Saturday, April 28, 2012

Great Bores of the Modern Age: Willard M. Romney

At a talk Friday at Ohio’s Otterbein University, the presidential candidate [Romney] offered his expertise to a room of students, telling them that if they want to start a business or pay for their education, they should just borrow from mom and dad. “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business,” he said, citing a friend of his who took out a $20,000 loan from his parents.
                                                                                    -  The Daily Beast, April 28, 2011

The Mitt (by DonkeyHotey)

Willard Romney opened Bain Capital in 1984 at the request of his boss, William W. Bain Jr., founder of Bain & Co., a top management consulting firm, who also offered to seed the startup with millions of dollars.

Take a risk, Willard? As a HuffPost article reports, "Romney got Bain & Company to agree in advance to take him back if he failed, and with all the salary increases he might have received had he remained at the parent company. That is, Romney took no risks, he could not lose, and he would not take the job unless Bain agreed to his terms . . . . Bain agreed that if Romney failed at Bain Capital, it would announce that Romney was returning because the parent company "needed him." "

Smart negotiator. So much for borrowing money from the folks, Willard. This is the same statesman who would cut student aid programs like Pell grants in favor of family solidarity. Where did he come from, anyway - Bloomfield Hills? How would it play out in the real world, a family conversation inspired by Romney's trenchant business savvy, financial independence, and a highly risk-averse capitalist derring-do? Probably something like this:

So, Dad, could I talk to you for a minute?

So do you have a job yet? Besides the Starbucks thing I mean. You thinking of maybe getting your own place one of these days? Do I have any gas in the car?

Well, that's sort of what I wanted to talk to you about.

Oh, now you're talking to me. Am I going to regret this? Did you finish the lawn? Why do I sound like George Costanza's father when I'm talking to you?

Frank Costanza

I really want to start my own business. I'm just going nowhere working for a corporate franchise. I mean, they don't even want to see me in Seattle. Starbucks doesn't.

Not in Seattle, eh? Sounds like maybe I'd like Seattle. So . . . talk.

It would help if you didn't sigh like that.

Sorry. You were saying?

Ummm . . . well, I think about $20,000 would get me started. If you could just loan it to me I could start my own business. I just think I'd be better off pursuing my own dreams.

I know what you dream about, your mother and I can hear you.

I'm trying to be serious.

Well, think about this then - how can I lend you $20,000? I just lost my shirt on some low-interest Czechoslavakian bonds. So I'm going to retire on what? You going to finance me when you're a tycoon?

What . . . there hasn't been a Czechoslovakia for 20 years.

Sheesh - no wonder those dividends dried up. So what was Romney's guy talking about the other day? I thought he mentioned an embassy or something.

See, exactly what I'm getting at, Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has this friend who started a pizza business which is now the third largest pizza franchise in the country, and he started it with a loan from his parents - $20,000. The price of a new Toyota Corolla. Which I figure is what I need.

You need a car?

No, no, I need a loan - the cost of a car.

Where did this Romney come from, anyway - Bloomfield Hills? You'd have to sell a lot of pizzas to pay me back - I'd probably be dead before that happened. And you can't repay me in pizzas. I can't eat pizza, I'm looking at a bypass, a sausage pizza could kill me, you know that.

I wasn't really thinking of selling pizzas.

What then?

I was thinking of a tattoo business - "Poetry in Motion," "A Moveable Frieze," "Pictures on an Exhibitionist," something literary like that. You, know, with a really good sound system, comfortable chairs, refrigerator, wide screen TV and all.

Talk to your mother.

Mom doesn't have any money.

Bingo. My very point. Go clean your room.

A Pineapple With a Plan

New York middle schoolers were baffled by a state standardized test that included questions based on a story . . .  in which a talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race in an enchanted forest, then fails to move and is eaten by animals. “The story seems to have been written,” said Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, “during a peyote trip.”
                                                                 (Harpers Magazine, Weekly Review, April 23, 2012)

 (Here's the pineapple story, followed by the test questions.)

"The Hare and the Pineapple" (by Daniel Pinkwater)

In olden times, the animals of the forest could speak English just like you and me. One day, a pineapple challenged a hare to a race. (I forgot to mention, fruits and vegetables were able to speak too.) A hare is like a rabbit, only skinnier and faster. This particular hare was known to be the fastest animal in the forest. “You, a pineapple have the nerve to challenge me, a hare, to a race,” the hare asked the pineapple. “This must be some sort of joke.” “No,” said the pineapple. “I want to race you. Twenty-six miles, and may the best animal win." "You aren't even an animal!" the hare said. “You're a tropical fruit!" “Well, you know what I mean,” the pineapple said. The animals of the forest thought it was very strange that a tropical fruit should want to race a very fast animal. "The pineapple has some trick up its sleeve," a moose said. Pineapples don't have sleeves, an owl said. "Well, you know what I mean,” the moose said. "If a pineapple challenges a hare to a race, it must be that the pineapple knows some secret trick that will allow it to win.”

"The pineapple probably expects us to root for the hare and then look like fools when it loses,” said a crow. “Then the pineapple will win the race because the hare is overconfident and takes a nap, or gets lost, or something.” The animals agreed that this made sense. There was no reason a pineapple should challenge a hare unless it had a clever plan of some sort. So the animals, wanting to back a winner, all cheered for the pineapple. When the race began, the hare sprinted forward and was out of sight in less than a minute. The pineapple just sat there, never moving an inch. The animals crowded around watching to see how the pineapple was going to cleverly beat the hare. Two hours later when the hare cross the finish line, the pineapple was still sitting still and hadn't moved an inch. The animals ate the pineapple.

MORAL: Pineapples don't have sleeves

1. In what order are the events in the story told?
A) switching back and forth between places
B) In the order in which the events happen
C) Switching back and forth between the past and the present
D) In the order in which the hare tells the events to another animal

2. The animals ate the pineapple most likely because they were:
A) Hungry
B) Excited
C) Annoyed
D) Amused

3. Which animal spoke the wisest words?
A) The hare
B) The moose
C) The crow
D) The owl

4. Before the race, how did the animals feel toward the pineapple?
A) Suspicious
B) Kindly
C) Sympathetic
D) Envious

5. What would have happened if the animals had decided to cheer for the hare?
A) The pineapple would have won the race.
B) They would have been mad at the hare for winning.
C) The hare would have just sat there and not moved.
D) They would have been happy to have cheered for a winner.

6. When the moose said that the pineapple has some trick up its sleeve, he means that the pineapple:
A) is wearing a disguise
B) wants to show the animals a trick
C) has a plan to fool the animals
D) is going to put something out of its sleeve

The envelope, please. And the correct answers are . . . 

1. sub specie aeternitatis, or "Spinoza" time, in which motion is illusory, apparent only to finite intellects, already accomplished in the Infinite Intellect, and in principle a Zenonic paradox

2. either they were still high on peyote or trying to figure out what "your moment of Zen" means

3. the Canadian province of Ontario, which decided that a man need not have his penis removed in order to be legally considered female

 "Oh, you were surprised?"

4. epistemically challenged, since they couldn't identify the vocal organs of a pineapple

5. the pineapple would have filed a lawsuit on the grounds of "speciesism"

6.  could never get through an airport checkpoint because in "TSA World" it could be anything

Friday, April 27, 2012

Losing Jerry Lee Lewis

Today's New York Times reports the death of Pete Fornatale, "a disc jockey who helped usher in a musical alternative to Top 40 AM radio in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, presenting progressive rock and long album tracks that AM stations wouldn’t touch and helping to give WNEW a major presence on the still-young FM dial." (The copy editor must have passed away somewhere in the middle of that breathless passage but you get the drift.)

 Pete Fornatale

It was the third para in the article that caught my eye: "FM radio had been around for a while but did not come of age until the 1960s, when, amid the whirlwind of a growing counterculture, the federal government mandated that FM stations carry different programming from that of their sister AM bands. Enterprising D.J.’s grasped the chance to play longer, fresher, rarer music and give voice to the roiling political and social issues of the day."

I'd never heard of Pete Fornatale, one such "enterprising D.J.,"  and never listened to WNEW which, prior to its own death, billed itself as "the outlet for the music of Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Mel Torme and America's greatest songwriters." I do, however, remember the advent of FM radio as a cultural phenomenon - I was a young teenager when the old man ("Pere Montaigne") bought an FM receiver, a diode-tube assembly kit which hooked into the speakers on the spindly four-legged 1958-ish "stereo" on which he played Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff on boxed sets of red vinyl 45 rpms, the succeeding symphonic movements interrupted by the untimely 'pause . . . click' as the next record dropped onto the turntable. The FM receiver, on the other hand, relayed signals from any number of burgeoning classical music stations - random, unheard symphonies, concerti, quartetti, fugati, musica camera, and sounds I'd never heard, like a pipe organ or a choral symphony. Music without 'pauseclick', music beyond the musical ken of mon pere.

 Mon Pere operating the stereo

For starters, the phrase "enterprising D.J.'s" seems quaint when one thinks of some poor sod physically sitting in a live radio studio at a control panel, actually deciding what music is worth playing, actually "spinning" records or putting a CD into a tray, waiting for it to finish, then talking about the music, and so on. But what struck me most is the mention of the federal government mandating anything at all, let alone by the clearly unconstitutional takeover of the airwaves, ruling "that FM stations carry different programming from that of their sister AM bands."

Alan "Moondog" Freed, "father of rockandroll"

Some Founding Father must have been spinning, out of thought, out of mind, unobserved and unlamented in his lonely, unfenced, unweeded grave. In this age of bipartisan cameraderie, the FF's graves have been mended, weeded, fenced and are now jealously guarded by a growing cottage industry of amateur constitutional scholars. I can't imagine the federal government mandating a parking fine, let alone effecting any significant cultural change. Emancipation, the interstate system, the Great Society, Medicare, the War on Poverty, all come to mind as through a glass, darkly. But these days, as Strother Martin explained it so forcefully in Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is failure to communicate."

If the BLM, the agency entrusted to manage public lands, is the pimp for BOG (Big Oil & Gas), then the FCC is the pimp for ClearChannel, Fox/NewsoftheWorld, TimeDisneyWarner, Viacom, NBC You can just feel the cultural change dripping from those "media outlets." I know you can still find Beethoven on the radio dial, somewhere. And most of the stations that still play that sort of thing are funded in part by a dwindling cache of federal subsidies. And I know that's not the sort of thing that most people want to listen to. But in 1958, most people thought they never wanted to hear anything but Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee never died. And now look at him.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fucking Austria

Life often consists of a series of delicate questions requiring more or less delicate solutions. Here's a real one I give you: what would you properly call a resident of fucking Austria? An Austrian? a fucking Austrian?

I've misled you a bit - the question should be, what do you call a resident of Fucking, Austria? The natural reponse would be, "a Fucker," right? But that's not quite it, either. It would properly be, "a Fuckinger," because . . . well, because if a person from Munich is a "MΓΌnchner," then a person from Fucking is a "Fuckinger." That's the way they do things in the former Roman provinces of Germania and Noricum. Geography is not as easy as it might seem - it has its finer points.

             (The Roman Empire, before there was Fucking)       

(Incidentally, the question as I've posed it amply demonstrates the power of proper capitalization and punctuation. It's one thing to ask what you'd call a resident of Fucking, Austria, quite another to ask . . . but I'm sure you see my point. Similarly, it's one thing to help your Uncle Jack off his horse, quite another to help your uncle jack off his horse. Should these - capitalization and punctuation - become lost arts, all the saints in heaven will not prevail.)

The town's name, which is correctly pronounced "foo-king," is viewed as a liability in some quarters. The road signs around town are prized items, meaning regularly prized from the poles they're mounted on, probably by the same American servicemen who drive across the border from Germany to be photographed beside them; the residents tire of prank phone callers, one local complaining that "When you order something from a catalog, for example, and you give the address, there’s snickering, always snickering."

Lothar Lerch, who has highlighted the town for the website Virtual Tourist, recommends a road trip from Kissing, Germany to Fucking, Austria. A direct route takes just over two hours, but he advises a scenic route including stops in Petting or Tittmoning. Frankly, two hours is more than I've ever been able to manage.

And so predictably there is a movement afoot to change the town's name, which is an obvious target in an age of conformity, jejeune Americanized humor, and all our significant prose constructs in text messaging. The initiative does not have the consensus of all 104 Fuckingers - "The only problem is that we need all of the Fucking residents to agree to the name change," Mayor Franz Meindl concedes, seeming though not intending to asperse his fellow townspeople.

Still, I suppose the problem could be worse than it is. Would you rather live in Fucking Twatt or Clousta Fuck?

Standing Zimmerman's Ground

"Welcome to the neighborhood, sucker."

City officials in Sanford, Florida, where George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, have rejected the resignation of Bill Lee, the chief of police who initially defended his own professional malfeasance by claiming that under the state's "stand your ground" law he could not arrest Zimmerman for the shooting.

Following Martin's death, the 200-pound Zimmerman claimed that the 140-pound deceased had assaulted him to the point that Zimmerman shot his assailant in fear for his own safety. The Fox Noise machine and the right wing punditry jumped gleefully into the melee with their usual murky grasp of fact, urging not only that the shooter be exonerated, but canonized in the bargain, a poster child for real Americans standing up for their rights against a . . . .well, against some skinny black kid.

I doubt that Zimmerman is a homicidal maniac, or even a particularly bad sort [I'll take that back] - he's clearly neither a hero nor the sort of person who should own a handgun. He is rather the product of a culture in which guns are endemic, a symbol of manly independence and moral integrity, resident in a state where they are poorly regulated and where their ready use is sanctioned. He nurtured ambitions to be a law enforcement officer, a trade which uses guns as a matter of course, often as a matter of first recourse, and with a near blanket immunity for their consequences. Police forces get to police themselves while they police the rest of us. It must have sounded like a fun career, and Zimmerman is neither alone nor evil in wishing to join the excitement. He was doubtless practicing for the pros that evening on his voluntary neighborhood watch.

Professional gun etiquette

Bill Lee's malingering indecision also has its mitigating considerations in this weird cultural allegory in which the National Rifle Association has effectively employed state and national legislators as its shills and lobbyists. I'd guess that most of the NRA's membership is a reasonable group of hobbyists, hunters and sport shooters who favor some level of gun sale monitoring, and who find themselves very much at odds with an increasingly militant and detached leadership. But even though Bill Lee was understandably confused by Florida's "stand your ground" statute, he should be fired.

Zimmerman's story about what happened that night is self-serving and probably concocted - while he was walking back to his vehicle, Martin came up from behind and attacked him. But even allowing it to be true, here are the circumstances: while walking home through a neighborhood where he had every good reason to be, all the while minding his own business, a teenager is stalked in the dark and then accosted by a stranger considerably bulkier than he is. Following this exchange, Martin (by Zimmerman's account) followed him and then punched him. If this were the true account, then even by Zimmerman's tacit admission Martin would have been doing nothing more than standing his ground, entirely within the law of the state where he resided.

Unfortunately, in the civic climate fostered by NRA-sponsored shoot-to-kill legislation, in a political system that lives in callow terror of the NRA, the person with the gun has legal primacy. His right to carry a gun and to use it is somehow sacrosanct. It's the poor sod who is unarmed, particularly one who has the misfortune to be a black Florida teenager, who has no right in the matter - even when (as Zimmerman claims of Martin) he stands his ground. To have the full protection of the law, he should have had a gun, because the law is in place first of all to protect the rights of gun owners, not casual nighttime pedestrians minding their own business. 

How did it ever happen that the presumption of law now favors the shooter? If the issue were reversed, if Zimmerman the stalker had been laid out by a length of two-by-four or some such "repurposed" bludgeon, I'd bet Officer Lee's duty would have been preternaturally clear to him. He should go - he doesn't understand who it is that laws are supposed to protect.

 "The gun is fine, but you can't wear that shirt in here, sir."

Friday, April 20, 2012

We Dast Not Speak Its Name

The year before he was implicated in the 1895 sodomy trial which sent Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol, Wilde's "particular young friend," Lord Alfred Douglas, wrote a poem entitled "Two Loves." 

Milord Douglas
As literature, the poem is one of those florid pre-Raphaelite excrescences overperfumed by apostrophe, personification, atmosphere, moonlight and melancholia. In it, the young lord strolls through an untended garden where he spies two figures, one bright and frisky, the other forlorn and hang-doggy. Being a brash and sociable fellow, he flags them down, asks each to account for himself, and learns that both claim to be 'Love.' Douglas's poem concludes with him addressing the second, sorrier figure, and being answered in turn by each. The last line is familiar by now:

. . . I pray thee speak me sooth
What is thy name?' He said, 'My name is Love.'
Then straight the first did turn himself to me
And cried, 'He lieth, for his name is Shame . . .

. . . I am true Love, I fill
The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.'
Then sighing, said the other, 'Have thy will,
I am the Love that dare not speak its name.'

Homosexuality has been sparsely obscured in conversational euphemisms long before "gay" gained currency - the Victorians spoke of a "confirmed bachelor;" before that, the penchant was politely called "the Greek vice;" the stage called them "Bulgarians," and everyone knows any number of less polite words. The point being that everyone knows a few words, more or less polite, by which to refer to homosexuality without saying the word. Everyone from about the age of 12 onwards knows what it means, has seen it portrayed on television, in PG-13 movies, has by that age either been warned off it in church or been shown its finer points in church. The specifics of the Vatican's public relations problem are widely familiar . . .

. . . and it's not the hat.

In spite of the near universality of our American sexual vernacular, the Republican delegations in the state legislatures of Tennessee and Missouri, operating under the usual GOP presumption of an ignorant grassroots constituency, have each introduced sex education bills for vote which the press has dubbed "Don't Say Gay" measures. Missouri's current HB 2501 states with admirable brevity that, "Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school."

So when it comes to the spectrum of actual sexual practices, no teacher is entirely permitted to "speak me sooth" across the entire range of venery. By an act of legislative necromancy, if no one can say the word then the thing itself will magically vanish. And while they imagine no one is watching, the Republicans want to move "Don't ask, don't tell" from the back of the M1A2 Abrams tank to the front of the middle-school classroom.

"Not while I'm working, Cedric!"

And "Don't ask, don't tell" might take off in a dismaying number of directions: Missouri House member Dwight Scharnhorst (R-St. Louis), a co-sponsor of the Missouri bill, told HuffPost that teaching about LGBT issues would inevitably lead to other discussions. "There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry a goat," he said. Fair enough, and he's probably right - a conversation about the "homosexual agenda" would inevitably give rise to a conversation about the goat's desires and general wellbeing, and from that to PETA's radical "vegetarian agenda."

The version of the bill which Tennessee is attempting to enact further requires teachers to label adolescent hand holding as a "gateway sexual activity," so inflammatory that the teacher is not permitted to demonstrate its technique in the classroom upon pain of prosecution. Presumably, then, beneath an unspecified age it's permissible to clasp the hands in prayer, so long as the other hand is one's own.

So it may become matter of law that any form of sexual practice which doesn't result (with the best intentions, naturally) in reproduction is no longer merely the Love that dare not speak its name. It's the Love that may not speak its name, since it's a certainty that any teacher with the temerity to talk about that nasty business in class will end up as one of the nearly 2.3 million among the population currently in jail. The pupils of Tennessee and Missouri (and predictably also of states like Arizona and Alabama) are as yet exempt from prosecution for speaking on the playground about what they already talk about in pardonable ignorance mixed with a childish savoir-faire.

Rick Santorum's recent, fortunately capsized, presidential candidacy made uncomfortably clear (one might have thought) the Republican obsession over matters sexual - everything from marriage equality to contraception is now off their diminishing table, to the degree that one can only suspect a sizeable male contingent of the GOP of being either sexually ignorant, impotent or deeply, frustratedly sequestered in a dark, dank closet, fingering with sweaty palms its illicit lingerie purchases.

"Yet each man kills the thing he loves . . . ."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

City of Eternal Recurrence

"In whatever motion the particles of the principle elements are now, in that same motion they also were in past ages and hereafter will be carried along in the same way, and those things which are usually born will be born again under the same conditions . . . ." 
                                                                              - Lucretius, "De Rerum Natura" (Bk. 2)

The Paris gendarmerie are on it - on this fateful Vendredi le troisieme just past they siezed 13 tons of miniature Eiffel Tower souvenirs from a shop owner, her husband and her son, who were arrested for selling the trinkets sans permis at tourist spots including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The sting by French customs, social security and the police transport division followed several months of surveillance. Police say the boutique illegally rakes in some €1 million ($1.31 million) per year.

It is not for me to say what the Paris police should be looking out for, nor what the proper focus of the French Customs Office should be, whether a souvenir shop trumps the Le Havre or Marseilles docks, or the freight terminal at Orly, for example. The story caught my eye only because it reminded me of another caper, this one also involving souvenirs of miniature Eiffel Towers. In a 1951 comedy from the old Ealing Studios in London, Alec Guiness and Stanley Holloway devise a scheme to smuggle enough gold out of a London bank to last them a luxurious lifetime abroad. 

Guiness plays Henry Holland, a timid and meticulous London bank clerk, for two decades in charge of gold bullion deliveries at his bank. He appears to be dedicated but in fact has hatched a perfect plot to steal a single shipment of bullion and retire. But even if the theft comes off, Holland is at a loss how to smuggle it out of England.

Enter a new lodger, artist Alfred Pendlebury (Holloway), at the boarding house where Holland lives in Lavender Hill. Pendlebury owns a foundry that makes and ships the sorts of souvenirs sold in resorts - Paris, for example. Noticing how similar Pendlebury's foundry operation is to how the gold is melted into ingots, Holland decides that the ideal way to smuggle gold out of the country would be to cast it into miniature Eiffel Tower paperweights. Once recast and shipped off to France as souvenirs, they could be retrieved without attracting notice, recast into ingots, and Bob's your uncle, Paris (or Rio) your oyster. Pendlebury is easily persuaded. "By Jove, Holland," he exults, "it's a good job we're both honest men." 

"It is indeed, Pendlebury." And so the plot is hatched and carried off with ease - until the shipment of little Eiffel Towers is delivered by mistake to a licensed souvenir shop at the base of the Eiffel Tower where, when the two miscreants stumble upon the scene, a group of British schoolgirls is each singly delighted with her shiny souvenir. The game is afoot, the chase is on, and that's all I'm going to divulge, except to say that in this caper, like the real-life episode of Friday the 13th, the police were involved. Paris is the city of eternal recurrence.

Pendlebury & Holland (looking for the remaining miniature at large)

Paris, the world, and life itself. As Nietzsche in The Gay Science already cautioned, "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it . . . . The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!"

Fine, I can live with that - as long as I end up in Paris, and not the "other place."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mad Men: Spokespersons From Hell

In spite of predictable, if understandable, objections from the Anti-Defamation League, the shampoo manufacturer Biomen refused to tank their ad shown on Turkish television which features old footage of Adolph Hitler delivering one of his trademark diatribes with subtitles which make it appear that he's flogging the shampoo. Finally, the Turkish government forced the company to suspend the ad for three months while everyone reconsiders. Here's some pretty rough footage of the offending commercial.

A catchier tagline for the product might be "It's better for your scalp than hanging from piano wire." The ad furnishes the idle mind with any number of other equally apt pairings of product and spokesperson - imagine, for starters, Lenin and Stalin tag-teaming for a catfood commercial:

Lenin: "The Politburo tells me cats just love it."
Stalin: "Vladimir Ilyitch, 20 million Georgians would have killed for just a tin of it."

How about Pol Pot shilling for a landscaping business:

"It's spring again - back yard looking a little rough?"

Saddam Hussein selling airborne thrill packages . . . 

"Parachutes are just part of the fun. My people never wore parachutes."

Idi Amin for Lost Safari Travel Adventures:
"We'll nevah evah tell where ya might end up."

 Sean Hannity flogging real estate in a gated "community":

"A complete community, with schools, churches, a synagogue . . . and no mosques. A community where freedom to practice our religion is guaranteed by the FBI."

National Rifle Association executive veep Wayne La Pierre for PetSmart . . .

  (by DonkeyHotey)

"Ya can buy furry little critters at any mall, bring 'em home, turn 'em loose and let the kids have at 'em. The family that shoots together never gets hungry - or hassled by, uh, 'neighbors' ".

Oh, I almost forgot . . . 

"Gold - you can hide it in your back yard!"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Great Bores of the Modern Age: Newt Gingrich

"The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not our government . . . . A Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet.”
    - Newt Gingrich at the NRA forum, Celebration of American Values Leadership, April 13, 2012

"Is there a Mister Newt Gingrich at home?"

Let's be clear about this: it now transpires, in the fevered logic of the American right, that a person who lacks a photo ID in this country does not have the right of franchise; none of us has the right to health care we can afford; some of our citizens (many of them aligned with Gingrich) argue that women have right of access neither to contraceptives nor to abortions; and yet every person - on the planet - has the right, endowed by the creator no less, to have and carry a gun? And more, since many states have extended "personhood" into the womb (in the case of Arizona even before fertilization occurs), it's anyone's guess how many little unnamed zygotes, cytoblasts and homunculi might qualify for concealed carry permits in this country alone. "Mommy doesn't like you playing with guns" just doesn't carry any weight in the modern age.

"I have a gun, Daddy has a gun, my zygotes have guns."

For my text today, (since someone mentioned the creator) I have chosen a passage from Genesis, chapter one: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And he gave unto each, male and female gave he unto them, a cache of automatic assault weapons, and handguns without number, that they might have dominion over the face of the earth." 

I mean, fer Chrissakes, if the creator hadn't wanted us to have dominion, then he would have made animals bulletproof - not to mention people. QED, right?

Eve, American-style

As it happens to be Gingrich we're talking about, "the planet" would also include the moon. And presumably the Afterlife, where the streets of Paradise will be littered with small-arms shell casings of gold. Heaven will be like a paintball paradise with real gunfire, where no one ever gets seriously injured (they're already dead, see?) Admittedly a little gunplay could relieve the tedium of eternal self-consciousness, but for myself I was hoping to get in a little quiet flyfishing by the rivers of Babylon or wherever we're ultimately parked.

The notion that rights are endowed by divine fiat rather than by an enlightened system of government is the sort of superstition that could find an audience only in this country and in some retrograde African kingdoms. To suggest that God has granted a universal right to own a gun is shameless delusional humbug, beneath comment, particularly in the aftermath of several noteworthy bullet-riddled episodes in the past month, which any internet search will find quickly. And why stop at small arms? By the same argument, shouldn't it be any person's right to own some rocket-powered grenade launchers, an armored tank and maybe a Mercedes Benz in the garage? This way lies madness, of course. Lifting international bans on arms dealing would, by these lights, be a form of humanitarian aid.

Gingrich is not talking about the typical American hunter, nor the gun aficionado who keeps a locked collection of firearms, some of which as artifacts can be quite nifty things, I'm told. A couple of things seem to have escaped his notice: first, the members of al Qaeda are persons on the planet who will also share in Newt's magnanimity; and second, a New York court has just ignored the creator's wish for his creatures by sentencing a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, to 25 years for selling guns to the same al Qaeda.

No, Newt's peculiarly American vision of global human rights, which incidentally brought down the house at the NRA forum, looks more like this:

"Putting the Infant in Infantry"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Left Behindhand

In his 1937 handbook “The Backward Child,” the British child psychologist Sir Cyril Burt depicted left-handers as fumblers and bunglers who “squint” and “stammer” and “flounder about like seals out of water.” A decade later, Abram Blau . . .  condemned left-handedness as “an expression of infantile negativism” leading to rebellious stubbornness, secretive superstition, parsimony, obsessive cleanliness and other unpleasant traits . . . .
                 "Lefties Aren't Special After All," (Rik Smits, New York Times, April 13, 2012) 

Is nothing any longer sacred? Poor Miguel, who has lived long enough now to have suffered the childhood indignities of his left-handedness in a benighted age that judged it either a congenital flaw or the irrefragable symptom of a damaged psyche (psychiatrists could have it both ways back then), only to see its renaissance as a signal of genius, creative intellect, towering character - in a word, the seat of complete virtue. Oh happy day, until this wretched Smits put sinister pen to smudgy paper.

"Few truly insignificant traits," he begins his iconoclastic screed, "receive as much attention as left-handedness." Not only are we not a special breed apart, but "the popular image of persecuted left-handers across history is a gross exaggeration." What is more, "evidence of positive qualities associated with left-handedness [i]s anecdotal at best," although to balance his accounts Smits concedes that "the scores of studies associating left-handedness with all manner of afflictions [a]re generally too unreliable. . . ." (Too unreliable for whose purposes? Could they, in short, turn out to be true, if unreliably so?)

Smits first giveth before he taketh away: the 20th century was "perhaps the worst century for left-handers . . . left-handedness was generally . . . an annoyance to teachers and parents." Still, its reconstitution as the mark of genius (which I, for one, have always taken it to be) is, he claims, equally based in myth and faulty theories of child development (the latter phrase being a redundancy.) So the fact that presidents, artists and architects of genius, elite athletes, tyrants, demagogues, philosophers, saints, popes, barristers, baronets and barflies have been disproportionately of a sinister bent counts for bubkes?

I still remember the unwelcome attentions of a seventh-grade teacher, a gangly spinster of sour mien and waspish temper who one day to my puzzlement took my left-handedness in hand. I had never realized it was a difficulty, except for the fact that my writing arm always blocked out the light from the schoolroom windows, which were placed to favor the dextrous of my race. Over the space of a few months, she attempted to have me hold my paper level (instead of canted at a right angle away from my writing hand), and to write with my hand held straight beneath what I wrote (instead of curled over in front of what I wrote, dragging it along through the freshly-inked lines I'd just written). It never worked, I never got the hang of it, and to her credit she knew when to abandon my improvement.

As for squinting and stammering, fumbling and bumbling, I never had more than any human's share of those mechanical anomalies and failures of intention. I have sometimes regarded my life as an extended flounder along a remote existential shore, the ungainly heavings of a seal out of water to be sure. But I never attributed it to my left-handedness so much as to my flawed humanity and a constitutional unwillingness to navigate in any other fashion.

I will answer the additional charges in their turn:
  • infantile negativism - like hell I am. My negativism is entirely the product of reflection, experience, experiment, averages, philosophical resignation, an abiding faith in humanity and reading the newspaper. Call it mature negativism, or muted expectation. Or savoir faire.
  • rebellious stubbornness - see "infantile negativism." And why does stubbornness always have to be "rebellious"? If a mule won't go over a cliff when it's beaten, is that due to rebelliousness or an intelligent self-interest? All it requires is that one learn to properly assess the pain in one's ass as measured against the pain of general compliance.
  • secretive superstition - superstition is one thing, "secretive" superstition seems to me a bit of "piling on" by Herr Blau - it's somehow more damning to accuse someone of "secretive" masturbation, say, than just masturbation simpliciter. No, I admit to no superstitions, other than not to jinx a good thing by mentioning it ("Why, come to think of it, I haven't had a flat tire, in, oh, lemme see now . . . ") I am devoid of religion, patriotism, rank sentiment, faith in technology, trust in political arrangements, and so on. In that sense, I have a low superstition quotient.
  • parsimony - well, maybe a little. I haven't had a new suit of clothes or a new hat in about 450 years, and the old chateau could probably use a lick of paint now the Thirty Years War has been called a draw.

  • obsessive cleanliness - neither a hand washer nor a hand wringer. A man of modest habits lying mostly within the mean. My pickup truck is another matter entirely.
  • other unpleasant traits - guilty as charged.

South Park is not on TV

Earlier in April, on the heels of a March that broke all the records for warmth and sunshine, I decided to go trout fishing in South Park. "Trout fishing in South Park" is neither the same as the similarly named Richard Brautigan novel, nor as much fun as it sounds.

That 'South Park'? 

This is not the South Park where, in an idyllic mountain setting, the population is a heterodox, multicultural gallimaufrey of a Republican's worst nightmare, where the school principal is a transvestite, the school cook is a black man with an army pension who doles out sage advice about living, the school guidance counselor ("M'kay, you kids can't grow commercial quantities of marijuana in the boiler room, m'kay?") is as confused and ineffectual as most of the parents in the town, where there are intergalactic interventions, stranded Congressional delegations, attempted political assassinations, military coups (all nations welcome), jurassic monster attacks, gay motorcycle gangs, alien landings, hormonal feminist takeovers - still, and for all its doubtless charm, a town which for all intents and purposes is run by eight-year-old Eric Cartman . . . 


. . . with the help of Kenny, Kyle and Stan - when Kenny is alive, that is (Kenny is accidentally slaughtered in nearly every episode but, like Jesus, he reappears each week to become the contemporary archetype of the Man of Sorrows and the Resurrected). The foursome invariably dress in the same clothes, indoors or out, summer and winter alike, which is how I can tell it's a TV program. This little touch is known as 'realism,' since the actual weather in South Park warrants such prudential sartorialism.

Sorry, there is a real South Park. Actually it's the same South Park as the one in "South Park." I'm usually sure when I'm in the real (nontelevised) South Park, since the real one doesn't have any trees at all, and people's eyeballs look a little different.

 South Park (TV version)

The real South Park looks like hell or the moon, whichever you prefer, or whichever season you happen to stumble through it. It's in Park County, Colorado, which acquired its name by including this planetary monstrosity - a South Park of moonscape, endless expanses of montane prairie grass grazed by pronghorn antelope unwittingly trespassing on buffalo ranches, the precinct of coyotes, dead cattle, derelict autos, trailer homes with most of their siding blown off, howling winds and epic storms at any time of the year. 

The actual South Park, Colorado
In fact, the very place where I chose an idyllic spring day to try out my new inflatable (and properly inflated) plasticized, rubberized, galvanized, vulcanized, polymerized, butyelthylized, polyethelyized, cordite/graphite-clad, unpuncturable, unsinkable, damn-near uninflatible canoe. With conveniently collapsible paddles, courtesy of WalMart (paddles, not canoe, by way of apology and moral defense).

 The invincible 'Colorado'

South Park contains several reservoirs belonging to the Denver water system, each a windswept, shallow expanse of water fed by the South Platte River. Floating across these lakes while languidly casting a flyrod can be, on the pleasantest of days . . . well, tolerably pleasant.

Since I was heading for a state park I stocked up on some cash for the seven-dollar entry fee. When I asked at the gate if they could change a twenty, the park rangers looked at me, looked thoughtful, grinned accommodatingly. They thought for a bit more, explained that they'd made change for someone earlier in the day. I continued to stare at them. One of them brightened a bit and asked if I had a ten. He thought he might be able to make change for a ten. I didn't.
So, eighty miles from my front door, even though the wind was howling across the parking lot, foaming up the lake, ripping unstopped along that entire general part of the state of Colorado, I thought I'd driven far enough that I should give it a chance. Two miles back along dirt roads to the small country store (flies, cheap fly rods, cheap fly reels, Power Bars, lip balm and potato chips) to see if the till could make change. The clerk, a nice enough lady, looked into the middle distance, sighed, looked at me, asked if maybe I had a ten. She might could make change for a ten. I felt like I might as well be trading in pelts or cowry shells instead of federal reserve notes that remind us with each cash outlay In Whom We Trust. I decided not to bring God into it and instead suggested I might be able to use a couple of flies. Cost me two Wooly Buggers at about $2.50 apiece (which I can tie by the dozen) to get enough change to get into the park.


Once through the gate, the wind soaring, I prepared for my first outing - 'maiden voyage' seems a bit overblown when we're talking about a mail order plastic and presumably unbreachable artifact, so I'll just call it a first bang - I decided to 'have a go,' as they say in some circles. This in spite of the fact that fellow anglers I'd seen earlier casting from the shallows were leaving in a steady exodus, offering me little encouragement in my recreating.

Off the back of my pickup came the canoe, down to the water's edge, the wind trying to loft it up and sail it off somewhere, I gamely holding on, beaching it and anchoring it down while I retrieved my flyrod from the truck. I don't know why I thought I would simply be able to clamber aboard and paddle off - each attempt to leave shore, or get within five feet of shore, was foiled by the wind. While I was thus beached, the mother of all thunderstorms rode in, the sun was gone, the wind became nastier, the rain pelted me for thirty seconds before it turned to a driving, stinging sleet.

I'd had enough. For my seven dollars and two new flies, I never got my line into the water. On the other hand, I didn't lose any flies either, but I'll never see that twenty again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wunna These Days, Alice . . .

The course of true love is never smooth. Even so, English divorce law has not yet achieved the enlightenment of its American counterpart - no-fault divorce is not yet accommodated in British jurisprudence. Which naturally opens up all sorts of theatrical potential.

Under current law, divorces are granted only under one of five categories, including adultery and abandonment. About half of the cases fall within a broad category, unreasonable behavior, in which one party must accuse the other of acting in such a way that living together becomes intolerable.

". . . ta da moon!"

As a story in the New York Times has it, this requirement is often occasion either for a very public airing of petty marital grievances or some creative fictionalizing. To get divorced, many couples in court exchange tales against one another that are often unrelated in content, preposterous, petty. Vanessa Lloyd Platt, a London divorce lawyer, has compiled a list of some of the odder accusations of fault she and her colleagues have encountered in divorce petitions, to wit:
  • The husband who accused his wife of spitefully tampering with the TV antenna and throwing away his cold cuts. She said he usurped her control of the washing machine and failed to appreciate her revulsion for “intensely farmed meat.” ( . . . because the meat was "intensely farmed," or because it contained lips and snouts?)
 "I know it's pink, but it's not that slimey!"
  • The woman who sued for divorce because her husband insisted she dress in a Klingon costume and speak to him in Klingon. (Frankly, madam, I don't see a problem here.)
 "Sorry, no annual sex."
  • The man who declared that his wife had maliciously and repeatedly served him his least favorite dish, tuna casserole. (Divorce seems preferable to being brought up for attempted mercury poisoning.)
"I'm not catering to your whims - it's either tuna casserole or pink slime."

  • The woman who said her husband had not spoken to her for 15 years, communicating only by Post-it note. (Frequently seen eating together in restaurants.)
  • The man whose wife “would without justification flirt with any builder or tradesman, inappropriately touching them and declaring that she could not stop herself.” ("He was hung like a window sash!")
  • The respondent who insisted that "his pet tarantula, Timmy, sleep in a glass case next to the matrimonial bed,” even though his wife requested “that Timmy sleep elsewhere.” 
(Timmy, out of his glass case)
There were complaints about husbands with atrocious body odor, and others who changed the channels too fast. “The respondent husband repeatedly took charge of the remote television controller, endlessly flicking through channels and failing to stop at any channel requested by the petitioner."