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

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A Piece Of Tail–American Presidents’ Sexual Adventures From Tomcatters To Biden

‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac’, famously wrote Henry Kissinger, apostle of Machiavellian zeitgeist and still going strong at 100.  Nobody loves a fool or a man who looks like Henry in his halcyon days.  He was saggy, doughy, and misshapen even as a young man, but always courted a stable of young women who were, according to him, attracted by his position, confidence, and influence.  

And what he could do for them, to be sure, for women of the ages have been attracted to men like Kissinger with whom they could be seen – a gruff tumble in the hay for pix in Variety and the New York Post, fifteen minutes of fame which could lead to better things.

Henry Kissinger at 100: history will judge the former US secretary of  state's southern African interventions to be a failure

For Kissinger, it was the dream of every Jewish boy – blonde shiksas galore – and he reveled in the attention.  ‘Canny strategist’ and ‘brilliant academic’ were supernumerary terms, men’s ways of deflecting their sexual envy into more familiar and acceptable corners.  These editors and Washington wharf rats wanted what Kissinger had – not the ear of the President, but the soft, pearly white thighs of his women.  The press gave him license – he wasn’t the President, and Nixon was the most sexlessly repulsive man ever to sit in the Oval Office – so his tomcatting was smiled at and buried.

Kennedy of course not only got a pass from the press but enjoyed their complicity.  The fawning editors of the Times and the Post couldn’t get enough of this charming, handsome man.  He was their kind of President – patrician, Ivy League, Cape Codder and suave prince of Camelot.  The President was a man of ease – a socially graceful man of wit and poise who could do no wrong.  Everyone was taken in by Kennedy’s light touch, boyish looks, and irresistible sexual allure.  He never needed Kissinger’s particular aphrodisiac to bed Marilyn Monroe and a hundred others.

Yachting - the boats of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, president, sailor and  skipper! - Yachting Art Magazine

The paparazzi give chase to LBJ who left plenty of traces – word was that he slipped out at night with women pimped by the Secret Service, but apocryphal or true, the press had his back, a man of their own, not particularly choosy and too in a hurry to bother with anything but availability.  

Former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who was caught in flagrante delicto in a suite at the Mayflower with high-priced Washington hookers, and who said that he hadn’t the time for romance and flowers; so tomcatting LBJ style was the people’s sex, homegrown bimbo sex, taken up later by Bill Clinton and his trailer trash.

Just about every president has had something on the side – it came with the office – and there were no apologies nor should there have been even for men of unimpeachable moral rectitude like FDR and George Bush, Senior, keeper of the real American aristocratic flame of noblesse oblige has mistresses.

Jennifer Fitzgerald was rumored to have been Bush’s paramour for over twelve years and Lucy Mercer was FDR’s mistress for as long.  Color was no bar for Thomas Jefferson who is reported to have kept slave Sally Hemmings as a mistress for much of his time in office.  Even recondite Richard Nixon was linked with a beautiful Chinese bar hostess.  Everyone did it.

Adultery is as common as fleas on a dog, said one Washington wag, and why should American presidents be spared their bites? After all, the French cinq-a-sept afternoon trysts were de rigeur for busboys and dukes.  President Sarkozy kept his mistress at the Elysees and President Mitterrand’s widow, mistress, and illegitimate daughter stood proudly and publicly at his gravesite as he was lowered into the ground.

Francois Mitterrand Funeral in his home town of Jarnac in the Charente in  south western France 11 January 1996 The mistress of Francois Mitterrand  Anne Pingeot wearing black hat and their daughter

The only difference between American and European leaders is that our presidents feel they need to hide their dalliances.  Bill Clinton went out of his way to deny Jennifer Flowers and insisted that he did not have sex with ‘that woman’, Monica Lewinsky, in the Oval Office.  

Senators, Congressmen, and televangelists caught with their pants down jump through burning hoops to explain, deny, or justify their affairs.  Mark Sanford, former Governor of South Carolina, went missing for days as he followed his Argentine lover to Buenos Aires, but insisted that he had only been hiking the Appalachian Trail.   Flapdoodle, abject, groveling apologies, and groveling is par for the course in America. 

Bill Clinton went down many notches in international reputation once his laughable diddling of Monica Lewinsky came to light.  Any President worth his salt would have fucked her, said men from Spitzbergen to Abu Dhabi, all of whose leaders took the marriage vow as a public convenience.  Yet, Clinton at least tried, as sorry an attempt as the Lewinsky affair was.

Current President Joe Biden is the odd man out.  Unless he has been uniquely careful, no rumors of former lovers or paramours have surfaced.  A few allegations of sexual misconduct (Tara Reade) are about all there is to say about a man who either has no interest in women or has been too peckish and too obsessed with his political image to care.  

Now in his last hurrah – turning 80 is not a pretty thing – it is too late for him to show some spunk even if he could break the ball-busting grip of the MeToo cabal; but why not? His legacy would be enhanced.  Robert DiNiro at 80 has just fathered his seventh child with a young wife, and what Hollywood groupie would not want to still be in the running at his age?  

‘Have a go, Joe’, wrote a columnist in a well-known satirical journal.  God’s greatest irony, the editorial went on, is to have created men with a sexual interest in women until the day they die but to have given them a scant few years to do something about it.

Benjamin Dixon on Twitter: "Biden is going to look like a deer in headlights  against Trump. Don't say no one tried to warn you. https://t.co/Yx2k9193TM"  / Twitter

It can’t be any fun being President unless you take advantages of the perks.  A weekend at Camp David just hasn’t been enough for the likes of Biden’s predecessors.  Where is Donald Trump when we really need him?  A man of huge, oversized appetites, unapologetic, squire of starlets, a sexual trooper who would return macho to 1700 Pennsylvania, give it a breath of fresh air like he did before.  Sweep out the sanctimony and the lovely sentiments. 

Cotton Mather, Puritan ideologue, relentless sexual purifier, spokesman for the righteous and good, would be delighted to see what his America has become – a neo-Puritan idyll, a stuffy, sexless place of duty and rectitude.  This may change whether or not Donald Trump is re-elected.  How long can a country suffer under the yoke of sanctimony and bad faith?

Even Biden-haters are hoping for a last orgasmic epiphany.  The poor man has been beholden to so many people for so long that he has forgotten what being a man is like.  ‘Have a go, Joe’, is the new meme for a man at the end of his trudging, humorless life.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Greek Tragedy, The Mother Lode Of Drama Or Business As Usual? The Invariability Of Human Nature

The Oresteia is either the mother lode of tragedy – the source for all future human drama – or the first and most eloquent expression of human nature. Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and  Eumenides all tell stories of  ambition, jealousies, incest, hatred, deviousness, and murder.  Every playwright thereafter followed suit.  

This similarity, this progression from the 5th century BC until the present day, should not be surprising. What is true now was true then.  Human nature has not changed and aggression, territorialism, ambition, jealousy, internecine and family squabbles have remained a permanent feature of human life. The significant aspect of Greek tragedy is that it was the first to explore human dynamics - the complex psychological, social, cultural, and behavioral aspects of life which make it what it is.  It was not so much that the Greeks of 2500 years ago had a unique and precocious perspicacity and insight. It was that they took the familiar and put it on stage.  Before them were only epics, stories of heroes and demons, tales of courage and heroism that defined nations, not individuals.   

When reading Clytemnestra’s bitchy response to Cassandra, the princess-slave brought home as booty from the Trojan War by Agamemnon, we might conclude that Aeschylus was before his time, the first to observe the same corrosive power of jealousy that we are used to in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and  Cymbeline. Yet of course Aeschylus was not before his time.  He was of universal human time.  We all act like Othello, Clytemnestra, and Posthumus. His insight was dramatic - he put jealousy, spite, vengeance, and retribution on stage. 

Aeschylus - Aeschylus Poems | Best Poems

The tribute modern playwrights must pay to the ancient Greeks is not insight but production. They were the first to conceive of staged drama within which the most noble and most ignoble passions were expressed.  They retained the historical context of past epics – the mythological and historical tales and events that were central to culture – and played out human conflict within it. 

Aeschylus did not discover palace coups and intrigues, the behind-the-scenes plotting and bloody assassinations are the stock-in-trade of history and drama. He and his colleagues were the first to use them as context for the human drama that was repeatedly played out.   Henry V provided the end scene for the War of the Roses, a war fought over lineage and royal inheritance – a bloody decades-long affair whose justifications were as flimsy as those for the Trojan War.  

‘A war fought over someone else’s wife’, say the Chorus about Agamemnon’s adventurism; and so it was with the Lancasters and the Yorks.  When Henry wants to hear what he expects is the patriotism and national pride of the common soldier as he is preparing for the Battle of Agincourt, he goes in mufti into the trenches and hears just the opposite.  Rich men’s petty squabbles, the troops say, our blood spilled for his ambition.

Helen of Troy | Canova, Antonio | V&A Explore The Collections

Vengeance and vendetta – the heart and soul of The Oresteia – were new to the stage in 5th Century BC, but of course not new to human enterprise.  The House of Atreus, the Montagues and the Capulets, the Hatfields and the McCoys, Tamora, Queen of the Goths and Titus Andronicus were only heirs to the oral histories and fabulist tales of prehistory.   

Serving up enemies children to them in banquets in retribution is not new. After Atreus’ banishment, he learned of the adultery being committed between his wife and his brother. As revenge, he invited his brother and his two eldest nephews back to Mycenae. There, under the guise of rebuilding the relationship, he had the nephews killed and cooked into a feast, which he presented to Thyestes for dinner. He revealed the fate of the boys after Thyestes had eaten.  Titus, when the learns of the rape and mutilation of his daughter by the sons of Tamora at her instigation, serves the cooked and severed boys up to her in a banquet.

View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s family tragedy, is the melodramatic expression of Sicilian vendetta.  Nothing has changed since Aeschylus, says Miller.  He didn’t invent vendetta, but he set a good example.

Aeschylus and his colleagues knew how to get and keep audience attention. Aristotle in his Poetics describes at great length the tools and artifices used to this end. Clytemnestra doesn’t simply kill her husband to avenge the murder of their daughter at his hands, he wraps him in a net like a fisherman and stabs him to death in his bath.  Cronos, son of Uranus, kill him, castrates him, then throws his testicles in the sea.  Violence, perhaps our most common, persistent, and telling trait, sells seats.  Imitation, said Aristotle - seeing ourselves in the actors on stage - is what we want.  How do they resolve the savage tendencies within all of us?

Tennessee Williams, perhaps best known for his portrayal of delicate, shy, poetic women, had a bloody side.  Chance Wayne and Val are castrated because of male jealousy.  Mrs. Venable’s son is killed, cooked, and eaten by feral Italian street boys. Bloody, vengeful, hateful murder was part and parcel of the human soul.

Suddenly Last Summer (1959) Part I -The Devouring Mother, the Oedipal Son &  the Hysterical Woman - The Last Drive In

There is something in the modern idealist which embraces the idea of progress – that despite the convincing evidence of a murderous, marauding, territorial, and defiantly self-interested history, the world can be rid of nastiness.  We no longer have to be slaves to the past or to the predestined engine of human evil – its nature.  With only effort, belief, enterprise, and patience, we can overcome.  

Those who point to the perennial violence of history and its dramatic portrayal since the Greeks as a retort to this Utopian fantasy, are shouted down as naysayers.  Yet history cannot be revised, expunged, or forgotten.  The Greeks were not the first progressives.  The Oresteia is all about hopeful aspirations.  Once Agamemnon and Clytemnestra have been killed, the curse of the House of Atreus can be put to rest, and the new world of Athena, Apollo and Zeus can defeat the Furies, turn them into gold, and life can go on rationally and peacefully.  Of course this and other fantasies of governance, rule, and family affairs is far from reality.  The blood, guts, and gore, will continue ad infinitum.

So reading the Greeks is a lesson in literary history - they were the first to put human nature on the stage, to redefine heroism and courage, to note the depths of psychological torment, and to be unafraid of failure - but also political philosophy.   They are honored because of their dramatic innovativeness but also their setting the trajectory of dramatic human enterprise on its way.  The House of Atreus, the weight of history and family legacy was true then and is true now. They defined the difference between the Furies and Athena as essential moral variance of the ages.  

The trial of Orestes was important because of its portrayal of a major turning of Greek and human history.  Greek culture would continue to be affected by myth and an interventionist polytheism for many centuries longer, but The Oresteia was a first in exposing judicial autocracy and the violent, self-absorbed human nature which it must corral.

The Mythology Of Athena Explained

Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is a play which reprises Aeschylus’ Eumenides. In it the interim Duke of Vienna, like Aeschylus’ Furies establishes a draconian moral code according to which the letter of the law must be obeyed.  There is no room for discussion, debate, or trial. There can be no consideration of circumstances, antecedents, or motives.  The Duke, like the Furies, argue that such inviolable laws are at the center of a civil society.  Without absolute moral and legal standards, human behavior will always slip below the lowest common denominator.

A reading of Greek tragedy is not only a trip back to the first speculators about human nature, history, and society; but a great ride – a Grand Guignol, Turkish soap operatic melodrama.  Aristotle again writing in Poetics wrote about how to get and hold an audience with suspense, familiarity, and recognition of its own frailties. 

Clytemnestra is Hedda Gabler, Tamora, Lady Macbeth, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Goneril, and Rebekka West all rolled up into one.  She dominates The Oresteia as a plotter, a murderess, and a vindictive ghost.  Because so much of the plays is familiar – human nature takes little to decipher – her character is marvelously devious and indomitable. She is the Nietzschean Superman, the ubermensch, the conqueror.

Image result for Clytemnestra Greek Character. Size: 224 x 185. Source: www.thefinancialexpress.com.bd

The Shakespearean critic Jan Kott noted that if one were to lay down all of the playwright’s Histories in chronological order, one would would be struck by their similarity,  Human nature being what it is – the engine of human destiny – it is not surprising to see greed, ambition, jealousy, and hunger for power so repeatedly represented.  What is interesting is exactly how the characters in his plays played out their destiny in such remarkably different ways.  And so it is with Greek tragedy – nothing new there, but we love to watch Clytemnestra do her thing.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Female Beauty–An Ideal That Has Not Changed In Two Millennia

Tuba Büyüküstün is a Turkish actress of remarkable beauty well-known for her work on the television series, Kara Para Aşk

Image result for images tuba buyukustun

Despite the claim to the contrary, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, and even those who may prefer a woman of less classic, dark looks and more sensuously alluring (Marilyn Monroe), will agree that Büyüküstün is beautiful.  Her type of beauty, with predictable cultural variations over time, is reflective of those characteristics which have always made women attractive. Symmetrical features, luminescent eyes, full lips, and luxuriant hair all express health, wealth, and well-being as well as being pleasing to a natural sense of geometrical order (the golden mean is universally appealing), and sexual appeal.  There is little difference between the women painted by Leonardo and Tuba Büyüküstün.

Asian women are no different and film and television actresses have the same classic beauty as their European counterparts.

See the source image

While internationalization must be factored in – an appeal to the mean rather than respect for more insular, traditional cultural beauty - the same rules apply.

Since most women are not beautiful, sayings like ‘Beauty Is As Beauty Does’ or ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ reflect a cultural compromise.  It is within that one should look for beauty; for the intelligence, compassion, consideration, talent, warmth, humor, and energy that are far more important than superficial looks.

Feminism was particularly significant because it attempted to redefine beauty and change perspective from a purely male one to a female one.  What men thought of women was irrelevant, said feminists.  Every woman’s ‘beauty’ was relative to her and her alone; and that female value and worth had nothing whatsoever to do with looks or appearance.

This new perspective was indeed radical because it challenged the notion of essential beauty and challenged men’s authority at the same time.  It was appealing to women not only because it gave them new authority, esteem, and privilege but because it marginalized the idea of physical beauty.

Or so feminists thought.  Women today might be more self-aware, confident, ambitious, and powerful than ever before; but classic beauty has not lost either its appeal or place in popular culture.

Women’s magazines all promote the same classical beauty of days and eras past, and the message is clear – this is what you are supposed to look like.  The influence of multiculturalism is evident, but the p principle features of feminine beauty remain the same. 

More importantly this universal standard of beauty suggests the obvious but often denied fact that women dress for men.  Despite the revolutionary changes in the roles, responsibilities, and status of women, they still understand that physical beauty classically defined, is helpful if not necessary for attracting mates.  The more beautiful the woman, the greater likelihood that she will attract an equally attractive man who, like them, is likely to be healthy, wealthy, and successful.

Study after study have shown that beauty has benefits far beyond the bedroom.  Attractive women and men are given preference in hiring.  While supervisors may not admit it, a candidate with all the professional qualifications plus beauty, is more likely to get the job.  Professor Shahani-Denning of Hofstra University has compiled the most important research on the subject.

The bias in favor of physically attractive people is robust, with attractive people being perceived as more sociable, happier and more successful than unattractive people (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972; Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991; Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986; Watkins & Johnston, 2000).  Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students (Clifford & Walster, 1973), voter preferences for political candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1974) and jury judgments in simulated trials (Efran, 1974).
Recently, Smith, McIntosh and Bazzini (1999) investigated the “beauty is goodness” stereotype in U.S. films and found that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions across a random sample drawn from five decades of top grossing films.  The authors also found that participants watching a biased film (level of beauty and gender stereotyping) subsequently showed greater favoritism toward an attractive graduate school candidate than participants watching a less biased film.  In the area of employment decision making, attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).

It is not surprising, therefore, that billions of dollars are spent on women’s cosmetics alone (an estimated $62 billion in 2016) and many billions more on clothes and apparel.  If one is not born with natural beauty, there are many ways to compensate.  Cosmetics which accentuate naturally attractive features and disguise the unattractive; or clothes which complement skin color, natural line, and physical attributes will always be in demand.  Beauty is big business, and with the weight of social history and biological imperative behind it, high revenues should be no surprise.

Diana Vreeland is perhaps the best example of how clothes, cosmetics, and hair style can compensate for unattractive physical characteristics.  In her autobiography, D.V., she recounts her particularly difficult childhood years,  a very unattractive child with a beautiful sister.  Although she attributes her success to talent, perceptiveness, and artistic ingenuity, she does not deny the influence of her early life.  Vreeland, never an attractive woman, went on to become the doyenne of fashion as editor-in-chief of Vogue and a long tenure and Harpers Bazaar.  She believed that not only were clothes important and could compensate for a lack of classical beauty; but that they added value.  She promoted the idea of style – an attitude more than a look not dissimilar from the Italian bella figura but far more dramatic.  Vreeland was never a beautiful woman, but no one noticed.

Vreeland never dismissed the essential principles of beauty – the woman in the photograph above is as classically beautiful as Tuba Büyüküstün or the woman in Leonardo’s painting – but suggested that style was not only appropriate but essential for all women.

Only during the decade of The Sixties did beauty go underground.  In defiance of everything traditional and conservative, hippies rejected the notion of physical attractiveness as a bourgeois sentiment.  Hippies were defiantly unattractive.  Of course style never completely disappeared. Beautiful women with disheveled hair and dirty jeans were still beautiful, still preferred, and still attractive; only the elements of style had changed.

Image result for images helen mirren

Many actresses like Helen Mirren have kept their beauty, style, and allure well into their 70s.  It is all well and good to say that beauty fades and that belief in inner qualities is justified; but Mirren defies that notion.  She is not only a gifted, supremely talented, intelligent actor, but a beautiful woman.  Her performances would be enough to assure her following; but she insists on looking good, a thing of beauty far beyond the fading blush on the bloom of a rose.