(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘satire

“If you must lie (and you must), lie honorably”*…

Long-time reaaders will know of your correspondent’s affection and regard for The Yes Men, the culture jamming activist duo Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos (and their network of supporters). They’ve impersonated– lampooned in painfully telling ways– everyone from President George W. Bush and Dow Chemical to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the New York Post (above)… much of it chronicled in three wonderful films made about their work. They’ve also done their best to encourage and enable others. But now, they’re really giving it all away…

Two years ago, we Yes Men received a generous seed grant to “replicate,” i.e. help activist groups use our tricks. We spent the next two years absorbed in careful experiments that built on the twenty years before that.

Now — on the occasion of a retrospective showing of things that we’ve made, and in the hopes of fulfilling the grantor’s wish to see “hundreds” of Yes Men take wing — we’re inviting you to sign up for our Meddleverse…

Learn from the best– @theyesmen share their activist secrets in the Meddleverse.

• The Yes Men


As we admire audacity, we might recall that on this date in 2006 that last Mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) unit was decommissioned by the United States Army… 23 years after the final episode of the TV series, M*A*S*H, that made those facilities famous (even as it critiqued war in general– and the Vietnam War, which was underway when the series premiered– in particular).

HQ of the 8225th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, Korea, in 1951


“A Monograph I promised, and a Monograph this shall be”*…

Virginius Dabney wrote the American South’s great postmodern novel. Too bad he did it in 1866…

I found Virginius Dabney in the usual way: which is to say, by accident. I was pawing through a box of antiquarian books when one old volume fell open and a centerfold fell out. Not that: it was a centerfold of sheet music. I cradled the book in my hand and examined the title page

The Story of Don Miff,

As Told by His Friend John Bouche Whacker:

A Symphony of Life.

Edited by Virginius Dabney.

It appeared to be a novel, but as I idly flipped through it, more centerfolds flopped out: sheet music again. I thought for a moment that someone had jammed them in there, but no, they were bound in. Then I began to notice the title of each section of the book. Symphony of Life Movement One. Symphony of Life Movement Two. Symphony of…

The book had a publication date of 1886, just the period I tend to favor, and it bore the imprint of J. B. Lippincott Company, a major publisher. Yet I’d never heard of it or its author. And what was more, most—but not all—of the parts in the orchestral score inserted into the book were blank. The whole thing seemed rather curious. Then I started reading, and it got curioser and curioser.

Don Miff is… well, first let me state that I am reasonably sure that I am correct when I say that Don Miff is the only nineteenth-century novel that is addressed to a tenth-generation descendant living in the twenty-third century. Or that this descendant is Asian-American—because, as the narrator muses, even as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was coming into force, perhaps “under the contempt expressed for them as inferiors there lurks a secret, unrealized sense of their real superiority?” And even this grandson faces a superior force to himself: women. With mechanization removing the advantages of physical force, Dabney predicts, men and their wearisome violence will become obsolete. Only a few men will be “preserved here and there in zoological gardens of the wealthy and the curious, along with rare specimens of the bison of the prairie, skeletons of the American Indian and the dodo…”—and there his tenth-removed grandson will be exhibited to the inquisitive stares of numberless crowds of women. “You will rue the day when your ancestors, mistaking might for right, excluded woman from that haven of rest, the ballot-box.”

It is to this twenty-third-century Asian-American grandson, a living exhibit in a peaceful matriarchy, that the great Southern novel of 1886 is addressed.

Dabney, making his morning commute as a deputy collector at the Customs House downtown, had collapsed unconscious on a bench after climbing the stairs to the El line at Eighteenth and Third. His grown son Noland was by his side, and called for help, but it was too late. Virginius Dabney was due to turn fifty-nine soon, and already lucky to be alive after a previous stroke. But this time, his luck ran out…

Colleagues stood up and recalled how, even though he had only been working there for nine months before dying, old Virginius was one of the most genial men to ever hold the job: a true Southern gentleman. Some of the may have known that, before then, he’d been an editor at the Commercial Advertiser, and that before that he’d run the New-York Latin School for many years. A few might have even have heard that once, eight or nine years ago, their deputy collector had written… something or other.

And that is where history closes its book upon our author. There is no biography of Virginius Dabney: no critical studies of his work, no scholarly papers on the man. Search any database and you will find innumerable hits on “Virginius Dabney,” but these are of his namesake grandson—a Richmond Times-Dispatch editor who won a Pulitzer in 1948 for writing against segregation on city transit lines. Of his dear old granddad, there is nothing.

Why? How could such a forward-looking book have been ignored?

Think back upon one of Dabney’s immediate predecessors at the Customs House. He, too, had written a curious book years before—and, like Dabney, had soon been largely forgotten, and left to toil in obscurity in the downtown warehouses by the late 1880s. His great book was out of print and would stay that way for decades. When he died, he got an even shorter obituary than Dabney did. Apparently nobody cared as much around the Customs House for Mr. Herman Melville.

If we wonder why Don Miff is forgotten, we might also ask—why did it take seventy years for Moby-Dick to be recognized as a masterpiece? Until the 1920s, it was out of print in the United States, and appreciated in the United Kingdom primarily as a maritime tale. It was not until the excavation of Melville by Lewis Mumford and his fellow critics, and the rise of Modernism, that—oh, look! A masterpiece!

Which, of course, it is… now…

Read Emily Dickinson next to other then-famous poets of her time—Tupper, say, or even Longfellow—and her contemporaries look staggeringly old-fashioned. Dickinson is new, spare, prophetic. It is tempting, reading her mysterious and yet intensely personal lines, to think to yourself: My god, it’s as if she knew the future of poetry. But the truth is precisely the opposite; it is because we know the future that the way we read her work is irrevocably altered. The point is not that Emily Dickinson saw the future, but rather, that the future saw her. She appeals to our own aesthetic, and fits in with our notion of a suitable lineage. Had our economic, aesthetic, and political world turned out differently—if, say, heroic socialist odes were the fashion—then Emily Dickinson would have been just another crazy lady in Amherst.

The present catches up to the past: “The Lost Symphony,” from the wonderful Paul Collins (@PaulCollinsPDX) and the good old days of The Believer– eminently worth reading in full.

* Virginius Dabney


As we look back, we might recall that it was on this date in 1726 that Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships— much better known as Gulliver’s Travels— was first published.  A satire both of human nature and of the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre popular at the time, it was (unlike Don Miff) an immediate hit (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”).  It has, of course, become a classic.


“Human decision-making is complex. On our own, our tendency to yield to short-term temptations, and even to addictions, may be too strong for our rational, long-term planning.”*…

Many of us acknowledge that long-term thinking is a difficult, but necessary investment in a safe and happy future– our obligation to those who come after us. But it turns out that long-term thinking has more immediate benefits as well…

In times of global crisis, focusing on the present is justified. Yet as we move into 2021, there is good reason to spend some time also reflecting on our place within the longer-term past and future. For one, there remain creeping problems that we cannot ignore, such as climate change, antibiotic resistance or biodiversity loss. But also because contemplating deeper time can help replenish our mental energies during adversity, and offer a meditative source of catharsis amid the frenzy of the now.

In my research and writing, I explore the worldviews of nuclear waste experts in Finland, who reckon with radioactive isotopes over extremely long-term planetary timeframes. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years, whereas uranium-235’s half-life is over seven hundred million years. Like many anthropologists doing fieldwork within other cultures, my mission has been to uncover insights that could widen people’s perspectives in my own or other societies.

While the experiences of a nuclear waste expert may seem an unusual source of inspiration for well-being, this research has taught me that there can be personal benefits to stretching the intellect across time. Here’s how you might integrate some of these principles into your own life as you step into next year.

Doing Safety Case-inspired deep time exercises can not only help us imagine local landscapes over decades, centuries, and millennia. It can also help us take a step back from our everyday lives – transporting our minds to different places and times, and feeling rejuvenated when we return.

There are several benefits to this. Cognitive scientists have shown how creativity can be sparked by perceiving “something one has not seen before (but that was probably always there).” Corporate coaches have recommended taking breaks from our familiar thinking patterns to experience the world in new ways and overcome mental blocks. Contemplating deep time can cultivate a thoughtful appreciation of our species’ and planet’s longer-term histories and futures.

Yet it can also help us refresh during frazzled moments of unrest. Setting aside a few minutes each day for deep time contemplation can enrich us by evoking a momentary sense of awe. A Stanford University study has shown how awe can expand our sense of time and promote well-being. Anthropologist Barbara King has shown how awe can be “mind- and heart-expanding.”

Our challenge, then, is to discover, in ourselves, techniques for always bringing an awe-inspired awareness of deep time with us – wherever our futures may lead.

Taking inspiration from a far-sighted Finnish nuclear waste project, anthropologist Vincent Ialenti (@vincent_ialenti) explains why embracing Earth’s radical long-term can be good for well-being today: the benefits of embracing ‘deep time’ in a year like this.

* Peter Singer


As we find perspective and peace in being good ancestors, we might say alles Gute zum Geburtstag to Georg Christoph Lichtenberg; he was born on this date in 1742. Lichtenberg held the first professorship in Germany explicitly dedicated to experimental physics; he is remembered for his posthumously published notebooks, which he himself called sudelbücher, a description modelled on the English bookkeeping term “waste books” or “scrapbooks”, and for his discovery of tree-like electrical discharge patterns now called Lichtenberg figures.

One of the first scientists to introduce experiments with apparatus in their lectures, Lichtenberg was a popular and respected figure in contemporary European intellectual circles. He was one of the first to introduce Benjamin Franklin’s lightning rod to Germany by installing such devices in his house and garden sheds. He maintained relations with most of the great figures of that era, including Goethe and Kant. Ans was sought out by other leading scientists: Alessandro Volta visited Göttingen especially to see him and his experiments; mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss sat in on his lectures.

But Lichtenberg was also an accomplished satirist, whose works put him in the highest ranks of German writers of the 18th century. And he proposed the standardized paper size system used globally today (except in Canada and the U.S.) defined by ISO 216, which has A4 as the most commonly used size.

Perhaps in time, the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own…

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg


“The heart and soul of the company is creativity”*…

Creativity doesn’t have a deep history. The Oxford English Dictionary records just a single usage of the word in the 17th century, and it’s religious: ‘In Creation, we have God and his Creativity.’ Then, scarcely anything until the 1920s – quasi-religious invocations by the philosopher A N Whitehead. So creativity, considered as a power belonging to an individual – divine or mortal – doesn’t go back forever. Neither does the adjective ‘creative’ – being inventive, imaginative, having original ideas – though this word appears much more frequently than the noun in the early modern period. God is the Creator and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the creative power, like the rarely used ‘creativity’, was understood as divine. The notion of a secular creative ability in the imaginative arts scarcely appears until the Romantic Era, as when the poet William Wordsworth addressed the painter and critic Benjamin Haydon: ‘Creative Art … Demands the service of a mind and heart.’

This all changes in the mid-20th century, and especially after the end of the Second World War, when a secularised notion of creativity explodes into prominence. The Google Ngram chart bends sharply upwards from the 1950s and continues its ascent to the present day. But as late as 1970, practically oriented writers, accepting that creativity was valuable and in need of encouragement, nevertheless reflected on the newness of the concept, noting its absence from some standard dictionaries even a few decades before.

Before the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, the history of creativity might seem to lack its object – the word was not much in circulation. The point needn’t be pedantic. You might say that what we came to mean by the capacity of creativity was then robustly picked out by other notions, say genius, or originality, or productivity, or even intelligence or whatever capacity it was believed enabled people to think thoughts considered new and valuable. And in the postwar period, a number of commentators did wonder about the supposed difference between emergent creativity and such other long-recognised mental capacities. The creativity of the mid-20th century was entangled in these pre-existing notions, but the circumstances of its definition and application were new…

Once seen as the work of genius, how did creativity become an engine of economic growth and a corporate imperative? (Hint: the Manhattan Project and the Cold War played important roles.): “The rise and rise of creativity.”

(Image above: source)

* Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company


As we lionize the latest, we might recall that it was on this date in 1726 that Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships— much better known as Gulliver’s Travels— was first published.  A satire both of human nature and of the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre popular at the time, it was an immediate hit (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”).  It has, of course, become a classic.

From the first edition


Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

“To paraphrase Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, and all those guys, “I wish I had known this some time ago”*…




“Irony” is a term that everyone uses and seems to understand. It is also a concept that is notoriously difficult to define. Much like Winona Ryder’s character in the 1994 rom-com “Reality Bites,” whose inability to describe irony costs her a job interview, we know it when we see it, but nonetheless have trouble articulating it. Even worse, it seems as if the same term is used to describe very different things. And following your mother’s advice — to look it up in the dictionary — is liable to leave you even more confused than before.

Uncertainty about irony can be found almost everywhere. An American president posts a tweet containing the phrase “Isn’t it ironic?” and is derided for misusing the term. A North Korean dictator bans sarcasm directed at him and his regime because he fears that people are only agreeing with him ironically. A song about irony is mocked because its lyrics contain non-ironic examples. The term has been applied to a number of different phenomena over time, and as a label, it has been stretched to accommodate a number of new senses. But exactly how does irony differ from related concepts like coincidence, paradox, satire, and parody?…

A handy guide to distinguishing the notoriously slippery concept of irony from its distant cousins coincidence, satire, parody, and paradox: “What Irony is Not,” excerpted from Irony and Sarcasm, by Roger Kreuz.

* Roger Zelazny, Sign of the Unicorn


As we choose our words, we might recall that it was on this date in 1483 that Pope Sixtus IV consecrated the Sistine Chapel (which takes its name from his) in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City.  Originally known as the Cappella Magna (Great Chapel), Sixtus had renovated it, enlisting a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli to create a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe-l’œil drapery below.  Michelangelo’s famous ceiling was painted from 1508 to 1512; and his equally-remarkable altarpiece, The Last Judgement, from 1536 to 1541.

220px-Sistina-interno source


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