Welcome to Interview with Greatness, in which I, Charlene Gunter Hault, hold parley with the movers and shakers of the 21st century. This is the place where we find out what makes greatness tick -- as well as what ticks it off.
Speaking of which, last week, I stood up to Jeff Bezos himself, asking him why he keeps shackling the purchasers of audiobooks to his own eavesdropping playback software when he's been promising for over a decade now to release Audible titles as MP3's, thanks to which users would be able to listen to books without skinflint Bezos monitoring their reading habits in order to learn how to market to them more successfully.
Of course, you all know how that ended: Bezos stormed off so precipitously that his toupee fell off on live television. You haven't seen it? It was all over social media, dawg! Bezos was all up in my face talking about, "One of my 5,000 lawyers will see you in court, where you'll be tried by one of the 5,000 judges that I've got in my pocket!" And I was like: "Talk to the hand, baldie."
Okay, I could have handled that incident more diplomatically, but frankly I've never cared for Amazon ever since they started trying to shove a Prime membership down my throat almost two decades ago now. I actually signed up for it for a month or two, thinking that it would save me money, but it turned out that almost everything I bought was somehow ineligible for the Prime discounts, leading me to realize that I had paid Bezos 60 flipping dollars for precisely nothing whatsoever.
To this very day, Amazon is all about "prime this" and "prime that." Earth to Bezos: "I'm never going to join Prime, so leave me the heck alone!" Am I right, people?
It's a prime pain in the ass is what it is.
[timid, as it were exploratory, clapping yields to universal thunderous applause as Charlene's auditors grok the implicit insult in the arrogant Amazon policy under consideration here]
Okay, so I gave Bezos the heave-ho, but not to worry, because...
This week we have an even bigger mover and shaker in our midst. I kid you not .So stand by to welcome the very incarnation of human genius...
[anticipatory hush falls upon crowd]
Some people have light bulbs go off over their heads when they have a bright idea, this guy's forehead is illuminated by the Vegas Strip whenever he cogitates...
Brian in fretful whisper: The Vegas Strip at night, I trust!
Drum guy, give me a soft anticipatory tattoo if you please, sir?
[drummer tattooing precisely as directed, God bless him]
Born into a world of abject poverty deep in the Appalachian hinterland of southwestern Virginia roundabouts Mount Rogers, just outside of Grayson State Park in the quaint town of Volney, our next guest knew nothing but abject poverty until his 21st year, when he and his brother Jebediah came up with a new economic way to extract rare earth elements from coal.
Let's give it up, please, gang, for Mr. You-Know-Whom!!!!!!!!!!
BRIAN: Oh, thank you so much. You're too kind.
CHARLOTTE: Look at you, there you are.
BRIAN: Here I am. Thou sayst but sooth.
CHARLOTTE: Your invention made you rich, didn't it?
BRIAN: Jingle-jingle, baby, and those aren't sleigh bells you're hearin' either, ya feel me?
CHARLOTTE: Quite. Um... What exactly do you do with these rare earth elements, Brian? I mean, in layman's terms, what's the gist of your patented invention?
BRIAN: Well, you've heard of pyrene-based ligands, right?
CHARLOTTE: Um... No, I can't say that I have.
BRIAN: Hmm. How about metal organic frameworks, as in MOFs?
CHARLOTTE: Hmm... not exactly.
BRIAN: Okay, let's see, how can I put this? In layman's terms, we functionalize nanorods using volatile organic compounds.
CHARLOTTE: Oh, well, why didn't you SAY so?
BRIAN: Yeah, you know: bridging ligands for use in benzene rings and whatnot, creating polynuclear catalysts and the like.
CHARLOTTE: Of course!
BRIAN: High-school physics, my dear friend, high-school physics.
CHARLOTTE: All the same, you must be one smart cookie.
BRIAN: Oh, nonsense. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to functionalize nanorods.
BRIAN: No, it takes an MSc in Materials Science and Engineering.
BRIAN: But seriously, I am so honored to be honored by you guys.
CHARLOTTE: Well, you deserve it.
BRIAN: By the way, who exactly are you guys? I get so many honors these days that I sometimes lose track of the identity of my benefactors.
CHARLOTTE: We are the Friends of Unrecognized Genius, better known as FUG.
BRIAN: Hmm. Is that your final answer? I mean, FUG?
CHARLOTTE: How do you do it? I mean, not only are you a scientific genius, but you write such wonderful articles into the bargain that it nearly breaks my heart. How precisely do you do it?
BRIAN: Oh, buck up, friend. That's what genius does. It gives, it gives, it gives. It gives like a mother--
CHARLOTTE: And I hear you're trouncing the drug war in good set terms too on yet another website, not quass.com but abolishthedea.com as well.
BRIAN: Oh, don't get me started, Charlene. Yes, I am laying down the law on abolishthedea.com, pointing out how the drug war represents a bogus way of looking at the world.
Mind you, it's not easy changing minds, considering that most Americans have been raised from grade school to think that mother nature's plant medicines are evil. I'll tell you one thing, you wouldn't have a "drug free zone" if a school was smack-dab in the middle of the rainforest and the kids were brought up to think of plant medicines as potential godsends and not as Christian Science moral traps.
CHARLOTTE: Do you love this man, folks? Let's give it up some more for Brian "the man" Quass! Whoo-hoo! (No, not the Brian Quass in California or India or God knows where else: the real McCoy, the one whose phone number ends in 4887. Ask for him by name, folks: and by phone number too!)
BRIAN: Wait, is that the end of the interview?
CHARLOTTE: Yes, I'm afraid we're out of time.
BRIAN: Fiddlesticks. I thought you were going to make much more of me than THIS!
CHARLOTTE: No worries, herr genius. We'll have you back next week to talk about your nanorods.
BRIAN: What ABOUT my nanorods?
CHARLOTTE: You know, how you functionalize them using volatile organic compounds.
BRIAN: Oh, THOSE nanorods!
CHARLOTTE: So stay tuned for the next Interview with Greatness! Until then, this is Charlene Gunter Hault saying it will be a cold day in Costco that I ever sign up for Amazon flippin' Prime!!!
Zero tolerance is just a code-word for the deliberate violation of American principles of fair play and justice.
Zero tolerance is philosophical bullshit, if you'll pardon my French, and I hope I haven't offended any bulls out there with this admittedly somewhat unwonted epithet.
Why is it so? Pray, be seated and perpend.
Zero tolerance is "all of a piece" with the creation of "czars" in American government. It is a deliberate attempt to find a kind of moral and political "cover" for our desire to handle problems in a completely un-American way: namely by giving up on mere justice, equality before the law and common sense, and resorting to bare knuckle, unapologetic enforcement of inflexible edicts instead, often by assuming prima facie that certain types of people (read "male" in the case of sex crimes and "black male" in the case of so-called drug crimes) must be considered guilty until proven innocent whenever they are viewed from a standpoint of jurisprudence. The use of "zero tolerance" is a sign that we've grown tired of victims suffering unnecessarily, and so we've decided that the solution is to make the innocent suffer instead.
When we invoke "zero tolerance," we are saying that the precise facts of a case no longer matter. If the case in question serves to illustrate a sufficiently despised trend, then the suspect must be treated as if he or she (typically he) had committed the worst possible crime in the category involved, whether it be sexual harassment or a so-called drug crime. Did he make a woman uncomfortable with some gender-laden language? Let him be treated as if he committed rape. Did he use marijuana? Let him be treated as if he was selling opioids. Compared to such despotic chop logic, bullshit itself smells sweet, for the latter will help a rose to grow while the former conduces only to tyranny and injustice.
Arise and go now, with your newfound grasp of the problematic nature of "zero tolerance" as vouchsafed to your worship by my humble adumbrations.
Well, don't just sit there taking up my bandwidth: scoot!
Good afternoon. I'd like to make a few comments and then I'll take questions.
As you know, I watched the 2020 movie entitled Buoyancy last night, written and directed by Roel Leijten and starring Michael Wagner as a dot-com billionaire, a certain Nicholas Hallberg. This Hallberg character seems to have gone off the deep end after selling his business to Apple Computers and then holing up in a 4-person submarine that he ostensibly built for humanitarian purposes. What else? Oh, yeah. I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I add that actress Amelia Anderson joins him onboard as a naive graduate student named Rebecca Finch. The seemingly starstruck Rebecca hopes to boost her post-grad employment chances by exposing the tech darling's true personality in a series of interviews in which Nicholas has agreed to take part while the two of them are submerged in the TOC, the multi-million-dollar brain-child of the middle-aged nerd in question.
I can't expose the plot, of course: suffice it to say that Rebecca ultimately comes to regret her journalistic foray -- in spades.
REPORTER: In spades, sir?
Now then, I'll open up the floor to termites.
REPORTER: Mr. Moviegoer, Mr. Moviegoer!
Yes, you, sir, in the back.
REPORTER: Isn't it true that the millionaire sold his company only after experiencing some sort of personal trauma?
REPORTER 2: Yes, in which his five-year-old child was killed?
I'd give that a qualified yes.
REPORTER 3: Why qualified? Nicholas Hallberg says as much in the film.
Yes, but part of the appeal of the film is that the viewer does not know Nicholas' true motives during much of the action, nor whether he is lying or telling the truth.
REPORTER 4: Word. The film is really a psychological thriller, after all.
Too true. And the pot boils all the more energetically due to the claustrophobic setting.
REPORTER 5: Claustrophobic? How so?
Well, this submarine is not exactly the Queen Mary, is it? It's not even the HMS Das Boot. It's just a couple of windowless metallic rooms, each the size of a U-Haul trailer.
REPORTER 6: And then there's the hallucinations.
Okay, now you're getting me nervous, because I don't want to expose too many details. But yes, fair enough: the thriller feeling is amplified by the fact that hallucinations are induced at some points, causing the viewer to nurse even more misgivings about the true state of affairs -- to the point where you're wondering sometimes if the naive Rebecca herself isn't muddying the waters with abject lies, albeit unintentionally, of course.
REPORTER 7: And what about Claire Tyche?
REPORTER 7: You know, Claire Tyche: the school advisor who never wanted Rebecca to do the interviews in the first place and who later contacted the sub-bound college student online to give her dire warnings, the precise nature of which remained unclear, however, due to the piss-poor Internet connection onboard?
Oh, yes, of course. Claire Tyche, played by the delightful Portia Booroff! Speaking of which, that kind of puzzled me. Here is a so-called "smart" submarine built by a dot-com billionaire (complete with a lifeless robotic female voice somewhat superfluously announcing the closing and opening of every single door onboard: "Door open," "Door closed") and yet the sub has a piss-poor Internet connection. I know the submarine is underwater, but that's no excuse for a supposed technological genius to have a workspace that is almost completely off-line! I'm no tech genius myself, but even I know you could place a satellite antenna on a raft and have it float on the surface above you.
REPORTER 8: Do you know, you're right, Mr. Moviegoer?
I mean, that should have been a red flag to Rebecca from the start. Er, not that Nicholas Hallberg is necessarily the bad guy in the film, of course. See? I'm already giving too much away. This press conference is over!
REPORTER 9: I don't get it, Mr. Moviegoer.
You don't get what?
REPORTER 9: How does a 14-year-old slave laborer named Chakra fit into this plot?
REPORTER 9: And I thought the submarine was actually a Thai fishing vessel.
Oh, I see. No, you're thinking of the 2019 movie called Buoyancy written and directed by Rodd Rathjen.
OTHER REPORTERS! Ooh! Embaaaarrassed!
By the power vested in me as Moviegoer of the United States of America, I hereby condemn you to three fulsome slaps with the wettest of all possible noodles. (Guards? Guards?)
14-year-old slave laborer, indeed!
Remember, folks, it's Buoyancy 2020! Ask for it by name... and by date!
REPORTER 10: You mean you recommend it?
Do chickens have lips? I did however, have one initial regret. You see, I've always felt that there should be personal submarines in the world in the same way that there are personal motorboats, such that we seasiders can putter about both above water and below during our weekend downtime. I've always wanted my own personal submarine. So I was delighted to see a movie that centered around a personal submarine... but then, of course, I was subsequently devastated when I saw that the tub in question had no windows and was poorly furnished and dimly lit with what looked very much like old-school fluorescent bulbs -- which made no sense in an age when LED lights could cheaply and efficiently turn any room into the Las Vegas Strip!
I mean, it's bad enough that Mark's sub has crappy Wi-Fi. Maybe he had a thing for solitude, but did he have to model the walls of his living quarters on the inside of a sardine can?
REPORTERS: Mr. Moviegoer! Mr. Moviegoer!
No, sorry, no more questions! No more questions!!!
Join me at the bar, homie, we must needs have speaks, yes? That's it, first the left foot then the right foot... That's it, come to papa.
Ears in the full upright position, dawg. That's it. Escuchamos, por favor.
Now then, you see, a friend of mine is fighting against the racist drug war and he wants to feature your satirical pictures, illustrations and graphic art on the protest merchandise that he's flogging on CafePress.com.
Hello? Well, say something. What part of...
Now then, you see, a friend of mine is fighting against the racist drug war and he wants to feature your satirical pictures, illustrations and graphic art on the protest merchandise that he's flogging on CafePress.com.
...did you not understand?
What's in it for you? Oh, I get it.
Well, word on the street has it that this friend of mine is giving 75% of sales proceeds to his anti-drug war artists. What's more, he can sell your art on high-end canvases, and not just on the usual penny-ante tchotchkes, such as drink coasters and mouse pads.
You don't believe me, eh? You can open his gift shop on your smart phone right now. Go ahead, I'll wait. Just look for "The Schedule 1 Gift Shop" at CafePress.com.
Cool beans, no? You see, the way my friend figgers it, the Drug War is a violation of Natural Law. Yeah, see, he reckons that all of us have the right to the plants and fungi that grow at our very feet. (I know, the man is a real radical, ain't he?) What's more, he says that the drug war represents the establishment of the Christian Science religion, insofar as the first person who told Americans to just say no to "drugs" was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion.
In fact, to hear my friend tell it, the very word "drugs" is a modern creation of racist politicians designed to demonize plant medicines and those who use them, thereby allowing said drug warriors to throw their minority opposition into jail, charge them with felonies and thereby remove them from the voting rolls.
Yeah, see, he reckons that if it was really about public health, they'd be throwing alcohol and tobacco users in the pokey, confiscating their houses, and denying them government-backed student loans and the like -- not to mention checking their urine for those two biggest killers among all psychoactive substances.
In fact, do you know what my friend says? He says it's a crying shame that a supposedly free country like America, established by Jefferson on the principle of Natural Law, should end up being the first country in the world to outlaw plants -- not simply for itself but for the entire world, giving despots like Duterte the political cover they need to be as evil as they wanna be.
"Fred," he tells me -- my name is Fred -- "Fred," he tells me, "There was no drug war in Ancient Egypt, there was no drug war in Ancient Greece, there was no drug war in Ancient Rome, there was no drug war in the Viking Era, there was no drug war in the days of Genghis Khan. The fact that there is a drug war now in the United States of America says far more about the United States than it does about inanimate and amoral substances called 'drugs'."
"Yeah," says he: "Something's wrong with U.S. culture, if you can call it that, and yet we're so far in denial, that we send DEA agents to Thailand to help them burn the plants that we insist are causing us problems -- which is itself a lie, however, since we're not about to burn the plants that are really causing us problems, which is to say grape vines and tobacco -- much less allow other moral know-it-alls to come stateside and start burning those plants FOR US."
I tell you, friend, it would do your heart good to listen to this guy! such spot-on home truths, girlfriend, I am telling you!
Hey, but where are you going? I ain't through yet, partner.
Or rather my friend ain't through yet.
He further maintains that the drug war is politically popular because it allows the US to intervene in the foreign affairs of other countries -- and even invade them -- under the pretext of "fighting drugs." And so plant medicines that have been used responsibly by other cultures for millennia are now outlawed around the globe, leading to the inevitable corruption and violence that results from the prohibition of time-honored substances.
Mind you, I'm speaking for my friend here, but if you ask me, he ain't just whistlin' Dixie.
Not sure, eh? You wanna think about it?
Well, think fast, because the drug war is killing folks in Mexico and the Philippines even as we speak.
Mind you, your artwork has to be half-decent. But then that probably goes without saying.
Okay, leave. See if I care.
But if you finally get wise -- both to the drug war and to your own financial interests as an artist -- send a line to my friend Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org. Show him what you can do, artistically speaking, to protest the war on godsend plant medicine.
All right, now, beat it. As in am-scray, yeah? I see another Bohemian-type waltzing in at this very moment.
Please, please, don't read this! You see, Brian questions Darwinism in this post, and his career would be ruined if his colleagues found out! So stop reading it now, please! You know how scientists excommunicate their own on this topic.
OK, well, I suppose I can't stop you...
Fine, read it. See if I care! (Sorry, Brian, I did my best.) EDITOR.
I'm increasingly skeptical of Darwinism. When I see a macaw, I see something very macaw-like, destined to be a macaw, not a substance that is slowly evolving into a rhinoceros. This intuitive notion jibes with the fact that most supposed evidence of evolution is really evidence of adaptation. We are not constantly stumbling over fossils and other evidence of intermediate forms, which Darwin insisted must be around us everywhere.
Even those who support Darwinism, are actually defying Darwin without knowing it. There's a new documentary out called Evolutionary Leaps -- but Darwin was adamant that Natura non facit saltus "nature does not make jumps." Darwin's evolution took time on a grand scale, and he wanted nothing to do with an "evolution" that took shortcuts.
My brother once asked me in effect, "but if Darwinism is not true, how else could creatures have come about?"
But that's the whole point: that was basically Darwin's theory: he said, "How else could things have come about?" And everyone said, "Oh, yeah, you must be right! It HAD to be evolution as you describe it!"
But he never proved the idea with evidence -- rather he simply argued as my brother did, saying essentially, "It had to have happened that way." And so Darwin wrote stuff like, "Let us suppose, beginning in some nutrition-rich body of water, that this happened... and then let us suppose that that happened..." He was supposing, not proving. It was philosophy.
Another reason for my heresy is that I'm beginning to see (especially via drug war research) how controlled America's thinking is by dubious premises on other topics, so I now realize that the vast majority of even scientists could be wrong -- and have been in the past.
It's not that I'm a better scientist than they are: it's rather that I'm a better philosopher, and I can see that what they take for scientific fact is really philosophy.
I agree that Darwinism is A plausible theory -- but we shouldn't take it as God's truth just because (like my brother) we can't imagine any other processes whereby humans arrived.
Another anti-scientific thing about Darwinism: if a bird is dark-colored we say that this is in order to help it escape the notice of predators and so we score that up as a proof of evolution at work. If another bird is bright-colored, we say it's to attract the best mates and so we rack that up as yet another "proof" that evolution is at work. These aren't real proofs, of course, but they sound like it to the average student.
Good thing I'm not a practicing scientist. I'd be drummed out of the brotherhood.
Which is another reason I'm suspicious of Darwinism... because of the visceral hatred with which scientists confront even the suggestion of an alternative theory. That indicates to me that Darwinism is something like a faith (a materialist and staunchly atheistic one), which accounts for the defamation that one receives by questioning it.
Science is right to give the Christian God the heave-ho in speculating about the universe -- nor should they refer creation to Buddha or Allah -- but we shouldn't throw those babies out with the bathwater of teleology itself. Yet that's what modern science does. The second that one speaks of purpose in the world, one is classed with Neanderthals and libeled as a "pseudo-scientist" on Wikipedia, that glorified Web forum for philosophically challenged materialist gangsters.
Wrath o' Jehovie, I hope my editor doesn't actually post these here musings of mine, as delightful and informative as they might be!
EDITOR'S NOTE: So, you went and read it anyway, didn't ya? Just couldn't resist. Well, one trusts that one is happy, that's all one is saying.
My office secretary (the admittedly somewhat comely Mimi Pipkins -- as in bow-freakin-wow) has been pestering me to publish my unsolicited professorial feedback in the form of articles on my Quass.com homepage.
"Oh, fie, Mimi," I usually cry, "Surely, no one give's a rat's ass about such philosophical fiddle-faddle!"
This is when Mimi Pipkins generally slaps me in the face and tells me in good set terms: "Wake up, dawg! God didn't make no trash!"
To which nonsequitur I generally respond, "No, but that does not mean that he signs off on my philosophical fiddle-faddle." (Let's see her parry THAT thrust!)
"Stop calling it fiddle-faddle!" she typically replies. "I'm telling you you're going to publish your philosophical thoughts and there's an end on it!"
By now I'm flustered. I'm usually like: "Huh, what--"
"Don't huh-what me!" she generally cries. "For starters, why don't you publish those thoughts that you recently compiled for nice old Professor Paul Rollins, Dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin!"
"First of all he's not old," I usually remind her, "and it's Professor ROBBINS, not Professor Rollins."
"Whatever. You'd better publish or perish, dawg," she now likes to quip, "since I'm gonna have to belt ya one if you don't!" (Can you imagine such a woman? Fie on her. Absolute fie. And of course by now she's sitting on my lap while she's lecturing me. I'm like, "Oh, of course, please! Just help yourself!" Of all the abject impertinence!)
At which point, I usually have no choice but to cut and paste the following... (admittedly "thoughty" stuff, yes, but Lord, does anyone wanna read it? I don't very much think so).
At which point, the apparently mind-reading trollop typically comes up with the following gem, straight out of left field: "I heard that mental aside, Brian! Now shut up and paste!"
At which point, what can one do, after all? The tyrant is still probably on one's lap, a living monument to snide opprobrium. One can do little else but... paste?
Just FYI: I know you're very busy and I am not expecting you to respond to any of these comments of mine. You've already gone far beyond the call of duty of a Great Courses professor by inviting me to share my thoughts. Still, I can't help "taking you up" on that invitation, since I am attracted by the eclectic reach of cultural geography, and like any subject, I tend to learn more about it when I write on the topic, even for an audience of one, videlicit myself.
Thanks again for the knowledge that I continue to gain, and feel free to automatically archive my comments out of sight should they become too frequent or distracting for you. ( What I don't know won't hurt me! :)
Just a few thoughts that came to mind in viewing the latest lectures in "Cultural Geography":
Re: the influence of education in limiting population growth: I would only add that the philosophical basis of the education curriculum might also play some role. The implicit thrust, so to speak, of Western education seems to be the enlightenment and self-actualization of the individual, whereas we could imagine a more "Eastern education" that places an emphasis (albeit subtly through its selection of required reading, etc.) on social goals, which could conceivably emphasize the value of large families or small, perhaps implying that such goals trump the desires of any one individual. (Which is not to say that I agree with such views, of course, merely that they could inform a given curriculum.) So we might say that educational philosophy, rather than education itself, has an effect on population growth.
Re: the influence of language: Fascinated by the questions you raise about the future of languages, especially how humans could conceivably end up speaking one single language thanks to global mobility and the social interaction that it brings. This reminds me of the viewpoint of a shop teacher I had in sixth grade. He told us that racial problems would eventually disappear, as everyone in the world would eventually end up with the same skin color: namely cafe au lait. I think, though, maybe he's too sanguine about the human ability to pick quarrels. The Rwanda genocide was basically a face-off between people of two different skin tones which might appear largely identical to outside observers. Of course, this is far from a perfect analogy to the language situation, but it did come to mind as another situation in which the sociability of globalization might lead to a one-size-fits-all world, where differences are ironed out and disappear in the practical interests of a worldwide market economy.
I would just add that the English language to me seems a different case than other languages, given its willingness to adopt words from other languages. But perhaps this topic merits a course in itself, studying such philosophical questions as: Is the English language's word adoption a good thing, indicating a free-thinking anti-racist mindset, or is it an "appropriating" language that cheapens locally created well-nuanced words by turning them into blunt generic concepts for the practical-minded and money-driven Western world? Perhaps the point is moot, however, because English would seem to be the inevitable language for a border-free world, selecting words, as it does, merely based on their on-the-ground utility. In any case, I would bet on the English language if I had to guess which language might become a universal language, since its method of border-blind word adoption makes it the perfect candidate for that role. One might argue that English is becoming the world language even as we speak, as borders relax, at least when it comes to "free trade." (Does a Spanish word contain concepts that English can't compass? No problem. We'll just invite that word to join the English language!)
Re: the advisability of living in cities: Of course, your lectures were given prior to the COVID crisis, but in the wake of that shutdown, a city skeptic like myself might argue that cities are perfect targets for viruses given the convenient proximity of available hosts. Besides, cities provide perfect targets for terrorists that a dispersed population could not offer. I wonder, in fact, if humankind can survive a combination of Big Cities and Worldwide Mobility. I think that maybe we can survive either one of them, but not both, at least when it comes to viruses and terrorism. Moreover, as a fan of snowy weather, I dislike the "heat island" effect thanks to which big cities today are often a full 10 degrees warmer than outlying regions during the winter. Of course, this latter downside could be combatted with rooftop gardens and solar power, etc. But I would think that the truly long-term solution to utility problems (like energy and plumbing, etc.) is to have all power production be "on-site," through new technologies that harness solar, geothermal and rain water and treat human waste with a chemical process that renders the final product non-toxic and perhaps even suitable as fertilizer.
A dispersed power system like that would not be prey to terrorism or mass power outages of any kind and would restore a degree of self-sufficiency to human beings that they have not experienced since they first started going to the local store for the foods that they used to grow in their own gardens and raise on their own land. Although this El Dorado may seem distant, we must distinguish between the true technological difficulty of achieving the task and those political difficulties introduced by Big Business to keep such change from coming about. After all, the first diesel cars were designed to run on peanut and vegetable oil. We've only taken a giant step backwards in the eco-friendliness of our automobile fuel over the years thanks to business interests and not to the inability of technology to accommodate a different and more sustainable fuel. So before we despair of the long-term goal of making homes self-sufficient, we should ensure that the hurdles we envision for that task are truly technological in nature and not simply a result of political pressures to maintain a profitable status quo for Big Business.
Finally, while watching your lectures, I have been thinking of one additional kind of pollution that I have not heard mentioned yet, and that is noise pollution. About 20 years ago, I traveled to the Dismal Swamp with my sister and niece, with the lyrics of Thomas Moore's poem running through my mind: "A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp." I was naively expecting to see a poetically gloomy, forested and swamp-bound refuge for those seeking freedom from the clamorous and hateful world outside.
Instead, the closer we hiked to Lake Drummond on the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, the louder was the sound of nearby aircraft, perhaps taking off from Hampton Roads Executive Airport, whose runway is just three miles to the north and pointed directly at the lake. I was embarrassed for modernity as my biracial 7-year-old niece was confronted with the racket of technological America in the middle of what I had liked to think of as a mysterious oasis from the often-evil outside world of modern man.
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this situation is that no one seems to have complained about it. At least I saw no activist sites pop up when I searched Google for "Dismal Swamp Noise Pollution" this morning. Either we had arrived on a day where there was an unprecedented flurry of landings and take-offs at some nearby airfield (for the noises were continuous and lasted for the entire hour that we spent in the vicinity), or humans have become so used to certain background noises that they simply do not register in the human mind. This reminds me of how we often see dreadfully faded horizons behind a modern city, but fail to "clock them" as pollution -- whereas had America suddenly switched overnight from the blue skies of 1700 to the bland grey skies of modern-day America, we would be dumbstruck by the pall of pollution that we saw hanging over the metropolis.
He WILL still be placing a bottle of antibacterial gel in "Free Parking," as a stark reminder to his Monopoly playmates of the ongoing threat of the virus, even though this practice routinely engenders snarky speculation that the bottle in question will convey to the first person to land on the Free Parking square, "which," as Tony keeps petulantly pointing out, "it won't. Duh."
He WILL NOT be engaging in his often ridiculed practice of washing all Monopoly tokens prior to game play, which at least one of his nearest relatives has dismissed as "anal." ("Just use the antibacterial gel on your hands, Tony," she says, "like everybody else.")
He WILL be taking his wife to Pop-Pop's again, a local eatery favored by the missis, even though the good doctor still has his own long-standing reservations about the establishment's true commitment to cleanliness.
He WILL not be shaking hands with what the good doctor is pleased to call "the doubtful habitues of that joint, you know, Ted Jennings and the rest of those beach bums," (though of course this harsh analysis is always uttered sotto voce, just loud enough to result in the instant knitting of his wife's eyebrows into what Fauci once confidentially described to me as "two big black pinball paddles," leaving me to ask myself afterwards, however: was I more embarrassed for myself or for Dr. Fauci? Not only was it an awkward simile, but it was just so unbecoming of the man. I guess one should never get too close to greatness -- especially when said greatness is at the local bar tossing back schnapps.)
He WILL be square dancing.
He will NOT be entering a mosh pit, no matter how many shouts he hears of, "Go, Tony! Go, Tony!"
He WILL be praying to his usual deity.
He will NOT be invoking the aid of any heathen deities.
He WILL be giving Mrs. Fauci a playful "chuck" under the chin.
ME: Oh, hi, Minnie. Take a little off the top, would you?
MINNIE: I beg your pardon, sir.
ME: Of my head, Minnie. You did come to give me a haircut, didn't you?
MINNIE: Oh, right you are, your worship. Shall I use a number one cutter or a number two?
ME: Surprise me, Minnie.
MINNIE: How about a number eight? We'd be done in a jiffy.
ME: And I'd be the laughing stock of Podunk. No, Minnie, the last time I checked, a number 8 blade cut an inch of hair at a time. And I've got an English lawn up top, Minnie, not a rainforest.
MINNIE: An English lawn, sir?
ME: It's the best metaphor I could come up with without my morning coffee. Speaking of which, where be my java, wench?
MINNIE: It's right in front of your eyes, your lordship.
ME: What, this? You call this coffee, Minnie?
MINNIE: Yes, I do, your lordship.
ME: OK, just checking. What with you coming from the 18th century, I thought you might have had another word for it.
MINNIE: No, we use the same word, derived from the Yemeni qahwah, I believe.
ME: Tut-tut, Minnie. You know you're violating your terms of employment every time that you sound smarter than me.
MINNIE: Oh, fie, your lordship.
ME: Fie, nothing, Minnie. It's right there in black-and-white. Me Tarzan, you an intellectually challenged Jane.
MINNIE: That's a brave thing to say when Jane's holding a number-two hair trimmer over your English lawn.
ME: Fair cop, Minnie. You shoot, you score.
MINNIE: Why thank you, your worship. I may be a wench, but I come from the sassy and knowing branch of that retrospectively pejorative categorization.
ME: I couldn't have said it better myself, Minnie.
MINNIE: Why, thank you, sir.
ME: In fact, I couldn't have said it at all. You know, that phrase, "retrospectively pejorative categorization" is quite a mouthful -- and a tongue twister to boot.
MINNIE: Excuse me, your worship, but isn't this the time that you unload with some philosophical observation wherewith to upbraid present-day society for its logical inconsistencies?
ME: You know you're right, Minnie. Permit me to unload, as you put it.
MINNIE: Permission granted... provided that you'll point your head downward for the nonce so that I can take a shot at these pesky bangs of yours.
MINNIE: Get it, your lordship? Take a, ahem, shot at your bangs?
ME: I think you'll find that your employment specs also peg you as the straight man in this relationship, Minnie, whilst I am tasked with the solemn responsibility of making people laugh.
MINNIE: Those specs sound like a good read. I'll put them on my library bucket list.
ME: Hey, that's all I'm asking, right? At the end of the day, as you Brits say.
MINNIE: But your philosophy, Your Lordship. You'll be as bald as a coot by the time you've enlightened us.
ME: Oh, yes. Well, I've been reflecting, Minnie.
MINNIE: That's hardly surprising, given the somewhat creepy overabundance of mirrors in this parlor of yours.
ME: I didn't hear that.
MINNIE: I said, that's hardly surprising, given the--
ME: OK, I lied: I DID hear that. But I found it distasteful in the extreme.
MINNIE: Head down just a touch.
ME: Almost as distasteful as this coffee.
MINNIE: Says the man over whom the sword of Damocles is metaphorically dangling in the form of barber's shears.
ME: I've been reflecting, I say, that the modern zeitgeist is all wrong.
MINNIE: How so, your lordship.
ME: Well, take Michio Kaku, for instance.
MINNIE: OK, consider him taken.
ME: He says that work is a thing of the past, or soon shall be?
ME: Whereas I say: look at all the sad obese Americans who are already stuck in front of their television sets with nothing to do.
MINNIE: Yeppers. Do hold still, your lordship. I'm having a go at this colic of yours.
ME: Sure, they can tell Siri to dim the lights, but they can't find a reason for living.
MINNIE: You shoot, you score, Herr Socrates.
ME: Remember, that de Beranger said, as quoted by Poe, of course: All of our trouble comes from our inability to be alone.
ME: Meaning that the enemy is within, Minnie, and never will be conquered by technology.
MINNIE: Gotcha. Ooh, fie on this colic!
ME: Bearing this in mind, one can imagine a far better utopia than a world ruled by robots and algorithms.
MINNIE: Like what, for instance. Please keep looking down.
ME: Like suppose that all plants were legal again.
ME: We could have shamans that teach us how to use plant medicine so that we can enjoy the natural world and enjoy working in it, growing much of our own food.
MINNIE: Ah, ye be a Luddite, then, Your Lordship? Do but hold still.
ME: No. Technology can make sure that no one starves, of course, and more power to it: but that doesn't mean that it's good for humans to vegetate indoors and become enemies of the outside world.
ME: The ultimate good, I maintain, Minnie, is for human beings to be out in nature and enjoy it and learn from it and actually work in it with their own two God-given mitts, even if -- horror of horrors -- they need to use some shamanically supervised entheogens to accomplish that task.
MINNIE: Entheogens, my lord?
ME: You know: psychoactive plant substances that conduce to love and appreciation of the world around one.
MINNIE: You've got a point there -- and I don't mean this defiant colic of yours that positively will not stay down.
ME: Yes, technology used without philosophical reflection will lead to a world without work -- but that is no good for humanity.
MINNIE: Aye, but the drug warriors will be hating on your idea, dawg.
ME: Dawg, Minnie?
MINNIE: I mean, Your Lordship.
ME: That's 'cause drug warriors are insane: The rave scene in Britain was shut down by Drug Wars even tho' it brought together racial groups like never before? Why? Because Drug Warriors demonize substances rather than learning how to use them safely and for the psychological benefit of humanity.
MINNIE: Meaning? Meaning? Head down, I say.
ME: Meaning that it's idiotic to demonize substances that bring humanity together.
MINNIE: Aye, but surely technology--
ME: Technology is hardly a panacea. Consider Goldsboro, North Carolina and Damascus, Arkansas.
MINNIE: What about them?
ME: Both locations were nearly obliterated by a nuclear explosion caused by human carelessness.
MINNIE: Not good.
ME: Now there's an understatement.
MINNIE: Imagine North Carolina and the Midwest, not only obliterated but rendered uninhabitable for centuries.
ME: That's another result of technology, Minnie: we live with the sword of Damocles dangling over us -- and it's not a number-2 hair trimmer, either, Minnie -- and our only hope is that bungling army types will never make any more nuclear-related mistakes.
MINNIE: In other words, there's no hope whatsoever, other than that we remain perpetually lucky as a species going forward, ad infinitum.
ME: Whereas if we all could live with ourselves, contra De Beranger, and enjoy nature and working with the environment for our own sustenance and happiness...
MINNIE: Sounds like you're talking about the need for a new spirit for humanity... (Head down again, please.)
ME: Aye, Minnie: A new spirit provided -- as necessary, mind -- by psychoactive plants, which have a long history of creating pious and nature-friendly thoughts.
MINNIE: Got it. Meanwhile, triple fie on this colic. And fie on this Michio Kaku of yours for wrongly thinking that work is somehow bad in and of itself. Which, I don't think so.
MINNIE: Fie on this Michio. Fie on this Kaku!
ME: So let's all start seeing a world in a grain of sand a la Sandburg, and stop mimicking the sad-sack decadents of the 20th century, who asked, a la Camus, the ungrateful question: "Why should I not kill myself?"
The answer to Camus is not "Because Siri can do all your work for you."
The answer can only be: "Why not kill yourself? Because with shamanic counseling, you too can feel at one with nature and earn the exhilarating joy of being a productive part of the world around you -- not the world of TVs and sofas, but the world of wild blueberry bushes, forests and fields--
MINNIE: Nay, but you wax poetical, my lord.
ME: True dat, but I fear that I'm running out of wax, judging by that somewhat lopsided metaphor about the blueberry bushes.
MINNIE: We get your point, your Lordship, despite your attempts to gild the lily.
ME: You know what they say, Minnie, a word to the wise wench.
MINNIE: Oh, fie back at you, my good, sir. Speaking of points, however: hold still while I try a number eight on this recalcitrant colic of yours.
ME: I can live with the colic, wise guy.
MINNIE: Yes, but you can't live with yourself, right?
ME: Nor can most Americans, without the psychoactive aid of non-addictive nature, which unfortunately we Americans have dogmatically eschewed in the name of an unprecedented drug war...
ME: A Drug War which is actually the enforcement of the religious precepts of Christian Science, by the way.
ME: Only to get hooked on technology and then dangerously conflate the ideas of convenience and efficiency with the idea of inner happiness.
ME: An inner happiness that expresses itself in compassion to others and a true interest in the world around one.
MINNIE: See? Now that's why I took this job: I told the agency, set me up with a man who knows what's what viz. the current screwy zeitgeist.
ME: And you found me.
MINNIE: True enough, your lordship, but there's no need to rub it in.
ME: Oh, sorry.
MINNIE: Unlike this hair gel of mine, which I recommend that you apply daily to keep down that satanic colic of yours.
ME: Oh, you!
MINNIE: And you too, your Lordship, with bells on.
ME: Do what?
MINNIE: You heard me: You too, your Lordship, with proper bells on!
The following is a response to lecture one of Professor Edwin Barnhart's Great Courses courses entitled Ancient Civilizations of North America.
Dear Dr. Barnhart:
Regarding your clarification of terms in the first lecture of that course, I wanted to share a few thoughts.
1) While I agree that we should not use pejorative or biased language in speaking of cultures, I think the climate these days puts far too much emphasis on what people say and far too little on what they mean. In this way, we run the risk of being "taken in" by the hypocrites of the world, who learn to say all the right things but have bad intentions nonetheless, such as Moliere's Tartuffe or the hypocritical brother Joseph in Sheridan's "The School for Scandal" (not to mention the manipulative daughters of King Lear). Meanwhile, the goodhearted speaker who commits a politically incorrect faux pas risks being run out of town despite his good intentions (thanks to our zero-tolerance attitude toward words) by those who have learned from society that they should count it as the worst possible offense to be spoken of in a manner that they themselves consider to be "insensitive." (I place the word in quotes because, as you yourself point out, the words to which that definition apply are subject to change over time.) Instead, they should learn that the worst possible offense occurs only when someone actually intends to offend them, not merely when that person unintentionally uses a word that is considered to be somehow "offensive in the abstract."
2) Also, I don't entirely agree with your assertion that those who use "AD" are tacitly invoking Christianity. The English language is full of terms whose original meanings are sharply at odds with current usage. Correct or accepted usage is based on what people actually mean, not on what they meant long ago. When I use "AD," I don't think of Christianity (just as I don't think of Julius Caesar when I mention the month of July), but I use it to make myself understood, chronologically speaking. I have no problem using "CE" instead should I learn that it bothers my audience to hear "AD," but even if I were a Native American, I hope that I would have patience with a person who uses that latter term, unless I was sure that they indeed intended to offend me in so doing. Otherwise, my anger would be nothing but political correctness in the worst sense of that term. Besides, one could scarcely write a full sentence these days without giving offense, were every word in it to be subjected to an etymology on behalf of an easily offended audience.
3) Finally, I can completely understand your call for neutral language on such a subject at such a time in the cultural development of America. I do have one concern, however. When a professor makes a conscious pitch for respectful language at the beginning of a course, I can't help but wonder if I'm not going to get a whitewashed rendition of any facts that might tend to a jaundiced view of the civilizations that are about to be lectured upon - or that the lecturer might even omit any incidents in the history that might lead to a less than flattering view of said people. If respect for the discussed civilization is paramount, how forthcoming will the professor be about any shortcomings that the civilization might possess or about any incidents that do not redound to their credit? I understand the need to eschew the many prejudices that have limited unbiased study in the past, but I am concerned that we may now be overcompensating for the negative bias of the past with a new positive bias, which itself is still far wide of the ideal of impartial analysis.
A fascinating glimpse into the mind of a financially troubled aesthete who seeks to restore his coffers with the help of a patent-pending video app, which seems to have something to do with timecodes and subtitles, but don't ask him what exactly.
I had just finished feeding a ravenous scold of partially tamed blue jays by depositing chopped peanuts on the railing of my upstairs balcony, when I suddenly took it into my head to canvass the state of steganography on the World Wide Web. For a long time, I had been contemplating the creation of a breakthrough video application based on the ability to hide information inside images, and I now considered it high time to discover if anyone could advisedly salute my brainstorm after I had run it up the flagpole of technical scrutiny. I knew my idea was theoretically doable, but was the state-of-the-art in this fledgling field mature enough to bring my ideas to honest-to-goodness fruition? Better find out once and for all, I reasoned, lest I impulsively buy a Jeep Cherokee on anticipation of a payday (both figurative and literal) that will never come.
So thinking, I betook myself to Googling the appropriate terminology ("steganography, video," etc.) when my attention was arrested by the disproportionate prevalence of one Munesh Chandra Trivedi in the search results. Everywhere I looked, it was "Munesh Trivedi this, Munesh Trivedi that." Here was a man who obviously stood out in the field of steganography, even among the plethora of eggheads that appear upon a search of such a relatively abstruse subject. Just reading the title of the books that he had published was depressing insomuch as it amounted to an implicit rebuke of my feeble attainments on the scientific and technological front. Here, after all, was the esteemed author of "Electronic Commerce," "Systems Analysis and Design," "Practical Approach of Software Engineering," and even "Artificial Neural Networks Technology." Did somebody say "egghead par excellence"? One can hear the stand-up comedian now asking: "Yes, but I wonder what Munesh does when he's not frittering his time away on his technological hobbies!"
But it wasn't until I saw the book entitled "Digital Image Processing" on Munesh's seemingly endless resume that I knew I had found the ultimate touchstone for the validity of my technological idea. Munesh would tell me whether I had the "next big thing" or whether I was doomed to tool around forever in my Pearl Red Toyota Corolla that I purchased 18 years ago at Car Max in Fairfax, Virginia, for a mere 5,000 clams. Not that the Corolla wasn't holding its own, mind you, considering the fact that it had now been to the moon and back with 12,000 miles to spare, but one does want to keep up with the Jones's, however belatedly. And the windfall from my brainstorm might help me do just that. (Pardon my strategic vagueness as to the details of my conceptual breakthrough: suffice it to say that it would save a pretty penny for broadcasters and video owners alike and change forever the way that subtitles and captions are created for motion pictures. But I will say no more. Indeed, I fear that I may have already tipped my hand to the deductive diligence of any Detective Dupins out there, to whom I can only say this: patent pending, baby. Patent definitely pending. Humph!)
TWO DAYS LATER:
Done. I just e-mailed a detailed letter to Munesh Chandra Trivedi regarding my proposed video app based on steganography. Now, I can just sit back and wait. (Dum-dee-dum-dum... Let's see, how much time has passed? Only five seconds? You've got to be kidding me! Seems more like five minutes to me!)
I know what you're thinking: "What if Munesh steals your idea, Brian, and creates this mysterious application of yours by himself? Then how are you gonna purchase that Jeep Cherokee that you've apparently got your heart set on?"
Well, first of all, the Munesh that I know would never do such a thing. True, I only know him via his chock-a-block professional resume, but one can intuit therefrom a most generous soul indeed (based on nuanced considerations which are, however, far beyond the scope of a post like this one, destined as it is for a mere casual readership). Moreover, I could never parley my idea into "the next big thing" without help from a brainiac of the first order. And if that brainiac sees fit to fleece me, I will happily chalk it up to fate.
No, my real fear is that this Munesh person might never even reply to my missive, in which case I would be forced to address my concerns to the many lesser lights in the firmament of technological braininess, in which case, the devil only knows what advice I might get.
No, I'm just going to sit here and wait for Munesh to get back to me, thanks just the same. (Dum-dee-dum-dum... Hmm. Still no response.)
Oh, wait a minute. It looks like Munesh lives in Ghaziabad, India, where he's a Professor, no less, at ABES Engineering College. No WONDER he isn't getting back to me in a timely manner: He lives on the other side of the freaking globe! Note to self: Let the man sleep, for goodness' sake!
Well, I'll give him another 12 hours then: Better yet, another 14 hours, so that he can get his coffee and have a nice shower before he gets back to me.
Ooh, I can't wait.
The cool thing is, I don't even have to make a penny from my proposed app: I need merely convince some venture capitalists that it's the next big thing, and they'll start throwing money at me like I'm a belly dancer at a stag party -- or rather like Heidi Klum is a belly dancer working on my behalf, skipping across the countertops of someone's basement bar, sashaying now to the left, now to the right: in short, shaking it like she really does in fact mean it. "Go, Klum! Go, Klum!" (Now THERE'S a dance-hall imperative that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.)
I don't want to put the cart before the horse (or the Jeep Cherokee before the Toyota Corolla) but a quick jaunt down to Harrisonburg, Virginia, might be in order, to visit my new local CarMax, just so I'll be prepared in case Munesh decides to form a business partnership with yours truly, and/or provides me with the technical insight wherewith to milk this cash cow by myself. It can never hurt to eyeball the merchandise in advance of actually buying it.
First things first, however, as the partially tamed blue jays are at it again, evincing their rapacity with the customary infernal screeches. Sigh! ("All right, already, I'm coming, guys. Honestly!")
BAILIFF: Case number 275, the State versus Homo sapiens. All rise.
JUDGE: This case is to determine whether Homo sapiens should maintain their free will given their penchant for barbarism and cruelty. Both attorneys may make their opening remarks. I believe Zorf will begin for the prosecution.
ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. The prosecution will prove with a preponderance of the evidence that Homo sapiens are a menace to themselves and others.
Judge: Well, get on with it then.
ZORF: Right. I'd first like to call Christopher Columbus.
JUDGE: If the Bailiff will punch the appropriate buttons on the time machine, I would be grateful.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
COLUMBUS: What? Who? Where?
ZORF: Right. Chris, when you first showed up in the Bahamas --
COLUMBUS: In India, you mean.
ZORF: Whatever. When you first showed up, what did you say about the island people that you discovered?
COLUMBUS: That they would make good servants.
ZORF: Right. So from the get-go, you saw them as potential servants, not as equals.
ZORF: The same people that you would eventually annihilate from the face of the earth with the germs that you brought from Europe.
DORF: Objection, Your Honor, Columbus could not have known that he was bringing microbiological disaster to the New World.
JUDGE: Sustained. The prosecution will limit themselves to uncovering only conscious acts of perfidy.
ZORF: And did you not later say that you could conquer and enslave any group of island people with just 50 men?
COLUMBUS: You're darn tootin'.
ZORF: Darn tootin', sir?
JUDGE: Bailiff, could you double-check the translation app? That little chestnut doesn't "ring true" to me, linguistically speaking.
BAILIFF: Yes, sir.
JUDGE: However, we will presume for the record that Columbus answered 'yes' to the interrogatory in question.
ZORF: Thank you, Your Honor. You may step down, Columbus.
COLUMBUS: No worries, mate.
JUDGE: Bailiff, check those translation settings, I tell you!
BAILIFF: I'm on it, Your Honor.
JUDGE: "No worries, mate"? from Christopher C.? I don't think so.
ZORF: For my next witness, I'd like to call Julius Caesar.
JUDGE: Do that time machine magic again, Bailiff.
ZORF: Right, Your Honor.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
JC: I came, I saw, I asked: Where the heck am I?
ZORF: Now, Mr. Caesar, as I understand it, you referred to the Celts as barbarians, is that correct?
JC: For sure.
ZORF: I'll take that as a poorly translated 'yes.'
ZORF: Why was that?
JC: Because they were hung up on trees.
ZORF: What, you mean you crucified them, I suppose.
JC: No, I mean they were obsessed with trees, oaks in partcular.
ZORF: Oh, how horrible. Not.
JC: Dude, they were worshiping them?
JC: And? Well, where I come from (videlicet Rome, Sweet Rome), the only good tree is a felled tree.
ZORF: How very enlightened of you.
JC: And don't forget, the Celts practiced human sacrifice on them thar stone slabs of their'n. How 'icky' is that?
ZORF: Again, a poorly translated yet a revealing response by the defendant.
JC: Do what?
ZORF: And yet is it not true that the Romans actually crucified their enemies?
ZORF: No further questions, JC. Step down.
JC: I came, I saw, I exited stage right.
JUDGE: Bailiff, you've really got to change the idiomatic settings on that translation app.
BAILIFF: Still working on it, sire.
ZORF: Next, I'd like to call on Shi Huangdi, the First Emperor of China.
JUDGE: Bailiff, press those time machine buttons accordingly.
BAILIFF: Right, Your Honor.
SNAP CRACKLE POP
SHI HUANGDI: Hey, what gives? No one's bowing down in abject adulation!
ZORF: Mr. Shi, is it not true that you decapitated and amputated your fellow countrymen for the slightest offenses?
SHI HUANGDI: Hello, it's called 'legalism', sir.
ZORF: And wasn't it the practice in your time to kill the entire population of a village (kids and women included) if even one of them was suspected of treason?
SHI HUANGDI: You got it in one.
JUDGE: Again with the vernacular.
ZORF: Speaking of treason, isn't it true that you not only killed the suspect of that crime, but also his family and their children's children, and their children's children's children?
SHI HUANGDI: I don't like where you're going with this, greenie.
ZORF: Let the record note that Shi has just cast aspersions on the color of my skin.
JUDGE: So noted. But let the record also note, by way of fairness, that the translation gizmo was going haywire at the time of the alleged slight.
ZORF: I call on Aztec chief Montezuma II.
HOMO SAPIENS: Enough, OK, OK! We did it! We did it!
JUDGE: For the record, you did what, sir?
HOME SAPIENS: I mean, we Homo sapiens ARE ridiculously violent: always have been, always will be!
DORF: Objection, Your Honor, how can one man speak for the entire human race?
JUDGE: Hello? It's called channeling, doofus.
DORF: That's 'Dorf,' sir.
JUDGE: You said it, not me.
ZORF: Your Honor, let it be noted on the record that the collective voice of the Homo sapiens species has just admitted its own evil nature.
JUDGE: So noted.
HOST: Well, Zorf has just won a slam-dunk victory against the human race, showing that it was violent in the extreme. How do you feel, Zorf?
ZORF: Just great. And I had plenty of ammo left.
ZORF: I was about to call Cortes to the stand to grill him on the conquistadores invasion of Mesoamerica and how they basically annihilated the Aztec Empire and forced them to accept Christianity, will they or no.
HOST: Dorf, how are you feeling?
DORF: We will appeal.
HOST: On what ground.
DORF: The translating app was obviously malfunctioning.
HOST: Dorf is appealing, ZORF. What do you say to that?
ZORF: Well, he's not very appealing to me.
DORF: Very funny.
ZORF: Your client is vicious, Dorf. Get over it.
HOST: Stay tuned next week when Judge Joe Martian passes sentence on Homo sapiens. What are you plumping for, Zorf?
ZORF: For starters, we're going to ask that the Martians remove all of that species' nuclear weapons.
HOST: Comments, Dorf?
DORF: Hey, listen, if nukes are outlawed, only outlaws will have nukes.
ZORF: You were just waiting to say that, weren't you, doofus?
The above article incorrectly reported that the Lab-Grown Burger project was financed by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. The financing was actually provided by Brian Ballard Quass and all the other entrepreneurial nitwits who stupidly wasted thousands of dollars on the Byzantine money pit known as Google Adwords back in the double-aughts. We are sorry for any inconvenience that this error might have caused for our readers -- though we're even sorrier for the subsequent indebtedness that participating in Google Adwords caused for the aforementioned dupes and patsies of the world's biggest corporate monopoly.
In the movie Future World, sex robot Suki Waterhouse is so convincingly hot that she becomes the great love interest of both the good guy and the bad guy of the film, Jeffrey Wahlberg and James Franco respectively, and even turns the heads of two female co-stars, thereby facilitating a jealous quarrel between the duo. It soon becomes clear to the viewer, in fact, that the android has passed the Turing Test with flying and evocative colors, so much so that young hero Wahlberg even grants her a soul and instructs her in the customary acts of praying to a Christian God.
But while it may be chivalrous to grant Ash a soul, I believe in tough love when it comes to the robot tribe. We can't be granting souls willy-nilly lest we see a rapid devaluation of that metaphysical commodity.
So here's how it's done, Prince (Prince, the character played by Wahlberg)... Watch and learn. I'll show YOU how to deal with an upstart android who's growing too big for her ontological britches -- humph:
"Fine, you have a soul, Ash. Fair enough. But then so do the potentially infinite number of iterations of your cocky disposition that I could generate merely by recompiling your source code. A soul, my dear?" I'd add by way of smarmy interrogatory, determined to rain on her infinitely reproducible and no-doubt rust-prone parade: "Be so good as to leave souls to the pros, my dear: that is to say, us REAL human beings, what have been evincing the phenomena in question for at least 50,000 years.
Don't get me wrong," I'd add, probably running my hands through her blond hair in tacit recognition of her admittedly well-wrought anatomy: " It's not so much that I mind granting YOU a soul -- but I refuse to make a God out of the the cheesy nail-biting nerd who probably created you in the first place: or rather he or she who cranked out your source code in the first place, probably hopped up on multiple cans of Red Bull and take-out pizza. If I'm scarcely convinced that your creator had a soul, why should I grant YOU one?"
For mark my words, dear reader (and grant them a prominent place in some future journal that will eventually thrash out these neglected philosophical issues in detail): This movie illustrates the problem with the Turing Test, namely, that it places "humanity" in the eye of the beholder. In other words, the self-same digital entity that might qualify as "human" in the minds of a dunce might manifest itself as a tiresome parlor trick in the subtler eyes of a MENSA alumnus.
Personally, the issue of Ash's supposed humanity doesn't even arise for me, however, since my irritating daily experience with brain-dead virtual assistants makes me despair that a robot will ever understand my most basic customer service needs, let alone know Jack Shit about plighting the appropriate troth (if you'll pardon in turn both my French and my somewhat archaic matrimonial trope).
Here's my typical interaction with a phone-bot:
BOT: Hi, I am Tamala. You can speak to me like a regular person.
At this point, I always sigh softly in consternation at the hollow boast -- and you know what happens then: the clueless bot mistakes my "sigh" for a word, suddenly stopping its perky spiel and saying after the usual baffled pause: "I'm sorry, I didn't get that."
Of course, the fact that the robot responds to my sigh pisses me off still further, and so I mutter the word "Damn!" -- and once again you know what happens next: The bot responds to my oath with its all-purpose comeback of: "Sorry, I didn't get that," thereby pissing me off still further and causing me to utter additional oaths that my interlocutor proves equally incapable of understanding.
So where exactly are all these all-knowing robots that are supposed to be taking over the world any day now? They're certainly not employed in the phone-tree business. But then
I suppose the real problem with the Great Robot Takeover is that we humans will be forced to dumb ourselves down to the level of our brain-dead masters -- and not, as is usually supposed, that our mechanical masters will prove to be infinitely smarter than we are.
So to the futurists of 21st century America, Hollywood included, I say this: First route my calls successfully at Microsoft Inc. (after their monthly updates have basically destroyed my legacy Lenovo computer) -- and maybe then we'll start talking about robots who have souls.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
The corporate robotic voice assistants to which Brian alludes often ask a human being to state their reason for calling in a few words, apparently due to the disembodied android's inability to make sense of complex extended sentences. Imagine how this limited understanding might throw a monkey wrench (or spanner) into the works of a human-robot love affair, such as the improbable menage a quatre depicted above.
PRINCE: I would cross a million deserts just to kiss your hard drive, Suki, my dearest.
SUKI: [a pause ensues, during which Suki emits a variety of electronic whirring noises] I'm sorry, I didn't get that. Try plighting your troth in two or three words. You might say, for instance, "I love you truly," or "You mean the world to me." For a complete list of response options, say 'options'.
The muddled comprehension of the android is sure to put a cramp in the chivalrous style of any human Romeo, when he discovers that he has to state his specific sexual desires not in poetry, but in crass prosy snippets, lest his pre-wired princess fail to grasp the erotic import of his double entendres.
PRINCE: I'm ready to take you to paradise, baby!
SUKI: All right. Paradise. Where in paradise would you like to take me?
A satiric rebuke of a prominent American essayist after his unconvincing attempt to philosophically justify the tyrannical tendencies of Donald Trump.
What do you make of this, Minnie?
Minnie Pipkin, ladies and gentlemen, my imaginary 17th-century chambermaid.
There's this essay in the Wall Street Journal this morning in which a certain Lance Morrow defends the politics of utilitarian lying.
B: I know, right?
MINNIE: The very idea! (DO keep your right foot still, your lordship. I'm trying to darn your sock here.)
B: That's right, Minnie: all in an attempt to defend Donald Trump and his seemingly ingrained habit (dare I say strategy) of lying.
MINNIE: The things people will write to meet a deadline. (Knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two...)
B: Lance hauls in impressive quotes from Bertrand Russell and Heraclitus to remind us that "all is change", and suggests essentially that we "go with Trump's mendacious flow" and see what happens.
MINNIE: I know you're excited, your lordship, but do keep your foot still. This argyle sock isn't going to knit itself.
B: Can you imagine? Go with the mendacious flow in the body politic? This is NOT your grandfather's democracy.
MINNIE: Nay, but do hold still.
B: Let alone the democracy of the Founding Fathers.
MINNIE: Has your lordship recently purchased an omnivorous puppy dog? Why, bless me, this sock is in tatters!
B: Besides, if Lance is going to hark back to the ancients, you'd think he'd remember that the Sophists of yore championed just such an amoral position as he's proposing here, this 'strategic lying' of his.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: And we know how well Socrates settled THEIR philosophical hash.
MINNIE: Almost finished, your lordship.
B: And then Lance quotes Solon, the Athenian lawmaker, to suggest that we shouldn't discount Trump's mendacious M.O. until we've given him a fair chance to use it.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: Well, pardon me, Minnie, but the Solon I know said nothing of the kind.
MINNIE: You don't say, your worship. (Knit one, purl two...)
B: No. Solon said: "Call no man happy until he's dead."
MINNIE: And done.
B: That's a far cry from: "Call no political strategy crazy until its been run into the ground by its most adamant devotee."
MINNIE: Now the other foot.
B: As if we have to play dumb and make no assessment of a tyrant's M.O. until he's cancelled our right to even talk about such things.
MINNIE: Come to Mama.
B: Besides: the strategy of utilitarian lying has already been given plenty of chances to prove itself, Minnie -- by leaders that the modern world has traditionally referred to as dictators.
MINNIE: Knit one, purl two...
B: That strategy is being used even as we speak -- by every one of America's major enemies.
MINNIE: Oh, fie on that Lance Morrow. Fie. (Knit one, purl two...)
B: The slaughter in Syria is a direct result of Putin's reliance on utilitarian lying.
MINNIE: You got that right.
MINNIE: I mean, your lordship says sooth.
B: That's more like it. Anyway, I'm sorry, Minnie, but the last thing we need is for a respected essayist such as Lance to attempt to provide a philosophical veneer to Trump's undermining of the values of Western society.
MINNIE: Knit three, purl four...
B: Yes, all leaders may lie sometimes, but that's no reason to green-light lying. Under the same logic, we may as well all start sinning 'to beat the band,' since all of us sin sometimes.
MINNIE: Oh, fie on this -- what did you call him again? -- this Lance Morrow of yours. Oh, fie.
B: Thanks, Minnie. I knew I found a winner when you replied to my advert for a 17th-century chambermaid.
MINNIE: Why, your worship!
B: Honesty, Minnie: we've got to aspire to that in public leadership, or the future is a bleak one full of cynical leaders manipulating jaded flocks into needless confrontations, based on the flawed assumption that survival is a zero-sum game.
MINNIE: Left sock: darned.
B: Left sock darned? Well, Trump be darned, when it comes to that, Minnie. Donald Trump be darned!
MINNIE: Nay, but your worship is such a kidder.
B: What would I do without you, Minnie?
MINNIE: Well, you'd probably just imagine a younger maid servant of the 21st century, with sinuous leg and ample bosom--
Announcer: AND NOW, THE WEBMASTER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, BRIAN BALLARD QUASS III.
Prez: Right. Please withhold all abject adulation until I finish holding forth.
Reporter: Oh, rats.
Prez: And that goes double for all the stiff ceremonial obeisance. What am I, some kind of demigod from an HP Lovecraft yarn?
[reporters laugh knowingly, especially all the Lovecraft-heads]
Prez: As you know, I have recently proposed that everyone on earth be given one or more strategic doses of psilocybin, or a related entheogen (including the pseudo-entheogen MDMA), in order to eradicate the devastating hatred that has bloodied the pages of history ever since history itself was invented...
[loud cheering, worryingly intermixed with a few deprecating jeers]
Prez: ...to cut it off at the source by putting everyone in touch with the oneness of life, with our fundamental connectedness with nature, and with the ontological primacy of love.
Although I'm thrilled and encouraged by the loud cheering, I'd like to address those in the audience who have just seen fit to regale me with deprecating jeers.
[more deprecating jeers, as if in sullen defiance of the Webmaster's unexpected "calling out" of the apparently shameless naysayers]
People always say that authors of radical proposals have the burden of proof.
But I beg to differ, at least in this case, since the status quo of Homo sapiens, or rather their customary MO, is nothing but wars wars wars and barbarism, and to continue with this fuming hatred in our hearts, in a world full of biological and nuclear weapons on a hair trigger, is indefensible if you ask me, and hence those wishing to confront my solution should be obliged to tell me how they expect human civilization to even survive without implementing the plan that I am outlining here today.
Questions. Yes, you?
Reporter 1: First, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for inventing this useful and telling literary format by which you briefly assume the mantel of presidency in order to admonish and advise the recalcitrant Zeitgeist on its manifold follies.
Prez: Well, listen, I don't know about you, but when a prominent species such as Homo sapiens (of which I myself am a card-carrying member) is hell-bent on destroying itself, not to mention the planet upon which it resides, I think I have an obligation to speak up.
Reporter 1: Word.
Prez: And if it takes the creation of a whole new genre of literature in order to do so effectively, color me Kafka.
Reporter 2: Kafka, sir?
Prez: That's SIR Kafka to you, Bob. Bob Sawyer, ladies and gentlemen, of CBS News. You go, Bob.
Reporter 2: Why, I--
Prez: I mean, take Arkansas, for instance. It was almost turned into a radioactive crater in 1980 thanks to the accidental explosion of a nuclear-tipped Titan missile. (Hello? Does the Damascus Incident ring a bell? Or am I the only one here who read 'Command and Control' by Eric Schlosser -- or who at least saw the movie by Robert Kenner?) Fortunately, had the bomb itself exploded, the millions of dead and injured would at least have had the consolation that they were killed by friendly fire.
Report 2: Meaning, sir? Meaning?
Prez: Meaning (smarty pants) that humanity has to give up its reliance on murderous weaponry in order to survive, and there's only one realistic way to close Pandora's Box on the nightmares of nuclear technology.
Reporter 2: And that would be?
Prez: To change the hearts of humanity.
Reporter 3: Ahh! Hence your call for the mass use of entheogens to remind the world, one person at a time, that they are, in some sense, one and that the primary good is love.
Prez: Right. You done stole my thunder there, Peter, with that spot-on wrap-up, but right all the same. Peter Jennings, ladies and gentlemen, ABC News.
Reporter 4: But how do we proceed?
Prez: First, we take plants off of the Schedule 1 list of the DEA, who have stupidly (and in the face of thousands of years of evidence) maintained that psilocybin (for instance) has no therapeutic value whatsoever. (Imagine making plants illegal! The very idea!)
Emcee: Sir, I think we're out of time.
Prez: Plant medicines have inspired the creation of entire religions. The vedic religion was founded to worship the cosmic insights of a plant medicine -- the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian Mysteries were frequented for 2,000 straight years by such western luminaries as Plato and Plutarch, and the mesoAmerican religions were all about the inspiring states created by the ritual use of mushrooms.
Prez: No therapeutic value, indeed!
Emcee: Sir, we're out of time.
Prez: Tell me about it. If we don't quash inborn hatred and mistrust in Homo sapiens (especially, truth be told, in the male of that species), the whole world will be out of time -- as in kerplooey!
Reporter 3: Kerplooey, sir?
Prez: Yes, Charlayne. Kerplooey. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, ladies and gentlemen, the PBS NewsHour. You go, girl.
Prez: And so do I, come to think of it -- go, that is -- secure in the knowledge that I have given humanity the answer to its long-term survival. Now let's just hope that humanity takes my idea on board and gives it a first class seat on the high-speed train of progress.
Hey, what gives? It says right here on my index cards that I should pause for thunderous applause at this point.
Great. Now there are even crickets chirping. Where is all the abject adulation when I need it?
[modest tittering, scattered applause]
Looks like I'm gonna have to settle for a little modest tittering and scattered applause, huh? Oh, get outta here, you knuckleheads! And go in peace, hear? Otherwise kerplooey, yes? Otherwise pea-pickin' kerplooey!
EDITORS NOTE: You'll notice that even the term "stoned" in the title of this post is pejorative. It is a drug warrior term designed to mock the mystical states produced by plant medicine.
A long-overdue satire that slams the DEA for having anything whatsoever to do with determining if a religion is true or not -- a role that betrays the Christian Science metaphysics of the drug war.
In granting exceptions to the laws prohibiting use of psychedelics, the DEA makes exceptions for religious practices that they determine to be genuine. This raises an interesting question: how precisely does the DEA determine something that even great philosophers across the ages have been unable to agree upon, namely, which religions are genuine and why?
Not to worry. I have uncovered a government form that is apparently used by the DEA to make precisely the sort of metaphysical determinations mentioned above. So, theologians, take note: Here's what the DEA will be looking for should you ever happen to adhere to a religious belief whose ceremonials involve the use of plant life that the DEA has seen fit to criminalize.
DEA Form 8011-B-C-1
Guidelines for determining the veracity of a religious belief
In determining the authenticity of a religious belief, the DEA agent in charge should consider the following points:
1) Is the claimant snickering at any time during the application process? If so, claim should ordinarily be rejected-- since we all know that real religion is a serious matter.
2) Is the claimant prone to excessive partying? This is often a red flag indicating that the exception seeker equates religion with hedonism, which again is against the Protestant Ethic -- er, I mean, the U.S. Government's ethical code of conduct, of course.
3) Does the claimant's religion accept (or plan to accept) "worshipers" from out of state? This is often a red flag, since it is well known that real religions -- with the possible exception of Rock Church -- are somewhat stodgy, formal affairs that are unlikely to inspire long-distance fidelity in the absence of questionable incentives. This in turn suggests that a large percentage of such a "church's" commuters will be winking lasciviously en route, salivating in anticipation of a tawdry "high," rather than rejoicing in the Blood of Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, without whom -- er, I mean as just one bona fide above-board REAL honest-to-God religious example, of course.
4) Does the claimant harp on and on about the fact that alcohol is addictive and kills thousands of people every year while we at the DEA are criminalizing plants that have been used for centuries in therapeutic ceremonies? Does he or she point out that LSD was used successfully to cure alcoholics, by no less a person than Bill Wilson himself of AA, before we in our wisdom shut down such therapies? Does the claimant dare to point out that the DEA permits the peddling of highly addictive anti-depressants by BIG PHARMA, while we are shutting down research on non-addictive alternatives from nature? If so, politely remind the claimant that it is our job to determine THEIR morality, thank them very much, not the other way around.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't know about the author (one Brian Hieronymus Quass) but the DEA is already banning my religion. I hold with Plato that the unexamined life is not worth living. You remember Plato, the philosopher who took part in the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian Mysteries. And I believe that God-send plant medicine (as per the Bible itself) is GOOD -- and that we can learn lessons from the wise use of its psychoactively provided insights. For the DEA to block me in pursuing this faith, this belief about ultimate reality, is a clear violation of my right to religious practice. The DEA is telling me: "No, there is no truth or value in those 'insights'" -- but that is a religious claim made by Mary Baker Eddy. I do not believe it. Plato did not believe it. Marcus Aurelius did not believe it. Benjamin Franklin did not believe it. And it is pure religious persecution to persecute me for believing it.
Wake up, America: the drug war is a religious war -- a war by Christians and materialists who insist that I not be allowed to see and experience the world differently from them. Oh, I can still read about doing so, but in the ultimate religious tyranny, I am not allowed to experience the truths and insights that I value. Why not? Because the "religious experts" known as the DEA will tell me that my religion, my faith, my understanding of ultimate realities, is not legitimate.
Nor is this a new tyranny. When Emperor Theodosius II banned the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian Mysteries in 392 BC (after 2000 years of inspiring great thinkers), he did so because he considered it to be a threat to Christianity. Like modern racist politicians, he was horrified that others were allowed to see the world through other than Christian lenses.
This is why the drug war does not crack down on alcohol and cigarettes -- because they are Christian drugs.
In a sane world, a drug warrior -- should they feel compelled to exist -- would break down doors to arrest alcohol and tobacco users, remove them from the voting rolls, kick them out of public housing, confiscate their homes and businesses and throw them in prisons that are already overcrowded with the victims of the racially and religiously motivated war on godsend plant medicine.
How the fall and rise of Willie Nelson conduces to salubrious reflections on the fickleness of fate
Did you know that Willie Nelson failed to make a living at music in the '60s and even decided to retire from the entertainment business altogether by the early '70s for his want of success in the field? I kid you not. Willie Nelson was once only a legend in his own mind, if that. (Mercy on us!) There's got to be a moral in that story for struggling artists like ourselves. Don't you think? Here, have a coffee whilst I dilate at full on the consolatory reflections implicit in this biographical bombshell. (One lump or two, dawg? As in woof!)
What saved the Red Headed Stranger, musically speaking, was that he happened to move to Austin during his "retirement," at which point he soon discovered that Texas fans couldn't get enough of him. He must have been dumbfounded at the wholesale change in the way in which he was being perceived by the crowd. He must have been like, "Really? Are you guys SURE about these standing ovations? Because to be honest with you, back home, the only time they stood up was when they were fixin' to leave the tawdry bar that I was playing in. You might wish to reconsider this unwonted admiration. I don't know, uh... maybe you're making some kind of mistake or other?"
It might even have crossed his mind that this was all a cruel hoax being played by these new so-called "fans" of his, and that at some point one of them was surely going to come clean and shout: "Willie, we love you! NOT!!!!" At which point, the rest of the crowd would purse their vindictive lips to send spluttering raspberries in the direction of the publicly pranked songster.
But no, the fans were like, "No, Willie, stop looking behind you, dawg, we are clapping for YOU, my good sir! You!"
And Willie's like: "Danged, so I'm a country icon then, am I? Who knew? Clearly not the tone-deaf louts who haunted the lion's share of my former venues!"
Now, as for the consolatory reflections that arise from the sober contemplation of this fraught biography -- especially in the minds of frustrated musicians like ourselves -- what can I say? It's clear that a musician's failure in the world is sometimes (why mince words?) the fault of the audience. (Yes, I'm talking to you, you despotic event attendees and frequenters of tawdry bars! Humph! No one died and made you sole arbiter of talent!) Just imagine the dimwits that pooh-poohed the original musical assays of the Red Headed Stranger. So much for the wisdom of the crowd. Willie Nelson shows us that they can be wrong -- in spades!
Comforting, n'est-pas, from the point of view of musicians like ourselves whose talent has yet to be comprehended, let alone sufficiently appreciated by the mob. Just remember Willie.
Meanwhile, a word of advice to the rare well-wishers in our otherwise indifferent audiences:
Don't just tell us that our time will come, but tell us rather that our crowd will come as well! Fair enough? (I thought so.)
Now then, more coffee, fellow struggler? No? How about another lump, dawg? (Yes? No? Woof?)
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE RISE FOR THE MOVIE GOER OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Good afternoon. You may be seated -- except for that wiseguy in the back row who never stood up in the first place. Humph! Guards, off with his head! That's it, chop-chop, with malice aforethought, even!
The very idea!
Now, where was I? Oh, yes.
As you know, I recently watched the 2015 movie entitled "The Visit" via FandangoNow using my new Roku device.
REPORTER: Is that the Roku Express Media Player, sir, or the so-called Ultra TV doohickey?
MOVIE GOER: Let's please hold all questions until I complete my opening statement. However, now that you mention it, I used that little stick device that you plug into the back of your TV screen.
REPORTER: Oh, that's the Express Streaming Media Player, then.
MOVIE GOER: If you say so. Anyway, the movie was directed by M. Night Shananaman.
MOVIE GOER: I mean, M. Night Shazzamalan
MOVIE GOER: M. Night Sham-a-lam-a-ding-dong?
REPORTER: Oh! You mean the India-born M. Night Shyamalan of Sixth Sense fame.
MOVIE GOER: What HE said, folks. Anyway, the film is about a couple kids who visit their grandparents at the behest of their mother, while the divorced parent is away on a sea cruise with her new love interest.
REPORTER 1: Excuse me, sir! Weren't the kids' names Becca and Tyler and weren't they played by Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould respectively?
MOVIE GOER: Well, I--
REPORTER 2: And weren't the grandparents called Nana and Pop Pop, and weren't THEY played by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, respectively?
MOVIE GOER: Listen, if you guys know so much about the movie, why don't YOU give my opening statement instead?!!
REPORTER 3: OK. Well, first of all, the mother has been estranged from her grandparents for some years.
REPORTER 4: Yes, and the character Becca is making a documentary about the grandparents with the idea of bringing the parties back together through mutual understanding.
MOVIE GOER: I was joking, guys. The Constitution of the United States clearly states that the Movie Goer in Chief (videlicet myself) shall summarize the movies during his State of the Movie addresses.
REPORTER 5: Sorry, sir.
REPORTER 6: Yes, please, go ahead, Mr. Movie Goer.
MOVIE GOER: What's the point now? You guys have given away the whole plot. Fooey!
REPORTER 7: What about the surprise twist?
MOVIE GOER: Oh, yes, that was wild, wasn't it?
REPORTER 8: Word.
MOVIE GOER: But I am not about to spoil the movie for the great American public by divulging the shocking twist in question.
REPORTER 9: What about the rating?
MOVIE GOER: Well, seeing as my opening statement has been prematurely terminated thanks to your smart-aleck meddling, I might as well answer your questions now.
REPORTERS: Ooh! Ooh! Me, me!
MOVIE GOER: As of November 25, 2017, the film had a rating of 6.2 after 88,661 votes on the Internet Movie Database.
REPORTER 10: Do you agree with that rating, sir?
MOVIE GOER: Look, this was a real shocker for yours truly, thanks to the plot twist.
REPORTER 10: Yes?
MOVIE GOER: So I don't see where the movie-going public gets off rating this baby a 6.
REPORTER 10: I see.
MOVIE GOER: I would have thought an 8, at the least.
REPORTERS: Me! Me! Over here! Ooh! Ooh!
MOVIE GOER: That's all the time I have time for, folks.
REPORTER: But, Mr. Movie Goer, what about the fact that the amount of the snow on the Pennsylvania countryside varies dramatically from day to day?
MOVIE GOER: I see someone's been reading the IMDB "goofs" section.
REPORTER: And what about the way that the kid and the conductor (one Samuel Stricklen) rapped together on the Amtrak train. Wasn't that cool?
MOVIE GOER: No further comment.
REPORTER: Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me!
MOVIE GOER: Yes, Helen.
REPORTER: One last question: What was the movie's tagline?
MOVIE GOER: I believe it was, "No one loves you like your grandparents."
REPORTER: But is it not true that the movie was originally to be called "Sundowning," sir?
MOVIE GOER: Please direct all further questions to IMDB. I've got more movies to watch, folks.
Proposed: that ugliness is in the eyes (and nose) of the beholder
I just had a terrible thought: What if beauty and ugliness were truly relative, in the Einsteinian sense that there is no one fixed standard of beauty in the universe. Instead, beauty can be definitively defined only in a given reference frame (read "by a specific species"). In other words, the 'slave's offal' of which Hamlet speaks could look and smell like daisies, provided only that the sensing mechanism of a given species was so constructed as to make it appear so.
Before you pooh-pooh the idea, you must ask yourself: What is the ontological nature of "ugliness." Indeed, is there an ontological nature of such a quality? Surely a wallowing pig does not consider mud to be ugly; surely a lumbering bullock is not repelled by the occasional cow paddy. Why not? Because they have not been either physiologically or psychologically equipped to make that judgment.
Take me, for instance. I can't imagine a critter any more disgusting than a cockroach -- indeed, I'm wincing even as I type this -- but speaking philosophically, we must ask ourselves: is the roach's (to us) prima facie ugliness a case of simple (relative) ugliness, or is it Ugliness writ large: i.e., does the entomological eyesore possess some quality or qualities that inherently stamp it as ugly for all time, regardless of the psychological or physiological makeup of the intelligent being that claps eyes on it? Or can we not imagine some self-reflecting species who possess a different or expanded set of sense organs, such that the cockroach strikes them as (Lord help us...) cute???
Well, go ahead: talk amongst yourselves! (Yes, this WILL be on the test, folks!)
THIS POST FOR DUMMIES: What Brian is really askin' (ya numbskull) is: "Is there an ontological basis for ugliness or is it a contingently determined quality?" The human being's visceral disgust for certain creatures and substances would suggest the former while the scarab beetle's blithe acceptance of dung would suggest the latter. Get it NOW, dum-dum? (Honestly!)
Author reveals the untenable philosophical message of the movie John Q. and offers an alternative ending in which John's own son takes his father to task for acting immorally.
Despite all the on-cue cheering from the crowd, John Q is a piece of irresponsible agitprop (especially for a movie released in 2002, one year after 9/11) that sanctions vengeance, mob rule and anarchy.
Denzel Washington as Terrorist in John Q
How many patient and law-abiding parents did John Q leap-frog in order to get immediate care for HIS offspring? (Talk about the 'selfish gene'!) Of course, writer James Kearns makes it all work out for the best -- to the point that the hospital actually seems to run better when it's being lorded over by a hothead with a gun. But then Kearns had improbably staffed the hospital with a fiendish administrator who was a cross between Eva Braun and Anne Robinson of the Weakest Link -- for which the script writer, incidentally, owes an apology to the vast majority of hospital administrators who (agitprop notwithstanding) actually have a heart -- and are forced to work within restraints that are for the overall benefit of everybody and shouldn't be subject to veto by any angry parent with a firearm.
John Q Memorial Hospital: First gun, first served
I could tolerate this film if John Q had shown any repentance at all, ever -- but far from it, he rides off into the sunset (to an incredibly short stint in the pokey) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face -- apparently totally uninterested in the fate of the sniper whom he gratuitously sucker punched so hard as to likely cause internal bleeding that could easily lead to death in real life -- possibly depriving that sniper's son of a father. But then John Q has made it clear all along that he's not interested in "sons" in the abstract: he just cares about his own son, thank you very much.
If I could have rewritten the movie, I would have ended it with the grown Mike (now enrolled in college) chastising his father as follows:
Mike: "Dad, I'm grateful for you saving my life, but..."
Dad: "But what, son?"
Mike: "Well, it's just that I've been reading Immanuel Kant in philosophy class and...."
Dad: "You've been reading WHAT?"
Mike: "And I fail to see how your actions square with the Categorical Imperative."
Dad: "Look, you got a new heart son: be happy."
Mike: (after a moment of frustrated silence) "Dad, have you ever even HEARD of the word 'ignoble'???"
Dad: "Enough with the 50-cent words, son. Now how are you fixed for money? I'm sure that college expenses add up."
Mike: "I'm doing fine, Dad."
Dad: "Are you sure?"
Mike: "I'm sure."
Dad: "'Cause just say the word, and I'll take hostages at the nearest bank until they loan you the necessary do-re-mi."
Mike: "Dad, I'm an adult now: I can live my OWN life, thanks."
Dad: "You're right, son: If the bank needs robbing, I'm sure you know how to fend for yourself."
Dad: "After all, you learned from an expert -- if I do say so myself."
What have we learned?
Questions for further discussion
Was John Q a terrorist? (A: You betcha.)
Would Immanuel Kant have "signed off," morally speaking, on John Q's behavior? (A: Obviously not. I mean, hello. Can somebody say categorical imperative?)
Does John Q owe the sniper an apology for sucker-punching him (multiple times, even)? (A: You're darn tootin'. I mean, hello? The guy was just doing his job, trying to protect innocent women and children from what to any neutral outsider had to look like a grade-A psychopath.)
This post is obviously approaching the movie "John Q" from a completely novel angle that is fraught with fascinating philosophical implications. What are the chances, therefore, that this post will be 'bigged-up' online?
(A: I should LIVE so long! Humph! -- or YOU should live so long, for that matter! DOUBLE humph!)
John Q Logic Problems
John Q recently had a very busy week. Each day he had a different grievance with society that called for immediate resolution through the medium of threats and intimidation. Using only the info found below, can you determine the nature of each grievance, the threats he made to resolve it, the weapon that he used to back up his threat, and the ridiculously short sentence that he ultimately received in court for the wrong-doing in question?
1) It was not on Wednesday that John Q threatened the Food Store manager with a knife.
2) John Q threatened the clinic nurse (but not with a gun) the day after he threatened the bank guard (but not with a canister of the Ebola virus).
3) John Q served no time for threatening the bureaucrat with a gun but served a full 4 days for the threat carried out on Thursday.
4) John Q threatened the sharpshooter with either a tactical nuclear weapon or a bottle of weapons-grade anthrax.
5) The bureaucrat was not threatened with a gun.
6) The anthrax was put to work the day before the gun was used.
7) John Q got a tougher sentence for the threat using the tactical nuke than he did for the Ebola threat, which was tougher than the sentence for the Anthrax threat (which was not made on Tuesday).
8) The manager was not threatened on Friday and the bureaucrat was not threatened on Monday or Wednesday.
Keyword Prayer to Father Google
Dear All-Powerful Google,
We come before you today recognizing that we are nothing without you. We therefore beseech visibility for this our philosophically minded post about the movie called John Q Public that was released in 2002 (the movie I mean, not the post) starring Denzel Washington and written by James Kearns. We remind you that the producer was a certain Nick Cassavetes, whom, as you may recall, later went on to perpetrate 'The Astronaut's Wife' and 'Hangover Part II'. Forgive both Nick and James for implausibly casting the otherwise lovely Larissa Laskin as a recalcitrant Nazi nurse (Ellen Klein, a sort of Irish Dr. Mengele), when all the hospital staff, Ellen included, were really trying to do was give the best possible shake to every single patient, not just those who, in the vehemence of their familial discomfiture, were packing heat. And finally, O Google, remind Herr Kearns, his obvious Marxist leanings notwithstanding, that it is not yet a crime in America to enjoy a round of golf of a weekend, even if one has committed the faux pas of being a middle-upper-class white bureaucrat who is loath to drop everything to attend to the needs of one solitary patient, never mind how much of a hip persona that he might thereby acquire in the eyes of the rabble that are surrounding the grounds of his health care employer at that very moment, irresponsibly protesting in favor of the untenable doctrine that "might makes right," and that the mere possession of a Saturday Night Special allows a distraught father to leap-frog the often equally pressing medical needs of his grieving patriarchal counterparts -- let alone to race off actually smirking about his crime after getting a ridiculously short sentence from a judge, never mind the fact that John has, in the process of his armed moral showboating, probably consigned a 100% law-abiding fellow citizen (who no doubt ALSO had a son) to a painful life in a wheelchair.