Sophie, Choices, and the Ratz

April 28, 2005 at 9:47 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

I’m coming to this topic late, but that doesn’t take away from its acuity:

This entry by Billmon of Whisky Bar is the best montage yet on the new Pope.

The Good German.

Trust me — I’m a historian (used to be, anyway). Billmon has it right.

Hyperlinked and dumb?

April 26, 2005 at 5:21 pm | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Pay attention…

Messaging technology depletes human cognitive abilities more rapidly than drugs, according to a new psychiatric study. The study, conducted at King’s College, London, found that in a clinical trial, people who are frequently interrupted by e-mail, text messages and phone calls suffered a 10 percent decline in IQ scores, more than twice the fall recorded by marijuana users. Symptoms exhibited by users responding to messaging technology included lethargy and an inability to focus. “We have found that this obsession with looking at messages, if unchecked, will damage a worker’s performance by reducing their mental sharpness,” said psychiatrist Dr Glenn Wilson of King’s College. [Source:, Roundups for 22 April 2005 (Sylvia Leatham)]

The Register (Andrew Orlowski) also ran this story, albeit with even more darkly apocalyptic overtones relating to education and technology. The Guardian (Martin Wainwright) also weighed in. Both focussed on email, although the study’s most damning conclusions were about messaging. Whatever, being hooked up 24/7 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

As a homeschooling parent of two kids whose learning, in a distance ed. experiment begun in 2003, is mediated almost exclusively via computer these days, I think it’s accurate to report that this delivery method has not made either child more acute or given him or her greater insight. If anything, the technology has been an interference, maddening when stuck on typical Microsoft software glitches, and infuriating in its assumption of being “good,” when in reality it was often trite. I’m also disenchanted by the cohort in e-learning or v-learning (v for virtual): an undefinable quality of curiousity is missing from these kids, and there’s little joy in learning. They’re jumping through hoops held up by zeroes and ones. It’s about time to pull the plug.

In an article from March 21, Andrew Orlowski also wrote about the findings of two Munich University researchers who, after studying and comparing PISA results, concluded that computers make kids dumb. It should be mentioned, however, that it’s the neglect of homework in favour of computers that seems to account for the decisive effect. Steve Talbott (whose newsletter I get via email, ahem) writes about this study, too (scroll down a ways), and his thoughts are well worth considering:

As most readers know, I generally don’t put much stock in social research of this sort, regardless of which side of an issue it comes down on. What interests me in the current case is not so much the report’s conclusions as the response to them: numerous commentators have been heard moaning about our failure to train teachers in the effective use of computers. Surely, we’re told, the fault must lie with the teachers, not with the bureaucrats and industry consultants who’ve been busy telling all teachers everywhere how they should convey their life-long learning to students!

Yes, teacher ineptitude is a logically possible explanation of the situation. But you’d think these pedagogical experts would occasionally ask themselves whether the widespread teacher resistance might have a more reasonable explanation — namely, computer ineptitude. It is, after all, just possible that a great deal about the computer works *against* its educational use. It might be, for example, that the computer tends to make more difficult the single greatest educational task today, which is to bring the student into the fullest, richest engagement with reality — the reality of the natural world, the human being, and society. [Emphasis mine; I think Talbott’s comment can be usefully compared to Howard Gardner’s formulation about education for understanding: engagement with reality and understanding embrace each other.]

To hear (now former) U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige tell it, such questions hardly need raising, because the essential role of computers in the classroom has become an axiom of faith. In the National Education Technology Plan, released in January, Paige tells us that “Education is the only business[!] [that exclamation mark is Talbott’s emphasis] still debating the usefulness of technology. Schools remain unchanged for the most part despite numerous reforms and increased investment in computers”.

In other words, we’ve sunk a lot of money into computers and it hasn’t helped much, so obviously (as the report urges) we’ve got to sink more money into them. In particular, we need more training. No funds for such training? Not to worry, say the authors. A little “reallocation of existing budgets” should do the trick. Presumably, whatever the money was being used for before didn’t have much to do with real education. Of course, no one’s explaining why, if the educational bureaucracy screwed things up so badly before by wasting money on useless things, we should now trust it to reallocate wisely the vast sums being shifted from teachers to machines. [This quote is from NetFuture #161, March 9/05.]

See this page for more of Steve Talbott’s essays on Education and Computers, and see NetFuture main page for current and past issues.

Blog guidelines

April 24, 2005 at 10:06 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Blog guidelines

Elaine sent an email the other day asking “about what kinds of self-imposed ethics or guidelines you have for yourselves about what you blog.” It’s part of an information-gathering exercise she’s engaged in to prepare for a panel on youth leadership at an upcoming Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership conference. Lots of responses have been coming in here, and I just added my too-long (surprise!) bit, too. Thought I’d cross-post it here (because, again no surprise, writing a comment somewhere else left no time for writing something else here…). I guess my blog is turning into a personal “post-it” note on my fridge, the string around my finger, the stray piece of paper stuck in a book…:

Interesting question, Elaine… I’ve been drifting away from my blog a lot lately, and it has to do with being more enmeshed in day-to-day concerns that involve people in the “real space” communities I’m part of, which seems to be doing two things to me: it’s taking up a lot my time, thereby taking away from time I might otherwise have to write and to follow different bloggers; and it’s made me aware that “virtualising” something/ someone is different when there’s a chance of running into him/her/it on the street. I feel really comfortable voicing my opinion on matters that are “common ground” (theoretical, intellectual, whatever) and/or clearly ethical or moral or just something I feel really strongly about, but I feel less comfortable about voicing my opinions about issues that are local, where proximity becomes an issue. Perhaps that’s part of the concern of every query about “allowed” topics: writing about your family, about your employer, challenging “experts” (if they’re in your industry or field and nearby), etc. One tends to settle into a status quo, and it can get choppy rocking the boat. That doesn’t mean there’s a hard and fast rule about it, though.

I guess blogging (and writing) is in some ways about effecting change … in me, in my community. But I have run up against some “discomfort zone” boundaries. I generally haven’t blogged about my husband, or about my kids, except obliquely, and I’m very careful not to blog about any public committee I’m on or about anyone’s affairs or about my criticism of how people I deal with daily are carrying out their jobs (there are a couple of cases where this affects me, my kids, etc., but it’s not [yet] for publication).

On the other hand, deep emotional issues told in narrative form help people. I think it helps others in situations similar to yours if you blog about it. In your case it helps others who have a comparable plight when you blog about your mother’s mental confusion and your stress in caring for her. That’s the “effecting change” piece again: it does help people to realise that others have been on this road, and to know they’ll get through it somehow. I’ve blogged about my kids in that oblique way, when I thought it might be useful for someone else to know about trying to homeschool (or distance ed. school), for example. But you have to find that line, know when it’s not a good idea to cross it. Maybe it comes down to respect, which is certainly not packaged and easily commodified. You respect those in your community, those you love, those you have to live with, because you respect yourself. The problem is that you also have to know that you can kick some ass, too, and that sometimes it’s a good idea to do so, which is interpreted as disrespect by some people — but false respect isn’t a panacea anyway. I’ve had local critics in my comments board who think I’m a stupid cow for dissing Victoria restaurants, Canadian farming practices, or Victoria sewage disposal policies (among other things), which makes me step back and wonder whether I’ve been disrespectful. The alternative (not to criticise) was worse, though. With my kids’ homeschooling and distance ed. situation, it’s a different matter because, getting personal in my account could infringe both on their privacy as well as on their work-in-progress. (Don’t know how much longer I can hold back, though…)

Re. the high school panel/ audience: Betsy Devine makes a good point that blogs are public, which means it can be a good idea for kids to blog anonymously or pseudonymously. But I also think blogs can be wonderful instruments for modelling understanding (eg., when you blog about your mother and your situation of being cast into caregiver for her). You are working something out for yourself, vs. simply assuming that you already know and projecting the “expert” image. As a homeschooling mom, I’m interested in how people (kids and adults) learn, and found a recent re-read of Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind useful. He writes that we can believe that children’s brains are tabulae rasa, with nothing on them, and then set to work furiously scribbling them up with morals and ethics and precepts, or we can assume that every mind is already “furnished” or structured with powerfully held, if often flawed, theories. Part of educating for understanding is to find ways to “raze” these powerfully held theories in order that the learner (and this is a life-long process, not restricted to “kids”) can continuously “construct” new learning (which is the classic Socratic approach, asking questions, making the learner assess and reassess). (It was actually interesting to read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink immediately after Gardner….) I think what happens in some of the blogs I read — Shelley Powers comes to mind — is that you can see understanding being modelled in the entries, and that many times her comments board wonderfully amplifies and expands — through affirmations, criticisms, and questions — that modelled understanding. The very worst thing that can happen is a flamewar in the comments boards (and it happens), but in the best cases you see this back-and-forth which inexorably moves toward greater understanding. (Although sometimes the comments, which can start in or spawn another’s blog entry, become so hair-raising in their tabula rasa certainty of inscribed thinking that it’s physically painful to follow the thread. I think the Burningbird should get a medal for often being the main course, roasted and charred by those cocks who still think that it’s not about WHAT is right but about WHO is right, but that’s another issue… ;->)

I’d ask the high schoolers to think about why they want to blog, and what that means. If they want to broadcast, evangelise, disseminate, whatever (“teach”?), it makes sense to think about the medium: you’re creating a particular kind of space, which gets linked to other spaces (or not), and it’s a lot of work to travel in those spaces. Not for the faint of heart; I know I often just drop out, from sheer exhaustion. It’s not like having a conversation over coffee, it’s not like being in a classroom, it’s not like writing for a newspaper, it’s not even about having a platform which you control from on-high. I’d tell the high schoolers that blogging is for people who want to keep asking questions and who don’t mind leaving home and travelling around the world and back in 80 minutes. Seconds. Whatever. And then I’d tell them that it can be Socratic, …and that Socrates was supposed to have been really ugly, haha! Forget about attractiveness! 😉 Blog, and break the “beautiful society”‘s last taboo!

As for government regulation — what’s that all about? Joke, right? Or is it?

Regulate blogs? (“Lemon curry?” That’s absurd.)

Port of entry

April 22, 2005 at 10:13 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Port of entry

Oh my, I’m neglecting my poor blog… Well, there are still the technical glitches (iBook display wonky, psychadelic flimmering [ooh, yeah!], black-outs [my display, not me], battery dead, etc.), but it’s also the case that my life has been taken over by the Ministry of Evil Affairs, an arm of Her Majesty’s government determined to enmesh all mortals in the technobureaucractic nightmare of the scripted life. No, no, wait: what I mean is that the more I get involved in red tape and real life in my “real life,” the more it feels like there’s a vampire sucking out my lifeblood.

My excuses are feeble, however. Really, I’m spending too much time mulling over confounding issues. Like this:

Chinese workgang laying bricks

Here’s an issue that deserves as much positive energy in its sails as possible: Canadians for Redress. A couple of weeks ago, we went to see Karen Cho’s film, In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, courtesy of Open Cinema and Hermann’s Jazz Bar. Afterwards, there was the chance to participate in audience discussion with Sid Tan, David Lai (emeritus at UVic), and Charlayne Thornton-Joe, a Victoria City Councillor.

Even for those familiar with aspects of Chinese immigration to Canada and the vital Chinese contribution to the building of the railroad, the film was an eye-opener. Canada would not be a nation-state without the Trans-Canadian railroad — British Columbia, for example, made a completed railroad the precondition for joining Canadian Confederation. Had the railroad not been built, BC would no doubt have drifted into union with the United States of America. We also know that the railroad couldn’t have been built without Chinese labour. But what many of us don’t know is how badly the Chinese were treated by the Canadian government. Once the railroad was finished, Canadian politicians in BC and in Ottawa went on a desperate spree to rid Canada of the Chinese and, failing that, to stop further immigration and effectively to restrict Chinese to ghettos: they couldn’t vote, the couldn’t practice trades, they couldn’t even be reunited with their families. During years leading up to the time that Hitler and the Nazis were plotting genocide in Europe, Canadian politicians in Ottawa unashamedly used the phrase “Final Solution” in regard to “the Chinese problem.” (Soon Canada would also slam the door shut on Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.) After the film screening, one audience member remarked that for her, the common theme of railroads was highly (and darkly) evocative: it was used in Canada to unify the nation, even as the Chinese died by the thousands building it, and it was used in Germany to effect the “final solution.” It’s not typically a subject investigated in school.

Consider this: in 1923, on July 1 (the national holiday Canadians called Dominion Day, now Canada Day), the Canadian Government instituted the Exclusion Act, which wasn’t rescinded until after World War II, in 1947. The Exclusion Act forbade all further immigration of Chinese into Canada. The Chinese were the only ethnic or racial group singled out in this way; European immigrants meanwhile were offered financial incentives, along with free land, to entice their emigration to Canada. Since they were unable to bring their wives, family members, or fiancées to Canada, the Exclusion Act effectively condemned the Chinese men already in Canada to exist in an enforced state of bachelorhood. Given the racist cast of the rest of Canadian society (Chinese were blamed for every social ill as well as every possible disease, including schizophrenia…), it was highly unlikely that these men would be able to intermarry into non-Chinese society. The Exclusion Act furthermore followed on the heels of decades of Head Tax levies, which again were only levied against the Chinese and no one else. One of the aims of the Redress movement is to get the Canadian government to apologise for the practice and to make restitution to the handful of remaining Head Tax survivors. By 1923, when Canada turned off the flow of Chinese immigration (incidentally at the urging of BC), the country had already collected a staggering $23 million in Head Tax from 81,000 Chinese immigrants. Half of that money went to the ports of entry for Chinese immigrants, which means that BC’s Victoria and Vancouver were the chief benefactors of the Head Tax. It began in 1855 with $50 per immigrant and had increased to a staggering $500 per head by 1903. According to some accounts, $500 then would be worth about $31,000 today. I read somewhere else that $500 could buy two houses in the early 20th-century. Imagine what $23 million represents in today’s money…

La Nouvelle Ernestine

April 18, 2005 at 11:05 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on La Nouvelle Ernestine

Here’s an interesting gaggle of articles, all via the current page on ArtsJournal: Daily Arts News:

First, an article from the LA Times about Motorola’s plan to sell a new phone and service, called iRadio, from which customers and users will be able to download songs and radio programming from an internet-connected computer, then beam that content to their home or car stereos. See Will Your Music Hub Be a Phone? by Jon Healey.

Then there’s iPod Killers? in Business Week:

Wireless operators around the globe are working with music studios, phone makers, and artists such as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs in a sweeping effort to turn the mobile phone into a go-anywhere digital jukebox. Foreign carriers such as Vodafone and SK Telecom are leading the way, and U.S. wireless players are following fast. BusinessWeek has learned that Verizon Wireless (VZ ), Sprint (FON ), and Cingular Wireless are expected to unveil services for downloading music directly to wireless phones later this year. “We have a tremendous opportunity to make a big impact in music,” says Dennis F. Strigl, CEO of Verizon Wireless. [More…]

It’s an angle backed up by Infinity Plans to Broadcast to Cellphones in U.S. (via Reuters).

At the same time (also via ArtsJournal: Daily Arts News), radio will re-invent (and save its ass) via the internet, and probably — if these phone deals are any indication — piggy-back on the new technology in more ways than one: Departing WBAI GM hails Internet radio:

When Don Rojas steps down as general manager at WBAI (99.5 FM) at month’s end, he says he’s leaving a stable operation that has, like all media, the potential to get better.

He also thinks one crucial way for WBAI to do so is to expand its traditional over-the-air broadcasting to the Internet.

“Internet radio is the future,” says Rojas. “I don’t mean traditional radio will disappear. But Internet radio can solve the biggest problem of a WBAI: that there isn’t enough airtime in a week to carry everything you want to carry.

“With the Internet, capacity is limitless. Once Internet radio becomes as accessible and easy to use as ‘regular radio,’ everything changes.”


Rojas hopes to ride that wave himself. He will keep consulting for WBAI, and other entities as well, on emerging new-media technologies like Internet radio.

He sees a WBAI and its parent Pacifica, brand names, becoming an Internet umbrella under which dozens or hundreds of niche stations could be accessed.

“One of WBAI’s biggest conflicts now,” says Rojas, “is between public affairs and arts and entertainment. With the Internet, each could have a whole channel.” [More…]

Finally — and this is quite interesting — The art of mobile technology by Stacey M. Perlman describes a situationist / conceptual (yet newly populist) art movement, psychogeography, that uses cell phones to make its connections:

New public space art projects are using cellphones and other mobile devices to explore new ways of communicating while giving everyday people the chance to share some insights about real world locations.

One art project, Yellow Arrow, based in New York City, has developed a system where people can place yellow stickers in the shape of arrows around the city, stating that they have something to say about that particular location. Each arrow, which is ideally placed in a location that holds significance to the person, has its own unique code that can be sent to a mobile phone via text messaging, allowing others to read the message that was left.

”Yellow Arrow gives anybody that chance to have, in a certain sense, a mini-billboard,” said Jesse Shapins one of the creative collaborators for Counts media, the company that created to explore the hidden details of cities. [More…]

The other project mentioned by this article is [murmer], based in Toronto. Another is Psychogeography is the focus of, an internet magazine.

While business interests are knitting a rope to tie us all up, er, sorry: to link us all up, to connect us, to make us free [kof kof], the artists, using the same technologies, are busily unravelling the damn thing. Don’t we live in interesting times? It’s dialectics at its best, I guess.

[Re. the title, it’s a reference to Rousseau, of course (La Nouvelle Heloise), on writing with sentiment, passion, feeling — all that stuff about love and art, right? And of course it’s a reference to everyone’s favourite telephone operator, Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine, the terror of telephone users of yore: Ernestine-“We are the phone company”-Tomlin.]

Mind the revolving door

April 17, 2005 at 10:29 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

To read the article, you have to register with the Toronto Star, …but if you don’t want to register, yet read it anyway, I include it here. And it is worth reading, “Succeeding in the Bush White House,” by Tim Harper:

Succeeding in the Bush White House

Analysis: Dishing up wonky intelligence, low-balling troop losses and being a `kiss-up, kick-down’ bully are all good ways to get ahead



One will always live in infamy for gravely misjudging the cost of the Iraq war and the reception accorded U.S. troops, publicly underestimating the American death toll and blaming scared journalists for not reporting the war’s good news.

The second sat behind Colin Powell in the U.N. Security Council, nodding solemnly and sagely as Washington provided a dossier of inaccurate, fanciful intelligence to justify the Iraq war.

The third was described last week as a “serial abuser” — a bully who berates and intimidates subordinates and a U.S. unilateralist who once declared that no one would notice if the top 10 floors of the United Nations secretariat disappeared.

In the private sector, Paul Wolfowitz, John Negroponte and John Bolton may have been shown the door for their transgressions.

In George W. Bush’s world, they all received promotions, joining others who have been honoured, lauded and handed plums after dishing up faulty pre-war intelligence or mismanaging the Iraqi occupation.

Wolfowitz, the deputy defence secretary who said Americans would be greeted in Iraq as liberators, takes over as president of the World Bank on June 1.

Negroponte, Bush’s envoy to the U.N. in the run-up to the war, is headed to easy confirmation as the country’s first national intelligence director.

Undersecretary of State Bolton — a caustic purveyor of American muscularity who has emerged as the most controversial of all the president’s men (and women) — looks as if he will be confirmed in days as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

They join a long line.

Condoleezza Rice, who sounded some of the most apocalyptic pronouncements on Saddam Hussein’s imminent threat to Americans, is the secretary of state.

Alberto Gonzales, complicit in a memo that was interpreted as a green light for prison torture, is now the attorney-general.

Former CIA director George Tenet, who was famously quoted as telling Bush the case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a “slam dunk,” was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as was Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq whose first moves were blamed for helping fuel an insurgency that has cost more than 1,500 American lives.

Defence chief Donald Rumsfeld was the most senior of Bush’s cabinet secretaries to retain his job in the second term. And the most powerful hawk of them all, Vice-President Dick Cheney, is wielding behind-the-scenes power as never before.

At a series of Senate confirmation hearings since January, Democrats have huffed and puffed, accusing Bush’s nominees of everything from lying to outright incompetence. But each of the president’s choices has so far been confirmed.

The Iraq war may not be a resounding success, but those behind it have found it a fabulous road to career advancement.

It appears the easiest route to success in the Bush White House was to be at the centre of a war that was waged under false pretences, then mismanaged from the day Saddam’s statue was toppled two years ago.

“That’s a fair assessment,” says Allan Lichtman, a political analyst at Washington’s American University. “But it’s not so much that you get promoted for messing up the war … you get promoted if you stay with the program.

“You certainly don’t get rewarded in this administration for being a voice of dissent.”

The U.S. confirmation process is the closest the American system has to a parliamentary Question Period, but like the latter, it is more theatre than substance.

The theatre was never more vivid than during last week’s Senate hearings on Bolton — a tenacious, abrasive, hard-line hawk and prominent proponent of the “weapons of mass destruction will be found” school.

Bolton sat implacably through the playing of a 1994 speech in which he infamously said there “was no United Nations” and no one would notice if the top floors of the U.N. building in New York vanished.

Rather than a U.N., he said, “there is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world — that’s the United States — when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”

California Democrat Barbara Boxer said Bolton had shown nothing but disdain for the institution to which he will now be posted and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Joe Biden of Delaware, added: “I’m surprised that the nominee wants the job that he’s been nominated for, given … the many negative things he had to say about the U.N.”

Bolton’s character has also been called into question.

He has been described as a “kiss-up, kick-down” guy who berated underlings and sought to have them fired because they did not provide the intelligence he wanted on Fidel Castro’s germ warfare capability in 2002.

Carl Ford, a former assistant secretary of state who was caught in the middle of the spat between Bolton and two analysts, said Bolton had “gone ballistic” over his underlings’ refusal to provide what he wanted.

“I left a meeting with the impression that, for the first time, I was being asked to fire an intelligence analyst for what he may have said or done,” said Ford, who has been with the government for 30 years and describes himself as a loyal Republican.

He said Bolton seemed incredulous that someone would challenge him, particularly someone so low in rank.

Conservatives have accused Democrats of character assassination.

“As the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton will speak truth to power,” said Howard Kaloogian, co-chair of the conservative Move America Forward.

“So far, we’ve seen nothing but inexcusable grandstanding from those still bitter that their party lost in the last presidential election, and they keep clamouring for a different foreign policy than was endorsed by the American people.”

Otto Reich, another assistant secretary of state who worked alongside Bolton, defended him in an op-ed piece in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, saying:

“Bolton deserves to be confirmed, but regardless of the outcome of the hearings, he has provided another valuable service — he has revealed Senate hearings to be the weapon of choice of vicious and anonymous staffers and their narcissist bosses to engage in character assassination and ideological vendettas.”

Wolfowitz was perhaps Bush’s most surprising choice, but he won global approval after initial European reticence.

No one questions Wolfowitz’s intellect — but he, like Bolton, is a proponent of the muscular American approach on the world stage.

“It makes you wonder whether all the administration’s words about mending fences with our allies are just lip service,” said Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. “After deputy secretary Wolfowitz’s repeated and serious miscalculations about the costs and risks America would face in Iraq, I don’t believe he is the right person to lead the World Bank.”

Negroponte has the most impressive resumé and his nomination has been sent to the Senate floor for an expected easy confirmation.

But for more than 20 years, he has been dogged by accusations that he looked the other way as ambassador to Honduras while death squads and human rights violations were rampant in that country.

And he had to admit last week that he was as surprised as anyone that those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which represented such a grave threat in his 2003 pronouncements at the U.N., had never been found.

Of course, much of the evidence Negroponte took to his U.N. colleagues had been delivered to the CIA by an Iraqi defector nicknamed “Curveball,” subsequently revealed as a well-known “fabricator” with a drinking problem who was often obviously hung-over in meetings with U.S. intelligence agents.

In the news, Marla Ruzicka, founder of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) was killed in Iraq by a car bomb.

This time Ruzicka stayed in Baghdad longer than she had planned because she believed she had found the key to establishing that the U.S. military kept records of its civilian victims, despite its official statements otherwise, colleagues said. [More…]

There’s more to say if you can spit it out…

April 15, 2005 at 10:19 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Two reasons I’m simply not writing a whole lot here is first, the surfeit of busy-ness that binds hands, feet, and eyes to needy matters with no immediately visible outcomes, and the other is that my tool (an iBook which has had more than its fair share of maladjustments) is letting me down to the point of being utterly unreliable. The battery is shot and the machine runs only when plugged in, while the display, which I’ve tried to have repaired, is now prone to going black (sort of like my mind) in the middle of sentences, be they surfed upon or typed by me. If it’s not going black at inappropriate moments, it flickers madly, setting off a chain-reaction of visual disturbances in my bondaged eyes. Like this:

(That’s Cy Twombly…)

Or maybe this:

(That’s Wols…)

…Ideally, one would try to get from the above to something more like this, below:

(This is Nancy Spero…)

Ego ex machina: no surprises

April 14, 2005 at 5:28 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Ego ex machina: no surprises

Courtesy of new technologies, new means of mediating what’s really important: You!

Far from the madding celebrity crowd, TiVo zeal also runs high. One man told Knight-Ridder news service, “Omigod, you can have my TiVo when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!” “I’ve converted. It’s my new religion,” another said. “I was a Jew, but not anymore. I’m now a TiVo.” A TiVo spokesperson described how devoted users send in photographs of TiVo snowmen, jack-o-lanterns carved to resemble the TiVo logo, and, in perhaps the most chilling image, a snapshot of an infant dressed up as the unique, peanut-shaped TiVo remote control. (…)


What ties all these technologies together is the stroking of the ego. When cable television channels began to proliferate in the 1980s, a new type of broadcasting, called “narrowcasting,” emerged—with networks like MTV, CNN, and Court TV catering to specific interests. With the advent of TiVo and iPod, however, we have moved beyond narrowcasting into “egocasting”—a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear. We can consciously avoid ideas, sounds, and images that we don’t agree with or don’t enjoy. (…) It is no coincidence that we impute God-like powers to our technologies of personalization (TiVo, iPod) that we would never impute to gate-keeping technologies. No one ever referred to Caller ID as “Jehovah’s Secretary.” [More…]

That’s from a brilliant (funny …and kinda scary) article by Christine Rosen, The Age of Egocasting, in the Fall 2004/Winter 2005 issue of The New Atlantis.

Rosen starts by discussing the evolution of the remote control device — at first blush an innocent-enough gadget — and connects the dots between it and more recent manifestations of “personalised” technology (hence the “egocasting” of the article’s title). I find the dots that connect the lines fascinating, perhaps because I’m tv-less (much less TiVo’d) and iPod-less (I never even got the point of the Walkman), although I do relish my personal collection of favourite DVDs.

Rosen’s main point is that we’re losing the ability to be surprised — precisely because we are so totally in control — and that the absence of surprise potentially has a deleterious effect on public life and shared discourse.

Thinking about it, it strikes me that al Qaida’s attack on the World Trade Center was singularly surprising to most of us (even if we weren’t so stupid as to ask “why do they hate us?”), and that surprise created, instantly, a public discourse. Within months of the Bush Administration’s response, however, and despite all the Pentagon-generated jargon of “shock and awe,” the element of surprise dissipated utterly as citizens were tossed back into the familiar individualised theatre of the living room, consuming what really no longer came as any surprise.

It’s a habit…

April 4, 2005 at 8:50 pm | In yulelogStories | 7 Comments

Today is the day after the semi-annual Jet-lag Day — the “spring forward” version — and I suppose I need to wake up. Just a bit. Slowly. I’ll never understand why we have to do this to ourselves twice a year: it’s like jet-lag without the pleasure of being in a different place, it’s like having a piece of myself peeled off and re-attached somewhere else.

Different habits, habitually different, she thinks. Playing with demise, …as in: “How To Kill A Blog”.

I will make an effort to post more often — furtive efforts at resuscitation, she thinks. The problem is that, when I don’t post anything for a long time, it gets harder and harder to start up again. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, it just makes it feel obliged to say something important or witty, but all I can think of is how busy I’ve been lately, how some of it has been very mundane yet time-consuming, how other bits of it have been very fun and interesting, but that there’s no way I can synthesise it into a riveting paragraph or two.

This is mundane: in this household, we have the habit of naming various electronic gadgets — in particular every computer — after characters created by Frank Baum, Arthur Clarke, Patricia Highsmith, Douglas Adams, and — for the minor role of house alarm — J.K. Rowling. “Sir Cadogan” is our alarm system, and yikes, has he ever been out of sorts lately. I need to explain that this house is the first I’ve ever lived in that actually had an alarm system, so he and we are still getting to know each other. The system came with the house, we live in a neighbourhood that has a fair [? what?!] share of “opportunity” crime, and having the system gives us a discount on the homeowners’ insurance.

And so we kept Sir Cadogan, even though he’s an incredible pain in the ass. Lately, he’s taken to reporting non-existing incidents to his superiors, who send out the security services (because Victoria police, by policy, no longer respond to house alarms), and the security company’s response in turn costs us $25 per visit. After a couple of these false alarms (which, it must be said, did always happen when we were actually all out of the house — something that happens rarely since we all work at home), the husband decided that this was getting too expensive. He called the alarm company and asked them to check the system — they had impugned our dog, claiming that he must have triggered the alarm. Given that you have to practically slap Sir Cadogan in the head to get his attention, it seemed improbable to us that little Jigger could have set the alarm off.

….Well, three (3!) working days later — with a weekend of unprotected Sir Cadoganism inbetween (live dangerously, kids!) — we are now supposedly securely alarmed. The technicians (three, in total) ended up replacing all the little brains of all the little sensors scattered about the place, plus the main brain of Sir Cadogan, plus the control unit in the basement, and — for the coup de grace — the smoke detector, which is also wired to the alarm system. It was an experience to spend Thursday, Friday, and Monday with various degrees of decibels and beeps and sirens and automated voices going off at unexpected intervals …and all for …what? Security? Nah. For the rebate on the home insurance. Cherchez la femme? Follow the money!

The annual Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival is currently in full swing, and last Saturday I had the pleasure of hearing a child prodigy play piano at a Victoria Conservatory of Music noon hour concert. These concerts are free, and at this time of year they are loaded with senior Conservatory students preparing for their upcoming performances in the festival. I heard Oliver Aldort, who may still be 11 or perhaps has just turned 12, but who is at any rate a young child, and yet is without a doubt a musical prodigy. He’ll be playing piano and cello at various times throughout the Festival during the next couple of weeks. Admission to individual venues is $3, and a $15 program will get you into all the regular venues (excepting the final Awards Concerts held at the end of this month). Visiting Oliver’s website, I came across his mother’s website, too, and from there managed to find my way to all sorts of other interesting links, so that my weekend was spent virtually visiting the worlds of attachment parenting, the San Juan, and specifically Orcas, islands, various homeschooling links, and an interesting organisation called the alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. I even found the website of our birthing method — the one that kept me from having a C-section: good old “Barnyard Bradley”! Without those classes, it’s a given that the son would have been delivered surgically, and perhaps the daughter would also have been. Because of Bradley and the great Bradley coach we had in Massachusetts, both kids were born without any intervention, at a birth centre, and the rest, as they say, is attachment history.

Karen Cho is a Canadian filmmaker of Chinese-English parentage, who made a movie, In the Shadow of Gold Mountain, about the Chinese in Canada. It was shown on CBC last January, but we don’t have tv, and therefore missed it. But luckily for us, a local jazz club is screening the film, and several university and city government officials will be in attendance to discuss issues afterwards. I’m looking forward to this. The daughter recently worked on a project where she learned about the horrendous trafficking of slave girls from China, sent here to work in brothels. But what she learned was that Chinese men were deprived of their wives by the Canadian government’s imposition of a racist “head tax”: by the early 20th century, the head tax on Chinese immigrants had gone up to $500 (which was roughly equivalent to two years’ wages), effectively making it impossible for the men already here to bring their families over. The prostitution that flourished — at the extreme expense of girls and women sold into slavery back in China — was a blackmarket circumvention of governmental restriction. I’ll be interested to hear the city councillors speak on that issue, too. At the same time, given Canadian curriculum’s baffling elision of the Shoah, the issue of how the Chinese were treated is not without relevance to the overall question of how Canada sees itself as a moral leader. When the film was shown in Winnipeg last December, the Jewish Tribune reported as follows:

In her message to those who attended, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson said, “Karen Cho’s film eloquently illustrates the personal and social consequences of exclusion and ostracism. The testimonials she has gathered shed light on the impact that the Head Tax and Exclusion Act had on the Chinese immigrants to Canada. Her film shows how this policy shaped the identity of individuals and the Chinese community for generations, as well as their resilience in the face of incredible obstacles. Fortunately, their descendents know a more inclusive Canada.”

Senator Vivienne Poy commended the film for “recounting the untold history of Canada, through the moving stories of those who lived in a time when the Canadian government practiced institutional discrimination against the Chinese community in the form of Head Tax and Exclusion.”

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer noted that the film “chronicles the unjust and painful experiences of thousands of Chinese immigrants to Canada and I am delighted that tonight’s screening is supported by a group of partners including B’nai Brith Canada, an organization with a proud history of educational and social programming.”

Sam Katz, Mayor of Winnipeg, expressed confidence that “this production will help educate and inform our citizens about our nation’s past. It is important that we take the time to learn about our mistakes, so we never endure them again.” [More…]

This weekend a local private school is hosting a Change Conference. Wait, back up: I should say that a student, Ben Rankin, who happens to attend that local private school, has organised this conference. We’ll get to see The Corporation (which is now available on dvd at your local movie rental place), and there are all-day workshops as well as groovy world music performances, but possibly most interesting of all, we’ll get to hear Stephen Lewis give a talk (with discussion).

And there you have it: the blogging knife has cut a piece from the giant messy bubbling pie that is my life, and presented a fleeting (and crumbling — gotta love those flaky crusts!) cross-section for general perusal. Yum-yum.

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
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