Saturday, April 10, 2004

Functional Ambivalent has moved! Really! I got a real URL and designed a (kind of) real site because Belle de Jour has almost exactly the same Blogger template that I use, so it made me feel like...well, you know. Kind of dirty, like I was sharing something that really shouldn't be shared.

The New Funcitonal Ambivalent is located, interestingly enough, at www.functionalambivalent.com. Imagine!

I'll be getting touch with both of my readers my email to let them know I've moved, so this notice is just up here in case anyone wanders in by accident. If that's the case, the bathrooms over in the back, on the left. Turn out the light when you're done.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Soon there will be a whole new Functional Ambivalent. New website, new graphics, new reason to get up in the morning.

For that reason, Sex Day is postponed. I know: The disappointment is crushing.

Still, I feel the need to feature some kind of sex for the day, so I will say "boner" and give you this link to a work of art that says so much more than mere words could ever say. Seriously: This is why art needs to be completely free and without government intrusion.

Have a good weekend. Monday: The new, and improved Functional Ambivalent.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Condoleezzamania is over and I feel, somehow, empty. We will see whether there is spike in t-shirt sales to report, or whether Target comes out with a line of signature Condoleezza sportswear. But I fear that there is nothing left of what had been so all-consuming just hours ago.

Except arguing. We'll keep arguing because that's what we do. Mostly we'll argue semantics rather than substance, haggling over the definition of "warning" or "imminent," trying to score points in the national sport that is politics. We root for candidates the way we root for our college football teams: Blindly, hoping only to win. We don't consider that there is right and wrong in most arguments, and that all people are both good and bad, smart and stupid, sighted and blind.

The thing that amazes me most about our national terrorisim discussion is this: Everyone's right and everyone's wrong about everything. The people who believe the palestinians are insane and can't be trusted with their own state are every bit as right as the people who beileve that the problem will not be solved until the Palestinians have their own state.

So we argue semantics. Semantics, in an environment of incredible complexity, are all we have to argue about.

I have a tendency in situations like this to blame We, the People. That's because, to a horrifying degree, our politicians do exactly what we want them to do. That's why we've got $500 billion deficits, because we like government to pay for things for us but don't like taxes.

Pre-9/11, we cared about our stock portfolios, not terrorism. That was over there, in the crazy parts of the world, and we were over here toting up our capital gains. Any politician who ran on an anti-terror platform would have been dismissed as a paranoid crackpot and buried in a landslide. If the Democrats who are bitching now that President Bush didn't do anything to prevent 9/11 and the Republicans who are bitching that President Clinton didn't do anything about al Qaeda would calm down and listen to themselves, they might notice that the end result of all that posturing is that no one did anything .

They might also recall that if some politician had advocated taking actions strong enough to have even a small chance of being effective, that politician would have been written off as a buzzkill and booted out of the national celebration of peace and prosperity.

If President Bush had come into office and taken the kind of radical steps necessary to stop 9/11, based on the scanty evidence of what Al Qaeda was up to, Democrats -- me included -- would have gone berserk. Conversely, if President Clinton had, say, launched an invasion of Afghanistan to root out the terrorist training camps, Republicans would have re-started the impeachment proceeding and claimed Clinton had dreamed the whole thing up to provide cover for a new shipment of bimbos to the White House.

Even now, with our post-9/11 clarity, the doctrine of pre-emption is controversial. That is, by the way, as it should be. Our inability to accurately judge the threat posed by Iraq, in the very first test of what will eventually become known as The Bush Doctrine, shows that even a country with the naive good intentions of the United States shouldn't have carte blanche to invade other countries. And I believe that our naive good intentions are one of our best, most admirable traits.

We had two embassies and a warship blow up, and all We, the People, could think about was the rising NASDAQ and, after the bubble burst, the diminishing value of our 401Ks. When the conversation turned to national security, we argued about missile defense and Bosnia. We had a national attention deficit, and the most shocking thing about 9/11 wasn't so much the loss of life as it was the fact that none of us saw it coming. Once the towers were down, it all seemed so obvious.

That's one of the problems with democracy, particularly a democracy as opinion-poll-reactive as ours: It's hard to lead when the people aren't intereted in following, and in this case it was impossible because the information it would have taken to wake us up simply wasn't where We, the People, told our government to look.

I believe that President Bush and his administration have resisted investigation of 9/11 entirely for political reasons, that attentiveness to terrorism is their most politically adventageous line of differentiation from the Democrats. President Bush is a skilled political operative, and he's not going to surrender that differentiation without a fight. That's why he fought the formation of the 9/11 Commission; it's why his administration has been so slow to cooperate with that Commission; and it goes a long way toward explaining why they withheld documents from the Clinton Administration. The President isn't hiding that he knew 9/11 was coming; that's ridiculous. He's hiding the fact that he was caught every bit as flat-footed as the Democrats were, an admission that would eliminate one of the best arguments he has for re-election.

The fight here isn't about who's really to blame, because, really, only the terrorists are to blame. The fight is about who gets to make the best campaign commercial for September.

I'm going to miss Condimania. It has filled my life with joy and brightened the shadowy corners of my world for the last...oh, four days or so. Condi this, Condi that, Condi everywhere, Condi all the time. It wasn't exactly the OJ trial, but nothing will ever saturate the media the way the OJ trial saturate the media. (I travelled to Russia to make a documentary during the OJ Show, and the first image I saw when I clicked on the TV in my Moscow hotel room was OJ sitting calmly at the defnse table, listening to testimony.) Somehow, changing from channel to channel and seeing the same thing everywhere is a nostalgic experience for me, harkening back to simpler days when television was a shared experience. There were only three networks then, no Tivo or VCRs, and everyone watched "Bonanza" at the same time.

I, like the rest of you, will now return to regularly scheduled programming. There are hundreds of options available at any given moment, so I don't have to listen to anyone I don't agree with.

I am somehow drawn to the trainwreck that is Dennis Miller. For some reason, I believe he may be a perfect aggregation of everything it is about the entertainment and civic realms that irritates me these days. It's like he's smugly fatalistic, so proud of the method of his public failure that he's about to bust. There is something about the way he confounds his guests with jokes that aren't funny and insights that aren't insightful...I can't get enough of it.

My nightmare scenario: Dennis interviews former Illinois Governor "Big" Jim Thompson, the Kato Kaelin of Condimania, a celebrity for moment and then back into cold storage. The only entertainment value of that ghasly segment -- Dennis and Jim and a monkey in diapers, all of them begging for attention -- would be the look of utter befuddlement on the former governor's face when Dennis paused to wait for a laugh.

That could be the great stand-off of our time: A self-consciously hip comedian waiting for a laugh from a retired politician who's waiting for the punchline. There is a possibility, however small, that the two might go into a self-satisfied infinite loop and sit, frozen and waiting, forever.

What's next? Who knows. There is no clear successor. When does the Robert Blake trial begin? Or is it already over? I forget. Is Kobe still on the Lakers or is he playing for Canyon City now? Can we squeeze a few more ratings points out of Bennifer, maybe hurry-up the Michael Jackson trial?

We'll see. Surely there will be something, and for a week it will seem like the most important thing in the world. There are air time to fill and eyeballs to attract, after all.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Why why why are the media interested in what regular people have to say? As a former reporter who remembers well spending eleciton night wandering the streets of a small, midwestern city conducting Man-in-the-Street interviews, I can attest to the fact that most people don't have anything of value to say. This is particularly true of the kind of people who will stop to give an opinion to a stranger claiming to be a reporter.

This is, I know, snobbish. As a liberal, I'm supposed to appreciate the common man. And I do, but not in the sense that I believe just-regular-folks on the street are in posession of some special wisdom.

Despite this, imagination-free editors and news directors routinely dispatch low-on-the-totem-pole reporters to go out and get reactions from the Regeular Joes and Janes out on the street.

Among the efficiencies introduced by the Internet is the elimination of the low-on-the-totem-pole reporter. Now, editors and news directors who've run out ideas can simply set up a web page asking the public to comment on something.

The result of this strategy is so bad that even bloggers have started to disable their comments pages. The fact is, most people don't have any insight even on their everyday activities, let alone the news of the world. Read the comments sections of most websites and you'll find almost nothing of anything more than freak-show value.

It must have been the stress of Condimania, or maybe someone just wanted to get out of the office early, but MSNBC.com a few days ago created a "What would you ask Condi?" bulletin board that proves once again that regular people -- even when moderated and edited and spell-checked -- should stick to serving-up hamburgers and arranging fraudulent stock transactions. Certainly, they (or, arguably, we) should not be invited to ask public officials questions any time soon.

Interestingly, the MSNBC Condimania Questions also prove that the type of reporters who hang around government press bullpens awaiting the next press release shouldn't be allowed to ask questions, either. Why? Because the questions the Boys on the Bus ask are every bit as stupid as the questions asked by MSNB's men on the street.

There are, first of all, the gotcha questions, which are designed not to illuminate but to trap:
If you believe the Bush Administration deserves credit for it successes will you also accept the responsibility for its failures?

Then there are the questions that are crafted to make a political point:
Why shouldn't you resign?

There are the questions of politcal straight men which are asked to allow the person being questioned to launch into a pre-scripted response:
Did you or do you see any signs that the lack of response during the Clinton years gave al Qaida the momentum to finalize their act of war?

There are questions of byzantine complexity that prove that the questioner is really, really smart. You don't really have to read all of this; just take a moment to admire its bulk:
On April 2, 2004, the newspaper "The Independent" reported that a translater named Sibel Edmonds testified to the commission that information was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting that an attack using aircraft was just months away and the terrorists were in place. As Richard Clarke suggests, Dr. Rice could have convened a meeting that included the heads of the FBI, CIA, and Mr. Clarke. Dr. Rice could have impressed upon the FBI Director that the possibility of terrorist attack an "urgent priority." Dr. Rice could have motivated the FBI to look harder and recognize that it already had information about an impending attack. Questions: 1) Was not the NSC the only means of linking domestic intelligence obtained by the FBI with those in the CIA and White House working to prevent a foreign terrorist operation? 2) Is the failure of the NSC to detect the 9/11 attack a failure on the part of Dr. Rice, the head of the NSC? If not Dr. Rice, who in Government is more responsible for the failure to detect the 9/11 attack?

Someone worked all day on that one, and the probable answer is: Huh?

Finally, there's the off-the-wall question that seems like it might be trying to uncover some deeper truth, but which -- after a few seconds thought -- turns out to be just kind of stupid.
What if the September 11, 2001 attack had never happened?

Note to media: Don't do this anymore. Don't ask stupid questions yourselves, and don't give voice to a general public that hasn't been paying attention, anyway.

If you run out ideas for things to write about, get a new job.
The party of smaller, less intrusive government is going after your video collection, at least if Attorney General John Ashcroft has his way. Ashcroft, who dresses neatly and sings barbershop but is not -- we repeat not -- gay, is gravely concerned that adults might be enjoying other-than-procreative sex in private.

AttyGen Ashcroft, who one might imagine would be busy with other things, has installed a staff of professional porn connoiseurs in the Justice Department. This team spends hour upon hour viewing all kinds of pornography, and while the sampling in too small to be scientifically valid there are rumors that the DOJ is going to make a breakthrough announcement on a harmful effect of pornography: It causes shrinkage of the bladder, or so it would seem since the investigators spend an awfully lot of time in the bathroom.

The goal of this multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded, effort: A better, cleaner, more barbershop-quartet-friendly America.

The Bush Administration's Justice Department has used a tried-and-true strategy in going after porn: Start with something no one approves of -- in this case, child pornography -- and use that to set up a bureacracy to go after content that is much less controversial, but nonetheless offensive to the prudes and prigs that inhabit Planet Ashcroft. So upon arrival in office, Ashcroft made a bunch of noise about child porn and set in motion the wheels that are now on the verge of rolling over popular culture in general.

Consider this telling statement by the Justice Department's head porn watcher:
Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the division in charge of obscenity prosecutions at the Justice Department, says officials are trying to send a message and halt an industry they see as growing increasingly "lawless." "We want to do everything we can to deter this conduct" by producers and consumers, Oosterbaan said. "Nothing is off the table as far as content."

Lawlessness is, of course, a condition of freedom, something Republicans purport to like. (It's not the only condition, or course. Freedom requires regulation, too, to resolve or prevent conflicts between people.) The Bill of Rights, in fact, guarantees a certain lawlessness when it come to Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment orderz Congress to make no law restricting Freedom of Speech, which creates by definition a conditoin of lawlessness. The Founders did htis because they knew that a government empoered with the ability to censor will not restrict that ability to anything in particular, but wil tend -- like all bureaucracies -- to sprawl.

Ashcroft got his camel's nose under our tent in a search for child pornography, and we didn't really mind. He has since pushed his way-in up to the hump, and is now going after things that most American don't really think the government should have any say in, like the programming decisions of HBO and Showtime.

Lest you think he's running a rogue operation in an administration otherwise commited to freedom of speech, remember what's going on right now over at the FCC, which is run by Colin Powell's son, Michael. The FCC is cracking down on Howard Stern and soap operas.

Remember what Oosterbaan said: "Nothing is off the table as far as content." It's hard to be any more clear than that.

Ashcroft is a buffoon, and those who vote for President Bush are empowering him. The Attorney General isn't hiding his intent; he's issuing press releases on it. He recognizes no limits of government power -- with the notable exception of gun control. (On Planet Ashcroft, anyone, anywhere is allowed to own and operate whatever kind of gun he or she likes.) He believes that the Executive Branch should have the power to imprison American citizens without allowing them any legal recourse. He believes that government should regulate private sexual practices. And he believes that part of his job as Attorney General is to make sure that what we're watching, reading and listening to meets his own exacting standards of morality.

He, like the fascists and communists to come before him, believes that you can build a better society by centrally controlling the information that is available to the public.

Attorney General Ashcroft is as great a threat to American liberty as anyone alive today, and voting for President Bush gives him the power he needs to re-form America into the kind of country he -- and presumably his Presidential sponsor -- prefers.
Wednesday's Condimania Fun Fact! Everybody knows that Condoleezza Rice is the first female National Security Advisor. But did you know that Rice first "turned on" to international relations while a student at the University of Denver, in a class taught by the Czech refugee Josef Korbel, who's the father of the first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Condoleezza Mania! It's now, it's wow!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I've been out of the loop for a few days and have questions. First of all, is Dennis Miller still on the air? Maybe it was a dream, but I distinctly remember seeing him beaten to death by a microphone-wielding chimp in a diaper. Second: Is John Kerry still running for President?

Oh, yeah, and one other thing: Has anyone noticed that Bravo's series, "Significant Others," is coming to the end of its first season after just six episodes? And that they didn't get around to adding a black couple until Episode Four, like maybe they forgot that you can't have hip, edgy show without black people or because they didn't have the right kind of make-up or something? Since when is six episodes a full-season order? Does anyone else remember when "My Mother the Car" became the fastest-cancelled television show in history after...that's right! Six episodes!

At its current production pace, "Significant Others" will have the 100 eisodes necessary to go into syndication in only 16 more years.

My head is spinning: Baseball season and Condoleezzamania open the same day! This is no coincidence, as the baseball-obsessed Bush Administration fans out across the country to make their case for war! President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President-Emeritas George H.W. Bush all throw out first balls to open the season. Did I say "first balls"? Correction: First Strikes!

The Cubs won their first game, eliminating the nightmare scenario of starting-out the season with a long losing streak that puts them out of contention, while at the same time the cable TV nets switch over to All-Condoleezza All-The-Time coverage.

Predictions: Cubs make it to the playoffs, though member of the coalition of the willing Sammy Sosa (Dominican Republic) breaks a record for warning-track fly-outs. Questioned about his sudden loss of power, Sosa explains, "I'm not taking steroids anymore, you idiot." Also: National Securty Advisor Rice hits the political equivalent of a warning-track fly-ball by continuing the already discredited strategy of insisting the Bush Administration was totally focused on al-Qaeda no matter what the objective evidence indicates. When her testimony leaves the bat, everyone will stand up and shout in excitement, but then the tesimony won't quite make it over the wall and will be caught by a lazy outfielder making millions of dollars a year, perhaps Wolf Blitzer, who is coming back from insipidness that some believed might end his career.

"You know as well as I do that government meetings and memos don't accomplish anything," Rice will tell the 9/11 Commission. "The reason we had no meetings about terrorism and the reason there are no internal communications about terrorism is that we were really, really focused on getting something done about terrorism. That, and running the knothole league on the South Lawn of the White House."

The day after her testimony, it is revealed that Rice's bat was corked, which the White House immediately blames on the Clinton Administration, releasing parts of two classified documents to prove thier point. The first, a hand-written shopping list by former National Security Advisory Sandy Berger, contains the word "pork," which the Bush administration claims is a typographicical error that should read "cork." The second, an email from a low-level social secretary in First Lady Hillary Clinton's office to her boyfriend, refers to an "old bat."

"This," Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan says, "should put to rest all controversy about everything except John Kerry's dishonesty."

Chicago Cub second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who knows a thing or two about warning track power after hitting all of three home runs last year, will appear before the 9/11 Commission next week and is expected to bolster Rice's testimony. He will testify that he didn't get any memos or attend any meetings about terrorism, either, and that he -- like Rice -- doesn't need to hit home runs because his batting average of .314 was tops in the league for middle infielders. The White House will later issue a correction: Tops in the league except for a couple of other guys, and Condi's bat wasn't corked so much as it was "soft-oak filled" in complete compliance with regulations currently being drawn up by the Justice Department.

One more thing about baseball: Today is the second day of the season and already the Reds have been mathmatically eliminated from contention. (Not surprsingly, Ken Griffey, Jr., didn't play because of an injury.) Also, the Cubs' magic number is 161. I guess that's two things. No, wait: The snotty Griffey remark I inserted after-the-fact makes it three things. Sorry.

Friday, April 02, 2004

For those of you keeping score at home, today is the seventh Sex Day on Functional Ambivalent. That’s a week of Sex Days. Though there is historic precedence of resting on the Seventh Day, I will push – and perhaps grind a little bit – forward. Because I am dedicated.

For those of you who prefer not to indulge in sex, please go here.

Orgasm denial: Two words that strike fear into the average man’s heart. Because we, the average men, know exactly what those two words mean. They mean: Not tonight, I’ve got a headache. They mean: I’m not that kind of girl. They mean: I think of you as a friend. They mean: Maybe if you weren’t driving your parents’ station wagon.

Any man who ever dated in high school knows what orgasm denial is. It is the libidinal equivalent of sledding down a snowy hill into the side of a barn. Wheeee…WHAM! It is not something on which men look back fondly. Remember guys? You’ve already paid for a nice dinner. You’ve talked her out onto the grassy hillside, onto the blanket, and achieved access to not-generally-available skin. You’re just on the verge of something wonderful when your date decides – suddenly, without warning – that it’s time to go home.

Huh? Wha? No!

OK, in the traditional World of Sex, men – now known, in these politically correct times, as “people of the penis” – would, upon orgasm denial, howl in pain and beg. We’d make up all kinds of things in a desperate attempt to convince little miss iron panties that there was no going back. We’d pledge our undying love, claim horrible health consequences, even make up a story about going off to war the next morning. We didn’t care, because orgasm denial was the worst thing that could happen in our whole world.

At very young ages, women understand that they have power over the entire universe, because they have the power of orgasm denial. By carefully manipulating that power, women have caused whole industries to spring up, most of which exist for the sake of women. I would argue, for example, that without orgasm denial there would not be poetry, diamond mines, or deodorant. If orgasm had never been denied, mankind would still live in caves, because the thought of building a house never occurred to men until women started refusing to have sex on cave floors.

“Here on the cold, damp cave floor? I don’t think so.”

Two days after that was first said, the first charming cottage had been built and furnished with a four-poster bed and adorable quilts.

OK, it didn’t really go that fast, but I’m sure you get my point. Throughout history, orgasm denial has been something horrible for men, something we would do nearly anything to avoid. (Though, like many other horrible things, it sounds better if you say it in Italian: La privazione dell'orgasmo. Click here for a glossary of sexual terms made poetic in Italian.) Thus has a continuum of male sexual strategies evolved, running outward from the middle (dinner and a movie) to the two extremes: Marriage on the one hand, and prostitution on the other.

Of course, there has been debate as to whether marriage truly solves the problem of orgasm denial. The abundance of conveniently located jewelry stores and the frequency of activities like mowing the lawn suggest that it does not. But all the same, it’s a strategy that has been known to provide at least short-term orgasmic regularity.

But at the other end of the spectrum – prostitution – there is no question of orgasm denial. Reduced to a simple, financial transaction, sex with a prostitute is easy and generally devoid of drama. Here’s money; get busy. (I have, for the record, never had a sexual experience with a prostitute, though I was approached by one at a truck stop in Abilene, Texas, who was so unhealthy looking that I considered giving up sex altogether.) No man would pay a prostitute for the orgasm denial he could easily get at home, right? I mean, that would make no sense.

Well hold onto your hats, America. Orgasm denial is all of a sudden big business.

Meet Mistress Raven. She is, it’s fair to say, a woman of easy virtue. She’s nearly naked on her website, for example, and will pay a great deal of attention to the genitalia of complete strangers in exchange for money. Granted, it’s attention paid over the Internet, but there are plenty of Mistress Ravens out there who’ll come to your hotel room or, more likely, allow you into their dungeons for a fee. (Dungeons that are usually back-painted apartments on an upper floor of a less-than-fashionable building.) In the part of the world I come from (suburbia), Mistress Raven and her ilk would be, even if just in the digital sense, prostitutes. Except that what she promises is not sexual satisfaction in the conventional, orgasmic sense. It is, instead, “a mind-altering orgasm denial experience.”

(Mistress Raven confuses the issues of prostitution and sexuality by charging a fee for the same service mothers across America have urged their virginal daughters to provide for free: Orgasm denial.)

To be honest, I’ve had a few "mind-altering orgasm denial experiences." All men have. But it has never, until now, occured to me that afterwards I would be required to say “thank you” and give the woman access to my credit cards.

All over the web, however, there are sites dedicated to men paying money to not have orgasms. Here is a site that will auction to the highest bidder women with whom that bidder will then not be allowed to have an orgasm. (They’re hiring, by the way, which is kind of interesting to think about. Do you get paid for not showing up for work?) Orgasm denial, according to this site, sounds like fun for the whole family:
There are a hundred variations, but the basic idea is simple: prevent your partner from having an orgasm for a length of time (a day, two days, a week, whatever you want). You shouldn't make it easy; you can, for example, require that your partner have sex one or more times a day, or masturbate regularly (this works well when combined with a ritual of some sort), but your partner is not allowed any sexual release. Over time, the sexual tension builds up, and your partner becomes perpetually aroused. When done over a period of several days or longer, this technique creates a very powerful level of sexual excitement. When you do finally allow your partner release, it's an extremely intense experience.

Now, speaking for myself, I’m not sure the difference between an “extremely intense experience” and just-plain-orgasm is sufficient to put up with several days of teasing. Though, to be honest, I like to be teased, just not for all that long. While we’re getting dressed to go out? You bet. Take the old panties off on the drive to the restaurant? I’m down with that. Occasional reminders of pantiless condition during dinner, perhaps accompanied by knowing smiles and slightly provocative slurping of wine from wineglass? Hoo-ah! In the car is just fine, too. Flash a trucker? Hey, let’s go crazy. Walk slowly and with much lateral motion up the steps to the house? I am your slobbering dogboy. But that’s about it. I mean, I’ve got my pride. Once we’re home the fun stops and the sex begins. If it doesn’t? Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to go watch television.

What, you might ask, are the health effects of orgasm denial? Well, according to me, they are severe. Orgasm denial results in, among other maladies, pouting and noisily loading the dishwasher. Then, if nothing is done to solve the problem, symptoms can grow even more extreme, progressing to the point of drinking too much beer after playing golf and refusing to be even moderately civil about it.

But that’s just me. Other men suffer even bigger problems, as is evident by this question posted by a fellow by the name of SuperLowHangers on the completely credible Alt.com website. Please note that I have corrected the spelling, grammar and punctuation so that SuperLowHangers' posting will be readable by native English speakers.
My girl has been teasing me over the last week and not letting me come. It has been a huge turn-on, but my balls are feeling the torture. Can anyone say blue balls? My balls are almost double the size, and I have a terrible ache. Will this hurt me in any way?

Well, in the short term, SuperLowHangers, the answer is, yes, it will hurt you in some way because, if you take a moment to think about it, you’re already experiencing “a terrible ache.” But in the longer term, I think it’s safe to say that if Blue Balls posed a significant health threat, most men would be dead already. Also, if going without orgasm for a week really caused the testicles to double in size, as you claim, lots of men would willingly go without orgasm so that they’d have really, really big balls, even if just for a few minutes to see what it was like.

And, come to think about it, they'd probably do that even if htey knew it was going to kill them. I would, certainly.

Interestingly enough, orgasm denial is not something that a lot of women are attracted to. The reasons for this are likely many, most of which have to do with the fact that for many women orgasm denial is an all-too-frequent unintended consequence of men’s innate goal-orientation. We like to get things finished quickly so we can go back to watching sports on television, even if the thing we’re finishing quickly is sex and the televised sport is hockey. Women, it seems, don’t find this attractive enough to put up with, let alone pay for.

There are, of course, men who can tease and torment their women with orgasm denial, getting them just to the edge of the orgasmic cliff and then pulling them back, taking them to the edge and then pulling them back…until the woman is begging and pleading. This is a familiar male fantasy: The desperate, highly sexed woman panting in her desire for more, more, just give me more I’ll do anything you want more more.

Sorry, I lost track of myself.

Denying women orgasms is not something most men are willing to try. As we all know, getting sex, for women, is about as tough as hailing a cab. Women only put up with the sexual ineptitude of their male partners because there is a possibility of orgasm at some point, even if it’s only accidental. If we started to deliberately deny orgasm, most women would simply go find someone more cooperative.

Which, in a world where men are now paying not to have orgasms, probably wouldn’t be all that hard. So to speak.

Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

There is no truth to the rumor that John Kerry is going to be the subject of a VH-1 "Whatever Happened To..." documentary. In fact, the elongated Democratic nominee made a public appearance yesterday, apparently accompanied by the media, during which he took a bold and statesmanlike stand against high gasoline prices. This will be particularly effective if the Dems can somehow bamboozle the Republicans into coming out in favor of high gasoline prices. Which, of course, no one would ever do.

Except me. I'm in favor of higher gasoline prices, and not just because I drive a car that is made largely of aluminum foil. (Aluminum foil with a bitchin' stereo, dudes!) I'm in favor of higher gasoline prices because higher gasoline prices would do more to make America a better place than any other single thing we could do.

If you're waiting for the punchline, forget it. I'm serious. I think higher gasoline prices come close to being a panacea for what ails this country. I think the effects that high gas prices would have on the political and economic marketplaces would be almost uniformly good.

The downside is, of course, the huge economic disruption high gas prices would cause. It would be a hell of a recession, I know, but since I'm but a lowly blogger and don't have to take responsibility for what I advocate, I can advocate some goofy stuff.

But consider, for a moment, the unthinkable. Consider the upside of higher gasoline prices, something that, according to politicians of all stripes, has no upside.

One of the things the American economy does best is creative destruction, the process of throwing out that which isn't economically viable. Creative destruction is why the United States had car companies that invented the Corvette while communist states had car companies that manufactured 3-cylinder, 2-cycle Trabants. Compaines that made inferior products in the U.S. -- American Motors, for example -- were destroyed. That destruction was creative in the same way that weeding a garden is creative: It left room for new growth.

Now, consider the creative destruction that might be wrought by higher gasoline prices, and the type of society that might arise from the ashes of the auto-oriented suburban cities we've spent the last 50 years both building and being annoyed by.

Higher gasoline prices would mean that people would drive less. That means less air pollution. It also means less time stuck in traffic and less highway construction, which saves us time and the government -- which is to say, us -- billions of dollars every single year. Because we're building fewer highways -- and bridges, and tunnels, and roadcuts -- we're not destroying the environment quite as quickly as we were before. Because there is less pavement, there are fewer flash floods and aquifers are naturally recharged by rain that soaks into the ground rather than running unfiltered through storm sewers and cement trenches into the nearest river. The nearest river thus becomes less cluttered with things like styrofoam cups and discarded couches.

Eventually, the way we build our cities and towns would change. No more pavement-intensive suburban deserts. Instead, we return to the economically integrated, fine-grain zoning of the pre-automotive past. Think not just Manhattan, but Mayberry, where the elderly don't need to be institutionalized if they can't drive, because they can walk downtown for their social interaction. Rich people and poor people ilve int he same community and share many of the same concerns, instead of being balkanized into economically segregated "planned communities."

In Mayberry, Opie didn't need a mom and a minivan to drive him around; he walked or, more often, ran to ball practice. (Then baseball. Today, regrettably, soccer.) He was safe on the streets, too, because everyone in town knew everyone else. Why did they know each other? Because they met each other casually while walking down to the malt shop, which would today be the local Starbucks.

Given cheap gas, we drive everywhere without thinking about it. I have a friend who drives six miles out of his way every morning for a donut and cup of coffee, even though there are perfectly good donut shops right on his way to work. He drives six miles out of his way because he is brand-loyal, and also because the difference between six miles and stopping someplace on his way is a few minutes in the quiet comfort of his luxury automobile and an insignificant amount of gasoline. His daily round-trip is a habit, not a choice, because he doesn't really think about it. Raise the price of gasoline and he'll think about it.

I?ve met my next-door neighbor about three times in the last five years because we both only leave and return to our houses in our cars. I hear her drive out in the morning and I hear her drive in at night. Her total exposure to the great outdoors is the literally five step walk from where she parks to the side door of her house. There's not much of a risk of social interaction in that five steps which occur, by the way, in her back yard.

Expensive gas will inspire a rediscovery of our feet, which will do something about the whole epidemic of obesity, too. You say there's nothing to walk to? That's because every time anyone tries to put a Starbucks in a residential area the NIMBYs go apeshit because of all the traffic the Starbucks will generate.

But wait! With higher gasoline prices, the whole equation changes. There are fewer cars, so traffic isn't as much of a problem. Plus, the public is hungry for places to walk to. (Sorry, Grammar People, but "hungry for places to which the public can walk" is the verbal equivalent of driving six miles for a donut, and I won't have it.) The whole NIMBY thing takes a well-deseved fist to the gut; the resistance to a streetcorner Starbucks in residential neighborhoods disappears. Every morning, neighbors meet neighbors in the neutral and non-threatening environment of a coffee shop. That happens now, or course. My friedns sees familiar faces after he drives six miles for coffee and a donut. But the relationships that develop in neighborhood coffee shops are different. They're based on geography, literally on common ground; they're based on brand loyalty. Seems to me, the social norms that develop out of a geographically defined community are more productive than the social norms that develop in a society segmented by marketing departments.

All that human interaction is going to help us get over our fear of strangers -- including our neighbors -- which is one of the legacies the great crime waves of the '70s and '80s. Cry as we liberals might about the millions of people wasting away in jail, at least they?re not out on the streets knocking us on our heads to take our money. There is no question that our streets are way safer now than the were then, and I, for one, have little doubt but that our massive prison populatiosn is one of the reasons. Not all of those convicts are unjustly incarcerated, and most of them, upon their return to the outside world, are going to go right back to being criminals.

The fear we developed in the '70s and '80s was not irrational, but now that crime rates have dropped back down to livable levels we need to get over it and get on with our lives. The media, as usual, are no help. Television, particularly local television, adheres to an if-it-bleeds-it-leads strategy, which means a splatter story from some isolated berg in Oregon becomes de facto national news when local stations downlink a satellite feed and tease the thing in the ten o'clock promo in a way that sounds like a local story. All the better to add a couple of rating points, even if it does create an atmosphere of irrational fear.

High gasoline prices would be therapeutic, forcing the kind of casual social contact we avoid. Social norms of behavior would begin to reassert themselves through billions of tiny interactions; peer pressure would again become a positive thing rather than a negative one. We would grow at once more tolerant of each other?s harmless differences and less tolerant of anti-social behavior. A society of proximate strangers would turn into a community of allies.

On the international front, lower gasoline consumption would cut our dependence on foreign oil, which would give us the latitude to tell the Saudis to go pound sand. (They have plenty of sand to pound; it would keep them busy for a while.) We would no longer have to favor stability over our ideals in the Arab world, which is, by any objective standard, a toilet of failed governments and cultural psychosis. Imagine, if you would, how liberating it would be to not have to be nice to the same people who finance the terrorists who blow us up. Imagine if we didn't have to toe a fine line, and could stand with those who seek democracy rather than with those who control the flow of oil.

Higher gasoline prices would make that possible and, in many ways, inevitable, because not only do high gas prices cause us to consume less, but they make domestic production more economically viable.

Higher gasoline prices pose a significant change management issue, of course. Back in my reporter days I covered a politician who lamented, "Every political decision we make in California has to be based first on one thing: What is its effect on traffic? Nothing else matters." To a degree, the same can be said of gasoline prices.

Politicians who advocate a policy of higher gasoline prices are politicians who spend a lot of time watching their poll numbers drop. But I submit that people really want the kind of country higher gasoline prices would create. Look where we go on vacation: To resorts and cities and towns where we can park the car and walk among people we don't know. As much as we say we don't want a corner grocery store in our own suburban neighborhoods, we pay big dough to spend a week in Paris or Charleston or Carmel or one of those Disney pseudo-towns where we find corner groceries an abolute delight.

We seek vacation spots where the kids can walk to the ice cream store at night. In those places, we sit on the front porch or in town squares and greet people we've never been introduced to. We're not afraid because we're not alone; there are lots of people out walking and hanging out. No one is in a hurry because you can only walk so fast, and when you get someplace you just go on in rather than driving frustrated around in circles looking for somewhere to park. The walks are short, too, because the roads are narrow and the buildings aren't separated by huge parking lots, because gasoline prices are high and no one drives anymore if they can possibly avoid it.

In automobile obsessive Los Angeles, when Universal Studios built Citywalk, which recreated the kind of cluttered, crowded, messy urban neighborhood LA zoning specifically illegalizes, it became a phenomenon. Despite the fact that Los Angeles is a city rabidly dedicated to suburban sprawl, ultra-hip Angelenos endured hour-long traffic jams to park their cars and have the kind of urban experience that was the norm before everything we did became a matter of automotive convenience. People who neurotically shower three time a day and invented the whole concept of personal space paid a premium to literally rub up against complete strangers.

I think a smart, visionary politician could sell that, because we're already voting with our dollars for the world high gasoline prices would create. There'd have to be a program for softening the economic turmoil -- change management, again -- and it couldn't become an excuse for Washington-izing things like city planning and zoning. (Remember Washington's previous forays into urban development: Public housing and urban renewal, two things that did to American cities what the strategic bomber did to the Germans and Japanese.) As for a matter of fact, cutting localities loose from federal regulation to invent their own ways would be the best way to do it.

Which means there's something in it for everyone: Conservatives get less government and a society where social norms are adhered to, and liberals get a more integrated society that does less damage to the environment.

Yep, I'm in favor of higher gasoline prices. It's easy for me, because I'm not running for anything. Politicians, on the other hand, have to take responsibility for what they say. And they're not going to say anything but that low-price gas is a complete necessity and God-given right, because we, the people, don't have enough sense to recognize what it is we're really hungry for.

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