Thursday, March 30, 2006

On Mexican Nationalism

Imagine you live in a country where your president's legacy is based on how easily he made it for people like you to leave the country, and to be granted citizenship in another country. We need not imagine. I speak of Mexico, of course. I read somewhere (I can't quite remember where) that in some towns in Mexico, there is both an astonishingly low amount of men (who have gone north of the border), and an astonishingly high--something like 125%--percent of income that is sent by family members in the U.S. So, if you think immigration is a problem for us, think about the problem of emigration in Mexico, where the ideology of escape has completely replaced any remnants of the nationalist ideologies of the late 19th and 20th century.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

/* Rambling comments... */: Table for one

From some technology nerd blog: "On 13th February I became suspicious that something wasn't quite right with Michelle, my partner for the last 17 or so years. My suspicions increased and I ended up setting up my laptop in the equipment cupboard as a packet sniffer running Ethereal. I then connected to the laptop via a Remote Desktop Connection and controlled the sniffer from my main PC. A note to anyone reading this who isn't 'a techie'; if you plan to use technology when cheating it's probably best to understand the technology involved better than the person that you're cheating on..."

Via digg.

The really funny thing about this is not the technology, etc. It is the comments that have come since the post was put on digg, one of the web 2.0 superstars that has been getting a lot of press lately.
For example:

Why don't you post a few pics so I can see if your girlfriend was cute enough for me to care.

Posted by: Pigballs at March 28, 2006 09:03 AM

Don Delillo also had a comment:

or maybe things are getting worse. the mechanical land is well tended but has the land of spirit has become a desert?

Posted by: at March 28, 2006 07:51 AM

With an eye towards Abe Frohman and other unproductive comments we have had, it seems to me that any blogger better have a thick skin--especially if they want a lot of traffic. Commenters will not hesitate to take the razor to your skin in order to get to the truth. What that truth is, well...decide for yourself:

sounds like my kinda girl!
Posted by: Aaron at March 28, 2006 07:53 AM

What a bitch. Why didn't that ho at least break up with you first? What is it with skanks? They're like a plague. I'd have to kill a bitch if she cheated on me.
Posted by: Guy at March 28, 2006 08:00 AM

Monday, March 27, 2006

pixel revolt, a user's guide

Old John Vanderslice has used digital information web technologies to publish a user's guide to his recent album pixel revolt. In it he reveals that the title of the amazing track "Exodus Damage" comes from a Silver Jews song, and that "Radiant with Terror" is adapted from a Robert Lowell poem. Via Metafilter, a site that is detestable most of the time but then comes up with awesome shit like this. Web 2.0 = abrasive toilet paper--it hurts and you regret it often, but it still gets the job done (props to Scantron).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can you trust me?

A recent study at the University of Minnesota has granted me my deepest pathological desire: to be a subversive minority somehow despite being the whitest, most middle class dude around. It seems as though atheists are more distrusted in this country than Muslims, homosexuals, and immigrants (apologies to those who have read this already at Sullivan and Drum). Drum correctly points out that the numbers are probably higher than 3% and that aside from political unelectability, actual discrimination against atheists is almost nil. What is this straw man, then? Who do people think these dangerous atheists are?

I did a quick search for atheists in the news and found this article from Focus on the Family from earlier this year describing how atheists are now claiming the government discriminates against them, just like homosexuals claim. So watch out for these two diabolical groups! This is a funny connection to make, since homosexuals seeking marriage rights and government recognition of their partnerships are often working within religious guidelines. Many (I would say most) are as religious as most other Americans. Similarly conservatives raise the bugbear of polygamy and connect it with homosexuality and atheism. Hasn't polygamy primarily been in the domain of religious groups, who institutionalized it primarily as a way of guaranteeing patriarchy and curbing women's rights?

Then I found this gem from today's World Net Daily, which successfully links together evolution, atheism, and Hitler. Of course this sort of argument is a commonplace rhetorical trick, but let's think about the "disasters of atheism" for a second, which supposedly include 20th century communist and fascist genocide. Does anyone think these murderers put a gun to people's heads with the psychological motivation of "I no longer believe in God or a transcendental morality, therefore I am no longer accountable for this murder"? Compare that with the (routine) motivation among religious loonies of "I believe in an absolute power and you don't, therefore I must kill you." The recent case of the Christian convert in Afghanistan is an isolated instance of this. Of course, there are greater social and economic reasons behind religious fundamentalism, but there comes a point when the religious ideology becomes an active psychological force in encouraging violence and murder against the other.

I acknowledge that there is a militant kind of atheism which is essentially a form of religion in itself. But as a nonbeliever who just doesn't care all that much, I sigh and shake my head at all these poor imbeciles who can't live without a cause greater than themselves and their fellow human beings.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

George Pepe, Alain Badiou, and Gosky Patties

So within 20 seconds of entering the examination room, I was confronted with George Pepe asking me about Edward Lear's Gosky Patties. The reference or comparison between Alain Badiou's philosophy and Gosky Patties comes from a review in Radical Philosophy. Here is the recipie which Pepe proceeded to read; a fitting preface for his take on the whole (ad)venture:


  • 1 pig
  • 5 lbs of currants
  • 3 lbs sugar
  • 2 pecks of peas
  • 18 roast chestnuts
  • 1 wax candle
  • 6 bushels of turnips
  • 12 cups heavy cream
  • 4 slices Cheshire cheese
  • 4 quires of foolscap paper
  • 1 packet of black pins
  • salt and pepper to taste

Take a pig, three or four years of age, and tie him by the off-hind leg to a post. Place the currants, sugar, peas, chestnuts, candle, and turnips within his reach; if he eats these, constantly provide him with more.Then, procure the fresh cream, slices of the Cheshire cheese, foolscap paper, and the pins. Work the whole into a paste, and spread it out to dry on a sheet of clean brown waterproof linen. When the paste is perfectly dry, but not before, proceed to beat the pig violently, with the handle of a large broom. If he squeals, beat him again.Visit the paste and beat the pig alternately for some days, and ascertain that if at the end of that period the whole is about to turn into Gosky patties. If it does not then, it never will; and in that case the pig may be let loose, and the whole process may be considered as finished.

Serves 2.

Well, needless to say George Pepe was not the biggest fan of Alain Badiou.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"Agriculture will never be the same again"

Italians find gene key to fab wine: "Italian scientists have uncovered the 'life code' of the pinot noir grape plant, a breakthrough destined to change the future of wine-making .

On Monday experts from the San Michele all'Adige Agrarian Institute presented the results of six years of research, in which they decoded the plant's genome - the complex molecular chains that constitute each organism's unique genetic heritage ."

This is fairly huge. I can't wait until the beer plant is sequenced.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Dance Bunny-Girl Dance

Wash Av Huffy Crew

This is guaranteed to be the most disturbing video you have ever seen. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve anything too gross, its just really creepy). Enjoy.

So now that you’ve suffered through the entire video, what do you think it the correct story behind it.

A. This is a video of a puppet or special effect of some sort. In short, it is completely fabricated.
B. This is a video of a family’s disabled little girl that fell into the hands of some internet pranksters who edited it to make it even more creepy that it originally was.
C. This is a video of a young girl who used to be a state champion in tap dancing before she was mangled in a car crash. This is her rehabilitation process.
D. This is a video of a formerly-male transvestite who was polio stricken and molested as a young child. Now it travels with a group of freaks and is an underground sensation in LA.
E. This is a video an ‘advertisement’ for a female prostitute/call-girl that caters to people with very sick fetishes.

Now remember to completely fill in you answer bubble with a number 2 pencil.

The correct answer will be supplied in the comments section to this post in a day or two.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Becoming-animal, becoming-imperceptible

My idea of a political party is one which requires everyone to wear a hooded mask at party events and meetings.

The purpose of the masking is a practical one: it amounts to protection. The party will be for individuals of radical belief only. A jihadist is in; or rather, the individual who believes in the jihad is in, as is he or she who has radically committed to Libertarianism or Vegetarianism. A believer and not an observer or critic; one cannot be an apologist and belong to the party (thus there will be no conservatives in the literal sense).

There need be no rule to prohibit the disclosure of one's belief, but secrecy will be of the utmost concern. Thus, the masquerade. A party in which both Zionist and jihadist are counted will be guided by a strategy of neither Zionism nor jihad. The jihadist speaks his belief at the forfeiture of his life: now the Zionist knows whom he must kill. And likewise for each member of the party. The strategy of such a mass would evolve (in the Darwinian way) towards universalism. Likely there would be no oral communication. Utterly difficult to imagine. Unmasking at the expense of one's life: a politics antithetical to that of liberalism.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I have just returned from Berkeley, having cast off the conformist shell built around me by the Man. I totally smoked some KB at this co-op where my visual artist companion Leaf lives and immediately came to understand the universal consciousness of the Monad's love. The Monad is the spiritual epicenter of the cosmos, the radiating brilliance of pure selflessness floating in undisturbed harmony. When the third eye is opened, you behold the Monad in its glory, surrounded by thirteen spheres of pastel-coloured light. When I came to this realization, accordingly I discarded my oppressor name and took on the True Nomen of Shanti Jesus Lindisfarne. I now distribute pamphlets on Telegraph Street--won't you take one, my brothers, and perhaps offer some coinage so that I can feed myself and my dog Chow Chow Guevara? Like, peace and blessedness.

The new me

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Really great article

Just kidding. It has to be one of the more condescending articles I've ever seen. What is really impressive is the comments section. It comes with such gems as:

"Just by way of example, my syllabus states that any student whose cell phone rings in class will receive an automatic F in the course ... and guess what?"

"I had the misfortune of teaching a weedout course that many students dreaded. So, there was a fair amount of misbehavior in it, and that led me to put a statement in my syllabus requiring appropriate behavior for a passing grade. This didn’t stop one student from being extremely disruptive in class, and openly hostile to any of my directions to the class. As a result, I gave her a D for her final grade".

These professors sound pretty nasty, brutish and small-minded. But I guess one must consider the environment in which they are raised. While I have never noticed any real "misbehavior" in class, I strongly suspect that that is a function of where I go to school, and that some of the kids I know from high school are up to their old shenanigans(wherever they are). On the other hand, if grades have to be used as an enforcement device, I suspect that the class is already a failure. If you can't stimulate students, grades are not really an effective way to do so. It's not just about manners, it's about social skills, on the part of the professor.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Buy Republican/buy Democrat

Finally, a Zagat guide that is not merely fodder for American Psycho jokes: The Blue Pages. This is not simply about boycotting, as an individual, certain businesses whose political practices you disagree with. Hopefully more people could use this to show their political solidarity. The Seattle Times notes, as an example, that Dell gives 88% of its contributions to Reps while Newman's Own gives 100% to Dems. I know, I know, you can't do politics with Lite Italian dressing, but this seems like a useful tool.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Let's get ready to rumble, or Culture Studies post #2

Fifty years ago Roland Barthes wrote the following:
In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification, rounded like Nature. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a univocal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.
In the twenty-first century, wrestling remains largely the same. The three-hour spectacle I witnessed tonight at a local sports bar upheld the proud traditions which Barthes innumerates. There were all the right elements--the proud champion, the man of the people, radiant in his victory, only to be viciously waylaid by the evil powers-that-be in the event's final moments (these crimes to be remedied in upcoming events--tune in next week!); the dastardly foreigners (in this case Canadians and Latinos), they of the unnecessary boot scrapes and secret eye gouges; the up-and-coming youngster, thankful to the crowd; the consummate showman, playing off the audience's every desire to see justice meted out to humbled wrongdoers. The audience ate up this formula--the crowd of mostly thirty-something, jersey-clad men was almost universal in its praise and blame of the spandex-bedecked "sports entertainers" on the two jumbo-screen TVs. The demos had its demands met; the Colosseum spectatores, once removed from the faux-gladiatorial violence, had every downturned thumb accounted for.

At the same time, we are living in a new era of wrestling consumption. The two gentlemen I attended the event with were "in on the joke." While occasionally wowed by the athletic prowess onscreen, they were more interested in booking decisions and the backstage politics of the sport than seeing their favorite walk away victorious. Influenced by books, magazines, TV specials, and internet sites, which have worked to chip away at the reality/fantasy willful suspension of disbelief of wrestling, we provided meta-commentary to what is supposed to be a purely emotive experience. One senses a bit of this jaded know-how in the live arena audience as well; fans are less likely to cheer or boo any particular wrestler absolutely. The knowledge that it is all fake, that merit resides in the ability of a wrestler to "play the game" effectively, makes one less interested in motifs of "Good vs. Evil" and more in those of "Good (hard-working) vs. Bad (sloppy)." Yet we were there nonetheless, immersing ourselves in, if not the outcomes of the struggles, then the rules of the spectacle.

This hollow participation rings true in other aspects of our information-saturated existence. Everyone knows the protest will not sway the actions of the government; yet not to make a show of our opposition is bad sport, it is proof of infidelity to our team. Similarly, our vote is everything; it is our democratic birthright, the one play we must contribute to the game to be good participatory players. Yet it can also become an empty gesture, an annual slaughtered calf to make up for a year of laziness and resignation. Hence "vote or die," when we are killing ourselves as citizens during the remaining eleven months and thirty days. I begin to understand at this point the radical's conception of the Real; anything to break through the predetermined choices handed to us on a daily basis and to touch something which is not a mind-forg'd manacle.

But this report would not be complete without a brief run-down of some of the gems I heard tonight.

  • At one point in the Pay-Per-View, a tag team of "brothers" was fighting a tag-team of "Latinos" (one was actually black). Before the match started, one of the brothers said on the mic, "We're gonna show you that blood is thicker than mud, you punk bitches." The mud races get their due.
  • Another team featured no Middle-Easterners, yet the manager said that he was out to "crush the infidels" and called one of his wrestlers his "weapon of mass destruction." Mm-hmm.
  • There is nothing more amusing than watching the world's most homoerotic sport and hearing the crowd trying to decide which wrestler is "gayer."
  • On the flipside of the political spectrum, one wrestler was mad at another because the latter was filming the former in his home. This "invasion of his privacy" was "completely unwarranted"--a populist argument against the NSA/FISA debacle? Very interesting.

Los Muertos de Americanos, Ein Spiel in drei Aufzügen

The cast:

Austin 5000, a burgeoning midwestern blogger
Robot 1200, an erudite suburban
Adam 1100, a Falstaffesque union organizer
Lucas, a homeless man with a knack for spelling
[...], a homosexual catholic with a large... van
Kate, a white-trash sorority girl
Katie, a burgeoning, selfless young madonna
Christina, a first-generation Korean-American homeopathologist
Ralston, her BF and protector.
Barbara, Lucas' mother and guardian angel.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

'Drunk-and-Disorderly' Chimpanzees

The problem with prohibition was that bootlegging operations supported organized crime and... tanked chimps?
Via Take That Hippy:"The officials, however, insist that even a drunk chimp cannot take on a grown man. All the babies they have attacked have been either unaccompanied, or are in in the company of other children.
One notorious chimp nicknamed Saddam is blamed for killing at least three babies and maiming several others in Ruteete sub-county which borders the Kibale National Park."


Here's an interesting approach to ranking schools:A Revealed Preference Ranking of U.S. Colleges and Universities. It's vulnerable to a number of critiques, such the fact that location often plays a significant role in college choice, not quality. This is vulnerable to the counter-attack that those who look at this ranking will be thinking about location as well. Clearly, this typical economist retort would be half-right. A more interesting comparison might attempt to remove the variable of distance by looking only at students who travelled out of their region to attend universities. It all comes down to the East Coast: the location of the majority of the best students (maybe that's not true, but it would seem so) and the majority of the best colleges. I'm starting to re-think the above paragraph but do not have time to correct it. Commenters, please do so.
Another critique would be that we shouldn't trust kids in their choices of colleges. The relatively high ranking of Arizona State (80) seems to speak more to a desire among high-school seniors to get "git drunk and partay" more than anything else.
In the end, anything I say will be a response to the relatively shitty ranking of Wash U (62). We probably deserve this because we are ratings whores; on the other hand, I can't imagine receiving a better education than I am now at University of Miami (55) or even UCLA (36).
Last but not least the paper is on the SSRN website. This is a repository of working papers in the social sciences. Check it out.

Muslims ask French to cancel 1741 play by Voltaire

Free speech is funny: "Some devout Muslims are trying to revive taboos against blasphemy, and there are signs of growing self-censorship on matters even tangentially related to Islam. In January, the Belgian town of Middelkerke cancelled a planned art display that featured a fiberglass model of Saddam Hussein submerged in a fish tank in his underwear. The Czech artist, David Cerny, describes his work 'Shark' as 'a reflection on dictatorship.' Officials say they worried it might upset local Muslims."
As usual, them muslims can't laugh. When will them people ever learn? Honestly, though, I can't understand why anyone would be offended by making fun of Saddam. This underwear/fishtank deal is hilarious. I say throw a boner in... maybe that would be too American.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Gimme some SPORE!!!

Check out Sim designer William Wright demonstrating what promises to be the best videogame ever. The video is over 30 min. long, but well worth watching. The flash demo on their homepage is great too, and nicely sums up the general theme of the game if you don't have time to watch the google demo. I'm personally looking forward to creating a race of nomadic, cannibalistic super Care Bears who ritualistically dance in drum circles before invading outerspace.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Loving strippers and stripping love of its dignity

I wouldn't accuse anyone on this blog of being "out of touch," but I do find that people are amazed when I know even one song that's being played on Top 40 radio. We tend to focus on ideas that are very important (politics, philosophy, feminine pronouns), but often disregard practices that are happening every day among thousands of people. In other words, we're not "good" culture theorists around here.

That's fine, but at the same time I'd like to draw everyone's attention to one bit of cultural fluff that has disturbed me to my very fundament (and that's not a pleasant place to be). Witness exhibit A: an R&B/hip-hop song currently occupying the number six position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, T-Pain's "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)." T-Pain, whose album title boasts that he is a "Rappa Ternt Sanga," has graced us with a slow-burning, synth-laden ballad complete with finger snaps and a sweet, almost coy vocal delivery. As you can tell from the song title, however, this particular ditty is distinguished from a thousand other mediocre R&B "girl let me rub you down, let me rub you DOOOOOOWN" R. Kelly-esque slow jams by its subject matter: Mr. Pain has, indeed, fallen in love with a stripper.

Strip club songs are nothing new. They are a dime a dozen in the misogynistic world of rap; just think of Lil' Jon, who seems to spend all of his time and most of his money trying to get women to put their thong in their mouth (I am similarly reminded of the "Whisper Song" and David Banner's "Play," which I shall return to momentarily). In a more general sense, the strip club song corresponds to the white, middle-class, mainstream conception of the titty bar: it's a place where men can escape the hassle of domestic fidelity and responsibility and enter a world where, for a little while at least, they can again rule as patriarch and the female is reduced to mere sex object. In this way strip clubs are similar to Athenian symposia, which offered members of the aristocracy a chance to recreate the world they had effectively lost to democrats, a world of high manners, flute girls, prostitutes, fine food and drink, homosexuality (an elite practice), and general superiority. Of course, contemporary American strip clubs are much more bourgeois: there is no qualification for entry (aside from age), the music and media (sports television) are typically traditional American, and interaction between patron and dancer is bound up in some form of cash payment. However, these men, whatever their socio-economic status, are attempting to reclaim, like the Athenian elite, a lost form of power: patriarchy. The woman is returned to her "correct" role as provider of sexual titillation, free from all emotional involvement and even basic human recognition. The underlying assumption, however, is that when the strip club-goer leaves the establishment, he loses his connection with this chauvinist microcosm and must reassume his normal relations with the female sex. He either denies visiting the strip club to his wife or cites it as a special privilege ("What I do out with the boys is my business"). The spheres are kept separate.

Not recently, however. I wish to examine one form of the discourse of strip clubs, the urban R&B/hip-hop song. For a long time, this type of song respected the dichotomy between "what I do with a lady" and "how I treat a sex worker." Marvin Gaye, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, even R. Kelly and a host of others sang provacatively about enticing ladies into love-making, but in every case the singer is dealing explicitly with "a lady." Although the ultimate object of the song is always sex, one must go about it using the correct formula: a woman is charming, she is elegant, I take her coat for her, I pour her wine, I never make unwanted advances, I treat her with some form of respect until she is ready to give herself to me.

Then there is the strip club song. The dialogue between male pursuer and female persued breaks down; now the song is a rallying cry among men, a narrative of going with your close friends to the club and collectively ogling the flesh on display. Any interaction between man and woman is reduced to a series of barked commands: do this dance move, remove this article of clothing, perform this sex act on me, etc. It is always assumed that the command is obeyed. The woman is an automaton which responds correctly to the input. At the same time, the man grants the woman enough emotion to respond favorably, orgasmically, to her situation. The assumption is that she enjoys it; moreover, in the male fantasy, the woman's desire for his manhood, the power of his phallus itself, obviates the need for payment. The woman will perform for free because her sexual desire eclipses her "professional duties." Her stripping is not so much her job as her ultimate gift to man.

T-Pain's song effectively bridges these two very different song structures. The singer addresses the woman with sweet nothings: her eyes are "butter pecan brown," she has the "body of a goddess." At the same time, in a moment of complete ridiculousness, she is described as "droppin low, coming down from the ceiling." T-Pain's professed goal is to "get her over to my crib to do that night thang." He wants to take the stripper out of her environment and into the "real world," which is usually restricted to wives and girlfriends. The patron and stripper interact on a "higher" level than usual in the strip club song: she "looks at me right in my eyes," they recognize each other as individuals and potential lovers. This sort of interaction was previously in the domain of the party or the dance floor, where the participants are more or less equals. Now the singer has "chosen" a non-equal, a woman who dances for pay, and she reciprocates. There is no higher mission, however, no Notes From Underground attempt to save the woman from her position in life. There is no "redemption of the prostitute," she remains as such. This is the irony of the song, the reason why T-Pain delivers his lines with a hint of embarrassment. Can you believe it? I have crossed that all-important line.

(As an aside, the guest verse by Mike Jones completely satisfies all the conditions of the strip club song I mentioned earlier. The strippers are "God's gift to earth," they represent "a woman's worth," they "show him love," "they know I never pay." But, and here is the payoff of the song, he "must admit, I'm in love with a stripper." Like the lead singer, he blurs the lines between the sacred and the profane, the acceptable and the vulgar.)

No one should mistake me for saying that strippers are in fact vulgar or profane. These conceptions are all contained within the discourse itself. Nor do I blame women for engaging in stripping in the first place, because often this is the most lucrative profession available to them. However, I do strongly disagree with those who cite stripping as an empowering practice, or one that can grant women some sense of control over men. It is an inherently degrading and vicious establishment, and no libertarian argument about the "free choice of entering into such a contract" will persuade me otherwise. T-Pain's song only makes things worse, first by telling his audience that it is ironic that he would display affection towards a mere stripper, and second by giving the impression that the sexual squirmings in his song in any way constitute something close to real love.

Of course, "I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)" is an ephemeral pop song that no one will remember (hopefully) in a few months' time. But insofar as it adds something to the culture, that it leaves its sleazy fingerprint on the smudgy bare buttock of the discourse of sexual objectification, it is a danger. Because if you think about, for the next few months the song will be played in hundreds of clubs, memorized and danced to by literally thousands of teenage girls. Is this what should pass as popular music? Isn't it rather a failure of the feminist movement, since this kind of trash is a hundred times worse than the dumb 60s misogyny of the Rolling Stones, the Stones who wrote "Stupid Girl" and "Under My Thumb"? I apologize for pontificating so long on something as unworthy as a Top 40 song, but what the hell does this tell us about ourselves? About how far so many people have to go in their conception of women? To quote from Adorno and Horkheimer, whose thought provoked the general tone of this post, "Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish." What happens when it is both pornographic and unashamed?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Contextual Reality

The Stray Shopping Cart Project As a former chaser of shopping carts, I can truly appreciate their ability to inspire projects of this nature. I am dissapointed by the failure to treat shopping carts that destabilize our traditional notions of what a shopping cart IS (i.e. a laterally stackable unit of shopping cargo capacity) such as race car and spaceship shopping carts. That last sentence was a test: any true historian of shopping carts would understand that the category has never been stable. But we would like to believe it so because we do not want to consider the true other: the handicapped shopping cart, the lumber shopping cart, the dolley, the hand-truck, etc. All of these are the carts of the lower and oppressed classes; those who must shop in order to survive, those unreified proles who shop without the fetishized children sitting in the seat, their pudgy little legs representing not happiness but oppression.

Neologize or die!

The Sheriff and I have discovered that all of postmodern discourse can be reduced to one defining factor: the pluralization of abstract nouns or adjectives in order to sound aloof and analytic. We present as examples:

Global feminisms (any "-ism" is just so damn good)
Everyone's favorite, knowledges

You get the idea. In celebration of vacuity (vacuities?), we propose "Wash Av Huffy Crew Contest #87: Neologize for New Knowledges." Give us your best pluralized term, preferably within the context of a mock journal title, e.g.: "The (re)hypostatization of Barney Fife?: Towards a new taxonomy of courages and the hermeneutics of panopticism in the 'Andy Griffith Show.'" We include here for your pleasure a really fucking weird picture of Michel Foucault.


How to Talk about this Week's (03/06) Freedom of Speech Story

It looks like this story about a teacher being placed on unpaid leave for anti-Bush comments in his classroom is going to be this week's freedom of speech story. And while we're sure to hear a wide range of opinions on the matter from high school teachers, professors, pundits, and perhaps even GWB himself, I think a student's thoughts should be heard. Hence, I will give mine.

First and foremost, let's be clear about what really matters here, and how this story should be framed. This is not a story about freedom of speech. If it is, it shouldn't be. The classroom is not a venue for rattling off opinions of either like or dislike. The classroom is a venue for education. When we talk about what Mr. Bennish did or said, we need to talk about whether it was educational or not, not whether it crossed some abstract line of freedom of speech. After all, there's quite obviously nothing in principle wrong with sentences such as The United States is "probably the single most violent nation on Earth," or "George Bush is a murderer of small children," etc -- it's how these remarks are framed within an educative experience. Whether or not Bennish should be on leave is not a question of what he said per se, but if the things he said were of any educational value at all. Reading a book by Howard Zinn supported by facts and arguments in which at the end he claims "The United States is the single most violent nation on Earth" is a more educational statement that when Berkeley hippies scream out "The United States is the single most violent nation on Earth" at a protest.

How Mr. Bennish falls within this debate over pedagogical value is quite clear in my mind. He answered his critics in one simple statement: "I'm not implying in any way you should agree with me. ... What I'm trying to do is to get you to ... think about these issues more in depth."
Simply by saying this, Bennish is converted from a bad teacher into a good one. Where once he was force-feeding his students opinions which their young minds could not themselves get around to grasping on their own, he is now challenging them to seek truth -- and not necessarily the truth he is espousing. That's good teaching. That's using "political bias" or whatnot to challenge students to think critically rather using it to think uncritically that Bush is a Nazi. The rest, meanwhile, is circumstantial. Teaching as well cannot be judged from abstact principles. In his class their are certain students, with certain attitudes toward learning, with certain histories, etc. What Bennish said should be judged on how effectively he was responding to these specific conditions of the classroom. Did he respond effectively? One cannot say for sure (it certainly seems like he did). But when people with better understanding of the conditions (fellow teachers, his students (who largely support him), the principal, etc.) are forced to make a decision on what course of action to take in regard to punishment, they should make their decision based on what they believe education should do and be, not what teachers have the "freedom" to say in their classrooms. Too Fishian? Tough luck. He's right (or rather, Dewey was).

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Once again, we ruthlessly interrogate a (small, helpless) narrative. The writing in question is that of our own robot, who, commenting on a post of some days ago, made "judicious use of the third person singular feminine(!) pronoun" (The Sheriff). While laboring on my thesis under the spell of Lacanian theorist Joan Copjec, who can be seen looking lovely at Zizek's wedding (top left), I was reminded of robot's comment:

The 21st citizen-intellectual must be her own think tank. Her traditional role as skeptic and scalpal-wielder (in the Nietzschian sense) persists, but at some point she must take a stand. She must involve herself in policy in addition to acheiving a critical distance. Each time she asks herself whether America has a soul; whether we are to be defined by multiculturalism or some universalism; whether we are subjects of a dominating culture industry--she must also ask how our immigration laws need to be reformed; whether we need taxs or not, and how should the tax cuts be structured.

As a poor example of male misogyny in action, I welcome robot's switch-up, the substitution of "her" for "his." I am interested, however, in the effect of this change upon the narrative. In my own reading, "her" stands out like a sore but inoffensive thumb - there's nothing wrong with her being there, but whatever it is that she's doing is difficult to ignore. Rather than offer an explanation of this phenomenon, I would ask for interpretations: what does gender difference, to the extent that we ac
cept its existence, have to do with the affect of "him" versus "her," "he" against "she," in narrative? I would expect our responses to be as entertaining as they are intelligent, flawlessly theorized, and rigorously upper-crust.

Also, because I have to deal with pictures as a function of my major, here is something spellbinding to look at.

Geo(science)politics "In the May 2003 issue of the AAG journal Professional Geographer, he detailed his successes and frustrations in the bin Laden search--with one caveat: 'Some information sources used in this study, some details of the method, and some conclusions have been omitted' for the safety of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.

This proviso raised some hackles. 'We're in the business of fairness, openness, and transparency,' says John O'Loughlin, a geography professor at the University of Colorado and editor of the non-AAG affiliated journal Political Geography. 'Anything that violates that doesn't belong in an academic journal.'"
This debate is interesting, until you realize that every single branch of science has something that isn't being disclosed for national security reasons. I've thought of some examples below:

  • Anything in nuclear physics.
  • Anything in Aerospace stuff.
  • A lot of math stuff having to do with Cryptography. There are problems keeping this info under wraps because of its easily distributable nature.
  • Medical information about nukes, biowarfare stuff.
  • Space shit.
  • Cutting edge computer stuff: algorithms for missile guidance, supercomputer design, whatever they use to simulate nuclear explosions, etc.

Point being that there is a vast amount of information out there that we don't want our enemies(yes, Osama even wants to kill professors) to have. We do, however, want to move up as far as we can to the boundaries between that information and public information. Thus you should publish the stuff that is close, but not over the boundaries because it can be cutting edge. I realize this might not set in well with the David Harvey crowd, but reaquainting geographers with the importance of national boundaries should not be necessary. Quit crying.

Frailty, thy Name is John Stewart!

So there's been a huge discussion (read: Flame war) over at Metafilter regarding an opinion article written in the Boston Globe by a Harvard grad. regarding John Stewart. This fellow is of the opinion that Stewart and the Daily Show, I suppose representing the spearhead of a greater trend towards lampooning politics as buffoonery and pure idiocy in any iteration, is dangerous to the future of progressive politics in America:
Stewart's daily dose of political parody characterized by asinine alliteration leads to a ''holier than art thou" attitude toward our national leaders. People who possess the wit, intelligence, and self-awareness of viewers of ''The Daily Show" would never choose to enter the political fray full of ''buffoons and idiots." Content to remain perched atop their Olympian ivory towers, these bright leaders head straight for the private sector....

Most important, this disturbing cultural phenomenon overwhelmingly affects potential leaders of the Democratic Party.

You'll find that in the first half of the argument a long and tedious section where our Harvardian commentator outlines a "fictional composite of a typical apostle of the Daily Show," and bemoans how his hipsterish (my term) irony and cynicism will lead him away from political or social activism. But the point is maid succinctly enough in those quotations, I believe

Now, the discussion is raging about whether Stewart does or does not represent some form of parodic commentary / whether he is actually raising people's political conciousness by showing the absurdity... (It's unsurprising to think that most of the people who read Metafilter are fans of the Daily Show, myself perhaps included at an (ironic) distance of course)
However, I think that a point which hasn't been pressed either in the article or the zealous defense of Dailyshowism is that it's an absurd form of Idealism which places Stewart as the cause of this disengagement and anti-politics. I think, irrespective of my own beliefs about the situation, we have to come to terms with the fact that Stewart is popular because of a preexisting condition in our (a)political life. What is causing this parody unto hatred? Is it cynicism, disenchantment? is the end of history truly here, dispelling any of the former gravity of politics?

Now, I do have my opinions on the matter (to be insulted separately from the questions above, please). I think on the one hand it is a problem of the past twenty to twenty-five years, which among other factors have witnessed:
The frustration of any sort of putative alternative to liberal democratic capitalism,
The weakening if not crippling of the welfare state and collective labor's power within Western nations, The capitulation or death of Social Democratic movements, etc.

I don't even necessarily think that all of these things were good ways to do politics or see political change, but what they did represent was an opening or allowance for a certain type of discussion or discourse which has evaporated since. The language of momentous change or difference has so evaporated in contemporary discussions in politics that they resemble Linear or Zargotron B more than political speech. Capitulation here has on the one hand been a ready-made source of cynicism and irony, and on the other has solidified a particular state/economic system as the state/economic system. I don't even have to believe that there's a better way out there to realize that nobody even asks the question anymore. So then in comes the Daily Show, merely playing nursemaid to a group of smart but totally disinterested youths. The Daily Show isn't hurting the future of the American left, there is no American left. Perhaps its only active function is to provide succour to our ennui, to validate our apathy and provide us with any number of reasons not to get involved (Not least of all is so that we don't end up skewered on the Daily Show).

As if to bolster the sinking feeling I get in the pit of my stomach and bring this rant to a catastrophic halt, another nearby Metafilter link points to a study coming out of Emory about our "Millenial" generation (a.k.a. 'Gen Y.,' 'e-generation,' blech), and the obiesant and accepting good boys and girls we are. Just a brief quote and I'm done:

Over the past year, Epstein has surveyed more than 800 students at Emory University and four other institutions, about half of whom are Millennials, and half GenXers. Among the most striking findings of her survey:

  • Nearly 70% of Millennials agreed with the statement that “Authority figures should set and enforce rules” – compared to around 40% of GenXers.
  • 60% of Millennials agreed with the statement, “I trust authority figures to act in my best interest.” Only 40% of GenXers agreed.
  • Nearly 60% of Millennials said they “felt comfortable asking for special treatment,” while only 40% of GenXers felt that way.
*The author reserves all intellecual property rights regarding neologisms coined in this post, which include but are not limited to: Harvardian, Dailyshowism

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Iraqi Dreams and the Wheaties Box - Who Will Save Iraq(or the US?)

I would like to talk about Iraq in practical terms. That is, what can we do in the context of the given. In times of crisis there are a lot of options, but that is what makes leadership so difficult: the range of choices and, of course, the stakes.

The initial objective was turning Iraq into a model for the region: a democratic, secular and free-market oriented government, sympathetic to U.S. interests, not openly hostile toward Israel, and possibly home to long-term American military bases. An Iraqi civil war would surely be a horrendous humanitarian disaster. However, it may not be contrary to those interests.

There is a real possibility that a civil war would involve other countries. As England and France vied for power in our own civil war, so will the Sunni House of Saud and the Iranian Shiites. This would not be a bad development. The rush to democracy, a hasty democratic process, has brought the Radical Islamists to victory. This is true in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It makes sense; radical islamists are the best funded and have the most cohesive ideology. In short, we are heading down the wrong track and a civil war may provide an opportunity to reverse these trends. I'm not saying I want it to happen. I'm just saying that I don't think it will set us back from the objectives I stated above.

A Middle Eastern Shiite-Saud conflict is bad but there are also positives like reversing a disturbing trend. A Turkish invasion of Kurdistan would be completely bad. I doubt this would happen overtly, even in the case of an Iraqi Civil War. The Turks are much more likely to continue using more indirect means of assimilation. Methods such as language suppression, abridging freedom of expression, and limiting movement will be the first steps before outright armed aggression. Whether or not these acts will provoke Kurdish rebels is another question.

I think a Civil War is imminent, meaning definietly within the next month and a half where the battle line is clearly drawn between Shiite and Sunni. Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been asked by the Sunni government to withdraw his candidacy for Prime Minister lest "they might try to force his removal by forming an opposition group larger than the Shiites." A political solution is a non-solution. The institutions are untrustworthy and divided along sectarian lines - especially the police forces, but I keep hearing different things on the police. A LT in the Army said to the NYT that "if there is a single indisputable fact it is that the security forces performed as a cohesive unit." However, this contradicts early statements made by the NYT "Shiite police guarding Sunni mosques stood by while the mosques were burned." A unity government is months away.

That leaves the United States to avert civil war. However, President Bush has already said that U.S. troops will not be intervening. This makes sense since we are an occupying force like we are an occupying force in Germany: we have been invited by the independent, sovereign government to position ourselves, and require the permission of the Iraqi government for direct intervention. This is unlikely as well as a risky political move with the upcoming elections.

The future is up to the Iraqi people themselves. But neither side will budge. While it may be outside infiltraters who blew up the Golden Shrine, we must consider that the Sunnis have been running Iraq for a long time and are unwilling to fit into the new Shiite-dominated order . This explains much of the violence now and the violence to come and the need for an excuse to defer the need to fit in.

Who can save Iraq? No one. The religious and political leaders of the country have been sensible enough to explore avenues of peace. A valiant effort. Though, throughout history, no one has really pushed for a civil war. It still came.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Things are getting better

To: Members of the Washington University Community

I am very pleased to announce an important new program for Washington University full-time students, benefits-eligible faculty and staff, and full-time employees of qualified service providers who perform daily tasks.

Effective July 1, those eligible may request a Metro Universal pass from the University that will provide FREE access to the entire Metro transit system, including buses and light-rail that serve St. Louis City and County and Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois. The pass, along with your University ID, will enable you to use Metro to commute to and from the campus, travel from one campus to another, or for your personal use to access locations throughout the metropolitan region.

Washington University has signed an agreement to pay Metro for this service and is one of a few institutions in the country to provide this type of program. Not only will it offer a convenient and inexpensive way to travel from one location to another, but it also will open up numerous new opportunities for members of our community and give strong, visible support for public transit in the region. The Metro pass offers an
important alternative to facing rising gasoline and parking prices and avoiding significant congestion due to highway and road construction planned in the near future.

Please go to to learn more about this program. The link will also provide information about how this new program will affect our University shuttle services. I encourage you to request the pass when it becomes available later this year.

Mark S. Wrighton

Public transportation is awesome. I'm not sure how long it will take to pay off the investment that the Metro-Link represents, but I'm pretty sure it's a damn good thing for most people. The most important benefit of public transportation is that it allows you to read, listen to music, whatever--while you are moving. I have no moral objection to cars, but even if you listen to Books on Tape, you have got to feel like you are wasting your time when you are driving, especially in traffic. When you're walking or biking, you're at least getting exercise and interacting with your environment in some evolutionarily satisfying way. But driving is like TV: a way of demanding attention without really engaging the participant. Thus, any time more people are presented with an alternative to driving I am all for it.
As for the above letter, it's great. Now that there will be a stop literally on campus, students will be able to live anywhere in the county without needing to drive, as long as they are near a metrolink station (admittedly, a rare thing indeed). But let's not pretend that the university had wholly green(as in trees) motives in mind: there is the other (also green) financial incentive. Any person who lives within walking distance of a metrolink station now has access to Wash U, and can thus work here. This increases the supply of available workers tremendously, meaning that, demand remaining constant, wages will go down. I don't imagine that Wash U would have the willingness to actually cut current employees wages or benefits, but those who leave will be replaced with people who are more able to work for cheaper: people who live near Metrolink stops. Workers for subcontractors will suffer the most, as Wash U won't look as bad if it cancels a contract with a company instead of firing people. Those workers who already take the Metrolink will be better off than ever.
So in the end we should not imagine this is all about saving the environment and doing our part in order to wean ourselves off oil. On the other hand, just because this will hurt some current workers does not make it bad. Because the end result is more efficient, it means that the economy is better off, more competetive, and Wash U can keep competing and getting better.

Oil: Another reason for the apocalypse?

One more plank in my sanity platform: "'we've got enough oil out there to turn the planet into an Easy-Bake oven.'"