Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another fine journalist, lost to reality

Really there is an awful lot that one can say about the Atlanta Progressive News firing a reporter for "[holding] on to the notion that there was an objective reality that could be reported objectively, despite the fact that that was not our editorial policy".

One might say that Aristotle had a good go of it, but he simply had no place in modern opinioneering, and that it's about time someone took a professional editorial stance on the outdated notion of "an objective reality"; because really, that thing has been knocking about for literally (not literally) aeons, and we put little boys in chimneys in the old days, but we don't do that any more, so why do we still persist in this "objective reality" scam?

Perhaps one might wonder why the Atlanta Progressive News is throwing its lot in with the notoriously reality-averse Bush II administration: because that cadre's stance on reality in the age of the American Empire, while surely radical in its day, must have been supplanted by new and ever more exciting ontological advances since then?

I suppose in the end one has to give the Atlanta Progressive News some credit for hewing to cutting-edge scientific theories. Apparently the Universe is actually just a great big hologram anyway; so as long as the ousted Jonathan Springston is replaced by a foreign correspondent reporting directly from the holographic plane, then their stance on reality is to be lauded.

Hoorah for reality!?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Monsters Would Say: Domovoi

"Oooooooh, why have I been shut in a rooooom whose dooooooor I have no way to ooooopen? I'm in a bit of a paaaaanic. And the fiiiiiiireplace is having a conniiiiiiption!"

Monday, February 15, 2010

Growing old: getting old


As Professor Arnold J. Toynbee indicates in his six-volume study of the laws of the rise and disintegration of civilizations, schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.

- The Hero with a Thousand Faces
New evidence suggests that retreating permanently into a pastime heyday could promote longer living. The more quacktastic radical details of a 1979 study into behavioural anti-aging techniques have been made public, and it would surprise me very much if an "old people are so lively" movie had not been greenlit on these details:
Surrounded by props from the 50s the experimental group would be asked to act as if it was actually 1959.

They watched films, listened to music from the time and had discussions about Castro marching on Havana and the latest Nasa satellite launch - all in the present tense.

Dr Langer believed she could reconnect their minds with their younger and more vigorous selves by placing them in an environment connected with their own past lives.

- BBC News

Which is just precious, is it not? I bet those old people got to dancing and riding motorcycles and doing all the things you see on life insurance commercials!
As they waited for the bus to return them to Boston, Prof Langer asked one of the men if he would like to play a game of catch, within a few minutes it had turned into an impromptu game of "touch" American football.
Perfect. But did it work?
Prof Langer took physiological measurements both before and after the week and found the men improved across the board. Their gait, dexterity, arthritis, speed of movement, cognitive abilities and their memory was all measurably improved.
Hm.

I think Professor Ellen Langer is basically a movie villain.


I read the BBC article the same day I learned that my brother had delivered a short eulogy I'd written for my grandmother. Though she had been fed up with life for at least the last ten years, her last months were spent not preparing confidently for the next step on her journey, but slipping gradually into muted primal terror. Her steps toward death were slow swings between a desperation to be rid of the world, and a weakening resolve to hold onto the last thing she knew: her failing body.

In his phenomenal book, On Monsters, Stephen Asma suggests that the allure of undead creatures is their place within the Freudian Uncanny: simultaneously casting us backward into a childish, primal state of death-resistance even as they provide a literal embodiment of the inevitability of death. The article on the hokey-as-you-please Langer study fills me with the same Uncanny horror: a childish parody of nostalgia inhabited by poor doddering dupes, taking their place in a misguided fable about the power of imagination even as they slouch toward whatever the 1970s version of Bethlehem might be.

It doesn't surprise me that such a study happened, and it doesn't surprise me that we'd talk about it, but I'm glad my gran wasn't around to read about it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

Tom's America: Things Americans Don't Think About New Zealanders


As a New Zealander abroad, I am of course always keen to hear what people are saying about me and my country. In fact I suppose you could say that, as a New Zealander, I care about nothing else! But while every person's experience of What People are Saying About Me will differ - I am, after all, almost certainly more fun than you, and so people will say to me, "Oh, New Zealanders are so much fun", but what they really mean is, "You are so much fun" - there are constants in what they don't say. And these constants are worth paying attention to, because the things nobody says turn out to be exactly the things people back home say they say.


First off, let's clear up this Australia thing. Nobody I have met in America thinks New Zealand is part of Australia. While it is true that people in America tend to mistake the New Zealand accent for the Australian accent, and then the British accent, before identifying it correctly, I have never met anyone - black, white, urban, suburban, conservative or Republican[1] - who confuses Australia with New Zealand.
Indeed, whenever anyone finds out they have mistaken me for an Australian, they apologize profusely, because everyone thinks that there is an Australianian/New Zealandanite rivalry, and it is a long slow battle I have explaining to every single person in America that actually, that's not strictly true, it's actually just that New Zealanders hate Australians, but it is America's lucky day to have in her midst the one New Zealander who actually thinks Australia is quite nice, apart from that goddamn ugly nasal quality to their accent. In fairness to people who think Americans think New Zealand is Australia, I have had to field a stupid amount of questions about Koala Bears since I got here[3].


This being the day of the Superbowl, I feel another misconception to be cleared up is that everyone in America thinks rugby players are the shit. Everyone in New Zealand seems to have talked to this one American who spread fallacious rumors about America's feelings re: rugby. The omniscient Yank, so far as I can see, said the same thing to every single person in New Zealand: "Wow! We thought our American Football players were tough, but your guys - they don't even wear pads!"
Firstly, why would this one American call American Football "American Football"? That's like an Irish saying, "Let's go get drunk at the Irish pub"[4]. Secondly, rugby is something I have spent much of my adult life trying to get into enjoying, but simply cannot escape the feeling that it is an idiot game about a bunch of hairy triple-Y behemoths chasing a slab of juicy meat up and down a field; a moron pastime where you can get ahead by sticking your finger up another man's asshole so long as it's not consensual. Whereas I cannot get into American Football because there has never been a time in my life when I have enough tactical cognizance to understand the strategy at play; and I have read Chuck Klosterman's "Football", clocked the strategy-heavy Dynasty Tactics, and had the rudiments of the game explained to me by a philosopher who debates exclusively in NES metaphors, ie Someone Who Should Be Able To Explain Football To Me.


Related to the above, there is a perception that Americans envy Antipodeans for our drinking prowess, both alcoholic and teetotal. Apparently New Zealand's coffee-and-beer-crafting skills are exceeded only by her coffee-and-beer-consuming skills, and both these skills are highly envied by the American people. Not so! I have had the finest coffee of my life in America, and what is more, I have had much fine beer also. I think the perception that Americans are rubbish at making and consuming beer and coffee stems from the fact that New Zealanders have access to Budweiser (The King of Beers) and Starbucks. Someone has told New Zealanders that America is something of a monoculture, and so boom, apparently all Americans think Bud = beer and Starbucks = coffee. Right, because by the same token, every American's favourite movie is Forrest Gump, and Pulp Fiction was made in (and about) Brazil.
This misconception could be cleared up if New Zealanders had access to any of the coffee houses littering the West Coast whose decor and brewing style hark back to the drink's renaissance in the thick-spectacled early-to-mid 1990s; or were willing to spend a few days in the Onanopolis that is Portland, Oregon, on the condition that they were allowed to spend the entire time drinking of the microbrews by which the region self-identifies. I got into a heated discussion with a local there when I made the mistake of asking the barkeep for "a simple unadventurous IPA". And, amazingly, it wasn't for being wanker enough to invoke the concept of adventurousness within a discussion of piss to be drunk, it was for not being wanker enough to imbue my tipple of choice with sufficient swashbuckling fervour. Say what you will of the Man of Portland; he certainly won't settle for Miller High Life (The Champagne of Beers).


The one thing that all Americans do say is something that New Zealanders never attribute to them. When an American finds out you are from New Zealand, they will - even Barack Hussein Obama would do this if he had the opportunity - say, "I have never been to New Zealand but I would love to go. I have wanted to go to New Zealand ever since I saw The Lord of The Rings".
New Zealand, you may wish to consider using The Lord of The Rings as a component of your tourism branding. A free idea, from me to you!

[1] It's an oft-noted peculiarity of our respective sprawls on the political spectrum that, the same month that America elected an uncommonly Liberal Democrat as President, New Zealand elected a Conservative who was almost as Conservative as the new POTUS. Oft-noted, but worth noting one more time for those late to the party or not intimate with New Zealand politics[2].

[2] I actually talked to a New Zealander recently who saw American ignorance of the New Zealand news cycle as evidence of America's national ignorance. Come on, man, I was raised in New Zealand, and when I got to America I had to seduce a local just so she could tell me Cesar Chavez wasn't a lounge singer. Let's not pretend like anyone knows all of everyone's business.

[3] I don't mind this too much, because it gives me the opportunity to tell people that one of the most common word used to describe Koala Bears is "ornery". It's true.

[4] There is actually so much irrelevance in this sentence that the way an Irish would actually say it is simply, "Hi"[5].

[5] No, it's okay, I dated an Irish[6] one time, I can make the jokes. That's how it works, right?

[6] Geez, when did this post become this post?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

What Monsters Would Say: Baron Samedi


"No, it's hop to the end, then jump, then hop back on the other foot. I won't budge on this point. Straight outta Camptown."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What Monsters Would Say: Sphinx


"Can we do that thing where you hold my front paws and I walk up your chest and do a flip? That's not a riddle, I'm just asking."