Postmodern Death

Two male Edinburgh University students have been found dead in a Scottish hotel, in a laptop suicide pact.

UD doesn’t understand how you set up a laptop to inject drugs for you.

[They] used a laptop to deliver lethal overdoses – and may have broadcast their final moments using a webcam.

Police are probing the possibility that the harrowing footage of their deaths may have been aired over the internet.

Last night, a source said: “It looks like this was meticulously planned.

“The room was tidy and they seemed to have set up a laptop so they didn’t have to inject the drugs directly – they appear to have had a reasonable level of medical knowledge and skill.

“It also looked as if they had set up a camera to film what was happening…”

DeLillo-Style Death:

Man Jumps to his Death off

Mickey and Friends parking lot

at Disneyland


For more Don DeLillo, postmodern, deaths, go here.

This event has ALL the hallmarks of the Don DeLillo death – except that it didn’t end in death.

As you know, this blog tracks the postmodern American way of death – described and discussed most vividly in DeLillo novels like White Noise – which takes place when something goes wrong while you’re having fun in a sought-after setting. Visual technology almost always plays a part.

This latest close-to-death is another entry:

A 23-year-old American tourist fell into Mount Vesuvius while taking a selfie and dropping his cellphone inside the volcano.

Italian police had to rescue the tourist after he climbed up without a ticket and fell inside, but authorities are now charging him and his family for trespassing.

The man and three of his relatives had decided to bypass the visitor entrance, ignoring the turnstile and taking a forbidden route to the crater at the top of the volcano that looms over the Italian city of Naples.

He scrambled down inside the crater at the top of the volcano, which is active but has not seen an eruption for almost 80 years, seemingly to try and get better photographs.


UD likes the additional frisson, here, of cretinous American arrogance.

‘Florida ferry accident off exclusive island results in deaths of 2 socialites as Mercedes rolls into water’

The postmodern American death (details here), and the ultimate postmodern headline.

Wisconsin Death Trip

As we wind down toward December, this year’s fraternity-death totals are coming in, and they’re – as usual – awesome. Nothing kills eighteen year old American men in search of friendship and a college education faster than a night with the Sweethearts of Sigma Chi, professional sadists who have, over the long storied years of their chapter, perfected the art of murder by forced alcohol intake. Nothing bonds brothers like working together over many hours to make sure someone who’d like to join their club chokes to death on his vomit – unless it’s the scary manslaughter case that follows, a shared experience of adversity that brings together the boys, their adoring parents, and their supportive community, in another one of life’s tests of blood loyalty and the Greek way.

After a century packed with dead pledges, everyone agrees there’s not really anything our country can do about the Geertzian “deep play” of massive insane drunken football staging area universities like Penn State as they stagger from serial child rapist coaches, to post-game riots, to jock-on-jock homicide in the frat houses. The whole wild synergy put Penn State’s last president in jail, but this seems to have been viewed as the ultimate test of the school’s commitment to destroying the life of everyone who studies or works there without regard to status.

There are scads of universities like Penn State. There are scads of universities that make Penn State their role model.


Because the blood and the violence in these football/frat cultures are beautiful. Remember what Professor Murray Siskind, a character in White Noise who teaches a seminar on car crashes in the movies, says about these ever more violent collisions. He is talking to one of his colleagues.

“All that blood and glass, that screeching rubber. What about the sheer waste, the sense of a civilization in a state of decay?”

… “I tell [my students] it’s not decay they are seeing but innocence. The movie breaks away from complicated human passions to show us something elemental, something fiery and loud and head-on. It’s a conservative wish-fulfillment, a yearning for naivete. We want to be artless again. We want to reverse the flow of experience, of worldliness and its responsibilities. My students say, ‘Look at the crushed bodies, the severed limbs. What kind of innocence is this?'”

“What do you say to that?”

“I tell them they can’t think of a car crash in a movie as a violent act. It’s a celebration. A reaffirmation of traditional values and beliefs. I connect car crashes to holidays like Thanksgiving and the Fourth. We don’t mourn the dead or rejoice in miracles. These are days of secular optimism, of self-celebration. We will improve, prosper, perfect ourselves. Watch any car crash in any American movie. It is a high-spirited moment like old-fashioned stunt flying, walking on wings. The people who stage these crashes are able to capture a lightheartedness, a carefree enjoyment that car crashes in foreign movies can never approach.”

“Look past the violence.”

“Exactly. Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.”

Look past the teenager on life-support to the high-spirited innocent fun of the postmodern American campus, where advances in recording technology and a booming liquor industry promise Americans years of morbid viewing pleasure.


For those who consider this a “problem,” which must be “solved,” UD says: Wisconsin. Concentrate the behavior in one state. Designate one American state whose universities may, with impunity, pick off their freshman males.

Why Wisconsin? It is well-located, right in the middle of the country, for ease of access. The state has a long glorious tradition of drunkenness, and is full of jock-centric state university campuses. All universities outside of Wisconsin would shutter their Greek houses, and they would make life so difficult for the remaining illegal off-campus fraternities that the lure of Wisconsin would become irresistible.

The Death of John Ashbery is a Bump in the Day, A Flooding of the Council.

America’s greatest postmodern poet has died. And just like he was saying, one is – on hearing of his death – bumped from one’s dog-perch.


Whether the harborline or the east shoreline
consummated it was nobody’s biz until you got there,
eyelids ashimmer, content with one more dispensation
from blue above. And just like we were saying,
the people began to show some interest
in the mud-choked harbor. It could be summer again
for all anyone in our class knew.
Yeah, that’s right. Bumped from our dog-perch,
we’d had to roil with the last of them.

It’s taken a while since I’ve been here,
but I’m resolved. What, didn’t I print,
little piles of notes, slopes almost Sicilian?
Here is my friend:
Socks for comfort (now boys) will see later. Did they come?
The inner grocery had to take three sets of clips away.
Speaking to him of intricate family affairs.
I’m not what you think. Stay preconscious.
It’s just the “flooding of the council.” No need to feel afraid.


Whatayawhataya. Hold on and we’ll try to make some sense of it. All the while remembering first this from Ashbery:

What [my poems] are is about the privacy of all of us, and the difficulty of our own thinking. And in that way, they are, I think, accessible if anyone cares to access them.

IOW: The soul of man is a far country (Heraclitus).

And second, this from John Koethe:

The tone [of an Ashbery poem is] likely to be nostalgic and its motions those of reverie. Its predominant feelings are passive ones, like resignation and loss; its language is resonant and suggestive; the use of narrative past tense invests it with a mythological quality; and its overall effect is one of tenderness. It dissociates itself, especially in its transitions and patterns of inference, from everyday ideas of rationality and control; its awareness of language is informed by a sense of its limitations…

So here we go.



[The poem will narrate a break in a day – something bumping into the normal flow of event. But as in the phrase bumping up, there is something clarifying about this disturbance, this – to use a word we’ll find in the poem – sudden roiling.]

Whether the harborline or the east shoreline
consummated it was nobody’s biz until you got there,

[Coastal holiday setting, it seems, harbors and shores; and if you look at the next stanza and note the word resolved, you’ll see that a conflict between, or confluence of, stability and instability appears in the poem. The speaker awaits a friend who will join him at the shore/harbor, and nothing will clarify itself until he gets there. Consummation has a sexual connotation as well, and I’m going to suggest that this poem may be about Ashbery remembering himself as a closeted young man among straight friends. Finally, on the assumption that many of Ashbery’s autobiographical poems are about writing poetry, there’s maybe a suggestion here that nothing in the world “consummates” or “resolves” into existence until the poet puts it into words. Until then, it’s all roiling and flooding and bumps.]

eyelids ashimmer, content with one more dispensation
from blue above.

[His friend is not a writer; he is merely content that nature has gifted him with another beautiful blue day, sunlight in which his eyelids shimmer. Actually, our writer isn’t a writer yet either; both of them continue to live in that blessed condition of unselfconscious youth in which you take the world, eagerly, just as it comes to you. You are one with it.].

And just like we were saying,
the people began to show some interest
in the mud-choked harbor.

[Hm. Maybe there’s a threat of flooding there – maybe it’s not a “harbor” at all, but, looked at more carefully, a mud-soaked about-to-be-flood.].

It could be summer again
for all anyone in our class knew.
Yeah, that’s right.

[Language drawn from the poet’s youth here, when he was still in “class,” and when he and his friends said to one another would-be cool phrases like Yeah, that’s right.].

Bumped from our dog-perch,
we’d had to roil with the last of them.

[Locals, these boys were above it all, watching the summer visitors with cool disregard; the oncoming flood has however knocked them from their dog-days perch, and they’ve got to join the rest of humanity as it tries to stay afloat in life. Which is to say, we have a Wordsworthian poem on our hands, lamenting the loss of childhood and the onset of adulthood.]

It’s taken a while since I’ve been here,
but I’m resolved.

[The poet has returned to his early home, and he is now a “resolved” adult – he has resolved into something – a personality, a poet, a citizen…].

What, didn’t I print,
little piles of notes, slopes almost Sicilian?

[Here is his reference to his career as a poet, his “fall” into writing and out of a world of soundless joyous unity with nature, his infinite strenuous burning efforts – Sicilian, with volcanic elements – to know the world as opposed merely to be in the world.]

Here is my friend:
Socks for comfort (now boys) will see later. Did they come?

[Ja, very obscure lines. Part of this I think is simply the “privacy” of Ashbery’s particular life – Ashbery was famously painted with argyle socks – but I think the larger idea super-compressed here is again the Wordsworthian one of youth regarded from the perspective of age. We’re boys now, with whatever – sports socks – but we will eventually be old men wearing comfort socks. As for Did they come? I’m thinking about sex – I’m thinking about how the word socks is not far from sex and sucks, and that the poet is recalling not comfort sex but athletic sex and asking a specific question about their youthful sexual experimentation. In this regard, and keeping the idea of whether something was “consummated” or not in mind, that “day bump” could also be read as someone’s erection.]

The inner grocery had to take three sets of clips away.

[Socks, clips, youth – I’m thinking bicycles here, with the poet’s mind full of the memory of objects which he takes off the brain-shelves and puts in his poems – his inner stocked grocery. Memory clips. Perhaps he’s talking about the poet taking “clips” of his past out of his mind and using them poetically; perhaps he’s alluding to the death of friends from home.]

[And now the way-enigmatic final lines of the poem:]

Speaking to him of intricate family affairs.
I’m not what you think. Stay preconscious.
It’s just the “flooding of the council.” No need to feel afraid.


Okay, so people are starting to take an interest in the mud-choked harbor — the boys’ eyes are beginning to “shimmer” with a sense of the congested psychic mess that the mature human mind happens to be. Or the boys are beginning to sense the power of their “pent-up aching rivers” – their libidos. They don’t quite feel threatened with all of that yet; but they sense the possibility of the oncoming flood of mortal pain and complication that awaits them.

In this particular remembered conversation between the poet and his friend, the poet recalls both deep candor and confidences between them (intricate family affairs) and his own actual disturbing, “roiling” secrets. I’m not what you think, he now says to his friend. I’m gay. Maybe you, my friend, begin to sense that disturbing fact, but from this vantage point I prefer that you stay preconscious, so that we can draw out this blissful pre-flood life as long as possible. What you’re seeing – what you’re disturbed by – is a sudden “flooding” of your precocious grown-up rational faculties – the “council” that sits in your head – as it begins to identity certain difficult truths. But stay young! Hold off fear and confusion as long as you possibly can.

The American Way of Death Revisited

The image of an important American politician crawling in agony across a baseball field, trying to limit himself to just one semiautomatic bullet, comes right out of the novels of this nation’s most celebrated contemporary writer, Don DeLillo.

Anyone who has read White Noise or Players knows that postmodern death and near-death à la DeLillo typically involve some combination of playtime activities, guns, and videotape. In DeLillo, death has lost the majesty, the redemptive possibilities, it had as late as, say Tolstoy’s famous story, “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Now it’s a sudden violent event that happens while adults are playing miniature golf; and someone’s usually around to film them expiring on the little fake putting green.


In Players, affluent American death occurs on a grownup golf course on a bright shiny day, with middle-class men, dressed in crayola colors, engaged in “that anal round of scrupulous caution and petty griefs.”

The golfers on this sweet green morning attend to their game. Together again momentarily on a particular fairway they appear almost to be posing in massed corporate glory before a distant flag. It is now that the vigilant hidden thing, the special consciousness implicit in a long lens, is made to show itself.

A man, his back to the camera, rises from the underbrush in the immediate foreground, about two hundred yards from the golfers. When he turns to signal someone, it’s evident he has a weapon in his right hand, a semiautomatic rifle. After signaling he doesn’t reassume his crouch. One of the golfers selects an iron.

This leisure-time massacre is actually part of a film being shown first-class passengers on a WhisperJet. None of them watches with much attention; they’re in an alcoholic/anxious haze.

The audience’s emotional distance from the bloody mess on the screen is deepened by the fact that they’re in an in-flight piano bar, with a performer who uses his instrument to comment in a campy way on what he’s seeing — on the irony of simultaneous golf and terrorism.

Watching golfers being massacred, to trills and other ornaments, seems to strike those in the piano bar … as an occasion for sardonic delight.

Not all postmodern deaths involve bullets, but virtually all, as presented in the work of DeLillo, involve playtime. In White Noise, set in a university, Professor Dimitri Costakis is “lost in the surf off Malibu. During the term break.” The school’s dean, who once “serve[d] as adviser to Nixon, Ford and Carter,” has recently met “his death on a ski lift in Austria.” Death in America is something that happens when you’re having fun. The ski lift dumps you out; the surf engulfs you; men with guns interrupt your game.


A blimp flying over the U.S. Open went down Thursday just beyond a rim of trees surrounding Erin Hills. The pilot, the blimp’s only occupant, was airlifted from the scene of the crash but was reported as alert and conscious, according to police.

Fan video caught the deflated blimp as it floated to the ground.

That one happened on the same day as the baseball game. It’s hard not to laugh at some of these misadventures, hard not to greet them sardonically. The disparity between the triviality (“petty griefs”) of blimpish voyeuristic activity, and the deflation and airlifting is just funny. It’s just so graphic an illustration of our superficiality, our childish spectatorial lives, so utterly unprepared for seriousness, reality, the crash, the spray of bullets.

Another DeLillo Demise.

Don DeLillo deaths – postmodern deaths – happen (you recall) when you’re having fun in a sought-after setting and something goes wrong. Here’s another one:

[An elderly woman] fell into a pond located at Boca Royale Golf and Country Club before [multiple] alligators grabbed her as she struggled in the water.


There’s also the universally expressed shock that lurking under your smooth luxe golfy world are – should you take one false step – multiple woman-eaters.

“I mean it’s pretty horrible and it’s shocking to think that that could actually happen,” John Whitworth, a resident told WBBH. “We see alligators from time to time but never thought that anything like that could happen.”

Which is odd because franchement down there you see alligators all the time; and you certainly know lots of them lurk just under the surface. But that’s the whole DeLillo thing – the fascinating coincidence of affluent highly secure absolute eventlessness AND total catastrophe very near to one another. It’s a very strange headspace to be in, strolling the sweet paths of your immunity even as a small part of your consciousness registers alligators, hurricanes, red tide, tsunami, sea level rise, heat wave…

Read White Noise for details.

Malfunction at Dreamworld

As Don DeLillo pointed out in his most famous novel, White Noise, death while having fun is the quintessentially postmodern death.

Lead Written by Don DeLillo.

The $3million coral art Sphinx destroyed when a 66-year-old Florida woman smashed her Rolls Royce into it was designed by British artist Damien Hirst and owned by hedge fund magnate Steven Tananbaum.

You may recall an earlier DeLilloesque headline:

Florida ferry accident off exclusive island results in deaths of 2 socialites as Mercedes rolls into water

All postmodern headlines must include:

  1. an accident, preferably involving cars
  2. the car must be a luxury car, and its make must be specified in the lead or headline
  3. there must be at least three wealth-markers packed into the headline (Rolls Royce, Hirst, hedge fund; exclusive, socialites, Mercedes).

Both of these headlines would have appeared in DeLillo’s White Noise had he written it more recently.

UD Prepares You for the Soon to be Released Film of the Don DeLillo novel, White Noise.

Even if you haven’t read the novel, you’ve learned a lot about it, and DeLillo’s world view, just from reading this blog, which after all has a whole category devoted to DeLillo. The Noah Baumbach production opens August 31 at the Venice Film Festival.

A Bronx-born son of Italian immigrants, DeLillo is an entirely urban animal, yet he knowledgeably sets his novel in a small midwestern “village” (I’ll explain the quotation marks in a moment); a writer who has never had children, he sensitively places at the heart of the book the character and fate of many children in a blended family (their parents are much-divorced). As with many of my posts on the postmodern way of death, the novel first establishes the enviably, pleasantly, eventlessly “immune” life of affluent Americans, and then throws a lethal environmental catastrophe (“the airborne toxic event”) right in their faces. And lungs.

So DeLillo locates the Gladney family (glad; bland) in the cute village of Blacksmith, with its preserved nineteenth century main street and vernacular library and town hall and churches…

From its sweet pre-industrial name to its charming brick storefronts, Blacksmith could convince you you really are living a pre-modern life, before advanced technology, massive shopping malls, and endless ubiquitous streaming media; but, as White Noise makes hilariously clear, it’s all a simulacrum, a Truman-show facade behind which lies, like it or not, the late twentieth century.

When the disaster hits, Gladney’s first response is total denial:

“These things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters. People in low-lying areas get the floods, people in shanties get the hurricanes and tornadoes. I’m a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods? We live in a neat and pleasant town near a college with a quaint name. These things don’t happen in places like Blacksmith.”

The filmmakers chose Wellington, Ohio for their Blacksmith – a heartland town whose preserved main street has won national awards.

The cast?

Adam Driver is a bit more young and ethnic than Gladney as described (put rumpled clothes and nerdy glasses on Mitt Romney and you’d get closer to the mark), but he’s definitely got the open-mouthed incomprehension/disbelief the plot demands. I’ll write more about the film as critical response to it, and then of course the film itself, begins to appear.
“[It’s] the absence of surprise to life that harrows the head of everybody American you know…”

Thomas Pynchon was very big on boredom, very big on the idea that postmodern Americans are just really bored, and that a lot of their behavior can be understood as a reaction to boredom.

UD’s favorite pomo novelist, Don DeLillo, features, in several of his novels – but especially White Noisepostmodern American deaths, which typically occur when someone is having expensive, boredom-suspending, fun: surfing in Hawaii, skiing in Austria. Many such deaths, in DeLillo, add high tech to the fun: In Players, well-heeled golfers are suddenly mowed down by a group of terrorists who use sophisticated weaponry against them. Visual technology also may make an appearance in these scenarios — they may be filmed, and go viral to tens of millions of bored voyeurs. Pomo death headlines are like Malfunction at Dreamworld. Explosion at the Gender Reveal Party. Superbowl Blimp Goes Down.


Think back to the congressional baseball game interrupted by a madman with a rifle who almost killed the majority whip. That had all the DeLilloesque elements: a sudden assault with lots of techno-weaponry (SKS rifle, 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun) while affluent, high-profile Americans are out having fun …and of course someone with a camera to film it all for Youtube.

In the news today appears another variant on the postmodern American way of death. This one has many pertinent elements: Boredom, affluence, cutting edge technology, videotape. I have in mind the wealthy Texas doctor who, at 11:30 on a Saturday night, decided to drive his $80,000 Tesla onto a private road in his gated community, take a seat in the back, rev it up to a million mph or whatever, and see how its driverless feature functioned.

At least that’s the speculation – he was found burned to death (along with a friend in the front seat), and no one was in the driver’s seat. Witnesses report they’d barely gotten out of his driveway, going at high speed, when the car drove straight into a tree and burst into flames. Rescue squads were unable to get anywhere near the car because (another high-tech pomo ingredient) the Tesla’s state of the art battery kept reigniting.

Why Did God Specifically Select out the SOOOOper-Chosen to Kill?

There’s the baseline chosen – Jews like me, I guess – and there’s the SOOOOper chosen among Jews, the ultraorthodox, whose existence founds itself on two things: Denying spiritual legitimacy to all non-ultraorthodox so-called Jews, and adhering to the very, very highest of heavenly standards every second of their day and night. This religious elite strenuously attempts to please God with every breath

So why aren’t they able to breathe? Why has covid decimated them, tearing through much of their rabbinate and many of their non-rabbinic tremblers before the Almighty?

This article, into whose theological whirlpool we will now plunge, reviews the explanations for this incredibly sad turn of events that these same people are now providing for themselves and for the world.


Yes, let us eke go, as Stephen’s friend Lynch says; let us embark on the idiocy and the oddity of ultraorthodox theodicy.


For why would the being we propitiate with every cell in our body blast those cells with a fatal cytokine storm? What have we done to deserve this?


But first: lunch! UD needs to fortify herself for this faith journey.


Hokay. Let’s start with this:

“The Torah protects us. We don’t need to do anything,” one yeshiva student [said].

Indeed the entire ultraorthodox response, for a lethal length of time, was to double down on large gatherings of daveners, this constituting the only immune response that mattered: Entreaty to the divine.

Aryeh “Longest Rap Sheet Among the Elect” Deri was one of the first u-o leaders to wonder why, despite his in-group’s exemplary behavior, the Lord was leaving profane people alone and slaughtering the sacred.

“We need to do very deep soul-searching,” the ultra-Orthodox politician said, asserting that God was “telling us something.”

Yeah but like man like what.

First explanation: God is telling us that we are great. The best.

Secular Jews [aren’t] as prone to divine retribution as the religious, whose sins are judged more harshly by God.

Ya bum! Go walk around hatless and fuck your brains out! You’re not worth killing! … Now this guy, this guy over here, him I can choke to death on a ventilator.


Him? Did I say him? If you want to know why God punishes his most beloved, look no further than the hopelessly whorish among us.

“Horrifying discovery: Corona epidemic = lack of modesty,” [a] poster seen in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem announced, using gematria, or Jewish numerology, which ascribes a numerical value to letters and words and draws significance from words or expressions with equal values.

According to the poster, both “corona epidemic” and “lack of modesty” have a numerical value of 900, indicating a conceptual link.

Using an analytical method made famous by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, some of the Lord’s designated coronavirus sufferers blame their women for it all. We’ve tried killing them off through contempt and overwork, but if you do the math, they’re killing us.


Or is it something higher? God’s had it up to here with Jean-Francois Lyotard and thinks killing haredim because people like UD find postmodernism interesting is a good idea.

[T]he disease could be a divine response to “moral relativism or postmodernism…

God’s elect are called upon to sacrifice themselves so that Verso and Routledge will publish fewer books with the word meta-narrative in their titles.

Let’s see. Anything else?

So much else. God is quarantining us to bring families closer… But when you live in a hovel with ten kids, four in-laws, and a set of parents, you’re already pretty close! God hates our materialism. But we don’t have any money or any material, so his motives are pretty obscure … God is issuing a “wake-up call” for Jews who don’t want to live in Israel… by… making several regions of Israel horrifying corona hotspots…? The virus forces naughty us into much-needed meditation on our sins and … then the … rapid shutting down of all of our vital systems…?

Of course the most dearly held theory of all is that everyone’s dying, the whole world’s dying, the messiah’s finally on the chimney tops. This is the one; this is the one that’s finally going to blow this fucking place to smithereens. Geloybt gat. Bend down and kiss your ass goodbye.


Ahem. Mes petites.

We have arrived at that point in the Jeffrey Epstein story where barely conceivable plausibility goes leaping out of the window, marooning us in the fictional world of Don DeLillo’s Zero K, in which a cryogenics-obsessed billionaire sets up his own vast body-freezing laboratory and gets to work being immortal.

Like all great artists, DeLillo has his finger pressed firmly on the pulse of the future – in particular, the way, in America, unimaginable personal wealth, staggeringly sophisticated technology, and an entirely unmitigated death-fear (see also, among DeLillo’s other novels, Cosmopolis) is generating people like Jeffrey Epstein, at once the toast of the world’s greatest, most celebrated scientists, and out of their fucking minds.

Yes, trailed by Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss (hm), Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould… trailed by all of them as they sniffed out his beyond-big research bucks and enjoyed his private island, Epstein made it clear to anyone who’d listen that he had a bag of Caligulagenic I am a god tricks up his sleeve.

He hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch…

He told one scientist that he was bankrolling efforts to identify a mysterious particle that might trigger the feeling that someone is watching you.

At one session at Harvard, Mr. Epstein criticized efforts to reduce starvation and provide health care to the poor because doing so increased the risk of overpopulation, said Mr. Pinker, who was there. Mr. Pinker said he had rebutted the argument, citing research showing that high rates of infant mortality simply caused people to have more children. Mr. Epstein seemed annoyed, and a Harvard colleague later told Mr. Pinker that he had been “voted off the island” and was no longer welcome at Mr. Epstein’s gatherings.

Then there was Mr. Epstein’s interest in eugenics.

On multiple occasions starting in the early 2000s, Mr. Epstein told scientists and businessmen about his ambitions to use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies, according to two award-winning scientists and an adviser to large companies and wealthy individuals, all of whom Mr. Epstein told about it… Mr. Epstein’s goal was to have 20 women at a time impregnated at his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch in a tiny town outside Santa Fe.

[He was also interested in] cryonics, an unproven science in which people’s bodies are frozen to be brought back to life in the future. Mr. Epstein told [one] person that he wanted his head and penis to be frozen.


A sweet and amusing 1940 short story, “Inflexible Logic,” features a very rich dilettante, Mr Bainbridge, with an interest in ideas who, overhearing mathematicians talking about the infinite monkey theorem, decides to fill his house with monkeys and typewriters and see how long it might take for one of them to write a Shakespeare play or whatever. As it happens, all of the monkeys immediately start producing, without a single error, the world’s great literature.

Mr. Bainbridge led Professor Mallard downstairs, along a corridor, through a disused music room, and into a large conservatory. The middle of the floor had been cleared of plants and was occupied by a row of six typewriter tables, each one supporting a hooded machine. At the left of each typewriter was a neat stack of yellow copy paper. Empty wastebaskets were under each table. The chairs were the unpadded, spring-backed kind favored by experienced stenographers. A large bunch of ripe bananas was hanging in one corner, and in another stood a Great Bear water-cooler and a rack of Lily cups. Six piles of typescript, each about a foot high, were ranged along the wall on an improvised shelf. Mr. Bainbridge picked up one of the piles, which he could just conveniently lift, and set it on a table before Professor Mallard. “The output to date of Chimpanzee A, known as Bill,” he said simply.

“‘”Oliver Twist,” by Charles Dickens,’ ” Professor Mallard read out. He read the first and second pages of the manuscript, then feverishly leafed through to the end. “You mean to tell me,” he said, “that this chimpanzee has written–“

“Word for word and comma for comma,” said Mr. Bainbridge. “Young, my butler, and I took turns comparing it with the edition I own. Having finished ‘Oliver Twist,’ Bill is, as you see, starting the sociological works of Vilfredo Pareto, in Italian. At the rate he has been going, it should keep him busy for the rest of the month.”

“And all the chimpanzees”–Professor Mallard was pale, and enunciated with difficulty–“they aren’t all–“

“Oh, yes, all writing books which I have every reason to believe are in the British Museum. The prose of John Donne, some Anatole France, Conan Doyle, Galen, the collected plays of Somerset Maugham, Marcel Proust, the memoirs of the late Marie of Rumania, and a monograph by a Dr. Wiley on the marsh grasses of Maine and Massachusetts. I can sum it up for you, Mallard, by telling you that since I started this experiment, four weeks and some days ago, none of the chimpanzees has spoiled a single sheet of paper.”

Innocent days, huh? Daft, obsessed billionaires concocted harmless (well, the story does end in a bloodbath…) experiments then; but coming up on 2020, we’re in DeLilloland, and things have taken a rather insidious turn.

Can we still laugh at Jeffrey Epstein and his buddies like Alan Dershowitz, with their own demented grandiosity?

Of course we can. Nothing is funnier than a good Kafka short story, and that’s what we’ve got unfolding in front of us – Kafkan absurdity with a postmodern twist. To be sure, the insidious thing is absolutely there – as in, you probably don’t want to be a woman around Dersh or Ep. But Dersh is going down in flames, and Ep, well…

Another dread economics professor mouths off…

… about his university’s athletics program. This blog chronicles tons of econ profs – people capable of actually running the numbers – who turn against their employers and detail the lies the schools tell about the money they’re spending on football. The latest guy is Colorado State University’s Steven Shulman.

[Student fees] have risen 45 percent since Tony Frank was appointed president of CSU in 2008.

Institutional support to athletics has almost tripled since 2008. These subsidies transfer resources from academics into athletics. As a result, CSU has not been able to increase instructional spending per student or protect itself from revenue declines.

Every time the state cuts CSU’s budget, the university is forced to cut academic programs. Only athletics is insulated from budget cuts.

CSU’s way-expensive new stadium hosts losing games attended by fewer and fewer people.

A commenter on Shulman’s column puts the matter well.

CSU [has] gambled $450 million (in bond repayments) on a sport that is a dying a slow death. Empty seats, phony bowl games, ethics problems – everywhere you look there are reasons to question the new stadium decision. The project can only be justified and supported by a few old alumni counting on tax benefits.


That “old alumni” thing has UD thinking about how we might retrofit football into a truly twenty-first century university curriculum.

Pretty much everyone agrees football is over – dying a slow death, as the commenter notes.

Figure it’s got another twenty years as a professional sport, ten years at the non-southern university, and thirty years at the southern. (Down south, they’ll have to wait until the fan melee that turns into a mass shooting to really finish off the game.) It’s not too soon to start thinking about how we can excite our ahistorical students (postmodern Americans are ignorant of history, and live in what one theorist calls a “radical presentness”) in things antiquarian by featuring football, alongside, say, the Salem Witch Trials, as examples of pre-Enlightenment American ways of life. We might not be able to get our students to study Latin, but we can certainly interest many of them in the study of football, which will feature, for instance, field trips to massive rotting campus colosseums.

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