Friday, December 22, 2017

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la, have nothing to do with the case

Seven years ago, in a post entitled “Deforestation,”* I offered my answer to the question: “What is the crappiest famous poem?” I was moved to write that post after hearing a rendition of the famous musical setting of that nausea-inducing work "Trees." 

I have recently determined what is the runner-up to the musical version of “Trees” as “crappiest famous”: “I Believe.” In case you have had the good fortune of having forgotten how it goes, let me do the dirty and remind you:

I believe for every drop of rain that falls,
A flower grows,
I believe that somewhere in the darkest night,
A candle glows.
I believe for everyone who goes astray,
Someone will come to show the way.
I believe,
I believe.

I believe above the storm the smallest prayer,
Will still be heard.
I believe that someone in the great somewhere,
Hears every word.
Every time I hear a new born baby cry,
Or touch a leaf or see the sky.
Then I know why,
I believe.

Every time I hear a new born baby cry,
Or touch a leaf or see the sky.
Then I know why,
I believe.


Conducting independent research during the most recent precipitation event in New Jersey, I must admit that I did not get a bouquet of horticultural delight; what I did get was wet. 

I was lucky to escape with merely a minor cold.

Unfortunately, people’s beliefs (in opposition to soaking epistemological evidence) can (and do) have deleterious outcomes for others. Consider:
For weeks now, White House officials, Treasury Department officials, and G.O.P. leaders on Capitol Hill have been blithely asserting that their big tax plan—which features huge giveaways for corporations and wealthy investors in private partnerships—would pay for itself. The argument is that the plan, by sparking a wave of business investment and hiring, would generate enough extra tax revenues over time to offset the initial fall. Gary Cohn, Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, said it (“We believe we’re going to get more than enough growth to pay for this”). Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, did, too (“We believe . . . that we’re right there in the sweet spot, with economic growth that gives us more revenue with where we need to be”). And Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, agreed (“We believe this is a responsible budget and a responsible tax reform”).**
It is most likely that those of us who are not a corporation or a multi-millionaire will end up being soaked by the recently-enacted Republican tax fiasco, er, bill. Despite the weedy beliefs of Cohn, Ryan, McConnell, and their fellow delusionists, trickle-down economics has never proven to be workable, and the calculations of showery mathematics (as practiced by Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation, for example***) predict a flood of future misfortune for middle- and low-income families. 

But don’t knock the believers: we may all end up with flowers—or, more likely, hay fever.

By chance, today my fortune cookie, courtesy of Hunan Wok, read: “He who believes is strong; he who doubts is weak.”

True enough, if you’re W. C. Fields: “Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer.”

However, what of the fate of A. B. Spottsworth?
It was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused A. B. Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead, and the lion thought it wasn’t.**** P. G. Wodehouse, “Ring for Jeeves” (1953)
The moral, I guess, is: “Have another libation and stay away from big cats.”

That is a conclusion, one might declare, Right as rain.”


**** As happens many times, the verbs “to think” and “to believe” are interchangeable.  For example, “I think it’s going to rain”=“I believe it’s going to rain.”

Friday, December 8, 2017

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

Nothing in my own words for this post. All quotations from others.


It was a custom introduced by this prince and his ministry (very different, as I have been assured, from the practice of former times,) that after the court had decreed any cruel execution, either to gratify the monarch’s resentment, or the malice of a favourite, the emperor always made a speech to his whole council, expressing his great lenity and tenderness, as qualities known and confessed by all the world.  This speech was immediately published throughout the kingdom; nor did any thing terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his majesty’s mercy; because it was observed, that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment, and the sufferer more innocent.

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels


The crowd just south of the White House roared last week as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke introduced “a man who loves our parks” and “who brought ‘Merry Christmas!’ back to our nation’s capital.”
Zinke beamed as he pointed to Trump, who was off stage. “And you did, sir! It is my high honor to introduce the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump and our beautiful first lady [Melania Trump].”
The honor was Zinke’s because he oversees the National Park Service (he opened his remarks by saying that “our public lands are our greatest treasures”), and the park service oversees the annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree.


On a visit to Utah on Monday, President Trump announced his proclamations dramatically shrinking the size of the state's two massive national monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Taken together, Trump's orders mark the largest reversal of national monument protections in U.S. history.


Host Chris Cuomo immediately fired back that it seems like the president has “no standard of morality” and that this endorsement for Moore is all “political pragmatism.”
“The president has tremendous moral standards . . . , “ [Kellyanne] Conway retorted.


Lurking in the background of the roiling debate about harassment and assault in American society are the allegations made against President Trump by at least 19 women, many of whom came forward after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016.


War is Peace. Freedom Is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

George Orwell, 1984 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"A Little Mistake" (Brief Look at Satire, Part 5)

I know I was a coward: In the early oughts, I wanted to ask a famous opera star this last question in an interview (which ended up not taking place at all): “For truly great artists, is there a different moral standard that applies?” Only very superficially an innocuous question, it was obvious enough in the context and I was strongly advised not to ask that question if I got the chance… lest I get in trouble.   Jens F. Laurson(1)
Let's keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her . . .(2)
The Background:

1977—Film director Roman Polanski, indicted on 6 criminal charges, plea-bargained down to one—“Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Minor.”

1978—Polanski, instead of turning himself in for sentencing, fled the country. He has lived in Europe ever since. A French citizen, he was exempt from extradition to the United States.

2009—In Switzerland, however, Polanski was not free from extradition and was arrested in Zurich by the Swiss at the request of the US.

Immediately, Hollywood and other celebrities jumped into the fray, with statements in defense of the director. Ironically enough, considering recent events, one of the leaders in the free-Roman movement was Harvey Weinstein:
Film mogul Harvey Weinstein has got behind a campaign by French film-makers calling on US authorities not to extradite the Oscar-winning Polish director in connection with a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor dating back more than three decades. 
Weinstein entered the fray at the personal behest of Cannes film festival director Thierry Fremaux and will now use his considerable influence and campaigning heft to enlist the support of Hollywood.
"We're calling on every film-maker we can to help fix this terrible situation," Weinstein said, reviving a theme he adopted earlier in the year after he bought international distribution rights at Sundance to the HBO documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.(3)
One film-maker who was outspoken in Polanski’s defense was the Swiss Otto Weisser:
“This is for me a shock. I am ashamed to be Swiss, that the Swiss is doing such a thing to brilliant fantastic genius, that millions and millions of people love his work," Weisser said upon learning the director had been detained by Swiss authorities. "He's a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.”(4)
That foremost moral philosopher and legal theorist Woopi Goldberg asserted:
I know it wasn't rape-rape. I think it was something else, but I don't believe it was rape-rape.(5)

The Present:
MSNBC Cuts Ties With Sam Seder Over Roman Polanski Rape Joke(6)
Sam Seder is a comedian, writer, actor, film director, and television producer-director, who in 2009 sent out a tweet that read:
Don’t care re Polanski, but I hope if my daughter is ever raped it is by an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene.
That tweet, in which Seder reacted to the defense of Polanski by the celebs (e.g., Debra Winger, “We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece”), just happens to be a classic work of satire.

One of the devices that the satirist uses is irony, which is based on misdirection and hidden truth. In Socratic irony, for example, the ironist undervalues his own position (“I know nothing”), while in sarcasm the ironist overstates the value of the target (saying to someone tripping over his own feet: “Ah, here’s Fred Astaire"). The satirist can also—as in this case—pretend to accept the false valuation of the object of his satire in order to subvert it.

Seder used the argument of Polanski’s defenders to pretend to reconcile himself to an outrageous act on a family member. If the rape was perpetrated by anyone other than “an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene” it would presumably not be acceptable to the celebs. But as an act by “an older truly talented man w/a great sense of mise en scene” it will be—and Seder pretends to take his lead from the celebs’ judgment. 

Of course, the act was still—to use Woopi Goldberg’s unfelicitous words—“rape-rape.” By placing himself in the situation of a rape victim’s parent, Seder demanded that the defenders of Polanski imagine their own daughters in such a situation. They would have to shrug off the violation if they were to be consistent with their idea of the artist’s impunity—or like real-life parents demand that the perpetrator be brought to justice.

The Telegraph went on to list the following celebs as being among Polanski defenders: Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar, Tilda Swinton, Debra Winger, Monica Bellucci. And Woody Allen!!!