Saturday, February 28, 2015

2.28 (Saturday) Refulgence of St. Norbert

According to the BBC News, a Canadian man was rescued from a snow storm after being mistaken  for a seal by another Canadian man. As the BBC News is not a notable source of merry japes, the story bears further consideration - particularly so in a zealous age in which our animal natures are cause for so much unseemly embarrasssment and hotly denied by right-thinking evangelicals on all sides of the monotheistic divide. (I also note in passing that, to my scant knowledge of hagiography, there is no patron saint of seals, so I have had to invent both St. Norbert and his liturgical day for this occasion.)

St. Norbert (So? He's Canadian.)

It seems that this chappie was making his way across the snowy Nova Scotian landscape, much in the way a seal might do, wending his way to a hospital appointment, when his car failed him. He exited his car and began to walk to a nearby house, but his arthritic knees quavered. Seating himself in a snowbank to rest, he found himself unable to right himself again after the fashion of humankind. So, fearing hypothermia or some other hazard constitutionally unknown to pinnipediae, he began to crawl along a darkened and snow-covered road toward the nearest lights in the landscape when he was discovered. 

"Well, he was obviously here."

His savior cannot in the strictest sense be called a samaritan, since he thought it was a seal in distress - orthodoxy requires that samaritans come to the aid of their fellow humans alone, any other creature in distress being fair game, so to speak, for the table. So the second man's act of kindness was perhaps doubly creditable in that he went willingly to rescue what he supposed to be a dumb creature and no christian at all. 

My alter ego was forever exercised by the similarities, even the superiorities of animals over humans ("there is no animal in the world as treacherous as man," he thought). He paid attention to his cat and his dog and rarely resisted their attempts to distract him. A fox, he remarks, stopping to listen before crossing a frozen brook, is making the same causal inference, using the same faculty, that supposedly marks humans as superior rational beings. 

The story of the man walking like a seal is just another case in point, another argument, a fortiori, for the very point I am making - though seals do a seal walk so much better than we do, we can clearly emulate them well enough to fool the average person of good intention. We are (literally, in this case) on all fours with the animal kingdom. And a man out on a wintry night stopping to help a distressed seal is a purely human moment, a recognition of our common animality and an implicit wish to coexist peaceably. The subsequent discovery that it was a person and not a seal adds nothing to the kindness.

"On behalf of all seals, I'd like to thank him for his interest," the rescued seal quipped. And well spoken, too - what better spokesperson for the world's pinnipeds than the man taken for a seal?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

11.13 Thursday (Lamentation of St. Genesius)

Saint G., patron of comedians

Last week, shortly after deploying another 1,500 American troops back into Iraq, Barack Obama received a letter, purporting to come from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which began thusly:

It was late in the evening when we first learned of your decision Friday to deploy an additional 1,500 troops to Iraq. Sorry, we were catching up on the latest episode of “Lilyhammer.” But, seriously, is that a tradition in the States? Releasing such news late on a Friday with the fatuous hope people would forget by Monday? But on second thought, after perusing the American media, it’s possible such schemes may be effective. There appears to be more concern over one Ebola patient— in a country of 316 million people— than the news that your administration is invading Iraq all over again.

The committee concluded by castigating itself as a group of "delusional dupes" for giving Nobel Peace Prizes to both Obama (2009) and to Henry Kissinger (1973), a former Secretary of State with a considerable record of lethal malevolence and bloody meddling around the globe. "That is all," the committee added. "Now, back to 'Lilyhammer.'"  

I mention this, not because of any special animus I may have against the President (Kissinger is another matter entirely), but because it was reported as fact on several creditable websites though denied as fact on Yet whether fact or parody, either way it makes perfect sense. It clearly reads as parody, but any functioning adult can see the justice in it. What's more, it typifies the dilemma of any ironic soul who looks askance, obliquely and skeptically at the world, hoping to raise a laugh - namely, the dilemma that nothing seems funny any longer; that what might be the stuff of parody is actually the truth, or, if it is parody, that it seems utterly convincing. I have to admire the people at The Onion these days, obliged as they are to construct a parodic realm arguably funnier than the quotidian.

I mean seriously - this is an age in which the Hon. James Inhofe, senator from Oklahoma, whose grasp of science is roughly that of a twelve-year-old home schooler and who believes climate change is a conspiracy of, George Soros and Michael Moore, is the next chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. It isn't the Onion any longer, but the Koch Brothers, who write the funniest scripts. The White House has just announced an "historic agreement" with China on emissions reductions in which the U. S. reduces its greenhouse gas output to one-quarter of its 2005 level, while China is required to do virtually nothing. This is touted as a partial solution to "an urgent global challenge."

 Greenhouse gas: Peter Griffin & Michael Moore

In Texas, a schizophrenic named Scott Panetti who, while acting as his own attorney at his trial donned a purple bandana and a cowboy costume and called witnesses such as John F. Kennedy, the Pope, and Jesus Christ, is scheduled for execution.

Theatrical producers in Las Vegas are planning to stage a musical, "The Duck Commander Family Musical," based on the Duck Dynasty characters, presumably avoiding the shoals of the family's historic attitudes towards your stereotypical theatrical producer (remember Roger Debris in Mel Brooks's "The Producers": "Quick darling, back in the closet!"), many of whom are aghast at the idea of their professional colleagues having any hand in this, if I may use that expression. It may be, as the New York Times puts it, "too bayou for Broadway," meaning that now when the Rat Pack visits Las Vegas, they bring their pet rats.

The problem for a wag is that the targets have become too broad and too easy to skewer. Gone are the palmy days of 2012, when Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich strewed their ample comic benisons over the comedic terra cognita. Now suddenly, it's all become real. When humor is indistinguishable from fact, when it's all too funny, then nothing's very funny. We are all gone through the looking glass.

St. Donald, patron of comedians
(by DonkeyHotey)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Summer in Oklahoma: No Man's Land

I have come aground again in one of the Midwest's more curious zipcodes, Texas County, Oklahoma, midway between Goodwell and Texhoma in the panhandle, a mere tenth of a mile from the former Confederate state of Texas where the heady smell of hog barns braces the air. Goodwell is home to both Oklahoma Panhandle State University and the No Man's Land Museum, the latter of which I have seen no reason to visit. Less than a mile up the road from where I'm camped lives a fellow who's in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame for bareback bronc riding.

What the landscape lacks by way of trees it compensates for in regularly spaced pods of eight or ten turbines cranking electricity into Texas's open-competition energy market - cowboy wind farms selling to the highest bidder. I can see them in clumps off to the the east and south from the farmyard where I'm camped.

Sunrise on the Oklahoma-Texas line

Strictly speaking it isn't summer here any longer, but the daily temperatures are in the upper 80s and low 90s, so it feels like summer could last all through December, even though I know what's coming. To get groceries, I have to drive 16 miles to Guymon. The trip takes me through Goodwell, six miles away, where the local police camp out in eight-hour shifts in the town's picnic area along US 54, which runs on into Liberal, Kansas. As the sole commercial endeavor in Goodwell, so far as I can make out, is a solitary convenience store/gas station which sells no donuts or similar baked goods, I surmise that Goodwell is a hardship posting for the freshly minted graduates of institutes of criminal justice. There is perverse pleasure in the thought that (considering the immobility of a parked car, the bleak landscape out the windshield, the complete absence of life about the place) working for the gendarmerie in Goodwell must be one of the most boring occupations on the planet. The photo files of Goodwell provided by Google's mapping service show this very park complete  with cop cars.

Park with cops, Goodwell, OK, from Google Maps

I've made myself as self-sufficient as I can out here in my private RV park behind the wind project's field office. I've done the wind farm one better, as you can see, by installing a solar emplacement on a modest scale to charge my auxiliary batteries and heat my solar-powered shower facility.

There's a farmhouse along the road with a kitchen, bathrooms and several bedrooms, but until the weather turns I prefer the fresh air, the coyotes and owls at night, and sunrise through the plastic sidecurtains. The sandhill cranes are still flying over on their way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Bosque del Apache for the winter. Right now there's a scaled quail rasping away atop a fencepost along the driveway. I reckon the winter will drive me at last into the farmhouse, but for now, Oklahoma is, as the state's license plate used to say, OK.

I figure I won't venture into the barn. I know it's full of pigeons in the rafters, and I'm betting (this being the Rattlesnake Belt) that it's full of snakes too. But everybody has to live somewhere, and it's usually easier to mind your own business.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

8.2 Saturday (Expostulation of St. Hilarion)

Last month, I received a summons for jury duty. When I espied the errant document in my daily ration of paper recyclables, I did what every true-hearted patriot does - I smote my breast, I rent my garments, I bemoaned the day of my birth, I imprecated whatever gods and sprites of the metropolis, the marketplace and the hearth had failed to forestall this nuisance, this blight upon the daily life of an unoffending, right-thinking American. 

My household god and favorite party guest

When at last Reason regained her throne and I fully appreciated the gravity of my situation, my best thoughts turned promptly to how I might avoid the necessity of answering the summons. Then, remarking the inescapability of it, how to insure that I might seem sorely unqualified to sit in judgment on any of my peers, either by the prosecution or by the defense attorney, and so be summarily dismissed with scarcely a glance or an afterthought. My helpmeet suggested that my red spectacles might be sufficient to set me off as eccentric in some indefinable and slightly disturbing way.

I knew I needed stronger stuff. But in the event, my imagination failed me. At the appointed hour I appeared at the county court with about a thousand of my fellow citizens, prepared to take my chances in the lottery and, if need be, improvise some peculiarity which might absolve me of further meddling in the affairs of any of my fellow citizens. Should I sit in judgment on a civil case involving some paltry sums of money, I was prepared to proffer capital punishment as a universal panacaea, even though it leaves the creditor no recourse (in that single item it is perhaps inferior to debtor's prison). If it were a capital case such as murder, kidnapping, or default on a student loan, I was prepared to maintain that the death penalty is morally repugnant in any circumstance whatsoever. I thought, this country being what it is and treating its criminal element as it does, that I had my bases covered and was probably due home before lunch was cold.

In the large auditorium where prospective jurors were herded, everyone was handed a questionnaire to complete with the usual information, plus an additional personal section in which you were asked to list hobbies and interests, what TV shows you enjoy, what radio programs you listen to, what you read, and so on. I sensed the opportunties this afforded me to compromise my eligibility ("Well, right now I'm just finishing Mein Kampf"), but my morale was undermined badly enough that I omitted the section. Large crowds tend to undermine my morale anyway, and this one was no exception, down to the staple character of the large gathering, the guy wearing shorts to show his prosthetic leg to advantage.  

"I was just gonna walk around the mall all day but I got jury duty."

I had nearly reached the lowest, dampest point in my emotional puddle when I spied him standing in the line at the counter to get his questionnaire from the jury commissioner. I knew it was a fateful moment, an avatar of true genius, the convergence of role model and disciple, a Svengali to my gormless acceptance of my unpleasant fate. He was the Kafka-esque Ubermensch, a hero with a thousand possibilities, one not to be trifled with by either prosecution or defense, in a word, the answer to all my questions, the end of my jury time. It was just a guy with a pony tail, a baseball cap on backwards, wearing a freshly minted black T-shirt, white Gothic script across the front, each letter terminating in gorgeous pink flames, that spelled "hatebreed."

Brilliant. My heart surged with a newfound hope. Why, I asked myself, hadn't I thought of that?

"Uh, sir, you're free to go home."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kayaks: Where Prostitution Meets Art

The Japanese artist Rokudenashiko was arrested earlier this month under Japanese pornography laws for distributing "indecent material" after she mailed artistic patrons 3D-printer schematics of her vagina in exchange for donations intended for the construction of a kayak. The artist built her new kayak with a top modelled after the same schematic, an elaborate "selfie" of sorts.

Megumi Igarashi ("Rokudenashiko")

One is forced to acknowledge, I think, that the token of gratitude she sent out to her community of patrons was more than just a token. But by the same token one must confess that the item is a less-than-prepossessing prize for the undoubted satisfaction of "supporting the arts" (as they say on NPR). Put your vagina (or for that matter, its masculine counterpart) through a 3D printer and it's going to be pretty much unencrypted when it comes out the other end. Which means that it will never look all that good on, say, the wall in your office or family room.

The 'artistic process'

Nevertheless, Japan being what it is and not being, say, India, the artist could spend as many as two years in prison and pay a fine of up to $25,000 for distributing printed materials. Given the traditional Japanese preference to formalize their vices, as in the institution of the geisha house, she may have been better advised to offer the genuine article in exchange for her kayak. 

And as marvellous as the notion of printing real things in a 3D printer may seem, I still wonder about it. I mean, what would you do with a 3D vagina? Look at it? shoot it?

"Uhhh . . . lemme think about it."