From the category archives:

News

The NYT had an interesting article this week that focused not just on the rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, but how the sport ties into the modern culture of manhood:

But in the faces of Mr. Ettari and the 16 friends with whom he had traveled to Atlantic City — including his identical twin, Anthony — one could read the significance of M.M.A. itself. To this generation, who came of age alongside the notorious sport, mixed martial arts has come to represent everything that boxing once did to their fathers and grandfathers: the ultimate measure of manhood, endurance and guts.

“Boxing isn’t the biggest, baddest sport on the block anymore, and it hasn’t been for years,” said Jim Genia, 41, the author of “Raw Combat, the Underground World of Mixed Martial Arts.” Today, he said, M.M.A. is “the one sporting endeavor that encapsulates what it means to be a warrior.”

The author traces some of the interest in MMA to the film Fight Club:

For many parents, their young sons’ near-obsessive attraction to mixed martial arts is puzzling, to say the least. Some pinpoint its origins to the David Fincher film “Fight Club,” a movie that, in the 13 years since its release, has had a cultural resonance far beyond its modest box office numbers.

Jan Redford of Squamish, British Columbia, said that her son, Sam, now 20, became fixated on mixed martial arts when he was 15, partly as a result of that film and the following it generated among his peers.

“They had a fight club at his high school,” said Ms. Redford, who ultimately allowed her son to train in hopes of channeling his aggression. “They’d punch each other as hard as they could and not be able to show pain.”

While some parents like Ms. Redford are “horrified” by the sport, other parents see it as a healthy outlet for their sons. MMA-themed birthday parties have even become popular apparently.

And the popularity of MMA cuts across lines:

The fascination with the sport has even seeped into the walls of academia. Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, said that many of his male students wanted to write papers about mixed martial arts. And they are not always the students you would expect.

“People who don’t know these sports very well think their fans must be these kind of crazed, people-on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown, violent kind of thing,” he said. But the students he sees who are most interested in the sport “tend to have really good grade-point averages and be really fine students,” he said. “This is not something that smart young people look down their noses at.”

He agreed that the impact of “Fight Club” could not be discounted; it became a manifesto for a generation of boys who felt estranged from their masculinity. “It became this kind of magnum opus, and it described a certain culture of this kind of sport,” Professor Thompson said. “This was their thing, and they defined themselves accordingly.”

What do you think of the popularity of MMA? Do you think it relates to modern manhood? And if so, is it a good sign or a bad sign of its state?

Read the whole article: “The Fight Club Generation” (@NYT)

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Lynn D. “Buck” Compton was a first lieutenant in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, the group known these days as the “Band of Brothers.” He earned the Purple Heart and Silver Star. After the war, Compton became a prosecutor and judge in California.

If you want to learn more about Buck Compton’s life, I recommend checking out his biography, Call of Duty: My Life Before, During and After the Band of Brothers. It’s great window into a different time and a man of a different breed.

Read the obituary: “Lynn D. ‘Buck’ Compton Dies at 90; Judge Also Known for WWII Service” (LA Times)

Hat tip to Ronald S. for this link.

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The seriously funny and virile American Mustache Institute is lobbying Congress to extend a $250 tax refund for all mustached Americans. The Stimulus to Allow Critical Hair Expense Act, or ‘STACHE Act, was inspired by a white paper written by John Yeutter, an associate professor of accounting and tax policy at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

In his paper, Yeutter links mustache growth and maintenance to social and environmental benefits and a boost in the grower’s incremental income. Because the costs of mustache maintenance contribute to the economy, Yeutter argues, those expenses should be tax deductible. The tax deduction will hopefully encourage men to grow mustaches.

AMI Chairman Aaron Perlut is petitioning Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota (also the only Congressman to sport facial hair) to sponsor the bill.

To raise awareness of their efforts, AMI is organizing a Million Mustache March from the Capitol to the White House on April 1. For every Million Mustache March participant, AMI’s sponsorship partner, H&R Block, will make contributions to Millions From One–which delivers clean drinking water to those who cannot obtain it themselves. The march and bill are designed to raise-mustache awareness and money for charity, all with a good time in mind and with tongue partly in cheek, which is how AMI rolls.

You can find out more info about the STACHE Act and the Million Mustache March at the American Mustache Institute’s official website, and in this article from ABC News.

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My father-in-law recently sent along a link to this fascinating story from a few months back.

The famous Steve McQueen movie, The Great Escape, was based on the true story of the daring escape attempt made by prisoners of the Stalag Luft III POW camp during WWII. In real life, the men dug three tunnels–nicknamed Tom, Dick, and Harry, 30 feet under the camp in an attempt to break out. The tunnels were made with homemade tools and crafty ingeniousness. The men would put the excavated sand in bags they hung around their necks and under their trousers and then pull a string to open the bags and release the dirt nonchalantly when they played soccer.

It was the 100 ft long Harry tunnel that became the stuff of legend on the night of March 24, 1944, when 76 Allied prisoners escaped from the camp. But only 3 of the escapees made it to freedom. The rest were rounded up; 23 were brought back to camp, and 50 were executed by the Germans.

The Germans thought the mass execution would crush any further thoughts of escape, but instead, the men got right back to work on a fourth tunnel named George. The tunnel, which was just recently discovered nearly 70 years after it was built, was not an escape tunnel but instead led to a German stash of arms–the men planned to grab the guns and then fight their way out.

Frank Stone, camp survivor, 89

The team that uncovered the George tunnel was greatly impressed by its construction and what they found inside it:

Down a single step lay the tunnel itself, intricately shored with bed boards, wired for light and equipped with the trademark trolley system used to shift both sand and men quickly and silently through the tunnels. It looked like a miniature railway with trolleys running on tracks linked by rope and pulled along by men at either end.

‘George turned out to be an absolute gem,’ explained Dr Pollard. ‘We found the shaft and excavated the tunnel which ran the entire length of the theatre. It was incredibly well preserved, with timber-lined walls, electrical wiring and homemade junction boxes, and was tall enough to walk through at a stoop. The craftsmanship is phenomenal. You can even see the groove on the top of the manhole cover, where it would swivel and slot into the floorboard above.

…The massive collection of artefacts found inside the tunnel included trenching tools; a fat-burning lamp crafted from a Klim tin; solder made from the silver foil of cigarette packets for the wiring system; a belt buckle and briefcase handle from the escapers’ fake uniforms as well as a German gun near hut 104.  They also uncovered the axle and wheels from one of the tunnel trolleys, identical to the one used in Harry, and the remains of an air pump; a kind of hand-operated bellows which drew fresh air from the surface down a duct to the tunnel.

But the piece de resistance was a clandestine PoW radio crafted from a biscuit box and cannibalised from two radios smuggled into the camp.

Says camp survivor Frank Stone, 89 : “I hope that what has been revealed will remind everybody what we went through and how we met the challenges. It was a privilege to be involved.”

Read the whole article (lots more interesting facts!) (@MailOnline)

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Image credit Sonja Windhager, Katrin Schaefer

You’ve probably heard about the correlation in men and boys between testosterone exposure before birth and the relative length between their index and ring finger. Basically, if your index finger is shorter than your ring finger, it means you were exposed to more testosterone in the womb, and if your index finger is longer than your ring finger, than it means you were exposed to less.

Researchers have recently discovered that testosterone exposure in the womb also affects the facial features of boys. Boys with high exposure to prenatal testosterone typically have “manlier” faces consisting of a more prominent jaw line and smaller eyes; boys with lower exposure to prenatal testosterone will have smaller chins and larger foreheads, giving them what researchers call a more “childlike and feminine face.”

Just an interesting fyi.

Read the whole story at Live Science.

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I thought this NYT article from awhile back was a good tie-in with yesterday’s article on roughhousing.

The article details the way in which “dangerous” playground equipment–high monkey bars, tall jungle gyms, seesaws, merry-go-rounds, tire swings, etc have been removed from many of America’s playgrounds. They have disappeared because of parental fears of injury, and most of all, cities’ fear of litigation. But without this kind of equipment, kids miss out on risk-taking opportunities that help their cognitive and behavioral development:

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway. “I think monkey bars and tall slides are great. As playgrounds become more and more boring, these are some of the few features that still can give children thrilling experiences with heights and high speed.”

After observing children on playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, Dr. Sandseter identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough-and-tumble play (like wrestling), and wandering alone away from adult supervision. The most common is climbing heights.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Sometimes, of course, their mastery fails, and falls are the common form of playground injury. But these rarely cause permanent damage, either physically or emotionally. While some psychologists — and many parents — have worried that a child who suffered a bad fall would develop a fear of heights, studies have shown the opposite pattern: A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.

By gradually exposing themselves to more and more dangers on the playground, children are using the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and a fellow psychologist, Leif Kennair, of the Norwegian University for Science and Technology.

“Risky play mirrors effective cognitive behavioral therapy of anxiety,” they write in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, concluding that this “anti-phobic effect” helps explain the evolution of children’s fondness for thrill-seeking. While a youthful zest for exploring heights might not seem adaptive — why would natural selection favor children who risk death before they have a chance to reproduce? — the dangers seemed to be outweighed by the benefits of conquering fear and developing a sense of mastery.

“Paradoxically,” the psychologists write, “we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”

Read the whole article: “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” (NYT)

 

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There’s been a lot of debate going on this week about the behavior of the men–both the crew and the passengers–of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship.

Part of the controversy concerns the behavior of the ship’s captain, one Francesco Schettino. Schettino not only wrecked the ship by going too close to the island of Giglio in order to salute an old colleague on shore and show off his boat, he also abandoned his ship instead of being the last one off, as has traditionally been considered the duty of a captain. Amazingly, Schettino has excused his behavior by saying that he didn’t mean to abandon the ship, but that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat and couldn’t get out! Reportedly, when the Italian Coast Guard ordered him back to the ship, he refused to go.

Rich Lowry of The National Review contrasts Schettino’s behavior with that of the captain of the Titanic:

A century ago this spring, as the Titanic entered its death throes and all its lifeboats had been launched, Capt. Edward Smith told his crew: “Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Now it’s every man for himself.” One witness recalled seeing him, probably washed overboard, clutching a child in the water as the Titanic disappeared. A member of the crew always believed it was Captain Smith’s voice he heard from the water after the Titanic was gone, urging him and others on: “Good boys! Good lads!”

But the main point of Lowry’s column is to criticize not just the captain, but all of the male passengers, who trampled over the practice of allowing women and children to get to safety first:

An Australian mother and her young daughter have described being pushed aside by hysterical men as they tried to board lifeboats. If the men of the Titanic had lived to read such a thing, they would have recoiled in shame. The Titanic’s crew surely would have thought the hysterics deserved to be shot on sight — and would have volunteered to perform the service.

Women and children were given priority in theory, but not necessarily in practice. The Australian mother said of the scene, “We just couldn’t believe it — especially the men, they were worse than the women.” Another woman passenger agreed, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats.” Yet another, a grandmother, complained, “I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls.”

Guys aboard the Costa Concordia apparently made sure the age of chivalry was good and dead by pushing it over and trampling on it in their heedless rush for the exits. The grounded cruise ship has its heroes, of course, just as the Titanic had its cowards. But the discipline of the Titanic’s crew and the self-enforced chivalric ethic that prevailed among its men largely trumped the natural urge toward panicked self-preservation.

Because of this chivalrous ethic, more men from first class died on the Titanic than women from third class.

Lowry argues that the abandonment of this tradition signifies a degradation of manliness:

The Titanic went down, they say, to the strains of the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” as the band courageously played on. It lent a final grace note to the tragedy. Today, we don’t do grace notes. We’ve gone from “Women and children, first,” to “Dude, where’s my lifeboat?” As the women of the Costa Concordia can testify, that’s a long way down.

Meanwhile, over at Slate.com, Brian Palmer has given us a bit of history about the tradition of saving women and children first (a fuller history of this practice would make a good Man Knowledge article on AoM, methinks):

In her book Women and Children First: 19th-Century Sea Narratives and American Identity, English professor Robin Miskolcze chronicled the origins of our maritime evacuation priorities. Until the second half of the 18th century, it was widely believed in England and America that God decided who would survive a shipwreck, so no one criticized men for climbing over whoever stood between them and safety. However, as Enlightenment thinkers began to emphasize human agency, and women came to be viewed as the holy protectors of the family, news reports grew critical of men who survived shipwrecks that killed female passengers.

Three disasters solidified the principle of women and children first in Britain and America. When the HMS Birkenhead went down in 1852, the soldiers reportedly stood at attention while the women and children were loaded into life boats. The overwhelming majority of the men died in an act that contemporary writers called “a piece of pure and exalted manhood.” Two years later, there was a mad scramble on the decks of the American ship SS Arctic as it foundered near Newfoundland. The press branded the male survivors cowards for failing to save even a single woman or child. American morality was redeemed in 1857, when the crew and male passengers of the SS Central America loaded women and children onto lifeboats at the expense of their own lives. Media reports glorified the gold-rush men who sacrificed their new wealth and their lives in a final act of chivalry. The image of captain William Lewis Herndon calmly smoking a cigar as he went down with his ship became a symbol of American seagoing bravery.

In both articles there is a lot of debate going on in the comments between those who think the lack of duty and chivalry shown by the captain and the passengers evidence our societal decline and the unfortunate results of the blurring of gender roles, and those who argue that if women wish to be treated equally in all other areas of life, then these shows of special treatment should be abandoned as well. One commenter on The National Review article posted this poem which was written by Clark McAdams after the Titanic sunk, showing that this debate is nothing new:

“Votes for women!”
Was the cry,
Reaching upward to the Sky.
Crashing glass
And flashing eye-
“Votes for Women!”
Was the cry.
“Boats for women!”
Was the Cry.
When the brave
Were come to die.
When the end
Was drawing nigh-
“Boats for women!”
Was the cry.

So what say you?

Read more:

Dude, Where’s My Lifeboat?” (@National Review)

Abandoning Ship: An Etiquette Guide” (@Slate)

Hat tip to Daniel K. and Mary R. for these links.

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Reading about last week’s accident in which the Costa Concordia ran aground near the island of Giglio really reminded me of why every man should be able to save his own life. In an article in the NYT, passengers of the cruise ship describe a Titanic-esque and “chaotic and terrifying scene in which some crawled through hallways to escape down perilous ladders to lifeboats, while others leapt overboard into the wintry Tyrrhenian Sea.” Crew members did not know how to lead the evacuation and those manning the lifeboats were un-trained waiters, not experienced helmsmen. They kept banging the boats into the sinking cruise ship and rowing in circles. On at least one boat, a passenger had to shove aside the poorly prepared helsman to take the lead himself. Many of the passengers made it to shore by swimming; the island was close in this case, but it could have easily been very far away or out of reach all together.

Creek Stewart, who runs Willow Haven Outdoor, has a good motto: “It’s not IF, but WHEN.” Sometime in your life you’re going to need the survival skills and the strength to make it out of a pinch (possibly a life threatening one). Every man should be prepared.

Read more:

Every Man Should Be Able to Save His Own Life

As Divers Search Cruise Ship, Reason for Crash Is Unclear (NYT)

 

 

 

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People can argue about whether or not manliness is on the decline, but one thing we can say for sure: the thing that makes men, men is shrinking.

The Y chromosome is shedding genetic material and getting smaller. Scientists are not sure why, or what will become of the Y chromosome. It is possible that it will disappear altogether, as it has in some species of rodents. This does not mean men will become extinct, however. DNA scientists believe the genes responsible for male development would be moved and replaced by “a switch that determines maleness.”

Read more: “Who Knows Y Chromosome Is Shrinking” (@The Age)

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Tomorrow (Dec. 20) is the last day before Christmas to order a signed copy of Manvotionals. I’ll be making my last trip to the post office on Wednesday. If you live in the U.S., you’ll get your book by Christmas Eve.

Books are $14. We can customize the inscription however you want. Just make a note of it in your order.

Shipping is done through U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail for $4.95. If you order more than two books, shipping gets bumped up to $10. Just click on the link below to complete the order. All major credit cards are accepted.

Buy a Signed Copy of Manvotionals!

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