Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
One of the recurring themes of pieces on Obama at UP@NIGHT is the nature of his pragmatism, which is as much philosophical as it is purely political. With three months or so to go before the election, I thought I would collect here several links to discussions of Obama’s political thought and politics from the past few years at UP@NIGHT.
The entries most relevant to philosophical pragmatism are listed first. There are a couple of critical pieces further down the list. But I think it important that we understand with whom we are dealing as we criticize Obama or his administration. We should not fault him for seeking the possible when the more desirable was out of reach.
And for those who may still not have had enough, there is a discussion of Obama’s pragmatism and cosmopolitanism in an online (read, free) “Afterword” to my new book, Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism (Stanford University Press).
After a hiatus, UP@NIGHT returns with a BIG BANG.
In the coming months, especially as the election draws near, posts will come fast and with fury. (Ok, maybe not so fast and perhaps not too furious. But at least pretty often and mildly agitated.) And not just on politics. There will be, for example, popular culture, music, satire, cultural criticism, and even some philosophy (my day job).
If you are new to UP@NIGHT, know that some of the most reliable predictions on the 2008 election were made here. Really. (See the the site’s archive.) Also, if you wondered where the Spock/Obama meme began, UP@NIGHT was the first to have a post dedicated to the topic, as far as this blogger can discover. “Obama, Spock, and the New Star Trek Generation.”
Enjoy (and comment soon)!
A year or so ago I posted a blog about the prospects for liberal arts majors, specifically those in philosophy, Liberal Arts (and especially Philosophy) Majors: Do Not Despair,”
The liberal arts may have a new secret weapon, Sheldon the theoretical physicist from The Big Bang Theory. It seems that he is horrified by the liberal arts (even though he loves comic books, which were probably written and drawn by humanities and arts people). And whatever horrifies Sheldon (e.g., intimacy), most people like. So if he finds the liberal arts appalling, perhaps others will draw the opposite conclusion.
And you “hard” science people out there, know that we love you here at UP@NIGHT, but you also have to face reality. Those in the humanities have longer running times.
The manner in which FOX has been stirring up hatred, yes hatred, against Muslims in his country is appalling. They have done so through mind numbing lies and innuendo. This clip from The Daily Show is one of the most cogent and funniest send ups of FOX I have seen to date. Enjoy. (Give Jon a few minutes to get really going.)
The new illuminated manuscript (photo by Cathy Kemp). Obviously not as beautiful as the older ones but awfully functional for those UP@NIGHT. And you can view illuminated manuscripts on the iPad. A good site for finding them: Wikimedia Commons, Illuminated Manuscripts by Name.
Was I correct in suggesting two weeks ago that Mad Men is in danger of letting style override content? Many of you agreed. Many disagreed. Today I offer a visual update. Two photos. Both taken on an iPhone on Thursday evening, August 5th, at the reasonably upscale Westchester Mall. Mad Men fans will recognize the three posters in the left photo. (The word “Style” on the center window, with a seated former Mrs. Draper, is a bonus.) The photo on the right is drumming up business for Long Island University.
America has turned to style to replace substance (real income and growth) in tough times before. Perhaps we are beginning to see a replay (although in the 1930′s at least the fashion was original).
So, you think of yourself as an honest soul. You understand that stealing property or money is wrong. You wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t want your kids or friends to do it. It’s unthinkable. But I have a proposition for you.
Here is a button. All you have to do is press it and $100,000 will be transferred from Goldman Sachs, BP–or any other giant corporation whose resources are larger than most countries–into your bank account. Nobody will ever know. It’s a magic button. Well, not really magic. Some geek has wired it in a fashion so that money can be transferred to your account without anyone being able to trace it–in the tradition of how derivatives were traded.
Just think of how much money Goldman Sachs and its executives made in the last few years as the Market tanked, while you probably lost money in your hard-earned retirement account. Not only did you recently lose money, but if you had invested $1,000 dollars eleven years ago in the Dow, that’s just about what it would be worth today, $1,000 (less if inflation is factored in). But you know, and I know, how much money these guys have made trading your money and my money. But that’s capitalism, you say. It’s the way the game is played.
But would you push the button? Would you be tempted to do it? Or perhaps a better question: how many of your fellow Americans do you think would be tempted? A lot, right? (Or an even better question, how many more would push it today than ten or twenty years ago?)
The recent Melt Down on Wall Street, and the ensuing profits made by big trading firms and banks, have been corrosive in ways that we may not fully understand for years. You’ve got Tea Baggers screaming about Washington, but the revelations about how Wall Street operates have buried themselves deep in our collective subconscious. Real damage has been done. Yes, we knew that there was big money out there and that big money corrupts. (Before the present Melt Down, there was Enron and assorted other travesties.) Yet “knowing” is one thing. Seeing it in front of your eyes day after day, year after year, undermines confidence that the system is anything close to fair. Yes, Obama has attempted to tame Wall Street with new regulations. They will do some good. Yet as long as we continue to see different rules of the game for a small strata of society, which is indeed what we have seen, our belief in the benefits of capitalism will be undermined by a gnawing sense that it is corrupting us, our children, our society. From a sanctified economic system, it will become what we have to put up with, sort of like the Roman emperors in Imperial Rome. It won’t go away anytime soon but we aren’t going to feel good about it.
There was a time in American business when many people believed that a handshake was as good as a contract, or so I am told. People kept their word. It now seems that handshakes still function in this manner for a small elite segment of corporate America that makes deals for unimaginable sums. The rest of us can’t depend on them when we deal with companies. (How about a handshake between you and your medical insurance company to guarantee your coverage? Any takers?) The middle class will need more and more contracts and lawyers to protect them in an economy in which money has gone wild. And they will have relatively less money to hire these lawyers.
No doubt there are problems with the way government functions. But anyone who thinks that this is the major source of the declining confidence in how our society works really needs to look at Wall Street with suitable eyewear. The business of America is no longer doing business but being given the business.
The comments below are from an article in the July 25th New York Times, “Fraternity of the Wired Works in the Wee Hours.”
But preferring to work at night might go beyond a need to escape distractions. Some people are hard-wired to perform better as it gets later, said Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorder Center at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
“Our circadian timing of sleep is affected by genetics, and people all differ,” he said.
Mr. Thorpy said many people experience surges of alertness two to three hours before they fall asleep — ideal for powering through some unfinished business.
“If it fits in with their lifestyle, it can work very well,” he said. “A large part of their waking day is when things are quieting down.”
Yes, that’s right, a surge of alertness hours before you fall asleep! It’s true, even if you haven’t experienced it. Late night folks are not inherently lazy or bizarre. They are different. They will lead more successful, productive, and happier lives if society would only recognize this difference instead of assuming that everyone functions best when they rise early.
Night Owls unite. You have nothing to lose but your fatigue.
Tonight Mad Men returns. I liked the show. I liked it before it became popular. (It’s not The Wire, but then, hey, what is, except The Wire.)
But now I fear for the youth of the country. The photo on the left–which I believe I have legally downloaded from the Mad Men web site since it is an advertising gimmick, which is in itself pretty funny–says it all. You can be in this photo. And it seems that many people would very much like to be in it, at least judging by the Mad Men mania among the young, many of whom collected in Times Square tonight dressed in period costume. The photo on the right is of a group of characters from The Wire, a show that struggled to stay on the air. (Its last season overlapped with the first season of Mad Men.) It never found a large following in its five seasons, although today it is considered by many critics and viewers to be the finest TV series ever produced. It is set in present-day Baltimore and one of the things that it is about is how America is broken. It is highly unlikely that The Wire could have advertised itself by holding a contest that says, you can be in this photo.
Mad Men is great fun. The acting, the clothing, the furniture, the nicknacks, and that wonderful lighting. And of course the show is dutifully critical of aspects of the period that it portrays. As a matter of fact, the narrative arc was apparently meant to swing from the uptight and hypocritical 1950′s to the liberation of the ’60′s. But something perverse seems to have happened or be happening. In our dark economic times the atmosphere and staging of the show are becoming the message. And this message seems to be: it’s kind of okay to forget about how awful and repressive the 1950′s and early 60′s were if its artifacts provide the fantasy or eye candy that we need in order to escape from our own times. I know, you are going to say that I am going too far. It’s not the TV show’s fault if it’s seductively adorned.
A short personal sidebar. I was a child in the 1950′s and a young adolescent in the early 1960′s, yet I can still feel the claustrophobia of the period. I can tell you that offices were rarely glamorous. They were enclaves of sexism and repression. I remember working in one as a mailboy in my teens. Men were stuffed into cubicles or small offices. Women worked in outer areas as secretaries–a version of what you see in Mad Men. The hierarchy was fixed. I can swear that the men spent half their time either making passes at the secretaries or making juvenile sexual jokes about them, which were not much different from what I heard in the high school locker room. If I were a girl at the time, I would have said “ick.” (Of course, I couldn’t actually say, “ick,” or I would have been seen as a sissy.) What about the clothing, you ask. Let me tell you, when you actually had to wear this sort of clothing day in and day out or be ostracized for not wearing it, it wasn’t any fun. (I had to wear skinny ties in a public school until the late 1960′s.)
Perhaps I am getting worked up over nothing. After all doesn’t the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, feel much as I do about the period? But I am not the first to suggest that Weiner may be conflicted regarding his own creation. (See Natasha Simons.) The period is romanticized even as it is criticized. Let’s be clear, the romance is a mistake. The period was so bad that if I invented a time machine I would make sure that it would self-destruct before it could take anyone back into it. From this perspective, the Mad Men contest photo does not appear innocuous. It’s not simply suggesting: wouldn’t it be fun to be on a TV show. It’s suggesting: wouldn’t it be a blast to be back in that time, when, to paraphrase Ogden Nash, candy was dandy but liquor was quicker.
This season Mad Men will present us with the trials and tribulations of a bunch of middle class folks struggling to build their own business in a day when the economy was still booming. Escapism surely has its place. But as we enjoy the accouterments of the characters’ life styles, I wonder how much time we will spend focusing on how far their world actually is from ours. Which brings me back to The Wire, in which the drug of choice is heroin, not liquor, and upward mobility is not about getting a corner office but avoiding the coroner. We don’t really want to watch The Wire. It presents a political and economic system that is ill-equipped to grapple with depth of the corruption that plagues various strata in our society. It doesn’t provide any eye candy and it certainly doesn’t hold out the hope of a world in which our homes and offices are bathed in sunlight. If you are going to watch the fourth season of Mad Men, and you haven’t seen The Wire, it might be an interesting experiment to view them together.