Thursday, January 09, 2003

The protean meaning of the phenomenon of the fart

The NY Times is not paying enough attention to prepositions. On its front page Wednesday, this headline: “US, in a Shift, Is Willing to Talk With North Korea About A-Arms.” Actually, though, that’s not the case. The US statement is that it has decided to speak to North Korea. Not with North Korea, but to North Korea. The distinction will not have eluded the North Koreans.

I haven’t noticed the FBI showing any embarrassment over last week’s fallacious warning about 5 Middle Easterners infiltrating the country from Canada. It’s not just that they went into full panic mode over a tip from one guy, but that they failed to notice that the pictures and names they had were of Pakistanis, not Arabs.

There are 54 Mexican nationals in US death rows. According to Mexico, which has gone to the World Court, all of them have been denied consular access.

Speaking of lack of evidence, there’s a cute piece in Salon by William Saletan comparing the press’s reporting of unsubstantiated claims that a clone has been born to reporting of unsubstantiated claims by the US that Iraq has weapons.

The Israeli Supreme Court allows the 2 Arab MPs to run for re-election. Which is fine as far as it goes, but the willingness of Jewish politicians to jettison the democratic rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to have someone to vote for remains disturbing. The Court also allowed the candidacy of Meir Kahane’s racist successor. Meanwhile, the corruption scandal in Likud reaches Sharon. He went on tv today to denounce any suggestion that he would ever break election rules, only to have the broadcast ended in the middle by order of the election commission because it, well, broke election rules. The rules he had broken were that he illegally borrowed money after Likud was ordered to repay election contributions that had also broken the rules. Oh, and then he lied about the source of the borrowed money. Another infinite regression loop, just like the never-ending exchange of “reprisals.” Even his broadcast today wasn’t an explanation, but a series of accusations against his accusers and the Labor party--libel, perjury, etc.

WARNING: JOKE IN EXTREME POOR TASTE COMING UP. The UN reports that rebels in the Congo are eating pygmies. This is what happens when cannibals go on a diet.

Publisher’s blurb for On Farting: Bodily Wind in the Middle Ages by Valerie Allen and John Thompson: "The study of the fart in medieval culture participates in the widespread and productive contemporary study of the body, its practices and its hermeneutics. As a consequence of the cultural materialist interest in the quotidian, recent criticism has moved away from an abstracted conception of selfhood toward an appreciation of how the concrete daily regimens of bodily habits, generally taken for granted, shape the horizon of our cultural and individual consciousness. The fart, in its parodying of language and its logic of affinity, leads us ultimately to the problem of interpretation itself. ... A multifarious typology of the fart will permit a better understanding of the phenomenon's protean wealth of meaning.”

It takes years of grad school before you can write a boring book about farting.

Which leads us to another book, “Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis.” According to the review, ancient Hebrews used to swear oaths with their hands on their testicles, which is the origin of the word testify. My Oxford Concise says it’s the other way around, that the word testicles comes from the Latin testis (witness), suggesting that testicles are a witness to virility. There will be a short quiz on all this later.

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