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?


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