Monday, April 30, 2018

Couch Potatoes Anonymous

You may be a vegetarian or even like vegetables, but you don’t want to turn into one. With robots or bots as they’re called becoming ascendant there's a tendency to try to compete with expeditious mechanical objects that exude no discernible affect. Even robots possessing a high degree of A.I. have a vegetative affect, to the extent that they experience highs or lows. Computer generated voice recognition systems and robo callers all get the job done, but there's a lack of the kind of emotion that makes for a memorable experience.  The recent e coli scare with regard to romaine lettuce should put people on guard ("E. Coli Outbreak Tied to Romaine Lettuce Expands to Sixteen States," NYT, 4/19/18) Vegetables are not all that their cracked up to be. Sure a vegetable is a living thing but it doesn’t cluck like a chicken, moo like a cow or oink like a pig and when all is done and masticated, you end up imbibing a lower level experience. Edamame does not produce the silence of lambs. Ersatz meats that are made from tofu do not elicit that famous Wendy's “where’s the beef? that produces the Robert Ringer Looking Out for #1 kind of feeling. A couch potato doesn’t appear out of nowhere. He or she is the product of eating too many carbohydrates.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Return of Marco Polo's World

In a review of Robert D. Kaplan’s The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century ("Foreign Policy From the Dark Side," NYT, 3/28/18) Bret Stephens quotes the author thusly, “The very idea that some sermon or blog or tweet has gone viral is a sad reflection on the state of individualism in the 21st century. The electronic swarm is a negation of loneliness that prepares the way for the new ideologies of totalitarianism.” Kaplan’s locution is a brilliant statement on the narcotic effect of technology. The internet of everything has become so all consuming that solitude is misperceived as depression. The Opium of the Intellectuals is the title of a book by Raymond Aron rephrasing Marx’s famous quote, but it's not  ideology as the hive mentality that's increasingly becoming operant in political culture. Populism has come a long way from the era of La Follette and Huey Long. Now it’s a tribal mentality whose ethos is ultimately technology. Tyrants spare their followings from the burden of  freedom by offering a cloak of belief. But  cybernetics has ultimately created a human ant colony that’s ruled not by thinkers but algorithms masking as historical dialectics.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Fifth Law of Thermodynamics: Things Pile Up

There should be a law of nature dealing with the fact that things seem to pile up. It might even be the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics. When bad things happen they come in herds and the good news in flocks. It’s actually a singularity when one bad or good thing happens. To some extent this is understandable. Say you’ve been turned down for an important job. You're more likely to be in a bad mood and experience road rage which can lead to an accident or uncomfortable confrontation that leaves you feeling even worse than if you'd gotten the job. Or you might go  home and fight with your wife or partner and end up leaving scars or even in a huff saying things you didn’t mean that cause the relation to break up. Conversely, let’s say you got the job, you're more likely to succeed with that person with whom you wanted to get into a relationship AND you might get that rent stabilized apartment you’ve coveted thrown in with the bargain. The positive attitude that emerges on the heels of your success leads to further success. It’s kind of the way money works. The rich get richer since they always have money to invest, while the poor get poorer simply because they have to use up every cent they have to survive. As the old adage goes, one door closes, another closes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pornosophy: The Joys and Pitfalls of Domesticity

Domesticity can be a source of great solace. You see the same person all the time, and in the most intimate settings imaginable, and you don’t think twice about it. Though they’re the center of your life, it’s as if they don’t exist. Same sex roommates rarely experience the kind of enmeshment that characterizes couples who have come out of the romantic stages of their relationships and are in for the long haul. There's even a scene during Performance a l970 film about a reclusive rock star where the characters played by Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg evince an almost horrifying familiarity with each other as they walk around in their underwear. It’s possible to reduce even the sexiest of stars to a humdrum lifestyle which was one of the achievements of the film. But it’s important not to let this go to far. Familiarity breeds contempt goes the old saw and no one wants to get to the point where the sight of a once loved object produces indifference. How to maintain sexual chemistry and the comfort and trust that derives from routine? The answer is that it requires a certain amount of work. Never get to the point where the sight of your other half’s secondary sex characteristics is taken for granted. Like Kegel exercises which increase bladder control, sexualization of partners requires practice. You have to constant remind yourself that the person in front of you is not your beloved so and so, but a naked man or woman. If you look at the one you love as if they were a stranger, you will love them even more.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dawn of the Dandy

In his review of Philip Mann’s The Dandy at Dusk (TLS, 2/23/18) Richard Canning quotes Oscar Wilde thusly, “in so vulgar an age as this, we all need masks.” How far away dandyism seems in this era of moral probity, with it’s language police and politicized sexuality! How would the l9th century flaneur or boulvardier navigate affirmative consent? Talk about paradigm shifts, the dandy would run aground in a time fixated on the notion of human betterment. As Mann says, “Everything the dandy feels, does, says or wears reflects a desire to stop the clocks.” You may not ever have met a dandy, but the basic idea is that of a person who lives in a world of irony, who wears ancien looking clothes (as least more ancien than the era he is living in) and talks with an affectation that's a mockery of aristocracy. Of course the dandy is above literally everything including aristocracy which usually puts him (sorry dandyism not being politically correct is as Mann points out usually a male affair) in a state of poverty. Though the Duke of Windsor and the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville are apparently cited by Mann, most dandies are above the kind of ambitions that lead to wealth while at the same time being the product of a self-invention that’s not usually the province of a blue or black-blooded upper crust background. Dandies thrive in cosmopolitan settings and normally show little interest in either healthy foods or environments. There were lots of dandies in l9th century Paris and during the 80’s and 90’s in Manhattan where refugees from the social revolution of the 60’s patronized eccentric Victorian structures like the Dakota and the Osborne, oases of anachronism amidst the juggernaut of progress which would take off again at the millenium.