Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Let Senate Republicans "Torpedo" Historic Veterans Bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch "The Turtle" McConnell (R-KY)
If you've read this news blog for any stretch of time, you know that I'm neither a knee-jerk liberal nor a reactionary conservative. While I lean left on most social issues, I'm demonstrably more conservative than many of my lefty pals. On the other hand, I'm certainly more liberal than my right-wing buddies. And I feel compelled to say that what is happening in Congress right now with regard to an historic bill for America's veterans is despicable. And yes, I'm looking at you, Senate Republicans.

As many of you know, there is a comprehensive, bipartisan veterans bill now before the Senate. The bill, S. 1982, would if passed expand healthcare, education opportunities, employment and other benefits for our former warriors. It would specifically allow more veterans to receive treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, improve care and services for veterans who were victims of military sexual assault, advance the use of alternative medical therapies and treatments, guarantee that veterans going to school on the GI Bill pay in-state tuition, and expand dental care. 

But GOP senators, who are typically sane and less inclined to do something this crazy than their reliably do-nothing counterparts in the House, are demanding a vote on an amendment that would reduce the costs of the $21 billion legislation and add language to the bill imposing new sanctions on Iran if the current political efforts to curb that country's nuclear program don't succeed. 

In other words, these lawmakers, led by Senate Minority Leader and world-class obstructionist Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), are holding this bill and America's veterans hostage over an entirely separate issue. And if these children don't get their way, the bill will likely die. This is beyond shameful. And I think it's gonna backfire. It's never a good idea for legislators to use veterans as pawns in a political chess game. Cynical, exploitative political tactics involving our war heroes just don't sit well with Americans of any and all political stripes.

Even the usually staid American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization with some 2.4 million members, is getting uncharacteristically feisty about this untenable move by the GOP. Commander Daniel M. Dellinger of the Legion rightly said this week that Iran sanctions language should simply not be part of this legislation. 

“Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to this bill, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” Dellinger said. “We can deal with Iran – or any other issue unrelated specifically to veterans – with separate legislation.”

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff also weighed in, saying today, "This bill is a game changer that will change the trajectory for millions of veterans for decades to come. In 2013, veterans were not immune from gridlock in Washington. This year has to be different. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation.”

 If Senate Majority Leader Harry (D-NV) denies Republicans a vote on these amendments, GOP senators reportedly will resort to procedural moves to block the measure from reaching final passage. The thing is, they don't really even like this bill. Several have already said it's too expensive and goes too far and opens up VA facilities to too many veterans, even those who are not there for service-related injuries. God forbid we take care of a war vet who has the flu!

In a characteristically impassioned Senate floor speech, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who introduced the legislation, welcomed the strong statements this week from the leading veterans groups and urged Senate Republicans to come to their senses.

“Please do not inject the Iran sanctions issue into a debate on how we can improve the lives of veterans and their families," said Sanders, who in an interview on CNN said the Iran amendment is an attempt “to torpedo this very important piece of legislation.”

That's exactly what it is. But McConnell doesn't want to hear it. He told AP today that attaching the Iran sanctions to the veterans bill is a good idea because it would enhance the prospects for sanctions. He said there is "no excuse for muzzling the Congress on an issue of this importance to our own national security" and the security of other countries.

I hope every veteran and, well, every person living in Kentucky takes heed of what McConnell is doing this week and remembers it come November. National security is of course a hugely important issue, and the debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program is obviously a worthy one. But I'm sorry, Mitch, you are not allowed to have this debate at the expense of veterans. If there is any justice you will be voted out of office this year.

I ask that you please call your senators this week, folks, be they Republican, Democrat or Independent, and tell them in no uncertain terms that what these Republican senators are doing with this bill is just flat-out wrong. And tell 'em I sent you. Then you're sure to tick them off.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

California Dreaming After All These Years

San Diego sunset
I fell in love for the first time when I was just 14. And it wasn't one of those adolescent summer flings. In fact, it's proved to be one of the most enduring and meaningful relationships of my life. But mind you, that first love affair, which started appropriately enough on a San Diego beach, wasn't with a girl. It was with the ocean.

It was early September, 1974. Richard Nixon had just announced his resignation on my 14th birthday, August 9, and Gerald Ford was our new president. As an A.M. radio junkie in those days, some of my favorite tunes on the singles charts that summer were Beach Baby by The First Class, Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd, I Shot the Sheriff by Eric Clapton, and Can’t Get Enough by Bad Company.

Although I had spent my entire childhood in the sheltered confines of suburban Des Moines, Iowa, I’d recently moved with my family to Las Vegas, and our tennis team was planning a three-day weekend trip to San Diego to play in a tournament and go to Sea World.

We were all excited -- not so much about the tennis match or even Sea World, but because only a few of us had been to California or seen the ocean. I wasn't one of those fortunate few.

We left Vegas in a bus on Friday afternoon, and after stopping for dinner at some kitschy diner in Barstow, we arrived in San Diego around midnight. After checking into our hotel, the Dana Inn, which still exists, we hung out in our rooms and talked about sports, music, girls and whatever else 14-year-old boys in the mid 1970's talked about. We crashed around 2 a.m.

"Whatever you do, Gerry, don't pardon Nixon!"
The next morning we were all up at dawn. Who needs sleep when you're 14? We were surprised and a little bummed when the sun didn't rise with us. It was surprisingly chilly and cloudy that day, not the kind of San Diego morning depicted on post cards and travel brochures.

After we scarfed our breakfast in the hotel room, our coach let us take off and wander around for a few hours. Yes, completely on our own. Of course, for all kinds of reasons, that would not happen today. After hanging out at the hotel pool for a while and flirting with a group of sunbathing ninth grade girls, we made our way westward. We knew the ocean was within range, but we had no idea just how close we were until we got on the roller coaster at Belmont Park, and started going up.

And there it was: the ocean. It was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. I almost had to close my eyes. It was this majestic, benevolent giant, and it was calling my name. As the coaster car took its first radical dip and turn, I let out a joyous "yeeeoooowwww!" My body pumped adrenaline; my heart raced. I still get stoked and misty just thinking about it. As soon as I got off the coaster, I ran to the water. I've been running to it ever since.

The rush of seeing the Pacific for the first time from atop a roller coaster left an indelible mark on me. I guess on some level I knew at that moment I'd return to San Diego, someday and perhaps forever, and that I was going to enjoy a deep and lasting alliance with the ocean. I'm sure that isn't the only reason the sea has been such an important part of my psyche ever since. But it was an amazing first impression. I still feel remnants of that buzz every time I stand on the beach and look out at the waves, even on the flattest of days.

When I graduated from high school and moved to California for good in 1979 - Santa Barbara first, then San Diego - I got an apartment on the beach and fulfilled a promise I made to myself that day on the coaster: I taught myself how to surf. It's not as easy as it looks in "The Endless Summer" and the Frankie and Annette flicks. After being caught inside, wiping out more times than I care to remember, and becoming familiar with the salty taste of ocean water, I was finally able to stand up and stay up. That's a moment you never forget.

My first ride took place on a three-foot wave (at the most) near the University of California Santa Barbara campus. I subsequently began surfing Rincon and a few other Santa Barbara-area spots. I got pretty good at it. One summer I even taught kids at a Montecito YMCA Summer Camp how to swim, dive and surf. My love for the ocean was immeasurable. I also quickly developed a healthy fear, which all surfers have unless they're idiots.

When I moved to San Diego in 1984 to attend San Diego State University’s journalism school - ten years almost to the day after I had first seen this beautiful city - I spent every moment that I wasn’t in class in and out of the water at various spots north of Crystal Pier in P.B., and farther south along Mission Beach, within eyeshot of where I saw the ocean for the first time.

But perhaps because that first day at the beach was a cloudy one, and because I'm a somewhat nostalgic and sentimental guy anyway, and because I'm getting older, I particularly enjoy the beach now when the weather isn't so perfect. I still spend a lot of time at the beach for a grownup, especially on bad-weather days.

There's nothing so poignant and reassuring as a stretch of San Diego sand on a cold, cloudy afternoon. After the boys of summer have gone, as Don Henley sings. When the bus and the tourists are gone, as Al Stewart sings. When it's chilly and overcast, the lifeguard towers are empty and locked, and there are only a few diehards dotting the sand and a couple of curmudgeons combing the sand for lost treasure with their metal detectors, there's no place I'd rather be.

San Diegans know this place isn't sunny and warm all the time. At least not at the beach, where it can be bone-chillingly cold and go weeks without a break in the clouds. If you live in East County, unless you're in the mountains you don't see clouds much; the sun shines most of the time. But at the beach in winter, you get a touch of real weather, of real life. It's calming for me. It makes me think of the east, and the past. It just makes me think.

On the other hand, when it's 90 degrees outside, the ocean is like bath water, the summer swell is pumping, and the sky is impossibly blue, but there are so many 'Zonies (Arizonans who invade our city every summer) and other fair-weather tourists putting sun block on their hairy, lobster-red backs and unsuccessfully trying to throw a Frisbee that you can't even find a spot on the sand, I often just sit alone on the shore and wish it would rain. 

Then I think back all those years ago to that gray Mission Beach morning atop the roller coaster, and smile. And they said this love wouldn't last.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Woody Allen a Child Molester?

Mia Farrow
In an open letter last week in the New York Times, Dylan Farrow, 28, who was adopted by actress Mia Farrow (right) and writer-director Woody Allen in 1985, discusses for the first time her childhood charge that Allen sexually molested her when she was seven years old in the family home in Connecticut. Not surprisingly, her troubling accusation has reignited the fiery national debate over this sordid and sad family saga. I've been reading the comments from readers of various news reports rehashing the specifics of this case this morning. And I just can't stay silent any longer. 

A caveat: if you think Allen is a vicious sicko pedophile and Mia Farrow is an innocent victim, you might want to stop reading right about here.

First and foremost, we must always grant a child the benefit of the doubt when sexual abuse is charged. This is the most despicable crime there is, and if Allen really is guilty he should rot in jail, or worse. But the way I see it, there is an unusually heavy burden of proof in this case on both the accuser, Dylan, and her mother, Mia Farrow, because of Mia's demonstrably raging bitterness towards Allen and because of the accusations made over the years, including by one of her own children, that Mia brainwashed her kids from an early age to despise Allen.

Woody Allen
This story to me has never really been about sexual abuse, it is about the immeasurable anger and ugliness between two former lovers, neither of whom is what anyone would call a poster child for mental health. Again, if Allen really did abuse Dylan Farrow, he should fry in hell. But I don't believe a word of it. Not a damn word.

I instead believe Moses Farrow, 36, Mia and Woody's adopted son, who told  People magazine this week that Mia was the abusive one and that he was "often hit" by her as a child and that his mother went into "unbridled rages" of anger. Moses said Mia brainwashed him, and Dylan, to hate Allen from the time they were small children. 

"Of course Woody did not molest my sister," Moses said. "She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him. The day in question, there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces … I don't know if my sister really believes she was molested or is trying to please her mother."

Moses Farrow
I don't know what really happened that day in Connecticut, and neither do you. All we are left with, then, are the existing facts and our gut feelings. And those facts and my gut tell me that Mia Farrow is simply not credible. I believe she is mentally unstable and blinded by rage. She is a gifted and versatile actress. And frankly, I think she's a bit of a loon.

For what it's worth, I've felt this way about her since long before she started a relationship with Woody. Ever since I watched her ethereal and creepy performance as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, and perhaps even dating back to when I was little and watched her in Rosemary's Baby, I thought she was bizarre and kind of scary, those crazy eyes. And she collects children like some people collect porcelain statues. All rather strange. 

Is Woody's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn also strange? Yes, of course. But check your facts, folks. Contrary to overwhelming popular belief, Soon-Yi was never Woody Allen's stepdaughter. She is the adopted daughter of Mia and Andre Previn. Woody and Mia were a couple, but they were never married and they didn't even live in the same house. Allen didn't start seeing Soon-Yi until she was 19 years old. 

If you get a chance, read Robert Weide's take on all this in The Daily Beast. He knows Allen and some say he's biased. That's a fair charge. But he presents a list of compelling facts. For example, Weide notes that Dr. John M. Leventhal, the family doctor who headed the medical investigation of the abuse charges (they included physical exams of Dylan) concluded that Dylan either "invented the story under the stress of living in a volatile and unhealthy home" or that it was "planted in her mind by her mother, Mia Farrow." 

Dylan's accusation, which first surfaced in 1993 during a bitter custody battle between Mia and Woody, is despicable if true. But I personally have never believed the allegation, despite Allen's curious lifestyle.

Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi is indeed strange by all normal societal standards. Many believe it is totally immoral and unacceptable. I've never felt that strongly about it. I did think it is was inappropriate from the start. But they have been together now for two decades and seem very much in love. Soon-Yi and Woody have their own family and she frankly seems a lot happier and healthier psychologically than Mia Farrow.

Mia Farrow (right) and son Ronan Farrow
Also, for the record, Mia is the one who cheated on Allen and allegedly conceived Frank Sinatra's son (Ronan Farrow, left), and then told everyone he was Woody's son. In other words, Mia was sleeping with her ex-husband, Frank Sinatra, many years after their divorce and while she was in a relationship with Woody. I wonder what Sinatra's wife Barbara thinks of Mia Farrow?

Going even further back, at age 24, Mia became pregnant by Previn, 40, who was still married at the time to singer-songwriter Dory Previn. If anyone is immoral in this drama, it is Mia, not Woody. 

And here’s one more interesting and perhaps telling fact: After director Roman Polanski pled guilty in 1977 to unlawful sex with a thirteen-year-old girl in Los Angeles, Mia testified on Polanski's behalf. The two remain close friends to this day, and Mia can't say enough good things about Polanski, an admitted sex offender who has never returned to the United States.  

When you put all this on the table, the entire case against Allen gets wobbly. I believe Mia Farrow has done everything in her power to make her children, and the outside world, believe that Allen is a monster. And a lot of people do believe that. I'm not one of them. I'm not buying it. He's no saint, but I do not believe he is a child molester. Sadly, none of us will ever know for certain what happened to this tragically dysfunctional family. In this story, there are no winners, and there are certainly no happy endings.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Is America Becoming Too Girly? A Timely Treatise on the Latest Charges that the Country is Turning Soft

Entertaining if thuggish New York Congressman Michael Grimm
On Tuesday night, just after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), who’s already entangled in a campaign finance scandal, got in a journalist's face on a Capitol balcony and threatened him physically. Grimm told Michael Scotto, a reporter for NY1 who had just asked Grimm about the campaign controversy, "Let me be clear to you: If you ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this f***ing balcony.”

Scott replied that he was just trying to ask "a valid question."

"No, no,” Grimm responded. “You're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half, like a boy.”

This isn't the first time that Grimm, whose troubling warning was captured on video and hilariously mocked last night on Saturday Night Live by Melissa McCarthy, let his testosterone do his talking. An attorney, former FBI agent and Marine who by all accounts served his country honorably, Grimm reportedly once pulled a gun on his date's estranged husband and threatened to kill him at a Queens nightclub.

But what's most interesting to me about Grimm's blow-up is that it happened just a couple weeks after Fox News pundit Brit Hume complained that politicians should not be afraid to be tough guys. Was Grimm inspired by Hume? In his rant, Hume suggested that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has only gotten a reputation for being a bully because men can't be “masculine and muscular” in the "feminized atmosphere” in which we now live.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. The feeling among certain Americans – men, mostly – that the country is turning too feminine has come up again and again, always as if it’s something new and that we are in the throes of a nuclear-level crisis. America’s more reactionary male culture critics have expressed concern about the state of the nation’s manhood since before the ink on the Constitution was dry. 

And apparently the best way to purge ourselves of this alleged feminization - which of course is offensive to women, who are as tough as guys in so many ways - is by bullying or participating in various other acts of twisted masculinity.

Teddy Roosevelt liked little-girl books and killing pachyderms
Teddy the Rough Rider 

Consider the 26th President of the United States, Teddy “Rough Rider” Roosevelt, who complained vociferously about our society becoming too feminine and yet was, according to historians, intent on exploring both his masculine and feminine sides. Roosevelt’s critics said his declaration of war against Spain in the 1890s and his penchant for shooting bears, lions, elephants and endangered rhinos were a form of overcompensation for being perceived as too sensitive.

After all, as a young boy, Teddy enjoyed reading stories written for girls. “At the cost of being deemed effeminate,” he once wrote, “I greatly liked the girls’ stories: Pussy Willow and A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite’s Life, just as I worshipped Little Men and Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl.”

Similarly, I hear that Congressman Grimm is a closet fan of the sensitive prose of Sylvia Plath and the pensive poetry of Emily Dickinson, and that Gov. Christie enjoys wearing his wife’s pink bunny slippers after a long day. Well, no, not really. But it wouldn’t shock me.

Effeminate silent-film star Rudolph Valentino
The Roaring Twenties

When I hear guys bemoan how feminine our country is getting, I can’t help but think back to something I learned in a sociology class in college about the Roaring Twenties, when many male movie fans and a number of journalists complained that silent-screen heartthrob Rudolph Valentino was too damn girly. That didn’t stop these men from styling their hair like Valentino, of course, for the simple reason that women adored him, but they felt compelled to walk out of his movies to express their otherwise disgust.

In each decade of the second half of the 20th century, some guys expressed their discomfort with the fact that popular culture took its share of girly turns, as the definition of “masculine” was reshaped and expanded by the baby boom generation.
In the Sixties, boomer feminists and activists – both male and female - attempted to redefine masculinity by staging love-ins and be-ins and generally blurring the gender lines as much as possible without resorting to surgery. Some of this was probably sincere self-exploration, but I think some of it was rooted in naïve and narcissistic fads.
In the Seventies, a new kind of American male archetype emerged from his EST and primal scream sessions, dressed in tight pants and disco chains, trading rough-talking Spaghetti Western star Clint Eastwood for dancing and prancing John Travolta. Soon, this American man was chanting mantras and clutching such self-help books as I'm OK, You're OK by Thomas Harris, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, and Love by Leo Buscaglia.

Then there was the inevitable pushback, exemplified by the 1982 book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to All That is Truly Masculine, by Bruce Feirstein, which was ostensibly tongue-in-cheek – but was it really? A lot of men avoided quiche as if it were the culinary equivalent of cross-dressing and treated Feirstein's book as a how-to guide to living the manly life. 

By the Nineties, boomers had largely lost control of the pop-culture reigns and the proceeding generation, best known as Generation X, embraced the grunge movement and adorned themselves in proto-masculine attire – backward baseball caps, flannel shirts, and a permanent scowl, as if reclaiming lost ground.

Nick Sparks: The Ultimate Girlyman?

Which brings us to the latest outcropping of masculine navel-gazing and posturing. Today, among the many polarizing topics in the debate over the so-called feminization of our culture is the fine work of author Nicholas Sparks, many of whose bestselling novels have been turned into what are often derisively called chick-flicks.

At a time when pundits and politicians are insisting that our collective culture is not man enough, I just received in the mail a boxed set of DVDs of the seven Sparks-inspired movies – the first time they've been compiled for sale. It occurred to me that here was a counterbalance: Grimm, Hume and O’Reilly, the conservative throwbacks to a time when no one apologized for being masculine even when they were wrong, and Sparks, author of such hugely popular tear-jerking love stories as The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, and The Lucky One.

In much the way Valentino was in the 1920s, Sparks is widely reviled by American men and adored by hordes of American women.  

“A guy can be too in touch with his female side, which creates an imbalance,” argues Chuck Scott, a screenwriter from San Diego who is definitely not a Sparks fan. “His stories are unfulfilling dreck produced for the illiterate masses who don't want to bring a brain to their part of the compact between the writer and the reader.”

But unlike Valentino, Sparks isn’t a flowery Hollywood actor; he was, before becoming a rich novelist, a celebrated track star at Notre Dame. And he isn’t apologizing for perceptions of his work. Valentino, like Roosevelt, was extremely sensitive to his negative portrayal, to the point that he challenged one offending Chicago editor to a boxing match. 

Though the editor demurred, the New York Evening Journal’s boxing writer, Frank O'Neill, volunteered to fight in his place. Valentino won the much-publicized match, which took place on the roof of New York City’s Ambassador Hotel. That, it seems to me, represents an inordinate level of caring about one’s perceived gender role.

Charles Miles, a Gulf War veteran and bestselling author of thrillers and suspense novels including Just Remember to Breathe, is among the admirers of the Sparks approach, and concedes that the male characters in Sparks’ stories are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the belligerent prototype Fox News pundits admiringly describe.

“But they’re not wimps,” Miles said. “His characters are soldiers and other men who can fight but who love their wives and take care of their families. Like Noah Calhoun from The Notebook, who went off to war, built his house with his own hands, then took loving care of his wife when she was sick. He sacrificed everything for her. That to me is the definition of masculinity.”

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Among the more ubiquitous depictions of traditional masculinity we have in 2014 is The Most Interesting Man in the World, the handsome, charismatic Latino who pushes Dos Equis beer in TV ads. An amusing cross between Fernando Lamas and Ernest Hemingway, this character, played by actor Jonathan Goldsmith, is at once a man's man and a ladies man who oozes old-school macho and claims to have "once parallel-parked a train."

The ad campaign, which is brilliant because it portrays traditional masculinity as sexy even as it sends it up, has not surprisingly sold a lot of beer. I suspect it appeals to Grimm and Sparks fans alike. Like the quiche book 30 years ago, the character has struck a chord. The commercials work not just as satire but because they appeal to the portion of the male audience that longs for a time when men were as manly as they were uncomplicated.

Yet those two conflicting images – of the unapologetic manly man and the sensitive lover – continue to duke it out in American culture. Fox News host Bill O'Reilly had a point when he said a day after Hume's original rant that blunt guys sometimes get unfairly categorized as bullies. But O'Reilly's choice of President Andrew Jackson as an example of an admirable American tough-guy pol was a regrettable misfire. 

Yes, “Old Hickory" Jackson was a tough guy for sure, but he also killed several men in duels, supported slavery and betrayed his close friend and ally, the Choctaw chief Pushmataha, in his zeal to relocate Native Americans to open remaining territories in the Southeaster U.S. to white settlement, which culminated with the Trail of Tears.

Grimm, Hume and O’Reilly clearly feel the way many men in America have felt throughout the nation’s history: That they’re losing ground. Peter McAllister, an archaeologist and author of the recent book Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male Is Not the Man He Used to Be, recently noted that he has a "strong feeling that masculinity is in crisis. Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things we used to do aren't in much demand anymore."

I'm not sure who McAllister is hanging out with, but in my home, many of the things men “used to do” are still in high demand. Like being a supportive husband, father and friend. And of course the really important stuff, like killing spiders and mowing the yard. What is not in demand? Being brash, rude or bullying, or making unilateral decisions in a booming voice that leaves the womenfolk cowering in the kitchen.

The Real Meaning of Masculine

For me, masculinity has always started and ended with strength of character, courage, integrity and compassion, all traits that, if I may say, my own father had. Sure, physical strength and toughness are part of the mix; my dad was a great athlete who had a deep voice and was by any traditional societal measure "masculine." But courage and strength come in all shapes and sizes. And rudeness and bullying do not a masculine man make. Sometimes, in fact, bullying is an obvious compensation for men who are grappling with their own masculine identity. You listening, Congressman Grimm?

The definition of masculinity is certainly being challenged in a society in which gay men are now openly serving and dying for their country, and that is a complicated trend for some men to process. But I would hope and expect that even conservative commentators and pols would think twice before questioning the masculinity of a gay American soldier who just returned home after a fighting for his country during a brutal deployment to Afghanistan.

Man's man Ernest Hemingway
And in Miles’ view, it doesn’t make a guy less masculine if he’s tuned into his wife’s interests and emotions. “What has changed in the last century is the fact that men have to pay attention to their spouses now because these spouses can vote now and get a divorce,” he observed. “Men have to do more now than just provide. It is a power change, especially for white males. A century ago, they were 25 steps ahead of the rest, now they are just 10 steps ahead. To a lot of white males, that feels like losing.”

There will always be guys who resist change, subscribe to the bar-bouncer definition of what is masculine, and feel threatened by cultural developments that seem too wussy or otherwise upset the status quo. To take the opposing view doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with guys for being guys, with the love of hunting or playing and watching football or driving fast or climbing mountains or just pushing themselves to the limit.

As Miles pointed out, Hemingway was the perfect example of testosterone-fueled behavior. “He was the masculine ideal. In theory, at least," said Miles. "In reality, he blew his brains out. Why? Because he lived hard, drank hard, and had no sense of moderation in his life. But his characters lived different lives. They told a different story, especially Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms. He was really tough but was also a very sensitive guy. That was a part of Hemingway, too.”

And this duality exists in all of us, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Personally, I could watch football or college hoops or Clint Eastwood westerns for 12 hours straight, easily, but I'm also a big fan of many so-called chick flicks, including any romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And I declare right here and right now that if you are not moved by the ending of Sparks' touching and hugely entertaining book (and movie) The Notebook, you are emotionally disabled.

Gentlemen, it is OK to embrace both your masculine and feminine sides. No, really. You see, a true man's man understands the lay of the land and his role in it -- as it currently exists, not in some fancified or unrealistic version in his own mind.