Technology troubles of the spin cycle kind

May 31, 2005 at 9:32 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

Have I mentioned before that I’ve had trouble with gadgets and all electronic things since moving into this house in November 2002? Yes, I have mentioned it. My iBook is fritzed; some other computers have gone glitchy; and my oh-so-ecologically-correct (water & energy saving) Bosch dishwasher is a piece of shit that’s leaked on me so often that the service guy might as well know the code for the house alarm…. (I thank my lucky stars that we had the foresight to buy an extended service plan, which expires in September, however…) The heating system cracked its boiler (and needed replacing); the phones are always …peculiar; the lights above and below the kitchen cabinets mysteriously burn out before their time (we’ve now decided to let them die vs. replacing the bulbs, hoping to be able to replace them with another kind of energy-saving lighting system eventually); the alarm system (mentioned above) has “spells” (naturally never when we’re home, only when we’re away); the automatic outside lights set their own schedule; and and and … Grrr! The list goes on. Yesterday, the also-oh-so-ecologically-correct energy and water saving front-loading washing machine decided that spinning is …so 2004. It just won’t spin no more. The load of “darks” I finally managed to extract from the machine, once it released its iron grip on the “door lock,” has sat outside on a wooden drying rack. Except it’s not drying, since we did get a return of the cooler and wetter weather, and in the interim, the ants decided to take up residence in the laundry’s crowded and deliciously damp folds. Hmmm, maybe we could turn this into a homeschooler’s science fair project?

Laundry. Who cares, right? But it was one of those small things I pursued — to get it done on specific days, to make me feel in control and efficient — and now the baskets with their dirty piles are littering the hallway while the sock- and underwear-drawers mimic anorexia.

As for the repair guy? He was supposed to call tonight to tell me that he can come tomorrow before noon. Since I haven’t heard from him, however, I guess he’ll call tomorrow before noon to say that he’ll arrive sometime before 7 pm. Mr. Maytag may be lonely, but Mr. Kenmore is too busy by half. Waiting for service calls is like a pin in a balloon: disappointing, disruptive, deflating. If we didn’t all have a million other things to do, attending to technology and its service wouldn’t be a big deal. Real people don’t live like that, though.

It seems that technology, too, is not without its dirty underpants.

Pink is the New Brown

May 30, 2005 at 8:38 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

I have a theory about why the deadly-dull, trite, hackneyed, and utterly predictable Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has been a far-too perennial best-seller. It goes something like this:

If you want to be a popular (read: successful) writer, pick a topic everyone thinks they know something about. Even if they’re not religious, everyone thinks they know something about religion. Everybody believes they have some special insight to religion. Along comes Dan Brown with a very badly written book (and look: I’m not a total snob, I read all kinds of middle-brow and even low-brow stuff, but this book is so badly written, anyone with half a brain can finish the dialogues, can finish the paragraphs or chapters, and can finish [predict] the ending(s) for each and every manufactured situation in this ultimate piece of drivel), but it’s a popular book because it flatters many people’s inner idiot. It flatters the inner idiot by proposing a fantastic scenario that goes down smoothly because it allows many people’s inner idiot to have this “ah-ha!” moment which feels so ooggy-boogggy-goo-oo-oood.

Frankly, it didn’t make me feel ooggy-booggy good, it just made me feel nauseous, but that’s only because I do have some standards.

Hanging out at Chapters for an hour yesterday, I came across Dan Pink’s latest (ahem) opus, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, and I’ve also seen a review here or there. All I can say is “pink is the new brown”:

Others argued that a synthesis of left-brain and right-brain qualities is the ideal, a point Pink readily conceded. Another employee freely scribbled elaborations of Pink’s thesis on the whiteboard, writing ”Value being a good provider” over one arrow and ”Value being a whole person” over the other. When senior industrial designer Roy Thompson talked of attending a wedding recently where the guests included lawyers and accountants who seemed to hate their jobs, and speculated it is because ”they’re not using their right brain, which is what makes them human,” Pink replied simply: ”Amen.” More…

Amen? C’mon. The bottom line is, How do these guys (Pink and Brown) do it, making a pile of money off these terrible talents and terrible ideas? The book should perhaps be called A Whole New Middle-Brow Mind, but give me a break with the talk of it containing any exciting breakthrough insights.

I speed-read (which I hate doing, but I didn’t want to spend the CDN $36) several chapters of John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism : And the Rebirth of Nationalism. Now, that’s an interesting book. I might even go to his reading at Victoria Conservatory of Music’s Alix Goolden Hall on June 10. There’s a very good review synopsis of Saul’s book here (by the author himself), which includes this bit:

Globalisation had brilliant proponents – Margaret Thatcher first among them, and economists like Milton Friedman, but also growing waves of new-style managers and consultants. These people had a multiplicity of roles. They briefed public and private sector leaders, organised the structures that implement policies, and ran these structures on a day-to-day basis. And their basic theory was – is – that modern methodology is universal. What’s more, these methods are preferable to the untidy business of democratic argument and personal will, whether that is a matter of personal opinion or personal choice. In other words, they were engaged in the classic struggle to promote method over opinion; that is, form over content.

And so, as always happens when form is dominant, a variety of experiments were undertaken. Around the world, civil services were shrunk, public and private sectors deregulated, markets released, taxes cut, public budgets balanced. Corporations began growing in size by merging and remerging. This gigantism was considered necessary for success in the new world market. Trade grew by an astonishing multiple of 20. European economic integration accelerated. New Zealand, the original social democratic model state, did a complete flip in the mid-1980s and attempted to become the perfect Globalised nation state. The economies of Canada and the US were rapidly integrated after the signing of a free trade agreement in 1988, to which the integration of the Mexican economy was added with the signing of NAFTA.

Social reformers, for their part, restructured their own arguments until their basic assumptions were the same as those of their opponents. Social democrats and liberals almost everywhere became Globalists, but of a kindler, gentler sort. More…

In the end, however, the old religious harshness of punishment and hair-shirts turned out not to have been banished in this new, not-so-kind and not-so-gentle globalism:

… people began to notice other contradictions in the Global orthodoxy. How could the same ideology promise a planetary growth in democracy and yet a decline in the power of the nation state? Democracy exists only inside countries. Weaken the nation state and you weaken democracy.

Why did an unprecedented increase in money supply translate into a dearth of money for public services? And why did this growth in new moneys enrich mainly those who already had money? Why did it lead to a growth in the rich-versus-poor dichotomy and a squeezing of the middle class? Why did many privatisations of public utilities neither improve services nor lower costs for consumers but instead guarantee revenues to the new owners while leading to a collapse in infrastructure investment?

People noticed that the financial value of the great breakthroughs in female employment had somehow been inflated away. Abruptly, a middle class family required two incomes. They noticed that in a mere 25 years CEO salaries in the US had gone from 39 times the pay of an average worker to more than 1000 times. Elsewhere the numbers were similar.

And the savings from the cuts in civil servants were more than offset by the cost of new lobbyists and consultants.

There were three particularly obvious signs that Globalisation would not deliver on its promises. First, the leadership of a movement devoted to “real competition” was made up largely of tenured professors, consultants, and technocrats – private-sector bureaucrats – managing large joint-stock companies. Most of the changes they sought were aimed at reducing competition.

Second, the idea of transnationals as new virtual nation states missed the obvious. Natural resources are fixed in place, inside nation states. And consumers live on real land in real places. These are called countries. The managers and professors who waxed enthusiastic about the new virtual corporate nations were themselves resident citizens and consumers in old-fashioned nation states. It would be only a matter of time before elected leaders noticed that their governments were far stronger than the large corporations.

Finally, the new approach to debt – public versus private, First World versus Third World – revealed a fatal confusion. Those who preached Globalisation couldn’t tell the difference between ethics and morality. Ethics is the measurement of the public good. Morality is the weapon of religious and social righteousness. Political and economic ideologies often decline into religious-style morality towards the end. But Globalisation had shoved ethics to the side from the beginning and insisted upon a curious sort of moral righteousness that included maximum trade, unrestrained self-interest and governments alone respecting their debts. These notions were curiously paired with something often called family values, as well as an Old Testament view of good and evil.

It somehow followed that if countries were in financial trouble, they were moral transgressors. They had to discipline themselves. Wear hair shirts. Embrace denial and fasting.

This was the crucifixion theory of economics: you had to be killed economically and socially in order to be reborn clean and healthy. More…

So what does this have to do with Pink and Brown? Use your brain, you tell me. Maybe it’s that globalisation as Saul describes it is the new religion, and even the non-religious think they know a lot about religion, which is why Da Vinci Code proved enticing for so many, despite its turgid and hackneyed writing style. And as for Pink, well, he’s following in the same trite, predictable footsteps of the old-time religion (“Hey, Brother, have you heard the one about globalism yet …and how to survive with a new mid-, er, half-brain…? I can tell you all the [newest] secrets….!”)

Don’t bother with Pink or Brown, just read Saul’s book, or at least click through to this review article by Saul and read that.

Another quiz: what (romantic) poet are you?

May 30, 2005 at 7:10 pm | In yulelogStories | 6 Comments

Thanks to Maria at Alembic, another weird quizilla to enlighten and amuse:

S. T. Coleridge
You are Samuel Taylor Coleridge! The infamous
“archangel a little damaged!” You
took drugs and talked for hours, it’s true, but
you also made a conscious choice to cultivate
the image of the deranged poet in a frenzy of
genius. You claimed you wrote “Kubla
Khan” in an afternoon after a laudanum,
when you pretty manifestly did no such thing.
You and your flashing eyes and floating hair.
And your brilliant scholarship and obvious

Which Major Romantic Poet Would You Be (if You Were a Major Romantic Poet)?
brought to you by Quizilla

See all possible results here.

Odd: I tried the quiz again a second time, with different answers because I wasn’t sure that I didn’t want to be William Blake instead. But guess what? I got Samuel Taylor Coleridge again. Grrr, how dare they expose my “conscious choice to cultivate the image of the deranged poet”! Oh, wait, I did it in “a frenzy of genius.” That’s alright, then.

Some lyrics

May 28, 2005 at 10:38 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Some lyrics

Just because, here’s what Billy Bragg wrote about The Internationale on his 1990 cd:

The Internationale ~ Eugène Pottier wrote the original lyrics of the Internationale after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871. This was set to music by Pierre Degeyter, a textile worker from Lille who composed the tune for his factory chorus in 1888. Eight years later the song was adopted by the French Workers Party at its annual congress. Foreign delegates wrote down hasty translations and by the turn of the century it was being sung by socialists, communists and anarchists all over world in dozens of languages. Until 1943 it was the National Anthem of the Soviet Union and was most recently heard being sung by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square during the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

Shortly after that event Pete Seeger asked me to sing the Internationale with him at the Vancouver Folk Festival. I told him I thought the English lyrics, whose translator is unknown, were archaic and often unsingable. He agreed and suggested I write some new lyrics to Degeyter’s stirring tune.

So, without further ado, and because these lyrics are really great, Billy Bragg’s Internationale:

Stand up, all victims of oppressions
For the tyrants fear your might
Don’t cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale
Unites the world in song
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race

Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We’ve but one Earth on which to live

And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields
We stand unbowed before their armour
We defy their guns and shields
When we fight, provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by life and love
For though they offer us concessions
Change will not come from above

…Change will not come from above…: I’m reminded that Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What a wonderful world was banned from corporate radio stations after 9/11. That’s some big change from above. Maybe Billy means “good change will not come from above”? You wanna know what the single most revolutionary thought in that Armstrong tune, written by George Weiss and Bob Thiele, is? It’s this (and whoa!, it’s so incendiary, you better have a bucket of water nearby, and don’t forget to call Homeland Security, either):

I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know

That’s it, in a nutshell. That’s what the fascists can’t stand: that the kids’ll learn more than they’ll ever know.

Siberian Frog à la mode: no, it’s not 28C

May 27, 2005 at 5:44 pm | In yulelogStories | 4 Comments

It’s a cop-out to write about the weather, particularly after such a paucity of postings. However, lately the weather is …noteworthy — as is how it’s reported. I don’t know what they’re saying on the radio (no time to listen) or tv (don’t have one), but the internet weather reports are dead-wrong. Here in Victoria we are getting cooked, yet my trusty weather link (on the right-hand sidebar) claims it’s a mere 82F or 28C, and partly cloudy. Ha! Completely & utterly wrong! Let’s see: if we talk about climate change, calculating and predicting it, will that statistic be used, or my anecdotal report (as per blog) that it’s hot enough inside to melt unlit candles on my window sill and that it’s hot enough outside to make even the blasted gypsy moth caterpillars give up, submitting instead to being roasted alive on the sidewalk? That the sky is of a cloudless blue only visible when every particle of moisture has been burnt from the atmosphere by extreme heat? A couple of days ago, it just got plain hot. Really hot.

Were this an isolated event, it wouldn’t be so weird, but the weather has been off-kilter for ages: climate change and shifting season-change rolled into one. All through April we had June-like conditions, which early in the month sent gardeners out to set sprinklers and soaker hoses, as we collectively worried about such an early-onset of drought (and forest fire season). May continued in this vein for a while, but then presented us with several night-time drenching rains, followed by sunny days but much cooler temperatures. Sometimes the weather would change half a dozen times in one day, making May a typical “April” that wrecked weddings, horse-drawn carriage rides, and the start of outdoor market season. It was also much cooler than “normal,” whatever normal is. Then, after a blustery and even drab Victoria Day holiday (that was last weekend), we got zapped by this astonishing furnace. It’s almost as unnerving as one of those classic “no spring, just hop into heatwave summer” experiences I associate with May in Boston — except, of course, that, despite the cooler May weather, we have had months of the most delightful spring. Yesterday, however, as I was stumbling back home with the dog (who isn’t too happy with the heat), I passed a woman who looked like she was going to have a stroke. She was repeatedly patting her chest, gasping, and when she noticed me said, “This is too much like Winnipeg.” Oh yes, Winnipeg, remind me: another one of those classic “no spring, just hop into heatwave summer” places — sort of like major parts of Russia, Siberia, the steppes, the East Coast of North America, the middle of North America, etc.

Maybe that’s how climate change will get us here, in Victoria: it’ll slowly mess with our spring, and make us have weather like everybody else. If there was always one thing that defined Victoria weather it was that it was different from anywhere else in Canada. While over in Siberia (i.e., large portions of rest of the Northern hemisphere, Europe and America), inhabitants get repeatedly whacked by dramatic and extreme weather (and the sudden season shifts), we delight in real seasons (all four of them, clearly discernible), all without extremes, without even the endless winter rain associated with Seattle or Vancouver.

Ah well, I’ll enjoy the early summer and its heat, for who knows, maybe we’ll get foggy autumn in July… Or we could just continue to keep cooking.


May 23, 2005 at 12:07 am | In yulelogStories | 1 Comment

Strange, how we’re flung all over the globe, yet attend to the forces of nature and of capital. I saw a news article about two Belgian brothers, filmmakers, who managed to win the Palme d’Or for a second time in seven years — no small feat. They are Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, profiled here, who won this year for L’Enfant. Their previous win was for Rosetta (1999). Their movies are based on their hometown’s economic tribulations, and the hometown is Seraing, which is very nearly almost a suburb of Liège. A few years ago, I ate a dismal rabbit lunch in Stavelot, which is about 40 or so kilometres to the south-east of Seraing. My grandmother came from Stavelot — god, it’s a depressing place, no wonder she left. Unlike Seraing, I don’t think Stavelot has any industry, or industrial travails to speak of.

I found a site devoted to Seraing‘s history. It has historical photos of the river floodings that took place in the mid-twenties, and I couldn’t believe how closely the pictures approximated the floodings that took place around the same time in Neuwied, which is where my Belgian grandmother ended up. The Rhine would flood its banks and inundate the town, until some determined mayor (by the name of Krups) finally managed to get a dike-wall built (~1928-32). After that, the floodings became a thing of the past. But I’ve seen the pictures of my other grandmother’s business, once the Becker-Lampert, then the Lampert-Luhmer bakery, housed in the multi-story building the family owned near the river, flooded to the second story. There, one saw people hanging out the second floor windows while boats floated by on what used to be the street. A casual stoicism and general bonhomie animated the scene.

Gee, I would have had a hard time not flipping right out. Imagine the cleanup… People put up with more back then, I guess. Or did they?

Freedom Tower

May 21, 2005 at 10:16 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on Freedom Tower

What’s That Donald playing at? In early 2003, Daniel Libeskind won the commission to redesign the World Trade Center. His winning proposal consisted of an inspirational design that clearly responded in a sophisticated and deeply felt way to the needs both of the citizens as well as the commercial demands of the city. Then, things got really messy when Larry Silverstein, the owner of the lease on the World Trade Center site, decided he wanted his chosen favourite architect, David Childs, involved. Silverstein commissioned Childs to design the piece known as The Freedom Tower. Childs was intent on destroying several key aspects of Libeskind’s plan. As the latter put it in his book, Breaking Ground, sometime in October 2003 Libeskind’s wife Nina (incidentally the sister of our very own Stephen Lewis, and daughter of David Lewis) laid down the essential points to Janno Lieber over lunch at Manhattan’s Harvard Club:

“Number one,” said Nina, “the building must be 1,776 feet tall. Number two, the roof plane has to continue the ascending spire of the other four towers, making the skyline gesture to the importance of the memorial. Number three, there has to be an ecological component in the sky connecting the roofline to the antenna. And number four, the building has to be asymmetrical, so that it mirrors the Statue of Liberty’s torch.” [From Breaking Ground p.261]

On December 19, 2003, after much wrangling, Libeskind got what he needed: Childs’s design for The Freedom Tower, although gussied up from what Libeskind originally intended, conformed to the essential aspects he had spelled out.

Then along galumphs Donald Trump, using the legendary feud between Libeskind and Childs to “divide and conquer,” and to put forth his “own” ridiculous plan for the rebuilding: duplicate the destroyed Twin Towers, only make ’em even bigger! Several newspaper reports have pounced on this, without explaining, however, that Libeskind would hardly endorse Trump’s plans. For example, the Washington Post writes that Trump read from a letter Libeskind “sent to him [Trump]” in which the latter, quote: was “essentially complaining that the design is no good,” Trump said. That slant was “essentially” picked up by many other press sources. Hoppla! Let’s go back to what Libeskind said Nina said — Trump’s idea hardly fits in, does it?

And this is how some other articles (in Australia: Sydney Morning Herald) tell it:

Ground Zero master planner Daniel Libeskind, branded an “egghead” by Trump over the design of the Freedom Tower, fired off a letter to the property tycoon this week, pointing out that he was not responsible for the building’s problems.

The Polish-born architect stressed that the footprint and twisting shape of the tower were the work of David Childs, who was hired by Ground Zero developer Larry Silverstein to modify Libeskind’s vision.

“I am sure that all of us, whatever the shape of our head or its decorative accessory agree that security is the paramount concern for the new tower,” Libeskind wrote in a thinly-veiled dig at Trump’s distinctive hairstyle. [More…]

Touché, or should that be toupée?

Of course, it might be that the single best idea for the rebuilding comes from The Spoof, which revealed George W. Bush’s architectural proposal for a Freedom Tower. Putting words into Dubya’s mouth, the satire has the president explaining thus:

“Americans–and people all over the world–will be able to look at the Freedom Tower in New York City and see just what the War on Terror is all about,” proclaimed the President. “Those folks who question our mission in Iraq will finally understand why we had to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” [More…]

Oh why not? An oil well….

No id needed

May 17, 2005 at 11:31 pm | In yulelogStories | Comments Off on No id needed

Whew, no time to write anything again — apologies to people who left comments recently, but I’ll get to responses …soon. I think. Sort of like I’ll get around to organising my photos on Flickr, and/or updating them with more developments on recent development projects. Those photos of the building site with the pink cones for dynamite charges? Nearly all gone, ka-boom. Just a big hole now, with huge earth-moving machines making a meal of it.

Election Day in BC today. Went to vote and asked how come I don’t have to show any i.d. One has never needed to show i.d. if one is registered to vote, it seems. Just bring your voter-reminder card, sign on the dotted line that you are who you say you are, and you get to vote. “So, the other day, when my card arrived, I also received the card for someone who used to live in my house. What’s to stop someone from showing up with that card and claiming to be that person?” Nothing, it seems, except if the person next to you happens to see you faking it (and knows it), causing you to get caught, you could end up going to jail for 20 years. Strange. What are the chances of such a chance encounter?

On the other hand, the more trusting atmosphere makes for more access to the voting process. It’s made very easy to vote here, and I think more people do it for that reason. There’s discussion of making voting ballots available in braille so that the blind can vote unassisted. It’s very easy to verify whether you’re registered to vote by going online, which you can do from any library if you don’t have internet access at home. And in Vancouver’s East Side, many homeless people (or those without a fixed address) were voting today because of a drive to get that vote out. If you weren’t registered and didn’t have the requisite i.d., you could just bring an envelope (say, from welfare) with your name etc. on it, swear that you are Jane Doe and mostly or sometimes reside at the address on the envelope, and bingo-presto, you could vote.

The only problem from my perspective was that I wasn’t happy with any of the candidates or parties. I seriously considered voting for Ingmar Lee, about whom I’ve known since I learned about Betty Krawczyk, but then opted for the Green Party, even though their representative in my riding is, as far as I can tell, a non-entity. In the overall scheme of things, my Green vote doesn’t matter much, though, since Carol James, the provincial NDP leader and NDP candidate in my riding, is going to beat the incumbent BC Liberal by a mile. [*] Maybe by next election, we’ll have STV, which might make voting Green more meaningful. For now, it was all pretty grim.

[*] Update: it is indeed grim. The BC Liberals, according to the latest online newspaper report, have won a second term. Goodnight Gracie. Carol James, as predicted, did win in my riding, so my Green vote didn’t “spoil” anything. But omigod, another 4 years of Gordon Campbell…

Results on the STV referendum aren’t definitive yet, it seems. The referendum needs 60% yes votes to pass…

Time to think

May 15, 2005 at 11:33 pm | In yulelogStories | 2 Comments

When I was a graduate student at UBC, I had a friend who decided to work on a Canadian topic for his master’s thesis. One of the department’s faculty advised against that choice, noting, “You are burying yourself in a very shallow grave.”

Well, well. That’s what our faculty thought, and I’ll never forget the verdict. It rather stunned us die-hard neo-marxist theorists, so convinced we could overturn hierarchy. But after many heroic years of struggle, flailing in that shallow grave filling with just enough water to drown the non-swimming toddler at the pool party of art historical titans, the student realised the faculty were right. He set his sights on Soviet and Parisian art instead, topics forever chi-chi in the hothouse atmosphere of the politically charged circles that attract pomo theory and attention. I mean, dahling, Canadian art is so hopelessly provincial and backward and dull.

One must go with the flow of the times, it seems, lest one finds oneself stagnant in a bywater without feeders, outlets, or tides. The moon itself has no purchase, and your connection to planetary lights is extinguished. Curtain falls.


It’s a game of strategy, and just because you have the right (or noble) idea, doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out in your favour. I had to think of that past incident when I came across the following passage in a somewhat over-the-top baroque-ish melodrama of a mystery novel, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel :

The eyes of the boy in the grey jacket were dull with weariness and shame. The knowledge that his game was superior, more daring and brilliant than that of his opponent, could not console him for his inevitable defeat. His fifteen-year-old’s imagination, extravagant and fiery, the extreme sensitivity of his spirit and the lucidity of his thought, even the almost physical pleasure he felt when he moved the varnished wooden chessmen elegantly across the board, creating on the black and white squares a delicate network that he considered to be of almost perfect beauty and harmony, all seemed sterile now, sullied by the crude satisfaction and disdain evident on his opponent’s face: a sallow-skinned lout with small eyes and coarse features whose only strategey had been to wait prudently, like a spider in the centre of his web, a strategy of unspeakable cowardice.

So this too was chess, thought the boy playing Black. In the final analysis, it was the humiliation of undeserved defeat, with the prize going to those who risk nothing. [p.264]

Yes, the prose is a tad overheated, but can’t you just see it?

I haven’t been posting much because my time has been completely colonised by matters which, due to my own stupid self-imposed guidelines, aren’t fit for blogging. I’m a bit of a simpleton, meaning that if something really has me by the nape of the neck, I have trouble concentrating on other things to blog about, regardless of how interesting they are. At times like this, my energy is like a one-way street, and that’s very unfortunate since it means I’m heading the wrong way.

Even itty-bitty shallow graves have traffic markers directing the corpse’s movements. Look at this one: where is it? A desert? Death Valley? Note that the arrows don’t point to the sky, …nor into the ground:

So you keep going, is that it? To the left, to the right… Anywhere but here?

Here’s a book I absolutely have to have: Chronophobia by Pamela Lee. The review in the Spring 2005 issue of Art Journal notes:

…there are few subjects seemingly as timeless as time itself. Despite time’s intractable, ever-advancing force, the experience of time has been shown to be both a highly subjective and a socially constructed phenomenon. For example, E.P. Thompson has argued convincingly that nineteenth-century industrialization brought about drastically new conceptions of lived time, as rationalized work schedules replaced the environmentally structured calendar of agrarian labor. (…) [Lee] extends this analysis into the twentieth century, arguing that the introduction of new information-based technologies in the 1960s dematerialized and greatly accelerated this process of industrial rationalization, leading people to experience “a marked fear of the temporal” (8) and, more to the heart of her thesis, shaping the major aesthetic debates and artistic production of the period. [From review by Robert Slifkin of Pamela Lee’s Chronophobia in Art Journal]

Some matters cut so close to the bone that one starts to see connections everywhere — for example, the business of time (and time management) discussed above. The off-limits topic that’s colonised my time has to do with how schooling-related matters directly affects my kids — it would be an invasion of their privacy to vent about the severe limitations of many curricular aspects they have to deal with. However, it’s a fact I’ve noted before here: although we homeschool, I’ve let us get pulled into distance education schooling this past schoolyear, but now I’m at the point of realising that it was a grand delusion to buy into the system like this. I don’t see education. Just to stir the shit up some more, take a look at John Taylor Gatto’s Sept. 2003 interview with Phil Dru (Gatto being someone mentioned often here before, despite the fact that he sometimes sounds perilously close to being a raving conspiracy theorist), and, for all the professional educators who ponce off to conferences (as well as for all the blogging conference organisers), chew on this:

The ritualized academic structure of panels and the non-communicative form of the keynote speaker feed into the celebrity system reinforcing hegemonic paradigms that get in the way of genuine dialogue and of diverse, emerging voices being heard. Some will read this criticism as an attack on the scientific community as a whole. We disagree. Academics are not a species in danger of extinction and it is time to get out of the defensive mode. Panelism is part of the dark side of ‘academism’ and needs to be addressed, exactly because it is spilling over to other contexts such as the arts, culture, new media and even activism. (…) Within the American ‘university of excellence’ (1) language and research formats in the arts are modeled increasingly after the business logic of the sciences. People who decide about grants in turn are looking at the military-industrial complex that supports them to an ever-growing extent. The possibility of failure, even in the sciences becomes almost impossible due to an all-powerful result imperative. Instead of addressing this topic directly, a culture of academic simulation is being introduced in which a wide range, from designers, programmers and activists to net artists are persuaded to respond to ‘call for papers,’ motivate each other to submit a ‘proposal for a panel’ and even have to buy into the dirty business of (blind) peer reviewing, enforcing lengthy citations, in order to get something ‘published’ on a website. Increasingly, dull formats of the sciences are imposed on the arts.

We designed the FreeCooperation conference scenario after the dramaturgical structure of a Brechtian play. The somewhat staged environments of the event were rather theatrical. In order to make way for new structures there it was a crucial need to crush all hope amongst possible followers of panelism. The mantra “no lectures, no panels” took a long time to sink in. Yet, at the same time the event had to be as open and participatory as possible. There is a wide range of alternative formats one can choose from nowadays. To state that keynotes plus panels is the only possible way of doing a conference is pure nonsense. All it takes is the willingness to experiment, undaunted by the prospect of failure. [More…]

Substitute “blogging” for “arts” and you see a connection to recent conversations about hierarchy and about who gets invited to speak. About who gets to speak. Substitute “distributed learning environment” for “arts,” and similar lights might go on for those involved in that milieu. At any rate, it’s not rocket science. All it takes is the willingness to experiment, undaunted by the prospect of failure. The shallow grave awaits us all anyway. May as well dance while still on our pins.

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