The Morality of Chinese Handcuffs

The numbers are in.  Variety reports that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has set new records for the highest-grossing Presidents Day holiday opener of all time bringing in $237.7 million globally, ranking among the biggest R-rated debuts in American history. The film is hot.  Red hot.

Of course, there are those keen film-goers who will point out that FSOG is hardly groundbreaking in its taboo subject-matter. reports that there have been over 20 non-porn, major film releases, dating back to 1933, that have dealt with some kind of taboo sexual material (

What is different about FSOG, though, is just how popular it has become, how ‘out-in-the-open’ both the book and the film have been.  Most films of this type open in art house cinemas, to limited release, winding up as expensive Criterion collection DVD sets.  In contrast, Fortune magazine reports that the film is ‘bigger than Jesus’ blowing away Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. Passion grossed $83.9 million on Ash Wednesday 2004.  It too had an R-rating for its intense (and some say gratuitous and sadistic) violence.

The attention has been brewing.  CNN reported on the book version of FSOG’s wild popularity way back in 2012.  CNN says that its success was: one part good timing, another part good marketing (the covers of the books were smartly discreet) and another part content with a focus on female desire, which has been largely untapped in the mainstream.

Not everyone sees it that way.  British Parliament Member, Joy Smith, proposes a boycott of the film on the grounds that it portrays violence against women.  She says, “True BDSM whipping is only ever done for the sake of pleasure, with the whip-wielder’s focus remaining entirely on whether or not the pain is pleasurable to the receiver. For some of us, it truly can be, but that comes out of a place of mutual trust and respect. In the movie, it was him acting in anger and her willingly taking abuse out of fear and a misplaced attempt to manipulate him.”

Interestingly, the focus here is that FSOG does not depict ‘true BDSM’.  Others push this anti-FSOG momentum, though with different reasoning.  Self-proclaimed virgin and World Champion hurdler Lolo Jones, also warns against the film. According to that bastion of quality journalism, TMZ, Lolo believes sexual pleasure should not be used to ‘medicate’ against emotional pain and therefore everyone should just ‘watch another movie’.  Lolo also believes FSOG glamorizes ‘unholy sex.’  Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Super Bowl runner-up Russel Wilson thinks the movie is just great.  He also likes ‘Scarface’.

There is good and bad art.  What makes the art good or bad falls to individual taste. Controversial art seems to divide populations into more or less predictable camps.  There are the libertines who express disdain for the Puritanical viewpoint.  Then there are the moral majority types who use the art as a helpful scapegoat for one or more of society’s ills.  Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer, was heavily into pornography, the reports say, and now we get the causation that people who watch porn are clearly going to wind up on a killing spree one of these days.

Yet Dahmer also liked Star Wars.  Nobody, though, hints that we need to be wary of people who enjoy space opera.  Nobody I know has made the slightest peep about Showtime’s Dexter, a show whose hero is… wait for it… an actual serial killer.  That show ran from 2006 until 2013.  Are fans of the show destined to become serial killers as well? Seems like there would be more of a direct correlation.  Yet few called for a boycott.

The fact that FSOG has garnered so much free publicity from those trying to avoid it suggests an interesting psychology phenomenon:  that which becomes taboo becomes irresistible. There is something about creating negative energy around something that forms a fascination.  The more that fascination festers in someone’s awareness, the more tempting it becomes.  The idea of ‘religious purity‘ from the Christian faith used to castigate bits of culture tends to amplify the very thing needing to be expunged.  I liken this to Chinese handcuffs.  When you put your fingers in, the more you struggle the more difficult it becomes to escape.  Yet, if you just slowly ease your fingers out of them, they simply fall off.

Oh, and if you want an actual review of the film by someone who has seen it – I recommend the New Yorker’s.


The 20-Yard Swing

While the Patriots bask in the glory of their squeaker victory over Seattle in Super Bowl 49, there are those who think that the ‘Deflategate’ scandal was not the real crime.

While the media harped on the idea that the Pats used underinflated footballs to gain an illegal advantage over the Colts in the cold, wet AFC Championship game, casual sports fans were distracted from events that transpired the game before, against the Baltimore Ravens. features an article (linked below) that greatly deflates the extent of the deflation.  An astute observer comments on the real story:

The Illegal 20-Yard Swing in the Pats-Ravens Game

Despite the attention heaped on deflategate, the bigger scandal of the playoffs will end up having been the refs mishandling of the Patriots eligibility-aided drive against the Ravens.

Proper enforcement of the rules would have penalized the Patriots for 5 yards. Add that 5 to the 15 yard penalty that the Ravens took to call attention to the scheme and that’s a 20-yard swing on a scoring drive in a very close game.

No one, including PROFOOTBALLTALK.COM, appears to have held the refs to the standards laid out in the NFL’s 2012 POINTS OF EMPHASIS, which specifically address the situation that occurred in the Patriots-Ravens game. Everyone, including PROFOOTBALLTALK.COM, has taken the refs at their word without much scrutiny. The refs still seem confused about how to handle this situation. If they looked at the 2012 POINTS OF EMPHASIS, the answer is right there.

The cold logic here includes two points and one extrapolation.

1. FACT: It was widely reported that Shane Vereen on at least one play reported his ineligibility just before the snap on the drive.

2. FACT: Players wearing numbers that don’t qualify them for their position must report to the referee “BEFORE ENTERING THE HUDDLE.” And if a player fails to properly report his change in eligibility, “IT WILL RESULT IN A 5-YARD PENALTY FOR ILLEGAL SUBSTITUTION.”

3. EXTRAPOLATION: If the refs had thrown the flag, Harbaugh would not have gotten the unsportsmanlike conduct. That’s the 20-yard swing on a scoring drive.

Here is the portion of the 2012 points of emphasis:
The committee also reviewed the procedures for an offensive player who comes into the game wearing a number that does not qualify him for the position he takes. These players must report to the referee, before entering the huddle. The referee and umpire will then report the same to the defensive team.

This rule prevails whether a player is already in the game or is an entering substitute and whether it is a play from scrimmage, an attempted field goal, or a try after a touchdown. If a player fails to report his change in eligibility, it will result in a 5-yard penalty for illegal substitution.

Clearly no one wants to talk about this. Not the Patriots certainly, not the NFL refs (who are still confused about how to handle this issue) and not the Ravens (who in retrospect should have called a timeout.) But that doesn’t change the fact that if the refs had handled it properly, the outcome might have been different.

-nyerinbaltimore (wordpress)

Footballs Under By Less Than Thought

*It is still a mystery how anyone thinks underinflation helped the Pats. It appeared that New England would have beaten the hapless Colts if both teams were forced to use bean bags.

The Truth Is Out There

Recently, the Russians have reportedly threatened to tell the world the truth about the existence of intelligent extraterrestial life with or without U.S. support. After a previous mention similar to this, the western press reported that Russia was “only joking”. The comments to that story give an interesting perspective on our life here on Earth. Best quote:

Your idea of perspective is important.  Most of what we consider advanced technology has developed in the last fifty years, and most of our actual scientific knowledge has developed in the last hundred to hundred and fifty years. 

We still have no coherent explanation for magnetism, and our theories of gravity are full of holes.  Our idea of the extent of the “universe” stops at the speed of light, and cosmology is in a shambles that reminds me of the state of chemistry at the time of the Phlogiston Theory.  We think of ourselves as advanced but that is a pure fantasy.

Our “civilization” is a joke.  No society that has war, poverty, starvation, illiterate masses, “religions” based on unfounded belief in fairy tales, lousy health care, overpopulation, and a history of destructive abuse of its only planet can call itself civilized.

I am often reminded of a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who when asked what he thought of Western Civilization, paused, and said, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Considering what our society and our technology may be like in just another thousand years is enough to give one a better perspective.  Of course that depends on us finding a way to control the major result of our existence and “civilization” thus far – climate change.  We may cook ourselves right out of a chance for that thousand years of development.

I wouldn’t worry one tiny bit about exploitation by an advanced civilization.  We are doing that to ourselves just fine, thanks.  If any advanced group decides to intervene in any way, it would be a great gift, pulling us out of our egotistical misapprehension of being civilized or advanced in any meaningful way at all.  -JamesL (Disqus)

Five Signs That The Internet Is Not Ready For World Leaders To Joke About Alien Contact


There is a wrestling ring on a grainy, UHF channel with two large men on the small screen.  They pick each other up and slam each other down.  They bounce loudly off the mat.  They pull themselves right back up and square off again.  An announcer is describing the match in a louder-than-life voice as they hold each other’s skulls with ‘The Claw’.  Their hands are big enough to crush a cantaloupe.  They fold their legs into a ‘Figure-4 Leglock’.  This is a submission hold.  This is just as good as a shoulder-pin in winning the match. 

Other matches take place.  The referee stoops to check for a clean fight, paces around the wrestlers.   The ‘manager’ of one of the wrestlers sneaks a metal folding chair into the ring and slams the opponent in the head.  The ref is being distracted by the wrestler after an illegal choke hold and has his back turned to the chair bashing.  The other  opponent, with a newly cracked skull (so it seems), who is now ‘unconscious’ on the mat, is pinned.  He is so groggy he has difficulty leaving the ring. Yet, somehow, he stands and hobbles away into the wings and despite the booing crowd, this part of the show is over. 

This was broadcast TV circa 1979. I was ten years old.  Pro wrestling was a real sport.  It was really serious.  It was something a kid really cared about.  Clearly, there were good guys – buff, athletes who greeted the crowd with enthusiasm and charm – and bad guys – evil men who were menacing and wore black spandex.  They had dark hair and maybe an evil moustache or a mask.  It was easy to tell who to root for, who was ‘supposed’ to win.  There was colossal disappointment when the bad guys prevailed, but it happened.   This heightened the sense of real danger that really existed in this real sport.  Sometimes the good guys, despite all their obvious virtue, did lose.  It was all part of ‘The Script’ that later in life I found made pro wrestling more ‘entertainment’ than sport.  It was clumsy ballet for burly macho men.

Super Bowl 49 (let’s dispense with the ridiculous roman numerals) had that pro wrestling feel.   The brawl at the end where nobody really got punched. The gold-shoed running back who has to be seen popping Skittles. The carefully crafted back-story: the officials looking the other way as the bad guys, the evil empire from the cold North, cheat their way into the game.  The outcome: these evil doers wind up triumphant despite the valiant efforts of the good guys from the West who made magic happen with a spectacular, gravity-defying circus catch in the dying breath of the 4th Quarter. 

The contest pitted a young champion with a strong arm and quick legs against a handsome but brooding Dark Lord who jealously guards his mighty legacy. 

Yet, somehow, knowing that this game, this ‘world’ championship is more pop culture touchstone than athletic event, the hi-def large screen TV broadcast more grand entertainment than a true example of American football, that these gladiators are the centerpiece of a Romanesque spectacle – from the opening odes of American pride, the contestants leaving the coliseum due to dire injuries, to the Super Bowl snacks and half-time entertainment complete with dancing sharks that would make Sid & Marty Krofft jealous, and a dash of actual sport thrown into the 4+ hour extravaganza of commercialism  – even knowing all of this, I cannot stop feeling that on this night, at this time, the good guys were really going to win.  And they blew it.

Vanderbilt’s Dilemma

In response to a commenter in the Atlantic article (link below) that executive pay is “none of anyone’s business” other than shareholders:

None of our business? I don’t think so. In any case, shareholders have been unwilling or, likelier, unable to prevent the boys at the top of the food chain from cutting themselves larger, and larger, and increasingly ever larger checks, eating up ALL of the productivity gains that the rest of us in the American economy have made possible. It is the rest of our business when, for example, the US tax code rewards corporations for offshoring American jobs, instead of penalizing them. Or taxes capital gains at a far lower rate than income through labor. Like Vanderbilt said, “Incidentally, we may benefit mankind; but the aim is to earn a dividend.” So far, so good. But when that dividend fails to benefit the rest of us, when the earning of it actually hurts the rest of us, Mr. Vanderbilt and his latter-day apologists, like yourself, will have to deal with the natural reaction. Sorry if that hurts your feelings.

–Disqus User BigOnion (not to be confused with or associated with the famous parody website)

Young Adults Poorer Less Employed and More Diverse Than Their Parents