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March 2009

Friday Ephemera

Bicycle Built for Two Thousand. // At last, a horror film for vegans. // The shower curtain you’ve always wanted. // Tiny turntable. // Tetris HD. I dare you to play. // How to prevent piracy. // Boring to the ear, pleasing to the eye. // 4000 years of democracy in 90 seconds. // Testing is “racist,” claims Professor Lani Guinier, because “talent is equally distributed among all people.” (h/t, Maggie’s Farm) // More vintage Soviet posters. (h/t, Coudal) // Spy vibe. // “The inter-dimensional quest for a better you!” (h/t, B&W) // Unspeakably cheesy theme songs from 1960s Marvel cartoons. // Edible circuitry. // Scanned sandwiches. // The art of dirty cars. // Is it a hat? // And, via The Thin Man, it’s time to open The Ipcress File

Defined by Whining

Heather MacDonald takes a look at Victimology 101:

In December 2008, Yale University president Richard Levin announced a series of budget cuts to compensate for a 25 percent drop in the value of Yale’s endowment. This February, the university launched the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Resources to provide support for Yale’s homosexual community. According to its director, the new office is intended to make the “University feel like a friendly place as opposed to an alien, hostile place” to gays. The recession, it appears, is going to have little impact on the academic culture of victimology and the ever-growing bureaucracy that supports it. The idea that Yale is an “alien, hostile place” to gays is one of those absurd conceits that could only be maintained in the alternative universe of academia. Yale students and faculty are undoubtedly the most tolerant, least homophobic people on Earth; Yale helped launch the field of gay studies three decades ago and has only increased its involvement since.

Ah, but the drama must go on indefinitely. That’s the whole point. A while ago, in a post on the academic radical, I noted a tendency towards escalation

The problem is that adversarial role-play has little to do with reason, refutation or how the world actually is. It does, however, have a great deal to do with how those concerned wish to seem. In order to maintain a self-image of heroic radicalism - and in order to justify funding, influence and status - great leaps of imagination, or paranoia, may be required. Hence the goal posts of persecution tend to move and new and rarer forms of exploitation and injustice have to be discovered, many of which are curiously invisible to the untutored eye. Thus, the rebel academic tends towards extremism, intolerance and absurdity, not because the mainstream of society is becoming more racist, prejudiced, patriarchal or oppressive – but precisely because it isn’t.

Unsurprisingly, this appetite for grievance and indulgence has been exploited and internalised by many students, especially those entranced by tribal identities and the leverage those identities make possible. (Not least among those who believe we live in the 1950s.) MacDonald goes on to list Yale’s pandering to this particular tribe, including lectures, conferences, professorships, elaborate nondiscrimination policies, the establishment of a Lesbian and Gay Studies Centre, the hiring of “special assistants for LGBTQ issues,” oral history projects, “critical analysis of queer and normative sexualities,” the provision and subsidy of “safe spaces” for LGBTQ students, and courses in “music and queer identities” and “gender transgression.” She continues,

In light of this history, one might think it impossible to maintain that Yale needs a new LGBTQ office in order to “feel like a friendly place as opposed to an alien, hostile place” to gays. Especially since the director of that new office, Maria Trumpler, has already been serving as “special assistant to the deans for LGBTQ issues.” But Trumpler herself charges that Yale has heretofore failed to confer on gays the power to form a community. If you’re tempted to ask why students require administration backing in order to form a “community,” you don’t understand the co-dependent relationship between self-engrossed students and the adults whose careers consist of catering to that self-involvement. Students in today’s university regularly act out little psychodramas of oppression before an appreciative audience of deans and provosts. The essence of those psychodramas is to force the university to recognize a student’s narrowly defined “identity” through ever more elaborate bureaucratic mechanisms. Rather than laugh the student players off the stage, the deans, provosts, and sundry other administrators willingly participate in their drama, intently negotiating with them and conferring additional benefits wherever possible.

In other words, enabling, in the pejorative sense. Obviously, as a gay man, I too feel aggrieved and entitled. Entitled, that is, to say, “Get the hell over yourselves, you whiny, parasitic little bitches.”

Ahem. Take a few minutes to read the whole thing.

Reheated (2)

For newcomers, two more items from the archives.

Phantom Guilt Syndrome. A guide to self-loathing.

The phrase “asymmetric warfare” has entered popular usage and many of those who use it focus primarily on the asymmetry of military capability, rather than the asymmetry of morality, tactics and intention. Again, this follows from the notion that the ability to defend oneself is a very bad thing indeed, with the exception of certain perceived underdogs, for whom an entirely different moral standard is available. (The words “Israel-Palestine conflict” spring immediately to mind.) Those of a critical disposition may wish to object at this point on the basis that the asymmetry of military capability is for most purposes a moral non sequitur. Simply put, if a person threatens me or my family with a baseball bat and I happen to be carrying a gun, the fact that I’m better armed is in no meaningful sense “unfair”.

What to Think, Not How. A review of Indoctrinate U.

Some viewers may wonder if many faculty members are bewitched by the homogeneity of their insulated fiefdoms and are thus unaccustomed to their assumptions being challenged. Others may suspect that some of these educators are less naïve and all too happy to do in private what they cannot defend in public. Either way, a question arises for supporters of identity politics and pretentious sensitivity: What happens when the most oppressive “hegemony” in town is, in fact, your own?

See also the greatest hits.


Speaking of comic adaptations, here’s something for enthusiasts of incomprehensible kitsch. has unearthed episodes of the Japanese TV Spider-Man, or Toei no Supaidâ-Man, originally broadcast in 1978. The pilot episode is embedded below. It’s a heady mix of lobster monsters, giant robots, astro-archaeology and kung fu, and it’s not always easy to follow. You may want to bite down on something, possibly your own neck.

If the above is too rich to take in one sitting, you can always sample the trailer.

Oh, and cat lovers avert your eyes.

They’re Gaining On Us (2)

A while ago, I noted this development:

No fewer than 22 times, researchers documented wild chimpanzees on an African savanna fashioning sticks into ‘spears’ to hunt small primates... In each case a chimpanzee modified a branch by breaking off one or two ends and, frequently, using its teeth to sharpen the stick. The ape then jabbed the spear into hollows in tree trunks where bush babies sleep... Anthropologist and study co-author Paco Bertolani witnessed... a chimpanzee successfully extract a bush baby with a spear.

Now, via Dr Westerhaus, comes more news from the animal kingdom:

A male chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo planned hundreds of stone-throwing attacks on zoo visitors, according to researchers. Keepers at Furuvik Zoo found that the chimp collected and stored stones that he would later use as missiles. Further, the chimp learned to recognise how and when parts of his concrete enclosure could be pulled apart to fashion further projectiles.

The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology. There has been scant evidence in previous research that animals can plan for future events. Crucial to the current study is the fact that Santino, a chimpanzee at the zoo in the city north of Stockholm, collected the stones in a calm state, prior to the zoo opening in the morning. The launching of the stones occurred hours later - during dominance displays to zoo visitors - with Santino in an “agitated” state. This suggests that Santino was anticipating a future mental state - an ability that has been difficult to definitively prove in animals.

I know. If they learn to make fire, we’re screwed.

Watchmen, Watched

My review of Zack Synder’s Watchmen has materialised at the Eye blog. I’ve assumed that most of you are already familiar with the plot (summarised here, detailed here), so I’ve focussed on whether or not a good comic makes for a good film. Feel free to dispute my findings or add musings of your own.


Update: Not sure how long this will remain online, but here’s the opening title sequence.

Friday Ephemera

Now you can dress up like Astro Boy. Or Pikachu. Oh, there’s more. // Armour made of gel. // Self-assembling magnets. // Inside the collider. // Panoramic sunset, La Silla observatory, Chile. (h/t, Coudal) // Composite image of M82. // The Commodore 64. (1988) // Transparent appliances. // Transparent fish with tubular eyes. (h/t, Cronaca) // Apocryphal specimens. // Octopus chandeliers. // Flash drives of note. (h/t, Metrolander) // The MP3-grenade combo. // Robots! // Five moments of cinematic superheroism. // The secret lives of comic store employees. // Imaginary numbers. // 20 grim possible endings for Battlestar Galactica. // To hell with niceness. // Saturday Morning Watchmen. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr John Barry.