Saturday, May 16, 2009

an observation

This American Life uses the Amelie soundtrack a lot.
Also this just in, I'm an aging hipster-nerd. Except mostly without the style or music. Awesome.

Monday, May 11, 2009

i could comment on this

but why bother?

something I don't know

I have noted on numerous occasions, mostly to myself, that sometimes technology seems to expand faster than society's ability to keep up with it, a la texting. When exactly is it appropriate to text versus to call someone? Very brief messages or question requiring a one-word response, obviously, but there are some grey areas (like when/where do you want to meet) that are really just as likely to wind up being a twenty-text conversation (no bueno, for those of us without unlimited texting).
More recently for me, it's Google chat. Is it OK to be surfing the internet while chatting with someone? To read a webcomic? How undivided is your attention supposed to be? Suddenly I have two chats going on, one about relationships and the other about Feist. I am sure this is much less virgin territory for veteran AIMers, but I was never much into that, and I feel like chatting on Google is different (and a little less formal) anyway.
Damn you, ambiguous and evolving social norms!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

and i'm feeling fine

It's the End the University as We Know It, wherein the chair of the religion department at Columbia makes a case for completely restructuring universities, and in particular graduate programs. His six major points synopsized:

1: remove individual departments in favor of an interdisciplinary web
2. create disciplinary focuses around current problems
3. increase collaboration between universities
4. let people do their dissertations in hypertext and web pages and... video games.
5. expand graduate student options (meaning teach them something practical)
6. abolish tenure, have regular reviews of professors

He definitely makes some interesting points. He starts by pointing out the stiltedness of a lot of graduate academic research. He reflects on how there are too many graduate students for too few faculty positions, and that they will be overworked and accrue massive debt and likely end up doing something else entirely. He also talks about the way that individual departments are isolated and inflexible, preventing a free flow of ideas.

Overall he seems to be saying that the university system as a whole is too rigid and needs room for new staff and completely new frameworks. And y'know, free flow of information and ideas, who is against that? It would be would be like voting against democracy. Interdisciplinary web: hot. Who knows, perhaps I too am merely an ossified relic of the system, but his arguments just don't add up and even make me a little cranky. Are people still really arguing about academics being too removed from reality? I mean, isn't it kind of the point to have a space in society where knowledge is pursued for its own sake, and is that not valuable, oh head of a religious studies department?

And naturally not everyone in higher academia will remain in higher academia. This is already allowing for a certain freedom of academic movement as our scholars of religion and politics and art move in to the fields of... oh I don't know.. religion, and politics, and art. Jesus.

Okay, sure, our system is not all love and rainbows and puppies. Let me frame this in terms of another "I theoretically sympathize but still think it's a bad idea" moment: let's get rid of marriage. Why bother with it? If people want to make a lasting commitment to one another before their communities and God, why does that need to affect how they file their taxes? Why put families and communities through the trauma of divorce proceedings instead of couples who are no longer compatible simply parting ways? And why should we have such a complicated legal framework of rights and privileges, most of them relating to property, when people could simply expand the use of the will system (living or otherwise) to make it clear who has rights over their person and property?

Well, lot's of reasons, actually, and that's kind of my point. People like a certain amount of structural rigidity, probably because it makes you feel secure. People also like to be plugged into a social institution that has been around for pretty much ever. Same thing in academia, really. After all the crap you have to go through (and would still have to go through) as a grad student, at some point I think you've earned your tenure. Besides, imagine how much more ruthlessly professors would squeeze their grad students if they had to constantly worry about job performance reviews? They already have to worry about keeping their names published to avoid sliding into academic irrelevance. And of course grad students would pass much of this on to their lowly undergrads, who would be crushed underfoot like grapes at harvest, their cries of agony echoing unto the heavens.

Besides, organizing departments around current world problems? Really? Besides the fact that you would risk having departments of "Getting Bush Impeached" and "Behaviorism Rules Freud Drools," the nature of the subject matter is likely to change a lot faster than the bureaucracy of the department. And the cost of maintaining the department would skyrocket. And it would be impossible to organize effectively. And people's foundational education would become less globalized as it became tailored to one individual world problem (ie. learning biology only as it relates to water conservation). And it would take a lot more time and energy to maintain institutional memory if you keep changing your academic framework. And if your department is under review every so often, it might get abolished or massively restructured halfway through your degree. And what the hell would a degree even mean anymore?

There have to be better methods of reforming academia than this.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

three epiphanies while cutting into an orange

#1: Oh Jesus it's a grapefruit!
#2: Oh thank God it's a blood orange
#3: Huh, my blasphemies seem to ascend by rank

women and power tools

This is an interesting study.

Researchers used brain scans to show that when straight men looked at pictures of women in bikinis, areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools, like spanners and screwdrivers, were activated.

Scans of some of the men found that a part of the brain associated with empathy for other people's emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures.


The finding confirms a long-suspected effect of sexy images on the way women are perceived, and one which persists in workplaces and the wider world today, Fiske said.

I'm not actually sure that it does, although I am willing to rethink my ideas. I find this study challenging for a number of reasons.

One, I would be curious to know under what other circumstances that part of the brain lights up. For instance,

The brain scans showed that when men saw the images of the women's bodies, activity increased in part of the brain called the premotor cortex, which is involved in urges to take action. The same area lights up before using power tools to do DIY. "It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies," Fiske said.

If this is simply a center of the brain that urges us to take action, then I would rather expect it to activate if a person was using power tools or sexually aroused. They are, after all, both actions. The quote also stands out to me; "It's as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies." The whole acting on the body screams of feminist theory. Now don't get me wrong, feminist theory and I are homies, but inasmuch as it is one framework for understanding the world, it has its limits, and I don't feel that the conclusion here (that women are objectified) is compelled by the evidence (that one region of the brain is activated under two different circumstances).

I am further bothered by the inclusion in this particular article, and I suspect in the discussion section of the original study, that scans of some men show regions of the brain associated with empathy shutting down after looking at these pictures. It is entirely possible that this is a valid research point drawn by the study; I don't know, since I couldn't find it within five minutes of Google searching, got bored and proceeded to look at porn. What percentage of men is some men? Were other random parts of the brain flicking on or off during these scans?

I'm sure part of what is bothering me is the synopsizing of this research for whatever the newspaper equivalent of a soundbite is. Here's my bent, though: I'm humanist enough to believe that people can generally separate out their fantasy lives from reality, and that for most people, even habitual users of porn (which I suspect is most people) this does not seriously impact their view of their fellow humans. Can fantasies be objectiying? Absolutely. Is porn frequently objectifying? I sure think so. But does this mean that images of women's bodies alone, within this culture, lead to overall objectification? That is where this article is pointing to, and I find myself dubious. To me it speaks of a lack of faith in the human ability to separate out their feelings, and generally a lack of faith in human complexity. But I dunno, audience, you tell me.

Now how do you feel about women?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

just a thought

Make your point, or shut your mouth.
Anything else is chickenshit.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

further conversations with my grandmother

gm: So what are you doing right now?
me: Getting ready for a date
gm: Really? With that same guy?
me: Yup. I had a really great time last time. I'm trying to figure out which shoes to wear.
gm: You are putting a lot of thought into it. Hoping to get lucky?
me: Oh, I've tidied up the apartment and everything.
gm: You are hoping for big things.
me: Oh, six inches at least.
gm: ...
me: I apologize for nothing.