Hiromi posted here about the forthcoming documentary Expelled, which makes the case that creationists are an oppressed minority thanks to those mafia-like Big Science cabals.
PZ Meyers, one of the dirty atheist biologists who was interviewed for the film, here details the lengths that the film producers (and liars for Jesus, apparently) went to trick him into thinking that he was being interviewed for a quite different documentary. It's entertaining stuff. Sort of.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Hiromi posted here about the forthcoming documentary Expelled, which makes the case that creationists are an oppressed minority thanks to those mafia-like Big Science cabals.
Anyone seeking an art fix in Toronto was well-rewarded last night. The Nuit Blanche was awash in great local art. Granted, the sidewalks were jam-packed and hard to navigate; but they were well worth navigating and I found myself surprisingly placid in the face of the young urban multitude. I would have been disappointed if there was no one else in the galleries.
In the end, I think we saw about half of the exhibits and wound up exhausted at a bar around 2 am. Instead of one long post about the art, crowds, booze, and merriment, I think I'm going to post in the future about many of the Toronto artists that we saw. There is a lot of creative energy in the city to be sure, and perhaps its better to experience in small spurts. I felt a bit of a sugar rush last night.
The California Regents Board have now decided not to frighten the horses by having the dastardly Larry Summers address them. You might remember that Summers, the former president of Harvard, made this speech in 2005, which gave a number of his listeners the vapors. Many believe that Summers here advocated the idea that there are so few women in the sciences because nature wanted it that way. I'll let you read the speech and decide if that's what he was saying. I still don't read it that way. In fact, I got the feeling that he was pushing the listeners to confront the lack of women in the sciences in an open way in order to discredit that idea. The problem with not debating and discussing arguments in an open way is that you give people the idea that those arguments are somehow unimpeachable and terrfying to you. Which is pretty much what happened in 2005. Every idiot who thinks that ''wimmen just 'tain't that mathematical'' got to argue that Larry Summers was ''speaking truth to power'', while sheltered academics went on vacation to recover from the trauma of hearing him talk.
Admittedly, it's not a particularly well-written speech. But, the petition against the nefarious Summers claims that he has become a symbol of "gender and racial prejudice in academia." Please. Only dogmatics see other people as symbols of anything.
Anyway, the Regents Board shouldn't have been scared by the fraidy cats. It goes without saying that this too is an issue of academic freedom. Instead of debating Summers or discussing the issue openly, they've again given the idea that academics want a day in court for their own ideas, but not for ones that they disagree with. But, debating ideas in a public forum isn't the same as ''giving credit to'' those ideas, which incidentally is why I think Columbia University should be commended for the Ahmadinejad speech. What we need is more debate and discussion, not less. Margaret Soltan calls these UC people ''provincials'', which is about right; they're certainly not acting like intellectual cosmopolitans. The one silver lining is that people will now debate the issue of Larry Summers and women scientists in the blogosphere. But, alas, not in the physical world.
People outside of Canada can be excused for not having heard of, or caring about, Canadians' hate-hate relationship with Toronto. The 'world-class city' that never tires of telling you that it's a world-class city, Toronto inspires a particular sort of animosity from Canucks who find the residents to be overbearing, rude, loud, and arrogant. 'Let's All Hate Toronto' is a documentary that explores this phenomenon to hilarious effect, judging by the trailer.
As an American who lived in T.O. for a year, I find the claim that Torontonians are loud and obnoxious to be laughable- this is a city where the only thing you hear on the subway is people nervously saying 'Oh, excuse me'. Canadians, in general, are way too polite. Torontonians aren't rude; they're just not particularly polite. Trust me- live in an American city and you'll understand the difference.
However, it's true that people in Toronto can be fairly self-important. There are too many hipsters there; I love looking at their clothes, but they tend to behave in a very affected way: noses in the air, an expression like they smell something bad everywhere, and a walk that looks as if they have a gold doubloon between their buttocks and are afraid of dropping it. It's a lot like Manhattan actually! Visiting Toronto bars can be much like being in High School again, with insufferable twits giving you their well-rehearsed 'withering' stare while you try to avoid them. On the other hand, I've sort of developed an immunity to pomposity as I've gotten older; just remember: that 'hottie' who is trying to convey that she's 'out of your league' when you're really just trying to get by her to go to the bathroom? Well, that's pretty much all she's got.
So, I think that you need to ignore the 30-something High School kids and love Toronto for what it is- an extremely diverse city with a thriving cultural scene. For Claire and I, who live in a less-thriving city, it's sort of like going to Disneyland. I had a blast last night. Toronto residents could stand to be reminded daily that the greatest city in Canada- and the one that all of you 'foreigners' need to see when you come here- is Montreal. And they could definitely stand to visit Paris and Manhattan more often, to see actual 'world-class' cities. But, in the end, there's a hell of a lot to love in Toronto, and little reason to actually hate it.
Note: I took the photo from the roof of our friends' apartment. From the ground, it's not so obvious how tall the CN Tower is: In fact, I barely noticed the thing until my parents visited and wanted to visit it!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
What's more fun than spending all night looking at art?
Okay, probably getting married, having sex, or taking drugs, or doing all three at once...
Anyway, Claire and I are going to spend tonight wandering around Toronto for the Nuit Blanche art event. Provided that I don't get beaten down by security guards from Scotiabank, I'll take lots of pictures and post them here.
Also, here is a really interesting article on a group of ''underground artists'' in Paris.
All of this is a nice way of saying that we're rushing out the door and I can't really post much right now. See you all later!
Friday, September 28, 2007
For example, when Chateaubriand discusses Homer, he is at great pains to show that Homer was melancholy in nature. This is very much a Romantic idea- the brooding, melancholy genius. In fact, I would argue that Chateaubriand needs to show that Homer was melancholy in order to show that he was a genius- it's become a part of the definition of genius.
I think this is still the case. It's hard for us moderns to imagine a chipper artistic genius. Our ideal is someone like Van Gogh, an artist whose brilliance isolates them from the rest of the world and is akin to madness; it seems that personal misery boosts one's stock as an artist. Certainly, this would seem to be the case with Frida Kahlo, and actually, the depression and suicide has probably raised Van Gogh's profile quite a bit. The artist is someone whose emotional turmoil acts like a sort of chaotic radar, pulling in truths and sensations from the universe that the rest of us avoid.
The Romantics didn't "invent the artist", in spite of claims to the contrary. If we wanted to be cheeky, we could accuse Renaissance artists like Cellini of having created the Artist persona- Art as a projection of persona in fact. This reverses itself in the fin de siecle idea of Persona as a work of art. Yet, the Romantics give us the idea that the soul of an artist is more profound, and feels things more deeply than the rest of us, modifying the "sensibility" of the 1700s. The "tortured artist" dates from the late eighteenth-century.
But, of course, they may well have been on to something too. I don't want to sound like those academics who thinks that every cultural idea was "constructed" to fit society's needs. There really have been a number of wretched and miserable artists in the Western tradition. Actually, it's hard to name any upbeat artists. Most of them that come to mind have been insane, surly, alcoholic, depressive, or vicious. Cellini is actually a "nice guy" for the Renaissance having only killed a few people.
Can you all think of any happy artistic geniuses? I'd like to say Salvador Dali, but I'm not sure that's right. And given that there were brooding miserable artists before Romanticism, should we perhaps take the cliché as a statement of fact?
Thursday, September 27, 2007
A Texas company has applied for a permit to build the first new nuclear power plant in the US in about 30 years. Nuclear power is controversial, but still probably better than coal-powered plants. In order to advocate for nuclear power, here is some hot radioactive protection suit porn from Chernobyl.
Probably as embarassing as accidentally selling your amateur porn at a yard sale- a man in North Carolina accidentally sold a meat smoker with his amputated leg inside. The man lost the leg in a plane crash and kept it, according to his mother, “for religious reasons” she doesn’t know much about. Well, of course. It's very private. Part of his 'hop with God'. Probably going to put it under his pillow for the Leg Fairy. Anyway, some fellow bought the smoker and realized that something was awry, particularly as the leg hadn't been seasoned in any way. Now he is returning the leg to its rightful owner, who presumably will be keeping it in the fridge in the future.
Have you ever wondered what the world looks like from inside your mouth? Well, since we've established that at least some of us have done hallucinogens, I'm guessing the answer is an enthusiastic 'yes'. Justin Quinnell has taken a series of photos with a tiny camera at the back of his mouth. They're pretty cool; I especially like the one in which he's drinking Guinness, not to mention the photo that appears as if he's about to eat his child with his giant mouth. Good stuff, and they sell for about five and a half £.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Claire and I watched a few of the Republican and Democratic debates on television, although I couldn't honestly explain why if you asked me, and one thing that amused me greatly was how many of the questions from the CNN moderator amounted to- ''Here's another completely unrealistic, impossible, never-going-to-happen, dipshitted, lunatic pipe-dream that the American voters are clammoring for; now how will you give it to them?'' The basic idea seems to be that the customer is always right, so if the voters want their next President to build a solid gold prison to hold anyone who can speak Spanish and do so at no expense to the taxpayers, well, they'd better get to drawing up the plans!
In that vein, R.U. Sirius gives us the Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates. No prize for guessing how many of them fall under the heading of 'facing reality'.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Salvia divinorum... Apparently, it's a hallucinogen which is not yet illegal, although we can expect it to be soon. "Anyone under the age of 20 knows about it and has heard about it," says some politican in Texas who wants it banned. I'm older than 20, which probably explains why I've never heard of it. Researchers are interested in its health benefits because it only targets one receptor in the brain, which is fairly uncommon. Given how these things seem to go, we'll probably learn in a week that it can cure AIDS, and then it will be promptly banned because it has the ''devastating side effect'' of making some people happy.
So, have any of you heard of this plant? Salvia means it's within the mint family and I think that it's essentially a sage. Is it just diviner's sage?
Like I said, I just assume that I won't be allotted any measure of ''academic freedom'' in my professional life, at least, not until I get tenure. And yet, tenure is being phased out in American academia in favor of contract positions, so I might never get tenure. What's the difference between a tenured professor and a contracted instructor? You can treat the latter like a temp because they have no job protection. Also, you can pay them a third of the salary. This is why they're so popular these days in corporate academia.
The result is that students are increasingly being taught by people who are afraid to challenge them in any way, which is of course what they and the administrators want. Case in point- Steve Bitterman has been teaching at Southwestern Community College since 2001 without any problems. This semester he is teaching Western Civ, which naturally involves teaching about religions. ''But when he got to the Bible on Tuesday, a student walked out of the Osceola section when, Bitterman said, when he wouldn’t agree with her that the story of the Garden of Eden was historically true. Several other students appeared disturbed by the incident, he said. From their questions and statements, he believes that they are evangelical Christians.''
The students and their parents complained, not to mention threatening lawsuits against the school. How did the admins respond? They fired Bitterman. Of course, the nice way of putting it is that they ''won't be renewing his contract''. But the end result is the same- the first time an issue of academic speech arose, they caved.
Universities are also hiring people who won't challenge the close-minded beliefs of their colleagues. Case two- the AAUP is speaking out on behalf of Phil Mitchell who has been teaching history in Colorado for 17 years under contract, and who is also being fired. The reason? He was too critical of his department and his conservative politics rub department members the wrong way. As someone who's more liberal than conservative, I love having conservatives in our department because they make discussions interesting. There's nothing more sleep-inducing than attending some seminar or conference in which everyone is a lefty and so they make the same tired ''Rumsfeld'' jokes to win over the crowd, regardless of whether or not those jokes have anything to do with what they're presenting. And then the ''discussions'' are about as thrilling as listening to Star Trek nerds discuss the finer points of Leonard Nimoy's eyebrows. Ideologically-exclusive departments produce lazy thinkers.
Of course, the end result of all of this is just blandness- a history department doesn't have to be exposed to a conservative and students don't have to be told that the Bible isn't a historical source. It's an ugly fact of academia that tenured professors aren't losing any sleep worrying about the rights of instructors. But instructors have no academic freedom whatsoever because they can be fired the second that they offend entitled students or close-minded colleagues.
Would anyone like to hear my speculation on why academic departments can be so politically one-sided, or why there's so much grade-inflation in the required courses at universities?
Postscript: Reading this again, it reminds me of why I don't post on this topic more often: it's damned dismal stuff. The one bright side of this is that I'm planning to apply for jobs in Canada.
Where creationism has come up in regards to academic freedom has been about how much you can ask of creationists. Most of us wouldn't have problems with say a History professor who believes in intelligent design note that this is a prehistorical issue, but what about giving a PhD in Biology to a student who ascribes to the belief? Is it okay if they're not focusing on evolutionary biology? Now what about hiring them as an assistant professor of Biology? Does it violate their academic freedom to not do so?
I'll put my cards on the table by saying that I'm okay with, for example, a marine biologist who believes that God created the whole shebang. I actually welcome the 0.0001 percent chance that they might develop an experiment in the lab that could give some empirical evidence of their beliefs. As of now, this has not happened. But my mind is always ready to be blown.
Most creationists don't realize that this has not happened yet, and this is where their ideas get dangerous for science. As a non-believer, there isn't an experiment yet that I could recreate in the lab which would convince me of intelligent design. They all require an imaginative leap to be made. To take the ''human eye'' argument, sure I can dissect a human eye in the lab and prove that it is both highly complex and well-developed. But to get to the creation argument, I have to look at that and say, ''well, gee whiz, it must have been God that did that!'' This isn't science as I understand it- it's projection. And it requires me to bring in something purely metaphysical based on the argument that ''it seems like it could be right''. Conversely, for the true believer, there's no logical argument I could make to disprove the design thesis- it can't possibly be disproved, and hence is not science.
So, for me, the design arguments aren't scientific yet. And, given how little they've actually changed in over a hundred years, I'm not convinced that they ever will be scientific. But I don't have any problem with a creationist working in a laboratory because they might conceivably find some empirical proof of God in the lab. And it would certainly blow my mind. There are, unsurprisingly, people who feel quite differently on the subject.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
"You cannot worry about what the structure of your own particular segment of society considers bad behavior, good behavior; good exploration, bad exploration. So, at the time you're being an artist, you're not a citizen. You don't have the social responsibility of a citizen. You have, in fact, no social responsibility whatsoever."
One of the real blessings of our trip to the cottage last week was that we had almost no contact with the larger world and were therefore totally insulated against ''current events''. For nearly a week, I had no idea what was going on in the world. It was bliss.
I wonder if I'm the only one who feels the weight of too much contemporaneity; I'd imagine not. The other day, the man who sold me my parking pass had CNN dot com playing on his laptop in the booth. The secretary that I had to speak to had the Drudge Report opened. I remember my boss used to come in every day and breathlessly inform us of the latest terrorist threats on Fox News. Everyone in the train this morning had the newspaper opened. And have you noticed how many public places have added television sets, generally with the cable news going. The library I went to today, the shawarma restaurant, the buildings in Toronto, all of them have television news monitors. I wonder if this developed after 9/11. It all reminds me of the speech at the end of The Thing from Another World- ''Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!''
It's as if we cannot escape the duty to be informed. What Joyce's Stephen Dedalus said is out of date: we've escaped the nightmare of history, almost completely. And the future is unimaginable. Now it's the present that bears down upon us.
Of course, plenty of people have no idea what's going on in the world; I think they might be the lucky ones. Naturally, I laugh too when I see the man-on-the-street interview with some rural Kallikak who can't name the current Vice President; and yet, if there's any piece of reality that I might be happier being oblivious to it's Dick Cheney. The War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, car bombs, al-Quaida, the Minutemen, Guantanamo Bay, suicide bombings, floods, famines, genocide: most likely, I'll never have direct contact with any of these things, but I feel obligated to have ''awareness'' of them. Might I be better using my brain if I ignored them?
And how much ''awareness'' should I have of suicide bombings, say, in contrast to my awareness of my wife's emotional life? 1/5th? 1/10th? How about in contrast to my awareness of the cat? Would that be a 1 to 1 ratio? Remember that CNN won't starve if I ignore it! Obviously, I have to be better informed about Early Modern French History, but how much better informed?
Perhaps I'd be better at living if I aimed at total information unawareness; have a personal news blackout and focus on my work and family. Certainly, that's what I did last week, and I can't say that there was anything bad about it. Apparently, something happened to O.J. Simpson, and I didn't hear some speech that the President made. Honestly, I can't say that I've really missed anything though.
Okay, the loonie reached parity with the dollar today, for the first time since 1976. Again, this isn't necessarily bad for the dollar; it's just really good for the loonie. However, this should mean that the prices of goods imported into Canada would be dropping, since the loonie has climbed by 16 percent in relation to the dollar and Canadian merchants are therefore getting American goods at a cheaper price. But, so far, the prices here are not going down. So, basically, Canadian merchants aren't passing along the savings to their customers. And, if we want to save money, we have to spend our loonies south of the border.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Also, now that I'm ABDish, I should note that, for all of the work that I did to get through the first three years, it really wouldn't have been possible without Claire. It's funny- when you work on a PhD, you get a lot of totally unnecessary praise from people. It's very tedious work and not particularly brilliant, but ''civilians'' are shocked to hear that I actually read a book every day! Or that I actually took these written and oral exams! But it's really not that exciting- really, it's pretty much the same daily grind as anyone has.
Now try being married to some neurotic, stressed-out, book-bound grad student for three years! Not only that, but Claire finished her Master's degree this spring. So she's pretty amazing all around, and the disadvantage of living with an amazing woman is that you sometimes forget to mention it. But, nevertheless, she should also get congrats for having put up with my stress and distance these last months. It's really harder than sitting in a library reading books all day.
I'd also like to thank the academy.
Lastly, Lola has been an exemplary cat.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Probably just news for me, but the Canadian loonie is now trading at 97.28 cents to the dollar. This is a 30 year high and it's expected to reach parity by the end of the year. The bad news is that the American checks that I deposit in my Canadian account [where they automatically become cheques] will no longer buy more crap in Canada. The good news is that the upstate New York toll booth attendants will no longer be able to rip me off with the exchange.
In keeping with a common theme of late, here's a story about a stupid cartoon in a student newspaper that has been considered racially offensive. I actually find it most blatantly offensive to the art of comedy, and will now explain why in an excruciatingly pedantic way.
Okay, so the cartoon appears in the Central Connecticut State University student newspaper The Recorder. This is only noteworthy because they came under fire earlier in the year for printing a satirical column extolling the virtues of being raped. Funny, eh? Well, probably if you're the sort that likes your comedians to really hit you over the head with a hammer about the fact that they're making a joke. Subtlety... thy name is rape jokes.
The cartoon this time is not particularly funny either, but it perfectly mimics the structure of actual human jokes. The ''setup'' is that a cartoon triangle is talking on the phone with a cartoon square. This is supposed to lead us to believe that these will be cute cartoon characters. Most one-liners rely on setting up false expectations in the setup and then deflating them in the punchline. This one however has the characters discussing urine from the beginning, negating any sort of false expectation of cuteness. ''The triangle figure says he noticed that his urine smelled like honey after eating a certain cereal.'' Okay, so basically dudespeak. Perhaps we the audience, being drunk state university students, are supposed to relate to the cartoon shapes. Already it's just confusing. And we're probably stoned.
In the next panel ''the square figure asks if the triangle figure's urine tastes like honey, too.'' Fairly grim stuff, right? We're actually now set up to expect more crudity rather than anything benign. The cartoon doesn't disappoint- the punchline "I dunno," the triangle replies. "I'd have to ask that 14 year old Latino girl tied up in the closet." Do you see how this sort of apes traditional shock comedy without having enough actual setup to be funny? The ''shock'' isn't in contrast to anything banal enough to make it funny. It's just rather stupid. But it's fascinating from a sociological perspective because it's almost as if they've seen other people being funny and have learned to imitate them. They're becoming just like us! Damn dirty apes!
Anyway, various student groups have gotten offended and Francisco Donis, a professor at the university and president of the Latin American Association wants the paper's editor- some tool- fired. "I would like to see him removed from his position because he clearly does not understand how the things he prints hurt people," Donis said. My personal opinion on this is that student newspapers are student business and there's sort of a weird power differential in professors calling for students to fire other students from student endeavours. I think it's fine for instructors and professors to disagree with student opinions, but I think they should also keep a sort of respectful distance from student groups. In my professional position, I would never call some tool a ''tool''.
''Several more campus student groups, including the Latin American Student Association, plan to protest the comic today as well, he said.'' A lot of people protesting comics these days. As I've said before, I'm fine with protests. It's seemingly just what students do. I don't really think that they should fire the tool. But I guess it's the students' decision in the end.
"I'm all for freedom of speech, but where does it end?" asked Benjamin Sevitch, a communications professor on campus... One might expect a communications professor to be better prepared to answer that question than the rest of us. The short answer is that it ends with speech that is involved with the committing of a crime or treason. However it's even vague there. I'd say that the kids have the right to make stupid jokes. But they should be forced to read back issues of the National Lampoon until they understand how ''shock'' comedy actually works.
Also, we've got to call bullshit on unfunny people who hide their lack of comedic chops behind ''political correctness''. This comic is a perfect example of someone making a completely inept joke and then writing off negative responses to that joke by pretending that ''all those PC types are just offended.'' I'm not offended, but I'm telling you- that joke is really fucking stupid.
Monday, September 17, 2007
In this journal entry, Byrne discusses what it might mean that the art gallery scene he's been gliding around for 20 years is suddenly popular. The reason I offer this here, is I'm interested in feedback on his point about the moral high ground, or rather, lack thereof:
I don’t think viewing art makes you more moral or better in any way shape or form. I believe that this idea might be a holdover from the past, when art collecting and appreciating was the preserve of the landed classes. Since — subtly now, but more obviously in the past — the upper classes let everyone know that they are more refined than everyone else, then by inference, liking what they like might make you better and more refined too. Right? Some of it might rub off. At least it would get you closer to money and power, and that couldn’t hurt. Imagine if someone said that stamp collecting made you a better person.
This might be more entertaining than the original story- do you remember the Opus cartoon that the Washington Post pulled because they worried that it might offend Muslims? Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for CAIR, has said that no, he doesn't find it particularly offensive. Neither does the chair of Islamic studies at American University. In fact, as of today, I don't think any actual Muslims or Muslim groups have found the strip offensive. If it was me, I'd probably be more offended that they expected me to go ape-shit over such a silly gag.
My tastes in fashion run towards the retro formal, almost uniform-like, with a touch of the outrageously theatrical; sort of what they might wear at the Fellini School for Girls. This fall, Romanian-born designer Yoana Baraschi introduces a line with what she describes as a ''fantasy secret agent theme''. Indeed, they look like what working gals might wear in the offices of Project CONTROL, circa 1940s. Yet with pencil skirts, grey trench coats, and black vinyl jackets, the line might be best suited for Emma Peel herself.
J.G. Ballard once pointed out that, considering how much of our psychic life is focused on beds, their design is surprisingly unimaginative. Take away the space-age mattresses and you're left with the same old basic platform that has existed for centuries now. Personally, I believe that our best scientists should be working around-the-clock on beds, and perhaps in beds. Thankfully, Lomme, the creators of the Lomme Bed, are working in the right direction. This egg-shaped lit de l'avenir comes with a muscle-relaxing system, top-flight mattress, integrated light therapy, and an I-Pod to count sheep to. The Lomme Bed is so high tech, in fact, that one feels guilty making the inevitable Mork from Ork jokes.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Swiss are being criticized for allowing communities to vote on who gets citizenship, and who does not. You can read about it on the BBC. The claim is that the selection process is racist, because it results in virtually no new citizens who are, you know, basically, not already Swiss. Bearing in mind that applicants must have lived in a community for 12 years, and then that community votes on whether or not you get citizenship... I'm gonna go ahead and propose that it's not Swiss immigration law that's racist. It's the Swiss.
However, and this is a BIG however... I find I am in no position to tell the Swiss populace who they want for citizens. Of their own country. It should not, but it actually surprises me that people can feel so giddy with moral high ground that they feel good deciding what other people should do. If I were Swiss, I'd probably feel differently about the Swiss immigration laws, but (and I feel this is key to the discussion)... I'm not.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Today I braved the border crossing and the beasts of upstate New York traffic to take my oral exams. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the university, I found out that one of my professors is very sick. He is in his late 60s anyway and was in bad shape yesterday: slurring his words, with a bloody nose, and just looking terrible. They sent him home then, but he wanted to come in today, good man that he is. I first heard about all of this today, incidentally. Anyway, he called to say that he would be coming in, but he sounded so terrible on the phone that we told him to stay home. We could also hear his wife yelling at him in the background to stay home.
So, the plan was for me to take the orals today, pass them, and then go up for a stress-free week at the cottage. Now, I have to wait another week to take the orals. But, you know what? Pas de problème! I'm going to blow off the orals for a week and go to the cottage. The hell with worrying about these things. This is the last exam that I'll ever have to take and I've been preparing for it over the last year. I need to rest, or I'm going to sound like my professsor did on the phone today!
Monday, September 10, 2007
One of the great things about living in a dilapidated blue-collar town is that you can buy things for garage sale prices nearly everywhere. I recently picked up this 1930s Underwood typewriter for $20, spread out over a few payments. It's nearly identical to the one my grandparents used to use in their real estate agency when I was a kid.
Some of you will remember listening to my rapture about old machines: the smell of old grease, the martial clacking of their gears and levers, the cold steel bulk to them, and most of all the kinesthetic beauty of their internal organization. The machine age replicated the human body- at least as we understood it then- in the tools we used. The digital age extends the central nervous system in space with a corresponding loss of body-sense. Machines remind me of corporeality.
Is this cartoon racist?
Students at the University of Virginia think so. Between 100 and 200 of them marched to the offices of the student newspaper The Cav Daily to demand an apology and the firing of the cartoonist after the cartoon was printed last week. “Once again, the Cav Daily has crossed the boundary, but this time will not go unnoticed. We need to organize and end this racism once and for all,” wrote the creator of a Facebook group with nearly 300 members titled “THE CAV DAILY IS ABOUT TO BE FINISHED!!”
What do you think? I have no idea if it's racist myself. It definitely doesn't strike me as funny, but as Michael O'Donoghue once said, making people laugh is the lowest form of humor. On the other hand, it only halfway works as gallows humor either- you can understand the joke, but your next thought is ''How do they have stools and a boot, but no food?'' And why are they bald?
I'm guessing it wasn't the joke that upset people anyway, but the fact that the Ethiopian characters look roughly like the Toxic Avenger in the nude. To be honest, students protesting doesn't really bother me- that's what they do, and it's part of a lively university discussion. I don't think the newspaper should, or will, get shut down over this. Apparently, this is a touchy subject because UVA has a supposed reputation for racism. To be honest, I'd never heard this and really just remember them having a reputation for drunk business majors. I think their school motto is actually, ''Officer, do you have any idea who my father is?''
Anyway, I really don't know. Does anyone think it's racist? Is it offensive enough to fire the guy over? And, seriously, why the hell are they bald?
Boccioni's Development of a Bottle in Space... technically the Italian Futurists were, well, Futurists. But their stuff reeked of cubism. Just another way to skin the cat? Love it, in any case. Cubism seems to be a catch-all phrase, anyway, because I find some of it hateful and some of it astonishing, which in my self-centered world means there are too many things included under that umbrella.
By the way, the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (applied art) in Vienna has hordes of objects very like these Czech Kubismus things. In fact, I'd be a little surprised if they weren't the same guys, or at least well acquainted.
Daniel Carr's business is designing coins, medals, and tokens. He's done a series of state quarter parodies, as well as other interesting non-money coins. Click to see all manner of silliness. Apparently some folks have been riled up about the secret government conspiracy to create the Amero, a Canada/US/Mexico single monetary unit. Danial Carr produces a fantasy coin for folks who like to play dress-up with money, which has really fueled the conspiracy-theory fires.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Aureate: 1. Of a golden color or brilliance ''aureate light''.
2. Marked by grandiloquent and rhetorical style ''aureate diction''.
XVII. And those who husbanded the Golden Grain, And those who flung it to the Winds like Rain, Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
-From The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam
Today, the Globe and Mail covers the phenomenon known as ''Hummer hate''. People flip the bird at their drivers, key them, design websites to make fun of them; there's just something about the Hummer that really annoys people. Judging from the comments, the three main complaints about Hummers is that they are: 1. bad for the environment, 2. Dangerous on the roads, and 3. indicative of the penile insecurities of the drivers.
All of these complaints, valid or not, suggest to me that Hummer-haters are going out of their way to avoid discussing the real issue with Hummers- namely, they're proof positive that you can't buy class. There's something so completely new money about the Hummer, or more accurately new credit card debt, that strikes anyone with the slightest bit of taste as 100 percent gauche. It's like paying a hundred bucks for the hair stylist to give you a mullet. It's roughly akin to gold-capped teeth or a fedora with an ostrich feather. It's like wearing a tee-shirt that says ''I have more money than you.'' The Hummer is the automotive equivalent of hair metal. It's like spending a million dollars at K-Mart. It's polyester on wheels. You get the idea.
Of course, nobody says this because we don't want to seem snobbish. We like to pretend that ''everyone has their own tastes'' so that we don't sound too ''judgmental''- the ultimate slur in a society that's incapable of making judgments. But, in an era in which debutantes feel comfortable wearing pink track suits, and 20-something secretaries think that showing off a little butt crack is seductive, we could stand to be a bit judgmental. We're smothering in tastelessness of the worst kind- the kind that doesn't know it's tasteless. Kitsch on credit. Camp without the wink. The suburbanization of the soul. So, why pretend to be ''eco-friendly'' about it? If you drive a Hummer, you are making a statement: I lack all taste, and I think that I can compensate for that by spending a lot of money. Naturally people with aesthetic sense will cringe when they see you drive by.
So.... Some former Soviet guys immigrated to Israel. Then they formed a neo-nazi gang and started stomping jews, foreigners, gays, and others. Now several of them have been arrested.
You pretty much have to be able to claim Jewish ancestry to immigrate to Israel, by the way.
I was pretty impressed by this. Your one-stop guide to the esoteric wisdom of the ages- The Internet Sacred Text Archive. From Judaism to gnosticism to thelema, it's all here, provided that it was published pre-1922. I was wondering if anyone would be interested in picking something here and giving ourselves a month to read it. They have some pretty cool stuff there, much of which I've been planning to read for some time, like The Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam and The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides. Anyway, look through and let me know.
Artist Jonathan Keats has arranged some pornography for plants, to show in a gallery in California. The plant porn is pollination, and he admits openly it's quite boring. This is an overt commentary on the pornography of humans, and how little it takes to get us excited. (The plants have not yet admitted to anything.)
If even half of what Wiki says about Jonathan Keats is true, he's got some fantastic ideas. Apparently he studied philosophy instead of art, which probably explains a lot. Possibly my favorite project creating a mobile ring tone based on John Cage's 4'33".
Technorati offers all 3 videos from EyeKiss productions about the AgriFolk art movement, where trees create the last pure, untainted folk art. Definitely worth clapping an eye to.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
''Science must be humanized, which means among other things that it must not be permitted to go on a rampage. It must be an integral part of our culture and must remain a part of it subservient to the rest. The best if not the only way to humanize it is to consider it historically.''
The United States has received another videotape from Osama Bin Laden, who looks a bit different lately (see picture at left), and who is apparently now working with a focus group to try to appeal to those people who might have been skeptical about the ''al-Quaida message'' in the past.
The tape is a rambling, unhinged digression on everything that annoys him about the United States, which we can choose to take as either deeply terrifying, or totally hilarious. I guess you can probably imagine how I see it.
''According to the transcript, which can be viewed by clicking here, bin Laden opens with "praise to Allah" and his "law of retaliation" -- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed."
He also gives a 'shout out' to his 'homies back in South Saudi' and announces that his new single ''Back 'Dat Burqua Up!'', featuring a duet with Gwen Stefani, is ''about to drop on September 23rd''.
He says to the American people, "you made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war, not even the most violent of its murderers, [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld…”
He's calling Rumsfeld a ''violent murderer''? Sheesh! Hello, uh excuse me, Mr. Pot, I thought you might like to meet my friend, Mr. Kettle. I think the two of you might have a lot to talk about.
He goes on to call Noam Chomsky "among one of the most capable of those from your own side," and mentions global warming and "the Kyoto accord."
Oh, great! Every conservative radio host in the country just got a boner. Osama: ''It's like I was saying to Susan Sarandon the other day, I said, 'Susie, I hate this global warming shit. For Allah's sake, I'm wearing a wool blanket here!'' But seriously, folks, I'm going to make two predictions here 1. Any number of conservative columnists are right now typing the words, 'treacherous fifth column', and 2. CNN is not going to have Larry King sitting down with Noam Chomsky to see how he feels about this.
''He also speaks to recent issues grabbing headlines in the United States, referring to "the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes..."
Bin Laden then adjusts the collar of his shirt, adding, ''And what is with airline food? I mean, come on! If I get another bag of salted peanuts, I'm going to fly into a building!'' (Ba-dum-da!)
"To conclude," bin Laden says, "I invite you to embrace Islam." He goes on to say: "There are no taxes in Islam, but rather there is a limited Zakaat [alms] totaling 2.5 percent."
''But, we can negotiate the monthly fee. Don't worry about that. Now, I'm not sure that Islam would be right for that gay cousin of yours... Actually, he might get a little, uh, hanged... You might want to point him towards Sufism- they're sort of the Muslims who know how to party. And that sister of yours who wears those slutty 'short-sleeved shirts'... You might want to lock her in the basement. Otherwise, I think we're good to go here. I'll just sign you up for a trial membership...''
But, you know, one thing I do hope. All of those religious groups that come out every time a talk show host says some stupid shit about Muslims to criticize them for ''defaming Islam'', I just hope that one of them will say, ''Hey, you know who really defames Islam? Osama Bin Laden!''
Friday, September 07, 2007
Maieutics: 1. Midwifery.
2. Of or relating to the dialectical method used by Socrates to elicit and clarify the ideas of others. Both terms come from the Greek "maieutikos'', which pertains to midwifery. Socrates believed that knowledge was innate to the individual, and that the teacher helped the individual to ''give birth'' to truth by posing the right questions. This is the basis of the Socratic method.
Religious fanatics seem to be completely impervious to irony. Case in point- religious militants have decapitated two women in north-western Pakistan, who are thought to have been prostitutes. After decapitating the women, the mutants left a note with the bodies accusing them of of "acts of obscenity". One imagines that the irony escapes them completely. It's sort of a horrible irony too, rather akin to a parent killing their daughter and calling it an ''honor killing''.
Ever had one of those days? Well, it's nothing compared to the day in the life Frankie, the main character in Buddy Giovinazzo's 1986 film Combat Shock. Still haunted by memories of his service in Vietnam, Frankie lives an apartment nearly as filthy as the last one I lived in with his miserable shrill wife and agent-orange-deformed baby, wandering through Staten Island at its ugliest, and trying desperately to get work and avoid being evicted from said shit-hole or killed by the local crime lord. And it gets worse from there.
Combat Shock is one of the ugliest, most depressing, and powerful films I've ever seen. The first thing you want to do after watching it is stand in a scalding shower crying. I first watched it when I was 15 and remember being blown away by how uncompromising it is; the film sticks to its message that life holds very little promise for mentally-shattered veterans all the way through to the end. Frankie doesn't become an American folk-hero, fall in love with a beautiful girl, or rediscover God on a shrimp boat. I don't want to give away the ending, but it certainly doesn't end well.
I was thinking about the movie recently because we've been talking about dark, shocking, and disturbing art on Hiromi's blog. I think the reason that a film like Combat Shock doesn't strike me as exploitation is that it uses its grime and grue towards a larger purpose- there's a philosophy behind the film, and even something of a social conscience. Having moved from one of the poorest cities in the United States to one of the poorer in Canada, I can say that there's very little exaggeration to this film. Aside from some of the ''thug'' characters and the child prostitute sequence, most of the film rang true. It looks like a dilapidated city. Instead of heightened-reality, it's a bit like heightened despair.
Having dug up the VHS tape and watched it again, I can also say that the performances are much more realistic than I remember. Buddy Giovinazzo's brother does a good job in the lead role and there isn't as much overacting as you'd expect in a zero-budget film. The Vietnam scenes look like Long Island; but otherwise it's a painfully realistic film. And the writing is fairly sharp- it's not a stupid film by any means. Giovinazzo has gone on to write a few novels, and is currently turning one of those novels, Life is Hot in Cracktown into a film, with a fairly impressive cast.
It's hard to recommend Combat Shock- it's certainly not a ''fun'' experience. However, it's committed to its story in a way that few films are. It's not a people-pleasing unit shifter. And it certainly makes films like Born on the Fourth of July or Platoon seem like bullshit.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
"We're one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court."
-Dick Cheney's aide David Addington looking at the bright side of a future terrorist attack on the United States, quoted in a forthcoming book by Jack Goldsmith. FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act .
Where am I at today? Well, I spent roughly eight hours straight sitting in an office at the university writing my major field exam in Early Modern French History. So, I am fairly exhausted this evening. But the professor had the grace to email me this evening and let me know that I did 'very well' on the exam. I have heard from the department secretary that I also passed the Mediterranean field exam from last week. So, I have now completed both the minor field written exams and the major field written exam. Whew!
Next Tuesday I will sit in a room with the three professors and answer their questions for a few hours, thus completing the cumulative oral exam. Provided that I do well on this- and, frankly, it's a lot easier than the written exams- I will officially be ABD, or 'All But Dissertation'. As soon as that's done, Claire and I are driving up to her parents' cottage in the woods to decompress for a week, and you know, get to know each other again, now that I'm being paroled from the library.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Okay, now this makes a bit more sense. Word from DePaul has it that the university barred Norman Finkelstein from returning only after ''a series of incidents involving “threatening and discourteous behavior by Finkelstein after his tenure denial. On three instances, campus security officers were called.'' You definitely get the feeling from his webpage that Finkelstein's on a bit of a warpath with a bit of a persecution complex. Actually, I've read his controversial book The Holocaust Industry recently to see what I thought of it- I'm tired of hearing people on line quote from the NYTimes review while pretending that they've actually read it!- and there was quite the melange of ill will, sloppy thinking, and David and Goliath fantasy there. I've refrained from posting a critique because I'm aware that nobody's that interested in it. But, I do get why the university denied him tenure, and it's not because he's a lone voice ''speaking truth to power''- it's because his book is lousy. Given his writings and the weird I am Spartacus movement that's sprung up around him, I'm not entrirely surprised to find out that he can be a bit unhinged.
Monday, September 03, 2007
One of the arguments for art education in high schools is that it prepares students to take standardized tests. It doesn't. But, according to Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, who have studied arts education, it actually prepares students to think in ways that will matter in their lives, unlike the sort of shit that's on standardized tests.
''We don't need the arts in our schools to raise mathematical and verbal skills - we already target these in math and language arts. We need the arts because in addition to introducing students to aesthetic appreciation, they teach other modes of thinking we value.
For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking. If our primary demand of students is that they recall established facts, the children we educate today will find themselves ill-equipped to deal with problems like global warming, terrorism, and pandemics.''
Well, or taking college courses, I might add.
We still can't get blood from a stone, but we can get testimony from a rock. A Stafford County, Virginia company called McQ has a $100,000 contract to develop a "smart rock" for the Department of Homeland Security. The price tag is expected to reach one million dollars by this fall, and the idea is to create a rock with enough motion and noise sensors to tell if people are crossing the border illegally. So, if the wall doesn't work, Robostone will... well, sense that it's not working. Incidentally, we're talking about the southern border- there's less concern with guarding the border near Claire and me; we can call this one the 'white border'.
Andrew Cockburn details the latest attempts at creating a high-tech border, which are expected to run to $7.6 billion and save the country tens, if not hundreds of dollars in something or other, as well as keeping the country safe from landscapers. Cockburn ties this all to the military industrial complex (Not that again!) and its ongoing campaign to scare the shit out of taxpayers. Here's where I disagree a bit- lefties are always talking about how the media, the military, and the government are whipping up frenzies among the populace. But, I think the public doesn't really need much help in the mass hysteria department. Humans are just prone to weird mass panics about really stupid shit. Does anybody remember when people were terrified that the Japanese were coming to take us over? Happily, hysterias don't generally last very long. But, I suppose, if your job is in developing million dollar pet rocks, they're a godsend.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
Here's the sort of thing that the Internet was invented for- an in-depth video interview with Michael O'Donoghue, the Atilla the Hun of comedy writing, taped on the verge of the new millenium, and sadly shot right before his death from cerebral hemorrhage. It's funny and bleak, mean-spirited and brilliant, in line with pretty much everything O'Donoghue ever wrote.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
Just to let you know, updates may be slightly scarce through September. Greg has two math conferences to prepare presentations for, and attend, and then we're going to Oktoberfest in Munich.
This week we finally got around to visiting Kunsthaus Graz, the ultra-modern weird nobbly building just across the river. (From the angle we've taken this picture of the model, it looks like a syphillitic hippopotamus in traction. Fortunately, the model is for the benefit of the blind. Everyone else has to touch the outside of the actual building, to get the effect.) The museum has been hosting an exhibit entitled "China Welcomes You" for some months and with the imminent threat of the exhibit closing next week we hustled over to check it out.
For the most part, the exhibits ranged between supremely odd and inscrutable. The first thing we were confronted with was a sculpture constructed from an inside-out-refrigerator with the word "Anti-Matter" spray painted on in stencil letters. There was a video of an old Chinese guy rocking out on a (Sanxian?--a 2 string guitar-esque instrument) and singing about groceries. One exhibit was a cube formed of movie screens which showed a silhouette puppet show from three different angles. There were a series of Chinese classical style paper-cuts (that are used as patterns for embroidering on silk) illustrating assorted extreme bodily misfortunes. There was video of a group of people hitting light bulbs together and in the same room a bunk bed where both mattresses had been replaced by artificial grass.
One of the more striking exhibits consisted of an enclosure filled with mannequins of 13 prominent world leaders, aged to 80+ and placed in electric wheel chairs and set to bump into each other and walls endlessly. Presumably this is to be interpreted as a commentary on how persons in positions of power may experience an extreme change in priorities in their last years. One of the museum attendants invited us to enter the enclosure, but we respectfully declined.
We watched part of a film depicting extremely broke Chinese farmers, probably in one of the northern provinces attempting to get by. We watched an entire short film entitled "Backyard - Hey, Sun is Rising!" which once could only describe as Chinese surrealist comedy involving four men who live together and their antics, which amounted to playing with swords, yawning, and crawling around on their sides. Someone got a TREMENDOUS back massage, too.
On the top floor there were a lot of extremely large vases spread around, and the needle, which is the odd capsule-like part of the building attached to the outside, had been filled with a stone patio, fake potted banana trees and an immense pile of papers covered in kanji, then crumpled up in an immense pile with some sort of mechanical agitation device below. There was a wooden bridge over the pile and a live video feed to two televisions in other parts of the room, so you could watch the paper twitching, even if you weren't standing right over it, watching it twitch.
There are some pictures from the exhibit here: http://www.kunsthausgraz.steiermark.at/cms/beitrag/10434845/4938419/ in case you feel like reading about an art exhibit isn't... totally fulfilling. However, be aware that might only be a useful link through this coming Saturday (9/1/7)
Feeling as though we had sated our desire to encounter modern art for the day, we attempted to make further good on our museum day pass by visiting the Joanneum, another prominent museum of natural/local history, which turned out to be closed. Above is the main facade of it, which is as much of it as we got to see. We cut our losses by visiting the Landeszeughaus ( http://www.zeughaus.at/), which is the historical armory for Graz. It's four stories of very old, very heavy weapons and armaments. Always mind-blowing to think about going anywhere in full armor and weapons that clearly weigh a lot. For no obvious reason, there was a modern police chest protector sitting on the floor, in a room stacked floor to ceiling, half a block long, with hammered iron chest plates.
The armory was a rather large four-story building packed with all armor, pistols, rifles, swords, mortars, and cannons. The outside was festooned with flowers, though. :) One thing that was interesting about it was, in contrast to the normal methods of display in a museum, only a few items were displayed prominently to attract attention, while the bulk of the display was just a store house. There must have been hundreds of muskets all essentially alike for example, it seems like the transition from functional armory to museum involved putting inventory tags on things, and putting lock-bars on some of the racks. There was a small curated info area on the ground floor, but the rest didn't even have labels or indicators of function or model.
This won't mean much to almost anyone who reads this post, but, for those who are interested, this is the guy who organized the criteria for determining the relative hardness of minerals and other materials, the Mohs Scale. Apparently he was on the home team here, when the Joanneum was doing important scientific works in the name of the Emperor... (which was Joann, by the way...)
And, aside from all that, purple carrots.
Nothing really to say about those, except I think we have had enough beta carotene for now. They're *really* good with pot roast, though.
-H & G
Muslim radicals should give up on the use of threats and violence- all they seem to have accomplished is getting a few cartoons pulled. Christian radicals, on the other hand, have stuck to getting their people elected to office so that they can force the nation's institutions to better reflect their narrow interpretation of reality.
In this vein, there are few things that are more 'radical' than House Bill 3678, the ''Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act''. Signed into law in Texas by Governor Rick Perry, the law would allow public school students to answer any questions they like in accordance with their ''religious views'' without fear of being told that they're incorrect. Don't believe that the Founding Fathers supported the separation of Church and state? Don't worry- if your history teacher disagrees with you, we'll get the bastard fired! Convinced that the earth is a few thousand years old? Your geology teacher will have no choice but to agree with you now. Don't like hearing that the Greeks were okay with homosexuality? (One that has particularly upset the stupids at our university) Now you won't have to! And the mere fact that there are no experiments whatsoever that could be replicated in a laboratory to support your church's theory of ''creation'' is no reason for a biology teacher to object to it. At least, not if he likes his job.
Religions are a bit like gangs, aren't they? If they can't convince other people, they cow them into submission.