Archive for September, 2010

Politics and Masturbation

September 25, 2010

I’ve been in the mountains for a few days, recharging, relaxing, and reflecting. On my return I learned that a major political party in the United States has nominated for the United States Senate – a once august body populated by giants – a person running on an anti-masturbation platform.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. In Alaska the same party nominated a man who thinks Social Security is unconstitutional and believes that the federal government should quit sending tax dollars to Alaska. Alaska! Louisiana will probably return to the U.S. Senate a man who consorts with prostitutes, South Carolina Democrats nominated a man under indictment for viewing child porn, and, should the Republicans retake the House of Representatives, the new Speaker of the House of the United States will be a permanently tanned man who apparently sleeps – literally and figuratively – with lobbyists.

But back to anti-masturbation. I’m not sure that is a winning political platform. Most everyone does it and I’m guessing that, like me, they would just as soon government agents not watch. I’m pretty sure the government agents feel the same way.

First, let’s give the candidate her say. She says,

“It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you also have to be be abstinent alone. The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can’t masturbate without lust.”

Parsing that statement we see that her major premise is that one cannot masturbate without lust. Therefore, because lust equals adultery, masturbation equals adultery.

Well.

Suppose you are married and you fantasize about your spouse while you masturbate. How can that be adultery? Or suppose you have sex without lust? Many women and not a few men occasionally engage in the sex act without lust at all. I suspect it happens rather often in long-term relationships.

I think the candidate is confusing sex with lust. One can lust without sex and one can sex without lust.

Death of Onan by Franc Lanjšček

At least she didn’t invoke Onan, the poor man God killed for not following orders. God instructed Onan to impregnate the widow of his brother so an heir to that kingdom would be born. Onan had sex with his dead brother’s wife all right, but he practiced coitus interruptus, thereby “spilling his seed on the ground.” Since sometime during the Reformation, some religious leaders have claimed that God killed Onan for masturbating, but God really killed him for disobeying orders. Moreover, people in those days thought that a man’s supply of seed might be limited.  That concern was not uncommon in early societies with small populations. For instance, it is said that the Navajo Owl God, Neeshjah, warned his people not to masturbate.  They did not know that men continue to produce sperm long after they have any business siring offspring. (Another piece of evidence that the Universe is a random, chaotic place. A designing intelligence surely would have coordinated men and women’s sexual desires and abilities and ended them at the same time rather than allowing the absurd continuation of male sexual desire long after women reach the age where they don’t much care any more. Oh wait! Maybe that’s why God invented masturbation! It probably has saved innumerable marriages.)

I can’t leave the subject of Onan and coitus interruptus without quoting Tom Stoppard who wrote this bit of dialogue for two characters in his play “Arcadia.”

Septimus […] I am sorry that the seed fell on stony ground.
Thomasina: That was the sin of Onan, wasn’t it, Septimus?
Septimus: Yes. He was giving his brother’s wife a Latin lesson and she was hardly the wiser after it than before.

But back to the anti-masturbation candidate. I see she also once announced on national television, “American scientific companies” had created “mice with fully functioning human brains.” A person less kind than me might suggest that the reverse may be true.

And so I conclude that this candidate in Delaware has little chance of winning, at least if the voters are honest with themselves. While masturbation is seldom a conversational topic in polite society, we all do it. As Lionel Trilling wrote more than half a century ago, “. . . there is almost universal involvement in the sexual life and therefore much variety of conduct.” No one wants the government in our bedrooms watching.

____________________________

Speaking of adultery, as we were there for a minute, today is the 50th anniversary of Ted Williams last baseball game. He hit a home run at his last at-bat and John Updike was in the stadium and wrote a classic bit of literature about the experience. Read about it here. Read the real thing here.

Updike had scheduled an adulterous liaison that day and told his wife he was going to the ball game. When he arrived at the woman’s apartment, she was gone. So, he went to the game. Already, at the age of 28, Updike knew about marriage. He wrote, The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories.” And, every so often, some lustless even listless sex.

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Perspective

September 19, 2010

Coma Galaxy Cluster (NASA Photo)

For all our conceits about being the center of the universe, we live in a routine planet of a humdrum star stuck away in an obscure corner … on an unexceptional galaxy which is one of about 100 billion galaxies. … That is the fundamental fact of the universe we inhabit, and it is very good for us to understand that. -Carl Sagan, astronomer and writer (1934-1996)

Exploding Trains

September 11, 2010

Our last post began with trains exploding. Granted, it was war, but it’s never good for trains to explode. Exploding trains are like being told that the “Sixty Minutes” film crew is at your front door. Nothing good can from it. Such things cause cognitive dissonance. A corrective is needed so here it is.

The Santa Fe Chief in Albuquerque

That is a postcard from the 1950’s depicting the Santa Fe Chief at the train station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Of course, the train is dead and they destroyed the station in the name of progress in the 1970s. Turned it into a parking lot. An unpaved parking lot. Such was the idea of progress in those days. Now they’ve built a fake one and made it look like the old one on the outside. A local politician was one of the leaders behind tearing down the old Alvarado Hotel of which the train station was a part. You may have heard of him. He became Senator Pete Domenici, the United States Senator who never failed to rail against unbalanced budgets, but voted for every one of them – as long as it was proposed by a Republican president. And who single-handedly built enough forest-service roads for the timber industry to circle the globe. He was an expert in progress. Before becoming a United States Senator he was a lawyer. Someone who knew him in his lawyer days once told me that it was a good thing he became a politician because, “Pete isn’t smart enough to be a lawyer.” Now he is known as “St. Pete” in New Mexico and everybody loves him as he slips into his dotage. I wrote a letter to the local paper when he announced his retirement. I said, “I would like to congratulate Senator Domenici on his retirement. It’s the best thing he’s ever done for the Nation.”

The paper didn’t publish my letter.

And while we were killing off passenger trains and their stations, the Japanese were building high-speed rail systems. I don’t recall Senator Domenici, who never met a dirt road in a national forest that he didn’t like, demanding that America develop high-speed rail or any other kind of public transit. Now the Chinese are outstripping us by about 5,000 miles a year of high-speed rail and we have all the dirt roads we can use.

Iraq – “Ending” Combat

September 6, 2010

Air Attack on North Korean Train

In my lifetime, the United States has ended two wars – Korea and Vietnam – and pretended to end a third – Iraq. Korea ended in a stalemate that endures to this day, Vietnam was a loss, and it’s way too early to tell about Iraq. But the president has declared an end to the U.S. combat role in Iraq.  Since we’re leaving fifty thousand troops behind, I certainly hope somebody told the insurgents.

Withdrawing combat troops is a strange way to win a war anyway.  As Winston Churchill told the British after their successful WWII evacuation from Dunkirk, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by withdrawals.”

North Vietnamese Tank in Saigon

But, at least the Iraq War won’t end the way the Vietnam War ended with helicopter flights from the embassy roof. The end in Vietnam was both predictable and predicted by many observers and policy makers including President Eisenhower.  A product of a simpler age, Eisenhower actually thought that the nation should not go to war unless the nation agreed to go to war.

That was the job of Congress exercising its responsibilities under the Constitution and declaring war. Eisenhower specifically said that he would not go to war in Indochina unless and until the people of the United States, acting through their elected representatives, voted for a Declaration of War. Besides, along with President Roosevelt, he thought it was a bad idea and he wasn’t about to ask Congress for a war declaration.

President Eisenhower Meeting President Diem

Prior to the Japanese takeover of Indochina in the early days of WWII, it was a French colony. FDR adamantly opposed returning Indochina to France after the war. Believing that the French slowed the growth and development of the region and deprived its people of their basic freedom to choose their own governments, FDR made it clear throughout WWII that “French Indochina” would not be French after the war.

Unfortunately, he forgot to tell Harry Truman.

President Truman worried much more about Soviet communism than about some backwater in Southeast Asia. If the price of getting France to join the NATO embryo included giving them their Indochina colony back, Truman paid without hesitation. French President De Gaulle knowing his way around power politics, threatened to take France into the Soviet bloc unless Truman agreed to let France have its old colony back.

Charles de Gaulle during WWII

Truman, the old poker player, didn’t see the bluff. De Gaulle didn’t have so much as a pair of deuces, but Truman folded anyway and France moved back into Vietnam.

It was Truman, who first hit upon the idea of taking the nation to war without bothering with constitutional niceties, like congressional war declarations. That’s how we ended up fighting the Korean “conflict.” No reason to use a perfectly good Anglo-Saxon word like “war” when a convenient euphemism is at hand; the Constitution is silent about whom shall declare “conflict.”

These “Executive Branch” wars often don’t work out well for the simple reason that not all the American people are behind them in the beginning and no one expects them to last as long or cost as much as they do. The United States alone has suffered forty thousand casualties in Iraq and that doesn’t count all the psychic wounds. No one knows the full extent of the damage done to the Iraqi people and how that weighs in the scale with the removal of Saddam Hussein. By some calculations, we’ve already spent a trillion dollars on the project, mostly on borrowed money. Fifty thousand American troops remain in the country.  Moreover, most are fully combat capable and many are on combat missions as you read this, but since they are just “advisers” and “trainers” it doesn’t count as combat.

We’re leaving Iraq the same way we entered Vietnam.