All we need is love….

December 31, 2005 at 10:48 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on All we need is love….

Michael Edwards writes in OpenDemocracy of Love, reason and the future of civil society.

All life, one might say, is negotiation, and the price of entry into civil society is the willingness to change one’s mind through an encounter with the views of others. Like rocks in a stream, the sharp edges of our differences are softened over time as they knock against each other [hyperlink in original]. A healthy civil society depends on the development of our collective capacities to talk, argue, innovate, learn and ultimately solve our problems together through a process of social reason. Harry Boyte [hyperlink in original] calls this the “politics of freedom”, in which no one has a monopoly of truth and everyone shares an obligation to negotiate their interests with each other. [More…]

As if that weren’t bad enough, Mr. Edwards goes on to put his foot in it wholesale. After describing how reason has led plenty of times in recent memory to atrocious acts of unreason, he asks, what is the power “that counterbalances the influence of reason in civil society?” [tsk tsk] Poor man, he’s gonna get nailed for this one: he says we need “the deliberate cultivation of mutually reinforcing cycles of personal and systemic change.” Um, does this mean I have to change my shopping patterns, ’cause I can’t buy me love?

“The essence of love”, says the “Institute for the Study of Unlimited Love” at Case Western University, “is to affectively affirm as well as unselfishly delight in the well being of others, and to engage in acts of care and service on their behalf, without exception, in an enduring and constant way.”

This is universal love, unconditional love, attached only to the equal and general welfare of the whole. [More…]

Well, yes, and maybe this is Kool-Aid.

…But you know what? He could be right. And besides, it’s New Year’s Eve, and 2005 was a bit of a stinker in many ways, so drink up.

See you in ’06 — Happy New Year! Just remember, all you need is love.

What to dump?

December 24, 2005 at 3:04 pm | In yulelogStories | 10 Comments

The asshole theme must be going around…. Frank Paynter emailed me a pointer the other day to the You’re an Asshole filmstrip, and Shelley has a philosophical entry about assholes (her maxims being “The world is full of assholes” and “sometimes you’re one of them”). In German, incidentally, Arschloch is a worse swear-word than shit or fuck, even though shit comes out of assholes and assholes can be fucked (verb & adjective, both). Scheisse and beschissen are routine, salonfähige words, i.e., fit for polite society, while ficken is a merely archaic reference to the agricultural practice of plugging stuff that can germinate into the earth. Arschloch on the other hand carries true venom, perhaps because the asshole, with its powerful sphincter muscle, can go on strike, betray you, or even fight back…

I think it’s a gatekeeper problem, actually. That muscle has control, and it’s very well connected to all sorts of pleasure centres, which is why it’s so interesting as a two-way street (“why don’t we do it in the road” — John Lennon). When I was a graduate student I had a friend who once told me that his sessions with his psychiatrist were getting out of control, for him, because whenever it came time really to delve deeply into his sexuality and to discuss his mother (and let’s just say she sounded like she could make Joan “no-more-wire-hangers” Crawford look like Mother Goose), he felt this compelling urge to “take a dump,” and he’d have to interrupt his session to go and do just that. So, there I was, an academic who had read most of what George Bataille (anal fetishist) had ever written, and I didn’t know the expression “take a dump.” “Take” a “dump”? What the hell is that supposed to mean? (…Oh, have a bowel movement, I see! )

Lately I have immersed myself in readings about usability. (Note that I’m referencing Wikipedia, which now includes Shelley Powers, who, together with Frank’s email inspired this …entry.) I believe that assholes have to be thought of in terms of affordances (another Wikipedia reference!), which of course puts the sphincter muscle’s abilities front and centre (particular in terms of constraints). “Taking a dump” is a rather rude way of describing the affordances of the asshole, which is after all capable of delivering warm, well-formed objects, although, like so many initially shiny things, they grow cold rather quickly, and fact is: no one wants them, eventually not even their producer. Naturally, this can be upsetting, but it needn’t be — we must learn to “dump” that sort of cathexis. The problem with the people we describe as “assholes,” however, is that they are upset, and their gatekeeper then becomes too fixated on keeping things in or under control (lest the world disrespect their objects). Perhaps this explains why people-who-are-assholes have shit for brains.

Coda: My inner asshole, to which I am attached via the things I ingest, including the written word, tells me that Shelley should indeed be in Wikipedia because her contributions merit it; she’s an excellent writer and a terrific photographer; she’s a theorist and a practitioner. And I’d like to see more women included: I’d like to see Janine Benyus have more than a “stub” entry, and I’d like to see Margaret Wertheim, along with scores of other women who merit an entry, included. But I think that Shelley’s suggestion that Jeneane Sessum or Halley Suitt merit an entry was a momentary lapse into the realm of the “shit for brains” world of assholedom: Shelley, what were you thinking? Retailing information isn’t exactly culturally notable, is it? Which is exactly why the inclusion of Robert Scoble (or some of the other male bloggers) is laughable, too. Those guys shouldn’t be in Wikipedia. Whether any of these people are swell is completely irrelevant: as I said, shiny well-formed things don’t hold one’s attention for as long as their producers believe. Blogging-as-retailing-information is too close to the equivalent of taking a dump, and if that’s going into Wikipedia, pardon me if I flush….

Salvador Einstein, humanist on a motorcycle, c’est moi…

December 20, 2005 at 5:34 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

I took several silly quizzes. My portrait should be painted by Salvador Dali (whom I do not care for at all):

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali should paint your portrait. You love to think about the world in a different way then everyone else. You are very ambitious, and you like strange things. You are curious about everything and love to learn.

Take this quiz at

The movie that represents “me” is Easy Rider (yeah, hard to believe, I know):

What Classic Movie Are You?
personality tests by

In addition, Einstein must have longed for a chopper, ’cause “the leader I am most like” is Albert Einstein (huh? he wasn’t a leader — in fact, one of his greatest acts was getting away from one [the Führer], remember?):

What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by

…And contrary to what I would have predicted, I’m not an atheist, but a humanist…

You fit in with:

Your ideals mostly resemble that of a Humanist. Although you do not have a lot of faith, you are devoted to making this world better, in the short time that you have to live. Humanists do not generally believe in an afterlife, and therefore, are committed to making the world a better place for themselves and future generations.

20% scientific.
80% reason-oriented.

Take this quiz at

Well, well. The tests definitively prove I’m not a woman, perhaps? Dali hardly painted women’s “portraits,” Einstein was a sexist, humanism has a big “man” inside it, and as for Easy Rider…?

Gingerbread Men

December 20, 2005 at 5:33 pm | In yulelogStories | 3 Comments

It’s nearly Christmas, isn’t it? The time to find solace and warmth in exotic and historically expensive spices: ginger, bark of cinnamon, mace, coriander and cumin. Coupled with warm ovens and tricks of kitchen chemistry, we can bake plenty of goodies to give mouthfeel satisfaction.

The other day I observed something strange about some boys. For some reason, I’m tempted to call them a young gaggle of gingerbread men. There was my son, there were a couple of his friends. They were in our front room. Another mother was inquiring when to pick up her son. She and I stop to chat, by the front door. The boys, 14 and 15 year olds, some distance away, are loud and all jostly, young bucks sounding off, happy to be there for one another. Quietly, flying low beneath the testosterone-laden din, I tell the mother that we two really have to make time, and that we must do so soon: we must make time to socialise, to share some food, to get away from our routines. The boys keep jumping up and down, they make the sort of moves and sounds that belong to boys who know they could, if they had to, be men: taller than we their mothers are, precociously hirsute and nearly furry (compared to us, their naked mothers), strongly muscled but still thin, they are in full-fledged development, and this is all as it should be — no surprises here. My daughter, who is friends with this group, is at this “bucky” moment definitely not within the frame that defines the oscillating bunch of boys who are a mere two or three arms-lengths away. Where did she go? She is there, yet she isn’t — she didn’t, it seems, want to jump up and down, so she walked into one of the adjoining rooms, perhaps to check her computer.

I’m still talking to that mother, and very quietly I mention that for me it’s been a difficult fall and early winter, that too much has been going off the rails in weird sorts of ways, and that it has taken its toll on me. I tell her that I have, in fact, been feeling in quite a depression these past few days, no …weeks, no, wait, I did mean days… it’s ok, I’m not really crazy — just days, only days that’s all. And as soon as I’ve softly said the word depression, I’m aware of the absolute stopping of time, as manifested in a total cessation of movement. The boys, on a dime, stopped jumping up and down: they all stood stock still and to a man, all of a sudden, turned to listen in on this conversation that was taking place between drop off and pick up, between two women who happen to be mothers, and who thought they weren’t being listened to. Time itself stopped to pick up its ears: all those enormous room-filling boys are suddenly listening, straining to catch a glimmer of meaning from two mothers talking about being on the edge of erasure.

What does a boy want? At some level, I would guess, he wants to know what his mother wants. “What do you want, Mother?” Trying to please her is the flip side of understanding what the hell she wants. At some level, he can’t figure her out: she is so mysterious. For my daughter, there is not as much of a mystery (note: I do not write, “no mystery,” but “not as much of”). This is not an inherent difference that should be gendered a priori; rather, I prefer to think of it as a difference that derives from different positions which in turn are determined by differences in gender. It’s a subtle, almost nit-picky shift I’m insisting on, but I think it matters insofar as it helps undercut essentialism. Essentialism postulates an “essence of woman” or an “essence of man”; essentialism tries to answer the “what do you want, mum?” question. It’s not the case that my daughter understands me because we’re both female — she doesn’t “naturally” understand me at all and has to work as hard at understanding me as anyone (myself included) does — and she is the first person to tell me that she is not going to waste precious time trying to figure out puzzles that have no answer. Nor does my son have a blockage in understanding me because he is male and I am female: we very often understand each other better than son and father do. But somewhere along this continuum of understanding and mystery, my son has a different position vis-a-vis my emotional life than my daughter does: whether it’s a difference that’s actually there or whether it’s a difference that sons at some point believe is there matters less than the fact that the son pays attention to that difference differently than the daughter would (as in turn the mother’s attention to the children’s gendered selves is inflected). Insofar as boy-girl differences are bound to matter to a boy at all (irrespective of his sexual orientation), it matters to him to pay attention to boy-girl differences between himself and his mother, himself and his sister, if he has one. Insofar as I am female while the son is male and the daughter is female, there is a difference in my interest angle: naturally, we mothers are modelling sexuality and intimacy for our gendered (sexual) children. Now, in every instance and along every step of the way there is plenty of room for misinterpretation: I misinterpreted my own mother’s desires and frustrations for decades before finally casting those iterations aside to admit that her life was constructed according to her own history, and that these conditions were gendered (albeit not “essentially”: there is nothing natural about the oppression of women), and that I was too late in coming to rewrite her history. But — and here’s the rub — no one wants to be too late. And that’s why, sensing an intimate moment between two mothers, a room full of boys pricks up all ears.

My mother had seven daughters about whom she could (and naturally did) claim that they did not understand her, even though we have all gone on to replicate her fate to one degree or another (for starters, we all became mothers, although I held out the longest, till I was 34…). Had she had sons — even one son — she could have indulged in the narcissistic joy of knowing that there was one being who was bending over backwards trying to understand her — and who would be able to escape being assigned to the gendered position which was her lot.

What if, conversely, you’re a woman who becomes a mother who has only sons? Will you recognise how your son is acting from a gendered position that determines the questions he has, and will you recognise your own gendered position in that relationship? How will you know that your gingerbread man, fragrant, spicy, full of promise, has a right to a life that’s far away from the mirror you create for him?

Run, run, as fast as you can
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man…

For a slightly weirder spin, see the 1875 version of the story: the gingerbread man manages to run away from mum, and dad and the cow and the threshers and all the rest of them, but of course he can’t get away from the fox:

And he ran till he came across a fox, and to him he called out:

I’ve run away from a little old woman,
A little old man,
A barn full of threshers,
A field full of mowers,
A cow and a pig,
And I can run away from you, I can!

Then the fox set out to run. Now foxes can run very fast, and so the fox soon caught the gingerbread boy and began to eat him up.

Presently the gingerbread boy said, “Oh dear! I’m quarter gone!” And then, “Oh, I’m half gone!” And soon, “I’m three-quarters gone!” And at last, “I’m all gone!” and never spoke again.

He “never spoke again”? So that’s what happens to some of those sullen teenage boys. Not the cat, but foxy, got their tongues…?

Holiday cheer

December 15, 2005 at 9:59 am | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Tired of those boring old ecumenically-correct “holiday” wishes, those “season’s greetings” that don’t convey what you really believe?

Dean Landsman has the perfect may-your-wishes-come-true holiday greeting for the rest of us — and no, it’s not just any old Festivus greeting, either. It’s a good’un: take a look and see what I mean…

Edit: I guess I should include a link to Festivus, just in case you, gentle reader, are one of the rest-of-yous (i.e., clueless as to the finer points of faith…).

Writing comments for entries

December 9, 2005 at 12:45 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Writing comments for entries

My blog writing for today consists of a comment I wrote in response to Tim Aldrich, who found my Running out of time (Nov.8/05) entry. Tim Aldrich is the editor of About Time; Speed, Society, People and the Environment, and he was kind enough to leave a comment on my blog. And I wrote a comment back. Nice, how these conversations happen over these extended periods (which of course reminds me of a couple of other open loops in the comments board I should attend to… In good time…)

Sending files, nuking email

December 9, 2005 at 12:37 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Sending files, nuking email

I just confirmed through trial and error that I cannot receive any mail sent to my yheibel AT post DOT harvard DOT edu address if it has files attached. This presumably also applies to people who have “signatures” that include files (a picture, a business card, whatever), although I particularly suspect Word files as being the culprits that trigger the gates to close. I guess it’s a way to keep viruses out, but it would be nice if one were informed of this by the gatekeepers… For example, if a third party hadn’t forwarded an email to my Gmail account, I wouldn’t even know that an important packet of documents from the Victoria Urban Development Agreement never reached me.

I hope no one else sent me anything significant with files attached — I won’t have received it.

What I don’t know is whether the gates are at Gmail or at Post Harvard, which provides the email forwarding service. I’m not even sure when exactly this started. I know that Gmail readily receives email with documents attached, but I don’t know if it does so when the email comes via a forwarding service. (I have sent an email to Post Harvard to ask if the mail is getting deleted at their end.) If it’s getting deleted by Gmail (and they don’t tell you that they’ve nuked your mail, and it doesn’t appear in the sp*m folder either), it might be time to switch…

Edit/Update: I received mail back from Harvard. The glitch is not happening at their end, so it must be Gmail’s fault. Beats me how one is supposed to contact them directly to inquire, though. All I can find are “help” pages, but nowhere to submit a query…

Harold Pinter on not-so-hidden history

December 7, 2005 at 9:56 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

Just a quick pointer tonight to Harold Pinter’s acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize in literature. Pinter starts by telling us a story about what’s true and what’s false for the writer (of fiction), and then modulates into a scathing indictment of what is true and false in politics. Political power, Pinter writes, is bought by keeping people ignorant of the truth, which is why politicians increasingly have no interest in truth-as-truth. It doesn’t matter if something is true or false; it only matters if you can hold on to power. Power has become so imperial (to continue the theme from Dec.5) that conscience and morality vaporise, disappear into expedience and unreality. Crimes never happened, history gets a rewrite: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” (Pinter) At some point, namely the point we’ve now reached, things devolve to this:

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it. [More…]

* * * In an unrelated matter, although still somehow fitting with the flavour of Pinter’s critique, I blushed to discover a new enthusiast yesterday. He commented on my Dec.5 entry, and I first mistook him for The Happy Tutor‘s twin sibling, or at least a close cousin from the Wealth Bondage compound. I’m referring to Cavalor Epthith, who, with his two collegial fallen angels Diane Tomlinson and Fredrick Schwartz, writes Editorials from Hell’s Leading Daily Newspaper. It appears that Mr. Schwartz was assigned at pitchforkpoint to write a post about moi (please, allow me to be even more pretentious than I am naturally…), which turned into an embarassingly flattering review of my disjointed, crow-like jumping up and down. Thank-you, Daily Pitchfork (oooh, not so hard!)….

But I do protest against one point (pun?): I don’t own a coffee table. And while I have become overeducated, I have also it seems become unfit for real employment, and therefore won’t be buying new furniture (not even coffee tables) any time soon… However, even little devils like me eventually get practical. Perhaps I should be posting a link to my resumé here, just in case someone has a research or writing assignment they want to tell me about… Well, one can dream, right? What’s true and what’s false these days anyway?

Where to now, modern caesars? (or: from republic to empire…)

December 5, 2005 at 10:12 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Americans haven’t always been so blasé about war profiteering. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “I don’t want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster.”

FDR’s strong feelings about war profiteering were shared by his successor, Harry Truman. As a Senator, Truman had traveled around the country going from one defense industry factory to another to investigate charges that executives were reaping unfair rewards. He later formed an investigative committee that saved billions in military costs. [More…]

That’s from a must-read article by Sarah Anderson, War Profiteer Knows How to Party, which chronicles, among other things, bulletproof vest maker DHB Industries’ CEO David Brooks, whose fortunes have “skyrocketed” (in 2004, he made 133 times his 2001 salary, namely $70million….), and who recently threw a Bat Mitzvah for his daughter Elizabeth, which everyone agrees was over-the-top excessive (guesstimates peg the party bill at $10million; one wonders how Elizabeth, should she wish to, can possibly get out from under that pile…). According to news reports, it was more like a belated party for Mr. Brooks than anything resembling an honouring or coming-of-age ceremony for the daughter…

Meanwhile, here on the planet Earth, in our living room, we’ve been enthralled of late by a viewing of the famous I, Claudius series. Talk about apposite…

Thanks to The Institute for Policy Studies for these links…

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