Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mad, Bad And Dangerous To --? No.


Is Your Veggie Burger Killing You?


Despite the alarmist headline, the answer seems to be no. And I'm crestfallen, really. See, I would honestly prefer not to live to a ripe old age. But if you don't count the massive ingestion of elephant tranquilizers, the unprotected sex with prostitutes, and the part-time job as a crash-test dummy, I'm really very boring and not much of a risk-taker. So when I saw this, I thought, finally -- a way to tempt fate, to skirt the cliff's edge of destruction, to make onlookers gasp at my heedless, pell-mell descent into romantic ruin, to stare Death in the face and match him grin-for-rictus-grin, and all without having to make any changes in my lifestyle.

Another dream dashed.

Once upon a time, I was promised soy would make me gay. Nope. I was told I must already be gay for being vegetarian in the first place. Nuh-uh. I was told it would give me man-boobs. I don't even need a training bra after eating soy for almost two decades! I was so looking forward to being "The Confuser", but I had to resign myself to simply being confused.

I just don't know how I can recover from this latest disappointment.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Know Your Role And Shut Your Mouth

It’s a word that can stop any concept, or insight, or book, in its tracks: “That’s pretentious.” The declaration is usually accompanied by a disdainful turning of the head or waving of the hand. Pretentious. It’s pretentious—and by extension, so are you.

...Let’s define our terms here. Pretension is about, well, pretense, pretending to like something we don’t to create some sort of affectation.

So if I pretended I didn’t like Kundera or Fassbinder, and instead raved about the Twilight books and Michael Bay, I’d actually be pretending something I don’t feel in order to reach consensus with my peers. But I don’t like Twilight and I don’t get my kicks out of watching the earth blow up. Or seeing Owen and Luke Wilson embarrass themselves. So acting as though I did would in fact be pretending, or displaying pretense…or pretentious.


It depends on the particular example, I suppose, as to whether a writer is being too baroque, or a reader is being too obstinate in refusing to accept something different. It's true, as I was just saying a few days ago, that academic literature is full of pompous twits who do their best to obfuscate rather than clarify. However, the authenticity police need a sharp poke in the eye as well, for their Holden Caulfield-like obsession with accusing people of phoniness if their writing aspires to be more than colloquial. I was thinking about that recently, after seeing someone called a pretentious poser for writing a word like "oeuvre". Right, because anyone whose vocabulary has grown since high school is a fauxhemian snob who THINKS THEY'RE BETTER THAN YOU. I'd expect to hear that sort of embarrassingly insecure, anti-intellectual resentment from your average provincial Palinite, but it really seems to be a universal complaint. The barstool, the office chair, the season ticket-holder's stadium cushion, and the living room recliner -- any word that isn't commonly heard within these boundaries of the everyman is apparently evidence of unforgivable conceit.

Does that have a ring, boys? Does it sound for you?

It sounds, the boys thought, oh, oh, it sounds...!


I love words. I love the way they ring and sound for me, and the best passages have to be read aloud to be fully appreciated. I love reading dictionaries. That doesn't make me smart, or even someone who thinks he's smart -- it makes me someone who loves hearing new words. But I also curse like a motherfucking sailor, in everyday conversation as well as here for your reading pleasure, and yet I've never been on a boat, either! OH NOES I'M A SLUMMING BOURGEOIS TOO!

I'm focusing on writing here, because that's the area where my sensibilities regarding artfulness and playfulness clash the hardest with this grim, almost Puritan hatred of anything flowery or extravagant. I enjoy writers who look like they're having fun, who attempt to at least mildly blur the lines between poetry and prose (I even enjoy the irony that people who do delight in playing with language will invariably be accused of taking themselves too "seriously" by those who seem to walk around with a chip on their shoulder, looking for something to take offense to). If I want utterly unadorned, no-nonsense language, I'll go read the owner's manual for a lawnmower.

Dang Ol' Tell Yew What, Man


I've lived in the northernmost part of the South my whole life, and I can say with authority that I find it easier to understand broken English with an occasional Spanish word thrown in than the Boomhauerian patois preferred by the majority of our "Speak Anglish or G'wan Git!" nativists. The few times I've had to travel to the actual Deep South were even more jarring. Motherfuckers, you might just want your slogans to more accurately reflect what this is all about and say, "Quit speaking Spanish!", because whatever the fuck it is you Real Myrrhkins use to communicate, it isn't "English".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Let's Put The "Fat" Back In "Fatherland"

Daniel Engber righteously stands up for the right of the husky, the portly, the pear-shaped to serve in our military. Well, thank the gods. I can't tell you how much sleep I've lost, worrying that we don't make it easy enough for the maximum number of young people to sacrifice their lives for the glory of the corporate imperium.

When it comes to body fat, the regs declare that too much flab connotes, first of all, "a lack of personal discipline." Another document suggests that it "detracts from soldierly appearance." So excess weight isn't just a health problem—it's a personality flaw. Oh, and it makes you ugly.

I don't want to suggest that the military discriminates against the thick-bodied alone. The high standards of appearance apply to skinny people, too. And short people. And tall people. (Forget Prussia's army of giants: If you're a man who's over 6-foot6 or a woman over 6-foot, you can't join the Marine Corps.) Those with severe, untreatable acne may also be excluded from military service, along with anyone with an insufficient number of teeth, extra fingers, or severe ingrown toenails. Some of these requirements seem to have more to do with keeping neat and trim than fighting off baddies in the desert. It doesn't matter if you can do as many pushups as the next guy. Without the "self-discipline to maintain proper weight distribution and high standards of appearance," you're not welcome.

Well, it probably does help pacify the wogs more easily when they can clearly see that they've been invaded by a race of perfectly sculpted superbeings to whom resistance would be futile, but still. In addition to "insane, bloated, resource-consuming, world-straddling, hellspawned colossus death monster", you can now add "lookist" to your denunciations of the U.S. military. Of course, if you've been reading the brilliant and entertaining Jennifer Michael Hecht (and you should be), this wouldn't be too surprising:

Through studying history, I came to believe that gyms are occupying precisely the role they did in Ancient Sparta and in Fascist Germany. Being obsessed with bodies is actually a pretty rare thing in human history and we’re in lousy company.

...So what is the real story with gyms and gym bodies? What does the cult of exercise really mean?

Whenever it pops up in history it means the same thing. It always means: We are strong even though the peons do all the real work for us. We have special arenas marked as leisure where we get muscled at play.

...When we see this behavior in Ancient Sparta (where the population of Helot slaves outnumbered the Spartans) and in Fascist Germany, and we see the art of those two cultures focusing on the beauty of the toned but clean and uncallused body, we know what we are looking at. It’s more than shallow, it is military, it is deluded, it is oppressive, and a bit grotesque.

Well, that's unnerving to consider, but never fear. Other experts aver that the majority of Americans remain too fat for fascism.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The How And Why Of Writing


HOW:

They were a lively group of students, and we chatted for an hour, discussing topics we were all interested in. They asked smart questions.

When we were wrapping up, I asked them a question: "What is your relationship to reading and writing?" At that moment, they morphed from T-shirt-clad physical specimens and became generic graduate students, indistinguishable from all-in-black, cigarette-smoking studiers of literary theory and bearded-and-geeky future scientists. It's all we do, they wailed, and it's hard.

What's hard?

The journal articles he makes us read (they said, directing accusing fingers at my colleague) are dense and boring. We're getting good information, but it can be painful. And, they said, we have to learn to write like that.

No, I said, you don't.

I've heard that song from graduate students in every discipline, and from faculty members, junior and senior, at universities across the country. The message: You have to write the same way as others in your field. You must use multisyllabic words, complex phrasing, and sentences that go on for days, because that's how you show you're smart. If you're too clear, if your sentences are too simple, your peers won't take you seriously.

- Rachel Toor


Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water.

- Nietzsche

I'm not an academic. As I've said, I never even attended college for the purpose of serious study or career preparation. I'm an autodidact if you want to be gracious, a dilettante if you don't. But the quest to expand the horizons of one's knowledge is a demanding one nonetheless, so I have done my best to read what the real academics have written on subjects I'm interested in, as well as shoot the breeze conduct rigorous interviews with a few of of my friends with advanced degrees and/or former academic careers dozens and dozens of prominent intellectuals throughout academia, and what they've told me has dovetailed with my own experience: there's a whole realm that consists of technically smart people who have turned away from trying to make any real difference in the world with their knowledge, and spend their time in a cerebral circle-jerk, talking to themselves and others like them in an inscrutable private language. I like to flatter myself that I'm smarter than the average bear, but I've read academic tracts that left me glassy-eyed, with a trickle of drool from the corner of my mouth and thin tendrils of smoke trailing from my ears.

It's a shame, because while I do agree that one should strive to be understood, especially when the goal is to actually impart information, I've really come to appreciate most of all when someone can enlighten and entertain in equal measures. The problem isn't just that too much intellectual writing is devoted to pointless meandering through labyrinthine thickets of signified signifiers signifying signification, it's that it has no style, no grace, no sense of humor. Pace George Orwell and his rules that Toor quotes, writing can be clear and artful; there's no need to have such a ruthless, stripped-down, utilitarian aesthetic that always aims for the lowest common denominator.

WHY:

I have heard it said that the defining characteristic of a writer is that writers absolutely must write. They can’t help it. It’s a compulsion. By that metric, I am not a writer. By that metric, I am pretty much the opposite of what a writer is. Most of the time, I have to be forced to write. This post, for instance, is prompted by my desperately needing to work on something else with a looming deadline. Yes, it’s still writing, but my only alternative is doing the dishes. There have been days this week where I chose a sinkful of dishes instead.

I like writing. I’m good at it. I’ve come to realize that my writing has made a few incremental changes for good in this world: swaying people’s opinions, helping people better appreciate some neglected things.

But do I need to write? No. I have been happy with my life without writing being a part of it.


B: But why, then, do you write? - A: Well, my friend, to be quite frank: so far, I have not discovered any other way of getting rid of my thoughts. - B: And why do you want to get rid of them? - A: Why do I want to? Do I want to? I have to.

- Nietzsche

I never was one for keeping diaries or journals, and in my school days, writing was just another task to be done for a grade, with as little effort or fuss as possible. Until my late twenties, in fact, the most writing I ever really did was in the form of short poems or song lyrics. But having spent a few years now making a more-or-less regular effort to set down my thoughts on whatever topic catches my fancy, I don't know what I'd do without it. Writing is how I solidify my thoughts; it's a tool to focus my awareness. Along with music, of course, it's how I get right with myself and the world, a way to find harmony and beauty that I can't find anywhere else.

I don't have to write in the sense of a compulsion, and I've never bought into the oft-heard advice that says aspiring writers have to devote a certain amount of time each day to writing a certain number of words. The calendar has nothing to do with it. If I don't have anything really pressing to say, or if I'm too busy or tired, writing can wait. I enjoy the act of writing, and it really does energize me and lift my spirits to grapple with thoughts before finally expressing them in words to my satisfaction, but when I'm just going through the motions to force myself to conform to some artificial timetable, it's worse than if I just wait however long it takes until inspiration strikes. If I felt the need to mindlessly jabber just to distract myself from the unsettling sound of the wind whistling through my head, I'd have a Twitter account. But for me, thinking is just as much part of the process as the actual work at the keyboard. You need to allow time for new information to filter in, for new experiences to occur, for new perspectives to spontaneously emerge before you can write anything meaningful. I find the best way to do that is to stop worrying about what I want to say, and go listen to what other people have to say. The interconnectedness of the blogosphere serves the purpose of keeping my mind stimulated. And while I've never wanted to be the kind of blogger that has to have an immediate comment on every piece of breaking news, there is a certain drive to stay abreast of what others are talking about, to see if you can add your two cents to a conversation before it dissipates, and that, more than saying, "I have to write a hundred words a day, no exceptions," is what helps with the discipline of it.

So while I have yet to feel like a slave to my keyboard or my blog, writing is the necessary third link in the chain, following observation and reflection, that makes me feel complete. That process never stops. In that sense, then, yes, I have to do it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Look On My Works, Ye Whiteys, And Despair!

I've said before how I've really felt weary of politics (and the same old political blogs) for a while now, and that hasn't changed. But let me just say this now: I do appreciate the effort Michael "Humpty Hump" Steele has been putting in to make sure I stay entertained. From an endless supply of gaffes to blowing the RNC's money on lesbian bondage nightclubs and lavish getaways for meetings, he's really gone above and beyond, and I salute him.

It's so funny to think that the party brain trusts apparently thought putting one of the three or four black Republicans in a position of power would somehow make voters forget about the last forty years or so; even funnier to see Steele turn around and admit what everyone already knew. Long may he reign!

Either A Beast Or A God

But the really reckless were fetched by an older, colder voice, the oceanic whisper: "I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing. That is how I shall set you free. There is no love; there are only the various envies, all of them sad."

- W.H. Auden

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.

- Aristotle

From the NYT:

The compulsion to live in isolation can be attributed to any number of factors, said Elaine N. Aron, a psychologist and the author of “The Undervalued Self” and “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.”

Some people might “really need their downtime,” Dr. Aron said, and seek out “isolation that avoids all social intercourse.” Others may have developed an “avoidant attachment style” in childhood, resulting in “a need to prove to themselves that they don’t need anybody,” she said.

For many people, though, the desire for extreme solitude may have simpler roots, she noted: “It could be because they want a mystical experience. You can’t pathologize that.”

O RLLY? That's funny; I would turn that completely around. I can understand and be sympathetic to someone who has had enough of the bitter dregs of intimate relationships and decided that the negatives outweigh the positives. While I think there are many degrees and shades of difference worth exploring between an active social life and utter solitude, I don't think it's completely strange to prefer your own company to an extreme degree.

But as for going off into the wilderness, miles from any other human, in order to find some mystical secret or meaning in life, man, you gotta be one non compos mentis motherfucker. "Meaning" is a human construction. Even the examples of the bitter and the brokenhearted stand as a reaction to social relationships, the photo negative of social engagement. They're still defined by what they oppose. Caspar David Friedrich paintings notwithstanding, wild nature isn't going to reveal anything profound to you about how you should spend your life. Fight, feast, fuck, and eventually die. That's about it. If you want more nuance than that, you're going to have to look to human society.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

O Moments Big As Years!

From misty memories of commuter happy hours to rotary dial apps: Why are we addicted to romanticizing the past?


Because of the certainty, something we rarely ever have in real time. Once an object or event is safely stored away in the past, it loses its ability to give us any nasty surprises. It's much like how reading a book or watching a movie for the second time through allows you to take your time and savor the details -- you know how it all turns out in the end, so there's no anxiety. Our nostalgic mistake is projecting that certainty backwards, as if the people living at the time weren't beset by the same insecurities and fear of the future as we have today. We're forever in a hurry to get away from where we are, but afraid that we're rushing headlong into something worse. That leaves the past as the obvious place to look for a contentedness that we always feel has to exist outside of ourselves.

And, of course, when you've lived long enough to see so many things you took for granted change, fade, and be replaced, it starts to weigh on you in a particularly heavy, existential way that one day, it's going to happen to you too. Hence a tendency to start digging in our fingers, not wanting things to slip away quite so easily.

In every age "the good old days" were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them.

- Brooks Atkinson

If you look back at various writers in ancient Greece - the cradle of Western civilization, ferfucksakes! - you can't help notice a familiar theme: bitching about these damn kids today, how they don't make things like they used to, we're going to hell in a handbasket, and on and on. I love a lot of ancient Chinese poetry, and it's the same story there. There was always some Golden Age in the past when everything was great, and somehow, we've fallen away from it and are now living in a debased time, one step away from barbarism. Second verse, same as the first. Clearly it's just an fundamental feature of human psychology.

Pace Ms. Williams and an otherwise good essay, though, I have to say that I hate the way so many of these ruminations end up fixating on technology as one of the main culprits that have stolen our time, innocence, social grace, what have you, rather than seeing it as a mere symbol of the restless hyperactivity and anxious activity that give birth to it in the first place.

Osama Bin Villa

So, Mexico. The biggest source of our xenophobic nightmares about illegal immigrants. Now increasingly intertwining with our perennial hysterical nightmares about mind-altering substances. If only Mexico were predominantly Muslim, we could wrap it all up with a terrorist-hysteria flourish and have the mother of all feargasms.

Oh, wait...

Shake Your Spear At Shakespeare

Any scholar who dared to suggest that Bach's work wasn't by Bach or Rembrandt's by Rembrandt would, I trust, be handled thereafter with the academic equivalent of padded tongs. Yet outside of the ambiguous evidence of their work, we know scarcely more about the inner lives of either man than we do about that of Shakespeare. Why, then, is he the only creative giant around whom an ever-growing edifice of pseudoscholarly fantasy has been erected?

The answer may be as simple as this: Most of us are far more at home with words than with sounds or images. Not being able to do much more than sketch a crude stick figure, I can't even begin to imagine what it would have felt like to paint "The Night Watch." But I, like you, express myself with words each day of my life, and though I know I'll never write a play like "Cymbeline" or "The Winter's Tale," I also know how it feels to sit down at the keyboard and set down my thoughts about the world.


That's interesting, but I don't know...it doesn't really ring true to me. I am constantly, intensely envious of writers and bloggers who are not only smarter than me but more artful writers to boot, but I can't say it's ever occurred to me to doubt their authorship out of jealousy; it just makes me want to try harder. And while it takes more than a little sustained effort to understand and appreciate Shakespeare, I would think that music and visual art, being more immediate and visceral, would inspire more intense interest and speculative theorizing about the mere mortals responsible for creating them. His earlier remarks about democracy and genius seem closer to the mark:

To deny that Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a man of relatively humble background is, after all, to deny the very possibility of genius itself—a sentiment increasingly attractive in a democratic culture where few harsh realities are so unpalatable as that of human inequality. The mere existence of a Shakespeare is a mortal blow to the pride of those who prefer to suppose that everybody is just as good as everybody else. But just as some people are prettier than others, so are some people smarter than others, and no matter who you are or how hard you try, I can absolutely guarantee that you're not as smart as Shakespeare.

If anything, Shakespeare's story reminds us of the existence of a different kind of democracy, the democracy of genius. Time and again, the world of art has been staggered by yet another "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" (to borrow a phrase from "The Great Gatsby") who, like Michelangelo or Turner or Verdi, strides onto the stage of history, devoid of pedigree and seemingly lacking in culture, and proceeds to start churning out masterpieces. For mere mortals, especially those hard-working artistic craftsmen who long in vain to be touched by fire, few things are so depressing as to be reminded by such creatures of the limits of mere diligence.

Still, as he says, there are other great artists of humble backgrounds and means who aren't subject to speculation about the true author of their output. Alas, 'tis a mystery.

But however it got started and for whatever reason, I don't think it's much of a mystery as to how it should have accumulated enough mass to become a recurring issue -- people just love digging into others' potential secrets, and thrill to the idea that they might be distinguished by possession of some esoteric knowledge. Why did supposedly intelligent people invest so much time and energy into proving that Paul McCartney's death was being covered up? (Speaking of the Beatles, and getting back to the aforementioned comments on democracy and genius, I seem to recall hearing how there was some initial skepticism about how four working-class boys with no official training could have possibly crafted those songs.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Borrowers And Lenders Be

Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion's spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.

...Not surprisingly, the most popular yoga journals and magazines are also in the act. Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as "ancient Indian," "Eastern" or "Sanskritic," but seem to assiduously avoid the term "Hindu" out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise.

...Hindus can only sadly shake their heads, as by this measure, soon we will read as to how karma, dharma and reincarnation--the very foundations of Hindu philosophy--are only ancient precepts that early Hindus of some era made their own.


Oh yeah? Well, through the practice of jnana yoga, I came to the realization that notions of karma and reincarnation are nonsense and gibberish, so how 'bout that? And I've benefited from the practice of modern, secularized hatha yoga just fine, thank you, without suffering any "deficiencies" from the absence of another nonsensical term, "spirituality". Seriously, I'm not sure what irritates me more -- the way this starts out as an almost identity politics-style whinge about how yoga is a Hindu thing and you outsiders wouldn't understand, or the way he eventually allows that okay, fine, maybe people from other traditions and backgrounds can sort of get it, but only as long as religion or spirituality is involved somehow. Sorry to break it to you, but physical activity does not have to be combined with magic words and sanctified thoughts to be meaningful.

But leaving the condescension of metaphysicians aside, getting to the real gist of his complaint -- when has it ever not been thus? Traditions evolve and adapt or become static and die out. Different aspects appeal to different people in different cultures at different times. Go ahead, insist all you want on the need for everyone to take a moment and acknowledge the Hindu roots of yoga. It won't change the fact that the vast bulk of a several thousand year-old tradition just doesn't serve any need for modern Westerners. Once again, I'm just amused at the way people cling to ossified, limiting labels instead of celebrating the continued existence and the dynamic flow of the vibrancy they were originally meant to symbolize.

Of Green Buds And Greenbacks


My suggestion for marijuana legalization activists: it doesn't matter how many products can be more efficiently made from hemp, it doesn't matter whether pot makes cancer patients feel better, it doesn't matter how much worse alcohol is for you. If you can show that legalization will prove more lucrative for the state than our current policy of locking up nonviolent drug offenders, you will be publicly toking up in no time flat.

Monday, April 19, 2010

If You Meet The Buddha On The Road

Since I was just talking about this recently, here are two disparate examples of why I personally see no reason to identify as a Buddhist, even though I have certainly learned much from various Buddhist authors and thinkers (especially from the secular Western variety). Debating different ideas and perspectives is fine, of course; I'm simply not interested in squabbling over precisely what one has to accept or believe in order to qualify for the official label. It strikes me as a completely off-track and self-indulgent argument to have.

There are things that I credit Buddhist philosophy with teaching me that I've accepted as self-evident truths, but if it turned out that I was mistaken, that they did not, in fact, have any basis in anything ever taught by the Buddha, well, so be it. I would trust my own experience, judgment, and the truths themselves and leave my notions of "Buddhism" behind. Fixating on the persona behind the ideas that resonate with you is misguided. Labels aren't important. Just this.

And He That Hath No Beard Is Less Than A Man

You may now add "very trustworthy" to the list of superlatives you use when describing me to your friends.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to training.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

If You Have To Ask

Like Treme itself, the show is an oasis of freedom in a sea of slavery. When Davis glimpses Elvis Costello in the audience and tries to get Kermit Ruffins to go kowtow to Elvis to get fame and fortune and a spot on an Elvis world tour, Kermit demurs. Davis demands, “All you want to do is get high, play some trumpet and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?” Kermit murmurs, “That’ll work.”

I loved that scene. To add just a little more detail to it; in particular, Davis's last line:

Davis: "Goddamn, Kermit, go talk -- you deserve -- don't you wanna get famous? You deserve to be famous! America needs it some Kermit. You're -- you're just standin' there, tellin' me that all you wanna do is get high, play -- play some trumpet, and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?"

Kermit: "That'll work."

Davis: "God, man, I mean -- that's just so sad."

There are many sad things in the world, but the wisdom to know when you're already happy damn sure isn't one of them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Love You To Death


I'm seriously heartbroken today. Peter Steele of Type O Negative died last night.

Music and books really are what I live for most of all. But music has always been the omnipresent aspect of my life, and I'm proud of the fact that I've never lost my passion for it as I've gotten older. Which is to say, music isn't merely frivolous entertainment for me. It makes life worth living. Beethoven's heroism be damned; if I ever went deaf, I'd commit suicide.

So even though I never met Peter in person, this hits me just as hard as it would to hear that a member of my own family died suddenly. In many ways, it's no surprise. Or, rather, given his morbid, self-deprecating (to the point of self-abusive) sense of humor and unvarnished honesty about his struggles with clinical depression and drug addiction, and his incessant references to death in his songs, the only surprising part of it is that he didn't usher himself out. But living in anticipation of it doesn't make it hurt any less, as I'm sure we all know.

I don't even know what I could possibly say in mere words to convey just how important his music was to me. "Musical genius" gets thrown around far too casually these days, but if anyone deserves that appellation, he does. At a time when the airwaves were filled with stripped-down alterna-punk bands doing their best to make music as simple and straightforward (read: fucking boring) as possible, Type O Negative were studio wizards, making gloriously romantic, melancholy, lush, dynamic, heavily layered sonic masterpieces that stood up to countless listenings. October Rust and Life Is Killing Me, especially, will always be two of my favorite albums of all time, bar none. Thank you for everything, Peter. I'll miss you so much.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nothing Nietzsche Couldn't Teach Ya

Them's fightin' words!

And the next thing we know, (Nietzsche's) hugging a horse and proclaiming himself Jesus and Alexander. You can call it spirituality if you like, I call it syphilitic madness. A fruitful madness, though, with plenty in it worth talking about. But this guy should be nobody’s role model, pasted on no disaffected teenager’s bedroom wall.

... Solomon is spontaneously humane and compassionate, precisely where his hero is hard-hearted and insensitive and disgusted by "weakness." Nietzsche was not a great-souled man in the Aristotelian mold, nor is it clear how the "greatness" of wanting nothing different than it is can be distinguished from stoicism or resignation.

Well, there's no accounting for taste and all that. And indeed, there's plenty to be criticized in Nietzsche's output, from his misogynistic outbursts to his, uh, suspiciously Christian-like belief in the need for life to be redeemed from meaninglessness. But leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether he personally was the arrogant, insensitive bastard that he appears to be in writing, or whether he even does appear that way when you read closely, I find it strange to think that anyone should allow his capacity for bruising an unsuspecting reader's feelings to dissuade them from absorbing all the good things there are to be found in his work. Some of the greatest spurs to productive thought I've had have come by way of a writer or blogger that pissed me off with their tone or ideas. I mean, really; there's no shortage of people who will soothingly murmur the same old platitudes about love and compassion and mercy. I didn't need Nietzsche for that. But for the relentless challenges to unthinking piety, conventional wisdom, and egotistical delusions, for the unusual psychological insights that make the wisdom of the world's holy books seem like a collection of fortune cookie sayings, I've never found anyone better. As Lesley Chamberlain said in her excellent biography, Nietzsche in Turin, "Nietzsche I feel was often acting out the wisdom of Christ, facing the whole world angrily, as if he had found the moneychangers in the temple." Yes. (And bonus points for ironically juxtaposing Fritz with Jesus.) And yet, at the same time, as Chamberlain also writes:

Mrs. Fynn earned his respect for her kindness and Catholic faith. He once burst into tears at the idea of how much his anti-Christian thoughts would hurt her and evidently that memory touched her greatly. Teasing him for his feigned indifference to the fame stealing upon him in 1888, she suggested that although he had forbidden her to read his books she could not believe anything ignoble could flow from his pen.

Crying?! There's no crying in iconoclasm! But seriously, I find the contrast between his personal gentleness and philosophical recklessness to be inspiring, even touching. He was an awkward, needy, hypersensitive, bloviating, overcompensating, insecure man, but his sense of intellectual integrity and honesty prevented him from even trying to make life easy on himself.

And the sheer artfulness of his beautiful prose, ye gods! How I wish I could write with a fraction of that poetic grace. Here he is demolishing the common, simplistic misconstruals of his statements against pity:

Our personal and profoundest suffering is incomprehensible and inaccessible to almost everyone; here we remain hidden from our neighbor, even if we eat from one pot. But whenever people notice that we suffer, they interpret our suffering superficially. It is the very essence of the emotion of pity that it strips away from the suffering of others whatever is distinctly personal. Our "benefactors" are, more than our enemies, people who make our worth and will smaller. When people try to benefit someone in distress, the intellectual frivolity with which those moved by pity assume the role of fate is for the most part outrageous; one simply knows nothing of the whole inner sequence and intricacies that are distress for me or for you. The whole economy of my soul and the balance effected by "distress", the way new springs and needs break open, the way in which old wounds are healing, the way whole periods of the past are shed – all such things that may be involved in distress are of no concern to our dear pitying friends; they wish to help and have no thought of the personal necessity of distress, although terrors, deprivations, impoverishments, midnights, adventures, risks and blunders are as necessary for me and for you as are their opposites. It never occurs to them that, to put it mystically, the path to one's own heaven always leads through the voluptuousness of one's own hell. No, the "religion of pity" (or "the heart") commands them to help, and they believe that they have helped most when they have helped most quickly.
If you, who adhere to this religion, have the same attitude towards yourself that you have toward your fellow men; if you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you for even an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you also harbor another religion in your heart that is perhaps the mother of the religion of pity: the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable and benevolent people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together, or, in your case, remain small together.
How is it at all possible to keep to one's own way? Constantly, some clamor or other calls us aside; rarely does our eye behold anything that does not require us to drop our own preoccupation instantly to help. I know, there are a hundred decent and praiseworthy ways of losing my own way, and they are truly highly "moral"! Indeed, those who now preach the morality of pity even take the view that precisely this and only this is moral – to lose one's own way in order to come to the assistance of a neighbor. I know just as certainly that I only need to expose myself to the sight of some genuine distress and I am lost. And if a suffering friend said to me, "Look, I am about to die; please promise to die with me," I should promise it; and the sight of a small mountain tribe fighting for its liberty would persuade me to offer it my hand and my life -- if for good reasons I may for once choose two bad examples. All such arousing of pity and calling for help is secretly seductive, for our "own way" is too hard and demanding and too remote from the love and gratitude of others, and we do not really mind escaping from it – and from our very own conscience – to flee into the conscience of others and into the lovely temple of the religion of pity… And while I shall keep silent about some points, I do not want to remain silent about my morality which says to me: Live in seclusion so that you can live for yourself. Live in ignorance about what seems most important to your age. Between yourself and today lay the skin of at least three centuries. And the clamor of today, the noise of wars and revolutions should be a mere murmur for you. You will also wish to help – but only those whose distress you understand entirely because they share with you one suffering and one hope – your friends – and only in the manner in which you help yourself. I want to make them bolder, more persevering, simpler, gayer. I want to teach them what is understood by so few today, least of all by these preachers of pity: to share not suffering but joy.

Here, a different, nuanced perspective on love of one's fellow man:

The more we think about all that has been and will be, the paler grows that which is. If we live with the dead and die with them in their death, what are our 'neighbors' to us then? We grow more solitary, and we do so because the whole flood of humanity is surging around us. The fire within us, which is for all that is human, grows brighter and brighter – and that is why we gaze upon that which immediately surrounds us as though it had grown more shadowy and we had grown more indifferent to it. But the coldness of our glance gives offense!

One of the most touching and generous things he ever wrote:

Ah! How reluctant I am to force my own ideas upon another! How I rejoice in any mood and secret transformation within myself which means that the ideas of another have prevailed over my own! Now and then, however, I enjoy an even higher festival: when one is for once permitted to give away one's spiritual house and possessions, like a father confessor who sits in his corner anxious for one in need to come and tell of the distress of his mind, so that he may again fill his hands and his heart and make light his troubled soul! He is not merely not looking for fame; he would even like to escape gratitude, for gratitude is too importunate and lacks respect for solitude and silence. What he seeks is to live nameless and lightly mocked at, too humble to awaken envy or hostility, with a head free of fever, equipped with a handful of knowledge and a bagful of experience, as it were a poor-doctor of the spirit aiding those whose head is confused by opinions without their being really aware who has aided them! Not desiring to maintain his own opinion or celebrate a victory over them, but to address them in such a way that, after the slightest of imperceptible hints or contradictions, they themselves arrive at the truth and go away proud of the fact! To be like a little inn which rejects no one who is in need but which is afterwards forgotten or ridiculed! To possess no advantage, neither better food nor purer air nor a more joyful spirit – but to give away, to give back, to communicate, to grow poorer! To be able to be humble, so as to be accessible to many and humiliating to none! To have much injustice done him, and to have crept through the worm-holes of errors of every kind, so as to be able to reach many hidden souls on their secret paths! Forever in a kind of love and forever in a kind of selfishness and self-enjoyment! To be in possession of a dominion and at the same time concealed and renouncing! To lie continually in the sunshine and gentleness of grace, and yet to know that the oaths that rise up to the sublime are close by! That would be a life! That would be a reason for a long life!

And a motto that I would be hard-pressed to improve upon:

To explore the whole sphere of the modern soul, to have sat in its every nook – my ambition, my torture, and my happiness.

Hard-hearted? Insensitive? To be sure, he was large and he contained multitudes, but still, I think not.

The Emptiness At The Center Of Your Heart

The hardest explanation for theists to grasp, though, is the understanding that none of us have ever had this unlikely clot of vapor called a soul. If the soul is an imaginary fantasy, then Mozart's music, Michaelangelo's sculptures, Picasso's paintings, the Wright brothers' plane, every work of art and technology produced by people whose names have been lost to us, every child, every dream, has been created by us, mere mortal flesh unled by a magic puppeteer in the sky, unaided by angels or spirits. I find that wonderful.

PZ is clearly trying to jump on my bandwagon here, but that's okay. It needs to be said, loudly and often.

I would add that it's not just about the obvious examples of the artists, philosophers, musicians, and other cultural giants; this awareness should make everyone's life, however nondescript, feel all the more vital. No one else is ever going to be where you are right now, doing the exact thing you're doing, with the same thoughts in their head, looking at the same scenery outside their window. No one else will ever experience the same things you have from the same perspective or have the same reflections on them. No one else is ever going to have the same conversations with the same people that you do today. Chances gone are chances gone forever. That doesn't mean you have to engage in a life of frenetic activity, though, trying to accumulate as many accomplishments as possible before the final whistle -- just be mindful. Appreciate what you have when you have it, rather than living in the past or the future.

It calls to mind a passage I love from Sam Hamill's poem A Rose for Solitude. Hamill is a Zen Buddhist, so when he uses a word like emptiness, he means in the sense of potential rather than nothingness, of contingent relationships rather than inherent essence:

And if, as I pass,
I should look you in the eye,
do not be afraid: I want
only to glimpse the emptiness
at the center of your heart,
I want to reach for you
because I know,
as you do,
we might never have met.

We might never have met. The things you love might never have happened. None of it will ever happen again. Without meaning to veer into maudlin sappiness, every day can be meaningful if you care to see it that way.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Conversations With God(damned Idiots): Liberal World Conspiracy Edition

  • The Tiger Woods soap opera.
  • Tasteless, overpriced bacon from Whole Foods.
  • The state of California's economy.

In the space of a few short minutes, these topics were all strung together in the course of a stemwinder delivered by my brother. The common thread? Liberals were somehow partially or totally to blame for all of them.

I wish I could remember how, exactly, he backed up his claims, but these kinds of incoherent, shouty tirades have such a disjointed, surreal quality to them, much like dreams. They seem to make sense when you're in the middle of them but when you reach for words to describe them later, it's like trying to grasp smoke in your hand; sort of like oh hell it's too disheartening to even think about it for too long in fact I don't even feel like finishing this sente

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Freebird!

Ahh, John Cole's just bitter over the amazing irony of how we in the aristocracy of the Confederacy look down on our neighbors to the west (who split with us to join the Union) as the inbred yokels. In a two-mile stretch between my house and town, I must pass five or six houses proudly flying the battle flag.

I don't doubt that some modern-day Johnny Rebs simply see the flag as a symbol of NASCAR, hunting and fishing, rural living, and some inchoate, overly generous notion of their own free-thinking independence, in much the same way as disaffected suburban teenagers like to sport circle-A anarchy symbols, but it also isn't much of a mystery as to why Confederate romanticism has such a lasting appeal throughout the South. Just talk to any of these people for five minutes and see.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

My Library Was Dukedom Large Enough

Maybe I’m still a kook, because now, years later, my convictions about the ready availability of knowledge remain pretty much unchanged. Devoid of a degree as I am, I have never stopped reading, inquiring, and exploring the world of ideas and facts. All this is not to deny, of course, that formal education is good in its way (and naturally some specialties — law and medicine most notably — absolutely require old-fashioned collegiate training). But I still believe deeply in the worth and merit of impractical learning — that is, learning not yoked with any particular worldly ambition — and I wish that this kind of “aimless” learning could find better cultural legitimacy.

Hear, hear. Many thanks to Shanna for passing along this essay to me. I have been disappointing family, friends and teachers for a few decades with my insouciance toward "applying myself", which is to say, my refusal to try to make as much money as I can with whatever talents I have. I seem to have had a congenital aversion to that mentality, passive while I was younger, but one that has hardened into a gleeful enjoyment of thumbing my nose at conventional attitudes regarding education and money. And while I have yet to feel embarrassed about being a "loser" when it comes to worldly success, I have felt that way numerous times upon realizing that I'm wasting my enthusiasm for learning and thinking while trying to share it with someone who couldn't care less. I share Susan Jacoby's lament about how hard it is to find people with the intelligence and passion to discuss rarefied topics with such a breezy familiarity:

As the art of live conversation continues its decline, it is saddening to discover that some of the best examples of old-fashioned, discursive, passionate intellectual conversation can be found today only in books. For a glimpse of the way intellectuals used to talk, not only to one another but to anyone else who happened to be within range, one might consult a splendid, concise 1988 portrait of the maverick journalist I.F. Stone, compiled from taped conversations between Stone and the author, Andrew Patner. Stone, an autodidact who dropped out of college in his junior year, was talking about his research for a book about the trial of Socrates:

"I've often said that no one has gotten away with so much egregious nonsense out of sheer charm as Plato. It's nonsense, absolute nonsense. And the devout Platonists -- it's like a cult, they're like Moonies. I mean, Plato is a fascinating thinker and a marvelous writer and a man of comedic genius. Olympiodorus says that he wanted to be a writer of comedy, of plays and comedy -- he's supposed to have had a copy of Aristophanes on his bed when he died -- but when he met Socrates he gave that up....And you have to read him, too, not just for his system or ideas, but for the way he gets at it, for all the by-products, the joy, and the wrestle, so to speak. No other philosopher turned his philosophies into little dramas. That gives them part of their continual charm....The Phaedo is just -- I was reading the Phaedo at American University, and I just burst into tears. The kids must have thought I'd gone wacky. It's very moving. A great drama.

...And so, you understand the Greek theater and its wellsprings of freedom much better when you look at the Roman theater and comedy. And with the Greek law and the Roman law, the procedure and laws of the Greek Assembly and the Roman Assembly....I don't care much for Rome. Cicero is a big tub of crap. Typical corporation lawyer and ass-kisser of the rich and powerful. But he studied in Athens, a few centuries after the great days, and his philosophical treatises, while they're not profound, are very valuable. You consult what he has to say in the De natura deorum, De divinatione, and the Tusculan Disputations....I agree with Caesar though. He called the prose style Asiatic, by which he meant overadorned, and I think his speeches are a little too flowery."

This is what a passionate intellectual conversation sounds like -- the genuine learnedness, the intensity, the sense of communion with people who lived and died thousands of years ago. I wish I had been on the other end of that conversation. It's been a long time since I've heard anyone call Plato a purveyor of egregious nonsense, and Cicero was a big ass-kisser. One need look no further for a perfect example of the connection between the decline of reading and the decline of intellectual conversation.

I would say that they're both connected to the decline of people being interested in anything that isn't geared toward some tangible measure of success. Who wants to talk about Plato and Roman theater when there's money to be made? My orthopedic surgeon, an amateur history buff himself, used to always ask about whatever book I was reading while sitting in the room waiting on him, and we'd spend a little time discussing various topics at each visit. Once he finally asked me, "What are you going to do with all this knowledge?" Nothing, really, I said. There were practical obstacles: I didn't go to college (beyond taking classes for my own pleasure at community college for a few years), and without a degree and some type of specialized skill, there wasn't any real hope of using my interests to make money. What, is someone going to pay me to sit at home and read a bunch of obscure books? I told him that there were also countless people out there who already knew much more than I did about any given topic, so as far as I was concerned, this was all just for fun and the ability to provide interesting conversation. He didn't say anything critical of that, but I could tell he thought it was bizarre.

My father once asked me if I regretted not pursuing my love of philosophy to the extent of trying to become a professor myself. I told him that my former professor lived in a small apartment and drove a Ford Pinto; being that I was already in a similar income bracket, why would I want to acquire tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a useless degree on top of it? Another friend of mine, with a Ph.D. in philosophy, has worked all sorts of temp jobs in recent years, including at a convenience store. And yet another friend, in her late thirties, was telling me recently that she's going to be paying off her student loans until she's 67. I might not be able to get a high-paying job with only a high-school diploma, but then again, I don't necessarily need one if I'm not staggering along under the mountain of debt that all my better-educated friends have.

My former neighbor used to good-naturedly lecture me on how I was wasting my time and talents (musical and literary) living an ordinary life doing ordinary things. She was one of those spiritual-not-religious types who hadn't examined her assumptions closely enough to realize that she still carried a very Christian belief in people having a "calling" that they were obliged to heed. She preferred to say that I had a "gift" for music or writing, but it amounted to the same thing: I was obliged/destined/meant to fulfill those talents to the greatest extent possible, and if I didn't, I was lying to myself or failing my potential. I used to tweak her in return by saying that no, a "gift" implied a "giver", and maybe an obligation in return, and since there was no god, I was free to slack off as much as I wanted. And does anyone really need to be reminded how many people have single-mindedly pursued and achieved a goal only to find themselves miserable when it doesn't measure up to the fantasies they had about it?

Immaturity. Fear of failure. Selfishness. All have been suggested as reasons for my obstinate refusal to allow my "hobbies" to turn into "business". No one ever seems to consider that maybe having the luxury and freedom to pursue these things at my leisure is what makes them enjoyable and reinvigorating for me. Maybe I just know when I'm already happy, and isn't that what all our tail-chasing is supposed to be leading toward in the first place?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

He Is Risen!

So, did he see his shadow? Is this wretched, brutal winter finally and truly over?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Atheist, Aspiritualist, And...?

"I think, therefore I am." Descartes famously tried to find some basis for knowledge that was beyond all doubt, and settled on that as his foundation. Yet, as Buddhist writers among others have pointed out, he still fucked it up by taking for granted the existence of the self, the greatest illusion of all, the one most in need of doubt. Wikipedia puts it slightly more generously, saying, "Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist." Of course, he should have taken that last step and realized that he himself did not, could not exist in a vacuum, therefore everything else exists too.

The properties of a thing are effects on other "things":
if one removes other "things", then a thing has no properties,
i.e., there is no thing without other things,
i.e., there is no "thing-in-itself".

- Nietzsche

I've been thinking lately about the inadequacy and pointlessness of atheism.

Now that I have your attention, haha! -- no, I'm mostly kidding. I haven't suddenly become a devotee of Zeus, Ra or Jeebus. I just mean that I've come to think that arguing about the existence or lack thereof of God, as fun and stimulating as that can be, misses the real point: the ego, the sense of independent selfhood. It's kind of common now to hear people quip about how God was created in man's image rather than the other way around, but they don't often seem to grasp the true import of that statement.

I've often explained my decision to identify as an atheist rather than, say, an agnostic on the grounds that when the majority of people, especially in a majority Christian nation, ask if you believe in God, they are not asking if you believe in a Deist Supreme Architect, a Gnostic Logos, or some other similarly abstract, bloodless rational construction. They are asking if you believe in the personal, loving, bipolar, father-figure god, the one who rewards you and smites your enemies, the one who holds out the promise of reunion in the afterlife with all your loved ones, and since it seems ridiculously obvious that such a being is a projection of human vanity upon the universe, I feel perfectly comfortable saying no, I'm certain nothing like that exists.

The thing is, rather than promptly getting sidetracked in hair-splitting discussions of how such a being could possibly exist and for what reasons and in what circumstances, I think it would be far more relevant to stick to the original point: it's not about Him, it's all about you.

Most of us know that repressing thoughts and urges only strengthens them. Likewise, arguing and wrestling with egoistic delusions only reinforces the ego. All of our babbling about God boils down to one question: What's in it for me? Pretending to see evidence of such an anthropomorphic being reassures you that your own existence is meaningful. You might fear the thought of being judged for your actions and found wanting, yet it's still more comforting to believe that your thoughts and actions are so tremendously important as to require consideration and judgment at all. And whether there is/could be/might be such a being, it really doesn't matter, seeing as how there's no abiding, permanent essence to your existence that will ever be around to find out:

To have become a person means to have emerged contingently from a matrix of genetic, psychological, social and cultural conditions. You are neither reducible to one or all of them, nor separate from them. While a person is more than a DNA code, a psychological profile and a social and cultural background, he or she cannot be understood apart from such factors. You are unique not because you possess an essential metaphysical quality that differs from the essential metaphysical quality of everyone else, but because you have emerged from a unique and unrepeatable set of conditions.


It seems to me it would be a lot easier to make this concept understood to people than to waste time debating the existence of God. Anything you could point to in an attempt to define some irreducible essence of "you", any quality about yourself, whether physical, mental or emotional, is a compound phenomenon contingent upon others for its existence. "Soul" and "spirit" are nothing more than useful metaphors.

Your body is a product of your parents' DNA (and that of all your earlier relatives), and its continued existence relies, at the very least, on a regular supply of air, food and water. You probably wouldn't include "oxygen" in a definition of what it means to be you, but it's impossible to talk about any human being existing in an environment without it.

The language you speak, which shapes and communicates the sorts of thoughts you have, is a cultural work-in-progress, stretching back over thousands of years at least, with contributions from countless people. The ideas you have, the beliefs you hold, the mental qualities that you consider to form such an important aspect of who you are, were pieced together over time and expressed by many different people, adapted to many different situations. You may find a clever way to apply certain ideas, beliefs or insights to your particular experience, but the basic themes were laid down long ago.

Your thoughts and feelings emerge from the interplay between your brain and sensory organs. They are not going to float around in the atmosphere or out in space after your death, waiting for a new host organism to attach themselves to. Any God that mattered would have to make himself known in the here and now, because your death will be the end of your opportunity to know anything about him, as your component atoms dissolve back into the endless flow of life itself from which they arose.

One who denies the permanent essence of self -- what should be the word for that?

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

I read Digby regularly because she's widely considered to be one of the intellectual heavyweights of the proggie blogosphere. Usually, when I take issue with something she's said, it's because of what appears to be naïveté, or - more likely - willful blindness in service to political ideology. But this kind of deliberate partisan hackery really pisses me the fuck off.

It appears this little girl was mentally tortured to death.

I'm sure this behavior isn't unprecedented. Lord of the Flies was an allegory, but it was also a fairly realistic depiction of human behavior. But I can't help but feel that the violent, apocalyptic rhetoric of the right over the past few years has torn off much of the civilizing bonds we'd built up over the years. Certainly our recent cavalier attitude toward torture ("when they deserve it") hasn't gone unnoticed.

Keep in mind that most of the people who are screaming in red faced rage in news stories every day aren't young people. It's older people --- the faces of authority --- who are doing it. These parental (and grandparental) role models acting out of control with anger gives tacit permission to some kids to act like animals too.

Yes, she's really trying to say-without-actually-saying that the recent phenomenon of livid, illiterate Republicans with homemade, misspelled cardboard signs hollering on camera about socialism and taxes and Kenyan birth certificates is somehow responsible for teenagers in Massachusetts bullying another girl for months until she committed suicide. If she were simply making that direct claim, it would be merely stupid. But she knows better, and she admits as much right there -- humans have always had the capacity for violence and gratuitous cruelty, and anyone who doesn't have some idiotic, romantic conception of the innocence of childhood knows full well that children can display an astonishing ability to let a pack mentality take over and start senselessly tormenting outcasts for the sheer mindless fun of it.

She knows that. And yet she still tries to use such a horrible incident to score a tiny political point that no one will even remember in two weeks. Fucking disgusting.

I remember staring in slack-jawed amazement back in 2000, after the infamous wilding attacks at the Puerto Rican Day parade in NYC, as someone read an editorial (I think it was in one of the NYC tabloids, but I'm not positive) to me where the author was seriously trying to blame the attacks on Bill Clinton's behavior with Monica Lewinsky. The "logic" seemingly went something like: Clinton got a blowjob from a willing intern and didn't lose his job over it, so therefore a bunch of morons, who probably couldn't even have named the president if asked, figured they could sexually assault random women in public in broad daylight and get away with it. Because again, rape and assault were absolutely unheard of in human history before then.

And remember this classic from Newt Gingrich in 1994, regarding the Susan Smith case?

Here's what Gingrich said three days before last November's election -- in response to an Associated Press reporter who asked him how the campaign was going: "Slightly more moving our way. I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things." Gingrich concluded, "The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."

Nice company you're keeping these days, Digs. Be proud.