Friday links! Bounds of realism edition

Trevor Goodchild confronts some dilemma or another in the "Thanatophobia" episode of Aeon Flux.

Trevor Goodchild confronts some dilemma or another in the “Thanatophobia” episode of Aeon Flux.

This country used to be well written, but I worry that we’ve jumped the shark. The soft-authoritarian security state plotline was interesting when we started it in the early part of the millennium, but it was the characters that made it. I liked watching everyone struggle with their new identities, whether they were willing to sacrifice freedom for security, and the hating/becoming hipsters B plot was fun. Lately, though, I feel like we’ve transgressed the bounds of psychological realism. “America” is becoming another sci-fi melodrama, with the principal characters veering off into behavior that just isn’t believable. Today is Friday, and what started as national character has become caricature. Won’t you turn a critical eye with me?

First, the good news: the NSA was able to tap Catholic cardinals’ phones before the conclave that chose the new pope. The United States has a vital national security interest in knowing who the new pope is going to be, obviously, because we have a v. national s.i. in knowing everything. Everything! According to the Italian news magazine Panorama,* Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 9.30.00 AMthe NSA monitored the 2005 and most recent conclaves for information pertaining to “leadership, financial system threats, foreign policy objectives and human rights issues.” With the inclusion of “financial system threats,” thousands of conspiracy jerks are vindicated.

I meant to type “millions of conspiracy jerks.” I saw this Eyebloc Webcam Privacy Blocker over an ad for “37 things you should hoard,” which is what I get for reading American Spectator. Endorsed on Fox News by Miss Teen USA—the Miss USA you should not find attractive—Eyebloc “delivers the peace of mind that no one is watching.” Not even God can see you once you’ve put a piece of plastic over your webcam. Also, it is a quaint understanding of internet espionage that thinks people want to look at you. Once they have your site history, contacts list and credit card numbers, they are not interested in knowing that you are also fat.

Nobody cares about being constantly surveilled anyway. There’s only one issue in American politics; there always has been, and there always will be: taxes. It’s a known fact that lowering taxes on top earners stimulates the economy, and raising taxes on upper income brackets discourages people from becoming rich. If being rich pays 5% less, people won’t do it at all. It’s because they’re so frugal. The Guardian challenges three decades of obvious truth with this article suggesting that the top tax rate could go as high as 83% without damaging the economy. Of course, it’s already scandalously high at 28%, even though it was nearly twice that between World War II and the Reagan presidency, when the US economy was about as robust as it’s ever been.

That was the old, ballsy United States, though—when America was willing to try all kinds of crazy stuff just to see what works. That’s the mercurial, prickly America viewers fell in love with, but over the course of several seasons the character has morphed into a benignly eccentric gadgeteer—a Doc Brown, if you will. In a mean, pretty-much unargued editorial that the New York Times somehow declined to publish, Bansky alleges that one only need look at the new World Trade Center to see that America has given up. Designed by committee, compromised and infuriatingly delayed, One World Trade is a monument to this country’s plan to get nothing right ever again via never doing anything wrong. Or it’s a skyscraper with billions of dollars of conflicting investment interests behind it, and was never intended to be art in the first place. Maybe both.

Who’s to say what’s good and bad, anyway? The intention of the architect is irrelevant. Normative judgment is by definition arbitrary, and the very notions of “good” and “bad” emerge from a privileged discourse that hegemonizes non-comparative ways of knowing. It’s all summed neatly in Discourse on the Otter, which supplies what postmodern discourse has been lacking all along: pictures. Props to my brother for the link.

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