Thursday, August 31, 2006

What's the Matter with Thomas Frank? -- A response by way of pilfered poetry

I've started reading Thomas Frank's "Whazza Mattah Wit Kansas?" and the following poem by George Canning, The Friend of Humanity and the Knife-Grinder, sums up my feelings as of roughly page 60. Our dear Mr. Frank, son of Kansas soil with spirit of liberal toil, plays the part of the friend of humanity. Kansas, soil and spirit, plays the part of the knife-grinder.



Needy Knife-grinder! whither are you going?
Rough is the road, your wheel is out of order
Bleak blows the blast; -- your hat has got a hole
So have your breeches!

"Weary Knife-grinder! little think the proud ones,
Who in their coaches roll along the turnpike-
road, what hard work 'tis crying all day "knives
scissors to grind O!"

"Tell me, Knife-grinder, how you came to grind
Did some rich man tyranically use you?
Was it the squire? or parson of the parish?
Or the attorney?

"Was it the squire, for the killing of his game? or
Covetous parson, for his tithes distraining?
Or roguish lawyer, made you lose your little
All in a lawsuit?

"(Have you not read the Rights of Man, by Tom Paine?)
Drops of compassion tremble on my eyelids,
Ready to fall, as soon as you have told your
Pitiful story."


"Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir,
Only last night a-drinking at the Chequers,
This poor old hat and breeches, as you see, were
Torn in a scuffle.

"Constables came up for to take me into
Custody; they took me before the justice;
Justice Oldmixon put me in the parish-
Stocks for a vagrant.

"I should be glad to drink your Honour's health in
A pot of beer, if you will give me sixpence;
But for my part, I never love to meddle
With politics, sir."

"I give thee sixpence! I will see thee damn'd
Wretch! whom no sense of wrongs can rouse to
vengeance --
Sordid, unfeeling, reprobate, degraded,
Spiritless outcast!"

[Kicks the Knife-grinder, overturns his wheel, and exits in a transport of republican enthusiasm and universal philanthropy.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Humor and Religion

While reading Leo Strauss's essay on Plato's republic from his The City and Man, I came across this observation by Thomas Moore, quoted from his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation:
And for to prove that this life is no laughing time, but rather the time of weeping, we find that our savior himself wept twice or thrice, but never find we that he laughed so much as once. I will not swear that he never did, but at the least wise he left us no example of it. But, on the other side, he left us example of weeping.

What to make of this? Is laughter, and therefore humor, somehow essentially wicked and counter the principles of Christ's teachings? What lesson is conveyed by the omission of such a large facet of the human experience?

I don't have any substantive conclusions to offer, but I will hazard a few random observations.

First, it has been argued that humor is, at its core, de-humanizing. That is, the provocation of laughter in some is the result of the ridicule and scorn of others. Ridicule and scorn work by reducing a person to mechanical elements, by brutalizing their humanity in a certain way.

But the above is an unecessarily harsh way of putting it. Admittedly, much humor does rely on the imputing of mechanical, animal or natural traits to a human, or in some other way debasing their humanity. But such is the nature of humor that this very act calls itself into question. The best humor is, at its core, ironic--the best humor ultimately turns on itself with cannibalizing ridicule. When humor consciously sheds its irony and tries to become a form of mastery, it becomes pretentious and mechanical--and loses that by virtue of which it was humor in the first place.

Humor which is used solely as a form of mastery over others ceasing being humor, except to the true believers, those that want to take part in the mastery, not in the humor. Witness the incredible number of "Bush is an idiot" jokes. These are usually so simple, so basic, so obvious as to induce cringes rather than laughter.

Also, the brutalizing, diminishing aspect of humor can sometimes be its practical utility--there are those whose pretensions need to be deflated. I sometimes wonder as to whether Hitler and Stalin ever laughed. Humor is just to subversive, I think, for a totalitarian to risk its presence. In the space of ten words, humor can strip the sacred trappings from the fascist and reveal him as the naked ape he is. Communism, affecting an air of perfect equality, cannot allow the diminishing aspect of humor.

Which is just to say, I guess, that if humor is a weapon, it depends on who wields it, and that if a king is to be deposed by it, the morality lies not in the act of deposing itself, but in the conduct of the king to be deposed.

Which brings me back to Christ. He, no doubt, was greeted with scorn and ridicule. He bore a message not of degredation, but of uplift, of transcendence, of utmost seriousness--and thus vulnerable to the denigrating reductionism of humor. Today, though, when the forces of authority and power in the world have, in many ways, swung in favor of those that would wield occam's razor like a cleaver and slice blindly at any "superfluous" metaphysics, the solemnity is on the other side. A new piety has developed, a piety which desperately needs to be deflated. Enter humor.

Those are some preliminary thoughts, none of which should be taken as my considered opinion, considering my official opinion is that I have none.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

From the collegian

"Scooters offer low gas, more time"

Yeah, I've been thinking of buying a scooter. I figure I'd save tons of gas, seeing as how I'd be too embarrassed to go to class. It would just be me and my scooter, sitting around the house with the blinds closed, nursing flat cups of Dr. Thunder.

Don't worry about reading the story. I just linked it because I wanted to make that humorous observation. And why is the "S" on "Scooter" not linked like the rest? Because of that damn "Insert" key--I went back to add the quotation marks and evidently the "Insert" key had been previously depressed, thus causing my new text to obliterate the old.

Seriously please, please tell me, what purpose does this key serve other than throwing kerosine on the ever-burning holocaust of spite, seething spite, that is my heart? Who came up for the idea with the idea for that key? Who, in the history of the known universe, has ever desired a key that overwrote text? Oh, I'm soasrry, it makes me sooo angry jsut thhinking aboyut it...I've got to styo[p.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pluto demoted

Friday, August 18, 2006

Spite, seething spite

I go to the library the Friday before classes start, thinking, rightly, that there will be few souls therein. And then, when in the library, to evade even these few souls, I find an abandoned study area on the third floor, perfect isolation, and begin reading.

And then, I kid thee not, two people come and sit DIRECTLY behind me, in a huge room. I could reach out and touch them where I not so filled with disgust by there very presence. They then proceed to have a conversation. CONVERSATION.

Finally, they stop talking. And then begins the hacking. Evidently this girl is a smoker. And not just wussy Marlboro lights or whatever--no. This girl must smoke unfiltered sticks of PURE COAL, forged in hells furnace, right next to where they make the Segways. She has that hack that says "come on, gimme one more, I promise, this next hack will finally disgorge whatever is remaining of my blackened lungs and then I'll be queit. Just one more. HACK-ACK-AAAACK-GRRLLGUMPH. Come on, gimme one more..." And then again and again. Whatever she's got stuck down there its big, and its coming.

Yep, there it is! A chimney sweep scampers past my legs, covered in black dust and dripping, tar-like phlegm. The girl lunges for him and grabs, but she can't get a firm grip on his slimey oil-slick body. The little urchin easily wrenches himself free and is gone.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Non-inane hypothetical scenario

In a presidential election between Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, who would you vote for?

Me, I just don't think we're ready for a female president, so I'd vote for Hillary Clinton. Plus, a vote for Hillary would privilege the grounds of any criticism: "Hey, I voted for her and I still think she's doing a crappy job."

Oh yeah. I would just exude moral authority, like so much unexpected lactation. I could solemnly proclaim my disenchantment mere seconds after she takes office. Blogs would form around me, a veritable personality cult, as I picketed the presidential inauguration "and I even voted for her!"

Groundswells of support, Hannity and Colmes guest-slots, my own local radio show called "The Grant Recant," featuring a catalogue of criticisms I have with the new nascent presidency, "which I even voted for."

I don't think its unrealistic to speculate a 2008 Republican ticket for myself in this hypothetical scenario, as a moderate that reached across the aisle. And then, when election time comes, I'd vote for the other guy again.


Okay, my miniature, deep dish pizzas are done now.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Career Watch Update

Whelp, I've made the decision. I know what I want to be. adjective. I can't even begin to describe how cool that would be.

Monkey Apocalypse Watch -- INDIA

Yahoo News brings us this startling harbinger of End Times. Headline:

“India tries to chase monkeys from trains”

Monkeys on trains…why, that’s only a hair louse of a degree away from Snakes on a Plane!—and, well, once that happens, it’s time to look for a new reality.

But India won’t degenerate that far—no, they have a solution:

NEW DELHI - In an effort to keep monkeys out of the New Delhi subways, authorities have called in one of the few animals known to scare the creatures — a fierce-looking primate called the langur, the Hindustan Times newspaper reported Wednesday.
So, to get rid of the mischievous monkeys they are going to fill the streets with fierce-looking primates. Which is all well and good, but what of those that aren’t keen on fierce-looking primates—say, because they might, slippery slope, lead to the restriction of civil liberties via the imposition of super-intelligent, laser-whip weilding, ape-overlords to control the fierce-looking primates. And then, when we are being ruled by super-intelligent, laser-whip weilding ape-overlords controlling fierce-looking primates—then, won’t the mischievous monkeys have won?

What was the mischievous monkey 9/11 that precipitated this affront to civil liberties?
On June 9, a monkey reportedly crawled through some pipes and ended up aboard a train, scowling at passengers and jumping around a car.
6/9…that seems to lack some of the sober hallowedness of a 9/11, but it’ll have to do. 6/9, a day which will live in infamy…and hilarity. But mainly the former. Only a dash of the latter.

But we shouldn’t let the act of a few monkeys determine how we view all monkeys…monkey is a Species of Peace.
"There are too many monkeys," Dayal was quoted as saying.
The speciocentrism begins.