Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The conscience of Arlen Spector

Oh, Arlen, what will happen to your vaunted conscience? If your recent actions are the guide, I am worried for you. Not to mention the country.

What does it mean that Arlen Specter has jumped ship from the Republicans to the Democrats? The obvious point is that when Minnesota’s Al Franken senator is finally sworn in, and he will be, the Democrats will have a filibuster proof majority (making it even less likely that Senator Coleman will give up his challenge to that seat). There are already lots of blogs out there on the subject, but my spin is, I hope (I always hope) a little different.

The thought of Democrats and liberals gleefully rejoicing that they can do almost anything they want with our lives in terms of legislation is as repugnant to me as – well, if the Republicans and conservatives had this opportunity. It is bad for the country and bad for us as individuals. It will allow ideologues on the left to throw aside any pretense at moderation, literally jam ruinous governmental control, extremely high taxation, particularly in the future, and unconstitutional laws down our collective throat.

Although I had others reasons, this is one of the principle reasons that I wanted John McCain in the White House (the other being a long history of decrying spending). If there is one thing worse than one party control of the government, it is one party control with a filibuster proof majority. The electorate has spoken and now we are all in for it.

In case any of the readers of this pseudo-intellectual blog don’t understand the mechanics of this filibuster thingamajig, here it is in short. We have two legislative houses in our federal government. The house of representatives is one and the senate is the other. The house’s internal rules allow it to be controlled by a simple majority. 51% wins. The senate’s rules, however, allow 41 senators to block any legislation simply by refusing to end the debate (which is called filibustering). The only way to end a filibuster is by a cloture motion. If 60 senators vote to close debate, the legislation goes to an up and down vote with the majority winning just like in the other house. When one party has 60 senators, this is not difficult to do, as membership in congress is not a prescription for courage, wisdom or independence. They tend to vote with their party, particularly on procedural votes like cloture.

Very often, political movement exposes both parties to fair charges of hypocrisy. In fact, one might define politics as the art of disguising hypocrisy as policy. A few years ago, when the Republicans were still in control of government (but did not have a filibuster proof majority) they railed against Democratic use of that tool. Now, it is the Democrats who sought to avoid it. A pox on both of your houses.

I am almost always a fan of politicians jumping ship to the other party, or, better, when they become independent. While their own party reviles them for doing so, as if it were an athletic competition, the other party cheers them on. For me, any slap in the face of a political party is usually well deserved. However, as Arlen Specter’s doing so now comes with the destruction of the minority voice’s power to block legislation at this time, I am disappointed and concerned about it. You have to read my posts about the direction we are heading for the last 6 months or so to understand fully why I find this particularly worrisome, but let me say the party in power’s predilection to spend all the money we have, had and will ever have, in the mad hope that it will stimulate the economy, is a black hole from which I believe, if unchecked, our country, perhaps the world, will spend decades climbing out of. The fact that the quarterly gdp today showed another huge tumble while Obama and co. tell us things are starting to look up, just reinforces my beliefs that we are not just heading in the wrong direction, we have our foot on the accelerator. I say this not because I am a trained economist, but because I am not. Therefore, common sense and history can still be a guide. While the Republicans in power destroyed any claim they have had to being for lower spending, the Democrats have used this crisis to do so in an unprecedented and frightening way. It is as if they are bailing water in reverse, hauling it from outside a sinking ship and sloshing onto the deck.

Specter has been one of my favorite Senators since he apologized for his behavior in threatening Anita Hill during Judge Thomas’ hearings in 1991 (and just as an aside, yes, I believe Thomas made a few off color jokes, but, it shouldn’t have mattered at all or been brought up). Spector is one of the more reasonable and fair legislators in either house in my mind, which is why he was liked by the other side and disliked by the more ideological members in his own party. Republicans have been doubtful of him for years, and, clearly, they had reason to be. I remember one day watching C-Span and seeing him take the floor to explain to anyone watching that the political rule being used, which allowed the chairman of a committee to cut off amendments simply by making one of his own, even if it was as little a change as taking away or adding a comma. In other words, it was a ridiculous and unfair rule and he wanted us to know it. Of course, it was C-Span, so almost no one was watching, but it endeared him to me further and I thank him for caring. I actually tried to email him my appreciation and learned that you can’t contact the senators or congresspersons unless you are in their constituency. Figures. If you can’t vote for them they could care less what you have to say.

I am not one of those who will castigate Specter for changing parties, but, I am afraid that I fully expect him to act with even greater hypocrisy now than we can usually expect from politicians, which is saying quite a bit. While he would usually (not always) vote lockstep with his Republican party on procedural issues, as almost everyone else does, he will now have to do the opposite - vote with the Democrats in lockstep fashion if he wants to maintain their favor, and clearly he does. That will mean selling out on many a position that he would have said just a couple of days ago he believes in.

Ironically, Specter will find that he has more power but less personal freedom as a Democrat than as a Republican. Here’s why. While he was a Republican they had to be concerned that he would leave the party and drain their power even further. Thus, while many Republicans wanted to take the chairmanship of the judiciary committee away from him while they were in power, they couldn’t, because of the fear that he might bolt the party. That gave him leverage.

Now, of course, the Democrats will not be so handcuffed. His entire political career will be dependent on their largesse. Without them, he will not get Democratic primary victory. Without them, he will not have control of a committee (I understand he wants appropriations, making him one of the most powerful men in government). Without them, he is almost certainly a lame duck senator without any power.

Thus, Arlen Specter must not displease his handlers. He claims that he will not be an automatic 60th vote, but will continue to vote his conscience. We will see. It is at least doubtful that he can do so with a highly partisan issue and continue to get Democratic support. They will turn on him as they did with Joe Lieberman before they recognized that they could lose him to the right if they didn’t play ball.

Politically, of course, it was the right move for Specter. He was almost certainly done in Pennsylvania’s Republican Party and has to run as a Democrat to survive. Even if the conservatives regain power, it is not likely that they could do so before 2014 at best. By then, Spector will likely be retired (or worse - he will be well into his 80s).

For your viewing pleasure, watch the partisan sniping. No doubt it is the ideological right who chased Arlen out of their party just as the ideological left chased Joe Lieberman out for a while (he’s an independent now, but still in the Democratic caucus). Many of those who sniped at and castigated Lieberman for his “betrayal” in leaving the Democrats, supporting McCain and the Iraqi War, will find it delightful that Specter has switched sides. Those who found Lieberman’s doing so a sign of his healthy conscience and patriotism, will find those same qualities lacking in Specter, and visa versa Like I said, the hypocrisy is rampant on both sides, as usual. We cannot not expect less from politicians, who are, after all, in some cases, almost human.

I would have been much happier had Specter become an independent. It would have been a sign that he would actually act independently and according to conscience, which is what a congressperson or senator should do. There is no doubt in my mind either, as much as I have liked Specter, that this is a purely cynical and political act. Specter says that he doesn’t want to put his lengthy political career in the hands of Pennsylvania’s Republican primary (where he probably can’t win because his party is against him), but, completely hypocritically, he is fine about putting it in the hands of the Democratic primary (where he probably can win with party help). His claim to be willing to take on all comers there is a little silly as it has already been reported that the powers that be in Pennsylvania’s Democratic world intend to clear the decks for him.

If you doubt this was a hypocritical act, you can recall that Specter said almost a decade ago, when Jim Jeffords jumped ship, that he had the right, but doing so was bad for the country. In Jeffords case, it effected the power structure in the senate, but it did not result in one party rule. Guess his conscience has changed since then.

A filibuster proof majority is not run of the mill. We have to go back to the 70s for the last one, and that was during a less ideological and partisan time where the members did not always vote in lockstep fashion. Thus, in the "average" American’s lifetime (about 25 years), no party has had so much power. That should be scary, but the average American really doesn't look at these things very deeply, and probably takes no notice. For those on the left who think this is a good thing, careful what you wish for. You may just find that disaster is looming.

Make no mistake about it, we now have one party rule, no different than in other countries we mock for their tyrannical laws. It’s not just that the country has voted Democratic. It’s that the rules of our legislative branch have been sculpted over the years to make the two parties paramount. Now it will soon be just one party by those same rules. While the press goes on and on about the arbitrary benchmark of Obama's first one hundred days in office, this switch is much more meaningful.

But, Democrats and liberals should not gloat too much. They need only remember a few years ago when Republicans had a virtual lock on government, and got to greedy, too fat and too full of themselves, leading us to this pleasant day - with one party opposition for the party their ballyhooers were calling all but dead.

Is there hope for us? There is always a hope or two, however unforeseen, and I still do not look to the end of America, even if we have shot ourselves in the foot. Specter might make me feel better by actually voting as he did before, that is, without obsessive catering to one party or the other, even if he leans in one direction. Seeing how he has explained his defection by the usual hypocritical means, I do not have a lot of confidence in his doing so, whatever he says now. We will see how he reacts when he gets his first equivalent of a dead fish from Rahm Emanuel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who said it?

Okay, history fans, the game for this week is - who said it? I give you the quote and you guess. To make it more interesting for me, each quote had to come from my own library, which I love with the passion of a teenager and the fidelity of Lassie. To make it more interesting for you, in most cases, it won’t be that easy to guess and are aimed to surprise.


1) “If all these people are convicted there will be too many to be punished with death. My hope is that they will send me full statements of every man’s case, that the most guilty may be marked as examples, and the less suffer long imprisonment under reprieves from time to time.”

2) “Should we ever have gained our Revolution if we had bound our hands by manacles of law, not only in the beginning but in any part of the revolutionary conflict? There are extreme cases where the laws become inadequate even to their own preservation, and where the universal resource is a dictator or martial law.”

3) “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races -- that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

4) “I have always had a clear conscience.”

5) “It is really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians."

6) "Tell him I long more than anything to learn how to do things wrong, how to create discrepancies, adaptations, changes to reality, so that it all becomes – well, lies if you like, but truer than literal truth.”

7) “The autocrat of Russia possesses more power than any other man in the earth; but he cannot stop a sneeze.”

8) “What I said, I said for fear of the fire. My voices have told me since that I did a very wicked thing in confessing that what I had done was not well done. They told that God, by Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret, gave me to know the great pity of the treason that I consented to by making that abjuration and revocation to save my life, and that I was damning myself to save my life. If I should say that God had not sent me, I should damn myself. It is true that God has sent me.”

9) “The president was not a hero or a prophet. He was not even a philosopher; but a generously intentioned man, with many of the weaknesses of other human beings, and lacking that dominating intellectual equipment, which would have been necessary to cope with the subtle and dangerous spellbinders whom a tremendous clash of forces and personalities had brought to the top as triumphant masters in the swift game of give and take, face to face in council – a game of which he had no experience at all.”

10) “Horrible thoughts, you will say, to run in the mind of a virgin girl. I admit that; but do not forget that I have not invented these ideas, only exposed them.”

11) “A certain softness of fibre in civilized races, if it were to prove progressive, might mean the development of a cultured and refined people quite unable to hold it’s own in those conflicts through which any great race can ultimately march to victory.”

12) “What I saw would have been a dream if it hadn’t been a terrible reality. Rasputin, who half an hour before lay dying in the cellar, was running quickly across the snow-covered courtyard towards the iron gate which led to the street. . . . I couldn’t believe my eyes. But a harsh cry which broke the silence of the night persuaded me. ‘Felix! Felix! I will tell everything to the Empress!’ It was him, all right, Rasputin. In a few seconds, he would reach the iron gate. . . . I fired. The night echoed with the shot. I missed. I fired again. Again I missed. I raged at myself. Rasputin neared the gate. I bit with all my force the end of my left hand to force myself to concentrate and I fired a third time. The bullet hit him in the shoulders. He stopped. I fired a fourth time and hit him probably in the head. I ran up and kicked him as hard as I could with my boot in the temple. He fell into the snow, tried to rise, but he could only grind his teeth.

13) At this he fired and called me all the ill names, puppy etc., that he could think of. All I returned was I put him in mind of his passion, desired him to govern it, and keep his temper. This made his rage worse. . . .”

14) “That is part of the cursedness of a shotgun messenger’s life – the loneliness of it. He is like a sheep dog, feared by the flock and hated by the wolves. On the stage, he is a necessary evil. Passengers and driver alike regard him with aversion. Without him and his pestilential box their lives would be 90 per cent safer and they know it. The bad men, the rustlers—the stage robbers actual and potential – hate him. They hate him because he is a guardian of property, because he stands between them and their desires, because they will have to kill them to get their hands into the coveted box.”

15) “Long ago a very serious counselor called ‘Uncle Bill’ ordered me into boxing lessons at a New England summer camp called Robinson Crusoe. I was ten. I had good foot speed and my hand-to-eye coordination was sharp enough for me to play third base for the varsity baseball team. I was not afraid of baseballs thrown near my head, nor hard smashes cracked down to third. I’d played a few years of junior prep football and there I was swept end or ran hard off tackle without experiencing fright. I had scuffed a bit, as boys will scuff, but never before Uncle Bill and Robinson Crusoe had I boxed. As I was commanded into my first formal boxing match, dread abruptly dominated me. In a manner that never entered my play in other sports, I thought over and over: ‘Willickers. I can get seriously hurt.’”

16) “I am living here in a state of great anxiety and of the greatest physical fatigue. I have no friends of any sort and want none. I haven’t even time to eat as much as I should. So you must not bother me with additional worries, for I could not bear another thing.”

17) “Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel. It is just when one must kill a mad dog.”

18) “Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”

19) “Just as the particular will acts unceasingly against the general will, so does the government continually exert itself against the sovereign. And the more this exertion increases, the more the constitution becomes corrupt, and, as in this case there is no distinct corporate will to resist the will of the prince and so to balance it, sooner or later it is inevitable that the prince will oppress the sovereign and break the social treaty. This is the inherent and inescapable defect which, from the birth of the political body, tends relentlessly to destroy it, just as the old age and death destroy the body of a man.”

20) “What we call you to thirdly is to take an honest stance with yourselves – and I doubt you will do so – in order to discover that you are a nation without principles or manners, and that, to you, values and principles are something which you merely demand from others, not that which you yourself must adhere to.”


1) Thomas Jefferson. Was he talking about the death penalty for murderers? No. TJ wanted the death penalty for those violating economic restrictions. Whatever his virtues, he was our first and last tyrant.
2) Same guy. Same problem. Whether he was right or not that there are times a dictator might be called for, it wasn’t the right time and he certainly wasn’t the right guy. Okay, done with Jefferson. I promise.
3) Honest Abe Lincoln speaking his mind while campaigning. He hated slavery, and was personally kind to blacks, but his belief in the superiority of whites appeared to be genuine and certainly typical of his time.
4) Adolph Hitler. Good to know he could sleep nights.
5) Possibly the greatest and craziest chess player to ever live, Bobby Fischer, on his classic match up with Boris Spassky.
6) Vincent van Gogh. Makes sense if you think about his work.
7) One of my literary heroes, Mark Twain, who constantly surprises and inspires me.
8) Joan of Arc, recanting her confession. She had reason to fear the fire.
9) Maynard Keynes – possibly the most famous (not the best) economist of the 20th century, commenting on our overmatched President Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference.
10) Sigmund Freund. These days he is considered a relic, his therapy largely repudiated, but he was very important step in an uptight world trying to understand sexuality, and among his work and letters are many gems I believe will be mined for a long time.
11) Teddy Roosevelt. To read him nowadays, we are surprised by his ethnocentricity/racism, even though he was probably progressive for his time. But if you get beyond that, he was often quite prescient, very decent, and one of the most competent presidents. Nor was he stayed by ideology or party politics when something needed to be done. Thus, he is one of my very favorite presidents.
12) Rasputin’s murder, as told by one of the conspirators, describes an amazing story of Rasputin’s tremendous will to live. First they poisoned him, and when he wouldn’t die, they shot him and pronounced him dead. After he jumped up, attacked them and made to escape, they shot him again at least twice more, kicked him in the head and beat him with a club. To get rid of the body, they slid him in under the ice. Remarkably, when he was found, it turned out his lungs were filled up with water. That means he was still alive when he went under and drowned. This account reads like a novel.
13) Reverend John Flamsteed, Britain’s first Royal Astronomer, describing a run in with his nemesis, Sir Isaac Newton. Not the Newton of the apple tree, is it?
14) Wyatt Earp describing the lot of a Wells, Fargo shotgun messenger.
15) Jack Dempsey describes his introduction into the sport that made his life.
16) Michaelangelo working at the Vatican, vents his frustrations in a letter to his brother.
17) Martin Luther was revolutionary, but not known for his tolerance for those who rebelled from him.
18) General William Sherman. He’d know.
19) Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Like all philosophers, sometimes he’s right and sometimes he’s nuts. But he had a great name, didn’t he? His words above are as true now in democracies as they were at the dawn of the revolutions.
20) I was going to let you guess, but you can Google almost anything these days. It’s a lecture from our friend, Osama bin Laden.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Death to pirates

I was talking to a young girl who is a senior in college about the pirates killed in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips and said I was glad it ended that way. She's a nice girl who is graduating college and, not surprisingly, thinks we can save everybody, even pirates. She asked me if I wasn't being too harsh. I said "no" and meant it.

Until the pirates believe their chances of getting killed are substantially higher than their getting a ransom, this out of control industry will keep booming. This isn't a domestic kidnapping, or a one of a kind criminal act by an out of control person. This kind of piracy is about as lawless as you can get, and that includes international law, which is about as vague as you can get and still call it law. Nor is this a case of colonization where the indigent people are fighting back. These are pirates motoring hundreds of miles from their home, kidnapping sailors and tourists at the point of powerful weapons, and holding them for ransom in Somalia, many in the same area.

Like with terrorists, we can't be soft with these people. Yes, if I was the kidnapped person or it was someone I was close to I would want a ransom to be paid. But that would be because I was emotional and irrational about it, as I should be in that situation.

The ransoms paid over the last year or so to the Somalia pirates have been the catalyst and the seed money for their industry. It has been reported as over $150,000,000 in ransoms for 2008. Although a number of nations have banded together to take on the pirates, it has not been very effective. A true international blockade is necessary. The pirates cannot be subject to years of criminal defense. Justice has to be swifter than normal, particularly when a hostage is killed, even in a rescue attempt and even by the rescuer.

Don't get worried. I won't suggest lynching them at sea or torturing them, though, they probably deserve it. I do believe they should be tried as quickly as possible, have quick appeals and the punishment carried out. If we hesitate, we can look forward to keeping it going for way too long, as with the Iraq War and The War on Terror.

Unfortunately, many of the countries who are partaking in this group defense are allergic to the death penalty. I am too, usually. Although I believe some people deserve to die, I just don't believe juries are very capable of rendering a very impartial decision in murder cases and too many innocent people get convicted. However, this is the type of thing that must be done regardless. I would limit the death penalty to those who are caught in the act and where a hostage dies or is "seriously injured" in the mind of the jury, or other factors that make it particularly heinous.

Captain Phillips was rescued by men from the USS Bainbridge, a ship named after William Bainbridge, an American navy man of the late 18th and early 10th century. He was the captain of the Philadelphia, which was in the Tripoli harbor in 1803 during the First Barbary War. We fought that war in order to put an end to the pirate tactics of several Ottoman Empire satellites on the North African Coast. The Philadelphia got stuck on a shoal in the harbor and Bainbridge felt the smartest thing to do was to surrender and spare his men. They were captured and the men enslaved and several died. The officers were allowed the freedom of the city but, of course, were not free to leave.

In order to prevent the Pasha from using the ship (actually, they didn't have the expertise and were going to sell it) Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., diguised himself and his men on a captured ship and then got permission to tie itself along the stranded vessel. Just as their disguise was uncovered, they dashed unboard (actually, Decatur tripped and thus, was not first aboard). They set the ship on fire. Just as Decatur's father was the Philadelphia's first captain, he was the last to leave the deck. Horatio Nelson called it "the most bold and daring act of the age.” The Pope said it was the most important blow struck for Christaindom in centuries. Decatur became a national hero and even Francis Scott Key wrote a song for him which years later became the basis of the Star Spangled Banner.

But, the Pope may have exaggerated. The mission neither freed the hostages (who were beaten because of it) nor ended the war. Finally, William Eaton, a remarkable former soldier, spy and diplomat, who spoke many of the regional languages, got permission from Jefferson to do what he could to rescue the hostages. He went back to the Mediterranean for the purpose of either throwing such a scare into the Pasha he would give up, or, if necessary attack and destroy him. He organized an international army, mostly Arabs and Berbers, but also European adventurers and a few American military men. he dubbed himself the general, crossed with his army hundreds of desert miles through adventures that are deserving of books and movies, captured Derna with the help of a navy bombardment, setting up the Pasha’s frightened and useless brother, Hamet, as de facto ruler. He held the city against counter-attack, acted as his ruler and intended, if the Pasha did not surrender to march on Tripoli itself and crown Hamet King. The Pasha was frightened at what occurred and probably would have capitulated had not we shot ourselves in the foot by - and here's the moral - PAID A RANSOM.

Without Eaton’s knowledge, Jefferson's peace officer named Tobias Lear (from whom we know Washington's last words and who was a friend of Jeffersona and Madison) agreed to that America would pay $60,000 for the release of the prisoners. America did not want to pay tribute anymore, which was humiliating, but somehow thought that paying ransom was better. With the hostages freed and a treaty signed it might have appeared that Lear acted wisely. But Eaton knew better. As one of Eaton’s very few biographers, Samuel Edwards, records in Barbary General, Eaton wrote the following in final report:

“What have we gained by the war? What benefit has accrued to the United States by the suffering of the Philadelphia’s officers and men, six of whom died in captivity? What benefit has accrued to the United States by the death of two members of the Marine Corps who accompanied the Bey Hamet on his march to Derna? These dead, and the noble Europeans and Africans who joined hands with us in a noble enterprise – and who lost their lives in that effort – cry out from their shallow graves for justice.”

Like Decatur, Eaton became a national hero. He probably already deserved it if the public had the public been aware of the things he had accomplished. However, he pressed his case that a terrible mistake had been made and that we would find we needed to fight there again. He was completely right. Decatur himself went back after the War of 1812 ended in 1815. This time he went with overwhelming force and gave the Bey of Algiers a few hours to sign a treaty (with very little negotiating allowed), or pay the penalty. The Bey caved as sood did the rulers of Tunis and Tripoli, also capitulated. They even paid the Americans for their troubles and released both American and European prisoners. Still, it is probably that a little bombardment would have been a good idea. The next year an Anglo-Dutch flotilla did just this, bombarding Algiers until they reconfirmed the treaties and gave up their pirating.

Only force works with some people, and pirates are among them. As Eaton and Decatur knew, pirates are rarely dissuaded from their tasks without either scaring them to death or actually doing the job. This may again be something that America has to do almost alone. I hope we figure this out (and for goodness sakes, Obama and Clinton, please don't blame us for it).

If you are interested in more on Eaton and Decatur, two now largely forgotten heroes, check out my October 2nd, 2008 and December 10th, 2008 posts.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The dumbest thing I've ever written about - women's sexuality

I’m going to do it, jump right into the frying pan. This may be the single biggest mistake I’ve ever made and that includes the time I got out of my car and shut the door while it was still in drive. This might ruin my chances to run for Senator ever. It might prove to any uptight politically correct man or woman who reads this that – I am a bona fide, Neanderthal like – MISOGYNIST. But what is this blog for if not to share with you my most unpopular beliefs.

Now, it’s not true to my lights, but I really do know a few people who think I am a misogynist. When I say a few, that’s only including friends and family. I know why. When the differences between men and women comes up, my opinions aren't always politically correct, that's all. Nevertheless, I actually like women a lot (although I'm told that's not the issue (?)) and don't think women are inferior to men at all (although I've been told that I actually do). I have almost always had roughly as many women friends as men friends, at least since I graduated college anyway; even very close ones. I know I sound like the white guy who says some of my best friends are black, but some of my best friends are (or used to be) women.

No doubt, the last ten years or so, the frequency of contact with my female friends has definitely decreased. I don't have to be a scientist to notice that it has a lot to do with their having kids. I wasn’t involved in their kid’s world and it made me something less than a priority, and on a few occasions, pretty much close to zero priotity. That's life and you can't take it personally. Now, when my male friends had kids, they became busier, but that didn’t really decrease our contact to the same degree it did with female friends. But, it does seem to be a difference between men and women, and that interests me.

The fact that men and women have differences should be obvious – I mean, even other than the really obvious ones. Nevertheless, the prevailing politically correct mindset tells us that we are not supposed to notice or believe in differences between women and men, unless the difference is favors women (like the myth that women are stronger than men because they go through childbirth; it's not a myth that men get sleepier than women after sex, but, would we laugh at every mention of it if the reverse was true -- I don't think so). But the differences are still there as in days of old. For example, I personally know substantially more women than men who believe in ghosts or, possibly, far more women who will admit to it publicly. I haven't researched it much to see if that carries out across a broad spectrum of Americans, but, the differences where I have lived are large enough that I'd be surprised if it wasn't true. The few surveys I have seen were so divergent that I have trouble believing them, however, the women questioned did have something of a higher belief than men. Then again, so did more educated people. Probably, the percentage of people who believe in ghosts is so high, it might not amount to much.

Anyway, you can see why some people have called me a misogynist (not always women). I have been told I stereotype, which I really think is what they mean when they say "misogynist". I agree with them. I also stereotype men if what you mean by "stereotype" is that I believe there is nothing wrong with noticing differences between men and women or finding that interesting. There is a basis for these generalizations in that strange place we call the “real world”.

It does not mean, however, that I think all men or women are alike. Often I find when someone doesn’t like an opinion, they first overstate what was said, and then say it is an over-generalizing. I believe it is one of the most standard forms of false arguments, and for me, it prevents a real discussion, although I'm sure, like everyone, I have been guilty of it sometimes too. In my biased opinion, that is what some of my critics do, but, of course, they could just say I'm over-generalizing that too.

Before we get to the sex stuff, because that's the most interesting part, here’s one fairly innocuous example. Most guys I knew in New York didn’t like to dance very much – at least, not nearly as much as many women did. Now that I live in Virginia, I notice that women like to dance down here more than men too. Now, I have expressed that opinion on occasion and actually been told – “That’s not true; some guys like to dance. You are just generalizing”. Well, besides your wondering why I get into these arguments, of course I know there are guys who like to dance. But most guys I know don’t. I know women who don't like to dance too, but not so many. Now, don’t try asking these questions like this in a mixed group because I am telling you that some men will lie (and then tell you later – sorry, you know, the wife/girlfriend was listening. I've had that happen more than a few times in my life, even by some of the most politically correct men I know).

Maybe it’s not true in Greece or Saudi Arabia or other places either. I don't know. But, for the American male, it seems pretty much true. Here’s an interesting anecdotal fact. The best male dancer I know - the one all the girls want to see dance at parties - who seems to really enjoy it – he told me he really doesn’t like to do it very much – he is just pleasing his wife. Nothing wrong with that.

Now, the part I don’t understand is why some people take my opinions as a slight to women. As if I think women are inferior because they like to dance more than men.

Here’s another one, but this one's about sex. It has come up in conversations (for some reason, quite a few times) that many women in my age group have told me that they have lost interest in sex. Either they don’t want to have it anymore at all, or, they don’t care so much about it. Some have said to me that they like it well enough when it happens, but if they never have it again, that’s just fine. Of course, it’s not true for every woman. But, if it is true in general, it’s not an over-generalization. Now, I have to say that in speaking with women about this issue I find that if I say it (as opposed to a woman saying it), I am sometimes called a sexist or a misogynist, just to mention the nicer names (yes, I've also been called a man who wants women to be raped, bled, murdered and tortured, but that was by a close relative, so why go there?)

Now, I admit that I am generalizing about this from a relatively small sample, but, I do not think I am over-generalizing. There is a lot of evidence supporting it. For one thing, polls, surveys and scientific studies all seem to support this proposition overwhelmingly. Hell, even Oprah had a show on it recently and if that isn't authoritative in America, what is (I'm kidding, you Oprah haters our there, but she did do a show on it)? When surveys ask people if they had an extra hour would they prefer sex or sleep (sometimes other things), more men choose sex and more women choose sleep. A Canadian poll reconfirmed that this past year. A few years ago a U.S. poll showed that men chose sex first in that situation but women listed it ninth. Again, to ward off the naysayers, it doesn’t mean that this is always the case or that there aren’t those for whom it isn't the opposite. However, I can't help but notice that some take this suggestion as an insult to women and some folks just won’t believe it.

Now, here's where the differences get really interesting to me. It has always seemed to me that young women I knew had more of an interest in lesbianism than men I knew did in homosexuality. I was not unaware, of course, that the social taboos might just mean more women were going to acknowledge it than men. However, scientific studies seem to show that that the things that turn on men and women are quite different, and I don’t just mean being interested in the opposite sex.

Here’s a strange fact I learned from a fascinating New York Times Magazine article (1/25/09 - Bergner) from which I culled much of the sexual research I'm discussing). Technological marvels like MRI’s and genital measuring devices called plethysmographs now allow scientists to tell what cues arouse men and women. Men seem to be attracted to very specific things – if they are straight, watching women exercising, masturbating, having heterosexual sex or lesbian sex is a turn on. Even gay men seem to react to the same type of thing except, obviously, in reverse, they are physiologically aroused by men, rather than women.

But, women seemed to be physiologically aroused by any sex they see. It didn’t seem to matter who was on screen – a man and woman, two women, and whether having sex, or masturbating or even exercising. And, I'm not making this up, even watching monkeys having sex. And it didn’t matter if they were straight or lesbian. If you want to look it up, the experiment was by Meredith Chivers of King’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Relax. She’s not suggesting that women secretly want to have sex with monkeys but she and other scientists are having trouble figuring it out why they get aroused. Even women sexologists admit that it is easy to understand male sexuality, but not women’s sexuality. I suppose that might be deemed insulting by some too, but you only have to read a little of this stuff to see it's the case. You can doubt Chivers’ finding, of course, but, according to her extensive review of the scientific literature, similar results have been found by other scientists over and over again.

Here’s another weird thing. In the same study, they also recorded the subjects own views of which scenes aroused them and compared them with their physiological reactions. Women seemed either to be lying or just didn’t know when they were being physiologically aroused. Chivers found that heterosexual women underreported their arousal during lesbian scenes, and even more so, homosexual scenes, and overreported when watching heterosexual sex. When lesbian women watched other lesbians they seemed to get it right, but they also underreported their arousal by watching heterosexual sex. Both women's groups severely underreported arousal while watching the monkeys. What’s going on? If you are a man reading this, you are probably just glad that women are turned on watching other women have sex, even if they won’t admit it. But monkeys? Frankly, wouldn't you have guessed it would have been the other way around on that one.

Now, I don't think the results are because women are more lustful than men. If anything, I think that the time period where they are about the same is a limited one, and otherwise men are more lustful, and there are studies which suggest that is the case. And it is definitely not because women are more "perverted" than men according to social mores. If women could read men's minds they would probably be really disgusted by us and no, I'm not just projecting.

A psychologist at CSU has also found an interesting result showing another sexual difference between men and women which relates to Chivers’ findings. It appears that the more highly sexed someone is (self reported), the more they follow the patterns Chivers found. That is, the more highly sexed a straight man is, the more he is aroused by women alone and the more highly sexed a gay man is, the more likely it is that he is focused on other men alone. However, the results for straight women show, the more highly sexed they were, the more they were aroused by men and other women too.

It seems possible that the differences in these studies were caused by cultural inhibitions. But, that theory might not pan out. Scientists have actually been able to locate the parts of the brain that are triggered by inhibition. A recent MRI study showed that those parts of the brain weren’t triggered when either men or women were aroused by pictures which were not socially acceptable. This would seem to go against the cultural explanation, although it is also possibly that the scientists just don't understand the brain chemistry well enough at this point.

Of course, sexologists have found other fascinating facts about the differences between men and woman, far too many to try to talk about here. Some of them seem obvious to me. It might not surprise you to learn that men seemed to get aroused just by increasing blood flow to their penis, like with Viagra, but women seem to need a psychological adjustment to get turned on. There is also some indication that increases in serotonin or anti-depression medication tends to increase female lust, but not male, which may show that the likelihood that women's arousal is more psychological than men's. Now, that would have been my guess in the first place (but, beware the political correctness police). However, testosterone treatments, primarily a male hormone, seems to work to increase either men or women's arousal, although cancer risks have limited the experimentation.

A study from a University in Wales recently confirmed that women actually find men in expensive cars more attractive than ones in less expensive cars. They found this by asking women to rate pictures of men in cars. Of course, they used the same guy in different cars in order to get their result. What's interesting is not just that they were more attracted to the nicer car, but actually thought the guy was nicer looking. They did not find the same results with men. The men cared about her face and figure. Women attracted to money and power and as shallow in their own way as men? Now, this should be obvious to people just by living in the world, and I'm glad to have this study on my side because I have been told that I'm out of my mind in believing it. Maybe people just like to argue.

Studies of rape fantasies might make you cringe a little. If you really want to infuriate the politically correct, discuss these scientific studies at a mixed party. Apparently, at least a third if not over half of women seemed to have had rape fantasies (from an article in The Journal of Sex Research), and about ten percent fairly frequently. However, and this is the tricky part, there is also evidence that suggests that some women not only get aroused when actually being sexually assaulted, and in rare cases, actually have had an orgasm during the assault. Rape fantasies are far from unknown, of course, but women who have them say they would not want to be raped and I believe it. However, sometimes physiological reactions trump psychological ones even when it makes us feel uncomfortable.

I feel safe to say that many, if not most men I know well, would not be offended if it was suggested that if they were powerless to stop a sexual assault by someone they were attracted to, they might become aroused. I feel just as safe to say most of the women I know would not be pleased by the idea. Some would be outraged. In fact, I really don’t recommend you discussing this at all with a women who doesn’t bring it up herself and, really, how often is that going to happen? If you are a woman and you are reading this I FEEL MY PERSONAL SAFETY REQUIRES ME TO REPEAT THAT I AM NOT SAYING THAT SOME WOMEN ACTUALLY WANT TO BE RAPED AND PLEASE DON’T HATE (OR INJURE) ME. Focus your wrath on the sexologists who do these studies.

The Archives of Sexual Behaviors is a treasure trove of completely politically unacceptable studies such as suggesting that women are more turned on by sex with strangers; that their desire is connected by their narcissistic desire to be wanted; that while looking at pornography straight men study women’s faces and bodies, but straight women study men’s faces and the women’s bodies; men are coercive about sex to feel power and control, but when women are, it's in order to feel a psychological connection and out of control at the same time. You can read abstracts and short previews of the articles in the Archives online. The Journal of Sex Research cannot be read online although you can view the contents there and order them. Am I crazy or is this stuff fun? When I was a psych major we studied rats. Interesting, but not so interesting.

Of course, because I would rather not bore you, I left out all the mundane and overly intellectual stuff you can read about in these journals too. But, there’s lots of titillating stuff there too. Have fun, but my advice, if you are a male, particularly a married one, keep the stuff you read there to yourself in mixed company. Leave the politically incorrect stuff to us bachelors, because husbands having to occasionally sleep on couches is not a myth either.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .