21 August 2008

It's impossible to be mates with celebrities.

If only I knew some

I'm tempted to say I wholeheartedly agree with this alluring new heuristic, from Sathnan Sangera of the Times, except I don't know any celebrities, so how would I know?

It would probably be truer for me to say that I adhere to the smugly self satisfying belief that people who believe in the importance of celebrity are intellectually impoverished fashion victims. If I knew any celebrities who thought their celebrity was important to our relationship other than as an irritant, then I would find it hard to be their mate. And for the very reason that Mr Sangera speculates: they would be over sensitive to having the piss taken out of them for having feet of clay.

But what of his other suggested life lessons:

Never brush your teeth if you're dressed in black.
Don't trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.
Always put the shower curtain inside the bath.

Only the last one of these holds water for me. I obviously don't get out much, because I also don't know any blokes whose eyebrows meet in the middle, so I don't know about that one. And as for brushing when dressed in black, I'd be more inclined to suggest that this applies to one's hair than one's teeth, but that's probably more information than anyone really needs to know.

12 August 2008

Threalmic pseudism

Stephen Potter redux

ALDaily pointed me recently to a type of article I haven't seen for yonks: a self-mocking parody on the latest fads in pseudo intellectual one-upmanship. And here was me prematurely grieving at the apparent passing of this eternal game.

David Brooks in the New York Times writes:

" Dear Dr. Kierkegaard,

All my life I’ve been a successful pseudo-intellectual, sprinkling quotations from Kafka, Epictetus and Derrida into my conversations, impressing dates and making my friends feel mentally inferior. But over the last few years, it’s stopped working. People just look at me blankly. My artificially inflated self-esteem is on the wane.
What happened?

Existential in Exeter

Dear Existential,

It pains me to see so many people being pseudo-intellectual in the wrong way. It desecrates the memory of the great poseurs of the past. And it is all the more frustrating because your error is so simple and yet so fundamental.

You have failed to keep pace with the current code of intellectual one-upsmanship.

It's a tonic to read old Stephen Potter principles from my undergraduate days getting a re-working in our on-line universe. It was a partial throw back to when I first stumbled on Pseuds Corner, the apparently still extant pricker of pretensions in Private Eye.Brook's gambit is to proffer that today's status rules have reached a new meta-context. Instead of being in front of the pack by having adopted the latest technology or cool posture, you can only pretend to be in the race if you can claim to have already tried and abandoned such tiring triffles. Gattling-Fenn might well have approved. But they'd both be behind today's real game. To be truly one-up you have to be without anyone knowing.

08 August 2008

The curmudgeon's Olympics


The world will shortly simultaneously sit down to watch the same circus act together and feel the inner glow of connectedness. I can hardly wait. What am I to do between now and 10 pm here when the global telecast is scheduled to kick off?

I already feel a breathless anticipation for my pointless despair at the intergalactic disconnection between the hyperbole of the commentary and what the ceremony will actually be communicating. At least with the Eurovision Song Contest or America's Next SuperModel or the World Darts Tournament there is some refuge in unintended irony and self parody that permiates the execrable excess or frivolity of these events. Not the Olympics. We are exhorted to take this mush completely seriously and are hushed if we demur. Ughh!

I will watch some of it though. Initially mainly to see if any of the teams or athletes are brave and clever enough to outsmart statist officialdom and make an effective protest against China's repression. And later to have some currency in the schoolyard of polite discourse about our nation's competitive progress in the global battle.

The monumental hypocrisy and dishonesty of this orgy of nation state propaganda is however summed up by this, apparent apology issued by the US cycling team after being photographed arriving in Beijing with face masks on:

“The wearing of protective masks upon our arrival into Beijing was strictly
a precautionary measure we as athletes chose to take, and was in no way meant to serve as an environmental or political statement,” the athletes said. “We deeply
regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult BOCOG or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.”

“Those athletes regret that action and have written an apology to BOCOG on their own behalf,” Scherr said. “They now realize and understand how their actions were perceived by the host nation and by the organizing committee.”

As if the sense of entitlement China has expressed about it's sensitivity to open discussion of Tibet or Muslim minorities or Falun Gong or the Church were not objectionable enough, the Chinese dictatorship has now been enabled by the BOCOG to compel young athletes honestly protecting their capacity to compete in an endurance sport, to humiliate themselves to the word to appease the sense of self worth of an authoritarian regime.
Which Maoist re-education text did they copy to compose this press release about what "they now realise and understand"? Do you laugh or cry? It seems that the Olympics is only serving to reinforce a contempt for freedom that the mono-focused glory seeking disciplinarians who pursue Olympic ideals seem to feel so comfortable with. Can this be a force for good in the world?

05 August 2008

Gulags, Lileks and holidays

Solzhenitsyn's passing

James Lileks struck a chord with me when I first read his blog 4 or so years ago. Along with his narrative skills, I think it is the way his startlingly familiar suburban world is conveyed with such unapologetic dignity and humanity, that makes him read so true. He is such a contrast to the over intellectualised strivings of most of us baby boomers towards urban sophistication and academic hauteur. You feel refreshed and uplifted at his ease in aptly capturing significance in minor insights gleaned from the ordinariness of his days.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. The extraordinariness of this once ordinary maths teacher, lies in his survival through an ordeal of suffering at the hands of implacable oppressive cruelty that might otherwise have defied words, were it not for his great courage and literary genius. A greater contrast with the glossy material mid-western prosperity of Lilek's existence and Solzhenitsyn's tortured spiritual and corporeal Siberian hell, would be hard to conjure. Lileks could easily symbolise all that Solzhenitsyn came to despise in the materialism and seeming superficiality of the West, but there is also a curious parallel between them: their ability to show us how to "hold infinity in the palm of your hand". They both speak to us in a way that William Blake suggested: one a song of experience, the other a song of innocence .

It is fitting therefore that the best tribute to Solzhenitsyn that I have so far read on his passing is by Lileks. It's probably because my experience of the revelations of the almost incomprehensible scale of totalitarian inhumanity under communism through Solzhenitsyn eyes, were not completely dissimilar to Lilek's. I too was a curious but feckless undergraduate whiling away an angst ridden university vacation in suburbia, quietly fuming at an uncaring universe. Here is how Lilek's ineffably puts it:

"In the summer of ’78 I was back home in Fargo between college years – exiled from the civilized world, cast into barbarity. During the day I labored under the hot sun painting giant fuel tanks in the hot sun, next to an auto-body shop that exhaled poison and Eagles all day. A sensitive soul, cast into such grim circumstances. A noble soul, a poet, reduced to living on the gruel of hometown “culture,” almost unable to stir himself each day to face the hopeless allotment that stretched forth until the sun turned its face away.
Naturally, I was in the perfect mood to read the entire Gulag Archipelago. I got all three volumes from the drugstore – which should have told me something about the land in which I lived, that one could buy this work from a creaky wire rack at the drugstore – and it taught me much about the Soviet Union and the era of Stalin. After that I could never quite understand the people who viewed the US and the USSR as moral equals, or regarded our history as not only indelibly stained but uniquely so. Reading Solzhenitsyn makes it difficult to take seriously the people in this culture who insist that Dissent has been squelched. Brother, you have no idea.
The great brooding man is
dead – all those years of trial and disappointment done, ..."

Go Lileks! Thank you Alexander Solzhenitsyn. May your troubled, courageous and sublime soul find true peace at last.