless; and Vaughn / Harris’s Ex Machina v1. I always think I’ve never read anything.

On DVD I saw Southland S1 and S2; Penny Dreadful S1; Braquo S1 and S2. At the movies I saw Spectre at the Odeon Leicester Square; Black Souls; and Tangerine at the Renoir; and Burnt at the Curzon Victoria.

The Damn Thing After Another was spilling the absolute minimum amount of water on the top right-hand corner of my 11” Air to put it out of action. After some to-ing and fro-ing with the guys at Mac1 Spitalfields and my insurers, I upgraded myself to a 13” 256GB Air, which I bought from the Apple Store in Covent Garden. I was intending to do that anyway. It was a little disconcerting to find out how unsettled I was without my Mac, even though I had much of the functionality on my trusty but increasingly slow Asus netbook.

The Fun Thing was the annual Day To Make A Difference, where The Bank encourages us to do some work for charitable causes. It pays for the privilege as well, usually for materials, and gives those taking part a day out of the office they don’t have to make up with overtime. This year we went to a slightly run-down children’s day centre in Queenstown Road and gave the outside a thorough wash and brush up. Those who fancied themselves as handymen built a fence and gate - completed just in time - while others made something called a mud kitchen. Those who don’t regard themselves as handy, as I don’t, cleaned up the yard, and I swiped the pressure washer and got wet washing the paint, chalk marks and general dust and dirt off the outside of the building. It made a pleasing difference and squirting water all over the walls was fun. I didn’t quite the knack of angling the thing to minimise the wetness on my clothes. When I’d done that, I helped heft decorative gravel and then earth for some planters. I’d happily do two or three days a year like that: good labour and a visible result at the end.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Love is Conditional, Not Romantic

The single loudest-quacking canard in the entire therapy / self-help business is the idea that we can and should be loved "for who we are", unconditionally and despite our flaws.

I mean by “love” whatever feeling that makes you want to make serious and lengthy commitments of time, energy, support and resources to someone else, and care for and help them, and there must be sexual desire, and co-habitation or frequent contact. Absent the sex and frequent contact, and that’s “friendship”. Any other use of the word “love” is metaphorical on this core sense. Feel free to use your own word for what I’ve just described, and substitute it below.

You may feel love for a horrible shrew who refuses to have sex with you and disrespects you in public. But you really would be better off not doing that. Or to say the same thing another way: you should not do that. If you’re going to have those kinds of feelings, please have them towards a sane, attractive person who wants to have sex with you, spend time with you and feels the same way about you. If you must love awful people, do us all a favour and keep it unrequited.

We’re adults. We have bills to pay, a day-job to do, or clients to service; we have to buy and cook food, keep our lodgings in order, clean our clothes, exercise, keep up our social networks, and rest; we may have other people that we have to feed, spend time with and support. We don't have time to spend on losers, wasters and people who can't help us. Maybe if we were very rich we could or might need to, but we're not. Respect has to be earned, and love has to be deserved. (Desire is random, but has nothing to do with love, though love without desire is pretty bland stuff.)

Sensible adults have to do with people who can bring something to our table. Anything from jokes in return for sitting around shooting the breeze, to a straight exchange of money for professional services. There's always an exchange, because the other person is also a sensible adult who wants us to bring something to their table. This even applies to children: parents want their kids to grow up right (whatever that means wherever they are), be quiet when needed and not get into trouble, and in return the kids get fed, clothed, sheltered, trained, hugged and praised for their stick-man crayon drawings.

This is Life 101. Except in therapy-land. And if you've taken the Red Pill. Then it's treason to love someone for what they can do for you, instead of "who they are". Men love romantically, women love opportunistically. Men love the woman despite herself, women love what the man gives them (which could be anything from sick emotional involvement to an apartment in Monaco). Men love women, women love children, children love puppies. Who we love can never love us back. Women have an evolutionary-developed nature, and part of that is to regard men as resources to be exploited (the feminine imperative) to suit their needs (one of which is hypergamy). “Exploited” means that women expect men’s resources for free and don’t recognise reciprocal obligations nor feel the need to keep bargains. The core practical consequence is that as a man, you don't get a moment's rest in a relationship: you must prove it seven days a week, even in your sleep. Your wife and children are always going to be testing you and if you fail even one test, you will be consigned to a life of sexless irrelevance in your own house, which will no longer be your home, but a place you go to work to get away from. To prevent this from happening, you must be unblinkingly, unflinchingly Alpha, every second of every minute of every hour of every day of your life, and when you die, she will defile your memory, just to prove she can. That's how the Red Pill comes across. It's pretty darn bleak.

I don’t doubt for a moment that this describes the lives of a certain kind of men in relationships with certain kinds of women. Mostly men who are more occupied with their own thoughts and projects, who take up with women with the kind of family background, or genes, that produces shrews, bullies, drunks, addicts, narcissists, bi-polars, borderlines and other dysfunctionals, as well as the chronically insecure, cold or traumatised. These women are so badly damaged or just plain broken that no “Alpha” in the world can turn them into acceptable partners. These are the ill-advised partnerships that bring men to the Sphere.

In the ordinary world, the majority of women simply need to feel that they are being noticed, paid attention to, by their partners. This is a normal response when someone who is away from them, five days a week, for nineteen hours a day (eleven commuting and working, seven or so asleep, plus morning routine). Regular men understand this and take time to respond to her questions accordingly because they care. The guys who show up in the Sphere are probably a little more occupied with their own thoughts and less with the world around them, and treat those attention overtures as a nuisance. That's not a good feeling to give someone. Like Heartiste says, you must play with her mind, and if you don't, you're not going to have a good relationship.

Some people can't do math, others can't do backflips, and others can't lift really heavy weights. We don’t guilt-trip about that. Yet everyone is expected to do relationships, and if they can’t it’s considered a sign of a broken soul. It doesn’t matter if there’s a Just-So story to provide a rationalisation for that expectation or not. It doesn’t solve the problem. It's time we accepted that some people can manage long-term, live-in, high exit-barrier relationships, and others can't, and stopped expecting those who can't to suffer the costs of trying and failing. And it's time we focussed not on what's wrong with men, women or society, but on how to identify the walking disasters, and how we get our needs met whether we are wrapped up in our own projects or alive to the slightest emotional breeze from our partners.