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Week in Review

The presidential election was, naturally, the biggest story of the week. Predictions of a major change at the top were proven wrong as America held its first status-quo election in nearly a decade, returning to Washington a Democratic President, Democratic Senate and Republican House. But that doesn’t mean that the election was meaningless; a number of important decisions were made further down the ballot. In California, the Democrats won a supermajority in the state legislature, while Governor Jerry Brown’s tax hikes on the rich cruised to victory at the polls. But the victory for the blue coalition in the Golden State was not repeated elsewhere, as Michigan delivered a major rebuke to two pro-union measures despite massive spending and campaigning by the unions.

In Asia, meanwhile, tensions in the China Seas have continued to mount with China and Japan squaring off over disputed islands. Japan has been particularly active this week, forging closer ties with India, Taiwan and America and taking a more active role in the Game of Thrones. China, for its part has had a rough time of it this week. In addition to concerns in Beijing about the results of the US election, the Communist Party has also had to deal with widespread protests in Tibet, new revelations in the Bo Xilai scandal, behind-the-scenes jockeying ahead of the leadership change, and increasing competition from Vietnam. And not to be outdone by America’s election, outgoing President Hu Jintao made waves of his own when he called for a more democratic process for selecting the country’s leaders.

Europe held few surprises this week, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened. With Germany’s economy sputtering, many are now worried that Europe may be headed for a “fiscal cliff” of its own. Meanwhile, the IMF and the Eurozone are butting heads over yet another Greek bailout, and the continent looks no closer to solving its problems than it has at any time in the past year.

Finally, the latest news this week is the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus following the revelation of an extramarital affair with his biographer. Although the details haven’t fully come out yet, the story reveals the hypocrisy of a society which penalizes its leaders for extramarital affairs while handing a free pass to the porn industry:

What these stories from the military-industrial and pornography-industrial complexes have in common is the irrational state of contemporary American sexual mores. At one level, anything goes: we can have a billion dollar adult film industry in Los Angeles County alone with a lobbying association and a PAC all to itself. And these ‘adult films’ take, shall we say, a very broadminded attitude about the types of sexual scenarios and activities that are suitable for filming, guided one presumes by the tastes of the audience. At another level, in a time of serious terror threat we publicly shame and ritually fire the very successful head of our intelligence agency when an affair comes to light and we disqualify a capable executive and throw the management of a major public corporation into turmoil because he had an affair with someone else who worked there.

We are simultaneously the most licentious and sexually open society since Nero was fiddling around in Rome, and the most uptight and rigid country this side of Saudi Arabia. Our social judgements and tolerance about sexual behavior swing back and forth between the views of the Marquis de Sade and those of Cotton Mather depending on complex and ever changing calculations.

As far as I can make out, the authorities American society listens to most on the subject of sex are Hugh Hefner and Gloria Steinem. We combine, somehow, a pleasure seeking hook up culture with a feminist puritanism that takes us back to the 19th century bluestockings, and the line between the libertine and the bluestocking in our culture is constantly shifting and highly politicized.

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