Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Stick Figure's Halloween

All good harvests come to an end.  The lighter half must now slumber as the darker farce rises. Since the dawn of time, circles and lines have risen and fallen in the charade of irregularity. The same circles and lines that we Stick Figures call our ancestors.

From the primeval sludge, circles and lines emerged, had their brief time, and then, perished, along with the countless other circles and lines that came before them.

We Stick Figures are now nearly extinct, all but for a few circles and lines that remain. We are known in your world as Stick Figures, but we cannot be reduced to such piffle. We are not goggledygook; we are not an act of artistic barbarism in need of explanation. 

We are the original circles and lines that shaped this world, and we’ve surfaced tonight, this holy night, this night of secular custom you associate with Halloween, to warn you of a cataclysmic event that may have humanity clinging by its collective fingertips to the cliff of existence unless two bonfires inside two pumpkins adorning every dwelling are lit to lighten this world and restore drollery.

 According to legend, it is this darkened half of the year, 2011, not the popularized 2012, when the graveyards of the world, beds of brush and stone, return the circles and lines of yesteryears to lark the human species with jape and mischief.

These are perilous days. While our own extinction is not connected to the ruse of your species, we fret.  We fret for we fear you will not heed our warning, ignoring that at this very moment your species is hurtling toward a date with drivel.

Forewarned is forearmed. DO NOT forget to light two pumpkins outside your door on Halloween night for there would be nothing worse than awakening on November 1st, 2011, only to meet your doom wearing nothing more than your Halloween costume, a chocolate mustache, and an embarrassed expression on your face for having failed to light two, measly little pumpkins. 

Let no jester tell you that they told you so.

This Halloween message is for those who do not wish to perish into tomfoolery come the stroke of midnight on this very Halloween night.

The Illogical Logic of Jokes

Evening Falls, Magritte

Humor often brings two different thought interpretations together in quick succession. In this sense, a logical assessment from any statement, while tacitly understood, is still illogical. 

How seriously should any notion be taken? Perhaps only as seriously as we take language, music, politics, or art. Given we are prone to place undue importance on many things, including ourselves, applying logic to any thought, despite the tangible value, is in itself, illogical. 

This is where I found humor to reside. Despite the highly entertaining experience of humorously demonstrating faulty logic, there seems to be an energie inherent in this silliness that enables me to laugh or giggle at what might otherwise be interpreted as something unpleasant or not funny. 

Not to Be Reproduced, Magritte

For me, there is no good reason to take any notion in the known universe too seriously. Of course, that doesn't mean that I refrain from doing so. Like many others, I take ideas and suggest new structures and operations. 

Lonely Metropolitan, Herbert Bayer

Given that I am neither omnipotent nor omniscient, I am faced with the experience of existing, until, perhaps, I don't. As such, it is much more entertaining to apply my own faulty logic to jokes rather than any other subject due to a personal preference for levity, liveliness, and amusement. 

If you think about it, humor is riddled with faulty logic and simply representative of that faulty logic inherent in the history of human thought. In this respect, humor is like sitting center stage to a giant cosmic joke in which, despite our willingness or propensity to fuel the plot, we continue to do so. That in itself is funny. 

In this vein, applying logic to jokes is completely logical in its illogicalness. 

I experience both delight and tortue in anything illogical...

Chiastic Humor

John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), the 35th president of the United States, was a Master of Chiasmus. No other president used as extensively - or effectively - the art of chiasmus. His witty speeches included the famous: 

Nearly any statement could be rearranged and reiterated to yield an intelligible chiasmus (except maybe this one), delivering in the second half a different intonation and emphasis filled with scorn, skepticism, or irony. These interesting linguistic algorithms are often mildly amusing if not downright humorous. Here's a few constructions of relational reversal to brighten your day. While humor won't fix society's needs, it'll give society a needed fix. Just beware of life's shortcuts, taking them may cut short your life. I, jokingly of course, wouldn't be caught dead in any of these dead jokes. 



Jokes often record the funniest and happiest moments of the happiest and funniest minds. 

The rich may be idle, but the idle will rarely ever get rich.

Runner: I live to run. 
Politician: I run to live. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Aging and Humor

I think I've figured it out, the whole aging business. You see, deep down, I still believe I have superpowers such as flight, invisibility, telekinesis, and yes, immortality. These are not mere flights of fancy for me. I secretly and personally define myself at the very core of my being as...wait for it...special. 

Imbued with these powers, most would seek out next week's lottery or delve into the tangled web of global politics, but not me. I manage the effects of gravity by telling myself that these powers are here for me "in a pinch."  Should I ever need them, these gifts will help me avert tragedies or warn others of a coming calamity. 

But believe me, the power to see into the future, or at least know something before someone else does, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Let's say, for instance, that you look in the mirror and you're unhappy with the frown lines on your forehead, or you say to yourself, "Where did THAT come from?" And that whatever "that" is, is something you don't want. 

Then, you find yourself peering deeper and deeper into the mirror and using that power of precognition, you see yourself all wrinkled, feeble, and downright old. At that point, foreknowledge isn't such a good thing. 

I panic a bit. I have two choices. Go back to bed and agonize over my fading youth, or allow my future self to speak to myself right now. I instantly remind myself, "Now, now, it's not as bad as you think. In fact, you'd be thrilled to have this body 30 years from now. Look at how tan you are; look at how smooth your skin is; look at yourself in the mirror, if you lied about your age, you could pass for 7 years younger than you are today, and in the grand scheme of life, that's pretty young. Enjoy this moment. Celebrate this moment. Have fun. And remember, this is that time that you'll think back to later and wish you could be here." 

My future self is so wise. I just love her! 

Prophets and their prophecies often warn of doom and gloom. Me, I use my special powers for insight. These special powers of mine are what allow me to take an ordinary day and make it oh so special. These are the powers that get me through each fine line and belly bulge that comes my way. 

Even when I'm 95 years old, I'll still have these powers. My future self might be dead, lifeless, and oh so unattractive, it's that self that would console my hard-of-hearing 95 year old whipper snapper and say, "Look at it this way, at least you're not dust. It's not as bad as you think. In fact, you'd be thrilled to have this body a few years from now. Look at how your chest moves up and down with that beautiful breath inside it, filling up your lungs, breath after breath; look at how your skin moves when you rub it, that sure beats rigamortis; just look at yourself in the mirror, if you were dead you wouldn't even be able to stand up, see that walker there, it would be useless. At least you can walk yourself into the kitchen for a snack. And, oh, don't get me started on the pure joy of snacks when you're in your nineties. If you want pumpkin pie for breakfast, with Cool Whip, you eat it. Remember the days when you refused to indulge yourself in a bag of potato chips and dip? Those days are long gone. Enjoy! Pig out! At this age, when you gain weight, it fills in the wrinkles and you drop, oh, let's say, 3 or 4 years. You could totally pass for 89, and in the grand scheme of life, that's pretty young. Enjoy this moment. Celebrate this moment. Have fun. And remember, this is that time that you'll think back to later and wish you could be here."


Sophy Laughing, 2070!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Will Ferrell wins the 14th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Will Ferrell

Will Ferrell received the 14th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday, October 23, 2011. The award ceremony featured a lineup of the biggest names in entertainment, including Jack Black (my favorite), Green Day, Larry King, Nathan Lane, Adam McKay, Lorne Michaels, Conan O'Brien, John C. Reilly, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, and Molly Shannon. 

The cast of entertainers saluted Will for his humor and wit, paying tribute to his accomplishments in television and as a motion picture star. Jack Black kicked off the event with a Ferrell-themed cover of Queen's "We Will Rock You" ("Will, will, Will will...rock you!"). 

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is America's foremost award for humor, having been awarded by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts annually since 1998. The prize is named after Mark Twain, the 19th century American novelist, essayist and humorist. The prize is presented in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington, D.C., during which the honoree is celebrated by his or her peers. 

Richard Pryor was awarded the first prize in 1998, followed by Jonathan Winters in 1999, Carl Reiner in 2000, Whoopi Goldberg in 2001, Bob Newhard in 2002, Lily Tomlin in 2003, Lorne Michaels in 2004, Steve Martin in 2005, Neil Simon in 2006, Billy Crystal in 2007, George Carlin in 2008, Bill Cosby in 2009, Tiny Fey in 2010, and, now, Will Ferrell for 2011. 

Ferrell, while delivering his acceptance speech, dropped the award bust, shattering Mark Twain's head into shards. 

"There are no accidents, all things have a deep and calculated purpose; sometimes the methods employed by Providence seem strange and incongruous, but we have only to be patient and wait for the result." 

"The Refuge of the Derelicts" 
published in Fables of Man

I'd like to think that Mark Twain, with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and human folly, would have interpreted the accident (or stunt) with the congenial wit for which he was famous... 

"Let us be thankful for the fools; but for them the rest of us could not succeed."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ode to Willy A. Higginbotham - Video Game Pioneer

Dear Dr. Higginbotham:

I realize that you wanted to be remembered for your work in nuclear nonproliferation, but the world has, let's just say, maintained some constants in human behavior, and accordingly, remembers you for creating the world's first computer video game, Tennis for Two. 

While I'm sure your work as Chairman of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) was fascinating and all, especially the part about using scientific analysis to make the world more secure, it's really your video game that interests our technologically-minded generation. It's this work that the world pays for, that warrants royalties, which of course, you didn't earn on your game.

It might have been a good idea, in hindsight, to have created an atomic bomb video game that simulated what would happen to people and the planet we live on should an atomic weapon ever be detonated, but, unfortunately, history tells us that your work on timing devices to detonate the first atomic bomb and the subsequent beta testing on this one took a turn for the worse. 

Still, it really was your hands-on display for "Visitor's Day" at Brookhaven National Laboratory that people remember. The prior cardboard displays with blinking lights to look at, geiger counters and electronic circuits to fiddle with, didn't really "do it" for people. 

It was a stroke of genius to take that oscilloscope (the one with the cathode ray tube like the old TV picture tubes) and an old analog computer and hook them up in a way that a "ball" of light would bounce randomly around the screen. 

Think about it, all those years of missing parties to study, whereas you could have spent that time playing Tennis for Two. Years of work vs. the two hours it took you to draw up the schematic diagram for Table for Two...imagine all the fun you missed out on, not to mention, all those royalties. 

Within minutes, hundreds of people were crowding around your game for a chance to play. They didn't care about peaceful applications of nuclear energy, they wanted to be entertained. Given this response in 1958, it's not difficult to move forward that time line to today, when most people would rather be entertained than give due consideration to the work you people in white lab coats are conducting for the governments and oligarchies who pay you to do so (but I won't go into that today). 

For someone so smart, you didn't have an inkling as to the significance of what you had done. No, not nuclear nonproliferation, but that confounded game of yours! Thanks to you, generations of kids ignore their homework while their parents scoff at their responsibilities just to play meaningless games. 

After Visitor's Day in 1959 you took the game apart and put the pieces away. What were you thinking? You could have patented your invention and earned oodles of money while the world went on playing games. Even the patent lawyer for one of Magnavox's competitors might have helped you make some money off this little stunt of yours. 

But you're right, money isn't everything and you wanted to be remembered for your work in nuclear nonproliferation. You do realize, of course, that most people don't know what that means, right? That might be why most people don't really care. What they do like is games. In 2001, Americans spent $9.4 billion dollars on video game systems and software. 

While I realize working for the government means they would have owned the patent (anything you invent under the umbrella of the government belongs to the government), but it's kind of ironic that you're remembered more for a bouncing ball than for your noteworthy work in nuclear physics. 

It just goes to show that no matter how hard you work, no matter how much you sacrifice, sometimes all any of us can hope to be remembered for might end up being something silly. I guess it's a good lesson in not taking oneself (and the systems society creates) so seriously. 
PS: I love video games, but personally, I thank you for the work you did in promoting a safer and more secure world by developing and advancing security policies that educated the public and policy makers, which promoted more transparency. It's this transparency that the world is demanding today. So, in the end, perhaps, you'll be remembered for your true pioneering efforts after all. 

William Higinbotham (1910 - 1994)