Debate Night

Filed under: — Joe @ 5:30 pm

I hate to say it–but I want to see some passion! Some fireworks! A calm, scripted debate is not going to help. Let’s turn up the heat, so Bush can stumble, and Kerry can demonstrate that he really does have a personality!


Banned Books Week

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:44 pm

ALA Banned Books Week logoI’m a little late, but this week is the American Library Association‘s Banned Books Week. It’s a good time to buy and read a banned book or two! (what time isn’t a good time?) I’ve been wanting to re-read Fahrenheit 451 for a while, and I just discovered that my copy is missing. Probably loaned to a student somewhere, somewhen, and never returned. Which is the best way I know of to lose a book! So I get to buy a new copy. In fact, it might be time for me to indulge in a little Bradbury festival. It’s been a while, and I think I’m ready for a fond re-visiting. The ALA has a list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000, and it’s interesting to see that in that decade, at least, Fahrenheit didn’t make the list. Still a fun list to examine, though.


“Real America”

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:19 pm

Matthew Yglesias picks up on a comment from Julian Sanchez that

the putatively “real” portions of America — which, as another commenter pointed out, are less the South than the midwest — also just happen to be the whitest portions of America.

This is an excellent point–and one that seemed particularly relevant when we heard so much from the delegates to the RNC about bringing the perspective of that “real America” (aka “God’s Country“) to NYC. But my internal response to those Republican’s comments (“so what are we, chopped liver?”) leads me to add an additional perspective to Yglesias’ point.

To those who talk about the “real America,” “white America” is part of what they mean, certainly, but another big part that I notice is that they also mean “gentile America.” Not only is “real America” the whitest portion of America, but this “unreal America” that they disparage–we “New York Liberal Elite” or “Hollywood Media Liberals”–are just too, well, you know, Jewish.

Their picture of a lovely white and real patriotic America, with leafy suburbs and Christmas decorations, leaves out African Americans, and Latinos, and Asians, and any kind of immigrants (except in some very strictly defined labor situations). And even more, it leaves out the Jews.

Princess Leia’s words to Bush

Filed under: — Joe @ 6:16 pm

Leia While I’m on a Star Wars theme, I had to include this perfect entry into the “shoe fits” and cosmic synchronicity files. If only the Bush administration had Leia Organa in the cabinet!

This is Princess Leia talking to Han Solo in Star Wars III: A New Hope, but it might as well be Princess Leia talking to George W. Bush in Iraq II: No Hope Whatsoever :

This is some rescue! When you came in here, did you have a plan for getting out?

“There is no try…”

Filed under: — Joe @ 5:58 pm

Irvin Kershner, the “81-year-old real-life version of Obi-Wan Kenobi,” (I’d gladly be 81 years old, if I could get that epithet attached to my name!) who advised George Lucas, is on the money when it comes to Yoda and his “philosophy.”

Yoda’s philosophy was quite simplistic. ‘If you get angry, you’re gonna lose.’ ‘Don’t try, do.’ He has a basic philosophy that is very charming. Not very profound, although young people consider it profound. I wish they would read more.

I wish they would read more.” Sigh. After the sixtieth student reference to Yoda’s “wisdom,” I can only say “amen, Obi-Wan, amen.”


Nothing Cuter

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:49 pm

julie and jinxIs there anything, anywhere, cuter than a little kitten? Unless it’s a little girl with her new kitten? 🙂

The newest addition to our housefull (no exaggeration) of animals is this little mongrel of a beauty, ready to fight anyone or anything, Jinx!


Six SF Writers on the Social Future

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:34 am

Locus Magazine Online has a great (but pessimistic!) piece this week–Global to Local: The Social Future as seen by six SF Writers. John Shirley asked Cory Doctorow, Pat Murphy, Kim Stanley Robinson, Norman Spinrad, Bruce Sterling and Ken Wharton to comment on a whole bunch of issues–including war, the environment, information technology and control, and of course, the upcoming US election.

These guys are pretty perceptive, generally, but their visions are really a major downer. I’m not hearing much sense of wonder, not much wide-eyed gazing ahead at the progress and shining future we have in store.

Unfortunately, I think they’re pretty much correct! Especially on the election results. Here’s Ken Wharton:

It’ll be decided by a million Red Queens: swing-voters who are so overburdened with busy lives that they’re running just as fast as they can to stay in the same place. It’s a big decision, with big implications, so you’d hope that these people will take at least a few hours to find relevant information that isn’t spoon-fed from the campaigns. But with no time to weigh how hundreds of complex issues are going to affect their families, a big part of the final vote will come down to gut instinct. Instincts that may have served us well on the African savannah a hundred thousand years ago, but are now all-too-helpless in the face of well-financed Hari Seldons. And unlike Asimov’s legendary character, I’m not convinced that these guys have our best interests at heart.


The Confusion

Filed under: — Joe @ 4:49 pm

CryptonomiconI loved Neal Stephenson‘s Cryptonomicon. I thought he had really fulfilled the promise of Snow Crash–which had some great ideas, some romping and rollicking storytelling, but way too much lecturing. Diamond Age and Zodiac were fun, but just didn’t quite satisfy deeply enough. But in Cryptonomicon, by abandoning (pretty much) SF, Stephenson gave me a massive novel, consistently interesting and engaging, with characters who seemed real, some laughs and thrills, but maybe not quite enough emotional investment.

QuicksilverSo when I got to Quicksilver, I was expecting it to be an improvement on Cryptonomicon, and I was terribly excited to read it. Finally, though (and it took me around 800 pages to admit it), I was disappointed. There were long stretches which were (like Snow Crash) too lecture-y, and just plain dull. And the emotional component was, again, missing.

The ConfusionI delayed, for that reason, for a long time before finally plunging into The Confusion. Boy, did I make a mistake! The Confusion is terrific. It seems that Quicksilver was a necessary first step, because with that foundation, Stephenson managed to make The Confusion a total blast. This time he weaves in the lecturing info-dumps much more neatly, and the parallel stories work together perfectly, and I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner. It’s great fun, exciting, and there’s some true emotion, with some cutting irony, and you can begin to care about the characters, and there are some truly grimace-worthy anachronistic puns (“These Vagabond boots are longing to Stray”), and all in all I have to say that I’d gladly read it again, and I’m eagerly looking forward to volume 3, The System of the World, next week.


Books–the things

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:34 am

Gutenberg BibleBible as MagazineOnReligion.com points me to an intriguing exhibition at the Huntington Library (too bad I’m on the other side of the country!), “The Bible and the People,” exploring the history of the book that we call the Bible–its status as a physical, obtainable object, and how that object has been regarded through history.

Our story begins in the eleventh century, when the Bible was available only in expensive, hand-copied manuscripts–the exclusive property of clerics and a small Latin-educated elite, nearly all male. Manuscript Bibles could be breathtakingly beautiful, but they could also be inaccurately transcribed and confusingly formatted, their constituent books in varying sequences, their chapters and verses unmarked. As active participants in a Bible-saturated culture, ordinary people were familiar with scripture, but not as a text to read or a book to own.
Our story ends, however, in a very different world: the current Bible marketplace, with its extraordinary number of translations, formats, and versions designed to appeal to readers of every age, race, native language, reading ability, and budget. Today the Bible is the best-selling and the most widely distributed book in the world.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of “books” on my Palm Pilot-so these “books” have no true physical existence. But some of my favorite objects are physical, bound, books-and even the smell of a large collection of used books can give me a certain thrill of excitement.

I have a guilty addiction to the “Reality TV” and “Home Improvement” shows we have here in the US (“Trading Spaces,” “While You Were Out” and so on), and the thing I constantly notice in the homes on these shows is how very, very, few books I see. Usually there are none at all. Do people even have books in their houses? My main “home decorating” concern has always been finding enough shelf space for the stacks, piles, of books which are always littering my living space.


Avatar Maker

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:44 pm

A fresh breezeIn salute to Patrick O’Brian, I’ve generally used this little animated version I “derived” from a Geoff Hunt print as my avatar in any online forum where I was allowed to use one. It’s a nice little picture, and I enjoy looking at it, so I assume others do, too. I don’t know how much it really represents me, but I got very accustomed to it, and it seems at least as appropriate as most of the other avatars I see around.

Me?Really Me?But in setting up my own Xanga blog, as part of the experiment of having my 095 students do the same, I decided to use an avatar (they call it a “profile pic” at Xanga) that would maybe look more like me. I remembered that I had seen this fun Portrait Illustration Maker linked on the Scribbling Woman blog some time ago. The students had a great time creating their own pictures, although (of course, as recommended) not all of them used them on their blogs. But now, from walking through it with the students, I’ve got two of myself. Which is Jekyll? and which is Hyde?

And now, in joining a new forum or two, I’m wondering whether to use one of these new, but more traditional, portraits, or my old familiar ship of the line.

Stoop Sailing

Filed under: — Joe @ 12:08 pm

What other people in other parts of the world call garage sales, or yard sales, here in Brooklyn we call stoop sales (or stupid sales!). In the time-honored tradition of transferring my garbage to someone else’s house, I’m sitting on the stoop, looking forlorn, hoping someone will buy (name your price!) a small portion of our junk.

Luckily, the wireless connection reaches to the stoop!


We’re number Three!

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:16 pm

Unfortunately, I don’t have a link, but I’m told (thanks, mikepd!) that Reader’s Digest this month lists the 10 colleges that are “tops at combining great academics with low tuition or generous aid packages.” And CUNY ranked, nationwide, third! University of North Carolina was first and Amherst College second, and I guarantee we’re right on their tails!


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