Monday, April 30, 2007

On the other hand, this conference is happening right here

Next week Global Studies is hosting a conference focussed on the role of Asia in the world, and several talks will look at China. The conference is dedicated to world-systems analysis, a largely Marxist view of the world economy developed by Immanuel Wallerstein, which I don't know much about. The emphasis of the theory seems to be on the importance of the transnational economy over individual states, and the way in which areas near the core of this system benefit at the expense of those in the periphery. The rise of this system is pegged around 1500.

Regardless of the ideology of the conference as a whole, it looks like it will contain interesting individual talks. One talk that looks promising is by Elizabeth Perry from Harvard, “Chinese Conceptions of ‘Rights’: From Mencius to Mao—and Now.” Another potentially good one: “Land Rights Protests in Mainland China: A Preliminary Analysis of Their Meanings and Political Significance” Yin-wah Chu, University of Hong Kong.

Another conference I'm sad I'm missing

The schedule for the ISEE/IAEP conference in Allenspark is up. Lots of good stuff. Simon James will be talking on animal minds. Ned Hettinger will be talking about animal beauty, perhaps preempting whatever I was going to say when I fleshed out this line of thought.

BSG conference in UK

Well, there's no way I could attend anything else this summer, but this looks like it will be huge fun.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Further notes from The Great Simplification

While in graduate school, I took a course that required me to read the first two chapters of Andrew Pickering's Constructing Quarks. I know this because the boxes and boxes of files I have in my closets contain a xeroxed copy of the first two chapters of Pickering's contribution to the science wars of the 90s. On the front I have written "TTD: 1-Ask about NSF." and "Soren thinks that everything is analogous to everything else." TTD is an abbreviation for "thinks to do", apparently I didn't get far with that list. Soren is a person I went to grad school with. I have also underlined heavily throughout the xerox.

The 90s science wars are over. Pickering wrote a book which disavowed the strong position he took in those wars. I am not about to do any research on the sociology of particle physics any time soon. Also, I own a copy of the whole book.

There is no reason I should hang on to these xeroxed pages. I can throw them out. It would be neurotic of me to transfer my underlining in the xerox over to the book, in case I some day need to skim the book, with only a little time to spare, and need to know the gist of the first two chapters. I can throw this away. I can.

Also, Soren really did think everything was analogous to everything else. He was like Greil Marcus that way.

Notes from the great simplification

I have before me a xeroxed copy of Mark Norris Lance's dissertation. I obtained this copy when Mark Norris Lance was applying to be chair of the department at Texas Tech University, where I then worked.

I did not read it then. I do not need to read it now. If I ever needed to read it, The University of Pittsburgh has a copy.

I do not need to keep this document. There is no reason why I have put it in a file box and carried it with me for two cross country moves. I can throw it away. It is ok for me to throw it away. Nothing will go wrong if I throw it away. The writing will not cease to exist if I throw away this xerox.

This is the sort of discussion I have to have with myself every time I open up my file boxes and try to throw things out. Earlier today I found a print out of Bacon's New Atlantis. It was a printout of an etexttranscribed by Kirk Crady. I needed to go to the internet, and verify that this etext was still online before I felt comfortable throwing away my printout. I think somewhere in my heart I believed that if I threw away this printout of the New Atlantis, the New Atlantis would cease to exist.

It is very hard for me to throw things away.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Mustache of Understanding takes on China's environment

The Xinhua news agency has a snippet of Tom Friedman's latest wisdom, this time on the environment in China.
Friedman discussed a popular Chinese saying in his article: "Black cat, white cat, all that matter is that it catches mice" --forget about the ideology, all that matter is that China grows.

"Now the cat better be green, otherwise it is going to die before it catches the mouse," writes Friedman, quoting Dan Rosen, an expert on China's economy.
This proves that there is no analogy so straightforward and simple that Friedman cannot make total hash out of it. A green cat? That starves because it can't catch mice?

This belongs in the archives with some of Friedman's other great similes. Like this classic:
The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been—but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.
Matt Taibbi has a good reply to this remark
How the fuck do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?
Kieran Healy also has a justly famous response.
Amazing. Tom Friedman is a God. No, not a God so much as a moustachioed force of nature, pumped up on the steroids of globalization, a canary in the coalmine of an interconnected era whose tentacles are spreading over the face of a New Economy savannah where old lions are left standing at their waterholes, unaware that the young Turks—and Indians—have both hands on the wheel of fortune favors the brave face the music to their ears to the, uh, ground.
Here's another Friedman simile mentioned by Taibbi
I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.
Taibbi's response:
Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.
There are many many classic mockeries of Friedman's prose out there, and I encourage you, the internet, to reread them all, because really there is no greater tool out there than Mr. Friedman. You must remember the Mustache of Understanding. Also important is the Making Light post that first lead me and so many others down this thread, where Theresa compares Friedman to some of the worst artists of all time, putting him in a league with Ed Wood. Also check out the poetry written about Friedman.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Impact of Faked Scientific Data

An article from about a year ago in the news section of Science asks if it is worth the effort to go through old journal articles looking for cases of fraud, and replies with a telling anecdote
For people like Steven Shirey, that value is incalculable. Last July, the Washington, D.C., geologist had a 2-cm by 2-cm square of skin excised from his tongue. The experience was traumatic enough, but Shirey felt he had no choice: Genetic testing had revealed that a lesion found there was aneuploid, meaning it had an abnormal number of chromosomes. A Norwegian oncologist, Jon Sudbø of the University of Oslo, had found that 84% of people with aneuploid lesions go on to develop a deadly form of oral cancer. The work appeared in 2001 and 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

"Based on Sudbø's article, I thought I had a death sentence," Shirey says, adding that he would have signed up for a preventive chemotherapy trial had one been available.

In January, after a whistleblower raised questions about data in a recently published Lancet paper, Sudbø admitted through his attorney to faking signature findings on aneuploid lesions in the 2004 NEJM paper. The 2001 paper is under suspicion after journal editors found that it contains a pair of duplicate images. Anders Ekbom, a surgeon at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is leading an investigation into all of Sudbø's 38 research papers. He hopes to complete it later this spring.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Liviu Librescu, Hero

From Playfuls
Liviu Librescu a 75-year-old Israeli professor is one of the people who died in Monday's Virginia Tech shooting. The professor saved several students before got shot, witnesses said, quoted by DPA news agency.

Librescu was teaching his class in Norris Hall when the killer entered the building randomly unloading his gun in class rooms. The Mechanics and Aeronautics professor stayed behind to stop the shooter from opening the door. When the attacker finally got into the classroom, threw himself in front of the gunman, a student told Israel's Army Radio.

‘He himself was killed but thanks to him his students stayed alive’, the student who survived the massacre said.

Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Romania, he has Israeli nationality but had lived in the US with his wife for the past two decades while both his sons live in Israel.

Librescu and his wife moved to Israel from Romania in 1978 and then moved to Virginia in 1986 for his sabbatical but decided to stay, their son told Army Radio.
via unfogged.

Update: The New York Times has a brief portrait of Librescu, along with others who perished. Haaretz has more details of the events at VA Tech. I'm not sure of the source of the original story on Playfuls, or even what Playfuls is, aside from advertisement-laden.

Updated update: Also see the Wikipedia entry.

Update^3: Students Zach Petkewicz and Derek O'Dell performed similar acts of heroism. Both, mercifully, are alive.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


My proposal for a chapter in a book on Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy, "Gaius Baltar and the Image of the Tyrant in Plato and Boethius" has been accepted! Yipee! Now all I have to do is write it.

My (third?) career as a pop culture scholar is starting to move forward. I also signed up to review Philosophy and the Interpretation of Popular Culture for Metapsychology online. This work has been a little stalled of late. My Buffy paper, based on a talk I gave at the Slayage conference, looks like it will be under consideration that the Slayage journal indefinitely. I'm beginning to think the paper was flawed anyway. My Firefly proposal was rejected, but I think I can at least turn around and send that to the third Slayage conference.

  • I actually have a lot of irons in the fire right now. In addition to the BSG project, I have to Revise the paper on the Buddhist aesthetic experience of nature for Environmental Values.
  • Develop a paper on the potential for a indigenous Chinese environmental movement as a part of my participation in this institute. An early version of the paper has been accepted to this conference. Eventually, this should go to a big journal, although I don't know which one.
  • Finally, I have two ideas kicking around that I don't entirely know what to do with: one on appreciating nature as a process and one on the aesthetic evaluation of species.

Busy busy busy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Developers and nailhouse family reach agreement

A few days ago I blogged about the Chongqing nailhouse, a family restaurant holding out against top-down driven development in China. A few days later, my students informed me that the owners signed an agreement and the house was bulldozed. It looks like they signed because they got what they wanted: ground floor space to run their restaurant. The space is off in another neighborhood, not in the new building. The family is not talking to the media anymore, but apparently, we have the kind of outcome so many people in China prize: a face saving compromise for all.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Binyam Mohammad, rendered to Morroco, tortured.

Again, via Meg Bernier at the weave.

This is a part of a longer movie on extraordinary rendition here.

CIA tortures Iranian Diplomat in Bagdhad.

CNN story here. He says he was picked up by Iraqi defense ministry forces accompanied by coalition vehicles, held for two months, and tortured by CIA agents who demanded information about Iran's relationship with Shia militias. (Can it be any closer than the relationship between the government of al-Maliki and the militias? Why are we attacking the allies of the government we support for allegedly having connections with other allies of the government we support?)

The CIA denies the charges, adding, "the CIA does not conduct or condone torture." Since we know that is simply not true, it pretty much shoots down the credibility of the rest of the denial.

Story via Meg Bernier at The Weave. The bloggers at the Weave are doing a great job, you should check them out.

Monday, April 02, 2007

PhD Karaoke March 2007

PhD Karaoke March 2007 011_edited
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Joey helps me out at a Karaoke fund raiser for the biology club. Photo by Makiko Deguchi

In other news, I've been accepted to the NEH seminar on Chinese history and philosophy in Hawaii, but rejected from the NEH seminar on Aesthetics in Scotland, which is the reverse of what I expected.