Who Lives Like This?

And what is the matter with them?

Two broken people get together, spend $72 on liquor, $3 on food, talk about meaningless things, have meaningless sex, and act shocked when their emotions are shredded like a cheap tissue. And then, she totals up her expenses for this evening of self-abuse passing as sexual liberation:

Date night:
$37, bottle of vodka that was used in flask
$35, beers
$3, pizza
$6, condoms

Morning after:
$1, apple I gave him so he wouldn’t be hungry
$50, plan B
$20, lost cemetery tour ticket
$3, egg and cheese sandwich
$2, artisanal ginger ale
$12.49, box of oxyclean for blood stains
$8, laundry
$25, dinner with best friend to analyze why he wasn’t calling
$12, book he recommended that I was now curious about
$2, box of tissues to cry about his disappearance
$10, pregnancy test
$50, STD test

Total cost: $276.49, my dignity, my optimism

Blood stains? STD test? Abortifacients? Oh ho-hum and ha-ha just another night in the life of the Girls-watching heirs of Sex and the City.

And WTF is “artisanal ginger ale”?

Even young, I didn’t act like this. More than drugs, more than war, more than economic turmoil, and certainly more than religion, the most destructive force of the last 100 years was the sexual revolution. Severing sex from love and marriage and procreation, commodifying it, and changing it primarily (rather than incidentally) to a recreational activity has destroyed the family, damaged our psyches, and killed our spirit. This sad little bleat is just one snapshot out of billions of moments and incidents and lives that make up a ruined and fallen world.

We can’t keep doing it. Human dignity demands more, and only L’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle can ever provide the answer.

Was There Work Before The Fall of Man?

In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII makes the following observation about work:

As regards bodily labor, even had man never fallen from the state of innocence, he would not have remained wholly idle; but that which would then have been his free choice and his delight became afterwards compulsory, and the painful expiation for his disobedience.

Leo’s theology of capital and labor is rooted the dignity and necessity of labor and the obligations of both labor and capital. A rousing defense of private property rights, it also addresses the problems that arise when private property is concentrated in the hands of either capital or state. Rerum Novarum thus becomes the rallying cry for a middle way between socialism and capitalism that calls for the rights of the individual to both the means and produce of their own labor. From this simple premise we get Distributism, in which the person–not the corporation or the government–is at the center of an understanding of work.

The mechanism for this subtle and lofty understanding of work is not economic theory, which places the monetary cart before the human horse, but theology. Economic systems do not reason from the individual but from the mass. The mass–be it state or corporation or the vox pop–is not created in the image and likeness of God. Man is. The individual is. And so we must reason with God in understanding all things, including work.

Leo reasons to human things from divine, finding in Genesis the key to understanding the place of labor in human life:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Labor is not the punishment of the fall: the toil of unwanted and difficult labor is the curse. It is the difficulty of labor that is our punishment: the conversion of labor from choice to necessity. The labor which, in paradise, was chosen freely to uplift idle man, is now required to scratch bare survival from the cursed ground by the sweat of our face.

Adam was not idle before the fall. He named the animals and, we must assume, tended the garden, as gardeners do today: with love and praise for the opportunity to care for the Father’s creation.

The ground is cursed by being less fruitful than that of the garden, in order that man shall spend his time in labor in order to survive. This is a medicinal punishment, for idle man is easily tempted, and good work uplifts.

If we can understand this original order of labor, perhaps we may recapture some of what was lost. In whichever “garden” our choices and our situation finds us–factory, office, or beyond–we have to seek the joy in it. Frequently, that seems almost impossible.

I’ve been a carpet cleaner (it’s much harder than you think), janitor, lawn boy, TV/film production manager, and technical editor. Finding joy in cleaning someone else’s filth is a hard thing to do, but you know what? We did it. There was almost a grim humor in the face of grinding, ugly work. Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs discovered the same thing: people doing nasty work often are happy, well-adjusted people. Rowe suggests this is because they find a sense of accomplishment from their work:

…it has to do with the sense of completing a task. So many “good” jobs these days don’t give you a sense of closure. For a lot of people in office work, the desk looks the same at 6 p.m. as it did at 6 a.m. How do you know when you are done? People I work with — hey, they got a dead deer in the road. They do their work and it’s gone. You got a ditch to put in. In the morning, it’s not there. In the evening, it is. People with dirty jobs live in a world of constant feedback. For better or worse, they always know how they’re doing. That matters.

Individual joy is a state of mind, but it’s certainly dependent upon the state of the body and its situation. Sometimes joy isn’t an option in the world as it is, which is why as people get further from contentment and satisfaction, they find themselves closer to God. God is very near to those who struggle, and those who sweat for their daily bread. He knows they fight with this cursed land. Lacking plenty, God does not leave them hungry, but fills them with His love. By keeping God at the center of both life and work, we not only honor God, but we help repair the sin that separates us from Him.

We may be able to find our solution to the problem of joy in labor in the correlating punishment of the fall: the curse related to sex. The twin punishments for Adam and Eve are that labor, once intended for uplifting man, is now needed merely to sustain him; and that sex, once the re-unification in pleasure and delight of physically divided husband and wife, is now subjected to disorder and lust.

Good things retain their goodness, but man in his fallen state loses sight of that goodness. We struggle against lust, and we struggle in labor. Our current economic systems aggravate the issue, because the individual child of God too easily is pulled between twin forces of exploitation: government and capital. All three–labor, state, and capital–have obligations to each other, yet we see the two strong (state and capital) exploiting the weak (the individual) for their own purposes of power and greed. How can one find dignity in this situation, when the very means of our survival on earth are left up to the whims of foolish and sinful men?

I wish I had a good answer for that. It’s hard to find the light of joy while grinding out 12 hour shifts for a bad boss, but I do know the person who keeps his or her eyes on God even in the worst situations will never go wrong.

We bring God with us everywhere we go. We are the imago dei, and no individual is better than another, whether he’s flying in the Walmart corporate jet, or stocking the Walmart shelves. Our dignity is God-given, and the love of the Father is with us always. If we can let some of that love come through into the workplace, we may not make the evil boss or the low-wage job any better, but we can find joy in the only real source of authentic joy. And maybe a bit of that grace will come through and make the workplace a little better for everyone.

Man labored in the garden, and it was good. It was good because man is not made to be idle, but to create and produce. In this way, he emulates God, Whose labor sanctified the six days as much as His rest sanctified the seventh.

France Votes to Ban Child Pageants

From “High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Pageants” (Susan Anderson)

Yes, famously libertine France has more common sense than America. These disgusting pedophilia pageants are just a slick, packaged form of child abuse orchestrated by narcissistic parents.

One of the more striking things about pageants is the predominance of flamboyantly homosexual men among the judges and advisers, dressing up little boys and girls like dolls and giving them extremely risque dances to perform. Very creepy. A healthy society doesn’t sexualize children.

France has decided that enough is enough:

Parliament in France has moved to ban child beauty pageants on the grounds that they promote the “hyper-sexualisation” of minors.

The Senate adopted the bill by 196 votes to 146 on Tuesday evening. It must now be passed by the National Assembly, before becoming law.

Organisers of such pageants may face a jail term of up to two years and a fine of 30,000 euros (£25,000; $40,000).

The measure was prompted by a row over a photo shoot in Vogue magazine.

The photos published in December 2010 showed a girl of 10 with two others, all three in heavy make-up and wearing tight dresses, high heels and expensive jewellery.

Vogue defended the pictures, saying they merely portrayed a common fantasy among young girls – to dress like their mother.

Parliament heard a report entitled Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight For Equality, which called for the ban on beauty competitions for the under-16s. It also recommended other measures, not included in the bill, including a ban on child-size adult clothing such as padded bras and high-heeled shoes.

“Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance,” said the author of the report, former Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno.

Could such a ban pass here? I have my doubts due to our freedom to assemble, but certainly public events can be regulated. We don’t even let dog shows occur without some level of oversight.

 

A Quick Reply to Dr. Peters About the Scouts

My thanks to Ed Peters for the link and comment to my post about the Boy Scouts lifting the ban on openly gay scouts. Dr. Peters had this to say about what I wrote:

Update, 29 May 2013: But for one sentence, I basically agree with Tom McDonald’s take on the Boy Scout matter. The one sentence that stands out–nay leaps out–but is completely unsupported by everything else McDonald wrote, is this: “The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground.” Huh? How? Where? Please point to where the BSA did anything such thing.

Anyway, pace that lone line, the rest of McDonald’s essay, imo, reads well and usefully.

I can see where that’s confusing, because I shifted to talking about process when I’d been talking about the policy itself, so let me clarify.

I don’t believe the BSA really needed to address the issue at all. The standing policy was largely effective for over a century, and the issue was only forced by the grotesque political and social theater of the activists and their obsession with the sex lives of children. If not for the addition of two powerful executives–Randall Stephenson and James Turley–to the BSA board, the issue would have simply been left as is, with councils making common sense decisions on individual cases.

Several contrived instances of scouts being dismissed for sexuality, however, were whipped into a media frenzy in order to force the hand of the BSA. Nothing substantial is different about the content of a Scout’s moral being  in 2013 than it was 1910. We adapt to the accidents of modern life in certain ways, but the Forms (if you will) of boyhood and manhood should remain constant. That was the whole point of Scouting: to the shape the boy with timeless values.

The BSA allowed itself to be forced into action, and their efforts in reaching a compromise have been fumbling and often disturbing. Early proposals suggested that they were willing to abandon the ban on adult leaders as long as it was limited to the local level. Considering that the BSA had once said they’d hold the line on admission of openly gay Scouts and adult leaders, this was a pretty major concession of core Scout values. When they now claim they’ll “hold the line” on gay leaders, can we really believe them any more? They already indicated it was a one possible solution to the issue.

Let that sink in a little: the organization that argued the Dale case all the way to the Supreme Court (and won) was debating a local concession on the issue at the heart of that case.

The BSA conceded on a point they once (rightly) said they didn’t need to address. Social, legal, internal, financial, and political pressure forced them to address it. That’s what I meant by “conceding the moral high ground.” I think the policy is in keeping with Catholic teaching and the values of scouting. However, I think the process of reaching this policy tainted the Scouts, and puts a crack in the edifice through which other compromises may, in time, force themselves.

Pressure them enough (this episodes suggests) and the Scouts will concede. Their concession, in this case, took a form that was compatible with their values and ours. Will the next one? As Bishop Guglielmone told me: “The leadership of the BSA has made it very clear that they intend to hold the line on adult leaders, but they also said they would hold the line on this issue, so where this could go, I don’t know.”

Instagram, Vine, and Porn: What Parents Should Know

This post contains mature images that have been obscured, but may still offend some readers.

As Vine, Twitter’s new 6-second-video sharing service is swept up and spun around by the inevitable pornado, it’s worth looking at how Instagram handled a similar issue, and where they’ve failed.

Social networks and porn don’t mix well. For a social network to click with the mainstream, people need to be sure of a few things: safety, privacy, minimal advertising, and freedom from objectionable images and content. Facebook, for example, has a strict no-nudity policy. If they become overzealous with their banhammer at times, people should remember they’re trying to strike a tricky balance between freedom of expression and a smut-free, unobjectionable environment.

Twitter has far fewer limitations than Facebook, and you can find porn there without muchtrouble. Thus, it should have surprised no one when Vine became a hub for 6-second clips featuring nudity and graphic sex. Vine is making some headway against it, but the simple fact is that they will never completely succeed.

Instagram–recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion–fought similar problems for a long time. It’s hard not to see their recent, relative success reining in porn as an effort to keep Facebook happy.

For those unfamiliar with the service, Instagram allows people to quickly and easily share photos from mobile devices. Users can apply various hipster filters to make the photos look more stylish (usually by wrecking the contrast), add a caption, include a hashtag like #mycutechicken, and send them off into the aether. Other users can like the photos and make comments on them.

I set up a personal Instagram account in the early days of the service, but never really used it much, nor did I go looking for porn, even for research purposes. (More recently, I set up a public account, for those of you fascinated with pictures of chickens and coffee mugs.) I still don’t really like it all that much, since it repeats things done just fine by Twitter and Facebook, but I can see its appeal in a visually-oriented culture. Nude or sexually explicit images are banned by Instagram’s EULA, but for a long time hashtags like #sex, #porn, #nude, and myriad variations on the theme were common. If you searched for one of those tags, you got porn.

The service is very popular: not Facebook-popular, but big enough. Instagram reports 90 million monthly active users, 40 million photos per day, 8500 likes per second, and 1000 comments per second. They suffered a reversal of fortune when a change in policy claimed rights to photos shared on the service; but a public backlash and a sharp dip in user numbers caused them to back down, for now. Nonetheless, daily users of the service plummeted by 50%, from about 16 million per day down to 8 million. Those numbers will rebound, but exactly how much is an open question.

The thing that surprised me is how many parents feel comfortable letting kids use the service. As I said, it’s becoming safer, but it’s still not safe, and it’s not a place where kids should be hanging out. Instagram accounts are only allowed for people age 13 or up, but many, many far younger children are using it in violation of the policy.

There are no parental locks or protections for the flow of pictures on Instragram, which limits parents to an honor policy in which a child using Instagram 1) has a private, not a public, account; 2) only accepts “followers” who are known to the parent, and 3) never, ever searches for hashtags or browses around in the public photo stream. I’ve found no way to lock out searches, which means a kid can punch in a hashtag search and find himself in a photographic wild west without the parent ever knowing.

Instagram searches no longer return hits on obviously sexual words, but explicit images can pop up anywhere and display on a child’s screen before Instagram has a chance to delete them. This post is illustrated by screen caps I took in ten minutes of Instagram searching, and shows the juxtaposition of kids and risque pictures.

One thing parents probably don’t know is that explicit content can be given any tag. You can find a man revealing his wedding tackle in a picture tagged #teddybearpicnic. Instagram will probably find and delete the picture, eventually, but is that really something you want to risk? And for what? So kids can share pictures of each other making duck faces?

One of the high-traffic hashtags is #Kik, which is the name of a messaging service for mobile devices.

First off, if you’re a parent and you have kids using Kik, you’ve done something extremely silly, and need to stop it now. Kik is free of content restrictions, and is a jammed full of pedophiles and pervs. If you want your kid propositioned for naked photos, by all means, let them have a Kik account.

Kik and Instagram have evolved a kind of symbiotic relationship, with people promoting their Kik handles on Instagram and vice versa. If you want to see some of the problems with Instagram, spend 10 minutes refreshing the #Kik search. In the middle of the day it was giving me about 10 new pics a second, and some porn crept past the censors before Instagram finally managed to delete it.

As you can see from the screen caps, there were still pics that didn’t violate the nudity/sex policy but which no parent wants a kid to see. There are clearly personal photos of sexual stalkers and perverts, and they are right next to photos of sweet little girls, all in the same photo stream.

Do you want your child to see pictures of and from any of these millions of strangers every day? Would you let these strangers bring their pictures into your home?

Oh, and one more super huge problem: geotagging and location services. It’s very, very easy to accidentally tag a photo with a precise location, such as the home of the child who took it. Let that sink in for a minute: if your daughter shares a picture of herself without knowing that the geotagging is on, anyone looking at that stream could know where you live. There are apps and sites that can aggregate this info into a kind of stalker map.

So, what’s the verdict on Instagram? It’s gotten safer and more smut-free since the Instaporn flood of last fall, but it’s not out of the woods. It needs stricter controls and better parental locks, but even then, what you have will not be wholly safe, and the benefits for kids are little to none.

If you give in because “all the other kids are doing it,” then you’ve bought a grand old line of BS that’s been responsible for bad parental decisions for generations. Because, you know, everyone uses that line. At one point, no kids were using it, but little by little, this mob psychology takes over and affects a change in parental behavior. I’ve spent an entire career in the media observing the same phenomena, particularly with games, and this is no different.

Kids need to stay away from the search features

If you still intend to let your kid use Instagram, there are some things to minimize the risk:

  • A child’s account must be private.
  • People must be known to you to be approved.
  • Kids cannot add friends without permission.
  • They cannot search for photos or use hashtags.
  • And it is imperative that the location tagging is turned off.

As for Vine, it may never be safe, because smut peddlers can embed a single frame of porn in a six-second clip, making it much easier to slide past the censors. Twitter is a long way from getting a handle on the problem, and if you want evidence, here’s what I found in my first 30 seconds of using the service. Note that the tags includes #pets, #magic, and #howto, meaning the person who posted is looking to snare people who want non-pornographic content.

 

Courage Ministry Draws Fire at University

Well, maybe “fire” is the wrong word. It’s more like a slight irritating warmth, like the kind you get from a rash.

This story floated to the top of my News360 feed this morning like curdled cream. Canadian cub reporter Marco Chown Oved seems to have been buttonholed by a screeching hysteric named Stuart Graham and made a story out of–get this–a faithful Catholic ministry setting up shop in a Catholic Church. Shocka!

Graham is “a former liturgical minister and lector,” Chown Oved tells us, and no, I don’t know what that means. (I don’t like the phrase “liturgical minister” at all, but if we’re going to use it, wouldn’t lector be a subset of it, not a separate thing?) At the request of some parishioners, Courage–a support ministry for people struggling with same-sex attraction–came to St. Thomas Aquinas, the church of the Newman Center at the University of Toronto. Courage was created as a response to sham groups like Dignity, which pretended to be a Catholic ministry for homosexuals, but was in fact nothing more than a miserable group of malcontents and schismatics agitating to change 2000 years of Catholic sexual teaching.

Here’s what Graham says and Oved quotes without clarification:

“[Courage] indoctrinates . . . praying yourself straight.”

That’s a good old fashioned lie, Stu, and you know it. Courage has five goals, right there on the website that Stu visited with such horror:

  • To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. ( Chastity )
  • To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. (Prayer and Dedication)
  • To foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone. (Fellowship)
  • To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life; and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining these friendships. (Support)
  • To live lives that may serve as good examples to others. (Good Example/Role Model)

Courage is actually the opposite of a “pray away the gay” ministry, since they make no claims to be able to change orientation, only to help people live their lives. In this way, and in their adaptation of 12-step language, they are like AA. See, not everyone suffering from same-sex attraction thinks it’s the bees knees. Some have chosen to walk a more challenging path.

Stu again:

“They’re telling young people who are confused and frightened that they’re damned.”

Another lie, and bad theology to boot from a “liturgical minister.” Courage is a support group, not Westboro Baptist, and Catholic understanding of the four last things is considerably more complex than Stu’s cartoon vision. Homosexual inclination is no more a sin than alcoholism, and the Church implores us to treat those struggling with temptation with charity, dignity, compassion, and love, not to say, “Sin, and sin boldly!” (The other guy said that.)

But wait! It gets dumber!

“I’m shocked we’re dealing with this in 2013.”

Dealing with what, Stu? Temptation? Sin? Immorality? Sexuality? Weakness? Human frailty? Help me out here. Is it that you found your particular sin, decided you really dug it, and expected time would make it not sin, but virtue? Cool trick. I have a few cherished sins myself. Since it’s 2013, can we just have them stricken from the books in the interest of making me feel better?

“The root of this group is not honourable. It indoctrinates false information… You just have to look into the fine print of the web site.”

He puts a lot of emphasis on the “fine print” (which must be written in code, because I couldn’t find it) of Courage, but none whatsoever in the giant house-sized letters comprising the clear and unchanging (and unchangeable) teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality.

It reminds me of what WC Fields said when someone once caught him reading a Bible: “I’m just lookin’ for loopholes.”

Stu wasn’t finished, however:

“Within 15 minutes [of visiting the Courage website], I started hyperventilating…. Courage tells people they’re defective.”

Oh, Stu: you were hyperventilating before you even typed “www” into your browser. You sound like a guy who’s been hyperventilating since he was 14. Maybe you should just take one deep cleansing breath and get over yourself, come to grips with the teaching of a faith you pretend to observe, and either work out your salvation in fear and trembling, or leave.

Stu chose Door #2: he packed up his rainbow sash and headed for the hills. No doubt he’ll find one of those inclusive parishes that tells him it’s just fine to indulge a particular sin as long as society gives you the green light. I’m expecting a parish with an inclusive attitude toward chronic onanism to sprout up any day now. (Maybe they should skip the sign of peace, if you know what I mean.)

A more balanced account of the nontroversy is found in the Catholic Register, where Courage International director Fr. Paul Check is quoted saying: “Why is a group that wants to meet quietly and is committed to the virtue of chastity, which is a virtue for all Christians according to their state in life, why would that be controversial?… If someone objects to the Courage group per se then logically speaking they are rejecting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.”

I kind of imagine Fr. Check saying, “Like, duh” at the end of that sentence, but that’s just me.

Stu estimates that 50 people have left the parish, which means the actual number is probably about ten and, really, they hated waking up early on Sunday anyway, and were just looking for an excuse.

Sexting is Stupid, But Is It Criminal?

So here’s the story, far as I can make out. A 13 year old Pennsylvania girl texts a topless photo of herself to her 14 year old boyfriend. The boyfriend (in what must have been a titanic exhibition of self-control for a teenage boy) deletes the photo, but the girl’s mother finds the original on the girl’s phone and then …

… and then I get a little fuzzy, because somehow prosecutors get involved.

The mother, it turns out, had reported the photo to the police, and rather than saying, “Well, ma’am, I’m sorry you raised a tart without the morals or common sense the good Lord gave a groundhog, but what do you expect the duly appointed authorities of the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office to do about it?” they rushed over to the high-school (this despite the fact that the incident occurred off school grounds, over a weekend), seized the boy’s phone (which contained no photos that were in violation of any statutes), and charged him and the girl.

See, under new and tougher Pennsylvania laws aimed at curbing sexting, this may well be a crime. In taking a picture of herself, the girl became a child pornographer. In receiving it, the boy became complicit in the action. God help him if he’d saved it, and if he’d forwarded it to anyone, he would have been in even bigger trouble.

The incident took place in the town of Greensburg, location of a notorious 2008 sexting incident in which six teens were charged for sexting. The girls (ages 14 and 15) were charged with “manufacturing, disseminating or possessing child pornography,” and the boys (16 and 17 years old) with possession.

Let me be very clear: sexting is dumb, reckless, and irresponsible. No one with even a shred of a scintilla of understanding about technology would ever do it. People think technology is predictable, but technology is just a tool and it’s no more predictable than the person who uses it. And when that person is a hormonally engorged teenager in the moral wasteland that is modern society, that technology is a runaway train.

That is why good parenting is essential where technology is concerned. Careful discussions about phones, computers, game systems, and the internet (all of which are privileges  not rights, even if “everyone else has one”) need to involve the proper use of those devices, the limits and boundaries, the moral context, and the violations that will mean their temporary or permanent loss. This involves routine inspections of any device, surrendering all passwords to any social media or email account, and time limits for their use. It also involves, for teenagers of dating age, discussions about issues like sexting.

You may not believe you actually need to say, “Never take or send a nude picture of yourself” to your child. Say it anyway.

If you’ve failed so utterly at being a parent that your 13 year old would think nothing of photographing her own nude body and broadcasting it into the aether, then you can always just scare the living hell out of them with any number of horror stories about sexting gone wrong. But having it end up in the courtroom with a criminal case, a ruined reputation, legal fees, and strangers gazing at the very picture (now protected and saved as “evidence”) you never wanted anyone to see?

That’s madness. This is something for parents, priests, and counselors to deal with. It’s something for hard discipline and family discussions. It’s not something for the courts, and I (reluctantly) find myself siding with the ACLU in their opposition to this case, not on dubious free speech grounds, but one common sense grounds that’s its a personal and moral–not a civil or legal–matter.

Because by the time the girl took that picture and sent it, the mistakes had already been made, and they were the mistakes of the parents. The proper response to learning your daughter had sent a nude photo of herself? Contact they boy’s parents and gather everyone to discuss what happened to the picture, if it was seen by anyone else, and if was forwarded to anyone. Act like adults and explain why this was deeply wrong and irresponsible.

And then you introduce both of them to a fine old piece of Roman technology: concrete. Place both phones on the sidewalk, lift a cinder block to about 5 feet, and drop. Then tell them they can replace them in four years.

The Sexual Excesses of Modern Civilization

Okay, so that title is total click-bait, but there’s a real story behind it. If you want some good inadvertent comedy (and tragedy as well), check out this article in Atlantic Magazine, and marvel at the Stan Laurel-style head-scratching of a liberal academic elite trying to make sense of facts that demolish their carefully manufactured view of human sexuality.

A couple of anthropologists–Barry and Bonnie Hewlett–studied the Aka and Ngandu people of central Africa for years before getting a sense that they approached sex differently than … well, differently than married anthropologists, I guess. They had campfire discussions in which men spoke of having sexual intercourse several times in a single evening. Being western anthropologists, they immediately assumed this was an African version of Jersey Shore in which men naturally exaggerated their monogamous sexual practices for no apparent reason.

But when they talked to the women, it turned out that, yes, couples did copulate several times in a single evening, and that this was done in order to have children.

I know! Crazy-talk, right? As enlightened Westerners, we know sex has nothing to do with children at all. Babies are just a punishment meted out by a capricious biological processes.

Of course the Aka and Ngandu also had sex for pleasure, but in a place with such extremely high infant mortality, children were not seen as an unfortunate byproduct. They were seen as essential.

And then the Hewletts learned the ugly truth at the heart of these primitive peoples:

[they] found that homosexuality and masturbation appeared to be foreign to both groups

Is the strong cultural focus on sex as a reproductive tool the reason masturbation and homosexual practices seem to be virtually unknown among the Aka and Ngandu? That isn’t clear. But the Hewletts did find that their informants — whom they knew well from years of field work — “were not aware of these practices, did not have terms for them,” and, in the case of the Aka, had a hard time even understanding about what the researchers were asking when they asked about homosexual behaviors.

The Ngandu “were familiar with the concept” of homosexual behavior, “but no word existed for it and they said they did not know of any such relationships in or around the village. Men who had traveled to the capital, Bangui, said it existed in the city and was called ‘PD’ (French for par derriere or from behind).”

Given all this, the Hewletts conclude, “Homosexuality and masturbation are rare or nonexistent [in these two cultures], not because they are frowned upon or punished, but because they are not part of the cultural models of sexuality in either ethnic group.”

Quelle horreur! You mean homosexuality and masturbation are culturally conditioned? That’s unpossible!

Except, it’s not all that unheard of. Other anthropologists have come across cultures without any real understanding of disordered sexual practices, which are largely rooted in psychological and sociological, not physiological, causes. The article attempts to wave the magic wand of genetics at the problem, reassuring their panicking readership that, indeed, genetics can explain this, because SCIENCE! Their genetic mutterings are fairly vague, but from what I can tell, they’re suggesting that if there is a genetic component to homosexuality (“and there is increasing evidence that [there is], in many cases,” they say soothingly), it makes perfect sense that isolated tribes would not have this genetic component.

Because homosexuality has never been found in genetically separated cultures? Try again.

Are they suggesting that there’s a Mitochondrial Gay Eve to match Mitochondrial Eve, and all gay people trace their lineage back to her? How, where, when, and why did this genetic gay component enter the human family tree? Aren’t evolutionists always telling us that we’re nothing but chains of reproduction stretching back to single cells, with all behavior oriented towards passing on the best possible genes? If that’s the case, how does the “gay gene” fit in? It serves no purpose. In fact, it’s functionally sterile, and thus if it existed, wouldn’t it have vanished long ago as an evolutionary dead end? Am I missing something here?

The Hewletts correctly observe the three components of human sexuality: desire, behavior, and identity. They appear to believe that the desire element is universal and hard-wired, but that culture affects behavior and identity. There’s something to be said for this in developed civilizations. Certainly, the whole idea of someone being homosexual (behavior) is barely more than a hundred years old and the idea of claiming membership in a gay sub-culture (identity) is even more recent, while the idea of homosexual activity (desire) is quite ancient.

Where they–and much of modern social science–goes awry is in seating desire purely in biology. It may in fact originate there in some cases. Certainly, we find young children with gender identity disorders that cannot have come from cultural conditioning. At some point we’ll identify exactly what goes wrong in fetal development to produce GID, and maybe then we’ll find a more humane solution than the chemical and surgical butchery we’re practicing now to turn men and and women into non-men and non-women.

But insisting on a biological element in all (or even most) instances of same sex attraction is just junk science. Desire is a mysterious thing, and we can’t rule out some real biological component to sexual disorders, but moving from that to the “born gay” routine is just politically motivated nonsense looking to reaffirm people in their okayness.

The Hewletts believe it’s possible that same-sex desire exists in Aka and Ngandu men, but the lack of any social acceptance or understanding keeps it repressed. To their credit, they are cautious about this claim, and admit there is no proof for it.

The lack of masturbation actually shocked them more than the lack of homosexuality. Homosexual activity requires not only having the desire, but identifying and communicating that desire to someone who shares it, a proposition that is somewhat fraught in certain cultures, to say the least.

Masturbation, however, is a party of one. They find it unfathomable that any people who enjoy the pleasures of sex can fail to treat their genitals as a self-contained recreational unit.

Mired in their Western, modernist, post-moral biases, they fail to see a people who have a frank and practical understanding of sex as rooted, quite simply, in babies and bonding between people of the opposite gender. That’s what sex is. Everything else is simply a misuse of sex. It may be a vastly entertaining misuse of sex, but people trying to eek out a simple existence can be forgiven for not reducing all of life’s experiences to self-amusement and self-gratification.

My favorite part of the whole story, however, comes at the end:

Studies of small-scale, rural, non-Western cultures like the Aka and Ngandu paint a more complicated picture of human variation. The Hewletts remark that, “the Western cultural emphasis on recreational sex has … led some researchers to suggest that human sexuality is similar to bonobo apes because they have frequent non-reproductive sex, engage in sex throughout the female cycle, and use sex to reduce social tensions.” But, the Hewletts suggest, “The bonobo view may apply to Euro-Americans (plural), but from an Aka or Ngandu viewpoint, sex is linked to reproduction and building a family.” Where sex is work, sex may just work differently.

I can’t think of a more perfect summary of the Enlightenment and all the modernist movements that evolved in its wake. The efforts of the intellectual elite for the past 200+ years has been to reduce us all to bonobo apes. In fact, the Western view of recreational sex has been imposed on people who were once very traditionally moral.

And when our civilization falls, and we’re all reduced to subsistence living, the Aka and Ngandu–along with any traditionally religious people who haven’t been hunted to their deaths–can teach the survivors the true purpose of life and sexuality.

h/t: Kathy Schiffer

The State of Games

As I mentioned last week, late summer tends to be The Busy Season in long-lead media, since we’re working on our Christmas issues, which traditionally are larger. Ours contains our annual game awards and buyer’s guide. so I’ve been deep in the gaming world for a while now, looking at the whole range of mobile, video, and computer games and trying to find the little diamonds worth noting. This means that I face the same problem that any Catholic media critic faces: I’m exposed to a pretty steady stream of culture-rot. It doesn’t bother me, but it’s important to step back and look at just what’s being pumped into the culture by this important new medium.

Honestly, most of it isn’t that bad, as long as you look at things in context and understand that games are not just for kids. Once a game gets an M-Rating, it’s usually pretty safe to assume it has the same content as an R-rated movie, and usually a “hard” R, often well on its way to an NC-17. There is an “AO” (“Adults Only) rating beyond the M, but like the old X-rating, it’s never used because stores won’t carry the games. For more details, you can refer to my primers on understanding modern video games: “Videogames and the Family” and “Choosing the Rights Games For Your Kids.”

Not much has changed since I posted those a few months ago. There’s a tendency to push the content envelope, not always in a good way. This year, The Darkness II was one of the most obscene, excessive, and casually blasphemous things I’ve ever seen.  It was also brilliantly designed, well scripted, and even touching at moments. The Call of Duty series remains hugely popular among gamers both young old, but it’s become unnecessarily violent for a military shooter that was once teen-friendly. Games like Max Payne 3 show how extremely mature content can be handled in a creative way, but you just have to remember: not for kids. Parents need to get that through their heads. If you won’t sit your 14-year-old down in front of the latest Quentin Tarantino movie, then he shouldn’t be spending a whole lot of time on Modern Warfare 3.

In The Darkness II, you can kill enemies using a hell-spawned imp, who then urinates on his victims.

Parents need to keep in mind that this is a medium, just like TV and movies. It’s for everyone, with the same diversity of content. It’s the same as TV, which goes from Sesame Street to The Walking Dead, or film, which goes from Brave to Ingloureous Basterds.  The new generation of Gens-Ys and Millennials don’t see this as kids stuff. They were raised on games and often prefer them to television. TV, after all is, passive. Games are interactive.  (Except for Doctor Who, my teenage son doesn’t watch any TV at all: his entertainment is games.) Plus, the most popular games usually have a strong multiplayer element, meaning they’re social as well.

The creative aspect of gaming is still in it’s DW Griffith phase. We have yet to find our Orson Welles. But we will, and the format right now is populated by the same range of creative approaches that characterize movies: big studio projects for a mass audience, B-listers, small art house items, wholesome family entertainment, plucky independents, and weird and wonderful individual visions. It’s all out there, but like every other thing you let in your house, you need to be a discriminating consumer.

State of the Industry

Video and computer games are not in a happy place right now. Once thought to be recession-proof, the videogame industry has been rocked by plummeting sales over the past year. The numbers have been terrible since the beginning of the year, with sales off by about 25% from 2011. Compared to the same months in 2011, January 2012 saw a 37% drop, February: 24%, March: 26%, and so on, straight down the line.

When you add in aging hardware systems, aggressive competition from mobile platforms, a creativity deficit that’s causing developers to coast along on the successes of aging franchises, and a simple shortage of interesting titles, and you have bleak picture.

This will not be a permanent thing, but it’s pointless to blow sunshine at a point when the news is quite bleak. With the entire gaming landscape undergoing a radical shift into unknown territory, 2012 could best be characterizing as a lull between what was and what might be.

Here are some of the big issues of the last year.

Mobile

Apps are still going strong, and even gaining strength due to the ever-expanding installed base of mobile and tablet users. The big news has been the aggressive entry of big companies like EA into the microtransaction world of “free” mobile gaming, which is netting huge profits and causing a seismic shift in the way they do business.

Amazing Alex (iOS/Android) challenges you to solve increasingly complex puzzles by making Rube Goldberg devices

On the flipside, all of this seems to be accompanied by a bit of a creative lull from developers. Up until this year game-makers were hitting wildly innovative designs out of the park on a regular basis, with small, quirky, wonderful little games creating new forms of entertainment we’d never before imaged. Now mobile, too, has settled into a comfy niche of big franchises (Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Where’s the Water, Temple Run) and fremium games. We’re simply not seeing the same outpouring of creativity we did in the beginning, which is probably to be expected with a new format.

Mobile remains the most family-friendly platform for content, with very few games even rising to the equivalent of a “Teen” rating.  The most popular titles are puzzle-type games and social games. The puzzlers don’t have any content issues at all. As for the social game, just remember that it’s possible for kids to inadvertently connect to total strangers in some games. Most publishers limit the interactions so that no real problems arise, but it’s always a good idea to check out just what they’re doing. Draw Something is a cute little version of Pictionary, in which people draw clues to words. Unfortunately, some people (particularly in the PC version) must think every word can be guessed by drawing a giant penis. So … caveat emptor.

“Free” to Play

The mobile gaming world is thriving thanks to another new passion of the big publishers: free to play. Once thought to be the last stage in the life of online games no one wanted to pay for any more, free to play is being considered one possible savior of PC gaming. I covered this in more depth last week.

The Future of Consoles

All eyes are on Nintendo as they roll out their new Wii U, which we covered last month and which includes an innovative new tablet controller. Nintendo is getting most of the blame for the steep drop in game sales. Just like subprime mortgages and inflated real-estate prices created a housing bubble, so did the “Wii-effect” of drawing non-gamers into the gaming world create a “Wii bubble.” Wii scaled such heights that it had a longer way to fall, and when new and interesting titles started to slow, the resulting 50% sales drop dragged the entire industry down with it. Wii made a lot of new gamers, but they weren’t really in it for the long haul.

Nintendo’s new handheld also failed to build a strong US audience, proving that mobile handsets have permanently realigned the handheld gaming landscape, and not in Nintendo’s favor. Despite putting out a decent piece of hardware and some truly exceptional games, Nintendo just isn’t offering a compelling reason to own the 3DS.

Thus, everyone is holding their breath and waiting to see what the Wii U does. Can it repeat the success of the Wii? Since a rising tiding lifts all boats, the hope is that a Wii U success could kick off an industry-wide sales surge and set the stage for new consoles from Microsoft and Sony in the upcoming years. We should know by January.

Is EA Sports Trying to Exploit the Penn State/Sandusky Story?

I’m still on vacation, but I wanted to share the kind of things that fill up the inbox of your average videogame reviewer.

Yesterday, while I was bobbing around in a boat, drinking my beer and minding my own bidness, the PR company for EA Sports sent me a press release headlined “Play as the Penn State Nittany Lions in EA SPORTS NCAA Football 13 – Available Today.”

Last year's NCAA videogame included this unfortunate name for a Penn State game

NCAA Football is the most respected football videogame on the market, and it has always let you play as Penn State.

So, why the headline-grabbing press release, with the text saying “Fans can lead Penn State to a BCS National Championship in a game featuring the deepest college football experience available,” complete with pointers to the screen shots showing Penn State in the game?

Well that’s simple: to piggyback on the current news of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. As the press release populates throughout the web, people searching for information on child predator Jerry Sandusky will churn up links related to the game, and lazy reporters looking for something new to flesh out their word counts may even add a tag at the end of their Sandusky stories mentioning Penn State being in EA’s game, as though it was something novel. It gets the game extra ink, such as this very post!

Marketing-wise, you can’t fault the logic. Not-being-slimy-wise, you’d think a company like EA might refrain from exploiting a tragedy to sell a few extra copies of a game.