The Truth About (Some) Men

That self-appointed voice of masculinity, AskMen.com, has released it’s annual “Great Male Survey” for the year. “Great” is their adjective, not mine. With over 100,000 responses, the survey proclaims to “shed serious light on how the modern man thinks and behaves — professionally, romantically and in his downtime – in 2010”. But nobody seems to be questioning the actual survey itself.

It’s filled with “great”, although often trivial, insights into the AskMen.com readership. For example, I found it particularly interesting that presumably, the modern man in 2010 is 100% straight.  The questions were all loaded with a clear heterosexual bias, like “Would you dump a girlfriend if she became fat?” (54% are shallow bastards). There were some questions that left the door open to everyone, such as “Of the choices listed below, which one thing would you change about your partner?” (57% were either single or wouldn’t change anything). Now I understand AskMen.com may think only stereotypical heterosexual neanderthals with beer, breasts and football obsessions surf their site, but how would they know? The point of a survey is to ask questions, not make assumptions. And gay men might have some interesting thoughts on the “Do you believe in the institution of marriage?” question (67% of survey respondents do and the rest don’t or don’t want to be married).

Putting aside the hetro slant, I was surprised at how the survey was reported in the media. There seemed to be some very alarming results that were completely ignored, while trivial responses were reported everywhere.

Forty-nine percent of men said that if there were no repercussions, they would happily punch a colleague in the face. Forty-nine per cent! I couldn’t find any news report that mentioned that. Nearly half of men want to get violent on a coworker, and that’s not important? Nobody’s asking if we have aggression issues, or what’s happening in our workplaces to get us riled up?

Given the stereotypical obsession men have with sex, it’s surprising how uncomfortable we are about it. Forty-two percent of respondents haven’t told their partners any of their sexual fantasies, and 45% have only discussed some of them. Similarly, one in two men are uncomfortable having their genitals examined by a doctor. That’s during an appointment, I should add – I’m sure most people would be uncomfortable if a doctor came up to them on the street and asked to examine their bits.

The survey shows that only 16% of men are logical and rational people, since 84% believe in either aliens, angels, ghosts or vampires. I’m not making this up! 52% of men seriously believe Aliens exist, but 17% think angels are more likely. I suppose this isn’t really all that surprising, if you remember back in April I wrote that 49% of Americans believe that have had a ‘mystical or religious experience’. When I also consider the success of scams such as PowerBalance bracelets, I find myself wondering what happened to people’s critical thinking skills? Do we now just believe whatever we see on television?

I realise, of course, that AskMen.com is a Lowest Common Denominator type of trash site – the online equivalent of Zoo Magazine or FHM. But when you brag about being “approved” by internationally recognised statistics company Ipsos, I expect the questions to be phrased without bias or loading. I also expect that the media, when covering a survey with over 100,000 respondents, to draw attention to serious or worrying results. But then, maybe I’m wrong and the public does need to know that every second man wishes he was James Bond.

Some Food Tax Funnies

I posted the other day about moves to introduce taxes on junk food and soft drink, and it stirred up an interesting and thought-provoking discussion in the comments. But it was getting a little heavy, so I thought I’d introduce some levity on the subject from two comedic acts I very highly admire: Penn & Teller, and Jon Stewart.

I’ll start off with  a clip from a recent episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! This clip is not safe for work, and contains some fairly strong language!

The full episode is available on YouTube.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart also gave their take on the issue here.

I hope that added some levity and perspective on the debate. 🙂

Don’t Tax Our Drinks

It’s a debate that’s been a part of political discussion since the Magna Carta in 1217. A debate about the role of government in our everyday lives – how much say, if any, the government has over our individual rights and liberties. Essentially, it’s Big Government vs Limited Government. Most people would agree there needs to be some form of government: there needs to be rules (laws) to stop people stealing each other’s stuff and being bastards. But above that, there’s an awful lot of debate.

Libertarians like The Cato Institute, or conservatives like the US Republican Party and the Australian Liberal Party advocate for a small, limited government. It is not up to government, they say, to intrude upon how we as individuals run our lives. That notion is anathema to the Free Market principles they champion. As a result, they almost invariably call for low taxation: after all, it’s our money to do with as we please, not the government’s.

The opposing view, taken by progressives like the Australian Labour Party and the US Democratic Party, is that government can do some things better than individuals or private enterprise. That there are some things a government has to do, to provide for citizens who cannot afford it: public education, health and transport for example. These are all expensive services, so advocates of bigger government are usually calling for higher taxes to pay for them.

I should at this point make clear I am speaking principally about fiscal policy, not social policy. Politicians of all sides of the spectrum tend to be only too happy to dictate moral choices, such as abortion or same-sex marriage.

But this, like most debates of political position, is a shallow debate. To break the government of an entire country down to two schools of thought is simplistic and unworkable. Not everything in politics is Big Government vs Small Government, or Left Wing vs Right Wing. Labor or Liberal. It’s not one or the other, because we don’t live in a binary world. We need some Big Government ideas, such as a minimum level safety blanket: healthcare, housing, food. But need room for entrepreneurialism, capitalistic incentive and free markets. As with most things, it’s a matter of balance. And it’s a debate which needs to be applied on an individual case-by-case basis.

Take, for example, the debate taking place right now in the US and other countries about taxes on fast food and soft drink. Thirty-three US States have a ‘soda tax’ aimed and curbing the consumption of high-sugar drinks, and a number of lobby groups are campaigning for taxes on high-fat foods such as pizzas and burgers. The taxes are designed to reduced the level of obesity and related health effects. That’s the Big Government view: individuals need help But it’s not up to the government to decide what we, as citizens, should eat. That’s an individual choice, a decision we can make for ourselves.

Aside from animal-welfare or environmental concerns – which are an altogether different debate – if I eat a burger, the only person I’m possibly doing harm to is myself. Nobody else suffers from my eating habits. To tax junk food, therefore, serves only two purposes: to dissuade people from eating it, or to raise money. If it’s to raise money, it’s a sneaky, nasty way to do it that opens the door to other taxes and levies on our lifestyle. If it’s to manipulate our eating habits, it’s an affront to the ideals of liberty and personal choice.

Similarly, in today’s The Age, health experts are calling for a tax on “energy drinks” – drinks laden with sugar and caffeine and various other stimulants. On the surface of it, this is the same sort of debate as the junk food or soda tax: we can decide for ourselves if we want to drink them or not. The problem in this case, however, comes from the increased health risks from high-caffeine drinks – especially to teenagers. And teenagers, with less developed frontal lobes (responsible for forethought and impulse control) are less equipped to make considered judgement calls on how much is too much. But how high would the tax have to be, to deter teenagers? Dramatically high, I think. So much so that you wouldn’t just be inconveniencing teenagers, but sensible adults as well. Perhaps a restriction on sale to under-18s should be looked at.

As with most things in life, moderation is key. We do not need a Big Brother government that will dictate what we can and can’t eat or drink. But we need some form of regulation to look after those whom the free market fails, and we need better education and critical thinking skills to enable people to make smart, informed choices.

Boobs cause Earthquakes, Abortions cause Oil Spills?

I don’t know how she does it, but Jen McCreight always seems to find the wackiest of the wack-jobs, the nuttiest of the nut-jobs. You might remember her as the unwitting instigator and spokesperson for Boobquake, where she proved that wearing “immodest” clothing doesn’t actually cause earthquakes. Because that was the theory being suggested by Iranian Friday Prayer Leader Kazem Seddiqi: that “women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray … which increases earthquakes”. And last week she found another moron, but this time from the good ole’ USA: preacher Joseph Herrin.

In his latest abomination blog post, Herrin manages to link hurricanes with Old Testament bible stories before claiming that the BP Horizon oil spill happened because Louisiana is “peppered” with abortion clinics. At least I think that’s what he says. I only got about half way through before my eyes began to bleed. It never ceases to amaze me how stupid people can be. But Herrin’s post wasn’t just random ramblings of a nutter – he had “evidence” to back up his “theories”. Take this image, for example, which shows Hurricane Ike shortly before it hit land in September 2008. Clearly, obviously, Hurricane Ike represents birth:

Surprisingly, though, this is the only photo that has this, erm, “resemblance”. It’s amazing that none of the other 217,000 Google Images results don’t feature a fetus-shaped hurricane.

Sigh. This is the sort of irresponsible, stupid and senseless crap that doesn’t just drive people away from religion, it corrupts the minds of those who believe it. But Jospeh Herrin’s over-active imagination has, thankfully, done one good thing. He has reminded me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: join the Australian Skeptics and the James Randi Educational Foundation. JREF and Australian Skeptics are non-profit organisations that aim to promote skepticism and critical thinking, so that people don’t start believing hurricanes look like fetuses. In fact JREF has a US$1,000,000 prize (donated by Rick Adams, founder of the first ever internet service provider) on offer to the first person who can provide objective proof of the paranormal.

James Randi, founder of the JREF, started out as a magician, but when he retired at 60 he started investigating paranormal, occult and supernatural claims. He’s become the poster child for skeptics, atheists, scientists and freethinkers. And he’ll be speaking in Sydney in November at the Amazing Meeting, a conference with a number of very very interesting speakers. I’ve decided I’m going to go up and attend, especially since Julian Morrow (co-founder of the Chaser) and  Dr Karl Kruszelnicki will be speaking there, as well as a bunch of other very smart people.
So thankyou, Joseph Herrin, for being so stupid you reminded me to support smart people.

When Social Media Stops You Getting a Job

Is your online life putting your job – or potential future jobs – in jeopardy? Social commentator Mia Freedman wrote on her blog last week how she used Facebook and Twitter accounts to help sift through potential new employees. Having sorted through the pile of resumes and leaving five possible candidates, she looked online and quickly wrote off three of them.

“One had a constant stream of Facebook updates bitching indiscreetly about her current job. Another evidently spent much of her time getting drunk and a third had some very strident views I disagreed with. Stridently.” – Mia Freedman

Her post sparked a lot of debate in the comments, with the majority of people seemingly alarmed or appalled at her actions. Someone called N/L said: “I don’t think I would be happy to be working for someone who thinks it is appropriate to snoop into my private life before interviewing me,” and OhEmGee said “There is this thing called a life OUTSIDE of work. It is my OWN time. If I knew that I could be working for someone who felt that it is ok to use Facebook as a tool to determine the person I am…well I probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.” I found those sorts of comments fascinating. Why should people insist that publicly available information be kept out of the selection process?
The more information an employer has about job-seekers, the better they are able to decide if the person will be a good fit in their organisation. Surely that’s obvious? If you’re doing something in your private life that makes you unsuited to a job then perhaps you should either stop doing it, or get a different job. The claim that “it is my OWN time” and therefore has no bearing on your job suitability seems naive to me. What you do in your own time is a reflection of your personality. And much as we’d like to believe that jobs are always awarded based on merit we have to be aware that personality plays a huge part in our work lives. Particularly in a small business, where an individual can have a dramatic influence on the culture of the workplace.
As I’ve said before, I’m a very open person. The only part of my Facebook account that is private are my status updates and posts, which is largely in case I update my status from Work and The Boss wonders why I’m not working. And I’m perfectly happy with my current employers (many of whom are “Friends” on Facebook) or potential new employers looking around my public profile. In fact the most incriminating thing on my Facebook profile is probably that I’m bisexual, I don’t like Andrew Bolt very much and I watch a lot of TV. And I don’t really want to work for any employer who has a problem with that. I’m a person, not a collection of qualifications. Anyone who employs me gets the whole package, not just my skill set.
What do you think? Should people get jobs based solely on their merit and qualifications? Or is there room for personality as well? Do you lock your social media profiles so potential employers can’t see them?

Mystical Experiences are a Load of Crap!

49% of Americans need a strong dose Wake The Fuck Up. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans say they have had a religious or mystical experience. And by that, we’re talking a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening”.

Really?

Come on. Unless you’ve had a near death experience, discovered a plague of locusts in your living room or seen a bush on the side of the road spontaneously combust, you haven’t had a mystical experience. What you have had, probably, is a straightforward epiphany. You suddenly realised something that your subconcious had been working on for a while. Either that, or you had a piece of toast with a burn mark vaguely resembling one of the Bee Gees.

Why do so many people have a malfunctioning Bullshit Detector? The Pew survey notes that 30% of these ‘experiences’ occured among people not affiliated with any religion. So what mystical events were they experiencing? Seeing ghosts? I call shenanigans on that crap. They were either tripping, or they’re making it up to try and sound cool.

I ain’t buying it.

Anyone here had a ‘religious or mystical’ experience?

Why are we so scared of nudity?

Early last week, tabloid newspapers were given a late Christmas present. Nothing makes a tabloid happier than naked photos of an unwilling B-Grade celeb. So when Womens Day obtained a photo of bikini model Lara Bingle in the shower, it was like receiving a giant smut-cake on a silver platter. And that grubby photo was milked for every penny possible, speculating on who took the photo (AFL wanker Brendon Fevola), who gave the photo to the Womens Day (former Channel 7 journo Dylan Howard) and most commonly: how Lara felt about it all.

Lara is so distressed by the photo she is suing Fevola on shaky legal grounds. Actual distress, or opportunistic money-making, I wonder?

Now to be clear – I’m not saying this issue has come about from Lara looking to make money. It could very well be that she is surprised and hurt by the exposure. But I do get a little bit suspicious when this all emerges a week after she gets a new PR manager (and four years after the photo was taken), and I have to wonder whether a bikini model who has dozens of nude or topless photos circulating around the internet is really all that upset that people will see her boobies.

Because quite frankly, I don’t see the big deal. So Lara has breasts. Wow. That’s so… unsurprising, and uninteresting really. I mean hell, even I have breasts. If someone wants to take a photo of them they’re welcome to, although I’d have to question your taste a little. But that’s my point, really – who cares what someone looks like naked? Why should someone be embarrassed or offended by other people seeing their “private” parts?

When I asked that question of a few work colleagues, the responses were all much the same. “I have no problem with nudity,” said one co-worker, “I don’t mind if other people are nude or anything like that. But I’m not comfortable about my OWN nudity.” When questioned further as to why they’re uncomfortable, people couldn’t really give me a concrete answer. “It’s just something I think should be kept private,” some said. “I don’t know, I just don’t feel right about it,” said others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest “ickiness” feeling came from the thought of parents and family members seeing nude photos. “I wouldn’t want my Dad to feel uncomfortable, and he would be if he saw those photos” said one woman.

We are taught from an early age to hide our nakedness. We’re taught the only time we can be nude is in the bath. The only reason I can think of for this is that, over time, we’ve linked nudity with sex. And sex has a whole smorgasbord of shame and guilt associated with it (thanks for that, religion). Why else would we get so hysterical when an photographic artist makes an exhibition featuring naked children? Surely the fear is that the photos – even if not sexual in nature – are sexually objectifying our children? But the unclothed human body isn’t, in and of itself, smutty or dirty. The sexualisation of it comes from it’s actions or the imagination of the viewer. The nude body has been a subject of art for thousands of years, and many of the masterpieces on display in galleries aren’t suggestive or pornographic.

Did anyone else notice that 5,000 people can sprawl around the Sydney Opera House to pose nude for Spencer Tunick and nobody has an issue with it? But an underwear model has a shower and everyone’s in uproar? Sure, in one case the participants chose to have their photo taken and in the other case the photo was taken without consent. I realise there’s a difference there, and in fact it was one of the reasons a coworker gave for why she wouldn’t want to have a photo taken of her naked. “It’s something for me to choose to show someone,” she said. I don’t understand that though. What’s so special about it? Interestingly, the same coworker said she had body image issues, and didn’t like her body – so why is it something to show a special someone? “Honey, I love you so much I’m going to let you look at my hideous ugly body” doesn’t sound too romantic to me.

But what about privacy? Surely she has a right to privacy, people have said to me. And when they say that, I first of all point them to George Carlin’s thoughts on the concept of “rights” (ie, that you have none anyway). And then I argue that if you start down that road, you eventually end up with the right to not pay tax and the right to sleep with your cousin. It’s easy to say you have a right to something, is my point. I will say, however, that you have a right to take certain steps to protect your privacy, such as locking the bathroom door and not sleeping with footballers, for example. But as I’ve argued here before, we shouldn’t get too hung up on privacy. So much of what we do is online and publicly accessible, and that’s not really a problem. The internet – and digital cameras – have changed society dramatically in this regard, and society needs to adjust its attitude to accommodate that. There’s no shame in being naked, or having sex, or having flaws and weaknesses – all things people rush to pretend don’t happen. But they DO happen, and we need to stop being neurotic about it. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said recently “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” I try to be open and honest about all aspects of my life, because I don’t feel I have anything I should be ashamed about or need to hide. And that honesty (and the knowledge that I’m not good at lying anyway) is central to who I am and keeps me from doing things I shouldn’t. I don’t lie or cheat or steal, because – well, because it’s wrong, mainly – but also because I can’t cover that up. If I do something dodgy, someone will find out eventually and then the lying about it will end up causing more trouble. Transparency and openness are key to a better, more trustworthy and safer society.

And again, I’d like to point out that these comments do not pertain specifically to the Lara Bingle case. There’s other, bigger issues there to do with trust and consent (for a well written look at those issues, I recommend Bronwen Kiely’s post on The Drum). I simply think that as a society we need to stop being afraid of nudity, and loosen up about our own nudity.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m weird (no argument there, actually), but I simply can’t understand society’s attitude to nudity. When I see people in bathers at the beach, there’s usually very little left to the imagination. Whether they’re wearing bikinis, one-piece bathers, board shorts or budgie smugglers, it’s still all there for everyone to see.  I see that the women have breasts, that many of them remove the hair from (at least) their armpits and legs. Unless you’re wearing a burqa, people have a pretty good idea what you look like naked. Sure, they might not know the details – they might not know if you have a third nipple, or a piercing, your style of pubic hair or your ‘size’ – but they know enough to build a mental wank bank. Get over it! It’s just a body. Just bits held together by skin, nothing groundbreaking.

I’m reminded of an old joke among nudists that observes: if two men are walking down the street, and one is naked and the other wearing a black trenchcoat and carrying a machine gun, several grenades and a rocket launcher the police will get 50 phone calls about the nude guy and maybe 3 about the gun-nut. Our society loves to fear nakedness. Councils are always receiving complaints or threatening to close down nude beaches. Again this is mostly because of a perceived link between nudity and sex, which is ludicrous. If anything, it’s the opposite – the nudist community actively forbids sexual activity. Go to a nude beach and start masturbating, I guarantee you’ll get thrown out immediately. Nudists have long ago realised that the unclothed human body is only a sexual object if you make it one in your mind. Imagine someone pouring a cup of coffee. Now imagine them pouring the same cup of coffee, only this time they’re naked. Neither image was sexy or pornographic, was it? Same goes for just about everything we do in life – except things we do for sexual reasons. The naked human body simply isn’t worth the significance placed on it by today’s society. Isn’t it time we all grew up and stopped worrying for the sake of worrying?

Has anyone seen you naked when you weren’t expecting it? Were you embarrassed or upset? Why? Let us know in the comments!