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Friday, July 22, 2005

Supreme Choice

I did not watch the President's announcement of his Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday night. I just couldn't do it. On one hand, I felt I owed it to my readers to offer my perception of the event. On the other, I feel I've given this guy too many hours of my life already. I expected a long, drawn-out dog and pony show, with George praising his appointment, and the nominee gushing like a schoolgirl, followed by statements by the right and left about why this person represents the second coming or the devil incarnate. Since I, like most liberals, expected to be annoyed by his choice, the whole thing seemed like a really long infomercial for something I wasn't interested in buying. I could, I reasoned, read the story online at 8:30 and avoid the pain.

Thus, you can imagine my delight when the whole spectacle was over by 8:15. Allowing me to catch a rerun of House on Fox.

So now I'm expected to give my opinion of the guy, and you know what, I can't. Like most Americans, I don't know anything about him. Which seems to be the strategy here. Unlike many on the left, I can't simply oppose him for being conservative. George Bush is king of the conservatives: what did you expect? His stance on Roe -- which, being a man who is not likely to ever have to deal with a pregnancy, is quite frankly not terribly important to me -- seems uncertain at best. On one hand, he has argued against it; on the other, he said in a previous confirmation hearing that he considered it "the settled law of the land." On a third hand, that is because Roe had been affirmed and reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. Once a member of that court, he could do anything.

Which seems to be the point. No one knows what this guy will do. He's only been a federal judge for two years, and has adjudicated a limited number of cases, few of which were controversial. Liberal watchdog groups are seizing on whatever they can find to discredit him, because that's their duty as liberal watchdog groups. I can't imagine that Bush could have nominated a candidate they would find acceptable. There's a good chance John Kerry, had he been elected, would have had a difficult time finding a candidate they would find acceptable who would also have been confirmable.

As a lawyer, John Roberts -- I suppose I should call him by name -- has argued against abortion rights. But he has also made it clear that as a lawyer, he argued his cases, not his opinions. He has worked for two administrations -- Reagan and Bush I -- and Senate Democrats are seeking access to documents from those periods, trying to suss out where the man stands. That is as should be expected. This is less a fight against Roberts than a fight against Bush. But should they gain access -- which is doubtful -- I don't suppose there will be much there for them. The word on Roberts is that he is an excellent attorney, which is to say, essentially soulless. At least as far as his work goes. His job has been to win, not to fight for what's right. He represented NBC in fighting media regulation, but also argued the antitrust suit against Microsoft. Above all, he does not seem to be the rampant social conservative Bush's most extreme supporters might prefer.

"Seem" is the operative word.

Having seen a bit of the man over the past few days, Bush's decision to schedule his debut for prime time -- and then get the hell out of there -- makes sense. Roberts is the kind of guy who, as my friend Harry Ross would put it, "doesn't smell crazy." Which doesn't mean that he isn't crazy, mind you. But he's not a Robert Bork or Fat Tony Scalia, who immediately put you off your lunch. He's youngish and affable with two small (and adopted) children and a seriously washed-out looking wife -- someone who doesn't set off alarm bells. My immediate response to him is not necessarily one of trust, but a measured sigh of relief, considering some of the other candidates under discussion. The question liberals need to ask themselves about Roberts is not, "How bad is he?" but "If he is not approved, how much worse will the next candidate be?" Because like it or not, sooner or later Congress will approve someone Bush sends them. And he ain't sending them Shirley Chisholm. (And not only because she's dead.)


My greatest concern about Roberts -- considering that I know so little about him -- is his age. He's 50. And from what I can see, in pretty good health.

This doesn't make him the youngest candidate to the bench in recent years. That would be Clarence Thomas, who was a stripling of 43 when he ascended. And it shows. Almost immediately, Thomas became a lapdog for Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia, and has never fully emerged from his shadow. Only in the past few years has he started show signs of independent judgment.

In general, 50 is about par for the court. Three of the eight remaining judges were 50 or 51 when they were appointed, and O'Connor was 51. Rehnquist was 47 when Nixon sent him to the bench. John Paul Stevens was 55 when Gerald Ford appointed him 30 years ago. Clinton's choices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, were 60 and 55, respectively.

In general, I prefer a 60 year old appointment to a 50 year old. And anything below 50 is criminal. Unless you are me, there's a good chance that by 50 you should have been able to rack up a substantial body of work, and perhaps deserve elevation to a high court. But appointments to the Supreme Court are for life. To my mind, an appointment for life presupposes that you should be dying pretty soon. In recent times, as we have seen, this is not the case. Much has been made of the fact that the current lot of judges have served together since 1994. As long as we keep appointing younguns to the bench, that trend will continue. And I'm not so sure that's a good thing. I like a little conflict in the court -- on the whole, I think it's best for all of us.

And quite frankly, no matter what your opinions, there's a good chance that in 10 years I'm going to find them obsolete. I much prefer you dead.


There's always a chance, of course, that Justice Roberts will surprise us all. Sandra Day O'Conner famously told Ronald Reagan that she found abortion "personally abhorrent." Now abortion rights advocates are keening over her retirement. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that you can't predict what a nominee will do once they're confirmed. This seems especially true in the case of John Roberts.

Not that Roberts isn't a dyed in the wool conservative. He is. But you can never predict exactly what that means. Of the nine justices on the Court (before O'Conner's retirement), seven were appointed by Republican presidents. Three were appointed by Reagan (Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, in addition to O'Connor) and two by Bush senior (David Souter and Clarence Thomas). Of those, only Scalia and Thomas have proved reliably conservative. Even Thomas is starting to show a drift to the left, miniscule though it may be. When the Court recently overturned sodomy laws in 13 states, Thomas dissented. But he wrote in his dissent that though he didn't believe the Supremes had the right to overturn those laws, the laws were foolish and should have been done away with. This is in opposition to Fat Tony, who wrote "Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive." Roberts seems more likely to side with Thomas than Scalia on this one.

Souter has proved a big disappointment to the right. GBI said he would be "committed to interpreting, not making the law." Sounds familiar. Since then, he has proved to be one of those activist judges GBII hates, backing gay rights, abortion rights and affirmative action and voting against the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Kennedy, while not as liberal as Souter, has become increasingly moderate, voting in favor of abortion rights (with O'Connor and Souter) and against prayer at public school graduations. Kennedy even wrote the decision that struck down sodomy laws. In doing so, he rejected Scalia's "originalist" school of constitutional interpretation, which focuses on the intent of the framers. In his opinion, Kennedy wrote that "later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress."

It is too early to predict how Roberts' decisions may turn out should he be confirmed. But for now he seems more reasonable than most of Bush's cronies, and that will have to do.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Was It Good For You?

Bad sex has been on my mind of late. I'm not exactly sure why. It's not because I've been having a lot of bad sex, because frankly, I haven't been having that much sex. Perhaps it's because I have friends who have been having even less sex than me, and I want to set their minds at ease. Or perhaps it's because so much of the media revolves around sex, and that, as you'd suspect, is part of the problem.

In my experience, most sex is bad for three reasons. I'm even willing to say that most sex is bad. This is where everyone gets on their high horse and wants to take me to task. Not realizing that I've been taken to task so often that everything about it is familiar to me. "Just because you have bad sex they cry," underscoring the "you," as if I am some freak of nature who doesn't deserve better sex, "that doesn't mean everybody has bad sex." I'll grant you that. I will also grant you that much bad sex starts off as good sex, and sometimes it declines so slowly that you don't notice it. The brakes on your car don't usually go out all at once, but if you avoid proper maintenance, they may eventually fail. And after a few years, mechanical repetitive humping may suit your needs more than an all out flashdance. But that doesn't make it good.

And this takes us to the first category: the Person.

I am enough of a romantic to recognize that the most important element in Good Sex is your partner. In order to have an enjoyable sexual experience, you need to be attracted to the other person. Which doesn't mean they need to be attractive. This is the first place where people go astray. All too often, our choice of a mate is influenced not just by what we want, but by what our friends (family, social group) will think. Granted, if you're considering matrimony, that Albanian dwarf may raise a few eyebrows. But if you're just in the market for some hardcore wrestling, go for it.

Movies misrepresent this choice. In the movies, the suspect lover is a young, beautiful movie star who is from the wrong side of the tracks (poor-but-honest, overcoming-his-demons). In real life, it's the programmer from HR with the killer smile that no one seems to appreciate except you. But rather than thinking your friends must be crazy, you assume that you are. So instead you date the MBA consultant who hammers you like a tackling dummy.

In other cases, singles find that necessity is the mother of attraction. It's last call, the bar is closing, and rather than pick up an Entenmann's Raspberry Twist at the White Hen, you go home with the guy with too much cologne and the sweaty palms. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with. Except that no one would call this love, and the coffee cake is much better in bed.

For those people lucky enough to find someone who turns them on consistently, marriage seems to be the solution. But that doesn't always guarantee success. After a few years, a few fights, or even a few loads of laundry, attraction can fade. Even under the best of circumstances, the spark isn't there all the time. And there's always the possibility that your partner is more attracted to you than you are to them. That's the reason you snatched 'em up to begin with! Self-esteem trumped lust, and now you're living with a stalker.

The flip side of this problem – and one more daunting for men than women – is that of being too attracted to your partner. They say that the brain is the biggest sex organ – though having seen Body Worlds down at the Museum of Science and Industry, I have my doubts – but the body is a trickster. And there are circumstances under which the body decides to fire the cannon when the mind has barely finished loading. Need I say more?

Which brings us to the second element of bad sex: Time.

As Einstein told us, time is relative. What seems like forever to you is a mere twinkling of an eye to your partner. And what a difference that twinkle makes.

Good sex takes time. How much time depends on everyone involved. Sure, there are days when all you want is a quick ride on the Wild Mouse. But in general, a satisfying sexual experience requires setup, delivery, and cool down with more than a passing nod to each stage.

And there, as they say, is the rub. Because when I'm halfway through stage one, you may be ready and anxious to proceed to stage two. Most men see stage two as the main event, but if women don't get enough stage one, stage two is like the Batman ride: a lot of jostling around without much in the way of thrills. And stage three is generally overlooked in favor of s shower or nap.

When love is new, it's easy to give a lot of attention to your partner. You're still exploring every nook and cranny, and seeing what makes them squeal. Do you like this? Do you not like this? Do you need a cookie? But after a few times through the fun house, you know when the skeletons are going to jump out. You develop adult ADD. You're in the middle of a half nelson with another naked human being, and all you can think about is who's on Conan. It's even worse when you find yourself locked in sweaty embrace with a partner who, for whatever reasons, simply doesn't hump your camel. Who has the time for that sort of thing? All you can this is, "Finish already so I can fall asleep and/or go home."

Especially in the absence of the third leg of our triumvirate: Technique

The sad truth is, most people aren't very good at it. And by "it," I mean, of course, it.

On one hand, you can't completely blame them. They're functioning on a lot of misinformation and improper training. The only practice they get outside of the actual arena is masturbation. And while that's fine for figuring out what they like, it does their partner little good. On the other hand, a lot of bad technique is due to sheer laziness. A man who spends years working on his backhand often completely ignores his foreplay.

The other culprit here is – as ever – the media. I won't say that people expect too much out of sex, but ... yes. Yes I will. People expect too much out of sex. And by too much, what I mean is: 1) that it happens automatically, 2) that it is immediately fulfilling, and 3) that it is the salve to all their woes.

Third things first: sex cannot solve your problems. Sex can only cause more problems. The only problem sex can solve is not having enough sex. We often hear and/or say that the only thing Person A needs is a good hard fuck. Nothing could be more untrue. If Person A has a good hard fuck, they will still be crazy, they will just have one more thing to be crazy about. And nobody needs that.

Second things second: don't expect so much from biology. Sex can be fun, but no one promised fulfillment. If you are lucky enough to find someone who fulfills all your sexual needs, god bless. Snatch them up and hold on tight, even at the risk of seeming a stalker (see "Person," above). But even then, don't expect them to fulfill all your needs. Just because someone is good in the sack, it doesn't mean they're any good at child care. Or child support, if you get my drift. But in most cases, the first time through is not necessarily the best time through. Everyone has their own schedule of events. See "Time," above.

Finally, good sex is not automatic. No matter what you see on TV, people do not fall into bed and immediately find a rhythm. It takes work. And for this, people turn to the worst source of information. Pornography.

Pornography is entertainment. It is not a manual. Repeat after me. Those letters to Penthouse? Never happened.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against pornography. It is a lovely substitute for sex. Almost as good as Entenmann's Raspberry Twist. But don't use it as a guide to what works in real life. Most porn suffers from both a failure of imagination and too much imagination.

Sex in pornography is formula driven. A sucks B. B sucks A. Maybe a 69. Then comes penetration. Missionary with legs in the air and/or on shoulders. Doggy style. Squat. Ah, ah, ah. DS al Fin. Back to missionary for ejaculation. On stomach, chest/breast or face. Or doggy for ass. Fin.

Don't try this at home. Not unless you want to feel like you're working for Vivid Video. Try to be a little more creative. Or at least improvisational. Much like the Pirate's Code, these are more a set of guidelines.

At the same time, don't assume all your friends and neighbors have slings and dungeons and you have to keep up. Or handcuffs. Or French maid's outfits. Feel free to engage in fantasy, but make sure it's your fantasy, not the editor of Man's Hand's.

Next, don't compare yourself to porn actors. You don't have the equipment. These men and women are professionals – they got the work because of what they're packin'. There's a very small skill set that leads to success in this field, and it's not much use in many others. You can have fun on the links without being Tiger Woods. You don't need to be Jenna Jameson or Tommy Gunn to have fun in the bedroom.

Finally, a word about positions. If you have any experience working in film, you know that the camera has needs of its own. There's a big difference between doing something for the camera and doing it for fun. In order to suit the requirements of picture and lighting, porn actors need to be a combination of gymnast, acrobat and contortionist. That pretzel position is not for pleasure, but for visibility. When you're humpin' some household trim, your main concern is comfort, not camera.

So how does one develop technique, if not learning from professionals? Part of it is instinct. We've continued to propagate the species for millions of years, so we must be doing something right. Clear your mind, grasshopper, and follow your nose. Focus on what you want to do, rather than what you think you should do. Many of us in this country find that very difficult. We are led by the majority and the media. Unless you're sleeping with them, forget it. And many of us are unwilling and/or ashamed to do what we want sexually, for fear of reprimand or ridicule. But unless you try, how will you learn?

Next, pay attention. Learn from your partner(s). They will tell you what works by their response. But that requires you to be aware of their response. It is easy to get lost in our own pleasure, and lose track of the people around us, even when they are right under our nose. Pay attention! As in the traffic safety trope, Stop, Look and Listen.

And if you have questions, ask. If there is one thing that everyone could do to improve their technique, it is to communicate more. If your partner does something you like, praise them. It works for your dog, why not in bed. If they do something you don't like, let them know. A rolled up newspaper is not called for, but a gentle reprimand is not out of order. No one knows what you want unless you tell them, in one way or another. And in the heat of the moment, a grunt can be taken as either encouragement or disparagement. So be specific. The most common complaint couples make is that "s/he should know what I'm feeling." Well s/he doesn't, so tell them. For the betterment of the universe, we all have a responsibility to train our partners.

Finally, the best way to improve your technique is the same as the best way to get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice. It may not make perfect, but it makes better.

And better is better than bad.

Friday, July 01, 2005


A little mad cow disease is not enough to dampen the appetite of the American consumer. Unlike the first case of mad cow reported in the US – a dairy cow in Washington that had been born in Canada – the latest bovine encephalopath was a beef cow born and raised in Texas. Where it lived for the past 12 years. In a herd of other cattle. And where it gave birth. Several times.

This cow was brought, near death, to a Champion Pet Foods plant in Waco, Texas. It died before it could be slaughtered – last November! The president of Champion was quick to assure the public that, "No part of the cow entered the pet food chain." As for other cows from the same farm which have been butchered over the past 7 months ... well, here's hopin'. This cow ended up at the pet food plant because it was too sick to walk. Seemingly healthy cows from the ranch would be sold for human consumption.

Not that anyone cares. Although Taiwan has imposed a ban on American beef, domestic beef sales and futures prices have remained relatively steady. And Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, issued a statement assuring citizens that they could trust his beef. "I, for one," he said, "will continue to eat red meat, and intend to do so later tonight with complete confidence." He later issued a revised statement that dropped the reference to his dinner plans.

Happy 4th of July. Enjoy your burgers!