Overweening Generalist

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Drug Report For December, 2012: Booze

Gotta get one in before the ball drops...Or the other shoe drops. Or I drop a bowling ball on my foot, which would damage the shoe on my other foot, or...

Okay, booze-hounds. I'm writing this at 4:25 PST, which means it's 7:25 EST in New York, and some of you are already well on your way to plasterface.

My friends in England? That's...plus nine, right? It's already New Year's for you. Jeez, the sun still shines here, now. I hope you make it home okay. Jeez, I shouldda written about booze yesterday. Well, at least you get the news first. We on the West Coast of Unistat are always the last to know.

You Are Not Required To Get Rat-Legged Drunk
The main thing I wanna urge upon y'all, if you're listening: you are not required to get so ripped on booze you wake up in a pool of your own filth...on a living room rug in a house you cannot identify. No, that was last year. Things can be saner now. You get a do-over every 365 (or so), barring death. You can choose to limit yourself to only 15 Long Island Ice Teas this year, half of what you had last year. You can walk away after noticing people's alarmed faces when you slur out some idiocy, then bash your shin on the coffee table so bad that's gonna leave a mark till Valentine's Day. You have agency. You're all sitting around, drinking beer, recounting the year, laffing, trying to convince each other 2013 will be the Best Year Ever? Fine. Good. But try to abstain when someone brings out the beer funnel. I speak from experience.

Some booze items of note before I send myself on my way to a NewYear's Party/housewarming/potential bete noir. (Do I have cab fare? Check!):

Charles Baudelaire, on always being drunk.

A Toast
A toast, from Homer Simpson:
"To: alcohol! The cause of...and the solution to...all of our problems!"

Are You Smart?
"Why Do Smart Kids Grow Up To Be Heavier Drinkers?" (My personal fave of the shots in the dark here: best way to deal with morons. Your mileage may vary.)

Accidents Will Happen
Here's some very good news if you're going to get shitfaced tonight (or any night), and get into a horrible accident: "Intoxicated Patients More Likely To Survive Traumatic Injuries". Note: the doctors here suggest NOT using this study as a reason to get so tweaked you can't even remember your own name. But hey, what do doctors know? Lest ye think this study (that you didn't even read) is bogus: it takes into account 190,612 sozzled patients who showed up in ERs and trauma centers from 1995-2009, so that's nothing to sneeze at. Or barf over. Yep: fractures, internal injuries, open wounds: a 50% reduction in mortality (i.e, death) if you had the decency to get badly injured while piss-drunk. What this article doesn't address is my pet theory about this all along: when you're drunk your body just crumples all zen-like going-with-the-flow. Straight people see they're going over the edge of the highway and get all tensed-up, which only makes the injuries worse. Also, you won't even really feel the pain all that much until the next day, which is an added bonus. Don't say I never tried to improve your lives. I'm here to help!

A Public Service Announcement: Friends Don't Let Friends Butt-Chug: You'll only make an ass out of yourself by using your ass to get ass-drunk. Talk about drinking like an asshole!:
C'mon. This is just too silly, even for me. Besides, what if the wine has a nice bouquet? The receptor sites in your anus will not be able to appreciate it like those ones in your mouth. It just makes sense to drink with that orifice in the middle of your head instead. (As far as I know, Robert Parker has not addressed this issue.)

A Riddle
Puzzle this one out before going out and getting hammered: former UK drug advisor chief David Nutt, in the Lancet, showed that alcohol was more dangerous than crack or heroin. Nutt got sacked in 2009 after this. You don't offend the National Pastime by breaking bad news like that and get away with it.

But: given that knowledge - and what the fuck, it's probably right, right? Need another beer? I'll go get you one - how do we assess this bit of datum: taking a Benadryl then driving makes you drive worse than if you were drunk-driving. And Benadryl is legal, OTC (over-the-counter).

Given my knowledge of the mathematics of set theory and logic, I can only surmise that it's far safer to do heroin, then some crack, and then drive. Wait till you get there before washing down your Benadryl with some Wild Turkey. Anyone got a different read on this?

Wha???Speak a Little Louder, You Drunk!
According to this study - as reported by the brilliant and sexy science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing - bars that have louder music make people drink more, presumably because you can't talk to your friends so you may as well have another swallow. So: loud music causes quicker drunken-ness-ish. Plato was right about music: it's dangerous. Like poets. Stay away from music, especially loud music, and it goes without saying that poets are still a pain in the ass. (See Baudelaire, above.) Drink in peace, my friends!

Another Caution Before You Drink and Drive
A woman got all Merle Haggard and drove, hit someone else's car. A real fuck-up. But the nightmare: the judge made her read the Book of Job and write essays about it as part of her punishment. Man, that's harsh. Forced reading. Jeez. It's not like she was butt-chugging or anything.

Like We Didn't Already Know
A French study showed that people with tattoos and piercings drank more at the local bar. Gosh what a surprise. Well, let's just hope they're not doing Benadryl too.

Things like this may help you make better choices tonight. Or maybe you're already hungover as you read this, in which case: drink lots of water, and just try to sleep as much of it off as you can. And fer crissakes: take a B vitamin supplement! The Bs help convert your food into energy, and that coffin varnish you drank last night just killed the Bs.

Happy New Year to all, wherever you are in the world!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some Origins of Marxism and Instrumental Rationality as a Revolutionary Tool

I see that the NY Times has found out that the FBI has had counterterrorism agents investigating Occupy. Gosh. I knew the FBI infiltrated, undermined, bugged, harassed, planted evidence...on anyone they deemed "left wing" since...their inception. But gosh darn it, I thought they would have quit by now. I thought COINTELPRO was all over, and the FBI now suddenly cared about a person or group's Constitutional rights to think and say whatever they wanted, no matter how unpopular (or wildly popular?) or seemingly non-violently threatening of the existing order of wealth and privilege. Yea. Golly.

How did Marxism start? In secret societies. The right-wing conspiracy theorists who see Illuminati everywhere are/were right: these revolutionary movements do get going in secret Masonic-based societies, with initiations, etc. But this still doesn't mean Nesta Webster was "right," although I confess I do find her a wonderful paranoid read.

                                             Someone drew this pic of Marx, the 
                                             Young Hegelian. We can see why some
                                             of his friends called him The Moor

Who were The League of Outlaws? Oh, they gave birth to The League of the Just. Who were they? Oh, they gave birth to the League of Communists. When Marx and Engels wrote that the Communists had nothing to hide, in the Communist Manifesto, they were addressing this very issue: time to come out from hiding!

The League of Outlaws were German emigrants in Paris who blindfolded initiates in secret ceremonies and used secret handshakes, recognition signs, and passwords. (If you dropped the term "civic virtue" in conversation you were indicating where you stood.) They had a pyramidical structure. A strict distinction was made between upper and lower members. They were bound by oath, says the late great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, in his terrific Primitive Rebels, pp.169-170. All of these ritualistic secret society gimmicks were taken from the Carbonari. This was around 1834. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 - carried off by extremely well-educated professional revolutionaries who led peasants - we see that Marx was wrong about educated proles in a vanguard party leading other proles in taking over the means of production. Marx was wrong about pretty much every "Communist" revolution of the 20th century. It was educated professional revolutionaries leading barely-literate peasants. But I digress...

So lemme back-up: what was the beef of the guys in The League of Outlaws? They were smart enough to see the Rich were dealing from the bottom of the deck, and they wanted things more...democratic. More fundamental fairness. What horrible people. But don't worry, the version of the FBI they had to deal with was even more brutal. And the FBI has many thousands of buckets of blood on their hands. I hope you know about, say, Fred Hampton?

On Marx himself: There's a fascinating discussion on radicalism and intellectuals being prevented from rising higher on the status ladder in Marxist sociologist Alvin Gouldner's The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. (Get from the local public library?) At one point, in a long footnote discussing Lewis Coser's ideas about "blocked" intellectuals - as Coser writes in his Men of Ideas - Gouldner writes, "Coser develops the argument that the Jacobin leadership was composed largely of those whose careers had manifested upward mobility, but whose future ascendence was blocked. The study of diverse career blockages - e.g, of educated clerkly revolutionaries, of the sons of those killed during nationalist struggles, of displaced elites - is crucial to an understanding of the radicalization of intellectuals. A basic and familiar source of such blockage is, of course, having the 'wrong' gender, ethnic, national, racial, linguistic or religious identity. Thus early communist leadership in Czarist Russia had a 'relatively high proportion of men of non-Russian extraction,' according to W.E. Mosse, Slavonic and East European Review (1968), p.151. Radicalized Jews are thus simply a special case of this more general problem of blocked ascendence. But we need to be careful not to overestimate the role of injured material interests in producing radicalization nor underestimate radical interests (in *CCD), which, when offended, can also radicalize. And it is not only career blockages which may sharpen radicalization (e.g, Marx), but prior radicalization may elicit repressive career blockages which only then further intensify the pre-blockage radicalization (again Marx)." - Gouldner, p.114

[*CCD = Culture of Critical Discourse, a basic orientation in language and mind of the contemporary intellectual.]

Marx was radical, hounded all over Europe, ending up in London, subsidized by his wealthy friend Engels. But what Gouldner's talking about is Marx's anger.

                                            a semi-witty reversal on Groucho

Two scholars of Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), Bergin and Fisch, document Vico's influence on Marx in The Autobiography of Giambattista Vico, pp.104-107. In a footnote to Marx's Das Capital, Marx wrote:

"A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the eighteenth century was the work of a single individual. No such book has yet been published. Darwin has aroused our interest in the history of natural technology, that is in the development of the organs of plants and animals as productive instruments sustaining the life of these creatures. Does not the history of the productive organs of man in society, the organs which are the material basis of every kind of social organization, deserve equal attention? Since, as Vico says, the essence of the distinction between human history and natural history is that the former is made by man and the latter is not, would not the history of human technology be easier to write than the history of natural technology? By disclosing man's dealings with nature, the productive activities by which his life is sustained, technology lays bare his social relations and the mental conceptions that flow from them."

Too bad Marx did not foresee the advent of electronic communications (radio/TV/Internet/phones) and how this affected relations in capital so profoundly. But then what do we expect from him? Certainly not to be a Prophet, as so many Marxist ideologues have...However, another antecedent of Marx seems surely and ironically Matthew25:15; Acts 2:45; Acts 4:32-35...

Another - O! I could cherry pick influences on Marx all day! - interesting influence on Marx, one frequently omitted in discussions, is Bachofen, who thought human society was originally based on motherhood, female ideas, the rights of mothers. I throw him in here for the truly committed. If the machines of war that threaten to annihilate the human race seem "male" to you, then maybe Bachofen and Marx weren't whistling up the wrong tree?

Instrumental Rationality: Only recently are a few Economists understanding that they must think of the natural environment as part of their system. Need I say more about this 240 year old Mass Hypnosis? It has us near the brink. Will we be able to survive and recover from this "rationality"? It remains to be seen. There will be more and more technology-caused unemployment. Spend a month Googling "robots" and see if we can think about money and human values in a new way quickly enough, because our idea that "I bought the machine, therefore I rule: you're fired!" is killing a lot of us. Go back to what Marx said about the history of technology, by way of Vico: how the eighteenth century inventions were not the work of a single individual. This has been evermore true as time has passed. We missed a Golden Opportunity at some point to claim all productive machines on behalf of the collective mind of Humanity. Which brings us back to Occupy.

I've spent a lot of time hanging with Occupiers. They're young, well-educated, not part of a secret society or revolutionary vanguard. They do know the score: they have incurred large debts for their educations and the "free trade" agreements and banksters and automation have made those jobs they were trained for go away. Another term for what banksters and automated, ultra-fast computerized  trading with "derivatives" and other "instruments," and automation and free trade agreements, blah blah blah: that term is instrumental rationality. And where are the human values there? And in this day and age, instrumental rationality for what?

There is more of a disparity of wealth in Unistat since 1928, which should make even an FBI agent care about that generation. I said should. Somehow I doubt the FBI is as worried about armed right wing lumpenproles who get all their ideas about "reality" from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh; naw, you never know: the Occupy kid with his Anthropology degree might be a real threat! Best keep an eye on her.

Here's a 2 1/2 minute video essay on this famous picture of Marx, by Marshall Poe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Books and Reading and My Paranoia, My...Testicularia

I read a lot. One of the ideas I've read a lot about lately is how books and reading are going away, falling away towards some whirling cultural drain circle, and it's only a matter of time before all that was great and holy (and secular!) and good and free-speechy and democratic would leave the world stage. Everything about sustained leisurely concentration on significant texts and how books and reading elevate us and allow us our humanity: it will all soon be gone, say the (some but not all) intellectuals and the book-lovers. Because of the Internet, mostly. That's what's killing an entire world off.

I read most of the stuff about this bookpocalypse (or the more proper: biblioclasm? libricide?) on Internet.

                                        a shot of the Paris bookshop once owned by
                                        Sylvia Beach, who first printed Ulysses

Yee gawds there's a lot of this stuff - very well-written pieces, usually, by highly literate, thoughtful, even at times erudite writers - on Internet. The topic: how the Internet is killing what they love.

Somehow I doubt the advent of the telephone had similar effects on highly literate paranoids. A PhD in Comparative Lit calls his friends and all he can talk about is how this telephone thing is ruining us! No one's gonna care about talking face-to-face anymore! I haven't done the research, but somehow I doubt this occurred.

(To be fair, e-books, video games, cell phones, TV, virtual reality, androids, iSomethings and horrifying things like Second Life we've read about in books...any sort of media not the codex-book, really: are also partly to blame. I have even read a large handful - at minimum, ten - of articles about how colleges and universities have drastically dumbed-down their reading requirements.)

It's as if these dead-tree codex-book readers are addicts, and The Man is slowly persecuting them, and the tide of Mass Perception is slowly turning against them: they are intent on getting rid of our drugs! Hey, we admit we're hooked, but we're happy! Our drugs are like Smart Pills! Yours? Not so much. The Man wants us to use their drugs! And don't they know how special our drugs are...were? You all are making a big mistake! Don't call up what you can't put down! (Anyone got a spare Xanax?)

I admit I'm one of these types (And yes: I'm writing this on a blog, fer crissakes!: Their drugs are powerful, I admit), and I also admit to caricaturing them/me here. But only for effect, yassee. Make no mistake about it though: we're paranoid, tinged with anger, peppered with pomposity, strung out on libraries...and maybe the structure of non-book knowledge to come is too weird and beastly and unheimlich...let's avert our eyes. No! Don't give up!

Taking My Testicularia* Down A Notch
In order to allay my fears, I have gone in search of dissentual data. I'm getting my things in order and not trying to make peace with a damned demiurge who'd allow this to happen. (Deep breaths!)

*Testicularia is a word coined by Dr. Leonard Shlain: if we have Hysteria, to describe wild, unhinged emotions, and we use a term derived from female anatomy, Shlain thought a word for men who are unhinged ought to exist, and also be derived from a roughly equal anatomical part. Voila!: Testicularia, this time my own. Oh, well...(NB: mushroom hunters/mycologists already have their testicularia; they've had it for a long time. Apparently it's a rare one. This is one case where a word already existed, but it was a specialist's word, and Shlain's idea seems to have sprung isolated from knowledge of the rare fungus. And there's my requisite nutball  digression!)

But not all the news from my olde timey perspective is bad, viz:

                                                  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Facebook Gen Uses Libraries: A Lot?
According to a recent PEW poll as reported on NPR, 8 of 10 Unistatians aged 16-29 read a book in the past year, compared to only 7 of 10 of the other adults. This was supposed to be good news? Oh wait, there's more: the young ones liked the library. (Hey, that's grand!) Some better news: they say that e-books fit their lives, but they don't want print books to go away, as they're part of the general landscape, or something. Hold on, I just read the article again more closely, and it doesn't seem as sunny as the headline suggests. Not to me it don't. What constituted that one book in the year? And this is self-reported, right? Jeez, if you were called by a polling group and you'd actually done nothing but smoke weed and play Black Sabbath covers in your mom's basement all year, wouldn't you at least have the smarts enough to fib and say you'd read...I dunno...five books that year?

Okay, if they really are reading one book a year...don't tell me: it's Harry Potter and the Secret of the Goblin of Doom, right? Something like that. Oh and maybe: a graphic novel? Even a fuddy-duddy like myself has enjoyed some of those. I'd like to think a small percentage took that whole year to luxuriate in Ulysses or Dante, or Lucretius, or Darwin. But I seriously doubt it. This article strongly suggests post-literacy tribalism. And what does PEW consider "long form" in their study? Anyway...

Of Five Million books in the NYPL, only 300,000 were requested last year.

Testicularia rising...

One For Our Side: Finnegans Wake Finished!
"On Completing Finnegans Wake" by a brilliant young person who goes by "PQ", based in Austin, TX. There's still hope? Dig the devotion to actually reading. And the most informationally-dense work in English literature, or whatever that language is. I've always called in Wick-Lang.

As Jeremy Campbell wrote in Grammatical Man, in discussing Claude Shannon's method of mathematically quantifying information in a text, or any series of signals, "In James Joyce, almost every word comes as a surprise because there is no familiar context preceding it. In Finnegans Wake, the reader must supply context from his own knowledge or his knowledge of Joyce commentators to make sense of the sentences as they appear on the page. Some of this context will be composed of mental concepts." (248) The scholar-artist of the avant garde, Richard Kostelanetz, writes in his A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (2nd ed.) that, in FW, the interpretation of human experience is "hardly 'original' or 'profound,' but thanks to the technique of multiple reference, incorporating innumerable examples into every part of the text, the theme is extended into a broad range of experience. No other literary work rivals the Wake in allusive density; in no other piece of writing known to me are so many dimensions simultaneously articulated." Kostelanetz thinks that the reader's acceptance or rejection of FW is a "fairly reliable symbolic test of his or her sympathy toward subsequent avant-garde writing." (212)

I've found this true myself. And I thoroughly enjoyed reading PQ's reportage about what secondary sources he used, how wonderfully weird and prescient and otherworldly Joyce's mind seems in certain passages, and just basically PQ's periplum* with the Wake.

*periplum: like phenomenological vision. It traces back to something like Greek voyages around a coast-line, but as Ezra Pound scholar William Cookson wrote - as Pound resurrected the word, largely - Pound used it as something like "voyages of the mind." In Pound's Canto 82, he writes a vision of:

                              three solemn half-notes
                                                        their white downy chests black-rimmed
                              on the middle wire

Q: What vital info was removed by Pound in order to cause an explosion of associative connections within you?

A: Whatever you thought it was. But if you "saw" the birds as half-notes, as Pound saw them on the middle wire, whatever Pound decided to leave out to make the lines more highly charged, this removed info is the exformation.

Ah, but I was supposed to discuss my paranoid decline of reading. On with it!

A Plug For Marshall Poe
Here's a guy who takes Marshall McLuhan by one hand, and pulls him through to the other side. A cultural elite who addresses the problem of "Death To The Reading Class," and what to do about it. Poe addresses those of us who read books and think book-reading is "intrinsically better" than any other media. And we think other people should be like us. But they can't. They don't like reading and they never have. Poe has adults reading for 15 minutes a day here, but not enjoying it. And he discusses the history of the elite classes trying to get everyone else strung out on their/our drug, books. But it's never worked, and he thinks it's because our eyes and brains "were made for watching, not decoding tiny symbols on mulch sheets."

This reminded me of a study I wrote about back here (skip down to "On the Minority of Long-Form Readers"): only a tiny class - and they are probably not only cultural elites (I'm certainly not one!) - genuinely enjoy reading long, fat, dense books. It's us who are the weird ones! My mother said she started me on phonics around three or four and I just started reading and never stopped...

Anyway, Poe says we book readers have gotten it wrong: it's not the reading that the masses are missing out on, it's the knowledge in the books. "Books imprison ideas; the 'new books' podcasts set them free."

And so he's developed three ways smart people who don't like to sit and decode abstract symbols on paper can access new ideas. Two use a podcast method, and one uses a video method. If the title of the article I linked to by Poe is "Death To The Reading Class," then he adds, "Long live the Multimedia Class!"

New Books In History podcast
New Books Network podcast
Mechanical Icon: video essays on famous photographs, highly influenced by Montaigne

Am I shooting myself in the foot here? I'm not sure.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the Connecticut school shooting

Okay, this is my perspective as I write this rantish bit to follow: I stayed up until 4:45AM reading and writing, my own typical OG bubble-life. Slept in to 12:15. It's uncommonly cold here in Berkeley - frost warnings over night and a projected high temp in the high 40s today - so as I groggily put on sweat pants and a long-sleeved shirt to go do my yoga, I flipped on the AM radio and heard people arguing about "something's gotta be done" about guns. I thought: yea, of course: the Aurora Massacre, the recent mall killer in Portland, the guy on the NFL Chiefs, etc. No shit. I've thought our gun culture was insane since I was about 17.

But then, my brain still booting up, slowly coming online: I wonder if they're talking about this because of a new shooting that happened while I slept? Then the national news cut in, "This is a special report..." My suspicions were confirmed: 20+ people killed at an elementary school? In Connecticut, this time. That's all I know as I write this. I hit the fat OFF button on my radio and went downstairs to do yoga, then shower to Diana Krall, grab some coffee, get bundled up.

I can blog about this without any more information on this elementary school shooting that I already know (and I know almost nothing). Why? Because, like a recurring bad dream, I've seen this one before, ad nauseum.

A very large portion of the mind of Unistat has been made unfathomably stupid, and having five or six transnational corporations owing all of the mainstream media may have a lot to do with it. If you think people yelling ad hominem epithets at each other qualifies as "discussing the issues," and you were never taught to read and think for yourself, either in the public or private schools or you've failed yourself by not teaching yourself by using your library card, you're gonna live in fear. I guarantee it. And if you're afraid and think They are gonna gitcha, They are everywhere and are Bad because they don't share Our Values (as if you ever really contemplated values in any deep way), then you probably wanna own an automatic rifle. Ya know, the kind the military uses to blow bodies apart with one shot.

NOW: I know there are thoughtful, even-tempered, peace-loving, broad-minded people who own guns. I've had personal experience with them. But I'm not talking about them. These people I call "thoughtful" think there ought to be background checks, waiting periods...you know: SANE things.

But we're living in Groundhog Day-land here, folks. We see it every six weeks. Some unstable individual deliberately commits some unspeakable act, often ending it by killing himself, or doing an impression from film noir: remember Jimmy Cagney in White Heat? He wasn't going down easy. They call it Death By Cop these days: shoot it out, knowing you'll probably lose, but hey: maybe you'll get away. Escape! You never know when you're deranged. Heck, maybe you'll take some of 'em with ya before you go down in a hail of bullets. You'll be famous! And dead. "Top of the world, Ma!"

Yawn: I'm sure by now that the idiot media, who now seem criminally complicit in how fucked up the country is by giving in to the 50/50 idea. Someone who has facts, human values, and is biased towards non-death and killing will appear and say what they say about how we need a sane system of gun control laws that will not trample the rights of gun owners, then someone from one of the NRA PR groups will appear and argue some version of one of these 1.) Because of gun control laws, this happened, and gosh it's terrible. But it's BECAUSE we have some tiny, ineffectual modicum of a gesture toward gun control that allowed all this to happen. Then, 2.) an expert in fascist PR - they have very deep pockets - will appear on Fox "News" and argue that, had the teacher at the elementary school had an automatic rifle her/himself (I have no actual data about the shooting besides 20 plus killed, and supposedly the shooter himself), and been properly trained in military rifle shooting, she/he would've saved the kids's lives, but "liberals" have allowed this massacre to happen, because...something so ridiculous only the people who listen to Rush Limbaugh can take it seriously. And the easiest, most thoroughly predictable one, 3.) With this tragedy, now is not the time to discuss gun control. It's indecent! And how could you "liberals" be so callous in your disregard for the grieving families of this terrible, terrible, gosh darn horrible and "unfortunate" incident? Give it some time before you do what you always do: politicize the suffering of innocent children! Show some class, "liberals."

Oh wow! I almost forgot 4.) a classic, tried-and-true American idiocy: some right wing POS will claim the reason all those children were massacred? Our mental health system is a shambles! Just kidding: they don't care about that. Here's the 4th classic argument by Good Ol' Murrkin fascists who are prominent on the airways: it's because of gay marriage, legal marijuana, and that we don't allow prayer in schools and that the ACLU exists! That's why the kids are dead. Once again: The Liberals have killed our children, and yes, The Liberals and their anti-American agenda will seek to "politicize" the shooting. It's what Hitler and Mao and Stalin and Osama and Attila and Manson would've done, so of course Obama will, too. (If you're reading this outside of Unistat, and you've never lived here, I am only exaggerating slightly. Believe it or not. This is an armed madhouse, a rapidly degenerating Empire, make no mistake about it.)

Wayne LaPierre, the head spokesman for the NRA, who used a classic pre-emptive attack on Obama in 2008, and still does: Obama wants to take away everyone's guns! That's the way "socialists" act. (This is patently insane, and there's no evidence that Obama has done one damned thing about our gun problem/sickness. He's barely even mentioned guns. And the "socialist" meme only flies because of the vast miseducation I mentioned earlier.) Nevertheless, right after both election wins by Obama, gun sales have gone through the roof, and as Ring Lardner said, "You could look it up."

No doubt that the Slippery Slope arguments are being ramped up by these cowards: Now Obama will really want to take our guns, give them to the UN, and it's...totalitarianism! So, the obvious lesson is: quick! Get out the rainy day fund and buy more guns, pronto! And get ready to shoot anyone who looks like they're "from the gummint."

But Obama will only use some flowery rhetoric about "Folks need to know...that violence won't solve anything, and...uhhh...mental health professionals can help you if you're feeling angry...uhhh...stressed-out..." Something innocuous like that. (<----channeling my inner Obama-think here) And nothing will be done. Obama and the Democrats won't do a thing. Oh, they'll rail about it for five days, a week, ten days at the outside, maybe, because they need to appease their constituency. But then the issue will peter out until the next massacre, due just before the Super Bowl. Why? Because, we're so fucked up politically, the 2% have done such a fantastic job of Divide and Conquer, that sane, rational gun control is now a "third rail" issue!

Oh yea. More Groundhog Day stuff: cue the hordes of far-right whackjobs with their conspiracy ideas that, Obama and Holder are orchestrating the whole thing. Why? 'Cuz the more of these mass shootings, the more "libruls"will demand they take away our penis substit...I mean, guns! Yea: It's a Liberal Plot!

I've seen it before, and should I get a masochistic streak tonight and decide to surf the TV "news" I'm sure to see all this...except the last conspiracy thing, which so far only sees the light of media day on Internet, although you never know how insanely, inhumanly low Faux News will go.

Ah yes: to you who are basically on the same page as me, here: How do you feel about "Today's tragic events..." The word "tragic" will be overused. It's not "tragic." It's cyclical. It's predictable. It's a symptom of a national disease. Is it completely disgusting? Yes. Heinous, almost unspeakable death of people who had nothing to do with whatever was fucked up about the shooter(s)? Yes. Do our hearts go out to the loved ones who are grieving now over their sudden loss? Yes. Tragic? No. Read up on tragedy and get back to me. The mainstream media has abused to the verge of mutilation the word "tragedy."

Number of guns per capita, by country.

Finally, let me come up with one for those people who will believe anything: Bob Costas and Michael Moore have secretly bankrolled a liberal Big Government plot, in cahoots with Obama and other Do-Gooders who hate capitalism and love Sharia Law, to cause these mass shootings...the main reason being they hate the Second Amendment and despise the Constitution and Murrrka; they don't think law-bidin' folk should be allowed to pertekt they own! Someone should gun 'em all down, in the name of...of...of...FREEDOM!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Free Radicals, by Michael Brooks

I never tire of contemplating how Copernicus and his co-conspirators gave us a convincing heliocentric view, and how that ricocheted and echoed down through time and changed the way individuals conceived of themselves in the cosmos. To knock the geocentric view out of the picture was quite the coup, eh? Then Darwin (and aye: Alfred Russell Wallace and scads of others) carries off an even bigger move: we're part of a long line of mammals; we're not God's Special Kids. Einstein and Hubble and many others made us understand that we're only part of a so-what solar system, one of quintillions (at least!) that exist. (Hubble space telescope sees a tribe of galaxies from the dawn of the universe.)

And yet some human egos need to resist these insults. To me, these new models constitute knowledges that are compliments to human ingenuity, having the added bonus of being "true."

Copernicus called nature "God's temple," and said we can know God through studying Nature...which got the Vatican to put his Copernicus's book on the Index. We do not know what, if any, drugs Copernicus took, but I do see him as a mystical weirdo, one of the guys on my team.

Darwin seemed very upset that he was upsetting the God-fearing. He had a lot of physical ailments, but he published his books anyway, and I continue to be staggered by his accomplishments. He followed up on some Wild Ideas put forth by thinkers in the immediate previous generations, ideas from disciplines not his own, like geology. And he persisted, despite sicknesses, as if possessed, because the Wild Ideas were interesting and might allow him to midwife some Wild Child of his own. One of my favorite sociologists of knowledge, Randall Collins, makes a very persuasive case that the most valuable thing an intellectual can do is to open up new spaces for other intellectuals to think in. And what a space Darwin opened up! Jaw-dropping...

                                                        Charles Darwin

Einstein seems sorta embarrassed by how he developed his world-shattering ideas: daydreaming, goofing off, tinkering around with images. He had mystical ideas about how Nature worked, but the his math wasn't up to snuff to prove them. As Michael Brooks writes in his recent book, Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science, "His papers are riddled with errors and convenient omissions - though they were lazy fudges rather than, as with Newton, deliberate frauds. Einstein repeatedly failed to take account of known facts when formulating his ideas." (p.7) Supposedly Einstein once said, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources." His inspirations had no traceable source, hence Brooks's term for Einstein's animus: "mystical." It was clear to Einstein that working on the most interesting unsolved problems in physics could not be done logically, deductively, step-by-step: this would be beyond human capacity. No, he used Something Else...And one of the results was the ending of WWII.

Well, Brooks's book wonderfully extensionalizes/elaborates on Paul Feyerabend's main thesis: that "anything goes" in science. It's the best on this subject I've seen yet. I'd like to say that Feyerabend (mentioned in the book) would be pleased, but you never really know with Feyerabend.

Another Brief Riff on Perspective: Science as a "Brand," 1945-Now
Brooks says his book is about "the humanity of scientists - and what that really means." And he juxtaposes this with a narrative foisted upon almost all of us: the scientists are basically slightly less caricatured versions of Mr.Spock, from Star Trek. Brooks says this is a "cover-up" that's been wildly successful "because even the scientists haven't understood what has been going on."

Here's the Science brand after 1945: It's "logical, responsible, trustworthy, predictable, dependable, gentlemanly, straight, boring, unexciting, objective, rational. Not in thrall to passions or emotion. A safe pair of hands. In summary: inhuman." (p.2) Brooks elaborates on this at length, and it's a slam-dunk to me, an inveterate reader of dissentual data about this Science brand, which I smelled as bovine excreta at age 17. But it's the details and solid research, coupled with an investigative journalist's style - Brooks has a PhD in quantum physics - coupled with an enthusiasm to shine light on the cover-up, that makes the Brooks book so eminently readable.

Almost every fantastic breakthrough in science does not meet the "scientific method" narrative they still brainwash kids with in the schools.

To those interested in Buckminster Fuller's thesis about scientists as "Wizards" that the Machiavellian Owners of the World bought off: there's much here to build on Fuller's argument. (I'm mostly referring to Fuller's criminally underappreciated GRUNCH of Giants.) Brooks quotes Michael Schrage in referring to the bankers/corporations/energy moguls after WWII, when physicists were seen as the "Merlins of the Cold War...their wizardry could tip the balance of the superpowers in the twinkling of a quark."

Q: If the Scientist-as-Spock story is hooey, then what does go on?
A: Dreaming, cheating, mania, drugs, daring self-experimentation, pranks, and High Weirdness in general.

But let me return to perspective.

                                       "Earthrise," taken xmas eve, 1968, Apollo 8

Stewart Brand on LSD in San Francisco
In the mid-1960s, Brand, who paid attention to seemingly everything that would later change the world - was high on acid on a gravel-covered roof in the beatnik-y North Beach district of San Francisco. He was thinking about space flight and how astronauts had recently gotten glimpses of Earth from space: a new perspective. Then he remembered hearing Buckminster Fuller give a talk in which he thought a major flaw in humanity's assumption about itself that has led us to a possible brink was that, even though most of us "know" the world is round, we don't really conceptualize of our planet that way. We tend to conceive of the world as flat, and if we could only carry around with us the image of "a round ball, isolated in space, an island in an inhospitable cosmos, perspectives would change." And Brand, on LSD, became transfixed on allowing us all to see a picture, a photo of the Earth. He worked tirelessly, like a campaigner, writing NASA, getting college kids all riled up, writing the UN, the Soviets, members of Congress. He started in February of 1966, and by the end of 1967, photos of from Apollo 8 - one taken by William Anders, and called "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,"by Galen Rowell in The 100 Greatest Photographs That Changed The World, was perfect for Brand's purposes. (Brooks, pp.15-17)

Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot"
The words are from Sagan, watch this 3 1/2 minute video. Is this perspectival-feeling "olde news" to you? Or do you still feel it? Are we jaded? Does anything shift inside you? Or do you remember when it did, but now you're concerned with the multiverse or dark matter? Does this seem "cheesy"to you? Or does it make you melt, emotionally? What does it do to your sense of "self"?

Oh, now we can access via library DVDs, the science channels on TV, other amazing cosmological schtuff on You Tube...other planets, galaxies, taxonomies of galaxies, etc. But the pale blue dot was what Bucky Fuller wanted us to feel so we'd start to think we all live on this spaceship planet together, and do we really want to make it an armed madhouse? Michael Brooks makes a good argument that we  might never have gotten this perspective without radical, anarchic thinkers.

                                                        Dr. Lester Grinspoon

Carl Sagan was a bigtime pothead. He was good friends with Harvard MD Lester Grinspoon, who was a pioneer in medical pot. Brooks relates how Sagan liked the creative insights cannabis gave him, and tried to capture these by tape recording them so he'd be able to access them and take these ideas seriously the next day, when his buzz was gone and he needed to write. Dig this bit from Sagan via Brooks:

"If I find in the morning a message from myself the night before informing me that there is a world around us which we barely sense, or that we can become one with the universe, or even that certain politicians are desperately frightened men, I may tend to disbelieve; but when I'm high I know about this disbelief. And so I have a tape in which I exhort myself to take such remarks seriously. I say, 'Listen closely you sonofabitch in the morning! This stuff is real!'." (p.246)

Brooks's Free Radicals tells of the somewhat likelihood of Francis Crick's LSD use, and how it may have helped Watson and himself to discover the structure of DNA. Kary Mullis's LSD use is now-legendary, and he thinks it was a valuable asset in his discovery of the polymerase chain reaction technique, for which he won a Nobel Prize. Richard Feynman's pot smoking and LSD use is mentioned, as is William James's experiments with nitrous oxide.

But the true value of Brooks's wonderful little book is that he has quite thoroughly dismantled the "brand" of Science being done by slightly human Mr. Spock-types we were all taught; he gives a withering number of examples in a breezy prose that the business of making scientific breakthroughs is anything but clean and orderly and rational. It's thoroughly, gloriously, anarchic.

A 90-second bit with Michael Brooks:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Xmas-time and Memories of Warm Decembers in the Suburbs of Los Angeles

Almost everyone on our block had a swimming pool in their backyard, including us. You had to: the daily highs seem to average 90 Fahrenheit from June until September in the smoggy, endless East San Gabriel Valley sprawl near Los Angeles. 

But the few times the topic's come up with friends who didn't grow up in LA, they wondered if we ever went swimming in our pool on Christmas day, and the answer is no. (At least not that I recall.) Why? Because, starting around Halloween, Los Angeles becomes subject to hot, dry winds called "Santa Ana." And it's Fall, and when these incendiary winds sweep in from the Mojave Desert, your pool will become filled with leaves and palm fronds. If you were like me, and you were in charge of keeping the pool clean, you just covered the thing until April; it's not worth the work considering how little you'll use your pool on the shortened school-filled days of late Fall and throughout Winter.

Christmas was almost always presented to us through movies and TV as having a snowy backdrop. It had once snowed at our house, one Winter, during a freakish cold front moving down from Alaska, and our dichondra lawn was dusted with white, and this miraculous snow melted in an hour; that's as close as we came to the Madison Avenue/Currier and Ives/It's a Wonderful Life idea of how Christmas was supposed to look.

I believe I liked the idea of snow at Christmas, but knew I'd never get it, which was okay with me: I'd been cold before, when we stayed in the Sierras one time. I think by age 14 I had negotiated the "cozy" feeling of snowbanks and Christmas lights in the irreal reality of TV and film, but I knew we had it good when we went out to play with our new stuff on Christmas day in 75 degree temperature. Why? Because often, a week later, the Rose Parade in nearby Pasadena was shown all over the country, and famously, it would be sunny and warm and it made the real estate agents giddy: people in Iowa or Pennsylvania or some other place frozen over for months would see the parade on TV and would decide, once and for all, to settle down in Southern California. And could you blame them? 
So, Christmas comes and goes. In my dreamlike childhood and teenaged memories of balmy Christmas days in the quiet suburb of Los Angeles, none of us were truly "from here." Almost all of us had migrated a generation or two ago from somewhere else. Los Angeles itself had only really become a "city" in the 1880s. So, if your grandparents were all born in Los Angeles, your family was an exceedingly rare one. In fact, I personally knew no one who could claim that all four grandparents were from California. Often, mom and/or dad weren't even born in the state. My mother was born in Iowa, my father in Pasadena, but his father was from Michigan. This aspect of Southern California as destination led, I believe, to a permanent mode of psychological rootlessness, and it's part of what makes the state so wonderfully weird. 
Frank Lloyd Wright once said about this area of the world, "It is as if you tipped the United States up so all the commonplace people slid down there into Southern California." And the intellectual luminary, editor of The Nation and California historian Carey McWilliams answered back, "One of the reasons for this persistent impression of commonplaceness is, of course, that the newcomers have been stripped of their natural settings - their Vermont hills, their Kansas plains, their Iowa cornfields. Here their essential commonplaceness stands out garishly in the harsh illumination of the sun. Here every wart is revealed, every wrinkle underscored, every eccentricity emphasized."
                               snapshot of a small section of the San Gabriel Valley
What I remember most during the shortened December days of winter vacation from school was riding our bikes around town, listening to our new records, talking about girls at school, getting outside of ordinary feelings of time and schedules before the grind of school began again. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Paul Krassner: Can A Rape Joke Be Funny?

One of my favorite of the human beings, Krassner, who coined the term Yippie and "soft core pornography" and a few others I'm forgetting, first published his ethical quandary- can rape jokes be funny? -  in Reason magazine, but updated the article a month later in Huffington Post to include what Louis C.K. said on The Daily Show...although I'm sure he's touched on it in one or more of his numerous books, but I can't find my notes if he did. (In a private email Paul showed me he'd further updated this article, recently, to include the idiotic comments by far-right-wing Republicans Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock.)

                                                      Paul Krassner

One of the titans of free speech in the second half of the roaring twentieth century, and up to today, Krassner (b.1932) has held that irreverence is his only sacred cow.

If you were too lazy to read Krassner's article I link to from HuffPo above: in 1970 he was doing stand-up and - Roe v.Wade was a few years off - Krassner has been candid about his own role in providing an abortion referral service before the Roe decision. His joke in 1970 was how we ought to hold a "rape-in" of lawmakers' wives, in order to impregnate them and so they'd lobby their husbands to legalize abortion.

Some of his friends objected to this joke. Krassner was in an ethical quandary: he thought his joke was an effective satirical jab at the hypocrisy of men who were legislators who had outlawed abortion. But then also, as a political satirist, he didn't want victims to be the target of his humor, even in a joke. It wouldn't be the congressmen's wives who were to blame for illegal, unsafe abortions. But he abhorred censorship, even of the self- variety. As he says, he stopped doing the joke by "rationalizing" that his consciousness had evolved.

Skip ahead 42 years and you have the Daniel Tosh incident, covered in Paul's article. Note that, on or about the same night Tosh joked about rape, Sarah Silverman also joked about it, but it didn't go viral on Twitter; she didn't receive the backlash Tosh did. Tosh, in holding with the True Comedian's Creed (which I just made up), said of course rape is horrible, but we should be able to joke about anything.

Rape Jokes Go Way Back
At a lawyer's convention in 1942, this joke was told:

A girl rushes into a lawyer's office. "I want him arrested! He threw me on the bed. He...oh it was awful!"
Lawyer: Now calm down. Let's get the story straight. What did he do first?

Girl: He locked the door.

Lawyer: Aha! Kidnapping! (He makes a note.) Ten years. Then what did he do?

Girl: He pulled up my dress.

Lawyer: Indecent exposure. Two more years. (Making a note.) Then what?

Girl: He put his hand on my...my...

Lawyer: It's all right. I understand. Attempted assault. Five years. And then what?

Girl: He threw me on the bed.

Lawyer: Ah hah! Mayhem and felonious constraint. Ten to fifteen years. And then?

Girl: Then...he did it to me.

Lawyer: That does it! Rape! Twenty years - maybe we can get him the chair! And meanwhile you were screaming and struggling...

Girl: Wellllll...not exactly. You see, it was kind of late, and I didn't want to disturb everybody, and...

Lawyer: (Tearing up his notes in disgust) Oh for Christ's sake, that's just a plain ordinary fuck!
-gleaned from Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor. Legman - one of the great compendious minds of the 20th century, by the way - says this is an updated version of a joke Rabelais told in his 1532 book Pantagruel.

                                     16th c. French satirist Francois Rabelais, looking
                                     rogue-ish. Trained as a doctor, his books are filled
                                     with drinking jokes, fart jokes, shit jokes, even a rape 
                                         joke. Look for his stuff under "classics."

I wish Tosh - who probably did not graduate from a Great Books program - would've defended himself by referring to Rabelais, if only because Rabelais deserves to be in the cultural spotlight again. Plus it would've been a real mindfuck to switch the tone to Renaissance French literature. Or to just palm off the rape joke as a legacy from Francois Rabelais, who was trained as a physician. Maybe it's just me.

Now a quick divergence:

The Intellectual Class and Its CCD
Often referred to as "Careful and Critical Discourse," I'm more influenced by Alvin Gouldner, who calls it the "Culture of Critical Discourse." Gouldner makes a series of arguments about the speech idioms of the humanistic intellectuals and the newer technical intelligentsia - together they form the "New Class," and they are slowly winning a war against the older, monied bourgeoisie. The CCD is marked by three things: You must be very concerned to justify your assertions. Secondly, you can appeal to authority, but that's not impressive enough: you must still ground your argument using a rhetoric that does not appeal to authority. Finally, you must try to win the voluntary consent of those appealed to, based solely on the logic of your assertions. In other words, you can't say "My dad's rich and my uncle's a judge, so I'm right, and if you say I'm not I'll have my guards throw you in the moat."

Also, the CCD is situation-free: if you're holding a meeting and some heavily tattooed guy with dreadlocks and sandals has something to say, and it's a good idea, it must be taken seriously; it doesn't matter who is talking: if they are able to speak in the CCD-idiom, it doesn't matter their dress, their accent, their skin color, their gender.

But Gouldner also says the New Class's CCD: "In its virtuous aspect, self-editing implies a commendable circumspection, carefulness, self-discipline, and 'seriousness.' In its negative modality, however, self-editing also disposes toward an unhealthy self-consciousness, toward stilted convoluted speech, an inhibition of play, imagination, and passion, and continual pressure for expressive discipline.  The new rationality thus becomes the source of a new alienation." - p.84, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class

Thus, I would argue, the quality of speech we get from intellectual comedians - and I would consider Louis C.K, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Marc Maron and about 15 others here - is either a variant of this CCD (all of these stand-ups are writers with fine minds, well-read, maybe not steeped in the CCD that becomes habitual after four years in a good university), or they represent an outsider's challenge to the intellectual class in their daring, open speech. Who among us has not sat and listened to the Learned Professor, who, gosh, sure has a lot to say and he says it so well, but it's kinda boring, and who ever thought a talk on (rock and roll/masturbation/James Bond films/the history of beer) could be so dull? I say: the academics need to figure out a way to inject some "play, imagination, and passion" every now and then. What? You think if you do that we won't think your PhD was serious?

Whatever you think, there's a reason why I consider George Carlin a linguistic philosopher of some sort, and the best intellectual comedian who ever lived. Here he is on our topic.

George Carlin on "The Humorous Side of Rape"
From Napalm and Silly Putty, pp.175-176:

Many people in this country want to tell you what can and can't talk about. Or sometimes they'll tell you you can talk about something, but you can't joke about it. Like rape. People say you can't joke about rape. They say rape's not funny. And I say, Fuck you, I think it's hilarious. How do you like that? I can prove rape is funny: Picture Porky Pig raping Daisy Duck. See? Hey, why do you think they call him Porky?

And I know what men are gonna say. Daisy was askin' for it; she was comin' on to Porky, she had on tight feathers. Porky got horny, and he lost control. A lot of men talk like that. They blame it on the woman. They say, "She had it comin'. She was wearing a short skirt." 

Doesn't seem fair to me; doesn't seem right. But I believe you can joke about it. I believe you can joke about anything. It just depends on how you construct the joke, what the exaggeration is. Every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.

I'll give you an example. Have you ever seen a news story like this? Some burglar breaks into a house, steals some things, and while he's in there, he rapes an eighty-one-year-old woman. And you think to yourself, "Why? What the fuck kind of social life does this guy have?" I want to ask him, "Why did you do that?" But I know what I'd hear: "Hey, she was comin' on to me. She had on a tight bathrobe." And I'm thinkin', "Next time, be a little more selective, will you?"

Now, speaking of rape, but changing the subject slightly, you know what I wonder? Is there more rape at the Equator or the North Pole? I mean, per capita; I know the populations are different. I think it's the North Pole.

Most people think it's the Equator. Because it's hot down there, people don't wear a lot of clothing, guys can see a woman's tits, they get horny, and there's a lot of rape and a lot of fucking in general. But that's exactly why there's less rape at the Equator; because there's a lot of fucking in general. You can tell the Equator has a lot of fucking: look at the population figures. Billions of people live near the Equator. How many Eskimos we got? Thirty? Thirty-five?

No one's gettin' laid at the North Pole; it's too cold. An Eskimo says to his wife, "Hey honey, how about some pussy?" She says, "Wally, are you crazy? The windchill is 150 below!" Eskimo guys are deprived, they're horny, they get pent up, and every now and then they gotta rape somebody.

Now, the biggest problem an Eskimo rapist has is trying to get wet leather leggings off a woman who doesn't want to take them off. Have you ever tried to pull the leather pants off someone who's trying to kick you in the nuts? It takes a lot of effort. And, in the process, you would lose your hard-on. In fact, at the North Pole your dick would shrivel up like a sack of dimes.

That's another thing I wonder. Does a rapist have a hard-on when he leaves the house in the morning? Or does it develop during the day while he's walking around checkin' out the gals? Just wondering.

                                                  Prof. George Carlin

So: whattya think? Can rape jokes be funny? Why?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Drug Report for November, 2012: Jimi Hendrix, CalTech, Ultra-Hot Chili Peppers, A Gorgeous Female Film Star

Well, it's Jimi Hendrix's birthday - he was the Seattle Sound 1.0 - and Jimi was whipping his Fender Strat around onstage, catching the harmonic feedback at just the right moment, dive-bombing it with the whammy, then ripping a blues lick with a wicked vibrato, while picking with his teeth...before violently smashing his axe through his Marshall stack, then burning the thing, all while Kurt Cobain was in diapers. Kurt was three when Jimi ODed on Vasparax (sleeping pills) and red wine...Jimi would've been 70 today. In some Universe Next Door he's still alive and has recorded three totally killuh albums with Jeff Beck. Kurt would be alive there too. Hey why not?

FREE CalTech Class: Drugs and the Brain: Starts December 1st:
I know this is late notice, and I'm personally passing on this one, but you can take a free course at Coursera called Drugs and the Brain; it's the first class you take in Neuroscience when you go to the true Left Coast "genius" school. (MIT is the Right Coast one.) Henry A. Lester is a heavyweight and the class will go from December 1st, for five weeks, will take 4-6 hours a week of your precious time, and it's - fair warning - a gateway drug to more neuroscience. Lester can probably tell you, extempore, in garish detail, what happens when you take the same cocktail of drugs Jimi took that horrible night, presumably telling us way too much about dying by inhaling your own vomit, but then I've got my digression out of the way...

Red Hot Chili Peppers: the Food, Not the Band
Although: Flea of the RHCP has a Hendrix tattoo.
Full disclosure: the OG is a spicy food fiend, and I will try the hottest salsa or curry that comes my way, and one time I had a bona fide weird experience with something so hot, so spicy, I probably couldn't handle it, which I'll get to momentarily.

Columbus's crew encountered the new world chile "peppers" (a misnomer: that's all they could compare it to); previously it was unknown what the actual response was to eating one of the hottest ones the natives had, but recently I unearthed some lost documents, and Columbus himself is recorded as being handed one by a native, Columbus looks at its bright red color and says in Italian to his friends, "What's the worst it can do? Give me the squirts? It's not like we don't have that every day on the Santa Maria, eh boys?" The parchment records that that line killed, much laughter was heard. Then Columbus took a bite, started to remark on its texture and not-unpleasant flavor, how King Ferdinand might like it, then, suddenly, "Sweet Isabella's netherparts! That's some molten demon fruit! Christ, my tongue's got a Mount Aetna situation here boys! Watch yourselves! This may be a trick...HOLY!...it keeps creepin' up on ya, like a horny galleymate after two months at sea. Someone give me a glass of water, stat! Then begin enslaving these godless heathens for the next, oh, let's make it 400 years." (My translation)

What Columbus didn't know - no one knew, apparently, was that if he just smoked a huge bomber of some nearby cannabis, it would've alleviated the pain. Don't believe me? (You have every reason to suspect I'm bullshitting you after that above paragraph, I don't blame you.) Check out this study.

Are we cool now? (No?)

                              Baskets of chili peppers at a market in Oaxaca, Mexico.
                              Like Pavlov's dog, my mouth begins to water just seeing them

Pharmacagnosy of Blazing Hot Peppers
You eat something with a real spicy pepper kick. The chemicals in peppers that give the effects are called capsaicinoids. They hit the tongue and stimulate the vanilloid subtype 1 nerve receptors in the mouth, throat, anything nearby that's nasal. When these receptors are activated, evolution has made us perceive this as "heat," although there's nothing hot about the capsaicinoids, temperature-wise. It's probably an evolutionary protective effect. Anyway: the perception of heat releases a neuropeptide called Substance P, which says to the body's systems, "We got some pain INCOMING!" Substance P gets into the brain, binds to opioid receptors, and the brain releases its own endogenous morphine, called endorphins. (Thank you, scientific goddess Candace Pert!)

Minor encounters with really hot peppers: reports of euphoria, clarity of mind, sweating. I must have had something really strong, which I'll get to later.

Wilbur Scoville
In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, trying to develop a drug using capsaicin for muscle aches, invented a method for measuring how hot certain peppers were. Ingeniously, he had people eat certain peppers, then he measured how much sugary water it took to douse the pain. The more sugar water required, the hotter the pepper. If 3 out of 5 volunteers said they were good to go, let's bring on the next pepper, then Scoville recorded his data. What I like about Scoville is that he used organoleptic methodology: actual human beings reporting phenomenologically the effects the drug (capsaicin, in this case) had on them. The Scoville Scale is still used, although now a highfalutin' High Pressure Liquid Chromatography gauge has been developed, which directly measures capsaicin. But no organoleptic methodology, so...

Peppers are still measured in Scoville Heat Units, and the Naga Jolokia pepper of India has 855,000 SHUs. The average jalapeno? A mere 5000 SHUs, ya pussy. 'Smatter? Can't you handle it? Go ahead, try a Naga Jolokia, plain. I dare ya.

Going For The Record
Trying to determine what the hottest pepper is in the world is not easy. The people at Guinness are interested. The competition is hot...uhhh...fierce. An article from NPR in 2011 has Ed Currie (apparently his real name) of So. Carolina, and a major pepper freak who originally got into the game because he heard capsaicin fights cancer, which he has a lot of in his family, developing a pepper that apparently was going to measure 1.5million SHUs, breaking the Trinidad Scorpion's 1.4 million SHUs. Currie bragged that 2 of 3 people who ate his pepper vomited. Good job, Currie! And thanks for bringing the world record back to us. USA! USA! USA! (Currie is marketing his stuff under the Pucker Butt Pepper Company. Stay classy, Ed.) And if you doubt the overwhelming power of megahot peppers, watch the video embedded in the NPR link I gave at the beginning of this paragraph. If it does fight cancer, it looks like some sorta chemotherapy itself, doesn't it? Moving on...

However, a 2012 article in Time has the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion as the hottest in die welt, at 1.2 SHUs. Something seems amiss, and a decent reporter would get to the bottom of this by contacting the Guinness people, but I am not decent. I'm in a ratty old sweatshirt, and I'm goin' "commando." I am not your man. Let us be happy that the race is on to make the asphalt on a lone Texas highway buckle under the latest, hottest chili peppers. Someone has to do it!

Effects of Uber-Hot Peppers
The heart rate goes up and you sweat a lot. You feel mentally and physically stimulated. You're giddy, euphoric and one guy in the hot pepper biz says you get a "crack-like rush." This is all legal, for now. Many ingesters have reported dissociative thoughts. In this it's like DMT, which you use and you're gone, even sitting among your friends. And both DMT and very very hot peppers can make you feel "gone" for 5-20 minutes. Then it clears. (Kids: DMT has a few whole Other dimensions to it, and I meant that capital O very seriously. Watch it! Read up on it first. It's a very intense psychedelic experience.)

Dr. Andrew Weil has advocated "mouth surfing" in order to get high and/or use in lieu of Vicodin. This involves using really hot peppers, titrated, calculatedly in a continuous ingestion for a long-term endorphin rush. I have done this once, and it was only half-calculated.

                                      mouth-wateringly gorgeous Angelina Jolie, a main 
                                      player in one of my own psychoactive drug trips
My Weird Hot Pepper Experience
I'm sitting with my wife in a booth in our favorite Thai restaurant, in Albany, California. (Since closed: sigh) I always order the chicken red curry, "extra spicy." Sometimes it's really, really hot and I get a nice endorphin buzz, I'm ebullient, new ideas flow, I'm glib - I'm also drinking Thai beer - and it's just one of life's simple pleasures. Maybe you have friends like me: I'm the guy my friends dare to eat "that pepper, plain," and I do it. Do I often feel pain? Of course. But also: the opiate buzz.

So: we're sitting against the back wall and I'm facing a corner booth that's empty. We order. I ask for the same thing I always get, but since the last time we were there, I'd learned a Thai phrase, "mak-mak," which means "Thai spicy-hot," basically. So: there's "hot" for people of European descent, then there's a "Thai hot." When I said this, I distinctly remembered the waitress's pupils double in size and she asked, "You sure?" I said yea, of course. I mean, how much hotter could it be?

Hotter than anything I'd ever had in my life. I was a quarter way through and in pain. I was amazed at the heat. Sweat immediately pooled at the back of my neck, then ran down my spine, noticeably. I had to wipe my brow every two minutes, as if I'd been digging ditches at high noon in Tombstone, Arizona. But I was also starting to feel the high, so I was enjoying myself. Sips of beer or ice water did nothing to attenuate the fire roaring in my mouth, but our conversation was pleasant, even if my wife interrupted with, "Are you alright?" When curry is this hot, it's not a meal, it's an event. Hey, I'm a tough guy when it comes to hot peppers. Everyone knows this. Don't worry about it.

Then a couple came in and sat in the corner booth, a man and a woman. The woman faced me while the man's back was to my wife's back. I made eye contact with the woman who was quite beautiful. She was with an older man who had a ponytail and reminded me of Hollywood producer-type guys. She looked uncannily like Angelina Jolie. My wife and I kept our conversation going. The waitress came over to ask if I was okay. I said this was the hottest curry I've ever had, and...uhh...bravo! She told me that if things were too hot I should swallow a packet of sugar or two. I was going to say no, but thought, hey, it's maybe not a bad idea. I made eye contact with the woman again, and quickly I was convinced it was Angelina Jolie. But why would she be in a relatively out-of-the-way Thai restaurant on San Pablo in Albany? I leaned over and whispered to my wife that I think Angelina Jolie was sitting facing me, and to eavesdrop in order to hear what they're talking about. I poured two packets of sugar on my tongue and kept eating, knowing that I was acting crazy but this was all too weird and exciting. I wiped my brow. Angelina smiled at me. Those bee-sting lips! Those cheek bones! She was covered up with a white jacket with feathery-fringe around the neck because it was a rainy night and cold, wind whipping up off the San Francisco Bay.

My wife said she was going to the ladies' room, so that when she came back she could get a good look at "Angelina." Ms. Jolie and I made eye contact a couple of times. Should I wave hello? Is this "mak-mak" red curry so hot I'm hallucinating Angelina Jolie? I tried to remain cool, but my face was sweating. My wife came back, got a good long look at Angelina, then, after 20 seconds, leaned over and whispered, "It looks a lot like her, but I think it's someone else." I was both disappointed at her report and vaguely relieved. Meanwhile, I had heard a report earlier in the day on the economics of micro-lending to poor people in Africa. Someone had won the Nobel Prize in Economics for the idea, and the idea was big in Berkeley, especially at the university. And I had told myself, Angelina's in town to learn more about micro-lending; she's adopted all those Third World kids. She cares. It makes sense!

All my friends have laughed when I told them this story. I have pretty much convinced myself it wasn't her, mostly because I did some research on plastic surgery and how common it is for people with too much money (and maybe values I don't subscribe to?) to get five, seven, 15 "upgrades" (this is the term I saw used over and over) over the course of their lives. And there are some women who actually try to look like celebrities, and Angelina is a hot item. My guess is I was sitting across from some gal who had tried her best to look like Ms. Jolie, and combined with the psychoactive properties of that nuclear red curry, I had had one helluva weird and memorable 40 minutes.

Further Items
Capsaicin may help with weight loss.

Here's a report on my favorite blazing hot salsa, available where I live, Happy Jackal's Hell-Fire from fellow blogger Isoceleria. Other scorching salsas I've read about: "Endorphin Rush" and "Molten Lava."

Why do astronauts begin to crave hot, spicy food, Tabasco and peppers when they go into space, even they didn't like spicy foods on Earth?

The Mayans used hot peppers as chemical warfare: they burned them upwind from their enemies. Of course, Pepper Spray is derived from capsaicin, so James Pike's spiritual descendants are the Mayans. Go figure.

Here's Hendrix playing "Killing Floor" at Monterey:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Shulamith Firestone: Second Wave Radical Feminist, Heretic, Visionary

Late this past August, in the East Village in New York, someone noticed a bad smell. Others said they hadn't seen Shuley for awhile and were a bit worried. Someone climbed up the fire escape to the 5th floor where Shuley had lived for about 30 years, among mostly books. Peering in, the person saw her on the floor. It was Shuley. She'd died. Later the coroner thought she'd been dead for about a week. The preliminary was "natural causes." She was 67. Shuley had had a rough life. I never met her; if I had met her it would've been weird: she was probably something along the paranoid-schizophrenic axis  by the time I would be old enough to try to have a conversation with her. I admire her wild intellectual chops. Her sister - a Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado - once said, if I recall correctly, that the reception her 1970 book - both positive and negative and everything in-between, eventually got to her, and it started to tear her down.

                                        Shulamith Firestone, who died at 67 in August

Born in Ottawa, Canada, on June 7, 1945 to orthodox Jews, she grew up in St. Louis and Kansas City and was a prodigy, at age 25 producing The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for a Feminist Revolution. In a few short years she would drop out of the radical feminist scene she'd been a major player in, and move to Saint Marks and paint, and soon showed signs of mental illness. By the late 1980s she began her trek in and out of mental hospitals and in 1998 published a book, Airless Spaces, purportedly a bleak, haunting account of her life in those hospitals. I have not read that book yet.

In her magnum opus, The Dialectic of Sex, she draws upon and synthesizes Freud, Marx, Engels, Wilhelm Reich, Simone de Beauvoir, and, with the vision of a science fiction genius, foresaw a world in which the biology of women would not hamper them. That's what's most striking to me about Firestone: she thought carrying a baby around full-term and then raising it in the nuclear family was a total nightmare for women, it was practically a disease, and she thought this must be cured. She compared pregnancy to barbarism and said giving birth was like "defecating a pumpkin."

She called on cybernetics and science in general to free women of this plight. At the time, most intellectuals thought she was brilliant but crazy. She was indeed a little of both, but her visions are starting to become reality.

Shulamith (which she pronounced "shoo LUH mith") was part of the New Left, but helped lead splinter groups from not only SDS, but from less-radical feminist groups. A firebrand at the age of 23, she urged women to vote for themselves, and not how their husbands told them to vote. 50 years after women gained the right to vote she said, "what is the vote finally worth if the voter is manipulated?" She took seriously ideas such as community-raising of children, because the nuclear family was the nexus of sexual repression and emotional illness. "Marx was onto something more profound than he knew when he observed that the family contained within itself in miniature all the antagonisms that later develop on a wide scale in the society and the state." (Dialectic, p.12) I was drawn to her from her reading of Wilhelm Reich's ideas, and, more generally, because I'm congenitally drawn to brilliant heretics,  people whose ideas are so "dangerous" (I think: ahead of their time) to society they're either persecuted and locked up, or they are driven insane, or their genius and latent mental illness express themselves one after the other. Shuley - as her friends called here - was one of these.

The history of the feminist movement is for all of us who care about human freedom and should not  only be taught in Women's Studies classes once you get into university. The history of women's liberation tells us much about how the paideuma can be changed. It takes a long time. It takes brilliant, fearless weirdos who dare to envision a Better World. The history of women in the First World, in the  West, since the early 19th century, is a ceaselessly fascinating study. Freedom! Let us study it.

For, as a young male, I never understood why women should be considered "the second sex." Maybe because my mother was a (non-radical) feminist and I was not raised on the Adam and Eve story?

But Shuley ran with some rough gals. But I will give her this: she didn't shoot Andy Warhol!

By 1967, the hyper-educated radical feminists were tired of taking orders from the male leaders of SDS, so they split, while still protesting the Vietnam War and sexism in general. After the demoralizing victory of Nixon in 1968, Firestone and a few other militant, radical feminists got together around the moment of Nixon's inauguration in January of 1969 and formed the Redstockings, to honor socialist ideas that harken back to the Blue Stocking feminists of the 19th century. The First Wave of feminists included people like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Emma Goldman.

                                   Simone de Beauvoir, influence on almost all Second Wave
                                    feminists. Best known for her The Second Sex

Shuley thought that men couldn't truly love, but this was conservative compared to another Redstocking, Pam Kearon, who advocated openly for hatred of men (misandry), arguing that hatred is a natural human instinct, and unless women allowed themselves to hate men, they would turn that hateful energy back on other women. And children. Best to hate "men."

My reading of radical feminism, as of this date, totally deplores any hatred of any group. Group hatred is all-too-common, as we've seen with the Nazis and any other faction that thinks the "real problem" lies in getting rid of the muslims, the Palestinians, the jews, the Gypsies, the gays, the blacks, the whites, the "liberals," the Large Group of People Who Go Under Some Highly Abstract Noun, etc. This is a deep semantic sickness, no matter who is doing the persecuting. No one could possibly know enough about any of these groups to justify the kinds of things that Hitler wrote about "Jews," or Coulter writes about "liberals," or that Dennis Prager writes "secular humanists" or that Andrea Dworkin wrote about "men."

In the case of some but not all of the Radical Feminists, their open misandry, in my opinion, hurt the cause of women in general. Why? Because most young women are not mistreated by their fathers or brothers; in fact, when they hear of this "all men are sick, evil bastards who can't love; only want to use you to spread their disgusting seed inside you," they know it's not true...and they decline to call themselves "feminists." (But they stay in school longer and longer and now they're doing better than men, which we'll get to later.)

Because I believe in gender equality and negotiation, I will call anyone who uses language that seems to suppose they've experienced an entire group, and found "all" of them bad/dangerous/evil/etc: assholes. These individuals are assholes. Now: sure, they may have been mistreated themselves, but someone like Kearon is an asshole to me. She never met me, or my dad, or my brothers, or any of my male friends. What? Because she's a woman I'm not supposed to come right out and say it? Fuck that!: I believe in equality, as much as possible. Note: I'm calling Kearon (I think she's dead) an asshole, not "women." Why? First of all, I dig women. But for our purposes here: I do not have nearly enough knowledge of "women" to say what "they" really "are." And no one else knows enough, either.

When someone asked whatever happened to Shuley, Andrea Dworkin - another asshole - who once argued that any sex between a man and woman was "rape" (I am not making this up), but not if the man's penis was limp - told British journalist Linda Grant that Shuley was "poor and crazy," that she rents rooms and fills them with junk, gets kicked out and then rents another room and fills it with junk. Sisterhood is real powerful with Andrea Dworkin, eh? Maybe Shuley didn't hate men enough for Andrea's taste, I don't know.

Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.
Andrea Dworkin 

Oh really? So artists are no different than totalitarian dictators, I assume? - OG
Shuley was instrumental in leading women to protest the 1969 Miss America show, which led to the media myth that women showed up and burned their bras. There is no evidence anyone burned their bra then, but many of the women who objected to Miss America as a sexist show threw their bras in a trash can. Shuley also led a heated protest at Ladies Home Journal in 1970. They burst in and demanded the editorial and advertising staff be replaced by women, and Shuley herself jumped on editor John Mack Carter's desk and began ripping up magazines, and threatening Carter himself, allegedly. It was widely seen as a publicity stunt, and Shuley was criticized for making the Movement look crazy. (Which, in hindsight, it pretty much was, right? But we're talking the Sixties/early 70s: Weather Underground, Baadher-Meinhof, the SLA, Mansonoids, MK-ULTRA, etc.)

Shuley's book is what will endure. As far as I can tell by Internet research, it's still taught in universities. She was quite brilliant and crazy, a heretic, my kind of thinker. I may not agree with everything, but I admire the overweening chutzpah. When I read in The Dialectic of Sex I feel the spirit of Wilhelm Reich, Timothy Leary, Ezra Pound, Nietzsche, the condensed righteous demand for equality - Emma Goldman, anyone? - from her feminist forebears, even William Blake. The Mad Heretical geniuses that changed the world.

Shulamith Fireston's Visions Slowly Coming To Fruition
I thought of Shuley today when, reading in Salon, I caught an article that said the nation's largest group of OB-GYNs have said that the Pill should be available over the counter. Shuley was way ahead on this one. Of course.

                                    Dr. Carl Djerassi, one of the major developers of the 
                                    oral contraceptive pill (OCP). Now at Stanford.

I recently read a play by one of the main inventors of the birth control pill, Carl Djerassi. He's concerned with conveying ideas about science and the quite-human lives of scientists in works he labels "science-in-fiction" and (as in his plays) "science in theater." The play was titled An Immaculate Misconception, and is surrounded by the story of ICSI, or IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection. When, for whatever reason, a man is infertile, he can ejaculate into a cup and the doctors can find one viable sperm, then inject it into a woman's egg, and place the egg back inside her. In 1992 a paper was published that made a big splash: they had figured out how to do this! Now there are tens of thousands of ICSI kids walking around, in their teens. The female scientist hero of the play envisions a world in which sex will only be for fun, procreation being a whole other thing altogether. This made me think of Shuley too...although I'm pretty sure she liked girls.

A recent article on ectogenesis - artificial wombs and Firestone's dream - are already possible, but they will be perfected in either 10 to 60 years, depending on which expert you read. Andrea Dworkin, contra Shuley, thought, in a hopelessly patriarchal society, women are only valued for being able to give birth. The rise of ectogenesis - a word coined by the great biologist JBS Haldane in 1924! - would make women "obsolete." The social, political, and ethical implications are truly staggering here. When will we get the "immaculate gestation," as two scholars are calling it? Haldane predicted that only 30% of births will be via a woman's body in 2074. Will the technique liberate women or further oppress them? My vague guess is that, in places like Idaho and Alabama and Saudi Arabia, it will further oppress women; in places like California and Vermont and the Netherlands it will further liberate them. But we shall see.

                      Hanna Rosin, editor at Atlantic Monthly and author of The End of Men

Finally, Hanna Rosin has stirred up quite a crapstorm with her recent book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, which I have only read 60% through. First off, it seems giving your title The End of is both audacious and almost guarantees sales. But what of her argument? If you haven't read it and you're interested in men or women in the First World, you might find it interesting. If you don't have the time you might practice Bayard's art: listen to people talk about the book, read reviews, ask someone you know who has read the book to talk about it, and then go to a party and act like you've read the book and give your opinions. What's of recent interest to me is that some feminists seem threatened by Rosin's thesis, and if you read this article, you'll be both practicing some of Bayard's art and getting part of Rosin's argument: that women have adapted far better than men have to the changing world of work, the information economy, etc. In the First World, we're becoming less and less of a patriarchal world, and I think that's good for all of us...but the birth pangs of this New Thing will smart, pun intended.

One thing Ms. Firestone would still be most impatient about is...class and economic inequality, which has only increased since her 1970 book.

Shuley saw all this coming. RIP.
obit from The Villager
obit from NYT
obit from The Guardian
first of 2-part piece on Firestone at N+1 : Goes in-depth about her difficult life, really terrific.

Here's a recent 6 minute interview with Rosin about her book, to help you practice Bayard's art: