Saturday, June 30, 2007

sick/scary/monstrously beautiful photos of Katrina (?)









So, like a lot of people, I hate forwards. My great aunt, a woman who I often feel I could easily choke despite her advanced age, loves sending them. Mostly I get mass emails on how some new herb will "cure" my bipolar (actually she thinks I have depression--SO different, and does not understand how acute my condition happens to be...sigh.) Either that or I get ones on how precious children are with little gifs of babies praying and twinkling hearts etc., but a few days ago I got this one. Apologies if you've seen the pics somewhere else before. Both Rufus and I were struck by their beauty but also horrified at the damage that would ensue.

The forward says this of the photos: "These pictures were taken by a man in Magee, MS where the eye of the storm passed thru-what an experience. Magee is 150 North of Waveland, Mississippi where the Hurricane made land fall."

c

p.s. also, since it *is* my aunt, can we be sure they are of katrina? who knows. they're cool pics.




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If

If you are going to travel all the way to Vienna to see the fancy old buildings, soaked in age and magnificence and the splendor of aristocratic inbred self-glorification, why, WHY is it necessary to have the tourism board make a brand-recognition project out of it? Why do you need a logo? Why do you need a mascot? (Yes, the Museums Quartier has a mascot.) Why did you bother going all that way, if what you really wanted was the comfortable innocuous visual shorthand of airport signage--brutally efficient, monochrome, friendly but bland?

If that's what you wanted, you should probably have just arranged a tour of airports. They have more good art exhibits in them than you think.

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This is my favorite graffiti in Hamilton.

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"Illegals"

Mick Terry is apparently the troubadour of the anti-illegal movement. He has written a number of songs on the issue, most of which strike me as funny, if unintentionally so. My favorite lyric is from this song in which he compares illegal aliens to stray dogs: "Invasion, castration, domination, who's in charge?'' Castration, ladies and gentlemen. Illegal aliens want to cut off America's dick! (or is that the balls? I've never wanted to know)

Anyway, Terry also has this song entitled ''A Reason We Call Them Illegals'' in which he never actually explains why they call them ''illegals''. It's a strange neologism and one that perhaps we shouldn't take too seriously- I do think that a lot of the ''anti-illegal movement'' amounts to theatrical acting out; however, the people who use the term want us to take it seriously and tend to see any other term as being somehow weak or dishonest. Sooooo....

It seems to me that I've broken some laws in my lifetime. Nothing serious, but I assume that I have violated the speed limit or some of the lesser drug laws before (I can't remember!). Anyway, I don't think that would be enough to call me an ''illegal'', or even a ''criminal''. Maybe I'm an ''occasional law breaker''. I don't think I'm a recidivist yet.

In order to be called a ''criminal'', you don't just have to break a law; I think you have to make something of a living at breaking laws. So, a pickpocket, drug dealer, or a prostitute would be a criminal. That is, the term designates an activity or even an occupation. I suppose this could apply to someone who crosses the border to work illegally, although it's perhaps a strange fit. However, unlike some liberals, I don't find it particularly offensive.

"Illegal alien" is actually better because it's a term that designates a citizenship status, which is what is in question here. It's probably a better term than ''undocumented worker'', which just sounds like someone made a mistake somewhere. However, I get the feeling that ''illegal alien'' is considered somehow weak and dishonest as well. In fact, I've actually heard people make the weird case that "we shouldn't be calling them 'illegal aliens' when what they are is 'illegals'!" I'm not entirely sure what that means.

''Illegal'' then isn't just an activity or a citizenship status; it's an ontological status- a mode of being. You are an illegal- that is, your being is defined as illegal. To push the definition further, you are existentially illegal! I think the reason this strikes people as a sufficiently ''strong'' term is that it pushes us close to exterminationist rhetoric without quite crossing that line. I can't imagine that anyone will start calling them ''inhuman'', but it's the next logical step, isn't it? And, of course, comparing human beings to stray dogs is really pushing the same envelope.

I don't actually think someone like Mick Terry wants to exterminate anyone, nor do I think the ''anti-illegal movement'' wants any such thing, or could even accomplish any such thing. I think, instead, that there's a certain frission in violating the taboo on racist or exterminationist rhetoric that these people get a kick out of. It supposedly shocks and upsets those of us who are ''too PC" to slap them on the back and buy them a beer. You say something that could offend somebody, someone gets offended, and then you self-righteously complain that they're too uptight, or that they're taking you too seriously. Not a lot of people in this country want to be taken very seriously anymore- it's too much responsibility. Again, this isn't political debate as much as it's play acting- the sort of emotional theatrics that characterizes most political discussion right now, and which is not that much different from a 70s ''encounter group''- just without any professional supervision. Again, it's the theatrical of politics.

I'm not offended. Having grown up on John Waters, South Park, and Cannibal Holocaust, it's pretty hard to offend me. I think I just get sad when I listen to these people because, if anything, they're another symptom of the end of any political conversation in this country. They have nothing to say and goddammit they're going to say it!

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Red, White, & Grue

An English professor in Buffalo is researching America's "engrossing interest in the macabre"- specifically why it is that we love stories about bloody murders so much. "The thrill and horror evoked by murder narratives bring us close to these 'others,' who hold us in their thrall because on the one hand, they are so like us, and on the other, so different."

He says that our taste for these murder narratives is a bit weird really. "Despite our overdeveloped lusts for the 'dark side,'" he says, "Americans seem to have no sense at all of how weird our engrossing interest in the macabre appears to those outside this country." We tend to hear quite a few of these stories about how troubling our taste for stories about ''bloody murders'' is; even liberals who will defend our right as adults to see sex in art worry about how ''troubling'' our taste for the macabre is. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the cliché that, if you cut of a breast the movie's rated R, and if you kiss a breast you get an X. I'd actually like to see more filmmakers refuse to have their films rated in the first place.

When people say that there is a particularly American thirst for violence, I wonder if they're familiar with Lucio Fulci or the Fantômas books. And let's not even get started on Battle Royale! However, I can admit to a Dionysian thirst for blood. Why just right now I'm reading this shameless book which is all about the bloody murder of this landowner named Fyodor Karamazov; I tell you, somebody should have their head examined for publishing this Dostoevsky guy!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Value of Living an Unproductive Life

Here is a beautiful article by William Deresiewicz about intellectual love on campus. He makes a number of good points here, some of which I'll likely come back to. One is what he sees as a new stereotype of the humanities professor as lecherous, washed-up, alcoholic, vain, and flaccid. He connects this to economic issues at one point.

''Other received ideas come into play here: “those who can’t do, teach”; the critic as eunuch or parasite; the ineffective intellectual; tenure as a system for enshrining mediocrity. It may be simply because academics don’t pursue wealth, power, or, to any real extent, fame that they are vulnerable to such accusations. In our culture, the willingness to settle for something less than these Luciferian goals is itself seen as emasculating.''

Indeed I've noticed a widespread opinion that what we do in the humanities is useless and that we're rather ''quaint losers'' as a shrewd commenter at IHE puts it. Of course, this perception is true, on the face of it. Most people have to get up every morning and work hard to produce things. They might hate their jobs, or maybe not, but nevertheless they produce something, even if only wealth. It might have been miserable to build the pyramids, but the results were magnificent.

In contrast, academics produce very little, if they're worthwhile. Today, I arose from my ''chambers'' and travelled to the library to read and take notes for eight hours. And then I returned home to read some more. After I've finished two or three years of this activity, or more, I will have produced a dissertation that, quite likely, no more than twenty people will ever read. In my life, I will be read by a handful of specialists, with any luck. What we do is secret.

Our sacred duty, of course, is teaching. Here as well the fruits of our labor are perversely slow to reveal themselves. We scatter seeds. Perhaps one day years from now one of the students who endured our courses will remember some idea or pleasure that they gained from it and reflect on that, but to expect more is probably hubris. Of course, to someone who has to produce things for a living, we might well seem both worthless and arrogant- like cultural mandarins. So be it. Man does not live by bread alone and civilizations do not survive by pyramids alone.

Here I choose my words carefully. I indeed believe that we serve a conservative function in society- regardless of our political beliefs- because we serve as stewards of the knowledge, both sacred and secular, of human civilizations. Not only do we transmit the culture- in the highest sense of that word- of civilizations; we also transmit the demanding ideals that all true culture conveys. We are cultural conservatives in the best sense of the term.

Of course, there are some humanities scholars who will strongly disagree with this claim (although less than one might expect according to Deresiewicz). Some will say that culture in this sense has served to put a gloss on power; that capitalism has used such commanding ideals to keep control over subaltern groups; that culture in this sense serves to keep those pyramid builders oblivious to their own servitude, or to mask that servitude with high flown rhetoric. Some, perversely, argue that we serve as handmaidens to pouvoir, and that we should instead work to undermine the culture that we have stewardship of, and unmask systems of oppression due to class, race, and gender more generally, and capitalism more specifically. We can call these people the prohibitionists.

However, I disagree with the prohibitionists for two reasons. In the first place, having grown up in a city Washington, DC of those economic and political elites, I've long been struck by the fact that global capitalism and radical academia share a belief about culture- that the limitations that it imposes are something that 'intelligent people' will overcome. Therefore, the ideas of culture- the unique unrepeatability of every life, the demands placed by the soul upon the body, the obligation to the past, inwardness, the dependence of the individual upon the larger community- are so clearly at odds with the ways that global capital works and thinks that taking high culture seriously can put the brakes on such a life. No true cultural conservative is an apologist or cheerleader for capitalism, although they might be more critical of what they see as alternatives to it.

In the second place, the desire to transform ourselves from disinterested scholars to activists or social workers conveys the same need to ''do something worthwhile'' that sees the cultivation and human being as somehow hubristic, at least for us. And yet, the development of this inwardness- cultivated not through the adoption of ''fundamental truths'' or ''right ideas'', which are elusive anyway and cannot be forced, but simply through being led to worthwhile questions- is the precondition for a meaningful life and hence any action. Not to be told what to believe, but what to consider. This is our entitlement as free beings.

So, through our 'worthlessness' we defend our right live a life that is not justified by producing anything but by our own being. If more academics cared about race, class, and gender (and not as mere abstractions) they would seek to democratize this life both by finding more ways to teach for free and by defending the right of all not so much to an inner life, but to have recognized the value of that inner life, and every inner life.

The conviction that the pyramid builders and other productive classes would not be helped, or would somehow be manipulated, by conveying to them those elevating ideas and questions that the elite classes have largely lost interest in is simply another way of saying ''Get back to work''

And so while I think it is important for academics to recognize the importance of labor (which has been all-but-forgotten in this country) I also think that we must stress that there is good and value in the unproductive life as well.

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The Fag Discourse

Inside Higher Education has an article about a recent study on the ubiquity of the fag patois in High Schools, and how it also applies to Universities. C.J. Pascoe calls it the ''fag discourse'' which is probably a better term. She writes:

''Exhibiting stupidity, emotions, or incompetence, caring too much about clothing, touching another guy, or dancing were all things which could render a boy vulnerable to the fag epithet. In this sense what I call a fag discourse is not just about homophobia, it is about a particularly gendered homophobia as these renouncements of the fag are as much about repudiating femininity as they are about denying same-sex desire.''

Actually, I've never seen ''exhibiting stupidity'' get someone labelled ''fag''; much the opposite. But I think she gets at something interesting about the fag patois- often it hasn't got much to do with actual homosexuality. Most students I've encountered are strongly for gay rights, and simultaneously really freaked out by anything that seems ''gay'' to them. Which often includes such things as dressing well or having an affinity for art.

This brings us to the somewhat unsurprising part of Pascoe's argument. She notes that the fag discourse is prevalent on campus, especially in fraternities, but much to the detriment of the lives of our homosexual students. However, I'd say that it's pretty unlikely that we can stop kids from calling each other fags, provided they don't do it in our classes. I'm sure as hell not going to take on the task of following around frat boys and trying to wash their mouths out with soap! Part of the reason that they do it is because Mom and Dad find it obnoxious and they're 19, so the dorky University instructor is probably even less likely to get them to quit. Besides, most of them grow out of it. In most cases, I think it's as much as cause for concern as their tendency to find flatulence hysterical. Not everyone outgrows that though.

Something that Pascoe doesn't mention, but which I already have, is the stranger fact that certain humanities are taken as ''faggy'' by young people. One of my best students was talking to me once after recitation about the paintings I had shown, and threw me for a loop with the comment: ''I actually liked the Art History class I took. I know it sounds queer, but I actually like art!'' I tried not to laugh and explained that a lot of people like art. But, we often encounter this strange idea that reading poetry, or studying art, or being emotionally receptive to many of the things that we study in the humanities is somehow ''gay'', in the sense of indicating homosexuality. Much to the detriment of the soul I believe.

It's the same with other arts as well. There is a popular connection between certain pop divas and homosexuality I find. As if one leads directly to the other! ''I tell you, Bill, I've always been attracted to women. But, then I was thinking about it, and I really like Madonna's music. That made me think that I might like having sex with another man.''

All of this simply leads people to limit themselves from pleasures that might enrich their lives. Including ''same sex desire'' of course, but gradually extending to all things which are contemplative instead of active. Masculinity as a shrinking cage. Not only is this somehow tragic; it's also ''gay'', in the sense of being stupid.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Quote-Unquote

''Culture may well depend on religion, but religion has no meaning if it is seen merely as a prop of culture. Unless it rests on a disinterested love of being in general, religious faith serves only to clothe human purposes with a spurious sanctity. This is why an honest atheist is always to be preferred to a culture Christian.''
-Christopher Lasch

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 8

The Phoenix Appartments that I walk past most mornings. I've never seen anyone coming or going, but I take it that people do live there.

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Return of the Queen


In Egypt, the remains of Hatshepsut, the female pharoah who reigned from 1479 to 1458 BCE during the eighteenth dynasty have been positively identified. Hatshepsut wore the traditional false beard of the pharoah and is portrayed in art as both male and female. The spiritually elevated can cross sexes in many tribal traditions. Hatshepsut was taken for the favority of Amun, who gives life with his breath.

Interestingly, as Hatshepsut was re-emerging in Egypt, the Grand Mufti of Egypt has declared that female circumcision, a desexing, is forbidden by Islamic law, thereby preserving the sexuality of a future generation. Those of us who believe in synchronicity see this as a directly related story.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 7

Scrap of a flier on a lamp post in downtown Hamilton.

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Lit links/ Pictures of Hamilton 6

I'm feeling quite a bit better now that I have vented a bit. Here are some good local writers/novelists/poets/artists who also have blogs:
Stuart Ross
Sandra Alland
Kate Sutherland
Jennifer LoveGrove
Kiss Machine Magazine

Enjoy!

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Planet of the Apes

If I seemed crankier than usual lately, there's something that I really need to vent about.

Recently, I've been considering taking up boxing. Actually, I should say considering taking up parts of boxing- I don't really want to learn the part of boxing that involves getting punched, but I would like to learn how to throw a punch. I've not been in a fight in years and I don't plan to get in any fights. Alas though, we live in a town in which I spend a lot of time in public amongst angry, lanky men who are muttering to themselves. I don't know if North America is becoming meaner and more irate, or if it's just the environment in this town. But today was one of many days in which my walk included a mentally disturbed older male mumbling slurs at me for no apparent reason.

Civilization has always struck me as little more than a good hiding place. For all of our forced gentility and reason, I've never been in a public gathering that didn't seem to be seconds from turning into a lynch mob. Society functions until something threatens it and then it revolts, like a body fighting off an infection, until some sort of equilibrium returns. I prefer anonymity in all social situations.

It occurred to me recently that all of David Cronenberg's films, from Scanners to A History of Violence are about outsiders and how society handles outsiders. It might be due to mental illness in films like Spider, but I think the case could be made that the Cronenbergian outsiderness is always biological in origin. Cronenberg reminds us of Kafka because he literalizes outsiderness in nealy all of his films. Obviously, The Fly approaches a Cronenberg-Kafka hybrid.

I wonder what attracts me to stories about outsiders. Is it possible that all people feel alien on some level and so all outsider stories resonate with us? Is this the key to political difference as well- liberals defending outsiders and conservatives protecting society from them? We all share a biological secret- death- at odds with civilized life. And so perhaps, as Freud said, the key to culture is repression- the first word of culture being 'NO'.

And yet, as much as I would like to remain at an oblique angle to the world around me, the less I feel certain that I can do so. Recently, there was a bit of a controversy in our department over a poster that I put up in the grad student lounge last year. Without going into great detail about it, the poster was relatively inoffensive, yet struck some of the master's students as somehow homoerotic. It was a bit artsy and one of the dominant colors was pink, and anyway issues were raised by people who were unwilling to raise them with me. I have suggested before that some of our Master's students have no place being in grad school- well, I think this is a pretty good example of why.

Anyway, to make a long story short, nobody told me about their problems; they just trashed my poster. I'm not sure who did this because none of them have shared their issues with me and none of the others are willing to ''cause trouble'' by telling me who did this. To be honest, there are a number of the Master's students who are sullen, angry little shits and any one of about ten or twelve of them could have done this. I can't think of any way to respond that doesn't sound hostile, and so I plan to find the most blatantly homoerotic poster I can, frame it behind plexiglass, screw it to the wall, and include a note saying something like ''A gift for the MA students''. Other than that, I plan to forget it.

However, I also feel irritated at how, with I think increasing frequency, stupid people take to forcing their angry ill-informed opinions on the rest of us. The fact that you can't look at a poster that happens to include the color pink and a shirtless male without going into a gay panic is one thing, and your problem. But a graduate culture that now includes vandalism doesn't seem to be functional any more. And the fact that we have both a number of gay and lesbian PhD students and a number of quite vocally homo-hating Master's students (which I say in reference to a number of other incidents) makes me wonder how we continue on as a coherent department.

We have a group of angry MA students who respond to poor grades by yelling at the profs that they have ''disrespected'' them'', refuse to read the texts because ''reading is fucking gay'', and generally act like obnoxious loud mouthed assholes because they assume that the rest of us bookworms aren't willing to beat the living shit out of them. My attitude has always been to live and let live. But destroying my property crosses a line. Lastly, I'm irritated that I have to deal with such stupid shit in a graduate program in the first place. Our department makes a good deal of money by letting in every fuckwit who needs a Master's degree to teach High School phys ed, but at a real loss of quality.

When you take seminars with these kids, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that they're just not up to snuff. It's frankly uncomfortable. They just don't understand anything we discuss. Most of their comments amount to ''This book sucks- I didn't get it''- of course, it's never their fault. And then, when their tiny little brains just aren't up to the level of grad school work, instead of just dropping out, they go into these endless tirades about how all of the professors are ''douchebags'' and ''pompous'' and, yes Virginia, ''fucking gay''. The thing is I don't believe in solving these sorts of problems with speech codes, or grievance committees, or sharing our feelings in therapeutic sessions. I'd really just like to meet them on the playground. My first response to the poster affair was to post a letter inviting whoever trashed my poster to meet with me off campus and deal with this. However, I was informed that this would send a message to the professors that I myself am hostile. And of course, I'm also aware that, for all the tough-guy bravado, these kids did this in full awareness that I don't know who they are and can't find out who they are, and hence are basically cowards. I also suspect that they did it right before graduating.

So, I'll rise above it. But every time I'm walking down the sidewalk and some shirtless hick mutters obsenities at me, I wonder how long I can avoid the monsters that are being unleashed by the slow-motion breakdown of society. I've never said that I wanted to be an insider- to be accepted and ''celebrated'' by this society. I don't. But I do want people to leave me the fuck alone. And, if they don't, I'd like to be able to break their noses.

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Pictures of Hamilton 5

One of the ex-convenience stores on our street. Hopefully, Uncle Tommy has relatives to support him.

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Libraries for Dummies

The American Library Association is trying to find ways to make libraries more accessible to the digitard generation that plays video games and surfs the net all day, but who can't figure out how to use a library catalogue or follow the argument in a book. In keeping with this era, they're pitching it as a case in which the ''digital natives'', namely real-world illiterates, are averse to dealing with their intellectual inferiors, namely people who are still able to read and understand books. And, glory be, they're actually trotting out that old anti-intellectual lie about librarians, and anyone who can read for that matter, being a bunch of Ivy Tower Snobs.

“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “altar of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”

Yeah, what a bunch of assholes. Incidentally, can anyone relate to that bizarre analogy? Have any of you ever been in a library and thought to yourself ''Man, this place is just like a Catholic church"?
I've actually spent much of my life in libraries and have yet to meet the battle axe librarian of lore. In fact, I've found that libraries are generally completely open with their ''information'' and bend over backwards to help their patrons. However, the IT professionals who comment on the article with bullying drivel about the supposed ''irrelevance'' of anyone whose skill set might be different from their own come across as the real snobs here. Why do calls for ''democratization'' always require us to find some group that isn't sufficiently ''democratic'' and scapegoat them? Maybe the ''digital natives'' just aren't very well educated- why are we so afraid to state the obvious that we need to hide it behind these flattering euphemisms?

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Philosopher Kings and Boy Kings

In a godawfully titled article, Salon covers Plato today, or at least speculates about what ideas of Plato's have been inherited by neoconservatism. The article starts by pointing us in the direction of The Republic, that favorite read of authoritarians of all ages, who seem to miss the irony, or even worse, misread it completely. The Salon author gives us this to start with:

''Twenty-four hundred years ago, Plato wrote a book called "The Republic," in which the famed teacher Socrates and his pupils discuss the ingredients of an ideal government. They decide that there is a higher realm than mere physical reality, that it is the duty of a small cadre of enlightened, elite citizens called "guardians" to become philosopher-kings and that only these rulers can grasp what is truly real and Good.''

Okay, well thanks for that. But, really, I know that cultural literacy isn't what it used to be; however, shouldn't educated people already know The Republic?

At any rate, Simon Blackburn has written a book on The Republic and aptly explains how many people have misread it. He claims that Karl Popper was too hard on Plato and perhaps there is something to that. Popper makes Plato out to be a theorist of totalitarianism and an authoritarian creep who didn't really understand what Socrates was doing. To be honest, it's hard to read Plato without thinking Popper was on to something- Plato seems to be working at complete odds with Socrates at times. Socrates is also funny in a way that Plato is incapable of being. I think that Plato's ideal man is educated, while Socrates' ideal man is educable, and in the gulf between the two concepts lies the difference between the two men. Of course, it's also hard to tell just what Plato is doing, since a number of different ideas come across in the dialogues. Maybe Popper was too hard on Plato and maybe he was judging him by his epigones.

Next they discuss Leo Strauss, who is supposedly quite popular with ''neocons''- God knows why. One of my mentors used to spend summers in Germany conversing with Strauss, and has described him, quite rightly I think, as someone who thought that everything that happened after classical Greece was a mistake. More to the point, Strauss is tendentious, boring, and downright silly at times. His work is like the Da Vinci Code for aspiring Albert Speer types. All reading into classical texts and trying to fob it off as close reading of the texts themselves. It's classical scholarship meets conspiracy theory- for the sorts of people who root for the conspiracy.

As for the ''intellectual roots of neoconservatism'', searching for such things seems like trying to save the ship after it's already sunk. Bill Kristol has claimed that neoconservatism descended from Hume, Locke, and Adam Smith and has then proceeded to largely misread Hume, Locke, and Adam Smith. Clearly these are people who are as dangerous with philosophy as they are with governance. One day we will have to explain why anyone ever took them seriously. And probably the answer is that, yes, cultural literacy really is so lousy in this country that you can fob off a pedant like Leo Strauss as having uncovered ''the eternal truths of Plato'' and get away with it. And then tell yourself it was a 'noble lie'.

But, by all means, read The Republic- just enjoy it as an intellectual exercise and not as the sacred wisdom of the ages or some such shit- likely the opposite of what Socrates would have wanted anyway.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 4

Here's another thing that you see on every single block in Hamilton... I've never lived in a place with so many churches; although, I have visited parts of Alexandria, Virginia that were probably in close competition. I think my friend David once lived in a town that had the most churches in the United States.

Anyway, Claire and I are going to cottage country for the vacation weekend. Au revoir!

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Isn't It Ironic

Some colleges are talking about boycotting the USNews college ranking survey, because it is "a collegiate beauty contest that is not a valid basis for judging the quality of education."

Also, I gotta quote this, because I can't make up material like this:

"rankings have reduced students to consumers, education to product, and gaining admission into college a high-priced game that has to be played"

Is it just me, or is this maybe a push for a form of social promotion, at an institutional level? It's the USNews report that turns students into a market demographic (not the way the colleges themselves are run) but it's somehow distasteful to have to hear what your peers think of your academic reputation? Seems to me, if a student cannot flunk out, it's probably best to attend a school that's at least perceived as worthwhile...

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Barbarism 2.0

Lately, I find that my life is roughly divided between being at the library learning a great deal about French history, philosophy, religion, art, and films; and being at home on the Internet wasting time. I realize that there are very informative things on the net, but for reasons that I can't fully understand, I seem to be able to pick up nearly any journal at the library and find something more intelligent, thought-provoking, or just plain interesting than anything I find on the web. Even worse, I find that much of what is published on the Internet relates back to provincial net ''conversations'' that are roughly as sophisticated as a small-town gossip network.

More interestingly, I realized at some point that, while I read a lot of people's opinions about movies on the net, none of them possess the intelligence, wit, or erudition of Pauline Kael, who I read at the library. In other words, I find that the ''collective authority'' of the blogosphere is still far behind the actual authority of ''dead tree media'' after over a decade of overblown hype. Lastly, having taught roughly 1,000 young people who arrive at university with no idea what the difference is between knowledge and information, there are times when I wonder if this glorified television that I transmit my little program on isn't really at odds with the little world that I inhabit off-line. Am I sleeping with the enemy?

Luckily, Michael Gorman has been wondering the same things and more, and publishing a series of blog entries about it...

Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason I
Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason II
The Siren Song of the Internet I
The Siren Song of the Internet II

Predictably, there have been any number of people who have bashed him hyperbolically over these articles, and there are a few sections here that I disagree with strongly. But they're worth reading anyway because they're thought provoking. I'll say more later, but now I'm off to the library.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More on the Latino Peril

Okay, once again I'm going to use this space to ask a stupid question. Why don't the American groups that are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration pressure the maquiladoras to pay higher wages in Mexico? Seriously. It seems like it would have a more profound effect than anything they're arguing for, but the idea doesn't even come up.

What do I mean? Well, I must've read a few dozen websites now for groups that are upset about the ''flood of illegal immigrants from Mexico'' which they believe is going to destroy the culture, swamp our social programs, and ruin Christmas. So, okay, they're upset about illegal immigration. I can understand that... sort of. To be honest, I'm not terribly concerned myself. But, then again, I'm not what you call a 'worrier' usually. I lack the apocalyptic imagination.

However, it seems to me that there are two questions here:

1. Should we do something to stop illegal immigration?

2. Are our solutions to the problem of illegal immigration actually practical?

To put it bluntly, Americans seem to be much more interested in question 1 than question 2, which they seem to think is someone else's problem.


Whenever the issue comes up, someone screams ''Can't you see We have to DO SOMETHING!!'' And then, predictably, someone else says, ''But, they're just coming here to find a better life,'' and then they yell at each other for thirty minutes, or if they're online, for several weeks.

So, let's just agree on question 1- sure, there are all sorts of problems involved with having thousands of undocumented workers coming across the border. I'm not sure that hearing other people speak Spanish is one of them, but let's agree that there are some problems here. Big problems. Okay.


This brings us to the second question, and I'm not convinced that any of the immigration hardliners even care if their solutions are practical or not. They want to build a wall, which should cost trillions of dollars. Theoretically, they're okay with paying higher taxes for their wall. But, who's going to police the wall? Clearly, we need to beef up the border patrol in a huge way, and probably put the war abroad on hold for a while. Okay, so let's do that, and spend a few trillion more dollars for people to hang out watching the wall, or watching cameras pointed at the wall. Now, suppose all of this works at stopping fence jumpers. It still doesn't do anything about the people who cross the border legally but don't leave when they're supposed to. As someone who does cross into the U.S. frequently, I can't see any reason why an illegal immigrant would go to the trouble of jumping the fence in the first place. It's much easier to visit legally and stay.

So, let's be honest, a wall and a beefed up border patrol probably won't make much difference. The trick is finding those people who come legally and stay illegally in this massive country. So, let's throw in more INS cops and raise the price tag even higher. Still think this is all worth it to keep the country safe from landscapers? People say that we also need some sort of worker IDs that can't be faked to make sure our workers are legal. Most employers require ID, but most IDs can be faked. So let's get IDs with holograms or some such shit. And a Worker ID Office, no doubt. Right next to the DMV. So now we add a spiralling government bureaucracy to a price tag which is already in the trillions of dollars. And more cops. And the weird militarizing of sections of the country. Oh and don't forget hindering our own civil rights. And the fact that it won't work. So, the drug war part 2 basically. But, once again, we have to DO SOMETHING!!


Do you see why I wonder if these people have even considered practicality. None of their ideas can pass even the most basic cost-benefit analysis, and so they try to turn the discussion back to question 1. But we have to DO SOMETHING!!

But it seems like there's an obvious reason why I've never had any of the Canucks I know ask me to bring them across the border so they could stay in the states illegally- Canadian jobs pay as much as American jobs. The minimum wage in Mexico is the equivalent of $3.40/day. So, clearly, if we want Mexicans to stop trying to come over here, their wages over there need to improve.

And it's not like we don't have a say in this. We're not talking about El Mariachi Motors here; we're talking about companies like Hasbro, Chrysler, Honda, Bayer, and Xerox. All of which own factories in Mexico that make products for American consumption. So, if these anti-immigration pressure groups are so successful and widespread that they can get immigration bills killed in Congress, why don't they have a single consumer campaign to push up wages at the Maquiladoras, the foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico? I couldn't find one.

I'm not inclined to just write them off as bigots. Most of them probably aren't. But it's hard not to get the feeling that they just haven't given the matter very much thought. It's someone else's responsibility to actually solve the problem. It's their responsibility to put pressure on Daddy... I mean the government to DO SOMETHING!! So they push for these emotionally-satisfying, but totally worthless measures like 'English Only bills'. Well, and try to keep the discussion on question 1.

Would consumer pressure even work? Might the maquiladores just move to some other country where wages are lower? Possibly. I'm not convinced that they would. But at least talking about the pluses and minuses of various solutions pays some mind to reality instead of simply taking part in therapeutic screaming sessions. At least we would be giving the matter some thought, instead of acting like practical thinking is the responsibility of our elected officials.

I mean, you know, since these anti-immigration people are mostly conservatives anyway, you might think that they would be the ones arguing for using market forces as a solution instead of arguing for growing a massive government bureaucracy. You'd think.

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Fatwa Paladins

In regards to L'affaire Rushdie 2.0, Norman Geras argues that ''the left'' should afford no respect to religious fanatics who try to scare the rest of us into not saying things they disagree with. I didn't actually know the left did respect them. I certainly don't.

Does anyone remember when Christians were the paladins in the anti-speech crusade, and it was people like Donald Wildon who were trying to get everything from Playboy to Mighty Mouse banned? During the 80s it seemed like there was a Christian crusade against art every other week in the news. Does anybody remember the PMRC? Now, to be honest, I can't remember one liberal who said ''Well, maybe we should consider the fallout from films like Splash...'' I do remember feminist groups getting persnickety about heavy metal videos, for different reasons than the PMRC, but I don't remember people taking the attitude that artists have a certain responsibility not to offend people who hold absolutist beliefs. Could you imagine if liberals had said, ''I think artists need to be very careful not to offend the sensibilities of televangelists''?

I think back then it was realized that these ''religious'' groups were securing their right not to be offended on the back of our right to enjoy whatever art we want to. I think we suspected a certain petulant need to tell the rest of us what we could say, read, watch, and think. And I think we recognized how central free speech is to the liberal tradition going back to the eighteenth century. That was incidentally the same reason some of us opposed persnickety feminists against porn and PC speech codes, back when such things still existed.

But, in the end, the Politically Correct, and the Religiously Correct crowds bit the dust. I think that most people simply don't like to be bullied into a cowed ''respect'' for each other. And central to civil society is the need to provide leeway for other people's tastes and opinions. I think Top Gun is shit, but that doesn't mean that I can deny you the right to enjoy it, if it's actually possible to enjoy. And I think the reason that we said ''Look, okay you hate Mighty Mouse. Explain why and maybe we'll agree with you; but don't deny us the right to decide for ourselves,'' to these people was that, on some level, we realized that they are part of the same civil society as we are. They have to play by the same rules as we do. Nobody gets to play the 'blasphemy' card. Certainly, there are douche bags in this society who just outright hate Muslims, or gays, or Christians, or atheists. But, here's the thing- in civil society, we don't have to like each other, or even accept each other, but we have to get the hell off of each other's backs.

In some ways, I think that refusing to submit to the will of any group on the issue of free speech offers a measure of respect to those groups, because in requiring them to adhere to the rules of liberal democratic society, we're bringing them into that society. I'm not sure that the fatwa paladins, or those who seek not to ''offend'' them, understand the deeper cultural disrespect that exists in suggesting that certain people in our society just can't handle the requirements of civil society, and so should be very politely culturally isolated.

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Only YOU can prevent romance languages!


Carpentersville, a suburb (of course) in Illinois, which is 40 percent Latino, has voted to fight the Latino Peril by making English the official language of government business. Trustee Judy Sigwalt, who spearheaded the measure that makes English the official language in business with the village, says that bilingualism "is what's tearing this country apart and my community." (Insert thunder sound effect here) Tearing the country apart. Apparently, that ambiance of fatalism that I was talking about yesterday is the official language of politics too! It might be a bit silly, but trustees acknowledge that the measure is mostly symbolic and isn't really intended to accomplish anything. Oh, well, that's good. Glad they had time for that then!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 3

Two of the stores on Main Street that are still open.

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Utopias

Talk about synchronicity! Matthew Beaumont also discusses utopias today and wonders if it's even possible to imagine them anymore, or if we're doomed to believe Margaret Thatcher's famous injunction, "There is no alternative!" It's become a cliche to link utopianism to totalitarianism, as if simply believing in a better world is dangerously hubristic. We read writers like Saint Simon or Plato who conceived of ideal states run like factories by bureaucratic administrators and cannot help but think of what the reality was. On the other hand, we're certainly not going to fantasize about scientifically engineered bureaucratic states that guarantee happiness any more, are we? But what about a Utopia in which the state provided nothing?

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Retrotopias

Let me make one thing clear at the outset- I'm glad America is fighting the religious fanatics who want to kill us. Often, I poke fun at the incompetence of how this war has been waged, which seems comparable to the failed ''war on drugs''; however, unlike the war on drugs, I'd rather not see this one called off. To be blunt, I don't have much use for these terrorist groups, they don't make much sense to me, and there's a sort of banal, mossbacked, authoritarian stupidity to what they claim to want, what they do, and the aspects of modernity that fuel their hatred. If liberals are guilty of ''Utopianism''- that is, wanting to pull society to a non-place that has never been- then reactionaries must be guilty of ''retrotopianism''- wanting to pull society back to a past that never existed. And if I can't dance there, then fuck your revolution.

So, I support fighting the mutants. But, it's also hard not to feel that the ''war on terror'' has been a moral and legal retroversion of its own. What's most troubling about the massive and totally unnecessary clusterfuck that is the War in Iraq is the sense that the people in charge of it simply didn't care how it turned out, so long as we got to kick some heads in. It's not just that they didn't learn the ''lessons of Vietnam'', they don't seem to even understand how modern war is waged against guerrilla armies going back at least to the Napoleonic Wars. And I suspect that they really don't care. Because, after all, Americans are the ''good guys'' and we always win. And, if we don't, we can just keep Iraq as a colony. It's not an ethical stance- it's blustering superciliousness disguised as an ethical stance.

And I don't understand why we gave up the ethical position that we used to occupy. The accounts of torture at Abu Ghraib, Cropper, Bagram, etc. simply get worse and worse. Now, we're talking, increasingly, about murder and rape, and even worse, a mafia-style sacrifice of the lowest men on the totem pole to save the war criminals in charge. Again, the attitude is that this is not our problem, because after all, we're the good guys and we can do whatever we want. Habeas corpus is optional, torture is authorized, the Geneva Conventions don't apply to anyone, people are disappeared for vague crimes that they're never tried of- could it really be this bad? The worst part is imagining a time to come in which turning any of this back will be, in itself, abnormal.

Increasingly, it seems like the war consists of a group of religious fanatic murderers who want to drag civilization back to the Middle Ages, and a group of authoritarian boobs who just want to drag us back to the Age of Absolutism. Of course, the authoritarians are better by comparison, but not in comparison to much else. Maybe I'd rather have starry-eyed hopeless Utopianism than the Retrotopianism appropriate to those who live in an ever-present ambiance of fatalism.

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Sicko Flicko Honchos Tricko-ed by Schmuckos

The Weinstein Company is seeking legal action against whoever posted the forthcoming Michael Moore film 'Sicko' to the Internet. Moore, for his part, has restated that he disapproves of copyright laws. Me too.

I'm not even sure what the problem is here. Michael Moore's movies have to be made on the cheap, so it's not like the Weinsteins are trying to sell Spiderman and the Pirates of Middle Earth in 3-D. Moreover, the people who are going to download the movie are the roughly one-half of the country who already know they hate it, and they hate Michael Moore, and who weren't going to go to the multiplex to see Sicko anyway. My father, for example, has never seen a Michael Moore film in his life and knows very well that he hates them, thank you very much. He won't watch it online. My Grandfather hates Michael Moore and would probably get my Uncle to download it for him to say that he showed that fat bastard. But, again, they wouldn't go see the movie anyway.

I've seen most of Michael Moore's movies and had serious problems with every single one of them, which I have detailed here in extreme detail. But, you know, I'm way too lazy to download it or go to the multiplex to see it. Steel City Video, here I come!

So, that just leaves the Michael Moore fans, a group that includes both people who wouldn't dream of downloading his film, and everyone who will go to see this film in the theatre. In fact, I'd say that both circles in this particular Venn diagram are completely overlapping. So, what could the worry possibly be here?

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 2

These are very characteristic Ontario brick houses. They built a great number of them in this style in the 1940s for the kids coming back from the war to start their new lives in. I like them; they're functional, sturdy, and relatively attractive. Our house is fairly similar to these ones.

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Arnheim

I've not seen much anywhere about the recent passing of Rudolf Arnheim. Nevertheless, it is a great loss. I recommend his books for their clarity and intelligence; you feel smarter having read them, which is not always the case with books by intellectuals!

Here is a section of an interview with Fidele D'Amico, who became friends with Arnheim when he was in Rome, having fled Nazi Germany:

''The remarkable quality of Rudolf Arnheim, evident in his writings, shows first of all as a prime trait of his character. Essential to his character is his way of facing not just his work but his life. He has a profound interest in all manifestations of life, even the apparently ones, but in a tranquil, unemotional sort of way. He believes in what is positive about life; but he also distinguishes good from evil and truth from error. He does that quite firmly, yet without big words, without flying into a rage, without the aggressive sting. His great passion, a deep pleasure, which, however, is never self indulgent, is the passion for knowledge. He accepts the world in which he lives, but insists on seeing it for what it is. He keeps himself away from its inequities but looks them straight in the eye. Now this is an attitude one discovers easily in his writings, but it is all the more impressive when one meets the man in the flesh. Even a sage does not always live his philosophy; but in Arnheim’s case, the ‘philosophy’, the judgment, is a direct and natural expression of an integrated and thoughtful person. In his presence, one feels a kind of serenity which acts as an unspoken criticism of what is intemperate and intolerant in ourselves. This attitude is all the more convincing in that it belongs to a person who has endured his share of the harshness of live without trying to avoid the experience of pain.''
-
Fedele D’Amico

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That Old Time Religion

A recent news piece offers a very quick summary of how religious fundamentalists think:
''Eighteen years after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill him, a government minister in Pakistan said yesterday that Sir Salman Rushdie’s recent knighthood justified suicide bombing.''

So, Justifiable= Murder.
Not justifiable= 'Blasphemy'.

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Graz Update June 17 2007

This past week was perhaps most notable for the lack of federal holidays. In fact, a glance at the calendar suggests there will be no more holidays until Assumption Day, in August. However, as far as we can tell, most of Austria will be on vacation for much of July and August--most Austrian employees get 5 or 6 weeks of vacation, some probably get as many as 8. This is how we soothe the ache of insufficient holidays... The weather's been gorgeous, warm and sunny, with brief rain showers almost every afternoon. The flowers here are looking amazing!


In the spirit of trying any random thing we find at the grocery store, we purchased a package of "American Toast" which is, in fact, what Americans might call "American Cheese." It's every bit as sticky and weird as what one gets in the U.S. What we actually wanted was the less-sticky, less-waxy deli-style American, which is perfect for making grilled cheese, and apparently no longer available anywhere in the world. The optimism about the cheese was grounded in our discovery that the "American Orange Soda" is what orange soda was in the U.S. about fifteen years ago--more fizzy than sweet, and without corn syrup.

Holly went for a walk up the Reinerkogel again this week, on a day without a storm. She even took the 23% grade uphill, and then came back down the Jakobsleiter. These pictures (and others, that you can see in Photobucket) were taken along the way.

The little bitty fungi in this picture are even smaller than they seem... consider that the Euro cent coin is about 1/2 the size of an American penny!

This picture shows the optimism of the locals. While this is technically inside city limits, clearly it's a pretty rural area, a scenic country lane, right? That piece of paper pinned to the tree (in a plastic sleeve to keep the rain off!) is an Apartment Wanted posting--one of several seen along the walk. Kind of makes one wonder how many people are willing to let rooms in their home to strangers here. Probably quite a few. (Speaking of posted signs, we didn't make a photo of it, but we did learn that, if you are going to give your cat a profane name, it's probably better to keep good track of the cat, so you don't have to roam the neighborhood shouting profanity and posting signs advertising for same...)



Coming down off the Reinerkogel (and remembering how rural it does seem) the road was totally blocked by the street cleaning truck! That may well be the only thing on the road that moves slower than Holly naturally does, so they made their way---very slowly---down the hill together.

On Saturday, we decided to take another shot at reaching the castle on the hill that has been taunting us for some time. See it up there at the top of the picture/hill, taunting us? We did try to get there before but without success. This time we ended up turning up another road through the woods. On the other side of the forest road, we came into a scenic pastoral (think Hobbiton) area between the hills. It seems that a fair amount of the land here is being cultivated for Kürbis (the almost-pumpkins that the famously tasty oil is made of) and corn. A lot of the yards had fruit trees and we saw at least one place selling their cherries for cheap (equivalent to 70 cents per pound).

After a lot of uphill peddling, we finally spotted a sign for the Bergruine Gösting (Gösting castle ruins). The road terminated at someone's yard and we had to trek trough the yard to an unconvincing dark hollow next to some old farm equipment. Not long in the woods, we decided to leave our bikes behind and go on foot. From there it was about 45 minutes uphill to the ruins. It was, however, quite worth it. (And not only for the ripe wild raspberries.)

The castle was started around 1138 with additions for a few hundred years. In 1723, a lightning bolt hit the gun powder storage, obliterating a big chunk of the castle. We can only imagine how spectacular that was. Part of the castle is still intact and we did poke around inside. We went through a couple of dark old rooms and a dark, short, narrow, cobwebby hallway and were surprised to discover an entire church in one room. We were allowed to go up in the tower, but just the loudly creaking see-through first floor gave us sufficient trepidation to go back outside.

Unsurprisingly, there were some people setting up a tent in one of the nooks not 20 feet from a no-camping-in-the-nooks sign. (Remember that Austrian passive-aggressive thing we've been talking about?)

In other news, Greg bought a MIDI keyboard for a self-imposed birthday present with intentions of musical noodling. (The picture below is what Holly expects to see of him from here on out...) He also registered for a two-week Italian course over the summer since there are no Deutsch als Fremdsprache courses until the fall. Meanwhile, Holly has been experimenting with neat water color and ink styles. This week we bought some more novelty chocolate bars. There are so many to choose from and we're not sure we could get through them all in two years (we ARE trying!). One was a white chocolate bar, which we are ordinarily opposed to, but this one had Heidelbeeren (blueberries) and something satisfyingly crispy and the other contained vanilla and lemongrass.

Greg bought a bottle of Malzbier which, as the friendly lion on the label will tell you, is suitable for children and pregnant women since its alcohol free. In fact it is commonly used for the latter, presumably due to the B vitamins. It was bit too sweet and made his teeth hurt, but was worth trying (once).
We also made chocolate chip cookies and Greg brought them to the Uni for his coworkers. Since people here are pretty fond of baked goods, we figured they would be an exotic item since they don't appear in the shops ever. They were well received. There were many more pictures this week than seemed reasonable to put into one write-up, so please feel free to take a look at those. Click here to go to the album: http://s3.photobucket.com/albums/y98/hsvw/ (the password is graz) If you have questions about any of the photos, just ask, we'll be happy to tell you a story...

Cheers,

Holly & Greg

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Prat Burglar

Well, here's a funny story from the Washington City Paper:

A 24-year old alumni of American University was arrested recently attempting to break into the university's registrar's office and change the transcripts of his grade. He was caught by security, drunk in the office, and attempted to tackle them. Anyway, in case you were wondering what kind of idiot does something like this, he's currently a vice president at Merrill Lynch. ''According to his MySpace page, the Southern California native has visited 13 percent of the countries in the world and prefers throwing parties to attending them. His favorite books include The Fountainhead, The Tipping Point, and The Power Broker. Among the photos posted on the page are an image of Sedigh dressed up as a giant penis-and-testes for Halloween and a snapshot of a Lexus speedometer topping 140 miles per hour with the annotation “Speeding tickets are expensive.''

So, you know, a douche, basically.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pictures of Hamilton 1


There are dozens of convenience stores in Hamilton; lotto tickets and smokes are the backbone of the local economy. Their signs are always printed in red letters on a yellow background.

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Everybody's a Winner!

Well, if you can't teach 'em, flatter 'em.

Back in the early 1980s, education officials in Edmonton decided that flunking students, ''sends some very damning and negative messages, which impacts on their entire lives.'' So, they just stopped flunking them. All the way through elementary school and junior high, in fact. This practice, which is known as 'social promotion' is fairly common throughout public education. And, sorry to say, about once a year we Mall University TAs get emails from our admins imploring us not to flunk our university students because, you guessed it, the negative message can impact their entire lives! I ignore them. But I wonder how many earnest TAs and assistant professors take this sort of blatherskite to heart.

And we wonder why so many young adults are seemingly convinced that they're brilliant, all evidence to the contrary. Hopefully, they'll be able to get jobs at companies that don't fire anyone for fear of negatively impacting their self-image. And hopefully the teachers who passed them through will find themselves on an operating table one day looking up at the kid they absent-mindedly and dishonestly passed about to perform open-heart surgery on them.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Scenes from Bloomsday, Toronto



































'''I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "

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June 16th


Incidentally...

HAPPY BLOOMSDAY!

To get you started on re-reading Ulysses, here is an entertaining parody Ulysses for Dummies. More Joyceanalia to follow. Right now, we're off to Toronto for their Bloomsday festivities.

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Black community?

Okay, well like many Americans, the idea of talking in a public forum about race strikes me as being nearly as enjoyable as being submerged in a pile of manure and run over by a steamroller. However, since nobody reads this thing besides Holly and Greg, I think I'm at least a little bit safe in discussing this editorial by Heather McDonald. McDonald is supposedly an expert on race in America, so I assume that she's read more about it than I have. To be really honest, I don't read a lot of books on America anyway, much less ones about the present day. Therefore, let's assume that she has more knowledge on the subject than I do.

McDonald begins the editorial by noting that Hallmark has a line of cards for African-Americans; this isn't exactly surprising since I've noted that 'multiculturalism' helps nobody as much as it helps marketers. She also notes, disapprovingly I might add, that the African American line includes a sub-genre of cards for Mothers on Father's Day. She is rightly appalled at the tackiness of Hallmark exploiting the problem of absentee fathers in the 'black community' as a means to make money. If capitalism was capable of any sense of propriety, they might have passed over this particular tragedy in silence, but they can't. One wonders when they will start making cards for poor inner-city communities marking stillbirths.

At any rate, there are two issues here where I disagree slightly with McDonald: capitalism and the black community. Let's start with capitalism; as far as I can tell, McDonald sees Hallmark as opportunistically exploiting a preexisting 'tragedy' and notes that this is their right to do, as it is hers to disapprove. However, I'm not entirely sure about this. I don't believe that companies like Hallmark created the problem of absentee fathers; however, I'm not convinced that mass culture doesn't play a reinforcing or normalizing role in regards to social problems, or perhaps more controversially, if it doesn't broaden their scope and make them more mainstream in the same way that it makes certain annoying slang impossible to escape.

I've always hated the critique of 'the media' as being responsible for all social ills because I feel that people should be able to think for themselves. Yet, anyone who spends much time among people in their teens and twenties has to have shared the sense I get that, if MTV ran a show entitled Yo! Let's wear cat shit as an accessory!, there would be plenty of kids walking around with dried cat excrement pinned to their lapels. I live in a working-class town in which young people are utterly convinced that aping the style of inner city 'gangsters' is completely ''authentic'', in spite of the fact that they are mostly white, Catholic, eastern European immigrants to Canada. Again, I want to stress here that I assume that fathers abandon their children because they are total douche bags, and not because they saw it on TV. However, I'm also skeptical that mass media plays no role whatsoever in normalizing certain types of behavior and simply takes its cues from the ''community'' or ''culture'' at large.

Which brings us to the subject of ''the black community''. Let me just state the controversial part right now: I'm not entirely convinced there is such a thing. Or, at least, not in the way that it's been understood generally. For liberals, the ''black community'' is seemingly a confluence of social forces- that is, it's shaped to such an extent by economic, social, and cultural forces originating from the larger hegemonic white community that is could be said to have been constructed by the larger community. I find this argument to be insulting and infantilizing for most of the reasons that conservatives do- it removes agency from people who in actuality cannot be truly empowered in any real way aside from agency. And it replaces individual agency with state initiatives. Have I mentioned how little I believe in social engineering yet?

However, conservatives like McDonald seem to think of ''the black community'' as a hermetically sealed world apart from the larger society, a sort of incubator of crime and illegitimacy. It grows its own pathologies and then is supported in them by elite liberals and feminists. I don't buy this argument either for at least three reasons:

1. I don't know any blacks who are criminals or illegitimate children; all of the blacks I know are post-graduate academics. I find that the strangest thing about the co-called black community is that these people are defined as being somehow outside of it, supposedly by blacks themselves, but also in a very real way by whites. They are somehow unworthy of comment by worried white conservatives, young white kids who adore music about blacks murdering each other, or bourgeois white couples who romanticize the non-cerebral, ''freedom'' of blacks. And so, they are invisible.

2. Therefore, I suspect that the so-called ''black community'' is largely a dystopic fiction created more than we'd like to admit by white fantasies about who actual blacks are. This isn't to say that blacks aren't responsible for their own actions. However, when people worry about the image created by hip-hop music, for instance, they ignore the fact that it is an industry that is largely driven by what suburban whites want to buy. In other words, it's entirely possible to imagine a white upper-middle-class family in which Junior listens gleefully to musical fantasies about murdering black men on his CD player, Dad pontificates about the ''cultural decay of the black community'' on his blog, and both parents troll the Internet for ''black studs'' to add a bit of spice to their sex life. The idea that this in no way impacts the lives of actual blacks, whose culture is supposedly self-originating and self-sustaining is absurd. The fact that ''authentic black experience'' is circumscribed by black peer pressure is well-documented by now. Less often noted is how circumscribed and defined that experience is by white fantasies.

3. Lastly, is it really possible to talk about isolated communities anyway, especially as Americans eat the same foods, buy the same clothes, and share the same mass culture? Can we talk about communities originating their own values, traditions, and culture in isolation from each other? Even absentee fathers (who again I think are douche bags!) are, in some sense, taking part in a romanticized image of 'black freedom' that whites and blacks have celebrated for centuries in this country. This isn't to suggest that they aren't responsible for their own actions. However, the idea that you can isolate one group of people as a sort of cultural leper colony and argue that its illnesses are completely self-originating seems as patronizing as the liberal argument.

In the liberal argument, blacks aren't considered to have any agency of their own, while whites are assumed to have that agency, and so autonomous responsibility. In the conservative argument, blacks aren't considered to have any commonality whatsoever with the larger culture for reasons that aren't even made clear; they are a world apart. Both arguments assume some essentialized difference, and inferiority, in contrast with whites. Both arguments make this essentialized inferiority the basis of a fictionalized community. To be really negative, I fear that Americans share no culture whatsoever aside from the culture that is the product of mass capitalism- and that so-called ''communities'' are just 'product lines' within that capitalism.

But then we still have to admit that the puppets pull the strings, so to speak.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Bugging Greg

Well, I've promised to try not to bug Greg about things that are far outside of his field of expertise...


And so I expect to be thrashed soundly for asking this...


But what the hell is time?

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Reflections of Evil

I personally think this trailer for a film called Reflections of Evil is brilliant. Claire says it's painful to watch. You be the judge!

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Palestine


UPI: 'All-out Civil War in Palestine'

(GREAT! Now my Summer vacation plans are ruined!)

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

German Word of the Day

die Geschmacksrichtung - meaning taste or flavor. Literally, "flavor direction"

Example: Harry hat eine Tüte ,,Bertie Botts Allegeschmackrichtungen Bohnen"
für seine Gebürtstag bekommt.
Harry received a package of Bertie Botts Any Flavor Beans for his birthday.

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Today's French

Dégel: Thaw.

Le "dégel" n'est-il qu'un leurre ?
Is the ''thaw'' just a delusion?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Civic Equality

University Diaries has celebrated this editorial from Inside Higher Ed about the so-called ''philanthropy'' of giving endowments to elite universities that seek out the children of millionaire's children of millionaire's children, etc. Why give endowments to Harvard, who doesn't need them, and whose students are largely from the upper classes, and then call it ''charity''?

Best passage:
''I am becoming less and less tolerant of people who pass wealth on to the privileged and masquerade it as philanthropy. Philanthropy is the voluntary act of donating money, goods or services to a charitable cause, intended to promote good or improve human well being. When a billionaire gives money that will benefit people who are more than likely already well off or who already have access to huge sums of money, attending the ninth richest university by endowment, this is not philanthropy. This simply extends the gross inequities that exist in our country — inequities that one day will come home to roost.''

It gets at something I've been wondering about lately- perhaps the problem isn't that there are poor people in America; there are probably always going to be poor people in free market capitalist societies. But I think the problem is one of civic equality instead of social equality- that is the poor and the rich now live in radically different worlds, whereas they used to live in a shared society through shared civic institutions that don't really exist any longer. Corny as it sounds today, in my Grandfather's day, the poor could follow steps X, Y, and Z (provided they were white) and become middle class, and their kids could follow steps X, Y, and Z and become upper middle class. I think the reason that social mobility has declined so sharply is that civic interaction has all but ended. Being up to my neck in the French Revolution right now, I'm a bit skeptical that a society with almost no social mobility and an increasingly useless inherited upper class (and what else would you call Paris Hilton but the product of a decadent aristocracy?) is built to last.

Perhaps what people should be working for isn't just ''social justice'' but ''civic justice'' or even ''cultural justice'' of some sort.

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Quote-Unquote

''Solitude is to the mind what dryness is to the earth.''
-Mme du Deffrand

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fact-Checking Myself (The Terrorists have won)


Okay, this might not be interesting to anyone but me... Therefore, I am adding silly pictures to this article, which is excerpted from the McMaster University newspaper, The Silhouette. It's not online yet, so I can't link to it. I'll point out the facts that I got wrong. But I think I got most things right.

'Mac Reactor Under Fire Again'

By Giselle Chin

McMaster's nuclear reactor has been the epicentre of ongoing and fierce debate as it battles terrorist allegations while seeking a license renewal for the 47 year old facility.

[Not sure I'd use the word 'epicentre' in this context.]

The largest research reactor in Canada, the McMaster nuclear reactor first began operating in 1959. Over the years, the facility has weathered its fare share of storms. The most recent issue, however, has the university up in arms. An American author, Paul L. Williams, in his latest book Dunces of Doomsday: 10 Blunders That Gave Rise to Radical Islam, Terrorist Regimes, And the Threat of an American Hiroshima and in various media interviews in Ontario, has accused McMaster of lax security measures and having lost its license to operate. Also, in his book, Williams writes ''Following the success of 9/11, Adnan el-Shukrijumah received his commission to serve as the field commander for the next attack on U.S. soil- the so-called ''American Hiroshima.'' In preparation for this mission, he was sent to McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, a facility that housed a five megawatt nuclear research reactor.''


These al-Qaeda agents, Mr. Williams claims, stole 180 pounds of nuclear material to make a radiological or ''dirty'' bomb. McMaster has answered these accusations with a lawsuit, suing Mr. Williams for over two million dollars in damages. ''These are malicious falsehoods that are being perpetuated,'' said Andrea Farqhar, Director of Public and Government Relations at McMaster.


[So far, so good.]

''We can't allow that kind of misinformation to go unchallenged. It wouldn't be fair to the university, certainly not to our students, the faculty and staff who work really hard to make this one of the premier institutions.'' Dave Tucker, the Radiation and Safety Manager at McMaster also commented, ''Nothing has gone missing from the facility. There is no basis for these allegations and absolutely no cause for concern.''

[Again, this is basically what I said.]

[The article then tells us that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission- whose name I slightly mangled- has issued a statement clarifying that Williams' statements are false, as has the publisher, whose full name is actually WND Books/ Cumberland House Publishing.]

Cages were first rattled in 2003 when the Washington Times published an article accusing an Adnan el-Shukrijumah of being an al-Qaeda terrorist suspect, sought by the FBI and CIA, and spotted at McMaster, Hamilton with the intention of obtaining radioactive material to create a dirty bomb. But obtaining radioactive material is not nearly as simple as it sounds. Aside from all the security measures on campus, even ''if you did manage to take one of the fuel assemblies, the health impact would be severe, so you wouldn't be able to just put it in your backpack and walk home,'' said Chris Heysel, McMaster's Director of Nuclear Operations.

[Which is what I was getting at yesterday. Anyway, as I said, their five-year license renewal is coming up and the public is scared because McMaster allows Muslims to study there, or some other such paranoid shit. So, aside from a few name issues, I was right. And I fixed those promptly. Which makes me overqualified to write for WND Books, apparently.]

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