Overweening Generalist

Friday, May 24, 2013

Updates and Re-Takes on Some Old Posts

A. Abortion: Not long ago I blogged on some recent stories about abortion and women's access to do with their bodies what they think they need, and I touched on Savita Halappanavar's death in Ireland due to her inability to get a legal abortion. Very quickly I segued into one of my comfort zones, James Joyce. But let us note that the citizenry in Ireland are pushing things on this case, more than six months after Savita's death. Which is heartening.

But I tend to agree with the editor/reporter for Salon, Katie McDonough, who calls the recent gains "infinitesimally small," and that most women in Ireland will continue to have a very rough go of it indeed in future unwanted pregnancies. (Although, if I were a PAID editor at Salon I would hope to avoid pleonasms such as "infinitesimally small," but alas, I'm just some dipshit hack, so whaddyagonna do? But aye: the gap in status between Katie and me, as writers? Katie might say it was gargantuanly huge. And indeed, Katie would be right. Again.)

Gotta admire the brass ones on Taoiseach (President, basically) Enda Kenny, telling the Church's main man in Ireland that "my book is the Constitution." And, basically, threaten me with excommunication all you want, you bullying medievalists.

May wonders never cease, faith! (<-----please read that with your best Irish accent, even if you're Irish.)

Maybe the wild card here is New Pope Francis, who recently performed a quick miraculous exorcism, despite The Church's moving away from "demon possession" stuff in the last few decades. And then, in the same week (or so?), he pronounced that atheists can be good people and make it to heaven too. I am squarely for unorganized religion and consider the Catholic Church a major nuisance as an official entity, but if you're gonna be a highfalutin' carny huckster claiming a hotline to Gee Oh Dee, wearing a dress and traveling in a Popemobile, at least give us a good show. Pour it on.

And with his recent win, he's now infallible, so why not have fun with it? Gosh! Thanks, Francis! I bet the atheists are sleeping better and the faithful are a tad pissed, or at least flummoxed. Some of us look forward to your next Surprise, pontiff. (I will eat Werner Herzog's shoe if he says abortion is now okay, because women should be able to control their own reproduction...and hey: if you clicked on the "atheists" link from the Catholic website, did you get an automatic loud video of a violent Schwarzenegger film too? What's up with all that?)

B. Names: A full moon or two ago I spewed blog on Montaigne and names, and commented on Montaigne's assertion that it's up to a dad to give his children fine names. Then I went into the Zappa kids' names and etcetera. Now New Zealand - no doubt having read my blog - has outlawed 71 names that non-Zappa parents tried to give their kids.

If you take a gander at the list you may agree 100%. Or not. The overweening libertarian in me says the State has no right to say what the parents can or can't name their kids, but I admit you have to wonder about the seriousness and human decency of mom and/or dad (probably dad?) who sought to tag the kid with "Anal" or "Mafia No Fear" or a sole asterisk* and a simple period..

"Apple"seems fine to me, but not in an age in which it's the name of one of the most powerful corporations in the world. 40 years ago, a little girl whose hippie parents named her Apple B. Watson: it's sorta cute. Not anymore.  Why not "Exxon Jones"? If you're a slack-jawed yokel, maybe. But "Facebook" seems heinous to me.

History and the pace of change accelerating as it seems to, logarithmically, things could look quite different by the time the kid reaches school age. "Hey, what's a Facebook?," one kid asks Facebook Smith. "Some thing people used to waste their time on back in, like, 2013," Facebook responds.

I see that Sweden has taken similar steps, but I don't know about you: I want to party with a person (or what the hell: the parents) named "Brfxxccxxmnpccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb111116." I'm guessing the parents got wasted one night on something mind-manifesting, but then I think things maybe went sorta off when one said, "If we have this baby, I think the Ouija Board should pick the name, 'cuz it's a medium between us and the spirit world."


Besides, let the kid have that name on his birth certificate; it'll be good for endless laffs. And the kid would end up being called "Beearsix" for the first two letters and the last number. Then "Beer." Then "Bear." Then, for awhile, "Six." By the time he's 18? Bjorn, a fine Swedish name. On with it...

C. Hoarding: I really allowed my musings to flow back when I tried to write about hoarding and related ideas HERE. And not long ago I happened upon this article, which extended the ideas I'd crammed for just before I set to typing.

There were a few things new to me here. Psychology professor Randy Frost of Smith College, who has studied hoarding since at least 1993, put forth the intriguing idea that "giftedness in aesthetic appreciation of the physical world, rather than a pure illness" was one way we could look at this. And Andy Warhol was a famous hoarder, so that sorta bolsters Frost's claim.

Did you know about the Collyer Mansion?

Another thing that made me wonder: that 10% of Unistatians pay for storage units, and that 70% can't park their cars in the garage 'cuz there's too much stuff in there. Hoarding seems to have a genetic component, and maybe up to 5% - or 15 million - of Unistatians hoard, to some extent. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy seems to help this OCD-ish behavior, which sounds promising to me. I also thought the ideas of Monika Eckfield of UCSF are interesting: there may be two broad types of hoarders: 1.) impulsive acquirers, which tend to be men, and 2.) worried keepers, which tend to be women.

Every time I read about hoarding I can't help it, I'm obsessively compulsed to think about Prof. George Carlin's ideas about our houses as being places for "our stuff." Boxes with lids on them. When you fly you look down and see all these little boxes with lids on them...places other people keep their shit. And did you ever notice that their stuff is "shit" and your shit is "stuff"? I'll link to the bit as I find it on YT today, but if you're looking at this and the video is not there, please contact me, okay? Here 'tis:

D. Deceit Ubiquitous. Danny Schechter wrote not long ago about "The News That Isn't: How We Are Fed False Stories Driven By Missing Information." He even linked "the news" to (fake) wrestling, which I also did when discussing the kayfabe and other ideas about deception and deceit that seem to be built into our biological beings. It's just so damned pervasive. "News" seems increasingly heat without light, ever-thinner narratives, and missing vital information amidst the scandalous and prurient morality plays. I think maybe we must work very hard in order to live up to the ballyhoo about, I dunno, how we're "the beauty of the world/the paragon of animals," as a melancholy Dane's poet once wrote.

I derived perverse delight from writing that particular piece on biology and deceit, but it didn't seem to impress anyone. Then, a few weeks later, I noticed that piece was getting tons of hits every day, suddenly. I traced the surprising interest back via the rather primitive statistical info that Blogger gives us: some investor's website had linked to it. They saw it as a piece about markets, I'm guessing, after reading their website for awhile. Anyway, it's nice to be appreciated by somebody, even if you get the feeling some of those somebodies would kick their own grandmother down a flight of stairs if it would improve their returns for just that one Wednesday.

"Check this Overweening Generalist dude out: He says it's all fixed...how do we get in on the ground floor?"

And Danny Schechter? He's on my team. That weirdo is on my wavelength.

E. Can Rape Jokes Be Funny? Molly Knefel of Salon thinks not. <yawn goshwhattasurprise> My spill on the topic was HERE. If you're new to this, please read the links in my post and realize I'm not saying rape is funny; I'm merely saying that we ought to be able to laugh at anything. In this territory, I yield all gravitas and hilaritas to Paul Krassner, who has written and ruminated and agonized and rationalized and vacillated and...he's really the go-to person on this thorny topic. But since I wrote on it, the conversation seems to have opened up. And no joking: I consider this a coincidence. We need to talk about this, hopefully with civility. HERE's a podcast link to Slate folk talking about Salon folk's take on a "double standard" regarding rape jokes, and then Sady Doyle on Sam Morrill's "unfunny rape jokes." Just skip ahead to the good stuff, but I implore you to read my blogpost on this topic, especially the end, where, if you are 100% sure that it's impossible for a rape joke to be funny, give the Carlin bit a read and then tell me in the comments that I'm still wrong.

Appreciate it!

F. Generalists: A topic of intellectual flavor that has recurred throughout the lifespan of Overweening Generalist, not long ago I tried to elucidate...something about "generalists." NB that in the first paragraph I write about "generalists" in the field of insurance, or information technologies, and a couple other areas. I failed to mention the field of crime, and had a good time trying to tease out the meanings in this overly technical study. The writers here noted "a large group of suspects who can be described as generalists." Also, I didn't know how influential Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime was, but I'll check it out, literally.

Skip down to the "Conclusions" for the meat of it, and here is my favorite passage:

In parallel, we observe a non-trivial pattern of specialization across time and gender. In general, women are implicated in types of crimes classified in fewer clusters, and tend to be more specialized than men. We also find that older persons are the most specialized suspects. This can be due to three different or combined factors: (i) suspects tend to specialize over time; (ii) there is a group of specialized individuals who remain in crime, while the generalists distance themselves from criminal activity; and (iii) there is a cohort effect such that the younger generation tends to consist of generalists while the older generation consists of specialists.

And while there are nuances, the social scientists considered violent crimes, drug-related crimes, thefts, burglaries, fraud, financial crime, environmental violations and sex crimes, traffic violations, and organized robbery. Can you imagine the "generalist" who had committed at least one of each of those types of crimes? A true generalist. We might not "approve" of his actions, but let us at least give a grudging tip 'o the hat to his dedication to seeing the Big Picture in crime. A life-long, in-depth study of crime is what these older generalist-criminals have accomplished - the ones who never stopped generalist studies and never started to specialize - and they're almost like cultural anthropologists, with lots of knowledge about Urban Studies too. But sociopathic. Sort of. (Hey, no: we don't want people like this within miles of where we live, but they are interesting from a distance, eh?)

Think of the bragging he (and if you read the study, it's probably a "he") can get away with in prison! You wanna improve on organized robbery? You come to me. I done that stuff. You think you know your violent crimes and financial shenanigans? I bet you don't know as much as I do. Pull up a chair and sit at the right hand of the master of fraud and armed robbery with intent to commit aggravated mayhem with a side of meth dealing. Traffic violations? Sex crimes? Identity theft? Dealing guns illegally? Bank robbery? Fencing stolen cars parts? Being a hit man for hire? Friends: I'm here for ya. I've done it all, man! 

I like to think other criminals look up to this guy and refer to his generalism as "Goin' Around The World." 

I like to think the guys in The Big House call my idealized generalist "The Professor." Or hell, perhaps best yet: The Generalist. But then I have a very active imagination, if warped. Next!

G. Rushkoff: I wrote about his most recent book on the the shock of The Present, HERE. And I found out I'd missed his short stint as guest on Colbert

Interestingly coincidental?: As I started to do this blog-update thing, I made a short list of some topics to update, and I ended up leaving six updates out, lest this go on far too long. But then I picked up William Gibson's Distrust That Particular Flavor, a collection of essays and speeches by a writer I admire tremendously. And in May of 2010, he gave a talk in New York that sounds like a paraphrase of Rushkoff's recent claims:

"People my age are products of the culture of capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you're fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don't know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one's own culture." (p.44)
DAY-um! I went on ad nauseum yet again. But then when don't I? Lo siento, mi amigos...

                                         a very young William Gibson


Eric Wagner said...

Interesting post. I used to have a storage unit, but after watching a profession organizer on a hoarder show decry storage units I stopped renting it.

Your comment about non-news news made me think of the film "Network." The last time I watched it it seemed painfully prophetic.

michael said...

I recently was forced to get two different storage spaces, as I'm now in some marginal, purgatorial world where I can't have my stuff with me. And I recently met a nice lady in the storage area and we started talking about what odd liminal spaces those places are. We both agreed it's a very "American" quality to have too much stuff and have to pay landowners to house it in those endless tracts you see, mostly adjacent to freeways.

I hope to find myself in a larger space for my stuff. One with a lid on it, and some elbow room. My major sin is too many books. Others have...other problems. Or so it seems.

Back in the late 80s I read a few long pieces about how bad mainstream "news" was, and why: increased corporate consolidation, the Oracle here being former Journalism Prof. Ben Bagdikian of Berkeley. He and a few others I've followed were oh-so dead on in their predictions. And thus, few have heard of them.

Anonymous said...

My bibliomania seems genetic in origin. Papa collected books, records, etc. He made a living as a dealer and appraiser of antiques (mostly Native American stuff from pacific north-western tribes). His Father, a meteorologist, dealt arcane tomes on the side. Grandma taught elementary school and dealt antiques on the side. Dad learned how to read by finding garage sales and flea markets in the paper.

Not only do I have more books than I do anything else, I also thousands of books from two previous generations of bibliomania located in an abandoned mercantile just 30 miles west of here.

I tell friends that bibliomania can pull one down into the pits, just as bad as any addiction. I suffer from a life-crippling addiction to books but nobody seems to take it seriously. Can't they see that each and every book buying frenzy is a desperate cry for help?

Anyway. I gots stuffs t'say about th'rest of yer blogshits but since bibliomania seems the current commentopic of choice, I figgered I'd indulge in a bit of biomythography.

Look forward to the next post. Later dude!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

For pretty much all of my life, I have "hoarded" two categories of things: Books (and written materials) and music (first LPs, then CDs).

As my hobbies have run into storage and display limitations, I have made a conscious effort to shift much of my collection. A great deal of my music is in "the cloud," i.e. Amazon, Google Play and cloud storage sites, and many of the new books I acquire are for Kindle, which means that they are pretty much automatically backed up, too. This is a work in progress -- I still don't have enough bookshelves for my paper books -- but if my house burned down tomorrow, I would still have plenty of music and plenty of reading material.

Sue Howard said...

The bit about a person named "Facebook" reaching school age made me laugh.

michael said...


I knew I had a "problem" when, after repeatedly telling myself I had my personal library under control because I had arranged everything according to an idiosyncratic mix of 1.) the Dewey system, which I know very well, and 2.) a sub-idio-system based on anarchists/drug books/counterculture figures/magick/occult/Forteana/sex books...but then all the shelving in the house became crammed to the gills. So I bought new shelving, and stuff that would ordinarily be "filed" properly for easy retrieval was "also over there of there or if not possibly here or in one of those three makeshift spots...

And then, one day, I went to consult a passage in Thomas Pynchon's intro to Slow Learner, which I KNOW I own. And, after an embarrassing amount of time, I couldn't find it. I suspected a visitor had stolen it. I was in denial. No one that I allowed access to my books would steal one from me...and if they did, why Pynchon? I knew my collection had gotten out of hand.

And here's where it gets sorta sad and comically ridiculous for me: I now check out books from the local libraries, knowing I own the book, but can't find it presently.

"Hello. I'm Michael, and I'm a ...I'm a bibliomane."

Crowd of Freaks: "Hi Michael!"

But you seem to have a version of what I have. Maybe "worse," which in many ways means, regarding the subject: "better."

I also have a social problem: when going to someone else's house for the first time, I can't wait to peruse their shelves, and a few times I've done it at a less-than-appropriate time. And without asking. (Yikes!)

I've even "fixed" mis-shelved books after I thought I had ascertained the owner had some sort of "system" working. (Freud had something to say about this, but I'm really only like that with books.)

michael said...

@ Tom Jackson-

You seem, as usual eminently more sensible than I about these things.

Did you catch the recent BoingBoing article about the guy with the vinyl hoarding fetish?:


michael said...

@ Sue Howard-

I suspect FB will hang on longer than I'd thought. Lots of people love FB and probably use it for fun and profit and to Find Their Others Incarnate. I dislike Zuckerberg quite a lot, speaking for myself.

Glad I could make ya laff!


"Anal" Johnson

Sue Howard said...

I agree about Zuckerberg. I really don't understand the success of Facebook - everything about it seems lame to me, including its name (which makes it so funny to me as a human name). Still, we have it to thank for inspiring that great & hilarious film, The Social Network.

On a more serious note, I suspect both Paul Krassner and George Carlin would be CRUCIFIED by the supposedly "liberal" Guardian (UK) newspaper (among others) for their "politically incorrect" remarks on rape. Check out this Guardian piece on the recent Onion "bad language" episode to see what I mean: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/26/onion-c-word-tweet-quvenzhane-wallis

The word I found most "offensive" in that piece, incidentally, was the italicised "actually" in the 3rd para. I also found The Onion's stupid corporate-speak apology pretty depressing. George Carlin's routine (which you quote at length in your linked post) seems genuinely liberating in this context.

I blame some of all this on Twitter, in a way. It looks like an entirely new form of media, with various "interesting" consequences: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-22652083

Anyway, keep on writing the good stuff...

Anonymous said...

I had to comment when you said you had not read Jack Vance. By all means do so, he is one of the most perceptive authors of the last century. Since he was SF he could be safely ignored by the so-called elite
among us.

I made a huge bookshelf once and was
so happy I had extra space. That lasted about a month and it started
to spill over again. Project Gutenberg
has made it easy to have stuff unread again.
People keep asking me if I read all
these books and the answer is of
That's what they are for.

But you'll love Vancian style.

michael said...

@Sue Howard: your crack about The Social Network seems uncalled for and maybe even libelous. Were you trying to be "funny" or "ironic"? It has hurt me deeply and you should expect Lord Zuckerberg's lawyers to get in touch with you forthwith.

No, but seriously: Jeez! Thanks for the education: I didn't know who Quevenzhane Wallis was; I didn't even know about Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I'll probably catch on cable or Netflix in, oh, 2015? Maybe. I hadn't known about The Onion's original gag, which I thought was HILARIOUS, and I also didn't know about their lame apology. I spent a good part of an hour researching all this for myself. (I don't watch the Oscars, so didn't know about Seth MacFarlane's {one of my cultural heroes] riff on Nabokov. So distasteful! I liked it.)

The Onion joke - and I'm in harmonious accord with you about "actually" in that cunt's piece in The Guardian, btw - is funny simply because of an ancient mechanism in humor: the more the juxtaposition of exaggeration with the "truth" the funnier. If there's anyone who seems NOT to be a cunt it's that beautiful little girl - 9 yrs old - who starred in the film. So it's funny. Because it's just so stupid, no one could actually take it seriously: except for liberals at The Guardian.

It's easy to THINK TOO MUCH and make yourself into a goddamned fool, which that twat in The Guardian did. In my opinion.

The only reason we get all worked up over "twat" and "cunt" is because culturally, we've once again mistaken the map for the territory and we as a culture overly invested those words with power. They don't deserve the power we've given them. (They do deserve _some_ power.) Besides, those words represent one of the most...ahhh...interesting and fascinating and even beautiful body parts. Call me a dick on this one; I don't care and won't "sue" you. Or anyone. We're still puritans and we still believe in black magick and curses, as Wilson would've said.

BTW: The Onion riff is very similar to a reflexive one I use. My friends have all seen it: When we have a delightful encounter with someone witty, pleasant, courteous, full of good humor, and able to laff at themselves, as we walk out, before anyone has said anything, I can't help but start whispering loudly to friends, "God DAMN! What an insufferable asshole/twat/cunt/fuckwad/piece of shit he/she was! What an ordeal! How can anyone stand to be in the same room with such a cunt?" Etc, like that. It's so...standard. The Onion killed on it there.

I remember an early riff on this: We'd watched Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark: she's literally blind and vulnerable to violent drug smugglers throughout most of it. It's tense, and everyone watching wants to protect Audrey. After it was over, I piped up with something like, "That blind cunt should've got what was coming to her: I'd've slit her throat, ransacked the apartment, found the heroin or fenced goods stolen from her apartment, then celebrated with a juicy steak!" Which got big laffs. Because it's so warped and sick and wildly disproportionate to "reality." It lets off steam about the true emotions evoked by the film.

Word-magic: very well-educated liberals are subject to it as much as any trog or conservative or Nazi.

More Sue Howard-induced research, re: Sally Bercow, Tweeting and the law, and Lord McAlpine that child molester. Here's where I'm at so far, now that I know the story: the libel law for Tweeting about a prominent, probably wealthy conservative, is pretty harsh on the accused libeler.

A question: when it comes out that Lord McAlpine really was a pedophile, does his estate have to give the money back?

michael said...

@Anonymous: You and Tom Jackson are gold: which Vance do you recommend I read first? Is there a quintessential Jack Vance novel, in your opinion?