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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Recipes: Roast Lamb Shank, Rosemary Roasted Small Potatoes, And Broccoli Puree

I recently had dinner at a very good restaurant in Irvington, Virginia called Trick Dog.  It serves an interesting variety of meat and local seafood, and I tried the roasted lamb shank.  It is a cut of meat that is not often found on restaurant menus, and I have always preferred a nice, rare, leg of lamb to anything that has to be cooked for hours.  This time, however, I thought I would see what the fuss was all about.  It was delicious, and I knew I had to try to reproduce it at home.

The trick is in the slow cooking.  I cooked the lamb for about 3 hours at 325F and it came out succulent, moist, and falling off the bone – as it is supposed to.  It takes little preparation, lamb shank is not an expensive cut of meat, and you don’t have to watch it.

I decided that roast small potatoes with rosemary would be very good with the lamb as would a broccoli puree.  The meal was easy to prepare and delicious.

Roasted Lamb Shank

* A 2-3 lb. lamb shank (I bought mine at a non-specialty supermarket)

* 1 cup red wine

* 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary

* 5 lg. cloves garlic, skins left on but punctured

* 1 vegetarian or chicken bouillon cube in 1 cup water

- Rub the lamb with a fresh clove of garlic, rosemary, and fresh ground black pepper

- Preheat the oven to 325F

- Place the lamb in a roasting pan and add the bouillon, red wine, and garlic cloves

- Cover with two layers of heavy duty tin foil and make sure that the pan is tightly covered

- Roast for approximately 2 1/2 hours and test the meat for doneness.  The meat should be very loose and should pull away easily from the bone.  It it is not done, recover and add another 30 minutes.

- Serve

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

* 5-6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered

* 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary

* 2 Tbsp. olive oil

* Pinch of salt and grindings fresh black pepper

- Put the potatoes, rosemary, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a mixing bowl and mix well

- Place the potatoes on a pie plate or other baking dish

- Preheat the oven to 450F

- Bake for about 45 minutes, checking after 30.  The potatoes should be a golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside when done.

Broccoli Puree

* 2 lbs. broccoli florets (i.e. without most of the stem)

* 1 cup half-and-half

* 1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

* 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

* 2 tsp. bourbon

* Salt, ground pepper to taste

- Steam the broccoli until done

- Place the broccoli in a blender or food processor, and add the cream, nutmeg, cheese

- Blend until creamy, taste for salt, nutmeg, pepper, cheese.  Blend again thoroughly

- Serve

The Challenge Of The Next Generation Of Condoms–Bill Gates And The Pleasure Principle

I flogged condoms for over forty years in the developing world and started way before the AIDS epidemic.  In the Seventies condoms were promoted for birth control only, but played second fiddle to the Pill which was far more convenient and effective.  The Pill not only provided nearly complete contraceptive protection, it promised African and Asian women the same sexual liberation enjoyed by women of America.  Husbands never had to know about the Pill, and women could let them hump away knowing that they would not have yet another child. 

Injectable contraceptives offered an even better alternative. Women always forgot to take their pills, and uneducated women often misunderstood the directions.  If they mislaid their pills and missed a few days, they just took a handful of what was left in the pack.  Protection rates for the Pill were never as good as those advertised; and ‘injectables’ were a godsend for women who never understood conception in the first place.   A menstrual cycle was easy enough, but fertility cycles were another thing altogether.  With an injectable a woman never had to remember to take anything, never had to understand her cyclical reproductive system, and could continue to avoid her husband’s prying eyes.

There was plenty of opposition, of course, and not only from conservative lawmakers and the Catholic Church. Doctors approved of the Pill, but refused to liberalize its sale and have maintained a tight hold on contraceptive prescriptions to this day even – and especially – in America.

The entire contraceptive landscape changed with the onset of HIV/AIDS.  How could one responsibly promote the Pill when it only prevented pregnancy, not disease? But suggesting to couples that they use both methods was unrealistic, expensive, and almost impossible. Men hated the condom, refused to use it, insisted on male sexual prerogatives, and were suspicious that their wives might pull a few rubbers out of the top drawer and use them with clandestine lovers.

So despite its universal lack of acceptance and extremely high failure rates (most condoms are very successful if used properly, but they rarely are), marketing and promotional efforts turned almost exclusively to the condom  Social marketers were up against a behavioral double-whammy.  Men refused to wear condoms; and women, with no economic or social power, could not force their husbands into compliance.  Men simply said, “Honey, you are my one and only true love” – i.e. I don’t sleep around and put you and me at risk from HIV – but lied through their teeth.  The disease was spread quickly and easily by straying men who screwed prostitutes with astronomical levels of HIV infection and then came home to sleep with their wives.  It was a lose-lose situation.

Nothing seemed to work.  The whole ‘empowerment of women’ thing was a pleasant fiction.  The international aid workers felt good about promoting feminism and the cause of women’s health and well-being; but this commitment seldom translated into action.  Husbands still came home drunk, told their wives to turn over, and screwed their way to sleep.

Later campaigns tried to address men, appealing to their moral responsibility to their wives, partners, and the community at large.  This might have worked among the educated upper classes, but hardly noticed in the village where marriages were arranged, life was short and difficult, and worldview was limited to a few miles.

Even in the United States where teenagers have been badgered, hectored, lectured, and hammered by parents, educators, and community leaders to practice safe sex, over 40 percent do not use them.  It is worse in the gay community where 50 percent of men do not use condoms.

Any sexually active man knows why – condoms are a terrible product.  No matter how attractive they are made and packaged (colored condoms were thought to be revolutionary in the late 70s), no matter how ‘sensitive’ they might be, they are still thick surgical gloves stuck on a man’s most sensitive organ, a pain in the ass to rip open and put on, and a totally unwelcome interruption of the crescendo of sexual pleasure.

Along comes Bill Gates who is offering rich rewards to any company who can produce a condom which increases male pleasure.

Bill Gates has a foundation that works in Africa to treat AIDS and prevent HIV infection. His research demonstrates that most Africans -- like most Americans -- don't wear condoms because the primitive contraption, which has not appreciably changed in 50 years, steals their pleasure. Gates is a practical businessman and a creative inventor. He has proceeded with plans to make a better product after learning that there is widespread dissatisfaction with an existing product. His foundation will give a $100,000 grant to anyone with credible plans to make a condom that "is felt to enhance pleasure." (David Masciotra, The Atlantic, 4.29.13)

Good luck. On the other hand, never underestimate the power of technology and consumer marketing.  In the not-too-distant future, I am sure there will be an ordinary rubber condom fitted with mini-transmitters which will emit tiny pulses to chips implanted in the pleasure sections of the brain.  Once the condom feels warmth, wetness, and rhythmical motion, it will send out signals, and the user becomes delirious with pleasure.

The AIDS epidemic will be over by the time this toy comes on the market, however; and there don’t seem to be any shorter-term solutions on the horizon.  Perhaps a condom that is gossamer thin but of industrial strength and can be put on after dinner on a flaccid penis.  Have a few more drinks, turn down the lights, and the condom expands uniformly without you even noticing.  Or a mini-condom which is affixed only to the head of the penis, perhaps with some new polymer resin that dissolves after a few hours.

The problem with any of these ideas is that men the world over simply want to do things naturally – any mechanical interference with sex, the most intimate and expressive form of human exchange – simply won’t cut the mustard.

Mark S. King, an award winning author and leading advocate for AIDS awareness in the gay community, who is also gay and HIV positive, recently gave a perfect summary of the motivation behind unprotected sex: "We keep talking about barebacking as if it's some kind of psychosis, when really all it is is men behaving naturally."

This sentiment is echoed in heterosexual circles around the world.  If God had intended us to use condoms, he would have given us sexual skin gloves.

The one aspect of condom use that is often downplayed is the interruption factor.  No matter how sensitive the condom is when on, men still have to fumble around on the night table, rip open the pack in the dark, and snap the rubber on tight all while their lover is moaning for pleasure on the bed next to them. When I was in the business, we told people that condoms should be put on together as part of foreplay.  The couple could pick out the condom that most suited their mood – fiery red, ribbed, or rainbow – and then in a great Tantric ritual, fit the lingam with the sacred sheath.  Needless to say this idea fell flat.  Most men wanted to get on with it as quickly as possible, and women had no interest in playing with toys.

I have no clue what a woman feels when that plasticized phallus enters her, but it can’t be all that good. Madonna who should know a bit about sexual encounters has said that condoms are "essential in the age of AIDS," but conceded, "they feel terrible."

Norman Mailer, never shy about his opinions or sexual exploits said:

"The only thing you can depend on with condoms is that they will take 20 to 50 percent off your f***."  Mailer also condemned condoms for making people part of "the social machinery" and destroying "most of the joy of entrance."

Gates’ incentive of $100,000 to develop a pleasurable condom is chickenfeed to researchers or condom companies who are used to major grants.  To his credit Gates has offered more meaningful incentives to pharmaceutical companies to come up with vaccines for TB, HIV, and malaria.  The Gates Foundation would assure these companies a guaranteed market by buying up significant amounts of new vaccines once they have been developed. This initiative, however, seems rather half-hearted and a bit lame.

Maybe all this condom business is unnecessary and a waste of money.  Withdrawal, the oldest contraceptive method on the books is just about as reliable as condoms.  Withdrawal has a failure rate of 4 percent, while condoms just half that at 2 percent.  The whole ‘pre-cum’ debate has apparently been settled; and contrary to popular myth, there are no sperm in pre-cum.

Most men know that withdrawal is an iffy business and can’t understand where the 4 percent figure comes from. It takes one hell of a lot of discipline and self-control to withdraw, especially when your sexually aroused partner is pulling you farther inside her, and wrapping her legs around you (“Don’t go…Don’t go”).

Even if the pre-cum argument has merit, most younger men and older lovers with Viagra hard-ons don’t quit at one sexual intercourse.  If you have had your first bang with a condom, and your second without, the chances that some stubborn little sperm are still in your tubes and canals are pretty good.

The best that can be said for the Gates initiative is that it will open up the discussion to reality. Up until now condoms have been pushed as a matter of duty, responsibility, and obligation; and little of the marketing savvy that characterizes other products is visible when it comes to them.  If we address the reasons why men eschew the use of condoms and try to come up with something more suitable, perhaps we will be more successful than we have been over the last fifty years.

If the Gates initiative, for what his foundation calls the "next generation condom" succeeds, it will spark a new conversation on sexual issues -- one that acknowledges that the truth is always necessary to solve any social problem. No "progress" that uses a lie as an usher is worth welcoming.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Shakespeare’s Sonnets (I)–The Real Shakespeare?

I have been immersed in Shakespeare for the last three years, and in that time I have read and re-read all the plays at least twice.  I have seen all the BBC archived film productions of the plays, and have seen as many live productions as possible.  I felt I was making some progress in understanding the playwright – his recurrent themes, his familiar characterizations of men and women, his worldview and perspective on history and human nature.

I, like most readers, was astounded at the range and depth of the author.  While there are similarities within the Histories, Comedies, and Tragedies, no play is alike; and each surprises with its particular ingenuity and inventiveness, characterization, and poetry.

I came to my own conclusions about the plays.  I was convinced that Shakespeare had no particular moral convictions and felt that history played itself out in endless, repeating cycles.  There were no surprises in the palace coups, the jockeying for favor, the duplicity, scurrility, and naked aggression all in the pursuit of power and the defiant preservation of it at all costs.  Human nature was at the root of this venality, materialism, and unholy desire to survive, extend, and prevail.

I was convinced that Shakespeare was no fan of love; and that marriage was never more than a contractual agreement made between powerful men and ambitious women.  I was equally persuaded that Shakespeare always favored the women who more often than not ran rings around the men.  Antony was no match for Cleopatra, nor Orlando for Rosalind or Benedick for Beatrice.  I felt, as many critics do, that after the conclusive, celebratory last scene of all the Comedies, divorce would soon follow.  There is no way, even after the happy hijinks, cross-dressing, lighthearted plots, and wicked deceptions, the couples can stay together.  After what Portia has to say about men, can she really settle for Bassanio? 

In some plays there is a glimmer of affection between the couples.  The Macbeths really do like each other, as do Julius Caesar and Calpurnia and Mark Antony and Portia.  Margaret, Hamlet’s mother apparently likes sex with her new husband, the usurping, murdering Claudius; and Pericles is very romantically attached to his wife Thaisa; but in only one is there true, unalloyed, uncomplicated, devoted love – Romeo and Juliet which, when looked at through the perspective of all 37 plays, must be an anomaly. 

In all the plays, despite their virtuosity – or perhaps because of it – the playwright is distant.  Shakespeare is reminding us of the folly and absurdity of love; the silliness of men and the canniness of women in their unequal struggle for equality; the murderous sexual jealousy of men and the parental jealous of both parents.  Duke Frederick in As You Like It cannot bear the thought that his niece, Rosalind, is preferred by all to his own daughter.  Dionyza plots to murder Marina, the daughter of Pericles for the same reason.  In all of these tours de force Shakespeare is the observer.  Life is simply this way, he tells us – an endless revolving circle of the same human foibles, weaknesses, and desires that have characterized us since our beginnings.  He shows no remorse for the death of the boy Arthur in King John or for the young princes in Richard III or Rutland in Henry VI.  They are casualties of war and the pursuit of power.

Men are jealous because of the right of succession, and jealousy was a normal and legitimate reaction to threat to it; and they are murderously so because of their innate insecurity, mistrust and misunderstanding of women.

In short, we see the turbulent course of history, human events, and relationships through the dispassionate eyes of the playwright; and we come away from the plays with greater insight into both history and human nature.  Shakespeare is a brilliant playwright, poet, philosopher, political philosopher, and psychologist; but what does he feel?  Where does he stand?

Critics have wondered why in an age where the Church was threatened by Martin Luther and Protestantism, Shakespeare took no sides.  No one can conclusively say that he was of one religion or the other.  He was certainly a monarchist and aristocrat.  His dismissal of the mob in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus attest to that; but he is also dismissive of the court and courtly life in As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale. He writes eloquently about the pastoral life, but seems to show an affinity for the powerful dramas of the palace.

All the love scenes between the men and women of the plays are mannered and theatrical.  They are either the overblown soliloquies of pining male lovers in love with love rather than the object of their affection; love at first site where men and women are smitten for no good reason; or devious tricks to playfully deceive lovers to determine their love and fidelity.  In no play do we sense a true love in the modern sense where a man loves a woman for what she is, desires her physically, is excited by her temperament, and stimulated by her mind.

A few weeks ago I began reading the Sonnets and was overwhelmed.  Gone was the dispassionate, disinterested observer of love and human engagement.  In its place was a passionate, emotional, desperate lover who longed for his love, despaired at his dereliction, and wanted only a fully consecrated and consummated relationship. All the stops were pulled out.  There was no more intellectual reserve or philosophical indifference. Here was a man in love, desperate for love, and as perplexed as any with the complexities and vicissitudes of emotional involvement.

Was this the real Shakespeare?  A man of passion, emotion, and all-consuming love?  Were all the playwright’s summations of the ordinariness and predictability of human actions meaningless?

I have entitled this blog Shakespeare’s Sonnets I because I have only read thirty-five of the one-hundred-fifty four; but there is enough in this fifth to make me want to reassess all that I have read before. 

Not only is Shakespeare writing about his love (very different from writing about love), but he is presenting new themes. For example, nowhere in his work does he so insistently talk of the importance of leaving offspring.  This reference is so insistent that the first 17 are called ‘The Procreation Sonnets’. Having offspring is not just a natural event; but an obligation and a duty to assure that beauty will always brighten the world.  He does not mention the children of the cretins and lowlifes that populate his plays.  While he might look favorably on the likes of Touchstone, the witty clown of As You Like It, procreating; but not the rabble of Julius Caesar, Coriolanus or the likes of John Cade (Henry VI).  Shakespeare wants beauty to be propagated.

Shakespeare’s love and his feelings about procreation come together in the much-debated Sonnet 20 where the poet expresses his love and longing for his male friend:

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Or, paraphrased: “You were created by Nature as a woman but more beautiful than any woman, for you do not have their faults. But Nature changed her mind as she made you, and turned you into a man, for she herself adored you, and, perhaps desiring congress, gave you male parts. Therefore I cannot love you with the fullness that I would love a woman. But let me have your real love, while women enjoy the physical manifestation of it, which I know to be merely a superficies'.” (www.shakespeares-sonnets.com).

Whether or not Shakespeare was admitting to or desirous of a homosexual relationship with his lover; or whether he was simply expressing his Platonic love for a man has never been decided. Most critics hedge their bets, and suggest that he wishes the young man could have been born a woman so that he could fully consummate his love; but is content in knowing that a more profound, almost spiritual love is possible.  Nowhere in the Sonnet does the poet suggest that he wants the youth as a male lover. 

Whether Shakespeare had a homosexual longing for the youth, a homoerotic one, or simply a profound and asexual love is an a way beside the point.  The poet – Shakespeare – had a deep, transformative love for the young man of the Sonnets, regardless of its character;and this love goes counter to what is the playwright’s conception of love in his 37 plays.

It is hard not to look back at the plays and see them in the context of the sexual complexity of Sonnet 20.  Should we say, after reading it, “Ah….So that was what all the cross-dressing and gender-bending was all about”? Perhaps, because Sonnet 20 is never explicit and always subtle.  What does the line Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion, for example, mean? Some critics have suggested that the youth is figuratively a hermaphrodite – he is both male and female; and many of the lines of the poem state clearly that the poet loves the youth for his maleness (not fickle, changeable, and flighty) and for his sensitive, female side. Others have said that the term only refers to the many-sided aspect of the youth and the poet’s relationship to him:

The phrase “the master mistress” – was probably intended to be enigmatic, implying that the young man evokes the adoration and devotion which would be due to a mistress, but that he is also masterly in controlling his devotees. It could conceivably suggest that the young man was an androgynous type, having the sexual characteristics of male and female. Some therefore interpret it as meaning 'you, the object of my homosexual desire'. However the word passion does not usually in Shakespeare have the meaning of sexual desire or infatuation. Its more frequent use is that derived from Christ's passion on the cross, and it means suffering, or affliction. It can also mean mental derangement, or an attack of frenzy as a result of such. It was also used at the time to describe a heartfelt speech, and could be extended to cover the production of a series of sonnets, such as these. One could therefore paraphrase it as 'You, whose face was created by nature herself, inspire in me these deeply felt verses. You master my soul, but you also make me adore you as I would a mistress'.

Whatever interpretation one might choose, it is legitimate to return to the plays for another look, for there is too much sexual role-reversal to be incidental or simply humorous.  In Twelfth Night the Duke is clearly enamored of the boy Viola plays.  The love scenes between Rosalind disguised as a boy and Orlando in As You Like It are very sexually dubious.  They are playing a game – Rosalind wants to both chide Orlando and hear his expressions of love – but it turns serious. Everyone in the play, it seems, is in love with someone of the same sex. .

I care not if I have: it is my study
To seem despiteful and ungentle to you:
You are there followed by a faithful shepherd;
Look upon him, love him; he worships you.

Good shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love.

It is to be all made of sighs and tears;
And so am I for Phebe.

And I for Ganymede.

And I for Rosalind.

And I for no woman.

It is to be all made of faith and service;
And so am I for Phebe.

And I for Ganymede.

And I for Rosalind.

And I for no woman.

It is to be all made of fantasy,
All made of passion and all made of wishes,
All adoration, duty, and observance,
All humbleness, all patience and impatience,
All purity, all trial, all observance;
And so am I for Phebe.

And so am I for Ganymede.


And so am I for Rosalind.

And so am I for no woman.

The female characters in Shakespeare are often the most memorable and clearly drawn – Margaret, Constance, Lady Macbeth, Goneril and Regan, Dionyza, Tamora, Volumnia, Beatrice, Rosalind, Cleopatra, are just a few. Did Shakespeare understand women because he identified with them?  Perhaps, but Tennessee Williams a a proud and affirming gay man said he was insulted when critics suggested this.  I am a perceptive artist, he contended.  My job is to understand both men and women and how they interact and relate.  To assume that I have an inside track on women does a disservice to my art and my intelligence.

Edward Albee is also gay, and there is no reason to try  to understand Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) in any other way than as a brilliant, ambitious, hungry, desperate, combative, and needy person.

In any case, I am excited by the Sonnets.  They are complex – even more so than the plays because all is compressed within 14 lines – and filled with historical, classical, and Biblical references.  The metaphors are never contrived but often nearly indecipherable; but when solved, even more rewarding.  Shakespeare wrote them from 1593-1609 the period during which he did the bulk of his playwriting.  He neither wrote them before his mature period when he was exploring gender roles, nor after his playwriting was over.  That is, what is written was neither early speculation or a final reconsideration of his convictions.  The Sonnets are Shakespeare as much as his plays; and because they are so intimate, personal, and passionate, perhaps they reflect the real playwright.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Adulterous Sins Of Our Fathers

Benjamin Nugent has written about adultery in the New York Times (4.28.13), and has blamed middle-aged men over 50 for their corrupting influence on younger generations.  These paunchy white men have embraced infidelity just as they have greedy, materialistic capitalism. Golf trophies, successful takeovers, trophy wives, and notches on the sexual six-gun are all part of the same ethos.

I felt that the problem with these men was the problem with America. Like our carbon-greedy nation, ruining the global climate for everybody, they suffered from a belief that they deserved what they wanted, no matter the collateral damage.

Then, after a decade of loathing men of a certain generation (provoked by the infidelity of his mother’s partner), Nugent himself falls into the tender trap.  He meets an ex-girlfriend and fucks her in the back seat of his Ford. Obviously still remorseful over his moral slide, he can only manage the weak phrase “We ended up making out in my car”.  What have I done, he wonders?  How could I have become one of them?

It turns out that this little indiscretion shakes Nugent’s worldview to its roots.  He has always tried to be the model of honesty, moral rectitude, and the champion of  liberal values.  Since Nugent’s abhorrence of the dereliction of his mother’s partner had as much to do with the partner’s age, class, and politics as with his canoodling, it is no wonder that he has experienced a more generalized angst. 

I have some consolation for Mr. Nugent. An estimated 30-60 percent of Americans have admitted infidelity whether to husbands and wives or to girlfriends, boyfriends, or partners.  Men, as everyone knows, are tomcatters – something to do with the biological imperative of spreading one’s seed as widely as possible to assure the continuity of lineage; and this impulse has no social boundaries.  Everyone does it. For young men like Mr. Nugent, cheating on a current girlfriend in favor of a new, more attractive, alluring, beneficial one (in procreative terms) is par for the course.  Not cheating, really, but playing the field in 21st Century terms. We no longer have Victorian arranged marriages to assure social position and economic well-being, so we have to fend for ourselves; and knowing the vicissitudes of the human heart, who wants to be stuck with a bad choice? Hell, we all make them, and the task is to rectify them – fuck someone more compatible, accessible, and productive.

Mr. Nugent cites John Updike to bolster his argument about the sexual profligacy of the privileged, white male brotherhood conflated with generalized greed – something about not willing to clean up after your dog – but he misses the point.  Rabbit is Updike’s hero, a tragic character who was born with natural talent and male exuberance, and because of the limitations of his social class and education, gets stuck in a bourgeois routine which he hates.  He is in the thrall of his wife, Janice, because her father runs Springer Motors where he works.  He has to pay the price of financial support with fidelity, and he simply cannot do it.  His male exuberance knows no bounds.  He even guiltlessly sleeps with his son’s wife.  She is willing, and his son is a jerk.

Rabbit is not a child of entitlement, just the opposite.  He is a child of disenfranchisement who makes his way as best he can.  He is a hero because he never gives in, never willingly straps on the braces that will hold him in place.

If you’re born Caucasian, male and middle class in the United States, your job is to check the manifestations of the entitlement bred into you by your native culture. These manifestations pop up continuously. Whenever I was tempted to flirt with somebody I wasn’t supposed to flirt with, or indulge in some other depravity, like driving when I could take a train, I would think, “Don’t be a disgusting white guy like Stepfather Figure X.”

On the contrary, says Updike, we should most definitely indulge in what Nugent calls depravity.  We should give in to the urges which define us as expressions of our individuality, maleness, and humanness.  We do not have to be Nietzschean Supermen whose expression of will is the only thing that separates us from the herd.  We only have to follow our instincts. Is this a call to revive male supremacy or to adopt a Beyond Good and Evil approach to women?  Not in the least.  Sexual partnership has always been a form of contract with rules, regulations, and boundaries.  Screw around too much, and you might lose a good thing.  Be as faithful as a choirboy, and you might face the Grim Reaper with a gob full of regrets.

The author Nugent might have quoted is Phillip Roth, another Lothario and advocate for sexual healing.  In The Human Stain the main character, deeply involved in a sexual affair with an attractive young woman at least 30 years his junior says to a much younger friend who is critical of and worried about this romance, “She is not the first love of my life, nor the best; but she certainly is my last”.  Roth understands the rejuvenating power of young love and how older men cannot resist, as Nugent suggests, because of notches and trophies, but because making love to a younger woman is pure, unadulterated bliss.  There is the silky smooth, unblemished skin – not the wrinkled parchment of age.  There is the lively, energetic responsiveness – not a reluctant rolling over once a month.  There are the fluids, the wetness, the pure desire, the multiple orgasms, the joy of sex.  What older man could possibly turn that down in favor of fidelity, feminism, or ‘progressivism’?  Death is staring them in the face and such considerations are nothing compared to the magical gift of a younger woman.

Mercy: that might be the singular benefit of repeating the sins of the previous generation. You might learn how quickly desire can rout ideology. You might acknowledge that you are not wholly unlike the dream-home-building, car-loving Rabbits you define yourself against, in that your major life decisions are guided by wants and not beliefs. Once you stop hating yourself, you might hate other people less.

I know that Mr. Nugent is writing for the Times in the category Opinionator/Anxiety, but he really shouldn’t beat up on himself so much.  He has been sold a bill of goods by women and their ‘progressive’ male shills.  He should also reread Updike and rather than pull out confirmatory quotes, should pay attention to the full characterization of Rabbit, truly an American tragic hero.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Death Penalty - Vengeance And Retribution Are Enough Justification

The arguments for and against the death penalty have been debated for decades, and recently (8/18) Pope Francis has weighed in, stating unequivocally that the Church has changed its long-standing position, and that execution is morally wrong. 

Image result for images pope francis

In their book entitled Deterrence and the Death Penalty Daniel S. Nagin, PhD, Professor of Public Policy and Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University, and John V. Pepper, PhD, Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, concluded that there was no evidence either way, and that policy decisions should not be made on the basis of current evidence:
"...[R]esearch to date of the effect of capital punishment on crime is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on crime rates. Therefore, the committee recommends that these studies not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on crime rates. Consequently, claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the crime rate by a specified amount or has no effect on the crime rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment." (ProCon.org)
The support for the death penalty in America is still high at nearly 55 percent (Gallup Poll 2017) but significantly lower than the high of 80 percent in 1978.  This support for and the vehement opposition to public executions, then, has had to do more with moral judgments and Biblical injunctions than more practical and secular concerns for social justice or civil rights.

Another Gallup Poll listed the reasons Americans supported the death penalty, and 37 percent said “An eye for an eye”, “They took a life”, or “It fits the crime”.  Additional respondents replied “Biblical injunction”, “They deserved it” and  “Fair punishment”.  If all these responses are taken together approximately 60 percent of those who favor execution justify their choice on moral grounds.

Alan Dershowitz, writing in The Guardian (4.26.13) has always been strongly opposed to the death penalty and feels no differently regarding the case of the Boston bomber discussed widely in the press a number of years ago. 
Seeking the death penalty against Tsarnaev, and imposing it if he were to be convicted, would turn him into a martyr.  His face would appear on recruiting posters for suicide bombers.  The countdown toward his execution might well include other acts of terrorism.  Those seeking paradise through martyrdom would see him as a role model.
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While this is a rational argument, it will hold no water at all with the many Americans who believe in the death penalty on moral grounds.  In their eyes what Tsarnaev and his brother did was a heinous crime against God, America, and the people who were killed or injured in Boston.  To capitulate their principled beliefs at this time, more than any other, would be to give in to the forces of materialism, secularism, and pragmatism.  Executing Tsarnaev would add a higher order of retribution for the crime. Executing him would raise the consequences of his act from punishment to retribution. 

Invoking as it would the Biblical injunction to take one life for another, execution would add religious conviction and authority to simple, practical justice. Capital punishment is more a statement of our belief in God and the Bible and an expression of a muscular Old Testament tradition than simply a punishment which fits the crime.

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Why shouldn’t this be a justifiable reason for the death penalty, given that there is no conclusive proof that it deters crime.  Why shouldn’t Americans legitimately express their deep moral rectitude and religious principle? 

At the same time it is surprising that in such a Christian country, we choose Old Testament guidance rather than New Testament charity and forgiveness? Jesus Christ, for that matter, was himself given the death penalty for his supposedly seditious, terrorist activities.  He was wrongly accused, wrongly convicted, and certainly wrongly punished by the State.  Are there no parallels here to the modern age? Why have we who have adopted Jesus Christ as our personal savior, friend, and companion, turned away from His exhortations to love our enemies, to be generous and forgiving, to hope and pray for redemption rather than resort to vindictiveness and indignation?

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This doctrinal distinction, however, doesn’t matter. Whether we choose the Old Testament over the New makes no difference since we are heirs to both. 

Executing a murderer who has taken innocent lives deliberately and at random has in a way murdered us all.  We are all victims because we could have been there.  Not only that, the murderer showed no moral compunctions whatsoever.  By committing the act as a political statement, and by celebrating the killing of children as perhaps the most powerful statement of will and determination, further removed Tsarnaev from any Christian consideration of forgiveness or charity.  It is one thing for one drug dealer to assassinate a rival; but another thing altogether to slaughter innocent people.

There is a barbarism inherent in terrorism, most of us feel; and arguments that the United States must accept at least some responsibility for it enrage us even more.  Even if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were military adventurism at its worst; and even if they inflamed the Middle East, there is nothing to excuse the inhuman taking of life. The death penalty for Tsarnaev is our very American way of saying to our enemies that you are not simply dealing with a determined nation – “We will hunt you down; and we will find you” – but a Biblical one – “And we will kill you”.

Other than the discredited or at least questionable issue of deterrence, the only argument that might turn a few proponents of the death penalty is innocence.  More and more, death row inmates are found innocent based on new DNA testing.  Shouldn’t Christians be concerned about taking innocent life wherever it might be found? While this argument might cause some to reflect on universal death penalties; it has little relevance to terrorists who willingly admit their defiant acts. 

Many Americans are for the death penalty because it feels right. There is simply something wrong with a system that allows a mass murderer to live, repentant or not.  The movie Dead Man Walking is based on a true story of a Catholic nun who encourages a murderer to confess his sin, to repent having done it, and thus be forgiven by Jesus Christ.  He does confess and repent, but he is still put to death, and the parents of the murdered children are glad to see him pay the price.

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It is not clear why America should be vilified for retaining the death penalty.  Europeans in particular chastise us for our primitiveness, the excesses of an individualistic society, and our dog-eat-dog, eye-for-an-eye world of the Wild West.  We have not yet cohered as a modern, progressive society, they say, and the death penalty is the perfect example of our crudeness and ignorant defiance. 

There is some truth in this criticism.  Public executions today are not that far removed from stringing up cattle rustlers from the nearest tree; and the same direct, retributive justice applies in both cases.  Before there was civil law, citizens had to take it into their own hands, and there was no careful parsing of secular justice.  Offenses against civility – rustling cattle or killing – had to be punished quickly, severely, and absolutely.  Our 19th Century forbears decided on what crimes justified hanging just as we do now.  The sense of frontier justice still remains in most of us.

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At the same time, the European demands for abolition of the death penalty are the worst kind of patronizing hectoring, for they deny our legitimate frontier roots, our religious fundamentalism, and our particular brand of crime and punishment.  There is no such thing as a universal moral and social order and to try to impose a foreign social philosophy is arrogant and presumptuous.

In conclusion, retribution based on moral outrage is as good a reason as any to put to death criminals who have killed others.