Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Roto-Rooter and Nothingness

Sam Blanc, founder of Rotoscoped-Rooter
Dysthymia, dysphoria, suicidal ideation. Are you infected with a metastasizing negativity that's spreading into every bone of your body? Do you walk into a room full of strangers and hate everyone or feel disgust at people going about routine activities like eating? Do you feel the world is full of gargoyles who're inhabited by nothingness, with personality consisting of rabbit holes on whose event horizons you're constantly in danger of drowning. Imagine life as one long anal argument, one of the those all night affairs that takes on a life of its own and ending with you hating yourself as much as the person over whom you've unsuccessfully prevailed—because they’re stubborn and stupid and don’t accept the evisceration of everything which you’ve come to understand as a basic human truth. There's also an exhilaration in annihilation. It’s so definitive like one of those ominous lines that sees death in everything from a Sylvia Plath poem. You like to assert the indestructibility of the ego even though it leaves no recourse and no way out of the solitudinous grave you’ve dug for yourself. Do you enjoy flaunting your inhumanity, your lack of need for the company of anyone and yet suffer when you find your recusal from the community meets with an indifference that only increases your rage? Then it’s time to call Roto-Rooter with their famed jingle, “away go troubles down the drain.”

Monday, August 19, 2019

Wall Street or Jurassic Park?


The inverted yield curve has been in the news ("What’s the Deal With That Inverted Yield Curve? A Sports Analogy Might Help,NYT, 8/15/19). The Times compared the American economy to the New England Patriots who have a coach, Bill Bellichick, 67 and a quarterback Tom Brady, 42. You might bet on them next year, but you’re not going buy futures on the team. However, the idea of an inverted curve is a rather pregnant image. It’s kind of a financial version of Peyronie’s Disease, the abnormal curvature of the penis. One likes to think in terms of progress and there are many investors who subscribe to the view that over the long haul, the march of securities will always be upwards. However, there was another piece in the same day's Times, an obituary for Kary B. Mullis ("Kary B. Mullis, 74, Dies; Found a Way to Analyze DNA and Won Nobel,NYT, 8/15/19) which may also be applicable. Mullis invented PCR or polymerase chain reaction which is a way of copying DNA to analyze it. The obit goes on to state: “Indeed, the science of PCR, because it allows for the unlimited replication of small bits of DNA, was one of the inspirations of ‘Jurassic Park,’ the Michael Crichton novel about a theme park of cloned dinosaurs that Steven Spielberg tuned in a  movie franchise.” What about examining the DNA of the players on the world stage from Donald Trump, to Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and even Kim Jong-un? It’s nice to think that the financial system is not suffering from a form of Peyronie's and that the inverted curve will flatten out and rise normally in response to stimulation. However, if something has occurred which is turning the leaders of the world into Dinosaurs, then you might want to take a massive short position in anticipation of the bottom falling out of not only the market but human life.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar


The wonderful thing about radio dramas, which are having a renaissance on channels like Sirius XM's Radio Classics, is that you get to imagine the faces. This applies even in cases where the roles were played by famous actors or actors would became household names when they reprised the same roles on TV. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar which played from l949-62, starred celebrities like Dick Powell (of Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre fame) and Edmond O’Brien, but the series’s main character, an insurance investigator known simply as “Dollar,” took on a life of his own, due to the magical way that radio allows the mind to fill in the blanks. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Radio has had a renaissance with Podcasts like S-Town and Serial made by the This American Life people, but a program about an insurance investigator? It’s almost as original as one about a P.I. who wears a scuba tank. If you recall, Sea Hunt was on radio before it came to TV. Every series has its credo and with Yours Truly, it’s the expense account, whose items become a narrative device in and of themselves. You learn what Dollar has done through his expenditures i.e. taxi fare, dinner for two and hotel in say New Orleans where he’s gone to investigate a claim. Most people think of insurance as dull. It’s like the career in plastics recommended to Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But it can make for interesting scams, particularly when life insurance is involved. You always know Dollar is on the scene by the show’s haunting musical theme which would have been as indelible as Dragnet's (dumdumdumdum) if Johnny had ever made it to the Golden Age of TV.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Shining

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, CO
It's almost impossible to fathom the fragility of being. If the idea sounds too metaphysical then just look into the deserted hulk of a space which used to be teeming with life. This is the stuff of horror novels like The Shining, in which the walls of the Overlook Hotel are literally embedded with garish and still tortured spirits. However, you have only to walk down to the corner and look into the vacant space which once housed the restaurant where you took the kids on Sundays in that long ago time when a certain way of life was in full bloom. Wordsworth deals with this in “Tintern Abbey,” where he conjures the sublimity deriving from an old and abandoned space which still exudes the past. When you empty out a residence, render it broom clean and finally take your final leave, you’re likely to take once last wistful look. It’s at these moments that you realize that ownership is truly an illusion, however proprietary one’s relationship to reality. Renting or owning, it’s all the same since at same point the prized possession is going to fall into new hands, with the stamp conferred by anyone or thing soon dissolving as new forms of life metabolize in its place. Structurally the surfaces may seem the same, but inside it’s like one of those neurological disorders where the familiar face is now occupied by a stranger (Capgras) or the once familiar face is no longer familiar at all (prosopagnosia).

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Interminable Wait For a Bus

MTA bus (photo:trainrider10)
It’s interesting that seemingly long distances which require concomitantly long durations of time to traverse are all mere flashes in the pan when looked at in a cosmic setting. The force of dark energy which is causing expansion is, for example, making the multiverse an increasingly dark place, with the light from distant bodies taking ever greater periods of time to reach any particular point in space. Compare that to waiting for the bus on one of those freezing cold February days when every minute feels like an eternity or trying to get to sleep when you’re suffering from insomnia and time itself becomes an agent of unrest, if not insanity. Recorded history may account for 5000 years which, if you imagine time as a yardstick, would not earn a visible notch and yet no one can believe that it’s taking so long for a simple order of spaghetti to come, when the kitchen in the local Italian place is working at capacity. When they’re happening travails that turn out to be inconsequential and are largely forgotten seem like the voice of a great tenor who commands the stage. A charismatic personality can take the air out of a room though the building in which they're contained will itself one day fall into disrepair. “Look at my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains,” says Shelley’s Ozymandias. Relatively speaking the seas are never wide nor the time it takes to cross them interminable, no matter how unending the voyage may feel like. And then there's Keats’ Grecian Urn, which is timeless.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Habeas Corpus


There’s a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) when a body is jettisoned from a truck loaded with potatoes. Besides the potatoes the movie is rife with culinary citations due to the fact that a police detective assigned to the case is married to a woman with culinary ambitions of a comically failed nature (her husband is always dumping her creations in the garbage when she isn’t looking). But the body secreted in the middle of a moving lorry is a suggestive image. You may find department store mannequins thrown out with the rubbish. However, it’s amazing there aren’t more mangled limbs and heads turning up at the local town dump. Vik Muniz's Wasteland dealt with the garbage pickers turned artist/curators of the Jardim Gramacho, a dump outside Rio and there’s Potter’s Field, where all the unclaimed corpses are sent for mass burial and between the two you might have the beginnings of a living piece of surrealism. In the days of incinerators in NYC high rises, there were undoubtedly cases where these shoots became the repository of, at the very least, animal remains. Now however there are far easier and inventive ways of criminals disposing of the dead (for instance animal crematoria). So the opportunities of criminal objets trouves resulting from mob hits is lessened. Remember the cement shoes that the Mafia used to bid farewell to their rivals? Habeas Corpus literally means “produce the body.” Now your average assassination or murder is far more surgical and sterile, employing the most advanced forms of refuse removal known to man.

Monday, August 12, 2019

HasBeen.com


You may have heard of the 50’s+ dating site, “OurTime,” (OurTime.com) for the Tinder of heart. The problem is that you have to be wary of the kind of perverts that are turned on by protheses. If you're looking for a site that caters to the crowd who want to remain sexually active despite the hearing aids and walkers, you might want to go to “HasBeen,” (HasBeen.com). At HasBeen you’re likely to meet your match. There's a certain etiquette to negotiating your way around to the extent that you have to at least act like a has been. If you boast about your current success say winning in 50 and over men’s singles at the Club, you aren’t going to meet a soul. No one's going to be impressed by someone who's happy and well-adjusted and uses expressions like “I can’t complain,” and “sounds like a plan.” You don’t want to exchange contact information with someone who's “on the same page" with you. It’s hard telling someone who's looking for a mate what to say, but a typical exchange on HasBeen might go something like this. “I used to like bike riding.” Without missing a beat and without so much as an acknowledgment of what the other person has said, the respondent should discuss how much biking they did when they were young. Not only are they talking only about themselves, with little recognition that the other even exists, they're describing an activity that's basically defunct—at least in their life. All the stars of the site are has beens and if you join up you want to hit the nail on the head, emphasizing that you're one too.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Fate of the Global Village



“Global Village” was put forth by Marshall McLuhan in books like Understanding Media (1964). Remember McLuhan was the guy who magically appeared at the wink of a citation as Diane Keaton and Woody Allen stood on line outside the movie theater in Annie Hall  (1977). When the term was first iterated in the 60’s there was no internet or social media and the notion of so-called globalism as opposed to the tribalism that’s again rearing its head in the form of Brexit and trade wars, was just a glimmer in its creator’s eye. The world was a rather provincial place in which American students spending a semester in Paris would pick up their letters (remember when mail came in envelopes) at American Express. But globalism had its hay day when technology and democracy went hand-in-hand and modernity held out the prospect of tolerant liberal culture. The liberties that came about with mercantilism in the places like Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries would herald a new Renaissance. The sociologist Daniel Bell had written The End of Ideology (1960) and Francis Fukuyama would produce The End of History and the Last Man in l992. Commodification which Marxism had looked at as one of the ill effects of capitalist society suddenly became a harbinger of freedom and hope. The iPhone and MacBook would become humanizing forces bridging cultural gaps. The consequent homogenization was a small price to pay for peace. Needeless to say, it didn't work out that way.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Logos: Solving Your Trilemma


"The Adoration of the Trinity" by Albrecht Durer
Trilemma is a word lo and behold and it opens a Pandora’s box of possibilities. Why not have a tripartisan or tripartite commission looking into oh say the Mueller report? On the other hand you have the Trifecta in horseracing, but no one ever talks about the Bifecta. The Urban Dictionary says that a Bifecta occurs when you expect three good things to happen and only two occur. You have the Holy Trinity, but is there any expression which would describe filial or even connubial relationships with God, such as those supposedly experienced by nuns, who become the holy of holy’s wives. You can bifurcate just about anything, but what about trifurcating. This last is a real word, but it’s rarely used and in the case of Switzerland you would have to talk about quadfurcation, since there are four languages spoken French, German, Italian and Romansh. Of course you have bilateral and trilateral agreements. These are just an example of business as usual. In science you come upon a double bind and there are binary stars and relationships, but what about the trinary or ternary--for instance,those who replay oedipal dramas where they triangulate? And there are people who suffered from having only bicuspid aortic valves when the tricuspids are the norm. Now the old Triborough Bridge in in New York is called the JFK, though the Willis Avenue is what might be called Biborough since it connects Manhattan with just the Bronx. And let’s not forget binary numbers with their practical application in computer science though diadems are deceiving since the word may seem like a twosome when it really refers to a band.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Final Solution: Addicted to the News Cycle



Altair78-(talk). Based on a picture by Doug Waldron.
Agitation itself is a form of insanity since it shifts the axis upon which you’re viewing the world. It’s an infernal machine however since being in a state of tumult actually accomplishes certain goals—one of which is to allay depression. Interconnectivity is a two-edged sword. You may find yourself totally hooked in and no longer alone or deprived of information. You’re a part of the discussion, but few discussions are free from conflict. Decades ago one watched the evening news at 7:00 o’clock and maybe capped off the night with a local news report. Human consciousness has become part of a constant pipeline of environmental and political catastrophe. There are those who recuse themselves from Facebook, Twitter and the constant news feeds that come through on any smartphone. But billions of people are now like molecules of water whose kinetic energy is increased as the temperature is brought to the boiling point. Where is the base line? How is it possible to achieve a feeling of objectivity in this maelstrom of cosmic turmoil? You’ve heard people futilely vow to lay off watching news cycles which increasingly affect their sleep—to no avail. The stimulation and ensuing discontent are addictive and can only be palliated with some new disaster that enables them to place their prior concerns on the backburner.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

James Thurber's Stoic Vision


James Thurber’s Walter Mitty imagines himself as a great hero. The humor of the story which is really an extended fantasy lies in diminution. The Thurber story in which the character appeared, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” ushered in an age of anti-heroes led by Roth’s Alexander Portnoy and hearkening back to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa who wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect. At the center of all these tales is a hapless creature who's alternately saved and doomed by his intellect. The catharsis lies in the fact that many people find respite from the juggernaut of pitiless reality through immersion in a constant stream of fantasies that can become dangerously real at times. How many times have you seen the cheering throngs on a Rolling Stones You Tube video and for a moment begun to feel that you were on the stage singing “Beast of Burden?” Of course, there are people whose lives are the stuff of fantasy and who make stop-offs between Cannes and Hollywood the way the average person changes for the shuttle at 42ndStreet. But the average human being lives a rather humdrum life, a victim of routines that start with going to school as a child, joining the work force and a 9-5 job with two week paid vacations and then facing a whole new set of pleasures that eventually create their own prisons in the brief period of retirement that precedes death. The dreamer is like a statue poised on a pedestal. It’s no coincidence that surrealist painters and filmmakers have brought such figures to life and found some degree of humor in them. In the creation of Walter Mitty Thurber caught the disparity between the dynamics of the mind and the stasis that derives from the gravitational pull of human existence.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Final Solution: El Paso, Dayton and The Trolley Problem

Philippa Foot
The extremity of violence in America with the two latest outrages in El Paso and Dayton brings to mind Philippa Foot’s “Trolley Problem” from the annals of ethical philosophy. If you recall it requires sending the train down the wrong track to kill one person instead of killing the five who would have been killed were the train to continue on its normal route. A cruder way of putting this might involve the notion of “preventative vengeance,” a proposition which violates all constitutional norms, but which may find itself increasingly invoked by those who experience the frustrations with carnage together with the government’s continued failure to do anything. Here is an example of the kind of senseless concern that emanates from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The entire nation is horrified by today’s senseless violence in El Paso. Elaine’s and my prayers go out to victims of this terrible violence, their families and friends, and the brave first responders who charged into harm’s way.” Tweet away! What the remark reminds us of above anything else is of the obligatory nature of the Tweet, a word which is onomatopoeically aligned with chirp. Birds tweet all the time while they're scouring sidewalks for crumbs. Of course, on the other side of this lies the prospect of rage, anarchy and the suspension of all due process that would occur were there roundups and executions of all potential assassinations—the logical result of taking the Trolley Problem to heart. Catastrophes create unity, but they also generate fear. Gun control is a must, but pre-emptive thought control threatens the very principles on which democracy rests.

Friday, August 2, 2019

What To Do When You're Caught in a Riptide?


It’s always recommended not to fight back if you’re caught in a rip tide. People who panic and exhaust themselves trying to buck the current are likely to drown. Those who wait it out and gradually make their way back will eventually be pulled to shore. It’s very difficult to have the faith in the fact that if you just relax and in effect give up, everything will turn out alright. In addition, there's a strong countervailing desire that almost everyone has and that must be fought in these difficult situations which makes one want to immediately remediate whatever problem that’s being experienced. Instant gratification by immediately alleviating anxiety is the name of the game. It’s a particularly popular past time among millennials who're aspirational by nature and are always aiming to meet the challenge that’s placed before them. The clogging on the ascent routes to Everest which recently resulted in many deaths is an example of this irrational refusal to shirk in the face of danger ("On Everest, Traffic Isn't Just Inconvenient. It Can Be Deadly,NYT, 5/23/19). You see the people on land who have no idea of the trouble you’re in and it may even be a matter of pride not to cry, “help!” In one sense, surrendering or giving up is the only way you’re going to survive and it may be a metaphor for a number of life situations where one is confronted with forces that are out of one's control and not susceptible to being overcome by the mere exercise of will.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pornosophy: Voyeurism and Exhibitionism


There are many so-called paraphilias that are not what they appear to be. Take voyeurism. Peeping Toms are deemed to be pathetic creatures who stealthily intrude on their innocent victims. The body is possessed of secrets and the thrill, for the voyeur, is supposed to lie in uncovering them. However, many voyeurs would not be happy in nudist colonies since they'd not only have nothing to do, but would be missing the thrill of transgression from which the catharsis ultimately derives. Exhibitionists similarly are not great candidates for vacations to nudist colonies since no one is going to go ooh and ah. They’ll just be one more naked body in the crowd. When a person takes their clothes off on a public beach where everyone else is wearing a bathing suit or even decides to walk naked in the street you have a different situation. Hans Christian Anderson famously wrote “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but that would not qualify as exhibitionism since the emperor is under the delusion that he’s dressed. However, exhibitionism has a subtext which is often missed by those who perpetrate as well as enjoy being its audience and that resides in the desire for truth. Nudity is a metaphor for revelation. Nudity, in both its physical and metaphysical senses, not beauty is truth. And so the  voyeur complements the exhibitionist as a seeker after a certain kind of reality, the ideal form veiled by shadows, that Plato talks about in the cave allegory.