Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heart Market News: SLTR Dips on CZX Surge

Turns out that, as with Microsoft and Yahoo stock, relationships with folk of the male persuasion are really vehicles of investment. So, at least, says a consensus of women, often expressed in a sentence such as "I'm investing in the relationship."

That's not how a small, admittedly unscientific poll of men felt at a recent discussion group I attended. When in a relationship, we men argued, men rarely have a particular end result in the future.

From what I have heard, however, a woman has almost certainly been thinking of marriage at the first kiss, or at least a stable long-term relationship (ticker symbol: SLTR*).

In the quest to amass shares, some women will entirely modify their looks, behavior, readiness to engage in sex. They will smile benignly at behavior that they abhor and sacrifice preferred entertainment in the quest to buy more shares at an increasingly ascending price.

Using this dollar-averaging approach, the female romantic investor aims to acquire a controlling interest in SLTR, with claims to a majority on the board, and an eye to reaping sizable dividends.

Men usually hear of the entire investment scheme when it goes sour: "I invested umpteen years in this relationship." (So that's why the curlers came out and the rolling pin got wielded and the bedtime headaches popped up as soon as she had the ring on her finger!)

To be fair, as women point out, men all have getting to bed in mind, or a friends-with-benefits arrangement, in other words, casual sex (CZX). However, the men counterpose, that's not a long-term goal or an investment strategy.

Yes, I've heard about the guy who argued that he deserved a romp in the hay because he paid for dinner. Frankly, I've never met him. Guy: if you have to argue that you bought the right to sex, you've already lost the argument.

What man is so utterly incapable of sparking an interest with strategic romantic timing in mind that he is reduced to unlikely barter? And when did the language of the stock market and the meat market merge into romantic thinking?

Did Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher have the 1987 movie Wall Street subliminally pumped into the bedrooms of women all across the United States and the former British Commonwealth? I recall hearing that the gerontocrats in the Soviet Politburo cheered during the end credits at their private screening of the movie.

Did Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky replace Gideon Bibles in every hotel room with a copy Candace Bushnell's novel Sex and the City? I found the book so horrifically cynical I could not stomach reading it through to the end.

Silly me, I thought a relationship had to do with a state of connectedness, closeness or even family relatedness. A state that simply is, because one cannot help it. Not a set of stepping stones to the altar or to bed.

It is a state of being with another person that, sadly, sometimes ends. Or is interrupted. Or sours. Other times it happily brings people to physically coalesce or marry. It's not a game, with orgasm or marriage as the goalposts.

On first dates I have paid for dinner because I like to eat. Also, because I have hated to deal with either the math of check splitting or the risk of ruining my digestion with the discovery that she is a greedy, conniving chiseler. I like my romantic evenings free of unpleasantness.

To my mind, sex expresses feelings of affection and attraction. Moreover, weddings make the most sense when the couple intends to raise a family together (see here).

Whereas investing involves the outlay of money or capital in an enterprise with the expectation of profit, there's no profit in romance and relationship. It's all loss. You lose your head and heart to someone else's charms, real or imagined.

Love is its own reward.

* I was unable to find an actual company with the ticker symbols used here; if one exists, no reference to it is intended.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oh, Those Gay and Lesbian Sinners!

A couple of weeks ago I visited Foundry Methodist Church (aka Hillary's church) and got into an argument over 2008 United Methodist General Conference resolutions reaffirming the incompatibility of homosexual behavior with Christianity to the point of exclusion from church membership and ordained ministry.

Although I currently view myself as a heterosexual non-Methodist agnostic, the issue strikes me as emblematic of a divide that cuts across Christian denominations and goes even beyond religion to attitudes about laws concerning sexuality, family and marriage. Yet I am of two minds in this matter.

On one hand, I find it difficult to argue that homosexual behavior is not judged morally wrong by Christian doctrine. Although the sayings of Jesus in the gospels are silent on the question, the book of Leviticus and various epistles of Paul are quite emphatic and unequivocal in their outright moral condemnation of same-gender sex.

Speaking of those who "detain the truth of God in injustice," Paul describes people such as among whom "women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy." (Romans I 1:26-27)

In his 1st letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds: "Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God." (I Cor 6:9-10)

Moreover, in a broader philosophical sense, I would find it difficult to defend the notion that homosexual behavior is, generally speaking, desirable and worthy of encouragement.

Given that male genitals "fit" more easily with female genitals and that the essential biological function of these organs is reproductive, it is hard to argue that the homosexual use is not, at a minimum, a tad inventive and contrived. The socially, politically and economically desirable use of genitals is for the propagation of the species through male-female contact.

This need not be the only use. Indeed, more than one male-female contact is usually needed for impregnation. Moreover, continual nonreproductive contact fosters emotional bonds that make for extended biological networks that nurture the young.

Yet, is sex an expression of love and are not lesbians and gays entitled to express their love for one another? I agree that sex can express love, quite pleasurably, but precisely because it is such an urgent bodily need, I wonder whether it is the best, most complete, most selfless and truest expression. Elsewhere I defined love "as an emotional appreciation of others and other things for themselves that leads to disinterested loving." (See my post here.)

Sex may well oil the path to disinterested loving, but is sex, of any sort and in any circumstance, the one and only roadway and, thus, an inalienable aspect of what a human being necessarily must experience in order to live in dignity? Only an unqualified affirmative answer yields a forthright, philosophically positive endorsement the philosophical value of all sexual behavior, no matter what.

This does not mean -- insofar as I would argue -- that gays and lesbians belong back in the closet.

Christians seeking to exclude gays and lesbians from their churches and church offices had better re-read their New Testaments. What need do people in their Sunday finest have of a redeemer, if they are all sinless and pure? To this question Jesus answers succinctly: "I came not to call the just, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

The important point that many Christians miss, in the mad dash to imitate everything they hear around them, is that from the perspective of Christian doctrine, not only is everybody sinful and fallen (yes, even babies ... especially babies!), but this is a good thing.

"O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer," Christians have sung for centuries in the Easter vigil Exultet. So, if you argue that homosexuals are sinners, then you have to welcome them and accord them a place of honor in any truly Christian church! (See an interesting discussion of the idea here.)

Similarly, whatever makes homosexual behavior problematic in a broader philosophical sense does not seem to warrant legal sanction or discrimination against people who engage in it. Just because a particular behavior is not the most natural imaginable, it does not follow that it should be illegal, or a bar against employment.

There is no secular or philosophical logic to the notion that legal marriage -- a contract between two people planning to engage in cohabitation and sexual congress on an exclusive and long-term basis -- requires a man and a woman. You can argue that "the Bahble" says this or that until the cows come home, but legally it won't wash in the United States. The U.S. legal bible is the Constitution, which expressly forbids the state to favor religion.

To be fair: the Methodists did not wander half so far as I have. Insofar as I can tell, they did two things.

First, they reaffirmed the wording in the denomination's current Book of Discipline that "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching" (Paragraph 161.G).

Secondly, they approved by a 763 to 38 margin a resolution stating that "All United Methodists, clergy and laity, are bound to an honest covenant in both word and deed and that no clergy, active or retired clergy including Bishops, or lay members who consistently try to overturn the wording of the Discipline on homosexuality shall be fit for appointment and for membership in The United Methodist Church." They gave as a rationale the statement that "Homosexuality distorts the meaning of Scripture, grace, law, and regeneration. Gay activists continue to push their exclusivism by striving to abolish those opposing [views]."

Insofar as I am personally concerned, I would not have batted an eyelash if they had changed the name of their rulebook to "Book of Discipline & Bondage." But I am put off by the arguing.

On the pro-gay side, I hear much frothing about the "sinfulness"and "heterosexism" of the position that prevailed; from the anti-gay side, I am aghast to read that "homosexual practice" is among the things "that come from the devil."

I see problems with both. Now you know why.

Monday, May 12, 2008

That 70s Oil Crisis is Baaack!

We Americans, who collectively have memories no longer than the average television commercial, are forced regularly to do. Helping recall the oil crises of the 1970s is the memory of televised long lines at gas stations summoned by the recent experience of paying hundredths of a cent over $4 per gallon of gasoline at the pump for the first time (granted, I buy premium).

Back in 1973, the first crisis, such things were irrelevant to me: I did not own or drive a car. Moreover, for most of the cold season I lived as a student in Canada where, thanks to the tar sands of Alberta, OPEC's oil embargo had no practical effect.

Let's backtrack.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had declared an embargo on all Western allies of Israel on Oct. 16, 1973, smack dab in the middle of the Yom Kippur (or, depending on your perspective, Ramadan) War started by Egypt and Syria. The Arab belligerents haled the initiative for the first two days but, as might have been expected, the Israeli army began to sweep them back. OPEC intervened.

On the whole, my feelings about the Middle East can be summed up in the notion that those Arabs and Israelis deserve one another. We should let them blow each other up to smithereens, if that's what they want.

A funny thing happened to an inveterate neutral like myself: I found that when oil was scarce the price of everything rose. Coming back to the USA in the spring, I found galloping inflation.

Why? Because, if you think of the economy as a complex organism (within which we're all microbes), oil is its blood. (Note the interaction between blood and oxygen and you'll find good imagery for the interaction of oil-produced hydrocarbons and air pollution.)

Note the items involved, because they come up again: steady U.S. oil consumption, trouble in the Middle East, sharp crude oil price increases (to about half what they are now), inflation.

In 1979, I was similarly uninvolved at a personal level, as I lived in London, England, where no sane person would drive.

Once again: oil consumption remained unabated, leading President Carter to preach about "malaise" in the middle of the "Me Decade," when no one was listening; Iran had its revolution and oil supply became unstable; prices rose to well above $80 for a barrel of crude, inflation (then stagnation) ensued.

Now we have another crises: a decade of U.S. gasoline gluttony leading to SUVs and Hummers, Iraq-Afghanistan-Iran plus unstable Lebanon, crude oil prices at over $100, inflation, coupled with a slowing economy.

This time we have three new factors: India and China have become big consumers; some believe the world supply is nearing known limits; and the short-term sustainability of an oil-based economy has been called into question by climate change predictions.

Perhaps this time we can learn that among those factors that we can influence, it's perhaps time to change the roles of oil producers and consumers.

We were warned about this by Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás (aka George Santayana) in his the following passage, whose third sentence is oft-quoted remark that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."1

1. "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience." (The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Time for a Hillary Holiday

Here comes an instance of the unthinkable. This essay will focus on a substantive electoral issue, demonstrating at long last why Hillary Clinton and John McCain are unpresidential panderers at best and should not be nominated as candidates for their parties, nor much less elected.

All right, yes, McCain is at least in sync with his party's demagogic spiel: he can spin big lies into oversimplistic packages at least as well as George W. Bush could, perhaps even better. We'll leave the details for later.

Clinton, however, had me doubting.

In 1992 I would have voted for her, over her husband -- in a heartbeat. She was articulate, obviously intelligent, seemed focused on important issues -- including poverty -- and seemed (I did not know of her past as a Goldwater Girl) a truer exponent of the Democratic progressive tradition than William Jefferson Clinton.

You remember President Clinton? The guy who gave us big business' job-exporting NAFTA over the objections of unions and Newton Leroy Gingrich's pauperizing 1996 welfare reform bill over the objections of a half-dozen key advisers in his own cabinet agencies, but failed to deliver on the signature issue of his campaign, health care reform? That Clinton.

So, this election, I was looking forward to a seasoned version of the Hillary Clinton I thought I knew. A Democratic candidate willing to undo three decades years of GOP Thatcherist class war against the middle and poorer classes, in other words, the majority of this country.

The first tingle in my stomach was when I saw the rogues gallery of Clinton Administration expediency wizards pop up in her team. One of my friends had worked with Hillary Clinton in the White House and I had a pretty good idea of that inner circle; they were not my concern.

Rather, I worried about the expert advisers, the less-well-known crowd associated with high-profile substantive thinkers, such as Gene Sperling and Robert Rubin. I'd seen many of them in action and I knew they were brilliant. Yet, at heart, in my experience they have proven themselves arrogant pragmatists capable of anything to get a short-term win.

Winning in politics is important, but you win in order to accomplish something -- not the other way around.

Slowly, layer after layer of Hillary Clinton's Democratic skin began to peel off, like those of an onion. You know how onions make you cry? That was my response.

She'd been for Goldwater? She voted for the war in Iraq and still thought that was the correct vote? She was proud of what she'd done during the Clinton Administration?

She sure wasn't seeking my vote.

Now comes a real actual crisis -- a fuel price spike that hurts everybody's pocketbook (another post) -- and what does Hillary Clinton do but steal a play right out of the Republican book: let's have a gas tax "holiday."

In a nutshell: this would increase demand and raise prices further. It's the Exxon-BP plan. And, oh -- surprise, surprise -- it's also the McCain plan. It's the immediate gratification many people want.

It's what Barry Goldwater told Meet the Press in 1973, during that other oil crisis. I was watching that day and I remember him saying: "I want what every American wants: to go up the pump and say 'fill 'er up.' "

That's not what a great president says.

Great leaders are capable of offering "blood, sweat, toil and tears" (Winston Churchill) and proposing that we ask what we can do for our country (John Kennedy) or remind us that it's "fear itself" that we must fear (Franklin Roosevelt) -- and still have people eager to follow.

Leadership is the capacity to step ahead of the crowd and take it to new places, to become better people. Leaders help us abolish slavery, embrace the 8-hour day, end racial discrimination and feed the hungry among us.

Hillary Clinton has met her first real life challenge as a presidential leader -- escalating gas prices in an economic slowdown -- and has failed abysmally by setting aside sound economic policy to pander shamelessly to the crowd with the opposing party's all-purpose solution: cut taxes.

This is not a matter of what she wears on her lapel or what church she goes to or with whom she has sex -- all utterly irrelevant to the task of choosing a suitable president. At last we have a substantive question about which -- miracle of miracles! -- almost all Americans care.

Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to show the stuff of which she is made. She has failed. She is wrong on the policy substance. She is unpresidential in her response. She is a poll-follower, not a leader. She has failed to show that she is, in the one phrase of Dennis Kucinich's that I loved, "a Democrat from the Democratic wing of the party."

Therefore, to borrow from her prescription on gasoline, I propose that we all take a holiday from the Hillary Clinton candidacy.