Italics

Italics sometimes seem to speak in slow motion.

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Alzheimer’s

At first this Alzheimer’s prescription ad seemed a bit cruel and I’m uncertain of it’s saleability, but I think there’s an underlying message that might not be so obvious and might be less insidious than at first blush.

All of those in the mirror reflection are either in working or education garb. So maybe part of the message is, There’s work to be done here and you can do it; you’ve done it in the past, so let’s keep on keeping on. It also seems to be saying, Look yourself in the mirror and remember who you are. I’m not saying that Alzheimer’s patients are responsible for not remembering (at all), but the ad may be asking people to shore up against the disease (both patients and those close to them). In some ways, that could be cynical to ask. But, the ad seems to be trying to say, We can help with what makes that seem cynical. And on the other hand, perhaps it’s an attempt to motivate people to keep on trying (which, admittedly, has its own cynical interpretation). I suppose both of those observations fall under one and the same: Remember who you are, you’ve done it in the past, and, So come on, then!–they’re both about motivation and hope, which are both about dollars for the pharmaceutical company. And at the most basic level, they’re about remembering when you’ve got a disease that hinders memory. They’re provocative and maybe too provocative, but that’s my attempt at reading them generously…

Economic Conservatism as Religion

Here’s Yglesias on Bill Kristol’s weird penchants:

If Kristol seriously thinks there were no asset price bubbles or market panics before FDR took us off the gold standard, then he really needs to think harder. Like how did FDR get elected? And why did he take us off the gold standard?

But beyond the specific facts, it’s the logical structure of the argument that’s insane. Economic growth is a key predicate for an expansive welfare stare. So it’s completely true that if you just started throwing out the key institutional features of modern market economies that you’d strange big government. But you’d be strangling big government by destroying the economy. Why do this? It’s like economic conservatism as a religion, with small government a totem to worship at.

I’ve come across many people who bristle at fiat currency, but I find that bristling a little bristling. The world has been functioning this way for a long time and I find it quite difficult to imagine going back to asset-based currency. So, let’s try to do the best with what we’ve got. And, really, I don’t understand gold bugs–gold is a commodity just like any other: it has value because people want it. There’s nothing intrinsic about it’s value, so there’s no point tying the monetary value of everything to it.

Calvin and Jack, Psychotics

The Daily Dish has a little convo on Calvin and Hobbes and Fight Club running:

A reader writes:

Not to ignore the fun in the Hobbes and Tyler comparison, but there are big differences between the two.

In the commentary at the beginning of one of his Calvin and Hobbes collections (I forget the name), Watterson makes a point that people often refer to the “trick” of Hobbes being alive only when no other people are around.  He makes it clear that he thinks people make too big of a deal of this, and that it really is just the different versions of reality experienced by the characters in the strip.  To Calvin’s parents, friends, etc, Hobbes is a stuffed animal because that is what they expect him to be.  To Calvin he is an alive Tiger, who has his own thoughts and opinions, because that is what Calvin expects him to be.  While Tyler can only do things that “Jack” can conceive of, even if “Jack” can’t do them unless he has taken on the Tyler persona, Hobbes acts independently of Calvin.  Watterson even notes that Hobbes is clearly smarter than Calvin in his description of Hobbes in the same collection, implying that Hobbes isn’t controlled or limited by Calvin’s imagination, but capable of independent thought that is greater than his companion. Plus, unlike Tyler, Hobbes is the voice of reason.

Yeah, I know, it is just a comic strip, but some of us were raised on it, O.K.?

Okay, I’ve not read every Calvin and Hobbes strip, so I’m not an expert. But I like the comparison more than I dislike it. Yes, Hobbes is the voice of reason, but that doesn’t change the structure of the situation. Calvin’s parents experience Hobbes as a stuffed animal and Jack’s associates experience Tyler as crazy Jack. But Calvin and Jack are still experiencing reality as different than those around them. They are both psychotics. And, no I don’t think that every child that has an imaginary friend is a psychotic, but Calvin remains the age he is and continues to experience a reality with a large, talking tiger called Hobbes. And, no, Hobbes does not “act independently of Calvin” in precisely the same sense that Tyler does not act independently of Jack. Unless you want to go even further than Freudian and suggest that the id is a completely different individual than the ego. Or, maybe the reader would be happer saying that Hobbes is Calvin’s superego, while Tyler is Jack’s id. That’s fine, but they’re still both psychotics.

Moral Ubiquity

Julian Sanchez on the assertion that morals require a religious foundation:

…insofar as it tacitly makes a claim about people’s incentive to behave morally, it amounts to an admission that the speaker simply cannot fathom why someone would treat others with consideration and respect (if it didn’t seem to be in their self interest to do so) absent an omniscient being brandishing a heavenly carrot and the stick of damnation.

Indeed. When someone says, “Well, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to maintain ____ if I didn’t have a foundational belief in God,” I think, Well, it seems to me that would be a moral failure on your part. It communicates more about you and your moral imagination than about the world or the foundations of morality.

Mass is the Medium

Nicholas Carr at TNR reviews Douglas Coupland’s biography of Marshall McLuhan. Here’s an interesting bit:

The central fact of McLuhan’s life, as Coupland makes clear, was his conversion, at the age of twenty-five, to Catholicism, and his subsequent devotion to the religion’s rituals and tenets. Though he never discussed it, his faith forms the moral and intellectual backdrop to all his mature work. What lay in store, McLuhan believed, was the timelessness of eternity. The earthly conceptions of past, present, and future were, by comparison, of little consequence. His role as a thinker was not to celebrate or denigrate the world but simply to understand it, to recognize the patterns that would unlock history’s secrets and thus provide hints of God’s design. His job was not dissimilar, as he saw it, from that of the artist.

So Marshall McLuhan was Catholic and it was a big part of his life. This, I think, gives a nice little heuristic device. We can read that fact as consonant with his most famous dictum: the medium–mass–is the message. Participating in mass is performing the truth. This is something I think of as fairly particularly Catholic (with a bit of it in Anglicanism) and specifically alien to evangelicalism. Here’s McLuhan in Annie Hall (or perhaps these are his most famous words…):

(via The Daily Dish)

Bob Dylan and President Obama

Zoë Pollock posts at The Daily Dish:

Dennis G. elaborates on an analogy made by Glenn Thrush, that Obama offends liberals like Bob Dylan offended folk-loving hippies when he went electric. Dennis defends both for their rock and roll attitude:

Dylan shocked these folksters when he plugged in an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.  … They did not hate the songs. They hated the way that Dylan presented the music. … Dylan had a very hard time accepting their rage as sensible on any level and from time to time he lashed out at them with comments that some folks today might call ‘attacking his base’. …

[T]ime proved Dylan right and the process outrage of the folksters just looks silly in retrospect. And two years into the Obama Administration I think the same can be said about all the process rage directed at President Obama.

Two things. One, the analogy is off because Dylan and Obama shocked in opposite ways: Dylan basically abandoned the rules and showed people that it was better to leave a lyrical/musical genius untethered. Obama clutched the rules and showed people that it was good and necessary that he clutch them and try to govern within fairly strict boundaries. Two, the analogy is somewhat apt because both Dylan and Obama have been/will be mostly exonerated for their respective decisions. Wholesale for Dylan; Obama will have some ticks against him. I think he has been far too comfortable with continuing the expansion of the power of the executive branch, particularly with respect to war/terrorism; a path that, I think, history will judge to be understandable but unworthy.

In short, I’m really glad Dylan does what he does. I’m also mostly glad Obama does what he does (and given a functional lack of options, very glad). In light of the recent holidays, here’s Dylan saying/singing HoHoHo and gesturing vaguely with his hands: