"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, November 17, 2017

Moral Robocalls–Persistent And Annoying Just Like The Real Thing

Most Americans have set up a No Call service designed to protect them from persistent robocalls. The service works well enough, although First Amendment challenges have allowed political interest groups and charities to have unrestricted access. 

To most of us there is no difference between selling time shares and vacuum cleaners or membership in Save the Bay or the Smithsonian.  Whether the pitch is for a better world or better home appliances, it is still a pitch for money.

The National Do Not Call registry is a Maginot Line – a last defense against aggressive advertisers but one which will never hold.  The rights of free speech for corporations and businesses, more and more upheld by the Supreme Court, the pervasiveness and general acceptance of advertising as a way of American life, and the canniness of marketers who have always found exploitable cracks in privacy defenses, all militate against the individual. 

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Hectoring, however, is human.  Once is never enough.  Persistence – constant badgering – works.  It takes little to repeat the same request, and the effect – cumulative, annoying, and bothersome – is always the same.  Wearing someone down is easy.  Being worn down is water torture – anything to stop it.

Henry Trumbull could never manage to control his wife’s constant nagging.  If it wasn’t the toilet seat, it was his hairs in the sink, tracking dirt on the carpet, or eating with his mouth open.  She had a delicate, sweet way of reminding him about the trash, the toilet paper roll, and the heat – more cajoling than anything.  She always found the right moment to comment – in his best moods or when he was playing with the children – but nagging is still nagging, and eventually he got fed up with her chirpy reminders and turned a mean streak.  Not only did he try to remember to put the toilet seat down, he deliberately left it up.

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There is nothing new in this familiar story of marriage.  Most couples sort out their annoyances one way or another, compromise, or divorce.  What is interesting, however, is the fact that most marital problems boil down the same nagging and hectoring that eventually wrecked the Trumbulls’ marriage.  Marriages do not end so much because of infidelity, spousal abuse, or abandonment.  They end because of robocalls – irritating, minor,  but insistent whiny pestering about nothing.

Nor is there anything new about pestering.  Children pester their parents until they give in.  Students nag their teachers until they add a point or two to their grades.  Politicians nag and pester on the stump.  How are rehearsed sound-bites, repeated over and over again anything less than robocall pestering.  Once a voter makes up his mind and gives in to the blandishments and promises of the candidate, the hectoring stops.  The candidate can be tuned out and shelved until the election.

A Catholic priest once told me that his job was moral robocalling, but that was only the beginning of persistent, pestering calls of conscience that would follow.  It was not enough, he said, to introduce the idea of sin and guilt but it had to become so much a part of the sinner’s psychology that his own conscience would take over.  

“Once you have entertained the idea that you might have done wrong", he said, "you become more and more convinced that you did."

The aspiration of the ascetic is not so much to dismiss the outside world but to shut out the inner.  ‘Contemplation without cognition’ is a way, say Hindu philosophers, of seeing the world as a chimera, an illusory promise without fulfillment; yet it is quieting the pesky thoughts of the internal mind which is the real challenge. It is a relatively easy matter to convince oneself that the physical world and all its temptations are meaningless when considered in the context of eternity; but another thing altogether to be convinced that niggling guilt, shame, and irresponsibility can be ignored without consequence.

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Anyone who has tried to meditate understands the problem.  Conscience never stops annoying.  After all, the abandonment of responsibility and the willing unmooring of attachments and duty is certainly not Christian let alone American.

We live in a hounding world – demands on time, commitment, and patience are universal and unforgiving.  It is one thing to enjoy the take-aways of a pluralistic society; another thing to sort out right from wrong. The more choices there are, the more possibility for error.

The mind has always been a jumble and at best a sortable tangle; but in earlier, simpler days morality was more of a big-ticket item. Innocence and guilt regulated beyond a doubt.  Now there is more of everything, and issues of responsibility, duty, respect, and discipline are not so clear.

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Of course there are many on the social margins – either in dysfunctional, antisocial communities or above the law in high, derivative-based finance – but for most of the rest of us in the middle, conscience must necessarily be overactive.  Not only does freedom of choice mean freedom to go off the moral rails; but in a highly-charged, divisive political environment, we are forced to choose.  Indifference is the worst sin in an identity-driven society. 

Every cause makes demands, forces commitment, appeals to morality, ethics, and simply doing the right thing.  No one is spared.  There are no Do Not Call registries.

An expatriate living in India a number of years ago was moved by the extreme poverty and often miserable conditions of the poor. Beggars were everywhere.  Sanitation was no existent, water polluted, disease rampant.  It was one thing to simply survive in such an aggressive environment, another thing entirely to adjust to the moral dilemma of a wealthy man in dirt poor place.

He decided to pick an affliction and stick to it.  He gave only to blind beggars, gave generously to schools and associations for the blind, and contributed to Helen Keller International.  Otherwise the hundreds of legitimate demands on his conscience would be overwhelming. 

Robocalls are a nuisance; but they are no different from the importunate and persistent demands made on our privacy, our ethics, our morality, our sense of responsibility, and our conscience.

We would like to extend the reach of the No Call Registry; but we know that like all Maginot Lines, it is not defensible. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Way We Were–Sexual Fantasies Never Restored But Always Relived

Pete and Lisa Cummings were an ideal couple at least at the beginning and to all their friends.  Compatible, intimate, respectful, and perhaps most importantly sexually attuned.

Theirs was not a showy, exaggerated public display, but there was no mistaking their intimacy.   They were too well brought-up for anything suggestive, but no one in their company could miss the unmistakable  signals.  They would rather be by themselves, in bed, and alone.

Which is the way youth is supposed to behave . Unconcerned, alone, apart and happily so with sex at the center and everything else - friends, family, ambition, progress – on the periphery.

Which is why in Pete’s later years he remembered those sexual times, although this late in life  it was hard to recollect its uniqueness. 

For unique it was, and not only for the exotic, made-for-Hollywood locales, but for its particular nuances.  No two people could have performed this way – with such emotional acrobatics.  The ups-and-downs of life on the cultural margins – Cotonou, Abidjan, and Luanda – were nothing compared to the surprises of their sexual life. 

Who would have expected this young woman of American heritage and Catholic schooling to be so complaisant, willing, and adventurous?  For her, marriage was a convenient cover, a traditional homecoming after years of unmarried sex.  ‘All is permitted’, especially within the sanction of the Good Sisters.

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Pete, who had never doubted marriage but who had always wondered at its longevity, was daily surprised at the sexual dévoilement of his wife – her engaging sexual maturity, her respectful marginalization of her Catholic and Early American background, and her surprising frankness.  Where did she come from?  And where was this easy, uncomplicated sexual permissiveness born?

He never found out because the marriage was a good one.  It never fractured because of his dalliances or her increasing disillusionment, and continued long into sexual middle age because of inertia and a residual attraction of one to the other. 

Pete had his affairs both temporal and excusable and more serious and potentially lasting.  If it hadn’t been for circumstances – the stage-left arrival of the man Birthe had been waiting for her whole life – Pete would have left Lisa and moved to Ethiopia, Chad, or East Timor.  He would have sacrificed his life for this plain, unusual, and unsolicitious Danish woman.

If it hadn’t been for a hardwired propriety and for a peripheral, Catholic morality, Lisa might have slept with Sergio Del Astrologo and perhaps gone with him to Trieste.

Neither strayed far from home, and the marriage lasted; or in the view of Edward Albee, persisted.  Marriage is the crucible of maturity, he said, and without its confines, one can never evolve. They did not ‘endure’ and certainly did not suffer; but after the birth of their first child, Lisa’s attention turned elsewhere.  They reverted to a pre-sexual existence; or better to a common, unfortunate post-partum one.  Their unique sexual relationship had been displaced.

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Now, decades after the birth of his children and decades closer to the end of the tunnel, than the opening Pete wondered what had happened.   Where had his sexually complaisant, willing, and adventurous young wife gone? Was she a fiction? Had she ever been? Had her concerns about investments, grouting, and charitable giving totally displaced her formerly unconcerned sexual desires?

It was as though he had been living with two different women.  What to make of his serial infidelities? Sexual adventures with young women to recall or relive those he had had with his wife. A final existential compromise? Life that could never be relived but only reconsidered.

Pete, who had been married previously and had gone through a particularly difficult divorce, vowed  that any second marriage would be permanent.  No matter how many infidelities, cinq-a-septs, paramours, or even casual lovers he might have had, marriage would remain intact.

Yet, he could never square the young, sexually talented Lisa with the old mother of his two children.  Growing old and still in love was a grotesque Hallmark Card fantasy.  Marital longevity would never be more than convenient accommodation – getting used to each other at best.

Which leads to sexual validation.  If unmatched days of sexual union are past, faded and almost unrecognizable; and if a September-May liaison cannot match earlier and original sexual enthusiasm, then what is left?

God’s greatest irony, is, it is said, that having created an intelligent, sentient, sensitive, insightful being, and allotted a few short decades to enjoy this uniqueness, he consigned Man to eternity beneath the cold, hard ground.

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Worse is the attenuated longevity of modern times.  Men live longer, think of sexual conquest daily, but are progressively unable to do anything about it.

So, years after his long affair with Marfa Potter, Pete found his sexual fantasies changing from her to his wife – or at least to  the young, uninhibited, physically irresistible woman that she once was.  He fantasized less about Marfa – who, although satisfying and remarkably agile and uninhibited had no emotional staying power – and more about his wife of forty years.  She became his sexual poupée; and after decades became, once again, his object of desire.

How surprising.  One minute he was imagining Marfa with her pajama bottoms half down in the stairwell of 3342 Irving Street, and the next his wife beside him breathing into his ear.  How quickly he had moved from the hope of a sexual encounter to an imagined one to a remembered one.

Pete was not the first to have decided that a virtual world – or at least a vividly remembered past one – was as good if not better than the real thing.  A function of age, he reasoned; but still no denying its allure.  What was so pertinent about the immediate ‘real’ world after all?  Wasn’t our fantasy far more accomplished and ‘pertinent’ than any roll in the hay?

This was old age, he figured sadly.  At some point, physical or emotional,  reality begins to hold less and less interest.  We care less about what is than what was or what might have been.

Pete still enjoyed recalling his fugues with Adele in the Graham Greene Suite of the Olaffson Hotel in Port-au-Prince, with Aisha at the Victoria in Bucharest, and with Birthe at the George Rex in Copenhagen; but he kept coming back to Lisa The Young.

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There was something about secure love that bridled irrelevant emotion.  She was not his first love, nor his best love,, nor even his last; but she was his most enduring, perplexingly so.  He had to envision her in his sexual fantasies as he had pursued her in reality.

If truth be known, she was far more appealing as a sexual fantasy than a real woman, but at his age, beyond adventure and hope, it would have to do.

Monday, November 13, 2017

I Was Groped, But Then Again, I Did My Share Of Groping–Memories Of Yesteryear And An Era Of Individual Responsibility

Patty Zigger flicked every boy in Mrs. Linder's 8th grade.  They learned to steer clear of her, to stay close to the bannister on the stairs to the biology lab, and to eat at the far end of the dining hall, but they still wondered at her marvelous sexual ambition, and what she would be like in bed. 

Now, this being the mid 50s, no 8th grade boy had even gotten close to the sexual act itself.  At best all they could hope for was a brush against one of those tempting breasts of Nancy Boone.  The rest would have to wait.

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So what to make of Patty Zigger? She was not as seductive as Nancy Boone – no girl in fact could match Nancy’s perkiness, lightly lipsticked lips, and especially her pert, inviting, and irresistible breasts – but still, there was no mistaking Patty’s sexual interest.

In this, a more sexually sophisticated age, her gestures might have multiple meanings – her neglect and desire for sexual attention being the last among them.  A transsexual perhaps, a closeted woman whose desire for a penis could only be expressed in a frustrated, aggressive way.  A fully mature woman in a young girl’s body for whom any touch of the male was a signifier, a sign of fulfillment to come.  A lesbian who, even at her young age, understood the nature of male predation and insult and who, while still inhibited from showing her true colors and to immature for serious political conviction, knew that there was something wrong with men.

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In that, a much less evolved and more innocent age, boys were simply and uniformly concerned with what was under Patty’s shirtwaist and Nancy’s blouse, and what they would do once they found out.

Sex was on their mind all the time, from morning to night; in Mr. Smith’s math class and Mrs. Taylor’s English grammar. 

The girls in the Muirland Country Day 8th grade were no different.  They wondered what ‘it’ looked like, how it would feel inside them, and especially when they could find out.  The sexual reticence of the times and the moral strictures of both church and community inhibited any resolution to these questions, but they were on everyone’s minds night and day.

Bobby Parker did indeed grope Nancy Boone in the backseat of his Ford Galaxie, parked on the service road along the 8th hole at Mountain Meadows Country Club.  She kept pushing his hand away as he drew her closer, kissed her, and caressed her shoulder.  She knew exactly what he was after, wanted him to continue, but needed to dictate the pace.

She like all girls in New Brighton understood that boys were incessant and irremediable in their pursuit of sexual favors but were so naïve and inexperienced that they could be deterred and, if necessary, ridiculed.  There was nothing so fragile as the male ego, they learned from an early age, and that knowledge was power.

Of course there were those boys who couldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer; but all the girls knew who they were and most were attracted by their male assertiveness. There were those who got into the backseat of the coupe willingly; and those who had no interest in being tempted, romanced, and enticed, and who simply went home.

There were plenty of girls who wanted to be touched, caressed, and loved; and who knew precisely what they were doing when they accepted ‘his’ offer; and plenty more who abided by the censorious rules of the day and demurred. 

These latter were more willing to go out with the inexperienced boys because they – the girls – could always be in control.  They would be the arbiters of pace and rhythm, and if a blouse was unbuttoned or a belt loosened, it was they who decided when and how.

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These young girls learned about male sexual behavior before it got twisted, frustrated, and difficult.  Boys simply wanted to touch them, to feel them, to kiss them, and ultimately to make love to them – nothing offensive, predatory, abusive, or disrespectful.  They were acting according to the way God made them.

The girls also understood their own sexual nature and how it fit in with or rubbed up against social norms.  They were to be the pursued, never the pursuing.  Always diffident and reticent, never eager or passionate, but temperate, accepting, and patient. 

They of course knew how to game the system just as their sisters and brothers in previous and future generations had and would.  Male sexual pursuit is a given – an obvious, simple, and uncomplicated one – and women have always known how to dismiss, deflate, and ignore it.

The attractive girls in Mrs. Linder’s 8th grade were never frustrated, for they knew that they would always be pursued. There were no social, religious, or community injunctions which could stop them.  The Darwinian sorting which started in the 8th grade would continue until mating, and girls would always be the determinants, boys the dependent variables.  Boys were helpless in the thrall of their hardwired, unfairly riveted sexual desire.  Girls could always use this impossibly vain and naïve desire to their advantage.

One had to look no further than the works of Shakespeare to see how savvy, smart women bested men all the time – Portia, Rosalind, Beatrice, Goneril, Regan, Viola and many others used men as their playthings, tricked them, conspired against them, and always won the day.

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The more confident girls were aggressive.  When they found the right boy – not too demanding, cute, promising, and attractive – they did the fondling, gave the sweet inviting caresses and soft kisses all to remove his inhibitions and reticence.  ‘She who initiates controls’ was their motto.

So groping went on every Saturday night on the service road along the 8th hole at Mountain Meadows.  Girls were tempted, boys enticed, a delicate sexual balance sought, and by midnight most issues had been sorted out.

No one reported Patty Zigger to the principal or to the school administration.  No boy tattled to his mother about her behavior.  They felt in no need of protection or alleviation.  They were quite happy either to avoid her, to meet her, or even to pursue her.

In the same vein Nancy Boone, who could never keep boys’ hands off her, never went home crying, disconsolate and put upon.  She knew precisely who she was, what she was, and the effect she had on boys.  She was in control; and even at her young age knew precisely how to puncture a soft male ego.  It didn’t take much, she knew, to pop the inflated sexual balloon.

So what is one to make of the current groping hysteria? Men and women both are reporting incidents that happened thirty or forty years ago.  What is going on here?

It has been well-known for years that Hollywood is an intensely competitive, highly sexed place.  Starlets sleep with producers to get the roles they want, and producers take liberties with the most impressionable and hopeful among them.  If not exactly consensual, these liaisons were at least contractual.  Both parties knew what they were giving and getting.

It should be no surprise to learn that given the star culture of Hollywood attractive young actors try to bed the beautiful women and men around them? Are there cases of actual abuse?  Of course.  There are boors in every industry, men who will never understand what’s what, and who are so arrogantly self-centered and entitled that they will do anything to anyone at anytime.  They, however, are not the issue.

The only relevant issue is contractual.  Who agreed to what under what circumstances with what level of agreement or complicity?

An ancillary issue is individual strength, will, and resolve.  What woman has not repulsed an aggressive male advance? In most cases, except when dealing with the most obtuse, ugly, and deformed male personalities, rejection works.   Women are not the victims that feminists ironically claim.  Strong women are the descendants of Tamora, Volumnia, Margaret, Hedda, Hilde, Laura, and Dionyza.  We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

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The culture of victimhood is infectious.  It has extended beyond reasonable assumptions of sexual discrimination to include sex itself.  The sexual protocol mandated by the State of California  (ask permission every ten minutes) is absurd in its notions of safe spaces and assumptions of total individual irresponsibility.  All men are predators say the radical feminist Left, and every measure to protect women from their malign intent is justified and called for.

Such abnegation of individual responsibility has spilled over into racial and ethnic arenas.  Blacks can and should be understood and exonerated for their antisocial actions because they are the victims of white supremacy and oppression.  They are given a bye for dysfunctional families, a culture of disrespect and questionable street creds, and an ethos of hostility towards any established white authority.

Individual responsibility; honorable, intelligent behavior; respect, compassion, duty, and courage all play second fiddle to the airing of any and all grievances in a culture of blame.

It is time to return behavior to a more private sphere.  To consider it as an expression of individual character, not social arbiters.  In other words, time to woman up.