Friday, August 31, 2007

More Shocking Than Deathtöngue*

Here is the link to the recent Opus cartoon which the Washington Post deemed "offensive to Muslims". If anything, it will explain to Claire why I call the cat Lola Granola. However, reading it won't make it clear why it's offensive to Muslims. The Catholic League, predictably, is yelling "Hey! Why won't you pull stuff that offends us!" My advice- threaten to blow up a few people and maybe they will.

Actually, that's not fair. Nobody threatened to blow up the Washington Post. Instead the editors took the cartoon around and showed it to all the Muslims in their office to see if they reacted emotionally- no doubt, they held the cartoon out to them on the end of a stick while hiding behind a filing cabinet, wearing haz-mat uniforms. Anyway, someone did get upset, so they pulled it and probably replaced it with something shitty like Cathy (a cartoon that nearly always makes me want to wage jihad). In other words, they weren't really threatened at all- they offered to censor themselves without even being asked. How polite.

Le sigh. At some point, the eternally offended among us are going to have to explain to the rest of us what sort of world they want to live in. Do they really see it as a sign of respect to have people treat them with kid gloves, like the bratty child whose parents are afraid to tell him "No" for fear that he'll start screaming in the shopping department? Is that tolerance? And the self-censoring among us are going to have to figure out what, if anything, they stand for.

*Extra points for whoever gets the reference.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Waiting on the man

I'm basically just sitting here waiting for my professor to email me the exam questions that I'm supposed to answer today. Sigh.

Anyway, here's Fangoria's review of the Halloween remake, as well as Variety's review. I think I'll wait for the DVD. Why anybody would want to remake a movie that's as good as Halloween I'll never know. It's like saying, ''For my next novel, I think I'm going to try to rewrite that old Moby Dick story, but with more teenage girls and swearing in it.''

In other news, an ad hoc sort of group has sprung up to protest DePaul's decision not to give Norman Finklestein tenure, which really wasn't that surprising, as well as their decision to make him vacate the premises immediately, which was a bit surprising. His work isn't that great, so they decided not to give him tenure- that I can understand. But universities then normally give the non-tenured sap a ''terminal year'' to teach and look for a new position. He's supposedly a good teacher, so why not let him teach for that year? Instead, they've cancelled his courses and cleaned out his office. It all seems a bit petty. Since his response to this is to threaten 'civil disobedience' and a hunger strike, it's quickly becoming a marathon of childishness.

Anyway, as is often the case in higher ed, it's much ado about very little. In fact, I'm getting a bit bored just writing about it...

So, back to waiting, then.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Poop Art

One of my recurring arguments here is that true Culture, in the highest sense, is generally not made through 'transgression', but through sublimation; it's not an attack on all orders, but an individual's adaptation to them, a means of reaching a bit higher than established order.

The problem then with the art world's ongoing valoration of transgression for the sake of transgression is that it eventually amounts to infantilization- we eventually have to transgress culture itself and return to a precultural infantile state.

Which leads us to Exhibit One- Excrement Sculptures. Now on view at the Musée de l'Homme.

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Last thing about this, I promise.

From the Salon Broadsheet, interrogating the bathroom Senator on their blog-

''Apparently, when questioned, Craig claimed to have been innocently waiting outside the stall. But what about the foot touching? He has a "wide stance" when going to the bathroom. And the hand waving? He was reaching for a piece of errant toilet tissue. Who cares that the police report specifically states that there was no paper on the floor, or that his hand was palm up?''

Huh?! Huh?! Answer me, dammit! See what I mean? It doesn't take much for liberals to start sounding as authoritarian as conservatives.

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More on Public Sex and Stupid Laws

Admittedly, Obsidian Wings makes some good points about the bathroom Senator- basically they note that he's been involved in enough of these situations that we can assume he's a closeted gay man, and that he supported amending the Constitution to block gay marriages making it hard to sympathize with him as a closeted gay man, and that the laws apply to everyone, even Senators. In general, I think they're probably right that he's a douche.

Okay, let's take these in order. In the first place, I don't really care if he's a closeted gay. Nor do I think it should be obvious to any of us outsiders. Sexuality is bewildering, messy, chaotic, and unpredictable. I think it should be that way. I've said before that I think it's absolutely possible to imagine a married straight man who wants to give blow jobs without it being particularly self-contradictory, and without the mandatory divorce and 'self-realization' that mainstream society seems to demand from him. I hate the need to stick people in little boxes marked 'sexual identity' and I think we should resist all attempts to force human experience to conform to limited realms of possibility. So, I don't know if he's gay, and I'm guessing that neither does he. And honestly I've met very, very few people in my life who knew their own 'orientation' with any certainty. Every gay man I've ever known has admitted to me, while drunk, that he thinks about fucking women, and every straight man I've ever known has admitted to me, while drunk, that he thinks about fucking men. Big fucking deal.

Secondly, I don't like that he wanted to amend the Constitution, but I don't really like that less in light of the fact that he also wants to suck cock. I really don't believe that sexuality is so constitutive of identity that it should override one's opinions on everything else. A gay man who believes that the institution of marriage should not be open to gays might seem strange, but I'm not sure that this isn't because we're conflating two realms of human experience- namely, sexual desire and one's opinions about law or religion. Again, I don't like essentializing people. I hate arguments that run- If you are X, then you are obligated to believe Y, and to do Z. This is not how I understand life.

Thirdly, I don't think that the argument that shitty laws apply to everyone is a good one either. I'm guessing that people who are arrested for drug possession, say, don't tend to respond with long harangues about the unreasonableness of the drug laws. Therefore, the fact that the guy responded to his arrest by pointing out that he's a U.S. Senator might be a bit craven, but it doesn't change my opinion that it's stupid to arrest an adult for propositioning another adult for sex (for Christ's sake), much less for acting a bit strangely in a public restroom.

This argument that ''well, I don't like it either, but we all have to obey laws'' is quite common, but not one I'm sympathetic to. Clearly, the laws against public lewdness are way too vague and ill-conceived. I don't think the police should be arresting people for vaguely propositioning other adults for sex, whether or not those people are douche bags. And I'm not particularly upset that some people violate some laws at some times, especially laws as stupid as this one. It doesn't bother me that some women at the 'spa' on the outskirts of our town apparently give hand jobs for money. It doesn't bother me that half of the teenagers in our town probably smoke dope in their basements every weekend. And it doesn't bother me that some married men have gay sex in secret. And, even if those things did bother me, I wouldn't agree that the state should do something about them.

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His Own Private Idaho

An Idaho Senator has been fined for ''lewd behavior'' in a Minneapolis restroom. Since he's a Republican, I'm guessing that Democrats will snicker about the ''hypocrisy'' of the ''family values party'' for a few days. I wonder how they would react if it was a Democrat busted for ''lewd behavior''. Or if they think that ideological purity is a better way to live one's life than the sort of benign hypocrisy that we all engage in.

Besides, the article leaves a lot of questions open about that ''lewd behavior''. I mean, I've never ''cruised'', so I can't exactly say what's normal. But I always imagined that it was like in the movies- guys in leather, glory holes, ''lips or hips?", that sort of thing. Nope. The Senator says that what he was busted for was standing too close to a stall so that his foot was under the door and his briefcase was against the door. A bit rude, sure. But that's ''lewd''?

And, incredibly, the cop remembers it basically the same way. He was on ''stakeout'' sitting on a toilet, and a foot comes under the door. Apparently, this is the universal sign for, ''lips or hips?" So, he busts the guy for standing too close to the stall door! This is the hot man-on-man action we're talking about- a foot strays under a stall door! Book 'em Dano.

Look, I'm not even sure I understand staking out public toilets. If someone is hanging around toilets propositioning children, I can see where that's a serious problem and you'd want the police involved. But, why exactly can't grown men turn down offers of sex without running to the police like crybabies? I mean, sure, if I want to use the toilet, I don't want to have to run a Village People gauntlet to get there, but you know what- I'm actually able to turn down sexual propositions without it warping my fragile little mind.

So, I don't exactly see the point of stakeouts. But, even for those people who think that we desperately need to keep our public places homorein, doesn't the idea of a cop hanging out in a public restroom waiting to arrest anyone whose foot gets too close to the door sound a little bit like a waste of time and money? Seriously.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Passing

It's fairly common for words to have multiple definitions, owing to the diverse origins of language, and the migratory nature of usage. However, sometimes simultaneous usages can be a bit alarming. The thing about holding multiple meanings for a single word in the mind is that the brain has to sort through them all to assign suitable meaning to incoming verbiage, so there is always a chance of misinterpretation or confusion.

Passing, for instance.

passing - transferring, as in passing the salt*
passing - fleeting, as a passing fancy
passing - success, as in a passing grade
passing - expulsion, as of bodily wastes
passing - overtaking, as in traffic
passing - deceiving, as in passing for white/straight/human
passing - the noun, as in the passing lane
passing - dying, as in dead

A brief survey on online dictionary facilities suggests there are dozens of distinct definitions of this word--these are just the ones I thought of without peeking. The troubling thing here, if I had to put my finger on it, is that in the first six examples, it's more or less a successful transaction. Even fleeting--the fancy came and went, business concluded.

What does that say about the sixth example?

I understand that death is considered a kind of transition by some people, and I understand that often people will do any number of odd things to avoid speaking of or thinking about death directly. Some people undoubtedly believe that death is the movement of a person's spirit or soul from "this world" to "the next world." That doesn't make it any less strange to me, to use passing that way. (I'm also the kind of person who thinks "put to sleep" is a shitty euphemism for killing an animal.)

* Which I've alarming discovered in the UrbanDictionary.com to mean having sex with.

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Asshole finds Jesus. Jesus vows to hide better in future.

Football player and sadistic creep Michael Vick has announced, predictably, that he has now found Jesus. Oh, peachy. Vick now plans to stage a fight between Jesus and a rottweiler and beat whichever one loses to death.

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Quote-Unquote

''Gonzales represents everything un-American about the current America -- the suspension of habeas corpus for those accused of crimes; the advocacy of torture techniques on enemy combatants; the promulgation of illegal, domestic spying and eavesdropping; the delusion of a "unitary executive" in our government (i.e., monarchy); the deep politicization -- what I'd call the Sovietization -- of our nation's judicial system.''
-Steve Clemons doing a good job of summing up authoritarian lickspittle, and now former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today.

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a Sneak Peek at George A. Romero's ''Diary of the Dead''


In keeping with the Internet's promise to bring the public information as quickly as possible, no matter how inaccurate or trivial, I am going to file an early report about George A. Romero's forthcoming zombie epic Diary of the Dead.

Last night, my lovely wife and I travelled to downtown Toronto to see an interactive interview with George A. Romero organized by the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear. The night included a nice documentary about Romero by Rusty Nails, detailing his rise from Pittsburgh student at Carnegie Mellon, to working filmmaker on commercials and news shoots, to independent filmmaker, starting with the brilliant Night of the Living Dead in 1968. The success of Night of the Living Dead in the years in which the MPAA was just beginning its reign of terror (incredibly, Stephen King talks in the documentary about seeing the film at a kiddie matinee!) was not repeated by Romero's next few films, There's Always Vanilla (1971), Season of the Witch (1972), The Crazies (1973), or Martin (1977). Those films are good, mind you, but the distribution sucked. Nevertheless, by the mid-70s, Romero was gaining recognition as an intelligent, skilled filmmaker.

In 1978, Romero returned to the world of the non-living with Dawn of the Dead, an adventurous horror film that also manages to satirize mass consumerism. Since then, Romero has made an adventure film (Knightriders(1981)), and various horror films (Creepshow (1982), Two Evil Eyes (1990), The Dark Half (1993), Monkeyshines (1988), etc.) But, he is most associated with the living dead films, which also include the bleak 1985 film Day of the Dead and 2005's Land of the Dead. It's strange to think that zombies in horror movies used to live in Haiti and get revived by voodoo. Romero basically created the zombie world that you see in countless horror movies, in which the planet has been overrun by infectious walking corpses. This year, he is returning to the world he created with Diary of the Dead.

The event was populated by the fans like myself who think that Romero is one of the great American filmmakers, and it resembled nothing so much as a very freaky love-in. Romero was surrounded by his devotees and admirers- the king of the ghoulmongers on his throne. I can't be the first to point out that there are few better ways to spend one's 'golden years'.


And besides, Romero has seemingly no intention whatsoever of retiring. Diary of the Dead will be premiering in a few weeks at the Toronto International Film Festival and will then be released theatrically in Europe. As of now, there are no release plans for North America, so horror fans might want to move to Europe, or, less drastically, see the film in Toronto if they can.

Two clips were shown from the film, which is shot in the style of a first-person document of the original outbreak of the zombie plague. Given that Night of the Living Dead took place in 1968, and this film starts things all over in 2007, one might wonder if Diary of the Dead will be part of Romero's original series, or something new, or just what the heck is going on. Also, reports have it that the film will comment on the new ''citizen media'' such as blogs and how they have transformed the role of the media- none of which sounds like particularly nail-biting horror material.

Luckily, the clips made sense of where Romero is going with this and cleared up some of my misgivings. In clip 1, we see the main characters, who are a group of students and actors shooting a horror film in the woods, as they start receiving reports over the radio that the dead are returning to life. From the characters' argument in the scene, it seems that Romero is going for the sense of confusion that has characterized disaster scenarios like Katrina in recent years. Nobody knows exactly what's going on or what information they should trust. The subjective filming style heightens the tension by putting the audience in the midst of a life or death situation. While the first clip played a bit like cable access television at first, by the end, it was possible to see how this could be a truly scary film.

The second clip featured the heroes storming an abandoned hospital, looking for help. They come upon a zombie doctor and a zombie nurse who they dispatch gorily. The audience cheered when the zombie nurse was killed with a defibrillator charge to the head, and the style of the scene was also fairly exciting. I think this first-person shooting style is going to work well in the movie and my interest in the project was definitely piqued by the clips.

Afterwards, there was a great discussion with Romero and Stuart Andrews that covered all sorts of things that the fans would want to know. Andrews did a great job researching for that- instead of the usual ''what's it like making scary movies?'' questions that Romero gets in mainstream outlets, he was asking questions that I wanted to know about, such as whatever happened to Richard Rubenstein? Lastly, there was time for a few questions from the fans.

Overall, it was a fun night out and we're dying to see the new film. So to speak.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Quote-Unquote

''This important book has been made
unreadable by the act(s) of thoughtless
people underlining, circling, and
marking lines right across the
very words themselves.
Please, fellow library users, if
You Don't Own A BOOK
DON'T DESTROY IT.
These books are for everyone, and the
stupid markings that are scribbled in
them ruin the experiences of others.''
-Anonymous note on a piece of paper tucked into God and State by Michael Bakunin in the McMaster Library, Hamilton, Ontario.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Canadian Zombie Embargo


Some of you might remember a few years back when I was angling to play a zombie in a George Romero film, a role I feel that I was born to play. Actually, after four years of graduate school, I doubt that I would really need any sort of special effects or make-up to play a zombie. Anyway, they were shooting Land of the Dead in Toronto, and so I looked into the casting calls; it turned out that they were only hiring Canadian zombies. The same thing happened when they were shooting his new movie Diary of the Dead. Apparently, the same held true for the Dawn of the Dead remake- all Canucks. You heard it here first- most zombie films these days feature Canadian zombies!

Anyway, today Claire and I went to the Rue Morgue Convention in Toronto and talked to the man himself about this zombie embargo that the Canadians have going. As you might know, George Romero is one of the nicest human beings around and he explained the problem. Apparently, the issue is with the unions in Ontario. Since the government is involved in film production, they require films to use a certain number of Canadian union actors- what they call 'Can con' for Canadian content.
Or, I guess in this case, the issue is Can-zom-con. (And, if it's a romantic comedy with zombies in it shot in Canada, that would be a matter of Can-rom-com-zom-con.) I'm not entirely sure how it works, but Romero said that he has to use something like 54 Canadian actors for each American actor. Whenever he wanted to put his daughter and friends in Land of the Dead, he had to make sure there were enough Canadian actors on set. The Canadian government won't stand for illegal alien zombies. Dey're tekkin' our brains!
Anyway, to be a zombie, I have to be union, which can't happen unless I act here, and that can't happen without a work permit. It's a lot harder to be living dead these days than it used to be. It's fairly doubtful that the State Department is going to take a hard line on the Canadian zombie embargo. And I'm guessing that Stephen Harper and George Bush didn't discuss the issue when they met recently (even though they're both obviously members of the living dead). So, if I want to become a zombie, I have to become a Canadian. I'm sure there's a punchline there, but I'll refrain from making it.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

American Culture and History

Richard Pells has an interesting article on the academic study of American culture in the Chronicle of Higher Education Review entitled, History Descending a Staircase American Historians and American Culture. It is unfortunately not online. I'll give you the gist of it.

Pells begins by asking a number of questions about American art and culture. For example:

''Why was Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises so influential for modern fiction and journalism?'' The questions would likely be of interest to an average college student. But he tells us that these questions aren't even posed in the average undergraduate or graduate course on American history of the 20th century. In fact:

''The vast majority of American historians no longer regard American culture- whether high culture or mainstream popular culture- as an essential area of study. The much-vaunted cultural turn in the humanities has run its course in one of the first disciplines it influenced.'' Instead, Pells claims that American historians have turned to ''the intricacies of social history'' in order to explain American identity and development.


A bit of explanation here about historiography. This is a vast oversimplification, but the history of history goes something like this:

1. Academic history starts with the study of great men and the acts of great states. It tended to focus on General so-and-so, and the battle of such-and-such. Think Napoleon. Also a lot of things about raison d'état and balances of power.

2. In the twentieth-century, historians started asking more specific questions about average people and how they lived. ''History from below'' as it's called. Think of the farmers and laborers who lived under Napoleon. This is generally called 'social history', although social history also studies long-term economic trends. So, how much did grain yields increase during the 1800s? If done well, it can be very interesting, but yes, it can also be as dry as it sounds. The bad stuff reads like a State Department report.

3. The ''cultural turn'' refers to the new found fascination with culture among historians, and humanities people more generally, starting in the late 70s and early 80s. This allowed historians to look at all sorts of things that had previously been thought of as insignificant (such as 50s comic books) and to draw from other disciplines such as anthropology and lit crit.


One way of explaining the cultural turn is to see it as a generational shift- the social historians of the 1950s and 1960s, especially the Marxists, saw culture as relatively insignificant epiphenomena; the cultural superstructure that is wholly determined by a material base. The next generation was not only interested in culture; they were often ex-Marxists or had never been sympathetic to Marxism. So an older generation of French historians, for example, followed Albert Soboul in seeing the French Revolution as the triumph of the bourgeois class over the aristocracy and the coming of capitalism. More recent historians have often followed François Furet in seeing the Revolution as the development of a new political culture in the vacuum left by the collapse of monarchical culture.

Of course, the problem with the materialist/economic and the cultural/linguistic explanation of historical events is that neither one entirely satisfies; historical events are usually multi-causal, not mono-causal. I think many of us in European history are a bit sick of cultural history, which can be sort of fuzzy and vague (using 17th century bee-keeping manuals to determine English gender roles, for example). Also, after about thirty years, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a cultural history that was truly a masterpiece. Many of us are wondering what will be next.


In American History- always a foreign country- it sounds like they're returning to number-crunching and concrete stuff. Pells suggests that American historians are trying to ''give a voice to the voiceless''- probably the worst reason to write history is to do social work for dead people- by focusing on what are called ''subaltern groups'' and their day-to-day experiences. Pells writes, ''So for specialists in American history, what matters in the courses they teach and the books they write are the struggles and hard-won accomplishments of women, workers, immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans in a country inhospitable to the poor and the powerless.'' I suppose that culture can seem less important than social justice. Not to me particularly, but to others.



Pells explains that American historians turned away from High Culture, which they came to see as ''elitist'', and Pop Culture, which they came to see as ''insufferably commercial''. Instead, they have focused on the anthropological sort of culture, which is basically everything people do that isn't creative. The result is that undergraduates are still culturally illiterate and their professors don't stoop to discussing culture in class. So nobody can answer that question about Hemingway- not even English lit majors who will likely deflect the question by complaining that Hemingway was a misogynist.

This is all news to me. American culture has been extremely influential in the last century across the world, so there are plenty of works of European history that deal with American culture, such as Jazz, Rock, and Rebels by Uta Poiger. As I've said, European history people are still smitten with culture. For the record, I'm working on an intellectual history, so I don't have a dog in this fight.

Pells sees hope though because most students don't listen to their professors anyway. I'm not so sure- what I have noticed at our little corner of academia is a sort of general allergy to culture. Longtime readers will remember my epic-kvetch when our students reacted negatively at being exposed to Laocoon and his sons. There's a pretty deeply-ingrained aversion to High Culture particularly, and Pop Culture which is particularly ''retro''. The stereotype of the High Culture snob (who always seems to have a New England/Cambridge accent) is still used to sell all sorts of products. ''Dude, you're not some pretentious dick! Eat a Whopper!''

But the most important thing to remember about culture is that it can't be predicted. The possibility that the next generation will decide that they want to know what the big deal was about Hemingway, or Proust, or James Joyce is completely open. In fact, I think that Pells is wrong about there being little possibility of an insurgency movement of culture vultures in the humanities. We are here and we have the energy, and some of us aren't particularly concerned about keeping up with the Joneses of theory. And our love of art and literature is a spiritual buoy in ways that professionalism can never be.

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German, Conceptually, Illustrated

One thing that didn't make it into the post about our cemetery visit was the unexpected use of exclamation points on grave markers. I had certainly never seen that before, but then, I'd never been to a German language cemetery before... therefore, I didn't expect it. Apparently terms such as "rest in peace" are imperatives--commands--which, in German, take an exclamation point, categorically.

The reason the imperative form takes an exclamation point is that it is an order, you are saying "Do it!"

This reminds me of when I was a child, and my mother would declare bedtime. Maybe other children got bedtime stories or whatever; I got my mother bellowing "Go! To! Sleep! Right! Now!" Just as nothing helps a child drift off to sleep like the bellowing of a parent, I imagine nothing helps the dead rest in peace like a direct order. It is etched in granite, after all.

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Today's English

Asperity: 1. Roughness or harshness, as of surface, sound, or climate: the asperity of northern winters. 2.. Severity; rigor

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Something Vaguely Humanitarian

The Memory Project is an organization working to get talented art students to make portraits of orphans and abandoned children, repeatedly over the course of several years, so that the children will have personal objects that attest to their existence and uniqueness in the world.

Obviously, photographs would be easier and faster and more accurate, but they're doing paintings, which tells me this isn't about accuracy or speed or convenience. In fact, I believe it's probably more about the child's experience as mirrored by the artist. A portrait requires a great deal of time spent studying someone's face, and while it is very natural for parents to do that with their children--parents famously watch their children sleeping, for instance--orphans probably do not have anyone who studies their face. Without benefit of external observation and feedback, I imagine a person probably can grow up feeling very limited to whatever is going on inside their heads.

I do not know if the Memory Project accomplishes what it is trying to do, and I'm not even sure I understand what they are doing... but if I've understood correctly, I find this a fascinating effort.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Laughing through the Dark Ages

It was only a matter of time... Someone has decided to parody those "creation museums" by pushing to open a Unicorn Museum. Unicorns are also mentioned in the Bible (sort of). To quote The Simpsons, "Mmmmm! That's good satire!"

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Today's English

Paladin: 1. A heroic warrior in a chivalric system.
2. Any of the twelve peers of Charlemagne's court.
3. A strong advocate for a particular cause.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'm currently up to my ass in alligators, so posting will be slow for a while. Here's a nice picture by Claire for now.

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Today's English

Cachexy: (n.) A condition of ill health and impairment of nutrition due to impoverishment of the blood, esp. when caused by a specific morbid process (as cancer or tubercle).

J.A. Symonds describes the maladie du siècle as, "the nondescript cachexy, in which aspiration mingles with discontentment, satire and scepticism with a child-like desire for the tranquility of reverence and belief- in which self-analysis has been pushed to the verge of monomania, and all springs of action are clogged and impeded by the cobwebs of speculation."

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Today's English

Jocund: Cheerful, gay, lively. Feeling or characteristic of mirth or good cheer.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Today's French

This one has an interesting etymology...

Entamer: v. To begin, to cut the first slice off of (i.e.- a loaf of bread), to engage in, to start (a conversation), to make a break in (the battle lines, the skin, etc.)

From Entame: The end slice, the first slice (of a loaf of bread, cheese, etc.)

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Blockbusters gone bust?

"Sick of Bloated Blockbusters, Filmgoers Flock to Small Teen Comedy 'Super-bad'"
Well, it also looks pretty funny, doesn't it? I don't know if I'd pop the champaigne yet over the improving tastes of filmgoers. Wasn't Brokeback Mountain a small, slow-paced character drama too? And that did pretty well. It still didn't slow the relentless tide of idiotic comic book movies.

Blockbusters can be great fun- I still love the Indiana Jones films, and we had a great time at the most recent Harry Potter film. But they can also be wearying. There was something very soulless about the last Pirates of the Carribean film. It was filled with amazing effects, but barely made any sense. And it was just assumed that we wouldn't want to watch these characters interact for very long before we'd yearn to see more CGI. And who in their right minds has Johnny Depp playing the most entertaining character in years and decides to cut his role down to a cameo?

Anyway, I'd love to see a return to character dramas. Apparently, I'm different than the current generation of moviegoers in being endlessly fascinated by the human face.

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Hmmm...

I think I have to go easy on the videos and pictures for a while. The page is taking forever to load, even on my computer!

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Quote-Unquote



Revolution at once springs from and feeds on the collapse of the state’s undivided and centralizing sovereignty and its dissolution into several centers of competing power or impotence. During the French and Russian Revolutions each of several centers eventually turned to violence in an effort to reclaim or secure a monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion in its own favor at the national, regional, or local level. The attendant spiral of violence was amplified by the simultaneous breakdown of the judiciary and law enforcement generally, opening a breach for the return of repressed violence, particularly in zones of rampant civil war and terror...”
-Arno J. Mayer, from The Furies


"There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things." -Niccolo Machiavelli

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We don't need another hero

Nationalist movements have their own 'star systems': in constant need of good guys, men of action, and nefarious villains to either protect or threaten the nation, they push bit players into major roles. At times, the nationalist conception of the world resembles nothing so much as professional wrestling (and one wonders if the audience is the same)- Will the Iron Sheik and the Islamic Bomb tag team Ragin' Rudy and the Super Cops?!? To call it stupid is beside the point; nationalism points out the fatal flaw of democracy- it's not sufficiently theatrical.

Benedict Anderson has become important in historiography for arguing, in his 1983 book Imagined Communities, that nationalism is an exceedingly modern phenomenon created by mass communications and language standardization. In this sense, he simply expanded Marshall McLuhan's earlier claim that the printing press created nationalism; but the strength of his book is in showing that 'National Identities', which are constantly said to extend back into the mists of time and root down deep into the soil, are relatively recent fictions tied to a certain type of state. And, it should be said, tied to the development of modern democracy.

Lucy Riall has a new biography out which applies these insights to the figure of Garibaldi, freedom fighter of the Italian Risorgimento.

Alexander Stille reviews that biography for Powell's:

"Anticipating Che Guevara by a century, Garibaldi more or less invented the persona of the modern freedom fighter. (Unlike Che, he was actually interested in freedom.) After participating in wars of national liberation in Latin America, he adopted the look of the gaucho, wearing a poncho, a scruffy beard, a simple red shirt, and a dashing handkerchief about his throat -- a free and rugged horseman who was content to use his saddle as a pillow. Garibaldi knew how to strike a pose. When he wanted to win over a middle-class audience, he could suddenly appear with a trimmed beard in the uniform of a Piedmontese general, and the next day he would be back in his poncho and red shirt when he needed to play the role of the anti-establishment rabble-rouser."

The heroes of nationalism are more image-conscious than any diva. From Mussolini posing with a zoo lion to Napoleon's ridiculous paintings in which he rides up mountains on a white steed, we see the same sort of narcissistic strutting and posing. It's as ridiculous as it is surreal, proving once again that people are not solely motivated by reason. Strangely, it still seems to work, even though the storyline never changes. Believers in democracy have consistently made the mistake in thinking that you can rationally argue against nationalism, but all those Germans who still loved Hitler in the last days of the war suggest otherwise. In fact, as far as I can tell, nationalist bully boys (and they're always men) are only vulnerable to one thing- ridicule.

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Today's English

Irenic: Conducive to or operating towards peace, moderation, harmony, or conciliation.

(antonym: Guiliani!)

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Philip K. Dick


It seems, to me, that one thing which distinguishes genre writing from other fiction writing is that it pays much more attention to plot than to character. Aside from the gunslinger, all of Stephen King's characters blend into one amorphous troubled New Englander who is doing the best they can in horrific circumstances. With no real exceptions, the same could be said for H.P. Lovecraft's characters- I can only really remember Herbert West and Cthulhu, and a whole lot of passages with strings of adjectives along the lines of "clammy". J.G. Ballard, whose writing I adore, even went so far as to give multiple characters the same name, his own name, or in one case simply distinguished them by profession: the pilot, the doctor, etc.

Ballard has been called a great novelist who has never written a great novel, an assessment that I would agree with (with a few reservations). Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, did write a few great novels, particularly VALIS. Nevertheless, he has the same problem as other genre writers- his characters are either him or they're cardboard. He's a lousy prose stylist who wound up writing a few great novels anyway. For this, his legacy is assured.
Or better than that. In this New Yorker profile, Adam Gopnik explains why great genre writers, particularly Philip K. Dick, are so wildly beloved by their fans. In the case of PKD, he's already received the Genius treatment, as Gopnik describes it. I can attest to upscale bookstores in Paris selling deluxe editions of his books. And he certainly has fans who would likely compare him to Jesus, were Christ more imaginative.
Another way of looking at how genre deals with characters is to say this: great literary fiction tells us something about ourselves and about individual psychology; great genre fiction tells us something about the sort of world that we live in, or the potential worlds that we might live in. Gopnik makes the case that Philip K. Dick's work is funnier than is generally recognized, and that it tells us much about the sort of societies that human beings live in as well as the sort that we live in today. Unless societies change profoundly, his novels should continue to be worth reading.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Today's English

Noetic: Apprehended purely through the intellect.
2. Of, relating to, originating in, or apprehended by the intellect.
3. A thinker given to abstract or intellectual thought.

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Power to the (lazy) People!

Yahoo! today has a great video profile of Minnesota artist Phil Hansen. I liked his work quite a bit- not only is he technically skilled, but his work is clever. It is a bit gimmicky, I'll give you that. But, he's young and has talent. Hopefully, he'll find some way to make it pay so that he can quit his day job.

Now, check out the introductory text on Yahoo! for the sort of Internet-propaganda that I've been making fun of lately. To quote:
"Phil Hansen is not only tearing down the “gallery” walls that keep many people from seeing and enjoying art. He’s also showing us how it’s made -- all on the Internet."

Again with the pseudo-democratic schtick! He's tearing down the walls, man! He's liberating all of us poor plebs who are kept away from art by those cruel, fascist galleries, many of which are free to visit and open every day. Just how many poor oppressed people are kept from seeing and enjoying art because to do so would require them to get off their fat asses and enter the physical world? I'm just wondering. Art galleries were created in the nineteenth-century as a way of making art immediately accessible to everyone. This is why most of them have entry fees that are less than $5, or even have free days. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, arguably the best gallery in the United States, they don't have a problem if you don't pay the "suggested" donation at all, and many of us Met rats don't pay much. And incidentally, almost every gallery now posts their current exhibitions, in full, on the Internet, rendering this argument moot.

But, seriously, is it just Americans that do this? Or do people in other countries also see any situation in which they're asked to make any investment whatsoever of time, self, or energy, as unfairly oppressive and elitist? I'm just curious.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Shhhhh....

One nice thing about the Internet is that it can make one's peccadilloes seem less odd- like my ongoing obsessive need for silence. Lately, I absolutely crave a few hours a day of complete silence in which I can think. The slightest noises distract and annoy me. I've walked down empty streets at noon and gotten annoyed with rustling leaves! So, clearly, I'm insane.

Never mind me then- here is a stirring call for more silence in our lives from composer Andrew Waggoner.

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Garth Marenghi's Darkplace Episode 1 - Part 3

"I kept thinking about Larry, and how inconvenient his blowing up had been."

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Garth Marenghi's Darkplace Episode 1 - Part 2

Here's part 2, which also made me laugh. Pretty much any scene in which a man explodes will make me laugh.

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Garth Marenghi's Darkplace Episode 1 - Part 1

Well, it made me laugh.

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We Don't Pay You People to Think!

Colorado Christian University recently notified Andrew Paquin, an assistant professor of global studies, that his contract would not be renewed. He claims that "the issue of capitalism" was at the core of the university's problem with him. Apparently, he has assigned books in his course which are critical of capitalism, and President William Armstrong, former Republican senator (of course) to Colorado, has made it clear that: "What the university stands for, among other things, is free markets."

The Rocky Mountain News says that the University fired Paquin "amid concerns that his lessons were too radical and undermined the school's commitment to the free enterprise system. " However, they don't quote Armstrong as having said this, and frankly it's not clear who they're quoting, or if this is just hearsay. They do quote Armstrong as claiming that no economic system is "more consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ" than capitalism, one of the weirdest statements I've heard all week.

When Armstrong became President a year ago, he unveiled a list of "strategic objectives" for the University. It's generally accepted that professors at Christian universities are expected to be Christians. However, the "strategic objectives" of the university go beyond this to require that all faculty members: "Impact our culture in support of traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, Biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of constitution and Western civilization." Humorously enough, they follow this with: "Be seekers of truth." In other words, feel free to seek the truth- now, here's what it is.

But Paquin isn't exactly an anti-capitalist; in fact, he's the executive director of the 10/10 Project, which funds development in Africa. But he has reservations about capitalism (similar to those that Adam Smith had!) and its compatibility with a Christian mission. After all, Christ himself restricted the market for temple money changers.

But, the story seems half-complete somehow. Paquin was named "Faculty Member of the Year" for 2006, so I'm skeptical that he was a lousy professor. But it feels like something is being left out here. Let's not assume that the fellow was fired for having incorrect thoughts until the university says that they fired him for having incorrect thoughts.

On the other hand, this is how universities without tenure operate- they decide year to year whether or not they want to keep faculty around. Factor in a thought code which requires faculty to agree about: liberty, government, family matters, economics, life, religion, the US Constitution, and Western Civilization, and it becomes easy to understand why professors at the University, particularly in the humanities, might be afraid to do all sorts of research and teaching, or even expect to lose their jobs if they disagree with the President.

There's a big push from the right to get rid of tenure. Supposedly, tenure is unfair to the taxpayers who wind up paying the salaries of people who disagree with them- a problem that seemingly also applies to those of us on the left who pay the salaries of overwhelmingly right-wing police officers. It is alleged that taxpayers are funding people who disagree with their basic values and who indoctrinate their children into far-left ideologies. Therefore, getting rid of tenure will assure "quality control" in academia. It seems to me, though, that advocates of ending tenure are required to explain why doing so won't simply replace academic freedom with thought codes of the sort initiated at this university. Why is right-wing PC preferable to left-wing PC?

Overall, the "strategic objectives" reminded me more than anything of this memorable quote from a historical figure: "Having an incorrect political opinion is akin to not having a soul." That figure was Mao Zedong.

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Deutsche Tageswort

fahrplanmäßig - adj. meaning regular, as in 'timely, according to the published timetable or schedule'.

In English, we might ask, "Will we still arrive at our destination on time, despite the delay?"

In German, that looks like, "Kommen wir doch fahrplanmäßig an?"

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Graz: Zentral Friedhof

First, Greg made this observation, on returning from the grocery store recently:

"If you are shopping for groceries in Austria, and the cashier can smell coins on you, you have given tacit permission for that person to physically rummage your person for exact-or-nearly-exact-change."

... and that's true. It's very common to see cashiers demanding that people hand over the coins they KNOW the customer has on them. We have both seen cashiers take coins from people's coin purses, hands, bags, and possibly pockets. If you hand them a bill, and they think you have coins, they will demand that you give them the coins. You can't just ... not. It's a hell of a thing.

Our field trip this past weekend took us to the Zentral Friedhof, the main cemetery here in Graz. There's another that's almost as large, but we haven't gotten out there yet. This was so large that we really didn't see even half of it, but it was impressive nonetheless.

The main gateway entrance. Yes: That is a McDonald's you can see across the intersection, through the gate.

We took the tram there; there are bus and tram stops directly in front of main gate. There is no parking lot, that we could see. We did see this, though: This picture was taken from the tram stop. Directly in front of the main gate of the central cemetery: An ice cream shop! Because you can't go ANYWHERE in Graz without having ice cream!
This is a small corner of the section for foreign soldiers. There were a lot of Russian and Italian soldiers here, mostly from WWI, but also from many other places and wars.

€1 to buy a grave candle...

€1 to borrow a watering can. The cans are chained up in exactly the same manner as carts at the grocery store--you must put a €1 coin to get the thing off the chain, and you get your coin back when you put it back on the chain. You will not be surprised to learn that it's VERY rare to find shopping carts loose in the parking lots here....

These were the most fun engravings we saw. Guessing the Puppitz and Mandl families are not somber people.


This is the main building. It's WAY fancy. And, apparently, getting new entrance steps. Pretty much all the major structures of the Zentralfriedhof were in this style.
Curiously, the stained glass on the ground floor of the main building did NOT match the building style. All the way around, it was this modern scenery style of glass design. Probably looks cool from the inside (we didn't go in).
Our other field trip this week was the Schloßbergbahn, a tram that goes up the side of the Schloßberg. We've been meaning to do this for a while, and we finaly did. It was pretty cool, and we will probably be doing this again in the future.
This is the tram track going up to the top of the Schloßberg. Well, almost the top. It is necessary to ascend a bit further to the very peak.
The two tram cars, passing in the middle of the hill. Counterweighted like an elevator; very efficient.

The tram was eerily silent, aside from all the other tourists. There are places where the footpath crosses the bahn rails, so we hung out on the bridge and waited for the trams to go by.

We also got a little video of the tram passing by, but we have to figure out how to edit it before we can post it anyway, it's sideways, which is less impressive. A shot of the Rathaus, from up on the hill. The Rathaus looks over the central plaza (Hauptplatz) where pretty much everything interesting happens in Graz.

A billion year old grape vine that lives up on the Schloßberg. The grapes are mild and pleasant.

We're not going to tell you which one of us stole a grape.

That's about it for this week. As usual, there are more pictures in the PhotoBucket: http://s3.photobucket.com/albums/y98/hsvw/ (password: graz)

-Holly & Greg

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Why Historians Should Visit the Archives

I wanted to do a separate post on this because it's a big and interesting topic. Well, at least, it is for me. Some of my responses will probably get a bit vague.

It starts in reference to the online library of French Revolutionary cartoons and images that I linked to earlier. Holly's comments come from the comments section (appropriately enough).

Holly: OK. I have to ask. And I know it's going to sound confrontational, and maybe it is a little bit, but... don't worry about that. Focus on the question.
Is this one of those things that people should have to go to Paris to see? Because making stuff electronically available isn't such a great idea?

(Rufus: The short answer is No. But I see where you're going with this.)

Holly: While I can agree that seeing stuff first hand, in the original (or believed-to-be-original) format is the preferable experience, I'm not sure it's necessary. But more than that, I believe that is prohibitive to people who can not muster the resources to make a trip to Paris, or London, or Berlin, or Yucatan, or wherever an original of a thing lives. If it comes down to the ability to travel, to experience something like that, it seems kind of... discriminatory?

(Rufus: It's interesting- one of those articles that every non-American historian ends up reading is an essay about this by an American-dwelling French historian. He basically argued that those of us who study French history from across the pond will never be equal to French historians from France simply because we can't spend our weekends, evenings, and free time in the archives for years. Many of the great French historians were also keepers of the archives. We don't have that advantage.)

Holly: There are people who can't afford to go, people who can't deal with going, people who will not be exposed to those things at all, if they don't go. Unless it's rendered digital and distributed one way or another. Are those people inherently unworthy, simply because international travel is beyond their means? Sure, the VAST majority of people on the planet won't look at historical archives, in any format, for any reason, even if you had the magna carta laminated and put it under their breakfast cereal. But the people who would look... deserve to see. I think--since we unequivocally have the means to provide more or less universal access.

(Rufus: I do think there's a professional bias to what I'm saying. Non-professionals can't get funding. I'll address that in a minute.

The thing to remember is that this is probably a moot question anyway. The archives house boxes and boxes of documents that nearly nobody wants to read. Not the Magna Carta. We're talking more like ship manifests from 1830 (what I'm using) and things like relatively insignificant people's letters to each other, memos, doodles, and scraps of paper. Most of this stuff isn't online because there are like 100 people in the world who have any interest in seeing it. And in order to even know what it is you have to do a lot of research. I'm going to be spending the next four months in Toronto reading what other people have written about the archives that I'm visiting, some of which I haven't even located! The other thing is that a lot of these documents can't be scanned anyway because they're so old. So it's not a pressing issue.

But, to be honest, spending months in the archives is as central to historiography as living with obscure tribes is to anthropology. The flip side of how unfair it is to non-professionals is that many professionals got into the profession to travel to the archives. Certainly, few of them are in it for the teaching. If everything ever written was online, we would have no excuse to apply for funding- nobody in their right mind would fund visiting archives that are accessible online. I wouldn't be able to get funding from anyone to go to the archives, and historiography would be transformed into spending years reading documents at home online. To be blunt, I'd do something else with my life.)

Holly: I don't believe the plan is to create a digital archive and then destroy the originals. (Although I would support that, in the case of fine art, but that's a different issue.) UNM actually did have a situation where the Southwest Studies special collection, which contains a spectacular assortment of (among other things) conquistadoria and native-culture documents, has been laboriously and meticulously digitally archived over 6 years or so... and they weren't quite done, but nearly, when someone awesome set fire to the humanities library, and while the fire didn't damage the collection, the sprinkler system did. Irreplaceable things, which can at least be viewed digitally. It's difficult (for me, anyway) to argue against that.

And, for whatever it is worth, I don't believe you ARE arguing against *that*. Is it something about how, once everything is available in digital format, the chances of them letting pilgrims (like you) in to worship the bricks that history is made of, goes down substantially?

(Rufus: It's mostly a matter of funding. I basically got into French history to get funding to travel to France. A scenario in which all the documents were online would make it much harder to get funding and require me to stay at home. I'd find some other profession. I don't think life should be lived online. The world is too interesting.

This is the first issue. I'm very skeptical of the idea of "access". It sounds egalitarian, but it eventually requires us to talk about things like libraries as if they are unnecessarily inhibiting since we have to drive to them. Unless you're paralyzed (in which case, I imagine it's possible to have books delivered- actually, I was doing this for an older scholar last year) or otherwise physically inhibited, I think the real barrier is laziness. Since I teach kids who see visiting a library as a sort of medieval torture, I think that's what we're rewarding- a vision of the world in which knowledge should be delivered to you instead of discovered by you.

This is the second issue- the epistemological shift between generations. There's something deeply depressing about a world in which there's nothing left to uncover- just bits of heterogeneous information to 'access'. The great poet Hakim Bey once said that the year in which the planet was entirely mapped was a tragic year because there was nowhere left undiscovered on the planet. On one hand, this is all very romantic and vague to talk about. However, I suspect that the psychological differences between people who grew up having to explore the world, and those who had immediate access to everything they could ever wonder about, are fairly significant. What is the effect of stripping the aura from everything in the physical world, and not just art, through mechanical reproduction? I'm, luckily, endlessly fascinated by the world. I like having been forced to go to graduate school, study for the last four years, and apply for funding to go see the archives. It's worth it.

The third issue is even more vague- in fact, I'm not even sure that I can verbalize it.* But when you wander through a library or archives in the physical world, there's an element of... I don't know the word. Chance? Contingency? Randomness? I can bump into something that I never would have led myself to rationally. To give an example, I used to love wandering around record stores and occasionally buying a record that I knew nothing about because the cover looked neat. I've discovered several great bands that way. I can't think of any way to do that online. This is most of what goes on in the archives, and I think the sort of focused searches of the online world inhibit it somehow. Actually, many historical studies grow out of people finding something that fascinates them in the archives while working on a different dissertation topic and coming back to it later. Academics need to defend our right to wander, and err, and "waste time".

To give another example, our department threw out all of their old journals last year because they're all online now. The difference between J-Stor and the physical journal is that I can find articles on Madame Roland by running a search string online and read only about Madame Roland. In the physical world, I have to pour through the journals myself and run the risk of reading a completely fascinating article on the Inquisition in southern France that illuminates my own research in ways that I couldn't have predicted or planned. I guess I should mention that the journals they abandoned are now mostly in my house. :)

Which brings us to an even vaguer question- isn't digital archiving really a way of entombing books? I don't meet many people who actually read books online. It's uncomfortable and the Internet generation isn't big readers anyway. In fact, I'd say that book reading is largely vestigial in this culture. I think the online archives are basically a mausoleum so that we can feel comfortable if it comes to destroying all of the books that go unread. Which, honestly, I assume it will come to. In other words, I think this is a way of not reading books without admitting that we don't read books. I'm cynical, but again I feel that memorializing is what we do when a tradition has passed away.

The vaguest topic is ontological- the question of being. Will the immediate, at-hand access to the world, which we will eventually have, alter being-in-the-world itself? Will we come to see the world as such as fully instrumentalized? Will we lose any sense of Being; that continuous, heterogeneous, unfolding of Self in time? It's really airy fairy, but we cannot exist in any other way than in the world. Therefore, if the world changes from being a large, hidden, heterogeneous, ever-changing flow (a river that we can never step in twice) to being an at-hand, homogeneous, immediately accessible, flattened, sameness.... doesn't the nature of existence change as well?)

* And there is a better word for this that I'll enter when I can remember it!

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Hey, Greg, what say you?

Dr. Von Winckel, what do you make of this?

"A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time.

"According to Einstein's special theory of relativity, it would require an infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000 miles per second.

"However, Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, say they may have breached a key tenet of that theory.

"The pair say they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons - energetic packets of light - travelled "instantaneously" between a pair of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

"The scientists were investigating a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, which allows sub-atomic particles to break apparently unbreakable laws.

Dr Nimtz told New Scientist magazine: "For the time being, this is the only violation of special relativity that I know of."

(I know, I know- it's not exactly your field. But, remember, the best that I can say about this, in my infinite wisdom, is probably something like ''Huh, huh. Prisms are cool.")

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Liberté, égalité, accessibilité!

Attention history nerds!

Here's a neat online collection of images from the French Revolution and essays about images of the Revolution: Imaging the French Revolution: Depictions of the French Revolutionary Crowd.

Yeah, I'm not really fond of the use of the word "imaging" either; but Lynn Hunt and Jack Censer are good scholars and it's a pretty fascinating collection of images and essays.

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Scenes from the Class Struggle in Hamilton


When I walk to the library to study, I'm crossing from one side of town to the other. A lengthy bridge separates the steel mill-centered, blue collar east from the University-based, professional class west end of town. The two areas are so different as to seem like different countries. You go from the developing world to the post-industrialized West.
A few things I've noticed about the upscale end of town:
1. Everyone jogs and everyone exercises. Most people can be seen wearing exercise clothes of some sort at all times. You never see teenaged goths. They're all athletes. Exercise is their hair shirt- it's how they discipline their bodies to justify their life on earth. They're flagellants. Needless to say, if I lived here, I'd be fat.
2. Every other store has a benefit of some sort going on to aid people in some distant land. "Benefit Concert for the Congo", "Car Wash for Haiti", "Parade for Rwanda", "Back rubs for Swaziland", etc. etc. The strangeness of this becomes apparent when you walk through the crumbling, drug-addled, half-condemned end of town just across the bridge. You don't have to go to Haiti to find abject poverty and limited futures! These people have a need to ''give back'' to the poor of the world, tempered by a fear of interaction with those poor. Eventually someone will get the idea to invent a fictional impoverished nation to bilk these people for and get rich.
3. Some of the angriest people on earth are upper class, middle aged, white women. They look nearly as embittered and hostile as Palestinian protesters. They storm through the local shops like generals from some conquering army, with their rage and discontent carved into their faces, as if by penknife. You can tell that, if you got in their way, they would rip out your steaming, beating heart with their bare hands and feed it to their pedigree afghan hound. It's the weirdest thing I've ever seen- pure contempt radiates from these women. Claire tells me that it goes back to their compulsive exercising, a desperate attempt to retain their upper class status in the face of younger competitors for the affections of their husbands/benefactors. Believe me- if someone could appeal to these women politically, they could bring down society in fiery revolution.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Speaking of Old Battleship McCrazy Pants

I should note that this post about Benito Guiliani is just wonderful.

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Quote-Unquote

"What we don't see is that freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do. [ Interruption by someone in the audience. ] You have free speech so I can be heard."
-Rudy Guiliani, the dream Presidential candidate for voters who have no hope in humanity, from a speech in 1994

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Turning off Cancer

Weird... weren't we just talking about this?

''A unique gene that can stop cancerous cells from multiplying into tumours has been discovered by a team of scientists at the B.C. Cancer Agency in Vancouver.''

Anyway, it sounds like good news. Unfortunately, they didn't say anything about Leukemia, which our friend Brendon is still fighting. Fortunately, he recently found a bone marrow donor. Transplants are very risky, but his cancer is a particularly bad sort, so he might well go through with the procedure. I'll keep you updated.

Interestingly enough, stress causes certain kinds of tumors to metastasize. My skin condition is genetic, but triggered by stress. Claire's medical disorder is genetic, but triggered by stress. Fretting is apparently very bad for you.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Slime City Update

Apparently, Gregory Lamberson, the man behind Slime City lives quite near my university. I have emailed him and offered to work on any of his future films! I'll keep everyone updated about that.

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The Real Claire

Posted by Rufus (again using Claire's computer).

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What happened to the future from the past?

Every time I read an article about a futuristic development of some kind (flying cars, mapping the entire surface of the moon, bionic hands, batteries made of paper), I find myself asking some variation on this question:

When is the future going to get here?

I'm sure a lot of the science fiction I've immersed myself in has influenced my expectations, I have a pronounced taste for near and intermediate future visions, where things happen in the 21st century. Consequently, my expectations of the 21st century are intense. We should have Earth orbit colonies. We should have solar sails. We should have self-cleaning clothing, medical nanobots, Methusaleh lifespans, teleportation, android servants, an end to poverty, war, hunger, and weather control. There's more; I can go on like this pretty much all day. The point is... where is that stuff? We don't even have a space elevator. Hell, we don't even have a high-functioning space program. This strikes me as pretty inexcusable.

Don't people know this is the future already? Don't people know, that we could have had all these things, if only we were even working on it? Even the major drivers of innovation (the sex-for-money industries, grinding poverty, and arms races) aren't really getting us there. The reluctant conclusion I have come to is that things aren't bad enough yet.

Human beings love and hate change, all at once. We'll embrace the things that aren't too threatening (cell phones, lightweight waterproof fabrics, vision corrective laser surgery) but there is apparently no reason to chase the big game. Who needs a space elevator? Who needs a moon base?

In fact, who needs the future? People seem to fantasize constantly about returning to... nature? the past? a simpler time? What do those people want? outdoor plumbing? Cholera? Typhoid? Polio? The freedom to enjoy the butter you make yourself, because the things you have to do to make your own butter are sufficient to keep that heart attack at bay? I take this pining for the imaginarily romantic past as a sign of either a fear for, or at least a tacit acknowledgment of, the future. It means that things ARE changing. If things weren't changing, no one would need to retreat.

I suspect my real complaint is that, unlike the past, the future comes incrementally. It isn't delivered wholesale to my doorstep. I won't wake up in The World of Tomorrow. And, I probably won't live to see anything on my list happen. Believe me, I keep track, I know which of those things are under development right now, and I just don't see most of them happening in a timely fashion.

Well, self-cleaning clothing, maybe.

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Tape Recorder Plays

It's Fringe Fest time in Toronto- a number of plays are being performed by local theatre troupes. Including this one- Talk Thirty To Me. The 'play' deals with various young people's thoughts and feelings upon turning thirty. But, that's not all! According to the website:

"Every word in Talk Thirty to Me is verbatim, based on over 100 hours of recorded interviews with 29 year olds, proving that the truth is stranger-and funnier-than fiction." And considerably less imaginative, no doubt.

My first question- why in God's name would anyone want to see this play?!- is perhaps very unfair.

So, let me just ask, with these "verbatim" plays, which seem to be all the rage these days, shouldn't the 'Dramaturge' credit go to the tape recorder? And shouldn't the 'playwright' really be called the 'transcriber'? And, instead of actors, couldn't we just let the tape player run on stage?

And is it really too much to ask that 'playwrights' show the slightest sign of creativity? I mean, really. I've already outed myself as that Philistine jerk who gets uncomfortable with even great photography being shown in Art Galleries. So, I'll admit that my heart sinks a little at the idea of tape recorder plays.

You know, it's not the narcissistic banality and creative flat lining of so much contemporary art and culture that bugs me; it's that we should be demanding more from art and we don't.

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Morocco

Morocco - a photoset on Flickr

Some pictures from my sister and her husband, now living in Morocco. My friend David just got back from Egypt and Tunisia. I feel like such a freakin' homebody.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Papillon et fleur

A photo by Claire.

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Slime City

Somehow, I suspect that Holly and Greg will enjoy this.

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Today's English

Deracinate: To pull out by the roots. Extirpate.
To separate from one's environment.

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Kraftwerk

The McMaster Art Gallery is currently hosting an exhibit entitled ''Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Dürer, Rubens & Rembrandt''. Composed of pieces from the collection of H.H. Levy, the exhibit contains some of the great works of German, Dutch and Flemish Baroque painting and Northern printmaking. To call the works ''breathtaking'' would be an understatement.

In the next room, they have an exhibit of German painting, print, and sculpture from the 20th century entitled ''The Goethe Project''. The placement is a bit unfair. While it's wonderful to see so many classics of Wiemar Expressionism in one place, it's hard not to feel like there's a step down in regards to pure craftsmanship from the one exhibit to the other . Make no mistake- the Expressionist works all have the same emotional power. But it's hard to go from Albrecht Dürer to Georg Grosz and not feel like you're going from an advanced level of work to something lower. They don't call it 'primitivism' for nothing. It's some of my favorite art, but I'm not impressed by the actual work so much as the composition and vision behind it.

And downstairs they have an exhibit of contemporary art with an audio element. Actually, most of the pieces are digital videos. Which brings us to an even different level- there is literally no craftsmanship whatsoever in these pieces. One of them is a static shot of a violinist and the other is a handheld shot of a crowd of musicians. Turning on a camera and pointing it at something is as much in the realm of craftsmanship as pointing a gun at something and shooting it is in the realm of sculpture.

Which brings me to a question that has been on my mind as of late, but which would have seemed completely blasphemous to me just a few years ago...

Do photography and video really belong in an art gallery?

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Peeping totalitarianism

From The Guardian (ironically enough): "Counter-terrorism experts have drawn up plans to develop an array of advanced technologies capable of spotting would-be terrorists in a crowd before they have time to strike.

"Scientists and engineers have been asked to devise ways of analysing people's behaviour and physiology from afar, in the hope they may reveal clues about their mental state and even their future intentions.

"Under Project Hostile Intent, scientists will aim to build devices that can pick up tell-tale signs of hostile intent or deception from people's heart rates, perspiration and tiny shifts in facial expressions."

So, remember young people- no more blind dates! It's too dangerous to perspire or have a high heart rate in a public place these days. Of course, you know some idiot's going to say: "Hey, what's the problem? If you don't ever have any hostility, experience nervousness, or ever lie, you have nothing to worry about!" Because, after all, the fact that you can't walk down the street to get a pack of cigarettes without getting interrogated by security cameras isn't the sort of thing that might make one nervous, alienated, dishonest, or hostile.

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When Ya' Get Drafted

Bush's military advisor, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, has said that it's worth considering the draft in regards to Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm only really shocked that this is the first time the draft has been brought up in public. The US is likely to be in those countries for years, at least according to the experts. A lot of people want them to leave. I don't, largely based on the age-old principle: "You broke it, you fucking bought it." Call me heartless.


Also, call me heartless again, but I actually feel more comfortable with the idea of "conscription" than I do with a "voluntary" system that largely draws from the bottom of the economic ladder. In my mother's neighborhood, there is a tremendous amount of support for the war. None of them are going, and none of their kids are going, but they all have the magnets on their cars. In the dessicated rust belt city where I work, conversely, lots of kids are going. It's not a video game or a sporting event there.


Since I'm heartless anyway, I'll admit that every time I've heard people talk about how "overtaxed" the US forces are, I've wondered when they would start talking about the draft. If the US isn't going to leave, and everyone is complaining that the current forces are "overtaxed", it would just make sense that there should be a draft. Look, I'm not happy at all with the situation in Iraq, and looking back, I wish they'd never gone there. But, they're there now, and it's never too late to start dealing with reality. Even in America.

Note: Okay, some of this is phrased a bit provocatively on purpose. I'll let you decide which parts.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Creature With the Blue Hand

Fairly self-explanatory really.

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Quote-Unquote

"The point of art is that it should make demands on you."
-Matthew Collings

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Today's French

Lazzarone: An interesting word. According to Le Petit Robert, it means a beggar from Naples. In English, a "Lazzaroni" is a homeless idler of Naples, from the Hospital of St. Lazarus that served as their refuge. (Of course, I assume it means the same in Italian!) However, I found it today in a French poem used to mean a beggar more generally; this use (Vrai lazzarone aussi libre que l'air) was used to describe a Parisian beggar, and I would say it translates better to: "A true vagabond as free as the air".

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Today's English

Fatidic: Prophetic. Of or belonging to prophecy.

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Punk Islam?


I'm up to my neck in exam prep today.
In my spare time, I'm reading the novel to the left, The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight (from Autonomedia). It's quite a read: the sort of book that challenges your notions of the way the world works. I like books like that. Most books that I find lately are mind-contracting instead of mind-expanding.
The novel is set in a Muslim punk house in Buffalo. They indicate the qibla by bashing a hole in the wall with a baseball bat. A Sufi punk makes the call to prayer from the roof with his electric guitar. The feminist Rabeya wears a burqa covered with band patches and writes the zine Ayesha's Hymen (a particularly controversial bit left out of the British edition).
So, for as incongruous as Muslim punk rockers might seem, Knight's point seems to be that all religious people practice faith in their own way, and that in the case of Islam, it is the apostates who will save the faith. It's also a novel about how people reconcile aspects of their lives that are equally meaningful to them, but equally at odds. It made me consider the fact that, for as much of a pain in the ass as religious extremists can be for us non-believers to deal with, imagine how hard it is to hate those people, but still love the faith and God.
Knight invented the taqwacore scene (combining taqwa- the fear and love of Allah- with hardcore punk) for the novel, but it seems to have struck a chord with a number of kids. There are now a number of real taqwacore bands, including Vote Hezbullah and my personal favorite The Kominas, who wrote the great song "Rumi was a Homo (But Wahhaj is a fag)" and who can be seen arguing about whether or not music is haram with a Bostom imam here. The Secret Trial Five (from Vancouver!) are punk, Muslim, and the singer's a lesbian.
It's hard to reconcile all of this in your head- Muslim punk might be haram, but it also seems strange for punk rock, which is often fairly anti-religion. Didn't Dead Kennedys say: "all religions make me want to throw up"? Of course, 6025, the guy that wrote that song, eventually became a born-again Christian! And we've already had Krishna-core and pretty good Christian punk. And the fact that progressive Muslim punk is a strike against the totalizing discourses of both extremist imams and war-hawk Americans is pretty punk rock, if you ask me. Remember, whenever you're given two choices, pick the third.
To be honest, I've actually already reconciled some of this in my mind. My friend Michael became a Muslim years and years ago, and my good friend David/Dawoud did the same a few years back. But I've never really given the concept much thought. It never really occurred to me how ballsy it is. Hell, if it even seems strange to me, imagine how threatening it must be to people who actually give a shit! But there are a million different ways to make sense of your life, and the strength of this book is that it explains one that I haven't heard before. Apparently, Knight invented Taqwacore to make sense of his own life and wound up helping a bunch of other people make sense of their lives too.
And maybe one goal in all of our lives is simply to increase the number of things that we can get our heads around. Certainly, there's a lot more under heaven and earth than is dreamt of in any of our philosophies.

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