Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Three Poems

What’s Good

Gottfried Benn made a list of “what’s bad”
And it’s pretty good.
I guess that would put it on my list
Of countervailing forces, i.e. of
Things that are good

Botched Execution

To family of the victim
And others present in the viewing area
We must deeply and sincerely apologize for the fact
That the execution you witnessed
Resulted in death.
Rest assured that we will do all we can to guarantee
That this will never happen again.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fred Rogers

If you have some morbid curiosity about the advanced forms of insensate evil, you could do worse than look at this old and titanically mean-spirited "Tribute" to Fred Rogers, published in the Weekly Standard.  I think the tone of the thing is supposed to be "good-natured satire" or "friendly sniping" from across the political aisle, or something.  But in this attempt, if attempt it is, the piece falls catatonically flat.  Watching the American right-winger attempting to wield humor -- and more especially, irony -- is like seeing a villainous cartoon character hurl a boomerang at his nemesis and then confidently dust off his hands. Neither realizes that the joke will ultimately be on them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gandhi, Theodicy, and Humanism

"We who have faith in God must cherish the belief that behind even this indescribable calamity there is a divine purpose that works for the good of humanity. You may call me superstitious if you like; but a man like me cannot but believe that this earthquake is a divine chastisement sent by God for our sins." ~Mohandas Gandhi, 1934
Earthquakes have long posed the problem of God’s justice in particularly stark form.  In all such disasters, God not only appears to deal out suffering to human beings, but moreover to inflict it indiscriminately and collectively, without regard to degrees of innocence.  Some might philosophize that the more familiar cruelties and exigencies of life are necessary in this "best of all possible worlds," but it becomes more difficult to apply the same logic to catastrophes on a greater scale.  The sight of children being crushed in their sleep by collapsing buildings gives even Pangloss pause.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thoughts on Mike Davis' Late Victorian Holocausts (2002)

In his memoir, Arrow in the Blue, Arthur Koestler recalls an episode from the Depression years in Eastern Europe, when he was a young man: "Meat, coffee, fruit had become unobtainable luxuries for large sections of the population, even the bread on the table was measured out in thin slices; yet the newspapers spoke laconically of millions of tons of coffee being dumped into the sea, of wheat being burned, pigs being cremated, oranges doused with kerosene 'to ease conditions on the market.' It was a grotesque and incomprehensible paradox [...] When people starve and food is destroyed before their eyes [...] then the last judgement must be at hand." (322).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

Scene: I was sitting with a friend from back home on a couch, watching him play a videogame.  For no particular reason, it entered my head to say: “Can you whistle?”  It is worth noting here that this was one of those cinematic games, where the characters interact with one another through an elaborate script.  The game had nothing at all to do with whistling in any obvious way, and the context of the scene, to my recollection, would not have particularly inspired thoughts of whistling.  My friend answered "no" to my question.  We didn't say anything for a short while.  Then the eery, skin-prickling event occurred: We both heard a character on screen echo my question back to us -- "Can you whistle?" -- and proceed to do so.