Archive for May, 2011


The Week is Over

Sunny today. Warm. 70 plus? You betcha. I spent most of my time in a basement surrounded by books. At work. I listened to the classic rock station this time. Allman Brothers. Too much Allman Brothers. That is all I will say about that.

I got into the habit today of throwing books more violently than I had allowed myself to previously. “Honestly,” I thought as I cheerfully threw them across the room in the general direction of a trash bin (which had overflowed anyway), “who thinks anyone wants three decades worth of model train magazines?” I could not figure it out. Three decades worth of model train magazines! I would like to see this gentleman’s basement!

Really I would. It would probably be teeming with model trains. That would be cool.

I had five high school seniors to help me today. They were volunteering — to fill out some sort of New Age high school graduation requirement, I guess. They were helpful, but I am not a very good manager.

“Thanks for moving those boxes.”

“Sure. Is there anything else we can do?”

“Uh. Not really.”

Of course, there was plenty for them to do, but the larger part of me was wondering why they didn’t just go outside and smoke cigarettes and wait in the gorgeous, gorgeous sun for the day to end. Why were they asking me what to do? Other than throwing books around, I barely know what to do! They didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want them there — Hey guys, let’s make a deal: you just leave now and we’ll pretend none of this ever happened! Deal of the century. I would have taken that deal at 18. Hell, I would take that deal at 27.

But I never offered it.

Anyway. Here is what you missed this week:

Other things, too.


Not Something One Is, But Something One Has Done (UPDATED A LOT, YO)

A friend I’d been talking to about Sam’s “Transgender, Cliché, and Nomenclature“ post from a couple months back sent me a really great blog post he spotted, a quote from which made something click almost audibly in my head:

As much as I talk about myself being a trans woman,  I don’t honestly think of my being trans as an “identity”… so much as a description of my personal history.

Not that what she’s describing is necessarily universal, but I imagine people for whom trans is more of an identity are very differently constituted in the lifeworld (not to be jargony) than people like the author, deserving of a different categorization putting them closer to drag culture or “chicks with dicks” where the problematization of gender is put kind of front and centre. (I guess that’s what the author is getting at when she insists in the post on the significance of the distinction between “trans person” and “trans-person.”)

“Gay” is also a description of personal history (one of coming into a sexual identity that’s not “normal,” coming out about it, etc.), but it really is undeniably experienced through life as an identity too, and one that is “other” to traditional norms (at least in most contexts within our culture). Conversely, transitioning in the way the author has is transitioning into the established / dominant identity categories of man or woman.

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Statues are No Fun

(hat tip)


The Decline Effect: Cosmic? Really?

This weeks’ Radiolab short rehashes last December’s fascinating Jonah Lehrer piece in the New Yorker on what’s called the “decline effect” in science. Wiki on the decline effect:

The decline effect may occur when scientific claims receive decreasing support over time. The term was first described by parapsychologist Joseph Banks Rhine in the 1930s to describe the disappearing of extrasensory perception (ESP) of psychic experiments conducted by Rhine over the course of study or time.

(Update: It occurs to me that I should signal here, for anyone who hasn’t read the article, that the decline effect is shockingly widespread, in social, biological and pharmaceutical research. Experiments dealing with phenomena much less dubious than ESP.)

All kinds of hypotheses are taken up (regression to the mean, increasingly cranky grad students, etc.), and one by one discarded (or accepted as partial explanations, though inadequate ones in themselves), until about minute 12, when the episode takes a mystical turn:

I would probably be less shocked if something unconventional was actually involved in this as well…. I say this with…a …. trepidation… but I think we can’t rule out the possibility that the act of observation is actually changing the nature of reality.

This line is delivered like it’s the punchline to a ghost story. I don’t think it should have been. There was one hypothesis that’s consistent with this that stood out to me for not being explicitly considered, though a social one, not a (para)physics one (as is spookily suggested by the same speaker a minute or so later).

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Before Vin Diesel took steroids and “Fast Five” broke box office records for an April release, he could actually sort of breakdance.

Here he is busting a move with, let’s say, that kid from Everybody Hates Chris (who, you know, traveled back in time to 1986 to dance with young Vin Diesel. I mean, why not?).



Neither an Intellectual Nor a Visionary

I lived in Portland, Oregon for three years, and for two of those years I lived at a flop house in deep South East. During my time there we subscribed to three perodicals: The New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Economist. One summer I was laid out with a broken foot (fifth metatarsal, ripped out of place when my right foot hit a mud puddle rounding second base — snap!) and I drank beers and read magazines from cover to cover (and books — lots and lots of books, though I never did get started on the Critique of Pure Reason) on the front porch all day every day, and even though it was really quite terrible not being able to walk, I managed to make the best of it.

We subscribed to The Economist, is where I’m going with this, and that summer one of my favorite rituals on Saturday mornings (Economist arrival day in Portland) was to open it up, skip to the letters to the editor, read the last one (the last one is always their “joke” letter, and is often charming in a peculiar British way), then flip to the back and read the obituary. The Economist does a proper obituary, and they only do one a week, so they make it count.

(I’m not of the age where I scan the obituaries in newspapers for dead friends, but I’m getting older all the time.)

Anyway. Here you can find The Economist’s obituary for Osama bin Laden.

His mind and approach were those of a businessman. The same caution that characterised his fugitive existence in Afghanistan and Pakistan—avoiding phones, the internet, even watches, anything that might be used to track him, slipping from cave to safe house to compound—featured in his investments, which were profitable and practical. No political ideology guided him, though he might lie for hours at night thinking, or read for most of the day. The polite, pious rich boy, who had left university without a degree, became neither an intellectual nor a visionary.


Somewhere, according to one of his five wives, was a man who loved sunflowers, and eating yogurt with honey; who took his children to the beach, and let them sleep under the stars; who enjoyed the BBC World Service and would go hunting with friends each Friday, sometimes mounted, like the Prophet, on a white horse. He liked the comparison. Yet the best thing in his life, he said, was that his jihads had destroyed the myth of all-conquering superpowers.

The price set on his head for more than a decade never bothered him, for Allah determined every breath in his body, and could ensure that the bombs dropped on his hideout at Tora Bora, or on his convoy through the mountains, never touched him. His martyr’s time would come when it came. The difference between pure Muslims and Americans, he said, was that Americans loved life, whereas Muslims loved death. Whether or not he resisted when the Crusaders’ special forces arrived, their bullets could only exalt him.

As I said, they do a good obituary.



From Buckles to Chuckles: last WWI combat veteran dies at 110

No, he's not dead in this picture (it was taken in 2009), but you'd be forgiven for thinking so.

It looks like 110 is the not-so-magic number for remaining World War One veterans. Last February, we noted the death of America’s last WWI veteran, Frank Buckles. Today, we acknowledge the passing of Claude “Chuckles” Choules, The Great War’s last known combat veteran period, who died this morning at a nursing home in the Western Australia city of Perth.

Beloved for his wry sense of humor and humble nature, the British-born Choules — nicknamed “Chuckles” by his comrades in the Australian Navy — never liked to fuss over his achievements, which included a 41-year military career and the publication of his first book at the age of 108.

To me, however, the most notable characteristic displayed by Mr. Choules was the fact that:

Despite the fame he achieved because of his military service, Choules grew to become a pacifist who was uncomfortable with anything that glorified war. He disagreed with the celebration of Anzac Day, Australia’s most important war memorial holiday, and refused to march in parades held each year to commemorate the holiday.

“He didn’t believe in war,” Edinger said.

“He always said that the old men make the decisions that send the young men into war,” said his son Adrian Choules.

“He used to say, if it was the other way around, and the old … were off fighting, then there would never be any wars,” Adrian Choules told local media.

Amen to that, Chuckles. Amen to that.


Hippies Are Everywhere (Or, The Hegemony of Western Fashion Sensibilities)

In Saint Paul de Vence, France, a medieval town Northeast of Cannes known for its century-old artists’ community, I walked into a gallery with my two companions expecting to see art, and leave. We didn’t see much at all. Our time at Saint-Paul, a village of more than 45 active galleries and studios, was already scarce, and within a minute of our entry we found ourselves ceding the majority of it to a garrulous and fashionable Luddite.

“Ah,” the proprietor crooned as the door clanked shut behind us. “Young people!” Tall, elegantly dressed in khakis and a silk button-down, Monsieur Proprietère seemed not to have had a customer for ages, or else took our internationality as an opportunity for interlocution. He was French. My two companions were male, one from Chile, one from New Zealand via England. I am American. We were wearing (it’s relevant) a mix of pretty much the same thing: our jeans and sweater styles varied according to our genders and income levels—camel hair and leather for the gallery owner, denim and cotton for us—but even then not too much. I could have swapped the cardigan I was wearing for my new Kiwi friend’s and been just as happy; my Chilean companion was sporting a dark scarf that might have come from my own closet.

We had elected to visit Saint-Paul despite recent criticism over its increasingly commercial tourist pandering; it was nothing but chance that led us to the one gallery on the side of the critics. Monsieur Proprietère launched into a tirade about the downward spiral of artistic integrity in not only Saint-Paul de Vence but the world at large, insisting that the internet was to blame for its decline. And not only art, in fact: the integrity of autonomous civilization was at stake as well, he said, and our presence here was proving it.

We asked him what he meant.

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My/you/our new drinking buddy?  Now you can download your very own May calendar page featuring Nutsy the Squirrel.


Oh Comely, Live

This is old old old, but it’s riveting, and I just spent twenty minutes looking for it (for something unrelated), and although I’d remembered that it was riveting, I hadn’t remembered how riveting, so I’m posting it.

Be curious if any of you know any live performance vids that come close to capturing that level of intensity.

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