Friday, August 31, 2007

On the Obsolescence of Religion

Religion, Pretty Lady has it on excellent authority, is Obsolete. All those religious people out there should just stop their silliness, already.

You heard Pretty Lady. Just give it up.

Pretty Lady was terribly relieved to hear this, because now that human society and culture have transcended the need for transcendence, we will all get along just ducky. There will be no more wars, no more Hard Times, and no more disease, death, and devastation. Science, she has been assured, will take care of all that.

Yes, Science, defined as 'a method of empirical research into the qualities and functions of the physical universe, which involves the formulation and testing of falsifiable hypotheses,' has solved every single problem confronting the average human being. Should a benighted human need guidance, consolation, or a bulwark against Despair, this person need merely to apply to the nearest library, where all the information he ever wanted to know regarding quantum physics is readily available.

Of course, there will be no more need for consolation, because nobody ever loses loved ones through death anymore; neither do they fear their own deaths. Science has cured it! Similarly, Science has managed to perfectly balance the global economy, so that not a single person ever goes hungry, unsheltered or unclothed, and is never late on the rent because they own their own homes, free and clear!

And when we get into conflicts with our neighbor, Science comes in and sternly tells us to stop it. There is no reason to complain, because Science has made us all happy, happy, happy.

No, there is no need anymore to maintain a state of mindless Faith that no matter how black things appear, we need not succumb to the paralysis of Despair. Science has answered every hope we could possibly imagine. It has brought peace to our hearts, money to our wallets and love to our homes. It has brought kindness and understanding to the bitterest and most foolish of souls; it has amended inequality everywhere. It has caused complete surcease of sorrow, of pain, of agony.

So, darlings, if any of you has a problem that Science cannot solve, you are merely Delusional. Pretty Lady rather suspects that you are even Not That Bright. She might go so far as to say that you need a remedial course in Basic Logic; at any road, you are not her problem. She has no problems. Science has taken them away.


Thursday, August 30, 2007


Pretty Lady didn't get much sleep last night. The news that the government has taken to stealing babies in the U.K., sometimes even before birth, upset her so profoundly that she flailed around and hallucinated that, in some mysterious way, the mosquito that made it into her bedroom was in some way intimately connected with the rise of totalitarianism in one of her favorite countries. Truly, it is horrible.

Furthermore, she is finding herself confronted, yet again, with the dismal fact that persons in her own field, who should know better, are still subscribing to the hopeless cant of that bastard Karl, in a shallow and self-righteous denial of Obvious Reality. So, wearily, Pretty Lady shall take it on herself to illustrate why religion and opiates have nothing in common, in the light of their relative effects upon the proletariat.

Now. First, a show of hands: how many of you darlings have been close friends with a heroin addict? Please? Pretty Lady does not actively avoid persons who make habitual use of opium-based narcotics, but the trouble is that these individuals are not particularly friendly, in the usual sense of the word. They will engage you in conversation in order to extract money from you, of course, but largely they tend to be Poor Listeners. And their follow-through is nil.

In fact, the singular hallmark of opiate addiction is that the individual concerned progressively jettisons every value apart from his or her relationship with the drug. One friend commented, "N. would never be able to love me back; heroin would always take first place." Persons who lived in Desperate Ghettos would tell stories about junkies so stoned that when apprehended for theft by a man on a bicycle, they would make a dead-eyed grab for the bicycle, while actually in custody. "Man, I need this shit!" was their pathetic cry. Junkies are notorious for child neglect, impotence, and Living in Squalor.

Because heroin, as they say, kills the soul. One may know a true junky by the fact that they have no light in their eyes.

Now, Pretty Lady grants that the more infantile of the religious set can occasionally be annoying. She grants that they may talk a lot, and that they are not always the best of listeners. But she submits to you that this sort of thing is a symptom of immaturity, far more than religiosity; furthermore, that whatever their failings as individuals, these people are engaged. They take their responsibilities seriously, as parents, spouses, providers, and members of the community. The fact that they subscribe to a system of rules governing their relations with others has an expansive affect on the mind, rather than a contractive one.

The fact is, darlings, that the notion that religion, in and of itself, anaesthetizes the mind to the perception of social injustice is a lot of rot. Religion does nothing of the sort. It merely alerts the mind to the fact that materialism is not the be-all and end-all of existence, and thank goodness for that! We are then free to seek increased social justice without the burden of Total Responsibility, for whether or not it is clear to us, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

For it has not escaped Pretty Lady's observation that when society as a whole attempts to equalize itself in a materialistic context, without faith in a Larger Pattern, disaster occurs. Our egoistic selves go into a neurotic panic and start seizing babies, attempting to impose Cosmic Justice from the point of view of an ant.

On a tangential note, an individual from over at Edward's has attempted to challenge Pretty Lady to a debate, in a display of jejune optimism. Pretty Lady must inform this gentleman that the term 'ego,' in a spiritual sense, can be defined as 'the perception of self as separate from the whole'; in this context, transcending the ego, through spiritual discipline, to perceive one's Self as unified with the Whole, is the precise and definitive opposite of 'fetishization of the ego.'

This is elementary.

Do not flee! Pretty Lady Lives!

As is, perhaps, obvious, Pretty Lady has been messing with her template. Through no fault of her own, some of her links got lost, as well as her Finetune playlist and her Rent Fund button; if anyone is heartbroken to discover that their link is not among the rescued, please do not hesitate to sound the alarm. Bear in mind, however, that if your blog has not been updated since May, Pretty Lady axed you of her own accord.

Truthfully, Pretty Lady feels a bit self-conscious in here! She wonders how an absence of cloying pinkness will affect her style.

Note, additionally, that Pretty Lady has found another ad sponsor; one with enough sense and practicality to dispense with Puritanical hypocrisy, and support Pretty Lady uncensored. She hates to be crass about it, but One Must Eat. And one may even get free chips! Enjoy!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Definition of Community

Pretty Lady had no idea things had gotten so bad. Well, that is disingenuous. She knew things were bad; what she did not know is that they were so bad, people are unaware of just how bad they are.

Pretty Lady is aware that she is not making any sense.

It seems, dear friends, that the social isolation among Americans is now so severe, that ordinary Americans are no longer able to comprehend the term 'social isolation.' Pretty Lady has often noticed the tendency of the mind to enter a self-protective state of Denial under conditions of severe stress; it is though mental parameters are automatically re-arbitrated to accommodate scarcity. Certainly when she addressed the matter, tangentially, in discussion, it seemed to her as though the waves of unwarranted, ignorant abuse which spewed forth in her direction contained more than a note of irrational hysteria.

Now, darlings. Calm down. Do not concern yourselves; Pretty Lady has plenty of friends. Having friends is not what she is talking about, when she uses the term 'community.' Any person who equates 'community' with 'friendship' has obviously never lived in one. Because the definition of 'community,' in realistic terms, is 'living in circumstances where one is physically unable to avoid persons that one absolutely cannot stand.'

It is Small Wonder, then, that hedonistic American society should have evolved in such a manner as to geographically minimize encounters with objects of personal loathing. In the words of one of Pretty Lady's Californian ex-friends, 'we just don't need that.' If someone offends us with their looks, attitude, personality, religion, odor, sense of humor, personal style, social class, or choice of romantic partners, we simply drop the acquaintance. And this is facilitated by an architectural structure which ensures that we need never come face to face with an unapproved specimen of humanity in the entire course of our existence.

Not so, when a person lives in a town which was constructed before the invention of the automobile. Such places dispense with such luxuries as garages, lawns, detached dwellings of all kinds, cubicles, and air-conditioning. They are big on Narrow Alleyways, Communal Plazas, and Rampant Gossip. A person should not attempt to live in such a place unless he or she is prepared to have the most intimate details of his or her private life Bandied About; not only this, but one must be prepared to confront the purveyors of Slanderous Lies about oneself, face to face, when one least expects it.

Oh, the stories Pretty Lady could tell.

One thing she notices, regarding the tragic dearth of true community in the U.S. of A., it that it enables us to remain, mentally and emotionally, in the third grade for the majority of our adult lives. Thus, when such a stunted American is transplanted to an expatriate colony, this person is highly likely to embarrass herself.

Okay, Pretty Lady will tell you a story.

Once upon a time, she was meeting Sophia for lunch. They met in Café Dada, of course. When Pretty Lady arrived, Sophia remarked, "Katia is joining us."

Pretty Lady said, "Hi, Katia!"

Katia said, "I hate you, Pretty Lady."

"Does this mean we're not going to have lunch?" responded Pretty Lady.

"Oh yes," said Katia. "We live in the same town."

(Of course, there was a Backstory to this encounter. There always is. Suffice it to say that when the gentleman with the curly hair and the tuxedo invited Pretty Lady to go biking after the symphony, she had no idea that Katia even knew him, much less that she was nursing an obsessive and unrequited passion for him. And Katia didn't let on either, until, all of a sudden, she snapped.)

And this fracas was the result. "I do not wish to have lunch with someone who hates me," Pretty Lady declared. "That is my boundary."

Katia unleashed a stream of rather horrible invective, which distorted her features alarmingly; Pretty Lady grabbed a quiescent Sophia by the hand and fled. Katia pursued them through several alleyways, like a rabid lapdog, until they finally shook her.

The word on the street was that Pretty Lady must be a lesbian; she was holding hands with Sophia all over town. Also that later that day, Katia accosted the curly-haired gentleman in front of the Teatro Principal and accused him of raping her, two years earlier, more or less.

Such fun!

The moral of this story is this: if we are not confronted with our Nemeses on a daily basis, we do not develop the strength of mind and character to deal with them. We fail to understand exactly how crazy these people are; we continue to attribute a modicum of controlled rationality to their actions, instead of viewing them in all their lunatic glory, year after year.

When a person lives thus cheek-by-jowl with village idiots, however, she learns, gradually, a certain compassion for the Human Condition. She learns that Gretchen will undoubtedly tell the entire town that she is a filthy pig with a kleptomania problem, but that this is okay because the entire town knows that Gretchen is a mendacious, amnesiac narcissist. She learns not to take it personally when Larry yells at her, because everybody knows that Larry has Anger Issues, exacerbated by a glandular disorder. She learns that Joel is an alcoholic, Anna is a misanthrope and that the gentleman with the curly hair is a compulsive womanizer.

And she learns that this is all okay; that people do not have to be Perfect to be integral members of Society. In fact, that there is no such thing as Perfect. And what a relief that is.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pretty Lady Heartily Concurs

It may surprise the Radical Feminist contingent that Pretty Lady has no quarrel with the actions, or lack thereof, of a feminist lady who declines to participate in Forced Debate:

I was recently informed by a friend, via a note passed to me at a party after I had reacted negatively (or, as he explained, like a chihuahua) to some sexist comment he made, that feminists are “bored and abused” chauvinists who have nothing better to do than to attack men and that I should not let anti-woman words have any kind of power over me. To be offended by misogyny is my choice and to do so makes me weak, apparently. (Now there’s a topic for another day).

And because I did not want to hear the same defensive, woman-hating bullshit that I’ve heard a thousand times by yet another man who claims absolute wisdom and righteousness in all matters human, I stopped reading about halfway through and gave the note back to him. I was then told that, by not being open to his opinions about feminism, I am essentially unwilling to grow and evolve and that I will tragically fail to achieve in my life the full and rich human experience because I refused to give credence to and appreciate his anti-feminist viewpoint.

Pardon Pretty Lady's editing; it seemed that this rightfully angry lady expended excess energy on fundamentally irrelevant topics.

For, whatever one's professed political or ideological affiliations, religion, ethnicity, or sexual preference, the fact remains that a person is never under the obligation to submit to unsolicited insults in a social situation, full stop. The male person in question behaved in a manner which is unquestionably Rude. The rules of polite society do not, and have never, demanded that such a person be treated with patient respect, or accorded an additional jot of one's time after the initial insult has been recorded.
I know I’m supposed to 1) nod thoughtfully as I process your wisdom, asking clarifying questions about your points just in case I don’t immediately understand something you say, and then 2) offer up some powerful and intelligent argument on why feminism is important, and then 3) try to prove my point with examples from women in politics and a few stories about my grandmother, but of course, in the end, 4) concede that yes, you have some very good points that I will certainly think about
Dear feminist lady, this is a lovely description of a most excellent conversation that a person has with a dear friend whom she respects and wishes to understand better, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the two of you do not see eye to eye upon certain issues. A person who passes you an insulting note at a party does not fall into this category. Therefore there is no social code requiring you to engage in such a conversation, and there never has been.

For it never ceases to astonish Pretty Lady, the way persons continually re-invent the wheel of Common Courtesy, complete with excessively self-justifying gyrations, based upon some passionate ideology or other. The rules of etiquette are not there to establish the innate superiority of those who follow them, to disempower others, or deny anyone a voice; they are there solely and entirely to assist radically different persons to coexist without killing one another. And Pretty Lady dismisses out of hand any ideologist who does not subscribe to this fundamental principle.

So, to recapitulate the obvious: Making racist, sexist, or homophobic remarks is Rude. Making derogatory remarks about a person's religion, or lack thereof, is Rude. Making statements which deride the members of any particular political party, as a whole, is Rude. Providing unsolicited advice is Rude.

When a person makes a Rude remark, the only necessary response is a cold, 'I beg your pardon?' accompanied by a steely gaze. If the Rude person in question chooses to acknowledge his offense and apologize, well and good. If not, you may ignore his existence without compuction.

Comparative Religion Pontification

TL has called Pretty Lady on her habit of blithely mixing and matching her spiritual philosophies:

Buddhism has a concept of non-atman, no individual soul.

With the non-atman concept how, who, what re-incarnates and carries Karma?
Chris, of course, spots the Fundamental Flaw in this question:
Karma as you mean it -- probably -- is a Hindu concept, not a Buddhist one. So you're mixing your religions.
Which might very well be the end of the discussion. But you all know Pretty Lady too well to hope that it will be.

For not only is TL mixing religions, this dear befuddled person is conflating the esoteric and the exoteric. Which is an exceptionally dangerous mistake.

(Pretty Lady asks that all you dear people please ignore the Wikipedia entry on the term 'esoteric.' We are, truly, living in degenerate times.)

'Esoteric,' in the context of religion, has to do with inner experience, specifically that of the enlightened mind, trained by extensive spiritual discipline of one type or another. There is nothing 'obscure' about it at all; it is a mere uncovering of the fundamental, unoccluded experiential truth of existence. It cannot be written down, only directly observed.

'Exoteric,' on the other hand, is all about the stories we tell, to attempt to communicate one small part of this experiential truth, rather in the manner of the blind men and the elephant. These stories are usually about exciting and wildly improbable things such as elephants standing on turtles, virgin births, and profligate wastrels sitting under trees. As dear Kenny Wilber says, "Exoteric religions are all different; esoteric religions are essentially the same." Pretty Lady would amend that to state that the myths of each religion are unique, but that the good ones do seem to converge in their abstract principles.

Pretty Lady will leave it in the capable hands of obsessive, fundamentalist fanatics to argue about the literal truth of exoteric mythologies. What concerns her is: are these stories descriptive of some observable truth, on some level? And if so, what is the best way to translate them to one's audience in a way which will be locally understood? For rarely is there a one-to-one correllation of symbols and concepts, when mapping relative world-views.

For example, Pretty Lady was ranting and raving about Karmic Consequences once, while embroiled in a situation involving a young Turk of a landlord and the precipitate eviction of the young family downstairs, on fifteen days' notice, in the middle of winter. Her Brooklynite friend remarked: "You don't talk about 'karma' in Brooklyn. You just tell him, 'What goes around, comes around.'"

Which is, when one thinks about it, obvious.

Thus, in response to TL's question: The concept of 'non-atman' is about as esoteric as one gets. It is an attempt to convey the essential unity of everything, on the level of Spirit, as the Western mind might phrase it. The perceived ability of Spirit to arrange itself into seemingly autonomous clumps of thought, sensation and activity is taken as read; after all, here we are.

Similarly, the concept of 'karma' in no way contradicts this essential unity, when one reflects that if All is One, there is no getting away from oneself. We may, for convenience' sake, choose to claim an isolate autonomy for a period of time, but when what one does unto others is consistently done unto oneself, over a period of millennia, this fiction of autonomy becomes a bit tedious to maintain.

Etiquette question

Pretty Lady has received an etiquette question! She could not be more thrilled. Moreover, it is quite an easy one!

I was pulling in to the local 7-11 when I saw a man sitting in his Mercedes with the window down. I watched as he casually tossed the lid of his ice cream container out the window onto the asphalt.

What should I have done?
In this situation, you of course park, run eagerly up to the gentleman, scoop up the object he has lost, and say, "Excuse me, you dropped something!" You then restore his precious possession with a smile, waving away his thanks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Very disappointed

Pretty Lady was all prepared to be thrilled and impressed with the evident skills development of certain Nigerian 419 fraudsters--this website seemed to her an absolutely masterful fake. Complete with flawless French language skills (as far as she can tell), sophisticated design, great breadth of scope, and even extensive video coverage! For a moment, she had hope for the eventual gainful employability of our Nigerian brothers and sisters.

Sadly, it seems that our confidence friends have taken the principle of 'work smarter, not harder' to extremes. They have simply co-opted the Fondation de France website, not created it from scratch. Furthermore, their hopeless lack of sophistication is evident in their very grandiosity of vision; Pretty Lady has had enough experience of philanthropic organizations to know that there is no way any one of them will ever offer her a two-and-a-half million dollar grant for any reason, even if she had actually wasted a hundred hours of her life applying for one. Philanthropic organizations take, rather, the role of LeeAnn Flood playing "Mother" in a third-grade game of "Mother May I?":

'Quiet little girl, take one teeny-weeny baby-step forward.'

'Mother may I?'

'No, you may not.'

'Most popular girl in class, take ten giant steps forward.'


'Yes, you may.'

Pretty Lady is certain that LeeAnn Flood is now firmly ensconced in the Development department of a major cultural organization.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Soul Continues

Chris re-poses the Ultimate Question:

I may not have sovereignty over my nervous system -- my brain. I may not have control of my thoughts or feelings. This is the case in narcissism or depression or any number of other illnesses.

I may not have sovereignty over my body. This is the case for everyone. You get sick, you age, you die. It's especially pronounced in cases of disease, like cancer, where your own cells rebel and try to kill you.

But, you say, I'm have sovereignty over my soul. What's that? If it's not my body and it's not my nervous system, what is it? What control do I have over it? What can I do with it? How does that help me take responsibility for healing myself if I can't think properly or walk properly?

In short: If depression destroys who I am, how am I to be held responsible for anything? I'm not even there any more.
Now, Chris, you have slacked on your study of Buddhist philosophy. Of course you do not have control over your thoughts or feelings, or body or nervous system. What you do have--and literally thousands of years of study have established this--is the ability to watch them.

Gracious. Have you, Chris, never heard of the basic Vipanassa meditation, "I have a body, but I am not my body"? "I have emotions, but I am not my emotions"? "I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts"? This is elementary!

Your fundamental Zen meditation, moreover, is the question you have just implicitly asked, "Who am I?" If you have the capacity to observe the agitations of your brain, your body, your nervous system, your emotions, then obviously your Self must transcend all of these things.

Now, of course this capacity to observe, like any other skill, must be practiced. The assumption that we are our bodies, that we must completely identify with every passing thought or feeling, takes a good long time to overturn, when we have grown up in a culture which does not question it. Thoughts and feelings are enormously powerful. But they are as waves in the ocean; the ocean itself is another thing entirely.

Lest any of you start ranting and raving about Primitive Superstitions, Godless Barbarians or Alien Mindsets, let Pretty Lady hasten to add that both modern quantum physics and modern neuroscience are beginning to converge upon this viewpoint:

That acts of the mind affect biology is firmly established in research that is still in its early stages, but the research has enormous therapeutic implications. “Most of that work has looked at the immune system and found many positive changes in it,” says Smalley. “We are going to do empirically sound studies that look at how mindfulness causes changes in the brain.”

One of the experts in this field is Jeffrey Schwartz, a research professor at NPI whose work has shown how positive thinking can permanently alter neural pathways. “A change in perspective is a uniquely human capacity, and the regular paying of attention determines not only how the brain works but also how genes express themselves,” he says. This power, adds Schwartz, can be demonstrated by the “Quantum Zeno Effect,” named after the Greek philosopher Zeno and introduced into science by a group of physicists in 1977.

The phenomenon means that a simple act of observation freezes a quantum system — brain activity, for instance — and suppresses certain transitions to other states, including gene expression. “Quantum physics asserts that all causation does not lie in matter,” says Schwartz. “Physics doesn’t integrate this with the brain, but we’re bringing a new form of causation to science. It’s a major paradigm shift of Copernican magnitude.”

So, in answer to your question, "What is the soul?" Pretty Lady hazards the hypothesis that the soul is the part of you which transcends the physical and the temporal; we postulate its existence based upon overwhelming empirical evidence that the mind does not appear to be bound by these things.

In short, to begin the process of healing, the only thing a person must do is to pay attention. Belief is not required; control is not required. You are There, Chris. All that is required is that you notice.

Miracle Burn Cure

Pretty Lady just has to share this with you.

Yesterday, she took it into her head to try the recipe for Italian Peasant Bread, provided by a lovely rural lady who had her to dinner last week. It all went swimmingly, until Pretty Lady thoughtlessly grabbed the lid to the Dutch oven, carefully pre-heated to 450 degrees as per the recipe, with her bare hand.

Her Gentleman Friend, studying in the next room, heard the scream.

Pretty Lady, of course, is not a Wimp or a Whiner, no sirree. But her livelihood depends upon having a set of hands which are intact, capable, and free of running sores. A 450-degree-pot-lid burn upon her index finger and thumb is not a Good Thing, in Pretty Lady's precarious existence.

Fortunately, while running her injured hand under the tap, she remembered the incident of her 10th birthday party, wherein her beloved little sister leaned up against the barbeque and took the skin off her forearm. She commanded her Gentleman Friend, "Fetch me an egg white."

For the next few hours, Pretty Lady soaked her hand in raw organic egg whites, withdrawing it occasionally to wave it around and blow on it, forming an airtight skin of dried egg white over the throbbing weal.

And lo, by the time she and her Gentleman friend departed to view the new Harry Potter movie in IMax 3-D, there was no more throbbing weal; no blister, no redness, no pain, no peeling. Pretty Lady is competent to resume work this morning.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Advertisers Take Offense

Well, Pretty Lady has never experienced such hypocrisy in all her days. Google Ads have taken their marbles and stomped off of Pretty Lady's playground, because her Content offends them. Never mind that Sex Sells; that ads of all stripe may be viewed as blatant softcore pornography in these degenerate days. No, Google Ads is pure as the driven snow, and will not stoop to consort with a lady who gives sensible clean sex tips to good Christian families.

Pretty Lady will not bow down to such tactics; her site will remain true to her principles. She will discuss anything she likes, and will not alter her past pronouncements one jot. So if you like what Pretty Lady has to say, please feel free to hit her Rent Fund button, and/or suggest to her an ad company which is not so finicky.

UPDATE: Really, there is something Extremely Fishy about this. The element of Pretty Lady's site that Google objects to had been in existence for well over a year before they objected; they gave her three days to remove it, or else. Now Pretty Lady hears that this is happening to other sites as well, most notably one which supplies graphs, a more un-sexy topic than which she is hard put to think. And Morris suspects a 'wowser' of reporting her, which is also very, very strange.

Is this--Pretty Lady asks, quite seriously--the beginnings of Stealth Sharia Law?

Pretty Lady Indulges in a Radical Rant

Pretty Lady must apologize, but she cannot help herself. She feels a Diatribe coming on.

The trouble is, PL, that there is an extremely fine line between placing responsibility and placing blame. A line so fine most people have no trouble whatever crossing it.

Further, admit that it's possible that there are conditions which themselves prevent the taking of responsibility. Narcissism. Depression. Schizophrenia. And probably a vast number of more mild afflictions we might not even medically recognize at this point. Depression, too, can probably be caused by any number of otherwise physical ailments, obstructing treatment.

What I'm saying, here, is that taking the stance that people must take responsibility for their own healing opens the door for blame. You can say it as many times as you like -- and put in boldface, and underline it, and use the BLINK tag -- but it doesn't change anything to say that "'Blame' and 'illness' do not belong in the same conceptual universe". They do, for most people.
Well, and this is the entire problem.

Pretty Lady has a confession to make. On some issues she subscribes to Extreme Radicalism, at least on the working hypothesis level. And the working hypothesis which she has been contemplating, for lo these several years, is that Guilt is a false, destructive and illusory concept.

Pretty Lady pauses forbearingly, to let the extreme agitation and shouting from the sensible, moderate Christian and secular-humanist contingents die down a bit.

Rest assured, she has heard and considered all of your very sensible arguments. She has meditated upon the relevant passages of Scripture. She has frowned and shuddered over the Extreme Examples, such as Hitler. She acknowledges, quite cheerfully, all of these concerns. A part of her brain, however, continues to engage upon a completely parallel processing track. Please indulge her while she divulges these ruminations.

Consider, dear friends, how much scurrilous, phony, destructive, stupid, greedy, sinful behavior goes on all around us. Thieving, lying, conniving, manipulating, jack-assery and intellectual dishonesty, not to mention acts of aggressive warfare. Considered? All right, then.

Now then, consider how much of this behavior is engaged upon in order to directly or indirectly avoid the crushing, miserable feeling of personal guilt. How much energy we place into dumping this burden of past wrongdoing onto the shoulders of others. How much of denial, self-justification, self-flagellation, and most of all blame, blame, blame, stems from this need to get out from under this unmanageable weight of shame.

For consider: An error may be corrected. Guilt must be expunged. And we expunge it by thrusting it onto somebody else. A somebody who promptly, in desperate self-defense, thrusts it right back.

Vicious, vicious cycle.

Furthermore, consider how much of clarity regarding scientific studies of potential cause and effect is muddied or obscured by the addition of a superfluous Guilt Factor? The hypothesis 'This appears to lead to that,' in and of itself, is neutral, testable, and potentially falsifiable. The statement, 'This is a Very Bad Thing, because it causes that, so stop doing this, you stupid jerk' is, to put it mildly, loaded. It appears to Pretty Lady that if we were to remove this entire notion of stupid jerks doing very bad things, science would get along much faster.


Well, will they? Really, will they?

Many of them, Pretty Lady supposes, will. History suggests that this is a common tendency of humans in their natural state, particularly those endowed with an excess of testosterone, and not over-burdened with brains. History also suggests that these sorts of individuals are the ones least troubled with esoteric considerations of ethical philosophy. So perhaps guilt was not keeping these people in check, much, ever.

No, it seems to Pretty Lady that the people whose psychologies wrestle with neverending concerns of blame and shame are, overwhelmingly, those of us who are least equipped to cope with invading Vikings. Chained in our helpless misery, we blame ourselves, we blame them, we tie ourselves into veritable knots of impotent ethical squalling. It keeps us busy in the dungeons. Pretty Lady suspects, in fact, that the entire concept of guilt was invented by boorish Atilla the Hun types, in order to keep the proletariat subjugated.

So now. In place of guilt, Pretty Lady tiptoes in and inserts the mantle of responsibility. For no matter what dungeon we find ourselves in, we still have the power to choose our response to the situation.

Note that the word response does not, in and of itself, prescribe what the nature of this response must be. Sobbing and rending of garments is an option. Curling up into a fetal position, fine. Impotent cursing of the oppressor, quite common.

Once we have allowed those feelings of desperation and misery to surge through us, however, we are left, drained and quiescent, sitting in a dungeon. This is our moment of choice; our moment to select one of two pathways.

The pathway of guilt, blame and shame leaves us in this dungeon forever. We may entertain ourselves indefinitely, flagellating ourselves, blaming the oppressor, ranting ourselves into a state of complete madness.

Or, drained of that, we may consider other options. We could dig our way out with a teaspoon. We could trip the guard and take his keys. We could do five thousand push-ups, then mug the guard and punch our way out. We could compose epic poetry. We could pray.

So, dear Chris, Pretty Lady will boldly repeat the statement that so offends you: People are responsible for their own healing. You--depressed, narcissistic, imprisoned and helpless though you may be--yet retain sovereignty over your own soul. To declare otherwise would be an act of totalitarianism and despair, for this would deny your humanity.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Appearances suggest that Pretty Lady's commentary has been aggressively and pre-emptively censored, over at I Blame the Patriarchy. She is still willing to entertain the notion that this could be a tragic and accidental oversight, but so far her private inquiries into the matter have gone unaddressed.

Pretty Lady will gloss over the obvious ironic implications of the fact that an individual who professes to be championing the free and unfettered expression of the Female Voice would stoop to such totalitarian tactics. In fact, if this wounded person feels threatened or violated by Pretty Lady's method of discourse in any way, such uncompromising maintenance of personal boundaries is to be commended, rather than otherwise. It would have been courteous of her to inform Pretty Lady of her decision, but not necessary.

No, Pretty Lady is bringing this up because of a free-wheeling and tangential observation that she has made, many a time, when she has enthusiastically bounded into a group of Suffering Persons, and openly shared a Healing Experience of her own. There is nothing which offends the sufferers more.

Again, Pretty Lady can understand this. Nobody knows better than she does that Boundaries are Paramount, and one of the things that chronic Sufferers suffer from is chronic, well-meaning assaults by oblivious Do-Gooders. Pretty Lady herself, as a penurious artist, has long experienced the parallel phenomenon, of such persons informing her of how she might solve her financial woes by merely adding another sixty hours of Mortifying Drudgery into her already overloaded weekly schedule. She has only one question for these people, and it is a sincere one: "Why do you imagine that Pretty Lady has not already thought of that?"

However weary she becomes, however, her annoyance with the whole issue does not extend to the rejection of Money, Period. Despite the fact that, having thoroughly considered the issue, she declines to open a side business selling homemade salsa, with cute little labels she designed herself, Pretty Lady would not go so far as to reject a person who offered her a big whopping check for, say, a painting of hers. Nor would she rudely interrupt an individual who might be on the verge of recommending her to their high-profile art dealer; she'd cock a courteous ear and wait to see how the conversation panned out. You never know.

Thus it strikes her as distinctly odd that many, many, many people who live their lives, according to their own accounts, in Unabated Misery seem to be constitutionally allergic to the word 'healing.' Use it once, and you might as well have cut the power to the building.

(This allergy does not extend to the notion of 'fixing things.' Fixing is A-OK, as long as the fixing does not involve any action on the part of the sufferer, except of course for the Issuing of Impotent and Draconian Orders to the Indifferent Masses. Other people must fix things. That is non-negotiable. Which, of course, ensures that nothing, nothing, nothing will change, because of the Cardinal Rule of Responsibility; you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself.)

Pretty Lady will not now go into a Treatise on Healing, because she is due to hit the road in a few hours, and interested parties are agitating for her company. She will merely ask a somewhat rhetorical question: What's that all about?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Off Elsewhere

Hi sweeties! Pretty Lady misses you, and she has every so many things she'd like to discuss with you, but this week she is working on her little bitty Personal Website regarding that pesky Career of hers. She will be checking in soon. Perhaps Chris or somebody would like to make a Controversial Statement, and then you could all argue?

UPDATE: Cascading style sheets. Say No More.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chris Rywalt's Beef with Broccoli no Broccoli with Broccoli Recipe

Perhaps this will become a weekly Guest Column; Pretty Lady is thrilled that Chris is so on the ball, particularly as she has been on vacation while on vacation.

This recipe came about because my lovely wife Dawn is a meatatarian. The only vegetables she'll eat are corn, peas, and potatoes, which you'll note aren't exactly vegetables so much as starch in a thin vegetable package. She's been known to watch our daughter eat a pile of mashed potatoes and then insist, "You need some vegetables! Have some corn!"

Thus for many years whenever we ordered Chinese to be delivered, she'd ask for "beef with broccoli no broccoli." That is, she wanted beef in brown sauce. But if she ordered "beef with brown sauce," all sorts of random things would arrive, including, once, beef in oyster sauce. Whereas if she ordered "beef with broccoli no broccoli," she'd get what she wanted, which was beef in the same brown sauce as beef with broccoli, minus the vegetation.

Eventually I decided to try to duplicate the recipe on my own, so I developed a brown sauce I could make. This was Beef with Broccoli No Broccoli.

After a while of making this, I realized I missed the broccoli. So I worked on including it in the recipe, along with tofu, snow peas, and mushrooms. The resulting recipe, of course, would then be Beef with Broccoli No Broccoli with Broccoli. Which is what you're going to make.

Brown Sauce
1.25 cups water
0.33 cups soy sauce
grated ginger
grated garlic
2 tbs (6 squirts) honey
2 tbs corn starch

1.5 lbs London broil/top sirloin/top round/whatever

Other Stuff (all of which is optional)
1.5 lbs broccoli crowns (about three trees)
0.25 lbs snow peas (a handful or so)
some shitake mushrooms
1 package (1 lb) extra firm tofu, cubed

Start by boiling a pot of water for blanching the broccoli and snow peas. This is a key step, because the vegetables will never cook in a stir-fry unless you parcook them first. Wash the vegetables and cook them in the boiling water until they're tender and bright green, about ten minutes. A little less wouldn't hurt. Then strain from boiling water and plunge into ice water (not just cold from the tap -- add about half a tray of ice cubes) for five minutes to stop the cooking and set the color. Strain and set aside.

Now, I've noticed that adding the broccoli to the stir-fry tends to thin out the sauce. Could be there's an enzyme in the broccoli which breaks down the corn starch. Or could be there's water still in the broccoli leaves. So I like to run the broccoli through the salad spinner a few times to get it as dry as possible.

While the broccoli is cooking, make the brown sauce. Basically it's just mixing everything together. Note I've haven't given you instructions on the garlic and ginger.

About ginger: Fresh ginger goes bad way faster than I use it. So I freeze it, and when I need some, it's very easy to scrape off the skin with a knife and run the root over a microplane grater. Then back in the freezer it goes. I grate off about a half-inch of root. You can use powdered ginger if you don't have fresh: Start with about a teaspoon and increase as you like. I find the more I eat ginger the more I use.

About garlic: If you're feeling ambitious, mince it. I never, ever feel that ambitious, so I just grate two or three cloves using the microplane grater right into the sauce. You don't even need to cut off the fuzzy end, because that's what you hold it by so you don't grate your fingers.

(Pretty Lady's note: Chris, have you never heard of a garlic press? The kind with the hinged pestle produces the most direct leverage, and can easily push an entire clove of garlic through in one squeeze. Pretty Lady has made a good start on your Christmas list.)

About honey: I never measure honey because it's a mess. Alton estimates a good squeeze as about one teaspoon. Three teaspoons equals a tablespoon. Therefore 6 squirts is about 2 tablespoons. If you don't have honey, use sugar in about equal amounts.

Now you've got your sauce, broccoli, and snow peas ready. Beef time!

Many different cuts of meat can be used for this. Some are more economical than others. Flank steak, sirloin, top round, even chuck are fine. Also fancier beef like New York strip or whatever excites you. Generally I look for the cheaper cuts usually labeled "for London broil."

The key about any cuts like that -- top round for example -- is that it's a cut with a fair amount of connective tissue. That means if you overcook it, it will turn to shoe leather. My mother was an expert at this. She could take the most expensive piece of beef and convert it to moose meat. So there are two keys to properly cooking this cut: Slice it thin across the grain and cook it on high heat very quickly.

First, then, slice it up. Across the grain, no thicker than an eighth of an inch. Try to keep the slicing consistent. Or, if you have a butcher you're friendly with, have them slice it for you.

Next, cook it. I have a Calphalon anodized aluminum wok I bought years and years ago. It's been absolutely the most versatile and useful cooking vessel I've ever owned. I can use it as anything: Frying pan, wok, saucier, saucepan. I've cooked almost everything in it. And it's almost nonstick, it cleans up so easily. It was wildly expensive and for years I joked about it being our Yuppie Frying Pan, but one day I realized it was worth every nickel (pennies not being worth anything any more).

The important thing about cooking the beef is it must be hot and it must be fast. So set your frying pan or wok or cast iron skillet or Dutch oven on high heat -- as high as you can -- and let it sit until it's as hot as you can let it get without scorching. Hot hot hot. I give my wok about ten minutes minimum on my extra-strength burner.

Add a little oil to the cooking vessel and swirl to coat. I use canola for this but you could use peanut oil or possibly olive. Do not use anything light and fruity, like extra virgin olive oil, because it will burn and get unpleasant. Like, oops, I burned down my house unpleasant. Or anyway it should if your pot is hot enough. I like to spray the oil on with a spritzer bottle -- this helps the meat stick less.

Now throw the beef in right after the oil. As the Frugal Gourmet used to say, "Hot pan cold oil food won't stick." Begin moving it around immediately. Don't just toss it around randomly, either: When you see people do this on cooking shows, they look very blithe about it, but they're just making it look easy. What you need to do is keep the beef moving and make sure you turn any pieces when they brown so they sear as equally as possible on all sides. That means moving the pink towards the bottom of the wok.

The fat will start to render out of the beef and in a short time it'll look less like stir-frying and more like boiling. That's the time to add the brown sauce mix we made earlier. If your cut has
less fat, just add the sauce when all the meat is seared nicely. Recall that the key is to not cook the meat too long or it will become strips of moose. Remember my mother!

Let the sauce cook and stir it every so often. You should start to see the sauce thicken and darken as it gets closer to boiling, starting from the sides of the wok. Once all the sauce has thickened, you can do what I do, which is remove about half the beef with sauce and set it aside for my wife; or you can add your mushrooms, which you've cut the stems from and washed thoroughly. Let them cook for a minute or two, then add the broccoli and snowpeas and, if you want, some cubed extra firm tofu. Stir everything together and cook until everything is heated through, about two or three minutes.

Serve over rice. If you want to know how to make rice -- um, buy a rice cooker. That's what I did.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Men should be economically and socially independent. They shouldn't rely on women to take care of them.

Yes indeed. This spectacle of gentlemen who are unable to adequately feed or clothe themselves without constant supervision must cease. Young men must be taught the basics of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the maintenance of necessary social contacts or the world shall Fall Apart.

There is no such thing as a "woman's job." It is wrong for women to be given preference for any job position, even if men traditionally aren't in that field.

Males who wish to apply for jobs as day care workers, choir directors, kindergarten teachers and Catholic priests must be given a thorough psychiatric evaluation before being allowed to interact with children, unsupervised.

Women and men should be held to the same sexual standards. If women can sleep around without judgment, men should be able to as well.

Pretty Lady must take this opportunity to register the information that nobody is fooling anyone by encouraging her to go home with El Chico Guapo if she feels like it. Somebody is simply trying to assuage his Inner Guilt and Shame, and it Will Not Work.

Men should take an equal role in dating. Men should ask out people they are interested in and take their turn in paying.

Pretty Lady has been telling this to anyone who will listen for years.

Men should accept their bodies as they are. Men should not have to conform to wacky beauty ideals.

If Pretty Lady's boyfriend would like to take his shirt off while lounging atop the cliff at the summit of the trail, who is she to stop him? This self-consciousness about one's pectorals is utterly misplaced. And she also thinks that shortish men are cute.

A man should be able to marry and have kids with anyone he wants - including another man.

Good luck, fellas!

Men should have the right to choose any path in life - from being a stay at home dad to a Fortune 500 CEO.

If a gentleman chooses to be a Fortune 500 CEO, he'd better have the chops to follow up, and not go down in Public Disgrace; the same goes for Decent Parenting.

Men should be encouraged to pursue education as much as women are.

Absolutely not. Any fellow who requires encouragement is already a Lost Cause; the only kind of man Pretty Lady likes is the sort who gets sucked into libraries, used book stores and compulsive Googling so easily that he frequently forgets to eat.

Men should have legal, easy access to all types of birth control - including the morning after pill.

Why should Pretty Lady always be the one to run to the pharmacy?

You would support a man for president (if you agreed with his politics).

Perhaps. But he would have to be exceptionally well-behaved.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Well, duh

Pretty Lady just received a phone call from a dear friend who is on a Detoxing Mission. This friend has recently done some research into commercial cleaning products, and discovered that the vast majority of them are corrosively, cumulatively, insidiously toxic. She has made the switch to cleaning with baking soda, white distilled vinegar, castille soap, washing soda, and Borax for the really tough jobs. She reports that her home is as shiny as ever, and she is not dead yet.

Pretty Lady feels vindicated. She has instinctively avoided most commercial cleaning products since childhood without giving the matter too much thought; her feeling is that anything which produces headaches, dizziness, breathing trouble, nausea, or Bad Smells has no business being slathered all over her home, body or clothing. Nobody needed to tell her that Lysol, Comet, Simply Green, Tilex, Windex and the like are Evil Poison. She guessed it all on her own!

You will all be pleased to note that Pretty lady's bathroom cleaner of choice passed the toxicity test with flying colors. It contains purified water, coconut derived surfactants, tea tree and lavender oil. Pretty Lady actually looks forward to cleaning her bathroom.

The Cult of Personality

Pretty Lady is thrilled to say that a very Discerning Person has requested and received a JPEG of her latest work, complete with enough pixels to choke a goat, and has expressed sufficient satisfaction with this virtual creation to make a completely voluntary contribution to Pretty Lady's Rent Fund. Lest Pretty Lady be accused of 'making out like a bandit,' let it be known that the ideas, influences, connections, and Power Relationships involved in this transaction were all Pretty Lady's own; she is not, to her knowledge, ripping off any other artist, in whatever position in the Art World hierarchy, depending upon a Sleazy Dealer, or harming any children in her pursuit of Artistic Recognition and concomitant Financial Security.

Once upon a time, for a brief period, Pretty Lady had the honor of working with a Decent Dealer. This gentleman shared with her the secret of his Decent Dealing philosophy: "People don't buy Art," he said. "They buy a relationship with the artist. They want to know that the artist is a good person."

(Now, bear in mind that this was not, regrettably, a New York dealer voicing this heretical opinion. In New York, art collectors mainly wish to know that the artist is a Hip, Eccentric person; but the underlying philosophy holds true.)

Discerning Persons do not invest in mere Ideas and Images. They are making a down payment on Vicarious Life. So Pretty Lady is fully aware that her most recent patron, enthralled as he might be with the actual image, is also buying into the Pretty Lady Legend, and she's fine with that.

Now, what with our biological programming, and our innate human tendency toward rationalized superstition, it is not surprising that the vast majority of high-selling artists are, to put it bluntly, pale-complexioned Alpha Males. It is the way of the world. The pale-skinned Alpha is the one who keeps us safe from the barbarian hordes; of course we will drop a million or two on his cast-aluminum blow-up doll. If it keeps the Alpha happy, this is the least we can do.

But Pretty Lady notes, along with Henry Ward Beecher, that the world is changing; civilization is evolving from the Brute to the Rational; Higher Vibrations shall, eventually, prevail. All Art Investors would be wise to take note of this fact, and get in on the ground floor. Pretty Ladies with wacked-out spiritual ideals will have their day. Buy Now, for Immortality!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Letter to YOU, dear Narcissist

The narcissist is emotionally attached to only one thing: his disorder. The narcissist loves his disorder, desires it passionately, cultivates it tenderly, is proud of its "achievements" (and in my case, I make a living off it). His emotions are misdirected. Where normal people love others and empathise with them, the narcissist loves his False Self and identifies with it to the exclusion of all else – his True Self included.

--Sam Vaknin, author of 'Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited'
Hi honey! Pretty Lady is writing this Special Letter to you, and only you, because you are So Special. She is aware that you may not read it, because in general you only read things that mention you By Name, but Pretty Lady knows that you are so very clever that you will eventually figure out that this letter is for you. Specially.

Confidentially, dear, this little thing called narcissism has come between the two of us. Pretty Lady loves you dearly, she always has, she always will, and you know that. But frankly, at the same time, Pretty Lady can no longer stand to be around you, which is why she cut off all communication with you--how long has it been? Years! And she has no intention of ever letting you soil her life with your presence again. That's firm, and she hopes you understand.

If you've even noticed yet...

But dear. Being the superbly clever person you are--some have even used the word 'brilliant'--it cannot have escaped your attention that you have a little Issue. Pretty Lady even recalls hearing a certain accurate self-diagnosis from your very own lips. 'Narcissist.' Such a pretty word. How beautiful it sounds, when you croon it in that seductive manner.

So Pretty Lady is sorry to tell you that 'narcissist' is not how people view you. Sadly, it is true. That scintillating word, and all of its clever, tangled, brilliant associations simply does not occur to all those inferior yahoos who have been graced with your glorious presence. The word that springs to the vast majority of minds when they think of you (when they think of you at all) is 'asshole.' A great many modifiers are variously applied to this moniker--tacky, vulgar, banal, rude, ignorant, self-absorbed, selfish, repetitive, petty, trivial, treacherous, invasive, pretentious, vain, immature, illiberal and boring, to name a few--but the word 'asshole,' Pretty Lady feels, covers the general opinion nicely.

Now, of course all these people are ignorant peons who cannot understand you. Of course. Their opinions matter less than nothing, just like they do. But honey. Just where is your superiority, if there is no-one around to recognize it? Why are you even bothering to perform all that outrageous posturing you do, if the audience does not matter? Let us face facts, dear. The mirror of others' opinions matters terribly to you, and the unanimous verdict of that mirror is 'asshole.' You are, dear, an asshole, tried and convicted by your own chosen court, and there is no appeal.

I would not be saying this if I did not clearly perceive the peril in which you find yourself. You know I love you.

So darling. Sam Vaknin, in all his expert enlightenment, says there is no hope for you. He may be right. He may also be right when he says that 'religion is the opiate of the masses, as well as a potential source of narcissistic supply.' You yourself, I seem to recall, have echoed Sam Vaknin on these particular points.

But sweetie, I would like to make a suggestion as regards this identity/mirror issue of yours. I would like to suggest a purely intellectual postulate, befitting the very high intellect that you possess. I would like to offer the notion that if there were, hypothetically, a God--an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent Creator--than this truly, evidently and incontrovertibly superior being would have created you. I know this notion is abhorrent to you, but hold on a minute.

If this infinitely superior Creator were responsible for your existence, then your value, dear narcissist, would come from Him. Since He is, hypothetically, Perfect, then it follows that He could not make a mistake in you. Which would mean that you, sweetie, would indubitably be as unassailably perfect as you always thought you were.


But we must Follow, dear friend. We must approach this issue with Intellectual Rigor. If this Creator created everything, and is solely responsible for your value, which cannot be diminished or taken away, then this must be true of everybody else, too. They must be just as perfectly valuable as you are. There's no way around it.

Hard pill to swallow, I know.

So, let us review our options. On the one hand, according to your preferred method of Narcissist Accounting, your true value is that of 'asshole.' On the other, we have 'perfect child of God.' Which would you like to the be the true one, dear? You, being the ad hoc Arbiter of Value, have the power to make it so. All you have to do is pick one, and behave accordingly.

For if you are truly to be perfect, love, you must know in your bones that those pettifogging others, those peons, those sources of Narcissistic Supply, are perfect too. And you must respect them by word and deed accordingly. Just as if they mattered, in and of themselves.

So cheerio, love! See you in Hell!