A radical new study has shown that, contrary to popular belief—not to mention the favorite “house in order” analogies of leading politicians from both major parties—the nation state is not a household. Professor Jakob Slotergraus, of Western Tech University, goes so far as to claim that, whereas household debt does not contribute to the economic growth of its population, the opposite is in fact the case for the nation state. He has also discovered that, unlike within a state, there is little to no economic activity within a household. “I’ve spent thirty years studying economics,” Slotergraus said in an interview, “and I’ve concluded that it is, in fact, inexplicable to bloggers of every political persuasion.” Slotergraus has previously written studies showing that the nation state is neither a classroom nor a corporation.
Many in the yoga community were “disgusted” and “appalled” by the “over-sexualization” of yoga in a recent ad for Equinox gym. These people, I think, are being ridiculous. The video clip is beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, the clip obviously plays upon its sexual appeal (the woman is just painfully gorgeous), but what’s amazing is how quickly sex is transcended by the grace of her movements, the presence which she brings to the practice—even though it’s never hidden from us. She’s still almost naked; we still get the intimacy of her usually hidden tattoos, the unkempt blankets of yesterday evening’s love-making in the background; and yet what starts off as a sexual movement (the wave of her body as it falls from down-dog to up-dog) almost immediately gets lifted up into the spiritual, becomes beautiful in a new or deeper way—perhaps gets lifted just at the exact moment when she picks herself up off the ground. The camera still caresses her, teases the viewer to think about sex, but it’s now this elegant composure, this complete control over oneself, that entices. And when we see her lover on the bed, we feel a strange sadness for him—as if all he got was last night. He’s missing out on this day, the moment, the view, the quiet.
You don’t have to agree with Ron Paul to find him appealing—you only have to dislike politics. Politics has always been a popularity contest or a power struggle or both, and with this season’s Republican debates we’ve seen those two evolve and combine into a higher form: reality TV. The game is a simple one. Take eight applause-seekers and put them through various trials to see who can resist a small helping of immediate applause now in favor of a larger windfall later. The host asks whether the candidate would ever accept any tax rises; the candidate knows not to say things that will hurt him in November, but he pleads with himself and wins. This one teeny little time couldn’t hurt, could it? Not now that all those hands are poised to clap? And there it is—boom. Gingrich says we should kill our enemies and is cheered; Paul says we should apply the Golden Rule and is booed. Yet Paul seems not to care. Is he even trying to win? Have the rules been explained to him? Or is he playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers? Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I can’t help hoping that he is.
Remember when the freakonomists said that a high abortion rate decreases violent crime? Well, now there’s a better correlation. A recent study shows that deadly crime rises during right-wing presidencies and declines during leftist ones. Perhaps this helps us explain why the U.S. holds onto capital punishment, the theme of another recent book. With our inexorable long march rightward, American politics has become so fucked up that it drives individuals to kill others or themselves. Capital punishment—killing the killers—is just society’s way of avoiding a descent into the state of nature.
So I’m trying out this new Timeline thing on Facebook, culling through eight years of weird, embarrassing or just plain forgettable social media history. According to the promo video, I have just seven days before it goes live to find a way to present myself to the world as the protagonist in some compelling, coming-of-age collage. But I’m struggling with the assignment. There are reasons I’m a fiction writer and not a memoirist, though I was told again and again in grad school that fiction is dying, its thin voice no longer audible above the noisy reality narrative. It took me until now to realize that Facebook probably never was the right place for those of us who don’t feel comfortable with our lives having an angle, or being boiled down to a few characterizing images. During the next few weeks, in any event, we will have to make a choice: 1) Give up and deactivate, 2) stay and submit to the form’s limitations or 3) do what I will be doing, which is pruning my Timeline into the best damn meta-fictional magical realism ever to be seen in the history of social networking.
When Tim Tebow starts his first playoff game today in Denver, plenty of opinions will once again be offered by commentators with various interests. (Are Phil Simms and other football analysts simply jealous because Tebow doesn’t have their QB stats, yet gets more attention? Are evangelicals looking to promote their own agenda through Tebow’s success?) But what does Tebow represent from the average fan’s perspective? For most fans, football is one of the few true team sports; on every play, every player has a specific job. Tebow was recently mike’d up and filmed in the Denver Broncos’ comeback win against Chicago. In the highlight reel, Tebow is seen encouraging a player who just dropped a sure touchdown pass, telling him, “Don’t worry about it, you’re going to catch the winning pass.” Within the next five minutes, that player caught four passes including a dramatic, last minute, game-tying touchdown. I see in Tim Tebow a tremendous teammate and a humble man who stands up for his beliefs. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s not going to change things for Tebow or God. But if you believe in (or play for) the Broncos, Tebow has been pretty good for you, at least so far.
If you think about great people going to the bathroom, you might feel slightly titillated, and think, Well, perhaps they aren’t so great after all. But that’s what separates you from great people. They don’t think about shit like that.
Hume thought that people could be divided into the learned, the conversable and the mere animals. The practical, witty conversables just nattered on about sex scandals and other topics unsuitable “for the entertainment of rational creatures,” while the learned shut themselves up in colleges and monastic cells and talked to each other in Latin. Hume credited his own generation with recombining intelligence and wit. Well, it seems that the generation previous to ours—thanks to ever-lengthening work hours, the paparazzi, professional sports, media-oriented politics, mind-boggling academic specialization, and a world-wide Gini coefficient getting closer and closer to 1—has separated them again. The learned have a raft of incomprehensible, useless ideas; the conversables couldn’t care less. And the mere animals are again oiling up the gears and levers of power.
On intentionality: it doesn’t so much matter what a thing is, or the countless things that it isn’t, as long as it is on purpose. We rarely wish to get lucky with our success, and it rarely happens anyway, outside of the strange and socially awkward creation of Penicillin, or arguably the invention of flying. Waking up to hot coffee is as American as baseball or second-guessing, and iced coffee can be loosely described as hipster, or perhaps the drink of choice when housewives run out of Ritalin. But there is nothing worse, nothing so undrinkable, than hot coffee gone cold or iced coffee melted. Its purpose has been lost; it has done the terrifying act of going off-script; it is unintentional. Nothing could be more potentially catastrophic to the well-planned afternoon than the accident, than hot coffee gone cold. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t drink it anyway.
Like the strong-armed bullies that stuffed many of us into lockers at grade school, reality star celebrities are legitimized by reaction. The more attention lavished on them, the stronger their presence and influence becomes on the playground. How ironic then that the same bloggers, pundits and comment board trolls who decry the prominence invested in these “famous for being famous” stars—themselves probably guilty, as I am, of watching their shows and reading their news under the cover of a night shrouded bed sheet—continue to scold these pop icons, as if they might be prattled into submission. Perhaps it would be better to suffer Kim and her Kardashian clan in silence, turning one’s other cheek to the bully, rather than engaging in a hopelessly one-sided shoving match, launched from a coward’s distance through a laptop or smartphone—and aimed at those who are famous for nothing worse, after all, than entertaining us.