Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stop Messing with our Clocks

As you know, we must change our clocks tonight to fall back one hour from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time.

This has been going on all my life, and I think it's time to acknowledge that this is an experiment that has failed. There is actually a petition online that gathers new signatures every year asking Congress to stop the madness of biennial time adjustments. Here's what one supporter wrote:

"Good.  Get rid of it.  I don't care which time we go with, 
but pick one and stick with it."

I think this person is on to something, for several reasons. 

1.  My house has approximate eleventy-seven digital clocks on appliances, and changing all of them is annoying. Plus I have a nice but crotchety wristwatch with a loose stem, and I'm frightened of it.  When I travel to different time zones, I keep it on my home time just to avoid adjusting it. When the time transitions in fall and spring, I take it to a jeweler to fix the thing.

2.  I'm not the only one.  A Rasmussen poll in 2013 found that only 37 percent of the American public thought Daylight/Standard time changes were "worth the trouble."  By contrast, 45 percent thought they were not worth the trouble.

3.  There is no agreement about the benefits of a Daylight Saving Time.  In World War II, the nation adopted full-year DST -- called "War Time" -- on the theory that it would save energy.  It was stopped after the war, and states were given the option to adopt their own time schedules. 
     A 1975 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that DST saved energy.
     One year later, in 1976, a study by the National Bureau of Standards came to the opposite conclusion. 
     Still,the experts argue. 
     To this day, some retail experts believe that longer retail shopping hours, enabled by brighter evening hours, cause or at least encourage more retail sales.  This in the age of Amazon. 

4.  U.S. states are not unanimous about the national time scheme:  Hawaii and Arizona do not participate in the biennial switchoff.  Here are some other states where legislation has been sponsored to drop out of the system:  Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.  
     If several states drop out, Amtrak schedules and on-time performance results are going to be even worse than they already are.

5. The week after each time change is fraught, with upticks in car accidents and cardiac events.
     When Daylight Saving Time begins, more children are hit by cars on their way to school in the dark.  
     When Daylight Saving Time ends, more walkers are hit by cars whose drivers do not see them in the dark.  

As for me, I'm as flexible as a soft pretzel.  I would be fine with earlier sunrises or later sunsets.  

Just not both.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Thinking About China: Growth Stories

Chinese economic growth is slowing.  The only question is by how much.  

Last week, China reported that its third-quarter growth rate was 6.9 percent on an annualized basis.  This was down from 7 percent in the first half of 2015.  You can see the official trend in the chart below.  

Here's my problem with the chart:  I'm not sure I believe it.  

The Chinese growth target for this year was 7.5 percent.  Some China watchers believe the real growth rate at this point is between three and four percent.  

China has absorbed some shocks this year.  It is possible that its government is trying to put things in an optimistic light.


"If someone told me that the real statistic for Chinese growth was zero percent, I would find that quite believable," a journalist told an American industrial group in a speech last August, two months before the recent GDP report. 

The journalist, China-based Adam Minter, described why official GDP reports might clash with facts on the ground.  According to a report on his talk:

     Minter cited a 2007 diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in which then-U.S. 
     Ambassador to China Clark T. Randt Jr. summarized a conversation he had with
     Li Keqiang, who at the time was the Party secretary of Liaoning.

     "(Gross domestic product) figures are manmade. . . . They're unreliable" and 
     "for reference only," Li was quoted as saying. 

     Minter said, "(Li) is now the premier of the State Council of China, the top person
     behind China's economic policies. . . . (Li) told Randt he focuses on three
     figures to evaluate the economy:  electricity consumption, rail cargo and the 
     amount of loans disbursed."

Minter said all three of Li's indicators had dropped substantially in the first half of 2015.  

"Things are very, very, very bad in China," Minter told the group.

(Minter is the author of "Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade," which outlines how first-world recyclables are turned into valuable products in Asia.  He also contributes to major American publications and publishes a personal blog, ShanghaiScrap.)


Jefferies and Fitch Ratings said a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing was affecting inbound and outbound shipping volume and reducing cargo fees substantially.  (Each group took the reported 6.9 percent GDP growth number at face value and noted that China also had reported a six-month low rate of 5.7 annualized growth in industrial output.)

A Wall St. Journal article reported last month that U.S. exports to China are down, partly because China's three-percent devaluation of its currency has made dollar-denominated American products more expensive.  "September was the eighth straight month in which empty containers leaving (the Port of) Long Beach outnumbered those loaded with exports,"  the article said.

There are worries that if China's economy slows, an even worse worldwide slowdown will follow.  For the U.S., whose sales to China are less than eight percent of exports, this would be a smaller problem than, say, for Brazil, which already has budget problems and which counts China as its major export client, buying iron ore, soybeans and chicken. 

In other cases -- steel sales to the U.S., steel and solar panel sales to European countries, tire sales in India -- other countries' manufacturers and unions are complaining that China is dumping industrial products at below-market costs.  They believe China would rather operate its businesses at a loss to keep workers employed and citizens happy.  There are worries that China will drop the value of the yuan further to make its products more competitive on world markets.


Several of my friends do business in China.  Recent developments, among others, are interesting to them, but they seem to take matters in stride.

"It's always a wild time China," said one.  "Right now things are just wilder than usual."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thinking About China -- Military Moves

South China Sea

Several days ago, an American Navy ship traveled through some now-contested areas of the South China Sea.  This was a deliberate voyage, and, for it, the American ambassador was called into a high government office in Beijing and given a dressing down for venturing into Chinese territory.

In fact, China has been pushing the issue for almost two years by dredging ocean sands and dumping the proceeds on formerly submerged islets and reefs to make new islands.

According to UN rules, "low tide elevations" like reefs are entitled to 500-meter safety zones.  Land masses -- which China calls its new man-made islands -- cannot be approached by sea within 12 miles without the permission of the countries to which they belong.  But islands like the newly created ones don't meet the UN definition of national territories.

At least three of China's newly constructed islands include airfields suitable for military craft, and some are home to military equipment.  One island is estimated to be larger than 1,000 football fields.  (A "football field" is a unique American standard of measurement.) 

China appears to be asserting military dominance in the South China Sea, which also is abutted by Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.  China claims its new islands, part of the Spratly Islands, have been Chinese territory for 2,000 years and that the island-building project is for peaceful and scientific purposes, which may include oil and gas to be harvested by ocean drilling.

One guess is that this is a strategic move -- to make the South China Sea safe for Chinese nuclear submarines, which could carry second-strike nuclear warheads in the event of a nuclear attack on the Chinese mainland.  (Maybe the Chinese are little bit paranoid; it is difficult to imagine ANY country planning a nuclear strike on China.)

The whole matter is complicated by the fact that the South China Sea is home to maritime shipping routes that move trillions of dollars of cargo each year.  China professes to have no plans to interrupt shipping.   

The US warship's pass through the South China Sea was part of an ongoing policy to assure the freedom of navigation on the open seas. In recent years, the US has challenged maritime claims by other countries, including India, Taiwan and even Denmark. 

But China is a little different, putting its military power on the line and daring confrontation. The Phillipines and Vietnam already are complaining about Chinese overreach.  The potential for a skirmish, or something worse, may be growing.  

Military Parade

Last month, Beijing hosted its first big military parade since 2009, when it celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The September parade marked 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II, when the Chinese rid themselves of the hated Japanese occupation.  

Virtually all of Beijing was shut down, with most cars off the roads and many people confined to their houses.   Every television station covered the event, which was held in Tianenman Square.

The numbers of marchers and quantities of armaments on display were remarkable:  12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military hardware and squadrons of fighter planes and helicopters.  Some photos:

President Xi Jinping
In his address to the nation, President Xi Jinping (whose presumably 10-year term began in 2013), stressed China's peaceful intentions and pledged to slash troop numbers.

Reporters found a University of Hong Kong professor who doubted Xi's word.  
"All this new equipment -- fighter jets, carrier killing missiles, drones -- give China force projection capability. If all you need is regional defense you don't need all this," the professor said.  "It signals China's ambition to be a global military force."

Doves, signalling peace, were released at the end of the celebration. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Gray is the New Off-White

Goodby ecru, goodby cream.  The paint color of the moment is gray.  I don't know why -- perhaps it is to honor the aging of the Baby Boom generation.

In any event, gray is a big, big part of the current trend palette for home and business decor.  The new colors are called "neutrals."  They replace the 20-year regime of "earth tones."  (Before that, in the 80s, all I remember is mauve paint, oak furniture and desert southwest themes.)

This most recent changeup actually began around 2011.  I only became aware of it when an architect explained it to me.  Now I see it everywhere.  

One of our doctors opened a new office, and everything in the place is light gray, dark gray or black. Our gym was given a redesign, and it too is gray and black with slate blue accent walls.

Here are some popular neutrals from Benjamin Moore & Co., the well-regarded paint purveyor.

The common theme seems to be to have a bit of gray in just about every paint color or vinyl floor tile. (Vinyl plank floor tiles that look like wood are also a thing now.  See below.) 

High-end interior designers are making gray the interior paint color of the moment. Following are some examples:

This is interesting and certainly different.  

At the moment, paint color discussions are underway chez Idiosyncratist, where the goal is to identify tones that are of the moment but not downright frigid.  Fortunately, in addition to full-on gray, there are subtle tints of beige-to-brown, green and blue.

The lifespan of decor colors is said to be about 20 years, and if this new trend goes the usual distance, we will be seeing it until about 2031.

If I had to guess, though, I'd bet that plain gray walls will enjoy a shorter life cycle.   

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Thinking about China -- Ai Wei Wei

 Ai Weiwei is China's most famous artist.  He was born in Beijing in 1957.  One year later, his father, a prominent poet, was sent with his family to a labor camp, where they spent five years.  Then they were exiled to a remote province for 16 years.  After Mao's death, they returned to the Chinese capital.   

From 1982 to 1993, Ai lived in the United States, where he attended art school and came to know many American artists.

We can guess from these facts that Ai's experiences formed in him an independent spirit and a social conscience.  

For many years now, Ai has agitated against China's leadership and suffered consequences for it.  He has never backed down.


Ai was the artistic consultant on the design of Beijing National Stadium, also called the Bird's Nest, which was the most prominent symbol of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But by 2007, he refused to be photographed with the stadium or to speak of it.  After years of harassment, he was disgusted with the way China's leaders were using the Olympic Games to put a false face on the country's 20th century history and continuing political repression.  

In an interview, he said this:

"Can a nation be celebrated and be so proud with this ignoring of its past?

"Can you have the self-confidence to clearly examine yourself, rather than to give this kind of pretend smile on your face... It's this kind of fake smile which is disgusting ... So I hate this."

When asked what China was trying to hide, Ai said: "There are too many things. The whole political structure, the condition of civil rights ... corruption, pollution, education, you name it."

"They just say 'let's forget about all this,' let's just light some big fireworks, let's have those stupid directors, those people are such opportunists and they just become part of the powerful manipulators because they have no self-consciousness and have such bad taste."


In 2008, an enormous earthquake in China's Sichuan Province flattened many schools; most had been built on the cheap by politically connected contractors who were more interested in making money than maintaining construction standards.  (This is a theme in Chinese industry; think of the exports of toys covered with lead paint and of tainted drywall.)

The Chinese government wanted as little publicity about the earthquake as possible, but Ai was moved to action.  He formed a group that investigated the students' deaths and recorded their names, more than 5,000 of them, which he released online and posted in his studio.

This is what earned him the beating and the cerebral hemorrhage that was resolved only months later by surgery in Germany.  

Later, in 2011, he was held under house arrest for three months and was convicted of tax evasion in a show trial that he was not allowed to attend.  His passport, seized in 2011, was only returned to him this summer. 


Last fall, in an interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Ai described the government's surveillance of him -- more than a dozen cameras posted outside his home, the same few spies with cameras whom he encountered everywhere he went.  (In response, he posted four cameras inside his home and broadcast what they recorded.)

From the article:

SPIEGEL: Why does China's government still resort to such measures?

Ai: Because it's efficient. If your government clearly tells you to your face that it doesn't have to follow the rules, if it tells you openly: Don't even try it, we'll stop you with any means necessary -- then your game is over. At the same time, it is of course also dangerous for the government because it shows how weak its legitimacy is.

SPIEGEL: Weak? Or unassailable?

Ai: It still won't dare concede that it doesn't trust its people even after six decades. Astonishing. The Communists at the time came to power because they had the support of the people. But they never fulfilled their promises. Mao Zedong said: We will always have transparency; the people will have the right to vote. Sixty-four years have passed since then. Where is the voting ballot?

SPIEGEL: At its congress in November the party agreed various reforms -- it wants to close the "re-education" camps, loosen the one-child policy, and curb the power of state enterprises. But it still doesn't want political reforms. It seems to be taking the same gamble as all the Chinese leaderships since Deng Xiaoping: As long as we're economically successful, we don't need to open ourselves politically.

Ai: This is a much riskier gamble today. Deng Xiaoping said: Let us cross the river by probing for stones with our feet. It's not like that anymore. The party is walking a high tightrope. And it doesn't have a safety net. If it falls, there will be a complete disaster. That's why it's so nervous, that's why it's trying to centralize all the power.

SPIEGEL: Has the new leadership done anything right since it came to power a year ago?

Ai: They didn't do anything right. And I say that so clearly because the game is simple: You have to win over the public. Because the leaders aren't connected to the real world, they have no concept of reality anymore. How can they gain faith in this way?


By this point, Wei's fame probably restrains his government from treating him as badly as it does less well-known dissidents.   

But he doesn't always get much support from authentically democratic countries.

Just recently, as he was preparing works rendered in Lego blocks for an Australian exhibit, 
the toy company refused to sell him the materials he needed.

Lego is a private company based in Denmark; Legoland theme parks are owned by a British conglomerate.

Lego spokesman Roar Rude Trangbæk said: “Any individual person can naturally purchase or get access to Lego bricks in other ways to create their Lego projects if they desire to do so, but as a company, we choose to refrain from engaging in these activities – through for example bulk purchase.

“In cases where . . .we are made aware that there is a political context, we therefore kindly decline support.”

This would be comical if it weren't so pathetic.  Whatever you think of Ai's work, you have to admit that he's a serious man who has paid a price for speaking his mind. 

But Lego is afraid of the "political context" of his use of its toys.  

Earlier this year, the U.K. denied Ai a work passport for a stay of several months because he had not informed the country of his "criminal record"; instead, the Brits said, he could visit as a tourist but only for three weeks.

Last Friday Ai implied in an Instagram post that Lego was acting to protect its business prospects in China.  Sounds plausible to me.

Happily, children the world over are more brave than toy executives and government officials.  They have been sending Ai boxes of their own Legos for use in his work.


I have focused here on Ai's viewpoint on China, but his artistic output is wide-ranging and deserves attention.  Here are a few documentaries that show him in his broader context.  All are available on Youtube. 

"Big Brother Watching Me," from the BBC.

"Ai Weiwei, Without Fear or Favor," also from the BBC.

"An Evening with Ai Weiwei," by the Royal Academy of Arts

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thinking about China: The Long March

A Chinese tribute to Mao and the Long March

Nations have their own noble founding stories.  We have Paul Revere's ride; the French speak of the storming of the Bastille.

In China, the story is the Long March, which ended 8o years ago this month.  The march was a yearlong 6,000-mile journey undertaken by the Red Army, which was facing near-certain defeat by the much larger army of the Nationalist party, the Guomintang.  The Guomintang had surrounded and laid siege to the Communists in southeastern China. 

The map below shows the general route, which took the Communists over snow-capped mountains, through large marshlands and across regions commanded by unfriendly local warlords.  Soldiers marched 15 to 20 miles a day.

When the Red Army -- what was left of it -- reached Yunan, fewer than 10,000 of its original 87,000 soldiers had survived.  Over time, the army recruited 70,000 new soldiers. It had lived to fight the Nationalists again.  


The Red Army and the Guomintang continued their civil war and then, starting in 1939, fought the Japanese separately until World War II ended in 1945.

After that, both groups vied to run China.  The Communists won, and the Nationalists fled with their leader, Chiang Kai-shek, to Taiwan.

Mao led China until his death in 1976.  The Long March has been lionized in Chinese history books ever since.  Mao himself estimated the distance covered was a third greater than it actually was, and many apparently embellished stories became part of the Long March lore.  Somewhat more realistic accounts have been published since Mao's death, including some that suggest Mao was conveyed for much of the journey on a litter carried by his troops.  

Winners write the history books, of course.  

One event that only years later began to receive careful treatment was the death of as many as 36 million Chinese people during Mao's so-called Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962.
       Bad weather, compounded by ill-advised and frankly ignorant central planning orders, reduced crop yields in a humanitarian disaster that only began to be discussed in China in the 1980s.
        In a book published in 2008, Yang Jisheng said this of one province :  "In Xinyang, people starved at the doors of the grain warehouses. As they died, they shouted, 'Communist Party, Chairman Mao, save us.' If the granaries of Henan and Hebei had been opened, no one need have died. As people were dying in large numbers around them, officials did not think to save them. Their only concern was how to fulfill the delivery of grain."


If China in the Mao years was a difficult place to live, Taiwan certainly had its own growth pains. 

Chiang was disliked intensely by American military advisers during and after World War II, and he was as uninterested as Mao in a power-sharing Chinese government that Americans urged after the war.  

After he and his leadership decamped to the formerly Japanese-controlled island of Taiwan, Chiang was consumed for many years by his goal of taking control of the Chinese mainland.  (China still seems eager to take control of Taiwan.)

Chiang was most notorious for his response to the violent suppression of an anti-government uprising in 1947.  Between 10,000 and 30,000 protesters were killed, and others lost their lives in the White Terror period that followed.  

On the other hand, Taiwan has developed in the years since Chiang's 1975 death into a multi-party democracy.  Economically, it is one of Asia's Four Tigers, and its people enjoyed more prosperity, earlier, than those in mainland China.  


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Hallo . . . oops . . . Autumn Festival

As I was paging through our local daily yesterday morning, I came upon a story that surprised me.

It concerned an elementary school in a district not far from my home.

The topic was Halloween.  The school principal and the co-chairs of its PTA had sent a notice to parents informing them that the school would not have a Halloween celebration this year.  They said the decision was taken because 20 percent of the student body did not participate in last year's festivities.

"In the past," read the letter, "in-school celebrations of Halloween have made many of our students feel left out . . . (and as) a result, after careful consideration and deliberation, we have decided not to hold in-school Halloween activities."

The decision makers said, "One of the strengths of  (the school) is that we are such a diverse community, with many cultures represented, and that we truly value everyone."

My first reaction to reading the articles was this:   The newspaper was devoting way too much space to a single school's decision on a relatively minor matter.  

My second reaction was this:  Why would a school (at least one with students above the pre-K level) waste precious instruction time on Halloween parties and parades?  Kids in costumes are likely to be distracted in school and further distracted by cupcake-and candy parties.
       It's not as if Halloween is going away.  Children celebrate by trick-or-treating after school on the day of the event. In addition, every city, town and hamlet around here has a local parade of children in their costumes on the weekend before Halloween.  
       (Back in the last millenium, in the days when I was being forcibly educated*, Halloween was not commemorated in schools.  Even when the younger person attended elementary school, there were no commemorations.  To be fair, both of us attended serious schools, but still. . . .)

Later in the day, I looked up the story again, this time on my computer, to be sure I had read the story right.  And I had. 

But I was surprised again:  People were OUTRAGED about the cancellation of in-school Halloween celebrations.  In a scant eight hours, more than 1,000 comments were appended to the article.  Almost all of the commenters were very angry.

People had two main complaints:  

     -- They thought this was another example of political correctness and diversity run amok.

     -- They suspected that immigrants were refusing to participate in an American cultural

Some comments:  

"Yep, no need to assimilate, just cancel long standing traditions because somebody might be offended.
     "Before I'm accused of being xenophobic, I am the grandchild of immigrants, and my mother-in-law is also an immigrant.  None of those ancestors expected things to be changed for them, rather they adapted to their new country."

"That's right worry about everyone else but . . . I guess the 'Un-Diverse' Children who want to celebrate Halloween which has been celebrated in America for decades -- but cancel it and take away our rights to celebrate!!  Stupid people running the schools!!"

"Germany is going nuts.  Even ARAB countries don't want the Muslims.  Why is that? Hmmmm?"

"So what's next on the chopping block?  Thanksgiving? Christmas?"

This went on and on.  You get the picture.


Since yesterday's story attracted so much attention, the newspaper ran a follow-up today.  A PTA co-president explained the reasoning that led to the controversial decision.

"But diversity did not lead to the decision to have a Halloween parade in school.  Unity led to this decision -- everyone counts, or nobody counts," she said.  

(A little doublespeak there; I suspect the school's leaders wish they had named a different reason -- like the primacy of in-school instruction -- for canceling the Halloween hoopla.)

As happened yesterday, the comments section went wild.  In two days, more than 1,800 reactions have been posted about a very minor issue.

My Reaction

I'm surprised.  My family lives in a pretty blue part of a very blue state.  The trend of these comments is not what I would have expected.  

I think people are worried and not a little angry these days.  

The employment situation may look good on paper, but it probably doesn't feel good to people who haven't had raises for years or who have lost their jobs or whose children are having difficulty finding work.

People are reading about hundreds of thousands of refugees headed for Europe, and are wondering what our country would do in a similar situation -- or perhaps believe that we are in a similar situation. 

Traditional people, even in blue states, seem to believe that their way of life is threatened by bureaucrats with agendas. 

A lot of insecurity out there.  

* I believe it was H.L Mencken who wrote of "the years when I was being forcibly educated."  Whoever said it, I like it.  

Monday, October 19, 2015

Odds and Ends

Paperwhites, 3 weeks along

Overheard on a Train

Two men were having a discussion about the friend of one of them.

"He used to weigh about 300 pounds, but then he lost a bunch of weight," the friend said.

"Now he weighs about 140, and he just looks emancipated."

Bad Newspaper Sentences 

"The death of the . . .baby. . . was the third time in recent months that babies in the city had been fatally thrown from a window of their family homes."
     (The first thing I thought when I read this sentence was, we've got to find that 
      window and BOARD IT UP.  Also the "death" was not the third "time," it was 
      the third "death.")

"I will brave the commute Thursday, but am taking off Friday, said Maureen Lambusta, who's office is in Penn Plaza by Madison Square Garden. 

      (I know, pronouns are difficult.)


He instead proposed slashing the 7 percent sales tax on all boats in half to also help "individuals, including middle-class citizens, who purchase smaller boats."

     (Exactly how many boats are in half here?)


The bear exited the home through the window as police arrived before one of the officers fatally shot the animal. 

     (Of course the police arrived before one of the officers shot the animal.  Two
      sentences would have described the situation better.)


Hayes decided to become an organ donor years before, Carpenter said. The decision was not initially met with his father's approval, Carpenter admitted.

    (Where did the father's approval not meet the decision, I want to know.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Sex is great stuff, an adventure that involves all the senses.  It is even better when it stirs the emotions and the intellect. 

Most people know this.  Attraction of the flesh is one thing, but personal attraction, combined with the fleshly sort, takes the physical experience up several notches.

If you keep up with news now, you might get the impression that young people don't understand these simple facts.     

New Developments  

I spoke yesterday about how high school students now are being taught to say yes to each escalation of interpersonal physical activity.

We read also now of a rape epidemic on college campuses, often involving people who are not sure the next day, or even months later, whether they really meant to do what they did.  

And there are websites that allow people to exchange pictures and emojis and then to meet up for sex shortly thereafter.  

All I can say about this stuff is this:  Ick.

Before long, I fully expect that colleges and popular clubs will set up notary public stations during evening hours.  The NPs will have consent forms detailing every potential bodily connection and specifications of limited time periods for same.  People will mark their preferences, sign and have their agreements notarized before embracing.  Smart college administrations probably will make blood alcohol tests available at the same locations.

The Real World

It's easy to be cynical, but the reality is that young people crave the ideal -- romantic love AND sex.  We all want the grand passion. 

How many poems, novels, movies and songs have there been over years that glorify the romantic experience?  

Millions, that's how many.  

Hollywood would have gone broke decades ago without romance and seduction.  

In my experience, women want to be pursued, to be valued and, yes, to be seduced by partners whom they find attractive.  

Men do too, by the way.  

This is why the phrase, "swept off my feet," comes up again and again, even in rap lyrics.

Seduction is not achieved by force but by attention, flattery, romantic gestures and genuine interest.  Once accomplished, the seduced and the seducer are moved and satisfied with their new connection. 

Young people learn the facts of sex and reproduction in high school classes, usually from teachers who also stress the importance of self-respect and respect for others.  

But teachers don't show inexperienced children how to approach each other.  For these lessons, they study the behavior of older siblings and friends, or characters in movies. There are some pretty great romantic films, even among the crud. 

And young people DO want romance in their lives.  

In many cities now, young men issue extravagant "promposal" invitations to their desired prom dates.  Think huge bannners stretched across high school entry halls or a capella quartets singing on family front porches.  I am certain there have been swains wearing armor and riding white horses.

This may be a little goofy, but when it comes to romance, it's a pretty good way to start.   


This Andrew Marvell poem is the most famous seduction piece in the English language.    

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
A hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sex and "Changing the Culture"

The New York Times carried an interesting front-page article today.  It was about a new California law that requires high school students to be instructed about affirmative consent -- that is, to practice saying "yes means yes" in interpersonal sexual matters from kissing to touching to intercourse.

The legislator who wrote the bill, which the governor signed, explained that it was intended to "change the culture" of these relationships.

In fact, the effort sounds more like trying to change biology.

Consider the facts.  Men are generally interested in sex, lots of sex.  Women also are interested in sex, but they generally prefer to limit their sexual relationships (at least those involving men) to ones with people they trust.

This difference may not be universal, but it has a history stretching back thousands of years. Intercourse between men and women can lead to pregnancy.  In the days before reliable birth control, it often DID lead to pregnancy.  Since women are the ones who have babies, it made sense for them to have intercourse only with men they trusted, i.e., guys who wouldn't abandon them upon learning that a child was on the way.

Birth control changed the dynamic somewhat, but not entirely.  Even after pregnancy could be prevented, women who had many sexual partners often were called unkind names.  Men who had many sexual partners often were admired for their virility.

This is what we are still working out.  In recent years we all have read more stories than we want to read about young women who insist that they did not say "yes" to sex while their male partners are adamant that the women did not say "no."  

Obviously, nobody should be coerced into unwanted sexual activity, but now we are wandering further into hitherto uncharted territory.

What California's legislature and teaching corps are trying to do is impose new manners -- a sexual etiquette, if you will.  They are encouraging young women (and presumably young men since everybody is equal) to say yes each step of the way.  

I imagine the procedure going like this:

     --"May I hold your hand?"


     --"Would you like to hug?"


     --"How about a kiss?"

     --"Yes, but no tongue."

I will stop here, but you can imagine the many follow-on steps in the affirmative consent conversation. 

In short, affirmative consent casts sexual activity as a negotiated transaction.  

Unfortunately, this transactional approach seems to require humans to "change the culture" in another way.   

That is, by the elimination of "seduction" and, with it, a lot of what we used to call "romance."