Friday, May 28, 2004

Emerging Writers

Though the title "Emerging Writers" gives me the image of tweed-jacketed, pipe-smoking, horn-rim spectacled writers rising like the Creature From the Black Lagoon out of the tidepool of non-evolved, quiescent writer tadpoles - I do like the concept of the Emerging Writers Network.

A while ago I blogged about finding good midlist authors to read (and support by buying their books.) The problem is how to identify these books and writers efficiently. One resource is the neighborhood independent bookstore. But you don't want to always do that - you really don't get a chance to mull it over in a store. However, reviews in magazines and newspapers are not a good source - I've found that the limited space in these venues are taken up by the same books. In my subscriptions I know I could find 5 different reviews of a recent book by say Martin Amis or Zadie Smith. I'd rather have one review of those books and 4 reviews of little known authors that I would like to try.

I've even thought of getting a subscription to Kirkus Reviews so that at least I could get *some* information...but the cost was way too prohibitive, like $40 a month....

But I think the Emerging Writers site along with my friendly neighborhood bookstore will get me most of the way there.

Changing A Light Bulb

I saw this joke in a art forum. I laugh through my tears.

How many members of the Bush administration does it
take to replace a light bulb?

SEVEN:
-One to deny that a lightbulb needs to be replaced;
-One to attack and question the patriotism of anyone
who has questions about the lightbulb;
-One to blame the previous administration for the need
of a new lightbulb;
-One to arrange the invasion of a country rumored to
have a secret stockpile of lightbulbs;
-One to get together with Vice President Cheney and
figure out how to pay Halliburton Industries $1
million for a lightbulb;
-One to arrange a photo-op session showing Bush
changing the lightbulb while dressed in a flight suit
and wrapped in an American flag; and
-One to explain to Bush the difference between
screwing a lightbulb and screwing the country.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

VP's Doing it For Themselves

Oh, I love the Onion.

Once a "C" Student...

...always a "C" student. One of the things that went unmentioned in last weekend's coverage of President Bush's bicycling accident was what the hell he was out there mountain biking in the first place. Now, I don't mean that he should exercise or mountain bike or whatever. No, it was the timing of the thing.

To bring up my own experience, I used to give seminars and papers when I was in academia. I usually holed up beforehand and made sure I knew everything I needed to before I got in front of the crowd. You anticipate every objection and go over that you have the right wording and evidence for what you want to say. Then you practice it until you get it right.

But apparently this isn't how you do things at the Presidential level. No, you go back to Texas over the weekend and go mountain biking instead of preparing for one of the major speeches of your life - about what the US is going to do in Iraq. After all your previous speeches about Iraq have been dissected for lies, misdirection and incomplete information, you would think that maybe extra attention should be paid on this speech. Maybe going over the speech endlessly, checking on facts, checking on the writers, making sure it is clear and accurate would be the thing to do.

Nope, going mountain biking. Like a good ol' C student going out instead of working on the term paper. What the hell, it doesn't matter, nothing has mattered before has it? I mean, school, business, politics, I could do anything I wanted and it has never mattered as long as I just flash a smile and use Daddy's connections. I'll just go up and read the script that is on the teleprompter and that'll be it - then I can go back and watch some TV.

Here is an excerpt from Frank Rich's column last Sunday in the NY Times:

In one of the several pieces of startling video exhibited for the first time in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," we catch a candid glimpse of President Bush some 36 hours after his mother's breakfast TV interview — minutes before he makes his own prime-time TV address to take the nation to war in Iraq. He is sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. A makeup woman is doing his face. And Mr. Bush is having a high old time. He darts his eyes about and grins, as if he were playing a peek-a-boo game with someone just off-camera. He could be a teenager goofing with his buds to relieve the passing tedium of a haircut.

"In your wildest dreams you couldn't imagine Franklin Roosevelt behaving this way 30 seconds before declaring war, with grave decisions and their consequences at stake," said Mr. Moore in an interview before his new documentary's premiere at Cannes last Monday. "But that may be giving him credit for thinking that the decisions were grave."
Yup, it just doesn't matter. But to let you know that the nut doesn't fall far from the tree, here is the quote from his mother that began the article:
"But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it's gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it's, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that? And watch him suffer."
— Barbara Bush on "Good Morning America,"
March 18, 2003
Yes indeed, why should we hear about body bags and waste our beautiful minds?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

...And Now In Glorious Technicolor

In which the hapless blogger switches to a new template and loses all the previous comments.

I could have saved them.

But I didn't.

One must be ruthless.

I wonder where Ruth is?

Now if ANYONE gets the above reference without resorting to Google, I will be very impressed.

Anyway. Blogger now has its own homegrown comments system. Haloscan is bye-bye.

Photos are next on the procrastination list.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The New Seattle Public Zaxxon

During the 80's, I lived the grad student life to the fullest. Part of the zeitgeist was hanging around bars playing video games. I was reminded of this part of my life when walking down 4th Avenue in Seattle, I had the Pavlovian reaction to laser the dickens out of the Zaxxon building I saw looming ahead of me. Alas no, the building was resistant to my virtual lasing.

The new library is definitely cool. I felt kinda giddy when I walked in - like you were discovering stuff as you walked. A lot of publicity has been written on how the library's form followed its function - and that is really true. You can tell that a lot of attention was paid to how it was going to be used - unlike say, 99% of modernism buildings' implicit message "Here I am. Deal."

There was one kinda major design flaw. The 6th-10th floors are connected by a very shallow sloped spiral of books, which is ingenious. However, you connect to the 6th floor by escalator or stairs in the *middle* of the spiral. This fact remains unnoticed until you are walking down and try to get to the bottom floors. You take the spiral down and hit the dead end at the south wall. The guy walking ahead of me said "They made a little boo-boo!" (which was hilarious because he of undeterminate ethnicity and we don't expect to hear such idiomatic English!) We turned around and went back into the stacks and there was a librarian in the middle pointing at the elevator/fire stairwell entrances to the hoards making the same mistake we just did. I kinda think Mr. Koolhaas did not envision a librarian devoted to being traffic cop (though the white gloves would be cool.) I think signage or other crowd control devices will soon be put there. My suggestion would be a bat-pole down to the 4th floor. Now that would be kick-ass architecture!

Professional vs. Me

George Saunders is a professional writer. I mean this in both the usual meanings. He gets paid for writing, and he has reached an Olympian proficiency of wit and satire that I admire yet cannot begin to emulate.

Unfortunately I never read his novels because of the New Yorker we-call-this-a-short-story-but-it's-really-a-novel-excerpt thing they do that I hate. But today he has a Swiftian piece that just hits the right level of winking satire. He never mentions any specifics, the prose is all in very simple words that put it in a weird space than the one usually finds in Iraq pieces. For instance, nowhere in the piece will you find these words: Bush, Rumsfield, Saddam, Torture, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Osama, Abu Ghraib (or is it Abe Vigoda? Was Abe Vigoda involved in Abu Ghraib? What exactly did he do to Bernice?), Geneva Convention etc. By eschewing proper nouns that short circuit thinking, he puts the reader in a totally different frame of mind.

What he does do is put into very simple words a quite sophisticated set-theoretical, Aristotelian logic argument on how to get out of Iraq. And it is hilarious, but until it comes with pictures courtesy of Heritage Foundation, I don't think our leaders will pay it any mind.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Times New Roman Are A-Changin'

As much as I admire the present style of my blog, blogger has tempted me into considering changing my template. Also, the confluence of getting a digital camera (thanks to Scott, my personal electronics valet!) and blogger rigging up free photo uploads, means that bad visuals will comingle with my bad textuals - but fortunately since there is no food upload yet, the visuals won't comingle with my victuals.

When will this happen? Who knows.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Skin Deep

I've seen several reviews for The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer and I have been ambivalent about reading it. So I've decided that if like the cover I will read it. If I don't like the cover I won't. I call it "judging a book by its cover."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Sons and Lovers of Our Patron Saint Joseph McCarthy

This is why I am a member of the ACLU. This is the culture many Americans live in today - where you wonder if you'll get fired for expressing an opinion.

Though indirectly I do like the lesson that the principal taught: that poetry and art have the power to make the weak minded very afraid.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Shadow Cabinet

One of the things I liked about Great Britain was that the opposition party has a shadow cabinet which mirrors the one in power. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasury) has a counterpart in the party not in power - he actually can't do anything, but he bones up on everything associated with the position and criticizes from a very informed point of view.

In this spirit, I would like to propose my shadow cabinet for the present US administration (present holders in parentheses):

For National Security Advisor (Condoleeza Rice): Anne Rice. Now wouldn't you rather have somebody who can call on vampires to do the really dirty work? And she wouldn't behave like a hooty-tooty honors student who gets an A+ on every paper but misses out on what education (and life) is all about - Anne Rice would ferret out where all the bad guys were (and who their 15th century ancestors were to boot!)

For Secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld): Captain Morgan of spiced rum fame. Now with all this torture and ill-prepared troops stuff, we need somebody who can rattle a real saber and make the bad troops walk the plank. Also, with The Donald's famous browbeating micromanagement tendencies we need somebody who can get the big picture and still have a good time.

For Secretary of Labor (Elaine Chao): Elaine Benes. If there is anybody who has a unique perspective on the labor situation in America, it is Elaine Benes. Her resourcefulness while being incompetent would be an apt choice for the leader of our labor unions.

For Attorney General (John Ashcroft): Lara Croft. After years of Ashcroft foisting his Rapture and raising-the-dead fundamentalist "justice" on the American people, we'll need a real Tomb Raider to discover where the bodies of American Justice are buried.

For Department of Homeland Security (Tom Ridge): The Oak Ridge Boys: They come from the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb, Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While nobody can really tell what Tom Ridge has done, other than spend a lot of money and de-unionize a lot of government employees, the Oak Ridge boys can at least harmonize while giving us the Orange Alert.

For Vice President (Richard Cheney): Chain Letters: One of the hallmarks of a chain letter is the promise of a phenomenal return on a small effort. With the present Vice President, Halliburton, Enron, and a score of other companies had phenomenal returns through the small efforts of Dick Cheney. We propose to turn that around and have the office of Vice President returned to its historically ineffectual state by replacing Cheney with a system of chain letters.

For Secretary of the Interior (Gale Norton): Ed Norton. Who better than a New York City sanitation worker to fix up the mess that has been made of the environment under the present administration?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Enemies and Friends

I've been reading a lot about how weird it is that Bush is still keeping Rumsfeld on as Secretary of Defense when every other President (oh, and common sense or decency as well) would have politically smartbombed Rumsfeld out when finding out about the pictures on CBS (example from Slate.) My theory is that The Madness of King George (TMOKG) operates under the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" duality. In TMOKG's one-bit world (not even two-bit because two bits would have three or four possible nuances, whereas one-bit is on or off) there is no room for gray. He has only sacked people who have dared to oppose him personally - O'Neill, maybe Clarke, Whitman probably - he hasn't sacked people who are incompetent, dishonest, or criminal, only disloyalty is the unpardonable sin. Since Rumsfeld like anyone else in the Bush administration has been criticized by the Democratic opposition that must mean they are doing the right thing. It is an interesting way to govern, I must admit.

Though one would think that once you've matured a little in your life that even the enemy of your enemy does not equal your friend. For instance, Saddam Hussein was the enemy of Iran - but does that mean we are friends of Iran? TMOKG was always a C student and maybe Aristotelian logic was a bit too dull...

Department of We're Not Making This Up

Book title seen in bookstore: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pregnancy.

When the little moron
Who's always worshipped Onan
Desires some offspring
When the little dumbbell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little dim jerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love

And that's why birds do it, bees do it
Even uneducated twits do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love...

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Alchemists and Stockbrockers

In which the blogger blathers on art school, the art market, John Currin, Mark Kostabi, Jeff Koons and a book called "What Painting Is".

Art schools should be banished. Like poets in Plato's Republic, they are dangerous. I graduated from the drawing and painting program at the University of Iowa, with a MA and MFA. Why are they dangerous?

Well, art school was too much fun. Devoting 3-4 years to just cranking out art, testing out stuff, talking to other artists and teachers makes it seem like it will always be like that. Ummm...nope. Rarely do artists find the same environment after school. Like baby eagles, we are thrown out of the nest and have to learn how to fly on our own in the art gallery and art critic dominated world. Everyone has mechanisms to deal with this - mine is a retrenchment back to my studio where all I have to deal with is paper, masonite, charcoal, paint and a lot of work. Others, however, collaborate fully with the enemy. And of course the majority soon stop working altogether.

Surprisingly, art school did give us clues on how to collaborate and become what is known as a successful artist - one who can make a living out of their art. Of course, these strategies are not of the a priori type where if you do A then B will assuredly occur. No, it is more like, if artist has achieved B, then he had to have done A. What is the difference? Well, 1000 artists may have done A, but only one gets lucky and gets B.

So what are these strategies they taught us? I'll begin by discussing a book I just read What Painting Is. The author, James Elkins, is a professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. More importantly, he also was a practicing painter. Unlike almost every art history person, he regards the act of creating not as a clever moving around of symbols but as a direct experience with the materials. He goes a little bit overboard by aligning this act with a lot of discussion on the practice of alchemy. But I think he has a point.

An artist in a studio is like an alchemist. He has a personal way of finding out stuff like an alchemist had his personal way of mixing and concocting substances. It is a lot of "I wonder what will happen if?". The process is as much of the art (or more) as the final product. Non-artists like art historians or critics tend to think of the final product exclusively. In one anecdote he says there is one way to tell whether somebody is an artist or a critic in a museum. In front of a painting an artist will be bodily involved with it - almost dancing as they figure out how the brushstrokes were made. The critic will plant themselves in front of it and put their hand to their chin and just stare.

Art school does give you the tools to become this kind of alchemist - where you find your own Philosopher's Stone that is your own individual voice and style. You learn the craft as well as how to approach artmaking. The teachers and fellow students give you an incredible selection of examples on how to create and think while you are learning and perfecting basic skills.

But this isn't what it takes to succeed in the art world today. The artist must also be a stockbrocker. A stockbroker is one who manipulates financial symbols to enrich himself (and incidentally his clients) without actually producing any real value to the world. They are expert in following trends in fashion, ruthless in getting rid of what is cold and ravenous in collecting what is hot.

There are many examples of recent artists that are the epitome of the extreme in stockbroker art. Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi even have backgrounds in stocks. They are masters of manipulating their ideas to what they feel they can sell in their particular niches. One of the hallmarks of a stockbroker artist is that you question that they would make the things themselves (they don't make their stuff - assistants have made all of Koon's and Kostabi's "work" for years) if they couldn't sell it.

A stockbroker also plays the game of galleries, critics and other artists perfectly. They realize that it isn't only the work that makes the career of an artist - but also the fact that your name is on a Big Board like a stockticker symbol. Now of course I don't know everything you have to do to market yourself out there today because I've taken myself out of the game - but I do know you have to get your name out there, network and find out what the galleries are taking to get in. In short you have to position yourself so that the galleries can sell you. A gallery does not sell art - it sells artists. A person buying work in a modern art gallery will not buy a piece unless he knows the artist OR is betting that the artist can or will take off. Just like buying stock.

So how does art school help with stockbroking? Mainly, through the critiques, seminars, colloquia and visiting artists a young artist becomes fluent in artspeak and how to fashion a career. Oh, and to smoke and dress in black. While I never smoked and only occasionally wore black Levi's, I was known to utter sentences similar to "my work acknowledges minimalism and abstract expressionism, but I reify the implicit romanticism in the mark as "mark""

The Whitney Museum of American Art recently had a retrospective of John Currin's paintings. Most critics have been head over heels over him as a master painter with a postmodern viewpoint. The only review that didn't was one in Harper's which I totally agreed with. I have been underwhelmed because while he has a good technique, there a lot of painters out there who can do academic realism just as well or better than him. But like the scarecrow - what they don't have is a diploma from Yale and the postmodern mumbo-jumbo to go along with it. One can see bits of the alchemist in his paintings, however one sees the stockbrocker strategizing much more. "Look at me being naughty painting all these breasts", "Look at me subvert human desire", "Look at me quote Renaissance paintings".

One of the reasons that he has succeeded is one that he has gone on record about in interviews. He has said that he went into academic realism because he wanted to do what was the most outre by the then current fashion. And critics, who never see real academic realism or illustration, have eaten it up because they love to be shocked (oh, and painting and drawing are back in style as well, which doesn't hurt now does it?) In other words, his work did not organically come into being but was a strategy from the get-go. And I'm old-fashioned enough to say "Phooey" on all that because this kind of art is not sincere or honest, it is blatantly insincere. It's funny, but it takes a gallery artist like John Currin to become more commercial and ingratiating to the market than a commercial artist like Norman Rockwell.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Patriots Don't Pay Stinkin' Taxes

Okay, my posting frenzy continues. Today's NY Times has an article on Michael Moore's new movie "Fahrenheit 911" distribution being blocked by Disney. Here is a quote from the article

Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.
So, I'm trying to connect the dots here. Michael Moore made a movie critical of President George Renault ("Torture in Iraq? I'm shocked, shocked") Bush. Disney (who owns Miramax) decides not to distribute it because the President's brother is the governor of a state where it receives tax breaks and it fears losing those breaks.

Hmmm...Disney is trying to censor someone (which is legal - since the Mickey Mouse government we currently have is not owned and operated by Disney, just other corporations) because they do not want to pay taxes to the state and country which allows them to make money hand over fist. I would think a patriotic company like Disney would be proud to support the governments that have copyright laws, trademark laws, and anti-pirating laws and allows their theme parks to be run in a safe, law-abiding community. But maybe it is really more patriotic to avoid taxes - all the best companies do. It reminds me of my own definition of a certain type of conservative "A conservative is one who pushes for a war where his neighbor's son is drafted and is paid for by all his neighbors but him."

Also, isn't this a country where "rule of law" and not "rule by man" takes place? I mean, what difference should pissing off the governor of the state do with your tax breaks? Wasn't a President brought to impeachment by that very lofty goal? I remember those fat House of Representatives "managers" kept repeating "This is not about politics, but rule of law." So shouldn't these tax breaks be independent of who is in office, if in fact we are ruled by law?

Or is taxation at the whim of King George?

HA! VINDICATION!

KIRO-TV has done an investigation of the handicapped parking scofflaws that I wrote about in my Encyclopedia Kravitz blog a few weeks ago. Oh, I am in seventh heaven...this is so beautiful, here are some of the quotes from the miscreants who were caught:

Emerman: "How much money are you saving by cheating like this?"
Answer: "How much money am I saving? Whatever, you can kiss my a--?

Emerman: "Your placard is invalid."
Answer: "Get off my door s---!"

Emerman: "Are you the one that's disabled? Yeah, you certainly are well preserved."
Answer: "I have a very bad back."
Emerman: "You certainly are young looking."
Answer: "I'm 42."
Emerman: "Well, this placard is issued to someone who's 70."

Emerman: "Can we talk to you a minute about your disabled parking placard?"
Answer: "Yes. No."

She didn't want to talk to us. She even tried running away.

Emerman: "Ma'am, it's registered to a 40-year-old man."
Answer: "It's my husband's. He's 40 years old. He drove me down here and took the bus home and now I'm going home.
Emerman: "Actually, we've been watching your car all day today and you drove here by yourself this morning, you know it's illegal to use another person's disabled placard."
Oh, God, this really makes my day, la-lay la-lay la-lay! KIRO-TV you are my heroes - let's hope this grows into a groundswell of opposition that will drive these idiots into shame.

This is not my country

I just finished the slide show of the Iraqi prisoner photos at the New Yorker web site. I actually began to get nauseous from viewing them, so be prepared before looking at them. The outrage that my country was doing this is so overwhelming. And are our country's leaders so detached that they can't see that their consistent example of power over diplomacy, power over legality, power over science, power over democracy, and power, power and more power could not help but acidly corrode down the ranks to this?

Nostalgia Time

Hey, this is so cool. Ever since I moved out to Seattle and left my record collection at home, I haven't been able to listen to these old favorites, sigh....If I only had some "Zip Zap Rap" from Devastatin' Dave right now I'd be jammin', and you be jammin' too!

Monday, May 03, 2004

Ummm....

Once again I think I went off half-cocked. In the previous post I mentioned a lot of stuff about the state of European vs. American science. There are probably no "facts" in there - just my opinions that were formed 10 years ago and perhaps applicable only to my field of study. In my sub-specialty at the time, there was more work being done in UK, France and Germany than in the US because the EU was gearing up for a major multi-satellite launch. Then the rocket blew up on launch. In general fact, it still may be the case that more scientists end up working in the United States from Europe than the other way around. Here is an excerpt from the website of the European Life Scientist Organization:

How many more times do we have to read official reports from the European Commission (EC) depicting the deplorable state of science in Europe? Compared with the USA, our biggest competitor, Europe spends less money, has fewer scientists, publishes less groundbreaking scientific articles, applies for fewer patents, and looses more jobs and money from the high-technology sector.

What’s worse, the gap is widening. As Europe struggles to create a competitive research environment, European-based companies invest much more in research and development (R&D) in the USA than US companies invest in Europe. According to the EC’s ‘Key Figures’, in 2000, for example, €5 billion of European R&D investment – the equivalent of the annual research budget of the EC – was spent outside Europe, mostly to the benefit of the USA! And the cost of losing our young and most creative researchers to the USA probably translates into a several-fold greater financial loss.

Most of us in research are not surprised when we read the official analyses. We know that the USA attracts the world’s best scientists by giving them earlier and better opportunities, better environments and better grants. The problem in Europe is obvious: the scientific environment is simply not good enough, and the attitude of European research managers, rectors, deans, presidents of research councils, etc., is not competitive at all.

We read in our scientific journals about the woeful lack of opportunities for postdocs in countries like Italy, France and Spain. We know all about the rigid hierarchical organization of our universities in Germany, Belgium and many other countries on the continent.
Now this is in life sciences, which I think has always been much stronger in the U.S. and undoubtedly still is. The NY Times article was biased more towards physics and other physical sciences so things might be better in Europe for these disciplines.

Also, it may be the case that a higher percentage of Americans go to college and then graduate school than Europeans (anecdotally I noticed this in Europe). Hence, if Europe wishes to have similar research institutions as the U.S., then there will be a greater pool of talent to draw from in America than in Europe. Again, this was ten years ago when I formed these impressions, situations may have changed.

I have no data on the actual dollars of basic research spent recently vs. any time in the past. My suspicion was that it has declined but I don't really know. But undoubtedly, in physics at least, opportunities for basic research in industry has become almost non-existent - I think that is well established.

However, I still stand behind my hastily argued rants on how progress in American science could be at risk due to anti-intellectualism.

Thinking is Fundamental

So we're at the second-run movie theater this weekend. One of the previews is for "The Life of Brian". I am the only one laughing. Now I know it isn't only me and my sense of humor, many reliable humor aficionados have deemed the movie very funny. Then (fleetingly) I think it is the subject matter and I am in a theater with a lot of Stepford Fundamentalists who would stone me for laughing at the blasphemous movie. But as I said, it was a fleeting thought, more of a recognition that these people are at large.

The movie we were watching was "Master and Commander: The Longest Title to the Far Side of the World". As we were the last people on Earth to see the movie (as always), I won't worry about revealing some plot points. A lot of the action takes place on the Galapagos Islands. The ship's doctor is a naturalist and had heard a lot about the "Enchanted Isles" and wanted to study the plants and animals. Now most educated people know that the Galapagos were where Darwin (30 years later than the time period in the movie) gathered the notes that led him to his discoveries. The conceit in the movie is that the ship's doctor might have done the same if circumstances were slightly different.

And then I thought about fundamentalists again and how they would react to this subtle prefiguring of the theory of evolution, and if there was thought in Hollywood of dropping this story line because of idiots in Kansas and Alabama. I mean if there is anything that Hollywood respects it is the dollar bills that can come out of any idiot's wallet - hence the preponderance of teen movies lately.

And now I reach what resulted in the tipping point for today's post: that the US is rapidly becoming an also ran in leading edge science. An article in today's NY Times shows that rest of the world is catching up very rapidly in publishing basic research articles and developing patents. Well, that this has happened is no surprise to me. I got my Ph.D. in physics and astronomy in 1992 and worked for a couple of years as a post doc researcher in England. Generally, I could see that Europe was far better prepared for growth in the next ten years of science than America.

Europe was spending far more per capita on basic research and the opportunities for younger scientists were more plentiful. In fact so plentiful, that American scientists (like myself and other Americans I met over there) were leaving the U.S. for jobs. Everyone agreed that the situation in the U.S. was horrible. Universities and government labs were not hiring at all and in fact were letting people go. Research institutions such as Bell Labs where Nobel Prizes were routine were shutting down due to corporate bottom-line pressure. And this was ten years ago. From what I've heard and read the culture is even worse.

So why has the American miracle of science gone away? One reason could be just reversion to the mean: we were so far ahead for so long, that the rest of the world just caught up. I don't think that is necessarily true or explains very much. I think another reason is just that America's infatuation with anti-intellectualism has finally caught up with itself. Religious fundamentalism together with the culture of narcissism isn't going to produce a lot of scholars writing research articles, though it will produce a lot of home-schooled wackos, dittoheads and video game mumbloids.

Today's anti-intellectuals (who run the federal and most state governments), will resist any increased effort to remedy the situation. The only reason for the recent dominance of American science (who took over from Europe's dominance in the 19th and early 20th centuries) was that the technological prowess was needed to stay ahead of the Soviet Union. It certainly was never done for its own sake. Today's anti-communism - the war on terrorism - can't be dealt with in the same way as before. There is no Manhattan Project or Race to the Moon in our present cold war.

Remember, it is the 21st century now and there are a sizable fraction of Americans who deny evolution, deny that global warming is even possible and deny that the basics of civilization (roads, health care, fire and police protection, safe water and air etc.) need to be paid for. These people are running this country now and they don't think that any money that could go to their Hummers and McMansions should be going to scientists studying string theory.

Of course, Europe and China are going to eat our lunch in a few decades because of this thinking.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Wallet Chains?

I am very secure in my old fartness. Some were born old farts and some have old fartness thrust upon them. I have the pleasure of attaining old fartdom at a relatively young age AND to look forward to many years of future strengthening of my old fartititude. Part of the territory that comes with old fartocity is questioning things that old farts don't do. For instance, old farts don't have wallet chains. Old farts don't understand why you would advertise the fact that you are very worried about your money. If you are super worried about your money, then that means that money is pretty precious to you. That must mean that money is hard to come by. That must mean you are not very smart or don't work.

Additionally, having a wallet chain also means that you feel you can't stop your wallet from getting taken away from you - as if you could not protect the wallet without its little safety chain. Now that means that you are afraid that you can't put up too much of a fight and need the extra protection.

We are left with the facts that wearing a wallet chain means that the wearer is dumb, lazy, cowardly, weak and is wallowing in a big fat tub of insecurity. Is that really what they are trying to get across? If so, I would expect other accoutrements would be a bulletproof vest, a Kevlar helmet, a gas mask, goggles, and a bazooka. But no, I rarely see that combination with the wallet chain. Instead, I usually see the wallet chain wearer in a dirty pair of jeans, beat up leather boots, a scrungy T-shirt or leather jacket and sideburns meticulously fashioned after Bowzer's chops from Sha-na-na. Do they think that the wallet chain connotates "toughness" as the rest of the wardrobe aspires to? If they wish to exude toughness, then perhaps they should walk around with $50 bills coming out "just so" out of their pockets. Now if the guy was really tough, those $50 bills would be there until the clothes get washed, i.e. essentially forever. However, if the guy was really not so tough, then those $50 bills will need the protection of a wallet chain. It stands to reason then, that the wallet chain is just a very touching show of vulnerability - like embroidered pink bunnies on their studded belt.

So from now on, I will give the wearers of wallet chains a sympathetic visage. They may be meek, they may be weak, but gosh darn it all, they are trying to do their best with what they've got. And that's all anyone can really ask, isn't it?