Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

I always kind of felt that George Carlin’s M.O. was to tear down silly taboos and conceits that separated people from one another, as well as to give voice to some less than flattering impulses and inclinations that exist within all of us. He was a unifier, in that he gave people an excuse to laugh at themselves with each other. With some taboos and conceits, I would compare him to a dog playing with a baby rabbit. It’s true that the gist of his intent was fun, but just as the baby rabbit will usually turn up dead after such rough play, so (often) would the taboo or conceit in Carlin's hands.
More important than these things, George Carlin was funny: "Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? Are they afraid someone's going to sneak in and clean them?".
If we had a ladder big enough, I would volunteer to retrieve his soul off the roof, if only for one more HBO special.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Intelligent Design relying on 'Intellectual Welfare'

Ken Miller was on Science Friday last week to talk about creationism being taught in school. His point is well taken overall, and his claim that I.D. supporters using the court system to mandate the teaching of I.D.--along with a forced discussion of the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution theory--is tantamount to intellectual welfare. click here to listen.

A good way of gratifying both sides of this argument might be to include some kind of history of religion and/or bible as literature class as free elective options in high schools.
Maybe a current events curriculum could look into the controversy over the issue, and could weigh the validity of each argument as well as hold open debate on the subject. But what do I know?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

two reasons to be proud to be an American...

R. Kelley was acquitted, and the Supreme Court overruled the Bush Administration on Guantanamo Bay.

Regarding R. Kelley, it is good to know that the phrase ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ can still be literally interpreted in a climate that leans towards the guilty until proven innocent motif. It is common knowledge--at least common gossip--that Kelley has a penchant for under aged girls. Kelley is also bombastic, rich, shamelessly flashy, and hard to separate from the R. Kelley portrayed in the Dave Chapelle parody. He’s not a sympathetic character. Yet still he was let go. Not because he was innocent: there was a reasonable doubt in the mind of the jurors that he was, indeed, the man in the video. In a culture that enjoys stark blacks and whites, this is hopeful news.

Even a guy like R. Kelley can get a fair trial in the U.S.A.

And the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the Bush Administration on Guantanamo Bay Detainees. They now have access to our federal court system. This is good for a few reasons: 1) it restores to the United States the role of trailblazer on the issue of human rights. Conservatives angered by the court’s decision often argue that no other Democracy in the world has such a policy as this. Damn straight. We are raising the bar for the rest of the world with this ruling, and pulling the rug out from beneath extremists throughout the world who would paint us as torturing, inhumane thugs. 2) The ruling will also increase transparency, which has been a problem with this administration. Not only will the rest of the world see that America is making moves to retake it’s rightful place as the shining city on the hill for the rest of the world, perhaps some of the doubters here at home will see it to.

Many conservatives in this country tout globalization because of the potential it creates for trade and the export of capitalism. The tongue-in-cheek foreign policy notion that no country with a McDonalds will bomb another country with a McDonalds is also often employed to show that such unrestricted commerce will unify the world. I agree with this, and think it is in vein that liberals try to resist it. Instead of resisting globalization, we have to make certain that we're not only exporting double-cheeseburgers, but human rights as well. Everywhere there is a factory in the developing world, there should be a union. Corporations should be held accountable for the way they use the resources of the countries that they operate in, and other governments need to see such forward looking decisions from prominent countries like the U.S. as the Supreme court ruling on Guantanamo bay.

By allowing these detainees access to our court systems as opposed to trying them in opaque military tribunals, we will hopefully set standards that will lead to accepted norms of treatment similar to those established by the Geneva convention. The detainees are going to be tried regardless, and the A.C.L.U. is going to be buzzing around any such proceedings anyway. If everything has been operating as above board as the administration has claimed, they should be more than happy to comply with the ruling and to put the naysayers in their places. After all, as long as there is a curtain, anyone can speculate as to what is behind it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I don't know how fathers did it...

My kids ask me all kinds of questions that I don't know the answer to. Thank Zeus for Wikipedia. How did dads answer the barrage of questions kids ask before the invention of that great, democratic encyclopedia? Sure, some people know alot of stuff, and sure, there were encyclopedias before the internet, but who had a complete encyclopedia? No one in my neighborhood. My family only had the Brittanica for the letter H, and I memorized it. I can tell you all about Harvard, Hatian Death Cults, and Herbert Hoover, but I'm going to need to look up pretty much everything else. I get the feeling that before wikipedia, Dad's were flinging the b.s. fast and furious:

Kid: Why is the sky blue dad?
Dad: I dunno son, God's pen exploded in his pocket.
Kid: Oh.

No wonder kids end up questioning authority.

I am so happy for wikipedia. My sons are always asking these random questions that I can't give them a certain answer for. Example: Dad, what do badgers eat?

Thanks to wikipedia I can tell him that they're omnivores, and that they eat mostly squirrels, a variety of rats, pocket gophers*, sunflower seeds, bees, and honeycombs. Also thanks to wikipedia, I'll be able to inform my boys (when they are older) that koalas have bifurcated penises.

It's a brave new world, but it's one we can survive with a wireless connection.

*what the hell is a pocket gopher?

You've Got A Map

Norman Mailer has this sort-of vague notion about what he calls The Authority of the Senses that I think deserves consideration. He says essentially that we must honor--if not always succumb to--our own personal navigational senses. As an aperitif to a consideration of this, G.K. Chesterton was of the mind that the reason things feel good or are appealing to us is because there is something reflective of God in that thing. While we might be advised to take into consideration that Chesterton toppled around somewhere near four-hundred pounds (there‘s apparently more of God to be found in the second pint of beer than there is in the first), we can at least enjoy the idea of Norman Mailer echoing G.K. Chesterton.

We can respect the laws of society in concept and form and still be prepared to shirk them when they come into conflict our own senses. This doesn‘t make us bad, or anarchists. After all, it’s our rationales that lead us to endorse one worldview over another, and to create certain cognitive shortcuts that free up our mental processes to keep our individual ships afloat. As much as we might like, we can’t be skeptics all the time. A lot of the time we’re going to have to adhere to that little aesthetic evolutionary/godly voice that seems to nudge us in one way or the other.

By accepting the authority of the senses, we allow ourselves the freedom to bypass the collective reason of social norms and laws, and to occasionally bypass our own norms and laws. Sure, there are cold hard facts, but a lot of life is derivative of these, or even in spite of these. The facts may be one thing, but what we derive from them as pertains to meaning and application is something else entirely. To acknowledge that we may need to diverge from the main road from time to time is merely a practical observation. This should not be a cause of guilt. To deviate from the rule is like swimming a little ways from the boat when you’re out on the lake. Sometimes it can even be like swimming away from the boat when it’s sinking.

It is always advisable to weigh individualistic vision against the punishments assigned to those who violate societal norms. We’re social creatures, and isolation isn’t adaptable. It might not be worth losing your girlfriend because you insist on wearing hats made of lettuce, but it might be worth losing your liberty to stand against an unjust law.

The Authority of the Senses idea can apply to any moral situation. You can generally trust the combination of your intellect, will, instinct, and emotion, to give you some semblance of a best option in most circumstances. You are aware to varying degrees of your personal shortcoming, and it is incumbent upon you to take them into account when making decisions. After weighing all of these different factors (often in a split second instance) you can reasonably deduce what the best thing to do would be, even if you are not guaranteed to do it. The written law or received wisdom can only serve as an option: a path that has been tread before.

This blog has been a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I found a familiar and friendly idea [human free agency] expressed by Norman Mailer in a novel way [the authority of the senses]. Instead of reviewing the idea as I had planned [in Mailer’s context] I put it in my own, and took it far away from the meaning he proscribed. I rode this wave here, and when the tide rolls back out, I’ll either die in the sun or grow a prehensile tail and climb a tree.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lawnmower Season

It is almost time to cut the grass in the tri-state area. People are turning their furnaces down across the land, some are turning them off completely, and opening windows.

The snow is melting, the icicles are making pleasant dripping sounds as they plop onto the front porch and echo across the hardwood floors inside. The birds are back chirping at their feeders, and people are thinking, this is the year I’m going to plant a yucca tree in the garden.

The winter gets long in the suburbs of Cincinnati. People go to museums and movies and functions at churches and schools. They watch Dancing With the Stars, and hope to see someone trip that atheist magician. People long to go outside, get something from the shed. Have a picnic. People become Russian existentialists in the winter, sword-fighting the despair with absinthe spoons.

In the spring, and in an election season to boot, things come alive. Your neighbors--the pasty looking people you now see emerging from their long winter naps--are happy to see you. They will wave their arms at you, and you will wave your arms too. You learned how to greet people this way when you were very small.

Soon, the people will be out, buzzing their grasses in unison, getting any strays or hard to reach clumps with the weed-whacker. It’s an election season, so the yards will be political signs requesting that you Vote No on Issue 10, Vote No on Higher Taxes. Issue ten of course being the school levy.

Pretty soon, it will be time for iced-tea and Frisbee golf. People will be taking walks around the neighborhood, examining the season’s landscaping. Little kids will be riding their bikes and getting scraped kneecaps, and there will be lots of fishing.

In the suburbs, we know that if the angels of the apocalypse choose the first day of spring to blow their horns, we can drown out the noise with the sound of our lawnmowers.

Originally Appeared at Eyeshot

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

i like david sedaris

an excerpt from my interview with stanislav calhoun

S: Mr. Calhoun. Thanks for calling back.

C: Glad to be here.

S: So, the idea of this discussion is to run through your early public career, and hopefully come to some conclusions about your impact on the overall culture.

C: That's easy. I didn't have an impact.

S:...You got your start in FDR's administration, correct?

C: Well, I was a professor first. A public intellectual for awhile. Freelance. That was after I was fired from Princeton. But, yes, that's right. I was a…peripheral figure in the Brain Trust. No president before Roosevelt has reached out to academics in quite the same way,

S: He brought you in as he was rolling out the New Deal.

C: That's right. I was the head of an arm of the WPA. The whole point of the WPA was, essentially, to create jobs for people who'd lost everything during the depression; There was the famous program for laborers; one man digs a hole, the other fills it in...It even extended to writers. They had writers going around the country collecting slave narratives, writing travel books. It was a spectacular program.

S: And what was your function exactly?

C: I was in charge of creating a program for displaced philosophers.

S: Really? I've never heard of that. Was it difficult to find something to suit our nation's out of work philosophers?

C: Well, manual labor was out. Right from the start. They didn't have the temperament for collecting data or surveying...And meanwhile, these poor guys were wandering the country, offering musings on the nature of Beauty for soup coupons. It was tough. way...At least insofar as shaping public policy is concerned, is what I mean to say.

S: What did you come up with?

C: Actually, the suggestion that we ended up with was suggested by an undergraduate. I forget his name, but great work. Really.So the program we ended up with was this: One philosopher postulates an existential abyss, and the next philosopher jumps into it.

S:How'd it go?

C: Well, we pitched it to Roosevelt, and he loved it. But it was about that time that those fascists in the American Liberty League started throwing a hissy, so the program got cut before we could really launch it.

S: That's a shame.

C: Yes, but look at it this way: If the program didn't get cut, our coffee shops would be understaffed, and pizza joints all across the country would be going through a temp agency to get their drivers. So, you know. Things sort themselves out sometimes.

S: Mr. Calhoun, one final question before we close this interview. Do you call yourself an optimist?

C: Only when I can't find my glasses.