Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘realism

Wednesday Links!

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* Marquette now requires permission for on-campus protests. An Open Letter Opposed to Marquette U.’s Anti-Demonstration Policy.

* Elsewhere in academics behaving badly: Professors rally behind MIT Media Lab director after Epstein funding scandal.

The Quantitative Easing of the Humanities.

Most-Expensive 4-Year Private Nonprofit Institutions, 2018-19. Impressive for Harvey Mudd to be so committed to that last three dollars to tick just over $75,000/year.

* College Board Drops Its ‘Adversity Score’ For Each Student After Backlash.

New analysis finds that education researchers, unlike scholars in many other disciplines, don’t check one another’s work.

* Academia: A Life.

The Next Recession Will Destroy Millennials.

* I just knew it would be something like this.

As e-scooters take over Milwaukee streets, other cities reckon with injured riders, scarce helmet use.

This Professor Compared a Columnist to a Bedbug. Then the Columnist Contacted the Provost. A Q&A With the Man Who Called Bret Stephens a Bedbug. Bret Stephens’s “bedbug” meltdown, explained. Who Gets to Speak Freely? Aaron Bady goes all the way back to 2005 for a good old-fashioned blog post.

* Speaking of the mystery of free speech: Incoming Harvard Freshman Deported After Visa Revoked.

“When I asked every time to have my phone back so I could tell them about the situation, the officer refused and told me to sit back in [my] position and not move at all,” he wrote. “After the 5 hours ended, she called me into a room , and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.”

Southern California police arrest 3 middle school students for inciting a riot.

* Journalism Is an Action.

Photos: The Burning Amazon Rainforest. The basic premise of geoengineering is that it will be easier to get the planetary atmospheric and ecological systems to change the way they work than to get the capitalist economy to change the way it works. It is immoral to have climate change in the era of babies. Wildfires and Floods Push Russia to Revise Its Stance on Climate Change. Let’s just spray trillions of tons of snow on Antarctica?

* The Affair, climate change, and the new realism.

* Florida Marine vet teacher on leave after telling students he would ‘be the best school shooter.’

* Bigotry and hate are more linked to mass shootings than mental illness, experts say.

Trump suggested nuking hurricanes to stop them from hitting U.S. (A rebuttal.) Science division of White House office left empty as last staffers depart. Trump Allies Reportedly Set Up Network to Smear Journalists Ahead of Election. He also has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said.

The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo. Keep scrolling, there’s more!

* A reading list on alcoholism.

School Administration Reminds Female Students Bulletproof Vests Must Cover Midriff.

* Native American Lacrosse Teams Reported Racial Abuse. Then Their League Expelled Them.

* When your kids start beating you in games.

* Where the candidates campaign. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Understands Democracy Better Than Republicans Do.

* When you’re extremely on message.

* Congress by the numbers.

* Being Andrew Luck.

Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products.

* Dairy Queen burgers are not made of human flesh, a county coroner is forced to confirm. He’s in on it.

Johnson & Johnson must pay over $572 million for its role in Oklahoma opioid crisis, judge rules.

Drug prices in 2019 are surging, with hikes at 5 times inflation.

The US Created MS-13.

2 California towns where chickens have free range.

* Uber And Lyft Take A Lot More From Drivers Than They Say.

* A growing army of ‘Airbnb’ police gets paid to expose the addresses of homeshare hosts.

* ‘They’re Putting People at Risk’: Sexual Misconduct, Harassment, and Inaction at Zeel, the Top Massage App.

* Human-guided burrito bots raise questions about the future of robo-delivery.

* More evidence of YouTube rightwing radicalization. In a study of >79 million YouTube comments, @manoelribeiro et. al. shows that a high % of people who now comment on Alt-Right videos used to comment exclusively on IDW or Alt-lite videos.

ProPublica found that – despite the TSA saying it is committed to treating all passengers equally and fairly – five per cent of civil rights complaints against the TSA related to the treatment of trans passengers, despite trans people making up less than one per cent of the US population.

* Lots of nerds *think* they like science fiction because of the technology and perditions.

Marvel Comics Just Retconned the Entire Vietnam War.

There Are People Who Think The West Invaded Iraq Over a Stargate.

* Mystery Deepens Around Newly Detected Ripples in Space-Time.

“We are in a mass delusion that it’s all Gary, that he’s the father of role-playing games,” he said. “Humans do not like to admit they’ve been hornswoggled, lied to, cheated, or fooled.”

We Can Be Heroes: How the Nerds Are Reinventing Pop Culture. The Campbell Award gets a new name.

* How Do We Colonize the Moon?

* And submitted for your approval: the new culture industry.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 28, 2019 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Just Another Saturday Night Linkdump

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CFP: Medical Humanities and the Fantastic. CFP: Edited Collection, Fan Studies: Methods, Ethics, Research. CFP: Reclaiming the Tomboy: Posthumanism, Gender Representation, and Intersectionality. CFP: Special Issue on Indigenous and Sovereign Games. CFP: The Age of the Pulps: The SF magazine, 1926–1960. CFP: Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction, Bloomsbury, London, 12-14 September 2019.

* Awesome #altac job watch: Humanities Editor at Minnesota Press.

* The second half of the Women’s Studies issue on Octavia E. Butler, featuring my article of Parable of the Trickster, is now officially out. Check it out!

* Find out when someone started crying during Endgame, and you’ll find out who they’ve lost. (Really, though, it doesn’t make any sense.) “Avengers: Endgame” is not just the culmination of the 22-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also represents the decisive defeat of “cinema” by “content.” In Praise of Poorly Built Worlds. The Avengers are the heroes of ‘Endgame,’ but Disney was the villain all along. But this time, we’re talking about a tragedy beyond what could possibly be commemorated through memorial sites. It would land somewhere closer to mass suicide and total infrastructural collapse–and where Endgame is concerned, there are no tragedies, there is only Marvel. Eco-Villains: Thanos and the Night King. To put it bluntly, and in Deleuze’s terms, superhero films are action films for people who no longer believe in action, for whom the capacity to act has been overtaken by the spectacle. It’s probably the best version of what an Avengers movie can be. And even that turns out to be silly, sloppily written, and to require massive amount of suspension of disbelief. Is it really too much to hope that Marvel stops debasing its characters and stories with events that can never live up to the MCU’s individual pieces? Interview With A Local Man Returning After Thanos’ Snap.

* MCU continuity enters its “fuck you, that’s why” period.

An analysis of both side’s tactics in the Battle of Winterfell, from a military strategist. A counterpoint.

* Hate to agree with Ross Douthat, but it really does seem to be the case that hype aside Martin is just warmed-over Tolkien, but worse in every particular. Bonus Twitter thread goodness on GoT and colonialism.

* America is a horror: on Jordan Peele’s Us.

* Vox celebrates the great James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon).

* Keeping company with my Audible app over lunch, I’ve come to see it as the buddy our tech overlords have granted me in the isolation that they help to impose. I feel this way about podcasts.

* Report Realism: Tentative Notes on Contemporary Kenyan Writing.

Genres that strain realism—the gothic and neo-gothic, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, and so on—are conspicuously absent in Kenyan writing, even as they are incredibly well represented in Kenyan book consumption. We are not writing what we are reading; even the very popular Christian-themed fiction about fighting demonic forces, which is really a variation of the horror novel, remains relatively sparse in terms of what we write or, perhaps more accurately, what we choose to make public of our writing. The believable and the realistic are bounded by NGO narratives and perspectives. And too many writers believe that the only writing worth anything is the believable and the realistic: to be a “committed” writer requires adhering to report realism.

Report realism believes in the power of “truth,” whether contemporary or historical, with a faith that borders on fundamentalism. In report realism, the truth will set us free. Report realism confirms objective NGO reports and affirms what Kenyans feel to be the truth of a particular condition. In report realism, for instance, the Kenyan prostitute is always a morally degraded figure looking for a way out to a respectable moral life. This realism is celebrated and supported by the NGO organizations who fund writing competitions and publish winning entries devoted to describing the real Kenya and by mainstream publishers who have the conservative mission of producing appropriately moral literature.

* ‘It drives writers mad’: why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?

* The saddest story ever told, beating Hemingway out by one word: Esports Part-Time Online Instructor.

Yes, you will get a job with that arts degree. With that history degree, too!

Storm Clouds Over Tulsa: Inside the academic destruction of a proud private university.

6 Majors Were Spared the Ax at Stevens Point. But the Damage Might Be Done.

* Students and (not) doing the reading.

* How to Be a Better Online Teacher.

Getting a Game Studies PhD: A Guide for Aspiring Video Game Scholars. Game Boys: The “gamer” identity undermines the radical potential of play.

Sexual harassment is pervasive in US physics programmes.

The Disciplines Where No Black People Earn Ph.D.s. Being a Black Academic in America.

‘It’s an Aristocracy’: What the Admissions-Bribery Scandal Has Exposed About Class on Campus.

Swarthmore Fraternities Disband.

* Marquette faculty, students and community members rally for unionization. Unionization effort at Marquette leaves organizers, administration in a stalemate.

The University Is a Ticking Time Bomb. A Moral Stain on the Profession.

* “Student loan debt is crushing millions of families. That’s why I’m calling for something truly transformational: Universal free college and the cancellation of debt for more than 95% of Americans with student loan debt.”

Anxiety ‘epidemic’ brewing on college campuses, researchers find.

* Stanford keeps Stanford University Press alive… for one year.

Charles Koch gave $25m to our university. Has it become a rightwing mouthpiece? George Mason University’s Donor Problem and the Fight for Transparency.

Grad Students at Private Colleges Were Cleared to Unionize 3 Years Ago. Here’s What’s Changed.

* How America’s College-Closure Crisis Leaves Families Devastated.

* Meanwhile every teacher in the country is constantly confronted with the possibility that they’ll be asked to die for their students.

All Literature Is Climate Change Literature. The Green New Deal Costs Less Than Doing Nothing. Ecuador Amazon tribe win first victory against oil companies. ‘Death by a thousand cuts’: vast expanse of rainforest lost in 2018. Vietnam just observed its highest temperature ever recorded: 110 degrees, in April. ‘Decades of denial’: major report finds New Zealand’s environment is in serious trouble. Alaska’s in The Middle of a Record-Breaking Spring Melt, And It’s Killing People. The Folly of Returning to Paradise, California. Policy tweaks won’t do it, we need to throw the kitchen sink at this with a total rethink of our relationship to ownership, work and capital. Only rebellion will prevent an ecological apocalypse. “You did not act in time.” We Asked the 2020 Democrats About Climate Change (Yes, All of Them). Here Are Their Ideas. The Billionaire’s Guide to Hacking the Planet. What if air conditioners could save the planet? The collapse of the industrial economy is, in all likelihood, the only remaining way to prevent the mass destruction of life on Earth. ‘The Time To Act Is Now,’ Says Yellowing Climate Change Report Sitting In University Archive. A Message from the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Names and Locations of the Top 100 People Killing the Planet. Between the Devil and the Green New Deal. Five years. And here comes eco-fascism.

* Down and Out in the Gig Economy: Journalism’s dependence on part-time freelancers has been bad for the industry—not to mention writers like me.

But for most of us, freelance journalism is a monetized hobby, separate from whatever real income one earns. The ideal relationship for a freelance journalist to their work becomes a kind of excited amateurism. They should hope for professional success and acceptance but always keep a backup plan or three in mind. They will likely not be welcomed past the gates of full-time employment. By year five or six, they might be rebranding themselves as “editorial consultants” or “content strategists,” realizing that any genuine fiscal opportunity lies in shepherding corporate content to life.

* ‘Two-Tiered Caste System’: The World of White-Collar Contracting in Silicon Valley. The Future of Unions Is White-Collar. We Just Remembered How to Strike.

These five charts show how bad the student loan debt situation is.

* “I am a woman and I am fast.” The ongoing harassment of Caster Semenya is simply incredible.

* Ten years later, police lies about Oscar Grant come to light. And elsewhere on the police beat: We found 85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct. Now you can read their records. New York City’s DAs Keep Secret Lists Of Cops With Questionable Credibility. Virginia police sergeant fired after being linked to white supremacy.

Border Patrol Holds Hundreds of Migrants in Growing Tent City Away From Prying Eyes. Emails Show Trump Administration Had No Plan to Track and Reunite Separated Families. Militia in New Mexico Detains Asylum Seekers at Gunpoint.

TSA Agents Say They’re Not Discriminating Against Black Women, But Their Body Scanners Might Be.

* Against prison.

* France Debates How to Rebuild Notre-Dame, Weighing History and Modernity. An art historian explains the tough decisions in rebuilding Notre Dame. How Digital Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Architects Rebuild the Burned Cathedral. The billionaires’ donations will turn Notre Dame into a monument to hypocrisy.

* Researchers Made 3,900-Pound Boulders They Can Move by Hand, Giving More Insights Into Ancient Engineering.

* Mental health minute: Researchers say there’s a simple way to reduce suicides: Increase the minimum wage. The challenge of going off psychiatric drugs. The kids are not all right.

* The Rise of Useless Health Insurance. High-Deductible Health Policies Linked To Delayed Diagnosis And Treatment. American Prescription Drug Prices Are Out of Control. One Man’s Furious Quest to Get to the Bottom of It.

* Rich guys are most likely to have no idea what they’re talking about, study suggests.

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population.

* A new Gallup poll says that America is home to some of the most stressed people in the world, reporting extraordinary levels of anger and anxiety that could be cause for concern, say doctors.

Workers Should Be in Charge.

I Work With Suicidal Farmers. It’s Becoming Too Much to Bear.

* On crunch time in the games industry.

Instagram Memers Are Unionizing.

* How Dungeons & Dragons somehow became more popular than ever.

Fantastic Autistic: Neurodiversity, Estrangement and Playing with the Weird.

* Re-reading the Map of Middle-earth: Fan Cartography’s Engagement with Tolkien’s Legendarium.

Why Won’t Twitter Treat White Supremacy Like ISIS? Because It Would Mean Banning Some Republican Politicians Too.

* Believe them when they say they want to kill us.

* Children of the Children of Columbine.

* My parents didn’t tell me they skipped my vaccines. Then I got sick.

* How a mall dies, Milwaukee edition.

* The hunt for rocket boosters in Russia’s far north.

* Job-hunting will only get worse.

* Of course I believe in hell. I vote for Democrats.

* Biden biden biden biden

* The gamification of fascism.

* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, fandom, and anti-fandom.

* My feckless Googling had reaped a monstrous reality that I knew was going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I asked myself: Is there something righteous in facing reality, or would it have been better to stay ignorant? A surfeit of ugly knowledge is a feature of our age, a result of the internet carrying to our doorstep, like a tomcat with a dead rat, all manner of brutal information. How many others have flippantly Googled an old friend and discovered something ghastly? This was not knowledge as power; it was knowledge as sorrow.

* “Australia Is Deadly Serious About Killing Millions of Cats.”

* The oldest known tree in Wisconsin.

* A Video Game Developed To Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Seems To Be Working.

* Decolonizing Oregon Trail.

* How “Liberal” Late-Night Talk Shows Became A Comedy Sinkhole.

Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden. Women suffer needless pain because almost everything is designed for men. What Good Dads Get Away With.

When Measles Arrives: Breaking Down the Anatomy of Containment.

* Despite being legally required to conduct audits since the early 90s and holding a staggering  2.2 trillion in assets, the Pentagon held its first-ever audit this week — which it, unsurprisingly, spectacularly failed.

* I have so little faith in the holders of the Star Trek IP I can’t greet any of this news with pleasure. Even the realization that Discovery is (finally) going to do something truly original in its third season just fills me with dread. And I don’t know how to feel about this at all: Star Trek: Picard Series May Not Reunite TNG Cast. Star Trek: Discovery’s Depiction of Captain Pike’s Disability is a Betrayal of Roddenberry’s Utopian Vision. My mini-tweetstorm on the subject.

* Sundown on Deadwood: David Milch, battling Alzheimer’s, finally finishes his TV Western.

* Professional obligation watch, god help me.

Jeopardy Wasn’t Designed for a Contestant Like James Holzhauer.

* Tolkien estate disavows forthcoming film starring Nicholas Hoult.

* John Lennon’s 15 year old report card.

* Colonizing Condiments: A (Very) Short History of Ketchup.

Women my age weren’t called ‘autistic’ growing up. We were awkward or ‘rude.’ And we missed out on services.

* “We are not interested in the reason for why the people are killed,” he wrote. “But if she is your wife or some family member, we can do it in your city as well.”

The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence.

* Obituary corner: Gene Wolfe Was the Proust of Science Fiction. Before the Labyrinthine Lore of ‘Dark Souls,’ There Was Gene Wolfe.

Before Gamergate, before the 2016 election, they launched a campaign against Twitter trolls masquerading as women of color. If only more people had paid attention.

* Medicine is magical and magical is art / The boy in the bubble / And the baby with the baboon heart.

* Scientists Restore Some Function In The Brains Of Dead Pigs.

* The Great Pornwall of Britain Goes Up July 15.

* The United States of Conspiracy: An Interview with Anna Merlan.

* ok ok I’ll bite what’s coal

* what piece of cosmo sex advice most haunts your waking hours

* If you want a vision of the future: Netflix ‘buys 50 literary projects in last year.’

* It was in autumn that the happy face arrived. Death of a Salesman. No mathematics, no science can ever predict the human soul. Where do you want to eat tonight?

2019 National Geographic Travel Photo Contest.

* And only mass surveillance can save us now! Rough news day for Oxford if you ask me.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 4, 2019 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Saturday Morning Links!

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* Great piece at n+1 on the late Daniel Quinn. I think this persuaded me to teach Ishmael this fall; I’ve been thinking about doing it for years and the time seems right. I really loved the book when I was 18, and think about it a lot even now.

* Kim Stanley Robinson at the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology: Science Fiction Is the Realism of our Time.

* And a bonus podcast: my friend Isiah Lavender on Minister Faust’s podcast, talking about the pan-African response to Black Panther. (Isiah’s actually in the extended edition, available for free on Faust’s Patreon.)

* Wauconda forever.

The science fiction of this century is one in which great existential threats are known: they are real, and terrible. Something is terribly wrong. Will we listen?

* A decade ago, The Wire series finale aired. The show was a Marxist’s idea of what TV drama should be.

Sweet Jesus, Will the NYT’s Conservatives Ever Write About Anything but the “Intolerant Left” Ever Again?

* Artificial intelligence has a hallucination problem.

* Turns out they already made a Sopranos prequel.

It’s Time to Abolish ICE.

There Is No Case for the Humanities.

There Is No Campus Free Speech Crisis: An Unreasonably Long Thread.

* “‘Schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for,’ Oklahoma teachers union president says.” And next: Arizona?

* “Foreigners could ease Japan’s labor shortage, but Tokyo prefers robots.”

Deputy sheriff jails ex-wife after she complained on Facebook about him. This should be an automatic firing, followed by prosecution.

Trump’s Latest Pardon Shows The Best Way To Get One: Go On Fox News.

*  How do 11 people go to jail for one murder?

* Buckle up.

New evidence the Stormy Daniels payment may have violated election law.

* Rules for Reading Jordan Peterson.

* Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

In conclusion, Area X is a land of many contrasts.

Friday Links!

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* I’ll be speaking at this event on June 4th in DC: Resolved: Technology Will Take All Our Jobs.

* SF-flavored art exhibit at the Racine Art Museum.

* I think it’s fair to say Marquette has had a pretty rough year.

* Mass contingency is not compatible with shared governance.

How Austerity Killed the Humanities.

“If Students Are Smart, They’ll Major in What They Love.”

Why Technology Will Never Fix Education.

* Alex Rivera on Hollywood and the War Machine. See also!

Games Without Wages. The video game industry has long relied on the unpaid labor of “modders.” Is it ready to finally pay up?

* Nice work if you can get it: Yale Gives Former President $8 Million Retirement Gift.

Professors Face Long Odds in Court Battles Over Speech Rights.

Everybody Calm Down About Breastfeeding.

The dangerous trick here goes like this: someone fantasizes about a world in which rape frequently occurs and consistently goes unpunished; to explore this emotional fantasy, they set it in a premodern narrative fantasy world where they can displace their own desire onto “history.” The dark impulse or desire isn’t theirs, then; it’s the world’s. It’s history’s. And once a dark personal fantasy becomes “realism,” gazing upon this dark thought or idea isn’t a kind of humiliating or dangerous self-reflection, it’s laudable: it’s an honest engagement with truth.

“Most pro-life women oppose abortion with four exceptions: rape, incest, the life of the mother, and me.”

* I suspect even Notre Dame can’t really explain why it’s suing the federal government over contraception anymore.

The New Mexico Law Review just published an issue dedicated entirely to Breaking Bad.

Canadian Aboriginal Group Rejects $1 Billion Fee for Natural Gas Project.

* Study Links Record Dolphin Die-Off In The Gulf Of Mexico To Deepwater Horizon Spill.

* They paved built an oil rig in paradise.

* The $10 Hedge Fund Supercomputer That’s Sweeping Wall Street.

* Nearly one in four financial services employees say it’s likely their co-workers have acted outside of the law. Dismaying as that statistic may be, it is nearly double the 12 percent who said the same in 2012.

This senior level position is responsible for developing and implementing best practices in fostering the development and launch of companies based on innovations generated from University faculty. Percent Effort: 100.

If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever New Jersey.

We Are Spending Quite a Bit of Money on Jails.

A Dishonest History of the Last War. Jeb Bush Says His Brother Was Misled Into War by Faulty Intelligence. That’s Not What Happened. Bush and Cheney Falsely Presented WMD Intelligence to Public.

Here’s how much of your life the United States has been at war.

* Here’s the widely available supermarket cheese you should avoid if you don’t want to be complicit in prison labor.

America Has Half as Many Hypersegregated Metros as It Did in 1970. Somehow, Milwaukee soldiers on.

Scrabble adds even more garbage words to its dictionary.

U.S. Releases Contents Of Bin Laden’s English-Language “Bookshelf.”

Is there anyone who won’t run for the Republican nomination in 2016?

Why Have So Many People Never Heard Of The MOVE Bombing?

* “We do not think anyone is going to dispute this at all,” he said.

* Uber, but for putting gas in your car.

* I can’t understand why on Earth Marvel wants to emulate the New 52.

* Not the E.T. sequel we need, but the one we deserve.

* Great moments in “our bad”: Norway’s ‘We’re Sorry’ Monument to 91 Dead Witches.

* You say “equality” like it’s a bad thing.

How The Soviet Union Tracked People With “Spy Dust.”

A Professor Tries to Beat Back a News Spoof That Won’t Go Away.

The health insurance regime: still the worst.

Israel knew all along that settlements, home demolitions were illegal.

* Very surprising, given the lawsuit: Emma Sulkowicz allowed to bring mattress into Class Day ceremony.

* These numbers are horrifying.

Irregularities in LaCour (2014). Amazing story.

Does Color Even Exist, Man?

* An oral history of Industrial Light & Magic.

Western canon, meet trigger warning.

9. Should a nuclear apocalypse happen, The Sound of Music will be played on a loop.

* I wish to outlive all my enemies.

* Everything about this pedagogical model is insane.

Study Suggests Intelligent Aliens Will Probably Be The Size Of Bears.

* Does Shakespeare pass the Bechdel Test?

* Monkey Day Care: Growing Up as a Child Research Subject.

“Keep Foreskin and State Separate.”

* And Matt Weiner is sick of your bullshit misinterpretations of his genius. Do you hear that, Limbaugh?

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Written by gerrycanavan

May 22, 2015 at 8:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Good Writing from Other People

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I have a few projects I’m desperately behind on at the moment, so here in lieu of actual content is good writing from people who aren’t me:

* My friend Lisa on the intellectual proletariat.

* Aaron Bady on Franzen’s Freedom and the project of unfinished realism. (Having actually read Freedom [it’s all right, even pretty good] instead of done the things I was supposed to do I may post about it someday soon myself.)

* Socialism and/or Barbarism on Swamp Thing, scarcity, and “green politics.”

* Easily Distracted on what it might mean to really take responsibility.

* And Crooked Timber, against Malcolm Gladwell, on blogs, bullets, and bullshit.

Behold, the Mother of All Saturday Linkdumps!

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* Polish President Lech Kaczynski has apparently been killed in a plane crash in western Russia, alongside much of the leadership of the country. Updates at MeFi.

* Yesterday Stevens made it official. The timeline. A shortlist. The politics of shortlists. An offbeat shortlist. How about Cory Booker? Why Obama shouldn’t shy away from a confirmation fight. Why Glenn Greenwald is lukewarm on frontrunner Elena Kagan. Why the GOP may use the SCOTUS hearings as another excuse to freak out about health care. Or maybe just another excuse to flip out period. Still more at MeFi.

* Totally independent of anything anyone anywhere has said or done, threats against members of Congress have increased threefold in recent months. It’s a funny coincidence that means absolutely nothing.

* George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

* Everything old is new again: Gingrich says Republicans will shut down the government if they take over.

* Tony Judt on crisis, neoliberalism, greed, the end of history, and the need for a new New Left.

For thirty years students have been complaining to me that “it was easy for you”: your generation had ideals and ideas, you believed in something, you were able to change things. “We” (the children of the Eighties, the Nineties, the “Aughts”) have nothing. In many respects my students are right. It was easy for us—just as it was easy, at least in this sense, for the generations who came before us. The last time a cohort of young people expressed comparable frustration at the emptiness of their lives and the dispiriting purposelessness of their world was in the 1920s: it is not by chance that historians speak of a “lost generation.”

If young people today are at a loss, it is not for want of targets. Any conversation with students or schoolchildren will produce a startling checklist of anxieties. Indeed, the rising generation is acutely worried about the world it is to inherit. But accompanying these fears there is a general sentiment of frustration: “we” know something is wrong and there are many things we don’t like. But what can we believe in? What should we do?

* Full with polls: The IRS is more popular than the tea partiers.

* “Kind of a Glenn Beck approach”: On male studies. More at Salon.

* Another great segment from the Daily Show about blatant Fox News dishonesty, this one on the lies they’re telling about the START treaty. But the quote of the day on this comes from who else but Michele Bachmann, who calls for the U.S. to commit to nuclear retaliation in the event of a devastating cyber attack.

* Matt Yglesias on Treme‘s battle between realism and sentimentality.

* Comic book cartography. Their link to the principles of Kirbytech from my friends at Satisfactory Comics is pretty great too.

* Could our universe be located within the interior of a wormhole which itself is part of a black hole that lies within a much larger universe? I’m surprised there’s even debate about something that is so trivially true.

Negative Twenty Questions, John Wheeler’s analogy for quantum mechanics.

* Of all the people in human history who ever reached the age of 65, half are alive now. Welcome to the elderly age.

* Multicellular life found that can live entirely without oxygen.

* xkcd’s version of hell is now fully playable.

* Chris Christie working overtime to destroy public universities in New Jersey.

Outsourcing TAs?

* In Washington, D.C., you’re not a rape victim unless police say so. Via Feministe.

* HIV-positive Michigan man to be tried as bioweapon.

* Are we still waiting for the other shoe to drop on Greece?

* The Texas miracle? Wind power in an oil state.

* Two from Krugman: Building a Green Economy and Al Gore Derangement Syndrome.

* Somewhat related: Tim Morton on hyperobjects.

Hyperobjects are phenomena such as radioactive materials and global warming. Hyperobjects stretch our ideas of time and space, since they far outlast most human time scales, or they’re massively distributed in terrestrial space and so are unavailable to immediate experience. In this sense, hyperobjects are like those tubes of toothpaste that say they contain 10% extra: there’s more to hyperobjects than ordinary objects.

* The Illinois Poison Control Center has a blog. MetaFilter has highlights.

* And Gizmodo has your periodic table of imaginary elements.

Bonus Kim Stanley Robinson Video: ‘We Are Living in a Science Fiction Novel That We All Collaborate On’

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As promised, here’s a bonus Kim Stanley Robinson video from the Polygraph/FHI event the night before the “Science, Religion, Ideology” talk. (I’m very sorry I couldn’t put up more, but I found this event was actually rather difficult to excerpt, and that much of what is excerptable is echoed in the later talk anyway. It was a great conversation—but a lengthy and somewhat twisting one.)

He talks here about a claim he’s made elsewhere, that science fiction is the realism of our time. A brief transcript of the first part of his reply follows the video.

KSR: I think it’s very true that we are living in a science fiction novel that we all collaborate on, and it’s because everything that science fiction was about through its historical named period, the twentieth century, has kind of come true. And also we live in a world that is so intensely structured by science and technology that we can’t get out of it. If we were to get out of it would still be a science fiction move, the retreat to the farm. So it’s hegemonic, you can’t escape it, we’re in that world created by science and technology.

And also there’s this intense sense of futurity, in that if you opened up your newspaper or laptop tomorrow and it said, “They’ve cloned six South Koreans successfully and they’re all named Kim,” you would believe it, there would be no surprise there. Anything could happen. You could say, well, we just got a signal from Alpha Centauri, there are intelligent aliens there, they sent us the code for pi and the Pythagorean theorem. There’s no reason to disbelieve that, either. So we live in this world of anticipation of strangeness, of change, rapidly accelerating change.

I came through the Atlanta airport today, and you know those speedwalkers that are underneath the various terminals? When I was young there was this famous bestseller, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. Future shock: we don’t talk about that anymore because none of you are shocked. And that’s because the shock comes at the moment you step on the walkway and you feel the drag between one acceleration and another. At the moment you’re being accelerated to a new speed there’s a little gravity drag on your body, and that’s the moment of “future shock”—1972 or ‘3—and when you’re walking with the walkway that’s moving at a different speed there’s no shock there. You simply are moving at that speed. So now we’re moving a new historical speed that’s faster than the historical speed was when I was a kid. That moment was marked by this book Future Shock, and it’s an archaic term, obsolete, because there’s nothing in our experience now… I don’t think there’s anything that could happen that would shock us, because we’re moving at such a fast speed now, and because we’re conditioned by science fiction.

GC: What about the other end of the runway?

KSR: When you slow down? Well, that’s another—you feel that too. This is like when your connection to the Internet goes out for three days, or your phone line, or when your cell phone dies—these moments when you’re suddenly not having the sixth sense of the cloud…

Entropic Realism and ‘The Road’

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The following contains unmarked spoilers for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and its film adaptation. Be on your guard!

He stood listening. The boy didnt stir. He sat beside him and stroked his pale and tangled hair. Golden chalice, good to house a god. Please dont tell me how the story ends.
—Cormac McCarthy, The Road, p. 75

From the earliest pages of The Road it is clear that we are reading the most bleakly nihilistic novel ever to grace Oprah’s Book Club. Set after an unspecified apocalypse in a ruined world populated by thieves, murderers, cannibals, a man, and his son, in which the main character’s primary inner conflict revolves around whether or not he will have the fortitude to use his gun’s last remaining bullet on his son “when the time comes” (29), The Road winds its doomed characters and traumatized readers on a path through the Cumberland Gap towards the East Coast in a kind of reverse Western Migration, in which the final destination offers neither hope nor opportunity, just dead, stagnant water, not even blue (215). When they reach the coast, it isn’t long before the father dies of the illness from which he has been suffering throughout the novel, leaving the boy completely alone in a ruined, evil world. (The father, in the end, couldn’t bring himself to murder his son before dying after all.)

Up until this moment the novel is perhaps American literature’s best example of what I call entropic realism: the ideology of apocalypse, of breakdown, of things falling apart. Entropic realism is the literary-aesthetic positionality appropriate to depressive nihilism, when God’s being dead means not “anything is possible” but “nothing matters” and “there is no hope.”

Up until this moment. But now The Road throws its reader a curveball. The boy stays beside his father’s corpse for three days, and then walks about twenty feet before discovering a substitute father accompanied by a replacement mother and two ersatz siblings who happily take the boy in and provide for his well-being from then on. The end.

This second father, and the quasi-happy ending his unexpected appearance represents, appears completely out of nowhere, both narratively and thematically. There is nothing in the book before the last six pages that suggests any sort of non-disastrous resolution to this story is possible, nothing in the world McCarthy makes that gives us license for this sort of hope. That the man would die, and that his son would be better off dead than alive without him, are both framed as inevitable, as the only possible ending for the story despite any desire that it be otherwise. True to its entropic realism, in The Road all stories end in failure and death; see, by way of example, meditations on this pessimism on 153-154, 168-169, 242-243, and elsewhere. (Please, don’t tell me how the story ends.)

The book hammers home, time and again, that such things as “trust,” “kindness,” and “happy endings” are artifacts of a dead world that is never to return, and any hope they might is just a fairy tale, a dream:

In his dream she was sick and he cared for her. The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell. (32)

I went to see the film last week specifically to see how this ending was played cinematically, and I can confirm it is played entirely straight: the substitute father appears out of nowhere twenty feet away, emerging not three days but seemingly three minutes after the first father has died. The end.

There is, I argue, something necessarily unsatisfying about this ending for nearly any reader of The Road. It just doesn’t make sense, doesn’t fit; it doesn’t seem “realistic.” Just where has this new family come from? How have they survived, intact and apparently secure, all this time? Why have we never seen any hint, before p. 281, that any such people yet remained alive?

The strange improbability of the ending has suggested to many readers that The Road is a book about faith being rewarded, a book, indeed, about miracles—if not a book about the literal Tribulation described in the book of Revelation. The father’s last recorded words suggest this sort of redemptive religious possibility: “Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again” (281). In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

But I would frame my reading of The Road differently. I think the ending is a kind of dare, or leap of faith, or perhaps even a sort of literary Rorschach test. After everything you have seen, can you let yourself believe a happy ending is actually possible? Can you, as they say, buy this?

The possibility that we can’t is repeatedly thematized throughout the novel. The boy is preoccupied with narratives and the problem of their realism, particularly by the growing sense he has that the actions he and his father take, and the world in which they live, do not comport with the moral fables about “good guys” and “bad guys” on which he has been raised. In one of the last lengthy conversations he has with his father this comes out explicitly:

Do you want me to tell you a story?
No.
Why not?
The boy looked at him and looked away.
Why not?
Those stories are not true.
They dont have to be true. They’re stories.
Yes. But in the stories we’re always helping people and we dont help people.
Why dont you tell me a story?
I dont want to.
Okay.
I dont have any stories to tell.
You could tell me a story about yourself.
You already know all the stories about me. You were there.
You have stories inside that I dont know about.
You mean like dreams?
Like dreams. Or just things that you think about.
Yeah, but stories are supposed to be happy.
They dont have to be.
You always tell happy stories.
You dont have any happy ones?
They’re more like real life.
But my stories are not.
Your stories are not. No. (267-268)

In these terms, of course, the ending of The Road, while “happy,” is plainly not “true”; it fulfills the structural requirement that “stories are supposed to be happy” at the cost of its own realist coherence. In its final six pages The Road unexpectedly abandons its relentless entropic realism and becomes more like a fable or dream—both words that appear on the novel’s first page, and which, especially in the case of dreams, are central preoccupation of the characters throughout.

Page 9:

He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death.

Page 21:

And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call you?

Page 189:

When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that will never be and you are happy again then you will have given up.

Page 269, just after the part of the conversation quoted at length above:

(the boy speaking) I dont have good dreams anyway. They’re always about something bad happening. You said that was okay because good dreams are not a good sign.

To accept the book’s uncomplicatedly happy ending at face value would be to ignore everything we have seen thus far, including, in the pages before the declaration that good will always win in the end, these repeated assertions that such moral fables are lies that will only make you weak. To believe in happy endings, in this particular happy ending, is therefore in the book’s terms to be seduced by what is not real, potentially at the cost of your life. If we take seriously the way the text opposes both dreams and stories against the one-way entropic directionality of “real life,” the apparent happy ending therefore becomes a deeply problematic structural excess: a miraculous suspension of the novel’s own basic law of nature.

But other sorts of readings do present themselves. Instead of accepting that The Road ends happily, despite its own self-prophesy, we can reject the apparent happy ending and conclude (for instance) that everything that happens after p. 281 is merely the father’s interior dream as he dies.

Now, this is so dramatic a manipulation of the text’s surface meaning as to be fairly described as willful misreading. I was first exposed to this alternative ending by my mother, who considered it the plain meaning of the novel until I told her most people don’t actually read the book that way. But as I reread The Road to write this post I found more and more evidence of this possibility staring me in the face: why else, we might well wonder, is the novel so preoccupied with the father’s belief that a man close to death has happy dreams? And when I’ve brought this reading of the novel up at academic conferences I’ve seen the same reaction in others: a sense that this reading may in some sense be better than that the straight one, that it alone accounts for the novel as a totality.

Now of course I don’t actually believe in the dream ending either. This is a fan rewrite, something akin to The Phantom Edit. I certainly don’t think it’s what Cormac McCarthy “intended”—though, with so many references to dreams, death, and the problem of endings, who can say? Rather, I perform this self-conscious misreading as a way of making clear that at the end of the novel The Road is divided against itself: it becomes a site of indeterminacy hovering between two possible end states, almost like a thought experiment out of quantum mechanics. The boy is simultaneously rescued (and we happy, if naive) and doomed (and we sad, but wise); the boy is both at once, suspended permanently in a zone of interpretive indecision.

It seems impossible not to choose one or the other, but I think the novel may be best if we decline; that very indecision, the impossible demand that an ending somehow be both “happy” and “realistic” at the same time, is itself the novel’s crux.

The Road, in essence, provides us with a happy ending we cannot believe and sadder endings we do not want to accept, and dares us to choose between them. In this way I think The Road is best read as a deconstruction of the evaluative terms by which we normally judge stories—a refusal, that is, of the very possibility of narrative closure altogether. Midway through the book the usual flow of narration suddenly breaks to assert this very point directly:

Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground. (196)

Life, would that it were otherwise, is not a story. In its ending The Road embodies the conflict between the ordered teleology of story and the disordered antinarrative of life as it must actually be lived. The entropic realism of the text is necessarily in irreconcilable tension with its own miraculous ending; we simply can’t have both. Please, the novel seems to say to us, and we to it: don’t tell me how the story ends.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 7, 2010 at 10:36 am

‘Is Science Fiction Dying?’

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‘Is science fiction dying?’ So asks New Scientist‘s SF special. They direct the question to six writers of SF ranging from Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin to William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson, the last of whom provocatively asserts that “Science fiction is now simply realism, the definition of our time.” Via MeFi and Biology in Science Fiction.

Written by gerrycanavan

November 18, 2008 at 1:30 am

Saunders Explains It All

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George Saunders explains realist and experimental fiction. (Thanks, Egan!)

Written by gerrycanavan

August 20, 2008 at 1:41 am

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