Saturday, June 30, 2012

You Know What the Sun's All About When the Lights Go Out

Just spent 24 hours without power in a wretched heatwave. First priority: thanking Willis Carrier, the Promethean genius who stole air conditioning from the gods. It may be hastening our demise, but fuck it, I'll accept the Faustian bargain. As a spokesman for humanity, I'd rather have a couple generations of comfortable living than an extra few million years of this sweltering misery.

Saturday Shuffle

  1. Cathedral -- Autumn Twilight
  2. Ginger Wildheart -- Begin From Within
  3. Alabama 3 -- U Don't Danz 2 Tekno Anymore
  4. Extreme -- Leave Me Alone
  5. School of Seven Bells -- Love Play
  6. Modest Mouse -- Perfect Disguise
  7. Gojira -- Ocean Planet
  8. Anthrax -- Intro to Reality
  9. Robbie Robertson -- Akua Tuta
  10. Spoon -- Who Makes Your Money
  11. Micachu and the Shapes -- Lips
  12. King's X -- Hate You
  13. Helmet -- L.A. Water
  14. Curve -- Perish
  15. VAST -- Blue
  16. Arcade Fire -- Headlights Look Like Diamonds
  17. Mr. Cooper -- Five
  18. Black Sabbath -- Thrill Of It All
  19. Chemlab -- Megahurtz (Mindfield Aurora Mix)
  20. Michael Giacchino -- Arnhem Knights

Friday, June 29, 2012

Superstition Ain't the Way

Franz Beckenbauer:

Beckenbauer, 66, lamented the "curse" Italy have over Germany at major tournaments - having remarkably still never beaten them in a competitive match - but believes reaching the semi-final was still a good achievement for a young team.

"I think we have too much respect (for Italy). The talk about the curse of Italy seemed to paralyse the players," he wrote.

Soccer is a strange game, and how much history plays into contest like this is often overlooked. Germany remain unable to beat Italy in a meaningful game at this level, and it goes beyond the level of luck to a matter of psychology. Italy never appeared really challenged in this game, even when they made some nearly disastrous gaffes early on. But Germany did grow flustered, as if they believed not only that they were destined to win the game – but that there was no way they should be losing it so early on.

Often overlooked. Yes, if only someone besides every lazy staff writer covering the sport, every studio analyst on ESPN and the ghost of Oswald Spengler had dared to broach the possibility that a mystical sense of historical destiny was more relevant than the mundane details of the particular match in question. There's simply no precedent for a better team being upset by an underdog, and with a statistical sample stretching right to the cusp of high single digits, what other conclusion could any reasonable person draw?

I want you all to bookmark this post, in case I need someone to present it as evidence in my defense after I finish my killing spree and wind up sitting in court, drooling, kicking at imaginary soccer balls and gibbering incoherently about the difference between causation and correlation in response to the judge's questions.

In Soviet Russia, Book Reads You!

Molly Flatt:

Our reading choices have always been constrained by the natural filter bubble created by our friends, and the pressures of time play as large a role as Google's search engines. So are there any steps we can take to combat the natural "you loop" in our reading tastes?

First, I propose we adopt a thoroughly disruptive stance: "If you enjoyed that, then this is the opposite." If your sister loves the erotic fantasies of E.L. James, then it's time for her to take on the metaphysics of "Gods and Monsters", and give Hari Kunzru a try. I intend to lend my mother Roberto Bolaño’s "2666" and buy my father Marian Keyes's "The Brightest Star in the Sky". And when I’ve finished the remaining 700 pages of my Norse epic, I shall ask my Twitter friends: what shouldn’t I read next?

And why stop there? How about disloyalty cards, where booksellers give us discounts for clocking up an eclectic range of purchases? Or discomfort zones, with a "books we can't stand" display, complete with little handwritten condemnations: so much more inviting than yet another card explaining why "Bleak House" is really rather good. Could there be a pop-up sci-fi corner in a romance authors’ convention or critics reviewing novels that are diametrically opposed in subject matter, style and philosophical outlook, and still liking both? As the season for lazy beach-reading approaches, let us make a stand for the joy of being thoroughly surprised.

At first reading, I thought this was protesting too much, but now, I'm thinking it might be like someone walking backwards within their own footprints in order to throw off pursuers.

For centuries, reading has largely been a solitary and private act, an intimate exchange between the reader and the words on the page. But the rise of digital books has prompted a profound shift in the way we read, transforming the activity into something measurable and quasi-public.

The major new players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting in books, how long they spend reading them and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

The Confections

Somehow, I'm not surprised that a git like Terry Eagleton is a fan of Rousseau:

Above all, Rousseau is the explorer of that dark continent, the modern self. It is no surprise that he wrote one of the most magnificent autobiographies of all time, his Confessions. Personal experience starts to take on a significance it never had for Plato or Descartes. What matters now is less objective truth than truth-to-self – a passionate conviction that one's identity is uniquely precious, and that expressing it as freely and richly as possible is a sacred duty. In this belief, Rousseau is a forerunner not only of the Romantics, but of the liberals, existentialists and spiritual individualists of modern times.

I found this especially amusing, having, as it happens, just been reading J.M Cohen's translation of Montaigne's Essays last night (a vastly superior example of the genre, if you ask me, and even if you don't), where he offers a slightly different view of Rousseau's autobiographical style:

But the internal kind of false portraiture, though rarer, is even more insidious, and its classic exemplar is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. "Rousseau", says Fernandez, "gives an account of his morality in terms of his desires. He makes the person he was coincide with the person he would like to be by explaining his intentions after the event." The Confessions are full of incidents that show Rousseau pretending to emotions he never had, and that clearly belonged to an imaginary self, whose secret, by Fernandez' definition, could never be revealed. Rousseau takes it for granted that this romantic ego really was in control of events and aware of situations at the moment when they happened, that it was, in fact, capable of consciously, and sometimes mysteriously, planning his life.

Rousseau must therefore explain, though he cannot explain away, any incident in which he fell short of the ideal picture of himself which he cherished in his imagination. Montaigne never explained his actions in this way; he merely noted them down. The word that he uses to describe this recording process is constater: a verb which implies no suggestion of moral or wishful criticism. Had he been guilty of a meanness like some of Rousseau's, he would no doubt have noted it down. Indeed he notes down many things that would be to the discredit of an ideal Michel de Montaigne, if he had carried one about with him.

And Arthur included a perceptive capsule summary of him in a recent email exchange that's worth reproducing here:

Rousseau was very big on the way civilization as such, with its complexity and imposition of intricate interdependencies and competitive territorial adjacencies, pressures us to adopt false selves based on what Lacan calls the "imaginary" and what Girard analyzes as the psycho-politics of envy and scapegoating.

Rousseau's problem was that he thought that therefore science and the arts were the source of corruption, and he proposed instead a sublation of the self in the social contract based on an amorphous concept of "the general will," "forcing us to be free," opening the door, to detractors like Berlin, to totalitarian encroachments on individuality. But then he was a puritan (that is, a Genevan Calvinist by upbringing and re-conversion), and that says it all, as far as the cultural genotype he represents. He was also highly paranoid and narcissistic. I'm reading his Confessions, and what a train wreck the man's personality was (and in some sense is, for he is a persistent archetype of the modern personality; who among us can claim not to have at least a little Rousseau in him or her?). He is inevitable. Romanticism is practically unthinkable without him. Tolstoy and Proust are his wiser children. Proust at least realized that art was the solution, not the problem. Rousseau, conflicted, self-hating and self-seeking, contained both the person who made his name writing for the theater and, like a good puritan, attacking the very notion of a theater in Geneva because such frivolous entertainments would distract people from their duties as citizens! The hippie fascist is born.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus (V)

As usual, these are just the ones that have been added to the mountain since the last picture. I don't have a problem. I can quit anytime.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Least of These

I don't mean to keep picking on PZ lately, but man, he just keeps serving 'em up:

This is why, even when we’re saddled with a moderate conservative jerk for a president, I have to hold my nose in November and pull the lever for the asshole with a (D) after his name. I don’t like him, I think he betrays our values at every turn, but I like the people of the Democratic party far more than I do the people of the Republican party. I’m not going to vote for Obama, ever; I’m going to vote for that guy at the Minnesota caucus who suggested that we cut the defense budget in half and spend the money on universal health care instead, and I’m going to vote against the guy in the Texas caucuses who thinks our most pressing concern is preventing gay couples from having a happy life.

By this impeccable logic, the Pope and the rest of the Vatican leadership are irrelevant, because many lay Catholics are wonderful people, and there are some selfless nuns devoting their lives to progressive principles, so we might as well all convert to Catholicism in solidarity with them because, hey, the Islamists are even worse, and whaddayagonnado, waste your support on some tiny little atheist group that doesn't have a chance in hell of influencing policy? The line forms behind the professor. No pushing, please.

History's Truth Is Marching On

I recently came into possession of a hardcover copy of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. Surprisingly, it still had a great sales rank and resale value, and, true to those numbers, it barely had time to get settled in inventory before someone bought it. People still read that book and take it seriously? I thought it had been nothing but a punchline for years now, go figure. Well, at least Marxists and their neoconservative mirror images have been so thoroughly discredited by now that no intelligent person would subscribe to, uh... oh.

And if you’re one of the people who has been whining about dealing with harassment, suck it — you’re on the wrong side of history.

Eh? Since when does history take the form of geometric shapes? For all we know, the final punctuation mark at the conclusion of the human story might be an asteroid. Or a viral mutation. Or maybe the more catastrophic possibilities of climate change will be realized, and the resulting sociopolitical unrest will undo much of the post-Enlightenment social change that the complacent take for granted.

Now, I realize that such statements are mainly just unthinking recitation of the progressivist creed in order to rally the faithful, but, you know, sloppy metaphors often indicate sloppy thinking, and so I have to ask: shouldn't the imperative for men to not act like obnoxious jerks toward women rest on a firmer bedrock than that of a dubious teleological vision of human existence as a story of linear moral progress? On reason, perhaps, rather than Hegelian faith?


Paul Wilson:

It seems strange referring to Germany as underdogs, especially in a European competition, yet even with the confidence they have demonstrated so far they are bound to be uncomfortably aware of their record against Italy as they go into the semi.

Yes, I'm sure they are, given that pundits like yourself harp on it incessantly as if it's actually indicative of anything. We heard it all last week, over and over: Spain has never beaten France in a competitive match! This useless factoid was of the utmost significance, until it wasn't. Having learned nothing, surprise, the talking heads are now reprising the same focus on the Germany/Italy game, and, oh sweet Jeebus, if Spain and Germany win their respective matches and meet in the final, all we're going to hear is about how Spain topped Germany in the last two major tournaments, and what does that portend for this game, for expert insight we take you now to our soothsayer standing by live with her runes and tarot cards; Madame LaRue! Madame, as you well know, these two teams blar blar blar please make it stop, please...

Seriously, I thank the gods for the invention of the DVR, which at least allows me to skip past most of the inane chattering, but I still pick up enough of it during the actual games to make me weep and contemplate suicide. I repeat: there is no mystical relationship between different nationalities that affects their performance during a particular match. It is of absolutely no relevance what a completely different group of players representing their respective nations did in a completely different game X number of years ago. If you have nothing else to talk about, no worthwhile analysis to offer, just shut the christing fuck up.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Popcorn Is Political

Dodai Stewart:

In Brave, Merida isn't interested in the young men trying to win her hand, or in marriage. Which is not to say that she is gay. There's nothing in the film to suggest that she is; and Markovitz doesn't assume that because she enjoys outdoorsy activities, she must be gay. But because her character is not defined by her sexuality — unlike, say, Ariel, Jasmine, or Cinderella — she could be a lesbian. The point is: Kids will notice that her happily ever after isn't dependent on a wedding. And that feels like a step in the right direction.

Okay. Think back with me now to all the fairy tales and Saturday morning cartoons you absorbed as kids, many of them grotesque and reactionary if taken literally. How many of them informed your adult worldview in any meaningful way? What an impoverished mindset it requires to look at a fucking CGI animation and see it as political propaganda for blank slates. However much we have to stretch the definition of art for our purposes here, what a paucity of imagination and integrity it indicates for someone to judge popular art by how faithfully it trumpets the cause du jour.

The point is not that people should or shouldn't relate characters and themes from books and movies to their own experiences; they always have and will, and skillful creations will resonate with audiences long after current political obsessions have faded. The point is that people who are concerned first and foremost with making Brave into a referendum on feminism, redheadedness or gay rights are myopic prigs, and that it takes incredibly insecure people to demand that their sociopolitical values be validated and affirmed by even popcorn entertainment.


And another one:

These factors combined to produce in German culture a concept that is almost untranslatable into English but is probably the defining factor in understanding much German thought as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. The word in German is Innerlichkeit. Insofar as it can be translated, it means a tendency to withdraw from, or be indifferent to, politics, and to look inward, inside the individual. Innerlichkeit meant that artists deliberately avoided power and politics, guided by a belief that to participate, or even to write about it was, again in Gordon Craig's words, "a derogation of their calling" and that, for the artist, the inner rather than the external world was the real one.

Whimsical Philistines

Leafing through Peter Watson's The German Genius for particular references, I found some passages I'd bracketed and forgotten about.

From this vantage point (Gottfried) Keller was particularly aware of the growing division between capitalism and artistic individualism, the division that Marx labeled alienation, which Keller found equally abominable. He addressed this in a series of novellas titled Die Leute von Seldwyla (The People of Seldwyla), a distinctly odd but not necessarily disagreeable place. Here the people are no less daring and enterprising than anywhere else but, as they gain experience of the world, they change. They become "whimsical philistines" who withdraw into the security of their own city: they refuse to see work as "a process of upward mobility," they reject speed, derive pleasure from the trivial side of life, rather than what everyone else regards as "important." They are, in effect, exploring alternative values to those of the bourgeoisie.

Nothing to Do with What You Think, If You Ever Think at All

Joseph Epstein:

My cousin Sherwin's way into the snob-free zone was simple enough: care only about one's work, judge people only by their skill at their own work, and permit nothing else outside one's work to signify in any serious way. View the rest of the world as a more or less amusing carnival at which one happens to have earned—through, of course, one's work—a good seat. Judge all things by their intrinsic quality, and consider status a waste of time.

...The music was terribly thin, leaving no residue, better listened to, if at all, while driving across town on an errand. But why did I have to establish my superiority to my (mildly) detested fellow listeners, even if only in my own mind? Why not simply note them and think about other things? Because, alas, the snob cannot bear to think himself a nobody, even in his own mind, and he certainly doesn't want to think himself included in an audience of what he sees as dull people, who have, as W. H. Auden once said to Nicholas Nabokov about a bureaucratic group in the U.S. Army, the "wrong ideas about everything and belong to that group of people neither you nor I can possibly like or condone." And rather than sit back and enjoy this concert, unmemorable as it was, I had to make plain, if only to myself, that I am a much more serious person than these people sitting around me, and serious in a way that deserves recognition, even if (again) only to myself.

Why do those thoughts play in my head at all? Why did I need to assert my superiority, even to myself, when no one was contesting it? Why cannot I, even so late in the day, grow into one of those admirable fellows--reasonable, tolerant, generous-spirited, honorable--that Jefferson called "natural aristocrats" and that a liberal arts education is supposed to form but almost never does?

I thought about this excerpt recently, seeing a couple stories go viral for seemingly no other purpose than occasioning an orgy of self-congratulation over our refined taste. I don't begrudge anyone their honest preferences, but I do rankle over the pack mentality toward easy targets, the sad reminder that so much cultural activity is nothing but signaling, posturing, and competition for praise.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More Than Words

Jenny Diski:

The article talks about writers’ block. If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head. Almost always, you do eventually start to write, and it seems that you’ve been considering after all. It’s not as comfy as writing a thousand words in half an hour, but it seems to work OK, so long as you think of it as part of a process of writing rather than writer’s block.

In between the football matches and the usual work-related timesinks, I've actually had enough time for reading and writing this month, and yet I just haven't been finding post-worthy material. Is the whole Internet on summer vacation or what?

Friday, June 22, 2012

So Damn Long Since We Sung the Song; Let's Go Back to Church

Adam Lee:

The world is still turning, and as distant and dreamlike as it seems from our vantage point, I believe that there will be a more peaceful, free and rational future whose people will look back on our era and wonder how anyone ever tolerated the kinds of injustices that afflict us.

We can bring that future into being, if we choose. We have all the tools we need. A rational, humanist understanding of morality is the map. Science and reason are the boots that carry us forward. And righteous, passionate, peaceful anger is both sword and shield, spurring us to take action and giving us passion for the fight. As always, there will be adversaries standing athwart the trail, trying to block our way, but when we recognize them for what they are, we can defeat them.

How much longer this dry spell will last, I don't know. But all deserts end somewhere if you keep walking, and all dark clouds blow themselves out eventually. Progress comes slowly at first, and sometimes it advances and then recedes, but it leaves a high-water mark for next time.


I have never been concerned about all the people moaning about how the fundies and Muslims are outbreeding us — I see them as busily making minds that will be ripe for reason and knowledge.

Humanism can mean many things, but for us it means belief in progress. To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive. Darwin showed that humans are like other animals, humanists claim they are not. Humanists insist that by using our knowledge we can control our environment and flourish as never before. In affirming this, they renew one of Christianity's most dubious promises - that salvation is open to all. The humanist belief in progress is only a secular version of this Christian faith.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Flag Boy Said to Your Flag Boy, I'm Gonna Set Your Flag on Fire

Jaron Lanier:

There are recognizable stages in the degradation of anonymous, fragmentary communication. If no pack has emerged, then individuals start to fight. This is what happens all the time in online settings. A later stage appears once a pecking order is established. Then the members of the pack become sweet and supportive of one another, even as they goad one another into ever more intense hatred of nonmembers.

...New patterns of social connection that are unique to online culture have played a role in the spread of modern networked terrorism. If you look at an online chat about anything, from guitars to poodles to aerobics, you'll see a consistent pattern: jihadi chat looks just like poodle chat. A pack emerges, and you are either with it or against it. If you join the pack, then you join the collective ritual hatred.

...The genetic aspects of behavior that have received the most attention (under rubrics like sociobiology or evolutionary psychology) have tended to focus on things like gender differences and mating behaviors, but my guess is that clan orientation and its relationship to violence will turn out to be the most important area of study.

Mainly, I'm just tacking this on as an addendum to a recent post. But I've gotta say, there's a sad irony to reading comments at Freethoughtblogs, of all places, and seeing this dynamic unfold.

Ginger Ails

Andrew O'Hehir:

Merida, the fiery Scottish princess voiced by Kelly Macdonald in Pixar’s new animated adventure “Brave,” belongs to the same category as Dora the Explorer, Nickelodeon’s bicultural cartoon heroine. If that doesn’t quite sound like fulsome praise, you’re on the right track. No, listen — in all seriousness, there are reasons to be grateful for both of them. Both “Brave” and the Dora franchise represent honorable — and desperately needed — attempts to craft alternative role models, and alternative entertainment options, for girls who yearn to break out of the pink-and-peach prison of princess culture.

Of course, Merida is the movie’s heroine, and many redheads embrace the fiery trope as flattering or harmless. It’s not as patently offensive as the dumb blonde trope, nor as harmful as the folk stories about redheaded witches and vampires from which it evolved. But it’s still arbitrary and wrong.

It's like a Rubin vase! Is she a symbol of feminist empowerment or is she a regressive, offensive stereotype? It depends which pop culture/pop politics website you view it from! Goddamn, I can't stop laughing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

American Dejectionalism

Uri Friedman:

All countries have their own brand of chest-thumping nationalism, but almost none is as patently universal -- even messianic -- as this belief in America's special character and role in the world. While the mission may be centuries old, the phrase only recently entered the political lexicon, after it was first uttered by none other than Joseph Stalin. Today the term is experiencing a resurgence in an age of anxiety about American decline.

In the book, Canada becomes a sort of promised land, a refuge. There is a line characters cling to: "Canada was better than America and everyone knew that - except Americans." Is that how it feels to you?

I never had much conceptual idea of Canada being better. But whenever I go there, I feel this fierce sense of American exigence just relent. America beats on you so hard the whole time. You are constantly being pummelled by other people's rights and their sense of patriotism. So the American's experience of going to Canada, or at least my experience, is that you throw all that clamour off. Which is a relief sometimes.

How does that sentiment go down among American readers?

Last night, I was in New Orleans at this book party full of local oligarchs, a charity group. I was trying to tell them why I called the book Canada, and I said this stuff about America beating on you and I saw a lot of unfriendly faces in the room. There is this very strong "If you are not for us, you are against us" feeling in America just now. Perhaps there always has been. You are not allowed to complain.

We drive out of the airport past the compulsory orgy of American flags, which despite their quiet fluttering still manage to scream: YOU'RE IN AMERICA! YOU'RE IN AMERICA! YOU'RE IN AMERICA!

Where am I?

Oh, yeah. Thanks.

By amusing contrast, if you ever watch a U.S. soccer match, the overwhelming impression you get from the American commentators is of a desperate, almost pleading, desire for respect and acknowledgement. It's almost painful, the earnest hope that if they can just pull off one more upset of a major footballing power, they'll finally be accepted by the sport's European elite. Then, inevitably, they balance out a surprise victory over Spain or Italy with a loss to Mexico or a draw against a tiny Caribbean nation, and the whole pathetic struggle with feelings of inadequacy begins anew.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Were You Listening to Lord Acton's Story?


How did we get into a situation where the two people running for president are both psycho hacks lacking in all empathy for the human beings beneath them?

Truly, 'tis a mystery. Maybe it has something to do with the boundless ambition, Faustian bargains and Machiavellian connivance required of the sort of personalities which seek power over a nation of 310 million, to say nothing of the de facto power they wield over millions more throughout the world. Perhaps you might even say that the political environment selects for such types to thrive and succeed. Possibly the most perfectly evolved sociopath is one who can convincingly emulate middle-class mannerisms without being psychologically encumbered by small-scale bourgeois morality.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sphinxes Without Secrets


This means that Twitter, officially a microblogging platform, in practice has often functioned in a way opposite to the blog. Of course a tweet is just a tweet, not to be made too much of. Even so, La Rochefoucauld, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, Cyril Connolly, the Kafka of The Blue Octavo Notebooks, Cioran — they would have been excellent tweeters, and the best tweets, today, rival their greatest one-liners. (In fact to encounter their sententiae parcelled out as tweets would have made for a better experience than reading The Unquiet Grave or The Trouble with Being Born straight through. Aphorisms are ideally consumed like nuts or candies, a handful at a time.) So Twitter doesn’t only have the widely recognized usefulness of providing updates on news and revolution, and illuminating links, and many laughs and smirks. It has also brought about a surprising revival of the epigrammatic impulse in a literary culture that otherwise values the merely personal and the super-colloquial as badges of authenticity. “Write as short as you can/ In order/ Of what matters,” John Berryman counseled in a pre-tweet of 44 characters. Favorite that, followers.

I've heard that before, about Oscar Wilde. But having just read a collection of his epigrams a couple weeks ago, I must confess to sharing George Batman's ambivalence. To wit:

"When a man says he has exhausted life, one always knows life has exhausted him."

"In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

"When we think we are experimenting on others, we are really experimenting on ourselves."

"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

A lot of them strike me like that: a contrarian symmetry, a formulaic wittiness. Sort of like this guy. Maybe the frippery is the whole point, but it loses its charm quickly. Much like the idea of Twitter.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Il Douche


After being told by an Italian reporter that there might be some undeclared gay players on the team, Cassano appeared at a loss for words before responding.

''That's their problem, but I hope not. ... But I don't know,'' he said, then added that he hoped his answer sufficed. ''Because if not, you know I'll be attacked from every direction.''

Gay associations in Italy immediately reacted with outrage to Cassano's comments.

''Those that express hate toward others should not represent us in the national team,'' homosexual cultural club leader Mario Mieli said, according to the ANSA news agency.

Gay Center spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo added: ''He deserves at least a warning, if not to be expelled from the Euros.''

Leaving aside the extremely dubious notion that national team membership should depend on irrelevant sociopolitical opinions, people should just be glad they managed to find enough Italian players that weren't implicated in the latest match-fixing scandal to even comprise a full squad for the tournament. And dear god, don't let them hear about Alberto Aquilani and his Mussolini memorabilia, or they'll be calling for his imprisonment.

'Cause the Craving Remains the Same (Slight Return)

Peg O'Connor:

A little logic is helpful here, since the “choice or disease” question rests on a false dilemma. This fallacy posits that only two options exist. Since there are only two options, they must be mutually exclusive. If we think, however, of addiction as involving both choice and disease, our outlook is likely to become more nuanced. For instance, the progression of many medical diseases is affected by the choices that individuals make. A patient who knows he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and refuses to wear a respirator or at least a mask while using noxious chemicals is making a choice that exacerbates his condition. A person who knows he meets the D.S.M.-IV criteria for chemical abuse, and that abuse is often the precursor to dependency, and still continues to use drugs, is making a choice, and thus bears responsibility for it.

Linking choice and responsibility is right in many ways, so long as we acknowledge that choice can be constrained in ways other than by force or overt coercion. There is no doubt that the choices of people progressing to addiction are constrained; compulsion and impulsiveness constrain choices. Many addicts will say that they choose to take that first drink or drug and that once they start they cannot stop. A classic binge drinker is a prime example; his choices are constrained with the first drink. He both has and does not have a choice. (That moment before the first drink or drug is what the philosopher Owen Flanagan describes as a “zone of control.”) But he still bears some degree of responsibility to others and to himself.

The complexity of each person’s experience with addiction should caution us to avoid false quandaries, like the one that requires us to define addiction as either disease or choice, and to adopt more nuanced conceptions. Addicts are neither hijackers nor victims. It is time to retire this analogy.

1. “Once an addict, always an addict.” This statement resonates with people in 12-step recovery, where the problem is generally experienced as a chronic, relapsing disorder. However, research that follows heavy drinkers and drug users over time finds that a majority of people who, at some point, met the criteria used to define addiction no longer do so later in life—and that most have recovered without attending meetings or treatment.

Even more contrary to “in the rooms” beliefs, many of these people resolved their problem through moderation rather than abstinence. For example, some former heroin addicts drink alcohol without risk of becoming drunks; others smoke marijuana from time to time.

While this contradiction of the “once an addict…” truism might be answered by saying that people who recover on their own—without treatment or through moderation—weren’t “real addicts” in the first place, unfortunately, the course of any particular person’s addiction and recovery is entirely unpredictable. Some people who seem “farthest gone” turn around completely without help, while others whose problem seems less severe never get better. Although greater severity of addiction is linked with reduced ability to successfully moderate, the correlation is far from absolute.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Afterbirth of Tragedy

John Gray:

Simon has acknowledged the influence on the series of ancient tragedians such as Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. Like the Greek dramatists he shows humans enacting fates they cannot escape. As Simon put it in a 2007 interview with Nick Hornby, he lifted his thematic stance “wholesale” from the Greeks, aiming “to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The idea that… we’re still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious… But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It’s the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts… In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalised, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak.”

In ancient Greek tragedy the protagonists were shown as the playthings of the gods. Human actions were scripted by powers beyond human control or comprehension. In The Wire, human beings go to their ruin because of what they and others have unknowingly done. In some interpretations, this is the true meaning of Greek tragedy: the arbitrary meddling of capricious deities in human affairs is a metaphor for the fact that human beings neither understand nor truly determine their own actions. Whether or not the classical Greek dramatists understood tragedy in this fashion, it is hard to imagine a world view more subversive of 21st-century pieties and hopes.

...Steiner’s analysis helps clarify why The Wire is so challenging. In rejecting theism, modern meliorists have not renounced the hope of redemption. Instead they have transposed a Christian narrative into a succession of political projects. Whether it is a fantasy of market freedom or one in which the market is abolished, modern politics is haunted by myths of redemption. In the prevailing anti-tragic world view, human institutions are the result of human action and can therefore be altered by human decision.

The lives that are shown in The Wire confound this seemingly obvious inference. What is done cannot be undone; history cannot be repealed by human will. The workings of necessity that have shaped the past will also shape the future. Serious politics accepts this fact. Redemptive politics only magnifies the waste of life: the drug war, which is supposed to deliver society from the evil of addiction, exposes millions to violence and chronic insecurity. Failing or refusing to accept tragedy, politics has become a theatre of the absurd.

In denying us the comfort of redemption, The Wire re-connects us with reality. When it shows human lives ending in a lack of meaning, the series confronts us with the absurd in its most pitiful form. When it shows human beings joking, cursing and carrying on despite this absurdity, it achieves something like the liberating catharsis that Nietzsche imagined being produced by ancient Greek drama. The struggles we share with the protagonists are not deviations from some ideal version of humanity that will someday come into being. Intractable conflict goes with being human. In one way or another, practically everything in current media culture is escapist in intention or effect. In astonishing contrast, The Wire returns us to ourselves.

Do This, Don't Do That, Can't You Read the Signs?

Or, you know, maybe school could be where kids go to learn socialization and critical thinking, and video games could be the escapist entertainment they turn to when they've had enough of tiresome prigs who see everything as an opportunity for moral instruction.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And You Thought Kidney Stones Were Painful

Ian Darke, ESPN play-by-play commentator, just now during the Spain/Italy game:

"They (Spain) are, of course, quite capable of literally passing the opposition to death."

Emphasis in the original, no less. He took pains to enunciate each syllable, so I have to assume he wanted us to be clear on this. Lit-er-uh-lee. So, does this mean that the Spanish are infamous for leaving the pitch littered with the corpses of their opponents, victims of heart failure and asthma? It's hard to believe this wouldn't have earned at least an official rebuke from FIFA. Or does "literally" modify "passing" rather than "death"? Are they literally passing their opposition? Wouldn't the opposition be chewed, swallowed, digested, and therefore already dead by that point?

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Andrew Cohen:

When we awaken to the infinite panorama of evolution, in fact, we realize ourselves to be nothing less than the very leading edge of a fourteen billion year cosmic process. A cosmic process that gave rise to the vast matter and energy that created galaxies, planets, and stars. That process created the conditions that made it possible for biological life to emerge around four billion years ago. And then, from biological life, 200,000 years ago mind burst forth as the dramatic beginning of human consciousness and culture. Now, the energy and intelligence that initiated that process and has been driving it all along is dependent upon you and me. Indeed, our responsibility for where evolution is going, at the level of our shared culture, is much bigger than most of us are aware of. We tend to not be very conscious of the enormous context in which our own choices and actions are occurring.

For the mature human being in the second decade of the twenty-first century, this is what I see as being the ultimate purpose of higher spiritual development in a nutshell: to liberate the miraculous power of human choice from being unconsciously trapped in a cultural epidemic of narcissism, materialism, and existential apathy. Our moral, spiritual, and cultural evolution—if not our very survival—really do depend on it. God has indeed fallen out of the sky. Now it’s up to each and every one of us to realize that the energy and intelligence that created the universe and is creating it right now is depending upon us to take the next step.

Malarkey Bear says: remember, only you can prevent a cultural epidemic of narcissism. To put it in Hegelian dialectic terms, the thesis of absurdity gave rise to the antithesis of parody, and now, in the Cohenic self-realization, they have achieved synthesis.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Jump For Joy, Oh, Jump For Joy, World's End

Matt Powers:

The more time that passes, the more ire the sight of my flip phone garners from people. “You still use that?” they ask, somewhere between surprised and disgusted. “How do you get around with it?” “Do those still work?” Or my favorite: “Did you lose your iPhone?” Not so long ago, my flip phone got a light-hearted chuckle from strangers when I used it in public places, but recently people seem borderline offended that I still use one.

The upside to reading things like this is that articles like this suddenly seem less alarming. Positively relieving, in fact.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I Live In a Rather Special World

John Hendel:

David Simon brings a historian's sword in his analysis of urban decay, and the blade is very much one that befits the years 2002 to 2008. The era carried a specificity to its history that is worth noting and is memorialized in this iconic HBO show. The drama was a portrait of its time in the same way a show like AMC's Mad Men strives to capture the 1960s. The only difference is Simon sought to tell his story in real time. These breakdowns of institutional order emanate from the history that surrounds them, history that already feels distant to those of us rewatching episodes in 2012. To see 2002 again is jarring. Recall the hoppers' casual use of payphones? Characters' confusion at the very idea of text messaging or an Internet search in season 2? Or the lack of social media in the disintegration of journalism Simon depicted in season 5?

There's a scene at the end of the fourth season that you would think might be more relevant to the sort of highly-educated, culturally sophisticated writers who enjoy pontificating about The Wire online:

Dr. David Parenti: We get the grant, we study the problem, we propose solutions. If they listen, they listen. If they don’t, it still makes for great research. What we publish on this is gonna get a lot of attention.

Howard “Bunny” Colvin: From who?

Dr. David Parenti: From other researchers, academics.

Colvin: Academics?! What, they gonna study your study? [chuckles and shakes head] When do this shit change?

As it happens, I've been watching the show all the way through again in recent weeks, and yet I somehow haven't been overcome with culture shock while trying to mentally inhabit such an alien world where toy phones and their apps didn't comprise the cultural center of gravity. I know, right? Somehow these proto-humans managed to fill the empty, interminable hours of their lives regardless.

When faced with sixty hours of drama centering on the destruction of white and black working-class life in recent American history, the bleak prospects for both cops and dealers, teachers and ghetto kids, it takes something...special to single out the absence of Twitter and Facebook as something noteworthy. I mean, it shouldn't require aggressive slumming to encounter representatives of the twenty percent of adults who don't use the Internet at all.

Wendigo Psychosis

Dan Amira:

After digging around, we found that while the frequency of cannibal stories over the past week is unusual, this kind of stuff happens fairly regularly.

Soon, my friends. Soon, we humanitarians can take our rightful place at the table.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Revolution Will be Merchandised

Show business kids, making movies of themselves, you know they don't give a fuck about anybody else...♫

The Big Electron


At the risk of channeling the famous Simpsons instructional film "A World without Zinc", it's difficult to imagine a world without plastic. Despite the ample evidence to the contrary, a part of me believes that it might be a better one in a strange, Luddite way.

George Carlin:

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we're gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, 'cause that's what it does. It's a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it's true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn't share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn't know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, "Why are we here?" Plastic...asshole.

So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that's begun. Don't you think that's already started? I think, to be fair, the planet sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And the planet can defend itself in an organized, collective way, the way a beehive or an ant colony can. A collective defense mechanism. The planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet? How would you defend yourself against this troublesome, pesky species? Let's see... Viruses. Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh...viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.

Well, that's a poetic note. And it's a start. And I can dream, can't I? See, I don't worry about the little things: bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we're part of a greater wisdom than we will ever understand. A higher order. Call it what you want. Know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron...whoooa. Whoooa. Whoooa. It doesn't punish, it doesn't reward, it doesn't judge at all. It just is. And so are we. For a little while.

For the most part, the scholar is reluctant to say whether he agrees or disagrees with Kaczynski's extreme conclusions. He is clear in condemning Kaczynski's bombing campaign, though. In his introduction to Technological Slavery, he says: "His tactics were deplorable, and I for one do not endorse such actions."

But he conducts his dialogue with Kaczynski with an open mind, as if he were willing to join the cause but has not quite been fully persuaded. "It's a very strong case that reform is not adequately able to respond to the challenges we face," he says, dryly. "And if that's true, then some kind of revolt becomes necessary." At one point he suggests that it makes sense that Kaczynski sent the bombs, since his manifesto would have been totally ignored otherwise, and the message needs to be heard. "It gave him the leverage to force the publication of the manifesto and to cause it to be read by large numbers of people in the public," Skrbina says.

"It may yet turn out to be true that he was a prophet and potentially a kind of savior, of humanity and the planet."

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, known informally as "The Great Dying," was the largest mass extinction on Earth. It killed off 96 percent of the world's marine species and 70 percent of the land-bound vertebrates and even a large portion of the world's insects.

Scientists aren't sure what caused the extinction. It seems there may have been three phases, though, so a combination of factors could have coincided to cause such immense damage to life on Earth. Some research suggests that global warming played a role, which may or may not have been set off by a great coal eruption or volcanoes.