Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Goya at the MFA

On a recent descent to the crypt of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (to view a Goya exhibit), a friend stopped at the first landing to use the restroom. A visitor with a magic marker had left the following lines in one of the stalls, after seeing the Goya display:

Vampires, chiggers, ticks & leeches
Instill an itch that no scratch reaches,
Succubi the sharpest quill can’t quell.
        Traced in steel, Goya’s nightmare Hell!


Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Clerihew

The Cliometrician, Piketty!
His trends fill your screen
Then regress to the mean:
For a Sherpa, he makes a slick Yeti!

The lines above were inscribed in a heavily discounted copy given to the Arrow by a friend, who said he obtained it from Amazon. He said the world needed to deal with the tectonic plates of history (as it were), and this book was the closest description and the best methodology he had so far found.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Scurrilous Clerihews

Precluded from participation in the engagement, Parthian was privileged recently to witness a skirmish among alumni at a class reunion for Yale School.  Points of honor, endorsements, deference bestowed or received, and similar issues were given a thorough airing. So the Arrow looked for graffiti in the Men's Room stalls of Harvard’s Ames Hall (and similar nearby venues) where he found these clerihews. Others came from a commonplace book left by a humanities student on the Red Line T. Parthian disdains them all, but offers them in evidence for the deplorable decay of decency.

George Bush I and Clarence Thomas,
Ignoramus and ignoramus!
Yale must answer for either fool:
What a place to go to school!

Samuel Alito
Delights in his judicial veto.
For him no law is fine
If it might hurt a bottom line.

John Roberts, U.S.C.J.
Embodies the concept, harm's way.
His typical opinion
Shows the spleen of a corporate minion.

For Justice Anthony Kennedy
Let's sing a premature threnody.
It's time he retired
Before he gets fired.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Shame on Blue Crass

Parthian has reaped a bountiful return lately from the coin of privacy he invested inadvertently when he downloaded “free” apps or donated to political (or worthy) causes. His inbox overfloweth; his telephone ringeth– most often at mealtimes. These everyday annoyances can be managed with a fast finger on the delete key, or by unplugging the phone. But why should the consuming public be obliged to cope with cybergarbage at all? We need an effective “do not spam” list to supplement other very low bars to intrusive marketing. Unsubscribing simply promotes the naive user to a higher level of harassment, since any response indicates that the “unsubscriber” opened the junk that provoked a sucker’s effort to escape. 

Come the revolution, oligopolies will be regulated or dismembered in the public interest, and then we will have a button that enables a user to decline further solicitations, push-messages, and spam, and impose an immediate cost, debited to a bond posted to ensure respect for the privacy rights of the public. Pending the revolution, our providers will persist with their robo-calls. How can the ordinary user of existing technology fight back? Where would a striker picket? How else can we impose costs upon those who waste our time and clog our systems with dross and impertinence? 

The latest expression of our rulers’ contempt for the dignity of their serfs is exemplified by a call the Arrow receives from his health care insurer, daily. The caller is a robot, endowed with infinite persistence and zero empathy. The script is short (before the Arrow hangs up): “Hello, this is ___, your insurer, calling about an important matter. Is this the Arrow? Say YES or NO.” 

Feeling no obligation to respond at all to interrogation machines, the Arrow replies, “If you want to transact business at this number, have a human call.” The response is “Is this the Arrow? Say YES or NO.” The Arrow responds with “F__ You, Robot!”. 

If he doesn’t hang up at this point, the robot demands to leave a message for the Arrow to call back. “Will you take the message? YES or NO?” NO!! “Okay, we will try again at a later time, until we reach theArrow.” Thus, a stalemate is reached between a vexed humanoid and an invective-proof automaton. No mechanized appeal to the Arrow’s curiosity will ever elicit a reply that the robot can appreciate. No business will be done. The Arrow risks “losing” whatever opportunity, warning, notice, or advice that his insurer wishes to communicate in an unsolicited, entirely one-way ‘transaction’. The offending caller loses nothing. 

Corporate harassers operate in a very unfree marketplace. They stand to gain if the ‘missed’ call counts as legal notice enough to trigger a forfeiture, or constitutes compliance with the nominal privacy requirements of HIPAA. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

James Joyce Manuscript Discovery

Dear Schmitz,

For our next session, memorize (and be prepared to recite) the following terms. I will use Georgio’s metronome to measure the accuracy of your accent and delivery. This exercise will provide you with rudimentary understanding of English vowel quantities (poets say ‘numbers’), and I hope that it will improve your atrocious accent.

Learn the idioms below in pairs. I will mix and rearrange their sequence when you recite them aloud from memory. As a mnemonic aid I include abbreviated definitions:

Professional mourner service tear hire
Time to repair punctures tire hour

Label on armored wrappings tear here
Advance man for group guides tour hare

Escalation unit for ziggurats tier higher
Rental Rapunzel tower whore

User of weeding implement tare hoer
Repairman of spilt paving oil tar hayer

Woodsman shredded by a bear tore hewer
…… [torn, illegible]

I will provide drinks if your accent does not defeat you.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Morsel of Verbal Macaroni

On a recent visit to Cambridge, a bit of wind-blown litter crossed the Arrow's path. He stooped to retrieve it for deposit in a nearby bin, when these lines caught his eye. He begs the indulgence of Italian music lovers for sending such a lame lampoon into the cloudy skies of cyberspace:

              A popular crooner had the luck
              To make a pet of Donald Duck.
              Near the end, when pipes will crack 
              And fissures cross the crazed shellac–
                     They craved the sound of Frank’s anatra!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Su Vida es Sueño

Anticipating his possible extradition to the USA, El Chapo has been busy working on his English language skills. He can afford the best tutors, so his progress has been rapid. He says he has reached that crowning point for students of a foreign language, when he has begun to dream in English. When he writes, he writes much more comfortably in his native Spanish.

Through a secret agent in the Parthian cavalry who currently works as a turnkey in Mexico’s securest prison, these lines were copied from El Chapo’s notebooks, while he slept blissfully in his cell, high on the finest opioids the black market can supply. Beside his cot, two books had fallen as he dozed off: Jabberwocky, and Finnegans Wake. 

El Chapo’s Dream
(translated from the Spanish by Elsie Gee)

Inland, I knew, hid Culiacán–
A shaky treasure home for me: 

There Ralph, my nacred shiv began 
Lewd taverns pleasureless to ban, 
Brown as a thumb-prest flea.

No lice knive piles of futile, drowned
Stiff palls that blowers stir, who found
Guerdons' blight from sinful thrills, 

Whore-bosomed, zany with incestuous glee--
Old dears wore corsets, nescient as goldfish gills, 

Embold'ning bunny-shots of ‘scenery'... 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Town of Greece is no Athens

The Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece has blown a strong gust of oxygen into the embers of sectarian conflict in the United States. In their increasing glow, the Arrow discerns the outlines of issues long since debated and resolved to his intellectual satisfaction in late night dormitory free-for-all arguments. He came away from that experience, like most of his college cohort, with his faith unshaken (because he never had any to begin with) and with a firm repugnance towards evangelistic creeds that depend upon ginned-up catharsis and social coercion for their continued existence. Now that small town America is licensed to fudge lines that Washington and Jefferson (and before them, Isaac Backus) drew to ensure the stability and legitimacy of public institutions in a religiously diverse society, Parthian’s interest in religion is piqued once more. 

How do Believers reconcile their epistemic and ontological doubts with their hopeful reliance upon a being whose existence they cannot confirm? Why do all faiths adopt rituals and liturgies emphasizing ‘prayer’? Why don’t they (since believe in a Supreme Being) replace their supplications with forms of address that abominate the author of the world and its woes– and demand what begging never manages to obtain: kinder and more particular attention, and more perfect justice? A major feature of the world’s dominant creeds is their demand for abjection. Why do the faithful grovel when invoking an absent and apparently malign Creator? Evidence and universal experience regarding the supposed benignity of the supposed Supremo (the sleazy PR evasions of theodicy notwithstanding) suggest strongly that He, She, or It is at best indifferent to human concerns, and most especially, to human suffering. So why do we see no sects or cults devoted to fuliginous objurgation? 

Theologies of all stripes stress our infantile ignorance, the better to instill dread lest we offend a deity whose postulated omnipotence is capable of delivering fates worse than the ones that presently immiserate all sinners. Why do religions spend so much psychological capital on propitiation, and so much intellectual effort moving the goalposts of Mystery? Why has Mystery supplanted Revelation as the basis of religious faith? Mystery is real, and it is also an endless scrim of veils that science manages to shred, one by one, always leaving more mystery for the next generation, forever intimating that there is a space beyond where we cannot argue, because we cannot see– yet. 

Parthian has noticed that the proprieties of discourse on the subject of religion require deference to ‘tradition’. In reference to the obligatory norms and validating assertions of various creeds, tradition seems to mean much more than the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy: it represents a continuation between generations: commitments, values, and ‘teachings’ about the Meaning of Life that are deeply personal but shared by groups tied together (religio) by rites and doctrines that members accept as binding by virtue of the length of the tradition, or by its claims to derive (however indirectly) from divine ukase. Parthian is puzzled by this. What distinguishes an unfounded ‘belief’ from a tradition? What is the difference between the sense of religion as a confession, and the sense of religion as a profession of belief based upon individual psychological conversion experiences? Only Tartuffe can tell, and he will be too busy addressing the citizens of Greece, NY. 

The original Hellenes must be fulminating in the shades of Hades!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Money Talks

In our constitutional culture, rhetoric requires judges to build their opinions upon foundations of strict logic, often extending bad metaphors. Orthodox doctrinal development generates pseudo-Euclidean demonstrations derived from a common starting point– the text of the First Amendment, for example– which end with polar opposite QEDs. The majority and the dissenters share a focus of disagreement. Their disputations carry large consequences in the real world, as well as differing implications for resolving future disputes. Thus a flawed analogy in Buckley v. Valeo spawned a ‘consistent’ line of decisions culminating most recently in McCutcheon v. FEC– all derived from the seductive idea that money is speech. The more money you have, the more (or louder) speech you can utter. If you don’t sing on key, you can submerge yourself in a mercenary chorus. 

The First Amendment field of play is not like a chess or Parcheesi board: it is not  orthogonal. One way to escape from perverse encouragement of political corruption that arises from literalist reading of the Amendment might be to examine the underlying metaphor, to show that the ‘four corners of the text’ form a box that won’t fit snugly with other, similar boxes, because there are more sides to it than the issues comprised by the simple equation: freedom to spend = freedom to speak. Here are a few off-the-wall implications of the free market metaphor that have been under-discussed (in Parthian’s opinion) by academic and judicial analysts–

  • Personal (“private”) expenditures to amplify one’s voice in the political marketplace reflect “values” including ideological commitments. The speaker prefers to have a louder voice in political discourse than his neighbor, signaled by his willingness to pay the cost of amplification. It follows that his incentive to speak as a political (dialogic) equal participant in democratic discourse is not impermissibly compromised if he is taxed (for example by a broadly construed, legislated or defamation-based ‘fairness doctrine’ that obliges him to fund opposing voices in the same medium and at comparable volume) according to the size of his more-than-equal space in the political forum. “At the margin”, of course. We wouldn’t want to completely ‘dis-incentivize’ robust levels of political speech, would we?

  • The cost willingly paid by interests (exemplified by the Kochs) with the deepest pockets to gain ‘access’ and exert strong leverage to move decision-makers in all areas of legislative– or executive– governmental policy is only one of many costs of doing business, whether the business done is clean or dirty. In this respect, contributions are best conceptualized as a tax upon capital resources– raising the question whether the funds invested might have a more publicly beneficial next-best use. 

  • By the same token (under current conditions of income distribution) opposing viewpoints from all stripes of ‘activists’ among the 99.9% of hoi polloi usually cannot surmount high cost barriers to be heard in legitimate public debate. To raise the necessary resources, huge investments of volunteer commitment and expensive, intellectually inefficient fund-raising are required before political discourse in the marketplace of ideas can begin. The result (for all practical purposes) is a poll tax levied upon myriad individual contributors of the small sums needed to meet the purchase price(s) of ticket(s) to participate in the political arena. 

Parthian wonders: is it proper (however inconsistent with the Constitution's Preamble the result may be) to construe the First Amendment so as to give ‘private’ oligarchs such power to levy a poll tax upon their fellow citizens? Are separation of powers principles honored or compromised when the judicial branch denies the legislative a sphere of law-making jurisdiction to regulate campaign finance (excluding the elected Congressional branch of our constitutional structure through impossibly rigorous standards of judicial ‘scrutiny’, or otherwise)?