Archive for July, 2012

When Is a Thick Plastic Cock Not a Sex Toy?

The answer, a trifle insultingly, seems to be “when it’s not erect.”

This came to my attention by way of a friend who works at an actual sex toy store (the venerable Early to Bed of Chicago, IL), which is not-unexpectedly laden with all manner of regulations regarding what they can sell and how it can be displayed. (My heart goes out to whomever makes their window displays; having done a few of those myself for a store that sold nothing more scandalous than a few suggestively-shaped citrus juicers I know how delicate the art can be.)

Yes, we really carried these.

In an interesting spin-off venture that attracted my blogger’s fondness for legal quirks and oddities of definition, Early to Bed has helped create an independent website called FtM Essentials that deals specifically in accessories for female-to-male transgendered: chest binders, stand-to-pee funnels, and “packers” — the various kinds of harnesses, underwears, and molds designed to provide a bit of a bulge between the legs.

Where this gets interesting, at least as far as MA101 is concerned, is that FtM Essentials is not a sex toy store. You don’t have to be 18 to use their website or order their products, filtering software is unlikely to block the site (and could probably be challenged legally if it did), and so far as I can tell the products offered don’t fall under any state laws regarding sale or shipping of sexual materials.

So for this one specific purpose you can buy a big, floppy, plastic piece of man-meat, and it’s not a dildo. Technically.

That’s good news for people who want FtM supplies and don’t have a lot of freedom to go to a bricks-and-mortar sex toy store, or who wouldn’t be let in one because of their age. I suppose we could wring our hands about whether children should be trying that kind of thing out for themselves before their majority, but frankly, we’ve made growing up as a “boy” so radically different from growing up as a “girl” that I think we owe a lot of leeway to anyone who feels like he/she got assigned the wrong one.

I do find the legal precedent that a penis is only sexual when it’s erect interesting (and a bit unflattering), but I suppose our legal system’s undeniable obsession with women’s genitals focuses on their baby-making capabilities. This is only fair.

Mostly I’m just impressed by the entrepreneurial logic of it. You have to assume that there are some transgendered people out there who, just like any number of cis-gendered folk, aren’t comfortable going to a sex toy store or a sex toy store’s website, for one reason or another. Creating a deliberately desexualized online storefront specifically for them was — and you will have to pardon the pun — a textbook case of “find a void and fill it.”


Meditations on a Hangover

A beautiful morning in Madison today (or rather Saturday, when I wrote this, since I’m far too lazy to waste a perfectly good blog post by putting it up on the weekend) — one of those days where the air is so cool and the sky so blue that the summer sun is welcome warmth instead of punishing heat.

I of course was hungover for all of it.

There’s something fascinating about the intensely artificial alertness of waking up hungover and being unable to go back to sleep, especially once it’s propped up by diner coffee. It feels productive and awful all at once (productive in part, I grant, because it adds at least four or five hours to my usual desultory morning schedule). You think very fast and very inefficiently, like a powerful car stuck in second gear, all on top of an unpleasant physical backdrop that you try hard to ignore.

Stomach and head can be mastered by the same technique: overkill. Pour coffee on the brain until it’s too busy to bother about the dull ache behind the eyes. Shovel greasy food onto the rebellious stomach until it settles not so much in relief as in resignation. There will be a reckoning later, but it’s worth the immediate relief (almost anything is if it tips the scales away from “vomiting” and toward “not vomiting”).

Showers are my panacea. I take them when I have a fever (cold, to lower my body temperature), when I have congestion (hot, to steam the gunk out of my nose in a hideous bubbling ooze), and most especially when I am hungover (midway between hot and cold, for no particular reason other than that it suits the odd, incomplete-within-yourself feeling that comes with hangovers). I have a talismanic faith that the water sinks through my skin and rehydrates the depleted cells, which may or may not have a grounding in actual medical science.

Speaking of medical science, I disdain its explanation for the hangover. The real reason for the hangover goes something like this: things shrink when you pickle them, as any fool knows. After a night of heavy drinking your brain is thoroughly pickled and sloshing around in a brine of booze. Overnight the level recedes a bit, and you wake up with a still-shrunken brain sloshing back and forth in the half-filled vat of your skull. The headache comes of your brain banging up against the insides of your skull. Vivid, no?

Gatorade and fancy vitamin drinks are pure witch doctory.

Painkillers are, for serious drinkers, much like steroids for competitive athletes: physically effective, but they smack of spiritual weakness. Take them with a sense of shame or not at all.

The three S’s do not apply to hungover grooming. Attempting to shower and shave in the lingering miasma of your beer shits will tip the scales rapidly back toward “vomiting” no matter how brutally you beat your nausea down at the diner.

And writing while hungover is, apparently, entertaining but inadvisable. It does keep the headache off, or at the back of your mind, at least until the glare from the computer screen starts to get to you. But looking back over this I can’t say that it produces anything you’d want to sign your name to or post publicly on the Internet for all the world to see.


A Quick Run-Down on Why Sport Fencing Is So Boring

Starting tomorrow, various Olympians will be competing in one of the sillier modern sports: fencing, the ancient dance of death in which everyone wears suits that look like Mormon underwear and tries to stick one another with car antennae.

Modern fencing isn’t all that popular of a spectator sport despite the inherent appeal of stabby things. It lacks the drama of staged or on-screen fighting; competitors are limited to a narrow strip of track and simple back-and-forth movement. No circling, no terrain, and not all that much actual fencing before someone scores and they stop the whole thing. Most of us, if we want a brief moment of awkward thrusting followed by a disappointing pause, can just go down to the local bar and try our luck there.

Also off-putting are the rules. They’re arcane, for lack of a better word.

You would assume that a sport based around swordfighting, however modernized and non-lethal, would still have the same basic definition for who wins — the guy that doesn’t have the business end of a sword jabbed into an important part of his body. As a victory condition, it would not have been ambivalent back when the sword went all the way in instead of stopping on your clothing.

If you come in with that basic assumption fencing gets frustrating quickly. A set of rules about “right of way” determines whether a “touch” (hit) on the other person actually scores or not. Get the wrong positioning or timing and it doesn’t matter if you struck a “killing” blow or not. This is frustrating to the layman, who has a deep-seated and one might even say instinctive belief that getting stabbed is getting stabbed regardless of circumstance.

We can blame gentlemen for all this, as usual.

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, as dueling got popular, there was a great deal of pressure from fencing “masters” to follow rules of right-of-way as a way of discouraging recklessness. It looked bad if your pupils kept getting stabbed, and depending on where you were there was all kinds of trouble from the local government if people died dueling, so a system that encouraged defense over offense was beneficial to everyone involved (apart from the occasional legitimately-aggrieved party who really, really, really wanted to stick his opponent with something sharp until he died).

The right-of-way rules caught on quickly, and by the time modern war was making dueling entirely obsolete, the only people left with an interest in transforming it into a non-violent sport were people brought up learning to fence under right-of-way. And that’s why the fencing that’ll be on TV starting tomorrow (today, really, with the time zone difference) is so boring! Aren’t you glad you asked?

For my part, I feel like we have enough bizarre sports and variant forms of said bizarre sports that fencing could easily get away with a “freestyle” category — lose the track and the stupid right-of-way rules, keep the suits and safety gear, and up the pressure needed to detect a “touch” a bit so that you only score from a blow that would have gone a good way into the other person’s unarmored body. Interest (and therefore funding) would soar, at least among the nerdy white kid population.

Or we could just go on doing things the way that well-bred gentlemen did them in the 18th century, because they’re a fantastic role model. Right?

A Few Suggestions for the Next OS X Name (or, A Cheap Excuse to Post Cute Cat Pictures)

Really I should have made this joke back in February when Mountain Lion came out, but it just hit the app store yesterday, and it’s not like I can be arsed to actually go anywhere brick-and-mortar for my computer products anymore. So this is as topical as software humor gets around here.

But the big cat thing. We get a new OS X version what, every two years or so ? And already they’re repeating themselves: 10.1 was Puma and 10.8 is Mountain Lion, which are the same damn thing.

For that matter, “panther” is a folk name that gets applied to both cougars and leopards, so 10.3 was a repeat of either 10.1 or 10.2. Given that these started out as internal code-names, you have to wonder if things got a little confusing for the staff…

But for my part, I’m excited at the possibility that Apple will soon be branching out beyond Felidae. Short of even more obscure folk names for mountain lions (and I’m a particular fan of “catamount”), they’re down to just ocelots and lynxes now. Shall we hope for some of the charming smaller cats of Felinae soon? I think we shall — what better creature to grace your box than, say, the charming caracal:

Or if we prefer, the sand cat, whose entertaining Latin name is Felis margarita:

Or the fishing cat, the most consistently derpy-looking felid:

The possibilities go on. I hope Apple starts making use of them soon, because frankly, the unwitting repetitions in a company with such a massive marketing budget is a little embarrassing. Perhaps we should start sending them suggestion letters, with adorable pictures.

Or they could just go with “catamount.” I’d be all right with that, too.

What’s your favorite big/biggish cat for OS X’s next name? Bonus points for adorable pictures!

Fifty Shades of Green: Interpreting Negative Reviews of “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Whatever we think of E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, let’s not forget that the author did something very courageous and subversive in the world of publishing: she spelled it g-r-e-y, in defiance of cheap spellcheck programs that default to g-r-a-y.

Or maybe that’s not a problem that Queen’s English spellcheckers have. Grey is a colour over there, after all, not a color.

Anyway, people have been reading and reacting, as they will on the internet, and I was struck by how many of those reactions are obsessed with punishing the book’s humble origins (re-written Twilight fanfic, released through a vanity publisher) rather than its admittedly mediocre prose.

I’ll admit that I’m having a hard time seeing most of the distaste as anything but a) sour grapes from fellow fanfic and pulp fiction writers or b) the expected flip-outs from people who weren’t prepared for internet-level kink, even fairly mild and badly-written examples.

Let’s unpack a few of the more scathing reviews, shall we?

This was a poorly written, utterly ridiculous, never ending mess as a fan fiction. The speed with which they “published” this indicates that they merely conducted a find and replace on the names and did not put in a good faith edit or rewrite the highly problematic storylines (read: the entire thing).

Well when you put “published” in quotes like that, we know you’re a Serious Author yourself. Haven’t had much luck finding an agent for your own steamy romance novel, I take it?

I only bought this on Kindle because I was curious to see whether a professional edit made it any better than the original fanfic (which I abandoned once I realized the plot wasn’t original enough for me to suffer through the cut-rate writing). Paging through this “published” version makes me more embarrassed for the author than I was when it was in the fanfic domain, and it DEFINITELY made me lose respect for [the vanity press that published it].

So we already know you read Twilight fanfic of your own volition, if you were familiar with this one before it became Fifty Shades of Grey. Do you like to think you can do better? Perhaps you have done better? Do you capture the magic that is Bella and Edward in a way this James hussy could never dream of?

I suspect you do. Link us and we’ll be the judge.

You also knew there would be disgusting sex scenes. Well, most of you knew, anyway, I certainly did. The infamous tampon scene (which I didn’t find particularly shocking, but maybe it’s because I was already brain dead by the time I got to it), the use of riding crops (!!!), ties, ropes and who knows what else make for a very, um, interesting experience.

Sweetie, if having to take a tampon out before sex or using a riding crop shocks, fanfic from the internet may not be for you.

Making money off of fanfiction is terrible. Create your own characters, create your own worlds. I have nothing against FF, and write some myself.

Ah! Well you’re obviously an expert on the subject, then. Clearly E. L. James should have sought your advice before publishing.

I could say something about how I feel about the fact that E L James basically just took her fanfic and changed the names and a few physical characteristics and now she’s making a zillion dollars while many people who write real, completely original books and pour their hearts and soul into the endeavor will never make any money off them and end up living in a van down by the river, drinking excessively to repress the memory of their shattered dreams… but I won’t.

1) You just did.

2) Maybe that sort of inconsistency is why your writing isn’t selling so well.

3) Wow.

This is literally the worst book I have ever read, and I say that about many books.

Yeah, we’re done here.

It’s not that Fifty Shades of Grey was a good book. It wasn’t. But sour grapes do not become anyone, even on the internet.

Don’t be sad that your Twilight fanfic didn’t get you fabulously wealthy the way that James’s did! There are only two ways to get really actually big-house-with-multiple-cars wealthy as a fiction writer: get amazingly lucky with your first pulp novel, or write mediocre pulp novels for so long that a few of them make it big (and you can make a living in the off-years because you’re putting 3-4 novels out anyway).

E. L. James got lucky. Be happy for her. After all, in a world where re-purposed Twilight fanfic can make it big, there’s hope for all our writings, isn’t there?


Standing Ovations and Other Vicious Cycles

Have you ever seen this happen at a theater?

Some guy right close to the front leaps to his feet during the final applause, dragging the rest of his slightly-embarrassed party up a moment later.

Then the people behind the enthusiast, who do sort of want to see who’s taking their bows (so that they can clap extra-loud when the upstaging clown that stole the show comes forward, creating a swell of noise that the leads will remember and resent for the rest of the run), spend a moment or two craning their necks in frustration. Eventually they give up and stand too.

A ripple of rising people spreads through the theater in a painful and awkward way that even the actors on stage couldn’t mistake for a genuine standing ovation. Soon everyone’s on their feet and 9/10 of them have the good sense to feel embarrassed about it.

This is a sad and vicious cycle! It can be started by anything from a person with a friend in the show to the jerk who doesn’t stay for the applause, but was right in the center of a tightly-packed row and has to make like twelve people stand to let him slip out. Because getting out of the parking garage five minutes sooner was that important, guy?

Please don’t be a part of this. Keep your butt firmly planted in your seat throughout the curtain call unless it was such a truly magnificent performance that you cannot contain your enthusiasm and must leap to your feet, possibly shouting “Bravo!” (or “Brava!” for the ladies, of course). It makes a true standing ovation much more meaningful for the performers, and the rest of us really would like to see everyone take their bows.

NCAA Penn State Ruling Re-writes History

Today Penn State University publicly accepted all the major sanctions handed down by the NCAA in response to the Jerry Sandusky child-molestation scandal. It’s quite a list of blows:

  • $12 million to be paid by the university every year for five years into a “special endowment created to fund programs for the detection, prevention and treatment of child abuse”
  • A four-year ban on participation in all post-season and bowl games
  • No share of the conference revenue from bowl games during the post-season ban, estimated to be about a $13 million loss
  • Beginning in 2012 Penn State can only offer 15 football scholarships, 10 less than the current limit for Division 1 programs.
  • A cap of 65 scholarship players total starting in 2014, 20 fewer than the current limit for Division 1 programs
  • Current players and players who signed letters of intent with Penn State this year may be released from the program at request. (The NCAA is still working out the details of how players might transfer to schools that are already at their 85-scholarship cap, or are also at reduced scholarship levels due to their own sanctions.)
  • Penn State’s football team is stripped of all its wins from the time when Head Coach Joe Paterno and other administrators became aware of child abuse and failed to stop it through this year — 112 wins from 1998 to 2012.

Sports blogs are making the much of the scholarship hits, which will likely cripple Penn State competitively until 2016 (or realistically a few “rebuilding years” after 2016). And having been to State College, PA and seen just how much of the downtown economy was based on the football program, I do have to wonder if that isn’t punishing innocents a little too harshly, at least indirectly, but I’ll leave that commentary to more qualified sports writers.

For my part, the most interesting point is the removal of Penn State’s wins.

Re-writing history by changing the official record is a terrifying idea, when you think about it. Obviously, for years, we’ll all know that Joe Paterno was the “winningest” coach ever in D-1 football. Saying that 111 of those wins (only one of the 112 games removed was not coached by JoPa) didn’t count won’t change the living memory that Penn State was there, and did in all facts of reality win those games.

Years from now that won’t be the case.

I’ve done a bit of writing on nineteenth-century sports and entertainment, and the record we have to use is a fairly spotty one. You end up relying on the few written scoresheets and books you have access to. Eventually, the surviving records for turn-of-the-millennium college football are all going to show Penn State and Joe Paterno at the new, NCAA-mandated totals. And that will be that.

In some ways I approve. Joe Paterno died shortly after the scandals broke, removing himself from most forms of earthly justice, and the NCAA’s decision to dismantle his legacy is probably the closest to making him face punishment you can get.

But on the other hand the rewriting of established fact — they were here; they won these games by the rules at the time — is a deeply unsettling idea, even when applied to something as prosaic as college sports.

I will be curious to see how long it takes the Joe Paterno legacy to fade entirely. I certainly don’t envy current Penn State administrators the fine line they have to walk: anything that seems to “honor” the JoPa memory is nationally toxic, but still deeply desired by local loyalists and more importantly by the incredibly wealthy Paterno family that remains with us, and whose donations the university would sorely miss. It will not be a fun few years for hastily-promoted President Rodney Erickson.

I suppose congratulations are due to Bobby Bowden, though?

Cricket Is Nothing Like Baseball (But Good Writing is Universal)

We Americans share at least one predilection with our cousins from across the water: when we get drunk, we try to explain baseball through the lens of cricket, or cricket through the lens of baseball, depending on whose country we’re in at the time.

It’s a natural impulse. There’s a bat and a ball. The fielding team is all in the field, while the batting team goes up one (well, two, in cricket) at a time. When you get enough batters out the teams switch. Theoretically there’s a lot of common ground here.

That common ground vanishes about two beers in. Balks and infield flies do not translate well to extras and leg breaks, or vice versa. And unless one beery expert or another happens to be well-versed in both cricket and baseball, everyone’s statements that “it’s just like in cricket when…” or “it’s exactly like the part of baseball where…” are very suspect, since they probably don’t actually know the game in question all that well.

So despite several pleasant afternoons on both sides of the pond having cricket and/or baseball explained to me by the resident experts, I don’t know a damned thing about how cricket actually works. The words and phrases associated with it are totally meaningless. (I do a bit better with baseball thanks to some father/son bonding expeditions that have benefited me more than I knew or appreciated at the time, though I’m still no expert.)

But pencils and papers out, class, because I was reading an old Dorothy Sayers mystery with a cricket scene the other day, and I was struck by how well the important bits translated even to a reader with no idea how the game works. Let me give you an excerpt, with the cricket-specific phrases that mean nothing to an ignorant American bold-faced:

Mr. Hankin, with exasperating slowness, minced his way to the crease. He had his own methods of dealing with demon bowlers and was not alarmed. He patted the turf lengthily, asked three times for middle and off, adjusted his hat, requested that a screen might be shifted, asked for middle and off again and faced Mr. Simmonds with an agreeable smile and a very straight bat, left elbow well forward and his feet correctly placed. The result was that Simmonds, made nervous, bowled an atrocious wide, which went to the boundary, and followed it up by two mild balls of poor length, which Mr. Hankin very properly punished. This behaviour cheered Mr. Barrow and steadied him. He hit out with confidence, and the score mounted to fifty. The applause had scarcely subsided when Mr. Hankin, stepping briskly across the wicket to a slow and inoffensive-looking ball pitched rather wide to the off, found it unaccountably twist from under his bat and strike him on the left thigh. The wicket-keeper flung up his hands in appeal.

“Out!” said the umpire.

Mr. Hankin withered him with a look and stalked very slowly and stiffly from the field, to be greeted by a chorus of: “Bad luck, indeed, sir!”

“It was bad luck,” replied Mr. Hankin. “I am surprised at Mr. Grimbold.” (Mr. Grimbold was the umpire, an elderly and impassive man from Pym’s Outdoor Publicity Department.) “The ball was an atrocious wide. It could never have come anywhere near the wicket.”

“It had a bit of a break on it,” suggested Mr. Tallboy.

“It certainly had a break on it,” admitted Mr. Hankin, “but it would have gone wide nevertheless. I don’t think anybody can accuse me of being unsporting, and if I had been leg before, I should be the first to admit it. Did you see it, Mr. Brotherhood?”

“Oh, I saw it all right,” said the old gentleman, with a chuckle.

“I put it to you,” said Mr. Hankin, “whether I was l.b.w. or not.”

“Of course not,” said Mr. Brotherhood. “Nobody ever is. I have attended cricket matches now for sixty years, for sixty years, my dear sir, and that goes back to a time before you were born or thought of, and I’ve never yet known anybody to be really out l.b.w.—according to himself, that is.” He chuckled again. “I remember in 1892….”

“Well, sir,” said Mr. Hankin, “I must defer to your experienced judgment. I think I will have a pipe.” He wandered away and sat down by Mr. Pym.

As the bold-faced bits show you, there’s quite a lot here that’s pure gibberish if you don’t know cricket. The uneducated American reader is unlikely to have a clue what l.b.w. is, or how one finds oneself out l.b.w., but the basic interaction is still clear: a player gets called out on a technicality and doesn’t care for the ump’s decision. Hard feelings ensue. It’s a British sport and not an American one, so the phrase “cocksucker” doesn’t come into it, but we’re all still familiar with the scene, and the author makes it work despite losing about one word in ten to the English/American language barrier.

There’s a good deal more of that cricket scene, and it’s all pretty digestible, which I call a sign of good writing. There’s enough interaction between players and emphasis on what they’re feeling about the game that I can tell whether the indecipherable cricket words mean a good thing or a bad thing for the player in question. As long as I’m paying attention to the people and how they’re feeling I can get by without the technical knowledge.

Bit of a lesson in there for all of us, when you think about it. Or maybe just the writers out there? I can never tell with these things.

Either way it made me want to watch cricket.

As an idle question for the commentors, does anyone actually know what l.b.w. means? I could Google it, but it’s more fun to read your explanations…

The Boy Scouts of America: Cowards, More Than Bigots, If That’s Any Comfort

Reports that the Boy Scouts of America re-affirmed their ban on “open or avowed” homosexuals broke fairly late in the news cycle yesterday, so let me just touch briefly on the key points of the decision for any newcomers:

  • The Boy Scouts of America issued its first official Position Statement regarding sexual orientation in 1991, stating “We believe that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the requirement in the Scout Oath that a Scout be morally straight and in the Scout Law that a Scout be clean in word and deed, and that homosexuals do not provide a desirable role model for Scouts.”
  • Variations on that general theme followed over the next few decades, including a specific ban on anyone who “hold[s] himself out as a homosexual” in leadership positions.
  • An eleven-member committee was appointed to re-evaluate the organization’s position on sexual orientation in 2010.
  • Yesterday that committee submitted a unanimous decision to continue abiding by the existing policies, retaining the recent wording prohibiting “open or avowed” homosexuals.

In some reports this is being portrayed as a new policy or a modification of an old one, which it isn’t; apart from some wording changes over the last two decades the basic idea has remained the same, and the 11-member committee didn’t write any new guidelines or policy statements themselves.

As a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout (albeit one with a mixed view of that high honor), I almost wish I could say that this were a simple case of wrong-headed bigotry, and that the National Council could, over time, be swayed by moral and reasoned arguments.

It isn’t and they can’t.

The root cause is even more embarrassing in its own way: cowardice.

Scouting is a strange little world once you go beyond the level of volunteer Scoutmasters or less-than-minimum-wage camp staff and move into the domain of what we call “professional Scouters.” It’s very much its own church of self, in many ways, with a rigid hierarchy and strict standards of “success” and “failure” at every organizational level. A great deal of bureaucracy is devoted to measuring those successes and failures, from individual troops on up to district, area, and regional councils.

An outsider might reasonably assume that those benchmarks for success had something to do with Scouting values, but for the most part it’s purely a numbers game. “Good” councils have lots of active troops, positive recruitment trend lines, and high sales figures. “Bad” councils have declining membership or low income. Funds and favor from on high flow accordingly.

Your survival as a unit at any level, in short, is dependent on membership. The quality of the membership matters less (and the quality of the programs you offer those members even less still) than what you can show on paper.

“But wait,” you say, “wouldn’t that pressure the BSA toward more inclusive policies, not less?”

And it might, if not for a peculiar quirk of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known to most of us as Mormons:

“Where Scouting is authorized by the Church, quorums may participate in Scouting activities during Mutual. Under priesthood leadership, Scouting can complement the efforts of Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Primary classes in building testimonies in young men and boys.”

Non-Mormons might struggle a bit with some of the terminology there, but in layman’s terms this means that Scouting is the default activity that the church encourages leaders to enroll young males in. If you’re signing your Mormon boys up to do something, the church would like that something to be Scouting, until such time as they change their policy.

That means that the roughly 400,000 LDS-affiliated youths (out of about 2.7 million youth overall) are a minority, but a substantial and more importantly a guaranteed one. Unlike the other 2.3 million, the BSA need expend no resources on recruiting them. They’re freebies.

Unless — unless, unless, unless — church elders were to decide that some other organization would better “complement the efforts of Aaronic Priesthood quorums and Primary classes in building testimonies in young men and boys.” At which point membership would suddenly decline by about 400,000 overnight.

This stick-like carrot has been waved at the National Council for years now, and it works every time. “Scouting values,” as far as policy decisions go, bear an uncanny resemblance to LDS values, give or take a bit of magical underwear.

As cynical as I can be about the organization, the Boy Scouts of America was a huge part of my adolescent life. I think it shaped me for the better and I think crucial parts of its model — most especially the faith that young men can learn valuable lessons from only slightly older young men, and might even do it better than they would from adults — are worth fighting to preserve and maintain. But preservation of the membership numbers at the expense of our own organizational values would be disheartening to see even if it came without the added taint of bigotry.

Exclusion can never make a movement grow in the long term. Entropy always wins that game. How many potential members are we losing to less archaic-seeming youth groups and summer camps each year in exchange for 400,000 guaranteed members that may or may not be particularly active or interested in Scouting? We have no idea. But the decision is short-sighted at best even on a practical level, to say nothing of indefensible on a moral one.

Is it more or less reprehensible to discriminate out of petty fear, rather than deeply-felt personal prejudice? I have no idea. But either way I can’t help but think that, organizationally, our National Council is falling short on a few points of our Scout Oath and Law. I see little of courtesy or kindness in this latest re-affirmation of old, bad policies, and nothing at all of bravery or helping other people.

Live and Let Kink: Dealing with Sexuality in Two Easy Steps

Just so folks that stopped by yesterday for the adorable cat post know, Misanthropology101 isn’t always about cats. It’s not always about kinky sex, either, but you can safely expect it to swing back and forth somewhere between those two extremes. The “Top Posts” on the right-hand sidebar might help if you’re struggling for a better idea of what all goes on over here.

That said, onto two basic lessons for dealing with human sexuality that a number of people I’ve run into lately seem to need:

Step 1: Così fan tutte

Statistically speaking, your next-door neighbor probably likes to dress up like a clown and spank her husband with a frying pan.

True story!

Oh, it might not be that specific activity, but there’s something you think is weird and she thinks is sexy (and he thinks is sexy too, hopefully; the husband I mean. Or other life partner, or non life partner who is just another happily consenting adult…this stuff is hard to talk about if you’re trying not to make assumptions, damn.)

The point is that weird, kinky things have always been with us. History is rife with examples, and that’s just among the people we bothered to write things down about. Pick an era at random and we probably know of someone who did something freaky in bed back then:

  • James Joyce wrote his wife all manner of lewd letters, ranging from the mildly naughty to talking about lying under her and smelling her farts.
  • Catherine the Great’s death by equine intercourse was definitely a malicious rumor, but she was certainly no stranger to using a horsewhip in bed, and if she didn’t actually sleep with the horse it would be about the only male at court that escaped her.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart regularly dabbled in (ew, word choice) bizarre and scatological correspondence with female family members. Apologists have argued that it probably didn’t mean the same thing back then, because changing social mores and blah blah blah, but honestly if telling your cousin you planned to lick her ass was normal and above-board in late 18th-century Vienna we probably would have heard more about it by now.
  • And no discussion of odd fetishes throughout the ages would be complete without a link to The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, a classic but undeniably erotic woodblock involving octopi that may be NSFW depending on your place of employment (so use your discretion). The dialogue, beautifully calligraphed into the background, hardly sounds early 19th-century at all:

LARGE OCTOPUS: All eight limbs to intertwine with!! How do you like it this way? Ah, look! The inside has swollen, moistened by the warm waters of lust. “Nura nura doku doku doku…”

MAIDEN: Yes, it tingles now; soon there will be no sensation at all left in my hips. Ooooooh! Boundaries and borders gone! I’ve vanished….!!!!!!

SMALL OCTOPUS: After daddy finishes, I too want to rub and rub my suckers at the ridge of your furry place until you disappear and then I’ll suck some more. “chyu chyu…”

I share all of this with you in part just because it entertains me, but mostly by way of proving the original point: that you almost certainly know someone who is really into some erotic fetish or other. They’ve been with us since the beginning of written history, in every culture that had one.

It’s a good thing to remember, especially if you do accidentally find out (and I won’t ask how) about someone’s, ah, extracurricular activities. As odd as things may seem, you probably shouldn’t alter your perception of him/her/whatever all that much. Apart from a few truly pathological people whose problems go well beyond their sexual interests (and likely aren’t all that related to them), most people’s personalities aren’t determined by what they do in bed.

So accept the historical and sociological reality that we live in a wide, freaky world of kink. The internet has opened a lot of doors, and a lot of people are realizing that they’re not alone for the first time — but they never were, and they never will be, as long as some clever monkey is still trying to figure out what else he can stick his banana into.

Step 2: A Little Discretion, Please

The flip side of this “everyone does it” coin is that everyone does wildly different things. That’s rather the point.

That means that you have both a right to enjoy your inflatable balloon sex play and a corresponding responsibility to keep it tactfully discreet for those of us that prefer other flavors.

Put it this way: if we’ve just tonight met at a party and I already know that you like visiting “dungeons” in your spare time, you’re over-sharing. You have other things to talk about, or else you’re defining way too much of who you are by your sexual interests. Get a hobby or something.

Variety is good. Awareness of the variety that’s out there is no bad thing. Indulging in your own personal variety in public — being led around on a leash as you go barhopping, making casual conversations all about who’s taking the “dominant” or “submissive” roles in talking, etc. — is going beyond universal tolerance and becoming an invasion of other people’s personal tastes and spaces with your own. Reel it in a little.

Otherwise you might do something famous, and three hundred years from now we’ll still be reading your letters and trying to figure out just what it was about your cousin’s ass that you liked so much.

Live and let kink, eh?


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