Friday, September 30, 2005

While I'm on that topic

While wondering if there was just something wrong with me in regards to teaching, I came across this fascinating article- okay, well, it's probably fascinating to me because it says everything I've been saying all along. I like to be agreed with.

Best line:
"American colleges could follow the same path as American high schools and become warehouses of anti-intellectual and anti-educational slackers. In the years ahead, the real campus war may be between those who think that students should adapt to the rigors of higher education, and those who think that higher education should adapt to the declining motivation and intellectual commitment of students."

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For Elitism

We've talked much about anti-intellectualism here lately, although it's a topic that I usually avoid. I'm keenly aware that academics complain quite a bit about anti-intellecualism, and it's a bit unfair of us. After all, we deal with 18-22 year olds all day; not exactly the most representative group, nor the most proudly intellectual. I think a lot of us just tire of the outright contempt we encounter whenever we ask anything from students. But, again, how many kids aren't that way at that age?

Nevertheless, part of being accepting of the students' mentality is also accepting that higher education isn't for everyone, that an appreciation of culture really isn't for everyone and that, ultimately, the things we love really aren't of interest to most people. So, we tend to give up, and hence, we earn the "elitist" label. Here's the tricky thing though- if you believe that your ideas and interests should not be shared with most people, you're considered elitist. However, if you believe that those ideas and interests should be shared with everyone, an attitude that most academics have, you're also considered "elitist" for not having more popular tastes. Most academics love nothing more than sharing their interests with anyone who will listen. But, alas, few people will listen.

So, perhaps, it's best to be elitist. I've found that my love for cheap horror films, cheap punk rock and cheap beer doesn't really make me any less "elitist" in light of the fact that I also love Blake and Proust. So, why try not to be elitist? Hakim Bey suggested once that what we really need is secret societies, and not this phony populism in which we try to think and live like everyone else. I think maybe we "eggheads" need to stop pretending that our goal in life was to try desperately to get ideas across to sneering business majors.

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Piranesi

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Quote of the Day

"The horror of being observed day and night is bound to trouble the powers of the soul in strange ways. The darkest hallucinations will appear, all the nightmares that poor reason in its eclipse can dream in broad daylight, while fully awake. You know the visions engraved by Piranesi: vast underground prisons, deep wells without air, stairs which climb forever without end, bridges to the abyss."
-Jules Michelet, 1845

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

À la recherche du Proust perdu.

Well, the Proust Pour Tous debate is really "heating up" on the Proust yahoo group. Or, at least as far as things can heat up on a yahoo book club. Let's say about 67 degrees. I know it's a bit pedantic... okay, a lot pedantic... but, I want to give the other side here. So, here is the argument for abridging Proust (in French. Sorry. I can't bitch about bastardizing the language and then bastardize the language) from a fellow who worked on it.

1/ je pense que Proust aurait aimé que ceux qui le suivent dans le temps fassent tout ce qui est en leur pouvoir pour que le public sache que la Recheche est un seul roman, et non pas comme on me dit parfois : «j’ai lu plusieurs des romans de Proust » !

It's not a matter of it being one novel though. It's a matter of it being a novel in six volumes. And I can't imagine Proust would be happy correcting that misconception (that he wrote several individual novels instead of one novel in six volumes.) in this way.

les éditeurs n’ont pas osé faire un abrégé comme le mien, mais ils publient "Jean Santeuil", un roman inachevé,ou, bien pire, les lettres de Proust, qu’il avait eul’envie de brûler. Quand on pense à la position de Proust sur le moi littéraire/ moi privé, toutes cesétudes, causeries, livres… sur sa vie le choqueraient,à mon avis, bien plus que mon bouquin (Proust « light» comme l’appelle Susan, du salon).

Well, I suppose they have published other things he would have disliked, but I'm not sure what difference that makes. The question is whether this will hurt or hinder the effect of reading the book. But, this is a book whose tone is specifically languid and reflexive- deeply reflexive. But, not what I would call "plot driven". Won't that be lost in the edit?

2/ Proust adorait les pastiches

An abridgement and a pastiche are not the same thing.

3/ Proust est mort, et dans le domaine public. Nous sommes vivants

Are you sure?

et nous avons plus à dire que lui surle sujet, c’est nous qui portons maintenant son œuvre en nous : vous souciez-vous de ce que dirait Racine, ou Shakespeare devant certaines adaptations ? non, car ils sont dans le domaine public depuis plus longtemps.

I'm sure Racine and Shakespeare would both have problems with certain adaptations though. I'd like to believe Shakespeare would have loved "West Side Story", but who can tell.

En ce qui concerne l’apathie des lecteurs, pensez-vous que les éditeurs scolaires publient tous ces abrégés juste pour gagner de l’argent ? je ne pense pas.

Well, I think there is still a profit motive amongst scholarly publishers; even though they'd have to be deluded to think they're going to get rich.

De mon temps, on lisait les extraits du Lagarde et Michard, était-ce mieux ?

All of these arguments seem to amount to "But, everyone's doing it!" I can accept that some people will come to Proust this way, even though I suspect the abridged Proust will be as bastardized as the abridged Golden Bough. What makes me uncomfortable is that Frazer was the one who abridged his work, and Proust can't. Also, I wonder what it says about us that this is what we need.

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Ah...

I feel much better now that I've taken a long nap and talked to Claire. She basically told me to stop agonizing and start grading papers. She's right after all. These things can't be solved in a day, or even a semester. I just wish I had the superhuman abilities necessary to solve them at all.

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And so it goes

Perhaps, I am just old.

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So, does anybody know how I'm supposed to "reach" these kids? Does anyone know how to explain the greatnesses and the tragedies of history in an intelligent way to them? Or should I even try?

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Laocoon


Laocoön and his sons

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SOS

This is one of the paintings we used to illustrate the Renaissance in lecture today; Giotto's Lamentation. It's absolutely stunning and, although I am not particuarly religious, it helped me through the harder times in my life. The students were bored and annoyed.

We ask them simply to look at some of the most beautiful works of art that have ever been created and they get irritated. They talk, or go to sleep, or leave.

Beauty does not speak to them; vulgarity does.

And I have no idea how I'm supposed to make any difference in that situation.

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Bucknon

Bucknell University claims not to have a real speech code; most universities don't. But, apparently, you cannot say the following words without getting a dressing down from the administration:
"Hunting terrorists".

Very shocking, eh? Better hide the children.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Foucult

Not surprisingly, the new translations of Michel Foucault's writings on the Iranian revolution have been largely ignored or dismissed by academics. It's a shame because Foucault's relative hatred for modernity is swallowed a little too easily, as is his disinterest in women, if not outright misogyny. The "Foucult", to coin a phrase is one of the stranger aspects of modern North American academe- more a symptom than a fad. But, a symptom of what?

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

To Lola

Lola, you are the little furry malcontent who allows us to live in your home. In the last year and a half, you have ingratiated yourself to us, and we have earned your affection. Being a cat, this affection usually comes in very small doses, but that is alright with us.

You have changed us in ways that you could not possibly imagine, or reasonably care about. You have made us kinder and more patient, and made it clear that we have no choice but to be kinder and more patient. You have carved out your niche in our home and your fierce spirit of independence has belied any idea I might have had that cats are simple creatures. You are intelligent, inquisitive, and infinitely kind. You are a buddha while we are trying to become like you.

Quietly and with great stoicism, you have forced me to reconsider all of my thoughts about animals. For I have to admit that you have a spirit, a being to you that must be what we mean when we talk about a soul. When you look into my eyes, I realize that you once feared the two of us, but now simply see us as your rather strange companions. This is very humbling for me. What is it that makes you an animal and me something else? Is it higher intelligence? What exactly would that be? You can hear a songbird in the backyard from the bedroom in the front of the house on the top floor. How much more intelligence does a cat like you need?

If you do have a being, a persona that makes you unique, then your life has the same value. You have forced me to reconsider why I shudder when I see livestock trucks on the highway. In your little eyes, I see a life that would be tragic to lose. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, Lola. While you've been considering ways to eat the plant on the deck and how to play tag in this new house, I've been wondering if I can accept anymore that I have to snuff out a life to eat.

Surely, I believe that humans are instinctively driven to eat meat and that denying ourselves this is as logical as denying ourselves the urge to mate. I hate Puritanism in all of its forms. But, I also believe that we possess an innate empathy and that to direct this empathy only towards other humans is not only destructive to the rest of the species on earth, but suicidal as well.

And so, Lola, I've been thinking a lot about you lately, and about the connection I feel with you when you lie on my stomach and expect me to scratch your back. Of course, this was probably your plan all along. Buddhas are subtle that way.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blasphème !

You can now purchase Proust's classic À la recherche du temps perdu in one volumne for those readers who have less temps. Ack!

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Friday, September 23, 2005

Poem 165 Comments

Poem 165 is amazing, if only for the startling masochism that runs through the poem like a cold undercurrent in a warmer river. "A Wounded Deer-leaps highest-" The startling combination of words are assemblied with Dickinson's nearly scientific exactness. The Wounded Deer wouldn't sound quite right; A renders the Deer more unique and singular. "I've heard the Hunter tell-" It's as if this is a piece of juicy gossip that Dickinson is sharing with the reader. Oh, you'll never guess what I heard from the Hunter! Dickinson spend much time in the Amherst woods, and we have little reason to believe that he didn't actually hear this piece of information from an actual hunter. Note the Germanic capitalizations. Then comes the punchline: "'Tis but the Ecstasy of death-" Dickinson had a taste for the inappropriate or taboo. Many of her letters reveal a dark and callous sense of humor. We can imagine her dropping this tidbit in conversation. Notice how it lands with a thud in the poem. You'll never guess what I heard from the Hunter about the Ecstasy of death! "'Tis but" seems more amusing each time we read the poem. "And then the Brake is still!" The life of the animal is reduced to a mechanics. One imagines the screeching brake of a locomotive here- this is especially startling for a devoutly religious writer like Dickinson.

The Smitten Rock that gushes! Again, the wording is wry. But, notice the koan-like simplicity of her writing. How else to describe a blood-soaked rock in four words? Again, it's a grim EC Comics joke she's getting at. The trampled Steel that springs! There's a joie de vie here- we can see the steel snare snapping into action. Notice how it is the snare that is assaulted! Similarly, the rock gushes blood, not the beast that smashed into it. We can imagine these things happening in reverse. "A Cheek is always redder/ Just where the Hectic stings!" Suddenly, we're in the bedroom of the Marquis de Sade. Camille Paglia calls Dickinson Madame de Sade because of lines like this. A hectic is a sort of whip. The cheek is redder with life and sensation because of the pain. Notice how the poem begins to be about her identification with a hunted deer.

"Mirth is the mail of anguish" At first, this line seemed a bit self-pitying to me. One theme in the poem is about covering up or hiding pain. But, when we think of mail as armor, it starts to become clear that this is something that preserves or protects anguish. The Cautious Arm their anguish in order to hide it, but also to squirrel it away and protect it. The suffering is treasured here in a way that only ascetics and flagellants could understand. "Lest anybody spy the blood/ And "you're hurt" exclaim!" But, the only one exclaiming is the author. Again, part of this section seems to come from a martyr complex. Until we realize that the concerned bystander is an annoyance to Dickinson. She wants to hold on to her suffering. The poem is astounding for how unconcerned she is with how it will come across. It's simply shocking. Dickinson only cares that it is correct in rythym, tempo and meter. Alas, it is. How many poets can still write so correctly, and yet so fearlessly?

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

One of My Favorite Poems

165
A Wounded Deer—leaps highest—
I've heard the Hunter tell—
'Tis but the Ecstasy of death—
And then the Brake is still!

The Smitten Rock that gushes!
The trampled Steel that springs!
A Cheek is always redder
Just where the Hectic stings!

Mirth is the Mail of Anguish
In which it Cautious Arm,
Lest anybody spy the blood
And "you're hurt" exclaim!

Emily Dickinson

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On to pedantry

So, enough staring into the spiritual toilet. I vow that the next 30 posts will be about art, literature and history. And no damn politics or war. My soul needs to recover.

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Lastly

Okay, so that flag & ribbon bit might have been a bit rough.

What was really upsetting me was this site which, wait for it, offers free amateur porn for any soldiers who post pictures from Iraq or Afghanistan. The "gory pics" section is like a black-hole of the soul. It's not so much the goofy glee these people have in taking pictures of the dead and dying- it's the idiotic dudespeak in all the captions that really chills the blood.

To quote:
"Im pretty sure that dude has seen some better days."

"Nice pic, that's gonna feel in the morning...Anyone have info on the rifle/bullet used?"

"ouch that what i'm talking about"

"What every Iraqi should look like"

"anyone who has ever played an online First person shooter.. say... Counter Strike.. this puts a total new meaning to the phrase headshot.. lol."

Brett Easton Ellis couldn't write this stuff. All this and "My girlfriend licking puss". It's like valhalla for the Jackass generation. I have to wonder, seriously, whether the website designers are trying to turn us against the soldiers. Don't they have the slightest idea how much damage they're doing? What is going on here?

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Trouble in Mind

And yes, that picture is upsetting. But, you know what? It upset me too, and it made me wonder if my support for the troops should really be unconditional.

So, why would anyone take it?

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Shut-up and Support the Troops!

Everywhere I go, I see signs telling me to "support the troops". Yellow ribbons on every car, handpainted signs on every overpass- I wonder sometimes if the Captain and Tenille ever wish they hadn't written that song.

Don't get me wrong- the ribbons and bumper stickers are all nice and well. But, honestly, I have yet to meet someone who is actually opposed to the troops. And I work in academia. What point are you making when you say that you support the troops? Am I supposed to be impressed for some reason? You support those people who protect you in their job of protecting you, and I'm supposed to care? It's like saying "I support doctors!"

Whenever I ask people about that, they tell me, "Yeah, well during Vietnam, people spit on the troops and called them baby killers!" And, you know, that was terrible of them to do, but what can you expect from an era that invented bell bottoms? Please, please, please. Enough with the sixties! Are all middle-aged Americans so fixated on their childhoods?

I think what bothers me about those stickers is that they allow people to hide behind the troops. They get to pretend that everyone who is unhappy with the war is secretly opposed to the troops instead. They can displace the argument onto those troops, who already have to take up the fight over there, and make them take up their own fight here. Don't disagree with me about this war, or you're not supporting the troops! Shut-up and support the troops! You wouldn't want to seem like you don't support the troops, would you? There's something really bullying about that imperative phrase.

And, yes, I do support the troops, because they sacrifice their lives to protect mine. And they work the shittiest job on earth without a gripe. And most of them are kids like the ones I teach, with the same hopes and dreams and surprising capacity for kindness.

But, do I have to support every single troop? I mean, do I have to support these particular troops?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kaddish

Simon Wiesenthal, one of the most incredible people to share the earth in my lifetime, is no longer sharing the earth. Nearly 90 members of his own family were killed in that dark night of the human soul known as the Holocaust, and Wiesenthal himself just barely survived. After the war, after the trials, when the world wanted to move on and forget, Wiesenthal persisted in his mission to bring the fugitive Nazis to justice. Ultimately, he helped bring 1,100 former Nazis to trial, including Adolph Eichmann, who had long been considered dead. Wiesenthal was controversial for a number of reasons; Mossad members felt that he got too much publicity for their work, many writers in the 50s and 60s felt that persecuting ex-Nazis was unnecessary. But, finally, I think that he was one of the few believers in the idea that the world has a natural order of right and wrong, which can be upset, and that sometimes we ourselves have to set it back to right.

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What's black and white and totally ridiculous?

Just when you thought the culture couldn't get more simple-minded, they've started arguing over whether penguins are Christian.

Yep, penguins. And not in the Blues Brothers'-euphemism-for-"nun"sense. Apparently, the new French wildlife documentary, "March of the Penguins" has raised that burning question for millions of Americans who have nothing better to think about since their neighbor took down the bug zapper and finally silenced their fears that gnats go to hell.

The film deals with the Emperor penguins in Antarctica, who face extreme conditions to breed.

"Blizzards, gales and a chill reaching to -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F) are only a few of the obstacles thrown in the penguins' way. After laying their single eggs, the females trudge in single file to feeding grounds 110 kilometers (70 miles) from their breeding site. For two months, the male sits on the egg to keep it warm and let the chick hatch, awaiting the return of the female bringing food for their offspring. Only when the mother returns does the father then make his own trek to the distant coast to ease his own hunger."

The first lesson would be that God hates penguins. But, you see where they're going with this, right?

Clearly, if penguins can put up with so much of the wrath of God to have their kids, you can keep that baby! Not that there's anything insulting about telling us that we could learn a lot from a flightless aquatic bird with a brain the size of a yo-yo.

Speaking of yo-yos, a number of them have entered the fray. On the one hand, you have those who point out that penguins aren't really monogamous, not to mention the fact that some of them are flamingly gay, giving a whole new meaning to "divine creation".

"These penguins get around. They switch mates with each new mating season, which makes for some pretty slutty birds -- '" notes the deeply jealous Sheerly Avni on http://www.alternet.org

And, on the other hand, we have those people who, taking their own cues from the ostrich, believe that those unwed mothers would stop having abortions if we just showed them this penguin movie. Plus, more fathers would stay home with the eggs and eat fish guts.

Inevitably, we have some who have never read Darwin telling us that these penguins disprove him. But, of course not- Darwin never said anything against animals preserving their own species. Now, a killer whale building a manger for baby penguins might bring Darwin into question, but... ah, forget it.

"It is hard not to see the theological overtones in the movie... Beauty, goodness, love and devotion are all part of nature, built into the DNA of the universe," said Maggie Gallagher, a columnist with yahoo.news, right before being eaten by a bear.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fun Things to do in Kansas City When You're Alive


If you're unfortunate enough to be stuck in Kansas City, go see the Petah Coyne show at the Kemper Museum. She's an archaeologist of the dreamscape.

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Oral History

Here's an online oral history project for New Orleans. Oral historiography has its own methodologies and problems, but generally I'm glad that these are being collected. I hope they're being archived off-line too.

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Music Review: Jello Biafra with the Melvins "Sieg Howdy!"

Who would have expected a second album with two covers and four reworkings of songs from the first album to actually be better than that first album? But, Sieg Howdy! really is heads above the first "Jelvins" album, Never Breathe What You Can't See and that one was pretty damn good itself.

The secret here seems to be that Jello has finally realized that he's recording with the Melvins. Instead of sounding like a slightly tweaked Dead Kennedys, this album sounds like Jello indulging his stoner rock side as much as the Melvins indulge their punk instincts. Jello's always had a secret Marc Bolan inside waiting to sneak out and it's about time it did.

Here he actually starts by indulging his Alice Cooper fixation with a cover of Halo of Flies. The Melvins have actually covered the song before, but it shows off what great musicians they are, and hearing Jello and the Melvins do a nearly-eight minute rock epic scratches an itch I never knew I had.

This flows into a nearly eight minute version of The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism, a song from the first album, but done entirely different here. You can see why Kurt Cobain loved the Melvins so much. Nobody's done better psychadelic punk since the Butthole Surfers.

Lessons in What Not to Become is a great song about trying to figure out how to live your life in a reasonable way without burning out on drugs like so many rock legends or becoming a humorless puritan. It's one of the best songs yet by the band because it's not just a one-joke story.

Those Dumb Punk Kids (Will Buy Anything) is the inevitable attack on the Dead Kennedys and other retro-punk reunion bands. It's hard to blame Jello though, and at least it's a funny song that asks, if the kid from The Courtship of Eddie's Father can sing for the DKs, why not Emmanuel Lewis in the Germs?

Wholly Buy Bull gets at the sludgy genius of the Melvins at a faster tempo. It's perhaps better musically than lyrically though.

Voted Off the Island is a short song performed live about not fitting in or wanting to. And another swipe at the DKs.

Kalifornia Uber Alles is a cover of the DKs classic, with new words about Gov. Ah-nold. Actually, most bands who cover the song change the words, because nobody is too worried about Jerry Brown becoming President these days. So, there's an irony here in Jello bashing the DKs for milking their back-catalog in two of his songs, and then milking that back catalog on the same album. On the other hand, the DKs are lazy enough to play this song live about Jerry Brown! So, Jello's got points for creativity.

Dawn of the Locusts is remixed by Dalek, who brings out the creepy sonic wierdness of the original. Again, it's refreshing to see a Biafra album where the emphasis is on musicianship. With the bizarre vocals, biting satire and intricate musicianship here, it's pretty much as close at Biafra's ever come to Zappa.

Al Jourgenson remixes Enchanted Thoughtfist as a new wavey pop anthem with surprisingly mellow backup vocals, bells and whistles. It comes close to the first Ministry album, or the Christian Lunch EP.

To end the festivities, Toshi Kasai and Dale Crover have remixed Caped Crusader, the creepiest song from the first album, into a demented cartoon with helium backup vocals. The song is already a first-person account of a homicidal religious fanatic, so the overall effect is pretty demented.

Anyway, Sieg Howdy! is a deeply satisfying album that finally allows the "backup band" to hold their own with the biggest mouth in punk. Maybe, with any luck, these Jelvins albums will become regular events, because the two components have begun to really compliment each other.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Bin published

A Duke Professor is analyzing the speeches and writings of Osama bin Laden for a collection of said speeches that Verso Books is putting out this Fall. Which is good because Christmas will be here before you know it, right?

Seriously though, I'm sure people will complain about this collection. But, as a history buff, I can't imagine we wouldn't want these writings in print. From the speeches I've seen on CNN, what's actually surprised me is how inconsistent and simplistic they are. We always imagine a criminal mastermind, but bin Laden comes off more as the rich kid sociopath he is. His ideas are consistently angry, but not particuarly profound or consistent in other ways. So, maybe this book will finally debunk the myth, and we can knock over the big bad werewolf like a painted plywood cut-out.

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Our Haunted Home

We're beginning to worry that this house is haunted. We've only been here a few weeks and the injurries are piling up like October leaves. First week here, Claire cuts her wrist and has to go to the urgent care centre when a glass pitcher shatters mysteriously. That weekend, I smash my thumb in a jammed window that suddenly comes unjammed. Then tonight, while removing the cork from a wine bottle, the neck of the bottle shatters in my hand and slices my left pointer finger up requiring stitches. So, I'm typing this with one hand.

Anyway, that was the first few weeks. So, if we go digging in the garden and find the ancient Indian burial ground, we'll let everyone know.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Not Going to Use the Obvious 'He'll be Back' Joke.

Arnold Schwartzenegger wants to run for a second term as Governor of California. But, come on, seriously, isn't it time to give Dolph Lundgren his shot?

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Postmodern Conservatives

Well, I've been saying it for some time now, and the Hastings Center agrees with me: modern conservatism is striking for its intellectual reliance on postmodern cultural relativism.
To quote Salon's fairly devastating article on the Republican War on Science:

Mooney's litany of conservative assaults on science goes well beyond a listing of interlinked but essentially ad hoc right-wing positions. Rather, this is a well-coordinated campaign, perhaps most noteworthy for the canny and cynical way it manipulates contemporary public doubt about the meaning and value of science. As Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank, puts it, "What's intriguing about the Bush administration, given their views on most issues, is that they have a postmodern take on science. It's the first postmodern science administration we've ever known."

(Which is exactly what I've said. Proof again that Foucault makes one stupider.)

While Mooney explores this question with his customary clarity and reasonableness, he doesn't do quite as much with it as he could. Whether knowingly or not, the Bush administration and its allies have cashed in on the findings of the contemporary academic field known as science and technology studies (also as the history and/or philosophy of science). Following such philosophers as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault and Paul Feyerabend, this field has explored science as a cultural phenomenon, arguing (for instance) that even when scientists deal with near-certain facts, the understanding of scientific knowledge and the social uses to which it is put are always culturally specific.

It's impossible to say how much this arcane field of inquiry has crept into the public consciousness, but let's put it this way: Ordinary people clearly don't trust science the way they used to. Mooney, like Frank, points to Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, with its contempt for the "pinhead intellectuals" of the Eastern establishment, as the moment when this meme was established in right-wing ideology. At the time, moderate Republicans ridiculed this tendency, worried that it would doom their party to know-nothing irrelevance; little did they know how dominant it would become.

Well, you'll never lose trying to convince the public that intellectuals are out to get them. Maybe it's just interesting to me, but I find it amazing that public policy decisions like these could have been made by Nietzsche.

But, the cynicism about "junk science" is hardly limited to know-nothing conservatives. Oh, how many know-nothing liberals have told me of the evils of The Bell Curve! My first question is always "Which sections of the book were the least convincing to you?" And the answer is always: "I haven't read it. But, I don't need to because it's junk!"

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War on Fish

In the psuedo-choice between terrorism or heightened security, Mykel Board chooses the surrealist option: FISH. It's true; humor will save our species.

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Moral Wiring

Is there an innate moral sense? The fashion has been to side with Nietzsche and say that there isn't, because the values of different cultures vary so widely. But, are these values really differing expressions of the same, underlying sense? In contrast, almost all human beings, who are not psychologically damaged, have a sex drive. But, there are, as we know, wildly different expressions of that sex drive. And those expressions also differ throughout cultures. Underlying them though is the same drive to rut.

So, what about empathy? The example that used to come up in philosophy was: "I can't imagine a culture in which it would be morally acceptable to throw a child into a burning building. Nor have I ever heard of one. Couldn't this just be a universal human belief?"

Psychology is taking up the question as well. Maybe certain emotional responses are wired into us. Maybe we are, after all, generally empathetic. It's certainly a good argument against belief systems.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Haw-HAW!

I saw a flier the other day for the University Democrats. It had a photoshopped picture of Bush holding a baby who was made to look like it was urinating on him, and the slogan: "Are you mad too?" or something equally, you know, transcendent.

Then, scrawled on it in marker was the clever response: "Stupid libs! Always givin it up!" which, of course, makes no real sense either. The baby's giving up urine, perhaps.

And I have to wonder what those fish-tank helmeted archaeologists from the year 2500 will think when they dig this sort of thing up. The polis eventually came to this! From the Catiline orations to "Haw-HAW! Lookit! That baby's peeing!" Seriously, how long until major Presidential candidates are making farting noises during the debates?

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Older and Wiser

What a strange coincidence- Today I spotted an article by the eternally great Germane Greer about the trials of being an old broad, and an article about the equally great Kurt Vonnegut dealing with being an old curmudgeon. And they're both great reading. It's hell getting old, but we should all be so sharp!

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Workers of the Small World Unite!

Finally! Communist China gets its own Disneyland, or perhaps it should be called The People's Democratic Land of Mouse Solidarity. Any changes?
All of the Princes are now dead, and Cinderella's Castle is held in common by Chip and Dale,
With the classless society, Sleeping Beauty and Dopey can finally be together,
Pooh now seen more as an example of bourgeois greed,
One major attraction is the glass-encased body of Walt Disney,
Donald Duck's hilarious hijinx now include turning Pluto in to the secret police for counter-revolutionary activity,
The Mickey Mouse Club is dedicated to strengthening the ideology of its members through rigorous indoctrination,
No one talks about what happened to Bambi's mother,
Now called the Proletariat of the Carribean,
Scrooge McDuck barely escaped with his life,
The Main Street parade is more a show of military strength now,
Much of the Country Bears' Jamboree material is blatant propaganda,
Hall of the Revolutionaries animatronic Trotsky stabbed daily at 3:30 and 5:30.

The endless lines are pretty much the same though.

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Dead Cities

Thucydides came up here recently, and Thucydides fans (whoever else they may be; I'm imagining a gathering of men who look like the "historian" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail talking quite excitedly about the hoplite) will remember the section of his History of the Peloponnesian War that deals with the plague in Athens. Incidentally, Pericles' speech here is one of the highlights of Western oration (it was, of course, actually written by Thucydides). From the Chicago fire to the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, to the recent hurricane, city disasters seem especially devastating- as if a place built so much in denial of nature shouldn't be visited by nature. But, Fernandez Arnesto notes that the destruction of "eternal" cities is quite common, and that our overpacked, outmoded and inefficient modern cities are particuarly vulnerable.

What he gets at here is something that is striking about cities like Buffalo- they're startlingly anachronistic. Like those tourist trap "Ol' West" Towns, many metropolises have become little more than a "living" reminder of what once was. Here's something strange to consider- the heyday of most American cities was the 1920s-1940s; the heyday of American suburbia was the 1950s- 1970s.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four Years Into the Future

So, it's four years later.

I remember not finding out what had happened until about five in the evening. I was at William & Mary and in my usual study-haze. Everyone looked shell-shocked. I remember walking around the campus and knowing that something was wrong, but not wanting to know what. I went to my morning Logic class and the prof said to the class: "I want to thank you for coming here today. You don't have to be here." It sure seemed nice of him. Was there some big party the night before?

That evening, my German History class was cancelled. Our professor's son worked in the Trade Center, and the family was frantically trying to contact one another. Eventually, they did. But, the relief bank his charity was planning to build in West Africa would never get built. By this point, the curiousity got the better of me. I wandered into one of the many student lounges where CNN was on. First thing I saw: "Trade Centers hit by planes. Both towers collapse." Holy shit! Right away, waves of dread washed over me. This was war, wasn't it?

The next few weeks were a blur. Too much CNN, too many candles. Too little time to let it all sink in. It seemed like every time I tried to think about it, I was being dragged to another candle-light vigil. What was going on? Were we at war or not? Were we all going to die? Wouldn't someone leave me alone to finish my damned homework?

Everything was supposed to change. But, did it really? So many people date their intellectual awakening to 9-11, but so many more seem to have stopped thinking that day. Both the right and the left have huge segments that live in mortal fear of people who disagree with them. They huddle by their campfires and howl at the shadows of trees. But, weren't the 80s the same way? A few differences: Muammar Qaddafi is our good friend now, and less than %40 of the country is happy with the President. Less breakdancers too. But, the paranoia is there. Do we like being afraid? Are our lives boring otherwise?

And, sure enough, we're at war. The war in Afghanistan seemed to go well, until... well, we lost interest. It's no offence to the Afghanis; we're just not that into them anymore. Now, we're steadily losing interest in Iraq. Maybe we're just losing in Iraq. It's hard to tell, and nobody wants to give us a straight answer. Maybe we're ready to move onto Iran. Or Korea. You'd be surprised at how many columnists are pushing for other wars. And the government seems to be the robot at the end of the Terminator- the skin-mask has been blasted off, and it's suffered serious damage, but it keeps mindlessly walking forward and shooting everything it can. The Hurricane has finally destroyed any thought many of us had that this government might still be better than no government. Maybe it's time to move on. Start over someplace new, and leave the crazies to shoot out their TV sets whenever Barbara Streisand comes on. Sometimes, you have to let the babies have their toys. But, let someone else change their diapers.

So, maybe some things did change.

But, already I've started to wonder how long it will be until we forget. This was supposed to be the worst thing that had happened to us since Pearl Harbor. But, how many of us remember Pearl Harbor? Sometimes, being a history student feels a bit like studying some arcane language, or being a sci-fi fanatic. How long until the wave of trivia washes away our memories? Did you know that 50 Cent doesn't get on well with Ja Rule? Or that Usher doesn't approve of Kanye West?

The other day, I had someone say this to me: "Well, our meeting is going to be on November 22nd. I don't know why we're telling all of you that now. I have no idea how you could remember November 22nd!"

And she really had no idea.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Herodotus "The Histories"

How little is actually known about the life of Herodotus! We know that he was born between 490 and 480 B.C.E. at Halicarnass on the South-West coast of Asia Minor. Later Greeks would date his birth at 484, meaning that he was born under the Persian Empire. In the Histories, Herodotus never claims to remember any events of the great invasion personally, relying instead on the testimony of men he has spoken to. It becomes clear throughout that he draws much from second-hand sources, fables, and rumor, although seldom in an uncritical way.

This has led some writers to criticize Herodotus' abilities as a historian, and he has been called "The Father of Lies" as well as "The Father of History". However, it is important when reading Herodotus to understand his method which differs significantly from the sort of historiography that has been written since Leopold von Ranke, but which has merits of its own.

For one thing, this is not a work of strict historiography, or the critical analysis, evaluation, and selection of primary source materials into a scholarly narrative. "History" here comes from the Greek historia or "inquiry"; these are Herodotus's studies into geography, anthropology, ethnology, zoology, even fable and folklore.

Herodotus ranges widely, but expertly. Ethnographical descriptions are woven into the narrative. Hence, we learn that the "Mendesians hold all goats in veneration, especially male ones" (114) When a distinguished Egyptian male dies, "all the women of the household plaster their heads and faces with mud" (127) Egyptian women urinate standing up; Egyptian men do so sitting down.

He explains zoology: "The crocodile is a four-footed amphibious creature (that) lays and hatches its eggs on land, where it spends the greater part of the day, and stays all night in the river..." (122) The hippopotamus "has four legs, cloven hooves like an ox, a stub nose, a horse's mane and tail, conspicuous tusks, a voice like a horse's neigh, and is about the size of a very large ox." (124) The reader also hears about otters, various fishes, birds, and the "flying snakes" that Herodotus has heard of and apparently believed in the existence of.

Herodotus also details the physical geography of Egypt at great length, but not all of it. "As far as Elephantine I speak as an eye-witness but further south from hearsay." (105) He straveledave travelled a great deal and deals first and foremost with the things and places he has seen. "Up to this point, I have confined what I have written to the results of my own direct observation and research, and the views I have formed from them; but from now on the basis of my story will be the accounts given to me by the Egyptians themselves- though here- to- I shall put in one or two things which I have seen with my own eyes." (IIHerodotus2)

Herotodus seems to give primacy to the things he has seen with his own eyes. But, it isn't clear that this isn't a trope to convince us that he is a reliable storyteller. Some critics have questiotraveled really travelled as widely as he claims throughout the histories. They spot discrepancies in the narrative, but it's also not clear that these aren't mistakes made by the chroniclers who finally took down Herodotus' stories some years after his death.

After that, he relates hearsay from "reliable sources". Finally, he isn't above telling us a particularly entertaining yarn, fable, or tall-tale that he has heard. Many of these stories are convincing, although some, such as the winged snakes or the king who cures his blindness by washing his eyes with virgin's urine, are less so. Some stories Herodotus himself finds unconvincing, and openly tells us so.

Herodotus is using the real and the fantastic to paint an overall picture of the nations he deals with. His general plan is "to record the traditions of the various nations just as I have heard them related to me." (145) In a sense, his histories are closer to the collection of myths that nations tell to define themselves. However, he is also using the critical method, judging these stories and telling the listener which ones he finds unconvincing. He is not relying on primary sources, that Rankean fetish, but it is clear that he is relying on his own discernment and erudition. Most importantly, he is not making anything up. He may be relatively naive, but it is probably unfair to call him a "liar".

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Look Who's the Author

Holy crap! Mykel Board got a book published! And another out in a week! Board is delightfully offensive, uncommonly smart, and more fun than a barrel of lube. He eventually became the only reason I'd read Maximumrocknroll, and sadly that became too costly. Good stuff. Makes me want to write better.

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No Moore

In that last post, I restrained myself from saying that nobody would really suggest that inept politicians were more responsible for death and destruction than the hurricane was. Because, well, I figured I'd write that and then somebody would say just that.

And, here comes Michael Moore.

"There is much to be said and done about the manmade annihilation of New Orleans, caused NOT by a hurricane but by the very specific decisions made by the Bush administration in the past four and a half years."

(Sigh.) I should've known. Look, I know Moore means well, and I'm sure he's a nice guy in person. But, he's the cuddly blanket that the left should've outgrown by now. We need him like a hole in the head.

The troubling thing about Moore isn't that he's a provocateur; it's that he doesn't seem to provoke anyone on the left. Most of us sort of nod our heads when he stirs up controversy, and think "Okay, well maybe he dumbs everything down that he talks about. And maybe he's dishonest and sensationalistic. But, hey, he means well." I keep hearing the same thing from my lefty friends:
"Sure, he's a propagandist, but he's our propagandist!"- a cop-out that's as cynical as it is hollow. But, it's not just that Moore is dishonest, simplistic, mean and brutish.

It's that he capitalizes on national tragedies almost exclusively to fuel his own career. And, by hiding behind politics, he gives plenty of people the impression that Democrats can't make any political headway unless people die.

Look, Bush fucked up- oh, yes he did. And leftists should be ready and willing to point that out. But, Michael Moore taking the blame so far over the edge of reason doesn't do anything for us. It just gives ammunition for every close-minded conservative who wants to say: "Well, jeez, I'd like to listen to the left, and I know that Bush is a little incompetant. But, look at what crazy shit liberals say! " Moore is our Rick Santorum. He's an embarassment. If conservatives don't want to think at an adult level, we need to show that we can. And that means making Michael Moore sit at the little kids' table.

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Theodicy: A vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil.

Here's one of the more interesting articles I've read about the hurricane and theodicy. The idea of a theodicy was coined by Leibnitz, and was best ridiculed by Voltaire. A theodicy in this case would be if people were saying that the hurricane still proves that God is just because New Orleans is sinful. I'm sure some are. But, that used to be the common way that people explained the awesome destructive power of nature away. The author is arguing that these criticisms of the president or the governor or FEMA mirror a theodicy because we're trying to assign a human cause to the force of nature. I think it's an interesting point, although I don't know how many people are actually saying these people are responsible for the hurricane or the destruction it caused, even if they could have handled the aftermath a lot better.

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Doctors With Borders

So, this is pretty shocking as well. All of the out-of-state doctors who came to Louisiana to help people in this emergency had to wait around until the spirits moved Kathleen Blanco to sign the emergency declaration that would make such work legal. It's called state reciprocity, and basically suspends the fact that doctors are only licenced in one state in times of emergency. The reciprocity proclamation is pretty standard. But, Blanco waited until Sept. 2nd, which just isn't good enough. It's time for her to step down as well.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Testing My Picture Posting Capabilities

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Whatever happened to...

Newt Gingrich, who once courageously saved his nation from an adulterous blowjob, is arguing that voters now are starting to care more about whether the govenment works than petty moral issues. Well, at least, until the next celebrity breast is exposed on national television.

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More Good News

The human brain is still evolving. Hard as that may be to believe right now...

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Good News

Michael Brown has been replaced, thank God. Maybe now he can find some other profession to fail in.

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The Big Picture

Okay, well Blogger's going a bit haywire today.

To continue, the President was re-elected largely because people believed that he would be more able to protect them than Kerry would. They believed that he would take decisive action and not be cowed by politics.

But, in a situation in which he could have saved thousands of American lives, he chose not to because he was afraid of how that might appear politically. Again, the White House actually thinks that this makes the President look good. But, let's not mince words here- it's time to consider impeachment.

Kathleen Blanco must be ousted. Michael Brown absolutely must be fired, for crying out loud. And it's time to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush.

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What Went Wrong 5

So, FEMA screwed up, local officials allow their fleet of rescue buses to be flooded... Time for the President to send in troops, right? Wrong.

According to a senior official who spoke with the NYTimes:

"For reasons of practicality and politics, officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon, and then at the White House, decided not to urge Mr. Bush to take command of the effort. Instead, the Washington officials decided to rely on the growing number of National Guard personnel flowing into Louisiana, who were under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's control."

"Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces, unless the security situation made it completely clear that she was unable to effectively execute her command authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable result?" asked one senior administration official, who spoke anonymously because the talks were confidential."

And this is their spin! They actually think, well okay, know, that there will be people who are dumb enough to say, "Gosh, the President sure wanted to help, but those liberals just won't let him do anything!" Stabbed in the back again, eh?

What does this tell us?

1) Kathleen Blanco is still an incompetant buffoon.
2) The National Guard handled this hurricane about as well as they handled Kent State.
3) The President of the United States could have sent troops in to save people's lives, but didn't because of how it might appear. Let's let that sink in.

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What Went Wrong 4

What did FEMA finally do?

Well, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, they got crews of firefighters together... to do PR.

"Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.
On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency."

And the capper...

"But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas."

Let that last line sink in. Remember, again, this is the conservative Salt Lake Tribune speaking.

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What Went Wrong 3

FEMA sucks. We know that. But, why? Well, let's get to the third big problem here:

Cronyism.

"Top officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency have strong political connections to President Bush, but they also share at least one other trait: They had little or no experience in disaster management before landing in top FEMA posts."

Michael Brown was made head of FEMA with almost no experience whatsoever in disaster management. However: "Before joining FEMA in 2001, Brown, a protege of longtime Bush aide Joseph Allbaugh, was commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association." A job he apparently failed as well.

How did he do in New Orleans?

"The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Brown waited until hours after Katrina had struck the Gulf Coast before asking his boss to dispatch 1,000 Homeland Security Department employees to the region--and gave them two days to arrive, according to internal documents." Ultimately, it took about five days for them to arrive.

What does Bush think of all this? To quote: "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."

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What Went Wrong 2

Secondly,

According to the Washington Times, FEMA failed its core mission.

"How the federal government should respond to emergencies and disasters is detailed in the National Response Plan, a 426-page report issued by the Department of Homeland Security. "The National Response Plan embodies our nation's commitment to the concept of one team, one goal," Tom Ridge, the secretary of Homeland Security at the time, declared on Jan. 6, 2005, when the response plan was revealed. "This achievement is a bold step forward in bringing unity in our response to disasters and terrorist threats and attacks." The plan was overwhelmed by events in its first major test with reality."

People have been saying that FEMA really isn't qualified to handle these sorts of situations. But, under the Department of Homeland Security, they are the most qualified to handle these sorts of situations. And they couldn't.

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What Went Wrong

Okay, now comes the bitching.
I don't want to do some shrill thing about New Orleans. But, I do want to go over what went wrong.

The first thing that went wrong in New Orleans:
* Funding

"Just last year, FEMA hired a private company, IEM Inc. of Baton Rouge, to help conduct an eight-day drill for a fictional Category 5 hurricane in New Orleans named Pam. It included staging a helicopter evacuation of the Superdome, a prediction of 15 feet of water in parts of the city and the evacuation of 1-million people.
But the second part of the company's work - to design a plan to fix unresolved problems, such as evacuating sick and injured people and housing thousands of stranded residents - never occurred because the funding was cut."

Did the government cut funding for the war in Iraq? I can't tell. But, someone is going to have to answer that question at some point.

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Some Good News

So, it will ultimately take $100 billion to clean up New Orleans, but I'm willing to bet we will reach it. People have already donated over $4 billion. That's the good news in all of this. Our hearts go out. That's one thing you can say about us; our hearts go out when we see others suffer. I know I complain a lot, but talking with my neighbor here in Hamilton the other night about the nightmares she's been having about this tragedy, I realized that ordinary people, all over the world, care about those people in New Orleans. It's the same in Buffalo. Everywhere you go: "Would you like to donate to relief for New Orleans?" And, you know what? We all do. So, yes, I only know how people are responding in the US and Canada. But, I'm glad to know about that.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Panties3

Having gone off my rocker bitching about mainstream porn, I will say that I find something quite charming about PantiesPantiesPanties, which is certainly kinky, although clearly not porn. It's odd, because Brett and Hiromi are gleefully pervy, but there's something old-fashioned and endearing about how much they dig each other. Above all, he's a Hiromisexual, and she's a Brettsexual. As someone who's over the moon about my own wife, I can relate. They're sort of like the silly, geeky, pervy loving couple next door.

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Porno America

Here's an interesting review of a new book arguing that our culture is totally "pornified". The author feels that pornography has become “seamlessly integrated into popular culture,” which I can accept, with reservations. Certainly, the ideas and motiffs of porn are surprisingly integrated into mainstream culture- I still find it odd to hear sitcom characters referring to multiple orgasms and the like as a part of everyday conversation. But, of course, pornographic images still have to be sought out. And an exposed nipple can lead to apoplectic hysteria.

But, what happens to these kids who come up with the tropes of porn as mainstream values?
The author notes:
Every sort of product, from snowboards to underwear to computer games, is marketed to them with increasingly explicit sexual images and innuendo. As for Internet porn, determined teenagers have the freedom and know-how to gain easy access. On a recent tour for her best-selling memoir, even the supremely jaded Jenna Jameson was taken aback when thirteen-year-old girls came up to her to declare that she was their role model.

The author's first suggestion is that their ideas of deviancy are much looser than past generations. In a sense, she's right. I was amazed at how many kids I met in college who felt that a blowjob is a normal part of the first date. But, was the "free love" generation really so moral? And what about those "key parties" in the 70s? Perhaps what's changed isn't so much young people's moral standards as an increased need to "share" our sex lives with each other. I was equally surprised at how many classmates I had who felt I would care to hear about those blowjobs, even if I didn't really know them.

And why should the conservative right be the only ones to ask: What happens to a culture when nothing is taboo and everything offensive is smiled upon, even expected? I'm still amazed at business-boy yuppies who show off by belching loudly in bookstores, or students who feel it's acceptable to tell us, their teachers: "I didn't do the homework last night because I found out my girlfriend is fucking some other guy." A sort of braying boorishness is pretty mainstream these days and I don't think liberals do ourselves any favors by defending it. But, can it really be attributed solely to bugaboos like "porn and video games" or "sixties values"?

But, mass-produced, mainstream porn is still idiotic. What bothers me about professional porn is how soulless, callow and sociopathic it is- the ultimate taboo in porn is human emotion. The article tells us that "pornography does not so much liberate desire as help to shape it into soul-denying, obsessively narcissistic forms." I don't actually buy this. I honestly believe that most people watch porn in the same way as they watch Jerry Springer- for a cheap laugh, and that's about it.

Or, at least, I like to think that. What disturbs me is the possibility that the soul-denying and obsessively narcissistic are in themselves mainstreamed in such a way that only the most revolting professional porn really speaks to people. What becomes of your mind when it's fed a steady diet of nothing?

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O Canada, They Stand on Guard for Us

The good news is that there were professional rescuers who actually did get into New Orleans a full five days before FEMA, the National Guard, or any other American rescue units could.

But get this, they were the Urban Search and Rescue Team, from Vancouver, Canada.

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Today's Reading

From one account of Katrina:

By day 4 our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously abysmal. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that the "officials" told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the City, we finally encountered the National Guard. The Guards told us we would not be allowed into the Superdome as the City's primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. The guards further told us that the City's only other shelter, the Convention Center, was also descending into chaos and squalor and that the police were not allowing anyone else in. Quite naturally, we asked, "If we can't go to the only 2 shelters in the City, what was our alternative?" The guards told us that that was our problem, and no they did not have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile "law enforcement".

Paramedics Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky.
Their full account is astounding. Pretty unfiltered, and no doubt, quite a bit different from what you're hearing about on CNN or FOX News.

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Quote of the Day

"And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this --this is working very well for them."
-Barbara Bush, commenting on the Katrina refugees.

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Passing the Buck 2

But, let's be honest about it- everybody screwed up in regards to New Orleans. It's astounding to me that, four years after 9-11, we apparently have no plan for helping a major US city in an emergency situation. But, it's not as if Clinton, that blithely arrogant President Belushi, was concerned about the levees either. I think what's so disturbing about this is the fact that seemingly everyone who's ever looked into it has known that this could happen for the last hundred or so years. But, it's apparently been a very low priority for the government, both parties, hell even the core of engineers.

And race, our nation's Achiles heel, eventually has to enter into it. Because, clearly we have known for decades that this very poor, largely African-American part of the country was very likely to be wiped out in the event of a hurricane. But, clearly nobody had any real plan of what to do in that event, or even felt a plan was necessary. It's as if they knew it would likely be quite tragic, but underestimated the public response to that tragedy. And that's particuarly chilling.

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Camille Meets Katrina

Camille Paglia, who comes across in interviews as a lesbain classics professor crossed with Auntie Mame, points out that the hurricane showed the incompetence of both the administration and the news media. I tend to agree with a lot of complaints about the news media, which is why I get my news from the wires and skip the TV. I also tend to find that people who hate CNN love FOX News and those who love CNN hate FOX News. Frankly, they're both "slanted" towards people who are too dumb to live. I've watched both and can't honestly see much difference.

I think the problem isn't really what direction they're slanted. It's that they all reduce every world event to a commercial for the event. Paglia is right in bashing the news media in general. Also, she's pretty amusing, as usual. Not sure I get this line though:
"What is highly surprising now is the disintegration of the administration's mask of competence and confidence, as New Orleans sinks day by day into squalor and savagery, a shocking panorama of unrelieved human suffering."

Highly surprising?

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The Buck Stops Over There Somewhere

The President says that looters need to learn a bit about taking "personal responsibility".

The next day, he claims that the massive fuck-up in New Orleans was really the fault of local officials.

Nice.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

About Time for a Change

David Brooks arguing, quite well, that the hurricane is going to change the way we think about the government, along with everything else. Certainly, this could well be the Republican Party's Iran Hostage Crisis- driving the party out of office the same way that Carter's various blunders drove liberalism underground for a generation.

But, it also seems possible that the idea of the "common good" is going to come back. Certainly, the barroom attacks on "the common good" and "the safety net" have become so unthinking and commonplace that they may be hard to abandon. Quite a good number of 18 year olds show up at our university already complaining about how "liberals" and "welfare recipients" are taking all of their money. (Not many are willing to give up their Pell grants however.)

But, few people really expect the government to leave citizens to die either. This widespread distrust of public institutions that seems to be going around carries with it the suspicion that those institutions should exist to protect the public good. That perhaps we have a moral duty to protect one another, and that American life needn't be Hobbsian after all. That perhaps the pain we feel when we see others suffer and die isn't weakness, but that acting upon it is strength. Finally, that Tocqueville may have been right when he said that what makes Americans great is that we are good, and if we cease to be good, we will have ceased to be great.

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Daisy?

We're overjoyed that you're safe. Do you need anything? I'm sure Claire has already emailed you, but if not, we'd love to send you some necessities. We have a million or so empty boxes here right now anyway, and plenty of time. Let us know.

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Phariseeism

Incidentally, the spelling is accurate.

This column from New York lefties Steve and Jen is just gross on so many levels. Talk about beating your chest over the dead and dying. To give a clue, the title is "We Told You So."
To give you a quote:
"Well, motherfuckers, and that means you, fat ass Goldberg and your master, Rich Lowry, PNAC Bitch Beinart, the racist wannabe white Malkin and the little fucktards at LGF, Bareback Andy and "Diversity" Instacracker, all you backstabbing, fag hating uncle tom ministers, you can see Dear Leader in action."

If my students wrote this way, I'd flunk them. But, they're far smarter, and considerably less embittered than these people.

There is just this alcoholic, braying, macho, semi-coherent stupidity to the writing that chills the blood. No attempt to convey an argument or convince anyone of the merits of that argument. Just furious, incoherent, short-sited ranting - the only form of communication that ranks in the blogosphere. Can we just start using the verb "to blog" as a synonym for "to froth at the mouth"? Yes, Bush fucked up... yet again. But, god, why beat your chest over a national tragedy? Don't they have the self-awareness to see how petty and gross this appears? If this sort of WWF-style assholism is what it means to be a "fighting liberal" these days, then count me out.

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Wearing Beads

Here's someone who suggests showing solidarity with the poor people in New Orleans by wearing Mardi Gras beads. It's a cute idea, and probably better than those rubber wrist bands. Hopefully, someone will sell them and donate the money to the Red Cross.

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Tweedle Frum

Here's David Frum complaining that Democrats are trying to get political mileage out of Hurricane Katrina and the shocking incompetance of the Bush administration in this situation.
Frum fumes:
"Good God, what is wrong with these people? Will they ever learn to see somebody else's misfortune as something more than their political opportunity?"

It's an interesting point, and one I usually agree with. I've argued fairly consistently that Bowling for Columbine, for example, (and actually most of Michael Moore's corpus) is grossly exploitive Phariseeism.. But, of course, it's hard not to think the same thing every time an administration member evokes 9-11 these days.

And I think Frum is wrong this time. Certainly, many of the attacks are totally invalid; I'm amazed at the assertion that Bush is responsible for the actual hurricane itself. But, we have the right to expect our elected officials to be able to handle a national emergency quickly and effectively. And they apparently cannot. What exactly have we been preparing for over the last four years if not a national emergency? What was the point of the Department of Homeland Security, if they can't handle such an emergency? Could we expect them to do any better if it was bin Laden that attacked New Orleans?

And I find it ridiculous that we're not supposed to criticize the administration for screwing up the things that they are directly responsible for. That they can hide behind this "Well, it's partisan if you criticize us!" bullshit to excuse the fact that they let a major American city descend into death and anarchy for days on end. To quote Frum: "What is wrong with these people?"

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No Spam shall Live

I think it's funny how often I get spam in the comments section. Who are these people and why can't they find real employment?
"Hey! I love your blog! You're awesome! Come see my blog and learn about diet shakes!"

Eventually, advertisers will exploit every area of human relations. I can't wait for them to insert ads into wedding vows.
"Denise, I've always loved you. As much as I've always loved low-interest car financing..."

But, what company is honestly stupid enough to pay someone to spam the comments box? Maybe 20 people a day read these blogs anyway, and they're only here long enough to figure out that there's no porn here and then they go somewhere else. Would they really follow a link to some idiot's car insurance spam-blog? And, if so, would you really want to insure someone who is that stupid?

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Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina

The frustrating thing about studying is that it takes you "out of the loop". I've been reading French memoires all week and doing some department work. So, I was pretty much gobsmacked when I finally found out the full news about the hurricane today. Civilization is a pretty weak hiding place, isn't it? A whole culture and a history is utterly devastated in a single day. It's hard to believe.

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First classes

Well, I "taught" three sections this week- actually, I just gave class information and let everyone go early. It was great fun. I think the trick is to be organized so that you're not killing a lot of time. I've seen a lot of teachers who are more entertaining than I am. Right now, I'm just worried about getting the kids all the information they need. That's the most important thing.

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