Iraq is experiencing a brain drain as its best and brightest are getting to be afraid of being blown up. And this after the Chronicle of Higher Education did a piece on professors who are sick to death of having to worry about politics, and Brett and Hiromi, some of Texas' best and brightest discussed the idiocy of that state's Proposition 2.
So, how long until we have a brain drain here?
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Iraq is experiencing a brain drain as its best and brightest are getting to be afraid of being blown up. And this after the Chronicle of Higher Education did a piece on professors who are sick to death of having to worry about politics, and Brett and Hiromi, some of Texas' best and brightest discussed the idiocy of that state's Proposition 2.
Last night, Claire and I went to the six-horror movie Scream-O-Rama at Hamilton's own Starlite Drive-in. It was a blast, although a bit of a sad occasion as the drive-in has been sold and this was their last weekend. Happily, they have been bought by a drive-in theatre chain, so they will survive, although it remains to be seen if the same goofy spirit will carry over to the new place.
Anyway, me and Claire did our best, but we only made it through four horror movies. Let me see, first off was deceased steroid-victim Lyle Alzedo in Destroyer. He played a killer who got the electric chair, but lived, and kept killing members of a film crew who are shooting in the now-abandonned prison. I think. It wasn't what you would call a "good" movie. Or even all that "watchable". In fact, they accidentally showed the reels out of order and Claire and I didn't notice at all. It's one redeeming quality was the 80s power-rock song on the soundtrack entitled "Kiss My Stinky White Ass". Now, who didn't dance to that song at their Prom?
Next up was Daryl Hannah in The Final Terror, a slasher-in-the-woods epic that taught us how to "think like the forest". Very important, but actually, it didn't work. In fact, thinking like the forest was one character's downfall. So, it's a cautionary tale- do not think like the forest. Ever. I'm guessing that Daryl Hannah does not put this movie on her resume. Neither does Joe Pantaliano, who was the star. Neither does the forest.
Also, one thing that bothered me throughout the whole film was why it was the final terror. Were there previous terrors in the series? Or did they really think that this would be the last word in terrors? It seems somehow disrespectful to the later terrors.
Then we saw Popcorn, which shocked us completely by being pretty good. By this time, remember, I had eaten a hamburger, a bag of actual popcorn, two funnel cakes with ice-cream and two cokes. So, it may have been the diabetic coma speaking, but I actually enjoyed this one a lot. It was extremely stupid, but seemed to revel in its stupidity.
Lastly, we saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I enjoyed this movie, but I liked it when it came out as well. It's nowhere near as good as the first one, but still pretty good on its own. Claire was less fond; as she put it, "Too good to be bad, but too bad to be good." Still, it seemed like a high point to end on, and it was nearly 2 am by this point, so we rushed home to placate the cat and sink into a sugar-and-horror movie induced sleep.
So long, Starlite!
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Trying to read a four-volume autobiography this weekend. It's not easy because I keep getting hung up on the author's particular 19th century French meanings for phrases. By bien publique he probably means the public good, but the nuance of that might be quite a bit different. Also, I can't tell if I'm worrying about every other phrase because I'm very professional, or if it's just aperger's syndrome!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Ivy league universities admit students based on merit? Not a chance.
Can you imagine what might happen if people like David Horowitz stopped worrying about the fact that Ivy League professors are secretly burning incense to Osama bin Laden, and started worrying about the fact that the Ivy League schools are set up in such a way that only the very best children of millionaires can gain entry?
Or, even better, if those professors who actually are socialists, communists, anarchists and so forth actually stopped to think about the fact that they are the linchpins of a system that exists largely to pretend that rich WASP kids are smarter than they are and keep lower to middle class kids from ever gaining entry?
Can you imagine?
I guess this is good news...
A county in Tennessee has decided not to ban homosexuals by law after all.
Yep, that's where we're at right now. Not banning human beings is now the good news.
No, no. It was just a joke, see? They wanted to trick us into thinking that they were a county of assholes. Actually, they're not really vicious halfwits...
I mean, of course, they'll allow gays to live there, and you know sit down at the same table for whiskey and squirrel with them, provided they can pass one test- they must not weigh more than a duck... for then they would be made of wood... and therefore?
A witch! A witch!
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
"I own a series of the most beautiful photos of ancient statuary....I never tire of spreading them out before me. It purifies me of certain desires. I flirt (with muses) and I am the better for it. I no longer believe in the banishment from paradise."
-Paul Klee, 1901
Divers have discovered archaeological treasure at the bottom of the Java Sea. In the last 18 months they have excavated a ship that sunk off of the shores of Indonesia about 1,000 years ago. These were likely traders using an alternate sea route to the Silk route that linked China, the Middle East and Europe at that time. That's what makes this find so exciting- they've found works from China's Five Dynasties Period, from 907 to 960, which we know little about, as well as beautiful Egyptian art. The article lists an intoxicating mix of artifacts:
"On a small mould is written the word "Allah" in beautiful Arabic script, on top of a lid sits a delicately chiselled doe."
"Tiny perfume flasks accompany jars made of baked clay, while slender-necked vases fill the shelves of the hangar along with brightly coloured glassware from the Fatimides dynasty that once ruled ancient Egypt."
All of this lay submerged like the dream of an empire lost beneath the oceans of time. Perhaps this is a fragment of the soul of our species, and we are exploring our own subconscious with crude diving equiptment. I can't wait to see what we find.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
If culture in the 20th century was largely an attempt to dream while awake, what is the culture of the 21st century doing?
Sunday, October 23, 2005
In order to keep America safe from College freshmen, the government is requiring hundreds of universities, cities, and internet companies to overhaul their computer networks to enable law enforcement officials to monitor emails and other online communications. Now, at last, the Department of Homeland Security will be privy to subversive student discussions like:
"Wen I saw hr, I was like R U 4 real?!" and
"Seriously dude, the girls hear R stukup byotches!"
No word as to why doing this is less offensive than, say, requiring schools to bug all the phones in the dorms. Do we just not care anymore about stuff like this? Will we get to the point that say, body cavity searches will just be accepted out of hand? Is there anything that we won't tolerate?
As for me, I'm pretty much reaching my breaking point with this idiotic idea, shared by many of the nation's fatheads, that universities are breeding grounds for terrorist activity. We can't get these kids to read ten pages- what makes these people think that Al-Quaida can get them to plan a terrorist overthrow of the government? This tiresome fantasy- essentially that you can't trust anyone who reads or writes for a living- just wastes so much time and money. Please set up your Centers to monitor professors and make sure that we don't disagree with your view of the world! Please warn your children that we want to convert them to Satanism, indoctrinate them into the Radical Communist Party and get them to pose for nude pictures! Please tell me what really goes on at my workplace even though I have no intention of telling you what goes on in the break room of the manure factory! Please, please, please, waste your own money and time on your project to eradicate windmills! Speaking as an academic, we spend our time reading obscure texts and writing about things that nobody in their right mind would care about; not planning revolutions. Academia is petty and political at times, but like it or not- it's also deeply bourgeois and traditional.
As for the university administrations themselves, well no surprises there, "The universities do not question the government's right to use wiretaps to monitor terrorism or criminal suspects on college campuses, Mr. Hartle said, only the order's rapid timetable for compliance and extraordinary cost."
Kinky Friedman, the famous mystery novelist, humorist, country singer and um, "Texas Jewboy" is running for the Governor of that fair state. No doubt there will be jokes about the Governatorstein, but he's a quick wit and a bright guy to boot. When asked why he's running, Friedman responded "How hard can it be?"
Not to influence an election, but to those Texans out there, in panties or otherwise, please oh God please vote for Kinky Friedman!!
Saturday, October 22, 2005
“Curiosity makes semblance of a desire of knowledge; whereas Thou supremely knowest all.”
Augustine actually listed curiosity among various sins, such as envy, pride and so forth. Curiosity is a sin because it draws one towards the things of the earth. As Augustine also writes, “the friendship of this world is fornication against Thee”.
Why are so many used book store owners malcontents?
We have a used book store a few blocks from where we now live in Hamilton, so of course, I am there as often as possible. Not really as often as possible... the guy only opens it on weekends really. But, I am there each and every Saturday.
The first week I bought a ten-volume encyclopedia from 1908 entitled Women in all Ages and Nations. It is a product of its age- quite a bit of philology, names, dates, everything well organized, a bit racialist in that it's about "nations" and their characters, a bit chauvanistic, and ultimately clinging to a strong belief that we can scientifically predict human nature- something that seems a bit ominous after the fascist and communist attempts to do so.
The second week I bought a 1787 copy of Black Ivory by R.M.Ballantyne- an abolitionist adventure novel set among the slavers of East Africa. So far, so good.
This week I bought The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffmann- a great work of social anthropology from the 1950s. Also a much-needed item for my dissertation.
The thing is, the place is filled with great books, but it's a mess! Stacks of books lean against the wall, trash everywhere, and if you want to look at a book, you run the risk of burrying yourself in old paperbacks. The stacks actually fell on me three times today! If the fire department came to inspect this place, they would begin crying.
Add to that, the fact that the guy who owns the place has "interesting" views on everyone who comes in and it seems hardly worth going there at all. He hates the local kids who come to shop there because he thinks they're "hip-hoppers". But, he also hates the book collectors who come down from Toronto and refuses to sell to them. He also has problems with "multiculturalism" which he feels is ruining Canada. So, I'm one of the few customers who comes in and stays for any length of time.
In a way, I feel bad for him. Literature is becoming a dead market. Most of his customers are shocked when he asks for a decent price for these books- how could they be valuable? They're just old books! Three customers left today because he asked that they pay what the books are honestly worth. He doesn't have a computer, so he can't sell on Ebay, and he doesn't even have a phone. It's like he's stranded on an island of paper, waiting for some sort of rescue. There's something endearing about the old man and his paperback fortress against the winds of change. I helped straighten up an aisle for him today, and honestly wondered if I was doing the right thing.
How do you define curiosity?
I am working on a short essay on the subject and how it has been percieved over the eras, and I came up with a definition that I quite like:
Curiosity is the active intellectual pursuit of novelty.
This is not the dictionary definition, but I rather prefer it to the dictionary definition. Besides, the dictionary word is to the living word as Mme Toussaud's wax figures are to the real people they represent- an awkward simulation.
Wow, the rain is really coming down today! I'm sitting in the "study" and watching it. I hate to say it, but I'm actually glad because it's great for my flowers (I garden in my free time). I know it's morbid to see a good side of global warming, but it's going to be very good for much of the plant kingdom. Expect to see a golden age for tropical flora and fauna in places like this. Imagine places like Moscow and Ottowa choked out with growing vines. Currently, 9o-some percent of Canucks live within 100 miles of the border. Perhaps we can all go live in the Northern Territories. Claire and I actually live in one of the great biospheres of the planet- believe it or not, we're close to the Canadian wine growing region. Believe it or not, there actually is a Canadian wine growing region. Anyway, yes, global warming will likely be bad for humans, but the bright side is that it might be good for much of the plant world.
Friday, October 21, 2005
One thing I've started wondering about in historiography is this phrase "recent research indicates..." I see it all the time as of late, especially in journal articles. But, it's honestly a bit misleading. Where it makes sense to use a phrase like "recent research has shown" is when a new archive has been opened up, new documents have been uncovered, or something has finally been accurately translated. In other words, in areas where the primary documents have actually been widened or improved through "recent research". However, this doesn't often happen in historiography. In many areas, we've been looking at the same pile of documents for decades. What changes is the interpretation- every generation has their own take on that pile of documents. This is why someone like Georg Iggers can write an intellectual history of historiography and do such a good job of charting the changes in mindsets.
I think where it's a bit misleading is when we use "recent research" to refer to a new take on the documents. Because then it implies that there's some reason to take the more recent opinion more seriously than the old opinion. But, again, they're often just different approaches, neither one being more or less valid than the other. In the sciences, new knowledge has to build on old knowledge and the most recent research is generally the most advanced. But, this isn't the case in history writing. Generally, the most recent research is just more recent. It's good to be up-to-date on the historiography, but I have to wonder if it's totally necessary. Often, I find the most interesting approaches in books from the 1960s.
Well, we finally did it- Claire and I have now eaten the buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar. In fact, we ordered the 50 wing "bucket", although I think we only made it to 21. But, we just felt that with me living in Buffalo for the last year, it was time to try the original Buffalo wings. It made us feel more worldly somehow.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Incidentally, we were lashed quite severely today by winds. Our backyard is a mess. Buffalo gets this at times because of the "lake effect". But, Hamilton shouldn't be this windy. What's strange is that we get the wind from these tropical storms. Check out a map- we're nowhere near the south. Poor little Lola had to come in from the porch, quite shaken, this afternoon. I'm starting to think that maybe it was a good idea to move north.
"A Bastille is a house, solidly-built, hermetically sealed and diligently guarded, where all persons who are of our rank, our age and our sex are able to enter without knowing why, to remain without knowing for how long, waiting to leave without knowing how."
-M. Servan, Apologie de la Bastille.
Well, Hurricane Wilma is now the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded.
The newspapers in Europe are blaming these intense storms on global warming, and noting that the Bush administration was opposed to the Kyoto treaties. Actually, I think Canada was as well. That explanation seems a bit like a theodicy to me anyway- the world would have been fine if it wasn't for the big, bad states again.
But, I'm not really happy with the global warming naysayers either. Their arguments have been as follows:
1) It's too soon to say if these weather shifts are being caused by global warming.
Of course. But, it's certainly not too soon to be testing that hypothesis.
2) There is global warming, but it's been caused by the increased number of people on earth.
No doubt, this is a possibility. But, it's a bit disconcerting to hear people who have been saying for years that there is no global warming turn around and tell us, okay, there is global warming, but it's everyone else's fault.
3) There is global warming, and it's too late to do anything about it.
Sadly, this may well be true. But, again, it's irritating that the people who have been telling us for years that global warming is a myth now tell us that it's true, but it's too late to worry about it. Even more annoying is the fact that some of these people are also telling us: "Fine, there never were weapons of mass distruction- but, it's way too late to worry about that now!"
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Incidentally, the reason I mentioned global warming is that I've been wondering about it lately. My father's a lobsterman in Maine and they've had two or three disasterous years in a row now. Nobody's catching much of anything. He keeps telling me that they're all trying to figure out what it is. So, I've been wondering if it's that- lobsters will move North to colder waters if they have to. And, if that's the case, it will mean that a lot of fishermen will have to move too- or give up their livelihoods. My father is a big skeptic when it comes to global warming; he says that they told him in school that the country would be flooded by 1990! But, again, the evidence that some sort of warming is going on seems to be mounting.
We went to a lovely party last night here in Hamilton. Claire had met a fellow who works at a restaurant attached to a local church and struck up a conversation about how new we are to town. This was on Wednesday and he invited us to his birthday party on Saturday. This was a Unified Church- for the non-Canuck, the United Church has existed in Canada since 1925 and is essentially a liberal Protestant denomination. It is very open to gays and lesbians... so, of course, the choir is fantastic!
And so was the house! This fellow and his partner have designed the house I want- vintage Victorian wallpaper, bookshelves to the ceiling, and a beautiful 1950s style oven! Everything was unique and still tasteful. The food was Thai and the guests were from the church. After dinner, a member of the church played Happy Birthday to you on the bagpipes in the front yard and people sang inside on one of the two pianos.
And then, get this, one of the choir members, who also sings opera, performed songs from various operas with the church organist accompanying her on the piano. Her voice was just incredible- it could push you right au-dessus the rest of us poor saps on the mortal plane. I think she was a mezzo-soprano, but my ear isn't good enough. My favorite number that she performed was the Habanera from Carmen. Opera buffs tend to criticize Carmen as being too popular, but the melodies are gorgeous and the storyline is hauntingly perverse. And, if you've never heard opera sung from a few feet away- and outside of a Fellini film who has?-it's just amazing.
So, we had a wonderful time and made some new friends. I don't know if I'm ready for church, but I'd like to sit in and listen to the choir.
Friday, October 14, 2005
I should point out that the students themselves take the brunt of the system. They are generally hard working and quite bright. But, the grade inflation ensures that they won't experience real failure until they're in the working world- where they are most vulnerable. As I've said, many TAs become resentful towards the students, the vast majority of whom don't deserve it. So, the system sucks for them too.
One of the myths of higher education is that we don't have the grade inflation that has all but gutted high school education. With universities, it is believed that we subscribe to the classical educational model. And most of us do. But, the problem is that the system often puts people in a position where standing up for those ideals can mean losing a job, or more often, never actually getting a job. Sad to say, it is increasingly becoming a profession in which the honest go unemployed.
How does this work? Well, first it has to be understood that TAs often become the hatchet-men in the classroom. In some cases, we grade the papers, we grade the essays and we give the "class participation" grade. With the class I teach, the professor gives the lectures and designs the exams, but I do all of the grading for my students. Which means, essentially, that if you failed that class it was because I failed you.
In my case, I have a just and decent professor that I work for. And most people do. But, can you see where the system makes us vulnerable? We are the most easily fired or reprimanded. The professor has tenure, and so he can't really be reprimanded for giving someone an F that they deserved. But, we can because we have no job security whatsoever.
Add to that the fact that students have been encouraged to see education as a consumer product, and you can begin to see the problem. Wouldn't you be bitter if you paid $1400 for an F? Most of these kids came out of High Schools that inflated their grades, so naturally some of them expect to get fairly good grades for little to no work. It's been the norm. Thankfully, stundents are generally much more honest people than adults are, so if you explain grade inflation and why you don't do it, most can appreciate that.
But, the problem is that, as a TA, your future hiring is often based, in part, on your "evaluations", which the kids fill out at the end of the semester. So, if you're Mr. Hardass, you can expect to get some poor evaluations. In other words, if you are a challenging and demanding teacher (which is what most people claim the schools need) you will carry around a black mark for years ("25% positive evaluations") that will prevent you from being employed as a teacher.
And it gets worse. For the "gen-ed" classes, we answer to our professor and the "Gen-Ed" office, which essentially exists to justify its existence. Generally, they send us emails constantly telling us how to make the classes more fun, make sure the kids are enjoying themselves, you know, everything but teach.
See, we have two offices over us- the department that we work for and Gen-Ed, and the two have very different views of education. The department is quite traditional, and the Gen-Ed office sees it as a product that certain students reject. Their emphasis is often on "retention"- how to keep the slackers in for four years. No tuition left behind. Also, of course, they are terrified of lawsuits. The Gen-Ed office is notorious for telling TAs that kids shouldn't be getting Fs, because failing grades are terrible for their self-esteem.
So, what do you do as a TA when you have a professor telling you to grade honestly, and a Gen-Ed office telling you to grade honestly, but don't fail anyone, and you have a student who got a 35% on her exam? Or what if, and I've seen this happen, but luckily never to me, the professor feels that too many kids are getting Cs instead of Bs, or Fs instead of Ds? And the exams haven't changed, but they want you to "look them over again"?
So, the people who do grade are put in a position where everything works against giving honest grades. Of course, most of us do grade honestly. But, there are people who have said to me, "Well, they may get a free ride now, but the real world is going to teach them a lesson!" This seems to me like being bitter at the kids for a situation that they didn't create and that you yourself are more responsible for. In other words, it's bullshit.
Ultimately, TAs and non-tenured teachers need to be a resistance movement to this increased attempt to turn University into Summer Camp. We need to speak up against this sort of bullshit and take the professional lumps. Because the consumer mentality is opposed to education.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Well, I think Unicef is a pretty great organization anyway, but they've definitely earned cool points with me for recently designing a commercial for Belgian television in which the Smurfs get bombed back to the stone age. This, of course, has been a longtime fantasy of mine. Nyah-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canucks out there. One of the great things about being married to a Canadian, but living in the States half the week is that I get twice as much pumpkin pie, turkey, and two festive dinners. And that's what I'm thankful for.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
The Onion just did an article in which Bob Marley's ghost returns to liberate the frat boys at my alma mater. Seriously though, the frat boys at William & Mary were surprisingly meek. I remember one stopping me on the way back from the library one night. He was drunk and attempting to be harassing.
Him: Hey, give me your beer.
Me: What are you talking about?
Him: Uh, give me your money.
(and then I walk away, and the scene ends.)
One of the things that I adore about books is the way they soak up scents. Smoke a pipe while reading a good book and it will have the rich sweet scent of pipe tobacco in its pages for years. Not happy with the mildew smell of an old book? Put it next to an incense burner for a few hours. There is an olfactory aspect of reading. Certain scents remind you of books you once read. Reading is not only a visual activity. It has its tactile dimension, its smells- it's an entire experience. And it's one of my favorite experiences.
Friday, October 07, 2005
When people come to visit me from the states, they're often amazed at the graphic warnings that Health Canada puts on cigarette packages. The warnings take up an entire side of the pack and are something of a design marvel. We've been saying for some time that they're brilliant subversive artwork, and now someone agrees. MOMA New York is doing a showing of Canadian cigarette warnings. My favorite is actually the smoking pregnant woman, but the rotten teeth one is good too. I think MOMA is right- great art is where you find it.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Well, how's this for synchronicity? Just recently talking on here about my problems with Foucault, especially his "masterpiece" Madness and Civilization, as well as discussing mental illness in general.
And today, Theodore Dalyrimple writes a lovely piece about asylums and the relative nonsense of Foucault's Madness and Civilization.
Were you... um, aware that it's Mental Health Awareness Week? Well, 'tis. About 20% of Americans experience mental health problems in a year, and strangely enough, there's still a widespread stigma around the issue of mental illness. I'd say the most common misconceptions about the mentally ill are:
1) They can "get over it",
2) They're inherently dangerous,
3) They're not really ill
4) They are distinctly "other".
I am a bit (pedantically) annoyed that the US Dept. of Health and Human Services can't correct the grammatical mistakes on their own webpage. Nevertheless, the page is a good place to start.
Did I ever mention that my wife is bipolar? Well, she is, and it's a part of our life, I suppose. I know she would change her brain in a minute, but I wouldn't. I feel it's as much a part of her as her constellation of freckles. I think the difference it makes is that our life has to be slower... a bit more mindful than other people's. Big changes are bad- they don't work well. Stress can immobilize her. At its worst, she has terrifying hallucinations. So, even a little bad is alarming. When things get bad, we rent DVDs and eat ice cream until we can get her to her doctor.
She takes more pills than I can keep up with. She fills out mood charts and meets with several doctors and keeps up on it all the time. She just keeps plugging along, long after I would have. I think the worst part to watch is that, when she gets upset about something, she has to wonder if she is correct or off-kilter. Every day has its maintenance. For the record, I have never seen her be upset about "nothing," although sometimes her responses are extreme.
She is ill, and it will never go away. Schizophrenia and bipolar are both lifelong afflictions. It's bizarre to me that people still expect the mentally ill to "get over it". I can't think of any other illness that is responded to in that way. "Dave, can you just knock off this cancer nonsense?"
But, she is also a lot stronger than most people. She's brash and gutsy in ways that I am not. She's also extremely intelligent, probably more so than she realizes, and I think that helps her keep on top of it. She's one of the people who I most admire in the world. Like most spouses, I often wonder if I'm worthy of her.
"Legal scholar Cass Sunstein has a theory about the Internet that he calls "The Daily We." The argument is that rather than broaden our access to information, ideas, and experiences, the Internet, precisely because it offers such dizzying, disorienting choice and possiblity, reinforces the tendency to filter out what is unknown, stick to what you like, and congregate with others who like the same thing."
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
For some time now I've been something of a discontent when it comes to computers. I use them all the time, but I'm worried that they manipulate and alter my relationships, perceptions and experiences. I don't read as much, and when I go for my regular walks, they feel more like a reprieve than they used to. Moreover, I'm not sure that blogging and so forth doesn't teach computer users to consume information as soundbites, and see every dispute in pithy black and white terms. Therefore, let me say that I am neither "for" or "against" computers. But, I am troubled by how uncritically they have been applied to all aspects of our lives, and I wonder about what they have replaced.
For example, are we starting to encounter the first generation to come of age after the death of curiousity?
Lowell Monke, in an article that is nothing short of a tour de force, notes the startling fact that "recent research, including a University of Munich study of 174,000 students in thirty-one countries, indicates that students who frequently use computers perform worse academically than those who use them rarely or not at all."
And actually this makes sense. Computers put the world at your fingertips, but they also replace quite a bit of the searching, wandering, exploring and erring that constitutes being in the world. In a sure-to-be-contentious observation, Monke notes that "the power of computers can lead children into deadened, alienated, and manipulative relationships with the world, that children's increasingly pervasive use of computers jeopardizes their ability to belong fully to human and biological communities—ultimately jeopardizing the communities themselves."
The line is startling because "deadened relationships with the world" rings so true that the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. That's exactly what I'm encountering in my teaching, but also in people my age, including more than a few colleagues. Ballard talks about "the death of affect", but is "the death of curiousity" really its evil twin?
More importantly, will the next cultural revolution be one against computers? Is it time for us to "Turn off, Tune out, and Drop In"?
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Here's an interesting article about The Authoritarian Personality, a great social science study from 1950. The book was by Frankfurt School leading light Theodor Adorno, Freudian Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Daniel J. Levinson who coined the idea of a "midlife crisis" and R. Nevitt Sanford. The study was trying to distinguish what makes an authoritarian, even fascist, personality.
The statements they used are fascinating:
"Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn."
"No insult to our honor should ever go unpunished."
"No matter how they act on the surface, men are interested in women for only one reason."
My personal favorite: "There are some activities so flagrantly un-American that, when responsible officials won't take the proper steps, the wide-awake citizen should take the law into his own hands."
"When you come right down to it, it's human nature never to do anything without an eye to one's own profit"
"Too many people today are living in an unnatural, soft way; we should return to the fundamentals, to a more red-blooded, active way of life."
And the particuarly shrewd:
"Homosexuality is a particularly rotten form of delinquency and ought to be severely punished."
I say shrewd because who would have noticed in 1950 that authoritarian personalities tend to be obsessed with homosexuality? But, think about it- have you ever met a close-minded totalitarian who wasn't too hung up on what goes on with other people's privates? And, for some reason, it's always male homosexuality that they think is going to rot society from the inside out. What is the connection between fascism and homophobia? And conversely, why have so many prominent fascists been gay?
But, here's a weird thing- when asked what they want to do with their lives, 63% of girls want to be a glamor model, and 25% want to be a porn star. Perhaps this explains why Jenna Jameson was encountering teen girls who consider her to be their role model.
People will worry about what this says about young girls' self-esteem, but I think that misses the point. I'm going to suggest something a bit off-kilter- maybe teenagers experience self-esteem as a burden. It seems like a lot of parents force self-esteem, or more accurately, high self-regard, on their kids as something that they have to maintain to have a high quality of life. They may not want them to be highly moral or highly academic, but the kids must have a high self-esteem at all times. I think that this gets to be extremely artificial after a while, especially when it's not tied to any actual accomplishments.
I think perhaps the porn star crosses the last taboo left- the taboo against degrading oneself, against letting down ones own self-surveilance, and thus she escapes the prison of self-esteem.
According to a new study, teenagers are having casual, but safe sex at a younger age without guilt.
"And it is young women who are leading the way in this dramatic cultural shift in which sexual activity among teenagers is considered not only acceptable, but the norm, according to SDSU psychology professor and study co-author Jean Twenge."
I would say that young women are actually leading the way in most things now.
The reasons for this teenage sex renaissance?
"They include the availability of birth control, a shift toward satisfying an individual's needs as opposed to society's, and gender equality – young women are growing up feeling equal to their male counterparts.
"It's a cultural shift. Young people are saying do what's good for you and women can now make their own individual choices," Twenge said.
Twenge also said that the so-called sexual double standard, in which it was considered OK for men to have sex outside of marriage but not for women, has gone by the wayside among today's teenagers."
Surely this is good news, right? But, you know that the boot will eventually drop and someone will tell us that this is terrible news. I'm guessing it will either be:
a) A fundamentalist Christian group, or
b) A feminist organization.
So, if anyone wants to bet on one or the other to rain on the teenage sex parade first, I'll take bets of $1. I'm actually leaning towards b.
I had a dream the other night in which I was writing an essay. I'm not completely sure what this means, but this was the thesis:
"Plastic surgery is an attempt to turn back the clock to a time before 9/11. With its Catholic ideal of self-sacrifice and it's 1940s World Trade Center aesthetic of gleaming Appolonian banality, plastic surgery is an art form that is strikingly old-fashioned and traditional."
I'm not sure where that came from. I was reading the JG Ballard Quotes book recently.
Here's an interesting article about academic elitism.
The author talks about how big a deal the name of the university is in the US. Sort of like the difference between a Hundai and a Lexus- little more than the name really, but people really sweat over where they went to University in the states. He also talks a bit about the history of Ivy League admisions requirements, many of which were intended to keep Jews out. Actually, the SATs were originally designed to keep Jews out of the Ivies; it's no wonder why a Brooklyn Jew named Bernie Kaplan worked so hard to train the neighbor kids to take the SATs, before going nationwide with the Kaplan courses.
But, what I've found is that the students at the "elite" schools are different than our state kids in only two ways:
1) They're more diligent,
2) They speak and write much more correctly.
Neither has anything to do with intelligence, and so, I suspect that there are still guards in place to make sure that the prep school sons of senator's sons get first dibs. The irony of the Ivy League anti-semitism (admittedly, a product of the 1920s) is that I've found a striking intellectualism to all the jewish professors or students I've ever worked with- almost as if there is an innate intellectual advantage. But, of course, we shouldn't talk about such things...
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Why do the members of the legendary punk band Dead Kennedys now hate each other? The answer is as strange as it is horrifying. Several years ago, while on tour in Guam, the members of the band contracted the ultra-rare Star Trek disease. This is why, as some have pointed out, singer Jello Biafra is gradually mutating into William Shatner...
While his nemesis, guitar player East Bay Ray is gradually turning into Shatner's nemesis Leonard Nimoy...
How will this all end? I see no possible solution besides a fight to the death with spears on some bizarre planet.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Okay, then, you might ask, how do I think we should reform higher education? Belle question !
1) Put an end to student evaluations. They do nothing to encourage better teaching, and much to encourage lax teaching. Many students seem to hate being asked to do anything, and the evaluations give the impression that they can put an end to that.
2) Or, conversely, stop using the evaluations as a condition of hiring. Potential profs, current adjuncts and TAs are so paranoid that they will not be hired if their students complain, that they make the courses easier to ensure "happy students".
3) Accept that some students are not happy, do not belong in higher education and will drop out. And move on.
4) Devise higher standards for the students and create more challenging work and hold them to these standards. Again, accept that some will drop out. Such is life.
5) Automatically expell any students who cheat. No questions asked.
6) Harder entrance requirements.
7) Consider the possibility that engineering majors may really have no reason to take World History and consider dropping the "required" sections. I know this is hard to do, but we're keeping these courses on the books largely to ensure that all of the History profs have courses to teach, and the disaffected engineering or business majors bring the entire class down.
8) Speak out! Argue for higher standards and a return to intellectual achievement in every public space we can find. Do not succumb to cynicism, irony, ennui or depression. There are entirely too many bright students out there to give up.
Ingmar Bergman now has a website where you can track his countless productions. No other filmmaker comes close to Bergman. His body of work is just staggering; something like 75 films, including films for Swedish television, nearly 200 plays and radio plays, and it's nearly impossible to narrow his "masterpieces" down to a list of under 25 films. The English version of the site is coming soon, but I highly recommend tracking down the DVDs of his films; they may change your life.