Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Call My Friends at Invent Help!

photo of Thomas Edison by Louis Bachrach
Have you seen George Foreman’s commercial for InventHelp? “People ask me all time, George, how do I get my idea in front of companies…call my friends at Invent Help.” It would be fun to find out how much George Foreman earns for these outbursts. But what's even more interesting is the question of how many people there are out there to justify the existence of a company like Invent Help? Hundreds, thousands, millions? How many undiscovered Thomas Edisons are there? How many Alexander Graham Bells are iterating the latter day equivalent of “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” OK not everyone is going to invent the light bulb or the telephone. Not everyone is going to experiment with electricity like Ben Franklin did in his famous kite experiment. Many of the big discoveries--for example, quanta and the Higgs boson--either have been or are in the process of being made. NASA is already planning for a journey to Mars. What type of ideas is George talking about and what are the kinds of things that his friends at Invent Help ending up having to vet. For instance has anyone come up with a gadget that will enable you to unravel a new roll of toilet paper in the middle of the night? You know how irritating it is when your hand circles round and round and can’t find that first piece and finally how badly you feel when you decide to simply rip through several layers to start the ball rolling, as it were? How about an alarm which goes off when you don’t put your keys where they belong--so you don’t have to be late for work when you’re trying to find them? How about a “restaurant mediator” that takes the decision making out of restaurant going? Does your Saturday night on the town become a test of wills between you and your wife, with someone always getting the bottom end of the stick? This new patent will improve your marriage and enable you to blame a bad meal on a device rather than a person. OK and digging down deep what about some modern inventions that have the global implications of electricity or the telephone? How about a pocket nuclear Armageddon detector? Or a peace monger, an innocuous little antenna like device that’s already brought about peace between seemingly intractable adversaries. What about the polar ice cap capper? Or the 3-D crapper? If you have any ideas like this, call George Foreman’s friends at Invent Help.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Michael Vaughn’s Kingsman:The Secret Service is like The Shining meets Pygmalion. The movie which lies firmly in the tradition of Tarantino’s meta cinema features a millenarian mogul, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). who frequently threatens that the outcome of what we’re watching is “not going to be that kind of movie.” Jackson’s persona references Pulp Fiction in that the character he played in both films has an inclination for Big Macs. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is the movie’s Galethea who will be transformed from a tough growing up in council housing into a slick and impregnable secret agent by a Bond rip off (Colin Firth). In terms of the theme of transformation, La Femme Nikita, Pretty Woman and Trading Places are all referenced in the movie, which could also be subtitled Film History 101. The crazed Jack Nicholson character of The Shining hatcheting through a door is played by a mother trying to murder her 4 year old. All the agents in the super secret society of the film’s title whose offices occupy the backrooms of a Saville Road tailor shop are named after the Knights of the Round Table, Galahad (Firth), Arthur (Michael Caine), Merlin  (Mark Strong) and Launcelot (Jack Davenport). Eggsy is given a shoe with a spike like the one Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) sported in From Russia With Love, though that’s nothing compared to the murderous Oscar Pistorius blades sported by Valentino’s side kick Gazelle, (Sofia Boutella). Without giving away the plot we can reveal that the Queen of Sweden will allow Eggy to fuck her in the ass if he saves the world. To take offense at either the film’s violence or silliness simply misses the wonderful pointlessness of it all.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Love an Art or a Craft?

Irving Singer was a philosopher whose Times obit (“Irving Singer, M.I.T. Professor Who Wrote ‘The Nature of Love,’ Dies at 89," NYT, 2/15/15) describes how he had written a three volume work devoted to one of the most over used words in the English language, one whose definition has stymied and challenged thinkers throughout history. The Times obit quotes Singer thusly, “This, like so many philosophical works, began as an attempt to understand my own inadequacies. Everyone in my family persuaded me that I ought to be more loving, which troubled me. So like most philosophers, I dealt with the criticism by constructing a theory and a philosophy which enabled me to dismiss their ideas.” Singer who according to the Times taught for many years at M.I.T. seems have had a sensibility that in many respects was closer to that of humanistic psychologists like Erich Fromm who wrote The Art of Loving, who also had a philosophical background (as a product of the Frankfurt school). On the basis of the obit, Singer did not appear to be a utilitarian or consequentialist like Peter Singer or Derek Parfitt. He was not concerned with the kind of ethical problems that bugged trolleyologists like Philippa Foot and the description of his work in the obit with its emphasis on emotion doesn’t seem to tie it to language philosophers or the work of phenomenologists like Husserl or Heidegger. But the very inception of Singer’s project makes one think about how other great works of philosophy might have come into being. Did Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason derive the fact that his family found him to be was unreasonable? Did Heidegger’s Being and Time result from the philosopher’s problems with lateness or in the case of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, a great mind’s inability to deal with varying kinds of absence (God, money, an empty cupboard). Could Sartre’s existentialism and his obsession with nothingness have derived from the fact that when he was was a little boy, he frequently came home to an empty refrigerator?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Marry a Goy

“Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law” by Rembrandt  (1659)

What if you’re a Jewish fellow who wants to meet shiksas. Go to ChristianMingle.com and “Find God’s Match for You"—only don’t let her know that that your name is Shapiro, Cohen, Levy or Horowitz. You don’t want to go to ChristianMingle.com with a name like Hy or Shlomo or Abe even if your last name happens to be Rothchild. Or let’s say you’re a gal and you happen to have been born with the name Hadassah which is not only the Hebrew for Esther, but the name of a famous organization of Jewish women. You might not find yourself meeting "God’s Match forYou" on Christian Mingle.com, especially if you haven’t had a rhinoplasty. On the other hand you’re probably going to mingle better on ChristianMingle with a name like Yehudah HaLevi than Mahmoud Abbas or Benjamin Netanyahu. But let’s take the case of a nice Jewish boy by the name of Schmulka Bernstein, whose name once blessed the now defunct Lower East Side deli, and who wants to get on Christian Mingle.com so he can marry into a blue blooded WASP family and send his kids to private schools whose name begins with Saint. The Schmulka Bernsteins of the world, can easily find God’s match for them on ChristianMingle.com if they go to a speech therapist (to stop talking a mile a minute), a plastic surgeon (who will raise their cheekbones), a hair stylist (who will change the curly dark hair to straight blond) and a lawyer (who specializes in identity theft and will sell them the person of someone with a surname like Knickerbocker and a first name like Will and introduce them to a trainer who will teach them to fish and hunt). They should also take the salamis out of their windows and stop sleeping with pieces of liver. Will Knickerbocker will thrive on ChristianMingle, with his flies and crossbow, even if he was brought up to be a Yeshiva bucher who was warned against the dangers of assimilation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Zeno’s Conscience

When you see someone smoking the first impulse may be to shoot out a warning like “you shouldn’t smoke it will kill you” or simply the notice imprinted on packets, like this one, “ SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema And May Complicate Pregnancy."You might even offer the example of a person you have known, a heavy smoker who died of lung cancer. Though the intentions of such jeremiads, which often result from fear of loss, are obviously good, the net effect might be to drive a smoker to drink or at the very least make him or her seek a safe hiding spot where they can further indulge their habit. The smoker may reach for a cigarette simply to quell the anxiety created by the urgency of the warning. Smokers, drinkers and drug addicts, who have incurred a variety of problems resulting from their addictions, have all been made to witness horrible documentaries in which the scourge of the poisons of nicotine, alcohol or opiates are dramatically presented. But how many are converted by these messages. The mind is a wonderful labyrinth of defenses that all conspire to allow stagnation and even deterioration if that is the  dominating drive, as it so often is in addictive personalities. The addiction itself is providing a function. So what to do when you see someone you care about bathed in a cloud of smoke, of booze, of opium? You might hand the smoker a copy of Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience: A Novel, whose protagonist turns to psychoanalysis in his attempt to cure his smoking habit and a lifetime of other problems. The book is full of humor and irony and offers no practical answers to the problem. It's also guaranteed to lower rather than raise the adrenalin of its reader which, on a short term basis, might at least create one degree of separation between the urge and the compulsive need to satisfy it. If the problem is bad enough that the smoker is suffering from emphysema or the drinker from pancreatitis, it may be time for a so-called intervention. Or it might be time simply to step back and offer your prayers and thoughts. They’ll get you drunk before you get them sober is a popular AA expression. And if that smoker’s implacable urge to go up in smoke is going to drive you to drink then the best and only thing you can do is to practice that form of love which seeks no reward.