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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 26 January 2004

Topic: The Culture

Everyone has his or her heroes. For me? Duke Ellington, and Roberto Clemente, and, yes, George Carlin.
Heroes? Well, folks I admire might be a better term.
"I'm splitting semantic hairs here, but that's what they're for."

In an earlier post I pointed out that Jonathan Swift in his the "Digression on Madness" (1710) implies that the world can be divided into "fools" or "knaves" - the only two options.

It's quite funny, and nasty. And very cynical.

Swift only implies a third alternative - there are fools, and there are knaves, and then there can be total cynics who trust no claim about anything, ever.

I said that I'm working on that third option. George Carlin has it down.

George Carlin is sixty-six and still a hoot. Carlin now has twenty-four albums, he's done twelve HBO specials, and he has three Grammy Awards and five Emmy nominations. And his next book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? will be published later this year. Should be amusing.

And it seems Carlin recently gave a telephone interview to The Idaho Statesman. It's pretty cool.

See 'Liberal' is a dirty word for George Carlin
Michael Deeds. The Idaho Statesman, January 24, 2004

Here's some of it.
Q: You don't do a lot of topical, current event comedy, do you?

A: I don't like topical stuff. It's too easy. Anybody can make fun of Bush. Hillary Clinton. Monica Lewinsky. Mike Tyson. That ... ain't hard. That's like shooting fish in a barrel. So I prefer going at things from an odd angle, different angle. I'm doing stuff about suicide ... I'm doing stuff about the fabric of space-time splitting open. I'm doing stuff about being a modern man with the language. So I'm just different, you know?

Q: Is being dark as important to you now as it was earlier in your career?

A: I don't know that I ever was (dark) - except now. I like testing people's limits. I like finding out what an audience feels uncomfortable with and pushing on that. That's the fun of art.

Q: You're known as a very liberal comic. Are you trying to change people's political views when you go out there? Do you have an underlying agenda?

A: No. First of all, I'm not liberal. I'm just about (being) anti-United States. I don't like the way this country operates. I think we've ruined this place. And I think it's largely because of businessmen. And businessmen are not liberals. So if that makes me a liberal, then that's just an association. It's not a choice. ...

I do not care about changing anybody. Nobody. I go out there to show the rest of the Americans how badly they're doing
. This country has been, for about 180 years now, badly mishandled. And it's been in the wrong hands. It's been in the hands of the business interests.

And a lot of the beauty of this country has been shattered by them. The physical beauty and the kind of institutional beauty that was originally built into this place - this experiment, this magnificent experiment in democracy is just being shredded to pieces by these right-wing Christians, the Ashcroft branch of Republicanism. (They're) just shredding the rest of the Bill of Rights which hadn't been shredded already. (But) they'd been doing a pretty good job on it up until then, anyway.

Q: Do you feel like this country has progressed any way, shape or form in the past 20 years?

A: Everybody's got more jet skis and Dustbusters now and sneakers with lights in them. They've got more cheese on their thing that they buy. They get double helpings.
Yep, they do.

Of course he's saying Americans measure all their progress in the wrong way. This seems be about our national character and priorities. I guess it's bigger than Bush.

And this doesn't even touch on religion. You might want to check out Positive Atheism's Big List of George Carlin Quotations for his take on that.

And there is Carlin's work on language. And you might check out the interview he gave The Onion a few years ago. Here's some of that - just a bit...
O: You've said, "If you think there's a solution, you're part of the problem." Do you really lack hope?

GC: Well, they say, "If you scratch a cynic, underneath you'll find a disappointed idealist." So I would imagine there's some little flame, however weak, that still burns, but I know time is against my seeing that. I think this world would need a long time, maybe a thousand years, to evolve to what may be a golden age, and in the meantime, there are all these very small, parochial struggles between peoples of different language and color and arbitrary political and national boundaries. And my understanding of it is that there is no hope, because I think we're locked in by commerce. The whole idea of the pursuit of goods and possessions has completely corrupted the human experience, along with religion, which I think limits the intellect. So with those two things in place as firmly as they are, I don't see any hope for getting around them short of some sort of interesting cataclysm. So I root for a cataclysm, for its own sake, just as entertainment. I don't even care if it has a good result. We're circling the drain, and I just like seeing the circles get faster and shorter all the time.

O: I was reading your web site [], and you referred to George W. Bush as a fascist. But you don't vote. Why not vote against someone you think is a fascist?

GC: Well, because it wouldn't make any difference. When fascism comes to this country, it won't be wearing jackboots; it'll be wearing sneakers with lights in them, and it'll have a smiley face and a Michael Jordan T-shirt on. They learned the mistake of overt control. They've learned how to be much subtler. No, I don't think my vote would mean anything, and at the same time, it would make me very untrue to myself to participate in what I really think is a charade.

O: Well, you more or less hate society anyway, don't you?

GC: Um, I'm very disrespectful of it, and I'm contemptuous of it, but I don't think hate is in me, although we use that word the same way we use love: "Oh, boy, I love ice cream and I hate the Dodgers." But it is a distaste, a contempt, a dissatisfaction, a disillusionment, and a lot of qualities and feelings that come together and appear as anger on stage. I don't experience them as anger; I experience them as a deep distaste. I'm splitting semantic hairs here, but that's what they're for.

O: Aren't you supposed to be slowing down?

GC: Yeah, that's the "old" deal, yeah. That's right. You know, I'm blessed with a great genetic package: Among the genetic qualities I got for free was this energy and stamina, as well as great enthusiasm and a positive, optimistic sense of self. My personal sphere is really positive; it's the world that I have my doubts about.
Yep, some of us have the same doubts.

Posted by Alan at 21:33 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Economy

Americans love the rich. We want to be like them, so we indulge them, and dream of the day each of us will be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

Paul Krugman has a good piece in tomorrow's Times. But he is quite wrong in thinking this matters as he thinks it does.

See Red Ink Realities
Paul Krugman, The New York Times, January 27, 2004

The opening is cool.
Even conservatives are starting to admit that George Bush isn't serious when he claims to be doing something about the exploding budget deficit. At best - to borrow the already classic language of the State of the Union address - his administration is engaged in deficit reduction-related program activities.

But these admissions have been accompanied by an urban legend about what went wrong. According to cleverly misleading reports from the Heritage Foundation and other like-minded sources, the deficit is growing because Mr. Bush isn't sufficiently conservative: he's allowing runaway growth in domestic spending. This myth is intended to divert attention from the real culprit: sharply reduced tax collections, mainly from corporations and the wealthy.
Krugman goes into some detail explaining that, except for farm subsidies - which help our large farm corporations like Archer-Daniels-Midland and really tick off Europe and the third world - there's not been a whole lot of new spending, at least in programs that cost money now. The prescription subsidies don't kick in for a few years. Most of the AIDS money pledged to Africa has not been authorized, much less spent. The No Child Left Behind funds are being held up, and they weren't much to begin with. (My teacher friends call it the No Child Left Alive program.) Krugman shows that while overall government spending has risen rapidly since 2001, the great bulk of that increase can be attributed either to outlays on defense and homeland security, or to types of government spending, like unemployment insurance, that automatically rise when the economy is depressed.

Heck, he's an economist. He knows.

So what's the deal? How did we get this deficit, and why is it growing so fast?

Yes, part of the answer is big increases in defense and homeland security spending. But that's only part of the answer.
The main reason for deficits, however, is that revenues have plunged. Federal tax receipts as a share of national income are now at their lowest level since 1950.
And most people won't believe that. Of course. They pay the same taxes they always paid.
And they're right: taxes that fall mainly on middle-income Americans, like the payroll tax, are still near historic highs. The decline in revenue has come almost entirely from taxes that are mostly paid by the richest 5 percent of families: the personal income tax and the corporate profits tax. These taxes combined now take a smaller share of national income than in any year since World War II.
Krugman shows that this decline in tax collections from the wealthy is partly the result of the Bush tax cuts, which account for more than half of this year's projected deficit. But it also probably reflects an epidemic of tax avoidance and evasion.

Fine. The rich get richer and we pay for it. Yeah, yeah.

And Krugman get on his high horse again about why this is worse than ever.
What's playing out in America right now is the bait-and-switch strategy known on the right as "starve the beast." The ultimate goal is to slash government programs that help the poor and the middle class, and use the savings to cut taxes for the rich. But the public would never vote for that.

So the right has used deceptive salesmanship to undermine tax enforcement and push through upper-income tax cuts. And now that deficits have emerged, the right insists that they are the result of runaway spending, which must be curbed.
But this is why we the people elected Bush in the first place. We love this stuff. We love the new Donald Trump reality show, "The Apprentice," where he fires folks who don't serve him well. The ultra-rich are our heros.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, some, the Democrats, the opposition, don't love this stuff. What should they do?
While this strategy has been remarkably successful so far, it also offers a big opportunity to the opposition. So here's a test for the Democratic contenders: details of your proposals aside, which of you can do the best job explaining the ongoing budget con to the American people?
Hey Paul, what if they don't CARE?

Yeah, it's a con. A good one. And folks love it.

After all, one day any of us could be ultra-rich, destroying others. What fun!


Note on the title:

AUTHOR: Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
QUOTATION: "The potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice."
ATTRIBUTION: Life of Johnson (Boswell). Vol. viii. Chap. ii.
Actually about beer, or more precisely porter, and then, finally, about stout:
"Johnson's oft-quoted remark arose from the immense popularity of Porter in the mid and late 1700s. A porter brewery was "not a parcel of boilers and vats but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avaricee," remarked Johnson. He nursed a jealous passion for Hester Thrale, wife of a gentleman brewer. Johnson's memorably extravagant phrase was intended to help the Thrales sell their porter brewery, in Southwark, London. The brewery survived, latterly under the ownership of Courage, until the 1980s, and Russian Imperial Stout was made there."
... this from The Independent (UK)

... or ...

"I am rich beyond the dreams of avarice." - Edward Moore: The Gamester, act ii. sc. 2. 1753. [ ... not performed often these days! ]

Posted by Alan at 20:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

I sometimes worry that our leader is not all there - as in "actually detached from reality."
No. Couldn't be. But then again, the problem seems to be spreading.

Ah, it's not just me.

This on the blog Body and Soul today...
Let's twist again, like we did last summer

Remember that bizarre moment last summer when George Bush forgot that Hans Blix existed?

"The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

Wouldn't let them in?

Fine, chalk that up to a senior moment, or even a slip of the tongue. Sometimes I don't manage to say exactly what I mean either.

But then yesterday, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer, discussing the David Kay report, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) repeated Bush's twisted history:

"But, in regards to Saddam Hussein, if in fact he didn't have them, why on earth didn't he let the U.N. inspectors in and avoid the war? That is a real puzzlement to me."

Okay, they're freaking me out now. Either senility is running rampant in the Republican party, or they're making a concerted effort to keep repeating the same lie until it becomes the accepted truth.

Can they get away with it? ... Blitzer didn't even notice Roberts' revision of history.
Well, many of my friends discussed this with me in many an email.

Bush said that last July. I was appalled that Bush either lied or really was detached from reality. My friends in the news business said not to worry, everyone knew what he meant. No big deal.

But I worry.

Posted by Alan at 19:41 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: World View

Self-Referential Irony - Practice Your French

Quelle est l'origine du mot ? snob ? ?

From today...
Lundi 26 Janvier 2004 - D'o? vient le mot snob?

Pourquoi un snob s'appelle-t-il un snob? Mot anglais certes, mais qui vient d'o? ? L'explication la plus r?pandue passe par le latin : snob serait l'abr?g? de sine nobilitate : sans noblesse.

Tout faux, d'apr?s l'Oxford English Dictionary. Snob est un vieux mot de dialecte, qui au XVIII?me si?cle signifie "cordonnier ". Le snob, fort bas dans l'?chelle sociale, fabrique des chaussures.

Puis le sens s'envole et commence une prodigieuse ascension. Le snob devient "celui qui admire et qui veut imiter ". Le sens moderne de parvenu frimeur appara?t sous la plume de l'?crivain William Thackeray, avec son Livre des snobs publi? en 1848.

Toujours plus haut, vers 1910, le snob devient enfin celui qui, non content de s'?lever ou de faire semblant, m?prise ceux qui sont rest?s en bas.

Mais la plus belle d?finition reste sans doute celle de Beau Brummel, le prince des dandys de Londres : "Le dandy lance les modes, le snob les ramasse."
And that's that.

If this makes sense to you then you may consider yourself a snob.

Posted by Alan at 08:37 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Sunday, 25 January 2004

Topic: Bush

Go ahead. Take a satire break. Indulge yourself.

On the web you might have come across the site WHITEHOUSE.ORG - a wildly uneven anti-Bush, or anti-establishment, satire site.

As some of you know, my honors thesis in college, and my work in graduate school, was on the satires of Jonathan Swift. Yep, I was particularly fond of A Tale of a Tub and the famous section "A Digression On Madness." I wrote about that here back in mid-July - "What Jonathan Swift would say about Merrill Lynch were Swift still around...".

In the "Digression" one will find a discussion implying that the world can be divided into "fools" or "knaves" - the only two options. It's quite funny, and nasty. And very cynical. Swift only implies a third alternative - there are fools, and there are knaves, and then there can be total cynics who trust no claim about anything, ever.

I'm working on that third option.

Satire these days isn't so subtle. But you might want to check this out.


Here are my favorite parts:
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, fellow Republican CEOs, terrorist-coddling liberals, telegenic colored toddlers, and uniform-wearing military props:

America this evening is a nation whipped into a state of perpetual paranoia over terrorism. And I, your Supreme and Omnipotent Leader, am rising to sustain that. (Applause.)

In short... BE AFRAID. Be very afraid. Be constantly and persistently afraid. Be totally consumed by fear. Be absolutely, shit-in-your-Dockers terrified. To do otherwise is to voluntarily lay your blue-eyed babies at the Muslamian altar of sacrificial murder. Of course, don't be so a'scared that you feel like you can't let your kids play hopscotch on the sidewalk or go about your daily business as if you were living in the 90's. I've got your back. In fact, I'm the only one who knows how to protect this country from the hole dwellers who tried to kill my daddy.

As we gather tonight, America's military is stretched paper-thin across the face of the Earth. The servicemen and women for whom I feign respect are committing suicide and resigning their commissions in droves. Yet by scattering them around like so much disposal bio-confetti, we keep our domestic news media fixated on war, and in so doing continue to pound the enormous bongo drums of fear which buoy my approval ratings so gloriously. (Applause.)

Indeed, hundreds of military grunts are losing their lives so that you and I can secure the SUV juice we need to keep our country running. Who controls the spice... er, "oil," controls the UNIVERSE! And we thank the Hailiburton Corporation for their tax-deductible, pre-war donation of over 100,000 beautifully ornate military tombstones. (Applause.)

After all, our veterans deserve no less. (Applause.)

Tonight, members of this Republican Congress can take pride in having joined me in donning a fabulous star-spangled toga, invoking terror ad nauseum, and successfully imploding six miserable and horrifying decades of misguided legislation designed by evildoers (yes, American evildoers!) to interfere with God's divine plan for our nation's socio-economically inferior. Way to go, boys. (Applause.)

I want to thank the Democrats, in particular, for having purged their skeletons of the unruly vertebrae which might have otherwise prevented me from experiencing the groin-moistening satisfaction of effortless domination. I know that after this speech, Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi will stutter through their prepared remarks with all the persuasiveness and gravitas of a Richard Simmons tutorial on eating pussy. And for that, I am doubly thankful. (Applause.)
And this further on:
Moving forward, our nation faces a choice. We can act like a sissy little school girl, and waste a bunch of time thinking and talking about boring, non-terror-related stuff - or we can be a massively studly dude, and stay totally focused on bringing the world's most powerful arsenal to bear upon a few hundred hole-dwelling, lice-bearded boogey men. Now some say I'm thick as a brick, but I'm not blind to the irony there. Whoever would have guessed that Americans could believe that the only way to be "tough" is to twist your panties in a frantic perma-knot over some boxcutter-wielding religious loonies all named Mohammed? Not me, for one. But hey, whatever works! (Applause.)
And this:
Lately though, some whiners have been rudely dwelling on the fact that I sold America on an illegal war by promising to unearth weapons of mass destruction, which I have since failed to do. To them I say, "Who cares! Saddam's out of power, and that's a good thing!" I mean, I just don't get those folks. For instance, if I write a check for a new lawn mower, and the dealer brings me an ice cream truck instead, am I going to complain about it? Hell no! I like ice cream! Well it's the same thing with Iraq. Sure, the transaction may have technically been fraudulent, but ice cream is yummy! You'd think liberals could get that through their thick skulls. I mean, sheesh!
And it goes on, covering gay marriage issues, the Patriot Act and the economy.

I guess it's funny.

The link will take you to the whole thing. It's lame in places, and okay in other places, and rather good here and there. We have no contemporary Swift yet.

Posted by Alan at 22:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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