Monday, October 31, 2011


You are with your beloved and now's the time. You tell her you love her and she, with a tender smile on her face responds in kind. Your heart soars; she loves you, what else is important in the world? But, a thought intrudes. Shall you use the glasses? She has avowed her love for you, why check but establishing the certainty of her love is not such a bad idea.
Out come the glasses. “Oh, how odd looking they are and there is a wire that leads into your coat.” As she speaks, you slip them on and to your horror, you find distaste on her face. “Dearest, tell me again how you love me.” She responds, “Of course, I love you with all my heart.” But the glasses tell a different story. There is distaste and contempt. All she wants you for is your money is the only reasonable conclusion.
What is this? What sort of magic glasses are these? Well, as She-who-must-be-obeyed said, magic is just another word for ignorance and they are simply a technological marvel. The line leading under your coat is attached to a power supply and a small computer that holds information about facial reactions. The glasses can read minute facial changes that tell of inner feelings. A surface smile may mask an inner scowl undetectable by the unaided eye and expose the person's core attitudes.
Well, it's a cool idea but is it real? Yep, it's as real as a slap in the face because that is likely how the revealed knowledge might feel. And, it works in reverse. Approaching a man who seems cool a distance, one might learn he is eager to meet you but is a bit shy and probably would respond to a bit of friendly prodding. Technology would support a new romance that might never have blossomed.
Such glasses are already in production, though I don't know by whom and how much they might cost. I can't imagine they would be cheap, perhaps they will be so expensive that only the wealthy, either private or governmental can afford them but wouldn't you like a pair? Think of how much your life would improve with awareness of someone's private feelings. Suppose, for example you are negotiating for a car. You have rejected the first bid but the salesperson insists you could not possibly refuse the second. It is a rock bottom price only because she likes you and he will have to convince the manager and blah, blah blah. You are sorely tempted to close on the spot but instead, out come the glasses and there it is on her face as if in capital letters: WHAT A SUCKER!
Clearly, you would not always want to know the truth. Imagine your doctor smiling as she reassures you that the lab reports are fine. But, with the glasses you see worry. What the devil is bugging her? Is it something about you or is about some personal problem and worse, how can you find out? Or, think about a date in which she has bored you flat. You will not see her again, but the glasses tell you she wants you. You are faced with rejecting her and causing pain or seeing her again and feeling pain. Better not to know.
Think of all the times people who can help have stated they will get right on your problem and if you read their faces you see sincerity, but through the eyeglasses you see indifference or rejection. Is it your trusted advisor? Ugly thought.
What do you do after an officer stops you and approaches wearing the glasses? Well, there is no point in lying about why you were speeding but she will no doubt observe the rage in your heart about her stopping you. Do you want her to know that while she writes the ticket? Criminals will be the losers during interrogations. We will be the losers while trying to gain whatever advantage there might be in a proposed deal. Is it possible that we all would become more honest? A terrifying thought.

There once was a fellow, Ignatius
Who was always and ever so gracious.
With artful device
He'd always speak nice
Though his hatred would be so vexatious.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


One of the greatest struggles in the history of ideas is how to understand the origins of morality. Western civilization (I don’t know enough about others) has always attempted this issue and certainly, our recent election was fraught with moral concerns.
There are, happily, only two sides to the matter. There are those who believe there are moral standards in the universe that are kindly provided by a deity. The Ten Commandments, whichever version you espouse, were reputedly given by God to Moses. But, with three versions, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant which one is God’s? Whichever of them might be your choice, there remains the problem of the other two. Because morality is a godly imperative, the non-godly, by definition are unmoral and deserving of whatever punishments practicable. We no longer burn them at the stake but there is not much point in their running for office. (Elizabeth Dole attacked her competitor for not believing, i.e. he was an atheist.) In this perspective, sinning is essentially the breaking of one of God’s rules.
The other position argues that morality, all of it, is manmade. It is true that some genetic research suggests there is something innate about our tendency to create rules of conduct, but the rules themselves are clearly a function of human experience. Such rules are not discovered embedded in the universe or the heavens; humans found it necessary to create their own. Note that the commandments made sense in small communities. Aside from those commandments, which establish a relationship with God, the others make social and community sense. Murder, theft, coveting, etc., would tear a society apart. That such behavior must have been a problem is evidenced by the reality that the rules were written down. There is no commandment to take care of children or pets; such behavior is understood. The commandments express concerns about a society spinning of control; and to make sure the commandments were followed, God would smite you or send you to hell.
Still, God-as-enforcer did not work particularly well. Obviously, members of the social group noticed that killing, stealing and coveting continued unabated so, voila, man-made consequences appeared. They were a bit bloody; even now in some Islamic countries a thief has his hand chopped off but no longer are eyes plucked out. Surely, we need rules to live by. No speed limits or traffic control would lead to chaos. We don’t need a deity to command us to regulate ourselves and society, but notice that the big social battles, i.e. the “culture wars” have to do with religious morality versus realistic social structures.
The struggle over abortion is a religious one though not all versions of religion oppose it. On one side is the notion that the soul enters at the moment of conception. The other side argues that human choice should determine if a woman aborts the fetus. Embedded in this issue is the difference between received wisdom and human values. The problem is that moral rules shift. It once was received wisdom that God approved of slavery. Now, God disapproves of it. Slavery is blight on economic progress; that understanding makes sense along with empathy for the suffering.
We all try to be good and that is reasonable but absent a deity how can a person know what is good? Is it bad to kill? Of course, unless we kill our enemies in war; that expunges the guilt.(At one time, Christians refused to join the army. The consternation that caused led to the creation of the concept of a “just war.” If a war is just, of course is swell.) But more mundanely, we struggle with moral issues every day. Imagine driving in heavy traffic. Everyone is rushing to get to work and someone wants to get into the tight flow of cars. One could stop and make unhappy the people behind the driver or continue and keep the driver who wants to get into the flow of cars unhappy. Whichever the choice, there will be unhappiness. Alas, being good is amazingly complicated.
Rather than struggle with trying to adhere to good behavior, it is wiser to try to act sensibly in terms of self, loved ones, friends and society at large. What is the sensible course of action if your family is starving and you have no resources? Would you steal food? From one point of view good behavior, from another point of view, bad. Where are your loyalties, to society at large or to self and family preservation? Your choice.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Animal Fun

That we are animals is not in doubt, that we are purely animals is difficult for some people who prefer and insist there is more to our lives than that. And, it is extraordinary how the two positions come into conflict, how our world rotates around one or the other.
The ancient Greeks wondered about the nature of humanity and how to live the good live. Epicurus argued that we should enjoy life, that pleasure is good and the denial of pleasure foolish. While he argued that all pleasure is good, he also pointed out that not all pleasure is good for you. Epictetus, the Stoic, argued that passions are a major error and we should be in control of them.
The ancient gods, Greek and Roman, reflected these themes. The Greeks had Bacchanals during which boozing and sexing were the major activities. There were Venus v. Athene, polar opposites, one representing sexual expression, the other intellectual pursuits.
The Christian founders and the general public believed the world would come to an end in their lifetimes so the pursuit of pleasure was downgraded. The pleasure seeking path never leads to heaven. Marriage was thought to be unnecessary and never for pleasure. The aim was to prepare for the end by strengthening spiritual attitudes thus to prepare for facing god. The pursuit of pleasure could easily disrupt such aspirations. And, clearly, the pursuit of pleasure would disrupt religious discipline and perhaps toss the leaders out of work.
The origins of Judaism faced different problems, but it became necessary to curtail pleasure seeking lest it interfere with worship. The commandments are only ten of over 600 laws which must be obeyed. Obviously, the more laws the less opportunity for free expression. Currently, the combination of Jewish and Christian values is called Judeo-Christian and concerned with its adherents being “god fearing,” and following the commands as received from on high.

All of which sounds fine but ignores the reality that humans are to create lives in accordance with the rules imposed on them in Eden. Adam and Eve blew that idea right off the bat and Cain quickly followed suit. A and E were the first pleasure seekers, trying to find something better than their immediate lives and Cain personified hurt ego run wild. You'd think the early wise men would have figured out that humans were the flies in the religious ointment and in a sense they did. Do this and don't do that were the response to humanity's natural proclivities taking up so much time that there was little left over for fun. The Catholics (perhaps other Christians) insist that sex, in the face of all rational experience, is only for procreation and must not occur without that motivation. In reality, one might argue that sex is the point of it all and procreation was added to it rather than vice versa. The Puritans brought themselves to this continent not because of persecutions but because they would not tolerate what they believed to be the loose Christianity of England. When they got here they established their own rules of social conduct, much stricter than the English variety but pretty soon they began to lose to the new American society that gradually built up pre-revolution. By today's standards, our forefathers were at least substance abusers if not alcoholics. The ale houses proliferated and people spent their time there where not working. Contrary to religious demands, they were having fun.
We continue to struggle with such issues today. Sex for pleasure is still anathema for a huge percentage of our population. Abortions are hated because they appear to eliminate the negative consequences of the sex act. Booze has taken an unyielding grasp of the nation but any other substance is feared and hated. Marijuana is absurdly classified as a class 1 narcotic and totally banned when in truth it is a safer drug than alcohol.
These struggles are pushed by the religious folk who deem pleasure seeking as an alliance with the devil. People who do it the wrong way, or are improvident and worthy of punishment. The missionaries to “primitive” peoples insisted that women be on bottom and men on top as the “Godly” way. Not so long ago birth control was banned and even now effective morning after pills are challenged because they seem to abort a fertilized egg.
So, are we simply animals or is there some ineffable spark of who knows what that separates us from the rest of the crowd. Absent any proof, much less evidence, we must accept that we are animals and try to live accordingly. Remember Epicurus' injunction: all pleasure is good, not all pleasure is good for you and have fun in its wonderful variety.

There is simply no way to measure
The ways tried to stamp out our pleasure.
If it feels much too nice
They call it a vice.
And find chores to fill up our leisure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011




My immediate thought was a question: Are men ever called glamorous? There may have been some rare occasions, but in truth, only women are glamorous. And, if only women are glamorous, we are talking about sex. Unlike the relationship between peacocks and peahens (and others of that ilk) in which the boys have the fancy plumage it is Western civilization women who support the rag trade. Most women, and I thank the powers that be, want to be attractive, it is a desire or habit which persists until dementia. The goal is to attract my attention. I know women jabber about dressing for other women, but that only means they are aware of the competition between all women to get men to look at them.
Glamour is the apex, the ultimate expression of the process. I recently saw a history of the Bikini, a minimalist approach to attracting attention. It had its origins when the government, during WWII asked that all clothing manufacturers use less material; and that lead to the two-piece bathing suit. The bra was all-concealing and the belly button was securely covered. This was called glamorous. But, in the mid-sixties, a French man decided that that style was boring and created what was immediately called the bikini. Bikini was an atoll where the US exploded a major nuclear device and the new Bikini exploded onto the public consciousness. Notice that it was a man eager to see more of women who designed it. He could not find a model who would wear the thing and finally hired a stripper who cavorted around showing considerably more flesh than a man could expect to see. (Sometime later a fashion designer produced a one-piece bathing suit for women . . . showing bare breasts. But, unlike the bikini, it was never worn again.)
Public reaction condemned the bikini. That only a stripper would wear the revealing suit condemned it as a sexual device to lure lustful men to their doom. It was immoral. The Pope declared that no Catholic could wear it and it was essentially stillborn. Parenthetically, women's bodies have always been a problem. During Napoleonic times, high-toned ladies wore gowns that exposed the pink of their nipples. Later, women were tightly bundled up. Have you not seen photos of women bathing in early years? Only their faces and hands were exposed and what they wore fully soaked weight 50 pounds.
The Bikini, which no decent woman would wear ever and no slutty woman could wear in public almost instantly disappeared . . . until ten or so years later when the French sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot began to wear one in public. Instant sensation because the combination of glamour and sex had finally become acceptable. Young women began to emulate her, but everyone knew what they wanted. Look at me, have lustful thoughts and who knows what might happen? Bardot, the international sex symbol let the world know not to be shy about sex. Still, the vast bulk of woman wanted nothing to do with the Bikini. It had too much to do with sex and women tend to be shy about blatant advertising.
That's where things stood until Walt Disney, the Mousqueteers and Annette Funicello. You will remember she and the other Mousqeueteers were the epitome of the virginal ideal. Protective clothing, belly button covered up and no hint of sexual attraction. But, somewhere along the line, whether from Disney execs or Funicello the idea popped up. Yes, she wore a Bikini, but her navel was exposed as was much more of her body. Was there a condemning uproar? Not at all. Funicello was so pure that even wearing a Bikini did not turn her into a lustful, sex-crazed teen-ager. Even with the dreadful device, she was pure. Young girls everywhere emulated her. As much as parents protested, there was Funicello, sweet and demure who showed it could be worn with dignity.
Enter Raquel Welch, tall and curvaceous in 1,000,000 Years BC. With a bikini, you could have it all; you could be demure or sexual as you chose. And of course, the string Bikini is about as minimum as you can get and still be socially proper.
The Academy Awards always show women in their best plumage. They are rated in how well they chose their feathers and they become the year's standard for glamour or, as it really is, the men-look-at-me game. It all has to do with the never-ending dance of sexual desire and provocation. It is our manifest destiny. Consider some research done by Masters and Johnson. Men tumesce about twenty-five times a day; women start to lubricate about twenty-eight times a day. We are sexual creatures and I think that's swell.

There once was a girl who was cussed
By men who demanded she must
All of them she'd eschew
Not even trying a few
Until later she discovered real lust

Sunday, October 2, 2011


What Do I Like About Summer?
Nothing! That's right; summer is the worst season of the year. I know that people love it, especially kids such as I who hated school and wanted the freedom to sport around without parental admonitions about studying and looking nice for school and whatever blather they thought pertinent to our lives. It was, without a doubt sheer blather; parents typically can't let their offspring run around doing their thing. They always know better and impose it as much as they can. Of course, the older the kid, less control they have. Tough!
But, memories of my parents are not the only reason I especially dislike summer. After all, whatever the season, they are always around knowing better and much of a kid's life is spent fending them off.
Summer has its own idiocy. First, it is much, much too hot. In Brooklyn, the air was moist as well as hot, providing me with sticky heat that literally poured off my body in droplets of excess sweat. In Colorado, the air is dry and the heat has a tendency to crisp the body. Neither is acceptable to me . . . nor to any right-thinking person.
Another problem is that you are supposed to enjoy yourself when older doing such as swimming, and playing handball, tennis and golf. In fact, places boast about their summer recreations. All of these activities entail outdoor effort, producing more body heat and getting the body turned redder and/or browner. Feh!
Of course, there is always picnicking. What pleasure. That means dragging food out into the open air, sitting on blankets to avoid the usually moist grass and eating such foods as potato salad, cold chicken, sometimes regular salad, potato chips and other such. You don't know who made the chicken, the potato salad or the cole slaw. Of course, the chances of liking how each was made are slim. Some chicken is too dry or salty, some potato salad lacks enough mayo or has no onions and don't ask which grocery provided the coleslaw. All such food might be perfectly acceptable in a restaurant or home. In such places there are no bugs, no damned mosquitoes or bees or wasps, or creepy crawlies to partake of your goodies. By the time you sag onto the blanket to eat, the hot coffee has become cooler and the cold drinks have become warmer. There is none of such nonsense in the sanctity of the home . . . or the restaurant. Both, if properly equipped provide lovely cool air produced by that technological marvel, the air-conditioner.
As I remember it, there was a slight advantage to going to the beach . . . girls in relatively scanty swimsuits. This was the only time when frolicking was part of the zeitgeist. Typically, I would go to the beach with two or three friends. There were the usual parental injunctions to wait an hour after eating before swimming and not to get sunburned. And, of course, to watch out for the wrong kind of girl. We wouldn't admit it but we secretly longed for a kind, sweet, wrong kind of girl. We never did find one.
Girls did the same thing, showing up in a small group. They affected to look quite uninterested in us boys who were engaged in grinning like fools (well, we were, making absurd noises and cavorting around getting sand to spray on them. This was usually the icebreaker accompanied by, “Ooh, you're getting sand all over us.) One of us would respond with something like, “That's not all we want to do.” We giggled mightily at such wit as did the girls, though they were at first quite restrained. So, summer provided tentative mating rituals, though I never mated with any of them, nor did my friends. In retrospect, these were games played more seriously when we became older.
What did I prefer during summer? Reading whatever I wanted. The library was full of books that explained the world to me. Fiction taught me about romance and sex, and it even taught me something about manhood. Non-fiction filled me in on the excitements called history. But, parents, actually my mother, would nag, it's such a lovely day, why don't you go out and enjoy it. I noticed she never did, preferring to lie in bed with the radio on, smoking and reading, but speaking up was more dangerous than I cared to dare. My version of getting out was to go to a movie, sometimes twice a day. Cool!
Even though I would not admit it, autumn was better because school started. My friends and I would sit on the Ocean Parkway benches, gab, flirt and eat ice cream bars. But, parents typically screwed that up also. They would take trips to the Catskill Mountains and stay in some resort for a week. My sister was old enough to be left at home, but I was dragged along, my protests naught availing. Finally, I went to college and later forcibly entered the army. Anything was better than summers at home.