From a review of the new graphic novel Story of O:
It's the great paradox of women's lives that we are expected to begin life with a passionate union and then immediately put it away and get on with the business of working and raising children.
From a review of the new graphic novel Story of O:
It's the great paradox of women's lives that we are expected to begin life with a passionate union and then immediately put it away and get on with the business of working and raising children.
...did that stupid thing about dueling weddings:
My Constituents Care Way More About Political Gamesmanship Than Jobs, Health Care, And The Economy
By House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH)
It is my responsibility as an elected official to look out for the people back home, the voters who sent me to Washington. So, after 20 years representing Ohio's 8th District, I know what the good citizens of Montgomery, Preble, and Butler counties really want: someone who engages in the kind of calculated political gamesmanship that increases his standing in the Republican party while simultaneously hindering our country's legislative process at every conceivable turn.
I assure you, the last thing my voters need is some well intended, do-all-I-possibly-can-to-help-the-little-guy congressman running around Washington, working across the aisle, and fighting tooth and nail for jobs, health care, and financial reform to ensure their tax dollars never end up in the hands of banks capable of holding our entire economy hostage.
[N]o wonder people social-climb in New York, since it has more genuine social mobility than London or Paris, where clothes, accents, and manners reveal all too much about origins and where there are no more than three degrees of separation between any two people. Everyone already knows every single bad thing about you. In all three cities, people practice what Paul Valéry called the "delirious professions," those careers that depend on self-assurance and the opinions of others rather than on certifiable skills. The delirious professions, I'd hazard, comprise literature, criticism, design, the visual arts, acting, advertising, all of the media.... [T]he delirious professions, having no agreed-upon standards, require introductions and alliance, protectors and patrons, famous teachers or acclaim by someone reputed. In short, they depend upon that most mercurial of all possessions: reputation. (Edmund White, City Boy)
Or, as Valéry wrote:
Paris contains and combines, and consummates or consumes, most of the brilliant failures summoned by their destinies to the delirious professions... This is the name I give to all those trades whose main tool is one's opinion of oneself, and whose raw material the opinion others have of you. Those who follow these trades, doomed to be perpetual candidates, are necessarily forever afflicted with a kind of delusion of grandeur which is ceaselessly crossed and tormented by a kind of delusion of persecution. This population of uniques is rules by the law of doing what no one has ever done, what no one will ever do. This is at least the law of the best, that is to say, of those who have the courage to want, frankly, something absurd.
It dovetails almost too nicely with the critiques of knowledge work by the likes of Matthew Crawford, whose Shop Class as Soulcraft I found to be quite brilliant. (Too brilliant and close to home, perhaps; it looks like I never blogged about it. I'll have to correct that one day.)
["Avatar" has] found itself under fire from a growing list of interest groups, schools of thought and entire nations that have protested its message (as they see it), its morals (as they interpret them) and its philosophy (assuming it has one).
Over the last month, it has been criticized by social and political conservatives who bristle at its depictions of religion and the use of military force; feminists who feel that the male avatar bodies are stronger and more muscular than their female counterparts; antismoking advocates who object to a character who lights up cigarettes; not to mention fans of Soviet-era Russian science fiction; the Chinese; and the Vatican. This week the authorities in China announced that the 2-D version of the film would be pulled from most theaters there to make way for a biography of Confucius.
That so many groups have projected their issues onto “Avatar” suggests that it has burrowed into the cultural consciousness in a way that even its immodest director could not have anticipated. Its detractors agree that it is more than a humans-in-space odyssey — even if they do not agree on why that is so.
"Some of the ways people are reading it are significant of Cameron’s intent, and some are just by-products of what people are thinking about," said Rebecca Keegan, the author of "The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron." "It’s really become this Rorschach test for your personal interests and anxieties."
[D]og owners are some of the only regularly walking people in a community -- many neighborhoods outside of the inner core of Washington are dominated by automobiles and there is relatively little positive pedestrian activity on often empty sidewalks.
Dog walkers contribute positive activity not just to streets and sidewalks but to parks. It's very easy for a park to devolve into a dangerous place. One technique for people committed to disorder to keep people (especially families and children generally) out of parks is to break a lot of bottles -- broken glass keeps a park free of children, making it easier to conduct illicit business and activities.
The piece reminds me of Jane Jacobs' argument about the value of "public characters"-- or as they were called on Sesame Street, the people that you meet when you're walking down the street each day.
Should we also think of dogs (or other animals) as public characters as well? Are there certain kinds of animal ownership that you see more of in well-functioning neighborhoods?
From Balloon Juice, naturally:
It’s simplistic to say this, but a real world Galt’s Gulch would likely be an insane asylum or a prison.
And this comment:
Please – Galt’s Gulch would be a strip-joint without the strippers, basically. Either that or a usenet rec.sci.* forum IRL.
[To the tune of John Brim, "Ice Cream Man," from the album Chess Blues 1947-1967 (a 1-star song, imo).]
From George Monbiot's impassioned by depressing latest column in The Guardian (which has the world's greatest op-ed lineup, I think):
in its practical effects, consumerism is a totalitarian system: it permeates every aspect of our lives. Even our dissent from the system is packaged up and sold to us in the form of anti-consumption consumption, like the "I'm not a plastic bag", which was supposed to replace disposable carriers but was mostly used once or twice before it fell out of fashion, or like the lucrative new books on how to live without money.
George Orwell and Aldous Huxley proposed different totalitarianisms: one sustained by fear, the other in part by greed. Huxley's nightmare has come closer to realisation.
This ad on Weather.com doesn't really inspire me to refinance my mortgage.
Am I supposed to identify with this guy? Because when I think "homeowner," I think "shirtless ex-Skynrd roadie who looks like he's got the lead role in this year's San Quentin performance of a Passion play."
Okay, back to work.
Catching up with some reading, I came across Peggy Orenstein's New York Times essay "Growing Up on Facebook," published earlier this year. One of its themes, about the conflict between leaving behind old social circles and reinventing yourself on one hand, and remaining in ambient contact with your old social life on the other, resonated especially strongly:
As a survivor of the postage-stamp era, college was my big chance to doff the roles in my family and community that I had outgrown, to reinvent myself, to get busy with the embarrassing, exciting, muddy, wonderful work of creating an adult identity. Can you really do that with your 450 closest friends watching, all tweeting to affirm ad nauseam your present self? The cultural icons of my girlhood were Mary Richards of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Ann Marie of “That Girl,” both redoubtably trying to make it on their own. Following their lead, I swaggered off to college (where I knew no one) without looking back; then to New York City (where I knew no one) and San Francisco (ditto), refining my adult self with each jump. Certainly, I kept in touch with a few true old friends, but no one else — thank goodness! — witnessed the many and spectacular metaphoric pratfalls I took on the way to figuring out what and whom I wanted to be. Even now, time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis. Could I have become the former if I had remained perpetually tethered to the latter?
This also connects with an excellent William Deresiewicz essay about social media's erosion of solitude-- which in our pop psychology moments we tend to equate with loneliness and want to banish, but which serves a tremendous psychic need. Humans are social creatures who seem to grow in equal parts through being with others and learning to be on their own-- my children are currently both going through a phase in which they spend a non-trivial amount of time in their rooms-- and Deresciewicz argues that solitude offers a chance (as Orenstein puts it) "to establish distance from their former selves, to clear space for introspection and transformation."
John Boudreau reports that "the Internet is reconnecting long-lost sweethearts," while Scott Harris writes about Facebook as a time machine (gee, that sounds familiar).
Not long ago, such rekindlings were largely relegated to once-a-decade school reunions, those awkward gatherings that tend to be more about sizing up past rivals than reconnecting with former sweethearts. But the Internet is now profoundly altering some people's links to the past and sometimes upending their lives in unexpected ways. For some, the outcome is a blissful recoupling; for others, the reignited embers burn down the house....
[T]he Internet, and now social-networking sites such as MyLife.com. and Facebook, make relinking easier and more common. And people are doing it at a much younger age — instead of an uncomfortable phone call to her parents, all he has to do is do a Google search for her name.
Many people tell of reuniting with cherished, long-lost friends, or reviving meaningful social circles that had frayed over the years. I've met a couple who were high school sweethearts but had been out of touch for 23 years. Now they credit Facebook for reconnecting them — and the romance is fully rekindled. ...
It's interesting how Facebook has connected a little social network of my high school friends — some close, some not so close. When I couldn't find an address for a friend whose father had died, I contacted one of her classmates through Facebook. She had the e-mail address.
Why is that?
Unlike predecessors Friendster and MySpace, Facebook succeeded by creating a culture of authenticity — not a dodgy realm of alter egos, but a place where people feel comfortable showing off photos of their children to their friends.
I would say that it didn't create that culture of authenticity: it set some initial conditions that allowed users to create it.
A pretty good New York Times article on people who spend a lot of time working in coffeeshops. My favorite: a matchmaker who works out of a "Nora Ephron-ish coffee shop in the West Village" rather than an office because it's "easier to get people talking in a cafe."
Essentially, cafes really have become cheap coworking space filled with cafe zombies.
Patrick Stewart-- yes, that Patrick Stewart-- has a harrowing but brilliantly-written piece in the Guardian about growing up with an abusive father:
One of the very last men to be evacuated from Dunkirk, his third stripe was chalked on to his uniform by an officer when no more senior NCOs were left alive. Parachuted into Crete and Italy, both times under fire, he fought at Monte Casino and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fellow soldier once told me, "When your father marches on to the parade ground, the birds in the trees stop singing."
In civilian life it was a different story. He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down.
Read the whole thing.
This just arrived in my in-box:
DotIn, as in, an Indian domain name.
Excuse me, this is not right. Not that I have anything against India. But when I was in Denmark, I was struck by the fact that American porn dominated the late-night airwaves, and I considered it a little mark in my country's favor. It's America's manifest destiny to dominate the market in pornography: we've long been a leader in consumption of it, and damn if we're not producers, too. It's our last genuine globe- um, straddling, American industry. Now is it all going the way of automobiles and steel? Are we going to turn into Britain, but with a better tan? And what'll be left for us? Manufacturing financial panics?
Music writer and candy fanatic Steve Almond (one of my wife's college classmates, interestingly) has a nice piece in the Boston Globe about music, materiality, and memory:
I start browsing the discs, and inevitably find one I haven’t heard in years and slip it onto the crappy boom-box I keep down there and pretty soon the record has transported me back to the exact time and place where I first fell in love with it. The physical object, in other words, becomes a time machine. And who in their right mind would throw away a time machine?
The younger generation has no romantic attachments to records as physical objects. To them, music exists as a kind of omnipresent atmospheric resource.
And it’s not that I begrudge them their online treasure troves or bite-size iPods. But I still miss the way it used to be, in the old days, when fans had to invest serious time and money to track down the album or song they wanted.
What I’m getting at here is a deeper irony: technology has made the pursuit of our pleasures much easier. But in so doing, I often wonder if it has made them less sacred. My children will grow up in a world that makes every song they might desire instantly available to them. And yet I sort of pity them that they will never know the kind of yearning I did.
As a young kid, before I could even afford records, I listened to the radio. I waited, sometimes hours, for the DJ to play one of the idiotic pop songs with which I’d (idiotically) fallen in love. And yet I can still remember the irrational glee I felt when the DJ finally did play "Undercover Angel" or "The Things We Do for Love."
Almond and I are the same age, and I completely get where he's coming from: I can still remember the pleasure of my favorite song finally coming on the radio, and rediscovering old music can sometimes be a Proustian experience.
But I don't feel like something is really lost by moving from one playback medium to another. Or rather, I understand why Almond feels that way, but it's not a universal for our generation.
Why do I think this? Maybe it's because, despite the audiophile's fetishization of the LP, I grew up in a pretty technologically heterogeneous musical environment: I had LPs, 45s, cassette tapes, a few 8-tracks, and of course the radio (AM and FM). The vinyl LP is the first edition book of the music world, the technological object that comes to stand for an era or cultural moment, and in so doing obscures all the other kinds of printed matter that surrounded us way back before personal computers but didn't have much cultural significance (who has mourned the decline of the Sears catalog in the age of the Web?). So when CDs came along, it was kind of just one more thing.
I also think Almond somewhat overplays the idea that for kids, "music exists as a kind of omnipresent atmospheric resource," as if it didn't for us. How many times did our parents say, "Turn that music down!" How many times did we choose a particular restaurant, or go to the pool, or hang out somewhere, partly because of the music? I don't remember music being a rare commodity when I was a kid. It might have been harder to make it completely private-- to go out in public plugged into your own audio universe, the way my kids do with their iPods-- but the music was definitely there.
Another reason my experience differs is that I don't have a gigantic record collection that I've built up over decades. I once had a lot of LPs. Then I replaced them with a lot of CDs. Then all my CDs got stolen (I love Berkeley!). Then I rebuilt my collection, and again have a lot of CDs.
So iTunes-- and more recently things like Concert Vault-- allowed me to rediscover a lot of music that I hadn't heard in decades. In other words, Almond and I have the same experience, only he has in his basement, and I have mine online. (There are virtues in deleting and forgetting, but on the whole I prefer rediscovery. Though you can't have the last without one of the first two, I suppose.)
But there's one other thing: as I discovered when I first upgraded to OS X and started dropping money into iTunes, finding an old song usually doesn't involve getting back in touch with something I hadn't heard in a long time. Just as often it's about rediscovering the music. As I discovered about five years ago,
When I was young, I always had pretty lousy stereo equipment-- often just a portable AM/FM radio, or a $39 stereo from K-Mart-- and it turns out that, even though I heard some of these songs a thousand times, there was a lot of detail I missed. Now I hear it. Twenty years later.
Though it won't be long before we start fondly remembering CDs or the early days of music on the Web.... Actually, MIT professor Henry Jenkins has already gotten nostalgic: years ago he compared Napster and iTunes, and argued that for his generation, the former was far superior. "iTunes is about music as commodity," he wrote. "Napster was about music as mutual experience. iTunes is about cheap downloads; Napster was about file sharing-- with sharing the key word."
For me, the process of rediscovering music is more like the experience of reconnecting with people on Facebook than being transported back in time: yes, they have the same names as they did when they were in college (well, some of them have the same names), but they're not the same people-- and neither are you. But it's still nice to hear from-- or just hear-- them.
This time via the b.a.n.g. lab blog:
In technésexual, Echolalia Azalee and Azdel Slade commit playful erotic acts in physical and virtual space simultaneously, using devices to amplify the sound of their heartbeats for the two audiences....
[The project] seeks to open discussion on the multitude of sexualities outside of the restrictive LGBT formulation and homo/hetero categories, both of which are rooted in binary gender assumptions. The mixing of realities in this project can be seen as paralleling our own personal experiences of queer mixing of genders and sexualities, queering new media. Virtual worlds such as Second Life are facilitating the development of new identities and genders, which allow for unimagined relations and relationships. Through the use of mixed reality technologies in performance, technésexual seeks to look closely at these new relationships and how they affect our everyday lives and our horizons of possibility.
Yes, here's the video. It's kind of like burlesque meets a 1980s video game at a rave-- and it's about as smooth as most tech demos you've seen-- but maybe I just don't get out enough.
About a year ago I wrote about Web 2.0 as a time machine for my generation, and my suspicion that "mine may be the last generation that has the experience of losing touch with friends." This concerned me because
when it comes to shaping identity, the ability to forget can be as important as the ability to remember. It's easy to implore people not to forget who they are; but sometimes, in order to become someone better, you need to forget a little bit.
Forgetting insults and painful events, we all recognize, is a pretty healthy thing for individuals: a well-adjusted person just doesn't feel the same shock over a breakup after ten years (if they can even remember the name of Whoever They Were), nor do they regard a fight from their childhood with anything but clinical detachment. Collectively, societies can also be said to make decisions about what they choose to remember, and how to act toward the past. Sometimes this happens informally, but has practical reasons: think of national decisions of avoid deep reflection on wars or civil strife, in the interests of promoting national unity and moving forward.
The idea that digital and human memory work differently, and that we fail to recognize the difference between the two at our peril, is something I've been writing about for a while. So I was very interested to see a review by Henry Farrell in Times Higher Education of Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger's new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It sounds like a book I need to read... or at least footnote!
At its heart, his case against digital memory is humanist. He worries that it will not only change the way we organise society, but it will damage our identities. Identity and memory interact in complicated ways. Our ability to forget may be as important to our social relationships as our ability to remember. To forgive may be to forget; when we forgive someone for serious transgressions we in effect forget how angry we once were at them.
Delete argues that digital memory has the capacity both to trap us in the past and to damage our trust in our own memories. When I read an old email describing how angry I once was at someone, I am likely to find myself becoming angry again, even if I have since forgiven the person. I may trust digital records over my own memory, even when these records are partial or positively misleading. Forgetting, in contrast, not only serves as a valuable social lubricant, but also as a bulwark of good judgment, allowing us to give appropriate weight to past events that are important, and to discard things that are not. Digital memory - which traps us in the past - may weaken our ability to judge by distorting what we remember.
In response to press reports saying that the health care reform train is leaving the station with President Obama at the wheel (or whatever you use to run a train), Michael Steele just told Fox to look out because he is [the] "cow on the tracks." In other words, in addition to his other shortcomings, Steele is apparently unschooled on the history of train/cow confrontations, though I'm not sure it's a metaphor Democrats will necessarily want to dispute. Later, in a new strike in his on-going war with his dignity, Steele pleaded for a "Rodney King moment" on health care.
The Fox anchor had noted that Democrats are saying the health care reform train has "already left the station" and "Republicans better jump on board."
"Well, I'm the cow on the tracks. You're gonna have to stop that train to get this cow off the track to move forward," Steele said.
It's like the man can't not be entertaining. That's worth something in today's world.
Though "I'm the cow on the tracks" would make an awesome meme.
california academy of sciences, via flickr
Yes, it has a kind of Teletubbies thing going on, but it's still cool.
california academy of sciences, via flickr
So I was intrigued by this article on green roofs, in part because while it's generally positive about the growing popularity of green roofs, it ends on a worried note: that these will end up reduced to an architectural gimmick.
At some point a few of these are going to get built, and people are going to realise that green roofs are being used as the new equivalent of mirrored glass; Architects used to show renderings of towers reflecting birds and clouds to somehow make it disappear and be more palatable to residents and planning officials. In the end, people got a big box covered in mirrors. We should be careful that we don’t get sold a whole lot of big boxes with green boxtops, always shown from above. When you are at street level it will be a very different picture.
From the New York Times, in an article about reactions to the Roman Polanski arrest:
The president of the German Film Academy... spoke about the need for "solidarity among prominent people "and bemoaned how Mr. Polanski had been arrested on his way to a film festival, as if film festivals were embassies or churches.
What a brilliant line-- solidarity among prominent people. Damned Regular People applying their standards to us!
Having followed the story back and forth, read about the documentary, about how one of the prosecutors has recanted his story about trying to influence the judge, etc., I come down on the opinion that Polanski ought to be returned to Los Angeles. The argument that he's suffered enough strikes me as dumb, for several reasons. First, he knew the risks when he fled, and he managed to give himself another 30 years. (And are you more deserving of release if you've been on the lam for 5 years or 50? Have you suffered more if you've spent decades looking over your shoulder, or if your caper only worked for a short period?)
Second, lots of people lose parents or spouses under horrible circumstances yet don't go on to commit crimes against 13 year-old girls.
Finally, Polish artists and intellectuals have been moving to France for at least the last 150 years: it's where you go when you make the big time. It's hard to say that Polanski "suffered long enough" if he's imitating Chopin.
I've been on a Raymond Chandler kick recently, plowing through my two-volume Library of America collection of his work. Chandler was the quintessential hard-drinking writer-- it took him a long time, but he basically drank himself to death-- and of course alcohol figures pretty prominently in his work: Philip Marlowe drinks a lot, people meet at cocktail parties and bars, characters have shady pasts because of alcoholism.
So I was interested to see an article in More Intelligent Life about authors who sober up. The sad conclusion is that with a few exceptions-- Cheever, Carver, Steven King-- going sober is a professional error: "It may seem a little impertinent to gauge the literary merits of sobriety—you cannot write books of any discernible quality if you are dead—but clearly, sobering up is one of the more devastating acts of literary criticism an author can face."
Slate's Sharon Lerner writes about "The Real Reason American Women Are So Unhappy" (go read the whole piece):
While women in rich countries around the world may be becoming generally sadder... American women are still probably the gloomiest. Only 3 percent of people in Japan experience major depression in their lifetime, for instance, compared with about 17 percent of Americans, according to the most recent cross-national comparison of depression rates.... [According to the] online World Database of Happiness... the family-friendly (or at least family-friendlier) nations of Sweden (in eighth place), Denmark (second), Finland (seventh), and Holland (13th) as happier than we are. For what it’s worth, the United States, birthplace of both “happy hour” and “the Happy Meal,” ranked only 31st in overall happiness....
So why are American women so particularly blue? For women, two of the most potentially life- (and mood-) altering factors are family size and work hours. American women have notable distinctions on both fronts. First, we have more babies than women in most any other developed country. While an American woman still typically has around 2.1 children over her lifetime, in other rich countries, family size has dropped significantly as women have gained access to jobs and education. More than 90 nations throughout Europe and Asia now have fertility rates well below ours. Second, even while we’ve continued to raise sizable families, American women have achieved the very highest rate of full-time employment in the world, with 75 percent of employed women working full-time....
[A] bizarre, punishing disregard for the impact of work stress on mothers of very young children permeates our culture. How else can one explain the U.S. Army’s policy of sending female soldiers back to work full-time just six weeks after giving birth and back into war zones just two-and-a-half months after that? Welfare policy reflects a similar disconnect from the reality of motherhood, with some welfare recipients now guaranteed no leave at all from their work assignments after having babies, which can mean being separated from newborns just days after giving birth. Together, these factors may help explain why, at least in the United States, parenthood now tends to be a downer, with both male and female parents more depressed than their childless peers.
In many ways, the pressures mount as women age and continue to feel the unalleviated pulls of working and parenting. Even though they may start out in the same schools and land in the same jobs, as their careers typically don’t offer the flexibility necessary to care for children, women often have to watch the income gap between themselves and their male counterparts grow—a gap that, given the lack of re-entry points onto career tracks, seems to widen even after children are grown. So, while many women, particularly those who can’t afford to “opt-out,” wind up overwhelmed and exhausted by the combination of full-time careers and motherhood, others wind up nudged out of their professions. Some leave the workforce altogether, but many just wind up in lower-paying, lower-status work that accommodates their schedules. Often neither option is what they wanted, which helps explain the gradual dwindling of women’s happiness.[To the tune of Zero, "These Blues," from the album 1993-02-06 - Great American Music Hall (I give it 4 stars).]
From The Long Goodbye:
There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, expert perhaps the metallic ones who are as blonde as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home....
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up.... There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original....
And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kinpin racketeers and marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa Romeo town car complete with pilot and copilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats....
The dream across the way was none of these, not even of that kind of world. She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its color.
Something tells me she's going to cause Philip Marlowe some trouble.
Actually, this list would make a brilliant Facebook quiz: What Kind of Raymond Chandler Blonde Are You?
I always like Spencer Ackerman, but his response to Michael Gerson's latest "these liberal Jews don't take antisemitism as seriously as the evangelicals" screed jumped out at me:
[S]eriously: Michael Gerson needs to shut his fucking mouth before he ever even thinks accusing a Jew of insufficient vigilance against antisemitism. I don't know what lack of self-awareness convinces right-wing evangelicals that they're the true guardians of the Jews, but that condescending and parochial nonsense is its own form of antisemitism. We Tribesmen do not need some wire-rimmed enabler of one of the most destructive and inept presidents in American history to protect us from the perfidies of the world. It's us and not him who will pay the price for antisemitism, so if Gerson wants to actually act like a righteous gentile, he can start by not accusing Jews of apathy to their own people's wellbeing for the sin of not sharing his politics.
It is unlikely that anyone has ever confused a page of Thomas Friedman’s with one of Immanuel Kant’s, but between them it is possible to triangulate a prevailing sensibility of the past two decades. Call it managerial cosmopolitanism. It celebrates the idea of a global civil society, with the states cooperating to play their proper (limited) role as guardians of public order and good business practices. The hospitality that each nation extends to visiting foreign traders grows ever wider and deeper; generalized, it becomes the most irenic of principles. And so there emerges on the horizon of the imaginable future something like a world republic, with liberty and frequent-flier miles for all.
I suspect I'm being insulted in this paragraph, but I'm still too jet-lagged to figure out exactly how. No, wait...
From an essay in the Times Higher Education on the seven deadly sins in academia, when I first read it this piece on lust made my eyeballs hurt, and not in a good way:
When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he is famously said to have replied, "because that's where the money is". Equally, the universities are where the male scholars and the female acolytes are. Separate the acolytes from the scholars by prohibiting intimacy between staff and students (thus confirming that sex between them is indeed transgressive - the best sex being transgressive, as any married person will soulfully confirm) and the consequences are inevitable.
The fault lies with the females. The myth is that an affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power. What power? Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades....
Normal girls - more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos - will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?
Enjoy her! She's a perk. She doesn't yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.... And in any case, you should have learnt by now that all cats are grey in the dark.
So, sow your oats while you are young but enjoy the views - and only the views - when you are older.
Crooked Timber comments, this is a "classic example of the sort of thing where having shown a draft to a single close female friend might have saved the day, and in the process offered a useful insight into the distinction between the concept 'refreshingly un-PC' and the concept 'creepy'."
However, the author answers his critics this way:
This is a moral piece that says that middle aged male academics and young female undergraduates should not sleep together. Rather, people should exercise self-restraint. Because transgressional sex is inappropriate, the piece uses inappropriate and transgressional language to underscore the point - a conventional literary device. At a couple of places, the piece confounds expectations, another conventional literary device, designed to maintain the reader's interest. Sex between academics and students is not funny, and should not be a source of humour. But employing humour to highlight the ways by which people try to resolve the dissonance between what is publicly expected of them and how they actually feel - not just in this context - reaches back to origins of humour itself. In his introduction, [editor] Matthew [Reisz] wondered how many of his contributors would enter into the spirit of levity that inspired the idea of the seven deadly academic sins (submitting a piece on prevarication late, etc) and I suspected that one could get to heart of all that is wrong with sex between scholars and students by employing the good ol' boy language of middle aged male collusion. I'm not sure I'm wrong.
If it's intended to be a piece whose style and tone exemplify its subject, I have to admit it does a decent job. Naturally the piece has generated a huge number of comments, though this one takes the prize:
Professor Kealey assumes that every male academic’s wife mustn’t be that attractive. How wrong! I, for example, I am far hotter than any of my husband’s young and inexperienced students could ever (unfortunately for them) hope to be.
Hear hear. When I was in Oxford, walking around in the evening and trying to navigate around the crowds of students in high heels and skirts, I'd sometimes think, "They might be interesting in twenty years." I can't be the only man who reacts like that.
The New York Times' Idea of the Day blog reports on the appeal of Thaler and Sunstein's ideas in Britain, especially among conservatives:
“Behavioral economics has been embraced by the British right in particular,” writes Matthew Taylor in Prospect. David Cameron, shown here, the Conservative considered the country’s likely next leader, seeks to “refashion the Tories’ whole approach to regulation” based on the insights of “Nudge,” the book Sunstein co-wrote with Richard Thaler.
Ideas like “save tomorrow” — getting people to sign up now to make bigger pension contributions next year — appeal to the “conservative brain,” writes Taylor, because they preserve individual choice while leveraging human nature toward responsible action: “The fact that the financial sacrifice is in the future means people will sign up; inertia prevents them changing it later.”
Lewis Grossberger on the whole 2012 thing, and a variation on the question that futurists often get: if you're so smart, why don't you still exist?
Nothing special is going to happen in 2012. The world isn’t going to end.... The [only] real catastrophe that lies ahead is we’re going to be inundated by a tsunami of Mayan apocalypse crap for the next three years.
I hate to sound anti-Mayan, because some of my best friends are extinct Mesoamerican rain-forest denizens, but I have a question: How come these ahead-of-their-time mathematical geniuses couldn’t foresee their own apocalypse? The Mayan civilization is kaput! And yet we’re supposed to believe they were able to look hundreds of years into the future and foresee ours?
From the recent Values Voters Summit: "Coburn Aide: If Boys Knew Porn Will Turn Them Gay, They Won't Want Playboy."
This does not link to the Onion, I'm sorry to say.
[To the tune of Duran Duran, "Bedroom Toys," from the album Astronaut (I give it 2 stars).]
A couple curious things I saw walking around Vienna today.
Is it just me, or do "Alter Schmuck" and "pullovaria" this sound like his and hers medical centers?
And I dislike sexism in that special way that fathers of daughters do, but...
Space Invaders? Huh?
[To the tune of Amy Winehouse, "Back To Black," from the album Back to Black (I give it 2 stars).]
I suppose it was inevitable: coathangr, which describes itself as "social networking for your pants." Less whimsically, it also says it's a "social network for sharing fashion advice," and finding people who share your fashion taste.
It would be interesting to see how the system is used. Does it actually encourages better fashion sense? Is it used maliciously by people giving intentionally bad fashion advice?
On a more serious note, this is a good example of what Jyri Engstrom calls "object-centered sociality:"
the term 'social networking' makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it's not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term 'social network.' The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They're not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That's why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about 'socio-material networks', or just 'activities' or 'practices' (as I do) instead of social networks.
Adam Greenfield on craft, localism and infrastructure:
[O]ver the last several years, San Francisco in particular has become a field of premium and super-premium, small-run craft production: Ice cream. Bicycles. Coffee. Spirits. Clothing. An audience primed to expect, desire and demand the provenance of the “lovingly handcrafted,” and pitch-perfect retail tuned to that demand. Especially for someone like me, whose senses have become inured to the increasingly homogenized material landscape of Manhattan, it’s hard to escape the sense that the last decade’s activity amounts to nothing less than a local renaissance of craft and technique and pride.
It’s not difficult to infer that this all happened when it did, where it did, because of the post-dotcom-crash emergence of a healthy cohort of talented (and relatively well-capitalized) folks hungry to make something with their lives just a little more tangible than some evanescent Web portal. I’m also willing to bet that the relatively low barriers to entry involved in successful push-button publishing of the early blog era convinced a whole lot of people in the Bay Area that it was safe to try their hand at other, more ambitious endeavors – that is, that blogging constituted a kind of gateway drug....
The San Francisco resurgence would not – could not – have happened if there were not at this point literally several hundred years of insight into craft technique just lying on the ground, for just about any domain of productive activity you can imagine.
Use them in a building, like the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion by Atelier Feichang Jianzhu.
The exterior structure is composed of hundreds of polycarbonate transparent recycled plastic tubes formed into a grid-like matrix. Recycled from used CD cases, the polycarbonate tubes will be able to be recycled again at the end of the building’s life. Multi-colored LED lights will be built into the exterior structure and be computer controlled to change the appearance of the exterior on a whim or based on a computer program.
It's easy to dismiss the IKEA switch from Futura (a font I used in my e-mail when I worked at the Institute for the Future, for obvious reasons) to Verdana as much ado about nothing. But this Guardian piece does a better job than many of explaining why it matters:
Futura has a quirkiness to it that Verdana does not, as well as a much longer history linked to a political art movement. Futura, dating from the 1920s, is loosely Constructivist (only loosely, because the proprietary version that Ikea made its own – Ikea Sans – is slightly tweaked to distinguish it from, say, something Joseph Stalin might have used). Verdana... is one of the most widely used fonts in the world, and people who care about these things dislike the way our words are becoming homogenised: the way a sign over a bank looks the same as one over a cinema; the way magazines that once looked original now look like something designed for reading online. This is what has happened with Ikea: the new look has been defined not by a company proudly parading its 66-year heritage, but by something driven by the clarity of the digital age....
Verdana seems to have been chosen by Ikea by default, or at least by economics. An Ikea spokeswoman, Monika Gocic, has said that Verdana is for them because "it is more efficient and cost-effective". This is another way of saying: "We use it because everyone else does."
It's amazing to think that serious modernism is now a century old-- a hundred years ago, more or less, Peter Behrens was revolutionizing industrial design at AEG and training a generation of architects and designers who would shape the look of the 20th century (Gropius, Mies and Le Corbusier all studied under him), Charles Rennie Mackintosh was finishing the Glasgow School or Art, Frank Lloyd Wright completed the Robie House-- and so IKEA can reasonably see itself as a company with a serious history that it should take seriously.
Further, IKEA matters in the world of design, not just because it's a company that has shown that (at its best anyway) good design sells, but because it has a disproportionate effect on the design market:
According to Swedish folklore, there are more copies of the Ikea catalogue printed each year than the Bible. It certainly has more Billy bookcases than either the Old or New Testatment, but its designers would do well to remember their history. The first movable type appeared with Gutenberg's Bible in the 1450s, and everything followed from there. In this strange way, the multi-million print-run of the Ikea catalogue has now adopted a cloak of heavy responsibility. But things could be worse. It could be in Helvetica.
This is just brilliant:
My friend (and, if the editors smile upon our efforts, soon-to-be coauthor) Darlene Cavalier pointed me to an article by Dan Schultz on Media Shift Idea Lab about what journalists can learn from the citizen scientist movement. Essentially, the piece argues that citizen and professional scientists have developed a division of labor and authority that journalists could emulate.
First, this isn't the first time that such a division of labor and authority has emerged in science. In the early nineteenth century, the scientific world in Britain (and in somewhat similar measure the U.S.) consisted of a small elite that ran the Royal Society, was considered (or considered itself) competent to deal with big theoretical issues, and set the agenda for science; and a mass of local observers, ranging from country parson and skilled artisans to teachers and soldiers. Members of this second group could become notable for masterful knowledge of a narrow slice of the universe-- the natural history of their parish, the habits of large mammals in eastern Kenya, Jupiter's moons, etc.-- and could make meaningful contributions to science within their area of expertise.
These boundaries weren't entirely hard and fast-- there was always the possibility of either moving up from the category of local expert to scientific eminence (Charles Darwin might never have made the jump to the second category if he hadn't gone on the Beagle), or reaching beyond one's place-- but people generally (to use an outmoded phrase) knew their place.
The existence of these well-understood boundaries, and the resulting symbiotic relationship that is emerging between professional and citizen scientists, gives Schultz hope that journalists could create something similar:
If you buy my claim that scientists and journalists all care about informational integrity and the quest for truth, then several things can be extrapolated:
- If professional journalists take the lead by clearly defining expectations, explaining best practices, and implementing an accessible infrastructure, then amateurs can contribute without disrupting the industry.
- If amateur journalists do a good job of covering a smaller scope of topics or areas (e.g. the hyperlocal), then professionals can focus on the deeper, otherwise inaccessible issues.
- Professional journalists are responsible for creating and maintaining the citizen network if they want it to meet their standards.
- Citizen networks need more than a host. In order to reach full potential, they need to be explicitly empowered through tools and guidance.
- A symbiotic relationship between the professional, the amateur, and the crowd is not just possible, it's socially optimal.
And there we have it: If the journalism industry can create an infrastructure that allows amateurs to contribute reliable information, then professionals will be able to dedicate more resources to epic reporting. If local papers can find the capacity to set up and empower meaningful citizen networks, they will establish a major foothold in the evolving domains of community and information.
But this leads to my second point, which is that this division of labor and authority is exactly what some bloggers argue is unnecessary today-- and which is more at issue in contentious scientific fields like climate change (or alas, evolution) than it should be. Proponents of intelligent design, for example, have quite brilliantly appropriated the language of democracy to suggest that people should be allowed to make up their own minds about evolution, and could easily make a similar appeal using the citizen science movement. Journalists, it seems to me, are likely to have a tougher time differentiating what they do from "citizen journalists," particularly in an age in which the boundary between reporting and opinion has been eroded, and the professional status of journalists is under assault.
Still, it's a good model to follow.
It is time to launch a manifesto for a slow communication movement, a push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them. Many of the values of the Internet are social improvements—it can be a great platform for solidarity, it rewards curiosity, it enables convenience. This is not the manifesto of a Luddite, this is a human manifesto. If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world, where the following three statements are self-evident.
1. Speed matters.... "The speed at which we do something—anything—changes our experience of it.... The Internet has provided us with an almost unlimited amount of information, but the speed at which it works—and we work through it—has deprived us of its benefits. We might work at a higher rate, but this is not work ing."...
2. The Physical World matters. A large part of electronic commu nication leads us away from the physical world. Our cafes, post offices, parks, cinemas, town centers, main streets and community meeting halls have suffered as a result of this development.... Sitting in the modern coffee shop, you don't hear the murmur or rise and fall of conversation but the continuous, insect-like patter of typing. The disuse of real-world commons drives people back into the virtual world, causing a feedback cycle that leads to an ever-deepening isolation and neglect of the tangible commons.
3. Context matters. We need context in order to live, and if the environment of electronic communication has stopped providing it, we shouldn't search online for a solution but turn back to the real world and slow down. To do this, we need to uncouple our idea of progress from speed, separate the idea of speed from effi ciency, pause and step back enough to realize that efficiency may be good for business and governments but does not always lead to mindfulness and sustainable, rewarding relationships.
In a different register but playing some of the same themes, Mercury News tech columnist Troy Wolverton confesses, "I've been thinking I need to take a break from technology."
Resisting the urge to check my e-mail on my phone, say. Finding something else to do when the TV's not on at night than retreat to my computer for some Web surfing or game playing. Focusing on the people in my life, rather than the gadgets....
Reading a newspaper Web site on my iPhone while sitting next to my son may seem no different from when my dad used to read a real newspaper while I was eating breakfast as a kid. But the iPhone tends to be a lot more engrossing and addictive than a physical newspaper — and not just because the latter keeps getting thinner.
I can peruse hundreds of newspapers on my iPhone, seeking out those stories and topics I'm most interested in. If that gets dull, I can check my e-mail. If there's nothing there to grab my attention, there's always my Facebook app or a game. In short, it's hard to pull away. And once you're entrapped, it's hard to pay attention to anything else.
Marginal Revolution is remarkably restrained in its description of this new service: Rapture insurance for your pets.
You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved. But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.
We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus....
Our service is plain and simple; our fee structure is reasonable. For $110.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $15.00 fee. A small price to pay for your peace of mind and the health and safety of your four legged friends.
I think I also really like the way it brings together evangelicals and atheists. Who says people can't put aside their differences?
A lot of the folks in attendance were confused. President Obama was portrayed on signs and pamphlets as some sort of Nazi, socialist, foreign born, communist, Muslim, euthanasia enthusiast... [by protesters who] don't want to see Medicare go away, but are opposed to government healthcare coverage options.
[h/t Pam's House Blend]
Something I saw tonight at Stanford:
Juggler practicing on the Quad.
Since I'm attending a conference on collaborative visualization and distributed intelligence, I expected to see a lot of really cool things today. I just didn't expect the best one to come after the day was over.
William Shatner reads Sarah Palin's resignation speech as poetry (listen for the bongo drums).
It's like Peggy Noonan, Jack London, and William Faulkner wandered into the woods with three buttons of peyote and one typewriter, and only this speech emerged.
And she wrote this speech! In advance, on paper! What does any of it mean? It is amazing. Twenty years ago she could competently descibe a dog race, three years ago she could articulate a position on the abortion issue, and this weekend she composed a resignation speech by throwing culture war stock phrases into a hat and dumping it upside down on a copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics [ed: great book! really holds up!].
Okay, now I'm going to work.
A few days ago I wondered if shamelessness was the the new virtue. Yesterday I didn't quite find an answer, but I did find another great example of how information transparency doesn't necessarily lead to greater probity and economy, but greater recklessness or shamelessness. This is from Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, pp. 16-17:
[I]n 1993, federal securities regulators forced companies, for the first time, to reveal details about the pay and perks of their top executives. The idea was that once pay was in the open, boards would be reluctant to give executives outrageous salaries and benefits....
But guess what happened. Once salaries became public information, the media regularly ran special stories ranking CEOs by pay. Rather than suppressing the executive perks, the publicity had CEOs in America comparing their pay with that of everyone else. The result?... [I]n 1976 the average CEO was paid 36 times as much as the average worker. In 1993, the average CEO was paid 131 times as much.... Now the average CEO makes about 369 times as much as the average worker-- about three times the salary before executive compensation went public.
There's a great catflight going on between Matt Taibbi (who has turned into a mad cross between Upton Sinclair, Michael Lewis, and Lenny Bruce) and Claudia Deutsch about Goldman Sachs' plan to pay big bonuses to its people again. Matt rips apart a post titled "Congratulations, Goldman-- And I Wish You Many, Many More."
The defense of Goldman seems to boil down to, yes they have all sorts of connections, and yes they got tons of money from the government, but they're honest about it.
It makes me wonder: At one time, back in the day, we thought that the Internet and other information technologies would create transparency, make it harder to hide corruption, and thus force powerful people to behave better.
But we've essentially run an experiment for a decade testing this hypothesis, and it seems to me that it hasn't worked out that way.
Instead of forcing corruption underground, the Internet has forced shamelessness aboveground-- and indeed, has turned it into a virtue. So the Goldman execs may be dickheads, money-grubbing asses, and willing to sell their grandmothers if the price is right, but they don't pretend to be anything else. So they're welcome to their bonuses.
After I stopped being slightly alarmed (can I really be that predictable?), I was pretty impressed.
The New York Times has a piece (Future Vision Banished to the Past") about the likely destruction of Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, a "rare built example of Japanese Metabolism, a movement whose fantastic urban visions became emblems of the country’s postwar cultural resurgence."
Nakagin Capsule Tower, from the New York Times
The building, built in 1972, is now in lousy shape (what a surprise for an architecturally distinctive building employing innovative construction technology), but the author argues that
the building’s demolition would be a bitter loss. The Capsule Tower is not only gorgeous architecture; like all great buildings, it is the crystallization of a far-reaching cultural ideal. Its existence also stands as a powerful reminder of paths not taken, of the possibility of worlds shaped by different sets of values.
Founded by a loose-knit group of architects at the end of the 1950s, the Metabolist movement sought to create flexible urban models for a rapidly changing society. Floating cities. Cities inspired by oil platforms. Buildings that resembled strands of DNA. Such proposals reflected Japan’s transformation from a rural to a modern society. But they also reflected more universal trends, like social dislocation and the fragmentation of the traditional family, influencing generations of architects from London to Moscow.
Like lots of twentieth-century architectural movements, the Metabolists were at least as influential for their ideas as their actual buildings. (I remember studying them along with Archigram and Team X in David Brownlee's Art History 481B-- probably the most important class I took in college, given how often I use what I learned in it.) A lot of the more outlandish ideas from this period were never meant to be built-- drawings of walking cities were stimulating reflections on the nature of building in an impermanent world, but totally impractical-- but they made other, more prolific architects think differently about their work and the issues it raises.
In a way, I wonder if there's a useful comparison to be drawn between movements like these, or projects that remain forever on the drawing board but get talked about, and futurists and their work. Most of us don't build things, or write software, or craft strategies; the scenarios we write are intended to be provocations or stimulations (a hedge against them being wrong, which to one degree or another they inevitably are), and at best we have an indirect but positive influence on other people.
Composed of 140 concrete pods plugged into two interconnected circulation cores, the structure was meant as a kind of bachelor hotel for businessmen working in the swanky Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo.
Inside, each apartment is as compact as a space capsule. A wall of appliances and cabinets is built into one side, including a kitchen stove, a refrigerator, a television and a tape deck. A bathroom unit, about the size of an airplane lavatory, is set into an opposite corner. A big porthole window dominates the far end of the room, with a bed tucked underneath....
Each of the concrete capsules was assembled in a factory, including details like carpeting and bathroom fixtures. They were then shipped to the site and bolted, one by one, onto the concrete and steel cores that housed the building’s elevators, stairs and mechanical systems.
In theory, more capsules could be plugged in or removed whenever needed. The idea was to create a completely flexible system, one that could be adapted to the needs of a fast-paced, constantly changing society. The building became a symbol of Japan’s technological ambitions, as well as of the increasingly nomadic existence of the white-collar worker.
It's amazing how much work and expense goes into making the first example of something modular and standardized.
Of course, the great irony of building and construction standardization is that it hasn't produced a revolution in architecture. If anything, it's made it easier to throw up thousands of neo-Spanish colonial (or American colonial, or frontier, or postmodern-via-Miami Vice) houses in California's Central Valley, outside Phoenix, or in the suburban rings around Atlanta. Kurokawa was right that modularity and flexibility would suit "the needs of a fast-paced, constantly changing society;" but when married to the reality of real estate development, and the unreality of the mortgage market in the 2000s, the result was kind of architecture very different from what the Metabolists imagined-- a useful reminder for futurists that what we think of as "exogenous" factors often have a bigger impact on the futures we're trying to understand than the factors we do pay attention to.
I write about people, technology, and the worlds they make.
I'm a senior consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Menlo Park, CA consulting and research firm. I'm also a visitor at the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University. (I also have profiles on Linked In, Google Scholar and Academia.edu.)
I began thinking seriously about contemplative computing in the winter of 2011 while a Visiting Researcher in the Socio-Digital Systems Group at Microsoft Research, Cambridge. I wanted to figure out how to design information technologies and user experiences that promote concentration and deep focused thinking, rather than distract you, fracture your attention, and make you feel dumb. You can read about it on my Contemplative Computing Blog.
My book on contemplative computing, The Distraction Addiction, was published by Little, Brown and Company in 2013.
The Distraction Addiction
My latest book, and the first book from the contemplative computing project. The Distraction Addiction is published by Little, Brown and Co.. It's been widely reviewed and garnered lots of good press. You can find your own copy at your local bookstore, or order it through Barnes & Noble, Amazon (check B&N first, as it's usually cheaper there), or IndieBound.
The Spanish edition
The Dutch edition
The Chinese edition
The Korean edition
Empire and the Sun
My first book, Empire and the Sun: Victorian Solar Eclipse Expeditions, was published with Stanford University Press in 2002 (order via Amazon).
PUBLISHED IN 2012
PUBLISHED IN 2011
PUBLISHED IN 2010
PUBLISHED IN 2009