Pittsburgh is going to have a transit strike, sortakinda, possiblymaybe. So le patron comes to my office and says that the Senior Staff was kickin' around the idea that maybe some of us could work from home. And I'm all like, uh, sure, just let me finish this unrelated blog post, and I'll let you know.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Someone gave me Proust Was a Neuroscientist. I read it. It only works if you modulate your mental voice so that every sentence comes out as Beaver Cleaver saying, "Gee whiz!" The chapters on Proust and Woolf are pretty convincing, the others less so. Proust and Woolf were directly interested in the nature of consciousness, memory, and perception, whereas Whitman, say, really was a mere sensualist at heart--and I don't mean that as an insult. Critical consensus: I would definitely fuck Jonah Lehrer. Dude's cute as shit.
Since Prof. Crispy was throwing some love my way, I'm going to toss a little back. Once again indulging my hatred for all things psychologimacal, here fucking here.
Gore Vidal once said something to the extent of: Black ghetto kids are way smarter than nice white kids because they realize so much sooner what a sham their education is and act on that knowledge. I've always wondered if that weren't the case with children diagnosed with ADHD, or whatever it's being called at any given second. Perhaps they're just exquisitely sensitive to absurdity. If you were a 6-year-old with a precocious appreciation for the preposterous, Beckettian horror of human existence, you'd have trouble playing nicely with Legos too.
Reading about attempts to describe childhood mental illness without any meaningful attempt to locate or describe the pathology of such supposed illness is deeply frustrating. Arguing about whether to prescribe a stimulant or an antipsychotic is like discussing the relative virtues of bloodletting or applying a poultice.
Gleeful Democrats are all like, look, Sarah Palin is a monster, standing around while animals that were bred and raised to be killed for food are killed for food. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, you'll pardon the expression. From a gourmand's perspective, the only people whom I abhor more deeply than vegans in their infinite quest to torture all delicious vegetables into colorless mush shaped like something other than the vegetable of origin are meat eaters who cannot face up to the fact that death precedes their yummy dinner. Oh, don't like the blood? Here's a nice piece of tofu. It tastes like anything! I suppose I'll echo Anthony Bourdain here: meat does not actually grow on a diaper on a styrofoam plate wrapped in plastic. The slaughter you saw behind Gov. Palin was humane. Ever seen a high-density poultry farm? An industrial processing plant? Yeah, that's what I thought. If you cannot stomach the killing of animals, then you have no business eating meat.
Via one of my far-flung correspondents, I see that Daniel Henniger has taken to the Journal to decry "the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America." These moral failings, he explains, are what underly the "subprime behavior" that lead to the current financial calamity. And let's not be too dismissive. Moral sentiments and economic behavior have long been partners in our theories about political economy. On the other fucking hand:
Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of "Merry Christmas."Adam Smith it ain't.
It takes no particular perspicacity to note that our holidays-without-the-holy came about not through the secularizing efforts of "Northerners and atheists," the gangs of post-doctoral post-modernists slavering to gnaw on the soft edges of Christendom, but through the commercializing efforts of the various and sundry pillars, columns, flutes, and scrolls of American state capitalism. The gradual erosion of "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays" doesn't mark a moral retreat in the face of religious multiculturalism or anti-Christian laïcité. It marks the commerce-driven extension of a shopping season, one that now extends from before Halloween to the post-New Year sales. "Happy Holidays" isn't culturally inclusive; it's commercially inclusive.
Meanwhile, the perihelion of religious feeling's orbit around the American political economy would have to be the successful culmination of the Temperance movement. Need I point out that Prohibition was the greatest sustained period of criminality in American history, coinciding with an immense speculative bubble, disastrous bank policies, and an ecological disaster in the Midwest and Great Plains, all of which convergence ultimately caused the Great Depression? Ho. Ho. Ho.
Journalistic pretensions to dispassion and disinterest aside, the authorial voice in articles like this one about Hezbollah--at least in American publications--habitually reveals a depraved sort of bewilderment, a vague sense of mystification. This is not so much a failure to apprehend the Other as it is a failure of self-reflection. If you were to suggest to the reporter that his own education was indoctrination, he would likewise be mildly incredulous. Americans learn readin' writin' 'rithematic, not Koranic recitation and veneration of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Of course, I hardly approve of the religious and millenarian aspects of such parochial education, but then again, I disapprove of glorifying bloody Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt and pretending that the United States won the Second World War with a little help from the plucky Brits. Hezbollah's success at attracting young people (in a nation and region swarming with youth) isn't hard to fathom: they provide a network of social support that far outstrips anything corrupt, subverted national governments are able to provide; they provide an appealing narrative of national rebirth, cultural unity, and social self-reliance. No wonder the movement is so popular.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
So Allegheny County currently has this law that prohibits "sex offenders" from living within a half an Astronomic Unit of any substantial planetary body, condemning them to drift forever somewhere out beyond Pluto, and the child-sex-rapist-loving ACLU is all like, Hey, guys, uh, this is not really an efficacious way of protecting the Children Who Are Our Future, and also, it probably violates the civil rights of ex-convicts. Parents everywhere shout, To hell with you and your arguments and statistical evidence and your crazy contention that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by relatives and other known, trusted adults. That's just crazy talk! Everyone knows that it is only shiftless drifters in windowless vans who mess with children.
Well let's continue the series.
Why is a third-party, violence-by-proxy guarantee of the diffuse individual ownership of parceled land and goods, called "property," not called "social engineering"? What is the innate legitimacy of such a system? The answer: such a system provides the conditions necessary to achieve the greatest general welfare and prosperity. The follow-up: doesn't that open the door to other schemes to promote welfare and prosperity? Where's the deontological line?
Libertarianism isn't really a philosophy that repudiates coercion. Libertarians believe in government, albeit government strictly curtailed and circumscribed. (Question: by whom? For how long?) Obviously their outlook owes much to classical liberalism. But why is it obvious that securing private property rights is within the legitimate purview of state responsibility, whereas, say, guaranteeing gender equity in the workplace is not? Well, you say, the former is far less intrusive. Preventing the expropriation of property through theft or intimidation is a much less subjective matter than determining what constitutes gender fairness. Is it?
Libertarians believe in a justice system, albeit a limited one. (Limited by whom? For how long?) Defining murder is easier than defining securities fraud. Outlawing armed robbery is different from regulating a stock market. How much easier? How different?
Once you begin to justify a state, the line between what is and isn't in its compelling interest blur. Establishing some entity, some agency, whose purpose is to establish and maintain a base-level social order for the provision, at least pursuit, of general welfare and prosperity (personal or otherwise) is social engineering. Why not just advocate for anarchy? Why not advocate for a system in which no third-party collective, no state entity, has coercive authority over anyone.
Well, you say, then someone will just gather up a gang and establish a . . .
Which may be true. But if that's the case, what's the bright distinction between chartering a gang and knuckling under to one?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
104.7, our local FM talk radio station, just commanded me to get my ass Hannitized. My ass? Sorry guys, I'm like, totally a top. They also have a show called Quinn and Rose in the Morning, and they're constantly advising me to get "Quinnoculated." Are we sensing a pattern here? Why is a conservative talk radio station dedicating so much ad time to promo spots aimed at the IV-drug-using party bottom demographic? Am I missing something?
Anyway, notable apostate Kathleen Parker took a few lines in todays WaPo to aver:
To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.While on one hand I sympathize with this, and while I certainly enjoy the oggedy-boogedy branch bit, on the other hand this whole "erstwhile conservative party" thing is a little questionable in my mind. To believe it, you have to conceptualize the Democrats as being historically something like the party of labor interests, the Republicans as being historically something like the party of business interests, and the crazy minority ID-politics types and the oogedy-boogedy faith-healing millenarian types being respectively the infestations that ruined them. Whereas in reality you have two corporate imperialist factions who differ on how best to keep hoi polloi in line, with the Democrats dangling the carrot of redistributive economic justice and the Republicans offering the illusion of social and moral harmony. Republicans never actually deliver a fag-free, abortionless, desexualized, post-Hollywood culture, and Democrats never do much for the downtrodden, but we live in an era of marketing, whatever, forever and ever, shantih, amen.
The laced-up, responsible party that Parker would like to see reborn is never coming back. Conservativism is dead. It could exist only when a landed class of hereditary privilege had political suasion. The decline of the WASP Ivy-League legacy class in America, the rise of new centers of wealth and privilege--these killed conservativism. George W. marked the end, not Sarah P. It no longer has a social order to defend. The oogedy-boogedy types are the GOP now, and the Rockefeller Republicans the parasites. This is why the GOP has instead become a Nationalist party. It has no economic program. Look at the goddamn bailout plan! There are still a few conservatives in America, but no one gives a shit what they think, least of all their own putative party.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Ah ha ha ha. Oh ho ho ho. Liberman's in like Flint. It's a regular love-fest. "We're looking forward," sez Reid. Aieeeeee! sez the Netroots. The Huckleberry Hound rides again.
I mean, if anything strips the veneer of difference from the two-party system better than this shit, I'll eat my hat. Here you have a guy who actively campaigned for the other side, who spent the last six months telling America that Barack Obama was a four-year-old retarded commie nigger Muslim abortionist from the moon, and that proves insufficient reason to strip the guy of his committee chairmanships. What a wonderful farce.
Monday, November 17, 2008
comes, reneges, arrives again, retreats,
resumes, returns, replaces autumn’s dithered
changing with iced and water-black city streets,
and lingering garden squash and gourds with withered
vines; how it makes the bleak sum of short
daylight between a slow sunrise and swift
setting seem like gravitational drift
out, out away from orbit toward the Oort
Cloud and then interstellar space, the sun
reduced to pinlight, sky aswarm with blind
stars unmarked by any conscious mind,
all consciousness alone, all life succumbed,
all water still, the air made ice, all sense
insensate now, asleep in the shattering silence.
Once more Kerry Howely provides a point of departure for notes on libertarianism. Many self-described libertarians respond to the contention that libertarians ought to be concerned with social and cultural restrictions on individual freedom with the argument that libertarianism is properly concerned only with coercion practiced by the state, that as a philosophy it is mute on any item outside of the purview of the relationship between the individual citizen and the official apparati of government. This leaves some notable deficiencies. In a mixed economy like . . . ours and virtually every other, where does the state end and the corporate begin; when is a "defense contractor" an arm of the government, and when is it a private entity, for instance. But leaving that aside, let's stipulate for the sake of argument that libertarianism, strictly defined, is exactly that: a political philosophy addressed solely to the limits of state power over the individual.
Such a philosophy, I shall endeavor to demonstrate, is the dumbassiest philosophy in recent history. Now, in general, I agree with the notion that efforts by the state to positively effect the cause of social equality are inimical to liberty. I am not a social engineer. Busing was not going to cure systemic racism. An Equal Rights Amendment was not going to ensure that women had equal rights. It is, however, a very long leap from opposition to state-run social engineering schemes to proclaiming that social equality is irrelevant to a philosophy of liberty. I mean, for real? A serious libertarianism would address itself to the question of how a fairer and more equitable society would be produced by and maintained in an order in which the role and power of the state were greatly diminished. It would not merely flap its hands at the silly girls and faggots and suchlike and assure them that the shackles of prejudice and presumption would turn to so much dust upon the abolition of the administrative agencies in the Executive.
If no model can be built, no argument proffered, no case made along these lines, then libertarianism is bunk: not a philosophy about maximizing liberty at all, but a gang of straight white guys who like weed and porn. I have nothing against straight white guys who like weed and porn. I count several among my very dearest friends. But their desire to practice a few personal peccadilloes unmolested by the cops and to under-report their income isn't exactly a philosophy.
So, Dan Rather reports what everyone knows, that rich kids, including Gee-Dub, got favorable treatment during Vietnam, and causes a big brouhaha among conservatives who . . . also did not serve in Vietnam. How dare you question his patriotic service, etc., and by the way did you know that John Kerry shot himself? The duality of man, the Jungian thing, sir. Whatever. Anyway, the whole episode was not the least bit interesting. The putative right hollered about liberal bias, and the corporate media went into its predictable defensive crouch. I sometimes wonder if the only people who take citizen journalists more hilariously seriously than those brave scribblers of the interwebs themselves are the traditional media they're supposedly going to displace.
Dan Rather sued, alleging that CBS ran a hatchet job. Rather may never have left the mainstream of political opinion, but the guy was a decent reporter, and empowered with the subpoena and a couple of hot lawyers, he's now uncovered--more hilarity--the network's plan to set up a panel of inquisition consisting of Rush, Ann Coulter, Roger Ailes, ad inf. Can you imagine if they'd gone through with it? I wish they had! That would've made good teevee.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Last night some friends and I took in Ricky Ian Gordon's big, new(ish) American opera The Grapes of Wrath at the Pittsburgh Opera, a quite good small opera company that put in a solid, skillful performance of a lousy, lousy opera. The music strains: American vernacular as filtered through a poorly-recalled hearing of The Rake's Progress. The music disappointed because it so often came just near real pathos, and then ruined it with strange, tinkly eruptions from the percussion section. Other times, lovely songs were ruined by hammy atonality that seemed present only to prove the composition's operatic bona fides--it's not a musical goddamnit. The libretto, meanwhile, was unpoetic in the extreme, and while there were some Gershwin-paraphrasing moments when the colloquialism felt appropriate to the score, mostly it rankled, all the more so when the music became more insistently contemporary.
But, as my friend A. pointed out during the first intermission: "My problem isn't so much with the opera as it is with Steinbeck." In plot and narrative, Grapes is as manipulative as any political pamphlet, relentless and without nuance in its portrayal of injustice, unfairness, and bad luck, and yet it is utterly without politics; it presents an oblique pastiche of syndicalism at best. Bosses should be fair. Workers should have rights. Shrug. Yeah. I guess.