19 May 2010


Lots of explanations for the near-death state of the blog.

07 January 2010

Somebody is Really Missing the Point (maybe it's me)

OK, so Letterman said this:

And then HRC (and others as well), said this:
You may not be aware that the punch line in your skit has been used as a defense in nearly every hate crime perpetrated against transgender people that has come to trial. For example, the "trans panic" defense was infamously used by Allen Ray Andrade, who was convicted in 2009 of beating 19-year-old Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher after learning of her gender history. According to media reports, it has also been the main defense employed by Juan A. Martinez for the killing of Jorge Steven López Mercado, 19, in Puerto Rico last November.

Your skit affirmed and encouraged a prejudice against transgender Americans that keeps many from finding jobs, housing, and enjoying freedoms you and your writers take for granted every day. We ask that you apologize publicly

Just to remove all traces of doubt: the so-called "gay panic" defense is wrong, loathsome, and vile in all respects, and I've published stuff on it in these terms (thought not put quite so starkly) in the past. But the thing one has to understand about the defense is that it depends quite heavily on heteronormativity. Whereas, it seems to me that this joke, if it is to be funny, is making fun of heteronormativity. Let me say that again, in different terms:

  • The panic defense only works as a defense if the audience (the jury) finds it logically compelling that a person would respond to any deviation from heteronormativity by assaulting or murdering the individual who so deviates.
  • The joke only works as a joke if the audience (Dave's viewers) rejects the idea that deviation from heteronormativity is obviously revolting.

Aren't the viewers supposed to be laughing AT the announcer who runs from the room, and not at Amanda Simpson? And if so, why the immediate rush to condemn the joke by HRC, GLAAD, and others?

So, who is missing the point, me or them?

06 January 2010

What I want for my Birthday

The rumors have now multiplied to the point that they no longer seem like rumors, and it thus seems highly likely that at the end of the month Apple will announce some sort of Tablet-like computing device. Right now the rumors have reached rough consensus that the date for that announcement will be my birthday!

Over a month ago, before there were any dates being tossed out or even any surety at all about an announcement, I made my first move toward the new paradigm: I swapped out my notebook for a desktop, going without a portable for the first time in 10 years. I did so for a number of reasons.
  • because I have found over the years, having tried it a number of times, that I can't really be productive in a two CPU paradigm. I need all my data on my computer and I need it on one computer.
  • because life with the iPhone has shown me that 98% of the time, I don't really need a notebook computer.
  • because today's new huge screens are glorious, and I'd like to be looking at the 16x9 1080p 22" LED display on the iMac (on which I'm typing this) than the 13" or 15" screen on a notebook.

Thus, my hope was that Apple would release a tablet, and that it would have the right specs so that my new paradigm can be iMac + iSlate (or whatever). And so now that we know IT, that is, something, is coming, here's what I'd like to hear Steve tell me I'll be getting for my birthday:

Screen Size: doesn't matter all that much to me, but 10-11" sounds about right.
Memory: probably 16GB as a minimum.
Connectivity: I'm sure it will have wifi and cellular connections, but I would like the cellular to be optional (don't force me to pay for unlimited cellular data). I also need it to have a display port so I can hook it up to a big external monitor and so I can use it in class for presentations.
Keyboard: here is my one real MUST HAVE. It must be able to pair with a bluetooth keyboard. Sometimes I have to be able to write a 1000 words quickly, and I can't do that on a virtual keyboard, period.
Software: I would really really love it if it could run (versions of) iWork. This would mean I could deliver Keynote presentations and work on Pages documents (I've been writing in Pages for about 4 years now).

If it has the capacity to use an external keyboard, I'll buy it. If it has iWork capabilities, I'll be thrilled about doing so. If it doesn't have the keyboard, I'll stick with the iPhone until I know more.

17 December 2009

Songs of the 00s, just my list

I'm simply too far behind on the music of the decade to say anything even approaching intelligent about it. First, I don't listen to nearly enough music any more: 7 years ago we stopped commuting and the car had always been my primary listening space; and for the past 6 years we've been in attached or multi-unit housing (if you can't listen to it loud, I sometimes tend not to listen at all). Second, I don't really have much of a clue as to where and how to find good music, and especially good new music. I don't listen to the radio; there are no record stores; I don't really trust the iTunes hot lists. My sources are therefore: the gadfly, Tmcd, my dad, Ryan, and a certain employee of the president's who shall remain nameless. Were it not for those folks, I'd be completely out of luck.

But none of that is to say that I spent the decade in silence. I did listen to music, and some great music indeed. Since Tmcd already has the best albums list running, I'm just going to give a list of the most played and most loved songs, by me, this decade.

So let me be clear with that bolding from the previous sentence: I make no claims to overall greatness. This is really more personal archeology than critical review. My process simply involved digging through my iTunes library and picking out standout songs; my only rule was that I could not pick more than one song from one band (without that rule it might have all been Patty Griffin). You'll also note there are a few pop hits off of albums that probably wouldn't make any list I might draw up, but the one place I still listen to music is on the rower, so a good pop song has a serious advantage for me. Here, in no order whatsoever, is what it looks like (you'll probably have to click the image to bring up a large enough image to read):

04 December 2009

Morality and PR

Here's my one thought on the Tiger car-wreck/philandering story: perhaps the press might consider making a distinction between the morality of a person's actions or choices, the evaluation of their overall character, on the one hand, and the way their team handles public relations, on the other. In this media frenzy, as in many others, this difference seems to be completely elided. The "story" therefore is whether or not Tiger has made a statement, whether he is "controlling" the story that the press is itself telling, whether the press will continue to speculate, and so forth. But what this means is that we come to judge the character of our sports heroes and other celebrities in terms of PR management. Tiger's "image," all would admit, has been carefully constructed, manipulated, and managed, and the "story" is about how this even will harm that image; thus, it's a question of moves in the game of Public Relations.

But I could care less about how Tiger "manages" his image. I care about the athlete for only two reasons: a) his athletic prowess, for the fact that something like arete only appears in athletes in today's culture, and b) secondarily, and related to (a) because I therefore identify with this figure and want to feel that I know and admire him. Here, obviously, is where all the role model, "look up to" stuff comes in. But my point is that (a) has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with what Tiger does off the golf course, and that (b) shouldn't have very much at all to do with Tiger's PR team. He cheated on his wife. He probably did so multiple times. He cheated on his wife of only 5 years (who just happens to be a super-model) and he has two small children. If we are going to discuss this under (b) then it seems like an open and shut case, and I have no problem morally condemning Tiger for utterly despicable choices and acts. But let's stop pretending that Tiger Woods is somehow a better or worse person because of what he says on his website, or how he directs his manager to deal with the press. He's obviously a great golfer, quite possibly the best to ever play the game. He is also one of the best athletes in the world today. And, it now seems clear, he's a pretty weak man.

18 November 2009

Aproaching 2 Months with No Posts

I could list excuses for pages and pages. Indeed, if I just posted a new excuse every day, I could keep the blog updated for a month.

Instead, I'll just say that it is not wise to try to buy a house in the middle of a rather intense academic semester (particularly one that has the added background pressure of a tenure decision).

We spent 8 months on this search because, how shall I put it, the last real estate transaction did not go very well. After looking at at least 50 places, someone finally took an offer that I thought was reasonable (and let's just say that most sellers found what I thought to be reasonable to be offensive in extremis).

We are now the owners of real estate for the fourth time, and owners of a condo for the first time. Just hours after closing we began the first home improvement project, installing new hardwood floors in the master bedroom. Here's photographic proof:

26 September 2009

Grammar Police

I like to think that I am very good at ignoring the myriad ways in which the English language is abused in the many things I read these days. But there are still lines, and sometimes they are crossed.

Some of you may know that Google, Apple, And AT&T are all sending letters back and forth to the FCC to comply with the FCC's investigation of Apple's decision to reject the Google Voice app for the iPhone. AT&T sent their response yesterday, and basically they blamed it all on Google. This was mostly dumb, but I'm not interested in the arguments, just the language used.

Please let me emphasize: this was a formal letter of response to the Federal Communications Commission concerning an on-going FCC investigation. It has footnotes. At the same time, it's only 4 pages long, and it was months in the making. So it seems fair of me to expect it to be edited and proofread and perhaps even, I'll not say well-written, but at least grammatically sound.

Here's the line:
By openly flaunting the call blocking prohibition that applies to its competitors, Google is acting in a manner inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of the FCC's fourth principle contained in its Internet Policy Statement.

I'm guessing that with my learned audience of 5 readers it's not even necessary to say that the word flout (not flaunt) means to disregard openly a rule or law or authority. The word flaunt means to display something ostentatiously, to show off one's excess wealth or pretty jewelry. One simply cannot flaunt a prohibition, and just because words sort of sound alike doesn't mean they are substitutable.

Obviously I won't even mention the fact that in all the many places where this line is being quoted on websites, no one is including the needed sic.

15 August 2009

Customers Who Bought this book....

Hmmm...I wonder what the connection is between queer theory/television studies and 20th century visual culture in India???

Click the image for a bigger version:

09 August 2009

The Open Source Textbook

Reading this morning in the on-line NYT:
“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

Let's unpack this. Because my stodgy, textbook-based education enables me to do so:

multitask: do many things at once. unable to concentrate on one thing at a time.
transpose: mix things up, confuse one thing for another
extrapolate: make things up. unable to understand the difference between productive synthesis and fiction
knowledge as infinite: too much information. therefore, I don't need to know any of it at all. also: I can make it up because it's infinite and therefore also undefined/undefinable, limitlessly expandable.

I actually think that wiki-style knowledge production is fascinating and potentially productive. I'm in favor of using wikis in the classroom to help students build their knowledge and understand how synthesis (not transposition or extrapolation) works. But anyone who has done a google for a subject slightly outside of the mainstream will find multiple sources cut-and-pasted from the same place (with no record of which source the initial text comes from). This repetition also takes place in textbooks, to be sure. But the responsibility of the authors who write the textbooks, the peer reviewers who approve them, and the publishers that oversee these processes means that experts contribute, whether directly as authors or editors, or through reference to their latest research. Textbooks are a limited number of steps away from the archaeologist at a new dig in central America or the physicist working at the new supercollider. In the face of infinite knowledge production (read: making crap up as much as you want because you read it online somewhere), I worry that education will go the way of journalism: a bunch of folks, repeating the same memes in blogs and calling it knowledge.

Textbooks are boring to read--I get that. And they're expensive. But shouldn't we try instead to provide incentives for experts in their fields to work in schools as teachers? For those same folks to develop new materials to teach with? Shouldn't part of schooling be to learn how to think differently than one "wants to" or is comfortable with? Breaking old patterns--patterns encouraged by quick cut, advertising-driven media--and developing skills that might enable, say, reading a book (and not just Harry Potter) from beginning to end? Maybe a book that at first you don't immediately "get"? That doesn't immediately "hook" you with snappy dialogue written for a movie? (It could be a short book! Or a play!)

And finally (for the rant is now getting out of control): textbooks are a site of great political strife and contestation. This is important, because knowledge is never neutral. But we do, like journalists of yore, need to struggle to maintain our integrity as knowledge-producers, even in the face of economic and political pressure to do otherwise. Once we move this to an "open" platform, how do we understand, say, the problematic, religified terrain of geologic time? Or the history of Christianity itself? Or pick any war history, any history of partitioning of peoples, any colonial past. Will we be subject to the mob's decision on these things?

Am I misunderestimating the power of the collective wiki??

05 August 2009

Shop Movies

Our current home, in the workshop of F's uncle, has a number of advantages. Big-screen TV is not one of them, and yet we are watching films, in the spirit of mtg and tg, on our laptop, seated at the only table in the place. This is largely due to the lovely public library in town--they have a good, surprisingly wide ranging and eclectic contemporary film collection on DVD (including a whole batch of Brazilian indie films I haven't even brought up with F as a possibility, but there you are). We have watched several films, and if you know us, you know that we are trepidatious about watching film because we tend to, well, dislike in the extreme and/or have such scathing critical analyses afterwards that in fact we reduce said film into a puddle of ooze, and said discussion is summarized to others with a grunt and a "meh". So, herewith the 5p film reviews of the works we've seen thus far:

W: OMG boring. maybe this film was made for the generation after us that didn't live through this? was it supposed to be funny? why did I find myself offended at the thin/stupid/silent portrayal of Condi Rice? Yikes.

I've Loved you So Long: see it. amazingly well-acted, written, directed, and not as French as you worry it will be. we found the ending to be a cop-out, but hey, we are constitutionally unable to like any film wholeheartedly. Kristin Scott Thomas is amazing; Elsa Zylberstein is utterly transcendent.

Capote: F didn't like Capote himself--that is, he thought Capote was a bit of a twat. which he was, so the movie did a good job there. the film fell short of offering up an arc of: wow this guy is conceited---look how he has a crisis---look how he's fallen... because frankly, you don't really like him anyway, and he's never not conceited. the acting was good, but in a "I'm supposed to think this acting is good" sort of a way. I wanted it to be about Harper Lee instead, but whatever.

King Corn: very well put together, small documentary about corn. See it if you've driven through Iowa (or similar) and wondered who eats all that corn, anyway, in order to discover the horror that is our food system from a slightly different perspective. props for not going all Michael Moore on us.

03 August 2009

photography books

I finished Richard Powers' Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance, based on an August Sander photograph from just before WWI (see Getty collection). It goes without saying really, that it is a wonderful book--in part he does what I do for a living (close readings of photographs/images etc.) but since he's a novelist he gets to spin out the stories he sees in the work. What's wonderful about the book is that he gets photography: photographs are stories, are histories, are moments that spin out both backwards and forwards in time, producing an eerie simultaneity.

I thought, therefore: wouldn't it be fabulous to teach a course on photography through novels? Three Farmers, of course, and then also Rushdie's Ground Beneath Her Feet, which despite being about music was also, at base, about a photograph, its photographer, and immortality. Other suggestions?

30 July 2009

Discussion in examination room 1: further thoughts on MJ

Discuss the claim that in order to appreciate the 'Jackson phenomenon' it is necessary to conceptualize his oeuvre 'post-colonially', attending to the multiple routes of transmission, flow and contraflow, followed by his work as it traversed and transversed the charged circuits of globalizing capital commodities paradoxically enabling acts of post-hegemonic resistant-recuperation in the form of hybridizing reappropriation. In your answer make specific reference to examples such as this:


Despite the widespread adoption of Michael Jackson (MJ) by formerly colonized peoples as a deified avatar of a pan-racial, brown-man-makes-good figure, his oeuvre defies the label 'post-colonial' and, I argue, embodies instead a shift in the locus of economic-political globalizing power from the center to the ostensible periphery, in which said periphery is simultaneously the media capital of Los Angeles, its racialized underbelly, and the (literally) self-effacing sculptural form represented globally by plastic surgery performance art (eg. Orlan), and particularly by the frisson effected by MJ's near-lifelike mask. This essay (in order to fulfill requirements of the hegemonic academic establishment) will address these issues in three parts.

First marker: 76 (solid first)

Second marker:
I concur with this grading. I particularly appreciate the way in which the candidate proposes to, as it were, 'get under the skin' of Jackson-ism, playing on the themes of the 'underbelly' and plastic surgery. Indeed, could we not say (should we? must we?) that in fact Jackson as performance artist renders his fleshly self a synecdoche for the late-modern-post-hyper-capitalist urban city; for Los Angeles itself? Adopting his own 'angelic' personae he remoulds and remakes the boundaries/borders of his city-self radically unsettling our dominant conceptions of the imperviousness of the border and exposing an unsettling porosity - even, daresay, a fungibility - inherent within the very instantating act of 'bordering' or 'emborderment'. Jackson's body thus emblematises and literalises sub-urban white flight, its own suburbs becoming whitened and lightened through the organised and commodified violence of the 'surgical' upon a body that then subjects itself to a kind of gang warfare, battles raging over the provenance and ownership of the territory as well as over the right to supply it with narcotics. Is this not the ultimate meaning of all Jacksonist phenomena and phenomenalising and summed up in that plaintive and quintessentially Jacksonist wail;

What about the crying man
(What about us)
What about Abraham
(What was us)
What about death again
(ooo, ooo)
Do we give a damn

I feel however that the essay was marred by a lack of consideration of the moonwalk.

Moonwalk: is this not just another moment of frisson, undermining physical and modernist norms (gravity, progress) in line with the larger remaking of the body/city/universe described above? Or, if you prefer (and I'm not sure I do), a kind of historical contextualism in which MJ relaunches the joy/imperialism of the 1969 moon landing in the conquering from below (literally, in terms of his feet) of the anti-progress, anti-modernist, decidedly enchanted moonwalk?

[hat-tip to Questioner, Candidate, First and Second Marker, whose names have been changed to protect, well, everyone. and no-one.]

28 July 2009

The Weather Forecast

Here's what the forecast says for Thursday of this week:

Baltimore, MD, low temperature: 74 degrees F

La Veta, CO, high temperature: 68 degrees F

And this, by way of an (admittedly weak) explanation of why I haven't been blogging...

21 July 2009

dwt: driving while texting/talking

NYT piece today on the 2003 suppression of governmental research that shows the dangers of talking on a cell phone while driving, whether with or without one's hands: your ability to drive is approximately equal to someone with a .08 blood alcohol level.

In other words, hang up and drive.

In driving across the country (MD to CO, so not quite all of the country), instead of playing the "spot the drunk" game, as we used to when commuting or driving after 5 pm anywhere, we began playing the "talking or texting" game when approaching a vehicle swerving from one side of the lane to another, slowing to 10 mph below the speed limit only to subsequently speed up to 20 mph above (once call is over), or otherwise exhibit behavior formerly associated with drunkenness.

Extra points if you are not only endangering yourself but also other people in your car!
Super-bonus points if you are also carrying children, who, because of childseat safety laws will probably survive the wreck that you will perish in because you had to chit chat to pass the time on the freeway!

I have had a very strict rule from early on in the "car phone" era: no driving and cell phone at the same time. corollary: if I discover I am talking to someone who is driving, I tell them to call me back when they're stationary, and I hang up.

I know. Your life is really jam-packed, and you need that time to finish some business/call your mother/make dentist appointments etc. Hang up anyway. You are driving a machine that kills people. Have some respect for that, and for your own life.