Friday, October 19, 2018

The Final Solution: Here Comes the Judge

Dewey "Pigmeat" Markham
Jurisprudence and case law have been in the news recently—particularly due to the controversy surrounding the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. But all the brouhaha brings up precedents created by another voice who came into the public eye during an earlier period of conflict. And that’s Judge Pigmeat Markham whose "Here Comes the Judge" and "The Trial" (which was the flip side of the 45 and might be conceived as the closest thing to Kafka in jukebox form) handed down decisions that echoed through the halls of music as well as justice. Remember the opening of “Here Comes the Judge,” “Hear ye, hear ye, the court of swing it's just about ready to do that thing” and later “Every body near and far I’m going to Paris to stop this war.” The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1999), produced by Sylvia Robinson (of Mickey and Sylvia, “Love is Strange” fame) is often credited as being one of the first rap or hip hop hits, but actually Pigmeat, a comedian on the R&B circuit who played venues like The Apollo was one of the first to produce this kind of “talk radio.” The record is also significant to the extent that it directly references the Paris Peace Accords, which though not signed until 1973, had begun to be negotiated in 1968, the year “Here Comes the Judge” was released. In his version of “The Trial,” Pigmeat throws the case of a man who's accused of being a nudist out of court when he finds that the man has had 9 children in 3 years and hasn’t had time to put his pants on. Joseph K's case might have fared better with Pigmeat on the bench.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

False Equivalence

False equivalence is a fetching concept. Understanding it is a good way of undermining a hyperbolic argument. Comparing apples with oranges is one kind of false equivalence. A person is not a car and while it might be poetically useful to use expressions like "putting “the rubber to the road,” it actually makes little sense for understanding the human condition, even for those who wear shoes with thick rubber soles. The following statement from President Trump is an almost perfect false equivalence: "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned," ("Trump criticizes rush to condemn Saudia Arabia over Khashoggi," The Washington Post, 10/16/18).There's an almost a comical side to many false equivalences since, for instance, a victorious candidate has really nothing in common with a winning horse and an unlikely winner is hardly a dark horse though that expression might simply qualify as a plane old figure of speech. A person with a famously busy social schedule who accuses you of being too busy when you try to make a date with him or her is employing false equivalence. Should a wealthy industrialist who drives around in a Ferrari be more required to ante up his money for philanthropy than the person who plays it closer to the vest? Why should ostentation be tantamount to generosity? Just because you like to show off your hard earned cash doesn’t mean you have to give it away. "The last shall be first" is a wonderful kind of false equivalence since it replaces a wish with a reality. Sure it’s a very pleasant and Christian notion (deriving from the Gospel of Matthew) that those at the bottom of the food chain will be rewarded for their penury, but it flies in the face of the facts.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Final Solution:The New Civil War

If you’re a baby boomer, they’ll be the memory of a day, week or month, some watershed event that marks the moment when the counterculture changed your life and created and transformed your relationship to your parents and/or any representatives of the older silent 50’s generation that preceded you. It might have been the assassinations of JFK, RFK or Martin Luther King. It may have been the violent attack on protestors at the Chicago Democratic Convention or maybe it was the music of the era that was transformative, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Stones. Perhaps you simply regarded yourself part of the Woodstock generation. Martin Buber talked about I-Thou versus I-It relationships. The depersonalized I-It may have described your relationship to those whose humdrum existences (for instance the famous character in The Graduate who recommends "plastics' to Dustin Hoffman) seemed totally irrelevant to your life. Your new bibles were books like On the Road, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran or R.D. Laing's The Divided Self (which was more a primer for the time than some people might have liked to realize or admit) and you found yourself worshipping  at the alter of gurus like Timothy Leary. Today you may also find yourself growing alienated from a whole demographic of people who seem to uphold a totally different worldview that you, but the difference is less predicated on youth and age or appearance (short or long hair) or even matters of lifestyle like sexuality (though abortion is one of the big issues in the current divide). Those who support the agenda of Donald Trump or other right leaning populist candidates in France, England, Germany and Italy are the new “It” for a generation weaned on the globalism and humanism of modern liberal politics. The counterculture of the 60’s was a civil war and before that was the actual Civil War in which many Americans died. Now we're in a totally new civil war which is characterized by the complete eclipse of bipartisanism. It’s war all right and there are few turncoats brave enough to cross the aisles.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pornosophy: The Second Coming

"The Last Judgment" By Michelangelo
Have you ever been accused of being too selfless in your sexuality? Have you ever received complaints from partners who feel they’re the recipients of more pleasure than they can handle? Overstimulation can be equally as serious as lack of interest and there are people who simply do not possess the wherewithal or have not had the kind of upbringing where they were taught to tolerate or even expect great amounts of attention to their being and more specifically to their private parts. If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s used to the slam bam thank you sir or madam kind of sex, they may even prefer nostaglie de la boue for déjà vu si vous parlez francaiswhich as everyone knows is the language of love. Yes there are those who do not like a French, French kiss, or to revert to the Latin which is source of all so-called Romance languages, fellatio or cunnilingus. They’d rather turn the other butt cheek and follow the precept that it’s better to give than receive. “The last shall be first” and “the second coming” are their mantras. Chacun a son gout! Butt is not usually employed as a conjunction since it’s a noun, but you get the point.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Final Solution: Towards a Value Free Politics

Value free politics means, it doesn’t matter what any regime does as long as they’re on your side. Of course the US has a long history of this kind of realpolitik. In Chile, the right wing dictator Augusto Pinochet became our choice over the democratic socialist Salvador Allende when the “domino theory” and “spheres of influences” were still important catchphrases of US foreign policy. Remember a Secretary of State named John Foster Dulles? The United States would depose Mossadegh and replace him with the Shah. Now the Trumpocracy is  selling us to the selfsame "Russkies" Colonel Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) warned against in Dr. Strangelove.The president has called Kim Jong-un who has yet to promise anything and who likely ordered the murder of his own half-brother (and who the hell else) “a funny guy” “a great negotiator” and “very smart” while still sending the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to a conference in Saudi Arabia. This latter is occurring despite the apparent ordering of the grisly murder of the muckraking journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi born US resident on Turkish soil. With friends like these who needs enemies? In the light of Mike Pompeo returning from a recent stopover in North Korea where he discussed a second summit, it’s as good a time as any to remember Neville Chamberlain’s famous words: "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Art of Quitting

photo: Byron Rollins (AP)
Is there something to be said for quitting, for giving up in the face of a challenge? Perhaps you're someone who has spent all of his or her life climbing the mountain. Is it possible that for a personality type of this kind the challenge lies in not trying to climb the mountain anymore? Cancer survivors are always told to fight, but there are patients with terminal cancers who may end their lives feeling they're in a final losing match. Dr. Atul Gawande wrote about this in a New Yorker piece entitled "Letting Go: what should medicine do when it can't save your life," (The New Yorker, 8/2/10). Is that the way you want to die, facing the pain of death and feeling like you’re losing a competition or not stepping up to the plate? The ethos of modern civilization is a business model with the idea that no company can survive unless it constantly grows. War is the other metaphor that's employed. Might is right and nobody wants defeat. Everyone is trying to improve and get better. People make themselves miserable constantly seeking out the best life has to offer. Of course, you don’t want to be a lump or blob, but is there nothing between scaling El Capitan without a rope and turning into a couch potato? Maybe there isn’t. Maybe you have to accept the fact that you’re either someone who meets challenges or not and if you're in the latter category, you’re going to do it until the day you die—when everyone will be patting you on the back and praising you for not giving up and all you want to do is sleep. You will never surrender and you will never find peace.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Museum of Modern Love

Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love is a great title for a novel, but the subject, according to a recent review in PW is even more inventive. PW describes the book as “an exploration of love and convergence set against the backdrop of a work of art performed by Marina Abramovic at MoMA in New York City in 2010.” Surely our present period will beget numerous novels set against the background of the Trump presidency with the turmoil of The White House mirroring the inner conflicts of the characters— and even the pathetic fallacy becoming politicized. But Rose’s idea is truly original and recalls an artistic event that however transfixing may have vanished into the collective unconscious of a previous era. Remember the naked acolytes at the entranceways and the eyes of the artist? It was a little like one of those games where you lock into the gaze of someone waiting to see who will crack first, only Abramovic never budged. It would incidentally be interesting to find out if she ever met her match, if anyone tried to take on this Serena Williams of performance art. There was also sense in which Abramovic’s gaze acted like a tabula rasa in which you could either feel you were being seen or ignored depending on the penchant created by your own psychohistory. Imagine further someone writing a novel about the brothel which was the basis for “Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon” or painting Marina Abramovic. Sitting totally still, she made the perfect model. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pornosophy: Combat in the Erogeneous Zone

You can be guaranteed that after five days, if you don’t see immediate results, you will receive a complete refund. This revolutionary new program is guaranteed to desexualize any relationship. Using the latest advances in domesticity—such as nagging, devaluation, dismissiveness, together with de-eroticization techniques such as overfamiliarity and watersports (like communal micturition), you will remove all sexual tension and will be totally ready to give up what Ingrid Bengis called Combat in the Erogeneous Zone. In just five days, if you're not ready for a truce, you'll get your money back. Familiarity builds contempt and this fast acting program can turn even the most charged romantic liaisons into scenes of petty squabbling overnight. Learn to transform the most trivial exchange into a power struggle. Learn how you can begin to hate everything about someone you were once wildly infatuated with. See how easy it is to forget the nice things a person does when they exhibit the same irritating peccadillo over and over again. Here at last is a program that will make you question what you ever saw in your supposedly significant other while guaranteeing you'll feel chained to them forever (because you're too washed up to find anything better). Yes, you’re trapped and that’s all the reason to resent your life mate, but this is one holding pattern that will embrace you like the arm of the law.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Vermont Journal: After the Fall

These days when people tall about a fall, it’s usually in the Adamic sense employed by Arthur Miller in his piece de theatre a clef about the destruction of his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. Was it she who plucked the apple? The current civil war in America is an essay in the loss of a certain kind of innocence or belief. Talk about innocence, remember “do you want a medal or a chest to pin it on or you’re funny but your face beats you to it”?  But sometimes fall simply applies to the season of the year famed for its refulgent displays of color. Dead leaves are like supernovas and Route l00 in Vermont is the place to go if you want to experience this kind of oxymoronic dying blossoming. The brief flash of beauty is like one of those political movements for which people hold out so much hope. Generally it’s a flash in the pan of congregating and selfless brotherhood, followed by institutionalization, a process that Max Weber termed “the routinization of charisma.” The sect, according to Weber, becomes a church. After the fall comes winter, when the branches are bare and sometimes break under the weight of the snow. This is a peculiarly difficult fall for Vermont, which elected Bernie Sanders. The disappointment with politics is written on the faces of many residents who themselves are facing shorter days and darkening skies, of a not totally seasonal nature.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Vermont Journal: The News of Dorset

map of Pawlet, VT (watercolor by Hallie Cohen)
They’re talking about Cleveland in Dorset. That’s Edgar Cleveland  who's running to represent the nearby towns of Pawlet, Tinmouth, Middletown Springs, Rupert and Wells and whose electoral signs grace the front yards of many houses. Politics and foliage are two characteristics of Bernie Sanders’ state and one hand-painted sign on Route 30 simply urges someone, anyone  to “Get the criminals out of Montpelier. Begin With Robin.” Could the sign be referencing Representative Robin Chestnut-Tangerman, a Progressive Democrat who emanates from nearby Middletown Springs? Dorset boasts the oldest continually run golf course in the United States, the Dorset Field Club, only a few doors down from the gracious old Dorset Inn. Horace Greeley, did an internship at the Northern Spectator newspaper from 1828-30 and his residence in nearby East Poultney down the road from Lake Saint Catherine is commemorated by a plaque which stands in front of the United Baptist Church. The Dorset area is no different than other parts of Vermont where a man still takes his gal out in his Harley Trike for the modern equivalent of a buggy ride, and there don’t seem to be enough refulgent leaves for all the tourists who revel in their wonder. The crowded bars and parking lots are an anomaly in Dorset (population: 2,031) which is six miles down the road from the normally bustling Manchester (population 4,391) whose outlet stores are the primary source of attraction.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy

"Sol Goldman and Alex Di Lorenzo, a Real-Time Social System,  As of July 1, 1971" (Tate)
With all due respect to The Times' team which unraveled the decades of Trump tax fraud ("Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father,NYT, 10/2/18), the paper might have done well to hire artists like Mark Lombardi or Hans Haacke whose works are on view in the "Everything is Connected: Art and Conspiracy"exhibit at the Met Breuer. Here is where art comes in handy. You don't have to wade through thousands of words. The show is agit prop of a certain kind and displays works like that of Jenny Holzer which are documents about documents. Holtzer's  “The White House 2002” (2006), is a painting of a memorandum from the Bush administration allowing for the use of torture on suspected terrorists. Fred Hampton, the legendary Black Panther, makes an appearance courtesy of Videofreex. Mike Kelley’s “Abuse Report” (2012) is a California filing in which the artist as victim lodges a complaint against Hans Hoffman. The complaint recalls Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. Lombardi, whose mysterious death has spawned its own conspiracy theories, was a conceptual artist whose work is simply a diagram of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, aka the "bank of crooks and criminals.” Hans Haacke’s piece is “Sol Goldman and Alex Di Lorenzo Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, a Real-Time Social System,” As of May 1, l971.” The only difference from the Trumpocracy is that the Goldman Di Lorenzo empire fell apart like a house of cards. What's's so astounding about a piece of "investigative art" like this, which hearkens back to events that occurred almost 50 years ago, is how prescient it was. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Pornosophy: The Fate of the Heterogametic Sex

The pornoverse is wobbling, very much like the earth itself. You had the l000 years of Imperial Rome and now like the Ice Age which saw the extinction of Dinosaurs, you have the decline of man. "The Fall of Men" headlined the recent ill-fated issue of The New York Review of Books, which featured an apologia/complaint by banished Canadian journalist Jian Ghomeshi that resulted in the then editor, Ian Buruma's, departure ("New York Review of Book Admits 'Failures' in a #MeToo Essay," NYT, 9/24/18). Not man in the Adamic sense in which an act of temptation led to the fall from Grace, but man as opposed to women, the creature with the XY as opposed to the homogametic XX chromosomes. Imagine if men strutting with their testes and penises were to vanish from the earth and the race of homo sapiens was composed of simply females. In terms of 501c3’s you would still undoubtedly have charities which used the #MeToo hashtag since sexual abuse though it may have been weighted in the male direction (which is one of the reasons why males will become extinct) is still a multivalent phenomenon. In fact, a la the Stockholm Syndrome there’s reason to believe that women, once in power, might very well imitate the worst traits of men, the exercise of power itself being a value free activity. Once men vanish from the face of the earth will drunken women go to Pornhub to view gang rapes of women dressed up as men, during Superbowl half times in which both squads are populated totally by female players?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Semiotics of Torn Jeans

Torn Jeans (American Eagle)
Style is like the conventions of drama. A particular device or piece of stage business is like a collar or a cuff, like a V or polo neck. By now one of the conventions of casual fashion, particularly clothes worn by women, is that that the knee area and hem should be torn. People go around with big holes in their pants in order to make a fashion statement. Speaking of theater it’s something that Moliere might have come up with. Has the fashion industry Tartuffed the consumer or are they mutually complicit? Is it a folie a deux which at the same time is making both a cultural and subliminal statement. Those with limited means usually wear torn clothes because they’re on a tight budget. By wearing a pair of torn designer jeans an affluent woman is identifying herself with the have nots. It's one way to hide disparities of income and alleviate guilt. In the l9th century upper class women displayed ivory white skin as a sign of class. They didn’t become tanned like those who had to work outside, but by the 20thcentury tanned skin was paraded around proudly as a sign of having the means to travel to Florida and the Caribbean. Today tight fitting suits are the craze. Twenty-five years ago everything was baggy and loose fitting. Is that because the mood of American society was more expansive several decades back? Was the eleemosynary instinct more pervasive? Are today’s snug-fitting fashions a sign that young people are now holding things closer to the vest.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Heavenly Bodies

from Thom Browne's 2011-12 collection at The Met (photograph: Hallie Cohen)
Fellini’s “ecclesiastical fashion show” from Roma (1972) defines "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination"which is just completing a run at the Met (a clip from the movie is presented on a monitor). In Roma the ordering of the Catholic hierarchy is presented in the vestments emblematic of each model’s position in the food chain—for instance a nun’s habit is described “as starched cap with flexible wings.” Was Fellini tipping his hat to Bresson when he presented the “country priest” get up? The curators themselves juxtapose the idea of the fashion runway and liturgical procession in comparing the longitudinal architecture of the Met’s Medieval Sculpture Hall to a catwalk. The show is introduced with this quote from Andrew Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination: “Catholics live in enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are merely hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation.” Significantly Danilo Donati who did the costumes for Roma also was responsible for the The Gospel According to St. Matthewthe deeply religious (and political) work by the director of Salo. Oscar Wilde once said, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” “Heavenly Bodies” underscores the idea that the truth of beauty may lie in its iconography.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Are the Body Snatchers Invading?

The good news is life is continuing on. The bad news is that something has been killed. One of the most touching aspects of the RBG was the piece about the relationship between Scalia and Ginsberg, two justices on the opposite sides of the judicial spectrum who shared a love of opera. Will that continue in the light of the bitter divisions that are the legacy of the latest round of Supreme Court nomination hearings? The Judiciary Committee is not the court, but it’s hard to imagine someone with the bearing of a Kavanaugh mixing it up with his ideological rivals in the way that others have done in the past. Still, and this might roil conspiracy theorists on both sides of the aisle, there seems to be some modicum of dignity left in the Senate. However, inflammatory the hearings and deep the divisions, it's important to report that the decorum and the level of discussion actually existed in a totally different universe than that of Trump’s Tweets. Despite the ad hominem attacks, there were still many thoughtful moments in which the level of discussion exceeded anything that comes out of The White House. You may have been appalled by the gladiatorial spectacle, or if you're an MMA fan, been delighted by the sight of blood and guts, but it was heartening to note that there were no Invasions of the Body Snatchers. The executive and legislative branches are still separate, if only in temperament, and whether you write it off as simple lame duck antics, someone like Jeff Flake turns out to have a mind of his own. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger says Nietzsche (and Kelly Clarkson). Who knows what will happen if America survives the current civil war?