June 30, 2004

Random thoughts

Rock stars today fulfill the role once held by painters (Van Gogh, Caravaggio), composers (Mozart, Tchaikovsky), writers (Hemingway), and poets (Shelley, Eliot, etc. etc. etc. etc.) as our society's headcases-in-chief. I don't entirely buy the argument that this is because we don't care about those occupations anymore -- there just have been no real cultural celebrities from those fields since the early part of the last century. Most painters today are either obscure or pure, empty craftsmanship (Thomas Kinkade, for example). No poet has really caught the public's attention in a very long time -- was Dylan Thomas the last? But, then, Caravaggio and Van Gogh... these people were not celebrities of THEIR time, but were only really discovered and popularized many years after their deaths. It probably helps that rock has such a high death rate. Nothing makes you more appealing to history than a fast and tragic end. Hey hey, my my.

Human life is a Fourier series, created by the superposition of endless cycles of this sort: birth, growth, age, death. I, ferinstance, was born into consciousness this morning, grew into awareness at the peak of the day, sunk into exhuastion, and will very soon return to the little death of unconsciousmess. I was born in Dearborn years ago, grew up, will eventually hit the downward slope (let's hope it isn't yet.) Etc. I blame this iterative thinking on my day job.

June 29, 2004

Judiciary remembers the "independent" part. Film at 11.

So. Uh.

Antonin Scalia writes a dissent in the Hamdi case thwacking the Administration for its (admittedly ridiculous) claim to unrestrained control over the lives, liberty, and property of enemy combatants. And, um, the only person with the balls to sign on is John Paul Stevens, who usually has Scalia at his throat.

The world's gone mad.

To make matters more absurd, Justice Clarence Thomas, never known for being open-minded, concurred with the majority opinion in the recent "internet porn" decision. Said majority opinion was written by Kennedy and concurred with by Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg. Dissenting were Rehnquist, Scalia, O'Connor,... and Stephen Breyer.

As near as Diane and I have been able to figure it out, argument went something like this:
Scalia and Stevens (together): "You guys are working outside the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, the tradition on which--"
Scalia and Stevens (together, looking at one another): "You?!"
Rehnquist: "OK, this is it, Clarence and Steve. Time to pay up on your bets!"
Thomas and Breyer: "Awww, do we have to?"
Rehnquist: "Hey, do you guys think the public at large suspects that these incredible divergences from our voting records are actually vote-swaps set up at the Christmas party poker game?"

And that's why Breyer and Thomas switched their votes.

Just so you know...

(Google, this means you)

... this is my "personal" blog. The "ideas" blog is at Cognomen.

New song

this is an audio post - click to play

An acapella version of a song I'm working on called "Sewanee Caucus 1968," which is probably safe to ignore unless you're me.

June 28, 2004

Here's yer Nixon photo for the week. I like this one because it implies that Nixon is happy to see McGovern signs -- given that his guys more or less sealed McGovern's nomination. Posted by Hello

June 25, 2004

Thank You Mr. Geldof

Bob Geldof (formerly of the Boomtown Rats) is one of my heroes. He's hated, misunderstood, mocked, and known to be an insufferable and pretentious git even though he tries his best to avoid such situations. And yet (at least as of 1992) he still maintained enough humor to make great jokes!

The song "A Hole to Fill" has brightened my day immensely. Even though it's off 'The Happy Club', which is a pale shadow of the preceding album (Vegetarians of Love), it's killer:
I left the pub last night and I was just in time

To see them break my windows and slash my tires
"I'm a liberal," I thought as I felt my anger rise
I was desperately searching for my feminine side
But my feminine side was on her morning coffee break
I beat the shit out of one of them, and I felt great!
"Hey Bob," he said, "don't get annoyed.
"We all find different ways to fill up the void."
And I said, "Yeah."
Geldof has the most self-effacing, blackly joyful wit in pop music. Take that, NME.

June 23, 2004

Quidquid latet apparebit, nil inultum remanebit

The four last things, in traditional Catholic theology: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Death needs no explication. Judgment is conducted both at the instant of death and at the end of time: the first time, before only God and the angels, to determine whether the soul will go to hell, purgatory, or heaven; the second time, before all souls, in the Final Judgment.

The judgment is the same both times, of course. If this seems a bit silly, it's understandable, but this was the only way the Church could find to solve with consistency both the problem of where the soul goes when it dies and the problem of Christ's descriptions of judgment. It offended the sensibilities of the Council that decided this issue that a damned soul should get to go to a painless limbo for centuries or even millenia before the judgment.

In traditional Catholic theology, again, Heaven is a place of peace, joy, and love of God. There's none of this "you'll be reunited with all the people you love and be happy forever" touchy-feely crap that the Protestant sects spout all the time. It's very straightforward: all souls, united, praise God forever. Nothing else happens. The Talking Heads song Heaven is theologically spot on (though I have a feeling several Church Fathers would lose their halos over "the bar is called Heaven.")
If this sounds boring to you, well, too bad.

Hell, likewise, is not the creative theme park Dante created, but a lightless morass of unmitigated suffering. There are no sensations but pain; the physical pain is such that "the strongest of living men could not stand it", but it pales in comparison with the spiritual pain. The damned soul is consumed with shame, for having sinned against God; hatred towards God and all creation, foremost himself and his fellow damned souls; and, worst of all, the feeling of separation from God, a feeling unlike any the living can imagine. All of this is amplified by a complete and unescapable awareness that he is personally responsible for the pain. Each moment is amplified by the awareness of an eternity ahead.

I apologize if I got any of this wrong, but I'm pretty certain it's accurate. I saw a dead man yesterday. Cold, dead lips and a dead face where little more than a month ago there was a ready smile and an open, engaging countenance. All I could think was, "Idiotic." I hope his life fulfilled him.

June 18, 2004


You've seen "Rose of Versailles". You've revelled in the edge-of-your-seat court intrigue: Will Marie talk to Countess DuBarry? How 'bout now? Are we there yet? My god, how many episo *cough* Will Marie get kicked out of the court? Why the hell no^h^h phew, I mean.

You've thrilled to the subplot of the treacherous child of a non-aristocratic mother who claims aristocratic lineage when in fact her caring, virtuous sister is really the one with good blood!

You've kind of noticed that almost everyone is either snow-white or absolutely evil. Hard to get excited about that one.

You've watched its tragic, inevitable ending. [I still haven't, but I would have if the damned court intrigue stuff hadn't taken so long!] (SPOILER WARNING: Louis XVI dies. Antoinette dies. Fersen runs away, then dies. Etc.)

Now prepare for a new anime show, focusing on the scene across the pond: "Rose of the Grange"! It focuses on the young daughter of Lafayette, who becomes a clerk in the service of Alexander Hamilton in the Treasury -- dressed as a boy! She begins to suspect Hamilton of treachery to the revolution and falls in with the Republicans, finally ending up as Aaron Burr's second's second in the infamous duel. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll sit up all night damning John Jay.

Bob Dylan EXPOSED!

As a historical songwriter, that is. See, everyone has assumed that Positively 4th Street is about the scene Dylan knew when he lived in 161 West 4th Street in 1962. That assumption is wrong: the song is actually about the rivalry and enmity between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, both of whom were based in New York City and were active in local politics during the period of their rivalry.

A look through the lyrics amply demonstrates the accuracy of my interpretation:
You got a lotta nerve

To say you are my friend
When I was down
You just stood there grinning

You got a lotta nerve
To say you got a helping hand to lend
You just want to be on
The side that's winning

This verse obviously refers to Burr's appeals to New York Federalists once he had begun to fall from power in the New York Republican party, displaced by the Clintonians and Livingstonians. This fall from grace resulted partly from how damnedly undignified "Burrian" sounds.

You say I let you down

You know it's not like that
If you're so hurt
Why then don't you show it

Of course, this is Hamilton's reaction to Burr's suspicions that Hamilton intrigued against him, to the advantage of the Jeffersonians who had it in for Burr. This is fairly close to the tone Hamilton took in his responses to Burr's challenges to an affair of honor (i.e. duel).

You say you lost your faith

But that's not where it's at
You had no faith to lose
And you know it

It's amply documented that Hamilton's problems with Burr stemmed not from his politics (Burr's Republicanism was far more tolerable to the Federalists than was Jefferson's), but from Burr's seemingly total lack of moral scruples. Hamilton was not at all surprised, then, that once Burr was ostracised from Republican circles, he strongly allied himself with the Federalist party, or what was left of it.

I know the reason

That you talk behind my back
I used to be among the crowd
You're in with

Do you take me for such a fool
To think I'd make contact
With the one who tries to hide
What he don't know to begin with

Unfortunately, Dylan gets the order of events wrong, as he is wont to do in historical songs (cf. "With God on Our Side", in which he puts the Spanish-American war before the Civil War). This pair of verses obviously applies to Burr's standing with the Republicans back when Hamilton was Treasury Secretary, long before the events described in the first few verses. I don't understand why Dylan gets these things wrong.

You see me on the street

You always act surprised
You say, "How are you?" "Good luck"
But you don't mean it

When you know as well as me
You'd rather see me paralyzed
Why don't you just come out once
And scream it

It's been remarked upon that in the weeks between arranging the duel and consummating it, Burr and Hamilton shared polite company together and seemed to be quite at ease at one another.

No, I do not feel that good

When I see the heartbreaks you embrace
If I was a master thief
Perhaps I'd rob them

Again with the bizarre order lapses! Burr's promiscuity was infamous (he bragged about it, giving great detail, in letters to his cherished daughter), and was a major reason Hamilton distrusted him. A.H. could deal with Jefferson sleeping with Sally Hemings much more easily than with Burr sleeping with married women, prostitutes, and ingenues left and right.

"And now I know you're dissatisfied
With your position and your place
Don't you understand
It's not my problem"

Of course, one of the reasons Burr fought the duel was to enhance his reputation and revive his failing political career (more or less the same reasons Hamilton accepted it against all his better judgement).

I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you

Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You'd know what a drag it is
To see you

These lines are obvious and require no further explication from me. It's patently obvious that my interpretation is right, of course, but Dylan does need to work on those little chronological-order problems of his. Cars and slave-trading in DeLacroix? Wha?

June 17, 2004

In praise of Stephan Dedalus

To be continued.

June 15, 2004

Can you Camus?

Here's yet another really cool idea for a Great Work that I will probably never finish: a biographical novel about Albert Camus. Think about it, he had a really interesting life: growing up in Algiers, fighting the death penalty (the quarrel with his father is a really interesting subplot -- one he speaks about in _Resistance, Rebellion, and Death_ and which seems impossible given the Wiki biography - odd), fighting the Nazis and the Vichy government, becoming an incredibly popular novelist -- then dying in a car crash on a dark road at night. The biographical novel is a popular form these days, which should please the editors, and the public feeling towards France seems to be turning around. The only problem I see is that Camus already wrote an autobiographical novel. In my defense, though, he never quite finished it, he didn't get to include the absurdly banal final events, and it's quite out of date.

Ah well. Maybe after I finish my massive popular biography of Claude Shannon...

June 14, 2004

"I'll embalm myself, too."

It's been bothering me lately, this need to document and archive anything I've owned, no matter how small or how tangential to myself it is. Someone somewhere said that the poet who archives and curates his work never composes anything worthwhile. I have a similar problem: is the storage and preservation of quotidiana so time-consuming that I don't actually have time to figure out my own motivations and behavior?

To remember something often means to forget something else. Come Lethe.

June 11, 2004

this is an audio post - click to play

Yep, it's Dick and Pat, bringing it all back home there in 1973. Posted by Hello