Tag Archives: Odds and Ends

To cook free will, first heat your biography to 400 degrees

Groggy in bed this morning, I discovered I was having some kind of conversation with myself about freedom from the oppression of one’s autobiography.

“As you get older,” I realized I was saying (I might have been worried if I wasn’t still half-asleep), “you come to realize that your personal history is both inescapable and irrelevant. If you do it right. Because of course your past is what has thrown you into the present – not just as a set of circumstances but as a set of perspectives, the limits of your whole concept of the world. And yet, at exactly the same time, the more distance you get the less power it has over you.”

Why the hell should I care about how passionately I fought my high school administration … and my college administration … and my grad school administration … let alone affect my behavior right now? What do loves lost 20 years ago matter? You can certainly hold a grudge, but the more time you fit under your skin the more alarmingly free you become to disregard everything you have been up to this point.

Continue reading To cook free will, first heat your biography to 400 degrees

The rise of Ms. Marvel and the fall of Spider-Man: superhero Comic Books are at once egalitarian and fascist

An essay in the New York Times about Comic Books and identity issues raises a point I’ve heard before: that the best quality of superheroes is that they are wholly egalitarian.

To quote Umapagan Ampikaipakan:

But for some of us non-Americans, the genre doesn’t need to apologize for itself, no matter how quintessentially American it is. The superhero comic is the American dream illustrated, and by definition the American dream must be accessible to all. However monochromatic its characters, the superhero comic’s message has always seemed universal.” … “I could never be Ganesh or Krishna; they were deities. Yet I could be Spider-Man, because I already was Peter Parker.“ … “After a bout with a radioactive spider or some Terrigen Mist, it could be you or it could be me.”

Comics do have the seeds of egalitarian heroism in their DNA:   their message is very much that when put in extraordinary circumstances, ordinary people can rise up to the occasion and be heroes.

But then what? What does being a superhero mean?

Just because a dream is theoretically open to anyone doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. And superheroes very quickly turn from egalitarians into … something else …

… look, I like superheroes as much as the next guy, and probably more since I actually read capes & tights comics during my formative years.  But one of the biggest downsides to the huge popularity of the genre now is the fact that, at heart, it has fascist tendencies.

Continue reading The rise of Ms. Marvel and the fall of Spider-Man: superhero Comic Books are at once egalitarian and fascist

The Things I Thought of Myself

Most of the really important lessons in life have already been thought of and best expressed by other people.  History, after all, goes back a long time, and a lot of those people were very smart.

So when I was asked by a prompt in a writing workshop to “say what needed to be said,” my first response was to think that, in fact, I had nothing that needed to be said in a broad, sweeping, “inform the world” kind of way.  So far as wisdom goes, I am a secondary source.

But … but … the more I thought about it the more it occurred to me that there might be a few quirky lessons I had truly thought of, in the iron crucible of life, on my own.  Not to say they weren’t thought of by someone before, but not to the point of being cultural tropes.  So I wrote them down.  They’re neither so poingant as “Blessed are the poor” nor so well expressed as “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” but they’re mine, and I hope you find them helpful.

Here we go: Continue reading The Things I Thought of Myself

The British Consulate cannot help you

Anyone who has ever worked a job that asked them to interact with the public can sympathize with the British Foreign Office.

Indeed, there are many people to whom I wish I could send a press release like the one the Foreign Office released on May 16, reminding Her Majesty’s loyal subjects living abroad that it cannot get them contact information for Sir Paul McCartney wife.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release: Continue reading The British Consulate cannot help you

How TV got good – a Gen X story

“Remember when we hated television?”

I’ve had this conversation with several fellow Gen Xers recently.  We circle each other warily until someone mentions liking a TV show, and then someone asks “Do you … like … Television?”

To say “Yes” back in our formative years would have identified you as a philistine:  someone hopelessly out of touch with what’s good in life.   But there’s no cultural cache left in disliking TV.  The words “Golden Age of Television” come up a lot.  It would be a terrible thing to live in a golden age and not know it.

Yet it’s not accurate to say that television has “evolved.”  TV was actually better as a new medium, for all the clumsy production values and ham-handed social conventions, than it was during my childhood in the 80s.  I’ll admit the groan-to-pleasure ratio is pretty high but I defy anyone to watch the early vaudeville performers putting it on the line in front of a live crowd and for millions at home, and not get lost in their act.

They didn’t know what they were doing, but that’s because they were pioneers:  and watching pioneers in action is always exciting.  They were seeing if it was even possible to make a connection as a performer across such vast distances, and history has been kind.

The early internet was much the same – except that in the days of television it was the best of the best who made it on to the new medium.  The internet had no such exclusivity.  Television was a casting call;  the internet was a 100 million car pile-up. Continue reading How TV got good – a Gen X story

You should read this: surviving as a Jew in prison

Inmate David Arenberg has reached an accord with the Aryan Brotherhood:  they let him eat at the table “for” white people, but only after everyone else has eaten.  That’s the best deal he can get, and he’ll take it, because eating at a table “for” the other races violates a strict code, and gets you killed.

He’s actually under the Aryan Brotherhood’s protection, because he does legal work for them.  Hey, a Jewish lawyer is hard to come by in prison …

Ironically that’s exactly the deal that Hitler refused to make.  Just prior to World War II one of the most prominent industrialists in Germany, a man partly responsible for the invention of chemical weapons and the re-arming of the Wehrmacht, got his first audience with der Fuhrer.   Continue reading You should read this: surviving as a Jew in prison

This is how points get missed

Gallup recently conducted a poll ranking the American states by how happy they are.  Don’t ask any questions about methodology or legitimacy:  I’m not even going there.  Let’s just all be happy for the people of Kansas, who ranked higher than California.

Here’s what I want to point out.

SF Weekly reported on this survey, and their post concluded with this paragraph:

So why does any of this matter? Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport told 24/7 Wall St.why states should try to foster more joy: “Well-being is important because of the hypothesis that it leads to good outcomes,” he said. “If your citizens have high well-being, they’re more likely to be better citizens and engage in better behaviors and make things better all the way around. It’s a positive goal for those that look at what we ought to emphasize in society.”

Wait … We’re justifying HAPPINESS because “of the hypothesis that it leads to good outcomes”?

The idea is that I should be happy because it might lead somewhere good?  Is that it?  I should follow this happiness thing and see if it pays off down the road?  And if it doesn’t, I’ll try misery out because that might be the shortcut to enhanced results?  That’s where you’re going with this?

To think people don’t trust polls.

An Open Letter to Everyone Who Made the All Worlds Fair Possible

Hey Everybody:

Let me tell you what I did last night at the All Worlds Fair:

  • I dug for living computer chips in the silicon mine
  • I sailed across the Sea of the Subconscious, and carried out a dream in a bottle
  • I drank from a new experimental miracle wine
  • I was named a deputy docent
  • I met the Spirit of the Mint, and received a token of her blessing
  • I attained the highest level in the Cult of the Emperor Norton, and a whole room bowed down to me
  • I took a mustache ride. It was … dirty
  • I communicated with an alien world
  • I saved myself from an attacking troll with an efficacious deployment of chocolate

… and that was just the first floor!  And I missed stuff!  I still hear people talking about how much fun they had at the stuff I didn’t get to!

I knew it would be good, but I was stunned by how on their game everybody was last night. I’ll run out of breath before I run out of praise. The Ladies of the Passport Office were amazing – they made the waiting area alone worth the price of admission. Brilliantly done. Continue reading An Open Letter to Everyone Who Made the All Worlds Fair Possible

Life has started imitating television

Thanks to Netflix … a word which future archeologists will assume is some kind of time-wasting disease … I have just re-watched all seven seasons of “The West Wing” in under two months.

I don’t recommend this to anyone.

Like any man coming off a bender, I have a few odd thoughts about the experience that might be interesting in the cold light of day … but none of which are worth having gone though it to get. Continue reading Life has started imitating television