Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Kiss of Life

This is an interesting article on the historical origins of the Kiss..


SINCE it's Valentine's Day, let's dwell for a moment on the profoundly bizarre activity of kissing. Is there a more expressive gesture in the human repertoire?

When parents kiss their children it means one thing, but when they kiss each other it means something entirely different. People will greet a total stranger with a kiss on the cheek, and then use an identical gesture to express their most intimate feelings to a lover. The mob kingpin gives the kiss of death, Catholics give the "kiss of peace," Jews kiss the Torah, nervous flyers kiss the ground, and the enraged sometimes demand that a kiss be applied to their hindquarters. Judas kissed Jesus, Madonna kissed Britney, a gambler kisses the dice for luck. Someone once even kissed a car for 54 hours straight.

Taxonomists of the kiss have long labored to make sense of its many meanings. The Romans distinguished among the friendly oscula, the loving basia and the passionate suavia. The 17th-century polymath Martin von Kempe wrote a thousand-page encyclopedia of kissing that recognized 20 different varieties, including "the kiss bestowed by superiors on inferiors" and "the hypocritical kiss." The German language has words for 30 different kinds of kisses, including nachküssen, which is defined as a kiss "making up for kisses that have been omitted." (The Germans are also said to have coined the inexplicable phrase "A kiss without a beard is like an egg without salt.") How did a single act become a medium for so many messages?

There are two possibilities: Either the kiss is a human universal, one of the constellation of innate traits, including language and laughter, that unites us as a species, or it is an invention, like fire or wearing clothes, an idea so good that it was bound to metastasize across the globe.

Scientists have found evidence for both hypotheses. Other species engage in behavior that looks an awful lot like the smooch (though without its erotic overtones), which implies that kissing might be just as animalistic an impulse as it sometimes feels. Snails caress each other with their antennae, birds touch beaks, and many mammals lick each other's snouts. Chimpanzees even give platonic pecks on the lips. But only humans and our lascivious primate cousins the bonobos engage in full-fledged tongue-on-tongue tonsil-hockey.

Even though all of this might suggest that kissing is in our genes, not all human cultures do it. Charles Darwin was one of the first to point this out. In his book "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," he noted that kissing "is replaced in various parts of the world by the rubbing of noses." Early explorers of the Arctic dubbed this the Eskimo kiss. (Actually, it turns out the Inuit were not merely rubbing noses, they were smelling each other's cheeks).

All across Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, we find cultures that didn't know about mouth kissing until their first contact with European explorers. And the attraction was not always immediately apparent. Most considered the act of exchanging saliva revolting. Among the Lapps of northern Finland, both sexes would bathe together in a state of complete nudity, but kissing was regarded as beyond the pale.

To this day, public kissing is still seen as indecent in many parts of the world. In 1990, the Beijing-based Workers' Daily advised its readers that "the invasive Europeans brought the kissing custom to China, but it is regarded as a vulgar practice which is all too suggestive of cannibalism."

If kissing is not universal, then someone must have invented it. Vaughn Bryant, an anthropologist at Texas A&M, has traced the first recorded kiss back to India, somewhere around 1500 B.C., when early Vedic scriptures start to mention people "sniffing" with their mouths, and later texts describe lovers "setting mouth to mouth." From there, he hypothesizes, the kiss spread westward when Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C.

The Romans were inveterate kissers, and along with Latin, the kiss became one of their chief exports. Not long after, early Christians invented the notion of the ritualistic "holy kiss" and incorporated it into the Eucharist ceremony. According to some cultural historians, it is only within the last 800 years, with the advent of effective dentistry and the triumph over halitosis, that the lips were freed to become an erogenous zone.

For Freud, kissing was a subconscious return to suckling at the mother's breast. Other commentators have noted that the lips bear a striking resemblance to the labia, and that women across the world go to great lengths to make their lips look bigger and redder than they really are to simulate the appearance of sexual arousal, like animals in heat.

A few anthropologists have suggested that mouth kissing is a "relic gesture," with evolutionary origins in the mouth-to-mouth feeding that occurred between mother and baby in an age before Gerber and still takes place in a few parts of the world today. It can hardly be a coincidence, they note, that in several languages the word for kissing is synonymous with pre-mastication, or that "sweet" is the epithet most commonly applied to kisses.

But kissing may be more closely linked to our sense of smell than taste. Almost everyone has a distinct scent that is all one's own. Some people can even recognize their relatives in a dark room simply by their body odor (some relatives more than others). Kissing could have begun as a way of sniffing out who's who. From a whiff to a kiss was just a short trip across the face.

Whatever its origins, kissing seems to be advantageous. A study conducted during the 1980's found that men who kiss their wives before leaving for work live longer, get into fewer car accidents, and have a higher income than married men who don't. So put down this newspaper and pucker up. It does a body good.

Joshua Foer is working on a book about the science of memory.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Ex-Gay Cowboys

Since I've been busy in school and haven't posted in awhile, I thought I'd put up an interesting op-ed piece.


FIRST, a little of that full disclosure stuff: I have not actually seen "Brokeback Mountain" or "End of the Spear," both of which I'm going to discuss here.

But since when did not seeing a film prevent anyone from sharing his or her strong opinions about it? Before the posters for "Brokeback Mountain" were even printed, everyone from the blogger Mickey Kaus to the Concerned Women for America to gay men all over the country had already said a lot about the film. (Their opinions were, respectively, con, con and pro.)

So, let's get to it: Remember when straight actors who played gay were the ones taking a professional risk? Those days are over. Shortly after Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, both straight, received Oscar nominations for playing gay cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain," conservative Christians were upset when they learned that a gay actor, Chad Allen, was playing a straight missionary in "End of the Spear."

"End of the Spear" tells what happened after five American missionaries were murdered in 1956 by a tribe in Ecuador. Instead of seeking retribution, the missionaries' families reached out to the tribe, forgave the killers and eventually converted them to Christianity. An evangelical film company, Every Tribe Entertainment, brought the story to the screen. In a glowing review, Marcus Yoars, a film critic for Focus on the Family, noted that the "martyrdom" of the slain missionaries has "inspired thousands if not millions of Christians." But after conservatives took a closer look at the cast list, the protests began. Many felt Chad Allen's presence in the film negated any positive message.

The pastors claim they're worried about what will happen when their children rush home from the movies, Google Chad Allen's name, and discover that he's a "gay activist." ("Gay activist" is a term evangelicals apply to any homosexual who isn't a gay doormat.) They needn't be too concerned. Straight boys who have unsupervised access to the Internet aren't Googling the names of middle-aged male actors gay or straight — not when Paris Hilton's sex tapes are still out there.

Frankly, I can't help but be perplexed by the criticisms of Mr. Allen from the Christian right. After all, isn't playing straight what evangelicals have been urging gay men to do?

That's precisely what Jack and Ennis attempt to do in "Brokeback Mountain" — at least, according to people I know who have actually seen the film. These gay cowboys try, as best they can, to quit one another. They marry women, start families. But their wives are crushed when they realize their husbands don't, and can't, ever really love them. "Brokeback Mountain" makes clear that it would have been better for all concerned if Jack and Ennis had lived in a world where they could simply be together.

That world didn't exist when Jack and Ennis were pitching tents together, but it does now — even in the American West. Today, the tiny and stable percentage of men who are gay are free to live openly, and those who want to settle down and start families can do so without having to deceive some poor, unsuspecting woman.

Straight audiences are watching and loving "Brokeback Mountain" — that's troubling to evangelical Christians who have invested a decade and millions of dollars promoting the notion that gay men can be converted to heterosexuality, or become "ex-gay." It is, they insist, an ex-gay movement, although I've never met a gay man who was moved to join it.

This "movement" demands more from gay men than simply playing straight. Once a man can really pass as ex-gay — once he's got some Dockers, an expired gym membership and a bad haircut — he's supposed to become, in effect, an ex-gay missionary, reaching out to the hostile gay tribes in such inhospitable places as Chelsea and West Hollywood.

What should really trouble evangelicals, however, is this: even if every gay man became ex-gay tomorrow, there still wouldn't be an ex-lesbian tomboy out there for every ex-gay cowboy. Instead, millions of straight women would wake up one morning to discover that they had married a Jack or an Ennis. Restaurant hostesses and receptionists at hair salons would be especially vulnerable.

Sometimes I wonder if evangelicals really believe that gay men can go straight. If they don't think Chad Allen can play straight convincingly for 108 minutes, do they honestly imagine that gay men who aren't actors can play straight for a lifetime? And if anyone reading this believes that gay men can actually become ex-gay men, I have just one question for you: Would you want your daughter to marry one?

Evangelical Christians seem sincere in their desire to help build healthy, lasting marriages. Well, if that's their goal, encouraging gay men to enter into straight marriages is a peculiar strategy. Every straight marriage that includes a gay husband is one Web-browser-history check away from an ugly divorce.

If anything, supporters of traditional marriage should want gay men out of the heterosexual marriage market entirely. And the best way to do that is to see that we're safely married off — to each other, not to your daughters. Let gay actors like Chad Allen only play it straight in the movies.

Dan Savage is the editor of The Stranger, a Seattle newsweekly.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Hey- You- Get out of my womb, and stay out!

I’m watching CNN last night, and they do this segment on the growing number of Americans that are choosing to live a lifestyle without children. More and more adults are marrying without the intention of having kids. I think the stats were reflective of a birthrate of one child per 1,000 adults.

That’s pretty low, I guess, and at that rate, we should be extinct in no time—and I could fill in so many other arguments here about why that may be happening anyway, but I’ll stick to the topic at hand for the sake of continuity.

Now, I’m really listening, because all my life, I’ve never had that ‘maternal urge’ that women talk about, you know, that ‘clock ticking’ discussion. I can remember even my friends in high school talking about wanting kids, and I’m thinking: ‘yuch, I just want a puppy’. But I always attributed that to having a large family and there was always some little kid running around with his runny nose, underfoot, and I assumed I’d grow out of that phase and catch up or whatever.

Never happened. Turns out, now I’m a trend-setter.

And I find, I have no regrets. I don’t feel this pang, this ache, nothing. No emptiness. I’m quite content. I’m not worrying about who’s going to take care of me when I’m old. There’s farms then send old people out to and…nevermind. Different discussion, again.

Anyway, what was interesting was that they were interviewing couples that said they themselves felt like the two of them were complete and made a family and didn’t need children to legitimize that. They were active and busy and fulfilled. Cool. The highest percentage of childless couples is in San Francisco, something like 71%. Whatever, but the trend is spreading and growing. The one woman they interviewed in San Francisco even wrote a book about this. Sorry, but I can’t recall the title. Will blog it later if I remember. And there’s a growing number of blogs and websites for the like-minded. DINK’s blogs?

Naturally, this segment had to be followed by an interview with two individuals of opposing views on the subject. The man was some Evangelical Christian for Families Plus or something [is there any other kind]?
He of course was in favor of everyone having children. Every married couple that is. He felt as if it was their ‘obligation’ and that if they didn’t have kids, they were just being ‘selfish’. He said this was creating a culture of immature people with no real sense of responsibility and eventually this would have a negative impact on us as a nation.—Ooooh, I’m going to try so hard here not to talk about things that are negatively impacting us as a nation right now………..squeezes hands, bites tongue, smacks self on head, counts to ten, exhales deep breath………I’m ok. Stick to topic at hand….

The next interviewee was a woman of opposite predilections. She felt that it was rather selfish to suggest that it was anyone’s obligation to have children. I agree. Having children shouldn’t be an obligation, but a rational choice. Rearing children is such a tremendous responsibility, that in fact if one thinks they’re not up to the task, and recognizes that before a mistake is made that negatively impacts many lives, its better they’re honest with themselves. It was suggested by the various couples interviewed that when their friends with children accused them of being selfish, they countered with the fact they thought people having children were selfish. As in, why do you need a prodigy? And, increasing the population only taxes the resources of the earth, which as custodians of, we haven’t been particularly bright about caring for. Children should be brought into the world only by people who want them. Not because society guilts us into some sense of obligation.

I often think people should stop breeding and adopt more. There’s plenty of kids brought here by no fault of their own, who are unwanted, and are in need of a home. The problem is people don’t really care for children in general or their well-being or welfare. They shop for a kid who looks like them, color, characteristics, ethnicity, etc. Sounds selfish to me. I’d like to institute a program where if you want to have a kid, you’re forced first to adopt a child of an alternative ethnicity or race, than yours. I think it might promote more world peace and understanding of different cultures. Then it wouldn’t be so important to scream Merry Christmas at everyone. We could say Merrpy Hollimas instead and be all inclusive.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's 'Merry' Christmas, not Militant Christmas!

Lately it seems like you can't turn on the tv, read a paper, listen to the radio or get an email where someone isn't complaining that they're not allowed to celebrate Christmas. So many Christians are acting like victims of something, like someone is preventing them from honoring Christmas. I say, no one is preventing you from celebrating or recognizing your holiday, except maybe you, yourself.

My advice is stop watching Fox News Hysterics or listening to Bill O'Reilly poison your mind with this militant crap! Stop wasting time feeling so stepped on and enjoy you damn season. I'm Catholic, and I celebrate Christmas, but so what! I try to keep a spirit of Christmas in my heart and I leave alot of room for others who are not Catholic and who are not celebrating my holiday. I can say Happy Holidays to Jews or Muslims or Wiccans or whatever, and it doesn't diminish my Christmas one little bit.

When did we become so insecure about our beliefs or who we are that we can't allow anyone else a spirit to honor or not honor our beliefs or something different? If I hear one more time, ....'if the so and so blanks don't like Christmas, they can go back to where they came from!!', I'm going to spew!! I want to ask them what Church they learned that in? That's some Christian attitude. I was watching some Christmas holiday shows on the Disney Network last week, when lo and behold, who comes on preaching hatred, but Pat Robertson. I never heard more 'Holier than Thou' pus come out of his mouth, advising people to boycott Walmart because they won't say Merry Christmas!

Now, I'm all for boycotting Walmart, Pat, you bitch, but not for your anemic reasons. How about because they pay shit and lower the national wage for workers, unfairly treat women and minorities, cost Americans their jobs, pay lousy, pretend benefits, are are responsible for putting more Americans on Welfare than any other organization.

And furthermore, Pat, Militant NeoNaziChristian Robertson, Assassination Advocater, I'm not a biblical scholar, but Jesus wasn't even born this time of year. Factually, it was more like spring, early summer, I believe. The Patriarchal Church had to hurry up and slap a Christian Holiday over the Pagans celebrating Yule, on Dec. 21st, so all this fuss and fighting about a holiday that's not even genuine in it's time frame, just makes this argument that much more ridiculous!

Why is it that there's just enough religion in the world to make men fight and wage war against each other, but never enough to make them love one another?

Enjoy your holidays, whatever they may be.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow Day

Yippee!! We just got pummled with about 8 inches of snow last night, with the weatherman promising up to about 5 more between now '9:19 am' and 1 PM, when it' supposed to stop.

The Plow man hasn't even come through my street yet!! Snow men, snow angels, snowball fights, here I come.

Smacks head on desk,....wakes up....what am I saying? Shoveling, slipping, falling, cleaning off cars and trucks and trying to drive to work in it, here I come. Then shoveling out driveway apron, only to have plowman plow you in again.

Death to the PlowMan!!

Doh! I like the first choices better. Think I'll wrap myself around a nice cup of hot cocoa or coffee while I contemplate the snowflakes. It sure makes for a merry Christmas season, anyway. Now I want to bake cookies while listening to Christmas music.

And while I'm still inside cozy, contemplating snowflakes, while I'm at it, I'll also contemplate our friends down in the South who were victims of the Hurricanes, who lost everything and pray somehow they find the Christmas spirit, and that they're ok, as well as our kids fighting over in Iraq, eating sand. I hope and pray they come home soon. Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

50 Years Ago Today

I just thought we should all pause for a moment today to remember the simple act of courage, defiance and dignity committed by Rosa Parks when she refused to move to the back of the bus because the law said she had the wrong skin color. The greatest moments in history, the ones that have truly mattered and have taken us to a better place, are made up of scores of these singular acts by ordinary, everyday people who could no longer tolerate the crap and the nonsense of those in charge.

Today, whether it is a student who holds a sit-in to get the army recruiters off his campus, or the mother of a dead soldier who refuses to leave the front gate of the president's ranch, we continue to be saved by brave people who risk ridicule and rejection but end up turning huge tides of public opinion in the direction of righteousness. We owe them enormous debts of gratitude. It is not easy to stand up for what is right, especially when everyone else is afraid to leave the comfortable path of conformity.

Rosa Parks may have been alone on that bus at the moment of her arrest but she wasn't alone for long. The old order was shaken, the world was upended and, as a people, we were given a chance for a bit of redemption.
Perhaps the best way to celebrate this most important day in American history is to ask yourself what it is that you can do today to make a difference. What risk can you take to move the ball forward? What is that one thing you've been wanting to say to your co-workers or classmates that you've been afraid to say -- but in your heart of hearts you know needs to be said? Why wait another day to say it or do it?
There is probably no better way to honor Rosa Parks -- and yourself -- than for you to put a stop to an injustice you see, not allowing it to continue for one more second. Do something.

Fifty years later, the bus we're on could use a few more people simply saying, "No. I'm sorry. I've had enough. I'm not going to take it anymore."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

And Gone Again

I have the flu, so I'm back in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I hate being sick. Esp. the flu, because it seems to stay with me for such a long time.

And it came on the heels of a cold. That's the part that kills me. I had this stupid cold for over 10 days, and felt punky, and missed the gym, and was just at the tail end of that on Monday, and was going to the gym, when at work around 3:00 pm, I started to feel the muscle aches and get the chills, and sore throat coming on me.

I got home and made some soup, but it just got progressively worse. And you're in so much pain that your eyelashes hurt. God I hate that. I hope this doesn't ruin my Thanksgiving.

I read somewhere that if you put peroxide in your ears, about 1/2 capful for 5-10 minutes, and lay on your side, and just let it bubble up, that will reduce the lenght of your cold/flu. And supposedly if you do it early enough at the onset, you can sidestep an illness.