Thursday, July 31, 2008

"The Terrorist" (2008)

This piece, entitled The Terrorist, is from Hazel Dooney's collection "Dangerous Career Women". Dooney is an Australian artist whose clever, well-composed pop art is as vivid and interesting as her gorgeous watercolors. She is now exhibiting black and white photographs in a show entitled PORNO at the Mars Gallery in Melbourne.

And, yes, she has a website and a blog.


Graz Update: July 29

7/4: Someone in our building just had something like a cord of firewood delivered. Delivering firewood isn't more elegant and European here: a truck backed up to the curb and dumped a big pile of wood in the street. Now someone has to spend the next couple of hours hustling it inside. Glad it's not us. Somehow it seems out of place to have a heap of firewood delivered in a city, in the middle of summer, in the middle of an hourly pay parking zone. Wonder if their firewood will be ticketed? Or if they got a Parkschein for it?

7/10: The weather turned cold. Not cool-for-summer, but sweaters and heavy blankets late fall cold. Apparently there were some towns near here, in the mountains, that got some snow. Hard to complain about a break from the heat.

7/16: Holly's mother (Ellen) came to visit. We had all kind of great adventures in nearby towns (and less-nearby towns, like Vienna) and also here in Graz. And we ate a lot of good stuff. But the visiting was the best part. She had the "best cup of coffee of her life" at a small Greek restaurant on an island in the middle of the Danube river. How's THAT for a travel souvenir?
The Votivekirche in Vienna, at night. At night, it's harder to tell that there's a big construction screen printed to look like the church covering the lower 3rd of it.

Our room in Vienna, the same color as a night shirt. Good thing we were tired, or the paint might've kept us awake...! The shirt is hanging in the bathroom door--the bathroom was a 5'x7' box sticking out into the middle of the room, obviously a retrofit. Perfectly serviceable, as long as you ignore the ominous gurgling from the shower whenever the toilet gets flushed... (In all seriousness, if you're going to Vienna, check out the Pension Madara at Alserstrasse 39. It's in a super convenient location, very comfortable, good price, and serves chocolate hazelnut spread with the complimentary breakfast.)

It's good to know which things are PART OF EUROPE, but really, we're surprised there aren't more of these plaques around... in theory, you could pretty much cover this place with tags indicating the parts of Europe.
There is a program across the EU to provide handicapped folks with keys that are universal to restroom facilities. How handy is that, to be able to get into a secure, accessible public restroom, pretty much anywhere you go?
Other than that, since last we wrote, we've been to the Schinkenfest again. If you recall, a year ago we went to the regional ham festival out in the countryside southeast of town. Same wonderful scenery, supplied with excellent ham, beer, and music. Less bees this year, even. Hard to beat. No new pictures this time, although there is a beef festival coming up in a couple of weeks.... maybe we'll have new food pictures. And have seen new countryside--the beef festival is northwest of town.
What's going on with you? Get any good pictures of it? (Or bad ones, we're not picky!)
Holly & Greg (& Carmelita, who is doing rather well, thanks for asking!)


A Haircut in Morocco

(Note: My sister sent this story about getting her hair cut in Morocco.)

Simple you may say...go in, sit down, cut hair, voila.


I was given a gift certificate to the fancy salon in Rabat and really really needed a haircut, so I managed to make an appointment for 11:00.

I showed up at 11:00, this was a mistake.

While my name clearly was written in the slot that said 11:00, the women were so perplexed by my promptness that they ran off in all directions looking for the owner, Romaine. Romaine has the look typical of stylists in Rabat, think Luke from General Hospital, circa 1980. Oh, la la.

Romaine is "simply enchanted" by my blonde hair and green eyes and is "thrilled to have the opportunity" to cut my tangled, salt water, windblown mess. If I will just be patient he will return--After cutting all the people who are now showing up for their 9:30, 10:00 and 10:30 appointments. (there has to be some kind of cultural cue that I am missing here)

So I sit. oh and I sit. Some cafe', a french fashion magazine. More sitting.

Then it is time for the cutting of the hair. I tell him what I want, he says that would be nice, however he has a better idea for me. (don't worry, he didn't butcher me). I am just ready to go home and write the paper that is due (notice that I am not writing this paper right now..) so I submit to his will...just get me out of this place. (the fancy salon in Rabat by the way--think some of the more superior salons in the US, like the hair cuttery or super cuts)

He hangs me upside-down and chops away. fffwwit ffwitt fwitt, chip chop the hair flies. I can hear the women laughing as they walk by me...I am afraid. In the end It is a wonderful haircut, achieved entirely while I was hanging upside-down, simply amazing.

I know it is a remarkable haircut because on the way home a handsome young Moroccan man nearly died to tell me how beautiful I was. He was biking through the traffic circle on "Natural Selection Ave." and after one look at my haircut stopped in front of my car and made the "wow, did Romaine cut your hair? That is fabulous, please let my buy you a camel" face and kissy lips. Unfortunately I have a rule about stopping in the middle of the most dangerous traffic circle, on the most dangerous street in Rabat to exchange phone numbers. So I did what I always do, I smiled and --sped up-- but did not run him over as I could have. The near-death by a girl-with-an-amazing-haircut-experience was thrilling for him, I am sure.

OK, back to work for me...I had a wonderful time in the US, Made some fantastic friends that I am so happy will be sharing late-night chats with me for the next two years, and am now glad to be back in Morocco.

I will post more soon.



"Who gave his life to save a slogan..."

We spent the last few days in suburban Virginia, a land of beefy middle aged men with crewcuts and bulging humps between their collars and the backs of their heads, landscaped plain geometry everywhere you look, theme restaurants with names like R. J. Skillet's Louisiana Grill, and the sizzling drone of crickets all night long. It was good to be back there, especially since it was only for a short visit.

Unfortunately, we were there to attend my grandfather's funeral. He was in his eighties and it was not unexpected; but, of course, it's seldom welcomed. Our grandparents raised me and my sister as much as our parents did. When my grandmother died three years ago, it was a horrible shock: she was still livelier than the rest of us and went in a flash. It seemed very unfair to my grandfather to lose her and I often suspected that he wasn't much in the mood to keep on living. I can't say I blame him. All of his friends and old hangouts were gone, along with his wife and siblings. It must have been like sitting in the cinema alone after the credits have rolled.

My grandparents were not particularly religious people, and neither were their children, with the exception of my Uncle. And so, it was my Uncle's pastor who performed the service. This was very strange to watch- a wisp of a southern preacher telling us about how my atheist/ agnostic grandpa had been given to us by Jesus Christ to win the victory of his glory of the blood of the lamb, blah, blah, blah. It felt like an advertisement for a product that my grandfather had no interest in selling. There was also an annoying piousness to it- at one point, the preacher talked about my grandfather's great dignity (he'd never met my grandpa) and how "dignity is often laughed at in today's world" and then went on to explain how this it is not laughed at by those who know the valor of the glory of the victory of Christ, etc.- Fly United. I think it was the arrogance that chafed at me. I know that Claire and I laugh at dignity all the time. After all, things like love and dignity have very little place in the lives of non-Christians. Thanks for sharing your 2,000 year old middle east resurrection cult with us. Now I can stop kicking puppies.

The worst of all was the fact that this man knew almost nothing about my grandpa, aside from a few things my Uncle had told him, which had no doubt gone onto a checklist. This is what happens if you don't have a priest: you get the eulogy by checklist. "Well, one thing I know about Ralph was that he loved his... let me see here, stamp collecting! Yes, stamp collecting." When I die, I want them to find the oldest, most arrogant preacher they can and give him a checklist of only the most horrid things to eulogize. "Yes, Rufus was a loving man. He loved his pornography and he loved abusing animals. He was also a strong believer in the dark lord Satan. And he touched the lives of so many: from the Indonesian street children that he sold into sex slavery to the local addicts that he kept supplied with their sweet, sweet crack cocaine..."

Anyway, the priest wasn't totally lousy- of course, he was going to plug Jesus when he got the chance; that's his job. And it was mercifully short- praise God. But, the thing is, when you hire a priest for a eulogy, you're hiring a performer, and they had better be convincing. Otherwise, they will come off as a phony. Which he did.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Mechanical squid from Nantes. Visitors can sit on top of the squid and control the tentacles with levers. As I said, they are making some of the coolest things ever in this place.


Are you sure you're reading this?

An article in the NYTimes asks what seems to have become a perennial question: "Are we really reading when we're online?" I'm willing to believe that we are- after all, I just read Ovid's Metamorphoses online and enjoyed it greatly. But then I will frequently encounter the advice that we should not be posting anything longer than five paragraphs on the Internet because net users think that reading anything beyond that length is akin to reading War and Peace in the original Russian.

Many young people are internet addicts and their lack of reading ability can be alarming. Every few semesters we will give our students an assignment that consists of reading a five page article and answering a short essay question that amounts to "What does this thing say anyway?" We give them a few days to finish the assignment and make it worth five percent of their final course grade: in other words, it's an easy A. The punchline though is that generally about 60-70% of them fail miserably. If there is a horse mentioned in the second paragraph, they think it's an article about horses. Often they think the writer is making the opposite argument from the one they are actually making. And sometimes the answers seem to come from outer space. We are teaching college freshmen, so we hope things improve by the time they graduate.

According to employers (whose opinion, one can be assured, is valued more than educators), they aren't improving by the time they get a college degree. American corporations spend a small fortune in remedial education every year for their newly-hired college grads, who apparently still aren't able to read proficiently. Employers tend not to be as tolerant as we are when their hires can't read a report because they think that "reading is gay". And so, we educators get asked, rightly, what the problem is here.

The problem, again, is that a sizeable proportion of young people are internet addicts who don't read books. There seem to be three common responses to this problem:

1. Some say that they have a different, but no less valid knowledge set. Their generation knows about the Internet and we old farts know about books, extended concentration, and coherent arguments. Using Facebook is another form of intelligence, etc. etc.

2. Others say that all of human life is doomed because of this insidious and irreversible trend.

3. And some say that children have always struck adults as being ignorant, but they all grow out of it eventually.

None of these arguments are entirely persuasive for me. The first one would be more convincing if I hadn't already found these wizard-like net skills to be really easy to pick up. Okay, so I can download songs, read fan fiction, maintain a Facebook page, and design websites too. But I can also do things that are now considered breathtakingly brilliant, like read a five page article and know what the hell it was saying. So, I'm not intimidated by the "digital natives", and contrary to popular belief, I tend to feel a lot smarter being around them, as opposed to dumber because of their brilliance in sending text messages.

The second argument is not convincing either. America is not the axis upon which all human life pivots, so American kids not reading is not a universal crisis. Furthermore, when I went to school, it semeed that there were perhaps 5-10% at best of my classmates who weren't idiots. And, now that I instruct as a TA, I find that there are still about 5-10% of the students who are bright and curious. The rest aren't really idiots; they're just intellectually lazy. I suspect that this will always be the case and that their numbers will fluctuate over time, as opposed to forever declining. Besides, the bulk of them might well decide one day that their stultified, insipid, hyper-bourgeois lifestyle isn't particularly fulfilling. Stranger things have happened.

The last argument is hopeful, but let's be honest- not a lot of non-reading adolescents grow up to become book-reading adults. I would imagine that the kids, like the girl profiled in the article, who are online reading fan fiction, will be avid readers of all sorts of fiction as adults. But, let's be honest, the kids who are sending text messages and updating their Facebook eight hours a day probably won't be hanging out in the book store in ten years time.

But, who knows? Clearly, reading is declining in the United States not because people are getting stupider so much as lazier and more easily self-satisfied. They feel no urge to make the effort. So, I would imagine that one of those two things will change. And, if not, it's frankly no skin off my ass. I might worry about offending them in writing some of this, but hey, they all tuned out when they saw how many paragraphs this post is anyway!


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Guinea Pig: It's What's for Dinner

Picture: A guinea pig dressed for the fashion competition at the guinea pig festival in Huacho, Peru. The winners are spared from being eaten; the rest are all cooked and served at the festival. Guinea pigs are not kept as pet in Peru; instead, they are either cooked or boiled and served whole. Peruvians attest to their good taste and the high quality of their meat. It might seem a little strange, but in my experience, mammals all act about the same in the wild, and all become relatively tame when kept. Keeping cats and dogs and guinea pigs, and eating cows, lambs, and pigs is probably about as logical as it would be to keep pigs, cows, and lambs for pets; and eat cats and dogs. Bon appétit !


An early 1900s factory from Nantes, built in that style one might call Industrial Gothic.


There ought to be a law!

I've never entirely understood the sort of mentality that responds to everything bad and ugly by trying to legislate against it. It isn't really true that "you can't legislate morality": of course, you can, and we do; but there are pluses and minuses involved with all legislation, and I generally think it's best to err on the side of freedom.

So I'm not entirely sure I see the logic behind a bill introduced in San Francisco that will allow misdemeanor or felony criminal charges to be brought against any artist or financial backer who causes “the death, abuse or suffering of an animal” when making a work of art. This was proposed in response to an artist- Adel Abdessemed- whose art, shown at the San Francisco Art Institute, included a video of six farm animals being killed. The SFAI says that Abdessemed was documenting traditional methods of food production in Mexico without any gratuitous violence taking place to make the videos. In other words, it 's hard to tell if he actually broke the proposed law. Also, since he doesn't live or create his art in San Francisco, it's not clear if he could be charged anyway.

At any rate, the show was definitely controversial and had to be closed after the SFAI and the artist received death threats. The idea behind the bill seems to be that there is some sort of demand for this art that should be squelched. San Francisco city commissioner Christine Garcia, who wrote the bill, told The Art Newspaper: “If you allow forums that find this type of work acceptable, more people will produce it and can gain fame from the suffering of animals.” Of course, there have been forums that find this type of work acceptable- or we wouldn't have needed a law to close them; and they have not produced a great number of rich, famous animal killers- since we're still talking about this as a theoretical future outcome.

It seems, to me, that the hope here is that we can legislate culture. But, as culture is the sum total of billions of individual and somewhat irrational decisions- just like the economy- I can't see how we possibly control it through legislation. Or, at least, not without unwittingly and exponentially decreasing the free choices that can be made not only in real life, but in imaginative life. I'm already unclear as to what constitutes "during the making" of a work of art, or even what constitutes "causing the death of an animal". If I shoot a short film in which a fictional family is eating a real roast duck for dinner, have I committed a felony by this law? What about a catered barbecue during a film shoot? If I make a documentary about Canada's annual seal hunt, what should I do to avoid being charged? Is a documentary a work of art or not? And just because these examples are mildly ridiculous don't assume that someone won't seriously try to bring these charges in the future.

Moreover, the law seems both vague and weirdly specific. If it's already illegal to inflict cruelty upon an animal (I certainly hope so), why do we need another law specifying that it's illegal to do so for art? It's like saying that we need a law making it illegal to rob a bank and another making it illegal to model for photos while robbing a bank. Well, or it's like saying it's illegal for an adult to have sex with a child, and we need a new law to make it illegal to have sex with a child and film it. But, of course, the kiddie porn laws are just as understandable in theory as this law is- one can easily see why we have them- and are indeed so badly-thought out in practice that they've resulted in myriad legal snafus, witch hunts, and people having their lives ruined without the slightest intention of actually making or owning kiddie porn.

But, try saying that in mixed company!


From the Hamilton Rant-Line

[Note: Our local free weekly, the Hamilton View, runs a feature they call the "rant line": basically, it's a number that locals call to rant about whatever's bothering them into a message machine. These rants are then transcribed and published in the next issue. Some rants are obnxious, of course, while others are surprising, funny, bizarre, and entertaining. Periodically, I will post some here.]

"What's up Hamilton!? Today is my 21st birthday and I'm a little drunk! I have two things to say: one, to the editor, I think you're hilarious! And two, to the guy that dumped his girlfriend after 20 years, I hope you end up alone for the rest of your life."

"You know what I think is stupid? The fact that they have instructions on shampoo bottles. If you buy shampoo, and don't know how to use it, you should just give up now."

"I saw the most remarkable thing on John Street yesterday! A young man and woman were walking along and he was tenderly holding their infant in his arms where it should be, and not in a plastic bucket held by a handle."


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The carousel in Nantes.


Baracking the Medias

O Emperor Barackus, don't forget us little people and mere mortals down here!

Daniel Finkelstein here gripes that Obama hasn't done any interviews with the foreign press. I will say that I saw Obama interviewed on France 3, so this isn't entirely true. However, something that bothers me with the Obama campaign is its obsessive desire to "control the message". It reminds me of the Bush administration's habit of responding to events like Katrina by immediately "jumping into action" and criticizing any negative press. I get it- everyone hates the medias. But, I'd side with a critical news media before I side with another control freak in chief.

They say that we elect people to correct the mistakes of the last person we elected. With McCain and Obama, it's starting to look like we get to choose between Bush's stubborn, incurious insipidity and his self-righteous arrogance. And it doesn't really feel like a clean break either way.



From an article on nine people (eight of them women) in Iran who are scheduled to be stoned to death for sex offenses, including adultery:

"Under Iran's strict penal code, men convicted of adultery should be buried up to their waists and women up to their chests for stoning. The stones used should not be large enough to kill the person immediately."

I find it such a strange distinction that the stoning should not lead to immediate death. I'm not an expert in Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) by any means, but I can't imagine the process by which a community of scholars would come to the conclusion that drawing out suffering is a more pious way to punish someone for adultery. Allah is said to be both just and merciful; but perhaps the Iranian mullahs cannot manage to be both at once, or either at all times.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Nantes Graffiti

Originally uploaded by rufus138
I enjoyed this weird alien graffiti in Nantes. It was behind the mechanical animal workshop, but unrelated I think.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

anyone care to comment?

Originally uploaded by oferchrissake


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

i am so keyed up

and am unsure if i'm going to sleep tonight. i just ate an entire red pepper for dinner. i keep thinking i'm forgetting something and then it's "YES. pick rufus up at the airport. 6:10, terminal 3. must leave early to dodge traffic." and then life begins again.

i had to put that somewhere cause it's late and i can't call anyone, and lola doesn't care.

here is some awesome fucking dancing for you, don't let "swanlake" put you off, it's serious crazy shit that will make you go "oh my god, did she really do a pirouette on his arm? in the air???":



Nantes Clock

Well, you can't photograph every attractive thing you see! Here's a sketch I made of the clock on top of an old building in Nantes. I leave tomorrow morning at 8 for Paris and will fly out at 2:00, God willing and the Siene don't rise!

Hope to catch everyone on the flipside!


Flower Girls

Two revelers at this year's Dance Valley Festival in the Netherlands. Not entirely sure where I found this picture actually...

Update: Okay, I'm now pretty sure it was the Guardian. Thus, not AP and I should not get in trouble for having exposed it to my readership of like three people. Whew!


Ivy Tech: We Don't Pay You People to Think!

When people ask me what's going wrong with higher ed, I usually have a laundry list of gripes to give them in response; I'm sure they're sorry they ever asked! But surely one of the weakest links would have to be administrators who seemingly have no clue about, or interest in education. Their fixation on student evaluations could be very helpful, if their goal was to figure out if the students are actually learning anything. And yet, they seem to care about nothing aside from whether or not the students are having a pleasant "educational experience" to ward off any future complaints. It also suggests that they're fumbling around in the wilderness: hey, kids, we don't have any idea what a university actually is; why don't you tell us?

How else to explain the case of Pejman Norasteh? He was teaching statistics this spring as an adjunct at the Indianapolis campus of Ivy Tech Community College, when his students started complaining that the textbook, mandated by the college, was too difficult and poorly-written to follow. So, showing a tremendous dedication to his work, Norasteh wrote supplementary material to explain the concepts to his students in a clearer manner. One might ask who could possibly object to an instructor going to extra mile to facilitate learning among all of his students.

Well, another group of his students, of course. They complained that he was assigning them "extra work". Admittedly, eighteen-year olds are not necessarily going to see the wisdom of what Norasteh did, so it's lucky that we have wise and benevolent admins. And they fired him. No questions asked. The customers complained, so there was "accountability".

Civilians often complain that academia will only be fixed when we get rid of tenure and can hold instructors accountable to the needs of the students. And so, this is what they want, ultimately. They hope to put the power in the hands of administrators who couldn't care less if students learn anything and only those students who complain the most. The key to all of this is to make educators into temps and fire them whenever they rock the boat. Lucky for the public then that their dreams are coming to pass.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dead Cities

This striking image comes from an equally striking article on The Ten Most Amazing Ghost Towns, on a site called Oddee.

It is from the dead city of Kolmanskop in Namibia. The article includes other haunting, and strangely beautiful abandonned cities from around the world, including Prypiat, the city where the Chernobyl plant was located, the amazing failed futuristic resort in San Zhi (Taiwan), and that anarchist utopia the Kowloon Walled City.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Gothic Aztecs (Gotik Aztéques)

This 2007 film by Jonathon Rosen was commissioned by the Marseille collective Le Dernier Cri for an animation compilation. I'll tell you about them in the future. Anyway, Rosen is now working on an extended version of this short, and all rights are reserved, so hopefully I won't get in trouble for sharing it!


Obamapalooza European Tour 2008

It looks like I should be leaving from Paris on the same day that Barack Obama arrives. This is not a mistake, actually: France just isn't big enough for two American male divas, thank you very much! If you'll remember, I missed the game of "hey, let's get the olympic torch!" when I was in Paris, and now it looks like I will miss the European leg of Obamapalooza. I really hope he is not flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport that morning (and that's hope you can believe in!).

Obama really is a diva. I'd imagine that, if he does get elected, he will be carried in to his State of the Union addresses on a chaise lounge carried by Roman slave girls who are also feeding him grapes. You get the feeling sometimes that going from regular old Barack Obama to President Obama will be something of a step down for him. He might be planning it as a stepping stone towards running for Zeus.

Republicans, meanwhile, are acting like jealous high school girls who didn't get asked to the Prom by the star quarterback. The press focuses on Obama 75% of the time and only grudgingly mentions that he hasn't been elected as of yet. The republicans want McCain to get more attention dammit! He wears a new tie and nobody even mentions it! John McCain is still big- it's the pictures that got small!

One wonders if trying to get McCain into the spotlight is such a great idea anyway. He has a tendency, not unheard of among politicians, to- and this is the psychological term- say some incredibly stupid shit. I've avoided making fun of it here because it feels distasteful to make fun of a senior citizen for the occasional faux pas. But, everytime I watch him speak, I think of Leslie Nielson! And, the problem is that, in spite of being a charming old man, he still wants to be President; if he makes it, we can't just humor him into thinking that the economy has recovered, we've beaten the terrorists, and we all want to hear his war stories again for four to eight years.

The Republicans do have a point that Obama has... let's say an uncomfortably developed grasp of theatrics for someone who will face serious real-world issues. He also says some stupid things, but he does so with a sense of verve! The lack of experience isn't the problem- if we really want "experience", we should go back to the aristocracy and leaders who come from generations of experience. The problem is that Obama's warm and fluffy lines about "hope" and "change" are reassuring and comfortable... but, then you wonder if he's trying to punk us. Will he get elected and turn into Putney Swope? "I'm in the statusphere, baby, and I ain't comin' down for nobody, not even you!" I know that's an obscure reference, but find that movie- it's great!

Most people say they want a leader with an iron-clad mind and stuffy manners, and with no sense of the theatrical... well, until their guy is pretending to cut driftwood on his ranch while dressed as a cowboy, or playing some basketball with the troops, that is. I think that most of us would honestly prefer to vote for someone who promised to just play the role of the President while staying out of trouble. We want a stuffed shirt who can deliver a few applause lines when we pull a string in his back. At least I do. I worry that Obama won't let his team do the thinking for him- or that McCain will let his team do the thinking for him!

Actually, the Republican gripes about Obama as a "rock star" and an "actor" ring hollow for those of us who grew up in the 80s with a real actor playing the President while remaining mostly uninterested in very much beyond the roar of the crowd. I remember worrying when Grandpa Reagan said in an interview that he had fought in World War II and helped to liberate the concentration camps- he hadn't, but he appeared in a movie in which he did! But, looking back, I think he was on to something. People remember Reagan as a great President in the same way that they remember Ward Cleaver as a great father: there's no real specifics to it, just a vague persona that he projected for eight years. Like television, the President has a crew backstage doing all the work, while they deliver the lines.

Maybe this is as it should be. Back in the old days, when Presidents didn't take the action figure theatrics so seriously, there was this system of what we called "checks and balances" that largely kept them from having too much power- sort of like the Queen of England. And back in those days we used to watch movies on plastic tapes! We've given too much power to the President, and the government in general, and forgotten how it was back in the good old days when the leader was an amiable idiot who knew how to give a good line reading. If anyone really cares who leads the country, and I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would at this point, it's probably better to avoid the leading actors' performances altogether and look for who they have doing the work behind the scenes.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The mechanical passenger-fish, from Les Machines de l'île de Nantes.


Yes, that really is a pink dolphin.

That's the pink Amazon River dolphin, Inia geoffrensis, or "bufeo colorado” as they are known in Peru and “botos" as they known in in Brazil, one of only five freshwater dolphin species in the world, and the smartest of the bunch.

They are also endangered, so authorities in Loredo, the northern region of Peru are taking steps to ensure their survival. Anyone who has a pink dolphin will have 60 days to report to the Regional Production Directorate and explain why the animal is being kept in captivity, or face stiff fines. I don't know exactly what you would do with a pink dolphin as a pet, aside from considering yourself very lucky indeed.

Oui : c’est vraiment un dauphin rouge ! C’est le dauphin rouge du fleuve Amazonece qui s'appelle le Inia geoffrensis, ou « buteo colorado» en Peru, et « botos » en Brasil.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

La Commissure

"La commissure" is the corner of your lips, in case you were wondering.
They're also artists who publish some remarkably strange and sometimes ugly art.
The book to the left, It Occurs, is ugly and very funny- imagine New Yorker cartoons by David Lynch.
They've also published a collection of pin-ups that I both long to see and dread seeing.
En français : « La commissure » c’est une pièce de la bouche. Egalement, c’est un groupe de artistes/ Bédéistes avec une maison d’édition. Leur art est laid, drôle, et fascinant !
Le livre à la gauche, «It Occurs » est comme caricatures par David Lynch !
Aussi, ils ont publiée une collection des « pinups » : c’est à la fois érotique et terrifiant.


les machines de l'ile

This is the sort of thinking I love. Nantes has a lot of old factories that the city doesn't know what to do with. So, someone suggests: Hey, remember that guy whose team makes mechanical animals out of wood and metal? Why don't we invite them to come here, work in the factories, and make some of the coolest things in the history of ever?

And so they are.


18 Things I Will Miss About France

Reader: Hey Rufus, some of these things about France don't really seem all that great! Will you really miss them?

Rufus: Oh, yes. Because they remind me of France, and I love France. When you love something, everything about it adds to its character. Besides, who would want to eat food that was all sweet or had no spices?

Reader: What about Canada? And America?

Rufus: Well, I love Canada, and I love America. I also love France. Hopefully, the three of them will understand this, without getting jealous.

Reader: Why don't you love the other countries?

Rufus: I've never been to other countries. I suspect that I'd love them too. Now, enough with the questions kid! Here are: 18 Things I Will Miss About France:

1. The food. Sure, I like a good hot dog from time to time (and kebabs too!). But, after you've had ridiculously tasty food for fairly low prices, it's a bit hard to return to the land of: "Well, do you want it cheap, or do you want it good?"

2. Specifically, pastries. How great is it to have a hot pain au chocolat every morning? Pretty great. My favorite pastry is the strawberries & cream concoction known as the frasier. Une frasier makes me crazier! Alas, they're hard to find in several regions of France, and you have to go to a specialty place outside of France. And their memory will make it hard to return to Canada, where they love their Timmy's donuts almost as much as the French love their pastries.

3. Dog shit. You learn to look down when walking. People are supposed to clean up after their dogs in many places, and some do; but many think that it would be an insult to their pride to clean up the dog shit. So, a walk down an average sidewalk can resemble those tire runs they have in Army basic training. After about a week, you're adjusted to it.

4. The urine smell. I have no idea why middle aged French men feel comfortable urinating everywhere they want to. Actually, I do- it's because they've been drinking. After a while, it becomes comical. What a lovely neighborhood this is! If there only wasn't the urine smell...
5. ARTE. Whoever came up with the idea for a television channel that shows: Rock concerts, classical concerts, 70s art films, great independent cinema from around the world and some of the greatest films ever made just in general, undersea documentaries, historical programs, a weekly review of the art world, documentaries about every esoteric topic imaginable, and a number of other unclassifiable things... well, those people were geniuses. I hate televison. I don't hate ARTE.
6. Art. Sure, a lot of French music is twee and irritating. Many of their films boil down to watching Paris yuppies have droll conversations about their affairs over dinner. And, aside from Houellebecq, there's not that much going on in French lit. However, you have to love that they see artist as a noble profession and art-making as almost a sacred duty. In America and Canada, even our artists feel compelled to say things like, "Well, I write poems... but, I'm not a pretentious asshole!" Having a space of resepect and support for art means that really cool art will, and does happen.
7. Arrogant, Beautiful, and Inaccessible Women. Yes, I know: they can be annoying. Especially if you are already married to a beautiful sweetheart and not remotely interested in them. And, yes, many of them, at least in Paris, will actually walk into you on the sidewalk, which is totally obnoxious. And, yes, their behavior is all an absurd affectation. But, it is also immensely theatrical and very entertaining. The other thing is that, sure they have their sexists here, but the French actually seem to really like women. And that's a good thing.
8. Totally Accessible Frenchies. For all of their supposed arrogance, when you meet nice French people, they're completely endearing. And I've met quite a few.
9. Old Buildings. They hardly ever build new ones; they just plaster up the old ones every few years. For someone who loves the faded places in the world, the logic is completely understandable.
10. Haute Couture. I could never afford it, but I'd rather be around bourgeois people who spend all their money on high fashion than on McMansions and giant cars. You know how you'll watch clips of fashion shows and think that nobody really dresses that way? Yes, they do. Come to one of the cities in France.
11. The Patrimony. Even if you were a relatively-obscure painter in sixteenth century France, it's likely that they know who you were and love you as if you were currently on tour with U2. Also there is probably a television special on your work appearing tonight on France 3. French history is never really history- it's a part of contemporary cultural currency.
12. Arrogance. Yeah, there's some of that too. Snobbishness is pretty much everywhere though. Heck, you can go to a small town in the middle of nowhere and have the girl who works at the Burger King act look down her nose at you while she serves your Whopper because all of the boys at Western Farmville High want to pork her. Who cares? It will drive you batty, if you let it. Or, you can laugh about it, and figure that at least the French snobs are arrogant about their fashion, art, and culture; as opposed to being arrogant about, say, their military, their awesome car, and all of the cool crap they can afford from Best Buy.
13. Mindless formalities. See the post on that. I will say that I've gotten to where I expect it. As my landlady says: "The French- we love paperwork!"
14. Arguing. Americans think that the French are all ideological. They're not- they just like to argue. They like witty, passionate debate, and it should never, ever be taken personally. They just really enjoy a good gripe. If they think you're a right-wing capitalist, they will argue like a socialist radical. If they think you're a socialist radical, they will argue like a suburban bourgeois. At least, that's true for the ones I know. One way of looking at it is that they have flexible minds and can see many sides to debates. The other way is that, well, you have to do something when you're hanging out in cafes drinking all the time!
15. The Average Television Show. Five or six people, sitting around a table, having those sort of witty, passionate arguments for two hours. That's pretty much 60 percent of the shows here. You can also join in at home, drinking and arguing with the set.
16. Missing my wife. Sure, it sucks. And it really hurts my heart sometimes. But, the fact that I am 33 years old and becoming a professional academic, and still have it suddenly hit me that, if I don't see my wife soon, I am going to totally die, is nice.
17. Relaxing. They take lunch for one to two hours. They go on vacation an average of one month per year. Bob Dobbs would be proud. Ultimately, and this is why it's impossible to really dislike them- the French still know how to enjoy being alive.
18. Whimsy. Beauty, Passion: all of these things we have in North America too. But we sure don't do them up like they do in France.


Friday, July 18, 2008

From the Archives

French citizen in Cairo- deceased 1880s.


Glam Mummy

Archaeologists in Peru have discovered a thousand-year old mummy dressed "bizarrely" with scarlet paint, metal disks over the eyes, and surrounded by a slingshot and a small figurine of himself. I'm not sure what's so bizarre about that. That pretty much describes my set up as I'm writing this!

Video here.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

something related to prince

scroll down to the part where it says "I cannot believe Prince allowed this to happen."

I think this is mainly for people who enjoy Prince.



The Niagara River

by: Kay Ryan*

As though
the river were
a floor, we position
our table and chairs
upon it, eat, and
have conversation.
As it moves along,
we notice—as
calmly as though
dining room paintings
were being replaced—
the changing scenes
along the shore. We
do know, we do
know this is the
Niagara River, but
it is hard to remember
what that means.

*(The author of this, and many other fantastic poems, has just been named America's poet laureate.)


Yeah, I know it's getting a bit picture-heavy around here. It probably takes forever to load. Sorry. I'll get back to writing about stuff when I'm in a cheerier mood.

Anyway, here's the door of that Nantes pharmacie that I posted the other day. The tiles are pretty amazing, especially when you get up close. But the whole building is gorgeous.


Zoanthus Coral

Here's a vivid picture of Zoanthus coral from Brazil's Albrolhos Bank. The bank's reef system was already the largest and most diverse in the southern Atlantic Ocean; last week, scientists announced that it is twice as large as they had previously thought.


A Look at the Future from the Past Gets a New Future

Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis is a strange, meandering, frustrating, and totally visionary movie. Once you've seen it, the movie stays with you forever; yet parts of it feel slight and a bit thin. This could well be because an entire half-hour of the film has been missing since 1927, sliced off to make it more commercial with audiences.

Until now! They've found a complete copy of the film in Argentina and will release the full, uncut Metropolis on Blu Ray in the coming year. For movie geeks, this is like finding out there was another five or six chapters to Moby Dick that just turned up in someone's basement. Mindblowing.


A recent picture of Rufus.


Epic Veil

As usual, I only hear about one of the “big news stories” in France from the American press. Okay, apparently, a French guy went to Morocco in 2000 and married a woman who came to live in France in what the couple assumes is the style of Muslim women in Muhammad’s time: wrapped head to toe, completely subservient to the husband, not voting, and so forth. Social services reports that she lived in "total submission to her male relatives". Ah, the good old days! As with most cultural retroversion, I’m guessing that many of these “traditions” are largely imagined. Didn’t Khadijah work? Who voted in the Middle Ages? How do you eat pastries in a veil anyway?

So, a French court has told her that she can’t become a citizen, probably due to that pastry thing. The French people are largely at ease with the ruling: polls show widespread support in France. One has to remember that the Revolutionary tradition is still very strong here and I think many take this as a triumph of secularism over superstition. While the American Revolution wasn’t really related to religion, the French Revolution included a strong struggle with the Catholic Church, one of the pillars of the Ancien Régime. I’m not sure it’s ever been resolved.

Americans might see this as a triumph over les Musulmans, but I’d be careful with that thinking. Americans and French are very different on religious ideas. In America, calling yourself an “atheist” seems to suggest to people that you’re a nihilist, whereas in France, it basically means that you’re a freethinker. Many Americans would have a problem with this family’s Islamic faith; for the French, it’s more a matter of “fanaticism”. If one has religious beliefs- and there still are many Catholics here- it’s important that they be very private and very mild. I get the feeling that they are French first and Catholic second; whereas most American Christians are much the reverse.

I actually read about this story from one of our sisters of perpetual grievance over at Feministing who chose to focus on the ethnocentrism of it all, writing: "It appears that no matter how many times Muslim women talk about how their religious choices may not always be directly connected to their experiences with patriarchy, no one listens."

Um, yes, it's weird of people to assume that a young woman "living in complete submission to her male relatives" might have something to do with... um, patriarchy. Glad there are feminists to stand up for her "feminist" choice of... uh, living in complete subservience to her male relatives! (Yes, Virginia, the entire world has gone crazy.)

But, as always, I’m of two minds on this ruling. On the one hand, if the country makes “assimilation” a prerequisite for naturalization, it seems hard to argue that a woman who stays at home all day and refuses to engage with the culture for seven years is assimilating. On the other hand, how could we ever enforce these sorts of standards? How hard would it be to find legal citizens who don’t vote? Or women who don’t work? Or people who wear funny clothes? Do we wait until there’s a combination of the three to revoke citizenship? Or does birth trump all of them? Are you allowed to be a believer so long as you don't get all serious about it?

It seems to me that the point of having freedom of religion is that you’re not compelled to believe or disbelieve anything. Similarly, you can’t compel someone to be free, and using the power of the state to compel people to be free is as ridiculous in theory as it is generally terrible in practice.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

claire cordially asks rufus...

because we can, do you feel like going to the movies next friday? the thought of going on a date with you next week nearly made me pee my pants in elation. we can hold hands and go in the afternoon to avoid teenagers!! then maybe we can go to mex-i-can? let me know, mr. america. i put a lot on the line doing this public-style.



One of many leaning buildings in Nantes.


Radiohead - House of Cards

I'm sure Claire's already seen this... But, here's the new Radiohead video, made with 3D plotting technology instead of cameras.


Kebab, War, and a Coke: Part 2

I was not particularly happy with how things went down in the Showdown at the Kebab Corral. I wasn’t really upset that I had revealed myself not to be Chuck Norris in academic disguise, but there was still the lingering mystery of What the heck was that all about?! Was the guy mad at me? Was he just messing with me? Or is he just really weird?

So, I went back to continue the cultural conversation. Also, like many married people, feeding myself when away from my spouse consists of basically waiting until I’m really hungry and then desperately trying to find some place that’s open. I am not going to assume that it’s just males that do this- I’d imagine that Claire’s had Swiss Chalet delivery a few times since I’ve been here. Anyway, I returned and ordered the Kebab menu with a coke.

“Oh, Mr. America! How are you?” he said, in English

“Good, my friend,” I said, in French.

“Where are you from, Mr. America?” he asked, now in French, I think.

“Well, actually, I live in Toronto,” I answered.

“Oh, America!” he shouted.

“Uh, no. Toronto is in Canada,” I responded.

“Oh, Canada! You live in Quebec?” he asked.

“Uh, no. I live in Ontario”
I said. At this point, I’m imagining creating something educational, like Schoolhouse Rock, but Canadian. Picture an animated singing bill, wearing a toque, hanging out in Ottowa: “In the parliamentary system/ We can decide that you’re a jerk/ And have a ‘no confidence’ vote/ Sha-da-ba-bada-ba!” Also, the bill is drunk.

He continues. “I like Quebec. Are you voting for Obama?” Clearly, this guy did not do well in geography class.

“Well, I hope so,” I said. “I’m American, but I am becoming a Canadian citizen. My wife is Canadian. But, sure, I will vote for Obama.”

“I do not like Americans,” he said angrily. “Do you like Americans?”

“Well, yeah, there are some good ones. I’m okay. My father and mother are good.” I don’t know if he was even listening.

“I am Tunisian, but I live in France. I am like you!”

“Yeah, live where you’re happy. That’s what I say. My sister lives in Morocco.”

“No, Morocco is not Tunisia!” he said, sounding annoyed. “And Toronto is not America,” I think.

“In the Arab countries, they do whatever Bush tells them to do. Will you vote for Bush?”

“Non. Absolutement non!” I don’t feel like explaining term limits to him. This reminds me of a Canadian that Claire met at a party a few months back who said she hoped that Bush didn’t get reelected this year.

“Good. I do not like Bush. Americans are too angry,”
said Mr. Angry. “Why do they like war?”

“Well, most Americans don’t like war,” I try to explain. “My family hates war.” I’m trying to make this personal for him, since I’m guessing that “America” is largely an abstraction.

“So, will you become French?” I ask him.

“No, I do not like France,” he says.

“Will you go back to Tunisia?”

“No, I do not like Tunisia either. I will stay here. They listen to Bush in the Arab countries.” This lead into another tirade about America like the last time I ate here. This time, however, I kept suggesting that there is more to America than he thinks.

The conversation went more pleasantly this time, I think. I kept trying to suggest that Americans are different than his perception of us, and he kept complaining about Bush and the Arab leaders. He was also not fond of France. There’s this thing I notice here with immigration and assimilation. It’s not like there’s any overt bigotry; but I get the feeling that it’s just understood that there’s a place for everyone and everyone in their place. In America, they complain more about immigration, but by the second generation, most immigrants are living in the suburbs like everyone else. In France, I’ve met third generation immigrants that are working in the kebab restaurant and living in the cheap apartments with the other immigrants. It’s strange: there’s a sort of “multiculturalism” in which you respect everyone’s culture, provided that they don’t stray from that culture. It makes no sense to me. I like cultural mixing, bastardization, and wild miscegenation: call it Wu-Tang Multiculturalism.

I definitely don’t think that the kebab guy is terribly fond of me. He’s got issues with Americans: even the ones from Ontario. But I also suspect that his macho bluster is tied to being a male in his early 20s and having hit a dead-end in Nantes. What I really think causes our stubborn problems with each other is that we stay away from each other for the most part. We give each other too much space, especially when it comes to other cultures. I don’t think that we have to accept everything about each other: I tried to make it clear to the guy that Americans aren’t at all like he thinks: and conversely, I don’t think we need to challenge each other’s prejudices at all times. Most people’s prejudices are just lazy, not ideological. Most of all, I just think we could stand to buy a kebab from each other every once in a while.

Conclusion: I think he was both: A. Messing with me, and B. Really, really weird.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Values Voters

'No Values Voters' Looking To Support Most Evil Candidate


One of the pharmacies in Nantes. I'll try to get a better picture of the tiles around the door. They're seriously amazing.


"An Archeological Sensation"

In Athens, an ancient racing course, the hippodrome, where the emperor Nero competed for Olympian laurels some 1,600 years ago, was discovered by a research team from Germany.

"This discovery is an archaeological sensation," said Norbert Muller of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

Using geomagnetic and georadar techniques, the archaeologists discovered conspicuous, rectilinear structures stretching almost 1,200 meters. The researchers believe that this could be the racecourse, which ran parallel to the stadium.

"The project could become a new attraction for the sports world, similar to the excavation of the ancient Olympic stadium 50 years ago," Muller said.

[Rufus: I'm not a sports fan, but I think this is cool.]


Your Partner in Teaching Excellence

Ira does a lot of posts at his SpeEd Change Blog about technology issues in education and professors who have no idea how to use computers. I'll admit that I am planning to learn a lot in that area starting when I get home. Sadly, I was not entirely sure what an Ipod actually does until Claire had owned one for about three months!

Here is an assistant professor who has a better grasp of technology than most, sadly: he's an econ instuctor who was busted for surfing porn sites on his computer at work. I'm not sure how you get caught for that, and am just glad that I don't use the internet at all when I'm at work. Actually, I find the idea of a university giving a shit about what their assistant profs look at on their office computers to be a bit chilling...

Anyway, he also sent a number of completely cringe-inducing emails to a fellow prof about his sexy students, and cheerleaders, and used underwear. You can read them here. I've never really understood the appeal of professor/student relationships. Kids just don't do it for me. I need a full-grown woman, preferably a Canadian social worker. But that's just me!

[Update: It's a weird one, eh? The guy is obviously about as horny as a Woody Allen character. However, the article makes it sound like he's in trouble for having sexual fantasies that he shared with a co-worker who clearly was on the same wavelength. It says that he basically lost his job for looking at porn at the office. I can't imagine doing that, but seriously, who gives a shit, provided that he's in his office, alone, and not harassing cowokers, or stroking one off in the faculty lounge? Am I missing something here?]

[Update 2: I should also note that I am writing this having mistakenly imbibed something called the "Amsterdam Maximator" tonight, which has a significantly higher alcohol content (11.6%) than I had expected. So, it's very likely that I am missing a lot in this article! For the record though, I am nowhere near the university right now!]


Is this Cartoon Funny?


(well, I think so anyway.)


Leaving the Cubicle

I'll admit- whenever I hear gender historians talk about the time in which women fought for the right to work outside the home, I always think the same thing: "Yeah, but work sucks..."

Here Sandra Tsing Loh makes the same point in a funny and informative essay. You can see if you agree with her: I'm on the fence about it a bit of it. But, she seems to have made working work, and I'd really like to start agitating and organizing for the end of work altogether.


Kebab, War, and a Coke: Part 1

So, I've mentioned the ongoing cultural exchange that I am having with the kebab place on the same block as my apartment in Nantes. The city is very multicultural and I am living on a street with restaurants from Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, and Africa. This place is the Tunisian restaurant, and I seem to be one of the few non-Arabs to eat there. There are usually a few men eating outside, drinking tea, and chatting amiably though they generally look a bit irritated.

A kebab is not the same thing as a shish kebab. It’s more like a random chance encounter of lettuce, onions, pita, cooked meat, and sauce, arising through the wonders of nature and manifesting itself in a bed of fries and mayonnaise somewhere outside of all piddling human logic and reason. Another way to describe it is that the kebab is about five euro, with fries and a drink, and it tastes okay.

There are a variety of cooks in the restaurant, depending on when you are there. They usually seem a bit annoyed to be serving you. Alas, a five euro meal is hard to come by and I tend not to mind. Last week, I went in and the cook, who was dressed in very traditional Muslim clothes, with a beard not unlike my own, started a conversation with me. Much of this was in French, but I’ll relay it mostly in English. It began, innocently enough, with me ordering the “formule kebab avec une Coca”.

“Ah, you are from America!” he nearly shouted, hearing my accent.

“Well, I live in Toronto. But, I was born in America,” I said.

“You like McCain?!” he asked in a startlingly angry tone of voice. I wasn’t entirely sure what this had to do with my food. Also I suspected that he wasn’t clear on where Toronto is located.

“Well, he’s okay...” I said.

“You will vote for McCain or Obama?!” he asked, still in that weird tone of voice. I'm starting to wonder if I will still get the food if I answer incorrectly.

“Oh, Obama,” I said. “But, in Toronto, we vote for the Canadian parties.”

“You think Obama will win?!” he shouted, ignoring my Canadian civics lesson.

“J’espère,” I said. “I hope so”. I don’t really think so, but why burst the kebab guy’s bubble?

“Obama... he is okay,” he said. To be honest, I got the feeling that he hated McCain and merely disliked Obama strongly. There was a lull in the conversation.

“You like the war?!” he asked, out of nowhere.

“Well… nobody likes war…” I mumbled, not sure exactly which war we were talking about now. Like many people in the western world, I was alright with the war in Afghanistan and am hoping that the war in Iraq ends well, in spite of having my reservations about it. I suspected that he didn’t want to hear all of that though.

“You like Bush?!” he asked. Well this was easy enough.

“Non. Je déteste.”

“I hate Bush,” he said, unsurprisingly. “McCain, he is like Bush. Is Obama like Bush?”

“J’espéré que non,” I said. I hope not.

“America is too much of this!” he said, making the hand sign for shooting a gun. He started into a tirade about Americans. At this point, the general level of anger in his voice, as well as the grim looks on the other people in the restaurant was freaking me out. The mood in the place was exceedingly tense. It’s totally xenophobic, but I was starting to imagine my severed head going in the kebabs. I could hear Charlton Heston: “Kebabs… are… people!!”

“Okay... donc, bon appétit! Et bonjour!” I said, beating a retreat. You don’t really tell the cook to enjoy the food. But, I was in a rush. I later felt very guilty. What a wimp I am! Sylvester Stallone would have beaten the guy to a pulp for insulting Mama America, and then said something wry and tough and to the point, like: “Gimme that kebab! And no tomatoes!”

Of course, I’m guessing that there are also any number of tough guys on the Internet who would swear up and down that they wouldn’t have taken this sort of crap: but, they would be eating at the McDonald’s in Lubbock while saying so. And how many of the tough guys on the Internet would have made a foolhardy return to the friggin’ Al Quaida Kebab to take up this conversation again? Well, I did. But that, my friends, is Part II of this story.


re: Population Failure In Developed Nations

This article from Discovery News discusses the natural species reproductive model wherein safety, security, and ample resources can set a species up for extinction. Not surprisingly, this model is seen in the human animal, as well. Are we just all too well off to bother having kids at all?


Monday, July 14, 2008

The sort of steps that Indiana Jones would explore, from Nantes.


Design Porn

The "Facett" armchair for Ligne Roset. Designers: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.


Nantes Graffiti

Graffiti from a wall in Nantes: a woman holding a sign reading: "La société obtient le vandalisme qu'elle mérite". A good translation would be: Society gets the vandalism that it deserves.

And, indeed, there is a very similar stencil in Belgium that reads: "Society gets the kind of vandalism it deserves". Hmmm.


Soon for Sale at Target

"Twelve-legged fetish couch" by: Rufus F.


That wily Al Gore

Associated Press: Russian scientists are evacuating a research station built on an Arctic ice floe, the North Pole-35 station, where 21 researchers and two dogs live in huts, because global warming has melted the ice to a fraction of its original size, according to a Russian spokesman... or, should I say... Al Gore?!

Nice try, Al Gore!

(Boy, how dumb does he think we are?)


O Sarko Mio! Oh, no, no, no...

(Photo: Sort of a bizarre poster that is pasted all over Marseille right now. To the left is a photo of a scratched-up magazine image of Sarkozy's mouth; to the right is a photo of a magazine recipe page covered with vegetable shavings. What could it possibly mean?)

It's strange to think that, if Barack Obama becomes the next President (which, honestly, I don't see happening), the United States will be the only G8 country with a leader from a left-wing party- godless, socialist Europe has a number of conservatives in office, as does Canada. But, it's not that simple to explain: the other way of looking at it- if you really want your brain to hurt- is that Canada and those European countries all have right-wing parties whose policies are more traditionally left-wing than the left-wing party in the US. Many of us are called "radical, left-wing extremists" in America, while being... well, practially Tories in Canada!

Besides, they're not all staying. In the case of France, the conservative great white hope has been a disappointment to make the welkin ring! I've tried to describe Sarkozy's problems before, and part of it is just the way he talks in public: like he's frustratedly trying to explain his lunch order for the fifth time to an exceedingly stupid McDonald's cashier. It's as if he ran for election against Ségolène Royal and now he's running against everyone else in France! He reminds me of Bush, in that he talks in this way where you imagine him leaving every press conference and sighing to himself: "Jesus, these people are just so stupid!" Nobody else gets it like he does.

The thing is, if you're going to run as a reformer with this implication that nobody else gets it the way you do, then you're sort of obligated to get results when you get elected. He really hasn't gotten the results that he promised and he doesn't seem to understand how conditions have changed in the last year in regards to the French economy. The good news is that globalization is paying dividends all across Europe: the bad news is that Sarko is still talking about having to work more to earn more, just like Americans do. Oh, and the price of pasta has doubled.

To be honest, I don't think that President McCain will be dealing with Sarkozy for very long. The Napoleonic dream dies hard, but die it must. I think the French really do recognize the need for change in their country, but as has always been the case here, there are a lot of entrenched interests that amount to a great big boulder that needs to be moved. Most likely, any elected leader will only be able to roll it a few inches. So far, Sarkozy has been content to yell at it!

I'm no expert on contemporary France. But this article by Arthur Goldhammer is the best thing I've read on Sarkozy and where he went wrong with the French. For anyone who's curious, it is highly recommended reading.


Editorial Note

You probably can't tell from the blog, but I'm in a moderately pissy mood right now. There are a number of reasons for this; however, the only accurate one is that I haven't seen my wife since freakin' January! This, I think, would make anyone pissy. Now, I will be hone in ten days, and that is great; but, honestly, I'm at that point that I used to get to around December 3rd when I was a kid: I've waited long enough and I want Christmas now!! Anyway, I am not posting as many longwinded diatribes here as usual because, well, I figure they would descend into really pissy and longwinded diatribes. Right now, I could probably write an angry/ gloomy rant about lolipops.

Anyway... it's also occurred to me periodically that the name of this blog, "Grad Student Madness", will not always make sense. Either I will finish my dissertation, or I will drop out (I'd say the odds are running about 50/50 right now), and either way, I won't be a grad student anymore. Not to mention the fact that nobody else here is a grad student anymore, although Claire got her Master's fairly recently.

So, I've thought about renaming the thing at some point in the future, which I think you can do without moving it. I have no idea what I'd like to do with it. I've considered just blogging about random and obscure things I enjoy and calling it "Everything That's Good". But that could get pretty tiring too. There sure are a lot of negative sites though- I'd like to avoid becoming part of the Bileosphere, if you know what I mean. So, maybe blogging about everything that's cool would be worthwhile.

Oh, I don't know.


Dutch house cat adopts rejected red panda

I would also add this video to the "ridiculously cute" file.


Scary Monsters, Super Creeps

At some point, movie vampires immigrated from Eastern Europe to Western Europe: the classic vampires were a bit of a stereotype of Eastern Europeans, particularly Romanians, although Dracula of course came from Transylvania, like Vlad the Impaler, who he is patterened after. Since Dracula, vampires have gone international. I've seen Indonesian vampires, Japanese vampires, even Canadian vampires. And, of course, in 1972 Blacula broke the vampire color barrier, an accomplishment that is sadly often overlooked during Black History Month.

Eastern Europeans invented the vampire. But, it's still a bit surprising to hear how far back there were legends of people stepping out of their graves under the pale moon light for a quick snack. Archaeologists have recently uncovered a grave from Mikulovice, east Bohemia, with remains of a person who might have been feared to be a vampire. The body was buried with heavy stones attached to the head and torso to prevent him from getting up and causing trouble after burial. This was done 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, which explains why they didn't go with the stake in the heart- that was really more of an Iron Age technology.


Sunday, July 13, 2008


Bumper stickers sold here.


On and On, Across the Universe

This just burns me up! A newfound starbust galaxy, dubbed "Baby Boom", is producing an astounding 4,000 new stars a year. Meanwhile our good-for-nothing Milky Way produces an average of ten new stars a year. Great, now we have to compete with other galaxies!
In other space news, the Phoenix Mars Lander is operating at near perfection, but is having some trouble with ice forming on it. Living in a colder climate myself, I can say that there's really very little one can do, aside from leaving the engine running.
And the MESSENGER's camera has gotten some amazing pictures of Mercury on its recent trip past. In a related story, Mercury is suing for invasion of privacy.


God of the Week: Apollo

A sky god, Apollo is often associated with the sun, light, prophecy, clarity of form, and music. He is generally represented as a kouros (beardless youth), and associated with medicine and healing, as well as archery. His attributes include the lyre and the bow and arrow. There is an overlap here between beams of light, clarity, and the arc of an arrow in flight. Apollo could be called the god of linearity and flight. There's a reason it was called the Apollo (Spaceflight) Program.

Several philosophical writers have compared the "Apollonian" with the "Dionysian"- clarity versus darkness, order versus drunkenness, etc. A brief list of Apollonian characteristics would include: order, form, clean lines, self-control, appearances, artistic creativity, the highly-developed persona, perfection, individuality, and clearly defined boundaries. Perhaps one way to think of it is to look at how Nietzsche dealt with the Apollonian and Dionysian in the Birth of Tragedy, and then consider how they would relate to Freud's Id and Super-ego. Of course, that might be a bit weird.

According to Homer, Apollo was the son of Zeus and Leto. He was born, along with his twin sister Artemis, on the island of Delos, as Leto was still in flight from the goddess Hera.

Also in Homer: during the Trojan War, Apollo shot plague-poisoned arrows into the Greek encampment and helped Paris to kill Achiles.

He killed the serpent Python who guarded the oracle at Delphoi, and laid claim to the shrine.

He was challenged to a music contest by the satyr Phyrgian, who lost and was flayed alive. A small price to pay for having opened with "Stairway to Heaven".

He loved the youth Hyacinthus, who was killed by the jealous west wind by blowing a discus off course. Apollo had the dying boy transformed into the flower that bears his name.

He also loved the nymph Daphne, who he persued relentlessly, until Gaia saved her by turning her into a laurel tree. This incident is shown here in this staute by Bernini.

Apollo is often associated with the Golden Mean, the Greek ideal of moderation


Ridiculously Cute

A worker cares for a newborn giant panda—one of a set of twins born to 12-year-old Guo Guo, which was moved after the May 12 earthquake.

It was the first panda birth after the 7.9 magnitude quake struck near China's main breeding center at Wolong National Nature Reserve, in hilly western Sichuan Province. Most of the pandas have been moved, some to the reserve at Ya'an, also in Sichuan.

(Rufus: Seriously, just try not to smile at this picture. I dare you.)

-National Geographic News.


French/ Latin of the Day

Here's a French verb and noun pair:
Tondre: To clip, to shear, to mow.
Tondeur: Shears.

This comes to French almost directly from the Latin Tondere, which also means to clip, shear, mow, or fleece (as in ripping off).

Ovid: Boni pastoris est tondere pecus, non deglubere.

The direct translation is something like: "It is of a good shepherd to shear a sheep, not flay it." I think a better translation would be: "A good shepherd shears his sheep; he doesn't flay them."

(By the way, this is the first Latin sentence that I've translated in about five years!)


Saturday, July 12, 2008

War and Piece

"It depends who buys it. Maybe they’ll make postcards of it or put it on the internet or on display in a museum. It hard to tell what the future holds for the emperor’s manhood."
-Writer Tony Perrotteti on Napoleon's penis.

The severed and preserved willy is the subject of much speculation, especially among a few undergraduates each year. The imperial member was removed during Napoleon's autopsy and has since traveled the world. It is currently in New Jersey, which seems appropriate somehow.



"If I had to pinpoint a single thing that makes me admire Lux Interior and Poison Ivy Rorschach (of The Cramps) as much as any living rock band, it's the idea that two ordinary kids could, and did, create an entire self-contained world out of nothing more than music, movies, clothes, working-class history and... love. Big, romantic, lustful, lifelong love for each other and for the things they both adore."
-Garry Mulholland, in an article on The Cramps, my favorite rock band.