March 31, 2006

Today's D:

"Professor develops machine to melt ice"

The article (and the machine) is actually not as ridiculous as the headline.

Same to you, Antonin

I've been waiting to post about this until a picture turned up, and now one has.



Scalia was, for some reason, questioned in the back of a church (or just outside the church, perhaps) about what he'd like to say to his critics, and he made a hand motion reported as being the obscene gesture signifying "fuck you." Scalia later denied that this was the hand gesture he made, saying he made some other "Sicilian" gesture which was merely meant to convey his derision, disdain, and indifference.

Now, however, the photographer came forward with the picture and a story that, prior to making the gesture, Scalia also said, "Vaffanculo," a term which is entirely unambiguous.

I never realized Scalia's hands were so big. That's creepy.

(via Atrios)

March 29, 2006

Lovely Rita, Meter Maid

Tracking Silvio Berlusconi's ridiculous acts is one of my favorite pastimes, so I thought I'd share the latest:

Silvio Berlusconi humps traffic cop

March 28, 2006

Quick link

Haven't much to say about this, but I did want to point it out. It is approximately what I would write if I had the time.

Intellectuals, America, and Their Mutual Responsibilities.

Intellectuals and the Flag: yet another book that should be on my reading list.

O, and make sure you read the comments, especially the first and the responses to that.

March 27, 2006

Housekeeping

So I'm actually going to be on campus and doing real work for once and most of my energy is going to be poured into the DFP, so updates will probably be much more scarce than they have been the past two terms. Please continue to check in; I'll try to post frequently enough to make it interesting.

March 25, 2006

Democracy doesn't belong to the West

So Amartya Sen argues in this WSJ opinion piece. This essay is just another point of proof that Sen is one of the world's most vital and clear-headed thinkers today.

Sen starts off by talking about the common tendency to link economic performance to stereotypical aspects of culture. Examining the side-by-side cases of Ghana and South Korea, Sen shows how numerous factors independent of cultural 'attributes' affected the development of both countries and concludes, "This is not to suggest that cultural factors are irrelevant to the process of development, but they do not work in isolation from social, political and economic influences. Nor are they immutable."

Sen turns this argument next to political determinism—the idea that some cultures are inherently more susceptible to dictatorship or others to democracy.
When it is asked whether Western countries can "impose" democracy on the non-Western world, even the language reflects a confusion centering on the idea of "imposition," since it implies a proprietary belief that democracy "belongs" to the West, taking it to be a quintessentially "Western" idea which has originated and flourished exclusively in the West. This is a thoroughly misleading way of understanding the history and the contemporary prospects of democracy.
Sen apparently has a book coming out soon. I still need to read Development as Freedom, but the new one—Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny—will probably go on the list as well.

March 24, 2006

"Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston"

In honor of the birth of Sean Preston Spears-Federline, a statue has been commissioned depicting Britney naked on a bear skin rug.

Oh yeah, and giving birth too.

The statue is supposed to be a tribute of sorts to the pro-life movement and to birth in general.
A nude Britney Spears on a bearskin rug while giving birth to her firstborn marks a ‘first’ for Pro-Life. Pop-star Britney Spears is the “ideal” model for Pro-Life and the subject of a dedication at Capla Kesting Fine Art in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg gallery district, in what is proclaimed the first Pro-Life monument to birth, in April.

Dedication of the life-sized statue celebrates the recent birth of Spears’ baby boy, Sean, and applauds her decision of placing family before career. “A superstar at Britney’s young age having a child is rare in today’s celebrity culture. This dedication honors Britney for the rarity of her choice and bravery of her decision,” said gallery co-director, Lincoln Capla. The dedication includes materials provided by Manhattan Right To Life Committee.

“Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston,” believed Pro-Life’s first monument to the ‘act of giving birth,’ is purportedly an idealized depiction of Britney in delivery. Natural aspects of Spears’ pregnancy, like lactiferous breasts and protruding naval, compliment a posterior view that depicts widened hips for birthing and reveals the crowning of baby Sean’s head.

The monument also acknowledges the pop-diva’s pin-up past by showing Spears seductively posed on all fours atop a bearskin rug with back arched, pelvis thrust upward, as she clutches the bear’s ears with ‘water-retentive’ hands.

...Capla Kesting denies the statue was developed from a rumored bootleg Britney Spears birth video. The artist admits to using references that include the wax figure of a pole-dancing Britney at Las Vegas’ Madame Tussauds and ‘Britney wigs’ characterizing various hairstyles of the pop-princess from a Los Angeles hairstylist. And according to gallery co-director, David Kesting, the artist studied a bearskin rug from Canada “to convey the commemoration of the traditional bearskin rug baby picture.”

...“Monument to Pro-Life” is on view April 7th thru 23rd with a reception for the dedication April 7th from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Capla Kesting Fine Art, 121 Roebling St., Brooklyn, NY. Gallery hours are 1:00 – 6:00 pm Thursday thru Sunday, or by appointment. The gallery can be reached at www.caplakesting.com or by phone at 646-932-5687.
After hearing about the statue, Pope Benedict reportedly remarked, "You know, I've been thinking about replacing the Pieta. Hmmmm..."

(via Metafilter)

Mega-Lacan

A great Photoshop Phriday from Something Awful: Pretentious Video Games

Including: Contra Hegel: Destroy the Dialectic; Brothers Karamazov: Earned in Blood; Metal Gear Sigmund 3: Cigar Eater; and Mario DesKartes: Rationalism Raceway.

"Global Warmings"

President Will Ferrell George Bush addresses the nation on global warming.

It wasn't just Chef

Michael Gove of Times UK argues that South Park has backed off from their Scientology episode not just because of Isaac Hayes or Tom Cruise, but because of certain other recent events.
The whole climate in which religion is discussed has chilled notably in the past few months. After the Danish cartoon controversy, the momentum is with those people who use their particular, narrow faith to silence other voices. If you doubt that’s so, just ask why no British newspaper felt that it could reproduce those cartoons. And reflect on why the British and American governments had to apologise for the offence caused. What were governments doing saying sorry for the independent actions of free citizens? Bending before a very ill wind.
Then he talks about Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's shirt and collar for awhile, though I really don't understand why. But his point about South Park and religious discourse is both very sobering and not exactly correct. I somehow doubt Parker and Stone are bowing to an "ill wind" now when they never seem to have before. But that doesn't mean that others are standing up with them, and a lack of support at the corporate level is probably what led to the re-airing of the episode being cancelled.

Despite what we may think about how secular our society is, religion is trumps in nearly all matters, and the lack of it or hostility toward it marks you like no other category, as a recent study (reported on here by Kevin Drum) shows. Atheists are simply the most distrusted minority in America. Or perhaps, more accurately but no less distressingly, atheists are the minority for whom Americans feel the least compunction about expressing their distrust and prejudice.

Yeah, and let's see what religion is doing today. Oh, and how about American Christianity's stance on torture? Jesus, save us from our faith.

March 23, 2006

For one thing, the raisin bran is a bit chewy

Slate asks, Is Whole Foods Wholesome? Well, not just because it says it is.

I actually just went to my first Whole Foods Megasuperstore while I was in Austin. The national headquarters is there, I think, and boy, was it an experience. I must say the pasta I got in the to-go section ended up being very good, but on the way out I got a bit of a shock.

Going down to the parking garage is a sloped, not stepped, escalator that allows you to bring your cart right down with you. The "cool" part is that the wheels are magnetized so that the carts do not become giant battering rams to all the people in front of it. There is, after all, nothing worse than a shopping cart full of overpriced foodstuffs hurtling at your ass. Anyway, my friends and I were remarking about this and the guy behind us told me that the wheels cost $50 each. But the savings on those puppies is passed directly onto the small farmer, I'm sure.

$50 each. You could probably buy, oh, three watermelons with that.

March 22, 2006

Former Dartmouth President James Freedman Has Died

Professor Samwick has a short but moving tribute.

Mansfield Park

Just wanted to direct your attention to this wonderful skewering of Harvey Mansfield's book Manliness, which I have talked about before.

Mansfield, I presume, would applaud this bristling, take-no-prisoners review as an example of the manliness he believes the men of our society lack.

Bottom line: it appears that Mansfield's analysis is about as deep as the Woody Allen quote, "Thought: Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage."

Ars Gratia Artis

William Safire apparently gave the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy recently, which WaPo covered. Here is a fiery response in Hit and Run to the content of Safire's lecture but also to the WaPo article.

Reductively, Safire said that great art (the classics) should be made available to mainstream audiences because art is instrumentally good for people. WaPo finds it interesting that a liberal group, Americans for the Arts, should embrace this view after decades of promoting art as an esoteric experience meant for Whitney Biennial goers and not too many others (a questionable assertion, I feel) and that is good intrinsically, for its own sake, and not because it may help your brain more fully develop, as Safire claims. Philip Kennicott, the WaPo writer, goes on to say that looking at art instrumentally, as Safire does and as many liberals are beginning to do, fails to see that much of America hates art (a claim not backed up at all) and vitiates any effort to confront these philistines with their barbarian yokelism. As if that were the best thing art can do.

To me, taking this confrontational view of art is the same as holding the view that we must inoculate our kids because children scream when they see the needle. Not only that, but holding an intrinsic view of art makes as much sense as believing that vegetables are to be eaten because of their innate worth, regardless of whether they actually are healthy or not. Vegetables for vegetables' sake seems a thoroughly ridiculous proposition, doesn't it?

Why are people afraid of looking at art as mental calisthenics? What most people think of as the greatest achievements of visual art (the works of the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation) were created for mostly instrumental reasons—either for spiritual calisthenics, one might say, or as propaganda for a patron—and if they were confrontational, it was in a way that drew one closer to the work rather than making one recoil from it. Music likewise long depended for its greatness on its utility in "bringing one closer to God" or something rather than on the inherent beauty of tonal combinations, or now, I suppose, in the inherent shock of atonality.

When we look at our great art, we often forget its provenance, forget that most of it was created to do something other than sing the praises of Art or shock the bourgeoisie, and that the Muses were not narcissists and they weren't above being widely pleasing. Great art may be both narcissistic and widely disliked, but it is not so constitutionally. In fact, the greatest art is often both narcissistic and selfless, intractably challenging to all and immensely pleasurable to most. Anna Karenina or Augie March or Leaves of Grass or William Wordsworth are all accessibly challenging and universally private. It is rather depressing that many "arts advocates" cannot see this.

Edit: Then, there is Matthew Barney, the creator of the Cremaster series and now this—Drawing Restraint 9, a film that combines Shinto customs, Japanese whaling ships, Bjork, and a whole lotta vaseline. Wow.

March 21, 2006

American Theocracy

Here are two NYT reviews of Kevin Phillips's new book, American Theocracy (by Michiko Kakutani and Alan Brinkley, respectively).

Reading these reviews, one thing troubles me. Phillips makes a three-pronged at current conservative politics—it has placed religious extremism, petro-politics, and debt at or very near the foundation of the party's energy and power. These are fairly facile criticisms, which led me to think that perhaps Phillips dazzles us all at the end and ties them together, showing how they depend on one another for their importance or at least how they relate one to another, likely showing how "theocracy" factors into all three. However, no mention of such a conclusion is made, and I doubt it is in deference to the reader's suspense.

I'm not sure one can tie these three elements together, a fact which is perplexing me. Important elements in large ideologies do not need to cohere perfectly, but the success of an ideology depends greatly on people's ability to relate different aspects or manifestations of that ideology to one another more or less simplistically.

I cannot link Christ, oil, and debt to one another in any convincing way that doesn't depend on superficial relations, such as Christ and oil sharing the Middle East. Exxon's profit margin does not, I think, explain why many Red Staters think that abortions should be criminalized. Debt, furthermore, seems to be awfully incongruous with both the Protestant Ethic and the oilman's head for business.

Perhaps I am wrong and all three fit together very nicely. I can't see it, though, and the radical incongruities I see make me wonder what the hell is really going on.

More: TPMCafe is having a week-long book club discussion of Phillips's book. The best discussion so far is, I think, this: "Are we a Christian nation? Will we be at the end of the 21st Century?"

They speak English in What?

I kind of think that quoting that entire dialogue from Pulp Fiction would be reason enough for a post (its pretty much been running through my head since Samuel L. Jackson repeated it in an episode of The Boondocks) but actually, I'm here to discuss "Snakes on a Plane."
I saw the trailer, which I highly recommend watching, and kind of just kept muttering, "what," at least until my head moved onto "Say what again. SAY WHAT AGAIN. I dare you, I double dare you, motherfucker. Say what one more goddamn time."
But anyway, no more digressions (you see, I'm recovering from this terrible fever and am prone to rambling and well, this a digression too, isn't it?) Also, how is he not losing any respect for making movies like this? How?
The Trailer



SXSW Recap

I made it back from Texas last night, but was too tired to do any sort of post. And now, I feel sort of awkward doing a personal post, so I just would like to say,

Ignore the suit and the hair for a second; this guy, Marty Stuart, gave one of the best performances I saw all week. Late Saturday night, I went to a Hootenanny at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church, mostly to see Billy Bragg, but showed up early and caught Marty's show. The man is a guitar god. Other especially good shows: What Made Milwaukee Famous, The Hidden Cameras, Of Montreal, Jose Gonzalez, Nada Surf, and John Vanderslice. Then, there's The Ark, Sweden's answer (and a better one, too) to The Darkness. Quotable quotes from lead singer Ola Salo (they're better if you read them in a Swedish voice): "It was going to rain [we were in an outside venue], but THE ARK SAVED YOU!" and "Jepson sings a note so low, it makes the little hairs on your scrotum and the little hairs on your outer vagina grow to infinite lengths. Sing it Jepson!"

Reading Stereogum or Gorilla vs. Bear, however, makes me realize how many excellent shows I missed because I wasn't cool enough to know about them (or get invited to them), but, it seems, my friends were, as they showed up in one of Stereogum's pictures.

Mat Brown and Pam Cortland (the couple on the right), you win.

So what are thelittlegreenblog alumni up to nowadays?



Well aside from working for the MTA, two of have started a new blog.

March 14, 2006

Clooney Blogs

Everybody and their mother is blogging this very short George Clooney piece on Huffington Post, and especially this line:
In 2003, a lot of us were saying, where is the link between Saddam and bin Laden? What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? We knew it was bullshit. Which is why it drives me crazy to hear all these Democrats saying, "We were misled." It makes me want to shout, "Fuck you, you weren't misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic."
One can, I suppose, make the argument that it wouldn't have mattered anyway whether Dems opposed the war vehemently or no—the neocons wanted it and they weren't going to have any two ways about it. And I'm not sure, "I told you so" is a much better political position than, "you lied to us!" Both are marks of ineptitude.

I think Clooney and others who pound on about this idea that what the Democratic Party needs is simply more backbone—one could practically call it the Russ Feingold school of liberalism—are misdirected.

I've spent the past three and a half months or so in Indiana, and I've talked a fair amount of politics with friends and adults who are mostly moderate or conservative. The thing that these people fault in the Democratic leadership is not their lack of spirit or fight or even coherence, but that they can't get anything done. This may seem like the same thing, but you really don't need to be feisty to be successful; you don't have to be a maverick to get results.

American politics has only rarely had a place for valiant but futile opposition, and those times have mainly been instances of demagoguery and were shortlived. America does not care about combative losers.

Housekeeping: I will be gone for the next week in Austin, TX for the South by Southwest Music and Film Festival(s). For Dartmouth students, I hope you will have as good a break as I will.

Update: Clooney claims that this post was not of his doing. Huffington claims he ok'd it but didn't write it. Clooney's publicist replied, "George Clooney does not make statements. He answers questions."

March 13, 2006

"Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me"

More on Dr. Wafa Sultan:

I was pointed to this (likely emended) transcript by a friend.

I think Sultan is saying what many people believe but fail to say, either because of worries about accusations of Islamophobia or because of worries about radical Islam itself. She is saying that Islam is in an enormous crisis, and to not point this out will have serious consequences.

Slavoj Zizek also emphasizes this in a brief essay that is more generally about religion: he says we cannot let our respect for another culture prevent us from demanding the observance of basic human rights. Violations of other human beings are not cultural values, but cultural obscenities, and a philosophy that does not distinguish between the two is itself obscene.

Back to Sultan, though: she emphasizes that this is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations, but a clash of eras, of the 21st century and the Middle Ages (I'm not too sure about that last—if we were really dealing with the Medieval Islam of al-Farabi, al-Ghazali, Avicenna, and Averroes, we'd be getting along swimmingly, but I understand what she means).

Sultan says, "Civilizations do not clash, but compete." I've written about the idea of the clash of civilizations before but I'd like to add that the idea of whole civilizations competing or clashing is, simply, the wrong emphasis. Seeing civilizations as more or less discrete entities with life cycles and unique and differentiable features has a long and spotty provenance, from Herodotos (when it was probably more true than false), to Giambattista Vico to Oswald Spengler (with many others in between). Spengler's Decline of the West was, in many ways, merely simplified by Huntington, a fact which should give anyone pause—Spengler's version supplied a great deal of the philosophy behind Nazism.

Like genes, ideas are the things actually competing, both within and among larger organisms (or civilizations). The competition among civilizations is simply an effect of the competition of ideas. Under this view, condemning things like the treatment of women under shari'a is not racist or imperialist or Orientalist or Islamophobic or anti-Muslim or anything of the sort because by doing so, you are not condemning an entire culture, but a bad idea and the fact that such an idea is held. Treating women like chattel is a bad idea, and saying so is, or at least does not need to be, a mark of cultural derision. And holding those who propagate that idea or who ignore or accept the propagation of it as responsible for its content is no sin. Unless, that is, we are willing to accept the idea as good not because it is in a specific culture, but because it is good for the people of a specific culture. I, for one, believe that many ideas currently hiding under the aegis of Islam do not meet this second requirement.

March 12, 2006

NCAA

So I filled out my bracket while it was being announced, then watched ESPN's Bracketology show and found out that I had picked the same Final Four as Dick Vitale, who is actually my least favorite person on earth. Damn, this is embarrassing. It also probably means that I will get none right, as Dick Vitale is consistently incorrect.

[My picks were: UConn (Nat. Champ), Duke (Runner-up), Boston College, UCLA]

More on the SRLC

So Frist won by a hefty margin, but what was really interesting was that this conference showed that John McCain can be a prissy little bitch and a bad loser in addition to being the tough guy maverick I know and am tired of.

First, McCain told all his supporters not to vote for him, but to write in "President Bush" instead. "For the next three years, with the country at war, he's our President, and the only one who must have our support today," he said.

Ahhh. How cute. The independently-minded take-no-shit guy is the Republican Party's biggest brown-noser.

But, that's not all there is to the story. Trent Lott, who was also there and is, inexplicably, a McCain supporter (McCain is, apparently, going to be a fan of the Southern Strategy), started complaining to the press that Dr. Frist was bussing people in from Memphis to vote for him. Which was probably true, but the point is that it adds another dimension to McCain's actions.

Clearly, McCain assumed he couldn't win the straw poll, so he vamped it up for the Prez and had Lott try to discredit Frist's impending victory.

McCain, as I've been trying to tell people for awhile, doesn't have what it takes to win the nomination. He doesn't have the political savvy, but I don't mean that in a good, he's just so honest and forthright-type of way, but in a this man doesn't know what he's doing-type of way.

Rate the Critics!

I have discovered an easy way to see if the music-review site you use is worthwhile or not.

1) Go to this page, which is metacritic's roundup of all the reviews of the Electric Six's "Fire" (2003).
2) Notice that metacritic has read all the reviews and assigned them a score from 1 to 100, with 100 being the best. This number represents the number metacritic thinks the reviewer would have given it, because often the sites don't use stars or whatever. Sometimes the sites have ratings, and they just convert those to the 100 point scale.
3) This is the tricky part: this number is also a fantastic gauge how good the reviewing site is. Again, 100 is the best score, and 1 is the worst. Logically we can extrapolate that the Onion is right about twice as often as Pitchfork, and that Urb and Stylus are pretty good, whereas the Guardian isn't really that great.

The caveat here is that "Fire" isn't really a hundred-point album, but it's definitely a 90, and I can certainly understand the VV giving it a 91. I think it's telling that Pitchfork and the VV share some writers, a lot of the time the same records get wildly different scores: the Voice represents what happens when their talent and intelligence gets tempered by people who aren't engaging in the worst kind of hipsterism.

March 11, 2006

"I have reached the point that doesn't allow any U-turn"

The article about Dr. Wafa Sultan is number one on NYT, so many of you will likely have read it, but if you haven't, please do.

Milosevic Dies

Slobodan Milosevic died in prison, apparently of a heart condition. The man deserved a lot worse.

More: Wikipedia has a translation of this page which claims that Milosevic was, effectively, murdered—"The decision of the Tribunal to disallow Milošević's medical treatment at the Bakunin Institute in Moscow represents a prescribed death sentence against Milošević."

It's amazing that anyone could still take this butcher's side, even nationalist Serbs.

But, interestingly enough, there are some, including this UPenn prof. Here's a website of all his little conspiracy theories including one that says the current American posture toward Iran is part of a plot to strip Israel of its nukes. Yeah. He thinks that the US likely will not attack Iran, but might: "I can see, however, one plausible scenario where the US does indeed attack Iran. But it would not be to stop Iran’s nuclear program (though this would certainly be the publicly given reason). Rather, should the US -- surprisingly -- attack Iran, this will be in order -- not so surprisingly -- to create the conditions for a Muslim attack on Israel." (his emphases)

Good god, and this guy didn't even make David Horowitz's list.

March 10, 2006

It's hard out there for a lobbyist, too

Jack Kingston (R-GA), vice chairman of the Republican Conference, issued the following statement regarding the Department of Labor’s jobs report announcement:

“For those who say tax cuts do not help stimulate the economy, today’s news emphasizes the fact that President Bush’s tax cuts have now done for the economy what Kennedy’s cuts did in the 60s and Reagan’s cuts did in the 80s. Today’s numbers show that the American people can spend their money better than Washington can. To have continued job growth, you must limit the size of government.

“The bottom line is that Republican principles have helped create an environment for opportunity and job creation. Maybe the Republican Party could win an Oscar for our song, ‘It ain’t hard out there to find a job.’”
(Wonkette)

THE World Religion

The First Church of the Last Laugh


"WHY IS THE FCLL THE WORLD'S OLDEST RELIGION?

BECAUSE ALL OTHER RELIGIONS ARE BASED ON FEAR AND GUILT. BEFORE FEAR AND GUILT CAN WORK YOU MUST HAVE STUPIDITY."

For extra fun, when you get to the page that asks if you are a member of the human race, click "no."

Southern Republican Leadership Conference

The SRLC is some kind of exceedingly early straw poll for the Republican Presidential candidate. Though it is early, some measure of importance is attached to coming out on top. If a front-runner gets embarrassed or an also-ran hits success, everyone's strategies will surely change a great deal in how to market themselves through the 2006 general elections.

Slate gives a great rundown of the event, focusing especially on what the outcome of this conference may say about the Republican strategy regarding Bush—distance themselves from him, continue to hold him up as the standard bearer, or whatever, it will be interesting to see what the rhetoric will be.

March 9, 2006

The geek in me really liked this

A dark horse enters the race to host the next available Winter Olympics:

Hoth 2014

Habemus iPodem

According to Stereogum, Pope Benny XVI has an iPod, given to him by the Vatican Radio.

Here's just a guess as to what might be on there:

The obvious:
Jesus Walks, Kanye West
Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode
Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever, Destroyer
Fuck and Run, Liz Phair

The likely:
Hard-on for Jesus, The Dandy Warhols
I Have Forgiven Jesus, Morrissey
God Knows I'm Good, David Bowie
Dear God, XTC

The possible:
Me & Jesus Don't Talk Any More, Beulah
Run, Christian, Run!, Super Furry Animals
Mother Mary, The Eels
Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam, Nirvana

Transmetropolitan

Some ballbag wrote an article in Salon about nanotech wherein he makes some really interesting arguments in the lamest possible voice. I can't really claim to have a firm handle on all the science (then again, I dunno if he does either) but essentially it boils down to this:

1) So we're building these nanobots to cure cancer and shit by putting a little protein hook on them that only lets them interface with cancer cells.
2) But calling them "bots" is kind of a misnomer cause they're built with biological as well as synthetic material. So somehow they actually could be said to constitute a new form of life.
3) For some reason that I don't understand it's pretty likely that these little fuckers are going to start up their own evolutionary curve at which point they're existing symbiotically with us as some kind of new life-form that's not entirely based on carbon.
4) So we cease to be "human" per se, which gives him the authority to make crazy overwrought claims about the End of Humanity etc. Presumably, this could lead to really bad things, but I can only think of the awesome things that would happen. The best band in the world got that way by pretending to be robots: I'm no scientist, but I imagine that an actual cyborg band could in fact generate amounts of Robot Rock that would push the boundaries of hypermath.



ROCK! RO-BOT-ROCK!

Metropolitan

The other night, I watched Whit Stillman's 1990 film Metropolitan, a small work with no recognizable actors which whimsically glorifies class privilege. Set during a time "not so long ago" (but really in the late 60s, early 70s), it depicts the end of a golden age—the years of upper bourgeois Manhattan youth attending balls and dinners every night during the Christmas holidays, staying up all night playing bridge and bantering intellectually.

I probably should have hated it, but I found it inescapably charming. Metropolitan is somewhat like a Wes Anderson film, capturing the same sense of deeply threatened innocence, though replacing Anderson's quirkiness with Stillman's pretentiousness (which is a wonderful swap in my opinion).

Anyway, this is a wonderful interview with the director from the Onion AV Club. Metropolitan was just released by the Criterion Collection on DVD. I highly recommend it.

March 8, 2006

The Quick and the Dead

"Sharon Stone... said Wednesday she 'would kiss just about anybody' to end the Israel-Arab conflict."

Do I really need a joke here?

Barry Bonds

"I have come to understand that baseball is a perfect metaphor for hope in a democratic society. It has to do with the rules of play. It has to do with the mode of enforcement of these rules. It has to do with certain nuances and grace notes of the game.... Baseball is better than Democracy--or at least than Democracy as it's practiced in this country--because unlike Democracy, baseball acknowledges loss. While conservatives tell you, leave things alone and no one will lose, and liberals tell you, interfere a lot and no one will lose, baseball says: someone will lose. Not only says it--insists upon it!... Democracy is lovely, but baseball's more mature."

-Richard Greenberg, Take Me Out

The Case against Democracy

I kid, I kid. I like democracy. A lot.

But this is ridiculous: DeLay wins GOP primary.

My faith in Texan Republicans is shattered.


March 7, 2006

From the Dartmouth blogosphere

Anne of The Hill Wind Journals rounds up all the recent op-eds from the D about sexual assault and provides her consistently keen insight into all the points they miss or address incorrectly.

And the Dartmouth Green Magazine now has a website with a number of interesting articles, updates, and resources regarding Dartmouth and national environmental issues and efforts. The Review's favorite person in the world, Jim Merkel, has an update on the sustainability initiative.

Heal where?

I posted earlier a response to some things culture critic Camille Paglia had said on NPR about the problems with the humanities, but she expanded her comments in a column called "Academic, Heal Thyself," so I'll reciprocate.

Paglia (is an amazingly muddled writer and) can't explain the problem clearly, though what she did say led to this (hopefully) clearer explanation of the situation in the arts & sciences.

Essentially, professors are being held accountable at three different levels when no one has ever really formally decided how many and which among them are truly necessary and/or appropriate. There is activity on all three levels, some of it formalized, but much of it not. These are the three levels:
  • personal accountability—holding a professor accountable for what she chooses to do
  • professional accountability—holding a professor accountable for what she does
  • provincial accountability—holding a professor accountable for what she is (provincial in the sense of academe being like a province of society; I'm just trying to continue the alliteration)
Peer reviewed articles, tenure, fellowships, endowed chairs—these are all ways, more or less, of holding profs accountable. But the questions about these measures are not asked often enough or well enough (and Paglia doesn't really help).

What are we holding profs accountable for? Whom does x standard of accountability unjustly privilege? Whom does it screw over? Who is best at judging accountability? Is there a more coherent system that might work better? What would "working better" look like? In other words, if it is healing academia needs, where should it be applied, and by whom?

No one, it seems, really asks these questions well. And if that is not true, please point me in the right direction.

March 6, 2006

Darfur Update

My good friend Chase Hogle '07 posts some news links and suggestions on what you can do about Darfur here on DailyKos.

Three 6 Mafia Won a Motherfucking Oscar

I didn't watch the awards so I just found out. Awesome!
I would say that it could definitionally not be a Bad Thing if other vaguely satanic, gratuitously Southern rap trios worked on films. If only Crunchy Blac could have scored Revenge of the Sith.


March 5, 2006

Crashing the Party

I am a little disappointed that Crash won, I must confess. Crash is a mostly ordinary film with an extraordinary impact. Brokeback Mountain, I feel, should have won on its merits as a film, but I would say that ultimately Crash is a film we need more. (More in a second)

It was a very good night in many ways. George Clooney won and got to give an amazing speech (topped only by Reese's), and Jon Stewart's prepared clips were hilarious even if his lines weren't. And Charlize Theron had a bow bigger than her face, which really amused me. And they burned a car onstage. Or pretended to.

Actually, what was up with the songs in general? Since when did Bob Fosse start directing hip hop performances? And the slow motion stuff in front of that burning car in the Crash song? More embarrassing than the fact that they slipped "Day After Tomorrow" into the "films that matter" tribute. And then there was the Ben Stiller green suit thing. He did make a point, though—what are they giving an award for—best visual effects or most visual effects?

Back to Crash though. When I saw the film, I wrote:
Crash, I think, makes it impossible to look at the problems of race without looking at the problems of racism. Conservatives who focus on racial check-boxes and reverse discrimination via affirmative action never like to talk about the racist conditions that have made some people think that those measures are necessary... Those who get all caught up on skin tints miss the point. The questions we should be asking aren't about race. They're about racism.

Many of the problems of racism are distinct from problems about race. Do questions about the genetic nature of race really apply to the actions of a police officer who pulls someone over for driving while black? That action is about power in the same way a jock shoving a nerd into a locker is about power. Or the way a woman gets paid much less than a man for doing the same damn thing. Racism is definitely about race, but it also is simply when we use racial differences as a cover for an abuse of power.

The problems of racism, then, are the problems of how our systems and society allow these abuses of power. How we've used race as a cover for creating imbalances, inequalities, and injustices that perpetuate themselves—that is what needs to be addressed, and it can't be addressed by pretending to be colorblind.

I think that's what is truly great about Crash; it treats racism as something we must all confront, even if we aren't confronted with race..."
Well, anyway, good night and good luck.

Odds and Ends

The Chicago Tribune's list of the Fifty Greatest Websites

Malcolm Gladwell namechecks a Dartmouth prof (David Sally) and talks about the reasons for NBA players underperforming the year after they sign a contract.

And badass motherfucker doesn't even begin to describe (YouTube) Natalie Portman.
Excerpt:
Posse: (What you want Natalie?)
Portman: To drink and fight!
Posse: (What you need Natalie?)
Portman: To fuck all night!

Also, Oscars tonight. Brokeback, I'm pulling for you.

More: Also, this disturbing news: "An Iranian student has been charged with attempting to murder nine people with a car in the US to 'avenge the deaths of Muslims', he told police. Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, 22, drove a rented Jeep into a crowd at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Friday, police said."

March 4, 2006

Manliness

A review of Harvey Mansfield's book Manliness is here.

I have not read the book, but if the reviewer captures Mansfield's argument correctly, it is pathetically unsound.
Mansfield hardly imagines that we can return to a society where men go off to be manly and women stay at home. Instead, he argues, we should revive a core distinction of liberalism: the divide between the public and the private. Sexual stereotypes would be discouraged in public life, but in private we “should admit that they are true”—and that they are what makes for mutual interdependence.
Mansfield is treating the public/private distinction as if it concerned not individual but social behavior. Unhappily for him, it is not genders that can operate under a public/private division, but individuals. And in dealing with individuals, not only does the line between public and private fall in different places for different people, but so does the line between manly and womanly. Any lover of poetry will know this instinctively.

Mansfield is, apparently, a widely-read scholar, so I cannot imagine how he can overlook the amazing diversity of manliness present in even the briefest survey of the poets—from Catullus to Shakespeare to Rochester to Shelley to Neruda, one can find "confidence in the face of risk," an "easy assumption of authority," heroism, command, and "a kind of animal spiritedness or 'bristling' that vies with our reason," but not always in ways that limit themselves by either a public/private distinction or by concrete and irrefragable gender roles. Not only that, but numerous poets have successfully embodied what Mansfield would term manliness without the least recourse to gender at all. Yeats is the very definition of "bristling" and yet one finds only infrequently any gendered poses. Homeric heroes are 'manly' in opposition to each other, and only rarely in opposition to a woman. Achilles would still be manly without Briseis.

The manliness Mansfield wants to reintroduce not only does not need to be defined through gender, but would not even be effective if it were. Private virtues are adopted by individuals, not massive social groups that are only macroscopically homogeneous. If manliness is to be a virtue (which I dispute), then its gospel must be preached to individuals, not to mankind.

More: WSJ has an interview/review of Manliness here.

March 2, 2006

Save the Seals

I think Paul McCartney is a vapid tunesmith without a touch of real genius, but I'm glad he's decided to try to save the seals.



Sir Paul is in good company; Paris Hilton also is concerned about the plight of my namesakes:



Thanks for the, umm... support, Paris.

Things to Do at College

According to David Brooks (sorry no link—behind the Times Select wall):
  • Read Reinhold Niebuhr.
  • Read Plato's "Gorgias."
  • Take a course on ancient Greece.
  • Learn a foreign language.
  • Spend a year abroad.
  • Take a course in neuroscience.
  • Take statistics.
  • Forget about your career for once in your life.
  • Never be tempted to read "Bobos in Paradise"
Actually, I added that last one.

I would also add, read Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis—there is no better time to do so than in college, and it is simply the funniest thing in print, ever.

The Nick Sylvester Thing

So Pitchfork writer and Village Voice editor Nick Sylvester is in some trouble. Apparently he fabricated parts of a human-interest story about NYC chicks supposedly fighting back against the techniques in that book The Game (note: no affiliation with Black Wall Street's The Game), the one about the best lines to pick up chicks in bars or whatnot. The whole Game shtick has always sounded pretty cheesy to me, but I am not female so I guess that doesn't matter a whole lot.

What does matter is that Sylvester apparently got suspended for it, probably worse by now. And then the Voice pulled it from their website.

I'm not the biggest fan of Sylvester for a few reasons, but the internet backlash against this kid has just been incredible. It's predictable in retrospect: he went to Harvard, he's young, he's pioneering the new hipster writing style that a lot of people (myself included) find pretentious and almost unreadable. But it would be stupid to contend that he doesn't have some talent. I say give the kid a second chance: I think he was given an assignment he wasn't ready for, and I don't think he should lose his career at 23 or however old he is.

On the other hand, he did make some shit up and he's got to apologize a lot more convincingly than he's done so far.

PS. Apparently you can get the article in the Google cache here, complete with beautiful illustration.

Sorry for the high volume of links. This is a picture of T-pain, who both Sylvester and myself enjoy. Especially "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)."


Continental Philosophy and Conservatives

Joe Malchow sees fit to tackle the language of "postmodernism" (more accurately, Continental philosophy) via a link to some asinine National Review post. Joe titters on about this quote from Martin Heidegger: "In the naming, the things named are called into their thinging. Thinging, they unfold world, in which things abide and so are abiding ones." This is an open letter in response:

Joe,
Did you consider for a second that this is an English translation of a German writer, German being a language which regularly features--and not just in philosophy--neologisms that frequently turn a word from one part of speech into another? And while the sentence is gruesomely circular, in context this circularity is much more reasonable and comprehensible, even poetic. Besides, I could take sentences from the Bible at random that would sound almost this bad.

I also find it highly amusing that you are taking on the mantle of righteous language maven when you have had some howlers not only recently, but consistently through the time I've been reading your blog.

It also troubles me that you so enthusiastically applaud a post that begins: "Top ten reasons why Postmodernist philosophers should be burned alive in public squares atop piles of their books." Such rabid anti-intellectualism is ever the mark of someone who has set severe limits on his intellectual development.

Finally, I highly doubt that you have read, or made any attempt to understand the context of any of those sentences, or encountered their authors other than in dismissive references by ignorant conservative writers. If I am wrong and you are actually, in your spare time, a scholar of Continental philosophy, please correct my misapprehension.

Thinging of you,
Andrew

March 1, 2006

Death to Tubestock

In case you don't read Dartlog, here's their post covering the College's attempt to join forces with New Hampshire in an Axis of Sobriety to effectively destroy Tubestock, Dartmouth's proudest summer tradition.

I'm ambivalent. I didn't participate while I was on this summer, but I can understand that some people really get into the making rafts part.

Bottom line, I really don't see any type of work-around to the measures being contemplated. Maybe we should just start making plans for an alternative summer bacchnalian? Suggestions?

Funtime mit Jurgen!

You know what is always fun, Jurgen? When some hideous right-wing TV harpy gets caught in a bunch of lies!

Ja, Connor, das isst alvays fun. Vhich lying right-wing harpy isst it zis time?

Why, Nancy Grace, of course!

Ja she is der hideous lying bitch for sure? But what is mit der Deutsch accent und the fakery in der webpost?

Vhy Kompakt Total 6 obviously!

Ja!

More Cowbell!

In Slate, Francis Fukuyama shows he has a bit more depth than Chris Hitchens found in his "After Neoconservatism" piece. Fukuyama reviews a few American books dealing with the future of Europe and Islam, one by Pat Buchanan and another by Tony Blankley, the op-ed page editor of the Washington Times.

The problem, they say, is Europe's abandonment of Christianity and traditional values (no, really, I didn't see that one coming either). Instead, Europe has embraced all the ills of modernity, including having fewer babies. All these things have just enraged and alienated Muslims, so the answer is:

More cowbell! More tribalism, more intolerance, more alienating rhetoric, all under the guise of "reclaiming" Europe's tradition of Christian values. The fact that Europe never really figured out what assimilation meant, that it thought that, as Fukuyama says, "liberal pluralism meant respecting the rights of communities rather than individuals" should just be forgotten and not improved upon. Buchanan and Blankley's position is sly, provoking exactly the confrontation it predicts. Buchanan and his ilk relish the thought of a confrontation, so they can eject "furriners" from "The West" and close off all the borders.

Fukuyama also gets to the heart of what "The West" is for people like Buchanan: it is blood and religion, not the shared values of liberal democracy. "If it were simply a question of having the right values, he should welcome Hispanic immigrants who share his Catholicism, or Muslims who are as socially conservative as he," says Fukuyama.

Few, I think, listen to Buchanan any more, but many might share his concept of the West, especially now, in Europe. That is frightening enough.