Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kazoo Who?

My Fellow Comedists,

The funniest of all instruments is the kazoo. But what is it that accounts for its humorousness? Is it that it takes no talent or training to play? Is it the flatulence-like sound? Is it that it looks like an instrument, but is found among novelty-items? Whatever the source, enjoy a couple of samplings of the legendary Temple City Kazoo Orchestra.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Innies/Outies Ratio

The conversation turned to belly buttons yesterday and relative proportion of innies to outies in the population at large. The entire family is comprised of innies which seemed to give anecdotal evidence to the claim that most people are innies. How great is the disparity? I've been able to find no good data. So, how many of each are among this community. Let me be clear that this is indeed a safe space for outies, so please do not hesitate to out yourself if your navel is already out as well.

As a left-hander, I know that righties often don't understand what it is like to be left-handed in a right-handed world. Walk into a college classroom, for example, and the desks are almost entirely right-handed which makes you sit funny and have to crane your neck. Are there similar parts of life as an outie that us innies never considered?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Overhead of Contemporary Life

I was listening to an NPR discussion concerning the entry of the music service Spotify into the U.S. market. The basic service is free, but to have the capabilities that any real music fan would want, there is a monthly fee -- of course. It led me to think of all the things we pay for now that were not fees a couple of generation ago, monthly payments that are just a part of contemporary life. Time was it consisted of rent/mortgage, a gas and electric bill, and a phone bill. Then cable/satellite tv came along. Then the cell phone bill. Now, there seems to be so much more.

I'll admit that we're adopters and so we don't incur charges everyone else does. I've never sent a text message, the kids don't have a wii or any other sort of video game thing, I have no ipod or ipad or iphone, no e-reader, we don't subscribe to Netflix, TheWife still uses a film camera and a video camera that is vhs, and we only have one small television in the basement. When the short people have friends come over, they think we're half Amish. We like to say it is because we are thoughtful of defending ourselves from the effects of creeping technology, but it's really because TheWife is a technophobe and I'm just cheap.

So, I'll need some help enumerating the fees that are commonplace now that were not a part of life, say 25 years ago.

Here's a start:

Cell phone bill
High speed internet connection fee
Cable/satellite tv service
Netflix subscription

Has pay radio of the XM variety caught on? Would it need to be added to the list? What else is part of the standard overhead of this American life today?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Does Sex Necessary Sell?

An old advertising truism is that sex sells, but is it necessarily true? Is it a function of wanting what one does not have? Is the ability for suggestive images to sell products a function of satisfaction? If more people were satisfied with the sexual aspects of their lives, would it lose or diminish this power? Or is it simply a reflection of our psyches as sexual beings? Will this post generate more traffic simply by having the word "sex" in the title?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's the Difference: Castle, Palace, Estate

One of my favorite Moxy Fruvous lyrics includes the phase "palatial palace." It came back to me as I was helping the short people build a sand castle last week and we had a rousing discussion of what makes a castle. So, I figured I'd bring everyone else in on it. What is the difference between a castle, a palace, and an estate?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dueling Vast Right-Wing Conspircacies

Hilary Clinton was blasted for claiming that there was a "vast right-wing conspiracy" out there attempting to undermine the Clinton Administration's ability to govern. It is a phrase that comes to mind looking at the world this week.

Norway had its version of the Oklahoma City bombing with twin attacks masterminded by a "a right-wing fundamentalist Christian and a gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threats of multiculturalism". As the far right gains power in parliaments throughout Europe and center right parties run on watered down, wink-wink, versions of the same nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric, how was this horrible tragedy not an inevitability?

But what is even more worrisome is that in the manifesto he wrote before the murders, the Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik claimed to be part of an international group bent on violent overthrow in the name of their right-wing cause.

The manifesto, entitled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," equates liberalism and multiculturalism with "cultural Marxism," which the document says is destroying European Christian civilization.

The document also describes a secret meeting in London in April 2002 to reconstitute the Knights Templar, a Crusader military order. It says nine representatives of eight European countries, evidently including Mr. Breivik, with an additional three members unable to attend, attended the meeting, including a "European-American."

The document does not name the attendees or say whether they were aware of Breivik's planned attacks, though investigators presumably will now try to determine if the people exist and what their connection is to Breivik.

Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism specialist at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said the manifesto bears an eerie resemblance to those of Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders, though from a Christian rather than a Muslim point of view.

"It seems to be an attempt to mirror Al Qaeda, exactly in reverse," Hegghammer said.

But while there is the populist racist brand of right-wing conspiracy in the headlines, it exists alongside the corporate control of government brand of right-wing conspiracy. Rupert and James Murdoch's conservative papers helped British Prime minister David Cameron get into 10 Downing street and as a thank you, they've been allowed incredible access, to the point of allowing them to govern -- they wanted the BBC neutered and Cameron has obeyed, starting the process. They wanted the British media oversight commission, their version of the FCC abolished and Cameron has initiated the changes. Add to that, that they controlled elements of Scotland Yard and you have something pretty darn scary. We look at developing nations and tsk-tsk over the level of corruption in their governments, but if you look at the corporate control of Western democracies, it seems that we're really just calling them amateurs. "C'mon, you call THAT a bribe?"

But what is interesting is that in the U.S., we are seeing these two vast right-wing conspiracies clash. We have the populist wing in the tea partiers pulling one way and the corporate side in the guise of Wall Street pulling the other on the question of the debt ceiling. Republican leaders are not sure which of these conspiracies to obey and as a result have looked ridiculous hopping in irrational circles as the nation sits on the precipice of financial despair. While they cause substantial damage when they cooperate, it seems that they do the same when they don't.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Snark Attack

My Fellow Comedists,

I'm worried. We'll be on the road Sunday, driving home from Vermont. Usually no big deal, but a good deal of of the trip will take us through New York State. New York State on Sunday -- as hundreds upon hundreds of gay and lesbian couples will be getting married, we will be right there, me and TheWife, just trying to go home as the very institution of marriage crumbles beneath us. I need help. I need strategies. My nukular family will be experiencing the social and moral equivalent of Y2K. I'm thinking that we need to go incognito, so I've brought along a plaid flannel shirt for TheWife and a cd of show tunes to keep me calm and distracted. Sure, the world will end in 2012, but that leaves us a full year to worry about. Give me a hand, friends, aside from visiting Michelle Bachmann's husband, what can we do?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vacuous Highway Signs?

Has anyone ever seen fallen rock in a fallen rock area? What about speed enforcement from aircraft? The amount of money in fines seems small compared to what it would cost to put these enforcement aircraft in the air. Never struck me as likely despite the plethora of signs for it one sees.

I've always hated the signs in Pennsylvania that tell you "bridge may be icy." First of all, it's 94 degrees out; no, bridge will not be icy. But the construction itself is all but tautological. Bridge may be icy, then again, it may not. It tells you nothing. Elsewhere they let you know "bridge freezes before road," a fact whose relevance you are left to detemrine, but a fact nonetheless. But "bridge may be icy" not so much.

Are there other signs which warn you of hazards that may be less than hazardous?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Howl and the Power of Poetry

Just watched "Howl" and highly recommend it. James Franco is amazing as Allen Ginsberg and the film is an absolute delight. I, with a deep love of the Beats, and TheWife, who had no sense of their work or history, both just loved it.

Focusing on the trial of Ferlinghetti for publishing Howl and Other Poems, it makes you wonder whether a poem today could still have the cultural effect that Ginsberg's "Howl" did. Perhaps as lyrics to a popular song, but as a poem? Is the culture just different or could a poem still capture the society in the same way?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's the Matter with Virginia?

Took the short people to Williamsburg, Virginia the other weekend. For so much of American history in the colonial and post-colonial era, Virginia was the wealthiest and most powerful state. More Presidents have been born in Virginia than any other state. Four of the first five Presidents were born in Virginia.

But now, the state has little in terms of national power. It does not have a metropolitan area capable of supporting a sports team in any sport -- heck, even Buffalo and Oklahoma City have sports teams. Why has Virginia faded?

True, about a third of its land was taken away when West Virginia was formed, but it's not like West Virginia had the resources that makes it a real player (what it does have Robert Byrd imported to it). Yes, it was powerful when the U.S. was an agrarian society while the north had a head start in industrializing, but there are any number of of post-industrialization power centers in the country. Yes, it suffered during and after the Civil War, but so did Atlanta.

So, why is Virginia no longer the player it was in American politics?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

8-Tracks of the Future

The shorter of the short people wants desperately to make a call from a phone booth. He's seen them in old movies and really wants to try one, as if it is some exotic phenomenon. Payphones are simply pointless when everyone has a cellphone.

I drive by the vacant shells of several former video rental stores on my way into the office each day. Yes, in these difficult economic times, many businesses have gone under, but what we are seeing here is not just a player going away, but an entire industry. Video rental places will be things of the past. Netflix and on-line delivery will make them unnecessary.

I recently past the place where Chick's Records used to be. I cannot tell you how many hours of my teenager years I spent looking through boxes of discount albums upstairs at Chick's. But with downloads becoming the delivery means of choice, it seems that music stores will become cultural dinosaurs. As we bid a sad adieu to Borders, will Amazon make this true of bookstores in general as well?

What else that has been a normal part of life in our culture is doomed to fade away in the not so distant future?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Isn't Violence Considered Pornographic?

It's interesting that the newest purity pledge being required of Republican presidential candidates includes an anti-pornography element. By "pornography," what they intend is surely images of nudity or sexual activity designed to arouse. But why do we segregate off these images from violent images designed to arouse? If you watch movies, television, even cartoons designed for children, there are weapons aplenty. People are killed or injured viciously and as long as it is "good guys" shooting "bad guys," it is deemed morally innocuous. But if we replaced one instance of violence with the image of a nipple, people go bonkers. I'm not arguing that we should be showing children nude bodies in their entertainment, but wondering why we don't have the same worries about showing them depictions of violence when a predilection towards acting in such ways does cause significantly more harm in the real world to real people than would running around without clothes (with a high SPF sunscreen because sunburns, especially on sensitive areas, can lead ultimately to melanoma).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Masterpiece Cheese

My Fellow Comedists,

This week, we lost another behind the scenes comedic mind. Sherwood Schwartz passed away. He began as an accidental writer for Bob Hope -- he was working on a masters degree in biology and needed some cash, so his brother got him the gig. When his jokes hit, he turned to writing for the radio, working on Ozzie and Harriet and the Red Skelton Show. When tv came along, he created two all-time classics, Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. His worked shaped the modern tv sit-com, indeed, you could look at the majority of contemporary sit-coms as some sort of twist on Schwartz' formula.

But what is most interesting is his vision for Gilligan's Island,

“I knew that by assembling seven different people and forcing them to live together, the show would have great philosophical implications,” he told Time magazine in 1995. “On a much larger scale this happens all the time. Eventually, the Israelis are going to have to learn to live with the Arabs. We have one world, and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was my way of saying that.”

“A social microcosm,” he called it when he pitched the idea to CBS founder William Paley, who shuddered at the description, according to Mr. Schwartz’s 1994 memoir, “Inside Gilligan’s Island.”

“It’s a funny microcosm!” Mr. Schwartz reassured him.
This notion of the televised "social microcosm" is the basis for all of reality tv and it traces back to the Skipper and his little buddy. Sadly, the formula, however, has become one in which you try to create the sort of ill-will that one sees in the Middle East instead of watching the ways in which it can play itself out constructively.

His work was described by Robert J. Thompson, a professor of popular culture and television at Syracuse University as "masterpiece cheese." It was cheesy, kitchy, and campy to the extreme. But it was honestly so. Now, we have characters who have to be snarky and sarcastic to be funny. In a post-Watergate/post-Seinfeld world, could a simple comedy like The Brady Bunch still be possible?

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Shuttle Program and Re-Internationalization of Science

With the last shuttle mission half over, it is interesting to think about the results of the space shuttle program.

During the first half of the 20th century, science was political. There was a reason why the Nazis were decrying the theory of relativity as "Jewish science." One of the cultural meanings of "Jewish" at the time was internationalist. Just as those on the right side of the political spectrum were and are strong nationalists, so those on the left had/have a strong impulse to unite across boundaries, a pluralistic instinct. Science was seen not only as moving human knowledge forward, but also as providing a template for a general approach to being. Science knew no boundaries. The great advances were the combined efforts of French and German scientists, cooperation that would seem unfathomable in other endeavors. Liberals, socialists, and communists looked to science to show new ways of crossing old boundaries. Nationalists who insisted that the boundaries were real and necessary because they are part of explaining why we (whether the we turned out to be the Germans, Americans, French, British,...) are superior to others, were thereby hostile to science, its results and practices.

But the Cold War changed this. After the Manhattan Project, science took on a new light. When Kennedy inaugurated the space race, it was not just military hardware, but general scientific pursuits that became nationalized. This is not say that science stopped being international in scope or method, but what the moon shot did was to make the scientific image into one of national pride and patriotism. Every rocket, every space suit of every astronaut had the flag prominently emblazoned on it. NASA's pursuit turned science from a symbol of international cooperation into one of exclusion and national superiority.

The shuttle program was the move beyond rockets. By making a reusable spacecraft that landed like a plane, it was meant to make spaceflight more accessible and common...and hopefully cheaper. But what it really made possible was a space station, a station that stopped the nationalist claims to space. The shuttle allowed for the possibility of an International Space Station, a platform designed, built, and for the use of nations across the globe. What the shuttles did was to re-internationalize the part of science that had become captured by the nationalists. It helped bring about the post-Cold War world, a world with a healthier view of science.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

All-Star Teams and the Fallacy of Composition

After the baseball all-star game, I started thinking about critical thinking. I use all-star teams as an example of the fallacy of composition which is the flawed argument that what is true of the parts must also be true of the whole. It is true that the all-star team in any sport has the best player at each position, but this does not necessarily mean that while the players making up the team are the best, that the team itself is also the best. You could have a line-up of prima donnas who do not have the right chemistry and all expect to be the star.

But while the whole does not necessarily partake of the properties of the parts, it could. So, given a choice between the championship team and the all-star team, which should one pick or in which cases would you select one or the other?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cycles of Abuse

So, yet another cyclist has been caught doping during the Tour de France. Is cycling dirtier than other sports or do we just hear more about the doping scandals? Track and field certainly has to be close, but is it more under control elsewhere or do it just seem to be?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Begat: Odd Family Connections

Today would be Josiah Wedgwood's 281st birthday. Known best as the potter who revolutionized the industrial production of pottery, but was also Charles Darwin's grandfather. There are a lot of unexpected familial relations both by birth and marriage. Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges, for example, was married to Congressman Barney Frank's cousin. What other unexpected familial relations do you know of?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Betty Ford's Contribution

Let us raise a glass to the memory of Betty Ford. Yes, a bad joke. What Betty Ford did is to bring the notion of addiction into a new cultural place. Before Betty Ford, the alcoholic was the drunk, someone dirty, unable to hold down a job, living in the gutter, a bum. The addict was one of THEM. Betty Ford was the one who really created a new social space for the addict to be thought of as one of us. Alcoholism and drug addiction went from being worthy of a complete condemnation of character, a chosen life of vice, to a medical issue, something that a respectable person could have contracted and requires professional attention to be dealt with. Think of the vocabulary of clinics and treatment that come from Betty Ford's work. When something is part of upper and upper-middle class white lives, it is normal and normal makes it value-neutral, something we symbolize with new terminology that sheds the old negative connotations. This shift has made it possible to diagnose and treat people who otherwise would have been driven into the shadows or living in denial. Betty Ford's legacy is one of health and possibility, one that has directly or indirectly helped many in this culture.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Funniest Play

My Fellow Comedists,

We took the short people to Williamsburg for a couple days and while there saw a production of a 17th century farce, Polly Honeycombe. They rolled. I mean full out belly-laughs.

So, this weekend, let's ask, what is the funniest play ever? For my money, it's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Live, laugh, and love,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 08, 2011

Live Music and Live Philosophy

What makes seeing music so much better than listening to it? It is the exact opposite with philosophy. Seeing a paper, you inevitably get lost, can't follow the details of the logic, and do not get the subtleties. For real appreciation, you need to carefully go over and over the written piece. Yet having the recording of a musical performance that you can find the detail and nuance doesn't do the same thing, it decreases the appreciation. Why?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

From the "Irony Can Be so Ironic" File

Hat tip to YKW on this one:

NY motorcyclist in helmet protest hits head, dies

(AP) – 2 days ago

ONONDAGA, N.Y. (AP) — A man riding bareheaded on one of about 550 motorcycles in an anti-helmet law rally lost control of his cycle, went over his handlebars, hit his head on the pavement and died, police said Sunday.

The motorcyclist, 55-year-old Philip A. Contos, likely would have survived the accident if he'd been wearing a helmet, state troopers said.

The accident happened Saturday afternoon in Onondaga, a town in central New York near Syracuse.
I'd say that these libertarian types can be so hard-headed, but that would be inapropriate.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Seeing America

While we're on a USA roll, we're thinking about car trips we'd like to take this summer with the short people. Looking at the Lucy-Desi museum in Jamestown, NY which is close to some big waterfall on the Canadian border people keep talking about. What are interesting places in the country -- anywhere in the country -- that would be fun to visit, especially ones many folks don't know about?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Reflecting on America

Coming off the 4th of July holiday, let's think about America. What is the most wonderful aspect of the country and what aspect is in the the greatest need for change?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

RIP Leonard Stern

My Fellow Comedists,

This week we lost one of the lesser known comic geniuses of our times. Leonard Stern passed away at age 87. He was the executive director and writer for Get Smart, he wrote the screenplays for Ma and Pa Kettle and Abbott and Costello films, he directed the George Burns movie Just You and Me, Kid, he wrote episodes of The Honeymooners, The Steve Allen Show, and the Phil Silvers Show.

But his greatest comedic achievement was the invention of MadLibs. The idea first came to him in high school. It reappeared when he was a writer on the Honeymooners and he asked his fellow writer Roger Price for an adjective to describe the nose of Ralph Kramden's boss, but before he could get out what he wanted the adjectives for, Roger started giving him random ones. The two found the situation hilarious among themselves and decided to write up short stories with missing words for a party they were going to. When it was a huge hit at the party, they saw the potential and the rest is comic history.

From all of us who ever went on long car trips or to camp, thank you Leonard Stern.

Live, love, and laugh,

Irreverend Steve

Friday, July 01, 2011

Holy Ghost, Batman

A theological plea today. I understand why the need is there to differentiate between God and Jesus, but what exactly is the Holy Ghost and what does it do that cannot be folded into the Father or the Son? When someone "feels the Spirit", why wouldn't this be a feeling of connectedness with the Father or Son or both? Is the Holy Spirit like school spirit in that way, only made into a metaphysical entity like a Platonic Form? Could someone clearly explain the theological role of the Holy Ghost and why the Trinity has to be a trinity?