Monday, July 25, 2016

Disaporic Dining XXXXII: Letting People Know What They're Worth

Have you ever felt unappreciated for the lengths you’ve gone to when it comes feting a friend or business associate? Instead of going to the Stop and Shop or the Food Emporium, you’ve spent the extra bucks at Citarella’s to get those porterhouse steaks, which while he or she's wolfing them down, you want to say, you know those came to over a bill. Does he or she even fathom the expense you’ve gone out to? Or say you let it fly at one of the local trendy bistros and tell the crowd of friends you’ve invited for your birthday, it’s on me. Sure everyone is smiling and especially the waiter? Who doesn’t like being given carte blanche? But after everyone has ordered all the things they wouldn't normally want to foot the bill for and are moaning how they couldn’t eat another morsel, don’t you feel a certain let down? They're not thinking about you and how much you’ve spent, but only about how full their tummies feel. Imagine a world where it becomes fashionable to let everyone know how much you're paying, a world where you actually put little cards in front of people’s plates, like the seating tags that are sometimes provided at dinner parties, indicating how much their meals cost? Everyone knows that you serve expensive food to people you want to impress and more modest fare to those you could easily do without. So in order to make it worthwhile to spend a lot on someone, you want monetize how much people meant to you. If you've forked out for a two pound lobster, you want your guests to know that the $75-100 you've spent is a recognition of the depth of the friendship. After all, there are those for whom you would only buy the 1and ¼ pounder for $49.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sperm Count: Inaugurating The White House Bed

master bedroom of The White House in 1963 (Kennedy Library)
Can you imagine what it must be like to have made it to President? You’ve been inaugurated and you’re going to spend the first night in The White House. If you’re Hillary or some future female president of the United States you’re probably thinking about the political correctness of the leader of the free world getting fucked on this important night, or any night for that matter. If you’re married to the president you run the chance of being fucked for the first time in The White House by the leader of the free world and that’s bound to be one of the great thrills, equivalent say to partaking of a delicacy like Fugu. If say you’re Melania Trump you’re probably thinking of the teddy you might be wearing to entice The Donald. If you’re Bill, you might be asking yourself  how the tables will be turned and how the changes in roles is going to affect your love life. Michele and Barack have always seemed to be a loving couple and like with any of the couples you like and admire you can’t help thinking about frequency, e.g. how often they get it on. Actually a well balanced couple with a seemingly perfect relationship is a hard act to follow whether they occupy The White House, a house in Chappaqua or Mar-a-Lago but few people realize that along with international and domestic policy, every new couple who enter The White House actually has to live up to the standards set by their predecessor. John and Jackie, for instance, were following in the footsteps of Ike and Mamie, just as Pat and Richard had big shoes to fill when they followed Lyndon and Lady Bird. How hot will it be in the winner’s circle after this hotly contested election?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Melania's Soup Can

"Campbell's Soup Cans" by Andy Warhol (1962)
Melania Trump, or whoever is responsible for the writing of her speech, has been accused of plagiarism.  But as Chris Christie said, “Ninety-three per cent of the speech is completely different" (“How Melania Trump's Speech Veered Off Course and Caused an Uproar,” NYT, 7/19/16).  Governor Christie was plainly looking at the glass as half full or 93% full, in comparison to the presumptive First Lady’s critics who looked at it as 7% empty. Of course there are many who might have said that with or without Michele Obama’s imprimatur the speech was as full of empty platitudes as that of its predecessor. “Values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond; and you do what you say” might be reminiscent of Polonius' "neither a borrower nor a lender be," but are not exactly up there say with Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil,” or better yet the last lines of the second part of Goethe’s Faust, “Das ewig Weibliche zeiht uns hinan,” the eternal feminine lures to perfection.” If Melania had gotten on stage and started off with something like an unattributed form of Hamlet’s soliloquy critics might have taken pause, but doesn’t the regurgitation of trivialities falls merely into the category of that practice that’s big in the artistic community, “appropriation.” For instance Andy Warhol famously appropriated the Campbell’s soup can and made it into a painting that become one of the most emblematic images of the Pop Art movement? Let’s not fault Melania for stealing Michele Obama’s words, nor even Paul Manafort,  who according to The Times “pegged the number of suspicious words at 50.” The Times quoted the Trump campaign chairman as saying “and that includes ‘ands’ and ‘thes’ and things like that.” It’s like habeas corpus. There's no crime if you don't have a corpse.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Heard in a Manhattan elevator, one dental technician talking about a difficult patient, “you know when you put a cross that someone doesn’t exist?” This may be easier said than done. There are all kinds of societies in which shunning is the punishment of choice for those who have broken social codes. Today with the ubiquitous beheadings by ISIS in Syria and elsewhere ostracizing seems a relatively mild form of vengeance--even when we consider what happened to Hester Prynne in The Scarlett Letter. But if Dante was to create circles just related to vengeance then things like banishment and ostracizing might occupy the first circle of this hell. To take someone’s life, particularly in a painful manner such as beheading or live burial or stoning would obviously fall into the 9th circle category. But what about eradicating an individual's existence without necessarily terminating their life. This would probably fall under the category of what the psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold terms Soul Murder. There’s something particularly invidious about this method of torture. It’s not waterboarding or sleep deprivation, but it attacks the deepest level of humanity, to the extent that it denies one's being and identity. The victim of such reprisal suddenly finds him or herself forcibly estranged from some person or persons he once knew. He or she no longer sees him or herself reflected in their eyes and a little bit of him dies. Maybe you don’t care if the person cleaning your teeth refuses to acknowledge your existence, but these things can become viral and you soon may find yourself faced with such a degree of assumed indifference to your presence that you begin to wonder if you really do exist.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Outsourcing Your Eleemosynary Impulses

What would Donald Trump think about the idea of outsourcing volunteer work to China? Let’s say I really wanted to help Hillary Clinton get elected. I didn’t like her, but I feared and hated Trump. On the other hand I hated politics, which seemed alternately futile and boring, especially when it came to knocking on doors in swing states like Pennsylvania where these contests tend to be particularly hard fought. What would Donald Trump think about my hiring one of those phone banks in New Delhi, the ones you pick up when you’re have a technical problem with the OS of your computer? What would he think about acquiring visas for a small town in China, who you'd pay to fly over to Philadelphia and then send out on the campaign trail to make sure that Democrats who might have been indecisive would finally pull the lever for HC? There's supposed to be nothing more satisfying than selflessly helping others, like the Syrian refugees. The Times recently ran a story about Canadian families who have adopted some of these unfortunates ("Refugees Encounter a Foreign Word: Welcome," NYT, 6/30/16). But let’s say you don’t feel like it. How about hiring some Canadians of your own to do the job? Is that as magnanimous or charitable as doing it yourself? What would Donald Trump think about this? Would he think it would be taking valuable voter registration work out of the hands of qualified Americans, who would be deprived of an outlet for their eelymosynary instincts?