Who Said It’s A Gift To See Ourselves As Others See Us?

It was Robert Burns, who wrote:

Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion.

Well, seeing ourselves as others see us might not keep us from blundering, but it is clearly a path to humor. My son who lives in Amsterdam recently sent me this reaction to America’s 2016 election  from a Netherlands comedian, and it is just too good not to share.

Doom and gloom can wait until tomorrow…


The Last Laugh?

One of the striking differences between Right-wing folks and those further left on the political spectrum is the humorlessness of the former. (Admittedly, go too far left, and you’ll find folks who are equally humorless.)

Some of you may recall efforts to find a Rightwing counterpart to Jon Stewart, back when he and the Daily Show were huge cultural influences.  It failed miserably–the short-lived conservative effort just wasn’t funny. Currently, late night humor/satire is predictably anti-Trump. I would be hard-pressed to name a popular conservative comedian.

What made me think about the uneven distribution of witty entertainment was reading #Secondcivilwarletters.

For readers of this blog who may inexplicably have missed them, the “letters”–patterned after the letters read as part of Ken Burns’ civil war documentary–absolutely owned Twitter and the Internet. The hashtag was a response to crazy Alex Jones’ (Infowars) assertion that “the liberals” were going to start a second civil war on the 4th of July. (News flash to Alex–it’s the 10th. No war yet.)

The only war that did begin was with humor on Twitter–and it was brilliant. And very funny.

In a large number of them, liberals poked fun at themselves and what we might term “liberal culture.” For example:

Dear Mother: the WiFi is weak and my last tweet went unliked. iPhone battery at 3%. Soles of my Toms are worn thin. Tonight we decamp to the Prospect Park bandshell with only goat cheese, a flat sheet, and a dry Zinfandel to watch Antibalas perform.

The ability to laugh at yourself is–in my humble opinion–the most essential element of a genuine sense of humor. (My mother used to say that anyone can laugh when someone else slips on a banana peel, but people with a real sense of humor can laugh when they slip on a banana peel.)

So what, you say. Why does humor matter?

It matters because a number of research studies have found an association between humour and intelligence.

Researchers in Austria recently discovered that funny people, particularly those who enjoy dark humour, have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They argue that it takes both cognitive and emotional ability to process and produce humour. Their analysis shows that funny people have higher verbal and non-verbal intelligence, and they score lower in mood disturbance and aggressiveness.

Not only are funny people smart, they’re nice to be around. Evidence suggests that having a good sense of humour is linked to high emotional intelligence and is a highly desirable quality in a partner. Evolutionary psychologists describe humour as a “heritable trait” that signals mental fitness and intellectual agility to prospective mates. In studies of attractiveness, both men and women rate funny people as more attractive, and cite having a good sense of humour as being one of the most important traits in a long-term partner.

The connection between intelligence and education is much more attenuated–plenty of people who haven’t gone to college are smart (and as a college professor I can attest to the fact that plenty of people who have managed to get through college are significantly less than brilliant.) But to the extent that ones’ level of education does signify knowledge or intellect, it’s telling that white support for Trump divides sharply between people without college degrees–who voted for and/or support him– and people with college degrees, who didn’t and don’t.

In this age of tribalism, there are so many ways Americans have “sliced and diced” ourselves–religion, race, gender, urban versus rural, etc. I’m really reluctant to add to those divisions, especially with a snippy and facile generalization. But there are some conclusions we can draw from the characteristics of the pro- and con-Trump camps, and one of them is that smart people don’t support this unstable, ignorant and dangerous President.

Who will get the last laugh is, unfortunately, still an open question.


Justice, Justice….

“Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.”

Yesterday, I read two unrelated items that brought that Talmudic injunction rather forcefully to mind. The first was a line in an excellent review in the Atlantic of two books about Sholem Aleichem, sometimes called the “Jewish Mark Twain.” (Aleichem was the creator of Tevye, the inspiration for the central character in Fiddler on the Roof.) The sentence that struck me was this: Jewish humor arises in the gap between reality and dreams, reality and justice.”

The other item was a story from the Huffington Post. The headline says it all: For the First Time Ever, a Prosecutor Will Go to Jail for Wrongfully Convicting an Innocent Man.

The prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, possessed evidence that would have cleared the defendant, including a statement from the crime’s only eyewitness that the defendant wasn’t the perpetrator. Anderson sat on that evidence and obtained a conviction of the accused, who remained in prison for the next 25 years.  Meanwhile, Anderson’s career flourished, and he eventually became a judge.

As unjust as this situation was, as shocking to the conscience, what makes it newsworthy is the fact that Anderson actually was punished. As the story notes–and as most lawyers can attest– this is not an isolated case of malfeasance. Although most prosecutors and judges are ethical practitioners who take their obligations to the rule of law seriously, there are far too many who do not, and they are rarely, if ever, sanctioned. A recent study found prosecutorial misconduct in nearly a quarter of all capital cases in Arizona. Only two of those prosecutors have been reprimanded or punished in any way.

Evidence of gross misconduct leading to injustice isn’t limited to the legal system. It is increasingly impossible to ignore the corruption of our social and governing institutions. Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen it everywhere–from rampant corporate misbehavior to major league sports doping to revelations of priestly child molestation to corrupt lobbyists to propagandists masquerading as journalists to Congressmen who cut food stamps for hungry children while fiercely protecting tax loopholes and corporate welfare for their patrons.

In this dismal ethical environment, justice isn’t the first word that comes to mind.

An unjust, unfair world invites–demands–political satire, and satire, at least, is thriving. You need only watch Jon Stewart for an example of Jewish humor that “arises in the gap between justice and reality.” It’s a big gap. The Sholem Aleichem reviewer suggests that the purpose of Jewish humor is to “give yourself some distance from your hopeless situation.” If that’s accurate, most humor these days is Jewish humor.

Gallows humor.

I enjoy a good laugh, but I’d prefer a more just world.

About Those Cows….

A cousin sent me an updated version of the old “A man has two cows” explanation of capitalism, socialism, fascism and nazism (and yes, ranting radio people and Faux News anchors, there is indeed a difference between them–they aren’t just interchangeable insult words). I don’t usually pass on Internet humor, but this new version really does capture the crazy that is our global economic life. (Look especially at the “Venture Capitalist” explanation…)


Subject: how the world REALLY works….made simple
*A Cow based Economics Lesson;

You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbor.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the 
United States , leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you
want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide.

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the ** out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive.


This Made Me Laugh

A little humor for the weekend (h/t Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars):

From Butch Hancock of the band Flatlanders:

“Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.”