The Thinking 

Browsing posts from August, 2009

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Why the Image of Spineless Men is Real

August 31, 2009


In response to the previous post, Karen Wilson from England argues that men are portrayed as effeminate and spineless in Western advertising not only to ingratiate and butter up female consumers. The image is real.

Karen writes:

I think men in ads are often portrayed as weak, partly as deliberate propaganda, but partly because that is in fact what many of them are.  We may wish to deny this because it does not suit our perceptions of our culture and history.  However civilisations are built, maintained and defended by strong men and destroyed by weak men.

The Western male is often a weak species. In short there is no serious and significant group of strong males who challenge the existing status quo. There is no group of strong males who are ready and organised to start a revolution and reclaim their country. It is as though they all assume automatic poodle position.

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Conservative Feminism

August 30, 2009


Conservatives have long tried to have it both ways when it comes to feminism. They aggressively attack the silliness of women studies departments and the absurdities of feminist chic. At the same time, they happily embrace careerism in women. They secretly believe a benign feminism is possible and that they might go on lampooning radical feminism without any logical contradictions and without offending any of the working women they know, including their own wives and daughters.

But, the truth is careerism in women is inseparable from extreme feminism. It is not possible for a society to exalt two mutually exclusive models. Either it must support careerism in women, with the provision that family life be just a beautiful hobby, or it must support the devotion of women to family, home and community.

Here is a typical example of mainstream conservative feminism. In his 1996 book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert H. Bork decries the worst of feminism in academics and the military. He then attacks the devaluation by feminists of the homemaking role. He says,

“It is fine that women are taking up careers, but the price for that need not be the demoralization of women who do not choose that path.”

This statement is illogical. If it is fine that women are taking up careers, then it is fine that they are abandoning homemaking. You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Bork. Society will only respect the traditional role of women if society considers it not fine that women are taking up careers.


Men in Ads

August 30, 2009


Why do men in television commercials so often appear effeminate, incompetent or stupid? This excellent article in The Globe and Mail states the obviousAdvertisers believe portraying men as feckless is an effective strategy. It flatters women consumers who control the purse strings for most domestic purchases. One advertising executive, however, disagrees. The practice is counter-productive and offends women, who prefer to think they have some good judgment and don’t choose the male clods depicted in commercials.

Paul Nathanson, a researcher who studies misandry at McGill University, asks, “Can’t you talk to women without insulting men?”

My hunch is advertisers are not going to start portraying men as strong and admirable any time soon. The traditional family spends less frivolously.  It also probably watches less TV. I never watch television commercials and don’t understand why anyone does.

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The Virtual Male World

August 26, 2009


In the previous post on electronic games, I wrote:

Electronic entertainment is one of the few realms in which boys can still be boys. I agree with Ron on this point. And, it’s a very important consideration.

But, it shouldn’t be that way. Virtual games, at least the obsessive and exclusive playing of them, are not a good replacement for other types of aggressive play that involve physical movement and real social interaction. The boy who plays games and only plays games is in an artificial world where he is not forced to respond to real people. In sports or idle rough-housing, there is a check on the isolating aspects of male aggression. There are real people interacting with each other and a boy is forced to react to them. That’s not the same as responding to someone in an electronic game.

In truly aggressive play, the boy’s energy is used and satisfied. He is ready to turn to things that involve a different sort of mental effort and patience. A boy can be sated  by aggressive physical play. Games are addictive and a boy never realizes he has had enough until it is too late to play outside or shoot hoops. He gets easily lost in them. That explains the irritability of boys who sit for long hours at the screen and their declining performance in school.

I think games in excess are much more destructive for younger boys than for older ones. They are used by parents as a form of babysitting. Many parents rely on them almost out of necessity because of the destruction of real community in which kids can congregate outside for pick-up games and boys can  engage in mischief.

My husband strongly believes that electronic games do not relieve male agression, but cause it to build. They are no more a complete outlet for healthy masculinity than watching football games on TV. He maintains that the idea that games serve a healthy function is equivalent to saying that pornography is a useful aid to male sexuality. The virtual experience replaces and perverts the thing itself.

I would like to add that I blame the over-use of electronic entertainment on women. They use electronic games as an easy form of childcare so they can go off and do their own thing. The departure of women from the home has caused the decline in normal outdoor play.

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Boys and Electronic Games, Cont.

August 26, 2009


Ron Purewal replies to my post, Boys and Electronic Games. Ron makes a number of important points. His most interesting argument is that electronic games represent “one of the few places left in our society where boys can still unabashedly be boys”

Mr. Purewal writes:

In that post, you wrote: “Can the outward passivity that is so characteristic of the addicted gamer ever fulfill female romantic longings? Can the addicted gamer acquire the patience and temperament required by marriage and family without a painful and permanent rejection of his habit?”

There will always be a tradeoff between “the patience and temperament required by marriage and family” and “fulfill[ing] female romantic longings”, because most of the qualities of the former are detrimental to the latter, and certainly vice versa. The former can be summed up, roughly, as “stability”, while the latter can be summed up (again, very roughly) as “excitement and danger”.  although there are a handful of personal qualities that can be positive in both contexts – such as confidence – most “female romantic longings” involve impetuous, risky, aggressive, devil-may-care characters who are ill suited for any sort of stability.

Ironically, men who are easily bored, thrill-seeking, and annoyed by the inefficiencies of social interaction are much, much more likely to pique a woman’s romantic interest.  Much more likely. In short, there’s a reason why romance novels stop at the wedding day.

Second, the problem faced by the addicted gamer in adjusting to marriage is negligible compared to the problem faced by the average American woman, who for her entire life has been coddled and convinced that she can do no wrong and should have no shame, in adjusting to the same situation.  Totally negligible.

Third, under older (and, I might add, more feasible) gender roles, the man wasn’t expected to provide social chitchat and discussion of “gray areas”; he was the man of the house.  if he were the extroverted type, then that was of course a bonus, but a woman had girlfriends for a reason. In other words, the “problems” you’re citing would not even have been problems even a few decades ago, because marriage was not seen as a relationship in which the man is responsible for pushing every single one of a woman’s attention-getting (and -keeping) buttons.

The gamer’s temperament is certainly not unlike that of famous scientists and other innovators that have lived in various eras.  until the last few decades, such men have had no trouble finding and keeping wives, because they weren’t unfortunate enough to live in a culture that tells their wives to walk – and incentivizes them financially to do so – if they feel the slightest bit “unfulfilled” or “bored” in their marriage.

In any case, I see the explosion of “gamers” as a result of the hydraulic pressure of male restlessness and natural male qualities. We live in a culture that has done its best to expunge male-friendly aspects such as competition and horseplay from all parts of childhood.  most kids’ sports are now of the “everyone gets the same size trophy” variety, any sort of natural acting-out is punished out of all proportion, and boys are generally punished whenever they fail to act like good girls (even though they aren’t girls).

Our culture also teaches (upper- and upper-middle-class white and Asian) that it’s not ok to fight, to be aggressive, or, in some cases, even to be confident.  these qualities are hydraulic – if they don’t vent in one place, then they’ll vent somewhere else.  hence, the video-game addiction. Electronic games are one of the few places left in our society where boys can still unabashedly be boys. 

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Should Smart Women Sweep?

August 25, 2009


Mopping and sweeping floors goes with the territory when you are a woman at home. The broom is the universal and most primitive of kitchen appliances. No home which is truly lived-in goes a single day without need of sweeping. There is constant precipitation from above.

Sweeping has the reputation of being boring and mindless, but I can’t say that it is. I rarely think about the floors. I look at them, technically speaking. But, I am elsewhere. I think of other things.  “Laborare est orare,” said Benedict. To work is to pray. To work manually is also to think. There is some mysterious harmony between the hands and the thoughts, between a mere broom and the highest flights of the imagination.

It’s myth that women have been freed from drudgery by working outside the home. In fact, they have been further chained to drudgery. The woman who never engages physically in homemaking, or does it only in a hurry, leaves uncultivated an integral part of the self and the mind. We are not lessened by these tasks; we are made whole. Women are innately territorial. They crave to put the physical stamp of personality on their homes, which is the projection of their inner horizons. There’s nothing low or animal about this impulse. It is part of our higher nature and so too is any physical task that goes into cultivating it. It protects our separateness and our intellectual integrity.

The physical chore is not a violation of our higher nature, but in accord with it.  We can’t both want the freedom and independence of our domestic worlds and yet scorn what it takes to set them apart, to make them physically and spiritually distinct. To make our own meals, sweep our own floors and tend our own gardens is not servile. To depend on others at all times for these things is.

More importantly, sweeping is fascinating, captivating, deeply intriguing. Why try to sell it’s virtues when they so clearly speak for themselves? We are alive. As we sweep, we are alive and our minds are free. It’s impossible to fully articulate how this sense of liberty pervades our lives. The mind – even more than the body – longs to be free.






The Choristers of Summer

August 25, 2009


The fields and gardens, the empty lots and woods, even the highway median strips – all  resound with insect music here at this time of year, as if thousands of soloists, chamber groups, quartets and jazz ensembles were hidden in the bush.  Whatever evolutionary purposes it serves, there is nothing utilitarian about our pleasure in this music. Even you, dear reader, are mortal and this sweet evanescent sound is for you.

The crickets and katydids produce their songs by rubbing their wings together, a method known as “stridulation.” A file on the bottom of one wing is rubbed against a scraper on top of the other wing. Thin membranes on the wings vibrate rapidly to produce the noise we hear. If not for the wings, the sounds would not resonate anymore than the sound of a finger scraped against a comb.

The cicadas have a pair of special sound-producing organs called “tymbals,” located at the base of the abdomen. Here is a wonderful websiteSongs of Insects, that describes the process. “Inside each tymbal are stiff but flexible ribs supporting a stout membrane. Muscles attached to the ribs pull the tymbal inward, causing it to pop. The tymbal pops again when the tension is released. Rapid contractions and relaxations of the tymbal muscles create the loud, buzzing songs of the cicadas, which are amplified further by a hollow area in the abdomen.”



A Marriage Protest

August 25, 2009


The institution of marriage is undergoing it’s most profound crisis today. But, it has been subjected to lesser controversies throughout history.

Robert Dale Owen issued the following statement on the occasion of his 1832 wedding to Mary Jane Robinson, to protest the state of law by which women lost property and other legal rights upon marriage.

Of the unjust rights which in virtue of this ceremony an iniquitous law gives me over the person and property of another, I cannot legally, but I can morally, divest myself. And I hereby distinctly and emphatically declare that I consider myself, and earnestly desire to be considered by others, as utterly divested, now and during the rest of my life, of any such rights, the barbarous relics of a feudal, despotic system.




A Reader Asks About Comments

August 24, 2009


Ron writes:

I enjoy your blog, but I’m a bit surprised that comments are disabled. This surprise is multiplied when the post consists of a series of questions, whether rhetorical or not (as does your most recent post concerning gamers). Have you been getting spammed? Any other reason why comments are closed?

Laura writes:

Thank you very much for the compliment.
I prefer to take comments via e-mail at because it is more personal and I would like to encourage dialogue. I want to moderate any comments that come in so that the discussion is easier for the reader to follow. I do not shun comments from those who disagree with me provided they are civil and I do not shun small remarks or idle thoughts.

Boys and Electronic Games

August 24, 2009


B. is a boy I know who is approaching adulthood. He has spent most of his free time for the past eight years playing electronic games. He is a good person, well-behaved, decent and intelligent. But, he is easily bored. He does not engage in lengthy conversation and seems impatient with the inefficiency of social interaction. He does not like gray areas. Reading bores him and it even makes him angry. He is an addict and wants to get back to his games.

Here is my question: How will he ever find a wife? And, even if he finds a wife, how will he sustain her interest in him? Few girls share his addiction. Electronic games generally bore them to death. Most women like conversation and they like to discuss gray areas. Can the outward passivity that is so characteristic of the addicted gamer ever fulfill female romantic longings? Can the addicted gamer acquire the patience and temperament required by marriage and family without a painful and permanent rejection of his habit?


The Magic Spell of Useless Education

August 22, 2009


In a follow-up to my post The Parental Serf, I wrote:

The enormous sums spent on higher education don’t represent adoration of youth so much as adoration of institutions and a superstitious belief in their magical properties. I don’t mind selling out to the future. I do mind selling out to colleges which offer little of value that cannot be obtained for much less.

James M. writes:

Surely, the “magic spell” can only be sustained within a healthy job market? Recent college graduates know or will come to know what little they received for their parents money, and many are having trouble finding employment. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on each so that they could be taught by unintelligible immigrant TAs while playing in a richly populated hook-up hunting ground. If the economy continues its downward slide, how will a matured reflection upon these memories affect decisions made regarding the schooling of these graduates’ own children?

As a supplement to this issue, we have the mass-dismantling of vocational technology programs in high schools across America. Tradesmen are retiring much faster than they are being replaced. Everyone is getting funneled into college, and the attitude is that kids who don’t go to college are failures; they got “left behind”. Working with your hands is for lower class people who “weren’t suited” for higher education. There are hordes of College Engineering students who can’t actually make anything. White-collar husbands can’t fix a leaky faucet, change their wife’s brake pads, or make a birdhouse.

So, if there is a depression in our future, I hope that positive side-effect will be a disenchantment with unnecessary higher education and a re-invigoration of the trades.

Laura writes:

I also hope for a re-invigoration of genuine learning. I did fairly well in college but I barely learned a thing. Virtually every scrap of higher learning I possess was obtained on my own.

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Soccer Moms and Same-Sex Marriage

August 20, 2009


This winter, the legal battle against California’s ban on same-sex marriage heads to federal court and may ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court may declare government-supported traditional marriage unconstitutional, setting the stage for civil upheaval and an inevitable battle over a federal amendment. The most radical of social experiments is closing in upon us. What do America’s soccer moms think? After all, they live in a world sustained by marriage.

The sad fact is, many support it. In fact, many grow teary when talking about it, especially at the mention of the homosexuals they know. Though their homosexual friends may live with little social disapproval, deed property to one another, and even raise children, they cannot have a wedding. Weddings are beautiful and everyone deserves one. Human identity is meaningless without marriage to whomever one pleases.  

The truth is if soccer moms could peer into the future, they would be very unhappy with the results of homosexual marriage. If they could see the boys raised by pederasts; the children conceived by anonymous sperm donors who care nothing about their existence; the lesbians who look wistfully on a life spent only with women; the increased suicide rate and health problems that are associated with widespread homosexuality even in societies that endorse it; and the greater disinclination by men to enter into an institution that joins together two guys, their feelings would be affronted. They would see that feeling and compassion are on the side of traditional marriage.

So soccer moms are not really guided by emotion after all. They are guided by ideas. The ideas are not of their own making. They are in the very air around them and the soccer mom lacks the time and inclination to see them for what they are. She is a traditionalist at heart. She is a traditionalist and yet does not want to seem too backward. Perhaps she can hide her devotion to stability and normalcy. Perhaps she can hide her devotion to these by supporting innovation in the lives of others. If she can sit in a television studio and calmly watch as a prostitute gives a tour of her work place, is there any level of social experimentation that the soccer mom won’t tolerate? Is there any limit to her radical compassion?

Soccer Mom, Know thyself.  This world you approve of does not approve of you.

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Global Deadbeats

August 19, 2009


A breathless report on global poverty in today’s New York Times makes no bones about the cause: Rotten Men. There must be a “women’s crusade” to save the world. Forget about men; they’re useless and cruel. Every peasant woman in India must be transformed into a Hillary Clinton. Here are a few of the strikingly misanthropic statements in this harangue by Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn:

In the 19th Century, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

If poor families spent only as much on educating their children as they do on beer and prostitutes, there would be a breakthrough in the prospects of poor countries.

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The Parental Serf

August 19, 2009


The feudal slave who produced grain for his lord, the Communist proletariat beholden to Uncle Joe, and the medieval peasant who paid cash for the forgiveness of sins were no less free than today’s parental serf.

The parental serf does not work for his family and his independence. He works for a higher master: his children’s educations. He starts paying college tuition when his children are young, putting them in expensive programs that will boost their “preparedness.” The goal is clear and predetermined: Admission to a good college. Expensive elementary schools, more expensive extracurricular programs, private lessons – no expense is too great if it creates an edge. The serf works so hard he barely sees his children. He does not know what they are learning or why. He becomes fully indentured with the whopping bills of late adolescence, the yeomen equivalent of a thousand bushels of grain. He pulls his wagon up to the fancy financial offices and empties it out. Anything this expensive must be worth paying for, he tells himself as his mule clip-clops back home. If he can’t afford it, his children can take out loans and become indentured too.

The parental serf speaks with misty-eyed fervor of M.I.T. and Duke. He’s not sure what his children get from these schools and it has never occurred to him to question what they might get. Their massive athletic facilities and glass-enclosed science buildings convey such an air of magical permanence, he wants to be a part of it. The Egyptians must have felt the same way about their pyramids.

It must be something important. There are millions of working adults who could teach a young person what he needs to know. Communications are advanced and inexpensive. Learning is everywhere. But, people say an expensive school makes all the difference in life. In his dark hours, when he thinks of his son or daughter sitting in a crowded lecture hall with a graduate student at the front of the room, the parental serf reassures himself. He must be working so hard for more than a few slips of paper and four years of mere school.

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Feminists and Working Girls

August 18, 2009


Feminists have a long history of ambivalence about working girls. I mean, independent contractors.” It’s an issue that ties them into philosophical knots.

On the one hand, independent contractors are bad because their business involves gratification of male desire, treatment of women as objects for pleasure, and sometimes brutal physical abuse, sexual disease and even murder. They also dress in heteronormative high heels and hot pants, and wear too much lipstick. That suggests independent contractors are tools of patriarchal oppression.  

On the other hand, independent contractors stand for female empowerment. They do make money and there is nothing that warms the heart of a feminist more, or inspires her to wax more eloquently about equality and freedom, than a bit of hard cold cash. Prostitution, to the extent that it is a professional field for women, is good. That’s why feminists have openly campaigned for the legalization of independent contractors.

Generally, however, the average feminist takes a stand similar to the one displayed by Oprah yesterday in her interview with Brooke Taylor. She was alternately bemused, curious, mildly concerned, and mildly repulsed. Altogether, Oprah’s attitude was distant, as if all this was part of a world to which she would never belong. “So strange [male organs] don’t bother you?” the interviewer asked with a smile. How does Brooke go to work when she doesn’t feel like sex? Oprah appeared to think prostitutes are aroused by their clients.

In a world lit by feminist lights, prostitution is destined to become more common. That’s because the feminist, either male or female, can never muster true condemnation or even genuine concern. The idea that what a woman does with her body defines her life’s meaning and spiritual destiny is foreign to the neutered feminist mind.

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The Charmer

August 17, 2009


American journalism moved further along on its own exciting trajectory toward truth and the all-encompassing love of reality today. Oprah, the Queen of Vanity and Fantastic Female Illusions, aired a show on How Other People Live. That’s no big deal. As our Maternal Monarch puts it, we need “to see how we’re all interconnected. ” But, this was no ordinary look into an American home. This time the lead guest was an “independent contractor.”

You know, an independent contractor, just like the guy who fixes your leaky pipes or replaces your roof or does your taxes. Brooke Taylor’s professional base of operations is the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, Nevada. Brooke, wearing underwear and smiling affably, gave us an extensive tour of the facility on the show. “We’ve all been told that prostitution is wrong,” she said, but that’s because we all have “a lot of misconceptions.” Even her Dad had misconceptions and refused to speak to her for three weeks when he found out she was a working girl.  

“If the customer wants to have a drink at the bar, we’ll stop and I’ll let him get a drink,” she said, standing in the barroom. “Then we come back to my room and we discuss really what they want to do and for how long.” That’s fair. She pulled out a whip and leather straps from the drawer in her night table. “These are the ones where I can tie people up.” The soccer moms in the audience looked on with curiosity.

When Brooke, 24, defended herself to her Dad, she appealed to reason. “Hey,” she told him. “I’m a sexual being and this is what I’m doing with that side.” She’s also an economic being and this is what she is doing with that side. Before she entered this line of work, she was tragically “living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Fortunately, her mother was more enlightened. “She was very supportive right off the bat,” Brooke said. “She took it as an adventure.” And, it is an adventure. There’s even an ATM machine in the bar and a shower room with nozzles on all the walls. Not all of her clients are purely into sex. “Sometimes it’s more about the journey.”

Isn’t it cool how we’re each on our own personal journey? The point is what we learn along the way and how we grow closer to each other every moment of the day. We are all interconnected. I am a housewife. Brooke is a whore. Oprah is force of nature. The point is not our minor differences, but our MAJOR SIMILARITIES. We’re human and lovable. No matter where our life’s journeys take us.

On Oprah’s website, which includes a video of Brooke, a commenter defends Oprah’s professional degradation. “Oprah is a journalist. Like any good journalist, she is presenting the issue and all the facts. She simply showed her viewers a very controversial topic and the truth.” Truth is Oprah’s cause and the object of her journey.


                                                                                                   Brooke Taylor says she typically sees one client a day.
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College Admissions and the ‘Climate of Fear’

August 17, 2009


Is the atmosphere of fear and anxiety that pervades high schools throughout America, fear that without admission to the right college an individual’s life is doomed, one of the most effective crowd control devices ever invented?

Such is the claim of John Taylor Gatto in his new book Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling. I entirely agree with him on this point. The belief that learning depends on a college education, and that worldly success depends on it is, a myth. Many jobs today depend on the credentials acquired at colleges and universities, but the learning, especially in an age of advanced commuications, can be acquired for less. Less money, less time, less hassle and less damage to the ability to think.

Gatto was once an award-winning teacher in Manhattan. He now believes schools deliberately inculcate stupidity and passivity. They do bring one good to society: they are a successful jobs program.  He tried to discover the reasons for our profound over-schooling and concluded, “Only a darkness at work, reachable not by common experience but through historical, sociological, psychological, theological, political and philosophical research, could reveal the causes, it seemed to me.”


‘La Plage des Intellectuelles’

August 16, 2009


Wellfleet, on Cape Cod, was the favorite beach town of America’s intellectuals in the 50s ad 60s. Writers, artists, scientists, law professors, historians, psychoanalysts – many of the most prominent names took up residence in summer cottages on the dunes and held their evening cocktail parties overlooking the magnificent Atlantic. Devastating wit and incomparable learning were concentrated in one of the coast’s most pristine settings.

But, the ship of American culture was showing serious cracks. If you looked closely, it was already listing to one side. Alfred Kazin, the New York literary critic, spent his summers in Wellfleet. He wrote a moving essay about both the beauty and decadence of the place. He said of his wife of the time, who was consumed with her work as a novelist and with her love of highbrow parties, “I came to think of R. not as a wife but as a brilliant, wayward daughter, so dogged that I would never be able to help.”

Kazin’s essay “Wellfleet and the Beach of the Intellectuals” is not available online, but here is its melancholy closing:

End of summer. End of a marriage. How strange it was at the “violet” hour of the day, when the light was fading and the couples in odd corners were getting cozier by the minute – how strange it was to look out on the outermost Cape with nothing else in sight but a last fishing vessel. Somewere in that thrilling, frightening emptiness was Portugal, even Galicia in northwest Spain. How strange it was then to think that career can be the greatest passion, capable of destroying a marriage. How little, really, the intellectuals on the beach made of summer. They – all of us – used Wellfleet, that last great wilderness, in a way that cut us off from the primitive, everlasting heart of the world beating in our ears as we gabbed on the beach. 

How sad it must have been to witness the vessel of America’s elite slipping over the horizon.


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