Thursday, April 29, 2010

Here's what you should do...

You should go to this conference at UCI on May 14 (if that kind of thing interests you). It's being held to celebrate the opening of the Richard Rorty Archive. Since a couple of colleagues and I worked on cataloging that archive, we were asked to put together a short panel presentation. As the lineup is a little intimidating, it would be nice to see some friendly faces out there. Click on the image below for more information, including the schedule.
“Time Will Tell, But Epistemology Won't: In Memory of Richard Rorty”
A Celebration of Richard Rorty's Archive  
May 14, 2010
Humanities Gateway 1030, UC Irvine
Irvine, California 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My profoundly shallow take on Ukrainian politics.

Say what we might about the nastiness of American politics lately, Congress is relatively civil. Sure, calling opponents baby killers and liars is pretty indecorous, but it doesn't hold a candle to the rowdy shit-talking that constitutes a British Parliamentary proceeding.

 Maybe we were just scared straight by our own deadly potential. After all, Aaron Burr capped Alexander Hamilton over an unflattering newspaper article. I like to imagine the aftermath of that incident being a truce in American politics similar to what took place among rappers following the murders of Tupac and Biggie. One of these days some ambitious grad student will unearth sheet music and lyrics to the 1804 version of "I'll Be Missing You," featuring Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Of course, by the Jackson era, youngsters would have come to regard any peace negotiated by their powder-wigged elders as pussified dithering, and after a couple decades of macho posturing something was bound to happen.

Sure enough, in 1856 Charles Sumner went and opened his damn mouth, and for his trouble was nearly caned to death in the Senate chamber by Preston Brooks while Laurence M. Keitt (aka Ice-T of the Confederacy) stood by wielding a pistol to discourage any would-be interventionists.

The point is that clowns like Joe Wilson and Randy Neugebauer might be annoying, but they're no gangsters. Just dumb guys whose brain-mouth filters need to be replaced.

Or maybe that's not actually the point. I was supposed to say something shallow about Ukraine, right?

Oh, yes. Ukrainian politics--these dudes are wild. When was the last time you saw American politicians respond to a vote they disagreed with by hurling eggs, smoke bombs, and fists at the opposition? Never, you say? Well then, feast your eyes on this debacle.
But the best part of this whole thing is the consistency of news coverage anytime the Ukrainian political situation gets hairy. I noticed this a few years back and always look for it when I hear that the Ukrainians are mad about something. What I mean is this: no matter what the issue, no matter what her involvement, it seems that no report on Ukrainian politics is complete without a photo of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko doing something. Seriously, anything, as long as she's on camera.

And, well, I appreciate that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Live, from America's anus.

I complained about this recently and then rejoiced over the governor's rather unsatisfactorily reasoned but still welcome veto. Well, the steaming turds that comprise Oklahoma's legislature have voted to override the veto to pass a law which states that, if a woman wants to undergo a perfectly legal procedure, she must publish private information to a government database, subject herself to medical advice with a clear political agenda, and consent to an invasive, medically unnecessary procedure. The law also protects doctors from malpractice lawsuits that might be brought against them for failing to inform pregnant women of fetal birth defects, with the intent of protecting doctors whose purpose for lying is to lessen the likelihood of choosing abortion.

image: detail from Examination of a Witch by TH Matteson (1853)

Monday, April 26, 2010

This will be on the test.

Breezy: Without Emerson there's no Walden.

Wheezy: Yeah, Thoreau wouldn't have had an axe.

"They did not even take the train"

This is old, but it's still one of my YouTube favorites so I thought I'd share. It's a better story than half the stuff on my reading lists.

Friday, April 23, 2010

"where the wind comes sweeping down the plain"

Are online sex offender registries morally and ethically wrong? It's one of those questions I hate considering because part of me wants to say yes but, frankly, I've always felt a little uncomfortable arguing in favor of that particular brand of criminal. So I won't; but I will say that modern equivalents of the pillory seem contrary to the freedom laundry list that politicians love to rattle off when declaring American superiority to every other nation in the world.

Whatever, though. They're sex offenders, right? Rapists, child molesters. Fuck 'em. But what if we started putting non-criminals in the stocks? People who have broken no laws, but may have transgressed the principles of a particular segment of the population? What if we just disregarded law altogether and prioritized the legislation of morality? And what if said legislation was enforced by public humiliation? And what if that public humiliation was accompanied by physical violation? Something like--just letting the imagination run wild now--vaginal probes?

Nonsense. Measures like that would never be enacted. Not in America. Not in the 21st century. Nah.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Honest Abe knows fashion.

Abraham Lincoln's 1842 Temperance Address does not convince me to stop drinking or to take up the cause of temperance, but it does include this rhetorical gem:
But it is said by some, that men will think and act for themselves; that none will disuse spirits or anything else, merely because his neighbors do; and that moral influence is not that powerful engine contended for. Let us examine this. Let me ask the man who could maintain this position most stiffly, what compensation he will accept to go to church some Sunday and sit during the sermon with his wife's bonnet upon his head? Not a trifle, I'll venture. And why not? There would be nothing irreligious in it: nothing immoral, nothing uncomfortable. Then why not? Is it not because there would be something egregiously unfashionable in it? Then it is the influence of fashion; and what is the influence of fashion, but the influence that other and people's actions have [on our own?] actions, the strong inclination each of us feels to do as we see all our neighbors do? Nor is the influence of fashion confined to any particular thing or class of things. It is just as strong on one subject as another. Let us make it as unfashionable to withhold our names from the temperance cause as for husbands to wear their wives bonnets to church, and instances will be just as rare in the one case as the other.
 And now for a beer. Where'd I put that church bonnet?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Methuselah killed Social Security.

There's a lot going on in this article, much of which is unsettling despite its ultimate optimism: people are living longer and eating up resources without contributing to society; part of the proposed solution is to delay retirement age to account for increased life expectancy and combat ageism that keeps the old out of the workplace. Right enough, I think, except that one of the current issues making it difficult for young people to get work is that retirement-aged folks are staying in or returning to the workforce. But these are issues for people with more capacious brains than mine. What really got me was this:
"Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now."

Monday, April 19, 2010


Qualification exams are coming up, so there's not much time for any extracurricular activity these days. But I did want to quickly note that Iran recently held a military parade to celebrate National Army Day, an event held to show that (a) the Iranian military and its leadership are not to be trifled with, and (b) they belong in Lady Gaga videos.

Well, you get it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to say "fuck you" in Puritan

"Is this the Worst thy terrors then canst, why
Then should this grimace me terrify?
Why cam'st thou then so slowly? Mend thy pace.
Thy Slowness me detains from Christ's bright face.
Although thy terrors rise to th'highst degree,
I still am where I was. A Fig for thee."

- Edward Taylor, "A Fig for thee Oh! Death"

Monday, April 5, 2010

Playing doctor.

My inner right ear hurts. It radiates down the right side of my throat and the whole right side of my head is sensitive, like when you have the flu, but only in that small area. I tell this to the doctor. She asks if I have a history of chronic ear infections. When I was child I got quite a few, but not as an adult. She asks if I've had a fever recently. No. Have I been swimming? No. Sore throat? Nope. Any rashes? Negative.

She checks my ear and says I have tiny ear canals. That's not symptomatic of anything, she's just letting me know. She checks my throat and asks if I've had my tonsils removed. I answer no and she checks again. This time she sees my tonsils and says that they too are smaller than the average. That's two remarks about the diminutiveness of body parts to which I've never given much consideration. I'm a little hurt.

Finally she says there's nothing wrong with me. But there is, I say: my ear and one whole side of my head hurt. She says that I might have shingles. She doesn't actually get this from a new look at anything on my person, it just seems to occur to her mid-conversation. A flash of inspiration. Shingles, out of nowhere. Am I sure I haven't had any rashes? Positive. But there's a red line across my forehead. I hold up the hat that I wore in. She gives a slightly abashed smile, but only retreats from the shingles speculation enough to open the field to viruses in general.

I might have some kind of virus, and it might show itself over the next few days. But it might not. Not that we have any idea what to look for besides symptoms of shingles, because we're not sure what it is. We're not even sure if there's anything. It could be (her words) transient ear pain. Just passing through.

This conversation is quickly becoming a contender for the single least informative exchange I've ever had in my life.

I think a shrug should be part of the doctor's repertoire. I realize that I shouldn't be annoyed by her inability to decipher the secrets of my aching scalp by looking into my tiny ear canals, but it's really hard when what I get is a litany of vaguely defined, barely explained possible diagnoses that amount to one big who-the-fuck-knows. She should just be allowed to shrug. And I should be prepared to take that as an answer.

But I suppose she's not allowed to do that, and I probably wouldn't be satisfied with it as an answer. So we drag this out for fifteen minutes and in the end I have no answers. My ear still hurts. I pay my $15 copay (a dollar a minute!) and go home. My roommate asks me what's wrong with my ear. I shrug.

image: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Speaking of Walden...

A few months ago I planted kale and fava bean plants. I've been harvesting and eating the kale for a few weeks now, but today I noticed for the first time that the beans are beginning to sprout. I also somehow cut my finger while gardening. I didn't feel anything, but when I finished watering the plants I noticed there was an ugly gash on my index finger. Walking home I bled all over my just-picked kale.
* * * * *
Also, as I was shown by a couple of friends recently, it turns out that UCI's campus is made to be seen on moonlit nights in the spring. I've lived here for about three years now, and I've certainly been on campus after dark, but never really thought to tour campus at night. It's a whole different world when empty. It's a strange place, and I highly recommend checking it out in these conditions. I swear, in my mind, this still relates to Thoreau.

Thoreau as blogger.

From Walden, chapter 1:

“We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”