Wednesday, January 26, 2011

God Blows a Smoke Ring

I so wanted to watch the State of the Platitudes address last night, but on ESPN 2 there were big European girls playing good tennis in Australia and I just couldn't make my hand move the remote. I'm sure I can read the text if I ever want to give myself an infarction. I do understand from a quick surfing of the Sorosphere that he didn't use the word "unemployment" and also that Michelle Batshit (R-Ohio) covered herself with feces during the rebuttal. I sure hope somebody taped it!

I wish people still did political stand-up as in the days of Mort Sahl. Steven Colbert did it at the White House Press Dinner - once - and they almost sent him to Gitmo. Not funny, the High Broders of the Nation said. They were, of course, as always, wrong.

Free jokes here:

I voted for Obama. I felt he had more principles to abandon.

Who knew that by "Change" they meant he'd change into the schmuck he replaced?
Supernova remnant above is, naturally, from APOD.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Curious Case of Spanker Johnson

Several people told me I should look at the new book Humorists by Paul Johnson, since it has a chapter on a favorite artist of mine, Thomas Rowlandson. So I put it on my Christmas wish list and my sister got it for me. Had I known that the author was a Thatcherite twit I would probably still have read it, but I would done so through inter-library loan. It's actually sort of interesting and informative on some matters, but it is peculiarly deformed in places by the author's own neuroses, including his misogyny. His Reactionary paranoia, is quite evident in the several places where he rails against that Political Correctness which is "fatal to humor." Tories like him always get a little vexed when someone questions their right to piss on the traditional groundlings.

It generally flabbergasts me when people, even people who ought to know better, blithely accept Political Correctness as exclusively left-wing, over-corrective humorlessness, when in fact this kind of fun-police overcorrection functions much more powerfully to suppress critique of the status quo and the power elites. For instance, when people dislike Limbaugh's calling the President "Halfrican," to people like Johnson, they are being too Politically Correct. But when lefties like, arguing quite correctly that he's about to again sell us the "light at the end of the tunnel," make a little pun on Petraeus' name ('General Betray Us'), the Senate, with Democratic support, passes a resolution condemning the pointed and apt satire. Now that's Political Correctness.

You learn on the first day of law school there's no such thing as justice in or out of court, but sometimes there's comeuppance. Paul Johnson's latest got a really fabulous flogging in the New York Times Book Review, wherein the author, Neil Genzlinger, did his readership another real service: he reminded us of a Salon article where Christopher Hitchens took the Tory douchebag apart, for being simultaneously a philandering fetishist and champion of "family values."

This was apparently before Hitch swooned over Bush in his flight-pajamas and decided that women aren't funny, so it's also sort of doubly instructive. It reminds us of two elusive truths: that assholes sometimes do good deeds, and that as we grow older we do not necessarily grow wiser.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Irrefutable Is Always Tautological

Here at the Ministry of Elegance I've been reading and pondering deeply on the aesthetic significance of humor. I had just about figured it all out, in the process discovering a simple, elegant theory that Grandly Unified Everything (metaphysics, religion, aesthetics, history, psychology, economics and Finnegans Wake) and then I happened upon this few seconds of video amazement.

One Grand Unifying Theory shot totally to hell.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are All Equivalences False?

No one could have predicted that despite the fact that a Democrat was targeted for assassination after years of unhinged but extremely profitable vitriol from the Reactionaries, that the lesson taken from the incident would be that both sides need to tone down their rhetoric. The comPost's Dana Milbank reminds us that several years ago people were saying very rude things about the Bush administration -- imagine! just because they were grifters, cowards and war criminals some very lowminded people disrespected the Bushies. And this is basically the equivalent of drawing crosshairs on your political opponents and raving about how their empathy menaces the American Way.

But seriously, it's really, really simple. One side thinks violence is totally righteous -- they're all for any kind of war, weapons system, capital punishment, police brutality, tasers, guns for everyone, torture wherever necessary, troops on the border and keeping the black and brown down generally, death to abortionists etc.; one side passionately espouses violent sport and every other kind of macho mayhem, and one side is a lot more skeptical about all that stuff. Moreover it's the violence-loving side that predominates today in the military, among the cops, the corporations, and the courts. So it seeems to me there is a lot more danger -- to basically everybody in the world -- from the American Right, and inherently a lot more menace in their heated rhetoric. The idea that there are, as always 'abuses on both sides,' is as usual, bullshit, a trivial fact in service to the large and heinous lie.

Mr. Fish "sample" is from Harper's.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Truth is subjectivity.

"Subjectivity is truth, subjectivity is reality," Soren Kierkegaard concludes koänically in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript. One could spend years trying to understand what he might have meant by this claim, so surprising in an age (1846, to be exact) increasingly and rightly enraptured with Science. (The Origin of Species would come just 13 years later.) Indeed, some of us have reflected on this notion for the decades since our undergraduate acquaintance with it.

Certainly, one aspect of Kierkegaard's view on the matter is that knowledge is predicated first of all in self-knowledge, from the Delphic γνῶθι σεαυτόν. He seems quite aware of how what we now call "audience consideration" inherently tends to warp our formulations of the truth. He uses, somewhat ironically, Lear's Cordelia an an exemplar of true love, "She loves, and keeps silent." Baudrillard says something similar, "If you say, I love you, then you have already fallen in love with language, which is already a form of break up and infidelity." So -- we must consider not only the apparent facts of any case and what they may lead us to believe, but also why we might wish to believe it, and especially why we might wish to state the case so.

But Kierkegaard was not embracing Berkelian Idealism or Eastern obsessively inward spirituality (though there are certianly parallels between his method and that of Zen). He believed there was an objective reality, right and wrong belief about the world and its history, and that one could grasp the truth about it. He just thought that insofar as that truth was easy or safe to apprehend it was trivial. It was true, but not the Truth.

But, as I have said before, he also believed that the strength of a conviction was inversely proportional to its publicity -- and this fact has its subjective and its objective aspects. The brilliant insight, or even the fervent narrative, can be a startling, powerful, and heretical revelation; but once it's broadly accepted, or ossified into dogma, it becomes trivial, just wallpaper. Thus Christianity was stunningly powerful when it was new, dubious and suppressed, just as was Mormonism. But as these things get mainstreamed they become less powerful. True, there are today a billion soi-dissante Christians in the world, but what a deal of palatial apparatus and non-stop propagandizing it takes to keep them going through their somnambulistic motions. And do any of them think Christianity requires the emulation of Christ or even the following of his precepts? As religions go it's a zombie, operationally undead -- and was even when Kierkeggard was railing against it.

In any case, what prompted this particular meditation was an intersting article in New Yorker The Truth Wears Out which bears Kierkegaard's maxim out quite nicely. From dubious premises, through slipshod methodology to questionable results and foregone conclusions, that's the way modern science (especially medicine and the social sciences) increasingly operates.

The lovely picture above comes to us courtesy APOD (click for better view), where science produces beauty.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

I Can't Watch!

I'm still off news. Soon I'll have a ninety day-chip! And I feel some real mental health effects, or at least some distance from my daily consumption of Truthiness. I've long noted that the morning newspaper is really just a textual hypnotic, an addictive distraction precisely like soap opera, or a sports team's season, missed acutely like a cigarette when it's not on the stoop in the morning, but habit aside, not needed at all.
The news people insist that they're superior to bloggers becuase they deal in "fact," but they really deal in stories, stories which, like any, must be constructed according to the aesthetics of fiction in order to sell.

Their stories must have conflict, antagonists, heavvies/heroes, bullies, underdogs, or perhaps just (especially?) well-matched teams, and of course scores. Score must be kept somehow in numbers: dollars, votes, fatalities, degrees fahrenheit, acres underwater or on fire, et cetera, et cetera. What they call facts are really what the practitioners of fiction sees as "authenticating detail" -- that which charms the reader into suspending disbelief.

I used to try to tell my students this back when I lectured in Contemporary Literature but they mostly stared at me like I was speaking Swahili. What, the news not real? Next Professor X will be telling us God is dead! If their faith in our Free Press were to be undermined, why... where would it end? That might mean... Free Markets don't regulate themselves!

Still, the fact remains, and seems clearer to me the less I drink from the firehose of "news" that spews 24/7, that most of it is precisely authentic as professional wrestling, and its practitioners deserve no more respect than the steroid-freaks and ringmasters of WWF.