Wednesday, March 30, 2005

looking smart, acting dumb

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Self-portrait (“Eating a Banana”) by British artist Sarah Lucas.

A bit of dialogue from The Office that got me googling:

“A lot of crime in America.”
“Right. Well, I’ll be careful.”
“Word of advice: Keep your traveller’s cheques in a bum bag.”
“Thanks. I’ll buy one.”
“What, when you get there?”
“Word of warning, then: Out there they call them fanny packs. ‘Cause fanny means your arse over there… not your minge.”

There are many directions in which I could take this dialogue, or rather, the reasons I find it so engaging. Differences and misunderstandings between British and American English provide endless (cannon) fodder for conversation, of course, and there’s also the subject of “bad language” that I want to get into at some point. But most interesting at the moment, at least to me, is the issue of intelligence. The Office is full of it, even though on the surface, it’s the kind of show where nothing much happens and what little is said has little to do with what is not said. It’s all about tacit knoweldge and an astounding lack of it, of course. But intelligence has to be more than being able to think on your feet, or knowing what to say or do in any given situation.

“You are not fully exploiting my intelligence,” says Rem Koolhaas to a colleague, in a recent New Yorker feature -- which goes on to say, “Koolhaas’ quick-fire brain offers a steady flow of renegade ideas, most of which are exciting, and some of which are simply foolish. If architecture is too slow, Koolhaas is too fast.”

Intelligence is nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is it something to be sure of (keep reading that Gladwell article). At that infamous conference I went to, one of the speakers inevitably advised us to think outside the box, mentioning that this was a great “British expression.” I googled this one too for all it was worth, but I still haven’t really gotten to the bottom of it. It strikes me as more American a concept than British, but so did “fanny” until recently.

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Back to Koolhaas, a quick wit is indeed a sign of intelligence, but isn’t slowness as well? Could anyone really solve that puzzle without some contemplation? I may be suggesting this in my own defense because more often than not it takes me days to come up with the right answer or the right course of action. In conversations, in delicate encounters, in transactions where I know that every word matters, sometimes I can’t even finish my sentences.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

tempus fugit

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Time, like God, is either necessary or nothing; if it disappears in one possible universe, it is undermined in every possible universe, including our own.**

We lost an hour yesterday, but in North America, for example, they have to wait another week for Daylight Saving Time to kick in. I don’t know what’s happening in other parts of the world, but doesn’t this inability even to agree on what time it is interfere with business, global markets, international travel, teleconferencing appointments, something neither here nor there but nevertheless of consequence?

That hour we lost is still over there; I wonder if anybody exploited it for us, if my 60-minute loss was somebody else’s gain. The kids had an extra hour to eat jelly beans and suffer the consequent belly aches, while Terri Schiavo suffered and starved one hour more than she would have here.

An hour disappeared. An hour (give or take a minute or two) is someTimes all it takes.

* These hieroglyphs "belong to" The British Museum
** from an article I read recently (I won’t be redundant by saying where) about Einstein’s relationship with Kurt Godel

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

multum in parvo

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Extelligence (detail) by Christina Neofotistou.

Is Dystropoppygus (the blog) Greek? In case you feel this is an invalid question, please reconsider: there are plenty of blogs today proudly bearing little buttons with miniature flags, announcing to the world that they are "Canadian" or "British" or whatever. Well, what the flags do is that they actually announce the respective bloggers' nationality. Given that the majority of blogs worldwide are scripted in english, one would think this makes sense. But what about team-blogs like ours? Of the three editors, one is a Greek citizen studying and teaching in Great Britain, another is a legal alien living and working in Greece and myself is certainly a Greek in Greece, carrying a decade of living abroad in my bags. Does that make the blog Greek? Well - I'd argue it takes more than the sum of its parts. Despite the fact that there's no clear editorial policy, there have been no posts of purely "greek" interest. The fact that two thirds of our readership got greek IPs must be due more to our blog-visiting (and -commenting) patterns than because our posts are particularly interesting to Greek readers. Even the blog's title doesn't immediately give us out as greek: sounds like a medical term to many -- aren't all medical terms greek anyway? There you have it.

If our non-Greek visitors and readers are now wondering where this is leading (our Greek readership, I fear, have stopped following me already), I assure you it's simple in the usual complique style of this writer. There are more "Greek" blogs than (like?) ours out there that you should know about and I feel one would benefit visiting those that have attracted my attention. Least this could lead to would be we're dropped (from blogrolls and links sections) in favor of some other fellow bloggers who appear to be representing the Greek "blog-flag" in a better manner than we do. Read on then.

Histologion (a greek word for 'blog') is definitely quite famous: Recipient of a Satin Pajama Award (1st Annual European Weblog Awards) in the "South Eastern European Blog" category and runner-up in the "Blog Deserving Wider Recognition" category, they proved theirs is a solid readership willing to carry them forward. This is a political blog not necessarily following the major headlines; rather, I read it as attempting to pinpoint general trends and decipher seemingly unrelated bits internationally so that the reader herself draws the connections. I don't know if the categorization "radical left" does justice to this blog (but that's AFOE's opinion). Note: There's a greek-language Histologion(-gr) also which is a completely different version, not a translation. My rating: Crisp. To-the-point. Near excellent overall. [Appropriate Music: Beethoven's Piano Concerto Nr.5 in E Flat, Op. 73 "Emperor", 3rd movement: Rondo (Allegro)]

Blogging within the tradition of "academic blogs" (what do you mean there's no such tradition to begin with?), Academia Nervosa supplies wit, humour and, more often than not, wrath. Based in London, England our blogress keeps one eye on the motherland (and it sure helps that she also keeps a separate greek-language blog which she updates in a more timely manner. Several of her posts stem from her academic interests and research (the Media) but there's a number criticizing bad attitudes at home. In her own words: "A flaneur in the world of academia." My rating: Always interesting reading, sometimes even blissful, but unhappily not getting the blogress' attention as required. [Music: Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis), Cowboy Junkies]

More blogs from academia: Steph's lessisapossibility doesn't really read academic at all. His texts and photos let the soul of an artist trapped in a scientist's body sneak out. Following the birth of his baby son, we increasingly glimpse at a a really happy (but at times desperate) new father. Recommendation: perhaps make this blog the basis of some children's story book? The art is there, so is the talent. [Music: DJ Tiësto's Athena, from the Parade of the Athletes, Athens 2004 Olympics]

Yet another London-based greek academic who casually forgets about his english-language blog, to heck with this! (His greek blog to be found here.) A cybernetics research fellow who takes shots at comprehending how the Brits think (often, he has his doubts that they do, actually), how little daily life utilities function, or even how his views of the Thames can be made better. A verdict? If only he would update more often... [Music: Steely Dan's Pixeleen, from Everything Must Go]

I know our own De(e)lumina would kick me should I fail to add her own personal blog within the "academia" contingent. Dee's (primarily) english-language blog bears the "unbearable" title ... Like pushing the prune into the rice pudding. It's a very personal account of her life in Britain - well, I won't say more. After all, I asked her to be part of Dystro, so this alone should suffice. [Music: Human, The Pretenders]

(to be continued)

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August 4th, 2011

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"I'm not interested in new technologies."
—J. Bruce Harreld, VP for Strategy, IBM

Besides the date in the title marking my 51st birthday (should I still be around for celebrations), it appears to be a most significant moment in this narrative. I shall refrain from commenting (but you all know my soft tooth for Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle). One little thing made me wonder though: whatever happened to Apple's past?

Link to epic by way of Sanjay.

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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Twenty-three, perhaps

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Art by Nikitas, melancholic deviant artist and blogger.

How many hours can a man and a woman be friends and not have sex get in the way? Have you been reading the Demystifying Divas this week? Their topic of choice is flirting. Kewl and sekksy as they all are, they are not afraid to admit they like this stuff and proceed to generously give men advice on the do's and don'ts of the battlefield. In fact, they even asked (and got) the male perspective on what they had to say (edited version of said perspective also available). I shall not attempt to present a critique or alternative reading here. But, in my terribly arrogant opinion, flirting is exactly this: raw war. Before you dismiss this statement, consider there've been well known wars throughout human history where no shots were fired, no daggers were drawn, no cannons were loaded. Flirting is as much a power game as any other 'war' and it sure helps that opponents have been known to sustain hostilities for centuries on end.

When matters relating to sex are discussed, the best thing a blogger can do is choose their words wisely. One can find (usually too late) that messing up their definitions has messed up their whole post, perhaps their whole blog. Not to mention their flirting session. Follow me in dealing with a couple of issues of interest to, well, me. It's my opinion after all and until they can be accepted as dogma, I can only pray the comments are not too harsh.

Do you believe there could be progress, civilization great works of Art, Manolo Blahniks - Life, even, without flirting? If you don't, congratulations. You need no proof whatsoever. Simply remember that there's one rule in flirting and this is "no rules". If on the other hand you do believe all these wonderful things could exist without flirting, go take a shower immediately. You probably stink and I do not want you around this blog. Oh, and please phone these glassworks people to replace the mirror: it's been broken way too long and gives you a distorted view of yourself.

In simple words, what are flirting's required ingredients? Answer: At least two persons with half a brain shared among them. Now, that 'at least' is extremely important and I fear not enough people have actually realized this. Flirting is a fine but most certainly not a one-to-one activity. (Since no physical activity is involved, save the guilt of even thinking orgies: flirting is mostly a mind game.) Actually, I fear flirting's essence comes into being only when there are more than two people involved. Enter the adversary. The adversary is like the fuel feeding the flame of flirting; moreover, the adversary (best when present but also acceptable when implied) will make sure that the 'half-brain' I required in my ingredients list is put to work. One always needs to step beyond cliches and memorized lists of do's and don'ts in actual, battlefield flirting. (Which reminds me to underline the battlefield could be just anywhere: a bar is no more an appropriate flirting place than an email client or a chat room.) One constantly needs to improvise, to be able for that impromptu delivery of flirting genius, to show they are able for tactical advance and retreat but manage to keep the subject in focus and -most of all- be prepared for their reaction while not failing to keep the adversary at bay or, even better, to manage to get them off the field. Complicated? Yes, that's the way it should be. For, in the end, it is only when one emerges victorious off a most complicated battle that the real joy of winning it all is fully appreciated.

Purpose missing in action then? Right -- so, what's the purpose of all this fighting then, even if it does not involve more casualties than some grey matter or a few drinks or some inflated phone bills? Contrary to popular belief, the obvious positive results of flirting (that is, when the subjects capitulate) are not the ones ultimately sought. Sure, one can see two people end up having sex after successfully flirting, or setting a date, or the start of a friendship, a relationship, a marriage even. However, the most important thing that happens does happen in the flirters' minds. If you ask me, I'll say flirting is successful and also success-full when our couple walks away with both feeling victorious. What, not about sex at all? I hear. But of course it's about sex. Always is. If one can stop equating sex with their genitals for a minute, they could most probably enjoy more intellectual orgasms than they think existed while resolving the "not sexually interested in you" issue. It only takes one to recognize they should primarily flirt their equals. As in any war or fight, any other combination would result in ridicule or disaster.

So, girls..

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

in qualche modo

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Superficie a testura vibratile, 1972, by Getulio Alviani

And their sins were, well, extravagant: do not rub the backs of dogs; coin no false money; do not lie except about sex, about which lying was compulsory. Had he perhaps said something about sex? No, not at all. Had he rubbed the back of a dog? In that moment, precisely as he reached the bus stop, the gentleman understood himself to be a Martyr of the Faith but could not be certain as to which faith. … For an instant he remained in doubt, but then he understood that his uncertainty embodied his prestige, his tepidity, his strength: he stood at the start of a new career, when, just as he was stepping up onto the bus, his severed head slipped from his hands.

An excerpt of an excerpt of Centuria: One Hundred Ouroboric Novels, by Giorgio Manganelli, translated by Henry Martin, published last month by McPherson & Company, published in part this month by Harper’s Magazine.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

multiple intelligences continued

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Another “postcard” from Athens by Blair D. Fraser

A few more things from the conference, since you’re all so interested (and your comments so inspired).

1. The developmental phase that follows the Romantic Period is called the Philosophic Period (theory by Kieran Egan.) During this period, between the approximate ages of ages of 15 and 20, people stop being so interested in extreme situations and details, and instead, find themselves driven to discover the general rules by which the world works. They become interested in hierarchies and intellectual engagements that help to identify them. They lose their fears of their own undeveloped potentials and become overconfident in their abilities to analyze and understand the world and the people around them.

2. In the public sector in Greece, an overwhelming majority aspires to native speaker pronunciation of English. Of these, 54% aspire to a standard British accent, and 7% aspire to a standard American accent. Only 6% find that Greek-accented English is appropriate. The question raised was whether non-native speakers of English should be proud of their own voices, or ashamed of them.

3. “In a good learning environment, there is always more learning than teaching.” Like I said, there was more than one instructor trying to teach me something during the weekend, and more than one environment in which I could learn (it), so I took a break from the lectures and found myself a sunny spot near a fountain and across from some bus stops. I was writing some silly things in a little black book some guy I know gave me when I heard a sort of gasp or half-scream, and then a really loud, solid thump. I looked up just in time to see two women (maybe 50 years old) falling to the ground after being HIT as they were crossing the cross-walk by a car driven (as far as I could tell) by two young girls. I watched for a minute in horror, and when I didn’t see anyone else with a cell phone, I called the police myself (which is something I’ve never done, in this country or any other) and reported the accident. Then I ran down to the street to tell them that help was on the way. But the girls obviously wanted to avoid any possible trouble and said they were taking the women to the hospital right away. They left, which meant I had to call the police again and tell them not to bother sending anybody. The women had been holding their bloody heads and crawling toward the car that almost killed them the last time I saw them, but I assume they too lived to tell about it. It was one of those humbling moments that put everything in perspective and teach you that you have a whole lot more to learn.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

multiple intelligences

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Photo of an old building in Athens by Blair D. Fraser.

Some things I learned at a conference this weekend, seen through the prism of other events that happened coincident to it:

1. Roughly between the ages of 10 and 16, children go through what has been identified as the Romantic Period, whose salient characteristic is the overwhelming feeling of being overwhelmed by one’s own feelings. Kids at this age become fascinated by extremes wholly unrelated to their own lives and become consumed with threatening questions about death and destiny; they are drawn to secrecy, tempted to lie, insecure about their own potential, attracted to heroes who seem to have the qualities it takes to survive in a threatening world, desperate to love and be loved even as they know that whatever they do, someone would be disappointed if only he knew. Some people never progress past this period.

2. In one study, only 54% of Greeks found Greek-accented English acceptable, whereas 100% of the British listeners found the same samples appropriate. On the other side of the coin, only 15% of the British participants in the study found a Liverpool accent acceptable, whereas 100% of the Greeks did. The results clearly have to do with social perception and our harshness toward our own culture first.

3. “Learners learn better if they feel better.” Well, I was at that place to learn, and here’s what happened to me: first (morning) I felt good, then (about lunch time) I felt bad, then (nightfall) I felt Really Good, then (after dark) I felt Really Bad, and finally (next day) I felt fine, unsettled and confused, but all in all, moderately good. I hope this experience has put me in a good learning environment. Because someone (has) shifted my paradigm.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Serious Play of American Verbosity [Guest Post]

Sissoula's latest post produced a lengthy comment by our regular visitor and advanced thinker zizany. Rather than burying his insightful commentary, we suggested this could become a full-blown dystro-blog entry, thus introducing our first guest-blogger! Thank you, zizany, for permission and all please read and contribute: you may be our next guest-blogger.

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The Serious Play of American Verbosity by zizany

First let me take a moment to address the offensive and erroneous slander on American verbosity. I'd like to amend [de(e)lumina's] comment [on sissoula's post]. Americans in general are not verbose, rather it is the American Intellectual. Americans in general are very direct, succinct and concise. They in general don't have the time, the energy or higher-brain power to be nothing more than be to the point, often doing just that, literally pointing with the neanderthalish guttural directness. We see it readily when we go to the restaurant. The waitress asks, "Yes?" (meaning what would you like me to bring you to eat from the various items located throughout the menu I was gracious enough to give you several minutes of my valuable time to let you peruse uninterrupted?) The customer responds with pointing to several items, which the waitress responds with, "ok". Americans with their abbreviations, acronyms and 3 minute news bites to cover complicated issues happening throughout the world. American are by no means verbose. Except for the academics and intellectuals, which are rare animals amongst the populus. Now, mind you, the university system in the US has evolved from the model left over from British colonial times. Damn those Brits! See, we can't have it both ways. On the one hand, we believe typically that Americans are stupid fanatical western cowboys. Yet on the other hand, they are verbose? I pledge and guarantee statistical sociological support for the first notion.

moving on...

On seriousness... Sartre (damn those french) posits the folly of humans on the spirit of seriousness, defined roughly as the belief that values are out there, in-and-of themselves, and that the human endeavor is to discover them, embrace them, and adhere to their will.

It is antithetical to play, aka freedom, which for Sartre Being IS ...

"...[the spirit of serious is a] voluntary alienation, that is, a submission to an abstraction that justifies one: the thought that man is the inessential and the abstract the essential..." -(Sartre's Notebooks for an Ethic, 60)

Seriousness is valueing these ideals, and adhereing to them above all else, even one's own freedom. Once one's own freedom is disregarding in such a way, not far behind, all Other's freedoms are also thus disregarded. Here in lies a primal violence upon which all other violences rest. [The]... spirit of seriousness is a kind of violence because it posits values as transcendent to freedoms. So instead of value, as a demand of freedom, only being able to be attained by freedom, it becomes a demand on freedom." (Sartre's Notebooks for an Ethic, 209)

This violence of reliquinshing, submitting and/or subjugating one's own freedom to a Kantian-non-existant-out-there-in-and-of-itself-Universal-Law type of value, also then demands these values extend to Others, in that if one is willing to do such violence to oneself, then also the Other (as an object under One's will to power) must also adhere to these values. The attitude of seriousness justifies original violence against other humans because the duty to abide is something which can be forced.

This violence is justified by the belief that the human is inessential and that World is the essential. This situation is one where the "oppressor oppresses the oppressed in the name of the myth" which is that values are objectively in the world. Not only is there violence through alienation, but also violence to others because humans are taken as inessential. One's own freedom and the freedom of others may be suppressed in the name of duty to the objective value (Sartre's Notebooks for an Ethic, 60).

It would seem that once again, the lack of understanding the ontological phenomenology of being erupts in violence of Self and Other.

(please forgive this side tangent... for all your hardcore Heideggerian nutbags... this violence is the root of the priority of the ontological difference, not Heidegger's attack on the presuppositions of Being by the ancient Greeks- damn those ancient greeks!)

A real world application to these above ideas is found in the American Hegemony enforcing the so-believed "god-given, self-evident" neo-conservative (which is a nice media-friendly word for facscist, by the way) Evangelical Christian/Zionist values upon the rest of the world, by brute military force where necessary. Damn Americans!

"What is play indeed if not an activity of which man is the first origin, for which man himself sets the rules, and which has no consequences except according to the rules posited?" (Sartre's Being and Nothingness, 741)

In play, one's freedom is the end and the world is conditioned; freedom conditions the world in a certain way, placing rules on the world. We use freedom to surpass the situation at hand, continuing the fall towards possibilities, including the ultimate possibility, that of no more possibilities.

"At the same time the challenge is play: it is a rupture with the spirit of seriousness, [it is] expenditure, annihilation, passage to the festiveside. The festival in effect is liberation from the spirit of seriousness, the expenditure of economics, the ruin of hierarchy, and the absorption of the other by the Same, of the objective by intersubjectivity, of order by disorder." (Sartre's Notebooks for an Ethic, 374)

This is tantamount to peace, love and caring, Heidegger's foundation of being. Play is Being.

Seriousness is the trick of logic and historicity (Power) to subjugate Being into an inauthentic world-view to redistribute wealth/power.

Serious play...
Quite simply, (because i'm running out of wind in this long-winded diatribe), serious play is the critical exposition of inauthentic ways of manifested spirits of seriousness (that's the serious side) and then deconstructing them (that's the play).

This is my platform, by the way, namely that Violence is the lack of understanding of the ontological phenomenology of being and that critical deconstructive ontological thinking is the authentic means to peaceful Being, the end of suffering and the transcendence of humanity.

[This has been a guest-blogging appearance by zizany.]

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Dense (Blogger) Desks

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"No matter how well you decorate a cubicle, it's still a cubicle."
—Dan Rosensweig, COO, Yahoo

I admit I took it easy. On the blog, that is. My sweet friend S. called from London earlier on and kept me on the phone for about an hour: the weather in England is so ...greek, it appears. Everyone in London is so happy about it. I tried to persuade her it's all my brother-in-law's fault, he just visited London to pick up a Prize along with his office-mates, apparently. Good for them, they were invited to a black-tie dinner at The Savoy. Maybe they exchanged sunshine for some clotted cream the day after. Anyway, S. told me she's not into this blog culture and what a pig I am to employ these two unsuspecting females to do all the work for me. I protested. I even asked her to join "the team of editors" (as it is euphemistically known). Need I say she diplomatically declined? Makes one wonder where one's charm was lost...

But, the self-criticism is not exactly accurate. Following my exciting adventure at Fistful of Fortnights, I've actually been busy in other quarters (testing mother tongue after quite some time). And while you people were sleeping, a (seemingly ever-expanding) nucleus of greek bloggers ventured on a collective attempt at shaking the established order. FRE-e_PAPER. Nah, dystro could not be absent from such. Time will tell. Sorry, wholly in greek.

Catering to anglophones, are you aware that Blog Noir's final chapter has been posted by Sadie, thus concluding this outrageously successful joint-venture? You're better off spending part of your weekend reading the full works, instead of lazily laying in the sun (assuming it's sunny in the rotten cold places most of you live).

Which conveniently brings us to the major question I meant to present anyway: what's the matter with this bloody blog? Will there ever be a theme? Will we see a purpose? Is there anything beyond meaningless ramblings on cats and runaway teenagers? (Well, I know there hasn't been much written on teenagers, but, fathering two teenage kids now, there's a lot of talk about such matters on the home front. Please bear with me on this.) Readers, visitors, fellow Blomans: Reality is extremely disruptive (and should be banned). Perhaps it's time for some statistical evidence - this usually works with the technorati. Point one, over 20% of our daily visitors are now recorded as residing in North America. This is a great moment for all of us, especially the ones operating behind the scenes (you didn't really believe it's just the three of us around here now, did you?). Point two, for the first time in this blog's history, hits from the U.K. climbed to position #3 in our top-20 list, overtaking Cyprus. I guess some --ehm, outvisitors should tell their friends about us. Or their relatives in Africa, since this remains a continent we have had zero (that's nil, 0, nada) visitors from. I assured the relevant U.N. High Commission on Blogging this has not been the result of any racial discrimination on our part. They told me it's ok even if we did discriminate. Part of some ploy by the World Bank, surely. Some people are surely wolves. Go figure.

So. It's pretty clear to all, this was a rather pointless post. But it's got my nick under it, so all the smiling beauties out there know I am still alive. And all the smiling beauties in here were reminded who the boss is around dystro-blog. Have a super weekend, all. And keep returning for more exciting content at half price. One third, even.

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On Seriousness

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People tend to say serious things, and then add the caveat that they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Recent misunderstandings on this subject reminded me of a comment (non-blog) that a professor made about me in an all-purpose reference letter he wrote when I was finishing university. These things are always full of hyperbolic praise, so I guess the caveat is supremely applicable in this instance (or, as some guy I know might say, it should be taken with a ton of salt), but I’m going to risk further self-immolation by copying an excerpt from it here:

In the subsequent seminar… [her] aptitude for theory-based, practice-oriented teaching was established beyond any doubt. In an essay with a title that itself says something about her ability to engage in instructive, entertaining, serious play… she addressed the central problem with pedagogies that focus on academic discourse: “The challenges and genuine opportunities for critical thinking offered by Ways of Reading are both rigorous and provocative… However… the contrary feelings of satisfaction and panic, solidarity and isolation, ‘love’ and ‘hate,’ define for me a ‘pedagogy of ambivalence’ that carries over from the pages of the textbook to the dynamics of the classroom.”… In the course of this analysis, she makes it clear why she insists that teachers “relinquish the definable in favor of the problematic, joining students in a genuine endeavor of critical co-investigation.”

I was clever then (i.e. full of myself and full of baloney), but so was my professor. I was trying to undermine him and his fascist authority to impose an unteachable textbook on us and all our poor Comp 101 students, and he turned it around by presenting my (in)sincere vacillation as a virtue. That’s how the game was played -- and is still (being) played now.

One of us thinks it’s all about sex. The other has yet to make her platform known. Somebody else thought of it first, of course, but for me, it’s all about serious play.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

softly softly catchee monkey

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Icy Night, Alfred Stieglitz, 1892

I’ve been really fascinated by survival stories lately. It started with a vague change in inclination from fiction to non, and it really picked up when I picked up, completely by chance, a book about an ill-fated Arctic expedition in 1913 (it’s called The Ice Masters) a few years ago. I recently finished Into the Wild, a book about a promising young man who started life pretty much where I did, but finished it frozen, starved, and utterly alone in a handmade sleeping bag, in an abandoned bus, in Alaska.

This past weekend, I saw the unforgettable, humbling, gripping (no more relevant adjectives come to mind) Touching the Void, a semi-documentary film about two British alpinists who amazingly survive(d) a disastrous climb (actually, the descent is where everything goes wrong) in Peru. This film reminded me of Open Water, another real life horror film almost impossible to sit through, and equally impossible to be done with.

I wonder why these stories are so compelling, not only to those who are drawn into experiencing them first hand, but also to people who would never dream of taking such risks on forbidding mountains or icy poles, people like me. I did have a friend in high school who vanished on one such venture. Completely disappeared. And of course, he was and still is assumed dead. For a time, I also lived on a frozen tundra where every day (not only in winter) I triumphed in my ability to survive. Maybe it’s as simple as that. We all seek challenges, great or small, that call into question our very existence, because simply existing doesn't suffice.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

where every cat has a webpage

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Not much was happening around here, so I spent the better part of the morning making a webpage for my cat. First there was Friendster. Now we’ve got not only Catster but Dogster too. Is there no end in sight to the phantasy worlds at our phingertips? Even a cat can have an online persona, a journal too if he or she is so inclined. And what do their owners get? I got the vicarious thrill of imagining my cat's social network expanding exponentially -- and some good recommendations for hotels in Greece. The personal never ceases to blend with the political. Maybe we can change the world, one cat at a time.

Pirated photo of a cat named Abuela, aka Microbutt

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Palpable delights

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MATISSE, Henri, Odalisque with Red Culottes (1921), Oil on canvas - Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
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Dystropopygus, wearing his freudian hat no wonder, often reminds us that – really – it’s all about sex in the end.
I think I may have to agree with him on that one.
In a society that feels the need to flash breasts in order to advertise anything from yoghurt to cars and fakes orgasm to promote herbal shampoos, well, yes, everything revolves around sex.
(And, by the way, that’s irrespectively of how much any of us is actually having)

I urge all hedonists amongst you to visit the Matisse exhibition in London’s Royal Academy of Arts as soon as you can. For reasons probably best left classified, I haven’t made it there yet, but I have full trust in the master: Matisse does sex but, even more so, he does sensuality probably better than anyone else in my opinion. His paintings, his women, his fabrics – dare I say even his pigeons - simply and effortlessly ooze sexuality. Just like dream lovers (should) do…

Alternatively, for those less carnally driven, there is also the Madjeski Fine Rooms exhibition on. Very fine, I am sure, although choosing wall panels over Henri is certainly a ‘deal-breaker’ in my book.

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

not just a pretty face

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The United Nations has given up its attempt to introduce a worldwide legal ban on some or all types of human cloning. On Tuesday its deeply divided general assembly voted to adopt a watered-down "declaration" that condemns all forms of human cloning but is not legally binding.

There’s lots of good stuff on sex and cloning these days over at New Scientist. The above refers to the UN’s recent declaration proscribing “all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” The blanket ban is vague and legally weak, however. It leaves the door wide open for scientists in countries that did or did not support it to continue their endeavors with no fear of being bitten in the ass by a law that has no teeth. Not surprisingly, Dubya didn’t really get that part. “I applaud the strong vote of the United Nations General Assembly today,” he said, adding sth axiomatic about the value of human life.

Controversy or no, embryonic stem cells are being used to help guinea pigs hear again and license has been granted to Ian Wilmut, the guy that cloned Dolly, to clone human embryos in order to study motor neurone disease (perhaps giving Stephen Hawking a fighting chance at formulating – and somehow expressing – that Great Unified Theory we’ve all been waiting for). Stressing the difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning, Wilmut tries to stifle dissent toward his project: “This is not reproductive cloning in any way. The eggs we use will not be allowed to grow beyond 14 days.”

Ah, but so much can happen in just 14 days. Hearts are broken and mended in a few unexpected exchanges; commitments both stated and implied are undermined – and affirmed; a family member dies quietly, without goodbyes; plans are hatched to travel back in time, collect a few more artifacts, break a few more hearts, ask a few more questions that have no answers.

An Arctic clipper promises more snow in Virginia.

The little cat in the picture (recognize her?) is a clone, but not a copy – of her mother, her sister, herself.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Competent Connections

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"You're valued not only for your skills, but for your network."
—Sunny Bates, Chairman,
Sunny Bates Associates

Only days ago, this blog's "dynamic duo" became a swinging trio with the addition of De(e)lumina. While the finalization of said addition took longer than perhaps deemed logical and caused several of our regular commentators to offer some caustic humour, we are glad we are three. Time will tell if we should also be happy about it. And we do wish that Loxias, Steph and vague tourist will continue to bless us (and their fellow readers) with their witty interventions.

Presumably, more editors would produce more posts. We do need some time for the dust to settle, people, and there's been a list of productivity-unrelated reasons why you're not immediately seeing double the usual wealth of weird, abstract and heady posts about almost anything that caught our attention: Sissoula is (truly) testing her new high-tech portable computer (of course she also has to configure all OS parameters herself), a development which aims at freeing her from that internet cafe's greedy owner's whims; Dee is battling her way across halls crowded with hysterical undergrads who've been shamelessly yawning during her lectures, only to request clarifications during the very in-between-classes short breaks she normally uses to write up her blog entries. Myself has been extra busy not only servicing the car for a family long weekend in the countryside, but also preparing an adequate piece for my very first ever guestblogging invitation by none less than Sadie, blog-princess of Fistful of Fortnights! Needless to say, this invitation has given us cause to celebrate: it just might signal this team's rise to a more well-lit region of the international blogosphere. After allowing some time for the hit ratings and blog value to settle, a general assembly motion will be in order and Sadie just might receive a free coupon for a glass or two of a greek traditional alcoholic drink -- non-transferable and non-refundable. Well, as I've pointed out elsewhere, if it can't be (about) sex, let it at least be something equally intoxicating. Cheers, Sadie!

Illustration by Norman Rockwell

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Who owns English?

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It’s a provocative question. So provocative, in fact, that Newsweek International decided to put it on the cover of its March 7 issue, and I was sucker enough to buy it. Rarely does the content of Newsweek or Time ever live up to the covers, so I don’t know why I should be disappointed this time. In any event, the content, such as it is, of the particular article “Not the Queen’s English” can be summed up in the following four points:

1. English language instruction is a hugely lucrative industry.
2. “If you can’t speak English, it’s like you’re deaf and dumb.”
3. Non-native speakers of English now outnumber native speakers 3 to 1. Why is this important? Never before has there been a language that’s spoken by more people as a second than a first.
4. There is no World Standard English, but there is an international “brand” of English, and despite regional variations in vocabulary and pronunciation, it’s the non-native speakers who are doing a better job of communicating in it than those who insist upon the Queen’s English and all its idiomatic colloquialisms.

Conclusion (mine): Everybody knows that language is a fluid thing. It trickles and eddies, flows and overflows. It penetrates, erodes, refracts. Eventually, a point of saturation will be reached. In the meantime, there is indeed a lot of money to be made, and only a fraction of it will be made by Brits and Americans. I think it’s fair to say that nobody owns English anymore; it’s a mass market commodity sold dirt cheap on every corner. Imagine one advertisement selling equally effectively in each and every corner of the globe. This is a great triumph for English. Nothing is wasted, people say, and a language grows neither richer nor poorer; it just is what it is. But I wonder, in 50 years or so, will Spanglish, Hinglish, Greeklish, and other such tongues be mutually comprehensible or will they be useless double corruptions that got out of hand? (Blogos [see March 1] is more optimistic.)

Linguistic imperialism is hardly the issue when the “oppressed” are clamoring, supplicating themselves, and paying exorbitant prices for access to “the language of empowerment.” Nevertheless, I think English is already going down in history as a language killer; it’s another sort of mass extinction we can blame on the Americans. Diversity guards against the loss of any given species, and I think that bilingualism and multilingualism will keep total domination by English at bay for the foreseeable future, maybe indefinitely. In fact, the way I see it, English may be among the first to fall in the killing spree. The descriptivists will judge me for this, but in English, there is an –s on third person singular verbs. There is a difference between who and whom, and pil(l) and peel, and pique and peak (and peaked and peaked).

Back to the bottom line, runaway inflation will inevitably leave a currency devalued. Walter Benjamin, John Berger, Walker Percy and all those guys said it first, but it’s all a matter of mass reproduction and overabundant representation. Performance is privileged – over property, permanence, and sadly, precision.

The picture was taken by Kyle Reed in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province. Coincidentally, statement Number 2 (above) was made by a 12-year-old girl who makes her home there. According to Kyle, the Chinese means something like: "Entrance to bus station here" but the sign was written in Chinglish (English words with Chinese syntax).

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

In lieu of (proper) introductions

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somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

I never much cared for 'proper' introductions - in fact, I never much cared for classifying anything as proper. But as I felt I wanted to introduce myself, I thought I'd do so with borrowed words but shared emotions. The triptych, in its true, substantiated sense, is here and looking forward to further flourishing. Happy reading :-)

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Constitutional Fears

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The signing of the
Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe in October 2004 was perhaps the highlight of many EU lawyers’ (peri)(pat)(h)(etic) lives last year – present writer included.

If you follow the EU blurb/self-congratulating statements, the Constitution is presented as the product of a highly democratised and socially reflexive process, i.e. the 2002-2003
Convention on the Future of Europe. What started as a meeting aimed at addressing key questions pertaining to an enlarged Union of 27 (Bulgaria and Romania missed out in that round), ‘inevitably’ turned into the drafting of a Constitution: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing’s baby. And now we have it…

I find it fascinating how everyone and their mothers talk about it and yet so few people are aware of what is truly going on. I, on the other hand, well – I get paid to enlighten the masses and then make sure that the bright, lightning wisdom has been adequately received (i.e., exam time pursuits!).

But what do people really think about it, if they think about it at all that is?
In a brilliant talk delivered by Paul Lasok QC last night at the University of Exeter, it was claimed that the phrase "Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe" consists of 6 words, 3 of them uncontroversial: Treaty, a and for. I would personally beg to disagree – the word ‘Treaty’ should have probably made it into the contentious list, but I shall not bore you with legalistic technicalities on the finest points of international legal formalism. The point still very much holds true though – as Lasok poignantly observed, "There is such wide divergence in views expressed by different political leaders and commentators that one cannot but wonder whether we are all talking about the same thing!". Obvious case in point, as he put it, a recent article in one of the "UK’s most popular tabloids" (aka The Times) where Lord Rees-Mogg was questioning whether we are fools led by liars:

On the one hand we have UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw saying that the Constitution goes "thus far and no further on European integration", effectively marking it as a boundary stone for the EU.
On the other hand we have the German Minister for Europe, Hans Martin Bury, calling the Constitution "the birth certificate" of the United States of Europe.
So, which one is it?

Paul Lasok went on to provide a survey of what the Constitution actually does (yes, he had obviously read it, douez points!) and concluded that, at the end of the day, it is "old rather than new wine, perhaps in a different bottle".
But that doesn’t really appease my own fears – my fears of narrow-mindedness, concealed and-not-so-concealed bigoted dogmatism and, well, plain ignorance really. I strongly believe that the danger of ignorant people making ignorant comments leading to decisions based on ill-gotten, or worse, plainly non existing information is seriously underrated and underplayed. It is all very convenient to blame the ‘faceless, distant, bureaucrats’ sitting in their ivory Brussels towers ruling the universe (how did my darling George W put it again? – ‘Hey guys, when I need to speak to Europe, who do I call?’), but a look in the mirror would do us all good, politicians and citizens alike.

For such a breakthrough experiment in novel, suis generis transborder governance as the European Union, affecting the lives of more than 730 million people, one would think a little more interest in what’s actually going on in circles other than academia and politics would be the rule rather than the exception.

In view of Euroelections, national elections and referenda coming up, I only hope that we all become just a little bit more aware of what is actually happening and how it will – or will not, as the case may be – affect our lives.
For all others, sign up for my course – quick! Places selling like hot cakes or, should I say, gâteaux chauds…

Euroquotes on the EU Constitution at

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Optimistic Incompetence

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"We solve [problems] one by one.
—Gareth Halliwell, Engineer, Guinness

It so happened I was invited to an Italian expats' home last evening. The lady is married to a Greek friend and lives in Athens for almost 10 years now. Her mother, a widow, spends the best part of the year with them, rather than suffer a lonesome life in Vicenza. As our party arrived, their satellite Italian channel (TGI) was broadcasting footage from Caliperi's funeral, followed by scenes from Baghdad; then, interviews with seemingly authoritative experts and officials who were rather calmly explaining the possible versions of the story. For most of the time, the Italian ladies remained silent, somehow detached. When it would be rude to continue watching, they turned the volume down and their attention to us, their guests. My friend's wife summarized their feelings, without waiting our asking: "the Americans must be hiding tons of dirty-doings down there. But Il Manifesto is a historic newspaper, they'll get out what they know." In her opinion, if the newspaper could manage to stay clear of the official PCI line in the past, they could well manage to deflect any foreign superpower pressures.

One needn't embrace yet another conspiracy theory to accept there is plenty of buried information regarding Iraq. Blanket assertions of "national security" considerations have been employed in all modern-time war conflicts, and for less reason than what's at stake in Iraq. Besides the axiomatic "history books are written by the winners of wars," there's the natural unwillingness of participants to elaborate on deeds they were trapped into performing. While, in this age of mass daily electronic disinformation, we have witnessed cracks in the cement of silence on the minute, everyday level, it is still extremely hard (if not totally impossible) to catch any big fish and assertively uncover raw motives, strategy and gentlemen's agreements regarding torture, chemical warfare, whatever. Such a feat appears incredibly out of proportion for any journalist operating single-handedly about the scene of the crime.

Blessed is the State that hides its most egregious crimes behind the smokescreen of incompetence.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

no linear narrative, preceding or next

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This fractal belongs to Adam Brown.

There’s a theory that all poems are about poetry. It has occurred to me too that in some way all blogs are about blogging. Patty Seyburn’s got a poem in the winter issue of The Paris Review that reminds me of what I love about both. It’s called “The Alphabetizer Speaks.”

I have my reasons

have never known starvation nor plenitude
and unless the order of the world
changes, I won’t.
If the order of the world changes, I will
disappear, the way some vowels
elide into their word-bodies
or an individual blade recedes
into a field each season.

Will my daughter carry on this way?
I cannot yet tell her qualities—
if she prefers scale to chance, sequence to random.
And this may mean nothing.
I find chaos theory appealing, and eavesdrop on talk
of black holes, chasms, any abyss
that fetters sense. I relish
the desultory in many matters,
am slovenly, a slacker, a slave to caprice.
Except with the letters.

There is such thing as a calling
though I cannot speak for prophets or martyrs.
I have been summoned
by people of stature and the low-stationed,
comrade and debutante alike.
My eyes suffer, and my hands, my back.

I am my profession. It is no whim.
I do not want the world a certain way.
The world is that way, and I am a vehicle
on the road of nomenclature. I tend the road.

In my dream, all events coterminous—
no linear narrative, preceding or next.
The odd vignette, lone scene, an image
in isolation, no neighbors.
Then I awaken and pace
my thin balcony, calculating
how much of me waits above, how much
lives below, and I pose
the question of balance. My name
cues the turn home.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Weekend Frolics

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"Revolution can't be automated."
—Shoshana Zuboff, Professor, Harvard Business School

Why on earth would anyone be reading Fernando Claudin's Eurocommunism and Socialism (1977) at this conjencture? Well, I was trying to check something and had been looking up old notes and textbooks (yes, I'd bought this one at a campus Bookstore sale for $9.25 - for my thesis). The book was left on my desk when I read Sadie's post on a meme she couldn't resist.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.


"Parties cannot substitute for trade unions and vice versa. Representative democracy cannot substitute for rank-and-file democracy, or vice versa. No class organisation can fulfill the role of the women's liberation movement or the student movement - and so on."

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Saturday, March 05, 2005

No Blind Flight

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From Wikipedia's in the news: " The Scaled Composites Model 311 Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer is an aircraft designed by Burt Rutan that Steve Fossett flew in a non-stop solo trip around the world from February 28, 2005 until March 3, 2005. The feat matched the distance set by the previous Rutan-designed Voyager aircraft. The attempt was described as "the last great aviation record attempt" (first solo, first jet-propelled, non-stop unrefuelled circumnavigation). The aircraft was financed by Richard Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic, and built by Burt Rutan's company, Scaled Composites."

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There's more to the story, of course. Before Steve Fossett left, Sir Richard Branson loaned Steve his Breitling "Emergency" watch; a special watch used by pilots and adventurers to alert international search & rescue teams in the event of an emergency. Thankfully Steve didn't need to actually use the watch because he managed to land safely in Salina, Kansas. After getting his watch safely back, Branson kindly agreed to donate it for auction in aid of charity ORBIS.

ORBIS is an international charity who fly specially equipped aircraft with fully functional eye hospitals on board into third world countries, where they perform sight-saving operations. The entire sale price will go to ORBIS. In case anyone's interested in bidding, the auction is scheduled to end on March 14. That's less than ten days away for a piece of aviation history and a great opportunity to help fight children's blindness worldwide.

For more details on the project and ORBIS, visit

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Friday, March 04, 2005

(sexy?) dangerous

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Better late than never, right? Slate had a funny article a week or so ago comparing bloggers to rappers.

What, you ask, could those champagne-swilling, "bitch"-shouting rappers have in common with those Jolt-pounding, "read the whole thing"-writing bloggers? For starters, both groups share a love of loose-fitting, pajama-style apparel. Still not satisfied? Bloggers and rappers are equally obsessed with social networking. Every rapper rolls with his entourage; every blogger rolls with his blog roll. Women can't win an audience in either profession without raunching it up like Lil' Kim or Wonkette. And don't forget those silly, silly names...

Sure, there are a few differences between the blogosphere and the blingosphere. Although bloggers have a certain buzz about them these days, they'll never be cool the way rappers are cool. The blogger lifestyle is dangerous—staying up all night and eating Cheetos will eventually kill you—but not sexy dangerous.

Picture props go to this site.

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“Triplets in their bedroom, N.J.” by Diane Arbus, 1963

All good stories start this way, with three blind mice or three little pigs.

There’s also the three-piece suit and the holy trinity, 3-D films, and the three-ring circus that we call life. It was the third day of the third month, and there were three of us. Three’s company? Three’s a crowd? Good things come in threes.

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Solem quis dicere falsum audeat?

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"The chief goal of life has become saving time."
—Michael Tchong, Lead Consumer Analyst, Iconoculture Inc.

The clock of life is wound but once
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time.
For the clock may soon be still.

This poem was (supposedly) found on the body of "Fast" Eddie, Al Capone's legal counsel who testified against the mob, after he was summarily tommy-gunned in Chicago. I met Martin Braun in Munich this past Saturday. Cigarettes are sublime.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Entertainers as Heroes

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Sigmund, Carl and Alfred go out of their way and post an article by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, titled "The Academy Awards: When Court Jesters Become Kings" in its entirety. The author's argument is sound and clear and he believes this should help one "understand why so many people around the world think we Americans are so stupid and shallow. It's not because of Bush. It's because of Hollywood."

Unfortunately, if there's one thing America has been very successful at, that's what most European intellectuals (not necessarily left-of-liberal) call "cultural imperialism". Where McDonalds and Hollywood go hand-in-hand, there are no obstacles. The more "traditional" and "chauvinist" a society is to begin with, the easier it falls. If you thought 'France' as you read this, think again. This gorgeous post by Extraordinary Ordinary Guy in Japan says it all. And it's only about hair.

Overall, I wouldn't subscribe to the blame-it-on-Hollywood theory. Even if one takes all the glitz apart, there's still bound to be some content. Simplistic content? Propaganda? Happy-American-Ends? Maybe. But content nonetheless. While if one takes George W.'s "Hero" uniform away, what content would there be left?

Could not resist linking to a poll carried out by renowned Opinion Polling Institute DIMAP, tasked by German daily Die Welt. Turns out Germans trust Putin more than Bush (you can find a report here). It should matter when people trust you less than an ex-KGB agent, shouldn't it? Now, if only I could recall where I first read this aphorism...

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Blog Noir Update

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What better way to remind you all that the Blog Noir project is now getting ready for its 5th installment than use Christina's words?

Four for four.

The Noir Godfaddah created the indomitable Max Robichaux in Chapter One.

The delightful Key took a note or two on the lady Max and ran with her, right square into O'Callaghan and Love in Chapter Two.

The ever-so talented TJ, princess of the one-liners (One slice of bacon away from a triple bypass) added more twistys and turns deep in the heart of Louisiana with Chapter Three.

With a bowed head, I tried to continue the tradition of excellence in Chapter Four.

The lovely Liv is up next with Chapter Five. I fully expect her saucy, smart, and sassy personality will be written all over it.

Bringing up the rear with the unenviable task of putting it all together is our own Soul Sistah Sadie. Do not despair. Sadie is the Noir Queen and the perfect choice to put this project to bed with classy wit and an abundance of intelligence.

I simply cannot wait.

Neither can I, Christina.

Illustration by Loustal - looks like everyone's reading Le Blog Noir...

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gone to the dogs

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This week, The Economist beats its way around the Bush (who says "Merci, y’all," by the way) just enough to get to the essential question of whether or not dogs have personalities in the same way that humans do.

Human personalities, according to the article, can be measured in the following five dimensions:
- openness to experience
- conscientiousness
- extraversion
- agreeableness
- natural reactions (how calm or sensitive to stress someone is)

A related analysis concluded that there are four principle dimensions to a dog personality. They are:
- sociability
- affection
- emotional stability
- competence (a mixture of intelligence and obedience)

So, if you haven’t read the article (it’s not online), what would you conclude? Are dogs people after all? (or vice versa?)

Thanks go to Chad for permission to use his cute doggie photo from the Westminster Dog Show in NYC. Even cuter is the name he gave it, "peek a knees." This guy has got a good eye, a penetrating wit, and a Mid-Western sensibility set in quiet but palpable contrast to his current NY address.

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