Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Another Secret of Teaching

It goes the other way too.

Sometimes, the worst student you have at the beginning ends up turning their behavior around by the end of the semester and turning in the best essay in the class to boot.

And that is wonderful.


War by Another Name

I. And perhaps, isn't all politics the worship of power for its own sake? Was Nietzsche right that all politics are founded in violence? Or simply in making others obey one's will?

II. Is "the left" principled and ethical, or are we basically interested in making the rest of society think and behave in a way that makes us comfortable? Do we care about "rights" and "tolerance", or do we basically detest that conservatives have different opinions about behavior? Do we really care about poverty, or just detest those who we feel don't care about poverty? Do we care about racism, or just want to beat up "white men" for not being the historical victims of racism? At what point do we become the pathological left- valorizing criminals for their "critique" of America? At what point is this just resentment?

III. Is "the right" principled and moral, or are they basically interested in making the rest of society think and behave in a way that makes them comfortable? Does the religious right care about "values" and "decency", or do they simply detest the fact that other people are allowed to live their lives as anything other than Christian? Do they believe in "self-determination" and "hard work", or simply want to break the social contract? Is capitalism a "value" or the negation of all values? At what point do they become the pathological right- valorizing tyranny for the order it maintains? Worshipping power instead of authority? At what point is this just resentment?

IV. What is the crime in being "apolitical" if politics is essentially self-interest? If it's war by other means? Shouldn't we opt out? Should I stop calling myself a "liberal"? Is this "nihilism", or is it simply belief in something less pathological?


NewsMax and Torture

What to say about this obscenity?

1) The article contradicts its headline. McCain says that he gave the Vietnamese worthless information- "The information was of no real use to the Vietnamese"- so torture didn't actually "work" in this case. It was not effective. Again, close reading, is not a strong suit these days.

2) The second time McCain signed a confession to war crimes he didn't commit. It didn't work here either. Unless, of course, your goal is to get the tortured prisoner to confess to crimes they didn't commit to justify torturing them. Here we step into the deeper darkness of torture.

3) We are apparently supposed to emulate the North Vietnamese at this point- simply because they sure got things done. Amtrack also might want to look into how Mussolini got the trains running on time.

4) Apparently, the argument has gone from "We do not torture" to "Torture is good policy" in a few short weeks.

5) These people don't have any ethical beliefs at all- or any beliefs of any sort really. They attack a war hero to defend thugs. They don't defend rights- they defend imperatives. They simply argue for whatever their party wants- they're apparatchiks.

6) They simply worship power for its own sake.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

White Flight is Alright

Here's an educator on another sort of white flight- namely, white parents who are taking their kids out of schools that are too challenging. Apparently, they're nervous about their kids being in classes with too many Asians.

"Which plays, of course, into the old stereotype of the hyper-competitive Asian. But the new white flight also has given rise to a new stereotype one educator calls ''the white boy syndrome.'' It says that white kids just don't have it between the ears."

This is all, I guess thankfully, news to me. Not to be rude, but I've never found that Asians were much smarter or whites were dumber, or anyone was dumber really. Most kids are about the same. It seems like girls work a lot harder than boys do.

But, I don't know... isn't the problem really that, as a culture, we don't believe in anything in any genuine way? So, something like education, while it seems like a nice idea, really means very little to kids, or to their parents for that matter. Actually, more importantly, it means very little to adults. It's just a status symbol, or more accurately, a pretext to criticize "the uneducated", to justify paying them starvation wages to do the landscaping, and not give it much more thought than that. But, really, the problem is that we just don't care for actual education so much as the pretense of being educated. So, who cares what ethnic group is failing or succeeding- so long as we can find some other cultural justification for social violence.

Sorry to say it, but educators have to be the "bad guy" in all of this to the extent that we hold the kids to real standards- otherwise known as "hurting their self-esteem"- otherwise known as "refusing to play along". We have to be hated- we have to get terrible reviews on! We have to uphold the standards because, quite simply, if we don't, we go from being the guardians of culture to being the guardians of class.

Or, is that cynical?



I'm sitting here watching Lola, our cat, who is currently very intensely watching the dishwasher- which is not running.

This has been going on for about ten minutes now.

I don't know if she's the strange one, or if it's me.



Just a beautiful piece from Catholics in the Military against torture.


Staring Into the Abyss 3

To be fair...

Blue state grotesque...

Red state grotesque...


A Secret of Teaching

Students will never know the deep soul-sadness that a teacher feels when a student who is otherwise passing turns in a paper that is almost entirely plagiarized.


They Don't Stand on Guard for Us, Dammit

Canadians are going to throw the bums out. The minority government of Paul Martin, which is pretty much as corrupt as it is humanly possible to imagine, has gotten a no-confidence vote. So, there will have to be an election for all 308 seats in the lower House of Commons. In a sense, the entire government just got thrown out.

Conservative Stephen Harper said:
"This is not just the end of a tired, directionless, scandal-plagued government..." adding, "It's the start of a whole new tired, directionless, scandal-plagued government."


Monday, November 28, 2005

Great Writing on Great Writing

Here's a lovely piece from the Washington Post about the life of Kafka.

I love this line:

"We don't actually read his work, we are harrowed by it."


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Into the Darkness

A couple in California is suing the owners of a NSF funded website that discusses evolution because they claim that evolution, in itself, constitutes a religious belief. Next they'll try suing the Internet itself, claiming that it constitutes "crazy fucked-up voodoo shit!" And so, the counter-Enlightenment marches on, into the darkness.


Saturday, November 26, 2005


Posting a bit less in the near future. I have to spend more time reading ink on paper. The computer is nice, but very distracting.


Staring Into the Abyss 2

Also probably cruel to post: Here's a link to a page with charismatic conservatives bashing George Clooney for being depressed about a family member's death. Pretty depressing: but note the populism of it- they hate Clooney because he disagrees with what they see as the norm, but also because he has money. It's really just semi-coherent resentment, but fascinating all the same.


Control their genitals and you control the world

Here's something startling about female genital mutilation- of the 3 million girls and women who undergo the brutal procedure each year, about 50% come from Egypt and Ethiopia. Just two countries. It's interesting also that radical Islam as a political movement was born in Egypt. Is there a connection here? Does the authoritarian personality only respect suffering?


Friday, November 25, 2005

Jesus Wept

What is the "Christian viewpoint" on torture? According to about half of the readers on "World Views", apparently it's to do whatever gets the job done. Heck, Christ himself was tortured, and if he was going to condemn torture, you'd think he would've done it at the time! If there's a question between torturing and not torturing, just weigh the pros and cons of each and go with the better choice. Mistaking Christ for John Stewart Mill, aren't they?

Nevertheless, I'm very glad to see this being discussed and debated as an ethical issue. Notice how about half appeal to ethical standards and so oppose torture, while the other half appeal to authority as such, and so accept torture. Perhaps this is a normal breakdown in any society.


Strange Bedfellows

Guess I should have seen this coming...

Arab leaders in Hevron have contacted the city’s Jewish leaders for help in getting rid of self-proclaimed anarchist volunteers who, they complain, are destroying their traditional way of life.

Somehow I didn't see the ultraconservative middle eastern religious community and western anarchists getting along forever.

Anarchist: So, I totally hate Israel, man!

Palestinian mother: Oh, me too. Me too. (long pause)

Anarchist: So... uh... Marriage is a lie, huh?

Palestinian mother: Uh...


How to be a Conservative Pundit

Recently, the New York Review of Books did a piece on how well-organized and well-funded conservative talk-show hosts and editorialists are. With the occasional bribe from the White House and the vast network of middle aged men who really, really believe that "leftists" and "Islimacists" are colluding to eat their children, there's quite a market for this stuff. Thousands, if not millions, of readers and listeners.

Disturbing? To some. But me, I realized that there is a tremendous amount of money to be made in becoming a right-wing pundit. Since clearly, we're all about big money here (why else would I become a TA?), I'm going to tell you...

How to Write a Right-Wing Scare Article

Step 1) Find a topic that everyone can agree on, and support it as if you're making a stand. This is for all the "normal folks" at home.
"You know, ladies and gentlemen, I don't believe that students should be failed out of school for not supporting radical communism, and I'm not afraid to say that."
So far, so good.

Step 2) Pitch this as a stand against the entire organized left.
"But, would you believe that liberals actually think that students should be failed out of school for exactly this reason?!"

Step 3) Find some wacko in Berkeley who actually said something this stupid as "evidence" of the vast left-wing conspiracy.
"It gets worse; I have here a quote from John Franklin, of the Berkeley Radical Marxist Drug- Orgy Society, who says, 'I think students must be made to obey radical Marxism, or be shot!"

Step 4) Tie it all together!
"And this is what John Kerry wants for your children!"

Step 5) Rake in the cash!
"If you'd like to hear more of my thoughts, buy my book 'Liberals are Crap!' through my website:!"

Step 6) And don't forget, they're too afraid of you to respond!
"I wanted John Kerry to respond to my allegations that he believes that students who don't support radical Communism should be killed, but apparently he's afraid of the truth!

Next week, I'll tell you why the left is bringing down the level of discourse in this country!"

How to Write a Left-Wing Scare Article

Same thing basically, but remember: It's always about race!


Freed from Reality

The L.A. Times takes on the various ongoing attacks on academic integrity, which (they don't note) actually come from the right (Students shouldn't have to learn about evolution or Marx!) and the left (Professors shouldn't study the biological aspects of race or gender!). We had a class last year that about half of the students got up and walked out of. Why? Well, the professor put forth the radical idea that there was homosexuality in ancient Greece. Shocking, eh? A friend of mine was actually the subject of a minor cross-country smear campaign. Why? Well, someone decided that she hadn't spent enough time on the Holocaust in her World Civ class, and so a group in California got involved.

It's strange how truth and learning are no longer seen as innate goods, but as a matter of consumer choice. The ongoing idea seems to be that, if you pay enough in tuition, you should be able to choose the reality that is presented to you. How postmodern!


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Voltaire on Torture

One of the greatest documents ever written against torture, and central to understanding why the Enlightenment opposed it, is Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance. The case in question was the 1762 arrest, torture and execution of the Languedoc peasant Jean Calas, who was accused of murdering his own son in order to punish him for converting to Catholicism. This accusation was made in spite of overwhelming evidence that the boy had simply committed suicide. Voltaire defended Calas in print and made the case a cause célèbre of the time. There is absolutely no question as to what side the founding fathers came down on, whether or not they were slave owners.

Voltaire's main focus here is, of course, against religious fanaticism. However, the important section to me is the first paragraph, which reads as follows:
We soon forget the crowd of victims who have fallen in the course of innumerable battles, not only because this is a destiny inevitable in war, but because those who thus fell might also have given death to their enemies, and did not lose their lives without defending themselves. Where the danger and the advantage are equal, our wonder ceases, and even pity itself is in some measure lessened; but where the father of an innocent family is delivered up to the hands of error, passion, or fanaticism; where the accused person has no other defense but his virtue; where the arbiters of his destiny have nothing to risk in putting him to death but their having been mistaken, and where they may murder with impunity by decree, then every one is ready to cry out, every one fears for himself, and sees that no person's life is secure in a court erected to watch over the lives of citizens, and every voice unites in demanding vengeance.

Note that what makes violence in war acceptable for Voltaire is that the participants have the same danger and advantage, and specifically can defend themselves. This is what is removed in torture. What makes torture so ethically poisonous has nothing to do with what the torture is; water boarding, ripping out finger nails, or forcing someone to stand for 18 hours all have the same effect- namely, you remove the person's ability to defend their own body from violence, and become, in effect, the arbiter of their destiny. You alienate them from human society by making them a person who can be tortured, and from themselves by removing their agency to defend themselves from abuse.

And this is why we have traditionally rejected the use of torture. And why we have to consider the ethical implications of crossing this particular Rubicon.



Thanks also to Normblog for linking here. It's nice to be read.


Quote for Today

"The heart of compassion is the germ of benevolence; the heart of shame, of dutifulness; the heart of courtesy and modesty, of observance of the rites; the heart of right and wrong, of wisdom."
-(Meng K'e) Mencius, 320 BC


Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the states! Here, in Canada, we had the big feast in October. Of course, as a loyal American, I will be eating delicious turkey this weekend, but alas, could arrange no big gathering. Hopefully everyone, and their families, are together and safe today.


Giving War a Chance

The Australian rattles its sabers about the idea that the US might pull out of Iraq. Basically, the argument is that war means either victory or defeat and we cannot allow for defeat and so forth. Isn't there a better reason to stay in Iraq? Namely that we have no right to cut and run? What right do we have to do such a terrible job of making this bed and then asking Iraq to lie in it? Am I the only "durty lib" who feels this way?


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Other Slavery

Of course, a more common way of looking at slavery is simply that it's forced labor. According to the Times of India, we're having a bit of trouble with that in Iraq too.

"Four Keralites, who were 'cheated' by job agents and taken to a US military camp in Iraq, managed to escape recently narrated their nine-month-long ordeal in the camp as slaves. One of them said 'We were slaves in American kitchens'."

Could be false. Sad thing is, it's impossible to tell anymore.


Fiddy Fiddy Bang Bang

A Canadian legislator is arguing that 50 Cent, pictured at left in 1999 and 2005, should not be allowed to tour Canada, where with the exchange rate, he would, of course, be billed as 43 Cent.
Gun violence is skyrocketing in Toronto, and legislators up here are blaming America (as usual) for sending a pervasive message that killing is... well, therapeutic basically. So, why not solve the problem with a completely hollow gesture, eh?

But, what of the cultural flatline that is the "50 Cent" brand?

Is his music banal, hateful, shallow and stupid? Absolutely. Should it be banned? Of course not. Should it be ridiculed? Critiqued? Looked down upon? Ignored? I don't see why not.


Public Porn

Here's a must-read piece from Salmagundi about the current cultural "deluge of porn".

I've said before that most porn simply strikes me as eerie- especially in the way that it portrays the most emotional event in most people's lives in a completely unemotional way. But, I don't begrudge the porn enthusiasts; to each his, or her, or his and her and her own.

But, as it's become slowly a part of our public landscape, porn becomes embarassingly hard to avoid. The author, Jim Sleeper, sites "roadside 'Erotic Empire' billboards, bus shelter underwear posters, fashion-cum-kiddie porn ads, commercials for erectile disfunction cures, and the fetid currents wafting suddenly through our homes at prime time." How do we say, "Thanks, but I'm just not in the mood" to a lecherous public sphere? Sleeper suggests that liberals need to be the ones to change and lead the debate about pornographic culture.

Traditionally, cultural conservatives will bemoan vile "gangsta rap" or pornography loud and long and at great length. But, it's just hollow rhetoric. They get very quiet when you ask them: "So, are you suggesting that we should limit free enterprise? That the government should regulate the market?!" Of course not. And the real driving force here is an oinking rush to snatch the last dollar. It's no real surprise that FOX is the sleaziest, most banal and lowering station on public television, and FOX News commentators make a killing complaining about sleazy and lowering media.

And this gets at the problem with porn and Shiessemusik- most of us believe in consumer choice- to each his and her own. Most of us don't want to legislate speech, even if it is crassly commercial and dehumanizing speech.

But, why should censorship even be suggested? Racist literature is generally kept from the public square by public pressure. Sure it exists, and people do sell it, and other people, sadly, buy it. And yet, most people find it to be beneath them. Maybe we need a return of what Coleridge called a "clerisy"- the people who preserve and endorse the highest aspects of culture. I think what we need is an active aesthetic engagement with the public sphere. Is it elitism? It could be. But, perhaps when confronted with something repellent, such as "extreme" porn, or "Bumfights" DVDs, instead of saying, "Nobody should sell this", or "Nobody should buy this", we should be saying, "Nobody with any sense could appreciate this".


Jean Baudrillard: Philosophy's Funnyman

Here's a New Yorker piece on Jean Baudrillard speaking at the Tilton Gallery.

Baudrillard is one of those "French philosophers" who often gets lumped in with Foucault and Derrida by both editorialists who worry that "postmodernism" is wrecking academia, and a few actual academics who think that "theory" still has some life left in it. But, Baudrillard doesn't really fit in because he's quite a bit sillier than the other 70s Gallic thinkers. Sort of the Jerry Lewis of that particular rat pack.

Here's why he's silly. As the New Yorker writes:
"Baudrillard, the French philosopher, is best known for his theory that consumer society forms a kind of code that gives individuals the illusion of choice while in fact entrapping them in a vast web of simulated reality."

Okay, well that's interesting. But, basically, all of his books make this same argument. So, if a book comes out entitled: "Puppies" by Jean Baudrillard, it will be Baurdillard arguing that puppies do not exist; they are only the simulation of puppies in a matrix of 'hyperreality' in which we all live. And then, he will say something about Disneyworld. In fact, he says the same thing about Disneyworld in this article that he does in every single book.

“We say that Disneyland is not, of course, the sanctuary of the imagination, but Disneyland as hyperreal world masks the fact that all America is hyperreal, all America is Disneyland.”

Right, but without the balloons.

And, of course, editorialists get mad about this stuff. "How dare he say that we don't exist!" But, really, we all need to lighten up. Baudrillard belongs in a sit-com.

Mrs. Baudrillard: Honey, I'm going to the store!

Mr. Baudrillard: You know that there is no store; only the simulation of a store in a hyperreal media environment.... But, please get some Cheetos!


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Focus on the Balls

Focus on the Family is apparently planning to advertise their website, which explains how to become un-gay, by distributing 5,000 stress balls with the site's address on them at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

No, this isn't a South Park script.

But, you know, all they're saying is if you're at the Macy's Parade looking to fidget with a stranger's balls... well Focus on the Family can help you out. That's all.

(Sorry. Must not be childish.)


The Psychopath as Saint

One of the commenters gave me an idea. Here is Dr. Robert Hare's Psychopathy Checklist, which the FBI uses to identify sociopaths. Just for fun, how many of these characteristics do you think would apply to our last two Presidents?

Glibness/superficial charm
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
Pathological lying
Lack of remorse or guilt
Shallow affect
Callous/lack of empathy
Parasitic lifestyle
Poor behavioral control
Promiscuous sexual behavior (ahem!)
Early behavior problems
Lack of realistic, long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions (!)
Many short-term marital relationships
Juvenile delinquency
Revocation of conditional release
Criminal versatility


"Dirty Bomber" Done Dirt Cheap

Jose Padilla has finally been charged with a crime- after three years. This is what I was getting at- how do you lock someone up in a prison and not charge them with a crime for three years, and not have that act call into question the standards of liberty that you live by? How is that possible?


Fellow Teachers

This weekend I was reading Philip Rieff's book Fellow Teachers: Of Culture and its Second Death and I was very much struck by his description of academia as "an aristocracy of intellect". I think we're almost embarassed to admit this, but he's exactly right. And once I read this it became very clear that this is a hierarchy that is worth preserving- not demeaning, but raising those who live within it. I answer to my professor and my students answer to me. Of course, because we do have authority, we have a special responsibility not to abuse our position of authority. I do not insult the students or abuse them. I do not prostelytize to them or attack their opinions. However, we shouldn't pretend that we are not in authority, or assume that authority is de facto problematic. Authority can order one's life in a way that allows for growth.

I think what bothers me about the attempts to turn education into a consumer product (which I've complained about before) is that I fear that education ceases to be a moral good when it becomes a consumer good.


Andrew Sullivan

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for linking to that bit about slavery and torture. As I've said in past posts, Andrew is one of the few consistently wise and ethical voices in the blogosphere (that part of the media atmosphere that, sadly, seems to quite often be lacking in oxygen). Andrew has been the most insistent critic I can think of in regards to the administration's wink-wink, nudge-nudge policy on torture, a tireless advocate of fair and decent discourse, and represents, I believe, the best tradition of the Enlightenment.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Michelle Cable's Medical Fund

Michelle Cable, a writer from Panache Magazine and the members of the band DMBQ were recently in a horrible car accident. Mana "China" Nishiura, DMBQ & Shonen Knife's drummer, did not survive the accident. She was a great talent and will be missed dearly.

Cable has six months of recovery for her head injuries coming and no insurance. So, if you can give, a PayPal account has been set up. Donations can be made to DMBQ and Michelle Cable by using PayPal to donate to the e-mail address
or by sending checks to:
Lovepump United, PO BOX 3241, Poughkeepsie, NY 12603, USA


Staring into the Abyss

Okay, I know this is cruel to do... But, you have to see how astoundingly stupid the messages are that people have left at this news board. It is, unintentionally, one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. And the people are serious.

The subject is an interview in which Johnny Depp says that the riots in Paris have made him consider moving back to the United States. Remember that Depp isn't an especially political actor, and note how the posters associate him with every wrong they can think of. He's a traitor. He's an anti-social freak. He's not American. He's a liberal nutcase. The vitriol is amazing, and seemingly, stems from the fact that he's an actor.

This is the abyss of charismatic conservatism.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Thoughts on Torture and Slavery

And so, if all reports are to be believed, we have crossed the Rubicon- we have become a nation that tortures. Forget the "ticking time-bomb scenario"- we have committed an immoral act, and far worse than committing such an act, we have christened it as moral.

This is, of course, a situation in which an "activist" like Noam Chomsky is totally useless. Nearly every statement that the far left makes concerning "'Uhmurika" is an insult. Klauswitz said that the man who defends everything defends nothing. Similarly, the man who finds everyone guilty legitimizes the truly guilty.

This is a situation in which the right needs to recognize a moral absolute, and the left needs to become more comfortable with defending a moral absolute. Torture is morally indefensible- in every case, and every situation. If it is "waterboarding" or ripping out fingernails, or even "stress positions", it is a morally wrong act. As a liberal, it feels good to be interdictory for once- this is something that can never be done.

Torture is worthless as a means for gaining evidence, it is morally indefensible, and it represents the end of moral authority, which the US had hoped to preserve, and its replacement with arbitrary power. As leaders from Nero to Stalin have shown, the two cannot co-exist.

Torture is also, ultimately, wedded to slavery in a marriage of necessity. In the first place, torture is the foundation of slavery; it is the last resort of the slave-owner, and key to the social alienation of the slave. A slave is literally a person who can be tortured. So, even a slave-owner who has never tortured is still a torturer because the key to their authority remains torture.

Secondly, the last resort of the torturer is ultimately either slavery or murder. The tortured can never be untortured, and by being tortured have been removed from society in an irreparable way. Ultimately, most societies that torture have had to resort to murder, in the case of Argentina or the Soviet Union for example, or slavery, in the case of Rome or even Hellenic Greece. This is why the tortured often become the disappeared, and we might suggest that the 83,000 prisoners of the war on terror, by having never been tried, can be considered slaves.

But, every torturer becomes a slave-owner, even if only briefly, by torturing. Torture is definitionally violence inflicted with the victim having no agency to defend themselves. The key aspect of torture is this removal of agency. This is why the torturer will tell the victim that there is no escape and that no one can save them- the individual is alienated from society and their lack of freedom or human agency is what allows them to be tortured.

And so, by sanctioning torture, or even "light torture" we have re-sanctioned slavery, even if we do not have slaves. But, I believe we do.

(Please forward.)


Death of a Poet

Nadia Anjuman wrote poetry in secret when she lived under the Taliban.

Recently, her first book of poetry Gule Dudi- or Dark Flower- was published to wide success in literary circles.

And so, her husband beat her to death.

According to the Times:

"Friends say her family was furious, believing that the publication of poetry by a woman about love and beauty had brought shame on it."

And so, love and beauty are shameful in the eyes of totalitarians.


Our 5,000th Customer Served

As of today, 5,000 individuals have been here.

Which means?

Absolutely nothing.


our cat needs therapy

lola is prone to going apeshit if she cannot see/hear one of us at all times, in fact, she's lying at my feet right now and will follow me into the bathroom if when i go pee after posting this. when she freaks, she starts meowing so loudly and sadly that rufus gets out of bed at night and tries to comfort her. she really sounds as if she's being tortured. i've had 9 other cats and none of them have come close to her. maybe it's cause she's part siamese.

anyway, last night we were sleeping and lola had a freak out of monster proportions; meowing through the night like the little neurotic thing she is. i guess she kept rufus up and he finally locked her out of our room to minimize the noise because she wasn't settling down.

this morning she was hanging around during breakfast and started meowing for us to let her out, and it came out like a little kitty squeak! our cat was hoarse. lola had such a tantrum last night that she gave herself fucking laryngitis. what kind of cat does that?

she's gotten better over the day, but why didn't she stop meowing when it started to hurt? there was no threat in or outside of the house...just her kitty imagination.

she totally belongs in this house, with her weird owners. i've been trying to make her talk all day just so i can laugh at the noise, it's the most hysterical noise i've heard in a long time. silly girl.



Thursday, November 17, 2005


Slowly working my way through Das Kapital, a work that needn't be treated as gospel, but which must be treated seriously. The hardest part of grad school is learning to take things seriously. Not humorlessly, but seriously. I am still stumbling in this.


Hugo Chavez

The United States has accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez "of making new enemies abroad to fire up supporters at home with demagoguery ". Also, his strategy is "based on confrontation and conflict, and in order to sustain it over time it requires an ever- increasing search for enemies," the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs told lawmakers. In related news, the kettle is pitch black, according to a press-release from the pot.


First Snow of the Season

Today, I left home to snow, went to school, and came home to hail.

It's somehow refreshing to see the first snow of the season. It will be less so when we get to March, but it reassures me that the planet is still turning.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Thinking in Images

Here's a must-read about something I've written about ad-nauseum: our culture of images...

Some key lines:
Americans love images. We love the democratizing power of technologies—such as digital cameras, video cameras, Photoshop, and PowerPoint—that give us the capability to make and manipulate images. What we are less eager to consider are the broader cultural effects of a society devoted to the image. Historians and anthropologists have explored the story of mankind’s movement from an oral-based culture to a written culture, and later to a printed one. But it is only in the past several decades that we have begun to assimilate the effects of the move from a culture based on the printed word to one based largely on images. In making images rather than texts our guide, are we opening up new vistas for understanding and expression, creating a form of communication that is “better than print,” as New York University communications professor Mitchell Stephens has argued? Or are we merely making a peculiar and unwelcome return to forms of communication once ascendant in preliterate societies—perhaps creating a world of hieroglyphics and ideograms (albeit technologically sophisticated ones)—and in the process becoming, as the late Daniel Boorstin argued, slavishly devoted to the enchanting and superficial image at the expense of the deeper truths that the written word alone can convey?


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Today's Quote

"In yet another sense, equality is not the principle of modern society. Ascribed status is still more important than achieved status. Proust discovered men were only their representations. When he tried to find the real man behind the status mask, he found that what was most real about men was precisely their status mask. This discovery has made Proust one of the most insightful sociologists of our time."
-Phillip Rieff, The Theology of Politics: Reflections on Totalitarianism as the Burden of Our Time" The Journal of Religion, Chicago, 1952.


Us at Easter


Saturday, November 12, 2005

My lovely wife


(Long) Quote for Today

I turned away from philosophy when it became impossible to discover in Kant any human weakness, any authentic accent of melancholy; in Kant and in all the philosophers. Compared to music, mysticism, and poetry, philosophical activity proceeds from a diminished impulse and a suspect depth; prestigious only for the timid and the tepid. Moreover, philosophy-impersonal anxiety, refuge among anemic ideas- is the recourse of all who would elude the corrupting influence of life. Almost all the philosophers came to a good end: that is the supreme argument against philosophy. Even Socrates' death has nothing tragic about it: it is a misunderstanding, the end of a pedagogue-and if Nietzsche foundered, it was as a poet and visionary: he expiated his ecstasies and not his arguments.

We cannot elude existence by explanations, we can only endure it, love or hate it, adore or dread it, in that alternation of horror and happiness which expresses the very rythm of its being, its oscillations, its dissonances, its bright or bitter vehemences.
-E.M. Cioran


(this is claire)

rufus just posted a pic of our old tiny cramped kitchen and when i looked it it, then across to my lovely airy and big kitchen i almost cried with joy. maybe i'll go dance in it after this post.

that being said; that's one of my favorite pictures of rufus and lola. i don't know why. it's not cause they're cleaning, but maybe because it suggests that she's either taking interest in what he's doing, or is totally supervsing. also because it's my daily reality i think. my cute husband with my cute cat, doing normal stuff.

i've got it framed.



Another Source on the Death of Curiosity

What synchronicity! Here's an article about... well, the death of curiosity that I've been writing about at night for the last few months!

From the article:
"The floodgates were opened and the other UNC professors at the dinner began sharing their own dispiriting stories about the troubling state of curiosity on campus. Their experiences echoed the complaints voiced by many of my book reviewers who teach at some of the nation's best schools."

All of them have noted that such ignorance isn't new -- students have always possessed far less knowledge than they should, or think they have. But in the past, ignorance tended to be a source of shame and motivation. Students were far more likely to be troubled by not-knowing, far more eager to fill such gaps by learning. As one of my reviewers, Stanley Trachtenberg, once said, "It's not that they don't know, it's that they don't care about what they don't know."

-J. Peder Zane, "Lack of Curiosity is Curious", Triangle Life Magazine, Chapel Hill : N.C.
Nov. 6, 2005.



Lola and I cleaning the kitchen


More Notes on Curiosity

(We're running around today. These are notes for me mostly.)

Curiosity is a mixed bag in the ancient world- the Greek Homer treats it as a danger- a distraction from the path of duty. Ulysses and the sirens is the perfect example of this. Note that the temptation is auditory. Later Latinate Christian writers would see curiosity as primarily visual. Saint Augustine famously deals with it as "Concupiescence of the eyes", an occular lust. Going from an oral tradition to a literary tradition, the ear is traded for an eye and one's duty becomes an issue almost exlusively of looking. The oral requires attentive listening, and the written requires attentive looking. Augustine himself is horrified to see a reader who is not reading aloud because he is cut off from others. But, the visual bias is already a part of Augustine's own thinking.

Of course, the tradition of curiosity as sin is but one tradition- Aristotle begins the Metaphysics by stating that "all men by nature have a desire for knowledge"- all men are curious. Similarly, the lack of curiosity of Plato's cave dwellers seems to be their sin. But, for later Latin Christians, such as Saint Jerome, or again Saint Augustine, curiosity is sin, because the Christian should be in the world, but not of the world.

Yet why does it become a sin between Lucian and Apuleius' separate handlings of the tale of Lucius and the ass?


Friday, November 11, 2005

Another Take on France

As good an explanation as any, I suppose:

"A Martian observing France dispassionately, without ideological preconceptions, would come to the conclusion that the French had accepted with equanimity a kind of social settlement in which all those with jobs would enjoy various legally sanctioned perks and protections, while those without jobs would remain unemployed forever, though they would be tossed enough state charity to keep body and cellphone together. And since there are many more employed people than unemployed people in France, this is a settlement that suits most people, who will vote for it forever. It is therefore politically unassailable, either by the left or the right, which explains the paralysis of the French state in the present impasse."
-Theodore Dalyrimple


80s College Rock

The great post on Panties3 about The Judy's has gotten me thinking about making a list of great 80s College Rock. Please, feel free to chime in!

Okay, so there was:

The Replacements
Bow Wow Wow
Dead Milkmen
Farmer's Boys
Camper Van Beethoven
Mission of Burma
The Jam
The Pixies
The GoGos
The Posies
The La's
The Fixx
The Smiths
The Sisters of Mercy
The Spoons
Diamanda Galas
Human League
Dream Academy
Duran Duran
Echo and the Bunnymen
Einsturzende Neubauten
The Alarm
The B52s
Butthole Surfers
The Clash
Jane's Addiction
The Stone Roses
Kate Bush
Concrete Blonde
The Sundays
The Cure
Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Wall of Voodoo
Dinosaur Jr
Cocteau Twins
That should get everyone started!


More Weird Spam

Okay, so I remove spam messages here because I'm just too emotionally fragile to type away on some masterpiece of blabber and then read:
"Hey! Your blog is awesome! I want to bookmark you right now! Please be my friend! We can have sex! Come see my Hair Weave Site, if you have time!"

But, I am not kidding here, at least once a week we get spam for Arkansas Road Construction sites. Who in the world is on the net looking for Arkansas Road Construction sites and why won't someone help them? For God's sake, these people need help!


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Egon Schiele at the Neue Galerie

If you live in New York City, you absolutely must go see the Egon Schiele exhibit at the Neue Galerie. Seen by many as a logical successor to Klimt, Schiele's eerie paintings show life becoming geometry, exhibit the decay of a totally exhausted society, and disturbingly predict the concentration camps.

Oct 21- Feb 2o
Neue Galerie Museum of German and Austrian Art: 1048 Fifth Avenue


Wait! We can explain!

Okay, now this is bizarre....

Al-qaida blew up a bunch of people in Jordan. Because they're douche-bags.

Then, Jordanians took to the streets to protest. Because they're good people.

And now, Al-Quaida is trying to explain their actions to Jordanians! Pleading, and begging really.

The times they are a changin'.


shopping with claire

i need someone to read this and tell me if it sounds wierd. i think i was the object of in-store covert competitor marketing. i could also be paranoid. but this felt so bizarre i felt compelled to blog it.

rufus and i are incapable of grocery shopping together. he views it as a covert search and rescue operation--in and out as fast as possible, and always with the same stuff. for me it's a tactile experience; a chance to discover new and wonderful foods and potential recipes. so, i take my time. i compare prices and nutritional content, packaging and branding, eventually coming to a decision i'm happy about. after many ridiculously stupid fights over grocery shopping, we split up the duties. he does the milk and juice etc. runs that we need every few days; i do the big shops for produce etc. today was one such day, and while deciding between brands of dried dates, here is what happened:

me: (comparing brands of dates)(they are right above the bananas--this is important)

random man: (speaking under his breath, grabbing random things and shoving them into bags as if he was stealing) wow, i haven't been in here in so long i can barely remember where everthing is!

me: (smiles sympathetically; though in real life i can draw you a map of every grocery store i've been to. i'm thinking this man is a loser.)

random man: it's probably my last time too, cause of that new place just up the road?

me: uh, which place is that?

random man: hamilton produce! it's just up the road. you can go in with $20 and come out with way more stuff, plus their produce makes the stuff here look well, you know.

(i should point out here that i've always found the produce where we now shop to be excellent. the bananas we were talking over were of perfect ripeness and arranged attractively)

me: do they have things other than produce? like a meats section?

man: (looks embarassed) no, just produce. but it's just up the road, called hamilton produce. see these bananas? they're 59 cents/lb. normally at hamilton produce bananas are 29 cents/lb. you should check it out.

me: ... ... ... okay, so if it's right up the road, why are you buying bananas here?

man: uh...i'm in a rush tonight, but normally i'd go to hamilton produce. trust me, it's way better. (runs off with his cart)

does that sound weird to anyone? how often does a person, much less a grown man come up to you in the banana section and tell you it's cheaper somewhere else, and keep dropping the name like that? i like to chat away with the folks in the grocery store, but that's mainly my favorite check-out person and the deli ladies. the only time you talk to another customer is when you need to get your cart by, and even then the conversation is limited to "oh excuse me, sorry, i just need the eggs!" not "oh i just need the eggs, which are totally fresher and a dollar cheaper at eggmart!"

since i started my masters we talk a lot about corporations and all the shitty things they do to people and each other so i'm on this "i hate the man" kick, so it's totally within my realm of reason that this guy was recruiting customers for his new business. does this happen? is it possible? why is it so wierd when it happens?



Introducing a New Grad Student

Please welcome Claire, my wife. She is also a grad student, who works with madness in the social work profession. And she's my favorite grad student of all.



Bill Frist- Big on torture
Not to cast aspersions, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist really loves torture. Okay, just kidding- he really only turns a blind eye when people are tortured. But, who doesn't these days?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves.
Frist told reporters Thursday that while he believed illegal activity should not take place at detention centers, he believes the leak itself poses a greater threat to national security and is "not concerned about what goes on" behind the prison walls."

One more quote:

"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period... was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good."
-Martin Luther King


The Lid Comes Off

You think things are bad in the Paris slums? They've been that way for years now, and they've been even worse for women.

"Even before the riots, Ophelia, 16, used to run home from school every day because she was afraid of being attacked in the maze of high-rise buildings in her suburb northeast of Paris.

A series of gang rapes in these bleak housing estates shocked France a few years ago. In 2002, a 17-year-old girl was set alight by an 18-year-old boy as his friends stood by.

Walking near a burned-out garbage bin, Ophelia's twin sister Sandra says the riots came as no surprise. Violence against and pressure on women is part of daily life in the suburbs, where boys can dictate how girls should dress.

"You have to behave like a guy and look like a guy. If you wear a skirt, you get into immediate trouble. You're a slut," says Sandra, wearing a baggy sweatshirt and jeans.

Oppressing the weaker; a true sign of weakness.

When will France live up to the Enlightenment that is its true legacy to the world? When will it bring these people into the fold of French society, thus showing them respect, but also demand that they practice reason, restraint and kindness, demands that incidentally also show respect! Feminism is one of the great ideas of civilization- in fact, I'd go so far as to say that it was one major way that the West furthered civic evolution. But, to pretend that certain groups just wouldn't understand feminist ideas of equality is to suggest that they aren't quite human beings. When we don't hold people to the same standandards as we hold ourselves, we alienate them from our society. And, for years now, the French have been unwilling to treat their neighbors as real people.

So, yes, I have nothing but contempt for individuals who beat women, maintain surveilance over their minds and bodies, and murder their souls and bodies. But, I have equal contempt for those who do none of these things, but just don't expect those people to be able to act accordingly.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Another Spam Subject I Recieved

"Find sexaholics in your area!"

Surely though, they can't be that hard to find. Wouldn't they stick out like a sore somethin-or-other?


"Do it out of love" by: David C.

My old friend David C. is also a grad student, a Muslim, a historian and has interesting views on just about everything. I enjoy his writings, and wanted to respost one here. From his emailed response, I think it's okay... So, here goes...

Do it out of Love

When I was 18-21 I had a friend name Mike. Mike was what a lot of people would consider to be insane. He put out a zine called “Dixie Phoenix- Illumination in the Southern Tradition” and it tackled such diverse topics as race, religion, punk rock, politics, drug addiction, sexuality, and a whole slew of other things. Mike was about 26-29 when I knew him, and he had had a rough life.

Sometimes when I’m down, or when I find an argument to have with people whose positions I find incredibly hard to understand, it helps me to think about Mike. Mike introduced me to a Hell of a lot, from John Coltrane and Robert Johnson to Sri Ramakrishna and the Qur’an, and he was a person who was always there to listen, to debate, to understand somewhat- even when we disagreed. No doubt he had his problems, and it was precisely because he recognized them that I saw in him a rare person who I could relate to, and who I considered to be my friend.

What started me thinking about Mike was looking on myspace at the profile of a 19-year-old student at my university who is in the ROTC, and who is a history major, like I was as an undergrad (not the ROTC bit). I’ve seen this guy around campus and have often wondered why he is who he is, as I try not to mentally condemn him for the things that I know he does. I don’t even know him in all honesty, and I have to remember that ultimately it is not my right to judge, or even in my ability to condemn, others.

Still, it is a challenge because what he is learning, as a military officer in training, is about the Muslim world, and the “textbooks” that I know at least one of his professors uses are by people like Bernard Lewis- who is precisely the kind of Western non-Muslim who is currently engaged in seeking to “reform” Islam- meaning to reshape the Muslim world to fit into what Western politicians feel would be the best direction for Muslims to take. To me this is obvious, but to him it most likely isn’t, or alternately, he agrees with doing this.

What boggles me the most though, is that there are so many Muslims in the US today that agree with this program to fundamentally alter the Muslim community and shape it into a market economic, representatively democratic, federalist republican system, especially considering that the colonialist inspired and shaped nationalist program of the past has been proven time and again so often to be such a drastic failure in the Muslim world.

Either way, these decisions have been, and are being, made by outsiders- elites- not the people who live and toil, and die and suffer the worst of the effects of this imposed transition, and the warfare that it is taking to achieve such dramatic physical, mental, and spiritual alterations. What can I say, the Germans and the Japanese fought hard in WWII & it took two nukes on the brown ones before they surrendered. How is it that these elites, who would presumably not want their countries to be nuked, can continually play with this fire?

I met one of the candidates for the new Iraqi National Council last year & he told me that if the economy of Iraq is anything like that of Germany or Japan today, then he would gladly have the US military stay in Iraq for 50 years, but that of course the sooner they leave, the better. I’m just wondering how far he is willing to condemn his less fortunate countrymen (and women) to an early death so that he can make a dollar, or riyal, or shekel for that matter.

I mean, following the end of the BIG Gulf War (the one that Americans- at least the ones who think- tend to think of as the Iran-Iraq War) Iraq was on the rebound despite the immense loans they were being pressured to repay (and the theft of their oil by Kuwait). Bush senior even praised them as the “most Westernized” society in the Middle East! Now those dickheads down the street (this is DC) are fucking with the religion of these people!

Which brings me back to Mike- he was the second person I had ever met that had been “converted” to Islam (i.e., not raised Muslim). Where he really threw me for a loop though, was when he stopped talking to me because he considered me to be too full of hatred for him to be around. It was right after I had gotten back from my second trip to Europe, where I had paid a visit for a week (out of three months of travel) with a German friend of mine who had reverted (in Islam all are born Muslim, so converts technically speaking should be considered “reverts”). I remember not really understanding why it was that Mike didn’t want to talk to me, but I can imagine that he had his own struggle to get through at the time, and now I would have to say that my negativity must have been something of an unwanted challenge for him. God knows best!

Still, I also remember how important a concept that love was to him, and perhaps I have completely missed the fact that when he spoke to me, that he was trying to relate something altogether different than anything that I had previously comprehended at that time. Once again, Allahualam!

I guess that I write this now because its been about 9 years that I have been asking myself why our friendship ended, and having myself reverted to Islam, am remembering the ones who I feel helped influence that decision. Mikhail, if you ever read this, I wish the Peace and Blessings of Allah to be upon you.

And above, I express what may at fist glance appear to be hatred for a specific ideology, people, or program, but this again reminds me of something the Mike once wrote. Though maybe he was then (and I am now) paraphrasing, but I firmly believe that “Whatever you do, do it out of Love.” Which means that ultimately ONLY God knows, and that no matter what I feel about the damage that politicians or corporations, or the person next to me, does that we will all be judged by Allah one day, and I had better be sure that whatever I do is done out of Love.

I do not even know what the fruit of my actions will be- whether I sit back and watch TV, or block a bridge or street in protest, or pull the trigger on a weapon, or even just write about any of this. I do know that my heart isn’t really in to what I am studying anymore- even though I really do like what I’m learning. I guess that I don’t really like what it is that I feel like I’m becoming- an academic.

I don’t want to be an academic, but I don’t want to be broke all the time, but I don’t want to break my back 40-60 hours a week, but I don’t want to risk jail all the time to survive…among other things. If anyone knows of a job where I can make enough $ to support myself & use my brain and my back at the same time, and that doesn’t fuck over too many people (or if I must, preferably the right ones)- send a letter would ya?

Asalaamualaikum! Eid Mubarak!



Hey there!

Anyone remember Phillip Rieff? The sociological giant who pretty much coined the phrase "therapuetic" in relation to our own culture, and who put out his last book in the 1970s, on teaching? Married to Susan Sontag? Okay, that Philip Rieff!

Anyway, he's not published anything since 1973, and would seem to have faded into obscurity.

But, now, all of a sudden, at 83, he has four new books coming out!

So, miracles can happen in academia. Maybe, Camille Paglia will be inspired to finally release her long-delayed Sexual Personae Vol. 2.


Parisian theodicies

So, the gendarmes have locked down Paris.

Now, we can all relax and let the theodicies roll in.

Okay, so what is France in denial about?

According to the Washington Post, they're in denial about their deep race problems.

According to the National Post, they're in denial about the modern romanticized jihad cult.

According to the London Telegraph, they're in denial that the Eurabian civil war has begun.

According to Frontpage, predictably, they're in denial that this is jihad.

The Guardian is also going with racism, in reference to France's "colour-blind integration".

The Herald Tribune, again, is going with urban decay.

The one that I think is still missing- France is unaware that the Enlightenment is one tradition among many, and that irreason has its own tradition and its own norms.



I made my comment about these riots being "France's Katrina" on Sunday, and Anne Applebaum got around to making the same point today. She also pointed out that Chirac shamefully waited eleven days (!) to even acknowledge the riots, and then licked our wounds about France being so mean to us lately, and criticizing our (equally shameful) response to Katrina. But, I could have done that. Seriously, why am I not getting paid for this?


Book Report: Natalie Zemon Davis: "The Return of Martin Guerre"

In the 1540s in a village of Languedoc, a well-off peasant abandoned his wife. The villager, Martin Guerre, had married Bertrande de Rois at a very young age, and suffered from impotence. Also, apparently, he was having some sort of financial difficulties. By leaving his wife, he had put her status in some jeopardy, but Bertrande carried on as a mother and chaste woman.

Several years later, Martin returned and was accepted by the villagers as well as by Bertrande. Only, this was not Martin Guerre, but the wily peasant Arnaud de Tilh. Living as Martin Guerre for three or four years, the peasant Tilh, or as he was known "Pansette" (the belly) at home, was caught when he tried to bring charges against Guerre's Uncle for lost money. The Uncle had Pansette charged at Rieux and later Toulouse for stealing his cousin's identity. The imposter was nearly declared innocent in these hearings. But, then, the real Martin Guerre returned.

The story has been recounted several times, most notably by Montaigne, but never has it been historicized as effectively as it is here by Natalie Zemon Davis. Working from court records and the accounts of two of the judges, Davis recounts the life of the 16th century peasant in a way that recalls the great Emmanuel Le Roy Laururie. We get a real sense of the ways that these people lived and thought, and even understand how they could be fooled by this clever fake for three or four years.

Davis's only real misstep is in asserting that Bertrande must have been a willing accomplice in fashioning a new life with the pseudo-Martin. This seems like it may have been the case, but Davis has no documentary evidence whatsoever for the assertion, a main pillar of her study. Moreover, she assumes that the 16th century rural peasant thought like a 20th century urban feminist, like Davis herself.

Surely, a wife would know her husband in the bedroom. But, maybe not. By all accounts, the real Martin had only slept with his wife a handful of times, and maybe only once. Moreover, the young woman could have been much more trusting of a male authority figure than a modern woman would be. Certainly, it's plausible that Bertrande was not duped at all and was as much a trickster as Pansette. But, we have no evidence to assert that, and she was found innocent at the time.

That aside, the story is fascinating and the prose is lively. This is, after all, what history is- telling interesting stories. If it all sounds familiar, the story was also made into a film with Gerard Depardieu in the early 80s and remade as Sommersby with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. The story will likely continue to fascinate as we continue to ponder if there is a core to selfhood or if we are all simply impostors in the role of our own lives.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Something in all men profoundly rejoices to see a car burn."
-Jean Baudrillard

(Actually, I'm finding Baudrillard to be a pretty silly writer. But, it seemed appropriate for today.)


French Toast

Well, this is day 13 of rioting in Paris. As is often the case these days, nobody really seems to know what's going on.

The London Times blames the high unemployment in the slums, which doesn't really explain why they seem to be spreading throughout Europe.

The International Herald Tribune describes the Paris slums as, "Poor housing, mediocre education, rampant crime, drugs, crumbling family structures, joblessness... pits of boredom and despair..." a description which could actually also apply to huge swaths of West Virginia, or even Buffalo.

Spiked argues that Europeans can't really understand the "confused and nihilistic violence", which is probably true. There is a lack of ideas on the part of Europe's leaders. But, actually, the rioters seem to be part of a generation that has completely abandonned the rational, waking world too.

Daniel Pipes sees deeper cultural problems as well as the beginnings of jihad.

I'm sure someone will suggest that maybe it's just fun to burn things. It seems that part of the problem is that none of our rational solutions will actually solve things this time.

To wax Ballardian, maybe the meaningless act is the only thing that has any meaning anymore.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Another Evening With the Hickoks

Carlton: Do you think Madonna will get upset if her daughter grows up and she's not gay?

Claire: "Can't you just experiment a little?"



Erving Goffman: "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" (1958)

When he was teaching at the University of Chicago, Erving Goffman was known for his strange techniques of observing social interactions. He would schedule a class to meet outside on a warm day, and then not show up himself, instead observing how the students handled the situation through binoculars from a distant window. As a sociologist, Goffman relied more on ethnographic study and observation, instead of statistical data gathering. He did his early work on one of the smaller Shetland Islands; much of his work here ended up in The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life (1956).

The book was a tour-de-force when it was first released in the late 50s and it's merits have only increased with time. At times it feels very contemporary, if only because writers like Judith Butler have cribbed so extensively from Goffman. Butler's "performativity" is no different from Goffman's "performance"- both describe social presentation as basically dramaturgical. But, Goffman was there first.

In the study, Goffman deals with all Anglo-American social interactions as essentially theatrical. They all take place within a "social establishment", which Goffman defines as "a place surrounded by fixed barriers to perception in which a kind of activity takes place." Within these establishments, members of a team work to present a certain impression of reality to an "audience". This is a risky business and "the impression of reality fostered by a performance is a delicate, fragile thing that can be shattered by very minor mishaps." (156) Goffman's "dramaturgical" approach tends to focus on "impression management" and how it is maintained.

Various kinds of "communication out of character" are also considered, but interestingly enough, it seems that these exceptions prove the rule as they generally cannot occur within certain social establishments. For instance, team members may denigrate absent audience members when "backstage", but never on stage.

What is fascinating about the study is how it can be applied to most social situations. Clearly, these terms apply to work environments, but they also work in analyzing school situations, family structures, and even casual "hanging out". Groups are united in a common fiction as much as in any common goals or beliefs. In fact, the fiction could be considered a goal in itself. The study alters the way we understand the fictions in which we live. I would have liked Goffman to study how a person can maintain several different performances in their everyday life. Also, one could ask if anything social is "real" in a sense, or if performance can ever be naturalized. But, these are the questions that should be raised by a sociological study.

Certainly, we have all observed strange social situations as a visitor or while on vacation and felt that they seemed staged. Goffman argues that we were right all along, but didn't know how right we were.


France's Katrina

Paris is still burning, after ten days. Is this going to be France's Katrina? Is this the disaster that shows the deep structural flaws in French society? Clearly, the perpetual underclass is not going live in sowettos forever. And yet, the police clearly cannot turn over les banlieus to gangs and thugs, which would basically be an act of nihilism. So, what to do? Maybe both police enforcement and economic development are needed. But, how do you bring into the fold an underclass that has been so far outside the fold since the 60s? Is this the future? Will it go global?



Autumn is really upon us in Hamilton. One of the real advantages to living up north is that we experience the seasons in a way that I didn't when I was living in the south. The landscape becomes a memento mori up here, a monument to the slogging off of the dead and to the experience of mourning. It seems fitting in this time in which I'm mourning my grandmother again.


School Lays

Apparently, parents are shocked to learn that kids have sex at school. Yeah, but they did that when I was at school too. So, what's changed? Well, there's no authority anymore, for one.

An Anne Arundel teacher said he found two students having sex last year on the wrestling mats in a high school auxiliary gym. The teacher, who declined to be named, said he didn't report the couple because he was worried about repercussions for them -- or himself.

"I've seen and heard situations when you don't have support. These stories come back and kick you in the face," said the teacher, who is in his thirties.

He said he doesn't think an adult's word is worth as much as it used to be. "Kids have a voice or whatever, which is great, but at the same time, you see [teachers] who step up and say something and they get mashed."

Right, so kids screw kids and parents screw teachers. Sounds hot.


Today's Quote

The ephemeral is without doubt the reality of the future habitat.
-Jean Baudrillard, 1972



a Muslim who represents the mystical dimension of Islam; a Muslim who seeks direct experience of Allah; mainly in Iran.


The Maple Leaf

We have a majestic maple tree guarding the front of our house, which I love. But, man, waking up to a carpet of maple leaves on everything in front of the house every morning makes me resent Claire's national symbol a bit. I mean, it's bautiful and awe inspiring, and reminds me once again of my general thesis that nature is an overpowering force that dwarfs human culture. But, it's a bit too much proof.


Friday, November 04, 2005


in Hinduism, a religious ascetic, one who has renounced the world, having achieved the fourth ashrama, or stage, of life. The name sannyasi also specifically designates an ascetic who pays particular allegiance to the god Siva, who is sometimes known as “the great ascetic.”


And the Beating Goes On



Spielberg and Kids

Okay, now I should make clear that I wasn't saying that Steven Spielberg is a pedophile. But, his fantasy life is fixated on little children and their often violent adventures with emotionally-stunted older men outside of the bounds of society. And so, a certain aesthetic and even logic that is common amongst pedophiles is also an uncomfortable part of his movies, and therefore mass culture. Morever, the continued infantilization of American culture, which actually began in the 1970s, is going to make pedophilia seem more and more like an option for some people in the years ahead. It can't be very long before we have a slutty pop diva who's 12 or 13.

Anyway, here's Adam Parfrey who actually makes the insinuations that I want to avoid. Parfrey's article is very discomforting, and more than a bit unfair, but he's got a point.

Crispin Glover, of all people, made the same point in another essay. Remember though that Glover sued Spielberg over the use of his likeness in Back to the Future 2. He has some issues with Spielberg.

Me, I have issues with the culture. More specifically, I have issues with the culture's unwillingness to question itself. Is it psychologically healthy to have both a serious problem with developed adult sexuality and a fixation on the "innocence" of children?


The Sleep of Reason

This is why I took a break from commenting on politics in this dark and foul time- it's just too depressing:

International Herald Tribune:
Vice President Dick Cheney's office was responsible for directives that led to U.S. soldiers' abusing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a former top State Department official said Thursday.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, told National Public Radio he had traced a trail of memos and directives authorizing questionable detention practices up through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office directly to Cheney's staff.

"The secretary of defense under cover of the vice president's office," Wilkerson said, "regardless of the president having put out this memo" - "they began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to what we've seen."

"There was a visible audit trail from the vice president's office through the secretary of defense, down to the commanders in the field," authorizing practices that led to the abuse of detainees, Wilkerson said.

It's just hard to care anymore. It's hard to see politics as something that we all engage in to work towards a better future, and not as something that we watch from a position of helplessness trying to choke back the vomit and tears. The man in the picture at the top was a 47-year old Iraqi patriarch who was tortured to death in US custody last Spring. It was a big news story last May, but who cares now, right? Incidentally, last May, USA Today reported that 15 of the 37 prisoners who had died in US custody since December 2002 had been tortured to death. But, again, who cares? Just a few bad apples. A few frat-style pranks.

"I think our policies required torture. There were freaking horrible things people were doing. I saw (detainees) who had feet smashed with hammers. One detainee told me that he had been forced by Marines to sit on an exhaust pipe and he had a softball sized blister to prove it."
-Anthony Lourganis, former Army specialist, this week.

Afghanistan: One soldier, Private First Class Willie Brand, was charged with manslaughter in a closed hearing last month in Texas in connection with one of the deaths in Afghanistan, another army document showed. Brand, who acknowledged striking a detainee named Dilawar 37 times, was accused of killing him after maiming him over a five-day period by "destroying his leg muscle tissue with repeated unlawful knee strikes", according to the Times.

And on and on it goes.

A few good apples:

Andrew Sullivan has been inspiring in waging the good fight against torture.

Capt. Ian Fishback is a true hero.

"This isn't about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies." -Sen. John McCain

Incidentally, House Republicans are succeeding in killing off McCain's bill which would ban torture. Yes, they're fighting to preserve torture. 200 years after the Enlightenment.

What is there to believe in anymore when the country I love and grew up in has decided that it's acceptable to torture people to death? People will say that they had no idea this was going on in twenty years when the history books are being written. But, the information is all out there. But, they're too busy rooting for their side in this idiotic political football game. The Democrats just hate the other side out of hand without appealing to any sort of universal ethical imperatives. It's not that torture is innately immoral- it's that Republicans are all evil. The Republicans meanwhile appeal to universal ethical imperatives for everyone else but themselves. But, fuck, torture is fucking evil. Even if it was Mother Teresa torturing Hitler to death, it's still an immoral act. Aristotle said that immoral means corrupt even the most moral ends.

So, now what?


What's Happening in Paris

Amir Taheri claims that what is happening in Paris is an attempted intifada. Of course, I support the secularists over fascists of every religion. But, France really has to figure out a better way to integrate immigrants than putting them in a no-man's land and refusing to police it. Unemployment rates are as high as 60% for young men in these suburbs, and the best jobs they can get are menial labor. To call les zones a "sowetto" would be an understatement. Naturally, people have been predicting these riots for years now. France's response has been: "Let them eat halal" and that's about it.

How did it all start? The accepted account is that sometime last week, a group of young boys in Clichy engaged in one of their favorite sports: stealing parts of parked cars.

Normally, nothing dramatic would have happened, as the police have not been present in that suburb for years. The problem came when one of the inhabitants, a female busybody, telephoned the police and reported the thieving spree taking place just opposite her building. The police were thus obliged to do something — which meant entering a city that, as noted, had been a no-go area for them.

Once the police arrived on the scene, the youths — who had been reigning over Clichy pretty unmolested for years — got really angry. A brief chase took place in the street, and two of the youths, who were not actually chased by the police, sought refuge in a cordoned-off area housing a power pylon. Both were electrocuted.

Once news of their deaths was out, Clichy was all up in arms.

With cries of "God is great," bands of youths armed with whatever they could get hold of went on a rampage and forced the police to flee.

Why is it that people who go around saying that God is great can't ever seem to trust Him to fight His own battles?

And how do those of us who are okay with God, so long as He doesn't try to run for political office deal with those neighbors of ours who have love for all people, but demand that we bow down and obey their version of God?

Also, is this just as a continuation of the Battle of Algiers?


Trouble in Denmark

Oh, okay, there are young people rioting in Denmark too. So, the merde is still hitting the fan in Paris and now there are riots in Denmark. Surely, the French made a mistake in turning the zones into walled-off leper colonies. But, how are they going to acculturate these people after the riots? And has Denmark even tried to integrate their immigrant population? Doesn't there need to be change going both ways here?


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Madonna, Madonna, Madonna

Oh, she rocked the Euro MTV Awards! Seriously, Madonna is just a great stock to buy; her track record is incredible! Every time she makes a bad album, or even two, she has a masterpiece around the corner. At this point it's just folly to make fun of her. People always doubt her, but it's about time to admit that she's way out of the league of your average pop star. She's a major artist dammit! Yes, she borrows from every artistic style she can, but all great artists find their inspiration in other artists. Like finds like. Yes, she makes use of disco and pop, but so what! Let her follow her muse! She's the last great artist left and we need her right now!


French Revolution

Riots continue throughout the Paris zones.

Is CNN covering this? The riots have been going on for eight days now.


The Divine Miss P

I can't be the only grad student in the world who enjoys Camille Paglia, can I?

Anyway, here's another fun interview with her. It also ties in with the last post.

Ms. P: "I hold all modern poets to the high standard of Yeats's The Second Coming, which is a centerpiece of Break, Blow, Burn. What stunning power of imagination and language! That poem is still fresh after nearly a century. Wallace Stevens wrote dozens of extraordinary poems that still live, and so did Roethke. But in my opinion Pound and Auden have lost contemporary relevance, except to literary historians. The mercurial language of Shakespeare, on the other hand, still dazzles, baffles, and enchants."

"Robert Frost was destroyed for me in high school. All that plainspoken Protestant American piety--it made my skin crawl. At the time, I was hooked on the pyrotechnic aestheticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the raffish sexual adventurism of Edna St. Vincent Millay. I instinctively felt that Frost's "honesty" was false and repressive. It's no surprise that within a few short years, my culture idol would be the piratical Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. "

How can you not enjoy a conversationalist like that?


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-W.B. Yeats


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

McMartin Preschool Graduates

Anybody remember the McMartin Preschool trials? The cesspool of Satanism, drugs and child molestation? Well, one of the kids who testified has now grown up and says that he was pressured to lie.

I remember thinking to myself, "I'm not going to get out of here unless I tell them what they want to hear."

So, it wasn't true? But, isn't that beside the point? We need to believe in Satanic cannibal pedophiles and wild pathologies for some reason. I'm guessing that this is an uncomfortable side effect of our increased obsessive fascination with our children. As parents hover over their kids, micromanaging their lives, and trapping them in a gentle asylum, we need desperately to believe in the omnipresence of child molesters and other monsters to mark off how far is too far and to justify our increased surveilance. Every generation has its hysterias, and it's fairly revealing that the 1980s slowly forgot about the Soviets and returned to the fear of witches.


They Became What They Beheld

This is a classic. Very, very amusing.
But, I'm pretty sure that they're serious. I got it from HNet and there is no comedy on there. Also, if you know the world of academic publishing/ conferences, this is not very surprising. Sadly, we get these sort of "next big thing" pitches all the time. (As if "popular interest" should be our criterion for studying a topic!) Sometimes I think that we're a few steps away from selling televisions off the back of a truck. So, yes, here's the latest academic gravy train... Bullshit.
I know. I know. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

From: "Hardcastle, Gary"
Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 18:33:13 -0400
Subject: Call For Abstracts
A Companion to Bullshit
Call For Abstracts
October 19,2005
George Reisch and Gary Hardcastle (editors)

Popular interest in bullshit might be approaching an all-time high. It is reflected, for example, in Harry Frankfurt¹s bestselling On Bullshit (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005) and Laura Penny¹s spirited Your Call Is Very Important to Us (Crown, 2005), not to mention the popular media¹s eager response to these books.

To philosophers, though, bullshit, and reflection upon it, is nothing new. Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Kant, not to mention the French positivists of the 19th century and the logical empiricists of the 20th, analyzed and critiqued speech and writing that they suspected was not merely void of content, but intended to distract, deceive, manipulate, or oppress. And, as we know,
they took their analyses and critiques to be central to their philosophical projects. As a result, we have before us an occasion in which widespread popular attention is directed toward a topic with a rich philosophical history, and about which today¹s professional philosophers have something to say. We thus propose an edited volume of original reflections upon and analyses of
bullshit from epistemological, ethical, metaphysical, historical, and political points of view.

A Companion to Bullshit will serve as a guide and resource for the many who find bullshit worth thinking about and will, moreover, provide a venue for philosophers to continue participating in this public discussion.

Prospective contributors to A Companion to Bullshit are invited to submit an abstract of up to 1000 words for a scholarly essay of 8,000-10,000 words. We encourage contributors to strive for high scholarly quality while writing for a broad educated audience. We welcome any abstract that engages the philosophical dimensions of bullshit, but we especially seek contributions
that take up one or more of the following questions:
¬ What is Bullshit? Harry Frankfurt makes use of the tools and concepts of
natural language philosophy to distinguish bullshit and lying. Many other
philosophers have likewise offered definitions of bullshit, although with
different tools and often by a different name. Should any of these
conceptions be adopted? Should the project be approached from different
philosophical traditions, or abandoned altogether? What sociological or
psychological factors and circumstances, if any, might play a role in
defining bullshit?

¬ What Does Bullshit Do? Particular philosophical perspectives or
philosophical problems assign a particular function to bullshit. What are
the advantages and disadvantages of these various points of view, and which
is best? Could bullshit be eliminated? Ought it to be, if it could?

¬ Bullshit: Past and Future. What is the relationship of bullshit to
philosophy and its history? Does the popular fascination with bullshit
evidence some notable convergence of popular and philosophical goals and
values? Or is it best understood as a temporary and recurring interest or
fashion? Why now, precisely, has bullshit taken center stage in popular
culture? And what might this say about philosophy¹s place in popular

The editors are presently negotiating a contract with an established publisher of philosophy monographs, one that shares our vision of A Companion to Bullshit as a collection of serious essays that nonetheless responds in a timely manner to this popular interest in bullshit. In hopes that the volume will be published during the fall of 2006, please submit abstracts by December 1, 2005 to both George Reisch and Gary Hardcastle
Gary Hardcastle
Department of Philosophy
Executive Director, Institute for Culture and Society
Bakeless Hall 217A
Bloomsburg University
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
O: (570) 389-4174
Fax: (570) 389-2094