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May 2008

Friday Ephemera

Charge your phone with a solar-powered bra. // The tobacco-free rechargeable cigarette. // Lovely, toxic nudibranchs. (h/t, io9.) // Enduring hardship in a darker age. // Joshua Hoffine’s nightmares. // Turkey’s evil Spider-Man. He’s evil, and cheap. // The museum of black superheroes. // Iron Man titles. // Iron Man fan. // Crotch weapons. More. // The barbecue sword. // Abandoned Russian tank base. // Robot oddments. // BSG: Guess What’s Coming to Dinner? // Pixelporn. (sfw.) // Brian Micklethwaite on an age of political landslides. // Norman Geras on the Guardian’s fondness for Hamas. // WorldWide Telescope™. // Lunch Inside the 12 Galaxies. (h/t, Candice.) // James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed. Western civilisation and the habit of invention. (h/t, Maggie’s Farm.) // Self-balancing electric unicycle. // The a.frame.fix concept bike. Or the Strida, which folds. // Vintage broadcast microphones. (h/t, Coudal.) // Music and Life. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Astrud Gilberto.

Wisdom of Elders

In the L.A. Times, P.J. O’Rourke offers some unlikely commencement advice. Two items in particular caught my eye.

On idealism:

Don’t be an idealist. Don’t chain yourself to a redwood tree. Instead, be a corporate lawyer and make $500,000 a year. No matter how much you cheat the IRS, you’ll still end up paying $100,000 in property, sales and excise taxes. That’s $100,000 to schools, sewers, roads, firefighters and police. You’ll be doing good for society. Does chaining yourself to a redwood tree do society $100,000 worth of good? Idealists are also bullies. The idealist says, “I care more about the redwood trees than you do. I care so much I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. It broke up my marriage. And because I care more than you do, I’m a better person. And because I’m the better person, I have the right to boss you around.”

And, on fairness:

Forget about fairness. We all get confused about the contradictory messages that life and politics send. Life sends the message, “I’d better not be poor. I’d better get rich. I’d better make more money than other people.” Meanwhile, politics sends us the message, “Some people make more money than others. Some are rich while others are poor. We’d better close that ‘income disparity gap’. It’s not fair!” Well, I am here to advocate for unfairness. I’ve got a 10-year-old at home. She’s always saying, “That's not fair.” When she says this, I say, “Honey, you’re cute. That’s not fair. Your family is pretty well off. That’s not fair. You were born in America. That’s not fair. Darling, you had better pray to God that things don’t start getting fair for you.”


Mighty Works

I thought I’d post a footnote of sorts to yesterday’s item on Professor Caroline Guertin, she of the limpid prose and limitless expertise. Here are a few short extracts from Guertin’s essay, Wanderlust: The Kinesthetic Browser in Cyberfeminist Space, published in 2007 by the Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology.

The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present. Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spatio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged. The gap is outside vision — felt not seen — and always existing on the threshold in between nodes. Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.

Think about that for a moment. Ponder its majesty.

Nudged into motion, the meandering subject in cyberfeminist space is a comet in orbit around her own story, around her subjective experience of a text that keeps changing, spinning off into an uncharted future. According to Paul Virilio, we are no longer beings who inhabit a temporal plane. Instead, in Open Sky, he argues we have become passive agents who are acted upon like film — exposed, underexposed, overexposed — and are nakedly subject to the effects of light speed.


We inhabit our bodies differently when we are out of phase, oscillating in the turbulence of dynamic space, that space where the textual body is written as contextual knot. The ways of moving in virtual space are directed and mapped by the knots that span spatio-temporal rifts. Without movement, we cannot cross the space-time divide.

Or maybe,

The textual voyage is alive and kinetic, fractal and in flux, birthed as she travels through its fullness.

I suppose one could view the extracts above, and the essay from which they’re taken, as a sort of extended Zen kōan, insofar as they defy rational understanding and all known aesthetic criteria. More sceptical souls may wonder if these passages are in fact the results of some kind of seizure or medical condition, of which we must not speak.

I should, in fairness, point out that the Online Journal of Embodiment & Technology does feature more substantial aesthetic and intellectual works, including Courtney Stricklin’s Yawn, a written variation of a video piece that invites readers to record the number of times they yawn while reading it. (Stricklin has, helpfully, punctuated the text with marks indicating how many times she yawned while writing it.) Stricklin’s biography informs us,

While Courtney would never have guessed that her future would be in the arts, it came as no surprise to her highly artistic family.

No less impressive is Thrash: Physical Responses to the Bush Administration, by Andrew Simonet and Headlong Dance Theatre, a company which creates 

award winning experimental and experiential dances with/for the entire body, including the face, the voice, and the mind.

Readers will be thrilled to discover that Thrash is an ongoing project in which members of the public are welcome to participate: 

No performance experience necessary. Here’s the idea: you listen to speeches by George W. Bush. Then you move in front of a video camera for four minutes. No movement too strange, too ugly, or too crazy. Whatever comes out is part of Thrash. I edit the results into [a] short compilation, a cathartic DIY video, a belligerent home movie of an infuriating time… Don’t worry about being (1) good, (2) original, (3) interesting.

A video of the results is available here. Go on, watch it. It’s a thing of beauty.


Over at University Diaries, The Myth attempts a rather heroic translation of Guertin’s prose.

Feel free to compensate me.

That Paranormal “We”

I’ve previously noted the readiness with which some commentators inform “us” of how “we” feel about a given subject. This eerie divination reveals, remarkably often, that “we” feel almost exactly as the author does. Another example of this preternatural knowledge comes courtesy of Professor Carolyn Guertin, whose areas of expertise include,   

Digital media, cyberfeminism, digital narrative, hypertext, new media arts, digital design, information aesthetics, participatory cultures, Web 2.0 technologies, women’s writing, cyberculture, media literacy, science fiction…


Hacktivism, born-digital arts and literatures, cultural studies, postliteracy and the social practices surrounding technology.

Some readers may remember Professor Guertin for her doctoral dissertation on “quantum feminisms,” discussed at length here, and which includes such dazzling insights as,

Within quantum mechanics, the science of the body in motion, the intricacies of the interiorities of mnemonic time - no longer an arrow - are being realized in the (traditionally) feminized shape of the body of the matrix.


Where women have usually been objects to be looked at, hypermedia systems replace the gaze with the empowered look of the embodied browser in motion in archival space. Always in flux, the shape of time’s transformation is a Möbius strip unfolding time into the dynamic space of the postmodern text, into the ‘unfold’.

Continue reading "That Paranormal “We”" »


Now here’s a thing. Pixeloo has produced a striking, indeed alarming, rendering of a certain cartoon patriarch. Click image for full effect.


The artist adds,

These aren’t studies of what Homer would look like if he was a real person; it’s just what a cartoon like Homer would look like if he kept his toon proportions but had realistic texturing and lighting.

Slightly less disturbing are the renderings of Mario and Jessica Rabbit. The “untooning” process can be seen here.

Elsewhere (2)

Busy today, but these may be of interest.

Heather MacDonald on race and crime

In fact, the race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data. As long ago as 1978, a study of robbery and aggravated assault in eight cities found parity between the race of assailants in victim identifications and in arrests - a finding replicated many times since, across a range of crimes. No one has ever come up with a plausible argument as to why crime victims would be biased in their reports.

Andrew McCarthy on euphemism, evasion and the jihad in plain sight.

Nor is it clear why calling a terrorist a jihadist would cause angst for moderates – unless they are pretending that jihad is something other than what it is… Progressive, moderate Muslims would doubtless like the concept of jihad to vanish. They are in a battle for authenticity with fundamentalists, and jihad would be far easier to omit than it is to explain away. Indeed, if anyone should resort to a purge of jihad, better it be Muslim reformers repealing the concept than U.S. Pollyannas striking the word. To persist in conceding jihad’s centrality as an Islamic obligation while distorting its essence can only fatally damage the reformers’ credibility and, hence, the entire reform effort.

Ophelia Benson on closed religious groups and pious handicapping.

Not being able to leave is the key, I think. It’s the key because it is a violation of rights in itself, and because it motivates other violations of rights. Amish children who stay in school are much more likely to leave than those who quit school after the eighth grade. What does this mean? That children who know more about the world, and who have some qualifications beyond primitive farming, often choose not to stay, while children who don’t, don’t. In other words children who are handicapped - deliberately handicapped - for life in the larger world are more likely to stay, and the Amish want those children to be handicapped.

Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Friday Ephemera

San Zhi, Taiwan. Forgotten houses of the future. // Tales of Tomorrow. Leslie Nielsen mines Martian uranium. (1952) // More boomerangs in space. // The Beast in Space. Cheesy sci-fi porno. (sfw) // Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four. Crap, redefined. // Superhero fashion. Gas masks, girdles, a jaunty hat. // Cutie Honey. She fights crime, I think. // Ophelia Benson on God, types 1 and 2. // Mary Jackson on Boris Johnson. // Charles Murray on educational romanticism. // Deogolwulf on the sound of one hand slapping. // Slow motion raspberry. And. // More robotic exoskeletons. // The android keyboardist. (1985) // The Spirit. // Bomb shelters of Nazi Germany. // Smoking tourism. (h/t, 1+1=3.) // San Francisco panoramas. Sunset, dawn and twilight. // Lamps made from sheep stomach. // The Anatomical Theatre. Morbidity and wax. // Tulip farms. // Plant rights now! Two legs bad, no legs good. // The Internationale in 40 languages. Sing, comrades, sing. // Design for despots. (h/t, Things.) // Retro design. // The Virtual Museum of Vintage VCRs. (h/t, Coudal.) // Wooden shortwave radio. Mp3 compatible. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s the Reverend Robert Wilkins

An Unthinkable Motive

Speaking of Sam Harris, in this clip he touches on a blind spot shared by many commentators, especially on the left.

Here’s the money quote:

I think liberals, almost by definition, don’t know what it’s like to really believe in God. They don’t know what it’s like to be sure that the book they keep by their bedside is the literal word of the creator of the universe and that death is merely a passage to an eternity of happiness. And so they find it very difficult to believe that anyone actually believes this stuff and is motivated by the content of their religious beliefs. And so liberals, when they see the jihadist look into the video camera and say things like “we love death more than the infidels love life” - and then he blows himself up – it’s the liberal in our society, the religious moderate or the secularist, who is left thinking that’s just propaganda

Indeed. This disbelief in belief, as it were, helps explain the extraordinary denial of jihadists’ and former jihadistsself-declared motives, and the hugely selective, often absurd, declarations of “root causes.” As Tawfik Hamid, a former member of Jemaah Islamiya, pointed out:

Without confronting the ideological roots of radical Islam it will be impossible to combat it... It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence… The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Sharia. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts.

It is ironic and discouraging that many non-Muslim, Western intellectuals have become obstacles to reforming Islam… They find socioeconomic or political excuses for Islamist terrorism… If the problem is not one of religious beliefs, it leaves one to wonder why Christians who live among Muslims under identical circumstances refrain from contributing to wide-scale, systematic campaigns of terror... All of this makes the efforts of Muslim reformers more difficult. When Westerners make politically correct excuses for Islamism, it actually endangers the lives of reformers and in many cases has the effect of suppressing their voices.

As explained at length here, the size of an extremist “fringe” and how it relates to mainstream conceptions of the faith, and its theology and history, is a matter of some importance and has to be considered as it actually is, not as one might wish. And, as Tawfik Hamid, Tanveer Ahmed, Hassan Butt, Tahir Aslam Gora and others have argued, omitting the role of Islamic theology, whether for reasons of preference or embarrassment, leads one to inaccurate or perverse evaluations of what we are faced with and how it might be stopped.

The Prose, It Burns

Further to this, readers may be interested in Philosophy and Literature’s gone but not forgotten Annual Bad Writing Contest. The rules are simple enough:

The Bad Writing Contest attempts to locate the ugliest, most stylistically awful passage found in a scholarly book or article published in the last few years. Ordinary journalism, fiction, etc. are not eligible, nor are parodies: entries must be non-ironic, from actual serious academic journals or books.

The winning entries are, alas, not quite so clear. This, from 1997, is Professor Rob Wilson, writing in The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Political Criticism, and the Public Sphere, a collection of essays published by the University of Minnesota Press and edited by Richard Burt:

If such a sublime cyborg would insinuate the future as post-Fordist subject, his palpably masochistic locations as ecstatic agent of the sublime superstate need to be decoded as the ‘now-all-but-unreadable DNA’ of a fast deindustrializing Detroit, just as his Robocop-like strategy of carceral negotiation and street control remains the tirelessly American one of inflicting regeneration through violence upon the racially heteroglossic wilds and others of the inner city.

The publisher’s blurb informs us that the purpose of the book quoted above is to “seek a deeper understanding of what ‘censorship’, ‘criticism’ and the ‘public sphere’ really mean.”

There’s more, of course.  (h/t, Stephen Hicks.)

Astronomical Odds

Here’s the third episode of the excellent BBC documentary series, The Planets. Titled Giants, the film follows the ingenuity and serendipity of the 1977 Voyager mission and its “grand tour” of the outer planets.

Part 1:

A happy alignment. Slingshot. Magnetic Jupiter. 3 million amps. Rings and ghosts.

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Part 2

Fearsome weather. Saturn’s other side. Shattered. Perfect timing. Still listening.

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Other episodes can be viewed here.