Monday, November 5, 2012

Barack Obama Does Not Care About Black People

If there's one thing Fox News has always believed in, it's government help for people in public housing. I can't make the video embed, so here's the link:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Whence? Whither?

But Paradise Lost excited different and far deeper emotions. I read it, as I had read the other volumes which had fallen into my hands, as a true history. It moved every feeling of wonder and awe that the picture of an omnipotent God warring with his creatures was capable of exciting.
--From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

            Humankind made its first discovered lasting mark of genius thirty-five thousand years ago--a blink in the geological day; roughly seventeen Julius Caesars back as the time flies.  Its subsequent search for distraction is to thank for the good ideas of Western Civilization. 
God deserves some credit too--fear in a supernatural power behind the nomadic chieftan’s tent must have helped align primitive hierarchies.  However, even the earliest social stabilizing ‘Thou Shalt Not’-s could only be enforced by the nascent state (with the help of a material Spirit common in all places in all times to all men who are not psychopaths).  A jealous Yahweh might have persuaded a potential murderer here and a cautious adulterer there to restrain his property polluting impulses, but after a few hundred years of demonstrable unfairness and injustice, only a God who ‘works in mysterious ways’ could remain believable.  And yet, humankind’s tacit agreement to an imperfect social contract made God’s invention no less necessary.    
More compelling than the divine accountant of misdeeds is that pie in the sky distraction numbering every hair on Jimmy’s head, saving Sarah from climate change, filling Fyodor with some senseless wonder, honoring Herschel a homeland, accepting Ahmed’s five times daily chanting yoga, promising Padma that she can come back next time as a real lotus flower, and comforting Chan through the sixteen-hour shift in the EPZ distracting him from the nonexistence of the God that... Such delusions are among the most pleasant available options for getting through another day; however, the anti-empiricist insistence of Gods’ most distracted disciples too often alters His (or Her, or Its) various One True Church sufficiently to alienate differently-abled consciousnesses. These need a different distraction. 
No Godless man could endure to the end of his sentience without Wine.  Alcohol is so compelling an answer that poets and economists are left to argue over which came first, the fermentation or the grain, though whether the civilization-inducing domestication of agriculture preceded the first still or the seventh still demanded the organized production of ever more distilland, the only near certainty is that those thirty-five-thousand-year-old horse painters must have been smoking something--and the artists among them no less than the hunters who kept them in meat and the females who kept the cave clean.
Which brings us to the true seed of civilization: the species-perpetuating distraction: male sexuality--along with bellyfat storage and heritable melanin, an evolutionary vestige wholly incompatible with religion, reason, and the post-industrial human condition.  Exhibit A: As C.S. Lewis justified the ways of Yahweh to Twentieth Century Man, the birth of a child at every male’s desired orgasm would overpopulate his dominion in a matter of minutes; thus, the unceasing desire to orgasm must be a divine temptation installed only to be overcome en route to Heaven.  Exhibit B: As any naturalist would explain it, small, slow, infantly mortal homo erectus’ survival through a few million years of natural selection would not have been possible without meat protein over every fire and a sticky seed in every uterus.  Regardless of the ultimate truth and moving along the geological blink to within just a few Melchizedeks of Attilla the Hun: art, science, and industry would be unimaginable in a world where comparatively small, slow males possessed no desire to compete sexually.  
What? The material betterment of mankind is not reason enough?  Ask the overfed, overmedicated, underemployed North American male how he feels about a dollar-for-dollar standard of living unimaginable to anyone born even a Jules Verne before; he will gladly trade his air-conditioned home for the adobe room of the poorest quadrigymous medieval Mohammedan.     
But perhaps a few of the wealth-generating innovations introduced during the past George Washington really were dreamed up by Huxleyan intellectuals (i.e., people who really had discovered something more interesting than sex; not to be confused with people just sublimating the frustrations of too many wasted Saturday nights at the ale house).  Perhaps, sure, but this tiny minority goes less often by the title of “intellectual” than by the appellation of “Saint.”
Indeed.  What act of a man could engender more praise from his fellow men than the voluntary self-removal from that race to truck and barter the extra mile, a race that affords comparatively small, slow, certain-minded males the opportunity to obtain that little-bit-more than his neighbor, a surplus not to be enjoyed by him but by the neighbor’s wife’s ass that his neighbor ‘Shalt Not Covet’?  Every other available distraction--from football to philosophy--is only a means of furthering or forgetting the pursuit of that seven-to-ten minutes’ extremely expensive (and, too often, anticlimactic) gratification.  Externalities vary.
And all of this is probably for the best, even if the autobiographical prophet of psycho-sexual drive himself misapplied the Literature.  For as Oedipus unsurprisingly shows that a man will fuck a woman old enough to be his mother, a true kindred finds the proto-Hamlet hero's true complex in his undistracted pursuit of Truth.  His courage to spelunk the awaiting abyss and, finding no answers, to continue deeper step by step, is both his story and his pathology.  It is incurable and can be managed only with not-too-frequent dosages of cranberry chocolate-chip pancake.  But for most, fictions are preferable; the Thousand and One Nights had it right: when the stories are exhausted, it’s all over. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remove Your Shoes

Going first person here.  I’m totally in favor of symbolic victories, and so, without even apophastically questioning bin Laden’s recent operational importance, I happily watched stately anchor after failed actor awkwardly iterate his or her three or four sentence synopsis of Sunday evening’s importance as The White House inexplicably appeared to have procrastinated in its completion of the easiest ten minute Presidential (getting-well-past)-primetime address to the nation ever.  That said, all this celebration of a bullet to the head as “Payback” only betrays the hopelessly impoverished collective imagination of any country that “does not torture.” 

For while reliable reports suggest that bin Laden the man stared into the abyss with somewhat less bravado than Saddam Hussein the Stalinist or Ceausescu the Vampire, it is difficult to imagine bin Laden the fanatical caricature dying in any less than Gandhian tranquility.  Thus, imagining that for some people some things are worse than death, I had my own fantasies for bin Laden the idiot.  Having defeated Communism and bankrupted Capitalism, just three months ago this idiot might have gone into his seventy-two virgins confident of ultimate historical vindication.  Then democratic, peaceful, coed assembly defeated a Western-backed dictator in Tunisia.  Then in Egypt.  Then it made efforts in less hopeful police states.  Recalling the eleven years of civil war and slave trading that separate “Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff” from “We the People” and extrapolating similar revolutionary fits and martyrs to our North African expectations, a bullet even three months from Sunday may have left the idiot feeling similarly vindicated.  How divine the foresight of Obama to shoot bin Laden in a head at its nadir of relevance, thus obviating my imaginative fantasy to treat the manacled terrorist to a full tin of halal lamb-over-rice in Zuccotti Park less than thirty minutes before a swim in the nearby Park 51 Islamic Community Center’s coed deep end!  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Leadership

Leadership is that capacity which inspires a following.  Not gathers.  Not reasons.  Not convinces.  Inspires.  Socrates was a poor leader, and Jesus.  These were teachers.  Socrates lives only because--even after being executed by the majority--one of his few adherents happened to be a literary genius, Jesus because--even after being executed by the majority--his small band garbled the message sufficiently for a Leader--Paul--to reduce it to soundbites.  
A leader may still be right, just, or correct. Soviet dissidents probably were; American Communists certainly weren’t; both genuinely believed in the power of contrarian visions to cure the pathologies of their respective motherlands--to similarly disappointing effect.  A random walk from reality suggests that the Leader most likely will be though almost certainly will not be reasonable. A capacity to reason and discern erodes the confidence of others, and only with absolute confidence in one’s powers can a person inspire a following.  Yet, the rightness of the prospective Leader’s unequivocal message remains a factor.  Most men are probably more likely to turn themselves over to a cause or idea that comports to the world their parents bequeathed them.  For this reason, leaders who find themselves on the side that a majority of men in most times and in most places would consider to be more right or good may inspire a following disproportionate to their natural gifts, thus skewing the scorecard of history.  
However, a search for a suitable example has stolen five minutes of typing time without offering a single archetype--neither Nat Turner nor John Brown could round up more than a few dozen righteous fanatics; General Dwight D. Eisenhower was lucky enough to direct an army against absolute evil, something nobody on the Allied side really could have know until after the war (were there Churchillian voices as early as 1933? Yes, most of them singing a song learned from their parents in 1914, their parents having learned it from their parents in 1870, and so on back to Joshua’s conquest of The Land); Lincoln was really too sensible to lead, though his is a nice example of self amusement combining with industrial capacity to eventually defeat passionately intense Leadership.  
Let us pause here.  Again, a clear message falling somewhere to the happy side of generally accepted mores of morality ought to prove compelling enough to restrain most peoples from killing themselves and others--this can hardly be reckoned unto their Kings and Presidents as Leadership.  Only those so consistent and convincing, so committed and blind that they inspire a change of anticipated course, can safely be classified as Leaders.  Often, we in The West call such men Monsters.  Stalin, completely convinced of History’s destination, inspired in children sufficient conviction for them to climb watchtowers and shoot at those of their parasitic parents sufficiently starving to attempt an escape from the Kolkhoz.  Mao marched his followers across a continent, then, even a decade later, retained the capacity to compel them to compel a few hundred million peasants to beat their plowshares into smelters, weeding out a few million more parasitic tares.  Hitler could convince the heirs of Goethe, Schiller, and Kant that--even if it looked like a human being, talked (in the case of 3% of them, in German even!) like a human being, walked like a human being, trucked and bartered and ate and sexed and shat like a human being--any humanoid that ceased its study at the the book of Matthew was in fact a parasite.  This--the willingness and ability to inspire comparatively large numbers of men to do what they otherwise would not--is Leadership.  (Not to be confused with a few dodos flocking together; the president of the Flat Earth Society is not a leader.)

Q: What, besides a capacity for single-mindedness, makes a Leader?  
A: Beyond much natural charisma and blind confidence, very little.  

Q: What, then, makes for single-mindedness?  
A: The incapacity to think a thought’s opposite; the emotional immaturity to find any honesty in all opponents’ arguments; a bland curiosity sated with repetitive soundbites.  

Q: By definition then, are all Leaders idiots?  
A: Heavens no--one can ace the ACT and LSAT, buy into the bourgeoisie, make millions of computer-screen dollars, and raise successful children, all without any capacity for critical thought.  

Q: By definition then, are all leaders smart?  
A: Relative to the common man, yes; relative to anyone tolerant enough to read this far, no.  

Q: Happy is the man intelligent enough to manipulate the common man while ingenuous enough to remain convinced of his own indispensable goodness?  
A: Yes, and well remunerated too.  

Q: Do leaders do anything useful?  
A: Absolutely.  If not for the devout Christian oil executive’s dual conviction that an Invisible Hand guides the human proclivity to truck and barter towards the most efficient use of all resources (as evidenced by his own annual compensation) and that a Still Small Spirit  remains ready to return on a Flaming Chariot when the Time comes, humankind would have no hope of surviving the next meteor.  True, depleted soils and a thickening atmosphere and proliferating arsenals might prematurely doom the human biological accident to extinction, but without the capacity to imagine that perhaps the universe is nothing more than a timeless, expanding collection of atoms that may in a few billion years collapse back in on itself, the Yahweh-fearing oil executive drives his fellow man to confront the sorts of existential crises that may well prepare him to innovate his way out of the next millennium’s approaching asteroid, if not--if necessary--the next score billion years’ cosmic collapse.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Obligatory Pre-9/11 Post

"A nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to stage what it calls the “International Burn a Qur’an Day.” Led by the evangelical pastor Terry Jones, a 58-year-old firebrand, the Dove World Outreach Centre wants to burn copies of the Qur’an “ to raise awareness and to warn…about the teaching and ideology of Islam,” according to a statement on the church’s website...

...If Jones wished to garner global attention for his actions, he got exactly that, but maybe not the kind he bargained for. He admits that he has received fewer than $1,000 in support of his planned protest....

...Christian organizations in the US have decried Jones and his church. The National Association of Evangelicals, the largest evangelical umbrella group, called Jones to cancel the event: “The NAE calls on its members to cultivate relationships of trust and respect with our neighbours of other faiths. God created human beings in his image, and therefore all should be treated with dignity and respect," it said in a statement." 

While extremist ratings-drivers garner a disproportionate share of media attention, it is encouraging to see how little support exists for such antics even within Jones' own congregation.  When the cameras roll on Saturday, Desultory Eclecticism naively hopes: 1) that a reasonable share of 61% of Americans has the critical capacity to call a native Christian extremist an unrepresentative idiot; 2) that this reasonable share then extrapolates the likely existence of a similarly radical fringe in other religions; 3) that the reasonable share goes on to wonder if, perhaps, 19 suicide bombers may be a rather inadequate synecdochic mascot for the world's 1.4ish billion nominal Muslims; and 4) that a representative sample of the reasonable share goes on to reflect on this enlightening train of thought the next time it is asked for an opinion on the construction of a swimming pool in lower Manhattan.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Silly Season in Politics and the English Language

Some textual excerpts from the below NPR story:
  • "…but his message about the gulf and his attempts to talk about the economy: completely overshadowed by the President’s remarks about the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York…"
  • "…and by Saturday, when he was on the Gulf Coast, he said ‘um, well I didn’t say it was wise to build the mosque; I didn’t say that they should build the mosque; I just said that they had the right to do it…’”
  • "…the problem for the President is more than 60% of the people in the polls say that the mosque should not be built…"

Desultory Eclecticism has, over the course of time, made several regrettable decisions; one of these aforementioned regrettable decisions placed it in Cairo for five consecutive mid-July days.  Sweatily assuming that all good Egyptian Muslims would be both devoutly eager to surrept its saved Christian soul and insidiously willing to cater to its decadent Western vices in the process, Desultory Eclecticism donned flip flops and a Speedo and entered every spired/crescent mooned/domed building in the greater megalopolis area.  In not one did it encounter a single Imamish Mohammedan with the avuncular courtesy to so much as direct it to the water slide.  Only after much embarrassment did Desultory Eclecticism learn that mosques are among the less appealing hang-out spots among God's several houses.

Which is why, empathetic to their error, Desultory Eclecticism was so excited to explain to NPR, Cable News, Newt Gingrich et al, and all of those protesters down at 51 Park, that the proposed Cordoba House, with its swimming pools and utter-lack-of-the-sort-of-prominent-Hollywood-based-support-that-would-have-allowed-this-sentence-to-cleverly-and-smoothly-proceed, appears in fact actually not be much of a mosque at all.

Nobody really listened.  Even the alleged Secret Muslim President has conceded the semantics of the debate with his “I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision, uh, to put a mosque there…” and such.

Without getting into all of the Muslim=suicide bomber and Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf=Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf=Mahmoud Ahmadinejad business, Desultory Eclecticism concedes the last word to the last bastion of reason:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Municipal Land-Use Hearing Update
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

First Person Update: Waiting in line to board a train yesterday evening at Chicago's Union Station, I found myself making small-talk with a friendly Arkansan.  When it came out that I lived in Manhattan, he asked what I thought of the Ground Zero Mosque.  I told him I didn't really have a problem with it.  He asserted, very clearly, "Well I'm against it!"  I responded that it was less a mosque than a Muslim Y (and it would look like this, not, say, this).  He, somewhat surprisingly, asked, "Really? I didn't know about all that.  Well, I don't have a TV.  I guess maybe I don't know that much about it."  I suggested that a TV probably wouldn't have helped much.  We arrived at, "Why is everybody making such a big deal of this?"  Why indeed.  

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Death of a Bureaucrat

One fine evening a no less fine civil servant, Ivan Dmitrich Chervyakov, sat in a second row seat watching the show through opera glasses. He felt himself at the height of bliss, when suddenly (in stories one frequently encounters such "when suddenly(s)", and the authors are right: life is full of surprises), suddenly his face wrinkled up, his eyes rolled back, his breathing stopped, he lowered his opera glasses, he doubled over, and...AAAAHHH-choo! He sneezed, as is evident. A sneeze--by any man, in any place--cannot be prevented. Peasants sneeze. And police commissioners. Sometimes even privy counsellors. Everybody sneezes. Thus Chervyakov, not in the least embarrassed, wiped his nose with a handkerchief and, being a polite person, glanced about. Had anyone been disturbed by his sneezing? Here arrives the embarrassment: he watched as an old gentleman, sitting in front of him, in the first row of seats, diligently applied to his bald head a handkerchief, muttering something to himself. In the old gentleman, Chervyakov recognized Department of Transport Civil General Brizzhalov.

"I've thoroughly splattered him!" thought Chervyakov. "He's a stranger, not my boss, but this is awkward nonetheless. An apology is in order."

Chervyakov cleared his throat, leaned his body forward, and whispered into the General's ear, "Pardon me, thy Excellency, I have thoroughly splattered thou...I accidentally...”

"Never mind, never mind..."

"Good God, excuse me. I just...I didn't intend to!"

"Oh, sit thee down please! Let me listen!"

Chervyakov, even more embarrassed, smiled idiotically and gazed at the stage. He watched, but he no longer felt blissful. He was haunted with unease. At the intermission he walked up to Brizzhalov, followed closely behind him and, overcoming his shyness, mumbled along: "I thoroughly splattered thou, thy Excellency...forgive's wasn't intended to..."

"Oh that's enough...I'd already forgotten, yet thou goest on about it!" said the General with an impatient twitching in his lower lip.

"He's forgotten, yet there's acrimony in his very eye," thought Chervyakov, suspiciously giving the General a good looking over. "He does not want to talk, but I really ought to explain to him that I really did not mean to...that it is a law of nature, or else he'll think that I intended to spit on him. He may not think so now, but later, thinking it over...!"

Arriving home, Chervyakov told his wife of the unpleasantness. His wife, it seemed to him, interpreted the event too light-mindedly. Initially she was startled, but soon, realizing that Brizzhalov was but a "stranger", she calmed down.

"Nonetheless you should go and apologize," said she, "or else he'll think you can't handle yourself in public."

"That's just it! I did apologize, but he took it somewhat strangely...He didn't speak a single sensible word. And yet there wasn't time to talk all it out."

The next day Chervyakov put on a new uniform, got a haircut, and set off to explain himself to Brizzhalov. Upon entering the General's reception room, he observed there many petitioners, and among the petitioners was the General himself, who had already begun receiving requests. Having questioned several supplicants, the General now raised his eyes on Chervyakov.

"Yesterday at the 'Arcadia', perhaps thy Excellency remembers," the middling bureaucrat began his report, "I sneezed, sir, accident splattered...forgi..."

"Such trifles...God knows it! Now what can I do for thee?" the General addressed the next petitioner.

"He doesn't want to talk!" thought Chervyakov, turning pale. "He's angry, it means...No, this cannot stand...I will explain it to him..."

When the General finished chatting with the final petitioner, he set off for the inner rooms of the apartment. Chervyakov paced behind him and mumbled: "Thy Excellency! If I may be so bold as to trouble thy Excellency, this comes only from a longing, if I may say so, for repentance!...Unintentional it was, if you will but deign to believe me, sir!”

The General assumed a lachrymose face, waved his hand, hid himself behind a closing door, and dismissed Chervyakov: "Why, you must be ribbing me, my good man."

"What is there possibly to make fun of?" pondered Chervyakov. "There is absolutely nothing laughable here! A General, and yet he can't seem to understand! If such is the case I can no longer stand to beg forgiveness of this fanfaron! The devil take him! I'll write a letter but shall come to him no more! By God I won't!"

So thought Chervyakov walking home, but the letter to the General was never written. Chervyakov thought and he thought, yet he never thought out that letter. He arrived next day to explain himself in person.

"Yesterday I ventured to disturb thy Excellency," he began mumbling when the General raised upon him inquiring eyes, "not for the purpose of humor, as thou deigneth to say. I was apologizing for that, which, sneezing, I splattered thee, sir...and to jest never occurred to me. How could I make fun? If we were to stoop to joking between us, why, it would be the end of respect between persons...such could not be..."

"Away with you!!" barked the suddenly shaking, purpling General.

"What, sir?" whispered Chervyakov, numb with horror.

"Away with you!!" repeated the General, stomping his foot.

In Chervyakov's stomach something snapped. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing, he backed himself to the door, exited onto the street, and floundered along. Arriving home, he mechanically removed his uniform, lay down, and died.

trans. Michael Wasiura