Category Archives: General Comment

Why I Dislike Holiday Breaks

One of the reasons I dislike holiday breaks is I dislike spending money. Sure, I’m somewhat of a miser, and in the spirit of being miserly I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes (well, I have snuck a few). The days of smoking are pretty much over. I don’t want to be unhealthy, either financially or physically. Rather, I’m looking forward to several months of the everliving hell of quitting.

The holidays are filled with strange hypocrisies. On the one hand, tis the season for spending lots of money and more debt accrual. On the other hand, though I’m not sure which hand it is, we’ll be hearing a lot in the next few months about how people don’t save enough, thus digging holes under future balloons and bubbles.

Another reason I dislike the holidays is that I forget what I should be doing. There’s a lot of work to do. I have clearing to do out back, woodwork around the house, and other house projects. I also disremember what I told myself I should be preparing for: new media program work, exam writing, course development. Oh, and then there was Rails.

I have been working on the courses, yes. In doing so, I’m already prepping for a redeploy of World Literature in the Fall with a strong redosing of Chinese history and study of intellectual traditions. Fritjof Capra has been helpful, as I can snag a few birds in his Tao of Physics volume. I’m not done with the book so I don’t want to make hasty assertions about what teleos might mean when we compare Relativity Theory and various elements of Taoism or Buddhism. One of the critical elements of Taoism is the notion of complementarity, hence the thrust of this post must be taken with complementarity.

I’m also reading Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, a interesting path-choice comic, given to me by my step son. (Smokelessness, however, makes it hard to concentrate.)

I’m also working my way into Nicholas Carr’s post on interactive narrative. I think he’s right about the importance and potency of storytelling, but I find that the entryway into the interactive arts is unconvincing. Considering storytelling from the point if view of the critic and the apparatus is limiting. Again, I make the assertion that we need more readers and writers in the variety of forms. The “death of the author” meme is not, I don’t think, what writers are thinking about when they’re considering links, branches, and decisions.

Lastly, the worst thing about holidays is the fact that they end and that their liminal periods are difficult to pin down. Question then: are they particles or waves or both?

Proof and Possibility: Tech, Media, and Imagination

Jesse Abbot continues his incredible speaking series with:

Speaker info:

F. Scott Scribner, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The University of Hartford. He received his doctorate from SUNY-Binghamton and has studied extensively in Europe – in both France and Germany. He is a specialist in 19th and 20th Century European Philosophy and has published widely in this field. He is primarily concerned with marshaling the resources of 19th century German Idealism for thinking about the impact of media upon our lives. And although he is convinced that technology speeds far faster than our ability to think it, it doesn’t stop him from trying. His book, Matter’s Spirit: J.G. Fichte and Technological Imagination (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010) was published this past spring.

On Seeming Contradictions or Maybe Not-So Seeming

Reading Kathleen Megan on education national rankings is interesting.

A couple of quotes from which to develop:

Meotti said the New England 2020 report on educational attainment forecasts a 3 percent decline from 1993 to 2020 in the number of 30-year-olds in Connecticut holding bachelor’s degrees or higher.

and

He said the situation points to concerns that he and other state educators have raised about college graduation and retention rates and about the percentage of students who arrive at college unprepared for college-level work.

and

“The business community is concerned about this,” Kaufman said. “If we are going to be able to pull ourselves out of this recession, we must focus on high-skill, high-wage jobs: engineering, science, math. We need a highly educated workforce. We would be very disturbed to know … that we are not as competitive as we once were in the national rankings.”

Kaufman’s remark at the end of the article doesn’t, it seems to me, point to a set of real solutions to Megan’s suggested problem: a decline trend in percentage of higher ed degrees. But it does, in sentiment, reflect a focus on educational goals that might be expressed as a general “good.” The general good is “high-skill, high-wage jobs” and “a highly educated workforce.” Unfortunately, the relationship between “high-wage” and “engineering, science, and math” and thereby a fix to the recession seems thin and not strongly connected for good conclusion drawing. How, for example, would a ton of engineers pull us out of the recession? Maybe they would but the article doesn’t develop this cause and effect relationship. Maybe lots of highly-educated writers would do the job. Or maybe not.

Another method of coming at the issue of higher ed, degrees, economics, and recessions is to consider “reality.” Currently in Connecticut the political winds are pointing toward actually reducing resources for primary, secondary, and higher education. In New York we have the SUNY Albany situation, which, I would assume, is a general trend across the country, at least in terms of the conditions under which universities and colleges would consider reducing costs. In this context, to lament any sort of reduction in student preparedness, trends in levels of higher ed and access in the United States, and declines in the creation or sustainability of “high-wage” sectors would seem to be irrelevant without an appropriate response.

In yet another Megan article we have:

For the first time ever, enrollment in Connecticut’s public and private colleges and universities broke 200,000 this fall, driven by soaring numbers at community colleges and at eight of the state’s private colleges, including four for-profit schools.

That’s a lot of people going to school. Question: are there enough chairs and classrooms to accommodate this number? If not, more might be built. Or maybe not, as states have no money with which to augment their infrastructure. If not, should more be built so that the required number of “math, science, and engineering” students can satisfy the requirements of their degrees.

Across the country and under the cloud of the current “accountability movement,” teachers and their institutions are required to do more with less, which was “less” even when enrollment was lower. If more students enroll in a particular college, that particular college has to expend more resources to maintain its mission. The pickle is that a particular college or university will not be provided those resources because the additional resources–space, wages, staffing, professional development, overhead–don’t exist or are being used elsewhere.

We could say, “Well that’s just the way it is.” Fine. But, to grumble therefore about the bus in the driveway that won’t move because it lacks a rear tire, and a mechanic is at the moment removing the other rear tire, and then to continue slapping the driver in the back of the head for “going so slow”–none of this seems very rational to me.

Canavan’s ‘Avatar’ and the War of Genres

Just a bit of Gerry Canavan on Avatar and the question of genre, re science fiction

In the beginning Avatar seems to situate itself firmly within this generic mode, with a group of scientists and mercenaries from Earth who have arrived on Pandora in spaceships to study the natives and drill for valuable minerals (not necessarily in that order). But by the end, while Avatar certainly remains an alternative to our empirical environment, it no longer operates as any kind of framework. Neither the biological/ecological systems present on the planet Pandora, nor the ability of our biological structures and technological apparatuses to interface with them, are remotely plausible from the perspective of either evolutionary biology or cognitive science without inventing some sort of massive hidden backstory for the Na’vi that involves incredible prehistoric genetic engineering on the planetary scale—and really not even then. (And of course Fridge Logic just makes it worse.)

In Suvinian/Freedmanian terms, then, Avatar isn’t really science fiction at all, because the type of imagination involved in its reception isn’t cognition. And by the end of the film any pretense of scientific plausibility or internal logical coherence has been abandoned altogether: telepathy and transmigration of souls are real, MechWarriors pull Bowie knives from their belts, and not even gravity seems to work anymore.

The overall critique here makes sense. As I watched the film I never considered the genre really as science fiction but as straight forward “fantasy” as magic or “faith” is the core logic of the narrative.

RIP Knickerbocker

When Knickerbocker was a puppy, he’d dash around and knock the hell out of our older terrier X, Arrow, unmindful of her own age and ricketiness. Like all Labs he couldn’t help but fling himself into everything. He had a few good years after a serving of diabetes, back troubles, and arthritis and eventually couldn’t cope with his own size, and eating wasn’t that easy either. He’s passed the fun onto two cats. And so a toast to Knickerbocker, 1998-2009.

RIPKnicky.jpg

On Silliness

I had an interesting set of exchanges with the company that installed my boiler. It’s a three year old installation. It’s time for a second cleaning and so I called the company and asked to schedule. They asked if I was a customer. I said yes. They said, not according to our computer. I said, I purchased the boiler from you, therefore I’m a customer. They affected ignorance concerning this definition of customer. They wanted to know if I was an oil delivery customer, which is what they meant by customer, but not outright, implied rather. They said, as I was not a customer, they’d charge exorbitant for cleaning. I basically told them to take a leap and that I’d call the company who provides us oil for the cleaning, which I did, and will soon get, for a third the price. I told “the company” that they’d lost a customer and that they “should” care about that.

I guess I don’t understand the definition of customer. What the company doesn’t seem to understand is that ethical action dictates up-front definition of the extent and limits of service. They don’t, however, define customer because they know that they’re practice is unethical, only servicing boilers that they install if the customer agrees to purchase their oil, which is fine only if this written in service agreements. Such a service agreement would sound pretty silly.

For business or corporate concerns to assume a central place as a dominant ethic in governance of the country is suspect. Sure, Connecticut is not very friendly to commerce. But it works both ways, too.

Imagery

Jeremy Jones on Harry R. Truman:

Every May the 18th, I think about Mt. St. Helens and specifically Harry R. Truman. Every year. I feel a strange bond with that man, even though we never actually spoke. It’s amazing what an impact on one’s life twenty or thirty letters from third and fourth graders can have. (Along those lines, please make sure your children write. It can make a huge difference in their lives.)

Professor Brown and the Weblog

My friend and writer Bob Brown has created a weblog. It will be interesting to see what he makes of it. He writes:

I am not really a technological Luddite, though I’d like to be right now. The reason? My PC has been attacked by something called a self-replicating virus, which sounds suspiciously like an online version of swine flu. I’ve been told that I’ll get my precious computer back sometime today, and I can’t wait. Meanwhile, I’m taking advantage of a long-standing offer by my friend, Rachel Hyland, to help me establish a blog of my very own. We’re sitting in her office, hunched over her computer, and I am experiencing an odd blend of exhilaration and dread.

Black Days, Part 2

A quote from Philip Zelikow:

Which underscores the importance of moral analysis. There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question — “What should we do?” — and the legal question: “What can we do?” We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. “The lawyers say it’s OK.” Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.

And in his section on the relevant legal opinions re OLC:

3. The legal opinions have grave weaknesses.

Weakest of all is the May 30 opinion, just because it had to get over the lowest standard — “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” in Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture. That standard was also being codified in the bill Senator John McCain was fighting to pass. It is also found in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, a standard that the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 does apply to these prisoners. Violation of Common Article 3 is a war crime under federal law (18 U.S.C. section 2441), a felony punishable by up to life imprisonment. (The OLC opinions do not discuss this law because in 2005 the administration also denied the applicability of Common Article 3.)

It seems to me, just to drive this point home, that while the “lawyers” provided their views, this past administration should be the subject of “fault finding” and prosecution.

Against Technology

Kevin Kelly lays out some “core” arguments against technology in a effort to understand them. It’s a start. And the subject should continue to be interesting.

Has he articulated them clearly so that others can engage? I’m not sure. Take argument number 3:

Contrary to Technology Itself. Technology proceeds so fast it is going to self-destruct. It is no longer regulated by nature, or humans, and cannot control itself. Self-replicating technologies such as robotics, nanotech, genetic engineering are self-accelerating at such a rate that they can veer off in unexpected, unmanageable directions at any moment. The Fermi Paradox suggests that none, or very few civilizations, escape the self-destroying capacity of technology.

A lot of this reads like science fiction or Shelleyesque rather than historical analysis or as factual. Do we have examples of this “veering off” issue? Do we have anything beyond inductive generalization? The button, for example, is a medieval invention, but such an example is not really considered “technology” in the above sense. Or shoe laces.

“Against technology” arguments, even wen they are fairly posited, suffer from definitional questions. What specific kinds of technology, for example, are considered dangerous or unnatural in the frame of Romanticism?