Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dr. Strangelove's Foreign Policy Advisor

The gang here at Grad Student Madness are not the only ones talking about what to do when Iran gets the nuke. Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary magazine, recently debated this issue on PBS's NewsHour. The transcript is here.

The conversation begins with Podhoretz stating that America has one choice: bomb Iran or let them get the bomb. He's clearly leaning towards bombing them.

Zakaria says that the third choice is to use deterrence, although that would actually fall under Podhoretz's choices. He points out that deterrence has worked with a number of tyrannical or revolutionary states, including North Korea, Maoist China, and the Soviet Union, so there is no reason to believe it would not work with Iran.

This is a fairly good point and Podhoretz is asked to explain why deterrence wouldn't work with Iran. Instead, he says this, straight from the transcript:

First, I want to say that I think the attitude expressed by Fareed Zakaria represents an irresponsible complacency that I think is comparable to the denial in the early '30s of the intentions of Hitler that led to what Churchill called an unnecessary war involving millions and millions of deaths that might have been averted if the West had acted early enough.

At this point, my jaw dropped. He really pulled out the Hitler argument? Holy fucking shit! This is seriously the sort of ''expert analysis'' that neoconservatives believe should drive US foreign policy? Seriously? This guy is now a foreign policy advisor to Rudy Giuliani, who isn't exactly the picture of mental health himself. Seriously?

The Hitler argument is this: Everyone who neoconservatives want to bomb or invade is Hitler. Everyone who disagrees with that is Neville Chamberlain. And neoconservatives are all Winston Churchill. Oh, and if you disagree with them, you're okay with the Holocaust. Got all that?

After being asked to act like an adult, Podhoretz pulls out the Big Argument about Iran. To wit:

The reason deterrence can't work with Iran is that there's a different element involved here than was involved with either Mao or even Kim Jong Il or Stalin, and that is the element of religious fanaticism.

Does anybody remember when some people on the left would argue that Ronald Reagan couldn't be trusted with his finger on the button because he was a born-again Christian, and thus just fine with Armageddon? Even as a kid that struck me as a lame argument.

But, look, here is what we, the sane people in the Western world, are likely to be asked to believe in the future: Iran has built up one of the strongest states in the Middle East. Their rulers have gotten very rich from oil and the country itself has prospered. They've even come back from the decline after the Revolution. For thirty years, nearly everything they've done in the geopolitical realm has been guided by naked self-interest, just like all states. They have positioned themselves to become a leader in the region, and likely will. Why did they do all of this? So that they could then bomb the United States or Israel and get completely nuked off of the map. Oh, and also get much of the Islamic world bombed off the map. You know, for Allah. Why? Because Islam is like really weird, man!

This argument, that deterrence won't work with Iran because everything they've done since the 70s has been leading up to a massive religious suicide, is quite literally insane. There's no other way to put it. We're asked to believe that, for the first time in human history, a nation exists solely as a large-scale version of Jonestown. That they will, in the near future, attempt to further their religion by getting the majority of its adherents killed. And we're asked to seriously entertain this completely bat-shit argument as the basis for our foreign policy in the region. In fact, it's not inconceivable that this will be our policy in the region.

Consider this- wanting to use nuclear deterrence, instead of wars and bombing, to solve our problems with other countries used to make a person something very specific in American life, namely, a Conservative Republican. Now, in the eyes of huge segments of the conservative populace, it makes you Neville Chamberlain, or worse. Nowadays, thinking like an 80s conservative makes you a far-left radical. By this reasoning, Ronald Reagan wouldn't have been a conservative. Does any of this help to illustrate just how far America has swung to the extreme right?

Or, maybe Norman Podhoretz is just a lone wacko. Let's hope so.

Another Sky.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

And this is our jack-o-lantern from this year

Yes, we are the biggest nurds in our neighborhood.


This was our jack-o-lantern from last year...


Monday, October 29, 2007

The Subtle Comedy of Dismemberment

As if the singing fish wasn't irritating enough... You can now buy the same thing, but with... uh, severed breasts mounted on the wall. Get it? Now you can combine your love for humorless novelty products with your love of serial killers. Well, or your hatred for women, I suppose.

Before your head explodes trying to figure out how that stupid thing is funny, Shakesville has posted more pictures of custom toilets that, hilariously enough, make it appear as if you're actually peeing on headless women. Get it? To even further confuse our understanding of hick comedy, Feministing has pictures of a urinal that allows a man to pretend to be having sex with a headless woman while actually urinating. Because urinating isn't much fun if it doesn't involve rubbing your penis against a cold Plexiglas body where hundreds of complete strangers have also rubbed their penises.

Seriously, though, misogyny aside, aren't these things just kind of creepy? If you saw this in someone's house, wouldn't you sort of wonder who they have in the fridge?

I guess I just have no idea who in the world buys these things. Probably the same people who we see in Hamilton driving around with fake balls hanging off their pickup trucks.


Looking Back on The Day After

Growing up in the 80s, we were constantly threatened with nuclear annihilation. It makes it hard to be frightened of any of today's bugaboos.

Whatever happened to nuclear war?

Weren't we promised one, back when I was a kid? Back then, it seemed like every time you turned on the television set, they were talking about the chances of nuclear war with the Soviets. It was all over television, on the news, the soap operas, even on the sit coms- I remember Silver Spoons having a very special episode on the nuclear threat. We learned about nuclear war in school. Sting had a hit song constantly playing on MTV asking if the Russians loved their children enough to avoid nuking them, or us, or him. To be honest, I'm personally pretty ambivalent about the idea of Sting getting nuked.

But, it never happened. The Soviet Union collapsed when I was in High School and, after having gone through my childhood hearing about the great possibility that we'd be nuked, suddenly the danger had passed. What a total waste of time. Then we went through the early 90s hearing about the great possibility of world peace, now that the threat had passed. Again, I think we got ripped off. Now, we're promised that, if we don't band together and eat all of our carrots, the 'Islamofascists' will topple the West. Oh, please.

In 1983, when I was nine years old, there was a television movie called The Day After that aired on ABC. It was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and starred Jason Robarts and Steve Guttenberg. The movie took place in some small town in Kansas; during the first half we get to know a number of the residents, and during the second half, the town gets nuked and they all die of radiation poisoning. There was, understandably, no laugh track for this show.

The Day After was watched by more people than any other television program in the 80s- something like half of all adults watched it. We watched it too, although I don't remember being particularly frightened by it. Lots of people were scared out of their wits, including Ronald Reagan, thankfully enough. I recently rented it on DVD, and I can see why people were frightened by it. It was a pretty bleak film.

It was also a very controversial film. Republicans complained that the film was biased because it didn't give the pro-nuclear war side of the argument. This is perhaps the stupidest political argument made in the 80s, although the argument that a number of Republicans made that Maya Lin was a ''traitor'' due to her design for the Vietnam Memorial Wall is probably a close second. ABC aired a debate about the movie and nuclear war, in which William F. Buckley argued for the deterrence of Mutually Assured Destruction against Carl Sagan, who wanted to do away with nuclear weapons altogether. Ben Stein wrote an editorial in which he called for the networks to film a miniseries about the United States living under Soviet rule, which they did with the miniseries Amerika.

Nowadays, I don't think any of my students would recognize terms like Mutually Assured Destruction, and I doubt that I could explain the ideas behind them anyway. Thankfully, the idea of nuclear deterrence has become as outdated as the idea of a miniseries. Watching the movie now, I'm amazed at how traditional it feels. The first half looks like it should be starring Jimmy Stewart- It's a Wonderful Half-Life. The camera soars over fields of wheat, the strings are gorgeous, and the people are all loving Americans with trivial problems. The filming style is nearly invisible. Meyer does a good job of involving the audience in the characters' stories.

In the background of all this is a stand off between the United States and the Soviet Union over a fictional Soviet invasion of West Germany. We hear reports on radios and televisions, but the film takes a docudrama approach, so this is always in the background. It's amazing to see the 80s and remember how few public places had monolithic television sets in them. Now, libraries have them, and they always seem to be turned to CNN. If we were nuked now, we'd be sick of hearing about the nuclear war before it even happened. But the characters in The Day After live in that golden era before total information awareness. That is, until the half-way point, in which Kansas gets blown off the map.

The nuclear war looks a bit cheesy today- there's a lot of stock footage and explosions superimposed over photographs. You can watch it here. Incredibly enough, the military wouldn't allow ABC to use any footage of an actual nuclear explosion, so the blast is actually dye injected into a vat of oil, and shot upside down. It actually works fairly well.

The last half of the movie takes place after the bomb, as the survivors struggle to survive in the rubble of nuclear annihilation. Watching it now, I was impressed by how straightforward this section is. There's not a lot of cheap sentimentalism or canned inspirational scenes. Also, it's fairly realistic, all things considered. We can assume that all of the main characters die. Steve Guttenberg looks like shit by the end.

When I went to school the next day (the day after The Day After), several of my classmates were traumatized. Some were crying, others looked shell-shocked; my idiot friends and I thought it was awesome. We had watched a lot of post-apocalyptic action movies like The Road Warrior, so we were expecting that we'd survive the nuclear war and get to fight off mutants with nun-chucks or something. We really went through the 80s yearning for nuclear war and the adventures that would come with it. Someday I'm going to write a novel about this weird childhood.

The Day After is still an effective movie today, although it should be noted that the BBC docudrama Threads- which can be watched in its entirety here- is considerably more harrowing. The movie Testament also came out in 1983, and is similarly terrifying. All of these movies had the effect of making people terrified of nuclear war, including the President. Again, I wasn't afraid, but I lack the apocalyptic imagination.

A decade or so later the Soviet bloc collapsed and the nuclear threat passed with it. Movies like The Day After, Threads, or Testament became 'retro', thank god. Sadly, though, you don't hear a lot of country and western songs about nuclear war these days. People today are afraid of terrorists and the 'Islamic bomb', but what they're afraid of just can't compare to the nuclear holocaust. Somehow, having the largest nation on earth pointing hundreds of nuclear warheads at you, and vice-versa, and the leaders of both sides seeming totally ready to launch them, is a little bit worse than having twenty guys in a cave in Pakistan who want to kill us.

The worst thing we have to worry about now is whether or not Iran has the nuke, although we know damn well they don't, and if they might get the nuke, which we're pretty sure they won't. We're also told that it's actually worse now because the 'Islamicists' want to die, although we were told that the Russians wanted to die too. Excuse my lack of concern. Again, I lack the apocalyptic imagination. The lesson to be learned from The Day After, aside from that nukes are bad, is that worrying about apocalyptic death is a denial of life. It's a waste of time. Life has to be lived in hope for the future, not in fear of it. It's hard to tell just what the paranoid style of American politics actually creates, aside from very effective fiction.

Another Sky.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dumb and Dumber

Okay, we all know that America's public education is lousy. But, really, how dumb are American kids? Mark Morford has heard from his teacher friend that they're ''dumber than dirt''. It's not exactly a wide ranging study he's done here. However, most studies seem to show that students in public schools don't learn such complex and esoteric skills as writing sentences or multiplying numbers anymore. I don't think that really makes any of them dumb. Just short-changed.

I've taught university students from this generation and I'll say that, indeed, a great many of them can't do basic things like form paragraphs or understand short passages that they've read; but that's not the problem really. The problem is that they don't see any problem with the fact that they can't do these things. Who cares if they can write sentences? After all, it's not like they're going to become authors. I have no idea how to convince them that it matters. It's actually terrifying to try. And, from what I've seen, the parents have no more curiosity or concern than the kids.

What is to be done? Marford is convinced that none of this bodes well for the future. Probably not. But, the future is probably not as grim as he suggests in his article. After all, several other countries still offer their kids an excellent education, as do American private schools. So, the complex problems won't go unsolved. Civilization won't collapse.

But, I suppose the question is- if a majority of the future American population can't read at an adult level or understand basic math, logic, or science, should they get to vote?


Eileen Myles

Here's a short video that gives an idea of Eileen Myles's writing style and delivery. This poem is also included in 'Sorry, Tree'.


Holly Elsewhere

You'll note over in the links that Holly has now joined the world of the blogging, with 'IdMarks'. Check it out- she's leaving the nest! And she clearly knows how to make cool banners- I still can't get the hang of that. Anyway, it looks good.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Poetry of Eileen Myles

Eileen Myles is a whirling dervish of contemporary poetry, drawing bits of conversations, startling thoughts, anecdotes, jokes, and everyday occurrences to assemble poems about passion, love, and how we experience the modern world.

One of Xeno's paradoxes goes something like this: You can never reach a destination. Suppose you want to walk to the mailbox. You're fucked, because before you can get there, you have to get halfway there. But, before you can get halfway there, you have to get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, you must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on... So, you're fucked.

It seems to me that Xeno's paradox rests on a difference in how human beings experience time and space. We experience space as discontinuous, divisible, and bounded, and we experience time as a continuous flow, unified, and overlapping. We can measure time, but we cannot separate moments from one another, and our experience of any moment seems to overlap with other previous moments. We cannot stop time, turn back time, or save moments in time, no matter how much we would like to. And the most important fact about how we humans experience time is that we have no experience outside of time and human time is always finite. It's always running out.

It also seems to me that poetry is an art form that takes time as its medium, in much the same way as music does. The poet seems to take moments of speech and thought and invest them with a certain weight and meaning, hoping to make them resonate and endure. While we are constantly encountering speech that intends to be understood instantly, and in a sort of banal way, poets intend their resonances to sink in slowly and deliberately. Like LSD, poetry has to be absorbed and given a bit of time to take effect. I think it has to be heard aloud.

Clearly, I'm no expert. These are all the observations of a novice; I'm still trying to figure out this dang-nabbed poetry thing. Part of my motivation in writing these Another Sky articles is self-education: it's an excuse to learn about all sorts of things that are outside of my area of specialization. Poetry is very new to me. I'm familiar with many of the 18th and 19th century poets, as well as the beats; but fairly new to contemporary poetry. As a novice, I still find everything I hear impressive, even though I know that's naive. You know that poem about the place in France where the naked ladies dance? I think it's brilliant.

Okay, so I'm not that clueless. However, when Charlie Huisken says that Eileen Myles's book of poetry 'Sorry, Tree' is in his top ten list for this year, I have to defer to his superior knowledge. It's certainly one of the best books of poetry that I've ever read. But, what do I know! Charlie lives, breathes, sells, and thinks literature. Take his word for it.

Eileen Myles's poetry is composed from brief moments assembled and invested with meaning. Bits of conversation, half-completed thoughts, anecdotes, and fictions placed beside one another to play off each other like improvisational musicians. Listening to her reading at This 'Aint the Rosedale Library on Saturday night, I felt like I was watching a clever magic trick. How does she do that? How does she create these poems that are so honest and forthright, yet still so imaginative? I feel like the things I write are generally either affected or boring, with nothing in between. Myles is a whirling dervish of striking ideas, observations, beguiling glimpses of life lived, and collected moments. She's from New England, and as my New England side of the family would say, she's wicked smaht.

Many of her poems go by in short bursts, like popping firecrackers. They're just a few brief thoughts, but thoughts of high quality that provoke many more thoughts. Many are autobiographical poems, dealing with being in love, being in America, being gay, being human, and often about being reminded of being human. Some are casually hilarious, but then twist and reveal some startling insight. One of my favorite pieces in the book is 'Everyday Barf', a prose piece about a public boat ride in which several passengers are vomiting at once. But, it's also about the fear of death and the way that Bob Dylan composed his songs. Myles often replicates the way that disparate thoughts lead into one another without clear design. Everyday Barf reads a bit like Molly Bloom's nighttime thoughts.

When she read at This 'Aint the Rosedale Library, Myles was quick-speaking. Sometimes poets will draw out certain words, and some seem to telegraph which words are supposed to anchor in the listener's mind. Myles reads like someone who grew up in Boston and lived for years in NYC. She's lightning-quick and impatient, and she added on to many of the poems as new thoughts occurred to her. You got the sense that she writes poems to organize her constantly ongoing mental activity. At one point, she realized that he had left a page of a prose piece at the house where she was staying. A friend ran back to retrieve the page, while Myles explained that the entire story built to the missing crescendo, but worried that, once retrieved, it wouldn't live up to her description of it. Within minutes, the errant page was returned, and the climax of the story was far better, more moving, and exhilarating than she had described it.

It was clear that she had her fans at the show. BUST Magazine described her as a 'rock star of poetry' and that was obvious on Saturday night. Maybe more of a punk rocker. Since she first read at CBGB's in 1974, Myles has steadily found her place as a poet. She seems best suited to this generation, which is more exuberant and outrageous than the more doctrinaire and dour seventies. I wasn't surprised to see that she traveled on the Sister Spit Tour, or that she's just read with Lynnee Breedlove, who was the first author that I thought of when we saw her read.

Eileen Myles inspires a lot of younger poets, particularly lesbians. There are some people who are naturally seen as inspiring, and I'm not always sure why. But I think it has something to do with this: there are so many things that you get social approval for doing: buying a house, working in business, making a lot of money, getting married to somebody that your parents like- all of that is easy to do. And then there are things that receive a sort of low-level social opprobrium: being gay, or old, or weak, or mentally-ill, or ugly, or foreign, or poor, or just different. People who are inspiring seem to live above all of that- they have an inner assurance in who they are in defiance of whatever society mandates. Eileen Myles is a proud, loud, and confident poet, dyke, and woman, and I think she's inspiring because her life is a big Fuck You to the idea that she shouldn't be.

Again, what do I know! I'm a 33-year old white guy who lives in the suburbs (sort of) with my loving wife and cat. But, Eileen Myles's writing speaks to me anyway. As someone who grew up listening to punk music, what I admire most about her work is its honesty. All of the art that I enjoy is united by a certain purity of vision- I don't like half-measures and cop outs. Besides, the thing about social oppobrium is that it seems to ever increase- the haters always find something and someone else that they don't care for. Give it time- we'll all be outsiders.

And art ever increases, constantly seeks to purify and save moments, to polish them to a bright shine, and hold them up for re-examining. Eileen Myles has more energy than most of us do; she's done at least twenty books, and has more on the way. When Claire and I drove her to the airport the next day, she talked quite a bit about wanting to make movies. Certainly, this too is a medium that could use more honesty and purity of vision. I'm looking forward to seeing what she shoots.

And she inspired us too; as soon as we got home from driving her to the airport, Claire and I both got to writing. Eileen Myles is the sort of writer who makes the rest of us want to write.

Another Sky.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Medical Update

So, remember how I said that Canada's health care is cheaper, but that you have to wait longer to get an appointment here?

Well, it turns out that I can't get a dermatologist appointment in upstate NY until Dec. 28, with almost every dermatologist being completely booked until February. Meanwhile, I got an appointment with an Ontario dermatologist next Wednesday. On the other hand, it's actually more expensive in Canada because I have no health card or insurance here.

But, I can take the financial lumps- did I mention that I'm currently in serious pain? So, please Canadian doctor, take my money and heal me.


Melting Arctic Sea Ice

Andrew Sullivan posted this video with the note that it is NASA footage of last year in the Arctic. I have no idea if it is. But it's fairly close to the video on CBS News recently. And that is indeed what's happening at the Northern part of Canada. You can see the passages opening up that Canada is fighting with everyone over. It's pretty fascinating to me, although if it's real, it's totally depressing.


This 'Aint the Rosedale Website

Hey! One of the best bookstores in Ontario just got its own website
This 'Aint the Rosedale Library.
Maybe I shouldn't just call it a bookstore; what's great about This 'Aint the Rosedale Library is that it's sort of a bookstore/art gallery/meeting place/community center. Drop in for a browse the next time you're in Toronto.



I've said it before, but this time I think the site looks how I want it to... The picture's still pretty stretchy, but I like it for this picture. It made Betty Page look like a mutant.

I'll add more to it in the future, but this should be the basic foundation.

I think the way this will work in the future is that, if you wish to read all the shorter, more bloggy stuff, come here. But, if you wish to skip the general blogginess- blog here being a contraction of Blah and Fog- go there and follow the links.

Now, how in the world do I get people to read the thing without resorting to the various and sundry forms of cyber-annoyance that we all hate?

Another Sky.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Theatrical Reality of Luigi Pirandello

Luigi Pirandello lost his wife to madness. Then he
created some of the most significant and hilarious works of modernist theatre
ridiculing the idea of sanity and reality itself.

In 1919, playwright and novelist Luigi Pirandello had his increasingly violent and unstable wife Antonietta committed to an asylum. In many cases, it could be debated whether knowing such a sad and salacious fact about the life of an artist really adds anything to how we appreciate their work. One might argue that overemphasis on biography has actually hindered rather than helped us in understanding art and how it is created. And yet, in the case of Pirandello, understanding that his wife went insane is critical, not only because he was seemingly haunted by this tragedy for years; but also because Pirandello's best work seem designed to mount an assault on the sane world, and even on the idea that a sane world really exists.

Pirandello was born in 1867 to an upper class family in southern Sicily. His father had fought for Garibaldi and both parents were strong supporters of the Risorgimento. When he was an adolescent, the family moved to Palermo, where Pirandello completed high school. The young man wrote prolifically, fell in love with his cousin (a marriage was planned and called off), became distant from his father and close to his mother, and gained ties with the socialist organization known as the Fasci Siciliani. In 1887, he began university studies in Rome, eventually switching to Bonn after a disagreement with a professor. In Rome, he was introduced to the failings of the Risorgimento generation, and in Bonn, he became well-read in the Romantics. He earned his doctorate in historical linguistics and returned to Rome, where he married the shy Antonietta Portulano, and began writing his celebrated novellas and novels.

The early novels and novellas are interesting in regards to the later work because here Pirandello's strength as a satirist of social life begins to show itself. However, in my humble opinion, they're also more akin to melodrama, that form of emotional surrealism in which everyone feels everything intensely, acutely, and profoundly. In spite of the fact that they are considered classics of Italian literature, for most of us who don't specialize in Pirandello, there is little need to read them.

In 1903, Pirandello's father lost a fortune when the sulphur mines at Aragonia, in which he had invested, flooded. Antonietta's dowry was lost, the family was financially ruined, and Antonietta suffered the first nervous breakdown of many to come. Luigi worked to save the family, teaching languages, and publishing his first success Il Fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Mattia Pascal). As Pirandello's fame as a writer increased, his wife Antonietta became increasingly suspicious, insecure, violent, and obsessive- a situation Pirandello would partially fictionalize in his novel Suo Marito (Her Husband) (1911). Incredibly, Pirandello wrote The Late Mattia Pascal while working all day and caring for his mentally ill wife at night.

Her Husband is well worth reading, as are later novels, such as I Vecchi e i Giovani (The Old and the Young) (1913), however, in my opinion, Pirandello's best work is found in his plays. Pirandello's work serves as an enjoyable introduction to modernism because, unlike T.S. Eliot for example, his writing is funny. There are sections of the plays that cause the audience to laugh out loud. Joyce is also very funny, hysterical even, but Pirandello is more easily accessible. He reminds me of Woody Allen, in that Pirandello is that rare dramatist who can use slightly surreal comedy to illustrate significant existential dilemmas.

Pirandello's first play, 1917's Così è (se vi pare) (Right you are (if you think you are) , is a farce in which the members of a provincial Italian town, led by its gossipy women, try to sniff out the true identities of two newcomers, an executive secretary and his mother-in-law, whose stories contradict each other. All efforts end in vain though, much to the amusement of the obnoxious character Laudisi. Not only does Pirandello suggest in the play that individuals are ultimately unknowable to one another; he suggests that they should retain some inscrutable core of self-hood, unknowable to even themselves.

Because this core is unknowable, individuals create their own realities. Jacques Barzun links Pirandello to those artists whose theme is ''the ambiguity of all experience'', particularly the symbolists, and argues that Pirandello stressed, ''the ambiguity at the bottom of self and behavior.'' Pirandello's Enrico IV (Henry IV) (1922) features a character who has supposedly gone mad and convinced himself that he is a medieval emperor, forcing his loved ones to play along with his delusion. However, we begin to realize that, by forcing so many people to go along with this ridiculous pretense, he has altered reality- who we are is actually who others take us to be. And we all do this, playing a role and trying to get approval from others, whether we are mad or sane. In fact, Pirandello suggests that the two are the same.

In a sense, Pirandello also undermines theatre itself by turning the mirror on the audience and, impolitely, informing them that they too are playing a role. In his most famous play, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author) from 1921, Pirandello literalizes the idea of characters playing their own particular roles at odds with the world around them. In the play, rehearsals for another Pirandello play are interrupted by the arrival of six characters who have been created and abandoned, and who now want the chance to tell their own stories. The play riffs on the contrast between real life and theatre, but it also shows the similarity between the two; we all go through life playing our roles as we understand them and seeking to get those around us to accept our narrative. Social life is theatre. However, there is a disconnect between all of us in that we all create our own realities to some extent. Pirandello here prefigures later thinkers such as Erving Goffmann, who are more often related to so-called ''postmodernity''.

The most extreme failure to sell one's conception of reality to others is madness. And Pirandello's best work argues that madness and sanity are determined by popular consensus. King Henry is judged insane in spite of the fact that his particular narrative of reality is accepted by everyone around him. Pirandello's work therefore flies in the face of his decision to have his wife committed. If we agree with the argument that he makes in his plays, there is no such thing as biological mental illness, and therefore the only difference between Antonietta and the rest of us is that our reality narrative is accepted, although only ever partially, by those around us.

There is something truly heartbreaking about this. Pirandello lost his wife to madness and then created some of the great theatrical works of modernity, which make the argument that the mad are no different than the rest of us, and that reality is always individual. His wife lost touch with reality and so Pirandello undermined the concept of reality and sanity itself.


I think I have achieved illustration. At least, it works on Claire's computer, which is not attached to my files. So, I think it's reading the picture from the site.



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Heartbreak of Psoriasis

Patches of dead skin pile up like multiple-car
collisions, bleeding sores stain the sheets, mounds of white flakes fill the
house. It's the ''heartbreak of psoriasis''.
In the Church of the Subgenius, the original sin is fretting. This is a good idea. Not only does fretting make it impossible to ''slack off'' as the Church commands; but fretting, or more accurately worrying, is extremely bad for one's health. Ask anyone who's ever survived an aneurysm- and there aren't that many of them- and they'll tell you that worrying can even kill you.

My wife and I both have stress-related conditions. Hers is chronic, life-long, and can be debilitating. Mine is chronic, life-long, and basically just annoying. But, in both cases, a genetic component existed within us like a serpent's egg, and was ''triggered'' by an extremely stressful situation. I should note that her condition is a hell of a lot worse than mine, and leave it at that.

My condition is actually fairly ridiculous; I have psoriasis, which means that large sections of my body accumulate patches of dry, dead skin. If rubbed too hard, they also bleed quite a bit. Our sheets look like they belonged to a regular IV drug user, with specks of blood up and down my side of the bed. As one might expect, this can be extremely painful, although more often than not, it just itches and annoys.

I developed psoriasis about a year ago, as I began my PhD ''reading year''; as anyone can tell you who has done it, the reading year is both a godsend and a burden: it's wonderful to be told to go read hundreds of the greatest books ever written, and terrifying to know that the year ends with the last and toughest exam you will ever take. The stress of this was probably what triggered the psoriasis, which first developed behind my ear. As it resembles dry skin, for some time I just put on moisturizer and forgot it.

The patches began to appear on the insides of my leg, close enough to my groin to convince me that this was a medical emergency! I met with a doctor who prescribed a gel to clear up the patches. Psoriasis is not actually excessively-dry skin; it's a proliferation of skin. Most normal skin cells take about 28 days to develop, age, die, and fall off. It happens constantly, which is why most of the dust in your house is dead skin. With psoriasis, the skin in affected areas goes through its average life-cycle in about three days. Dead skin builds up in patches like a multiple-car pile up. These hard, dry patches, called scales, are what irritates the surrounding skin, itch, annoy, and if removed, tend to leave bleeding patches.

If this sounds disgusting, it is. Even worse, psoriasis is a life-long condition with no real cure. Certain medications can get rid of it, but never fully. No medication works for every person with psoriasis, and in some cases, it can get bad enough to put the person on disability. In a touching letter to his wife, Vladimir Nabokov wrote of his own psoriasis, "You know—now I can tell you frankly—the indescribable torments I endured in February, before these treatments, drove me to the border of suicide—a border I was not authorised to cross because I had you in my luggage." Other famous sufferers include the decidedly-strange company of: Jerry ''the Beaver'' Mathers, Tom Robins, Kenneth Starr, Jean-Paul Marat, Art Garfunkel, John Updike and Josef Stalin! Supposedly, director Eli Roth also suffers from psoriasis, which makes his movie Cabin Fever, about a flesh-eating virus, much more interesting to me.

There are nearly as many cures and pseudo-cures as sufferers. Let it be known that you suffer from psoriasis and you will be offered any number of folk remedies. For the record, I've gotten no relief from tar soap, milk, or oils, and I don't eat too many peppers. In fact, the gel that I mentioned before was also not a cure. It made the psoriasis go away only until I stopped applying the gel; afterwards, the patches came roaring back.

The next medication I tried was a four-hundred and thirty dollar gel called Tazorac. The psoriasis scales had, by now, covered my legs, back, arms, and scalp. This is extremely strong stuff. In fact, it burned into my skin, leaving ugly, extremely-painful red sores everywhere. I could barely walk for a week. After urinating without sufficiently washing my hands, all of the skin peeled off my genitals. According to the instructions, this could be a side effect in 0-30 percent of users. Lucky me.

Currently, the psoriasis is in full bloom. I've been referred to a dermatologist, although the earliest appointment I've been able to get is in two and a half months from now; apparently, those Botox appointments can add up. This backlog negates the advantage of being in the American health-care system, which is that it is supposed to be quicker.

As an American/ Canadian couple, Claire and I can judge the merits of the different health care systems better than most people. I will say, in the first place, that Michael Moore does a lousy job of showing how frustrated many Canucks are with their own system. I've heard plenty of complaints from Canadians about Sicko, which apparently makes Canada look like a promised land in which sexy, diligent nurse/angels flit about administering care to grateful citizens; the sicko's paradise. It's not that exactly. And we lock our doors here, too.

The best way of comparing the two systems is to say that you pay out the nose in the US and you wait for months in Canada. The claim that you have ''less choice'' in a socialized medical system is not true at all. I have to find the doctors who will take my insurance. Claire can go to any doctor she wants, and there are just as many, if not more, of them here. They just don't drive Rolls Royces here.

And I should point out that Canadian wait times are judged according to need. Our friend Brendon, who has leukemia, has not had to wait for any health care, and has actually had his own room in ICU with dedicated nurses. More importantly, he hasn't had to pay for this. Nobody has to wait to get a broken arm fixed here either, and they don't have to pay. The flip side of all of this is that, when Claire was having chronic migraines and needed an MRI as a precaution, she had to wait months to get an appointment. Sure, she wasn't in an emergency situation, but for her American-born and raised husband, the wait was like something from the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the real advantage to the American health care system is that it spurs innovation. Doctors and scientists don't get rich in Canada like they do in the US, and this may well explain why so many innovations are developed in the states. In the US, they even cure illnesses that don't exist! The profit motive seems to corrupt the insurers, certainly, but it may well fuel the healers.

Ideally, what would be best would be a sort of dual-system, which is where Canada's going anyway. Something like what there is in education, with public services and private services existing side by side. I think this would take care of the main problem in the US- that so many people, like my father, have to surrender the bulk of their income for insurance- as well as the major problem in Canada- having to wait. It would mean higher taxes though, which will terrify most Americans. But, having compared Claire's income with the taxes to mine, with lower taxes but insurance deductions, I don't actually see a difference.

What it comes down to is a common philosophy about what we should do for each other in modern societies. What tasks should be open to the forces of the free market? What responsibility does the state have to its people, and vice-versa? Michael Moore doesn't seem to consider how the American system is actually beneficial. And, as of right now, the Canadian and American health care systems reflect the underlying philosophies of their people fairly well, actually.

Another Sky


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Return of Betty Davis

They call her different because she's a piece of
sugarcane. But could 70s funk queen Betty Davis be due for a major revival after
nearly 30 years?
A great record store is an institution of higher musical learning. Forget about it as a place to shop, a sort of supermarket of music. The point in going to a good record store is to wander around and discover strange new sounds through the aged wisdom of the staff, or via pure serendipity.

Many people are put off by the average record store clerk, an occasionally surly member of the species Fanatic and genus Musicanus who can be spotted in tee-shirts that are too small and old, hair that needs to be cut, and a permanent stoop from bending over to go through milk crates of old vinyl at yard sales. The Fanatic Musicanus can be cutting, even cruel about the selections of us lower forms of music aficionados, grumbling while ringing up our 50 Cent CDs and mocking us as soon as we leave the store. Hell hath no fury like a record store employee unimpressed.

But get on their good side, and Fanatic Musicanus is your best friend. There is something about record stores that cannot be replicated online or in big chain stores; namely, they allow you to glom off the expert knowledge of the record store employees. The Mall stores employ idiot teenagers, and even the 'Amazon recommends' selections can't match what a good record store clerk can do- pointing you in the direction of some piece of music that you would never have found otherwise that will change your life. To win the trust of the Fanatic Musicanus, claim to be looking for the Pretty Things. Most record store clerks absolutely love the Pretty Things. Then, after winning his trust, ask the clerk if they have any other 'cool stuff' in. A whole new world will open to you...

Two separate music stores have pointed me in the direction of Miss Betty Davis recently, and I'm glad they did. I first heard her while looking through the rack of Sly and the Family Stone CDs in the local cheap-o record shack. Her voice is very difficult to describe- imagine a bit raunchier and a lot louder version of Macy Gray, but with the record store clerks listening to her first CD, she was impossible to ignore. Her voice cuts the air like the prow of a ship. It demands attention.

Eventually, I had to ask the clerks just who this was that they were listening to. If you approach the Fanatic Musicanus slowly and with the appropriate amount of curiosity and deference, they will gladly talk your ear off. This is Betty Davis, man. Isn't she incredible? Absolutely. I tried to figure out where I'd heard the name before.

Like other record store rats, I've seen her albums before; the afro is damn near unmistakable. But I'd never thought to pick one up. I can only take funk in small doses; at its worst it reminds me too much of pimps and discos. The really brilliant stuff- Sly Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, etc.- can be overshadowed by the cheesier outreaches of funk. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example are both popular and completely terrible.

I'd read her name in Miles Davis' autobiography. Betty was Miles' first wife; that's her image on the cover of Filles de Kilimanjaro. Miles credited her with having him introduced him to the music of her friends Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. The influence is obvious on Bitches Brew- it's not stretching the truth to suggest that Betty Davis was one of the creators of jazz fusion. I don't know if I'd agree that she could get a tattoo reading ''THIS ASS INVENTED FUSION'', but I wouldn't argue with her if she did.

Betty Mabry was born in 1945 in Durham, North Carolina, and grew up on her Grandfather's farm. Her song ''They say I'm Different'' recalls the years that she woke up to slop the hogs and spent the evenings listening to her grandparents' blues records. When she was sixteen, Betty went to New York to study design. Here she sold a song she'd penned entitled ''Uptown (to Harlem'' to the Chambers Brothers, best known for the song ''Time has come today'', and did quite a bit of modelling.

Music was her first love however. In 1968, Betty got out of modelling and married Miles Davis at age 23. They were divorced the following year; Miles claimed that Betty was too wild for him, and by all accounts, he was possessive. Rumors that she maintained an affair with Jimi Hendrix aren't true, but she was friends with various psych and soul musicians, as we've noted.

She returned to modeling, posing in London and New York, and got her own musical career back on track. She put together a great group of musicians for her early demos and then first album, including Gregg Errico and Larry Graham from the Family Stone and the Pointer Sisters, and recorded Betty Davis for Motown Records in 1973. The album is a blast of blues and funk with Davis' over-the-top vocals front and center. It includes my favorite Davis song, the blistering ''Steppin' in Her I. Miller Shoes''. The debut is explosive and luridly sexual. It rocks the speakers like a caged tiger.

However, for her second album, ''They Say I'm Different'' from 1974, Davis produces and modifies her vocals slightly, making it a bit more accessible. Nevertheless, the albums were not commercial successes, and Betty's frank sexuality led to protests from religious groups and refusal by record stations to play her songs. By all accounts, her stage show was just as wild, with Davis in lingerie and her musicians playing sans shirts.

Nasty Gal came out on Island Records in 1975. Betty recorded material for at least two more records. The fourth album, to be called Crashin' from Passion, was recorded in Bogalusa, Lousiana. This album was almost released on Philly International Records, but it has since been lost. According to all involved, it was her best work. Guitarist Carlos Morales: ''It would have been hit material if it had been released. We knew when we heard it.'' The music has never been released.

Rather confusingly, Betty recorded a fifth album, also entitled Crashin' from Passion, which was released in bootleg versions in the 1990s. At this point, she left the music industry entirely and moved to Pittsburgh, leaving a brief musical legacy and a mystery for record collectors. She also broke contact with several friends, and a number of rumors circulated, including that she had O.D.ed. Davis never used drugs though, and was clearly scared by Hendrix's death. She wrote: ''Jimi Hendrix was a good friend of mine and I knew what had happened to him. I mean the business I'm in killed one of my friends... The rock era is dead now.''

Her records went out of print in the 1970s, but their legacy lived on in samples and admiration. This year, Light in the Attic Records released her first two albums on CD for their first official release ever in this medium. The packages are just beautiful, with extremely detailed 32-page booklets and digipak technology. They should find their way onto many College Radio play-lists and university parties. And, as I've found, they are very popular with the Fanatic Musicanus.

Is the time right for a Betty Davis revival? The remastered albums sound gorgeous, and also completely ahead of their time. A loud, funky, sexual, and overpowering female vocalist in the mid-70s who wrote all of her own songs? It's hard not to think that she would have been a superstar if she had made it to the 80s. And it's quite possible that Betty Davis could use this new burst of attention to return to a career in the music business. In her first interview in 30 years, Betty expressed interest in writing songs for contemporary singers. She'd be a perfect fit with Lil' Kim.

The best outcome though could just be in bringing Betty Davis the financial rewards that she has deserved for so long. It's incredible to hear reports that she was living in the poorer sections of Pittsburgh very recently. These albums are amazing- they're mean, raw, sexy, funny, and catchy-as-hell. I've been singing ''Game is My Middle Name'' to the cat all week. If they bring Betty Davis back to the attention of music fans, it would be all for the better. The music scene needs her, now more than ever.



''At the same time, I find it tough to keep at bay the online inclinations that in many ways I find corrosive to the type of writing I do — the desire to increase traffic, to post relentlessly, to write shorter and snappier, to obsessively check stats, to plug into the often tedious and ill-thought “debates” that will increase traffic but that too often fall far short of actually thinking about anything. I've met amazing like minds online, and participated in some stellar debates, but frankly that was years ago. Today things seem to be growing rather claustrophobic and increasingly cybernetic.''
-Erik Davis, explaining exactly why I'm trying to de-blog this blog.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

A million monkeys at a million keyboards...

Ten Zen Monkeys has had ten professional writers consider the big question-

Is the internet good for writers and writing?

They recieved a variety of responses: pro, anti, and in-between. It does sound like the net's been bad in terms of the pay-scale for professional writers. Also, I'd say the net is overall sort of good for writers and bad for writing. The Internet is sort of like cable-access television for me; it's strangely compelling, often really lousy, and I'd say the overall quality is just not up there with the so-called mainstream media. But, every now and again, you find something that's so bizarre, or twisted, or just plain fascinating, that you can't look away.

In general though, I'd say that we're not going to get great writing or writers out of this infernal machine. The Internet has made me much more appreciative of what editors do. And there's just way too much 'content' out there, with so much of it somehow still lacking in content. Every generation has a handful of great writers and artists, but I have no idea how we will find them in either the cyber-wilderness or the all-swallowing Media Borg.


And the Order of the Phoenix was really more of a gay bar...

Uh-oh! The enchanted shit is about to hit the magical fan: J.K. Rowling says that Harry Potter character Dumbledore is gay! Rowling has already gotten death threats in the US for encouraging children to use their imaginations outside of Sunday school, but this could really set off people who are both really into wizards and enchanted worlds and virulently homophobic, although I can't actually imagine who those people could be.


Formatting the new site.

Okay, so I'm teaching myself HTML... Now, I want to know if this layout works well. That is, does it look like a journal, or should the sections have their own Horizontal columns instead of Vertical ones as they do now? Do you see what I mean? Here is an example of Horizontal columns. Which one looks more like a journal, is easier to read, etc.?


Possible Titles for the New Site

Okay, so the first thing to do in making this projected superblog is pick out a title. That way, I can reserve a space on Blogger, and a title gives direction to a journal. Here are a few possibilities

Angry Pedant- This was Greg's idea, and I thought it was funny, so I reserved the name on Blogger. The advantage of it is that it's fairly easy to remember and actually rather endearing. It's also fairly easy to get people to visit a site called 'Angry Pedant', if only for the curiosity factor. And it is funny, although I think Angry Horny Pedant would be even funnier.

The disadvantange would be that I'm looking to spend less time writing about things that anger me and more time writing about things that I like, or just things that I'm curious about. I like a good rant as much as anybody, but between all of the 'fugly' sites and all of the 'watch' sites, there seems to be enough snark on the Internet to last a century. So, it could amount to false advertising.

There is Another Sky- Aside from the fact that I adore the Emily Dickinson poem from which this title comes, I like this one because it's ambiguous and a bit mysterious. It also gets at what I'm going for, which is to find new thrills and weird ideas, instead of just pointing out ad nauseum what's wrong with corporate academia and endless wars.

The real disadvantage here is that this title is pretty bland. I could see it being a store at the Mall, or a new age diet manual. I definitely think it's less intriguing than Greg's title, but probably fits what I'm thinking of more.

So, any suggestions?


Friday, October 19, 2007

Page Dicks

Who will gossip about the gossip columnists? Oh, wait, I will!

A number of people are offended by some idiotic comments made by the New York Post's Page Six writers in this piece. The writers here respond to criticisms from Vanessa Grigoriadis, whoever that is, by... well, threatening to gang-bang her.

Will media-people ever get over their love-affair with laddishness? It seems impossible to escape dude-speak and dude-thought anymore. It's totally unprofessional and it's psychological retroversion. I mean, it's understandable that young teenage boys will act like this- they're loaded with testosterone, and separating themselves from their parents; it's a part of individuation. However, when adult males act like 17-year-old versions of themselves, there's something wrong with them: the appropriate response is to cringe. But, for some misandrist reason, our culture treats regression as some innate aspect of masculinity. Well, and femininity too for that matter.

Anyway, the celebrity in question had been ridiculed for her "smug hipness". They offer this parenthetical explanation for that: (The couple attended the Burning Man festival, and he designs sets for photographer David LaChapelle.) In case you didn't know, as I didn't, anyone who either designs sets for David LaChapelle or goes to Burning Man is, ergo, a smug poseur. So, shut-up and get back on the couch, Dude!

Grigoridias angered Page Six by writing this in a cover story for New York Magazine about Gawker- the dark graveyard of the soul, online:

"With Gawker, there is now little need for the usual gossip players like... The New York Post's 'Page Six,' emasculated by the Murdoch hierarchy after the Jared Paul Stern Scandal."
The use of "emasculated" is kind of obnoxious in itself. Looking to prove their masculinity, Page Six responded with this gem:
Grigoriadis ignores that fact that half the Page Six staff is female. The male half might take her someplace private and disprove her theory, but we don't like a woman with a mustache.
Dude, we'd totally rape that bitch, but she's way too ugly, bro. High five!

Cute. And it had the opposite result from what they intended: I'm now convinced that they're dickless little boys. Now, seriously, where is the Grown-ups' Table?

Update: Or, perhaps it's possible the writers are women, and they're trying to say, "well, sure, the men might rape her, but we women don't like women with mustaches"? It's not even a clear sentence really.

And, if it was written by women, I think that proves my point that laddish Dude-speak is becoming ubiquitous in American culture.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Dream the Impossible Dream...

Walter Shapiro says that Hillary Clinton could still tank. Oh, god, let's hope so!

I know several Democrats who say that they would vote for her. And none of them sound the least bit excited about it. They say it in this resigned voice, as if they were saying, "Well, I guess I have to go get that prostate exam..." It's like a slow-motion train-wreck, Hillary vs. Guiliani. I have this recurring nightmare in which I have to choose between Dr. Strangelove and Nurse Ratched next election.


Library Adventures

It seems to me that McMaster University, here in Hamilton, has too many students. I quite enjoyed studying there this summer, when their library was nearly empty. Now that the semester is in session, it looks like a train station on Thanksgiving weekend. The entire lobby was crammed with students today, talking on cell phones, hanging out, and surfing the net on their laptops. The stairwells were crowded with more kids on cell phones, and every floor was packed, with many kids sitting on the floor, typing away at their laptops. I found a space upstairs, and it was actually possible to read there for a few hours. However, this meant shushing students every twenty minutes or so. But it was tolerable because there were more studiers there than loiterers. I was in the Quiet Reading Asian Student section apparently.

Then, around 5:00 or so the balance shifted. Now, it was just me and two other diligent studiers. And the place was still packed. Two girls were sitting in the stacks talking mindlessly, and three more girls were talking mindlessly in the "study area". They were shushed and brought down their volume to a whisper. But new waves of aimless slackers arrived every fifteen minutes, like they were storming the beaches at Normandy, and had to be introduced in turn to the concept of reading in a library. Many of the stacks weren't even accessible because they had students sleeping in them. No shit.

What's most bizarre to me is when I ask other students to be quiet so that I can read and they quiet down, but nevertheless look at me as if there's something embarrassing about what I'm doing, as if I had said, "excuse me, could you please be quiet so that I can masturbate?" It's strange to be in a library and feel out of place in wanting to read a book. And yet, I have the same problem in the Hamilton Public Libraries, where it's simply understood one takes their children to run around and scream because day care is too expensive.

The thing is that all of McMaster University is this way; too crowded and impersonal. And my University is the same way; in fact, our Dean wants to add another 5,000 students to fit our "new model". There's nothing remotely academic about all of this, of course, but that seems to be beside the point. As it is, Mall University seems to be something like the Disneyland version of academia with bored tourists shuffling from one drinking binge to another. The Shopping Generation slouches bored towards the ATM.

But, is it possible that these people will eventually push the rest of us out of the libraries, just like they've done with the malls and cinemas? Is there nowhere you can go to escape the suburbanization of the soul?


The Shock Doctrine

The Shock Doctrine is a short film, and maybe also a book? about how effective crisis and disaster are, as tools to wrangle an agenda. They make people compliant. I find myself wondering, after watching this film (5-6 minutes long)... where does the line lay, between pragmatism and cynicism? Where's the divider between efficacious and sinister? It's easy enough to suggest that we're being manipulated to the ends of The Powers That Be, and that's almost certainly true, but is it actually worse to be manipulated through psychological machinations, than to be manipulated through brute force? Is it somehow worse to be mindfucked, than to be obliged to comply with the business end of violence?

I realize that's probably a heresy against liberal-ness, but what can I say, I've always had a wide libertarian streak, and I'm alarmingly pragmatic sometimes.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

News for the Bullshit-Conscious Voter

Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters


Hello Dalai

President Bush met with the Dalai Lama recently- the first time a US President has ever done so. He's also awarding the Dalai Lama the Congressional Medal of Honor. China is acting pissed and stomping their feet, which they also did when the leaders of Germany and Australia met with the Dalai Lama; but the meeting probably won't have any long-term effects. I think people tend to forget that China is still a developing nation- their economy is still decades behind the US and they will continue to need US friendship into the future. So, let them bluster. Bush was right to meet with the Dalai Lama.

And, god, I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!


Today's French

Farfelu: adj. Harebrained, cockeyed, bizarre.

Deux jeunes dames et un jeune homme un peu farfelu...


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nouveau Cho Show

Admittedly, a lot of Margaret Cho's comedy strikes me as consisting of her saying something bluntly obscene and then repeating it over and over in increasingly exaggerated voices; but in her new show- The Sensuous Woman - she combines her comedy with burlesque dancing, and like chocolate and penut butter, I'm interested in seeing how well the two blend.



It's still not as good as making real friends in the real world, but Shelfari allows you to make fake/online friends who have read the same books as you. I suppose it also allows you to connect to real friends in the fake/online world. Then you can discuss your books, hear their opinions, and so forth. It's a bit like Facebook for literates.


Adjunct Hell

Why do so many universities take incredibly bright people, hire them as adjuncts, and then treat them worse than temps? Especially since doing so shortchanges the students who pay the bills? Articulate Dad would like some answers.


Halloween Early

We can expect Claire to leave me after seeing that picture to the right showing what she has to look forward to!

Anyway, the St. Andrews Face Transformer uses a pretty cool Java application that uses photos of your face to make you look like an Anime character, an ape, or even an older man, as shown.

I guess I should pack my bags.


Less is More

There's good news from Iraq, where the level of violence really has been dropping in recent months.

And there's good news on the biological front- cancer deaths have been dropping as well.

Are violence and cancer related? Well, maybe by a sort of poetic logic.


Green is the Color of Islam

A Photoseries of Morocco by my sister.


Today's French

Jupon: Petticoat.

Elle reproche à
Flaubert de vivre dans les jupons de sa mère.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Papa Needs a Brand New Bag

Can you get wanderlust in regards to a blog?

I'm thinking about retooling this thing in a big way. I'd like to put together a site that looks more like a journal and less like a blog. Something with headlines that link to posts instead of stand-alone posts that people have to choose to read or ignore. I'd like to post actual portfolios of photos and art in their own spots and divide out posts by topic. All of these things can be done in a crude sort of way here; but this blog is aesthetically unpleasing.

I also think I might drop the academic blog schtick. With a few obvious exceptions, academic blogs tend to combine the tedium of academic writing with the narcissism of blog writing. Besides, as an academic blog, this thing is a flop. Academics very rarely leave comments here, or link to this thing, or even visit, as far as I can tell; I'm the ugly kid at the party. And the party is seemingly a number of unhappy people mingling around the bar and grousing about how much they hate adjuncting and how lazy their students are. I think it's probably time to try something new.

Lately, I've been fascinated with the idea of culture as life-affirming or death-affirming. I think ideally I'd like to create a site that is life-affirming and mind-expanding. I don't really think my frequent bitching contributes much to the world. Also- with present company excluded-I tend to feel dumber after I read most websites, and I'd like to put together something that has the opposite effect.

Anyone know how?


Nuit Blanche Mural


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bureau of Workplace Interruptions

One of our favorite exhibits currently at the Albright Knox Gallery, the Bureau of Workplace Interruptions offers to contact you for free at your office or place of work, and inject a bit of randomness to break the semi-somnambulant state of mindless office work. Like all great art projects, they hope to ''create surprise, the kind that slices through the banal and opens up new places for your mind to wander. The ruptures we create are temporary spaces for open dialogue, invisible resistance, and general amusement.'' Thank them for interrupting.


Everyone's a Critic...

Entartete Kunst is in the eye of the beholder apparently; a group of Nazis recently invaded the Kulturen Gallery in Lund, Sweden and smashed up a number of Andres Serrano photographs with pickaxes. The group left leaflets claiming to be "against decadence and for a healthier culture," and filmed their performance for a video on YouTube, the ideal medium for videos of idiots smashing things. The video was scored to thundering death metal, pretty much negating that thing they wrote about being for a healthier culture.

Anyway, yes, it's horrible that axe-wielding thugs are traipsing around, smashing up art. But, it's not exactly a terrible turn of events. For one thing, they destroyed prints, which can be easily recreated. Not to mention the fact that they revived Serrano's standing as a ''controversial'' artist, which was starting to lag. And, frankly, aside from their shock value, the photos really are pretty lousy. Serrano has done some beautiful work, but he tends too often towards the kitschy and provocative. This particular exhibit- shown here- has some nice portraits, in an Abercrombie and Fitch sort of way; but it also features a good amount of both utter kitsch and ''shock art'', mostly intended to excite and provoke people, which leads me to wonder if the Nazis' reaction doesn't amount to a sort of rave review.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

God Lives In The Limbic System


In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence—a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is—or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language—terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.

Full article in Scientific is here


Friday, October 12, 2007

Required Viewing: Scorpio Rising

About the title- just as there are certain books that one must read in order to be a cultivated person, there are certain films that most university students are told they absolutely have to watch while in university, usually by the dorm mate who follows this with, ''and you've got to watch it high.'' I'm not going to list all of the must-see-while-in-college-while-high films- let's assume the list would include The Wizard of Oz with the Dark Side of the Moon, The Big Lebowski, The Dark Crystal, The Matrix, and... well, you get the idea. Instead, I want to discuss movies that should necessarily be a part of everyone's mental furniture. Or, at least, everyone who reads this blog. I'll leave it to you to decide what condition you want to be in when you watch them.

Scorpio Rising is a musical invocation of the Thanatos and Eros of motorcycle culture. Director Kenneth Anger has made a number of path breaking short films, which are blessedly now available on DVD, but Scorpio Rising is the most accessible of his masterworks. I'd also recommend Lucifer Rising and Invocation of the Pleasure Dome.

Many of Anger's films recall occult rituals and Scorpio Rising is structured as a four-part motorcycle ritual. The first part features young men repairing and polishing their steely, glistening machines. The second part is a pop-overdose of motor-icons such as Marlon Brando and James Dean and actual drug abuse. The third section features a boozy, lurid, out-of-control biker bacchanal in a church at midnight. The fourth section is the actual bike rally and a biker's death. All of this is intercut with images from biker films, lil' Abner, Nazi rallies, death masks, and a Jesus epic and scored with a constant 60s pop soundtrack. In fact, Martin Scorcese has credited Scorpio Rising with teaching him how to use music in a film.

Like all good ''underground'' films, Scorpio Rising is radical, if a bit unfocused. The film's cheeky homoeroticism is startling when you remember that it was shot in 1964. Scorpio is the sign of the zodiac that rules machinery as well as the genitals. It's also one of the most compulsively watcheable films I've seen from that era- it would hold the attention of all but the most MTV-damaged contemporary viewers. And it's more than a bit disturbing- the surreal rush of images and sounds reels by like something from the subconscious and it's never entirely clear what the ritual in the film might evoke.

All of this verbiage might be completely bewildering. The thing about Scorpio Rising, and all of the required viewing films is that they must be seen because they can't really be described.


Well, Claire and I enjoyed it...

Apparently, some Radiohead fans are incensed that that pay-what-you-want download is 160 kbps MP3s: this is a very low compression rate for most music fans who believe that it doesn't sound as good, especially on a stereo.

I've listened to the album and the fans are both right and wrong. They're right that it doesn't sound as good: it's got a bit of a hollow sound and would be more noticeable on a stereo. They're wrong in being upset though; Radiohead is presumably not stupid enough to give out their album for free and giving people a chance to hear the whole thing for free before it sells in stores is a fair deal. Besides, most listeners aren't going to notice the difference when they listen to this album on their IPod, and one assumes that the average radio-fed listener will be perfectly happy with the free version. And, a few of us old farts might still argue that, if sound quality is your overwhelming concern, you'd be better off not buying any digital media in the first place.

All that aside, Radiohead probably could have made the compression rate clear before downloading began.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

University of St. Obvious

Surprise! The University of St. Thomas has received widespread criticism for their decision not to allow the dastardly Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak there, and has now decided that he is welcome to come. In other totally predictable news, the sun rose in the east today and later set in the west.


Radiohead- Apply Directly to Forehead

Recently, the band Radiohead decided to release their new album ''In Rainbows'' as a pay-what-you-can download. The music industry is divided as to whether or not this is a good idea. But, since this generation of music fans downloads all their music anyway, it seems like common sense. I think Radiohead will clean up because they have a lot of die hard fans. I definitely don't know how records will survive as an art form if the public stops paying for them- have you ever tried to book a recording studio? It's not cheap. Maybe we'll just never have another ''Rubber Sole'' or ''Pet Sounds''. Of course, if the record labels would start selling $8 CDs, they'd probably stop losing so much money.

Anyway, Radiohead also allowed its fans to buy a rather large box set version of the album for about ₤40. Claire was one of those fans and maybe she'll post her thoughts on the album here...


Teenage Mother (1967) trailer

I would imagine that teenage pregnancy actually means more than nine months of trouble. But this trailer illustrates why there aren't more jobs for voice-over artists from Staten Island! The movie itself looks more than a little bit tacky, but it is the most important film you will ever see, so why complain? Teenage Mutha!


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Penderecki - Capriccio per oboe e orchestra

I like Penderecki, in spite of the fact that half of his music scares the hell out of me!


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

And now, an Anti-Drug Public Service Ad...

I've got a sort of morbid fascination with anti-drug ads. They don't really have very many of them in Canada, although the anti-smoking warnings on their cigarette packages are brilliant. So, I haven't seen any in a while. Interestingly, they don't run very many ads for medications here either. I guess Canadians are therefore more likely to take drugs and less likely to take Viagara.

Anyway, here's one from the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. I like how it combines a flat, affectless tone with a dash of melodrama. It's also slightly off-topic, in the style of pothead discourse itself. Is it warning us to lock up the Bleach? Who leaves Bleach out anyway? How stupid are the parents in this scenario? And wouldn't the average stoned teen be tickled at the idea of having a tea party with a child, particularly if they could eat Cheetos and ding-dongs while doing so? Do you ever suspect that the people who design these ads know fully well that they won't keep anyone off drugs, but have to produce something, anything, to fill their contract with the government?


More Lousy Halloween Costumes

In the vein of lousy Halloween costumes, I present the Fork Costume- live out your life-long dreams of being a fork. And since apparently all Halloween costumes for women are some variation on hooker (i.e.- hooker/witch, hooker/waitress, hooker/scientist, hooker/fork...), Radar has discovered a company selling a ''Sexy'' anorexia-themed costume. Because, you know, Halloween costumes should at least make someone at the Halloween Party start crying.


Persona Non Tutu

Perhaps the oldest and stalest argument in the Museum of Empty Rhetoric is the one that goes, ''Don't get me wrong, I strongly support free speech; but there need to be limits to it! People shouldn't be able to say just anything!'' The University of St. Thomas has decided that this applies doubly to the Bishop Desmond Tutu, whose decades of human rights work have now been erased, in their minds, by his having offended someone or other with some recent comments about Israel.

Those comments- “People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God‘s world. For goodness sake, this is God‘s world. We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust.” I'm guessing nobody else was offended by the claim that this is God's world. And his thinking could have been a lot less shallow and wishy-washy there. And, yes, the 'Jewish lobby' canard is getting annoying- apparently, every other group can lobby for themselves and their interests in the political sphere, except Israel. But that's enough to make the Bishop Desmond Tutu Persona Non Grata?

I think the problem isn't so much the professional booers who raise hell about every errant comment anyone makes; I think it's the administrators who dutifully shit their pants every time they get an angry phone call or petition. And, in this case, I'm willing to bet cash money that their cowardice will bring more opprobrium their way than letting the man speak would have.


Monday, October 08, 2007

It was the best of times

It was the worst of times. It was the late 70s to mid 80s. Remember what kinds of Halloween costumes were around back then? this page will remind you. I'm pretty skeptical of the Asteroids one. For the most part, these remind me of the Homestar Runner Halloween cartoons.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Carry me Back to Old Virginny

We're visiting suburban Virginia this weekend for a friend's wedding in DC. A few inconsequential thoughts:

1. Every time we come back here, we are reminded of what it's like to go to sleep to the din of crickets,

2. The housing market is in serious trouble here. This is one of the richest parts of the country, and yet there are a startling number of foreclosures. I never really understood how the housing market affects everything else, but our friends' grocery store is losing a lot of money too, which makes sense: when you're trying to hold on to your house, you buy groceries at the cheapo places,

3. I've never seen "wretched excess" like they have here- behemoth houses on tiny lots with four or five SUVs parked in front. One of which has a vanity licence plate reading "SHOPPR".

4. I hate going to malls, and yet, I am perfectly happy spending time with Claire in a mall. It's hard to believe.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Holy Cow

I think I was a lot funnier before grad school.

While cleaning out my files and notebooks tonight, I found literally hundreds of dumb jokes. I used to do this a lot. Before I was prolific at blogging, and taking notes on academic topics, and reading too many books, I used to write dumb jokes and... well, read too many books.

The problem has always been that I am one of those people who has no idea what's funny. As my friend Mike once described me, ''The thing about Rufus is that some of his jokes are totally hysterical, and some of them are not funny at all, and he absolutely cannot tell the difference.'' So, keeping that in mind, here's something that seemed funny to me four years ago...


So, I decided that I wanted to adopt a cow. You know, I figured it would be one of those things like sponsoring a child. I could make monthly cow payments and my cow would get to wander around and live in peace and, if it didn’t work out, I could just eat him. Actually, it would have the advantage over sponsoring a child right there. What I was hoping was that I’d make my payments and they would send me pictures of my cow, you know crewing grass or lounging, perhaps in some tasteful bathing wear. Then I could carry the photos in my wallet and show them to people and say, “This is a picture of my cow. And this wallet is my cow’s father.”

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m an activist or anything. My parents taught me to never have any strong opinions about anything. Well, once my father did go on a hunger strike to protest the Metric System, but we were never the sort of family who had debates about the news or anything. I’m not real worried about animal rights. I just wanted a cow. Besides, I was drunk.

So, anyway I looked into it and there are lots of places that let you sponsor a cow, but most of them are cattle ranches. So, you get to sponsor the cow for a year and then they kill it and send you the meat. Somehow, carrying ground chuck in my wallet seems to defeat the purpose, you know. There are dairy farms that let you sponsor a cow, but I started imagining my cow with some pervert hooking her tits up to a metal sucker with a picture of me taped to it, so that she learns to hate me. I really don’t need that in my life right now.

Finally, I found They let the cows roam around and do whatever they want and they pretty much leave them alone. The only problem was that they’re Hare Krsnas and I don’t want my cow brought up in any religion. I want the cow to figure it out for herself. Because honestly, I assume that’s what cows are doing all day when they’re chewing their cud and what not- mulling over the nature of God and debating Kierkegaard and what-not. I like the idea that they’re agnostics mostly. I can’t stand the idea of my cow being shunned by a bunch of bigoted, dogmatic cows for her beliefs.

“Now look Lu-Lu, we already decided at the Holy Cow Synod that there is nothing beyond this field of grass. Why must you question cow teachings?”

“Because I swear to you, there is such a thing as a ski chalet. There is.”

“The Elder Order of cows says there are no ski chalets. Now repent and do 100 Holy Clarabelles.”

My family was actually Catholics you know. We’re pretty easy to identify. We’re the ones who carry around a replica of the murder weapon that killed our savior as a fashion accessory. I just know that if Christ comes back that’s going to be a big faux pas, too. Probably nobody’ll say anything except that one loudmouth that has to pipe up.

“Hey Boss! Remember this? Man, but how could you forget, huh?”

I guess we’re lucky though. At least, He wasn’t hanged. We’d all be wearing nooses around our necks. Knowing my luck, I’d strangle myself trying to get off the subway car. Become the first martyr of bad fashion sense.

Actually, I eventually I became an athiest, mostly because the services are much shorter. You know, we get together at Denny's once a week, shrug our shoulders, and order breakfast.

And honestly I didn't want my cow to be brainwashed by some religious group and end up playing a tambourine at the airport or something. But, I figured, my cow would be strongwilled. So, I gave in and joined the group. For a few months it was okay, but when they sent the picture of my cow, she had that look in her eyes- you know, like she was some blissed-out cult member singing chanty songs and taking herbal enemas or something. Or a cow. So, I went and confronted the Krsnas. I'd been practicing being assertive at home with the toaster, so I was ready for it. I stormed in to the camp.

"Look! I want to see my cow!" I yelled.

They looked up my name in their files. "Ah yes", the krsna said, "Your cow is Sri Kesava. Yes, she's doing quite well."

"WHAT?!" I thundered, "Sri Kesava! Oh no! My cow's not named Sri Kesava! My cow is named Harpo- Harpo the cow!"

"Well, your cow has now received Krsna consciousness and taken on a new name..."

"KRSNA CONSCIOUSNESS?! That's it! I'm taking my cow and going home!"

"You're taking the cow in a Pontiac Sun Bird?" he laughed. "Oh, no. Sri Kesava won't be safe out there in the world."

So I got really mad at him. "Look here! Do you know who Eddie Cremopolis is? I say, do you know who Eddie Cromopolis is?! Well, he's only THE leading cow custody lawyer in America! Do you know how quickly he could have you doing time on the rock, you lotus eating freak?!"

So, I took her with me to a cow depreogrammer and then she came home and lived with me. I soon realized that this wasn't going to work, because I have an efficiency apartment and she wanted to roam around outside. It was bad for me too because she never did any of the housework and the neighbors kept complaining about the noise. I told them that my Fisher-Price See-N-Say was broken, but I could tell they were getting suspicious. It was nice living with my cow, and I had plenty of fertilizer for my chrysanthemums, but I could tell from her diary entries that she wanted to go home.

So, the two of us had a house meeting and after long deliberations, decided that we would sneak her back into the Krsna camp. I disguised myself in a tablecloth and her in an extremely large diashiki and crept back into the camp. We got away with it, although I was repremanded for making a reference to "that Krishna mutha" and she was repremanded for taking a crap during the morning meditations.

I still miss her and I can't eat a Big Mac without getting choked up. But, she's back with her own kind now and perhaps that's for the best.